Saturday, 19 January 2013


“I am very willing to share whatever I know or feel I know about finding some serenity in this lifetime.” - Dirk Benedict
A wonderful Saturday! Lovely weather making it perfect for some early morning gardening and then out to watch a matinée performance , in the Arts Centre Melbourne of “Oh, Suivant!”. This is from Belgium and it is a two person show of Europe’s favourite street, circus and physical theatre performers, D’Irque and Fien. Oh Suivant! is a family-friendly show jam-packed with juggling and circus tricks, jaw-dropping acrobatics and playful audience interaction. Inspired by the slapstick and physical comedy of silent movies, Oh Suivant! is a modern-day clowning farce reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin. After years of intense training in circus arts and twelve years of experience in street theatre in over twenty countries, D’Irque and Fien present the Australian premiere of their street-wise blend of circus, physical theatre and live music in a Melbourne exclusive season. We enjoyed that, as did the many children who were present in the audience.
Then a lovely walk along the Yarra and a light lunch at Southbank, followed by wonderful afternoon and evening. Here is a marvellous piece by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), his “Messa a quattro voci da cappella”: 1.Kyrie; 2.Gloria; 3.Credo/ Sanctus 07:06; 4.Benedictus; 5.Agnus Dei. It is performed by the Ensemble Elyma directed by Gabriel Garrido.

Friday, 18 January 2013


“Sweet is the memory of past troubles.” -  Marcus Tullius Cicero

Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert containing fruits and nuts, and resembles fruitcake or Lebkuchen. It may date back to 13th century Siena, in Italy’s Tuscany region. Documents from 1205 AD show that panforte was paid to the monks and nuns of a local monastery as a tax or tithe which was due on the seventh of February that year. Literally, panforte means “strong bread” which refers to the spicy flavour. The original name of panforte was “panpepato” (peppered bread), due to the strong pepper used in the cake. There are references to the Crusaders carrying panforte, a durable confection, with them on their quests, and to the use of panforte in surviving sieges.

Panforte di Siena


150 g unsalted almonds, roasted and coarsely chopped
75 g unsalted hazelnuts, roasted coarsely chopped
75 g unsalted pistachios, roasted coarsely chopped
100 g candied orange peel, chopped
75 g flour
30 g pure cocoa powder
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
Pinch white pepper
100 g sugar
200 g clear honey
35 g butter
Icing sugar to dust

Preheat the oven to 150˚C.
Mix the nuts with the orange peel.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder and spices and mix through the nuts.
Gently heat the sugar, honey and butter in a pan till the sugar has dissolved and let it cook on higher heat for 3-4 minutes.
Quickly mix the syrup through the dry mix, scoop in a round tin (covered with baking paper) and press in in with your fingers.
Let it bake in the oven for 40 minutes and cool down in the tin. Remove the paper and dust with icing sugar.
Serve tiny portions. The cutting will need some force!

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

Thursday, 17 January 2013


“We gain the strength of the temptation we resist.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

January 17 is the Feast Day of St Anthony the Great. Anthony was born in to a wealthy family in Lower Egypt about 254 AD. Also known as Anthony of Egypt, Anthony of the Desert, and Anthony the Anchorite, he was a leader among the Desert Fathers, who were Christian monks in the Egyptian desert in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

Anthony live a life of ease and leisure until he was about 18 years old, when his parents died and left him with the care of his unmarried sister. One day shortly threafter he heard a sermon which quoted Jesus’ teaching: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21). This made a great impression on him. Anthony then gave away some of the family estate to his neighbours, sold the remaining property, donated the funds thus raised to the poor, placed his sister with a group of Christian virgins, a type of proto-monastery of nuns, and himself became the disciple of a local hermit in the desert.

He spent his life praying and meditating, and his holiness marked him as one whose wisdom commanded respect. According to writing about his life, the devil fought St. Anthony by afflicting him with boredom, laziness, and visions of women who tried to tempt him. All of these temptations he overcame by the power of prayer. After that, he moved to a tomb, where he resided and closed the door on himself, depending on some local villagers who brought him food. When the devil perceived his ascetic life and his intense worship, he was envious and beat him mercilessly, leaving him unconscious. When his friends from the local village came to visit him and found him in this condition, they carried him to a church. These episodes provided a rich theme for Christian art, generally titled “The Temptation of St Anthony”.

Salvador Dali’s “Temptation of St Anthony” above is modern representation of this and builds on the rich iconography of the past centuries. The Saint in Dali’s painting is tempted firstly by the form of a horse in the foreground representing strength, sometimes also symbol of voluptuousness. The elephant which follows it, is carrying on its back the golden cup of lust in which a nude woman is standing precariously balanced on the fragile pedestal, a figure which emphasises the erotic character of the composition. The other elephants are carrying buildings on their backs; the first of these is an obelisk inspired by that of Bernini in Rome, the second and third are burdened with Venetian edifices in the style of Palladio. In the background another elephant carries a tall tower, which is not without phallic overtones, and in the clouds one can glimpse a few fragments of the Escorial, symbol of temporal and spiritual order.

When the Synod of Nicaea was convened, St Anthony was invited to participate. His eloquent defence of the Orthodox doctrine concerning the person of Jesus Christ was instrumental in weakening the position of the schismatic sect, Arianism. His witness led to the eventual and complete elimination of Arianism. He instructed his followers to bury his body in an unmarked, secret grave, lest his body become an object of veneration. The monastic rules of Saint Anthony, the “patriarch” of monastic life, have served as the basis for countless monasteries.

St Antony the Great of Egypt is the patron saint of pig breeders and farmers. His name has given us the English word “tantony”, a diminutive for pig, usually applied to the runt of the litter.
    From St Antony’s Feast be more bold,
    Raise your skirt a little, it’ll be less cold.
                Greek Weather Rhyme

St Anthony is also revered as the patron saint of skin diseases (erysipelas is a skin disease also known as St Anthony’s fire), of basket makers, brushmakers, and gravediggers.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


“What we need, is to use what we have.” - Susan Sontag

Today is the anniversary of the birthday of:
André Michelin
, French first tyre mass producer (1853);
Edward Gordon Craig
, theatre designer (1872);
Robert Service
, poet (1874);
Laura Riding
, poet (1901);
Diana Wynyard
, actress (1906);
Alexander Knox
, actor (1907);
Ethel Merman
(Zimmerman), actress/singer (1909);
William Kennedy
, writer (1930);
Susan Sontag
, writer (1933);
Marilyn Horne
, US opera singer (1934);
, singer (1960).

The plant for today’s birthdays is yarrow, Achillea millefolium.  The herb is named after Achilles, the ancient Greek hero who fought in the Trojan War. When the Greeks landed near Troy, some Trojans, led by Telephus, one of King Priam’s sons-in-law tried to stop the Greeks.  Achilles wounded Telephus with his spear, helped by Dionysus, god of wine. Telephus had been told by an oracle that Achilles would both wound and cure him. He promised Achilles to lead the Greeks to Troy if he would cure his wound. Achilles scraped rust from his spear and applied it to Telephus’s wound. The filings from the spear fell to the ground and yarrow sprang from them.

Yarrow symbolises heartache and cure.  Astrologically, this is a herb of Venus.  An older name of the herb is Venus-tree and several love oracles are based on this plant.  It was said that if the stem was cut across the initials of one’s future husband would appear.  An ounce of yarrow wrapped in a piece of yellow flannel and placed under one’s pillow would enable one to dream of one’s future spouse.  Eating yarrow at a wedding feast, ensured that the bridal couple would love one another for seven years.
Susan Sontag was born in New York City on January 16, 1933, grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and attended high school in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from the College of the University of Chicago and did graduate work in philosophy, literature, and theology at Harvard University and Saint Anne’s College, Oxford.
Her books, all published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, include four novels, “The Benefactor”, “Death Kit”, “The Volcano Lover”, and “In America”; a collection of short stories, “I, etcetera”; several plays, including “Alice in Bed” and “Lady from the Sea”; and nine works of nonfiction, starting with “Against Interpretation” and including “On Photography”, “Illness as Metaphor”, “Where the Stress Falls”, “Regarding the Pain of Others”, and “At the Same Time”.
Susan Sontag was considered one of the most influential liberal thinkers in the United States during the twentieth century. She was also a filmmaker and theatre director. As well as that, she was a human rights and anti-war activist. She owned fifteen thousand books in her personal library in her home.
In the 1970s, Susan Sontag learned she had breast cancer. Doctors did not expect her to survive. However, she went through a series of difficult treatments and she did survive. Her experience with the disease became the subject of one of her most famous works. “Illness as Metaphor”, published in 1978. “Illness as Metaphor” is a critical study of modern life. In it, the author maintains that modern culture creates myths or stories about sickness. She also criticised the language that people use when they talk about sickness – such as “battling a disease” or “the war on cancer”. Sontag felt these terms made sick people feel responsible for their condition. Her book gave readers the power to demand more information from doctors. Ten years later, she extended her opinions to the disease AIDS. Her short story “How We Live Now” was published in 1986 in the New Yorker magazine. Her book “AIDS and its Metaphors” was published two years later. It is about the social and personal effects of the disease.
Susan Sontag received many awards in the United States and from other countries. Israel, Germany and Spain honoured her with awards. In 2004, two days after her death, the mayor of Sarajevo announced the city would name a street after her. The mayor called her a writer and a humanist who actively took part in the creation of the history of Sarajevo and Bosnia. Susan Sontag died of leukaemia in New York City in 2004. She was seventy-one years old.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


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

Magpie Tales has given us a new image this week to stimulate literary creativity. This photograph first elicited a smile from me and then I noticed the stark contrast between the cool and warm colours. The contrast engendered three haiku.

Gently, silently
Snow falls outside my window;
Hot thoughts of your love.

Warm wool covers me up,
Fire burns fiercely in fireplace –
Alone my heart: Cold.

Wind howls, air freezes,
Icicles snap; Who needs furs,
While we two embrace?

Monday, 14 January 2013


“Every good relationship, especially marriage, is based on respect. If it's not based on respect, nothing that appears to be good will last very long.” - Amy Grant
I must begin this movie review by saying that I have watched several George Clooney films and have been quite disappointed. The greatly lamentable “Men who Stare at Goats” is one example, the muddled and rather boring “Syriana” being another lemon, and the so-so “The American” is another one. When we watched yet another Clooney film at the weekend, I had great reservations, but ended up pleasantly surprised. This film was quite a decent one, and Clooney does show his mettle as a serious actor.
The movie we watched was the Alexander Payne 2011 film “The Descendants” starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller. This was a rather run-of-the-mill drama that would appeal to a wide audience, but especially women given the lead actor and the plot. The movie is set in Hawaii and one gets to see some of the lush scenery, but not as much as I had hoped… The subplot does have a lot to do with the land as Matt King (Clooney) is a lawyer and the head of a trust that holds many acres of prime Hawaiian land that is in his family and must soon be sold for development making all the family members very rich. The question here is one of heritage and despoliation of the environment and of ties with the past. Throughout much of the film we see this aspect explored and how the “descendants” of the original owner of the land will deal with the pressures put on them by a capitalistic system.
The main story involves Matt King (Clooney) having to cope with the serious boating accident of his young wife, which has left her in a coma with no hope of ever recovering. King’s two daughters, the feisty and rebellious teenager, Alexandra (Woodley), and the younger more vulnerable Scottie (Miller), have been rather distant from their father and their mother’s state has forced the survivors to come together and re-establish damaged relationships. What does not help is the discovery of the comatose mother’s guilty secrets and the way that Matt King must cope with those in order to allow himself to heal and then help his daughters cope with their loss.
The film is standard drama, competently acted and has won multiple awards: The 2012 Oscar for best writing, adapted screenplay; the 2012 AFI Best Movie award; 2012 BFCA Best Actor award, 2012 Golden Globe Best Movie and Best Actor awards, etc, etc. The young Shailene Woodley does an excellent job of playing the rather volatile but feisty Alex King and she has the meatiest role in terms of a transformation. She rises to the occasion with aplomb and no doubt we shall see a lot more of her good work in the future. All the other actors played well, including a small but very well-played supporting role by Judy Greer as a betrayed wife. There are some lighter moments, for example when Alexandra’s insensitive loud-mouthed friend Sid (Nick Krause) comes into the scene, but there is always a tension and sadness in the background.
The film is a good one to watch when one is in a receptive and fairly high spirited mood, as it otherwise can be a little depressing. It may be too slow for the liking of some and there are no high speed chase scenes and other adventure action shots. It is a drama, there is a lot of talking and character development and it des make the viewer think a little, “What if it were me in that situation, what would I do?” Ultimately this is a redemption movie, where the themes of “sinning” and “forgiveness” are explored, with the subplot around heritage and what we pass on from generation to generation – the tangible as well as the intangible.

Sunday, 13 January 2013


“I long for the countryside. That's where I get my calm and tranquillity - from being able to come and find a spot of green.” - Emilia Clarke
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (born July 16, 1796, Paris, died Feb. 22, 1875, Paris) is a French landscape painter. He was born to prosperous parents, but he proved unsuited to the family business, which his parents had hoped that he might run one day. However, his parents were enlightened enough at age 25 to give him a small allowance to pursue art training. He travelled frequently and painted topographical landscapes throughout his career, but he preferred making small oil sketches and drawings from nature; from these he produced large finished paintings for exhibition.
From 1827 Corot exhibited regularly at the Salon, but his greatest success there came with a rather different type of picture - more traditionally Romantic in its evocation of an Arcadian past, and painted in a misty soft-edged style that contrasts sharply with the luminous clarity of his more topographical work. By the 1850s he had achieved critical success and a large income, and he was generous to less successful artists. His naturalistic oil sketches are now more highly regarded than his more self-consciously poetic finished paintings. He is often associated with the Barbizon school. A master of tonal gradation and soft edges, he prepared the way for the Impressionist landscape painters and had an important influence on Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Berthe Morisot.
Throughout his life Corot found congenial the advice given to him by his teacher Achille-Etna Michallon “…to reproduce as scrupulously as possible what I saw in front of me.” On the other hand he never felt entirely at home with the ideals of the Barbizon School, the members of which saw Romantic idealisation of the countryside as a form of escapism from urban banality, and he remained more faithful to the French Classical tradition than to the English or Dutch schools. Yet although he continued to make studied compositions after his sketches done direct from nature, he brought a new and personal poetry in the Classical tradition of composed landscape and an unaffected naturalness which had hitherto been foreign to it. Through he represented nature realistically, he did not idealise the peasant or the labours of agriculture in the manner of Millet and Courbet, and was uninvolved in ideological controversy.
Late in his career Corot also turned to figure painting and it is only fairly recently that this aspect of his work has emerged from neglect - his female nudes are often of high quality. It was, however, his directness of vision that was generally admired by the major landscape painters of the latter half of the century and influenced nearly all of them at some stage in their careers. His popularity is such that he is said to be the most forged of all painters!
His painting above, ”Ville D’ Avray” of 1867 is characteristic of his misty, gentle landscapes that evoke great serenity and a life of Arcadian simplicity. The figures of peasants going about their business contributes to this effect, but the effect is realistic rather than idealised or grandiose. I liked this painting so much in my youth that I copied it in oils (quite successfully too!).