Saturday, 27 October 2012


“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” - Kahlil Gibran
This morning it looked as Winter had returned once again with gray skies, showers and a chilly edge in the air. Nevertheless, we went out as I had an appointment with my optometrist for an eye examination and then the usual Saturday morning chores and the shopping. In the evening, a cosy dinner in, beautiful music and pleasant conversation…

Here is Edvard Grieg’s “Solveig’s Song” sung by Anna Yuryevna Netrebko (born 18 September 1971). She is a Russian operatic soprano, now holding dual Russian and Austrian citizenship and currently residing in Vienna. She has been nicknamed “La Bellissima” by fans.

Solveig’s Song is sung by Solveig in the fourth act of Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” Op. 23 was written as incidental music for inclusion in Henrik Ibsen’s play. It premiered along with the play on 24 February 1876 in Christiania (now Oslo). Later, in 1888 and 1891, Grieg extracted eight movements to make two four-movement suites: Suite No. 1, Op. 46, and Suite No. 2, Op. 55.

Solveig’s Song
The winter may pass and the spring disappear
The spring disappear
The summer too will vanish and then the year
And then the year
But this I know for certain: you'll come back again
You'll come back again
And even as I promised you'll find me waiting then
You'll find me waiting then
God help you when wand'ring your way all alone
Your way all alone
God grant to you his strength as you'll kneel at his throne
As you'll kneel at his throne
If you are in heaven now waiting for me
In heaven for me
And we shall meet again love and never parted be
And never parted be!

Thursday, 25 October 2012


“Know how to garnish food so that it is more appealing to the eye and even more flavourful than before.” - Marilyn vos Savant

An interesting and tasty dish today, which despite its name is rather a mystery in its namesake country of origin. The dish appears on the menu of almost all Chinese-style (mainly Cantonese-style) eateries in Hong Kong, and is also very popular in English, Australian, Canadian and American Chinese cuisine. However, it is not a dish that is generally recognised in Singapore itself!

Chicken and Cashew Singapore Noodles

375ml chicken stock
125g rice vermicelli noodles
2 tbsp oil
1 dash of sesame oil
500g chicken breast fillet, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, julienned
1 red capsicum, julienned
200g snow peas, trimmed and halved
3 tsp mild curry powder
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup unsalted, roasted cashews


Place stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
Remove from heat. Add the noodles and toss until slightly softened.
Cover and let the noodles soak for 5 mins, stirring occasionally, until softened.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok, or large frying pan, over high heat. Cook chicken, in batches, for 5 mins or until golden. Remove and set aside.
Heat remaining oil in wok. Add onion, cook, stirring, for 2 mins.
Add carrots, snow peas & curry powder. Cook, stirring, for 2 mins.
Return chicken to pan. Add soy sauce, green onions, soaked noodles and any remaining stock, toss to combine.
Cook, stirring, for 2 mins until noodles are coated and stock is absorbed. Stir through cashews and garnish with spring onion.

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


“Believers, Jews, Sabaeans or Christians - whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right - shall have nothing to fear or regret” – The Holy Qur’an

The Hajj (Arabic: حج‎ “pilgrimage) is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in the lifetime of every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to the One and True God (“Allah” in Arabic).

The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and last month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar used in the Western world, the Gregorian date of the Hajj changes from year to year. In 2012, the Hajj is between October 24-29. Ihram is the name given to the special spiritual state in which Muslims live while on the pilgrimage.

The Hajj is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Abraham (Ibrahim). Pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals.

The Hajj rituals involve each person walking counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer from all parts of the world. The pilgrim then runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, and throws stones in a ritual. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three-day global festival of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice).

The pilgrimage is the religious high point of a Muslim’s life and an event that every Muslim dreams of undertaking. Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, can be undertaken at any time of the year. The Hajj, however, is only performed during the specified five-day period once a year. In the past, and as late as the early decades of last century, few people were able to go to Mecca for the pilgrimage. This was because of the hardships encountered, the length of time the journey took and the expense associated with it. Pilgrims coming from the far corners of the Islamic world sometimes dedicated a year or more to the journey, and many perished during it due in part to the lack of facilities on the routes to Mecca and also in the city itself.

Muslims today undertake the pilgrimage easily, receive a warm welcome on their arrival in Saudi Arabia, and are provided with the most modern facilities and efficient services possible. Without the distractions that their forebears had to contend with, today’s pilgrims are free to focus solely on the spiritual aspect of the Hajj. One of the important aspects of the Hajj is the uniting force that allows Muslims from all corners of the earth to come together and perform the rituals required in a spirit of brotherhood and shared religious ideals. It is a powerful social force as well as a display of religious solidarity that crosses national and cultural barriers.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” - Matthew 5:9, New Testament, KJV

The United Nations (UN), the largest international social and political organisation of the world was established on October 24, 1945. The United Nations was the second multipurpose international organisation established in the 20th century that was worldwide in scope and membership. Its predecessor, the League of Nations, was created by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and disbanded in 1946.

Headquartered in New York City, the UN also has offices in Geneva, Vienna, and other important cities around the world. Its official languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. According to its Charter, the UN aims:
“To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, …to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, …to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

In addition to maintaining peace and security, its other important objectives include developing friendly relations among countries based on respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples; achieving worldwide cooperation to solve international economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian problems; respecting and promoting human rights; and serving as a centre where countries can coordinate their actions and activities toward these various ends.

The UN continued the work of the League of Nations, having essentially a similar general purpose, structure, and functions; many of the UN’s principal organs and related agencies were adopted from similar structures established earlier in the century. In some respects, however, the UN constituted a very different organisation, especially with regard to its objective of maintaining international peace and security and its commitment to economic and social development. Changes in the nature of international relations resulted in modifications in the responsibilities of the UN and its decision-making processes and committees.

Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union deeply affected the UN’s security functions during its first 45 years. Extensive post-World War II decolonisation in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East increased the volume and nature of political, economic, and social issues that confronted the organisation. The Cold War’s end in 1991 brought renewed attention and appeals to the UN. Amid an increasingly volatile geopolitical climate, there were new challenges to established practices and functions, especially in the areas of conflict resolution and humanitarian assistance.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the UN and its programs and affiliated agencies struggled to address humanitarian crises and civil wars, unprecedented refugee flows, the devastation caused by the spread of AIDS, global financial disruptions, international terrorism, and the disparities in wealth between the world’s richest and poorest peoples. The UN’s power and influence has been under much scrutiny in the early 21st century, with many countries and groups maintaining that the UN is a spent force. However, its varied activities and worldwide programs with their multiplicity of benefits would be sorely missed and many millions of people around the world would be greatly disadvantaged if it were to cease its activities.

October 24 is observed internationally as a day that makes known to peoples of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations Organisation. United Nations Day is part of United Nations Week, which runs from 20 to 26 October.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


“What difference does it make how much you have? What you do not have amounts to much more.” - Seneca

Magpie Tales has become lured by filthy lucre this week, choosing one of the images appearing on the USA dollar bill for this week’s mimetic inspiration. The Great Seal of the United States can be easily viewed on the back of a one-dollar bill. The obverse is on the right side (the eagle) of the bill, while the reverse is on the left side (the pyramid).

The unfinished pyramid has been interpreted as a masonic symbol. With the motto ANNUIT COEPTIS the subject of the verb must be supplied, and the translator must also choose the tense. In 1892 it was suggested that the missing subject was in effect the eye at the apex of the pyramid, and thus the motto became (in the present tense) “it (the Eye of Providence) is favourable to our undertakings”.  In later publication the missing subject of the verb ANNUIT was construed to be God, and the motto has been translated in more recent Department publication (in the perfect tense again) as "He (God) has favoured our undertakings”.

NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM has been linked to Virgil, the renowned Roman poet who lived in the first century BC. In his Eclogue IV, the pastoral poem that expresses the longing of the world for a new era of peace and happiness, we read:
“Magnus ab integro seclorum nascitur ordo”

Virgil’s line has been translated in different ways, including:
The great series of ages begins anew
The ages’ mighty march begins anew
A mighty order of ages is born anew
The majestic roll of circling centuries begins anew.


“Novus” means: New, young, fresh, novel.
means: Series, row, order.
, a shortened form of seculorum (sæculorum), is the plural of seculum (sæculum), means: Generations, centuries, or ages.

Thomson, a Latin expert, coined the motto: “Novus ordo seclorum” and explained its meaning: “The date underneath [the pyramid] is that of the Declaration of Independence and the words under it signify the beginning of the new American Era, which commences from that date”.

Here is my offering today, centring also on money…

The Backing

And we have God as the backing
Of our life’s peregrinations,
Just as the gold is locked up
Deep in the safest bank’s vault,
Backing our paper currency.
And with the worthless paper, we buy
Flesh and spirit: Human souls sold by the pound;
And our life just like currency
Is used to buy us our place in Paradise.

Funny how the economy trips along
On pictures printed on paper,
While in some dark dungeon
Gold’s shimmer is extinguished.

Isn’t it funny how we value all
Based on the glint of a caveman’s eye
When he first beheld the sparkling
Gold nugget in some stream?

And even funnier perhaps,
Is weighing our every action
On what the savage invented
To protect himself from fear of death?

Poor man, wandering aimlessly in eternity!
How could you even imagine
That your life is a failing economy
Based on a currency without backing…

Sunday, 21 October 2012


“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition” - Timothy Leary

Pope Joan (Johanna), according to legend, was a female Pope who supposedly reigned for a few years some time during the Middle Ages. The story first appeared in 13th-century chronicles, and was subsequently popularised and embellished throughout Europe in what was probably at the time, the equivalent of our “urban legends”.

The story of Pope Joan was widely believed for centuries, though modern scholars consider it fictitious, perhaps deriving from folklore that was transformed into historical writing, perpetuated perhaps by anti-papal satires. The first mention of the female pope appears in the chronicle of Jean Pierier de Mailly, but the most popular and influential version was that interpolated into the Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum by Martin of Troppau, later in the 13th century.

Most versions of the Pope Joan story describe her as a talented and learned woman who disguises herself as a man, often at the behest of a lover. In the most common accounts, due to her considerable intellectual abilities, she rises through the church hierarchy, eventually being elected pope. However, while riding on horseback she gives birth, thus exposing her true sex. In most versions, she dies shortly after, either being killed by an angry mob or from natural causes. Her memory is then shunned by her successors. In some stories her baby survived and eventually became Bishop of Ostia.

There have been a few attempts at transporting Pope Joan’s life into literature and film. The Modern Greek writer Emmanuel Rhoides (1836-1904) published his novel “Pope Joan” (Papissa Ioanna) in 1866, which resulted in his excommunication from the Orthodox Church on account of the book’s scathing attack on the clergy. The novel has been translated into English by Lawrence Durrell. In 1996, Donna Woolfolk Cross published her novel “Pope Joan” on which the film of 2009 was based. There is an earlier 1972 film version of “Pope Joan” starring Liv Ullman and directed by Michael Anderson with a scenario by John Briley.

At the weekend, we watched the 2009 version of “Pope Joan” , directed by Sönke Wortmann and starring Johanna Wokalek, David Wenham and John Goodman. The film was a German, Birtish, Italian, Spanish production and despite its €22,000,000 estimated budget, it didn’t give the impression of an expensive film. The costumes of the nobles, for example, were rather tinselly and reminded one of 1970s TV historical series. The settings, the crowd scenes and the CG cities are below average in their details, but still quite effective in the context of the story. If one did look carefully, one would be well aware of watching a low-budget movie (for comparison, “The Chronicles of Narnia – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” of 2010 had a budget of $155,000,000).

All things considered, however, the movie was quite engaging and despite its 150 minute run time, kept our interest up all the while. The plot chronicles the whole life of Johanna, from a precocious and intellectually gifted young girl in a back village of Germany to her elevation as Pope Joan in Rome. A romantic story interwoven with the more meaty parts of the script adds interest and exemplifies the battle between the flesh and the spirit that human beings are often engaged in.

The acting was generally very good, with Johanna Wokalek doing an excellent job as Joan/John and David Wenham playing a suitably heroic male lead and as Joan;s love interest. One of the pleasant surprises was John Goodman (of TV’s “Roseanne” fame) well cast as Pope Sergius, Joan’s predecessor. Some of the minor roles were also well acted, although others were only caricatures.

The film highlights the plight of ordinary women in medieval times, their lowly social position aided and abetted by the retrogressive attitude of the church and the writings of St Paul. Clever women must have abounded in those times, just as they do in any age. This film celebrates such an intellectually gifted woman, and although the story may be the stuff of legend, it is an illustration of what women are capable of and how they can excel in fields that had been traditionally reserved for men.

Having seen this movie, and knowing that Pope Joan is fiction, I would dearly love to see a big budget movie based on the life of a real life remarkable woman, St Hildegard of Bingen. Nevertheless, despite all of its shortcomings, its occasional “preachiness” and the caricaturisation, it is an interesting film to see.


“Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.” - Le Corbusier

The Sydney Opera House (built 1957 - 1973) is a masterpiece of modern architecture, which has become an Australian icon and is one of the most known and easily recognised building s worldwide. It was created by Jørn Utzon a young Danish architect who understood and recognised the potential provided by the site against the breath-taking backdrop of Sydney Harbour. The result was a perfect building for the place it was raised on.

Jørn Utzon (born April 9, 1918, Copenhagen, Denmark—died November 29, 2008, Copenhagen) was assured of lasting fame through this particular building.  In its short lifetime, Sydney Opera House has earned a reputation as a world-class performing arts centre and become a symbol of both Sydney and the Australian nation. World Heritage Listed Sydney Opera House was inscribed in the World Heritage List in June 2007 By UNESCO: “Sydney Opera House is a great architectural work of the 20th century. It represents multiple strands of creativity, both in architectural form and structural design, a great urban sculpture carefully set in a remarkable waterscape and a world famous iconic building.”

The unique roof comprises sets of interlocking vaulted concrete ‘shells’ set upon a vast terraced platform and surrounded by terraced areas that function as pedestrian concourses. The two main halls are arranged side by side, with their long axes, slightly inclined from each other, generally running north-south. The auditoria face south, away from the harbour with the stages located between the audience and the city. The Forecourt is a vast open space from which people ascend the stairs to the podium. The Monumental Steps, which lead up from the Forecourt to the two main performance venues, are a great ceremonial stairway nearly 100 metres wide.

The vaulted roof shells were designed by Utzon in collaboration with internationally renowned engineers Ove Arup & Partners with the final shape of the shells derived from the surface of a single imagined sphere. Each shell is composed of pre-cast rib segments radiating from a concrete pedestal and rising to a ridge beam. The shells are faced in glazed off-white tiles while the podium is clad in earth-toned, reconstituted granite panels. The glass walls are a special feature of the building, constructed according to the modified design by Utzon’s successor architect, Peter Hall.

The history surrounding the design and construction of the building became as controversial as its design. In 1956 the NSW Government called an open-ended international design competition and appointed an independent jury. The competition brief provided broad specifications to attract the best design talent in the world; it did not specify design parameters or set a cost limit. The main requirement of the competition brief was a design for two performance halls, one for opera and one for symphony concerts. Reputedly rescued from a pile of discarded submissions, Jørn Utzon’s winning entry created great community interest and the NSW Government’s decision to commission Utzon as the sole architect was unexpected, bold and visionary.

Design and construction were closely intertwined. Utzon’s radical approach to the construction of the building fostered an exceptional collaborative and innovative environment. The design solution and construction of the shell structure took eight years to complete and the development of the special ceramic tiles for the shells took over three years. The project was not helped by the changes to the brief. Construction of the shells was one of the most difficult engineering tasks ever to be attempted. The revolutionnary concept demanded equally revolutionary engineering and building techniques. Baulderstone Hornibrook (then Hornibrook Group) constructed the roof shells and the interior structure and fit-out.

At the behest of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) the NSW Government changed the proposed larger opera hall into the concert hall because at the time, symphony concerts, managed by the ABC, were more popular and drew larger audiences than opera. Cost overruns contributed to the public criticism and a change of government caused in 1966 Utzon to resign, street demonstrations and professional controversy. Peter Hall supported by Lionel Todd and David Littlemore in conjunction with the then NSW Government Architect, Ted Farmer completed the glass walls and interiors including adding three previously unplanned venues underneath the Concert Hall on the western side.

Opened by Queen Elizabeth II on October 20, in 1973, new works were undertaken between 1986 and 1988 to the land approach and Forecourt under the supervision of the then NSW Government Architect, Andrew Andersons, with contributions by Peter Hall. For the futureIn 1999, Jørn Utzon was re-engaged as Sydney Opera House architect to develop a set of design principles to act as a guide for all future changes to the building. These principles reflect his original vision and help to ensure that the building’s architectural integrity is maintained.