Saturday, 25 May 2013


“The purpose of labour is to gain leisure.” - Aristotle

A very busy Saturday filled with the usual chores, and unending domestic duties. At least, there was a certain satisfaction with getting things done and out of the way. And some more sand ran out of the hourglass...

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755) was probably the most prolific French composer ever. He wrote enough works to make a living off his métier, thus not requiring any patrons during his life. This independence allowed him to please himself and while he wrote much music agreeable to public taste, he also experimented with different combinations of instruments, like his Op.15 Concerti for 5 solo flutes.

Here is his Sonata in G minor for two violas da gamba. It is a recording from a concert in Thoiry Castle, France, in 2004. José Vazquez and Lucia Krommer are playing violas da gamba made by J. Stainer, 1671 and M. Albanus, 1706.

Friday, 24 May 2013


“Lentils are friendly - the ‘Miss Congeniality’ of the bean world.” - Laurie Colwin

As we are progressing into Winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, it is time for some warming, quite substantial comfort food! Here is a vegetarian version of Shepherds’ Pie using our good friend the humble lentil. Lentils are very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. They are also a good source of protein, iron, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of dietary fibre, folate and manganese.

Vegetarian Shepherds’ Pie

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
3 garlic cloves
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 large carrots (500g), cubed and parboiled
150 g mushrooms, chopped finely
2 tbsp thyme chopped
200 mL red wine
100 g can of diced capsicum
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 vegetable stock cubes
500 g cooked lentils
Grated nutmeg
900g potatoes
100 g butter
100 g grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a frying pan, then sauté the onion until golden. Add the mushrooms and cook well, then adding the crushed garlic and the tomato paste, stirring all the while. Add the carrots and stir thoroughly so that they mix well with the rest of the ingredients, Add the stock cubes, crumbled and simmer until the carrots are well coated with the oil mixture.

Pour in the wine and 150ml water, and stir well. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 10 mins. Add the boiled lentils, the diced capsicum (including juice) and add more water if needed, then cover and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add the thyme and a pinch of nutmeg.

Meanwhile, chop potatoes and boil them until tender, drain well, then mash with the butter and season to taste with salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Pile the lentil mixture into a pie dish, spoon the mash on top, then sprinkle over the cheese and some thyme. The pie can now be covered and chilled for 2 days, or frozen for up to a month.

Heat oven to 180˚C. Cook the pie for 20 mins if cooking straight away, or for 40 mins from chilled, until golden and hot all the way through. Serve with fresh green garden salad.

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

If you are interested in better nutrition and how it can improve your health, enrol in the free, four-week, online course: Food, Nutrition and your Health.

Thursday, 23 May 2013


“Old age and the passage of time teach all things.” - Sophocles

I was taking a walk early this morning before going to work and in the quiet hours of morning twilight, I was thinking about things. The first was a consideration of my advancing age and the rapidity with which time seems to be passing. The two are related, I think, and there have been numerous explanations put forward regarding the fact that time seems to pass slowly for the young, and quickly for the old… Relativity and accrual of past experiences, crowding of the memory banks, commitments and tasks to be done in a limited period of time may all have something to do with it. I was considering that nearly half of 2013 is already over and it seems only a “short time” ago that it was New Year’s Eve.

The second series of thoughts centred on what I have done in my life and what I still have to do. Achievements, goals attained, travel, relationships, things done, all seemed to pale into insignificance when I consider what I still have undone, so many things I want to try, so many new experiences to enjoy, books to read, music to hear, so much to write, so much to see. And meanwhile time keeps on passing, inexorably, moving ever forward.

I then thought of my retirement and when I should actually stop working (well, “stop working” – probably never), or should I say “quit my regular job”. Retirement will be an exciting time for me, as I will be catching up on so many things that I shelved during my life because I had no time to do them (or do them properly). Taking stock of what I have done in my working career filled me with some regret because I feel as though I did not do as much as I wanted to, nor achieved as much as I was capable of. There is still much in me to give, much more I can contribute in my ordinary working life. However, the passage of time intrudes and the ever-nearer possibility of my demise enters the equation.

The question of balance came into my head. So many of us work hard and long for most of our lives and if one is conscientious about one’s job, it absorbs much of one’s life. Certainly my days are full to the brim of activity and by the time I get home in the evening all I want to do is sit down, relax, eat something, amuse myself for a while, and then sleep a few hours (fortunately, about 5 hours sleep is enough). Then another day dawns and away I go again… Regular work can consume one’s existence, especially if it intrudes into one’s personal time in the evenings or at the weekends. This has happened with amazing regularity to me.

Balancing one’s working life with one’s family and personal time is tough. Especially tough when one’s job is a career, and a demanding one at that. It is not infrequently that “the job” takes over and one’s personal life suffers. The older I get the more I seem to be realising this and the more I seem to miss not doing more of the things that I need (or rather “want”) to do when I have shuffled off this mortal coil. And more thoughts followed till I got to work and then I pushed this version mid-life crisis into the shelf right next to many previous versions!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

WAGNER'S 200th

“Never look at the trombones, it only encourages them.” - Richard Wagner

It is the Richard Wagner bicentennial this year. Germany today celebrated the 200th birthday anniversary of this 19th-century composer whose music has been hailed as sublime art at the height of Western culture, although he remains tainted by his visceral anti-Semitic views, which later found favour with the Nazis. Wagner’s birthplace of Leipzig, the nearby city of Dresden (where he was appointed chief conductor at the Saxon royal court) and Bayreuth, which hosts an annual festival of the composer’s work, are all staging events this week in honour of his bicentennial.

Richard Wagner (1813–1883), is primarily recognised as an operatic composer. His operas represent the fullest musical and theatrical expression of German romanticism, exerting a significant influence on later composers. He discarded the up-till-then operatic convention of differentiated recitative and aria, opting for a continuous flow of melody, calling his operas “music-dramas”. Wagner achieved dramatic unity in his works, due in part to his development of the leitmotif, a brief passage of music used to characterise an episode, person, or idea.

His librettos, which he wrote himself, are drawn chiefly from German mythology. His operas include Rienzi (1838–40), The Flying Dutchman (1841), Tannhäuser (1843–44), and Lohengrin (1846–48). Wagner participated in the revolution of 1848 and then fled Dresden, where he had held a conducting post. Helped by Liszt, he escaped to Switzerland, staying there 10 years and writing essays, notably Oper und Drama (1851), the manifesto that outlines his aesthetics.

Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (1853–74), is a monumental operatic tetralogy that embodies most completely his aesthetic principles. It comprises Das Rheingold (1853–54), Die Walküre (1854–56), Siegfried (1856–69), and Götterdämmerung (1874). Wagner wrote both libretto and music for this series of works, which are based on a number of Teutonic myths. The so-called Ring Cycle is considered to be Wagner’s peak operatic achievement.

In 1872 Wagner moved to Bayreuth, Bavaria, where he completed the Ring cycle and built a theater, the Festspielhaus, adequate for the performance of his works; the complete Ring was presented there in 1876. Wagner’s other later compositions are Tristan und Isolde (1857–59); Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1862–67), his only comic opera; and his last work, Parsifal (1877–82), a sacred festival drama. His second wife, Cosima Wagner, 1837–1930, the daughter of Liszt, was closely involved with his work. After his death, she was largely responsible for the continuing fame of the Bayreuth festivals.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


“If dandelions were hard to grow, they would be most welcome on any lawn.” - Andrew Mason
Taraxacum officinale, the common dandelion, is a common flowering herbaceous perennial plant of the family Asteraceae. It can be found growing in temperate regions of the world, in lawns, on roadsides, on disturbed banks and shores of waterways, and other areas with moist soils. T. officinale is considered a weed, especially in lawns and along roadsides, but it is sometimes used as a medicinal herb and in food preparation. Dandelion wine is a traditional brewed drink prepared from the flowering heads. Common dandelion is well known for its yellow flower heads that turn into round balls of silver tufted fruits that disperse in the wind called “blowballs” or “clocks”.

Magpie Tales has chosen the painting “Lighthouse Dandelions” by Jamie Wyeth, a detail of which appears above, in order to inspire creative writing efforts amongst her followers. Here is my contribution:

Harvesting Sunshine

The suns of dandelions bloom again,
Shining like golden medals amongst the undergrowth.
They promise rich harvests
To busy bees and ants at work
As they negotiate the intricacy of divided petals.

Delving into the depth of each flower
One finds style, stigma, stamen: A microcosm of functionality;
The magic and mystery of pollination
Swelling seeds in burgeoning ovaries,
Spring's fecundity magnified in minuteness.

The sun is mirrored in each blossom,
As stalks stretch up, carrying the golden flowers skyward.
They render invitations to be picked,
Captured, to be brewed and bottled
Giving a golden wine – liquid sunshine for Winter’s days.

Sunday, 19 May 2013


“There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.” - Josh Billings
It is not often that we watch a film that has the Best Film Oscar in the Academy Awards and we like the movie thus decorated. This is especially the case with the overall winners as far as the English language films are concerned. In terms of the Best Foreign Language Film given the Oscar, we seem to get slightly more satisfaction. At the weekend we watched the Susanne Bier 2010 film “In A Better World”, which took out the 2011 Oscar. We were pleasantly surprised and for once we had to agree wholeheartedly that this film really did deserve its prize. The film is a Danish/Norwegian coproduction and stars Mikael Persbrandt, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Markus Rygaard, Ulrich Thomsen and Trine Dyrholm.
The plot operates on what at first glance seems to be a simple premise: Bullying at school. However, once the viewer becomes immersed in the story, the plot deepens and becomes more inclusive of a general consideration of what is violence, why do human beings become violent and what the consequences of violent acts are, even those violent acts that seem to be somehow “justifiable”. There are several subplots involving prejudice, vengeance, civil war, family relationships, death, friendship and society attitudes to a number of sensitive issues.
Anton is a doctor who lives in a small town in Denmark, but works at an African refugee camp, commuting frequently between these two places. Anton and his wife Marianne, also a doctor, have two young sons and are separated, thinking through the possibility of divorce following an incident of infidelity by Anton. Their older, ten-year-old son Elias is being bullied at school because of his Norwegian background and because he wears tooth braces. A new boy comes to the school, Christian, has just moved from London with his father, Claus. Christian’s mother recently died of cancer, and Christian is greatly troubled by her death, blaming his father. Elias and Christian quickly bond, and Elias sees in Christian a hero when he beats the school bully and threatens him with a knife. Christian bent upon revenge involves Elias in a dangerous action with potentially fatal consequences. Their friendship is tested and their lives are put in danger. Ultimately, it is their family that guide them through the complexity of human interactions, conflict, violence, vengeance, forgiveness, trust and ultimately what it means to be human and what it means to be a man.
Although the acting in this film was outstanding, the acting honours definitely had to go to the two children playing the two schoolfriends, Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) and Elias (Markus Rygaard). The two youngsters cope with a raft of sensitive scenes and issues and the direction is faultless, making their performances shine through each difficult scene in a manner that is convincing and utterly realistic. The adult actors are a perfect counterfoil to the children and provide the ideal framework on which the children’s story of self discovery and growth is built. The film takes place in two contrasting locations developing Africa and Denmark, but the action in each locale complements the story perfectly and the two widely differing series of events are merely counterpointing the themes that run commonly between them. The music score by Johan Söderqvist is perfect for the movie and the cinematography by Morten Søborg excellent.
This was a challenging and confronting film, all the more because of the involvement of children in situations that test even many adults. It is a poignant and melancholy, but through its ending manages to lift one’s spirit up and the viewer manages to regain some confidence in humanity. Please see this film, it’s excellent!


“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” - Gilbert K. Chesterton
Nicholas Gyzis (Tenos, Greece 1 March, 1842 – Munich, Germany 4 January 1901) was one of the most significant Greek artists of the nineteenth century, active in the so-called School of Munich. He excelled in all of his studies and received multiple prizes in painting, etching and printmaking. Gyzis was one of six children of the carpenter Onouphrios Gyzis and his wife Margarita Gyzi (née Psaltis), who lived in the village Sklavohori on the Greek island of Tenos. In 1850 the family moved to Athens and Nicholas began attending classes in the School of Fine Arts, initially as an auditor and then as a student between 1854 and 1864. When his studies concluded he met with Nicholas Nazos, a rich art connoisseur, through whose intercession he received a scholarship from the Charitable Institute of the Cathedral of the Virgin on Tenos, to continue his studies in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.
In 1856, Gyzis arrived in Munich, where he met his good friend and fellow painter Nicephorus Lytras. The latter helped him acclimatise to the rather challenging German environment. His first teachers in Munich were Hermann Anschütz and Alexander Wagner. In June 1868 he was accepted in the studio of Karl von Piloty. He concluded his studies in Munich in 1871 and in April 1872 he returned to Athens with the intention of converting his family home on Themistokleous St into a studio. In 1873 he travelled to Asia Minor accompanied by Nicephorus Lytras.
In May 1874, disappointed with the situation in Greece he returned to Munich where he would spend the remainder of his life. In 1876 he travelled to Paris, once again accompanied by Lytras. A year later he married Artemis Nazou, with whom he had four daughters Penelope (born 1878, died 12 days later), Margaret-Penelope (born 1879), Margaret (born 1881), Iphigenia (born 1890), and a son Onouphrios-Telemachus (born 1884).
In 1880, Gyzis was elected an honorary member of the Munich Fine Arts Academy and in 1888 he became a lecturer there. In 1881 his mother died and a year later his father also. In 1895 he visited Greece for the last time, although he always felt a deep love and nostalgia for his homeland. He died in early 1901, succumbing to leukaemia. His last words are reputed to have been: “Let’s not give up hope and try to be of good humour.” He was interred in the Northern Cemetery of Munich.
Gyzis was one of the most significant artists in the school of academic realism of the latter part of the nineteenth century, in the conservative art movement known as the Munich School. He took part and won prizes in many Greek and European exhibitions from 1870 to 1900. Posthumously, in 1901 his work was exhibited in the Eighth International Art Exhibition of the Glaspalast.
While still a student in the Fine Arts Academy of Munich he adopted all of the ideals of his German teachers, achieving art of exceptional technique, working within the confines of historic realism and often selecting genre subject matter representative of his homeland and having a distinct style and a rich, dark palette. In addition, with “German” work, he earned the characterisation “more Teutonic than the Germans” and he received favourable criticism in the press of the time.
Two of his grand Teutonic works (“The Liberal Arts” and “The Spirits of the Artistic Crafts” – 1878-1880), which adorned ceilings of the Decorative Arts Museum of Kaiserslautern, and “The Triumph of Bavaria” (1895-1899) in the Meeting Room of the Decorative Arts Museum of Nürnberg were unfortunately destroyed during the second world war.
Of his Greek genre paintings, some are based on local folk tales and scenes of everyday life, while others are illustrations of Greek history. Gyzis was a deeply religious man and towards the end of his life he devoted much of his work to subject matter that was allegorical or religious in nature. In his later work he often depicted the struggle between good and evil and he delighted in the personification of abstract concepts such as Art, Music, Glory and Spring – all of whom were depicted as beautiful young women. In his later work, especially in his chalk and charcoal drawings, Gyzis shows a tendency towards expressionism, unshackling himself in these sketches from the academic realism that characterised most of his work.
In his painting “The Engagement” of 1877 shown above, Gyzis illustrates a scene taken from the oral history of the Ottoman Occupation of Greece. At that time the engagement of children was common and served a useful purpose in aligning families and maintaining the traditions, religion, cohesiveness and integrity of the Greek community under Islamic rule. The painting displays Gyzis’ technique to advantage with an elegant composition, rich colours and an illustration of a scene that displays academic realism to a tee. The two children being engaged under the watchful eye of the priest in the centre are flanked by the two clans being united. The dowry of the girl on the right is counterbalanced by the proud family of the boy on the left.