Sunday, 31 July 2016

White flowers

Last week I visited a large park here in Almere (the city where I live) and there I spotted these beautiful white flowers.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Fire in Florence?

When I was in Florence last year (May 2015), I walked towards the San Miniato al Monte. This is a beautiful church on a hill on the southside of the city. It is a steep climb, but the church and the view over Florence are well worth it.

That morning I left the hotel early and I walked along the Uffizi and the river Arno when I saw a column of smoke above the rooftops. It seemed there was a fire somewhere in Florence. Only I did not hear any alarms or sirens, I only saw the smoke.

I decided to walk on, thinking that if there was a fire, I would soon see if it was nothing or if it was something that would prevent me from continuing my walk. During my walk, I noticed nothing.

When I arrived at the San Miniato al Monte, I still saw the smoke.

But this time, I saw where the smoke was coming from. This gentleman was working in his olivegarden, and was burning something. It was a controled fire and not a huge blaze threatening the artworks of Florence. (my imagination was running wild, as you can see)

It was just a gardener at work.
I watched this gentleman in his garden working, and I imagine that he would be there almost every day, tending the olivetrees, pruning, making sure everything was as it should be.

For a moment I really envied him, being able to work in that garden in Florence, able to see the view over the city every day. But then I knew I had to be content with the moments in Florence I had and I knew I wanted to make the most of it. And I certainly did!

So in a way, this gentleman never realized, but he taught me a lesson I will never forget.

Monday, 25 July 2016

The Tartar steppe, Dino Buzzati

Giovanni Drogo has just graduated from the military academy. His first post is at the fort Bastiani on the north border. He travels there and has high hopes, but when he arrives he realizes this commission is not worth a lot. 

The only thing the sentries do is check the border in case the people from the north, the Tartars as they are called, will attack.

Drogo wants to leave immediately, but is persuaded to stay a few months. And soon the military routine makes sure he gets used to the uneventful live at the fort and the way time slips away from him.

Almost without noticing Drogo stays in the fort for the rest of his life and when the Tartars finally come, Drogo will have to fight a completely different enemy.

Dino Buzzati lived from 1906 to 1972. He became journalist for the Corriere della Sera in Milano when he was 22 years old and worked here all his life. He was not only a journalist, but also wrote short stories, plays, poetry and novels. The Tartar steppe is his most famous novel and it was published in 1945.

The book is sometimes compared with the works of French philosopher Albert Camus, because in both cases people are not capable of giving meaning to their life and cling to senseless routines to give them the illusion of purpose.

Giovanni Drogo is a young man with ideals. When he graduates, he hopes for a successful career and he is happy his first commission is at such an important fort. He is disappointed when he comes there and finds out the fort is not important at all.

Still, he gets used to it very fast and when he is on leave and goes to town, he does not even like it there anymore. Together with the other soldiers he waits for the enemy and even hopes the enemy will come, because then they will know they did not spend their time in the fort Bastiani for nothing.

The Tartar steppe is a strange book in some respects, you do not know when or where it is set. It may be the 19th century with the talk of horses and carriages, but it never becomes completely clear. Normally, this would irritate me, but in this case it did not bother me, it is part of the story.
The story is a fascinating one, and you slowly get sucked into it, just like Drogo is sucked into the life in the fort. 

Despite the fact they have never seen an enemy, military routines are all important, even if this leads to soldiers losing their lives. Because if you let protocol slip, you might as well let the entire fort slip, because then you will know for certain it has no meaning.

I think it is no wonder this book was published in 1945, after a war when so many people tried to hang to things that had no longer any meaning, just because they could not confess it  all had become useless.

The Tartar steppe is a beautiful story and it is worth reading.

Original Italian title: Il deserto dei Tartari

Published in 1945

Friday, 22 July 2016

Ready for the Summer

To be honest, it has not been much of a Summer, but this week the weather has been a little bit better than in the previous weeks.

I always enjoy making my balcony ready for the Summer. This year I was late, because I had to wait for the painters who would paint the balcony. As you can see, they still need to come, but I did not want to wait any longer (it took them longer because they cannot paint when it rains, and it rained a lot in the past weeks).

When the painters do come, it will not take me long to bring the plants etc to the other balcony and put the table and chairs on the landing.

But in the meantime, I have a lovely balcony. As you can see, I did not buy a lot of plants, but enough to make it look lovely.

This is the main balcony, and I look onto this balcony from my living room. This group has a Hydrangea on the chair (the only purpose of the chair is to provide some heightdifferences :-) ) In the leftcorner you see a Strawberry and the small green plant in the brown pot is Melissa. The large green bush is a Cosmea with lovely pink flowers and on the right a Spanish Marguerite. I am not sure what the small purple plant in the middle is, some kind of Campanula I think.

On the table I have three plants, a little Marguerite, a Petunia (love that deep-purple) and Mint.

In the last corner opposite the chairs and table only two plants. I have no idea what the one in the large blue pot is, some sort of Petunia I think. And in the front you see a Lavender.
The brown pot is placed upside down, because it is too narrow and there is no way to get the water out when there is a plant in it. And in this way it still provides something nice to look at.

This is the little balcony on the other side of my flat. I never sit here, but I do like to have a few plants here to make it look a bit nicer. A large white Cosmea and another Campanula on the chair.

I am very happy with my plants and I am looking forward to sitting on my balcony, enjoying these beautiful flowers. I do hope the weather will get better!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

(not) my Summer reading list

All around blog-land I see people coming up with reading-lists for the Summer. I love to read those, but I never make a list for myself. Why not? Well, the moment I create a list of books I want to read, I want to read every book except the books on that list. I am weird that way, I know.

However, I do have some plans for my reading this Summer. I have six weeks vacation, so plenty of time to read.

And here it is: my Summer reading list.

Do I plan to read all this? Most certainly not! These are a few of the books I might read this Summer.
Let me explain: when I create a list of set books, I do not want to read them, but these are just options to choose from. I can end up reading just one of them, or perhaps (almost) the whole lot.

I always like to read about a place I intend to visit and since I am going to Venice, I need to read some books about Venice. The first book you see is a Dutch travelguide, that is packed with anecdotes and stories about all the momuments, buildings and campo's in Venice. The second one is Venice by Jan Morris and is about the history of Venice. I will definately read this book before I leave!

What books to bring with you on holiday is always an important question. I like to read a book that takes place in the same area where I am, and that is why I picked my Dutch translation of Across the river and into the trees by Ernest Hemingway. This was written in Venice and is set there.

The book on top is a book with stories from Anton Chekhov. I own all his stories in beautiful editions, but I would never take them with me in my bag. This edition I bought especially for that purpose. I put it in my bag because I not not mind so much when it wrinkles a little.
I picked this book to prove my theory that you can read the stories by Chekhov everywhere and anywhere.

Talking Italian 
These three Italian novels have been on my shelves for quite some time and it is time I read one of them. The top one is an omnibus with three novels by Cesare Pavese. The second one is by Francesca Maciano and the third is by Alberto Garlini. All these are Dutch translations of course, but I am not sure if there are English translations available of these books.

Don't forget the French
I also want to read some French literature and think about The plague by Albert Camus or The possibility of an island by Michel Houellebecq.

When it all goes south
I have a fascination for the Deep South and even have two shelves in my bookcase dedicated to Southern Literature. This Summer I think I will read my first William Faulker: The sound and the fury (in translation) or The complete short stories by Flannery O'Connor or one of her novels: The violent bear it away (also in translation).
Both are great examples of Southern writers and I cannot wait for at least one of these.

New history
Very excited about these two books. I love Russian history and I cannot wait to dive into The Romanovs by Simon Montefiore. I hate his novels and most certainly his wife's novels, but I hope this non-fiction work is good. The book looks amazing!

So does Katherine of Aragon by Alison Weir, a beautiful hardback with an amzing cover. I know Alison Weir is a very good writer and I am looking forward to read about my favorite wife of Henry VIII.

It is all about art
I willnot forget about art this vacation and I think I will read at least one of these books. The book about Barbara Hepworth I bought after I went to the exhibition of her work, I want to know more about this extraordinary artist.

The other two books are about art appreciation and understanding (modern) art and both look very interesting. The top one is: What are you looking at, by Will Gompertz and the other one is: 33 artist in 3 acts by Sarah Thornton. I have the Dutch translations for these books.

We also need some non-fiction.
And of course I also intend to read some non-fiction. The first book is the biography about Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert by Janet Wallach (bought for 3 euro's) and the second one is about Ernest Hemingway and how he wrote his novel The sun also rises. This book is called Everybody behaves badly by Lesley M.M. Blume.

So which ones will I read? I do not know. Probably I will read at least one from each category, but then again, you never know. I might end up reading completely different books! I will let you know what I read exactly at the end of this vacation.

Saturday, 16 July 2016


Yesterday morning I woke up happy, because my Summer vacation had started. The moment I heard the news, I was not so happy anymore. I hesitated to write about it, but I came to the conclusion I do not want to ignore it.

Another terrorist attack in France. Again innocent people who died and people who have to mourn their loved ones.

Why do people do this? I cannot understand. Perhaps some do not feel connected to society, but that is also partly their own responsibility, I think. Killing others to prove a point only shows how small you are, not how big your god is in whose name you perhaps do these things (or rather: your perverted idea of god).

Am I scared? Yes, if I am honest I am a bit scared. When I went to Paris in May I felt safe, but when there was a fire alarm at Gare du Nord when I was waiting for the train, I was really frightened. Nothing seemed to be the matter, only my train had a 20 minute delay. Was there a connection? I do not know and in a way I am also relieved that I do not know.

I will not allow my fear to rule my life. Of course, I pay more attention to people and try to avoid certain areas with a lot of people, but you cannot avoid everything.

For example, in a few weeks’ time I will fly to Venice. I know very well that it only takes one madman at the airport to create a disaster. I will however, not stay at home because of this.

How can we continue? This is hard to say. Being vigilant is a good thing and using your common sense is even better.

When I look at myself, I feel like I am willing to give up some personal freedom if this will increase safety. I do not have the answers to the question what this would look like, so for the moment I will leave it at that.

I know that when I was in Paris, I felt really safe because of all the policemen and soldiers on the streets. The French make such an competent impression that I thought to myself: ‘if something will happen, it is better if it happens when these guys are around’. And yes, I also realize this would not stop all attacks, could not stop all attacks and probably only creates a fake feeling of safety. But it did feel good.

At the same time we should also continue with the dialogue. Not all Muslims are terrorists and we must not allow the terrorists to make us think that way. I think we should use the expertise and the knowledge present in the different cultural communities to recognize certain things and deal with these things together, as the  human beings we all are.

And what else can we do? 
We can only make the world better for ourselves by paying attention to family, friends, love, art, music, nature and all other things that make life worthwhile. Everything the terrorists do not recognize or want to destroy, but that is precisely why we must never give up. 

Friday, 15 July 2016

Summer vacation!

Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits
Today is the beginning of the Summer vacation. I now have 6 glorious weeks of freedom and great things to look forward to.

Having a picture of Marilyn Monroe on this day has become a little bit of a tradition, and it is one I did not want to break. So here is a lovely image of her, from the set of her last film The misfits.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Impressions of the Impressionists

Musée de l’Orangerie
It cannot be a secret that I am a fan of the Impressionists. Last May when I was in Paris I finally visited the Musée de l’Orangerie. In this former greenhouse in the Tuileries gardens (it was used to store the orange trees for the winter) is now a museum that houses something magnificent: eight large panels painted by Claude Monet with waterlilies from his garden in Giverny. 

He started painting them when WWI broke out and offered them to the State as a symbol of peace on Armstice day 1918. His friend Georges Clemenceau helped him with this gesture.

Claude Monet was not always happy with his work and repainted many panels, even destroyed some. He also thought hard about the best place and way for the panels to be exhibited. It was not until 1926 that it was all finished and completed in the museum. The museum opened in 1927, but unfortunately Claude Monet had died just a couple of months before.

In total there are eight panels, with a height of 1.97 meters. Their lengths vary, but in total they come to almost 100 meters.

The panels hang in two oval halls, forming an symbol of eternity. There is a filtered natural light that could not have been more beautiful.

The Waterlilies are breathtaking. The colors are amazing and there are so many details, while at the same time you feel a sense of peace and tranquility.

If you like the Impressionists, you really must see the Waterlilies. In 1952 André Masson called these the Sistine chapel of Impressionism and this is well deserved.

Of course, I had to buy a little piece of the Waterlilies for myself. This now hangs on my wall in my living room and every time I look at it, I feel happy.

The Impressionists (2006)
If you want to see more of the Impressionists, I can really recommend the series The Impressionists. 

It is a three hours long miniseries and it begins when a journalist comes to Claude Monet in 1920 to ask him about his past. 

Monet remembers the time when he first came to Paris as a beginning artist and met Bazile and Renoir who became his friends. Together they would try out new things, like paint in the open air, or finish a painting in one day.

Monet met Camille, but when he married her, his family disinherited him. It would take a lot of time and difficulties before these painters would become successful.

We do not just follow Monet, but also Renoir, Bazile, Manet, Degas and Cézanne.
It shows wonderfully their different characters but also their differences in opinion about art and how they painted.

Visually this series is stunning. Light and color play a huge part and often the paintings are used in the movie, this is done in a very beautiful manner, the paintings really come to life.

Of course not everybody and everything can be named and there are painters missing, but the historical background of the stories is sound. Documents and letters are used and in everything you see the makers did their research.

Richard Armitage (Spooks, North and South) as the young Monet and Aden Gillet (The house of Eliott) as Degas are magnificent, but the others are equally good. I should not have to say this, it is a British series after all J

In short, The Impressionists is an amazing series for everybody who loves British series and 19th century art.

Madame Manet
When I visited the French modernists art exhibition a couple of weeks ago, I saw this book in the Museum shop. It is a Dutch book (no English version available I am afraid), and it is an imaginary interview with the widow of Édouard Manet. He was married to the Dutch pianist Suzanne Leenhoff.

Manet was not really an Impressionist, but he paved the way for the Impressionists and he was friends with many of them. In this book Suzanne Manet is walking down memory lane while she talks to a journalist about her life and all the people she met.

It is a beautiful book, printed on smooth paper with amazing photographs and images of paintings on each page. It was lovely to read and although the tale itself was fiction, the facts and historical events that were mentions are all true. 

This book also gave me a new appreciation of Édouard Manet’s work and I am very happy to have it on my shelves!

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Exhibition, Catherine the Great in Amsterdam

Bust of Catherine
Catherine the Great was not always the great empress of Russia. When she was born in 1729, she was a German princess and not really important.

This changed when she married Peter, the heir of the Russian throne in 1744. The marriage was not happy and when Peter was crowned in 1761, Catherine took the crown for herself.

She was known for her love for young men, her intelligence, her interest in Enlightenment and she corresponded with Voltaire for years. She also loved art and it was because of her that the artcollection of the Hermitage in Sint Petersburg began.

In the Hermitage in Amsterdam there is an exhibition about this formidable empress, Catherine the Greatest. What I love is that the exhibition is not just paintings, but there is also furniture and even her desk can be seen.
Her desk. The bust on the left is a portrait of Voltaire. 
There are also clothes and jewelry and even a replica of the crown she was crowned with (the real one cannot leave Russia). I could not get a good picture of that, but believe me, it was beautiful.

There were also paintings, snuffboxes and other things she used.
Her sewingbox.
Imagine her sowing on a button or something like that. :-) 

Detail of the handle of a small riffle
that belonged to her grandchild
I liked the different portraits and how they showed the changes in the Empress. From a young girl who came to Russia and who had to change her religion and her name, to a woman who knew what she wanted and reigned well.
A young princess

Catherine the Empress
It was a very divers and hugely interesting exhibition and I really enjoyed myself. It can be seen in Amsterdam until January 15th 2017, so if you happen to come to Amsterdam in the coming months, do not hesitate to visit The Hermitage for this wonderful exhibition!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Those who leave and those who stay, Elena Ferrante

Those who leave and those who stay is the third installment of the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante.
If you forgot what happened in the previous volumes, there is a handy list with characters and a brief overview of what happened in the back.

Lina lives with Enzo and works in Bruno’s meat-factory. Her position here is not an easy one, her character does not lend itself for compromise and she is not capable of being nice for the sake of being nice. 

Almost against her own will she gets involved with the communist parties attempt to change the horrible working-conditions for the people who work at the factory.

You cannot help but notice that the communists who want action, are usually from the middle and higher classes, who joined up to show how much they loathe their own families and who now try to tell the real workers what needs to be done. This is exactly what Lina has against them.

She asks too much of herself and her health is suffering, but then the situation changes. She and Enzo have studied the new computer-techniques and they can get a new job, with better pay and a better future. At the same time there is also somebody from the past who shows interest in Lina and what she can do.

Elena has written her book and this has become quite a succes. She marries Pietro and it is as if his family comes from a completely different planet than  her own.

She tries to write and dabbles a little in journalism, but this is more an exercise in writing than that she really knows what she is writing about. Her new novel never gets past a few notes and she is all too happy to be distracted by her marriage and her children.

Pietro is in a difficult situation. Despite his modern views, he is actually a very old-fashioned man and he does not need or want Elena’s point of view. He is also quarreling with his students who want change at the university and despise his way of teaching. All this causes a lot of tension between Pietro and Elena

Elena is constantly trying to get out of the old neighborhood. She does this literally by moving to Florence and copies the fashion, hair, books etc from her family-in-law. But that does not really help, she never arrives at the level she wants to be, her civilization is nothing but a thin layer and it never becomes something she owns.

She is dissatisfied and this shows in different ways. She wants contact with her in-laws, and also her own mother, she wants contact with Lina, but not really, she wants Nino, the boy she was once in love with, but never makes a real choice.

Hard to review
It took me quite a while to write this review, because I do not really know what to think of this book.
I come to the weird conclusion that I like Elena Ferrante better while I am reading her, than after I finished the book.

The book is written well and you do want to read to the last page, but somehow it did not make the impact that the first book My brilliant friend did make.

This third book is not my favorite, but that is also because I do not really like the time it is set. I have little sympathy for the activists and feminists of those days who honestly sought change in the beginning, but all too soon became so fanatic that there was no reasoning left.

I do not like Elena, I just want to kick her. I feel she is never honest. She just goes from here to there and back and just complains and never makes an honest connection to something. She never stands for anything. And when she does finally make a choice, you can spot from a mile this will not make her happy, as the person she runs away with has shown himself as not really reliable.

Lina stays in Napoli and even returns to the old neighborhood. She even has Michele Solera, her old enemy dancing to her tune, but the question is who is manipulating who?
Lina is bitter, but she is honest. She grabs life by the throat and does not back down. She has difficulties that Elena cannot phantom, but she perseveres. She is not a nice or a kind woman, but I admire her tenacity.

Why are these two women friends? Habit, old loyalties? They do not even seem to like eachother very much, but at the same time they do ask eachother for help when the need is there.
I do not really understand their relationship, but I am curious to see how this relationship will continue and what will happen next.

The English translation of the fourth book is out already, but I will have to wait until October, when the Dutch translation will be published. I am looking forward to it, despite the fact that I did have some reserves with this book.

Original Italian title: Storia de chi fugge e di chi resta
Published in 2013

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Flowers and rain

Officially it is Summer, but in reality I have not seen a lot of sunshine lately here in The Netherlands. Just rain. And not a little drizzle, no, lots and lots of rain. It has been pouring and flooding the streets as the sewers cannot take that much water in such a short time.

But even when it is not pouring like that, there is still more rain than I like. Last week I decided not to let the rain stop me and when I had a couple of hours at school in between things, I went out for a walk and took photographs of the flowers I saw.

It was actually really lovely, because I was paying attention to my surroundings and trying to see the beauty in things, even if the weather was not cooperating.

The colours of the lilac flowers and the bright green of the leaves is beautiful.

It was good to be outside and admire not just the flowers, but also the waterdrops on the leaves. Look at those different shades of green and the little red of the stems.

I love the shades of green here as well, and although most of these purple flowers are almost out of bloom, they still make a nice picture.

This one is a little out of focus, but I was taking it with my phone, while I was holding an umbrella. I just loved the yellow brightness, it brought a little sunshine in the rain.

This is all just in the direct environment of my workplace, and I walk by it almost every morning. That shows that you only need to pay attention to where you walk, because you can miss out on a lot of nature's beauty if you are not careful.
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