Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Balcony vegetable garden, Spring 2014

Last week I went to the gardening centre and they already had small vegetable plants like paprika, aubergine, courgette and tomatoes. I tried to sow these plants in the previous years, but it never really worked. So this year I bought two tomatoplants, two red paprika plants and two aubergine plants.
As you can see there is also a pot with bamboosticks in it, here I sowed runner beans, they always work amazing. In fron of the beans is a pot with two aubergineplants. On the left you see two pots with on tomato plant each and before the Tayberry (the high green one) you can see a pot with two paprikaplants.

The Tayberry I bought a couple of weeks ago, and it has grown already. There are little white flowers and buds. It is doing really well and I cannot wait to see what will happen next.

On the left I have my herbs. I pruned them a bit a few weeks ago, but they have grown a lot since. In the large pot I have Red basil, Thyme and Melissa. In the little pot at the left I have a gorgeous Sage. In the little pot on the right I have a Rosemary, but I fear this one might not survive. I will give it a chance, but I have little hope.

This is what it looks like right now. Amazing, isn'it? I love growing things, even if it is in such a small way.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Quote: Confucius

By three methods we may learn wisdom. First: by reflection, which is the noblest. Second, by imitation, which is the easiest, and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Confusius (Chinese philosopher 551-479)

Friday, 25 April 2014

Stormbird, Conn Iggulden

The War of the Roses, the period of civil war between the different houses of the Royal family in England in the 15th century, has had a lot of attention lately. (due to the succes of Game of Thrones perhaps?)

Conn Iggulden, who wrote an excellent series about Julius Caesar, also started a series set during the War of the Roses and Stormbird is the first book.

In the first part we are present when king Edward III dies in 1377 and three of his sons are there. Their sons and grandsons would rip England apart in their ambition to become king in the years to come.

When king Henry V died, he left a huge empire with land in France. The new king, his son Henry VI, was not a king like his father was. He did not grow up to be a warrior, but he was a simple man who spend a lot of his time in prayer. He was not capable of continuing the war with France and his advisors were looking for a solution.

To make a treaty, they came up with the following plan in 1443; Henry would marry the niece of the French King, Margaret of Anjou. Anjou and Maine would become possessions of the French crown again and there would be peace for twenty years.

This was not a bad trade, only nobody bothered to explain this to the English people who moved to Maine and Anjou and had farms there. The French army swept in to throw them out, but most of them would not go without a fight. They want to defend the land they see as theirs, and the French king sees this as a breach of the treaty and declares war again. He does not only take Maine and Anjou, but also other English lands like Normandy.

In the meantime the situation in England was not very sure as well, since the king was not capable of governing and a queen who was intelligent and brave, but also young and inexperienced.
People are revolting and an army of rebels even marches towards London.
The only one who is profiting from all of this is Richard of York, who sees himself as the next king.  

Conn Iggulden is a very good writer, he has shown that in his previous books. In Stormbird he manages to bring the historical people and events to life, with an eye for detail, but without long explanations that could make things boring. It is clear he did a lot of research and he gives a very good historical justification where he explains which parts are real and which parts are made up.

He also created some great characters, like master-spy Derrihew Brewer, the architect of the treaty with France and a man desperate to protect his king against the scheming of the nasty Richard of York.

In short, an amazing historical novel that you need to read when you have enough time, since it is a book you cannot put down once you started in it.
I am looking forward to the next part in this series.

Original titel: War of the Roses book one: Stormbird
Published in 2013

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Stoker (2013)

On her eighteenth birthday India Stoker’s father dies in a car accident. She was very close to her father and now she only has her mother Evelyn. She and her mother are not very close at all.
At the funeral her father’s brother, Charlie, is also there. He travelled in Europe and India and Evelyn never met him before.
Charlie offers to stay for a while to help them and Evelyn is very eager to agree. She likes the attention Charlie gives her. India tries to keep her distance, she does not need this new man in her life. But slowly and surely it seems there is something sinister about uncle Charlie. And instead of running away, India is intrigued.

Stoker is a visually stunning movie. The way it is filmed, the way scenes and images flow is absolutely amazing and beautiful. An example of this is the scene where India brushes her mother’s hair, and the hair turns to grass. But there are plenty of these examples.
What is wrong with Charlie and as it turns out, also with India, becomes clear with all kinds of clues, from the hunting India did with her father to the little spider in the first scenes. It is perhaps not very subtle, but that did not bother me.

Nicole Kidman plays Evelyn and as always she did a very good job. I would have liked to see her in a bigger role in this film.
I saw Mia Wasikowska before in the 2011 version of Jane Eyre, and here she has the same quality of strangeness without making it into a caricature. I never saw  
Matthew Goode before. It seems he played in the movie version of Brideshead revisited, but I never saw that one. This was the first film I saw him in, and I was not disappointed.

It is difficult to place Stoker in a certain genre, it is perhaps a psycho/drama/thriller? Whatever it is, I thought it was a very interesting movie and I enjoyed watching it.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Thursday's children, Nicci French

A former classmate of Frieda asks her if she would talk to her daughter. The girl is unhappy and angry and tells Frieda something that reminds her of something similar she went through. Something she never talked about for twenty-three years, but now she knows she has to talk about it.

Frieda goes back to her hometown, to see if she can find out what happened to her. She talks to former classmates and her mother, after not speaking to any of them for twenty-three years. Most of them are wary of her questions and some are even hostile. Not everybody is happy Frieda came back and almost everyone has something to hide.

Thursday’s children is the fourth part in the series about psychotherapist Frieda Klein. We meet old friends again like Inspector Karlson (great man!), Joseph (another great man), Sandy (bit of a whiner) or niece Chloe (bit ditzy), and we meet new people. It is a great way to know more about Frieda’s background, although it is safe to say there is a lot we still do not know.

Frieda tries to be her calm and rational self, somebody who wants to have some distance between herself and other people. Only she is a decent and kind woman and cannot help herself when people need her help, but she also has people around her who help her in return.

The case itself might be a bit far-fetched, but not so much it becomes incredulous. It is well written and well paced. I also like how people and events from the previous books still play their part in this book and probably will in the books to come. I am looking forward to part 5 already!.

I do think Nicci French shot themselves in the foot a little bit when they wanted to do a series with the days of the week. In this case the Thursday is dragged into the story. But that is a small thing in an excellent thriller I enjoyed very much.

Published in 2014

Friday, 18 April 2014

Evelyn Waugh collection

Certain authors have earned their very own shelf in my bookcases. Virginia Woolf has her own shelf in my house, John Irving also has his own shelf.

Other, lesser, gods have a part of a shelf for themselves, like Ian Rankin or Jo Nesbo. I really like their books, but I do not feel the obsession to own all of their books or to buy books about their friends, books with their letters or their diaries.

Evelyn Waugh is an author I begin to like very much. I read Brideshead revisited and loved it and I decided I wanted to read most of his novels in order. That meant I had to buy them. In that same week I went to an English discount bookshop in Amsterdam (the English bookshop in the Kalverstraat) and there they had several of Evelyn Waugh's books for just ten euros. (3 for 25 euros). I liked these books, hardback versions with a lovely blue and white dustjacket. I bought several of these books. (really pleased with that)

Then I decided I also wanted a lovely hardback version of Brideshead revisited. I own a horrible Dutch version, and a Penguin classic paperback. I wanted something more special. Luckily for me Waterstones is also in the Kalverstraat and the lovely staff helped me to order a copy.
It arrived and it is lovely, absolutely beautiful. It was expensive, but well worth it. I am very happy with it, since this is the most beautiful book I ever read I thought it needed a special edition.
As you can see, a beautiful cover.
My Evelyn Waugh collection with his diaries,
a couple of his non-fiction works and most of his novels.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Beautiful ruins, Jess Walter

Pasquale lives on the Italian coast, in a little village just under Cinque Terre. Since his father passed away Pasquale hopes to make a success of the family hotel by attracting American tourists. There is very little chance of that, since the village can only be reached by boat and only the inhabitants know it exists.

Still, two Americans come to the hotel. One of them is a writer who fought in Italy during the war. He comes to the hotel every year and hopes to finish his novel. So far he has finished one chapter.

The other American tourist comes on a morning in 1962. She is brought by a boat and Pasquale thinks there must be some mistake. The American lady is an actress and she was involved with the production of Cleopatra, but then she received terrible news about her health.

Some fifty years later Pasquale walks into the office of a film producer in Hollywood. He wants to find the woman he only knew for a couple of days and was never able to forget.

It is difficult to tell you more about the story, because then I could end up telling you too much. All the stories of the different people are woven together in a masterful way.
Memories, the events now, a movie-pitch, a story, a chapter from an autobiography alternate beautifully. All the storylines matter, there is not a chapter that does not fit. In the end all storylines are finished, without being artificial.

When I bought Beautiful ruins I thought it was a simple and relaxing Italian love story, but to my surprise (and joy!) this is so much more. Jess Walter writes full of humor, but most of all with love. Beautiful ruins is a layered story about the possibilities in everyone’s life, the choices you make and the regret these sometimes bring. Each life leaves something behind, sometimes only a ruin.
A very beautiful book.

Published in 2012

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Quote: Augustine

It was pride that changed angels into devils, it is humility that makes men as angels.
Photograph made by me, Rome 2009
Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Friday, 11 April 2014

Chekhov's stories

A few weeks ago I read a book by a Dutch journalist about Russia. He is a great fan of Anton Chekhov and he used Chekhov’s life and the places he lived in to write about Russia and to draw parallels between Russia then, Russia in Sovjet Time and Russia now.
I loved this book, but it also made me fall a little bit in love with Anton Chekhov and I decided I wanted to know more about him.

Anton Chekhov was born in 1860. His father was a grocer, but not a very successful one, he was eventually so much in debt he had to leave town and go to Moscow. Anton and a brother stayed behind to finish secondary school. When he graduated Anton also moved to Moscow where he studied medicine at the university. He also began to write short stories and became very successful.
His family depended on him and he provided for them.

Chekhov believed in hard work and everywhere he lived he tried to improve living conditions, despite his own poor health (he suffered from tuberculosis). He send books to his birthtown, built schools and hospitals and when there was a cholera epidemic he did all he could to alleviate the suffering.

He was a very private person, almost never gave his opinion and was never politically involved, only when he felt he really could not stay silent. He loved gardening and was proud of the plants and trees he grew. He had two cats who often tore the house down (he always forgave them) and two dachshunds. He married late and died in 1904, only 44 years old, of consumption.

Anton Chekhov mostly wrote short stories and plays and many people consider him to be one of the best writers of all times.
And I must say I agree with that.
Short stories are not my favorite genre, but I now read my first Chekhov stories and they are beautiful.
He manages to capture a character of a situation in just a few sentences. I love his dialogue, his humor but most of all his eye for people. He writes about the poor, the farmers, the merchants, the servants, the middle class and the doctors.

Here in The Netherlands there is a publisher (Van Oorschot) who publishes many Russian classics, this collection is called The Russian library.
The works by Chekhov were translated in the fifties, but in the past years a new translation has been made and his works have been published again. This new translation is better than the old one, more modern and clean.

There are five books with his short stories and although they are very expensive I allow myself to buy one book each month. Book 5 already has its place on my shelf, and the other four will follow. These are bound editions, printed on smooth, creamy paper, very lovely and beautiful.
I cannot wait to read more of Anton Chekhov’s stories.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Julius Caesar by Shakespeare

Julius Caesar
In 1599 the situation in England was not very secure. Queen Elizabeth did not have an heir and despite her old age refused to appoint an heir. William Shakespeare wanted to write about this situation, but had to use another time to tell the story. He used the story of Ceasar and set the play in ancient Rome.

In the play Julius Caesar has been ruler of Rome for some years. Mark Anthony offered him a crown, but three times Julius Caesar refused it. Depite this the senators are worried, they think perhaps Caesar will accept the crown later and rule Rome as king. Especially Brutus feels he needs to protect the Roman Republic against Caesar’s power.

Other senators like Cassius, Decius, Caska and Cinna manage to convince Brutus to join their conspiracy. They know they need Brutus, because the people of Rome trust him.

They murder Caesar and then the troubles begin. The people of Rome are not grateful, they are outraged. Brutus tries to convince them they did the right thing, but when Mark Anthony holds his speech condemning them, Brutus’ words mean nothing anymore.

A civil war begins with the conspirators at one side and Mark Anthony and Octavian at the other side. The conspirators also turn against eachother and it ends badly for all of them.

Last week I went to see the play Julius Caesar by Het zuidelijk toneel, and I was so impressed.

The décor and costumes were modern, but it was still set in ancient Rome, and I was glad for that. The famous speech by Mark Anthony was also amazing, I felt like cheering!
The actors were amazing and the play was in my mind for a very long time after.

I do not like the historical Brutus, but this evening I did feel that he was sincere in his struggle to choose between his love for his friend and to do what he thought was right for Rome.
But doing something bad for the right motives is still something bad.
And a Rome with Caesar is always better than a Rome without Caesar.

All in all it was an amazing experience and I feel privileged I was able to go to the theater and see this play. A wonderful evening.

Monday, 7 April 2014

My brilliant friend, Elena Ferrante

Elena gets a call from Rino, Lina’s son. He tells her his mother has disappeared without a trace.
This message triggers Elena’s memory and she thinks back to the friendship she and Lina had, when they grew up in a neighbourhood in Napels in the fifties.
It is a world where the wounds caused by the war are not healed yet. A world filled with poverty, where the women grow old  too soon and the men defend the honour of their sisters and fiancées with violence.

Both girls are smart, but Lina is truly brilliant. She is original and intelligent and Elena knows Lina is much smarter than she is. Admiration and jealousy are equally mixed in their friendship.

Lina wants a way out of the neighbourhood she grows up in, she wants to discover the world and do something special with her life.
However, after primary school Lina is taken out of school and Elena gets a chance to go to secondary school. Lina hopes for a very long time her parents will let her go to school, and without any help she teaches herself Latin and Greek by studying the grammar.
She also has plans to design and produce shoes. Her father is a cobbler, but Lina thinks more can be done with her father’s simple shop.
All these plans come to nothing, and finally Lina only sees one way out; marriage when she is just sixteen.

Elena is now the clever one, she even thinks about going to university. And although she does what Lina so desperately wanted to do, Elena feels Lina surpassed her in so many other ways.

We do not know who Elena Ferrante is, the only things we know is that is a pseudonym and that she wrote three other books before this one.
My brilliant friend is the first part about the friendship between Elena and Lina. This books stops at Lina’s wedding, when she finds out something she rather would not have known.
I am looking forward to the next book and I am curious to see how things go on and why Lina wanted to disappear years later.

Without any effort the atmosphere of Napels is brought to life in this book. The fifties change into the sixties; morals shift and society changes. This is all made clear without enormous explanations, but in subtle remarks.
Elena’s voice and the way she looks at thing changes during the story, from a young and naïve girl she becomes a young woman who can even thing about going to university. And because she tells about the events years later, she can see things she did not see at the time.
My brilliant friend is an intelligent and well written book. I cannot wait for the next part.

Original Italian title: L’amica geniale
Published in 2011

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Quote: Shakespeare

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Cæsar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.
Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Friday, 4 April 2014

The white queen (2013)

In 1464 Edward IV of York married Elizabeth Woodville. His throne was not very secure. The last Lancaster king Henry VI and his wife Margaret of Anjou were still not beaten and could raise men to assembly an army.
Edward’s brothers George and Richard each wanted the throne for themselves and the last heir of the house of Lancaster, Margaret Beauford wanted the throne for her son, Henry Tudor.
And of course the earl of Warwick played an important role because he was instrumental in making Edward king and then turned against Edward because his influence diminished. 

In a world and a time when life was unsure and land and getting a good position for your family were the only things that mattered, loyalty was scarce. Everybody could turn their coat, enemies could become allies and familymembers could become enemies. Nobodies position was ever certain.

Philippa Gregory wrote a couple of books about this period in history and in 2013 three of them were made into a television series. I watched it a couple of weeks ago and I really enjoyed myself.

The white Queen (from the viewpoint of Elizabeth Woodville), The Red Queen (viewpoint Margaret Beaufort) and The Kingmakers daughter (viewpoint Anne Neville, Warwick’s daughter and Richard’s wife) are mixed very well in these ten episodes that each last 60 minutes.

The series follows the books and this is something you must remember when you watch it. After all, the books are historical fiction and this series is also fiction, not a documentary. Philippa Gregory wrote a compelling story, but of course she used her imagination a lot and this also shows in the series. For example in this series it looks like Richard III was a completely innocent man and not guilty of murdering his nephews.

But if you do not take it too seriously, there is enough to be enjoyed.
A lot of the filming was done in Belgium, in the towns of Gent and Brugge. Despite the sometimes weird costumes and silly mistakes, the way the series looks is quite all right and according to the timeperiod.
I admire how Amanda Hale portrayed Margaret Beauford. Despite the fact she is clearly unbalanced and fantatical, you can also feel her torment and you cannot help but feeling sorry for her. Janet McTeer as Elizabeth's mother and James Frain as Warwick were also excellent.

Edward IV (Max Irons) and Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson)
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