Andrea here, I recently saw a very entertaining article in the New York Times on a reality show—not something that would usually catch my fancy. But in this case it was about art, and an artist who fascinates me, so I took a closer read. In celebration of a mega-blockbuster exhibit currently on view at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (alas, currently sold out, but more slots may become available) Dutch TV decided to create a challenge for both amateur and professional artists to “reinvent” some of the lost works of the famous painter. The judges are Vermeer experts the Rijksmuseum and the Mauritshuis, in The Hague. The results are absolutely delightful—you can view them here on the station’s website. Isn’t it fun to see such creativity in bloom?
Taming fire was surely one of the most significant developments in human history. Probably the discovery happened numerous times and numerous places, but the results were profound. Fire provided warmth, hot food, the ability to venture out into darkness, fire pottery and bricks.
It could also be a tool for long distance communication. There's a marvelous scene in The Return of the King, the third Lord of the Rings movie, where signal fires are lit to summon the troops to battle. It's breathtaking to watch the fires catch on distant peaks.
Christina here. It’s December and the countdown to Christmas has started in earnest. For my younger daughter and me, that means watching seasonal movies. It’s part of our traditions and we try to fit in at least one a day. Finding them isn’t hard – there are entire channels devoted to them here in the UK (is it the same where you are?), so there’s plenty to choose from. Some of the streaming services have their own offerings too, so the difficulty is usually agreeing which one to watch.
The quality does vary though, I have to say. We started this year’s movie marathon with The Knight Before Christmas, which starred Vanessa Hudgens (of High School Musical fame) and Josh Whitehouse. It’s about an English knight from the 1300s who is magically transported to present-day America. (Why there? Who knows!) There he meets a high school teacher who is disillusioned by love since her ex cheated on her. Their meet-cute is that she almost runs him over, so she thinks he’s hit his head and is therefore imagining himself to be a medieval knight. She takes him in until he regains his memory, and of course, they fall in love. I didn’t have very high hopes for this film, which is just as well because OMG, the anachronisms! Not least of all, the fact that he can speak to a modern woman and they understand each other (apart from the odd “egad!”). As someone who writes time travel stories, I would have liked him to be a little more surprised by some of the things he comes across in the modern world, but he takes everything in his stride. I really hope no children watch this and think it’s based on proper historical details, but apart from that, it’s a bit of harmless fun and quite charming.
Christina here, and today I’m contemplating violence. No, not personally, but in books and films, as well as in real life. It’s kind of hard not to with everything that is happening around the world today!
Right now I’m in Sweden again, and there have been a lot of stories in the press here lately about how gun violence and the number of murders each year are escalating. When I was growing up, this used to be a very peaceful country and if there was even one murder a year, it was a sensational story picked over by the press for weeks, if not months. These days there’s maybe one a week. ONE A WEEK! How did this happen? It’s getting to the point where no one bats an eye at reading the headlines and that’s very sad.
I think we are all becoming desensitised to violence. Or perhaps going backwards to how things were in the past, when punishments were harsh and it was a dog-eat-dog kind of world. Having studied and written about the Vikings for a while now, I’m fully aware of the brutality some of them displayed (although as I keep saying, the marauders were a minority, not the majority of the population). They thought nothing of it, nor did their victims. Given half a chance, they would have been just as violent in return. It was the norm, but that was a 1,000 years ago!
All of the destinations on this cruise were interesting, but I particularly wanted to see Greece and Turkey, and I was not disappointed!
Our first Greek port was the island of Corfu, which is the extreme northwestern corner of Greece with Albania easily visible across a narrow sea. (It's also the setting for the Mary Stewart novel This Rough Magic.)
The island has an abundance of history and has been under many rulers, including the Venetian Empire and the Ottomans. (The same is true of the rest of Greece.) Our Viking cruise had numerous excursions options, but we decided to for "See Corfu by 4×4." This meant joining a small convoy of itty bitty Suzuki four wheel drive vehicles and climbing up up a dramatic mountain.