Saturday, 17 March 2012


“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures” - Irish Sayings
St Patrick’s Day is a popular observance in Australia to honour Irish culture and commemorate the foremost of Ireland’s patron saints, St Patrick. Many Australians remember the Irish settlement and culture on St Patrick’s Day. The Irish were among the first Europeans to settle in Australia. They comprised a portion of the convict settlement population in the late 1700s. More than 300,000 other Irish settlers (not convicts) migrated to Australia between 1840 and 1914. Many Irish immigrants came to Australia to escape famine in their homeland. About 30 percent of Australians are believed to have some Irish ancestry today.  One way of preserving Irish traditions and customs in Australia is celebrating St Patrick’s Day each year.

St Patrick (ca AD 387–461) died on March 17. He worked as a missionary in Ireland and it is traditionally believed that he banished “snakes” from the country although the term may have referred to druids or pagan worshippers. Little is known of Patrick's early life, though it is known that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father and grandfather were deacons in the Christian church. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. It is believed he was held somewhere on the west coast of Ireland, possibly Mayo, but the exact location is unknown. According to his Confession, he was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast, where he would board a ship and return to Britain. Upon returning, he quickly joined the Church in Auxerre in Gaul and studied to be a priest.

In 432, he again said that he was called back to Ireland, though as a bishop, to Christianise the Irish from their native polytheism. Irish folklore tells that one of his teaching methods included using the shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish people. After nearly thirty years of evangelism, he died on 17 March 461, and according to tradition, was buried at Downpatrick. Although there were other more successful missions to Ireland from Rome, Patrick endured as the principal champion of Irish Christianity and is held in esteem in the Irish church.

On St Patrick’s Day in Australia, some businesses, clubs and other organisations hold St Patrick’s Day breakfasts and lunches where lucky door prizes are given and Irish food and drinks are served. Many pubs, particularly Irish pubs, hold St Patrick’s Day parties in the evenings, where local bands play Irish music and beer dyed green is served.

St Patrick Day parades are held in cities such as Sydney and Brisbane. These parades feature people dressed in traditional Irish costumes, or at least in green. Floats displaying the Irish flag or other Irish symbols like the shamrock and the harp feature prominently. Some people dress as leprechauns while others wear green wigs. Many Irish associations and historical societies hold events that give people the chance to learn about the history of Irish immigration and settlement in Australia.

Here is a beautiful Irish Lullaby to finish off the day…

Friday, 16 March 2012


“For each mouth, a different soup.” - Portuguese Proverb

When one is ill one should choose carefully what one eats, more so than when one is healthy. That’s what my grandmother used to say and she was quite wise knowing more about nutrition than some dieticians I have met… She also knew more about healing ills with herbs and the traditional remedies, than many doctors know about how to cure disease with medicines, but that’s another story.

Soup is a wonderful food and there are an enormous numbers of recipes of nutritious and delicious potages. Furthermore, soup can be a fantastic food to fortify the sick and assist in healing all manners of ills. Soup can be a simple broth made from boiling soup bones and meat, or a fish broth, or even a clear vegetable bouillon. Soup can be creamy and thick like cream of mushroom or asparagus, maybe a vichyssoise, or a substantial cream of pumpkin soup. Heartier versions of soup that start to verge from the liquid phase to the solid phase, like minestrone, are a complete meal in their own right.

I have blogged before about the proven restorative and health benefits of chicken soup in this post. The biochemists have determined through their research that chemical constituents of chicken soup have beneficial effects on the immune system and chicken soup can in fact be considered a fantastic food to aid in the recovery of colds and flus (see your mum was right!).

So for Food Friday today, soup!

Chicken Vegetable Soup
                        3 celery sticks
                        3 carrots
                        1 tbsp butter
                        1.5 L chicken stock
                        3 chicken breast fillets
                        4 small potatoes, cubed
                        20 snow peas, sliced
                        3 spring onions, chopped
                        Salt & ground black pepper, to taste
                        Crusty bread roll, to serve
Chop the celery into small chunks and dice the carrots.
Place the stock, celery and carrot in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Add the chicken and return to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook the chicken for 5 minutes.
Turn the chicken over and cook for a further 4 minutes or until just cooked through.
Remove the chicken from the stock and drain on paper towel. Slice the chicken thinly across the grain.
Melt the butter in a pan and quickly toss the chicken pieces in it until they colour slightly.
Return the soup to the boil over high heat and add the potatoes. Return to the boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked.
Add the snow peas and onions, cover and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Return the browned chicken to the saucepan and cook for 2-3 minutes or until heated through. Season with salt and ground black pepper and serve with the crusty bread roll.

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, 15 March 2012


“A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses.” – Hippocrates
I have not been feeling well the past couple of days and as a consequence have taken a few days off work. I have been to the doctor, have had some tests and have received the usual ministrations. However, in most cases, it is enough to take it easy, rest and relax, eat well and let nature work its miraculous cure: Vis medicatrix naturae.
The weather has been quite changeable with much rain and intervening fine periods, wind and the occasional thunderstorm. Autumn is making its presence felt, underlined by the falling brown leaves of the plane trees in the street outside and the compensating budding chrysanthemums. Overall, a good few days to stay indoors and recover…
Aptly the phrase of the day today:
vis medicatrix naturae |ˈvis ˌmediˈkātriks nəˈto͝orē| noun
The body's natural ability to heal itself.
ORIGIN: Latin, ‘the healing power of nature.’


“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them” - Mark Twain

2012 is the National Year of Reading in Australia. It is a year where people are encouraged to read more, it is about children learning to read competently at early, and it is for keen readers to discover new authors. The year is about supporting reading initiatives while respecting the oral tradition of storytelling. It is about helping people discover and rediscover the magic of books. Quite importantly, it is about Australians becoming a nation of avid readers. Although Australia’s literacy rate is quoted as 99%, it is unfortunate that nearly half of our population cannot read with any fluency or great confidence.

In order to make Australia a nation of avid readers, it is important for all Australians to understand the benefits of reading as a life skill and a catalyst for well-being. This understanding begins early in life and more at home than in at school. A reading culture should be promoted in every home. There is no better way for children to become readers than for parents and caregivers to share books with their children every day.

State libraries across Australia and all public libraries support all sorts of activities this year in order to promote the National Year of Reading 2012. More information is available in all libraries.

The official launch of the National Year of Reading was on Tuesday 14 February 2012. To celebrate this, 3D pavement chalk artist Jenny McCracken created the 3D book chalk drawing shown above, at the front of the State Library of Western Australia, next to the black-and-white Makigawa sculpture. It appears as 3D only when viewed from a given point. The image was at the State Library only as long as the chalk lasted…

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind.  Books are humanity in print.” - Barbara W. Tuchman

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


“We generate our own environment. We get exactly what we deserve. How can we resent a life we’ve created ourselves? Who’s to blame, who’s to credit but us? Who can change it, anytime we wish, but us?” - Richard Bach

Another wonderful image from Magpie Tales for this week’s creative challenge. Once again, being the tinkerer and tamperer that I am, I could not resist transmogrifying it a little, with apologies to Aleksander Nedic who created the prototype: “Uzengia”.

The Extraterrestrial

I come to you in peace,
My star so far away,
A pinpoint of light
In your night sky.
I come to your distant world
And find myself in paradise.

I’ve travelled long and far,
Away from the dry deserts
Of my homeland –
An arid planet, red and barren
Where water’s most precious
And wars are fought over a well.

Your blue-green world
Hanging in space
Like a gemstone, beckoned,
And I came, succumbing
To its gentle insistence
Like a lover’s gaze.

I come to you in peace,
And seek only repose,
The luxury of drinking my fill,
Eating the lush vegetation
With my wide open eyes,
My sight not sated by the green.

Your oceans brimming with life
Remind me of our distant past –
As our history writes –
When we too inhabited such a world:
Blue-green, drenched, bedewed,
Immersed in crystal waters.

Your forests, drinking the rain
That falls so regularly,
Are priceless beyond compare.
The flowers costlier than jewels bright –
What use to us are our diamonds,
Common as pebbles on my world?

And yet I see vast deserts, here,
I see the rainforests cut, extinction,
Your oceans polluted, animals dying.
The signs are here that you too
Have set a course that will make
Your earth a world like mine.

I come to you in peace,
And seek only a brief respite.
I bring a message from Hell
To your blue-green Eden:
Time runs short, destruction’s close
Unless you become wise, soon…

Sunday, 11 March 2012


“Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person.” - Tennessee Williams
We watched a couple of good films this long weekend in Melbourne. Today is a public holiday – Labour Day and in Melbourne we celebrate Moomba – a carnival-like festival with many events, activities, exhibitions, a parade and fireworks. We didn't feel up to going down and having a look this year, instead we had a lazy long weekend spent indoors and in the garden.

For Movie Monday today, my review of the 2010 Australian film by Shirley Barrett, “South Solitary", starring Miranda Otto, Marton Csokas and Essie Davis. Barrett also wrote the screenplay and the movie was filmed at Cape Nelson, Victoria, Australia, not too far from where we live (well, comparatively speaking anyway)! The location of the film is of prime importance and the desolate small island that the action takes place in gives plenty of opportunity for wonderful cinematography.

All of the plot takes place on a remote windswept island off the coast of Australia in 1927. The period atmosphere is recreated well and the costumes, furniture, props and manners of the time are portrayed well. Wadsworth (Barry Otto) is a veteran of the lighthouse service who has been sent to the remote South Solitary lighthouse to bring the staff into order after several complaints that the lighthouse is not functioning as it should, have been lodged by passing ships. Accompanying him is his niece Meredith (Miranda Otto), an unmarried 35-year-old woman, whose fiancé perished in WWI. The family living on the island are resentful of Wadsworth’s and Meredith’s arrival because they assumed that Harry (Rohan Nichol) would be automatically promoted. World War One veteran Fleet (Marton Csokas) is another regular worker at the lighthouse, and he does not seem to like the new arrivals either. He has serious psychological issues to deal with and his introverted, unsociable personality make him appear aloof and dysfunctional.

The isolation soon begins to take its toll on the desperate Meredith and her demanding uncle. Events come to head when Meredith becomes involved in a situation that leads to some departures from the island. Nevertheless, it is the isolation and enforced companionship between Fleet and Meredith that eventually gets them to realise that they share more than they are willing to acknowledge.

The performances of the key cast are very good and Miranda Otto is especially notable as the psychologically scarred and love-lorn Meredith. Csokas is excellent as the equally soul-damaged Fleet who has his own issues to deal with. The film has little action and proceeds at a leisurely pace with the direction being very low key and understated. Perhaps some more film should have been left on the cutting room floor, or else some more action and incident added to pepper the interest of the viewer. The film has been stunningly shot on location at lighthouses near Point Nelson and Cape Otway, by cinematographer Anna Howard.

The theme of the film is faith, love and hope. Cardinal virtues that can serve as redeeming features in the lives of flawed personalities. All characters in this film all are flawed and it is the redemption of two of them that makes the film successful and satisfying ultimately. The survivors at the end of the film can be seen to have overcome their self-loathing and despair and the hope that they discovered together will redeem their lives eventually.

This is a long, slow film best considered as a “relationship drama” that will bore many people that are looking for action, thrills and spills. However, we found it engaging and curiously involving, even though there are some faults in its construction and plot. The actors do a sterling job and the magnificent location and cinematography, as well as the understated score by Mary Finsterer all contribute to making this a good movie to watch.


“Only after disaster can we be resurrected.” - Chuck Palahniuk
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475 – 1564), known simply as Michelangelo, may be arguably the greatest artist and sculptor who has ever lived. His ground-breaking paintings and sculptures changed the meaning of art forever. Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475, in a town near Florence. His mother died by the time Michelangelo was six years old, leaving him to live with his father, a nobleman. He began to show interest in art and drawing by the age of ten, and became an apprentice by age 12. When Michelangelo was 13 he knew that he had to be an artist. He became a pupil of the great sculptor, Donatello. As he grew older, Michelangelo became interested in the male nude. Most of his paintings included images of nude males, though sometimes just in the background. Many of his sculptures are also a celebration of this theme.  Michelangelo lived to the age of 89, and died in 1564.

Michelangelo was a great leader in the Italian Renaissance. His greatest work, painting the Sistine Chapel, began in 1508, and was completed in 1512. In the beginning, Michelangelo was to paint twelve pictures of the apostles around the outside of the ceiling. Instead of doing so, Michelangelo made another suggestion, which was to cover the entire ceiling with the stories of the Old Testament. It included over 300 figures. Beginning in 1491, Michelangelo carved Madonna of the Stairs. It took him one year to complete it. Next was the Pietá. It was started in 1498 and finished in 1500. He began Doni Tondo in 1503, and it took him two years to complete the painting. In 1534, twenty-three years after the Sistine Chapel was completed, Michelangelo began to paint The Last Judgment, located over the altar of the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo is famed for his use of colour, light, tone design, and draughtsmanship. He excelled in architecture, sculpture and his knowledge of anatomy that helped him in his art. Michelangelo set standards for sculpting, painting, poetry, and architecture. When sculpting, he always carved from front to back as shown on his unfinished pieces. His paintings were all equally proportioned, with very good perspective. All of his pictures had a 3D effect to make his figures stand out from the background. Michelangelo was also a poet and architect, but painting and sculpting were his preferred artistic pursuits.

The devastating floods in parts of Victoria and NSW, presently are causing a lot of heartache, loss of human life and property. It is difficult not to become involved when one sees the images of the widespread damage to so many towns and the evacuation of thousands of people. It is a timely reminder that when Mother Nature becomes destructive, there is little we can do in terms of our technology and advanced resources. The flood waters come, sweep everything in their path, inundate properties, carry off and drown animals, sometimes people, and we wait until the fury of the elements abates to rebuild and go back to our daily routine.

Similar devastation was wrought by the terrible tornadoes in the USA. The videos and photos of the awful aftermath makes one realise how powerless we humans are in these extremes of weather. We may have sent men to the moon, but when it comes to protecting ourselves and our property from wild weather, we really can do nothing.

“The Deluge”, above is part of Michelangelo’s stunning mural decoration for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. This massive work is awe-inspiring and it is amazing to behold. I have visited the Sistine Chapel three times and each time I was more impressed than the previous one. It is truly one of the greatest monuments to human creativity and artistic achievement. “The Deluge” illustrates the biblical story of the flood of Noah in the Old Testament, and Michelangelo chose to illustrate the point just before total inundation, where a few wretches are searching out the high ground in order to survive the rising waters. The vignettes of human tragedy in the face of adversity are well illustrated and Michelangelo’s masterful evocation of man vs nature (as a manifestation of God’s will) is meant to curb our pride and prevent hubris…