Saturday, September 29, 2012

Review of Feign by T.L. Curtis

Since I like poetry, I jumped on the opportunity to review "Feign" by T.L. Curtis.

Her poetry is like a chocolate box - there is a flavor for everyone. Some poems are quite graphic and might offend sensitive souls (e.g., 'Carnal" and "Hags to Bitches") , while others are PG.

She also cleverly uses layout to entice her readers, which I did not see for a long time... Just read "The She Beat" and "Homme" to get the picture.

My personal favorite?


When I look into you
All the words I want to say
Seem to disappear [...]

T.L. Curtis is a social worker residing in Louisville, Kentucky. She can be reached at

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rowling heavily promoting her The Casual Vacancy – but will it cast a spell on adult readers?

JK Rowling is heavily promoting her latest novel “The Casual Vacancy”.

According to her interview with the Guardian, she dreamed up the idea for on a plane: "And I thought: local election! And I just knew. I had that totally physical response you get to an idea that you know will work. It's a rush of adrenaline, it's chemical. I had it with Harry Potter and I had it with this. So that's how I know."

The Casual Vacancy is set in a fictional town of Pagford, written from multiple perspectives. It is supposed to be "a story of class warfare set amid semi-rural poverty, heroin addiction, and teen-age perplexity and sexuality."

In writer Ian Parker's assessment, "within a few pages, it was clear that the novel had not been written for children.... But reviewers looking for echoes of the Harry Potter series will find them. The novel describes young people coming of age in a place divided by warring factions, and the deceased council member, Barry Fairbrother (who dies in the first chapter but remains the story’s moral center) had the same virtues, in his world, that Harry had in his: tolerance, constancy, a willingness to act."

From a marketing and legal standpoint, the terms of the embargo have become part of the story. The Guardian reporter described being "required to sign more legal documents than would typically be involved in buying a house before I am allowed to read it, under tight security in the London offices of Little Brown. Even the publishers have been forbidden to read it, and they relinquish the manuscript gingerly, reverently, as though handling a priceless Ming vase."

Good legal practice, but silly marketing? You are the judge!
Will Rowling be able to cast her spell on adult audiences? I have my doubts...Let’s wait and see!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

About An Ax-Murderess in the 17th Century, Rembrandt and a Determined Archivist in the 1960s

It all started when Baruch, a good friend and avid reader, told me that he just finished reading “The History of Amsterdam”. Since he knows that as lawyer and writer I love a good murder mystery or cause célèbre, he told me about a famous murder that took place in the 17th century and was eternalized by Rembrandt in two drawings. Fascinated, I started to research and found a compelling story that spans several centuries and involves three women and one painter. 

The story starts as follows. 

Around April 14th, 1664 Danish Elsje Christiaens came to Amsterdam at the age of 18. She was born in “Sprouwen”, which is quite likely Dutch for the island of Sprogo.

She wanted to work as a maid (or servant girl) and rented a place to sleep in the cellar of a boarding house. At the end of the first month, the manageress of the establishment came to collect the rent of one “daalder” (€ 0,68 or US$ 0.89). However, Elsje was not able to pay, since she had not been able to find any work yet.

The next day, the manageress asked again. At that point, the women started to argue. The manageress threatened to confiscate her chest containing her (meager) belongings. Their fight became physical when the manageress hit Elsje with a broomstick. Elsje then grabbed an ax that was near the cellar and hit the manageress on the head. The woman fell down the cellar stairs and died.

Elsje panicked, ran outside and jumped in the Damrak (at that time the mouth of the Amstel River). She was dragged out of the water and arrested. After two interrogations, she was convicted on May 1, 1664. The execution was considered to be fitting the crime: she was hanged in front of the town hall and the executioner hit her several times with the murder weapon on her head.

The body was then transported to Volewijck (at that time moor land that contained a gallows field). Her body was tied to the gallows with the ax hanging next to her head “in order for air and birds to devour her”. When Rembrandt learned about the faith of Elsje Christiaens, he rowed over to Volewijck where he made two drawings of the executed girl.

Centuries later, in the 1960s, archivist Ms. I.H. van Eeghen became fascinated by the two drawings. Although art historians dated the drawings around 1655, she realized that none of the Rembrandt experts had ever bothered doing any research in law archives to find out more about the subject of the drawings.
She started to go through 25 years of recorded confessions and found out that the only woman ever to get the death penalty at that time was a Danish maid called Elsje Christiaens.

Based on her findings, she was able to accurately date the drawings at the beginning of May 1664. She was pleased as Punch that the lauded Rembrandt experts erred 8-10 years with their dating, stating: “Elsje Christiaens, who once served as an example to deter others from committing crimes, is now once again serving as an example for art historians to be careful with their dating solely based on style criteria!’

I find it amazing how a young immigrant that was executed two weeks after entering a country in search of employment is talked about and blogged about almost 450 years later......Furthermore, this story involves three women: the murderess, the victim and the archivist.

I wonder....would Rembrandt have been amused?

Let me dedicate this blog post to another amazing woman who encouraged me to write this post: Gita Sterenson.

(Image: Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 – 1669, Elsje Christiaens pen- en pencil drawings (17 × 9 cm) 1664)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

My Love Affair with Silk

We European women have a love affaire with silk. It goes back centuries. If you look at European fashion throughout the ages, you will notice that only the aristocracy was able to have garments made out of silk.

Silk was revered for many reasons:
1) It was a status symbol
2) It came in far more vibrant colors than cotton or linen
3) It had a beautiful shine that was similar to satin
4) It was light in weight and therefore easier to wear
5) It was exclusive and expensive

Personally, I love wearing silk. It is especially wonderful in summertime, when it's hot. It feels like a whisper on your skin, in contrast to cotton that sort of sticks to your skin. Linen wrinkles like crazy, so you cannot wear it in business meetings or at work.

Apart from that, I love wearing silk because it gives me a feeling of luxury and rests on my skin like a whisper....That’s the reason why it’s also so popular for undergarments.

Another reason why silk is popular in Europe is due to regulation. To state that a garment is 100% silk, it must be made out of silk; no shortcuts as with certain food items! You therefore get what you buy.

There is a growing tendency to check labels. Consumers are smart and want to know what the garment is made of and how to wash it. Silk is also great that way – just gently wash it in lukewarm water using a gentle soap (I use baby shampoo!), and Bob's your uncle! Hang it up when still wet and you do not even need to iron it!

As you can tell, I am a fan of silk. I had a beautiful blouse in gorgeous hue of blue that I had for ages. I also have a blouse in shocking pink and a top + blouse in several shades of pink and purple that I have been wearing and complimented on for 10 years! In contrast to what many people think, silk garment have a long lifespan.

My list of favorite materials:
1) Silk ( my favorite)
2) Viscose (also great, especially in summer)
3) Cotton (nice, but heavy to wear)
4) Linen (I just hate the wrinkles and the material feels quite coarse)
5) Synthetics (I try to avoid them; they stick to my skin)

I still have to test bamboo......I am planning to buy a T-shirt made out of it soon in my fitness center Holmes Place. I wonder how it will hold up. Unfortunately, they are only available in black and green, which excludes my favorites colors (vibrant red and blue).

As "NO EASY DAY" Publishes, New Account Says Book Written When Author Was "Slighted" By Other SEALS

Despite ongoing controversy and the threat of a government lawsuit (and Navy SEALS being pulled off active duty as a consequence), Dutton is publishing No Easy Day by "Mark Owen" (the pen name for the retired SEAL Mark Bissonnette) today as scheduled. 

But things got weirder over the weekend when a group of former Special Operations veterans released a short ebook of their own, "No Easy Op: The Unclassified Analysis of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden, as a $4.99 KDP exclusive. 

It claims Bissonnette (the Times, and the ebook, use his real name throughout) was "willing to break the code of silence honored by many commandos because of 'bad blood' with his former unit, the elite SEAL Team 6," according to the NYT.

The discord began when Bissonnette expressed a desire to leave the SEALS after more than 14 years to start a consulting business. "How was he repaid for his honesty and 14 years of service?...He was ostracized from his unit with no notice and handed a plane ticket back to Virginia from a training operation." 

The ebook authors didn't say whether Bissonnette provided information for NO EASY OP, though the ebook's account is apparently sympathetic to him and said it was "highly unlikely that Mr. Bissonnette released any vital information about SEAL tactics and procedures," though they also criticized him for not submitting "No Easy Days" for review by government agencies.

"No Easy Days"  also warns: "Members of the Special Operations community are well known for eating their own...If Bissonnette's relationship with special ops was in danger when he left the unit, it's dead now. It is likely that Bissonnette will be not only ridiculed and criticized, but ostracized from the military completely: Some of these authors are considered personae non grata by their former units: members are instructed to never talk to the author and the author is never to be allowed to participate in unit functions again."

(Source: Publishers Lunch 9/4/2012)

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Ongoing Mystery of the Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript is a detailed 240-page book written in a language or script that is completely unknown. It is named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller Wilfrid M. Voynich. He acquired it in 1912.

The pages are filled with colorful drawings of strange diagrams, odd events and plants that do not seem to match any known species. The appeal of the manuscript is impossibility to decipher it.

The original author of the manuscript remains unknown. Carbon dating has revealed that the pages were made sometime between 1404 and 1438 in Western Europe. Needless to say, it has been dubbed "the world's most mysterious manuscript."

There are legions of theories about the origin and nature of the manuscript. Some believe it was meant to be a pharmacopoeia with the purpose to display topics in medieval or early modern medicine. This is founded on the illustrations and descriptions of herbs and plants.

It has also been implied that it is some kind of alchemist textbook. This theory is based on the fact that many diagrams appear to be of astronomical origin, as well as the unidentifiable biological drawings.

Needless to say, it has also been stated that the book might have an alien origin. The book is quite likely not a hoax. It would involve too much time, money and effort to produce it, since every page contains botanical, figurative, and scientific drawings of a provincial but lively character. Each page is drawn in ink with vibrant washes in various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue, and red.

The content of the manuscript falls into six sections:
  1. Botanicals containing drawings of 113 unidentified plant species;
  2. Astronomical and astrological drawings including astral charts with radiating circles, suns and moons, Zodiac symbols such as fish (Pisces), a bull (Taurus), and an archer (Sagittarius), nude females emerging from pipes or chimneys, and courtly figures;
  3. A biological section containing a myriad of drawings of miniature female nudes, most with swelled abdomens, immersed or wading in fluids and oddly interacting with interconnecting tubes and capsules;
  4. An elaborate array of nine cosmological medallions, many drawn across several folded folios and depicting possible geographical forms;
  5. Pharmaceutical drawings of over 100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots portrayed with jars or vessels in red, blue, or green, and 
  6. Continuous pages of text, possibly recipes, with star-like flowers marking each entry in the margins.

Will anyone ever be able to decipher it? In the mean time, it remains one of the unsolved mysteries of our time.