Gatwick North terminal is such a lovely place to be, I am in the Jamie Oliver outlet. Cunningly they have removed the ceiling to reveal the panoply of silver tubes and pipes that are usually hidden. It is not an original form of design but it is strangely comforting. Airports are ironically very claustrophobic, the crowds, the rules, the pushing and shoving all combine to create a very tight and airless environment. Above all airports seem to celebrate low ceilings which are peculiar given the point of airports is to take you up into the sky. Jamie's gives the traveller a gift of scale which is therefore most welcome.
I am waiting for Nicola (the fair director) from Masterpiece. We are heading to Amsterdam for the day to visit PAN. It is the annual fair for the Dutch trade. It takes place at a soulless exhibition centre outside the city called RAI. PAN is amazingly popular, between 50,000 and 60,000 visit the fair during its 10 day run. PAN is one of the most elegant fairs in Amsterdam. For one week the usually dull Amsterdam RAI exhibition hall, turns into an elegant interior with a lot of light, plushy carpets and many interesting antique objects. Amsterdam Art and Antique Fair - shortly PAN, exists for almost ten years and each year presents more than 120 antique dealers of reputation from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, with their collections. Dutch antique merchants are known for their ability to dig up interesting quality objects, not only in their own country, but all over the world.
So, we are waiting for breakfast, i have ordered tea for Nicola and coffee for me. While we wait I have also ordered what they call "the full Monty" a massive fry up - eggs, sausages, black pudding, beans and bacon. I take up the option of poached eggs. The platter arrives and the collation is as expected except for the eggs. They are proudly announced to be Burford browns. This extra level of detail is not without worth. They are lovely eggs. The white is fluffy and very white and the yolk is pert and orange. A grind of pepper and a sprinkle of salt and we are off to egg heaven. Nicola is still waiting for her tea. The magic of a poached egg is the magic of all restaurant dining. Amid the search for perfection or simple sustenance there is the performance of something we cannot do at home. Poached eggs elude me. Whatever I do, vinegar in the water, spin the water to create a vortex, gently fold in the egg, have the water at varying degrees of hotness, whatever I do I create a watery mush. Worse than everything is the delivery to my crisp buttery warm toast of water. It is definitely a compliment to any kitchen if they can deliver to your table a runny yolk, billowy white, and above all dry poached egg. Jamie nailed it. However, Nicola is still, waiting for her tea.
At this point our neighbours pay and they decide to kick off. The man, pushing back his chair, berates the charming but slightly confused looking Eastern European waiter. He lists every aspect of his meal and tells the waiter exactly how wrong each aspect was. Even down to the sugar "you need to serve Demerara sugar with porridge not refined white sugar, it's a disgrace." The poor waiter stood there bemused with his card reader and let it all wash over him.
We then had to go too. Nicola got her tea, but time had run out, so she saw her tea but was unable to fully partake of the elixir. We paid and headed towards the gate.
De planing, as they seem to like to call it, in Amsterdam was painless and soon we were in the land of the bicycle. Wandering along the seemingly endless corridors of Schipol passing " Murphy's bar" the ubiquitous Irish pub offering the disconcerting twin offers of " nachos and a pint" 8.5 euros and Bitteballs ( a Dutch mini croquettes ) and a pint 7.5 euro. Internationalism? Spiky haired officials chase around on bicycles, their wheels squeaking on the polished floors. Then the challenge of buying train tickets. The inventors of the automated ticket machines are clearly trained in the seventh circle of Dante's Hell. What exquisite and arcane ways they construct in order to make the process confusing, in the manner of the game ' snakes and ladders' you find yourself back at the beginning struggling with the language choice on the machine more often than I can with dignity admit to.
PAN, finally is before us. It is well, but economically built by Stabilo and the atmosphere is friendly and accommodating. The fair has developed into a sort of binary experience. The right hand half of the fair is old art the other side is contemporary. The contemporary side seems to succeed well. The dealer's stands seemed liberally peppered with red dots and there was an air of energy and commerce. Over on the old art side the mood was a little gloomy. What all local traders know is that the dealers need to reach out beyond their borders to survive or flourish in the current trade climate.
Then I went to see Floris, a scion of a successful Chinese art business. He is the definition of energy. He is always coming up with marketing ideas and creative schemes. Admittedly he is trading at a time when China is investing heavily in its own art, but it is not easy to do business. He says we must divide our stock between "consumer" and "collector". The fairs are really for the consumer. Dealers try to persuade the un-initiated to fall in love with an object through its superficial appeal. Then it is up to the dealer to convince them that the object is both buyable and real. The collector will find the dealer who has what he wants; the consumer needs to be courted. He may be right; it is certainly an interesting theory. The proof perhaps lies in the fact that he persuaded me to buy something. I fell for a fascinating Japanese bronze vase from the 1950's with sublime cloudy patination.
But the day was only too short and we had to rush back to the airport. A successful day for Masterpiece London as well with two or possibly three dealers applying to join the show and bring real quality. In three very different disciplines.
Murphy's bar proved an irresistible draw as we headed home, bearing cheese, (the wonderful basic Dutch cheese which is known as young or old cheese) Genever (the wonderful basic Dutch gin which is known as young or old Genever) crazy huh?
Home, Nicola to a delayed Thanksgiving party and me to my son's school quiz. Lucky me.