Hidden in plain sight

Ever wondered “What is in there?” as you glance up at shuttered windows; or you see most lights are on, but one room seems to be bathed in the mystery of darkness.

It would hardly be a thought worth thinking as you gaze over at a city centre Burger King joint, as late night revellers are acoustically invading your alcohol-infused imagination…

Outside at night

But, thanks to a recent ‘Hidden Cardiff‘ TV documentary, by the adventurer/writer Will Millard, the secrets of the 300 year old Green Dragon pub are briefly revealed. The building now largely occupied by a Burger King hides the only remnant of a bygone past… The Mahogany Room.

Inside [1]

Apparently, this ornate delight is obscured from public gaze for health & safety reasons (personally I think that could be more to do with the other current occupier!).

Inside [2]

Here is where the alcohol-infused imaginations of Cardiff’s former great and good discussed the pressing civic matters of the day, and made the decisions that would shape the growth of the would-be capital city of Wales.

Inside [3]

Alas, the premise of the ‘Hidden Cardiff‘ TV programme was that the city, unlike many of its English and Scottish counterparts, has not been very good at valuing its past history and architecture. It prefers to give an outward impression of the new and shiny, either destroying or hiding many of its gems. And The Mahogany Room is a classic example of such a cultural crime…

Inside [4]

Until we speak again, if your gaze is halted by closed shutters or images of darkness surrounded by pools of light, Juno and Bella would have reminded you to summon up your alcohol-infused imaginations!

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Cool cats in Cardiff

Was that the ghost of Juno I saw looming over the Cardiff skyline the other day?

St Johns Church [3]

It’s funny how a distorted photograph can spark strange connections in the imagination. So, no, it turns out it was one of those rare ‘old’ buildings in the city. A recent TV programme called ‘Hidden Cardiff‘ set out the premise that the city cares little for its past, with the exception of Cardiff Castle and St. John’s Church. And the Juno vision turned out to be St. John’s Church

Night [1]

The original church was thought to have been built in 1180. But there is a certain irony in the above photograph, as it was ransacked by a rebellion led by Owain Glyndwr in 1404, and rebuilt later in the 15th century in the form it now takes… looking down on the Owain Glyndwr pub (as any ‘good’ beer lover would!).

It also seems to be a particularly ideal location for a somewhat pastoral ignoring of any fireworks across the pond in celebration of the American Declaration of Independence!

Old Cardiff pic [2]

Talking of distorted photographs and strange connections in the imagination… my New Orleans sojourns of 2017 have heightened my sensibilities to the presence of cool cats; and I recently noticed an example of the genre providing a different type of congregation at the site of St. John’s Church

Jazz band and St John's [1]

Until we speak again, listen out for Bass Twelve if you happen to be around Cardiff; or, if not, simply enjoy imaginary meanderings of your own!

Hangin’ in the Treme…

Hangin’ in the Treme

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…Watchin’ people sashay
Past my steps
By my porch
In front of my door…

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Church bells are ringin’
Choirs are singing
While the preachers groan
And the sisters moan
In a blessed tone

 

Down in the treme
Is me and my baby
We’re all going crazy
While jamming and having fun

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Trumpet bells ringing
Bass drum is swinging
As the trombone groans
And the big horn moans
And there’s a saxophone

Festival Stage

Treme is a colourful location for the masterpiece post-Katrina drama series, as well as being a place of historic cultural significance…

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It was thanks to a tip off from the vunderbar Sue at the Vacherie Bar on Toulouse Street that resulted in me heading on down for an experience of stunning food and cool jazz in the heat of the afternoon…

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Until we speak again, keep jamming and having fun!

Full acknowledgements go to John Boutte for the lyrics of the Treme theme tune.

Meal of the day

They say it’s breakfast, right? Well, when in New York get some time on your side; and I dont mean the famous Times Square. From there take one block over and 12 down on the grid, which brings you to the New Yorker on the corner of 34 Street and 8th Avenue…

Tucked away in the very corner you find time is ticking for the start of the day…

Step aside Starbucks! You’re now experiencing a slice of Americana, in an authentic diner.

But beware, the menu involves reading a book; and for that, time is not really on your side.

So, I will offer you a brief taster, with a Denver Omlet of ham, onions and green peppers, hash browns and a side of toast…

One of my readers reminisces over the Eggs Benedict, but I take a rain check (during an unseasonal heatwave). Instead, maybe you have heard of the famous American breakfast of blueberry pancakes (with a side of atherosclerosis!)…

Until we speak again, I assure you I am not an American; these were consumed on separate days. And in any case, there is the clear consistency of self-deception, as I convince myself fresh strawberries and an orange juice make any breakfast healthy.

Resurrection NYC Style

New York City has constantly been in the process of reinvention, and sets a great example for taking old industrial relics and creating new spaces that people love. Chelsea Market is now 20 years old, but could easily have become a bland new-build paean to commercialism. Instead it is a cool use of an 800 metre long former biscuit factory in the meat-packing district.

A long and meandering thoroughfare now occupies a complete New York block with quirky shops and delis of all shapes and sizes that put the art into artisan…

You might even be serenaded by an impromptu jazz combo when you least expect it…

Then there is the thorny issue of what to do with a derelict rusting elevated railroad. The reborn High Line was first built to get goods out of the heavily industrialised Chelsea and MeatPacking districts without adding to the road traffic in midtown Manhattan
Many places would dismantle the old eyesore, and New York nearly did. But the foresight of a couple of environmentally savvy guys kept the structure standing. And now it is a stunning elevated walkway that provides tranquillity at the heart of the madness!

But, perhaps the best reinvention is actually a rebirth of a 1940’s institution. How could the Empire Diner on 10th Avenue in Chelsea possibly have been closed down? 

Fortunately for me it reopened 6 months ago, and I get to tuck into an American meal I can actually finish. Just add a berry-based fruit salad, and you might even lay claim to something healthy going on!

Until we speak again, if you’re feeling slightly dilapidated, why not reinvent yourself? You could do worse than take a lead from NYC-style reinterpretation.

Portsmouth: what’s the point?

Apart from it being the largest place in the UK I hadn’t visited up to this moment, why was I even here? Is there a point to Portsmouth?

Porstmouth Point sign

Well, I guess if you like boats it’s okay. On first impressions, the parts worth visiting have got harbour and dockyard written all over them; but what’s with the local sailor types dangling over the yardarms singing sea shanty’s?

Singing sailors

The word to keep at the forefront of your mind is ‘old’, as the aquatic warblers in the picture above are sailing into the harbour passed Old Portsmouth (where you will also see the aforementioned Portsmouth Point plaque). But, if you want a linguistic upgrade, this is definitely the place to try out ‘historic’.

The Historic Dockyards may well be the point of Portsmouth these days; catering to all manner of oldy boaty stuff. If you lament the loss of the British¬†Empire, (or simply want to indulge some Brexit style Euro hatred), then HMS Victory will transport your imagination back to times when good old Blighty ruled the waves (with balls to the French, and all that kind of malarkey)…

HMS Victory [10]

HMS Victory [8]

Then again, if your passion is for doing creative things with leftover damp pieces of wood from the times of Henry VIII, try out the stunning Mary Rose exhibition…

 

 

 

 

For those who flunked in their woodwork skills, but prefer a bit of heavy metal, HMS Warrior 1860 has you covered. There is nothing like seeing a steam driven warship that never fired a single shot in anger for bringing out the pacifist in you! Come to think of it, the macrame specialists amongst you may even get some inspiration regarding what to do with all that surplus rope you meant to throw over the garden wall under the cover of darkness…

Moored aptly just outside of the historic dockyard is a 21st century wonder… a brand new aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, with not an aircraft in sight! A great hunk of gun grey metal sits quietly representing Britain’s threat to the world. Just you wait Johnny Foreigner, as soon as we get out of Europe we will scare the world into signing free trade deals with us; or else we will recall the glorious ghost of Lord Palmerston!

Once you have exhausted yourselves spending a day around the historic dockyard, Portsmouth is not short on Historic Dickyards either! Wonderfully inviting port-side pubs simply ooze character and charm… but beware, the charm usually stops at the facade, because if you like your characters drunk and falling backwards off bar stools at 9.30pm, then this is the place for you…

Ship Anson at night [1]

At night [3]

Those of you who have managed to remain transfixed so far by this travelogue may well have just seen a glimpse of the point of Portsmouth! Just about anywhere you go near the waterside, you can’t help but see the spiky pointy thing…

And the point of Portsmouth has even been known to have a little added spice, particularly for those interested in mutual tonsil polishing!

At night [1]

If you don’t mind a bit of elevation, the views from the top can even help you plan your itinerary…

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Until we speak again, this sea-faring extravaganza has just reminded me that the oldies are still good; for example, what is brown and steaming and comes out of the back end of Cowes? No, behave…

IOW Ferry sign

That’s the Isle of Wight ferry for the uninitiated.

Scuze me while I…

… kiss the sky. One thing you must do when in Chicago is… ‘look up’! Many places may claim to be home to the skyscraper, but few can challenge Chicago for architectural variety and significance when it comes to ¬†construction in the vertical plane. And where better to appreciate the visual feast (and strain your neck), than messing about on the Chicago River?

River view by day

The ‘Jewelers Building’ to the right in the following picture dates back to 1926. The four corner crowns were an elaborate way of disguising water tanks. To protect the valuable commodities, this building originally accommodated basement drive-in elevators that would take vehicles up to the required floor.

River architecture [1]

Immediately opposite are the 1969 and 2009 stages of modernism. To the left is the IBM Building designed with energy consumption at the heart of its architecture. While to the right is an example of personal ego, emblazoned with the name of someone who has fragrantly ignored contemporary concerns for climate change and conservation (viewed from many angles the name can be avoided, but if you get the light and shade correctly aligned it may occasionally read ‘RUMP’).

River architecture inc Trump Tower

Then come the visually twin towers of Marina City aka the corn cobs. A futuristic vision emerging from the early 1960’s.

Riverboat trip [4]

Who says urban high rise living lacks a stunning aesthetic? Unfortunately, to live here might well require a stunning bank balance. This isn’t going to be the revolutionary vision for ‘The Projects”!

Riverboat trip [15]

Gently floating along the river parallel to Wacker Drive, it is quite easy to imagine you are in the midst of an urban re-enactment of a Grand Canyon stylised landscape. No? just me on some far out visionary trip then.

Riverboat trip [16]

Then comes an architectural mystery. How can you build up so high from such a narrow v-shaped base? Economics and advances in technology eventually combine to give rise to 150 North Riverside, limited at its base between a river and an active railroad. To counter the effects of wind on the whole structure, 12 rooftop tanks contain 1000 tons of water to counteract natural movement.

Riverboat trip [29]

Formerly the worlds tallest building, the Wills (nee Sears) Tower uses a bundled tube framework for its design, to enable stability at the increased height. The younger neighbour (with a neon crown) uses contrasting detailing in its shape and design, in order to create its own unique contribution next to the towering icon.

Riverboat trip [28]

Meanwhile, back at the confluence of the y-shaped rivers, one of many navigation-based reflective themes to be seen in the riverside designs presents in a striking fashion. In 1983, the 333 West Wacker Drive building adopted the curve of the river as its over-arching theme. the tinted glass is also a reflection that harmonies with the water below.

Riverboat trip [31]

As dusk sets in the skyline adopts a new magical presentation…

Riverboat trip [42]

Riverboat trip [46]

… and the illuminated Tribune Tower provides a beacon for the return to dry land for the intrepid architectural enthusiasts…

River architecture [3]

Until we speak again, a special thanks goes out to the Chicago Architecture Foundation for providing such a fabulously insightful historical excursion.