Saturday, 8 June 2013


“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” - Marcus Tullius Cicero

For Music Saturday a really beautiful chamber music piece by Schubert. This is his String Quintet in C major D956 op posth. 163, played by the Villa Musica Ensemble. This quintet was composed in the summer of 1828, just two months before Schubert’s death. Its first performance was on 17 November 1850 at the Musikverein in Vienna. It was not published till 1853. The work is considered by some to be one of the greatest compositions in all chamber music. 

The work is the only full-fledged string quintet in Schubert's oeuvre. It consists of four movements:

1) Allegro ma non troppo;
2) Adagio;
3) Scherzo. Presto – Trio. Andante sostenuto;
4) Allegretto.


It stands out for its somewhat unconventional instrumentation, employing two cellos instead of the customary two violas, the example set by Mozart. Schubert, like Luigi Boccherini before him, replaced the second viola with a second cello for richness in the lower register. However, Schubert’s use of the second cello is very different from Boccherini’s, who uses the additional cello to create an additional viola line.

The violinist Joseph Saunders had the second theme of the first movement carved on his tombstone. Arthur Rubinstein’s wish was to have the second movement played at his funeral. For John Reed the work appears to anticipate Schubert’s death mere months after its composition, ending as it does with D-flat followed by C, both in unison and octaves. As Browning’s Abt Vogler put it: “Hark, I have dared and done, for my resting place is found, The C major of this life; so, and now I will try to sleep.”

Friday, 7 June 2013


“One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

As Helena last week requested another strawberry recipe, I am happy to oblige by giving this Strawberry Cupcake recipe that produces deliciously sweet and moist cupcakes, all the more delightful if you use ripe and juicy home-grown strawberries.

Strawberry Cupcakes

1 ½ cups fresh strawberries
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ tbsp baking powder
½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp cream

400 g mascarpone cheese
2 cups icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp cream
White chocolate, grated (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180˚C and line some muffin tins with paper cupcake liners. Rinse and hull strawberries, drying them with paper towel. Mash strawberries until lightly macerated.
In a bowl sift flour and baking powder.
Beat the butter and sugar in the mixer bowl and add the vanilla extract, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until combined (don’t overmix). Scrape down the mixture from the sides of the bowl and mix in half the flour, turning in well. Add the milk and the rest of the flour and mix.
Add the strawberries and cream, folding in by hand.
Pour the batter into the cupcake liners, about ¼ of a cup into each one. Bake for 25 minutes.
Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, take cupcakes out of pan and cool completely.
Using a mixer, combine all of the icing ingredients except for the chocolate. Pipe the icing on each cupcake and top each cupcake with a strawberry and the grated white chocolate, if desired.

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

Thursday, 6 June 2013


“They are able because they think they are able.” - Virgil

The birthday of:
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velasquez
, artist (1599);
Pierre Corneille
, writer (1606);
Nathan Hale
, American revolutionary (1755);
Alexander Sergeyevitch Pushkin
, poet (1799);
John Turnbull
, artist (1756);
John Stainer
, composer (1840);
Henry John Newbolt
, poet/historian (1862);
Robert Falcon Scott
, Antarctic explorer (1868);
, last Russian czarina (1872);
Thomas Mann
, author (1875);
Ninette de Valois
(Edris Stannus), ballerina/choreographer (1898); 
Arthur Bowden Askey, actor (1900);
Achmed Sukarno
, Indonesian independence fighter (1901);
Aram Khachaturian
, Armenian composer (1903);
Maxine Kumin
, poet (1925);
Billie Whitelaw
, actress (1932);
Dalai Lama
, religious leader (1935);
Chantal Akerman
, film-maker (1950);
Bjorn Borg
, tennis player (1956).

The thorn apple, Datura stramonium, is the birthday flower for today.  It symbolises deceitful charms, a most suitable meaning for a poisonous, although sweet-smelling and beautiful flower (datura means “angels’ trumpet”).  It was a plant supposedly used by the priests of Apollo in Delphi to induce hallucinations and evoke the prophecies of the Oracle.  Superstition says that even to fall asleep under this plant would cause death.  Astrologically, it is under the dominion of Jupiter.

Here is a beautiful piece by birthday boy, Aram Khatchaturian (1903-1978). It is his Masquerade suite: 1. Waltz; 2. Nocturne; 3. Mazurka; 4. Romance; 5. Galop. With John Giorgiadis, violin and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Stanley Black.

Sweden (today celebrating its Constitution Day, since 1809), is one of the Scandinavian countries with an area of 450,000 square km and a population of 9 million people. Its capital city is the beautiful Stockholm, often referred to as the “Venice of the North” because of the numerous waterways in its midst. The country is a long strip with richly forested mountains in the North, central lowlands and lakes and the very fertile Scania plain of the South. Most of the cities are in the South with Göteborg, Uppsala, Malmö, Linköping and Örebro the major ones. Timber, manufacturing, and mineral resources all utilised to their full make Sweden a rich country.

The following people died on this day: In 1861, Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, Italian statesman; in 1891, John Alexander Macdonald, Canadian PM; in 1941, Louis Chevrolet, US motor racer and car designer; in 1956, Hiram Bingham, US archaeologist and discoverer of Machu Picchu; in 1961, Carl Gustav Jung, Swiss psychiatrist; in 1976, Jean Paul Getty, US oil billionaire; in 1990, Rex Harrison, English actor.

Also on this day in 1844, the YMCA was founded in London.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” - Confucius
Morris Cole Graves (August 28, 1910 – May 5, 2001) was an American expressionist painter. Along with Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, William Cumming, and Mark Tobey, he founded the Northwest School. Graves was also a mystic. He is perhaps best known for introspective works that present a mystical view of nature. His style was greatly influenced by the three trips he made to East Asia between 1928 and 1930, and, like Mark Tobey, Graves had a deep interest in Asian art and religion, including Buddhism and Zen Daoism.
In 1936 the Seattle Art Museum presented Graves’s first one-man show. About 1937 he turned from oils to tempera or gouache, which he applied to Chinese paper. He then made some of his best-known works, including “Blind Bird” (1940) and “Little Known Bird of the Inner Eye” (1941). He frequently used a calligraphic style in which delicate white lines appear against a dark background. His art received international attention in 1942 when 31 of his works appeared in an exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Thereafter Graves’s oil paintings and watercolours were highly sought after by collectors and won numerous prizes, including two at the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1947 and 1948.
A 1947 study Graves made of the Asian art in the Honolulu Academy of Art inspired his series of paintings depicting Chinese bronzes made that same year. In 1954–56 he painted the birds and animals of Ireland. Shortly thereafter Graves left the United States to make his home outside Dublin, to escape, as he explained, “the onrush and outrage of machine noise.” Before he left he painted “Spring with Machine-Age Noises—No. 3” (1957), a visual cacophony that seems to sweep over a stretch of grass.

In 1964 he again relocated, this time to Loleta, California, where he bought 25 acres of redwood forest and created an idyllic environment for himself, complete with a small lake, Zen-inspired buildings, and gardens. Inspired by his surroundings, Graves often depicted flowers in his later work. His later paintings were increasingly abstract, and while they retained their delicacy, the Asian influence was gone. In later years and especially at the end of his notable career, Graves returned to sculpture, originally created forty years earlier, and received critical acclaim for his “Instruments of a New Navigation”, works inspired by NASA and space exploration. Morris Graves died the morning of May 5, 2001 at his home in Loleta, hours after suffering a stroke.
Magpie Tales has selected his 1979 painting, “Waking, Walking, Singing in the Next Dimension” to spark creative writing in her weekly challenge. Here is my contribution:

From Egg to Earth
The egg has just hatched
And the nestling dreams sweetly;
As flower buds unfurl.
The bird sings joyful
Songs, in noon’s white blinding heat,
Hidden in leafy bower.
As golden leaves fall,
The bird eggs on its offspring,
To leave the nest, fly.
Snow falls and covers
The dead bird: A life cycle ends;
Soon, new beginnings.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


“Sydney’s a beautiful city. It was a great experience.” - Barbara Hershey
I am in Sydney for work and enjoying some slightly better weather (expecting 21˚C maximum and sunny, compared to 16˚C and cloudy/showery for Melbourne). Not that I am enjoying much of the great outdoors as I am confined to buildings and meetings… Nevertheless, it’s good to be able to god from one place to another without getting wet or being cold. I always enjoy visiting Sydney, but at the same time I always enjoy leaving it. It would be a difficult city to live in, but always a lovely place to visit.
Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia. It is on Australia’s south-east coast, on the Tasman Sea. In June 2010 the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people. Inhabitants of Sydney are called Sydneysiders, comprising a cosmopolitan and international population.
The site of the first British colony in Australia, Sydney was established in 1788 at Sydney Cove by Arthur Phillip, commodore of the First Fleet, as a penal colony. The city is built on hills surrounding Port Jackson, which is commonly known as Sydney Harbour, where the iconic Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge feature prominently.
The hinterland of the metropolitan area is surrounded by national parks, and the coastal regions feature many bays, rivers, inlets and beaches including the famous Bondi Beach and Manly Beach. Within the city are many notable parks, including Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Sydney is a high-ranking world city and has hosted multiple major international sporting events, including the 1938 British Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games) and the 2000 Summer Olympics. The main airport serving Sydney is Sydney Airport and its main port is Port Botany.
Sydney is the top tourist destination in Australia, most international tourists spending some time there if nowhere else in Australia. In the year ending 2012, Sydney received a total of 10.5 million international and domestic visitors, which injected $11.7 billion into the state of New South Wales’ economy. The most well-known attractions include the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Other attractions include Royal Botanical Gardens, Luna Park, Darling Harbour, some 40 beaches and Sydney Tower.
The New South Wales Government operates two programs relevant to Sydney as part of the NSW Tourism Strategy, they are: Brand Sydney ( to revitalise and strengthen the image and appeal of Sydney) and Visit Sydney (to increase promotion of Sydney as a tourist destination through a strengthened dedicated business unit within Destination NSW). Sydney also has several popular museums, such as the Australian Museum (natural history and anthropology), the Powerhouse Museum (science, technology and design), the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Monday, 3 June 2013


“The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” - Aristotle
Last weekend we watched Ang Lee’s 2012 film “Life of Pi”, based on the novel by Yan Martel, and starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Adil Hussain. I read the novel several years ago and I enjoyed it very much, which made me rather reluctant to watch the movie. Having been given the DVD as a gift, however, persuaded me to have a look at the movie, with a screenplay written by David Magee.
Let me preface the review by saying the film was unexpectedly enjoyable and a visual treat. The cinematography (Claudio Miranda), direction, special effects and CGI were quite amazing, supplemented by excellent acting and a music soundtrack by Mychael Danna that was well-suited to the action and atmosphere of the movie. Nevertheless, that said, the most memorable part of the soundtrack is the Indian Tamil song playing during the beginning of the film and during the end credits.

“Life of Pi” is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel, is a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, who is brought up by an educated and family in an intellectually stimulating environment. He explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age, and although brought up as a Hindu, also discovers Christianity and Islam. He starts to follow all three religions as he “just wants to love God”. He tries to understand God through the lens of each religion and comes to recognise benefits in each belief system. When his father decides to take his family and move to Canada with the animals form the zoo they own, The ship sinks and Pi is the only survivor. He survives 227 days while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The novel, which has sold more than ten million copies worldwide, was rejected by at least five London publishing houses before being accepted by Knopf Canada, which published it in September 2001. The UK edition then won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction the following year (aspiring authors, don’t give up after your manuscript gets rejected repeatedly!).
The novel according to the author, Yann Martel, can be summarised in three statements: “Life is a story... You can choose your story... A story with God is the better story.” A recurring theme throughout the novel seems to be credibility: Truth versus falsehood, veracity versus untruthfulness, fact versus fiction, believability versus unbelievability. Pi at the end of the book asks the two investigators of the shipwreck: “If you stumble about believability, what are you living for?” According to Gordon Houser there are two main themes of the book: “That all life is interdependent, and that we live and breathe via belief.”
The novel (as well as the film) is very non-sectarian and depends on the concept of belief in a benevolent, spiritual creator not aligned with any, or perhaps aligned with all religions. It is a deeply spiritual book and according to the author it defined his being and helped him find a purpose in his life. The 2012 film adaptation was given a wide release in the United States on 21 November 2012 and at the 85th Academy Awards it won four awards from eleven nominations, including Best Director.

The film is vibrantly visual. The colours and sounds of India soon give way to the beauty and terror of the Pacific Ocean, while the interaction of humans with animals is constantly running theme in the narrative and transferred to screen well. Some of the fantasy scenes are quite spectacular and the manner in which the cinematographer and director have dealt with the confined space on the lifeboat is inventive and interesting. We enjoyed seeing this film greatly, although I still preferred the book! Read it first and then see the movie…

Sunday, 2 June 2013


“Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.” – Plautus

Diego Rodríguez de Silva Velázquez (baptised June 6, 1599, Seville, Spain - died August 6, 1660, Madrid) is acknowledged as the most important Spanish painter of the 17th century, and a giant of Western art. The naturalistic style in which he was trained provided a language for the expression of his remarkable power of observation in portraying both the living model and still life. Stimulated by the study of 16th-century Venetian painting, he developed from a master of faithful likeness and characterisation into the creator of masterpieces of visual impression unique in his time. With brilliant diversity of brushstrokes and subtle harmonies of colour, he achieved effects of form and texture, space, light, and atmosphere, that make him the chief forerunner of 19th-century French Impressionism.

Born in Seville, the son of a lawyer of Portuguese origin, he began a six-year apprenticeship in 1611 with the painter Francisco Pacheco, whose studio resembled an academy in which students learned the techniques of painting in an idealising style grounded in Catholic propriety. Two of his famous fellow students there were Francisco de Zurbarán and Alonso Cano. But even in Velázquez’s early works such as The Supper at Emmaus the young artist abandoned Pacheco’s old-fashioned style and painted directly from life. Influenced by the naturalism of Caravaggio, he portrayed Christ and two of his disciples with dramatic facial expressions, sharply lit against a plain background, the forms solidly modelled in sombre colours. At this stage, Velázquez also specialised in kitchen scenes, or bodegones (“taverns”), with religious scenes relegated to the background.

In the summer of 1623, Velázquez was summoned to Madrid to paint a portrait of the king (now lost). This was very well received and it led to his being named official painter to the king. He remained attached to the court for the rest of his life, ascending in the hierarchy of court appointments, eventually receiving a knighthood. At Madrid, his art was profoundly influenced by Venetian paintings in the royal collection and by Rubens, who spent six months at the court on a diplomatic mission during which he painted royal portraits and copied the king’s masterpieces by Titian.

From June 1629 to January 1631, Velázquez travelled in Italy. The influence of contemporary Italian artists may be seen in his mastery of perspective and his rendering of the male nude in the two large canvases he painted in Rome, The Forge of Vulcan (Museo del Prado, Madrid) and Joseph’s Coat Presented to Jacob (Escorial, Madrid). 

The Portrait of Don Gaspar de Guzmán recalls the splendid equestrian portraits of individual members of the royal family that Velázquez painted in the 1630s. At the same time, he painted for the king unforgettable likenesses of court dwarves and buffoons, capturing their inner suffering with dazzling brushwork and cool detachment.

In 1649–51, Velázquez made a second trip to Italy to collect works of art for the king, and the fresh exposure to classical antiquity resulted in masterworks such as Venus and Cupid (“The Rokeby Venus” now in the National Gallery, London). The portrait of his assistant, Juan de Pareja, caused a sensation when Velázquez exhibited it in Rome. Hanging alongside works by the best artists of the time, the portrait was acclaimed for its extraordinary lifelike quality. Of all the painters then in Rome, he alone was granted permission to paint the pope. Upon seeing Innocent X (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome), one observer wrote that Velázquez had come to Italy “not to learn but to teach, for his portrait of Innocent X was the amazement of Rome. Every artist copied it and looked upon it as a miracle.”

In his final decade, Velázquez’s handling of paint became increasingly free and luminous. This late style can be seen in María Teresa (1638–1683), Infanta of Spain, a portrait probably made for her future husband, Louis XIV of France, and the breathtakingly beautiful portrayal of the royal family, Las Meninas, (“The Ladies-in-Waiting” in the Prado). The artist stands to the left before an enormous canvas on which he is painting the king and queen, who are reflected in the mirror in the background, but the real subject of the picture is the little infanta who has come to watch Velázquez at work. She stands between two ladies-in-waiting, who coax her to behave, and two court dwarves and a large dog, all rendered with astonishing freedom and truth to nature.

Because most of Velázquez’s work was carried out for the king, it remained in palaces where few people saw it. Not until the upheavals caused by Napoleon’s Peninsular War (1808–14) was some of his work dispersed throughout Northern Europe. In the nineteenth-century, his paintings made an enormous impact upon artists, and to the present day Velázquez is remembered as the painter’s painter.

The painting above, painted in 1629 is Los Borrachos (“The Drinkers/The Drunks”) but is has also been called The Feast of Bacchus. The spirit and aim of this work are better understood from its Spanish name, that implies that drunks are paying mock homage to a half-naked ivy-crowned young man (= Bacchus, the god of wine) seated on a wine barrel. The painting is firm and solid, and the light and shade are more deftly handled than in former works. Altogether, this production may be taken as the most advanced example of the first style of Velázquez.