Showing posts with label United Kingdom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label United Kingdom. Show all posts

27 July 2020

Film review: Queen of the Desert (2015) by Werner Herzog, *****

Synopsys

Gertrude Bell, a daughter of wealthy British parents, has no interest in the social life of the London elite. Balls, receptions and the British aristocracy bring her only boredom. She wants to study, learn and above all see the world.

Aspiring to have at least some kind of activity in her life, Gertrude decides to find freedom and move to be with her uncle, who occupies a high diplomatic position in Tehran. From Iran she moves on to Amman and Damascus, some of the main political centers in the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

So begins her lifelong adventure across the Arab world, a journey marked by danger, a passionate affair with a British officer, Henry Cadogan, and an encounter with the legendary T.E. Lawrence.

With an all-star cast, including Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, Damien Lewis and James Franco, Queen of the Desert is the uplifting, inspiring and extraordinary true story of one woman who, against all odds, changed the course of history.


Review

A gripping historical film on the life of an extraordinary woman who carved the life she wanted out of a hard world made for men.

We learn a lot about life in the latter part of the Turkish occupation of what is now Jordan and Iraq, areas where nomads roamed free without borders and ancient religions perpetuated irreconcilable conflicts.

Never seeking power she ended up making political decisions that are still relevant in the Middle East a century later. It would have been interesting if the movie had shown why she helped certain tribes rise to power through British help and not others. In the end, a successful but unhappy woman who spent most of her life alone.



22 May 2018

Smallest house in Britain, Conwy, Wales



Today I visited the smallest house in Britain. It was a real house, with someone living in it until it became a museum.

The last occupant was, ironically, a very tall man!

And to finish a walk on the "dancing bridge"

21 May 2018

Giant's Causeway at Cobh, Northern Ireland




Stop at the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland's only Unesco WHS. Rainy day but fun to see this unusual site and waves crashing on the shore!

19 May 2018

Isle of Skye

Some consider it the most romantic island of Scotland, and maybe it is, but kind of windy and cold for that purpose today.

We take a leisurely tour of the perimeter and soak in the landscape.

Peat cutting was a major industry for centuries, was then abandoned as uneconomical but it's been resurrected by demand of peat for whisky.

The tomb of Alexander McQueen is a highlight, the fashion genius rests here.



Royal Dinner for the wedding of Harry and Meghan



Evening "Royal" ball on our chip Queen Victoria :)

29 August 2017

Film review: A United Kingdom (2016) by Amma Asante, *****

Synopsis

From director Amma Asante, starring David Oyelowo (Selma) and Rosamund Pike and set against the breath-taking backdrops of the African savannah and period London, A United Kingdom celebrates the inspiring real-life romance of Seretse Khama, King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married in 1948 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the British and South African governments.


Review

A historical narrative of one sad page of the decline and fall of the British Empire after WW II. There are two levels to the story: a personal tale of love and a non-fiction account of the birth of a new African country.

Churchill is depicted for what he was: an anti-democratic imperialist, who would go back on his promises to try and salvage the decomposing British empire. But the prejudice of blacks against whites is displayed as well at length.

In the face of all these difficulties, it was a remarkable feat for the young leader to pull off a national reconciliation that would make Botswana a unique success story in post-colonial Africa. One of very few examples where the leaders who took over power from the colonial rulers actually improved their nation's lot and did not squander national resources for personal gain.

Highly recommended movie to understand a very special part of Africa.










05 December 2014

Gramex, Rogers Hewland's shop of records and CDs in London

With Roger at Gramex, 104 Lower Marsh, London
I am a music collector, and when I travel some of my first destination targets are the music shops I can find in various cities: mostly CDs and LPs, but also books about music and other paraphernalia. So it was a really amazing coincidence that when I moved to a city as big as London I should find one such shops, which turned out to be the best of its kind, just a few steps from my apartment.

As I walked inside, I was struck by the sight of a huge mass of CDs all over the place, but also LPs and 78rpm discs, and even cylinder recordings! The welcoming owner is Roger Hewland but the shop has been running non-stop, at different London locations, since 1906, when a certain George Russell founded the "Music Exchange" in the Islington market. The shop prospered there until 1922, when it moved to Oxford Street, and from there to Wardour Street in 1956.

On Christmas 1978 Gramex was relaunched under its current name at Wardour Street. Roger was running a book shop then, but was in love with music as much or more than with books. When Gramex went bankrupt in 1981 Roger bought the name and started anew in York Road, just next to Waterloo station, where the shop stayed until 1990. He then moved to 84 Lower Marsh and remained there until 1993. The next move took him to number 25 in the same street, where he remained until April 2014, and Gramex is now at 104 Lower Marsh. He has not had a holiday since he opened shop, and greets customers six days a week, 11am to 7pm, every week of the year. He said he will take Saturdays off when he turns 100, in about 18 years' time.

Roger Hewland's ancestors were Huguenots, protestants who fled persecution in France. Huguenots ended up in many places where protestants were accepted. I have met Huguenot descendants as far as South Africa, where they started that country's wine-making tradition. Roger's family crossed over to England in 1712. He has French, Spanish, Italian as well as English blood in his veins. He is a born and bred Londoner, you can certainly tell he is an Englishman from a mile away but he considers himself a member of the European nation. He hated the British Empire but loves the Commonwealth. He believes in the European Union and will vote accordingly when there is a referendum in a few years time. In his shop he accepts Euros as well as pound sterling.

"It's anarchy, not chaos" is one of the first things he told me. "Having all my music in random order makes you find what you did not know you wanted and trigger impulsive buying instincts in the collector. It makes perfect business sense." He also does not like shelves. Most items on sale are on tables and even boxes, but always displayed so you can see the cover. "No point showing a record spine, no one likes those, but collectors like covers." After a few months of frequenting the store, and several hundred CDs in my collection later, I agree.

Roger is a dealer, but first of all a collector. One has to be a collector before one can be a dealer in music, he says. Still today, he does not tire to repeat that the most important part of his job is not selling records, but buying them, and that is what he enjoys the most. "Good records sell themselves" he says "and customer are my staff: they help themselves to the music." Every day collectors bring in records they want to sell and Roger screens them carefully to pick those fit for sale at Gramex. 

He certainly is an experienced collector, and so are most of his clients. He bought his first record in 1948, on 20 October 1948 at 10:32am to be precise, a rainy day in London.  It was a 78rpm version of the Butterfly. He had £200, spent it all on records, does not regret it a bit, and has not stopped since. He now has over 50,000 opera 78s/LPs/CDs/cassettes/cylinders etc in his personal collection at home. He owns 27 editions of Traviata, all those he could find. Bohème and Trovatore are his favorite operas, though under pressure he would admit Beethoven's Fidelio, my favorite, is the greatest opera ever written.  

Originally the shop only dealt with classical music, but when, about twenty years ago, he asked his customers whether they wanted to add jazz, 90% said yes. And so it is jazz and classical now. Joe, a jazz musician, helps with the jazz part of the business. When a jazz collection comes in, the invaluable Joe is called to deliver his judgement! 

Customers also voted against having any music playing in the shop during business hours. So, no Domingo or Callas in the background: now the chatter and banter amongst patrons, as well as the typical London sarcasm at which Roger is a master, are the only sounds that mix with the franctic shuffling of CD cases by avid collectors. However, a headphone is available if you want to listen to a CD before you buy it.

It's more a club than a shop, Roger says. Many of his customers have become friends, and I like to think of myself as belonging to this category. When he was in the hospital for an operation a few years ago they kept the shop open for him!  People are free to use the toilet and the kitchen, where coffee an tea are complimentary. Good English tea for sure, but coffee left a bit to be desired, so I gifted Gramex with a good Italian Moka machine! One more reason because of which, if you love music, you must visit Gramex when in London.



13 March 2014

Electrician in London

Sono a Londra da una settimana e ho bisogno di un elettricista per riparare alcuni interruttori nell'appartamento in cui abito. 

Non si riesce a trovare un elettricista. Quello del costruttore che ha da poco terminato la palazzina cancella un appuntamento all'ultimo momento. 

Alla fine Anna, un'italiana che vive qui da un paio d'anni, mi manda Ken, un volontario dice lei. Non capisco bene cosa voglia dire, ma prendo un appuntamento per il giorno dopo. 

Ken viene fa il lavoro e se ne va senza volere un penny. Insisto ma mi dice che non può accettare denaro perché è in pensione e non ha più la licenza. Proprio come in Italia... Alla fine accetta una bottiglia di vino!

01 March 2014

An Italian actress in London

Celeste is a 29-yo Italian artist who has been here a couple of years. She is from Puglia and tried a career in Rome but as so often the case there were too many insurmountable obstacles for her to have a chance. So she moved to London and now works at a major theater in Soho. She has adjusted to life in London effortlessly, her English is excellent and she is quite flexible in adapting to the environment.

Their budget being limited, she and her boyfriend usually share a house or an apartment with other students or young couples. She tells me that she met many good and interesting people, but had several problems with muslim families. She has been repeatedly insulted by their men for wearing a skirt above the knee (inside her own house!). Her boyfriend has been accused of assault for having the temerity to enter the shared kitchen space while the Bangladeshi wife was already there cooking something or other.

The Bengali couple called the police who came and immediately realized the young Italian man had done nothing wrong but advised them to find another accommodation without muslim roommates as these episodes were all too common.

28 February 2014

Drive to London

Today I am driving to the UK for a couple of months. It's a test stay, to see whether it might be a good idea to move there later for a longer time. Probably not for good. But then again nothing is for good.

I arrive at Le Shuttle terminal in Calais and I am surprised that my number plate is immediately recognized by CCTV and I am welcomed by a screen that reads "Welcome Mr. Carnovale". All I have to do is push a button and pick up a hanger that is printed out and the access bar lifts to let me through.

Moments later I am sitting behind my wheel of my car, engine off, parking brake on, inside a train car with few small windows and a rather depressing feel to it.

But in about half an hour I am on the other side of the English Channel. Very convenient.

Another two hours' drive and I am in London. I always loved London as a tourist, let's see what it's like to live here for a couple of months.

In the evening a friend invites me to dinner at "Il salotto", an Italian restaurant run by Giorgio, entrepreneurial Italian who came here to renovate buildings and instead found himself opening a restaurant in the City which serves top notch Italian food and wines. On the first floor (the second floor for Americans) there is a men's clothing store! Giorgio says this is their passion. Not sure it will be economically viable, real estate is so expensive in the City.