Monday, 30 May 2016

Black waterlilies, Michel Bussi

Once there were three women in the village. One was mean, the second was a liar and the third only thought about herself.  

This is how the literary thriller Black waterlilies by the French author Michel Bussi begins. 

I never heard of him, but I liked the beginning so much I took the gamble and bought the book. I did not regret this, I finished it in one afternoon, I just could not put it down.

The story is set in the village of Giverny, where Claude Monet lived the second half of his life.

A man is found in the river, murdered. The young inspector Lauranç Sérénac leads the investigation. He is a bit flamboyant and falls in love with the teacher of the villageschool. Only problem is, she is part of the investigation.

The murdered man was a Monet-lover, whose biggest wish was to one day own a Monet of his own. He also was a man who had multiple loveaffaires in the past years. The policeinvestigations can go into different directions, was it about an art-theft, was it a jealous husband?

And then it comes to light that a young boy drowned in the same way many years ago and that old crimes have long shadows.

In the meantime there is an old woman who sees everything, a young woman who is implicated and a young girl who only wants to paint. She wants to paint the waterlilies of Monet, only in her own way. Each knows a part of the puzzle, but how will they come together?

The different elements of this murdercase are all connected and this is very well written. The paintings by Monet play a large part. Is it possible that somewhere in the village there is an unknown Monet? Perhaps even one with black waterlilies, by the man who never used black? 

Or must the investigation go in an completely different direction and must the police focus on all the children in the village?

Black waterlilies is a very good thriller. I loved the interactions between Sérénac and his sergeant. The parts about Monet are interesting and give us a lot of information, but it never takes away from the story.

In the end, when it all comes together, you will curse yourself for not realizing it sooner, despite the fact that some things seemed a bit odd.

A very good book and I really recommend it to everyone who loves a good mystery and does not mind a little Monet in the mix!

Original French title: Nymphéas noirs
Published in 2010
An English translation will be available on June 30th 2016

Friday, 27 May 2016

This and that May 2016, part 2

These weeks have been very busy, and I am working on all kinds of things.

Final exams
These weeks the students in The Netherlands have their final exams. I am busy with the marking of these exams and this is not always easy. No student answers according to the model-answer and of course there were some weird questions in the history exams that cause a lot of debate.
I am anxious to see how my students have done, but for the results I will have to have a little more patience.
Marking the exams is not so easy
Summer vacation
Last weekend my friend M. and I booked a few days away in August. We have done this before in the past, and this year we had plans to do this again. We were debating Paris or London, but in the end we choose: Venice!!

We are both looking forward to it and it will help us through the last weeks of the schoolyear (that are usually the hardest!)
Venice, Canal grande, 2011
Reading
I do have time to read, luckily, if only in the bus to work! I have a nice new collection of books by Daphne du Maurier or about her, and I enjoy them very much. Stay tuned for more reviews of her books! :-)
My books by Daphne du Maurier and some books about her

Recently I also bought the book Testament of youth by Vera Brittain. This is the autobiography of a young woman who grew up during WWI and worked as a nurse at that time.
A film has been made of this book and this is very beautiful (great clothes). A review of both will follow soon.
The book and the film
And for the rest I am visiting friends and family, reading some more, I write letters, go to see exhibitions and I study Italian. In short, it is a full life at the moment, but also very rewarding. I al very grateful and happy that everything is going well and I am really enjoying myself.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Blue and Pink

Early one morning when I was waiting for the bus,
this bird was also waiting. 
Pink evening sky. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

Wake, Anna Hope

In 1920 Europe was still recovering from the horrors of WWI. The countries that had fought in that war had to do something with the effects. 

There were so many men who came back wounded and who needed help, and there were so many families who mourned their lost loved ones, the ones who died in the mud of the trenches.

Something had to be done to canalize this nationwide-mourning. From the battlefields of France four corpses of British soldiers were dug up, soldiers whose name, rank and regiment could not be determined. 

One of those four was chosen and he became the Unknown Soldier. He was brought back to England with full military honours, to be officially buried on Armistice day, November 20th.

One Unknown Soldier as a symbol for all the missing fathers, the dead sons and the husbands who never made it back home. In this way everybody could feel their loved one had come home and hopefully recover a little.

This is the background story of Wake, a novel that is set in the couple of days just before the official burial of the Unknown Soldier. We meet three women and see how the war effected them.

Ada lost her son and she never knew the circumstances. This is eating her up and she cannot let it rest. She sees her dead son everywhere, but in the meanwhile she does not see her husband anymore.

Hettie is a dancer in London and she is fed up with the war. She wants to live, to dance and cut of her hair, just like her friend Diana did.
In a nightclub she meets Ed, and interesting man who has far more problems Hettie could ever imagine. But this does give her more understanding for her brother who is at home suffering from Shellshock.

Finally, we meet Eleanor, who bitterly holds on to the loss of her loved one and refuses to see that perhaps there is another future for her. When she meets a wounded soldier at work, who is looking for her brother, she hears his story and then even Eleanor has to wake up.

Anna Hope wrote a beautiful novel that shows how the war effected all these people, the ones who lost loved ones and the ones who came back, wounded and traumatized. The story is very well written and slowly things become clear. 

I love here that not everything that becomes apparent to us, the reader, also becomes apparent to the characters in the book. This is much more believable than when everything comes together for everyone. I also like how still all of the characters, Ada, Eleanor and Hettie will have a chance of moving on.

I also very much liked the anonymous parts of people who witnessed the burial of the Unknown Soldier and what is meant for them, this gives the story more layers.

Wake is a beautiful book that does not only shows us three different women and their stories, but also shows how healing certain rituals can be. When something so big has happened, there must be something to help people in their grief and to help them move on.

This book was Anna Hope’s debut, but I do hope there will be a new book by her soon!

Published in 2014

Friday, 20 May 2016

Photographs from Utrecht

Next to the gothic Dome in Utrecht there is a cloister with a garden and this is open for visitors. You can almost imagine the medieval canons walking here, in silent prayer or perhaps lively conversation!

I always like it since it is a place where you can still enjoy the silence a little and escape the noises of the busy city.
And in the meantime you can admire and wonder about the masonery, such craftmanship!

So I leave you here with some photographs of this lovely spot.





Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Timid

Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about how playful and joyful the fountain at Place Igor Stravinsky was.
Recently, I found a very different fountain, it was empty! I think they were cleaning it, or perhaps repairing or restauring it.
What a difference this makes. The joyful fountain was now empty and the colourful objects even looked a little timid.
Seen from above from the Centre Pompidou

An empty fountain



Monday, 16 May 2016

The glass-blowers, Daphne du Maurier

In 1844 the old lady Sophie Duval receives a letter from her daughter who lives in Paris. She tells her mother she met a young man, who claims to be the son of Robert Busson du Maurier, an aristocratic glass-blower who was forced to go to England when the French Revolution broke out.

Sophie Duval sets out to visit her daughter immediately, since Robert was her brother and this young man must be her nephew. Only, her family is certainly not aristocratic.

When Sophie tells her family history to the young man in a long letter, she tells about the truth, not the fabrications of her older brother.

The family Busson were artisans, master-glassblowers who lived and worked at the glass-house of Du Maurier. Only Robert was never happy with being just a provincial glassblower, he saw himself in Paris, destined for a better life. He comes into contact with the higher classes and works himself (well, talks is probably more accurate) into their circle. That he tells a lot of lies and faces bankrupcy a couple of times does not bother him. He know he will find a way out, using his charm.   

On the horizon the clouds are gathering and the people of France are ready for a revolution. Robert gambles and looses, leaving his country to go to England. Here he finds it much easier to pretend to be a persecuted aristocrat  and one lie comes after another.

In the meantime, his brothers and sisters who still live in France, have to deal with the consequences of the Revolution, while each family-member has different ideas about what needs to happen for the future of France.

A couple of weeks ago I read Manderley forever, the fictional biography of writer Daphne du Maurier. This inspired me to read more from her, since her only novel I really know is Rebecca, which is one of my favorite of all times by the way.

I bought a couple of her novels and started randomly, just picking out a book that caught my attention.

The glass-blowers sounded intriguing since it has to with Daphne du Maurier’s own family history. She was always told that her family came from aristocratic glassblowers who had come to England during the French Revolution. She later found out that the Du Maurier in her name comes from the village her ancestors lived, and it was not an aristocratic family.

I like how she used this book to set the record straight. She also wanted to show her audience that she was capable of a serious historical novel. And I think that she indeed succeeded in this.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the way of the glass-blowers. They formed a tight-knit community, proud of their skills and their traditions.

Well done was the description of the years in France before the Revolution and how the ordinary people in the country had to make a living, while there was a Revolution. There were high ideals, but the execution of those ideals was not so good, and most of them got smothered in the blood of the guillotine.

The people not in Paris often did not know what was happening and lived in fear and insecurity, while of course things like marriages, births and deaths happened as normal.

I admired how the mother of Robert and Sophie made her mark as the wife of a masterglass-blower, with all the responsibilities that come with that job. I thought she was a formidable lady and somebody I would have liked to meet.

I could not help but love Robert, the rogue, a little. He was certainly charming and interesting and not a bore, which is more than I can say about Sophie, alas.

And that for me was the only downfall of this novel, the first part and the parts about Robert were really interesting, but in the end it did not keep my interest completely.

But still, a good read and I like that I now know more from Daphne du Maurier than just Rebecca.

Published in 1963

Friday, 13 May 2016

Exhibition: Paul Klee at the Centre Pompidou in Paris

The rosegarden, 1920
Paul Klee (1879-1940) is an artist that cannot be placed in a specific genre. He was in the middle of several significant artmovements at the beginning of the 20th century. 

He was inspired by African art and artists like Picasso, Malevich, Kandinsky and Macke. He had an exhibition with Der blaue Reiter and was an artteacher at Bauhaus.

But in the end, he always went his own, unique way.

When he made a trip to Italy, he was moved by the classical art he saw and knew he could never be that good. 

His solution was not to try to imitate, but to do something else completely, he used a lot of humor in his work for example. He began painting figuratively, but his work became more abstract and colour became more important.

When in the thirties the Nazi’s gained power in Germany, Paul Klee was accused of making ‘Entartete Kunst’ (degenerate art) and he lost his job at the art-academy. In these somber years he did not paint much and what he painted reflected his misery. 
Struck from the list, 1933
Paul Klee was born in Switzerland, but had the German nationality. Now he tried to get the Swiss nationality, and he succeeded in this after a long process.

Unfortunately for him he was diagnosed with scleroderma in 1935. He kept on painting until his death in 1940 and the works he made during these last years are amongst his most funny and colourful. 
Untitled, 1940
In Paris in the Centre Pompidou there is a large exhibition about Paul Klee. About 250 of his artworks are brought together, from different museums and private collections.

It is hard to make a selection from the almost 10.000 works Paul Klee left that is still coherent, but they solved this problem by using the theme Romantic irony to pick out several of his paintings and other artworks like drawings and sculpting. 
The artworks is divided into seven timeperiods, that give a good impression of his development as an artist. 
Concert of the parties. 1907
I have been a huge fan of Paul Klee for a very long time and I was very happy that I was able to see this beautiful exhibition. There is so much more than I had expected and I loved the diversity in the exhibited works.
The Niessen, 1915
I cannot help it, I love Paul Klee and his work makes me happy. (although I did not like the puppets for the mechanical theatre, they scared me, but then I hate dolls)

I really enjoyed seeing his amazing paintings and I thought it was a very beautiful and worthy exhibition.

So, if you have the chance: go and see it for yourself. 
Paul Klee, Irony at work can be seen at the Centre Pompidou until August 1th 2016. (worth your time!!) 
Pictural architecture in red, yellow and blue, 1923

Monday, 9 May 2016

This and that, May 2016

Last week I was lucky enough to be in Paris again for a couple of days. I had wonderful weather and saw some beautiful things, and I also took plenty of time to sit on parkbenches and read quietly. I loved it. I will share more of my trip in the weeks to come, so stay tuned!

I need the energy this trip brought me, since today the last part of the schoolyear begins, the last big stretch until the Summervacation. Next week the final exams for history will take place and I am anxious to see how my students will do.

The perfect bag. Or not? 
When I went to Paris, I was so happy that I found the perfect bag. I like a bag that is not too big nor too small and that has a smooth strap. (I once had a bag with a strap that ruined my clothes while I wore it over my shoulder).
Happy with my perfect bag
It was only when I used this bag in Paris, that I found out it was less than perfect.
First of all, somehow it took over the colour of my jeans. These are not new jeans and I have washed them plenty of times, so this was something I was not happy with.
Not happy with this
Worse was that I saw the strap broke after only three days, and I do not take very heavy things with me. So when I got home, this bag got binned!
Broken strap. Rotten bag. 
Great book
These past days I read this amazing account of Paris' history. Alistair Horne divided the history of Paris into seven periods, and this is done really well.
Seven ages of Paris is interesting, it has both great details and funny anecdotes and paints the history of France and Paris with broad strokes. I loved it!

Home fires and Father Brown
Two new DVD's are on my way. The second series of Home Fires is out. I loved the first series (here) and I really want to see how the ladies of the WI get on now WWII is really getting started.
Also, series four of Father Brown is almost out in The Netherlands, so I will be ordering that as well. Most people watch series on Netflix nowadays, but I am oldfashioned, I like to watch a DVD.

Reading now
Mary Beard is a historian I really admire. I bought her book SPQR about the history of Rome, and I love it. I really admire how she writes just like she talks, and you can almost imagine her telling you all these interesting things. Not all academics know how to write well, but Mary Beard certainly does!

Friday, 6 May 2016

Marilyn Monroe, the final days (2001)

In 1962 the moviestudio 20th century fox wanted a movie that would bring in money fast. They were in serious trouble since the filming of Cleopatra in Italy was a mess thanks to Elizabeth Taylor.
The studio asked the biggest star they had, Marilyn Monroe, to film a success.

The movie, Something’s got to give, was based on a movie from 1940 My favorite wife.  The story is fairly dumb, a man thinks his wife has drowned, has her proclaimed dead after five years and marries another. That is the day his first wife comes back. Marilyn Monroe played the first wife, Dean Martin the husband and Cyd Charisse the second wife.

The filming was not without problems. Marilyn had not done a film for 20th century fox in two years and the project seemed to be doomed from the start. The director George Cukor was not happy about working with Marilyn and did not even bother to show up for her first costume fit and try out. There was also hassle with the script, the producer and the writer. And worst of all, Marilyn was seriously ill and the studio doctor advised to postpone filming. The studio however did not want to lose more time and demanded the shooting would start immediately in April 1962.

Marilyn called in sick regularly and at first this could be solved by shooting the scenes with the other actors first. But finally her presence was required. The studio also did not like that she went to New York to sing at the president’s birthday party, although they had given her permission.

Finally the studio had enough and fired Marilyn. She began a charm-offensive with the press and the photographers and in the end she was hired again. Some concessions were made, she could no longer bring her acting coach Paula Strasberg on the set, and the director was replaced.

Despite this the film would never be finished, because in August 1962 Marilyn Monroe died. 
Marilyn Monroe in her last movie
The final days  is a documentary from 2001 that focuses on these last months and the trouble with this film. There are beautiful images of Marilyn Monroe, I truly think she never looked as beautiful as she did in those days.

There are also interviews with the people who knew her and who worked on that film. The tried to make it non-sensational and balanced and I think this has worked very well. Although it is quite shocking to see how some people still try to say they did nothing wrong (like her doctor).

The last 20 minutes of the DVD are the scenes that were filmed and that were rediscovered in the archives of the studio. The story is silly, but it does show that Marilyn was not a bad actress at all and if she could have finished this movie, it may have be one of her best ones.

Marilyn Monroe, the final days is a beautiful and very interesting documentary about the last movie Marilyn Monroe made and worth watching for every fan.

Monday, 2 May 2016

How books can multiply

About one year ago I owned exactly seven books by French authors. Somehow, France was not exactly on my radar when it came to picking books.

In March 2015 I went to Paris on a schooltrip. I had been to Paris before, but this time it felt different. The moment we arrived I realized how much I enjoy Paris and I wanted more, and for me, that usually means reading books.

I asked one of my colleagues, a French teacher, for advice for modern French writers I could read. She gave me some names and some titles and well, a little more than a year later I own a lot more than just seven books, I counted them and there are now 84 on my shelves.

Three shelves and a half, filled with amazing authors I just discovered this year. I have not read all of these books yet, but when I discover a new writer I want to own all their books right away (like I am afraid that they will not be available anymore a week later, very strange but that is how it works.)

Some of my favorite new authors? Philippe Claudel, Patrick Modiano, Delphine de Vigan and Andrei Makine are just a few I have discovered.

I do not always do a post about these books on this blog, since not all of them are translated into English and in case of Patrick Modiano, it is sometimes very difficult for me to see which translated Dutch title goes with what English translated title.

But I can assure you that you will not be disappointed when you pick up books by any of the authors I mention here, so just go and see which books are available in your library or bookshop.

Here is a little close up of the seperate shelves. Most of them are in Dutch translation, I only have an English translation when there is no Dutch version available.

A few classics on the first shelf, like The count of Monte Christo by Dumas and Les miserables by Victor Hugo, but also modern authors like Michel Houellebecq, Muriel Barbery and Pierre Lemaitre.

Papillon by Henri Charriere (the book on the far left) was a favorite of mine for a long time when I was young. Only when I learned he made most of his adventures up, I was very disappointed. I have not read it since. On this shelf (only for small books, it is very narrow), you have all of my Patrick Modiano's. I love his style very much and I am very glad I discovered him.

Two classics I still have to read on the far left, Proust (Swan's way)  and Celine (Journey to the end of the night), Delphine de Vigan, Philippe Claudel (one of my favorite authors ever!) and of course Andrei Makine (who combines Russia with France, you cannot go wrong there).

On a seperate shelf I have some books by authors that do write in French, and sometimes live in France, but are from the former colonies, like Algeria, Senegal or Libanon. Here you find Yasmina Khadra, Amin Maalouf and Marie Ndiaye. I have not read any of these yet, except for the book by Yasmina Reza, but I am very much looking forward to this.

So this is how you can go in one year from seven books to over 80! :-)
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