Saturday, March 20, 2021

A Mysterious Island full of Magic and Misery

 It's been a long time since I published another book despite being asked by friends each time they meet me or my husband,  'Is Loretta writing another book?'  And I am touched that they are even politely interested. and have missd my outpourings!  

The answer, up to now, has been a fervent 'No!' because I really wanted to stop writing, stop living in a world of images, fantasies and ideas and actually be here and in the Now.  Very Zen, you might say.  Well, yes, and to be honest I have never felt more peaceful and happy despite pandemics and lockdown strictures.  I pottered round the house, cooked splendid meals in a newly designed kitchen and gardened, often twice a day, for several hours.  I lost weight too which is always a bonus, especially as a lot of people have actually put weight on during lockdown. 

So what has changed things?  I was approached by an interesting new style of publishing called eglobal creative publishing.  It's intended to appeal especially to Asian and South American markets but it is available to anyone who wants to sample a few free chapters and then opt to buy the book a chapter at a time or the whole lot.   It's a great idea as long as the first chapters are riveting enough to entice a reader to carry on.  I have to hope this is true of the book I decided to give them to put on this platform called The Glass Madonna.  But as it's a non-exclusive contract, it is also available in other ebook forms such as Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo for Western readers.  The first time I've ever gone as wide.  It's actually rather fun and exciting.

The story takes place mainly in Crete and especially on the strange and mysterious island of Spinalonga which lies off the coast near Elounda.  I visited this island in the late 1970's with the family when we were on holiday in Crete, a marvellous place.  At that time tourism had hardly begun to take hold in Greece and Crete was peaceful and as yet undiscovered.  An old fisherman took us over to see the island and there was only one other couple there.  It was so quiet, so forsaken, crumbling, overgrown and eerie.  I have always been fascinated by ruined and deserted places. 

I knew this island had to have a good adventure story in it and sat and wrote this novel in a slightly different form shortly after our return.  The children loved my tale which was all about the supernatural, magic and mystery.  The main character is a fragile young girl who becomes caught up with the sad destiny of a Greek villager whose parents died as lepers on the island.  She feels compelled to help him and is drawn into a terrifying adventure.  Nothing like Victori Hislop's The Island.  

Sadly for me, I left this story along with several others I had written at this time after a few feeble attemtps to find a publisher.  There wasn't any easy self publishing then!  Life was just too busy to deal with it all.  So fair enough, Victoria got there first and she does have a husband and a foothold in publishing and believe me, that helps a lot!  And hers is a great book.

But The Glass Madonna, though it has a similiar setting, is absolutely nothing like The Island.  It's a coming of age story and may not appeal to everyone but I hope the mystery and the strange characters will lure you all into a new adventure. 


Friday, July 19, 2019

Montalbano’s Adventures in Wonderland: Death of Andrea Camilleri at 93 years old

The dream town of 'Vigata' 

Like so many Camilleri fans, I was saddened to hear that this wonderful, talented author died on 17th July 2019 from cardiac arrest.  He was 93 years old and had written so many books, about 100, many translated into English, and there is one yet awaiting publication.  I have loved them all, spiced as they are with his unique sense of humour amidst the most horrifying violence.  Truly, humour is what saves us human beings from total madness, defuses difficult situations and Camilleri knew how to gently mock even the dreaded Mafiosa.  He helped us to change our views of Sicily as a gangster driven island filled with cowed people.  We see it now as place of strange barren beauty, delightful, honey-coloured buildings, ruined ancient temples and baroque architecture, interesting characters and good-hearted people, plus great and healthy food dishes (mainly fish). He introduced Sicilian phrases and dialect into his stories and many Sicilian actors or ordinary people of the town were used in the TV series that followed on, adding authenticity and charm.  And the Sicilians have much to thank him for helping their own renewed interest in their island history plus an upsurge in tourism to help the economy.  Apparently, some of his books are now used in Sicilian schools.

Andrea Camilleri (Getty Images)

Camilleri was about 67 and had retired from a respected career as a TV director and author when his first book on Montalbano was published by Sellerio.  It’s called The Shape of the Water.  It immediately seized the Italian imagination and more followed on, often with intriguing titles such as The Voice of the Violin, The Scent of the Night, The Paper Moon and many others, all in 180 page format, ten pages per chapter.  Many stories commence with a strange dream from which Montalbano awakes in a panic, dreams which are sometimes precognitive, coming true in an alarming manner.   It seems that Camilleri loved to hear the stories from Alice in Wonderland as a child.  The strange dipping into the depths of the unconscious mind, the alternative world of our dreams, the sense of things not being as they seem to the rational mind must have arisen from this early fascination of his and a sense of the supernatural enters the stories in subtle ways, flashes of cognition, the Inspector’s solitary walks filled with pauses pregnant with thoughtfulness and feeling.  Montalbano comes over as a man of great depths, modest, honourable and basically kind.   He reflect Camilleri’s own personality for the author was very left wing, advocating the rights of all people and seeing them as human beings, not labelling them as immigrants, criminals or deranged, but showing the motives that drove them, the poverty, fear, greed and all the human foibles and human greatness.  

What is it about the Inspector Montalbano series produced by RAI TV which has captivated people in so many countries from Italy to Australia?   It’s that intriguing, indefinable atmosphere, produced firstly by Franco Piersanti’s haunting title music that accompanies a glorious swirling aerial view of the imaginary town of Vigata.  The overhead shot moves over a hilltop town and then pans down to the seascape where a lonely swimmer carves his way to a totally empty shore, clambers out, seizes a towel on the beach and towelling himself vigorously, walks up stone steps to his beautiful apartment with balconies overlooking the beach and the sea. 

The police HQ at 'Vigata'
Here Montalbano thoughtfully ponders his mysterious, complex cases over a strong cup of coffee or a solitary, silent meal on the balcony (cooked by his amazing housekeeper, Adelina) or else in a corner of Enzio’s restaurant.  Here’s a detective who loves his food and likes to concentrate on it and not chatter while he eats (how I approve of that!) , keeps fit, is considerate of others, gentlemanly towards women, but still exhibits a fine Sicilian temper with fools.  He cares about people, has strong friendships and maintains a strangely distant, yet loyal love-affair with Livia, a lady who lives on mainland Italy.

In order to evoke the surrealism in Camilleri’s stories,  the streets are always strangely empty of people and traffic and a brooding silence seems to pervade the town.  There is a Pirandello feel about all this and Camilleri has sometimes been compared to that other great writer (whose most famous work is Six Characters in Search of an Author).  Apparently the two writers were distantly related.   This slightly unreal, almost dreamlike atmosphere in the books has been captured by the direction of Alberto Sironi and by the superb acting of the star, Luca Zingaretti, who had to adjust his Roman Italian to a Sicilian accent in order to play the part. 

 One of the most delightful holidays of recent years was when we visited Sicily on a Montalbano tour.  We were conducted around all the locations which made up the imaginary town of Vigata, actually Scicli, with other locations in Modica, Punto Secca  and Donnafugata Castle, all in the province of Ragusa in South Eastern Sicily. 

We sat outside the famous apartment on the beach and swam in ‘Montalbano’s sea’.  It was a great experience to be with other fans, all thrilled with the fact of ‘being there’.  Watching the series again afterwards made it so much more fun when I could say gleefully, ‘Look, we were there!'

Punta Secca, the apartment

 Just to add to the surreal atmosphere surrounding Camilleri’s work, he died on the night of a partial lunar eclipse that glowed a deep dark red for some minutes.  A Paper Moon.


RIP Andrea Camilleri, we shall miss you, a wonderful man and a great author. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

J.M Barrie: Are his plays still relevant to our times?

Here is a Guest Blog by Paul F. Newman, an excellent reviewer, who has kindly agreed to appear on my pages!

Thank you Paul for these interesting summaries.

J.M. Barrie

His reviews are on three of J.M. Barrie's plays.

From The Admirable Crichton to Peter Pan.

J.M. Barrie was fond of creating stories that featured fantasy islands and below are reviews of his two most well known, with another early drama sandwiched in between. Although he started as a novelist he soon turned his hand to plays yet could never resist adding copious acting or directing notes that read more like miniature novels in themselves. I read these plays again recently and enjoyed the journey into the past . . .

THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON by J.M. Barrie. (Originally performed 1902)
Crichton is the unflappably correct and loyal butler in the Mayfair household of Lord Loam. The only thing that distresses him is his master’s leanings towards a more equal society, where on certain days the servants are encouraged to eat and mix with the uncomfortable resident family and their guests. Crichton abides by the theory that society is safer when everyone knows their place and that people naturally fall into a hierarchical order if left to their own devices.
      When the accident of birth is removed, the idea of finding and accepting one’s place is allied in a sense to the survival of the fittest, and all this starts to take on a new meaning when Lord Loam and his pampered daughters and a maid, together with a couple of other upper class young men – plus Crichton (who is himself only about thirty) – get shipwrecked on a Pacific island during the course of a travelling holiday. Although at first everyone keeps to their place, other strengths and weaknesses of individual character soon emerge with an almost total reversal of roles.
      This is a comedy, a theatre play geared for laughs, and Barrie’s stage directions are incredibly lengthy, reading more like parts of a witty novel than a brief to the actors. It was an early success for him a couple of years before his all-famous Peter Pan and at first I thought it not dissimilar to the Victorian comedies of Oscar Wilde. However its concept of turning society on its head gives it a more modern relevance and it comes across as less old-fashioned than the Wilde plays. While Peter Pan remains eternal, The Admirable Crichton had a good fifty-year run of popularity, last made into a major film in 1957.

WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS by J.M. Barrie. (Originally performed 1908)
What Every Woman Knows is not at first the most self-explanatory of titles although strong female characters certainly drive the play. Historically Barrie wrote it in the first years of the twentieth century probably unaware that during the next ten years when Women’s Suffrage and Votes for Women were high on the public agenda, its title might be construed as a play that dealt directly with such current issues, and it possibly drew many people into the theatres for that reason. Not that they would have been totally disappointed. As a play of social manners it’s a good one, humorous and realistic, seeing things largely from a woman’s point of view and acknowledging that women were often the unseen force behind many a husband’s career. This is confirmed in the last paragraphs as the meaning of the title:
MAGGIE “Every man who is high up loves to think that he has done it all himself; and the woman smiles, and let’s it go at that. It’s our only joke. Every woman knows that.”
      If you weren’t married by your mid-twenties in those days you were practically on the shelf, and the plot involves Maggie, a plain woman in her twenties, and the efforts by her loving bachelor brothers and widowed father to procure her a suitor. They make a deal with an ambitious younger man to give him the £300 he needs to establish himself in business on condition that he marry Maggie in five years time. Maggie, however, has the option of not accepting him in five years if she prefers. The young John Shand jumps at the offer even though he is not particularly enamoured of Maggie. He professes in the politest of terms that he’s not really interested in women, career always comes first, but he sees that a wife could be a social asset to him when he rises in the world and in that respect Maggie would be as good as any. Maggie, annoyed at first at her treatment as chattel, comes to warm to both the idea and the young man as he goes from strength to strength in the outer world, ending up being voted as the local Member of Parliament. Now the designated time on the bargain is up. By this time however other more worldly and sophisticated women have entered John Shand’s social sphere...
      There’s a lot of understanding of character behind what is basically a comedy. It’s hardly women’s liberation stuff though: “Man’s the oak, woman’s the ivy” – that’s our heroine Maggie speaking. It reflects a time when many marriages were those of convenience and passion was found elsewhere, yet it remains an intriguing piece of old-fashioned entertainment.

PETER PAN by J.M. Barrie. (Originally performed 1904)
The full title of the original play was Peter Pan or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (as if he had some choice in the matter) and the author never stopped fiddling around with it, the whole play I mean not just the title. Sometimes he would insert an extra character or scene deliberately for one night only in a theatre run, at other times he added lines, deleted paragraphs, upgraded Tiger Lily, downgraded Wendy and vice versa, had mothers turning up to claim the Lost Boys if they could pass certain tests, had Captain Hook trail Peter to London disguised as a schoolmaster, had soliloquies spoken by mermaids, and god knows what else... Peter Hollingdale’s 1995 Notes on the Text in the front of my OUP edition opens with the assertion that “The history of Barrie’s texts... is long and complicated”. And that is perhaps an understatement. The version appended in this book is probably the most familiar and dates in collected written form from 1928, although it is essentially what was first performed in 1904.
      To this day almost everyone is familiar with the story and characters of Peter Pan and what struck me as I read again the first scene in the nursery at the Darlings’ house was how loving it was towards children. Was the choice of the name “darling” for this family, deliberate? The impressions we usually nurture of Victorian parents being stiff and aloof from their offspring and that children should be seen and not heard is a million miles from the atmosphere of warmth and security here, where the mother and father – especially the mother – is hands-on in her dealings, reading goodnight stories and settling the high-spirited youngsters down for the night. This is a prosperous middle class family home in London, yet not run by servants. We’re candidly told amongst Barrie’s copious notes and directions that they can’t afford them, and so the children’s special nurse who helps with bath times and bedtime duties is a Newfoundland dog called Nana. With three children, Wendy, Michael and John, sharing a bedroom, Nana on guard and cosy night-lights above their beds, many a child watching the play might have envied this almost perfect family arrangement.

      And it has to be said, the story grips you. Mary Darling is a little reticent at leaving the children so as to go out with her husband that evening because she thinks she has previously seen a boy’s face at the nursery window, despite their being several floors up. A boy accompanied by a strange moving light who, we know, will return to look for his shadow that he lost when he entered the room before. He was initially drawn there, not so much to befriend the children but to hear Mrs Darling’s bedtime stories, for he, like the other Lost Boys, is a child without a mother. Tinker Bell, the moving light, takes her name from her skill at mending fairy pots and kettles (she’s a little tinker). She’s a little bitch actually, especially to Wendy, though her character is redeemed by her devotion to Peter Pan for whom she gives up her life at one point by deliberately drinking the poison that Hook has left for him. On stage her dying light is restored by the applause of the audience. “If you believe [in fairies] clap your hands.”
      There’s no specific mention of this being Wendy’s last night in the nursery, at least not in this version, in other words that she is on the brink of adolescence. She is the eldest of the children and while her two brothers are still asleep she flirts with Peter Pan in a childish way, goading him to give her a kiss – a concept he doesn’t understand. Tinker Bell understands well enough and is aroused to one of the first of her jealous fits. Wendy feels maternal when she learns that Peter has no mother and tries to embrace him but he instinctively draws away, saying “No one must ever touch me”. Peter is confused too when Wendy asks him about fairies and says she would like one herself. He states that Tinker Bell is his fairy then thinks that perhaps she can’t be because “I am a gentleman and you [meaning Tinker Bell] are a lady”. All manner of sexual and gender issues run beneath this first bedroom scene. With its tradition of the same actor playing Wendy’s father and Captain Hook, with its assertion that the Lost Boys are the babies that disappear from prams when the nurse maids are not looking, with the escape to a perpetual childhood of Never Land, the whole play has always been ripe for psychological analysis. But only if you want to take it that way. Otherwise it’s a tale that hasn’t ceased to entertain children and adults since it was first staged.
      Barrie describes Never Land (not Never Never Land in the main play, though he sometimes calls it that elsewhere), the setting for the next four Acts, thus: “You have often half seen it before, or even three-quarters, after the night-lights were lit...” Captain Hook is a formidable creation – “Naught’s left upon your bones when you have shaken hands with Hook!” – a blood-thirsty pirate captain who prides himself on dandiness and gentlemanly politeness. He speaks and dresses in the style of Charles II. Tiger Lily, now virtually forgotten in modern American renderings because of the un-p.c. of mentioning Native Americans at all, has a larger part than I remembered. More than just the Indian Chief’s daughter in need of rescue, she acts as a tribe leader and fighter in her own right.
      The Lost Boys, who feature largely, have individual names and personalities and possibly meant more to the author than to most of the children in the watching audience who I imagine would have identified more with the Darling siblings, or Peter, or even – today – the sanitised princess version of Tinker Bell. A lengthy many-paged Dedication by Barrie at the front of the play, probably written in the 1920s, is headed “To the Five” and details his adventures and inspirations with and from the five real life boys to whom he became a guardian.
      The issue of “the boy who would not grow up” is much apparent in the text, more so than in many modern productions. “What are your exact feelings for me, Peter?” asks Wendy at one point. It’s a puzzling question for Peter Pan, the heroic leader in a boy’s world of adventure who often feels the lack of a mother but is nevertheless surrounded by females (Tinker Bell, the mermaids, Tiger Lily...). He tells Wendy that Tiger Lily is always asking the same kind of things as her, “there is something or other she wants to be to me, but she says it is not my mother.”
      The version of the play we have here ends with an Afterthought. A short last act called When Wendy Grew Up. The main story concludes with everyone returning safely to the London home, to the joy of the parents who also adopt the lost boys into the family. Peter doesn’t stay, much to Wendy’s chagrin, but promises to fly back to see her once a year. He does this once, then forgets, as time has little meaning for him. Wendy, sad at first, is to some extent relieved as she is growing and maturing rapidly while Peter remains forever a boy. Then some years later he does return. Wendy is now a mother with a small daughter of her own. Little Jane is charmed by Peter and with Wendy’s approval flies away with him “just for a week”. It’s an unnecessary scene really but typical of the way Barrie was forever adding or subtracting bits to the story.
      One of the best filmed interpretations of the story must surely be Walt Disney’s 1953 full-length cartoon that follows the original plot incredibly well. Even the dress of the characters must have been based on early illustrations. The front cover picture on this present book shows Peter Pan fighting Hook (from a 1907 Peter Pan Picture Book) with Hook in 17th century garb and flowing locks and Peter with a feathered cap and a red, rather than green, tunic. Disney would better refine their features into caricatures and make Peter more elfin looking.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

By Grand Central Station: Learning life's lessons rather than weeping!

By Grand Central Station I sat down and Wept

As book titles go this one is a stunner.  I always wanted to find and read this elusive book because I loved the title so much.  So seeing it recently in an Oxfam bookshop, I grabbed it with joy. 

I started to read it the other day.  The forward by Brigid Brophy seemed promising. 

"I doubt if there are more than half a dozen masterpieces of poetic prose in the world.  One of them, I am convinced, is Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept...which was first published in 1945..when to the shame of those professing to practice criticism at the time, it made small stir..."

However, a few pages into the turgid and over-inflated prose and I was ready to throw it into the bin.

'On her mangledness I am spreading my amorous sheets, but who will have any pride in the wedding red, seeping up between the thighs of love which rise like a colossus, but whose issue is only the cold semen of grief'

'I am overun, jungled in my bed, I am infested with a menagerie of desires; my heart is eaten by a dove,a cat scrambles in the cave of my sex, hounds in my head obey a whipmaster who cries nothing but havoc as the hours test my endurance with an accumulation of tortures.  Who, if I cried, would hear me amongs the angelic orders?'

 This is a masterpiece, a cult literary classic?  Some of the images taken separately are amazing but altogether, page after page of this sort of prose is just too much to bear.  it alienates instead of inspiring pity.

I have to confess to a dislike of so called 'stream of consciousness' style novels.  I recently read - because required to for study, not by choice - William Faulkner's As I lay Dying.  I utterly disliked that book, disliked the characters, the setting, the whole point of the tale and the pretentiousness of those who felt it to be an epic odyssey of some sort.   As far as I was concerned, it was dreary, holding out little hope, joy or meaning. Yet, as some wit pointed out, 'you may hate the book or love it, but you'll never forget it.'  So true, because I haven't.  I class By Grand Central Station as one of those types of books that annoys you but makes you wonder, think, query, consider and oddly, in the end, even begin to understand.

Elizabeth Smart

I'm not sure I will ever understand Faulkner.  He is too alien for me.  But Elizabeth Smart was a woman, she was a woman truly, madly, deeply in love with a man who belonged to another.  The whole set up was doomed to unhappiness.  I have like many another woman experienced intense love, the pain of separation, passion, grief and anguish.  So I could relate to what Smart was attempting to express.  She wrote the book at a time when her married lover, the English poet George Grenville Barker, left her to return to his wife.  Apparently he returned through pity for the wife despite his love for Elizabeth but I feel cynical about that.  He seemed a man who tired of the same partner and had many an affair.  He was also a lapsed Catholic and his wife never divorced him despite his serial womanising and he managed to father fifteen children with various women!   (I've observed that women often want to bear the children of these poetic but faithless men as if to keep a portion of the man close to them in this way.) Smart bore him four of them and when asked if the children came first or her man, replied at once, ' My man.'   Yet George Barker wasn't an admirable sort of person at all.  He was a poet, it's true, compared often to Gerard Manley Hopkins.  His poetry has the same mythic, mystical overtones that so appealed to Elizabeth Smart and which profusely invades her own work.  It was his poetry that first drew her to him and she declared she would marry this man some day.   She was utterly determined to have him, wife or no wife, have his soul you might say.

George Grenville Barker

Barker was indeed gifted but vain and convinced of his own genius, a genius not to be wasted in wars and fighting.  Thus he managed to escape Britain and World War Two, by firstly accepting a post in Japan.  There he realised he was in the midst of something even more frightening than the European conflict and recalling this women who had expressed so much excitement over his work, he made good use of Smart's infatuation for him by persuading her to finance his escape from Japan  to America.  He never worked, he never fought but Smart always made allowances and even when he left her to return to his wife, stayed true to him. Even her son couldn't understand why his mother loved his father who, as he said, was almost a Christ-like figure for her.   Barker came and went as the impulse took him, was a drinker, could be violent and unpredictable and they often had vicious rows.  Smart even bit his lip once in a fury (shades of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath but Smart was a tougher cookie than the already suicidal Plath)

Her son wrote that he never understood her book either and Smart's mother was horrified and managed to have sales of the book banned in Canada, burning as many copies as she managed to get her hands on.  People weren't used to such a raw, honest declaration of love and passion, so personal a book.   I just wish she'd made it a proper story rather than couching it in the overblown, often meaningless metaphors and images of her prose which Brophy so admires.  Despite all, there is a sense of the passion; the vulnerability and intensity that lovers feel in that time when they are swept along by a mutually projected archetypal image from within themselves upon the mere mortal before them.  The mortal is still a God in their eyes, not yet a fallible human creature like themselves.  Elizabeth never seemed able to take back her God-like projection upon George till much later in life, if ever.  It had been so deep, painful, joyful, an almost mystical experience which would forever leave its indelible imprint on her soul.  One felt she would meet him again in another life, that maybe they had chased one another through myriad lives before, perhaps till the end of time, a novel in itself.  I understand all that.

I also understand her half -mystical, religious, inflated, archaic style of writing.  My first writings were of this nature but now seem almost incomprehensible, even to me.  My Little World is the first  novel  (starting it in my teens) I ever wrote - and then re-wrote and wrote again.  As Ignazio Sillone put it, 'I would willingly pass my life writing and re-writing the same book . . . that one book every writer carries within him . . . the image of his own soul'   However, it's not a story I want to publish, it's my 'cupboard book' as my daughter puts it . . . not one to inflict on others who would criticise, mock, love or hate those feelings that are meaningful and magical to me alone.  It's too personal and precious though presented in the form of an anguished love story with a resolution of sorts and as such, readable at least.   Which Grand Central isn't . . . that's just a meandering cry of anguish.   My male characters are certainly my inner ones, images of the splintered animus within my breast, yet at the same time they are feelings and insights about real people I have loved and hated, now clothed differently, given a different life.   And through writing this, I discovered so much about myself and my motives in life. 

In my opinion, Smart should have put this slight, yet intense and yes, feeling book into a cupboard and pondered on it as life went on, rather than indulging in a sort of vain longing to have others see her as some tragic heroine in a story from the past.  Tristan and Iseult she may have felt herself to be as I always felt the story of Cupid and Psyche, Beauty and the Beast so strong in myself.  Jung said we all lived out a particular myth and he is right.  But this is for each person to discover and understand.  Know Thyself is a vital key to life, the injunction over the gateway to Apollo's Delphic Temple.   I feel Smart never truly understood herself or the true meaning of her tortuous love affair.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Great Fire of Salonika August 18th 1917

On this day, August 18th 1917, a Great Fire ( Μεγάλη Πυρκαγιά της Θεσσαλονίκης )   broke out in Thessaloniki, a thriving city and the second largest in Greece.  It burned for 32 hours and spread throughout the city right down to the seafront where it then set fire to the caiques and boats in the sea.  This at last brought it to an end.  This fierce fire had by then destroyed businesses, homes and displaced 70,000 people.  It was never again the same city.

Salonika, as it was then called, had only recently been liberated from Turkish rule  in 1912.  But it still swarmed with people of many nationalities.  The Greeks were still in the minority, while Jews formed the majority, running many successful businesses along the wharves and docksides, as well as clothing and jewellery shops in the great arcades in the city centre.  Apart from these were Turks, Armenians, Albanians, Roma and a swarm of other ethnicities.  Added to this 'macedoine', this pot pourri of humanity, were the Allied Forces of Italy, France and Britain who were defending the borders of Macedonia from the Bulgarians and subsequently the Germans. 

Though it was such a rich and important city it was totally chaotic in structure, dilapidated and unhygienic amongst the poor.   Some said the fire was due to a careless housewife upsetting boiling fat, but a subsequent investigation indicated that the fire had begun in the Mevlane or Turkish district in a house occupied by some refugees.  A spark from a kitchen fire is said to have ignited a pile of straw.  No one will ever really know.  Such fires often broke out both in Turkey and in Macedonia as the houses were mainly built of wood in these districts.  In this instance it was ignored partly from foolishness and partly as there was no fire fighting equipment or water available.  The famously fierce Vardar winds of Salonika were high that day and fanned the blaze sending the flames raging through the city.  The water supplies had been commandeered by the Allied Forces to serve their camps and hospitals, high up in the hills and city suburbs and they were not enthusiastic about letting them be used for what they imagined was a small conflagration.  Thus the fire swept through the rich business districts and Jewish tradesmen were forced to flee, losing all their goods and homes.  Chaos ensued as people fled, trying to save some of their goods, paying anything to the hamals (or porters) who profited nicely from the panic. Surprisingly, due to the movement of the wind, most of the Turkish area, higher up by the city walls remained largely untouched and can be seen to this day.  

The French half-heartedly blew up some houses to try and halt the run of the fire but didn't continue with the operation and eventually withdrew.  In the end it was the British forces who helped the unfortunate people as they streamed out of the city, taking them in their military lorries to their depots for tea and biscuits and on to refugee camps, hastily erected outside the city.   Some soldiers in the French forces were accused of looting abandoned shops and even asking for tips to take people away.  Such is the greed of humanity that will profit from the misery of others. 

There is an interesting eye witness account online by Dr Isobel Emslie Hutton worth reading.  I myself read many letters from nurses, soldiers and doctors recounting their own eye witness accounts when writing my book The Long Shadow.  It was one of the most devastating fires of the First World War but it did pave the way for the city to be reconstructed in a better manner.  The beautiful Aristotelous Square was constructed during this time but sadly the entire Hebrard plan was not totally implemented due to lack of funds.  A typical Greek problem!

A good friend, Richard Devereux's grandfather, William, was serving with the Salonika Campaign and no doubt was amongst the soldiers helping the refugees.  Richard has written a splendid little book of poems about this period in his Grandad's life called simply 'Bill'

The soldiers gazed in awe at the glow and smoke . . .
were sent on trucks to give what help they could.
'All hands to the pumps!'  But the fire brigade had none
that worked.  Bill did what he could.  He helped a bloke
load onto a cart his few pathetic goods.
In the photograph, Bill having a fag.  Job done!

from YooniqImages:   Inspecting damage after the fire

For another take on the fire, read my book The Long Shadow, set in Salonika during this period, taken from first hand accounts.  In this extract Dorothy and Captain Dunning have taken a shopping visit to town when they are caught up in the melee of terrified people fleeing from burning homes.

'Those smelly creatures in my car!' said Dunning in horror but his natural sense of justice prevailed and he agreed to drive down the Via Egnatia and see if anyone needed picking up.  When we got near there we began to see the first stream of refugees pouring along the street, clutching their foolish belongings as if they were gold dust.  One woman held a mirror and a brass bowl against her chest and appeared oblivious to the wailing infant yelling and clinging in terror to her skirts.  An old woman was wandering about , calling for her family, looking lost and bewildered.  Others pushed and jostled along, dropping their useless and heavy goods at last in order to lift their children who screamed to be picked up and carried.  To my disgust I saw men load up their womenfolk with precious sewing machines and other items , then leaving them to struggle along in the crowd, took themselves off speedily to save their own lives. 
The noise was unbelievable.  Men were shouting to each other, women and children screaming and behind all this one could hear the crackling roar of flames, the crash of timber and glass shattering and the smell of acrid smoke which billowed up into the air and driven by a fierce wind down the streets which formed tunnels for it.  It was like some strange dragon breathing out through its nostrils.

 The Long Shadow is available in Greek from Okeanida as O Iskios tou Polemou and English:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Film fan or book buff? Elizabeth Gaskell's 'North and South'

Why not Both?

It always annoys me when people grumble about a film adaptation of a famous book.  They complain that the screen play differs from the original, that not every precious word uttered by their hero/heroine is included and search diligently and gleefully for any discrepancies in the historical settings.  What is not taken into account is that these are two quite different mediums of expression; the written word where elaborate descriptions can be included and conversations recorded in detail, and the visual, sounds and evocative expression of film.   A film is constrained by time and the producers demands and though many modern writers may feel equally constrained by their editors and publishers, most classical novels had liberty to ramble on at length.   Our educated ancestors desired long tomes and wordiness, lacking as they did the joys of television, cinema or dvd's to amuse themselves in spare moments. 

I recently re-read Mrs Gaskell's North and South as my literary tutor had set this book for our little group to study.  I agree with her, a first reading tends to be a little hurried, pages skipped in the desire to see how the story pans out.  Good books should always be read again when time has helped the contents to be mentally digested, the thrust of the story now half remembered with that delicious vagueness that time casts over it so that all appears as if new.  A second, even a third reading, will bring out passages missed or forgotten.  In Gaskell's novels, the central love story, on first reading so gripping, can then be seen in its context of the social turmoil of the times.  And her novels were certainly born in times of great turmoil in Britain.  We think we have divisiveness, poverty and problems now.  In the mid 19th century Britain had a great and rich industrial and colonial empire and yet the poverty and misery of the manufacturing towns was appalling, the contrast of rich and poor beyond belief.  The smugness of the idle rich and even the educated, who liked to shield themselves behind the idea that it was all God's will and a punishment on these wretches  - for some unexplained reason - is mind boggling to us now.
Charlotte Bronte

 The Chartist Movement had grown rapidly and there were problems such as the Luddite Riots which subject appears in Bronte' s book Shirley.  Her treatment of the strike and the manner in whcih her heroine saves her lover are simliar to that in North and South.  But Bronte had somewhat similiar heroines for whom love was their prevailing passion, the characters in Gaskell's novels are varied and though they fall in love, it is not the driving force of the story. 

Manchester in 19th century

Gaskell felt the unfairness of it all deeply and became a strong defender of the problems and sufferings of the Lancashire poor, spilling forth her feelings and compassion in her first novel, Mary Barton, published in 1848.   This appeared at about the same time as Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and the two became firm friends.  Both authors were amazed at the reaction to their books; the anger of Gaskell's circle of friends dismayed her and her attempts to remain incognito were easily flushed out as Milton was so obviously Manchester where she lived.  Some chose to think she parodied them in her exposure of the middle class and wealthy mill owners.  They felt she was being one sided in portraying only the misery of the poor as driven by circumstances and starvation and the 'gentlefolk', as tyrants who ignored their plight in the comfort of nice homes, laden tables, smart clothes on their backs and pleasurable pursuits.  Nothing indicated the problems faced by the manufacturers, managers and mill masters who had the rise and fall of markets to consider and all the worries of keeping their businesses afloat in uncertain times.  They had all the responsibility while the workers just had to work hard and accept the problems if things went wrong.   Gaskell realised that the two sides simply did not communicate their problems to one another and in North and South, she redressed this by showing both sides of the question through the characters of  Mr Thornton, the master of Marlborough mill, with Higgins, the intelligent and hard working Union man who strives to unite the workers in order to demand a fairer wage. The two men begin to listen one to the other and gain some middle ground of compromise and ways of working together instead of in enmity.

Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell was born on the 29th September 1810 in Chelsea, London.   Her parents were members of the Unitarian Church and she met and later married William Gaskell, a Unitarian minister.  The couple moved to Manchester to take up duties there amongst the many Unitarian churches of that area.  Unitarianism was a radical breakaway from the Anglican Church and did not see Jesus as divine but rather as a prophet of God.  A somewhat arid belief system, lacking as it did in mystery and feeling, it believed in the power of reason, education and freedom to think and question while women were considered as equal as the men.  Elizabeth, as a minister's wife, was to see both the comfortable middle class side of Manchester and also move amongst the poor and downtrodden.   Like Dickens she wanted to write about the terrible conditions she saw and was better fitted to do so because she actually lived amongst them where he had only visited such areas.   Dickens had by then established his magazine Household Words and invited her to include her story. Along with Dicken's  Hard Times, a similar type of social indictment, it was published in monthly instalments, thus tending to have 'cliff hanger' chapters which certainly gave plenty of melodramatic excitement.  In some ways, this style suits particularly well an adaptation to television series.

Their relationship began well but ended in difficulty as both were strong minded characters.  Gaskell refused to let Dickens rule her to much, sticking to her own ideas of how North and South should appear in its serialised form.  However, she did take up his idea that it should be called by the far more appropriate and thematic title and not Margaret Hale as was her original intention.  Dickens could be demanding and did subject her to some editorship, pushing her to finish North and South, which he felt was becoming far too long.

To quote Gaskell's own preface to the published edition ". . . the author found it impossible to develop the story in the manner originally intended and more especially was compelled to hurry on events with an improbable rapidity towards the close. . ."  But she also admitted that the tale was obliged to conform to certain conditions required by a weekly publication.

The Book: Full of Contrasts

 There is no doubt that this is a long book by modern standards but it never drags for me.  The characters in Gaskell's stories come alive through the keeness of her observation, the style and language is colloquial for she was interested in the Lancashire dialect, but easy to read.  There is drama but somehow more down to earth and less overwrought than Jane Eyre, a story which Gaskell found puzzling.  Her life and nature were very different to that of Charlotte, happy as she was in her husband's love, her children and pleasant home life.    Gaskell was a born storyteller, loved by many friends and admirers, socially in demand for the ease and interest of her conversation.  She loved to quote anecdotes, enjoyed gossip and stored up memories and ideas in many short stories which at first she wrote to amuse herself and escape from the demands of her busy life as a mother and minister's wife.   Though there is plenty of drama in her stories, they never seem unreal or impossible.  

North and South is a book where one feels Gaskell achieved a balance in her self and in her own mind.   She was a Libran, sign of the scales and lover of fairness equality and reason. It's title and the chapter headings are all a contrast of opposites.  The characters too are all in contrast to one another. We have Margaret Hale, a gentleman's daughter, reduced to lesser circumstances purely because her father feels it necessary to leave his calling as a Vicar. Mr Hale is thus an educated, thinking man with the luxury of a conscience, he has choices and the ability to survive despite a lowered income and expectations.  In contrast to educated, gentrified Margaret with her southern manners and notions we have a straight talking northern lass, Bessie Higgins, the daughter of an intelligent man but whose only choice in his life is to work like a slave in the mills and keep his motherless children.  Yet he too can be proud and refuse charity.  Bessie is nineteen, the same age as Margaret, but already sick and dying of a terrible lung disease (pneumoconiosis - which can be contacted even now by those working in the textile industries).   Margaret is struck by the contrast in their lives and attitudes.  The two girls form a deep, loving friendship and understanding.  In the book Bessie, constantly yearns for her death, believing fervently that she will be going to Heaven and a happier afterlife while her father is agnostic.  Higgins is thus opposite to Mr Hale who tussles with his beliefs but does not lose his faith in God. 

Then there are the contrasts of Mr Thornton's proud, strong, stately mother to the weak, complaining, dissatisfied mother of Margaret, his silly idle sister, Fanny, to the industrious and dutiful Margaret Hale.  And, of course, the whole contrasting change from the beautiful fields, lanes, cottages, roses and fresh air of Helston, the southern home of the Hales, uprooted as they are to the dark, dirty, smoky, greyness of Milton.   Thomas Hardy spoke of the feudal attitudes and agricultural problems, but this book addresses a different set of people, the rise of the modern industrial, manufacturing man, proud, unyielding, equally harsh in the treatment of his workers though he may himself have risen from their ranks as Thornton did. There is also the contrast of the noise of the mills and the constant whirring of the machinery, the busy crowded streets of the city to the peace of the countryside which the Hales have left behind them.  It is so beautifully done.

The book has often been compared to Austen's Pride and Prejudice and it does indeed contain similar themes such as Margaret's hostile, proud attitude and repressed dour character of Thornton.  But he is a self made man, not from landed gentry as Darcy is and frankly, I prefer his character and the struggle he has had to undergo to rise in the world.   He is allowed pride in his achievements where Darcy's are merely inherited.  Margaret is a less cheerful and vivacious character than Elizabeth Bennett, her life much harder.   But again, there is much to admire in her tenacity and strength in misfortune.  The pride between the lovers is on both sides as well as the prejudice. Both novels have two proposals and in both the hero is rejected before his truth worth really impresses itself on our heroine.   Both heroines have ineffectual mothers and somewhat absent fathers. Thornton's mother opposes the union as much as Darcy's aunt, Lady de Burgh.   But whereas Pride and Prejudice is a comedy of manners, witty and charming, North and South is dramatic, passionate, intense and explores deeper themes of inequality and social injustices.   It is a novel that is physical, brutal in parts, the sexuality unusually clear for a Victorian novel,  depicted through subtle moods, Margaret's physically saving of Thornton from the striking mob, scenes of anger, jealousy.  Intriguingly there is also a constant reference to hands and handshakes or the refusal of touch (hands are mentioned 237 times!) and the touching scene when Thornton watches Margaret pouring out tea and is fascinated by a bracelet that falls down her soft, white arm as she moves and which is constantly pushed back again only to fall back once more.  

TV Adaptation: Amazing scenic effects

Television is generally the best means to adapt a famous classical novel.  It can span four, six or more parts and the story can be more inclusive of the dialogue of the original book.  However, it is still time limited.  So how to adapt successfully without losing the force, feeling and cohesion of the original?   It is wonderful to be transported visually into the days of yore, to see one's favourite characters spring to life before one's eyes.   If this is well done, the book becomes even more compelling to the mind and heart, fixed in one's consciousness. The BBC adaptation which I watched was made in 2004, the screen play by Sandy Welch and directed by Brian Percival.  The cast were superb.  

In both the film and the book it is the characters of Thornton and his mother, Higgins the worker that remained with me.

Sinead Cusack as Mrs Thornton stayed in my mind perhaps more than any other actor.  She conveyed pride and dignity, strength and devotion and her attitude towards Margaret isn't too surprising in the circumstances.  She and her daughter, Fanny, see her as aloof and haughty, misunderstanding her southern attitudes.   Richard Armitage as Thornton, the mill owner, was handsome, brooding, dark, a little Heathcliffe-ish.  He is not so fierce and cruel in the book.  But the scenes which depict him as harsh and unyielding to poor, weak, Boucher are far more likely to have been acted by such a man in truth.  Plus, we have to recall the Mrs Gaskell upset her friends greatly in her first book Mary Barton where she showed the misery and plight of the downtrodden workers and attacked her own class by so doing.  In N and S she was careful to show both sides of the question and tamed Thornton's attitude somewhat.

Margaret Hale is well played by Daniela Denby Ashe though I felt she wasn't quite my image of the character - but that's personal.   The actress conveyed her sadness, intelligence, inner strength and feeling beautifully.  And Brendan Coyle as Higgins gives a magnificent portrayal of that kind, proud, strong man, one of the noblest characters in the book.  We see all the characters in the novel change and grow from their Pride and Prejudice attitudes to become softened, more feeling, more open and inclusive of each other's views. This change of feeling has to be shown in four one hour shows.  Thus it has to be condensed into visually striking scenes that can say a great deal more than whole passages in the book.  I feel it was admirably done.

"I believe I've seen Hell: it's white.  It's snow white"

This TV adaptation excels in the visual above all and this can be dramatic and immensely moving in a direct manner which may elude one through mere words.  The opening shots of the titles...which in themselves are very visual with the North in sturdy, block like, dark letters, the South in gentle, curling scripts, already begin to introduce us to the contrasts of the two areas.  We open with evocative music and a scene of the mill interior, the grinding of the machines, the monotonous, steady mechanical movements of the workers, working in unison, in and out, in and out with the long weaving engines.  They have in essence become a part of the iron monster they wield, individuality lost as they move in monotonous rhythm with it.  The air is like a snowstorm as cotton flies around them everywhere, settling on clothes, machines, floor, and entering their lungs. This scene is not in the book, in fact we never enter the mills at all and I doubt Mrs Gaskell ever did do so.  But she knew of the effects of such work.  It is a stunning scene and the sight of the little children employed to crawl beneath the machines to retrieve cotton, then hastily moving out before the machines clank their way back again is deeply moving as well as horrifying.  It sets the tone for the whole story.

True, the TV adaptation doesn't stick totally to the book, how could it?  It's a long and detailed book, some say overly long.  For instance, Mr Bell,  Mr Hale's Oxford friend and the owner of the mill properties, has to physically appear early on and plays a bigger part than he does in the book which I think works well.  The film shows plot movement through brief scenes, snatches of conversation and expressions indicating how the characters feel.  Much is conveyed between the lovers in long, throbbing looks, between all the varied characters in facial expressions of haughtiness, disgust, pain, gladness (I love Fanny's curling lip and sneering face).  Little shots here and there contrast the teeming, busy streets of the city, the rich and poor houses, the ragged participants with their starving children during the strike, the groaning banquet at the Thornton's home where the masters discuss how to squash the strikers and keep the mills grinding.

The ending of this four part series is the one most talked about.  In Gaskells story, as I have said, the ending was a little hurried and to my mind out of character.  Suddenly Margaret Hale, our brave, sensible heroine, who usually spurns men's sexual admiration and advances, becomes coy and quite daft, hiding her face in her hands and acting like any Victorian maiden.  The film ending, while keeping her a little shy and charmingly apologetic for the fact that she was, in essence, saving her man again, was far more visually dramatic, romantic and delightful.  This is after all a romantic story as well as a social one.  I feel sure Mrs Gaskell would have approved.   We ladies loved it!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

An Exhibition of Women's Fashions: The madness of a Wasp Waist

We women like to blame men for some of the foolish fashions we espouse, saying it’s what men like.  But the truth is that men can be conditioned into ‘liking’ a certain style of fashion and then began to expect their women to follow it.   Once a woman is seized by the idea that a certain look is attractive, she will go to any lengths to adopt it, even if it is harmful, punishing her body to conform with the fashionable look. Thankfully, fashions flow back and forth like the tides of the sea while some particularly obnoxious ones are washed away forever.

Amongst obnoxious fashions was the binding of feet by upper class ladies of Old China. 
tiny pointed shoes for bound feet
Young girls had their toes broken and bound from an early age so that they would have tiny little stumps to hobble on for the rest of their lives.  This was deemed feminine and attractive.   Apparently it made women walk in a certain way, much as very high heels do nowadays, which had an erotic effect on the men.  Such dainty, feminine, shoes no more than three or five inches at the most!  Can you imagine walking on such feet?  Imposed imprisonment and madness, typical exploitation of the female body we might say these days. . . . yet this fashion was apparently started by a tenth century court dancer, Yao Niang.  The men liked it, of course, as it kept women weak and in their place but they were not entirely to blame.  It was the
Bound feet
mothers who kept this up because it was not considered feminine to work in the fields and no self respecting upper class girl wanted to look like a servant or a farm woman with huge boats for feet.

Another horrible fashion or custom is genital mutilation (and there's a case for male circumcision too but that's another issue) Again it is the mothers who perform this ceremony on their daughters, a custom intended to reduce the dread threat of female sexual desire and promiscuity, keeping the girls virginal and pure.   All it does is make coitus and childbirth very painful, creating a lifelong trauma in the women and ghastly health problerms.   As for the mothers, well, it’s what they had endured, it was the ancient custom, it was what ‘men liked’ and deemed to be right – so why should their daughters escape what they had suffered?  Plus who would marry a girl with normal feet or genitals?   By now, their men wanted and expected such abnormalities.

It seems a woman's lot will always be connected with her body image and the pain of trying to conform to some current fashion.  Nowadays it’s all about dieting and keeping fit in a gym so that women should look toned and healthy which is certainly better than some of the weird practices of various native cultures and the ridiculous, distorting fashions of so called civilised societies. We’re into muscles now, not the soft, plump feminine flesh loved by men of yore.   It's as if women want to look more like pretty young boys.  And the usual desire to play about with the body is evident in the craze for breast implants, liposuction, botox, hair colourings in astonishing dreamy shades and all the other aids to youth and beauty – even though these are often proved to have harmful side effects.  The recent fashion is for youth and nowadays men also enter with enthusiasm into these fashionable ideals.  We cannot bear to age, we want to be eternally young, mobile and energetic, always busy, always rushing around in a frenzy of activity.  Age and its limitations, its calmer pace, its philosophical time for contemplation no longer has dignity but is viewed with horror.  The psychologist, Carl Jung would have called this a ‘puer/puella’ mentality.  The puer is the Greek name for the Eternal Youth, the Peter Pan syndrome in other words.  We are all, men and women, becoming Peter Pans.

All fashions that involve, mutilation, piercing, tattooing are ways of enhancing, elaborating or mortifying the flesh.  The popularity of thin stiletto heels  and the cramped pointed toes of the 1960's often created deformed feet and bunions in women (apart from ruining parquet floors and linoleums)   And we still want to wear enormously high heels despite the fact that the woman is constantly walking on tip toe and they can throw our pelvis or back out and are so uncomfortable when worn for too long a period.  They are considered erotic and make legs look longer and more shapely . . .  and so we wear them. 

Intriguingly, fashions also move around the body parts, the so called 'erogenous zones.'  The prudish Victorians showed considerable areas of flesh round shoulders and bust when young and single or when dressing up for theatre, opera and evening activities.  But showing an ankle or petticoat was most inflammatory it seems.  Hats also seem to have had an interesting significance through time and the famous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, a trend setter of her day, introduced hats that almost swept the ceiling with their enormous plumes and piles of false hair.  They were often threatened by the candles in the chandeliers.  And the wide skirts of the 18th and 19th century were equally dangerous if a lady got too near to a fire or oil lamp.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

The advent of the corset is perhaps one of the oddest of all fashion items used to alter a woman’s figure.  Men have also used a corset, of course, and still do so (one of my Greek uncles used to wear one in his forties when his belly began to expand with too much moussaka).  Nowadays a strong corset may be used medically to help those with back problems, or in order to fit comfortably into certain clothes, or for erotic purposes and fetish wear but they are not as dangerous as some of the corsetry worn in other periods. The fashion went to its greatest extreme in the Victorian age when wasp waists became the rage.

Corsetry has been used for centuries, even practised by primitive tribes. Before this period,  corsetry was used by the Tudors but these corsets, which were fortified by 'buckram', a canvas material stiffened with glue, were intended to flatten the bust and not make impossible tiny waists.  In fact they were considered to be quite comfortable and supportive of all the heavy skirts and clothing of the period.  There is also mention of whalebone for stiffening in the lists of Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe.   In the usual shifting of erogenous zones, this was a time of flat busts.  Even nowadays, the flatter bust of clothes models is preferred to the big and busty look which is always associated with more erotic clothing and activities.  Though we all know that men generally prefer the latter shape!

However, like the process of footbinding and genital interference,  corsets were introduced early in a girl's childhood.  She was put into tiny little corsets to train her body into shape.  In the mid to late 19the century the fashion amongst young women took over to pull the waists in tighter and tighter until an incredible tiny waist was achieved making the body a very strange, wasp like shape.   They were very proud of having a waist that a man could span with his hands.  These began to be made less restrictive as doctors and wiser people began to realise just how some of the wasp waists were affecting a woman's health, squeezing her insides into a narrow and unnatural space.  It certainly must be one of the reasons heroines in books and in real life too were always fainting all over the place!  Interestingly there are also adverts for young boys using corsets at the time. But we don't hear of them lacing up and making wasp waists.  It isn't a dead fashion either.  There are still exponents of the wasp waist, both male and female in this day and age.

DonnaFugata, Sicily exhibition

The look in the Edwardian era shifted again and the oddest shape, the 'S' bend now emerged , where the bust was thrust forward and bottom thrust back.  Tiny waists as well.  Again, it affected a women's walk and posture.   Oh, oh, oh...the madness of wasp waists!

At a recent exhibition at the Villa Donnafugata in Sicily there were several examples of corsetry for children and ladies.   It has to be said these corsets look attractive and sexy.  The clothes of the time so beautiful.  But also uncomfortable and fussy and formal.  All the same, I'd rather like to sweep around in some of these dresses I found in an old fashion magazine!

child corsets
a child corset and two varied adult shapes.

Interesting sites:

Favourite Quotes

  • My home is my retreat and resting place from the wars: I try to keep this corner as a haven against the tempest outside, as I do another corner of my soul. Michelle de Montaigne
  • Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony: Mahatma Gandhi
  • Friends are people you can be quiet with. Anon.