Monday, 13 February 2017

a last sentence by Tanizaki | Virginia Woolf

I don't know about you but in bookshops I often find myself reading the first sentence of a book or its first paragraph. I never look at the last sentence, as that could give away the ending, but I know people who do. In January I finished reading The Makioka Sisters by the Japanese writer Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (1886-1965), translated by Edward G. Seidensticker (an Everyman's Library edition). Without giving away its plot, I have to share with you the book's last sentence: 'Yukiko's diarrhea persisted through the twenty-sixth, and was a problem on the train to Tokyo' (p. 498).

Do you need to read it again? I did.

Usually when I finish reading a book I contemplate on the characters, plot, theme, etc., and perhaps write a few lines in my notebook. This time my mind was going, Okay, is there a chapter missing? Is this the ending? I honestly turned the book upside down - I believe I even shook it gently - in the attempt to find that missing final chapter. And when I realised that this was it, this was indeed the last sentence, I just burst out laughing. This is the single most memorable last sentence I have ever come across.

I'm still looking at that page and laughing; this last sentence is so unexpected.

The prose of The Makioka Sisters is very calm (during the reading I told friends it often felt like meditation). I don't remember a book with such a quiet prose. It's quite long, divided into three books, but I enjoyed it. Basically, it's about the search of the Makioka family for a husband for the third sister so they can marry off the fourth and youngest, who already has a suitor. The theme is like any Jane Austen novel but the style is completely different. It's an interesting social study of Japan, its culture and customs, in a certain era: It starts in 1936 and ends in April 1941; Europe is already at war but the attack on Pearl Harbor hasn't happened. When you finish reading the book you know that there are major changes ahead.

The Makioka Sisters was on my № 6 reading list and I told you then that I was noting down ideas for a Japanese list. On that one you will find The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese classic from the 11th century, often referred to as the world's first novel, translated by Tanizaki into modern Japanese. On the list you will also find Tanizaki's Some Prefer Nettles - I won't tell you more until I share it.

From a Virginia Woolf feature, 'Bloomsbury & Beyond', Harpar's Bazaar UK, March 2017, pp. 324-25

You may already have seen the Vanessa Bell feature I shared on Instagram last week, from the March 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar UK. It's been months since I last bought a fashion magazine but almost ran to the shop when I learned that the cultural section of this one included both Bell and her sister Virginia Woolf. The Woolf feature is called 'Bloomsbury & Beyond' and opens with a photo of her desk at Monk's House, her home in Sussex (spotted in my top image), and ends with her short story The Lady in the Looking Glass, which appeared in the magazine's January 1930 issue. An inexpensive Penguin edition of The Lady in the Looking Glass also includes her stories A Society, The Mark on the Wall, Solid Objects, and Lappin and Lapinova. The last one appeared in the April 1939 issue, which you can spot in the top-left corner of my image above. If short stories are your thing I believe all the ones by Woolf are available online.

images by me | credit: Harper's Bazaar UK, March 2017 · Harry Cory Wright | map of France from the book Map Stories: The Art of Discovery by Francisca Mattéoli (Octopus Publishing Group) © Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

№ 7 reading list | Vanessa Bell exhibition

In an old notebook of mine there is a quote that always makes me laugh. Actress Emma Thompson was in the NYT feature By the Book and when asked about the last book that had made her cry, she said: 'I was on holiday years ago with “Corelli’s Mandolin.” Rendered inconsolable and had to be put to bed for the afternoon' (Sunday Book Review, 23.09.2012). I adore Emma Thompson. It's time for another reading list and Bernières's book is on it, a Vintage Books edition, beautifully illustrated by Rob Ryan. There is also a novel by my favourite Icelandic author, Sigurdur Palsson, whom I often spotted at cafés in Reykjavik, always impeccably dressed, usually wearing a patterned silk scarf or a beret (he studied in France). I have already mentioned Doris Lessing and me rereading Little Women. Here is the № 7 reading list, the first of 2017 (for convenience I have numbered the lists):

· Fictions  by Jorge Luis Borges
· The Grass is Singing  by Doris Lessing
· The Golden Notebook  by Doris Lessing
· Captain Corelli's Mandolin  by Louis De Bernières
· Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend  by Diana Athill
· Local Souls  by Allan Gurganus
· Parísarhjól  by Sigurður Pálsson (Icelandic)
· In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris, 1900-1910  by Sue Roe
· Little Women  by Louisa May Alcott

I almost feel guilty for not having read Athill's memoir, Instead of a Letter, but when I saw Instead of a Book on sale at Waterstones I knew it was going on my list. It contains the letters she wrote for over thirty years to the American poet Edward Field, who kept them and wanted them published. In the introduction, Athill wittily observes:
Usually when someone's letters are published the writer is dead. In this case there was a problem: Edward is six years younger than I am, but since I'm ninety-three that doesn't make him young. If he waited until I was dead he might be dead too. (p. vii)
Kudos to writers who crack you up in a bookshop! Gurganus is an author I have never read. I bought his book after listening to Michael Silverblatt's conversation with him on the Bookworm (from Nov. 2013) and ended up listening to all their conversations. I thought about keeping it on the shelf until I had read Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, but it kept pulling and on the list it went. I was delighted to find Roe's book at that library. At this point I cannot say much about it, but I do wish it had more illustrations (in my image you see Modigliani's painting Caryatid, 1911).

Vanessa Bell, Nude with Poppies, 1916

Sometimes I wish I lived closer to the London area. If I did I would hop on a train to see the Vanessa Bell exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery that opens today (a short train ride from central London). Artist Vanessa Bell (1879–1961) belonged to the bohemian Bloomsbury group and was Virginia Woolf's sister (the photo of her in my image above is taken at Charleston in 1925). The exhibition closes on the 4th of June. There is an accompanying publication, Vanessa Bell, edited by Sarah Milroy (Philip Wilson Publishers) that I would like to have. If you are a Bell fan perhaps the March 2017 collectors' edition of Harper's Bazaar UK will interest you, exclusively available at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

PS. Thanks to blogger Diana Mieczan of exPress-o for her delightful entry about my blog. She is correct, my coffee cup is almost every time set on a cloth napkin. I have been doing this for a long time and like to believe the coffee tastes better.

top image by me | photo of Vanessa Bell appears in the book Charleston: A Bloomsbury House & Garden | Amedeo Modigliani's painting appears in the book In Montmartre © Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris | Vanessa Bell art via Art UK © 1961 estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy Henrietta Garnett, Swindon Art Gallery

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Map Stories by Francisca Mattéoli

Remember your first world atlas, your very own? Apart from images of the globe, the cover of mine was black with white letters. I was ten or eleven years old and devoured it. Maps have a strange attraction and seem to offer a possibility of great adventures. I have always had a soft spot for vintage maps, especially the illustrated ones that are far-off geographically. Throw in sea monsters and sailing ships and they become even more enchanting. You can only imagine my excitement when a few months ago I received the latest book by travel writer Francisca Mattéoli, Map Stories: The Art of Discovery, published by Octopus (Ilex). Through a wonderful collection of historical maps and twenty-three stories, Mattéoli takes us on an adventure all over the globe where we meet cartographers, geographers, explorers and dreamers. For me it sometimes felt as if entering a dimension where Bilbo Baggins meets Indiana Jones.

Map of the Nile Valley drawn up by Nicolas de Fer and published in 1720, pp. 44-45

Mattéoli isn't a scholar in the field of geography and her book shouldn't be read as a textbook. In the preface she writes: 'It is a book that invites the reader on a journey from map to map, to let their imagination run free' (p. 7). That's indeed the book's charm.

Mattéoli's journey starts with the rediscovery of the lost city of Petra and ends in China via the Silk Road. In between we find ourselves on the Inca trail, on the mysterious site of Machu Picchu; racing to the South Pole; on Route 66; searching for the source of the Nile River; on board the Orient Express; perhaps wondering if Nessie the monster is hiding somewhere in Loch Ness. These are only some of the destinations.

Planisphere by the Venetian monk Fra Mauro, c. 1449, pp. 100-101

Depending on your interests and historical knowledge, some of the twenty-three stories will be more familiar than others and some might teach you something new. I was intrigued by the one about the search for the source of the Nile River - the expedition of Richard Burton and John Speke - that reads somewhat like a mystery with a dramatic ending. The following is a description (from a photo) of the Map Room of the Royal Geographical Society:
[It] is plunged in a dusty half-light and decorated with maps, as one might expect. An enormous terrestrial globe fills one corner. On the upper floor, dark wood shelves are stacked with carefully arranged documents and books. On the ground floor, two large display cabinets protect the most precious objects and on a long table standing in the center of the room, pages lie spread out as if waiting to be consulted by some very serious gentleman. This was the setting that would soon be at the heart of the scandal. It was here, or at least in a similar room of this distinguished institution founded in 1830 that, around a hundred years ago, a disagreement broke out regarding the source of this fabled river, which would soon turn into a downright controversy and then a brutal confrontation. (p. 42)

Map of the South Pole, 1912, pp. 120-121

Some of the adventurers we meet on Mattéoli's journey are Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer who was the first to reach the South Pole, and Peter Fleming (brother of Ian Fleming), who in 1932 joined an Amazon expedition after seeing an advertisement in The Times (his book Brazilian Adventure, first published in 1933, is still in print).

Map Stories enables us to admire the work of famous cartographers like Fra Mauro (see my 2nd image above), Fernão (Fernando) Vaz Dourado, Nicolas de Fer (see Nile Valley map above), Willem Blaeu and his son Joan, Martin Behaim, Pedro Reinel and Lopo Homem, Jodocus Hondius, Guillaume Le Testu, and John Speed, just to name a few.

I believe this book has something for everyone. And if you find yourself online looking up old travel trunks, or other vintage travel paraphernalia, I completely understand.

Map of Chile, 1884, p. 157

I am particularly fond of the design of the book that is a beautiful addition to my coffee table. The map on the cover is embossed and the endpapers are an old world map with illustrations of principal mountains and basins of rivers (see map). The layout of the text is clear and at the top of the left pages are the coordinates for the place being discussed. The maps are either on a single page or spread across two. I wanted to cut some of them out and frame them, which, unfortunately, would have ruined the book.

Travel writer Francisca Mattéoli
Travel writer Francisca Mattéoli is the author of many books, which have been translated into many languages. She has also written travel pieces for magazines, including National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveller, and Air France Magazine. Her personal blog is written in both French and English. She resides in Paris but was actually brought up in South America with Chilean nationality (Scottish mother). She is already working on her next book.

Map Stories: The Art of Discovery
By Francisca Mattéoli
Hardcover, 176 pages, illustrated

Part of a map of Europe for use in primary education, dating from 1880, p. 143

images by me | except for No. 2, 4-6, courtesy of Octopus Publishing Group (No. 5 edited by me) | maps - credit: No. 1 (cover) © akg-images/North Wind Picture Archives; No. 2, 4-5, 7 © Bibliothèque Nationale de France; No. 3 © akg-images/British Library

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

bread buns | turnip tomato soup with parsley

Hearty soups and home-made bread buns keep me going these days when in my mind I just want to escape to another planet. Honestly, I don't think I'm handling the new Trump-ideology-era as well as I thought I could. Four years of 'alternative facts' is a daunting prospect. Without books I would be lost; in my attempt to block the news I have even started listening to books podcasts from 2012! It's therapy. And so is spending quality moments in the kitchen. A photo of the bread buns that I posted on Instagram on Sunday sparked this blog entry. Two people asked for the recipe and I decided to bake them again and share with another recipe for turnip tomato soup with parsley.

The bread buns are adapted from a bread recipe (without seeds) printed on the packet of the Doves Farm quick yeast. It needs no activation, you simply add it to the flour before the liquid. In the bread buns I use coconut oil but any quality vegetable oil will do. The sesame seeds are my addition and usually I top the buns with both sesame and poppy seeds. The original recipe contains plain flour but every time I make the buns I substitute about 60 grams (¼ cup) for wholemeal spelt flour, to add dietary fibre.


500 g organic white spelt flour or plain flour
½ teaspoon fine sea/Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon unrefined cane sugar
1 teaspoon Doves Farm quick yeast
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
275-300 ml warm water
1 tablespoon coconut oil
optional topping: milk/soya milk + sesame seeds + poppy seeds

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and sesame seeds, with a wooden spoon.

Mix in the water, starting with 275 ml, adding the oil as the dough comes together (if using coconut oil melt it before use; there is 1 teaspoon of oil in the original recipe). Add 1-2 tablespoons of water if needed.

Knead the dough on a floured surface for 4-5 minutes. Return it to the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for at least 35 minutes.

Divide the dough into 8 parts and roll into balls. Place them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and flatten each slightly with the palm of your hand. Brush each one with milk/soya milk and sprinkle sesame seeds on top (and poppy seeds if using). Bake at 200°C/400°F (180°C fan oven) for 12-14 minutes.

[Note for American readers: 1 cup of white spelt flour is about 130 grams, which means that 500 grams = scant 3½ cups, depending on the type you use. For the warm water: prepare 1¼ cup. Start adding 1 cup and two tablespoons to the dough and add 1 tablespoon or more if needed.]

Uppskrift á íslensku.

The taste of this soup is partly the work of two of my children. It was a cold winter day and we wanted to make a soup with turnip, celery and lentils. We are big fans of swedes and turnips in this house. Turnips (white or yellow with purple near the leaf bases) give you dietary fibre, Vitamin B6 and C, to name some of their benefits. We looked up ideas online and found a recipe of red lentil soup with turnip and parsley on the website of Martha Stewart, which became our inspiration. The main difference is that we don't use as much of the lentils in ours and we use canned plum tomatoes instead of raw tomatoes. We have been preparing this soup on the colder days in January.


1 tablespoon light olive oil
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 celery sticks
1 turnip
1 can (400 g) plum tomatoes (14 oz)
1250 ml water (5 cups)
60 g / 75 ml red lentils (¼ cup)
a pinch of ground cumin
a pinch of smoked paprika
1 small bay leaf
½-1 teaspoon coarse sea/Himalayan salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Modena balsamic vinegar
75 ml finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (scant ⅓ cup)

Start with preparing the vegetables. Peel and chop the onion. Trim and finely slice the celery sticks. Peel the cloves of garlic, finely slice one and press the other two when added to the saucepan. Peel and dice the turnip and set it aside.

In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until tender, gently stirring.

Increase the heat to high and add the plum tomatoes with juice, red lentils (rinse them first), diced turnip and water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, add ½ teaspoon of salt, a handful of chopped parsley and black pepper. Allow to simmer for 25 minutes.

Towards the end, stir in Modena balsamic vinegar, the rest of the parsley, and add more salt if needed. For extra comfort, serve with home-made bread or bread buns.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

The recent Instagram photo that sparked this blog entry

Friday, 20 January 2017

coffee table books | Bitten by Witch Fever & Hokusai

Recently I mentioned that I had a few coffee table books in sight. Some of them have already been published; others will soon be or in the spring, like Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave. On the list below is one that I'm currently reading with great interest, Lucinda Hawksley's book Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home, a Christmas gift from a friend. It presents 275 facsimile samples of wallpaper designs that have all been tested positively for arsenic content.

For some time I have wanted to see a new art book on my coffee table and I believe I have found the right one, Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave. The book features 300 illustrations of works by the great Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), created during the last thirty years of his life. Its publication (early May) coincides with an exhibition that opens at the British Museum on the 25th of May, and closes in August. How I would love to travel to London to see it and spend a few days in the Bloomsbury area.

Katsushika Hokusai's, Clear day with a southern breeze (Red Fuji), 1831

Let us take a look at the list of the coffee table books I'm interested in, in random order with a comment on each (you may already have spotted some in the blog's sidebar):

· The Japanese House: Architecture and Life: 1945 to 2017  by Pippo Ciorra and Florence Ostende (Marsilio). If architecture is your thing this book is a comprehensive study of Japanese architecture since the Second World War.
· The Long Life of Design in Italy: B&B Italia. 50 Years and Beyond  by Stefano Casciani (Skira). In 1966, Piero Ambrogio Busnelli established the Italian furniture company B&B Italia and now we are able to enjoy its story in a beautiful book (see a short video on their website).
· Blumarine: Anna Molinari by Elena Loewenthal, edited by Maria Luisa Frisa (Rizzoli). The Queen of Roses, designer Anna Molinari of the Italian fashion house Blumarine has many fans. I believe fashion design enthusiasts are waiting for the publication of this one, which contains photographs by the likes of Helmut Newton, Tim Walker, Albert Watson, and Craig McDean. I think I would buy it for the cover alone!
· Adobe Houses: House of Sun and Earth  by Kathryn Masson (Rizzoli). I would really like to get my hands on this book that presents twenty-three Californian homes, showing both interiors and gardens. Adobe houses with whitewashed walls and exposed beams ... yes please.
· Art House: The Collaboration of Chara Schreyer & Gary Hutton by Alisa Carroll (Assouline). A visual feast: five residences designed to house 600 works of art, a collaboration of art collector Schreyer with interior designer Hutton.
· Flourish: Stunning Arrangements with Flowers and Foliage by Willow Crossley (Kyle Books). If you are looking for a new decorative style for your home by using flowers I'm sure Willow Crossley's new book will inspire you, and Emma Mitchell's beautiful photography.
· Around That Time: Horst at Home in Vogue by Valentine Lawford and Ivan Shaw (Abrams Books). I still haven't found this one in a bookshop, I have only seen magazine features (one spotted in my bottom image). It contains, among others, photographs by Horst P. Horst that appeared in Vogue's Book of Houses, Gardens, People from 1968 (his partner Valentine Lawford wrote the text). The foreword is written by Vogue's Hamish Bowles. Here is a sneak peek.
· Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home by Lucinda Hawksley (Thames & Hudson, published in association with The National Archives). The aforementioned book that presents 275 facsimile samples of wallpaper designs, including e.g. Corbière, Son & Brindle, Christopher Dresser and Morris & Co. (See more below.)
· Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave by Timothy Clark, Shugo Asano and Roger Keyes (Thames & Hudson). The aforementioned book about the Japanese influential master Katsushika Hokusai that features artworks he created during his last thirty years. It also gives his daughter Eijo (Ōi) a due attention, an artist of the late 19th century Edo period. The publication coincides with a British Museum exhibition that opens in May.

A detail of Hokusai's, The poet Rihaku lost in wonder at the majesty of the great waterfall

I had to include these two Hokusai's woodblock pieces in this blog entry. His career spanned over seven decades but most people are familiar with his later work. The blue colour, or the Prussian blue, as it has been called, has always fascinated me and drawn me to his art.

For those interested in viewing more pieces by Hokusai (or any other artist) there is a wonderful selection of his artworks on Artsy and an editorial piece containing some fun facts. Artsy is a website I only recently added to my bookmarks and which instantly became a favourite (they also have a podcast). Artsy's mission is to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

'Blue Bird Amongst the Strawberries', a pattern by Charles F. A. Voysey, recalls William Morris's
well-known 'Strawberry Thief' of 1883. From the book
  Bitten by Witch Fever, p. 131

By reading Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home, which I haven't finished, I have realised that I was blissfully unaware that poisonous pigments were used in wallpaper design without being considered dangerous (it was Carl Wilhelm Scheele who in 1775 used arsenic to create a green pigment, Scheele's Green, that became popular and was used e.g. to create a vibrant colour for wallpapers):
Many dismissed as ludicrous the doctors who held that the wallpapers were poisonous, including English wallpaper designer William Morris, who stated that they 'were bitten as people were bitten by the witch fever'. (p. 7)
I had to leaf through the final chapter to learn that the first arsenic-free wallpapers weren't produced in Britain until 1859, with 'little public recognition'. By the 1870s, Morris & Co. finally 'bent to public pressure' and then it became 'big news' (p. 226). This book is indeed interesting, not to mention beautifully designed: There are seven short chapters - they look like brochures - in between pages of colour coded plates that show the wallpapers tested for arsenic content.

Pale green. Corbière, Son & Brindle, London, UK, 1879. From the book  Bitten by Witch Fever, Plates V, p. 141

images by me | Katsushika Hokusai art via: 1. The British Museum, 2. Thames & Hudson Spring 2017 Catalogue