Gourmandism is an act of judgment, by which we prefer things which have a pleasant taste to those which lack this quality.” - Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Leap year day!
The yellow violet, Viola biflora, is today’s birthday flower. It symbolises rarity, worth and rural happiness. Astrologically, the violet is under the dominion of Venus and the sign of Aries. In the Middle Ages, together with the wallflower, the violet was considered a symbol of constancy. A golden violet was the prize awarded to the best versifier in competitions where the troubadours sang their ballads.
The intercalary day of February 29th is added every four years except in those century years that cannot be divided evenly by 400 (e.g. 1700, 1800, 1900). In those years February has 28 days. In the Roman calendar the intercalary day was added after February 23rd (i.e. VII Kalends March) and the leap day was called VI Kalends of March, the same as the day that followed it. In a leap Roman year therefore there were two days that were called VI Kalends of March and the year was known as a bissextile year (i.e. sixth twice year).
The Leap Year’s Day was regarded as an unlucky day and many ill omens were associated with it. This arises from the belief that it was the birthday of Biblical Job, which he blighted when he cursed the day he was born. The Lord, in His mercy only allowed it to occur once every four years. No new tasks were begun on this day and often candles were lit in churches so that the blight of the day would not influence the fate of the faithful.
The field forget-me-not, Myosotis arvensis, is a flower that was traditionally exchanged between friends on this day. If one began to travel on February 29th, it was customary to give them this bloom. It symbolises remembrance and true love.
Traditionally, in some countries, February 29th was the time when “ladies have full and absolute licence to propose marriage to single gentlemen. If the gentleman be so rude as to refuse, he is infallibly bound to give the spurned lady a present, which is usually a pair of new gloves on Easter Day.” In 1228 a law was passed in Scotland allowing women to propose marriage only in a leap year.
Gioacchino Antonio Rossini (1792–1868) was an Italian operatic composer. Of his many lively operas, The Barber of Seville (1816) is his comic masterpiece. After composing the opera William Tell (1829), he wrote only songs, piano pieces, and the Stabat Mater (1842). Some early works of his worth listening to are the String Sonatas 1-6 written at the age of twelve and anticipating the wit and lively nature of his mature music. My very first exposure to live Classical music played by a real orchestra was in my childhood and the fine piece that made me love the genre forever was a wonderful Rossini piece, “La Gazza Ladra” (Thieving Magpie) Overture. Here is Claudio Abbado with the Wiener Philharmoniker in the 1991 New Year’s Concert. Although the march that starts it is brash and showy, wait for the lovely and gentle lacework about two-and-a-half minutes into the work!
St Cassianus, whose feast day it is today, is considered by Greek heortology to be the patron saint of the lazy as his feast day falls only once every four years! He is often depicted holding keys, which the Greek people interpret as the “keys of laziness”.
And this being food Friday, let’s stay with birthday boy Rossini and talk about Tournedos Rossini!
By the time Rossini retired (at the grand old age of… 37!), he had made a fortune out of his very successful operas. He spent the next 40 years of his life enjoying himself, amusing friends with his short witty pieces for the piano (“Sins of Old Age”) and wining and dingin. Once, in a letter to a friend, he wrote that "I travel not so much for the sake of my music as for that of my stomach". He spent most his retirement in Aris and h became a well known habitué of such fine Parisian restaurants as the Tour d'Argent, Bonfinger, the Cafe des Anglais, Maison Dorée, Lucas and Marguery, where he would meet with his friends and mistresses.
In each of these restaurants he had a table that was reserved for his exclusive use. When he went into the restaurant, he used to shake the hands of the maitre d’ hotel, the wine steward and each of the waiters. He then went into the kitchen to personally greet the chef and only then would he take his place and order dinner.
Casimir Moisson, the greatest chef at Maison Dorée created and dedicated these two renowned dishes to Rossini.
Eggs à la Rossini Ingredients For the Brown Sauce: 1 and 1/2 tbsp. Madeira wine 3/4 tbsp. cornflour 1 and 1/4 cups veal stock salt and pepper to taste For the Eggs: 1/4 cup butter 250 gram foie gras (goose liver pâté), sliced 3 - 4 tinned truffles, drained and sliced 8 eggs salt and pepper
Method To make the brown sauce, mix in a small bowl the Madeira and cornflour to make a paste. Bring the stock to a boil and gradually whisk the paste into the hot stock. Return to the boil, whisking constantly, and then simmer until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper and then strain through a fine cloth. Makes about 1 and1/4 cups.
In a skillet melt 3 tbsp. of the butter and in this, sauté the foie gras. In a separate skillet, melt the remaining butter and toss the truffles in the hot butter. Poach the eggs and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place each egg on a slice of the foie gras, top with truffle slices and cover with the brown sauce. Serve at once. (Serves 4 or 8).
Tournedos Rossini Ingredients 6 tbsp. butter 4 slices foie gras (goose liver pâté) 4 slices white bread, without crusts and trimmed to the size of the tournedos 4 tournedos (fine bon fillets of beef, about 3 cm thick) salt and pepper to taste 2 tbsp. olive oil 3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly about 1/2 cup brown sauce (see instructions in previous recipe) 2 truffles, sliced (optional)
Method In a small skillet melt 2 tbsp. of the butter and in this gently sauté the foie gras slices. In a separate small skillet melt 2 tbsp. of butter and in this fry the white bread slices until nicely browned on both sides. Season the tournedos with salt and pepper. In a skillet heat together 2 tbsp. of the butter and the olive oil and in this sauté the garlic just until it beings to brown. With a slotted spoon remove and discard the garlic. Place the tournedos in the skillet and cook over a high flame so that the meat is nicely browned on the exterior and pink on the inside. Place each tournedo on a toasted bread crouton. In the skillet in which the meat was fried, briefly sauté the truffles. On each tournedo lay a slice of the foie gras and over these distribute the truffles. Heat the pan juices and then add the brown sauce, stirring together well. Pour a small amount of the sauce over the meat and serve immediately. Serve the remaining sauce separately. (Serves 4).
Today’s birthday flower is the tuberose, Polyanthes tuberosa. Its name is derived from the tubers it sprouts from and the generic name is from the Greek, polys = “much, many” and anthes = “flowering”. It was first introduced into Western Europe in the 16th century from the East. A Dutch florist, La Cour, became obsessed with the sweetly scented flower and he succeeded in developing the now familiar double flowering varieties. Tuberoses quickly became the rage and were much sought after in aristocratic circles. The plant symbolises passionate and voluptuous love. Exchanged between lovers it indicated a strong mutual sexual attraction. In Malaysia, the tuberose is known as “mistress of the night”.
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, essayist was born on this day in 1533. His birthplace was Château de Montaigne, Périgord, SW France and he spoke no language other than Latin until he was six. He received his early education at Bordeaux, then studied law, making him a natural for a post in connection with the Parlement of Bordeaux. For 13 years he was a city counsellor, later becoming mayor. A translation (1569) of the Natural History of a 15th century professor at Toulouse was his first attempt at literature, and supplied the text for his “Apologie de Raymon Sebond”. In 1571 he succeeded to the family estate at Montaigne, and lived the life of a country gentleman, varied by visits to Paris and a tour in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. He is remembered for his “Essais” (1572–80, 1588) on the new ideas and personalities of the time, which introduced a new literary genre – the essay – what Matthew Arnold was later to call ‘the dialogue of the mind with itself’. Quoted by Shakespeare, imitated by Bacon, and incorporated into the discourse of the novel, Montaigne's essays have provided a major contribution to literary history and provided for intellectual stimulation and food for thought down the ages.
Here is a link to the online text edition of the essays of 1575, translated by Charles Cotton.
These essays are delightful works, learned and wise; amusing and deeply thought-provoking, erudite and discursive; philosophical and engaging; curios and fanciful…
essay noun |ˈesā| 1 a short piece of writing on a particular subject. 2 formal an attempt or effort : a misjudged essay. • a trial design of a postage stamp yet to be accepted. verb |eˈsā| |ɛˈseɪ| |ɛˈseɪ| [ trans. ] formal attempt or try : essay a smile. ORIGIN late 15th cent. (as a verb in the sense [test the quality of] ): alteration of assay , by association with Old French essayer, based on late Latin exagium ‘weighing,’ from the base of exigere ‘ascertain, weigh’ ; the noun (late 16th cent.) is from Old French essai ‘trial.’
“The dream reveals the reality which conception lags behind. That is the horror of life.” - Franz Kafka
A poem that I wrote when I was a young University student, in my first year at University and inspired by a night out at the theatre. A walk in the darkened streets and a quiet reflection alone in my room that very night. It’s long and it’s dark. Just like that remembered night.
Tall, blonde, beautiful, haughty in her perfection, She holds on to him possessively - A most suitable match. The silk feels like a caress on her flawless skin While he wears Parisian ties To match his film star physique. The restaurant. The bar. The hotel. The Members’ Lounge.
The columns of the Town Hall In spotlit splendour, Befitting Gala Night. Corinthian columns, Smooth stone, polished marble, Peach, apricot, soft pastel pink...
“We are on a hunger strike” “This is what living on the dole is like”: Amidst the carefully pruned greenery, (A quasi-horticultural display) Of multicoloured tributes to the florist’s art, At the base of the rosaceous columns, Blending with the dirty sidewalk flagstones, Three demonstrators camp Outside the Town Hall.
She can walk by, Safely hovering on another plane Perched high above them on her stiletto heels, Silk stockings, brand new, to match her once-worn outfits, And not two paces down She smirks and laughs, Her eyes dismissing them Her mind brushing aside their presence As one would brush away an annoying gnat.
Unshaven faces, matted hair, Makeshift sleeping arrangements On the cold, dirty pavement. Big signs. Glaring letters: “$90 a week”
Down the city street he hobbles Carrying his weight on two crutches Flesh and bone like dead ballast, Walking alone. Deformed and bent and stunted He moves quickly As though he is trying to escape from The blasphemy of his body. He shakes, trembles, totters... His spindly legs unsteady Making obscene efforts at a rapid walk, His big head set crookedly, Only his eyes beautiful, Large, liquid, soft and brown. Innocent, blameless, Like the eyes of the puppy sitting by the demonstrators’ side.
The perfect couple pass by the cripple Their eyes oblivious to his pain, Their eyes only full of each other. Ignoring him they share a joke, Laughter… He walks on, or rather, Hobbles, drags himself, staggers past them, His eyes pinned on them Their every perfection A million diamond pins Impaling their hard, relentless points In every part of his misshapen hulk.
Champagne and toasts. And multicoloured lights; What fun! How entertaining! Our life’s a movie, And yes, all the world’s a stage. The theatre full of cruelly gazing spectators Each eager to catch a glimpse of his own secret vice Each eager to denounce it when in other players is seen.
The lights, The night air - how cold it is tonight! The policemen, The youths, drunk, packed in their converted Holdens, The tattoos on their arms Leering profanely, Revelling in their indelibility.
Masterpiece! Our life moves in pre-ordained, Dictated steps as outlined by Your divine wisdom! Oh yes, I have forgotten, All moving to the beat of a rock rhythm. The world: The most beautiful. This world of beauty, peace, contentment, This most perfect place!
The billboards scream in lurid fonts: “You too will be like me! Use...” “Desirable, lovable, irresistible! Use...” Blank faces, lonely, haunted eyes, Clutched hands, writhing fingers, Empty bodies stacked in the rattling trams. “Why won’t he hold my hand?” “Oh, Mum, why can’t I ask you, Why won’t he hold my hand?”
The trees still make a show Of their young, green, new leaves Even under the harsh glow of artificial light. The University spotlit, deserted, Still looks respectable, And secure, And permanent, Just as it ought to! Its hallowed halls ringing by day To laughter of tall blondes And their perfectly matched consorts.
You only live once, So live in silk, And drink champagne. Amuse yourself, Go to the theatre, Laugh As you watch the world Perverted through its prism.
Masterpiece! “A masque, we must have a masque! Prepare the costumes, Lay on the paint, don the wigs!” Titters run through the audience As on stage a man dared to kiss another. Even you must laugh sitting next to your wife, Although you want to cry.
The cripple outside hobbles, stumbles, tries to run. The unemployed demonstrators shiver, Make ready for the coldest part of the night ahead. An old derelict rummages through the rubbish. A policeman waves him on. A drunk lies in stupor under a flashing neon sign: “BAR” - “BAR” - “BAR”.
The colleges loom dark on the right up ahead, Three students are returning there. They laugh deliriously Immersed in shallow, selfish joys, What fun they’ve had tonight, As much as they will have tomorrow, Twice as much as last night! And everything moves in pre-ordained, Dictated steps as outlined by Your divine wisdom! Oh yes, I have forgotten, All moves to the beat of a rock rhythm. Why should I want to cry?
The exclusive restaurant lit discreetly Shines forth in the darkened avenue Just like a precious topaz sunlit In the bottom of a dark pool. The perfect couple dine within. The wine is chilled to the precise temperature (A wine thermometer is used to check this). “New season’s colours: Dusty pink, sage, lemon, lilac...” Black leather profiles, flawlessness. Sex, perfection, lust, flesh. The body beautiful.
The advertisements howl: “Be like me, Use...” The glasses touch, the crystal rings Smiles show gleaming white teeth, Smiles part ruby lips, Smiles thin the sensuous mouths.
Dark streets, Wind-buffeted empty cigarette packets, Yesterday’s paper announcing new wars, Jangling empty tin cans, The same brand as those on the poster up above... The leaves rustle and the boughs bend. A stray dog roams the streets Sniffing at the overturned garbage cans. A retarded child sleeps oblivious to all that the night hides, His dreams featureless, his unconsciousness Clouded by the cocoon of the Institution walls around him.
The perfect couple exchange coy glances Painted eyes and thickened lashes Transmit messages and mete out covert promises. The glint of an engagement diamond. The drunk stirs in his saturated slumber, A smile plays upon his lips As faded childhood images torture his dreams.
Why does it all hurt me so? Why must everything be more acutely felt When one is alone? Why is it all so nightmarishly unreal? Why should my soul feel dead inside After I had seen the cripple’s eyes outside the Town Hall? Why does the music hurt me so tonight? Why does each note become a dagger Stabbing me through and through? Why must I be asked when I get home: “Why do you look as though you want to cry? What happened, why are you sad? Tell me tomorrow, now it’s late, Go to bed!”
The radio blares its rock drivel, The record whines its classical perfection. The trite and the deep, Philosophy, pop culture. The newspaper whispers: The psychology of advertising, Self-sufficiency, Macro-economic reform, New fears of famine in Africa, Sustainable economic growth,
The advertisements continue to scream: Consume, consume, consume, More, more, more!
Leisure studies, boredom, Long Weekends, The masses. The theatre goers. Lady X wearing her tiara. The cripple meeting the perfect couple; He sees them in all their perfection, His imperfection making him invisible, Non-existent to them. The demonstrators sleeping under the rosy columns, The little retarded boy smiling even in his sleep, The drunk kicking nightmarish pursuers as he rolls into the gutter. Why does the music hurt?
Masterpiece! Everything in wisdom was created, Our life moves in pre-ordained, Dictated steps as outlined by Your divine wisdom! Oh yes, I have forgotten, All moves to the beat of a rock rhythm.
Locked up churches, Darkened spires, lit motorways, Garish discotheques, Painted whores peddling caresses, One night stands, Nice girls who do Good girls who don’t.
The organ peals, Here comes the bride, The groom awaits in spotless splendour. The bride in white lace, pure, virginal. Ha! The best man, striped grey flannel, Happy relatives, “I always cry at weddings...” The reception; “Was it at the charity function I saw you last, Or was it at Uncle Norman’s funeral?”
The Prince plays polo. Some Ethiopian is dying of hunger. Some bomb is being dropped somewhere tonight. The demonstrators sleep outside the Town Hall. The cripple sleeps alone and dreams in technicolour. The drunk is shifting in his stupor and mumbles incoherencies. The perfect couple are entwined and moan in ecstasy. The billboards howl more loudly than the wind. The newspaper susurrates half-truths. The youths kick the drunk till he passes out, bleeding. The rosy columns are so beautiful, but cold. The church is tall, solid, permanent but locked. The family is sleeping quietly unawares. I cannot sleep. Why am I crying?
“The true way to render ourselves happy is to love our work and find in it our pleasure.” – Françoise de Motteville
Part of my new job involves travelling (mainly interstate, but occasionally internationally also). Today I had a day trip to Sydney – you could say that I commuted to Sydney for the day. The mind boggles how nowadays we can wake up, make our way to the airport and an hour later be in another city, 800 km away, put in a day’s work and then take the plane back to our home town and sleep in our own comfortable bed. It is a rather hectic day, but it achieves much because even in these days of high technology and instant communication of a number of different kinds, the face-to-face contact and interaction that meeting someone across a table entails is not possible with the technology. Also of course, one can have a very nice lunch with one’s colleagues. I must say that very often, it is these informal social interactions over lunch, over a cup of coffee, while talking about a variety of topics, that allow one to achieve quite a lot of the business at hand also.
The weather in Sydney today was very pleasant, sunny and warm, just to spite the weather bureau who had predicted storms and a downpour (although the sky did look ominous as we were flying out of Sydney airport). The pleasant weather allowed to go and have a very nice lunch in a delightful restaurant in Crows Nest, called “Garfish”. As the name suggests, it specialises in seafood, which is very fresh and exquisitely cooked. Although the conversation at lunch was agreed not to be worked related, we didn’t honour our agreement and work was discussed…
Overall, an enjoyable day that achieved a lot. There is a lot of satisfaction associated with having done a day’s work that has been enjoyable but which has also achieved much. I like my new job as it has a lot of variety (and routine is something that I do not like). Now I’m off to write my report for the day’s work!
“There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.”- Federico Fellini
Movies are amazing not only because they entertain and amuse us, not only because they make us think and soul search, not only because they are art, but because they are also important social documents. I am sure that in the future many films will be used as an integral part of educational programs, in sociology, history, politics, anthropology and many other subjects at school and University. This function of film as a document of certain people at a certain time and place, behaving in a certain way, and interacting with each other in peculiar ways is an amazing function of film that is being underused even today. I am sure that many school subjects would be enhanced if they were accompanied by viewing of films from not only the early decades of the 20th century, but even of films from the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s!
We watched a classic Italian film from the 50s last Sunday and this was the third time I had watched it and enjoyed it as much as the first time that I ever did. It is Fellini’s “La Strada” of 1954. The film is a masterpiece of understatement and of the grim realism of the 50s of Italian cinema. Forget your tourist brochure, picture card and holiday snapshot views of Italy, this version of Italy is of a country that has almost bled to death in World War II, and which is trying desperately to survive. The desolate black and white wintry landscapes and the bare trees of the countryside compete with the miserable common people depicted in the film, in an effort to live and bloom again.
Fellini has constructed a fine drama, but also a social document and a takes a hard, critical view of the conditions that the populace has been forced to live in. The film is superficially simple and the story is not embellished with a subplot. Gelsomina a simple young woman from a poor family (played to perfection by Giulietta Masina) is sold by her mother to the itinerant strongman Zampanó (a young Anthony Quinn) who requires an assistant in his busking act. Gelsomina and Zampanó cannot stand one another, but also are bonded together in their struggle to survive and in their search for happiness. Their lot falls together with a travelling circus and a tightrope walker, “Il Matto” (the Madman, played by Richard Basehart) helps Gelsomina discover her purpose in life and where her happiness lies.
The film ends in tragedy, but the beautiful moments that embellish it, make of it a poetic and glorious document of optimism and beauty. Gelsomina does not have much to say, but she has to act with her eyes, her face, her hands, her body. Quinn plays the tough guy convincingly and he has his much needed epiphany later rather than sooner. Richard Basehart is young and plays with much gusto, while all supporting players are very good. The film score is perfect and the elegiac theme so suited to Gelsomina is quite beautiful.
The film won best Foreign Language film Oscar for 1954, and well-deserved it was! Watch it if you get hold of it, it shouldn’t be very hard to find.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.