“The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago... had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands.” - Havelock Ellis
I met an alien today, who had just clambered out of his spaceship in a forest where I was walking. He approached me and we looked at each other in wonderment. He spread his hands out in a greeting, and bewitched he looked at the beautiful green trees, the flowing stream, the butterflies flitting about, the birds singing and the clear blue sky above. He gently touched a flower and he said:
“You live on a beautiful planet, I don’t think I’ve seen one more beautiful in all of my travels across the universe.”
“I know,” I replied, “but many of my fellows often forget it…”
“It is as fragile as it is beautiful, like a soap bubble or a clear crystal.” He said.
“Beautiful things are easily spoilt.” I mused. “And we earthlings are not as wise as this planet deserves. We have evolved, it is true, but we have lost our sensitivity and we have become unbalanced.”
He looked at me sadly and he sat down on the grass, tenderly. He breathed in deeply and he continued:
“Your air is still fragrant and fresh here. I come from an elderly planet that my fellows poisoned and which is now dying. We were forced to abandon it, searching for a new habitable world. A pity that such a beautiful planet as yours is inhabited. I would have liked to live here. Is there another one like it nearby?”
“No,” I replied, “this is a rare and enchanting planet, and you will have to search long and hard to find another like it. Alas, my fellows do not appreciate it as they should.”
“Why do you say that? I see a green forest, a clear stream, birds, animals, butterflies, you!” He said.
“This is one of the last few vestiges of wilderness. In South America the rainforest is being burnt. In Asia the trees are being cut down for timber. We waste our precious resources, we fail to renew and we do not think of the future. We are poisoning our oceans and polluting our air. We are driving our animals to extinction and the sun once our friend is now burning us. Our glaciers are melting and our seas are rising. Earthquakes are happening all the more frequently and tidal waves are drowning our islands. The climate is disrupted and we are hurtling towards destruction. We are blind and do not see the precipice which yawns open in front of us…”
He looked at me tears welled in his eyes.
“Then, you too are destined to become interstellar refugees like us…”
I nodded and gestured around me at the precious reserve where I worked.
“Stay a while, be my guest, I like whoever appreciates what we are losing.”
“No, I must away! My people are depending on me. But please, may take a few seeds with me? A flower or two and a green branch? The mothership is in orbit high above and they will rejoice in what I shall take back with me, if you give it me.”
I gave him what he wanted and more. He who has lost something precious deserves at least a memory of what he squandered.
Happy Earth Day! Let us not lose the irreplaceable…
“After eating chocolate you feel godlike, as though you can conquer enemies, lead armies, entice lovers.” Emily Luchetti
Another busy day at work, with lots of meetings, many staff coming in to see me (I have an open door policy and try to make time for everyone), writing of official letters, signing papers and certificates, etc, etc. We had some bad news at home with some friends’ family losing the mother to a stroke at age 60 years. Everyone was devastated as she was a kind, good and beautiful person, having a fantastic family and many friends, involved in charity work, and helping whoever asked for her help. Very sad…
To culminate this week’s busy-ness and tenseness I am going for some escapist, feel-good food. A dessert recipe and what’s more, chocolate! I first saw this cake made by a TV chef and then we had the opportunity to try it at a restaurant. A friend recently sent us the recipe, which we still haven’t tried. If you try it out before us, please tell us what it was like:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup hot coffee or water
1 and a 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, separated
Cocoa powder for the tops
Ice cream or custard sauce for serving
These individual chocolate cakes have a soft centre of chocolate fudge that erupts in a rich, dark puddle from the warm cakes. They're best served just out of the oven. For the filling, line a plastic ice cube tray with a large piece of plastic wrap. With your fingers, gently poke the plastic down into eight of the cubes so they are fully lined with plastic.
Melt the chocolate with the cream and corn syrup; whisk until smooth. Add the vanilla extract; set aside to cool until tepid. Fill the eight lined ice cube cups with the chocolate; freeze at least 4 hours, or cover and freeze up to a month.
For the cakes, place rack in centre of the oven and heat to 210 degrees C. Generously butter eight 4-ounce soufflé dishes or ramekins. Place them on a jellyroll pan. Melt the chocolate with the coffee. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes. Stir in vanilla extract. Cream the butter with 1/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stop the mixer and stir in the chocolate mixture. Fold in the flour and salt with a spatula. Beat the egg whites with a clean mixer until they hold soft peaks. Add the remaining sugar, one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. Continue beating until thick and glossy. Thoroughly mix one quarter of the beaten egg whites into chocolate batter; gently fold in the rest.
Fill each prepared soufflé dish about halfway full with the chocolate batter. Gently bury a frozen chocolate cube in the centre of each; add remaining batter, filling cups almost to the top. Bake until cakes are puffy and set, 18 to 20 minutes. Gently loosen from the sides of the dishes and invert onto serving plates. Sift cocoa over and serve with ice cream.
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.” - Herman Melville
I had a very busy day at work today and a couple of meetings one of which was very stormy as people were being uncooperative and unwilling to help others either because they were too busy or because it was not their problem or because they couldn’t care less. I work in an environment where teamwork is vital to what we all do. Unless there is teamwork there is failure. Unfortunately I realized that many of my colleagues still had not realised this and was reminded of a story my grandfather used to tell me:
“Once upon a time there was a little mouse that lived in a farmhouse. One day he saw from his little hole in the wall the farmer and his wife opening up a packet that had just arrived in the post. It was a big, modern, efficient, mousetrap! The mouse lost no time and ran into the barn to announce the news:
“There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house, help! Help me, please!”
The chicken cackled and said:
“Hmm, yes it is a big problem for you Mousey, but it’s got nothing to do with me! I don’t particularly care if there is mousetrap in the house.”
The mouse turned to the sow and said:
“There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house, help! Help me please!”
The sow turned to the mouse and was very sympathetic:
“Yes, I see you have a big problem to solve Mr Mouse, but all I can really do for you is to pray. And I’ll do that forthwith. I can’t give you any other help, I’ve got a litter of piglets to take care of and you know what trouble they are!”
The mouse then went to the cow and announced mournfully:
“There is a mousetrap in the house, help me please!”
The cow turned to the mouse and said annoyed:
“Go away mouse, I’ve got enough problems of my own. Milk production is down and I must think of ways to improve it. Mousetraps are mouse problems, I’m too big to care about such trifles. The most a mousetrap can do is nip my hoof…”
The mouse went away and crawled back into his hole dismayed, knowing that he could count on nobody except himself to resolve his mousetrap problem. The next night there was a loud bang in the kitchen and the farmer’s wife woke up and knew the mousetrap had caught a mouse. She was curious to go and see it and crept into the kitchen to see the results. Unfortunately the mousetrap had caught a snake by the tail. It was writhing and carrying on, and she in her consternation went too close and the snake bit her. She screamed and screamed and the farmer woke up and fortunately was able to rush her to hospital and so save her life.
When they got back home, the farmer’s wife continued to be sick and was confined to bed. The farmer had to care for her and of course to look after her and make her well, he had to do something drastic. He took the hatchet to the hen, and made some nutritious and delicious chicken soup. His wife improved somewhat and the farmer was happy for the sacrifice he had made. However, in a few days time, the wife started to get worse again. The doctor advised that she needed looking after 24 hours a day and prescribed lots of medicines but the prognosis was not good. If she would get better, it would be a very long time. The farmer called upon friends and relatives and they all came to help and stayed to look after his wife. They all needed feeding of course, so the pig had to be killed next (the piglets had been weaned!).
Unfortunately, after a while the wife died. There was funeral and it was well-attended because the farmer and his wife were good people and had many friends. The farmer killed the cow to feed everyone at the funeral.
The mouse watched all of this with great sadness from his little hole in the wall. He thought of how little his problem had been and how easily it would have been resolved if everyone had pitched in to help him…
Next time someone asks for your help to resolve HIS little problem, help him, even if it is not much of your concern. Even if each one of us is an individual, we are also part of a community. We each need to understand himself and understand others, take care of others and be taken care of himself…”
And aptly, our word of the day is:
neighbour |ˈnābər| noun
A person living near or next door to the speaker or person referred to: Our garden was the envy of the neighbours.
• A person or place in relation to others near or next to it: I chatted with my neighbour on the flight to New York. | Matching our investment levels with those of our North American neighbours.
• Any person in need of one's help or kindness (after biblical use) : Love thy neighbour as thyself.
verb [ trans. ]
(of a place or thing) be situated next to or very near (another): The square neighbours the old quarter of the town | [as adj. ] ( neighbouring) A couple at a neighbouring table. DERIVATIVES neighbourless adjective ORIGIN Old English nēahgebūr, from nēah [nigh, near] + gebūr [inhabitant, peasant, farmer] (compare with boor ).
“For the great Gaels of Ireland / Are the men that God made mad, / For all their wars are merry, / And all their songs are sad.” – G.K. Chesterton
Happy St Patrick’s Day! This is a predominantly Irish holiday honouring the missionary credited with converting the Irish to Christianity in the 5th century AD. He was born around 373 AD in either Scotland (near the town of Dumbarton) or in Roman Britain (the Romans left Britain in 410 AD). His real name is believed to be Maewyn Succat . He was kidnapped at the age of 16 by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. During his 6-year captivity, while he worked as a shepherd, he began to have religious visions, and found strength in his faith. He finally escaped, going to France, where he became a priest, taking on the name of Patrick. When he was about 60 years old, St. Patrick travelled to Ireland to spread the Christian word. Reputedly, Patrick had a winning personality, which helped him to convert the fun-loving Irish to Christianity. He used the shamrock, which resembles a three-leafed clover, as a metaphor to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. Saint Patrick allegedly drove all snakes out of Ireland. This may be an allegory, as the snake was one of the revered pagan symbols.
Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated all around the world in countries with a large Irish migrant population (e.g. Australia and the USA). In these countries people of Irish sympathy wear green and party. Green is associated with Saint Patrick’s Day because it is the colour of spring, Ireland, and the shamrock. Leprechauns are also associated with this holiday, because they figure so prominently in Irish folklore. Leprechauns look like small, old men (about 2 feet tall), often dressed like a shoemaker, with a cocked hat and a leather apron. According to legend, leprechauns are aloof and unfriendly, live alone, and pass the time making shoes... They also possess a hidden pot of gold. Treasure hunters can often track down a leprechaun by the sound of his shoemaker's hammer. If caught, he can be forced (with the threat of bodily violence) to reveal the whereabouts of his treasure, but the captor must keep their eyes on him every second. If the captor's eyes leave the leprechaun (and he often tricks them into looking away), he vanishes and all hopes of finding the treasure are lost.
What's good luck on Saint Patrick’s Day? Finding a four-leaf clover! (That’s double the good luck it usually is). Wearing green: School children have started a little tradition of their own - they pinch classmates who don't wear green on this holiday. Kissing the blarney stone: The Blarney Stone is a stone set in the wall of the Blarney Castle tower in the Irish village of Blarney. Kissing the stone is supposed to bring the kisser the gift of persuasive eloquence (blarney). The castle was built in 1446 by Cormac Laidhiv McCarthy (Lord of Muskerry) - its walls are 18 feet thick (necessary to thwart attacks by Cromwellians and William III's troops). Thousands of tourists a year still visit the castle. The origins of the Blarney Stone’s magical properties are not clear, but one legend says that an old woman cast a spell on the stone to reward a king who had saved her from drowning. Kissing the stone while under the spell gave the king the ability to speak sweetly and convincingly. It is difficult to reach the stone as it is between the main castle wall and the parapet. Kissers have to lie on their back and bend backward (and downward), holding iron bars for support.
An Irish blessing to take with you today: May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow
And may trouble avoid you wherever you go.
Ireland became independent in 1921 after a series of fierce struggles. Dublin is the capital city and other cities include Limerick, Cork, Galway, Waterford and Sligo. The cool wet climate ensures that this is truly an “emerald island” of rich pastures with much livestock, meat and dairy products being produced in abundance. Lead, zinc, peat, oil and natural gas reserves are also being exploited. The population is about 4 million and the area is about 69,000 square km.
And for Poetry Wednesday, an Irish poem by an Irishman:
Red Hanrahan's Song About Ireland
THE old brown thorn-trees break in two high over Cummen Strand,
Under a bitter black wind that blows from the left hand;
Our courage breaks like an old tree in a black wind and dies,
But we have hidden in our hearts the flame out of the eyes
Of Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.
The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knock- narea,
And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say.
Angers that are like noisy clouds have set our hearts abeat;
But we have all bent low and low and kissed the quiet feet
Of Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.
The yellow pool has overflowed high up on Clooth-na-Bare,
For the wet winds are blowing out of the clinging air;
Like heavy flooded waters our bodies and our blood;
But purer than a tall candle before the Holy Rood
Is Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan. William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was born in Dublin. His father was a lawyer and a well-known portrait painter. Yeats was educated in London and in Dublin, but he spent his summers in the west of Ireland in the family's summerhouse at Connaught. The young Yeats was very much part of the fin de siècle in London; at the same time he was active in societies that attempted an Irish literary revival. His first volume of verse appeared in 1887, but in his earlier period his dramatic production outweighed his poetry both in bulk and in import. Together with Lady Gregory he founded the Irish Theatre, which was to become the Abbey Theatre, and served as its chief playwright until the movement was joined by John Synge. His plays usually treat Irish legends; they also reflect his fascination with mysticism and spiritualism. The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart's Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The King's Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907) are among the best known.
After 1910, Yeats's dramatic art took a sharp turn toward a highly poetical, static, and esoteric style. His later plays were written for small audiences; they experiment with masks, dance, and music, and were profoundly influenced by the Japanese Noh plays. Although a convinced patriot, Yeats deplored the hatred and the bigotry of the Nationalist movement, and his poetry is full of moving protests against it. He was appointed to the Irish Senate in 1922. Yeats is one of the few writers whose greatest works were written after the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. Whereas he received the Prize chiefly for his dramatic works, his significance today rests on his lyric achievement. His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), made him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English. His recurrent themes are the contrast of art and life, masks, cyclical theories of life (the symbol of the winding stairs), and the ideal of beauty and ceremony contrasting with the hubbub of modern life.
“A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by
One after one; the sound of rain, and bees
Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,
Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky -
I've thought of all by turns, and still I lie
Sleepless…” - William Wordsworth
The common valerian, Valeriana officinalis, is the day’s birthday flower. It symbolises a good disposition and the astrologers assign the plant to Mercury. Valerian is thought to have aphrodisiac properties and it was thought in the past that if a girl wore valerian she would not have a shortage of suitors. Valerian is used by herbalists to treat anxiety and also as a sedative. Many natural herbal preparations use valerian as a gentle sleep-inducing agent. The mechanism of action of valerian in general, as a mild sedative in particular, remains unknown. Valerian extracts appear to have some affinity for the GABAA (benzodiazepine) receptor. Valerian also contains isoavalerate, which has been shown to be an agonist for adenosine A1 receptor sites. This action may contribute to the herb's sedative effects.
The Song of the Swallow
See! See! The swallow is here!
She brings good season, she brings a good year;
White is her breast and black is her crest;
See the swallow is here!
Ho! A roll of fruit cake from your well-filled cot,
Of cheese a fair round, of wine a full pot;
Porridge she’ll take and a bite of hardbake;
She never despises good cheer.
Go we away empty today?
An thou wilt give us, we’ll up and away;
But an thou deny us,
O, here we shall stay.
Shall we take your door and your lintel also,
Shall we take the good wife that is sitting below?
She’s not so tall, but we’ll lift her and all –
We can easily bear her away.
If you give us but a little, God will give you more;
The swallow is here, come open the door.
No greybeards you’ll see, but children are we
So we pray you to give us good cheer! Athenaeus, (3rd century AD, translated by J.M. Edmonds)
With the coming of Spring, ancient Greek children went from house to house singing the “Swallow Song” as they do today in rural Greece. The song meant to bring in fertility, fecundity and wishes for good crops. On hearing the song, the housewife was under the obligation to treat the children with goodies from her cellar.
“A person who knows how to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused.” - Shirley Maclaine
We watched a trivial but bubbly, old comedy film at the weekend. It was Richard Quine’s 1962 film, “The Notorious Landlady” with Jack Lemmon, Kim Novak, Fred Astaire and Lionel Jeffries. It was a stock, low-budget, black-and-white comedy based on the novel by Margery Sharp. However, it was entertaining in a low-key way and a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours. Once again one is respectful of these old films that managed to entertain and amuse with an engaging script, no trace of expletive, no violence and no special effects. It was intelligent film-making, and while no blockbuster and very light, it was a successful, engaging movie. Don’t expect high philosophy or extreme cutting wit, this is an amusing and frothy piece.
The action was set in London’s Mayfair and revolved around a landlady (Kim Novak) and her tenant (Jack Lemmon). The landlady is notorious as she is suspected of having killed her husband, however, as there is no body to be found, she is under police observation and cannot leave the country. Enter the guileless Jack Lemmon who is a junior diplomat with the US Embassy in London and who rents an apartment in Kim Novak’s house, not knowing of her reputation and suspicious activities. Fred Astaire plays a diplomat who is rather bumbling and incompetent, but still manages to be Jack Lemmon’s boss (incidentally, Fred’s role is not a dancing one, although Kim and Jack do dance a mambo together). The film is rather farcical in its plot development and keeps one amused and smiling although not guffawing.
The actors do an excellent job, especially Jack Lemmon who plays the rather naïve and innocent American in London who falls heads over heels in love with the charming Ms Novak. She plays well, as does Fred Astaire. However it is the British actors who play supporting roles that do a marvellous job. Lionel Jeffries as the stoic Scotland Yard inspector, Estelle Winwood as the eccentric neighbour, Philippa Bevans as the deceiving carer and Maxwell Reed as the hapless husband.
Do watch this film if you come across it, but don’t go searching for it especially. It is an amusing flibbertigibbet that will while away a couple of hours and give you a few chuckles.
“There they stand, the innumerable stars, shining in order like a living hymn, written in light.” - N.P. Willis
For Art Sunday today, Vermeer! Jan (or Johannes) Vermeer van Delft, was born in October 1632 and died in December 1675. He was a Dutch genre painter who lived and worked in Delft, creating some of the most exquisite paintings in Western art. His works are rare. Of the 35 or 36 paintings generally attributed to him, most portray figures in interiors. All his works are admired for the sensitivity with which he rendered effects of light and colour and for the poetic quality of his images.
Little is known for certain about Vermeer’s life and career. He was born in 1632, the son of a silk worker with a taste for buying and selling art. Vermeer himself was also active in the art trade. He lived and worked in Delft all his life. Not much is known about Vermeer’s apprenticeship as an artist either. His teacher may have been Leonaert Bramer, a Delft artist who was a witness at Vermeer's marriage in 1653, or the painter Carel Fabritius of Delft.
In 1653 he enrolled at the local artists guild. His earliest signed and dated painting, “The Procuress” (1656; Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden), is thematically related to a Dirck van Baburen painting that Vermeer owned and that appears in the background of two of his own paintings. Another possible influence was that of Hendrick Terbrugghen, whose style anticipated the light colour tonalities of Vermeer’s later works.
The 1668 painting above is “The Astronomer” which is a portrait of a scientist in his study, examining a celestial globe. The man is seated by a glass window, which the only source of light in an otherwise dark room, affording Vermeer the opportunity for some wonderful chiaroscuro effects. The fact that the astronomer can afford glass windows, a painting on his wall, and a shelf full of books shows that he is a wealthy man. This understated portrayal of wealth is common in paintings of this time period.
The astronomer in this painting is a man of science who is not posing for his portrait, but rather is shown performing his profession. This type of portrait was common in the Baroque era. With a book open on his desk, he reaches for the globe, staring past it with a facial expression which reveals that he may have just made a great discovery. According to some historians, the astronomer in this painting was inspired by Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who was born the same year as Johannes Vermeer. Leeuwenhoek was the inventor of a microscope, and a master at astronomy and navigation. Vermeer’s painting reflects Leeuwenhoek’s zeal for science.“The Astronomer” depicts not just a single man but the dawning of a new era of logical thought and scientific revolution. In a balanced array of color and light, this painting captures the human fascination with the complexities of world around us.
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.