Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Highgate Cemetery- The Rossetti Family

Following on from my previous post, one of the sites I was keen to see on my visit to Highgate Cemetery was the burial site of the Rossetti family.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti- Lady Lilith 

Both my mum and me are  fans of the paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, we went to see the exhibition of the pre-Raphaelite brothers at the Tate. Lady Lilith is a particular favourite of mine, the colours and textures are so lush. Plus, I have complete hair envy.

My main interest however is in the Rossetti women. Dante's sister, Christina was a talented poet. Her poem Goblin Market can be read here. It is a sapphic and delightfully creepy fairytale.

Dante's mistreated wife, Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Siddal, is also of interest to me. She was often overlooked, best known as a muse for the PRB, she a talented poet and painter in her own right. Her death and Dante's subsequent actions are one of the more tragic and infamous tales of Highgate Cemetery.


Highgate Cemetery- west

An oasis of tranquillity and a monument to Victorian architecture and eccentricity, Highgate Cemetery is definitely worth a visit.


It is a slightly unusual tourist destination, but it doesn't feel ghoulish or mawkish. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and the visitors were all respectful. Some of the grave sites are stunning, the symbolism was interesting and the grave markers are not only an expression of grief, but a display of status and wealth.
Egyptian avenue- Highgate Cemetery 
The Egyptian avenue was a highly sought after final resting place. The Victorians had a special affinity with the ancient Egyptians, as both cultures had elaborate funeral rites and a fascination with death and the afterlife.

 I did find the idea of above ground graves slightly disconcerting, here and in the catacombs. The avenue looks like a street of houses, with wooden doors opened with a key. Whole families are buried inside, their coffins resting on shelves. The catacombs also feel uncanny, they looked to me like a weird bookshelf of coffins lining the walls.    

More pictures after the jump:-


Sunday, 28 July 2013

Kevin Powers- The Yellow Birds

My sister came over last weekend and gave me my birthday pressie, which included The Yellow Birds,. To begin with I wasn't sure it was going to be my thing, I thought it was some macho war story, but my sis delivered- this is a sensitive and moving account of soldier's psyche.

The plot:  Private Bartle, 21 years old and a veteran of the occupation of Iraq is haunted by his experiences and a promise he made to his comrade's mother. Written by a former U.S solider, the novel attempts to answer the question 'what was it like over there?'

 

When the mortars fell

"When the mortars fell, the leaves and fruit and birds were frayed like ends of rope. They lay on the ground in scattered piles, torn feathers and leaves and the rinds of broken fruit intermingling.'
-Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Waterlow Park

If you're looking for a good spot to read and enjoy the hot weather in London, a good option is Waterlow Park .



 It has plenty of green space, with meadows, nature reserves, a sensory garden and ponds. If you're feeling active there is an outdoor tennis court and if you're hungry, or fancy an ice cream there is a cafe within the Park.


Plus as an added bonus it is conveniently located near to Highgate Cemetery.  

library haul


A new library has opened up round the corner from where I live, so I went to check it out this morning. If you've read this post you'll know I'm pretty passionate/opinionated about libraries, so I'm really pleased that my local council has opened a new one within walking distance.

 The library is fairly small, but as you can see from the pictures I managed to pick up quite a stack. The books are all new as well, which is awesome, there's nothing worse than turning a page of a borrowed book and getting an unpleasant waft or discovering a bogey smeared into the pages.

I may have been a little bit greedy, as the books are only on loan for 2 weeks, but I'm currently kindle-less as I lent it to my mum (such a good daughter).

 Have a look after the jump for a further look at my choices, and for photos of pretty covers on the world's wrinkliest bedsheets:-

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

I turned and saw Murph kneeling next to the body

'I could have gone to Murph, but I did not. I didn't want to. I didn't want to be responsible for him. I had enough to worry about. I was disintegrating, too. How was I supposed to keep us both intact?'
- Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds  


Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Chaos- G. Nolst Trenite

Below is a poem, by G Nolst Trenite all about English pronunciation. I have complete sympathy with people who have English as a second language or are trying to learn it. The poem is really interesting, it clearly shows how completed and unruly English is  

Try to read it out loud:-

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer


Just compare heart, beard, and heard, 
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.


Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.


Saturday, 20 July 2013

Zeus now addressed the immortals:

"What a lamentable thing it is that men should blame the gods and regard us as the source of their troubles, when it is their own transgressions which bring them suffering that was not their destiny" 
- Homer, translated by E.V. Rieu,  The Odyssey

Robert Galbraith

Robert Galbraith author of The Cuckoo's Calling has recently been unmasked as the pseudonym of legendary Harry Potter writer J.K Rowling. The full story can be read here.

  
 I personally think it's a massive shame for J.K that she has been outed. She has already released one adult novel post-Harry Potter, The Casual Vacancy under her own name, and I do think the criticism and attention the book was received was influenced both positively and negatively by her fame. So I completely understand why she would to anonymously release The Cuckoo's Calling, so she could get a genuine critique writing in new genre. I won't be surprised if she sues the solicitors who leaked the story to the papers.

 It's not as if she needs the money, I think she genuinely writes as she enjoys it and I doubt she was concerned at the initially low sales of The Cuckoo's Calling. Of course now that is known that she wrote it, the book is number one of the best selling lists and signed first editions are selling for £3000

I think it's a shame that she used a male name as a pseudonym. Women authors are still under represented on best-selling lists  and are reviewed substantially less than their male counterparts. Also crime is a genre dominated by male authors and perceived to have a predominately male readership. J.K is a respected female author, and I think she has missed an opportunity here to promote other women authors, after all when she first wrote Harry Potter, people assumed she was a man because of her gender neutral initials.   
  
I am interested in reading The Cuckoo's Calling and admittedly probably wouldn't be so intrigued if the author wasn't J.K.              

What do you think? Will you be reading The Cuckoo's Calling? Why do you think J.K Rowling used a pseudonym? 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Framlingham Castle

Another day, another jolly to an English Heritage site! Well, my membership cost £48 so I have to make the most.

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 Framlingham castle  was built in the 12th century and has had an eventful past, it was a stronghold of the Howard family (relations to Anne Boleyn), it was where Mary Tudor raised her armies and declared herself Queen, and from 1636-1839 it was a poor house for destitute people.  The castle is now a ruin, but is still impressive. The self guided audio is informative, and necessary otherwise I would have just been looking at a pile of bricks with no concept of the history of the place.

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interior of Framlingham Castle
 Somebody actually lives in the former poor house inside the walls of castle. How awesome would that be! When all the visitors leave for the day you could go and sit on the battlements with a glass of wine and survey the beautiful surrounding countryside. It would be a fantistic place to grow up as well! The games you could play in an actual castle would be amazing.  Of course the downside is you have loads of tourists noseying your front window.
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Monday, 15 July 2013

Zig-Zag Mug

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Monochrome is really big this summer- so this zig-zag mug is bang on trend. I picked it up for a complete bargain as well, one whole pound!  If you fancy getting a snazzy new mug of your own, you can get one from here

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Walmer Castle

On another English Heritage visit I went to Walmer Castle, former home of the Queen mother. Built originally by Henry VIII as part of England's coastal defences, the property later became the official residence for the  Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The current Queen's mother used to live here. 


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Walmer isn't as grand as some of the places I've visited, it was clear that is was built to be a defensive structure rather than a home, the wall are really thick, and there are cannons on the battlements 
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English Heritage are a bit stingy on where you can take photographs, but the interior wasn't too my taste anyway. Most of the walls were painted a rather garish blue. Also I don't think the Queen mum was much of a reader, there was no library, which is usually my favourite place to visit when I go on these trip. 

She was in to her gardens though, and Walmer did have some pretty outside space. Prince Charles apparently replanted the garden for his grandmother one year. 
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Saturday, 13 July 2013

Sam Hawken- The Dead Women of Juarez

Some people may find the subject matter of The Dead Women of Juarez disturbing. It is however a worthy read, though I can't really say I 'enjoyed' it, as I was horrified by many of the events and the narrative is bleak. I finished it earlier this week, had it's been on my mind since. It would make a really good choice for a Book Club, as it's just over 300 pages long, but would provoke discussion.

Trigger Warning: violence towards women, rape, torture, murder

The plot:  Set in a Mexican border town Kelly Courter a washed-up American boxer with an addiction to heroin is accused of murdering his girlfriend. His only defender is Rafael Sevilla, a Mexican detective with a tragic past. On the quest for justice and truth Sevilla is drawn into the corrupt and depraved world of organised crime.

The Dead Women of Juarez is fiction, but since 1993 over 500 women have been murdered in Ciudad Juarez. The victims are often raped, tortured and mutilated and the conviction rate for these crimes is low. Justice is a key theme of the novel, with an ineffective and corrupt police the city is portrayed as practically lawless.  The violence in the novel is graphic and at times gratuitous.

Kelly is deeply flawed man, he sells and takes drugs, cons tourists and has absconded to Mexico to avoid the police in America. His only redeeming features are his love for Paloma and his loyalty to his friend. Although I sympathised with his guilt and grief over Paloma's death, I also felt he should be held accountable for his earlier crime.

It is also debatable whether Sevilla is a hero or an anti-hero. He participates in vigilante justice and accepts police brutality, but it is perhaps because he has no other choice. It is quite clear from the outset who the perpetrators of the femicides is, which is lucky as Sevilla doesn't seem to be a very good detective. In fairness though, the novel isn't really a detective novel, it is more about social problems and the crime itself, rather than how crimes are solved.  

The main criticism I have with the Dead Women of Juarez is the lack of female characters. I think how the women of the city cope and feel with the epidemic of violence directed towards them should have been included. More attention should have been give to the female activists, as it would have given the narrative more balance, women wouldn't be just be passive victims, but active voices for change and justice. The novel was inspired by two organisations Las Mujeres De Negro (the Women in Black) and Voces Sin Eco (Voices without Echo) so it is frustrating that women in are not given more of a voice.

pink crosses erected by Las Mujeres De Negro  mark the graves of murdered women in Juarez 


 If your interested in social justice or women's rights I'd recommend this book. It introduced me to an issue I was unaware of and I'm really interested to learn more about Las Mujeres De Negro and Voces Sin Eco and the work that they do.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Lynn Voedisch- The God's Wife

I was going to wait until I'd finished this book before reviewing- as I think that's fair, but I can't. The God's Wife is just so poor. I've read some pretty rubbish books (*ahem* Alex) but this defeated me, thank god I didn't actually spend any money on it as I got it on a kindle freebie.
The Plot: Rebecca has just been the awarded the lead in her dance company's upcoming performance, but her random fainting spells, and preoccupation with dreams about ancient Egypt are jeopardizing her role and her relationships. Neferet, princess of Egypt and priestess has been married to the god Amun, a privileged position, but also dangerous. Her mother, half brother and incestuous brother/lover all wish to exploit her favoured position.

Lynn Voedisch really needs to go and make an offering to Seshest, (ancient Egyption goddess of literature) because this novel is appalling.  Racist undertones and misogyny all feature in the modern parts of the book. The plot is clich├ęd, dull and poorly written.

Definitely give this one a miss.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Dover Castle

I am officially middle-class and middle aged (despite being 25), as I am now a member of the English Heritage as well as the National Trust.

Today I had a jolly out to Dover Castle
Dover Castle
Built on the coast, just across the channel from France, Dover Castle has been an important fortification for 2,000 years. King Henry II first constructed the castle in the 1180's, but to due to the areas strategic significance, the site has been adapted to over the years to meet the changing demands of warfare. Further buildings were added during World War II, including a network of underground tunnels used as a field hospital.

More pictures after the cut:-
stained glass, I thought it was pretty how it reflected onto the stone  

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Portrait of a Lady

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"Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to afternoon tea"
- Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Tea House

The Tea House in Covent Garden is a tea drinkers' paradise. It sells loads of varieties of loose tea, my favourite name was 'precious eyebrows', though I don't think I'd actually like to drink it! The pictures aren't the best I'm afraid the shop has 'atmospheric' lighting and I thought it would be bad etiquette to use my flash.
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loose tea at The Tea House 

Prices vary from about £3 up to about £12. They would make fantastic presents, especially some of the more unusual flavours. I have a sweet tooth so quite fancied the marzipan blend, the queue was too long though so I didn't make a purchase. It's not too far from where I work so I'll probably pop in and pick some up when it's a bit quieter. I also quite fancied the tea diffusers and tongs, they came in quirky shapes like robot, fruit or rubber ducks- again would make an excellent gift.  
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The rosebuds smell lovely and would look so pretty unfurling in a teacup 

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This would make an excellent gift for the squaddie tea drinker in your life

Monday, 1 July 2013

Stylist

If you're a regular commuter you're probably aware of the free magazine Stylist, if not I recommend you check out the online version here. It regularly contains articles about literature and book reviews. One feature I particularly liked was '30 books every woman should read'- there's a few I've already read, but I've been inspired to check out some of the magazines suggestions.       

Zadie Smith- On Beauty

As I haven't got round to buying NW yet, I reread a Zadie Smith I already own, On Beauty. 

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The Plot: Academic and affluent the Belsey family live in Wellington, a collage town in New England. Howard Belsey, an Englisman and his African-American Kiki are struggling to revive their marriage after Howard has a disastrous affair with a colleague. Their three children have their own struggles, as the try to find their own identity- Jerome is depressed after his first failed romance, Zora wants academic recognition and Levi is trying to understand what it means to be a young black man in America.

The narrative of this novel is a simple family drama, but it is elevated by Smith's prose and fantastic characterisation. She manages to bring something fresh to the old cliche of middle-aged-man-has-an-affair. All the characters are detailed and richly developed.

Often when authors try and depict young people, it is cringe inducing, the dialogue-particularly slang- is off and the character doesn't feel realistic, this is however not the case with On Beauty. Levi, the youngest Belsey, is the most interesting for me. He is very uncertain of who he is,  he struggles with his duel heritage and his middle class status. Influenced by music he thinks that the black experience should be about 'the street' and 'hustle' and has trouble correlating this with his own situation.

Actually I have a fondness for all the Belseys, apart from Howard- no sympathy for him. Kiki is warm, and endearing mix of strong and vulnerable. I just want to give Jerome a hug, he's so fragile after his relationship with minxy Victoria comes to an end. I relate to Zora in lots of ways, she is intelligent and wants to be noticed for her academic rigor, but she also wants boys to like her. She also has the tendency to be domineering and act the martyr but she is also insecure and full of self doubt.

Zadie Smith is very clever. She takes a simple over-done plot and spins it, she examines romantic and family relationships, race, politics, the black middle class and academic rivalry.