Sunday, 31 July 2016

July - the month of haying

Phew, I just made it! It's the last day of July and as a lazy blogger (you know, summer, holidays, stuff...) I almost forgot my entire month name series.

July in Finnish is heinäkuu. Literally translated, that means hay month, or, indeed, haying month. Quite simply this is the month when farmers cut, dry and store grass. Thus July is another month that got its name from farm work.

I have no picture of hay fields, so instead here's one of my reading view lately:

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Travel Tales – Going Medieval: Ruins of Kuusisto Castle and Medieval Churches

On our recent road trip (previous part here), we also visited a couple of Medieval sights. Among these were the ruins of Kuusisto Castle near Turku. It used to be an episcopal castle (bishop’s residence) and was built around the early 14th century... only to be ordered to be demolished in 1528 by the King Gustav I of Sweden. All that is left now are ruins, but they’re rather impressive and hugely interesting just the same. It’s a beautiful place and well worth a visit.

We also happened to drive by a couple of Medieval stone churches. Considering how sparsely populated Finland was at the time (still is, one could say), it is amazing to think that such buildings were constructed in this remote corner of the world. Yes, well, this was the time when great cathedrals were built, and these stone churches do seem very modest in comparison. But I’ll have to say that I prefer their simpler, more austere style, and somehow it just seems to be a better fit for Finland. Still, these churches must have been real marvels when they were built.

The church in Nousiainen. It looks much smaller from the outside and in pictures, I was astonished to walk in and see how large it actually is.

The church in Rusko was already closed when we got there, so we only got to look at it from the outside. Nearby was a picturesque old stone bridge.

The Lieto church. All these churches have undergone various kinds of renovations and restorations, so none of them is in the condition it was when first built but rather exhibits various layers, items etc. from various centuries (e.g. the murals on the walls were often painted over during the reformation, but efforts have been made to uncover them).

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Travel Tales – Louhisaari Manor

We made a little road trip last weekend, and I thought I’d share some travel tales with you. Due to our interest in the 17th century, we decided to visit the Louhisaari Manor in South West Finland (read more about the place in Finnish or in English). The gorgeous white main building, now a museum, dates back to the 1650s.

The first and the third floor have been furnished in the 17th and 18th century style.

Note the rug on the table rather than on the floor (they were rare and expensive, so people did not want to trample on them but used them as decorative items):

The ceiling above the stairs has frescoes from the 17th century, and the ceilings in the third floor are all absolutely stunning.

Books, 17th century style.

I bet there are secret compartments in this desk!

Some pics from the 19th century part of the manor.

A lovely study with old books.

On the wall was a drawing of our hero, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, but I think his horse steals the show! :D

The manor is surrounded by a beautiful park with old trees and a garden.

There is a gift shop, too. I found this sign hilarious - it says, "Buy your own manor house! Now you can afford it. Louhisaari miniature 0,50 €."

A drink named after the manor is made of lemons and black currant leaves. It was a warm day and we were very thirsty after the tour, so we bought a bottle and sipped some in the shade. It was delicious! My mother used to make it when I was a child, so the taste brought back many memories.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Review: Lady Macbeth’s Tale by Maggie Power

I came across this novel when Amazon offered it for free, and I didn’t have to think twice before I downloaded it. It’s Macbeth! No, better; it’s Lady Macbeth! It’s Scotland. It’s the 11th century. What more can I want?

Most of us know Macbeth from the famous tragedy by Shakespeare, but, as far as I understand, Shakespeare more or less simply used the actual events for inspiration rather than bothering with historical accuracy. In his play, Lady Macbeth appears as an ambitious, ruthless woman who drives her husband to commit regicide in order to seize the crown. In Maggie Power’s tale, Lady Macbeth is given a chance to tell her own story: what happened to her before she became Lady Macbeth, what made her the kind of woman she is.

Gwaina, a princess of Cornwall, finds herself a pawn in the power struggles of the 11th century. To quote her:
For my life… my death… are being cast like rune stones across the brutal landscape of territorial treaties, royal alliances and canny blood-ties with grasping Northmen. Already I'm learning that once beyond the walls of childhood, having overleapt the moat of maidenhead, a woman may count of everything and nothing.

She is a princess; kings and princes vie for her hand, yet she wants to rule as a queen in her own right. Men continuously tell her to leave politics to men:
Leave affairs of state to men. We are your masters.

And eventually men fail her, which leads to a bitter disappointment.

“Lady Macbeth’s Tale” is Gwaina’s story from childhood to becoming Lady Macbeth. That is, we do not get to see the events described by Shakespeare in his play. There are references to that, though, including the origin of the three witches. The first, longer part of the story is told by Gwaina, then the point of view changes to that of Macbeth. It is an interesting choice. On one hand, it emphasises the change in Gwaina (later Gruoch) – after what she’s been through, she’s hardly the same person – but on the other hand, it distances the reader from her. Even so, it becomes clear where her ambition and ruthlessness stem from.

My feelings about this book are conflicted. It held my interest and I wanted to know what happened, yet I felt like the plot didn’t ever really get going. Perhaps too much was covered through dialogue (most often between Gwaina and her lover(s)) instead of actually showing us what happened. There were characters who conveniently appeared to help the protagonist in trouble and were never seen again later, and there were scenes that served no purpose in furthering the plot. I could also complain about the sex scenes, many of which did not take the story forwards, but... me? Complain about sex scenes? Not likely, unless they’re terrible, so... no. ;)

I liked the writing, and if you’ve been following my posts, you know this is important to me. There were instances where it veered dangerously close to purple prose, but for the most part, I enjoyed the style, the beautiful sentences, and particularly a certain animistic aspect in the style. Wonderful, and very fitting!

I won’t go into historical accuracy in any detail since I’m no expert and don’t know how Power created her story (I would have appreciated an “Author’s Note” with references to sources, to which parts were based on research and how much was the author’s imagination, but there was none). Most of it seemed right, although there were a few strange details, including the use of the term rapier (rapiers did not exist in the 11th century... but then it was only once and even then symbolically) and Gwaina being rescued from her kidnappers by nuns in black silk attires, firing poison arrows at her enemies. I don’t know how likely such a turn of events would have been – sounds more like fantasy than historical fiction, although an order of such ninja nuns would be undeniably cool!

I found it impossible to rate this book. There was definitely a lot of promise, but I was left with a feeling that the somewhat incoherent and loose plot did not quite allow that potential to truly flourish.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Pão de Mel by Munik Chocolates - and Happy World Chocolate Day!

It being World Chocolate Day (yes, that is a thing, I didn’t make it up, see Wikipedia), I thought I’d blog about something... chocolatey!

This is Pão de Mel (“honey bread”), a Brazilian specialty made by Munik Chocolates. This gorgeous package was sent to me by a dear friend, who is from Brazil (although she’d made her home in the UK). She kindly remembered us on her latest visit to her home land and decided to introduce us to this Brazilian delicacy. I have the best friends! :)

Not only does this treat include chocolate, but I’ve always been interested in the cuisine of other countries; collecting recipes, asking friends who hail from different parts of the world how and what they cook, wanting to try new things when we travel (I’m not adventurous enough to taste, say, lamb’s eyeballs, but I have eaten some haggis :D). As it happens, my daughter has clearly inherited my curiosity – she’s been known to say things like, “I’ve never had any sushi, let’s try some!” So, imagine our enthusiasm upon receiving this lovely gift!

As you can see, it’s a pretty box with a red ribbon which gives it a definite feel of luxury. Inside nestle six pieces of Pão De Mel, beautifully decorated with chocolate drizzle. Now, I have to say this: I don’t know what size these treats usually are in Brazil, but I’d imagine that, were they made in Finland, the pieces would be much smaller! These are generous pieces, which is a very good thing! ;) The box contains two kinds of Pão de Mel, one with liqueur and the other with condensed milk.

Each piece has a chocolate coating which is fairly thick (another very good thing) yet somewhat soft which makes it easier to eat the pieces. The chocolate is also delicious! Inside is what I think is referred to as “bread”; a slightly crumbly cake-like filling. However, it is nothing like bread, and not exactly like cake, either, being dense, very sweet and extremely moist! Now, I do like cake, but definitely not the dry ones; a good cake is always very moist. This is exactly that, and what with the chocolate and a bit of spices (cinnamon, I think), it’s very rich and deliciously decadent.

We thoroughly enjoyed this little excursion to Brazilian cuisine – and while we already sampled three of these treats earlier this week, I decided to save the other three for a special occasion... and then it was World Chocolate Day, which is the perfect reason to celebrate!