Saturday, 9 May 2015


“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” - Abraham Lincoln

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844–1926), was born in Allegheny City (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania,  and spent her early years with her family in France and Germany. From 1860 to 1862, she studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. By 1865, she had convinced her parents to let her study in Paris, where she took private lessons from leading academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, copied works of the old masters, and went sketching. She stayed in Courance and Écouen and studied with Édouard Frère and Paul Soyer. In 1868, Cassatt’s painting “The Mandolin Player” was accepted at the Paris Salon, the first time her work was represented there. After three-and-a-half years in France, the Franco-Prussian War interrupted Cassatt’s studies and she returned to Philadelphia in the late summer of 1870.

Cassatt returned to Europe in 1871. She spent eight months in Parma, Italy, in 1872, studying the paintings of Correggio and Parmigianino and working with the advice of Carlo Raimondi, head of the department of engraving at the Parma Academy. In 1873, she visited Spain, Belgium, and Holland to study and copy the works of Velázquez, Rubens, and Hals. In June 1874, Cassatt settled in Paris, where she began to show regularly in the Salons, and where her parents and sister Lydia joined her in 1877. That same year, Edgar Degas invited her to join the group of independent artists later known as the Impressionists. The only American officially associated with the group, Cassatt exhibited in four of their eight exhibitions, in 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1886.

Under the influence of the Impressionists, Cassatt revised her technique, composition, and use of colour and light, showing her admiration for the works of the French avant-garde, especially Degas and Manet. Degas, her chief mentor, provided criticism of her work, offered advice on technique, and encouraged her experiments in printmaking. Like Degas, she was chiefly interested in figure compositions. During the late 1870s and early 1880s, the subjects of her works were her family (especially her sister Lydia), the theatre, and the opera. Later Cassatt produced many works on the mother and child theme, which she treated with warmth and naturalness in paintings, pastels, and prints.

From her early days in Paris, Cassatt encouraged the collection of old masters and the French avant-garde. In 1901, she accompanied Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer on a collecting trip in Italy and Spain. Cassatt had known Mrs. Havemeyer before her marriage. In 1873, she had encouraged the then seventeen-year-old Louisine Elder to buy a pastel by Degas, and the two women became close friends. Cassatt was eventually instrumental in shaping the Havemeyer collection, most of which is now in the Metropolitan Museum.

Failing eyesight severely hampered Cassatt’s work after 1900. She gave up printmaking in 1901, and in 1904 stopped painting. She spent most of the war years in Grasse and died in 1926 at her country home, Château de Beaufresne, at Mesnil-Theribus, Oise.

The work above is the pastel drawing, “Mother Combing Her Child’s Hair”, drawn about 1901 It is in The Brooklyn Museum, USA, and its dimensions: 80 cm x 64 cm. The warmth of colour, delicacy of drawing, excellent composition and subject matter are typical of Cassat’s mature style. The image characterises Cassat’s thematic devotion to the mother-child subject, of which there numerous examples in her work.


Friday, 8 May 2015


“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” -  AlbertPike

Georges Bizet (1838 - 1875) is best known for his operatic masterpiece, “Carmen”. Not so well known is the fact that he died from a heart attack only a few months after its first performance at the age of 36. Death at such a young age immediately reminds us of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Schubert. His life parallels these composers also in the sense that he was yet another musical prodigy whose ability, encouraged by his musical parents, was exceptional. Despite being against the rules, he was admitted into the Paris Conservatory at the phenomenal age of nine years.

He was born in Paris and originally registered under the name Alexandre César Léopold Bizet, but then baptised as Georges by which name he was always to be known. With the exception of a few years in Rome, he stayed in or near Paris for most of his life. At the Conservatory he studied under many great musicians including professor Jacques Halévy. The Halévy family were to have quite an impact on Bizet’s life, not least the fact that he was later to marry the professor’s daughter Geneviéve and father a son Jaques, perhaps named after his grandfather.

Continuing his precocious youth, he composed his first Symphony (in C major) at age 17 (modelled closely on Gounod’s Symphony No. 1 in D). Then in 1857 having previously won several prizes at the Conservatoire, he won the prestigious Prix de Rome. The contemporary French composers of the day who influenced Bizet to varying degrees included Charles Gounod, Léo Delibes, Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet and the German-born Jacques Offenbach. All of these were opera composers to some extent though often light or comic opera. In comparison, Bizet’s operas and particularly Carmen tended to stand out as highly dramatic and dealing in deeper emotions. Though not straying too far from French traditions, he perhaps adopted some of the styles of Italian and German opera from Verdi and Wagner respectively.

While he did make use of the newly invented saxophone, he wasn’t particularly known as a trendsetter. He seemed to change direction several times, dropping ideas that he had started, and seemingly insecure and sensitive to criticism. Although perhaps expected of artists, the public probably thought of him as something of a Bohemian outsider. Musically, he seemed to have a natural gift for melody and a certain artistic confidence seems to flow from his music.

When the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870, although exempt from national service as a Prix de Rome winner, Bizet nevertheless enlisted in the National Guard. Although many of his countrymen and fellow musicians were highly nationalistic in their approach to the war, Bizet was far more down-to-earth in his understanding of the real horrors of war. Again we see a realism in his outlook on life which also manifested itself in his operatic story-telling.

Above all Bizet aspired to be a composer of opera, though his numerous (about 30 in total) works for that medium weren’t universally successful. He also wrote various orchestral works, keyboard pieces and songs. The following are his best known or most respected compositions:
Opera - The Pearl Fishers, set in exotic Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), with a famous duet for male voices
Opera - The Fair Maid of Perth
Opera – Djamileh
Opera - Carmen, in 4 acts, the most famous. Highly popular orchestral suites from this opera are performed as stand-alone works in the concert hall.
Symphony in C - composed at age 17, this was not performed until 1935
Rome Suite - orchestral suite intended as a Symphony
L’ Arlésienne - (the girl from Arles, in Provence) this was originally composed for a limited group of instruments as incidental music to a play by Daudet, but later fashioned into 2 orchestral suites, the first suite by Bizet himself and the second after his death by a friend Ernest Guiraud
Chromatic Variations - for piano
Jeux d’ Enfants (Children’s Games) - for piano duet, but also sometimes heard in orchestral arrangements. This is a delightful set of 12 pieces, each based on a different game (many still familiar today.

Here are Bizet’s Symphony in C major WD33 and also L’ Arlesienne Suites nos. 1 & 2, WD40 interpreted by Sir Thomas Beecham.
1. Symphony in C Major, WD. 33: I. Allegro vivo 00:00
2. Symphony in C Major, WD. 33: II. Adagio 7:54
3. Symphony in C Major, WD. 33: III. Allegro vivace and Trio 16:55
4. Symphony in C Major, WD. 33: IV. Allegro vivace 21:45
5. Suite No. 1, WD. 40 - L'Arlesienne: I. Prelude 28:30
6. Suite No. 1, WD. 40 - L'Arlesienne: II. Menuet 35:35
7. Suite No. 1, WD. 40 - L'Arlesienne: III. Adagietto 39:08
8. Suite No. 1, WD. 40 - L'Arlesienne: IV. Carillon 42:54
9. Suite No. 2 - L'Arlesienne: I. Pastorale 47:39
10. Suite No. 2 - L'Arlesienne: II. Intermezzo 53:04
11. Suite No. 2 - L'Arlesienne: III. Menuet 57:06
12. Suite No. 2 - L'Arlesienne: IV. Farandole 1:01:03


“Go vegetable heavy. Reverse the psychology of your plate by making meat the side dish and vegetables the main course.” - Bobby Flay

We often make the following recipe, and depending on the season we substitute the different vegetables listed below with other seasonal ones, ensuring they are finely chopped or grated (and drained) as they are available.

Savoury Vegie Cake

4 large eggs (or 5 small ones)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons flour
1 bunch spinach, finely chopped
1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
2 sprigs parsley, finely chopped
1 cup finely julienned green capsicum (drained)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Grated nutmeg, pepper and salt
Pine nuts for topping


Preheat over to 180˚C. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add oil, flour, baking soda, and seasonings. Then add the chopped spinach, spring onions, parsley, capsicum and parmesan.  Mix well and transfer to a greased non-stick cake pan. Stud surface of cake with pine nuts. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

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Wednesday, 6 May 2015


“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” - E.M. Forster

Betrayal: A word for Thursday that we all have encountered and which, for some of us at least, has marked our life, changed it in some dramatic way.

betray |biˈtrā| verb [ trans. ]
be disloyal to: His friends were shocked when he betrayed them.
• be disloyal to (one’s country, organisation, or ideology) by acting in the interests of an enemy: He could betray his country for love of money.
• treacherously inform an enemy of the existence or location of (a person or organisation): This group was betrayed by an informer.
• treacherously reveal (secrets or information): Many of those employed by diplomats betrayed secrets and sold classified documents.
• figurative - reveal the presence of; be evidence of: She drew a deep breath that betrayed her indignation.

betrayal |-əl| noun
betrayer |bəˌtreɪər| noun
ORIGIN Middle English : from be- [thoroughly] + obsolete tray [betray,] from Old French trair, based on Latin tradere ‘hand over.’ Compare with traitor.

“All love the act of treason, but none the traitor love.” Plutarch remarks, and this is mostly true as people would think nothing of learning what a traitor divulges, but they condemn and despise the person that does this. To have one’s confidences betrayed, to be the victim of a betrayer of one’s secrets, the recipient of a friend’s disloyalty is one of the most miserable and distressing feelings one can feel. The closer the person is who has betrayed us, the greater the pain and anguish we experience when the betrayal is discovered.

A colleague at work who betrays us, causes perhaps the least distress as in many workplaces people have been used to a culture of competition and think nothing of stepping on others in order to advance or achieve their personal goals.

A relative who has stabbed us in the back generates a feeling of great pain, especially as we would expect love, support and comfort from members of our own family. However, many families are divided for a number of reasons, and betrayal in these situations is not uncommon.

If a person whom we have considered a friend betrays us, we feel a void within our soul where before he or she was ensconced. This is because we choose our friends and one of the reasons we befriend people is because we expect from them support and loyalty, the same that we are willing to offer in return.

Perhaps the greatest betrayal comes when we recognise in the betrayer the face of our partner. One’s wife or husband who betrays a spouse can deal the deepest wounds and generate the most heartache.

What makes someone betray another person? It would depend on the relationship between the two parties: Betrayer and betrayed.  Are we looking at friendships that have been contracted (on one side at least!) superficially? Is envy to be found lurking underneath these relationships? Is it a feeling of disgruntlement, rancour, personal gain that motivates the act of betrayal? In families betrayal often is caused by a wish for personal financial gain. Matters of inheritance can divide families and cause unbridgeable rifts. In marriages the betrayal by an unfaithful partner is the most common cause for the relationship to break down irretrievably.

In all cases, the feelings of anger, grief and loss experienced by the one who is betrayed are universal and may haunt that person for a long time. At the same time, they may be powerful stimuli for change. Changes in character are difficult to make, but changes in behaviour are more likely to be achieved. It certainly has changed me. I think that the experience has made me a stronger person, a wiser one, one who is more likely to rely more on logic than emotions as stimuli for actions. Betrayal causes the survivors to develop a harder outer shell in order to protect their inner vulnerability. I still have my soft centre, it’s just tougher to get at, now.

Have you been betrayed by a colleague, relative, friend, or partner? Did it change you?
(Image is “Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss”, from the illuminated book “Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany”, produced between 1503 and 1508).


“We’ve put more effort into helping folks reach old age than into helping them enjoy it.” - Frank A. Clark

We live in a consumer society where we are all under extreme pressure to buy and use things till we grow tired of them or until they break. And then we cast them aside to buy new ones: Improved, shiny models, with many new features. Misguidedly, we do the same to people and even more so to our elderly whom we inter in “nursing homes”, “retirement facilities” and “seniors’ retreats” where we know they will be “cared for and attended” to by “experts”.

I often visit a nursing home close by to where I live and I am always amazed by the number of elderly people that have been abandoned there, forgotten by their relatives. Even though I have no elderly relatives of mine to visit there, going and seeing some of these “forgotten people” that nobody wants any longer is both a chilling and a heart-warming experience. Some of these elderly people are so full of life and are such wonderful human beings that I am enriched by meeting them and by just sitting and listening to them. As a society we have lost so much by abandoning the extended family and opting for the nuclear family. There is so much wisdom, humour, kindness, experience and love that we miss out on…

Poets United this week has as its theme “Honouring our Elders”. My poem below:

The Winter of Discontent

The flakes of snow fall softly
And the landscape becomes pure, white.
He looks out of the window, endlessly,
His hair whiter than the snow,
His skin more furrowed
Than the distant ploughed field that is being snow-dusted
As though with icing sugar.

The cold outside prodigious,
Poor birds with fluffed up feathers
Fail to keep warm and trembling, die frozen;
His heart even colder than ice,
His eyes rheumy, with gray-blue sharp gaze
That cuts the glass of windowpanes
Letting his trapped soul roam free amongst the snowflakes.

The wind howls – or is it a lone, hungry wolf
Howling, with red embers of eyes
Staring back at him in the dark pine forest?
Retirement home: “The Pines”
Where old and toothless wolves like him
Have been discarded, and duly forgotten,
By caring offspring, whose kindness cuts like glass shards.

Night falls early outside and dark green sky
Makes of the snow an ultramarine pall
That covers frigid earth, her sleep too much like death.
He still stares out of the window
And he reminisces the long past verdant Springs,
The Summers of warmth and lush desires,
The Autumns of ripe fulfilment.

And now, as his own night weighs heavily on him,
He knows this is his last Winter of discontent,
When all alone he will pass from this final season
Into the last great mystery of the endless sleep…

They found him ice-cold the next gray morning,
The sleeping pill bottle empty by the bed
And the window wide open, letting the snow drift in.

Monday, 4 May 2015


“There is no remedy for love but to love more.” - Henry DavidThoreau

Today I give you a poem that I have based on a short verse by Chinese poet Ping Hsin, which I have recast in the form of a septet (3, 5, 7, 9, 7, 5, 3 syllables):

Chinese Septet

To escape
From thoughts of my love
I run, haunted, from my room.
Outside, the silver moon makes snow gleam -
But gnarled twigs throw shadows on
Shining snow, spelling:
Love, love, love…

After Ping Hsin

Ping Hsin was born in 1902 in Fuchien, the daughter of a naval officer. Ping Hsin’s real name is Hsieh Wang’ying, and her nom-de-plume “Ping Hsin” means “Ice Heart”. She was educated both in her father’s library and later in Peking. She graduated from Yenching University in 1923 and during 1923 -1926 attended Wellesley College where she obtained her her MA. She returned to teach at Yenching. In 1951 she and her husband Wu Wen-tsao, a sociologist, returned to the mainland, where until the Cultural Revolution in 1964 she was active in many literary organisations. Fond of Tagore, she wrote “” (1921), which she claimed was not poetry.  Although she also claimed in 1931 that she did not understand “modern poetry” her publications launched her as a leading modern Chinese poet.


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

A couple of weeks ago I saw the 2004 Italian film called “Agatha and the Storm”. The Agatha of the title is woman central to the story and the owner of a bookshop. Many amusing scenes in the movie concern people who come into the bookshop looking for a book to read but having no idea what they want, so Agatha has to suggest to them what book to buy and read.

The movie is a quirky comedy about life-changing events that happen in two families, when a man finds out his real mother is not the one who has brought him up. This revelation causes him to change his life, getting to know his new relatives, while dealing with the relatives he thought were his. This all leads to one big extended family that is far from normal. Agatha is his sister, a single woman who runs a book store. She has a relationship with a much younger man who maintains he is in love with her. A problem for Agatha is that the man is married. But that’s not all, Agatha seems to have an uncanny effect on light bulbs and electrical appliances, which seem to malfunction and blow up when she goes near them. Wisdom and resolution come from traditional Chinese medicine and from good literature!

Watching the movie, I realised that we often rely on other people’s recommendations for new books to read and new authors to discover, so the theme for Literary Tuesday is “Recommended Readings”. A book that I saw in one of my forays into second-hand bookshops is “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die”. Peter Boxall, the editor, and he is a lecturer in English Literature at the University of Sussex. He has published widely on twentieth and twenty-first century fiction and drama. Here is the book description from the publisher (“Universe” March 7, 2006):

“For discerning bibliophiles and readers who enjoy unforgettable classic literature, “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” is a trove of reviews covering a century of memorable writing. Each work of literature featured here is a seminal work key to understanding and appreciating the written word. The featured works have been handpicked by a team of international critics and literary luminaries, including Derek Attridge (world expert on James Joyce), Cedric Watts (renowned authority on Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene), Laura Marcus (noted Virginia Woolf expert), and David Mariott (poet and expert on African-American literature), among some twenty others. Addictive, browsable, knowledgeable – “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” will be a boon companion for anyone who loves good writing and an inspiration for anyone who is just beginning to discover a love of books. Each entry is accompanied by an authoritative yet opinionated critical essay describing the importance and influence of the work in question. Also included are publishing history and career details about the authors, as well as reproductions of period dust jackets and book designs.”

The team behind this book challenges you to read a sampling from a different centuries and genres of what they believe is the best of the best. The titles selected are generally no the sort of book that you can read while watching TV or having your hair done and the hairdresser is prattling on. Rather, the emphasis is on books you can really sink your teeth into, books that make you really think. You know the ones, those that you want to discuss with everyone you’ve ever met (including strangers on the bus)!

A sampling of titles of some of the books suggested (in no particular order and using on other criteria except that I read them and agree with the inclusion in the list):
“Aesop’s Fables” by Aesop
“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller
“Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The Plague” by Albert Camus
“Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo
“Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe
“Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen
“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville
“Metamorphoses” by Ovid
“Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
“Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“The Red and the Black” by Stendhal
“Dead Souls” by Nikolay Gogol
“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë
“The House by the Medlar Tree” by Giovanni Verga
“Bel-Ami” by Guy de Maupassant
“Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann
“Amok” by Stefan Zweig
“Steppenwolf” by Herman Hesse
“Out of Africa” – Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), etc etc…

For the other 980 recommendations, buy Dr Boxall’s Book!
Happy reading!