Saturday, 18 June 2016


“The sweetest of all sounds is that of the voice of the woman we love.” - Jean de la Bruyère

Barbara Strozzi (also called Barbara Valle; baptised 6 August 1619  – 11 November 1677) was an Italian singer and composer. Her Baroque compositions were published in her lifetime.

Giulio Strozzi, a poet and librettist, recognised Barbara as his adopted daughter. She was most likely the illegitimate daughter of Strozzi and Isabella Garzon, his long-time servant and heir. She was baptised in the church of Santa Sofia in the Cannaregio district of Venice.

Giulio encouraged his daughter’s musical talent, even creating an academy in which Barbara’s performances could be validated and displayed publicly. He seemed to be interested in exhibiting her considerable vocal talents to a wider audience. However, her singing was not her only talent. She was also compositionally gifted, and her father arranged for her to study with composer Francesco Cavalli.

It is conceivable that Strozzi may have been a courtesan, however, she also may have merely been the target of jealous slander by her male contemporaries. She appears to have led a quiet, if not slightly unusual life; there is evidence that at least three of her four children were fathered by the same man, Giovanni Paolo Vidman. Vidman (also spelled Widmann) was a patron of the arts and supporter of early opera. After Vidman’s death it is likely that Strozzi supported herself by means of her investments and by her compositions. He did not, apparently, leave anything to her or her children in his will. Strozzi died in Padua in 1677 aged 58. Strozzi is believed to have been buried at Eremitani. When she died without leaving a will, her son Giulio Pietro claimed her inheritance.

Strozzi was said to be “the most prolific composer – man or woman – of printed secular vocal music in Venice in the Middle of the century.” Her output is also unique in that it only contains secular vocal music, with the exception of one volume of sacred songs. She was renowned for her poetic ability as well as her compositional talent. Her lyrics were often poetic and well-articulated.

Nearly three-quarters of her printed works were written for soprano, but she also published works for other voices. Her compositions are firmly rooted in the seconda pratica tradition. Strozzi’s music evokes the spirit of Cavalli, heir of Monteverdi. However, her style is more lyrical, and more dependent on sheer vocal sound. Many of the texts for her early pieces were written by her father Giulio. Later texts were written by her father’s colleagues, and for many compositions she may have written her own texts.

Here is her “Sino alla morte”, a cantata for soprano and basso continuo. It is performed by Roberta Invernizzi, soprano and the group Bizzarrie Armoniche with Elena Russo, violoncello and direction.

Friday, 17 June 2016


“Chocolate is one of the world’s most beloved discoveries, and when we need a quick boost of energy and endorphins, chocolate is the go-to treat.” - Marcus Samuelsson

A special treat for the weekend with a recipe given to me by a friend from the US who has lived in Australia for a while. These chocolate muffins are rich and chocolatey and very morish, although I can’t have more than one. They are delicious and filling.

Chocolate Muffins
250 g all-purpose flour
100 g natural cocoa powder, sifted
2.5 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp baking soda
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
250 g granulated sugar
120 mL vegetable oil
370 mL sour cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract
150 g grated cooking chocolate
150 g chocolate chips
sparkling sugar, for tops (optional)

Preheat oven to 190˚C and grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray, wiping off any excess on the top of the tin. You may line the muffin tin with paper muffin cups, making removal from tin easier.
In a bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment begin beating the eggs on medium-high speed. Slowly stream in the sugar while beating and continue to beat until the mixture is pale and thickened and ribbons down from the beater when lifted before settling back down into the batter. Wipe down the bowl and beater as needed. Beat in the oil until fully incorporated. Wipe down bowl and beater and beat in sour cream and vanilla until evenly incorporated.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold in just until only a few visible streaks remain. Add the grated chocolate and fold in just until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups, smoothing the tops if needed but keeping the scoops mounded. Top each with the chocolate chips (and sprinkle with sparkling sugar, if using).
Bake muffins in preheated oven for 10 minutes, and then reduce heat to 175˚C and bake another 5-10 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one comes out free of wet batter (it may come out with melted chocolate). Cool muffins in pan for about 15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store muffins in an airtight container at room temperature, or in the refrigerator to keep for more than a few days.

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Thursday, 16 June 2016


“Ounce for ounce, herbs and spices have more antioxidants than any other food group.” - Michael Greger

Lovage, Levisticum officinale, is a tall perennial plant, the sole species in the genus Levisticum in the family Apiaceae. The name “lovage” is from “love-ache”, ache being a medieval name for parsley; this is a folk-etymological corruption of the older French name levesche, from late Latin levisticum, in turn thought to be a corruption of the earlier Latin ligusticum, “of Liguria” (northwest Italy), where the herb was grown extensively.

Lovage is an erect, herbaceous, perennial plant growing to 1.8–2.5 m tall, with a basal rosette of leaves and stems with further leaves, the flowers being produced in umbels at the top of the stems. The stems and leaves are shiny glabrous green to yellow-green and smell somewhat similar to celery when crushed. The larger basal leaves are up to 70 cm long, tripinnate, with broad triangular to rhomboidal, acutely pointed leaflets with a few marginal teeth; the stem leaves are smaller, and less divided with few leaflets. The flowers are yellow to greenish-yellow, 2–3 mm diameter, produced in globose umbels up to 10–15 cm diameter; flowering is in late spring. The fruit is a dry two-parted schizocarp 4–7 mm long, mature in autumn.

The exact native range is disputed; but it’s most likely native to much of Europe and southwestern Asia. It has been long cultivated in Europe, the leaves, roots and seeds used especially in European cuisine. The leaves can be used in salads, or to make soup or season broths, and the roots can be eaten as a vegetable or grated for use in salads. Its flavour and smell is somewhat similar to celery. The seeds can be used as a spice, similar to fennel seeds. In the UK, an alcoholic lovage cordial is traditionally mixed with brandy in the ratio of 2:1 as a winter drink. In Romania, the leaves are the preferred seasoning for the various local broths, much more so than parsley or dill. In the Netherlands it is the only non-salt ingredient of the traditional Asparagus dish. The roots, which contain a heavy, volatile oil, are used as a mild aquaretic. Lovage root contains furanocoumarins, which can lead to photosensitivity. In Romania it is also used dried and with seeds to conserve and to add flavour to pickled cabbage and cucumbers.

Lovage has been used in herbal medicine for many centuries. A herbal tea is made of the dried leaves, the decoction having a very agreeable odour. Its medicinal reputation probably being greatly founded on its pleasing aromatic odour. It was never an official remedy, nor were any extravagant claims made, as with Angelica, for its efficacy in numberless complaints. The roots and fruit are aromatic and stimulant, and have diuretic and carminative action. In herbal medicine they are used in disorders of the stomach and feverish attacks, especially for cases of colic and flatulence in children, its qualities being similar to those of Angelica in expelling flatulence, exciting perspiration and opening obstructions.

In the opinion of the old herbalist Culpepper, the working of the seeds was more powerful than that of the root; he tells us that an infusion: “being dropped into the eyes taketh away their redness or dimness.... It is highly recommended to drink the decoction of the herb for agues.... The distilled water is good for quinsy if the mouth and throat be gargled and washed therewith.... The decoction drunk three or four times a day is effectual in pleurisy.... The leaves bruised and fried with a little hog’s lard and laid hot to any blotch or boil will quickly break it.”

In the language of flowers, lovage stems and leaves stand for “strength”, while flower heads of lovage mean: “I may look delicate, but I conceal great strength.

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

Wednesday, 15 June 2016


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

And what Mr Chekhov implies is that the seasons are much more acutely felt and more likely to affect our mood when we are unhappy… Even in the midst of Spring’s delights a melancholy soul will make of the joyous season a funereal feast, the flowers merely a doleful accoutrement to the hearse. What if Summer’s glorious sun shines bright and hot? If one is sad, the heat’s enough to fever one’s brow and cause one’s brain to run into nightmarish places hotter than hellfire. And Autumn’s bounty and mellow delights will be overtaken by the dejection of the falling leaves, the rampant decay and falling rain. As far as Winter goes, a sorrowful heart may simply be itself and attune perfectly to the season’s frozen emptiness and endless despair.

Winter is Coming

The sun’s trajectory has shortened,
Now that his chariot runs a course
Much closer to the horizon.
The night is quicker to claim
The earth as her realm
And the moon barks orders
At the brilliant (but oh, so cold) stars.

The wind howls at night
And even the wild dogs are tamed
Becoming silent in obeisance.
Rain comes and falls, and fails
To tether the wind who takes each drop
And spins it into long, liquid streams
Until they fall like waving sheets.

The cold freezes puddles solid
And no leaves, no fruits no flowers
Survive the blizzard cruel.
And even colder still, inside,
My heart keeps on beating,
Gelid though it may be
To keep me alive, me who has died.

Like Summer, you have left me
And unlike Autumn you’ve given me
No ripe fruits, no grain, no berries.
My crop was poisoned by bitter tears,
Endless regrets, false promises, nightmares;
My Winter’s deep, bleak and long-lasting
Expecting no Spring’s arrival.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016


“The home to everyone is to him his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence, as for his repose.” - Edward Coke

Welcome to the Travel Tuesday meme! Join me every Tuesday and showcase your creativity in photography, painting and drawing, music, poetry, creative writing or a plain old natter about Travel!

There is only one simple rule: Link your own creative work about some aspect of travel and share it with the rest of us! Please use this meme for your creative endeavours only.

Do not use this meme to advertise your products or services as any links or comments by advertisers will be removed immediately.
Methoni (Greek: Μεθώνη, Italian: Modone) is a village and a former municipality in Messenia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Pylos-Nestoras, of which it is a municipal unit. Its name may be derived from Mothona, a mythical rock. It is located 11 km south of Pylos and 11 km west of Foinikounta. The town is also known by the Italian name Modone, as it was called by the Venetians. Its economy is dominated by tourism, attracted by its beaches (including Tapia, Kokkinia and Kritika) and its historical castle.

Methoni has been identified as the city Pedasus, that Homer mentions under the name “ampeloessa” (of vine leaves), as the last of the seven “evnaiomena ptoliethra”, that Agamemnon offers Achilles in order to subdue his rage. Pausanias knew the city as Mothone, named after either the daughter of Oeneus or after the rock Mothon, which protects the harbour, and mentioned a temple to Athena Anemotis there. It was an important city in Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine times.

The Venetians had their eye on Methoni since the 12th century, due to its location on the route from Venice to the Eastern markets. In 1125, they launched an attack against pirates, who had captured some Venetian traders on their way home from the east, and who were inhabiting Methoni at that time. The Venetians took over the town in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, and secured recognition from the neighbouring Principality of Achaea through the Treaty of Sapienza (1209). A Roman Catholic bishop was installed in the local see.

The Venetians fortified Methoni, which developed into an important trade centre with great prosperity. Methoni became the important middle station between Venice and the Holy Lands, where every traveler stopped on their way to the East. A pilgrim who went by in 1484 admired its strong walls, the deep moats and the fortified towers. Nowadays the walls of the fortress, even though in ruins, continue to be impressive. The castle of Methoni occupies the whole area of the cape and the southwestern coast to the small islet that has also been fortified with an octagonal tower and is protected by the sea on its three sides. Its north part, the one that looks to land, is covered by a heavily fortified acropolis. A deep moat separates the castle from the land and communication was achieved by a wooden bridge. The Venetians built on the ancient battlements and added on and repaired it during both periods that they occupied the castle.

The castle of Methoni rises deserted and isolated today. When the winter winds hit its walls the locals say that you can hear the screams of the prisoners and the unjustly killed in the dungeons.

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme.

Add your own travel posts using the Linky tool below, and don't forget to be nice and leave a comment here, and link back to this page from your own post!

Monday, 13 June 2016


“The American Dream may be slipping away. We have overcome such challenges before. To recover the Dream requires knowing where it came from, how it lasted so long and why it matters so much.” - Jon Meacham

Sunday matinee at the movies showed Delbert Mann’s 1962 romantic comedy “That Touch of Mink starring Cary Grant, Doris Day, Gig Young, Audrey Meadows and Alan Hewitt. The screenplay is by Stanley Shapiro and Nate Monaster with the plot as conventional as you can imagine for the 1960s. If nothing else, the film is a piece of social history outlining the “visible and desirable” mores of US society at that time. This is American society as it liked to be perceived by everyone, especially by people living outside its borders. This is the USA promoting itself as the land of opportunity, decency, success and as the place where the “American Dream” can be realised.

We had seen this movie some decades ago but it felt as though this was the first time we were watching it. The intervening years, our increased age (and experience), the changes in our society and the altered world we live in all contributed to this being seen as a historical document of another age, contributing to its peculiarity in our eyes. Sugar-coated this movie was, it still managed to exude an aura of “Camelot” and the “good old times” of the USA that the oldies still remember with a great deal of nostalgia. America was not a perfect place then, but certainly if one had been born in the right segment of society (and that may well have been the majority segment then) and if one played by the rules there were rewards… And by comparison with today’s society, perhaps the image projected by this movie (fairy-tale though it may be) was an echo of the golden times past.

The plot has as follows: Philip Shayne  (Grant) is a multi-millionaire whose Rolls Royce has damaged Cathy Timberlake’s (Day) clothing by splashing her with mud when the car goes over a puddle (this was a wonderfully symbolic scene where the spotless young virgin is besmirched by mud…). Shayne is decent enough to want to recompense for the damage and sends his man, financial advisor Roger (Young), to financially compensate Cathy for her ruined clothes. She takes umbrage at this and decides to go and upbraid Shayne herself, egged on by Roger, who sees her as a person who has the courage to stand up to his boss, something which he cannot accomplish successfully – which is why he is in therapy with Dr Gruber (Hewitt).

Cathy and Phillip discover there is instant chemistry between them and one thing leads to another (during a day of working together), finishing up with Phillip making Cathy an offer she seemingly can’t refuse: She will be his kept woman, while he will provide her with a life of luxury and ease. However, although Cathy is a NYC career woman, she is also a small town girl with solid morals, home-grown values and impeccable ethics. She is supported in this by her closest friend, Connie Emerson (Meadows). The film progresses into a comedy of errors, misapprehensions and the changing of minds where Phillip constantly tries to corrupt Cathy and Cathy tries desperately to get Phillip to propose to her…

The film has aged, not only because of the changed mores and social expectations and structure. The acting is old-fashioned and quite “theatrical” in quite a few scenes – no method acting in this film. The luscious technicolor, vistavision and amazing locations and costumes all exude old-time affluence and middle class prosperity as well as the riches of success. This was a time of optimism, financial triumph, hopeful views of the future and a society where everyone could dream and expect to make those dreams reality. Boy, have we come down with several thuds since then!

There is chemistry between Grant and Day. His suave and sophisticated millionaire is perfect foil to her sweet, young, innocent and virginal career girl. Gig Young plays a great supporting role satirising wonderfully America’s love affair with psychoanalysis and the struggle between the crass capitalism of business and the ivory towers of academia. Gender roles in society are highlighted and the film asks the question is it OK for a woman to be independent even if it means if she risks losing her moral values? There is a running joke when Gig Young and Dr Gruber have a misunderstanding about Young’s supposed homosexual affair, which would have been quite risqué at the time. The lecherous advances of the unemployment department clerk Beasley (John Astin) on Cathy provides another aspect of life in the Big Apple, where no single girl is safe. However, if one has values and does not succumb to temptations, the dream can be realised!

We enjoyed seeing this film again and it was an interesting window into the past. Reality it was not, but as a social, political and psychological study of a civilisation in evolution (or should I say decadence?) it is a valuable document. You can even enjoy your study of the behaviour of Homo sapiens of the 1960s while watching this. Taken as superficially as you like, it is an enjoyable romp, even if quite not politically correct by today’s yardstick – or should it be meterstick?

Sunday, 12 June 2016


“I always start a painting with the sky.” - Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley (30 October 1839 – 29 January 1899) was an Impressionist landscape painter who was born and spent most of his life in France, but retained British citizenship. He was the most consistent of the Impressionists in his dedication to painting landscape en plein air (i.e., outdoors). He deviated into figure painting only rarely and, unlike Renoir and Pissarro, found that Impressionism fulfilled his artistic needs. Among his important works are a series of paintings of the River Thames, mostly around Hampton Court, executed in 1874, and landscapes depicting places in or near Moret-sur-Loing. The notable paintings of the Seine and its bridges in the former suburbs of Paris are like many of his landscapes, characterised by tranquillity, in pale shades of green, pink, purple, dusty blue and cream. Over the years Sisley’s power of expression and colour intensity increased.

Son of a well off British dealer established in Paris, Alfred Sisley was born in Paris in 1839. His father sent him in to London, where followed a commercial career from 1857 to 1861, but Sisley intended to be a painter rather than a dealer, in spite of his father’s wishes. In 1862, he enrolled in the School of Fine Arts of Paris, and also joined the studio of Charles Gleyre, where he became friendly with Auguste Renoir , Claude Monet and Frédéric Bazille . In 1864, at the same time as his friends, he left the School of Fine Arts at the time when Charles Gleyre ceased teaching there, and devoted himself to painting in open air in the area of Fontainebleau, at Chailly-en-Bière, then in Marlotte from 1865 to 1866, while living thanks to financial support which his father offered to him.

From his very beginnings, Sisley, just as Pissarro, devoted himself primarily to landscape painting and to lively representations of village streets or Parisian rivers. He frequently met Monet and Renoir to work with them. The early works of Alfred Sisley were influenced by the realism of Courbet, Corot and Daubigny. An art critic wrote about him, on the year of his death: “It is Corot who impresses him, the clear and silver plated Corot, at the same time light and solid, always broad, deep, infinite, Corot dreamer, calm and precise...”. Sisley was admitted to the Official Salon in 1866, 1868 and 1870. His paintings showed his keen interest for coloured impressions of trees and buildings, and for the changing effects of light and clouds above the landscape.

In the catalogue of the sale of Sisley’s studio organised to the benefit of his children after his death, the same critic remarks: “... in the small, hard-working and carefree group made up of Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, in Fontainebleau, Sisley represents cheerfulness, spirit, imagination”. In June 1866, he married Eugènie Lescouezec, a girl of a good family, and a model and florist, with whom he will have two children. Auguste Renoir painted them in 1868, the now famous painting entitled: “The Engaged Couple”" (also known as “Alfred Sisley and his wife”).

In 1869, he settled in Louveciennes, at 2 Princess St. The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 caused the ruin of his family, and Sisley, for the rest of his life, will no longer be a young man of good social standing, but an artist struggling to make ends meet in order to support his painting. The civil war “La Commune de Paris” in 1871 forced him find refuge in London, where he met the art dealer Durand-Ruel, who had opened a gallery to exhibit French artists. He returned to France, in Louveciennes a little after the civil unrest was quelled. Now ruined, he is obliged to definitively leave Paris and Louveciennes in 1874 to settle at Marly-le-Roi. In 1874 he was one of the 31 exhibitors of the first show of the Impressionists group, and will then exhibit at the following ones, in 1876 and 1877, without, however, gaining sympathy there, nor enthusiasm from critics. He then painted in Argenteuil, Marly and Bougival.

He would not leave Ile-de-France any more, except for three short trips he took, one in England in 1874, another in Normandy in 1894, and the last one in Wales in 1897. In 1883, however Durand-Ruel devoted a special exhibition to his works and buys some of his paintings, but the interest for Sisley paintings remains poor. After 1880, Sisley went to settle in a solitary retirement, at Moret-sur-Loing, chief town of the canton of Seine-et-Marne, near Fontainebleau. There, he found places of a great source of inspiration where he untiringly composed many now famous paintings.

Sidley always took great pleasure in painting in the open air and was inspired to do so in all seasons, painting the landscapes of Moret-sur-Loing. Alfred Sisley spent there the last years of his life. He died in 1899, without having been granted French citizenship, which he had requested since 1895. It was only after his death that he was recognised as one of the great Impressionist painters.

The pictorial language of Alfred Sisley was always strongly in keeping with Impressionism, but he also showed his attachment to his first inspirers, Corot and Daubigny. However what really distinguishes him, is his constant restraint, the sensitivity of his inspiration, his liking of peaceful landscapes. His work shows a great humility in his attempt to reproduce on canvas the enchantment which he felt in front of real landscapes. Because his scope was indeed restricted to landscapes, in which a few characters sometimes act as a focal interest, without any really personal touch, many saw in Sisley’s paintings a lack of artistic personality. However, Sisley’s paintings present a positive atmosphere of beauty, clarity and lightness, and represent a high degree of Impressionist accomplishment .

Shown above is his “Poplars at Moret Sur Loing, An August Afternoon”, 1888. Oil on canvas, 73 x 60 cm. Private Collection. This is a painting typical of Sisley’s style, conveying the artist’s love of nature and the joy of capturing on canvas the subtle nuances of light and colour.