Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Christmas nostalgia

It's not unlikely that Dutch readers will groan upon seeing these images. As all cloggies have grown up with the drawings of Anton Pieck, and his Christmas scenes in particular, people tend to appreciate them a lot less these days. They've become too familiar and ordinary as it were. It has even become 'du ton' to use terms as 'sentimental kitsch'. Ouch! 

Now I don't mind modern art at all, but I do also still love the dreamy nostalgia of Pieck's images. And as this is MY blog, I've decided to let you have a taste of them too. Don't the paintings exude a certain gentleness and cosiness (that probably never was)? Pieck himself often said he had been born at least a century too late, and his yearning for a bygone era really shows in his work.

I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful, good old-fashioned festive season (whether you believe in a God or just in good cheer), with love and laughter and good food aplenty.

And, of course, I wish for you that your days may be merry and bright. Too sentimental? Well. I could have gone for 'God bless us everyone'. Exactly. 

Saturday, 17 December 2011

A hunting lodge, a cottage... and a gremlin

We had had such a good start at the hunting lodge on Wednesday. 

The decor was warm and inviting, with an added smidgeon of creepy. Think Disney meets Addams Family. Creaking parquet floors, panelled walls and leaded windows. Carpets and murals in rich colours, big brassy chandeliers. Plenty of antlered skulls too. Not my thing entirely (or rather, not at all) but it was to be expected. The term hunting lodge rather gives it away don't you think?

And then there were all the Christmas decorations. Huge trees everywhere, hung with baubles as big as your hand. Wreaths and garlands, and more baubles. Over the top, but in a good way. This girl is all for understated elegance, but I have to admit there's something to be said for good old-fashioned fun.

It was the perfect setting for our Christmas do. Lovely food, lively banter and plenty of laughs (some shrieks even), and oh yes, we did go over the company results and challenges as well.

Some of the more bright decided it might be a good idea to book an overnight stay. Yes, I was one of them. Clever of you to guess that. My good mate Mar and I were lucky enough to book the last accommodation still available. We were told we could have the cottage. A little cottage, hidden among the trees by the drive. Sounds delightful, wouldn't you say?

We were in for a bit of a surprise.

By the time we left the main building that night it was so late that we actually heard them lock up behind us. Yes, we had been ignoring the tell-tale signs of them wanting to get rid of us for at least half an hour. Possibly a bit longer. In any case, the biting cold outside soon sobered us up. As we set off to find our cottage the drive looked rather eerie and my companion once again reminded me that ghost stories were strictly off-limits. I told her not to worry - I only wanted my bed and a good night's sleep. Plus I had already managed to sneak in a grizzly tale over dinner.

It wasn't till we reached the cottage that the true horror story unfolded. Not only was the cottage decor nowhere near as inviting as that of the hunting lodge, it lacked another important quality as well - warmth. Despite the bitter cold outside, it felt like stepping into a fridge. Or a morgue, if we stick to the creepy theme. And to add insult to injury - a test of the taps learned that there was no hot water to be had either. I was amazed the stuff was actually still liquid.  

So not only did we have to spend a miserable night shivering in ice-cold beds, there was no chance of a hot shower or a bath in the morning either. And there are few things that make me crankier than not being able to have a proper wash.

Told you my bloody gremlin likes to travel.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Of trolls, witches and princesses

It must have happened to all of us at one point. You lose a possession that was dear to you, something that meant just a little bit more than any of your other belongings. Or at least it feels that way when the mishap occurs. It happened to me too. In spite of (not all too frequent) bouts of decluttering, there are some things I know I would never have consciously thrown out or given away. And still they are gone, and I will have to consider them lost (lost forever, she wails).

Not all of those items held equal meaning to me (in spite of possible momentary drama) but I can still feel the tiniest bit of heart ache for some of the extra special ones. Detachment is my on-going lesson.

I must have been about 10 years old when my parents gave me a tiny book they knew their dreamy child would like. To this day I can picture everything about it, I can even recall what it felt like in my hands. It was a hardcover book, with a bottle-green linen cover, very small and flat. It contained stories about trolls, witches and princesses. Not to mention resourceful little boys. And it had some of the most magical illustrations I have ever seen.

The stories, Swedish folk tales, were charming albeit quite simple. The illustrations were what really made them come to life for me. Look at the trolls and you can tell that they are big and clumsy creatures, simple-minded and mischievous, yet not overly wicked or menacing. Just from looking at the pictures you know it can't be too difficult to outsmart a troll - which happens to be a major theme in the tales they illustrate.

My little green book contained only 5 to 6 stories, that were probably first published in Bland Tomtar och Troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls), an annual Christmas book of fairy tales. And the artist who made the images that stole my heart was John Bauer, a Swedish illustrator and painter. His work reminds me in some ways of that of Arthur Rackham and Anton Pieck (I have much-loved books with their works as well - as you would guess). But even though it hurts my national pride a tad (Pieck was Dutch), I still love Bauer's creations just that little bit more. His work transported me to a world of ancient forests, misty hills and deep dark lakes. Where you could encounter the creatures he drew so skillfully - even if they would want to make you hide behind one of those big mossy rocks.

I have often wondered why this artist and his amazing work aren't known to a wider international audience. I guess the fact that he died at a young age will have played a role in that. Although you could also reason that his tragic death added to the nostalgic, sometimes melancholy appeal of his work. Bauer was only 36 when he, his wife and their small son set out for a new life in Stockholm on the ferry Per Brahe, in November of 1918. The Per Brahe sank in a storm on lake V├Ąttern, and all those aboard perished with it. In a bitter twist of fate the family had decided ferry travel was the safest - as there had been a severe train accident in Sweden the month before.

Only last week I ordered a copy of Swedish Folk Tales, a large book illustrated with the works of John Bauer. It arrived today. All my old stories are there - and many more that I didn't know yet. Sitting by the kitchen table and going through the book, a big strong cuppa at hand, I have been feeling almost as delighted and entranced as the little girl I was then. John Bauer's work still casts a powerful spell over me.

Of course, I still wish my little green book was somehow magically returned to me.