Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Axeman's Jazz, Ray Celestin

Corrado (l) and the book
Jazz can be heard in all the streets and on every occasion, whisky flows freely and the inhabitants of New Orleans do what they do best; bending the rules and doing as they please.

New Orleans is an American city that is not very American; Spanish and French influences mix with the culture brought from Africa by the slaves and together this forms an interesting combination.  

In 1919 New Orleans was a city in fear, an axemurderer was killing old Italian couples and left a tarotcard at every crimescene. Was the murderer an Italian who had a grudge against his fellow-countrymen? The white people in town thought it had to be the work of an angry negro, the black people thought it was a crazy Cajun.

Tension runed high, veterans came back from the front in Europe, immigrants tried to find their place and laws were made to ban alcohol.  

Three people try to discover who the Axman really was and via these three lines you will finally get the whole picture.

Police inspector Michael Talbot is the most hated man in the policecorps since he ratted out a corrupt colleague. He leads the official investigation but finds nothing. In the meantime everybody wants him to fail and the commissioner tells him that if there are no results, Michael’s secret will be made public.

Luca d’Andrea is the policeman who ended up doing seven years in Angola-prison because Michael Talbot told on him. His former mob-boss tells him to find the Axeman, since the murderer makes the mafia looks bad as they cannot protect their own people.

Ida Davis is a secretary and works at the Pinkerton bureau in New Orleans, and she hopes that solving this case will be her chance to do real fieldwork. Together with her friend and musician Louis Armstrong she is determined to find out who the Axeman is.

The Axman’s jazz is Ray Celestin’s debut and as far as I am concerned it is a great debut. The case is based on real events and historical people like Louis Armstrong also play a part. I like that, especially when it is done well and in this book, it is done excellently.

The Axman’s Jazz is well written and gives a great look at New Orleans in those days. The relations between black and white, between different groups of immigrants, jazz, whores, liquor, journalists who play their own game, the influence of the mafia on the city council, WWI and prohibition are all woven together to make for a very exciting book that you just cannot put down.
An absolute must-read!

Published in 2014

Friday, 25 September 2015

Turner exhibition in The Netherlands

Stormy sea with blazing wreck
I like going to an exhibition, and going to a lecture before so you know more and see more at the actual exhibition makes it extra special.

Last Saturday my mother and I went to Zwolle, where there is half of the great Turner exhibition in The Netherlands. The other half is in another museum in the town of Enschede. 

The lecture we went to hear was organized by an art-history academy, who also offer courses and guided tours through museums. It was the first time I attended one of these lectures, but I really enjoyed it.

Turner showed he had talent when he was really young. When he was 14, he entered the Royal Academy to be trained. His strength was perspective and first he started as an architectonical painter. In those days historical paintings were considered the most important; paintings with Biblical or historical scenes. Turner however painted landscapes and seasights and when he did paint a historical painting, the atmosphere was more important than the story. Emotions were almost more important than facts.
Seascape with distant coast
Later in his life his painting style changed. He painted more loosely, vaguely. Not because his eyesight or his mind were gone, but because he was one of the few painters who managed to let go of conventions when he was older. Only Titian and Rembrandt were able to do the same thing.

Turner is the inspiration for many modern artists and it is safe to say that many of the later art movements could not have developed the way they did, if Turner had not been there.

This was told at the lecture and it was illustrated with his paintings. Later that afternoon when we saw the paintings for real, we recognized many things, it was really amazing.

The exhibition is called: Turner, Beauty and danger. Turner and the tradition of the sublime. They devided the paintings into the elements involved. In Zwolle they had the paintings with water and fire, earth and air are in Enschede.

I loved how they combined the amazing paintings by Turner with the painters who were inspired by him. You could really see how much of an inspiration Turner still is.
Dutch painter Armando (1929-) was also inspired.
I love Turner’s work, and I hope I will be able to see the other half of the exhibition, it would be a shame if I would not see it.

But even with only half the paintings, we had a great day! 

More information about the exhibition in De Fundatie in Zwolle and Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede can be found HERE

Monday, 21 September 2015

A private affair, Beppe Fenoglio

The Italian author Beppe Fenoglio is known in his own country as one of the best writers since WWII and his books are considered modern classics. Not all of his works are translated, but A private affair is.

Milton fights with the partisans in the region of Alba, where he also grew up. During a march he sees the house where the girl he loves used to live. He writes letters to Fulvia and she is the reason he tries to survive. When he goes up to the house, the housekeeper tells him she was even more friendly with Milton’s old friend Giorgio.

From that moment the war is no longer important to Milton, the only thing that matters is that he will find Giorgio to ask him if it is true that he was Fulvia’s lover. This private affair becomes the most important thing to Milton.

After the armistice of September 8th 1943, Italy became occupied by the German forces, who worked together with groups of fascists. In the mountains there were the partisans who fought against the Germans and the fascists for control over the country.

Among the partisans were socialists, communists and social-liberals and each group had its own brigade, although they did work together against their common enemy.

Beppe Fenoglio had been a partisan himself during the war and this is noticeable in the lively descriptions. This is not written by somebody who read about it, this is somebody who experienced it.
Still, the mud, the cold, the hunger, the fear and the horrible decisions they have to make are not what sticks out the most, it is all just there.

Isn't the Dutch cover beautiful? 
These experiences form the background for the private question, while Milton does everything to get to Giorgio who unfortunately has been made prisoner by the fascists. Milton has to find a fascist prisoner to trade him against Giorgio. Not because he wants to spare Giorgio, but because he wants to know what happened between Fulvia and Giorgio.

It is a senseless journey and it will come to nothing, it will only bring more grief. The choices Milton makes also have consequences for others, although he will never know that.

Beppe Fenoglio is a wonderful writer and his sober sentences and dialogues draw you into those mountains along with the partisans.
A private affair is a beautiful book and it will linger in your memory for a long time.

Original Italian title: Una questione privata
Published in 1963

Friday, 18 September 2015

Creating a better wardrobe

For years I have been struggling with my style. I did not quite know myself or who I wanted to be and my style reflected that. I cringe a little when I think about certain things I wore, or when I see old photographs. I do not know what I was thinking back then.

Luckily I feel so much more comfortable with myself in the past couple of years. Especially since I turned 40 this year I feel so much better and my wardrobe reflects this. I now know what I like and what I do not like and most importantly: I know what suits me and what does not.

One of the biggest eye openers for me was having a basic colour, so mixing and matching would become so much easier. I used to wear a lot of black because I thought a) I would look slimmer and b) it went well with my blonde hair.
Now I know that grey and dark blue are much better for me, these colours are less hard and do not age me as much as the black did.

I used to combine the black with bright colours, like bright pink. So I would wear for example a pair of black trousers, a bright pink shirt and a jacket that did absolutely nothing for me.

I have now brought back my wardrobe to mostly grey and dark blue as my neutrals, with some white and black (a little), and accents of green, purple or pink. Not the bright pink I once wore, but a softer tone.
I do have one brown vest, that I combine with a lot of things and one beige sweater that also combines very nicely with a pair of dark blue jeans and a turquoise shawl. 


Finally, I also know a little better what I like and how I want to present myself. I am not a fussy person, but also not very sporty.
So, I prefer a pair of dark blue or grey jeans, combined with a shirt. In colder weather I add a vest or a blazer and sometimes I use a scarf to brighten things up. Add a couple of ankle-boots and I am good to go.

Shopping has become more efficient, as I can walk by all the racks with the ‘wrong colours’. Getting dressed is much more easier, since almost everything goes together.

I am not completely there yet, but I am getting to where I want to be with my wardrobe, and I love that feeling. 

Monday, 14 September 2015

The man who spoke snakish, Andrus Kiviräkh

This again is one of those books I bought because I absolutely loved the cover. The Dutch cover is beautiful. It was a gamble, since I never read a book from Estonia before, but it paid off.

The man who spoke snakish is a fantastic fairytale, full of magic, strange beings and dry humor. Snakes with wise words, bears who seduce women, wolves that you can milk, an insane druid, a village full of idiots, apes in a tree who breed lice, a grandfather who can fly and a young man who has to seek his own path amongst all this.

The story is set around 1200, when the Baltic stated were Christianized by the knights of the Teutonic order. These ‘iron men’ and the monks bring a new way of life, and often not in a gently way.

Leemet is born in a village, but his mother moved back to the woods because she did not like the village lifestyle.
Still, the times are changing, and more and more people leave the woods to live in a village and work the lands. The villagers now feel better than the people in the woods, because they know nothing of the modern ways the iron men brought, although the villagers themselves often only understand half of it.

Leemet is taught the language of the snakes by his uncle Vootele, the language that can be used to communicate with animals. This language is mostly forgotten and soon Leemet is the last one who has the knowledge. Leemet is used to being the last one, in the woods he was the last boy and when he stays in the village for a while, he is the last heathen.
In the end he will also be the last person to know the Frog of the North, who used to help the Estonians against their enemies, but that has been asleep for centuries and will not wake again, since there are not enough people who speak snakish to wake him.
The Dutch version, I love this one!

When people start to live in another way, it is all too easy to see this as the best way and to look down on the old way. The villagers who were born in the woods do not want to know about it anymore. Their connection to nature has been severed  and the woods are no longer a place where you can be and that you understand, it has become a dangerous place full of wild animals and supernatural beings who mean to harm you.
  
Others cling to the old ways of life, even if the meaning of the rituals is no longer clear, they refuse to see the world is changing. The druid and Leemet’s neighbours in the woods are examples of these people. They dream of going back to the old days and try to keep the new world at bay with meaningless rituals and offerings.  

Leemet is kind of a prisoner between these groups. In the woods he is a free man, but he is also lonely, in the village there are people, but there he has to obey all kinds of silly customs. It is not easy to find your own way in all this.

The man who spoke snakish is a beautiful and original book, the modern way of speaking makes a very funny contrast with the medieval customs. Almost without emphasis big themes like loneliness, loss, resignation and finding a balance between tradition and modernity are part of this story. The light and funny way of writing makes sure it never becomes depressing.

Andrus Kivirähk studied journalism in Estonia and is a well known writer over there of several different genres. The man who spoke snakish was translated into French a couple of years ago, and a Dutch translation followed in May this year. In November an English translation will be available.
I am glad this special book will get more attention this way. It is absolutely worth it.

Original Estonian title: Mees, kes teadus ussiõnu
Published in 2007
An English translation will be available in November 2015

Friday, 11 September 2015

Silvia and yoga

Since I do not follow yoga-lessons anymore, I did not do an awful lot of yoga. In fact, I did not do any yoga at all for quite a while.
But recently I decided I wanted to do yoga again, I missed it. So I picked up my mat, took out a book with good examples of a series of asanas I could do and I was ready to start. Only, Silvia also thought it was fun to join.

When I was on the floor, she put her head in my hand, she walked over me and in general she did everything she could to distract me.

Then I realized that standing on the mat and enjoying what the cat did was also yoga. Being on the floor, trying to breath while a cat puts her paw against my face to see if I am still alive (or wanting to play, you never know with these humans) is also yoga.
So Silvia and I are doing yoga together!
Waiting next to the mat to see when I am ready.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Icon, the life, times and films of Marilyn Monroe, Gary Vitacco-Robles

More than 600 books are written about Marilyn Monroe. Biographies in all sorts, from made up and all about scandal to serious and well researched. You can ask the question if it is possible to bring a new biography with more than 1200 pages.
And the answer is a whole hearted ‘yes’!

Gary Vitacco Robles wrote a biography in two volumes. Volume I covers the years 1926-1956 and has 584 pages, volume II covers the years 1956-1962 and has 678 pages. That does not include notes, film synopsis, literaturelist etc.

As far as I am concerned, Icon, the life, times and films of Marilyn Monroe is the definite biography, there is nothing that can be added to this.


It looks like Gary Vitacco Robles used almost every available source there is about Marilyn Monroe. So he is very capable in explaining why some biographers got things wrong, they did not have all the sources or did not use all of it.

I like Icon because it gives new information in all the details it gives.
Second reason to love Icon is that it is such a balanced and neutral biography. It is written with sympathy for Marilyn, and I think it would be impossible to write 1200 pages about a person you do not like, but it is not a hagiography. And it does not focus on the sensation and the scandal. Many myths, like her alleged affairs with the Kennedy’s and the complot-theories about her death, are put to rest.

Her difficult childhood, her devotion to her work, her three marriages, her affairs with men like Frank Sinatra and Yves Montand, her crippling insecurity and her wish to be seen as a serious actress are all well known. And yet Icon gives us new information and adds details that give us a more complete Marilyn.

A couple of things stood out for me. Marilyn Monroe was an intelligent woman who worked very hard to be taken seriously as an actress. There was nobody in Hollywood who worked harder than she did. And despite her stardom, she remained one of the friendliest and kindest persons in Hollywood. She never forgot old friends, was always interested in other people and was a sweetheart to her fans.  She was a genuinely good person.

The book does not end with her tragic death, but also tells us what happened with Marilyn’s legacy, her memory and the people who knew her.

Icon is a biography in two beautiful volumes (I own the hardback versions) and very special is that there are no photographs at all in the books. Only the cover-photo’s give us the Marilyn we know, the rest is done in words, and done very well. These words do justice to this truly remarkable woman the world had to say goodbye to too soon.
An amazing biography.

Published in 2014

Friday, 4 September 2015

Things I love

There are a few things I love very much. Here is just a little list, written up in no particular order:


  • A good cup of tea
  • A good book to read
  • Time to blog
  • Writing to friends
  • Reading about Italy or looking at photographs
  • When it is still warm enough outside to leave your coat un-buttoned.
  • Walking along the lake
  • Eating a meal I cooked myself
  • A good night's sleep
  • Cuddling with Silvia (my cat)
  • Visiting a new exhibition
  • Singing 

What are the things that make you happy at the moment?

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

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