Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My favorite books of 2015

Last year I read a lot of books. In total I read 168. This seems like a lot, but I also read a lot of thin books, a Patrick Modiano for example is mostly around 200 pages. And during a reading slump during the Summer I read a lot of Agatha Christie, and I can easily read three of those in one day.

I read 20 books from French authors (I really discovered French literature this year!), I read 17 books about Italy or by Italian writers. I read 33 non-fiction books and 21 thrillers.

So, what are my favorite books of 2015?

Fiction
First the fiction, my absolute favorite was Monsieur Linh and his child by Philippe Claudel (here). I think this will also be in my list of favorite books of all times, so very very beautiful. If you have not read it already, I urge you to do so!

I also loved A private affair by Beppe Fenoglio (here)
The two Dutch covers of my favorite books of 2015.
There is also a Dutch book in my top-3, but since this was not translated, I did not review it over here.

Non-fiction
As for non-fiction, three books come to mind immediately.
First the excellent and definate biography about Marilyn Monroe Icon by Gary Vitacco-Robles (here)

Secondly another biography, this time about Caravaggio by Andrew Graham-Dixon (here)

And finally The edge of the world by Michael Pye, such a good recount of Europan history (here)
The non fiction top 3
Other categories
I also loved the thriller The Axman's Jazz by Ray Celestin  about a serial killer in New Orleans during the roaring twenties. (here)

I had a few books I absolutely hated this year, but on the whole I read more books I liked than books I disliked.

So what are my plans for 2016? I do not make plans where reading is concerned. I do not make a plan to match the amount of books this year, or to read a certain type of books.
I intend to go on as I did this year, just to read the books I want to read when I want to read them.

So, here is to a lot of new and beautiful books in 2016!!

Monday, 28 December 2015

The judgement of Paris, Ross King

In the 19th century it was the Salon in Paris that decided what was good art and what was not.
A painting should have a historical or Biblical scene and should be painted with perfect details. 

Each two years the Salon held an exhibition and if you wanted to sell your work, you had to get your works shown in the Salon. Unfortunately, the Salon-jury was very strict in their opinion and refused many works they thought did were not up to the standard.

Ernest Meissonier was one of the most famous painters in France. He was known for his detailed perfection, his love for history and his disdain for modern times. He was rewarded for this attitude by having his paintings in the Salon year after year, he won many medals and was able to ask high prizes for his work.

On the other side was Édouard Manet and he wanted to paint in a new fashion. He wanted to paint modern scenes and not restrict himself to the conventions of the Salon. His works like Dejeuner sur l‘herbe or Olympia were not just ridiculed, but detested.  
 
Manet. Music in the Tuileries.
This painting was ridiculed by the critics
In The Judgement of Paris (beautiful title, by the way, with so many layers)
Ross King describs how Manet tried to get his works into the Salon from 1863 without much success, while Meissonier had triumph after triumph.

Slowly the climate changed. Manet’s friends like Monet, Degas, Renoir and Cézanne saw him as an inspiration and took painting even further away from the Salon. They began to paint in the open air and lost most of the details, but tried to capture the moment.

The rigid rules of the Salon were met by more and more criticism and painters who got refused even had their own exhibition a couple of times (Salon des Réfusees) and the rules became a little less strict.

Nowadays we see the paintings by Manet and we admire his works, his new vision and his courage. We also see the influence he had on the painters who came after him.

Ernest Meissonier is almost forgotten by all of us and if we see his paintings now, we can admire the technical perfection, but the painting itself does not move us anymore.
 
Meissonier, French campain.
The judgement of Paris tells the story of two painters, who each stand for a movement in art in Paris in the second half of the 19th century. We get to know both Meissonier and Manet, learn how much preparation went into one of those historical paintings, understand the frustration that Manet felt every time one of his paintings was refused or ridiculed. In short, these two painters, both so different, come to life for us.

Ross King, who also wrote Brunelleschi’s Dome, managed again to write an engaging and well written story that does not shy away from technical details, but that also brings Paris in the 19th century and the artworld in those days to life.
Very well done.

Published in 2006

Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas music

Merry Christmas to all of you and I hope you have a lovely time. But too much goodness and Christmas candy can become nauseating and I have the perfect anti-dote.
Enjoy Fairytale of New York by The Pogues with Kirsty McColl!


Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A portrait by Whistler

James Abbott MacNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was not an easy man, he was arrogant, picked fights with his friends and did not hesitate to drag a critic of his work to the courts.

He was also a very talented painter who started as a realist, but soon became known for the way he used colours. He took inspiration from everyday life and emotion was more important than perfect details. He took a lot of inspiration from Japanese drawings, that had become popular in the 19th century in Europe.

Whistler often gave his paintings names of musical pieces, like a nocturne or an arrangement or a symphony, because Music does not describe and then it is left open for interpretation.

His work was both hated and admired. Works were refused both by the Salon in Paris and the Royal Academy in London, but sometimes a painting did get in.
His portraits in full length were admired and also gained him commissions.

With the Falling rocket Whistler seemed to have bit of more than he could chew. The famous artcritic Ruskin accused him of defrauding the public by just throwing some paint on the canvas. Whistler took Ruskin to court for this and won, but the process left him bankrupt. He immediately went to Venice, where he could get a commission.

A friend and an artdealer went into his studio and took the paintings that were left there, to see if he could sell them. One of these works was Symphony in white, girl in musselin dress. This painting ended up in the hand of Mr and Mrs Singer, who were building an art collection in The Netherlands.

When their private collection became a museum in 1956, the painting by Whistler was one of the highlights of the museum. Only shortly after there were doubts if this really was a Whistler. The seize of the painting did not fit and other things also did not add up. The painting was moved to the depot and never taken out again.

Until recently. A new investigation was done, looking at the techniques and the material. The result of that investigation is that it is indeed a painting by Whistler.
The paint that was used was the same Whistler used, and the technique of layering very thin layers of paint also matches.
The different stages of the investigation
The discrepancies with his other works can be explained by actions of the art dealer who took the painting. He cut it up to a smaller size so it could be sold quicker and he had somebody else paint the background, since the painting was not finished when he took it. But the girl in front is undoubtedly by Whistler.

The Singer museum in Laren is very proud to say they have a Whistler in their collection (again). They have organized a small exhibition with the painting, and two other paintings they have borrowed from other collections (one from Amsterdam and one from Glasgow). There you can also see what the investigation brought to light.

Last Saturday we went there and also listened to a lecture about Whistler, very interesting I can say! The lecture was a one-time event, but the exposition of the Whistlers can be seen until January 17th 2016. 

Monday, 21 December 2015

The map and the territory, Michel Houellebecq

Studying life, looking at life from a distance can be more meaningful than actually living. At least that is what is the case for the main character Jed Martin in the book The map and the territory by French author Michel Houellebecq.

Jed Martin is an artist who  becomes very successful, almost despite himself. He had two relationships with women, but neither one lasted. His mother committed suicide when he was little and he sees his father about once a year, when they have dinner together at Christmas. At one point Jed has the most contact with his boiler, at least he talks to it.

Jed does not feel related to most of the people, he just observes them. When he began as an artist he made photographs of consumer goods, but then he switches to making close ups of Michelin roadmaps. These become very popular and his first exhibition is called ‘The card is more important than the territory’.

After the success of this exhibition Jed takes up painting and starts on a series of painting different professions. This brings him in contact with the writer Houellebecq, who will write the text for the exhibition’s catalogue. Jed feels a connection with the writer and decides to paint the writer’s portrait as a closing piece to the exhibition.

Michel Houellebecq is a controversial French author. It seems there are only two sides, either you love his work, or you hate it. His pessimistic view on society and nihilistic view of life (he has the opinion people are only motivated by greed and either want sex or money, or both), will always cause different groups who feel insulted to protest against his books.

The map and the territory is the first book I have read by Houellebecq, and I must say I did enjoy this first acquaintance. I do understand that this is considered to be one of his mildest books, so when I will read his next book I will expect to be shocked, but somehow I have the feeling I will be able to enjoy those as well.

What also made me like Houellebecq is that he can make fun of himself in the way he portrays himself in the novel. The novel-Houellebecq will meet a horrible end, but has a chance to rant a couple of times. Although when Jed Martin tells him after a rant that he is now playing a version of himself, the writer immediately agrees.

It is sometimes said that Houellebecq does not have a beautiful way of writing, he used odd changes in perspective and switches from present to past in one paragraph. I must say I did not notice this. I quite liked the way he manages to fit all kinds of detailed explanations and digressions in the story. I just liked this book very much.

The novel-Houellebecq is not such a nihilist as he wanted people to believe, it turns out he was baptized in the Catholic Church a few months before his death, and that leaves room for hope. Perhaps the real Houellebecq will mock this interpretation, but it pleased me.

There is a lot I have not told about this book, but then I would be giving away too much. This is one of those books you should read for yourself.

Original French title: La carte et le territoire
Published in 2010

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Parfums, Philippe Claudel

Smell and taste can bring back memories like nothing else can. Within a second they can transport you back in time. 

The most famous literary example of this is of course Marcel Proust and his Madeline cake, but other authors also use it.

Philippe Claudel wrote sixty two short stories, impressions and memories all centrered around certain smells and scents of his childhood. 

In a few pages he tells about the memory and the smell that belongs to that memory and sometimes he will start with a scent and then the memory follows.

From the smelly cheese his father bought that had to be kept outside the house, the menuire that had to be spread over the soil, the special motoroil that went into a moped, the ink at school, freshly washed sheets, the cinnamon that inspired fantasies of exotic destinations and the differences in smells between the tobacco of a Gitane or a Gauloise.

Smell is something incomprehensible to me and something I cannot grasp, since I have no sense of smell. I never had it, at least not as far as I can remember. I have never been able to imagine how warm bread, fresh coffee or a just mowed lawn smell. On the other hand, I also do not smell the odor coming from a dirty catlitterbox, and that is an advantage.

But Philippe Claudel has achieved the impossible: in his beautiful way of writing, his amazing sentences and poetic images he has given me the sense of smell. Or rather, for the first time in my life I have an idea of what it must be like to be able to smell. His words conjure up images that bring the scents to life. Scents I do not know, but now I can imagine them.

Parfums is for me a beautiful book, that again proves that Philippe Claudel is a great writer. One of the best as far as I am concerned.

Original French title: Parfums
Published in 2012

Friday, 11 December 2015

The most charming neighbourhood in Berlin

One of the oldest and most charming neighbourhoods of Berlin can be found near the Hackescher Markt (market). Here you have charming houses, cute courts and loads of history.
The old trainstation is also quite beautiful.
The trainstation
This used to be a neighbourhood where a lot of the Jews in Berlin lived, until the nazi's came into power. Here you can find the eldest Jewish cemetery, which was completely destroyed by the nazi's. All that remains is this park, two gravestones and a monument.
The entrance to the Jewish cemetery

Beautiful monument
There are other reminders of the war as well. This house was bombed. A French artist searched and found who used to live there and made signs with the name and the profession of the people who used to live here. A good way to remember.
Reminding those who lived here
When you walk around in this neighbourhood, you see many houses with holes in them. These are the bullitholes from the battle of Berlin in April 1945.
The bullitholes are still visible
This neighbourhood is famous for its couryards. There are many courtyards in Berlin, but most of them are private and only the people who live there have access to them. Here, in the Hackescher Hofe, every pedestrian can walk from courtyard to courtyard and enjoy the beauty and the charm.
One of the Hackescher Hofe

Monday, 7 December 2015

Parisians, Graham Robb

Did you know Marie Antoinette got lost on her way from the Tuileries to the coach that would take them out of Paris because there were no maps of Paris yet?

Did you know there is an entire city with streets and squares under Paris, that prevents the city from falling down? And do you know why the bones of the dead are kept here?

Do you know which criminal did not only play a huge role in founding the Sûretée, but was also their chief investigator for many years?

These stories and many more can be found in the book Parisians by Graham Robb.

How do you tell the history of a city without falling into a long list of facts or drowning in details?
Graham Robb found a very original way and uses the voices of the Parisians themselves. He used books, letters and other documents and lets the different people in different times to the talking. He does this in such a way that it feels like these people are actually talking to you and you are there with them.

Napoleon who visited the Palais Royal when he was just a young lieutenant.

The children who grow up in a city that is occupied by the Nazi’s.

Emile Zola’s wife who has to deal with the other family her husband has, and who ends up taking better care of them than her husband does.

Hitler, who was always fascinated by the grandeur of Paris and who organized a tour with himself as a guide on the first day the Nazi’s occupied Paris.

The bohemians, the communards, the people who used the metro for the first time in 1900, baron Hausmann, the students in 1968, general de Gaulle and Mitterand, the young people in the Banlieu’s all tell us their story.

It helps if you know a little of the history of Europe and France in general, since it is not always clear which person is speaking to us and what the chapter is about. Often Graham Robb begins with a certain detail and goes from there to his point, but never in a straight line and always with many details.

Fascinating, interesting, huge fun and very well written, Parisians is a book for everybody who loves Paris.

Published in 2010

Friday, 4 December 2015

On being fast

Mosaic in the Centrale Montemartini
Sometimes I can be very quick. I read quite fast for example, faster than the average person. Some people have the idea that I do not read all of the books I say I read or at least suspect that I do not read a book well. 

I have had people who have asked me literally if I knew what the book was about, since I read it so fast. This in a slightly accusing tone.

The answer is yes, I read every letter and every word and I do understand and enjoy what I read, even if I do it fast. Fast is not the same as lazy or inaccurate, certainly not in this case.

Assuming I do not know what I read because I read so fast is equally stupid if I would assume people who read slower than I do are stupid and just do not understand the book. 

I also have the same problem in museums. I am not one of those people who reads all the information, so when there is an exhibition, I tend to walk through it a bit faster than people who do read all the information (but to be fair, if I would read all of it, I would still be faster). 
Not reading the extra information is a deliberate choice I make.

I suffer a little bit from professional-deformation; with everything I do I think about how I can use it in a classroom or in one of my lessons. And when I go to a museum, this is not what I want to be doing, I just want to watch and enjoy the beauty of what I see.

I also do not want to make the same mistake the German couple who sat next to me the Musée d’Orsay in Paris made. They read the entire Baedeker to eachother, but forgot to look at the painting.

Every now and then when there is something I do want to know, I’ll read the information. But for the rest I’ll skip those little cards with information so it will not distract me from what I see.

This can give some people the wrong impression.

When I was in Rome this Summer I visited the Centrale Montemartini. On the ground floor there were artefacts that had to do with Roman burial rituals. These are things I know about and I have read quite a good deal about the Romans. So I did not bother with the informationboards and just wandered through the exposition.

There was a Dutch couple there that meticulously read every card with information. When I was on my way back the woman said to the man: ‘Look, that lady is already finished on this floor and she came in after us.’ The man replied, rather smugly ‘Well, then I suppose she does not enjoy it as much as we do’. 

I could have explained of course. I also could have put that man in his place by telling him I am a historian and I did not need to read it since I already know these things. 

I did no such thing. The man was so happy with the idea he and his wife were doing this museum thing in a better way than I was, I just let him. 
I just hope they had a lovely day.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Illuminations, Mary Sharratt

The young Hildegard is only eight years old when her mother promises her to a monastery. She will become the handmaiden of Jutta von Sponheim, who will be a hermit in a Benedictine monastery, forever living behind a brick wall.

The little girl has no idea what she is getting into, and these years are a torment to her. Jutta is mostly busy with praying and is declared a saint while she is still alive. Her fasts and penances get more and more extreme. The only comfort Hildegard has are the books brother Volmar gives to her.

More and more oblates (children promised to a monastery or convent) join the women and their fame spreads. When Jutta dies, Hildegard is chosen to be the next magistra.  

Hildegard sees visions, but the question is if these are from God or the devil. Only when both the pope and Bernardus of Clairvaux declare her visions to be from God, she is free to write them down. This also gives her the support to leave the monastery with her sisters and form their own convent.

Hildgard von Bingen (1098-1179) was an extraordinary woman. She wrote books about medicinal herbs and stones, composed music, was the abbess of a convent and had visions that were also written down. In 2012 she was declared a saint and a Doctor of the Church.

The problem with a historical figure like this is that we have so little to go on. The only sources we have are stories about a saint. And although these may be interesting or beautiful to read, they are not necessarily historically correct. That is not their purpose, the purpose of a hagiography is to tell us how wonderful and saintly the saint was.

We know about Hildegard from the Vita Sanctae Hildegardis (The life of the holy Hildegard) and this is the source for Mary Sharratt’s novel Illuminations.
In this Vita Hildegard is very clear about her childhood and she speaks strongly against the practice of young children as oblates.  

Is this the truth? We do not know for sure. In 1991 another Vita came to light, the Vita of Jutta von Sponheim and this story suggests Hildegards childhood was a little bit different than she told herself.

This however, does not matter for Illuminations. This is a beautiful story and the parts we do not know for sure are filled in a very believable manner. That Mary Sharratt uses some liberations here is no problem. A novelist can do that, as long as she stays true to her protagonist and the time the story is set. And in both cases Mary Sharratt does a wonderful job.

The time of the 12th century is written beautifully and both psychology and the balance in the characters is correct. I always like it when people are not black and white and none of the characters in this novel is, so none of them become caricatures.

Illiminations is a very beautiful historical novel that does justice to the extraordinary person of Hildegard von Bingen.

Published in 2012

Friday, 27 November 2015

Exhibition: Emperor Constantin in Amsterdam

In 313 emperor Constantin of Rome had a vision. If he would use the Christian sign in the battle the next day, he would win. Constantin had the Christian sign painted on the shields of his soldiers and indeed, he won the battle. 

This was an important moment in the history of Christianity.

From the beginning Christianity had been a small group within the Roman Empire and they had a lot of competition from all the other religions in the Empire. And the Christians were prosecuted by many emperors.

In those first centuries it never looked like Christianity would once become the dominant religion in the empire.

Only this changed when Constantin had his dream. Constantin (who was only baptized himself when he was at his deathbed) stopped the prosecutions and actively helped the Christians. New churches were built and Christianity slowly gained a leading role.

Where you see elements of the different religions mixed together, this slowly changed until only the Christian elements remained. Within a couple of decades Rome had changed into the centre of the Christian world and it would influence the world for all centuries to come. 

In Amsterdam there is an exhibition in the Nieuwe Kerk (new church) about these changes in Rome during the 4th century. The exhibition is set up very well and takes you from a multicultural city through the prosecutions to the triumph of Christianity.

It is very impressive, also because of all the special object that can be seen and are on loan from the Vatican or the Capitolinian Museums.

You can see for example the giant head and hand that once belonged to one of the statues of Constantin, but there are also a statue of Mithras, a statue of the good Shepard, and early depictions of Jesus from the sarcophaguses of the early Christians.

A very special exhibition. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Autumn in Paris

Paris is always beautiful in each season, I think. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days there in October. I was also lucky because the weather was still very good; it was dry and warm enough to sit outside on a parkbench in one of the many grand and small parks Paris has. And I could already enjoy the beautiful colours of autumn.





Monday, 23 November 2015

Downton Abbey, season 6 so far...

Yes, on Dutch television they are showing the last season of Downton Abbey. I am very happy about it and I have enjoyed every episode so far. And the good news, we have only had three episodes, so I still have a lot to look forward to.

Be careful, there may be some spoilers in this post!

Storylines I do not like so much
- The storyline about the hospital, this is silly and quite ininteresting as far as I am concerned.

- Denker, the Dowager's lady's maid, she is awful and completely uninteresting. I do love the actress, but the character is horrible.

The fashion
I still love the dresses and the hats, but I must admit that the manly looking suits Lady Mary tends to wear are not my favorite. I do love the skirts and long blouses with the long necklaces. Completely wearable even today I think!

Things I have liked very much so far 
- Anna being pregnant, I can only hope it all goes well, but the Bates family deserves some luck!
- Mr. Mason getting a safe home again after being so cruely evicted from the farm he  lived on for so long.
- The wedding between Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. Mr. Carson was very touching when he spoke about his love for Mrs. Hughes.

Things I hope for
- I hope Thomas will have a happy ending. Perhaps a new job that will suit him very much and even a love-interest, although I realize this may be too modern. But I can still hope. Thomas Barrow is often not a kind man, but I can see how he turned out the way he is. And I do hope some luck will go his way

- And I hope Lady Edith also finally will find some happiness. I begin to like her more and more, especially since she is taking care of her daughter, in spite of the scandal this could cause if people would find out. Perhaps this new man will finally be her chance of happiness?

I'll just have to wait and see! 

Friday, 20 November 2015

Exhibition: The Glasgow boys

The Drents Museum in the north of the Netherlands has a new and exciting exhibition. In the Spring I was here for an exhibition about works by Kazimir Malevich, but now it was time for some boys from Scotland.

A group of Scottish painters who were friends and saw eachother regularly in Glasgow, hence the name for their group: The Glasgow boys.

The Glasgow boys took their inspiration from the French impressionists, but also from Dutch landscape painters and for example a painter like Whistler.

They did not want to paint romantic Scottish landscape that had been so popular with the older generation, they wanted to paint people and landscapes just as they were.

They also painted in the outside (en plein air) just as the French painters did, although in France the weather was often better than in windy and rainy Scotland.

They wanted to capture the moment and their style showed this and in this they also followed the French.
Slowly you see a change from painting farmers to painting middleclass people and scenes from modern day life. 

The exhibition I saw also shows the connections between the Scottish painters and their colleagues in other countries. Paintings by Jozef Israels, Anton Mauve and the French landscape painter Jules Bastien-Lepage can als be seen and this sets the Scottish group in a larger dimension.

There are almost eighty paintings and forty drawings and these give an absolutely amazing overview.
I never heard of the painters before and their works I did not know, but that is why I wanted to see it. I love the French Impressionists and I had high expectations.

Well, I did certainly not come to Assen for nothing. I absolutely enjoyed the beautiful landscapes, the impressions of Scottish nature and the portraits and much more. On the one hand you can recognize elements from the French Impressionists style, on the other hand these Scottish paintings have something that is completely their own. 

Great also to see the influences of other painters, but also how each painters interprets things in his own way.

I love that we have museums like this one who organize exhibitions like this and give you the opportunity to see something new and to broaden your horizon.

The exhibition can be seen until February 7th 2016, so if you have the chance, you will not regret it!
More information HERE

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Paris Winter, Imogen Robertson

Maud Roberts is a student at an art school for Young ladies in Paris and she has moneyproblems. Paris is quite expensive and her family in England does not have a lot of money either, so it may be that Maud will not survive another winter in Paris. 

Then she has the opportunity to work as a companion for the Morel family. Sylvie Morel is addicted to opium and her brother Christian wants somebody to keep an eye on her and keep her company.

It seems Maud’s luck has turned, she has a roof over her head, three good meals a day an pleasant employers.

But then it all changes and it seems Maud is in deep trouble.

When I travel somewhere I always like it to have a book with me that is set in the same place. So when I went to Paris a couple of weeks ago, I put The Paris Winter in my bag so I could read it on the Thalys. I had hoped for a few pleasant hours with this book, but I was surprised at how much better it was than I ever thought!

First of all the historical background is excellent. The characters are written well and in the way fiction is mixed with historical facts Imogen Robertson shows she is a very good writer.

Paris is always interesting, but the period 1909-1910 is even more so. The flood of Paris in January 1910 gives the story momentum and a dramatic focus.

Paris comes to live in this book, from the houses of the poor in Montmartre to the grand boulevards with the shops for the rich.

The art-background is also done well, with little technical details that give it a lot of credibility and make it very interesting. Real events and people in this aspect of the book give it an extra dimension.

The twist in the story, the moment things change for Maud was unexpected. I knew something was going to happen of course, but the how and the what were a real surprise and very well done. The way the story progresses is lively and exciting and make it impossible to put the book down.

A nice and original touch I thought were the descriptions of paintings between the chapters, that give extra clues that you cannot immediately understand.

The Paris Winter is an excellent historical novel with credible characters and a well thought out plot that even brings some gothic horror to it at certain points. What more could you want in a book?

Read here what LARK wrote about this excellent book, it was because of her review I bought it immediately :-) 

Published in 2013

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Quote: Goethe

Everybody has two countries. His own and France.
My heart goes out to Paris and the whole of France after the horrors of last night. 
Goethe (German writer 1749-1832)

Friday, 13 November 2015

More art in my life

These are the books I already had about art (and fashion,
and Downton Abbey :-)) 
I love art and I think I always have. But I never really made a study of it and at best my knowledge is a bit hap-hazard. A couple of months ago I decided I wanted to know more about art and be a bit more serious about having art in my life.

I thought about doing a course in arthistory, but the ones that are affordable are often quite shallow and offer a lot of historical information I already know and the ones that are really good are also really expensive.

I have decided to go to an art-exhibition at least once a month and to read more about art. I’ve made a list of exhibitions I want to see and there are some pretty good exhibitions in Dutch museums at the moment. Turner was one I saw recently, but I also have an exhibition about Spanish painters in the Hermitage and one about Scottish impressionists on my list.

Sometimes a lecture is offered with an exhibition and this is a very good way of getting educated, without spending a fortune. I went to a lecture before I went to the Turner exhibition and I found that it increased my enjoyment and understanding of what I saw.
The new books
And I am very proud of my shelf with newly bought books about art and different artists. Caravaggio I rediscovered in Rome this Summer, and the Impressionists I already liked immensely, but when I saw those paintings again at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris I realized how much I like them. 

You can also see a few books about Vincent van Gogh  there, both his letters and a biography (funny, all the books use the same self-portrait).  

And you see the catalog from the Turner exhibition. I do not intend to buy a catalog at every exhibition, that would be too costly, but the ones I really enjoy and want to know more about, are on my wishlist.

So, prepare yourself for even more art here and posts about exhibitions and other art-related things. I am looking forward to it and I hope you are as well!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Red love, Maxim Leo

What is is like to grow up in a totalitarian state? 

A state that decided for you if you could study or not or what profession you could have. 

A state that kept a close eye on its people and where everything could be reason to be arrested. 

A state that kept its people prisoner and told them it was for their own safety. 

A state that distorted the truth and told its people that was freedom.  

Maxim Leo grew up in the socialist state of East Germany. His mother Anne was a party member and believed in the ideals of the socialist state. This was due to her father who was one of the leading members in the state. Only when she found out as a journalist how she has to compromise with the truth she began to have doubts, although she was not ready yet to give up all her beliefs.

His father Wolf was an artist who did not believe in the DDR and who tried to find his own path within the system. This caused many arguments with his father in law.

When he was young, Maxim wanted nothing more than to be a West German. One of his favorite pastimes with his friends was to walk through East Berlin in their western jeans, with a map in their hands saying things like: ‘gosh, this does look different than on our side’.

When the Berlin wall fell the first thing he did was to make sure he had a passport of West Germany, so he would have no problems if the wall would close again.

Maxim became a journalist, just like his mother and grandfather and gradually he had questions.
What happened to his grandfather Gerhard that he believed so strongly in the DDR? How did his other grandfather switch from being a national-socialist to a communist? How did his mother and father cope within the system? Maxim decides to talk to his familymembers to get the whole story.

I do not know what the Dutch and English publishers thought when they translated the German title into Red love, it sounds like soft porn from the seventies. Luckily I found out what the book was really about, and when I went to Berlin it seemed like a good moment to read the book.
 
The Berlin wall is gone, but sill visible in many ways
Red love is a very interesting story about recent history, that somehow seems so very far away already. I remember being 14 yo and sitting in front of the television when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. It was an impressive historical moment.

Reading this book while I was in Berlin made it extra special, because I recognized things.

Red love is a very good book about the DDR and the people who lived in it, and a must read for everybody who is interested in European history.

Original German title: Haltet euer Herz bereit
Published in 2009

Friday, 6 November 2015

Canal St. Martin

This canal in Paris was openend in 1825. It is 5 kilometres long and has nine waterlocks that have to work out a difference in height of 27 metres.


The canal was built so ships could cut their journey over the Seine short by 12 kilometeres. It is no longer in use for the professional boats, but the area still has the industrial feel to it.

The many waterlocks and iron bridges are very characteristic and it is lovely to walk here. I think it will probably be even more beautiful in the Summer, but then it will also be a bit more crowded I imagine. When I walked here a couple of weeks ago, it was very peaceful and I felt like I was in 19th century Paris for a while. Lovely.
It is only about ten minutes on foot from Gare de l'est, so it is not difficult to go there and have a stroll in this very special part of Paris.



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