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Swans at Hinchingbrooke Country Park, January 2022

Being retired, we can take advantage of short periods of sunshine to have a walk in our favourite local park!
A few degrees above freezing, but a very nice day.

If you like this...

[The River Ouse Nearly Overflowing, Christmas 2021]
[My Index of Photoblogs]

When Marnie Was There (Movie and Novel)

I had never heard of this excellent Studio Ghibli animation (available on Netflix) until quite recently. (You can watch the movie trailer if you click any of these screenshots from it.)

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who worked on many of Miyazaki's films, and based on the 1967 novel by Joan G. Robinson, it is unusual in several ways.

As a movie, the closest to it might be Whisper of the Heart, written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Yoshifumi Kondō, which is set in the very real world of Tokyo. Shizuku, its heroine, supported by a good family, wrestles with herself as she (often painfully) develops.

As a novel, the closest to it might be The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett's timeless classic of a lonely, introverted English girl from India brought slowly to life by the garden, its wildlife and by plain Yorkshire people unlike any she has met before.

Anna, the heroine of When Marnie Was There, is emotionally locked within herself, for reasons that only gradually become apparent. Sent to 'Little Overton', a small wetland village in Norfolk (transcribed to Japan in the movie, with startling resemblances) to stay with a plain, down-to-earth couple, she is rescued from herself by a very unusual set of circumstances.

The relationship between herself and the mysterious Marnie is both delightful and bitter-sweet, and turns out to be most unexpected.

The daughter of Robinson, Deborah Sheppard (also an author of children's books), said that the creation of When Marnie Was There began during a family summer holiday in the coastal village of Burnham Overy Staithe. Major natural features of the location include a creek and tidal marsh, with an isolated beach surrounded by sandhills.

When Marnie Was There was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 1968. Joan's fiction was always about girls who felt unloved - and she used to say of When Marnie Was There, "You can write books, but there's only every one book that's really you."

Kushiro Wetlands, in Hokkaido, Japan (image from Wikipedia)

These are extracts from the postscript to the book written by Joan's daughter in April 2002:

“Thirty years after the book was published, I heard how a Japanese man had recently arrived in the village looking for 'Little Overton'. Many years before, as a young teenager, he had read When Marnie Was There in Japanese. The book had made a great impression on him and he very much wanted to see the place where the story was set...

“He spoke very little English and he had no idea where 'Little Overton' was. All he had was a copy of the book as his guide. So he took the train to King's Lynn, as Anna had done; and finally caught the bus that goes along the coast....

“At each stop the passengers got off until he was the only person left. He began to get rather anxious. Then as the bus turned the corner he saw the windmill [which features in the book, transcribed to a large derelict silo in the movie].

“Stop, stop!” he said, “This must be it!” And he leapt off the bus. But the village wasn't 'Little Overton', it was Burnham Overy...

“He was thrilled to be here at last. To see the tide rising, the boats swinging at anchor, the wild marsh and birds and the house that been the start of it all.”

The old silo that appears in the film is based on Burnham Overy Staithe Windmill, Norfolk (image from Wikipedia).

BTW, we hope to visit this place soon, as it is not too far from where we now live (see my previous post if you are interested, follow the >> link below).

If you like this...

[Deep Inside My Heart, a music video by Priscilla Ahn, which contains many more scenes from When Marnie Was There than you will find in the official trailer. Interestingly, it opens with a short clip from Whisper of the Heart.]

[The Art of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, my article which includes Whisper of the Heart]

[Or try clicking any of this article's tags - just a suggestion!]

Norwegian “Slow TV” at its best...

Click any of my screenshots below to play.

A few days into the voyage we leave Molde, the “Town of Roses” with a jazz festival, on the way to Kristiansund

Arriving in Kristiansund, which turns out to be a fascinating place. Many of its inhabitants are descendents of Scotsmen. It was settled as early as 8000 BC, and is the home of an important opera festival.

If you would love to take some or all of this long trip, which starts in Bergen, takes in the Gerainger fjord and Ålesund among other places, and goes right around the top of Norway inside the Arctic circle, but (like us) may never be able to do it, then this one-hour video is the next best thing to being there.

The commentary is truly excellent, the scenery is awesome, and you can enjoy some great music along the way.

If you like this...

[The Hurtigruten Shipping line]
[Slow going: why 'slow TV' is catching on fast - Channel 4 News]
[More Slow TV]

Photo by the wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas, whose other work is well worth exploring

Thanks to ChrystalStars, whose beautiful pages were just what I needed to cheer me up!

The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the world’s healthiest and happiest cities. It consistently sits at the very top of the UN's happiness index and is one of the star performers in the Healthy Cities initiative of the World Health Organisation (the latter currently celebrating its 30th Anniversary).

With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, this article presents Copenhagen's lessons for how to combat them culturally.

One of these lessons is that we don't do what we ought to do for our health – we do what we enjoy or what makes our lives easiest. Copenhagen planners have taken that fact on board in ways that many cities could learn from.

The key lesson in achieving happiness is perhaps this one:

It is no accident that the USA, whose current administration follows a philosoophy that appears to be the exact opposite, is far being a collectively happy place. Luckily, many parts of the USA (and many people) are not fans of the current administration, to put it mildly, and both happiness and hope are still to be found there.

If you like this...

[How to be a happy country: Lessons from Bhutan]

This joyous and very successful movie (French, with English subtitles) tells the story of Philippe, a wealthy quadraplegic aristocrat (François Cluzet) crippled in a paragliding accident, whose life is transformed by the arrival of Driss (Omar Sy), a hip Senegalese ex-con from the projects.

Intouchables is based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou, a story captured in Abdel's book “You Changed My Life”, which tells us much more about the caregiver's own life and how it was transformed by the relationship.

It is the happiest of the movies in the Relationships and Personal Journeys section of my movies web page, which features some great stories about lives that have been damaged in one way or another and then become fixed, or at least improved.

If you haven't already seen it, Intouchables might be one of the best movies that you never heard of.

Click the image if you would like to read more about the movie and the true story that inspired it.

Of all the works by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, My Neighbour Totoro is undoubtedly the most loved. Children who grew up with it remember it as one of their favourite movies, and many love it even more as adults.

I never saw it as a child (I was a grown-up in 1988), but it is certainly now one of my all-time favourite movies. It's a gentle story of childhood joys and fears that celebrates kindness, a close relationship with Nature and (as one expects from Miyazaki) the Japanese tradition of respect for one's elders.

I recently had the pleasure of introducing it to my 7-year old granddaughter (not that I need an excuse to watch it), and was struck by what a wonderful antidote it is to the poisonous spirit emanating from the current US President.

I also recently discovered a marvellous retrospective of this great movie. I recommend clicking either image above to read it (the second image is actually my own screenshot). If you do, don't miss its link to an all-but-forgotten classic Disney animation called The Old Mill.

If you like this...

[The Art of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli]

The garden of our wonderful Airbnb place where we stayed in Sintra (click the image for more info)

People interested in my web site may like to know that I have added a new page on Portugal for armchair travelers (or people who might be thinking of going there).

Portugal is a relatively recent discovery for my family, and it didn't take long to fall in love with the country and with its very friendly people. The cost of living is low, and the Portuguese really care about their environment, with almost 100% of their energy needs coming from renewables.

If you have never been to Portugal... then I highly recommend it!

“Moonlight Picnic” by Lucia Heffernan

Given what's going on in the world at the moment, we could all use a little more of this right now!

If your news channels give you a continual diet of doom and gloom, why not try the Good News Network as a healthy alternative?

From my previous post on Bhutan:

Quietly, one small step at a time, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and the vision and common sense of its Prime Minister Jigme Yoser Thinley in particular, is influencing the way that governments across the world try to bring about "progress".

In Bhutan, after many years of developing the ideas, the materialistic measure of GDP is being extended to a measure called GNH, or Gross National Happiness.

The problem with the word "happiness" is that it suggests that GNH is about some Utopian, flower-power dream. As conceived by Jigme Thinley, nothing could be further from the case. Time Magazine reports that after many years of work, researchers in Bhutan refined the original GNH concept into nine equally-weighted components: Psychological well-being, Health, Time use, Education, Cultural diversity and resilience, Good governance, Community vitality, Ecological diversity and resilience, and Living standards. A very detailed survey established a GNH baseline in Bhutan, a number whose absolute value doesn't matter (it was about 74% of a theoretical maximum), but whose changes can be monitored and tracked.

[If you're interested, read more here.]

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice, France

We recently spent two very nice weeks in Nice, one of our favourite cities (if you are interested you can see a photoblog of our first trip to Nice here).

This time we stayed not far from this museum, where they allow you to take photographs without flash. These are my photos of some of my favourites, which feature the wonderful colours of Provence. The first picture is my kind of place... if you like it, you'll probably like some of the other nice places in this collection.

Click a label if you would like to see links about that artist.

1 Hour Long Sunrise at Langstiņi Lake, Garkalnes novads, Latvia (map link)

If you're feeling stressed, or even if you're not, why not stop for a while and watch this nice example of Slow TV (full screen on the TV in your living room, if you can)?

“The Innermost House Foundation is a non-profit organization devoted to exploring the transcendental dimension of American life expressed by Thomas Jefferson in his writings, preached by Ralph Waldo Emerson, practiced by Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond and lived by Diana Lorence at Innermost House.”

What started out for me as the discovery of a pretty picture led me to an unexpected wealth of information (and a whole lot of other beautiful images, e.g. these) that I had never come across before. If you follow the links (as I know most people won't have time to do) you can spend hours here...

Yet another great share by overthetrail - thanks, Sandy!

“Smile for today”, one of many, many reasons to visit Gatorindo's fine pages

(Click his tag for more reasons!)

“Summer Pastoral” by the British Columbia-born Canadian artist Don Li-Leger, whose other work is well worth exploring

One of many treasures to be found on the fine pages of Jerzee55sst - thanks, Jerry!

“Country Pub in Brannenburg” by Max Liebermann - my kind of place!

Another one from the wonderful art gallery of Ceara - click the image for her original, fully-documented post

“At the End of the Porch”, a beautiful picture by the American artist John Sharman

From the wonderful art gallery of Ceara - click the image for her original, fully-documented post

The Art of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli

I am a long time fan of Studio Ghibli, and I still consider Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away to be the finest animation ever made (a close runner-up being The Illusionist by Sylvain Chomet).

One reason that I am a fan is the beautiful environments (often urban) created in many of their films. These are works of art in their own right, and I have done my best to capture (with my own screenshots) some of the ones that I particularly like.

In order to keep this post a reasonable length, and because the art in many of the films can only be appreciated in animated form, I have chosen only three films (omitting, for example, the beautiful natural environment of My Neighbour Totoro along with many others). Click any image if you would like to see links about that film.

Kiki's Delivery Service

This charming story about the early difficulties of a trainee witch, based on a children's fantasy novel, would be worth watching just for the artwork of the beautiful Scandinavian-style landscape and city. When the weather is lousy or everything seems miserable, I watch this film again, thinking how much I would like to live here - and how much designers of modern architecture could learn from the film.

Kiki standing outside the bakery, overlooking the sea. Behind her is a glimpse of the lower part of the fictional city. The (apparently hand-painted) details of mortar, stones, plaster, tiles and so much else is incredible - the more you look, the more you see. As with so many of Miyazaki's urban environments, it is set on a hill, giving it added interest as a place and a wonderful three-dimensional feel as art.

The fictional city is “Koriko” or “Coriko”, although the characters don't mention it. Miyazaki's inspiration for it was the town of Visby on the island of Gotland, Sweden (worth looking at), although the fictional Koriko is a much larger place.

This is animation at its finest (no still images can convey how good it is), and one of my all-time favourite movies. (The version I have is in Japanese, with English subtitles, which I generally prefer.)

The bakery, with another glimpse of Koriko rising above it, lit (as often in Miyazaki's films) by a low sun. The room at the top of the stairs is a kind of storage loft, which Kiki can use free as her room (and have free use of the telephone for her delivery business) in exchange for helping out at the bakery.

The view from Kiki's room, as evening falls.

The bakery at night.

The Wind Rises

This is to be the last of Miyazaki's films (see here), and in many ways is very different from the others. A very good description of it can be found here.

It is a fictionalized version of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi fighters that flew in WWII. It features many things: the love and mystique of aviation (and a repugnance for its use in war) that is Miyazaki's own, a stunning sequence covering the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, 7.9 on the Richter scale, that devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area, and a bittersweet story concerning his love for Nahoko, a girl whom he rescues during the earthquake and then doesn't see again for some time.

The story is fascinating from a historical point of view, but it also features some fine art work that somehow makes even factories and aircraft hangars things of beauty. I have selected just a few here.

A train journey during a period of tranquillity. Jiro is on his way to a hotel where he will again encounter Nahoko. Trains, and other means of transport, feature in many of Miyazaki's films with an extraordinary attention to realistic detail. (In Kiki's Delivery Service, when looking through the front window of an old-fashioned bus about to depart, we can see its nose rise as it is lifted by the torque of the engine, before setting off - a detail most people wouldn't even care about, or notice.)

The outfall from a beautiful spring pool, near the hotel where he encounters Nahoko.

Walking back to the hotel, caught in a sudden rain squall. Wind, rain and clouds are often major features of Miyazaki's films.

The hotel where Nahoko and Jiro meet.

Nahoko sadly dies of tuberculosis. They marry so that they can live together for the short time left, but Nahoko disappears one day, returning to the sanatorium so that he will remember her as she was. Together with other patients, she lies (well bundled up) on the verandah of the sanatorium, and in this beautiful short sequence she looks up at the sky as snow falls.

Whisper of the Heart

This is another great favourite of mine. It's a coming-of-age story set in modern Tokyo. Its heroine Shizuku is led on a journey that becomes more and more magical at it progresses - not, in this case, the magic of myths or legends, but a way of seeing the real world through the eyes of a young teenager that becomes a true voyage of enchantment.

The film was written by Miyazaki but directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, whom Miyazaki hoped would take over from him. Kondo's premature death shortly afterwards, apparently caused by overwork, seems to have led Miyazaki to announce his retirement, although (fortunately for us) he continued to work for a further 15 years but at a more relaxed pace.

The apartment block where Shizuku lives is far from luxurious...

The door is metal and the interior is very small and cluttered. Nevertheless Shizuku's family lives happily there, and apart from the expected occasional friction with Shizuku's older sister, is very supportive of her.

Shizuku's life is one of an ordinary young teenager. She attends a local school, remarkable only for the respect that Miyazaki always shows being given by children to their elders and teachers. Shizuku writes two translated versions of John Denver's “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (hilarious when translated back to English in subtitles) - she doesn't really understand the concept of a “home town”, and her second version is entitled “Take Me Home, Concrete Roads”.

Shizuku is a voracious reader, borrowing books from the library, and keeps encountering the name of a previous borrower, Seiji Amasawa. She encounters Seiji several times without realizing who he is, and is extremely cross when he teases her. But things will change...

One day when Shizuku travels on the local train, she is joined by an unusually independent cat. When they get off together she follows him...

...losing him...

...but discovering him again higher up the hill.

The cat leads her up a steep, narrow rubbish-strewn alley.

(Monitor test: you should be able to see considerable detail even on plain concrete walls.)

Shizuku emerges into what, to her, is a different world...

...and discovers an open, and apparently deserted, antique shop... which she will discover Seiji's grandfather, and learn that Seiji himself lives downstairs, learning to be a violin maker.

Here she also meets The Baron, an amazing statuette with crystal eyes, whose story links to an unfulfilled love in the grandfather's past life.

Seiji's grandfather shows her a marvellous clock that he is repairing, whose mechanisms include another depiction of unfulfilled love.

Shizuku later meets Seiji here, and learns that he hopes to leave schooling early for a career making violins - but first he will have to prove himself by becoming an apprentice to a strict violin-making master in Cremona, Italy.

Shizuku realises how much she will miss him, and decides to challenge herself while he is away by writing a long story, which she calls Whisper of the Heart, inspired by the story of The Baron.

Seiji's grandfather wants to be the first to read her story, and Shizuku waits for hours on his lower verandah while he does so, in an agony of suspense. He finally appears and tells her that her story is a little rough, like any craftsman's first work, but she has dug out some real gems from her heart - and makes the hugely relieved Shizuku a supper of Ramen noodles.

Early one cold morning Seiji returns, and calls to Shizuku to come down.

He takes her high up to one of his favourite places... watch a magical sunrise above Tokyo

If you like this...

[Wingsee, a delightful site dedicated to the work of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki]
[The painting "Ship Flying Over The Rainbow" from "Kiki's Delivery Service"]
[Joe Hisaishi plays his piano music from "Spirited Away"]
[The Art of Animation: Disney's “Tangled”]

Hand-painted stones, examples of what the artist calls “dotillism art”, by Elspeth McLean, a painter and art therapist from Australia, who writes:

“Painting is my way to find my “happy place” and colour is a way to express and celebrate the colours of my soul. By using bright and vivid colours and intricate dot work style, the artwork I create becomes a direct expression of my experience of life. I tend to focus on the more uplifting and beautiful aspects of this world because I think there is already enough darkness.”

I can certainly relate to that...

One of many delights to found on the pages of regtf1948.

“Little Girl at the Aquarium” by Royce Hutain (aka Visual Burrito)

Royce Hutain is also the guy who makes those neat LED “Glowy Zoey” stick figure costumes that glow in the dark. If you want to have some fun at night with your kids, check them out!

I found this here on the very nice pages of Reflections, a visit to which is highly recommended.

“The Art of Snacking” © by Trisha Selgrath, whose other work is well worth exploring

If I had to choose just one picture to convey the flavour of expressioniste (Aline)'s wonderful pages (an impossible task) then this still from Albert Lamorisse's 1965 classic Le Ballon Rouge might be it (see here for her post with more stills).

And if I had to choose just one phrase to sum up her pages, it would be the "joie de vivre" which she kindly spreads to all of us. Whether it's her love of all things French, or beautiful fashion, or sunny pictures, or her delight in good food, or any of a hundred other things, I always (reluctantly) come away from her pages feeling much happier about life than when I arrived.

If you like this...

[Enjoy some more "joie de vivre"!]
[French films]

From the beautiful and uplifting pages of Chaotiqual:

which reminded me of this great song, which I always associate with the movie Sleepless in Seattle:

sung beautifully here by the Russian-born jazz vocalist Sophie Milman:

If you like this:

[Random acts of kindness (links)]
[Pay it forward (from my web page)]

A live, exhilarating performance by Jesse Cook and friends, a medley of tracks from Jesse's album (and full video) The Rumba Foundation.

“The Rumba Foundation” (see the bottom of this post) is essentially a musical lesson in Rumba Flamenca, which could almost translate as “how to enjoy life”, and the various fusions around it.

Jesse Cook is not just an awesomely talented guitar player, but an ambassador for world music and an extraordinary team leader. He is Canadian, and it happens that my other favourite Rumba Flamenca artist, Govi, is a German who spent 8 years in India. Both of these people obviously have Latin deep in their souls!

If you like this, do NOT miss...

[The Rumba Foundation - Full Video (59 Minutes)]

This 18-year old Middlesbrough teenager appeared on BBC Breakfast a short while back, and I can tell you that she has a smile that can light up your entire day.

Her name is Jade Jones, and she's a T54 wheelchair track athlete for Great Britain and the British record holder over 400/5000m.

She represented GB at the London 2012 Paralympics, and won the bronze medal in the women's para-sport 1500m in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The London 2012 Olympics were watched by a good proportion of the entire planet. The USA, however, largely missed out on the London 2012 Paralympics, due to a perceived or actual lack of interest by USA viewers (or maybe just by NBC), and so missed out on an extraordinary communal party that equalled or even eclipsed the Olympics.

The sheer feel-good factor of both events lifted the spirits of Britain (and maybe other countries) in a way that is good to look back on now. However the Paralympics also changed forever the view of “disability” for everyone who watched it.

I observed afterwards that the American political system (unlike very many American people) seems to suffer more than most from disability, dysfunction, negativity, under-achievement, non-cooperation and meanness of spirit - the exact opposite of what we watched, especially in the Paralympics.

There has been so much to enjoy in the recent Commonwealth Games, not least the fact that normal and para events have been integrated. It seems quite normal (at least to UK audiences) now. The larger Olympics, at least in 2016, won't be able to integrate the events in this way, but only because (I have heard) they would simply become too large.

The Olympics and Paralympics were the best thing to happen in Britain (IMO) in 2012, and perhaps for many years to come. Because of this, I put a lot of effort into recording the events, with images, commentary and links to some great music, for my own benefit and maybe for others who missed out:

The short version (from my web site):

[The beautiful games]

The full versions (linked to from the short version):

[Olympics opening ceremony]
[International inspiration to young people: Jessica Ennis and Denise Lewis]
[The fabulous Olympics closing ceremony]
[The stunning Paralympics opening ceremony (visit this, if nothing else!)]
[Royal Mail commemorative stamps, one for each paralympic gold medal winner (with links to each winner featured)]
[My review of the Paralympics, and the closing ceremony]

"Jeune femme allongée sur un banc, 1913 (The blue lantern)" by Carl Larsson

From the always-beautiful pages of ensemble5, who got it from this very nice Carl Larsson art blog.

This wonderful happy song (click the lyrics to listen) reminded me...

Life sometimes seem just too frenetic, with no time to stop and watch the world go by.

The Norwegians, recognizing this, have pioneered a new kind of entertainment with Slow TV. You can spend hours on a train just looking at the scenery, or enjoy a slow cruise up the Norwegian fjords, or stare dreamily into a log fire (if you're not lucky enough to have one of your own), or watch salmon swimming upstream...

It sounds unlikely as a crowd-pleaser? Well, an early experiment drew 1.25 million viewers in Norway, about a fifth of the population, and the idea is certainly taking off as you can see here (literally, in the case of British Airways, who are introducing an example of Slow TV on their long haul flights).

I peek into the future and sadly see people still living in urban sprawls, but with low-cost giant HD screens showing a better world outside...

If you like this...

[A complete virtual trip (can be sampled!) on the Trans Siberian Railway]
[Caretake this moment...]
[Go placidly amid the noise and haste...]
[Creating a field of flowers]
[Things to enjoy in life (including this one)]

If you saw that wonderful “life is good” movie Enchanted April, you will remember the lovely theme tune that George Briggs (Michael Kitchen, perhaps best known for Foyle's War) plays on the oboe.

The tune is Elgar's Chanson de Matin, which you can listen to on this video in an orchestral version, accompanied by many of my favourite paintings by J.M.W. Turner.

From the page:

If you're a Miyazaki fan, click the image below to see all the artist's work full size (and see how many details you recognize)... and please visit batchbatcharak, from whose fine pages this comes!

If you like this...

[Japanese animation at its finest: the master-works of Hayao Miyazaki]
[The painting "Ship Flying Over The Rainbow" from "Kiki's Delivery Service"]
[Joe Hisaishi plays his piano music from "Spirited Away"]

and maybe also...

[Beautiful stained glass by Rober Oddy]

A beautiful portrait © by the multi-talented Vietnamese photographer and artist Duong Quoc Dinh,
whose other work is well worth checking out

If you like this...

["A Family Album Portrait" by Nadya Kulagina]

This is the most charming and delightful video that I have watched in a long time.

Camille Roux writes: “Hello, with my little brother we realized a trumpet-guitar cover of a [female] French singer (we're french) : Joyce Jonathan - Ca ira.”

Enjoy it for the music and the wonderful antics of this lovely pair. Also, I recommend another of Camille's videos, C'est écrit.

If (like me) you have never heard of Joyce Jonathan, try her video Je ne sais pas - you won't be sorry!

Another of Gatorindo's many great shares (click his tag above for a lot more good stuff that I've had from him). Thanks again, David!

"Lazy Sunday Afternoon With a Glass of California Chardonnay" by Alexander Orlov, a Russian artist who died in 1979

Thanks, Jerzee55sst (Jerry) (lots more good stuff on his pages!)

"Dog Heart" (probably not a good translation) by Elena Shovkoplyas, whose other work is well worth looking at

I have seen this wonderful picture before, but unfortunately only in posts that were linked to the original image (which doesn't identify the author), rather than being linked to the web page containing the image (which does identify the author). It took me several hours to track down the photographer, using every search technique I could think of.

Eventually, by going through page after page of Children's World, one of my favourite categories on, I came across a photo that seemed to have the same style as the one I was looking for. Unlike many previous such guesses, I was lucky this time!

The time wasn't wasted - I came across a lot of other good stuff in the search, not least all the other good work that Elena Shovkoplyas has done.

(BTW, if you didn't know already: the Chrome browser is great for viewing pages in foreign languages, since it has an automatic translation facility.)

"Aux beaux jours, 1889" by Jules-Alexis Muenier (1863-1942)

One of many beautiful works of art to be found (among other things) on the fine pages of Toetie.

Bhutan girls - click the image to read an extraordinarily fine article in a very fine blog

Quietly, one small step at a time, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and the vision and common sense of its Prime Minister Jigme Yoser Thinley in particular, is influencing the way that governments across the world try to bring about "progress".

In Bhutan, after many years of developing the ideas, the materialistic measure of GDP is being extended to a measure called GNH, or Gross National Happiness.

The problem with the word "happiness" is that it suggests that GNH is about some Utopian, flower-power dream. As conceived by Jigme Thinley, nothing could be further from the case. Time Magazine reports that after many years of work, researchers in Bhutan refined the original GNH concept into nine equally-weighted components: Psychological well-being, Health, Time use, Education, Cultural diversity and resilience, Good governance, Community vitality, Ecological diversity and resilience, and Living standards. A very detailed survey established a GNH baseline in Bhutan, a number whose absolute value doesn't matter (it was about 74% of a theoretical maximum), but whose changes can be monitored and tracked.

The important thing in Bhutan is that every government policy decision will be run through a GNH filter - and that is the key idea which is spreading, in a variety of forms to suit individual countries.

If you are interested in how this is happening, check out (for example) the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, the London-based Economic Foundation's Centre for Wellbeing, and many more examples here.

Although nothing is likely to happen in Washington D.C. until more people in the USA's political system become less interested in partisan dogma, some individual U.S. states are going ahead strongly (e.g. Vermont's Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI).

Since presumably even Ebenezer Scrooge was happy in his own way, not everyone's idea of happiness is the same. There is a fascinating web site called The OECD Better Life Index which lets you see how different countries rate against each other on a number of measures of well-being. Initially these measures are equally weighted, but you can change the weighting according to your own ideas of what's important.

If you don't follow any other link, may I strongly recommend this article, and the fine blog from which it comes. And thanks to the paper edition of Time Magazine for many of the links included here.

As a footnote... however you measure it, the UK became an obviously happier place this summer, with a community spirit and a sense of achievement that has not been felt for a long time. The reason for this was the events leading up to, around and through the London Olympics (my posts on which are here), followed by the equally wonderful London Paralympics (my posts on which are here).

If you like this...

[More links on how Bhutan is affecting the world
[World Happiness Report]

Ripping Things to Do is a simply wonderful book (another recommendation from my younger daughter - her previous suggestion is here). It is several things at once: an anthology of classic children's books (English, American and Swedish), a treasure trove of ideas and resources for children's activities based on those books, a nostalgia trip for parents who can remember the days before computer games, and more.

I can also highly recommend this review of the book. It comes from a very nice blogger (as does the above image), and can't possibly add anything to it - except to say that the book is aimed at parents of both boys and girls.

"Corsican Cats"

A rainy day in Corsica... and the local cats find a great way to spend it. Click the picture for the full story!

(It's been raining in England for what seems like forever - ever since drought warnings and the enforcement of a hosepipe ban....)

A sunny smile can make your day...

This is one of my favourite pictures of Debbie Harry (the source for which you will find here).

It features on my page called The Bright Side, which is a kind of antidote to a world which (according to the media) is full of people who hate each other, politicians with unforgivable human weaknesses, scandalous celebrities, crooked and/or environment-destroying companies, and all kinds of drop-outs and weirdos.

For a distinctly nicer view of life, check out my web page, or try this selection from my Categorian blog.

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo at Cannes...

...and Bérénice Bejo in London (image from here)...

...two amazingly good-looking people who have shot to international fame in that wonderful movie The Artist

If you haven't seen the film yet, may I highly recommend it. It is good old-fashioned entertainment, telling the story of George Valentin, a silent movie star being edged out by the talkies, and Peppy Miller, a beautiful, sparky newcomer who becomes a talkies star, and whom he is too proud to follow.

Although it is a silent movie (with music!), the movie has the same appeal as those great classics starring Gene Kelly or Fred and Ginger. Among many reasons for seeing it is Peppy's smile, which will light up your entire day.

(Bérénice, BTW, was born in Buenos Aires, a place known for its beautiful women. She moved to France when she was quite young.)

If you like this, try...

[The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec]

The wonderful Licia Maglietta as Rosalba

Pane e Tulipani (Bread and Tulips) is one of those movies that makes you think: "This is how life should be". It is basically an Italian variant on Shirley Valentine, where Rosalba, an under-appreciated housewife, gets left behind at a motorway rest-stop (for a reason that will make you wince in sympathy) by the rest of her family who don't even notice that she isn't on the bus.

Rosalba starts hitch-hiking, deciding on the way to take a detour via Venice and live a little for herself. Without much money, she finds lodging with Fernando Girasole, a kind but gloomy (even suicidal) Icelander who runs a not-too-great restaurant, and whose Italian is peppered with archaic literary expressions (conveyed nicely via subtitles). In the same building she befriends Grazia, a "holistic beautician and masseuse", and in the city she eventually finds work in a florist's shop, run by a crusty old man with the general charm of a Basil Fawlty, whom she gradually wins over, entertaining him in the absence of customers with an accordion lent to her by Fernando.

(About that accordion... Fernando got it in payment for a gambling debt. Rosalba's grandfather taught her to play one when she was 12, shortly before he died cycling over a bridge which he believed, erroneously, to have been completed...)

Meanwhile, Rosalba's cheapskate husband, finding himself deserted by his chief cook, maid and bottle-washer, hires Constantino, a bumbling, over-weight plumber, as a private detective to locate his wife, whom he knows is somewhere in Venice. Constantino isn't as lucky as Rosalba in finding accommodation in that super-expensive city, ending up in a seedy converted barge on a canal. In his search he encounters and falls in love with Grazia, the masseuse. Fernando, discovering who Constantino really is, confronts him with an ancient rifle while he is with Grazia, in a scene made hilarious by Fernando's style of speech.

The movie delivers everything that a romantic comedy should, but with a delightful, quirky Italian flavour that makes it unique. It took me a long time to track down a Region 2 copy of the DVD (exasperatingly, Region 1 was readily available), but you can get hold of it at the moment (I see that Amazon UK currently has 3 copies). If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it...

This is the coolest and funniest Christmas video that I have ever seen. However blue you are feeling, this will cheer you up!

I have posted this in previous years but (as usual) I can't resist doing it again.

The music, by the way, is sung by Clyde McPhatter (Santa) and The Drifters (reindeer). The animation is by Joshua Held.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

I watched Ratatouille again recently, and was reminded of what a great (and hugely enjoyable) work of art this is - it's my personal favourite of all Pixar's productions so far.

Click the picture if you would like further ramblings on this subject!

A very nice blog from Dom, in which she gives her "random thoughts on beauty, dining, travel and living in the PRC". Thanks, Catcaley (click her tag above to see much other good stuff that she has sent my way).

This wonderfully cheerful, bouncy song was sent to me by my friend Gatorindo (David), who wrote:

"Poppy but fun, and you can understand all of the words... note the chick doing the Robot--not a retro Robot, but really doing it... Debbie went on to do great things with that voice..."

If you haven't visited David's great pages, there is no time like the present... and you can see all of my Gatorindo snaffles if you click his tag above.

One of most beautiful videos I have seen for a long time (my screenshots):

Midnight Sun: A natural phenomenon occurring in the summer months north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic Circle where the sun never fully sets and remains visible 24 hours a day.

This short time lapse film (by SCIENTIFANTASTIC) was shot during the Icelandic Midnight Sun in June of 2011.

Thanks again, aldchronicle56 (Allan)!

If you like this...

["Home", HD movie of the Earth taken from the air by Yann Arthus-Bertrand]

"Passing by" by E. Martin Hennings

I came across this beautiful painting (which cannot be reproduced here) long ago on a poster from Art in New Mexico, 1900-45: Paths to Taos and Santa Fe, an exhibition at the National Museum of American Art way back in 1986 (and still a book of the same name).

This lovely young Italian girl was photographed by my sister-in-law while on a boat trip on Lake Garda, Italy.
My sister-in-law and her husband were staying at Sirmione, for reasons that my Sirmione Photoblog should make clear!

I found this here (with recipe) on Braid's very nice SU pages

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, starring Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson, is a simply delightful movie. It's a feather-light time-travel romantic comedy (with many clever touches), but there is real craft in creating one as enjoyable as this, and this is one of the best. Don't miss it!

Click the picture for a good review.

[More of my favourite movies...]

"Happy Kids", a picture to improve anyone's day, by the Russian travel photographer Dmitry Vashchenko

When the weather is like this... the only thing is to enjoy it!

A nice image by "alibi", a photographer from Budapest, Hungary who has only just started publishing his work (at least, as far as I can find).

If you like this...

["Summer Rain" by WWWest]

"De Rose en Rose - Slow Dance" by Chris Spheeris

A lovely piece of music, one of many beautiful things to be found on the delightful pages of gungorsanli.

If you ever had a special time dancing to this one, then I'm sure you will always remember it.

Thanks again, bluesemotion!

From the page:

Laice Wright (left) and Olivia Smith (right) stand in the former rubbish-strewn field which is now one of the country's biggest displays of annual wild flowers

Since buying the small estate of Barcroft Hall ten years ago, the Herricks have renovated the house and turned the 85-acre farm into a combination of formal gardens, wildlife areas, orchards, woodland and sustainable farmland.

Their latest project - the Field of Dreams - was inspired by visits to Kew Gardens, Table Mountain National Park and Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, South Africa.

They decided to turn an unsightly and rubbish-strewn field at the edge of their estate into one of the country's biggest displays of annual wild flowers from around the world...

Click either picture for more.

Thanks, anitab (Ani) (who likes the inspiration from South Africa).

(Original post: August 7th, 2011)

I have just updated my Italy web page, which has information and/or links about our favourite places there (which include the Italian Lakes, Tuscany and Umbria).

Sirmione on Lake Garda, Italy, July 2011

Some posts about our recent visit to Sirmione on Lake Garda (with some side trips) appear below.

If you are interested, here are the direct links:

[Verona and an "agriturismo" vineyard]
[Isola di Garda]
[Catullus's villa, Sirmione, and Lausanne]

You might also like...

[Places to enjoy life... in Italy]

"Island Rocker" by the Cape Cod artist Thomas B. Higham (my kind of place - thanks, johnshaven (Alison))

"Bridge to the old park" by Eugene Burmakin

This has become one of my very favourite paintings. If it were hanging in a gallery I would probably sit and look at it for 20 minutes!

"On A French River 1893"

"A French River Landscape"

Two lovely paintings by the Norwegian impressionistic artist Frits Thaulow

"Courageous" by the Danish graphic designer Jonas Ranum Brand - gratefully snaffled from my friend Chaotiqual, whom I am delighted to say is now here on Categorian

"Tea for Two" by the Polish designer Ewa Sendecka

For the next time that you are arguing about (say) green tea or redbush tea... beautiful and functional...

From the lovely pages of Bluesemotion.

(Original post: March 2nd, 2011)

This sparkling romantic comedy ("Priceless" in English) was shown recently on UK TV, thankfully in French with subtitles. Audrey Tautou's gold-digger, determined not to fall in love, reminds many people of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany's, and Gad Elmaleh's performance as her equally determined and long-suffering lover is also a delight.

If you have never seen it, I recommend that you catch this one (the DVD is only £5 from!).

If you like French "joie de vivre", you might like these previous posts...

[Samba Saravah (from the movie Un Homme et Une Femme)]
[October in Aix-en-Provence]
[Corsican Cats]


[My movies page]

This is the most beautiful and enjoyable arts programme that I have ever seen - with the added bonus of having been filmed in HD - don't miss it if it eventually comes round to your TV networks.

This was Sheila's own programme (only some of which is reflected here), and it is about more than painting; it is about a way of looking at life.

A scene from the English Lake District, one of many beautiful locations featured in this film.

Sheila Hancock is the widow of John Thaw (best known for Inspector Morse), and is a wonderful person and actress in her own right.

Venice has inspired many watercolour artists...

...from J.M.W. Turner, who had a rough time getting his style of painting acknowledged... modern watercolour artists like the Venetian painter Nicola Tenderini (Nicola is a man's name in Italian!) who still use Turner's techniques today

Some amateur watercolour artists are better known than others, although not always for their artistic work. This Scottish landscape is by Queen Victoria.

Sheila also looked at the sombre and modern side of watercolour art. This is a winter landscape by the English artist Paul Nash...

...who also recorded many images of WWI, both haunting and horrific

Sheila also met (among others) Douglas Farthing, a soldier for 23 years, who used watercolours to record scenes in Iraq and Afghanistan (often painted on crate lids) as well as keeping an illustrated diary. His work is well worth following up.

With segments on the Alps and India, Sheila's programme also featured work by Alexander Cozens and by Charlotte Canning. The latter had a rather sad life married to the Governor-General of India but was a talented and prolific watercolour artist.

Jake Shimabukuro plays "Bohemian Rhapsody" on a ukulele... an extraordinary performance on a happiness-bringing instrument (when played like this).

Thanks for sharing, Anitab!

If you like this, here is a really beautiful one...

["Somewhere Over The Rainbow" by Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo]

Adagietto, from Symphony No. 5 in C-Sharp Minor, 4th Movement, by Gustav Mahler

Thanks Catcaley for sending me this piece of music, one of the most beautiful ever written (IMO) - and a nice video too

The sixties were a fun time for me.

While I was a student I assembled a modest stereo system from a Garrard SP25 record deck, a build-it-yourself Heathkit valve amplifier, and home-made speaker cabinets housing Wharfedale Super 8's. I had it for many years and "Swingin' Safari" was one of my favourite vinyl records, partly because of its catchy rhythms and joyful penny-whistle melodies, and partly because the quality of the sound was so good.

Since losing my vinyl collection many years ago I have been waiting for this to be released on CD, and finally it has been (click the image if you're interested). As a nice touch, Polydor have printed the CD's top side so that it looks exactly like a miniature version of the vinyl record.

In today's digital age, a whole generation are turning their backs on CDs, and have probably never even seen a vinyl record. It's nice to have this one again.


"In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight...", otherwise known as "Wimoweh", appears on the Bert Kaempfert CD in a semi-instrumental version. The song has a fascinating history going back to 1939 and extending through Disney's "The Lion King". It's worth checking out.

"LeS LiOnNeS eN cAgE" by the French street artist Liliwenn, on the wall of the Leake Street Tunnel in London,
famous as a semi-official graffiti showcase

[The artist at work in Paris]
["Escape" - more delightful street art by Zach Blume]

Charlottesville, Virginia, October 2010

I had to visit Charlottesville in Virginia for a few days in late October, which was no hardship because it is one of my very favourite towns.

It has been rated as "the best place to live in the USA", and in spite of becoming a victim of its own success as more and more people move in around it, it's still a great place.

Charlottesville is a University town, set in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains, and was the local big town for "The Waltons" (which was actually filmed in California).

Charlottesville seen from the Monticello Memory Gardens, close to the famous Michie Tavern and Monticello, the estate and resting place of Thomas Jefferson

The heart of Charlottesville (and one of the main reasons for its immense popularity) is its historic Downtown, and in particular the Downtown Mall. You can walk from one end of the Mall to the other in just a few minutes, enjoying the restaurants, bookshops, pavement cafés, street entertainment, theatres and much else besides.

People read here, promenade here, play chess in the Mudhouse Internet café, and just sit here and do nothing but watch the world go by. It's my kind of place!

A fountain in one of the many pavement cafés

A pawn shop, Charlottesville-style!

At the west end of the Mall... the building on the left is the indoor air-conditioned ice rink (which was under threat of closure, but has thankfully reopened as the multi-use Main Street Arena)

At the other end of the Mall is the Charlottesville Pavilion where many events take place. If the Mall was being built today, no doubt JC Penney would be at one end and Sears at the other - and Charlottesville would be nowhere near as popular as it it is.

[Continues in Charlottesville Part 2]

[Continued from Charlottesville Part 1]

The best place to stay while enjoying the historic centre of Charlottesville (IMO) is the 200 South Street Inn. The room rate reflects its location, a few hundred yards from the Downtown Mall, and its well-deserved popularity.

Dating from 1856, it has been in its time a private residence, a girls' finishing school, a brothel (!) and a boarding house. It finally became today's Inn in 1986.

I love the old-style verandahs...

...where you can sit and enjoy the free wine and cheese laid out in the library / breakfast room from 5-7 pm each day

The Inn has many nice touches (and gave me an excuse to try out some HDR photography)

While the decor is in the historical tradition, the hotel is well lit by bulbs of the modern eco-friendly variety. These ceiling spotlights were too bright for the camera to show clearly, even when I decreased the exposure - they are LED spotlights which the owner tells me he bought for $17 from Sam's Club. They cost almost nothing to run and will last so long that the next person to have to climb up and change those bulbs will probably be one of the present owner's grand-children!

If you liked this...

[Some other places to enjoy life]

Sir Terry Pratchett, OBE
(Original post: September 4th, 2010)

O frabjous day! Another book by Terry Pratchett!

This is the fourth in possibly my favourite of all Terry Pratchett's sequences of stories, the sequence following Tiffany Aching, trainee witch (now full witch in this book) and the Wee Free Men (a.k.a. the Nac Mac Feegles), a hilarious bunch of tiny Caledonian hooligans.

(The previous 3 in this series were The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith.)

The stories are very funny, very serious and very wise, and best of all they have the witches. I suspect that (as with Samuel Vimes of the Night Watch in some of his other Discworld novels) his principal witches carry much of his own personal philosophy.

Some time in the next few years, a form of Alzheimer's will rob the world of one of its greatest living authors (Sir Terry was knighted for services to literature), but he will leave behind a truly wonderful legacy. In the meantime, as this book shows, the creative part of his brain is still in absolutely top form.

And that's not all...

This new DVD is possibly the best so far. If you liked the Sky productions of Hogfather and The Colour of Magic, then you will love this one.

Terry Pratchett specialises in sardonic, unsentimental heroines. Claire Foy does a great job of playing Adora Belle Dearheart in this one, just as Michelle Dockery did as Susan (Death's granddaughter) in Hogfather.

The rest of the cast is also top-of-the-range, and the movie is prefaced by a short introduction from Sir Terry himself. This is a joy not to be missed.

If you like Terry Pratchett...

[My review of 'The Bromeliad']

From my web site...

[My books page]
[My movies page]

(Original post: August 26th, 2010)

A wild-long tailed macaque monkey has adopted an abandoned kitten at Ubud's Monkey Forest in Bali.

There are 6 amazing and heartwarming photos here.

"Quiet Repose" by Steve Hanks

One of the many delights always to be found on the pages of Njoistumblin

(When I find out where she has moved to, I'll update this!)

Caretake this moment.
Immerse yourself in its particulars.
Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed.

Quit the evasions.
Stop giving yourself needless trouble.
It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.
You are not some disinterested bystander.
Exert yourself.

Respect your partnership with providence.
Ask yourself often, How may I perform this particular deed
such that it would be consistent with and acceptable to the divine will?
Heed the answer and get to work.

When your doors are shut and your room is dark you are not alone.
The will of nature is within you as your natural genius is within.
Listen to its importunings.
Follow its directives.

As concerns the art of living, the material is your own life.
No great thing is created suddenly.
There must be time.

Give your best and always be kind.

~ Epictetus ~

(Epictetus: The Art of Living a New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell.)

Thanks to my friend Sandy for this one!

From Sharon Lebell's page:

Sharon Lebell has built her life and livelihood around "rescuing philosophy from philosophers," freeing important, popularly overlooked philosophical ideas from arid, archaic language and obfuscation... In Sharon Lebell's hands the originally practical, earthy spirit of Stoic philosophy comes alive, making available to all this great tradition's wealth of helpful inspiration and timeless life guidance...

Sharon is also a master player of the hammered dulcimer, a stringed instrument of ancient middle-eastern origin. With her books and musical composition and performance she seeks to accomplish the same purpose: to spread a little sweetness and ease into the world.

(It happens that I have a weakness for the hammered dulcimer. If you haven't heard one played with the effect that Sharon tries to achieve, see here for some good examples!)

(Original post: August 2nd, 2010)

I was watching an edition of BBC's Countryfile programme recently, which featured the Yorkshire town of Holmfirth, shooting location for the classic BBC series Last of the Summer Wine, and was reminded what a gem of entertainment that series was, at least in its early seasons.

The disreputable antics of Foggy, Compo and Clegg, retired but determined to enjoy it, and their battles with various disapproving womenfolk, delighted millions of people around the world for many years (it's the longest-running comedy show in the world). The cast has changed over time, but this trio (together with Nora Batty) remain in my memory as the essence and heart of the show.

The London-born Bill Owen (Yorkshire's favourite adopted son) as Compo, and Kathy Staff as her real self, both now sadly passed away

Kathy Staff as the battleaxe Nora Batty

Clegg (Peter Sallis), Compo and Foggy (Brian Wilde) being seen off by Nora Batty in typical style

The Countryfile programme played a clip of one of many encounters between the doggedly (and leg-pullingly) amorous Compo and Nora Batty. He chaffs her for driving him wild with the clothes-peg in her mouth, and she replies (please imagine a trenchant Yorkshire accent): "How come you're still interested in women at your age?", to which Compo counters: "I think it's because you're the only opposite sex we've got... and they don't come any more opposite than thee!"

In later seasons the humour still remained, but as the cast changed and expanded it became somewhat formulaic with a number of endlessly repeated running gags and situations (e.g. the ladies simultaneously raising their tea-cups after disparaging the men, Howard and Marina hiding from Howard's wife). I still love the originals. It's time to get hold of those DVDs...

"Make Someone Happy" (a song that I always associate with that great movie Sleepless in Seattle) sung by the Russian-born jazz vocalist Sophie Milman

If you like this...

[More of the bright side of life...]

Images of Imogen Heap from

Thanks to butterflyZa for this stunning video, and also to Mike who writes:

"Imogen Heap performing live for Indie103.1, spine-tingling stuff. Just the girl herself, sampling and looping her own vocals live on this version of Just For Now."

Imogen is an extraordinarily talented lady, with an amazing command of both technology and music. I saw her once on BBC's Breakfast Show, where (sitting on the sofa, with her various gizmos more or less invisible about her person) she demonstrated how she could harmonize live with herself. Click any of the above images to hear what she can really do in a live performance.

If you haven't met it before...

[More about]

"Ballston surf", an amazing oil painting by the naturalistic artist Jon Friedman

If I came across one of Jon Friedman's paintings in an art gallery, I would be quite capable of sitting there for 20 minutes just looking at it. That's about as far from "normal" Stumbling as you can get (and why I am glad to be here on Categorian).

Free association...

[Green Waves, a beautiful song from Secret Garden]
["Spannungsbogen", the opposite of Stumbling]

If the rules of Desert Island Discs were changed to allow a DVD player and just one DVD to take to the island, then in my case that one DVD might be "Kiki's Delivery Service", by the Japanese master of animation Hayao Miyazaki.

If you have seen it then you may remember the beautiful painting that Kiki's friend Ursula is working on in her cabin in the woods. The painting, called "Ship Flying Over the Rainbow", was actually the work of students of Hachinohe City Minato Junior High School Handicapped Children's Class, and what you see in the animation is a still photo of the painting by Junichi Ochiai.

I haven't been able to find a copy of this painting online, so I took these screenshots from my copy of the DVD:

One reason that I like "Kiki" so much is the beautiful landscape and town that Miyazaki (a person with great respect for the environment) conjures up. I would love to live in that bakery by the sea.

I have always wondered what blend of real places contributed to Miyazaki's vision, and recently discovered the answer here (along with many other interesting facts about the movie).

If you like this...

[Joe Hisaishi plays his piano music from "Spirited Away"]
[Japanese animation at its finest: the master-works of Hayao Miyazaki]

One of my favourite tags...


Israel Kamakawiwo'ole ("Iz") sadly died of weight-related respiratory illness on June 26, 1997, at the age of 38.

He left behind this absolutely beautiful version of a beautiful song.

"Summer Dreams"

"Flowered Corner"

Beautiful colours from photographer/artist Eva Mariza

From the page:

"Cornwall will always be a great place to go camping but Ekopod is making it a stylish one too. This cool and contemporary living space is a luxury low-carbon retreat that brings the best of modern life to the best of the countryside. You can sleep in a full-size double bed but still wake up with a panoramic view of the hills. Breakfast on the decking terrace before hiking across the moors, bathe in a wood-fired bath tub after a surfing lesson or lounge in canvas easy chairs snacking on local produce from the honesty shop, all with minimal environmental impact. It's amazing that something so white can be so green."

This is one offering from Alastair Sawday's "Canopy & Stars" selections. If you are thinking of holidaying in the UK or other parts of Europe, and a few other places too, and are looking for somewhere special to stay, then I can really recommend Alastair Sawday's site as a great starting point. You will find more about him in the first link below.

From my web site...

[Some Places to Enjoy Life...]
[Some Places to Enjoy Life... In England]

Delightful feel-good jazz, and a delightful feel-good video to go with it, from Inga Swearingen

Thanks to my friend David for sending me this one.

[More of the bright side of life...]

(Last posted: December 23rd, 2009)

This is the coolest and funniest Christmas video that I have ever seen. However blue you are feeling, this will cheer you up!

I posted this last year but can't resist doing it again.

The music, by the way, is sung by Clyde McPhatter (Santa) and The Drifters (reindeer). The animation is by Joshua Held.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

"Summer Rain" by WWWest

It often rains here, but somehow it isn't as enjoyable as this!

Thanks again to my friend chaotiqual, whose pages are always a delight to visit.

"Escape" by Zach Blume
(inspired by Jan von Holleben's "Dreams of Flying")

It feels like a sunny day!

Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away
If you can use some exotic booze
There's a bar in far Bombay
Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away

Come fly with me, let's float down to Peru
In llama land there's a one-man band
And he'll toot his flute for you
Come fly with me, let's take off in the blue

Once I get you up there,
Where the air is rarified
We'll just glide
Once I get you up there
I'll be holding you so near
You will hear angels cheer
Just because we're together

Weather-wise it's such a lovely day
You just say the words and we'll beat the birds
Down to Acapulco Bay
It's perfect for a flying honeymoon, they say
Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away...

Lyrics by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen.

Listen here.

[Another fun way to fly, Snoopy-style]
[More of the bright side of life...]

(Original post: August 10th, 2009)

For me, one of life's little gems is a BBC Radio 4 programme, Desert Island Discs. Still running today, it was first broadcast on 29 January 1942 and is surely the longest-running music programme in the history of radio.

Its simple format, in the hands of an expert and 'sympathique' presenter, delivers 43 minutes of fascinating conversation with a really interesting guest, together with eight musical selections, a choice of book and a single luxury to be taken to the hypothetical island. The last guest I listened to (Nicky Haslam) had, among other things, been a real cowboy on his own ranch, the man in charge of layout on Vogue magazine, a good friend of Bryan Ferry, and an acquaintance of Cole Porter. I learnt from him that Maria Callas (one of his favourite singers) got her inspiration to become an opera singer from listening to Deanna Durbin singing "Springtime Will Be A Little Late This Year" by Frank Loesser.

This list of past episodes is a treasure trove of interesting stuff on people and their choices, and makes me wish that I could have listened to every one of them. Until recently, some pesky "rights issues" meant that although you could hear the episodes on-line they could only be listened to live - you couldn't listen to them after transmission on iPlayer. Now it seems that you can. Also, if you can receive digital TV broadcasts in or from the UK, these digital stations include radio as well as TV and you can set up a timed recording as for any other programme.

If you are awake on a Sunday morning at 11:15 (local British time), go here if you would like to listen to a true radio gem. For other times of transmission, to listen on iPlayer or to check on upcoming programmes, go here.

["By A Sleepy Lagoon" (Eric Coates) - the Desert Island Discs theme music]
[Radio 4 home page]
[Listen to Radio 4 Live]

Beautiful rain sounds, music and images found on Aline's always-lovely pages

"Gone Fishing" by ~eapcat
Found on the always delightful pages of my friend chaotiqual

BTW: if you like this picture, try clicking a tag at the top of this post.

Anne had a beautiful and uplifting blog on StumbleUpon, full of an optimistic, humorous and intelligent spirit, and I am delighted to see that she is over here on Categorian. She takes a lot of care over what she posts - "quality not quantity" seems to be one of her criteria, which is something I greatly appreciate.

If you like a positive, sunny outlook on life...

[Some other things that make life worth living]
[The Bright Side]

I love this wonderful fantasy by the Turkish artist Yusuf Artun.

When I saw it I was strongly reminded of a production of Rimsky Korsakov's little-known opera Chrismas Eve that I once saw in London. It had a wonderful Russian fairy-tale atmosphere to it. The proscenium arching over the stage had old houses set at odd angles - almost like a rainbow of houses - their windows glowing with light or opening to show villagers leaning out to watch the proceedings below.

Many children came to watch it, and for them it must have been a truly magical experience, the kind that stays with you for your whole life, especially as the cast (in full costume and character) mingled with the audience before and after the show and in the intervals, particularly to meet the children.

Even for an adult it had a very magical quality. I keep hoping that one day it will reappear somewhere that I can see it again.

One of my favourite landscapes by Camille Pissarro

My kind of place... and this is a great art web site, too.

(Original post: December 15th, 2008)

A pocket-powerhouse performance of Mariah Carey's song "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by 10-year-old Olivia Olson, in the delightful movie Love, Actually. Richard Curtis, the director, explained afterwards that they had get Olivia to dial back the quality of her singing in order for it to be believable to cinema audiences!

Among many other treasures in that movie was what must be one of the coolest small kids on the planet (he's about 5 years older now) Thomas Sangster.

Click either picture to play - the video will open in a separate window.

Beautiful picture of father and child by Vladimir Kutchinsky (doesn't the father look like Daniel Craig?)

"If you've ever wished you could bottle moonlight to illuminate your room at night, the Moon Jar is your answer. A spin-off of the extremely popular `Sun Jar' lamp by Tobias Wong, the Moon Jar is a frosted mason jar with a solar panel and an LED light inside. Put it on your windowsill to soak up the sun rays during the day, and at night the Moon Jar will illuminate your room with a soft cool glow -- no cords or electricity required! If you aren't a fan of blue light, try out the Sun Jar, which is exactly the same design, except with a warm yellow LED light instead of blue."

What a great idea! Thanks to my friend blueaquarose for finding this one for me!

For me, Ratatouille was the most enjoyable movie of 2007. Apart from the appealing story and the staggeringly good animation, there was the wry experience of being educated in the enjoyment of good food by a rat!

Like many people, I suspect, I now take great animation like this for granted. I have to keep reminding myself that thinking about the artistry in this movie (or in any good animated or special-effects movie) as "computer generated" is like crediting the artistry of Rembrandt to the hog bristles in his brushes and to the pigments in his paint!

This article gives some idea of what was actually involved in making Ratatouille. It really is a case of art concealing art (I knew the expression but never looked up its origin, hence the link!). Pixar Animation Studios can be justifiably proud of this one.

(I am glad to see that the DVD also has a copy of the hilarious Pixar short Lifted, which was shown with Ratatouille in our local cinema.)

[Japanese animation at its finest: the master-works of Hayao Miyazaki]
[My movies page]

Shel's official site for kids is an absolute joy, beautifully designed and full of brilliant animation and humour. I suspect that many adults (especially parents and teachers) will enjoy it as much as I did - and children will absolutely love it.

I haven't read Shel Silverstein for a very long time; when I went hunting for his work on the web I was reminded of what great stuff I had been missing.

I found this poem on the wonderful pages of my friend succes (Rita/Renée), now tragically passed away. Her pages are all that many Stumblers and ex-Stumblers have left of her; if you are reading this before October 24th 2011 (when SU destroys all blogs with images, colours and links) then you may want to save at least some of her pages as a keepsake (see here).

[More Shel Silverstein links]
[My books page]

Samba Saravah is a musical sequence from Claude Lelouch's movie Un Homme Et Une Femme, one of my all-time favourites.

It's hard to believe now that when this film appeared in England in 1966, the censors gave it an X certificate. Times have certainly changed...

It's essential to see this movie in French, with subtitles if necessary. The French language (and this movie) has a rhythm, a style and a soul to it that just doesn't translate into English.

Every time that I hear this music, the words go on dancing in my head for hours afterwards:

“…Mais quelque soit le sentiment qu’elle exprime,
Elle est blanche de formes et de rimes.
Blanche de formes et de rimes,
Elle est nègre, bien nègre dans son coeur…”

You will find all the words of this song (with a translation) here. Click the picture above to play the video - it will open in a separate window.

I had to add a couple of pictures of the beautiful Anouk Aimée...

If you like this, you'll find more on this movie here:

[My movies page]

(Originally posted: June 19th 2008)

One of the images of a wild polar bear coming upon his tethered sled dogs in the wilds of Canada's Hudson Bay, taken by Norbert Rosing.

Yes, this is real - click the picture to see the whole amazing set. If this doesn't warm your heart, nothing will!

(Originally posted: June 14th 2008)

This is the southern-most end of a (very) long and (slightly) winding road - the other end of U.S. Route 1 is more than 2,000 miles away at Fort Kent, Maine at the Canadian border!

This end of the road is in Key West. I was here with my extended family (12 of us) as part of a wonderful vacation in the Florida Keys. Several photos follow!

I love these banyan trees. Hemingway lived near here. Also near here is Kelly's Caribbean Bar Grill and Brewery, which I can highly recommend. We had an absolutely wonderful meal there, with great service and good wine, for $60 a head.

A relatively quiet evening (I'm told) in Mallory Square, where people gather nightly at the southern-most point of the mainland USA to watch the sunset.

This band was performing great Island versions of Neil Diamond hits.

I swiped this one from my brother-in-law!

There are sometimes better things to do than watch the ships go by...

I really like my wife's little Sony Cybershot! It's light, inexpensive and it lets me take hand-held pictures like these after dark, without a flash. It's the only camera that we used on this holiday.

[This trip continues in the post below. Also see where this place is on my Florida Map.]
[Continuing the trip in the post above.]

This is the Dolphin Research Center at Grassy Key. We liked it very much - it's quiet, education-based and very different from other entertainment-oriented marine parks. As the staff keep pointing out, the visitors are here to entertain the dolphins, not the other way around (actually, it's thoroughly mutual).

We were here to fulfil a life-time ambition of my wife's, which was to swim with dolphins. Before you get to do that you have to attend a half-hour class (relatives and friends of swimmers can attend too). I'm glad I didn't miss it, as I learnt more about dolphins (and these particular dolphins) than I have every done previously.

This is probably Pax, although I'm not absolutely sure. Like the other dolphins he is quite capable of jumping out of the lagoons into the rest of the Gulf of Mexico, but he stays here because it's an easy and enjoyable life and he wouldn't be able to cope in the open ocean. Many of the dolphins here are rescue dolphins, or were born in captivity to rescue dolphins.

Being given the once-over by Tanner (again, I'm not absolutely sure, it might have been A.J.)

This and the following pictures of my wife's dream coming true were taken by a pro photographer down on the dock. (I was taking zillions also, but I won't inflict them on you here.)

My wife with A.J. and Tanner.
It's obvious from watching that nobody who has had this experience will ever, ever forget it.

In return for some nice scritching, the dolphins produce some amazing sounds (the dolphins at this center can imitate almost anything, using their blowholes). In this case one couldn't help feeling that the dolphins just like being scritched!

[This trip continues in the post below. Also see where this place is on my Florida Map.]

Anika Noni Rose as Mma Makutsi, Jill Scott as Precious Ramotswe and Lucian Msamati as Mr J.L.B. Matekoni
in the wonderful BBC dramatization of the book.

It isn't often that a perfect film is made of a perfect book, but Anthony Minghella's last film is as close as you can get. The casting, the script writing, the Botswana locations, the luminous cinematography - everything, in fact - are a perfect joy from start to finish.

I love the delightful books (eight of them, as of April 2007), which tell the story of Precious Ramotswe, a "traditionally built" Botswana woman, and her mission to solve the problems of her local community.

The author clearly loves the country and the people that he writes about. Running throughout these sunny stories is a (very lightly delivered) message about what is really important (and not important) in life.

So often we hear about Africa's problems, and what we need to do about them. From these books, and from this film, we get a view of Africa that is almost exactly the other way around. And a beautiful, uplifting view it is, too.

Click the image above for links about the movie; click the image to the left for links about the books (both will open in a separate window).


If you like this...

[My movies page]
[My books page]

"Diaries of Past Years", a beautiful work by Andrey Kurdyukov

I could sit and look at this for hours!

An untitled picture (which I might call "Enjoying Life") by the Russian photographer Yuri Bonder (who sadly died on 1st May 2008).

The upside of rainy, miserable days is that you really appreciate this when it happens...

"A Family Album Portrait" by Nadya Kulagina

I just love this! The more I look at it, the more I feel that this is how the world should be.

"Blue Delphiniums" by Alexi Zaitsev

"Indian Summer" by Alexi Zaitsev

Summer can seem like a long way away... but not when I look at these beautiful paintings.

Here's a suggestion for a really enjoyable and inexpensive evening:

Buy this outstanding DVD (it's a keeper). Evict kids or other non-sympatico noise-makers. Choose your favourite companion (human or otherwise). Turn off unnecessary lights and replace with candles, lay out a snack supper, pour some nice wine, and settle down for over 2 hours of romantic ballads and bossa novas from the beautiful and very talented Canadian jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall.

This concert, recorded at the Paris Olympia, features tracks from her album The Look Of Love and the full set from her 2001 world tour. She is accompanied by the Orchestre Symphonique Européen & Paris Jazz Big Band, as well as her own recording jazz band members flown in especially from LA. You have the best seats in the house, and if you have the equipment, you also have the benefit of excellent 5.1 surround sound. And don't miss the bonus videos on the DVD, either, especially the first one!

Diana Krall, when performing live, makes the endless parade of celebrity bimbos seem positively sexless. She sits at her piano, very calm and poised, not making a big deal about how great she is, and the only adequate word to describe her is "smokin'".You don't often get a chance to listen to and watch the very best. This one is definitely up there.

This is a picture that I took of Rievaulx Terrace, Yorkshire, England, on a not-too crowded day in June 2001. A long way down the steep bank to the right, people are admiring the Abbey, but a quiet walk and a picnic up here is hard to beat!

The picture comes from a section of my family web site which is a record of places where we have enjoyed life, and which other people might enjoy also. At present these places are in England, Italy, Corsica and Florida.

In the Italy section of these pages you will find a description of a magical week that we spent on the shores of Lake Maggiore - made magical because of the community of people there. If you like this description then you are definitely my kind of person, but rest assured that the converse is not true!

A very happy picture, author unfortunately unknown!

Thanks to my friend Bill for this one.

"Leaping to the high, wild mountain", by children's illustrator Jackie Morris.

(The BBC have recently produced a wonderful "Natural World" documentary on the snow leopard, one of the most beautiful (and rare) animals on the planet... more details here, and an update here.)

This is a delightful site dedicated to the work of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, director of the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, one of the finest animated movies ever made.

Sometimes when the weather is lousy or everything seems miserable, a reminder that life can be good, after all, is very welcome.

Several movies by Miyazaki definitely provide such a reminder; one of my favourites in this category is Kiki's Delivery Service, which is worth watching just for the artwork of the beautiful Scandinavian-style landscape and town, a miracle of loving creative genius - but there is a lot more to it than that. This is animation at its finest (no still images can convey how good it is), and one of my all-time favourite movies. (The version I have is in Japanese, with English subtitles, which I generally prefer.)

My Neighbour Totoro is an enchanting story about children encountering the spirit of the forest when they move to a country home. Miyazaki's portrayal of the beautiful countryside in wind, sun and rain is a joy to watch, and is an artistic achievement in its own right.

Another great favourite of mine is Whisper of the Heart. A coming-of-age story set in a modern city, Miyazaki leads his heroine on a journey that becomes more and more magical at it progresses - not, in this case, the magic of myths or legends, but a way of seeing the real world through the eyes of a young teenager that becomes a true voyage of enchantment.

If you like this...

[My movies page]

The old sun sighs and slips away
And night creeps over the everyday
And sleepy children climb the stairs
Cuddling toys and teddy bears
The endless boxes grown-ups made
For packing people neat and tight
Melt into twinkling rivulets of light
And gulfs of soft, mysterious shade

Then small bold spirits rise and fly
In the evening air of a different sky

(One of the few poems that I ever wrote, a long, long, long time ago)

"Bear Feet" © by Bill Lockhart

I have a weakness for bears! If I were a bear, and a big bear too, I would like to add myself to this warm pile of fur and snooze the afternoon away...

Thanks to serendipity7 (Raine) for leading me to this great wildlife and landscape photographer.

A wonderful portrait of old age by Paul Dzik.

A life-time of experiences, some good, some bad, many of them fascinating... waiting for people who want to listen.




Just a few of many great photos of the Maldives by Ahmed Zahid.

Thanks to bilkb for this one!

Civilization comes to Washington Dulles Airport! (Original post 14 Nov 2007)

Air travel, as we know, is not meant to be enjoyable, and for many years Washington's Dulles Airport has maintained a strict policy of ensuring that it isn't.

However, in the last few years some cracks have started appearing in this policy. While some are relatively minor and could easily be overlooked, I have recently discovered a serious example of backsliding in the catering section, whose policy is best explained by one of the airport posters that advertises "Dining at Dulles Airport", illustrated by a triple cheeseburger (I think).

The backsliding in question is the arrival of one of Vino Volo's Wine Rooms, an oasis of pleasure where you can sit in deep, comfortable armchairs and enjoy glasses (or a bottle) of excellent wine, with excellent food to go with it, starting (if you like) with one of the best selections of olives I have ever encountered. You can choose food in small portions that matches the wine(s) you are drinking, and build yourself a very nice meal, or just have a light gourmet snack.

I guess you could choose any of their wines and it would be great, but if you haven't tried a rosé wine recently (in the last few years they seem to have been growing greatly in quality and popularity), I can really recommend an American one from Virginia - the Albemarle County Kluge Estate Rosé 2006, a Cabernet/Merlot blend.

The problem with this place is the feeling of unreality you will experience should you ever discover where the room is located in the airport (read on...). Inside the room is peace, comfort and the enjoyment of wine as one of life's great blessings. Just outside the room is the glare of fluorescent lights, the indescribable decor of the Dulles departure lounges, and a country where - with many exceptions, thankfully - the spectre of the liquor store and booze being smuggled home guiltily in a brown paper bag still stalks the land. It's a very unsettling contrast...

Obviously the decision to allow this strange phenomenon into the airport was the subject of fierce internal debate. A compromise must have been reached: yes, we will allow it on a strictly experimental basis, but it must be well hidden and not advertised. It must be located at the extreme end of a remote part of the airport, so that people who might be corrupted or offended by its presence will have the least chance of walking past it. Suggestions of locating it in a remote, redundant jetway having been reluctantly rejected, the next best option was chosen - at one extreme end of Concourse C, as close to gate C1 as possible.

I see from VinoVolo's web site (and numerous news items and reviews) that similar backsliding is taking place at other US airports, and from talking to one the wine bar's staff I have learnt that in another airport where she worked a similar location strategy for the wine room has been adopted.

Where will all this end?

From my web site...

["The Bright Side"]