Tuesday, 31 December 2013

HAPPY 2014!

“In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, never in want.” Irish toast

“Resolve to make at least one person happy every day, and then in ten years you may have made three thousand, six hundred and fifty persons happy, or brightened a small town by your contribution to the fund of general enjoyment.” Sydney Smith

“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.” G. K. Chesterton

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” T. S. Eliot

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.” Benjamin Franklin

May what you see in the mirror delight you, and what others see in you delight them. May you live until you love and love until you live. May someone love you enough to forgive your faults, be blind to your blemishes, and tell the world about your virtues. May your path be straight and wide and easily trod; and if the path become hard and stony, may your shoes be strong enough to tread it to its end. May you have health and peace and happiness and a ripe old age. May you live until you want to and want to as long as you live.

Happy New Year to everyone!

Monday, 30 December 2013


“You don’t fight racism with racism, the best way to fight racism is with solidarity.” - Bobby Seale

Quentin Jerome Tarantino (born March 27, 1963) is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, and actor. His films have been characterised by nonlinear storylines, satirical subject matter, and an aestheticisation of violence that often results in the exhibition of neo-noir characteristics. Tarantino has been dubbed a “director DJ”, comparing his stylistic use of mix-and-match genre and music infusion to the use of sampling in DJ exhibits, morphing a variety of old works to create a new one.

Tarantino grew up an avid film fan and worked in a video rental store while training to act. His career began in the late 1980s, when he wrote and directed “My Best Friend’s Birthday”, the screenplay of which formed the basis for “True Romance”. In the early 1990s, he began his career as an independent filmmaker with the release of “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992; regarded as a classic and cult hit, it was called the ‘Greatest Independent Film of All Time’ by Empire magazine. Its popularity was boosted by the release of his second film, 1994's “Pulp Fiction”, a neo-noir crime film that became a major critical and commercial success, widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. Paying homage to 1970s blaxploitation films, Tarantino released “Jackie Brown” in 1997, an adaptation of the novel “Rum Punch”.

Tarantino’s films have gained both critical and commercial success. He has received many industry awards, including two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, two BAFTA Awards, the Palme d’ Or, has been nominated for an Emmy and a Grammy, and has been named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine in 2005. Filmmaker and historian Peter Bogdanovich has called him “…the single most influential director of his generation”.

Last weekend we watched Tarantino’s 2012 “Django Unchained”, starring  Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. This is an offbeat “Western”, set in the Deep South, two years before the American Civil War. This gives Tarantino ample scope for making a brutal, bloody, terrifying, hilarious and awe-inspiring film masquerading as a buddy movie. Akin to “spaghetti Westerns” this movie is a “gumbo Southern”.

The first half of the film takes place on the road from Texas to Mississippi as bounty hunting dentist Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) recruits a slave named Django (Foxx) to help him find three outlaw brothers known by appearance to Django alone. After Django helps Schultz with his job, it’s time for the doctor to aid his partner to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda, who resides at “Candyland”, an antebellum plantation run by the sinister and sadistic Calvin Candie (DiCaprio).

The film is excessive on all counts and there are points of awkward humour, lots of bloody, gory violence and much pandering to populist racist/anti-racist sentiment. At 165 minutes, it is a long and meandering film, yet it has its moments and it does manage to keep interest up through a number of devices – plot twists, violence, character surprises, oddball humour, violence, playing on our expectations and did I mention violence? The movie is a western, a drama, a tragedy, a comedy, an action, a thriller, a parody, an anti-racist paean, and in its heart a romance as well. Typical Tarantino, with a cherry on top.

Not surprisingly, the film has polarised viewers. We saw it and were engaged by it, although some scenes were quite horrific and did not please us at all. If you can’t stomach violence this film is not for you. The idea behind the film was interesting and Tarantino’s screenplay showed originality – in answer to his critics perhaps, that his movies are derivative and a rehash of old ideas in new garb. The film is not in the best of taste, but somehow engages and the viewer watches helplessly. I am loth to recommend it, and yet will do so – watch it if you have a strong stomach and can cope with strong themes and colourful language.

Sunday, 29 December 2013


“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Raphael Soyer (1899 - 1987), was a Russian-born American artist, best known for his compassionate, naturalistic depictions of urban subjects. His sensitive, penetrating portrayals include a broad range of city dwellers: Bowery bums, dancers, seamstresses, shoppers, office workers and fellow artists. Historically, Soyer is associated with the social realist artists of the 1930s, whose art championed the cause of social justice.

Born in Tombov, Russia in 1899, Soyer emigrated with his family to the United States in 1912. His siblings included a twin brother, Moses, and a brother, Isaac, who both became successful artists. After settling with his family in New York City, the young Soyer pursued an art education at Cooper Union from 1914 to 1917, at the National Academy of Design from 1918 to 1922, and intermittently at the Art Students League.

Soyer was referred to as an American scene painter. He is identified as a Social Realist because of his interest in men and women viewed in contemporary settings which included the streets, subways, salons and artists’ studios of New York City, although he avoided subjects that were particularly critical of society. He also wrote several books on his life and art. Soyer’s earliest work was consciously primitive in manner.

Until the late 1920s, he typically used frontal presentations, shallow pictorial space and figures rendered in caricature. Later, he developed a brushy, more gestural style that was tonal rather than coloristic. These early works are reminiscent of the paintings of Edgar Degas. Soyer’s interest in depicting his urban environment was expressed early in his career in works such as “Sixth Avenue” (ca. 1930-1935, Wadsworth Athenaeum).

As the Depression continued, the artist turned more and more to subjects directly related to the prevailing economic difficulties. One result of the mass unemployment of the 1930s that caught Soyer’s imagination was the new role of independent working women. Hemmed in by the crowd, the self-absorbed women in “Office Girls” (1936, Whitney Museum of American Art) are shown walking to or from work. Soyer’s sympathetic study of unemployed men in “Transients” (1936, University of Texas) is an example of a less propagandistic social realist work. In addition to paintings, he executed a number of lithographs of Depression scenes.

Soyer developed his subjects from New York City’s poorer sections. Unlike the painters of the Ashean School 25 years earlier, Soyer and his contemporaries did not view the city as a picturesque spectacle. Instead, they dwelt on the grim realities of poverty and industrialisation. Soyer’s work, however, is less issue-oriented than that of fellow social realist artists Philip Evergood and Ben Shahn.

After 1940, Soyer began to concentrate on the subject of women at work or posing in his studio. His technique grew more sketchy during the 1950s, but in his ambitious painting “Homage To Eakins” (1964-1965, National Portrait Gallery), he rendered the figures in a manner typical of his early work. Between 1953 and 1955, he edited “Reality”. He later wrote “Painter’s Pilgrimage” (1962), “Homage to Thomas Eakins” (1966), “Self-Revealment: A Memoir” (1969) and “Diary of an Artist” (1977).

In 1967, Soyer was given a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and his paintings have been displayed at many museums and galleries. He has taught at the Art Students League, the New School and the National Academy of Design in New York City.

In his “A Railroad Station Waiting Room” painted around 1940 (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC), we see a scene reminiscent of Daumier. An acute observation of ordinary people caught by the artist in an everyday situation. The linear composition framing the heads works well and allows the viewer to look at them all in succession. Each face tells a story and the props that surround them bring that story alive. The dark, sombre grays and browns are highlighted by the green striped wall and the splashes of colour here and there. The red headscarf of the young woman seeking work is a ray of hope, as is the baby in pink. However, when one looks at the older men further to the right, despair is seen. The yawning woman and the plump man look as though they are better off and hence in another compartment. The painting is social realism and depicts the issues of the day well.

Saturday, 28 December 2013


“Where words fail, music speaks.” - Hans Christian Andersen

Antonio Maria Bononcini (18 June 1677 – 8 July 1726) was an Italian cellist and composer, the younger brother of the better-known Giovanni Bononcini.

Bononcini was born and died at Modena in Italy. Like his brother, he studied with Giovanni Paolo Colonna. Between 1690 and 1693, he played in the orchestra of Cardinal Pamphili. In 1698 he composed an allegory, “La Fama Eroica”, for performance in Rome. He worked for some years with his brother, and joined him in the court orchestra at Vienna, where in 1705 he became Kapellmeister to the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI.

In 1713 he returned to Italy, where he worked in Milan, Naples and Modena. In 1721 he became the maestro di cappella in Modena, where he remained for the rest of his life. In addition to his stage works, he composed over 40 cantatas (most of them for solo voice and harpsichord), as well as sacred music including a Mass in G minor, a Stabat Mater in C Minor, and a Salve Regina.

Here are his Mass in G Minor and the Stabat Mater, performed by Concerto Italiano, directed by Rino Alessandini, with Silvia Frigato and Raffaella Milanesi, sopranos, Andrea Arrivabene, countertenor, Elena Biscuola and Sara Mingardo, contraltos, Raffaele Giordani and Valerio Contaldo, tenors, and Salvo Vitale, bass.

Friday, 27 December 2013


“I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand.” - Benjamin Franklin

After the culinary excesses of Christmas it is a good idea to detoxify a little and have a light meal for a few days (before the New Year’s Eve excesses!). As we are having some hot weather in Melbourne at the moment, this smoked salmon salad foots the bill very nicely.



3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoon chopped dill
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 cups baby spinach
6 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut crosswise into 1 cm ribbons
2 Lebanese cucumbers; peeled, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
4 radishes, halved and thinly sliced
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
Pine nuts for garnishing (optional)

In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil with the lemon juice and dill and season with salt and pepper. Add the spinach, smoked salmon, cucumber, radishes and onions to the bowl and toss well. Transfer the salad to plates and serve, garnishing with roasted pine nuts if desired.

Serve with crusty bread and a light white wine.

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

Thursday, 26 December 2013


“Every man who possibly can should force himself to a holiday of a full month in a year, whether he feels like taking it or not.” - William James
These days over Christmas and New Year are a perfect opportunity to take some holiday time and relax. Resting and taking one’s mind off work is something we should do daily and at weekends, so what is more opportune than doing so at the end of the year when the holy days also conspire to make us take some holidays also? However, today I heard from a friend who is working over this holiday break as he needs to catch up with work… This friend is a confirmed workaholic and having no family is something that unfortunately allow shim to work long and hard.
The workaholic is very much a product of our modern society and is nowadays in many cases the rule rather than the exceptional case that we were familiar with in the past. Work makes enormous demands on our time, not only in the workplace, but it also invades our own space and private life. How easy it is to take work with us every night. Simply a matter of loading some files into a USB drive and the computer at home takes over from where the computer at work left off. Email access is universal and we are expected to be able to send and receive work emails at any place and any time. Mobile phones increase our accessibility and before not too long we may be called upon at all hours to respond to employers’ demands.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is certainly something that applies to today’s world as much as it did, all those centuries ago when the folk sage came out with this saw. It is surprising that in this day and age of labour-saving devices, increasing leisure time and strictly regulated work hours many of us still manage to run out of time in order to amuse ourselves and take pleasure in the company of our friends and dear ones. A re-examination of one’s life is in order if this is the case, and the workaholic is certainly one who should be chastened by this re-examination.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013


“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.” - E. B. White
It’s Christmas Day and there is always time today to sit and reflect a little. It is a time for family, feasting and gift giving – a time for peace and togetherness and of spirituality. Yet even in our contentment, our minds should have charitable thoughts for those who are not able to celebrate as well as we are able to. There are many hotbeds of violence and warfare across the globe and the economic crisis still claims victims in many countries of the world. Extremes of climate and foul weather have made many people miserable on what should have been a happy day. This year, tens of thousands of Britons remain without electricity on Christmas Day after torrential rainfall flooded homes and hurricane-force winds battered the country.
Christmas in Australia tends to be a very relaxed time. It is usually hot across all of the continent and this means the holiday is celebrated out of doors. Barbeques, garden dining, Christmas by the beach and fun in the sun is what Christmas means to most Australians. However, we also have a problem with the homeless and the disadvantaged even here in the “lucky country”. Charity organisations do much to relieve the plight of beggars, homeless, the impoverished, the mentally unstable and the abused. The Salvation Army is the largest provider of homelessness services in Australia, and a report reveals that the Salvos helped 22,594 homeless people in the six months to December 31 last year. Furthermore, Australia-wide this Christmas the Salvation Army expects to assist more than 300,000 people during the Christmas period (this being double what is seen on average per month during the year). They will distribute nearly 500,000 toys to families in need; feed Christmas Lunch to over 14,000 people; distribute 100,000 food vouchers and hampers. You can donate to the Salvos here.
The plight of refugees is a worldwide issue currently and perhaps Australia does not have a very good record in terms of assistance to refugees. Many Australians view refugees unkindly as they regard them as “queue jumpers”, economic refugees, illegal immigrants. However, it is dangerous to tar all refugees with the same brush, as there are many who are people in genuine need and who face survival problems if they stay in their own country. Many of these refugees will be in mortal danger if they stay put because of civil unrest, warfare, political upheavals or problems of ideological conflict.
Australia for UNHCR is an Australian charity that raises funds to support the work of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Australia. The aim of this organisation is to help Australians change the lives of refugees and displaced people around the world. As well as providing emergency relief like shelter, food, water, and medical care, the generous supporters improve refugees’ future opportunities, providing infrastructure, schools, and income generating projects. Monthly donors also provide vital funding for UNHCR’s Emergency Response Teams who are on the ground saving lives within 72 hours, whenever and wherever crisis strikes. Australia for UNHCR donations can be made here.
I cannot help but think of the plight of many people in Southern Europe – Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal who are facing enormous economic problems. With youth unemployment close to 50% in some cases, draconian austerity measures in place, and many years of problems with negative economic development, have left many people desperate – so desperate that the only solution they see is suicide. Suicides increased by 45 percent during the first four years of Greece’s financial crisis, a mental health aid group recently stated that there are indications of a further “very large rise” over the past two years. The Athens-based group Klimaka said officially reported suicides rose steadily, accounting for an annual jump in deaths from 328 in 2007 to 477 in 2011, according to data from the Greek Statistical Authority. The group said, based on its own research, the number of suicides has continued to rise through 2012 and 2013. It should be kept in mind the official suicide rate in Greece is lower than the actual as there is still considerable stigma attached to suicide.
Every so often a dramatic act of despair catches the country’s imagination. In spring last year a 77-year-old retired pharmacist shot himself in the head in the central square of Athens, leaving a note saying that he could not bear the idea of “scavenging in dustbins for food and becoming a burden to my child...” And anybody who knows Greece well can probably think of at least one acquaintance whose death was prompted, entirely or in part, by financial desperation.
Christmas is a special time of the year. For children especially, it should be a happy, magical, bright and peaceful time. Yet how many children the world over not only will not have gifts this Christmas, but also will go hungry? Millions of children are poor; they lack access to safe drinking water, essential vaccines, education and nutrition; they are at risk of being exploited and abused. You can make a difference by becoming involved locally, but also donating to help children further afield. The crisis in Syria for example claims many innocent children daily. Save the Children is an organisation that does very good work and you can help here.
Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy the time with your family and friends. If you can, help make someone else’s Christmas happy too.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013


“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store.” - Dr Seuss
Today is Christmas Eve. It is the anniversary of the birth of:
  • Benjamin Rush, physician/humanitarian (1745);
  • Kit Carson, Western scout (1809);
  • James Prescott Joule, physicist (1818);
  • Matthew Arnold, English poet (1822);
  • Peter Cornelius, German composer (1824);
  • Emanuel Lasker, chess champion (1868);
  • Juan Ramón Jiménez, Nobel laureate (1956) Spanish poet (1881);
  • Howard Hughes, USA millionaire (1905);
  • Ava Gardner, actress (1922);
  • Robert Joffrey, choreographer (1930).

The birthday flower for this day is the chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum sinensis X indicum.  It is an emblem of the solar disc and is under the dominion of Sagittarius.  It symbolises abundance and wealth, regal beauty and cheerfulness in adversity.  A red chrysanthemum in the language of flowers speaks the words: “I love you”; a white one stands for “truth”, while a yellow one implies dejection and slighted love.
“Silent Night” was composed on this day in 1818 by Franz Gruber and sung for the first time the next day, Christmas 1818.
On Christmas Eve all Christmas decorations should be put up, the Christmas tree trimmed and the ivy, holly and mistletoe brought it to the house for the first time only today.  The Yule Log or “Christmas Brand” must be brought into the house and this log should be taken from your own trees, found or be given to you, but never bought.  It should be lit at dusk with a splinter from last year’s Yule Log. It should burn all night, but preferably burn all night and then all through the twelve nights of Christmas.  It should not be left to go out but it can be extinguished and re-lit. The piece that is kept for lighting next year’s log will protect the house from burning down all through the year.  The Christmas candle should be lit for the first time tonight and it should be large enough to light the evening meal for the next twelve days.  It should be bright red in colour and must never blow out accidentally but always snuffed at the end of the meal.
The Finns have a tradition that recounts how on Christmas Eve, one of the longest nights in the year, ghosts roam the earth. They set out candles on the graves of dead relatives making the travels of the spirits from and to the graves easier. The candles also placate the ghosts and ensure that the family is safe.

Monday, 23 December 2013


“How incessant and great are the ills with which a prolonged old age is replete…” - C. S. Lewis
We watched the Dustin Hoffman 2012 film “Quartet”  starring Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Tom Courtenay. The screenplay is based on Ronald Harwood’s play, and this stage origin sometimes shows. The film was very reminiscent of “The Very Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” which I have previously reviewed here. Maggie Smith’s character in particular was very similar.
The plot in a nutshell concerns former opera singers, Cecily (Collins), Reggie (Courtenay), and Wilfred (Connolly) who are in a home for retired musicians. Every year, on October 10, there is a concert to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday and they take part. Another operatic soprano, Jean (Smith), who used to be married to Reggie, suddenly arrives at the home and disrupts their equilibrium. She still acts like a diva, but refuses to sing as she believes she has lost the agility of her voice. The three residents have to build bridges over broken relationships first and then to convince Joan to sing and take part in the gala concert.
This film is Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut at age 75. This is a movie for veteran actors, and there are many good, solid performances in this ensemble piece about the ageing residents of the retirement home. Hoffman doesn’t stray into overwrought drama or mawkishness and his direction is restrained. The humour ranges from the subtle to the occasional slapstick but there is also an emotional undercurrent. Although the stars play satisfying characters well (as they should at their age), the supporting actors are also well chosen. The sets and costumes are delightful, and the music is of course wonderful.
Although we enjoyed this movie, it is nowhere near the calibre of “The Very Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, which deals with a similar topic. It is not as deep nor as satisfying as the “Marigold Hotel”. Nevertheless, it is a light-weight, enjoyable movie, perfect for a quiet night in or a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, 22 December 2013


“Every man with a bellyful of the classics is an enemy to the human race.” - Henry Miller
Cesar Santos (born 1982) is a Cuban-American artist. He studied at the Miami Dade College and the New World School of the Arts before travelling to Florence, where he trained at the Angel Academy of Art under the tutelage of Michael John Angel, a student of Pietro Annigoni. He returned to Miami, where he developed his philosophy of marrying both the classical and the modern juxtaposed within one painting.
His influences range from the Renaissance to the masters of the nineteenth century to Modernism. With superb technique, he infuses a harmony between the natural and the conceptual to create works that are provocative and dramatic. He has been the recipient of numerous accolades including a first place award from a competition sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Santos has had exhibitions throughout the United States, Europe and Latin America, including the Villa Bardini Museum in Florence, Italy, the National Gallery in Costa Rica and the Frost Art Museum in Miami, Florida.
With his paintings, Santos proves that beauty is timeless. Influenced by the Renaissance, masters of the nineteenth century and Modernism, his works reflect both classical and modern interpretations. In many of his works, a refined painting technique comes together with colourful and at times abstract contemporary fragments. And the results are amazing: Men, women, and icons such as “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” and “Mona Lisa's Niece” become personages of today while keeping their original charm. His "Rebirth of Painting" above shows evidently his homage to classicism, but once again there are modern elements that surprise and intrigue. It will be interesting to watch this artist's maturation and development of a style that goes beyond the derivative.

A video about his activities (not only in painting!) can be seen here:

Saturday, 21 December 2013


“That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.” - Albert Einstein
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643 – 24 February 1704) was a French composer of the Baroque era. Exceptionally prolific and versatile, Charpentier produced compositions of the highest quality in several genres. His mastery in writing sacred vocal music, above all, was recognised and hailed by his contemporaries.

His compositions include oratorios, masses, operas, and numerous smaller pieces that are difficult to categorise. Many of his smaller works for one or two voices and instruments resemble the Italian cantata of the time, and share most features except for the name. Charpentier calls them air sérieux or air à boire if they are in French, but cantata if they are in Italian.

The “Missa Assumpta est Maria” is the last of Charpentier’s many mass settings, written about 1700, and is considered his greatest work in the genre. This mass is notable for the warmth of Charpentier’s choral and vocal writing, which often has an intensity and harmonic richness that practically give it a Romantic character, particularly in movements like Et incarnatus, from the Credo. It is performed here by Le Concert Spirituel under Hervé Niquet.

The mass offers further evidence that Charpentier, whose music was virtually unknown except to scholars until the late twentieth century, deserves a spot in the pantheon of the most exceptional Baroque composers. His music was controversial during his lifetime, and he wrote of his discouragement that he had as many vociferous detractors as supporters. What is most striking to modern listeners is probably the transparent emotion expressed in his music, which gives it an extraordinarily modern sensibility. He is best known for his noble and often achingly poignant religious works, but his secular love songs dazzle with their simplicity and unmannered charm, and other works reveal a wicked wit.

Friday, 20 December 2013


“I did not become a vegetarian for my health, I did it for the health of the chickens.” - Isaac Bashevis Singer

Lentil Pie


4 small potatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 onion
1 large leek (white part only, finely chopped)
10 mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tablespoon plain flour
3 cups vegetable stock
pinch fresh or dried thyme
pinch freshly ground pepper
100mL thickened cream
400g boiled lentils
2 sheets ready- rolled puff pastry
1 tablespoon butter

Peel the potatoes and boil on medium heat until tender.
Heat olive oil in large saucepan, add chopped onion, leek and chopped mushrooms and heat for 10 minutes making sure they do not brown.
Stir in flour and stir constantly until the sauce thickens up. Add 2 cups of the vegetable stock. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add rest of stock if it’s too thick.
Add the thyme, pepper, cream and stir. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring now and then. Keep checking to make sure it does not stick to the pan.
Drain potatoes, chop into small chunks and add to saucepan.
Add the lentils, stir. Simmer for 5 minutes or until desired consistency, making sure it’s not too watery. Turn heat off and let it sit for 10 minutes to thicken up.
Meanwhile take puff pastry out of the freezer and let it thaw.
Get out a large baking dish and pour the mixture in, then top with puff pastry. Brush with butter (or egg). Alternatively, you can bake in individual ramekins or little pots.
Cook in 180˚ C oven until the puff pastry is golden brown (about 30 minutes). Serve from the baking dish.

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

Thursday, 19 December 2013


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

The ancient Greeks had several different theories regarding the origin of the world, but the generally accepted notion was that before this world came into existence, there was in its place a confused mass of shapeless elements called Chaos. These elements eventually resolved themselves into two widely different substances, the lighter portion of which, soaring on high, formed the sky or firmament, and constituted itself into a vast, overarching vault, which protected the firm and solid mass beneath.

Thus came into being the two first great primeval deities of the Greeks, Uranus and Gæa. Uranus represented the light and air of heaven, possessing the distinguishing qualities of light, heat, purity, and omnipresence, whilst Gæa, the firm, flat, life-sustaining earth, was worshipped as the great all-nourishing mother. Her many titles refer to her more or less in this character, and she appears to have been universally revered among the Greeks, there being scarcely a city in Greece which did not contain a temple erected in her honour; indeed Gæa was held in such veneration that her name was always invoked whenever the gods took a solemn oath, made an emphatic declaration, or implored assistance.

Uranus, the heaven, was believed to have united himself in marriage with Gæa, the earth. The first-born child of Uranus and Gæa was Oceanus, the ocean stream, that vast expanse of ever-flowing water which encircled the earth. Uranus also produced offspring who were of a much lesser material nature than his son Oceanus. These other children of his were supposed to occupy the intermediate space that divided him from Gæa. Nearest to Uranus, and just beneath him, came Aether (Ether), a bright creation representing that highly rarified atmosphere which immortals alone could breathe. Then followed Aër (Air), which was in close proximity to Gæa, and represented, as its name implies, the grosser atmosphere surrounding the earth which mortals could freely breathe, and without which they would perish.

Aether and Aër were separated from each other by divinities called Nephelae. These were their restless and wandering sisters, who existed in the form of clouds, ever floating between Aether and Aër. Gæa also produced the mountains, and Pontus (the sea). She united herself with the latter, and their offspring were the sea-deities Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia.

Co-existent with Uranus and Gæa were two mighty powers who were also the offspring of Chaos. These were Erebus (Darkness) and Nyx (Night), who formed a striking contrast to the cheerful light of heaven and the bright smiles of earth. Erebus reigned in that mysterious world below where no ray of sunshine, no gleam of daylight, nor vestige of health-giving terrestrial life ever appeared. Nyx, the sister of Erebus, represented Night, and was worshipped by the ancients with the greatest solemnity.

Uranus was also supposed to have been united to Nyx, but only in his capacity as god of light, he being considered the source and fountain of all light, and their children were Eos (Aurora), the Dawn, and Hemera, the Daylight. Nyx again, on her side was also doubly united, having been married at some indefinite period to Erebus.

In addition to those children of heaven and earth already enumerated, Uranus and Gæa produced two distinctly different races of beings called Giants and Titans. The Giants personified brute strength alone, but the Titans united to their great physical power intellectual qualifications variously developed. There were three Giants, Briareus, Cottus, and Gyges, who each possessed a hundred hands and fifty heads, and were known collectively by the name of the Hecatoncheires, which signified hundred-handed. These mighty Giants could shake the universe and produce earthquakes, representing active subterranean forces, whose power the ancients were well aware of.

The Titans were twelve in number; their names were: Oceanus, Ceos, Crios, Hyperion, Iapetus, Cronus, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phœbe, and Tethys. Uranus, the chaste light of heaven, the essence of all that is bright and pleasing, held in abhorrence his crude, rough, and turbulent offspring, the Giants, and moreover feared that their great power might eventually prove hurtful to himself. He therefore hurled them into Tartarus, that portion of the lower world that served as the subterranean dungeon of the gods. In order to avenge the oppression of her children, the Giants, Gæa instigated a conspiracy on the part of the Titans against Uranus, which was carried to a successful issue by her son Cronus.

Cronus wounded his father, and from the blood of the wound which fell upon the earth sprang a race of monstrous beings also called Giants. Assisted by his brother-Titans, Cronus succeeded in dethroning his father, who, enraged at his defeat, cursed his rebellious son, and foretold to him a similar fate. Cronus now became invested with supreme power, and assigned to his brothers offices of distinction, subordinate only to himself. Subsequently, however, when, secure of his position, he no longer needed their assistance, he basely repaid their former services with treachery, made war upon his brothers and faithful allies, and, assisted by the Giants, completely defeated them, sending such as resisted his all-conquering arm down into the lowest depths of Tartarus…

See also post Greek Gods - 1

Wednesday, 18 December 2013


“People don’t ask for facts in making up their minds. They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts.” Robert Keith Leavitt

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Charles Wesley
, co-founder of the Methodist sect (1707);
, empress of Russia (1709);
Joseph Grimaldi
, English pantomimist “the greatest clown in history” (1779);
Carl Maria von Weber
, composer (1786);
Edward Alexander MacDowell
, composer (1860);
(Hector Hugo Munro), author (1870);
Paul Klee
, painter (1879);
Edwin Armstrong
, FM radio pioneer (1890);
Christopher Fry
, writer (1907);
Willy Brandt
, German chancellor (1913);
Betty Grable
, US actress (1916);
Boris V. Volynov
, Russian cosmonaut (1934);
Steven Spielberg
, director (1947).

The holly, Ilex aquifolium, is today’s birthday plant.  It is symbolic of domestic happiness, good wishes, friendship and goodwill.  In the language of flowers, holly asks: “Am I forgotten?” Christian symbology ascribes the thorns of the leaves with the meaning “Christ’s passion”, while the red berries stand for the drops of blood of Christ.
            The holly bears a berry red,
            The ivy bears a black ‘un,
            To show that Christ His blood did shed,
            To save our soul from Satan.

In Latvia on this day a winter festival called the “Greeting of the Four Brothers” is celebrated. The festival celebrates the return of light and the birth of God called Diev. The Four Brothers Ziemassvétki are celestial being bearing gifts and are heralds of the solstice. Latvians decorate their houses gaily and cook all kinds of good food for the four-day feasting.

Edward Alexander MacDowell (1861–1908) was an American composer born in New York City. His outstanding works are four piano sonatas and his Indian Suite (1897) for orchestra. Woodland Sketches (1896) and Sea Pieces (1898) for piano are popular. The MacDowell Colony for artists, writers, and composers (Peterborough, N.H.) was founded by his widow.

Today is the Feast Day of Santa María de la Soledad (Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, Maria Santisima, Nuestra Señora Dolorosisima de la Soledad, Virgen de la Soledad) or Our Lady of Solitude. This is a title of Mary (mother of Jesus) and a special form of Marian devotion practised in Spanish-speaking countries to commemorate the solitude of Mary on Holy Saturday.

María de la Soledad is the patroness of Badajos and Parla, Spain; Porto Covo, Portugal; Oaxaca and Acapulco, Mexico; and of Cavite Province, Philippines, under the name Nuestra Señora de la Soledad de Porta Vaga. The Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad in Soledad, California was devoted to María de la Soledad. The given name María de la Soledad, often shortened to Marisol or Soledad, is used in Spanish-speaking countries.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013


“For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.” - Judy Garland

Poetry Jam issued the following challenge to followers of this creative writing blog: “This week write a poem from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in or someone on the inside looking out – or both…”

Here is my offering:

Walking in the Rain

The pattern of copper leaves on wet, gray sidewalk
A jigsaw in disarray –
The broken image of a season of discontent.
Sharp claws of cold scratch my face
While rain falls relentlessly
The river merging imperceptibly with the wet air.

I walk determined, ignoring my wet trouser legs,
Shivering even under layers of clothes
That fail to insulate me, leave me exposed
To late autumn weather;
The thought of you warms my core
And your sunny smile remembered moves me forward.

A sudden wind gust catches umbrellas
Turning them inside out, upside down,
And their owners struggle to discipline them.
The rain keeps falling
As I keep walking, each step takes me
Closer to you, my warm and cosy haven.

A homeless man wrapped in a dirty blanket
Sleeps fitfully as the rain soaks him
His wet hat failing to acknowledge the sound of my coin
Falling in its empty depths.
You are my home and no rain will keep me away
From your snug embrace.

I am soaked now but I can see your door,
All lit up brightly, a beacon in the gloom;
I smile, oblivious to the icy, biting wind
That only fans my ardour more,
This stolen hour just after midday
On a cold, wet, gray – but oh, so beautiful – day!

Monday, 16 December 2013


“Supernatural, perhaps; baloney, perhaps not.” – Bela Lugosi (‘The Black Cat’, 1934)

Hammer Films is a film production company based in the United Kingdom. Since its founding in 1934, the company became best known for a series of Gothic “Hammer Horror” films made from the mid-1950s until the 1970s. Hammer also produced science fiction, thrillers, film noir and comedies. In later years it diversified and entered television series production. During its most successful years, Hammer dominated the horror film market, enjoying worldwide distribution and considerable financial success. This success was due, in part, to distribution partnerships with major United States studios, such as Warner Bros.

During the late 1960s and 1970s the saturation of the horror film market by competitors and the loss of American funding forced changes to the previously lucrative Hammer-formula, with varying degrees of success. The company eventually ceased production in the mid-1980s. In 2000, the studio was bought by a consortium including advertising executive and art collector Charles Saatchi and publishing millionaires Neil Mendoza and William Sieghart.

The company announced plans to begin making films again after this change in ownership, but none were produced. In May 2007, the company behind the movies was sold again, this time to a consortium headed by Dutch media tycoon John de Mol, who announced plans to spend some $50 million (£25m) on new horror films. The new owners also acquired the Hammer group’s film library, consisting of 295 movies. Simon Oakes, who took over as CEO of Hammer, said: “Hammer is a great British brand - we intend to take it back into production and develop its global potential. The brand is still alive but no one has invested in it for a long time.” Since then it has produced the feature films ‘Let Me In’ (2010), ‘The Resident’ (2011), and ‘The Woman In Black’ (2012).

We recently bought a box set of three Hammer Horror movies in the sale bin of our video store. These were rather nostalgically reminiscent of the days in the early 70s when I used to watch these wonderfully lurid movies. We managed to watch all three in a couple of weeks and they were: ‘The Plague of the Zombies’ (1966), ‘The Mummy’s Shroud’ (1967) and ‘The Reptile’ (1966).

These are all typical Hammer Horror fare and of the three, ‘The Reptile’ is probably the best, followed by ‘The Plague of the Zombies’ and then ‘The Mummy’s Shroud’. By modern standards, all of these films are lacking in special effects and complex CGI glitz. However, at the time, these were good enough to gratify the morbid interest of the public that needed to be scared and titillated.

The acting is wooden to plastic, the sets not too bad, and the make-up good enough to be convincing. Watch these films for nostalgia value only – they are quite amusing if seen in perspective.

Sunday, 15 December 2013


“Colour possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour: Colour and I are one. I am a painter.” - Paul Klee

Paul Klee was born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland, on December 18, 1879. Klee participated in and was influenced by a range of artistic movements, including surrealism, cubism and expressionism. He taught art in Germany until 1933, when the National Socialists declared his work indecent. The Klee family fled to Switzerland, where Paul Klee died on June 29, 1940.

Klee was the son of a music teacher and was a talented violinist, receiving an invitation to play with the Bern Music Association at age 11. As a teenager, Klee’s attention turned from music to the visual arts. In 1898, he began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. By 1905, he had developed signature techniques, including drawing with a needle on a blackened pane of glass. Between 1903 and 1905, he completed a set of etchings called “Inventions” that would be his first exhibited works.

In 1906, Klee married Bavarian pianist Lily Stumpf. The couple had a son, Felix Paul. Klee’s artwork progressed slowly for the next five years. In 1910, he had his first solo exhibition in Bern, which subsequently travelled to three Swiss cities. In January 1911, Klee met art critic Alfred Kubin, who introduced him to artists and critics. That winter, Klee joined the editorial team of the journal “Der Blaue Reiter”, co-founded by Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky. He began working on colour experiments in watercolours and landscapes, including the painting “In the Quarry”.

Klee’s artistic breakthrough came in 1914, after a trip to Tunisia. Inspired by the light in Tunis, Klee began to delve into abstract art. Returning to Munich, Klee painted his first pure abstract, In the Style of Kairouan, composed of coloured rectangles and circles. Klee’s work evolved during World War I, particularly following the deaths of his friends Auguste Macke and Franz Marc. Klee created several pen-and-ink lithographs, including “Death for the Idea”, in reaction to this loss. In 1916, he joined the German army, painting camouflage on airplanes (sic!) and working as a clerk.

By 1917, art critics began to classify Klee as one of the best young German artists. A three-year contract with dealer Hans Goltz brought exposure as well as commercial success. Klee taught at the Bauhaus from 1921 to 1931, alongside his friend Kandinsky. In 1923, Kandinsky and Klee formed the Blue Four with two other artists, Alexej von Jawlensky and Lyonel Feininger, and toured the United States to lecture and exhibit work. Klee had his first exhibits in Paris around this time, finding favour with the French surrealists.

Klee began teaching at Dusseldorf Academy in 1931. Two years later, he was fired under Nazi rule. The Klee family moved to Switzerland in late 1933. Klee was at the peak of his creative output during this tumultuous period. He produced nearly 500 works in a single year and created “Ad Parnassum”, widely considered to be his masterpiece.

Mount Parnassus, also Parnassos (Greek: Παρνασσός), is a mountain of limestone in central Greece that towers above Delphi, north of the Gulf of Corinth, and offers scenic views of the surrounding olive groves and countryside. According to Greek mythology, this mountain was sacred to Apollo and the Corycian nymphs, and the home of the Muses. The mountain was also favoured by the Dorians. There is a theory that Parna- derived from the same root as the word in Luwian meaning House.  The name “Parnassus” in literature typically refers to its distinction as the home of poetry, literature, and learning; the Montparnasse area in Paris, France, for example, bears its name from the many literature students who recited poetry in the streets, who as a result nicknamed it “(le) Mont Parnasse”.

Klee’s “To Parnassus” of 1932 makes allusions to this metaphor, with the mountain being seen as a the lofty peak of artistic endeavour. The mountain figures prominently in the painting, and the arched structure resembling a gate invites the viewer to venture inside the “house of art”, which the whole composition resembles. The subdivision of the painting plane in many multicoloured “pixels” predates the digital age, of course, and always reminds me of the wings of butterflies…

Saturday, 14 December 2013


“Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.” - Samuel Butler

For Music Saturday, Pietro Nardini’s delightful Sonatas for Strings. Pietro Nardini,  (born April 12, 1722 , Livorno, Tuscany; died May 7, 1793 , Florence), was an Italian violinist and composer, one of the most eminent violinists of the 18th century. He was the most famous pupil of the composer and virtuoso violinist Giuseppe Tartini. Nardini was solo violinist at the court at Stuttgart from 1753 to 1767. He then returned to Livorno and lived with Tartini during Tartini’s last illness until his death in 1770. In 1770 Nardini became music director to the duke of Tuscany. He enjoyed great fame as a composer and performer, his playing praised by contemporaries for its beauty and emotional power. His violin compositions, though not numerous, are melodious and highly playable and are valued as technical studies.

Friday, 13 December 2013


“If God hadn’t meant for us to eat sugar, he wouldn't have invented dentists.” - Ralph Nader

A little bit of whimsy for Food Friday today. As we had egg whites left over after making mayonnaise, we decided to make some French macarons. These are all the rage in Melbourne presently and there are even some shops completely devoted to making and selling these dainty biscuits.

French Macarons


4 large egg whites (or 5 small)
70g caster sugar
230g pure icing sugar
120g almond meal, finely ground
2g salt (tiny pinch)
gel food colouring (optional)
vanilla essence (or flavouring of your choice)

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C
Place egg whites and caster sugar in a bowl and mix with electric mixer until stiff enough to turn the bowl upside down without it falling out, continue to whip for 1-2 more minutes.
How long this takes will depend on your mixer. Add gel or powdered food colouring and continue to mix for a further 20 seconds.
Sift the almond meal and icing sugar and salt twice, discarding any almond lumps that are too big to pass through the sieve. Fold into the egg white mixture. It should take roughly 30-50 folds using a rubber spatula. The mixture should be smooth and a very viscous, not runny. Over-mix and your macarons will be flat and have no foot, under mix and they will not be smooth on top.
Pipe onto trays lined with baking paper, rap trays on the bench firmly (this prevents cracking) and then bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Check if one comes off the tray fairly cleanly, if not bake for a little longer (make sure you are using NON-stick baking paper or they will stick).

Ganache filling


100g chocolate
30ml cream

Bring the cream to the boil and pour over the chocolate. Let stand for a minute and then stir. If it is not adequately melted then microwave for 20 seconds and stir – repeat until smooth. Allow to cool and thicken before piping onto macarons.

Buttercream filling


120g butter
330g icing sugar
1-4 tablespoons of milk or cream
Vanilla essence (or flavouring/colouring of your choice)

Leave the butter to soften at room temperature then beat together with the icing sugar and 1 tablespoon of milk or cream until smooth and light in colour. Add extra spoons of milk one at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

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

Thursday, 12 December 2013


For the Festive Season.


“Whenever you have truth it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Today is Mexico's Guadalupe Festival; The Feast Day of St Finian, and the Feast Day of St Spyridon.

It is also the anniversary of the birth of:
Henry Wells
, founder of American Express/Wells Fargo Co. (1805);
Gustave Flaubert
, French writer (1821);
Henri Becquerel
, Nobel laureate (1903) physicist (1852);
Edvard Munch
, artist (1863);
Frank Sinatra
, US actor/singer (1915);
Joe Williams
, singer (1918);
John Osborne
, playwright (1929);
Connie Francis
(Concetta Franconero), singer (1938);
Dionne Warwick
, singer (1941).

Coriander, Coriandrum sativum, is today’s birthday plant and in the language of flowers it symbolises hidden wealth and concealed merit.  Astrologers assign the plant to Saturn. Since ancient times, coriander has been enjoyed in many cultures for its culinary and medicinal values. Coriander is the most popular herb in the world and its use can be traced back to 5,000 BC where it was found in Egyptian tombs, making it one of the world’s oldest spices.

Considered a member of the carrot family coriander has a love hate relationship in some parts of the world. The herb is widely used in cooking in Latin American countries, the Caribbean, India and China, but not in Japan or Spain. Traditionally coriander is used to treat migraines and indigestion to help purify the blood and to relieve nausea, pain in joints and rheumatism. Researchers found that coriander can assist with clearing the body of lead, aluminum and mercury.

St Finian was a native of Leinster and was instructed in the elements of Christian virtue by the disciples of St. Patrick. He travelled to Wales but about the year 520 AD he returned into Ireland. To propagate the work of God, the Saint established several monasteries and schools. St. Finian was chosen and consecrated Bishop of Clonard. In the love of his flock and his zeal for their salvation he was infirm with the infirm, and wept with those that wept. He healed the souls, and often also the bodies, of those that applied to him. He died on the 12th of December in 552 AD and his feast day commemorates this.

St Finian is especially celebrated in the Highlands of Scotland and the islands.  It is very unlucky to go to bed without having supper on this night as anybody who does so will be spirited away over the housetops by fairies.  This was a good excuse for many a feast and a carousal where much whisky and delicacies were consumed well into the night.

St Spyridon was born in Askeia, in Cyprus. He worked as a shepherd and was known for his great piety. He married and had one daughter, Irene. Upon the death of his wife, Spyridon entered a monastery, and their daughter, a convent.

Spyridon eventually became Bishop of Trimythous, or Tremithous (today called Tremetousia), in the district of Larnaca (while the tradition of the Eastern Church does not allow the ordination of married men cohabiting with their living spouses as Bishops, the ordination of widowers is fairly common). He took part in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), where he was instrumental in countering the theological arguments of Arius and his followers.

He reportedly converted a pagan philosopher to Christianity by using a potsherd to illustrate how one single entity (a piece of pottery) could be composed of three unique entities (fire, water and clay); a metaphor for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

As soon as Spyridon finished speaking, the shard is said to have miraculously burst into flame, water dripped on the ground, and only dust remained in his hand (other accounts of this event say that it was a brick he held in his hand).

After the council, Saint Spiridon returned to his diocese in Tremithous. He later fell into disfavour during the persecutions of the emperor Maximinus, but died peacefully in old age. His biography was recorded by the hagiographer Simeon Metaphrastes and the church historians, Sozomen and Socrates Scholasticus. St Spyridon is the Patron Saint of the Greek island of Corfu.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe, is a title of the Virgin Mary associated with a celebrated pictorial image housed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City. Official Catholic accounts state that on the morning of December 9, 1531, Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City. Speaking to him in Nahuatl, the girl asked that a church be built at that site in her honour; from her words, Juan Diego recognised the girl as the Virgin Mary.

Diego told his story to the Spanish Archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, who instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the “lady” for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. The first sign was the Virgin healing Juan’s uncle. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill. Although December was very late in the growing season for flowers to bloom, Juan Diego found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, on the normally barren hilltop. The Virgin arranged these in his peasant cloak or tilma. When Juan Diego opened his cloak before Bishop Zumárraga on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Juan Diego was canonised in 2002, and his tilma is displayed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the most visited Marian shrine in the world. The representation of the Virgin on the tilma is Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural image, and under this title the Virgin has been acclaimed as “Queen of Mexico”, “Patroness of the Americas”, “Empress of Latin America”, and “Protectress of Unborn Children” (the latter three given by Pope John Paul II in 1999). Under this title, she was also proclaimed “Heavenly Patroness of the Philippines” in 1935, a designation revised by Pope Pius XII in 1942.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013


“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” - Roy L. Smith
This week, Poetry Jam has urged followers to write about childhood beliefs. The approaching holy days of Christmas cannot be overlooked and in the jolly consumer’s paradise we have created for ourselves, we try to recapture the magic of childhood and the wonder of true belief.
The Season’s Greetings
The greeting cards announce in cursive script:
“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”
As mailboxes fill with hollow cardboard wishes,
Stock sugary images – empty felicitations…
The carols blare in lifts, in shopping centres:
“Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth”.
Children bright-eyed in greedy innocence,
Stare with hungry eyes at toy store displays.
The Father Christmases in their thousands, chuckle:
“Ho, ho, ho!”, with white beards and hair a pale caricature.
The milling crowds around them hope to be infected
By their scarlet pretend jollity and ersatz joviality.
The decorations brightly sparkle, the Christmas lights shine:
“Noël, Noël” the electronics tinkle as they flicker on and off.
As families gather united under the same roof,
Their enmities are suspended, temporarily, under false smiles.
Somewhere a tiny baby is in a hovel born,
Its mother unmarried, only a distant relative present.
The stars burn bright in the firmament,
And one falls, streaking bright across the blue velvet.
In the cold air, the lowing of the cattle breaks the silence,
While somewhere in the distance a shepherd’s pipe
Begins to play a simple tune that’s carried by the wind.
Christmas again this year has come.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” - Nelson Mandela
The UN General Assembly proclaimed 10 December as Human Rights Day in 1950, to ensure awareness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. The UN General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France, on the December 10, 1948.
In 2013, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights marks 20 years since its establishment. The United Nations General Assembly created the mandate of High Commissioner for the promotion and protection of all human rights in December 1993. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by the World Conference in 2003, marked the beginning of a renewed effort in the protection and promotion of human rights and is regarded as one of the most significant human rights documents of the past quarter century.
Many events on this commemoration day aim to educate people, especially children and teenagers, on their human rights and the importance of upholding these in their own communities and further afield. The day is also popular for organising protests to alert people of circumstances in parts of the world where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not recognised or respected, or where the upholding of these rights is not considered to be important. Cultural events are also organised to celebrate human rights through music, dance, drama or fine art.
This is a good day for writing letters of support, hope, inspiration and expressing opinions about human rights. It is timely to think of those who live in countries and under regimes where they are not permitted to freely express their opinions. Several organisations around the world are active in promoting human rights and giving these people unable to claim their rights a voice for doing so, albeit indirectly.
Nelson Mandela’s death recently reminded people all over the world of the struggle in South Africa where the battle for equality, and against racism, has resulted in a situation where new hope may flourish in a reinvented country. It is also timely to remember many other African countries where huge social and economic problems deny people may of the rights that in Western countries take for granted. The rights of women, people with disabilities, homosexuals and those belonging to religious minorities are also human rights and very often these individuals may be under multiple attacks every single day of their lives.

Monday, 9 December 2013


“Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” - Winston Churchill

At the weekend we started watching the 2012 eight-part mini-series “The Pillars of the Earth”. This is based on Ken Follett’s book of the same name and is directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan. It stars Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Eddie Redmayne, Hayley Atwell, Natalia Wörner, Anatole Taubman and Rufus Sewell. It is a joint German/Canadian/UK production and has the expansive historical cavalcade type of approach that suits the mini-series format very well – certainly a movie of this book would not have done it justice.

The plot unfolds in the England of 1135 AD, a dark and violent time. King Henry I’s only legitimate heir has died in a shipwreck, and the king has neglected God and the church during his reign. The priests and bishops are most eager to put a religious man on the throne after the poisoning of the king, and in return for swearing allegiance to them, they promise Stephen, the nephew of the king, to enthrone him. A fierce battle of succession ensues between Stephen and King Henry’s only legitimate child Maude.

At this time, a young and ambitious monk named Philip is made Prior of Kingsbridge, a town that has suffered in recent times and that is in dire need to have its church rebuilt. Tom Builder travels through England with his son Alfred, his daughter Martha and after his wife Agnes died in childbirth, they are joined by the two outlaws Ellen and Jack. Finally, Tom finds a job in Shiring, but the earl, Lord Bartholomew is conspiring against the new king Stephen and the William Hamleigh, who was rejected by the lord’s daughter Aliena. Philip, Tom and his family and Aliena are faced with several challenges and hardships, but their paths cross in Kingsbridge, and they all will play a vital role in the construction of the brand new cathedral.

There is intrigue aplenty, politics, love, sex, battle, violence, incest, skullduggery and lots of sweeping, inspiring panoramas of life in the twelfth century at all levels of society. The acting is good, the costumes and sets well-produced and the direction tight enough for such a mammoth undertaking of filming a novel of this scope and intricacy. Be warned that the series contains lots of violence and sex and also some very colourful language and mature themes.

We look forward to watching the rest of this series, but also I believe there is a sequel, “World without End”, which I would like to get hold of to watch too. This sequel doesn't rate as highly on IMDB as does the original series, but nevertheless, it does get good reviews. Definitely worth watching if you like epic historical dramas.

Sunday, 8 December 2013


“Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science.” - Georges Seurat
Georges Seurat (2 December 1859, Paris, France; to 29 March 1891, Paris, France from diphtheria), one of the members of ‘Salon des Refusés’ who learned from classical training and from contemporary art and was rejected by the official Salon, became the founder of Pointilism (Divisionism) in art. He was born Georges-Pierre Seurat, the youngest of three children in the family of a wealthy lawyer, Chrysostome-Antoine Seurat. His mother, named Ernestine Faivre, came from a prosperous Parisian family.
During the early 1870s young Seurat was taking private drawing lessons from his uncle, painter Paul Haumonte, who took him on regular art expeditions. From 1875 he studied drawing under the sculptor Justin Lequien. From 1878-1879 Seurat studied art at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His teacher Henri Lehmann was a disciple of the great neoclassical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who was the student of Jacques-Louis David. That training was formative for his meticulous working procedure, which Seurat developed in his mature works. Having served at Brest Military Academy for one year, he returned to Paris and continued his art studies.
During the year of 1883 Seurat was working on his first large painting ‘La baignade a Asnieres’ (Bathers at Asnieres 1883), which was rejected by the official Salon. However, the painting was exhibited by the Societé des Artistes Indépendants, which was organised as a second ‘Salon des Refusés’ (Salon of the Refused). At their initial show in 1884, Seurat’s ‘Bathers at Asnieres’ was exhibited along with the works by Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Signac. That was the beginning of Seurat’s friendship with Signac, who connected him to the avant-garde group 'Les Vingt' in Brussels.
Seurat exhibited seven of his works in Brussels in 1887. His collaboration with Signac led to foundation and development of Neo-Impressionism, the artistic movement also known as Pointillism or Divisionism. Seurat himself preferred the term Divisionism.  Seurat was a man of modest means and modest lifestyle. He was abstinent from alcohol, or any other drugs and stayed totally devoted to his art. He was known as a quiet and at times depressed, but robust and generous person. He was always helping his friends and arranging their exhibitions and hanging the paintings.
Seurat lived in his art-studio with his young model Madeleine Knobloch, whom he met in 1889. She came from a working class family and was not fully accepted by Seurat’s established friends. In February of 1890, she gave birth to their son Pierre-George. Seurat was secretive about his private life, a trait he inherited from his father. He became traumatised at the news of the death of Vincent van Gogh in 1890.
Seurat introduced his young family to his parents just days before he was “choked to death” by a throat infection, diagnosed as diphtheria, which also killed his little son two weeks later, and killed his father after another month. Seurat died on March 29, 1891, and was laid to rest in the Cimitière du Pere-Lachaise in Paris, France.  Georges Seurat produced most of his works during the 1880's, which are regarded as one of the most salient periods of aesthetic change. He exhibited his last ambitious work, ‘Le Cirque’ (The Circus 1891), while it was still unfinished. It was Seurat’s visual retelling of the story of ‘Frères Zemgano’, a novel by Edmont De Goncourt.
During his short life Seurat made only seven large paintings, working for a year or more on each one. At the same time he made about five hundred smaller paintings and drawings. Seurat produced a strong stimulating effect on his fellow artists. Neo-Impressionists were later joined by Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Rousseau, and other artists who developed the idea of Pointillism (or Divisionism) in other artistic movements, such as Fauvism.
Dividing colours in order to produce special effects was attempted by many artists. Seurat was the first one to meticulously fill every centimetre of his paintings with swirling swarms of small colourful dots which represented the desired color, when a painting was looked at from a distance. His work quality ascended to such an artistic height, that it attracted masses of followers and made a lasting impact on generations of artists, designers, architects, photographers, cinematographers, and even on today’s cutting-edge digital software developers.
Seurat’s influence on fashion design was evident in some successful fashion collections from such acclaimed couturiers as Oleg Cassini, whose use of colour patterns alluded to those of Seurat’s, as well, as Vyacheslav Zaytsev and Pierre Cardin among many others.  Seurat’s visual language, his innovative and thoughtful interplay of colours, has the ability to trick our mind into a special way of looking at the world, and gives us an impression of the wonderful ways in which art can imitate nature.
The “Circus Sideshow” (La Parade du Cirque) of 1887–88 (Oil on canvas; 99.7 x 149.9 cm) is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is one of six major figure paintings that Seurat produced during his short career. More compact than his other mural-size compositions, and more mysterious in its allure, Seurat’s first nocturnal painting debuted at the 1888 Salon des Indépendants in Paris. On a balustraded stage, under the misty glow of nine twinkling gaslights, a ringmaster (at right) and musicians (at left) play to a crowd of potential ticket buyers, whose assorted hats add a wry and rhythmic note to the foreground.
Seurat made on-site sketches in the spring of 1887, when Fernand Corvi’s travelling circus was set up in a working-class district of Paris, near the place de la Nation; he then developed the composition through several preparatory studies. “Circus Sideshow” represents the first important painting Seurat devoted to a scene of popular entertainment. In effect, it sets the stage for his last great figure compositions, “La Chahut” of 1889–90 (Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo) and “Circus” of 1890–91 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris).