Tuesday, 6 December 2016


“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta 

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.
Bologna is the largest city (and the capital) of the Emilia-Romagna Region in Northern Italy. It is the seventh most populous city in Italy, located in the heart of a metropolitan area (officially recognised by the Italian government as a città metropolitana) of about one million. The first settlements date back to at least 1000 BC. The city has been an urban centre, first under the Etruscans (Velzna/Felsina) and the Celts (Bona), then under the Romans (Bononia), then again in the Middle Ages, as a free municipality (for one century it was the fifth largest European city based on population).

Home to the oldest university in the world, University of Bologna, founded in 1088, Bologna hosts thousands of students who enrich the social and cultural life of the city. Famous for its towers and lengthy porticoes, Bologna has a well-preserved historical centre (one of the largest in Italy) thanks to a careful restoration and conservation policy which began at the end of the 1970s, on the heels of serious damage done by the urban demolition at the end of the 19th century as well as that caused by wars.

An important cultural and artistic centre, its importance in terms of landmarks can be attributed to a varied mixture of monuments and architectural examples (medieval towers, antique buildings, churches, the layout of its historical centre) as well as works of art which are the result of a first class architectural and artistic history. Bologna is also an important transportation crossroad for the roads and trains of Northern Italy, where many important mechanical, electronic and nutritional industries have their headquarters. According to the most recent data gathered by the European Regional Economic Growth Index (E-REGI) of 2009, Bologna is the first Italian city and the 47th European city in terms of its economic growth rate.

Bologna is home to numerous prestigious cultural, economic and political institutions as well as one of the most impressive trade fair districts in Europe. In 2000 it was declared European capital of culture and in 2006, a UNESCO “city of music”. The city of Bologna was selected to participate in the Universal Exposition of Shanghai 2010 together with 45 other cities from around the world. Bologna is also one of the wealthiest cities in Italy, often ranking as one of the top cities in terms of quality of life in the country: in 2011 it ranked 1st out of 107 Italian cities.

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, 5 December 2016


“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” ― Voltaire

We’ve just finished watching the 2012-2015 three-season Australian TV series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteriesstarring Essie Davis, Nathan Page, Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Ashleigh Cummings. This series is based on the novels of Kerry Isabelle Greenwood (born 17 June 1954 in Footscray, Victoria), who is an Australian author and lawyer. She has written many plays and books, most notably the string of historical detective novels centred on the character of Phryne Fisher. She writes mysteries, science-fiction, historical fiction, and children’s stories, as well as plays. She is unmarried but lives with a “registered wizard”.

Miss Phryne Fisher is a wealthy aristocrat and private detective who lives in St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia, in the late 1920s. With the assistance of her maid Dot, and Bert and Cec (who are wharfies, taxi drivers and red raggers), she solves all manner of crimes in swinging Melbourne of the inter-war years. Phryne is no ordinary aristocrat, as she can fly a plane, drives her own car (a Hispano-Suiza) and sometimes wears trousers. However, while displaying bohemian panache, she manages also to maintain style and class. Phryne was accidentally named after a famous Greek courtesan who lived in the 4th century BC. At her christening, her father forgot the classical name, Psyche, that her mother had intended for her.

First, let me confess I have read a few of the Phryne Fisher novels by Ms Greenwood and enjoyed them quite a lot. When I heard that this series was made based on them I was a little skeptical as to how well the 1920s era would be captured on film (video, memory chip what have you!). But we toned down our expectations and watched the first few episodes. We were pleasantly surprised! The sets, costumes, props, authentic Melbourne locations, music, cars and homes were absolutely spot on. We watched and enjoyed every episode of the first series and went on to watch all three.

Essie Davis does an amazing job of recreating Miss Fisher’s character to a tee, although admittedly she is older than the 27 years of the novels’ heroine. This is not jarring at all and Ms Davis has enough panache, aplomb and just the right tongue-in-cheek good humour to carry off the series to perfection. She is ably supported by Nathan Page, the police Inspector with whom she collaborates in order to solve the mysteries. Her “lady’s companion” Dot, played by Ashleigh Cummings is great as the progressively progressive young, good, Catholic woman whom Miss Fisher educates in the ways of the world. Hugo Johnstone-Burt plays the long suffering and young innocent constable, the inspector’s sidekick who falls for Dot and helps in his sometimes bumbling way to catch the crooks.

The remainder of the regular actors and episode guests all do a sterling job and contribute wonderfully to the mystery covered by each episode. All manner of stories and themes are covered, reminding us that people are the same and driven by the same passions, motives and emotions whatever the place and time in history. Drugs, human trafficking, greed, jealousy, love, ambition, social inequality, are all considered and Miss Fisher as pioneer feminist does a great deal to not only solve the mysteries but advance the rights of women and help the disenfranchised and browbeaten claim their place in the sun. There are also interesting references to World War I and the Anzacs (Cec and Bert being diggers themselves).

We recommend this excellent series to people who not only love whodunnits, but also aficionados of period drama, humorous series and of course good Australian productions.

Sunday, 4 December 2016


“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Giovanni Segantini (15 January 1858 – 28 September 1899) was an Italian painter known for his large pastoral landscapes of the Alps. He was one of the most famous artists in Europe in the late 19th century, and his paintings were collected by major museums. In later life he combined a Divisionist painting style with Symbolist images of nature. He was active in Switzerland for most of his life.

Giovanni Battista Emanuele Maria Segatini [sic] was born at Arco in Trentino, which was then part of the County of Tyrol in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He later changed his family name by adding an “n” after the “a”. He was the second child of Agostino Segatini (1802–1866) and Margherita de Giradi (1828–1865). His older brother, Lodovico, died in a fire the year Giovanni was born. During the first seven years of his life his father, who was a tradesman, travelled extensively while looking for work.

Except for a six-month period in 1864 when Agostino returned to Trentino, Segantini spent his early years with his mother, who experienced severe depression due to the death of Lodovico. These years were marked by poverty, hunger and limited education due to his mother’s inability to cope. In the spring of 1865 his mother died after spending the past seven years in increasingly poor health. His father left Giovanni under the care of Irene, his second child from a previous marriage, and again travelled in search of work. He died a year later without returning home and leaving his family nothing.

Without money from her father, Irene lived in extreme poverty. She was forced to spend most of her time working menial jobs while leaving Giovanni to subsist on his own. Irene hoped to improve her life by moving to Milan, and in late 1865 she submitted an application to relinquish Austrian citizenship for both her brother and her. She either misunderstood the process or simply did not have enough time to follow through, and although their Austrian citizenship was revoked she neglected to apply for Italian citizenship. As a result, both Segantini and his sister remained stateless for the rest of their lives.

After he became famous, Switzerland offered Segantini citizenship on more than one occasion, but he refused in spite of many hardships, saying Italy was his true homeland. After his death the Swiss government successfully awarded him citizenship. At age seven Segantini ran away and was later found living on the streets of Milan. The police committed him to the Marchiondi Reformatory, where he learned basic cobbling skills but little else. For much of his early life he could barely read or write; he finally learned both skills when he was in his mid-30s.

Fortunately a chaplain at the reformatory noticed that he could draw quite well, and he encouraged this talent in an attempt to lift his self-esteem. In 1873 Segantini’s half-brother Napoleon claimed him from the reformatory, and for the next year Segantini lived with Napoleon in Trentino. Napoleon ran a photography studio, and Segantini learned the basics of this relatively new art form while working there with his half-brother. He would later use photography to record scenes that he incorporated into his painting.

He attended courses at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan and achieved his first success with his painting, “Il coro di Sant’Antonio” (The Choir of Sant’Antonio). In 1881, Segantini turned his back on the city and together with Luigia Bugatti, known as Bice, settled in the Brianza, a lakeland district situated between Milan and Como. His rejection of the city and the Academy, with its doctrinaire rules and prescribed mythological and religious subject matter, is typical of the times. Like many artists, Segantini looked beyond traditional forms of painting in search of naturalistic, simple motifs from everyday life.

At that time, the Brianza was an entirely rural landscape, and Segantini immediately set to work studying the daily lives of the peasants. The close relationship between the shepherds or shepherdesses and their animals was a favourite pictorial motif, which the artist also repeatedly took up in Graubünden. In 1882, the unmarried couple’s first son, Gottardo, (who was later to became a painter himself and also wrote his father’s biography) was born, followed in later years by sons Alberto and Mario and daughter Bianca.

In August 1886, after a long exploratory trip, Giovanni Segantini settled in Savognin, an Alpine farming village in the Oberhalbstein region of Graubünden. Shortly afterwards, in the winter of 1886/87, he received a visit from his art dealer, Vittore Grubicy, who informed his protégé of the latest developments in the art world in France. However, in particular the Alpine landscape, with its crystal-clear light, led Segantini to discover a new pictorial language.

Occasionally, he gave the closely observed mountain landscapes symbolic content, creating allegorical pictorial visions of extraordinary luminosity. This shift away from realistic genre painting came at a time when it was in crisis all across Europe. After eight years in Savognin, Giovanni Segantini moved with his family to the Engadin; he was unable to pay the cantonal taxes and was being pursued by creditors.

In 1894, he took up residence in the Chalet Kuoni in Maloja. Here, the artist – whose paintings were among the most expensive of the day – continued to enjoy the extravagant lifestyle of the Milanese upper classes, which rapidly swallowed up his increasingly high fees. The family spent the winter in Soglio, in the Bregaglia valley. On 28 September 1899, at the age of 41 years, Segantini died unexpectedly on the Schafberg high above Pontresina while working on the middle section of his Alpine Triptych.

More than anything else, Segantini’s work represents the quintessential transition from traditional nineteenth-century art to the changing styles and interests of the twentieth century. He began with simple scenes of common people living off of the earth ‒ peasants, farmers, shepherds ‒ and moved toward a thematic symbolist style that continued to embody the landscapes around him while intertwining pantheistic images representing “a primeval Arcadia.”

Over the course of his life he moved from both the physical and emotional internal, such as his scene of motherhood in a stable, to the grand external views of the mountain scenery where he chose to live. Nature and the connections of people to nature are the core themes of his art. After he moved to the mountains he wrote: “I am now working passionately in order to wrest the secret of Nature’s spirit from her. Nature utters the eternal word to the artist: Love, love; and the earth sings life in spring, and the soul of things reawakens.” 

His 1896 painting “Love at the Springs of Life” (See above - Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Milan) reflects Segantini’s philosophical approach to his art. Set in the high mountain landscape near his home, it pictures an angel with large wings spread over a small waterfall flowing from some rocks. In the distance two lovers, clothed in white flowing robes, walk along a path coming toward the spring. Around them are flowers that would have been seen by viewers at the time as symbols of love and life. Art historian Robert Rosenblum described Segantini as transforming “the earthbound into the spiritual”, and the artist himself referred to his work as “naturalist Symbolism.” He said “I’ve got God inside me. I don’t need to go to church.”

Saturday, 3 December 2016


“Music is part of us, and either ennobles or degrades our behaviour.” - Boethius 

Jean-Marie Leclair l'aîné, also known as Jean-Marie Leclair the Elder, (10 May 1697 – 22 October 1764) was a Baroque violinist and composer. He is considered to have founded the French violin school. His brothers Jean-Marie Leclair the younger (1703–77), Pierre Leclair (1709–84) and Jean-Benoît Leclair (1714–after 1759) were also musicians.

Leclair was born in Lyon, but left to study dance and the violin in Turin. In 1716, he married Marie-Rose Casthanie, a dancer, who died about 1728. Leclair had returned to Paris in 1723, where he played at the Concert Spirituel, the main semi-public music series. His works included several sonatas for flute and basso continuo. In 1730, Leclair married for the second time. His new wife was the engraver Louise Roussel, who prepared for printing all his works from Opus 2 onward.

Named ordinaire de la musique by Louis XV in 1733, Leclair resigned in 1737 after a clash with Guidon over control of the Musique du Roy. Leclair was then engaged by the Princess of Orange – a fine harpsichordist and former student of Handel – and from 1738 until 1743, served three months annually at her court in Leeuwarden, working in The Hague as a private maestro di cappella for the remainder of the year. He returned to Paris in 1743. His only opera Scylla et Glaucus was first performed in 1746 and has been revived in modern times.

From 1740 until his death in Paris, he served the Duke of Gramont, in whose private theatre at Puteaux were staged works to which Leclair is known to have contributed. They included, in particular, a lengthy divertissement for the comedy Les danger des épreuves (1749) and one complete entrée, Apollon et Climène, for the opéra-ballet by various authors, Les amusemens lyriques (1750). Leclair was renowned as a violinist and as a composer. He successfully drew upon all of Europe’s national styles. Many suites, sonatas, and concertos survive along with his opera, while some vocal works, ballets, and other stage music is lost.

In 1758, after the break-up of his second marriage, Leclair purchased a small house in a dangerous Parisian neighborhood, where he was found stabbed to death on October 23, 1764. Although the murder remains a mystery, there is a possibility that his ex-wife may have been behind it – her motive being financial gain – although the strongest suspicion rests on his nephew, Guillaume-François Vial.

Here is his Op. 7 - Six Concerti à trois violons, alto et basse (1737) performed by the Collegium Musicum 90 directed by Simon Standage.

Friday, 2 December 2016


“Everywhere in the world there are tensions - economic, political, religious. So we need chocolate.” - Alain Ducasse

We were given this recipe by a friend who in turn got it from a friend of hers who was originally from the USA. These are quite moist, tender, very chocolatey muffins.

Chocolate Muffins

1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
6 tbsp cocoa powder
6 tbsp hot water
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups self raising flour
1/2 tsp
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup chocolate chips (+ extra for decoration).

Preheat oven to 200˚C. Place paper muffin cases in a standard muffin tin and spray with non-stick spray; set aside.
In a large mixer bowl, combine the sugar and oil. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Combine the cocoa and the hot water in a small bowl, whisk until a smooth paste forms. Add to the bowl, beat for another 1 minute. Add the eggs and vanilla, mix until combined.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Gradually alternate adding the dry ingredients and the yoghurt to the muffin mix, being careful not to overmix. Fold in 1 cup of the chocolate chips.
Fill each muffin case with the muffin batter (about 3.5 tbsp in each case). Sprinkle with extra chocolate chips on top if desired, and gently press into the batter.
Place in the oven to bake for 7 minutes at 200˚C and then reduce the heat to 170˚C and continue baking for 10-12 more minutes. Remove from oven when done and allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Feel free to share a recipe of your own:

Thursday, 1 December 2016


“The first meal my husband ever made me was a chicken curry. I have never tasted anything so delicious in my life.” - Lesley Nicol

The curry tree (Murraya koenigii or Bergera koenigii) is a tropical to sub-tropical tree in the family Rutaceae (the rue family, which includes rue, citrus, and satinwood), which is native to India and Sri Lanka. The species name commemorates the botanist Johann König. The genus Murray commemorates Swedish physician and botanist Johann Andreas Murray who died in 1791. The leaves of this tree are used in many dishes in India, Sri Lanka, and neighbouring countries. Often used in curries, the leaves are generally called by the name ‘curry leaves’, although they are also literally ‘sweet neem leaves’ in most Indian languages (as opposed to ordinary neem leaves which are very bitter and in the family Meliaceae, not Rutaceae).

It is a small tree, growing 4–8.7 m tall, with a trunk up to 81 cm diameter. The aromatic leaves are pinnate, with 11–21 leaflets, each leaflet 2–4 cm long and 1–2 cm broad. The plant produces small white flowers, which can self-pollinate to produce small shiny-black berries containing a single, large viable seed. Though the berry pulp is edible (with a sweet but medicinal flavour) in general, neither the pulp nor seed is used for culinary purposes. Leaves can be harvested from home-raised plants as the tree is fairly easily grown in warmer areas of the world, or in containers where the climate is not supportive outdoors. Seeds must be ripe and fresh to plant; dried or shriveled fruits are not viable. One can plant the whole fruit, but it is best to remove the pulp before planting in potting mix that is kept moist but not wet. Stem cuttings can be also used for propagation.

The leaves are highly valued as seasoning in Southern and West-coast Indian cooking, and Sri Lankan cooking especially in curries, usually fried along with the chopped onion in the first stage of the preparation. They are also used to make thoran, vada, rasam and kadhi. In their fresh form, they have a short shelf life and do not keep well in the refrigerator. They are also available dried, though the aroma is largely inferior. Although most commonly used in curries, leaves from the curry tree can be used in many other dishes to add flavour. In Cambodia, Khmer toast the leaves in an open flame or roast it until crispy and then crush it into a soured soup dish called maju krueng.

The leaves of Murraya koenigii are also used as in Ayurvedic medicine. Because of its aromatic characteristic properties, the plant has uses in soap making, body lotions, potpourri, scent, air fresheners, body fragrance, perfume, bath and massage oils, aromatherapy, towel scenting, spas and health clinics, incense, facial steams or hair treatments. In the absence of tulsi leaves, curry leaves are used for rituals, such as pujas.

In the language of flowers, a leafy branch included in bouquets signifies: “Your exotic charms have me in thrall”. A gift of curry tree flowers means: “I have succumbed to your inner beauty.”

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

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


“Tolerance, compromise, understanding, acceptance, patience - I want those all to be very sharp tools in my shed.” - CeeLo Green 

The mid-week motif for Poets United this week is “Social Stigma”. In western societies around the world we take pride in touting our tolerance and acceptance of diversity, we quote our laws that protect minorities, and are ready to lecture anyone who dares question our broad-mindedness and understanding of all of those who don’t conform to society’s “norms”.

Yet it is in enlightened countries such as these that we see racial discrimination still raging; we still see ethnic minorities failing to advance socially and professionally because of prejudice against them; we still see inequalities based on gender and patriarchal role models; we still see people victimised, bashed or killed because of their sexuality; we still see people ostracised because of their age; we still see stigmatisation of teenage mothers; we still see demonisation of the unemployed and the homeless; we still see the isolation and marginalisation of the mentally ill…

My poem is based on a true story that affected a family acquaintance. The young woman central to that story made what I believe to have been the right decision. However, it is not explicitly stated in my poem. There are so many young women who find themselves in a miserable quandary and the decisions that they make (or that they have made for them), in so many cases are dictated by the threat of social stigma… Yes, even nowadays in enlightened societies like ours!

The Quandary

She cried her eyes out when he left
She knew she’d never see him again;
And now alone, with all her dreams
Turned into nightmares.

She had believed him and she had loved,
She gave him all and he took even more.
And now alone, whom could she turn to,
But her family?

She had confessed all and she had trusted them;
She hoped that they would give their love, support…
And all she heard were screams and shouts,
Cries, threats and accusations.

She put her hands on her belly and she felt –
She tried to feel what she knew was growing there.
And she sensed that the new life that stirred within
Would bring her turmoil.

She heard her father shout: “Have an abortion!”
She heard her mother cry: “Have it and give it for adoption!”
Within her belly “it” stirred and said:
“Keep me, love me, raise me…”

Small town morality would stigmatise
The tell-tale swelling in her belly;
Her child, if born, would have its own battles to fight,
Wars to lose, perhaps…

She knew what shame, disgrace and isolation
She would have face if she allowed nature take its course;
And then how could she live,
With that blemish of: “Single, underage mother”?

Whom would she listen to?
Who gave the wisest counsel?
Who spoke from the heart?
Whom could she in her green years put her trust in?

Tuesday, 29 November 2016


“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” - Leo Tolstoy 

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.
Leipzig is the largest city in the federal state of Saxony, Germany. With a population of 570,087 inhabitants (1,001,220 residents in the larger urban zone) it is Germany’s tenth most populous city. Leipzig is located about 160 kilometres southwest of Berlin at the confluence of the White Elster, Pleisse and Parthe rivers at the southern end of the North German Plain. Leipzig has been a trade city since at least the time of the Holy Roman Empire.

The city sits at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important Medieval trade routes. Leipzig was once one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing. Leipzig became a major urban centre within the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) after the Second World War, but its cultural and economic importance declined. Leipzig later played a significant role in instigating the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, through events which took place in and around St. Nicholas Church.

Since the reunification of Germany, Leipzig has undergone significant change with the restoration of some historical buildings, the demolition of others, and the development of a modern transport infrastructure. Leipzig today is an economic centre and the most livable city in Germany, according to the GfK marketing research institution. Oper Leipzig is one of the most prominent opera houses in Germany, and Leipzig Zoological Garden is one of the most modern zoos in Europe and ranks first in Germany and second in Europe according to Anthony Sheridan.

Since the opening of the Leipzig City Tunnel in 2013, Leipzig forms the centrepiece of the S-Bahn Mitteldeutschland public transit system. Leipzig is currently listed as Gamma World City and Germany’s “Boomtown”. Outside of Leipzig the Neuseenland district forms a huge lake area by approx 300 square kilometres.

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme,
and also part of the Ruby Tuesday 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, 28 November 2016


“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” – Oscar Wilde

Many English speakers abhor watching foreign language films as they detest subtitling. I on the contrary, not only watch foreign films with subtitles, but in these blessed days of DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, I watch even English language films with the subtitle feature on. This is necessary as the diction of many actors is absolutely terrible, the sound engineering is often despicable and the musical backing is hopelessly intrusive. Add to that some peculiarities of accent or idiomatic forms of English spoken sloppily and you end up with understanding half of what is being said if you don't have the aid of the subtitles. Needless to say I never buy any DVDs or Blu-Rays that don’t have English subtitles or closed captions.

For Movie Monday today, tow movies: The original French film and the Hollywood remake for the native speakers of English who “don’t do subtitles”. The original film (and in my opinion the funnier of the two) is the 1972 Yves Robert comedy “The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe” (Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire) starring Pierre Richard, Bernard Blier and Jean Rochefort. The Hollywood remake is the 1985 Stan Dragoti film “The Man with One Red Shoe” starring Tom Hanks, Lori Singer and Dabney Coleman. And yes, I had the subtitles turned on for both films…

The plot of both films is almost identical except for some sociopolitical, cultural and ethno-geographic adaptations in the US version (obviously!) – I give you here the US film’s plot as you are probably more likely to get your hands on this one to watch: Cooper (Dabney Coleman), the deputy director of the CIA, wants to be the director. So, he tries to make it appear that the director (Charles Durning) is corrupt so that he will resign or be removed. The director appears before a committee and asks for some time to prepare his defense. The director goes home and asks his man Brown (Ed Herrmann) to join him. He then shows Brown that Cooper is bugging him.

He then decides to turn the tables on Cooper by feeding him false information. The information being that there’s supposedly a man arriving at the airport, who might be able to clear him of the charges against him. The Director tells Brown to just pick anyone who is arriving at the airport thus making Cooper believe that he is the man who can help the director. Brown picks violinist Richard (Tom Hanks) because he is wearing mismatched shoes, one of them being a red sneaker. So Cooper sets up surveillance on Richard and sends his femme fatale, Maddy (Lori Singer) to come on to him and find out what he knows. Add a subplot of a fellow musician (Jim Belushi) who thinks his wife (Carrie Fisher) is having an affair with Richard, and the stage is set for a send-up of spy movies.

The original French film is extremely funny but also sophisticated, even though it often features slapstick, farcical situations. The lead actor, Pierre Richard, is fantastic as the hapless orchestral player who gets caught willy-nilly in the secret service shenanigans. The pace is relentless and one comical situation succeeds the next with the audience laughing out loud without effort. The rest of the cast (including the luscious Mireille Darc as the femme fatale) is exemplary in an ensemble acting effort. The music is unforgettable with a soundtrack written by Vladimir Cosma and performed by the Romanian Pan pipe player Gheorghe Zamfir.

Now, the Hollywood version. Yes, but… I guess the summary is if you haven't seen the original French movie and you moderate your expectations, you will enjoy the US version as a light-weight Spy vs Spy spoof. Hanks is very young but copes fairly well with playing the innocent bystander around whom the whole world collapses. Jim Belushi and Carrie Fisher carry on quite well (although they do ham it up a bit) as the couple with marital problems and the remainder of the cast are adequate. A nice enough, amusing movie to watch in the background on a lazy Sunday afternoon. You will chuckle here and there…

Sunday, 27 November 2016


 “A myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world.” - Alan Watt

Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov, (born May 3 [May 15, New Style], 1848, Lopyal, Vyatka province, Russia—died July 23, 1926, Moscow, Russia, U.S.S.R.) was a Russian artist, designer, and architect whose monumental works include the façade of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. He was the older brother of the painter Apollinary Vasnetsov. Born into the family of a priest, Viktor received his first drawing lessons in the Vyatsky Seminary in the early 1860s.

In 1867 he moved to St. Petersburg and enrolled in the Drawing School of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, where he was mentored by Ivan Kramskoy of the Peredvizhniki (“Wanderers”) group, which rejected the classicism of the Russian Academy. Vasnetsov later finished his studies at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts (1868–75). He was awarded the academy’s Grand Silver Medal for his sketch “Christ and Pilate Before the People” (1870). In 1878 he himself joined the Peredvizhniki.

Vasnetsov’s first works were genre paintings typical of the Peredvizhniki. In paintings such as “Moving House” (1876), “News from the Front” (1878), and “A Game of Preference” (1879), he presented with evident affection closely observed domestic scenes and characters from an array of social backgrounds. From the 1880s on, Vasnetsov’s main theme was the world of folk poetry: Tales, epics, and legends. He discovered the means to give visual expression to legendary and epic verbal phrases and imagery. Dark forest wilds, fiery sunrises and sunsets, stormy clouds—all these elements of his works helped make the legendary episodes depicted in his paintings seem to be actual events in Russian history.

For that reason paintings such as “After Prince Igor’s Battle with the Polovtsy” (1880), “Ivan Tsarevich Riding the Gray Wolf” (1889), and “Alyonushka” (1881 –illustrated above) were extremely popular in Russia. They became, in a sense, surrogates for Russian history, and during the Soviet era many were reproduced in schoolbooks and on consumer goods such as calendars, posters, and boxes of chocolates. That one of his most important paintings, “Bogatyrs” (1898), on which he worked for more than a decade, with countless preparatory studies and sketches, had just this fate is quite characteristic.

His careful approach resulted in the transformation of his paintings into pseudohistorical fantasies based on themes of Russian history. Vasnetsov designed costumes and stage sets for Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “Snegurochka” (The Snow Maiden) in 1886. He created a monumental panel, “Stone Age” (1883–85), for Moscow’s State Historical Museum. The church of Abramtsevo was also built according to his sketches, as was the Baba-Yaga Hut (1883; also called the Hut on Chicken Legs).

Shortly before the Russian Revolution of 1917, Vasnetsov created sketches of military uniforms for the Russian army, which were then used during Soviet times (such as the well-known budyonovka [initially bogatyrka] cap worn by the Red Army cavalrymen). After the revolution, Vasnetsov continued to paint folkloric themes. He died in Moscow in 1926.

Saturday, 26 November 2016


“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” - Khalil Gibran 

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (12 August 1644 [baptised] – 3 May 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist. Born in the small Bohemian town of Wartenberg (Stráž pod Ralskem), Biber worked at Graz and Kroměříž before he illegally left his Kremsier (Kroměříž) employer (Prince-Bishop Carl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno) and settled in Salzburg. He remained there for the rest of his life, publishing much of his music but apparently seldom, if ever, giving concert tours.

 Biber was one of the most important composers for the violin in the history of the instrument. His technique allowed him to easily reach the 6th and 7th positions, employ multiple stops in intricate polyphonic passages, and explore the various possibilities of scordatura tuning. He also wrote one of the earliest known pieces for solo violin, the monumental passacaglia of the “Mystery Sonatas”.

During Biber’s lifetime, his music was known and imitated throughout Europe. In the late 18th century he was named the best violin composer of the 17th century by music historian Charles Burney. In the late 20th century Biber’s music, especially the “Mystery Sonatas”, enjoyed a renaissance. Today, it is widely performed and recorded.

The “Rosary Sonatas” (also known as the “Mystery Sonatas”) are a collection of 16 short sonatas for violin and continuo, with a final passacaglia for solo violin. Each has a title related to the Christian Rosary devotion practice and possibly to the Feast of the Guardian Angels. It is presumed that the “Mystery Sonatas” were completed around 1676, but they were unknown until their publication in 1905. Once rediscovered, the “Mystery Sonatas” became Biber’s most widely known composition. The work is prized for its virtuosic vocal style, scordatura tunings and its programmatic structure.

The music of Biber was never entirely forgotten due to the high technical skill required to play many of his works; this is especially true of his works for violin. Violinists therefore always were partial to the works as they provide a showcase for their talents and they allow exploration of the violin’s potential for different sonorities and unusual chord soundings with the scordatura  tuning.

The second work in which Biber explored scordatura techniques is Harmonia Artificioso-Ariosa (1696), his last known published collection of instrumental music. It contains seven partitas for two instruments and basso continuo: five for two violins, one for two violas d’amore, and one for violin and viola. Six of the partitas require scordatura tunings, including those for viola and two violas d’amore; Biber utilises the full potential of the technique, including all possibilities for complex polyphony: Some of the pieces are in five parts, with both of the melodic instruments carrying two. Interestingly, no other chamber works by Biber use such devices, and the only other pieces to use scordatura are two of the sonatas included in Sonatae violino solo of 1681. That collection comprises eight sonatas for violin and basso continuo, all noted already by Charles Burney in late 18th century, for the brilliant virtuosic passages and elaborate structures. In contrast to both Mystery Sonatas and Harmonia, these works consist mostly of pieces in free forms (prelude, aria) or variations, rather than dances.

Here is Harmonia Artificioso-Ariosa of 1696, played by by Musica Antiqua Köln and Reinhard Goebel. You may buy these excellent CDs on Amazon.

Friday, 25 November 2016


“Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.” - Oren Arnold 

It’s that time of the year again and if you haven’t made your Christmas cake yet (like us, here), you’re leaving it a bit late. This weekend is our last chance, so here it goes, leaving it to mature a few weeks before serving it up at the Christmas table!

Christmas Fruit Cake
1kg mixed dried fruit (use a mix of raisins, sultanas, currants, cherries, cranberries, prunes, figs, candied citrus peel)
zest and juice 1 orange
zest and juice 1 lemon
150ml brandy, plus extra for feeding
250g unsalted butter , softened
200g light soft brown sugar
175g plain flour
100g finely ground almond meal
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 tsp ground cloves
1/3 tsp ground mace
100g flaked almond
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Icing of your choice (optional)

Put the dried fruit, zest and juice, brandy, butter and sugar in a large pan set over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Tip the fruit mixture into a large bowl and leave to cool for 30 mins.
Heat fan-forced oven to 130˚C. Line a deep 20cm cake tin with a double layer of baking parchment, then wrap a double layer of newspaper around the outside – tie with string to secure.
Add the remaining ingredients to the fruit mixture and stir well, making sure there are no pockets of flour. Tip into your prepared tin, level the top with a spatula and bake in the centre of the oven for 2 hrs. Remove the cake from the oven, poke holes in it with a skewer and spoon over 2 tbsp of brandy. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin.
To store, peel off the baking parchment, then wrap well in cling film. Feed the cake with 1-2 tbsp brandy every fortnight, until you ice it. Don’t feed the cake for the final week to give the surface a chance to dry before icing.

Feel free to share a recipe of your own:

Thursday, 24 November 2016


“A little backbiting gives life piquant sharpness.” - Agatha Christie 

Helichrysum italicum is a flowering plant of the daisy family Asteraceae. It is sometimes called the curry plant because of the strong smell of its leaves. It grows on dry, rocky or sandy ground around the Mediterranean. The stems are woody at the base and can reach 60 cm or more in height. The clusters of yellow flowers are produced in summer, they retain their colour after picking and are used in dried flower arrangements. 

An oil is produced from its blossoms, which is used for medicinal purposes. It is anti-inflammatory, fungicidal, and astringent. It soothes burns and raw chapped skin. It is used as a fixative in perfumes and has an intense fragrance. It has been claimed on some gardening forums that the curry plant is as effective a cat deterrent as the “scaredy-cat” plant, Plectranthus caninus (also known as Coleus canina).

This plant is used as a herb. Although called “curry plant” and smelling like curry powder, it has nothing whatsoever to do with this mixture of spices, nor with the curry tree (Murraya koenigii), and is not used as masala for curry dishes either. Rather, in cooking it has a resinous, somewhat bitter aroma reminiscent of sage or wormwood and is used like these: The young shoots and leaves are stewed in Mediterranean meat, fish or vegetable dishes til they have imparted their flavour, and removed before serving. Use cautiously as the flavour is intense!

A flowering branch in the language of flowers means: “Your manner is piquant”.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016


“Only the broken-hearted know the truth about love.” - Mason Cooley

“Post-Truth” is Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year. The Oxford Dictionaries website told readers post-truth could be “one of the defining words of our time.” The term comes from an idea that became popular during the 2016 election campaign in the United States. Post-truth, as the website defines it, means to relate to situations where “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Oxford Dictionaries officials say they chose post-truth as Word of the Year because of its rising popularity. They said the term’s usage appeared to increase 2,000% in 2016 alone…

I note this as the Midweek Motif in the Poets United site this week relates to “stretching the truth” or to give it a more literary mien, to “use hyperbole”. This means to make exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally; and as a literary device relates to use exaggeration, going beyond the truth, in order to make a point. The word comes from the Greek: “huperbolē” meaning ‘excess’ (from huper ‘above’ + ballein ‘to throw’).

When in love we live in a world of hyperboles and our emotions are working overtime, being thrown above and beyond the ordinary, our every action and word being an exaggeration. Hence my poem is a love poem, which I cast in the form of a folk song – once again rather aptly, given the theme this week:

How Much Do I Love You?

I love you, dear, as heaven’s high
As deep as deep blue sea;
As broad and wide as endless sky
As tall as greenwood tree.

My love as endless, darling heart,
As universe no bounds;
And for each lovely starry part
My love expands its grounds.

To me you are more precious, love,
Than all the purest gold;
Rich gems and jewels I think of
Unmoved will leave me, cold.

Your sparkling eyes so lucent, clear,
Put diamonds bright to shame;
Your rosy lips so fiery red appear,
That put out fulgent flame.

I love you, dear, as hell is hot,
And as the ice is frozen;
My love for you a steady thought
For you’re the one I’ve chosen.

The illustration is a detail from John William Waterhouse's painting" "The Soul of the Rose".