Monday, 31 December 2012


For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” – T.S. Eliot
It is customary at this time of the year to review all that has been in the past year and reflect on it all, hopefully learning something, appreciating much and deploring a few things. While being thankful for all the positive things, looking back also allows us to assess what has been and hopefully be prepared to not allow what negative things have happened to not occur in the future.
The most memorable news item – Sandy superstorm
Hurricane Sandy was a hurricane that devastated portions of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States during late October 2012, with lesser impacts in the Southeastern and Midwestern states and Eastern Canada. Sandy, classified as the eighteenth named storm and tenth hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, was a Category 2 storm at its peak intensity. While it was a Category 1 storm off the coast of the Northeastern United States, the storm became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record (as measured by diameter, with winds spanning 1,800 km). Preliminary estimates of losses due to damage and business interruption are estimated at $65.6 billion (2012 USD), which would make it the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane, behind only Hurricane Katrina. At least 253 people were killed along the path of the storm in seven countries.
The worst event – The gang-rape and death of an Indian student in Delhi
One of hundreds of attacks reported in New Delhi each year, the gang rape and murder of a medical student caught Indian authorities and political parties flat-footed, slow to see that the assault on a private bus had come to symbolise an epidemic of crimes against women.
The saddest time – Connecticut shooting
Most of the victims at Sandy Point died at the very start of their young lives, tiny victims taken in a way not fit no matter one’s age. Other victims found their life’s work in sheltering these little ones, teaching them, caring for them, treating them as their own. After the gunfire ended at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the trail of loss was more than many could bear: 20 children and six adults at the school, the gunman’s mother at home, and the gunman himself.
The most memorable death - Ravi Shankar, KBE (7 April 1920 – 11 December 2012)
Shankar often referred to by the title Pandit, was an Indian musician and composer who played the sitar, a plucked string instrument. He has been described as the best-known contemporary Indian musician.
The most life-changing event – New job
In May this year I switched jobs and took up an exciting new position that I am very pleased with. Although it is still in academia, it is also a management role that has a lot of variety, gives me the opportunity to travel a lot around the universities in Australia and allows me to be involved in online learning initiatives, something that I have always been interested in.
The most significant new encounter – My new boss
A fellow academic, also newly appointed in my new job, she provided encouragement, support, constructive criticism and friendship.
The biggest satisfaction – Publication of a scientific paper on some research that I was instrumental in setting in train the year before. It was able to allow some members of staff in my previous job to collaborate with one of the largest hospitals in Melbourne and do some research that brought together two widely different medical paradigms.
The biggest surprise – An unexpected small gift from a person I don’t know well!
Very often small gestures make a big difference. I am a great believer in doing things for people that I don’t know, making a difference in people’s lives and reassuring people that basic human values still exist and that to be kind to each other can provide the greatest satisfaction.
The most memorable meal – A very special dinner with a very special person on a very special anniversary…
The best trip – Trip to Perth for a graduation ceremony
It was great to see a small group of students graduate after having done all of their course online in remote areas of Australia. These students exemplified great passion and determination and ability. They graduated with exceedingly good marks and demonstrated that getting a quality tertiary education completely online is feasible.
The best song – Jessie Ware – “Something Inside”

The best book – “The Long Earth” by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
The ‘Long Earth’ is a (possibly infinite) series of parallel worlds that are similar to Earth, which can be reached by using an inexpensive device called a “Stepper”. The “close” worlds are almost identical to ‘our’ Earth, others differ in greater and greater details, but all share one similarity: On none are there, or have there ever been, Homo sapiens - although the same cannot be said for earlier hominid species, especially Homo habilis. The book explores the theme of how humanity might develop when freed from resource constraints: one example Pratchett has cited is that wars result from lack of land - what would happen if no shortage of land (or gold or oil or food) existed? The book deals primarily with the journeys of Joshua Valienté (a natural ‘Stepper’) and Lobsang, who claims to be a Tibetan motorcycle repairman reincarnated into a computer. The two chart a course to learn as much as possible about the parallel worlds, traveling millions of steps away from the original Earth. They encounter evidence of other humanoid species (referred to as trolls and elves); of human settlers who learned their gifts early, and of an extinct race of bipedal dinosaur descendants. They also encounter warning signs of a great danger, millions of worlds away from ‘our’ Earth, causing catastrophe as it moves. The book also deals with the effects of the explosion of available space on the people of Datum Earth and the new colonies and political movements that are spreading in the wake of Step Day.
The best film – “Life of Pi”
Having read the book by Yann Martel (which I greatly enjoyed) and having see the trailer of this movie, I can’t wait to see it!
This is a magical adventure story centering on Pi Patel, the precocious son of a zoo keeper. Dwellers in Pondicherry, India, the family decides to move to Canada, hitching a ride on a huge freighter. After a shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean on a 26-foot lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, all fighting for survival.

The happiest time – Well, some things I have to keep to myself!
Have a Happy New Year!

Sunday, 30 December 2012


“All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination.” - Carl Jung

Jacek Yerka was born in 1952 in Toruń, Poland. He was born into an artistic family with both his parents graduates from a local Fine Art Academy. His earliest memories were of paints, inks, paper, pencils, erasers and brushes. As a child, Yerka loved to draw and make sculptures. He hated playing outside, and preferred to sit down with a pencil, creating and exploring his own world. This difference between the other children in his primary school led to social problems with his peers and Yerka describes his primary school life as being a “grey, sometimes horrifying reality.” However, Yerka later became “untouchable” in his high school due to his clever sketches of the school’s worst bullies.

The artist graduated in 1976 from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Nicolas Copernicus University in Toruń. He specialised in graphic art. During the first few years after graduation he exhibited posters, for example at The Biennial Exhibition of Polish Posters in Katowice in 1977 and 1979, at the international biennial exhibitions in Lahti and Warsaw, among others. Since 1980 he devoted himself completely to painting.

Basing on precise painting techniques, taking pattern from former masters like Jan van Eyck or Hieronymus Bosch but mainly on his unlimited imagination he creates surrealistic compositions, particularly admired by enthusiasts of sci-fi in all varieties. He inspired the fantasy writer Harlon Ellison to write 30 short stories, which along with Yerka’s pictures constituted the publication entitled “Mind Fields”. The same American publisher “Morpheus International” released the album “The Fantastic Art of Jacek Yerka”.

In 1995 the artist was awarded the prestigious World Fantasy Award for the best artist. He exhibits in Poland and abroad (in Germany, France and USA among others), being an esteemed representative of the science fiction stream of art. His paintings have recently inspired film-makers. The artist has been invited to cooperate in the production of an American movie “Strawberry Fields” in which his paintings was to be accompanied by the Beatles’ music.

The painting above is called “The City is Landing” and shows Yerka’s style to advantage. A meticulously detailed fantastic landscape, painstakingly rendered, well composed and with luscious attention to colour and form. It is a delicious excursion into the land of fantasy and with a meaning that can be extremely personal for each person who views the work.

Saturday, 29 December 2012


“I worked hard. Anyone who works as hard as I did can achieve the same results.” - Johannes Sebastian Bach

I sat in the garden today and enjoyed some quiet time in the perfect warmth of a summery afternoon. The enveloping greenness of the burgeoning vegetation, the sweet perfume of the summer flowers, the light breeze, the cooling shade of the canopy above, and a wonderful book in my hands, were only complemented and enhanced by the sounds of a Bach concerto playing quietly in the background. Oh what joy to be alive and at peace with oneself! The world may have raged outside but in this summery afternoon in my enclosed garden all was well.

Here is the first movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s A minor violin concerto, performed by Lara St. John, accompanied by a graphical score by Stephen Malinowski.

Friday, 28 December 2012


“Our bloom is gone. We are the fruit thereof.” - Wallace Stevens

We are enjoying some summer weather, intermittently that is, with some hot days interspersed with cool ones and then again some warm ones, so that we have some variety. It’s always the case during the Summer here in Melbourne. Generally, during the Christmas/New Year break the weather tends to be all over the place and then when everybody goes back to work we get a surfeit of all the stinking hot days in February…

In any case, with the fruits that are in season at the moment we are enjoying some delicious fruit salads. We have these with breakfast, for a light lunch or a perfect dessert after dinner. With or without some fat-free yoghurt they are a healthful and refreshing meal on their own or a smaller portion to accompany another meal. Here is the recipe for one we had today for lunch.

Summer Fruit Salad


1 large ripe mango
2 apricots
4 plums
1 heaped cup cherries, pitted
2 nectarines
1 peach
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lime
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon apricot or peach liqueur
1 tablespoon melon liqueur
Sprig or two of lemon verbena for garnish


Wash and peel the fruit that needs peeling. Squeeze the orange and lime into a bowl and add the liqueurs, stirring well. If you like your fruit salad extra sweet you may add a tablespoon of sugar now. Chop the fruit into small pieces and add into the bowl. Mix well and refrigerate until cool. Enjoy!

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme

Thursday, 27 December 2012


“…So when the last and dreadful hour; This crumbling pageant shall devour, The trumpet shall be heard on high, The dead shall live, the living die, And Music shall untune the sky” - John Dryden

Today according to the Roman Catholic calendar is St John the Evangelist’s Feast Day. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were nicknamed by Jesus “the sons of thunder.” John is involved in many of the central events of Jesus’ life, including the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion, and the discovery of the Resurrection. He is “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and the one to whom he consigned the care of his mother Mary. He is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles; later he was exiled to the island of Patmos. He is said to have died at Ephesus. He wrote a Gospel, three Epistles, and the Apocalypse.

St John’s symbol as an evangelist is the eagle and he is the patron saint of authors, publishers, printers and booksellers. The Gospel according to John is clearly different from the other three Synoptic Gospels. John may have used the Gospels of Mark and Luke as his sources. The evangelist has two aims in the Gospel: To show that Christ is the vital force in the Universe forever, and that He lived on earth to reveal Himself in the flesh. This Gospel is by far the most literary of all four and in a philosophical prologue, Jesus is identified with the Word (Logos).

The Apocalypse or Revelation is the 27th and last book of the New Testament, written around 95 AD on the Greek island of Patmos by one John; whether he was the St. John the Apostle or another John, is disputed. This work is mysterious and prophetic consisting mainly of visions and dreams that show allegorically the end of evil and the triumph of God. The careful plan depends heavily on patterns of sevens, e.g. letters to seven churches in Asia Minor and the opening of the seven seals on the scroll in the hand of God. The style is majestic, with constant allusion to Old Testament prophecies, especially those of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Isaiah. It has been a very influential work and numerous interpretations of it have appeared from the earliest of times.

On this, St John’s Day, people who were afraid of being poisoned went to church and drank from a chalice of blessed wine, this supposedly protecting them from the effects of poison. The tradition arose from an apocryphal legend that recounts how St John was offered a cup of poisoned wine and he, well aware that it was poisoned, drained it after making the sign of the cross over it.

The illustration above is a detail from Dirk Bouts’ “St John on the Island of Patmos”, completion Date: ca 1465.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012


“At Christmas play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year.” - Thomas Tusser

The birthday flower for today is the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, which is symbolic of the Nativity of Christ.  In the language of flowers, the hellebore means calumny and scandal. The flower is also dedicated to St Agnes who is the patron saint of young virgins.
Light Christmas, light wheatsheaf,
Dark Christmas, heavy wheatsheaf.
The day on which Christmas fell prognosticates the weather and the year ahead:
If Christmas falls on a Sunday, that year shall be a warm Winter,
The Summer hot and dry, peace and quiet amongst the married folk.
If on Monday, a misty Winter, the Summer windy and stormy;
Many women will mourn their husbands.
If on a Tuesday, a cold Winter and much snow, the Summer wet,
But good peace amongst the Princes and the Kings.
If on Wednesday, the Winter naughty and hard, the Summer good,
Young people and many cattle will die sore.
If on a Thursday, the Winter mild and the Summer very good and abundant,
But many great men shall perish.
If on a Friday, the Winter neither bad nor good, the Summer harvest indifferent,
Much conflict in the neighbourhoods, treachery and deception.
If on a Saturday, Winter will snow, blow hard winds and bitterly cold,
The Summer good with a harvest full and bounteous,
But war shall rack many lands.
The Dies Natalis Invicti Solis was an ancient Roman festival more of a religious nature and thus important to priests predominantly. It was the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun and marked an important date on the calendar of the Mithras cult. The Mithraic cult was one of the chief pagan competitors to Christianity. Mithras was a sun god and his birthday fell close to the winter solstice, when the days began to lengthen and the sun once again appeared unconquered. The Christian tradition absorbed this festival and also that of the Saturnalia, thus attracting many pagans but re-interpreting their mythology according to more appropriate Christian symbolology.

Another winter solstice festival that became absorbed into Christmas was that of Yule or Jol, celebrated especially in the North, wherever the Norse pantheon held sway. Jolnir was another name for Odin, the chief god, the Norse equivalent of Zeus or Jupiter. Odin was the god of ecstasy and intoxicating drink, but also the god of death. The sacrificial beer of Odin became the blessed Christmas beer of the middle ages and also survives in the wassail cup of lamb’s wool (see December 29th).  The feasting that occurred during Yuletide also included providing food and drink for the ghosts that roamed the earth around this time (see the Finnish Christmas Eve tradition).  Bonfires were lit and this tradition has survived in the form of the yule log (see December 24th).  The Christmas tree tradition is essentially a Germanic one that may hail back to the Norse legend of Yggdrasil, the great tree on whose branches rested the universe.
The ivie and holly berries are seen,
And Yule Log and Wassaile come round agen.
At Christmas play, and make good cheer
For Christmas comes but once a year.
               Thomas Tusser (ca 1520-1580).

Monday, 24 December 2012


“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.” - Khalil Gibran

Yesterday we watched the Tarsem Singh 2012 movie “Mirror, Mirror”  starring Lily Collins, Julia Roberts and Armie Hammer. We had heard quite conflicting reports about this, some very good some very bad. It appears that the movie has been a rather controversial one generating some extremely opposite reactions. It is a essentially a “fractured fairy-tale” as retold by Marc Klein and Jason Keller   (screenplay), and Melisa Wallack   (screen story). It joins the spate of other fairy tales that have been filmed, including Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Puss-in-Boots, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, etc, etc. Perhaps the most akin to this film is the other 2012 adaptation of the same fairy tale, “Snow White and the HUntsman", this being a darker and more “heroic” version when compared to the light-hearted “Mirror, Mirror”. One should not forget, however, the classic 1937 Disney version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.

We saw the film and were in two minds about it. This was not the familiar Snow White fairy tale. It was an updated, post-feminist tale where the hero is a heroine and where the Prince is quite an ineffectual toy-boy. The wicked stepmother is vain and conceited but is not really wicked, nor bewitchingly beautiful nor is she transformed into the epitome of ugliness when she does change. The dwarfs are brigands and highwaymen, the kingdom has financial difficulties and the household staff are saccharine sweet, while the courtiers suitably scatty.  It is a major reworking of the Snow White tale and even the apple got in only by the skin of its teeth in the last reel.

As is the case with many other Tarsem Singh movies, the visuals in this film are stunning, as are the costumes. Both the sets and the CGIs are quite amazing and there is a lot of fun that was had by the wardrobe designers and the prop people. However, compared to Singh’s “The Fall”, this movie is several degrees inferior. Nevertheless, “Mirror, Mirror” is a visual feast and the colours, sets, costumes and compute effects are wonderful.

Julia Roberts must have enjoyed making this film as she is quite at ease and delivers her lines with bravado and is clearly amused by the whole nonsensical goings-on. Lily Collins is the real star of the show, playing the perfect mix of both the “traditional” and “modern” fairy tale princess. She is a wonderful ingénue, although her characterisation as the “fairest in the land” with the kind of Frida Kahlo eyebrows she sports would only convince some members of the audience. The Prince in the face of Armie Hammer is suitably gauche and vain and he manages to make something of his relatively slight role. The supporting cast wears a little thin at times, although Nathan Lane does a good job camping it up as Brighton, the Queen’s right-hand-man.

As far as the negatives of the film are concerned, they are mainly the rather cheesy and often forced comedy, and the plot. Many of the comedic lines will elicit a chuckle or a groan, depending on the degree of your sophistication. There are a couple of good gags but this is not a film to belly-laugh over. While the Snow White tale is more-or-less adhered to, some of the more iconic parts of the story are lacking. Yes, Disney has spoilt this film for us…

It is a good light-weight film to watch, kids will probably like it more than adults. The romantic comedy is pushed a little and there are enough innuendos there to make the mummies and daddies giggle while the kids grin. It is adhering to a Hollywood stock formula and Tarsem Singh’s direction has not salvaged the film in this respect. Watch it and see for yourself.

Sunday, 23 December 2012


“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.” - Dr. Seuss

Gerard David, (born c. 1460, Oudewater, Netherlands – died August 13, 1523, Bruges, Belgium), was Flemish painter who was the last great master of the Bruges school.  Very little is known about David’s early life, during which time his work reflects the influence of Jacob Janszoon, Dieric Bouts, and Geertgen Tot Sint Jans. He went to Bruges, presumably from Haarlem, where it is believed he formed his early style under the instruction of A. van Ouwater. He joined the guild of St. Luke at Bruges in 1484 and became dean in 1501.

In his early work, such as “Christ Nailed to the Cross” (c. 1480) and the “Nativity” (early 1480s), he followed the Haarlem tradition as represented by Ouwater and Geertgen but already gave evidence of his superior power as a colourist. In Bruges he studied masterpieces by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, and Hugo van der Goes, and he came under the influence of Hans Memling. To this period belong the “Madonna Triptych” (c. 1495–98) and the “Enthroned Madonna with Angels” (c. 1490–95). But the works on which David’s fame rests most securely are his great altarpieces – the “Judgment of Cambyses” (two panels, 1498) and the triptych of the “Baptism of Christ” (c. 1502–07) at Bruges; the “Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor” (c. 1505); the “Annunciation” (1506) on two panels; and, above all, the documented altarpiece of the “Madonna with Angels and Saints” (1509).

These are mature works – severe yet richly coloured, show a masterful handling of light, volume, and space. The “Judgment” panels are especially notable for being among the earliest Flemish paintings to employ such Italian Renaissance devices as putti and garlands. In Antwerp David became impressed by the life and movement in the work of Quentin Massys, who had introduced a more intimate and more human conception of sacred themes. David’s “Deposition” (c. 1515) and the “Crucifixion” (c. 1510–15) were painted under this influence and are remarkable for their dramatic movement.

Authorities disagree about the intent of David’s eclectic, deliberately archaic manner. Some feel that he drew on earlier masters in an effort, doomed by lack of imagination, to revive the fading art of Bruges. Others see David as a progressive artist who sought to base his innovations on the achievements of the founders of the Netherlandish school.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


“Love is like a beautiful flower which I may not touch, but whose fragrance makes the garden a place of delight just the same.” - Helen Keller

For Music Saturday a delicious piece by Sergei Rachmaninov. This is the 18th variation in the Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini.

Friday, 21 December 2012


“People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.” - Anton Chekhov

Well I am happy to report the world did not end on 21/12/12 and here is a perfect soup for a summery meal, as it will get rather warm here in Melbourne at the weekend. It is a traditional Ukrainian recipe and it is safely vegetarian, though not vegan! Vegans can omit the sour cream. On the other hand, committed omnivores can substitute chicken or beef stock for the water, which will add depth and extra flavour to the soup.
Borscht for Summer

For stock
2 litres water
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 onion, quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed
4 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper

For soup

4 large beetroots
1 large turnip
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, very finely chopped
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
1 and 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup light sour cream


Wash all the vegetables well. Place water, celery, carrot, onion, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, salt and pepper in a large pan, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes, to make a stock. While the stock simmers, peel the beetroots and turnip, adding all the peel to the pan. Chop the beetroots and turnip into small pieces.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the beetroot, turnip and cabbage. Strain the stock, discarding the vegetables. Add the stock to the beetroot mixture. Simmer, uncovered, until root vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. Blend vegetable to a purée and heat right through.

Remove from heat. Stir in dill and lemon juice. Cool to room temperature. Cover; refrigerate until cold. Whisk in sour cream just before serving.

Traditionally, warm boiled potatoes are eaten as an accompaniment to the borscht. They are served on a separate plate, sprinkled with chopped chives. Some people instead of mixing the sour cream into the soup, serve it in a bowl so that people can add it to both the soup and the potatoes, as they like.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday, 20 December 2012


“This is the way the world ends; Not with a bang but a whimper.” - T.S. Eliot

If you believe the media, the end of the world is approaching. The Mayan calendar’s “long count” began on 13 August 3114 BC and will end tomorrow on 21 December 2012. This is of course the Mayan calendar equivalent of the dawn of their version of the “new millennium”, but for some doomsayers, the end of the long count signals the end of the world. This has been aided and abetted by disaster movies like “2012” and “Armageddon”. It is not surprising that around one in ten people worldwide think the world will end in 2012, while about 9% of Australians also think this is true.

I am happy to say that I have lived through about 60 End of World predictions so far, so this latest one will make it 61. You know you’re getting old when you have survived 60 end of world predictions…

The fascination with the 2012 doomsday, which has received a great deal of media attention and has captured people’s imagination, tells us that in the current state that the world is in, we are uncertain about our future and we manufacture scenarios that exteriorise these dreadful visions and our innermost fears. The good old familiar world as we used to know it is changing dramatically, so what better way to express it than by manufacturing a myth? Human nature as it is through the ages, i.e. not changing much, explains why people have felt the need to create myths not only about the creation of the world but also about the end of the world.

Belief that the world will end in 2012, although widespread, is another belief in the long list of similar apocalypse myths that we have invented.  Myth is a powerful device for people to relieve their anxieties and a tried and true method for catharsis through the ages. People express their fear about massive changes and uncertainty by developing myths that act as pressure release valves. Myth enables us to experience the world in a more intense, yet more bearable, way. We can defuse the precariousness of our existence through the construction of a myth that allows to vocalise our most dreaded phobias, and to visualise our worst nightmares. By constructing a myth, we are exorcising our demons.

So what will happen on December 22 when the world still exists? This world of today with all of its anxieties, fears, uncertainties and more real threats to our well-being and long-term survival. If we look at the past when prophecies have spectacularly and repeatedly failed, people continue to believe in the myth, and they latch their lapsed myth onto a another, more distant myth of doomsday. Another myth is newly and conveniently constructed, with numerous reasons invented to explain away the failure of the previous myth to deliver…

We have some more real threats to deal with than the Mayan “End of the World”: Climate change and global warming is changing our ecology and promises a more sinister, longer-term doom. The world economy is precarious, and the financial turmoil that has decimated Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and other economies worldwide shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Military conflict continues to rage in Afghanistan and the Middle East, there is ongoing civil unrest in Mali, the nations of the Arab Spring, the Congo and Guinea-Bissau. Communities are doing their best to recover and reconstruct following Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines, Hurricane Sandy in the US, recent earthquakes in Japan, and other natural calamities, that seem to be occurring more frequently. The tragedy of last weekend’s school shooting in Connecticut has highlighted that there are enormous numbers of people around the world who are facing the festive season following losses that are almost too horrible to imagine.

What can we do as individuals, as families, as communities, as nations, as humans to make the world a safer, better place? What can we collectively work at, in order to deal with perennial and long-lived problems that seem to be recalcitrant to decades of persistent efforts? Disease continues to cause death and suffering throughout the world. Doctors without Borders and numerous aid organisations around the world are doing their best to limit these problems, and yet they are met with mind-numbing resistance! The latest atrocity in Pakistan where health workers were killed or injured while trying to help people by organising polio vaccinations is horrific. The news of mass shootings from the USA that are regularly reported, and are illustrated graphically by the latest Connecticut incident bring about short-lived debates about gun control – the sickening thing being that gun sales increase after such incidents…

All that the financial crisis that threatens major world economies seems to do is stimulate policies that are further based on the support of multinational company profit-making and perpetuation of rich people’s greed. After each natural disaster, spending on prevention and relief measures is talked about, but money is channelled to other more “convenient” areas, like “defence” or “offence”, as the case may be, and whatever military threat can be manufactured in order to sell the arms made by the multinational companies. Drugs cause millions upon millions of deaths and misery worldwide and yet they are supported covertly by governments whose economies depend on the ill-gotten profits of drug trafficking.

Who needs a Mayan apocalypse, who needs an asteroid to destroy the earth? Who needs a big bang? Our earth, our civilisation, humanity itself is dying slowly and painfully with a whimper…

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


“Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.” Mark Twain
Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Philip V, king of Spain (1683);
William Parry, Arctic explorer (1790);
Mary Ashton Livermore, social reformer (1821);
H. Allen Smith, author (1906);
Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet statesman (1906);
Jean Genet, French writer (1910);
Galt MacDermott, composer (1928);
Cicely Tyson, actress (1933);
Maurice White, singer (1941);
Tim Reid, actor (1944);
Elaine Joyce, actress (1945);
Robert Urich, actor (1946);
Janie Fricke, singer (1947);
Claudia Kolb, swimmer (1949);
Jennifer Beals, actress (1963).
Today’s birthday flower is the carnation, Dianthus caryophyllus.  Dianthus is from the Greek meaning it is Zeus’s flower (Zeus = Dias; anthos = flower). It is therefore under the dominion of Jupiter, astrologically. In the language of flowers, a striped carnation means refusal, a yellow carnation means disdain. A pink carnation is symbol of divine love or motherly love, legend having it that pink carnations sprang from the earth when the Virgin Mary’s tears fell to the soil.  A red carnation is a symbol of woman’s love and of fascination.
In the Roman calendar, today is XIV Kalends January and the third day of the festival of the Saturnalia. On the third day of the Saturnalia the ancient Romans celebrated the Opalia, in honour of the goddess Ops, wife of Saturn. She was the goddess of success and fertility and many sacrifices to her meant enduring prosperity for Rome and her people.
The following notables died on this day: In 401, St Anastasius I, Pope of Rome; in 1370, Urban V (Guillaume de Grimoard), Pope of Rome.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012


“Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.” - George Eliot

A photograph by Andy Magee serves as the inspiration this week in Magpie Tales’ creative writing meme.

Return II

You came back, said you understood
(At last!)
You came back and said you knew me,

You came back, you took once more all I had left
(So little!)
You came back and you reaped my scanty harvest watered with tears

You came back, and with sweet words you led me
(I listened!)
You came back and with sweet glances you led me
(I talked!)

You left me once again,
Bound once more with your mended chains.
You left me once again,
Ensuring that your conquest was once again secure...

Sunday, 16 December 2012


“Illness, insanity, and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life.” – Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, (born December 12, 1863, Löten, Norway—died January 23, 1944, Ekely, near Oslo), was a Norwegian painter and printmaker whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes built upon some of the main tenets of late 19th-century Symbolism and greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century. His painting “The Scream” (1893), can be seen as a symbol of modern spiritual anguish.

Munch was born into a middle-class family that was plagued with ill health. His mother died when he was five, his eldest sister when he was 14, both of tuberculosis; Munch eventually captured the latter event in his first masterpiece, “he Sick Child” (1885–86). Munch’s father and brother also died when he was still young, and another sister developed mental illness. Munch showed a flair for drawing at an early age but received little formal training. An important factor in his artistic development was the Kristiania Bohème, a circle of writers and artists in Kristiania, as Oslo was then called. Its members believed in free love and generally opposed bourgeois narrow-mindedness. One of the older painters in the circle, Christian Krohg, gave Munch both instruction and encouragement.

Munch soon outgrew the prevailing naturalist aesthetic in Kristiania, partly as a result of his assimilation of French Impressionism after a trip to Paris in 1889 and his contact from about 1890 with the work of the Post-Impressionist painters Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. In some of his paintings from this period he adopted the Impressionists’ open brushstrokes, but Gauguin’s use of the bounding line was to prove more congenial to him, as was the Synthetist artists’ ambition to go beyond the depiction of external nature and give form to an inner vision. His friend the Danish poet Emanuel Goldstein introduced him to French Decadent Symbolist poetry during this period, which helped him formulate a new philosophy of art, imbued with a pantheistic conception of sexuality.

Munch’s own deeply original style crystallised about 1892. The flowing, tortuous use of line in his new paintings was similar to that of contemporary Art Nouveau, but Munch used line not as decoration but as a vehicle for profound psychological revelation. The outraged incomprehension of his work by Norwegian critics was echoed by their counterparts in Berlin when Munch exhibited a large number of his paintings there in 1892 at the invitation of the Union of Berlin Artists. The violent emotion and unconventional imagery of his paintings, especially their daringly frank representations of sexuality, created a bitter controversy. Critics were also offended by his innovative technique, which to most appeared unfinished. The scandal, however, helped make his name known throughout Germany, and from there his reputation spread farther. Munch lived mainly in Berlin in 1892–95 and then in Paris in 1896–97, and he continued to move around extensively until he settled in Norway in 1910.

In Norway, Munch painted until his death. In his later paintings Munch showed more interest in nature, and his work became more colourful and less pessimistic. Munch died in Ekely, near Oslo, on Jan. 23, 1944. He left many of his works to the city of Oslo, which built a museum in his honour.

The painting above “Melancholy” of 1894-96 is typical of Munch’s mature style. The dark, sombre mood is complemented by the sinuous lines and the pensive, introspective subject is well suited to the artist’s mind-set of a brooding contemplation.

Saturday, 15 December 2012


“You must learn to be still in the midst of activity and to be vibrantly alive in repose.” - Indira Gandhi
Who cares about the weather outside when all is well indoors? Return to a wonderful Saturday evening routine and all is well with the world that is enclosed by four walls while kept well outside it. I can forget all and everyone except the here and now with you…
Here is Joshua Bell in an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “None But the Lonely Heart”

Friday, 14 December 2012


“When I was alone, I lived on eggplant, the stove top cook’s strongest ally.” - Laurie Colwin
It was good to come home after being away and be greeted by the delicious smell of home cooking. As I was coming back on Virgin Airlines I had no inclination whatever to even try the food that was on offer as I have been sorely disappointed in the past. Here is the recipe for the vegetarian treat we had.
Eggplant Lasagne

3 eggplants
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions
3 cloves garlic
1.5 cups mushrooms, finely sliced
6 ripe tomatoes, chopped
Instant lasagne sheets
1.5 cup grated mozzarella cheese
Some grated parmesan
Salt, pepper, grated nutmeg, cumin and crushed oregano to taste
Fresh parsley or basil leaves for garnishing
Slice the eggplants then brush with the mixture of lemon juice and olive oil and grill both sides until tender (alternatively they may be fried, in which case don’t use lemon juice). Cook the onions in a little bit of olive oil, then add the garlic, mushrooms and tomatoes. Cook until tender, adding some tomato juice if the mixture becomes too stodgy. Add the herbs and spices. Oil a deep baking tin then layer the pasta, eggplants, filling and cheese alternately, ending with a layer of cheese. Cook in a medium oven until the pasta is soft, this will take about 30 minutes. Garnish with fresh herbs to serve.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


“Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” - Ray Bradbury

I am in Adelaide for work and the weather is quite dreadful, hot, wet and muggy, typically subtropical, unusual for this city. However, I always like visiting here as it a beautiful city and the people are very nice. The city rises from the middle of a tree-covered plain, between rolling hills to the east and beaches to the west. The city rises from the middle of a tree-covered plain, between rolling hills to the east and beaches to the west. With a population of slightly more than one million, Adelaide is the “20 minute city”. The airport is only seven kilometres from Adelaide city. The Adelaide Hills and major beaches are less than half an hour away by car. Adelaide is easy to get around. When Colonel Light founded Adelaide in 1836, he had a simple plan: a one square mile city centre and lots of open space. He laid out the streets in a grid, surrounded by a ring of what are now State Heritage Listed parklands.

Adelaide is of course the capital city of South Australia and the fifth-largest city in Australia. The demonym “Adelaidean” is used in reference to the city and its residents. Adelaide is north of the Fleurieu Peninsula, on the Adelaide Plains between the Gulf St Vincent and the low-lying Mount Lofty Ranges which surround the city. Adelaide stretches 20 km from the coast to the foothills, and 90 km from Gawler at its northern extent to Sellicks Beach in the south.

Named in honour of Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, queen consort to King William IV, the city was founded in 1836 as the planned capital for a freely settled British province in Australia. Colonel William Light, one of Adelaide’s founding fathers, designed the city and chose its location close to the River Torrens in the area originally inhabited by the Kaurna people. Light’s design set out Adelaide in a grid layout, interspaced by wide boulevards and large public squares, and entirely surrounded by parkland. Early Adelaide was shaped by religious freedom and a commitment to political progressivism and civil liberties, which led to the nickname “City of Churches”.

As South Australia’s seat of government and commercial centre, Adelaide is the site of many governmental and financial institutions. Most of these are concentrated in the city centre along the cultural boulevard of North Terrace, King William Street and in various districts of the metropolitan area. Today, Adelaide is noted for its many festivals and sporting events, its food, wine and culture, its long beachfronts, and its large defence and manufacturing sectors. It ranks highly in terms of liveability, being listed in the Top 10 of The Economist's World's Most Liveable Cities index in 2010 and being ranked the most liveable city in Australia by the Property Council of Australia in 2011 and again in 2012.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Gautama Buddha

The festival of the Hanukkah is one of the most popular and joyous of the Jewish festivals, celebrated for eight days and nights. It starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which coincides with late November-late December on the secular calendar. In Hebrew, the word “hanukkah” means “dedication”. The name reminds us that this holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C. At that time, the armies of Judas Maccabaeus (the “Hammer”) had routed the forces of Antiochus IV.

As a mark of favour of the Chosen People, there was a miraculous relighting of the perpetual light in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The ritual oil that kept the light burning had run out and only enough was left for one day. However, miraculously, the light kept burning for eight days. To commemorate that event, candles are lit in synagogues and homes. The menorah is the special candelabrum used for this ritual, called for this festival the hanukkiyah. One candle is lit every night in each of the seven nights of the festival.

While the Hanukkah lights are burning parties are held, games are played, gifts are exchanged and various other entertainments and plays are featured.  This is as close to Christmas as the Jewish faith gets! Tradition limits work only during the time that the Hanukkah candles are lit.

Every Jewish community of the diaspora has its own unique Hanukkah traditions, but there are some traditions that are almost universally practiced. They are: Lighting the hanukkiyah, spinning the dreidel and eating fried foods.
Lighting the hanukkiyah: Every year it is customary to commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah oil by lighting candles on a hanukkiyah. The hanukkiyah is lit every night for eight nights.
Spinning the dreidel: A popular Hanukkah game is spinning the dreidel, which is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters written on each side. Gelt, which are chocolate coins covered with tin foil, are part of this spinning dreidel game.
Eating fried foods: Because Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot during the holiday. Latkes are pancakes made out of potatoes and onions, which are fried in oil and then served with applesauce. Sufganiyot (singular: sufganiyah) are jam-filled donuts that are fried and sometimes dusted with confectioners’ sugar before eating.
Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate it!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust

Magpie Tales has provided an interesting image as a prompt this week, for all sorts of creative excursions. Please visit her site to see what this has resulted in after many a heart and soul engaged with this image...


A million choices awaiting for your pleasure,
A million options laid out for your indulgence
A million different paths to tread,
But which of them will you choose?

A million seas to sail on I have charted,
A million deserts mapped with all of their oases shown
A million cities for you to populate,
But which of them will you choose?

A million choices and I am awaiting for your pleasure,
A million wells their water clear and cool for you to drink
A million trees with all kinds of ripe fruits waiting to be plucked,
But will you choose the single choice I have forgotten to provide for?

Monday, 10 December 2012


“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” - Mark Twain

We watched a movie on TV the other night simply because it was on at a time nothing else was on and we couldn’t be bothered looking for a DVD at the time. As the film played on we were moderately interested although it was a typical, formulaic action “dick flick”. I must say that half of the interest was due to Arnold Schwargenegger starring in it and being fascinated by his performance as an actor before he started performing as a politician. It was the 1988 Walter Hill thriller/action flick “Red Heat” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Belushi, Ed O’Ross and Peter Boyle.

The plot predictable, the characters cardboard cutouts and the action sequences similar to many others of the same genre made for standard Hollywood fare. It was interesting to observe the 1980s on film and compare with our own memories of them. Women’s hair was big, telephones still had cables and the cars were still huge petrol guzzlers. It’s quite amazing how many things have changed in a mere 24 years…

Anrold Schwarzanagger is cast as the tough and dutiful Russian cop Ivan Danko, while James Belushi plays the undisciplined but passionate Chicago cop Art Ridzik. Ed O’Ross is well cast as the evil drug-running Viktor Rosta who escapes to America after he escapes from Danko during a drug sting in Russia. Danko follows Rosta to America where Commander Lou Donnelly (Peter Boyle) assigns Ridzik and his partner Sergeant Gallagher (Richard Bright) to help Danko out with his investigation. When Gallagher is killed by Rosta and his gang, Ridzik flies into a rage and decides to do things Danko’s unorthodox Russian way (shoot first and face the music later). The film is a typical buddy action cop movie of which there were a multitude in the 1980s. There is some attempts at humour with the stock one-liners that such films usually have and Arnie plays it straight for Belushi’s street-wise humour. There is almost an air of “Ninotchka” about this movie, even though the two films are widely separated by genre, plot and time.

The direction is passable, the music OK, the acting average and the whole movie a tolerable enough time waster, especially for the fans of action cop movies and/or Arnie. Once again I must gripe about the lack of optional English subtitles or closed captions. We have been spoilt by DVDs now and not having subtitles on TV really detracts from my enjoyment of the film. Several of the characters spoke with such heavy accents, the background noise was so bad in some scenes and the sound recording patchy, so that overall we missed sizeable chunks of the dialogue (not that it mattered much in the end…). Just goes to show how useful a feature subtitles are. I must note that at least for the scenes where Russian was used in the dialogue, English subtitles were provided.

Watch this movie only if you like action movies and have a bit of time to waste…

Sunday, 9 December 2012


“Sculpture is the art of the intelligence.” - Pablo Picasso

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini - December 7, 1598 – November 28, 1680), who worked chiefly in Rome, was the epitome of the baroque artist. Eminent as a sculptor and architect, he was also a painter, draughtsman, designer of stage sets, fireworks displays, and funeral trappings. Bernini was born in Naples to a Florentine family and accompanied his father Pietro Bernini (a well known Mannerist sculptor himself), to Rome. His first works were inspired by Hellenistic sculpture that had been brought to Rome in imperial times. Among these early works are “The Goat Amalthea Nursing the Infant Zeus and a Young Satyr” (redated 1609, Galleria Borghese, Rome) and several allegorical busts such as the “Damned Soul” and “Blessed Soul” (ca 1619, Palazzo di Spagna, Rome).

In the 1620s he came to maturity with the bust of Pope Paul V (1620), the “Abduction of Proserpina” (1621-1622, Galleria Borghese, Rome), the “David” (1623 - 24), and “Apollo and Daphne” (1624-25). His first architectural project was the magnificent bronze baldachin (1624 - 1633), the canopy over the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the façade for the church of Santa Bibiana (1624-1626), Rome. In 1629, before the baldachin was complete, Urban VIII put him in charge of all the ongoing architectural works at St Peter’s. He was given the commission for the Basilica’s tombs of Pope Urban VIII (1628-1647 and, years later, Pope Alexander VII Chigi 1671-1678. The Chair of Saint Peter (Cathedra Petri) 1657-1666), in the apse of St. Peter’s, is one of his masterpieces.

Among his best-known sculptures is the magnificent “The “Ecstasy of St Teresa” (1645-1652, in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome). This is a dynamic and flowing work where the inner emotional and spiritual turmoil of the saint is depicted in her pose and the flowing drapery that Bernini sculpts with consummate skill. Bernini’s “David” also shows the youth in motion, in contrast to the famous statue of David by Michelangelo in which the character is at rest, contemplating his imminent action. The twisted torso and furrowed brow of Bernini’s “David” is symptomatic of the baroque’s interest in dynamic movement over the High Renaissance meditative repose. Michelangelo expresses David’s whole heroic nature while Bernini captures the heroic moment.

Bernini’s architecture is as famous as his sculpture. Besides his most famous work, the piazza and colonnades of St Peter’s he planned several famous palaces: Palazzo Barberini (from 1630); Palazzo Ludovisi (now Palazzo Montecitorio, 1650); and Palazzo Chigi (1664), all in Rome. In 1665, at the height of his fame and powers, he made a voyage to Paris to present Louis XIV with (rejected) designs for the east front of the Louvre – it was to be executed in more classic taste by Claude Perrault. Bernini designed some famous churches. One of the small baroque churches in Rome presents an ensemble of Bernini’s work: Bernini was responsible not only for the architecture of Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale, but also the enormous statue of St. Andrew the Apostle over the high altar. In the papal villages near Rome, Bernini designed churches for Castel Gandolfo and in Ariccia.

The first of Bernini’s fountains was the “Fountain of the Triton” (1640). His most famous fountain, the spectacular “Fountain of the Four Rivers” (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, 1648-1651, see below) in the Piazza Navona, Rome, is also a source of anecdotes about his rivalry with Francesco Borromini (whose Sant’ Agnese in Agony church faces the fountain). In a sculptural dig, one of the Bernini’s river gods, it was said, cowers in terror at the unsteady-looking facade of Sant’ Agnese. The death of his steadfast supporter and patron Urban VIII in 1644 released a horde of Bernini’s rivals and marked a change in his career, but Innocent X set him back to work on the extended nave of St Peter’s and commissioned the Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona. At the time of Innocent's death Bernini was the aribiter of public taste in Rome. He died in Rome in 1680.

“The Fountain of the Four Rivers” illustrated above, depicts gods of the four great rivers in the four continents as recognised by the Renaissance geographers: The Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe and the Río de la Plata in America. Each location is further characterised by animals and plants specific to the country the river is found in. The Ganges carries a long oar, representing the river’s navigability. The Nile’s head is draped with a loose piece of cloth, meaning that no one at that time knew exactly where the Nile’s source was. The Danube touches the Papal coat of arms, since it is the largest river closest to Rome. And the Río de la Plata is sitting on a pile of coins, a symbol of the riches America might offer to Europe (the word plata means silver in Spanish).

Each River God is recumbent, in awe of the central tower, epitomised by the slender Egyptian obelisk (built for the Roman Serapeum in AD 81), symbolising Papal power and surmounted by the Pamphili symbol of the dove. The Fountain of the Four Rivers is a theatre in the round, whose leading actor is the movement and sound of water splashing over and cascading down a mountain of travertine marble. The masterpiece was finally unveiled to the world on June 12, 1651, to joyous celebration and the inevitable criticisms of the day. Then as today the Fountain of the Four Rivers continues to amaze and entertain visitors to Rome.

Saturday, 8 December 2012


“Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.” - Russell Baker

We have experienced some very changeable weather in Melbourne over the last few days. Cool, wet, warm, very hot, cool again. It has made for a couple of very uncomfortable nights, but the cool changes have kept things under control. That’s summer in Melbourne, very hot and then cool changes…

For Music Saturday, some Mendelssohn. Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) composed music for William Shakespeare’s play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on separate occasions in his career. In 1826, while very young, Mendelssohn wrote a concert overture (Op. 21), well considered a masterpiece. In 1842, only a few years before his death, he wrote incidental music (Op. 61) for a production of the play, into which he incorporated the existing Overture. The incidental music includes the world-famous Wedding March, but also this little gem, the Intermezzo. This is very Romantic, full of “Sturm und Drang” and very theatrical.

Friday, 7 December 2012


“In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” - Carl Sagan

For Food Friday today a classic dessert that the Americans especially have taken to the hearts and is one of the iconic foods of the USA.


Ingredients for the pastry
500 g    flour
250 g    butter cut in small pieces
2    whole eggs
2    egg yolks
250 g    caster sugar
1/2    teaspoonful ground nutmeg and mace
zest of one lemon, pinch of salt.

Ingredients for the filling
5    apples (Granny Smith are good)
2    tablespoonfuls apricot jam
5    tablespoonfuls caster sugar
1     cupful of sultanas
1    teaspoonful ground cloves/cinnamon

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add to the butter/sugar mixture the eggs and yolks beaten together, but little by little so that they are incorporated without curdling.  Sprinkle the spice and zest into the mixture and work well. Add the sifted flour little by little until a soft dough is formed.  Cover with greaseproof paper and let the dough rest for half an hour in a cool place.  Peel and core the apples, cutting them into slices. Stew them with the sugar and spices until they soften.  Roll out q of the dough to about 4 mm thickness and line a buttered 25 cm flan tin with it.  Spread the jam on the top of the pastry and layer the stewed apples mixed with the sultanas over it. Roll out the remaining dough and cover the pie, securing the edges by pressing the layers of pastry together and scalloping it. Cut out a small heart shape in the centre of the crust and sprinkle the top of the pie with coarse sugar. Bake the tart in a hot oven (210˚ C) for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown in colour.  Eat hot or cold with lashings of fresh, whipped cream.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


“Not loving is but a long dying.” Wu of Han
The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, is the birthday plant for today.  The generic name may be related to the Greek euphoreo = “bring forth abundantly” and/or phorbe = “pasture, fodder, forage”.  The latter is more unlikely as most plants in this genus bear a poisonous sap.  The plant is long associated with the festivities of Christmas and the bright red “flowers” are the bracts (highly coloured leaves) that surround the small and rather insignificant flowers.  The plant signifies in the language of flowers: “All that shines is not gold”.
Today is the birthday of:
Henry VI, king of England (1421);
John Eberhard, pencil maker/industrialist (1822);
Joyce Kilmer, poet (1886);
Lynn Fontanne, actress (1887);
Ira Gershwin, US lyricist (1896);
Gunnar Myrdal, Swedish sociologist (1898);
Agnes Moorehead, US actress (1906);
Dave Brubeck, pianist (1920);
Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, Polish composer (1933);
Chelsea Brown, actress (1947).
It is St Nicholas’s Feast Day today. St Nicholas was a bishop of Myra in Asia Minor in the 4th century.  Even as a baby, legend recounts, he was so pious that he would not suckle milk on Wednesdays and Fridays, the Days of Penance.  He is reputed to have saved three maidens from prostitution one night by throwing to them through their window three golden balls, which they used as dowry. He also revived three murdered boys that were thrown in a brine tub.  He is thus considered the patron saint of children.  The connection with the brine may also account for his patronage of sailors in some countries (e.g. Greece).  Pawnbrokers also claim the saint as their own, using the three golden balls recounted in the saint’s story as an emblem.
Today is also Finland’s Independence Day (since 1917). Finland is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden to the west, Norway to the north and Russia to the east, while Estonia lies to the south across the eponymous Gulf of Finland. An estimated 5.4 million people live in Finland, with the majority concentrated in its southern regions. In terms of area, it is the eighth largest country in Europe and the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. Politically, it is a parliamentary republic with a central government based in Helsinki, local governments in 336 municipalities and an autonomous region, the Åland Islands. From the 12th until the start of the 19th century, Finland was a part of Sweden. It then became an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire until the Russian Revolution and Russia’s withdrawal from World War I in 1917. This prompted the Finnish Declaration of Independence, which was followed by a civil war where the pro-Bolshevik “Reds” were defeated by the pro-conservative “Whites” with support from the German Empire. After a brief attempt to establish a monarchy in the country, Finland became the republic that it remains today. Finland joined the United Nations in 1955, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1969, the European Union in 1995 and the eurozone at its inception in 1999. During this time, it built an extensive welfare state. Finland presents both eastern and western European attitudes to global politics and economics.[citation needed] According to some measures, it has the best educational system in Europe and has recently been ranked as one of the world's most peaceful and economically competitive countries. It has also been ranked as one of the world’s countries with the highest quality of life.
And if you want to prepare for tomorrow, it will be International Civil Aviation Day which is annually observed December 7 to raise awareness of the importance of international civil aviation and the role that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) plays in international air transport. The organization is a United Nations (UN) body responsible for developing international standards for aviation safety. ICAO, with support from governments, organisations, businesses and individuals, actively promotes International Civil Aviation Day through various activities and events.  This day is celebrated globally, especially in countries such as South Africa, through various activities such as seminars, published material, educational lectures, classroom activities, and news announcements on international civil aviation topics related to the day.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


“Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.” - Dave Barry

Tomorrow is St Nicholas’s Feast Day. In Dutch the saint is known as “Sinterklaas”, the corruption of which is the English “Santa Claus”. He is reputed to have saved three maidens from prostitution one night by throwing to them through their window three golden balls, which they used as dowry. His nocturnal gifts are remembered by the Dutch tradition of gift-giving to children on the Eve of his Feast Day.  It is customary for children’s parties to be organised on December 5th and the Saint arrives dressed in Bishop’s garb, accompanied by two “Swarze Peters”, his black servants.  He reputedly comes from Spain bringing oranges, gifts and “spekulaas” a rich spicy sweet biscuit. In English-speaking countries, Santa Claus has been absorbed into the Christmas tradition, so he arrives at a much later date!

SPEKULAAS (Dutch Spice Biscuits)


255 g    plain flour
1    pinch bicarbonate of soda
1    pinch salt
1 to 2    tablespoons of ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom
Grated peel of an orange and a lemon
170 g    unsalted butter
140 g    light, soft brown sugar
4    drops almond essence
55 g    flaked almonds
1.5    tablespoons milk
A few whole blanched almonds
Sieve dry ingredients together and add the peel, mixing well.  Chop butter into small pieces and add to the mixture, gradually working in all other ingredients to form a thick dough.  Leave it overnight in a cool place. The next morning roll out onto a floured board to a thickness of 0.5 cm and cut into fancy shapes with biscuit cutters or special patterned spekulaas moulds. Put on buttered baking tray, trim with whole almonds and cook in moderate oven (180˚C) for 20-30 minutes.

Monday, 3 December 2012


“When words leave off, music begins.” – Heinrich Heine

Man Ray, (born Philadelphia, PA, 25 Aug 1890; died Paris, 18 Nov 1976) was an American photographer and painter. He was brought up in New York, and he adopted the pseudonym Man Ray as early as 1909. He was one of the leading spirits of Dada and Surrealism, and the only American artist to play a prominent role in the launching of those two influential movements. Throughout the 1910s he was involved with avant-garde activities that prefigured the Dada movement. After attending drawing classes supervised by Robert Henri and George Bellows at the Francisco Ferrer Social Center, or Modern School, he lived for a time in the art colony of Ridgefield, NJ, where he designed, illustrated and produced several small press pamphlets, such as the Ridgefield Gazook, published in 1915, and A Book of Diverse Writings.

Magpie Tales has chosen a photograph of his for a prompt this week. It is his “Object to be Destroyed” of 1923. The work, that was destroyed in 1957, consisted of a metronome with a photograph of an eye attached to its swinging arm. It was remade in multiple copies in later years, and renamed “Indestructible Object”. It is considered to be a “readymade”, following in the relatively new tradition established by Marcel Duchamp of employing ordinary manufactured objects that usually were modified very little, if at all, in works of art.

I have used poetic licence (ahem!) to reimagine this image. Here is what I came up with in response to the prompt:


How easy it is for you to sing!
Playing the lyre like an angel;
Skipping through trills – rejoicing,
All happy intervals, major scales…

Yet these black notes, how mournful on the page,
What agony they hide, what pain, what effort –
They’re black crows, portents of death
Sitting, as they do, on five stretched wires.

Each note’s a wound made with sharp knife,
And you run through them without concern,
Lightly skipping up the arpeggios,
Descending effortlessly the glissandos.

As the relentless metronome soul-lessly marks time
You pause not to think for a moment
Of the poor composer’s torment
And the shrill cries of his tortured soul.


“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” - James Herriot
At the weekend we were in the mood for something extremely light and breezy to watch after a particularly exhausting couple of days of shopping, chores, gardening and odd jobs around the house. I had bought a DVD on sale some time ago and it looked as though it would be ideal. Sure enough, it was just we needed and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It was Cameron Crowe’s 2011 “We Bought a Zoo” (, starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Elle Fanning and Colin Ford.
Although the film is a typical Hollywood froth and bubble affair, very lightweight and formulaic, it is also a little whimsical and has the occasional poignant moment. The story centres on Benjamin (Damon), who is suffering the loss of his beloved, young wife. In a bid to start his life over and to help his kids get over their isses, he purchases a large house that has a zoo attached. Or rather a zoo that has a house attached! This is very welcome news for his daughter (Jones) who is delighted, but his son (Ford) is not happy about it as it will mean moving out of the City and losing all his friends. The zoo is need of drastic maintenance and extensive renovations and Benjamin sets about the work with the head keeper, Kelly (Johansson), and the rest of the zoo staff. Very soon, Benjamin is facing huge economic hardship as the zoo consumes all of his savings. Benjamin must decide on whether he and the staff can get the zoo back to its former glory and open it to the paying public. Add to that a very strict zoo inspector and interpersonal problems and you have the basis of the old stock romantic comedy potboiler with quirky touches.
Much of the film’s success is due to the exceptional performance of Maggie Elizabeth Jones who plays Benjamin’s daughter. The little girl is delightful and steals every scene she is in. Colin Ford as Benjamin’s son plays well, but unfortunately he has landed the role of a surly, bitter and twisted child who has been psychologically scarred by the loss of his mother and his perception of a father who doesn’t care about him. Damon and Johansson play well, although the chemistry between them is rather lacklustre. By the same token, I should hasten to add that both of them deliver solid performances, especially Damon who shows rises tot eh demands of the director in terms of his acting repertoire.

The film is well photographed and the music score is delightful. Unobtrusive but very sympathetic to the action. The flashback vignettes showing the special relationship between Benjamin and his dead wife are quite special. For what it is (a feel-good family movie), the film is good and its light-weight material will please most people who do not set their expectations too high. Yes there are flaws, but if you don’t expect “high art” it is a good film to veg out on. We enjoyed it as we were in that sort of mood…

Sunday, 2 December 2012


“You can understand nothing about art, particularly modern art, if you do not understand that imagination is a value in itself.” - Milan Kundera

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, original name Karl Schmidt (born December 1, 1884, Rottluff, near Chemnitz, Germany - died August 9, 1976, West Berlin), was a German painter and printmaker who was noted for his Expressionist landscapes and nudes. His father was a miller and his childhood unremarkable. In 1905 Schmidt-Rottluff began to study architecture in at Dresden Technical University, where he and his friend Erich Heckel met Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Fritz Bleyl, two other architecture students who shared their passion for painting. Together they formed the organisation of Expressionist artists known as Die Brücke (“The Bridge”), united by the goal of creating a modern, intensely emotional style.

The artists of Die Brücke typically preferred to portray scenes of urban life, but Schmidt-Rottluff is particularly known for his rural landscapes. He initially painted in an Impressionist style, but his painting Windy Day (1907) shows the artist’s transition to his mature style, which is characterised by flat areas of boldly dissonant colours. A representative example of this mature work is “Self-Portrait with Monocle” (1910). Like the other Brücke artists, Schmidt-Rottluff had also begun to explore the expressive potential of the woodcut medium.

In 1911 Schmidt-Rottluff, with his fellow Die Brücke members, moved to Berlin, where he painted works with more angular, geometric forms and distorted space, revealing his new interest in Cubism and African sculpture. While serving on the Eastern Front, he did a cycle of religious woodcuts in which he tried to come to terms with the horrors of war. It is regarded as his graphic masterpiece. In 1918 he returned to Berlin. During the 1920s he reverted to the work rhythm of travelling to paint during the summers and working in his studio during the winters.

During the 1920s Schmidt-Rottluff’s work became more subdued and harmonious, losing much of its former vigour and integrity. Stays in Pomerania, at Lake Leba in Ticino and in the Taunus Mountains as well as a stint in Rome to study at the German Academy in the Villa Massimo (1930) inspired his mature still lifes and landscapes. When the Nazis gained power in Germany, he was forbidden to paint. After World War II he taught art and resumed painting, although he never regained the power of his early works.

Schmidt-Rottluff outdid his colleagues in insisting on pure primary colours and his Expressionist paintings were dominated by forceful handling of the medium to achieve intensity and brilliance. His work is striking with powerful brushstrokes and determined, almost brutal outlining of his subject and broad expanses of colour that seem to do battle on the canvas. His landscapes and still lifes are vibrant and display an almost violent depiction of movement and action. The “Lakeshore” of 1937 seen above is a case in point.

In 1956 this renewer of art, who had been an arch revolutionary in his youth, was awarded the highest (West) German distinction, the “Pour le Mérite” order, and was honoured as a classic. The Brücke Museum, which he had endowed with a collection of his works, was inaugurated in 1967. Numerous retrospectives in the Federal Republic paid tribute to this artist, who, as art historians unanimously agree, was one of the most important German Expressionists.