Sunday, February 7, 2016

Brunetti's Venice

"Venice is a complicated place, physically and spiritually, and it is extraordinarily difficult to establish Venetian facts. Nothing is ever quite certain." (Jan Morris, Venice) 

If you love Venice, then I am sure you are familiar with Donna Leon's series set in the magic city and whose main character is Commissario Brunetti. I have read a few of her books with the intention of definitely reading some more, but a few weeks ago I came across this book, "Brunetti's Venice" and I had to leaf though it, since you cannot actually read it. You have to be in Venice to track Brunetti's walks, his favorite places, the churches he passes by, his stops at different cafes and his home. The book presents such an accurate description of his wanderings that you cannot but wish to discover Venice, book in hand, the way that Toni Sepeda, the professor of literature who compiled these walking tours envisaged for you. Each chapter takes us on a different tour, and the sights are blended with passages from Donna Leon's books (pictured above), in order to support and clarify the character's endeavors. At the end of each walk you can also find info on additional sites and details as well as the time the walk may take.

"He wondered what divine intercession could save the city from the oil slick, this modern plague that covered the waters of the laguna and had already destroyed millions of the crabs that had crawled though the nightmares of his childhood. What Redeemer could come and save the city from the pall of greenish smoke that was slowly turning marble to meringue? A man of limited faith, he could imagine no salvation, either divine or human." (Death at la Fenice, chapter 14) 

So, next time you visit Venice, try to exchange your ordinary tour book with this fascinating account and you will be seeing Venice though the eyes of a famous character. And when you return home, why not try some of the recipes from "Brunetti's Cookbook" as well? :)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Venice in February... Again


I have no intention of giving up on my other challenge, which turns 4 today, mainly because Venice is still my favorite city in the world and I can't wait to rediscover it though fantastic literature. I have in mind quite a lot of books, but I will definitely read these two: "La Tempestad" written in 1997 by Juan Manuel de Prada, translated into Romanian a few years ago, and which seems to present a totally different image of the Venice we may know, and the long awaited "Venice Noir", a selection of 14 stories set in Venice, which range from the ones depicting tourists during Carnevale to criminals trying to elude the law.... These two tomes should be quite intriguing, to say the least!

Do join me this month in my quest for the mysterious Venice! 

Monday, January 18, 2016

You + Me = US

“I had always been led to believe that ageing was a slow and gradual process, the creep of a glacier. Now I realise that it happens in a rush, like snow falling off a roof.” 

I decided to read "US" by David Nicholls because I simply adored "One Day" and I was secretly hoping this novel would be as good as the previous one. Even if certain critics claim that it has lived up to its expectations, I myself can say that it is a good book, interesting in its story, but not as good as "One Day". In fact, up until the last 50 pages I quite loved it, hoping it would end the way I wanted, then I was brutally disappointed by its quick denouement, just to notice a glimpse of hope for the main character when he decided to call that woman in

"US" tells the story of a man in love with his wife who wakes up one morning, after 20 years of marriage, to hear his wife say "Our marriage has run its course .... I want to leave you." What follows is his struggle to make his wife change her mind, to convince her that he truly loves her and to recreate a broken bond between him and his 17 year old son Albie, all this on a previously planned trip through Europe.

“From an evolutionary point of view, most emotions – fear, desire, anger – serve some practical purpose, but nostalgia is a useless, futile thing because it is a longing for something that is permanently lost, and I felt its futility now.” 

We know we are reading a love story, but sometimes this turns into a comedy, when Douglas, the scientist, remembers the first years or his relationship with Connie, the artist, and into a tragedy when he does not manage to reconnect with Albie, the rebel son. The whole trip though Europe turns into opportunities often missed to win back his wife and son. However, this is not a depressing book, in fact, thank goodness there is still some hope in the universe, both for the main character and for us, readers, looking for books to be inspired by.

“Was it the happiest day of our lives? Probably not, if only because the truly happy days tend not to involve so much organisation, are rarely so public or so expensive. The happy ones sneak up, unexpected.” 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Scream


Art can be serious but you can still enjoy it while having a laugh. I have been familiar with Van Gogh's work for decades, and I am a fan of Munch's The Scream, but to see the two painters together in an amazing exhibition, that was quite extraordinary. While visiting Amsterdam last December I wanted to see The Sunflowers and Starry Night but I did not expect to be caught by surprise with some of Munch's most famous works  of art brought from Oslo, Norway in a parallel between the two painters' creations. I had no idea there are so many similarities in their art but seeing them side by side, I was impressed by the intensity with which they painted life, almost the same life even if they never met, although they were contemporaries. Their self-portraits resemble as well, which is quite astonishing.

The exhibition opened on 25th September and runs until January, the 17th, so there are just a few days in which one can admire both painters in the same place.

If not, there is always the virtual option. Click here to go to the museum site.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Ogawa's Housekeeper and Professor

“A problem isn't finished just because you've found the right answer.” 

Even if Tony has given up on his challenge, January in Japan, I still wanted to read at least one Japanese writer this month, and I have chosen Ogawa's book, mainly because I quite enjoyed her previous book, "Hotel Iris" and then, because 2016 looks like the year of big reading challenges, I have to tackle - or continue - two challenges I really love: Bellezza's and The Women Challenge.
"The Housekeeper and the Professor", published in 2003, tells the story of a mathematician who had a car accident and whose brain was damaged, meaning that every 80 minutes his memory erases, but he can still remember things that happened before the accident. And he loves numbers, prime numbers.
Reading the book you immerse yourself into Maths problems and the struggle of both main characters to relate to each other beyond the 80 minute time gap. You notice how the professor becomes affectionate towards the housekeeper's son, nicknamed "Root" and how they start sharing each other's passions. The professor rediscovers his penchant for baseball while the mother and son find out the pleasures of Maths problems. Until one day, when the professor's memory declines even more.

“The Professor never really seemed to care whether we figured out the right answer to a problem. He preferred our wild, desperate guesses to silence, and he was even more delighted when those guesses led to new problems that took us beyond the original one. He had a special feeling for what he called the "correct miscalculation," for he believed that mistakes were often as revealing as the right answers.” 

Even if at times I was wondering if the Maths problems and equations did not take too much space within the story, I did enjoy seeing the connections beyond the obvious, the mystery that surrounded the numbers, just as there is always a mystery when you read poetry or listen to music.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

My Literary Challenges in 2016

I have read on a lot of people's blogs that they wish to drop challenges in 2016 and rely more on quality rather than quantity when it comes to their chosen books. I think that should apply to anything in life, whether it is food, clothes or time spent at the gym. :) 

However, in the last few years, when I joined a few (or more than a few) reading challenges, I did not see myself as choosing quantity over quality. In fact, the challenges made me focus more on reading while also managing to discover great books and fantastic writers, no matter if I had the time to write about them or not. With this in mind, I realized that there are more and more Romanian writers on my reading list(s) because they write fantastically and I love their style, and also, there is no such challenge on the internet - or one that I could find after attentively looking for - so here I am, starting a brand new reading challenge, one that is extremely simple: 

THE ROMANIAN WRITERS CHALLENGE 2016


What exactly do you have to do for this challenge? 

It starts on the 1st of March 2016 and it ends on the 1st of December 2016, when we, Romanians celebrate our National Day. 

So, you have 9 months to read at least one book by a Romanian writer, whether in the original or in translation. 

If you decide to also write a review on your blog or send the review (because you do not have one), you will be entered in a draw on the 1st of December to win a special prize

So, without further ado, please join the following list:

Friday, January 1, 2016

Call me Vicky


I have been planning to write about Cristina Nemerovschi since I first read her book, "nymphette_dark99" a few months ago, but I just did not find the time (obviously). However, at the beginning of December I started reading the sequel to that, "Vicky, nu Victoria" and I knew I had to express my awe towards her writing and thrilling imagination.
Cristina's books are not for weak souls, I can truly say that. Having read only these two, out of 10 that she has published since her debut back in 2010, I am not quite sure I will soon gather the courage to read something else, not because they may not be good, but mainly because they may not be as good as these two.

"She would always tell me that if you bothered with whatever may happen after you did something, you would no longer want to do it. And this is how you become a robot that has given up on living."

What first draw me towards these books was the main character and the controversies surrounding her. Sure, I have read Nabokov's "Lolita" and I was thoroughly impressed by it, but this goes beyond any rebellion you can find in there. Just imagine a much darker Lolita, who loves sex but hates her mother, who has no problem skipping school, using drugs or cutting a stranger's eyes in the woods. I don't remember having read something more "deranged" and yet, captivating. You cannot but want to see how far the main character will be going. "Vicky, not Victoria" is a very violent book, but one that makes you think that it is in some people's blood to start a revolution. I need the writer, seen by critics as "the rebel of Romanian literature nowadays" to write a sequel to the sequel, one that will make me hope that nothing is in vain, not even setting fire to your school.

"Once again, I praise my taste in clothes. It is always harder to spot blood on black."

Saturday, December 26, 2015

All I want for Christmas is ... SNOW!


No, this blog is not dead, it just took a break away from the maddening crowd until next year, which is just a few days away :)

Have Yourself a Happy New Year, full with Love and Light... and Good Books! :)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Grotesque in Us


I was expecting Natsuo Kirino's novel to be a shocker, mainly because "Out" was one and this book too was announced as a thriller, but it was beyond my expectations. "Grotesque" (2007, for the English version) tells the story of people who are ugly on the inside, who have no second thoughts about hurting, physically or mentally the others around, if that brings them even a little pleasure. There is so much abuse among schoolgirls, so much horror and mystery among women who become prostitutes just for "the fun of it" and who wish to actually be killed while working on the streets.

Personally, I found it hard to empathize with any of the characters, whether male or female, mainly because I could not visualize so much violence and masochism. However, this did not stop me from appreciating the writer's creativity in developing a story that starts with two prostitutes found dead in Tokyo to deconstructing the mystery from the point of view of a girl who is not very impressed with what happened, even if one of the prostitutes was her sister and the other one a schoolmate. Thus, we get to read the killed women's letters and journals, to see how they lowered their expectations and why they became prostitutes when their lives could have been quite different. A "must" if you want to discover Japan's contemporary literature.

Read for The Japanese Reading Challenge but also for Women in Translation Challenge.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

13

A few months ago people around the internet started playing this literary tag, mainly they named their 10 most influential books. I remember I posted them somewhere, after hours and hours of debating. It's time they were posted here, too, not necessarily in a specific order! Not 10, but 13... since it was quite hard to decide.

1. The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger) - One never forgets their first (literary) love
2. The Alchemist (Coelho) - An optimistic book during a pessimistic time
3. Sputnik Sweetheart (Murakami) - Haruki Murakami at his best
4. Tropic of Cancer (Miller) - Nobody does it better when it comes to ...
5. Anais Nin's letters  - Well... :)
6. The Museum of Innocence (Pamuk) - (too much) love and obsession
7. Why be Happy ... (Winterson) - my favorite Jeanette encounter
8. One Day (Nicholls) - It made me laugh and cry, and do it all over again...
9. In the Company of the Courtesan (Dunant) - It made me fall in love with Venice
10. The Bad Girl (Llosa) - What a story!
11. Candide (Voltaire) - Nobody beats Voltaire's wit!
12. Written on the Body (Winterson) - My first encounter with Jeanette's books
13. Sex, Shopping and the Novel (de Botton) - I have read everything Botton has written, but this is my all time favorite of his

Consider them my all time recommendations for falling in love with literature and books! 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Japanese and French Women in Translation


August has been quite a lazy month for me, taking time to visit places and enjoy the company of the special people around me. However, I did manage to read a few books and among them is "The Pillow Book", for The Japanese Reading Challenge but also for Women in Translation Month. It is an interesting book, with wise opinions and joyful musings recorded by Sei Shonagon, a court lady during the early 11th century Japan. I am aware that the book is valuable as a historical document presenting life at the Japanese court, but it is all that that did not appeal to me. I was rather drawn to her criticism, preferences and passionate ideas on the people and objects around her.

Also, I have started reading "Grotesque", a crime novel written in 2007 by Natsuo Kirino, the Japanese writer of "Out", a thriller I simply loved and so far, this book has made me see the relationships within a family in a different light. I hope I will finish it in the next few days and still consider it a great book and its author a talented one.

On the other hand, Simone de Beauvoir's "The Woman Destroyed" will have to wait its turn sometime next month...

Happy reading and a memorable autumn! :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Women and the French Revolution


Women have struggled for centuries to gain the same rights as men and not be seen as slaves. The French Revolution was the certain means of accomplishing that. Almost. This category of citizens went back and forth in order to establish their rights.

On 5th October 1789 – women of Paris were angry about the high price of bread so 3,000 women marched to the Hotel de Ville to demand bread. This march of the Women was a visible representation of citizen unrest and became an event with major consequences for the monarchy. The king received a delegation of 15 women and 15 National Assembly deputies, which had not happened previously.

However, from existing patriotic clubs for women in 1792, the times changed so that married women were not allowed to purchase land. With this in mind and having to face every day, women became ‘revolutionary’ themselves as well. The most virulent of these women scared the male revolutionaries as it happened on the 18th November 1793 when a red bonnet group of women led by Claire Lacombe got into the General Council of Paris. As a consequence, the National Convention forbade all clubs and gatherings that involved women. Women no longer had the right to even take part in political reunions and they were excluded from the affairs of the city.

If in September 1792 women were given the right to divorce, Napoleon’s code of 1804 changed all that. Divorce was made harder to obtain, particularly for women. the remarkably egalitarian law of 1792 was repealed and provisions were introduced which restricted divorce by mutual consent and imposed a double standard test of adultery, to the advantage of women. Later on, the women failed in making men recognize their political rights. In Amar’s discourse of 30th October 1793, he clearly stated that “nous croyons donc qu’une femme ne doit pas sortir de sa famille pour s’immiscer dans les affaires du gouvernement.” (we thus think that a woman must not leave her family in order to get involved in the affairs of the government.) The civil code of 1804 stated in article 215 that a woman cannot utter a judgment without her husband’s authorization.

Nevertheless, there were a few successful female artists during the period of the revolution. Among them, Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun, one of the only four women artists to have been accepted in 1783 into the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, a major achievement for a woman in the 18th century. She painted portraits of Marie Antoinette and various aristocrats. Many years later in her memoir she regretted the disappearance of the sort of gallantry associated with the Ancien Regime, affirming that the women ruled then and the revolution has dethroned this. Another successful woman, Labille – Guiard was an artist that actively favored the revolution.

Emancipating women legally an politically met with incomprehension.  “Since women have the same moral and intellectual capacities as men, anything but equality for women, argued Sophie Condorat, is by definition incompatible with the Rights of Man and discriminatory.”
To sum up, this obvious injustice of laws reduced women to the condition of slaves that will have to wait centuries to liberate themselves from the atrocities of man-imposed rules. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Rebel Heart

23 years of loving her each day even more :)

Happy Birthday, Madonna! 


Monday, August 10, 2015

One Very Special Rendez Vous

Elle: "Mon seul tabou, c'est l'homme marie."(My only taboo is the married man.)
Lui: "C'est fou ce que tu me plais, c'est dingue." (It's crazy how much I like you, it's mad.)


Even if "Paris in July" is over, I could not stay away from a supposedly great movie, with the talented Francois Cluzet, whose movies are a must and the beautiful Sophie Marceau. I was right. This is a piece of cinematic artistry one cannot soon forget. "Une rencontre" or "Quantum of Love" (2014)  tells the story of two people - a not so single woman and a very married man - who meet, fall in love but, for their "story not to end, in must never begin." Still, we can all create a reality that is quite what we wished for... or can we?



Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Cat


'I have a lovely cat', he said.
She almost believed him. Who would lie about their cat? 
They walked hand in hand, towards nowhere. She wondered why she trusted him so much. They had only met two hours before and he could be a serial killer, for all she knew. Still, he was smiling at her and she felt comfortable once again.

‘I want you to see my cat’, he said, grinning.

‘All right’, she heard herself answer.

It was the beginning of September and the trees were still dark green. There were children playing in front of their blocks of flats. School hadn't begun yet. Alice was a primary teacher, she loved children and they loved her back. Oliver was still a stranger to her, but one with a supposedly lovely cat.
‘We are almost there’, she heard him say.
There was nothing she feared in his voice. She usually didn't trust people that easily, but this time something was totally different. He was looking at her as if she was this special girl he didn't want to let go. She could not remember when someone had looked at her like this.
‘I live with my cat, but we have room for one more’, he added, laughing.
‘I don't mind sharing you’, she whispered, thinking she was becoming too flirtatious.
‘Here's your key, then.’
She took it, smiled at him and unlocked the door. The white cat greeted her with a long meow. It was love at first sight. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Belle de Jour in July


"Belle de Jour" (1967) was considered one of the most famous French movies, especially since it was directed by Louis Bunuel. With a Jesuit upbringing, the director left Spain in order to join the Surrealist movement in Paris. "Belle de Jour" is his first out of six movies he shot in France.
The universe he creates is quite strange, and the line between what is real, what is wished for and what is a mere dream is so often blurred that it becomes disturbing more often than not.

The 24 year old Catherine Deneuve plays the part of Belle de Jour, a prostitute who sells herself out of too much boredom, not because she needs the money and this is her only way of acquiring it. However, her kinkiness and depravity get the best of her and still, I felt I was left wondering what was real and what not, so this was indeed an avant-garde experiment. It is worth seeing, especially as it is seen as one of the world's cinematic masterpieces, not to mention that Bunuel himself defined his movie as "the search for truth, as well as the necessity of abandoning it as soon as you’ve found it.”



You can read a great review here

Monday, July 20, 2015

Le Voleur des Moments Banales


"Le voleur d'ombres" (The Shadow Thief) de Marc Levy, un des plus connus et admires ecrivains francais, est un des romans magiques qu'on ne peut pas mettre de cote avant de le finir. Pourquoi le faire, quand il s'agit des histoires d'amour?   Les ombres peuvent nous dire des secrets et partager les chagrins et les espoirs de ceux qu'on aime ou qu'on connait. Cet etrange pouvoir aide le petit a comprendre les adultes et meme a se reconcilier avec le passe. Ecrire des mots doux dans le ciel avec un cerf-volant est toujours possible :)

Voici quelques citations que je prefere:

Et si l'adulte que vous êtes devenu rencontrait l'enfant que vous étiez ?

A écouter mon coeur tambouriner dans ma poitrine, je me suis dit qu'on pouvait peut-être mourir d'un baiser.

Il ne faut jamais comparer les gens, chaque personne est différente. L'important est de trouver la différence qui vous convient le mieux.

C'est drolement dangereux de s'attacher à quelqu'un , c'est incroyable ce que ça peut faire mal . rien que la peur de perdre l'autre est douloureuse . sans nouvelles d'elle ; tout s'écroulait autour de moi . c'est moche de guetter un signe de quelqu'un pour se sentir heureux .


"Le Figaro" presente Marc Levy racontant la genese du "Voleur d'Ombres".

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Vive le Pain Perdu!

Every July it's time for some simple, yet tasty recipe to try. Here's my favorite from Rachel Khoo's book, "The Little Paris Kitchen".

Pain Perdu avec Compote de Cerises et Basilic (French Toast with Cherry and Basil Compote) 

"Pain Perdu" means "lost bread" and you can top it with compote or eat it just as it comes. You need 1 egg, a tablespoon of sugar, 250 ml of milk, 4 slices of bread and a tablespoon of butter. For the compote you need 450 frozen pitted cherries, 150 g of icing sugar and a bunch of basil, but you could use any compote you like.

To make the compote, place all the ingredients in a pot and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally during this time to help dissolve the icing sugar.

To make "the pain perdu" whisk the egg, milk and sugar together in a dish. Place the bread in the egg mixture and soak for a minute on each side. Heat the butter in a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add the bread and cook for 2-3 minutes or until golden, then flip the slices over and cook the other side. Serve the "pain perdu" straight from the pan, with the compote spooned over and around.

Rachel has her own show on BBC Two. Click here for more info on her cooking preferences.