Monday, 17 April 2017

remembering Karen Blixen

Happy Easter! Today is the birthday of Karen Blixen (b. 17 April 1885, d. 7 September 1962), a Danish author who wrote many tales under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen (Babette's Feast and Other Stories, Shadows on the Grass, Seven Gothic Tales, Winter's Tales, and Last Tales). She was a gifted storyteller, best known for her book Out of Africa, often described as a lyrical meditation on her life in Kenya, where she had a farm, a coffee plantation (the book has no chronological order). Most people know of Blixen because of Sydney Pollack's film adaptation: While the film may give you an idea of Blixen's life in the stunning African landscape, only by reading the book will you experience its true atmosphere. For me it depicts an Africa I will never experience. A bygone era.

In one of my journals there is a quote by Blixen. Once she was asked how a story begins for a writer and this was her reply, in Danish:
Det begynder med atmosfære, et landskab, der for mig er vidunderligt skønt, og så – så kommer menneskene pludselig ind i billedet. Med det er de der, de lever, og jeg kan lade dem leve videre i bøgerne.
Basically, she is saying that first comes atmosphere, a landscape, which she finds wonderful and then, suddenly, people enter the scene. With that they are there, they live, and she can let them live on in the books. (I found the quote on the FB page of Karen Blixen Museet.)

In February came great news for Karen Blixen fans when it was announced that her book Out of Africa will be turned into a TV series.

image by me | the photo of Karen Blixen appears in the book Letters from Africa 1914-1931

Monday, 10 April 2017

a talk with textile designer Lisa Fine

The late American photographer Ansel Adams once said: 'You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.' One can apply his words to any kind of creative art and I used them to start an email conversation with textile designer Lisa Fine. On the blog I have already described her as a designer with a sense of history and I stick to my words. She has a knack for colours, for patterns, and it feels as if each fabric by Lisa Fine Textiles tells a story. She was born and raised in Mississippi. Today she lives in New York with her dogs and travels widely, often to India and other exotic places. Miniature paintings have inspired her career, and so has painter Henri Matisse.

Wherever possible, also in direct quotes, I have added links to e.g. short essays on museum websites that I found interesting and educational. Except for the Matisse paintings, all the images were chosen by me.

[Fabrics by Lisa Fine Textiles shown in my top image (click each for info): Cairo, Kashgar,
Luxor, Malabar, Malula, Mandalay, Pasha, and Rajkot. See the books further below.]

Persian miniature: Mir Sayyid 'Ali, Night-time in a City, c. 1540, Tabriz, Iran, Safavid Period

To go back to Adams's words, what has left its mark on Lisa Fine (given how much she has discovered through her work and travels).
LF: My life is very much about people, however, books and art not only inspire and teach but are the best refuge.

My favorite painter is Matisse. I love his mix of color and pattern, especially in his orientalist portraits. Irving & Fine [collaboration with textile designer Carolina Irving] peasant blouses were very much inspired by his work. I also love the Fauvism movement.
Her other two favourite artists are Kees Van Dongen and Amedeo Modigliani.

Henri Matisse, Zorah on the Terrace, 1912

She doesn't have a favourite Matisse painting but said: 'I love his Moroccan period most, especially the portraits.' Later I found his work Zorah on the Terrace in my inbox with the words: 'Love Moroccan portraits.' The other two by Matisse followed, the one below with the words: 'Love odalisque series.'

Saturday, 1 April 2017

colourful fabrics by Lisa Fine Textiles

Motifs, patterns, textiles, colours. Having recently received a batch of samples from Lisa Fine Textiles, I have spent my latte moments with hand-printed, colourful fabrics and textile books spread all over my desk, as captured in my images. Here we have three designs she introduced last year, Kalindi, Cochin and Ayesha Paisley, which are a beautiful addition to her exotic collection, inspired by her travels. Soon I will be sharing with you a little chat I had with Lisa Fine herself through email, about books, art and other inspirations.

Cochin by Lisa Fine Textiles, colour in foreground: rose

Of these three designs, the floral fabric Cochin is the one that has won my heart and soul, especially the colour rose with a saffron background. The pattern is hand-printed on 90% natural linen blended with 10% nylon, available in four colours: rose, cinnabar (the red and blue one - see image above, top-right), burnt sugar, and saffron (with pink flowers). Many of Lisa Fine's designs bear an Indian name. Cochin is the colonial name of the Indian city Kochi, situated on the southwest coast in the state of Kerala.

Ayesha Paisley, colour in foreground: ruby

The Ayesha Paisley fabric is hand-printed on 100% natural linen, available in four colours: ruby, sapphire, coral, and spinel (I don't have a sample of the last one).

Ayesha Paisley, in the foreground: sapphire

In foreground: Kalindi in every available colour (under my cup are two samples of the fabric Luxor)

The Kalindi fabric has a floral pattern with dots, hand-printed on 90% natural linen blended with 10% nylon. It's available in five rich colours: monsoon (the light blue one), indigo, saffron, dusty rose, and lipstick. I'm assuming the fabric is named after the Kalindi River in the state of West Bengal in eastern India.

To view the full range of fabrics, visit the website of Lisa Fine Textiles.

Perhaps some of my readers are in the mood for a new look for one of their spaces or even thinking about redesigning their home. In an interview that appeared in Lonny a few years ago, when her guest flat on the Left Bank in Paris was featured in the magazine, Lisa Fine gave a solid advice: 'Never be a victim of trends. If modern is in style and you love Victorian, go Victorian. Style is an expression of yourself and not what fashion dictates' (Inspiration India, Dec/Jan 2010). In the same feature she shared a few design tips and this one could help you start: 'Similar to how many designers will start with a rug and then build a room, choose a fabric to inspire the space and work from there.' My choice of fabric would be clear.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

carnations in my study

The other day my son and I were having breakfast when he asked me what were my favourite flowers. Without thinking I said carnations (on the table was a vase with yellow ones). 'Why?' he asked. 'Because they are durable,' I said, 'they last long.' A few years back I would have said white tulips or peonies, without a doubt. When I think about it I cannot really choose between these three, but carnations are the flowers I buy most of the time (the Spaniards were on to something when they chose the red carnation as their national flower). This is an image I snapped in my study this morning while enjoying a nutmeg latte. Carnations and stacks of books on my desk is a common sight. Happy hump day!

Monday, 20 March 2017

№ 8 reading list | North Korean stories by Bandi

The first day of spring calls for a new reading list, wouldn't you agree? Three publishing houses, Head of Zeus (Apollo), Pushkin Press and Serpent's Tail, provided the first three books on the list and for that I thank them. I will later be reviewing the novel Pachinko and A World Gone Mad, Swedish author Lindgren's WWII diaries (known for her children's books), but today I want to specially mention a unique North Korean story collection, The Accusation by Bandi (pseudonym). The author, unknown to us, still lives in North Korea and risked his life by writing and smuggling his work out of the country (see more below). Here is my № 8 reading list:

· Pachinko  by Min Jin Lee
· A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1939-45 
· The Accusation  by Bandi
· Seize the Day  by Saul Bellow
· The Blue Touch Paper  by David Hare
· Another Country  by James Baldwin
· Pale Fire  by Vladimir Nabokov
· The Sea, The Sea  by Iris Murdoch

Seize the Day is my first Saul Bellow read - about time! An Instagram bookworm-friend called it 'an incredible novel' and added 'it's haunted me most of my adult life.' I meant to start with Herzog but it wasn't available at the library. Playwright David Hare is on my list of favourite people. Listening to him talk about writing is a pure pleasure and now I'm finally going to read his memoir. He e.g. wrote the screenplay for the film The Hours (2002), based on the book by Michael Cunningham. Loved the book, loved the film. There is one reread on the list: The Sea, The Sea by Murdoch. I was probably too young when I read it because I don't seem to remember half of it.

Forbidden stories from inside North Korea: The Accusation by Bandi

The Accusation by Bandi contains seven stories about ordinary men and women in North Korea. The author is unknown: Bandi is a pseudonym (means firefly in Korean) and to protect his identity some details have been changed. In a note from the publisher it says they 'believe it to be an important work of North Korean samizdat literature and a unique portrayal of life under a totalitarian dictatorship.' Apart from the news, what we have read so far are works by people who have escaped from the regime. What makes this book unique is that for the first time we have stories written by an author still living there. Instead of a preface and acknowledgements there are untitled poems by the author, who describes himself thus in one line in the former: 'Fated to shine only in a world of darkness'. The latter has a poem where he begs to be read:
Fifty years in this northern land
Living as a machine that speaks
Living as a human under a yoke
Without talent
With a pure indignation
Written not with pen and ink
But with bones drenched with blood and tears
Is this writing of mine

Though they be dry as a desert
And rough as a grassland
Shabby as an invalid
And primitive as stone tools
I beg you to read my words.
If only the entire world would read these stories and that one day Bandi would be able to enjoy the royalties as a free man. I haven't finished the book but what I have read so far is heartbreaking. The social and political circumstances in North Korea, the lack of human rights, are known to us, but when reading stories by someone living in these conditions, suddenly, it becomes all too painfully real.

The Accusation
By Bandi
Serpent's Tail
Hardcover, 256 pages

Utagawa Hiroshige, A Red Plum Branch against the Summer Moon, c. mid-1840s, colour woodblock print

My next reading list will be the Japanese one I have mentioned more than once. Therefore, I chose to include this painting by Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige (also Andō Hiroshige, 1797-1858). Blooming trees in spring, mon dieu! Soon I will be sipping my latte on the patio and reading under the pink blossoms of a cherry tree ... a quality moment in the life of a book lover.

images by me | Utagawa Hiroshige art via The Art Institute of Chicago | first three books on the list provided by these publishers: Head of Zeus (Apollo), Pushkin Press and Serpent's Tail