Friday, 28 February 2014

All quiet on the western front, Erich Maria Remarque

Since this year it will be a hundred years ago World War I broke out, there will be many books about the Great War. I think I will read a fair deal, and to start well I decided to reread this classic.

It is the story of Paul Baumer, a German 18 year old boy who joins the army together with all his classmates when his teacher and the other adults made it clear it was their duty to Kaiser and Fatherland. They undergo the brutal military training, only to find out at the front it taught them nothing. Luckily there are also veteran soldiers like soldier Katczinsky, who teaches the rookies how to survive. One by one Paul sees his mates die. In the end he is the veteran, teaching the new recruits to survive. He gets shot in November 1918, on a day nothing important happened and the official news bulletin read that is had been ‘all quiet on the western front’.

A whole generation, and it does not matter if they were German, French or English, was traumatized by this war. Their heads spinning with slogans and patriotism and ill- advised nationalism, boys joined the army in the idea the war would be over soon. Unfortunately the war did not end soon, it came to a halt and during four years both parties fought each other from the trenches, that were dug from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border.
It is sweet to die for your country? Not really, in the trenches death and brutal injuries could come at all times and in all form. The soldiers in the mud were spared nothing.

Erich Maria Remarque wanted to show with All quiet on the western front how horrible war is, no matter on what side you fight. For him heroism and nationalism are not important, he tells the story of the soldiers who do not know themselves what they are fighting for.
The nazi’s banned this book and Remarque even lost his citizenship.

Movies were made in 1930 and 1979. I saw the 1979 one and even show it in class when we cover WWI. Well, a part of it. The movie is still good, but it does move at a slow pace and I remember a fourth grader’s frustrated outcry when Paul is in a trench with a French soldier en the scene takes about ten minutes ‘Fuck, is he still in there?’ Most students were crying by the way at the end, so it made an impact.

The movie, but most of all the book, is very impressive and beautiful. If you want to read books about WWI this year, All quiet on the western front should be on your list.

Original title: Im Westen nichts Neues (German)
Published in 1929

This is a book I read and a movie I saw for the Book to movie challenge 2014

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Early birds

Birds are, after cats, my favorite animals. I respect how they can survive cold and bad weather and I love to see how free they are when they fly.
I try to make photographs of them whenever I can, but usually this does not work. They fly away before I am finished and capturing a bird in flight on my camera is something I haven't been able to do yet.
Here are a few birds I did manage to photograph.





Magpie again (a different one)

Monday, 24 February 2014

Butcher's Crossing, John Williams

(possible spoilers)
Will Andrews is a very young man when he comes to Butcher’s Crossing. This is a small town that is waiting for progress to catch up with with. People hope that when the railway comes, the town will prosper. But when Andrews arrives, the town is the place for hunters, the men who hunt the bizons and sell the hides. Andrews wants to come with these hunters and explore the country, to do something that fall out of his normal routine as a Harvard student and son of a preacher.

A hunter, Miller, can be persuaded to take Andrews. Miller says he knows of a valley where there are still bizons and he helps Andrews to bring a crew together. The four men leave Butcher’s Crossing and hope to return before the winter with enough bison hides to make them all rich.

Things do not go according to plan, they do find Miller’s valley and are able to shoot almost all the bizons, but the winter catches up with them and leave them stranded in the valley for months. When they finally come back to Butcher’s Crossing in Spring, they find that time did not stood still and a lot of things have changed.

America was developing very quickly in the 19th century. The ‘frontier’, the border of the wild west moved westwards fast. The real ‘wild west’ was almost a thing from the past. Railways were constructed from one coast to another and the land was changed for good. The last living bizons are a reminder from the past, just like the hunters are an echo from the past. When the bizons are gone, there will be no more place for the hunters, and this moment is approaching soon.

When Will Andrews comes to Butcher’s Crossing, the west is almost won. This becomes clear when Miller spots a railway during their journey and remarks how he never thought they would manage to construct a railway up here.

In Stoner John Williams described a whole live, in Butcher’s Crossing not even a year out of the life of Will Andrews. But it is a significant year, Andrews realizes he can never return to his old live, his experiences have changed him forever.

Four men who shoot bizons, skin the hides and have to survive for months in horrible cold conditions in the valley while they do not speak a lot to each other. It does not sound like an interesting story when I sum it up like that, but I can assure you it most definitely is. John Williams is a master story teller, who can make this into a riveting and visual story. Each of the four men has his background story and every now and then you see glimpses of that story.
The surroundings and the landscape are very important, John Williams makes this a vital part of the story. He writes detailed, but certainly not boring, every word and every sentence is like it should be.

I really enjoyed Butcher’s Crossing, what a beautiful novel this is. I am very glad two novels by this author are rediscovered and published again, but it is sad John Williams is no longer alive to see how people love his work.

Originally published in 1960

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Quote: Gandhi

Happiness is when what you thinkm what you say ans what you do are in harmony.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Saturday, 22 February 2014

A little bit of Spring in my house

Although here in the Netherlands the weather has been anything but wintery, I begin to long for Spring. Last week I went to the garden center and bought a few things to bring me into a Spring mood.
First of all these things, in Dutch they are called Wilgenkatjes, I have no idea what that is in English (and I cannot find a translation I trust)
They look great in a glass jar in the window sill.

Secondly I bough some of these lovely Spring flowers, Grape hyacinths. They are so cute and although they are small, they brighten up my room.

And for my dining table I bought three similar creme pots with three herbs. Melissa, Thyme and Sage. It looks amazing and it smells great as well.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Yoga for real life, Maya Fiennes

Maya Fiennes was born in Macedonia and she now lives with her family in England. She was a concerto pianist, but now she is a well known yoga teacher who wrote several books and made dvds.

She practices Kundalini yoga. And although this is not a form of yoga I like very much, I do like this book. In Yoga for real life Maya uses the seven chakra’s to write about the different aspects in people’s lives, like creativity, relationships, finding joy, relaxation and self confidence. In each chapter she gives examples, practical advice, and some recipes and asanas (yogaposes) that strengthen this aspect. Especially the advice is full of wisdom.

Beautiful pictures and quotations illustrate this book and make Yoga for real life a book that is a book you can use every day, even if you never stand on a yogamat.
Published in 2010

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Style inspiration

I cannot describe myself as a fashionista. I know too little about fashion, I never know any trends and I have struggled to find my own style for the past decades. Sometimes I watch certain stylish people, but always decide it is not for me, because the fashion they wear is not practical enough, or just too trendy for my taste. And some things I just find terribly ugly.

Thankfully sometimes you can find some inspiration when you notice a style that is simple, wearable and feminine, without being girly. There is for example Emilia Fox in Silent Witness, where she plays Nikki Alexander.
She wears mostly jeans with ankle boots and gorgeous blouses and tops, sometimes with a jacket and/or a scarf.
I love, love, love it and I think this is a style that would suit me as well. (of course I am not as beautiful as Emilia Fox, but then again, who is?) I now find myself looking for similar blouses in the shops and for better fitting jeans. (I am loosing a lot of weight at the moment, so that is good news in that department)

I was not able to find many pictures of Nikki Aleander that show of her wardrobe, but here are a few.
Harry, Nikky and Leo. Love the colourful blouse

Beautiful dark blue blouse with sheer sleeves.

Blouse, jacket and a scarf.

And another great blouse.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Quote: Mark Twain

Courage is the resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
Mark Twain (American author 1835-1910)

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Het begijnhof in Amsterdam

In the 12th century women in the Netherlands wanted to live a more religious life, without entering a nunnery. They lived together in little houses gathered around a church and often did a lot of charity work. Although they followed certain rules, these woman could marry or leave if they wanted to. Later these women were called Begijnen (Beguines). In Amsterdam the Beguines lived together in the Begijnhof since the middle of the 14th century.

The Begijnhof has been altered since the first beginnings of course, especially in the last century renovations and restaurations have been made. The last Begijn died in here 1971. People still live in these houses, but they do not have to follow rules anymore like being chaste.
Due to the many tourist who visit here they had to implent some rules. The Begijnhof is only open for visitors during the day and most of the Begijnhof is off limits.

The passage leading to the Begijnhof.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Vile bodies, Evelyn Waugh

After I read Brideshead revisited and Sword of Honour I can think I can safely say that I am a fan of Evelyn Waugh. I wanted to read more by him and this book was the first.

It is the story of the rich upperclass youth in the twenties and thirties, known as the Bright Young Things. They were too young to have fought in the trenches of WWI and they pass the time by going to parties, gossip, going out, drink cocktails and champagne and going to parties. It is an empty life full of boredom that would come to an end in the horrible WWII.
The book was written in 1930, ten years before WWII broke out, but Evelyn Waugh predicted in this book that a European war would come.

Vile bodies is the story of Adam and Nina who are a part of the BYT. Adam wants to marry Nina, but he needs money first. During the entire book we follow Adam on this quest to earn money, and we also see him loose it all the time.
We meet Adam on a ship sailing for England. He has in his bag a manuscript of a book he wrote, only customs declare the book is too dirty to be brought into the country and they confiscate it. Adam then wins a thousand pounds in a bet, but he gives the money to a drunken major who will place a bet for Adam in the horse races with the money. Unfortunately they cannot contact each other again, since they do not know each other’s names.
Adam visits Nina’s father, who thinks he has come to sell him a vacuum cleaner and who gives him a check for a thousand pounds, written out to Charlie Chaplin. Adam tries to earn money as the writer of a gossip column in the newspaper, but this also fails. Finally Nina marries Ginger, a childhood friend, although it soon turns out this is a wrong choice.

Peter O'Toole as Colonel Blount and Stephen Campbell More as Adam
You can always recognize Evelyn Waugh by his beautiful use of the English language. He is also a master at writing funny scenes, without getting vulgair. The first part of Vile bodies is very funny. The dialogues are sharp and witty and some of the scenes are completely surreal, like the conversations Adam has with his landlady or when he visits Nina’s father. All kinds of absurd people make their appearance, like the guests in the hotel Adam stays in, or the prime minister who does not understand his cabinet meetings.

Emily Mortimer as Nina. A lot of the funny dialogue are conversations over the phone.
Later in the story the tone changes, it is no longer light and airily, it becomes more depressed and bitter. This was due to the fact that Evelyn Waugh’s first marriage failed in this period and he was not in a happy mood himself.
The BYT do not have a bright future, one of them commits suicide, another ends up in a mental institution and the others also fail to make something of their lives.

The title Vile bodies appears to be a reference to a passage from the Bible, a letter from Paul to the Phillipians. (I’ve tried to look it up, but I could not find it, but I have of course a Dutch translation of the Bible)
In this case the term refers to the hedonistic lifestyle of the BYT, who care for nothing, have almost no morals and who go from party to party without ever stopping to think. Father Rothchild, a Jesuit and the one who says in the book the young people are desperate and need some real values, is perhaps the voice of Waugh himself.

The BYT, bored at a party.

In 2003 Stephen Fry made Vile bodies into a movie, called Bright Young Things. It is difficult to film a book like this, with the short scenes and the fast pace, and sometimes it goes off the rails a bit, but all in all I liked this adaptation of a very special book.

Originally published in 1930

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Walking in the park

A couple of weeks ago when the weather was cold but sunny (at least in the beginning), my aunt and I went for a walk in the park. It was muddy, but we loved the fresh air and nature around us.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Friday, 7 February 2014

A Sunday walk

Last Sunday the weather here was lovely. It was cold, but sunny, and that is the best kind of cold in my mind. I went for a walk and here are a few of the things I saw.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Typical houses in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam you can see the most beautiful houses from the 17th or 18th century, or even older than that. I always enjoy walking around in Amsterdam en seeing all that history around me.

This used to be the city orphanage. The orphans would wear distinctive uniforms in black and red, so they could be recognized as orphans. Today this is site of the wonderful Amsterdam Museum, a museum devoted to the history of Amsterdam from the first beginnings to now.
Characteristic houses in Amsterdam. It was very expensive to build houses, the groundprice was very high. The solution was to build high houses. One of the many churches in the city can be seen in the background.

Lovely house with red shutters.

This passage is very familiar to me. I used to walk here every day when I was in my first year of University. This leads to the Oudemanhuispoort (the gate of the Old Men's house), a building now owned by the University of Amsterdam.
 This is the enterance to the Oudemanhuispoort. Here I would have my lectures during my first year.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Twice born, Margaret Mazzantini

Two people meet in Sarajevo in the nineteen eighties. Gemma is a student from Rome, Diego a photographer from Genoa. They fall in love and after a few hurdles they can finally be together in Rome. They enjoy life and each other. Or so you would think. Unfortunately there is something clouding their happiness, they cannot have children together. Despite going to clinics and undergoing all kinds of tests and procedures, Gemma does not get pregnant. And they drift apart because of this, even though they love each other so very much.

Sixteen years later Gemma returns to Sarajevo with Pietro, her and Diego’s son. In Sarajevo there is an exhibition with photographs from the war, and Diego’s photo’s are also exhibited.
Together with Pietro Gemma visits places she remembers and meets old friends. And she is looking for answers about the past. Why didn’t want Diego leave the city, even when he had the chance? Why did he let Gemma and a new born baby travel back to Italy alone?

It is difficult to say more about the story, without giving the plot away. Twice born is a beautiful story. It is not just a love story, or the story of two people desperately wanting a child or a story of a city during a war. It is an amazing mixture of all these three things. Twice born is a story about love and friendship, about sacrifice, courage and forgiveness. It is a story of losing and finding each other, about the past and the influence it has on the future.

The story sucks you in very quickly. I cried during some parts, it is so overwhelming and often also very recognizable.
Margaret Mazzantini writes in a very poetic and beautiful style, it took me away and left me breathless.

I read this book for my bookclub and it exceededs all my expectations. I think this book will end up in my personal top-3 of 2014.

Original title : Venuto al mondo (Italian)
Published in 2008
506 pages

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Quote: Cicero

Gratefulness is not just the most important virtue, it is the mother of all other virtues.
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43, Roman politician and writer)
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