Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Best books of 2014

My best books of 2014
I had an amazing year when I look at the books I read. In total I read 148 books, but I must confess 13 of those were Agatha Christies and I can read those in an hour or so.

I read 15 books about Russia or by Russian authors, 16 books about Italy or by Italian authors. I read 33 non-fiction books and 21 of those were historical non-fiction, no surprise there!

And now for the good part, what were my best books of 2014?

First my top three in fiction:
  • Twice born by Margaret Mazzantini here A beautiful love story of two people who really want a child, against the horrible events of the civil war in Bosnia
  • The Mussolini canal by Antonio Pennacchi here An epic novel about an Italian family.
  • The rise and fall of great powers by Tom Rachman here The beautifully written story of Tolly and the different important events in her life.

Other categories:
Non fiction: The best on fiction book was a book by a Dutch journalist about Anton Chekhov, and I love this book so much because it gave me Chekhov in my life. Without this book I would not have picked up his stories and I would not have fallen in love a little bit with Anton Chekhov.
But since there is no English translation of this book, I will give you my second best non-fiction book of 2014 and for me this was:
  • The Bloomsbury cookbook by Jans Ondaatje Rolls, here. Part cookbook, artbook, biography and social history, this book has it all.

Best thriller:
  • The root of all evil by Roberto Costantini here The second part in the trilogy about Inspector Michele Balistreri and his troubled past.

Best Fantasy (okay, I admit, this was the only fantasy I read this year, but still!)
  • The fool's assassin by Robin Hobb here A new part in the series of Fitz and the Fool and I loved it.

Best cookbook
  • Simply Italian by the Chiappa sisters, here
I hope 2015 will be an equally good reading year!

Friday, 26 December 2014

Squadra antimafia, Palermo oggi (2008-)

I love a good Italian series and when I find one I did not see before, I am very happy. Recently I discovered Squadra antimaffia, Palermo oggi, that came out on DVD in The Netherlands.
A very good and thrilling series about a group of policemen and women who fight against the mafia in Palermo.  

In the first series we meet policeinspector Claudia Mares (Simona Cavallari).
In 1992 she was a policeofficer and she saved the life of a young girl, who turned out to be Rosy Abate, the daughter of a mafia family.

We then fast-forward to 2008. Old friend and colleague Stefano asks Claudia to come back to Palermo, because something big is going on. Before he can tell her, Stefano gets killed.

Inspector Mares becomes the new head of the team, but she does not know if she can trust them, especially when it becomes clear there is a mole who betrays everything to the mafia. The only person she trusts is inspector Ivan de Meo. (Claudio Gioè)

Claudia and Ivan
In the meanwhile Rosy Abate returns to Palermo to get married after living for years in the United States. Despite herself she is caught up in the mafia affaires of her brothers.

The second series picks up where the first one ended. Claudia Mares is still the head of the antimafia group, although she has a new team (funny how it is never explained where the others went to).
The new team
The new team must learn to trust eachother quickly, since it soon becomes clear old friends cannot be trusted anymore and perhaps a betrayer was on the right side all along. The secret service also wants to play a part, but they have their own agenda.
And Claudia Mares has to fear for her life, since the Abate family now wants her dead.

Squadra antimaffia is very thrilling and exciting and although the episodes are long (1 ½ hour each), you never get bored. Each episode also ends with a cliffhanger that made me throw the next dvd into the dvd-player  immediately, since I needed to know what would happen next.

The storylines are very good and the actors are also amazing. This makes Squadra antimafia a series worth watching. I also liked to see actors again I recognized from other Italian films and series.

Beautiful images of Palermo (looks like a wonderful city) and plenty references to the history of the mafia and the people who fight against it, also make you feel this is real.

Unfortunately only season 1 and 2 were brought out in The Netherlands, and there are 7 seasons already in Italy. I hope the other ones will also be brought out here, because this is a series I would really like to watch until the end.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas clip: Paul McCartney

Merry Christmas for everybody and to celebrate this lovely Christmas song by Paul McCartney, so fitting in this year when it was one hundred years ago that WWI began.
Enjoy the pipes of peace and the amazing clip where sir Paul shows both sides in the trenches.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Books for the holidays

No, this will not be the usual list with 'Christmassy-books', just a list of books I hope to read (and those books have nothing to do with Christmas).

I have created this interesting pile of books I hope to dive into in the coming two weeks. I do not expect to finish them all, but I have scheduled much time for reading, so I do hope to finish a couple.

So what is on my pile?

  • The secret rooms by Catherine Bailey, (historical non-fiction). I also read Black diamonds by her and I thought that was really interesting and well-written, so I have high hopes for this one.
  • Onvoltooide liefdesbrieven (unfinished loveletters) by Michail Sjisjkin. He is a Russian writer and I do not think his books have been translated into English.
  • The house of special purpose by John Boyne. I reas this book before and I am looking forward to reading it again. I loved it the first time. 
  • H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, (non-fiction). I read several things about this book and it looks fascinating. 
  • Gewoon over geloof (plain about faith) by Rob Mutsaerts, (non-fiction). Rob Mutsaerts is a Dutch underbisschop and I hope this is an inspiring and good book about the Catholic faith. There is no English translation.
  • Virginia Woolf in Manhattan by Maggie Ghee. I have started this book and it does not grip me from the start. I hope, now I have more time and I can spend longer on this book in one go, the story will begin to speak to me. I quite like the idea of Virginia Woolf coming back to life, so I hope it is well done.
  • At the edge of the world by Michael Pye, (historical non-fiction). I almost finished this book and I love it. It is absolutely amazing, what a good book!

  • Friday, 19 December 2014

    My kitchen

    I live in an appartment that is not huge, but also not very little. It is most certainly big enough for me and Corrado and Silvia!
    One of the places in my home I begin to love more and more, is my kitchen. I like cooking more than I used to do and I really enjoy reading cookbooks and trying out some new recipes. Italian dishes are my favorites, but I also tried my hand at some Cajun-dishes and some general/French inspired dishes.

    As I like cooking more, I spend more time in my kitchen and I enjoy making it look lovely, inviting and inspiring.

    This cabinet is the main point in my kitchen, I think. It holds all my cookbooks, and I also have some things I use daily in there and on top of it. The light gives a cozy atmosphere during the evening.

    Here is how it looks during the day. You can see my fruitbowl, my cookbooks, the basket with onions and garlic, the little glass jar with nutmeg and my Italian coffeemaker. The plant you see is Mint, and I hope it will survive.

    Looks lovely, doesn't it?

    My cookbooks, my kitchen towels and my coffeemaker.

    These tins are for Coffee, Sugar and Tea. They are quite old, my grandmother bought them when she got married, in 1942. When she passed away, I got them. They sit on my kitchen cupboards and I love looking at them, knowing my grandmother is close.

    Next to the stove (on the right) I have on the counter a bakelite tray with oil and vinegar and also three jars with knives, wooden spoons and spatchula's and irregular stuff. It is quite handy to have these things close while I am doing my cooking.

    My father made these three shelves between two kitchen cupboards and here I have some China on display. The two cups on the top-shelf I never use, but the six red bowls I always use for tea. They were sold in the shop as soup-bowls, but I use them as tea-cups. I love a huge tea-cup!

    Wednesday, 17 December 2014

    Roman stairs

    Sometimes a photograph comes out even better than I expected. I made this photograph in Rome in 2013, these are the steps leading to the Capitol. This is my favorite way of arriving there.
    The lady coming down the stairs with the parasol gives this photograph a little bit extra, as I found out when I came home and looked at it more carefully. So thank you, Roman lady!

    Monday, 15 December 2014

    A farewell to arms, Ernest Hemingway

    Ernest Hemingway has been a source of fascination for me for years. The man that is, since I must admit I have not read a lot of his books.

    Once when I was in my early twenties, I picked up a book by him and I was very disappointed, I just could not get into the style and I put it away. I did not want to give it up entirely, so a few years later when I was in my early thirties, I picked up another novel. And again I had trouble getting into the story.

    A few weeks ago, I tried again and this time I succeeded! I read A farewell to arms and not only did I finish it, I also liked it very much.

    If you are looking for a poetic style with many adjectives, Hemingway is not the writer you are looking for. He is frugal and sparse with his words and brings the language down to the bone with minimal variations. He had the iceberg theory during writing; the writer should not tell everything, but the reader should sense there is more to the story than he reads.

    A farewell to arms was his first novel and he used his own experiences as an ambulance driver when he was a volunteer in the Italian army during WWI.

    It is the story of Frederick Henry, who drives an ambulance as a volunteer in the Italian army and falls in love with the English nurse Catherine, just like Hemingway himself fell in love with a nurse. In both cases, real and in the novel, the affair ends tragically.

    Hemingway’s sober language lends itself very well to describe the war and the conversations between the soldiers. The way he repeats words and expressions gives another layer to the crazy chaos that makes a war.

    This way of writing does not work so well to convey a love story. Where the conversations between the soldiers were funny, absurd and had meaning, I thought the dialogues between the two lovers were wooden and even boring. I never felt Catherine and Frederick were very much in love or even liked eachother.

    In short, A farewell to arms is a very good story about WWI and it has beautiful scenes and funny moments. A great lovestory it is not, I thought, but a book cannot always have everything. I was glad I finally read and liked a book by Hemingway and I know I will read another one of his novels soon. I am finally over my Hemingway-blockade.

    First published in 1929

    Sunday, 14 December 2014

    Quote: Thomas Aquinas

    Faith has to do with the things we cannot see, hope has to do with the things that are not in our hands.
    Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274, churchteacher, saint, theologist)

    Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    Christmas at the garden centre

    Last weekend my mum and I visited the garden centre. We are not really Christmassy-people (we don't even put up a tree nowadays), but we do like to look at the wonderful displays the garden centre has.
    Sitting around the dinner table

    Dressing for a party

    Colourful reindeers

    But the non Christmas departments are also very beautiful. I love how they display everything in such a wonderful manner, colours going so well together and so many different things.
    We did not buy anything (expcept for some plants), but we did enjoy ourselves just by looking at these wonderful tableaux.

    Monday, 8 December 2014

    The Bloomsbury cookbook, Jans Ondaatje Rolls

    Who knew Virginia Woolf liked to bake bread and was good at it? And that Dora Carrington learned how to cook to keep Lytton Strachey happy, who had to have rice pudding at least once a day?

    Every now and then you buy a book that when you open it, you do not want to put down anymore. A book you want to keep reading, while you look at the beautiful pictures.

    The Bloomsbury cookbook is such a book. The title is a bit misleading, because it is not all about recipes.

    The Bloomsbury group was a loose group of artists, writers and thinkers, who shared friendship and love and who wanted freedom and change, especially after the stifling Victorian era.

    It began as a group of Cambridge college friends of Toby, the brother of Vanessa and Virginia, who visited them in their rooms in Bloomsbury.

    During the years more and more influential people joined these circles, including painters like Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, Dora Carrington and Roger Fry, writers like Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster and Lytton Strachey and thinkers like Leonard Woolf and John Maynard Keynes.
    Virginia and Leonard Woolf
    In The Bloomsbury cookbook writer Jans Ondaatje Rolls tries to come closer to these people through their recipes and the food they enjoyed.

    The book is divided into seven chronological chapters. There is for example a chapter about the beginnings of Bloomsbury, Bloomsbury during WWI, Bloomsbury abroad etc.

    The story of what happened at that moment is told through fragments from diaries, letters and of course their novels. Inbetween those stories are the recipes. Sometimes the original ones from members of the Bloomsbury group, sometimes from cookbooks from that time and even sometimes a modern one from the writer, inspired by the old recipes.  

    The book is wonderfully decorated with photographs, handwritten recipes, grocerylists and letters and of course the many amazing painting by several Bloomsbury painters who often used food or dishes in their work.

    Vanessa Bell
    The book also contains a list of Bloomsbury members, more recipes and a very good bibliography.

    The Bloomsbury cookbook is part cookbook, part memoires, part biography, part social history and part artbook. It does not matter what it is, it is a wonderful and beautiful book, that you will come back to time after time to be emerged in this world of Bloomsbury. I am very glad I own this book, because I can say it is one of the most amazing books I have on my shelves.

    Original title: The Bloomsbury cookbook, recipes for life, love and art.
    Published in 2014
    Pages: 333
    Everything the writer earns with this book, goes to the Charleston trust.

    Friday, 5 December 2014

    Fabergé eggs

    Lily of the Valley egg 1898
    Easter is the most important festival of the Orthodox Church. In Russia people give each other eggs, as a symbol of fertility and new life and therefore as a symbol of the Resurrection of Jesus.

    In 1885 tsar Alexander III began the custom of giving his wife eastereggs, made by the jeweler Fabergé.

    Peter Carl Fabergé was the son of a French father and a Danish mother. His father already worked as a goldsmith in St. Petersburg and after he received his education with different jewelers in Europe, Peter Carl joined his father’s business.

    He caught the attention of the tsar during a large exhibition of Russian art and artisans in 1882. The work Peter Carl and his brother made was praised in the press and tsar Alexander III was also impressed.

    Three years later the tsar ordered the first easter egg from the Fabergés, for his wife Maria Fjodorovna. This tradition was kept after his death by his son, Nicolas II, who ordered two eggs every year; one for his wife and one for his mother.

    1913: 300 year Romanov-dynasty
    The eggs are all made from precious metals and decorated with gems and jewels. Inside each egg there is also a beautiful little surprise that makes it extra special.

    When the Russian Revolution broke out, Peter Carl fled abroad where he died some years later in Lausanne. His sons and grandsons tried to keep the House of Fabergé working, but this was not successful. In the end it became part of another jewelers firm.

    Peter Carl’s grandson Theo was successful with his daughter Sarah in designing new eggs, the so called Sint Petersburg collection.

    1901: Gatchina palace egg
    I do not like all Fabergé eggs, but in each egg I do admire the craftsmanship. For me the eggs are part of the Russian tradition and the Russian Imperial Family. I always longed to have one of my own, but the real ones (the ones found back after the Revolution) are of course completely priceless. Most of them are in the hands of collectors or museums.

    My own little 'Fabergé' egg
    I was really happy when I found an alternative that is not priceless. In museum The Hermitage in Amsterdam, I found this egg; beautiful dark red, elegantly decorated. It is not Fabergé of course, but I really like it. I had some extra money and decided to buy this egg for myself. I have put it in my ‘Russian bookcase’ and it makes me happy every time I see it.
    It stands in my 'Russian bookcase', among my Russian icons.
    If you want to read more about the Eggs made by Fabergé, I can recommend this book: Fabergé's eggs by Tony Faber.

    Wednesday, 3 December 2014

    A Russian grave

    The entrance to the Russian field of Honour
    Last year I read a book about a Russian field of honour here in The Netherlands. I never knew we had such a place, but the book was very interesting. The man who wrote it, devotes his life and work to finding the names and the family of the Russian soldiers buried here.

    Russia did not take part in the liberation of The Netherlands in WWII. Still we can say we could not have been liberated without the Russians. Most of the war was fought in Russia and almost 27 million Russians died.

    Russian soldiers who were captured by the Germans were sent into prison camps and they were in a difficult situation. They were treated more harshly than other prisoners because the Nazi’s thought them to be Untermenschen and also Stalin refused the Red Cross to give parcels to the Russians (he blamed them for being prisoner).

    Within the gates: neat rows of graves and a monument at the end
    The Nazi’s brought a group of Russian soldiers to The Netherlands to show the Dutch what animals these people were. They wanted to scare the Dutch for the communists and hoped it would make the Dutch embrace the Nazi occupation.

    The Russian soldiers were put into a prison camp in Amersfoort and were treated horribly. Many died because of starvation, beatings and abuse.

    The monument for all the fallen Russian soldiers
    Once the Nazi’s put the Russians together in a cage and threw in a piece of bread. They had a filmcamera ready to film the fighting that would surely begin, only it never happened. The Russian soldiers, despite their hunger, kept their humanity and divided the bread equally amongst each other.

    The Russians who survived the hunger and the beatings were finally all shot in the woods and buried. That was the largest mass-murder in The Netherlands during the war.

    The Americans who liberated Germany, also liberated the prison camps with the prisoners of war. Many of them were in such bad condition, they died in hospital, some hours or days after they were liberated. The 6th American army did not want to leave allies behind in German soil and took all of the deceased with them. In Margraten, in the south of The Netherlands in Limburg, the Americans made a huge cemetery for all the soldiers who died.

    Later it was decided only American soldiers would rest here, so the other nationalities had to be moved. Since there was already a large group of Russian soldiers buried in Amersfoort, it made sense to bring all the Russians here.

    During the cold war, there was little interest in this field of honour, but this has changed.
    There is a wall surrounding the cemetery, as is custom in Russia. Every year, on the 9th of May, there is a ceremony of remembrance and flowers are placed on each grave. It is a very beautiful and peaceful place, and I love to see with how much respect these graves are treated.

    Flowers on the graves of 'my soldier' and his neighbours.
    We thought it was so sad otherwise.
    Many of the graves are marked as ‘unknown soldier’, because we do not know who is buried here, papers got lost during the war. Many families in Russia never knew what happened to their father or son, who now rests in Dutch soil.

    There is now a foundation who tries to find out the names of the soldiers and the families. This is a huge task, because so many papers got lost, both here and in Russia and of course it has been so long ago.

    When I read the book about this, I was moved to tears and when something touches you like that, you have to act. I knew I had to do something.

    So I adopted one of the graves.

    The name of ‘my soldier’ is not know, we only know he died a few days after the war ended in a German hospital, where he had been a prisoner of war.
    I am sad his family never knew and probably will never know what happened to him, but I am glad at least he died in freedom.

    I try to visit his grave at least once a year and a few weeks ago, I went there again to place flowers on his grave and to say a prayer, in short; I paid my respects.
    Unknown Soviet soldier
    There is no English translation of the book, but HERE is the website for the foundation for the Russian field of honour with more information.

    Monday, 1 December 2014

    A lifelong passion, Andrei Maylunas & Sergei Mironenko

    The marriage between tsar Nicolas II and his wife Alexandra was an exception in royal circles in the 19th century. They married for love and they loved each other deeply until the very last day.
    Their letters and diaries speak of this love and in this book, we can read those letters and diaries.

    In A lifelong passion you can find the collected and selected letters and diaries of Nicolas and Alexander, but also letters and diary fragments of their children, family members and people from the court and government. It gives a really good insight how the relationships between the Imperial couple and the people who surrounded were. It also gives a very good insight in the times and the historical events of those days.

    As a Romanov-fan you want to have A lifelong passion on your bookshelves, since it brings the Imperial Family so very close.

    Years most of these sources were locked away in archives and only when communism fell, these archived were opened and the material could be studied. This resulted in this wonderful book. For me it is one of my most prizes books about the Romanovs.  

    Full title: A lifelong passion. Nicolas and Alexandra, their own story
    Pubished in 1997
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