Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Exhibition: the paintings of Aert Schoumans

The Dutch painter Aert Schouman (1710-1792) began to learn to draw and paint when he was 15 years old. He finally became famous for his ability to paint nature, not the normal animals you would see in the Dutch landscape, but he painted the exotic animals the rich had in their volieres and menagiers.

He often painted huge wallpaintings with Dutch landscapes full of exotic animals like flamingo's or monkeys or even an elephant.

One of the most prestigious assignments he had was to paint the dining room for stadhouder Willem V of The Netherlands. When the stadhouder and his family fled the country in 1795 (when the French invaded), the wallpaper was folded up and left in the attic, where it was found again in 1975.

Aert Schouman was amazing with birds, and I must say I never saw more beautiful paintings of birds.
Last week I went to an exhibition in the museum of Dordrecht, the town where Aert Schouman was born, and it was beautiful to see. I loved how they also showed birds, so you could see for yourself how accurate his paintings were.

Aert Schouman was an excellent painter and he deserves more fame.
The exhibition can be seen until September 2017, so if you are in The Netherlands, this is worth a trip!
The dining-room

Detail dining room

Detail dining room

Water painting

Friday, 24 February 2017

The story of the lost child, Elena Ferrante

The last book in the series about Napoli by Elena Ferrante was finally out in Dutch and I read it last month. I was not that happy with the third book in the series and I must admit that I dreaded this fourth book a bit.

Well, it did take me some time to get into it, but in the end I found this book as good as the first two books of the series and I was relieved about that.

In this last book Elena finally made her choice. She hopes Nino will leave his wife for her, but this never happens. Nino is far too happy to have the best of both worlds and only invests in a relationship if he can get something out of it.

Elena moves back to Napoli and rekindles the friendship with Lila. She also continues to write, but the people in the old neighbourhood are not happy about the way she talks about their secrets. Lila on the other hand has it made. And in the neighbourhood she is seen as an alternative for the Solera family. People come to her to ask her advice and look up to her.

Unfortunately something terrible happens and Lila is left broken. She is now more or less shunned by the people from the neighbourhood, since bad luck can be contagious and Lila never recovers.

This whole series of four books I wondered why Lila and Elena are friends, somehow they never even seem to like eachother.

I do not have much sympathy for Elena, she is too fake and too wrapped up in trying to be better than she is. Lila is also not a nice person, but I can respect the way she looks life straight in the eye.

I did like to read about the history of Italy, and even would have liked to read more at certain points (why so little about the murder of Aldo Moro, why no mention of the murder of Giovanni Falcone for example?).

Although I do seem to like Elena Ferrante better while I read her books than when I finished them, I did enjoy the whole of the series. I was not always interested in the characters or the friendship between Lila and Elena, but I did like the insight in the neighbourhood in Napoli and the changes in Italy.

Original Italian title: Storia della bambina perduta
Published in 2014

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A walk along the lake

I am enjoying a week vacation and I have made the resolution to go walking every day, even if the weather is not really good. Yesterday it was misty and it rained, but I still went out and I loved it. Here are just a few impressions from the lake.

No sun in sight

Birds had a tough time in the water

It was really misty as you can see. 

Friday, 17 February 2017

Tracks in the snow

Last Sunday it snowed in The Netherlands and where I lived there was a very decent layer of snow. I decided to go out for a walk and noticed these tracks in the snow. People, animals. bikes and cars all left beautiful patterns in the snow.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A few more thoughts about Agatha Christie

Anthony Andrews, Geraldine McEwan and Greta Scaacchi
A few weeks ago I gave a list of books by Agatha Christie that, in my mind, are worth reading or not really worth reading (you can find it here).

I was quite firm when I said that all novels with Tommy and Tuppence in it should be avoided at all cost.

Well, since then I had a little change of heart. I watched the new Miss Marple series (well, not very new but new to me) with Geraldine McEwan als Miss Jane Marple. (a lot of things to be enjoyed in this series, by the way)

In series two one of the episodes is called 'By the pricking of my thumbs'. I did not know this story, and it turned out it is not an original Miss Marple story, but a Tommy and Tuppence story. In the series they changed it around to fit Miss Marpe in it.

And I must admit I liked the story. Tommy and Tuppence are now a middle-aged couple and life is not as fun as it used to be. Tommy is caught up in his work and feels Tuppence should just stay at home, while Tuppence feels left alone and drinks a little too much for her own good.
Miss Marple and Tuppence
When Tommy's aunt Ada dies, she leaves Tommy a painting, but this paining turns out to be a clue. Aunt Ada did not just die, she was murdered and another old lady is also in danger, an old lady who told Tuppence a baby was buried behind the fireplace.
Tuppence and Miss Marple form a great team together and find out what really happened.

As I said, I liked the story in the series very much, so I thought I ought to read the book as well, and I did. The Dutch title is not By the pricking of my thumbs, as this Shakespeare-reference would mean very little to most Dutch readers. The Dutch title it 'The doll in the chimney'.
And yes, it was good. The story is perhaps a little implausible, but it was a good read nevertheless. It is of course different than in the series (no Miss Marple and no strange sub-plot with the American soldiers), and I think the book was even better than the television episode.
Miss Marple and Tuppence and the painting
I have also tried another Tommy and Tuppence novel, The secret adversary, but this was not that good, Agatha Christie is a great writer, but not when she is talking about international conspiracies and spies etc. So I put that one back on the shelf, and perhaps I will finish it later.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Exhibition Desirée Dolron

The Dutch photographer Desirée Dolron was born in 1963.
She made a series of photographs that made her very well known. It was a series of people and their religious rituals.

Since then, she is regarded as one of the most important Dutch photographers of today and her work hangs in several museums all over the world.

Her work is very divers; she made a beautiful series in Cuba, Te di Todos mis sueños (2002-2003), and made portraits of people under water Gaze, (1996-1998).
I love how the atmosphere of each of these series is completely different because she tries out new techniques.

In the last years she has been working on a very special series of portraits in which she uses the light to make the photographs resemble old Dutch paintings. I never knew you could do something like this with photo's, and the results are breathtaking.

Last weekend I visited the exhibition of her work, and I loved it very much. There were paintings from the different series she did, but also videoinstallations.
The exhibition can be seen at the Singer museum in Laren and it is there until May 14th 2017.

Here are a few more examples of the amazing photographs of Desirée Dolron.



Complex systems (a still from a video installation) these are sparrows


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The botanical gardens in Florence, Italy

Whenever I am on holiday I usually visit a city. And in those cities I love to walk around in parks and gardens. These are a great source of shade (not unimportant in a hot Italian city during the Summermonths), and of course plenty of benches to sit on and get some rest (not unimportant when you mostly walk everywhere).

When I was in Florence in 2015, I visited the botanical gardens. These were set up in 1545 and originally provided the plants for the pharmacists to make medicines. Nowadays the gardens are part of the university of Florence. You can visit them and it is a lovely place to walk around. 

When I looked at the photographs (I do that sometimes, especially when the weather is cold and grey and I need a fix of 'Sun, warmth and Italy') I notice that of course the botanical gardens do not just grown plants in the garden, but also have greenhouses and have a job to preserve plants and to study rare plants. 

So here are a few photographs of the greenhouse in the Botanical gardens of Florence, and the pots with newly grown plants. 
I know that next time I will visit Florence, I will visit the botanical gardens again as well. 

Friday, 3 February 2017

Swing time, Zadie Smith

Most people want to improve their situation and most parents want their children to have a better life. But when is change really the better thing and how can you leave your position without forgetting where you came from?

The story
The main character in this story wants to dance, her problem is she has no real talent for it. When she is young, she attends a dance class and there she meets Tracey, the same age as she is and who also has one white and one black parent.

The girls become friends due to this, but not because Tracey is such a nice person. In fact, she is not nice at all and often you wonder why the girls are really friends.

The main character (we never get to know her name) defies her mum’s ambitions, who is very conscious of her black heritage and who wants her daughter to do a decent study and get a job that matters. Instead, she studies something vague and finally ends up as the personal assistant of a popstar, who is determined to do good works in Africa. And this is where things start to get wrong.

When I bought Swing time by Zadie Smith I never read one of her books before and I only knew her name. I did have the idea that she is one of those important writers (how silly that may sound), a writer who does not only tell a good story, but also has something worthwhile to say.

That is a lot to live up to, but Swing time did not disappoint me. It is a beautifully written story, with many layers that also made me think about certain things.

I loved the way the story was built, almost like one of the choreographies of the dances that are so important in this book. In the first chapter you find out something has gone horribly wrong, and in the later chapters you find out what happened, while in the meantime you hear the story about the friendship with Tracey.

The friendship part is done very well, it tells about those moments when you were betrayed by people you thought were your friends and about all those embarrassing moments in your childhood that you knew you would never share with your parents.

The love of dancing is woven into the story, because the main character does love dance, although she herself has no talent for it. A lot of names and examples were given and I had the urge to look them up and see if I could find images of these people.

Zadie Smith
Race is also important in this book and everybody deals with things in a different manner. Tracey seems to dislike the fact she is half-black and tries to ignore it. 

The main character’s mother is into black consciousness and is proud of her Jamaican and even African heritage (although she never went to Africa).

The main character herself does think about her cultural background, and has to deal with the fact that in Britain she is seen as a black woman, but in Africa she is seen as white, again as somebody who does not belong.

The situation in Africa takes up a large part of the book, and it also asks questions about charity and what this does with both giver and receiver of the charity. And how does the old colonial background play a part in this?  

These are only a few things I mention, but I can assure you Swing time is a great book. The storylines are interwoven beautifully and it makes you think about your own place in the world.
I do not think this is the last book by Zadie Smith I read.

Published in 2016
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