Tuesday, 26 December 2017

City light for Christmas

Back from subdued family festivities...
Quite a pleasure to live in the Netherlands, where on feast days the trains continue to run, as well as the trams, and people DO wish you A Merry Christmas...
Here in Amsterdam the city is dressed is pretty lights (I think they copied this from Torino's Luce dei Artisti...)
Above is the Utrechtse straat, quite close to where I live, festooned with light.
The wind, I should add, is bitter cold!
Below, the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, courtesy of my friend Maria.
Goethe would have liked this... (Mehr Licht).

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Light in the darkness

So here in the North the days are short, the wind is bitter, snow falls ... and it it the time when small lights shine out in the darkness of the streets, from Christmas trees or candles lit inside, lights of remembrance, lights of hope.

Families gather together and plan a feast.. well, my family is having a mini feast, no roast turkey but I have managed to procure a real English Christmas pudding. This is mainly so that the children can sing "WE wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year" which they have learnt at school.
For the first time we shall have all the grandchildren and their parents together on Christmas Day, a cause for great rejoicing.

Here in Amsterdam the weather is being suitably chill but we've had a snow and I don't think more will come this week.
I am contemplating a Christmas tree, but there's really nowhere to put it, so I think I'll make do with strings of small lights. That, after all, is what it's all about.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never put it out.
And we certainly need to hold onto that hope, as we look around the world today...
This is the light shining into the Rijksmuseum...

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

More repetition

That's what comes of not reading through what one has already written!
Sorry about the doubling of the pix...
Now we move on to Paris ... When still in Portugal I had booked the train return from Amsterdam to Paris Gare du Nord.
David would have liked to come too, but is saddled with the cleaning of our boat's mast ... happily Andrea is assisting, otherwise it would be a long and exhausting job. As it is, they have spent many weeks cleaning it. Now almost finished. The Atlantic outside Porto where our boat is moored is wild and windy. Glad I'm sitting in the train crossing the French countryside.
We set off at dawn, the skies lowering: snow is forecast. Here is a view out the window (still in the Netherlands):
Once arrived in Paris, there was the sun. Oh splendid city with winding streets and little hills and the white tower of Sacre-Coeur. We drove out to Nanterre where Samir, our Algerian friend, lives.
Next language to learn is Berber. My French manages very well. I had an excellent teacher at my secondary school. Miss Bishop. I was very lucky to be so well taught.
Souaad (also from Algeria) presented me with a magnificent Berber dress. Hand made. Here it is:
And here are Samir and Souaad and one of their wonderful meals ... later on came a home-made couscous...
So we ate, we talked, we went for walks, we watched the TV (an interview with Jean d'Ormesson the writer, member of the Academie Francaise, who has just died) we met other members of the Berber family (I listened to them speaking Berber... maybe I'll learn it later ...) and I slept in utter quiet because in Samir's new flat in Nanterre there is clever double glazing.
Days of wonderful relaxation, and being splendidly looked after.
And for all my literary friends, here are the madeleines:
Oh the utterly mouth-watering delicacies of the French patisserie...

We were warned from various sources of huge gales and snow storms reaching the French Atlantic coast, so I was prepared for a long journey back ... but all went smoothly and of course I found some people to chat with on the train, and watched the snow flurries outside.
Everything was delayed but finally I reached home and it felt pleasantly warm. The next day the central-heating thermostat died ... but that is another story.
Homeward bound:
How swiftly we move and how little time we spend in quiet contemplation... Train journeys are great!

Too much to tell...

Too little time to tell it in...
There was the film Festival in Torino (Turin).
And seeing old friends from the days when we lived there.
Such a pleasure to be in the city, walking under its many arcades, drinking bicerin (!) or the incomparable thick hot chocolate.
Of course, I had my hair cut by the parruchiere whom I was recommended in 2006...
Here I am sitting in one of the many excellent cafes of Turin reading an Italian newspaper ...
What you can see of my hair reveals its shortened length!
I saw 18 films during the festival, many of which I could happily see again. Noteworthy were The Death of Stalin and The Genius and the Opera Singer and Darkest Hour.
None of these were fiction, all based on actual events; The Genius and the Opera Singer is a documentary showing a mother aged 90 (the former singer of the title) and her daughter (a very smart /clever girl!) now aged around 60, living together in a small apartment in New York, engaged in constant haggling dispute. Wonderfully filmed (the editing was superb) so that it flowed and grew, sometimes with flashbacks using photographs, sometimes through dialogue with the filmer, Vanessa (Stockley, from England!) whom we heard speaking. Without any commentary (that was its strength) the film revealed the attachment between the two women, together with the slumbering fury in the daughter, who was convinced that her evidently "failed" life was the result of her mother's inadequate mothering.
There is much more to say about this film; it contains hilarious brilliant dialogue, (Jewish) humour of great wit, and with clever camera work reveals layers of the lives of mother and daughter; so that at the end (and it was just over an hour long) I felt I had known these two women many years. I think many people, especially women, in the audience, recognized aspects of their relationship with their mother.
Several of the films I saw dealt with specifically Italian matters, such as Vento Soave (about water and air pollution in Brindisi, in the southern Italian province of Puglia where David and I kept the boat a couple of years ago); or Cento Anni (which I saw twice) about forms of racism and intolerance of those who are different (!) and the growth of fascism in Italy.
The most impressive film I saw was the Portuguese A Fabrica de Nada by Pedro Pinho from 2017. The title was translated "The nothing factory", a factory that stopped producing ... and the film was about the failure in western Europe (and wider) to ensure that there is some kind of equality of income (!) in society and time and money to enjoy life (it also raised the question of how different people experience enjoyment...). The problems of production and distribution were discussed, (there was a  group of bearded intellectuals speaking French who pondered the problems of Capitalism) ... I wondered if the maker of the film has read Pikerty's Capitalism (yet)?
The narrative followed the life of one of the factory workers and his girlfriend, showed his father, a former revolutionary who thought the only way to beat the system was using weapons/explosives (echoes of terrorist attempts to disrupt social order) and there was a moment of sheer genius, when the disconsolate factory workers had an offer of work from Argentina and suddenly:
burst into song and dance as in a musical comedy, beautifully choreographed and composed.
Completely unexpected and very powerful.
Ah yes,  Portugal... so much to tell...
Below: Looking towards Piazza Castello on a grey day
When the sun arrived and the snow shone, a corner of Torino:

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Torino Film Festival

Every year I try to return to the Film Festival in the Italian city of Torino (Turin). We lived here from 2006 to 2010, and then a couple of years later spent several months in Puglia on the southeast tip of Italy. I speak the language mediocre-ly  (don't think that word exists) and understand and read it fairly well, and it is always a great pleasure to continue improving my knowledge of Italian and Italy.
And of course the films are always both entertaining and informative. They widen my world and I learn a great deal about other countries and cultures.
Saw some excellent films this year in the space of eight days and feel greatly enriched.
It was also a great pleasure being in Torino and walking round the streets I know so well. Usually in sunshine, though we also had a wonderful snowfall whitening the trees and roofs.
After one day's grey, the sun returned:
There at the edge of the city, stand the white mountains. Clean air for those who can get out.
So many contradictions in this place.
More thoughts soon.
Here I am in one of the many many cafe's, reading an Italian newspaper...
Much more to tell...