Return from the Messe

I has been a good two weeks since Yvette and myself returned from the Frankfurt Messe where we attended Paperworld to represent Cardle.

The end of a trade fair comes with some conflicting emotions. When the last minute of the last day of the fair has passed, there is a sudden sense of elation: the hard work is over – four days of being on your feet, of being charming yet professional, and allowing yourself to channel without reticence your excitement about your own product. Yvette and I truly love our own product, but usually a sense of unbridled enthusiasm only lasts a short while; it is exhausting otherwise. And while the fair is going, you don’t really come down from your adrenaline high either, even at the end of a day when you go home and eat and try to relax and get some sleep. After all, tomorrow brings another day. I realize this might be different for everyone. Certainly the pressures are different for established firms than they are for small start-ups, but in the end everyone is there because they feel their company and their product will benefit from a larger audience.

But once the fair is over, there come at once a sense of relief and a sense of urgency. The urgency initially translates into a frenzied folding of the stand. The entire hall is filled with a cacophony of sounds as every crew chooses a different tune to work to while they release all their pent-up energy into deconstructing what has been their office away from the office for four days. And that’s just the stands that do their own deconstruction. The really big companies hire professional crews for this. They emit a different energy, something much more mellow and no-big-deal. They haven’t been standing there for four days promoting their wares. They come fresh to this gig: they are there to unscrew, fold, pack, wrap, load and carry, and they do it with unmatched efficiency. I watched with envious eyes.

Our plan for the aftermath of the Messe was this: we would take down our stand and pack up our things together, then Yvette would relax and wait for me while I went to collect the car which we had parked a few towns over where friends of ours live. I would bring back the car, we would load up and we would drive back to our friends’ place and stay the night before embarking on the drive home the next day.

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And so, off I went: outside, on the train, then onto another train. It was a nice journey, actually, which gave me an opportunity to let my mind settle a bit away from the hustle and bustle of the trade fair being taken down. My friend met me at the train station at the other end and gave me a ride to the car. It had begun freezing pretty well by then: – 4 C and falling…

The car was an ice box, thank god for seat heating. And thank god for my TomTom, because as I approached the Messe, naturally everyone and their mother was arriving with trucks and vans to load up their things. And, in their infinite wisdom, the organizers had determined that all this traffic should be directed through one – count them: 1 – gate into the Messe. And it wasn’t the gate I arrived at. I was kindly but firmly pointed in the general direction of the general direction where general directions were given towards the correct gate. Lovely. After finally figuring out where to enter the terrain, it will come as no surprise that I found myself in an impressive traffic jam that literally stretched for miles as drivers were waiting to get in. All of them, through that one gate. For comic effect: pretty much every other vehicle in that line was at least the size of a large van, but most of them were sizable trucks. And there I stood, in my modest VW Polo… (And I’m not usually one to worry about size, you understand.)

In the end, all vehicles great and small made it to their respective destinations, and with the very kind help of the Hallenmeister, who allowed us use of an elevator that was technically not in use, we finally managed to pack everything in and drive towards good company, an excellent meal, a warm shower and a comfortable bed. Over dinner and breakfast the next morning, there was even some time to catch up with my friend.

And now, for the drive home. The weather was lovely: cold but sunny. And off we went: from Frankfurt back home. The trip took us longer than expected. It was a bad day for trucks all told: first we saw a truck let out a puff of red smoke while it was driving on the highway. It was immediately accompanied towards a stop by another truck. Truck drivers look after each other that way; it’s pretty heartwarming to see. Later, we got caught in a traffic jam, and watched emergency services try to inch their way through towards what we later found out was an accident involving three trucks. One of them had spilt a hazardous substance (probably some type of fuel). The truck in question looked like it had been wrenched open with a super-sized can opener. It was an unsettling sight.

That was the extent of the excitement, luckily. We arrived safely and decently on time, first at Yvette’s where fond greetings were exchanged with the home front, and finally, just before my daughter’s bedtime, I arrived home, tired and very happy to be back.

Since then, Yvette and I have been sorting through business cards, adapting business plans to include the exciting new options that have resulted from the fair, and moving towards the next step for Cardle. It’s an exciting ride, and we’re only just getting started.

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On a cold winter’s morning

Winter set in with an icy enthusiasm yesterday. The country is covered in white, and I had to break off a meeting with Cardle’s creative director early yesterday afternoon in order to get back home safely and before dark – the average speed on the roads, which had not yet been cleared, was about 15 Kph, and there was some slip-sliding here and there.

This morning provided us with some stunning views. I couldn’t resist the urge to go out and click a few photos (in my pyjamas without gloves at -9 C – I did wear a jacket, though).

Here is an impression of Zoetermeer (NL) – or Sweet Lake City, as we like to call it – on a cold winter’s morning in February, 2012.

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Bright Lights, Big Messe

My friend Yvette Scheltema is a product designer. She used to be an architect, until a little over a year ago, when she found herself downsized out of her position. When that happened, she spent some time trying to figure out what to do next, and she decided to pursue product design, because she is just unable to look at an object and not wonder how she could tweak it so that it would perform better or differently. And then she started toying around with paper design. Not one to do things halfway, she then proceeded to invent an object that didn’t actually exist as such, and while she was at it, she successfully patented the thing as well. And now she’s building up her own company, centered around her patented invention: the Cardle.

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Since we’re friends, and I like to help my friends every once in a while, I helped her out with some copywriting, translation and legal advice from time to time. But, not being one to do things halfway either, I found myself working with her as an external consultant for her new company.

Putting a new product on the market requires some going out and getting things done. One of the things that need doing is attending trade fairs. Yvette asked me to accompany her to the Paper and Convenience fair in Rosmalen, the Netherlands, last year September to launch the product on the Dutch market, and I did. We spent three days on our feet, accosting pretty much everyone that passed our booth with flyers, promoting the Cardle like crazy people. And it worked: the Cardle has been selling very nicely in the Netherlands, thanks in no small measure to Denis Bégin’s (Yvette’s husband, a talented graphic designer, among other things) beautiful graphic design for the Cardle’s first two series.

But Yvette is ambitious – and me too – so the Cardle was destined for a greater audience. Some enthusiastic marketing was done, and international interest in the Cardle was expressed from countries around the world. Now, the way to reach a larger market for a product like the Cardle is to show it off on an international trade fair.

And this is why I am writing this blog post from an apartment in Frankfurt, where I am staying with Yvette while we’re attending Paperworld at the Fankfurt Messe.

Before I say anything else, let me say this: the Frankfurt Messe is enormous. Good lord: the buildings – there are 11 – stretch for miles and each building has several levels. Paperworld only occupies a few buildings, the rest is currently being taken up by ChristmasWorld. This place is so professional and efficient, the staff is kind and competent, the atmosphere is very good and the contact between the exhibitors is fun and friendly.

But more about that later. Let’s start at the beginning.

The Frankfurter Mess(e)

Have you ever had that dream where you walk out of your house to go do something and you’re wondering why people are looking at you funny, then you look down and you see that you forgot to put your clothes on? Right, that feeling. That’s about the feeling we had when we arrived at the Messe on the 28th of January, around 10:30 AM, to set up. We imagined we would comfortably build up our booth, then spend some time in town and visit friends later in the afternoon. After all, the fair itself would only start on the 29th. We were wrong; a mistake in the dates. The fair had already started that morning – setting up should really have been done the day before…

More than a little embarrassed, we quickly remedied the situation, and with the help of some very friendly staff members at the Messe Yvette set up the booth while the first visitors were already strolling around through the exhibition halls. Meanwhile, I took care of some administrative things and parked the car.

And so, with some slight delay, we were in business.

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We had a very productive day after our rough start, and today was a truly excellent day: we barely had a moment’s rest. The Cardle has been doing very well so far. Distributors, wholesale companies and retailers alike are truly enthusiastic. And, as we did last time, Yvette and I are on our feet almost all the time, promoting the Cardle like crazy people (but in a charming way, naturally).
And we’re really quite proud of how lovely our booth looks!

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Carpe diem and little Bo Peep

While the Rosmalen fair was a fairly Netherlands-centered affair, this trade fair is a truly international event. Exhibitors from all around the world are here showing their products. The hotels are full up with both representatives from companies displaying at the Messe and visitors, who – like the exhibitors – come from all across the globe looking for new products to sell or distribute.

Some of the exhibitors use gimmicks, and Sheepworld has used the best by far during this trade fair. Their main theme features, not surprisingly, a cuddly sheep. During the fair, they had a life size one wandering around on fair grounds. When I saw it, I had no notice but to cuddle the poor lost thing – I felt just like Bo Peep (well, the opposite really, I guess, since I found the sheep instead of having lost it, but you get the idea).

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But the sheep was not the only cartoon image to escape from Sheepworld. One of their other characters is a cute version of the Grim Reaper. He has been skulking around in the exhibition hall, occasionally rather startling some of the visitors and exhibitors – which is pretty amusing to watch (I think I have a mean streak). I caught our friend on camera in a very appropriate setting:

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R&R

We decided that at the end of this second day at the Messe, a long day on our feet, we deserved some R&R, and so we made our way to a Chinese restaurant very near our hotel. I discovered it purely by coincidence on the night we first arrived; it’s tucked away behind the station on Westendstrasse 1 and doesn’t really advertise itself very clearly. But once you enter the restaurant premises and head down the steps, the most delicious scents float up to greet you. The service is genuinely friendly and the food terrific. If you should every find yourself in Frankfurt and hungry for good Chinese food, go check them out.

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We’re halfway through the fair now; there are two more days to go. Then, a visit with friends in a nearby village and a long drive home.

Off to school

My daughter starts school tomorrow. It’s a great day for her: she’s been looking forward to turning four years old so she can go to school just like the other kids in the neighbourhood.

I’m looking forward to it too, for her. But there is another part of me that just wants to keep her home with me, safe. Not because I’m one of those mothers that can’t let go, but because my school days (at my first school) sucked. I was bullied. Not a little, a lot. Every day I would dread having to go to school, to see what humiliation, or worse, what injury was in store for me today. Because the bullying didn’t stop at name-calling either (I was ugly, skinny, stuck-up, a smart-ass, my hair was stupid, why couldn’t I just get hit by a car), it extended to physical violence.I was beaten up on a regular basis. It was a five minute walk home from school, and I would be terrified for every step of it, because I knew there was a very real chance that I’d be chased by bullies all the way to my front door. There were so many incidents that I don’t even remember them all, but what I do remember very clearly was that I was completely and totally miserable. And of course I took every insult thrown at me to heart. What I learned best in that school was how to be utterly alone in a room full of people.
The bullying was unpredictable too: there were days, sometimes even weeks, that I would be left entirely in peace, and that made me wonder whether I had been imagining it all. Of course I hadn’t been; they’d pick the fun up with renewed vigour in due time.
The bullying got so bad that my parents decided to transfer me to another school because there was genuine concern for my safety.
I had a discussion with a friend awhile back about bullying. She blithely said that she felt that bullying was a part of going to school and growing up. I vehemently disagree. I think that bullying is part of growing up in the same way that racism is part of society. Yes, it is part of society, but it shouldn’t be, and pretty much everybody knows it. Such behaviour may not be fully stamped out ever, but there is a consensus now that it is unacceptable, and it should not be allowed to happen or, where it is still happening, to continue.

And now, as the song goes, I have children of my own (well, the one), and tomorrow she goes to school. We selected her school carefully; it has, among other winning features, a stringent anti-bullying policy (which school doesn’t, these days?). She knows some older kids who go to the same school, and those kids like her or at least appear to – peer pressure can have surprising effects on children’s behaviour: it can turn friends outside of school into barely tolerated elements on school grounds.

After all these years, of all the consequences to those years of bullying, this was one I had not considered: that I would be scared to see my child go off to school.

She is now like I was then: spontaneous, competitive, a show-off. I hope she’ll be tougher than I was. No, that’s not what I hope. I hope she won’t have to be.

George Michael Symphonica (Rotterdam, 22 Oct. 2011)

George Michael Symphonica – Ahoy', Rotterdam

George Michael Symphonica – Ahoy', Rotterdam

Perhaps I have gotten jaded over the years, or I may just be getting old. It sometimes seems to me that the age of real stars is past. I’m not talking about divas, mind you – that, today, is mostly a matter of attitude and ego – but about stars, artists with so much talent and purity of performance that they are worthy of the title. Such stardom elevates a performance by someone of that caliber to an experience, rather than a night out.

George Michael may be among the last of the genuine stars. I will be honest in coming straight out and admitting that my feeling this way surprised me. After the last concert of his I attended a few years ago in the Amsterdam ArenA I was sorely disappointed. I had expected more – better acoustics for one – and left the show unsatisfied. It wasn’t his vocals – those are always near perfect and they were that night too – but there was just something…missing. I thought that, perhaps, his days of touring should be behind him.

This is why, when my sister gave me a ticket to George Michael Symphonica at Ahoy’, Rotterdam for my birthday, I was happy with the gift, but hesitant. My trepidation only increased after reading a review of an earlier Symphonica concert, which echoed my thoughts after the ArenA concert.

Nevertheless, yesterday evening I went to see George Michael Symphonica at Ahoy’, and from the very first note, all my fears were allayed. The concert was, quite simply, stunning. Not an event, but an experience.

When I entered the hall, I sensed a genuine air of anticipation. The view of the stage had been obscured by a red satin curtain, which for the duration of the first song remained closed. Such touches, of course, add to the excitement in expectation of the final pay-off: seeing George Michael do what he does in his own, inimitable way.

When the curtain was raised, the man we had all come to see was revealed: he was in fine form, dressed impeccably as always, in a dark, tailored suit and wearing his trademark sunglasses (possibly not even overkill, considering the brightness of not only the stage lights, but also the projection screen behind him).

What followed was a series of refreshing interpretations of songs by other artists, as well as renditions of his own songs.

His cover of New Order’s “True Faith” – released earlier this year for Comic Relief – was a thoughtful reinterpretation of the original. Since the release of “True Faith”, much has been made of his use of electronic voice modification on this track – he also used it during his live performance last night – to create the sound for the single. I imagine most of the criticism will have stemmed from the fact that hearing the effect will have taken some getting used to, especially after hearing nothing but pure, unprocessed vocals from him over the course of his entire singing career.

“Russian Roulette” (originally by Rihanna) was poignant and intense, highlighted by the addictive percussion mimicking a pounding heartbeat, which in turn was underscored by red lights pulsing in time with the rhythm.

He also delivered a sensitive tribute to Amy Winehouse by singing his version of “Love is a Losing Game”, performed in clear admiration and compassionate memory. The song was accompanied by pictures of her on the screen behind him.

I think that for most people, though, the true enjoyment lay in hearing George Michael perform his own songs. For me, “Cowboys and Angels” stood out, but that is almost certainly due to my favoring that song over almost all others in his repertoire. For the audience, hearing the opening notes of “A Different Corner” after hearing a series of cover songs resulted in an almost palpable sense of release.

At the end of the concert, there was a little treat in the form of a surprise performance by George Michael and his four backing vocalists singing “This Little Light of Mine” in close harmony, producing some joyous gospel sounds indeed.

His performance was superb, if by no means perfect. His voice showed signs of fatigue, especially towards the end of the evening. This is not surprising: he has been performing full force with a symphony orchestra for well over two months now, with in excess of thirty shows behind him, and another thirty shows ahead of him. Certainly his age will also be playing a part here (he is 48 now), but that is not a bad thing at all. His voice is as rich as it ever was, and experience – both happy and painful – has added an extra dimension, lending maturity to his unique sound.

Throughout the whole evening, he appeared to be avoiding the high notes, which was especially obvious during “Kissing a Fool”. No damage done: in the low notes his sound is still full and luscious, but the drop in register on the whole became very clear during the last performance of the evening: an up-tempo medley of “Amazing”, “I’m Your Man” and “Freedom ’90”. The audience, invited to sing along, seemed to have some difficulty making itself heard because the lower key was a little problematic.

For me, what made the whole experience perfect is this: I love watching him sing. He sings with his whole body, his eyes closed for half, maybe even most of the time. George Michael creates right in front of your eyes; he doesn’t just repeat, but infuses each song with genuine emotion and you can see it happen.

The concert itself leaves you with food for thought. Each song seems to have been carefully picked to illustrate an aspect of his life that bears illuminating. And in each song, there is something to think about for everyone. The sequencing of the songs adds to the story, so that the concert feels like George Michael takes you on a personal journey with him, from his struggle coming out with his sexual orientation and being accepted for who he is (“Going to a Town” by Rufus Wainwright), through the loss of loved ones, to addiction, and a failed relationship. Some of the songs are so personal, for example: “Where I Hope You Are”, that I found the concert almost confrontational at times. The result is an intense, thought-provoking experience that still resonates well after the concert has ended.

Steve Jobs – a Touch of Magic

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Last night, I had trouble getting to sleep, so I sat up drinking a glass of wine and browsing my twitter feed on my iPhone. And then, around 1:50 AM CET, I saw the tweet from @BreakingNews. It read something like this: “Apple has announced that Steve Jobs has died.” I was in shock, disbelief even at first. Hoping it was another premature announcement, I began checking out the news sites on my iPad and it wasn’t long before Steve Jobs’ death was the dominant news story on pretty much every news site, network, tech site and – well, everywhere really. And I’ll be honest with you: I cried. This is not something I usually do when a celebrity dies, no matter how famous or stellar the person might have been. But Steve Jobs is, no, was unlike anyone else.

Of course, his death wasn’t unexpected. Everyone knew Steve Jobs had survived pancreatic cancer. Everyone knew he had undergone a liver transplant only 2 years ago. A liver transplant following treatment for pancreatic cancer is usually a bad sign, so logic dictated that he was never going to live another 20 years, but the few months between his stepping down as CEO of Apple and now were far less than anyone would have expected; I think pretty much everyone was hoping for much more time than this. In fact, for a man of Steve Jobs’ talent, vision and ability to do the seemingly impossible, 56 years is entirely too short a lifespan altogether. Steve Jobs was the kind of person – a man who lived his passion, who made the biggest corporate comeback witnessed in recent history, who changed the face of home technology, of digital products, of user experience with machines that had until then been cumbersome and barely tolerable at best – we would all want to have around for at least a hundred productive years.

Now that he is gone (and I know this is going to sound dramatic), the world feels a little emptier, and somehow devoid of a touch of magic. I know for many tech users and fans he leaves a void in no small part because of what he created, and how he changed the game in business and technology development. For me personally, though, it goes further than that. Of course Steve Jobs has accomplished amazing things, not least his almost unimaginably meteoric comeback with Apple – a company he was removed from after having first founded it and which he returned to when his new company NeXT was taken over by that very same Apple in an effort to stave off Apple’s demise – whilst battling pancreatic cancer and surviving for longer than I think almost anyone ever has.

But to me he represented something more. He represented the courage that most of us lack when living our lives. He realized very early on that in order to truly live, choices need to be made and they can’t just be made for the sake of mere survival, they must be made on the basis of instinct, passion, insight and a certain faith that in the end it will all come together. He made what many consider enormous leaps of faith that way: going by feel when creating new products, never market testing but simply acting on what he felt people should and were entitled to require of devices that should make daily tasks fun and easy, and that connect us all to the rest of the world. I know the MacBook Pro made my life a lot easier and more productive, and the iPod and iPad added a healthy dose of fun and interactivity. My current MacBook has helped me finally channel my creativity in such a way that I feel I can actually accomplish something. And last but certainly not least: my current twitter presence can be attributed wholly to my iPhone, which has become what I like to call my ‘mobile communication and productivity center’.

Steve Jobs accomplished what he did, of course, because he had a passion for aesthetics and design, as well as a drive to combine them with pure and consistent functionality in Apple’s products. He made perfectionism the new standard (something I can appreciate, being slightly neurotic that way myself). But it is the fact that he lived every aspect of his life with this passion and this drive that made him nothing less than a force of nature. And to me, his life and career show that choosing to live your life that way can lead to success, accomplishment and a sense of deep satisfaction with what you’re doing. Steve Jobs was living proof of this and I felt better for having him there to remind me that we can all do great things – maybe even the supposedly impossible – while we are here. I feel an almost personal loss because he was the window through which I saw what I could be, what we all could be if we just had the courage to make the choices we typically avoid. Not another Steve Jobs – there will only ever be one – but the best, purest, most focused version of ourselves.

He was a brave man, a talent and a visionary, and his death will leave a void for years to come. I wish his family and loved ones much strength as they deal with his loss.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs. You are missed.

East-meets-West Pilau

Sometimes I look in my fridge and realize that the various leftover ingredients from previously prepared meals really need to be finished now. Today, I had half a bottle gourd, 125 grams of mushrooms and some ground meat with due date today. How to blend that together into something tasty…?

Now, pilau is one of those nice toss-it-all-in dishes, so here it is: East-meets-West Pilau!

I used:
40 gr butter
1 fresh red chili pepper, sliced
2 large cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
2 tsp salt
2 tsp dhana jeeru
125 gr mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
150 gr bottle gourd, cubed (small)
325 gr ground beef
1 tsp maple syrup
2 cups rice
3 cups water

And this, my trusty rice cooker:

The preparation is simple: melt the butter in a skillet over a low flame, and sauté the pepper and garlic in about 5 minutes. Next, stir in the salt and dhana jeeru, then add the mushroom and stir occasionally over the next 5 minutes until the mushrooms are nice and tender. Now you add the bottle gourd and stir it through. Stir occasionally over the next 10-15 minutes. When the bottle gourd is tender, add the ground beef and let it cook until the meat is done. Then, the Canadian – the Western – touch: add the maple syrup and stir it through thoroughly. And finally you stir through the uncooked rice.

Now you can transfer the mixture to the rice cooker and add the water. The work will do itself.

Sit back, relax and when the rice cooker is done, you can eat!

I love an easy meal…

Ever After: A Cinderella Story – Review

SPOILERS AHEAD! – Don’t read this review if you haven’t seen the film yet.

My daughter, at her nearly 4 years of age, will happily watch anything involving princes, princesses and adventure. I’m a hopeless romantic and a lover of fairytales, in both their soppy, reworked modern versions, and their much more cruel, child-unfriendly original versions. So you can see why Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998; D: Andy Tennant) would be a favourite in our house.

That being said, not all fairytale adaptations bring a smile to my face as readily as Ever After: A Cinderella Story does. For me, the magic already begins at the very start of the movie, when that grande dame of cinema, Jeanne Moreau in the role of the great-great-great-granddaughter of Danielle de Barbarac (Drew Barrymore), invites the brothers Grimm to her chateau to set them straight on the events that have since become the fairytale of “the little cinder-girl”. When she presents the writers with the actual glass slipper that is such an essential element of the story, the scene is quite masterfully set for the telling that follows.

The fairytale itself begins with young Cinderella, or Danielle de Barbarac (Anna Maguire), in happier days. Danielle is a bit of a wild child and spends most of her time playing with her friend Gustave (Ricki Cuttell). Her father, Auguste (Jeroen Krabbé), is a merchant who clearly adores his only child. Rather progressively, he has taught her to read and instilled in her a love of the written word. When Auguste returns home from one of his journeys, he brings with him a new wife, Rodmilla de Ghent (Anjelica Huston) and her two daughters Marguerite and Jacqueline. It is clear from Rodmilla’s look of contempt at the sight of tomboy Danielle, that there is trouble ahead.

And so there is: a few short weeks later Auguste dies of a heart attack, leaving his new wife in charge of the children, a household and staff. Fast forward ten years, and there is the Cinderella we know from the stories. Danielle effectively runs the entire household, doing the chores with the rest of the staff, while Rodmilla allows herself to be waited on hand and foot. She treats her stepdaughter shabbily, but treats her own daughter Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey) only marginally less badly. It is only Marguerite (Megan Dodds) who is being groomed for life at court. Rodmilla shows admirable optimism in her efforts to push her into the arms of the Crown Prince of France, never mind his engagement to a Spanish princess (Virginia García): “Nothing is final until you are dead and even then I’m sure God negotiates”.

Meanwhile, Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) is proving to be a problem for the King and Queen of France (Timothy West and Judy Parfitt). He is not interested in marrying anyone, nor does he want to succeed his father, and he has apparently made a habit of escaping the palace to evade his duties.

During one of these escapes Henry runs into Danielle. In her efforts to prevent him from stealing a horse she pelts him with apples until she realizes she’s been bombarding the future King of France with fruit. She – or perhaps just the apple hitting him on the forehead – makes an impression on him. Immediately after, Henry meets Leonardo DaVinci (Patrick Godfrey), who has been invited to the Royal Court of France to be honored for his work as an artist. (“Michaelangelo is trapped under a roof in Rome. I am merely second choice.”)

Upon Henry’s return to the palace, the exasperated King sets him an ultimatum: find another woman to marry, but do so before the ball honoring Signore DaVinci; if not the ball will also mark the announcement of Henry’s engagement to the Spanish princess.

It is not long before Henry and Danielle meet again, this time at court where Danielle appears disguised as a noblewoman. Henry has no idea this is the servant he met earlier, but is visibly intrigued by her passionately quoting Thomas More at him and he wants to learn more.

Rumours of Henry’s affections for a mysterious stranger abound, and Rodmilla eventually puts two and two together. On the day before the ball, she misinforms the Queen of France that Danielle is engaged to be married and then proceeds to lock Danielle in the cellar to ensure she does not attend the ball. Henry learns of Danielle’s “engagement” from his mother, resigns himself to marrying the Spanish princess and tells his father to announce the match at the ball.

Leonardo DaVinci finds out about Danielle’s plight from Gustave (Lee Ingleby) and, assuming the role of fairy godmother, he is instrumental in getting Danielle to the ball after all by freeing her from the cellar.

Danielle arrives at the ball just in time to prevent the wedding announcement, but her happy ending is sabotaged by her stepmother who exposes her as a servant rather than a noblewoman. Henry, suddenly seeing that his love interest is in fact the same girl who knocked him off a stolen horse, does not respond well to the revelation and dismisses Danielle. She runs off, losing one of her glass slippers in the process. Leonardo DaVinci, arriving moments after this drama and expecting to see the couple happily united is instead confronted with a sulking, stubborn Henry, whom he quickly puts in his place.

Following the drama at the ball, Rodmilla sees an opportunity for Marguerite’s promotion to princess. Not wanting to take any chances that the prince might change his mind about Danielle, she sells her into servitude to Pierre LePieu (Richard O’ Brien), a despicable, lecherous cockroach of a man only slightly more odious than his surname suggests. As it turns out, Rodmilla’s fears are well founded, because Henry takes DaVinci’s advice to heart, releases the Spanish princess from her promise to marry him and shortly afterwards comes looking for Danielle. When he finds out what has happened, he devises a plan to make Rodmilla and Marguerite pay. Jacqueline, who has by now realized that her mother really only cares about elevating herself and Marguerite to royalty, feels sorry for Danielle and gladly helps him put his plan into action. Henry then goes off to rescue Danielle. He arrives too late for that, however: Danielle has already rescued herself. And the rest as they say, is history.

But that’s not quite where the fairytale ends. Rodmilla and Marguerite still need to get what they deserve. In a delicious scene, made perfect by Anjelica Huston in top form, the King and Queen declare that the schemers should be shipped off to the Americas “unless, by some miracle, someone here will speak for you”. Rodmilla backs away through the hall, looking around her hopefully and finally offering a pretty creative explanation for why no-one speaks up on her behalf: “There seem to be quite a few people out of town!”

After the fairytale ends, we return to the chateau for the final scene to hear the grand dame impress upon the brothers Grimm the importance of realizing that Cinderella and her prince actually lived.

“Ever After” brings an original flavor of to the tale of Cinderella, doing away with magic and instead replacing it with the genius of Leonardo DaVinci and the timid yet brave enthusiasm of Danielle’s childhood friend Gustave. Gustave’s part may be small, but it is important.

Tennant has taken care to sketch his characters well. Rather than just positioning Rodmilla as a cruel, spiteful woman, the movie grants some insights into the motivations of this wicked stepmother. She is born of noble blood, not used to getting her hands dirty, and she has married a man she hardly knows and has come with him to live in his home with his daughter from a previous marriage. She has barely had two weeks to settle into her new life as a merchant’s wife when he suffers a heart attack and dies, saying his last words of love not to her but to his daughter. And so she is left alone in unfamiliar territory, and while she may not have loved her husband she was perhaps hoping for affection to develop between them, because she resents Danielle for having been the most important part of his life. Later in the movie this sentiment of affection and loss is revisited during a conversation Rodmilla has with Danielle: she is almost tender with her stepdaughter, but then as the resentment takes over again, she buries that inclination and reverts to the subtle putdowns she reserves especially for Danielle. All in all, everything she does can be construed as an investment in a secure future. And, it must be said, Rodmilla gets the best lines – Anjelica Huston delivers them beautifully; she is pitch-perfect in her role as the scheming, reaching stepmother.

Prince Henry is mostly put upon. He wrestles with the obligations that every crown prince has and struggles to find himself. Dougray Scott plays the role with complexity and a great deal of charm. Henry could easily be mistaken for a spoilt brat, but the sincerity that Dougray Scott infuses into the character prevents that from happening. Rather, as the story unfolds, you find yourself carried along by Henry’s discovery that life can consist of more than just one’s responsibilities.

Drew Barrymore is charming and sincere as Danielle. She never quite masters the English accent, which is occasionally annoying, but not so as to take away from the enjoyment of the film.

But it’s the supporting roles that really add the great touches to this movie. Patrick Godfrey’s Leonardo DaVinci is simply delightful: intelligent, wise, warm, sincere, kind and honest. Timothy West and Judy Parfitt are wonderful as the King and Queen at the end of their rope (at one point, the King says accusingly to the Queen: “He’s your son!”). Virginia García does a great comical turn as the Spanish princess crying hysterically at her own wedding, and Richard O’Brien’s LePieu is downright evil – much more so than Rodmilla, in fact.

Setting the mood throughout the film is the sweet, romantic soundtrack by George Fenton. The evocative main theme provides a lovely backdrop to the events as they unfold.

Ever After: A Cinderella Story may not be the best movie I’ve ever seen, but it is one of the most enjoyable fairytale adaptations I’ve seen. This movie is worth your time.

Pasta with chanterelles and cream

My parents just came back from a brief vacation in Switzerland and they brought me a little present: 225 grams of fresh chanterelles. I love chanterelles. Naturally, I wanted to do them justice, so I looked up some recipes in South-Tirol cookbooks and some special mushroom cookbooks and they pretty much all seemed to agree: chanterelles are best prepared using cream. Not a problem, I really like cream too!
First order of business then: sorting out the rest of the ingredients:

225 gr chanterelles
25 gr butter
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 dried bay leaf
60 ml white wine, dry
250 ml (soy) cream
1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 tsp salt

The chanterelles need to be cleaned; the best way to do this is to brush the dirt off them lightly, then wash them in cold water and lay them out on a towel to dry.
The smaller chanterelles can stay intact, but the bigger ones should be cut into smaller pieces.

Aside from chopping the onion, garlic and parsley and grinding the pepper, that’s really all the prep you’ll need for this dish.

Next, melt the butter in a skillet on a low flame, then sautée the onion and garlic in it. After a few minutes, the onions should be glazed and golden, then it’s time to add the bay leaf, stir, and pour in the white wine.

Now you can add the main ingredient, the thing we’ve all been waiting for, ladies and gentlemen: the chanterellles!

I’m sorry, I got a little carried away there. Moving on… Stir the chanterelles in thoroughly, then add the cream and stir well. Leave it to stand on a low flame, stirring occasionally, for about 20-25 minutes.

After that time, the cooking liquid should have reduced somewhat. Finally, add in the parsley, salt and pepper.

Leave the dish to stand for about five minutes more after you’ve added these last few ingredients.

I like to serve this sauce over spaghetti, but of course you can use your pasta of choice. There are certainly plenty to choose from!

As they say in South-Tirol: buon appetito (or guten Appetit, if you should prefer to speak German there)!