Thursday, 24 May 2012

stepping out for a bit...

No, not really - but a nice little break not far away is exactly what the doctor ordered!  Back in June!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Library Lust

I borrow the term "library lust" from Claire at the Captive Reader, because a) I too am inspired by the way in which a library room is set and b) this is exactly what led to this post.

A little background:  I really enjoy visiting museums, looking at art, studying art, trying to decipher the past, learning about history lessons that will enrich my life.  What I really love, though, is visiting private houses that have been turned into museums.  Two such examples include The Wallace Collection in London and the Nissim de Camondo Museum in Paris. 
I am fortunate enough to be able to travel and visit both these museums easily, but I'm even more fortunate to be able to see the works of art housed in them.  The people who inhabited both these houses recognised the wealth of art they had collected, and wanted at some point the greater public to witness a lesson in history and in beauty.

I know that art collection is not everyone's idea of caring for the arts (recent examples of great pieces being bought at auctions only to be stashed away into obscurity prove the point), but I have faith that most collectors do so because they are genuinely interested in art.  
Both these houses showcase the way to live together with great works of art and how to include them in all room arrangements.  Such works of art lose the frigidity I sometimes feel in a proper museum, when  I am in a bare room looking at a painting:  were I to see the same painting in a bedroom, next to a writing desk, surrounded by the rugs, the bed, the chaise-longue next to the window - well, all this would bring out various elements of that same painting and shed a different light on it.  That's how I felt in both the Wallace and the de Camondo museums.

The Wallace Collection

The large Londonberry Bookcase
at the Wallace (photo credit)
The museum itself is cleverly hidden in downtown 
London - some things are best left for those who 
will make the effort to look for them ...

It displays wonderful pieces of art collected in the 
18th and 19th century by the first four Marquesses 
of Hertford.  It was bequeathed to Britain by the 
widow of Sir Richard Wallace, the illegitimate son 
of the fourth Marquess.

The Wallace Collection has a series of galleries, 
each displaying particular pieces of art from different 
styles.  The ground floor is almost entirely dedicated 
to armoury, both from European and Oriental styles, 
while also  exhibiting fine specimens of rococo 
and medieval art.  The first floor includes galleries with brilliant paintings from the 17th to the 19th century.  Where I find my inspiration, however, is in the large Drawing room.  An immense room covered in emerald wallpaper, it provides solace with great Dutch  paintings and an even greater Londonberry Bookcase:  I can already see myself reading classic novels of a slight romantic nature there, bringing to life all those ballroom scenes...  

The Nissim de Camondo Museum

 The Library room at Nissim de Camondo (photo credit)
   This private house turned museum is situated 
   next  to the Parc Monceau in Paris.  It was the 
   house of Moïse de Camondo, a Parisian 
   Banker from the Belle Epoque, who wanted 
   a private mansion to house all his collections.    
   What is really impressive here, is the state of
    the art of modern life:  one visit to the 
    kitchens, the offices and the bathrooms will 
   suffice to realise the luxurious lifestyles of the
   inhabitants, while the private rooms bear proof 
   to an eclectic taste in furniture and art of the 
   18th century.
   Again, while the kitchens are a close second, 
   my favourite room is the Library Room, on the 
   first floor of the house, with a great view over
   the gardens.  The setting is demure, and 
   brilliantly executed.  Wall-to-wall bookcases 
inspire you to read, even when you are not fond of (not the case with me).  Here, I can see myself being immersed in books in European history and politics of the 19th century, while holding philosophical soirées with academics, politicians, and  members of the business world (I can still dream...)   

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Weekend cooking - The Art of the Tart

I was introduced to the magic world of Tamasin Day-Lewis by a good friend of mine, who wanted to show me the new breed of chefs who pay attention to detail and quality, without making too much fuss about themselves (...)

Tamasin is the sister of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, but she certainly does not stand in his shadow.  She has penned a number of books and presented several cooking programmes on British TV.  Now, why I should bother with yet another writer, when I can get the recipes I want on the Internet at no cost, you say?

Because, I believe, there is always the added value of a serious professional.  Day-Lewis is very adamant when it comes to ingredients, locally / seasonally sourced and of the highest possible quality.  There is no mention of anything light - if I want to keep a check on the calories, I'll just have a smaller piece!  Day-Lewis pays attention to every minute detail, but not going overboard with extraordinary combinations that only high-end restaurants offer -- this book is for the home cook, who is interested in broadening their horizons and trying new ideas.  Her instructions are detailed, along with tiny comments for secrets and recommendations.

The book itself is split in various categories, including savoury and sweet, as well as tarts by other people, while a separate chapter is dedicated to the art of mastering pastry.  Each recipe is lovingly prepared from scratch and just begs to be savoured hot from the oven.  I cannot recommend this book enough, and (in case this was not obvious), I have several of Day-Lewis' cookbooks for inspiration.  She has a fixed place in my repertoire, and I always fall back on some tried and tested favourite recipes, like her Tomato, Goats' Camembert and  Herb Tart (which in my case becomes Tomato and Camembert tart):

Tomato and Camembert tart

The first thing is the base of the tart, which, in the book, is described to great detail.  On this occasion, however, I had just bought a piece of all butter puff pastry from my baker and wanted to use it, so I cheated (sorry!).

Before getting started with the filling, prepare the infused oil: again, I strayed from the original recipe (I always do) and used:
80ml olive oil
10ml chili oil (for an extra kick)
a handful each of finely chopped thyme, basil, flat leaf parsley (I don't like the other herbs she uses)
1 clove of garlic, crushed

I made this in the morning before leaving for work, and started working on the tart in the evening (although preparing it a couple of hours beforehand would suffice as well)

For the filling, I used:
1 tbsp of whole-grain mustard (I prefer this to dijon)
100gr grated cheese (I used cheddar, because that's what I had at hand)
5 medium-sized tomatoes
375gr or 1 1/2 packs of normal Camembert (I have looked for goats' camembert, but, alas, found none)

Preheat oven at 190oC.  Slide pastry onto a 22-cm round tin, spread mustard, scatter grated cheese.  Slice tomatoes and camembert and alternate in a circle. The original recipe calls for brushing the oil over, I (being lazy, obviously) just poured the whole lot over the tart.  Bake for about 35-40 minutes, then leave to cool. 

For me, this is a great tart in the evening, when I don't want anything grand, or when I miss one meal and don't want to spoil my appetite before the next.  It's beautiful warm or cold.  One word of caution:  this is quite a heavy tart, so I would recommend smaller slices... 

This post is my entry into Weekend Cooking, a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Classics Club: Much ado about nothing

One of his classic plays, Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare tells a tale of grand mischief, of love turned sour, of love being tricked but also of love conquering all in the end... 

Love is a favourite subject of Shakespeare's, so I was half-certain of what to expect.  Yet, I was surprised (yet again):  the play is not a lovey-dovey tale of romance, but rather a story of cynicism and irony, of confirmed bachelors and intrigues aimed at revenge... Now, this a story to keep up my interest!

It begins with a scene of grand merriment, where, among others, we are introduced to Leonato, a respectable nobleman, as well as Beatrice and Hero, two of the maidens in the idyllic town of Messina.  While Hero pleasant and lovely is, Beatrice is a confirmed bachelorette (she did remind me of Kate in the Taming of the Shrew, actually): "I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow" she says, "than a man swear he loves me" (oh, so it must be a horrible bark...)

The play also introduces a word I had not read before:  Yea.  Given that it is fairly similar to the colloquial yeah, it is amusing to think that Shakespeare actually used "slang" language ahead of his time...

Leonato welcomes his friends from war:  Don Pedro, a close friend and a prince (ha!), and two soldiers:  Benedict and Claudio.  This pair is the equivalent of the maidens: Claudio is all romantic and immediately falls for Hero, even sidelining Don Pedro ("Friendship is constant in all other things save in the office and affairs of love"),  while Benedict is the ever so sarcastic bachelor:  "If I do (get married), hang me in a bottle like a cat and shoot at me" (what kind of weird pasttimes did people have in Shakespeare's time?).

Claudio and Hero, after deciding they know each other and can thus get married (hmm...), want to play cupid for the other pair ("some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps"), to get them to stop arguing and confess their love for one another.  Of course, this is not the end of the play - Don John, Don Pedro's illegitimate brother, is the mean character and wants misery for everyone around him.  He employs his companion Borachio to serenade Hero's serving woman Margaret, while he, together with Don Pedro and Claudio are in the vicinity.  Claudio is so upset that he dumps Hero at the altar, after horribly humiliating her.

Hero's family pretend she's died of grief, while waiting for the truth to come to light - which of course it does (this is a play, after all!).  Claudio is devastated (as he should be!) and the global realisation is revealed: "what we have we prize not to the worth whiles we enjoy it, but being lack'd and lost, why then we rack the value".

The language used throughout the play is not the easiest one, particularly as it provides some of the weirdest lines I've read so far:  when Benedict realises he's fallen for Beatrice, he exclaims: "if I do not love her, I am a Jew" -- WHAT?  What can possibly be the rationale behind this? Then, when Benedict shaves his beard, Claudio refers to the hair "the old ornament of his cheek hath already stuffed tennis-balls" -- I just had to check this out.  Indeed, tennis balls go back as early as the 1480s....  And finally, when the constable meets with Leonato to tell him of the trick played on Hero, he describes the Headborough who actually overheard the plot as "honest as the skin between his brows" -- now, would that honesty also apply in botox-ed skin between the brows???
What the end to this tale is?  Why, all is peachy: Claudio and Hero and Benedict and Beatrice celebrate their double wedding and they all dance merrily...  I have to admit that while Much ado about Nothing a very interesting tale is and the plot quite fast-paced - it is seriously over the top, and there are no gods, nymphs, or fairies to justify all the bizarre behaviour.  On the plus side, I was amazed at the boldness with which Shakespeare criticises society that "forces" people to marry appropriately, as well as place great importance on chastity.  It's no wonder that the three main characters are either confirmed bachelors, or feel that marriage a trap is to have them controlled.  The tale may be entertaining, but it certainly includes dark moments - great example of Shakespeare's work!

For the visual interpretation of the tale, I watched the 1993 film directed by Kenneth Branagh, starring a beautiful cast of many known actors, including Branagh himself, Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington.  The acting is very interesting and, for me, it provided some nuances that I had not understood while reading the tale (oops...)

Monday, 14 May 2012

Maibox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at Mailbox Monday and is being hosted all this month by Martha of Martha's Bookshelf.

Well, I received a very nice (big) box of books recently, for my challenges in A Century of Books and The Classics Club:

The Homemaker, by D. Canfield:
"this is the story of Evangeline Knapp, the perfect, compulsive housekeeper, whose husband, Lester, is a poet and a dreamer. Suddenly, through a nearly fatal accident, their roles are reversed: Lester is confined to home in a wheelchair and his wife must work to support the family. The changes that take place between husband and wife, parents and children, are both fascinating and poignant". 
A very intriguing book, this will be my 1983 entry in the Century.

What dreams may come, by R. Matheson
"What happens to us after we die? Chris Nielsen had no idea, until an unexpected accident cut his life short, separating him from his beloved wife, Annie. Now Chris must discover the true nature of life after death.  But even Heaven is not complete without Annie, and when tragedy threatens to divide them forever, Chris risks his very soul to save Annie from an eternity of despair"
This will be my 1977 entry in the Century.

I know why the caged bird sings, by M. Angelou
"Maya Angelou recounts a youth filled with disappointment, frustration, tragedy, and finally hard-won independence"
I know I will be crying from page 1 onwards, but I've wanted to read this for a long time.  It will be my 1969 entry in the Century and an entry in the Classics Club.

Mrs. Dalloway, by V. Woolf
"Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway is preoccupied with the last-minute details of party preparation while in her mind she is something much more than a perfect society hostess. As she readies her house, she is flooded with remembrances of faraway times. And, met with the realities of the present, Clarissa reexamines the choices that brought her there, hesitantly looking ahead to the unfamiliar work of growing old"
I've never read Woolf, and am looking forward to reading this for the Classics Club!

The Driver's Seat, by M. Spark 
"Lise has been driven to distraction by working in the same accountants' office for sixteen years. So she leaves everything behind her, transforms herself into a laughing, garishly-dressed temptress and flies abroad on the holiday of a lifetime. But her search for adventure, sex and the obsessional experience takes on a far darker significance as she heads on a journey of self-destruction. Infinity and eternity attend Lise's last terrible day in an unnamed southern city, as she meets her fate"
This was actually inspired from a retrospective hosted by Simon and Harriet.  I read it within one day, and was seriously blown away.  Now I'm looking for more books by Spark!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Weekend cooking - tuna pasta sauce

There's no lying about it - when in a hurry, the only thing that I can manage to cook and to feed people is pasta.  And while I make batches of bolognese sauce to freeze, or keep portion-size batches of bacon ready for my carbonara, I do want to have some variety in my pasta sauce - even when I'm starving and have to eat NOW. 

I've always enjoyed tuna pasta sauce but until recently had not succeeded in getting a substantial one, something that will cover my pasta nicely and give me all the comfort I need.  Until this one, that is, which was tried and tested several times to get it right.  It's not a light sauce, so not for every day consumption, but it is super-quick and easy - and I guarantee it will provide shelter from whatever ailment you have...

Tuna pasta sauce

1 small shallot, finely chopped
70gr each plain and herb cream cheese spread
100gr cooking cream
130gr tinned tuna, broken up in small pieces
parsley, to serve

In medium heat, slightly brown the shallot in some butter.  Add cream cheeses and cream.  Stir and add tuna.  Stir again, add salt/pepper to taste. Just before serving, add the parsley.  I used spaghetti, but pappardelle would also be great in this sauce.  It will normally serve 2 people, but my latest experience showed that it is actually for 1 1/4  hungry people...    

This post is my entry into Weekend Cooking, a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award

Wow, I’m truly honoured to have been nominated for The Versatile Blogger Award!
Thank you so much Jessi from The Doctorate Housewife for nominating me - her blog is truly versatile, as it includes DIY, gardening and baking! It is written in a simple, matter-of-fact manner, and has provided me with inspiration for many, many projects... Please visit and say hi!

The rules for this award are:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and include a link back to their blog
2. Share seven things about yourself.
3. Pass the award on to fifteen nominees.

Seven things about me:

  1. I love reading and studying (nerd...)
  2. I LOVE cooking (the Mediterranean in me...)
  3. I enjoy sewing, knitting and crocheting (ok, this is getting really weird...)
  4. I'm going through my mid-life crisis, and have accordingly taken up running and playing chess (no comment...)
  5. I love really old movies (think 40s and 50s) and have a soft spot for silent movies (Metropolis)
  6. Favourite type of food: cheeeeseeeee
  7. When I bake desserts, I always use less sugar than in the recipe...(most of the times, no one notices it!)

My nominees:

  1. A subtle Revelry: really pretty things to craft
  2. The faux Martha: a baker in the footsteps of another Martha...
  3. Her Fitness Blog: a simple way to live smart, get fit, be happy!
  4. The more I run:  finally, a whole living guide for someone my age
  5. Pining for the West: books, films, art, crafts, cooking, politics, gardening, museums and travelling
  6. Knitting on cloud IX: when knitting saves the day...
  7. A little bit of everything: indeed...
  8. My tiny plot: for spots like my garden...
  9. Alexis Stewart's blog: vegetarian cooking, cleaning and book/film tips 
  10. The captive reader: Captivating book reviews 
  11. La tartine gourmande: great recipes and even greater photographs of a Frenchwoman living in the States
  12. World wandering Kiwi: pure inspiration for my next trip!
  13. Simply the Nest: everything around the home
  14. Cooking from scratch: it does indeed taste better this way!
  15. Oh my owls!: great photographs of a versatile content

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Classics Club - The Art of War

One of the well-known books on the subject, The Art of War by Sun Tzu is probably the first of its kind to touch upon a subject so hostile from a managerial perspective.  War - or rather any type of conflict, as I got out of this book - is business, and as such it should be organised in a serious, non-emotional manner.  

Even though it was written in 400 B.C., the book still holds truths that can be applicable in today's fast-pacing world.  And while one could say that it talks about common sense, I would respond that in many situations of conflict common sense gives way to emotions, and it all goes downhill from then on...

Sun Tzu starts with the universal truth of the surprise attack.  There is no better attack that when you are unexpected: "... when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive".  Simple, yet effective - the element of surprise will earn more points than an obvious preparation for "war". In today's world, it goes even beyond that - an obvious preparation will actually work against you and crash  you down - it's a mistake that must never be made.

Second, we have the organisational part of the conflict: "... the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought".  Sounds obvious?  It is certainly not.  How many times, our emotions get the best of us, and we throw ourselves in the battle, be it in a work environment or at home, only to use up all of our energy and resources before we can even think of reaching a victorious end...  However choked we feel, a cool head is required to plan out the way out of a conflict situation - while at home, the end result may be something less of what was expected, at work it may even result in a co-worker profiting from all our trouble - not a nice thought, is it?

Then, we have the essence: results, not words: "in war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns" - isn't it a sign of our times -- people marching constantly for or against something?  the fact that they are seen in the process towards a goal gives the impression that they've achieved that goal?  I'm afraid this is not how things work:  do more, speak less - the actions will speak for me soon enough...

Do your homework: "if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.  If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.  If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle".  A truth that will remain so even in future times, as it shows and prepares you for the road to follow...

Cater  to the situation: "He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain".  No one-size fits all in situations of conflict - Be well prepared to the specific opponent - each has their own weaknesses / likes / dislikes that will show the path to a faster, easier victory.

Sun Tzu also develops the characteristics of a good general, a good leader (in situations of a group):  they should be advancing in a conflict situation for the greater good and their own petty interest; in addition, they should be able to retreat without fearing disgrace - the image of modern politicians instantly came to mind, and I could see how true this statement is - and how we lack good leaders... A good leader/general should treat his team/army first with humanity, but keeping them under control by means of iron discipline.   The fact that we move towards a war/conflict zone, should not make us inhuman.  Here is my first disappointment in Sun Tzu's teachings, as I cannot remember any recent war where humanity was a basic element - in most cases, it was actually absent.  Even in highly competitive work areas, the fact of showing human traits is considered a deficiency, as it proves that you are weak...

And so Sun Tzu goes on and names the specific days that will determine the kind of approach to be followed, as well as the specific land formations that will influence the method to react.  All fine and well, but I couldn't see their current application in situations of conflict.  I rather think this is just a repetition of the universal notion of catering to the specific situation.

Last but not least, I was intrigued by this thought:  Sun Tzu indicates all the traits a gifted leader should possess in order to win a weak opponent and the paths to follow according to various situations.  What happens, however, when the opponent is an equivalent of oneself? When they will react exactly as we do and there's no competitive advantage?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Weekend cooking - Breakfast

Breakfast for me is indeed the most important meal of the day - and it has to be savoury.  I need that salty/lightly spicy boost that will open my eyes and keep me going for the rest of the day.  During the week, when time is of essence, I have to make do with a couple of slices of bread with cheese or ham (no butter/margarine), together with some fruit and tea/coffee. 

I take my revenge during the weekend:  I will satisfy my taste buds either with a "croque madame" which is really a grilled sandwich with a fried egg on top (careful, the yolk has to still be ever so slightly runny), or, when I really want to pamper the people around me, my mother's tried-and-tested "egg medley" - a dish that is as old as I am, but has lost none of its allure (neither have I, if you're asking...):

Mom's "strapatsada" (i.e. egg medley)

2 medium plum tomatoes, in cubes
3 eggs
200gr feta cheese, crumbled
smoked paprika, black pepper
(optional: herbs like thyme, basil, chives)

In medium heat, slightly fry the tomatoes (I don't use any oil/butter, but feel free to do so). Once most of the liquid has evaporated, stir in the crumbled feta.  Beat the eggs and fold in the mixture.  Stir until all is one happy medley.  I don't put any salt because the feta is quite salty, but I do use paprika for smokiness and black pepper for a bit of spice (Mom adds chopped herbs as well, but I prefer this dish plain).  That's it!  Pretty simple, whole-hearted breakfast - and it already has one vegetable for the day!
If I double the quantities, I can enjoy this dish cold the next day (and the following...).  And I certainly use it when I organise a brunch - it's a delightful, healthy variation of the "simple" scrambled egg dish.

This post is my entry into Weekend Cooking, a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Classics Club: Breakfast at Tiffany's

For years, Breakfast at Tiffany's by T. Capote has been a beautiful, atmospheric movie with an extraordinary Audrey Hepburn and a seriously attractive George Peppard.  It involved some less than polished situations, but all in all it was so sweet...

It was time, however, for me to read the novel itself and see to what extent it had inspired the film. I had high hopes for this novel and wanted to be swept away just as I was by the film. 
Alas, it was not meant to be.  The novel has nothing of the fairy tale that the movie has, and, without this, all that is left is a bitter, cynic, sarcastic tale of two less than perfect people struggling between the need for a stable, homely environment on the one hand and the desire for independence on the other. 

The novel starts with the unnamed narrator meeting Joe Bell the barman about some photos.  A trip down memory lane ensues about a girl he used to know:  Holly Golightly, a young girl who pretty much relies on her connections with older men of the underworld, receiving change for her trips to the powder room (which I really don't understand) and meeting with prison inmates to pick up "weather reports".  She feels she does not belong anywhere, and her only purpose is to marry a "catch".  She is depicted as a rough girl, using quite a lot of swearing (which was  remarkably absent in the movie), but just as intelligent: she educates herself in subjects that will interest her prospective suitors. She loses out on two very respectable would-be husbands, only to flee to Brazil at the end of the novel, where she is rumoured to have found a wealthy señor... Meanwhile, the unnamed narrator is a struggling writer who at the end succeeds in publishing his work - and not rely on the financial contribution of the respectable, wealthy lady of the movie version (probably because Capote had acknowledged this character as gay).

I found the novel remarkably depressing in its description of the difficult road girls like Holly have to travel, originating from the South where they are born as Lula Maes, getting married at the tender age of 14, leaving behind husbands and families to go to the big city, where they rely on wealthy, much older men to make a name in society.  Apparently, Capote based this character on many of his acquaintances who had succeeded in this transformation, but I suppose on many more that did not or were still en route. Still, I could not sympathise with Holly:  I could not find any depth in her character, and by the end of the novel I rather disliked her superficiality...

What I missed in this novel was this sense of hope that I had in the movie version, that despite the many lemons we all receive in life, in the end all will be well.  I have no doubt that this story resembles more an actual depiction of any Holly Golightly, but it did shatter my Breakfast at Tiffany's...L

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

84 Charing Cross Road

There are novels that analyse themes through the use of complicated language; then, there are novels that use an exchange of letters to discover issues and manage to have the same impact.  I consider 84, Charing Cross road by Helene Hanff to be such a novel.

A simple reply to an advertisement is the trigger to a 20-year correspondence between Hanff and Marks & Co. Chief buyer Frank Doel, that is a showcase of human relations and everyday situations that bring out the best in all of us.

Where to start... Already the fact that an American would prefer corresponding with a store in the UK to find the good quality second-hand books she's looking for is very intriguing... She already makes this point in the beginning, complaining about bookstores selling overpriced copies (was that the start of their demise?).  It's true that as a bibliophile, she cares as much about the content of a book as its appearance ("joy to the touch"), thus opting for quality copies, which are rather expensive than mass-market paperbacks (not that there's anything wrong with those - it's good that there is a choice for the consumers).

Little by little the correspondence turns away from the pure ordering and invoicing of books and starts including questions about post-war rationing in Britain.  While Hanff cannot be considered wealthy, she makes an effort to provide whatever little parcel she can with goods to ease up the austere living conditions of the employees at Marks & Co.  Would that have happened today?  that was my first question.  Would I actually have made the enquiry in the first place?  would I care about my fellow citizen's living conditions? (for that matter, would anyone care about mine?).  The end of war brought out this humanity in people - they saw the devastation in the areas hit, they knew what it meant to live on rations, and most importantly they CARED about the person next to them. A lot of food for thought...

Hanff's good deed does not remain a secret.  Other employees from Marks & Co. start corresponding with her, at first wishing to express their gratitude for the gifts, but also to provide more information about the store and about life in London.  There is an explicit trust in people, as soon enough they also propose to Hanff to go together on holiday and be put up by relatives, so as to economise! I really enjoyed this rather carefree atmosphere of the letters - the war was over, only good things could happen from then on... It made me think about the doom that surrounds our lives, where we may not fear for war, but we cannot see anything good happening anytime soon... is this a matter of mind-setting or do we have our priorities wrong?

(In the meantime, Hanff becomes an anglophile, and even enquires the recipe for Yorkshire pudding)

As the exchange of letters develops, and the correspondents get to know each other more, the style of the letters changes as well.  From the formal letterhead, the salutations and the proper closings and signatures, we see that the letters now resemble more to scribblings, with words in all capitals to show excitement, no capitals to show typing in haste in the middle of the night, exclamation points to make the point!  Slowly, proper letters between costumer and seller are transformed into little messages between friends, where more personal information is included.  Let no one question the power of a personal letter...

The story ends with the death of Doel  - after 20 years of correspondence, without ever having actually met with Hanff. Their acquaintance has made a full circle and is now ready to be published.  I found the length of the book (it is rather small)  sufficient not to turn into a melodramatic story.  This is a celebration of humanity, of books bringing out the best in people, and of the support to the person next to us (or far, far away from us).  Let us get away from our petty preoccupations, let us hope again and see the light at the end of the tunnel, and let us regain our interest in our fellow human.



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