Saturday, 23 March 2013


“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” - Abraham Lincoln

A Saturday full of the usual little routines of the weekend. For Music Saturday a wonderful choral piece, surely one of the masterworks of the repertoire of sacred music. It is Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater”.  Stabat Mater refers to a 13th-century Catholic hymn to Mary, variously attributed to the Franciscan Jacopone da Todi and to Innocent III. The title of the sorrowful hymn is an incipit of the first line, Stabat mater dolorosa (“The sorrowful mother stood”).

The Dolorosa hymn, one of the most powerful and immediate of extant medieval poems, meditates on the suffering of Mary, Jesus Christ’s mother, during his crucifixion. It is sung at the liturgy on the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. The Dolorosa has been set to music by many composers, with the most famous settings being those by Palestrina, Pergolesi, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Haydn, Rossini and Dvořák.

The Dolorosa was well known by the end of the fourteenth century and Georgius Stella wrote of its use in 1388, while other historians note its use later in the same century. In Provence, about 1399, it was used during the nine days processions. As a liturgical sequence, the Dolorosa was suppressed, along with hundreds of other sequences, by the Council of Trent, but restored to the missal by Pope Benedict XIII in 1727 for the Feast of the Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (4 January 1710 – 16 March 1736) was an Italian composer, violinist and organist. In his short life he managed to write some amazing music and one wonders what further marvellous works his genius would have been capable of had he lived longer. The "Pietá" above is by Giovanni Bellini.

Friday, 22 March 2013


“The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat, can influence your life by 30 to 50 years.” - Deepak Chopra
Chia is an edible seed from the desert plant Salvia hispanica. It grows abundantly in southern Mexico and is a member of the mint family. Ancient Aztec warriors are thought to have used it as rations, with one teaspoon sustaining a warrior for 24 hours! The name chia is Mayan for “strength”.
Chia seeds are rich in vitamins A, B, E, D, and have abundant omega-3 fatty acids – they are 30% oil, of which 30% is omega 3 and 40% is omega 6. They also have approximately two times the protein concentration and up to ten times the oil concentration of other grains, and are digestible without grinding. Chia seeds also provide fibre (25 grams give you 6.9 grams of fibre) as well as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, and zinc.
Chia has a nutlike flavour, and as with flaxseeds, you can sprinkle ground or whole chia seeds on cereal, in yoghurt or salads. You can grind chia seeds and mix them with flour when making muffins or other baked goods. Chia seeds are small and have the unique feature of a shell that turns gelatinous when it gets wet. When added to water and allowed to sit for 30 minutes, chia forms a gel. This gel can be mixed with foods such as mayonnaise, sauces and jams.
Chia Fruit and Nut Cake

2 cups apple juice
8 tbsp ground chia
3/4 cup chopped roasted walnuts
1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
2 bananas, mashed
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Enough flour to achieve a porridge-like consistency
Mix together the honey, juice and bananas in a food processor. Add in the ground chia and let the food processor run until the seeds are completely mixed in. Transfer the mixture to a bowl with the walnuts and raisins and mix them in thoroughly by hand. Add oil and mix thoroughly. Add the soda, spices and the flour little by little, stirring until the mixture resembles porridge. Pour into a greased bundt baking dish and cook in an oven preheated to 180˚C for about 50 minutes or until a skewer stuck in the bread comes out clean. Allow to cool a little and remove from the tin, dusting with icing sugar.

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

Thursday, 21 March 2013


“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” - Albert Camus

March 21 marks the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the Autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. The Ostara festival is celebrated by the modern branch of witchcraft known as Wicca.  This festival celebrates the return of the sun on the Spring Equinox and the Teutonic goddess of Spring, Eostre is feasted on this day.  Rituals are carried out that symbolise awakening, renewal and rebirth.  The egg is a primary symbol of Eostre and eggs may be dyed, forming as much of the Wiccan ritual as they do of Christian Easter. Easter is obviously etymologically derived from Eostre.

It is the feast day of St Benedict (ca 480-550 AD) who is the patron saint of speleologists (cavers and potholers) and schoolchildren. St Benedict was the son of a rich Italian family. As a boy he was sent to Rome to study and growing up there he became with the vice that he saw around him. He left the city and became a hermit in a cave in the mountain of Subiaco, where he spent three years in prayer. He was often led into temptation by the Devil and one day when he almost succumbed to a vision of a lovely lady, he threw himself into a bush with long sharp thorns that gouged his body and he overcame the temptation. He founded twelve monasteries in Subiaco and then in Cassino he built the most famous monastery of all, establishing the Benedictine Order of monks. St Benedict and his monks helped the people around the monastery by teaching them to read, write, farm and work at different trades.

Traditionally, Iran’s New Year begins on this day, with celebrations lasting for 13 days.  Rites involving fire are common in Zoroastrianism and to welcome the new year in, bonfires are lit. Everyone jumps over the flames symbolically leaping into the new year, while purifying themselves of the previous year’s indiscretions.  Eggs play a part in this springtime festival and in the celebrations the egg symbolises an egg, which reawakens in Spring.  When the year changes the earth is thought to tremble and an egg is placed on mirror as the year changes, shivering slightly in sympathy with the earth’s great shudder.

Today is also the birthday of one of the greatest composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach. He was part of a great musical family and many of his own sons were great composers in their own right.  His oeuvre encompasses all great forms of the baroque with the exception of opera.  His music was all but forgotten until Felix Mendelssohn began the revival that re-established him as the master amongst the composers of the baroque.  His magnificent music is replete with command of form, originality, technical competency of the instrument and vocal parts he was writing for, as well as luscious melody and wonderful harmonies.  Some of his works that I love are: Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903 - a heart rending work; Cantata No 4: Christus lag in Todesbanden a choral work for Easter; Keyboard Concerto in D minor BWV 1052; Fugue in G minor BWV 578, a little gem for the organ.  His six Brandenburg Concertos BWV 1046-1051 are a set of masterworks that show off Bach’s genius most explicitly!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


“While I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting any one whom I meet and saying to him after my manner: You, my friend – a citizen of the great and mighty Athens – are you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honour, and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard at all?” – Socrates

I have been brought up by a family who valued education. Beginning with my grandparents, then my parents, my uncles and aunts, even our family friends, they all extolled the virtues of a good education. I grew up in a household where to be educated was the rule. It was never questioned that I should do anything else but progress through school, enter University and then possibly continue on by studying further. My love affair with education, which was aided and abetted by my family, was supported by my own love of learning and the end result was that I became a dyed in the wool academic, never far from education and the pursuit of learning.

In the society I grew up in, education was not only respected, but put on a pedestal as the solution to that society’s many ills. A university education assured one of a certain social status, a good job, and a tacit understanding that one’s efforts would not be in vain but that they would contribute to the social good and resolve the problems that beset the country. I am showing my age and my nationality to a certain extent, as views on education (particularly university education) have changed, especially now that I am in a country where the ability to make as much money in as short a period of time as possible is seen as the real measure of success – education be damned. To be called an academic in Australia carries with it a stigma, I sometimes think...

Being educated in Australia and finishing my degrees here, but also after working for many years in academia, have disabused me of some of my romantic notions about education as being the panacea for all the ills of the world. Nevertheless my experiences in tertiary education have convinced me that tertiary education can be a transformative, life-changing experience. The ways in which one’s mind can be opened and the breadth of one’s existence can be expanded are astounding.

Major Australian universities in the “Group of Eight” (our Australian version of the Ivy League) are committed to several important activities: Tertiary education in the undergraduate and graduate arenas, cutting edge creativity and thought leadership in the arts and sciences, professional education and world-class research. All of these activities are essential assets and the best of our universities are up there with the best universities in the rest of the world. But all is not well in Camelot. Universities also have problems, even if they are in the top tier, or perhaps because they are in the top tier.

Why is does it cost so much to attend a university and spend such a great deal of money in order to be educated? Why do universities always demand more and more money from the government (and increasingly from their students also)? Why do universities try and attract more and more international students, who pay higher tuition fees? Are universities financially responsible and do they operate on a good business model? Are universities as scrupulous and accountable as they ought to be? Do our august universities concentrate too much on research and postgraduate education to the detriment of the undergraduate courses? Are universities truly independent and are their staff able to operate in the spirit of true academic freedom, that is, freedom of speech and enquiry? It is such questions that have been debated for decades and have created tensions between academia and our broader society.

In the last year or two, it seems that tertiary education has been thrust willy-nilly into a rack and forced into a situation of great stress. This is perhaps the most disruptive time in the entire history of tertiary education. The internet and its widespread, highly scalable use globally as well as the growing popularity of online education as a viable alternative to on-campus education has been a catalyst for this. The appearance of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) into the tertiary education landscape with the consequent opportunity for students to have access to free tertiary level online study was the slap in the face that awakened universities from their complacency and forced them to ask some soul searching questions.

A student nowadays has many options regarding study – whether they choose to go to a physical university or not. In this rapidly changing environment becoming well educated need not be equated necessarily with being admitted to a “Group of Eight” university and paying inordinate amounts of cash to study. Flexible and global education solutions at different levels geared towards any individual are now readily available at a fraction of the cost (or free). Ultimately this empowers the learner who can make an informed decision and take responsibility for their own learning.

The question that arises out of this concerns the credibility, validity and validation of the education programs on offer. What is their quality, what is the ability for the learning achieved to be authenticated in a secure way, and primarily perhaps, whether or not the overall online experience is engaging, interesting and motivating enough for the learner accessing learning through the internet – i.e. the “onlinearity” of the offering: Onlinearity being the appropriateness and judicious choice of technology, good learning design and pedagogy, suitability of course material and learning objects, reliable delivery platform and media, in order to run an engaging, effective, quality online course.

Today Open Universities Australia launched their “Open2Study” subjects in Canberra.  This platform introduces free online subjects at a foundation level and makes them available in a format that shows good “onlinearity”. Enrolments are open in ten different subjects and they look really good. Have a look at them and see what the future holds for online learning.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.” - Rabindranath Tagore
Picasso it is today for Magpie Tales’ creative writing meme. Here is my contribution.

The Death of my Desires
This is the evening
Of the death of my desires,
Subdued by all the arguments
Of my logic and cool reason.
This is the night
When I transcend my animal passions
Changing them to swift-flying thought,
That wings me away from temptation.
This is the morning after,
When I have changed myself
Into a creature of rationality,
Embarking on noetic voyages.
And in the blinding noonday sun
Of growing wisdom,
I shall sacrifice my heart,
On fires that are fuelled by burning flesh
And dedicate all of my animal instincts
On the altar of Diana and Athene.

Monday, 18 March 2013


“Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as a spectator.” - Confucius

We watched a delightful movie at the weekend, which provided us with an opportunity to relax, sit back and enjoy a thoughtful, amusing and poignant statement on old age. It was John Madden’s 2011 “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup and Maggie Smith. The film is based on the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach, with a screenplay by Ol Parker.

The film concerns a motley group of British retirees who for different reasons, decide to “outsource” their retirement to exotic India. The grounds for moving there are varied and range from the economic, to the medical, to the lure of adventure, to the call of the past. They are attracted by advertisements for the newly-restored best, exotic “Marigold Hotel”, near Jaipur, but when they arrive they find an ancient, crumbling palace which is merely a shadow of its former glorious self. It is run by a young, inexperienced but enthusiastic landlord who has his own battles to fight. The interactions amongst the British tourists themselves as well as their interactions with the Indians are a source of humour, exasperation, sympathy, pleasure and perplexity for the viewer – not to mention the complex goings-on amongst the Indians.

The movie provides a wonderful vehicle for the talents of the geriatric British cast. Maggie Smith playing a prejudiced Englishwoman forced to “live in hell” is a wonderful study in small-minded parochialism, which nevertheless is ripe for redemption. Judi Dench acts wonderfully the role of a woman searching to find herself as a widow who in the past has relied too much on her husband. Nighy and Wilton play a couple with old scars and deep marital problems, brought to the fore by their recent penury and their forced expatriation to an India that is fascinating to one but repugnant to the other. Ronald Pickup plays a randy old man who is in search of paramours, while Imrie is the former society divorcée (with many notches on her belt) who searches for her next rich husband (or maybe that should be, victim…).

Perhaps the most poignant role is played by Tom Wilkinson, a newly-retired high court judge who has come to India to find the long-lost love of his youth. Dev Patel hams it up slightly as the landlord, and represents the young, vibrant India, which is desperate to catch up with the rest of the world and take the opportunities offered by rapid development. He has to fight not only to succeed as the hotel owner, but he also must defend his love, which is attacked by his traditional and all-too-sensible mother.

This is an intelligent, thoughtful movie with its fair share of wry humour, poignant moments, love and hate, pleasantry and seriousness. It makes a comment on old age and youth, love and lust, tradition and progress, prejudice and tolerance, religious fervour and agnosticism. It is an ensemble piece that works the plot in multihued threads, as the characters’ lives ravel and unravel, working their way in patterns created by the warp and woof of the story.

We enjoyed the film immensely and although it is not a particularly deep film nor is it one that will give you deep belly laughs, it combines humour and melancholy in the right doses to give one a pleasant viewing experience that is tinged with the right amount of poignancy to make it suitably bitter-sweet and perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon, while the rain is falling outside. We recommend this film and give it a rating of 7.5/10.

Sunday, 17 March 2013


“Out of Ireland have we come, great hatred, little room, maimed us at the start. I carry from my mother’s womb a fanatic heart.” - William Butler Yeats

Saint Patrick’s Day is a predominantly Irish holiday honouring the missionary credited with converting the Irish to Christianity in the 5th century AD. He was born around 373 AD in either Scotland (near the town of Dumbarton) or in Roman Britain (the Romans left Britain in 410 AD). His real name is believed to be Maewyn Succat .  He was kidnapped at the age of 16 by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland . During his 6-year captivity, while he worked as a shepherd, he began to have religious visions, and found strength in his faith. He finally escaped, going to France, where he became a priest, taking on the name of Patrick.  When he was about 60 years old, St. Patrick travelled to Ireland to spread the Christian word. Reputedly, Patrick had a winning personality, which helped him to convert the fun-loving Irish to Christianity. He used the shamrock, which resembles a three-leafed clover, as a metaphor to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. Saint Patrick allegedly drove all snakes out of Ireland.  This may be an allegory, as the snake was one of the revered pagan symbols.

As it is an Irish day today, why not feature an Irish artist for Art Sunday? Bernadette Kiely is a contemporary Irish artist who was born in County Tipperary. She lives in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny. She attended the National College of Art and Design, Waterford and the Slade School of Fine Art, London. Her work is in numerous public and private collections, including those of the AIB, the George Moore Society, the Butler Gallery, the Garter Lane Art Centre, the University of Limerick, and the Ballinglen Arts Foundation.

She has been involved in a number of artists’ residencies (Cill Rialaig Artists Retreat in Co. Kerry and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Co. Monaghan). Her work has been included in major international group shows including Famine and has had a number of exhibitions in London. She teaches part time at Grennan Mill Craft School, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny.

Kiely’s paintings convey a sense of fascination with and passion for the ephemeral, transient phenomena in nature. Her narrow focussed view of the landscape provides a private view of the world and a quasi-abstracted narrowness of vision that forces the viewer to examine the detail of the scene, examine the light and be fascinated by the colour as interpreted in the instant the painter has chosen to capture.