Wednesday 10 August 2016

Collins first edition

This is a post about birds and birding actually. I know, I was surprised too. Mrs L and I went to Prague at the weekend for a spot of tourism birding. I've never been before, indeed it was a country tick for me (#48 I think, can't seem to add it on Bubo), and very pleasant it was too. I was in a very relaxed frame of mind, other than of course wondering which part of me would next land me in hospital. Too relaxed it soon became apparent, as on Saturday morning I found myself in a museum. I'm not sure how it happened either, I must have let my guard down, a momentary lapse of concentration. But that's all it takes, the ticket was purchased, and we were inside. Before lunch!

I am not a cultural person. I'm not a philistine either, but given the choice of going to a museum or, say, sitting in the sunshine drinking a Pilsner Urquell, you will find me on that cobbled street every time, glass in hand. Nevermind. I am a dutiful husband, and so the museum it was. It was set in an old convent near the river, and the visit seemed to be a mixture of being reverent in empty bits of church, and admiring various bits of religious iconography scattered in less churchy bits. I have seen enough Madonna and children to last a lifetime. Several lifetimes. All very old, all very similar. All very boring. Here's one of them, with added feline interest. In my defence, this was a fake one which was part of a tactile display for blind people, a reproduction of the real thing which was in a room upstairs and which I ignored. Does it still count as sacrilege? Probably. Whatever. Look! The little child is trying to get Snuffi to play with a ball!

Anyway, the real meat of the exhibition other than twenty million basically identical Madonnas and children were a series of paintings of religious scenes. You know, somebody on a Mount of Olives, that kind of thing. On a mound of olives would have been a lot funnier, but the artists probably didn't think of that at the time. Or they did, but would have been killed.... I nearly lost the will to live by about the second room, but then noticed that the [presumably massively bored] painters had frequently included birds in their scenes. I don't recall any of their names, but I'm pretty sure an ancestor of Zetterstrom was amongst them. Just look at this! I mean this is notably better than Fitter and Parslow in many ways. From that moment on I was birding.

Eight hundred years old, but clearly a Goldfinch, a Bullfinch, and a.... Hoopoe of sorts. I went on the hunt for more and found plenty. Now I've not been birding in Israel or wherever the large pile of olives was, but I'm looking forward to going as there are going to be a lot of ticks for me. I've certainly not seen the two species depicted below, but I'll know them when I see them for sure. The first is clearly some kind of Blyth's Reed Warbler, but the ultra-rare hepatic variant that is a very likely AERC split. The second is possibly new to science, an undescribed species of Night Heron is my best guess at this point. See the concentration on its face as it stalks an olive? Actually it just looks bored and depressed. Like I would soon be again.

I continued birding less and less enthusiastically around the museum, finding many more species hidden away in the corners of paintings, but by far my favourite piece of art (before I collapsed and died) involved The Impeturbable Monk. Just look at this for cool, calm and collected! Somebody has just shot him with a bloody great arrow and he hasn't even dropped his book! In fact he has barely noticed. And how about that for an arrow, it's more like a ballista. It should have cut him in two, or at the very least have knocked him backwards by twenty feet, but he is rock hard. This is the Steven Seagal of antiquity.

The next day I found myself in another museum having nodded off again at a crucial moment. This was an exhibition of Asian art from a similar time period, curated in part by the author of the wonderful "The Hare with Amber Eyes", Edmund de Waal, and was much more varied. And much better actually, much of it made the European efforts look childish in comparison. The Italians were carving shoddy wooden statues and painting entirely unrealistic battle scenes whilst the Japanese and Chinese were weaving with silk and making incredible ceramics. Look at this plate! You could sell it via the Sunday supplements even today, and there's not much doubt about the species, Red-crowned Crane. Stonking!

And this pot, or maybe vase (except it was so massive you could have put a tree in it), was exceptionally wonderful, one of a pair that probably stood four feet tall. Covered in fish, Carp and the like, I reckon it wouldn't have looked out of place in Chateau L but I couldn't find a price tag, and in any event we were hand luggage only as I just don't do queuing up in airports these days. I very much enjoyed this exhibition, which took in Turkey eastwards, various flavours of Buddhism, and concentrated mostly on more animate objects that actually would have been useful. Plates, bowls, pots, furniture, screening, storage chests. Like Ikea in many ways, but less spartan and requiring no self-assembly. Lacking in panther display units mind you.


  1. What a wonderful, original post. This is what I enjoy about your blog: you never know what you're going to get. Excellent stuff.


  2. Well you know what you're not going to get, ie birds in Wanstead...