The tale of the bear that traveled through time and space

Once upon a time, in around 1622, a printer was in need of an ornament. He wanted something striking and useful. Something he could use in a few different ways: in a chapter header or as a tailpiece. It also had to be interesting, perhaps interesting enough to entertaining to enhance the text his was printing.

In those days,  the printer – publisher needed every advantage to attract readers in order to make a profit on his printing venture (nothing has changed!).

What inspired him to create a bear? Bears do represent courage, strength and leadership.

Could be that a circus came to visit Coloniae Agrippinae, or Koln as it is now better known, nevertheless a bear was created in the shop of Johannes Gymnici in 1622, and with it two accompanying sides to form a chapter header. He printed in Alexandri Alensis Angli, Doct. Irrefragabilis Ordinis Minorvm, Vniversae theologiae svmma, in qvatvor partes ab ipsomet avthore distribvta (NLA RBf 230 A374)

The bear poking his tongue out at the men and dogs on either side of him.

This bear was not content to remain in one town and in that same year he was seen in Amsterdam, this time with Michel Colin.

The bear was found in Description des Indes occidentales, qu’on appelle sujourdhuy le Novveau monde / par Antoine de Herrera… Translatee d’espagnol en francois
(NLA RBq JAF 102)

In 1628, the bear found its way to the city of Arras and stayed with the De Riviere brothers.

In a chapter header – Note the eyes and ears are slightly different.

This chapter header was printed in Ioannis Cassiani opera omnia / cvm commentariis D. Alardi Gazaei (NLA RBf CLI 3865)

His cousin or perhaps younger brother, although similar, was found in Lyon in 1659 with Barbier and Girin.

Found in R.D.P.F. Heiron. Baptistae de Lanvza… Homiliae qvadragesimales: ex Hispanico idiomate in Latinvm… translated (NLA RBf CLi 4053)

By 1687, the bear was getting on, and made its way to London to visit with Thomas Bradyll.

Glossarium Archaiologicum (SLSA)

The last time I saw the bear was in 1700 in Antwerp perhaps returning to rest with George Gallet and the Huguetan Brothers.

You can see the nail marks on next to each snake, where the design was attached to a wood block. Is this a copy of a copy? Found in Dionysii Petavii aurelianensis, e Societate Jesu, opus de theologicis dogmatibus, auctius in Hac nova editione… Theophili Alethini (NLA RBf 230 P477)

Some of the differences are slight, one bear is obviously completely different. Who was the first to make him? Was it Gymnici or was is Colin, or did they both get copies from some printer as yet unknown to me? Whose design is it? Questions, questions, questions. It is amazing that this bear has travelled so far and for so long relatively unchanged.

If you would like to take a closer view, please visit my Flickr album: tailpiece comparison. If anyone has a bear from another printer and another time, please let me know.

happy reading

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On a bookbinding adventure in Pohnpei

I don’t “do” tourism very well; I can’t lie still on a beach for more than a few minutes. Four of us had decided earlier in the year to visit our friend on the Micronesian island of Pohnpei. As the time approach, I wondered how I would amuse myself for 2 whole weeks.

 

I can tell you now that I re filed over 10 000 photos of ornaments and initials. That took up a bit of time.

We knew that the island would be small, and that our movements would be limited. So when a colleague from work reported that there was a library on the island, it occurred to me that I might be able to teach bookbinding on my off-excursion days.

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I sent my CV and bookbinding workshop proposal to the Pohnpei Public Library (PPL), and with a bit of help from the Australian Consulate,  three morning workshops began to take shape. I had also visited their website and found that they had a wish list of books to complement their holdings. So the girls and I decided to bring a few kilos of Australian children’s and youth fiction with us.

I had hoped that teenagers or children might be involved, but I had not reckoned on how the island works. Let me say here that this blog is not so much about the bookbinding aspect as it is of  social ramifications of a visiting teacher might engender in a small community.

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This is Lester Ezekias, the director of the PPL. He contacted his local librarians group, the equivalent of ALIA in Australia,  in the hopes of creating interest. Even on the Friday before the start of the workshops, he was emailing people to gauge interest.

Things on the island work by word of mouth or social media. Therefore on the first day we had 6 people who didn’t know what to expect. IT was lucky that Lester had attended a previous book repair workshop as he had bone folders and a few bits and pieces that were to come in very handy.

I’d come prepared with electronic notes and a presentation, but not the correct hardware. On that first day we had to crowd around my laptop to view some power points. I had made up small shows about the various different exhibitions, of Pacific and Islander material, that I had chanced upon during the year. One was a visit to the Museum of New Caledonia, compact exhibition space, but full of interesting information and artifacts relating to Kanaka culture as well as Pacific cultures in general. Another was a glimpse at the Tapa exhibition at the National Library of Australia, where the conservators had cleverly used camouflaged magnets to hold up a long tapa cloth.

And of course, a power point on a very brief history of the book in images.

My friend Kath, we whom we were staying, saved the week by providing her laptop and hardware to connect to the big screen. And as we bound books and had morning tea, the shows ran on a loop. But enough of electronic things, let’s get back to the meat of things, learning bookbinding.

Waiting for students, and Kath and Lesley helping out on the first day

I introduced the students to the wonderful uses of the telephone book and the versatility of pamphlet sewing.

At the end of the first session everyone had a few small booklets.

Bush telegraph and the next session was full; librarians from public schools and the Micronesian community college turned up to learn how to make simple housing. Wallet, four flap folders, phase box, using material locally available.

 

By the third session we were overfull; but no matter I was happy to share my knowledge with those I hope would be sharing this , in turn, with their students.

On the third and final session we made sewn board bindings. Everyone happened to be skilled at sewing, even the men. What pleasure to see surprise and smiling faces at the end of the day, book in hand, students marvel at the immediacy of the result and at having gained an understanding about the construction of books.

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My friend Lesley H. had been my assistant throughout, and for a complete novice she was a great help to others.

I have to thanks Kath Grant for her invaluable insights, as well as for inviting us for a visit. Thanks also to Lester Ezequiel for his unfailling support and to his staff who were completely in the moment, in between answering phones, checking out books to patrons and helping with passport applications.

On our penultimate day the four of us trouped over to the library to donate Australian books we had brought with us.

img_9039I think that carrying 20 kilos of books was very worthwhile.

The whole experience was all about the people; how we interacted, how different cultural views can be, how adaptable humans can be.

Perhaps I hope to go back and teach again.

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A book in the hand is better than on screen

As I revisit some of the books I previously examined to now look for printers’ initials, I realise that images of books, or even descriptions, often do not do justice to the item itself.

I’ve been looking inside a book printed by Michel Isingrinium in Basle in 1555. When I look at the photos I took over two years ago, in my mind the book is quite large. Even when I look at the title page and the few initials, I still think the book is at least quarto size.

Look here at this big book:

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However upon a revisit, this is what I get:

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It was not much taller than my pencil. What?!

When I requested items from the catalogue I don’t usually pay attention to the size description. I guess I am looking for particular information such as date of printing, printing house etc. I don’t pay attention to “12mo”, so I am often surprised at the books when the librarians bring them over to me. More often than not they are smaller than I expect.

However a digital version gives you no context. It’s great to be able to view book from the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, but I personally don’t get a sense of reality. (However it is cheaper to view from my computer than fly to Madrid).

A book in the hand is worth two on the screen.

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An ornamental journey

It’s been an age since I’ve been here. I am a bookbinder, but I haven’t had much experience of late, hence nothing much to say. However after a talk with my friend Hannah Brown, I made a few non new year resolutions. Practise. Practise more. So while I would like to participate in more workshops and learn interesting technique, I think at this stage I need to consolidate. So I will practise by making at least five of the same bindings. Saying that I did enter a few experiments in our Guild’s yearly exhibition. Please go visit it at the Civic Library if you are in Canberra, because we are becoming more interesting as the years go by.

The point of this post is to illuminate you further on the things that have been distracting me from binding. Printers’ decorated capitals and other ornaments.

These  are in my Flickr album “Tailpieces”. And to date, these are my best examples of a single ornament used across space and across time. In fact, during the writing of this blog I found yet another example of the same ornament.

It’s like playing “spot the difference”; the same but not quite.

When seen in this light, you have to wonder a few things? Did they buy this pattern from each other? Did they pass it on to each other? Did they duplicate it? Did they buy it from a third party? and on the questions go.

After doing research into the lives of these printers, I have come to realise that the world is indeed a small place. I had thought, erroneously, that people didn’t travel much in the olden days. But at the dawn of printing, news travelled wide and fast. Printers and bookbinders travelled; married the widows of their mentors and their heirs continued their traditions, in new places.

Here is a bit of info about the printers in chronological order:

1577: Johann Feyerabendt is a printer in Frankfurt am Main. Twice married. Related to publisher Sigmund Feyerabend;

1584: Guillaume Rouille publisher and bookseller in Lyon, he apprenticed in Venice as a bookseller with Giolito De Ferrari. He was a printer between 1545 and 1589

1600: Matthaeus Becker, printer at Frankfurt am Main from 1598 to 1602

1605; Sebastien HenricPetri, 1569 to 1627 active printer in Basel, son of Heinrich Petri.

1623: Joannis Gymnich 1570-1634 – and printer bookseller active in Frankfurt am Main and Koln

1627: Johann Saur active printer between 1591 and 1636 in Frankfurt am Main, Marburg and Kassel

1628: Jean de La Riviere

1652: Impensis Societas ecclesiastica active printing workshop in Paris

And as we speak, just today I found the same tailpiece, printed  between 1600 and 1605: 1601 Madrid by the Emprenta Real.

If you look closely they are definitely related but changed in some slight way. Some differences are obvious, some are slight. The main face is different as is the oval underneath it, which may contain initials, a blank or a symbol.Did each printer add something of their own to the block they bought? I thought that perhaps the Germans would be similar and the French would be alike; but that is not necessarily true

As far as I can tell, the 1577 Feyerabendt is the best printed and being the oldest that is perhaps not so surprising. If others are copies, then something gets lost in translation.

Now that I have come back from the London Rare Book Summer School, I understand how these might have been duplicated and sold on. They could be metal replicas of an original woodcut.

I have sat on this blog for long enough. Next week I am off to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where I will be teaching some bookbinding while on holiday. Don’t know what the internet will be like, but I will have tales to tell; so watch this space!

 

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Thursday, day of the presses – the wooden press

The practical today was a bit rushed because we were all super keen to get our hands dirty. The day’s lectures consisted of differentiation between wood engraving and wood cutting, plus an introduction to the machine processes of the late 19th century. The following slide is Martin’s, and explains the difference between cutting and engraving very concisely.

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I am sure most of you are here to see the presses. This post is about using a wooden two-pull press.

Let me start with the replica of the wooden press, upon which we printed off  from a replica plate of a page of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Both were made by Alan May, and which you can see on the YouTube documentary: The machine that made us.

I took some short videos of this several parts of the process. You might like to go to my Instagram feed.

We had a replica plate of a page of the Nuremberg Chronicle to play with.

The first thing we did was ink up the plate:

The ink pads are made of deer hide. They are usually soaked overnight to keep them soft. You take the two pads and pound them together before applying ink to the plate.

Once you are satisfied with the inking you lay down the frisket. This is a stencil or shape of the plate’s image that keeps the edges clean. In the photo on right, you can see the shape has been cut out.

When you are ready you lay the paper down, place the timpan on top and push under the platten.  This is a two-pull press because you had to move the press further in if your plate was large. The printing size is determined by the size of the plattern. We used both damp and dry paper to see which gave the best print.

The first few of us forgot that the best place to pull the lever was from the end (left picture). We started pulling from close to the center (right picture). We all forgot our basic high school physics: that the most efficient place from which we should use the force would be the end of the lever.  Even though the plattern is heavy, pulling the lever is not strenuous. Although if you were to pull it 500 times in a day, then you would get tired; it does require the whole body to be in the movement, not just the arms.

Now that I am home, I can show you my impression. Can you see a vertical white line a third in from the right? that is where the plate has split. The middle of the plate has less ink, so in later versions we built up the middle with a couple of layers of paper. It made the impressions better.

Next post will be about using an iron press with a lever to take an impression.

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Wednesday is time to typecast

Today we are listening to Martin Andrews from Reading University, and Richard Lawrence is also there to guide us through the practical.

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Richard, pensive in the background, Martin holding a stereo.

What can I tell you?

Type metal is an alloy of antimony, tin and lead. This is what the type is made from.

 

However the type punch is made of harder material, usually steel, because it is worked and used to punch an impression on a copper matrix, into which the type metal will be poured.

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There is a clever contraption that was invented in the 1500s to re cast type should you run out of letters.

You open it up and insert the copper matrix. You close it up and pour in the molten typemetal. Hey presto, here’s a letter.

 

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You can see Roberta (left)pouring the molten material in. It takes about a third of a ladle. Mindy, on the right, has opened the mold.

 

What if you want to copy a whole block? You might want to sell your design to others. You can use the dabbing technique. I have a few videos on my Instagram. But it goes along these lines:

  1. Place molten typemetal in a small non-flammable dish
  2. Wait until it is nearly set
  3. dab the wood block in it.

The block should come out intact, and you have a positive from which you can then make many negatives.Hey presto.

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So that’s about a block. What if you want to copy a whole plate? You can set it up in the chase and then take a copy of it with a flong.

Flong – that is a great Scrabble word. A flong is a large sheet composed of several damp pieces of paper, a bit like papier maché. You make an impression of the plate on this flong. After which you pour type metal over it, and you will get a negative from which you can make multiple copies. This saves wear and tear on the original.

You see Martin holding the papier maché flong. The blurry photo is because he was waving it around. Then at the bottom there is the newspaper version with its flong. The cyclinders on the table are the typecast flong used in machine printing (of newspapers).

It is amazing the sorts of things Richard and Martin found just lying out the workshop.

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Looking at Dürer in the British Museum

Ok, let’s get into something a bit meaty, that has nothing to do with bookbinding and all to do with plates.

At the National Library of Australia we have plates of Dürer’s Little Passion (RBRS 13), which you can view here. It was printed in 1511 and rebound in a non-contempory calf binding, with blind tooling along perimeter.

This is what I saw at the British Museum:

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35 of 36 wood blocks. And we were also shown some corresponding impressions. What deliciousness! Yes, you can handle the book, look at the plates, but when you are confronted with the medium, which may have been engraved by the Master himself and most certainly drawn on by him, then you marvel at the skills that were available in 1511.

My interest in Dürer is this, of course:

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We were asked to examine the blocks closely; could we detect different hands in the relief structure of the matrix?

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I took photos of the signatures; I figured that you might be able to tell one worker from another by the way he/she carved the AD. If we look closely are the ADs similarly different?

It’s not every day you get to see the plate and its impression.

That was all I had time to photograph I’m afraid.

I haven’t had the time to properly examine these photos; I am just reporting our day. I feel very privileged to have seen these. However these were seen in a reading room, and if you are going to London, I believe if you make an appointment well before hand, you may be able to experienced these for yourself.

The Print and Drawing reading room, very light but not airy. In the summer bring your own fan.

cheers

 

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Tuesday is ink day

My well thought out plan in getting to St Brides early fell on its ear when

  1. I got lost leaving my building
  2. Holborn was exit only
  3. it 9.18am and I have to catch 2 buses to Fleet St by 9.30am

You can see what sort of day I thought it might turn into. However, despite it all, I was not very tardy. Here is the entrance to St Brides Institute.

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The printing workshop is filled with historical printing presses and tools, and in many ways their significance is lost on me; I am sure Australian printmakers  Dianne Fogwell and Caren Florence would be far more appreciative than me. Let’s have a little look at what’s inside:

On to today’s topic: a day with Amy Worthen.

The day was dedicated to the histories of engraved plates and of etched plates, giving us the tools and basic understanding to identify and differentiate between the two techniques.

Her enthusiasm was catching and she was very generous with the information she offered. You could tell she had a lot of experience. It just emanated from her.

There was a set reading list to compliment this session. The sessions, though generalised, took us on a well rounded journey.  There were many historical examples on the slides. I didn’t actually take many notes; I will probably explore the readings at some later date. She explained about the different cutting techniques and how the depth of the cut could change to strength of the printed line.  And since we were in St Bride’s printing room, we could see first hand what tools were used.

Which brings us to the hands-on session in the afternoon.  Amy demonstrated how to hold the burin, and how to cut a line on a copper plate. “It’s like cutting butter” she said.

Seeing the ease with which she made her marks in the plate, and little swirls of copper that grew from her cuts, one would swear it was indeed as soft as butter.

Well, let me tell you that a copper plate is not as soft as butter. We all had a hand at making lines, and the hardest part for each of us was to maintain the correct posture; we needed to us our bodies, not have our wrists or shoulders at strange angles. She helped each one of us. However, just as in tango or bookbinding learning, once you have the acquired muscle memory, the copper plate would be nothing but butter.

Our main aim for the day was to print an etched plate. Mindy had come from the US with a plate her grand-father has etched, so she set about taking an impression from it.

We didn’t even get dirty, even though we each had a go at using the brayers to apply ink to the plate’s surface. We scrimmed and palmed the plate. Here you can see Richard Lawrence, St Bride’s print workshop keeper,  helping us.

The hands-on proved to be the best part of the day for most of us, bringing a better understanding of the morning’s discussion.

And here are some of the results.

That’s it for now. See you tomorrow.

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Introductions at Senate House Library

Today is Monday and I will not be shy.  Roll out of bed, go downstairs for breakfast and sit with Ollie (NZ) and an American woman  (whose name I have forgotten) who knew London like the back of her hand.  Ollie talks a lot. But it makes breakfast fun. I spot Donato, ask about his Japanese exam, take an extra coffee back to my room and await the appointed time.

There is the usual registration, and I see Nicole Gilroy from the Bodleian. She is taking the European Bookbinding course. She does remember me. After Dr Karen Attard’s riveting talk on what we could expect to see during our course, we are sent off to our various rooms.

Dr Elizabeth Savage, is a delightful and enthusiastic educator. But I am not sure this course is quite what I expected, hoped for or needed. It is very cerebral; I am having to think, as opposed to taking down notes and being shown slides of items on a screen (as in 5 years ago).

We begin with the usual introductions, and it really seems like a course in art history.  We are a pretty diverse group: librarians, collectors, bookseller, curator, art historian, student. We rapidly cover the history of printing techniques, and we enjoy some discussion. Wish I had taken the time to do more of the prelim reading…..

The usual tea-time, but in the afternoon we get our hands on blocks. I am here to study what printers’ blocks and plates can tell us in and of themselves, as opposed to what the printed impression might tell us. There is a lot of discussion about nomenclature and inter disciplinary vocab that affects the cataloguing of these items. Are they realia I wonder? Wish I knew cataloguing…..

We explore the differences in the lines that each method, relief and intaglio produce. I learn a cool new word: flong.

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sorry it’s blurry; a flong is a papier mache-like sheet that gets impressed onto the set-up plate. Type metal will be poured into this, duplicating the plate…

We have 2 sessions and then the hands-on. Here we are asked to describe to the others what techniques may have been used to create the blocks.

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Anna discovering that there was type “hiding” within  the block. These were numbers, and the block was a generic pattern for a series. As the series changed, you just changed the little numbers. This was the block for an “assignat”, a type of currency.

The dark blocks are made from very hard boxwood; they look nearly petrified. The Queen block is double sided. They are cut and shaped in order to be able to join with others on the form.

Handling these items is amazing. I’ve never seen blocks quite like these. I am sure to my printer friends back in Canberra, these are not so surprising, but as printing is not my particular area of interest, they are fascinating.

This next set were of particular interest to me:

The bound title page is date 1632, but it is more likely that the plate was produced in the 1930s at the request of the collector; where is the original plate? And we can tell this by the material used and the nails that hold the plate on the block. I used to wonder what kind of type was used for the lettering, but it is etched in. And of course, the engraver doesn’t necessarily prepare the writing.

Time was running short and we were left with the perplexing questions:

  1. What can the printing surfaces reveal that is not evident on the impression on paper?
  2. Can a vocabulary common to bibliographers, art historians and book historical research ever be generated and how would this change the face of cataloguing?

There was a welcome reception in the Chancellor’s Hall and a few of us left for dinner shortly afterwards.

I think we are an interesting group, and being thrown into a pot like this can either be scary or refreshing.

see you tomorrow.

 

 

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The Grand Adventure begins…

with a headcold.

This just goes to show the power of negative reinforcement; my worst fear is to get sick the day before leaving, and lo! I got sick the day before leaving Braidwood for London. Left work early Thursday because my head was so stuffy, and by Friday morning I was ready to cancel this trip of a lifetime. But I couldn’t cancel or rearrange the schedule. However I wasn’t the only one sick on the plane, and I managed to sleep most of the way.

So. Here I am, again, five years later. This is where it all began.

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Senate House and its Library, home to the London Rare Book Summer School.

I spent a few hours wandering around Malet Street. It was university Open Day, so heaps of parents with child in tow, or was it the other way around, were visiting various departments, and talking about the future.

I found Waterstones, which I can’t believe I had never seen before. I spent some happy hours browsing the shelves and the internet, and getting high on caffeine. And listening to some accordion.

My student accommodation is highly recommended and the best place for me to be. It has everything I need except for a kettle. Breakfast is better than at a hotel and you get to meet some strange and interesting people.

Do not go to the British Museum around lunch, if you want lunch; you can’t find a seat. I was surprised at how warm the rooms were. Too many tourists. I think they really should cap the number of visitors to these places, because you can’t see the exhibits. Also, many tourist sights have given in to security fears, and every where it seems your bags are searched. There are long queues just to get into the venues. I did go to see the mummies, and have learned that part of my course takes me to the print and drawing room, which I may say is a haven in the tourist madness.

I walked around over the Saturday and the Sunday getting my bearings. Following advice from a nice young Italian boy, I walked all the way to St Brides; I realised that by catching the Tube, you miss the sights. So summer Sunday afternoon in London CBD can be relatively car-less and quiet.  I went to find St Brides

I kept walking even though it was quite summery, and I had intended on resting before tango. I found St Paul’s and St Paul’s Churchyard, which to my surprise was just a lane. Foolishly I thought it was going to be a churchyard, and could never figure out where the printing shops might be. I take things a little too literally sometimes. In this new and refurbished lane, I tried to imagine what it might have once been like to live and work there.

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St Pauls, with its churchyard and gardens behind.

To finish off the walking, I found a very retro French cafe with Brazilian waitresses, some of whom appeared to just be over this tourist season, and doing their best to ignore the customers sitting out on the street.  Cafe Boheme in Soho. Well refurbished, it did give off a nostalgic sense of la Belle Epoque. Nice haven from all the tourists with a very small but nice menu.

The day, ended with tango of course. You’ll need to go to the other blog for words on that!

See you tomorrow!

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