Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Just a street :-)

Venice, Summer 2011
Everywhere you look you can make a beautiful photograph in Venice!

Monday, 28 March 2016

Underground time, Delphine de Vigan

What do we really know about the people we see in the underground or the bus or the supermarket? Everybody has a story, only we never know those stories. 

In this book Delphine de Vigan tells the story of two of those people. Two stories out of the millions lives in a city.

Mathilde goes to work as she does every day, but the last months she has done so without pleasure. A couple of months ago she disagreed with her boss and from that moment he took every opportunity to make her live hell. He completely isolated her within the company.

On this day in May Mathilde takes the underground to work as she always does, hoping something will change today because she knows she cannot hold on for much longer.

Thibault works as an emergency doctor and drives through Paris from one case to another.
This is not a day like the other days, because today he finally ended his relationship with Lila, the woman he loved, only she did not really love him. And although he realizes this was the right decision, it still leaves a hole in his life, a life he finds empty when he looks at it.

And every time he gets a text his heart jumps because he thinks it might be from Lila, who will finally tell him that she loves him as well. And at the same time he knows this text will never come.

I also read Nothing holds back the night by Delphine de Vigan, a book about her depressed mother and that was also very beautiful.

Underground time is even better, I thought. It is so well written and it gets under your skin. Delphine de Vigan knows how to make you almost uncomfortable while you read, especially in the parts about Mathilde. We all know people like her boss exist, people who can manipulate every situation to have their own way and who can make sane people think they lost their mind. And while we read it, we realize how difficult it is to defeat somebody like that.

You travel with Mathilde and Thibault and see how they finally meet at the end of the day, although it is in passing. You do not know how their stories will end, but there seems to be some light for both of them at the end of the tunnel.

Underground time is a very beautiful novel, that you cannot put down.

Original French title: Les heures souterraines
Published in 2009

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to all of you!
When I was at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam last week, I saw this impressive painting by Gerrit van Honthorst. It is called De doornenkroning (the crowning with the thorncrown) and it was painted in 1622

Beautiful detail of the face of Christ.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Excursion to Hoorn

Last week we had a projectweek at school and I went to the town of Hoorn with a group of students. We had absolutely amazing weather, so that was a real bonus.

Hoorn was an important town in the 17th century, and you can see the remains of history everywhere in the monuments, beautiful buildings and lovely streets.

Hoorn is only 30 minutes by train from Amsterdam, and it is really worth a visit.

Here are a few photographs I made. I could not make as many as I wanted, because I was with the students, but these do give an impression.
The station is a 19th century industrial monument. 

In 'hofjes' like these, old men or women could live when they could not take care of themselves anymore.
They are modernised of course, and people are still living here

Part of the town's defence wall and the tower where the gunpowder was stored. 

The orphanage. 

Ware houses of the Dutch East India Company

The harbour

This is where the members of the seven towns of this part of the Netherlands stayed
when they had a meeting.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Monday, 21 March 2016

The noise of time, Julian Barnes

A man is waiting with his suitcase near the elevator, every night. In this way he can spare his family from seeing him being arrested by the secret service. The man is Dimitri Shostakovich and the year is 1936.

He was one of the best known composers in the Soviet Union, but that would not help him. Stalin walked out during the performance of his last opera, so arrest and deportation were very much possible. Stalin’s terror was at its height and nobody was safe.

That year the secret agents did not come for him, but it did take Shostakovich a couple of years to climb back to success. Only to get into trouble again a couple of years after the war when his works were deemed not uplifting enough.

Dimitri Shostakovich was born in 1906 in St. Petersburg and soon he became a well-known composer. During the twenties he was involved in the avant-garde modernist groups of artists, only when Stalin came into power Art had a new purpose. This was for all forms of art: literature, painting and music. 

From now on had had to lift up the workers, convey communism and glorify the Revolution. There was no room for individual and bourgeois experiments anymore.  If you composed the wrong kind of music, you were declared an enemy of the people and your works were forbidden.

Living in the Soviet Union was like living in a rollercoaster. You had to be able to switch in actions and mind in a heartbeat because what was considered good one day, could be considered bad the next day. In meant never being able to express your own opinion, always living in fear and believing ridiculous complot-theories, because reality was often even more ridiculous.

When you were considered a bad composer it meant that your work could not be performed, you lost your teaching positions, colleagues had to denounce you and you were thrown out of the composer’s league, meaning you also lost the right to but music- sheets. Everybody who praised you before had to take back their words and declare you confused them with your bourgeois experiments.
Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
So, how you do keep your integrity as an artist in such a society? Where every truth is a lie and every lie is told as a truth.

Is using irony enough, as Shostakovich thinks, or should he have done more, as he fears at the end of his life. 

Because how can you resist and stay true to yourself, when resistance will only break you? As it says in the book, there are only two kinds of composers in the Soviet Union, frightened ones and dead ones.
In short, how can you write music when the noise of time will always be louder than any music you compose?

I do not know much about classical music and before I read The noise of time I knew nothing of Shostakovich.

During the reading I did listen to some of his work and although not all of it is easy to listen to, there are some things that did appeal to me very much. I do want to know more about him and his work now.

And that is very much due to this beautiful book Julian Barnes wrote. The noise of time is a fictional biography of Shostakovich. He does not only tells the story of the composer’s life, but also writes very well about the madness that was life in the Soviet Union. His writing style is beautiful and often he makes observations that will make you think for a long time.

When you know Shostakovich, this book will give you new insights, and when you know little or nothing about him, you immediately want to know more.

The noise of time was an absolute masterpiece as far as I am concerned and I can already say it will be high in my reading top-ten for this year.

Published in 2016

Friday, 18 March 2016

Urban Jungle Bloggers, zoom zoom

We are halfway March and it is time for the theme from Urban Jungle Bloggers. The theme for this month is Zoom zoom. We all have so many plants in many varieties in our home, but when we look at them closer, we see even more beauty. We see shades of colour, of the grain in a leave, we see much more than we ever thought we could see.
So here are a few details from the plants in my house.
Beautiful orchids, and look at the details on those leaves

Cute little leaves

Lovely shades of green

Another orchid

This is art

This one looks like a star. 
Urban Jungle Bloggers (here) is an initiative from Judith (here) and Igor (here), who want to give more attention to our indoor plants.
This was the second time I participated in their monthly theme and I must say that I do enjoy this very much. I love my plants and I really like looking at them with a new perspective.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Monday, 14 March 2016

The life of an unknown man, Andreï Makine

The Russian author Shutov asked for politican asylum in France many years ago. He published some novels, but none of them have been very successful. 

He tells himself that this is because he does not feel at home in the world of modern literature, but he knows it is because he never really integrated into western society.

When his girlfriend breaks up with him (fed up with his whining about how the authors used to be so much better in the good old days), he wants to go back to Russia. The Soviet union fell and there is no reason for him not to go back to his motherland. 

He hopes he will find the country he left, the woman he loved and the memories they all shared, but instead he finds a country that he does not recognize. A country that has become capitalist to the bone, and where nobody has time for the past and where people want to forget their memories as fast as possible.

While Shutov stays with an old friend, he meets an old man who tells him his lifestory. A story nobody wants to hear and nobody is interested in. A story about the siege of Leningrad, the terror under Stalin, the camps, but also about love, memories and going on despite having lost everything.

Shutov realizes that he has more in common with this old man nobody listens to, than with his old friends. The Russia of his memories is gone and he has nothing in common with the new Russia.  

Andreï Makine
Andreï Makine was born in the Soviet Union and asked for political asylum in 1987, where he began to write novels.

He spoke and wrote French fluently, and wrote directly in French. Only the publisher did not believe an immigrant could write in French, so he had to say his books had been translated from Russia to get them accepted. 

His fourth novel (Dreams of my Russian summers) was his breakthrough and he received many French literary prizes for it.
Since March 2016 he has been elected as a member of the Académie Française.

The life of an unknown man is heartbreakingly beautiful, I cannot express it in another way. The siege of Leningrad was a horrible period in time that he manages to describe touchingly, for example in the scenes with the theater in Leningrad, where the public has no energy left to applaud.

The end is also beautiful, both the scenes where Shutov and the old man meet for the last time and the time when Shutov comes back to Russia for the second time. 

There are many books about the siege of Leningrad and the horrors under Stalin, but Makine manages to avoid clichés and story that have been told before. He brings something new into it, and this makes you interested in the story until the very last page.

I also loved the references to Russian literature, especially Chekhov, these give another dimension to this book, that already has so many dimensions. I really admire the way this was done.

I love it when I discover a new author, (new for me), and I love his books and I know I have all his other books to look forward to.

The life of an unknown man was absolutely beautiful and I can only say that this won’t be the last time that I review a book by Andreï Makine!

Original French title: La vie d’un homme inconnu
Published in 2009

Friday, 11 March 2016

Exhibition, Silence out loud

Willem van Althuis, Laaxum
What is silence and how does are silence and art connected? Some artists try to make the invisible visible. Searching in the emptiness, in the light, in mist, the sky or under water. Looking at people who have their backs turned to the viewers or who look so serene that you cannot see anything but silence.

Can silence be found in the whitest white or in the blackest black? Is emptiness silence, or perhaps God or are these all the same?

In the little town of Bergen in the province of North-Holland you have the exhibition Silcence out loud in the museum Kranenburgh. It was put together by Dutch writer Joost Zwagerman, who sadly never saw the opening in December 2015, he committed suicide just the month before. 
Hendrik Kerstens, Paula

He took almost two years to work on it, speaking with museums and artists to persuade them to lend their works to this exhibition. He has put together almost hundred-and-fifty works, mostly from contemporary Dutch and Belgian artists. 
Marlene Dumas, Crucifix 2011

I really enjoyed the exhibition, it was very beautiful. There were many different works, but it was consistent due to the main theme: silence. Some works took my breath away, others made me think or expressed silence so real that I could almost feel it in my body. 
Lara de Moor, Lullaby

There is also a book with essays by Joost Zwagerman that goes with this exhibition, but sadly there is no English translation.

Silence out loud can be seen until June 12th in Bergen, so if you have the chance, please go and experience the silence for yourself. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Duomo in black and white

Florence, May 2015
I like black and white photographs, they look timeless, just like the Duomo

Monday, 7 March 2016

Happy are the happy, Yasmina Reza

Everybody wants to be happy, but due to circumstances and our own actions many of us are often not very happy.

This is certainly the case with the characters in this book by Yasmina Reza.
There are several chapters, all from the viewpoint of a different character, but at a certain point you notice all these people are connected.

The first story is about a couple who get into a fight in the supermarket about getting cheese. This sets the tone for the book, since it is written in a very funny way, but with a bitter undercurrent. For the couple there is nothing funny about it.

After that first story you get the stories of family-members, a doctor, a befriended couple, a sister in law etcetera. All of them are stuck in their own lives and misery repeats itself, nobody is capable of escaping.

Each life also has their secrets, the things people do not want others to know, the things you want to keep hidden. The doctor who regularly hires a male prostitute to humiliate him, the woman who has an affair with a married man, the couple whose son is in an institution because he thinks he is Celine Dion.

Yasmina Reza wrote a seemingly simple book that is actually quite complicated. You have to be aware while you read that every sentence can give you a clue about who the person is and how they are connected to the others. Sometimes a connection will only become clear a few chapters later. Pay attention and re-read a lot, that is what you have to do.

Yasmina Reza
This was my first book by Yasmina Reza, although she did publish screenplays, plays and novels in France.

I enjoyed getting to know this new writer, since I like a book where not everything is clear from page one, where the people are complicated and have layers and where there is more under the surface than you might think after the first time you read it. A book that will stick into your mind and that gives you new insights after a while.

It is not all gloom and misery in Happy are the happy. Yasmina Reza has a sharp eye for the absurd and is a good observer. She sees people and can imagine what lies behind their masks.

Little moments of happiness can also be found, but the motto of this novel, a poem by Jorge Luis Borges ‘Happy are the happy’, is something none of the characters can accomplish.  

Original French title: Heureux les heureux
Published in 2013

Friday, 4 March 2016

Exhibition: Easy virtue

Pablo Picasso
In the 19th century there was a lot of prostitution in Paris, and in all layers of society.

There were poor women who had a job, but did not earn enough money and had to become prostitutes to earn a living for their families. 

There were also girls who worked in the theatre or the opera, who went home with gentlemen, in the hope of a better future.

And at the very top you had the grande horizontales, the courtesans who were mistresses of wealthy men and who took their place in high society without shame.

Streetprostitution was allowed from the moment the streetlights were on and when a woman was sitting in a café on her own it was also clear what she was.
The police tried to make some regulations and had registers of all known prostitutes, women who worked in brothels had to have regular medical examinations and women who contracted syphilis were locked up.

This world always fascinated the artists. First they could only paint aspects of it, or show things in a subtle manner. Only if you looked really closely you would know what was behind the painting of the poor woman sitting on a bench and the two gentlemen watching her.
But later the painters could be more bold and show what they saw in the cafés and the brothels.

The exhibition Easy virtue in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam gives a wonderful overview of the world of prostitution in the 19th century. There are paintings by Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Toulouse Lautrec, Kees van Dongen Pablo Picasso and of course Edgar Degas.
Portrait of Julia Tahl by Carolus Duran
In this exhibition you can see all aspects, from the downtrodden whores who sit in a café with a glass of absinth, waiting for their next customer, to the triumphant courtesan who knows what she is worth.

There are also the registers of the police with all the known prostitutes, the 19th century make-up the ladies wore to distinguish themselves from the other ladies on the streets, all give this very interesting and beautiful exhibition that little bit extra.

Easy virtue can be seen until June 19th, 2016
As taking photographs was not permitted, these are photographs of the postcards I bought. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Almost Spring

Last Sunday I went out for a walk, since it was the best Winter-weather you can have: cold but sunny. There were already a lot of signs that Spring is coming, I love Spring!

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