Further to yesterday's post about the excellent talk by Jane Choy-Thurlow about the wonderful painter Vermeer, as a former Hong Kong dweller I was naturally interested in her surname, Choy. I had the chance to talk to her and her husband afterwards, and it turned out she had taken her husband's surname. His father had been born in Shenzhen, nowadays paradise of tailors and foot massage but probably not when the family got the hell out of there and settled in The Netherlands where the father married a local woman.
Unfortunately mr. Choy couldn't speak Cantonese and couldn't read Chinese characters, but he showed me his name in Chinese. Of a sort. For somehow, although the family escaped before Communism had had a chance to ruin the Chinese written language, his name is now recorded in simplified characters.
I can't tell you how much I hate simplified characters, or 'crippled characters' as some Hong Kong people sensibly call them.
Here is mister Choy's real name: 蔡雲燦 but in simplified characters it's (oh, how it hurts to even let a machine write this) 蔡云灿
The communists' excuse for murdering the language was that there were so many illiterates in China and they wanted to make it easier for them to read. An admirable gesture, to be sure. But seeing how their main plan was to destroy Chinese history and society, I think simplified characters were rather invented to break the link with the past - the written word - and to enable peasants to read the 'Big Character' propaganda posters the Maoists put up everywhere and which are still a blight on the Chinese landscape today. Write it big enough and often enough and the people will comply, was the idea.
Here is what I think about simplified characters:
Normal characters are like a painting by Vermeer and simplified characters are like a badly drawn cartoon on a packet of over-sweetened cereals.
By the way, I'm sure you're interested to know what the characters mean and to take Cantonese lessons from me, live or on Skype? Here's a free lesson!
蔡 Choi. Chinese surname, name of a dukedom in the Zhou dynasty, also tortoise shell used for divination.
雲 Wan. Cloud. Yes, I know mister Choy's family called him Wang - perhaps they thought it easier for a Western audience? We have seen in Hong Kong that the Romanisation of characters is not a thing they take very seriously, resulting in many a hilarious taxi ride. I mean, how did 九龍 (Gau Long) suddenly become "Kow Loon"?
燦 Chaan. Brilliant, splendid, dazzling.
Last night was yet another wonderful experience brought to one by the incessantly working Arts Society of Mallorca. This time it was the mysterious Johannes Vermeer who was on the menu, and what a riveting talk it was. The speaker, Jane Choy-Thurlow, made me feel I knew Vermeer despite little or nothing being known about him. He left no letters or other proof of his existence - if you don't count 15 children (!) and the in my view most exquisite paintings ever created. Only 42 are known to have survived, but how long it must have taken to paint each one. Small wonder he had no time for writing, however, letters are a recurring theme is his work. It's 'Girl reading letter by an open window' this and 'Irritated Lute Player being delivered Letter by sniggering Servant' that - correspondence must really have been all the rage in the Delft of the 1650s.
Everybody wants all these letters to be love letters (okay, so sometimes the title is The Love Letter) but I wonder. Some of these women don't seem very happy about receiving them. Perhaps it's the Dutch stoicism? Or perhaps Vermeer didn't pay his models enough? Also there are few if any eyebrows to be seen in his paintings. Did they shave them off or were they just naturally hairless? And the girl in the red hat, isn't it a boy? One of the many wonderful things about Vermeer is that he allows you to get absorbed in the paintings and guess and guess what's going on, creating your own story.
The very knowledgable Jane Choy-Thurlow
I have loved Vermeer ever since I went to the Rjikjiksjkisjmuseum in Amsterdam in the 1990s, or it could even have been when I lived in London in the 1980s that I first saw the light, the light, the wonderful light of a Dutch window shining on a jug of milk hald by a maid. So when my friend Eddie, secretary of the Arts Society of Mallorca, first mentioned that he was working day and night to get the best authorities on art to come to little Mallorca to speak, I decided to go to ONE talk, namely that of Vermeer.
But what do you know? Suddenly I had joined the Arts Society as a fully paid-up member. Yes! I'm a member of something! With a membership card! That is SO not me. But I have to say, joining the Society has been worth every penny. I'm all fired up now and ready to read my book about Vermeer that I bought in the Rijkjsksjsksjkmuseum in 1994...
Perhaps it's partly my love of Vermeer that also made me love China so much? There's something about the light, creating beauty out of the most prosaic scenes:
My niece Tyra won't mind that I publish this:
Join the Arts Society, people of Mallorca! You won't regret it.
Oh and the wine and tapas afterwards aren't bad. And you get to meet interesting people and hear interesting stories. And you can give me a lift home.
Shooting a WindsurferTesting, testing... Facebook is a great invention and a superb tool to reach people. But recently they have made it damned difficult to post blog entries - with the photos showing up automatically, that is. I'm now following my web dude's instructions of making the images at least 1200 pixels with one a little bigger than the others. So here goes! Thanks to Mariette Faber who visited last week, I now know what I look like from behind while shooting a windsurfer (on FILM, hello!) in very... hair unfriendly conditions.
Later we saw a donkey under an olive tree in charming Deiá, home of illustrious poet Robert Graves. So this is just a test, but also the launch of my new Facebook page Cecilie's Pen & Wok. What is Cecilie's Pen & Wok? It's everything you need in writing and images, in many languages. And with a bunch of Sichuan (Chinese) food thrown in. Watch this space!
Sea view or mountain view? How about BOTH! With your dog!
On my quest to showcase all that my neighbourhood, El Terreno, has to offer, I don't know why I have waited so long to show you one of the best hotels in Palma: Feliz. The name means Happy and what a happy place it is. The first thing you notice is all the cool and quirky art in the reception, which the Swedish owner, Mats Jakobsson, prefers to call Welcoming Area.
"Yes, you can bring your dog to stay here," Jakobsson says while I admire a dog statue perching on the edge of the glass-walled pool in the al fresco bar. "Most of all, we want people to feel really at home here."
After 30 years in Hong Kong it took me ages to get over the shock of seeing dogs inside shops and even banks here in Mallorca. And I'm still reeling in shock to find a hotel that welcomes dogs - inside the rooms! At night! Quite frankly, they had me at the dog art...
The hotel is centrally placed in the heart of El Terreno, with hundreds of restaurants within a short radius. It's also only a few minutes' walk away from the magnificent Bellver Castle, clearly visible from the hotel.
"But what if I'd rather have a sea view?" you complain. Not a problem! The rooms on the two upper floors have balconies overlooking the sea, as well as private balconies on the other side of the corridor, with a view to the beautiful Bellver Park (which is really a forest) as well as the charming neighbourhood of El Terreno.
And if the sauna with a view and the spa and the short walks to a myriad activities, museums, hiking terrain and even a rocky beach (turns nudist in the afternoon - you have been warned) wasn't enough, bugger me if there isn't a pool on the rooftop as well.
People of Hong Kong and Norway and the world, this is the time to come to Mallorca! You can stick your head out the door without being stampeded by (other) tourists, and although it is slightly cooler than in the summer, the skies are still burning blue and the trees covered in flowers.
And the beautiful rooms of Hotel Feliz are only 70 euros this month, less than 1/3 of those of a similar standard in Palma city.
What are you waiting for! Come now. But quick, they close for the winter in December.
Who the hell came up with Daylight Saving Time or Summer Time and Winter Time as we say in Denmark, Sweden and Norway?
Some people say that Benjamin Franklin had the idea in 1784 on a journey to Paris. He is credited with the idea of springing forward and falling back to allow people to save money on candles, but it now appears he suggested Parisians get up an hour earlier in order to save candles, as a joke.
The UK started using Daylight Saving Time in 1916, seven years after it was implemented in Port Arthur, Canada. Since then it has spread like so much Bubonic plague to 70 countries, three of which are, inevitably, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
But how much candle wax do we really need to save nowadays, I wonder? Even if candles were expensive, I think people can now largely decide for themselves when and where to use them. The rest of the time they would just - turn on the light!
The whole idea of Summer Time seems to be that it should stay light longer in the evening, in summer. So why even have it in Scandinavia when it’s light in summer almost 24 hours a day anyway? Is it so horrible that it gets a little darker at, say, 21:30 instead of 22:30? Is it, in fact, too much to ask that it is darker at night than in the daytime?
Me, I want light in the morning. For 30 years living in Hong Kong, I could follow my circadian rhythms to the letter. I got up when it was light and started feeling sleepy when it was dark. Moving to Spain, I was horrified in March when, just as it was starting to get light around 6:30 in the morning, I was suddenly catapulted forward to the dawn starting at 7:30.
That is virtually mid-day!
The whole day was ruined. Would I have to start using – splutter, gag – an alarm clock?
Now it seems that we'll finally get rid of this nuisance, but guess what, it's the stay light longer in the evening, i.e. daylight at 9 pm, that people want. Noooooooo! It's in the morning it must be light. THE MORNING!
You shouldn’t mess with Mother Nature. Death and destruction inevitably follow. But me, I’m fought back. One of my watches and my kitchen and living room clocks were set on Winter Time the whole summer.