Friday, 29 January 2016

Inspirational art: Jan Altink

Rooster at The Blauwborgje 1927-1928
Jan Altink (1885-1971) was born in Groningen, in the north of The Netherlands (as was I) and he got his training as a painter in Groningen. He became one of the most well-known Dutch expressionists.
He was an important member (and one of the founders) of a Groninger artists collective, called The plough (De ploeg). Jan Altink came up with the name because he wanted to signify that something new had to start and the ground needed to be ploughed, so new ideas could grow.

I saw this painting in the Singer museum in Laren, when I was there last month. I immediately liked it very much. The blauwborgje is the name of a farm just outside the city of Groningen, where the artists of The plough often came together.

I like the colours and I can look at it for a long time, there is something new to be seen every time I see it.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Avenue of Mysteries, John Irving

Dutch and English cover are the same
Last Saturday, Januari 23rd, John Irving was in Amsterdam to talk about his new book: Avenue of Mysteries. This was organized by the John Adams Institute, an organization that strengthens the cultural bond between the US and The Netherlands.

I was very happy to be here. I wanted to go to a John Irving lecture a couple of years ago, but I did not go back then for several reasons and I have always regretted this. Now I had a new change and I took it.

John Irving was amazing, he was warm, thoughtful in his answers, very funny and told us a lot about the book and the process of writing. I think the entire audience was captivated, I know I was.

I loved that he read a part of the novel, from now on I think I will hear his voice whenever I read one of his books.

The book
Avenue of Mysteries is about Juan Diego. He is a middle aged writer from Iowa and he is travelling to the Filipinas to keep a promise he made as a child. He has made a whole journey in his life. He grew up on a dump in the south of Mexico. He was an intelligent boy who taught himself how to read from the books that ended at the dump-site.

His sister Lupe had a speech-impediment, and nobody but Juan Diego could understand her. She could also read minds and see into the future, although not always correct. She was better at seeing the past than the future.

When the boss of the dump drives over Juan Diego’s foot and makes him cripple for the rest of his life, when their mother dies and when Lupe gets a horrible accident in the circus, Juan Diego’s life will take a whole new turn.

As John Irving said this Saturday: ‘My books are a worst case scenario’. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. He does this with his characteristic humor that makes some events lighter, but other events will hit you even harder because of the fact you had to laugh so hard just before.
John Irving reads from his book
He told us how he tries to make you care about a character, even if you do not love them, or to give you another character you do care about. Because if you do not care about the characters, you do not want to know what will happen to them.

This is certainly the case in this book. I did not like Juan Diego, he was a douche as far as I am concerned, but I did care about his sister Lupe or his adoptive fathers Eduardo and Flor. They made me want to know what happened.

Typical John Irving
All kinds of typical Irving elements show up in Avenue of Mysteries, like circuses, physical problems, transgender people, AIDS, religion and mystical elements.

The mother and daughter that Juan Diego meets on his journey is a good example of the last element. Two women who come and go unexpectantly, cannot be seen on photographs and perhaps have certain powers. Are they real or does Juan Diego imagines them because he is messing around with his medication? Or do they play a completely different part in his life and have they been there all along?

The writing style is also typically Irving, with many extra sentences that will give you new information. Sometimes this seems totally random, only later you will see these extra sentences provide crucial information.

Is Avenue of Mysteries his best book? No, when I am honest I do not think so. But even then it is still a very good book, because John Irving is such a good writer.

He is the master of the bizarre plot-structure and he can make chaotic situations come together in a tight manner. The building of his novel has many sidetracks, but is always comes back to the point he wants it to come back to. He is one of the few who can make complete anarchy look logical.

John Irving thinks fantasy is the most important thing a writer can have. You must be able to create people and situations you have not experienced yourself.  ‘Autobiography is a grave for fiction, not a source. I do not want to be stuck with real life’.

He also told us why he hated Ernest Hemingway who said; ‘Write what you know’.
As John Irving explained it: ‘Try to write about what you don’t know, look over the boundaries of your own experiences and see how far you will come. It is much harder, but far more interesting.
As you can see I was really at the back of the room,
but on the right is John Irving!!
In short, I had a wonderful evening and I really enjoyed hearing this amazing writer talk about his work and his books. I was just sad he was not able to sign books, since he hurt his hand.

I am looking forward to the new John Irving novel, but in the meantime I am glad I still have a few of his novels I have not read yet, and of course I can reread the others.
John Irving is amazing!

Published in 2015

Friday, 22 January 2016

Résistance (2015)

When France is occupied by Nazi-Germany in 1940, young Lili gets involved in a resistance group that operates from the museum where she works. 

It begins with an underground newspaper, but soon more is happening. The Nazi’s however find out about them and the consequences are horrible.

Other friends of Lili are in a communist resistancegroup and they also take more and more actions against the Nazi’s, and Lili also gets involved with them. In the meantime, the Nazi’s are relentless in their hunt against the members of the Resistance.

Writer of this series, Dan Franck, based it on several real members of the Résistance and even a historical person like Klaus Barbie is featured. Only the characters of Lili and her father are made-up, to tie all the different groups, both in Paris and in Lyon, together.
For me, this did not matter, I absolutely loved this series and I could not get away from it; I watched all six episodes in one weekend.

Résistance is a very good French series, with a great cast. Pauline Burnet is an excellent Lili, but I also liked César Domboy as the young man she falls in love with, very much.  
César Domboy and Pauline Burnet
The war is not romanticized in this series. You see very clearly how difficult it must have been to live in an occupied land, where there is not enough food and where you have to be very careful who you trust.

Some French become collaborators for the gain, others out of fear, and some are so brave that they are able to sing the Marseillaise when they face a firing squad.

Brave decisions have to be made although the Nazi’s come closer every time and most people are so very afraid.
Lili and the other members of the resistance. 
Résistance is a series that gives you a new respect for the brave men and women who thought it was worthwhile to risk their lives for the freedom of their country.

A very special series that I really recommend!

Monday, 18 January 2016

What would Lady Mary do?

Always cool and collected: Lady Mary
Sometimes I find it hard to get the balance right. I tend to go overboard a little, sometimes in emotions, sometimes in eating or other things.

This is something I want to change. I want to be more in control. For example, I want to control what I eat and not that my food controls me.

I want to lose weight and become more healthy but leaving the chocolate, the cheese and the creamsauses alone, or at least only eat moderate amounts of it, proves to be not so easy.

Lately I have tried to adopt a role-model to change my own behavior. And for me there is one woman who is almost always cool and in control; Lady Mary Crawley. It is no secret I am a huge Downton Abbey fan, so Lady Mary came into my mind almost immediately.

And now, every time I want to eat something, or do something I aks myself; 'What would Lady Mary do?' Would she eat that extra piece of chocolate and feel bloated afterwards? Would she overeat on pasta and feel horrible the whole evening? Would she let her emotions run wild and make a nuisance of herself? No she would not.

In so far, strangely enough, it helps. It helps me to only take one biscuit, only a moderate amount of chocolate or not to let people know I am upset when it is not the time or the place for that.

In short, channeling my 'inner Lady Mary' has helped me take more control and I must say I quite like it!
Michelle Dockery who plays Lady Mary.
Lovely photograph

Friday, 15 January 2016

Wise words

Last week I read a book by a Dutch Catholic author who interviewed abbots and abbesses about their search for God, finding happiness and other things. 

Some very wise things were said and I want to share a few of those words with you.

Mind you, I translated these sayings from Dutch (and sometimes paraphrased a bit), so any mistakes are all mine.

  • Sometimes you rise above yourself, that is what God can do for you.
  • Silence is necessary. When it is not quiet enough, I cannot lose myself and I cannot create the space I need to reach God.
  • Happiness is not having all your wishes come true.
  • Jesus was tired sometimes as well. So it is okay to be tired and to ask for help, to ask for a drink. Let it happen and the drink will be given.
  • Good must have the last word, not evil and not just a coincidence. God will always have the last word. Goodness is an absolute given. And God guaranties this.
  • You can keep your mouth shut for the entire day, but still comment on everything you see and do. This means there is still no internal silence.
  • Being a monk is not just dedication, it is also a spiritual craft, a training to be silent and park your worries to create a space where you can meet God.
  • Praying is helping. Because it gives you a firm ground to stand on and brings God inside, and therefore life. What can a prayer from me mean for the people on the outside? If nobody knows, God still knows. He is a very intense listener.
  • God does not ring the bell and tells you what to do. Only in hindsight do you see God’s hand in your life. Only when God has passed by, you will recognize his voice.
  • In every community there is tension between God’s greatness and our smallness. You can meet God in so many ways, but you must have an open eye. And you must be willing to be the lesser one.
  • If I cannot pray, than that will be my prayer.
All these wise words come from the book Hoe word ik gelukkig (how do I find happiness) by Leo Feijen

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Monday, 11 January 2016

Les misérables, Victor Hugo

A man tries to better his life, but his past keeps haunting him. The story of Jean Valjean is the most well-known storyline in Les misérables.

The story
Jean Valjean is released from prison after serving a 19 year sentence. He only got a few years for stealing, but more years were added when he tried to escape.
He is now bitter and does not fit into normal society. Luckily for him he meets the good bishop of Digne, who manages to get Valjean on the right path.

Jean Valjean takes on a new name and forms a new life, doing a lot of good for the poor. Unfortunately police-inspector Javert does not want to give up and it is his mission to get Valjean to prison again.

Valjean and his foster daughter flee to Paris where they will have to survive among the many others who live in squalor.

Les Misérables is a typical 19th century novel in the sense that is has an array of characters, who all have ties to eachother. Some of those ties are a little to coincidental and that the same people bump into eachother all the time while they live amongst thousands of people in Paris is also not very believable.

Drawing from the first edition
Social injustice
But of course that is not the point. Victor Hugo wanted to write an outcry against the social injustice and show the French how wretched the poor were. If there are no provisions, then goodness, dignity and humanity hardly have a chance.

It is also a modern novel, since the story tells what happened in the France at that time. It starts in 1815 when Napoleon was finally defeated and the French Revolution was finished, and it ends with the June Revolution of 1832. Victor Hugo wanted to write what he saw and what had happened and what the results of those things were for the people.

And finally Les misérables is of course a novel about the power of goodness. It is the goodness and the kind heart of the bishop that helps Valjean get out of his bitterness, and the good works Valjean does after that, helps him find peace on his deathbed in the final chapter.
Goodness and forgiveness can be found amongst the miserable people, you just need to look a little harder.

Victor Hugo
Short version 
The book is written in 1862, but Victor Hugo started many years before. He must have taken a lot of time, since the original volume had 1900 pages.

Did I read all of those pages? Unfortunately not.

I wanted to read Les misérables, since it is a French classic. And when I saw there was a modern Dutch translation, I bought it. Only when it came I realized I had made a mistake. My version only had 300 pages, and it was the shortened version. 
There is at this moment no integral translation of this book in Dutch, so I think either I did not look in the right direction, or I have to turn to an English translation if I want to read the whole thing.

So, I am glad I now know the story, but I do feel like I missed out on something!

Published in 1862.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Spanish art exhibition in Amsterdam

Portrait of actress Antonia Zárate
Francisco de Goya
In the Hermitage museum in Amsterdam there is a very special exhibition at the moment, with Spanish masterpieces.  

There are paintings from the 16th and 17th century. This was a golden age for the Dutch art, but also for the Spanish artists. King Philip II was caught up in a lot of wars and wanted to show to the world how powerful and rich he was. He commissioned a new palace (the Escorial) and artists from all over Spain were in service to the crown to show both the regality of the royal family and the strength of the Catholic church.

This exhibition is quite amazing, since there are hardly paintings by Spanish artists in The Netherlands. To see their works, you usually have to go to Spain. Luckily the Hermitage in St. Petersburg has the largest collection Spanish art outside of Spain and now a part of that collection can be seen in Amsterdam.

The style of the Spanish work is slightly different than what I am used to from Dutch paitings from the same century. But I did like it very much with the stately portraits of members of the royal family and beautiful religious themed works like St. Francis bt Zurbarán or the apostles Peter and Paul by El Grego. There are also works by Velazques, Goya, Ribera and Murillo.
The apostels Peter and Paul
El Greco
In the 19th and 20th century Spain had to deal with the terrible Napoleontic wars, and a couple of civil wars after that. This had its influence on the art of course.
Picasso may be the most famous Spanish painter from the 20th century and there was a painting in the exhibition I liked immensely (a boy and his dog), and I am not even really a fan of Picasso. Unfortunately, there was no postcard of this paintingL
Still life with Chest
Antonio Pereda
There are not just paintings, but also weapons, ceramics and religious artifacts.
As usually the exhibition is put together very well and there is every chance to admire the paintings. I saw a lot of things that made me quiet and where I spend a lot of time looking at it to study it in detail. The details, the use of colour and the contrast between light and dark are very well displayed.

Spanish masterpieces can be seen until May 29th 2016 at the Hermitage in Amsterdam.

Monday, 4 January 2016

The nun's story (1959)

One of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen is The nun's story with Audrey Hepburn. It tells the story of the Belgian Gabrielle van der Mal who entered a convent in the nineteen thirties.

She is a good nurse and wants to go to the Kongo, to serve as a missionary nurse, but of course, when you are a nun your own wishes do not count, you must always first serve God.

The way sister Luc, as she is called in the convent, struggles with the idea that she must be a nun before she is a nurse, is done in a beautiful manner. She truely wrestles with this and it is hard to completely forget yourself and put God first in everything. And even when she does go to the Kongo, it may not be so easy for her.

The film was based on the book by Katheryn Hulme, who wrote it based on the story of a friend of her, who was a Belgian ex-nun.

The film stays very close to the book and it is filmed beautifully. Especially the first part in the convent is almost a ballet in black and white.
A truely amazing story.
As a postulant

The hair is cut when a postulant becomes a novice

Asking for forgiveness for things done wrong

Sister Luc

Saturday, 2 January 2016

2015 vs 2016

When a new year is there, I always like to look back at the old year and forwards to the new year.
A lot happened in 2015, and what will 2016 bring?

This was a crazy year for me in this respect. I never travelled abroad 5 times in one year in my life, but this year it sort of happened. Two of these trips were school excursions, so technically they were work, but the other three were lovely vacations. I saw Paris twice, visited Rome and Florence again and went to Berlin for the first time.
Rome 2015
I do not think I will go on a schoolexcursion this year, but then again, you never know :-)
I do hope to go to Paris for a couple of days, and everything else is a bonus.

I decided I wanted to see more exhibitions and I managed to see at least one each month, and I am very pleased with that. I saw Turner, Emperor Constantin, Whistler and let's not forget The Glasgow boys. Last week I went to see the Spanish art exhibition at the Hermitage in Amsterdam and an article about it will follow this week. I loved it!

I will continue to visit at least one exhibition a month, and I have some good ones lined up. So stay tuned!
The Glasgow boys
I was very happy with the fact I was able to continue this blog. Having two blogs is not always easy, but I do find it very rewarding to have both a blog in Dutch and one in English. There is a lot of overlap in the articles, but I do not mind this. (nor do I think my readers mind :-))
I had hoped to keep the focus on Italy more, but I see there are many weeks that go by without anything Italian. But perhaps I should just take this as it comes.

I am happy to see the number of visitors go up, and I hope the readers who have found my blog will continue to come back and read some more!

So what were the popular posts in 2015?
Book review: The day of the owl by Leonardo Sciascia (here)
Art article: The Turner exhibition in The Netherlands (here)
Personal post; My memory of Corrado, my beloved cat I had to put to sleep this Summer (here)
Photograph: the most popular photograph this year was this lamppost in Rome.

I will continue as I was, with regular books, photographs and general articles about art, exhibitions and other stuff I like. I will try to keep an Italian focus, but this must not be forced. It will flow as it flows.
I am looking forward to 2016!

Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy new year!

Happy new year for all of you, I hope 2016 will be a good year and we will all work together to make it as beautiful as possible for eachother. 
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