What links two paintings together

Two paintings hanging in different museums on different continents. Two paintings in different medium, one watercolour and one oil, painted by two different artists. It is almost thirty years between them. One painter was Austrian. The other French. What links them? And why? And why does it matter?

This is not a particularly hard question if you’re an art historian. I’m not even sure anyone but me will find it fascinating. Still, I find it interesting that a fairly unknown, at least outside expert circles, watercolour painting I came across researching a thesis earlier today had me thinking “…what? Is that really the same person as in the famous Manet painting?” I am talking about Peter Fendi’s Evening Prayer from 1839.

Peter Fendi was born in Vienna in 1796. In the 1820s and 1830s he rose to fame, partly due to him being an early defender of the lithography technique where his erotic motifs could flourish and be easily spread among the faux prude semi-bourgeois in Vienna, but also thanks to his stunningly beautiful watercolour interiors. The interior above is simply called Evening Prayer, but it is not any old bourgeois family that is depicted. It is the Habsburg Archduchess Sophie and her four children. Sophie was married to the emperor’s youngest son, but because of various deaths in the family the oldest boy in the picture, the blond one kneeling by the crucifix, would later become the Emperor Franz Joseph. But it is not him I am interested in. The least important one, the youngest to the far left, was called Maximilian, and he would for purely political reasons be installed as Emperor of Mexico for a short time.
Why I reacted as strongly as I did is probably because this seemingly innocent and naive, trusting little blond fellow would become famous to us mostly thanks to the incredibly cruel and Naturalistic painting Édouard Manet would paint in 1869 (he made the first one in 1867, but the big and famous one was finished in 1869), Execution of Emperor Maximilian. A death is never easy, and in pictorial art it can sometimes be more touching than in any other art form. The death of an innocent child is even harder to accept. Though, the man being executed was not an innocent child, was he? He was a grown-up, an Emperor, a military man.

Regardless what one thinks of the political situation in Mexico in the 1860s, I find it touching to think about these two paintings in connection to each other. Though thirty years apart. The young boy kneeling a little apart from his other siblings, a little further back from the kneeler than the other three, sends out an energy of a child wanting to be part of something. But being the youngest son of the three, the likelihood of him ending up as a prince in a castle somewhere, forgotten, is very high. Though he might not know it, he can probably sense it, like all children can. That he would be installed as Emperor of Mexico by Napoleon III 25 years later, in 1864, he could probably not even dream of. When I look at these two pictures there is still a touching similarity, something to do with the loneliness in Maximilian’s energy depicted by both Fendi and Manet. In Manet’s painting he hold hands with two friends and fellow officers, Mejía and Miramón, guiding him into the eternal Light. That it is the same boy as in Fendi’s painting fascinates me. That two painting on their own are just depictions of a moment, a snap-shot of someone’s life, is nothing strange per se. But seen next to each other, as pendants, they create a whole new way of looking at art. They create their own, or rather Emperor Maximilian’s, closed universe. The beginning and the end. Maximilian’s Alpha and Omega. Isn’t that incredible?


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Filed under Art, Edouard Manet, Peter Fendi

Coffee in Gothenburg Part: 1

It doesn’t look like much, but this is one of the best coffee bars in Sweden. At Kyrkogatan 31 in Gothenburg, walking in to Bar Centro is like walking in to a tiny espresso bar somewhere in Italy with its azure tiled walls and brushed steel bar tops running along the walls with matching high chairs. It’s always busy and the quality is top notch. Just brilliant. Though, it’s a tiny place, so do like the locals by sitting outside on the opposite pavement and pretend your in Milano or Venice.

The coffee is always perfect. I’ve been going here for years, but having tried it a few times over the last few weeks I have decided that the consistency is impressive. Never a bad espresso macchiato, never a faulting latte. Pitch perfect result with the Mehari Alambra Cremador beans they use (and sell). Never a bitter tone in the coffee and the crema is smooth and round. Not forgetting good froth when that’s what you’re having with your drink of choice. I simply love this place. So if you’re ever in Gothenburg: go. If you don’t you’ve just made a huge mistake.

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Filed under Bar Centro, Barista, Coffee, Gothenburg

Coffee in Amsterdam Part: 11

A tiny place bang in the middle of central Amsterdam, I end up here a lot when book-browsing amongst all the international book stores by Het Spui. Consistent with high quality coffee and great service I can always trust the guys and girls behind the machines at Coffee Company: Het Spui. It is found behind Singel, or just off the big touristy Kalverstraat. If anyone is touristing in Amsterdam this place is impossible to miss, though small.

This review is, in a way, an exception from my rule to not review, or even frequent, big coffee chains like Starbucks, Nero or Coffee Company. But this exception is justified by Coffee Company being miles better than any other chain of coffee places I have ever been to. And I’ve been to a few, as the regular reader will know. It is important to remember that this franchise can vary enormously in quality and service between two coffee places owned by Coffee Company but situated on the same street. A good example is the place closest to work, Coffee Company: Waterlooplein, which serves great coffee but the earlier mentioned confusion between an espresso macchiato and a cortado is rife here. The service is also, in general, appalling and so slow I have more than once walked off. This since, in my view, waiting in a queue of four people it should not take over ten minutes to be served. But it does if the staff stand talking to each other behind the till instead of actually serving customers doing the job they’re supposed to. This does not happen at Coffee Company: Het Spui, but it does at the one at Waterlooplein. A lot.

My short macchiato has always been top notch here at CC Het Spui. This is a really small place, just some bar stool seating by the window overlooking the square, so if you want a sit down coffee you have to stick to the summer months when they have a small outside seating area. But even here it is very crammed, so I would opt for the take-away alternative if you’re not there in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday. Or possibly Sunday. Then it might be possible to sit down for your coffee.

Due to its central location close to the main tourist streets it is one of the best places to pick up your coffee on-the-go, so aim for this little anonymous looking place when you’re close to Het Spui next time. I always do.

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Filed under Amsterdam, Barista, Coffe Houses, Coffee, Coffee Company Het Spui

Coffee in Amsterdam Part: 10

A brilliant little place that epitomises European city cool, you find SOK Espressobar on Hartenstraat 34. A pop-up espresso bar open for only six months until sometime in the late summer/early autumn (for now) that serves brilliant slow drip, espresso and what-have-you by some of the Netherlands best baristas. Not to mention it is close to another favourite of mine, Screaming Beans, so you can actually have some of the best coffee in Amsterdam in the same street, just walking between the two establishments enjoying wonderful shots of C8H10N4O2.

I had my normal short macchiato and it was just like I expected from a place like this; perfect aroma, smooth espresso and a good milk foam. This is, apparently, also one of the rare places in Amsterdam where they know how to froth the milk perfectly. Molto bene signori, grazie! And more importantly, my macchiato didn’t turn out like a cortado with equal parts espresso and milk foam as has happened at a few places recently. A macchiato is a macchiato and a cortado is a cortado. Basta cosí. Get it right guys. Though, I need to stress, SOK Espressobar is not guilty of this mix-up. They know exactly what they are doing.

This place is so small and tiny sitting inside is virtually impossible. But that’s not what they seem to aim for. You get your coffee and then sit outside by the canal like I did. I love that about Amsterdam, the sitting on the canal-side enjoying the sun, and for that SOK Espressobar is ideally situated just by Keizersgracht.

A small chalk note on the bar saying “Meet Mrs. Synesso” and an arrow to the coffee machine made me smile too. Humour and good coffee seem to be a good, contemporary mixture.

So, go there and try out SOK Espressobar’s coffee if you’re in Amsterdam visiting in the late summer. They close in just a few weeks, so hurry up!

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Filed under Amsterdam, Barista, Coffee, SOK Espressobar Amsterdam

Sometimes a flight is just a flight

Sometimes a flight is just a flight. Aeroplane cruising at 40.000 feet going from A to B. Passengers from all over the world travelling with different stories, different experiences, different goals and different objectives. Family. Business. Leisure. A hunt for life-changing experiences.  A longing for ones family. The reunion of loved ones held at distance for long periods of time due to work, due to unforeseen circumstances like ash-clouds. There are millions of different stories cruising the air space any given minute of the day, all year round.

KL1153 from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport was no different this morning than other mornings. It being Sunday, the cabin was not even half full offering plenty of room to stretch your legs. A rare feeling onboard a Cityhopper like the Fokker 70/100 which always makes me envy the sardines in the colloquial tin. The sky was clear after an amazing sunrise. Smooth weather conditions made flight deck switch off the fasten seatbelt-sign after just a minute, still climbing steeply. That’s how I like it. But it being the day it was, its very particular date made me think a little extra about my constant flying and how lucky I am always arriving at the correct destination. How fragile life sometimes seem, how fragile this our existence on borrowed time makes everything.

I dare say no one in the Westerns world alive today will ever forget what they were doing and where they were when they together with the rest of the world was hit by the news of the terrorist acts on New York City and the Pentagon on 9/11 2001. I find it hard to grasp that it is already ten years ago.

Myself, I was just on my way out of a singing lesson. Just a few weeks in to my first year at music college, not even twenty years old, I gathered together with my fellow undergrad friends in the common room where the teaching staff had set up a TV. We all sat watching as the second tower was hit. The news presenter not sure if she could believe what she had to say. I remember her eyes, seemingly asking herself as she red the latest news bulletin of the prompter, “…am I really reading this out loud? Is this really happening?” That’s what we all wondered. No one in the group of loud, exhibitionistic, out-going, bubbly first year vocal students said anything. We just sat and watched.

Today all my thoughts go to the families and friends of the people who died on that very day ten years ago. While cruising at 38.000 feet I cannot but think of the love for family and friends that must have filled the hearts of those who died. Fear. Shock. Chaos. All those too. But mostly love. Thinking of husbands, wives, partners, children, parents, girlfriends, boyfriends.

The passengers onboard the now famous flights did not arrive at their expected destination. Their families were all painfully reminded of that on Sunday. But I did touch down safely that morning. And yesterday morning too. Luckily so will most of us. And when we cruise around high, high up in the air, don’t forget how lucky we are if we have someone waiting for us somewhere.

On any given day it is important to remember what creates the world we want to live in. Not fear, not hatred. But understanding, compassion, love. If we can find these feelings in our hearts, even on a day like 9/11, a lot of the battle is won. Lets remember how we must try for a better world together. Today. Tomorrow. Every day.

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Filed under 9/11, Aeroplanes, Airplanes, Airport thoughts

Pink defines the modern man

Apart from the fact that Lisa Burnbach stated in her bible from 1980, The Official Preppy Handbook, that “…The classic shirt is the Brooks Brothers button-down all-cotton oxford cloth shirt. Pink is the most famous color, and it is widely supposed that no one except Brooks has ever been able to achieve that perfect pink or that perfect roll to the collar…” I have always loved pink on leisure and dress shirts, polos, shorts. There has often been discussions amongst the non-pink wearing community that it is simply unmanly, childish, girly. But it isn’t. It is a traditional colour worn by generations of males, if from a somewhat selective and narrow walk of society, and all denigratory comments should be held back promptly. The toff reputation isn’t necessarily true either, but that is something which seems harder to kill off. However, I must say I find it fascinating that a shirt colour can generate such a big divide amid the shirt wearers in general.

After having read an article the other day on the subject of why some men wear pink shirts and some refuses to, it got me thinking. Why do I wear it? Is it simply because I like it? Is it because it defines me? Is it as a social status marker? Is it because I want to go against the general stream of boring clothes-wearers and therefore define my self by wearing pink? Or is it all of the above?
Probably. It is most likely a mixture. When I look into my wardrobe I can see at least a fifth of my shirts and polos’ (and that, dear readers, is quite a substantial number of shirts) being either entirely pink, checkered with different colours or striped. And for me I gather the most important thing about wearing pink is that it looks good. No more, no less. If you are beautifully tanned in the summer, apart from white hardly any other colour is more likely to enhance your tan in an amazing way.

In the autumn, the most stunning colour combinations can be created with a dash of pink. It makes your outfit look interesting, stylish, thought through and intelligently chosen if done right.

Pink simply is the best alternative to black. I won’t say it’s the new black, because it isn’t and never will be, but it is a colour which should be worn with respect and maybe an ounce of cockiness. Regardless of which signals you think it sends out to your friends and colleagues, make it send the signals you want it to send. Make it a personal statement without being fake.

And as mentioned above, pink worn in the summer simply can’t go wrong if you have a bit of a tan to sport.


Filed under Bespoke, British Fashion, Culture, GANT, Gents Fashion, Hackett, Pink Shirts, Preppy Look, Ralph Lauren, University Look


Sitting in the summer house this morning, reading the local morning paper, I came across a short column asking the question “why do we choose to live in the big cities when most of us confess to wanting to live in the country side, taking it easy not working as hard as we do?” An adequate question when millions of Europeans escape the drudge of fast city life, changing the suit and tie for worn jeans and leisure shirts or a relaxed piqué. Hours will be spent by beaches, strolls in forests and hikes across mountains. People will escape to summer houses all over the world. So why do we restrict this leisurely time to just a few weeks per year? Can’t we do more of it? Would that really kill us, you know, to take a few hours off every week and spend some down time in the country side doing nothing and spend quality time with family and friends. I don’t think so. It would change us, yes, but more in the  positive sense of the word.

Looking out over the slow, gently rolling sea I can’t imagine not being here every summer. But how wonderful it would be to be able to see this every morning. To be able to take a quick dip in the big, salty blue in November would be a dream. Being able to sit here writing, looking out over the granite rocks formed millions of years ago and finally shaped more than ten-thousand years ago when the ice covering Europe withdrew after its grip on our continent. But have I given up my time and said no to my jobs in London, Amsterdam or wherever I happen to be asked to go? No. I need the money. Or so I tell myself. I also love my job, and the life I have chosen to lead, but perhaps I should re-think it all. Not just tell everyone else to do so. Living close to the sea, or in the country side with a flat in the city would be my dream existence.

But it’s not the easiest for a careerist, a focused late-twenties ambitious someone. We all have goals in life, but do we have to reach them so fast? We seem to be forced to think we are not good at what we are doing if we haven’t achieved the dream with a comet like career, a fast life style, thousands of air-miles and a posh city flat before we hit the big three-o. Why is that? Can’t we give it some more time, try enjoying it more while we’re at it?
It is so easy to loose focus and loose our passion for what we initially wanted to achieve with our lives. The speed of the 21st century society rocketing past our ears is so deafening at times there’s no surprise we might wake up one day and wonder “eh…what happened?” When that happens, it a sure sign to have a serious think. Go out in the nature, sit on the cliffs looking out over the sea, find a calm, peaceful place in the country side and try listening to yourself. In the big cities, that’s virtually impossible.

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Filed under Amsterdam, City Life VS. Country Side Lull, London, Paris, Stressful City Life, Sweden

An Englishman and his Tea Room in the Netherlands

When I came over to the Netherlands almost ten months ago for work, I couldn’t in my wildest dreams imagine that finding a good old cuppa would be my main concern. I have by now given in to buying my tea when back in the UK, or to pay extortionate prices in speciality deli’s in Amsterdam.
Imagine my surprise when realizing that having tea when out and about town is equally impossible. I gave up trying, and have now started to appreciate (at times, at least) the fresh mint tea they serve everywhere. Though not as good as in the Big Mosque in Paris, it is generally fresh and invigorating, just like it should be.

But now, finally, to tweak up the general standard of tea drinking in the Low Countries to a higher level, a real English tea room called The Mayflower English Tea Room has opened in Amersfoort, a 40 minute train ride from Amsterdam Central Station. I’ve now been twice, and good Lord is it a relief for a semi-expat like myself! Beats the high tea I had at that-very-fancy-hotel at 15 Beeston Place, London, last year with a mile, or two, which says alot about the love and effort put in to this establishment by the English owner, Jeremy. And all that effort and love shines right through everything that’s served.

To start with, I want to give The Mayflower a huge round of applause that everything is home made. None of that cheap, pre-packed rubbish you get at lesser establishments. Everything is made in the newly equipped kitchen at the back of the tea room. All is baked, decorated, fluffed up and smiled at by the owner himself. How about that for a recipe for success in 2011? The artisan and organic food movement has not reached over here in the same way as it has the British Isles, but I hope this can be a prime example that non-prefab is to prefer above everything else when it comes to food.
It might all be home baked, but still the prices are very resonable. €18.50 for a full High Tea incl. finger sandwishes, scones with all condiments expected, stunning pastries (as you can see above) and a pot of tea. “Surely not?” you may say, but that’s how it is. Light on the pocket and fills you up like a Sunday roast.

I have so far managed to try four (!) of the teas served, three black and a green/herbal Moroccan Mint. As is tradition at an English Tea Room only loos leaf tea is served, and if you find it too strong just ask for some hot water on the side. Also, milk is to be had if required, so no blank gaze will meet your eyes from behind the counter if you would ask for it like at most café’s in this paradise of cloggs, windmills and tulips. The providers of the tea, Harney & Sons, have been in the business of so called “gourmet teas” for over twenty-five years and the result can be seen in these pure tasting blends with kept depth and lack of bitterness though stewed in the pot if left too long. Brilliant choise and a joy to drink.
For those who abjure the classic tea tradition, there is also coffee on Lavazza beans, so every taste is catered for.

The finger sandwiches with varying, typical English fillings like roastbeef and horseradish, tomato chutney and cheddar, cucumber and dill are splendid small representations of the English tradition. No more, no less. Fresh and wonderfully tasty. What else is there to ask for? The home made fruit scones also matches the expectations with being light and on the right side of sweet while at the same time not tasting of baking powder, as is always a risk. I understand they have experimented a lot to find the perfect recipe, and it has payed off and shows. The scones, jam and the clotted cream married perfectly and transported me back to the Cornish coast like was I wrapped up in a whirl of English summery breeze. Amazing, pure and simple. The top of the tiered cake stand is filled with yummy goodiness too. My favourite is still, like it was at my first visit, the Victoria sponge. Just like with the scones there was this enviable lightness to the cake, like biting into a cloud. Not that I ever have, but if I did I imagine the feeling would be similar. The small exquisite banoffee pie were also very impressive. I promise you that all these pastries, cakes and sandwiches will fullfill your every expectation of what a real High Tea is like. And oh, I almost forgot to mention the blue Stilton cheese and broccoli quiche that you get with the sandwiches on the bottom tier. It’s delicious too. But you probably figured that out already.

My overall impression of The Mayflower is that the owner, Jeremy Roberts, is on the path towards recognition for his efforts and success will come running his way. With the incredibly high standards set and the effort put in to this business I have a feeling that when word gets around, not only in Amersfoort, will he be very busy indeed. The attention to detail (see the William Morris wallpaper in the background?) and the engagement and love for authenticity can’t be missed and will be appreciated by customers. And most importantly, the food and the customer, be it a family with babies, a business man in a hurry or an elderly couple, is put first. All this shows from the second you walk through the door.
If you’re looking for a little bit of England abroad, this is where you have to go. You will love every bite and cherish every sip when you’re there, and thank your lucky star that someone planted this little haven of Britishness in the heart of the Netherlands.

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Filed under Amersfoort, Coffee, High Tea in the Netherlands, Tea Room, The Mayflower Tea Room, The Netherlands

Coffee in Amsterdam Part: 9

In November 2010 this coffee house, De Koffie Salon on Utrechtsestraat 130, was voted “Best coffee in Amsterdam” by Time Out Amsterdam Magazine. Nice for them, but I don’t agree. It’s not that it is not a nice place, cause it realy is. Great feel, relaxed, chilled out but not overly Americanized cum brushed steel and concret á la New York interior that’s now so popular, homey feeling with the big sofas on the first floor and the buzzing, great table in the middle of each floor for lap-top users. Brilliant idea. But the coffee? It was pretty bland. And that’s why I came there in the first place.

Since my first espresso macchiato was a dissapointment the other week, I decided to go again a few days later to see if it might just have been bad luck from the barista’s side. But that wasn’t the case here. The second time I went the macchiato was still bland, a bit watery and with no pull in the taste. Is the settings on the machine wrong perhaps? Need to have the bar pressure set according to how the coffee is ground? Or is it just that they have had bad luck with the last few batches of coffee beans from Buscaglione, the italian roaster. Whatever it is, it needs to be fixed.
The froth on my first macchiato was very good (it sais in my notes) but the last time it was too hard, almost like an unbaked meringue before it hits the oven. I also had a normal black coffee to see if that was any better. And it was. They might be using these hellishly popular pods (the Wrath of the Gods for coffee connoisseurs, in my view) which are so loved here in the Netherlands, but it was still not bad at all. Not as clean in taste as it would have been had it been a proper pour over, but I shan’t be too picky.

What I want to applaude De Koffie Salon for is their effort to keep a consistently high level concerning their pastries, sandwiches and sweet buns. I have had different things every time, and they have been very good. The little almond bake with three whole almonds on top are divine. And not least, the staff has been very nice too. Service minded and smiley which is nice in a country where customer service is as sparse as a snowman in Hell.

So all in all I would recommend this coffee house for all but their coffee. If that is your prime concern, go somewhere else. If it is  simply a nice café experience you’re after, De Koffie Salon on Utrechtsestraat is a good place to go in one of my favourite, up-and-comming art trendy and design aware areas of Amsterdam.

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Filed under Amsterdam, Barista, Coffe Houses, Coffee, De Koffie Salon, Food and Drink, The Netherlands

Coffee in Amsterdam Part: 8

After a few bummers on the coffee front over the last few days in the capital of cloggs and tulips, I found my way to Hartenstraat 12 and Screaming Beans. Just the name is enough to make you want to go there, but what coffee! It is a place well worthy being called a coffee fanatics mecca in Amsterdam. An easy five minute walk from the Dam Square, past the Royal Palace, and you’ll find this little gem of a place on one of the short, busy sidestreets off Keizersgracht.

Screaming Beans uses beans from Bocca, a small roastery situated in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam. Mainly sourcing their beans from organic farmers in Ethiopia and Kenya, they buy small exclusive batches of beans to keep the quality high. Just how I like it. It is also possible to buy their beans at Screaming Beans for you to take home. I mean, if you hadn’t had enough of coffeey goodiness for one day. Have to do that next time I’m around.

I kicked off with a macchiato which was a smooth concoction, well balanced espresso versus milk froth. No bitterness in the aftertaste. Perfect. When I asked for something more “original” I was served a cup of pour over on a freshly ground Ethiopian blend called HailesLassie. It was one of the last cups since the blend is now finished (it was created for a barista championship in Maastricht, the nice barista informed me, but in the last minute the barista competing changed his mind and created another blend whereby this came on the market for Screaming Beans to grab. For that feat I can only congratulate them) but they have plenty others which I’m sure are equally as good. This blend had a very deep fruity tone, some surprising papaya tint to it, and though not overly strong and dark, which is usually how I like it, it was a great pour.

Good coffee is hard to come by in the Netherlands. Even in the multi international capital. It is said to be getting better, but I guess I haven’t been here long enough to really tell. At times I am still chocked over the quality at some places who gives them self out to be “the real thing”. I can only say beware and be warned. Screaming Beans though is a place to visit when you’re around in Amsterdam as a coffee connoisseur.  Or coffee junkie for that matter. It is good. Very good. Can’t put it any simpler than that. My only critique would be that they close very early, at 5pm every day (which is a shame) so check the opening hours before you go. To their defense they are open on Sundays, which is rare over here. Maybe there’s a good reason for it all, I didn’t ask, but hopefully they’ll do something about that soon and stay open longer for us all to enjoy.

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Filed under Amsterdam, Barista, Coffe Houses, Coffee, Screaming Beans