Saturday, 18 August 2012


“Music is the universal language of mankind” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A wintry Saturday today, with rain, cold and grey skies all day. We stayed in and enjoyed the warmth of the house, doing the household chores, having a leisurely lunch and watching a movie. The evening was lovely as usual…

Here is a delightful concerto by Vivaldi. It is the Oboe Concerto in C major, RV 450, played by Benoît Laurent, oboe and the Concerto Köln.

Friday, 17 August 2012


“Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts…” - Charles Lamb
A breath of Spring is stirring in the air. The blossom has started to bedeck the fruit trees, first the almonds and the plums, then more slowly the rest of them. Magnolias are dressed in pink and white and the freesias, jonquils, hyacinths and daffodils are all blooming. The days are longer now and the garden is beginning to grow ever more green. The first Spring vegetables are out and what better than to use some of them in a delicious and easy dish? Here is a frittata using the artichokes, asparagus and Spring onions that are characteristic of the season.
Artichoke and Asparagus Frittata

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup chopped spring onions
1 teaspoon salt
400 g asparagus, tough ends snapped off, spears cut diagonally into 2 cm lengths
3 artichokes
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp chopped dried thyme
Pinch of ground sage
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup shredded Gruyére cheese
Prepare the artichokes by taking the leaves off, until you reach the tender heart. Quarter and remove the choke. Put into water that has had a lemon juiced into it (to prevent browning). Cut each quarter into half.
Blanch the artichokes for a few minutes and then drain.
Blanch the asparagus pieces for a few minutes and drain.
Heat butter into a 30 cm oven-proof frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften and cook, about 3 minutes. Add artichokes, stir well and cook for a few minutes. Add the asparagus, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, for 3 minutes.
Pour in the beaten eggs into which you have stirred the herbs and spices, and cook until almost set, but still runny on top, about 2 minutes. While cooking, pre-heat the oven grill.
Sprinkle cheese over eggs and put in oven to grill until cheese is melted and browned, about 4-6 minutes. Remove from oven and slide frittata onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges to serve.

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

Thursday, 16 August 2012


“A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one.” - Aristotle

Melbourne has once again been voted by the Economist Intelligence Unit “The Most Liveable City” in the world for the second year in succession. On and off it has been up there with the best of them for several years now and it has been declared the best to live in several times in the past. The concept of liveability assesses which locations around the world provide the best or the worst living conditions. One can perhaps understand it if one compares Melbourne to some of the cities that did not do so well in the list: Karachi, Algiers, Harare, Lagos, Port Moresby and Dhaka.

Liveability relates to standards of living, facilities available, personal safety, crime rate, resources and services, cost of living, housing, public transport, health care, cultural events, open spaces and parks, sporting facilities, etc. The top ten most liveable cities in the world are: 1. Melbourne, Australia;
2. Vienna, Austria;
3. Vancouver, Canada;
4. Toronto, Canada;
5. Calgary, Canada;
5. Adelaide, Australia;
7. Sydney, Australia;
8. Helsinki, Finland; 9. Perth, Australia;
10. Auckland, New Zealand.

Assessing liveability has a broad range of uses. The survey originated as a means of testing whether Human Resource Departments needed to assign a hardship allowance as part of expatriate relocation packages. While this function is still a central potential use of the survey, it has also evolved as a broad means of benchmarking cities. This means that liveability is increasingly used by city councils, organisations or corporate entities looking to test their locations against others to see general areas where liveability can differ.

To gain top spot, Melbourne outperformed 140 rivals to top the Global Liveability Survey with a score of 97.5 per cent, losing points for climate, culture and petty crime. Infrastructural development has been important in over the last few years, with improvements to infrastructure in key cities in Australia, where the federal government initiated an ambitious long-term road-building program in 2010. For cities in general, these measures will no doubt have a long-term benefit, but in the short term they can be disruptive.

Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle said continuing to drive down crime and an underground rail line linking North Melbourne to Domain on St Kilda Rd were crucial to retain liveability status. University of Melbourne architectural design chair Professor Donald Bates, a Federation Square co-designer, said increasing capacity on the tram and train networks and more moderate-density housing were needed to deal with the unprecedented growth rate that is occurring.

As a Melbournian I can certainly vouch for the high liveability score of my home city. However, having lived here for most of my life, several decades now, I can also see that things are not all rosy. Liveability doesn’t simply mean nice restaurants, good sports venues and a wealth of entertainment to choose from. It also means low pollution, managed traffic, good parking options, lots of green space and not so many high density housing density developments. It means a reliable and safe water supply, green energy and renewable resources. If Melbourne is to continue being the most liveable city in the world, our city planners have a mammoth task in front of them, especially so with ever-increasing population…

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.” - Victor Hugo

Many Christians today celebrate the Feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary and her Ascension into Heaven. It is the principal feast day of the Virgin Mother. It is celebrated annually on August 15 in many countries, particularly in parts of Europe and South America. Some countries celebrate the day at other times of the year. This day is also known as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God (in the eastern countries), or the Feast of the Assumption. Assumption Day is a public holiday in countries such as Austria, Belgium, Chile, Croatia, France, parts of Germany, Guatemala, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and parts of Switzerland. However, Assumption Day is not a public holiday in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Central to the celebration is the belief that when Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, died, her body was not subjected to the usual process of burial and decomposition, but ascended into heaven and reunited there with her soul. This holiday, which has been celebrated since the fourth century AD, is a Christianisation of an earlier harvest festival and, in many parts of Europe, is known as the “Feast of Our Lady of the Harvest”. For centuries prior to the Christian era, celebrations were held in the honour of the goddess Isis of the Sea, who was born on this day according to mythology. With the coming of Christianity, church leaders decided that the easiest way to handle this widespread and popular pagan ritual was to simply change it into a Christian holiday, hence the introduction of Assumption Day.

The day is marked by special celebratory liturgies, and masses, colourful processions through the streets, fairs and other popular celebratory practices, and firework displays. In Sicily and rural areas outside Rome, a bowing procession is the day’s main event. A statue of the Virgin Mary is carried through the town to a ceremonial arch of flowers, where a group of people holding a statue of Christ awaits her arrival. Both statues are inclined toward each other three times, and then the Christ figure precedes the figure of Mary back to the parish church for a special benediction.

In the past, some Italian plazas were flooded. Citizens would ride through the temporary “lakes” in carriages and it was common for people to carry bowls of rose-scented water, which they sprinkled on themselves – possibly a carryover from a pagan ritual in which the gods were petitioned to provide adequate rainfall for the crops, or as a tribute to the pagan goddess Isis of the Sea. Assumption Day is also an important holiday in France where the Virgin Mary has been the patron saint since 1638.

In Sao Paulo and other parts of southern Brazil, the feast is called Nosa Senhora dos Navegantes, or “Our Lady of the Navigators”. Pageants are held on decorated canoes, each carrying a captain, a purser, three musicians, and two rowers. They travel to small villages to entertain and feast. Towns may have small church processions with musicians whose costumes and demeanour depict the “Three Wise Men” who are mentioned in the Bible.

In the Greek Orthodox faith, the Feast of the Dormition is preceded by a two-week fast, referred to as the Dormition Fast. From August 1 to August 14 (inclusive) no red meat, poultry, meat products, dairy products (eggs and milk products), fish, oil, and wine are consumed. The Dormition Fast is a stricter fast than either the Nativity Fast (Advent) or the Apostles’ Fast, with only wine and oil (but no fish) allowed on weekends.

In some places, the services on weekdays during the Fast are similar to the services during Great Lent (with some variations). Many churches and monasteries in the Russian tradition will perform the Lenten services on at least the first day of the Dormition Fast. During the Fast, either the Great Paraklesis (Supplicatory Canon) or the Small Paraklesis are celebrated every evening except Saturday evening and the Eves of the Transfiguration and the Dormition. The first day of the Dormition Fast is a feast day called the Procession of the Cross (August 1), on which day it is customary to have a crucession and perform the Lesser Sanctification of Water.

Monday, 13 August 2012


“A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets.” - Gloria Stuart
Magpie Tales has chosen a beautiful photograph by Francesca Woodman for this week’s prompt. Francesca Woodman (USA, April 3, 1958 – January 19, 1981) was a photographer best known for her black and white pictures featuring herself and female models. Many of her photographs show young women who are nude, who are blurred (due to movement and long exposure times), who are merging with their surroundings, or whose faces are obscured. Her work continues to be the subject of much attention, years after she committed suicide by jumping out a loft window in New York.

This post is also part of Imaginary Garden with Real Toad meme.


Et ego in Arcadia sum, 
Amidst a forest made of paper
Beneath a spectre of a sun,
Holding a shell long since mute…

Ave Venus pulcherissima!
You know full well your wiles,
My voice alone dares not sing;
For how long must I await you?

Tempus est volucre.
Yet, I condemned to plod along
And death expect tomorrow.
Life, tarry not behind me,
Catch up with me today!


“Every murder turns on a bright hot light, and a lot of people... have to walk out of the shadows.” - Albert Maltz

Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls that straddle the international border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of New York. They form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge. The three waterfalls are the Horseshoe Falls (largest), the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls (smallest). The Horseshoe Falls lie on the Canadian side and the American Falls on the American side, separated by Goat Island. The smaller Bridal Veil Falls are also located on the American side, separated from the other waterfalls by Luna Island.

Located on the Niagara River which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, the combined falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 50 metres. The Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America, as measured by vertical height and also by flow rate. The falls are located 27 km north-northwest of Buffalo, New York and 121 km south-southeast of Toronto, between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York. More than 168,000 cubic metres of water falls over the crest line every minute in high flow. Niagara Falls are renowned both for their beauty and as a valuable source of hydroelectric power. Managing the balance between recreational, commercial, and industrial uses has been a challenge for the stewards of the falls since the 19th century.

We visited the Falls many years ago when we were on a road trip from New York City to Toronto via Buffalo. We loved our time there and were amazed by this spectacular wonder of nature, finally understanding why their fame is so well-deserved after seeing them with our own eyes. That Niagara Falls has a long and rich history and tradition in both  native American and white North American culture is not surprising.

We watched the Henry Hathaway classic 1953 film noir “Niagara” at the weekend as I got the DVD on special from our DVD store. It starred Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Max Showalter and Richard Allan, and was based on a classic love triangle story, co-written by another triangle of writers Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch and Richard L. Breen. The film was shot in glorious technicolour, no doubt because of the scenic beauty of the setting (the director lost opportunity of showing us several rainbows as a consequence!).

The story centres on Rose and George Loomis (Monroe and Cotten) who are going through a rough patch in their marriage and are holidaying on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Arriving at the holiday spot are Polly and Ray Cutler (Peters and Showalter), who are a young couple who have come to Niagara for a delayed honeymoon. Upon their arrival, they meet Rose and George, who are over-staying in their time in the Cutlers’ reserved cabin. Shortly after they arrive, Polly sees Rose passionately kissing another man (Richard Allan). Rose angers her husband by playing a love song (“Kiss”) on a record player a few other couples are dancing to, pushing George to destroying the record in his hands. The dysfunctional Loomises have arrow and it become apparent that something serious is amiss. Murder ensues and the ones left behind have to battle for their own survival.

The film is a nostalgic look at the 1950s and without being over-sentimental it highlights Marilyn Monroe in what has become an iconic typecast role for her: The sultry temptress of questionable morals who will stop at nothing to get her own way. She nevertheless plays this role with great gusto, supported well by Cotten who plays the psychologically disturbed husband with aplomb. An excellent performance is given by Jean Peters who manages to devote her considerable acting resources as the supporting female lead, not at all overshadowed by Monroe. The performance of Showalter is quite pedestrian, although his role is quite an annoying one to begin with. Richard Breen as the lover has a very minor role providing the beefcake factor in the love triangle. Overall the movie is competently made and despite its age stands up relatively well to scrutiny nearly 60 years after its production. One can still watch it and be entertained, although it is obviously dated in many ways.

Sunday, 12 August 2012


“Fun I love, but too much fun is of all things the most loathsome. Mirth is better than fun, and happiness is better than mirth.” - William Blake
William Blake (1757 - 1827) was born at 28 Broad Street, Golden Square, Soho, where his father had a hosiery business. In 1767 he began to study at Henry Pars’ Drawing Class in the Strand, and in 1771 he was apprenticed to James Basire of Great Queen Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, who was engraver to the Society of Antiquaries of London. In 1779 he was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools as a student.
He married Catherine Boucher, the illiterate daughter of a market gardener, in 1782 and moved to Green Street, near Leicester Square. He returned to Broad Street, this time at number 27, when his father died in 1784, to set up in business as a print seller with James Parker, a friend and former fellow apprentice. The partnership ended in 1787 and Blake moved to nearby Poland Street. In the same year Blake’s brother Robert died. Blake claimed that the spirit of Robert came to him in a vision in the night, and revealed the technique of combining text and pictures on one engraved plate.
He turned his vision into reality by hand producing the “Songs of Innocence”, using this new method in 1789 with the help of his wife, whom he had by now taught to read and write. The text and illustrations of the “Songs of Innocence” were printed from copper plates, and the illustrations then finished by hand with watercolours. Blake and his wife moved to No 13 Hercules Buildings in Lambeth in 1791 and it was in this period that he produced many of his ‘prophetic’ books: “The Visions of the Daughters of Albion”, “America a Prophecy”, “The Songs of Experience” and “The First Book of Urizen”.
In September 1800 he left London for Felpham, Sussex (about 50 miles south west of London on the south coast), to live near William Hayley, an eccentric gentleman poet who had written biographies of Milton and Cowper, and through whom he hoped to get commissions for engraving. However, by the beginning of 1803 he had tired of the trivial nature of these commissions and believed that only in London could he carry on his visionary studies.  He moved back to the capital, to 17 South Moulton Street, near Tyburn (now Marble Arch).
He began work on his illuminated books “Milton” and “Jerusalem”, but struggled to find other commercial work. In May 1809 he held an exhibition on the first floor of his brother’s hosiery shop in Broad Street, but few people attended, and he was dismissed by Robert Hunt in a review in The Examiner as “an unfortunate lunatic whose personal inoffensiveness secures him from confinement”.
After 1818 his work was rediscovered by the water-colourists of the next generation, particularly John Linnell and John Varley, who encouraged him and commissioned works. Blake died in 1827 and was buried in an unmarked grave in the dissenter’s graveyard in Bunhill Fields.
Blake was a visionary artist and poet whose personal and very individual universe was motivated by a very strong faith and feelings of justice and equality of all human beings. He abhorred slavery and believed in racial and sexual equality. Several of his poems and paintings express a notion of universal humanity: “As all men are alike (tho’ infinitely various)”. In one poem, narrated by a black child, white and black bodies alike are described as shaded groves or clouds, which exist only until one learns “to bear the beams of love”. His mystical symbolism was paramount in his creative process and his rejection of the Old Testament God for the New Testament one was instrumental in creating much of his oeuvre, which is based on the concept of brotherly love.
His paintings are remarkably modern for the time he lived in and his originality no doubt confounded many of his contemporaries. Blake claimed to experience visions throughout his life. They were often associated with beautiful religious themes and imagery, and therefore may have inspired him further with spiritual works and pursuits. Certainly, religious concepts and imagery figure centrally in Blake's works. God and Christianity constituted the intellectual centre of his writings, from which he drew inspiration. In addition, Blake believed that he was personally instructed and encouraged by Archangels to create his artistic works, which he claimed were actively read and enjoyed by those same Archangels.
The watercolour above is an illustration to "The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri (Inferno I, 1-90), which Blake created in 1824-1827 (37.0 x 52.8 cm, Felton Bequest, 1920, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Australia). It shows Dante running away from the three hellish beasts towards the safety embodied by his cicerone, Virgil. The painting displays an amazing composition, sense of movement and delicate, yet ominous colour for the most part. The figure of Virgil is ensheathed by light and the rising sun is symbolic of the safety and hope that the poet offers Dante. The painting is an excellent representation of Dante’s vision of Hell and one can imagine Blake attacking this project of illustrating Dante with great enthusiasm, given that while on the surface, the poem describes Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven; at a deeper level, it represents allegorically the soul’s journey towards God.