Friday, 9 October 2015


“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” - T. S. Eliot

A sweet treat for Food Friday today. This is a dessert we often have if we go out to dinner in Lygon St, Melbourne's “Little Italy”. There so many Italian restaurants there, that for one to survive it needs to be excellent. This means the food is worth eating in almost any one of them! Tiramisu is on the dessert menu of all of them!

Mascarpone Tiramisu
6 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups (250g) caster sugar
300g mascarpone cheese
2 cups (500ml) thickened cream
4 packets (each approx 180g) sponge fingers
4-5 tablespoons coffee flavoured liqueur
1 teaspoon cocoa, for dusting
30g dark chocolate

Combine egg yolks and sugar in the top of a double boiler or bowl over boiling water. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whip yolks until thick and lemon coloured.
Add mascarpone to whipped yolks. Beat until combined.
In a separate bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold into yolk mixture and set aside.
Split the sponge fingers in half and line the bottom and sides of a large glass bowl. Brush with coffee liqueur. Spoon half of the mascarpone filling over the sponge fingers.
Repeat sponge fingers, coffee liqueur and filling layers. Decorate with cocoa and chocolate curls. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
To make the chocolate curls, use a vegetable peeler and run it down the edge of the chocolate.

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Thursday, 8 October 2015


“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.” - Leonardo daVinci

The ancient Greeks had a host of other gods and goddesses except the well-known twelve Olympian deities, whose names almost everyone knows: Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Artemis Aphrodite, etc.  These lesser gods were not considered less important, but rather their sphere of influence was less and they had to obey the greater gods, who often directed them to do their bidding. These lesser gods were in charge of some of the natural phenomena or by their actions explained some natural occurrences that ancient people found hard to explain otherwise.

Nyx, the daughter of Chaos, being the personification of Night, was, according to the poetic ideas of the Greeks, considered to be the mother of everything mysterious and inexplicable, such as death, sleep, dreams. She became united to Erebus (representing the personification of darkness), and their children were Aether and Hemera (Air and Daylight), evidently a simile of the poets, to indicate that darkness always precedes light. Nyx inhabited a palace in the dark regions of the lower world, and is represented as a beautiful woman, seated in a chariot, drawn by two black horses. She is clothed in dark robes, wears a long veil, and is accompanied by the stars, which follow in her train.

Thanatos (Death) and his twin-brother Hypnos (Sleep) were the children of Nyx. Their dwelling was in the realm of shades, and when they appear among mortals, Thanatos is feared and hated as the enemy of mankind, whose hard heart knows no pity, whilst his brother Hypnos is universally loved and welcomed as their kindest and most beneficent friend. But though the ancients regarded Thanatos as a gloomy and mournful divinity, they did not represent him with any exterior repulsiveness. On the contrary, he appears as a beautiful youth, who holds in his hand an inverted torch, emblematical of the light of life being extinguished, whilst his disengaged arm is thrown lovingly round the shoulder of his brother Hypnos.

Hypnos is sometimes depicted standing erect with closed eyes; at others he is in a recumbent position beside his brother Thanatos, and usually bears a poppy-stalk in his hand. A most interesting description of the abode of Hypnos is given by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. He tells us how the god of Sleep dwelt in a mountain-cave near the realm of the Cimmerians, which the sun never pierced with his rays. No sound disturbed the stillness, no song of birds, not a branch moved, and no human voice broke the profound silence, which reigned everywhere. From the lowermost rocks of the cave issued the river Lethe, and one might almost have supposed that its course was arrested, were it not for the low, monotonous hum of the water, which invited slumber. The entrance was partially hidden by numberless white and red poppies, which Mother Night had gathered and planted there, and from the juice of which she extracts drowsiness, which she scatters in liquid drops all over the earth, as soon as the sun-god has sunk to rest. In the centre of the cave stands a couch of blackest ebony, with a bed of down, over which is laid a coverlet of sable hue.

On this rich couch, the god himself reposes, surrounded by innumerable forms. These are idle dreams, more numerous than the sands of the sea. Chief among them is Morpheus, that changeful god, who may assume any shape or form he pleases. Nor can the god of Sleep resist his own power; for though he may rouse himself for a while, he soon succumbs to the drowsy influences that surround him.

Morpheus, the son of Hypnos, was the god of Dreams. He is always represented winged, and appears sometimes as a youth, sometimes as an old man. In his hand he bears a cluster of poppies, and as he steps with noiseless footsteps over the earth, he gently scatters the seeds of this sleep-producing plant over the eyes of weary mortals. Homer describes the House of Dreams as having two gates: One of ivory, whence issue all deceptive and flattering visions; the other of horn, through which proceed those dreams which are fulfilled.

The names of these gods turn up in English words, whose derivation gives clues as to their origin. Euthanasia, for example, is a “good” (eu-) “death” (from thanatos), while a hypnotic drug makes you sleep. Morphine of course refers to Morpheus and the ability of sleep to assuage suffering.

The painting above is by John William Waterhouse completed in 1874 and is depicting “Sleep and his Half-brother Death”. It is Waterhouse’s first Royal Academy exhibit (submitted from his father's house at 1 Scarsdale Villas), it was painted after both his younger brothers died of tuberculosis.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015


“Personally I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” - Sir Winston Churchill

Poets United this week celebrates World Teachers’ Day, held annually on October 5 since 1994. Its aim is to mobilize support for teachers and to ensure that the needs of future generations will continue to be met by teachers. The challenge is to: “Bring a great teacher memory to life in a new poem. Or, if you don’t have one, use learning as your motif…”

Having been a teacher in my professional life, I can surely appreciate the benefits of good teaching when it generates deep and active learning. However, I have also seen some very bad teaching, which unfortunately can have the opposite result from what it intends to do. Education can happen in the most unexpected and delightful ways – a good teacher can facilitate this process of discovery and learning. A poor teacher shovels education into students as though they were empty vessels to be filled with facts, figures, dates and minutiae to be memorised and recalled parrot fashion. What use is to me to know how far away from the earth the moon is and what its precise diameter is, if I cannot appreciate a poem about the magic of moonlight?


When we shall meet again
Let’s close our eyes, imagining
The moon as it used to be –
Distant, mysterious, full of hidden promises.

Let us forget bitter realities
Taught to us by our experience,
Throw to the winds the empty facts,
Taught to us by our zealous, short-sighted teachers.

Once more let us believe that
All is possible, all may happen;
Let us regain that most precious of things
That we have lost – Moonlight...

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


“A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” - WinstonChurchill

The Catholic faith celebrates St Bruno’s and St Faith’s Feast Day today, while the Orthodox faith celebrates St Thomas the Apostle’s Feast Day. The Anglican Church commemorates St Faith’s Feast Day and the Feast Day of the Holy William Tyndale today.

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Louis Philippe, king of France (1773);
Jenny Lind, soprano (1820);
Richard Dedekind, mathematician (1831);
George Westinghouse, inventor (1846);
Karol Szymanowski, composer (1882);
Martín Luis Guzmán, novelist (1887?);
Carole Lombard (Jane Alice Peters); actress (1908);
Thor Heyerdahl, anthropologist (1914);
Britt Ekland, actress (1942);
Stephanie Zimbalist, actress (1956).

A split reed, Phragmites communis, is today’s birthday plant.  It stands for folly and indiscretion.  Reeds also signify authority, frailty and instability.  In more learned circles, the reed symbolises music (Pan’s flute was made of reeds) and also literature (reed pens were commonly used before the quill).

St Faith or St Foi was a Christian virgin who was martyred for her faith by being grilled alive over a roasting fire.  In her honour faith cakes are made and these were used in Northern England to divine a girl’s future husband.  The cake was made of flour, sugar, salt and spring water by three single girls.  The cake was turned nine times, each girl turning it thrice.  It was then cut into three sectors, each girl receiving a portion.  Each of these was then cut into nine slivers and each sliver was passed thrice through a wedding ring obtained from a married woman who was married for seven years at least.  All the slivers were then consumed while the following chant was invoked:
            O good St Faith, be kind tonight
            And bring to me my heart’s delight;
            Let me my future husband view
            And be my vision chaste and true.
The girl then went straight to bed after hanging the ring from the bedhead with a string.  They would then dream without fail their future husbands.

St Faith’s Day was traditionally the day when corn sowing for the next year’s harvest was begun.  Plums, damsons and other autumn stone fruit were also gathered at this time, before the winter frosts set in.

St Thomas was one of the Twelve Apostles, and he was a Galilean by birth. His name means “twin”. The twentieth chapter of St John’s Gospel describes how, when he doubted the appearance of the Risen Lord, Christ appeared to him again, saying: “Reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.” Thomas cried out: “My Lord and my God!” Through this one event the Holy Scriptures attest that Christ is risen bodily, not merely as a spirit, as some heresies claim; and that He is in fact God. After Pentecost, St Thomas proclaimed the Gospel in the East, and established the Christian faith as far as India, where the small remnant of the ancient Church still traces its foundation to him. According to some accounts he met a martyr’s end; according to others, he reposed in peace. St John Chrysostom mentions that his tomb was in Edessa in Syria; his relics may have been translated there from India in the fourth century.

Died on this day: In 1651, Heinrich Albert (47), German composer famous for his songs Arien oder Melodien; In 1762, Francesco Onofrio Manfredini (78), composer; in 1892, Alfred Lord Tennyson (83), writer and British Poet Laureate; in 1951, Will Keith Kellogg (91), American food manufacturer; in 1976, Gilbert Ryle (76), British philosopher; in 1989 Bette Davis (81), US actress.

Monday, 5 October 2015


“The Sophists’ paradoxical talk pieces and their public debates were entertainment in 5th century Greece. And in that world, Socrates was an entertainer.” - David Antin

I was looking through my archive of digital photos at the weekend and came across some of Pireás (Peiraieus for the classically minded) from several years ago when we had visited Greece. Pireás is the port of Athens, 12 kilometres southwest from the centre of Athens, and lies along the east coast of the Saronic Gulf. It has a population of just under 200,000 people and is a lively, colourful, beautiful municipality. The photos brought back some fond memories and a sense of wanderlust and nostalgia. It has been some years since I have travelled to Greece and I am certainly missing visiting the country of my birth.

Most people would be familiar with Pireás from the 1960 Jules Dassin movie “Never on Sunday”, starring Melina Mercouri, Jules Dassin, Giorgos Foundas, Titos Vandis and Despo Diamantidou. This was a hit movie worldwide and established Melina Mercouri (1920–1994) as a screen legend, but also typecast her a little as an “independent woman of easy morals”…

Mercouri the now legendary Greek actress plays Illia, one of the good-time girls of the port of Pireás. Every day, Illia swims at the pier, entertaining the dockhands and attracting business. On Sundays she never works and has an open house with food, drink and song for all her friends. Homer Thrace (Dassin), an amateur philosopher from Middletown, Connecticut, arrives in Pireás to investigate why Greece has fallen from her ancient greatness. He meets Illia and immediately decides she is a symbol of that fall, so he sets out to study the reasons behind Illia’s decline and to elevate her to her ancient forebears’ greatness. If he can achieve this, he thinks, Greece can do the same and achieve another period of greatness. Unbeknownst to Illia, he gets the money for the books and all else he gives her from Mr. No Face (Alexis Solomos), the local vice boss who wants Illia retired because her independence gives other whores ideas. Whose spirit will prevail? Homer’s classical ideal or Illia’s earthy and hedonistic reality?

The film constitutes a variation of the Pygmalion plus “hooker with a heart of gold” story. The viewer is gently submerged into Greek culture of the 1960s, including dance, music, and language (through the use of subtitles). The signature song and the bouzouki theme of the movie became hits of the 1960s and brought the composer, Manos Hadjidakis, an Academy Award. It won the Academy Award for Best Song (Manos Hadjidakis for “Never on Sunday”). It was nominated for the Academy Awards for, respectively, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Melina Mercouri), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Director (Jules Dassin) and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay as Written Directly for the Screen (Dassin). Mercouri won the award for Best Actress at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival for her role in this movie.

Having seen this movie again recently, I was amazed at how much Greece has changed since 1960 when the movie was released. Even though I left Greece with my family in 1970, my memories of the place then are vivid and I can say that looking at the film I can recall much of what is depicted as what I left behind when we emigrated. Comparing that to what I saw the last we visited some years ago and what I see now on cable TV, it is definitely chalk and cheese. Some things have changed for the better, but unfortunately much more has changed for the worse. Financial woes notwithstanding, Greece has become less Greek and more foreign – “cosmopolitan” carries a positive meaning (and I would argue that Athens at the very least was very cosmopolitan in the 1970s when we left). I think Greece has become “foreign” in the sense of “globalised”, with every negative aspect of the word “globalisation” you can think of.

Watching the film made me nostalgic for the Greece of my childhood. A place where it was safe to walk the streets at all hours of the night, where neighbours knew one another and cared for each other, where one had many friends, where one could enjoy life while having little, where one’s worldly possessions may have been few, but were certainly of good quality and made locally by craftsmen who had learned their craft from their father or grandfather. Where food was fresh and tasted wonderful because it was brought to the market by the growers themselves, the very morning they had harvested it. A place where national pride was stronger than pressures of global capitalism, and the financial aspirations of the majority of the population were modest. A place where happiness was more widespread…

Much is made in the film of Illia’s sense of morality, which clashes with Homer’s ideal of morality and ethics. In that sense, I can recall my own family’s sense of pride, morality and “filótimo” (sense of honour and social justice). Some things then were never even considered, much less done, because of these cultural and ethical guidelines dictated by “filótimo”. And somehow it was a better, happier society because of that. I think that this Greek “filótimo” is one of the things that is dying a slow and painful death in Greece now, and the country is in a poorer state because of this – economic crisis or not…

Sunday, 4 October 2015


“If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” - Vincent Van Gogh

John de Burgh Perceval AO (1 February 1923 – 15 October 2000) was a well-known Australian artist. Perceval was the last surviving member of a group known as the “Angry Penguins” who redefined Australian art in the 1940s. Other members included John and Sunday Reed, Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.

Perceval was born Linwood Robert Steven South at Bruce Rock, Western Australia, the second child of Robert South (a wheat farmer) and Dorothy (née Dolton). His parents separated in 1925 and he remained at his father’s farm until reunited with his mother in Melbourne in 1935. Following the marriage of his mother to William de Burgh Perceval, he changed his name to John and adopted the surname de Burgh Perceval.

In 1938 Perceval contracted polio and was hospitalised, giving him the opportunity to further his skills at drawing and painting. Enlisting in the army in 1941 Perceval first met and befriended Arthur Boyd. After leaving the army and moving into the Boyd family home, ‘Open Country’, Murrumbeena, he married Boyd’s younger sister Mary in 1944. Together he and Mary Boyd produced four children. Perceval held his first solo exhibition at the Melbourne Book Club in 1948 and showed regularly with the Contemporary Art Society.

Between 1949 and 1955 he concentrated on producing earthenware ceramics and helped to establish the Arthur Merric Boyd Pottery in Murrumbeena. Returning to painting in 1956 Perceval produced a series of images of Williamstown and Gaffney’s Creek. Moving to England in 1963 Perceval held solo exhibitions in London, and travelled to Europe, before returning to Australia in 1965 to take up the first Australian National University Creative Fellowship.

‘John Perceval’, a major retrospective exhibition, was held at Albert Hall, Canberra in 1966. Author Margaret Plant’s monograph John Perceval, was published in 1971. Suffering from alcoholism and schizophrenia in 1974 Perceval committed himself to the psychiatric hospital Larundel, Melbourne, where he remained until 1981. ‘John Perceval: A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings’ was held at Heide Park and Art Gallery in 1984.

Perceval was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1991, the year after the National Gallery of Victoria organised ‘John Perceval: A Retrospective’. In 2000 from 19 August to 19 October John Perceval Retrospective Exhibition was held in Galeria Aniela Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park officially opened by Chairman Sotheby’s (included 80 oil paintings and works on paper from 1946 to 1999). It was Perceval last retrospective and shown on the ABC TV Australian National News. Prior to his death ‘Scudding Swans’ (1959) sold for $552,500, a record for a living Australian painter. In March 2010, it was sold for $690,000. Perceval was survived by his four children; Matthew, Tessa, Celia and Alice, all of whom are practising artists today.

The painting above is “Ocean Beach, Sorrento”, exhibited in the National Gallery of Victoria. In January 1957 John Perceval visited Portsea and Sorrento as the houseguest of Thomas and Anne Purves, the directors of Australian Galleries, Melbourne. Inspired by the rough and irregular coastline, Perceval painted a small group of works, which he showed in April that year at Australian Galleries, in a joint exhibition with his brother-in-law Arthur Boyd.

‘Ocean beach, Sorrento’, the major work from this series, depicts the rocky Victorian coastline under the dry heat of a summer’s day. Two of the Purves children are shown huddled in a recess in the rocks in the lower right-hand corner of the composition. After making his paintings of Williamstown in 1956, Perceval responded confidently to the subject of water, and in the splash and foam of waves on the shore his calligraphy beautifully matches his subject: paint has been applied frenetically – dribbled and scratched onto the surface – successfully conveying the turbulent water and rugged landscape.

The painting was purchased by Geoffrey Hillas in March 1957. Mr and Mrs Hillas were among the most noted collectors of contemporary Australian art of the period, and their collection included major works by Arthur Boyd, John Brack, John Perceval and Fred Williams.

Saturday, 3 October 2015


“Music is the best means we have of digesting time.” - W. H. Auden

Franz Xaver Hammer (1741 – 11 October 1817) was a German gambist, cellist and composer. Hammer was born in Oettingen in Bayern. He is another of the composers that have become obscure even if during his lifetime he enjoyed prestige and renown.

There is an anecdote that Hammer started his career at the Esterháza estate, where no less a personage than Haydn himself helped him out of a jam when he gouged out an oboist's eye, supposedly unintentionally, in a tavern brawl. From 1771 to 1778, he worked under Joseph Haydn as cellist of the Esterhazy court ensemble in Eisenstadt and at the Eszterháza palace. It is thought that Haydn composed three cello concertos for him. His salary rose (from his already high 100 ducats and 30 kreuzers) a few times suggesting his extraordinary qualities as an instrumentalist.

At the premiere of Haydn's oratorio “Il Ritorno di Tobia”, Hammer played his own cello concerto. During 1776–1813, he was member of the Viennese musicians’ society. From his works have survived sonatas for viola da gamba, viola d’amore and violoncello with basso continuo and also manuscript collections of instructive pieces and solo concertos for violoncello or viola da gamba and orchestra.

Here are five viola da gamba sonatas as well as one by another late gambist, Carl Friedrich Abel. They are played by Simone Eckert (viola da gamba); Dorothee Palm (violoncello); Ulrich Wedemeier (theorbo) and Karl-Ernst Went (harpsichord and pianoforte).

Some of the movements are distinctly old-fashioned in style, raising the question of how and to what extent the instrument for which they were written forced them in that direction. Hammer was clearly capable of writing natural, Classical-style vocal-oriented melody. These pieces are accompanied sonatas, but the nature of the accompanying group is not always clear; two of the works are simply marked “basso”, which is itself an old-fashioned concept. The performers of the Hamburger Ratsmusik opt for a variety of solutions, using both harpsichord and fortepiano, as well cello and theorbo. This is a good option as it points up the odd mixture of musical thinking present in these works.

Friday, 2 October 2015


“Let the stoics say what they please, we do not eat for the good of living, but because the meat is savory and the appetite is keen.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

When entertaining we often make this savoury brioche, which can be served at lunch, teatime or even as part of dinner. If prepared well, it is light, tasty and morish.

500 g of plain flour (sifted)
2-3 tablespoons extra flour (for kneading)
35 g of sugar
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
60 g butter (melted)
2 tbsp oil
180 mL warm milk
7 g dry active yeast
200 g of ham (diced)
150 g tasty cheese (grated)
Chopped chives
Ground pepper
Ground nutmeg
Pinch of paprika

Put the warm milk in a mixing bowl and add a teaspoonful of the sugar, a pinch of salt and the yeast. Mix well to dissolve the yeast and add two tablespoonfuls of flour, mixing well to make a gruel. Leave aside in a warm place to rise (10-15 minutes).
In a large bowl, sift the flour, add the sugar, salt and spices and mix well. Reserve one egg yolk and beat the remaining eggs, adding the oil and butter. Pour the egg/butter mixture into the flour and add the risen yeast gruel and the chives.
Knead the dough until it becomes light and elastic. Leave to rise in a warm place, until it is doubled in bulk (about 60-90 minutes).
Once risen, punch down and knead on a floured board. Open dough into a rectangle 40 x 30 cm, about 1 cm thick. Sprinkle the ham and cheese onto the surface of the dough and roll lengthwise, quite tightly.
Twist and fold to shape into a ring-shaped couronne and place in a baking tray (you may make two smaller ones, if desired). Allow to rise again until double in bulk.
Preheat oven to 180˚C. Mix the egg yolk with 2 tsp milk and brush the surface of the ring well. Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown.

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Thursday, 1 October 2015


“Science and technology revolutionise our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response.” - Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr

Greek mythology is the body of myths and teachings that belong to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. It was a part of the religion in ancient Greece. Modern scholars refer to and study the myths in an attempt to shed light on the religious and political institutions of Ancient Greece and its civilisation, and to gain understanding of the nature of myth-making itself.

Greek mythology is known explicitly from a large collection of narratives, and implicitly in Greek representational arts, such as vase-paintings and votive gifts. Greek myth attempts to explain the origins of the world, and details the lives and adventures of a wide variety of gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines and mythological creatures. These accounts initially were disseminated in an oral-poetic tradition; today the Greek myths are known primarily from Greek literature.

The oldest known Greek literary sources, Homer’s epic poems “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, focus on the Trojan War and its aftermath. Two poems by Homer’s near contemporary Hesiod, the “Theogony” and the “Works and Days”, contain accounts of the genesis of the world, the succession of divine rulers, the succession of human ages, the origin of human woes, and the origin of sacrificial practices. Myths are also preserved in the Homeric Hymns, in fragments of epic poems of the Epic Cycle, in lyric poems, in the works of the tragedians of the fifth century BC, in writings of scholars and poets of the Hellenistic Age, and in texts from the time of the Roman Empire by writers such as Plutarch and Pausanias.

Today, a myth about the Greek goddess Eos, whom the Romans later called Aurora. Eos, the goddess of Dawn, was the sister of Helios, the sun god, whose advent she always announced. Like Helios, she too had her own chariot, which she drove across the vast horizon both morning and night, before and after the sun-god. Hence she is not merely the personification of the rosy morning, but also of the evening twilight, for which reason her palace is placed in the west, on the island of Ææa.

The palace of Eos was said to be a magnificent structure, surrounded by flowery fields and velvety lawns, where nymphs and other immortal beings, danced, whilst the music of a sweetly-tuned melody accompanied their graceful movements. Eos is described by the poets as a beautiful maiden with rosy arms and fingers, and large wings, whose plumage is of an ever-changing hue; she bears a star on her forehead, and a torch in her hand. Wrapping round her the rich folds of her violet-tinged mantle, she leaves her bed before the break of day, and herself yokes her two horses, Lampetus and Phaethon, to her glorious chariot. She then hastens with active cheerfulness to open the gates of heaven, in order to herald the approach of her brother, Helios, the god of day, whilst the tender plants and flowers, revived by the morning dew, lift their heads to welcome her as she passes.

Eos first married the Titan Astræus, and their children were Heosphorus (Hesperus), the morning (evening) star, and the Anemoi (winds). There was Boreas, the North wind; Zephyros, the West wind; Notos, the South wind; Euros, the East wind; Kaikias, the Northeast wind; Apeliotes the Southeast wind; Skiron, the Northwest wind; and Lips, the Southwest wind.

She afterwards became united to Tithonus, son of Laomedon, king of Troy, who had won her affection by his unrivalled beauty; and Eos, unhappy at the thought of their being ever separated by death, obtained for him from Zeus the gift of immortality, forgetting, however, to add to it that of eternal youth. The consequence was that when, in the course of time, Tithonus grew old and decrepit, and lost all the beauty which had won her admiration, Eos became disgusted with his infirmities, and at last shut him up in a chamber, where soon little else was left of him but his voice, which had now sunk into a weak, feeble quaver.

According to some of the later poets, he became so weary of his cheerless and miserable existence, that he entreated here to be allowed to die. This was, however, impossible; but Eos, pitying his unhappy condition, exerted her divine power, and changed him into a grasshopper, which is, as it were, all voice, and whose monotonous, ceaseless chirpings may not inaptly be compared to the meaningless babble of extreme old age.

The painting above is by Louis Jean Francois Lagrenée (1724-1805) “Aurora’s Take Off”. Eos is ready to mount her chariot and scatter pink roses on the horizon. The elderly Tithonus looks longingly at her, while on the left Nyx (night) takes her leave as day breaks.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015


“The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.” - Hubert H. Humphrey

The theme for this week’s Poets United poetical challenge is “Healing”. To heal is the desired outcome of much treatment, but often nowadays modern medicine is cure-focussed and the patient may suffer much during the attempts at the restoration of health. I remember when at University and later in hospitals, we were told that “to care is the primary objective of the healer, to cure a secondary one.” This I think is often forgotten in modern medicine, which seeks magic bullets, efficacious remedies, wonderful cure-alls and powerful panaceas that cure all ills. Such fantastic treatments may have dire side-effects and often the cure they bring about may exact a terrible price on the patient’s health – one disease cured, but its place taken by another, caused by the medication…

Sterile Moonlight

The moon tonight, stronger than absinthe,
Sharper than broken glass,
Softer than mossy ground;
More powerful an aphrodisiac than ripe figs,
Intoxicating, like new wine,
More tantalising than wild strawberries.

The moon at midnight both a lover and a rapist,
A tender paramour and a loathsome abuser,
Caresses, titillates, empowers – cuts, lashes, lacerates;
Engages more violently than a barbaric conqueror,
Touches more tenderly than a mother’s kiss,
Feels and strikes, wounds and heals concurrently.

The moon last night, an elixir of paramount efficacy,
Honey and poison mingled into a potent potion, a panacea –
It cures, it kills, and saps my spirit.
Fertile, like a newly rained-upon ploughed field,
My body gathers moonbeams to weave into cloth
Covering my fecund, protuberant belly.

The moon some night watches the agony of my birth pangs,
It gently assists like an experienced midwife,
The joy of motherhood a remedy exquisite.
Mooncloth of moonbeam woven, turns from raiment into shroud:
My newborn snatched by the moon’s fury,
And in its place, a lifeless changeling by my side.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015


“I don’t know anything about inspiration because I don’t know what inspiration is; I’ve heard about it, but I never saw it.” - William Faulkner

Inspiration is a curious thing. The artist ever in search of it, may find it in the most unusual place, or it may be frustratingly elusive as a will-o’-the-wisp. Any writer can recount many an occasion when the ominous shadow of “writer’s block” has darkened his existence. How many authors lose their ability to produce new work or experience a creative slowdown! The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Throughout history, writer’s block has been a well documented problem.

On the other hand, how many great works of art have been inspired by the most unusual muses! How many great works of literature have begun in strange circumstances… How many poems written after quite adverse life experiences? But then again, how many works of art or poems have been created out of nothing?

Today, I am sharing with you such a curious thing. It is a poem of the Middle Ages by Guillaume IX, Duke of Aquitaine and VII Count of Poitiers (yes, the grandfather of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine).  He is the first troubadour that we know by name. His songs are typically ribald, full of puns and jests, but his verses display the deeply artistic and eloquent art of later troubadours. His granddaughter, Eleanor, was the one and only heir to the wealth and the vast lands of Aquitaine.

Guillaume’s “Ferai un vers de dreit nïen” is an interesting poem about “nothing”, but in fact it is about everything… It proves that inspiration can come from nothing and result in a poem that is meaningful and filled with the poet’s existential questionings.

The Song About Nothing

Here’s a song about absolutely nothing:
It’s not about me,
It’s not about anyone else;
It’s not about love.
Not about being young,
Not about anything else either.

It came to me while I was asleep,
Riding along on a horse.
I don't know exactly when I was born.
I’m not happy,
I’m not angry.
I’m not a stranger here,
Yet I don't belong here.

I can’t help being like this,
I was made like it by a fairy upon a mountaintop.
I don't know if I’m asleep or awake
Unless someone tells me.
My heart’s almost broken,
It’s so sad…
And all this doesn’t matter a mouse to me
I swear it by St Masha.

I love someone – I don’t know who she is
Because I’ve never seen her;
She hasn’t done anything to please me or upset me,
And I don’t care.
I’ve never seen her, but I love her truly.
She is not yet done what she should to me, or what she shouldn’t.
When I don’t see her, then I’m happy.
She’s not worth a cock to me
Because I know someone who’s gentler and prettier,
And richer as well…

I don’t know where she lives,
Whether up in the hilltop or down in the fields.
I daren’t tell you the wrongs she does me,
It hurts me too much
And it hurts me to stay here,
So I’m leaving!

I’ve made the poem, I don’t know what’s it about
I’m going to send it to someone
Who’ll send it with someone else,
To someone over in Anjou:
Perhaps he’ll be able to send me the key from his little box
To unravel this riddle.

(22 October 1071 – 11 February 1127)

Monday, 28 September 2015


“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” ― Thomas Mann

We watched an old movie the other day and enjoyed it quite a lot as it was a tense psychological thriller with two sterling performances. It was the 1990 Rob Reiner movie “Misery” starring James Caan, Kathy Bates and Richard Farnsworth. William Goldman wrote the screenplay, based on a Stephen King novel. Although Stephen King often writes novels on supernatural themes, this one is a believable, “real-life” scenario, which is quite entertaining and keeping the reader/viewer guessing as to what is going to happen next.

The plot revolves around author Paul Sheldon (Caan), who has made his fame by writing best sellers, especially his series of novels called “Misery”. The books are about a woman in the old days who goes through difficult times and shares her pain and strength with the readers. When Sheldon finishes his last “Misery” book, he decides to celebrate and heads back home for his daughter’s birthday. On the way there a terrible blizzard cause him to have a nasty car accident, from which he is saved by Annie (Bates). He wakes up in a bedroom with his legs badly broken, but hears a soft, charming voice reassuring him: “You're going to be just fine. I’m your number one fan!”.

Annie tells Sheldon she is a nurse and she will look after him until the storm abates and an ambulance can come for him. Annie is the perfect nurse until she reads Sheldon’s last “Misery” book, which infuriates her as she finds out that he’s killing off Misery and continuing onto new, more dramatic stories. She forces the author to write a new “Misery” book where the heroine is resurrected. Sheldon finds he now has to satisfy every whim of his captor if he is to stay alive. It becomes apparent that Annie is quite paranoid and he tries to escape. However, Annie seems to be a step ahead of him every time…

Rob Reiner directs this film at a brisk and taut pace, with tension and jim-jams kept at a high level throughout, making it an excellent thriller. Reiner also directed another Stephen King novel made into an excellent movie, “Stand by Me” (1986) so this was a good follow-up.

What makes the movie are the stellar performances, especially the one by Kathy Bates as the paranoid Annie. She won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in “Misery” at the 63rd Academy Awards in 1991. And a very well-deserved win it was too! This must really be one of her finest performances, displaying her acting talents to perfection and giving a performance with the nuances of a very complex character. James Caan work well with Bates and manages to be convincing as the powerless injured author at the mercy of his captor.

The film contains some really nightmarish scenes and can shock some sensitive viewers because of the violence it depicts, but even in the most horrible such scene, we found ourselves chuckling as there is humour there as well. Nevertheless, be warned if your liver is tinged lily-white. Great film to watch with a big tub of popcorn!

Sunday, 27 September 2015


“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.” - Doug Larson

Naïve artists can often reach a tender place in the viewer’s heart that other artists fail to do so spectacularly. And it is not always a wave of cheap sentimentality that their art evokes. The feeling can be genuine, deep, spiritual and complex. Henri Rousseau’s art often does that for me and I can lose myself in one of his paintings, especially since I saw some of them with my own eyes when I was visiting France many years ago.

Folk art is another example of such art that is created by ordinary people and whose simple function is to beautify everyday objects or adorn an otherwise simple home. The folk artist can be extremely talented and some examples of folk art are exquisite and not necessarily naïve nor simple. The artist for today’s Art Sunday is such an artist whose paintings are both beautiful and can also evoke an immediate emotional response from many viewers.

Anna Mary Robertson Moses (September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961), known by her nickname Grandma Moses, was a renowned American folk artist. Having begun painting in earnest at the age of 78, she is often cited as an example of an individual successfully beginning a career in the arts at an advanced age. Her works have been shown and sold in the United States and abroad and have been marketed on greeting cards and other merchandise.

Moses’ paintings are among the collections of many museums. The “Sugaring Off” canvas (shown above) was sold for US$1.2 million in 2006. Moses has appeared on magazine covers, television, and in a documentary of her life. She wrote an autobiography of her life, won numerous awards and was awarded two honorary doctoral degrees. The New York Times said of her: “The simple realism, nostalgic atmosphere and luminous color with which Grandma Moses portrayed homely farm life and rural countryside won her a wide following. She was able to capture the excitement of winter's first snow, Thanksgiving preparations and the new, young green of oncoming spring... In person, Grandma Moses charmed wherever she went. A tiny, lively woman with mischievous gray eyes and a quick wit, she could be sharp-tongued with a sycophant and stern with an errant grandchild.”

Starting at 12 years of age and for a total of 15 years, she was a live-in housekeeper. One of the families that she worked for, who noticed her appreciation for their prints made by Currier and Ives, supplied her with art materials to create drawings. Moses and her husband began their married life in Virginia, where they worked on farms. In 1905 they returned to the Northeastern United States and settled in Eagle Bridge, New York. The couple had five children who survived infancy. Her interest in art was expressed throughout her life, including embroidery of pictures with yarn, until arthritis made this pursuit too painful.

Moses painted scenes of rural life from earlier days, which she called “old-timey” New England landscapes. Moses said that she would: “Get an inspiration and start painting; then I’ll forget everything, everything except how things used to be and how to paint it so people will know how we used to live.” She omitted features of modern life, like tractors and telephone poles, from her works of art.

Her early style is less individual and more realistic or primitive, despite her lack of knowledge of, or perhaps rejection of, basic perspective. Initially she created simple compositions or copied existing images. As her career advanced she created complicated, panoramic compositions of rural life. She was a prolific painter, generating over 1,500 canvasses in three decades. Initially Moses charged $3 to $5 for a painting, depending upon its size, and as her fame increased her works were sold for $8,000 to $10,000.

Her winter paintings are reminiscent of some such of the known winter paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, although she had never seen his work. A German fan of her work said, “There emanates from her paintings a light-hearted optimism; the world she shows us is beautiful and it is good. You feel at home in all these pictures, and you know their meaning. The unrest and the neurotic insecurity of the present day make us inclined to enjoy the simple and affirmative outlook of Grandma Moses.”

Grandma Moses died on December 13, 1961 at 101 years of age in Hoosick Falls, New York at the Health Center. She is buried there at the Maple Grove Cemetery. President John F. Kennedy memorialised her: “The death of Grandma Moses removed a beloved figure from American life. The directness and vividness of her paintings restored a primitive freshness to our perception of the American scene. Both her work and her life helped our nation renew its pioneer heritage and recall its roots in the countryside and on the frontier. All Americans mourn her loss.” After her death, her work was exhibited in several large travelling exhibitions in the United States and abroad.

Saturday, 26 September 2015


“The line between greatness and obscurity is very, very small.” - Peabo Bryson

There are so many composers of the past of whom we know very little and whose works have vanished into oblivion. Every now and then some manuscript turns up and performers may discover this new music, which delights listeners. I have been fascinated these past few months with such composers and have heard some really marvellous music treading less known paths and cutting away undergrowth to discover new listening grounds. Such is the case with the composer today in Music Saturday.

Johann Friedrich Ruhe (1699 - 1776) was a German composer and concertmaster of the Baroque period. He and his music have been almost completely forgotten, and we know very little about his life also.

He was born in Halberstadt in the year 1699, and nothing more is known of him until his adulthood when we know he resided at the courts of Wolfenbüttel as a member of the court orchestra in Braunschweig and Halberstadt, where he served as concertmaster. In 1734 he took the appointment of cantor at the cathedral in Magdeburg, where he died in 1776. It is amazing to learn that even though he actively participated in the musical life of the city for over 40 years, after his death he has been delegated to obscurity.

An autograph of his suite for viola da gamba and cello, and sonatas for viola da gamba and basso continuo are his only known works today. These scores are preserved at the Thuringian State Archives (Thüringischen Staatsarchives) in Greiz. . It is unclear how and when the manuscript was sent to the archive and the date of composition is not known. The works seem to be in the style of transition between the late baroque and early classical periods.

In any case, the works are delightful to listen to and we have to thank dedicated performers like the violist da gamba Sándor Szászvárosi for bringing such gems to our ears. The CD is available from Hungaroton.


Friday, 25 September 2015


“It’s easy to impress me. I don't need a fancy party to be happy. Just good friends, good food, and good laughs. I'm happy. I'm satisfied. I'm content.” - Maria Sharapova

This is a recipe we often make when we have guests and it is good to have with some drinks or alternatively as an entrée. You may substitute sautéed mushrooms for the ham if you desire.

Ham and Cheese Filo Tarts
6 sheets filo pastry
50g butter, melted
1 and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
150 g sliced ham, finely chopped
1 and 1/2 cups finely grated tasty cheese
1/2 cup cooked spinach
1 teaspoon dry mustard
4 eggs
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 200°C. Cut the filo sheets in half lengthways. Cut each filo strip into thirds to make squares. Brush the filo with butter and layer sheets into 4 stacks. Line four 10cm fluted tart tins with removable bases with the pastry stacks. Place on an oven tray. Bake in oven for 5 minutes until crisp but not golden remove from oven.
Heat oil in a small non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add onion. Cook for 3 minutes, or until soft. Set aside to cool.
Combine onion, spinach, ham and cheese. Divide between pastry shells.
Combine mustard, eggs and milk in a jug. Whisk with a fork. Pour over ham mixture.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Serve immediately.

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