“Valentines” or “How easily life passes by me”

Last year, I received this painting as a Valentine.

And it was the first time I was receiving a Valentine. In France, Valentines are exchanged between lovers or people that love each other. It is no mean symbol. One would not send a card to a friend or an acquaintance or someone of his or her family. Well, I give The Girls Valentines but they are really inocuous. Teddy bears hugging a pillow or a lovely embroidered cushion. Gracious flowers. Swans or birds or butterflies. It is only to say: in this celebration, you are not forgotten; do think that you are loved and cherished; you are important persons. But I to receive a Valentine? Well, I was elated. Furthermore, it was a painting and a painter that my Valentine and I had discussed at some length before. I thought it was so much up-to-the-point. It was a wonderful day. Certainly one of my most wonderful days.

There is no Valentine this year. Well, I should not have expected any joy to last. There is no reason why it should: no one would dream to have a Valentine trailing behind her two, one, more, less, any, disabled person. That was asking too much. And I had forgotten that I was depressed with other side-illnesses. And bad tempered. That was a lovely mistake while it lasted but it was doomed since the beginning.

Instead of a Valentine, I have Lent this year. It began with Ash Wednesday last week, and is now in full swing with the first Sunday in Lent today. My picture for Valentine Day is certainly more spiritually up-lifting but is it as immediately happy? As I am no saint (see the reference to my bad temper above), I doubt I enjoy it as much as last year’s… Here it is.

The Seven Works of Mercy


It has been painted around 1607 as altarpiece for the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples and is still there after four hundred years. It depicts the seven corporal works of mercy that are mentioned in the Gospel according to Matthew, which are traditional Catholic belief, and are also the set of compassionate acts concerning the material welfare of others. Some sort of complement to the Beatitudes of the Discourse on the Mount.

I have better quote art critics about it.

The titular seven works/acts of mercy are represented in the painting as follows:

Bury the dead
In the background, two men carry a dead man (of whom only the feet are visible).

Visit the imprisoned, and feed the hungry
On the right, a woman visits an imprisoned man and gives him milk from her breast. This image alludes to the classical story of Roman Charity.

Shelter the homeless
A pilgrim (third from left, as identified by the shell in his hat) asks an innkeeper (at far left) for shelter.

Clothe the naked
St. Martin of Tours, fourth from the left, has torn his robe in half and given it to the naked beggar in the foreground, recalling the saint’s popular legend.

Visit the sick
St. Martin greets and comforts the beggar who is a cripple.

Refresh the thirsty
Samson (second from the left) drinks water from the jawbone of an ass.

American art historian John Spike notes that the angel at the center of Caravaggio’s altarpiece transmits the grace that inspires humanity to be merciful.

Spike also notes that the choice of Samson as an emblem of Giving Drink to the Thirsty is so peculiar as to demand some explanation. The fearsome scourge of the Philistines was a deeply flawed man who accomplished his heroic tasks through the grace of God. When Samson was in danger of dying of thirst, God gave him water to drink from the jawbone of an ass. It is difficult to square this miracle with an allegory of the Seven Acts of Mercy since it was not in fact the work of human charity.


I know, I know. As a Christian and as a Roman Catholic, I should welcome Lent and I should be contemplating and seeking inspiration in this painting, which is strictly and artistically speaking a masterpiece for those who believe in God and those who do not believe in Him. So, why do I feel so wretch when I compare my two paintings?

God knows, but I have an inkling!

Psalm 50

also known as “Miserere”


The Tallis Scholars

(legendary recording – 1980)

A parable.

This post found on another fellow blogger may be inspiring for some of you.
I assume that many of you, my friends and readers, know about The Little Family and, most of all, about The Girls. You may imagine then how and why this “parable” is close to my heart and why I share it!

The playground

By Ray Menezes

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended.

After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question:
‘When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do. Where is the natural order of things in my son?’
The audience was stilled by the query.
The father continued. ‘I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.’
Then he told the following story:
‘Shay and I had walked past a…

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February Q&A – the doctors

Another point of view about Athens and Greek society as well as Greek place in Europe, both geographically, geostrategically, and historically. This blog from athensletters.com is always interesting

Letters from Athens

‘Our mission is the therapeutic treatment of pain and the restoration of the functionality and normal life for our patients.’ 

The ATHENA MAVROMATI PAIN CLINIC can be found on a leafy street in the Athenian suburb of Chalandri. The owners, Athena Mavromati and Ioannis Tornazakis, combine Athena’s medical expertise as an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist with Ioannis’s engineering and administrative skills to deliver top quality medical interventional services and treatments. Apart from being business partners, they are married and live in Athens, Greece, with their dog Ektoras.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Athena: I was born on the island of Thassos where I spent my preschool years. We then moved to the city of Kavala but always came back for the summer vacations. I received my Μedical Degree from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and specialised in Anesthesiology in Athens. I worked in Intensive…

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Wolf Hall on French television


So, at long last, Wolf Hall has been broadcast by the French television.

This simple statement cries out for corrections and explanations, as simple as it is. First, it has been broadcast on the French and German channel, ARTE, which belongs to the public service and is the cultural and intellectual warrant of the French television. Second, it was not certain that such a series would be broadcast in France. It was not to attract crowds and television channels are here with an eye on the audience. Panem et circences… The French are not gourmands of costume programmes. They like reality shows, documentaries about their own history, but not much about others’ history. I guess it would be the same if the BBC, ITV or some US or Canadian or other foreign channel were to show some costume drama about French history. Except for some more or less exact rudiments about French history, like the prise de la Bastille and the existence of Louis XIV and Versailles, I do not expect that much is known abroad about François Ier or the Valois dynasty who reigned at the same time as the Tudors. As to Hilary Mantel’s novels, they were translated in French but they were not a great hit as in English speaking countries for the same reasons: lack of historical knowledge.

Although Henry VIII is rather well known in this country where he is associated with Bluebeard and heretics, I cannot take The Girls as a valid example of the general knowledge: theirs is distorted, both less important in some matters and more in others. They certainly know more about King Henry than the majority of their fellow countrymen. Nevertheless they both hate him greatly for killing his wives and think him  both cruel and mad. That could summarize the French attitude about him. As to Cromwell, he is utterly unknown.

And so, we watched TV.

The series came in two batches of three episodes each. Two weeks. I dislike this new format of an hour per episode but I understand that it is easy to divide them for publicity spots. Fortunately on channels still belonging to the public service there is no break and I feel lucky to have been able to watch twice three hours of Tudor England without being interrupted by adverts about sweets or washing powder.

The first time, I had not re-read “Wolf Hall” and remembered the main features of the book but not the details. I found that Cromwell’s portrayal by Mark Rylance was almost feminine. He had nothing of the traditional courtier going up the social ladder including walking upon living fellows or corpses, allying with some people to deny their friendship later, usefully forgetting and selecting his acquaintanceships. By contrast, Thomas More was almost too good a villain, “the sainted More” as he is sometimes disdainfully called. Probably, we, belonging to a historically mainly Roman Catholic country, see him as a saint martyred by his king, whereas Anglicans or proponents of the Reform will think him a traitor. This is  how History is written. And this is important as it is the way differences are made in reading and watching or listening from country to country or from individual to individual. “Only connect”! This time, “only connect” with people’s general and individual backgrounds.

I thought Damian Lewis a good choice to play King Henry. He was the dashing young fellow courting Anne Boleyn, slowly maturing, putting on weight, ageing, wondering, pondering, still wilful and capricious, but being more dangerous and wild, more easily assuming his choices and quickly reaching his ends, be it in love and / or politics. But where is the difference between love and politics when you are king of England in the sixteenth century?

Anne Boleyn… Well, Anne Boleyn was never a favourite of mine. I understand she was beautiful, alluring, clever, religious in her own way, ambitious, misunderstood, in fact “a woman for all seasons” – to make a bad pun and a bad reference. It seems to me that she is mostly read backwards: as all know her end and the wrong that is done to her when the king becomes tired of her and falls in love with Jane Seymour, when she becomes an annoyance and does not gives the long-awaited heir that would comfort the dynasty – in a word when she is beheaded in order that another could take her place and have a “royal” son – as we all know this, she is either made a whore or a saint, a repulsive woman or an iconic woman. I have watched readings of “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies” made by feminists and watched them watching the TV series with their own reading grid: Anne had all and every qualities. She was lost in a men’s world and her fate was sealed from the beginning. What about Katharine of Aragon then? She was at least as clever and desperate than Anne and she had even more legitimacy. She fought and endured.

Therefore I was in two minds about Anne and I am still after watching the series. Claire Foy makes her as wilful and capricious as Damian Lewis makes the king. I would say that she is hard and cold as steel for her coronation and when at long last her path crosses the Spanish ambassador’s, Chapuys. The ambiguity of her guilt is almost erased: she is NOT guilty. Henry only wants to be rid of her and asks Cromwell to find charges against her. It seems that all charges are wrong, falsified, played at dice so to speak in twisting words and evidences. Human beings are played with: they are pawns towards one goal only: to kill Anne. And in this way, she becomes the martyr that Thomas More is for the French.

And this is when I come to the second volley of three episodes. I found them more interesting than the first one, both as characterisation and filmic technique.

I have to say that I mostly dislike books turned into films or TV programmes. Films and TV programmes put a filter between me and the text, my reading of it, my understanding, my personal relationship with it and with the author. I have to follow a reducing (in time, text and mental images) of the intention of the author and of my freedom to read as I please – reducing done by a director, producers, actors, and all people involved in the making of the filmic venture. I live it as limitation and a violation of my reading space and my understanding.

Being conscious of this epidermal reaction, I try with all my might to turn it into something positive and to make “it” a thing disconnected from the novel. “It” becomes a new object that does not impair and injure my reading faculties, but enhances my knowledge although outside the scope of the written fiction. Some people have read the book and this is how they see it and make it alive in their brains. Well, this is interesting: how does it fit with my own vision? What and how is it as a separate object?

The first three episodes were elliptic and sometimes difficult to understand for people not having read “Wolf Hall”. Scenes were standing alone where they were part of Cromwell’s stream of consciousness in the novel. Characters were numerous, unrelated, coming from nowhere and sometimes going nowhere, whole linking scenes were cut off, others were savagely amputated. It was rather like a jigsaw puzzle. The masculine part of Anne was as prominent as the feminine part of Cromwell and the king was a rather more a play thing than a puppet master. Cromwell’s climb was not that evident and his relationship with Wolsey was left somewhat in limbo.

I grew more interested with the three last episodes.

Characters were at last endowed with some “roundness” – as EM Forster (again) says of flat and round characters -. Cromwell was gaining mostly in depth and “thickness” by flashbacks returning to his childhood and youth. I mean here the flashbacks to his relationship with his father in Putney, the famous opening scene of “Wolf Hall” the novel where he is pummelled and thrashed by his father with a violence that takes away the reader’s breath. Or the scene where his father teaches him to fight pain. His relationship with Wolsey was also seen in flashbacks. His relationship with his wife and daughters; his relationships with the Boleyns and their court of flatterers. The way he made up to being the King’s confident and the dangers that induces. His relationships with his son, Gregory, and the young men with whom he surrounded himself as help and spies. The networks that are needed to be a true courtier and a man of power – hidden power being better than showy.

I write both in present and past tenses as then the story and history blended, as the individual story of Cromwell took tones of the universal story of power and how to gain it, to make it grow, to live with it, to manoeuvre it, to use it, not to be eaten by it and its lures. There came Niccolo Machiavelli and Baldassare Castiglione. There came at long last la Renaissance and its men as bridges between a world that was not entirely dead and another that was being born.

I was re-reading “Bring Up the Bodies” at the time and was able to play more aptly between novel and film. Although, the latter remained a singular object in its own right, I could see more clearly the work that had been done by the people involved in its making. The actors were allowed more span and they stretched themselves and their abilities. Henry expanded and became king though with tinges of mania. Anne shrank. In the end, when going to and standing upon the scaffold, she looked no more the steel woman but the delicate and broken puppet doll. The Duke of Norfolk, her uncle, had chaired the court where she had been judged and her menfolk, helped by her sister-in-law had turned against her. Jane Seymour was no saint but a scheming young woman, as Anne had been, drawn into the game by her family and her own will. Cromwell played the king’s pleasure and met his debts.








Most of all, the director and the film editor were at juggling with cameras and images masterfully. This was definitely not the novel but it was as good an object as the novel itself. People watching would still need to know the story that was told before us, and it was made easier by having read the books, but it was really and truly a separate object of beauty in its own right.

If I am to sum it up, did I like these series? Yes. Did I find them faithful to the novels? Yes and no. But the no is positive. No paradox here. Just the acknowledgement that the reading made by the director suited me and that it suited me better in the last three episodes than in the three first ones. Why did this reading suit me? Because it was clever and used the text in a compact way, slicing through it, but keeping the essentials, and showing them with filming techniques that have no equivalent in literature. In this sense, it was another grammar, another vocabulary, serving the core of the story and History.

From the stories of individual men and women, a universal history of power was unfolded before us.

Please, come in and have a cup of coffee or tea…


and come in quick!

This is a foul weather so do not stand in the rain and the wind. Last week, we thought it was almost spring: there had been a turn in the light, something intangible and frail – a transparency in the baby blue sky, a light with a powdery grain that was the very texture of the sun, a tinge of yellowy green on the trees, or od brighter russet, a new sparkle over the winter jasmine flowers, the candour of the swnowdrops, and the first shy little daisies. And now, all is gone and it is damp, soggy winter again. Leaden skies, fat drops of rain stopping only to give place to a continuous insinuating drizzle, pools of water in the fields, blasts of wind, splashes when the cars pass by on the road.

We have turned on the lights inside the house again and here they stay, all day long while we cough and sneeze, and have tears in our eyes. No real colds, only chills, weariness, despond. It is so dull.

So we are all happy to see you and to have some fresh news from the world outside our little world! Tell us: what is happening to you? Is the weather better at your place? What are you reading? What are you doing? We need our friends and their chatter to bring us some hope and joy. I shall make some tea or coffee. Meanwhile, please, tell me about you… Please!

Candlemas at The Little Family’s (and the influence of “gentle” reading!)

Présentation au Temple – Bellini

I am late again to tell you how Candle mas went on at The Little Family’s. That was on the second of February and we are already on the fifth. Time flies…

Of course, as almost all festivities, Candlemas is linked with a religious festival for The Little Family. It is before and foremost the day where we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple and where the Holy Family meets Anne, the Prophetess and the Simeon the Elder. With this wonderful prayer, the “Nunc Dimittis:


Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:

Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum

Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:

Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.


that is in the Book of Common Prayers:


Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.


I have changed the words a little in French so that we end our prayer in common, each evening by an amended “Nunc dimittis” where we ask the Lord to let us sleep in peace and wake us up on the morrow in His joy, light and love. The true words seemed too radical for The Girls who though they were praying for their death during the night!

This is also our last winter festival of lights. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Candlemas service begins with the lighting of candles with which we come back home. Therefore, if we go back in time, we started Advent time with the first candle of Advent on the first Sunday, went on with one more candle on each Sunday, and special festivals on the eighth and the thirteenth of December. Christmas and Epiphany are the celebrations of Christ, Light for His people and the Nations. And here is Candlemas.

Friends have told me that the second of February is Saint Bridget or Brigit, and mentioned that it is considered in Britain as the first day of Spring – mentioning that Dora Saint writes in one of her Fairacre volumes that Miss Read and Miss Clare may go out for a walk after tea for the first time of the year. I felt urged by so much “gentle” reading to take “Over the Gate” and to dip into it.Per haps not the best book to re-start with but one that was close enough to be reached!

I remember that Mother used to say that when she was at university in Bordeaux, one year, the “gentle” streets of the suburb where the campus lies and where she had a room at a convent-cum-bedsits-for-girl-students, were smelling of mimosa and pancakes.

It is is too early for mimosas at our place, which stands about a hundred kilometres North-East of Bordeaux, even less for daffodils. But we saw snowdrops and winter jasmine, and the spiky leaaves of irises, daffodils, the round, velvety ones of violets, and the white crown-like bouquets of the laurustinus. Birds are singing again earlier in the morning and later in the evening, the collar doves are back, and while I type I hear the cantankerous and impertinent jay chattering. We have been blessed with sunshine and mild weather these past days. All this would have me agree with Dora Saint’s readers that Spring is here!

And in the evening, came the splendid time of making pancakes together. We had the family recipy with rhum and vanilla sugar – no crèpes suzette for us, that would be with too much alcohol! The preparation rested and then, when we came ack from mass, we were ready to toss the pancakes in the air with the special frying pan we use to make them thin and wide.

When you toss them, you have to hold a  coin in your other hand in order to be rich all year long. In older time, the coin should be a gold one; today, it is rather difficult to find a gold euro (!), so we went with the standard one. Vegetable soup to begin with and then warm pancakes with jam – raspeberry, strawberry, apricot – or honey or sugar either brown or plain white. This was a great dinner for The Girls who laughed and joked and were happy as larks of their day!

Next week is Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, which begins Lent. Indeed, indeed, Spring is on its way!

Nunc Dimittis

Purcell – Evening service in G minor – Z 231

“Gentle” readers and Readers, thank you!

Gertrude Fiske

Thank you!

When I posted the last entry of that blog, some days ago, I thought it might interest the readers of the “gentle” fiction I was trying to understand. Therefore, I published it on Facebook, not only on my private and my blogger pages, but also on the pages of groups to which I belong and that are dedicated to such or such lady author.

The number of people who read the post and who were kind enough to “like” largely exceeds my wildest dreams!

I have received comments from friends and people I know, as well as from “gentle” readers and “simply” readers – more than I thought I would. This has led to very interesting discussions and opened new vistas for me.

So, I would like to thank everyone to have taken time to look at the post and to have made observations, critiques, comments. It helps me a lot in this study of “gentle fiction” that I lead for my own knowledge and pleasure.

For, as I have told some of you, this post is not written out of the blue. There are others on this blog, mainly




But there are others that you may find in scrolling up the whole blog.

In any case, again and again, a great “THANK YOU”. Furthermore I hope that the thread we are weaving between us will last long while you help me read your favourite author(s).

Gertrude Fiske