Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Notre Dame in camouflage

Obviously there are restaurations going on at the back of the Notre Dame in Paris. Often when they need to place screens, they are covered in commercials and adverts. In this case it is hardly noticable. In fact, I only saw it when I looked at the photographs behind my computer! (to explain that I have to tell you that I made this photograph in a hurry, while I was on a bicycle tour with my students, so not much time to look around :-) )

Monday, 27 April 2015

The thread, Victoria Hislop

Thessaloniki at the beginning of the 20th century was a lively city where Jews, Greeks and Muslims lived in harmony.  Unfortunately the events of worldhistory would change this balance and harmony.
After WWI there was a war between Turkey and Greece and in the peacetalks it was arranged that the Greeks would leave Turkey and the Muslims would leave Greece. Many people had to move and leave the places they had lived for generations.

Now the Muslims were gone, the Greeks formed the majority in the city and the Jews were a minority. There were some signs of anti-Semitism, but on the whole life was still good. Until the German occupation of Greece during WWII.

Most of the Jewish population were brought to camps in Poland and most of them never came back.
When the war ended, it was not over for Greece and a bitter civil war broke out between the communists who had fought against the nazi’s and the right-winged parties who denied the communist a place in the government. This caused a rift in the country that lasted for decades.

Against this interesting history the beautiful story of The thread by Victoria Hislop is set.
It is the story of young Dimitri, the son of a rich fabric merchant. He is a disappointment to his father, since he wants to become a doctor and is not interested in money. During the German occupation, Dimitri joins the communist partisans, and his father reacts by disowning him.
In 1923 the young girl Katharina came from Turkey and ended up in Thessaloniki. She became very handy with a needle and the Jewish family Moreno gave her a job in their dressmaking business.
Dimitri and Katharina begin to like each other more and more, but they will have to overcome quite a few obstacles before they can be together.

The threads of all these lives are intertwined and form a rich and lively pattern in which it almost seems like Thessaloniki is a character as well.
Very beautiful it is made clear how the events have effect on the lives of the ordinary people. Very touching were the scenes where everybody helps to hide the synagogue’s treasures from the Nazi’s, in a way that is fitting for this story.

Despite that some things were a little too coincidental and that most of the characters were too one-dimensional (very good or absolutely evil), The thread is an absolutely beautiful and touching story that also gives a lot of information about the history of Greece.
I really recommend this book.

Published in 2011

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Porta San Sebastiano

The porta San Sebastiano in Rome, one of the old gates to the city. In Roman times it was called the Porta Appia and it is a part of the Aurelian wall surrounding the city.
Behind this porta is the Via Appia that lead all the way to Brindisi.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Monsieur Linh and his child, Philippe Claudel

Monsieur Linh is already a very old man when he becomes a refugee. His own country is destroyed by war and monsieur Linh lost his whole family. If it was up to him, he would have liked to die as well, but he has his granddaughter to look after. She needs him to be strong for her and help her grow up, to be her mangotree while she is only a little green mango.

That is why he decided to leave his country, so his granddaughter would have a future.
Settling in a new country is not easy. He has a bed in a house for refugees and there are also other families from his own country, but they are not interested in monsieur Linh.

Monsieur Linh does not speak the language of his new land and he does not recognize the fragrances. He feels he has no roots anymore and does not know how to make himself at home.
One day monsieur Linh finds the courage to go outside with his granddaughter and on a bench in a park he meets a man. A fat man, who also knows about loss and who speaks to him and is kind to him. Slowly, a friendship builds between monsieur Linh and monsieur Bark, although both men do not speak eachothers language.
From now on monsieur Linh has a reason beside his granddaughter to get up in the morning, he feels he has a friend.

Unfortunately monsieur Linh and his granddaughter cannot stay at the refugee house and they need to be moved. Monsieur Linh is afraid he will never see his friend again and despite his new circumstances he will try his best to find monsieur Bark again.

This story is not even twohundred pages long (143 in my Dutch translation), but in these pages Philippe Claudel manages to tell a story about friendship that grows over the borders of language, a story of hope and humanity. Beautiful how monsieur Linh and monsieur Bark can support eachother, because each man recognizes his own sadness in the other man.

A lot can be said in small moments and gestures. I loved how monsieur Linh asked the people of the refugee-house for cigarettes, so he had something to give to monsieur Bark, the man who gave him the fragrances of his new homeland.

Halfway you realize what is really the matter and then you know how sad monsieur Linh’s life is, even more sadder than you thought.

This sensitive story touched me deeply, especially the heartbreaking ending, that I think will move every reader. I could not hold back my tears and the whole evening after I finished the book monsieur Linh was with me.

Monsieur Linh and his child is a very, very beautiful book and most definitely not the last book I will read by Philippe Claudel, I already have several of his other books lined up.

Original French title: La petite fille de monsieur Linh
Published in 2005

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Miss Fisher's murder mysteries (2012-)

Miss Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis)
The best detective series  and certainly the best period detective series are from Great Britain. Think Poirot, Father Brown, Cadfael and Mrs. Bradley.

Lately I discovered a new series that shows the Australians also know how to make an excellent period detective series!

Miss Fisher’s murder mysteries is based on the books by Kerry Greenwood. The series is set in Melbourne during the roaring twenties. The main character is Miss Phryne Fisher. Her family became very rich and she is able to do what she wants with her time. Her curious nature and quick thinking make her a very good lady-detective. She is also absolutely fearless.

She drives a Hispano-Suiza but can also fly an airplane, she speaks several languages and is a good shooter. She can go undercover in a nightclub or a circus and does not mind if she has to do some breaking and entering.  
Miss Fisher is always prepared
Inspector Jack Robinson gets a little bit crazy with Miss Fisher’s meddling, although he has to admit she is often right. Although the way she reaches her conclusions sometimes give him grey hairs.
Inspector Robinson (Nathan Page) and Miss Fisher
I also love Cec and Bert, the communist cabdrivers who are always willing to lend a hand, the butler Mr. Butler who is equally good at serving cocktails and keeping a criminal in a choke-hold and of course there are Miss Fisher’s companion Dottie and her aunt Prudence.

You do not watch a series like this for the credibility or the plot that can be a bit far-fetched sometimes. You watch this for the atmosphere, the clothes (Miss Fisher has excellent taste) and the witty banter between Miss Fisher and Inspector Robinson.

I have the first and second series (13 episodes each) on dvd and the third series will no doubt also come out on dvd.
A must-see for everyone who loves the twenties, or like a lighthearted and amusing detective series with attention to period-details.
Love it.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Saint Eustache

The Saint Eustache is a church in Paris, near Les Halles. It is quite a large church, and everytime I visit it I am amazed it is so much lighter from the inside then I remember.
The outside it a bit of a mix of different styles, it seems, but I consider this church to be one of my favorites in Paris.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Towers and ornaments

This photograph was made in the courtyard of the Doge's Palace in Venice. Why leave something plain when you can use ornaments?

Friday, 17 April 2015

Marilyn, Lois Banner

Marilyn Monroe is still a fascinating woman and the many book that have been published about her also shows that people still want to read about her.

The question is if these books can bring something new to the table. In 2012 Marilyn, the passion and the paradox by Lois Banner was published. She is a historian and a feminist and wanted to use that to discover a new Marilyn and this book is the result.

It follows the usual lines of a biography about Marilyn Monroe. Her childhood with a mother who went crazy and the many fosterhomes she lived in. Then the first steps into the world of entertainment and showbusiness. Photographs, then small roles in movies and finally success and fame. And with the success and fame came an even more turbulent personal live, resulting in a lonely death.

A book about Marilyn Monroe can never be boring, because she was not boring. But I do not know if this book gives us that much news.
That does not have to be a problem. A good biography can still be enjoyable even if all the facts are already known, but if you are saying you will bring something new, do it right and bring some substance.

What makes the book irritant to read is that the writer constantly says how great she herself is. She was the first one to discover this, the first one to interview that person or to see how important this or that was. And of course her viewpoint is new and important en therefore much better than that of all other biographers.
Lois Banner tries to make out if Marilyn was a feminist, a trivial and moot point if you ask me. She tries, but does not succeed, Marilyn was too complex to be captured in such simplistic terms.

It also becomes irritating how Lois Banner constantly emphasis that Marilyn had lesbian feelings (based on an incomplete remarke Marilyn made) and what her attitude to sex was. The many repetitions also made it a bit weird to read.

It is not a bad biography. It is interesting and it does give some extra information about Marilyn’s childhood.
I would not recommend to read this book as the first or only biography about Marilyn Monroe, but as an addition to the many other excellent biographies there are (and yes, there are many!), this book does have value.

Published in 2012

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Yellow fever

Normally I do not like the colour yellow. I own no yellow clothes and there is nothing yellow in my house.
There is however one exception, and that is yellow flowers in the Spring. Nothing is more sunnier, brighter or makes you happier than yellow flowers outside in gardens and everywhere.
Here are some I saw last Sunday.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Blogs I like, part III (Paris edition)

The Seine and Musee d'Orsay
Since my last visit in Paris a couple of weeks ago, I realized that right after Rome, Paris is my favorite city. I love the grandeur and the elegance and the beauty, but also the quirky things you find when you know where to look.

These three blogs I recently discovered, but I like them equally at the moment. Two of them are photoblogs, the other is a blog in the more regular sense of the word.

Paris through my lense HERE
Virginia Jones is a very accomplished photographer. She has visited Paris many times since 2007 and shot dozens of photographs, and almost each day one is published on her blog. I like how she manages to capture the beauty and the essence of Paris, sometimes in details, sometimes in a larger picture.

Paris and beyond HERE
This lovely blog by Genie has been running since 2010, with an amzing photo of Paris every day. Genie shoots details of buildings, people, characteristic French things, but also streetviews. I love her choice of topics and she shoots both in black and white and in colour.

Paris in four months HERE
Carin is from Stockholm and in 2012 she went to Paris for four months, hence the name of the blog. In Januari 2013 she returned to Paris and has been living there ever since, blogging and working as a photographer (some girls have the really good jobs!!)
Regular and lovely posts about living in Paris.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Nothing holds back the night, Delphine de Vigan

Delphine de Vigan is a French writer who has published several books. One day in January she finds her mother who committed suicide. Delphine decided to write about her mother’s life. She talks to all the aunts and uncles and other people who knew her mother, to get as much information as possible.

Lucile was the third child in a large family. Her parents, Liane and Georges were very fond of each other and with so many brothers and sisters there was always something going on. Lucile was an exceptionally beautiful child and had a career as a child-model, she was photographed for children’s clothing etc.

There were also dark clouds at the horizon, a younger brother died in an accident, and a fosterbrother died in strange circumstances. 

It seems Lucile’s childhood was not as carefree as it looked. Perhaps her rebellion when she was a teenager was already a sign something was wrong. Some members of the family, (among those a brother) killed themselves by shooting themselves in the head.
For Lucile there were years filled with depression and manic episodes, fueled by drugs, alcohol and familysecrets. Delphine and her younger sister Manon are witnesses and have to live with the consequences.

It is hard to write a family history, especially when the people you write about are close to you, like your mother. What makes it even harder is that everybody has their own version of the events and nobody likes it when his or her version is being questioned. This can make speaking with family members about events challenging.

It is not easy to hold your distance, as becomes clear in Nothing holds back the night. The first part, about Lucile’s childhood is told in a beautiful way. The later parts, where Delphine de Vigan is a witness and often victim of her mother’s actions, sometimes become lists of what happened, not much story telling going on there. This makes parts a little less interesting to read sometimes.

It does become very clear what influence your family and upbringing can have on your life and how it a psychological disease can make life difficult and unbearable. Not only for the people who suffer from it, but also for their familymembers, especially children.

On the whole I thought Nothing holds back the night a beautiful and profound book, although I personally thought the first part was better than the later parts.

Original French title: Rien ne s’oppose á la nuit

Published in 2011

Wednesday, 8 April 2015


A lake with an island is always a mysterious place. You can not just go there, you have to make an effort, and so it becomes a place of secrecy, a place for a temple or a shrine. Or a little folly.
Here are two such mysterious little buildings, the first photograph is made here in Almere where I live, the second is made in the Villa Borghese in Rome.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Marilyn in Paris

Everywhere I go, I try to find some time to buy postcards. When I was in Paris some weeks ago, I also went postcard-hunting and I found this beautiful image of Marilyn Monroe. I have never seen it before, but I absolutely adore it. I am fascinated by Marilyn Monroe, I must admit, so I was quite pleased to find this postcard.
Marilyn looks absolutely beautiful and happy here.
I send them to other people and I use them as bookmarks. I always like it when I find the right card to go with a specific book. But in this case, it was the other way round. I had already bought the postcards when the next day I was in the FNAC at the Champs-Elysees. Here I spotted a new biography about Marilyn Monroe. I decided this was fate, and I bought the book immediately.
A lovely gift brought home from Paris!
Could not wait to dive into this book!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to all of you and to celebrate a beautiful piece of music: Ave Verum Corpus by Mozart, the conductor is Leonard Bernstein.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The red cavalry, Isaak Babel

The Dutch cover
Isaak Babel was a beginning writer when Maxim Gorki advised him to go out more and meet people, because this would improve his writing. This is why Isaak Babel joined the Red Army after the Russian Revolution and during the Russian-Polish war he joined a group of Cossacks as a war correspondent. He kept a diary and this formed the basis of his collection of short stories he published under the title The red cavalry.

In these stories you have beautiful descriptions of nature, but these are in contrast with the violence and the horrible things that go on in a war.
All aspects of war are seen in these stories; the wounded, the dead, the sufferings of the civilians living in the towns the Cossacks raided.

Often in these stories there is an outsider, a man wearing glasses who studied and does not fit in, until he behaves as savagely as the Cossacks and they think he is a splendid man. He only looses himself in the process.

The stories are short, some only two or three pages long, but they tell enough. The memories of war never left Isaak Babel.

Isaak Babel was born in 1894 in Odessa. His Jewish family moved there after a few big pogroms in other towns they lived. Jews did not have an easy time in those days and in those parts of the world, Isaak himself survived a pogrom, he was not allowed to go to school and in the army he took on a different name so he would not be recognized as a Jew.
The red cavalry by K. Malevich.
Photograph made by me, at an exhibition about Malevich.

Although he was a communist, he did not write propaganda about the Revolution and communism and the leaders of the Soviet Union were not happy with him. His wife even left to live in France because she did not like the way Russia turned out and Babel visited her there a couple of times. This was all held against him.
In 1939 he was arrested by the secret police, the NKVD. He was tortured and, after he confessed, condemned to death as a ‘spy for the French’. Only after Stalin’s death was Isaac Babel exonerated.

The red cavalry was published in many countries and Isaak Babel is even called Chekhov’s successor. I cannot say if this is the case, I personally like Chekhov’s stories better, but I also found Isaak Babel’s stories interesting and often even beautiful.

Originally published in 1926

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Kazimir Malecvich

One of the artists I really like is Kazimir Malevich. I love his lines and his colours, and I also love how he painted figuratively and very abstract. For example when you look as these two paintings, you would never guess they were made by the same artist.

In the first paiting I really like the lines and the colours, but also how the landscape and the sky are painted. It is not a static picture, it is alive, despite the fact you see no living beings.

Not many portraits are done so well as this one. I am amazed by the expression in the eyes, you immediately feel sympathy for this man and you know he has a history.
Portrait of a worker 1932
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