Friday, 3 April 2020

Read in 2020 - 10, 11

# 10: The Life of Herman Melville
by Charles River Editors

Charles River Editors is, you guessed it, not a person, but a publishing group specialised in free or relatively cheap ebooks and audiobooks. You can find lists of their publications on their website.
In their own words, they were founded by Harvard and MIT alumni to provide superior editing and original writing services, with the expertise to create digital content across a vast range of subjects. They also republish great literary works, making them easily accessible to a new generation of readers via ebooks.

I did of course stumble across this book by chance, when browsing the Kindle shop for free ebooks in English, preferably non-fiction.

Up until having read this book, the only thing I knew about Herman Melville was that he wrote "Moby Dick", a book I have never read but knew "about" it and knew the story. No person is entirely defined by just one single piece of writing, painting, building or any other art or science they have become famous for, and the same is true about Herman Melville.

This book covers his life (1819 - 1891) with enough detail to get a clear picture, but not that much detail to make him come truly alive - at least not for me. Still, I learned a lot about the man and his work, and found it rather sad that by the time he died, he was all but forgotten; the immense success of "Moby Dick" was already 40 years in the past then. Also, nearly all his life Herman and his family struggled financially, and he was never really happy in the various jobs he had to do in order to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

The book is as much about Melville's life as about his work. An entire chapter treats "Moby Dick", but the reader also learns about his other works, some of which the author himself considered inferior, written merely out of necessity to make some money.

Like I said, the book did not make its subject truly come alive for me, but it was indeed well edited and put together; good for getting a general idea of one of America's most famous authors.


# 11: Secret Ripon
by David Winpenny 

I bought this a year ago at "The Little Ripon Bookshop" (one of our all-time favourite shops) when my sister and I spent our annual Yorkshire holiday in Ripon, but got round to reading it only now.

David Winpenny is Vice President and former Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, who look after Ripon's architectural and other treasures. Their plaques can be found on many buildings throughout the city, and my sister and I have walked past them countless times.

Mr. Winpenny has a website where you can learn a lot more about him. I'd love to meet him, he seems a fascinating man, combining knowldege AND humour.

"Secret Ripon" may be a relatively thin book, but it is full to the brim with interesting, quirky and fascinating facts about Ripon's inhabitants and its history. It is cleverly laid out according to what you will find if you follow each street leading from the market square, but it also has chapters about the ground beneath your feet, the cathedral and the three rivers.

I loved each and every bit about it and can just picture myself walking around Ripon, this book in hand, pointing out various places to my sister and getting on her nerves by reading to her what I consider the most relevant bits!

We have actually planned this year's stay in Ripon for the end of June, booked "our" cottage and our flights months ago, but at the moment it is impossible to either confirm or cancel; we simply don't know what will happen over the next 8 weeks or so.

In the meantime, even if our visit may have to be postponed, I can enjoy Ripon by reading about it.

Monday, 30 March 2020

And Time Goes On...

On the 17th of March, I went to the office with the intention of telling both my boss and my clients that from the next day onwards until further notice, I was going to work exclusively from home. This was a few days before the official recommendation to stay home (and work from there, if possible) was issued. I have not regretted my choice and still can't say I miss the office and/or my colleagues, not even the canteen, and especially not the almost daily drama with our local trains running late or being cancelled.

Last week, I left the house for a walk on my own, a walk with my sister and a quick trip to shop for groceries at my nearest Aldi, five minutes on foot from my house.

Ludwigsburg Old Cemetery - one of very few park-like places still open. The building is the mausoleum I wrote about here.
New Cemetery - more photos and description of this structure on this post.
New Cemetery
Walk with my sister (she took the picture).
Running was scheduled with my friend one evening after work, but I cancelled - it was colder than expected, and I just didn't feel ready to brave the chill, not even in my really warm running clothes.

O.K. joined me on Friday evening after work. We ordered pizza like last weekend, to keep the local gastro businesses going (and for no other reason, of course!). This time, we chose a different pizza service and were slightly disappointed. Never mind, the red wine we drank with it made up for that.

Saturday was beautiful - 17 Celsius and sunshine! We went for a run in the morning and a longish walk in the afternoon. Everybody else was out and about, too; there were not 10 seconds during which we were really on our own. Cyclists, runners, walkers, people with and without dogs and children. Of course you can't blame them; everyone was desperate to combat cabin fever, and it really WAS a gorgeous day. Also, everywhere else people usually go on weekends is closed - shopping malls, ice cream places and street cafés, the palace grounds, parks, playgrounds. It did make the walk less enjoyable, as we were constantly trying to avoid getting too close - for the other people's sake as well as for our own.
Normally you would never see the palace grounds so empty on weekends. I took this picture through the closed gate.
Sunday was completely different - somewhere between 3 and 6 Celsius, grey, windy, rainy. We still went for a walk, cut short when the rain came back and was blown unpleasantly in our faces by the wind. It made coming home to a warm flat and having coffee and cake all the better.

I tried something new: Jackfruit "goulash". Many of you will know about jackfruit (is it jackfruit or jack fruit?); for me, it was a first. Taste and texture were supposed to be meat-like, but it wasn't - and I didn't mind that, as I knew it wasn't meat, and I did not want any meat that day (I really like meat, sausages, ham, bacon etc., but I try to keep consumption of dead animals at a low level). It would have just been more realistic not to advertise it as a "meat replacement", when it clearly is not. 




Oh, and we changed the clocks to summer time on Sunday:

Neither my clock nor my cat. Meet Cookie, my Mum's friend's cat!
The sun has come back today, but it is cold; I went to the post office and a walk for my lunch break and was glad of my padded winter coat and scarf. 

By the way, it took me almost 45 minutes to post a birthday card for my sister-in-law in Ripon. Of course she is worth every single minute I spent waiting my turn! Just goes to show how things have changed; there is almost always a queue at the post office, but it moves, and I am usually in and out in under 15 minutes. Now, people have to stand apart along red ducktape strips on the floor in order to keep the recommended distance, and only when three customers leave the office, the next three are allowed in. Of the seven or eight counter spaces, only three were open.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

A New Recipe

Every now and then, I come across a recipe I want to try, either in the supplementary magazine that comes with my weekly paper, on one of the blogs I regularly read, or elsewhere.
This one I found in the magazine, and I made it on Sunday for my birthday dinner.

For two, you need
  • four bulbs (is that the right term?) of fennel
  • 3 - 5 table spoons olive oil
  • 4 - 6 table spoons cream
  • salt, pepper, chili powder or some other hot spice
  • 40 - 50 g grated or shaved parmesan (or any other type of cheese fit for baking)

Preheat the oven to 190 C (370 F).

Remove outer layer from fennel, halve the bulbs and then cut them into slices about as thick as a finger.
Place them in an oven dish (like one you use for gratins or brownies).


Mix oil, cream and spices well. Use as much spice as you like; the chili powder works surprisingly well with the fennel, but may not be to everyone's liking. Remember that parmesan (which will be added at the end of the baking time) is rather salty, so don't add too much salt to the mix.

Spoon the liquid mixture over the fennel slices, then cover the dish firmly with aluminium foil.
Bake for 20 minutes.

Take the dish out, remove the foil, and grate or shave parmesan cheese on the fennel.
Put back into the oven (without the foil) for another 10 to 15 minutes; keep checking so that the parmesan does not burn black.

Serve as a side dish with meat, pasta or whatever strikes your fancy - or as the main dish with crusty bread.


I made these "egg nests" with it, which worked well, as the nests have very different textures, colours and taste from the fennel. Also, my oven allows for two dishes baking at the same time, and it was really nice being in the comfort of my warm kitchen with the scents of food around me. 

Fennel is a wonderfully versatile vegetable; you can eat it raw as a salad, fry it covered in breadcrumbs, boil it, bake it - the result is always delicious. And that's coming from me! Because here is the strange thing: I don't like the smell and taste of aniseed. In fact, I detest it, and I never drink Sambuca, Ouzo or Pastis, for exactly that reason. BUT... I really like fennel, although both its smell and taste remind one of aniseed. Weird, huh!

Monday, 23 March 2020

Thank You!!!

Yesterday was my 52nd birthday. It was a birthday like no other; I guess we can all more or less relate to the fact that it is a time like no other right now, in the middle (?) of the corona crisis.
Presents, cards, more presents and more cards!!!
My original intention had been to throw a party for my friends on Saturday night and have a traditional coffee & cake on Sunday afternoon with my parents, my sister and O.K.
Neither came about, of course - but I still had a strangely beautiful birthday, with a mini celebration:

At 11:00 am, O.K. and I met with my sister outside my house, in the sunny corner next to the cherry tree. Years ago, neighbours have placed a somewhat rickety table and chairs there, and we took advantage of that, bringing out a bottle of sparkling wine, glasses, a bowl of salted macadamia nuts and slices of chocolate tea cake.

Already all day, I had been particularly clumsy; first thing in the morning, I managed to cut myself on the big kitchen knife we had used the night before to cut our (ordered) pizza; I only had meant to put it back in the drawer and somehow touched the very sharp blade. Then, I put the aforementioned things in a large bag, carried it downstairs and went back up to fetch the bottle from the fridge. By the time I came back down, the stong wind had blown over the bag, and some of the macadamia nuts were merrily rolling around on the pavement. Never mind, there were still plenty left in the bowl.

My sister arrived, O.K. opened the bottle (I had a good excuse as the cut on my finger had just started to bleed again) and poured the sparkling wine, while I was trying to reach my Mum and Dad via Facetime. In my weird state of clumsiness, it took me a while, but finally, we were all there - my parents via Facetime, my sister keeping a safe distance from O.K. and myself. 

Again, I found juggling my glass and holding my mobile so that the camera was not half covered by my thumb difficult; eventually, O.K. had to help me. We were joking that I was really turning old now, not being able to handle modern means of communication! (Which really IS a joke, as my Mum, being the second-oldest in my family, is very actively using her mobile phone and her computer, regularly writing in various forums, contributing to my blog every now and then, and communicating by email with many of her friends. In fact, she was the first of us to have a mobile phone and a computer.)

Anyway, we had our little celebration, and after my sister left and we had put everything back upstairs, O.K. and I went for a walk.

The sky was a cloudless blue, but a chilly wind was blowing across the fields. Nonetheless, there were more people about walking, running and cycling than on most other Sundays, even with fine weather. It seemed like everybody was desperate to get out after a grey, wet and cold Saturday.

We returned home 9 km later, had coffee and cake and a bit of a rest before it was time to make dinner.

O.K. left just after 8:00 pm and said he wished the motorway could always be like that, with considerably less traffic than usual on a Sunday night.

Here is a big THANK YOU to all of you who have sent cards, emails, text messages or commented with birthday wishes on my previous post - you know who you are; you all helped making it more birthday-like, even without a proper party.


Now Week 2 of working exclusively from home has started.
New, stricter measures are in place here in Germany from today onwards. We are still allowed to go for walks etc., but no more than 2 people are supposed to meet (unless they already share a household, obviously). Some of the businesses that were still allowed to be open have now been ordered to shut, too, such as hairdresser's and others.

The internet is full of tips what to do at home, how to spend all that extra time in self-isolation. Well, I must say I do not have much extra time; I still work 36 hours a week, and in some ways, work seems busier than before (see my previous post). The only saved time is the 1 hour 15 minutes or so normally spent on trips to and from work, partly used now for household jobs connected with making and having all my meals at home now, instead of having a cooked meal at the canteen every day.

But the world around me is much quieter than usual, and I find that a rather pleasant side-effect of what for many less fortunate than myself is definitely not a pleasant situation.

Friday, 20 March 2020

The First Day of Spring

Although I still consider the 21st of March the "true" first day of spring, I know the 20th - today - is now officially it. Therefore: Happy Spring, everyone! (I know some of my readers live in areas where it is not spring right now, but my good wishes refer to anyone - we can all do with good wishes right now, can't we.)

O.K. sent me this from his lunch break earlier this week. He still goes to work; WFH is not (yet?) possible with his job.
The magnolia trees in my street are almost there! This was today, on my way back from the supermarket.
This week was not much different from any other week, on the surface. I am used to working from home, and I still went for walks (once with my sister and once on my own) and running with my friend (we do not breathe in each other's face when running, and have not greeted each other with a hug or handshake, either).

Walking on the fields after work with my sister.
During the same walk, about 20 minutes later.
I went for my usual pre-weekend groceries shopping at Aldi's. 
More than one person said thank you to the staff at check-out; they deserve our respect and consideration. Unlike me and many others, they can not simply withdraw to work from home; they can not even keep much distance to those customers who are inconsiderate enough to sneeze into their hands and then hand cash over with that same hand. 
There are signs up that politely ask people to pay cash-less, if possible, but of course nobody is sent away if they insist on paying cash. Toilet rolls (what IS it about them?!) and some other items are rationed to one per person. Needless to say, there weren't any left - good job I don't need any, as quite by coincidence, I bought an as yet unopened pack the week before last.

Everybody who can is now encouraged to work from home. The canteen at my clients' office building has closed. They are selling packed lunches for those few who still work there; only a handful of staff, really.

When I normally work from home, it is one or two days a week when my biggest client does not expect anything from me - they know I am at home, and working for other clients. But now it is different, because they know I am WFH all week, and so I am expected to join all conference calls related to my projects there. At the same time, my other clients expect me to take their calls and reply to their emails every day now, too, when before they knew that I would deal only with their most urgent matters while at the office of my biggest client, and mostly Mondays and Fridays were reserved for them.

This all makes for very busy days, bordering on stressful. I guess it will all settle down in another week or so; for now, I sometimes have to be very firm and stop myself from quickly replying to one client's email while actually working on something for another client - they all expect an invoice at the end of the month with listings of what I have done for them, and when, and of course I keep track of the time I spend working for each of them in turn.
For instance, client A talks to me in a conference call from 10:00 to 10:30. After that, I may be working on a document for client B until lunch, from 10:30 to 12:00, while there might be another call with client A in the afternoon, but with different contacts. You get the idea.

O.K. is still set to spend the weekend here with me, which should be OK (!) seeing as we are both well and he travels by car, not exposing himself to unnecessary risks by using public transport which would be the case if I went to his place right now.

My upcoming birthday has been marked almost every day this week by cards and presents arriving in the mail. So lovely to have cards from some of you, my blogging friends! I am of course not opening presents until Sunday, and we all know that presents are not what it is all about, but I appreciate all these signs of friendship, love and kindness.

Stay safe, all of you, and do not forget to thank those who still work for all our benefit, at supermarkets, pharmacies, drug stores, in hospitals and surgeries, driving garbage trucks or trains and buses, and so on. Do not grumble at them - none of what's happening is their fault.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Cancelled

"Cancelled*" is probably the word we hear and read the most these days - everything is being cancelled, from hairdresser's appointments to pub quizzes, from small birthday parties at home to stadium-filling events.

Up until yesterday, I was determined to have my party. The guest list had already shrunk to about six or seven, and it was planned from the start that this time, my parents would not be at the party; instead, I had intended to have a traditional coffee & cake with them, my sister and O.K. on the Sunday.
After much reading and discussing things with O.K. and my family, finally today the voice of reason has prevailed, and I have cancelled both events.

View from the German Literature Archive, Marbach, across the Neckar valley last Wednesday - probably the last time for a while that I have gone there for work.
View of Marbach as the train was carrying me back to Ludwigsburg.
Another view of Marbach and the river Neckar, as seen from the train. It was such a beautiful day!

Looking back at the past week, I guess a key moment for me was when I read that my home town has cancelled its historical Horse Market, an event that has been held for more than 250 years, and was cancelled only during the worst of the war years. Things must be REALLY serious when something as big as this won't take place, especially as the decision has already been made although the event is always in May, not in another week or two.


Mr. and Mrs. Stork preparing the nest for their little ones. They are not doing anything different because of corona!
We saw this during a walk on Sunday afternoon in O.K.'s area.

All around me, people have been withdrawing from face to face or physical contact with others; some have decided early on to work from home. Schools, libraries, museums, many hotels - all closed. Exhibitions, conferences - all cancelled. Trains are still running mostly on their usual schedule, buses have switched to the schedule usually in place during school holidays. Bus drivers open only the back doors and have stopped selling tickets; if you need a bus ticket now, you have to by it ahead of your trip, either online (most people nowadays use an app on their mobile phones for that anyway) or at a ticket machine.

Restaurants have to shut at 6:00 pm. That is the one measure I do not fully understand; what use will that be? Restaurants that can not guarantee a distance of 1.5 m between one guest and the next have to shut completely. 

Shops are still open, but I imagine it is a question of time until they will either decide on their own to close, or be ordered, unless they are supermarkets, pharmacies, bakeries and so on.


Nobody is in danger of starving - there is PLENTY of everything in the shops, except for - you guessed it - flour and toilet paper. I still wonder why the rush for both; yes, I understand that people are preparing for maybe not leaving the house for a while, but will that increase their need for loo rolls that much? And do they seriously believe they will bake their own bread with all that flour? Apart from people who have already been doing that, I simply don't see the hoarders starting it now - especially since, as I have said, there is plenty of food available.


I want my Mum to crochet or knit loo rolls for me as a birthday present!

As of tomorrow, I am exclusively working from home. I am fortunate in that I've been WFH regularly already for years, so it is not a big change. My job can easily be done without personal presence; I can communicate with my clients via email and telephone. At the moment, it is impossible to say for how long; it is unlikely that I will return to any client's office before April.
My main reason for resorting to this is that I depend on public transport for the trips to and from work. My parents (especially my Dad) are in the high risk group, and are not leaving the house unless absolutely necessary (which it isn't right now). Therefore, they depend on my sister, who does all their shopping, and I want to be able to help when I can, without having to worry about carrying the virus to them after I've caught it on public transport or at the office.

We are all experiencing changes in our lives due to corona, some more, some less so. I am not worried about my own health and will not stop going for walks and the occasional run; fresh air and exercise won't do any harm. On one of the official government websites with information about corona I have read the sentence "Every personal contact less is helpful." 

Good job we can stay in touch with our loved ones - and our blogging friends! - without risking infection!

* After Bonnie's comment - see below - I was unsure about the spelling of "cancelled". As you know, English is not my native language. Therefore, I looked it up, and learned that my spelling is the British version, while Bonnie's is (hardly surprising!) the American one.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Read in 2020 - 7, 8, 9

# 7: Lost Lives (Emily Swanson Thrillers # 1)
by Malcolm Richards

A book I found for free on Kindle some years ago but got round to reading only now, this was a truly gripping story, reminding me of my # 2 read of this year in terms of suspense.

The story: A young woman moves to London and finds out things about the former tenants of her apartment that leave her very concerned about the well-being of one of them.

She begins to investigate, constantly hindered by her own troubles; a terrible event in her own not-so-distant past is hinted at, the reason for her having moved to the big city, plus a history of ongoing mental health issues.

But Emily does not give up and even manages to make a friend who eventually will save her life when it comes to the big confrontation at the end of the book, after the two have uncovered the truth behind the unexplained death or disappearances of patients at institutions for mental illnesses.

Well written, well edited and a page-turner - maybe I will even download the next installment in this series, although reading this kind of thriller has a tendency to leave me sad. The author's homepage is here

 
# 8: Beating about the Bush (Agatha Raisin Mystery # 30)
by M. C. Beaton

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that my Mum and I love the Agatha Raisin series. And after I was rather disappointed with my previous Agatha-read (my 26th read of 2019), this one was back to true form, and I enjoyed it very much.

My Mum ordered it for us but gave it to me first - now she can read it, and therefore I won't tell you too much about it, only that Agatha reveals a soft spot for donkeys, finds a new romantic interest (who I suspected to be involved in the criminal activites she investigates in this book) and gets very angry at her old friend Charles Fraith. She also fears losing her best detective, becomes a celebrity for a short while, and solves two murders at the same time.

Some bits are so well written and funny that I would like to quote more, but here's just one of my favourites, describing Roy Silver's arrival at Agatha's:
Roy Silver arrived in Lilac Lane early that evening, erupting out of his small car in a blur of dusky-pink corduroy and breathless excitement.
You've got to love M.C. Beaton for that! 
Sadly, she died last year, and there is only one book left in the series that my Mum and I have not read yet.



# 9: Anatolische Küche
by M. Ömür Akkor

You know how I need to read non-fiction between fiction to keep a (more or less) balanced mind, and this was a good one, in that it mixed facts with fiction.

A book about Turkish cooking from a specific region (Anatolia) and a specific era (the Seljuk empire), the story of a young dervish who is sent to work at the Sultan's palace kitchen and meets the love of his life is intervowen with the author's modern-day visits of the town and lake, researching ancient recipes.

The author is a popular Turkish gourmet chef, known from TV and several books. 
How did I come about this book, you may ask? Well, Ludwigsburg has a large Turkish population; last but not least, the other flats in my house are all owned by Turkish families. Some years ago (I guess around 2013/14), my Mum and I were invited to a cooking event with Ömür Akkor at a nearby Turkish school. It was fun, and we got to try all the dishes the chef prepared in front of us. I remember how I couldn't get over how generous Mr. Akkor was with the olive oil! He seemed to be pouring liberal amounts over anything, and it all turned out very tasty.
At this event, his latest book was on offer, and my Mum bought a copy; Mr. Akkor signed it for her, writing "Bon Appetit" and drawing a spoon and fork above his autograph.

So far, I have not cooked anything from the book, and most likely never will, as the recipes seem to be meant for large groups of people and involve the kind of baking and roasting you best have an open fire or stone oven for. But I liked the story and found the information about a civilation from 700 years ago very interesting.

I have just found out that it is also available in English.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Spring Weekend

Last weekend was a mixed bag weather-wise. There a few showers, it was chilly at times, but Sunday was mild enough to leave the padded coat at home and wear an outdoor gilet over a long-sleeved top instead.

O.K. and I went for walks both on Saturday and Sunday. As my planned arrival on Saturday ended up almost 1 1/2 hours late, there wasn't that much time left for a longer walk. But we made up for that on the Sunday, getting 13.5 km under our belts.

It was looking like rain a few times, but whenever the sun came out, it felt really warm.

On Saturday afternoon, we went up on the hills behind the village, close to where O.K.'s parents have their allotment. I have at least one picture of this forsythia from previous years on my blog, but I can never resist when its yellow lights up the whole scene:


Not far from the forsythia is this large shrub/tree (when do you call a plant a shrub, and when is it a tree?). As you can see, the sky showed patches of blue:


I simply had to take a picture with all those spring colours together; pale pink, white, yellow, light green and blueish grey: 




The view from one of O.K.'s living room windows - this tree in the neighbours' garden has also featured on my blog before:



Our Sunday walk took us straight from the cottage (always good when it is not necessary to take the car) through the fields and through woodland (the Black Forest starts on the next row of hills behind the village) towards Diersburg, a neighbouring village to O.K.'s. We've been there before, several times; during one walk, we went to look at the ruins of Castle Diersburg (Burg means castle).
But not this time; we left the woods at a different end of the valley, among vineyards, and made our way down to the village from here.



Drystone walls with steps support the terraced vineyards:


It still looked like rain, but we didn't catch a single drop during our walk:


These flowers look like early summer already - but the picture was taken on the 8th of March. We spotted this unusual building - a water reservoir, we think - in one of the vineyards. Can you see the ceramic cat on top?


More spring:


Back home at the cottage, a piece of apple cake and coffee were very welcome!

I had to go home an hour earlier than usual; the train schedule was changed because of construction work on the tracks. That weekend, both my trips to and from O.K.'s were adventurous; as mentioned above, I was almost 1 1/2 hours late on arrival, because of a missed connection. I spent 3/4 of an hour having coffee and a snack at Costa Coffee at Karlsruhe main station (not that much of an adventure, admittedly).

On the trip home on Sunday, I was supposed to have 17 minutes to catch my connection in Stuttgart, for the last leg of the journey which takes only about 10 minutes. But although the train departed on time in Karlsruhe, it had two unplanned stops along the way: 
The first time, our train driver had to repair a door on the train. The second time, someone smoked in the toilet, which of course triggered an alarm, and the train driver had to come out of his driving compartment once again to sort it out.
That meant we were now 18 minutes late... you do the maths what that meant for my connection!
Luckily, though, my connecting train was still at the platform in Stuttgart. I grabbed my bag and sprinted from platform 14 to platform 6 in one minute, jumped on the train, the doors closed, and off we went. Phew!
But what does it show about the train company that it is the driver who has to do ALL the work, with no other staff for support?



Let me end this post with this view from my kitchen window on Monday night.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Read in 2020 - 6

# 6: Leonardo da Vinci
by Walter Isaacson

The BEST work of non-fiction I have read in a while, and one that I can highly recommend to any reader, no matter whether they "never" read non-fiction, are interested in art or not.

The author has done a great job (and probably put in countless hours of thorough research) in creating a book that not only gives the facts about its subject's life, but makes the man and his time truly come alive.

Walter Isaacson does not present his own imagination as facts. Whenever he assumes, he says so, and always makes it clear why he has reached this or that idea about Leonardo from what we can safely consider as facts.

The book contains a timeline and a list of main characters, both rather usueful when you, like me, read it over the course of several months and need to re-familiarise yourself every now and then with where (and when) some thing or other has taken place.

Chapters chronologically follow Leonardo's life, and end with his death. There is also an extensive part of notes at the end of the book, spanning almost 40 pages, followed by illustration credits and a useful index. Both the author and his editor(s) clearly know their stuff; it may help that Walter Isaacson has written other biographies, for instance about Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Frankling and Henry Kissinger.

There honestly was not a page that I did not enjoy. The only thing that, in my eyes (literally!), makes this book less than perfect, is the size of some of its illustrations. As you all know, my eyesight is not the best, and so some of the prints of paintings and drawings are rather small, even though there would have been enough room for lager illustrations.

I received the book as a birthday present for my 50th birthday in 2018. This goes to show how slow my reading has become these days. Now I am going to write an email to the friend who gave me the book and thank him once more.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Last of February, First of March

The end of a month and the start of a new one often feels a bit like a mini new year to me; I have written about this a few times before here on my blog.
Maybe this is even more so when February ends and March begins, because the 1st of March is considered the meteorological start of sping. It also happens to be the start of my birthday month, and it usually means more flowers and longer daylight in my area.

On Saturday morning, my sister picked me up early so that we'd get some more work done at my parents' allotment, preparing for handing it over to whoever will come to enjoy it next, now that my family can not keep it any longer.

There were only the two of us, so that heavy gardening work was out of the question. Instead, we focused on the hut, mainly sorting through the "upstairs" bit and generally making it more presentable. Now that the black bin bags that were filled with rubbish from the garden and the hut were gone, we put a pretty wax cloth on the table in front of the hut, instantly giving it a more friendly and cheerful look. If only it were closer to home; we'd have so loved to keep it.


We did what was feasible to do in about a couple of hours, and finished still well before lunch time. The weather was dry, and we decided we deserved a walk - maybe for the last time in the beautiful countryside there.

You have seen many pictures of the area around the allotment, of the woodland and hills, fields and the small village on the opposite side of the valley.


By the time we were back at the allotment, the sun was out, as you can see in the first picture of this post. We were hungry and took our sandwiches and thermos flask of tea to the bench by the pond. Amazingly, the goldfish have not only survived, but even produced young ones, although nobody has been feeding them for months and months. We do hope that the new owners will keep the pond and not ask us to remove it before they take over!

Most of what is inside and around the hut - furniture, crockery, tools etc. - is meant to go to the new owners, if they want it. But we took some personal items back to our parents after we locked up, and were rewareded with coffee and freshly baked cake. Speaking of baking, our Mum mentioned that she'd almost run out of flour, and we agreed to buy some for her, as we were headed towards the supermarket anyway.

And can you believe it - the flour shelf was completely empty!! People have been "hamstering" basic food items such as flour and pasta for the past few days here, all because of corona. I wonder what makes them think they will indeed use up all that flour - do they really believe they'll be baking their own bread or making their own pasta? Or is it all going to end up cluttering their storage cupboards at home until eventually it will all be thrown out after reaching its sell-by date?

Honestly, I do not think there will be a serious shortage of food in this country due to corona. I know there are already shortages of supplies or product parts from other countries, such as China, needed to make mobile phones, motors and other items, but not food.


Back to a nicer topic:
It was the fourth anniversary of O.K. and my first meeting, and he brought me this beautiful bouquet of flowers:


Originally, we had planned to go out for dinner, but the weather turned nasty in the evening, and so we decided to stay home, starting off our meal of salad and arancini with a glass of champagne, and sharing a bottle of red wine with the meal itself.


Sunday morning came round with plenty of sun and blustery winds. We walked about 14.5 km altogether, over to the town of Asperg and its castle on the hill, also featured several times on my blog.



On the way back, we stopped at a café that is also a popular spot on Sundays for buying cake to take home, which is what we did. After big pieces of cake late afternoon, neither of us was very hungry in the evening, and so it was just a light meal before O.K. had to pack and drive home. By that time, the weather had turned nasty again, with rain and high winds, making the drive rather tiring. But O.K. reached his cottage just after 10:00 pm; it is always a relief when he texts me and I know he's home safe and sound.

Let me finish this post with a picture of Thursday afternoon; this was the view from my client's office building after the blizzard. You can already see how wet the snow was from the shiny surface of the road; when I left work about an hour later, it had all turned into rain and no snow was left.


I wonder if that was it for this season, or whether there will be a bit more snow before March (and possibly April) is over.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Read in 2020 - 4, 5

# 4: Clouded Rainbow
by Jonathan Sturak

I'm afraid there is no nice way to say it: This was the worst book I have read in a long time.
Not the story as such; it had potential. But the writing was not only badly edited (I suspect: not at all), but clumsy and weird from the start.

For instance, people were constantly "widening their eyes", even if they were just looking at their car's dashboard while driving, with nothing truly remarkable to see. Or a particularly beautiful sight was "massaging their eyes". Massaging one's eyes? Huh? I rub my eyes when they are tired or itching after staring at the computer screen for too long.

At first, I thought I'd be able to enjoy the story regardless of the peculiarities of the author's chosen style. But after a while, I just kept rushing through the book, watching the status bar at the bottom of my kindle advance and waiting for the inevitable showdown at the end of the book.

So, what's actually happening? A loving couple are headed downtown one evening to celebrate their anniversary with a nice meal at a posh restaurant. Their drive coincides with a huge thunderstorm, and as they cross a bridge, a mass accident results in the wife being hurled out of the car and into the river, while her husband is saved from burning in the wrecked car by a hair's breadth.

Both end up in different hospitals. As any ID the woman may have carried in her handbag is lost in the river, nobody knows who she is and how to find her nearest relatives.

The husband, in a confused state after his accident and suffering from various injuries himself, is determined to find her at all cost - ending up considered dangerous and the most sought-after criminal in the city.

Will he find his wife before the police find him, and will she wake up from her coma?

As I said, the story had potential, but it was so badly executed I honestly can not recommend this book to anyone. Good job the ebook had been for free! Strangely enough, J. Sturak is apparently a rather accomplished author; his website is here if you're interested.


# 5: The Girl In Between
by Laekan Zea Kemp

What a difference to my previous read! Another free ebook, but this one was not only a fascinating story, but well written and edited.

17-year-old Bryn suffers from Kleine-Levin Syndrome, a rare disease that has patients fall asleep unctrolloably - but unlike narcolepsy, KLS means the person may be asleep for days, weeks or even months on end. Bryn tries her best to catch up on life, which has gone on while she has been asleep; doing loads of home work while at the same time wanting nothing more than leading a normal life with all the things teenage girls usually enjoy.

During her episodes, Bryn lives in an alternative reality her mind has created out of all her memories: Every place she's ever visited or lived at is there, every item she has ever owned or seen, even events such as snowfall or a particularly beautiful sunset she remembers from a camping trip is in that world. But she has always been entirely alone there, until she finds a nearly drowned boy washed up on the beach.

Where did he come from? She has never seen him before, so he can not be part of her memories. Is he just a figmet of her imagination, or a person in real life who has somehow ended up in Bryn's world?  

With his arrival, something else has changed in that world; while it had always felt safe, now there is something dark lurking in the shadows, something that follows Bryn even to the real world when she is awake, something that wants her.

Will she find out who the boy is, and is the Darkness a real danger?

I really enjoyed this book. There is a lot going on, also in Bryn's home life; the story is well paced and the characters are credible. Apparently, it is the first book of a series about Bryn, so maybe I will download the next one, too.

KLS is a real illness. I knew nothing about it until this book. You can learn more about it on wikipedia. The author has her own website here.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

A Weekend Up North

The weekend before last, one of my friends celebrated her 50th birthday. She used to live in our area until about 11 years ago, when she moved to Northern Germany to be with the man she loves.

Seven of us made the trip together, similar to 10 years ago, when we were there for her 40th birthday, and 4 1/2 years ago, when we spent a very summery weekend there in July 2015. I blogged about that weekend here and here - if you like, you can compare those summer pictures with those I took from the same place now.

The 800 km trip involved once again four different trains and seven hours of travel time. We arrived at the small train sation of Mölln mid-afternoon, walked the 10 minutes or so to our hotel and checked in. There was still some daylight left by then, making the decision easy about what to do until the party would begin in a few hours. O.K. and I both felt the need for some exercise after so many hours sitting on more or less comfortable trains, and went for a walk down to the lake and a little exploring of the historic town centre.

(Most of these pictures are O.K.'s.) 
















The water reservoir on the last two pictures was next door to our hotel, up on the hill above the town. It also features in one of my previous posts about Mölln, linked above.
The brick facades of the buildings are typical for this part of Germany, rather different from where I live.

We enjoyed our walk and had still enough time left for a bit of a rest before dressing and getting ready for the party, which was in the next village. A minibus/large taxi took us there, and we had a fun night with good food, drink, music and dancing and - most importantly - our friend.

For the next day, Sunday, storm Ciara (named Sabine in our parts) was forecast to hit in the early afternoon. We had been a bit worried beforehand about our trip home, but in the end we were so lucky in that the train we had booked anyway was one of the last long-distance ones to run that day. Shortly afterwards, all long distance trains and most flights were cancelled because of the storm.

We reached Ludwigsburg almost exactly seven hours after having set off in Mölln. Our small group of seven friends quickly dissolved; everybody just wanted to get home - which for O.K. meant another 1 1/2 hours' drive on the motorway.

It was a fun weekend, different from what our weekends are usually like, but I guess we'd all agree that we won't mind if the next such trip is in a few years!