Life in the Arts Lane - Week 30 - From the Rhine to the Danube

Life in the Arts Lane - Week 30 - From the Rhine to the Danube

I know don't what comes over me but there is a certain kamikaze spirit that drives one to oblivion. I knew that I had an early flight on Thursday morning and Wednesday night is a weird night anyway. It nestles in the middle of the week. With the best will in the world it is not yet suggestive of the weekend - it should be work work work. However Wednesday does have a strange festive quality. It offers a reward for surviving Monday and Tuesday along with an encouragement to be brave and take on Thursday and Friday. So, oblivion found its outlet through cocktails and nourishment at Soho House. Emma, in the Masterpiece office, was celebrating her birthday. We have three Masterpiece birthdays. This one just before the show and Bess and Elizabeth during. The team tried a Martini Royale which was universally acknowledged to be filthy. A dastardly corruption of a martini with ice, soda and mint. It was the proverbial mouthwash. Luckily things picked up with Gavi de Gavi and grilled meat. Not, you say, traditional - white wine with meat? But the scented rich Gavi merged all too successfully. I cycled home, scraping in just past midnight.

5.30am and we are off to Stansted and Ryanair hell. In the way of these things, despite my throbbing head, habit kills pain. The seven pointless queues between ground and plane are mere nothings to me now. My crushed knees and folded spine are almost comfortable. Even the cursed self-congratulatory fanfare played upon landing seems mildly humorous. All is fine. Habit is the cure. I guess it is the way people become accustomed to prison, or worse, physical abuse. Admittedly international travel should not be akin to abuse in prison. But that is the way of the people who run Ryanair. In the end I do buy the tickets. Nobody pays to go to prison.

As our taxi rumbles to Zebergeny where we are attending a party for American business graduates I reflect upon the preceding days. On Sunday I had gone to Basel to vet the design fair. I travelled with Simon Andrews from Christie's. We have done this trip for a few years now and it is great fun. He is an astonishing encyclopaedia of knowledge. For 20th-century design he is Mr. Memory. He could stand on stage and field design questions and he would never be caught out. He is cool too; bald, medium height and superficially scruffy, he has gathered from markets and thrift stores a panoply of design classics. Each accessory or garment is chosen. Nothing he has is haphazard. I would wager there is no one else like him in the world.

As we sit together over breakfast we are shocked to see a vast, bloated, brown and white dead cow float past the window. We both wonder whether this is life or an Art Basel event! I am staying until Tuesday night and the vetting work is done, so I can look forward for the first time to properly viewing Art Basel. The design show has fewer than 50 dealers. The main show plus the Unlimited section has over 300, maybe even more. Our Masterpiece CEO is out too. We have the Unlimited opening on Monday and then the main show starts on Tuesday. This is really Nazy's element, her home turf. She knows everybody. We make slow progress as cards and kisses are exchanged hither and thither. I follow, trying to give the impression that I am not completely ignorant of all that I survey. We take a breather and drive up to the Beyeler Foundation. There is a world-beating Max Ernst show there as well as an appropriately surreal contemporary installation of five stuffed, headless horses by the artist Maurizio Cattelan. My triumph is achieved whilst trying to help a guard move a floating silver balloon. I burst it. Nazy looks away, deeply embarrassed by her art vandal companion.

The Unlimited section and the show itself make a stupendous festival of art. There are some old pieces too and so there is a sense of context and history. But the primary emotion here is surprise, everyone wants the 'new' or if that fails the 'discovered'. It is an intense couple of days and I head for the airport fully aware that I actually missed more than I saw.

Back to Hungary, we arrive at the house in bright sunshine. The first I've seen in ages. The Danube is huge, fat and smug-looking, having caused so much trouble along its banks over the last few days. We were having some pieces shipped over and they had to be loaded onto a special army truck with high wheels to make it through. But it made it. We set to work with the help of a cheery team of local labourers. The leader, whose name sadly I could never pronounce, was always laughing. Hugely fat, in a magnificent Falstaffian way, his face ruddy from beer and being outside. His green overalls matching his flowing but thinning blonde locks, he worked and worked. Several hours and buckets of sweat later the house was in order. The rooms went quiet and Mrs. Sungoose and I sat down to enjoy an epic sunset with some superb local Prosecco, a small piece of Camembert and some spicy Mangalitsa salami - peace and heaven. We dined in a local restaurant and hotel that opened just for us. Our companion over dinner was a small dog, he barked once when we arrived and then was happy to sit at our feet and have his tummy tickled. Our host brought us menus and then cunningly said that he would suggest what we ate. I cannot say or repeat what he said but I was impressed by the hospitality and the firm direction toward what we suspected was the only thing he had! Sweet sparkling wine and deep fried packet food was not a culinary delight, but it was most welcome and we ate everything with appreciation and gusto.

Friday, party day, began with staff bustling and no food in the house for breakfast. But our host arrived at 10am and the champagne began to flow. The American students arrived at 12 and there was wonderful traditional food aplenty. There were long speeches about personal and business development and more drinking and toasting. Then the senior people drifted off leaving the young to party. Clothes pared down to swimming costumes. The swimming pool full of young drunken bodies accompanied by loud dance music. I repaired to a quiet corner of the Jacuzzi and ate goulash and drank wine for more hours than I can comfortably remember, observing this tribal group slowly pass from exuberance to passivity and finally sleep and the coach home. The next day, as we headed to the airport, the debris and occasional forgotten sleeper were impressive.

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