Tuesday, 30 April 2013

a home and an atelier in the french countryside

Yesterday I took you downstairs to A's humble workshop in the garage and showed you some of his working tools. Today we are somewhere in the French countryside where an artist once turned part of his home into an atelier.

Unfortunately, I have no idea where in France this house is located, who designed it or who owns it. I am guessing that at some point, x many years ago, the house was for sale and images from the real estate agency started circling the web. I at least have not been able to trace them to any magazine or designer.

Wherever this house is, I do think it's lovely. It has that rustic element that I always fall for, plenty of natural light, and a conservatory that I wish I could call my own.



photo credit:
via Interiors

Monday, 29 April 2013

the downstairs workshop

These are a small part of A's tools. He building something in the garage and yesterday I took my camera downstairs for inspiration. He was busy working on his project. There were tools everywhere and a wonderful smell of cut wood, and in the background was Portuguese music (he loves listening to fado). If you are wondering what he is building then I will reveal it later.

All in good time.


He is quite the handyman. Do you remember the film Six Days Seven Nights (1998) with Harrison Ford and Anne Heche? There is a scene in it that makes me laugh every time. If you know the storyline they crash a small airplane on an island and this is what happens when Anne's character comes to her senses:

Robin: Whoa. What happened?
Quinn: It crumpled the landing gear when we hit.
Robin: Well, aren't you gonna fix it? I mean can't we, can't we reattach it somehow?
Quinn: Sure, we'll, like, glue it back on.
Robin: Aren't you one of those guys?
Quinn: What guys?
Robin: Those guy guys, you know, those guys with skills.
Quinn: SKILLS?
Robin: Yeah. You send them into the wilderness with a pocketknife and a Q-tip and they build you a shopping mall. You can't do that?

Sometimes I have thought about testing this theory; sending A into the wilderness with his pocketknife and a Q-tip to see if he could in fact build a shopping mall. Not that I have anything to do with a mall. There are plenty of other things I would like him to build.

If there is too much of wood and tools in this post for you then let me end it with spring blossoms. I was gardening like a mad woman last week and realised that I accidentally cut a branch that was alive. I saved it, put it in water, begged its forgiveness and kept in the kitchen window so I could talk to it. It's blooming now.

I hope your week is starting off well. Make it a productive one but don't forget to live a little!

photo credit:
Lisa Hjalt

Thursday, 25 April 2013

happy icelandic first day of summer + my present

Happy Icelandic First Day of Summer! In a post that I wrote in March I told you about this day, which Icelanders are celebrating today. I also told you about the tradition to give children presents and about my decision to give one to myself. As I was about to order the book I meant to get, I changed my mind and bought another one instead:
Escape Hotel Stories: Retreat and Refuge in Nature by travel writer Francisca Mattéoli.

I haven't finished reading it but I can tell you that it is a truly beautiful book, where eco-friendly travel locations meet culture. On the pages you not only learn about stunning resorts all over the world, you also meet artists and writers and even characters in films. I love the cover, a lithographic poster, Air France (1947) by Lucien Boucher. See the whale? Iceland is right above it. In the photo below you see the endpapers, an Imperial Federation World Map from 1886. Even Iceland is included in that one (it is so often left out in old maps).

To sum it up, this book simply makes me happy.

I discovered Francisca Mattéoli and her travel books through my blog friend Ada of Classiq, who recently interviewed her. The interview left me very inspired and I knew that I had to get a copy of Mattéoli's latest book. Now that I have it, I of course want all her books (if you are interested you will find them in the travel section of my Amazon picks).

I took a few photographs of some of my favourite spreads (who am I kidding, all the spreads in this book are a favourite). As I plan to travel to East Africa one day with a close friend of mine who has been there many times (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are on the plan), I was especially drawn to a resort called the Cottars that starts on page 94. In the text Mattéoli talks about Karen Blixen (1885-1962) and there was just something about that one that went straight to my heart.

Our male Persian kitten was very interested in the place. Every time I reached for the camera he jumped up on the table to have a look (smart cat). He's probably a Karen Blixen fan as I am. Note to self: How much extra does it cost to travel with a Persian to Kenya?

Here are two more spreads from the book mixed with spring blossoms from our garden. I took photos of this tree early this morning and you should see how it has changed. We were enjoying pancakes earlier - celebrating the first day of summer - and it was almost as if we could watch the tree produce flowers - so beautiful.

We have been enjoying gorgeous weather lately and I have been busy gardening - loving every minute of it. I will be back to blogging on Monday. Have a wonderful weekend!

photo credit:
Lisa Hjalt
- the book Escape Hotel Stories: Retreat and Refuge in Nature by Francisca Mattéoli is published by Assouline. It is available in French and English (English translation: Barbara Mellor)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

a moment in my garden

Today I had one of those moments that I have never been able to explain with words, but I can try.

It's a moment where it feels as if time stops for just a second, as if the mind is at a complete standstill, and there is no sense of this 'I' that so often is in our way. It's peaceful and you become one with the surroundings. It's a moment that transforms you but only in a very subtle way. Forcing it is useless; it happens when you least expect it and, to me, that is the beauty of it. It's impossible to hold on to it because as soon as that thought enters your mind the moment is gone.

I'm not trying to sound like Buddha on the Mountain here; I think every human being experiences moments like those. The wonderful thing about this particular one is that I had my camera in my hands and I was in my own garden. I was admiring the arrival of spring.

It almost feels as if I managed to capture the moment on film.

It was Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) who said or wrote: "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." I believe I now get what he meant.

He must have experienced one of those moments.

photo credit:
Lisa Hjalt

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

k&a: rice with indian spices

All that Julia Child talk yesterday made me realise that it was time for another recipe on the food blog, so I just posted one of my side dishes on kitchen & aroma: rice with Indian spices. Not exactly a Julia Child recipe!

As I said yesterday, she and I couldn't be more different when it comes to cooking and I somehow doubt you would find anything similar in her cookbooks. Or what do I know, I don't have any of them. I do, however, have her famous beef bourguignon recipe in my files and I would like to try it one day. Have you prepared it or tasted it?

photo credit:
Lisa Hjalt

Monday, 22 April 2013

julie & julia revisited

Those of you who frequently stop by on my blog know that I have a weakness for everything French and it is no secret that I have a Paris obsession - and I love food. My love for Paris and France is not blind; I fully realise that no place is perfect but I choose to focus on the beauty of things instead of things gone wrong. (There are plenty of pessimists in this world who can take care of the latter.) France is only a short drive away from where I live but on Saturday I went to the library and borrowed the film Julie & Julia (2009), which would bring me to post-war France - more importantly, to the Paris kitchen of Julia Child.


When it comes to cooking, Julia Child and I probably couldn't be more different. She loved butter. I never use butter. She made things like aspic, which is something I wouldn't be caught dead preparing. Yet, I think we would have got along fine. We definitely could have enjoyed a glass of red and talked about our love for Paris. I also could have told her how much I adored her kitchenware.

Let me add here that I think Susan Bode, the set decorator who has decorated the sets of many of my favourite films, did an amazing job collecting all these items. I cannot get enough of this kitchen.

Anyway, I have seen Julie & Julia many times but this is the first time I get a copy containing Nora Ephron's commentary. (It turned out to be the last film she made; she passed away last year.) When I watched it and listened to her describing the making of the film there was one thing that surprised me.

Do you remember the part towards the end of the film where Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams, gets a call from some journalist and learns that Julia Child "hates" her? I always thought that they had just added that to create more drama, but they didn't. Julia Child didn't like Julie Powell's blog.

Nora Ephron says (about 1 hour and 47 minutes into the film) that when she first heard it she thought it wasn't true or that Julia simply hadn't read Julie's blog. Even though quite old at the time, Julia had read it and she didn't like Julie Powell and thought that she had been ripped off by her; that Julie wasn't a serious cook. Those are almost Nora's exact words in the commentary.

Ouch, that must have hurt.

Imagine the time she devoted to this project, cooking all the 524 recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1 in one year, and realising that the woman she so admired and looked up to didn't approve of what she was doing. You only have to look at the index of that book to realise the willpower required to complete this task. Some of these recipes are very difficult and take hours to cook (merely reading through some would make me tired!). And mind you, Julie was someone who had a full-time job.


Nora Ephron based her screenplay on Powell's book, Julie & Julia: The Year of Cooking Dangerously and Julia Child's book My Life in France that she wrote with her great-nephew Alex Prud'homme. Besides the director's commentary, there is another bonus material on the DVD called 'Secret Ingredients,' about the making of the film. In that one Meryl Streep says: "I'm not really doing Julia Child, I'm doing Julie Powell's idea of who she was."

I have mentioned this film on the blog before saying that I wasn't exactly a fan of the Julie Powell part; that I tend to watch only the scenes where Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci so wonderfully portray the lives of the Childs. But you know what, after hearing Streep talk about how she approached this role I have decided that from now on I'm going to give Julie Powell more credit. There probably wouldn't be a film about the life of the Childs if Julie hadn't blogged about her task and turned it into a book.

photo credit:
Jonathan Wenk for Sony Pictures via the Julie & Julia Facebook Page, except 2-4 via Mrs. Blandings

Friday, 19 April 2013

charming spaces: a balanced dining room in barcelona

Where do I begin to describe this dining room? And does it really need a description? When I first saw it I just stared at it, taking in that natural light and the room's perfect balance of modern and vintage pieces. Okay, I will admit it, the books and flowers helped luring me in. The table is from Habitat and these are Saarinen tulip chairs mixed with simple white ones. It is a waste of time describing it further; this room speaks for itself.

Another week has flown by but this one was different; it brought us gorgeous and warm sunny days. This Friday couldn't have started better; the postman arrived early with a new book for me. Remember when I told you about my decision to give myself a book on the Icelandic first day of summer? When I was about to order the one I intended to get I changed my mind and got another one. I will share it later.

Have a wonderful day!

photo credit:
Nuevo Estilo

Thursday, 18 April 2013

house tour: a view of the Tyrrhenian Sea



I am taking you back to Sicily, or to the small island Salina, part of the Aeolian islands north of Sicily. By the way, Salina was one of the filming locations of Il Postino (1994), or The Postman, one of my favourite films; all the rural and beach scenes were filmed in the north-west part of the island.

Italian architect James Cavagnari and American interior designer Erin Quiros are the couple behind the firm Prima Design, which is based in Florence. They bought an old farmhouse in Salina, dating back to 1700, renovated it and turned it into a beautiful summer house for the family. It was featured in the January 2005 issue of Architectural Digest and as you can see, the view is stunning.

When they bought the old farmhouse it was in ruins and the renovation was hard work. They replaced the ceiling beams and the floor material, and Cavagnari decided to go for hand-applied calce bianca, or white lime, walls with curved corners to add softness.

For the couple the outdoor spaces are the heart of the house. One can only imagine how peaceful it must be to sit on any of the terraces, enjoying that Tyrrhenian Sea view. The one upstairs, in the first and third photo, is called the "opium deck." They often entertain guests and on that terrace they project films on the crisp white screen-like walls. The other terrace is the dining area and that one is shaded by a roof made of timber and bamboo.

The chestnut table and benches in the kitchen are their own design and the tiles were hand-painted in Sicily (most of the material in the house came from Florence but the tiles were done locally). I like the open shelves in the kitchen and how the kitchenware is beautifully displayed.


All the rooms in the house open onto a terrace and there are no pictures hanging on the walls. Who needs pictures with that gorgeous view? The floor material is handmade Sicilian terracotta and in the living room they have added a sea grass rug. By the way, that is a Dries Van Noten shawl on the sofa.


photo credit:
Scott Frances for Architectural Digest, January 2005

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

drawing with light 18

Beautiful light in Paris captured by Marcos Rivas.

photo credit:
Marcos Rivas (discovered via perspective20.com)

Monday, 15 April 2013

travel inspiration: sicily

To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

If Goethe was right then I'm one of those who have been to Italy without having seen it at all.

I vividly remember walking the streets of Florence and Rome, discovering the canals of Venice on a gondola, enjoying dinner somewhere in the Tuscan countryside, soaking up the sun on beaches by the Adriatic Sea, visiting San Marino (technically not Italy, but an independent state), taking a ferry from Genoa to Sardinia to discover the island (in a recent post I said I had never been further south than Rome but by that I was referring to the mainland). And these are just part of my memories.

That said I'm afraid I cannot quite agree with Goethe, at least not today. But I will give him the benefit of the doubt. If I find myself in Sicily one day, which I hope I do, and discover that 'clue to everything' I will know that he was right.


It was never my plan to post images from Sicily today or, when I think of it, ever. Before leaving the house this morning I was about to post that bottom photo (which happens to be taken in Sicily) with other pink/peach coloured images when all I could think about were peaches, big juicy Italian peaches, the best I have ever tasted in my life. Then I saw the Italian map spread out on my table (see yesterday's post) and I was reminded of Goethe's words. That was it. I abandoned my plans, left the house and decided to keep my mind open to Sicily today, and hoped that I would find some nice travel photos when I got back home.

Enter photographer Giuseppe M. Galasso, the owner of the first seven images in this post. To my delight I found his old profile on TrekEarth. (If you are interested in travel photography then check this guy out; he has been almost everywhere, even in Iceland.)


All day long my mind was drifting off to Sicily and I was thinking about what I know about the island. I knew that Palermo is the capital and as I have a friend from Messina, I'm familiar with that city, a seaport that used to be a major commercial port in the past. I knew that it had a few UNESCO World Heritage sites, and as someone brought up in a country with volcanic activity, I hadn't forgotten Mount Etna.

When thinking of Sicily the word fusion comes to mind. I think of rich Mediterranean culture blended with Greek temples, Norman churches, Byzantine mosaics and baroque architecture. As I food lover, I'm aware of its culinary culture.

When I was younger the ideas of Sicily I had in my mind were probably connected with what I had seen when watching The Godfather trilogy by Coppola. That and Dolce & Gabbana. I'm afraid 'the Corleone family' image is still alive and kicking in the minds of many. I think Dolce & Gabbana have changed some people's ideas about Sicily and maybe we can thank those two for putting it back on the map. Not that I think it ever fell off the map completely.

I mentioned the UNESCO World Heritage sites earlier and Sicily has five of them. One on my list of places I would like to see is the Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza Armerina, in the province of Enna. This is the brief description of the place on the UNESCO website:

Roman exploitation of the countryside is symbolized by the Villa Romana del Casale ... the centre of the large estate upon which the rural economy of the Western Empire was based. The villa is one of the most luxurious of its kind. It is especially noteworthy for the richness and quality of the mosaics which decorate almost every room; they are the finest mosaics in situ anywhere in the Roman world.

There are a few photos on their website too that show the ancient mosaics.

In the province of Trapani, in the south-west part of the island, is the Greek archaeological site of Selinunte. In the photo below, from an article in the August 1995 issue of National Geographic, you see the stately ruins of the Greek Temple of Hera.

If you are interested in knowing more about Sicily there are of course guidebooks and many websites that will give you all the information you need. Today I came across a book by Mary Taylor Simeti called On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal and added it to my Amazon picks. She moved to Sicily back in 1962 and knows the heartbeat of the island.

If you care more for novels then maybe you should get a copy of The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. And if you care for Goethe you can, of course, read his Italian Journey, 1786-1788 (translated by W.H. Auden).

photo credit:
1-7: Giuseppe M. Galasso (1: San Giorgio cathedral, Modica, 2: Cefalu, 3: Modica, 4: windmill on the west coast, 5: Avola cathedral, 6: Palermo, 7: Palermo) / 8: Victoria Yarlikova (Messina) / 9: William Albert Allard for National Geographic (Greek Temple of Hera, Selinunte) / 10: Vita Nostra on Etsy