Tag Archives: art

Screaming Out from a Fire

The Summer of Fire


Kitty Pilgrim

A Netgalley review

In March of 2015 – this year – it seemed that Iceland’s largest volcanic eruption for 200 years ended.

It was the Bardarbunga volcano that was causing a lava field to form in Holuhraun. The eruption had lasted 6 months. This lava field was 8 times bigger than the 2010 Eyjafjallajökul eruption that is showcased in this book but still very much smaller than the 1783 Laki eruption which was the one that caused mass famine and death.

Volcanic eruptions cause our skies to change colour and it was noted by Turner and other great artists as they painted in the 1780s.  Eruptions made the sky redder [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2588838/How-19th-century-art-painting-picture-Earths-polluted-past-Turners-sunsets-reveal-volcanic-ash-gas-sky.html] and it is claimed that Turner’s  famous picture of The Lake was a good example of this. The 1815 Indonesian volcanic eruption demonstrated how this could happen as the particles scatter sunlight and the effect can be seen in Europe for some 3 years afterwards.

Also, the famous painting The Scream by Munch was meant to depict a volcanic eruption. – it was originally called The Scream of Nature. This was painted after the Krakatoa eruption of 1883. painting eruption hawaii erupts

This book not only has volcanology but also archaeology and oceanography within it for the scientist to explore further.

We learn some science along the way including that in psychopaths, the amygdala area of the brain is markedly less active than normal people and that the frontal cortex where the receptors for emotions such as empathy and remorse are contained are impaired.


Included in the characters that take part in the story are an Italian Gang boss aka Mafiosa; naive young boys; brave photographers; royalty; billionaires; and English country gentry. Was there any stock character that the author left out?

And just when you think that nothing more can happen because all the baddies have been killed off – they turn up again and something new and nasty happens!

I wish that I liked it more, but it all seemed a little too contrived and a little too full of the stock characters of crime novels. We didn’t explore the characters sufficiently as there were just too many of them…


3/3.5 stars.



A day in London – what can be seen:

Last week we had a day ‘out’. My husband and I decided to see some things we had been wanting to see for a while plus we had booked tickets to the theatre AND to a concert.

So the two things we had wanted to see were situated very close together near Goodge Street Tube Station. Just opposite is Heal’s. The famous store. That specialises in design and craft work. As it was hosting a craft market of modern craft workers and I wanted to go and see just what was on offer and also what the prices were.  This proved to be very instructive as someone was selling hand-knitted hats with a pompom – in a bag – at £75 each! I couldn’t believe this and immediately decided I needed to add some pompoms onto the hats I knit for charity as clearly they will be more worthwhile – but £75 of more worthwhile I am not sure….

Just round the corner from there is the Building Centre- http://www.buildingcentre.co.uk/. Where they had an 3D model of London showing the new tube lines and also posters and other interesting items discussing how London was being developed and where the new ‘towns’ within London were to be built.

Whilst interesting as both these exhibitions were, neither took too long to visit so there was plenty of time to go to an afternoon performance at the theatre. At the Hampstead Theatre was a play called Hello Goodbye. Now this was really a ‘duvet day’ play – a RomCom with amusing and quite sharp wit.

The play by Peter Souter (his first) and directed by Tamara Harvey starred Shaun Evans and Miranda Raison with Bathsheba Piepe playing in the second half plus a substitute for Luke Neal. Shaun will be familiar to many TV watchers of crime drama as the Young Morse  in the series where we get the prequels to Morse the grizzled detective – and plays him  very well too. In fact it was somewhat surprising when he took off his shirt to see just how toned his muscles were and that he actually had a six-pack considering how weedy he looked in his baggy clothes! But I guess all actors needed to show some muscle these days. So Shaun did very well on stage and played the geek well. His co-star Miranda did her very best with the script but it did, initially, leave her looking very unlikeable and shrill. She did better as the play progressed, but overall, in our theatre group discussion, we felt that the playwright had not done a great job with her lines. And we didn’t give the play more than 3 stars. We also were not that impressed with the direction and found that seeing it on a large apron stage left a number of people unable to see vital parts of the stage, including one member of our group who was behind a pillar and had to move her seat.

So that was the afternoon spent reasonably agreeably but the play did leave us somewhat unsettled.

We found the evening entertainment much more satisfying.

We went to the church of St Andrew, Holborn for a concert (http://standrewholborn.org.uk/).

St Andrew Holborn has been a site of worship for at least 1000 years but when the Crypt was excavated in 2001 Roman remains were found so the site could have been in use for much longer still. It is situated between the City and the West End, and St Andrew’s first appears in written records in AD 951 as a church on top of the hill above the river Fleet. The river Fleet being the river most associated with the press of course ie Fleet Street. But is now very hidden indeed. The Fleet flows from Hampstead Heath starting with 2 springs on either side of Parliament Hill going down to the Thames, joining it at Blackfriars Bridge. In Roman times it had an estuary at Blackfriars and even a tide mill and the word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon for estuary. Now it is a sewer! The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds come from the Fleet and the river flows down through what is now called Kings Cross but was originally Battle Bridge where Queen Boudicca fought the Romans in 60AD. There is of course a legend hat says Boudicca is buried under Kings Cross station – platform 10 to be precise. You can trace an amount of the old river’s course through the wells it fed, of which some still remain as wall remnants eg the Chalybeate Well in Hampstead. The Fleet also provided the water for the Bagnigge Wells spa of 1760 which was located on Kings Cross Road.  In Farringdon Lane you can see another well through a window which used to belong to St Mary’s Nunnery. If you stand in front of the Coach and Horses pub on Ray Street  you can sometimes hear the river through a grating as it flows beneath. For more on London’s Lost Rivers do take a look at the book by Paul Talling.

If you want to read more about the River Fleet as a river rather than a sewer  as it now is and as Micelle Obama saw it, then look at the page http://lndn.blogspot.co.uk/2005_08_01_lndn_archive.html where Diamond Geezer ( a Cockner rhyming slang name) gives a really detailed history and description of the river from which I have snipped the following map of the river’s route.


The concert was given by the Londinium choir (http://www.londinium-voices.org.uk/) and compromised ne short work and then the Rachmaninoff Vespers (All-Night Vigil) performed in the ancient Church Slavonic chant. It was Rachmaninoff’s last major work before leaving Russia and also represents both the final flowering and greatest achievement of the Russian Orthodox (Church) tradition before its suppression after the October Revolution. Rachmaninoff’s work was preceded by Knut Nystedt’s haunting O Crux, performed in memory of its composer whose hundredth birthday would have fallen in 2015 had he lived.

This performance we gave 5 stars. Luckily we didn’t have to sit all through the night for the Vespers as we were just given the movements 1-15 although it could have taken 3-4 hours if sang in its entirety.

Note that the Londonium choir was some 40 people singing in harmonies without instrument and was truly heavenly.


Kinder – Children – Transport – Willesden and Survival

I happen to live in Willesden in the UK and know Willesden Lane well, so I was rather surprised when my husband came back from a walk with one of our local historians and told me that there was a house in Willesden Lane which had been once used as a Children’s Hostel for the Kindertransport.

Now I don’t know how many people know about the Kindertransport – especially outside the UK, so I thought I should get some information about it, before telling you more about Willesden Lane.

Kindertransport was an attempt to remove children from an increasingly perilous situation whereby war looked almost inevitable.

The first Kindertransport arrived at Harwich, England on December 2, 1938, bringing 196 children from a Berlin Jewish orphanage burned by the Nazis during the night of November 9. Most of the transports left by train from Vienna, Berlin, Prague and other major cities (children from small towns travelled to meet the transports), crossed the Dutch and Belgian borders, and went on by ship to England. Hundreds of children remained in Belgium and Holland.

The transports ended with the outbreak of war in September 1939.

One very last transport left on the freighter Bodegraven from Ymuiden on May 14, 1940 – the day Rotterdam was bombed, one day before Holland surrendered – raked by gunfire from German warplanes. The eighty children on deck had been brought by earlier transports to imagined safety in Holland.

Altogether, though exact figures are unknown, the Kindertransports saved around 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. None were accompanied by their parents; a few were babies carried by other children. Though these children were separated from their families, many of them would have faced the same fate as their families if they had stayed. The vast majority of the Kindertransport children never saw their parents again. When the children arrived in the UK they were allocated to foster homes where they could be found or to hostels or to work, if they were old enough, in a household, some boarded at schools such as Oswestry in Shropshire – few however could speak English.

The definition of ‘old enough’ of course, was a lot more fluid in 1939 than we would think today. Some were treated very well by their employers or foster families and some were not as is often the case with what were, effectively, orphan children with no responsible adult to look after them.

To get into the UK each child had to have a sponsor. The cost of food, housing, education, and eventual emigration were paid for by the sponsors, not the British Government. Some of the sponsors were private individuals and families, other children were sponsored by the Refugee Children’s Movement.

A number of the children joined the armed forces based in the UK once they had reached the age of 18 effectively taking their fight back against Nazi Germany. It is thought that between 20% and 25% of all those involved in the Kindertransport project later left the UK and emigrated to America or Canada.

It seems that Willesden Lane had one of the hostels to which the older children were sent and from which they would then go to work, many of the girls working in the East End of London, with Jewish tailoring firms making army uniforms and the like.

The story of the hostel is told in the book: The Children of Willesden Lane.

Rather than tell about the  book, which led me to be very emotional at times I am going to quote to you from two reviews of the play which was created by the daughter of one of the children who came to England from Vienna  – Lisa Jura – and then lived in Willesden Lane. She later became a famous concert pianist and it is her story that her daughter tells. As far as I know the play has never yet been performed in the UK  but has recently toured the US.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane.

Posted By Tulis McCall on Jul 23, 2014

Mona Golabek stars in THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE, adapted (from the book The Children of Willesden Lane) and directed by Hershey Felder, which launched the inaugural 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

“Hands. How easily we take them for granted. They are first and foremost utilitarian. But do not underestimate them. In a New York Minute they can transform into instruments of magic.

Such is the case in The Pianist of Willesden Lane. Mona Golabek is not an actor by any stretch of the imagination. Nor is she a she a gifted storyteller, sorry to say. What she does have is an astonishing story to tell as well as a passion for sharing the life-saving gift of classical music.  Golabek is also smart –  she wisely chooses the most iconic pieces so that those of us not familiar with Classical music’s many intricacies can hear this tale of dedication and courage without being distracted.Grand_piano_and_upright_piano

Lisa Jura, Golabek’s mother, was born in Vienna in 1924. Her journey from there to becoming a United States Citizen is the subject of this story. Through Jura we are taken into the back kitchen of WWII. Through Jura we focus, not on battlefields and soldiers but on the life of a teenager who learns to fend for herself. It is an extraordinary story.

In 1938 Vienna, Jura is on the bus going to her most important appointment of the week. She is on her way to her piano lesson with Professor Isselis who delivers the very sad news that, because of a new ordinance that forbids the teaching of Jewish children he must terminate Jura as a student. Effective immediately. … No explanation. … Just an immediate hello and goodbye. The 14 year old Lisa is shattered, and for the first time she notices the soldiers and their armbands.

For a time Lisa’s mother takes over the lessons, sharing fascinating secrets about creating a beautiful chord – the secret is layers. Ultimately November 9 arrives. It is the night of Kristalnacht .. Mr. Jura’s tailor shop is ransacked, but he manages to escape with .. a single ticket for the Kindertransport t… The thought of separating the family by choosing one daughter of three to go is too overwhelming. Lisa turns to her piano ..when the others heard her play .., they realized that she had to be the one to go.

She left that night and remembers her mother’s final words – to always hold on to the music, and that her mother would be with her every step of the way. Lisa left with her music and  a picture of her mother, and never saw her parents again.

In England the cousin to whom she was being sent turned out to have no room for her, so Lisa was sent to Bloomsbury House, a .. clearing station for the children. From there she was sent to a manor house where she spent six months as a maid without playing. Deciding that living with a piano that she could not touch was out of the question the 15 year old girl biked ..to Brighton .., bought a ticket to London and presented herself .. again at Bloomsbury House.

This time she was sent to a sort of hostel on Willesden Lane. It was here her life changed once again, and this time for the better. As well as a wonderful caretaker, Mrs. Cohen, the house also sported a piano that Jura .. was encouraged to play.

The next few years were filled with life as a war seamstress, tales of the blackout, love, and always the piano. Eventually, .. Lisa applied to the London Royal Academy of Music. Her fellow lodgers at Willesden Lane became her coaches – timekeepers, surprise quizzes, drill sergeants. After the briefest of auditions she was accepted, and for the first time in four years had ..another instructor.

There followed the debut on scholarship (that she always envisioned) as well as romance and marriage to a French soldier she met while entertaining the soldiers at the Howard hotel, and a reunion with her sisters.

Mona has a wonderful ability to talk while she is playing, and the effect is nearly dizzying. It is in these moments (as opposed to the times when she leaves the piano to step downstage and speak to us) that she is her most relaxed and warm. The anecdotes and bits of the tale are delivered over the music with ease and grace.

In the end, while half of the audience is snuffling and weeping, she thanks her mother and grandparents and salutes every mother and father who had the courage to save their child by saying goodbye. She sits again at the piano and plays the Grieg Concerto in A Minor that her own mother played nearly 50 years ago at her London debut. It is a deeply moving scene.

But, in the end, the story of Lisa Jura makes it through just as she herself did – unscathed and intact.

THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE – Based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, Adapted and Directed by Hershey Felder. at 59E59 Theaters (Elysabeth Kleinhans, Artistic Director; Peter Tear, Executive Director) (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). It is produced by Geffen Playhouse, in association with Eighty-Eight Entertainment and Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Monday, August 4th, 2014
by Marti Sichel on Playing Around

The narrator in this tale of exceptional humanity and courage is young Lisa Jura. It is based on the book, The Children of Willesden Lane—Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir Of Music, Love, and Survival, written by Lisa’s daughter, Mona Golabek, and Lee Cohen. It is also performed in Lisa’s voice by Golabek, who not only carries the listener through her mother’s astonishing tale, but also performs every piece of music that bears significance to the young Miss Jura throughout her years as a refugee in London.

The story begins in Vienna in 1938. Lisa is just a schoolgirl, one of three born to her parents, Malka and Abraham Jura. What sets her apart is her impressive love and devotion to music and her precocious talents playing the piano. When the tale begins, we already know that things have changed for Lisa and her family in Vienna; it’s just the beginning of the nightmare that would engulf the continent and then the world for years to come. To a girl of 14 the most obvious signs of this change are the number of soldiers occupying the city and the behavior of her beloved piano teacher, Professor Isselis.

When he answers the knock on his door, he says nothing and does nothing. He doesn’t even look her in the eye. He may see the great injustice that he has been told he must perform, but he performs it all the same. He is a kind man, but not a brave one. He sends her away, saying that he can no longer teach her because she is a Jew. “You have a remarkable gift, and no matter what happens in your life, please never forget that.” She doesn’t, either. When she returns home heartbroken, her mother, also a pianist, helps her through the first bars of Grieg concerto.

Soon there are more signs of trouble, and the soldiers in the streets begin to cause trouble in the Jewish neighborhood. Then there is Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, and Jewish homes and business are attacked en masse, many of them burned to the ground, the broken windows giving the night its infamous name.

One Friday night, her father is attacked outside of his block of flats while returning from a gambling night. He is stripped and shamed by some passing soldiers, beaten while his daughter watched helplessly from the window. When he is allowed to get dressed, someone else has stolen his coat. He begs only that the person give him the paper in the coat’s pocket. When he finally comes through the door, the family learns about the paper and its magic. It’s a pass for one child aboard the now-famous Kindertransport.

So begins a journey that takes Lisa not only to England, but also into womanhood. After a rough start, her uncle refusing to take her in, and six months at work in a stuffy and restrictive countryside manor, Lisa flees back to England looking for a new start. She is entrusted to a Mrs. Cohen on Willesden Lane in the north of London. Mrs. Cohen’s hostel is full of charges, all refugees from the Kindertransport, her “Sardines.”

Lisa makes new friends among the other children, some of them nearly on the cusp of adulthood. She takes on a job as a seamstress and eventually finds her way to an audition for a scholarship to the London Royal Academy of Music, an incredibly prestigious school for the arts. She thinks of her family constantly, continuing to write letters and always praying that one day one of them will get a reply. Instead, they begin to be returned to her, stamped as undeliverable. She must get on with her life and wait to see what time will bring.

Mona Golabek is a fine storyteller, but even if she weren’t it wouldn’t be difficult to get engrossed by the highs and lows of Lisa’s story. In her hands her mother’s experiences are easy to imagine, though it’s impossible to truly understand the damage of war unless you have lived through it.  Lisa’s resilience is astounding, her story remarkable, and it’s made all the more visceral by the emotion in her daughter’s telling.

Lisa was an exceptional pianist, but she also raised an exceptional pianist. Mona Golabek performs close to a dozen pieces throughout the play, all of them with a virtuoso’s skill and emotion. Each piece is poignant and stirring, adding even more emotion to an emotionally complex tale. You can feel the power of the music, feel the beauty borne into this world by its greatest composers—feel them right to the core—as Golabek’s hands fly seemingly effortlessly over the keys. She is breathtakingly talented. And there’s not a sheet of music to be seen; it’s all laid out in her memory and in her heart. It is written into the very fabric of her DNA.