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Amaliehaven, Copenhagen

Amaliehaven is a relatively new (1983) park near the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen:-

Concrete Roof Garden by Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen

From it you could see these onion domes. Onion domes are unusual for Denmark I’d have thought. By searching Google Maps I discovered the building they belong to is on a street called Bredgade. Apparently it is the Alexander Nevsky Church, the only Russian Orthodox Church in the city:-

Onion  Domes, Copenhagen

There are more images of the church here. It would not look out of place in St Petersburg.

This rather grand looking frieze on Toldbodgade seemed to be over an underground car park. The inscription seems to read “Konge May Told Kammer” (King May Customs House?) and below that Anno 1733.:-

Frieze, Copenhagen


I’ve been away again.

A week in Orkney with the good lady, the furthest north either of us have been in Britain.

I have been further north (Stockholm and St Petersburg – or Leningrad, as it was then – since you ask; and the good lady has been to Bergen.)

Orkney was fantastic – lots to see and do. The landscape is a bit odd to a soft southerner. It took us a while to get used to the lack of trees. There are some trees on Orkney – mostly maples and usually in sheltered spots – but the hills are all bare. And you are never far from water.

The weather was all over the place though. Great sunshine for the first two days then it rained for the next two then there was another one of sun before the next saw a driving rain storm catch us on the Brough of Birsay. Still it apparently was dismal for the whole week where we live, so we escaped that.

The Wine of Solitude by Irène Némirovsky

Translated from the French, Le Vin de Solitude, by Sandra Smith.

Chatto and Windus, 2011, 248 p. First published by Éditions Albin Michel, 1935.

Hélène Karol is the only child of Bella and Boris Karol. Bella feels she has been forced, for financial security, to marry beneath her – she is self-centred and has expensive tastes. Boris is forced to leave his job as he would be tempted to steal to keep her in style. He leaves for, and makes his fortune in, Siberia. While he is there Bella takes a lover, Max Safronov, who considers the child Hélène a nuisance. Boris refuses openly to acknowledge his wife’s infidelities. Némirovsky notes that “a man needs a certain amount of breathable air, a small dose of oxygen and illusion in order to live.”

The novel traces Hélène’s life from early childhood in Kiev, to St Petersburg, then after the Russian Revolution to Finland and finally France. Hélène loves her father but the only person who has any time for her is her governess Madamoiselle Rose, with whose services Bella eventually dispenses, claiming she has set Hélène against her.

The book’s focus is firmly on Hélène and the effects on her of Bella’s indifference. While still a child she reads a book displaying a happy family she thinks is a fantasy and writes in it, “In every family there is nothing but greed, lies and misunderstanding.” The upheavals of the outside world, the Great War, the Revolution, are mostly off-stage – though one of the scenes in Finland has the White Army gradually nearing the village where the Karols are staying. Even when living through interesting times people still have personal concerns. Wars and revolutions are only the backdrop against which their lives are experienced.

Hélène’s hatred of her mother is such that when she grows up and realises a young woman’s attractiveness to men she determines to win Max’s affections to gain a measure of revenge. More subtly Némirovsky has Max’s mother say to him, in respect of Bella, “Women don’t love a man for himself but as a weapon against another woman,” and doesn’t make those Hélène’s words.

Since Némirovsky was herself Ukrainian and emigrated to France it would be too easy to attribute this novel to autobiography. To do so would be to deny the novelist’s art. As a depiction of an emotionally deprived childhood, and its effects, The Wine of Solitude is exemplary. It also stands as a reminder that those effects need not be determinative. We can choose how to behave.

The translation renders the area of Hélène’s childhood as “the” Ukraine. While this was the Soviet designation and may have been the one in use when the book was written in the 1930s I believe the inhabitants of that country prefer just Ukraine. A pedant’s heart will be gladdened by the fact that in the Finnish scenes Smith rendered a question grammatically correctly as, “Whom were they firing at?” though it does appear fussy to modern eyes.

Interesting Times

Sometimes I feel that we live in a Chinese curse.

Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and now Libya. Where will it end?

Of course I thought the world had gone to hell in a handcart when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas if you prefer.) In my whole memory up to then the British Army had not been involved in a full blown shooting war. (Now it seems they’ll never be out of one.)

Then there was the fall of the Berlin Wall and all that followed.

I remember once seeing Enoch Powell on Parkinson and laughing at the old codger when he referred to the “Dutch East Indies.”

Now it’s me who is a bit of an old codger. I still think of St Petersburg as Leningrad as that was its name when I visited on a school cruise in the 1970s.

I have to scoff though when Mr Irresponsible and his sidekick William Hague stand up for the rights of street protestors.

That’ll be fine except when it occurs in the UK then, eh?

OK, arrest people who break the law by smashing windows or throw stuff and the like, but what is kettling and thumps on the head or back with a truncheon if not repression?

And kettles boil, do they not? Or is that the object of the exercise?

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