Friday, 30 October 2015

Musée de Cluny

The entrance of the Musée de Cluny
One of the most beautiful museums I have visited in the past years must be the Musée de Cluny in Paris. This 14th century building used to be the townhouse of the abbots of Cluny, they stayed here whenever they had to be in Paris.

In the 15th century it was no longer in the possession of the abbots of Cluny, but it was kind of a guest house for the royal family. In 1789 it was confisquated by the state and had many different functions.

In 1833 it became a museum for Medieval art.

This museum has one of the finest collections of Medieval art I ever saw. Beautiful artefacts made of ivory, gold, enamel and stone or wood can be seen here.
One of the other tapestries
Really special are the gobelins, the tapestries they have here, especially the series of six tapestries named The lady and the unicorn. These can be seen in a darkened room, so the light does not damage them. It is amazing to see how fresh the colours still are and the patterns are beautiful and intricate. The postcards I bought with pictures of the tapestries do not do them juststice, but I think nothing can! At least I saw them and I have the memory.
The chapel
The building itself is also quite extraordinary. It dates back to the 14th century and also has a part of a Roman bathhouse (currently under restoration). The chapel has a beautiful structure.
So next time you go to Paris, go to this museum, it is well worth your time!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Monday, 26 October 2015

Two books by Italo Calvino

In the past months I read several modern Italian classics and of course I also had to read some books by Italo Calvino.

The first book I read by him was Invisble cities. In this book Marco Polo describes several cities he visited to Kubla Kahn, the Tartar emperor.

Perhaps I began this book with the wrong assumption, I thought I was going to read a historical novel, instead I was stuck with descriptions of invented cities.

I knew Italo Calvino used a lot of magical-realism in his work and normally I do not mind this when it is done in moderation, but I am afraid in this work it was too much for me. I think there will be many people who will enjoy this book and the fantasy in it, but this is not a book I enjoyed, I do need some storyline.

I also had The path to the spider’s nests. This was his first published book and it does have a storyline. I must say I enjoyed this a lot more than the previous one.

There is magic in the book. The main character is Pin, who is alone in the world. His sister is a whore and does not bother with her younger brother. Pin knows too much of the world of the grown-ups for the children to like him, but he is still a child who does not understand everything he sees and hears.

When he feels lonely, he will go to the path near the river where the spiders build their nests.

The adults in the café tolerate Pin, but they also use him. They make him steal a pistol from a German soldier who visits his sister. Pin is arrested and ends up in prison. He escapes and joins a group of partisans, full of weird characters. Again it is difficult for Pin to join in, since there is so much he does not understand.

Italo Calvino brings Pin to life in a beautiful manner. He is not a very nice boy, but you cannot blame him, with his background. The loneliness and the sadness in Pin still make you care for him. The only thing he wants is a friend who cares for him and to whom he can show the spider’s nests.
The path to the spider’s nests is beautiful and funny and with a main character that you will like despite himself.

Original Italian title: Le città invisibili
Published in 1972

Original Italian title: Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno
Published in 1946

Sunday, 25 October 2015

All you need is Paris

Paris is always a good idea as we know and last week I spent a couple of days there. With the Thalys it is such an easy connection (just 3 1/2 hours from Amsterdam) that you can almost decide to go there for just one day. I did not do that, I was there for three days, but knowing you can get there in a heartbeat is really nice.

Anyway, I loved my little last-minute trip as I knew I would. Rome has half of my heart, but I begin to suspect Paris may have the other half!

Isn't it funny how one city can 'speak' to you, so to say and others do not? I remember coming into Rome for the first time and feeling at home from the first minute. Whenever I am in Paris, I feel happy even when my feet hurt or when it rains. Berlin on the other hand was good, but nothing special, at least not to me.

So prepare for loads of lovely photographs of Paris in the weeks to come, and aren't balconies in Paris just amazing?

Friday, 23 October 2015

Photographs of Berlin

Last week I was in Berlin with a schoolexcursion. I found it a city with an interesting history and some very beautiful and charming places, but the city did not capture my heart like for example Rome of Paris, still it was nice to have been there.

I did make some very nice photographs and I will share some of those here.
They look a little dark but that was because it was raining the entire time we were there.
Nice courts

These pikes show where the Berlin wall used to be (Prenzlauer Berg)

The synagoge of Berlin

The ´Alex´ itself was not as beautiful as I hoped, but I did like the metrosign

Old houses, but charming with the flowers. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Monday, 19 October 2015

The invention of wings, Sue Monk Kidd

Everybody needs the possibility to grow and to chase their dreams. Nowadays, this is more or less a given, but in the 19th century that was not the case, especially not in the Deep South of South Carolina.
Women were expected to get married and start a family, slaves were expected to obey with a smile and accept their situation in life.

Sarah Grimké came from one of the most respected families in Charleston. She wanted to study law, but her hopes were crushed since girls did not get to study and she had to put that nonsense out of her head. Unfortunately Sarah was a little too intelligent and stubborn to get a marriage proposal, much to the despair of her mother and the rest of her family.

Sarah concerned herself with the fate of the slaves the family owned and became convinced slavery should be abolished. The friendship she formed with a slavegirl that was given to her on the eleventh birthday helped her in that.

Sarah and her younger sister became involved in the abolishment movement and the fight for women’s right, something most abolitionists did not like, by the way.

Parallel to this story is the story of Handful, or Hetty as her owners call her. She is the girl that was the birthday-gift for Sarah. More and more she feels she should be free. Her mother, Charlotte is a good seamstress and is valued by her mistress for that, but after a humiliating punishment Charlotte grows resentful and tries to get back at her masters at every way, with a terrible result.

Sarah Grimké did exist, she fought for women’s rights and the abolishment of slavery. When a writer uses a real historical person in a story, the danger is that the story will end up full of biographical details that are not necessarily interesting for the reader. Luckily, Sue Monk Kidd avoided this and managed to write a literary account of Sarah’s life. What especially works is the parallel story of Handful that gives events a different perspective.

To tell Handful’s story, Sue Monk Kidd had to change a few historical details, but this is all accounted for.
What I never realized is that the abololitionists wanted to end slavery, but this did not mean all of them were automatically for equal rights between black and white. Also the Quakers were not as progressive in their views on equality between men and women or black and white as they are sometimes portrayed.

Well written was how on all sides of the situation people can react differently, from resistance to collaboration and everything in between.

The invention of wings is a beautiful and often moving historical novel about two interesting women and a friendship that can grow, somehow, despite the difficult circumstances.

Published in 2014

Friday, 16 October 2015

Two museums in Rome

Palazzo Barberini
As I said before, there are many beautiful museums in Rome, and it is worth going to the ones that are not so well known.
Here are two Roman museums I really recommend.

Museo di Roma in Trastevere
This museums shows the history of Rome from the 18th century untill now, focussing on festivals, streetlife etc. Due to restaurations I could only visit the second floor, but here I saw a beautiful exhibition of watercolours (1900) from places in Rome, and one with photographs from Rome, dating from the end of the 19th century.
Really surprising.

Palazzo Barberini
In this large palazzo once owned by the Barbarini family there is now a museum, full with the Barberini's magnificent art collection.
Religious art, Dutch masters, Caravaggio and his followers, portraits of Erasmus and Beatrice Cenci.
Every time I visit I wonder which paintings will be on display, since not all rooms can be visited all the time due to maintenance.
The palazzo itself is also beautiful.

Monday, 12 October 2015

A land more kind than home, Wiley Cash

When religion is not based in tradition, but only in the ego of the pastor, things can go wrong very easily.
The evangelical church in a small town in North-Carolina gets a new preacher after their previous one dies. This new preacher changes the focus of the church. Laying hands, speaking in tongues are suddenly normal during the service on Sunday, while people dance with snakes and drink poison to show their faith.

The old lady Adelaide Lyle does not trust preacher Chambliss and does not like the snakes and other things that are going on. After an incident she makes a deal with Chambliss. She will keep silent, and in return she can take the children on Sunday, so they won’t see the other things.

Yet one Sunday there is child present during the service, the autistic son of Ben and Julie. Ben never goes to church, but Julie hopes her son will finally be healed. Unfortunately the boy dies during the service, while his younger brother Jess saw most of what happened. The people in the church close ranks and do not want to speak up, and sherrif Barefield has the difficult task to find the truth.

A land more kind than home is a fascinating book. How can people get caught up in the madness of one man? Of course you see things like that in cults, and this can be compared with that, this has little to do with normal religions.
Preacher Chambliss is a horrible man, an egotripper who thinks other people are beneath him and he is better and smarter than others. That is also his downfall, because sheriff Barefield is a lot smarter than Chambliss.

The story is told through the eyes of Adelaide, Jess and the sheriff. And when you finally put all the pieces of the puzzle together, it becomes clear there was a lot more going on that Sunday than just an accident.

The atmosphere in the little town and the connections between the different characters are well written.
My only problem is that Chambliss is nothing but a very bad man, while people who are both good and bad are much more interesting, as becomes so clear in the excellent books by Philippe Claudel.

Wiley Cash did a better job when he portrayed Julie, the mother of the dead boy. On one hand she is a good mother, but she also does things that are totally in-excusable. This is interesting and well done. 

A land more kind than home was Wiley Cash’ debut, and I am glad I also have his second book on my shelves. Sometimes you read a new author and you know you need to read more.

Published in 2012

Friday, 9 October 2015

Turner as an inspiration

The painter Turner was ahead of his time and many painters after him were inspired by his work and his style.

Two examples make this very clear. The first is the work Scarlet Sunset by Turner that was painted in the years between 1830 and 1840. It is quite small, but very beautiful.

When the French painter Monet was in London in 1870 because his country was at war with Germany, he saw this painting and it inspired him to paint this:
Impression, soleil levant 1872 (impression of a sunrise)
This is the work that made a journalist call Monet and his friends Impressionists as an insult, but the name stuck and it became the name of a powerful and beautiful art-movement, Impressionism.
So, perhaps you can say that without Turner, there would have been no Impressionism.

The second example is also quite stricking. When Turner set up a painting, he painted the colours he wanted to use in watercolours on the canvas. These are known as colourbeginnings and we have a few that Turner started, but never finished into a painting.
Colourbeginning by Turner
Mark Rothko is a painter who loved huge and bold paintings, with enormous colourblocks. They look very much like Turner's colourbeginnings. It is known that Rothko admired Turner and he knew his work. So it is not a far step to think that these humble colourbeginnings also formed the beginning of the beautiful and colourful paintings Mark Rothko made.
Mark Rothko

Monday, 5 October 2015

Mr.Mac and me, Esther Freud

Thomas Maggs is the son of a pub-owner is a little village on the coast of Suffolk. It is a small village where nothing much happens. The men go out to sea to fish and Summer guests form a welcome addition to the incomes of the villagers.

Thomas would love to go to sea, but his parents will never allow it. Thomas likes to draw, but does not get a lot of encouragement for that either.

When WWI breaks out, there is one Summer guest who does not leave like the others. Mr. Mac and his wife stay in the village. Thomas becomes friends with Mr. Mac and even gets a present from him, a real sketchbook and a paint box to help him with his drawings.

But when the friendship between Thomas and Mr. Mac grows, the suspicion of the village also grows. Who is this stranger that claims to be an artist, why is he always walking around at all hours with his binoculars? Could he perhaps be a German spy?

The architect, designer and artist Charles Rennie Macintosh was not appreciated in his own time and in his own country. Nowadays we see the beauty in his buildings, furniture and drawings, but at the beginning of the 20th century his work was not well liked. Disillusioned he and his wife moved away from Glasgow and ended up in a small village in Suffolk.

He had contact with German artists and had German magazines in his possessions and these, among other things, had him arrested for espionage. It all ended without much trouble, but for Macintosh it had been another blow. He and his wife left England after the war, only to come back shortly before his death in 1928.

Mr. Mac and me is a beautiful story of a friendship, against the interesting backdrop of the first months of WWI in England and the effect this had on the people at home. For example, the soldiers go to the front and the first group gets a huge send-off, but as more and more groups of soldiers go, it becomes a normal thing and not a reason to organize something festive.

People were afraid for a German invasion and the government came with rules to accommodate the new situation, but those rules did not make life especially easier.

Esther Freud manages to tell a story and to make the background the background, giving enough details to make it interesting and well-researched, but not boring. The same goes for the details of the life of Charles Rennie Macintosh, for example these are told in letters, so the story itself is never broken.

Thomas Maggs tells the story and the viewpoint of this adolescent boy who does not know what to think of certain situations is very well done.

I never  read another story by Esther Freud before, but I must say that Mr. Mac and me was a beautiful book and a very good first introduction to this writer.  

Published in 2014

Friday, 2 October 2015

Roman parking

Traffic in Rome is chaotic and mad. And I must admit I really enjoy it, although I am happy not having to drive in it.
As a pedestrian there is one important rule; if you cross the road, keep on walking! Then the cars will stop.

As a cardriver there seem to be almost no rules, but somehow it always works out.

Parking in the crowded city of Rome is also not easy. The solution to that is to either have a small car so you can fit it everywhere, and when that does not work, park double.

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