Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Spies by Michael Frayn

This is a review also for Book beginnings on Friday.

The third week of June, and there it is again: the same almost embarrassingly familiar breath of sweetness that comes every year about this time. I catch it on the warm evening air as I walk past the well-ordered gardens in my quiet street, and for a moment I’m a child again and everything’s before me – all the frightening, half-understood promise of life.


This is the beginning of this wonderful book by Michael Frayn. Frayn is a very active writer and has written both fiction, plays and for television. His prose is simple but beautiful and very descriptive. The story is simple but he still manages to keep you attention all through the book and it is even difficult to put it down because you think there will be a rational explanation in the end.

The two boys Keith and Stephen are best friends, living in the same street and only having each other. Stephen is the old man in the introduction above who goes back to his childhood street to remember what really happened during a few months during the Second World War in their little corner of the world. 

Keith and Stephen create a hideout place in the end of the street among the wilderness there. From there they have a good view over the street and start spying on what people are doing. It is quite innocent until one day Keith says: ‘My mother is a German spy.’

Blog talk #3 – The Seven Wonders of the World

Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The last evening in Mallorca before going back to Brussels I was looking for a book to just go through quickly. I ended up with The Seven Wonders of the World by John & Elisabeth Romer. The Seven Wonders of the World has always fascinated me, as well as, I am sure, a lot of other people. Today we speak of modern wonders and they sure exist. The Great Wall for example, the Terracotta army in Xian in China, Taj Mahal in India and a lot of other fantastic constructions. But the Seven Wonders  of the antiquity keep holding a special place in peoples’ heart. 

Temple of Artemis
Everyone has heard of each of the Seven Wonders of the World, but few have seen all of them for themselves. To do so one has to go abroad to Persia, cross the Euprates river, travel to Egypt, spend some time among the Elians in Greece, go to Halicarnassus in Caria, sail to Rhodes, and see Ephesus in Ionia. Only if you travel the world and get worn out by the effort of the journey will the desire to see all the Wonders of the World be satisfied, and by the time you have done that you will be old and practically dead. 

Philo of Byzantium, On the Seven Wonders, written c. 225 BC, in Alexandria, Egypt

Raixa, Mallorca

Raixa

Raixa is a manor house that traces its beginnings back to the Islamic times when it most likely was a farmstead. The development of the house came when the first count of Montenegro, Ramon Despuig i Rocaberti, bought Raixa in 1660. It then became a family home. The house was expanded over the next century. The most important persons to the development of the house were the brothers Joan and Antoni Despuig i Dameto . Joan (1735-1813) was the fourth count of Montenegro and the seventh count of Montoro. His brother Antoni (1745-1813) followed an ecclesiastical career and was appointed Cardinal by Pope Pio VII in 1803. He was the one who had ambitions for Raixa and was a patron and collector of art and antiques during his stay in Italy. He also sponsored excavations near Rome. With the finds, which he transferred to Raixa, he established a museum in the house. He is also the man behind the carved, terraced garden that lingers along the hill on the back of the house. It was decorated with Neo classical statues, fountains, pavilions and a chapel along the hillside. There are two water pools, which provide water for the garden and the house. You can walk up the hill to enjoy the pools and the pavilion with a wonderful view towards the Bay of Palma. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Quiet Flame by Phililp Kerr

This is a review also for Book beginnings on Friday

This is a book I picked up at the wonderful second hand bookshop in Palma. It turned out to be a 5 points/stars/coffee cups or whatever book. I must admit I have never heard of Philip Kerr before, but I will be eager to read more books by him. This is a very different crime fiction with a fascinating story against historical backdrops before and after the Second World War which takes place in Germany and Argentina.

The boat was the SS Giovanni, which seemed only appropriate given the fact that at least three of its passengers, including myself, had been in the SS. It was a medium-sized boat with two funnels, a view of the sea, a well-stocked bar, and an Italian restaurant. This was fine if you liked Italian food, but after four weeks at sea at eight knots all the way from Genoa, I didn’t like it and I wasn’t sad to get off. Either I’m not much of a sailor or there was something wrong with me beyond the company I was keeping these days.

This is how the book begins in Buenos Aires in 1950. Bernie Gunther was a crime investigator in Berlin before the war. He is fleeing Europe and arriving in Buenos Aires with another person’s identity and profession. The profession gives him an introduction to Juan and Evita Peron. Since he is not a doctor but a crime investigator he can’t do much for them but more for Colonel Montalban, head of a branch of the Secret Intelligence. It turns out that Montalban is well aware of who Gunther is and has admired him a long time as a very good crime investigator.

In Buenos Aires, a young girl has been found dead and mutilated in the same way that other girls were found in Berlin and Munich in 1932. Gunther was in charge of the case but was not able to solve it. The leads went too close to the top people and he was prevented from going on. Since the mutilation is very peculiar, Montalban suspects that it could be the same culprit as in Berlin many years ago. This could indicate that it might be someone from the German community fleeing to Argentina after the war. Montalban wants Gunther to look into the case.


‘La Casa de Robert Graves’

One of the most famous writers to have lived in Majorca was Robert Graves. His house is now a wonderful museum and here a report from there. 

Robert Graves was an English poet, novelist and classical scholar. Mostly known for his books I, Claudius and Claudius the God he was also a renowned poet. He had to write the books to make a living. In 1929 Graves left England with his then mistress, Laura Riding. His wife and four children stayed behind. He found a place that he loved in Deià, in Majorca and has made this village known as a place for writers and artists even today. Many famous people visited him here both from the literary world and the film industry. He built a lovely house, overlooking the sea, surrounded by a wonderful garden, which is now a beautiful museum, La Casa de Robert Graves, or Ca N’Alluny, which is the Spanish name. (Yes, a lot of positive adjectives, at least I managed to use three different).

Archduke Ludwig Salvator and his Majorca

Son Marroig is a house that originally dates from late medieval times. It is built on a hill on the rocky northwest coast of Majorca with a magnificent view over the sea. To this place came a young archduke of the Habsburg family, Ludwig Salvator, 19 years old. He fell high over heel in love with the place. What started out, as a love for the beauty of the place became an overwhelming interest in everything Mallorquín. He learned the dialect and chronicled the island’s topography, archeology, history and folklore in detail.

He became quite an expert and wrote many books about the island. One of the most important one is ‘The Balearics’ which took him 20 years to write. His scientific work has contributed to the knowledge of Mediterranean geography and he was playing a leading role in environmental issues such as conserving the coastline of his estates. He was thus far ahead of his time.

It is said that he spoke 14 languages. His interest in all things scientific and especially in Botany, led to him discovering a wild plant in Majorca which is named Saxifraga Ludovichi Salvatoris and a small bush named Rhamnus Ludovichi Salvatoris after him.



Saturday, 26 April 2014

Sedition by Katharine Grant

This will be a very short review. For the first time ever I think, I can not form an opinion about a book.
The summary of the book sounded good enough. Four fathers in 1794 England decides to arrange a concert with their 5 daughters in order to get them married. A pianoforte is bought (reluctantly for some reason from the maker) a French teacher is hired (although he is hired by the pianoforte maker to seduce the girl as well and then destroy them for future husbands). The harelipped daughter of the pianoforte maker wants to kill all the girls since she is in love with the teacher. One or two of the daughters have other plans. Does it sound confusing? Yes rather, but this is only the beginning. All characters are different this I have to give credit for, but it is still not very engaging. The sexy bits try to cover the whole spectrum of sexuality and it just becomes too much.

I am not able to see any reason for the persons behaving as they are. The story is unexpected here and there and takes different turns, but it could not engage me. Is there a message in the story? I don't really know. Possibly that young ladies at the time did not have a lot of choices, but the way they act does not seem very logic to me. Not that a story has to be logic, but one should at least be able to see why persons are acting as they do. It is all a total mess as far as I am concerned!

Friday, 25 April 2014

A Winter in Mallorca by George Sand

Majorca has always been a popular place to visit, partly because of its climate. The winters especially are very pleasant. However, the beauty of the island is also a reason to visit.

The most famous tale of the winter time is George Sand’s A Winter in Mallorca. She came here with her lover Frederick Chopin during the winter 1838-39. It was said that the climate would be good for his tuberculosis. Unfortunately, this was not one of the best winters. It was cold and humid and in those days there was not much heating to talk about. The couple finally rented cells in the Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa and thus made this little village famous. The monastery, which today is a museum, hosts the cells where the couple was staying. There is a slight confusion on which cells they were using. Cells 2 and 4 claims to be the ones they were staying in, but a visitor says he visited them in cells 4 and 5. One of the cells contains the Pleyel piano, which is the actual piano that Chopin was using. Here he composed various Preludes, one Polonaise, his Second Ballade and The Third Scherzo. In the monastery you will also find an old pharmacy, monks cells and a beautiful library as well as a section on Ludwig Salvator and of contemporary local art. It is well worth a visit. The garden outside is a pearl and must have been a lovely place for them to rest.

George Sand was very active and took long walks to discover their surroundings. She gives a good description of life and nature on the island. One must take some of her comments on the locals with a little pinch of salt. They had a lot of problems upon arrival and were met with some hostility, which gave an everlasting negative view on the people and the island from her part. However
that was, this is certainly not the case today where people are warmly welcomed.

Next to the monastery is the Palace of King Sancho. King James II, who was Majorca’s first monarch built the palace for his son who reigned from 1311 to 1324. The house is furnished and also hosts some small exhibitions and a small garden.

Valldemossa itself is a small village and it is pleasant to stroll around its small, dwindling streets. There are shops, restaurants and cafés and you can easily spend a few hours in the tranquillity of the place.

Twilight in Italy

It has been a little bit quiet on this blog for a while. It is because I have been travelling. We went with friends to wonderful Tuscany in Italy over Easter, to enjoy the landscape, history, food, wine and culture. It is many years since we were there so it was really nice to come back. We flew to Pisa where a rented car took us south to the area of Montalcino. Yes, famous for the Brunello wines!

This is the square in Volterra
When my husband mentioned that we could pass by Volterra (where we never visited before) I realized that I also had a higher cause for this trip than just enjoying food and wine. That makes it necessary to confess that I am a fan of the Twilight books and movies! I resisted a long time to watch the first movie but when I did I was lost. Probably the romantic in me. Volterra, is the home to the Volturi, the ‘royal family’ of the vampires. As fans know, in the second book, New Moon, Edward goes there on his suicidal mission. It is beautifully filmed, starting with Alice’s drive in the yellow sports car through the Tuscan landscape. Continuing through the dwindling streets of Volterra, up towards the grand square. The procession, which takes place, with people in their red robes, is to celebrate that they got rid of the vampires many years ago. How little do they know? Bella gets out of the car to run the last steps up to the square, through the crowds, making a short cut over the fountain to save Edward from stepping out in the sunlight at the last moment!

So there we are, going up towards Volterra to trace the film location, when I read that the film was not shot there at all but in Montepulciano, which is another small, medieval town not far away. What a disappointment! But we are not here to fail in our efforts to locate the shooting places. Montepulciano is close to where we are staying so the next day we head up there. This is a very beautiful village, much nicer than Volterra, also with small alleys, dwindling, steep streets and the last bit up to the ‘Piazza Grande’ is very steep. Turning around the last corner, with quite a breath, I see right away that this is neither the place! There is no fountain! I spot a house, which could be the one, which Edward steps out of. Later it is confirmed, but it is not that obvious.

Here is the building where Edward
steps out of the door and you
see a close up of the clock
striking 12!
The building from
another angle
However, we know that making films is a magical business, and shootings are done in different location. So, we set out to find a square with a fountain! We are passing by most of the squares in the town, but no luck. We could just not find it. I have not had time yet, but I think I have to look on Google maps to find it! Once back home I had a quick look on these scenes from the movie and then I recognized right away the building with the clock the Edward steps out of. At least part of the mission fulfilled!


And... here it how it looks in the film! Part of it probably filmed in a studio? The left picture is from the movie and the buildings surrounding the square looks like the original 'Piazza Grande'.



More to come from Italy!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

World Book Day today

Today is the World Book Day. What book would you like to give away on such a day? I would go for one of my favourite book The Garden of Evening Mists' by Tan Twan Eng.

I am travelling so therefor not that many posts. But check out, there will be several from a trip to Tuscany and much more.


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Book Talk # 2

I read in the paper this morning that the Pulitzer prize for 2014 has been announced. Congratulations to Washington Post and The Guardian for the Public Service prize. In the Literature category The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt won the prize for Fiction. I loved her book The Secret History but haven't read anything else by her. Although this is on my reading list. Have you read it? What do you think?


Other winners are
Drama The Flick by Annie Baker
History The Internal Enemy. Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor
Biography or Autobiography Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall
Poetry 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri
General Nonfiction Toms River: A story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin 

Can't say I have heard about any of them, but I am sure they are all good. Anybody who knows?

I am not always 100% for books that win prizes. For the Man Booker Prize as you know who follow me here, I am not too fond of the winners. I guess that there are so many books out there so it has to be something that stands out from others to win the prizes. Like Hilary Mantel for example. Her Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were great. I have big hope on The Luminaries  which we will read in my book club in May. Big hopes also for Donna Tartt. Let's see if they will live up to my expectations.


Sunday, 13 April 2014

A visit to Keukenhof in Holland to enjoy the Tulips!

During our 17 years in Brussels we have never visited Keukenhof, the Garden of Europe as it is known. Well, we actually passed by once but it was the wrong time of the year so we didn't see any flowers. Mid-April (depending on the weather as always is the best time to go there to see the tulips but also a lot of other flowers. On top of this I can tell you that we were not alone. It is amazing to see all these people in all different angles, standing, leaning, bending, kneeing, sitting, lying and I don't know what angle to try to get a good photo of the flowers. People use not only cameras (some bring their tripods with them so it looks really professional) but also ipads and smart phones. It seems to be a mecca for photographers. Well, we took a few photos as well. My husband did most and he tends to inflate them. But that is the luxury of the digital photo cameras today. I delete some of them discreetly afterwards!

Flowers in various arrangements
Keukenhof means 'Kitchen garden' and is the world's largest flower garden. It is situated in Lisse in the Netherlands (just north of Den Haag). The park covers an area of 32 hectares and approximately 7 million flower bulbs are planted here every year. It is open annually from mid-March to mid-May. The parking guard told me they have 4.000 cars a day during this time.

Since I read Mike Dash's book Tulipomania  I have been a little bit of a tulip freak myself. I have always loved them but now they are closing in on obsession (but only a mild one). I really think it is a wonderful flower and today, when you see all the different shapes and colours they come in, it is really amazing. That is all I am going to say about this. I will let the pictures speak for themselves!


From the House of Orchids 


Looks like a giant orchid!

A blue river of  Muscari!


Friday, 11 April 2014

John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins

This is a review also for Book beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader.

They appeared with the sun at their backs on the rest of the hill after daybreak, black figures, threading their way towards the sea through the grey rocks and heather into the town of St. Ives.
The old Indian descended first, leading the donkey on a tether; Charlotte rode across the donkey's back. Charlotte's hair had gone from gold to white when she was rescued from the island years ago, and it fell around her now, wild and full and loose, because the Indian had thought it looked its best that way.

I grabbed this book in a haste from my TBR shelves. It seemed the perfect size, perfect size of letters (yes, I have difficult reading too small scripts these days!) and it had been with me since 1989! At least I think so, because I can remember I bought it when it came out and it is printed in 1989. 25 years and what a waste for a fascinating book! I was hooked from the first paragraph and chapter and this does not happen often.

The story in short: Charlotte Lewes is widowed during the First World War after a short marriage. She feels lonely and alienated. She does not fit in where she is in London and in desperation she applies for a post as teacher in Rangoon, Burma. She sets off on this trip with no high expectations, she feels numb from grief and loneliness. She does not like the expat community, she feels outside there as well. They live their lives far from the reality in the country. She likes her girls in school, she gets to know the country and lives quite locally and then she meets John Dollar, a sea captain, and she falls in love.

One day the community sets out in three ships to chart a small island around 100 miles off the coast. John Dollar and Charlotte are there, the school girls and some of the parents with servants. They are off for charting the island for the English king and intends to stay for three days. It starts all very quiet and pleasant but then things start to happen. One boat goes back to the city to bring back people to investigate a find they make (I will not tell what), one boat is found empty one morning by John Dollar but blood shows that something terrible has happened. At the same time there is an earthquake and a tsunami.  The third boat hosts John Dollar, Charlotte and the school girls. After the earthquake is over the girls find themselves all alone and have to start organising and taking care of themselves. Maybe there are other survivors?


Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

I have a weakness for historical fiction and even more when it is about a well known person. Lately, I read Freud's Mistress and now I found another good one about Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. It is told from Hadley's point of view and retells the story how they met, married and went to Paris to live during the roaring twenties. Well, it was not that roaring for them, Hemingway struggling to write his first novel and surviving by working as a journalist.

They still managed to travel around in Europe, visiting Italy, Austria, Spain especially Pamplona, San Sebastien, Madrid in Hemingway's quest for bull fights. They travelled with friends, other artists, writers, painters and others who always seemed to be drawn to each other in those days. The Spanish visits was the base for one of his his first books (and by some considered as one of his best) The Sun Also Rises. 

Living with an artist is probably not that easy and living with Hemingway was certainly not easy. He had depressions, fought with people, suffered from a bad confidence and had doubts in himself, later in life he was diagnosed as manodepressive and suicidal. These problems were not so visible in the early days but Hadley was a totally different person from Hemingway and the crowd they were hanging out with. She was there to support him and they did love each other. They travelled, he wrote, she took care of him. In 1923 their son Jack (called Bumby) was born. They continued their life which in between the creative work consisted on meeting in cafés and bars, drinking, drinking and drinking, discussions, holidays, like a big family. They met all the great names of the days, Ezra Pound, Gertrud Stein and Alice Token, Sherwood Anderson, James Joyce, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and more which had all gathered in Paris and spend their summers at the Riviera, which in those days was not so popular as today. They were the ones making it popular.


Relationships were easy, coupled changed and in the end it was too much for Hadley's and Hemingway's marriage. I will not spoil the story with too many details, I can only say that I would not have put up with what she put up with even if I loved the man! This is an easygoing read, a good description of the times. Paula McLain has done a lot of research and she has managed to give Hadley a good, realistic voice and you feel that you get to see the man Hemingway as he was before fame and public images made him into what he became.  As usual, having read a fictional biography you feel you have to read a real biography of Hemingway. He did after all have an adventurous life and four wifes.
And... of course, read some of his books. I have only read, The Snow on Kilimandjaro, The Sun Also Rises (long time ago and I can't say I remember them so a re-read is up) and lately (which I still remember and it is a wonderful book) The Old Man and the Sea!

Later in life Hemingway wrote about Hadley: I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone like her!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Spice - The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner

This has been a slow, quiet day and I did not feel like doing anything more than read. After lunch (sushi) and being a sunny day I ventured outside to finish off Spices, with a cup of coffee and a wafer. Turned out to be rather windy though, so had to go inside after finishing the coffee. Well, the sofa in the living room, on which the sun was shining seemed like a good alternative.

I have read this book for quite some time. All in all it is an interesting book. The beginning was really exciting when Turner tells us about the quest for spices and the search for India where the spices were supposed to grow. We follow Columbus' several trips to America. He could not be convinced that he had not found India, in spite of the fact that they did not find any spices. They did find chillies which later on became a very popular spice. Vasco da Gamas' route in 1497-99 where they came to Calicut in India and what seems to have been the most dangerous and terrible trip of them all; Magellan's search via the route south of the Americas in 1519-1522. They were all after pepper, nutmeg, ginger, mace, cloves, mace and cinnamon which became, once they found them, an exclusive, priceless commodity.


Sunday, 6 April 2014

Book talk # 1

Inspired by some other blogs I will introduce this regular talk. That is, hopefully at least 2-3 times a week or when there is something that has caught my eye and I want to share with you. The Swedish blog Finsalongen said on 13 March that she is looking for something when she is reading, not having found out exactly what it is and if it is possible to define it exactly. Now she thinks she found it - she is after an intellect, a way of seeing, experience, perceive and pass on. The story is almost unimportant.

Personally, I disagree. For me, the story is the most important thing in a book. This is the one that keeps you stuck, that wants to make you turn another page and eagerly await the end. A good story stays with you long after the book is finished. There can be beautiful language, interesting characters, high flying words, but if the story is not there...well, then it is not enough.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas about this?

Spring coming up so I want to share with you some of the beautiful flowering in our garden!









Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier is mostly known for her novels (Rebecca, Frenchman's Creek and a lot of others), but she has actually written some non-fiction books as well. She was asked to write a new introduction to the new edition of Wuthering Heights in 1954 and so she went to Haworth. During her visit there she got intrigued by Branwell and could not understand why he had been ignored by Brontë researchers. From Margaret Forster's excellent biography of Dahpne du Maurier we find the following note:

(it) gave her the opportunity to test herself in a way she had, in fact, always wnated to do. There was a good deal of the scholar manqué in Daphne, in spite of her frequent claims to have a butterfly mind. As it was, she was prepared to teach herself by trial and error...



Du Maurier has a lot of sympathy for Branwell, which of course is a must if you are writing a biography. Having read some Brontë biographies (for example the excellently The Brontës by Juliet Barker) there was not that much new to me. Only one thing that I can not remember having read before and that is that Branwell at one point read from Wuthering Heights when it was still a manuscript and that he indicated that he had been part of writing it. I quote here from a letter written by William Dearden to the Halifax Guardian written only in 1867, when all four Brontës were dead. Some friends met at the Cross Roads Inn and read something they had written. Dearden read the first act of The Demon Queen, 

Harvest by Jim Crace

This is a book I read for my book club. We meet once a month in a nice restaurant in Brussels called 'Carpe Diem' to discuss a chosen book, in this case Harvest by Jim Crace. Here a summary: It is the end of the summer, the end of the barley harvest and the villagers are preparing a feast to celebrate the harvest. Three outsiders, two men and a mysterious woman arrive on the woodland borders and put up a camp. The same night, the local manor house is set on fire and the outsiders are blamed, although the village people know that some of the villagers themselves did it. The men are punished and the woman disappears. The present owner to the manor has hired a land surveyor to draw a map of the land. It is hinted that there will be a change from farming barley to keeping sheep. Then the new owner (a relative of the present one) arrives from the city with his men and creates a turmoil in the regulated village life. Three women are accused of witch craft. The safe and regulated life of the village is hereby broken. The events set in motion will leave the village deserted in one week.

We had various views about this book, half of us liked it, the other half thought it was ok. It is beautifully written. The descriptions of the nature, the farming, the village and the actions of the people are no less than poetic, but sometimes lingering on too long. I found the characters quite illusive and could not get a grip on any of them. The most appealing one was Mr Quill, the map painter who I felt was the only one with a little bit of substance in him. All the others were very vague. I had difficulties deciding in which time the story took place. This could be the problem with non-British readers who are not aware of the times described.

It takes place during Tudor times and the Enclosure Act which changed the ownership of land in England. I think you can understand the book more if you know about this, which I didn't. Jim Crace himself has said though, that it is not a 'Tudor novel' but could take place anywhere, anytime. The story is not really much of a story and could have been told on much lesser pages. However, this book has to be seen as a symbolic story. It can refer to many things that happens today, how people act, especially when your life stile is threatened, how scared you are of people different from yourself.

This is a very symbolic book and I think it has to be seen as such. I loved the poetic language, but did not think too much of the story. However, having given it some days after finishing it, the book lingers with me so it certainly has something to give. It is worth a read.


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Brussels Brontë Group events this spring

Here is something more for Brontë fans; quite a lot these days, but have patience other writers will have a say here as well.

The Brussels Brontë group organises two events per year (normally in March/April and October) with lectures on anything to do with the Brontës and their time (for info have a look at the www.thebrusselsbrontegroup.org). During the last years there has been an added event in February where one of our members shares his/her special interest in the Brontës. Many of the people in this group are very creative and we see calligraphy, drawings, painting, blogging (not me but that's how I started!), research etc.

This February one of our Dutch members, Eric Ruijssenaars, took us on a virtual tour in the Isabelle quarters in Brussels where the 'Pensionnat Heger' where Charlotte and Emily used to live, study and spend their free time betweeen 1842-43. His interest has generated two books about the Isabelle quarters; Charlotte Brontë's Promised Land : The Pensionnat Heger and other Brontë places in Brussels (2000) and The Pensionnat Revisted: More light shed on the Brussels of the Brontës (2003). He has spent a lot of time in various Brussels archives, talked to horticultures, architects, journalist and many more in order to find the information on which the books are based and to be able to draw his conclusions. The added value is old photographs, newspaper articles and drawings that can help us visualise how it once looked during the Brontë time here. Since there was a huge building spree in Brussels in the beginning/middle of the 20th century most of the old quarters around the Royal Palace are now gone. Unfortunately, not much archaeological digging were undertaken at the time to preserve the old parts of Brussels or to try to find out what could be worth saving.

The actual street where the Pensionnat was situated does not exist anymore. It is replaced by the huge concert hall Bozar. Seeing the old photos and maps it is still difficult to imagine how it looked then in comparison with today's layout. Unfortunately, one must say that it looked more beautiful then.

In the end of March we had Dr. Nicholas Shrimpton of Oxford University to talk to us about 'Shirley in context'. He held a very vivid lecture on the novel in its social and literary context. It is the least liked novel of Charlotte's and maybe the least understood. I am still trying to read it and am stuck about one third into the book. However, after this lecture I will see it in another light. Dr Shrimption put forward the idea (of which he is not alone) that Charlotte tried to write a panoramic novel in the same fashion as her favourite author Thackeray had done with Vanity Fair. The novel is set in Yorkshire in 1811-12 during the industrial depression and the Luddite uprising in the textile industry, of which she had heard a lot from her father. Maybe it was her way to come away from a very personal Jane Eyre story to a general story of past time and the changes that happened in society.

Next event for the Brontë club in Brussels will be in the end of October.


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Book of Days - a calendar with the history of the Brontës

This is a lovely book produced by Brontë Parsonage Museum. Friends gave it to me a while ago. It is a calendar with the notes on what the Brontës did on certain dates. Not all days are filled naturally, but for each day I will reveal little by little the history of the Brontës. It will published under the label Brontëmania so look out for it there. Here is the first entry.

1 April 1841. Branwell was appointed Clerk-In-Charge at Luddenden Foot Station.

Next entry will be 4 April.

Beautiful libraries!

Yesterday I talked about beautiful book stores. I am sure there are a lot more out there that I don't even know about. In my search for the book stores I ran into some beautiful pictures of libraries from Flavorwire. Here are some to enjoy by photographer Christoph Seelbach.


National Library in Wien


Here follows beautiful college libraries


University of Coimbra, General Library,
Coimbra, Portugal


and here  public libraries    


American entrepreneur Jay Walker's
private library

And here is the city library in Karlskrona, Sweden, built in 1959. I can not say it is in the same league as the other libraries shown here, but it is modern, airy and with a nice atmosphere.



Does any of you have favourite libraries?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The most beautiful book stores in the world?

A couple of years ago the Guardian had a request to readers to propose what could be the most beautiful book shop in the world. They were inspired by Flavorwire who made a list of the 20 most beautiful book stores in the world (click link to see list).  Of this list my favourite seven would be:

Selexyz Bookstore, Maastricht, Holland
Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal
Cook & Book, Brussels, Belgium
Librería El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Cafebreria El Pendulo, Mexico City, Mexico
Shakespeare & Company, Paris, France
Bart’s Books, Ojai, California

I love coming in to these kind of book stores. Unfortunately, they are not that common anymore. The idea that you have a café or restaurant in the book store where you can borrow a book and read or look in while you are drinking your coffee, maybe find a fellow soulmate who loves books and have a nice talk. Of the book stores above I have only been to Cook & Book in Brussels and it is really lovely. Each room has a different theme and you are surrounding by books. I add here some of my own photos from my visit there (not the best of photos but still...).
Cook & Book 




Another book store which I love might not be called beautiful but intriguing! It is situated in the old city of Palma in Mallorca, Spain. It is run by an Englishman and you have a notion of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books'! 3-4 stories, going downwards... It is like a labyrinth and sometimes you feel that you might not find you way out around all the book cases which are placed absolutely everywhere and makes a big room into... right, a labyrinth! It has to be seen.






I also love those small cafés which you enter by chance and then there are 10 books or even less placed on a shelf or in a corner. It immediately gives me a wonderful feeling. Do you have any favourite book stores? Libraries? Anything where books are stored. Please let me know either here or on my facebook page (yes, I have finally managed it!) It is also called The Content Reader. Enjoy the following picture and wise words.