Friday, 24 October 2014

America, the Promised Land

Ready to go?
Recently, I have visited two exhibitions that has the same theme; emigration or immigration,
depending on from which view you see it. The exhibitions tells about two ship lines that carried people who wanted to leave their own countries in search for a better life in America; The White Star Line and The Red Star Line

The White Star Line

This exhibition is about Titanic, the most famous ship of the line and the most tragic. The exhibition is now running on the last month here in Brussels and I visited it on Thursday. It was very interesting. Although you think you know most of the things about this disaster, it is another thing to see items from the boat, personal items from people lost and interiors of how it looked like on the ship. There was also a scientific part with information on how the accident happened and the story of how the wreck was found.

The Red Star Line

This is a permanent exhibition in Antwerpen and tells the story of this line which was founded in 1873 by Peter Wright&Sons. They specialised in oil export from the US to Europe and wanted to carry passengers from Europe to the US.

The exhibition is set in the actual terminal of the shipping line and you walk through rooms which once hosted medical examination units, luggage rooms, ticket and passport control. Since there were very sever restrictions from the US side, all passengers had to go through a medical examination to see that they were healthy. Furthermore, the luggages needed to be disinfected so it was quite a procedure to be able to travel to the US.

In 1921 the US decided to cut down on immigration, leading to a big drop in numbers of people going 'over there'. Nevertheless, in 1923 the Red Star Line could celebrate their 50th anniversary. The shipping line has transported hundreds of thousands of immigrants during the years, not only from Belgium but from other European countries. They had first to make the trip to Antwerp which was a special adventure in itself.

In the 1930s the Red Star Line had some problems and it was sold to a German ship owner. In 1939 the German government sold it to the Holland-America Line, which was based in Rotterdam. They continued to operate a Red Star Line route between Antwerp and New York until the Fifties.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Rubens' House - Antwerp

If you are visiting Antwerp and are interested in culture, you just have to visit the beautiful house of Peter Paul Rubens. Rubens was born in 1577, in Antwerp. However, to study classical Roman and Italian Renaissance art, he spent eight years in Italy. He liked it so much there so he hardly wanted to come back to Antwerp. But alas he had to. In 1610 he and his wife Isabella Brant bought a house and a piece of land in Antwerp. He enlarged the house and gave it a flair of an Italian palazzo. If you can't go to Rome, take Rome with you!

He had himself assembled an internationally admired collection of paintings and sculptures at the house. Here he also produced most of his work.

Even on a slightly, clouded autumn day the garden was beautiful, and you can imagine it in the summer. The audio guide takes you around the house and all the paintings and other art work. The paintings are explained, here are also the wonderful, gilded wall papers, absolutely amazing (again!). I passed a lovely dining room with a portrait in each end of Rubens and his second wife. Absolutely wonderful room. Going up-stairs you come over to the other side of the house. At the ground floor at the very end there is a gallery of fantastic paintings.
The dining room, the most beautiful
room in the house
A bedroom

à l'Italia
One thing, I didn’t know, and which I found fascinating was that Rubens used to buy works from other painters and then ‘improve’ them in colour, structure, or even change a farm lady to a noble lady. The painting was fabulous. Normally, he let his pupils do these kind of exercises but, obviously, he did some himself. I was just wondering if one could do these things then? I am sure it is not possible today. However, this is maybe the only reason why the original painter is seen today?
The gallery

The fire places were amazing, here as well as in the printing house. Those wonderful ones where you can walk inside! Just love them. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A Divided Inheritance by Deborah Swift

This is also a review for the Historical Fiction Challenge at the Historical Tapestry.

This book started out good. Elspet Leviston is living with her father in London, helping him out with
his lace business. We are talking London, 1609. One day her father comes home with a young man that he introduces as her half brother, Zachary Deane. The father always wanted a son who could take over the business, and is now eager to introduce it to Zach. However, he is not very interested. His main goal is to get some money and go to Spain to learn the craft of a swordsman. Elspet, who is the one really knowing the business from all angels, see that she is ousted.

Mr Leviston sends Zach to a European tour to learn the business, meet their colleagues in other countries from where the lace is bought. Zach has his own agenda and deviates rather quickly and goes to Spain and starts his apprentice as a swordsman. Unexpectedly, the father dies. Unexpectedly, for all involved, the father leaves all his property and business to Zach. Since Elspet is supposed to marry he did not think she needed anything extra.

Letters are exchanged and finally they find Zach in Spain. His reply is to sell everything and send him the money. Elspeth and the manager of the business set of to Spain to try to persuade him to keep it, for the sake of the people employed and for Elspet, whose supposed marriage was cancelled.

Once in Seville in Spain everything changes. There is a fight of wills between Zach and Elspet and she refuses to leave before he has agreed to cancel the selling of the business. Zach's main interest is the training he has with a maestro. These are turbulent times for the moors of Spain who are being expelled. These people are born and have lived in Spain all their life and most of them have never been to their original country. Zach and Elspet get involved in the turmoil when trying to save friends. Both their attitudes to each other, to the world around them and to their future change

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Art of Printing

I was visiting Antwerp the other day. Wanted to look around a little bit and find out more about this interesting, medieval city. Looking around for interesting museums to start with, I found the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Turns out to be much more than I could ever have bargained for. The museum/house tell the history of one of the greatest printer-publishers of all time. It was founded by one of the first ‘industrial’ printers, a brilliant, self-taught man who only Gutenberg himself could beat. His name is Christopher Plantin (ca 1520-1589), from Saint-Avertain, near Tours, in central France. He was the most important printer-publisher of the time, and one of the great pioneers of Western civilisation. Countless are the publications he printed in the fields of humanism and the sciences.

Christopher Plantin, was the arch-typographer to Philip II Spain, and in the mid 16th century he transfered his well-known printing office, called The Golden Compass to where it is situated today, in the centre of Antwerp. His motto was Labore et Constantia (Work and Constancy). His descendants and successors, the Moretuses, carried on his heritage for three hundred years. They also continued to live in the house that was transformed to one of the finest residencies in Antwerp.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Her Last Letter by Nancy C. Johnson

I really just stumbled on this book and it was so exciting and thrilling, I could not really put it down. I am registered for receiving information on e-books by Bookbub. The offer either free or very cheap e-books in various categories. This was the first one I bought for 0.88 €! And it was so good.

It starts with Gwyn finding a hidden letter from her dead sister. Since it is already on the first page I will quote it here:

I'm so scared. He knows! And God if my sister knew I've been screwing her boyfriend she'd kill me anyway. Why in hell did I get into this whole situation? I've got to tell someone or I could end up dead ... like the last one. The look in his eyes when he told me about her was totally unreal. I don't think he was making it up, but he could have been, just to scare me. Maybe the best thing is to leave. Hope he calms down and forgets about it. Not likely, if he found the box. I've looked for it everywhere, and someone was in the house messing with things. God, what now? I'll think of something. I have to.
Later...I hear someone downstairs.

Can't start more exciting than this. The story is told from Gwyn's point of view. Both her and her sister are now married. There are several suspects that could fit in to the description in the letter; the two husbands, a former boyfriend to Gwyn, the boyfriend to Kelly (the dead sister) who was suspected but disappeared and have not been found since then (two years ago).

The atmosphere of the book is somewhat 'Hitchcockian', or like the film Rebecca. Everybody is acting strange, everybody seems suspicious and it is not until the very end that the culprit is revealed. I could not even guess who it was. An excellent book, even if the end sum-up did not come up to the rest of the book, I would be happy to read anything else by Johnson. As far as I can see, she has written another book called Twice Cursed. Might have to try that one too!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Cook & Book

When you look at Pinterest you often find fantastic pictures from the most beautiful book shops in the
world. Most of the time they are too far away from us all. However, we have one in Brussels, which I have also seen on such a site. I am planning an article for our Swedish paper here in Brussels, so Karin and I set out last week.

As you might guess from the title that the shop is also a restaurant, or many. Each room in the shop is dedicated to different kind of books (cooking books, travel books, comic strips, music etc) and differently decorated. Just sit down where your mood takes you.

We went for the travel books, and in the middle of the room is a caravan, where you can also sit an eat inside. The food is nice and as said the surroundings inspiring.
Comic strip area

Inside the caravan
After lunch we went over to the other shop. Yes, it seems there are two, which Karin told me. I was always sorry that they did not have any books in English! Well, here they are, together with cook books. There are also wonderful rooms and for sure this is where I am heading next time.

Cook book section

English book section! Doesn't it
look inviting?
It is very difficult for me to go inside a book shop and not buy anything. This time was no exception. I came out with two books:  The Master of Bruges by Terence Morgan and Amsterdam - A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto. They look and sound very promising and I will return with a review, once I have read them.

Enjoy the photos. Which is your favourite/beautiful book shop in your vicinity?

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Brussels and its history (part III)

We are now going further downtown to the Saint Géry district. We start at the Rue de la Grande Ile.
Unfortunately, we don't see any traces of the Great Island today. It vanished when the River Senne was turned into an underground canal in the 19th century. Instead the city built a line of grand boulevards in its place. The city planners wanted to give Brussels something of the grandeur of Paris. At the opening the mayor said that he had 'replaced the dangerous and dreary river with the most important and arguably most beautiful boulevards in our city.' Baudelaire was not impressed when he visited Brussels and grumbled something about 'the sadness of a city without a river.'

If you live in a city you have to put some extra work into surrounding yourself with greeneries!
Aren't they lovely?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Angels - Messengers of the divine

This is a book about angels and the perception we have of them. If they exist or not, has really to do with what you believe in. They are nevertheless present in our culture today. Just look at all the movies and songs about angels. Angels are connected to our faiths and are present in the stories from the three monotheistic religions; Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Today when we live in such a technological society, we seek more of our spiritual self and there they also have a place.

The angel world is very complex and there seems to be many angels, millions in fact. I think most people think of angels as good, but this is not always the case. We talk about a ‘guardian angel’ or a ‘revenging angel’. They can also be either feminin or masculine.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Professor by Charlotte Brontë

This was a read for the Brontë Reading Group here in Brussels, which met yesterday evening at the restaurant "Carpe Diem". This is Charlotte Brontë's first book and it was not printed until after her death. The publisher, and other persons as well, thought it was not good or appropriate as it was and wanted to change it. However, Charlotte refused. It might be that some editing took place then, before printing it.

As usual we had a lively discussion. This is always the case when we have different views. Some loved the book, others didn't, some said it was ok. Some thought the characterisation was not good enough, others thought it was. If you have read Jane Eyre and Villette you recognise things from this book that she used later on. I found a lot of the descriptions of the city was rather clear here, not mistaken it for anything but Brussels. In Villette she has written around it a little bit more. More discretely in a way.

Here is a short resume of the story and I am afraid it is a SPOILER. So,  for those of you who want to read the book, skip the next paragraph.

The story is about William Crimsworth, whose mother died when he was born. His brother was around 10-12 years older than him. William therefore grew up with some uncles and were sent to boarding school as soon as possible. Once finished with school, he was thrown out by the uncles because he didn't want to go into priesthood or marry one of the cousins. He comes to work for his brother who is a tyrant and soon resigns. With the help of a man from the village, Hunsdon, he gets an introduction letter for looking for work in Brussels. He travels there, gets a job as teacher in a boys' school. Next to it is a girl's school. He has an infatuation with the directress, Ms Reuter, until he discovers her ways. Furthermore, he learns that she is engaged to be married to Mr Pelet who is his boss. One of his pupil's in English (he got a job to teach English also in the girl's school!) is another teacher, Frances.  Her mother is English and her father is Swiss. They are both dead and she lives now in rather poor circumstances with her aunt. He fancies her and Ms Reuter gets jealous and tells her she does not need to come back. Her aunt dies and she is alone. William is looking for her all over the city, since Ms Reuter pretends that she does not know Frances' address. Finally one day, he stumbles upon her in a cemetery outside the city. They fall in love, she gets a job, he (who had resigned since Mr Pelet, his boss, is going to marry Ms Reuter) gets another job. They start a school, they get a son, they sell the school and retire to a beautiful country house in England. Pff

Well, what can I say? The writing is good in Charlotte's usual style. Far too many boring descriptions of everything around. You never get to really know the characters. They are all behaving a little bit peculiar. What is a little bit astounding though is the the 'love scenes' are quite explicit. Please misunderstand me right, not like it would be today. But, she sits in his knee, they kiss and so on and so forth. She also has a lot of social thinking in the book, especially concerning equality for women. Frances is very upset when she hears that William gets 8000 FR per year and she only gets 1200. Also Frances wants to continue working after they have married. Here Charlotte is really ahead of her time. As you might understand, I was not one of those who loved the book. However, since she has not written that many books, I think that if you are a Charlotte Brontë fan you just have to read it. The book is rather short as well.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Monday morning!

It is Monday morning again. I understand that it is Columbus day in the States so there is a day off. For all the rest of you who have to work, have a nice work week.

Autumn is coming to Brussels, Belgium, with all its wonderful colours. This year we have had a fantastic summer and it has gone over into a rather nice autumn. Something like every other day sunshine and blue sky and every other day cloudy and rainy! Today it is time to the sunny day. Hopefully, also tomorrow since I am going to Antwerpen for the day to have a look at the history, fantastic buildings, art, the house of Rembrandt and much more. Report will follow.

I just want to share a couple of nice autumn pictures with you. It is my neighbour's tree, but is the first that catch my eye when I look out of the bedroom window in the morning.