Sunday, December 16, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Costa Blanca Arts Update - Interpretation perfected by presentation – the Berlin Mendelssohn Trio in Palau Altea, Altea, Spain
Friday, December 7, 2007
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Monday, December 3, 2007
It is when Joanna is offered a prestigious assignment in Lagos that the two women, once friends but now separated by time distance and culture, rekindle their friendship. As their two lives - past and present - parallel and intertwine, ducking and diving between modern day and fifteen years earlier, they are forced to confront their own personal problems compelling them to make choices they had never wanted or expected to make.
Joanna, once again under the spell of her son's father, Marcus, the man who had abandoned her, must decide whether or not she can trust him a second time; both for herself and for her son, Harry's sake. For Sally it is a tragic event that irrevocably changes her life finally giving her the strength to do what she knows in her heart she must do.
Set against the colourful tropical backdrop of Nigeria, it is a novel of passion, intrigue and tragedy, of teenage angst and cultural identity, but above all it is a story of human frailty. Of what happens when people live in such close proximity that adultery becomes almost obligatory and of the goldfish environment in which it flourishes. Of what happens when emotions are allowed to overrule common sense.
Jill Lanchbery was born in Essex but brought up in South Africa and Zambia and has lived in Nigeria, Northern Ireland and England. She now lives on the Costa Blanca in Spain where she teaches English in between writing her novels. She has had stories and articles published in periodicals and anthologies.Although born in Nazeing, Essex, Jill considers herself to be a citizen of the world. As a small child, shortly after the end of the Second World War, she emigrated to South Africa along with her parents and brother and sister.
Jill was the stereotypical scribbling child. Fascinated from a young age by 'words on paper', she excelled at reading and writing.
An early marriage, four children and a husband whose job took the family all over the world meant that her formal education was curtailed. However she considers that what she may have missed out on in terms of 'pieces of paper' was compensated for by the abundance of experience she gained along the way.
She was a grandmother - and what she describes as a 'late developer' - when she attended the University of Sussex, where she studied creative writing and English literature.
Jill later went on to qualify as an EFL teacher specialising in Business English and she has taught both in the United Kingdom and in Spain.
It was a family trauma - the death of her second daughter Alison in 1988 in tragic circumstances - that made her re-evaluate her life and was the catalyst for her writing.
Since then she has had articles and short stories published in periodicals and anthologies and been placed in several international short story competitions. She was for many years an active member of Hastings Writers Group and is featured in their new anthology Diamonds.
Reviews of A Bucket of Ashes on amazon include:
Jill's story follows a fashion designer, Joanna, on an assignment back to Nigeria, where she lived years before with her husband. Her return visit re-discovers some skeletons from a cupboard she thought had been closed as she renews a relationship with Marcus, whom she promised not to meet. Throughout the book, Joanna has choices to make in her life and, perhaps, the return to Nigeria brings the options into sharper focus. A gentle story well told. The characters really do come to life.
Jill has conjured up the imagery of Africa with finesse, you can smell Africa, see her colours, hear her sounds. And against this backdrop, we are confronted with tough human emotions and difficult choices. It is the type of book that leaves you thinking about it long after you have finished the last page and put the book back onto the bookshelf. I really enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone who enjoys thoughtful, well-written narrative.
A Bucket of Ashes will appeal to anyone who reads romantic fiction, but it also has the depth and content to captivate the general reader.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
One of my greatest pleasures is eating, so I must cook. I savour, therefore I cook. I like tasty food made with fresh ingredients that address all four of our tastes – salt, sour, sweet and bitter – to create a complementary whole. Of course, there is now the fifth taste, unami, the expanding universe within soy sauce, that can amplify other inputs. I have just made an English pie, with chicken, mushrooms, a little diced bacon, seasoning and fresh herbs. It was moistened with stock and an egg before being baked in my own short-crust. Fresh gravy and vegetables alongside is all it will need. It thus has sweet, salt and bitter, but lacks sourness. A squeeze of lemon on the vegetables will compensate.
For the expansion, take one novel closely related to cooking and read. Do try the recipes, but proceed with care. Cook things right through before committing to taste. John Lanchester’s The Debt to Pleasure is my recommendation. It’s a highly original, highly informative cookbook written by one Tarquin Winot, an expert in the field.
In one of the most original books I have ever read, John Lanchester creates a real anti-hero. Too often the concept is ironed onto a character who is just a naughty boy doing naughty, often repulsive things, the concept of “hero” being often ignored. Tarquin Winot, the anti-hero of The Debt to Pleasure, is a brilliant and learned cook. He is also highly creative, using ingredients that only those who might cook with a purpose would choose to use. He is also something of a psychopath, perhaps. That is for you to judge. But he has survived to write his cookbook and apparently savours his retirement, courtesy of those he has fed.
The Debt to Pleasure is a superb novel. Tarquin’s narrative draws the reader, perhaps unsuspecting, into his world, evoking an empathy with and for the character. That we have as yet only partially got to know this brilliant cook only becomes apparent as we proceed through his life, a life he has peppered with his personal peccadilloes. But above all, Tarquin Winot is both a planner and a perfectionist. His culinary creations are thought through, drafted like dramas to provoke particular responses, to achieve pre-meditated ends. They are also successful, appreciated by those who consume his concoctions, and eventually they succeed in precisely the way that he plans and executes.
Throughout, John Lanchester’s prose is a delight, as stimulating to the mind as his character’s creations might be to the palate. Florid and extravagant it might be at times, perhaps too much butter and cream for some diets. But The Debt to Pleasure is a satisfying, surprising and eventually fulfilling read. Tarquin fulfils both aspects of the anti-hero and ultimately we are left to grapple with the nature of self-obsession and selfishness.View the book on amazon The Debt to Pleasure
Friday, November 23, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Monday, November 5, 2007
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Ex-London while the Sun dissected Michael Jackson's nose and praised Boardman's hooterless gold-medal bicycle. Air China to Beijing, where taxis cost more than Lonely Planet predicts. A Chinese character itinerary from one Tim Han of China Travel whilst fellow workers drool over televised lithe Afro-American sprinters at the Olympics. Then to the no-longer Forbidden City. Piles of local tourists to negotiate.
Four hours of Xinjiang Airlines to Urumqi. Signs in Chinese and Russian plus Uigur written in Arab script (a recent innovation). Land lines across Inner Mongolia. Why and how so straight? Urumqi multiple-peaked. Piles of coal, scruffy high rise, snow-capped Bogda Shen at street-end. Pavement fortune tellers, traders. Food stalls. Women washing sheeps' stomachs in a stream, tripe kebabs. Uigur town now Han Chinese, populated by Shanghai overspill, over 2000 miles from ‘home’. The second long march.
Uigur breakfast. Hot sheep's milk, Chinese tea, flat tomato bread, sugared tomato and cucumber, pickled cabbage, thin congee, sheep's milk butter, two giant sugar lumps. Uigur market. Fruits amid a forest of hanging lamb. Chinese market. Live vegetables and meats. Tank over-spilling with energetic eels (unit price). Self-knotting spaghetti.
Woman losing her gold watch at an illegal 'find the lady'. Policeman looking on. Tears when the loss hits home. Renmin Park for noodles and rocket-fuel chili sauce. Bag slashers with finger-ring knives on a crowded bus. Care needed.
Car to Turfan. Fertile valleys. Barren mountains. Occasional snow. Road ploughed. Kazak yurts. Semi-sunken shade-making rammed-earth Uigur villages, invisible at a distance save for chimney smoke. Steep downhill gorge, spectacular river, rocks, white water and slate-grey hills. Into Turfan depression, snow-capped distance surrounding grey stone pit 100 miles across. 42 degrees at its base, 200 metres below sea level. Car ahead leaving tracks on molten road. A hefty gob from the driver irrigates. Gobi means stones. Plenty here. And then green. An oasis. A giant mirage?
Turfan. Latticed vines for street-shade. Hanging raisin grapes. 15 yuan fine for casual picking. Hotel tea in galvanised buckets. Turkish-style dancing and music. Genghiz-sacked rammed-earth cities of Goachang and Jiaohe. Painted tombs and brick minarets. Flaming mountains. Karez underground irrigation system. 3000 kilometres of channels. 1500 years old, gravity-fed from mountains at the depression-edge. Uigur culture's greatest feat, and in full working order.
Bus to Daheyan. Two hours over bumpy stones to depression-edge. Dump of a railway town. Coal heaps, box buildings, waste land. Two women at war on station forecourt. Ramming victim's head onto the ground. Blood. Onlookers. Inaction. A tense town of resentful postees.
500 miles to Liuyuan in Gansu. Featureless flat grey shale stone. Spectacularly unique. Snow mountains to the north. Utterly empty, save for smoking coal towns. 40 above in summer, 30 below in winter. Overnight by train. Dawn reveals same massive scene, now in brown.
Arrive Liuyuan. Daheyan writ similar. 120 miles south across the desert (black at first!), past remnant ramparts of Han Dynasty Greater-Great Wall. Camels and dunes of Taklimakan, world's largest sand desert. Near Dunhuang oasis blossoms again. Sand and scree suddenly crop and tree. Feitian Hotel, with complimentary toiletries labelled Sham Poo and Foam Poo. Lunch. Fourteen dishes. Duck, foo-yong, cucumber, cabbage, oyster mushroom chicken, coriander pork, steamed buns, steamed bread, rice, beef broth and noodles, pork and green beans, pork and sweet chili, chicken and squash, plain noodles, water melon. Then to get the essential torch for the caves. Houses huddled together. Wood stores for winter piled on top. View across the roofs like a scrap heap. Ground level claustrophobic stoneware maze.
Cave day. Mogao Buddhist caves - closed from 12 to 2, full day needed for perhaps the most stunning sight on earth. 400 'caves' (some cathedral size) in a sandstone gorge, between 400 AD to 1100 AD. Utterly dry, always dark, perfectly preserved. Everything painted. Tang period complex and colourful. A world of scenes by torchlight. Buddhas reclining, sitting, standing, posing. Thirty metre seated figure with thousands of unsmoked cigarettes and coins on his lap as offerings. Shock of Qing-renovated cave with Taoist figures. Ghoulish features, contorted, and a face in the groin. 40 caves seen in the day, archaeologist as a personal guide. Stunning. Fourteen dishes for dinner.
Desert bus back to Liuyuan. Always a fight for seats. Three dusty hours. Train to Lanzhou. 800 miles along Gansu-Qinghai mountainous border. More black desert, then yellow earth. Jaiyaguan fort at the limit of the Ming empire. Overnight by train. Country changed. Mountain pass, green rolling hills and stepped fields. Wheat harvest in. Straw dollies like children at assembly. Houses still of rammed earth. Lanzhou a thriving industrial city. Thirty hours of travel. Walk by Yellow River.
Fish in hotel restaurant tank all dead. Lanzhou bus expensive. 50 fen per trip. Radios and knitting banned. Han dynasty flying horse and bronze warriors. Steamed carp with rape on menu. The fish comes first. Train to Xian through yellow loess country. Deep furrows and gorges. All flat land cropped. 500 miles overnight.
Terra cotta warriors facing east to guard Qin Shihuang's tomb. Made in pieces. Assembled in situ. Partly excavated section where piles of dismembered limbs emerge from the earth. New terra cotta warriors for sale from the factory behind the museum. Exact replicas of originals. Wheeze at the thought of the whole thing as a sham for the tourist trade.
Xian, like all Chinese cities, a square. Roads straight, intersecting always at right angles. Ancient centre walled, Ming rebuilt. Old mosque exquisite. Xianyang nearby, with Seventh century Qian tombs, museum with another 3000 Han terra cottas like a football crowd. Train to Beijing. 800 miles, 26 hours. Houses often caves in valley side. Later immense flat land, maize everywhere.
Temple of Heaven, Tiantan, and then Beijing Opera. Pause for beer at wayside stall. Served by moonlighting trainee stockbroker! Breakfast pickle amazing, like four year old camembert out of a shotgun. Takes the head off. Great Wall. Mucho touristico, but still stunning. Like climbing a giant ladder in places. "I climbed the Great Wall" T-shirts, prices lower the further you climb. Must be the air. Ming tombs dismissed by guide-book. Wrong. Amazing barrel vaulted rooms nine stories underground. Jade doors, carved thrones, marble, marble, marvel. Reminiscent of renaissance Italy. Everlasting bricks etched with names of their makers. Souvenir jade boat for £55000.
White drapes over erotic statues in Tibetan Lama Temple. Same bestial content in wall paintings. 24 metre gold Buddha through the incense-blur. No smoking signs everywhere.
Mao's Maosoleum an emperor's tomb. Lines for queues painted across the square. Feet pointing north towards Tiananmen Gate, upside-down feng shui. He is shiny, waxy and painted about the face. Moving lines file past on either side. No pausing. Outside, stalls with Mao T-shirts, Mao key rings, cuddly toys, post cards, magic lantern shows. Mao Zedong candy floss by the armful. Then Great Hall of the People. Dining room for 5000. Now fast food for tourists. Great Hall chop sticks, cigarettes, T-shirts. Great Hall of the People cuddly toys.
2500 miles. Three and a half weeks. 5 destinations. 50 caves. 6000 terra cotta warriors. 1 each Great Wall, Forbidden City, Beijing Opera, Mao Zedong. Hundreds of tombs, temples, pagodas, parks, bendi-buses and bicycles. 3 silk shirts on the Silk Road. One amazing trip.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
Toledo is one of those celebrity tourist destinations that defy categorization. It was a trading centre in Roman times. It was the Visigoth’s capital in what we still call the Dark Ages. It became a splendid, rich, cosmopolitan, multi-faith trading city and artistic centre under Muslim rule. The Christian era saw the construction and decoration of the institutions and monuments that now comprise the city’s current iconic identity. And, after the period of relative decline that affected all of Spain, it is now one of the world’s most visited tourist venues whilst retaining its own, highly dignified life.
Its setting is superb. Almost surrounded by the Rio Tajo, the outcrop towers over the gorge. And it is topped by a mass of buildings, each of which seems to state its own competitive claim to grandeur. Few of them can challenge the sheer scale of either the Alcazar or the cathedral. The former is much reconstructed and rebuilt after being fought over many times, but its vast scale alone impresses, and surely, courtesy of El Greco’s painted cityscapes, is one of the most recognizable buildings one earth. The cathedral, on the other hand, is both monumental and aesthetically pleasing. Its pictures include El Greco portraits of the saints and an amazing, near cubist Madonna by Morales. One chapel has portraits of all the archbishops who have reigned there. The treasury has five hundred years of their robes. And the ambulatory behind the altar has some of their cardinal’s hats hanging from the ceiling. Apparently they are hung over the owner’s tombs and remain there until they rot. The hats, that is.
There’s an interesting point to be made about a visit to one of the town’s smaller buildings, the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca. The period of Muslim rule was marked by great tolerance. Though the different religious communities had their own areas of the city, Christians, Jews and Muslims built their own churches, synagogues and mosques. But after the re-conquest, Christianity asserted its dominant and normative creed and everything except the churches was suppressed. So the synagogue became a church. An altarpiece was erected in front of the holy wall and arches were bricked up so that Christian paintings could be added. And since the Christians actually did not believe that Jews and Muslims had actually converted, a Holy Inquisition was established was established to identify dissenters. It was not long after this turbulent period that el Greco arrived in Toledo.
Domenicos Theotokopoulos left Crete to train as an artist in Venice. By 1577 he had settled in Toledo and there he stayed. His unique style, a blend of high Renaissance, Orthodox Church iconography and emerging Mannerism is both instantly recognizable and supremely expressive. His use of light - or often lack of it, since he often painted in the dark – gives his canvases a strangely ethereal whiteness which so often seems to stress the humanity and therefore vulnerability of his subjects.
El Greco’s work, of course, is represented in major collections throughout the world and, it could be argued, the collection in the Prado far exceeds in importance and sensation what remains in Toledo. But in the city’s San Tomé church, still in the place for which it was conceived, is the painter’s masterpiece, the Burial of Señor Orgaz. It’s so well known that the experience of standing before it might provoke déjà vu or anti-climax but, like all true masterpieces, it transcends even its own reputation by offering much more than its expectation. Painted in 1586, it depicts the interment of a medieval knight, a resident of Toledo, philanthropist and benefactor of the Sane Tomé church. In the foreground, Señor Orgaz’s body is laid to rest. Meanwhile, towards the top, his soul is admitted to heaven. Across the entire width of the picture a line of mourners faces serves to separate the worldly lower half from the heavens above. Each person is a unique individual, each offering a different emotional and perhaps political response to the burial. In the swirling heavens above, human gravity has no place. There, everything glows with a cool white light, perhaps suggesting cascades of water rather than flights of passion. And it’s the row of human heads, with their intellects perhaps combined, that forms the boundary between the material world below and the ethereal heavens above. A true Renaissance message.
There are other El Greco originals and several copies elsewhere in the city, in Santo Domingo Antiguo, the cathedral, Santa Cruz museum and Tavera museum. Perhaps only the artist himself knows why so many of the people in his paintings have pointed noses. But if all Toledo had to offer was the Burial of Señor Orgaz it would still demand a visit.
The other venue with El Greco paintings is the Casa del Greco, but this is closed for restoration. There are a couple of very well known paintings in that collection, notably a view of the city with a map, so they have been re-housed in the nearby Victorio Macho museum.
Given my motivation for visiting Toledo, I doubt whether I would have made the Victorio Macho museum a priority. He’s a twentieth century sculptor, born in Palencia, Spain, and who spent many years in Peru. It was the El Greco paintings, re-housed there, that drew me, but I left having experienced one of those wonderful surprises that renders a particular trip not just memorable but etched in the mind, never to be forgotten. Macho’s work is astoundingly beautiful. There are bronzes, stonework and drawings. His series of self portraits is masterful, the face full of doubt, but its representation a model of expression and confident technique. A female nude from the back entitled The Guitar is memorable, to say the least. But the most stunning piece was the one a fellow visitor described as just like her grandmother. A small old woman dressed entirely in black sits alone with her head ever so slightly bowed. The head and hands are white. Her expression at first seems detached, at least contemplative, perhaps rather aloof and judgmental. But it changes. A hint of a smile appears as you study her face. And then the sculpture seems to suggest the woman’s entire life. She is simultaneously old and young, with the contrast of white flesh and black clothes suggesting youth and age. And it’s all there in that enigmatic face.
So having found in Toledo the experience I sought, an experience of a quality I had expected, the works of Victorio Macho provided the surprise which made the visit utterly memorable.