Tuesday, April 11, 2017

English Rose

Gemma Arterton in the Spring edition of "Town & Country" UK

I've often said that Harpers Bazzar UK is one of the most beautiful magazines around. The editor-in-chief Justine Picardie brings an artistry, intellect, and literary slant to this fashion magazine unlike anybody else in the fashion world. She is indeed a literary woman herself, a novelist and biographer who has written several books including a novel about Daphne Du Maurier and a biography of Coco Chanel. And so I find that I read the magazine not just for the fashion but also for the excellent articles on books, writers and artists as well as all kinds of cultural things happening in England, of which there is an abundance!

About a year ago I discovered another magazine edited by Justine Picardie: Town and Country  UK which is published four times a year and not that easy to find in Los Angeles. They are very patient with me at my local new stand as I ask about once a week if they have have it in stock. It is equally beautiful. This month's edition has Jenna Arterton on the cover which is a happy coincidence for me as I've just seen the film Their Finest in which she stars. I was absolutely bowled over by her performance. My husband and I left the theater wondering who she was (she looked very familiar but we couldn't quite place her) and when I picked up the Spring issue of Town and Country she was on the cover.  All I had to do was look inside to get the answer. The photo spread is gorgeous and the article contains some interesting facts about this very talented young woman.

Gemma Arterton is 31-year-old English actress who has been working in films and theater for many years. She has been in several French films, as well as a few Hollywood blockbusters, such as "Clash of the Titans." She is currently starring in the Donmar Warehouse production of the play Saint Joan. She is also working on a new film about Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf in which she plays Vita. It is written by Eileen Atkins. She says she prefers stage over screen and has set up her own production company so that she has control over she what she does. She now has the ability to develop stories she loves for herself and others. One of the things she liked most about the film "Their Finest" is that it is a romance in the vein of the old Hollywood screwball comedies in which two people love each other without knowing it. I think that is such a good description of the film.

Sam Claflin and Gemma Arterton in the new film "Their Finest"

Gemma plays an ambitious Welsh woman named Catrina Cole who lives in London during World War II and works as an advertising copywriter. She gets recruited by the government to join the film industry. Britain wants America to enter the war and decides the best way to rally the cause as well as lift the spirits of weary Britons is to make propaganda films celebrating the virtues of British soldiers. She works alongside a young, dispirited screenwriter named Tom Buckley (played by Sam Claflin) and together they start writing the film within the film.

Sparks start to fly between the two screenwriters but before they ever acknowledge their attraction to each other there are a lot of obstacles and complications along the way. Catrina is married to a penniless artist (played by Jack Huston) and they are living a life of bohemian squalor until she starts to make some money. She quickly rises to the top of her male-dominated film crew as her talent is begrudgingly recognized by the men around her and she begins to come into her own. The story unfolds against the grim backdrop of London during the Blitz, with lots of drama and suspense caused by frequent air raids and explosions. The cast is fabulous and includes Bill Nighy (who practically steals the movie with his comedic turn as an aging actor), Richard E. Grant, and Jeremy Irons. I loved this movie for its sense of time and place, romance, and compelling story of a woman's growing confidence and independence in a male chauvinistic world. I was also thrilled to see the work of this young English actress and look forward to seeing what she does next. Especially in the upcoming Vita Sackville-West film!

Have you seen her new film "The Finest"?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Literary Wanderings

I hope you are enjoying the beginning of spring! Here in Los Angeles the temperatures are rising and everyone seems to have spring fever. When I'm not outside in the garden, I have been inside doing a lot of reading, writing, and watching some great television. Here are a few treasures I have discovered that I want to share with you. They are all connected to some of my favorite writers.

 A Rediscovered Classic

I just finished reading The Mayor of Casterbridge for the second time, though it felt like the first since its been so many years. This may be Hardy's masterpiece. I was struck by the power of his writing to capture the shocking incident that opens the book: a man sells his wife and a daughter to a stranger. An incredible event. I was also struck by Hardy's ability to depict this man's character. The man in question is Michael Henchard, the "Mayor of Casterbridge," who spends much of the book battling his inner demons. I don't think I've ever read a book that so thoroughly depicted a man unable to escape his character flaws. It's heartbreaking in a way to watch this man sabotage his own personal happiness. I was also struck by Hardy's incredible talent at capturing a time and a place. We're deep in rural England in the 1800's, a place that seems very far away. The customs, manner of speaking, types of people, class differences, farming practises, and town life are all vividly brought to life. The only other writer I can think of that matches Hardy in capturing the quaintness, nuances and minutiae of that other life would be George Eliot, especially in "Middlemarch." These two writers are masters at world-building. I can't recommend this book highly enough!

House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth

Thanks to a couple of friends who alerted me to this fabulous fashion exhibition at Chatsworth House in England, it is now on my wish list for my upcoming trip. I have never been to Chatsworth House and have always wanted to go. A big fan of of Nancy Mitford's books, I was excited to learn about her youngest sister Deborah Mitford. After reading Deborah's fabulous memoir Wait for Me I found another Mitford to love. Deborah was the youngest of the Mitford sisters and often felt overlooked. Her life took a glamorous turn when she became Duchess of Devonshire after marrying Andrew Cavendish. They lived at Chatsworth House, one of the great treasure houses of England. It is set amid the rolling green hills of the Derbyshire Dales. The Duke and Duchess hosted many celebrities and dignitaries here over the years and their stories will be told as part of this fashion exhibition which is curated by Hamish Bowles of "Vogue." Keeping my fingers crossed I make it there! 

This Article on Jane Austen in "The New Yorker"

After reading Anthony Lane's fascinating article about "Sanditon," Jane Austen's last and unfinished book, I now want to read it. As he writes, "Although--or precisely because--"Sanditon" was composed by a dying woman, the result is robust, unsparing, and alert to all the latest fashions of human foolishness. It brims with life." I learned some interesting facts about Jane Austen from Lane's article. Did you know that of her six mature novels, four were published in her lifetime and none have her name on the title page? Her nephew, who wrote her biography, claimed that she was always sweet of temper. Lane tells us that wasn't always the case and quotes Austen in a letter saying "Pictures of perfection as you know make me sick & wicked." He goes on to give a fascinating review of "Sanditon." Any Jane Austen fan will want to read this excellent article about Austen's last book written when she knew she was dying. That fact gives "Sanditon" an intensity not found in her other novels.

"To Walk Invisible"

"To Walk Invisible" is the two-hour film about the Bronte sisters made by British filmmaker Sally Wainwright. It aired on Sunday night as part of Masterpiece Theatre. I loved it and thought it was brilliant. I don't want to give away any spoilers in case you haven't seen it, but there is a fabulous short video on the Masterpiece website that tells what the filmmaker was trying to accomplish. Here are some highlights: 

Sally's intention was to tell the true story of the lives of the Bronte sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) and to bust some of the myths that have grown up around them. She lived near Haworth as a child and was always taken there. Consequently she grew up knowing all about the Brontes. Her film is about the family, rather than the individual sisters, and the dynamics of that family. They were not at all well-off and the idea of publishing comes about because they are worried about the future. The actor who plays Branwell, the alcoholic, tragic brother, says that although the time covered in the film is a very painful three years it is also hopeful and magical. I agree after seeing the film. The director talks about the fact that people who get hooked on the Brontes get passionate about them and interested in their lives as much as their books. (very true for me!) She goes on to say how remarkable it was to have three geniuses in one family, three separate brilliant people any one of whom would have become famous for what they accomplished. Go here to learn more. I absolutely adored this poignant and beautiful production. My favorite line? When Anne Bronte says, "I feel most alive when I am writing."

I would love to know if you have read "The Mayor of Casterbridge" and how you liked it. Are you a fan of Nancy and Deborah Mitford and have you been to Chatsworth? And please let me know if you watched "To Walk Invisible." 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Preparing for London

Do you love planning and researching a trip as much as I do? It's almost as fun as the actual journey! I am getting ready for a trip to London and Yorkshire in the spring and have discovered three fabulous books on London to help me create my itinerary. Each one validates the well-known adage that if you are tired of London you are tired of life. They are filled with wonderful suggestions for things to do in London. Some have been on my to-do list forever, some are ones I have never heard of until now, and others are places I have already been to and now can't wait to revisit. Here are the books and some interesting things I learned from them:

Literary London by Eloise Millar & Sam Jordison. This books gives us the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of our literary heroes. It tells the stories behind the stories, giving us fascinating facts about London's best literary landmarks, taking us into publishing houses, cafes, parks and all our favorite authors' stomping grounds. There are charming maps within the pages to help us find the best of literary London. Here are a few fun and quirky things that stood out to me:

1) A Dickensian pub crawl including the George Inn on Borough High Street, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (love the name) on Fleet street and the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden which boasts a little plaque in the alleyway commemorating Dickens' time there. In his days the tavern had a slightly more sinister name: The Bucket of Blood!

2) Berry Bros & Wine Merchants on St. James Street. I walk past this wine shop every time I am in London. I loved learning that it has had the same slanting floor since 1698 (better for rolling barrels) and was the poet Lord Byron's shop of choice for his wine cellar.

3) Brown's Hotel. I've been to Brown's for afternoon tea but didn't know it was the model for Agatha Christie's "At Bertram's Hotel." An interesting fact: Brown's Hotel was opened by Lord Byron's former valet a few years after the poet's death in 1837 (and on Albermarle Street, the same road as Byron's publisher). And the tea is supposedly very similar to the one Miss Marple eats.

4) Maison Bertaux. Located at 28 Greek Street, Soho, this is London's oldest French patisserie. The Bloomsbury Group loved to gather here for pastries and coffee.

The Art Lovers' Guide, London. This is a fully illustrated guidebook about the finest art in London. I learned a few interesting facts about some very famous paintings.

1) "Ophelia" by John Everett Millais which is at the Tate Britain was worked on by the artist for four months. He worked on a riverbank in order to copy the background accurately. For the foreground his model Lizzie Siddal posed for days in a cold bath, becoming ill in the process.

2) "The Swing" by Fragonard is the most famous masterpiece of Rococo art at the Wallace Collection, one of my very favorite places to visit in London. The Wallace Collection is located in London's Hertford House which was once the home of Richard Wallace and his descendants. It is now a national museum exhibiting the family's acquisitions of European art, including London's finest group of 18th-century French paintings. Next time I go I will seek out "The Swing."

3) "A Bar at the Folies-Bergeres" by Manet is one of my favorite paintings and I have enjoyed seeing it at the Courtauld Gallery. This painting of the famous Paris musical hall was Manet's last major work. The Courtauld is located in beautiful Somerset House and has a fabulous collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art. I haven't been for many years and after reading details about its impressive collection, I can't wait to go back. The description of the paintings by Degas and Renoir at the Courtauld are especially enticing.

The London Cookbook by Aleksandra Crapanzano. This wonderful book is both a guide to some of the best restaurants in London as well as a cookbook featuring some of the best recipes from these restaurants. Here are a three that I want to go to that feature some of the the best of British cooking.

1) La Fromagerie. This is a cheese shop with a cafe that is supposed to be a great place for lunch. The featured recipe in the book is "Alpine Fondue." In the notes for the recipe, the author writes that a great fondue is a balancing act, melding different varieties of cheese so no single one claims center state. This dish is served with bowls of cornichons, ham, boiled potatoes and cubes of crusty bread. I would love to order this dish if I make it to the restaurant!

2) Bucca Di Luppo.  An Italian restaurant that I have been to, it is located on a tiny street in Soho. This is another great place for lunch, especially sitting at the bar where you can watch the cooking. After reading about the featured recipe, Chestnut Straccetti with Mushrooms and Chestnuts, a pasta dish that includes chestnuts, pancetta, sage and mushrooms, I now want to go for dinner.

3) Nopi. One of Yotam Ottolenghi's restaurants, Nopi is a brasserie located in Soho. I have all of his cookbooks and would love to finally eat at his restaurant. The featured recipe is Purple Sprouting Broccoli with Olive Oil Mash. As the author says, "You may well wonder why I've included a recipe here for what is essentially mashed potatoes and grilled broccoli. The answer is simply Yotam. When Yotam cooks vegetables, magical things happen." That answer is good enough for me. I have been cooking his food for years and have total confidence that this dish will be delicious!

And one more thing: a good friend just returned from London where she saw the Vanessa Bell retrospective at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. She brought me home a copy of the collector's edition of the March  2017 issue of Harpers Bazaar UK which includes two fabulous articles about Vanessa Bell and Bloomsbury written by Virginia Nicholson as well as a short story by Virginia Woolf that was originally published in Harpers in 1936. I am planning to see the Vanessa Bell exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and can now read up on it. I will be adding this to my ever-growing pile of research for my trip!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Reading and Other Adventures

"Either write something worth reading, Or do something worth writing."
-- Benjamin Franklin

Hello! Happy February. I hope your holidays were good and you've been enjoying the new year. You may have been wondering where I have been! Well, I have been trying my hand at writing some fiction and it has been challenging, satisfying, and completely absorbing. I have enjoyed stretching myself and, if you are at all inclined, I highly recommend it. Finding a creative outlet has to be one of the most enriching of human experiences. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, "The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless."

Fortunately I have been able to keep up with some fabulous books that I am currently reading and wanted to share with you.

Nutshell by Ian McEwan:

I loved this book. Just as he did in "The Children Act," Ian McEwan manages to pack a powerful punch in a small number of pages, just under 200 here. The concept of the book sounds a bit crazy, but if you are willing to "suspend disbelief," it works. The narrator is an unborn baby who can hear everything that is happening around his mother, including the conversation between her and her lover to kill the baby's father. Her lover is the father's brother. Sound familiar? Yes, echoes of Hamlet here. The book is a bit of a sly comedy and I laughed out loud many times. The mother drinks prodigious amounts of wine (which is an awful reality that McEwan mines for some dark humor) during her pregnancy and there is quite a bit of humor as the baby-to-be becomes a wine connoisseur, commenting throughout the book on the quality of the wine as well as enjoying a contact high. The baby has learned about world events through the mother's habit of listening to podcasts and offers observations on the state of the world. He is full of disdain for his mother's lover who is crass and unintelligent. He also ponders the fact that his father is about to be murdered. What will happen to him after he is born, the baby uneasily wonders, since his mother and her lover never seem to consider this about-to-be-born human when plotting the murder. It is a very clever novel written by one of the best writers working today. I highly recommend it!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles:

A friend of mine remarked that this book reminded her of the film The Hotel Budapest. I agree. There is a whimsical and light-hearted quality to it. I am only halfway through, but suffice it to say that I am completely entranced by the voice of its central character, the charming and witty Count Rostov. It is 1922 in Russia and, as you can imagine, not a good time to be a Count. His crime was writing a poem. However, the Count's imprisonment will not be Siberia, but rather house arrest in the Metropol Hotel, the nicest hotel in Moscow. The hotel becomes a world unto itself for the Count and the events of the outside world enter only when his friends come to tell him what is going in revolutionary Russia. He shares their dismay. At one point he considers suicide, but decides to move on and manages to live a full and rich life within the confines of the hotel. The key to his contentment seems to be meaningful relationships with hotel guests and staff, an interest in everything around him, reading great books, and a determination to choose optimism over despair. The book is written with all the wit and charm of "Rules of Civility," Amor Towles first book, which I loved. I'm anxious to finish this one and see what ultimately happens to Count Rostov, an unforgettable character who is easy to love.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins:

A big, sprawling Victorian mystery that I have read before, this is a book I love. T.S. Eliot called it "the first and greatest of English detective novels." As soon as you open the first page you will be pulled into the tale of the moonstone, a famous diamond that originated in India and continues to be stolen from whomever is its unlucky owner. The mystery begins two years after the diamond was stolen from Rachel Verinder, who received it as a gift from her uncle on the occasion of her 18th-birthday. There are multiple narrators including the Robinson Crusoe-loving butler Gabriel Betteridge, Rachel's dashing cousin Franklin Blake, and the detective Sergeant Cuff. They all tell their story of the missing gem and its eventual recovery. Just like a Dickens novel, the book is filled with memorable characters and evocative Victorian atmosphere. This is one of those books that will take you to a cozy place.

It's raining cats and dogs this weekend in Los Angeles and it will be the perfect time to curl up with a classic novel like "The Moonstone." I'm also reading up on the Brontes as I plan my next trip to England. This time I will visit Haworth in Yorkshire and finally make the pilgrimage to the Bronte Parsonage where the Bronte family lived. Did you know that every night the Bronte sisters would walk around the table in their dining room discussing their writing? After Emily and Anne died, Charlotte continued this tradition to honor her sisters.

Let me know what you are reading and anything special you may be working on. The new year is the perfect time to follow our dreams!