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.

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.

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.

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.

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
  • 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. 
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