Friday, 28 August 2015

FOOD FRIDAY - OAT & FRUIT MUFFINS

“To keep the body in good health is a duty – otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” – Gautama Buddha

Late Winter and the days are still cold and wet. A good opportunity to do some baking of a few wholesome, good old-fashioned muffins. Perfect for afternoon tea by the fire!


OAT & FRUIT MUFFINS

Ingredients (for 20-25 pieces)
1 cup boiling water
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup light vegetable oil
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
500 g plain yogurt
1 cup raisins (or sultanas)
1/2 cup mixed candied peel
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 and 1/2 cups plain flour
2 cups bran
2 teaspoons baking soda

Method

Pour boiling water over the rolled oats, mix well and allow to cool.
Combine oil, sugar, eggs and yoghurt. Stir in the dried fruit. Add to the oat mixture .
Combine the dry ingredients. Thoroughly combine the wet and dry ingredients, mixing gently.
Spoon into muffin tins and sprinkle top with coarse brown sugar if desired.
Bake in a conventional oven for 20-25 minutes at 200°C.

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Thursday, 27 August 2015

SPRING IS NEAR

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” - Frank Lloyd Wright

Spring has started to make itself felt in the Southern Hemisphere and going for a walk around the neighbourhood makes it very apparent. The wattles are in full bloom at the moment and their yellow flowers are cheering the often-grey skies. Plum trees are also in flower, and the spring bulbs, primulas and polyanthus are in full bloom.

The weather, however, has betrayed us a little and Winter is showing us his teeth as he smiles while leaving. It’s been cold and wet and grey, raining for most of the day, today. The days are getting longer though, and the dangers of frost are past, I think. September is around the corner and whether you consider September 1 or September 21 the first day of Spring, both are not far away.

With Spring come renewed feelings of hope and optimism, one’s mind starts thinking of new ventures, one dreams of trips away, fresh projects and a reawakening of dormant love, perhaps. The creative juices seem to start flowing with renewed vigour too and one can look forward to greater sources of inspiration for writing, art, photography. Later in Spring, the city comes alive for the Melbourne Cup Carnival, Australia’s most prestigious horse racing event. It is also the time of the year to explore the vineyards and spa country of the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges.

I think you can guess that I have had enough of Winter this year and look forward to the delights of Spring and Summer…

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

POETS UNITED - THE JOY OF POETRY

“And your very flesh shall be a great poem.” - Walt Whitman

Poets United this week explores the concept of poetry and what it means to be a poet and write poems. Here is my contribution:

Tears of Ink

Be wiped away by paper virgin white
My tears of ink;
Escape from your confining prison
Fly free, my caged swallows, flee.

Music be played, black notes sound and come alive,
My melodies, ring out and stir the silent air!
Take fire, burn bright, darkness break
The brand is ready, lit.

Come follow in the pure and pallid snow
Treading on my footsteps dark;
Those not afraid of frozen wastelands
Will be rewarded.

What cannot be said
Will be written as poetry;
Those who truly feel,
will surely understand and know…

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

MELBOURNE'S YARRA RIVER

“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.” - Marcus Aurelius

The Yarra River or historically, the Yarra Yarra River (Aboriginal: Berrern, Birr-arrung, Bay-ray-rung, Birarang, Birrarung, and Wongete) is a perennial river in east-central Victoria, Australia. The lower stretches of the river are where the city of Melbourne was established in 1835 and today Greater Melbourne dominates and influences the landscape of its lower reaches.

From its source in the Yarra Ranges, it flows 242 kilometres west through the Yarra Valley, which opens out into plains as it winds its way through Greater Melbourne before emptying into Hobsons Bay in northernmost Port Phillip. The river was a major food source and meeting place for indigenous Australians from prehistoric times. Shortly after the arrival of European settlers land clearing forced the remaining Wurundjeri to neighbouring territories and away from the river. Originally called Birrarung by the Wurundjeri, the current name was mistranslated from another Wurundjeri term in the Boonwurrung language; Yarro-yarro, meaning “ever-flowing”.

The river was utilised primarily for agriculture by early European settlers. The landscape of the river has changed dramatically since 1835. The course has been progressively disrupted and the river widened in places. The first of many Crossings of the Yarra River to facilitate transport was built in Princes Bridge. Beginning with the Victorian gold rush it was extensively mined, creating the Pound Bend Tunnel in Warrandyte, and the Big and Little Peninsula Tunnels above Warburton . Widening and dams, like the Upper Yarra Reservoir have helped protect Melbourne from major flooding. The catchment’s upper reaches are also affected by logging.

Industrialisation ultimately led to the destruction of the marshlands at the confluence of the Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers in the area around Coode Island in West Melbourne. Today, the mouth and including Swanson and Appleton Docks are used for container shipping by the Port of Melbourne, which is the busiest on the continent. The city reach, which is inaccessible to larger watercraft, has seen increased use for both transport and recreational boating (including kayaking, canoeing, rowing and swimming). In recent years, however, recreational use of the river is threatened by high levels of pollution in its lower stretches. The upper reaches remain relatively healthy. The annual Moomba festival celebrates the Yarra River’s increasing cultural significance to Melbourne.

Monday, 24 August 2015

ST BART PICKING DAHLIAS IN KAZAKHSTAN

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” - Blaise Pascal

Today is St Bartholomew’s Feast Day in the Catholic calendar and St Cosmas the Aetolian’s Feast Day and St Dionysius of Zante’s Feast Day in the Greek Orthodox Calendar. It is also the National Day of Kazakhstan; the Flag Day of Liberia; the National Day (II) of Romania; the Independence Day of Russia and the National Day of Ukraine.

It is the anniversary of the birth of:
 Robert Herrick, English poet (1591);
 William Wilberforce, anti-slavery campaigner (1759);
 Max Beerbohm, writer (1872);
 Albert Claude, Nobel laureate (1974) physician (1898);
 Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian writer (1899);
 Fernand Braudel, historian (1902);
 Mason Williams, musician (1938);
 Steve Gutenberg, actor (1958).

The dahlia, Dahlia pinnata, is today’s birthday flower.  It is symbolic of pomp and circumstance, elegance and dignity but also of instability. The language of flowers ascribes dahlia with the meaning “forever yours”. The petals of the dahlia, as also those of the chrysanthemum and the marigold can be eaten in salads!

St Bartholomew was an apostle. He was martyred by being flayed alive. He is the patron saint of skinners, tanners, butchers, leatherworkers and bookbinders. St Bartholomew’s Day in 1572 was a black day for French Protestants as they were massacred by fanatical Catholics.  The feast was often called “Black Bartholomew” in England in remembrance of this massacre.  Many fairs were held on this day in Britain, including the great Bartholomew Fair at Smithfield in London.

  And yet anon, the full sunflowre blew
  And became a starre for Bartholomew.
 The sunflower blooming on St Bartholomew’s Day becomes a beacon burning bright for the saint, while another couplet forecasts that autumn’s harvest depending on the weather on that day:
  If Bartlemas Day be bright and clear,
  Then a prosperous autumn comes that year.

If St Swithin’s day was wet, it is said that St Bartholomew’s day will be fine:
  All the tears that St Swithin doth cry
  St Barthlemy’s mantle can wipe dry.

On this day in 79 AD, Vesuvius erupted and buried the twin towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii.

Kazakhstan is a central Asian country of 2.7 million square km and a population of 17 million. The capital city is Alma-Ata and other major cities include Chimkent, Dzhambul, Semipalatinsk, Karaganda, Uralsk and Aktyubinsk. The country gained its independence in 1991 and because of its rich resources the economic development of this country appears favourable. The lowlands, hilly plains and plateaux that the country comprises is ideal for pasture, but rapid industrialisation ensures that chemicals, fertilisers,  iron, steel, cement and consumer goods provide for strong economic growth. However, the environmental problems caused by the Soviet irrigation schemes around the Aral Sea will not prove to easy to resolve. 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

ART SUNDAY - ARCHIBALD M. WILLARD

“Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character.” - Horace Greeley

Archibald MacNeal Willard (August 22, 1836 – October 11, 1918) was an American painter who was born and raised in Bedford, Ohio. Willard joined the 86th Ohio Infantry in 1863 and fought in the American Civil War. During this time, he painted several scenes from the war and forged a friendship with photographer James F. Ryder. Willard painted “The Spirit of ‘76” in Wellington, Ohio after he saw a parade pass through the town square. Willard also painted three murals in the main hall of the Fayette County courthouse in Washington Court House, Ohio: “The Spirit of Electricity”, “The Spirit of Telegraphy”, and “The Spirit of the Mail”.

Willard was commissioned by the firm Cooks Brothers to do painting and fresco work for the interior walls of the Fayette County courthouse (which opened on May 1, 1885). Willard did not sign his work and the artist’s identity remained a mystery for nearly 75 years, until confirmation was made in August 1956. The artist had put his name in the delivery address of the letter in the mural “The Spirit of the Mail”. I’ve tried to find images of these murals with Google, but have been unsuccessful.

Willard’s most famous work is “The Spirit of ‘76” (previously known as Yankee Doodle), which was exhibited at the Centennial Exposition. The original is displayed in Abbot Hall, Marblehead, Massachusetts, with several later variations painted by Willard exhibited around the country (including in the United States Department of State). Of note, he used his father as the model for the middle character of the painting. The painting originated from a sketch done by Willard, which included 3 men dancing and singing. Although art critics were harshly critical of the painting, it was extremely popular with most Americans who saw it. Ryder produced many reproductive images to sell to the public, and Willard painted a number of different versions of the painting during the remainder of his life. The artist died in 1918.

The painting shown above is the “Village of Wellington” (1857) signed and dated by the artist and it is displayed in the Herrick Memorial Library. Nineteen-year-old Archibald Willard moved to Wellington with his family in 1855. In two years when he produced this work, he was capable of painting such works, of considerable sophistication but also imbued with a degree of naïve charm.

There are several other Willard paintings, for example “The Blue Girl”, “Pluck”, “Self Portrait” but these are not as well-known. Another charming work of his that I have come across is a depiction of “Dinosaurs and other Mesozoic Reptiles”, for the lecture “Marvels of the Natural World,” given in Cleveland in 1872.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

MUSIC SATURDAY - JACOB KLEIN

“A love of classical music is only partially a natural response to hearing the works performed, it also must come about by a decision to listen carefully, to pay close attention, a decision inevitably motivated by the cultural and social prestige of the art.” - Charles Rosen

Jacob Klein (1688-1748) was a Dutch “dilettante” part-time composer who lived from 1688 to 1748. He was known as Jacob Klein the Younger (to distinguish from his dance-master father Jacob Klein) and was related to several musicians and dancers of his time, as well as painters. Klein was a merchant of some sort; details are not known.

Musically, he was clearly a cellist and wrote many works for the instrument. Musicologists feel he substituted the newer cello for the old-fashioned viola da gamba, which was then going out of style. Scordatura is the practice of a work composed for a different tuning of a particular instrument. He wrote and published a total of 36 sonatas for varying chamber combinations: oboe and figured bass, violin and figured bass, cello and figured bass, and for a pair of cellos.

Only three sets of six have survived to the present. Klein didn’t just toss off these cello works as a side interest, as many amateur musicians. He created meticulously-designed works of some imagination, with a clear tonal and metrical plan. His music is lively and flexible, with interesting interweavings of lively dotted rhythms and contrasting cadences. All the sonatas are in different keys – the composer evidently had something in mind like Bach’s WTC, but since we have only part of them Klein’s overall plan is not clear.
Here are six of his Cello Sonatas:
No.5 in A minor 0:00
No.2 in A major 14:08
No.4 in E major 26:04
No.1 in B flat major 37:46
No.3 in G major 47:26
No.6 in C minor 58:46

Instruments used in the recording: Baroque Cello by Leopold Wildhalm Nurnberg 1785; Baroque Lute by Ivo Margherini Bremen 2001; Viola da Gamba by Ingo Muthesius Berlin 1978.
Performers: Kristin von der Goltz (cello); Hille Perl (viola da gamba) and Lee Santana (lute).

Friday, 21 August 2015

FOOD FRIDAY - FLOUR & OIL CAKE

“Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.” - Louise Fresco

A recipe from the Greek Ionian island of Lefkas. This cake was often prepared for New Year’s Eve ( with a golden coin hidden in one of the pieces so the lucky finder would have good luck for the whole of the New Year), or alternatively it was baked for festive occasions such as weddings, baptisms and saints' feast days.

LADÓPITA (FLOUR & OIL CAKE FROM LEFKADA)
Ingredients
3 water glassfuls (900 mL) of vegetable oil
3 water glassfuls (900 mL) of water
2 water glassfuls of sugar
1 kg flour (approx.), mixed with,
1 cup fine semolina
1 stick of cinnamon
Ground cloves and cinnamon to taste
Sesame seeds
Blanched almonds (whole)

Method
Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan and once it starts boiling, add the cinnamon stick and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat but keep warm. Discard the cinnamon stick.
Reserve about 1/3 cup of oil and empty the rest into a large saucepan and heat until it is very hot. Reduce the heat to medium.
Prepare a round, 32 cm baking tray by oiling the bottom and sides with the reserved oil and sprinkle all over with sesame seeds. Preheat the oven to 200˚C.
Add the flour/semolina mixture into the heated oil, little by little and keep stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula. This will become progressively more arduous as the mixture sets. Keep stirring until the mixture is a golden brown colour.
Add little by little the hot sugar syrup into the oil/flour mixture, taking care as everything is hot and the mixture will bubble up. Keep stirring until all of the syrup is added.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking tray and press down so that it becomes level. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the surface and with a knife score the surface in a diamond pattern as shown above.
Place a blanched almond in the centre of each diamond.
Bake in a preheated oven at 200˚C for 15 minutes and then lower the heat to 180˚C and bake for a further 40-45 minutes.
Test if it is cooked by driving a skewer in the centre and seeing if it comes out clean. The cake should also be easily dislodged from the sides of the baking tray.
Remove from the oven once cooked and sprinkle the surface with a mixture of ground cinnamon, cloves and a couple of tablespoonfuls of caster sugar.
Leave to cool and cut into diamond shapes as scored.

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Thursday, 20 August 2015

ALL ABOUT MYRTLE

“Dark-green and gemm’d with flowers of snow, With close uncrowded branches spread Not proudly high, nor meanly low, A graceful myrtle rear’d its head.” – James Montgomery: “The Myrtle”

The myrtle, Myrtus communis, is the birthday flower for this day.  The generic name is derived from the Greek name for the plant.  The plant was sacred to Aphrodite, but according to one legend, it was named after Myrsine, a favourite of the goddess Athena.  Aphrodite hid behind a myrtle bush to conceal her nakedness from satyrs that disturbed her bathing on Cythera.  Together with the rose, the myrtle symbolised love to the ancient Greeks who planted these flowers around the temples of Aphrodite.

Phaedra, the wife of Theseus, fell in love with her stepson Hippolytus, a passion which was not reciprocated.  While he was riding on his horse, Phaedra watched him under the shade of a myrtle tree, puncturing holes in a myrtle leaf with her hairpin.  A myrtle leaf thus punctured symbolises forbidden love.

Country brides in England had a bouquet of myrtle, rosemary and orange blossom.  On St John’s Eve in the north of England young women would put a sprig of myrtle in their prayer book saying “wilt thou take me to be thy wedded wife?”. They would then place the book under their pillow and if the next morning the myrtle had disappeared, they would marry their present sweetheart.  Somerset people believe the myrtle to be a lucky window box plant (but only if planted by a good woman).  In Wales it was customary for a myrtle bush to be planted on either side of the door, thus keeping love and peace in the house.

The Moslems have a legend in which Adam took three plants with him from Paradise when he and Eve were expelled: Wheat representing all food plants, the date palm representing all fruits, and myrtle, representing all fragrant flowers.  The plant symbolises love, pleasure, victory, virginity and amiability.

In Jewish liturgy, the myrtle is one of the four sacred plants (Four Species) of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles representing the different types of personality making up the community. The myrtle having fragrance but not pleasant taste, represents those who have good deeds to their credit despite not having knowledge from Torah study. The three branches are lashed or braided together by the worshipers a palm leaf, a willow bough, and a myrtle branch. The etrog or citron is the fruit held in the other hand as part of the lulav wave ritual. In Jewish mysticism, the myrtle represents the phallic, masculine force at work in the universe. For this reason myrtle branches were sometimes given the bridegroom as he entered the nuptial chamber after a wedding. Myrtles are both the symbol and scent of Eden

Myrtus communis, the common myrtle or true myrtle, is native across the northern Mediterranean region (especially in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, where it is locally known by the name of “murta”). The plant is an evergreen shrub or small tree, growing to 5 metres tall. The leaf is entire, 3–5 cm long, with a fragrant essential oil. The star-like flower has five petals and sepals, and numerous stamens. Petals usually are white. The flower is pollinated by insects. The fruit is a round berry containing several seeds, most commonly blue-black in colour. A variety with yellow-amber berries is also present. The seeds are dispersed by birds that eat the berries. The shrub is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant in gardens and parks. It is often used as a hedge plant, with its small leaves shearing cleanly.

The Common Myrtle is used in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica to produce an aromatic liqueur called “Mirto” by macerating it in alcohol. Mirto is one of the most typical drinks of Sardinia and comes in two varieties: Mirto rosso (red) produced by macerating the berries, and mirto bianco (white) produced from the less common yellow berries and sometimes the leaves. The berries, whole or ground, have been used as a pepper substitute. They contribute to the distinctive flavour of Mortadella sausage and the related American Bologna sausage.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

POETS UNITED - SILENCE

“Absolute silence leads to sadness. It is the image of death.” - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Poets United this week has challenged participating poets with the midweek theme of “silence”. Here is my contribution:


The Strength of Silence


“Silence”, says he, “is golden,

Words are silvern
So speak not, for it’s more precious
That way, the speechless way.”
And even in the account book of words,
His mind is on profit.

A strong, silent type, he is,

Or so he would have you believe him be;
A man of few words, silvern – remember?
But more often his is the loud silence
Of hollow ringing as each gold ingot falls on begging ears:
Taciturnity passing off as fortitude.

When evening fell, when night cut cold

When every fibre of your orphan soul
Was crying out for a flood of words,
Brazen, leaden, wooden even –
His silence (precious but empty, golden but hollow)
Met your begging expectancy.

And in the darkness, as your heart froze

His icy golden fortress of quiet
Chilled your being even more.
How strong, the silent type,
How motionless, immovable,
How unmoved, unmoving…

The strength of silence harder than rock,

Sharper than scalpel blade,
Colder than arctic tundra,
More efficient executioner than falling axe.
The strength of silence hides weakness,
Crippled emotion, cowardice, egoism.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

SALIERI DRINKING SHOT

“Nothing endures but change.” - Heraclitus

Today is the anniversary of the birthday of:
Virginia Dare, first American-born child of English parents (1587);
Brook Taylor, mathematician (1685);
Antonio Salieri, Italian composer (1750);
Meriwether Lewis, American explorer (1774);
Fabian Gottlieb von Bellinghausen, Antarctica circumnavigator (1778);
John Russell, British Prime Minister (1792);
Max Factor, cosmetics empire builder (1904);
Shelley Winters (Shirley Schrift), actress (1922);
Rosalynn Smith, former American first lady (1927);
Roman Polanski, director (1933);
Robert Redford, US actor (1937);
Martin Mull, actor (1943);
Patrick Swayze, actor (1952);

Died on this day: In 1276, Adrian V (Ottobuono Fieschi), Pope of Rome; in 1503, Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), Pope of Rome; in 1559, Paul IV (Giampietro Caraffa), Pope of Rome.

Vinca major, the blue periwinkle is the birthday flower for today. It symbolises early friendship. Astrologically, the plant is ruled by Venus.

Harvest is well under way now in the Northern Hemisphere, and harvesters in England were revived by drinking “shot” or harvest drink.

SHOT (Harvest Drink)
Ingredients
1/2       pound (≈ 227 g) oatmeal
1          gallon (≈ 3.8 L) of water
1          pound (≈ 454 g) sugar
2          tablespoonfuls honey
1          orange, juice and peel
2          lemons, juice and peel

Method
Take a quart of the water (≈ 1 L) and add to it the oatmeal, the sugar, the honey, the juice of the orange and lemon, their peel cut finely. Boil together for ten minutes. Add the rest of the water stirring well and cool well. Strain and serve with ice, decorating with mint sprigs and slices of lemon and orange.

Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) was Mozart’s contemporary and during their lifetimes, infinitely more popular and more successful. His music nowadays sounds curiously simplistic and devoid of expression of feeling, although technically competent and satisfying in form. He appreciated Mozart’s genius and may have even helped the younger composer. But was he also envious of him? Did he, as one playwright would have us believe, have a hand in Mozart’s untimely death? Who knows for certain?

He wrote over 40 operas, none of which have been revived and his instrumental output although smaller is the only part of his oeuvre that is nowadays available. Some of his works that are entertaining and possibly an illustration of “classical muzak” are his concerti: Concerto for Fortepiano and Orchestra (1773) and Concerto for Flute, Oboe and Orchestra (1774). They are rather light and have no pretensions of being deep and emotionally challenging…

Here is Antonio Salieri's "Concerto for Violin, Oboe, Violoncello & Orchestra in D major", which I am rather partial to.
I. Allegro moderato 00:00
II. Cantabile 09:26
III. Andantino 17:19
Heinz Holliger, oboe; Camerata Bern; Thomas Füri, conductor and violin

Monday, 17 August 2015

MOVIE MONDAY - MAD DOGS

“The common argument that crime is caused by poverty is a kind of slander on the poor.” - H.L. Mencken

Sometimes you watch something on TV or watch a movie and you’re puzzled: You don’t know if you liked it or not, don’t know whether it was worth the effort or not… It was precisely in this gray zone we ended up in after watching the first season of the 2011, UK TV miniseries “Mad Dogs” directed by Adrian Shergold and starring Max Beesley, John Simm, Marc Warren, Philip Glenister and Ben Chaplin. Superficially this seemed like a polished black comedy/thriller, but on reflection all that shines is not gold. Thinking about it, it is a sign of our times as it panders to the worse of human nature and covers the basest of behaviours and the worse of characters. Its plot centres on modern mores and deals with easy money, a “crime pays” mentality, and devalues decency and human life. If we take it seriously… Which we didn’t, hence we watched it all, rather than turn it off in disgust.

Cris Cole has written the screenplay and the plot is as follows: Four friends, Woody, Quinn, Baxter, and Rick arrive in Majorca, Spain, to visit their old mate Alvo, who ostensibly is now a retired, wealthy property tycoon enjoying the trappings of an ex-pat lifestyle in a luxury villa in a remote idyllic location. One by one Alvo asks his friends what they’ve done with their lives, whether they’re truly happy, and whether would they rather live like him. The hedonistic mood of the friends soon changes when they realise Alvo isn’t quite the man they thought he was. The luxury yacht Alvo takes them on turns out to be stolen; Alvo’s business is anything but squeaky clean and their friend has dragged them into something exceedingly dangerous. A murder committed in front of their eyes makes them realise that easy money and a jet set lifestyle is quite often supported by a life of crime…

The locations on Majorca are wonderful and it’s worth seeing the series to enjoy that. The acting is also very good and the production values high as one would expect from a BBC series. The success of the first season of four episodes generated another three seasons. It also generated a 2015 American clone of “Mad Dogs” where the four friends visit their old schoolmate in Belize rather than Majorca. Once again, one has to wonder what makes a TV series like this so widely popular…

We didn’t regret seeing this, but we won’t be watching any further seasons/episodes. The characters are rather unlikeable with hardly any redeeming features, their motives suspect and their actions stupid, motivated by base instincts, greed and guilt. The plot is thin and predictable, the situations the characters find themselves in ridiculous. Should you watch it? I don’t know… If it falls in your lap (like it did in mine), then have a gawk at it. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother searching high and low for it.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

ART SUNDAY - JOAN MIRÓ

“My characters have undergone the same process of simplification as the colours. Now that they have been simplified, they appear more human and alive than if they had been represented in all their details.” -  Joan Miró

Joan Miró Ferrà (April 20th, 1893 - December 25th, 1983) was a Spanish painter, sculptor and ceramicist. Originally from Barcelona, Joan Miró moved to Paris at an early age, where he began to develop an unconventional style of work. He soon became known in the community as a Surrealist because of his love for automatism and the use of sexual symbols in much of his work.

Joan Miró was very much against the established painting methods of the time, and he is often credited with being the founder of automatic drawing. Automatic drawing is the process of allowing the hand to move randomly on the canvas, leaving the artwork develop by chance. Many Surrealists believed that this form of drawing would reveal something about the subconscious human mind. For Joan Miró, automatic drawing was also a way to breaking free from conventional form.

Miró was very much against bourgeois art, claiming that it was used for propaganda and the promotion of a wealthy culture. Miró referred to his work as the assassination of painting. During the height of his career, Joan Miró experimented with many different types of art form, refusing to commit to any one artistic movement. Later in his career he began experimenting with tapestry. In 1974 he created World Trade Center Tapestry for the newly constructed Twin Towers. This work would later become the most expensive piece of art lost in the World Trade Center attacks of September 11th.

Joan Miró also began to delve into other aspects of media, including ceramics and window paintings. Some of his more radical ideas included four-dimensional art, and gas sculptures, though he was never able to put these ideas into practice. Perhaps his most important work of art in the United States is a glass mural titled “Personnages Oiseaux”, which was made for the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University in Kansas. Joan Miró began this large two-dimensional project at the age of 79, and it was not completely until he was 85 years old. The mural is made up of one million pieces of marble and Venetian glass, mounted on a special type of wood, and was attatched to the concrete wall of the museum. It was the first glass mosaic ever attempted by Miró, and though he wanted to make more, his deteriorating health prevented any future attempts of another project.

At the time of his death, Joan Miró was bedridden from heart disease and respiratory complications. He died at his home in Palma, Mallorca on December 25th, 1983. He is buried in his home town of Barcelona, near a museum that is dedicated entirely to his work. Today, his works are displayed in museums and galleries all over the world, and sell for anywhere between $250,000 and $17 million.

When Miró moved into the studio of Pau Gargallo on the rue Blomet in Paris, he came in contact with the poets and artists belonging to a group that had arisen from Dadaism. In 1924, this became the Surrealist group centred on the poet Andre Breton. Miró was never an orthodox Surrealist. However, the movement legitimised the use of dreams and the subconscious as artistic raw material. It thus offered him the possibility of liberating his own pictorial style by allowing him freely to combine the earthly and the magical elements seen in his “detailist” period. “Harlequin’s Carnival” above is good example of this change.

The world of the imagination and subconscious, rather than being an end in itself, was for Miró a way of giving shape in his paintings to his lived experiences and his memories. In spite of the fact that many of his pictures had been sold, Miró led a hard life in his studio in the Rue Blomet. “I used to come home in he evening without having eaten anything”, he reported later, “and I wrote down my feelings. During that year I spent a lot of time with poets; because I felt it necessary to overcome the ‘plastic’ in order to reach poetry.” After “The Farm”, “Harlequin’s Carnival” was to become Miró’s second striking work. In it, painting and graphic elements that run through the picture seem for the first time to be unified.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

MUSIC SATURDAY - BIBER'S MYSTERY SONATAS

“If you persevere in reciting the Rosary, this will be a most probable sign of your eternal salvation.” - Blessed Alan de la Roche

Today is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the festival celebrating the bodily death of the Virgin and her entrance into Heaven.  This feast is called in Scotland “Great St Mary’s Feast in Harvest”. In many Mediterranean countries the feast is celebrated with great brilliance and rejoicing.  The great church of the Virgin on the Greek island of Tenos is home to one of the greatest festivals in Orthodoxy and this attracts many pilgrims every year.

In Scotland, on this day Mary’s Bannock (Moilean Moire in Gaelic) was made. The ears of new corn were plucked and dried in the sun.  They were husked by hand, ground with stones to make flour.  The flour was made into dough and kneaded on a sheepskin and made into a cake.  A fire was made with rowan wood and the cake was toasted on its embers.  A piece of the Bannock was eaten by each member of the family in strict order of age.  All family members then walked sunwise around the fire.  The embers were then gathered in a pot and were carried around the farm grounds and fields in a sunwise direction.  This ritual ensured prosperity and good health for all family members.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (12 August 1644 (baptised) – 3 May 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist. Born in the small Bohemian town of Wartenberg (Stráž pod Ralskem), Biber worked at Graz and Kroměříž before he illegally left his Kremsier (Kroměříž) employer (Prince-Bishop Carl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno) and settled in Salzburg. He remained there for the rest of his life, publishing much of his music but apparently seldom, if ever, giving concert tours.

Biber was one of the most important composers for the violin in the history of the instrument. His technique allowed him to easily reach the 6th and 7th positions, employ multiple stops in intricate polyphonic passages, and explore the various possibilities of scordatura tuning. He also wrote one of the earliest known pieces for solo violin, the monumental passacaglia of the “Mystery Sonatas”.

During Biber’s lifetime, his music was known and imitated throughout Europe. In the late 18th century he was named the best violin composer of the 17th century by music historian Charles Burney. In the late 20th century Biber’s music, especially the “Mystery Sonatas”, enjoyed a renaissance. Today, it is widely performed and recorded.

The “Rosary Sonatas” (also known as the “Mystery Sonatas”) are a collection of 16 short sonatas for violin and continuo, with a final passacaglia for solo violin. Each has a title related to the Christian Rosary devotion practice and possibly to the Feast of the Guardian Angels. It is presumed that the “Mystery Sonatas” were completed around 1676, but they were unknown until their publication in 1905.

The music of Biber was never entirely forgotten due to the high technical skill required to play many of his works; this is especially true of his works for violin. Once rediscovered, the “Mystery Sonatas” became Biber’s most widely known composition. The work is prized for its virtuosic vocal style, scordatura tunings and its programmatic structure.

Here are the “Mystery Sonatas” of Biber with Musica Antiqua Koln conducted by Reinhard Goebel.


First Part
I. The Annuciation
II. The Visitation
III. The Nativity
IV. The Presentation
V. The Finding in the Temple
VI. The Agony in the Garden
VII. The Scourging of Jesus
VIII. The Crowning of Jesus with Thorns

Second Part
IX. Jesus carries His Cross
X. The Crucifixion
XI. The Resurrection
XII. The Ascension
XIII. The Descent of the Holy Ghost
XIV. The Assumption of our Lady
XV. The Crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary

XVI. Passacaglia