Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Read in 2018 - 12: In Homespun

Another "old" book, this free ebook was first published in 1896.

It is a collection of stories by Edith Nesbit, an author I much admire and always enjoy. I have written a short paragraph about her and her life at the end of this review, and there are several other reviews of her book on my blog; if you are interested, simply type "nesbit" in the search box on the top left corner of my blog.

The stories in this book all have one thing in common: They center around a female character who tells the story in her own words. The women are all of more or less humble backgrounds, unlike many books of that time, when novels were often set in aristocratic circles. They tell the reader of how they got where they are now, how they found their place in life, in the world, and what made them do what they did - how circumstances and their own personality worked for or against them and formed their actions.

With some of them, the reader can fully sympathise; with others, the impulse is rather to tell them what one thinks of their actions. No matter which way the reader is inclined with each story, they all offer a good glimpse of what life used to be like for the "average" woman more than 100 years ago in a village, small town or on a farm in southern England.

And, if you know Edith Nesbit's work, you'll find her typical sense of humour coming through more than once.

It definitely made me grateful for living here and now, where I can largely lead the life I want, choose where I live (and who with) and what I want to do for a living and how I want to spend my free time.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Read in 2018 - 11: Happiness and Marriage

This was another free ebook I downloaded years ago - I am reading the books on my kindle largely in the order I downloaded them, unless it is a seasonal read (around Christmas time) or a new book I am particularly keen on.

"Happiness and Marriage" was originally published in 1904. Therefore, you may be forgiven to expect a conservative approach to the subject, based on the classic role models for husbands and wives.

Well, this one comes as a surprise, as it is rather modern, portraying men and women as completely and absolutely equal. Marriage is seen as not the only way to happiness (or the only way to exist for a woman at that time, for that matter), and it can be just as well based on reason or friendship as on love. More than once, the author states that husband and wife can be good friends and live happily together without being lovers, as long as there is mutual respect.
And if nothing will work, or if either of the two love someone else, they should be reasonable and set their unhappy spouse free by leaving - after a period of testing their own feelings for the person they believe they love.

Wikipedia says that Elizabeth Towne, who lived to be 95 years old (from 1865 to 1960), was an influential writer, editor and publisher in the New Thought and self-help movements.
She certainly had plenty to say about marriage from her own experience, having first married at the age of 14! She had two children with her first husband, divorced him later on and married a man who was also of the New Thought Alliance. You can read more about her here on Wikipedia.

I had not heard of her before, and sometimes found her writing a little condescending. But she always makes clear that her advice (given in the book based on letters she received from men and women who apparently saw her as an Agony Aunt) is meant for both sexes.

I am not at all familiar with the New Thought movement, and personally, am a little skeptical about some of the beliefs in the wikipedia entry about "New Thought". But I can not see any harm in the ideas Elizabeth Towne shared in this book, and it is short enough not to be considered a waste of time. It did offer an interesting glimpse into what must have felt rather revolutionary ideas at the very beginning of the 20th century.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Keeping Cool

The high temperatures we have been experiencing here in the south of Germany are no exception; something around 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) has become the rule during the days, it seems. O.K.'s area is often a few degrees warmer than where I live, and last weekend, we had 37-38 C (around 100 F). That's all very well and nice to enjoy summer and a lot of outdoor time, but it becomes hard to bear when the nights do not bring relief and our houses and offices simply store the heat of the day without a chance to cool off during the night.

Nobody I know here has airconditioning at home, and not all offices and shops are equipped that way, either. The trip to and from O.K. last weekend saw me on three different trains each way, two of them being without a/c altogether. 
Up until recently, very hot summers were rare here, and temperatures above 30 C never lasted long; after a few days, a thunderstorm would break the heat. It was normal to complain about our summer weather being wet and chilly, which is why so many of us took to going abroad for their holidays, to countries like Italy, Spain and Turkey, where sunshine was almost guaranteed.
Therefore, it never seemed to be necessary to have a/c in private homes or most offices; one could cope with the heat for a few days, and installing a/c was considered an unnecessary expense.

Things (i.e. the climate) are changing, however, and new buildings are already planned in a different way, to be more energy-efficient (both to keep the warmth inside in winter and the heat out in summer).

Anyway, what did we do last weekend to keep (relatively) cool?

O.K.'s village has several fountains lining the main street, and his house is close to one of them. It is a large stone through, hewn from a single block of sandstone. Larger than a bath tub, but not big or deep enough to swim in. Fresh water is constantly coming in from a pipe. I managed to find a picture of "our" fountain on the internet (O.K.'s house is not in the picture):

After we had our first coffee on Saturday morning, we walked over to the fountain and sat on the rim with our feet and legs in the water. At first, it feels so cold you want to shriek (I didn't, I merely gasped!), but then it becomes wonderfully refreshing. After a while, I bent forward and also put my arms in almost up to the shoulders - they were dry again very quickly.

We repeated that three times a day and spent the rest of the time mostly on the balcony in the shade of the big umbrella there, with O.K. serving chilled drinks. No running or walking this time! Another nice thing about sitting at the fountain was also that we could watch village life go by and had the occasional neighbour stop for a little chat, and some joined us in the water.

On Sunday, he prepared blueberry pancakes for breakfast - they were an experiment, but it definitely worked very well for me!

When I returned home on Sunday night, the air in my flat felt very "closed in". The sun did not have a chance to get in, as I had shut everything before going away on Friday evening, but it was still warm at about 26 or 27 C in my bedroom (around 80 F). 

View from my kitchen window at 20:46 on Monday

Yesterday, my colleague and I left our stickily warm office together, and for the first time, it definitely was cooler outside than in. During the night, it has cooled off nicely; thunderstorms and rain are forecast for the next few days until we'll be back in the 30s next week (mid-80s to 100 F).