Friday, 31 October 2014

Ghost whisperer (2005-2010)

One of the things I love to do is to watch series. Often I do not see the series when they are broadcasted on television, or I miss episodes, so I rely on my dvd collection. (you see, I am old-fashioned, I do not have Netflix, I still buy dvd’s J)

Recently I started to re-watch Ghost Whisperer with Jennifer Love Hewitt. I remember seeing some episodes on television, but certainly not all of them, and the last two series I did not see at all. But now I have them and I can watch whenever I want to.

Ghost Whisperer is the story of Melinda Gordon, who owns an antiques shop and who has the ability to see ghosts. Often the ghosts come to her because they have unfinished business and they need her help.

I quite like Jennifer Love Hewitt who plays Melinda, she is very beautiful and very good in this role. The stories are touching, although they can begin a bit creepy, the ending is often very well done.

I especially love the relationship between Melinda and her husband Jim, played by David Conrad. There is much chemistry between the two. You can see they love each other very much and I love how protective and supportive Jim is of Melinda, I would not mind a husband like that!

The final thing I love about this series is Melinda’s wardrobe, she has some amazing clothes in this series. Her nightgowns have to be mentioned (I do not know how she sleeps in them, but it always looks stunning), but her everyday clothes are gorgeous as well. Very feminine, with a touch of vintage and sometimes a girly or romantic top or blouse combined with a pair of jeans.

Last time I went shopping, I tried to find some things I thought Melinda would wear, and I am glad to say I think I succeeded with a lovely white blouse and a romantic light pink sleeveless blouse that can be combined with a vest or something like that when the weather gets colder.

I leave you with some pictures of Melinda, I could not find many, but then again, perhaps you all just better watch the series. :-)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

St. Petersburg, Cecilia Bartoli

Cecilia Bartoli is a world-famous mezzo soprano, who has a beautiful voice and an unique way of singing.
In October a new cd was brought out, and when an Italian singer sings Russian opera I am a happy woman, because that combines two of my loves and passions.

Opera came to Russia in the 18th century. Three emperesses, Anna (1730 -1740) , Elizabeth (1741- 1761) en Catharina II (1762-1796), ruled the country then. Following the example of tsar Peter the Great they wanted to modernize Russia and introduce western fashion at court. Western music was also a part of that.

During the reign of Anna the first Italian opera company came to St. Petersburg and they introduced Russia to opera. First opera was only for special state occasions, but soon it became very popular and there would be opera performances at court on a regular basis.

In the archives of the Mariinsky theater in St. Petersburg Cecilia Bartoli found these almost forgotten works.

On this cd are 11 arias by several composers like Araia, Raupach en Manfredini. Cecilia Bartoli performs the arias with I Barocchisti, with  Diego Fasolis as conductor.

I do not have a lot of musical knowledge, so do not expect a profound analysis of her voice or the performance, I leave that to the experts.
I can tell you I absolutely love this cd. I love music from the baroque period and a little bit later, and this music falls into that period of time.

Cecilia Bartoli has a rich and supple voice that is never shrill or hard. She can take her voice anywhere she wants to, she completely masters every aspect of it. The arias, even two sung in Russian, become more and more beautiful the more I listen to them.


Monday, 27 October 2014

Night roads, Gaito Gazdanov

We know little about the main character in this book. His name, for example, we do not know. We do know he is a Russian immigrant in Paris and he fought in Russia during the civil war against the Red army. We also find out he was in love with a woman he could not have, but we do not know who she was. After some travelling he ended up in Paris where he worked as a laborer and was a student, and now he drives a taxi during the nighttime.

As a taxi driver he meets all kinds of people, alcoholics, immigrants, prostitutes, vagabonds and the rich. Some people he meets regularly, like the alcoholic philosopher Plato or the former courtesan Jeanne Raldi, who once had connections in the highest circles, but who died alone in a little hotel room.

The main character sees these people and speaks with them. And although he does not want to get involved, they reach out to him and he gets mixed up in their lives.

Gaito Gazdanov used his own memories and experiences as a Russian immigrant in Paris, just like he did in his other books. Night Roads is not as beautiful as Alexander Wolf, I think, but that does not mean Night roads is not good. That is just because I absolutely loved Alexander Wolf.

If you like a plot and a story that goes somewhere, Night roads is not the book for you. But if you like observations, a sharp eye for people and situations and a beautiful mixture of bitterness, sadness and hilarious conversations there is much to enjoy in Night roads.
A very interesting book.

Original Russian titlel: Nochnaya doroga
Published in 1939, first time as a book in 1952

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Quote: Cecilia Bartoli

The voice is an instrument you must really take your time to develop. It is like good red wine, give it time.

Cecilia Bartoli (Italian opera-singer 1966-)

Friday, 24 October 2014

My life, Sophia Loren

This is the Dutch cover
This September Sophia Loren celebrated her 80th birthday and to mark the occasion she wrote her autobiography. She writes about her early childhood in poor circumstances and the difficult relationship with her biological father, her first success in the film industry and immense successes she would have. She tells about her family, her bond with Napoli and her short stay in prison when she was accused of not paying her taxes.

She is not very forthcoming about her marriage to Carlo Ponti, but it is clear they made each other very happy for more than 50 years.

I loved to read the anecdotes about the many famous people she worked with from the international filmworld. Many anecdotes have to do with food, because Sophia loves to cook. Everywhere she goes she brings her hotplate, so even in her hotelroom she can cook some pasta.

Sophia was once invited over to lunch with Audrey Hepburn and she had a small plate with a mini breadroll and a sliver of cheese. Sophia thought this was the entre, but it was the entire lunch. When they were finished, Audrey commented on having ‘too much to eat’, and Sophia went home to make herself another sandwich.

Once Sophia and Omar Sharif got into a discussion which mother made the best aubergine dish, Sophia’s mother, or Omar’s mother. The solution was to ask both mama’s to come and to cook their dishes, the end result was a great friendship between both women.

Humor, and a love for films, for Napoli, for food and especially her family are what define Sophia Loren. I love how she never forgot where she came from, but was proud of her heritage. She knows success comes from hard work, but it never made her hard or insensitive, friendship and loyalty are very important to her.

Ieri, oggi, domani. My life by Sophia Loren is a fascinating read and I really liked it.

Original Italian title: Ieri, oggi, domani
Published in 2014
An English translation will be available in December 2014

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

10 tips to make you feel (a little bit) better when you are ill

Last week I had a week vacation (autumn-holiday), and I had some great plans. Friends would come to lunch, I would go to a museum, visit another friend, enjoy the beautiful fall weather out cycling etc. I also wanted to do some things in my house, like cleaning the balcony.

Unfortunately, all these plans came to nothing, because I suffered from a nasty infection and I spent the entire week sitting on the couch, in pain. I could hardly walk and every movement hurt.

So, what can you do to make life a little bit more comfortable for yourself in these circumstances?

1/ Keep everything you need close at hand
Make sure you have your medication near you, and also something to drink, the remote for the television and all the other things you might need. You do not want to get up and walk every time you need something, so keep it close at hand.

Medication, water, remote controls, telephones and entertainment ready at hand
2/ Getting dressed etc.
Try, if you can, to wash (shower!) and get dressed. You do not want to do this and I understand that, but it will make you feel better. That is will take a lot of time does not matter, you are not going anywhere J.

Just like cooking dinner, I did not want to do it, but I knew I would feel better with a warm meal. I put a chair in the kitchen so I could sit down during the cooking, because standing was too painful, but this worked.

3/ Something to read
I tried to look at all this as a perfect time to spend a lot of time reading. And that is what I did, I read a lot!

Most books will be reviewed later!
4/ Entertainment
I watched numerous episodes of Once upon a time and Ghost Whisperer, and I watched television, like Dr. Phil and Masterchef. Very entertaining, and good for taking my mind of things.

5/ Something to do
Reading and watching loads of television will get boring after a while, so try to do something else. I picked up my crochet project again and I had great fun with my colouringbook for grown-ups. (more fun than I ever imagined!)

This was amazing fun!
6/ Contact with the outside world
Keep your smartphone and landline ready and close to you, so you can phone/app/mail friends and family whenever you need to.
Tablet or laptop are also possible options here to be connected to the rest of the world.

7/ Something colourful.
My mother came to visit me regularly, and she brought this lovely plant. I love having something colourful and beautiful to look at.

Very cute
8/ Keeping warm
I was very cold, since my temperature was up and I was very glad with my warm vest and of course my fleece blanket that kept me warm during the afternoon and evening.

My fleece 'nest' on the sofa, between Corrado and Silvia
9/ Go outside
If and when you can, go outside, if only to walk around the block. The fresh air and the change of scenery will do you good.
It does not matter if you have to walk very slowly. If you are not certain about going outside on your own, ask somebody to come with you.
And do not try to walk too far immediately, and this brings me to the last, most important point:

10/ Give it time
Of course you want to be well again soon and it never goes fast enough, but accept you are not healthy and getting better again will take time. Do not do too much too soon and make sure your body can rest as much as possible, it will need all the energy to heal you.
If you want to, even go to bed for a nap in the afternoon, it will only benefit you.

Get well soon!

Monday, 20 October 2014

The son, Jo Nesbo

Sonny Lofthus has been in prison for the past twelve years. The governor leaves him in peace because Sonny is a professional scapegoat, for peace and heroin he confesses the crimes of others and does their time in prison.

The prisoners also leave him in peace, because he is some kind of confessor, they come to him to confess their sins and get some sort of forgiveness. One of the prisoners gives him new information about the death of his father and this changes everything: Sonny comes into action.

Simon Kefas has been a police-inspector for years and he is near his retirement. His former partner was Ab Lofthus, who committed suicide years ago, after he confessed he had been a criminal informer.

When Sonny escapes from prison and goes after the people who killed his father ánd the people he took the sentence for, the paths of Simon and Sonny cross.

I am a huge fan of the Harry Hole books by Jo Nesbø. But he wrote ten books about Harry Hole and that is, I think a finished story. The son is a book without Harry Hole and I was wondering if Jo Nesbø was able to make this book as good as his previous books. And I am very glad to say that yes, this book is as good as the Harry Hole books.

Nobody is better than Jo Nesbø at giving some details and background information for even the smallest character in the book, giving them dept and making them come alive on the page. Sonny commits some terrible murders when he is out of prison, but you root for him and hope he will get his revenge. You also hope he will get the girl he loves, because you want him to be happy.

The way the story is written and how the different parts come together is also done in an excellent way, Jo Nesbø really is one of the best thriller writers in the world, I think.
Until the last moment I was on the wrong track, although in retrospect I could see the clues I missed.

In short, The son is an excellent, very well written thriller that is impossible to put down, a worthy successor of the Harry Hole series.

Original Norwegian title: Sønnen
Published in 2014

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Quote, Julian Barnes

History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.
Julian Barnes in The sense of an ending.

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Fool's assassin, Robin Hobb

The best fantasy series I know are the The Farseer trilogy and The tawny man trilogy, both written by Robin Hobb.

I love the world of the six duchies, and Fitz, the bastard of the crown prince who is trained by Chade to become the king’s silent diplomat or even assassin if he needs to be.
The only friend Fitz has in the palace is The Fool and it is clear they have a shared destiny.

Now there finally is a new book in the series, The Fool’s assassin/Book 1, Fitz and the Fool.

Fitz is now middleaged and he lives with his Mollie at Withywoods. He plays the role as manager of the estate and tries to keep out of the affairs of the king, although sometimes he still speaks with Chade, his old mentor. Fitz has not heard from the Fool for years, and this saddens him.

During the Midwinter feasts a messenger is murdered, before she could deliver the message. When nothing else happens, Fitz thinks it must have meant nothing, but then the peaceful existence at Withywoods is threatened by new events. Fitz is dragged against his will in Chade’s affairs and he must act, although he would rather not.

After many years the Fool also comes back, completely unexpectedly and it turns out he was kept prisoner and was tortured for many years. When Fitz goes with the Fool to the palace to make sure the Fool will be healed, a new threat reaches Withywoods.

It is always a gamble to read a new book in a beloved series. Will it be as good as the other ones or must you shake your head and admit the magic is gone?

Luckily, that is certainly not the case in The Fool’s assassin. Robin Hobb managed to write another magnificent story. I loved seeing Fitz being moderately happy, since he was so unhappy as a child and young man. I miss the wolf Nighteyes, but I hope Fitz will be able to form a bond with another animal again in the later books. I read this book in one day and a half and I loved every page.

When I finished I only wanted to know: What happened to The Fool? What game does Chade play and who threatens Withywoods? Robin Hobb set out many questions and storylines that I hope will continue in the next books.

In short, for me The Fool’s assassin is a new high in a series that is already a high, and I cannot wait for parts 2 and 3.

I do think if you never read the other books, you should before you start with this one, because things will be unclear (but having to read those books first is a good thing, trust me!)

Published in 2014
By the way, don't you just love the Dutch cover? I think it is even better than the English/American one.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Some of the calles (narrow streets) in Venice are very narrow, in some of them it is not possible to walk with an umbrella, like this one.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Decline and fall, Evelyn Waugh

Because of the actions of other people, Paul Pennyfeather is thrown out of Oxford for indecent behavior. His guardian seizes the opportunity to deny Paul his inheritance and Paul has no other option than to find a job.

He becomes a schoolteacher at a public school in Wales, although he has not qualifications. Then again, not one of the teachers there has any qualifications of any kind and is completely unfit for the jobs they have. The master lies about his academic titles, the butler Phillbrick has a new story about his real identity every day, Pendergast is a clergyman who had doubts and captain Grimes finds himself in the soup all the time.

Paul has to organize the Sports-day, because the Master wants to impress the parents. Paul meets Margot Beste-Chetwynde here, the mother of one of his students. She liked Paul and asks him to tutor her son during the holidays. The end result is that Paul and Margot get engaged and luck seems to change for Paul. But soon he finds the wheel of fortune is spinning again and Paul finds himself, and some old friends, in prison.

In the hands of a lesser writer this amount of misery would be a too depressing or a too farcical.

Decline and fall is Evelyn Waugh’s first book and already the hand of the master shows in the perfect balance and tone. Yes, it is comical and witty and at times so funny I was laughing outloud on the bus. Waugh writes about a bunch of idiotic misfits and outrageous events, but at the same time this is more than just a witty story.
Everybody is tackled, the authorities who do not do their job, the airheads in the upper classes, the cultural snobs and everyone who has a job he is completely incompetent at (schoolteachers, judges, prisons governors, doctors etc)

This light bitterness in the undercurrent never surfaces too much, but at the same time it gives Decline and fall a dept that makes sure this story is not just fluff that leaves no impression, but it stays with you because it gives you an interesting afterthought.

As far as I am concerned, Decline and fall proves again that Evelyn Waugh is a wonderful writer.

Published in 1928

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Quote: Buddha

Just like a candle cannot burn without a fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Imperial dining at the Hermitage in Amsterdam

This weekend my mother and I went to see the beautiful exhibition Dining with the tsars in de Hermitage in Amsterdam.

Only in the 18th century Europe learned how to make porcelain, before that it was always brought back from China.

Tableware made from porcelain were bought by all the crowned heads in Europe, to use themselves or to give it to other kings and emperors. The tsars in Russia ordered many beautiful sets of dinnerware. Plates, cups, soup tureens, servings bowls and of course beautiful centerpieces were all part of one set.

In the Hermitage they had placed the tables just like they would have looked like during a dinner at court. There was dinnerware from Catherine the Great, Alexander II and Nicolas II. There even was a set given to Stalin (quite nice) for his birthday.

Stalin's souptureen
Dining with the tsars is a very beautiful exhibition and we loved it. The Hermitage is one of the most beautiful museums in Amstersam, the building is also very special.
So if you have the chance: Dining with the tsars can be seen at the Hermitage museum in Amsterdam until March 2015.

How to keep your wodka glasses cold

Beautiful sight from above
This was one owned by Alexander II.
Isn't this just beautiful?
Yes, there are peacocks in the middle of this table

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Limbo, Melania Mazzucco

This is the Dutch cover
Limbo is a place between heaven and hell, a place for  people who do not know where they will go. Limbo equals waiting and uncertainty.

Manuela Paris comes back from Afghanistan where she was wounded when her unit was hit by a bomb. She cannot walk without crotches, she has screws and metal plates throughout her body and suffers from severe PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)

She does not want to be home, she is scared to death she won’t recover and won’t be able to get back into the army. And the army is her life, her everything. Manuela joined up when the Italian army had been opened for women just a few years before. The road had not been easy, but for Manuela the words sacrifice, honour, courage and loyalty  are not just words, they mean something and she feels them deep in her soul. She joined the Alpini’s, the most honourable soldiers in the Italian army who always did the most difficult jobs. She cannot and will not consider the possibility that this life may be over for her.

The situation at home is not easy, with a mother who never wanted her to choose this career and a sister who has a child and goes from relationship to relationship. Her only anchor is the man she sees everyday smoking on the balcony of the otherwhise empty hotel on the other side of the road. He is the only guest and Manuela seeks his company.
At first he keeps her at a distance, but in the end they grow into some sort of relationship, two people waiting in an uncertain situation. Because Mattia is also in Limbo, he lives in the hotel but cannot say why, or what his background or even his real name is.

Only when the future for Manuela becomes clear, she finds out what Mattia’s Limbo was.

Melania Mazzucco wrote A perfect day and Vita (here) before, two beautiful novels.
Limbo is a book of almost fivehundred pages, but as far as I am concerned, not one of these pages is unnecessary. When Manuela remembers Afghanistan, you are also there and you feel the heath, the boredom and the fear. Melania Mazzucco did her research and this shows. These parts are fascinating and still very readable (I am always afraid of too many technical details, but that was not the case here).

Heartbreaking and beautiful is described how Manuela clings to her hope of a new career in the army and a relationship with Mattia.

Manuela is a strong woman, but due to the fact she is sincere in her beliefs and holds on to her principles she is also sympathetic and likeable (although perhaps a bit naief). Mattia is a little less likable, but he has his own tragic.

Limbo is a beautiful novel about dealing with loss, that also gives a very good description of the situation in Afghanistan and the western soldiers who are there on a mission. I loved it.

Original Italian title: Limbo
Published in 2012
English translation will be available on November 4th, 2014

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Quote: Saint Francis of Assisi

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand,
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life

Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

Friday, 3 October 2014

The imperfectionists, Tom Rachman

Writing a book review can be very hard sometimes, especially when the book is more a collection of short stories who are linked, but do not really form a plot.

The imperfectionists was the debut by Tom Rachman and it is set in Rome in the offices of an English newspaper. The paper was published first in the fifties by American businessman Cyrus Ott, but nowadays his grandson Olivier is more concerned with his dog Schoppenhauer who he reads The hound of the Baskervilles to.

Each chapter gives you some insight in the life of one of the employees of the newspaper. Ruby, who desperately wants to stay with the paper, although she thinks everybody is in a complot against her and Lloyd, the correspondent in Paris who is clinging on to his job and even uses his own son as an informer, with enormous consequences. The story of Winston Cheung, the young correspondent in Cairo is hilarious, Winston has no clue and when an experienced war correspondent arrives in Cairo, he manages to take over Winston’s life completely.

The different stories overlap and intertwine and together they weave a pattern of life at the newspaper, seen from different perspectives and moments. Sometimes they are tragical, sometimes embarrassing and sometimes hilarious. Each person muddles through life, makes decisions and has to live with the consequences.

Some time ago I read The decline and fall of great powers and I was very curious to read Tom Rachman’s first book. I was pleasantly surprised by it, because I was not sure if I would like it, since I loved Great powers and this book was so completely different.

Different yes, but the writing was as good and as enjoyable and I loved how everything came together in the end. I did not like each story equally, but most of them were very good. On the whole I can say I quite enjoyed The imperfectionists and I am looking forward to Tom Rachman’s next book.

Published in 2010

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Italian life

Men sitting on a bench in a campo (square) in Venice, Italy.
Chatting, observing what goes on and exchanging stories and some gossip. Chance is these men have known eachother for years, probably went to school together and saw eachother during the main events of their lives; loves, marriages, births and funerals.
Photograph taken by me

Others take the time to sit, rest and read the newspaper they just bought at the same shop they buy the newspaper every day. Or just sit quietly with a book.
Photograph taken by me
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