Monday, January 31, 2011

Collins Barracks, part deux

So last week, I did an interview with Dr Audrey Whitty, one of the curators in Collins Barracks and, as promised, I visited it at the weekend.  The short version is that the place is an amazing, world-class museum and, as befitting such an accolade, it's impossible to see all of it in one afternoon. 

I checked out the Soldiers & Chiefs exhibition, which traces the history of the military presence in Ireland right up to our peace-keeping UN duties.  It was awesome and features everything from uniforms, some of which you can try on, to weapons you can play with, vehicles and memorabilia like the coat Michael Collins was wearing when he was killed (and now I see why they called him the "Big Fella"!) 

The Airgead exhibition looks at our money over the last millennium (give or take), with interesting lists of what you could buy for the various denominations in different periods as well as more coins that you could sift through in a year.

Across the main courtyard, the visible storage section is a glass menagerie of, well, stuff.  You name it, it's there: silver, porcelain, samurai uniforms, glass, jewellery, cameras, boxes, statues, scientific instruments and a stained glass window by Harry Clarke!  I just gave it a quick whizz through but will have to return on my next visit.

I also looked at the Curator's selection, which contains items from right across the collection - like a capsule wardrobe of what they have.  Apart from that, I barely even made it to the first floor.

Free admission, a free coat check and an excellent shop tick the right boxes.  However, no photography is allowed and the signage throughout the museum could be improved. Museums are divided on whether photos are allowed.  I completely understand when we're talking about light-sensitive items like paintings and textiles, and that museums need to have a unifying policy, but when I'm looking at replica High Crosses and coins, I can't see why photos are not permitted.

It's open 2-5pm on Sundays, which is sadly short and I certainly hope this will improve in the future.  There's a nice Brambles coffee shop, who were in a bit of a hurry to close early when I was there. 

If you live in Dublin and haven't been there, you have absolutely no excuse.  It's even got its own LUAS stop.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Theatre: The Cambria

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
- Frederick Douglass

The Cambria is based on the life of Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born a slave in the US in the early 1800s, and after his escape from slavery became a famous abolitionist. With a price on his head Douglass fled America, heading for Ireland on the steamship Cambria; and it is this part of Douglass' life that is the focus of the play.

Photo by Susan Helbrock.

The story features by necessity a wide range of characters; men and women, blacks and whites, young and old, a yankee liberal and a southern racist. The production's approach to this is for the two actors - Donal O'Kelly and Sorcha Fox - to each play a wide range of roles. It's impressive to watch: the actors have to smoothly transition between characters' mannerisms and accents. (In the case of the ship's captain each of the actors at different times plays this character.) For the most part this works well, although there's potential for confusion and once in a while there's a slight blending of accents.

A similarly impressive level of versatility is used is respect of physical objects. For the most part they're mimed rather than physically represented by props. This has the same sorts of benefits and drawbacks as the portrayal of multiple characters by each actor - it's quick and flexible but runs the risk of being confusing.

The story itself is well paced and interesting, and Douglass comes across as a good and likeable person. (I couldn't help but find myself wanting to see Morgan Freeman play him in a film, and the internet has subsequently told me that Freeman was the voice of Douglass in a documentary called The Civil War.)

The Cambria is entertaining, informative and very skillfully acted. In some respects this production is more like a story-telling than a play in the normal sense; and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The play continues in Project Arts Centre up to and including 5th February 2011. Tickets cost €16 / €12.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Temple Bar Food Market

One of my favourite ways to spend Saturday morning is to wander through Temple Bar, and the highlight is the excellent Temple Bar Food Market. There's a wide range of stalls selling fruit & veg, bread, cheese, meats and cooked meals. My personal favourite though is Ariosa Coffee. Ariosa do a very nice macchiato and their decaf is one of the best in Dublin.

Normally the Food Market is in Meeting House Square. Starting this weekend though it'll be spread around Temple Bar to allow the construction of a retractable canopy over the square. My experience of last summer's Summer Sensational festival has convinced me that this is a very good idea: nothing ruins outdoor events quite like rain.

Here's a map showing the new temporary locations of the market stalls. (As of last weekend Ariosa expected to move to Curved Street.) Some weekend when the weather is good and you want a nice relaxing Saturday morning, go take a look.

More information is here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Collins Barracks

In my continuing look at the free things to do in Dublin, I’m focussing on Collins Barracks this week.  The first part will be an interview with one of the curators, Dr Audrey Whitty, and then I’ll visit the museum at the weekend and report back.

Dr Audrey Whitty studied at both UCD and Trinity and has been working in the National Museum in various different capacities since 1998.  She worked as documenter during the important move from Kildare St to Collins Barracks (after a decade of renovations) and worked as a researcher on the Airgead exhibition – history of Ireland from 900AD to the Euro changeover through coins.  She became a full-time curator in 2001.  In this capacity, Audrey is in charge of 30,000 pieces of glass, ceramics and the entire Asian collection.  That’s a lot of dusting!  She’s one of 5 curators in the museum, though admits that comparable museums abroad have a lot more.

So what should I not miss when I visit Collins Barracks?
Eileen Gray (a self-taught architect and Modernist designer), Airgead (as mentioned above), and the Albert Bender Collection (a Dublin Jew who went to San Francisco, collected Asian art and donated it to the National Collection – this exhibition was curated by Audrey).  All of the Rising material previously held in Kildare St has been in Collins Barracks for some time (fittingly) – this includes a copy of the Proclamation, and deals with the 1913 Lockout through to the civil war.  There’s also a visible storage facility offering a unique look at how museums store the items not on display.

Collins Barracks is targeting audiences they’ve never reached before through education and community outreach.  They had a big stand at the Young Scientist exhibition just after Christmas.  Teachers, parents and students all in one spot – Audrey says there was a phenomenal reaction to the Museum’s stand.  There’s also a handling collection –stuff you’re allowed touch, which includes Japanese netsuke, which leads you off to the Asian collection, or glove stretchers, which would bring you on to the clothing exhibition, "What We Wore".

Who decides what exhibitions will be put on?  Do the curators all sit round saying “I have a cool idea”?  And what’s coming up later in the year?
No, it doesn’t work like that!  You can approach the powers that be but sometimes it comes from outside influences that dictate what happen, i.e. political or new discoveries.  The 90th anniversary of the Rising  had a lot of political influence obviously.  The Asgard will be on display probably in July – the boat involved in the crucial gun-running in 1914. You'll be able to walk around it.  An exhibition is coming from the National Museum of Australia later in the year on the history of the Irish in Australia. 

What’s it like working in a museum?  What’s a typical day?
Very varied.  If you’re involved in an exhibition, you’re like a project manager.  You’d have to correlate the workload from the conservation team, graphic designers, architects, marketing and then decide what kind of educational programme will be implemented after the exhibition opens. 

Do the museum suffer from a bit of “not in the city centre”?
Barracks attendance was much improved by the advent of the LUAS in November 2004.  There is a Dublin mindset about D1 and D2.  Being near Heuston Station is fantastic.  A lot of country people would be just as interested in going to the Barracks as Dublin people.  They pop in before their train.

Has the budget been cut much?
There's no final figure yet.  There’s a newly appointed Board.  It has some continuity including the chair, Dr John O’Mahony SC from Cork.  The board is very conscious of the national remit, as opposed to being Dublin-centric.

She hopes that the free admission will continue, rather than adopting a model similar to the National Gallery, who charge for their “star” exhibitions while the permanent collection remains free. 

Finally, what was it like having the “Dead Zoo” up there while they were closed in Merrion Square?
The National Museum is based on 4 separate identities: but it was wonderful that the Natural History collections were accessible during the renovations in Merrion Street by being on display in the Barracks’. Academic studies on the history of display took place there while it was closed because it is an old-style Victorian cabinet museum.  Most countries changed and modernised theirs but the money wasn’t there in our case and we’ve benefited from it in the end.

Collins Barracks, comprising one quarter of the National Museum of Ireland is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 – 17:00 and on Sundays from 14:00 – 17:00.  Admission is free and there’s free parking on site, and it’s easily accessed by LUAS from the city centre.  Thanks a million to Audrey for taking the time to do this interview!

Glasnevin Museum - free this Friday

We reviewed it and the cemetary tours during the summer and it's well worth a visit.

Monday, January 24, 2011

St Patrick's Festival

The heady days of March seem far away but it's still worth viewing what's planned for our national holiday and its surrounding festival.  The whole website is here, but I have some highlights picked out.  At the moment, it's a long weekend of events, starting with Thursday 17th and running until Sunday 20th.  More events are to be added as well.  I vote for the Friday off work this year too.

The Kilfenora Céilí Band plays in the National Concert Hall on St. Patrick's Day.

DublinSwell on the 18th in the National Convention Centre: an evening celebrating Dublin's UNESCO City of Literature with Irish authors, poets and singers performing and reading a selection of works.

The Literary Treasure Hunt takes place on Saturday, 19th and starts at 10am in the city centre.  Dave & I did this a few years ago with some other friends.  We walked over 10km that day and had a great time.  It's a family friendly free event but we were all adults on that occasion.

The Big Day Out returns to Merrion Square with its own brand of street performers, attractions and a giant oversized playground for kids and adults, which sounds fantastic to this grown-up kid.  I bags the swings.

Rabbiting on

The political world of Dublin may be a shambles, but it's good to see the cultural city soldiers on.  Dublin City Council has announced plans for the annual celebration of the Chinese New Year.  This year's a rabbit year, the fourth year of their zodiac and it's a metal rabbit this time.  A certain pink bunny comes to mind.  The 2006 census showed over 16,500 Chinese people living in the state, with 2/3 living in Dublin, so it's only right that we celebrate their new year.  An Post usually issues a stamp too.  Their 2011 plans include a Chinese film festival, lectures in the Chester Beatty, the Botanic Gardens and the National Library, the now ubiquitous Chinese carnival on 5th February, amongst many other things.  They've also got the Chinese State Circus to visit the Helix.  An excellent line-up all round.  Bring on the dim sum!

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Reminder: the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival starts on 17th February.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Midway: Larp as group thought experiment

Political science is full of thought experiments, many of them absurd but entertaining. I think they're a potentially interesting source of ideas for dramatic conflict, and that (to the degree that it's possible) it would be fascinating to see such experiments played out, simulated in detail by real people rather than all in a single mind. Just like poker wouldn't be as much fun if you simply thought about it as game theory, I think adding real human ego into group thought experiments should spice things up.

I've been playing in an on-going game called Midway for a few months. At one level it's a combination of airsoft (which is like paintball but better) and Larp (which is like improv drama), but to me it's also a wonderful chance to see how a "state of nature" turns into a society.

The likes of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and their drinking buddies needed a nice clean slate upon which to draw their social theories. This is called a "state of nature" i.e. people without any society. Think of the first season of the TV show Lost, more or less. So the lads then ask, "what would happen?" or perhaps "what should happen?". Of course they each came up with their own views on that, and sadly modern technology doesn't permit us to time-travel them onto a desert island together to see what would happen. (I call this the "Political philosphers on an island" thought experiment. I'm guessing Hobbes would declare himself king.)

Midway is set about a century after an unexplained Apocalypse. Civilisation is amost entirely gone; the players take the roles of characters founding a new settlement. In other words, there's a state of nature. So our thought experiment starts with no monarch, no elected government, no courts, no law... just a group of people; some are related to each other, many are armed, some have useful skills like farming.

Players walking towards Midway in the snow.

We've all seen enough movies to know that doctor characters are important. This one is also armed.

I call this the "Willie O'Dea" pose.

In every country, in every age, when things turn ugly people quickly realise the usefulness of physical barriers. Even a crude barricade is much better than nothing.

Dressed to kill. No society is too poor to have guns, lots and lots of guns.

It's interesting to see that three things seem to drive a group of people from being rugged individualists to agreeing - implicitly or formally - on laws and conventions: economics (including selfish protectionism / trade restrictions), external security (in this setting, bandits) and criminal justice (is shooting a plague-bearer murder?). Right now the community seems to be moving out of anarchy... the most likely outcomes in the short term are a paternalistic monarchy/police-state, or a Athenian-style direct democracy, or even civil war.

I have to admit that I've found myself thinking like a stereotypical Tea Party supporter, and would be deeply suspicious of anyone trying to disarm the people. And frankly I'm delighted by that, because getting a perspective I wouldn't normally have is a good outcome from a thought experiment.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Theatre review: Celebrity

'When a couple meet through online dating, with all the half-truths and Photoshop enhancement that social networking can provide, how will their modern day love story play out?'

Ten minutes into this play, I started to wonder: could this be the best play I see all year? It opens so well with a vibrant parody of the glossy-magazine approach to "how to win a man in 60 minutes", and then moves smoothly into the main story, a romance started on the internet. The various social media references and jokes felt right, not forced, and worked well. The audience loved it, laughing easily and often.

The actors' movements are beautifully choreographed, sometimes turning into moments of dance. The lighting and set are simple but effective, there's some nice music thrown in, and the acting is good. The play also features a few pretty amusing skits based on real-life celebrity couples.

Jody O'Neill, one of the actors and also the writer. Photograph by Emily Quinn.

And then, about mid-way through the play, the witty, fast-paced rom-com begins to turn into something slower and less amusing. It makes sense - part of the point of the story is surely that after the initial excitement in a relationship matters tend to slow down and become more prosaic - but the drop in pace means that the second half of the play just isn't as fun. Pace isn't the only change though: things start to get pretty wierd. The plot device used to drive the play at this point is implausible; if it's meant to be a cunning metaphor or a commentary or the transitory and vapid nature of modern celebrity, yawn. Theatre can get away with a lot of symbolism and downright bizarreness - but after the up-tempo, contemporary-life style of the opening, such oddness was jarring. It's as if someone stuck an episode of Sex and the City at the start of a Beckett play - I've enjoyed both but they just don't sit well together.

Having said all that, if you accept its contrived and wierd plot the play continues to be quite clever, perhaps even insightful. As a stand-alone act the second half of the play might be quite impressive; but as it is it's overshadowed by the very enjoyable scenes earlier on.

I'd love to be able just to praise this play. I want to like it. The characters are endearing, the actors are attractive, the online promotional material behind the play (including real social media accounts) is far ahead of any other play I've seen... and of course Project Arts Centre is a wonderful venue. The social media romance theme works very well, so it's just a pity that the celebrity theme doesn't.

Would I recommend seeing this? It depends: if you're looking for a play that's easy to watch and enjoy, right now it's hard not to recommend Arrah-na-Pogue or The Field. However, if you're willing to accept the drop in pace and want to see something new and unusual, Celebrity is worth seeing.

Although this play has its flaws, I'll finish on this point: it is very encouraging for Irish theatre to see a production like this. At its best this play was superb, so those involved clearly have the potential to create great plays in future. When I next hear that Jody O'Neill or Peer to Peer have a new play out, I will go.

Celebrity continues until 29th January 2011 in Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar. Tickets cost €15, or €12 for Saturday matinees.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Coffee: Espresso Appreciation in 3FE

Another Sunday, another enlightening coffee class in Third Floor Espresso (3FE) on Middle Abbey Street. This time the name of the game was "espresso appreciation" and 3FE had selected four coffees for the event.

The first coffee was a Brazilian single-origin called Sol Nascente. We talked about how it tasted; descriptive words included "walnut", "caramel" and "wooden". It's hard to turn a taste into such descriptions but I think that gets it across pretty well.

Next up was "Jailbreak", rightly a 3FE favourite. It's a blend of 40% El Salvador Finca La Fany, 30% El Salvador Finca Argentina and 30% Nicaraguan Limoncillo. The point of this choice was to illustrate the richness of a good blend compared to a typical single-origin coffee - and indeed this came through clearly thanks to the wonderful, complex flavour of this coffee. After the nice but unexciting Sol Nascente my first impression was the wonderfully high acidity of Jailbreak, its delicious zing. That's some damn fine coffee.

The third coffee was another single-origin, Sumatra Raja Batak. Participants described it with words like "charcoal", "tart" (like raspberry) and "cinnamon".

Then there was Jabberwocky, named for the monster in the Lewis Carroll poem. A blend of El Bosque, Finca Licho and Kenyan Kaguya, this one seemed to really get people's attention: "sherbet", "passion fruit", "almond", chili-flavoured dark chocolate... The variety of the descriptions reminded me of 'the spice, melange' from Dune, "never twice the same". (Jabberwocky probably doesn't give prescience, but maybe I just needed to up the dose.) Jabberwocky might be "never twice the same" in another sense: 3FE say that it's a hard coffee to get right, and - in contrast to Jailbreak - very unforgiving.

But wait, there's more! There was in fact a final mystery beverage. Before tasting the coffee we were served a herbal-style tea, brewed from the coffee pulp. It was strong and sweet. The coffee itself, La Illusion, reminded me a little of rooibus. That doesn't do it justice though: this is an amazing single-origin coffee. The complexity of its flavour matched the blends. "Awesome" might not be the most descriptive of words for a coffee's taste, but it is entirely accurate.

We finished up the class by each choosing a bag of coffee. I went for Jailbreak for its combination of acidity, flavour and ease of preparation.

Next weekend, Jordan Andrews - the current Irish Latte Art champion - is presenting a class on Latte Art.

Review of previous week's event

Monday, January 17, 2011

Table Quizzes

To prove we are not just a theatre and coffee blog, I wish to publicise an upcoming pub quiz.

Date: 10th February
Time: 19.30
Venue: Harbourmaster Pub, IFSC
€40 for a team of four.

In aid of the Asthma Society of Ireland.

I love table quizzes so if I can entice 3 people, I will be there myself.  They are a fun, cheap night out and they're nearly always supporting a good cause.  I love finding out the obscure knowledge my friends have and discovering the ridiculous things they don't know.  At a recent quiz, I discovered that all my team members (but not me) knew Apu from the Simpsons' last name was Nahasapeemapetilon.  My team rubbished my comment that this was obscure knowledge but I was vindicated when we were the only team at the quiz to get it right.  More embarrassing was knowing the names of all of Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie's children!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Field @ The Olympia

The Olympia's current production is John B. Keane's The Field, I saw it on Friday night.  The Olympia actually staged the original production in 1965 so it's in a sense a homecoming for the play.  The story concerns the sale of a 4 acre field somewhere in the south west of Ireland.  One family has had the grazing rights for several years and they feel they should be able to buy it but the owner puts to an auction and drama ensues.  I won't spoil the plot but it is based on real life events in Kerry in the 1950s.  Irish-American Brian Dennehy is the big name, playing the Bull McCabe.  Dennehy previously starred in the US debut of Brian Friel's Translations in 1995.  He puts in a strong performance and you wouldn't guess his American origin from his accent in the play - a rare enough occurrence for those of us familiar with usual butchering of our accent.  The main set is Mick Flanagan's pub and auction house.  Derbhle Crotty puts in a great performance as his long suffering wife, Mamie, a former town beauty now stuck with 9 children and a life of drudgery.  Praise too goes to the actor playing the Bishop, the end of whose sermon gave me an urge to bless myself, which I suppressed!  I really enjoyed the play, despite having studied and hated it in school.  It runs over 2 hours not including the interval.  It continues at The Olympia until 12th February and then does a few dates at the INEC in Kerry.  Definitely worth seeing, but spend the most you can afford on getting good seats, or a box.

I can't credit the Bishop by name because the Olympia website doesn't list the actors by character.  In fact, the Olympia doesn't have a website: it has a page on which gives some details about the theatre/current play and links to Ticketmaster.  Our party was in the Upper Circle - often called "the gods", which offers cheaper seats but a limited view of the stage.  In fact, I'd wonder if you could see the stage at all from the top of it.  It has unreserved seating so a large queue formed outside - reminiscent of getting on a Ryanair flight.  The seating itself is old and tired, and legroom is almost non-existent, even for a 5ft 3-er like me.  I heard anecdotally of people leaving this current production because they were uncomfortable and certainly a larger person might not even fit in the seats.  I feel the whole theatre needs a major overhaul, with completely new seating, possibly reduced in capacity to allow more legroom, though the fact that they use it for concerts and other types of performances may conflict.  Better still, settle on just what they want the Olympia to be: a theatre, a concert venue, a nightclub. They probably paid their big name actor a pile of money to come over and do the play.  I'd be happy with an Irish actor and the leftover money spent on improving the theatre-going experience. 

I set out to review the play and I've reviewed the theatre too.  Dublin wouldn't be the same without the Olympia: I'd love to see it restored and improved.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Irish Times Theatre Awards

This year's shortlist is here.

I'm a little surprised by how many nominations relate to Medea - it was good, but not exceptionally so. I'm going to take a guess and say that it'll be beaten by Phaedra for the Best Production award.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Brunch in Juno's Cafe

One of the best things about weekends is brunch. Fact.

Knowing my love of Sunday brunch, someone told me recently about Juno's Cafe, a restaurant-cafe close to the Phoenix Park. Juno's serves its brunch menu from 10 am to 3 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

I ordered an orange juice while I looked over the menu. It was passable but nothing special. Fortunately my main order, the fishcake, was delicious. I was left wanting more - and I mean that as both a compliment and a criticism. Very tasty, but perhaps not quite enough of it.

Coffee is provided by Ariosa. I tried the decaf, as I've frequently had the decaf sold by Ariosa themselves at their stall at the Temple Bar Food Market and I know it's good. Juno's made good use of the quality coffee beans and produced a nice coffee with that all-important acidic zing. Not all cafes and restaurants that use Ariosa manage to serve good coffee, so I was impressed.

The interior of the cafe is bright and pleasant thanks to a large skylight window. That's a major plus for the dedicated bruncher - sometimes it's nice to read a Sunday paper while brunching, and that benefits from good natural light.

The proximity of the Phoenix Park is another bonus. Juno's is on Parkgate Street - the city side of the park - and is only a very short walk from the park.

Service was quick and polite and prices were reasonable.

Overall impression: I liked Juno's and I'll be back.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More Sunday events in 3FE

On Sunday I went along to Third Floor Espresso on Middle Abbey Street for their free coffee cupping session. It was fun - coffee tasting is enjoyable on so many levels.

The good news if you missed that event is that there'll be a class each Sunday for the rest of January. First up, on Sunday 16th, is espresso appreciation. Then there's Latte Art from the reigning Irish Latte Art Champion (!!!). On Sunday 30th there's a case study on Machacamarca coffee from Bolivia.

There's a charge for each event - but it'll be worth it. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Theatre: Celebrity

The latest hot new play has arrived in Project Arts Centre, Celebrity. It's about online dating - and I'm going to guess, based on almost no knowledge whatsoever, that it'll be a lot of fun.

Photo by Emily Quinn.

Monday, January 10, 2011

No Drama Theatre workshops return

No Drama Theatre are about to restart their very enjoyable Tuesday evening workshops. Here's their spiel about why you should go along to No Drama. I went twice last year and enjoyed it both times, so I'll be going back for more.

Go on, the first one is free.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Coffee cupping in 3fe

I don't think there's really such a thing as "the best coffee in Dublin". There are many good cafes, and more importantly those cafes serve subtly different market niches. If however I had to pick just one cafe as "the best", if would be Third Floor Espresso (3fe) on Middle Abbey Street.

Earlier today 3fe held a free 'coffee cupping' event. Fourteen or so top quality beans were selected, and we the fortunate participants were shown how the cupping (smelling and tasting) process should be done. It's not your typical cup of coffee experience - we firstly used spoons to push back the grind at the top of each cup, sniffed the coffee, then removed the grind. After that everyone moved around tasting each of the coffees and writing comments on a blackboard.

As well as favourites such as El Bosque there were some more unusual coffees. Malabar beans are deliberately left exposed to monsoon winds to absorb moisture, giving the coffee a distinctive taste. That's nothing compared to the process used to create the (in)famous Kopi Lekwa, possibly the most expensive coffee in the world: the beans are partially digested by a small mammal called a civet before being washed, dried and lightly roasted. The resulting coffee has an aftertaste unlike any other I've experienced. It's nice, but I don't think I'll be making it my regular morning coffee.

At the end of the cupping 3fe sold off the almost-full bags of coffee used for the event. I nabbed the Nicagaguan El Quetzal for the low, low price of €5.

Colin Harmon and co. deserve all the acclaim they've received. As well as world-class, multi-award-winning baristas and high quality coffee, 3fe has an atmosphere unique in Dublin. It's not just a commercial enterprise; it's a gathering-place for many of Dublin's coffee experts and enthusiasts - sometimes it's hard to tell who are the staff and who are the customers. (The barista running the cupping session was in fact a customer-turned-employee.) And yet for all that, 3fe is also entirely accessible to the general public who just want a quick classic coffee in a convenient location.

Seriously, go get a 3fe coffee. I'd suggest a house-blend double espresso.

Other coffee-related posts

Culture in 2011

It was inevitable that during a recession arts and culture events would suffer.  Many people would consider these things "not important enough" - and sure maybe they're right.  However, I'm still sad to hear that Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council has scrapped The Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures for this year after it came in more than half a million Euro over budget.  The statement says they will plan a scaled down version for next year, 2012 and will have a series of smaller events with a smaller budget throughout 2011.  Here's a picture of something I made at this year's festival - an Innocent Smoothie hat, for each of which knit they donate some small amount of money to Age Action Ireland.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

More National Gallery

The National Gallery has an ongoing series of lectures and events for all ages.  Some are free and some cost a nominal amount.  They have a new website and the list of events can be searched by date here.

On my recent visit, I had a real treat.  I got to see one of my favourite paintings, which is in the NGI collection but not on permanent display because, like the Turners, it's a watercolour and delicate.  You can make an appointment to see it.

The Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Frederic William Burton RA (1816-1900) depicts an imagined scene from the Danish epic poem "The Legend of Hellelil & Hildebrand".  She was a Danish princess, he was her English bodyguard, and also a prince.  Her father found out they were lovers and wasn't a bit pleased so he ordered Hildebrand's death, at the hands of Hellelil's 7 brothers.  Hildebrand slew 6 of them and then spared the life of the youngest at his lover's request, even though it meant his own death.  It's a fairly bloody story, but Burton chose to depict a stolen moment of privacy as he goes to battle her brothers. 

What I found was that prints and images of it really don't do it justice.  The vibrancy of the colour (in a 147 year old painting) shows how well it has been protected.  The feeling of sadness and love lost can really be felt when you see the painting.  It's still in its original frame, which Burton specified should always stay with it to contrast the colours with the giltwork in it.  Burton is an Irish artist and held the prestigious position of director of (English) National Gallery for 20 years.  He's often wrongly described as a Pre-Raphelite, and it's easy to see why when looking at this painting: Hellelil's hair is very reminiscent of Rosetti's work.  The author George Eliot, who Burton also painted, was so impressed with this painting that she wrote to Burton about it, waxing lyrical about the imagery calling it "the highest pitch of refined emotion".  Meeting on the Turret Stairs was first exhibited in 1864 and was bequeathed by its then owner Margaret Stokes to the NGI in 1900.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A glimmer of light in the January gloom

Urgh.  It's January.  We're back to work.  There's a threat of more snow and there's almost nothing on in the theatre.  It's time to get yourself to the National Gallery.  Yes, the art one.  Every year in January, they take out the J.M.W. Turner RA (1775-1851) watercolours and show them in near candlelight to protect their delicate molecular structure.  The 31 paintings come from a 1900 bequest made by Henry Vaughan, an English collector.  He also left some to the national galleries of England and Scotland, and devised a special, beautiful storage case.  Only one storage case survives and it's also on display in this exhibition.  He even stipulated in his bequest that the watercolours be displayed in low lighting for preservation.  This year's exhibition focuses on the care, storage and display of watercolours, so there's some science in it too.  There's also a small (!) display of exquisite miniatures and silhouettes from the Mary A. McNeill bequest to go along with the Turners.  Turner was obviously well-travelled for the period, with paintings of places all over Europe.  I particularly liked one of the Doge's palace in Venice and another of Assos in Turkey.  The whole thing will take less than a well-spent 30 minutes to view and then you can go to the excellent café downstairs at the Clare St entrance.

The exhibition runs until 31st January in the Print Gallery of the NGI and admission is free. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

National Concert Hall

I'm one of those people who starts each year resolving to go to the NCH more frequently and then, time after time, fails to do so.

The January programme has a fair bit of variety in it. Some of the events - showbands for example - aren't of interest to me, but I quite like the sound of tomorrow's performance, "The Best of Gilbert & Sullivan".

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Theatre in January

In the Gate Theatre, Alan Stanford's adaptation of Jane Eyre continues until 29th January. Reviews have been positive, despite Andrea Corr being considerably older than the character as written in the original novel.

The Abbey's production of Dion Boucicault's Arrah-na-Pogue continues on into February. Unashamedly melodramatic but strongly recommended. And later in the month, from the 25th, As You Are Now So Once Were We begins. The play won the Best Production award at last year's Absolut Fringe Festival.

The always excellent Project Arts Centre has two new plays for you to enjoy this month. Celebrity runs from 11th to 29th January and "delves into a world of glossy magazines and media to uncover a love story for the social media generation". On 13th and 14th January the second play of the month runs: Void Story by Forced Entertainment, a Sheffield-based theatre company. While neither of the plays' descriptions scream out to me as "must see" events, Project Arts has a knack for choosing good plays, so I expect they'll be worth seeing.

Despite their woefully unhelpful website, I'm pleased to say that Smock Alley also have a new production about to start. I previously reviewed Gulliver's Travels when it started in Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray. From 3rd to 22nd January it's due to run in Smock Alley. It's a family-friendly play and although it's slightly slow at times in the first act I enjoyed it. (The second act is excellent.)

While we're on the subject of family-friendly performances, Aladdin runs until 30th January in the Gaiety and Jack and the Beanstalk is on in the Helix in DCU until 16th January. I haven't seen these so I won't comment.

The Field opens on 13th January in the Olympia. Brian Dennehy plays 'The Bull' McCabe in this classic Irish tale about "the land".

I'll finish with a plug for my favourite drama group, the always friendly No Drama Theatre. If you're looking for cheap, enjoyable fun you should go along to one of their Tuesday evening workshops. (See the website link for details.)