Saturday, October 19, 2013

Vanessa and Virginia

For years I have wanted to go to Charleston, the richly decorated country home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant from 1916, and Monk's House, which Virginia and Leonard Woolf bought in 1919. Last week I saw them both. I couldn't take photos in Charleston, but you can see it at
     it's not a solid or comfortable house - it had served to house farm labourers before they rented it - and it's quite dark, not ideal for painters. Eventually they built on a large studio. Grant lived on there until 1978, and that was probably what kept the contents intact. The decorated furnishings are inexpressibly touching - light, playful, improvised, recycled, never made to last, and yet they have.
       Monk's House is much more liveable. Unlike Charleston it's not isolated, it sits snugly in the village of Rodmell. You can see the living rooms, part of the kitchen, Virginia's bedroom and her writing room, in a separate summerhouse at the back of the garden.


too has furnishings decorated by Bell and Grant - including the lighthouse motif on the bedroom fireplace.

The writing room has a broad view over the South Downs. You can't go in (or everyone would want to sit at the desk), so it has to be photographed through the window,

And of course I couldn't resist having a photo of me, looking soulful, taken in front of it, and another outside her bedroom. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

When Lyon was Lugdunum

Lyon was the most important Provincial centre in the Roman Empire. Roman Lyon began up on Fourviere hill - the name comes from Forum Vetera, the Old Forum. Julius Caesar ran his campaign in Gaul from there. Here's the men who won Gaul for him.

And here's a Roman sword. 

It made me think straight away of R.A.K. Mason's poem:

This short straight sword
I got in Rome
when Gaul's new lord
came tramping home

It did that grim
old rake to a T
if it did him
well it does me

Leave the thing of pearls
with silken tassels
to priests and girls
and currish vassals

Here's no fine cluster
on the hilt, this drab
blade lacks lustre
but it can stab.

In the years after Caesar's assassination the Romans built a whole new city, Lugdunum, down on the flat where the Rhone and Saone rivers met. The Emperor Claudius of "I, Claudius" fame (Harvey loved the book and the series, but he'd also read all the serious history around them) was born in Lyon. The treasure of the Gallo-Roman museum is the Claudius Tablet, where he granted local Gallic dignitaries (but no freedman, slaves or women, of course) the higher status they wanted. The whole thing, made of black basalt, weighed hundreds of tons - only two pieces of it were found. Isn't the lettering beautiful.

And to redress th balance and bring in some women, here's a rare funerary portrait of a Lugdunum mother and daughter, around the 3rd century of our era - they can be dated by their hairstyles.