Tuesday 31 August 2010

Carve her name with pride

I am back. Back from a world of mud and tents but also of surf and sand.

Before I was away I had one of those perfect Saturday afternoons when I found a black and white film on the television that I just could not stop watching.

The sky was that deep, angry grey that only seems to descend on London at the weekend (or perhaps I only notice at the weekend). The rain was pouring down so much that even I, despite romantic uttering about quite enjoying a walk in a storm, could not face going outside. So I turned to the tiny television with its angry wasp analogue reception and vintage selection of channels (yes I'm moving soon- I'll actually quite miss the angry noisy telly, it has quite a personality).

BBC2 is very reliable in these circumstances, it also has the happy habit of always seeming to be starting a film at precisely the time I want it to. So it was that I happened upon Carve Her Name with Pride, a film I had meant to see for a long time but never actually had.

This film is, briefly, the story of Violette Szabo a special operations executive officer who was recruited to pose as a French national and work with the French resistance during the Nazi occupation. You may know the more recent stories of women like Violette from David Hare's play Plenty or Sebastien Faulks' book (and the film adaptation) Charlotte Gray; both the play, the book and the film are fascinating for different reasons of course but Carve Her Name with Pride is their Mother if you like.

The film stars Virginia McKenna who gives a typically quiet but incredibly honest performance. She manages to show you just how unbelievably strong but fragile these women must have been. This film is of course made by people from the countries who won the battle of the war and had made enormous sacrifices to do that and is perhaps understandably sympathetic to the Allied cause. Many films from the 1950s are if not biased then from a particular viewpoint but aside from the black and white colour this film could have been made yesterday. It is, clearly, extremely sympathetic to Violette and the women like her, it shows their frailties though, what they were less able to do perhaps, presents the choice of leaving a young child and whether that is right, whether fighting for what you believe in and or for love is right. Yes many of the Nazi characters do awful things in this film- but many Nazis did- they are not presented as the pantomime villains of plenty of films from that time and in modern cinema.

I don’t want to say more than that about the film because I of course don’t want to spoil it. Yes the subject matter is heavy but it isn’t a heavy watch actually- and I couldn’t stop watching- I was late for what I was going to and happy to be. I was flawed by Violette Szabo, or McKenna’s presentation of her. Could I do what she did? Make those decisions and choices and behave with that level of dignity and honour she did? I thought about that long and hard that day- and I have since. Honestly I don’t think I could have done what the SOE women did- I think I would have fallen at the first hurdle, but perhaps they thought they would and they found a way to be remarkable- to exceed themselves. Violette Szabo was no different to many other women of the time, except that she had the fortune or misfortune, the gift or curse of speaking French to mother tongue standard.

You can read more about Violette here and do give the film a chance, it deserves to be seen.

I went to a party later and I had a wonderful time- I partied as hard as I could while the wind swirled and the rain lashed outside because I’m very lucky to not have to make the choices men and women before me did.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Everybody's gone surfing

I'm off on my holidays... see you soon x

Monday 16 August 2010

L'Artisan Parfumeur: Coeur de Vétiver Sacré

Coeur de Vétiver Sacré (the sacred heart of Vetiver) is the new L'Artisan Parfeumeur scent (exclusive to Liberty of London).

Vetiver is a star ingredient in perfume and it has a strong, powerful personality. It is dark chocolate, butter and espresso. Unlike more widely known perfume ingredients Vetiver isn't derived from a flower but is in fact a grass, the perfume oil being extracted from its roots. Pure vetiver does smell of grass, warmer and richer than a freshly mown lawn but having something in character with it and perhaps something in character with its cousin lemongrass (though non of the spice) it's salty and deeply earthy but dry. Vetiver is profoundly green and extremely seductive on a man or a woman. For me personally, together with jasmine, Vetiver is my favourite scent in pure oil form.

Vetiver is very widely used as a basenote and is likely to be in your perfume in some form but also has several stunning fragrances built around it, notably Guerlain's Vetiver- famously made for men but adopted by many women (because they love it and because men love them with it on).

Karine Vinchon is the perfumer who created this scent for L'Artisan (she was also responsible for their Jatamansi fragrance). They describe her as 'wanting to 'create a different, mysterious vetiver by revealing all its facets: its sparkle, enlivened by black tea with bergamot; its peppery side with touches of saffron, coriander, ginger and pink pepper berries; its hints of dried fruit, date and apricot; its vibrant heart accompanied by roses, iris and osmanthus flowers; its woody soul backed by sandalwood, white cedar and gaiac wood; its trail of balsam wreathed in incense, amber, cistus, tonka beans, vanilla and musks; and its shadowy character, animal and smoky, enhanced by labdanum, castoreum and birch'.

So as with many soliflores (scents that seek to replicate a single smell) a great deal of skill and many fragrance notes have been combined to make this interesting, individual and indulgent perfume. This is not a scent you would find in your local pharmacy and it is not a perfume for someone who would want to find a fragance there.

I would urge anyone interested in smell to pick this up because it's the closest perfume I have ever smelled to the vetiver oil I tried in a perfumer's studio (the oil in pure form is extremely expensive and smells beyond sublime). This is a scent that reminds you of the wonder of smell. It would work on anyone and would make them more interesting for their fabulous choice of scent.

Coeur de Vétiver Sacré is exclusive to Liberty of London and is available in the shop and online here.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Prom Queen for a day

I went to my first Prom on Sunday night. No not an American prom with big dresses and etiquette I don't understand but a BBC Prom. These Proms, promenade concerts, are a summer series of recitals and performances of usually classical music culminating in the last night of the Proms: the much televised evening of an almost debauched level of flag waving and group singing which your head might tell you is silliness but which can make this lefty smile- even if it's just because surely singing at the top of your voice is much the best way to express a bit of nationalism if you want to do so. The first Prom was in 1895 and the season has been growing steadily ever since then.

I don't consider myself to be knowledgeable about classical music but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate it- and I appreciate it more and more as I get older. I was certainly visiting as something of a novice though- and partly for the experience of a Prom- to be one of those people outside the Royal Albert Hall every summer evening, to take part.

What I found was rather touching. There were people like me of course- also uninitiated, or perhaps going to accompany an enthusiast- and there is an impressive amount of information for newbies; a lovely programme with background on the Proms and the programme of the day, the composers chosen and why, the artists performing, the stories behind the compositions and how they related to each other.

There were also many seasoned Prommers, ripe for people watching. My favourites were the couple who chose not to stand but to lie down in the promenade (read standing) area, take their shoes off and make little pillows from their sweaters to enjoy the show in full comfort (and why not); the little girl who sat on her Daddy's shoulders for the whole of the first half in total silence seemingly gripped by Mozart despite being not more than four years old; the chaps down at the front who knew to shout 'heave. ho' when the grandest of grand pianos was carried in like a magnificent lady in a sedan chair.

If you are interested I saw the evening programme listed here. The pianist who played with the BBC orchestra for the Mozart concerto was Louis Lortie and he was a joy to watch- he has the face and the hands and fingers of a man consumed with love for what he does- how wonderful to find that thing and then to have the gift of being so very good at it. He made me wish again that I had taken those piano lessons my Father offered me.

I am very far from an expert but I thought the Messiaen was too much of a mixture of quiet peace and unsettling percussion- I understood he was trying to show Mozart's life was like that but I'd have preferred something less jarring for the man who gave us so much beauty; the Mozart delightful in every way; the Parry elegy for Brahms full of drama and with quite a filmic quality- and the Brahms was a a lovely surprise- again filled with action and somewhat soundtrack like, stirring, emotive, dark and impressive.

I don't know how well publicised the Proms are too tourists but as an example of something peculiarly British it would be hard to better. I loved being a visitor to that world for an evening. It is also another example of why, if the battle cry comes to save the BBC I will be there. The Proms might not be your thing but the coverage is exemplary and gives the opportunity to people to see and hear world class performance every night for very little (and if you can't get to London you can listen on Radio 3).

Proms memorabilia picture from the BBC website here.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

The Scandinavian Cookbook

Scandinavian food has been a particular favourite of mine since I was a little girl, thanks to having the good fortune of having Swedish and Danish neighbours (despite growing up in a little corner of Surrey).

I distinctly remember my first open sandwich and wondering why there was no roof on it- it was a revelation- as a child I couldn't understand why no one British hadn't noticed that less bread meant more room for filling! (now I also see it is a healthier option but you don't care about all that when you're five do you?).

I also remember the creamy Danish blue cheese, the cinnamon buns and the tale of the grown up dinner party where our Danish neighbour cooked the best sea bass the adults of our road ever tasted by steaming it in a dish washer (inside a covered pan you understand).

So I was delighted to be given the chance to review The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann- who is a sort of Scandinavian cross between Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith with a bit of Hugh Fearnly Whittingshall thrown in (for her love of seasonal produce and unusual ingredients only!).

The book is beautifully presented- the recipes are arranged seasonally and accompanied by wonderful photographs of spring, summer, autumn and winter in the different Scandinavian countries as well as of the glorious food- so you see the food in context but are also enjoying some stunning photography in it's own right that will have you looking for flights straight away- this is more than merely a recipe book- it's a window into Scandinavian life through food.

I look at cookery books in book shops a great deal. I find it completely relaxing to sit down in a corner of a shop and really look at new titles to see how well they explain recipes and I must say time and time again I put books back that don't have pictures of the dishes they are telling you how to make. I know pictures add a great deal of expense to a book but I really value being able to see what my end result should be. The photographs of the food here are plentiful and mouth watering.

The recipes on offer vary in terms of formality and the time and skill required to make them. So there are recipes for simple, easy to make but important, staple dishes like Smorrebrod and Langoustines with mayonnaise but also more complex and unusual dishes like veal with rhubarb. I'm particularly keen to make my own elderflower cordial and the artichoke soup.

I find it fascinating and I think I have said it here before that the Nordic countries are so close to us relatively but we tend not to immediately look to them for- inspiration I suppose. Certainly food wise we look to Paris, Milan or Barcelona for new recipes far more than Stockholm or Copenhagen. These countries have so much to offer and not least in their food. The food is at once really quite similar to our own but different enough to seem exotic and it's certainly very hip. It is also often extremely healthy and there is a dedication to seasonal eating that seems real rather than our British flirting with it but ultimately still buying strawberries from three time zones away in the middle of winter.

I understand Trina will also be opening a pop- up restaurant in Londonfor ten days in November and December. If the recipes from those months in the book are anything to go by it will be a real treat. The pop- ups menu is describes as a modern version of the smörgåsbord. It will include open sandwiches with home-baked rye bread and various toppings, and some Danish cheeses. Then there will be an afternoon tea with traditional glühwein and Swedish cinnammon rolls. And for dinner there will be a four-course menu with soup and fish, plus a main course and a pudding. I will post more information about the restaurant nearer the time- I will certainly be going and hope to maybe see some of you there too.

The Scandinavian Cookbook is available in paperback from pre- order here and is released on the 1st of October. The hard back is available here.

Monday 2 August 2010

Scents of the Mediterranean the world over

Scents of the Mediterranean is a collaboration between perfume blogs from around the world, which was kindly organised by Ines from All I am- A Redhead and Helg from Perfume Shrine. I would like to thank them both for inviting me to participate and for all their work. I really enjoy coming together with other bloggers and think it's very much in the spirit of the community to work together. I'm really looking forward to every one's thoughts on their favourite smells from the Mediterranean, mine are below but do let me know yours as well.

Diptyque Philosykos: Philosykos is figs, it's like a symphony on them- not just the skin and the flesh but the branches and leaves of the fig trees and the the hot, beating sun I imagine shining, burning down on them day after day. It has become quite simply one of my favourite fragrances. I continuously receive compliments and even nuzzles from people when I wear it (which isn't why I like it but it helps!). I find it quite a cerebral scent too, I think well with it on. It's not terribly masculine or feminine but it's sensual, like figs themselves.

By Redo Palermo: This is the newest By Redo and I have been wanting to write about it so this is a great opportunity. Palermo is, of course, the capital of Sicily- for me one of the most intriguing corners of the Mediterranean. While I am lucky enough to have travelled to many parts of Italy I haven't made it to Sicily yet and I do long to go- to see the architecture, the history that makes most British buildings seem new (which is hard) to eat the food and feel the hot stone under my feet. So of course Palermo seems exotic, enticing and a little bit mysterious to me before I have even smelled it. It is actually a citrus and herbaceous scent, to some degree fresh but not in the way of many lemon based scents. This is a sophisticated smell, in the same family as Eau Savage and Miss Dior, a light chypre dressed in the ironed white shirt of a citrus eau de toilette.

Carthusia Mediterraneo: this is southern Italy to me- walking in the lemon groves and drinking the freshest lemonade I ever tasted in Sorrento after swimming in the pool. I don't particularly like lemon scents as I am always saying but this is the exception, this is lemon sorbet and all the joy of Italy bottled up for me to bring home. Whenever I want to go back, whenever London is too grey or cold or maybe sad, one spritz of this and I am the land that makes my heart happy.

Olive oil. I thought for quite a long time about including something as simple as olive oil but it truly is the taste of the Mediterranean for me and actually it's scent is not only very transporting but it's very unlike any other smell. To me olive oil means health, a different kind of health to our Celtic and Anglo- Saxon robustness. Olive oil is men in their eighties dancing or stealing a kiss from a beautiful lady, it's Sophia Loren still looking beautiful and it's food that tastes amazing and you know is doing you good. So all my ideas about olive oil might be cliches but they work for me.

Korres Yoghurt after sun lotion. This one is quite specific I know but it's what I thought of! It is by Korres who are obviously Greek and it smells exactly like the those bowls of fresh Greek yoghurt that are quite tart you have for breakfast on holiday (I've never been to Greece sadly but I've had those bowls of yoghurt everywhere else and this product mimics the scent perfectly).

The other blogs participating in this project are as follows:

Bonkers about Perfume

I smell therefore I am

Notes from the Ledge


Suzanne's Perfume Journal

The Non- Blonde


Smelly Blog

Scent Hive

Katie Puckrick Smells


Roxana Illuminated Perfume

Perfume Shrine

All I am- A Redhead