Brussels by André de Vries

Brussels: A Cultural History by André de Vries
Publisher: Interlink Books
Genre: Non-fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Starting out as a few huts in a forbidding swamp, Brussels took more than a thousand years to become the capital of the Duchy of Brabant, of Burgundy, and from 1830 the capital city of the new kingdom of Belgium. Today its name popularly evokes Eurocrat megalomania and miniature cabbages, its image that of a beer-drinker’s dream, a paradise of chocolates and French fries. Yet Brussels, for all its reputation for bureaucracy and extravagance, is a city that has always been open to outsiders, to invaders and immigrants, always preserving its humanity. Architecturally rich and culturally sophisticated, this European capital defies its stereotypes. André de Vries explores a city and country in perpetual search of an identity, still showing the scars of the Counter-Reformation, peopled by the “Spaniards of the North.” He discovers a capital on the fault-line between Latin and Germanic cultures, with its improbable hybrid languages. A place ruled by the spirit of zwanze “self-mockery and derision,” a city so down-to-earth they had to invent surrealism. * THE CITY OF ARCHITECTURE: the home of Horta and Art Nouveau; the Grand-Place and the Atomium; the palaces of the European Commission; corrupt town planners and the joy of destruction. * THE CITY OF EXILES AND VISITORS: Erasmus, Marx, Proudhon, Victor Hugo, and Balzac; adventurers and soldiers; Byron, Wellington, Victor Serge, and Alexandra David-Neel. * THE CITY OF LITERATURE, ART, AND MUSIC: Charlotte Bronti, W.H. Auden, dos Passos and Huysmans; cartoon heroes Tintin and the Smurfs; the artists Van der Weyden, Brueghel, Ensor, and Magritte; excess and energy; Jacques Brel, Johnny Hallyday, and Toots Thielemans.

Have you ever wondered about the city of Brussels in Belgium? If someone asked you about it, what could you tell them? Brussels by André de Vries is quite informative in this regard. After reading it, one is sure to feel confident in discussing Belgium with a focus on Brussels.

The author goes into detail about its architecture, the people, including famous visited throughout time, its works of art and books, and even music. It is all presented through the lens of history. Many examples are given, and the words of famous and historical people are shown to highlight points. One will also learn about the languages and politics there.

Brussels has its own unique problems, and the author of this book shows us how they dealt with tricky situations. De Vries it very knowledgeable about the topic. Whether you want to travel the Brussels or just educate yourself, this is a good book to check out.

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell
Publisher: Icon Books Ltd.
Genre: Travel, Non-fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: Denmark, land of
long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries, was the happiest place on earth.

Keen to know their secrets, Helen gave herself a year to uncover the formula for Danish happiness.

From childcare, education, food and interior design to SAD and taxes, The Year of Living Danishly records a funny,
poignant journey, showing us what the Danes get right, what they get wrong, and how we might all live a little more Danishly ourselves.

In this new edition, six years on Helen reveals how her life and family have changed, and explores how Denmark, too – or
her understanding of it – has shifted. It’s a messy and flawed place, she concludes – but can still be a model for a better way of living.

Helen and her husband are a hard-working British couple who get an exciting opportunity. Helen’s husband is offered a job to work for the Lego company in Denmark. As humor underlies Helen’s story of this time, she refers to her husband as Lego Man throughout the book. Other people receive this same type of honor: Friendly Neighbor, Bearded Man etc.

Helen and Lego Man set off, not for the busy capital, but for a rather isolated part of the country, but they do visit the big city. Helen regales her readers with anecdotes of daily living, sometimes comparing it to life in her homeland of England. She tells readers of the culture, food, politics, values, and even the weather of her new temporary home.

Readers are sure to be drawn in by a tale of nonfiction that comes across in a fun way. So many interesting tidbits are described as Helen and her husband make the adjustment and learn their new expectations.

As the author and Lego Man are expecting a child, readers get to hear about how the state treats new parents. Facts unroll in this adventure and offer many things to think about.

This is a great book to learn about another culture while being entertained. Hopefully this author will write more such books.

Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands by Linda Ronstadt and Lawrence Downs, Bill Steen

Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands by Linda Ronstadt and Lawrence Downs, Bill Steen (photographer)
Publisher: Heyday
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travel, Memoir, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Linda Ronstadt takes readers on a journey to the place her soul calls home, the Sonoran Desert, in this candid new memoir.

In Feels Like Home, Grammy award-winning singer Linda Ronstadt effortlessly evokes the magical panorama of the high desert, a landscape etched by sunlight and carved by wind, offering a personal tour built around meals and memories of the place where she came of age. Growing up the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and a descendant of Spanish settlers near northern Sonora, Ronstadt’s intimate new memoir celebrates the marvelous flavors and indomitable people on both sides of what was once a porous border whose denizens were happy to exchange recipes and gather around campfires to sing the ballads that shaped Ronstadt’s musical heritage. Following her bestselling musical memoir, Simple Dreams, this book seamlessly braids together Ronstadt’s recollections of people and their passions in a region little understood in the rest of the United States. This road trip through the desert, written in collaboration with former New York Times writer Lawrence Downes and illustrated throughout with beautiful photographs by Bill Steen, features recipes for traditional Sonoran dishes and a bevy of revelations for Ronstadt’s admirers. If this book were a radio signal, you might first pick it up on an Arizona highway, well south of Phoenix, coming into the glow of Ronstadt’s hometown of Tucson. It would be playing something old and Mexican, from a time when the border was a place not of peril but of possibility.

A picture painted in photos, words and song.

I picked this book up because when I flipped through the pages, the vistas are simply breathtaking. I’ve never been to Arizona and haven’t seen the Sonora, but I want to. If it’s anything as pretty as the photos, then I want to be there.

This is the place Linda Ronstadt grew up. She was surrounded by her American and Mexican roots. To say she’s steeped in both cultures is an understatement. She writes eloquently and it felt like I was really there. The recipes included are fascinating and while I’ll have to order some of the ingredients online (we don’t have some of the specialties around my neck of the woods), I can’t wait to try to make them. I loved every page.

I will say there is a small bit that gets a tad political. Keep in mind, Ronstadt is writing from her own perspective and how she’s been affected by what she’s writing about. I won’t give away spoilers, but the politics are there. They didn’t take anything away from the story for me because it’s part of who she is and part of the culture down there. She’s writing from experience. It might not be for some and that’s okay, but don’t not read this book because of that. You’ll be missing out.

If you’ve ever wondered what this part of the country looks like, tastes like and feels like, then pick this book up and give it a try. You’ll be glad you did.