Thursday, 30 June 2016

The first man, Albert Camus

The father of Jacques Comery died when Jacques was only one year old. He died in the trenches, fighting for the motherland. In Algeria his wife is left behind with two children and out of necessity she moves back with her mother who lives in Algiers.

The family is bitterly poor with three adults and two children and it is only after a long struggle that Jacques is allowed to go to secondary school.

The first man is a special book, because the writer was never able to finish it. Albert Camus died in a car-accident on January 4th 1960. This unfinished manuscript was found later in his bag. He had made notes for parts of the book he still wanted to write and he also never had the chance to correct the manuscript.

It was published in 1994, and the publishers left the manuscript as it was. They only corrected the punctuation and placed footnotes to show where Camus gave alternative sentences or made a remark.
This has been the right choice. In the first place you get a really good idea of the story Albert Camus wanted to tell, and secondly it also gives an insight in how a writer works.
That the story is unfinished is no problem, the story that is there, is absolutely beautiful and worthwhile.

In The First man Albert Camus describes his own childhood as the son of French colonists in Algeria and he does this vividly. The heath of Algiers that stifles everything during the afternoon, the little boys who run around the city, causing mischief and sometimes have enough money to buy sweet pastry from the Arabic salesmen, while the sea breeze gives some coolness. You see the city with colorful customs of the French, Spanish and Arabic inhabitants.

But he also describes very well the restrictions poor people have to deal with. If there are no books, no education, then it becomes very difficult to understand the outside world.
Grandmother is illiterate, the mother can read and write some, but has such a limited vocabulary that half of what she reads has no meaning for her.

It is not just misery for young Jacques, it is clear the mother loves her children very much and the uncle is also a good man who tries his best for the boys. Grandmother can be strict and harsh, but this is also because of the circumstances.

Albert Camus, 1913-1960
Mister Bernard
Luckily for Jacques he has his teacher, Mister Bernard. He will play a huge role in Jacques life, just as Albert Camus himself also had his teacher to thank for the success he had in later life, becoming a philosopher, writer and even a Nobel prize winner in 1957.

In the Dutch version there are two letters in this book, the letter Albert Camus wrote to his teacher to thank him, and the reply. I really loved to read those, it shows how much a teacher can change sometimes in the life of some students.

Mister Bernard has his own methods and knows how to stimulate his pupils and catch their interest. At the same time he also has a firm discipline. It is due to his intervention that Jacques can study at the lyceum, even if grandmother said no in the first place because that would mean that Jacques would not be able to earn money for six more years.

It is moving to read how the young boy wrestles with his new life and the two worlds he now lives in, that are separated and will never come together. With each lesson at school he removes himself further away from his family. He feels ashamed of his family, and then also feels ashamed for feeling ashamed.

It is the story of a boy who has to raise and educate himself. He is the first man, since he has no example, no role-model on the road he is going.

This was the first book by Albert Camus that I read and I absolutely loved it. I think The first man is one of the most beautiful books I ever read.

Original French title: Le premier homme
Published in 1994

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Thinking about the how and why of this blog (again)

Rome, Summer 2015
Lately I felt like I was stuck in a rut with this blog. I once set it up as a place where I can be a little more creative than on my Dutch blog. I posted different articles over here than over there.

I wanted this blog to express a lot of different things; my love for books, arts, museums, period-drama and good films and especially I wanted to reflect my huge love for Italy. When I finally got that direction, I felt really happy and excited to continue.

But somehow over the past months I lost my focus. Nowadays this blog is nothing but a pale copy of my Dutch blog and that is not what I wanted or want. And Italy is completely lost on this blog. I post photos of Rome or Florence, but that is it. The last real article about something Italian was in October last year, when I wrote about two Roman museums. 

Of course I went to Paris a couple of times in the last year and I read a lot of French literature at the moment, but I also still read a lot of books by Italian authors (even though a lot of those are not translated into English) and in my mind Italy is as important as ever.

These past weeks I felt this blog was getting a burden, a chore rather than something fun to do. I even thought about quitting, but I was not quite prepared to be that radical.

So it is time to think again. How can I get my creativity back on this blog and how can I get my focus (on Italy) back?
Rome, Summer 2015
I have decided to delete a couple of planned posts and make sure I do not have the same posting schedule over here as on my Dutch blog. There will be some overlap sometimes in articles, for example a book or an exhibition I want to tell you about on both blogs. 

But I will make it a priority to write different articles here as well. Or, when I do post an article on both blogs, I will try to find a different angle. How I will do this I am not quite sure and I also do not know yet how this will work out, but we will see.

The photographs I post each week will also be the same one, just for my own sanity, I do not think I could keep up with posting different photographs: I think I would end up posting double etc.

I also thought perhaps that I would write one spontaneous article per week, next to the scheduled one. This would make sure I am creative and original when I post here. I do not know yet, this is just one idea that is flowing in my mind.

In the next weeks I will probably try out different things, seeing what will work and what won’t. I cannot tell you anymore and I am also not sure what my blogging schedule will be.

I hope you are willing to be patient with me and understand where I come from and especially: where I want to go. I hope to get a better blog and even more important: a blog I am proud of and that gives me a huge amount of fun! 

Friday, 24 June 2016

1 plant, 3 settings, UJB June 2016

Yes, it is time for the Urban Jungle Bloggers again! This month the theme was: 1 plant in 3 settings. When I first read this, I never thought I would be able to come up with an idea. But somehow when you let it stew, ideas come up and I managed to get three different settings.

The one plant I used in all three is one of my favorites, but I am afraid I have no idea what it is called in English.:-)

So here are my three settings:

Aristic Jungle
Art and plants are always a good combination.

Sometimes all you need is one plant.

Need I say more?

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

Monday, 20 June 2016

The birds and other stories, Daphne du Maurier

When  was young I once saw the film The birds and thought it was creepy, but then I did not know it was based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier

Now I want to read more Du Maurier (beside Rebecca) and The birds was the first book I picked up.
And I must say, I really liked it.

The birds
This was so much better than the film! Nat, a farm hand who has seen a lot during the war, sees how the birds are acting strange. He does not trust the situation and tries to keep his family safe. The only problem is, when the whole country is under attack of the birds, who will come to help them?

Monte Verità
This was the story I did not care for very much. It is about two friends who go rock-climbing when they are young and lose touch over the years. One of them gets married, but there is something strange about his wife. And when they go climbing together near Monte Verità, she disappears.

The apple tree
A man was married to a horrible wife (really, she was a nag and a bore) but somehow the old appletree in his backyard seems to have taken over the characteristics of his death wife and refuses to let him go.

The little photographer
A marchioness is on vacation in the South of France. She is bored with her life and her marriage and begins an affair with the photographer who lives in the village. For her it is just some fun for the holidays, for him it is much more. And although she takes drastic measures, she will never be free from him.

Kiss me again, stranger
A young man, just dismissed from the army, finds a girl he likes. She works in a cinema and he asks her out. She willingly goes with him, but she has other motives than he has, as he soon finds out. 

The old man
Where an old man takes drastic actions to ensure a peaceful old day for him and his wife. 

As you can see, there are six stories in this book and four of them are good, one is okay and one I did not like very much.

Monte Verità was just too weird and to unbelievable for me and I did not care very much for the subject. It may sound strange that I found this story unbelievable, but I accept a ghoststory with an appletree.

For me the difference is in the idea that with the appletree you do not know if it is real, or all in the mind of the husband. And the birds are weird and acting strangely, but perhaps it could happen in reality, we do not know. In the others stories you have normal people doing strange, or bad things, but all within the limits of possibility. I do not know if I am explaining it well, and I hope it makes some sense! :-) 

These stories are excellent, I like how Daphne du Maurier can describe atmosphere, in just a few sentences she can give a scene or a situation. You even like the people who are doing wrong, like in The little photographer.

So, if you want to read more Daphne du Maurier, I can really recommend her short stories as well!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Exhibition: French modernists

La Seine vue des Quai des Grandes Augustins,
Albert Marquet, 1906
The French textile manufacturer Pierre Lévy and his wife Denise loved art and they were friends with artist like André Derain en Maurice Marinot.

They began collecting modern art and brought together a selection together with paintings from modern French painters.

They loved figurative art, but also bought a few abstract works, and they usually bought paintings with domestic scenes or modern life.

They created a very diverse collection and that gives a beautiful cross section of French modern painting.

From the 19th century they bought Gustave Courbet, Paul Gaugain and Georges Seurat.

They liked fauvism that came up shortly after 1900, and bought several paintings by Henri Matisse, André Derain, Kees van Dongen and Maurice de Vlaminck.
L'embouchure de la Laita, Henri Hayden 1908
But they also bought later works from Pablo Picasso, Chaim Soutine, Amadeo Modigliano, Corneille, Juan Gris, Maurice Marinot and Nicolas de Stäel. 
Hyde Park, André Derain, 1906
At the end of their lives Pierre and Denise Lévy decided to give their collection to the French state and in 1982 a new museum in Troyes was opened to house this amazing collection.

And now a large part  of the collection of the musée d’Art moderne de Troyes can be seen in the Singer Museum in Laren. 
Les cocquelicots, Pierre Bonnard 1912
And it is such a beautiful exhibition, it surpassed all my expectations. They grouped the paintings chronologically so you get a good overview of modern French painting. I loved how the colors from the paintings popped against the colored walls, this was done beautifully.
Jeanne Hébuterne,
Amadeo Modigliano 1918
There were many paintings that made me quiet, because they really touched me.

The collection is very diverse and covers many famous French painters or painters who worked in France. (I just do not like the works by Chaim Soutine, I am afraid). 
Christ aux outrages, Georges Rouault, 1930
It was also great that all these were are relatively unknown, because they were part of a private collection and are now in a museum in Troyes. I did not know most of the works and certainly was not familiar with all the painters who were exhibited here, but I can say firmly that I am a huge fan of French painting! 
Composition abstracte, Nicolas de Staël 1948
Part of the collection of the Singer museum is in Troyes at the moment, but a part of their own collection is used for a small exhibition called Summer at the Singer, and this also worthwhile.

French modernists can be seen until August 28th 2016, and I hope you have a chance to go there, because it is absolutely magnificent. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

Villa America, Liza Klaussmann

Sometimes you need to read several pages of a novel before you begin to ‘feel the story’. In other cases, the novel grips you from page one and does not let go.

Villa America is one of those books that will suck you in. It begins with the childhood of the sad little Gerald, who grows up in a very unloving and coldhearted family. 

When he gets older he meets Sara and with her he feels he can be himself. Luckily, she feels the same way and they marry. Soon they move from New York to France, like so many Americans did after WWI. Life was cheaper here and more things were possible.

Sara and Gerald Murphy do not stay in Paris, but buy a villa at the French Rivièra, where nobody stayed during the Summer in those days (it was where the rich of Europe spent their Winters) In their villa their artistic and literary friends came to visit frequently and many parties were held.

Yet slowly little tears in the fabric of their marriage begin to show and after a couple of years their tight circle of friends is scattered all over. The beautiful Summers in Villa America are definately over.

Sara and Gerald Murphy are historical characters. Sara was a good hostess and Gerald a cubistic painter. And for some years these people were the centre of the so called Lost Generation. They were friends with everybody, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Hadley and Ernest Hemingway and many more.

Their parties were famous, their hospitality and kindness legendary. Sometimes it is said that they made the French Rivièra to the place it is now, a place where famous people come to be seen.

Writing a historical novel based on real people can go terribly wrong if the author somehow misses the right tone or the voices of the characters. This is not the case here, in this novel the things we do not know and cannot know are filled in with the imagination of the writer and this is done very well. These extra’s form a good addition without any false note.

In Villa America the people come to life and the reader is right in the middle of it. You drink cocktails with Zelda, talk to Hemingway and walk on the beach with Sara on a warm Summer afternoon.

Liza Klaussmann wrote a novel that brings these people to life. Each one of them has their own voice and this is done very well. A large part of the novel is told by either Sara or Gerald, although sometimes you get another perspective. This never takes away from the story and it is done very fluently. 
Gerald and Sara Murphy
I enjoyed how at the end, when Sara and Gerald do not live in Villa America anymore due to tragic circumstances, the story is told by the letters the friends write to eachother.

One of the characters in the novel, Owen, is made up by Liza Klaussmann. She did this to give an outsiders perspective to the group of friends and also to make the doubts Gerald had about his sexuality clearer. Introducing a character like this can also go very wrong, but I thought it was done beautifully. I loved the scenes with Owen in the book and I thought his story was heartbreaking. For me he was as real as the other people in the book. 

Somehow I often end up with Hemingway, the lost generation in Paris and the rest. I was really glad I discovered Villa America. I even put the book away at a certain point because I was afraid I would finish it too soon and I was not prepared to say goodbye already to Sara and Gerald and their friends.

Villa America is a great book for everyone who is interested in a beautifully written historical novel about an interesting period in history, the lost generation or the Jazz Age or just a good story about love and the impossibilities of some choices.

Published in 2014

Friday, 10 June 2016

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Longing to live in another time than your own, because it seems so much more beautiful or interesting, is something I recognize and I think others will also know this feeling.

The main character in this film, Gil Pender, is a writer who would like to have lived in Paris during the twenties. His heroes are Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

He is in Paris with his fiancée Inez and her conservative parents. Gil falls in love with the city immediately and would like to move there, Inez is only interested in furniture shopping and looking at wedding rings.

One night, when Gil is taking a walk on his own, a car stops and he is invited to come. He ends up at a party where he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and later also Ernest Hemingway. He meets Dalí and Gertrude Stein (who will read his manuscript), Josephine Baker and Cole Porter and falls in love with Picasso’s mistress.

His own time seems less and less appealing and Gil realizes he and Inez are not suited for eachother. He must make a difficult decision. 
Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll)
Before I saw this movie I would have told you a Woody Allen movie was not my cup of tea. But I make an exception for this Midnight in Paris. I thought it was magical and charming and absolutely delightful. Paris looks beautiful, but there are many things that are just spot on in this film. 
Salvador Dalí (Adrian Brody)
The atmosphere of the twenties in Paris was completely right and the people really come to live. This is due to the amazing actors in this film.
I loved Adrian Brody as Salvardor Dalí and Corey Stoll as Hemingway, but other wll known names are Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, Marion Cottillard and Carla Bruni.

I am not a fan of Owen Wilson, but in this film I thought he was perfect as the romantic writer who longs for a life in another time and is honestly happy when he meets his rolemodels. 
Gil Pender (Owen Wilson)

The combination of lighthearted romance with humor and a love for the past and some good lifelessons make Midnight in Paris one of the loveliest movies I have ever seen!

Monday, 6 June 2016

Dora Bruder, Patrick Modiano

A little add in the newspaper catches the attention of Patrick Modiano. It is a newspaper from 1941 and the add is about a 15 yo girl who ran away. 
People are asked to give information to an address in the north of Paris where her parents live.

In the next years Patrick Modiano tries to follow this Dora Bruder. Where was she, did she return home and what happened to her?

What follows is a report of the facts he managed to find. Dora Bruder was a Jewish students at a catcholic boarding school and one night she ran away. 
We never find out why and where she was all those months also never becomes clear.

We do know that the German occupiers came with more and more rules against the Jewish population of Paris, and Dora and her parents fell victim to those.

This book is hard to place in a specific genre. It is both a novel, an account, a detective and memoires.
On one hand it is non-fiction, but Modiano always remembers he is a writer and even when he writes about his own experiences you never know for sure what is real or where he makes himself into a character in his own novel.

He is known for naming places and dates, but at the same time he can also manipulate these facts and change things when he wants to.

As usual Patrick Modiano realizes that time moves on and people can disappear. That also goes for places and buildings, houses are demolished, new roads are built and before you know it there is nothing left of the things that once were.

We know a few things about Dora, and only because she was arrested and that makes the quest for her very sad. We knew we will never find her marriage announcement or something like that in the papers.

Really sad is the fact that Dora might have had a chance to survive the war, but by running away from the conventschool, she also gave up the relative safety this could offer her. During the war many convents hid Jewish children from the Nazi’s and tried to protect them.

Many things stay unclear in Dora’s life. We do not know where she was or what she did when she ran away. Just a few sparse facts are all Modiano could find, the rest is speculation.

This may sound like Dora Bruder is a thin story, but Modiano manages to give it body with the account of the other things he also finds, about other people during the war, and all of this makes a very simple, but poignant story.
Patrick Modiano links Dora Bruder’s life to his own life. He remembers the places where she was from his own childhood, but also the parallels in their lives since they both once ran away from their parents. He seems to feel a connection with this girl, separated from him by death and many years. She is also a symbol of a time, a life and a Paris that is gone and will never come back, just like so many people never came back. 
Boulavard Ornano nr 41. May 2016
The last time I was in Paris, I went to the address where Dora Bruder and her parents lived, Boulevard Ornano nr 41. The house is still there and this house, together with this book, are the only things that will remember Dora Bruder’s young life.

Original French title: Dora Bruder
Published in 1997

Friday, 3 June 2016

Exhbition: German expressionism

Erick Heckel, Seaside landscape 1922
In the years before and after WWI the world was changing and things people hold for  secure were no longer true. 

On one hand people had an optimistic view of the future, but on the other hand it was very clear that industrialization also brought misery to many people. The philosopher Nietzsche declared that God was dead and many were searching for a new way to give meaning to life.

The painters in Germany wanted to go into a different direction and focused on the inner-life of people. Nature and ‘primitive’ cultures were their inspiration. They used bright colours and wanted to paint not the outside, but to go deeper.
Emil Nolde, Flowergarden with blue fence 1919
In 1905 a group in Dresden formed the artists-collective Brücke (the bridge)
and a few years later a group in Munich followed with Der Blaue Reiter. Artists like Kirchner, Max Pechstein, Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky inspired eachother and of course artists in other countries. 
Karl Schmidt Rottluff, The red house, 1923
Last Saturday a friend and I visited an exhibition about these artist in museum De Fundatie in Zwolle. The exhibition The wild, expressionism of  Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter is quite substantial and divers. I liked how they grouped the paintings into different themes, so you could see how different artists used that subject. 
Erich Heckel, The Flemish field 1916
The bright colors and powerful way of painting made a lot of impact, and although I did not like each painting, I did find all of them interesting. And sometimes there were some great details (as I found with my obsession to spot cats everywhere) 
Heinrich Campendonck, The sixth day, 1914

In short, an exhibition well worth a visit and where you can see many beautiful paintings.
The exhibition is open until September 18th 2016. 
At the exhibition
Max Pechstein, Nude

In Groningen is the other part of this exhibition, and that covers the neo-expressionists of the eighties. This was is open until October 23rd  2016. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Happy birthday, Marilyn Monroe

Today it is ninety years ago that Marilyn Monroe was born. She became one of the most iconic moviestars ever, although in her own time she was often seen as a dumb blonde. She was a lot of things, but not a dumb blonde.
She was intelligent, wanted to be taken serious as an actor, she was kind, generous and loyal to her friends. In short, Marilyn Monroe was a truely good person.
Photo from pinterest

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