Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Travels in Austria, Switzerland and Italy

Summer time, travelling time. The holiday is spent in western Austria, which means you are close to several countries in Europe. We already had tickets for the opening of the Bregenzer Festspiele, so there is where we headed first.

We started with a short daily excursion to Ebenalp in Switzerland. Our son visited it some weeks ago, and the pictures were so nice, so we could not resist a visit. It is situated in a beautiful valley. You take the cable car up (unless you want to climb a steep mountain). From the top station there is a short walk to caves, where they have found traces from the Neanderthal period. Quite stunning. You walk through the caves and comes out on the side of the mountain. There is an Hermitage where monks used to live and also a small chapel, where the church room is situated in a cave. Further along the mountain wall, there is a small path. It is really like walking on the wall itself. You come around the corner and there is a guest house with restaurang stuck in the wall. Quite amazing!

The Content Reader
Ebenalp in Switzerland where we had lunch at the guest house
In the evening we visited the music festival. It is quite stunningly situated along the shores of Lake Konstanz. The theatre is a half moon, quite like the old antique amphi theatres, overlooking the water. The scene, or scenes because there are several, are situated on the water. Quite fantastic. The festival is famous for there mechanical works of stages and decor, and it was quite fascinating to see. They gave Rigolette by Guiseppe Verdi. It was all very good, with excellent singers. However, for me, all the mechanical works, and the actions taking place all around, took away the attention of the opera itself. It was the first time I saw Rigoletto, so have nothing to compare with.

The Content Reader
Lake Konstanz in Bregenz by sunset
Now we went for three days of camping. First camp was Morteratsch in the Swiss alp, close to St Moritz. Beautiful place. It is the largest glacier area in the Bernina Range.  We took a hike to the Chamanna Boval Hütte. It was a tiresome walk for me, quite steep with a lot of stones to climb. The hütte is situated on around 2.500 metres. The view from there was quite stunning.

The Content Reader
Chamanna Boval hütte and the road to get there!
After two days we continued towards Italy and stayed one night at Prato allo Stelvio camping. Another lovely camping with a pool, where we could cool down. The next day we visited the castle ruin of Lichtenberg. The castle was built in the 13th century by the Tyrolean Counts as a defence against the Bishops of Coira.

The Content Reader
Castle Lichtenberg and a sunken town in Reschensee
We also visited the walled city of Glurns/Glorienza. It is the smallest town in South Tyrol. It was a medieval trading centre and walking around the town, is like walking in history. Imposing gates and fortified towers, narrow alleyways and beautiful squares. We had a wonderful lunch overlooking the main square.

Heading back to Innsbruck for relaxing days in the sun.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Paris in July - French salons

I mentioned in an earlier post an exhibition about Claude Cahun, and that I bought a book in the art gallery about salons in Paris in the 1920s; Ett magiskt rum (A Magical Room) by Ingrid Svensson. It is an excellent and very interesting book. Unfortunately, I don't think it is translated. It was a nice surprise to read, and tells a lot about Paris at the time and the general atmosphere among the intelligentsia. She also gives and account on the background to all the expats 'overflowing' Paris at the time. "Art, literature and tolerance - not at least sexually - drew artists, writers and intellectuals to Paris."

Since the Middle Ages, the Left Bank has been the centre of the intelligentsia in Paris. This is where the literary circles gathered. People lived poorly, so the cafés became a meeting point. The area was full of small book shops. Montparnasse became the centre of art. Also here the cafés were important as places for people to meet.

The Salon 

According to Wikipedia a salon is:
"a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate" (Latin: aut delectare aut prodesse). Salons in the tradition of the French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries were carried on until as recently as the 1940s in urban settings."
The history  of the salons goes back to the antique, but it is often said to have started in France during the 17th century. One of the most important hostesses (it seems often to be women hosting these events) was Marquise de Rambouillets who dominated the Paris scene between 1610-1650. Here people discussed science and literature. After her came Madeleine de Scudéry. She was a writer herself and quite controversial in her own time. She was satirised by Moliére in his plays Les Précieuses ridicules and Les Femmes savantes. Her salon mostly discussed feelings and love, as a protest to the strict culture of the courts.

The salons in France were often magnificent as well as influential; they were dominated by art and literature, and the most influential guests were encyklopedists, filosofers and writers. The salon was developing as a power base that could influence even the elections to the French academy. It has also been argued that the academy is a mixture och institution and salon.

The Salons in Paris in the 20th century

Who were hosting the salons in Paris in the beginning of the 20th century? Marcel Proust was an eager visitor to the salons and he talks about Countess de La Rochefoucauld and madame Madeleine Lemaire. Both of them appear in his own texts. Another one that he frequented is Princess Edmond de Polignac's salon. These three women were part of presenting newly created art through their salons. Other salons were run by Gertrude Stein and Natalie Barney. Polignac's salon was more directed towards music, Stein towards art and Barney towards literature. It was at Polignac's salon that people could listen to musicians like Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy and many others. Durin half a century, from 1890 - 1940, she was the most influential hostess.

Countess Greffulhe, also admired by Proust and entered into his texts, was interested in everything new, but was a great patron for music. She supported, among others, Camille Saint-Saëns, Isadora Duncan, Diaghilev and the Russian Ballet. It was thanks to her that Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss came to Paris to conduct.

Duchess de Clermont-Tonnerre was another hostess and writer. She had advanced ideas and was politically radical. To her salon came many different people from various areas of the society.

These are just a few of all the women hosting salons in Paris in the beginning of the century. They were influential in promoting upcoming writers, composer and artists. There were an estimated forty saloons during this time. Some of them lived on into the 50s, but today there are none in this sense of the word. One important aspect of the salons according to Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska is the importance of servants. To be able to organise such grand evenings, you needed servants to take care of the administration.

Today the salons look different. They are open for bigger groups, from different parts of the society and take place in libraries and book shops. Literary societies arrange meetings with themes; either a single writer or a genre of books that will be discussed. Writer meetings are also quite common today. Personally, I think it is very interesting to meet a writer in person. Having said that, I would have loved to be able to go to a literary salon, either in 17th century Paris or in the 1920s.

Next post will be about the four important hostesses in Paris in the 1920s; Gertrude Stein, Natalie Barney, Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach. 

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Paris in July - My love for French history

When I was young I had a period where I was really obsessed with French history, especially the time of Louis XIV. I read a lot about his time, both non-fiction and fiction. I can't remember how it started, but maybe it was with the books about Angelique. Written by Serge and Anne Golon, which in the English and Swedish translations were merged to Sergeanne Golon. According to Wikipedia it was mainly Anne who wrote the books and her husband Serge who did the historical research.

The books were a big success at the time. I wanted to read them and went to the local library (in a village) to ask for them. I never forget what the librarian said: "We don't keep books like that!" They were obviously not comme-il-faut enough! So what did I do? I bought them. This must have been in the beginning of the 70s, and I still have them on my shelves! From time to time I re-read some of them.

I think I love them because of the historical settings. It is set during the time of Louis XIV, mostly in France, but also in Morocco and, the last books, in the New World. It was a turbulent time, and Angelique is moving in different worlds; from the rich aristocratic world to the poorest part of Paris. Many of the historical events in the books have inspired me to further reading. There is a lot of action as well as romance. A good mix.

It is always interesting to read about kings and queens, and Louis XIV was grander than life itself (not talking about his political deeds, just his way of promoting himself). L'état c'est moi! He built Versailles which was the model for later palaces in different countries. Still today, it might be considered the grandest of them all. He ruled as an absolute monarch for 72 years. Must be a record long reign? Even today, many books on historical fiction are set in this time.

Being obsessed with French history, led to the book Désirée by Annemarie Selinko, which I read about the same time, that is, in my youth. She was the daughter of a merchant in Corsica, and was engaged to Napoleon. That was before he went to Paris and met Josephine. She did not do bad when she married one of Napoleon's Marchals, Jean-Baptist Bernadotte. He became King of Sweden in 1818, and she, Queen Desideria. It seems she was not too happy being queen of this dark and cold country. She probably fared better though,  than if she had been married to Napoleon.

Lately, I read a great biography, Marie Antoinette - The Journey by Antonia Fraser. An Austrian princess married to the doomed Louis XVI. She was not entirely happy at the French court and was rather disliked. There is a little bit of a Swedish connection here. The Swedish Count Axel von Fersen is rumoured to have been her lover. He also staged a rescuing attempt when they were threatened with imprisonment. It failed and you all know what happened.

Axel von Fersen is also an interesting character; "a Swedish count, Marshal of the Realm of Sweden, a General of Horse in the Royal Swedish Army, one of the Lords of the Realm, aide-de-camp to Rochambeau in the American Revolutionary War, diplomat and statesman, and a friend of Queen Marie-Antoinette of France." (from Wikipedia). He met a terrible end in Sweden, but more about that when I have read a recent purchase; Huset von Fersens uppgång och fall (The Rise and Fall of the House of von Fersen, my transl.) by Göran Norrby.

Another book that is waiting to be read about this time, is Bussy-Rabutin's Histoires Amoureuses des Gaules. It is in French so it will take me a long time. Last year, for Paris in July, I wrote about his beautiful castle. Bussy-Rabutin was part of the court of Louis XIV, although he had some troubles.

Château de Bussy-Rabutin is an interesting and very well preserved castle. It was originally built in the 12th century by Renaudin de Bussy, but has been extended and renovated through the centuries. In the 17th century it belonged to Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy (1618-1693). He was a member of the Academy during the reign of Louis XIV, a notorious womaniser, and on top of that, he was bold enough to put his impressions on the life at the Sun king's court into print. The book, Histoires Amoureuses des Gaules, led him directly to the Bastille and later on, in exile at his castle in Bourgogne. Although my French is not that good, I could not help but buy the book. A page a day?

A few French memories from my reading life.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Reading and highlights January - June 2019

I cannot believe it, but we have entered the second half of the year. Time for a round-up of my reading for the first half of 2019. I have read 54 books, of which I am rather proud. Of those, 20 books come from my TBR shelves. I aimed for 48 books, so have to hurry up a little bit.

I really liked most of the books I read, but here are some highlights that stick out.

Two thrilling books by Nele Neuhaus, Snow White Must Die and Big Bad Wolf. Her books are so well written and the story lines so exciting, with twists and turns. They also go deep into the characters, whether it is the police women/men, the culprit or all the people surrounding the story. Thrilling until the very end.

The Third Man by Graham Greene is a classic. I have seen the film many times, but not read the book. Greene wrote it as a script for the film, and it has then been turned into a book. I actually listened to it. It was wonderfully narrated by Martin Jarvis. The very dark and brooding atmosphere that you see in the film, is very well transformed into this narration.

Falls the Shadow by Gemma O'Connor has been on my TBR shelves for a long time. It is a different kind of murder case, going back to the 1940s. A young girl is witness to a murder and 50-60 years later is killed in a hit-and-run accident. Her daughter is questioning the verdict and starts looking into her mother's life, and finds some interesting and surprising aspects.

Saratoga Trunk by Edna Ferber is a classic that has been on my shelves for a long time. I loved the story of Clio Dulaine and Clint Maroon and their struggle to make themselves a better life.

The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams. I received this novel as a reading copy via NetGalley. It is about to be published. An interesting historical fiction of the 'beautiful' set in Bahamas during World War II, with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in the forefront. It is a wonderful story of love, deceit, spies and political turmoil. This is my number one favourite so far this year.

Sebastian Barry never disappoints you. On Canaan's Side is another of his real life stories of Irish people immigrating to America. He very well describes the situation in Ireland and how the Irish fare when coming to America. It is narrated by 89-year-old Lily Bere. She looks back on her life and we feel all the sorrows, but also joys, she has gone through. A beautiful tale.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Eleanor, The Secret Queen by John Ashdown-Hill

In 2012 the skeleton of Richard III was found under a parking lot in Leicester. The event started an interest in me to know more about him and the discovery. I read two books connected to Richard III; The Search for Richard III - The King's Grave by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones and Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by A.J. Pollard. It also generated a visit to Leicester and Richard III's tomb,  as well as a reading of Shakespeare's Richard III. There was something missing though.

One question was never answered; why was there not more written about Richard III's claim that he was the legitimate heir, since Edward IV was already married to Eleanore Talbot, when he entered into matrimony with Elizabeth Woodville. There were parliamentary documents which showed that this was the case. But how are they to be interpreted?

As always it is a complicated political matter. Richard III's ascent to the throne was surrounded by chock and a lot of resistant from various parts. The disappearance of the Princes in the Tower was another question, more urgent, as well as the fact that he only ruled for two years, before he died at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, defeated by Henry Tudor. Tudor, who married Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth of York, in order to legitimatise his own power, was not interested in hearing that she was illegitimate.

While visiting the beautiful Richard III museum in Leicester, I found a book about Eleanor Talbot. Eleanor, The Secret Queen. The Woman who put Richard III on the Throne by John Ashdown-Hill. There is not very much known about Eleanor, but Ashdown-Hill has done his research well. It is a very interesting story, especially with all the complications that such a marriage implied, not only for Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, but also for Richard III and Henry VII.
"Eleanor had been born under the sign of Pisces, and either by fate or by chance, she was to grow up with many of the characteristics traditionally ascribed to that star sign, for she was gentle, sensitive, idealistic and perhaps even somewhat passive. A girl who needed her own space, she would also ultimately develop a bent towards contemplation and mysticism."
Since there is not much information on Eleanor herself, Ashdown-Hill has concentrated on her family and how life was lived at the time. Sometimes it reads a little bit too academic, and not always relevant to the story. However, if you are interested in history, it is an interesting analyses of the days. It also shows how little women had to say about their own lives. Ashdown-Hill argues, and shows documents to prove his point, that Eleanor was married to Edward IV.

Like for Richard III (until recently) nobody knows where Eleanor is buried. Ashdown-Hill's detective work has taken him to a possible burial point, but it cannot, today, be determined that the remains found belonged to Eleanor or not. It you, like me, are interested in historical mysteries, it is a fascinating book to read and conclusions well documented where possible. Usually, royal weddings are a public affair. But in the case of Edward the IV, it seems he married on his own accord, not only once, but twice. Without consulting the proper authorities. It is fascinating to consider the consequences, as Ashdown-Hill puts it:
"Why then has Eleanor been so completely neglected? She is, in her own way, a key figure of English history, a veritable 'Cleopatra's nose'. If her marriage to Edward IV had been acknowledged in her lifetime, if she had actually been enthroned and crowned as England's queen-consort, all subsequent history must have been different. The house of York might still have been reigning today, in a separate kingdom, never united to Scotland. The despotic, paranoid Tudors would have remained unheard of outside their native Wales. Enormous consequences would flow from all this. The English Reformation, which sprang from Henry VIII's dynastic and financial crises, and was neither generally desired nor supported by the English populace, have preserved to the present day their unrivalled cultural heritage. No Tudors would mean no Stuarts; no Civil War; no Oliver Cromwell. The story goes on and on. It all turns on Eleanor."
It is a staggering thought of what might, or might not have been. Historians do not agree on whether Eleanor and Edward were actually married or not. How should the text of the document be interpreted? If they were married, why did not her family, or herself, come forward when he married Elizabeth Woodville? We will probably never know the true details, but it is yet another interesting and fascinating historical mystery.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Paris in July 2019 - Claude Cahun exhibition

Paris in July is hosted by Thyme for Tea. One of my favourite memes, to talk and read about everything Parisian and/or French.

I had business in Halmstad (south west coast of Sweden) the other day. I picked up a beautiful painting that I bought. I will show it later. There were a surrealist group of painter in the beginning of the 20th century, living and working in Halmstad. They are called "The Halmstad Group". Starting out in the ordinary way, they very soon entered into surrealism. After having lived in Belgium, there is no getting away from surrealism. Although, I was not such a fan from the beginning, it grew on me, and today, I am rather fond of it. At the Mjellby Art Gallery there is a permanent exhibition with this group. But, what does it have to do with Paris in July you ask? Nothing really. BUT! At the same gallery there is an photo exhibition of a surrealist photographer, Claude Cahun. Never heard about her, or him, earlier, but it was a very interesting acquaintance.

Claude Cahun (1894-1954), or Lucy Renée Mathilde Schwob as she was named, was born in Nantes, into a cultural family. In 1909 she met her lifelong partner Marcel Moore (a pseudonym for Suzanne Malherbe). They formed a duo in the artistic scene of Paris in the 1920s. They interacted with artists, writers and actors, and became a part of the Surrealist set. In the late 1930s they moved to Jersey where they established a resistent movement in opposition to the Nazi occupation. They were captured and sentenced to death. The peace saved them.

Claude Cahun worked closely with Marcel Moore and they staged their photographs. She usually just used one camera, but did not develop the photos herself. Many of their motives were surrealistic, experimenting with identity, gender and different personae. As often is the case, she was never recognised during her life time. It is only in the 1980s that her photos were once again discovered.

The exhibition is very interesting. She is often herself the model, although in different disguises. It is sometimes difficult to see whether it is a man or a woman in the pictures. She was a pioneer in her way of staging her photos. Very talented, she also wrote poetry and books.

You could not be in Paris in the 1920s without encounter Surrealism. This is the time of André Breton's first Surrealist manifesto, and a group of artists came together to adopt the new 'ism'.

"Following the meeting with Breton, Cahun and Moore were drawn closer to the Surrealist group. Often extravagantly dressed in pink and gold, they would arrive at the meetings as a couple, which was not appreciated by any of the Surrealists despite the message Surrealism wished to convey about transcending norms. However, they did develop friendships with many of the Surrealists, including Max Ernst, Benjamin Péret, Yves Tanguy and René Char. Cahun and Moore thus came to be part of a successful, intellectual group in Paris that comprised artists, writers, authors and actors. "
                                                                                             From exhibition brochure

Another interesting couple in Paris in the 1920s. It seems to have been a wonderful time to be there if you were an artist of any kind. I found a book that hopefully will give me a picture of the life there at the time. "Ett magiskt rum - Salonger i 1920-talets Paris (A Magical Room - Salons in Paris in the 1920s) by Ingrid Svensson. Four women are in the forefront of this book, says the author; Gertrude Stein, Natalie Clifford Barney, Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach. I have only heard of the first and last, but am sure it will be an interesting read.

Do you have any views on surrealism? What do you think?

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Composer or Wie man ein Genie tötet by Ingvar Hellsing Lundqvist

Hans Rott is an Austrian composer of little fame. He was born in 1858 and died in 1884 in a mental hospital, at the age of 25. His life was a sad one. Music his passion, his legacy?  One Symphony and a few 'Lieders'.

One evening, Ingvar Hellsing Lundqvist, heard Rott's symphony and was hooked. He had to find out more about the composer. The more he found out, the more he realised he had a book to write. It became the historical fiction, Wie man ein Genie tötet (How to Kill a Genius; my translation).

Rott lived a life of poverty. He received a scholarship to study music. His efforts went into his symphony, which he forwarded to a competition. Sure of winning, he was devastated when being ignored by the jury. He blamed his adversary, Brahms, also part of the jury. Rott goes into a depression. He imagines he sees Brahms everywhere, and that he is there to ruin his life. While on a train, he threatens another passenger with a revolver, claiming that Brahms has filled the train with dynamite. That is the beginning of the end, and shortly afterwords he ends up in a mental institution, with the diagnosis of persecutory delusions. He died a few years later.

The story of Rott's life is one of those stories where life exceeds fiction. Lundqvist has written a wonderful novel that captures Rott's sad life. We see the world from Rott's perspective. His inner thoughts, crazy as they are from time to time, give us a glimpse of a man who only wanted to create music, but reality knocks on the door. Rott's delusions and thoughts are so well described. You suffer with him. I found myself wishing for him to succeed, and at the same time, realising how crazy many of his thoughts are, knowing he will not. It almost reads like a thriller sometimes. Lundqvist slowly builds up Rott's life from early teens until his death. You are there with him through the different parts of his life. The dialogues are also well written and adds to the character of Rott.

I was really captured by Rott's story. Still today, I doubt many people have heard about him. I had not. His only symphony, Symphony in E major was finally performed for the first time in 1989(!) by Cincinnati Philharmonia Orchestra. I  have listened to part of it. Mixing beautiful melodious music with powerful parts. Below from Youtube.

Ingvar Hellsing Lundqvist is a Swedish writer and this is his first novel. Unfortunately, it was not accepted for publication in Sweden, but a translation into German, by Jürgen Vater, generated publication in Austria. It is definitely worth a read. A different story, very well told.

I received a copy of the book from the author, for a fair and impartial review.