Saturday, 20 October 2012


“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” – Ovid

A lovely Saturday, although quite hectic! The usual chores and shopping of a Saturday morning, followed by a visit, then some rest and an evening dining out at our friends’ place. Compatible company, pleasant conversation, nice food and wine and a relaxing evening.

Here is a delicious Concerto for flute, violin and cello in A major  by Telemann, that most prolific of composers of the Baroque era.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


“All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt!” - Lucy Van Pelt (in Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz)
This week has been absolutely full, with work in particular, being very busy, but also lots of things happening at home. Thankfully it's Friday and when I got home I was greeted by the wonderful smell of cookies baking. It is one of the most appealing smells to greet one when getting home. I do believe some research has been done on the topic and real estate agents capitalise on the fact and ensure there is something baking in the oven when they have open house to show people through a property that is for sale.
1 cup unsalted butter
340 g good quality chocolate chips
2 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. soda
120 g grated dark chocolate
2.5 cups blended oatmeal
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla essence
A pinch of grated cinnamon
A pinch of grated cloves
1.5 cups chopped roasted hazelnuts
  • Blend the oatmeal in a blender to a fine powder.
  • Cream the butter and both sugars, adding the cinnamon and cloves last.
  • Add eggs and vanilla, and mix with flour, oatmeal, baking powder, and soda.
  • Add chocolate chips, dark chocolate, and nuts.
  • Roll into balls, and place 6 cm apart on a cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 10 minutes at 200˚C. Makes about 56 cookies.
  • Cool and store in baking paper lined, tin with a closely fitting lid.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.


“To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” - St. Luke, 1. 79

Today is St Luke’s Feast Day, celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Anglican Church, the Lutheran Church, and some other Protestant Churches. St Luke was the Greek writer of the third Gospel and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles.  He was a physician but also a painter.  He is traditionally reputed to have painted a portrait of the Virgin.  He is therefore the patron saint of artists and doctors, but he is also venerated as a patron saint of surgeons, students and butchers!

He accompanied St Paul on his second missionary journey and went with him to Rome.  He died a martyr. His symbol as an evangelist is an ox.  The Gospel according to St Luke was written in the 1st century AD and has been ascribed to Luke from the 2nd century.  It is a literary composition, showing a thoughtful working over of the events it describes and shows the influence of St Paul, and derives some of its material from the Gospel of St Mark.

St Luke was considered to be a saint lucky for lovers. Young girls prepared an ointment of marigold flowers, marjoram, thyme and wormwood all simmered in vinegar and honey on the night of his feast day.  They smeared this mess on their abdomen and chanted the following rhyme on his feast day while lying down to sleep:
            St Luke, St Luke, be kind to me,
            In dreams let me my true love see!

Their lover would then appear in their dreams.  If he was going to be a good husband to them he would be smiling and cheerful.  If he was to be a bad husband and was likely to be unfaithful he would appear rude and churlish.  It was customary for lovers around this time to exchange love tokens, and set the wedding date.  September to January were popular months to marry in:
            Marry in September’s shine
            Your living will be rich and fine.
            If in October you do marry
            Love will come but riches tarry.
            If you wed in bleak November
            Only joy will come, remember.
            When December’s showers fall fast
            Marry and true love will last.

Around St Luke’s Feast Day, the weather in the Northern Hemisphere may improve somewhat and the weather may be mild, especially in Southern England and Europe. This respite in the bad autumn weather is known as “St Luke’s Little Summer”.

The painting above is a detail from Guercino's "St Luke Displaying a Portrait of the Virgin".

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


“One must be poor to know the luxury of giving” - George Eliot

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty has been observed on October 17 every year since 1993, when the General Assembly, by resolution 47/196, designated this day as one that promotes awareness of the need to eradicate poverty and destitution in all countries, particularly in developing countries. This is a need that has become a development priority.

At the Millennium Summit, world leaders committed themselves to cutting by half by the year 2015 the number of people living in extreme poverty (people whose income is less than one dollar a day).

The theme for this year’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is “Working Together out of Poverty”. The theme highlights the need for a truly global anti-poverty alliance, one in which both developed and developing countries participate actively and collaboratively. It is a challenging theme, especially in these financially unstable times where even traditionally rich, well-developed nations are facing major economic issues and their own populations are experiencing poverty conditions in growing numbers.

However, “poverty” is a relative condition and being poor in a developed nation is still different to being poor in a developing one. Besides, in most Western-type nations varying degrees of government support and state welfare systems provide an avenue for help for people without a job or who are very poor. In developing countries, these support mechanisms are very limited or completely absent and extreme poverty can mean loss of dignity, uncertainty, hunger, homelessness or even loss of life.

This day is an opportunity to acknowledge the struggle and efforts of those people who are living in poverty. It is important to consider ways of giving them the chance to make their concerns heard and recognise that these poor people are the first ones who can fight against poverty. The main objective of marking this day is to make the voice of the poor heard. Its not only Government or social organisations responsibility to ease the burden of poverty, it is also a major responsibility of every person.

With the global financial crisis, the emphasis in the West is on regaining lost wealth, encouraging growth, gaining more money, and recovering pathways to success. It is easy to forget that while we in the West have become relatively less well off, others around the world are becoming even poorer and the number of people struggling to survive in conditions of extreme poverty is increasing. It is often said that the poor are those better able to appreciate the lot of those worse off than them, and often it is they who will also provide help… The message is that whoever we are, if we are able to help someone who is worse off than us, we should make efforts to do so in whatever way we can.

On this day, government and non-government organisations arrange activities or special programs so as to promote the goals of the day. Major initiatives against poverty may be announced, or inaugurated, and debate can occur on how improvements in infrastructure, special assistance programs, educational initiatives can all help in eradicating poverty. Special fund-raising activities for assistance programs and development initiatives can be organised on this day.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012


“I think there’s a million statements you can say in a painting and hang on a wall and I think my value system from as early as I can remember was, if their was something really important to say, it was peace and it’s a continual theme that runs thru my paintings. I’m always in search of it. I’m waiting for it to hit me and it’s ambiguous up here. Upcountry is a peaceful place.” - Curtis Wilson Cost

The prompt for this week’s creative writing meme by Magpie Tales was a 1984 painting by Curtis Wilson Cost, called “Midnight Snack”. I must say the original left me a little in the dark so I turned the lights on, via Photoshop and with apologies to Mr Cost, changing the mood considerably…

Curtis Wilson Cost is one of Hawaii’s brightest stars in fine art. For over twenty years, he has lived and painted on the picturesque slopes of Haleakala in Maui. His realistic paintings of rural Maui have gained him a worldwide reputation. Son of internationally known artist James Peter Cost, Curtis’ gift for painting runs in the genes.

Although his landscapes seem to be of simple settings, his imagery and symbolism, his handling of light and color, and composition evoke emotional memories of happy times and there is a strong nostalgic feeling that pervades his canvases. His Gallery is located in the Kula Lodge and Restaurant on the scenic road to Haleakala Crater.


An old drawer, for years shut,
Was coaxed open today.
Full of forgotten keepsakes,
Old photographs and letters –
As if in a time capsule sealed.

My sunlit childhood memories,
So many images and sounds…
Echoes of youthful voices
Old words remembered –
As if an old movie was played again.

The yellowed paper with fading ink,
Captured the thrill of quickened heartbeat.
The bitter-sweet remembrance
Of first love, and parting lips ready for a kiss –
As in a novel, read cover to cover in one night.

A watercolour that you gave me,
Of our house in Springtime.
How could our hearts hold so much happiness
And not burst from joy –
As a balloon blown up between bouts of laughter.

An old drawer, opened in my Winter years
And bringing me scents of Spring.
In cold December, I feel warm June breezes
While sunshine fills the darkened room –
As if you walked in and touched me…

Monday, 15 October 2012


“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Hollywood must be full of the corpses of film sequels, movies that die after a short life in the movie theatres. Unfortunately, these corpses come alive briefly, appearing like zombies on our TV screens and in video shops. We watched such a sequel at the weekend, on blu-ray disc. Unfortunately neither the high tech visual effects, the CGI and the sumptuous sets, nor the high definition of the blu-ray, failed to save this lemon of a movie…

It was Guy Ritchie’s 2011 “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”, starring Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law and Jared Harris. This was the much-anticipated sequel to the 2009 “Sherlock Holmes” by the same director. Having seen the first movie and having enjoyed it quite a lot, I must admit I had a little trepidation when this sequel came out. I was wary of Hollywood’s “curse of the sequel”, but nevertheless began watching this movie with an open and receptive mind. I was eagerly awaiting the action to continue from the last scene, which promised much in terms of a sequel, but disappointingly there was no reference in the sequel to this. The sequel could in fact stand alone as a completely independent movie.

Both Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law attempt to recreate their success with their characters in the first film, but it is only Jude Law as the redoubtable Dr Watson who manages to carry his role off quite well. Downey’s Sherlock in this movie is a caricature and unfortunately instead of a detective we were reminded of a martial artist, or a gangster, or a cheap imitation of Inspector Clouseau with his hapless disguises. Jared Harris as the evil Moriarty failed to impress on all counts. He took the weak plot and poor characterisation and made Moriarty into a boring non-event who failed to chill as the arch-villain that he supposedly was. Noomi Rapace playing a gypsy fortune teller with anarchist connections is at the most irrelevant and at best an ineffectual diversion from the thin plot. The surprise was Stephen Fry cast as Holmes’ brother, Mycroft. He had a few scenes where he caused us to smile slightly, but then again his relevance to the plot was questionable. In particular the scene of him naked in front of Watson’s fiancée was neither funny nor relevant and could be edited out quite easily.

The plot takes place during the political crisis of the late 19th century Europe where Germany is at odds with France, numerous anarchists and terrorists of minor states and varied affiliations set off bombs and where the social conditions are marked by volatility and uncertainty. In this milieu, Holmes and Watson track an anarchist and desperately try to foil Moriarty’s plans for world domination. The plot is very thin, far removed from the classic London setting of Holmes stories, and serves as an excuse for numerous (and most often unnecessary) violent fight sequences, shoot-outs and explosions. Instead of a cerebral, cool, logical problem solver Holmes is presented as an action hero, who aspires to be a comedian and a two-bit actor (given his penchant for corny disguises). Watson is more dignified and through half the movie looks quite resigned to Holmes’ odd and petulant behaviour and longs to be far away in Brighton where he can spend time with his bride and enjoy their honeymoon.

The film used to excess a number of (now) hackneyed devices such as slow and sped-up motion in association with the fight sequences and Holmes’ deductive faculties are presented as an almost supernatural precognition of a ESP variety, which doesn’t sit well with poor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. This is very much a movie for the young and less demanding movie goer who wouldn’t know the books the characters are derived from even if they fell on their head from a great height. The film in fact highlights a curious modern convention: “Let’s take a well-known classic set of stories and characters and let’s tamper the living daylights out of them until nobody can recognise them any more because all semblance to the original has been lost.”

I fail to see why the writers of this movie had to resort to calling the lead character “Sherlock Holmes” when their protagonist could be called “Fred Blogs, Victorian action hero”. Just doesn't have the same ring to it, somehow, I guess. It is a curious form of literary/artistic parasitism where a dead author’s creation can be put through the story mill and what emerges is a mélange of curious glop that appeals to the tastes of an audience reared on action and violence and car chases and explosions and superhuman abilities and non-stop visual effects and CGI. Give me an old-fashioned cerebral Holmes any time, where wit and cleverness, understated humour, limited (or suggested) violence necessary to the action and a plot that has many ingenious twists and turns entertains on a higher level.

Sunday, 14 October 2012


“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.” - Abraham Maslow
For Art Sunday, Andrea Mantegna (born 1431, Isola di Cartura, Republic of Venice; died Sept. 13, 1506, Mantua) painter and engraver, the first fully Renaissance artist of northern Italy. His best known surviving work is the Camera degli Sposi (“Room of the Bride and Groom”), or Camera Picta (“Painted Room”) (1474), in the Palazzo Ducale of Mantua, for which he developed a self-consistent illusion of a total environment. Mantegna’s other principal works include the Ovetari Chapel frescoes (1448–55) in the Eremitani Church in Padua and the Triumph of Caesar (begun c. 1486), the pinnacle of his late style.
Mantegna’s extraordinary talent was recognised while he was still a boy. He was the second son of a woodworker but was legally adopted by Francesco Squarcione by the time he was 10 years old. Squarcione was a teacher of painting and a collector of antiquities in Padua, and he drew the cream of young local talent to his studio. In 1448, at age 17, Mantegna disassociated himself from Squarcione’s guardianship to establish his own workshop in Padua, later claiming that Squarcione had taken advantage of his talent. The award to Mantegna of the important commission for an altarpiece for the church of Santa Sofia (1448), now lost, demonstrates his precocity, since it was unusual for so young an artist to receive such a commission. Mantegna himself proudly called attention to his youthful ability in the painting’s inscription: “Andrea Mantegna from Padua, aged 17, painted this with his own hand, 1448.”
In 1449, Mantegna worked on the fresco decoration of the Ovetari Chapel in the Eremitani Church in Padua. The figures of Saints Peter, Paul, and Christopher in the apse, his earliest frescoes in this chapel, show to what extent he had already absorbed the monumental figure style of Tuscany. The environment of the city of Padua, where Mantegna lived during the major formative years of his life (from about age 10 to about age 30), exerted a strong influence on his interests, ideas, painting style, and concept of himself. Padua was the first centre of humanism in northern Italy, the home of a great university (founded in 1222), and renowned as a centre for the study of medicine, philosophy, and mathematics. With the influx of scholars from all over Europe and Italy, an atmosphere of internationalism prevailed.
From the time of the 14th-century poet Petrarch, Padua had experienced a rapidly growing revival of interest in antiquity, and many eminent humanists and Latin scholars had resided there. Increasing interest in and imitation of the culture of ancient Rome produced a climate in which feverish collecting of antiquities and ancient inscriptions (even if only in fragmentary form) flourished. Mantegna’s friendly relations with several humanists, antiquarians, and university professors are a matter of record, and hence he may be seen as one of the earliest Renaissance artists to fraternise from a position of intellectual equality with such men. In this way, Mantegna's lifestyle contributed to the early 16th-century ideal of the artist as one so intimately familiar with antique history, mythology, and literature as to be able to draw easily from these sources.
Mantegna lent great impetus to the antique revival movement at mid-century. His starting point had been a still earlier form of antique revival, the monumental Tuscan figure style brought to Venice by the Florentine painter Andrea del Castagno in 1442. His Venetian connections were strengthened by his marriage in 1453 to Nicolosia, daughter of Jacopo Bellini and sister of Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, who became the leading family of painters in Venice during the following decade. Jacopo’s studies in perspective and drawings of fantastic architectural settings based on antique architecture would have interested his new son-in-law, who very likely had studied such drawings during his earlier visit to Venice.

Though Mantegna might have been expected to join the Bellini studio, he preferred to pursue his independent practice in Padua, where the overwhelming artistic influence on him for the preceding few years had come from the wealth of sculpture produced by the Florentine Donatello for the high altar of San Antonio (finished by 1450). Mantegna has been characterised as strongly jealous of his independence; yet by entering the service of the Marchese di Mantova, Ludovico Gonzaga, in 1459, he was forced to submit to limitations on his freedom of travel and acceptance of commissions from other patrons. Despite such restrictions, Mantegna journeyed to Florence and Pisa in 1466–67, where he renewed contact with works of art by Donatello, Fra Filippo Lippi, Paolo Uccello, and Andrea del Castagno.
During the decade 1460–70, Mantegna produced his finest small-scale works. The Gonzaga patronage provided Mantegna a fixed income and the opportunity to create what became his best-known surviving work, the so-called “Camera degli Sposi” in the Palazzo Ducale at Mantua. Earlier practitioners of 15th-century perspective delimited a rectangular field as a transparent window onto the world and constructed an imaginary space behind its front plane. In the “Camera degli Sposi”, however, Mantegna constructed a system of homogeneous decoration on all four walls of the room, mainly by means of highly realistic painted architectural elements on walls and ceilings, which from ground level convincingly imitate three-dimensionally extended shapes. Though the ceiling is flat, it appears concave. Mantegna transformed the small interior room into an elegant open-air pavilion, to which the room’s real and fictitious occupants were transported from deep within an essentially medieval urban castle. Directly above the centre of the room is a painted oculus, or circular opening to the sky, with putti (nude, chubby child figures) and women around a balustrade in dramatically foreshortened perspective (shown above). The strong vertical axis created by the oculus locates the spectator at a single point in the centre of the room, the point from which the observer's space blends with that of the frescoed figures.
The realism of the perspective handling of the oculus made it the most influential illusionistic di sotto in su ceiling decoration of the early Renaissance. Its implications for the future of ceiling decoration were largely unrealised, however, until the time of Correggio, a major northern Italian painter of the early 16th century, who employed the same type of illusionism in a series of domes in Parma (Italy).
While at the Gonzaga court, Mantegna attained a position of great respect. His close relations with his patron Ludovico were a unique phenomenon at such an early date. As one might expect, the signatures of Mantegna’s paintings reveal intense pride in his accomplishments as a painter. Other than that there are only a few legal records of disputes with his neighbours (from which Ludovico had to rescue him) to provide tentative evidence for the painter’s irascible and contentious personality during his later years. Ludovico died in 1478, followed soon after by Mantegna’s son Bernardino, who had been expected to carry on his father’s studio. Mantegna’s financial situation was so bad that, in 1484, he was forced to ask for help from the powerful Florentine merchant prince Lorenzo de’ Medici and even contemplated moving to Florence. But Ludovico’s son Federico outlived his father by only a few years, and, with the accession of young Francesco II in 1484, the financial conditions of patronage improved.
Though many of Mantegna’s works for the Gonzaga family were subsequently lost, the remains of nine canvases depicting a Roman triumphal procession, the “Triumph of Caesar”, begun about 1486 and worked on for several years, still exist. In these paintings, reflecting the classical tastes of his new patron, Francesco, Mantegna reached the peak of his late style. Perhaps it was this new imaginative synthesis of the colour, splendour, and ritualistic power of ancient Rome that brought about Pope Innocent VIII’s commission to decorate his private chapel in the Belvedere Palace in Rome (destroyed 1780), which Mantegna carried out in 1488–90.
Notwithstanding ill health and advanced age, Mantegna worked intensively during the remaining years of his life. In 1495 Francesco ordered the “Madonna of the Victory” (1496) to commemorate his supposed victory at the Battle of Fornovo. In the last years of his life, Mantegna painted the Parnassus (1497), a picture celebrating the marriage of Isabella d’Este to Francesco Gonzaga in 1490, and Wisdom Overcoming the Vices (1502) for Isabella’s studiolo (a small room in the Gonzaga palace at Mantua embellished with fine paintings and carvings of mythological subjects intended to display the erudition and advanced taste of its patron). A third canvas intended for this program, with the legend of the god Comus, was unfinished when Mantegna died and was completed by his successor at the Gonzaga court, Lorenzo Costa.
A funerary chapel in the church of S. Andrea at Mantua was dedicated to Mantegna’s memory. Decorated with frescoes, including a dome painted (possibly by Correggio) with paradise symbols related to Mantegna’s Madonna of the Victory, it was finished in 1516. No other 15th-century artist was dignified by having a funerary chapel dedicated to him in the major church of the city where he worked, which attests to the high stature Mantegna came to enjoy in his adopted city.