Sunday 27 March 2011

Read in 2011 - 6: Time to Depart

Yes, I am still in my "Roman" phase, and after my fourth read of this year was Poseidon's Gold from the same series and a short stint with a Russian Duchess in between, I was back in Imperial Rome, accompanying Marcus Didius Falco on his seventh adventure.

Soon after I'd started, I realized I had read this book before, but it was so long ago I did not remember every detail and, most importantly, how the puzzle is solved and the book ends. Therefore, I decided to stay with it, and although it took me a long time to finish it, I enjoyed it.

It is a good and easy read, but these days I am so often out with friends or have visitors at home that I simply do not get to read as much as before, even going to sleep some nights without having read a single page - something that never used to happen until about a year ago.

The story takes place in the course of two weeks in October in the year 72. Apart from one brief visit to Ostia (the port where all the luxury goods wanted in Rome arrive from all over the empire), we stay in Rome.

A birthday present is lost, a baby found, another one expected, a stray dog adopted, a wedding planned and held, and in between all those developments in the informer Falco's home life, he has to deal with the most ruthless and powerful head of Rome's organized crime.
Some people are killed, and while the reader does not much regret the death of two of these, at least two other characters die who we would have liked to keep, maybe even having them reappear in later books of the series.

Again, the author has done everything to make daily life in ancient Rome plausible and alive. Usually, I am not one for parallel reading of more than one book at the time, but I have been making an exception on this one, having started on "Daily Life in Ancient Rome" by Jérôme Carcopino, a non-fiction work which is the perfect complement to Lindsey Davis' series.
There is one more of her Falco-books on my shelf, which I am going to start probably tonight.

Thursday 24 March 2011

A Birthday in Three Stages

First of all, a heartfelt thankyou to everyone who so kindly thought of me on my birthday! All your messages were very welcome and appreciated. If it had been possible, I would have asked everyone over to my place to join in the celebration(s) :-)

My birthday started with plenty of sun and a text message from a friend in Singapur at 6.38 in the morning - she was the first to wish me well.
From then on, the day was a never-ending str
eam of emails and text messages, with a few phone calls in between, and I felt immensely popular, enjoying all the attention :-D

Since I am between jobs (starting the new one on the 2nd of May), I had time to have my parents and my sister over for coffee and cake in the afternoon.
My mum made an apple cake and something that, strictly speaking, is not a cake, as it does not need baking, but a dessert: it is called "Kalter Hund" (cold dog) and consists of many layers of chocolate and bisquits. If anyone wants the recipe, I am happy to post it in a seperate entry. My parents also brought flowers, gifts and the 43 candles you can see in the picture!

Of course I did not manage to blow them all out at once, but I am not worried about that - one of my biggest wishes for this year, to find a better job, has already come true anyway :-)
We shared a bottle of Freixenet and the mood was, as you can see, very good!
In the evening, the second stage of my birthday celebration was held at the Irish Pub where I met with some friends. We took part in the pub quiz and it did not matter that this time, we did not win; it was still a fun night out.

Stage Three is planned for tomorrow night, when most of my (working!) friends have time... I will make piz
za, and it will be very similar to the non-birthday do I had last year. I am already looking forward to it, and will be doing some shopping today and tomorrow to get everything ready.

Monday 14 March 2011

A Weekend of Firsts

Even at my age, there are still things in my life that happen for the first time, or I do them for the first time.

Sometimes I call something a "First" when it is the first of its kind referring to a particular season, such as the
first bee I see in spring, or the first Christmas card I receive in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

There has been such a seasonal "First" last Satuday: It was warm and sunny enough for the first time this spring to make me wear the butterfly earrings my sister gave me back in December. Those earrings have been waiting in my drawer ever since, waiting for winter to end, and Saturday was simply perfect. I also wore the yellow t-shirt for the first time this season; you can't really see it in the picture, but it has "Spring" stitched on the front.

For almost two hours, I was sat on my window sill in the sun, soaking up the warmth and the light, listening to the birds and my neighbours' murmured conversation on the patio below.

On Sunday, I had a real, proper, first-time-ever FIRST:
my very first dance lesson!!
A friend of mine had been going on about wanting to teach me how to dance for weeks, and on Sunday, we finally started.

When I was at that age when everybody takes dance lessons at school with the whole class, I was so NOT interested in all that - the girls in my class were all about make-up and fashion and boys, while I was keen on sports and books (add to that me being an ugly, bespectacled, complex-ridden bundle of pubescent insecurities) and had no intention to join them in what I deemed utterly silly and boring.

Later, I took to dancing on my own; at the clubs and discos I went to as a teenager, people did not dance as couples, the music and the atmosphere not lending itself to it at all.

During my first marriage, I attended several Italian weddings, where people did of course dance the proper, formal ballroom dances - with me always being the onlooker, never participating.

So, in spite of me loving to sing and dance, I never actually was interested in learning how to dance properly - until yesterday afternoon, when I had my very first ever dance lesson in my living room!
We chose Rumba; my friend said it is easy, and I like Latin dance music, so I did not object.

How did I fare? According to my friend, not bad for someone who is an absolute beginner; he said that he taught me in 90 minutes what usually is enough material for several beginner's lessons. I myself am not quite so convinced; I felt quite clumsy but at least after a little while I was able to stop looking at my feet and enjoy the whole thing.

There will be more lessons, and I think I will eventually get the hang of it; I am not totally unmusical and do possess something like a sense of rhythm, which I guess will come in handy.

Oh, and still on Saturday, there was another seasonal First: My first birthday card for this year, sent from England by my sister-in-law :-)

Actually, my birthday is still more than a fortnight away, but I have already put it there on the sideboard in my living room, where hopefully some more cards will join this one in time.

Friday 11 March 2011

My New Old Armchair

In my blog, I have shown pictures of my flat before, so some of you are quite familiar with my living room, even though you have never literally set foot in my house.

A few days ago, though, I have acquired a new old piece:
One of my grandparents' armchairs.

It is part of a set of two, identical but for the colour of the upholstery fabric. My grandparents bought those armchairs, a coffee table and probably a few other pieces of living room furniture (obviously) in the 1950s; until then, they did not have a living room, but the family gathered round the dining table, and living rooms had been mostly understood as something posh people would have in their homes, not your average working class family.

My mother kept this armchair when her mother died and used it until very recently in my parents' living room; it is in very good condition, whereas its twin is stored in my sister's cellar and will probably need a bit more work than merely a bit of beeswax polish and a good dusting.
My mother also told me that she remembers how proud she was when her parents chose and bought the new furniture; and I of course remember it well from my earliest childhood.

Ever since moving to this flat in October 2003, I have been using my grandparents' original furniture: the two sideboards / cabinets from the 1930s, bought when they got married, and the 1960s coffee table, bought when they felt the need to modernize and spruce up their home a bit.

Now, this armchair is the perfect complement, with its wooden frame and the colour of the fabric. Look how it was made - in those days, furniture was not just glued or stapled together like bits of cardboard.

After I was done with the cleaning, I took my first break in my new old armchair, reading the paper and having a sandwich.
And of course I will eventually add the second armchair, too.

Saturday 5 March 2011

I Like Blue - And You?

Apparently, the majority of people answer "blue" when asked for their favourite colour (this is a typical example of a useless tidbit of trivial information stored in my mind, while I am unable to remember my own mobile phone number and always have to look it up in my mobile when someone asks me for it).

On the 10th of February, my colleague and I went to work at a trade show. We spent all day talking to existing and potential customers about barcode scanners, label printers and other such fascinating stuff.

When we were already on our way out, we passed a booth that was not interesting for us, since that company were dealing in software only, and our business is hardware.

Still, the occupant stopped me, smiled at me and asked whether he was allowed to give me a small present - two tiny bright blue plastic containers, with the image of forget-me-nots printed on the lid. The company's logo, the carpet on the booth and the plastic containers were of exactly the same shade of blue as the jumper I was wearing that day, and he said he simply had to offer those little flower pots to me.

I politely smiled back, said "thank you", put the containers in my bag and only remembered them when I went to work the next morning and took out the stack of notes I had taken during the day at the fair.

Back home, I opened the containers and found a compressed "tablet" of soil and a transparent plastic bag with seeds in each one, along with a short instruction.

Following the instructions, I poured water over the tablets which expanded until the little flower pots were filled with soil almost to the rim, put the seeds in and placed the containers on the window sill in my bedroom.

They have been there ever since, and I never forget to keep them humid, bright and warm, hoping to grow my own forget-me-nots, which, incidentally, happen to be among my favourite flowers - for their colour as much as for their somehow old-fashioned charm.
This is what they looked like on the 19th of February.

Only a few days later, 23.2.2011.

This morning, 5.3.2011 (yes, I know, I need to wipe those spills).

And what I am dreaming of... :-)

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Read in 2011 - 5: Die russische Herzogin

"The Russian Duchess", as the title would read in English, is the sequel to "The Tsar's Daughter" ("Die Zarentochter"), which was my first read in 2011 and for which I have posted a review here.
This book picks up some time after the first one ends.
Olga and Karl have established themselves firmly in Stuttgart and in the hearts of the people as future Queen and King of Württemberg. Olga is particularly popular for her good works; she is on an endless round of looking after various charity institutions and fund raising parties, while Karl keeps more to himself, deeply disappointed for being deliberately shielded from all current affairs and politics while his father, King Wilhelm, is alive.

The couple remain childless, and when Olga's brother Sascha back in St. Petersburg finds the family can not handle one of their daughters, nine-year-old Wera, for her difficult temper any longer, and doctors advise them to put the girl into an institution for the insane, it is decided that Wera is sent to Stuttgart to live with her godmother Olga.

At first, Olga is thrilled by the prospect of having a little girl of her own, but she soon finds out that Wera is indeed different - she is an aggressive, sometimes violent child, can not sit still long enough to enjoy a peaceful meal and generally spells trouble from Day One.
Only after some quite dramatic events Olga manages to get through to Wera, and their home live takes a turn for the better.

Her marriage to Karl is going through a rocky patch, but when old King Wilhelm dies and Karl becomes King of Württemberg, he and Olga tackle their new tasks with zeal and remain popular with the people.

As Wera grows up and makes friends and falls in love, Olga finds affirmation and consolation mostly in her charity work. She also renews an old friendship which means a lot to her.

The book ends with an epilogue set in 1909, when Olga and Karl are long gone and Wera starts making one of her own ideas come true, founding a home for single mothers with their children.

It is an overall pleasant read, but were it not for the local connection to my home region, I would not have been interested in this historic novel.
I appreciate the vast amount of research the author must have put in, while her style is neither very elegant nor very consistent. Some bits seem to have been put together at different times; there is a lack of "flow" and several scenes appear not to have been thought through very well.
Still, as I said, a pleasant read.
I wonder why it was decided to use a painting for the cover which has nothing at all to do with the real people in the book, while for the first book, a painting that really shows Olga was used.
Here is what Wera looked like as a child with Olga and Karl:

And this is Wera with her husband Eugen, who died at only 30 years under mysterious circumstances (some sources claim he died after a duel, and because duelling was forbidden by then, the real cause of death was hushed up and the official documents state a sudden illness).