Back from Holidays – and Books Acquired!

There is no such thing as a relaxing holiday with the extended family back in the home country… but there were many pleasant moments, and a complete break from the treadmill, so I can’t complain! I’ve been boring everyone with endless holiday pictures on Twitter, but here are a few of my favourites, to give you a flavour of the landscapes and ‘vibes’. I will share more in my next few Friday Fun posts. [None tomorrow, though, as I have a lot of catching up to do still]

Barajul Vidraru – reservoir and dam

The Black Sea coast

The Bran-Rucar pass in the Carpathians
Sibiu

Although I had no time to browse in bookshops (unbelievable, I know!), I brought back a whole pile of books with me, some were old favourites languishing on my parents’ bookshelves, others that I had ordered online a few months ago and got delivered to their address. Meanwhile, a few books made their way into my letterbox here in the UK while I was away.

Here’s the result!

Romanian books:

  • As part of my search for contemporary Romanian authors to read and possibly translate, particularly women authors, I’ll be reading Raluca Nagy, Nora Iuga, Magda Cârneci (this one has been translated by Sean Cotter) and Diana Bădică. All recommendations via Romanian newsletters to which I subscribe.
  • A mix of contemporary and more classic male authors as well: Gellu Naum is better known for his avantgarde poetry and prose in the 1930s and 40s, or his wonderful children’s book about the wandering penguin Apolodor in the 1950s, and this is his only novel as far as I am aware (this too has been translated into English, see some reviews here); Max Blecher’s Scarred Hearts, which I previously read and reviewed in English, but wanted to own in Romanian; one of my favourite modern poets, Nicolae Labiș, who died tragically young; an English translation by Gabi Reigh of my favourite play by one of my favourite writers, Mihail Sebastian; finally, two young writers that I want to explore further, Tudor Ganea and Bogdan Coșa.
  • Last but not least, a dictionary of Romanian proverbs translated into English – just to remind myself of some of the old folk sayings.

Other books:

  • Another expat in Berlin story, imaginatively entitled Berlin by Bea Sutton. I read Susan’s review on her blog A Life in Books and couldn’t resist.
  • Two Japanese crime novels: Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight by Onda Riku (I was bowled over by The Aosawa Murders by the same author) and an older crime classic by Matsumoto Seicho entitled Tokyo Express.
  • Two volumes of poetry, Reckless Paper Birds and Panic Response by the English poet John McCullough. I recently attended a workshop with him and found him very inspiring indeed.
  • Last but by no means list: a whole flurry of chapbooks of Swiss literature, translated from all four official languages of Switzerland, published by the wonderful Strangers Press at the UEA. I am hoping to convince them to do a series on Romanian literature too someday, fingers crossed!

Friday Fun: Cape Town Apartments

One of my favourite cities in the world is Cape Town, because of its stunning natural location. You can find some of the most luxurious apartments with sea views there, although it’s problematic if we compare them with the dire conditions in shantytowns like Khayelitsha, just a couple of kilometres away. A third of the population of Cape Town lives in slums or substandard housing, 99% of the inhabitants of the slums are black, and it is very sad that this situation continues many years after the abolition of apartheid. However, this Friday Fun is all about escapism, so let’s try and forget about this for just short while and allow ourselves to think about holidays instead.

A more traditional decorating approach to this flat in Bakoven, from CometoCapeTown.com

Bantry Bay, Cape Town – leather seems to be a staple in South African interior design, but might get sticky in hot weather. From CapeConcierge.co.za

A very modern take, from James Edition.

You’d have to be very sure your neighbours wouldn’t be watching, but I rather like the idea of having a bath within earshot of the sea (I think you can close the walls/windows too). From Villa Concepts.

I liked these villas in Clifton View so much that you will now see them from three different angles, this one from The Pinnacle List.
The terrace for the Clifton View Villas, from Capsol.co.za

And a view from the opposite end, from Antoni and Associates.

Friday Fun: Viennese Apartments

After Paris and Berlin, how could I leave out my ‘home’ city of Vienna? Of course, I did NOT grow up in any of these fancy Viennese apartments, but I did have some friends who were housed in old Viennese Palais – which didn’t look at all like this back in the day, but were often run-down and full of drainage issues. Completely unaffordable nowadays, of course.

Most flats are completely unfurnished when rented or sold, but this gives you an idea of the volumes and the fancy light fittings. From coreal.at

The light fitting is not so fancy here, but I love the flowing spaces and the parquet flooring, from Willhaben.at
Here’s what a furnished one might look like – I am in love with the stove though! From Luxus Palais Wohnungen.

Sadly, most of the old buildings have been modernised beyond recognition. This one is just about acceptable (although hell to heat up in winter). From Falstaff.

But this penthouse seems a step too far, despite the dreamy views. From European Real Estate.

I have to admit I quite love this one, though… From Cuubuus.

But my dream home would be a flat in one of those inner courtyards, which were considered more modest back in the day, with lots of greenery. This one is a hotel now, Schreiner’s. From Hotelguru.

Friday Fun: Apartments in Berlin

Now that I have sung the praises of the large, airy 19th century Parisian apartments, I feel I should also mention apartments in Berlin. Some are in 19th or early 20th century buildings with the famous inner courtyards, but many warehouses have also been redeveloped. You will see that the Berlin property market is less afraid of modern architecture and interior design than the Paris one.

This is the kind of apartment I aspire to live in when I finally relocate to Berlin. Remains to be seen how feasible it might be. From HouseDiaries.com.

I just love those large windows, high ceilings, rooms flowing into each other (which is not ideal with small children, but it suits me fine now). From Pinterest.

There seem to be a lot of top-floor flats in Berlin, which could be very hot in summer and cold in winter, but gives you nice views over the city, such as this one from Tranio.com

An industrial conversion, rather New York loft style and perhaps appealing to all those wealthy expats craving to reinvent themselves in Berlin. From DezignArk.com

Perhaps a little too modern, corporate and bland, but what one could do with such a big space! From InteriorZine.

Quite a monochrome design, but enhanced by the greenery outside, from Forwardracingmtb.com

In the mood for holidays

It feels like this holiday has been a long time coming – once again, I am barely able to crawl down the finishing straight, and will have to resign myself to leaving a few things undone, a few deadlines unmet, but hopefully no one other than myself disappointed.

I am sure I am not alone in feeling that the last few months have been hard. Rising prices in just about everything, frozen or even dwindling income, very little of the work I actually enjoy coming in, lots of rejection for both translations and original work, even a personal rejection when I dared to open up a little to one person. The usual merry-go-round of concern about my sons’ academic progress and work experience (or lack thereof), house repairs, appliances going AWOL and unexpected additional expenses, plus major worries about Mlle Zoe’s state of health (and that of my parents), find a house and cat sitter etc. etc. So no wonder I feel ‘pleoștită’ – a beautiful, somewhat onomatopeic Romanian expression for someone who is battered, flattened, like a tyre with all the air let out.

I won’t be blogging or reviewing while I am on holiday, other than the Friday Fun posts which I’ve already scheduled. Nor will I be spending too much time online and reading your blogs. Instead, I will try to recapture my legendary energy and va-va-voom, if the heat permits. Here is the musical vibe I will be after:

(Although I am still made that Stan Getz didn’t pay Astrud Gilberto any royalties for this super-hit)

Friday Fun: Parisian Apartments

Let’s pay a visit to the gorgeous, airy Haussmannian apartments in the well-heeled areas of Paris now that their occupants are on holiday. I’ve been inspired by the elegant apartments shown in the film The Woman from the Fifth (Arrondissement), I hasten to add, not the dodgy hotel in the peripherie.

This is the typical, very symmetrical and neutrally-coloured French apartment, but with a splash of colour. From Architectural Digest.

The flow from one room to another and the neutral walls go well with both classical and contemporary elements. From 1stDibs.com

This one even includes a view of the Eiffel Tower! From Architectural Digest.
The wooden parquet in chevron patterns are very characteristic for city apartments, from 10surdix.com

How’s this for a spectacular entrance hall and corridor? From 10surdix.com

The blue colour of the bookshelves and the large windows make this room irresistible, and they have a coffee table which looks rather similar to mine (who knew I was so stylish!) From cotemaison.fr

Ah, now that’s what I call a living room (or library)! From 1stdibs.com

But perhaps best of all is to have this blank canvas and just imagine all you could do with this gorgeous space and view! From Faraway Places.

Mid-Year Reading Review

I saw a bookish blog post which sounded like an interesting review of the half-year so far, and was not quite as challenging to complete as the Six in Six tag. But I refuse to call it the Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag – too American a term for my taste! It is now July rather than June, but I have too much happening at once.

A gorgeous selection of Shirley Jackson covers, courtesy of Simon from Stuck in a Book.

Best Book You’ve Read so Far

This was quite a hard category, because although I’ve read a lot of good books this year, there wasn’t one that completely saw off the competition. I suppose I will stick to tried and tested old favourites like: Shirley Jackson: The Sundial (which is both very funny and sinister, my favourite combination) and the rather depressing Simone de Beauvoir: The Woman Destroyed

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet but Want To

Tawada Yoko: Scattered All Over the Earth, transl. Margaret Mitsuutani

The reviews for this book are somewhat mixed, but I cannot resist a book about language and cultural identity, and this blurb sounds crazy:

Welcome to the not-too-distant future: Japan, having vanished from the face of the earth, is now remembered as “the land of sushi.” Hiruko, its former citizen and a climate refugee herself, has a job teaching immigrant children in Denmark with her invented language Panska (Pan-Scandinavian): “homemade language. no country to stay in. three countries I experienced. insufficient space in brain. so made new language. homemade language.” As she searches for anyone who can still speak her mother tongue, Hiruko soon makes new friends. Her troupe travels to France, encountering an umami cooking competition; a dead whale; an ultra-nationalist named Breivik; unrequited love; Kakuzo robots; red herrings; uranium; an Andalusian matador.

Biggest Disappointment

This seems a little unkind, as I know it’s considered a classic of Australian literature, but I found Christina Stead: The Man Who Loved Children really hard going. I also really wanted to like Berlin-set Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel but found it annoyingly self-absorbed.

Biggest Surprise

From opposite ends of the social class in two very different countries: Princess Martha Bibescu showing subtle understanding and political flair in her war-time Political Journals, while Nakagami Kenji portrays the hard and violent life of Japa’s outcasts in The Cape, transl. Eva Zimmerman.

Favourite New Author

From Romania Doina Rusti: The Book of Perilous Dishes, a delightful historical romp; from Italy, Natalia Ginzburg’s essays The Little Virtues

Book That Made You Cry

I don’t usually cry at books, but, as one might expect, The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman does not leave you indifferent, while Gael Faye’s Petit Pays, based on his experiences of civil war in Burundi and Rwanda, show that humans are incapable of learning the lessons of the past.

Book That Made You Happy

This sounds counterintuitive, perhaps even crass, but I found much gentle optimism and encouragement in Josie George‘s remarkable memoir about living with disability A Still Life, while Ways of Walking: Essays edited by Ann de Forest (appropriate name, that) is a lovely collection of essays about all sorts of walking: in urban and rural areas, across forbidden lines, around airports and on ancient pilgrim routes. A collection to dip into and savour!

Friday Fun: Library Ladders

A good friend Ewa Sherman showed me a library ladder on Twitter (knowing how partial I am to such distractions) and that inspired me to find some of the most congenial library ladders of all time. From the classical to the more modern…

A pleasant little viewing platform at the top, from Bran Appetit.

Painted ceilings and chandeliers match so well with these bookshelves, don’t they? From Betterslidingladders.com

A public rather than a private library, so not sure how health and safety feel about that ladder? From wayfaringviews.com

A more modern and realistic take on the library ladder from Andrew Nebett Designs.

In contemporary UK, Neville Johnson seems to have the monopoly on bespoke fitted bookshelves and wardrobes.

I don’t have favourites, but if I did, this might be it. A whole top floor room dedicated to bookshelves, reading and ladders. More books needed, of course. From Weheartit.com

#SixDegrees July 2022

Apologies for not posting anything on Monday. This week will be a bit tricky; in fact, the next few weeks might be a bit off-schedule too, as I frantically try to cope with a sick cat, some additional work obligations, holiday preparations, and quite a bit of change in holiday plans. However, I could not resist joining in with Kate’s game of bookish links Six Degrees of Separation. This month it starts with Katherine May’s Wintering, a combination of memoir and nature writing which sounds utterly compelling. It is definitely on my TBR list, but no, I haven’t read it yet.

A book in a similar vein is Josie George‘s beautifully written memoir about living as a single mother with a disability A Still Life. The author has the eye of a photographer (you can follow her on Instagram) and the sensibility of a poet, and her loving observations of life in general, as well as the natural and urban world around her, are so inspiring that it’s a book I definitely want on my shelves, to dip into every now and then for encouragement and zest for life.

I did get the title of Josie’s book confused with another recent book, namely Still Life by Sarah Winman (I thought publishers tried to avoid titles that were too similar, or had been used many times before?). I haven’t read it, but I understand that it is set in Tuscany (wonderful, one of my favourite places) and depicts a wartime friendship between an English soldier and an alleged spy.

Books about wartime romances abound (although I understand no romance is involved in Still Life), but one that made me thrill and weep was The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (I also liked the film adaptation, enamoured as I was with Ralph Fiennes, Kristen Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche simultaneously).

A book about a very different kind of patient, namely one who suffers TB of lungs and bones, is … no, not The Magic Mountain, but Romanian writer Max Blecher’s Scarred Hearts (Inimi cicratizate). Set in a French seaside resort, with often gruelling descriptions of medical treatments, it is nevertheless a moving description of the will to live, love, encounter and drink one’s fill of beauty. There is also a 2016 film adaptation by director Radu Jude (which I am really keen to see).

A very simple link to my next book: by another author called Max, namely Max Weber and his seminal work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. A must-read for any anthropology or sociology student in the second half of the 20th century, I liked the fact that he added the cultural dimension to Marx’s purely dialectic-materialistic examination of the origins of capitalism. I think it still has much to say about the difference between Northern and Southern Europe, for example.

Bit of a titillating cover from Penguin Modern Classics

By way of contrast, a very complicated link to the final book in the chain. Max Weber contracted the Spanish Flu in 1920 and died of related pneumonia complications. My last choice is one of the few books that directly addresses the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20, namely Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter, apparently based on the author’s own experience of falling ill with the flu and then recovering from it. The scenes of feverish hallucination are said to be among the best in all of literature.

Quite a lot of illness haunting today’s choices, not just because the starting point was about depression and family illnesses, but perhaps subconsciously also because of my worries about my sweet Zoe. Let’s hope next month will be considerably more cheery.

Friday Fun: Walking Up and Down the Mall

When I first moved to London, I was lucky enough to be asked to housesit for the parents of one of my dearest schoolfriends in the beautiful part of town called Chiswick. Their flat wasn’t by the river, but I soon made a habit of walking all the way from Barnes Bridge to Hammersmith Bridge, up and down the footpaths by the river called Malls: Chiswick Mall, Upper and Lower Mall. Last week I visited the place again for the first time in twenty years, and although there seem to be even more rich people around in that area, and new developments have been built to reflect that, it still has some of its old charm.

This is how I remember the place mostly: flood defences in the doorways, narrow footpath, small houses with balconies.

Eric Ravilious and Tirzah Garwood lived here for a few years, back in the 1930s when it was more affordable.

Georgian and Regency architecture and a Riviera like mood, with very often…
… the front garden on the other side of the road, overlooking the river.
Some fine historic buildings there: Westcott Lodge overlooking Furnivall Gardens.
Perhaps these people could not afford a gardener? But it looked invitingly shady in the heat…

College House looks like a dreamy little French maison, but sadly lies on a big piece of land, so might be turned into a larger development soon.
And this was my absolute favourite: the poise, the symmetry, the shady garden. Near the famous The Dove Pub.