Thursday, 29 December 2016

The best of 2016

The last year was a good year for me, on the whole. Although it seemed at some times the world was going mad, personally I have very little to complain about.
So here are a few of the best things from 2016

I am quite happy with the direction my blog is going at the moment. Two to three posts a week is a good schedule for me, and I feel much more creative and that is exactly what I was looking for.
The photograph that caught the most eyes was this one from the autumn leaves in the sun. Very beautiful indeed.

I have seen so many beautiful exhibitions this year, I can hardly pick a favorite. But the Paul Klee exhibition in Paris was really special, and it is also the blogpost that was most read on this subject.

And now, for the books. This year I read amazing and beautiful books.

In total I read 155 books, 78 fiction and 34 nonfiction. I read 30 historical books and 15 biographies,

26 of these were books by French authors, 13 about  Italy or by Italian authors.
18 were in the original English. The rest was in Dutch or in Dutch translation.

It was very hard to make a choice to pick the ones I loved most, but here are my top three books in fiction and non-fiction of 2016.

Fiction.
My favorite book of 2016 is a Dutch novel set in 19th century Russia, but unfortunately there is no English translation of this book.
My second and third book of 2016 are translated into English and are:

The first man by Albert Camus (here) This is a beautiful account of a poor boy who grows up in Algeria and who fortunately has a teacher who helps him.

Augustus by John Williams (here) Stunning and beautiful novel about the Roman emperor Augustus.

Non-fiction
My top three non-fiction of 2016
It's what I do by Lynsey Addario (here) An autobiography by one of the best female war-photographers there are. Very interesting and shows how much we need these brave men and women to show us what is going on in the world.

Deep South by Paul Theroux (here) I love the South (although I have never been there) and this book is all you want to know and more.

Van Goghs ear by Bernadette Murphy (here) Is there anything new to be said about Vincent van Gogh? Yes, this books proves it. Very interesting and it gives you a deeper understanding of Vincent and the last year of his life.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Some other highlights from the Rijksmuseum

One of the most famous museums in The Netherlands is the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This is one of those national museums that were founded in the 19th century.
Here they have a huge collection of Dutch art, to give the visitor an impression of the highlights of Dutch culture and art.

Of course, a lot of attention goes to the masters of the 17th century, Rembrandt, Jan Vermeer, Frans Hals etc.
I do admire Rembrandt's use of light, but on the whole I am not a huge fan of his paintings, I prefer the homely scenes Vermeer painted.

But the Rijksmuseum also has a collection of 19th century art and if I am honest, I prefer this age to the 17th century.

I was very happy last weekend when I was there with a friend, and we really enjoyed our visit. I took some pictures I would like to share, although the quality is not as good as I hoped, since halfway the battery of my camera died and I had to take pictures with my phone.

But still, here are a few of the paintings I liked very much, from the 19th cetury art collection of the Rijksmuseum.





Jan Toorop, Sea at Katwijk

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Plants and light, UJB December 2016

It is time for another chapter in the Urban Jungle Bloggers story. In this dark month of December we focus on Plants and Light. Plants bathing in the light of lamps or candles, in every combination you can think of.
Well, here is my take on this month's theme:


Urban Jungle Bloggers (here) is an initiative from Judith (here) and Igor (here), who show their love for plants in every way they can!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Street of thieves, Mathias Énard

Lakhdar grows up in Tanger, with his friend Bassam. There is not much to do, but they dream of a future with girls and freedom, possibly in France or Spain.

He has a fight with his parents and leaves home and he meets sheik Nourdin, who gives him a position as a bookseller at the mosque. 

Lakhdar does not pay attention to what is going on at the mosque or in the rest of the Arab world (it is the time of the Arab Spring), he has his Spanish and French detectives and enjoyes the beautiful language of the Koran.

He meets the Spanish student Judit, who studies Arabic languages and for a moment, it seems Lakhdar has a good future ahead of him.

But then there is a bombing, sheik Nourdin and Bassam are gone and the mosque goes up in flames.
Lakhdar tries to travel to Europe, but fate is not very kind to him. He finally ends up in the Carrer Robardos, de street of thieves in Barcelona. Here he finds some kind of home amongst the drunk, the junkies and the illegal immigrants. Only then he meets sheik Nourdin and Bassam again, and he fears for what they might be planning.

Mathias Énard is a French writer who lives in Barcelona. He studied Arabic and Persian languages and you can feel his love for these languages and their stories in this book.

I loved Street of thieves. It is almost a fairytale with lots of colourful characters and situations, with an anti-hero who does not really know what he is doing. He tries to act tough, but his heart is in the right place and he knows what is right and what is wrong.

The story is set in a specific time, in a changing Arabic world. Several newsfacts are mentioned, like the shooting of Osama bin Laden, the shooting at the Jewish school in Toulouse or the fact that the major of Rotterdam is of Moroccan descent.

Lakhdar does not have somebody who tells him what to think to what to do, he must find out for himself. His books, his detectives and the story of Casanova form a counterweight for the growing fundamentalism he sees around him and it becomes clear to him what is important and what is not.

His journey from Tanger to Barcelona is not just a journey to a better life, but also a journey into adulthood, with finding love, and betrayal, the importance of family and friendship, coming to terms with death and disillusion.

I always like it when a book is nuanced and there are different shades of good and bad. Here for example sheik Nourdin may have planted a bomb, but he is not a monster, and he was good to Lakhdar. The other people Lakhdar meets also have their good and their bad sides. Some abuse him or take advantage of him, but that does not mean they do not help him at the same time.

You grow to love Lakhdar a little and you hope for a good ending for him. That means the real ending will break your heart, especially as something happened I did not expect at all.

Mathias Énard manages to write about meaningful themes and mixes humour with very sad situations, and he does this very well. Street of thieves is a wonderful book and well worth your time.

Original French title: Rue des Voleurs
Published in 2012

Friday, 16 December 2016

Exhibition Alma-Tadema

Coign of vantage, 1895
The young Lourens Tadema was born in 1836 in a little village in Frieland (Frisia) in the north of the Netherlands.

He had a lot of artistic talent and went to the art academy in Antwerp when he was sixteen. Here he began painting historical pieces, mostly tableaus from the early Middle Ages.

When he grew older, his fame spread and many people commissioned a painting by him. He married in 1863, and the young couple went to Italy on their honeymoon. Here Tadema was inspired by the archaeological finds of the classical period, and he began painting Roman historical pieces. He stuck to this until his death in 1912.

His wife died in 1869, and Tadema went to London with his two little daughters. He married again in 1871 with Laura, who also painted and their home became an artistic hotspot.

He changed his name to Lawrence Alma-Tadema and became the leader of the artmovement in England at that time.

After WWI his paintings were not appreciated anymore by the new generation of artists, but since the sixties we see the beauty of his works again.

Paiting the classics
What makes his paintings so special? He gives you a glimpse of Roman life and paints like you are actually in the painting, by the clever use of perspective. 

The atmosphere of his paintings is almost poetic and dream-like, existing outside time and he depicts people in normal day-to day activities, like feeding the fishes or reading a bookscroll.  
Unconscious rivals
He is a master at painting different materials, and you can see the difference between the silk, the velvet, the marble, the silver.

He had a huge collection of ancient artefacts and books and pictures, so he could make his paintings as historically correct as possible.

At first sight his paintings may seem a bit cheesy, but if you stand in front of them, you can see how breathtakingly beautiful they are.

Exhibition
In the Fries museum in Leeuwarden (Frisian museum), they now have a beautiful exhibition with more than 80 paintings by Alma-Tadema, and also examples of the props and furniture he owned and that can be seen in his paintings.
Love's missile, 1909
The exhibition focusses on the way Alma-Tadema influenced our idea of the ancient Roman history. We imagine ancient Rome to be like we see in his paintings.

This is also because filmmakers, from Quo Vadis in 1913 to Gladiator in 2000, used his paintings as inspiration for costumes, furniture, the rooms etc.

In the exhibition they show paintings and images from the movies and then it becomes very clear how much the movies were influenced by him.

I did not know Alma-Tadema and his work very well, but last Wednesday I visited the exhibition with a friend and it was amazing. I absolutely loved the paintings; the details, the historical correctness and the beautiful atmosphere.

If you have the chance to see work by Alma-Tadema or if you have the chance to go to Leeuwarden, do not miss it, because his work is beautiful.
The roses of Heliogabalus, 1888
The exhibition in Leeuwarden can be seen until February 7th 2017.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Agatha Christie

Agathe Christie at work
 Agatha Christie (1890-1976) is one of the best loved writers of all times and her books still sell more copies than many other so called best-sellers. Her books and stories have been immortalised in films and television series and new adaptions are being made almost every year.

She has devoted fans and I must say I am one of those fans. Some people look down on her work or see her books as ‘cozy mysteries’ at best, but I do think she is much better than that. 

Her plots are often really good and ingenious and she was a master at creating atmosphere and describing characters. She gives you clues about the murderer throughout the book, but in the end often all is revealed by the detective who calls all suspects together and tells how things happened.

Most of her best work was written in the twenties and thirties, but some real gems can be found in her later books as well.

She is amazing when she writes about murders within a small group, for example a family or a group of people in a hotel. Her later books where she sometimes used elaborate international conspiracies are not that good.

Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie grew up in a family that was quite well off. She married colonel Archibald Christie just before Christmas 1914. During the war she volunteered in the hospital and there she learned about several poisons, and that knowledge would come in very handy later.

In 1918 their only child, daughter Rosalind was born. The marriage was not very happy and in 1926 Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days. She herself never told what she had done during those days, but there are many theories.

She and Archibald divorced in 1928, but Agatha met archaeologist Max Mallowan and they got married in 1930, despite the fact that Max was fourteen years younger than she was. 

Agatha Christie often travelled with her husband to the Middle East and worked with him at the digs. These new experiences also found their way into her novels.

And here is a very incomplete and completely subjective list of her books with the books I think are worth reading and the ones who must be avoides at all cost (the last category does not have a lot of books, but I still feel strongly about them).

Her best work
  • And then there were none
  • The pale horse
  • Endless night
  • Sad Cypress
  • The ABC murders
  • The murder of Roger Ackroyd
  • Curtain
Great
  • Murder on the Orient Express
  • The mousetrap
  • Crooked house
  • Nemesis
  • Five little pigs
  • The hollows
  • Dumb Witness
  • The mysterious affair at Styles
  • The Sittaford mystery
A bit implausible, but still quite good
  • Murder in Mesopotamia
  • Evil under the sun
  • Chimneys
  • Sleeping murder
Not really that good
  • Elephants can remember
  • One two buckle my shoe
  • The third girl
  • Murder at the links
Avoid like the plague
  • They all came to Bagdad
  • Passenger for Frankfurt
  • All books with Tommy and Tuppence

Saturday, 10 December 2016

A little inspiration...

A few weeks ago I saw the exhibition about the French painter Daubigny and how he inspired the Impressionists and also Vincent van Gogh. I loved how they hung pictures together so you could see how for example Monet was inspired in his paintings by works by Daubigny.

Only a few weeks ago, I took a photograph of a sunset from my livingroom, and I saw it was also a bit inspired by Daubigny. Of course, my photograph will never hang in the Van Gogh museum, so that is why I have them grouped here :-)
Charles-Francois Daubigny

Claude Monet

Bettina Grissen :-)

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Hold still, Sally Mann

When you take a photograph, you are trying to keep a memory of the moment, of the past. The paradox is that a photographs does not keep a perfect memory, it changes every time you look at the photograph.

Sally Mann is one of the most famous contemporary photographers. She was born in 1951 in Virginia to parents who were faily unconventional in the way they brought up their three children.

When she was twenty, she married Larry Mann, and until today they are happily married and live on their farm in Virginia.

When she was at school, Sally became interested in photography. At first she mainly photographed her family and her children. When a photobook with familyphoto's came out in the ninetees, there was a huge controversy, since a lot of the time her little children wore no clothes.

In those days people saw childabuse everywhere and she was almost charged with making child-pornography. It never came to that, but these events did have a huge impact on their family.

Sally Mann tells us about this time, but also reveals her family history, which almosts reads like a Southern gothic-novel, so many weird people and even weirder events!

She has an enormous love for the landscape in the South, but does not shy away from the history here. Some of this is part of her own history, since she grew up here in the fifties and sixties and the racial lines were clearly drawn.

Sally Mann looks the past unflinching in the eyes, even the uncomfortable parts.
Hold still is not a chronological memoires, but it is almost thematic. It is a really interesting and fascinating story about photography, the South, families, secrets and the question if photography is art or not.
I loved reading it.

Published in 2015

Friday, 2 December 2016

Fantastic beasts and where to find them (2016)

Last week I went to the cinema to see the film Fantastic beasts and where to find them. 
The screenplay is written by JK. Rowling and it is set in the Harry Potter universe.

It tells the story of Newt Scamander, an English scientists who comes to New York in 1926 with a suitcase full of magical beasts. He path crosses that of non-wizard Jacob Kowalski, some of the beasts escape and Scamander and Kowalski must try to prove that the havoc in New York is not caused by the magical beasts from the suitcase, but by something much darker and much more dangerous.

I felt a bit weird going to the cinema on my own to see a fantasy-film, but it turned out I was not the only one who was there alone!

I loved the movie very much. I had not really a good idea of what to expect, but I just hoped it would be good. And it was. I appreciate that JK. Rowling does not shy away from darker story-lines, and in this film somebody dies that should not have died.

There were a couple of storylines and a little surprise at the end. I am curious to see where this will go!
Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Scamander (Eddy Redmayne) 
Eddy Redmayne is great as the shy and boyish but charming Newt Scamander and I loved Jacob Kowalski, who is so impressed by the miracles he sees in this new world. It was very endearing.

I also liked the fantastic beasts very much (some of them so cute and other so funny and others so beautiful!) and the special effects (I saw the film in 3-D) were very spectacular. I loved the twenties-atmosphere and the humor in it.
Tina and Scamander.
Love that twenties-atmosphere!
In short, when the film was over, I needed a long time to get out of this new realm and get back to the real world. I heard there will be four more films following this one, and if all of those are as good as this first one, then the Harry Potter films will have a worthy successor.
Newt Scamander, perfectly cast. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Luxury on a budget

I must admit I do enjoy luxury. I enjoy going to the hairdresser or getting a beauty-treatment. This is a little treat for myself and I enjoy these moments immensly.

I also love a good cream and great beautyproducts, only I am not prepared to spend hundreds of euro's on things that can be bought cheaper. It is, I think, a question of looking a bit better for items than just buying the first expensive item you see.

A cream that costs a hundred euro's does not have to be much better than a cream that costs fifteen euro's.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered this new line at my local drugstore. It is a Dutch drugstore and it is their own brand.

It is not a huge line, three different types (Jasmine and Vanilla, Lime and Mint and Elderflower and Raspberry)
and a couple of products (f.e. lip-balm, handcream, bodycream, showergel etc) in each type.

I bought three different items. I bought the Elderflower and Raspberry lip-balm, the Lime and Mint handcream and the Jasmine and Vanilla body cream.
The bodycream and the handcream are very nice. Rich and smooth and it gets absorbed really well.
The lip-balm it the only thing that does not live up to my expectations. It is not rich enough for my dry lips and within  a couple of minutes my lips feel dry again. So that is not a success, but the other two are.

I think the items look really nice and luxurious, but I can tell you that I did not spend more than 12 euro's in total on these three.
Affordable luxury is the best!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Exhibition about Daubigny, Monet and van Gogh

Daubigny
The French painter Charles-Francois Daubigny (1817-1878) was a famous landscape-painter.

He was the first artist who worked outside and he became an inspiration and role-model for the Impressionists.

Daubigny had a light touch and loose way of painting, and for him the details were not as important as the whole of the image.

He had a boat and he used this to paint directly from the river and paint what he saw.
Later, Claude Monet would also buy himself a boat to work from.
Monet, his studio-boat
Vincent van Gogh saw them both as examples and role-models.

The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam now has a beautiful exhibition about these three painters. I loved seeing the paintings done by Daubigny, because I did not really know his work.

Often they grouped paintings together from Daubigny, Monet and van Gogh. It shows how much attention van Gogh paid to the other painters and how much he wanted to learn, he never thought his own abilities were enough.
Field with poppies, Daubigny

Field with poppies, Claude Monet

Field with poppies, Vincent van Gogh
This exhibition has paintings from over 35 collections and can be seen in Amsterdam until the end of January 2017.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

DVD's about (Jackie) Kennedy

These past weeks I have been watching a few series on DVD about president Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy in particular.

Of course, there are always (minor) errors in films or series about historical events or real people, nothing is ever perfect, but the ones I saw were quite good on the whole. Well, with one exception.

The first miniseries I saw was A woman named Jackie (1991). This has three episodes each lasting 1 1/2 hours. It begins when Jackie Bouvier is still a young girl and her parent's marriage deteriorates. She goes to college and becomes a journalist and then meets a young politician, Jack Kennedy. She marries him, he becomes president and in 1963 he was shot.

A couple of years after his death, Jackie married Aristotle Onassis, only this was in the end not a happy match. After he died, she returned to journalism.

I loved this series because it spans almost her whole life and it gave some insight in why she married Onassis (something I never really understood). I thought the casting was quite good, Roma Downey gave the adult Jackie the right amount of class and Stephen Collins had JFK's boyish charm and played him very well. My only complaint is that the ending is a little abrupt.

The second series I saw was the excellent Kennedy (1983), with Martin Sheen as president Jack Kennedy.
This is a great series. Martin Sheen is the best Kennedy I have ever seen. (funnily enough, when I think about JFK, I think about Martin Sheen playing JFK, not the real JFK)
This miniseries focusses on his time as president, from the Bay of Pigs invasion, the civil rightsmovement, the Cuban missile crisis until the end in Dallas.

Despite the fact there is a lot of politics in this series, it never stops to be interesting and you still get a lot of information about their private lives. I loved how much attention they paid to details.

I loved how Bobby Kennedy (John Shae) tried to get a grip on the FBI that was run by the scary Edgar J. Hoover who wanted to follow his own path. Bobby wanted to prosecute organised crime and promote civil rights, but Hoover was more interested in the president's sex-life.

Blair Brown was an really great Jackie Kennedy, and the rest of the supporting cast was also very good!

Both these series were good, but I am afraid I was not that happy with Jackie, Ethel and Joan, women of Camelot (2001). This series tells the story of the women who were married to the Kennedy brothers. Jackie was married to Jack, Ethel to Bobby and Joan to Ted.

The casting here is horrible, I have never seen such terrible casting in my life. Daniel Hugh Kelly is ridiculous as JFK, Ethel is made completely unlikable, and Sarah Lafleur as Marilyn Monroe was so bad that is was insulting.

It was bad acting and bad storytelling all around, so on the whole, I really do not recommend this film!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Finding peace and quiet

A couple of weeks ago I had some time between classes and a meeting and I went to the Catholic cemetary near school. I needed some quiet time for myself, to find some peace to restore my energy to get me through the rest of the day.

As it turned out, the cemetary was the perfect spot for this. I loved walking here, looking at the graves, some old and some new and I sensed how important it is to remember our dead and how precious life is. It is good to stand still sometimes and realize this.





Some old graves

If this is not a symbol of comfort, I do not know what it. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Augustus, John Williams

The Dutch cover
For many in Rome the Republic was the ideal state, and they wanted to prevent anybody becoming king again. When Julius Caesar was appointed dictator for life, some people thought the next step for him would be to become king, so they killed him in 44 BC to prevent this.

With Julius Caesar dead, there was chaos in Rome and nobody knew what would happen. The murderers thought they had saved the Roman Republic, Marc Anthony wanted to punish the murderers and then there was the unknown factor of Octavian.

He was a young man, nephew of Caesar and nobody knew much about him. And nobody thought he mattered.

But this pale and sickly young man without experience managed to see through every conspiracy, get the right allies at the right and was not afraid to make difficult decisions. And he won. After a long period of civil war and many deaths, he finally held all the power in 27 BC. He did not call himself emperor, but rather first citizen and he would rule over Rome for over forty years. 

Augustus is John Williams third book and he won many prizes with it.

The book begins with the murder of Julius Caesar when Octavian has to claim his inheritance. He has a few good friends, like Agrippa, but at the same time he cannot trust anyone anymore and has to be vigilant at all times.

This becomes clear in the second part when Augustus has been the ruler for some time and he needs to secure an heir. His daughter Julia is a pawn in the marriage game, and finally Augustus has to banish her to a small island because she became a pawn in another game against Augustus.

In the last part of the book Augustus looks back on his life and asks himself if it has been worth it.

The book is set up in letters and I loved how this made you feel like the real Romans were talking. People who know Octavian at the beginning may have a different opinion on him after forty years ruling because they now know what the outcome is of some events, but also because their relationship with Octavian has changed.

I also liked it very much how each person sounds differently. Marc Anthony was a loudmouth and you can read this in his letters, while Cicero tries to cover all angels and Agrippa cannot see any wrong in anything Octavian does.

Augustus himself does not speak until the third part of the book, but still you get a good idea of this very interesting and unusual man.

I have read how many people needed some time to get ‘into the novel’. I did not have this problem, but I do have a very good idea of Roman history and this may have helped me in this respect. But if you do struggle a bit with the first part, it is a book that rewards perseverance and I am sure you will end up loving it!

Stoner is still my favorite John Williams novel, but for me Augustus is not far behind.

Published in 1972

Saturday, 12 November 2016

If it be your will, Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen 1934-2016
If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will

One of the most beautiful songs by the man with the most beautiful voice on earth, Leonard Cohen. 

Friday, 11 November 2016

Happy birthday, Marilyn.

The statue at the beginning of the exhibition
This year Marilyn Monroe would have celebrated her 90th birthday. Because of this there is an exhibition in Amsterdam dedicated to this amazing and iconic woman.

I am a huge fan of Marilyn Monroe and I can tell you this exhibition did not disappoint me. They tried to give an impression of her outer-persona as the moviestar and the woman she was in private. Marilyn had so many different sides to her and she cannot be defined by just one or two things, she was so much more.

In this exhibition you can see clothing (also the dress of the movie The seven year itch), personal things like her lipstick or books, or furniture from her last house, personal papers and her diary, but also props from her films, costumes and things like scripts she worked with.

If you are in Amsterdam, go to De nieuwe kerk and see this exhibition, it is a must-see for every Marilyn-fan.
It is open until February 5th 2017.
When she was still Norma Jeane

Her make-up

Huge amount of fan-mail every week

Marilyn Monroe 1926-1962
Making photographs was not allowed, so I took this photographs of postcards I bought and the photo's of the make-up and the fan mail come from the booklet that I bought.
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