Monday, January 30, 2012

Madonna di Campiglio

One of the things that fascinates me about Italy (or really Europe in general) is that if one travels two and a half hours one finds a new culture, language, cuisine and people within ones own country.  If I traveled two and a half hours from Rhode Island I'd be in New York, or maybe New Hampshire, but the people I'd find on the other side of the journey would pretty much be the same as the ones I from the beginning.  If I traveled eight hours I'd be in Maine, and although they'd probably be dropping a few more R's than I would, we'd still be of the same womb. 

Not so in Italy.  Travelling two and half hours from Milan I find myself in Madonna di Campiglio, in Trentino Alto-Adige.  The people look more German and sound different, an almost sing-song accented dialect, eat unique cheeses and speck from their valley, enjoy porcini mushrooms straight from the wood tossed with fatto-in-casa tagliatelle, and need I mention how different the landscape is from the smoggy plane of Milan?  The snow-capped peaks jut straight into the heavens from already gigantic mountains.  The air smells of pine and wood smoke.  The overall effect is breathtaking. 

I stayed with some friends there (over a month ago...I need to get better at uploading photos) that are 100 percent Trentini...who also cannot speak any English, which really put my language skills to the test.  If your learning a language and find yourself at that plateau I was talking about, I recommend staying a week with someone who cannot speak your language.  After an afternoon I felt myself improved, and after three days like I'd made a breakthrough!  I digress.

Our days were spent exploring churches with pagan origins high up on wooded cliffs over looking peaks and valleys, admiring their frescoes that had survived more than a thousand years...

visiting waterfalls frozen over during the winter months...

strolling down the chic streets of Madonna di Campiglio, where every Milanese would-be skiier is in head-to-toe Moncler (commencing eye roll sequence)...

and the best part, climbing the peaks in knee deep snow, on a day that was perfectly beautiful, ending the day with a local brew and sunburn!

That's Maurizio, our friend and guide.  A former professional Alpine skiier, who climbed in a T-shirt and was pretty much always half a mile ahead of us.

As you can see there wasn't much snow, but now I hear the mountains are full of it and I'm itching to make a quick drive up there for some skiing!  How lucky the Italians are!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Highland Fling, Part Two

Ok, shall we try again?

Years before we ever met Uncle Matthew or Lady Montdore, before Linda or Cedric, Nancy Mitford wrote Highland Fling.  Nancy was only 26 (I better start working) when she wrote the book and in it she tells us the life of the upper class and Bright Young People, something she new well.  Many of the characters would later evolve into the famous characters the world would fall in love with.  It stars Albert Memorial Gates, from whom Cedric 'descends' - Cedric was a character I always wanted to read more of in Love in a Cold Climate- a Victorian-obsessed aesthete, painter and ex-patriot recently returned to England from a stay in Paris.  Our other star is Jane Dacre (an early Linda) a typical gal of the Lost Generation who loves to be rebellious to, even though she love admires dearly, her parents.  The two of them join Sally and Walter Monteath, who have been asked by rich relatives to care for guests in a castle in the Highlands.

A heavy book this is not, but filled with laughable scenes between the four 'Bright Young' ones and the more traditionally-minded, old-fashioned aristocrats it is.  Although Nancy was, in reality, of the younger set, she tells her story honestly.  One evening older Mr. Buggins sadly recounts to the younger ones that before the War he had a promising artistic career but felt it his duty to serve his country during the War.  His best years were spent fighting and now he lived a somewhat dire existence.  He was just one of the countless other similar cases.  The divide must have been great during this generation, but I wonder what Nancy's friends and contemporaries thought when they read this scene back in 1931?

Overall I loved it.  I really enjoyed and related to Albert, not as flamboyant as Cedric but equally as comical.  It wasn't at the same level (perfection) as The Pursuit of Love but it has a close running with it's sequal.  I'm so glad Capuchin Classics has decided to reprint this gem, just another to add to my Mitford addiction.

And why, you may ask, have I chosen to show Prada's collection along with this discussion?  I felt it so apt for Albert; the long coats, sunglasses and trousers would be something I can see him lounging about the Highland grounds in, or whilst trying to discover another Victorian treasure in the endless attics.

Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford

Just wrote the longest review of my life about Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford and LOST IT ALL as I was adding the finishing touches!!  I HATE BLOGGER!!

I'm so angry I can't even think of re-writing it.  Nevertheless I loved the book, compared it with the others, how it was a milder version of her later more famous works.

And described how Albert Memorial Gates would most certainly be wearing the latest Prada collection.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a bed to throw myself and cry on!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Hay Wain

'The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers' by TC Dugdale

I'm sick in bed, but over-the-moon because I can spend the day giggling whilst I read 'Highland Fling,' Nancy Mitford's first-hand account of the Bright Young People of her time.  I will talk about it more fully once I've finished but this little quote struck me as so modern, so applicable for our time:

To 'The Hay Wain' they went.  Albert felt battered with fatigue and longed for his bed.  This time they approached their destination by means of a fire-escape, and when they had successfully negotiated its filthy rungs, they found themselves in a long, low, rather beautiful attic.  There were rushes on the floor, pewter and wild flowers (which being dead, slightly resembled bunches of hay) on the tables, and the seats were old-fashioned oak pews, narrow, upright, and desperately uncomfortable.

A waiter, dressed in a smock which only made him look more like a waiter than ever, handed them a menu written out in Gothic lettering.  Ten or twelve other people were scattered about the room, none of them were in evening dress.  They all looked dirty and bored.

Mitford wrote this in London in 1931, but easily this could be Brooklyn 2012.  A place where C.C. Blair the younger could spend hours talking with the barman about the bitters made-in-house, or we could retire in the early hours for a night cap.

*          *          *          *

And on the subject of Bright Young People, I realized that at this moment many of my nearest and dearest have blogs of their own, a way for me to keep up with them while I'm on the Continent.  Something Miss Mitford would surely have loved while she was in Paris.

My kindred-spirit, soul-sister, St. K., has a lovely blog with a juxtaposition of images only she could create, and that with few words can create a world for us she only knew was in our deepest of hearts:  Strange Fruit

Her other half, Micah, another dearest of mine has put his clever thoughts from our sauna conversations into writing, while reading and sharing his experiences from the books of 'Le Monde 100':  Man is Men

Miss Jenna has escaped her post as an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn and run for the hills.  The hills of the Great North West to be exact.  She shares her lovely forest and field experiences here:  Flushing the Noun

Anzelina followed the Oregon Trail and found solid gold: her husband now!  She gives us wonderful bits of this and that from Portland that make her eye so unique and captivating: Scattergoods Creative

Sarah blows me away every day with the blog posts she creates.  Not only are they desperately beautiful, interesting and one-of-a-kind, but they are consistent.  I'd love to know what she takes to turn out such creativity:  The Wolf of Insignificance

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Black Monk by Anton Chekhov

Monk by the Sea by Caspar David Friedrich

There is nothing better than finishing a book that really didn't fly with you and starting one that makes you fall in love with reading like it's the first time.  When I finished The Wings of the Dove I honestly went to my bookshelf and picked up the shortest book I could find.  Am I pathetic for doing this?...I think so.  Regardless, what I found in my hands was The Black Monk and Peasants, two short stories by Anton Chekhov, an author I'd never read nor known anything on.  What followed was a nail-biting reading on the train ending with the book clutched to my heart with eyelashes fluttering.  He's amazing!  And I can't wait to read more of his work!

The Black Monk brings us Andrey Kovrin, an intellectual man, exhausted and looking for some peace in his friend, Yegor Pesotsky's sprawling gardens and estates.  He spends his time resting, exploring the gardens with Pesotsky's daughter Tanya, but overall feeling happy and content.  A legend of a Black Monk comes to his mind one day and later out in the fields has a brief encounter with him.  Days later, Kovrin meets this seemingly beatific vision again and this time converses about his own supposed Divine purpose.  After each meeting his face is aglow and his spirits are raised.  Tanya becomes his wife and the years pass without meeting the monk again until one night when they have a similar conversation while Tanya sleeps next to him.  She's awakened, startled to see the husband she loves talking to himself, and insists his overexhaustion has taken the best of him and forces 'help' on him.

Chekhov was a physician, so the fact that he so vividly portrayed the 'healing' process fascinated me!  Kovrin becomes miserable and starts hating the world.  Was he better off seeing visions?  Or is he better living a numb life, where nothing is imaginary?  This quote, to his wife, was my favorite:

'How fortunate Buddha, Muhammad or Shakespeare were in not being treated by kind-hearted relatives for ecstasy and inspiration!' Kovrin said. 'If Muhammad had taken potassium bromide for his nerves, had worked only two hours a day and drunk milk, then that remarkable man would have left as much to posterity as his dog.  In the long run doctors and kind relatives will turn humanity into a lot of morons.  Mediocrity will pass for genius and civilization will perish.  If only you knew, Kovrin added with annoyance, 'how grateful I am to you!'

What path does Kovrin choose?  I'll let you find that yourself, and I suggest you do!

Russian writers are something new for me (despite pretentiously trying to read War and Peace when I was 13 years old), but after reading these two shorts I have such a thirst for all things Chekhov and Russian!  Recommendations welcome, dears!

Portrait of Chekhov by Issak Levitan, 1886

Monday, January 9, 2012

Darling I hope that my dream never haunted you

Gyula Batthyány (Hungary, 1888 - 1959), Untitled

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Road

What's in your suitcase?

'The Road' by Laura Callaghan from Laura Laura Picture Drawer

Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Castel Gardena

I don't know why I can't motivate myself to upload my pictures from my adventure in the mountains, but alas! I'm on vacation mode still, so they will have to wait.  Instead I give you pictures of Castel Gardena in Trentino-Alto Adige, taken by a professional!  I'll add this place to my check list of places-I-will-retire-to-in-fourty-or-four-years.  It's true the mountains, as seen above, in the Dolomites are different.  The peaks sort of explode straight into the heavens.

Oh how I miss my wood stove!  The dampness here kills me.  And to think I'm Irish?  The people I stayed with had a tiled stove similar to this one, minus it being centuries old.  As you can imagine I was never two feet from it.

Today I was the first day of January sales, and I survived!  Not without getting the wind knocked out of me twice by a gigantic Prada and aerodynamic Alexander McQueen shopping bag, though.  I can honestly say today was the first day I had to fight for my life while shopping...with all men.  Today was living proof that Milanese men care more about the way they look then any other.  I did manage to claw away (it wasn't easy, honestly) two coats to help me survive the rest of the winter.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

La Nebbia

The Milanese fog or "nebbia" is strong this morning.  Not that I can complain, we've had an unusually warm and sunny autumn, but on dark days today shouldn't we all follow the example of the mistress above?  I wonder what she's reading?

Portrait by Felix Vallotton, a Swiss painter connected with Les Nabis

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Wings of the Dove

Let's start the year off proper.  A brief book discussion is in order!

Comtesse de Castiglione by Pierre-Louis Pierson 1867

Do you remember more than a month ago when I went to Venice, I said I was going to start reading Henry James' The Wings of the Dove?  Well, I have finally pecked away at it to it's last crumb, and can't help but feel like I'm still a bit...peckish?  There is something about Henry and I that just do not meld together, which is strange as I love his friend and contemporary, Edith Wharton, wildly!  Is it the endless descriptions -pages!- that start to bore me or have me loosing concentration?  Or was it just the case with this book?  I'd like to try reading The Aspern Papers, his novella on Venice.  What is your viewpoint on him?  Please tell me I'm not alone!

Nevertheless, The Wings of the Dove tells a somewhat malicious story of a poor Mr. Densher and another Kate Croy, who find themselves in love but under the command of Kate's Aunt Maud.  Aunt Maud refuses to allow Kate to marry for love a man with no money.  Along comes our 'dove,' Milly, an American millionairess, alone in the world with money coming out of her ears, yet who seems to be struggling with a terminal illness.  Conniving Kate suggests Milly to Densher, as she's impossibly rich and dying...which given time will give the two of them a means to be together.  Terrible?  Yes.  Compelling?  A bit.  I won't spoil the end but as these stories of wicked souls go, the end is often like a sad Chinese film.  This was no exception.

Asta Nielsen in Den Sorte Drøm (The Black Dream), 1911

I will give Henry James credit where it is do.  The scenes of dialogue were more than exciting, almost page-turner worthy, but unfortunately they only made up about 30 percent of the book.  And the last 25 pages were not only made up of all drama-filled dialogue, but also really finished the story with a bang.  A bang big enough for me to maybe try another of his stories.  Can you give me any suggestions?