Thursday, 26 November 2015


“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” - William Arthur Ward

The USA and Australia are on very friendly terms and the two countries have a special relationship as far as international affairs go. I guess this is understandable as we share many common things: A British colonial origin, a pioneering past, a chequered history of indigenous peoples relations, a country built on migrant stock (many of common ancestry – English, Irish, Scottish, and other Europeans, Chinese), gold rushes, eventual independence from colonial rule, a democratic system of government, similar values and culture, etc, etc. However, don’t get me wrong, I am the first to acknowledge that there are striking differences also.

The influence of American culture on Australia is quite marked and an American who visits Australia will find many things to remind him/her of home. Not the least of which is the adoption of many American holidays and customs: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Halloween, many Christmas and New Year’s Eve traditions. This makes sense as the capitalist economies of both countries thrive on the financial benefits and increased consumer spending that accompany these ‘adopted’ celebrations and traditions.

One American holiday that quite regrettably has not been transplanted across the Pacific is Thanksgiving. I always admired this holiday, and especially so after celebrating it with American friends when visiting their country some time ago. Call me old-fashioned and sentimental, but I really enjoyed the spirit of this celebration that is all about families getting together around a celebratory meal. The giving of thanks for all the good things that have happened and that one should be grateful for in the past year, and the giving of thanks for a bountiful harvest struck me as a wonderful cause for celebration.

It is not surprising perhaps that Thanksgiving has not been adopted more widely around the world. It does not lend itself to as much consumer spending as say, Valentine’s Day or Christmas (when billions are spent on decorations, presents and public celebration). In addition, Thanksgiving seems a trifle anachronistic and cheesily old-fashioned. To celebrate the blessings of the past year with one’s family and give thanks for a plentiful harvest doesn’t seem to hold much appeal to “modern”, urban dwellers who have originated from nuclear families and perhaps are happily single or in “alternative” types of relationships. The religious overtones of Thanksgiving (having an origin in church services of gratitude) are also something that may rankle the sensibilities of the secular and hedonistic yuppies out there.

Even more importantly, I think, as we “progress” and “advance” in this country we are forgetting to give thanks, acknowledge the good things that happen to us. In our quest for increasing numbers of consumer goods, new technological gadgets, bigger houses, flashier, shinier cars and the latest fashion fads, we are forgetting something about what makes us special as humans – our innate humanity and our interdependence with other people and the special relationships that we share with them. When was the last time you hugged a special person in your life and thanked them for being there for you? When did you sit and talk with a member of your family to reminisce and express your gratitude for their presence in your life? When was the last time when you acknowledged the special contribution that your friends and acquaintances have made to your life?

Norfolk Island is a small island in the Pacific Ocean located between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, 1,412 kilometres directly east of mainland Australia's Evans Head, and about 900 kilometres from Lord Howe Island. The island is part of the Commonwealth of Australia. Together with two neighbouring islands, it forms one of Australia’s external territories. It has 2,300 inhabitants living on a total area of about 35 km2. Its capital is Kingston. Although Thanksgiving is not celebrated on mainland Australia, on Norfolk Island, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the last Wednesday of November, similar to the pre-World War II American observance on the last Thursday of the month. This means the Norfolk Island observance is the day before or six days after the United States’ observance. The holiday was brought to the island by visiting American whaling ships. What a wonderful custom to have picked up from these visitors!

It may be time for mainland Australians to pick up this American holiday and adopt it in a way that will enrich our lives. Thanskgiving and expressing gratitude is something that we should be doing more of. Ingratitude is a vile quality and the mark of a base, selfish and uncultured individual who does not truly appreciate what he has earnt or has been given. We should be thankful for our countless blessings and be quite vocal about it. A formal day when we reflect on this and show our thanks to those around us is a wonderful opportunity.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends who read this blog and thank you to all the special people in my life – you are appreciated and loved.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015


“The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” - Aristotle

This week, Poets United has as its theme “Survival”. Violence is all around us and it seems that the world is embarking on a renewed cycle of warfare fuelled by extremist, fanatical views that place little value on life, civilisation and peaceful pursuits. Even in the home, violence rears its ugly head and abuse against those who are weakest causes much misery or even deaths.

Are we humans by our nature basically evil or are we fundamentally good? This question has been around for centuries and many a fine philosophical mind has tried to answer it. I would like to believe that humans are basically good and it takes effort to make humans evil. That is the optimist in me raising his voice. The following poem is my contribution to the PU Midweek Motif:


The arid sands of the desert hide a secret,
Ensconced deep in their dry, lifeless depths:
A seed enclosed securely in a tough carapace.

The sun glares and broils the hellish plains,
The wind howls and lifts up clouds of dust:
The seed awaits, for life knows of patience.

And years may pass, for deserts are timeless,
And nights may grow icy cold and freeze the earth:
A seed can bide its time too, its life suspended, frozen.

Our world has grown harsh, just like a desert,
Arid, merciless, sharp, cruel and hostile:
A human soul that is in goodness steeped, survives.

Around us evil thrives, and what has stood for centuries,
Is easily within a day destroyed by wanton fanatics:
The human intellect and its creative fire cannot be quashed.

Our fellow human beings have turned to wild beasts,
Grown hungry for the flesh and blood of others of their own kind:
A human heart that loves and hopes cannot be thus infected.

As seed awaits the desert rain to sprout and bloom,
All that is good in our humanity will rise and overcome malice.
As flower in the desert sets a hundred seeds to disperse them,
Our better nature and our innate goodness will prevail.
For it is the seed’s nature to germinate and flower,
And it is a human’s nature to overcome adversity,
To survive, to create, to nurture, and to flourish.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Welcome to the Travel Tuesday meme! Join me every Tuesday and showcase your creativity in photography, painting and drawing, music, poetry, creative writing or a plain old natter about Travel! There is only one simple rule: Link your own creative work about some aspect of travel and share it with the rest us!

Please use this meme for your creative endeavours only. Do not use this meme to advertise your products or services as any links or comments by advertisers will be removed immediately.

Please link your entry using the Linky tool below:
Florence (Italian: Firenze) is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 382,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1,520,000 in the metropolitan area. Florence is famous for its history: A centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of the time, it is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, and has been called “the Athens of the Middle Ages”.

A turbulent political history includes periods of rule by the powerful Medici family, and numerous religious and republican revolutions. From 1865 to 1871 the city was the capital of the recently established Kingdom of Italy. The Historic Centre of Florence attracts millions of tourists each year, and Euromonitor International ranked the city as the world's 89th most visited in 2012, with 1.8 million visitors.

It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. The city is noted for its culture, Renaissance art and architecture and monuments. The city also contains numerous museums and art galleries, such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Pitti, and still exerts an influence in the fields of art, culture and politics. Due to Florence's artistic and architectural heritage, it has been ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Florence is an important city in Italian fashion, being ranked in the top 51 fashion capitals of the world; furthermore, it is a major national economic centre, as a tourist and industrial hub. In 2008, the city had the 17th highest average income in Italy. And if it’s all too much for you, why not sit down, relax and enjoy a cup of genuine Italian coffee in the piazza?

Monday, 23 November 2015


“A large nose is the mark of a witty, courteous, affable, generous and liberal man.” - Cyrano deBergerac

We watched an old movie at the weekend, which we got on a DVD at a garage sale. We don’t often go to garage sales, but if one is on our way somewhere and it’s convenient to stop we do have a look – curiosity, I guess what other people consider as junk… One can find some interesting things in these sales, although the majority of them are full of heaps of junk, and we agree with the sellers that we wouldn’t want it either. But one never knows, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”, they say…

The film was Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s 1990 “Cyrano de Bergerac”,  starring Gérard Depardieu, Anne Brochet and Vincent Perez. Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac (6 March 1619 – 28 July 1655) was a French novelist, playwright, epistolarian and duelist. A bold and innovative author, his work was part of the libertine literature of the first half of the seventeenth century. Today he is best known as the inspiration for Edmond Rostand’s most noted drama ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ which, although it includes elements of his life, also contains invention and myth. Since the 1970s, there has been a resurgence in the study of Cyrano, demonstrated in the abundance of theses, essays, articles and biographies published in France and elsewhere. The film can thus be regarded as fictionalised biography, and is based on Edmond Rostand’s play, from which Jean-Claude Carrière and Jean-Paul Rappeneau produced the excellent screenplay.

Cyrano is a dashing officer of the guard as well as a talented poet, whose romantic verse make women swoon. He is in love with his cousin Roxane but he daren’t tell her because of his big problem: A very large and prominent nose, which he nevertheless feels may be responsible for the development of  razor-sharp wit. Cyrano believes that Roxane will reject him on account of his nose. He resorts to writing letters to her on behalf of one of his cadets, Christian, who is also in love with Roxane but just doesn’t know how to tell her. She falls for the poetic charm of the letters but believes that they were written by Christian and not Cyrano….

This is the film that made Gérard Depardieu a world-wide superstar. Although he was a star in the French cinema for years, Depardieu was unknown in many other countries around the world. As this film won two Academy awards in 1990 (best foreign language film, and best costumes – these were designed by Franca Squarciapino), it generated enough interest around the globe, winning Depardieu well-deserved fame. Depardieu was born to play the role of Cyrano and every word he speaks could not have been delivered in a better way! The rest of the cast are also worthy of praise and the direction, cinematography, scenery and costumes will please all.

French is said to be the language of love, and in this screenplay (as in the original play), all speeches are in rhyming verse which sound absolutely wonderful and this helps to blow a few cobwebs from your high school French. In the version we saw the subtitles were excellently done and gave a great rendition of the original. The music score by Kurt Kuenne and Jean-Claude Petit complemented the action well and was not obtrusive. The film is a fantastic mix of humour, poignancy, action, romance, wit, farce, drama and spectacle. Definitely worth searching for it and viewing it!

Sunday, 22 November 2015


“Impressionism has produced ... not only a new, but a very useful way of looking at things. It is as though all at once a window opens and the sun and air enter your house in torrents” - Marie Bracquemond

Marie Bracquemond (née Quivoron-Pasquiou), was a French painter, printmaker and designer, who came from a family of artists. She was the wife of Félix Bracquemond (1833-1914), a printmaker, designer, painter and writer, and the mother of Pierre Bracquemond (1870-1926), a painter. After a difficult start in life, she began to study drawing at Étampes, near Paris. She took advice from Ingres but never received any formal teaching.

Admitted to the Salon from 1857, she was commissioned by the State to copy pictures in the Louvre. There she met Félix Bracquemond in about 1867 and married him on 5 August 1869. She was involved in her husband’s work for the Haviland Limoges factory and produced in particular several dishes and a wide panel of ceramic tiles entitled the Muses, shown at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878; the sketch for this was shown at the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879 and was greatly admired by Degas.

Originally very much influenced by Ingres and then by Alfred (Emile-Léopold) Stevens, her style of painting changed completely c. 1880 as a consequence of her admiration for Renoir and Monet and subsequently because of advice from Gauguin. The few pictures surviving from this period illustrate her conversion to a clearly Impressionist style, comparable to that of Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt. Examples include “The Lady in White” (1880; Cambrai, Musée Municipal), “On the Terrace at Sèvres” (c. 1880; Geneva, Petit Palais) and “Afternoon Tea” (c. 1880; Paris, Petit Palais).

After exhibiting at the Salon in 1874 and 1875, she took part in the Impressionist exhibitions of 1879, 1880 and 1886. In spite of the support of friends such as Gustave Geffroy, her husband was against any broadening of her career, and confined to Sèvres she produced only a limited amount of work.

According to her son Pierre, Félix Bracquemond was often resentful of his wife, brusquely rejecting her critique of his work, and refusing to show her paintings to visitors. In 1890, Marie Bracquemond, worn out by the continual household friction and discouraged by lack of interest in her work, abandoned her painting except for a few private works. She remained a staunch defender of Impressionism throughout her life, even when she was not actively painting.

The retrospective exhibition of 1919 at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, included 90 paintings (to a large extent small sketches), 34 watercolours and 9 engravings. She also produced ceramics and several drawings for ‘La Vie Moderne’ (1879-80). With Morisot, Gonzalès and Cassatt, she was one of the greatest female representatives of Impressionism.

The painting of 1887, above is from a private collection and is entitled “Under the Lamp”. Bracquemond has captured an intimate moment of a couple at the dinner table, the light of the lamp lending an added dimension of cosiness and intimacy to the scene. The subdued lighting has not affected the luminous qualities of her colours. The composition is finely balanced although seemingly asymmetric and the overall effect is one that draws the viewer in, participating in the impression of the moment.

Saturday, 21 November 2015


“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” - Frederick Douglass

Robert Alexander Schumann (1810 - 1856) was the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer, and he showed early abilities in both music and literature, the second facility used in his later writing on musical subjects. After brief study at university, he was allowed by his widowed mother and guardian to undertake serious study of the piano with Friedrich Wieck, whose favourite daughter Clara was later to become Schumann’s wife.

His ambitions as a pianist were thwarted by a weakness in the fingers of one hand, but the 1830s nevertheless brought a number of compositions for the instrument. The year of his marriage, 1840, was a year of song, followed by attempts in which his young wife encouraged him at more ambitious forms of orchestral composition. Settling first in Leipzig and then in Dresden, the Schumanns moved in 1850 to Düsseldorf, where Schumann had his first official appointment, as municipal director of music. In 1854 he had a serious mental breakdown, followed by two years in the asylum at Endenich before his death in 1856. As a composer Schumann’s gifts are clearly heard in his piano music and in his songs.

The piano music of Schumann, whether written for himself, for his wife, or, in later years, for his children, offers a wealth of material. From the earlier period comes “Carnaval”—a series of short musical scenes with motifs derived from the letters of the town of Asch; this was the home of a fellow student of Friedrich Wieck called Ernestine von Fricken, to whom Schumann was briefly engaged. The same period brought the “Davidsbündlertänze” (‘Dances of the League of David’), a reference to the imaginary league of friends of art against the surrounding Philistines. This decade also brought the first version of the monumental “Symphonic Studies” (based on a theme by the father of Ernestine von Fricken) and the well-known “Kinderszenen” (‘Scenes of Childhood’).

“Kreisleriana” has its literary source in the Hoffmann character Kapellmeister Kreisler, “Papillons” (‘Butterflies’) has a source in the work of the writer Jean Paul, and Noveletten has a clear literary reference in the very title. Later piano music by Schumann includes the “Album für die Jugend” (‘Album for the Young’) of 1848, “Waldszenen” (‘Forest Scenes’) of 1849, and the collected “Bunte Blätter” (‘Coloured Leaves’) and “Albumblätter” (‘Album Leaves’) drawn from earlier work.

Here is his “Kinderszenen” (‘Scenes of Childhood’) op. 15, played by Martha Argerich. This is a set of thirteen pieces of music for piano written in 1838. In this work, Schumann provides us with his adult reminiscences of childhood. Schumann had originally written 30 movements for this work, but chose 13 for the final version. Nr. 7, Träumerei (Dreaming), is one of Schumann's best known pieces; it was the title of a 1944 German biographical film on Robert Schumann.

Schumann had originally labeled this work “Leichte Stücke” (Easy Pieces). Likewise, the section titles were only added after the completion of the music, and Schumann described the titles as “nothing more than delicate hints for execution and interpretation”.

Friday, 20 November 2015


“A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece.” - Ludwig Erhard

For Food Friday, a traditional British recipe that my grandmother used to make often. She had an English friend who gave her the recipe, which was then passed down to my mother. This is called Victoria Sponge after Queen Victoria, who was known to enjoy a slice of the sponge cake with her afternoon tea.

Victoria Sponge Cake
Ingredients for Cake:
200g softened unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
6 tbsp raspberry jam
250ml thickened cream, whipped
For Butter Icing:
250g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
450g (3 cups) pure icing sugar, sifted
60ml (1/4 cup) milk at room temperature
Optional – fresh berries for decoration

Heat oven to 180˚C. Grease and flour 2 x 20cm sandwich tins.
Place the butter, sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl and beat well to a creamy consistency. Slowly beat in the eggs, one by one, then fold in the flour and mix well.
Divide the mix between the cake tins, place into the oven and bake for about 20 mins until risen and golden brown. The cakes should spring back when gently pushed in the middle. When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 mins in the tin, before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely.
Spread the jam onto one cake and top with the cream. Sandwich the cakes together.
For the butter icing, place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Use an electric beater to beat for 2 minutes or until very light and fluffy.
Gradually add the icing sugar and beat until the mixture is very pale and fluffy. Gradually add the milk and beat until smooth and well combined.

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Thursday, 19 November 2015


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

The Charites (Gratiae) were according to Graecoroman mythology the Graces. They were three lovely sisters, Euphrosyne, Aglaia, and Thalia, the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome. They are represented as beautiful, slender maidens in the full bloom of youth, with hands and arms lovingly intertwined. They portray every gentle emotion of the heart, which vents itself in friendship and kindness, and were believed to preside over those qualities which constitute grace, modesty, unconscious beauty, gentleness, kindliness, innocent joy, purity of mind and body, and eternal youth.

They not only possessed the most perfect beauty themselves, but also conferred this gift upon others. All the enjoyments of life were enhanced by their presence, and were deemed incomplete without them; and wherever joy or pleasure, grace and gaiety reigned, there they were supposed to be present. Temples and altars were everywhere erected in their honour, and people of all ages and of every rank in life entreated their favour. Incense was burnt daily upon their altars, and at every banquet they were invoked, and a libation poured out to them, as they not only heightened all enjoyment, but also by their refining influence moderated the exciting effects of wine.

Music, eloquence, poetry, and art, though the direct work of the Muses, received at the hands of the Graces an additional touch of refinement and beauty; for which reason they are always regarded as the friends of the Muses, with whom they lived on Mount Olympus. Their special function was to act, in conjunction with the Seasons, as attendants upon Aphrodite, whom they adorned with wreaths of flowers, and she emerges from their hands like the Queen of Spring, perfumed with the odour of roses and violets, and all sweet-scented blossoms. The Graces are frequently seen in attendance on other divinities; thus they carry music for Apollo, myrtles for Aphrodite, &c., and frequently accompany the Muses, Eros, or Dionysus.

Closely allied to the Graces were the Horæ, or Seasons, who were also represented as three beautiful maidens, daughters of Zeus and Themis. Their names were Eunomia, Dice, and Irene. It may appear strange that these divinities, presiding over the seasons, should be but three in number, but this is quite in accordance with the notions of the ancient Greeks, who only recognised spring, summer, and autumn as seasons; nature being supposed to be wrapt in death or slumber, during that cheerless and unproductive portion of the year which we call winter.

In some parts of Greece there were but two Horæ, Thallo, goddess of the bloom, and Carpo, of the corn and fruit-bearing season. The Horæ are always regarded as friendly towards mankind, and totally devoid of guile or subtlety; they are represented as joyous, but gentle maidens, crowned with flowers, and holding each other by the hand in a round dance. When they are depicted separately as personifications of the different seasons, the Hora representing spring appears laden with flowers, that of summer bears a sheaf of corn, whilst the personification of autumn has her hands filled with clusters of grapes and other fruits.

They also appear in company with the Graces in the train of Aphrodite, and are seen with Apollo and the Muses. They are inseparably connected with all that is good and beautiful in nature, and as the regular alternation of the seasons, like all her other operations, demands the most perfect order and regularity, the Horæ, being the daughters of Themis, came to be regarded as the representatives of order, and the just administration of human affairs in civilised communities.

Each of these graceful maidens took upon herself a separate function: Eunomia presided more especially over state life, Dice guarded the interests of individuals, whilst Irene, the gayest and brightest of the three sisters, was the light-hearted companion of Dionysus. The Horæ were also the deities of the fast-fleeting hours, and thus presided over the smaller, as well as the larger divisions of time. In this capacity they assist every morning in yoking the celestial horses to the glorious chariot of the sun, which they again help to unyoke when he sinks to rest. In their original conception they were personifications of the clouds, and are described as opening and closing the gates of heaven, and causing fruits and flowers to spring forth, when they pour down upon them their refreshing and life-giving streams.

The illustration is Sandro Botticelli's "Primavera". The three Graces can seen on the left of painting, between Hermes and Aphrodite.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


“Cowards are cruel, but the brave love mercy and delight to save.” - John Gay

“Mercy” is this week’s theme challenge for participants of Poets United. We seem to be losing this quality of mercy as our civilisation progresses. Everything can be bought and sold, including people, consciences and allegiances. Mercenaries have always existed, but nowadays they form a readily available fighting force to be had by the highest bidder.
Here is my entry:

Death of a Soldier

Killing of innocents without regard
Blind to unending pain:
Mercenary without a heart.

Killing of innocents without regard
Immune to pleas of mercy.
Mercenary without a heart -
His gun spits out death, victims’ bodies lie senseless.

Immune to pleas of mercy
Mercenary hardened to death
His gun spits out death, victims’ bodies lie senseless.
Lying there, still.

Mercenary hardened to death
Blind to unending pain
Lying there, still,

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one of its pages.” - SaintAugustine

Welcome to the Travel Tuesday meme! Join me every Tuesday and showcase your creativity in photography, painting and drawing, music, poetry, creative writing or a plain old natter about Travel! There is only one simple rule: Link your own creative work about some aspect of travel and share it with the rest us!

Please use this meme for your creative endeavours only. Do not use this meme to advertise your products or services as any links or comments by advertisers will be removed immediately.

Please link your entry using the Linky tool below:

I’m starting off with one my photos from Athens, taken during one my trips there. Athens (Modern Greek: Αθήνα, Athína; Ancient Greek: Ἀθῆναι, Athēnai) is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world’s oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning around 3,400 years, and the earliest human presence around the 11th–7th millennium BC. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state that emerged in conjunction with the seagoing development of the port of Piraeus. A centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, it is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilisation and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of the then known European continent.

Today a cosmopolitan metropolis, modern Athens is central to economic, financial, industrial, political and cultural life in Greece. In 2012, Athens was ranked the world’s 39th richest city by purchasing power and the 77th most expensive in a UBS study. Athens is recognised as a global city because of its geo-strategic location and its importance in finance, commerce, media, entertainment, arts, international trade, culture, education and tourism. It is one of the biggest economic centres in southeastern Europe, with a large financial sector, and features the largest passenger port in Europe, and the third largest in the world. According to Eurostat in 2004, the Athens Larger Urban Zone (LUZ) was the 7th most populous LUZ in the European Union (the 5th most populous capital city of the EU), with a population of about 4,500,000. Athens is also the southernmost capital on the European mainland.

The heritage of the classical era is still evident in the city, represented by ancient monuments and works of art, the most famous of all being the Parthenon, considered a key landmark of early Western civilisation. The city also retains Roman and Byzantine monuments, as well as a smaller number of Ottoman monuments. Athens is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Acropolis of Athens and the medieval Daphni Monastery. Landmarks of the modern era, dating back to the establishment of Athens as the capital of the independent Greek state in 1834, include the Hellenic Parliament (19th century) and the Athens Trilogy, consisting of the National Library of Greece, the Athens University and the Academy of Athens. Athens was the host city of the first modern-day Olympic Games in 1896, and 108 years later it welcomed home the 2004 Summer Olympics. Athens is home to the National Archaeological Museum, featuring the world’s largest collection of ancient Greek antiquities, as well as the new Acropolis Museum.

The photo is of the main building of the Academy of Athens, which is a neoclassical building between Panepistimiou Street and Akadimias Street in the centre of Athens. The building was designed as part of an architectural trilogy in 1859 by the Danish architect Theophil Hansen, along with the University and the National Library. Funds had been provided by the magnate Simon Sinas specifically for the purpose, and the foundation stone was laid on 2 August 1859. Construction proceeded rapidly, after 1861 under the supervision of Ernst Ziller, but the internal tumults during the latter years of King Otto’s reign, which resulted in his ousting in 1862, hampered construction until it was stopped in 1864. Works resumed in 1868, but the building was not completed until 1885, at a total cost of 2,843,319 gold drachmas, most of it provided by Sinas, and, after his death, by his wife Ifigeneia.

Monday, 16 November 2015


“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” - John Buchan

We Watched Lasse Hallström’s 2011 movie “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” at the weekend. It proved to be an interesting, quirky movie, which in the end was quite enjoyable. It stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked and Kristin Scott Thomas, and the screenplay is by Simon Beaufoy based on Paul Torday’s novel.

Yemen is an Arab country in Southwest Asia, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen is the second largest country in the peninsula, occupying 527,970 km2, with its coastline stretches for about 2,000 km. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea to the south, and Oman to the east. Although Yemen's constitutionally stated capital is the city of Sana’a, the city has been under rebel control since February 2015. Because of this, Yemen’s capital has been temporarily relocated to the port city of Aden, on the southern coast. Yemen’s territory includes more than 200 islands; the largest of these is Socotra.

The film obviously relates to more peaceful times in the Yemen, and is about dreaming big and realising one’s dreams no matter how impossible to realise they may seem. The plot revolves around a visionary, Sheik Muhammed (Amr Waked), who believes his passion for the peaceful pastime of salmon fishing can enrich the lives of his people, and he dreams of bringing the sport to the not so fish-friendly desert. Willing to spare no expense, he instructs his representative to turn the dream into reality, an extraordinary feat that will require the involvement of Britain’s leading fisheries expert, Dr Jones (McGregor), who happens to think the project both absurd and unachievable. That is, until the Prime Minister’s overzealous press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) latches on to it as a ‘good will’ story. Now, this unlikely team will put it all on the line and embark on an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible, possible.

The film is a quirky, satirical, romantic comedy. It is gentle British fare that manages to pleasantly charm the viewer into accepting the persiflage of the unlikelihood of fishing for salmon in the desert with all of its attendant leaps of faith. It is a film about friendship, love, cross-cultural bridges and of course, fishing. In the same breath, let me say that one does not need to fish to enjoy the movie. There is also the unlikely romance that sparks between Dr Jones (McGregor) and investment consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt) while working on this theoretically possible (but difficult to realise) project.

The acting is great, all characters making the most of the good (and occasionally) very witty script. Direction is understated and often tongue-in-cheek, as one would expect from Lasse Hallström whose most successful films (“Chocolat”, “The Cider House Rules”, “My Life As a Dog”) turn on flights of fancy. We enjoyed the film and remained engaged during its 107 minute duration. Comedy and social comment, mixed with romance, cultural ethography and wit, with just a touch of whimsy!

Sunday, 15 November 2015


“Often the losing of a battle leads to the winning of progress. Less glory but greater liberty: the drum is silent and the voices of reason can be heard.” - Victor Hugo

Ferdinand-Eugène-Victor Delacroix was born on April 26, 1798, in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, France. His father, Charles, was a minister of foreign affairs and served as a governmental prefect in Marseilles and Bordeaux. His mother, Victoire Oeben, was a cultured woman who encouraged young Delacroix’s love of literature and art. Delacroix’s father died when he was 7 years old, and his mother passed away when he was 16.

He attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris but left school to begin his artistic studies. Sponsored by a helpful and well-connected uncle, he joined the studio of the painter Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. In 1816, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts. Delacroix also made many visits to the Louvre, where he admired the paintings of such Old Masters as Titian and Rubens.

Many of Delacroix’s early paintings had religious subjects. However, the first work he exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon, “Dante and Virgil in Hell” (1822), took its inspiration from literature. For other works of the 1820s, Delacroix turned to recent historical events. His interest in the Greek War of Independence, and his distress at the atrocities of that war, led to “The Massacre at Chios” (1824) and “Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi” (1826).

Even at this early stage of his career, Delacroix was fortunate enough to find buyers for his work. He was hailed as a central figure in the Romantic era of French art, along with Théodore Géricault and Antoine-Jean Gros. Like these other painters, he portrayed subjects fraught with extreme emotion, dramatic conflicts and violence. Often inspired by history, literature and music, he worked with bold colours and free brushwork.

Delacroix continued to impress the critics and his clients with works such as “Death of Sardanapalus” (1827), a decadent scene of a defeated Assyrian king preparing to commit suicide. One of his most famous paintings was “Liberty Leading the People,” a response to the July Revolution of 1830, in which a woman holding a French flag leads a band of fighters from all social classes. It was purchased by the French government in 1831.

After travelling to Morocco in 1832, Delacroix returned to Paris with new ideas for his art. Paintings such as “The Women of Algiers in Their Apartment” (1834) and “Moroccan Chieftain Receiving Tribute” (1837) defined his Romantic interest in exotic subjects and faraway lands. He also continued to paint scenes borrowed from the work of his favourite authors, including Lord Byron and Shakespeare, and he was commissioned to paint several rooms at the Palais Bourbon and the Palace of Versailles.

From the 1840s onward, Delacroix spent more time in the countryside outside Paris. He enjoyed friendships with other well-known cultural figures such as the composer Frédéric Chopin and the author George Sand. In addition to his literary subjects, he produced flower still lifes and multiple paintings titled “The Lion Hunt.”

Delacroix’s last major commission was a set of murals for the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. They include “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel,” a scene of intense physical combat between two figures in a dark forest. This commission occupied Delacroix throughout the 1850s and into the following decade. He died on August 13, 1863, in Paris.

The painting above, “Liberty Leading the People” (French: La Liberté guidant le peuple) commemorates the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled King Charles X of France. A woman personifying the concept and the goddess of Liberty leads the people forward over the bodies of the fallen, holding the flag of the French Revolution – the tricolour flag, which remains France's national flag – in one hand and brandishing a bayonetted musket with the other. The figure of Liberty is also viewed as a symbol of France and the French Republic known as Marianne.

By the time Delacroix painted “Liberty Leading the People”, he was already the acknowledged leader of the Romantic school in French painting. Delacroix, who was born as the Age of Enlightenment was giving way to the ideas and style of romanticism, rejected the emphasis on precise drawing that characterised the academic art of his time, and instead gave a new prominence to freely brushed colour. Delacroix painted his work in the autumn of 1830. In a letter to his brother dated 21 October, he wrote: “My bad mood is vanishing thanks to hard work. I’ve embarked on a modern subject—a barricade. And if I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her.” The painting was first exhibited at the official Salon of 1831.

Saturday, 14 November 2015


“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” - Francis of Assisi

On the evening of 13 November 2015, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris and its northern suburb of Saint-Denis. The attacks consisted of mass shootings, suicide bombings, bombings, and hostage taking. Beginning at 21:16 CET, three separate explosions and six mass shootings occurred, including bombings near the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.

The deadliest attack was at the Bataclan theatre, where attackers took hostages and engaged in a standoff with police until it was ended at 00:58 14 November CET. At least 129 people were killed, 89 of them at the Bataclan theatre. 352 people were injured by the attacks, including 99 people described as being in a serious condition. In addition to the civilian casualties, eight attackers were killed and authorities continued to search for any accomplices that remained at large.

In a televised statement at 23:58 CET, French President François Hollande announced a state of emergency, the first state of emergency since the 2005 riots, and subsequently placed temporary controls on the country’s borders. According to some English-language sources, the first citywide curfew in Paris since 1944 was also put in place.

On 14 November, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks. According to The Wall Street Journal, the attacks were motivated by ISIL as “retaliation” for the French role in the Syrian Civil War and Iraqi Civil War. Hollande also said the attacks were organised from abroad “by Daesh”, the Arabic acronym for ISIL, “with internal help”, and described them as “an act of war”.

The attacks were the deadliest to occur in France since the Second World War and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004. The attacks came just a day after an ISIL terrorist attack in Lebanon that killed 43 people and the killing of ISIL member “Jihadi John”; and 14 days after the crash of the Russian-chartered Metrojet Flight 9268, which killed 217 passengers and seven crew members, and for which ISIL’s Sinai branch claimed responsibility. Prior to the attack, France had been on high alert since the January 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 17 people, including civilians and police officers.

I cannot fathom the depth of the hate that has caused these attacks, nor am I naïve enough to believe that religious causes are at the bottom of it. Islam is a religion that has peace and submission to God as its cornerstone and tolerance towards other people is something that the Qur’an espouses:
“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48, the Holy Qur’an

Numerous families in France have been plunged into the blackest of despair and mourn loved ones. All people of all faiths around the world who love peace, freedom, equality and fraternity sympathise with the victims and their families. This tribute is especially for them.

Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem Op.48 with Paavo Jarvi, Orchestre de Paris, Chen Reiss, Matthias Coerne.

Friday, 13 November 2015


“In Japan, the cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It’s a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short.” - Homaro Cantu

We are enjoying cherry season at the moment in Melbourne and as well having these delightful fruits fresh, there are a multitude of ways to enjoy cooking with them. Here is a favourite recipe of ours for Spring, before the cherries are all too soon over (but yes, I suppose you can substitute canned cherries for fresh if there are none available...).

Cherry Eton Mess
350 mL thickened cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
150 g petite vanilla meringues, roughly chopped (or you can use meringue nests, crushed)
2 cups pitted cherries, halved
1 tbsp maraschino liqueur
1/2 cup hot water

In a small saucepan combine the sugar and hot water over low heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium and simmer without stirring for five minutes or until the syrup thickens. Add the cherries and vanilla extract. Increase the heat to high and simmer for one to two minutes and remove from the heat and add a tbsp. of maraschino liqueur. Allow to cool completely.
Beat the cold cream with a tbsp of sugar until it thickens and stiff peaks form. Do not over-beat as it will curdle. Put in the refrigerator.
Cherry Eton mess should be made up just before serving. When ready to serve, mix together the cream and the chopped meringues. Very gently fold through the cherry syrup mixture (don't totally combine) and heap into serving glasses. Top with a decorative meringue and fresh cherry if desired. Serve the cherry Eton mess immediately.

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Thursday, 12 November 2015


“People trample over flowers, yet only to embrace a cactus.” - James Joyce

Today, it is the St Martin I, the Pope’s Feast Day for Roman Catholics and St John the Merciful’s Feast Day for the Greek Orthodox faithful.
In Taiwan, Dr Sun Yat-sen’s Birthday is celebrated.

Today is also the anniversary of the birth of:
Baha’ Ullah, founder of Baha’i faith (1817);
Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin, Russian composer (1833);
Auguste Rodin, French sculptor (1840);
Sun Yat Sen, Chinese statesman (1866);
Kim Hunter, actor (1922);
Grace Kelly, US actress/princess (1928);
Stephanie Powers, actress (1942);
Neil Young, musician (1945);
Nadia Comaneci, gymnast (1961).

The red crown cactus, Rebutia minuscula, is the plant for today’s birthdays.  It is a native of South Bolivia and North Argentina and produces masses of red blooms, often forming a complete ring around the base of the plant.  The plant symbolises warmth and desire.  In the language of flowers, it conveys the meaning: “I desire you”.

Alexander Porfirevich Borodin (1833-1887) was a Russian chemist who turned composer and whose musical works were largely based on Russian folk themes.  He wrote three symphonies, the third unfinished; two string quartets and two operas, Prince Igor, the most famous, finished after his death by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov.  He also published several scientific papers on organic chemistry!  The Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor are one of my favourite compositions of his.