Monday, 30 March 2015

By its cover, Donna Leon

Each year there is a new addition in the series about commissario Guido Brunetti, police-inspector in Venice.

In this case he is asked to come to an academic library where it seems an American professor stole rare drawings and maps from old and valuable books. The investigation focuses on this man, who seems to be a professional thief. Only when another regular visitor of the library is found murdered in his house, Brunetti realizes his investigation needs to go into a completely different direction.

Donna Leon has been living in Venice for years now and this shows. Almost on every page she shows how well she knows the city, its inhabitants and their customs. You walk with Brunetti through the narrow calle’s, get irritated with tourists together and take the vaparetto with him.

There are no surprises in Donna Leon’s books. They all have the same ingredients.
Guido Brunetti is a calm and kind man, who is well read and has a philosophical nature. He investigates crime while he walks through his beloved city or goes for lunch. You read this books to sniff the atmosphere of Venice. And of course for Brunetti, because I genuinely like him. I was glad his wife Paola does not play a huge part in this book and his children almost not at all, because I find them quite irritating and horrible.

By its cover takes a long time to get going and I quite liked this. Yes, sometimes it is very, very slow, but I do not mind this, I like getting into the atmosphere of Venice.
The final solution on the other hand seemed a bit hurried, and I would have liked it when this would have been expanded a little bit more.
Despite that I thoroughly enjoyed By its cover and I spend a couple of very pleasant hours with this book, thinking I was in Venice.
Published in 2014

Friday, 27 March 2015

Schooltrip to Paris

Last week I was in Paris for four days. Not completely for fun, as it was a schooltrip, but it was a great visit nevertheless.
Paris is always beautiful and we saw and did some great things. And in the end we managed to get all our students back home safely and in once piece, so that also makes it a success :-)
I was not able to make as much photographs as I would have liked to, but I was not there as a tourist, I was there as a teacher, making sure the students were safe etc. Quite a different matter! And in such a large group (50 students and 5 teachers) you cannot constantly stop whenever you want to.

Despite that, I did manage to make some photographs and here are some for you to enjoy.

The Notre Dame is one of my favorite churches. 

The Eiffeltowers is lit beautifully during the evening. 

Versailles is very beautfiful and impressive. This is just a part of the palace. 

The hall of mirrors in Versailles.
Very crowded, but you can still see how impressive it must have been. 

Of course we went to Montmartre and saw the Moulin Rouge.
Small thing, actually. 

The Sacré Coeur is a strange church, I never really can decide if I like it or not. 

Centre Pompidou, next to Les Halles
in the middle of an area with many shops and lots to see and do.

The French flag in the Arc de Triomphe, over the grave of the Unknown Soldier. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Getaway (1971)

Carter ‘Doc’ MacCoy is in prison and wants to get out. His parole is denied and only when his wife Carol convinces the dirty businessman Benson to use his connections, Doc is released. There is however a condition, Doc has to rob a bank for Benson. This goes all spectacularly wrong and Doc and Carol have to get away while the cops and Benson’s men are after them.

Sam Peckinpah was the director and Steve McQueen knew him well, they worked together before and they liked each other.
Steve McQueen needed a new success, since his role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid had not worked out and his movie Le Mans (1971) was not the success he had hoped for.

Several actresses were mentioned for the role as Carol, but finally Ali MacGraw got the role. She was not an experienced actress, she only played in Love story before, but this was a success and she was in much demand.

The getaway was the movie that brought McQueen and MacGraw together. They began an affair and after Ali divorced her husband, she married Steve McQueen. Their marriage would not last long, by the way, they would get a divorce in 1978.
Peckinpah only hoped the scandal would not affect the success of the movie.

Just a few fun facts, the first scene with Doc in prison is shot in Huntsville prison with real inmates as extra’s.

When Doc finds out Carol slept with Benson to get him out of prison, he hits her. This was not in the script and Ali MacGraw’s shocked reaction was real.


Sally Struthers, mainly known for her role as the daughter in Archie Bunker, also has a part in this film. She is so very irritating that you actually cheer when Doc knocks her out.


Despite being made over 40 years ago, The Getaway is still a very great movie, it is a good action film, that is not dated or boring at all. It is one of the best movies Steve McQueen made. 

In memory of Steve McQueen who would have celebrated his 85th birthday yesterday, if he was still with us. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Eline Vere, Louis Couperus

Eline Vere is probably the best-known novel by 19th century Dutch author Louis Couperus.
It is a story about the influence of how ‘nerves’ can ruin a life, a story about high expectations and how they crumble in real life and most of all a story how one cannot escape fate.

Eline Vere lives in The hague with her married sister. She is bored in their wealthy environment and the circle of families they keep company with. Eline longs for a passionate life and has many fantasies about what she could do, feeling these fantasies place her above the people in het circles who would not dare dream of such things.
Eline gets engaged with Otto, a quiet and serious man who can give Eline the stability she needs. For some times Eline does feel she and Otto could be perfectly happy, but in the end she breaks of the engagement.
After that, things go downhill for her. She ruins her health and she has no home anymore, she lives either with her uncle un Brussels, or a relative in The Hague and later on her own in some rented rooms in a pension for ladies. She never finds happiness again and when there is a change she might be happy, she feels she does not deserve this because she caused Otto so much pain. She gets morphinedrops from the doctor to help her sleep, but she becomes addicted to them and finally they will be fatal for her.

Eline Vere is set in a rich environment in The Hague, at the end of the nineteenth century. All the characters in the novel know each other very well and share the same kind of values, keeping up appearances and standing is very important.
Eline plays a role of the elegant young lady or the devoted fiancée, who fits in perfectly, although she feels she does not fit in at all.
She hopes for more, more drama and more excitement. She has fantasies in which she thinks a tenor in the opera is in love with her. She goes out every morning to take long walks in the park in the hope she will encounter him and she buys his portraits that she keeps in a special album. Only when she once sees him without the theatrical costumes she realizes her fantasies are nonsense and her hopes are shattered. 

Louis Couperus
Eline wants many things, but she does not have the strength to make it happen. Couperus makes it clear this is a hereditary thing; her father was a painter who was too weak to become a great artist and also her cousin Vincent is weak and indecisive.
Eline likes Vincent because he reminds her of her father and she gets it in her head that she is the only person who understand and appreciates Vincent and even that Vincent is in love with her. A huge row with Otto about Vincent was a major factor in breaking of the engagement.
Eline’s ending is inevitable, her physical health is ruined, but her mental health prevents her from getting better.

This book was first published as a feuilleton in a magazine and it has been reprinted many times. I read this book the first time when I was 16 and I bought a paperback version then. Just a few weeks back I bought a hardback copy, and I reread the book.
Couperus is not stingy with words, he writes in long and flowing sentences, with many (many) adjectives. Not everybody will like this, but for me the characteristic richness of the style is part of Couperus’ charm.
The story is not just about Eline Vere, but also about other people in her circles. Not everything is as interesting, but all in all I think I can safely say that for me Eline Vere is one of the most beautiful Dutch classics there is.


Published in 1888

Friday, 20 March 2015

Turner

Joseph Mallard William Turner (1775-1851) is one of the most famous painters England has. He mostly painted landscapes, but his mind was also captured by the new things he saw, like the trains and the steam that surrounded them.
I love his colours and the way he paints, his works make me really look at them, in admiration and in awe.
He is one of the few nineteenth century painters still worth looking at, I think.




Wednesday, 18 March 2015

How I plan my blog

Since I have two blogs, planning for me is essential. I do not think I could keep things organized otherwise.
I have a Dutch blog and this blog and on my Dutch blog I have 5 posts every week and over here two to three a week. 

I bought a dummie and in there I write down everything I need for my blog. Schedules, ideas, to-do lists etc. 
I usually try to plan a-head for three to four weeks, and have two to three weeks actually written and planned. 
This is how my six weeks planning for two blogs starts
Leading in my planning are the bookreviews on my Dutch blog, because these reviews determine what bookreviews will appear here. Sometimes I have a bookreview on my Dutch blog of a book that has no English translation or it is a book that I do not feel is right for this blog. Then that book does not appear here. 
I do try to make sure there is at least one bookreview over here each week, and often I have two bookreviews. 

I also try to make sure these are not the same kind of books, not two non-fiction books in a row, or two books about Russia or something like that. 

When I have that mapped out, I will see what other articles I need to fill the week. I try to mix articles about films, art, fashion, lifestyle etc, to have something divers and interesting each week.
I hope I plan it so that I do not have two similar posts in a row, like two articles about painters or two filmreviews. I try to mix it up, and I think most of the time I succeed. 

My planning is not rigid, I often vary and shift posts around to make sure it is the best possible planning I can have. 
That is also why I prefer my handwritten schedules to a spreadsheet in excell or something fancy like that. I can pick up my notebook any time I want (often in the evening when I already shut down the computer) and I can scribble away as I like. 
For now, my system works and I am very pleased with it. 

This is what it looks like later on

Monday, 16 March 2015

Jevgeni Onegin, Alexandr Pushkin

Jevgeni Onegin is a rich man, who enjoys all the fine things the beau monde has to offer.  People like him and he is seen as witty and fun. He has not trouble in finding women willing to share his bed, although he does get bored by all of this.

Onegin leaves for the country and befriends a neighbor, Lenski, an honorable and kind man. He also meets the sisters Tatjana and Olga, the latter is engaged to Lenski.
Tatjana falls in love with Onegin and writes him a letter. He is rather cruel when he turns her down, he has had so many women the provincial Tatjana has nothing to offer him.
Onegin then flirts with Olga in such a way that Lenski is forced to duel with him, only with fatal results for Lenski himself.

Onegin is shocked with the events and goes away to travel. When he comes back to Moscow he meets Tatjana again, who is now married to a general. He wants her back, but she refuses him. She tells him that he turned her down before and she cannot understand why he changed his heart, is is perhaps because she is now rich? Or perhaps because a scandal would do his reputation good, even though it would damage hers? 

Aleksandr Pushkin is one of the most, if not the most famous Russian writer. Every Russian can quote Pushkin by heary, and Jevgeni Onegin is considered to be his best work.

The story itself is quite simple and can be told in a few lines, more important is the style.
Jevgeni Onegin was published in magazines between 1829-1831 and became a book in 1833. It is written in verses, a step between the poetry that dominated Russian literature until then and the prose that became more important after that.
 
Duel between Lenski and Onegin, painting by Ilja Repel
Pushkin also addresses the reader , he tells his own experiences with balls in Moscow, asks for pardon when he digresses etc.

It is not always easy to read, you have to find some sort of rhythm, but when you find that, there are many beautiful or even funny lines to enjoy.
It is worth reading this Russian classic.


Published in 1833

Sunday, 15 March 2015

In loving memory: Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett 1948-2015
Last Thursday, March 12th, the great writer Terry Prachtett died. He gave us Diskworld, with all the amazing characters, witty jokes and puns and incredible parodies about the things we know.
Highly original and terribly funny, his books were and are loved by many, many people all over the world.
In 2007 Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but he kept on writing.

Last Thursday he died, and I am sure he will be missed by so many people.
So this Sunday not one quote, but a couple of amazing quotes by this great man.

The pen is mightier than the sword, if the sword is very short and the pen is very sharp. 

They say a little knowlegde is a dangerous thing, but not half as bad as a lot of ignorance. 

Most Gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don't find out til too late that he has been playing with two queens all along. 

Build a man a fire, and he will be warm for a day, set a man on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life. 

It is often said that before you die, your life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It is called living. 

If cats looked like frogs we'd realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That's what people remember.

“I meant," said Ipslore bitterly, "what is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?"
Death thought about it.

CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE

If you have enough book space, I don't want to talk to you.

Don't think of it as dying, said DEATH, Just think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush.   

Friday, 13 March 2015

Almost forty years ago...

This is me, sitting on my mother's lap almost forty years ago. I love this photograph and I think it is very sweet, that is why I want to share it with you, on my birthday!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Mr. Turner (2014)

A few weeks ago I saw the movie Mr. Turner, about the English painter William Turner (1775-1851). Since I generally quite like Turner’s paintings, I hoped to see a very good film.

Let me begin by saying the movie looks beautiful, the landscapes where Turner walks are shot beautifully, and you recognize his paintings here.

I also liked anecdotes like how he was tied to the mast of a ship during a storm so he could paint the storm better, or how painters in those days had to make their own paint.

I really liked certain things, like the relationship Turner had with his father, that was very moving.
I also liked the relationship between Turner and Mrs. Booth, the pension keeper from Margate who he has an affair with (perhaps not the right word, later they lived together in Chelsea)
And I enjoyed how the film showed how modern things like trains and photography became more and more important.


Turner on a trip
But that is where the good things ended. The movie did not tell a story, it was a collection of fragmented scenes, Turner on a trip, Turner at home, Turner in a brothel, Turner on a trip, Turner with his housekeeper who seemed to have scabies, Turner on a trip, Turner at the Academy etc.
Some scenes were completely unnecessary and far and far and far (far!!) too long.

It seems director Mike Leigh did not intend to make a straightforward biopic, well I think we can safely say he succeeded.

Timothy Spall plays Turner, but unfortunately I know him as Pettigrew in Harry Potter, so it took a while before that image left my head.
As Turner he shows him to be sloppy and even unsavory character, who grunts and coughs more than he talks, but who is not unsympathetic.
In short, Mr. Turner was beautiful to look at (when the housekeeper with scabies was not in the frame), but this movie does not tell you more about Turner, and I personally was a little bit disappointed with that. 
Turner painting at home

Monday, 9 March 2015

Trinity, Conn Iggulden

The beautiful cover of the Dutch
hardcover version. 
It is 1454 and king Henry VI has been unable to rule due to his illness. He is completely lethargic and it is impossible to communicate with him. Richard, duke of York has been made protector of the realm and he rules in Henry’s place, against the will of queen Marguerite.

Richard of York is not a kind or a nice man, but he is an able ruler, he keeps the peace and restores the finances of the kingdom, that was almost bankrupt.

When the king recovers from his illness, York is put aside. The queen takes this opportunity to make sure York is banished from court and places the men who are faithful to her in positions of power.

This is the beginning of a bitter struggle. On one side there is York, with the help of the earl of Salisbury and his son, the earl of Warwick. On the other side there is the queen who keeps an eye on the king, afraid he may be ill again.
Each party tries to muster as many men as they can and prepare for battle, the outcomes of these battles will decide who will rule Engeland: a king too weak to rule or the duke of York.

We do not know exactly what illness Henry suffered from. People in those days looked differently at the symptoms and described them in a different manner. Therefore it is difficult to make a modern diagnoses with the descriptions from the sources. His grandfather from his mother’s side, king Charles VII of France was insane, so it may be a hereditary illness, or it may have been schizophrenia or depression.

Whatever is was, it made sure the throne of England was not secure and this caused trouble in the country. Still, it was not easy to depose a king, he was anointed by God and to rebel against the king was to rebel against God’s order.

You can say many things about Richard of York, but he was an able ruler who ruled England well during the king’s illness. Conn Iggulden managed to make not a complete villain of Richard of York, but a man in doubt. To go after the throne or not, support the king or not and when you finally have the king in your power, what do you do then?
He also had to take into account that his allies, Salisbury and Warwick had different ideas about their partnership and the possible outcome.

On the other side we have the queen who has to keep herself, the throne, her husband and her son and heir safe amidst the fighting nobles who all want a piece of the cake. She is convinced she will never be safe as long as York is a player in the game and tries everything she can to take him out. And of course this only increases the hostilities.

Trinity is the second part in the series about the War of the Roses by Conn Iggulden.
Just as thrilling as the first part, with an eye for details and historical facts, lively characters, battles that suck you right in and all this combined into a well written and amazing book to read. Conn Iggulden is a very good writer, I think.

I only hoped to see more of master spy Derry Brewer, since I love his character so much. But I am sure he will be present at key strategic moments again in part three.
And that is the only thing I have against this book, it will be very difficult to wait patiently for part three in this excellent series!

My review of Stormbird, the first book in the series can be found HERE

Published in 2014

Friday, 6 March 2015

More Fabergé

I loved the Fabergé eggs so much, I want to share a few more photographs of the ones I saw last week.
Abolutely gorgeous. 

Enamel

Inside is a surprise

Beautiful little paintings

Enamel eggs

Glass eggs

Jugenstill birds

A bracelet with mini-eggs

An egg like this was given by the Tsar to courtiers.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A little bit of Russia in the Netherlands

Last week I went to Assen, a city in the north of The Netherlands. In a museum there were two exhibitions I really wanted to see. One was of the works of Kazimir Malevich. I saw the big Malevich exhibition at Het Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 2012, but here they had new works I had not seen before. I thought it was really beautiful.
I love the lines and the colours in his works.

The second exhibition was that of Faberge eggs. Unfortunately it was the last week of the exhibition, so it was really crowded and I did not feel I had room enough to see all the eggs properly. (silly other people, why come to a museum when I am already there?)
The eggs were wonderful, so delicately made, fro silver, metal, enamel, glass and wood. And beeautifully decorated, with such precision and craftsmanship.

The rest of the museum was also quite wonderful. I saw some great painting, and they also had things like furniture and dinnersets from the nineteen twenties etc.
I love stuff like that and I prefer museum who also have things, rather than only paintings.
Fun breakfast set!

Monday, 2 March 2015

Vanessa and her sister, Priya Parmar

After the death of their father in 1904, Vanessa, Thoby, Adrian and Virginia Stephen went to live in a house in Bloomsbury. They wanted to be bohemian and throw away the Victorian rules of conduct, but this was not always so easy. Vanessa, the eldest, is still the one paying the bills and making sure there is enough food when they organize a party.

Thoby’s friends from Cambridge, like Lytton Stratchey or E.M. Forster were regular visitors who filled the rooms with talks about philosophy and literature. Vanessa felt she could not contribute as well as the others, since she was not a writer but a painter, but she was more important than she realized and soon she became the centre of what would be known as ‘Bloomsbury’.

When Thoby died, Vanessa accepted the marriage proposal by Clive Bell. He had asked her before, but only in the aftermath of the tragedy did Vanessa feel she could really trust him to take care of her.
The first months of marriage were amazing, only when their eldest son Julian was born and Vanessa had all her focus on him, it changed. Clive rekindled some old affaires, and also started a flirt of some kind with Vanessa, although that never got physical.

Virginia Woolf
We know a lot about Bloomsbury and the people belonging to that group. They left letters, diaries and many, many novels. Vanessa is a member who stays a little in the shadow, since she was not one of the writers, but a painter.
We do know the relationship between Vanessa and Virginia was often troubled. Deep affection on one hand, bitter competition on the other hand. Susan Sellers already wrote a novel about the sister Vanessa and Virginia, and I really enjoyed that.

Therefore I was quite curious to see what Priya Parmar would make of it.
Vanessa and her sister is not very flattering for Virginia Woolf. In this book she is brilliant, but also has moment of madness and the people around her walk on eggshells daily, to make sure nothing upsets her. Vanessa, knowingly or unknowingly, uses this. She is afraid to be left alone in her madness and claims her sisters affections without consideration for others. She wants to be the center of her sisters attention, even if she has to begin an affair with her sister’s husband.

This relationship, although Virginia and Clive never shared something physical, did end the relationship between Vanessa and Virginia. Vanessa was never able to forget how her sister once betrayed her and from that moment there would always be a distance.

Vanessa Bell
The book is told as a Vanessa’s diary, with letters from Virginia or from Lytton to Leonard that tell the rest of the story. 
The story is set between 1905 and 1912, from the moment the Stephen’s are living in Bloomsbury, until the moment Virginia has married herself with Leonard Woolf, who was present in the background through the entire book, through the letters to and from Lytton.

Priya Parmar was able to use many sources, but I am glad to see she also found enough room for her own interpretation.

Was Virginia really such a burden to her family? It is very well possible, people who are ill often have the egocentrical idea that the whole world revolves around them. It is also possible it is just how Vanessa felt it. After all, with everything she did she had to take Virginia into account and see if it did not upset her. Only when Virginia marries and has another person who can be her primal caregiver, Vanessa is freed of this burden.

I thought it was a very interesting interpretation and I also loved how it was written. The style is really beautiful and I liked how Vanessa’s voice becomes clear. I especially liked how it is described how Vanessa slowly realizes how her husband regards marriage and how she can handle this.

In short, a very beautiful book and an interesting addition for everyone interested in Virginia Woolf or Vanessa Bell.


Published in 2014
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