Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Lady of the Rivers

I had to go to Belgium at short notice last week. So, I grabbed my Kindle, and it was the best thing ever. I had a few books downloaded, and I chose Philippa Gregory's The Lady of the Rivers.

I have read several of Gregory's books about the Tudors (with three more to read still), I've watched The Tudors box set, the two film versions of The Other Boleyn Girl, Donizetti's opera Anna Bolena, and I'm currently reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. I find that all this historical fiction is a wonderful way to discover eras that I knew nothing about (I didn't study English history at school, nor college).

The Lady of the Rivers is part of The Cousins' War Series, otherwise known as the War of the Roses. I can't claim at this point that I know as much about this period as I do now about the Tudors, but I'm getting there. I didn't know that England had taken over substantial swathes of France, for instance, nor that Joan of Arc was executed by the English Regent of France.

As always with Philippa Gregory's books, the story is told by a woman who is at the centre of events. In this case, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, a descendant of Melusina, the river goddess, who, after her first husband dies, marries for love, and finds her life buffeted in the power struggles of the War of the Roses. It's hard to know of course where history stops and fiction starts, but Philippa Gregory appears to do her homework well, making her characters completely believable in their historical context. I'm looking forward to reading plenty more of her books.


Despite a sprained ankle, I went to the Met HD production of Otello on Saturday. Maybe because of the throbbing pain in my foot, I found it difficult to engage with the performance. I had hoped that the passion and beauty of opera would distract me from pedestrian preoccupations, but it didn't do the trick.

I can't blame Renée Fleming - she was a beautiful Desdemona and it was worth staying through Act 4 just to see her Willow song and Ave Maria. I can't blame Falk Struckmann either, who played a convincing Iago, full of anger and resentment, finding every opportunity to manipulate Otello's feelings. The production, while traditional, was good, with well-designed sets, costumes and chorus. And Johan Botha's voice was good, despite a cold from which he was just recovering. But I found Mr Botha's Otello lacking in something. All I can think of now is his blue eyes wide open in love, anger, jealousy, horror - it seemed to be his only way of expressing the character's emotions.

Otello is only my second Verdi opera - I love Rigoletto, and I was expecting to be blown away by Otello. But it didn't quite work for me. Let's blame it on the ankle.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Siobhan Ryan, black tank top and skirt, 25 October

A summery look for Siobhan Ryan last Thursday. It will be too cold for short sleeves today. She was right about today's forecast. A very frosty start indeed.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A slim Evelyn Cusack

Evelyn Cusack is looking lovely and slim these days, and always a happy smile!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Christmas cards

I've been planning my Christmas cards already. And I am not alone.

Someone just bought 30 cards from my Zazzle store. It's a lovely print of a Christmas Rose, which I painted in watercolours. I ordered this for myself a while back, and the quality of the print is really gorgeous. Thirty people are in for a treat when they receive their Christmas cards!

They also ordered a pack of matching stamps, which I would love to buy too, but since they're only valid in the US, there isn't much point! But I'm sure they will look equally beautiful!

PS: If you're thinking of buying Christmas cards, check out my Navajo Christmas Tree. I've ordered it too and it looks really well!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mary Chapin Carpenter in Dublin

If you were hoping for Mary Chapin Carpenter's greatest hits, last night's concert at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, was not the concert for you. The artist is currently on a UK and Ireland tour with her friend Shawn Colvin, and they chose to do lesser known songs, covers and numbers from their respective new albums. It was my first opportunity ever to see Mary Chapin Carpenter live and I was looking forward to it. I didn't know Shawn Colvin at all, and I have to admit I was disappointed not to get more of Chapin Carpenter's better known songs. That said, I enjoyed discovering Colvin, a fabulous voice (a much higher register than Chapin Carpenter), and a performer who enjoys being on stage. But I found that, because they took it in turns to sing (sometimes accompanying each other, sometimes not), it broke the flow of the evening. They did a couple of smashing duets that worked well, and I also found that Colvin's voice was lovely in harmony to Chapin Carpenter's songs. The other way round didn't work so well. Maybe it was the miking, but Mary Chapin Carpenter's voice didn't come through very clear. I thought it was me, but BB thought the same.
Two fantastic performers. Beautiful music. A lovely evening. But somehow the sum of the parts didn't quite add up. Give us more of the greatest hits, please!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Favourite Music

I know Pinterest is about visuals, but it's also a very handy way to keep collections. On this board, I've pinned my favourite music. I've got eclectic tastes, I agree!


I struggled with this design before, maybe a year ago. I was trying to capture it in watercolours, but it didn't work out at all - the fine criss-crossing stems, the delicate umbrellas. But yesterday I saw a drawing on the FiftyThree website which reminded me of it (except much better than mine), so I decided to tackle it again, this time using Paper on my iPad. It needs some refinement, but I like the effect all the same. Maybe it will inspire me to have another go with this theme in  watercolours again.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Siobhan Ryan, 14 October, crushed raspberry dress

Nice bold colour, lovely cut to this figure-hugging dress - a perfect fit. Siobhan Ryan looks good in these types of dresses.

Skippy Dies

The reviews said it was funny. It's not. Skippy Dies is a dark dark book. Teenagers, drugs, violence, sex abuse, blow-jobs in back alleys, despair, bullying, anorexia, death, but most of all, the cover-ups, the code of silence, the good old boys sticking together to protect themselves.

It took me a good while to get into it. I felt it was supposed to be funny, but I thought there was something wrong with me, because I didn't find it hilarious. I couldn't read more than a few pages every night. And it's a big book. Well over 600 pages. I nearly gave up on it. But thankfully, I stuck to it, and it found its pace. And it was a very satisfying read after all.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Coeliac-friendly Fudgy Chocolate brownie cake

I got a recipe for chocolate brownie cake from Lorna at least two years ago. Why I didn't try it earlier, I don't know? Of course I knew it was gorgeous. Lorna had served it to us on two occasions and it was the best dessert ever ever. Maybe, I also guessed it was addictive. But the reality is 10 times more intense than the memory! It is gooey and chocolatey and rich and satisfying.  I am going to have a sliver every day until the whole cake tin is empty. I will think about it mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and after dinner too. Maybe I will dream of it too. I hope the calorie count won't give me nightmares - 300g of dark chocolate, 250g of butter, 200g of caster sugar, 150g of ground almonds, 4 eggs, ...We just did the count this morning. It's around the 5000-calorie mark. OK, we'll share it equally between the two of us, but even if it takes us all week to finish it, that will be a full day's calorie intake over what we normally eat. So, I decided to skip my square of dark chocolate this lunchtime. Not that it will make much difference. And how long will I be able to hold?

But the good news is that this cake is 100% coeliac-friendly. No flour, and you can use gluten-free baking powder. Isn't that fantastic!

I can't wait till my next slice!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Malala Yousafzai

What kind of monsters shoot a 14-year old girl who wants to go to school?

Samantha Who?

I had a look at Cecelia Ahern's website recently, and found out that she was the creator of Samantha Who?, the TV series. I had read PS: I love you a few years ago and loved it (didn't like the movie so much) and I had noticed that Samantha Who? was available on Netflix. Since I had just finished watching a boxset of the Tudors (more about that some other time), I decided to start watching Samantha Who?

I've only seen the Pilot so far, but I think I'm going to like it. It's funny, witty, she wears lovely clothes, her boyfriend is nice (though he might not be on the scene much longer, since she cheated on him), her parents are wacky, and it's all a bit frantic.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Great Barrier Reef - Global Warming

This painting was going to be a simple view of the Great Barrier Reef from the sky, based on a photo I found through Pinterest, but it didn't quite work out as expected. I had planned to do several layers of acrylics, and then to sand it down in parts to reveal the colours below the surface, à la Hanneke van Ryswyk. But when it came to the sanding part, I realised that I couldn't sand paint on canvas. When you push the sanding paper, the whole canvas gives, and all you get are a few scratches on the surface. Silly me. I should have used board.

But never mind. Another few transparent layers, applied with a painting knife (which I got in Lidl a good few months ago, by the way), and we've got a darker painting, a representation of the effect of Global Warming on the world's reefs. The photograph here doesn't do it justice. It actually turned out quite nice. It's very hard to take a good picture of glossy acrylics, isn't it? I've got a watercolour I'm working on now. But maybe when that's finished, I'll come back to this theme, with a nice little piece of board instead.

Proper pouring

Next time I get Liquitex pouring medium, I'm going to try to do something as good as this! I'm sure it's not as easy as it looks. Now back to work on another failed watercolour! All a learning experience.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Pinterest repins

I've really taken to Pinterest lately. I love the visual impact of pinboards, as an inspiration for artistic pursuits!

Here is a photo I've pinned lately:

Tristan und Isolde

It's not over until the fat lady sings!

Very appropriate for Wide Open Opera's Tristan und Isolde, which was showing at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre last week, with Irish soprano Miriam Murphy in the leading role. Let me say that Miriam Murphy has a sense of humour - she says herself that she was typecast in the role of Isolde!

But what a voice! I'm generally not a big fan of Irish opera singers, but I think Miriam Murphy's Liebestod can be favourably compared to Waltraud Meier's. Just that the golden dress wasn't quite as flattering! It was quite distracting, actually. Well, none of the clothes were flattering. All singers seemed to be encumbered by these over-long gowns that made it so hard to move.

Since the demise of Opera Ireland, we haven't had much live opera in Dublin in the last few years. Thankfully, we get the Met HD transmissions, but there is nothing quite like live opera for sheer emotion and impact. Apparently, it's 50 years since the last Tristan und Isolde was staged in Dublin. And we have a brand new opera company, Wide Open Opera, to thank for the daring enterprise.

Despite the good review in the Irish Times, the auditorium in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre was far from full. Still, there were probably a good few people there for whom this was a first Wagner opera, thanks to the inclusion of this work in the Dublin Theatre Festival listing! I hope they all enjoyed Wagner's beautiful music!

And I enjoyed the picnic prepared by BB for the occasion!

And to finish, another Waltraud Meier Liebestod courtesy of YouTube!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Autumn Colours 3

I applied wax to the paper before painting. This one was inspired by Shirley Trevena (she wouldn't be too proud of me, but I had fun in the process!).

Autumn Colours 2

I can't bear to leave unused paint behind!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Autumn Colours

After a frustrating weekend unsuccessfully spent trying to achieve a layered effect with acrylics (Note to self: it is not possible to sand paint on a canvas - too much give neutralises the sanding action), I did 3 little watercolours to cheer myself up.

Phthalo blue + burnt umber + interference copper + Aqua effect spray (+ wax in one case). All done in a few minutes. Love the dark tones. Here is the first one

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


I need to catch up on movie reviews. It's a few months since I watched Chronicle, I have to admit.
I had to read the Wikipedia summary to remind myself of how it ended. Not a good sign.

It wasn't bad to start with - 3 young men find something on an outing in the woods. It's a power source of some kind, possibly extra-terrestrial. They soon discover that they have powers - they can move objects, and as they practice, they control those powers better and they even become able to fly.

At first, they use their new-found powers for pranks - they are young men after all! But one of the boys develops a dark side (maybe it was always there?) and doesn't see right from wrong any more.

It ends badly, that's all I'll say!

Evelyn Cusack, 29 September, black top

I think Evelyn has lost a bit of weight, hasn't she? She looks very slim in this black top and skirt!