Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A Whole Lotta Stuff Going On

When I started writing my blog, there was that nagging doubt about running out of things to say. As I've found though, there is plenty going on, it's finding gaps between them all to get it down on screen.

The Apres Keramisto Trip.

I didn't know much about the planning or the itinerary, but Ghent was where we finally ended up. On the way a stop in Zierikzee. Forty years ago I had been to Holland; a first adventure abroad. Two of us in an old Volkswagen Beetle, not much money, but a desire to see some of the world. Amsterdam had been the magnet that drew us, but after some time in cities the urge to go out into the wilds of the polder; reclaimed land, flat open spaces, wind rippling the tall grasses like waves on the sea had been too much. Somethings stay with you and Zierikzee was one of those places that have a slot on the memory stick in my head. We had wandered the little town on foot and made drawings and sketches of the impressive gate into the town. Forty years on it was all still there and much as remembered. The roads were bigger and wider and everything around was built upon, but the place still felt much the same.

On to Ghent, not as chocolate box pretty as Bruges, more lived in and nowhere as touristy. We got plenty of value from our three day museum pass, the Museum of Art is packed full of Flemish masters and in the Cathedral there is the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by the Van Eyck brothers, something touched upon in History of Art lectures way back. We had two great days and a wonderful dinner to finally celebrate sixty five years. A bit of going back, a chance to relax without the need to rush back and catch a ferry, then it was back to make pots for two weeks, build a shed and pack for the trip to America.

Setting Course for Virginia.

Having a daughter recently departed and living near Washington DC, was the perfect excuse to go and visit Virginia. The Pilgrim Fathers were right, friendly natives, beautiful country, and an abundance of food. (As long as you cook it yourself that is!) Everything comes blathered in sauce, relish or whatever. If you ask for it plain then a whole directory of side orders are offered. A salad comes glistening with oil and balsamic something and a bewildering choice of dressings.
"Blue cheese dressing with that sir, some slaw and fries, sauce for the fries?"
Anyway dig deeper and there are Farmer's markets with piles of fresh produce and a wealth of good beers also. Ignore the ubiquitous Bud, there is Copper Hook and Flying Dog - Raging Bitch for starters.
However, on the tea front: best not to go there, it's a concept largely suppressed by America's love of watery coffee. After all, it was the Brits that whacked a huge tax on tea so that most of it ended up in Boston Harbour and it's never been the same since. At best you get a glass full of not hot enough water and a little bag on a string to dangle in it. Most times a box is proffered with an array of 'teas', fruity mixtures, Cinnamon and Rhubarb, Russian Caravan... what happened to Assam or dare we say it, English Breakfast?
For a whole week we crammed as much in as possible, Eleanor acting as Chauffeuse while she waits for her work permit to happen.

 Daily excursions included:-

Annapolis, shame it was the boat show, the town was crowded, Ferraris, Bentleys and Aston Martins jammed the streets, huge, white plastic boats jammed the waterways. Out by the Maritime Museum was a man quietly catching crabs on a line with chicken wings from a party pack as bait
'There's Maryland Blue Crabs" he explained. The Atlantic Blue crab to be precise, I guess as you go south they become Virginia Blue Crabs and then Carolina Blue Crabs. "Maryland Blue Crabs taste the best though" he was quick to reply.

To Alexandria, much nicer, wander the streets off the main drag and everything is much as it was in the late 1700's. It's easy for us to forget how recent most of America's history is, I sit editing this blog in a room in our home built about the same time. We in England have developed, modernised and got rid of most of our buildings so it was refreshing to see how much has been preserved and cared for in Virginia. Worth also was a visit to the Torpedo Factory, lots of painters, print makers, weavers and potters, working and showing their work.

Then Manassas, to the site of the first major battle in the American Civil War, the Bull Run, laid out with guns and cannon. Markers around the site explained how the battle swung one way then the other, the Confederate army winners on the day. The whole site is preserved and is much as it was before the carnage. It is also a nature reserve and a truly beautiful landscape, which gives some gravitas to the scene of a horrific battle, where artillery sent exploding shells and canister into men and horses at close range.  This only a hundred and fifty years ago and man's ability to create ever more horrify weapons has not abated.

On a brighter note we went to the Freer and Sackler Museums in Washington to see the collection of Korean Sanggam ware and Japanese Art,  a nice display and a beautiful museum.

Then of course this wouldn't be a potter's blog without some element of ceramic indulgence.
In the summer we met Dan Finnegan over dinner at Potfest in the Park, we promised to drop by when we visited Eleanor and Graham. Dan runs Liberty Arts in Fredericksburg. You will be hard pressed to find anything on the tourist website, so if you are down that way here's a link - get on down there, it's well worth a visit. Dan trained at Winchcombe in England, under Ray Finch. You can't get a better pedigree than that and you can see that Winchcombe trademark in Dan's wood fired, salt glazed work.

We got the full tour and spent an enjoyable day with Dan, ending up at his workshop and kiln site. Out of town, down a track, an idyllic spot. I liked the whacky outhouse ( toilet in English ) and the two fig trees planted flanking the wood kiln. If by chance curiosity has been pricked about tea making by the contents of this blog, then I can recommend a trip to Liberty Arts, where you can buy one of Dan's teapots, a mug and a milk jug suitable to make proper tea. You will have to import leaf tea though, but talk to Dan, he's such a nice guy that he will probably explain how to make a good pot of tea as well.

Thanks Dan.

Oh! and those beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. Thanks El.