ABC to NPG: Michael Jackson “On the Wall” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

I took a trip to the National Portrait Gallery in London to learn more about Michael Jackson’s career and see how he has been depicted and immortalised by a variety of different artists.

My knowledge of popular culture is generally quite atrocious. Every time popular culture comes up in conversations I realise just how many films I haven’t yet seen, how many songs I haven’t yet heard of and how many famous individuals have never even entered my consciousness. When I heard that the National Portrait Gallery was putting on an exhibition which documented Michael Jackson’s musical career and influence on culture and society around the world I jumped at the chance to learn more about such a highly decorated cultural icon that I had very limited knowledge about beyond some of his biggest hits of the 80s and 90s.

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I went with my brother to this exhibition which was great as he was a font of Michael Jackson knowledge and provided a lot of contextual information for much of the artwork on display. As well as finding out that Michael Jackson was the first black musician to enter a significant number of non-black family homes around the world, I also learnt that he was the first black artist to be featured on MTV. I think this can be attributed to the fact that he was a phenomenally talented singer and dancer as well as an incredibly hardworking individual. He acknowledged that “people of colour and women had to work twice as hard to get half as far” and this attitude pushed him to work incredibly hard indeed. This attitude, as well as help from the music mogul Quincy Jones, in turn led to his success and status as a cultural icon who broke many racial barriers and paved the way for several artists of every creed and colour who would follow his lead, replicate his dance moves and mimic his falsetto tones.

I also learnt a few heart-breaking truths about Michael Jackson’s life such as the fact that he grew up in a two-bedroom house with eight other siblings in a small Rust Belt town in Indiana. The exhibition also illustrated how Michael Jackson drew parallels between himself and E.T. He thought of himself as a relative outsider who was simply trying, and sometimes struggling, to find his way in this world– much like the titular character from the iconic 80s film. I also discovered that because he didn’t have a typical childhood, as he spent so much of his early life performing and honing his craft with the Jackson 5 and then later as a solo artist, he tried desperately to cling onto his youth even in later life. This explains a lot about his personality and lifestyle, particularly why he named his home Neverland and built a theme park inside it.

The exhibition itself was incredible and did a fantastic job of showcasing the vast achievements Michael Jackson made throughout his career as well as how he was received globally by fans. I left with a burning desire to listen to the songs from his Off the Wall album which I hadn’t heard before as well as to listen to some of my favourite songs from the Thriller album.

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Two pieces by Graham Dolphin. His works featured multiple copies of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and Thriller albums with the lyrics to every song ever recorded by Michael Jackson handwritten on them in small white print.

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P.Y.T by Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom

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A series of images of Michael Jackson by Andy Warhol

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Image from the American Jesus series by David LaChapelle

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Equestrian portrait of King Phillip II (Michael Jackson) by Kehinde Wiley

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Magnificent Mexican: Spotlight on Corazón

My perennial search for the best Mexican food in London brings me to a great eatery in Soho

I absolutely adore Mexican food, however, I find that the general offering of Mexican food in London is lacking. Whilst there are a few standout restaurants I find that there are a lot of restaurants that promise a lot and deliver very little. When I talk to friends about Mexican food many of them tell me that this isn’t their preferred cuisine and that they think Mexican food is quite bland and unexciting. My theory is that many people who dislike Mexican food have based their perception of this cuisine on restaurants like Wahaca. Whilst I do recognise that Wahaca was a trailblazer in terms of bringing Mexican food to the masses in the UK, I find that the menu isn’t a great advocate for authentic, exciting and homemade Mexican food.

My pursuit of great Mexican food has led me to some standout restaurants such as Corazón. This restaurant is tucked into the backstreets of Soho and is just a stone’s throw from Oxford Circus station. The décor is minimalist, stylish and a far cry from the often glib and extravagantly decorated Mexican restaurants which make you feel like you’re walking into a Cinco de Mayo celebration gone wrong. I went to Corazón with my friend Noreen who is a fellow fan of delicious, fresh and authentic Mexican food. We were both highly impressed with the offering here.

The food and drinks at Corazón were exceptional. The totopos (tortilla chips) were a thing of beauty; they were freshly made and arrived at our table whilst they were still warm which made them incredibly moreish. We dunked these lightly salted chips into a generous serving of fresh guacamole, pico de gallo and a toasted arbol chile salsa which was divine. There are few things in this world better than freshly made, authentic yellow and blue corn tortilla chips. I could have happily eaten three plates of these, but I resisted as I was keen to try a few of the delicious tacos which were on the menu. The standout dish for me was the plate of Baja fish tacos. These were made from homemade blue corn tortillas, beer battered haddock, pickled cabbage and chipotle mayo. I think that the decision to use haddock rather than cod was great as the haddock had a great depth of flavour and a slightly meatier texture than the fried cod tacos I’ve tried in the past. The combination of flavours in this taco worked extremely well. We enjoyed it so much that we order another pair!

We also tried the carne asada tacos and the carnitas tacos. Whilst the carnitas tacos were very flavoursome I found that the beef in the carne asada tacos was quite tough and that there was a little too much moisture in this taco as the tortilla started to lose its structural integrity even before I started eating it. Half way through eating it I just gave up using my hands and started using my knife and fork.

Next came the dessert and my goodness it was good. We shared a flourless chocolate torte and a flan made from coconut milk which had tiny pieces of toasted coconut on top. The chocolate cake was incredibly smooth and creamy without being overly rich. It also had a hint of cinnamon which made it quite warming to eat. The creamy and perfectly wobbly flan was delicious. It was dressed with a sweet caramel sauce which worked incredibly well with the coconut milk flan. This dish is one for dessert lovers as it is sweet; however, if you were to have this with a cup of tea, as I did, this would help to offset the sweetness of the flan somewhat. The tiny pieces of toasted coconut also added a crunchy texture to the dish which provided a nice contrast to the creamy flan. I was incredibly impressed with the flan, especially as I was initially unsure about what to expect.

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Not only was the food great, but the staff were incredibly friendly, helpful (they very wisely recommended that we get the flan and chocolate cake to share rather than getting two servings of the cake) and accommodating. All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our Mexican feast at Corazón – I’d give it a solid 8/10.

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A day trip to Sintra

A summary of my trip to Sintra, including my long walk to Peña Palace

When I started doing research for my trip to Lisbon I, like many other intrepid travellers, was taken aback by the stunning beauty of Sintra; a town that is advertised as a must-see day trip for anyone planning a trip to Lisbon. Sintra is only 30km from Lisbon and is easily accessible by train from the capital. There is a regular service from the Rossio-Lisbon train station which will get you there in approximately 45 minutes. N.B. you can use a Viva Viagem travelcard, which is the public transport travelcard that is used throughout Lisbon, to pay for your journey to Sintra.

After arriving in town I made my way through the streets of Sintra and stopped to buy a snack at a pastry shop called Piriquita. I found out about this place from the Lisbon episode of “Somebody Feed Phil” and was immediately infatuated with the pastries which were featured in the show. I had heard a lot of good things about the travesseiros; these are soft, doughy “pillow” pastries which are filled with an almond paste. Once I purchased my pastry I then set off in pursuit of Peña Palace.

There are a few parks, palaces and places of interest in the Sintra area, however, the most famous place in Sintra by far is Peña Palace. Its beautiful, bright and multi-coloured façade is captivating and immediately makes you think that you are walking through a Disney film.

Unfortunately, one thing I didn’t research before leaving for Lisbon, or even just before I went to Sintra, was how to get to Peña Palace from Sintra station. This proved to be a very costly mistake, which I soon realised when the 50-minute walking route that Google Maps suggested I should take turned into a 1 hr 40-minute uphill slog into the high heavens. What made matters worse was that because I was walking along the side of a road for most of the journey I had to walk to the top of Peña Palace whilst watching countless tuk-tuks and coaches full of excited tourists make their way to the top of Peña Palace much quicker than I could ever hope to get there on foot.

Once I finally made it to the top I was so happy that I sat down for a good 15 minutes just to take in my accomplishment. I also ate my travesserio which was much needed after my long walk to the summit of Peña Palace #startedfromthebottomnowimhere

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Once I got to the entrance I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of Peña Palace; it was even more beautiful in person than it was in all the pictures I had seen and the videos I had watched. I took my time whilst walking around the exterior of the palace to ensure that I gave the entire building a good look.

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One thing that I would say, however, is that the interior of the palace was comparatively underwhelming. After queuing up to enter I joined an extremely slow-moving procession of people through several dark and dreary rooms before entering a few slightly more ornate and bejewelled spaces. The exterior of the palace was definitely the highlight of my trip here.

After I looked through the gift shop I left the palace grounds and then proceeded to ask an attendant what bus I could take to get to Sintra train station. She advised me to take the 434 which I did without question. The bus journey only cost me 3.90 euros and took approximately 15 minutes to get to the station which I was incredibly pleased about. We live and learn.

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