Sunday, 30 November 2014

A little confusion and some Woolf

Christina Carty as Virginia Woolf
A few days ago I wrote about the fifth season of Downton Abbey finally being broadcasted on Dutch television and how much I was looking forward to seeing Virginia Woolf in it.

Somehow, I do not quite sure how, I had the idea Virginia Woolf would be in the fifth season. Only yesterday I found out she was actually in the first episode of season four. I absolutely cannot remember this and I must see this episode again, because I completely missed her!

I am a bit disappointed, since I was looking forward to this and when I saw the photograph of the actress I thought she looked like a splendid Virginia Woolf.
Oh well, I got my information completely mixed up, no Woolf at Downton in season five.

To have some Woolf anyway, I am reading The Bloomsbury cookbook I bought last week and this is absolutely magnificent. A review will follow soon.
On my nightstand I have the diary of Virginia Woolf and I really enjoy reading this. And if I am really desperate for some Woolf on film, I can always re-watch The hours again, with the excellent Nicole Kidman.
Virginia Woolf

Friday, 28 November 2014

The paying guests, Sarah Waters

Frances Wray and her mother live in a large but decaying house in London. It is 1922 and WWI has changed the world. Both brothers died in the trenches and when her father died, he left Frances and her mother in debt. Now they cannot afford servants and Frances has to do all the housework by herself. Frances was a suffragette when she was younger, but now she settled into her role as caretaker for her mother.

To earn some money the Wray’s decided to take in paying guests. This couple, Lilian and Leonard Barber are a lower class than the Wrays. He is a bragging man who flirts with Frances and makes her feel uncomfortable and she is a superficial woman who spends her time decorating her rooms with cheap trinkets. Frances and her mother are having a hard time coming to terms having to share their house with strangers.

But because they often meet each other on the landing or the stairs, a friendship begins to form between Frances and Lilian. This is the beginning of a deeper bond between the two women, that will have consequences for all the people involved.

Sarah Waters is very good in creating an atmosphere and sketching the historical era. She does this cleverly by giving many details about the way things look and how things were done. Te relationship between Frances and Lilian and how this progresses, is also well written. But sometimes she takes too much time, the scenes for example where Lilian and Frances go to a party and where Francis spends an evening with the Barbers take too long and are quite boring to read.

Other scenes also could have done with less details and less pages. There is at a certain point a scene I could hardly read, because of all the gruesome and bloody details. It is not necessary to dwell on these things, the situation was horrible enough.

The paying guests is not just a love story, but also a thriller and a court drama. It is only a pity I did not feel any sympathy for any of the characters. This was mostly due because I really could not understand their reactions after something horrible happened. That everything finally turned out all right was not because the two main characters stepped up and did the right thing, but a complete outsider did the right thing.

I do not believe a relationship based on lies, cowardice and deceit can work, although Sarah Waters will have you believe it might be possible for these two women to have their love and a good life. I believe they will not escape justice forever.

In short, as far as I am concerned, The paying guests is a decent historical novel with some good period details, but with two main characters who lack in moral courage.

Published in 2014

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Downton Abbey is back

Here in The Netherlands many people are very happy because last Saturday the first episode of the fifth season of Downton Abbey was broadcasted on Dutch television.

I loved the first three series of DA, but I must confess I was a little bit disappointed with season 4. I still was not over the fact that Matthew had died and I really disliked the new suitors for Mary. Also other storylines felt to be a little bit over the top. Too many people, too many silly things and not enough coherence.

I did want to see the fifth season, because I hoped it would be better and you know what? I think it is. I love Lady Mary and I am curious to see how things will go for her. Edith's storyline is sad, and I hope for a happy (happier) ending for her, since not much has gone her way so far.
Perhaps Mr. Gregson will come back from wherever he has been?
Lady Edith and her Marigold.
I also really like the Earl of Grantham, he is such a gentleman and I hope the changes will be kind to him. Because there will be changes, I think in these new times.

I am looking forward to seeing the Russian refugees (I love a little bit of Russian history mixed in, as you can imagine) and I also like to see Virginia Woolf making an appearance.
Virginia Woolf (Christina Carty)
And as always the attention to details, the impeccable acting, the beautiful surroundings and the astonishing costumes make every episode of Downton Abbey worth watching. I will be glued to the television coming Saturday's, I imagine.

I have already ordered a copy of the DVD, that will be available next month, and I think I will treat myself to a DA-marathon this Christmas-holiday.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Antonio Carluccio's pasta

This is the Dutch cover
Antonio Carluccio is one of the best known Italian chefs. He has a famous Italian restaurant in London, has written many cookbooks and has featured in television programmes about Italian cooking. In short, if there is anyone capable of telling us about pasta, it must be Antonio Carluccio.

This book: Antonio Carluccio's pasta is divided into two parts. The first part is all about pasta- information. He tells about the history of pasta, different kinds of pasta and which pasta can be used with which sauce.

The second part is all about the recipes. Pasta in soups, pasta and different sauces, fresh and filled pasta, pasta dishes from the oven, pasta in salads and pasta in desserts.
The recipes are from all the different regions in Italy.

I love how he makes even recipes that looks difficult easy to follow, even for the amateur home-cook.
The eggsoup with farfalle looks absolutely delicous and so does the pasta all'Arrabiata. And I think I finally found the right recipe for pasta alla Carbonara. I could get lyrical about the pasta with beef sauce from Napoli or the classical pasta ovendish from the south of Italy.

If you only want to buy one Italian cookbook, I think this is one you should consider.

Published in 2014

Friday, 21 November 2014

The sergeant in the snow, Mario Rigoni Stern

When Hitler declared war on the Sovjet Union and began his invasion, Mussolini followed him.
The idea for the Italian invasion was to conquer the Caucasus and go via there to the Middle East, so they could diminish British influence there.

Unfortunately, the invasion came to a halt at Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-1943 was a turning point; the Russians eventually won and the Germans, Hungarians and Italians were forced to retreat from that moment.

The Italian troops were at the Don since the beginning of the Battle, surrounded by Russian troops and this is where we find sergeant-major Mario Rigoni. He and the other Alpini were in the trenches they dug to defend themselves against the Russians. It is cold, but there is still some food and the soldiers try to keep moral high by thinking about Christmas, their girl at home or the pasta their mothers make.  

Then the Russians break through the lines and the Italians have to flee, just like the Germans and Hungarian. It is a horrible journey, in the freezing cold Russian winter with forty degrees centigrade below zero, no food and absolute chaos everywhere.

When the war ended Mario Rigoni returned to his homevillage and he wrote down his memories. The sergeant in the snow is the result. It is written in a very direct way, no embellishments in style or extra words to make it prettier. Rigoni was there in the cold and while you read, you are there with him.

Very beautifully written is how the Italians deal with their homesickness and how the love for their country is clear in everything, although they are surrounded by the Russian steppe.

Mario Rigoni joined the Italian army in 1938, but he has little love for Mussolini. This is made visible in a beautiful scene when a father of a killed soldier comes to Rigoni to hear what happened to his son. When Rigoni tells him, the father looks at the portrait of Mussolini that hangs from the wall of the café, and clenched his fists.

Rigoni also thinks the Russians fight for what is right, since they fight for their country. He also finds many kind people amongst the Russian peasants he encounters.

The sergeant in the snow has become a WWII classic in Italy since it was first published in 1953.
Praise well deserved for this very special story.

Original Italian title: Il sergente nella neve
Published in 1953

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Art in Weesp

I always like to see art in all its forms in the streets and around us. Often it is unusual or unexpected and it makes you laugh or think or both.
In Weesp I saw some fine examples.
This is a war monument

This one is made of wood

An iron gate like thingy around a tree, (not quite sure what it is)

Art in the water

Floating in the canal, little handbags

Floating musicians (dolls)

Really funny pinguins

An iron tree with golden birds.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The bone clocks, David Mitchell

This was a very hard book to write about. I really struggled with it and to be honest I am not quite sure I managed it, but this is the best I could do J.

The only other book I read by David Mitchell is The thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and I am not familiar with his other books.

The bone clocks in divided into six parts, each with a different main character and each interloping. The first part is set in 1984, the last in 2043.
The main character is Holly Sykes, who narrates part one and six and who is also present in the other parts.

In 1984 Holly Sykes is fifteen years old and she had a row with her mother over her very unsuitable boyfriend and Holly decides to run away from home. During her journey she meets a woman called Esther Little, who seems to know Holly. Holly also experiences a few things that she knows are not possible and really could not have happened. We learn that as a young child Holly could speak to people who were not present, this only stopped when she was seven and visited a psychiatrist.

In part two we meet the amoral Hugo Lamb who has a short affair with Holly when they are both in Switzerland.
In part three we hear from Holly’s partner and the father of her child. He is a renowned war journalist who cannot detach himself from his experiences in Iraq. 

In part four we meet writer Crispin Hershey who meets Holly at a literary festival. At first he wants nothing to do with this crazy woman, but later they become friends. Finally, Crispin has to pay the price for something he did out of spite an revenge.

In all these parts is it clear something is going on in the World, something supernatural. It also becomes clear a choice has to be made between right and wrong, good and evil. There is an ongoing battle between these two and sometimes ordinary people, like Holly, get caught up in it.

In part five Holly finds out what is going on, and so do we readers. It seems there are two groups of people in the world who are immortal (or Atemporals) of some sorts. There are the Horlogists who are reborn every time they die, and the Anchorites who have to sacrifice souls to gain eternal youth. Between these groups there is a battle of life and death, with good and evil and even the whole of mankind at stake.

The bone clocks is utterly unbelievable, but somehow, this does not matter. Mitchell writes so engaging you just go along with everything. Holly is a sassy woman with a sarcastic  tongue and I really liked reading about her. The other characters are also portrayed very well, each with their own voice. I also liked how Mitchell managed to reference different books (including his own), writers and artworks. This made it fun to puzzle and see if I could find all the clues (I do not think I even got half of them)

Funnily enough, part five with the explanation and the battle between horologists and anchorites was my least favorite. Somehow the outcome of the battle was not very engaging and even boring. I was left with the feeling: Is this all? In short, the epic battle fell flat.

But the sixth part was brilliant again, I think. Here we find Holly in 2043, taking care of her grandchildren in Ireland. There has been a worldwide crisis and civilization as we know it, has collapsed. This part even frightened me and made me wonder; ‘what if’.

In short, The bone clocks is a special book by a very good story teller, but not every part is equally strong.

Published in 2014
Pages 595

Friday, 14 November 2014

The sense of an ending, Julian Barnes

Witnesses are never reliable and the biggest question perhaps is if you yourself are not the most unreliable witness. People do not only look to history from their own point of view, events also get distorted in our memories. The sharp edges of our bad behavior are softened, the order of events gets changed and the focus shifts, so some details disappear and other are highlighted out of context.

Toby Webster is a divorced pensioner and he looks back on his schoolyears and when he was a student. At school he and his friends met Adrian and the four boys become a group who read philosophical books and talk about the meaning of life. A particular interesting topic for them is a schoolmate who hanged himself.

When they all go off to university, they grow apart and when Tony comes back from a trip to America, he gets the message that Adrian also killed himself.

Now, so many years later, Toby receives an unexpected letter that brings back all the memories of the event and what lead up to it. The question of course is if his memories can be trusted at all.

The sense of an ending was the winner of the Booker prize in 2011. I must admit I never read anything by Julian Barnes before, but somebody mentioned this book and I am very glad I read it, because it is such a beautiful book. It has only 150 pages, but each of these 150 pages is perfect. Perfect in building the story and perfect in building sentences.

I loved the precise wordings and the dialogue. Only at the end it becomes clear what happened, and then you realize how well this story is built. Each scene has its place, each remark and each observation serves a purpose.

The only thing I found less believable was Veronica and the way she behaved after all those years, but that is the only minor thingy I have against this book, because The sense of an ending is a beautiful book that I enjoyed immensely. 
Published in 2011
Pages 150

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Pane e tulipani (2000)

Pane e tulipani (bread and tulips) is the story of Rosalba, who is on a holiday to see the touristic sites of Italy with her husband and children. During a stop at a restaurant near the motorway, Rosalba misses the bus and her family don’t even notice she is not with them. Rosalba decides to lift home, only when she is on her way she thinks she finally has the chance to go to Venice, where she always wanted to go.

She finds an apartment and a job and she makes friends in Venice and she has a very good and happy time there. In the meantime, her husband is sending a private detective her way to find out why Rosalba won’t come home, but the question is if Rosable has a reason to go home again?

Pane e tulipani is one of those beautiful and almost fairytale-like movies. It has everything, humor and funny scenes, some tragedy and romance. Venice looks, as always, amazing!

In short, this is the perfect movie to watch at night or during a rainy day.


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remembering Steve McQueen

For Steve McQueen, who died 34 years ago on the 7th of November 1980. He is still missed.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The devil and the river, R.J. Ellory

It is a warm day in 1974 and sherrif John Gaines must solve the murder of a young girl who has been found in the muddy river bank. The girl turns out to be Nancy, who disappeared 20 years ago. When the body is examined, they found out something gruesome happened with it.

In the small town in Mississippi there are almost no serious crimes, let alone murders and newly appointed sherrif John Gaines never conducted a murder inquiry. But he does know evil and what people are capable of, he saw that in Vietnam.

Along the river where Nancy was found lives Michael Webb. He is a WWII veteran and he was the man Nancy would marry when she would be old enough. His war memories totally consumed him now, but it does become clear he had something to do with Nancy’s murder.

When Gaines arrests Webb, new events follow quicly and Gaines finds out he must seek the murderer somewhere else. Gaines does not let go and will do everything he can to bring a murderer to justice, who has been able to stay in the shadows for more than twenty years.

Since I read A quiet belief in angels, I have been a huge fan of R.J. Ellory, and each book he wrote after that one, confirmed my opinion that he is a very good writer. As does The devil and the river.

What makes the thrillers of R.J. Ellory better than the average good thriller is his beautiful writing, some sentences and descriptions I had to read twice, to enjoy them even more.

The atmosphere of a quiet, Southern town in a warm Summer comes from every page, without emphasis. The character on the whole are written well, with attention to details and even small characters get a background and something extra. The memories Michael and John have of the wars they fought in, are extremely well written, and almost make War a character in the story.

As far as I am concerned, R.J. Ellory wrote another great thriller with The devil and the river, confirming he is one of the best thriller authors in the world at this moment.

Published in 2013

Monday, 3 November 2014

Skincare during the Winter

Summer is now definitely over and the weather is getting colder here in The Netherlands. When the Winter changes, it is also time to take a look at your skin-care and see what you need to change there.

As you probably know and hopefully do, cleansing your skin is important. I must admit I know it, but not always do it, and I feel it immediately. My skin feels less soft en more dry then when I do cleanse.

Try to cleanse in the evening ànd in the morning, and you will see the positive effects after just a few days. 

My skin is quite dry and sensitive, and I do not use a lot of products during the day to cover my skin.

I do however, always (as in: every day) use a good day-cream. I use a day cream by Nivea, it is a brand that works for my skin and it is not very expensive. It has spf 15 and is anti-wrinkle.

Under my day-cream I use a serum. This one I use now is Skinperfection by L'Oreal. I like how light it feels and I have the idea it gives my skin that little bit extra it needs. A serum is a bit more expensive, but you need so little, a bottle like this will last very long.

During the night
After I cleanse my skin at night, I use a biological oil. This one I use is by Kneipp, a brand that is, again, not very expensive and you only need about 2 to 3 drops for your face and neck. (don’t forget the neck!).

It gives my dry skin some extra care and I love how soft and smooth my skin feels afterwards.

Do not use too much oil, because then it will form a layer on your face and it will only make your pillow dirty when you go to sleep! J

After the oil, I use regenerating night-cream, also by Nivea. This one is rich and creamy and it feels very good on my skin.
Do you have a skincare regime for the winter and what products do you use? I am curious to know what other people use.
But whatever your skincare regime is, make sure your skin is ready for the Winter! 
Nivea cleansing and tonic
Bottle biological skinoil by Kneipp
Dove hand cream
Nivea Day- and Night-cream
Lancaster serum
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