Cement Dinosaurs

I have been occasionally coming to London since childhood but I have only just discovered, thanks to my niece who moved to the area, a weird and wonderful exhibit I had never even heard of before: the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.

These are Victorian cement statues representing extinct animals, which reside in the Crystal Palace Park. The sculptures are, due to the incomplete information available at the time, wildly inaccurate, which lends them an aura of fantasy and a sort of steampunk aesthetic, reinforced by natural erosion which has given them a crumbling patina.

The sculptures represent the first ever attempt anywhere in the world to model, from fossil remains, extinct animals as full-scale, three-dimensional, active creatures. Of the 30+ statues, only four represent dinosaurs in the strict, zoological sense of the word ( two Iguanodon, a Hylaeosaurus and a Megalosaurus). The statues also include plesiosaurs and icthyosaurs discovered by Mary Anning in Lyme Regis, as well as pterodactyls, crocodilians, amphibians and mammals, such as a South American Megatherium (giant ground sloth) brought back to Britain by Charles Darwin on his voyage on HMS Beagle. And Irish Elk, which at the start bore actual fossil antlers.

This section of the park was landscaped by Joseph Paxton in 1853-1855 and the sculptures remained largely in the places we find them today. They were designed by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, a natural history illustrator and sculptor of international reputation, whose work combined the pursuit of technical accuracy and animate expression.

Experts in the 1850s had different interpretations of what the animals really looked like. The story of these evolving interpretations demonstrates how scientific ideas evolve when new evidence comes to light. For example, some of the sculptures have four legs, whereas later fossil discoveries suggest these animals were bipeds.

The statues were commissioned in 1852 to adorn the Crystal Palace spectacular glasshouse after it was moved from Hyde Park at the end of the Great Exhibition. They were unveiled in 1854 when the park opened as a commercial amusement.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were fascinated by the dinosaur display in Crystal Palace, and they visited the site several times.

Hawkins set up a workshop on site at the park and built the models there. The dinosaurs were built full-size in clay, from which a mould was taken allowing cement sections to be cast. The larger sculptures are hollow with a brickwork interior.

The models were displayed on and around three islands, and given more realism by making the water level in the lake rise and fall, revealing different amounts of the animals. To mark the launch of the statues, Hawkins held a dinner on New Year’s Eve 1853 inside the mould of one of the Iguanodon models.

Engraving of the dinner. Must have been fascinating!

The statues are now Grade I listed and funding is being obtained to restore them before they crumble away completely. I only hope this is done sensibly, because their decrepitude adds to their charm. Some of the restoration done so far on a few makes them look a little fake.

I urge anyone within reach to visit—very original and definitely worth it.

Faith Ringgold at the Musée Picasso

What could be the connection between Pablo Picasso and Faith Ringgold, a major figure in American feminist art?

The flag is bleeding

Faith Ringold was born in 1930 and raised in a middle-class home in Harlem. Her mother, the fashion designer Madame Willi Posey, taught her needlework and took her on the first of her museum-haunting trips to Europe. Picasso was her first and main inspiration. Through her rereadings of modern art history, she engaged in a genuine, critical and humorous dialogue with the Parisian art scene of the early 20th century, particularly with Picasso and his “Demoiselles d’Avignon“.

Picasso’s Studio

Ringgold is especially known for her paintings and mosaics, her sculptures and quilted pieces. She is also the author of some lovely works in children’s literature. In her work, the artist shows the difficulties and unfairness impacting the most underprivileged classes and the Black communities in the United States, and showcases her support for the civil rights movement.

Photo: Google

Ringgold studied at the City College of New York from 1948 to 1955. As the fine arts program was closed to women, she enrolled in art education. But this did not prevent her from learning the principles of her art from the painter Robert Gwathmey, known for his refusal to tolerate racist prejudices. Educated and passionate, she was interested in European artists and especially the Parisian art scene from the early 20th century, the golden age for artists from all around the world who gathered in the City of Lights

The Café des Artistes. We can discern artists like Van Gogh, Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec, Romare Bearden and others. The girl is Faith herself.

This was a fascinating restrospective extending the one devoted to her by the New Museum in early 2022 and organized in collaboration with this New York institution.

The Quilting Bee: notice a disapproving Van Gogh lurking with a bunch of sunflowers

Her painted quilts are marvelous creations, depicting known figures of her time in familiar settings. They are full of references and allusions. Sometimes she collaborated on them with her mother, who made the embroidered edges.

Tar Beach tells the story of a little girl who is taken to the roof of her building to espcape the heat, and dreams of flying over the city

This was a lovely, unusual exhibition. If you are anywhere near Paris, do not miss!

The Swimmers

What do you do when you are parents, and your daughters want to embark on a perilous journey in order to have a future?

This is a film recommendation: The Swimmers tells a true story, of sisters Sara and Yusra Mardini, who were normal teenagers in Damascus, training to be professional swimmers. They left Syria because bombs started falling, and practically ‘swam’ to Greece.


This is the story of their journey; eventually Yusra fulfilled her ambition to swim at both the Rio and Tokyo Olympics. As for Sara, her story is ongoing—but I will leave you to discover it for yourselves.

I had followed the sisters’ saga via The Worldwide Tribe Instagram feed and Podcasts. You can listen to an interview with Sara, here.(highly recommended)

Often biopics can ring false, striving for a heroic bias, but I found this well done, and the actors are excellent. The two are played by real life sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa, which gets the sibling chemistry across really well. The film has its flaws, depending on different points of view—for example, it annoyed some people that the actors spoke mostly in English instead of Arabic—but I thought it gave a good insight into the wider humanitarian crisis facing migrants, and what it means to be labelled a refugee.

It is also a story of family, determination, guts, human frailty—and never giving up on your dreams.

Here is a trailer.

Footnote: See what you think about the traffickers—they are the villains in this story.

Did you know…

…Some animal are immortal?

Theoretically, that is—or, at least, they do not age. Obviously, they can die from other causes: accidents, predators etc. I found this bit of arcana fascinating and thought I’d share.

One species that has been called ‘biologically immortal’ is the jellyfish Turritopsis dohrnii. These small, transparent animals hang out in oceans around the world and can turn back time by reverting to an earlier stage of their life cycle.

Then there is the Hydra: a tubular body with a tentacle-ringed mouth at one end and an adhesive foot at the other. They’re very simple animals that spend their days mostly staying in one place in freshwater ponds or rivers and using their stinging tentacles to grab any prey that happens to swim past. Their claim to immortality? They don’t go through senescence (biological aging) at all. Instead of gradually deteriorating over time, a Hydra’s stem cells have the capacity for infinite self-renewal. Cool, right? However, who’d want to be a Hydra…

Hydra. Photo:Google

Lobsters also do not experience senescence. Unlike Hydra’s reliance on particular genes, however, their longevity is thanks to them being able to endlessly repair their DNA. Unfortunately there’s a catch: they literally grow too big for their own shells. Lobsters continually grow larger and larger, but their shells can’t change size, meaning a lifetime of ditching too-small shells and growing a brand-new exoskeleton each time. That takes a fair amount of energy. Eventually, this becomes too much, and they die of exhaustion—unless they have managed to end up in a lobster roll before that happens.

Many other species offer tantalising glimpses into an ageless existence: such as naked mole rats, whose risk of dying does not increase as they get older; the Ming quahod clam; some bristlecone pines—there is a colony of quaking aspens considered to be about 80,000 years old. Also the enormous bowhead whale, which can live up to 200 years, since they can repair damaged DNA, hence are prevented from developing cancer. Scientists also suggested that these whales can survive the absence of oxygen even for a long time.

These animal can perhaps provide information which will benefit human longevity. But to the question, asked by a young relative, ‘Would you like to live forever?’ my answer is, ‘No, thank you.’ Especially if I had to live attached to a rock, like a Hydra.

New Beginnings

Why do most of us feel a sense of renewal at the beginning of each new year?

The date itself is a completely arbitrary point in the flow of current events. Because the year is about to change, wars are not likely to stop, or natural disasters, or family feuds. And yet we do feel some change will happen—especially if the current year has been difficult. We cannot wait for it to be over, to be rid of it. A new start.

That is a good thing—the stirrings of hope. Without it, life would be too depressing. And good things do happen.

So let us be thankful of what we have, and count our blessings, and spare a thought for those who are worse off than us, for there are many. (And perhaps stop watching the news, for a day or two!)

Happy New Year!

“Hope is the thing with feathers;

that perches in the soul;

And sings the song without the words;

And never stops – at all.”

Emily Dickinson

Happy holidays!

Well, here I am again! I have been extremely busy with various matters and also a family trip to Iceland, where, to my delight, I was able to cross two things off my bucket list: the Northern Lights, and whales! Both well worth the wait, and the anticipation.


It was good fun being with all the family, getting suited up for all the activities on offer: the whale watching, snowmobile riding on a huge glacier, walking on the beaches and close to the amazing waterfalls, festooned with rainbows.

Iceland is a worthwhile destination, a stark, dramatic landscape totally different to what I, at least, am used to.

On the glacier

It was amazing sitting by a motel window, in the middle of nowhere, at 11.30 pm, watching a show I will never forget: illuminated curtains rising and falling, the colours fading and brightening in turn. Simply awesome.

Meet Nila (below), a 15m humpback whale recognised because the flukes of her tail are very white. She gave a display of tail slapping, and even breached for us in a breathtaking performance—imagine a double decker bus rising vertically out of the water. No photo, because I prefer to watch events live than be stuck behind my phone. Also I am a useless photographer. Photo below (as well as the minke whale above), courtesy of our captain, who had a proper camera.

Another year over, and the news continues to be horrendous. As usual, art provides relief, and I have had the privilege to see a lot of it, and immerse myself in the idea that humanity cannot be that bad if capable of producing such beauty.

Joan Mitchell

Amongst many others, a standout show was the one juxtaposing Claude Monet and Joan Mitchel at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.

Monet flowers

The frames had been taken off the Monet paintings, giving them a surprisingly contemporary look, and they had been placed in such a way as to both contrast with and complement the abstraction of Joan Mitchell’s wonderful works.


The three Monet paintings below were originally sold to three different American museums, and have never been exhibited together before. I will leave you with this peaceful image with all my best wishes for the festivities ahead.

Halloween Humor

Halloween is not really a thing in Greece but, as it amuses children—and some adults presumably— Halloween parties do take place, but no trick or treating as such. However, as put off as I am by the usual overdose of merch etc, I admit I do love some of the jokes and cartoons.

I’m a big fan of Dan Piraro and his Bizarro comics

And the inimitable Roz Chas

The one below is a little gross

And the next one, decidedly non-PC

❤️❤️❤️ the raven

Continue reading “Halloween Humor”

#6Degrees of Separation October 2022

Bookworm alert: I don’t know if you have come across this blog, written by the delightful Marina Sofia, but it always contains interesting tidbits. This post is about books set in schools and universities. I had read these, and others with the same setting, what’s not to like about it? A quick google search brought up an amazing number of such books—if anyone’s interested, I might do a post with a selection.


Always a little late to the party, i.e. first Monday rather than first Saturday of the month, but always a pleasure to take part in the Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. We all start with the same book and then link it, one by one, to six other books to form a chain. There are no limits to our imagination as we use the links!

This month the starting point is Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. There was quite a buzz about this book when it first came out and it was filmed as well, although I haven’t seen the adaptation. Originally a little sceptical about the book (the blurb did not do it any favours), I was actually impressed after reading it: the unreliable narrator is done so unobtrusively well. It is set in a school…

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Party time!

Word press has lately informed me of my 7th blogging anniversary. Who would have thought the years would go by so fast? (At least in blogging terms…) Of course I knew it was seven years, because I started the blog during the big—and continuing—crisis we had in Greece in 2015. New readers can read all about it in this post. And some of the following ones.

June 2015: my friends from abroad kept calling to find out what was happening, we were spending a horrible summer stuck in front of the TV. I thought, rather than keep repeating things to each one, I would try and put it down in writing. After a while, I decided I did not always want to talk about the bad news and difficulties,  I also wanted to present the ‘good’ side of Greece—seeing as we were being stigmatised in the press, branded as a nation of feckless tax evaders, and worse.

Although we obviously were not without fault, it has since become apparent to many people that Greece got the short end of the stick, and a whole nation was made to suffer, and is still suffering, because of the usual misguided political and economic schemes and interests of more powerful countries.


I have been, since university, very pro Europe, but I confess I have been sadly disappointed. How a bunch of highly qualified (supposedly) and highly paid (by the taxpayer) people managed to make such a mess of things, beats me. And they are still doing it—viz their handling of the refugee situation.

Despite all this, I still feel a united Europe is  a good thing, in order to pull its weight with the huge empires that are the USA, China and Russia. 

To come back to the blog, it will not have escaped the notice of older readers that I have been writing less often of late. Well, I lead a very busy life, shared between Greece and France, since we have had to make big changes due to the above-mentioned crisis. So, my days are full: and, besides work, I have been doing a lot of drawing and painting, as most of you know—and writing, about which you don’t, since I never put any of it on the blog. I also volunteer for two refugee organisations in Greece, which I have not talked about yet—but maybe I will in future, since it has been a most interesting, although often heartbreaking, challenge.

Therefore the blog has taken a back seat, and not only because of the above.  The fact is, I have not been feeling very inspired: the situation, both in Greece and worldwide, is depressing, and who wants to hear any more about it? We read enough in the papers. Art is a solace, but I am wary of overload.

I admit there are days when I have thought of giving up the blog, but what keeps me going is you guys, my dear readers and bloggy friends. Over those seven years there are people who have stuck with me through thick and thin (Yes, you, Pete, Goeff, Jennie, Franklin, Anne, Derrick, Bruce, Deborah, Ellen, Eha, Bea, Mick, Sue, Jacqui, Anne, Kate, Tialys, Mona, Jack, Willowdot, Mariella, Pamela—and countless others). I could not bear to lose touch with you, or stop following your own blogs and exchanging remarks and comments. Also here I must mention the few who have, in the course of those years, sadly left us—I think of them often.

So thanks, everyone, keep checking in, and let me know if there are things you particular want me to write about. In return, and since this is, after all, an anniversary, I offer you cake!

Happy Easter

For Easter, let me share images of lovely stained glass panels seen in the National Gallery in Dublin (more about this in a future post). They will put you in the right mood.


This is a detail from the work below, by Michael Healy RHA (Dublin, 1873-1941)


The works below are by Evie Hone (Dublin 1894-1955)

So modern for her time.

The work above is titled Resurrection, so very apt for Easter.

Greek Easter is next week, but this post is for all of you, whatever your beliefs or geographical location.

Happy Easter!