Friday Fun: Heading to the Alps

No matter what I say or do, I cannot forget about mountains and snow in the winter months. I miss them more than I can say, so here are some pictures to delight me (or to help me wallow in my misery).

Chamonix at night, from temmos.com
Thermal spa at Leukerbad in Switzerland, from Le Devoir.com
A summer shot, but still beautiful. Sankt Gallen in Switzerland. From Panoramio.
The Alps in autumn, from HG Wallpapers.com
My favourite vineyards, although the dream of owning one with a chateau recedes daily. From Lavaux.ch
But it’s the skiing I miss most. Chamonix once more, from chamonix.net

 

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Week in Review with a Book Haul

Honestly, sincerely, believe me I meant it… when I said I would start digging into my TBR pile and stop buying books this year. But accidents do happen! And this is how my week panned out…

First of all, I realised that it has been weeks since I last saw my Kindle. I have searched for it everywhere but cannot locate it. So this means no more acquisitions via Netgalley, but also no more reading of the long, long list of books I have there, including some rather pressing reviews. I would buy a new one, but I am fairly sure that the instant I order it, the old one will resurface from some cavernous depth of my house (I don’t often take it out unless I am travelling, and I have already searched my suitcase).

Secondly, I have enjoyed reviewing my first Asymptote Book Club read, Cesar Aira. A new author to me, but I enjoyed him so much that I read two other novellas by him in quick succession. He is remarkably prolific, so he might be a bit hit and miss, but so far I really like him.

Thirdly, I had a busy week at work, but it was creative, strategic work which I enjoyed, made all the better by listening to Hamilton, which I now have uploaded onto my laptop. Initially I loved all the big, obvious songs like My Shot or The Room Where It Happens, but now I am more drawn to Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story and the optimism of The Story of Tonight. ‘Raise a glass to the four of us, tomorrow there will be more of us.’

Finally, yes, OK, I admit I did get some new books this week. What?! You expect me to pile ashes on my head and put the hair shirt on? I only bought three, of which two were second-hand, and I received two more for review.

Alison Lurie: Women and Ghosts

Collection of short stories, sometimes comic, sometimes, haunting, where people’s lives are disrupted by supernatural occurrences. Not normally a fan of ghost stories, but I know that Lurie is such a keen observer of human foibles, so I think this could be good.

Jodie Hollander: My Dark Horses

A debut poetry collection that traces the troubled relationship of the poet with her mother, as well as the charms and vicissitudes of growing up in a family of obsessive musicians. I have to admit to a selfish reason for ordering this one via Waterstones: it was recommended to me by a fellow poet after she read my poems about my mother.

Nice cover, but isn’t that dress from post WW2?

Paula McLain: The Paris Wife

I’ve been meaning to read this forever, ever since it came out in 2010. I really enjoyed Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, with its portrait of bohemian expat artist life in Paris in the 1920s, but that is just Hemingway’s side of the story. And, as we all know, he wasn’t really good to the women in his life.

 

Thomas Enger: Killed

Orenda Books shares my passion for Norway and has kindly sent me the dark, suspenseful finale of this series about crime reporter Henning Juul.

Kate Rhodes: Hell Bay

This is the start of a new series by Kate Rhodes, set on the Scilly Islands (which I now want to visit). I read a sample of it after going to the Simon & Schuster launch evening last year and have been eagerly awaiting the rest of the story ever since.

Friday Fun: The Courtauld Gallery

The Courtauld Gallery (which I seem to pronounce differently from everyone else in the UK) is a beautiful little gem, no longer quite as well hidden as it used to be when I was a student at King’s and could access it during my breaks. Covering an entire wing of Somerset House (plus modern extensions), it boasts a splendid art collection, particularly of 19th century painters. Most recently, it hosted an exhibition of portraits by Chaim Soutine, which struck me by their compassion for the suffering and boxed-in feeling of the working classes, service staff that most hotel visitors ignore (even nowadays). I don’t often feature art, because I think the colours go all wrong online, but here are a few samples.

The Little Chef by Soutine.
The Bellboy by Soutine.
The Chambermaid by Soutine.
Other paintings from the permanent collection: German expressionist painter Gabriele Münter: Portrait of a Young Woman with a Large Hat.
Degas ballerina.
The building is beautiful too: the staircase.
And even the floor details.
Last, but not least, on a sunny day, the basement cafe is delightful

Friday Fun: The Windows Have It

You can’t get enough daylight in winter, especially if you are stuck in a basement office, so here are some houses that use windows in a creative way, to give you the illusion of more space.

Scandinavian, of course! From fotoblooblogspot.co.uk
Townhouse in Ghent, from notey.com
The mastery of Japanese narrowness. From kotaku.com
House in Rock Creek, US, from ArchDaily.
A Japanese house that gives me vertigo just looking at it, from The Systemlab.com
The heaviest glass doors you can imagine, from modernarchitecture.com

 

Most Read Blog Posts of 2017

It is now 2018 and I hope it will be a far better year for all of us. Something I seem to have been saying for the past 4 years, but hey ho… Perhaps some day it will come true!

I’m still tying up the threads of last year, this time with an oddity I’ve observed on my blog. And I was wondering if any of you have noticed it on your own blogs. Just occasionally I get an urge to check my blogging stats, an exercise which always confirms certain suspicions but also provides surprises.

For instance, I expected a high score for the post on the memories that  The Handmaid’s Tale brought back – and it had a confirmed 1500 views (possibly 2000 in total, since this method does not count the home page views). This was probably one of the most difficult posts for me to write, but given the reception it has had, I’m glad I did it (and told people a bit more about real-life experiences of recent history) – and I still haven’t been able to watch the series to the end.

However, the second most popular post of the year was a surprise: a Friday Fun picture post on the architecture of Austrian artist Hundertwasser. I am delighted that it helped more people become familiar with his work or remind others of some of his greatest achievements.

The third most popular item is, quite rightly, the page for the #EU27Project, despite my rather pathetic attempts at maintaining and publicising it. I will endeavour to do a much better job of it in 2018, the last year Britain will spend in the EU.

However, the biggest surprise is that my most widely read blog post of all time is one I wrote back in 2015: a very brief summary of quotes you get in the Papillotes chocolates which are traditional for New Year’s Eve in France.

Clearly pure internet traffic is not picky and often plumps for the most superficial and least time-consuming! Have you noticed that on your own blogs? That the posts which you have laboured over most, that you have carefully thought about and chosen the perfect words, go unnoticed, while your sillier, more facile ones are the most visited?

Of course, foot traffic is not what I am after. The truth is: your comments and thoughts, your encouragement and (gentle) challenges have made this year so much better for me, So, for that…

Gif by Flavia Elric.

 

Friday Fun: Cosy Fireplaces

Now that Christmas is over, our thoughts naturally turn to partying with friends at a chalet high up in the mountains after a great day of skiing. Well, mine do anyway, if I had all the time and money in the world. Of course, my kind of partying involves a cosy fire, great views, delicious food and pleasant discussions about books, art, music and theatre.

Having had a stove in our house in France, I can vouch it is a wonderful way to warm up the room. No fireplace is complete without a pet, of course. From Home Building and Renovating magazine.
Ah, even better with a cat… From Bill’s TN Paradise.
A more minimalist Scandinavian feel to this one, from songbirdblog.com
Great Christmas atmosphere at this property in Northern Ireland, from Property Pal.
This picture seems to have been taken in summer, which is just wrong. Tom Cruise’s former property in Colorado, from Adelto.co.uk
Ah, this one allows everyone to sit around the fire! French chalet from Design Mag.
The typical wood-heavy chalet look in Megeve, from Chalet Chatel.
We can’t see the fireplace in this picture, but I’m sure it matches the view. Chalet in Zermatt, from Luxury Ski Chalets.

A Year in First Lines

I’ve done one version of it in previous years (listing the first line of each month on my blog), but I’ve seen a number of bloggers like Annabel Gaskell and Eleanor Franzen do a different version of it: first lines of books that they read each month. So I will attempt a combination of the two, with the aim of recreating something akin to found poetry and giving a snapshot of my year.


By this year, the year ’45, the Germans had already lost command of the air-space over our little town. Scorching heat of a midsummer Sunday in Obor market…
The young woman runs burning along the side of the marketplace… I’ve stupidly invited the outside world in. Repeat after me: summertime, and the living is easy… And, if it is not, we like to pretend it is.

Jim closed the blinds, unplugged the telephone and put the tape in. Today’s programme is all about stomach ulcers… Aardvark primogeniture, he exudes all the confidence, but I avoid his eyes. My whole life seems to consist of being really happy in some wonderful places – and then having to tear myself away from them. GPS tells me it’s eleven minutes. I don’t think that’s right, it’s too short.

Last night I dreamt that I met up with an old friend of mine at her new house on the lake. Doorways into secret gardens bring the promise of forbidden delights. This had been a happy home once. The radiant afternoon sunlight of early September was so brilliant that it still seemed like summer. There’s no swell to speak of, just little lapping waves. The voice was quiet, smiling, ‘Is that Miss Clarvoe?’

Tomorrow I will sit demurely. Tomorrow is absolutely fine.

From The Secret Garden of Heligan

For a year which started with a lot of pain, anxiety and rejection, it has ended very well. I really like my full-time job and am doing the things I love in my spare time (reading, writing – in drabbles, reviewing for Crime Fiction Lover, promoting literature in translation for Asymptote Journal). My boys are becoming more independent, kinder and wiser every day, while my cat is ever more gentle and cuddly. And I am laughing, joking, feeling younger and freer every single day!

While the money worries have not been resolved, we still have a roof over our heads and can afford to heat the house. (I have been taking Christmas packages to those less fortunate in the area, and believe me, it’s not a small thing at all to be sheltered and warm). My income may be less than during my freelance life, but at least it’s regular (plus, the novelty of paid holidays has not worn off yet!)

Camus by Cecil Beaton

Au milieu de l’hiver, j’ai découvert en moi un invincible été. (Camus)

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.