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

31 December 2020

12 BUONE COSE DEL 2020 - 12 GOOD THINGS ABOUT 2020

 2020


ENGLISH TEXT BELOW

Siccome di messaggi con insulti al povero anno 2020 ne abbiamo sentiti troppi (ma non si chiama COVID-19?) ho pensato di raccogliere qualche pensiero in positivo sull'anno che si sta per concludere. Non per minimizzare, ma per guardare avanti con realismo, ottimismo e determinazione.

1. Chi mi sta leggendo è ancora vivo. Un buon primo risultato. Tanti ci hanno lasciato nel 2020, forse anche qualcuno che conosciamo, qualche persona cara. Io ho perso una cugina ed il padre di un amico per il Covid-19. Molti altri se ne sono andati per una serie infinita di altri motivi: incidenti, età, altre malattie, guerre, ecc. Noi invece siamo qui.

2. Abbiamo viaggiato di meno, e questo pesa particolarmente per quelli come me che vivono in vari paesi e del viaggio hanno fatto uno stile di vita. Però la prossima volta che partiremo il viaggio avrà un gusto speciale. Ce lo godremo di più, magari lo prepareremo meglio, lo ricorderemo più a lungo. Forse faremo più viaggi, che ci cambiano dentro, e meno vacanze, che nel migliore dei casi ci fanno solo riposare.

3. Siamo andati meno al ristorante, ma quando torneremo a farlo con tranquillità sceglieremo meglio il ristorante, la cucina, ed ogni boccone, ogni sorso di vino ci sembreranno più buoni.

4. Non siamo potuti andare a cinema, teatro, concerti. Ancora una volta, torneremo a farlo perché la cultura non si ferma. La prossima volta saremo più attenti ad ogni scena del film, ad ogni movimento della sinfonia, ad ogni aria dell'opera, ad ogni particolare della scena.

5. Siamo stati costretti a stare di più a casa, ma abbiamo passato più tempo con i nostri cari, fianco a fianco, giorno dopo giorno, ora dopo ora, come forse non facevamo da tanto tempo. Se siamo stati attenti, abbiamo imparato a conoscerci meglio, a rispettarci. Abbiamo capito che stare insieme non vuol dire solo avere interessi in comune o divertirsi, ma parlarsi (e ascoltarsi!), guardarsi, accarezzarsi.

6. Abbiamo riscoperto il significato della solidarietà, o almeno avremmo dovuto farlo, le occasioni non sono mancate. E dell'apprezzamento per il lavoro di chi si è impegnato per superare l'emergenza. Non ce lo dimentichiamo quando la pandemia non sarà più in prima pagina, loro saranno ancora in prima linea.

7. Abbiamo recuperato un po' della nostra identità, anzi delle identità, al plurale. Ci siamo sentiti un po’ più italiani, come forse non capita spesso tranne quando c'è la coppa del mondo di calcio. E, almeno per me, anche più europei. L'Europa si è mossa con ritardo, ma si è mossa, insieme, e visto come sono andate le cose negli altri principali paesi del mondo forse non ci possiamo lamentare. E questo nonostante la pandemia abbia messo da una parte a nudo le meschinità di tanti politici polemici, e dall'altra in risalto la mancanza di grossi calibri tra i leader della politica mondiale.

8. Abbiamo riscoperto il valore della scienza, anche di quella inesatta come la medicina. I chiacchieroni e i millantatori, i negazionisti, gli alternativi, i naturopati, gli anti-vaccinisti, quelli del "sono morti con il COVID e non di COVID" sono, mi pare, o forse lo spero soltanto, meno ascoltati di un anno fa. Abbiamo anche imparato qualche regola di igiene, di buon senso, che avremmo dovuto applicare comunque, da sempre.

9. Abbiamo capito un po' meglio il significato della disciplina. Non abbastanza e non tutti, ma ci farà bene interiorizzare perché ci sarà utile in tante altre occasioni. Prendiamo esempio da quelle società orientali che in questa circostanza hanno dato dimostrazione di grande disciplina ed hanno ottenuto risultati di conseguenza. Ho notato con dispiacere che i giovani, che hanno più da perdere, sono spesso meno consapevoli di questo degli anziani.

10. Abbiamo avuto tempo di riflettere su noi stessi, sugli errori commessi e sui traguardi raggiunti. Soprattutto su cosa vogliamo fare con il tempo che ci resta da vivere. Sapendo, mai come oggi, che potrebbe essere molto meno lungo di quanto speriamo. Riflessioni che dovremmo fare sempre, ovvio, ma quest'anno ci siamo stati quasi obbligati. Confucio scrisse che abbiamo due vite: la seconda comincia quando ci rendiamo conto di averne solo una. Mi auguro che molti abbiano cominciato la propria seconda vita nel corso del 2020.

11. Abbiamo scoperto tanta tecnologia che ci ha permesso di attutire l'urto della pandemia e che continueremo ad usare dopo di essa. Abbiamo inquinato di meno lavorando da casa e comprando online. Ci si può spostare di meno: meno traffico, meno inquinamento, meno energia sprecata. Molti continueranno a farlo anche dopo la pandemia. Viaggeremo ancora, certo, per lavoro, per piacere e per incontrare i nostri cari, ma auspicabilmente non per comprare una cipolla oppure per andare a timbrare un cartellino in ufficio e poi stare davanti ad uno schermo uguale a quello che abbiamo a casa.

12. Per molti è stato un anno drammatico sul lavoro, ed è stato importante l'intervento dei governi e delle banche centrali. Ma guardiamo avanti facendo tesoro dell'esperienza del 2020. Guardiamo al lavoro non come una punizione biblica che ci è cascata addosso perché abbiamo mangiato la mela dell'albero proibito, ma come realizzazione delle nostre aspirazioni. Tanti giovani in occidente hanno tutto ma non più aspirazioni, sogni. Sognando un po', lavoreremo serenamente, a prescindere dal guadagno, e invecchieremo meglio.


ENGLISH TEXT


Since we have all heard too many messages with insults to the poor year 2020 (but isn't it called COVID-19?) I thought I'd collect some positive thoughts on the year that is about to end. Not to minimize the troubles we went through, but to look forward with realism, optimism and determination.

1. Whoever is reading me is still alive. A good first result. Many have left us in 2020, perhaps even someone we know, some loved ones. I lost a cousin and a friend's father to Covid-19. Many others have left for an infinite number of other reasons: accidents, age, other diseases, wars, etc. We are still here.

2. We have traveled less, and this weighs heavily on those like me who live in various countries and have made travel our lifestyle. But next time we leave home our trip will have a special taste. We will enjoy it more, hopefully we will prepare it better, maybe we will remember it for longer. Perhaps we will undertake more real "travels", which change us inside, and fewer "vacations", which in the best of circumstances only provide rest.

3. We went out to eat much less frequently, but when we return to do it we will take more care to choose the restaurant, ouru dishes, and every bite, every sip of wine will taste better.

4. We could not go to the cinema, theater, or concerts. Once again, we'll go back to doing it because culture doesn't die of any virus. Next time we will be more attentive to every scene of the film, to every movement of the symphony, to every aria of the opera, to every detail of the scene.

5. We have been forced to stay at home more, but we have spent more time with our loved ones, side by side, day after day, hour after hour, as perhaps we hadn't done in a long time. If we have been careful, we will have learned to know each other better, to respect each other. We understood that being together does not just mean having common interests or having fun, but talking (and listening) to each other, looking at each other, caressing each other.

6. We have rediscovered the meaning of solidarity, or at least we should have, we had plenty of opportunities. And we should appreciate the work of those who are fighting hard to overcome the emergency. Let's not forget that when the pandemic is no longer on the front page, they will still be at the front lines.

7. We have recovered a bit of our identity, indeed our identities. I felt a little more Italian, as perhaps does not often happen to me except every four years for the world cup. And even more European. Europe has moved with some delay, but it has moved, and given how things have gone in some of the other main countries of the world such as the US and the UK, perhaps we cannot complain. And this despite the fact that the pandemic has exposed, on the one hand, the pettiness of so many polemical politicians, and on the other the lack of heavy caliber guns among the leaders of world politics.

8. We have rediscovered the value of science, even of inexact science such as medicine. The deniers, the anti-vaccine activists, those who said someone "died with COVID and not because of COVID" are, it seems to me, or perhaps I only hope, less listened to than a year ago. We also learned some rules of hygiene, common sense, which we should have always applied anyway.

9. We have understood the meaning of discipline a little better. It will do us good to keep it in mind for future reference. Let us take an example from those countries in East Asia that in this circumstance have shown great discipline and got results accordingly. I have noted with regret that our youngsters, who have got more to lose for the future, are often less aware of this than the elderly.

10. We had time to reflect on ourselves, on the mistakes we made and on the goals we achieved. Above all we have had a chance to think about what we want to do with the time we have left to live. It could be much shorter than we hope. Reflections like this we should always do, of course, but this year we were almost forced to. Confucius wrote that we have two lives: the second begins when we realize we only have one. I think I did a long while ago. I hope that many more have started their second lives in the course of 2020.

11. We have discovered so much technology that has allowed us to soften the brunt of the pandemic and that we will continue to use after it is over. We polluted less by working from home and shopping online. You can and should move less: less traffic, less pollution, less wasted energy. Many will continue to do so even after the pandemic. We will still travel, of course, for work, for pleasure and to meet our loved ones, but hopefully not to buy an onion or to go and badge in the office and then spend our day in front of a screen identical to the one we have at home.

12. For many it was a dramatic year at work, and monetary and fiscal intervention of governments and central banks was important. But let's look ahead, drawing on the experience of 2020. We should look at work not as a biblical punishment that fell upon us for eating the apple of the forbidden tree, but as the fulfillment of our aspirations. Many young people in the West have everything but aspirations, dreams. Let us dream a little more, and we will work peacefully, regardless of how much money we make, and we will grow old better.

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.



04 December 2019

30 November 2019

Around Forter Castle, Glenisla, Highlands, Scotland

River Isla near Castle, this is what we learn from a local signpost: According to the legend, two giants, a husband and a wife lived in this area. The husband Cally Camb was believed to be one of the last descendants of the giant Fingal best known for building Fingal's cave in the Giant's Causeway. 

Colly Camb Lived in a cave among the boulders on the slopes of mound Blair. Because of his habit of throwing stones from the top of the hill, He was feared by local people.

On one occasion, for some reason, he flew into a rage with the inhabitants of West Mill and hurled a massive bolder after Homestead intending to demolish it.

Considering the size of the stone and the distance it was thrown it was a good shot, but fortunately, he missed. You can still see the Gled Stone where it landed by the road further down the Glenn.

We are at Glenisla, which means the valley of the river isla.

Our guide today is John, a retired politician who was also a Town Councillor for 22 years. Maybe 75 years old, designed path for walking trail around the area. he is a sociable man, who makes it a point to stress to us, as if we would be responsible for this, that he wants to be cremated and ashes dispersed from the highest point of the trail.

No animals today though yesterday we saw deer. Hunters are allowed to shoot deer, grouse, to keep their population under control.

We walk by a private cottage by the waterfront. It is securely locked up with no one home. John says it must have been there a long time, it would not get a permit today!

Walk 6.1 km in three hours. The whole Cateran Trail would be 64miles (103km) along a circular route. It can be waled in 4 to 5 days and accommodation with a hot bath and a dram of whisky is available every 12 miles or so. Maybe next time?

Cold below zero but crisp sunny day, actually feel warm after some walking to peel off layers of clothing.




Evening at home in Forter Castle with two Scottish musicians, they play the guitar and harmonica and teach us how to dance folk music.

09 June 2018

Nude bicycle riders in London

 











Today traditional annual nude bike rider tour of London, starting from just next to my home at County Hall.

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

Belfast and Giants’ Causeway




As we disembark we see piles of coal at the harbor, they tell us it is still extensively used for home heating! We have a guide who is obviously a Catholic nationalist, here is a few points from his explanations during the day.

Now Northern Ireland is trying to revive the shipbuilding industry concentrating on repairs, 800 workers, used to have more than 25000. The Titanic, of course, was built here. Biggest exports from Northern Ireland are farm products, lamb cheese, and machinery.

Belfast now has 500,000+ inhabitants, 10th largest city in the in the UK. In 1888 queen Victoria gave Belfast city status.

Giant causeway, since 1996 UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only one in NI. It was formed 50 million years ago by volcanic eruptions and is made up of about 40,000 stones.

According to mythology a giant from Scotland and one from Ireland were fighting. The Scottish giant bigger Irish ran back and wife.

The Vikings ruled here from the 9th to 11th century, then Anglo Saxons in 12th , build castles. Later English and Scottish domination take best land, Irish discriminated against.

1588 shipwrecks of Armada, uncharted waters on West coast of Ireland

1845 to 1852 famine 1 million died, another million migration to America
Catholics persecuted, Gaelic language prohibited during protestant reformation

Why the UK keep North Ireland after Irish independence in 1922:

- strategic reason: feel vulnerable to attack from Atlantic
- economic: 6 counties in ni richest, textile shipbuilding. At partition Northern Ireland had 80% of the island's gdp, today 9%.
- just over 50% in Ulster wanted to remain in the UK.

Unionists wanted NI to be a "protestant priority" land. In the late 1960s lots of catholic uprising, they were inspired by the American Civil rights movement, discrimination against Catholics similar to that against blacks in the USA
even segregation, created enclaves, separated by so-called peace walls still visible.

The army was sent in. In 1971 cases of internment of Catholics without trial
powers to army directed against Catholics, up to 5 years in jail without charge.

Demonstrations in Derry but the UK deployed parachute regiments
barricaded and 28 civilian shot 14 dead on bloody Sunday 1972

Belfast very divided city, conflict until 1994 the start negotiating. Good Friday agreement in 1998. But still divided, built more "peace walls" after the Good Friday agreement.

In many ways a backward country, everyone got the right to vote in local elections 1973, before that one had to be a  landowner!

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.




31 July 2012

Film review: A Good year (2006), by Ridely Scott, ***

Synopsis

Director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe--who first worked together on the Academy Award-winning Gladiator--are reunited in this romantic film, which is based on Peter Mayle's book A Year in Provence.

Crowe plays Max, a workaholic London bonds trader who doesn't know the meaning of vacation. When his uncle dies, leaving him a picturesque estate in the south of France, Max views it as an opportunity to cash in the vinery and pocket the profits. The film is reminiscent of Diane Lane's Under the Tuscan Sun in the way the scenery plays as much of a role in the film as its characters. The lush village and streaming sunlight portray Provence as an idyllic, magical place. Even Max falls under its spell. While not a particularly likeable character, especially in the early part of the film, Max also isn't a bad guy. Nothing that happens comes as much of a surprise. Still, while the film doesn't fully utilise Crowe's range of skills, the actor is charming in his role and A Good Year provides fine viewing. --Jae-Ha Kim for Amazon





Review

A feel good movie to take you to Provence for a couple of hours. Crowe is not at his best, whereas Marion Cotillard is the real star.

The moral of the story is one I share: work to live, don't live to work. The setting (ruthless London city trader sees the light and a pretty woman and turns good) is a bit trite. But then again the point the movie is trying to make is a simple one. But a strong one.

But this is also a movie about wine. You learn a bit about French wine making specifically, though American wines enter the fray when Max's cousin comes into the picture. A couple of references are made to the France-California rivalry: I would recommend watching the film "Bottle Shock" together with this one. This movie was made the same year as the rematch of the  Judgement of Paris, again won by California over France.

The ending is predictable, sort of, but with a fun twist...



11 July 2001

Book review: The Slave Trade, 1440-1870 (1999), by Hugh Thomas, *****






















Synopsis


After many years of research, Thomas portrays, in a balanced account, the complete history of the slave trade. The Atlantic slave trade was one of the largest and most elaborate maritime and commercial ventures. Between 1492 and about 1870, ten million or more black slaves were carried from Africa to one port or another of the Americas.

In this wide-ranging book, Hugh Thomas follows the development of this massive shift of human lives across the centuries until the slave trade's abolition in the late nineteenth century.

Beginning with the first Portuguese slaving expeditions, he describes and analyzes the rise of one of the largest and most elaborate maritime and commercial ventures in all of history. Between 1492 and 1870, approximately eleven million black slaves were carried from Africa to the Americas to work on plantations, in mines, or as servants in houses. The Slave Trade is alive with villains and heroes and illuminated by eyewitness accounts. Hugh Thomas's achievement is not only to present a compelling history of the time but to answer as well such controversial questions as who the traders were, the extent of the profits, and why so many African rulers and peoples willingly collaborated. Thomas also movingly describes such accounts as are available from the slaves themselves.