Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Connections Magazine - Winter #18 2008

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #18 Winter 2008 

The Wonderful World of Chocolate

Bad day at the office, life’s a peach, or just because you feel like it, just reach for chocolate and your world takes on a new chocolaty dimension. OK maybe I’m a bit too over enthusiastic, but one thing is sure this stuff really hits the spot! In this issue chocolate prevails due to Valentine’s Day, Leap Year and of course Easter.

Women seem to be the main lovers of this heavenly stuff, but I have met on occasion the odd man who won’t share his bar for love or money or those who will fight you for the last M&M (the latter, I might add being under the age of 10, and is therefore excused). I won’t make the presumption and say that I don’t think that there is anyone who doesn’t like chocolate but, I have yet to meet someone who has never tasted chocolate - please correct me if I am wrong.

Whether you are a guzzler, a comfort eater (on those long dark nights), or a refined one piece after dinner eater there are still differing opinions as to what is considered ‘real’, chocolate. Dark chocolate is of course in its purity the real McCoy, but milk chocolate is a serious contender, as it tends to melt more slowly and lasts longer in the mouth of the chocolate lover. White chocolate, however, due to its minimal cocoa levels is considered an impostor, but does have its following.

Used as early as the sixth century BC by the Mayas the word chocolate comes from their word Xocoatl, which means ‘bitter water’. A symbol of life and fertility its image was to be found in many of their temples and palaces and was referred to as ‘food of the Gods’. The Aztecs believed that their god Quetzalcoatl brought them the cocoa tree, which he in turn had stolen from paradise. Both the Mayas and the Aztecs used Cocoa as the basis for a thick, cold, unsweetened drink called Xocoatl often flavoured with spices, hot chillies and corn meal. The Aztec emperor, Montezuma drank thick chocolate dyed red. Owing to the fact that the drink was thought to give the drinker wisdom and power as well as being nourishing and having an aphrodisiac quality. It was served in golden goblets that were thrown away after only one use.

Although it was Columbus who brought back the first beans to Spain there was little interest taken in them until Hernando Cortez re-introduced them in 1528 and suggested mixing the bitter drink made from them with sugar. This resulted in a mix with sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon. It became the drink of the Spanish nobility and remained a secret from the rest of the world for almost 100 years!
The court of seventeenth century France embraced chocolate to the full mainly because of its aphrodisiac qualities. It is said that the Marquis de Sade, often used it to disguise poisons whereas Casanova was reputed for using chocolate with champagne to seduce the ladies.
After this there was no stopping chocolate becoming popular the world over. In 1830, the drink was made into a confection, in the form of a solid product by JS Fry and Sons (a British chocolate maker). Industrialization in the manufacturing process of chocolate led to increased production, and that coupled with more cocoa plantations, made chocolate just for the elite a thing of the past.
Even as far as ones health it has been found to have some very positive qualities. A pure piece of chocolate (of roughly 10 grams), eaten daily can reduce the chance of heart and blood vessel problems by 50%. The presence of bioflavonoids protects against free radicals, as well as the amino acid Tryptophan, which stimulates the mood enhancing serotonin, resulting it the euphoric feeling that is felt whilst eating chocolate. It is also said to be good for the body and figure and is found in many of today’s beauty products. The effect here is stimulatory and drains water retention, breaks down fat and strengthens the skin.
These days chocolate is everywhere in one form or another just about everywhere; in books, shops, at tastings, societies, cocktails, on postage stamps and even featured in the designs at Parisian fashion shows.

One thing is sure; if you introduce a little chocolate into your life the world becomes a happier place.

Sources: Chocolate 

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #18 Winter 2008 

Leap Year

What do you get when you cross a kangaroo with a calendar? 
… A leap year!

But seriously, for those of you planning on taking advantage of this year’s leap year, and of course this is directed at you ladies, this is your once in every four years chance to pop the all important question. Of course you should make sure that your ‘man to be’, has given you with ample amounts of chocolate on Valentines Day to get you in the mood. Sorry chaps you do still have a look in with the remaining 365 days this year.

So, just how did a leap year become part of our calendar and the emancipated bending of the female knee?

A leap year came about astronomically because seasons and astronomical events do not repeat a set number of days each year, so if our calendar remained the same each year, eventually it wouldn’t correspond to the seasons or seasonal events at all any more. The Gregorian calendar includes an extra day once every four years, in February, which keeps the matter in check.

Historically in fifth century Ireland women were allowed to make marriage proposals. If the man in question refused he was then fined and compensation could range from a kiss, to £1.00 to paying for a silk dress. Because men found this to be a rather unfair system women were only allowed to propose in leap years.

According to English law, 29 February as a day was considered to have no legal status, existing purely to fix a problem in the calendar. Therefore any prevailing custom shouldn’t either that only allowed men propose marriage.

These days there is a Greek superstition that getting married on a leap year is bad luck so generally couples will avoid planning their weddings on a leap year.

So, if the worst-case scenario becomes a reality and your loved one is not ‘ready’, for the plunge there’s always the possibility of trying again in another four year’s. If this is not a very consolatory thought, just remember that Easter is around the corner. Failing that there are some rather fun chocolate fondue fountains on the market these days, to while away the time.

Artwork Wonder Woman: Terry Dodson

Source: Wikipedia

First published in the Connections magazine #18 Winter 2008

Valentine's Day

These days Valentine’s Day, on the 14 February, is unfortunately viewed as a commercial occurrence, where we are expected to make someone feel good/proclaim our love by sending an anonymous card, poem, flowers or large consignment of chocolates. This results in the fact that people in the western world often ignore Valentine’s Day because of its commercialism or due to a lack of motivation or perhaps even embarrassment to showing our true feelings.

There are differing stories as to how the day actually came about, but some say the day came about because of St. Valentine, a Roman, who was martyred because he refused to give up Christianity. It is said that during his time in jail he miraculously restored the sight of the jailor’s daughter. On the day of his execution he left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend, signing it ‘from your Valentine’.

Another story says it stems from the action of the bishop, Valentine who married young soldiers and their ladies in secret. This was something that had been banned by the Roman Emperor Claudius II, who had forbidden marriage between potential soldiers and their lovers as he felt that the young men didn’t make good soldiers once they had married. Because of his actions Valentine was captured, refused to convert to the way of the Roman Gods, and was executed. Valentine became the patron saint of an annual festival, where young Romans offered women they admired, and wished to court, handwritten greetings of affection each year on February 14. The cards took on the name of ‘Valentine’s cards’.

One of the earliest Valentine’s cards sent on record was in 1415, by Charles Duke of Orleans, to his wife whilst he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. This card can be seen in the British Museum

So go on, having learnt a little history of the romance behind Valentine’s Day, be a devil: send a card or splash out on one of those enormous heart-shaped chintzy boxes of chocolates and make someone happy. After all what have you got to loose? This is the one time in the year where if you get it wrong you can remain anonymous!

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #18 Winter 2008 

Connections Magazine - Autumn #17 2007

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #17 Autumn 2007 


My own experience of a Bollywood film came as a result of a trip to India and a visit to the local cinema in Jaipur, one evening. Treated to a fantastical spectacle in a cinema decorated with incredible opulence, I enjoyed a film, which was totally contradictory to the harsh realities of life in India.

Named after a combination of the name of the city Bombay (now known as Mumbai) and Hollywood, this is the Hindi film industry. Featuring a cast of thousands these musical glitz and glamour productions, often with a ‘boy meets girl’, storyline are perfect in their use of opulence and total escapism.

Starting with the first screening in 1899, Bollywood as an industry has grown to such an extent that it makes up to 800 films per year, with 14 million Indian people visiting the cinema every day in India alone. The same popular actors are featured in most of the films, which results in an actor/actress often being busy filming for more than one film at a time.

Seemingly, Bollywood’s appeal is on the increase as this has led to big US film companies, such as Warner Bros and Twentieth Century Fox setting up offices in India with obviously an idea for future collaboration.

With an Oscar nomination for ‘Lagaan’, in 2002 Bollywood films have been gathering momentum and have managed to cross over to the extent that they are now not just viewed by Indian families alone, but are also being shown in cinemas throughout the United Kingdom. Here, in Groningen at the Noorderzon Festival, a performing arts festival (and shortly to be seen at the Amsterdam Fringe Festival), the ‘Bollywood Mysterie’ was to be seen. A musical and visual feast of Indian music and film as portrayed by Gerry Arling with support from The Mondriaan Quartet, traditional Indian musicians and the spiritual music of the Californian composer, Terry Riley.

It is also possible that if you like the idea, you can sign up for Bollywood dancing lessons.

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #17 Autumn 2007 

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Connections Magazine - Summer #16 2007

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #16 Summer 2007 

Etiquette – Food for Thought

My interest on the subject of etiquette or social do’s and don’ts came about during a discussion at the end of a meal. Having finished I duly placed my knife and fork down together on the plate, positioning the handles pointing in the direction of the number six on a clock face. Logical, I had done this as long as I could remember. My Dutch counterpart, however, placed his with the handles both pointing towards the four. The ensuing conversation as to who was right and who not became quite heated. It was apparent that some basic elements of etiquette, that I had taken for granted, were not the same the world over. Being British, I assumed that the precedent of good manners must have been pioneered by us, that the discrepancy was due to them, and the Dutch-British divide (ie. The Channel). Further research showed that our American cousins also finished a meal by placing their cutlery in the same way upon the plate.

The cutlery saga continues along with the variety of ways to hold, cut and generally wield the implements during a meal. However, it seems there is no ‘right’ way. One point we all agree on is that leaving soiled cutlery sprawled across the newly starched linen table cloth is a no no.

What is etiquette? Reaching for the Concise Oxford dictionary, the definition of etiquette is: the customary code of polite behaviour in a society. Originating from French etiquette, in the eighteenth century, it was seen as a ‘list of ceremonial observances of a court’, also a ‘label, or ‘etiquette’. 

Etiquette not only governs ones eating habits, but general behaviour and presentation of oneself in polite society. The Victorians had an austere set of rules as long as your arm that had to be observed, unless you wanted to become a total social outcast. Take the raising of the small finger whilst drinking for example, supposedly the height of refinement in its heyday, now a cliché.  Amusingly, it can still be spotted in use now and then.

But it wasn’t always like this, etiquette seems to have arisen from a combination of an abundance of food and boredom, bred in the royal courts. Not so for our ancient ancestors, who were far too busy with survival on a daily basis and the hunt, kill, cook and eat aspect of life. Imagine them worrying about the placement of the cutlery, gravy running into their bear skins and who it was who had emitted that rather obnoxious burping noise, two rocks further down the cave. Although having said that, in some parts of the world burping is often expected to show the host that you are enjoying the meal.

So, next time you're making a gravy-and-potato volcano, just take a minute and ask yourself if you have put your cutlery in the right place!

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #16 Summer 2007 

Suzanne Postel – Murals, Frescos & Portraits

My meeting with Suzanne Postel came out of my curiosity to find out who the artist was of a rather imposing mural covering the entire side of a building contractor’s office, along the Korreweg in Groningen. Having cycled past many times in my daily travels, finally one day I jammed on the brakes and went inside to enquire.

I met Suzanne at her studio along the Eendrachtskade, which is spacious enough to serve as both work and exhibition space. The studio is filled with marvelous paintings at every turn and the area in the back, where we sat and drank coffee, has a wall that is a collage of small paintings, images, and photos of friends and family. I asked her how it came about that one of her murals was on the side of a building contractor’s office. She told me that living nearby meant that everyday she had looked out upon the building and a set of filled in windows that had been painted a rather unimaginative white. This made her fingers itch to do something about it, so much so that she approached them and offered to paint the offending building with a mural. The result is a set of very impressive classically robed women, each standing in a niche bearing a tool or implement relevant to the building trade.

Although always an artist at heart, after her student days and completion of her studies at the art school Minerva in Groningen, she decided to leave Holland for France. Here she lived for a period of ten years where she helped in setting up and running a naturist camping resort with her parents. France was an exciting and challenging period in her life, but she missed painting and the Dutch culture and returned to Groningen in 1999. In her own words: ‘I wanted to cycle across the market place with my children and buy sugar waffles’. Once back in Groningen she set up a studio and has established herself as a muralist and portraitist.

Before starting a piece of work, she does a lot of sketching, takes photographs (in the case of a commissioned portrait) and adds to a scrapbook. A book full of ideas this scrapbook is filled with images, material samples, and text, often poignant lines from poems. A particular favourite is the poet Jean Pierre Rawie. From this process arises a series of puzzle pieces that when put together become the basis design for a mural or portrait. Then turning to canvas or masomite (a specially treated art board) the initial idea is laid down very quickly as an acrylic base. After that she will work further on the idea in oils until its logical conclusion is reached and she is happy with it.

Other strong influences in her work can be seen to come from paintings from the Renaissance and Impressionist movements and from the world of dreams. According to the Chinese one should live out ones dreams in order to move on. One particular dream that she has turned into a painting is a self-portrait of herself, angry and with a dripping paintbrush in her mouth. What it means she is not sure, but it needed to be painted.

With regular commissions and exhibitions, as well as doing all her own public relations, and giving painting lessons to students with an age range of twenty to sixty. Suzanne is not only able to follow her passion but has been able to make it into a successful business.

The opening of her current exhibition entitled ‘De Hoge Lucht’ (The Light from Above), took place on 24 June 2007. The event was opened by Jacque D’Ancona (a renown Dutch journalist, amongst other things).

For more information about Suzanne you can visit her website here 

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #16 Summer 2007 

Dutch Water Towers

From 1856 onwards about 260 water towers were built throughout The Netherlands. Of the 175 still remaining few (with the exception of towers in Amsterdam and Utrecht ), are still in use for the regulation of the mains drinking water. The introduction of hydraulic engineering in the 1950’s being the main cause.

Each tower is unique in its design; influenced by a different architectural period. This diversity is not often seen anywhere else in the world. Contrasting with the Dutch landscape they are the visiting card of each city.

The first water tower in The Netherlands was commissioned by Willem III in 1680 in order to create sufficient water pressure for the fountain in the grounds of the palace Soestdijk (The former palace of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard). Other early water towers were built to supply the steam locomotives of the railway. Less imposing than their drinking water cousins, none of these still exist today.

The height of the water towers varies from 35-60 metres. The water reservoir held enough water to keep a constant pressure on the waters mains and acted as a buffer supply on demand.  

As the numbers of water towers in use declines, these characteristic landmarks become protected monuments often with other functions. The oldest water tower in The Netherlands can be found in Rotterdam. The tower is a mix of Neo Romanesque, Neo Renaissance and Moors construction styles. In its day it had a water reservoir capacity of one million litres. Out of commission since 1977 and a protected monument, it now houses seven apartments, office space, and a café/restaurant! 

An equally impressive water tower and monument can be found in the Schildersbuurt (painters’ neighbourhood), Groningen in the Netherlands. Situated on the corner of Dr. C. Hofstede de Grootkade and the Herman Colleniusstraat.


© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #16 Summer 2007 

The Padang Bar

The Padang Bar is a café/bar and has the best Northern African food I have ever tasted, with mainly Marokkan dishes on offer due to the fact that the chefs are mainly from Marokko.

Tajine dishes are their specialty and are oven dishes, which require extra time to prepare, but are well worth the wait. Their Merguez (spicy little sausages) and their lamb cutlets are a particular favourite of mine. All dishes come accompanied by couscous and salad. The staff are friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed. Due to its popularity it is definitely worth booking a table, unless you don't mind sitting at the bar with a drink until a table is available.

The Padang Bar is open every day and their website can be found here (Dutch)

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #16 Summer 2007