Friday, 29 May 2015

Grey souls, Philippe Claudel

In 1917 absolute evil comes to the little village of P. and a ten year old girl is murdered. The murder shocks the village, although it was not the first tragedy they had. World War I leaves its marks and a couple of months before the murder a young schoolteacher hanged herself.
Still the murder of a child is even worse, especially since this child, Belle was so loved by everyone. Her nickname was Belle de Jour, beauty of the day, after the little flowers that were just as lovely as she was.

A policeman tells us what happened years later and describes how it affected all the people that were involved.

The prosecutor that always followed the law like a machine and demanded deathpenalties like it did not matter, but who is also the last man who talked to the girl.
The judge who has no empathy at all and who blames a couple of deserters from the front who fall into his hands. It ties the case up neatly and he does not have to bother with it anymore. That he has to break one of the man to get a confession is of no importance to him.
And the policeman himself, who experiences a personal tragedy during the case.

The story goes forwards and backwards in time and slowly it reveals more of what happened. Bitterness, loss and grief all play their parts in how people react and act in this case.
It becomes clear the policeman is not happy with the role he played himself or how the case ended. He is bitter and angry about the way the rich people get what they want and the poor just have to accept that.

But perhaps it is not so clear after all and when you reach the end of the story, everything you thought you knew about good and evil is turned upside down.
The bad people were perhaps not as bad and the good may not have been that good.

Philippe Claudel manages very cleverly to lead us on the wrong path and at the end of the book the question of good and bad and their implications stays in your head for a long time.
The way the story is built, the beautiful language and the way the characters appear in all their greyness (neither black nor white), shows Philippe Claudel is a great writer. Perhaps one of the greatest.

Original French title: Les âmes grises
Published in 2003

Also published in English as: By a slow river

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The deliverance of evil, Roberto Costantini

It is 1982 and Italy plays in the final against Germany. Commissario Michele Balistreri gets the message a young woman, Elisa Sordi has gone missing. He wants to watch the final and he refuses to take this message seriously. Only when the final has been won, the consequence of this decision becomes clear; Elisa is found, tortured and murdered.

Balistreri has a clear idea in what direction the investigation will lead him and he focuses all his attention on one suspect, with a horrible result.

Twenty four years later Italy plays in the finals again, and another crime has been committed. Young student Samantha is raped and murdered. Commissario Balistreri is the head of a special unit now and he must solve this case. 

Soon it becomes clear who did it, three Romanians are arrested and they confess. During these days two things consume the Italians: the successes on the football field (soccer for the American readers) and the hatred for the immigrants, especially the Gypsies and the Romanians. Balistreri does not want a repeat from the events twenty four years ago and he does not want to accept the Romanians did it just because that is the most convenient.

He wants to get to the bottom of this case. Is there a connection between the murdered student and a Romanian prostitute who has disappeared? And what connection can be found between these crimes and the murder of Elisa Sordi? And what games do the politicians, the secret service and perhaps even some people in the Vatican play?

Michele Balistreri is not a typical main character when we get to know him in 1982. He grew up as the son of a rich Italian colonial family in Libya. He had a rough and violent childhood. He first joined the neo fascists and later helped the secret service to arrest these same neo fascists. He went to the university to study philosophy and then entered the policeforce. 

In 1982 he had been a police officer for two years, and he is stationed in one of the quietest neighbourhoods of Rome. Michele Balistreri is bored and considers the police work to be beneath him. The only things he enjoys is using his job to pick up women. This is his main hobby besides playing poker and drinking whisky.

In 1982 Michele Balistreri might be charming, he is not a kind or even a good man. He may be a police officer, he is definitely not one of the ‘good guys’. He is egotistical, hard and he refuses to admit he is wrong, something that does not help the investigation.
Twenty four years later we meet a changed man. A man who still suffers from the mistakes he made and who refuses to make the same mistakes in this investigation.

The deliverance of evil is a very clever and intelligent thriller that brings together different storylines without effort.
Roberto Costantini wrote an impressive debut, and I really hope there will be more books.

Orginial Italian titel= Tu sei il male
Published in 2012

This article was published before on my bookblog A corner of the library, but I decided to bring the Italian books over here. 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Beautiful memories

When you go on vacation, you want to keep the memories. Through the years details become vague and you forget exactly when you did what and what you saw when. Photographs help to relive the memories, but also the souvenirs you bring back with you.

I certainly enjoy bringing something special back from holiday. From Rome I was able to bring back little animals made of the stone travertine a couple of times. Unfortunately, these were taken out of production! (still upset about that!)

I also brought back some paintings and drawings from different cities I visited. I usually buy them from the artists you can find on every square. These drawings hang above my dining table, and I love seeing them every time I walk past it.

From Florence I took back a few things of the usual stuff, a silk scarf, a leather bag (gorgeous green leather), a handmade notebook etc. But I also bought two things that are a bit more unusual, and I would like to share that with you.

From the Natural history museum which I really liked, I brought back this little treasure box. It is made from shell, I think, and inside you can find little shells. I am not quite sure how I managed to bring it back home in one piece, but it stands in my bookcase now.

From the San Marco museum I brought something even more special. This is a reproduction of a drawing by Rafael. It is the Madonna with Child.

I love this drawing and think it is very beautiful. I like it even more because it is a Renaissance work, coming from the city where the Renaissance began.
I found a frame that fits very nicely and now it stands on a bookcase in my living room. I love it.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Quote: Mark Twain

The Creator made Italy from designs by Michaelangelo.
Mark Twain (American author 1835-1910)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Florence and Stendhal

Art, good art has to power to move you and touch you and make you emotional. I think all of us can remember being moved to tears by music, or be in awe over a beautiful painting or sculpture.

When there are so many beautiful pieces of art together as there are in Florence, it is easy for a tourist to get overwhelmed.
Made by della Robbia, at the Ospedale degli Innocenti

Nineteenth century French author Stendhal recalled that when he visited Florence, he was dizzy and could not breath and had heart palpitations due to all the beauty that surrounded him.

He was not the only one, it seems that dozens of tourists every year need to be admitted to the emergency-rooms in the hospitals of Florence with similar symptoms like fainting in the Uffizi.

Psychiatrist Graziella Magherini wrote a book about it in the seventies and she named this the Stendhal-syndrome. Other question if this really exists, but I think it is not strange to think Florence has the power to overwhelm people.
Painting of the Madonna by Botticelli
Florence is a city that can make people lose their mind for a moment. Luckily it is not serious and after some rest most of the inflicted tourists will enjoy the rest of their trip to Florence.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Florence in photographs


Everywhere you look you can see a surprise like this

The garden of the San Marco museum

Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge that was not blown up during WWII

Inside the Santa Croce. So peaceful.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Brunelleschi's dome, Ross King

My Dutch version.
In 1296 the first beginnings were made for the new Cathedral in Florence. This had to be a Cathedral that reflected the growing richness and power of the city.
According to the plans the Cathedral would have a huge dome, the largest of all. There was however a small problem, they did not know how to build it yet. They just hoped, in touching faith, that God would provide the knowledge when the time was there. 

In 1418 they held a contest where architects and others could submit their plans for a dome for the Cathedral.
Finally they decided to go with the design plans by goldsmith Filippo Brunelleschi. He had made a very daring design, without any of the usual elements used by architects until then for such a structure. People did not know how and if it would be possible, but they began nevertheless.
In the forty years that followed Brunelleschi would be the main architect working on such a huge project.
And the project was huge, four million bricks would be used and all wooden poles and bricks and other materials had to be made by hand. Building a Cathedral in those days was building for eternity.

Filippo Brunelleschi witnessed the dome being almost completed and the cathedral consecrated in 1446. A few months later he died and he was the first to be buried inside the cathedral. Never had an architect received so much honor, but Brunelleschi managed to do something no architect before or after him managed.

He had absolutely no examples and had to work out everything by himself. He had to design new machines to transport the bricks and other materials to the top. He had to invent new ways of measuring the right angles and had to come up with solutions to prevent the dome from collapsing. He did not want to use a wooden frame to support the dome as was the custom, but built it in another way. How he managed to do that, we do not know. He was extremely secretive and never wrote anything down.

But he is the man who built the largest dome and the Santa Maria del Fiore still dominates the city of Florence and its surroundings.

Everybody who visits Florence will visit the dome and if you want to know more about it, I can recommend Brunelleschi’s dome by Ross King. It is full of juicy anecdotes about the workers, the practical jokes Brunelleschi liked, the competition between the different architects and the way things worked in Florence.
And even for the absolute technical-lay person (as I am) the information about how the dome was built, the problems Brunelleschi faced and the genius solutions he came up with, is very interesting.

Published in 2000

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

What to do when you are in Florence

Just walking around in Florence can be a joy, since everywhere you look, you can see something beautiful. From the carousel at the Piazza della Repubblica to the marketstalls in the Mercato centrale. Some parts are very crowded, for example the Ponte Vecchio. If you want to walk around there and be able to see something, it is wise to go very early in the morning.
Florence is not a large city and especially in the centre you are able to walk to every destination.
So, where can you go?

San Lorenzo
It looks a bit strange from the outside, like it was never really finished. But the inside is beautiful.
This was the church of the Medici family and they are buried here. Also you can find here a library designed by Michelangelo.

Santa Maria Novella
Very large church near the trainstation.
Admission is 5 euro’s, but for that price you can also visit the cloister and the museum and that is well worth it.

Santa Croce
Huge church that was built by the Franciscans. Many famous people from Florence were buried here, like Dante, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Rossini and a few others.
The museum, the cloisters and the Pazzi chapel (now under restauration) are all very beautiful.
Admission 6 euro.

San Marco
Beautiful Dominican Church with a magnificent interior. Worth a visit.  

San Miniato al Monte
For this church, you have to climb a bit, but you must do it, since you it will give you a lovely church with fresco’s and a beautiful view over the city.

Santo Spirito
Little church in Altrarno. Cute and has some beautiful things, but the canopy over the altar looks out of place.

Bardini gardens
Part of the Bardini museum. The gardens havbe been neglected, but in the past few years they have been busy restoring them to their former glory. On Sunday the admission was free. You can walk here, enjoy the gardens and the view over Florence.

Botanical gardens; Giardini dei Semplici
Admission 3 euro. These gardens are now part of the university of Florence. The garden was set up in 1545 and the plats that grew here were used by the pharmacists to make their medicines. Not they also have many other plants. A little oasis in the middle of the town.

Archeological museum
A beautiful collection of Etruskan, Roman and Greek vases, jewelry, objects, statues and bronzes. The beautiful garden is off limits, as I discovered when I dared to put one foot into the garden.
Admission 4 euros.

Natural history museum: Museo la Specola
I loved this old-fashioned museum with almost every form of live known to earth. Spunges, insects, mammals, fishes, birds, reptiles and all the things I forgot. Glass showcases are lined up against the walls, showing the huge 19th century collection. Very charming
Admission 6 euro

Ospedale degli Innocenti
The rich gild of the wool merchants were given the commission in the 15th century of building a hospital for the foundlings, so these children could be looked after and get an education. This was the first orphanage in Europe.
Now they are making a new museum to showcase 600 years of childhood, so you have only limited access to the museum.
The courtyard, designed by Brunelleschi can be visited and that is beautiful.
Admission 3 euro.

If you want to go here, make sure to book your ticket in advance over the internet. It will save you from having to stand in line for hours. Here you will see works from Botticelli, Rafael, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titiaan, Bellini and many, many others. They also have some Dutch and Flemish masters.
Despite the grand scale I liked how it was still possible to see the many painting and finding the way was also very easy.

San Marco
Next to the Church of San Marco you have the museum, set in the convent. Here you can see the fresco’s by Fra’ Angelico in the cells of the monks. In the scriptorium they had a exhibition of medieval manuscripts.
Absolutely loved this museum.
Admission 4 euros.

There are more than enough restaurants in Florence and you can have several dishes there.
I had a great meal every night, but he, this is Italy, so of course the food is good!
I really enjoyed these two restaurants.

Trattoria il Porcospino (behind the San Lorenzo)
First I had bruscetta with tomatoes and then ravioli with peccorino and pear. This was one of those dishes you eat really slowly so you can enjoy it longer.

Giannino in San Lorenzo (little street before the San Lorenzo)
I took the daymenu here for 15 euro’s. My first course was penne with sausage and courgette and the second course was meat with roasted potatoes. Both dishes were great and the portions were more than enough.

Special mention:
Caffe Belvedere (in the Bardini gardens)

Good for a lunch or a cup of coffee, to enjoy the view and the peace and quiet. I loved sitting here. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Florence in the films

Florence is a beautiful decor for movies and although this is not a complete list, these films will give you some very good scenes in Florence.

A room with a  stunning view!
A room with a view (1985)
Of course this one cannot miss in a list with films set in Florence. Lucy Honeychurch goes to Florence and is disappointed when she finds out she does not have a view over the Arno from her hotelroom.

George Emerson and his father who are also at the hotel offer to change rooms. If you visit Florence for the first time, you must have a room with view.
Lucy and the Emersons get better acquainted, but what will happen when Lucy gets back to England with her fiancé?

This is a fine costume drama, based on a novel by E.M. Forster. The scenes where Lucy goes to see the sights with her travelguide are amazing!
Helena Bonham-Carter, Maggie Smith and Denholm Eliott are always good to watch.

Tea with Mussolini (1999)
This charming film is set in 1935 and is about a groups of well-born English ladies who have settled in Florence to enjoy all Florence has to offer. One of them adopts a half-orphan, because his father wants him to have a proper English education. 

When WWII breaks out they worry about protecting all the art in Florence, but also about the fate of one of them. 

Actrices as Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright but als Cher as a rich American who is involved with the English ladies are at their best in this fine film by Franco Zeffirelli.

Hannibal Lecter with the Ponte Vecchio in the background
Hannibal (2001)
This films was the sequal to Silcence of the lambs. Hannibal Lecter had escaped and fled to Italy. He is a highly educated man and speaks fluently Italian. He know the history of Florence and manages to get a job as museum curator. 

But when a corrupt policeman tries to deliver him into the hands of his enemy, Lecter must act. He punishes the policeman by using the same sentence as his ancestors had when they rose against the Medici family. (I will not get into the nasty details here)

Beautiful images of Florence are the most important reason to watch this film, although it is not a bad thriller.
With Anthony Hopkins as Lecter and Giancarlo Giannini as police inspector.

Matteo (Alessio Boni) and Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio)
La meglio gioventú (2003) (The best of youth)
This is the most beautiful Italian series I ever watched. It is about the brother Nicola and Matteo, who both follow different paths in their lives and who lost contact at a certain point.

But when Florence floods in 1966 they meet each other. Matteo is a police officer who is send there, and Nicola is one of the many volunteers who came to help.

This flood is an important moment in the recent history of Florence. It was the first time in a long time that the river rose that high and threatened to destroy much of the statues and other art in the city. Volunteers from all over Italy came to Florence to help. It is a beautiful moment and in the series it is touching because the brothers see each other again after a long time.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Florence and the Medici family

Florence began in Roman times and was built at the river Arno This river would give the city food, water, easy access for the trade and the power for the mills. Florence would grow to be a rich and influentual city, that would play a part in the history of Italy, Europe and the world. 

No family is so connected to the history of Florence than the Medici family. They were probably doctors, before they also became merchants and bankers. In the end they were almost synonymous with the Republic of Florence itself. 

Politics was complicated in Italy. Allies could become enemies within days or the other way around. Politics were always changing. Armies and generals were hired to fight against Milan, Siena or the French.

Politics within Florence were even more complicated. It was a republic, with a council that was chosen for two months. In that case all influential men could govern, although only for a short period of time. This group of nine men had help from different other councils that could agree or disagree with the laws and resolutions the Signoria came up with. To make things really complicated it was also possible to call for a parliament.
Palazzo Vecchio

Banking was the most complicated business of all. The problem was there could be no interest, this was considered usury. Interest was described as a gift. In the Medieval worldview bankers did not do anything to earn their money, so both the Church and people condemned it. Despite this, the bankers became more and more important and would spread their business over Europe.

Masters in getting information, making money and supporting the right people (like a pope) were the Medici’s.
They knew how to make money and still keep the support of the people in Florence.
To say at the good side of both God and the townspeople, the Medici’s used the money they made to commission works of art.
Outside of Florence the influence of the family also grew. In 1533 Catherine de Medici married French king Henry II and there were also two Medici popes.
The Medici crest can be seen everywhere in Florence
Finally the role of the family in Florence would end. In 1743 the last family member died. She was Anna Maria and she put in her will that the large art collection her family put together in the past centuries would be a gift to Florence and her inhabitants.

More information about the history of Florence and the Medici family can be found in these books:
  • The rise and fall of the house of Medici, Christopher Hibbert, published in 1974
  • Medici money, Tim Parks, published in 2005
  • Florence, David Leavitt, published in 2002

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Quote: Orson Welles

In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgia's they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cukoo-clock.
Orson Welles (American actor 1915-1985)

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Next week is Florence-week

Last week I was fortunate enough to spend some days in Florence in Italy. It was my second visit to this beautiful city and I thought it would be nice to have a Florence week here on Impressions notebook. Coming week I will post an article about Florence every day. History, films, food, places to see, things to do and many photographs will be shared.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Crossing to safety, Wallace Stegner

Sometimes I pick up an unknown book in the bookstore because I think I might like it. That idea is based on the title, the cover or the description at the back. Sometimes I am disappointed, but more often I am thrilled to have discovered a beautiful book and a new author I like.

This was also the case with Crossing to safety by Wallace Stegner. I must admit I never heard of him, although he published many novels that won prizes and is considered to be one of the best American authors.

Crossing to safety is the story of two couples who meet eachother in 1937.
The book begins in 1972, when Larry and Sally Morgan visit Sid and Charity Lang in their summer home in Vermont and Larry reminisces their friendship.

Larry and Sally became friends with Sid and Charity in Madison, Wisconsin, where Larry was appointed as a teacher at the same small university where Sid worked. The Great Depression was hardly over and since Larry and Sally had no money of their own, they were fortunate to have this temporary job.

Sid and Charity had a different background, he was from a wealthy industrial family, she came from old money in New England. Despite these differences there is an instant connection and friendship grows between Sid and Larry and Charity and Sally. That both expect their babies to be born around the same date also helps.

Very beautifully Wallace Stegner describes the friendship and the dynamics between four people in two marriages.
Charity is a domineering personality. She knows what is right for everybody and makes sure everybody does as she sees fit. Sid would rather just write poems and sit quietly, but Charity has other plans for him.

The relationship between Larry and Sally seems more equal, but they will have to adapt to what happens to them and the changes they face.

It would be easy to dislike Charity, if she was not also a terribly kind and generous person. Still, it becomes very clear how stifling dominating and well-meaning love can be, although Sid does not seem to mind to be stifled.

It is the human relationships that are important in this novel. Wallace Stegner manages to make a situation clear in just a few words or one or two scenes.

A comparison with John Williams can be made here, I think. It is a similar way of writing. Not with many explanations or a lot of drama, instead you have normal scenes and moments from life, written in a clear and precise manner that keeps you captivated until the last sentence.
Very beautiful.

Originally published in 1987

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Monday, 4 May 2015

Culling shoes

Last week I have been de-cluttering my bookshelves again (five bags to charity, two to my parents and one to my friend), but also clothes and shoes.

I love shoes as much as I think any woman loves shoes. But there is such a thing as too much. Really? Yes, really!
For me this moment came when I realized that I did not know exactly which shoes I owned, meaning I did not wear them. So it was time to do something.

I took the time to dig up all my shoes from different closets and put them all in the living room. These are all my shoes. Twenty-eight pairs.

There are shoes here I almost never wear, because they do not fit me, or give me blisters. Other shoes are just worn or damaged.
I decided I only want to have the shoes in my closet that I actually do wear and will wear. So the culling could begin.
These are the shoes that had to go. Nine pairs.
The beige peep-toes are cute, but I cannot walk in them. The turkoize ballerinas are even cuter, but they give me blisters within twn minutes.
The sturdy hiking shoes are actually broke, so they were the ones I actually threw into the trash. All the other shoes were good enough to donate to charity. I may not like them or I may not be able to walk in them properly, but hopefully other people can wear them and enjoy them.

These are all the pairs I decided to keep.
In the back row you see my new winter-boots, turkoize ankleboots and black ankleboots, and I love these, I wear them very regularly.
Cute flowery rubberboots for when I am working on my balcony or when it is raining. They make me laugh every time I see them, so they had to stay!
In the second rown from the back you see for example my summer-sandals, walking sandals from Teva and for the rest you can see some shoes for the summer, some shoes for a dressy occassion and some for special purposes like my running-shoes.

I managed to bring my shoe collection down from twentyeight pairs to nineteen. And these are all shoes that are not damanged, I can actually walk in them and although I do not wear each one of these every day, I do know I own them and I do use them regularly.

My closets looked much tidier (always a good thing) and I also could throw away many shoeboxes, giving me even more space.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

On the water

In Venice there are no cars, so everything must be done either walking or by boat. By boat is far quicker, so it is logical the firebrigade also goes by boat.

Friday, 1 May 2015

New camera

I am not really into gadgets. I usually do not buy a new thing unless the old one is broken. I have had my mobile phone for eight years until I bought my smartphone, I have owned my alarmclock for almost twenty years now and my digital camera was eight years old already.

Last month I finally bought a new camera. It was time, I think. My old camera only had 3xzoom, 7.1 megapixels and a memorycard of 2Gb.

I asked for money for my birtyhday and found a new camera that was affordable, practical and userfriendly. I did not want to buy a huge camera, since I like to carry my camera around in my pocket when I am somewhere.

I settled on the Canon SX600 HS. It has 18xzoom, 16 megapixels and a memorycard that has 16Gb. The past weeks I have been trying to get used to it and I think I have the functions I am most likely to use under control!

Fun part is, next week I will go to Florence in Italy (looking forward to that!!), so I think I can make some really beautiful photographs there.
My previous digital camera was also bought before a trip to Florence, so I like that this camera will also get baptized there!

To give you an idea of the difference in quality, here are two photographs, both made from the same spot. I was sitting in my study, and made a photograph of the plants in my bedroom. The first photograph is with my old camera on full zoom, the second photograph is made with the new camera.
Need I say more? These pictures say more than a thousand words!

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