Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Love and Ruin

Love and Ruin
Paula McLain

A few years ago I read Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, fictional-based-on-fact biography of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson. It was a fascinating account of their lives in 1920's Paris and Pamplona with their friends, a literary and artistic "who's who" - Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce and others. 

McLain's latest novel, Love and Ruin, takes up the Hemingway saga at the time of the Spanish Civil War. Hadley has been divorced and she and their son, Jack (Bumby) have moved off-scene. Hemingway is well into his second marriage to Pauline Pfeiffer with whom he has two young sons  Young aspiring writer, Martha Gellhorn, of St Louis, Missouri, travels to Key West, Florida with her mother and brother for recovery following the death of Gellhorn senior and encounters the already famous writer, Ernest Hemingway in a bar. Instantly smitten, he encourages her to travel to Spain, just as he is about to do, as a journalist to chronicle the horrors of the Civil War. 

The Gellhorn years lasted from approximately 1936 to 1945. The two were married for the final five. We learn, though, that two successful and ambitious writers do not necessarily make good partners and housemates. There is a lot of strife. Hemingway wants a compliant housewife who will look after his needs and possibly make a baby while Gellhorn yearns to be taken seriously as a writer, not coasting on her husband's coattails and chafes to get out from under, to travel and to document the horrors of war. 

The Gellhorn years cover some of the pre-Castro era of Cuba and McLain describes with great detail the home, Finca Vigia, that Gellhorn rented and renovated and that the couple later purchased.

There was so much of historical interest in Love and Ruin. Times were paradoxically both simpler and more difficult. One could encounter Basque men playing pelota (jai alai) in Havana and invite them to have a drink in a bar the same afternoon. The crossing of the Atlantic, on the other hand, was by ship, which took weeks, often in very rough seas and, in wartime, meant possibly encountering enemy ships and minefields. 

I came away from reading this book with huge admiration for Martha Gellhorn. What a strong woman she was, not only to wage through the days with the force that was Hemingway but also to channel her inner sense of intrepid! Did you know that she was the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day? And that she was one of the first journalists to report from Dachau after its liberation by the US Army? All without Hemingway's help - in fact, he tried everything he could to stop her. 

While the third wife in a line may possibly have intimations that the position is temporary, Gellhorn, in this portrayal is gutted when the big guy becomes less and less supportive of her literary and journalistic aspirations. I read elsewhere that after she and Hemingway broke up, she would not speak of him again but that she retained a good relationship with all three sons. Readers can draw their own conclusions about the larger-than-life character, Ernest Hemingway.

Here is an interesting 2016 video about Hemingway, his boat, Pilar and Finca Vigia both of which have been restored in an unusual collaboration between the US and Cuba.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Helen Richman Embroidery

Helen Richman, a UK textile artist, runs The Bluebird Embroidery Company from her home in Somerset. Her British Wildlife Series is quite wonderful!

The fox, for example, represents 40 hours of work and was created using a blend of 10 shades of stranded cottons. Silk shading techniques replicate the soft texture of the fox's coat.

Helen's original works are offered for purchase (with more information) here

High quality prints and cards can be found here.

If you are an expert embroiderer, you might be interested in the kits which are also available for sale.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Behind the Scenes at a French Bakery

Diane, of the blog Out in France (remember the language hints?), has made some videos of her early morning visit to a French bakery, 3 parts all together, each about 15 minutes long. A big thanks to Diane and to the bakers at Maison Travers in Cholet, France! 

Diane has a host of other interesting videos at her YouTube channel, Out in France YouTube

You may find yourself craving something yummy and investigating airfares to France.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


Recently I came across some ethereal digital images that really caught my attention. The artist is German-born Miray. I wasn't able to find out much about her, but her website which you can find HERE has contact information along with her portfolio which is a real treat to browse through. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Have You Been Practicing?

How's your French coming along? Have you found the right attitude? 😄 

Diane, an American who has been living with her husband and Cavalier King Charles spaniel in the Loire Valley of France for the last 7 years has a YouTube Lifestyle Channel called Oui in France where she shares very helpful hints about life in France: travel, French culture and learning the language. 

Diane is learning to speak French as a second language. She says she's not a teacher but I think she could be! A lot of people, including me, have found the following video helpful in improving their French. 

The second video, practical advice on speaking French more confidently, applies, I think, to any conversation.

Diane also has a website, Oui in France, with useful information for anyone interested in French culture. I'll likely be sharing more of her videos in the near future.