Friday, 31 July 2015

Five places I love in Rome

When you are in Rome, there are so many things you can see and visit. I have been to Rome 7 times and each time I see new things. I actually think you can visit Rome 20 times and still discover churches, museums and places you did not visit before. But despite all the new things to discover, there are a few favorites I visit each time, or plan to go to again.

Piazza Navona
The most beautiful square in the whole wide world. I love the atmosphere here and every day when I am in Rome, you can find me here during the evening. On one side of the piazza you can see the artists selling their paintings and drawings, there are some nice things to be found here. On the other side of the piazza you have the ‘performing arts’, sometimes a dancegroup, a jazz-combo, an old man singing along with a radio (very badly, but hey, he is having fun) and living statues.
In Roman times it was a stadium, and you can still see this in the shape of the Piazza. The fountains are designed by
In the streets around the Piazza Navona you can find many great restaurants to have dinner. 

Santa Maria sopra Minerva
Rome has many beautiful churches, so many you cannot visit all of them even if you go to a different one each day for a year.
The Santa Maria sopra Minerva is a large and square church, with beautiful light inside. The blue ceiling is particularly beautiful. The remains of Catherine of Siena are buried here.

This part of Rome is on the other side of the river Tevere, or the Tiber as it was called. It is a lively neighborhood and there is plenty to see on the streets. The Santa Maria in Trastevere is a beautiful church with mosaics from the 12th century. 
More impressions of Trastevere can be found HERE

The English cemetery
Not really English, but a cemetery for all the people who were not Catholic. Poets Shelley and Keats are buried here for example. It is lovely to walk around this quiet haven in a busy city and look at the gravestones and tombes. 

Therme di Caracalla
This bathhouse built by emperor Caracalle in 212 AD was not just a bathhouse, it also had restaurants, a library and gardens. About 1600 people could be here at the same time.
Today, it is a ruins, but still very impressive.  Well worth a visit!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


In the old getto of Venice there was little space and there were many people. So the houses are very high. Imagine living on the top floor and having to climb all those stairs every day. A great way to stay slim and fit, though!

Monday, 27 July 2015

A very long engagement, Sébastien Japrisot

Januari 1917. The war has been going on for years and most soldiers have little hope of seeing the end, they gave up hope. Some of them tried to desert, others tried to wound themselves so they would go home. Military command thinks these people should be punished severely, since their example could mean others would do the same. Five soldiers are sentenced to death for self-mutilation.

Five men are brought to one of the front trenches. They will not be shot by a firing squad, but they will be send out into No-man’s land so the Germans will finish them. This is not told to their families, because this goes against all the rules and regulations. The families will get the message their loved ones were killed in battle.

Mathilde, the fiancée of the youngest soldier who was called Manech, gets a letter from a dying sergeant when the war is over. He was there on that awful day in 1917 and he was the one who wrote Manech’s last letter to Mathilde. He tells Mathilde what happened and when she hears his story, she knows she wants to find out if there is a slight chance that Manech survived.

A very long engagement is a beautiful story for several reasons. Firstly there is Mathilde, who is a great heroïne. She is stubborn and willful and determined to go her own way, despite her handicap (she is in a wheelchair) and the advice of others who tell her to leave the past alone.

Sébastien Japrisot has a great style, I liked his funny remarks and beautiful metaphors. The story is well written. You get to know the five men in the first chapter, but during the rest of the book you get to know their backgrounds and their families and you realize the influence the war had on all of these people. That also makes it an impressive book. The war plays a big part, but it is not a war-novel, the most important themes are love, holding on to hope, coping with loss and getting to the truth.

Un long dimanche de fiançailles was filmed in 2004 with Audrey Tautou as Mathilde. Although many things changed, because a film can never follow a book completely, the layers of the story remains intact. I liked Jodie Foster in a small role, with a perfect French accent.

The film was beautiful, funny and moving, just as the book is. I was glad I read the book first before I saw the film, because then backgrounds etc are more clear so I could understand the story better.
But I really recommend both film and book.

Original French title: Un long dimanche de fiançailles
Published in 1991

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

In loving memory: Corrado

Yesterday, I had to take my beautiful cat Corrado to the vet.

Corrado was a cat from a shelter, and together with Silvia (I named them after one of my favorite Italian series) he was with me since 2007.
In their previous homes they were abused and neglected and when I took them in, they were very scared. But within three days Corrado dared to come to me and sit on my lap, and he wanted to be close to me ever since.

In the past year he had become skinnier, but the bloodwork turned up nothing. I just gave him more and more variation in his food, but since a couple of weeks, it was really bad. Two weeks ago he was at the vet and he was under 2.5 kg, Not enough for an andult male cat.

These past two weeks he ate almost nothing, and lost weight by the minute.
Yesterday I took him back to the vet and although it broke my heart, I knew there was only one option. We had to put Corrado to sleep.
I had him in my arms, and I talked to him the entire time.

I am just glad I still have Silvia at home, but I (we) will miss Corrado so very much!

Monday, 20 July 2015

The secret life of bees, Sue Monk Kidd

This book came out a couple of years ago and in 2008 a successful movie was made of it. But I am often a bit slow in these things, so I never heard of the book before a couple of weeks ago.
It may sound strange, but I picked it up because I loved the title (I like bees) and the fact it is set in South-Carolina, I like stories set in the South.

Lily Owens is 14 and an average child. She is not very beautiful or very popular. She is a clever child and dreams of becoming a writer. She has a horrible secret and that is that she is guilty of her mother’s death.

Her father, T-Ray takes little notice of his daughter and mistreats her regularly. One day, Lily cannot take it anymore and runs away from home, with Rosaleen, the black woman who looked after her. The only thing Lily has is a picture of a black Mary that belonged to her mother, with the name of a town, Tiburon, written on the back.

Rosaleen and Lily go to Tiburon and are taken in by three sisters who keep bees and make honey, have a large statue of the Black Madonna in their living room and may know more about Lily’s mother.

The secret life of bees is a beautiful story full of love about a girl who misses her mother. Lily grows up when she stays with the sisters and learns about herself, prejudice, loss, grief and moving on. Lily’s voice, an unreasonable child on one hand but an intelligent girl who understands many things on the other hand, is written very well. The secret life of bees could have been sentimental and cheesy, but luckily Sue Monk Kidd managed to avoid most pitfalls.

What keeps this story above average is that it is set in 1964. In the US the Civil Rights Act was just signed, so segregation was banned, but in reality it took a lot more than that so change the situation and the black people who want to stand up for their rights had a difficult task.
Rosaleen wants to register as a voter and gets beaten up, Zach, the black boy Lily falls in love with, knows he could be killed if people saw them together.

Because of that The secret life of bees is not just a heartwarming story of a motherless girl finding a home, then it would have been sentimental and cheesy, it also shows the dark side of life; mistreatment, depression and racism and the story also gives an excellent image of that time.

Absolutely worth a read, if only for August. Everybody should have an August in their lives.

Published in 2001

Friday, 17 July 2015

Dolce far niente

Dolce far niente is the art of enjoying doing nothing. Not hasting, not checking you emails or facebook-status on your smartphone in fear of missing something, not doing two things at the same time, not running here and there without ever pausing.

The Italians are masters of dolce far niente, they simply enjoy sitting in the sun, or on a terrace, with a cup of coffee or a good book. Looking at the people who pass by and sitting, there, enjoying the moment.

Try it tomorrow, just sit somewhere and enjoy the moment, the tea or coffee you drink, the sun on your face or the peace and quiet in your own home.

Just enjoy doing nothing for a moment. 
This gentelman I saw in the Bardini gardens in Florence knew how to do it. He sat there, on a Sunday morning, reading his newspaper in these beautiful gardens, completely at peace and in the moment. He was not rushing it, he was not checking his phone. I think this is a great way to spend your morning. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Place des Vosges

I love this elegant square in Paris and the atmosphere is amazing. 

Monday, 13 July 2015

Brodeck's report, Philippe Claudel

How do people react when fear takes over? What do people do when a stranger comes who holds up a mirror and shows them what cowards they are?

A group of people turning against a person cannot be controlled, all people in the mob feel safe, protected by the collective that makes sure no one is to blame individually.

The stranger, the person who does not belong is sacrificed for the greater good and people tell themselves that they really had no choice, it was him or they.

In a small town a murder is committed. Brodeck is asked to write a report about it. The murdered man was a stranger. In the beginning his arrival was seen with some optimism, but soon he made people feel uncomfortable with his questions and writing things down in a little notebook. What did he want, this strange man, why had he come to the village and who sent him?

Brodeck is asked by the village notables to write this report, to ask for witness-statements and come with an explanation. He cannot refuse this order, he himself is an outsider as well. Years ago when he was a little boy, he came to village and grew up there, but people never forgot he was not born there. During the war, this became painfully obvious.

When he writes his report, Brodeck also writes about his experiences in the camp he was during the war and what he had to do to survive.

Brodeck is always an outsider, as long as things are good he is tolerated, but as soon as things turn bad he is excluded again. That he returns to the village after the war is something else people do not like. He is a living reminder of their cowardice and they blame him for that.

Philippe Claudel never tells where or when the story is set, and normally this irritates me. In this case, it was no problem because the where (Alsace), and the when (just after WWII) becomes obvious quite soon, even when it is never explicit. But words like Jewish or Holocaust are also never mentioned, and it also becomes very clear that this is what the book is about.

Brodeck’s report is a story about fear, cowardice, survival, quilt and forgiveness. It is a story that grabs you by the throat and makes you feel ashamed about what people can do to each other.

Again, this is a beautiful novel by French author Philippe Claudel. Not with the poetic sentences I know from his previous books, but every sentence here is very precise and the sober way of writing makes an even deeper impact.

Brodeck’s report is not a book you can read quickly between other things, it has too much power for that. You need to give it time to fully sink in, because even when you close the book, the story stays with you for a long time.

Original French title: Le rapport de Brodeck
Published in 2007

Friday, 10 July 2015

Marilyn in fashion, Christopher Nickens en George Zeno

When we think about the style and fashion icons of the filmindustry, we probably think of Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly and not of Marilyn Monroe.

Yet, Marilyn Monroe wore clothes from several well-known designers and some of the dresses and outfits she wore have become iconic. She has also been a huge influence on the fashion designers of today.

This beautiful coffeetable book shows which designer clothes Marilyn wore and also shows how divers she was in the styles she wore. Ballgowns, cocktaildresses and casual were all part of her repertoire.
Sometimes these were clothes she bought, often it was something she could keep after filming and later in her career the designers were all to happy to design for her.

Marilyn was of the opinion that clothes were meant to make your body look good and to show your best parts, so she did not hesitate to alter a blouse or a dress to suit her better.
This photograph was made in 1962, just a few weeks before she died.
The writers of Marilyn in fasion are Christopher Nickens who wrote several Hollywood-biographies and George Zeno who owns the largest collection of photographs and memorabilia of Marilyn Monroe.

This book is full with photographs of Marilyn I never saw before, and that all show how very beautiful she was and how well she could wear anything, she seldom made a style faux-pas.
This books givers you new facets of Marilyn and giving you a better and completer image of this very special woman.
A book every fan should have.
Photographs and information about the dress, the designer and the event. 
Full title: Marilyn in fashion. The enduring influence of Marilyn Monroe.
Published in 2012

Monday, 6 July 2015

Mrs. Hemingway, Naomi Wood

Ernest Hemingway was not an easy man. He always wanted to play the lead role and be in the center of attention. He also was a man who wanted one thing, but when he got it, wanted something else. This was certainly true for his marriages, as his four wives found out.

Ernest Hemingway’s first wife was Hadley Richardson. They lived together in Paris when Ernest was just a beginning author. Their marriage has already been the subject of the excellent book The Paris wife by Paula McLain.(HERE)
In Paris Ernest had an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer (Five). For a while there was an uneasy relationship between the three of them; Hadley knew about the affair, but hoped it would pass. Finally she consented to a divorce and Ernest and Five got married.

They lived in Key West and Five made sure the house and everything was in perfect order for Ernest. There was however one little problem, Ernest wanted more adventure and he left Five for the beautiful and blonde Martha Gellhorn who was twenty-eight at the time.

Unfortunately for Ernest Martha loved her work more than she loved him and in 1945 she asked him for a divorce. She was the only woman who left Ernest instead of being left. Ernest married Mary Welsh immediately after the divorce and she was his wife until he died in 1961.

Naomi Wood managed to give each of the women their own voice. She tells the story in four parts, told from the viewpoints of Hadley, Five, Martha and Mary. It begins when one relationship ends an another one starts, with flashbacks to the past. In this way she can describe the events from the viewpoint of each woman, giving a new dimension to what you thought you knew. She does this very well and manages to make the women come alive so you can understand their emotions and their actions.

Naomi Wood based this book on letters and biographies and little details give away how well she researched everything.

The question remains why these women, intelligent, kind and sometimes married to another man, fell for Ernest Hemingway. Was it the myth of the great writer, the man he pretended to be? I still do not have the answer, but it is very fascinating.
Mrs. Hemingway is a very well written and excellent novel and I enjoyed it very much.

Published in 2014

Friday, 3 July 2015

Going to Italy soon? Here are some tips!

Italy is a very popular country to go on holiday, so if you have plans to visit one of the many beautiful cities or the lovely countryside, here are a few tips to make your stay more comfortable.

Tips for Italy
  • Pack good shoes. You will probably walk a lot and many streets have cobblestones, so packing your high heels is not a good idea. Please, forget about elegance in this instance, your feet need to be comfortable.
  • If it is the Summer and you wear a tanktop, make sure you have a shawl or something to cover your shoulders. Firstly for when you want to visit a church and secondly because the evening can be a bit chillier.
  • In the cities it can be very hot. Seek the shade wherever you can, visit churches and museums to keep cool and do not try to do too much in one day. Take your time! When I was in Rome in August with a friend, we reminded ourselves we needed to use ‘Italian pace, not Dutch pace’. Visiting a park is also a great way to keep cool.
    Villa Borghese in Rome, a great place to sit while it is hot. 
  • Most churches, museums and shops will be closed for a couple of hours during the afternoon. This is a good time to go back to your hotel and take a little nap yourself. After a rest, you are good to go for the evening.
  • Remember that after August 15, most Italians will be on holiday as well, so many shops will be closed after that date.
  • Of course when it is the first time you visit a city or certain place, you want to see the highlights. But you are probably not the only one, so it is likely you will have to wait in line for long periods of time. Try to book your ticket in advance if you can, this will save you a lot of time. Or visit the lesser known museums and places. There won’t be crowds of people there, and it is nice to be a bit original! J
  • Try to use a little bit of the language when you are in Italy. Nobody expects you to be fluent in Italian, but everybody can manage little phrases like; Buongiorno, per favore, prego, arrivederci etc.
  • Take the time to appreciate Italian atmosphere, just sit on a churchstep and look at the people walking by, walk around the piazza’s to see the artists selling their work or the musicians play some music.
    Take the time to look at typical Italian things,
    like these small cars called 'Ape's', or 'bees'. 

General tips
  • Read a little bit about the country and the city you are about to visit, so things are not a total surprise when you get there. One of the worst things is a tourist who has no idea at all where he is or what he is looking at.
  • On the other hand, be ready to be surprised and do something unexpected. In that case you will see places and do things you did not set out to do, but that will utterly amaze you and give you joy.
  • Even worse than an ignorant tourist, is an impolite one who constantly reminds people that things in his country are better, bigger, etc. Remember you are a guest. There may be things in the country you visit you disagree with, frown upon or utterly dislike, but nobody cares. You are a guest and it is your job to be polite and pleasant. And if you really hate things that much, just do not come back:-)

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A quiet garden

This is part of a Dominican monasterie garden I visited in Zwolle, in The Netherlands.
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