Thursday, 28 July 2016

ALL ABOUT VANILLA

“I got all my boyhood in vanilla winter waves around the kitchen stove.” - Jack Kerouac

Vanilla is a flavouring agent derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, in the Orchidaceae family, primarily from the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla (V. planifolia). The word vanilla, derived from the diminutive of the Spanish word vaina (vaina itself meaning sheath or pod), is translated simply as “little pod”. Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid, called tlilxochitl by the Aztecs. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s.

Initial attempts to cultivate vanilla outside Mexico and Central America proved futile because of the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla orchid and its natural pollinator, the local species of Melipona bee. Pollination is required to set the fruit from which the flavouring is obtained. In 1837, Belgian botanist Charles François Antoine Morren discovered this fact and pioneered a method of artificially pollinating the plant. The method proved financially unworkable and was not deployed commercially. In 1841, Edmond Albius, a slave who lived on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, discovered at the age of 12 that the plant could be hand-pollinated. Hand-pollination allowed global cultivation of the plant.

Three major species of vanilla currently are grown globally, all of which derive from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern-day Mexico. They are V. planifolia (synonym V. fragrans), grown on Madagascar, Réunion, and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean; V. tahitensis, grown in the South Pacific; and V. pompona, found in the West Indies, and Central and South America. The majority of the world’s vanilla is the V. planifolia species, more commonly known as Bourbon vanilla (after the former name of Réunion, Île Bourbon) or Madagascar vanilla, which is produced in Madagascar and neighbouring islands in the southwestern Indian Ocean, and in Indonesia.

Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron, because growing the vine and producing the vanilla seed pods is labour-intensive. Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavour. As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture, and aromatherapy.

Vanilla grows as a vine, climbing up an existing tree (also called a tutor), pole, or other support. It can be grown in a forest (on trees), in a plantation (on trees or poles), or in a “shader”, in increasing orders of productivity. Its growth environment is referred to as its terroir, and includes not only the adjacent plants, but also the climate, geography, and local geology. Left alone, it will grow as high as possible on the support, with few flowers. Every year, growers fold the higher parts of the plant downward so the plant stays at heights accessible by a standing human. This also greatly stimulates flowering.

Flowers are greenish-yellow, with a diameter of 5 cm. They last only a day, and must be pollinated manually, during the morning, if fruit is desired. The plants are self-fertile, and pollination simply requires a transfer of the pollen from the anther to the stigma. If pollination does not occur, the flower is dropped the next day. In the wild, there is less than 1% chance that the flowers will be pollinated, so in order to receive a steady flow of fruit, the flowers must be hand-pollinated when grown on farms.

Fruit is produced only on mature plants, which are generally over 3 m long. The fruits are 15-23 cm long pods (often incorrectly called beans). Outwardly they resemble small bananas. They mature after about five months, at which point they are harvested and cured. Curing ferments and dries the pods while minimising the loss of essential oils. Vanilla extract is obtained from these pods.

The major chemical components from the pods are vanillin, vanillic acid, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde and 4-hydroxybenzoic acid. Natural vanilla extract is a mixture of several hundred different compounds in addition to the main ones listed previously. Artificial “vanilla essence” is often a solution of pure vanillin, of synthetic origin. Because of the scarcity and expense of natural vanilla extract, synthetic preparation of its predominant component has long been of interest. The first commercial synthesis of vanillin began with the more readily available natural compound eugenol. Today, artificial vanillin is made either from guaiacol or lignin. Lignin-based artificial vanilla flavouring is alleged to have a richer flavour profile than oil-based flavouring; the difference is due to the presence of acetovanillone, a minor component in the lignin-derived product that is not found in vanillin synthesised from guaiacol.

Vanilla was cultivated for use as a flavouring by pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people; at the time of their conquest by Hernán Cortés, the Aztecs used it as a flavouring for drinking chocolate. Europeans became aware of both chocolate and vanilla around 1520. The major use of vanilla noawdays is as a flavouring, usually in sweet foods. The ice cream and chocolate industries together comprise 75% of the market for vanillin as a flavouring, with smaller amounts being used in confections and baked goods.

Vanillin is also used in the fragrance industry, in perfumes (unfortunately for me – as I find these perfumes quite distasteful!), and to mask unpleasant odours or tastes in medicines, livestock fodder, and cleaning products. It is also used in the flavour industry, as a very important keynote for many different flavours, especially creamy profiles such as creamy soda.

Vanillin has been used as a chemical intermediate in the production of pharmaceuticals and other fine chemicals. In 1970, more than half the world’s vanillin production was used in the synthesis of other chemicals, but as of 2004, this use accounts for only 13% of the market for vanillin. Additionally, vanillin can be used as a general-purpose stain for developing thin layer chromatography plates to aid in visualising components of a reaction mixture. This stain yields a range of colours for these different components. Vanillin–HCl staining can be used to visualise the localisation of tannins in cells.

In the language of flowers the vanilla orchid signifies the sentiment: “My pure love will overcome all obstacles”. A vanilla pod indicates “my affection has turned to sweet love.”

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

POETS UNITED - ACCEPTANCE

“Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it.” - Michael J. Fox

This week, Poets United is looking at the theme of “Acceptance”. Acceptance is when we accept what is offered to us, even if we know how bad that thing or situation may be; we accept an idea or a belief, even if we may not agree with it; we accept a difficult situation and we learn to live with it. We accept something if we live with it and we change our life accordingly so as to make it better, despite the differences that we have to cope with, the transformations that we go through, despite the rebuilding and reshaping. Adaptation forces us to evolve and evolution can make us better human beings.

Acceptance

The Moon!
How it has changed of late;
Still white and bright,
Shining clear and pure so high,
But cold and sterile,
So empty of meaning
Devoid of its mystique of old...

The Moon!
How I have changed, so gradually;
Less willing to believe,
Still hopeful and attentive,
But resigned to the facts
And able to accept
The Moon’s uncompromising frigidity...

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

TRAVEL TUESDAY #37 - AIT BEN HADDOU, MOROCCO

“Come with me to the Kasbah!” – Ganimian

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 of 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.
Morocco, officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Geographically, Morocco is characterised by a rugged mountainous interior and large portions of desert. It is one of only three countries (with Spain and France) to have both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines. The Arabic name al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyah (Arabic: المملكة المغربية‎‎, meaning “The Western Kingdom”) and Al-Maghrib (Arabic: المغرب‎‎, meaning “The West”) are commonly used as alternate names.

Morocco has a population of over 33.8 million and an area of 446,550 km2. Its political capital is Rabat. The largest city is Casablanca. Other major cities include Marrakesh, Tangier, Tetouan, Salé, Fes, Agadir, Meknes, Oujda, Kenitra, and Nador. A historically prominent regional power, Morocco has a history of independence not shared by its neighbours. Its distinct culture is a blend of Arab, indigenous Berber, Sub-Saharan African, and European influences.


Morocco claims the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara as its Southern Provinces. Morocco annexed the territory in 1975, leading to a guerrilla war with indigenous forces until a cease-fire in 1991. Peace processes have thus far failed to break the political deadlock. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The King of Morocco holds vast executive and legislative powers, especially over the military, foreign policy and religious affairs. Moroccan Arabic, referred to as Darija, and French are also widely spoken. Morocco is an influential member of the Arab League and a part of the Union for the Mediterranean. It has the sixth-largest economy in Africa.


Aït Benhaddou (Arabic: آيت بن حدّو‎‎), shown above, is a fortified city, or palace (ksar), along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. Most citizens living in the area now live in more modern dwellings in a nearby village, although there are 4 families still living in the ancient city. This giant fortification, which is made up of six forts (Kasbahs) and nearly fifty palaces, which are individual forts, is a great example of earthen clay architecture, which is also used in Moroccan architecture. Aït Benhaddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and several films have been shot there, including, Sodom And Gomorrah (1963), Time Bandits (1981), The Jewel of the Nile (1985), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Alexander (2004) and Prince of Persia (2010).


This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,

and also part of the Trees & Bushes meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme.

Add your own travel posts using the Linky tool below,and don't forget to be nice and leave a comment here, and link back to this page from your own post:

Monday, 25 July 2016

MOVIE MONDAY - BIR ÇOCUK SEVDIM

“Vulnerability is the essence of romance. It’s the art of being uncalculated, the willingness to look foolish, the courage to say, ‘This is me, and I’m interested in you enough to show you my flaws with the hope that you may embrace me for all that I am but, more important, all that I am not.’ ” Ashton Kutcher

We have finished watching a 2011 Turkish TV series called “Bir Çocuk Sevdim” (literally “A Child I Loved”, but it could be also interpreted “A Girl I Loved” or “A Boy I Loved”). This was a well-produced and well-acted show with a host of talented stars and supporting cast. There were veteran actors like Çetin Tekindor and Bülent Inal, but also new talents like Gulcan Arslan making her TV debut in the starring role and Hakan Kurtas, the young male lead. We particularly enjoyed the performance of Sefika Tolun as the mother, Arzu Gamze Kilinç as the politically active aunt, Onuryay Evrentan as the psychologically challenged sister and the very talented youngster Ilayda Alisan. The series is set in Istanbul and there are many gorgeous external shots of this beautiful city making for some memorable scenes.

The plot is familiar enough for watchers of TV soaps, but there are several interesting subplots, which are developed well. The unfortunate thing about it is that the series finished abruptly (presumably because the plug was pulled) and the last episode finishes with a couple of cliff-hangers that are not resolved. Despite of its good quality of production and acting, the ratings must not have been high enough, or I wonder if the political subplot was one of the reasons that it was stopped…

In a nutshell, this is what it’s about: Turan (Çetin Tekindor) and Esmahan (Sefika Tolun) have three children: Emine the unmarried oldest daughter (Onuryay Evrentan), Erdal, a silly son (Ulas Torun) and Mine, the younger daughter (Gulcan Arslan) who is beautiful, clever and romantic. They seem to have a happy lower middle class family, notwithstanding some issues arising from Emine being jealous of Mine and being unable to get married. Mine is in love with Sinan (Hakan Kurtas), a young man from a rich family. Mine gets pregnant with Sinan’s baby and his parents send him away to the USA before he finds out about it, while Mine thinks he has abandoned her. Although Sinan tries to contact Mine, Emine scuttles this attempt.

Mine’s father is furious with his young daughter and conscious of the family’s reputation confines her to her room. His boss, the successful car dealer Timur (Bülent Inal) falls in love with Mine and proposes marriage, promising to look after her and the baby and telling Mine he does not expect her to share his bed. She accepts and she moves into his house having a separate locked bedroom. Timur has a teenage daughter, Merve (Ilayda Alisan) who resents Mine moving in and who proceeds to make life difficult for her.

The two important subplots centre on Mine’s aunt Sureya (Arzu Gamze Kilinç) who has lost her political insurgent husband after he was arrested for anti-government activities, and Emine the older sister who everyone takes for granted and acts like a spinster. Sureya’s search for her husband (or his grave) raises the issue of political freedom in Turkey and this may not have made the series too popular with government agencies. Emine’s transformation from a “spinster” to a predatory “vamp” is quite interesting to watch, and she plays the psychologically disturbed woman magnificently. A third thread in the plot follows the relationship of Mine’s father and mother and how they fare with the strains of having to deal with Mine’s (and Emine’s!) lapses from “socially acceptable” behaviour.

The Ibsen triangle of Mine, Timur and Sinan is interesting to observe, as is Mine’s transformation from a simple, romantic young girl into a mature, realistic and deeper thinking woman. Sinan, as the victim of a plot to foil his love and separate him from his son, is perhaps the most innocent of all the characters, but he remains relatively immature and perhaps the most devoted to the ideals of romantic first love. Timur as the worldly older man who nevertheless is not only in love, but loves Mine, will stop at nothing to ensure her happiness. He nevertheless does believe in the maxim “all’s fair in love and war”.

We enjoyed watching this series but the last (78th) episode was a little disappointing in that it prepared the ground for a second season that was never made. As I have written here previously, the Turkish TV series industry is fiercely competitive and the rating system is uncompromising as to dictating the fate of the shows that progress to multi-season hits.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

ART SUNDAY - EMIL NOLDE

“Religion doesn’t make people bigots. People are bigots and they use religion to justify their ideology.” - Reza Aslan

Emil Nolde, original name Emil Hansen (born Aug. 7, 1867, Nolde, near Bocholt, Ger.—died April 15, 1956, Seebüll, near Niebüll, W.Ger.) was a German Expressionist painter, printmaker, and watercolourist known for his violent religious works and his foreboding landscapes. Born of a peasant family, the youthful Nolde made his living as a wood-carver. He was able to study art formally only when some of his early works were reproduced and sold as postcards. In Paris, Nolde began to paint works that bear a superficial affinity to Impressionistic painting. In 1906 he was invited to join Die Brücke, an association of Dresden-based Expressionist artists who admired his “storm of colour.” But Nolde, a solitary and intuitive painter, dissociated himself from that tightly knit group after a year and a half.

Fervently religious and racked by a sense of sin, Nolde created such works as “Dance Around the Golden Calf” (1910) and “In the Port of Alexandria” from the series depicting “The Legend of St. Maria Aegyptica” (1912), in which the erotic frenzy of the figures and the demonic, mask-like faces are rendered with deliberately crude draughtsmanship and dissonant colours. In the “Doubting Thomas” from the nine-part polyptych “The Life ofChrist” (1911–12), the relief of Nolde’s own religious doubts may be seen in the quiet awe of St. Thomas as he is confronted with Jesus’ wounds.

During 1913 and 1914 Nolde was a member of an ethnological expedition that reached the East Indies. There he was impressed with the power of unsophisticated belief, as is evident in his lithograph “Dancer” (1913). Back in Europe, Nolde led an increasingly reclusive life on the Baltic coast of Germany. His almost mystical affinity for the brooding terrain led to such works as his “Marsh Landscape” (1916), in which the low horizon, dominated by dark clouds, creates a majestic sense of space.

Landscapes done after 1916 were generally of a cooler tonality than his early works. But his masterful realisations of flowers retain the brilliant colours of his earlier works. He was a prolific graphic artist especially noted for the stark black-and-white effect that he employed in crudely incised woodcuts. Nolde was an early advocate of Germany’s National Socialist Party, but, when the Nazis came to power, they declared his work “decadent” and forbade him to paint. After World War II he resumed painting but often merely reworked older themes. His last “Self-portrait” (1947) retains his vigorous brushwork but reveals the disillusioned withdrawal of the artist in his 80th year.

The painting above is the “Familienbild” (Family Portrait) of 1947. A tightly knit composition reflects the theme of the work and the colours are bright and bold, but still associated with each member of the group: The child bright and golden full of sunny future hopes. The father in olives, oranges and browns, has an aura of peace, despite that dark brooding look. The mother multi-coloured but the striking blue in face and clothing perhaps symbolic of depth and stability, trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith and truth.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

MUSIC SATURDAY - JEAN-JOSEPH DE MONDONVILLE

“Nothing comes ahead of its time, and nothing ever happened that didn’t need to happen.” - Byron Katie

Jean-Joseph de Mondonville (25 December 1711 [baptized] – 8 October 1772), also known as Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville, was a French violinist and composer. He was a younger contemporary of Jean-Philippe Rameau and enjoyed great success in his day. Pierre-Louis Daquin (son of the composer Louis-Claude Daquin) claimed: “If I couldn't be Rameau, there's no one I would rather be than Mondonville”.

Mondonville was born in Narbonne in Southwest France to an aristocratic family, which had fallen on hard times. In 1733 he moved to Paris where he gained the patronage of the king’s mistress Madame de Pompadour and won several musical posts, including violinist for the Concert Spirituel. His first opus was a volume of violin sonatas, published in 1733. He became a violinist of the Chapelle Royale and chamber and performed in some 100 concerts; some of his grands motets were also performed that year receiving considerable acclaim.

He was appointed sous-maître in 1740 and then, in 1744, intendant of the Royal Chapel. He produced operas and grands motets for the Opéra and Concert Spirituel respectively, and was associated with the Théatre des Petits-Cabinets, all the while maintaining his career as a violinist throughout the 1740s. In 1755, he became director of the Concert Spirituel on the death of Pancrace Royer. Mondonville died in Belleville near Paris at the age of sixty.

Between 1734 and 1755 Mondonville composed 17 grands motets, of which only nine have survived. The motet "Venite Exultemus Domino", published in 1740, won him the post of Maître de Musique de la Chapelle (Master of Music of the Chapel). Thanks to his mastery of both orchestral and vocal music, Mondonville brought to the grand motet—the dominant genre of music in the repertory of the Chapelle Royale before the French Revolution—an intensity of colour and a dramatic quality hitherto unknown.

Although Mondonville’s first stage work, “Isbé”, was a failure, he enjoyed great success with the lighter forms of French Baroque opera: the opéra-ballet and the pastorale héroïque. His most popular works were “Le carnaval de Parnasse”, “Titon et l’Aurore” and “Daphnis et Alcimadure” (for which Mondonville wrote his own libretto in Languedocien - his native Occitan dialect). “Titon et l’Aurore” played an important role in the Querelle des Bouffons, the controversy between partisans of French and Italian opera which raged in Paris in the early 1750s. Members of the “French party” ensured that Titon’s premiere was a resounding success (their opponents even alleged they had guaranteed this result by packing the Académie Royale de Musique, where the staging took place, with royal soldiers).

Mondonville's one foray into serious French opera - the genre known as tragédie en musique - was a failure however. He took the unusual step of re-using a libretto, “Thésée”, which had originally been set in 1675 by the “father of French opera”, Jean-Baptiste Lully. Mondonville’s bold move to substitute Lully’s much-loved music with his own did not pay off. The premiere at the court in 1765 had a mixed reception and a public performance two years later ended with the audience demanding it be replaced by the original. Yet Mondonville was merely ahead of his time; in the 1770s, it became fashionable to reset Lully’s tragedies with new music, the most famous example being “Armide” by Gluck.

Here are his Opus 3, Six Sonatas performed by Les Musiciens du Louvre directed by Marc Minkowski with Anton Steck (leader & concertino violin).

Friday, 22 July 2016

FOOD FRIDAY - QUICK MUSHROOM SOUP

“Life is too short to stuff a mushroom.” - Shirley Conran

Although we eat mainly slow-cooked food that is prepared from scratch, occasionally time constraints or impromptu visits necessitate some fast food solutions that usually involve raids to the well-stocked pantry and fridge. A few cans of tinned soup and tinned vegetables are usually on reserve and there is milk and/or cream in the fridge that can be put to good use. The garden has a stock of fresh salad vegetables and herbs for a quick salad. Here is a very rapidly concocted cream of mushroom soup that is enhanced by various additions that make it taste a little better than fresh out of the can.

Quick Cream of Mushroom Soup
Ingredients
420 g can of cream of mushroom soup
220 g can of sliced mushrooms in butter sauce
100 mL cream
100 mL milk
1 tbsp dried onion flakes
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried coriander leaves
1/2 tsp mace powder
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Method
In large saucepan, warm the sliced mushrooms in butter sauce thoroughly and add the herbs and spices, stirring thoroughly. Add the canned soup and keep stirring, warming the soup over medium heat.
Add the milk and cream and keep heating while stirring. Season with salt and extra pepper to taste. You may dilute with a little warm water if desired to make the soup thinner. Keep hot until ready to serve. Garnish with parsley, sliced mushrooms or ground mace. Accompany with seasonal green salad and fresh, crusty bread.

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Thursday, 21 July 2016

ALL ABOUT THYME

“Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, Remember me to one who lives there, She once was a true love of mine.” – English Folk Song

Thyme is an evergreen herb with culinary, medicinal, and ornamental uses. The most common variety is Thymus vulgaris. Thyme is of the genus Thymus of the mint family (Lamiaceae), and a relative of the oregano genus Origanum.

Ancient Egyptians used thyme for embalming. The ancient Greeks used it in their baths and burnt it as incense in their temples, believing it was a source of courage. The spread of thyme throughout Europe was thought to be due to the Romans, as they used it to purify their rooms and to give an aromatic flavour to cheese and liqueurs. In the European Middle Ages, the herb was placed beneath pillows to aid sleep and ward off nightmares. In this period, women also often gave knights and warriors gifts that included thyme leaves, as it was believed to bring courage to the bearer. Thyme was also used as incense and placed on coffins during funerals, as it was supposed to assure passage into the next life.

Thyme is best cultivated in a hot, sunny location with well-drained soil. It is generally planted in the spring, and thereafter grows as a perennial. It can be propagated by seed, cuttings, or dividing rooted sections of the plant. It tolerates drought well. The plants can take deep freezes and are found growing wild on mountain highlands. Along the Italian Riviera, it is found from sea level up to 800 m.

In some Levantine countries, and Assyria, the condiment za’atar (Arabic for thyme) contains thyme as a vital ingredient. It is a common component of the bouquet garni, and of herbes de Provence. Thyme is sold both fresh and dried. While summer-seasonal, fresh greenhouse thyme is often available year round. The fresh form is more flavourful, but also less convenient; storage life is rarely more than a week. Although the fresh form only lasts a week or two under refrigeration, it can last many months if carefully frozen. Fresh thyme is commonly sold in bunches of sprigs. A sprig is a single stem snipped from the plant. It is composed of a woody stem with paired leaf or flower clusters (“leaves”) spaced 2-4 cm apart. A recipe may measure thyme by the bunch (or fraction thereof), or by the sprig, or by the tablespoon or teaspoon. Dried thyme is widely used in Armenia in tisanes (called urc). Thyme retains its flavour on drying better than many other herbs.

Oil of thyme, the essential oil of common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), contains 20–54% thymol. Thyme essential oil also contains a range of additional compounds, such as p-cymene, myrcene, borneol, and linalool. Thymol, an antiseptic, is an active ingredient in various commercially produced mouthwashes such as Listerine. Before the advent of modern antibiotics, oil of thyme was used to medicate bandages. It has also been shown to be effective against various fungi that commonly infect toenails. Thymol can also be found as the active ingredient in some all-natural, alcohol-free hand sanitisers. A tisane made by infusing the herb in water can be used for coughs and bronchitis.

Thymus serpyllum (wild thyme, creeping thyme) is an important nectar source plant for honeybees. All thyme species are nectar sources, but wild thyme covers large areas of droughty, rocky soils in southern Europe (both Greece and Malta are especially famous for wild thyme honey) and North Africa, as well as in similar landscapes in the Berkshire and Catskill Mountains of the northeastern US. The lowest growing of the widely used thyme is good for walkways. It is also an important caterpillar food plant for large and common blue butterflies.

Thymus citriodorus has several hybrid varieties including lemon thyme, orange thyme, lime thyme, all with strong, citrus-like aromas. These can be used in flavouring food in place of common thyme, if a citrus-like aroma is desired.

In the language of flowers, a sprig of flowering thyme means “take courage, be strong”, while a sprig of non-flowering thyme has the meaning: “Sleep well, have a good rest.”

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

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

POETS UNITED - SUFFRAGE

“Voting is a civic sacrament.” - TheodoreHesburgh

The theme of Poets United this week is political and social! Participants are asked to write a poem that exposes and/or challenges suffrage. A challenging theme perhaps, but I feel strongly about the right and responsibility to vote and this topic is particularly topical as we have recently had a cliffhanger of a Federal Election in which the Liberal incumbents were re-elected by a narrow margin. In Australia voting is compulsory and non-voters pay a fine. After some reflection, I wrote my poetical contribution which is given below:

My Vote

I don’t have time to vote –
Why should I anyway,
One vote won’t matter;
I’d rather pay the fine,
Than waste my time.

A drop in the ocean
Will not make a difference.
One drop more or less
Will hardly change the volume;
Yet the ocean is made up of so many drops.

One person cannot change the world –
So why should I bother?
My voice crying in the wilderness,
My words wasted…
And yet the voice of truth has many an attentive ear.

I made time to vote,
My vote was counted,
I was no donkey, no absentee.
That my candidate was not elected
Will not deter me from voting again, and again…

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

TRAVEL TUESDAY #36 - CRETE, GREECE

“You have your brush, you have your colours, you paint the paradise, then in you go.” - Nikos Kazantzakis

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 of 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.
Agios Nikolaos or Aghios Nikolaos (Greek: Άγιος Νικόλαος = St Nicholas) is a coastal town on the Greek island of Crete, lying east of the island’s capital Heraklion, north of the town of Ierapetra and west of the town of Sitia. In the year 2011, the Municipality of Agios Nikolaos, which takes in part of the surrounding villages, claimed 27,074 inhabitants. The town is a municipality of Crete region, and sits partially upon the ruins of the ancient city of Lato pros Kamara.

Agios Nikolaos was settled in the late Bronze Age by Dorian occupants of Lato, at a time when the security of the Lato hillfort became a lesser concern and easy access to the harbour at Agios Nikolaos became more important. The name Agios Nikolaos is a common place-name in Greece and Cyprus, since Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and of all of Greece.

Near the town there’s the archaeological site of ancient Priniatikos Pyrgos. It appears to have been first settled in the Final Neolithic, circa 3000 BC. Activity on the site continued throughout the Minoan Bronze Age and the Classical Greek and Roman periods, spanning a total of up to 4,000 years. Since 2007, Priniatikos Pyrgos has been undergoing excavation by an international team under the auspices of the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens. 

Agios Nikolaos is probably best known as a tourist town that serves as a hub to the twenty or so small villages and farms that make up that part of Lassithi. Tourist attractions include the small lagoon Lake Voulismeni, small beaches in the town, the tiny island Agioi Pantes, the archaeological museum, the local flora exhibition “Iris” and numerous fairs. Just a short ferry ride away from Agios Nikolaos is the island of Spinalonga, an old Venetian fortress turned ex-leper colony in the beginning of the 20th century.

Tourism is mainly West European with Greek tourism concentrated in mid August, though there is a considerable number of Russian vacationers in East Crete. The lagoon features a small park with a trail, traditional fishing boats, ducks, pigeons, an amphitheatre and many cafés. The modern city of Agios Nikolaos became internationally well-known during the 60's, when it was “discovered” by famous film-makers (Jules Dassin, Walt Disney etc.), BBC producers and many others. It was then that the rapid tourist development of the area started. Daphne du Maurier’s short story “Not After Midnight” was set in and around the town.

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Ruby Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme.

Add your own travel posts using the Linky tool below,and don't forget to be nice and leave a comment here, and link back to this page from your own post:

Monday, 18 July 2016

MOVIE MONDAY - WATCHING TV

“Television isn’t inherently good or bad. You go to a bookstore, there are how many thousands of books, but how many of those do you want? Five? Television’s the same way. If you’re going to show people stuff, television is the way to go. Words and pictures show things.” - Bill Nye

I have been rather busy lately and haven’t had a chance to watch a movie. What time we have available to watch TV, we generally spend on catching the news and/or a current affairs program and then we continue watching the TV series I wrote about last Monday (I promise I will review that as soon as we finish watching it).

In the meantime, it’s interesting to ask readers here something that has intrigued me a little. When we visited an acquaintance’s house the other day, the TV was playing in the background while we were there. This was something completely bizarre for us, because as soon as our visitors ring our doorbell the TV goes off and stays off if we had been watching. However, these people had it playing in the background while we were desperately trying to have a conversation. When I said something to the effect of turning the TV off, I was told that their TV was on all day “just in case something interesting came up or if there was a news flash about anything”. At least I managed to convince them to turn the sound down…

I think I would go crazy if the TV was on in the background all the time. Our TV viewing tends to be planned and limited to certain times of the day or evening. The rest of the time it is turned off – completely off! Even if it’s on, I find that the commercial stations are quite annoying and the advertisements really grate on my nerves. I may be getting old and crotchety and less forgiving of various things, but the TV advertisement seem to be exploring new depths of bathos, nowadays. That’s why we tend to watch the state-run channel, which as well as no advertisements seems to have better programming too.

So I ask, do you have the TV on all the time when you are home or do you plan your TV viewing around the programs you want to watch?

Sunday, 17 July 2016

ART SUNDAY - FRIDA KAHLO

“I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality” – Frida Kahlo

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon, as her name appears on her birth certificate was born on July 6, 1907 in the house of her parents, known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacan. At the time, this was a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. Her father, Guillermo Kahlo (1872-1941), was born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo in Pforzheim, Germany. He was the son of the painter and goldsmith Jakob Heinrich Kahlo and Henriett E. Kaufmann. Kahlo claimed her father was of Jewish and Hungarian ancestry, but a 2005 book on Guillermo Kahlo, ‘Fridas Vater’ (Schirmer/Mosel, 2005), states that he was descended from a long line of German Lutherans.

Wilhelm Kahlo sailed to Mexico in 1891 at the age of nineteen and, upon his arrival, changed his German forename, Wilhelm, to its Spanish equivalent, Guillermo. During the late 1930s, in the face of rising Nazism in Germany, Frida acknowledged and asserted her German heritage by spelling her name, Frieda (an allusion to ‘Frieden’, which means ‘peace’ in German). Frida’s mother, Matilde Calderon y Gonzalez, was a devout Catholic of primarily indigenous, as well as Spanish descent.

Frida’s parents were married shortly after the death of Guillermo’s first wife during the birth of her second child. Although their marriage was quite unhappy, Guillermo and Matilde had four daughters, with Frida being the third. She had two older half sisters. Frida once remarked that she grew up in a world surrounded by females. Throughout most of her life, however, Frida remained close to her father. The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 when Kahlo was three years old. Later, however, Kahlo claimed that she was born in 1910 so people would directly associate her with the revolution.

In her writings, she recalled that her mother would usher her and her sisters inside the house as gunfire echoed in the streets of her hometown, which was extremely poor at the time. Occasionally, men would leap over the walls into their backyard and sometimes her mother would prepare a meal for the hungry revolutionaries. Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left, which Kahlo disguised by wearing long skirts. It has been conjectured that she also suffered from spina bifida, a congenital disease that could have affected both spinal and leg development. As a girl, she participated in boxing and other sports. 

In 1922, Kahlo was enrolled in the Preparatoria, one of Mexico’s premier schools, where she was one of only thirty-five girls. Kahlo joined a gang at the school and fell in love with the leader, Alejandro Gomez Arias. During this period, Kahlo also witnessed violent armed struggles in the streets of Mexico City as the Mexican Revolution continued.

After the accident, Frida Kahlo turned her attention away from the study of medicine to begin a full-time painting career. The accident left her in a great deal of pain while she recovered in a full body cast; she painted to occupy her time during her temporary state of immobilisation. Her self-portraits became a dominant part of her life when she was immobile for three months after her accident. Frida Kahlo once said, “I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best”. Her mother had a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed, and her father lent her his box of oil paints and some brushes.

Drawing on personal experiences, including her marriage, her miscarriages, and her numerous operations, Kahlo’s works often are characterised by their stark portrayals of pain. Of her 143 paintings, 55 are self-portraits, which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. Kahlo was deeply influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, which is apparent in her use of bright colors and dramatic symbolism. She frequently included the symbolic monkey. In Mexican mythology, monkeys are symbols of lust, yet Kahlo portrayed them as tender and protective symbols.

Christian and Jewish themes are often depicted in her work. She combined elements of the classic religious Mexican tradition with surrealist renderings. At the invitation of Andre Breton, she went to France in 1939 and was featured at an exhibition of her paintings in Paris. The Louvre bought one of her paintings, ‘The Frame’, which was displayed at the exhibit. This was the first work by a 20th century Mexican artist ever purchased by the internationally renowned museum.

As a young artist, Kahlo approached the famous Mexican painter, Diego Rivera, whose work she admired, asking him for advice about pursuing art as a career. He immediately recognised her talent and her unique expression as truly special and uniquely Mexican. He encouraged her development as an artist and soon began an intimate relationship with Frida. They were married in 1929, despite the disapproval of Frida’s mother. They often were referred to as The Elephant and the Dove, a nickname that originated when Kahlo’s father used it to express their extreme difference in size.

Their marriage often was tumultuous. Notoriously, both Kahlo and Rivera had fiery temperaments and both had numerous extramarital affairs. The openly bisexual Kahlo had affairs with both men (including Leon Trotsky) and women; Rivera knew of and tolerated her relationships with women, but her relationships with men made him jealous. For her part, Kahlo became outraged when she learned that Rivera had an affair with her younger sister, Cristina. The couple eventually divorced, but remarried in 1940. Their second marriage was as turbulent as the first. Their living quarters often were separate, although sometimes adjacent.

Active communist sympathisers, Kahlo and Rivera befriended Leon Trotsky as he sought political sanctuary from Joseph Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union. Initially, Trotsky lived with Rivera and then at Kahlo’s home, where they reportedly had an affair. Trotsky and his wife then moved to another house in Coyoacan where, later, he was assassinated.

A few days before Frida Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, she wrote in her diary: “I hope the exit is joyful - and I hope never to return – Frida”. The official cause of death was given as pulmonary embolism, although some suspected that she died from overdose that may or may not have been accidental. An autopsy was never performed. She had been very ill throughout the previous year and her right leg had been amputated at the knee, owing to gangrene. She also had a bout of bronchopneumonia near that time, which had left her quite frail.

Later, in his autobiography, Diego Rivera wrote that the day Kahlo died was the most tragic day of his life, adding that, too late, he had realised that the most wonderful part of his life had been his love for her. A pre-Columbian urn holding her ashes is on display in her former home, La Casa Azul, in Coyoacan. Today it is a museum housing a number of her works of art and numerous relics from her personal life.

The painting above is the “Self-Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States”, painted in 1932. Kahlo depicts her place as Mexican cultural renaissance overlapped with the promotion of regionalism in the United States. Her powerful and stoic portrayal of her own pain and the redemptive power of the feminine offered a peculiarly surrealist modernism to North America. Kahlo stands on the border of Mexico and the United States and pitched pre-Columbian society against Fordist industrial advance.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

MUSIC SATURDAY - JOHANN FRIEDRICH FASCH

“I listen to music when I write. I need the musical background. Classical music. I’m behind the times. I’m still with Baroque music, Gregorian chant, the requiems, and with the quartets of Beethoven and Brahms. That is what I need for the climate, for the surroundings, for the landscape: The music.” - Elie Wiesel

Johann Friedrich Fasch (15 April 1688 – 5 December 1758) was a German violinist and composer. He was born in the town of Buttelstedt, 11 km north of Weimar, the eldest child of schoolmaster Friedrich Georg Fasch and his wife Sophie Wegerig, from Leißling near Weißenfels. After his father’s death in 1700, Fasch lived with his mother’s brother, the clergyman Gottfried Wegerig in Göthewitz, and it was presumably in this way that he came made the acquaintance of the Opera composer Reinhard Keiser.

Fasch was a choirboy in Weissenfels and studied under Johann Kuhnau at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig. It was in Leipzig in 1708 that he founded a Collegium Musicum. In 1711 he wrote an opera to be performed at the Peter-Paul Festival in Naumburg, and a second one for the festival in 1712. In 1714, unable to procure aristocratic patronage for a journey to Italy, Fasch instead travelled to Darmstadt to study composition for three months under his former Leipzig prefect Christoph Graupner and Gottfried Grünewald. He then travelled extensively in Germany, becoming a violinist in the orchestra in Bayreuth in 1714, was an amanuensis in Gera till 1719 and from 1719 until 1721 held a court post as organist in Greiz. His next major post was Prague, where he served for two years as Kapellmeister and court composer to Count Morzin.

In 1722, he “reluctantly accepted the position” of court Kapellmeister at Zerbst, a post he held until his death. (The organist Johann Ulich was his assistant.) Also in 1722, he was invited to apply for the position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig at his alma mater, the St. Thomas School, but he chose to withdraw his name from the competition. The Leipzig opening was eventually filled by Johann Sebastian Bach, who had considerable esteem for Fasch.

His works include cantatas, concertos, symphonies, and chamber music. None of his music was published in his lifetime, and according to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians in 2014, “it appears that most of his vocal works (including 9 complete cantata cycles, at least 14 masses and four operas) are lost, while the instrumental works are mostly extant.”  However, his music was widely performed in his day and was held in high regard by contemporaries.

Georg Philipp Telemann performed a cycle of Fasch’s church cantatas in 1733 in Hamburg. An organ work once attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach as BWV 585 is now known to be an arrangement of movements from a Fasch trio sonata; and Bach’s Collegium Musicum in Leipzig (a different group than the one founded by Fasch) performed some of Fasch’s Orchestral Suites (ten of them, according to Hugo Reimann in 1900, based on his examination of copies in the library of the St. Thomas School, which Reimann said were partly in Bach’s hand. Only one of these suites survived World War II; it is in the hand of Bach’s student Carl Gotthelf Gerlach).

In 1900, Reimann asserted that Fasch’s style was an important link between the Baroque and Classical periods, and that he was one of those who “set instrumental music entirely on its feet and displaced fugal writing with modern ‘thematic’ style”. A New Grove’s entry on Fasch states, “Later research has largely confirmed [Reimann’s] assessment.”

Fasch died in Zerbst at the age of 70 on 5 December 1758. He was the father of Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, born on 18 November 1736, like his father a musician of note. The city of Zerbst/Anhalt has been hosting International Festivals since 1983, biennially since 1993. The Thirteenth International Fasch Festival took place in Zerbst/Anhalt on 15–19 April 2015.

Here are some concertos and an ‘Overture’ performed by the English Concert directed by Trevor Pinnock at the harpsichord.

Concerto a 8 in D major, FWV L:D1 - 0:00
1. (Allegro); 2. Largo; 3. Allegro
Concerto in C minor, FWV L:c2 - 6:40
1. Allegro; 2. Largo; 3. Allegro
Ouverture in G minor, FWV K:g2 - 15:52
1. Ouverture; 2. Aria: Largo; 3. Jardiniers; 4. Aria: Largo; 5. Aria: Allegro; 6. Gavotte’ 7. Menuet
Concerto in B flat major, FWV L:B1 - 39:00
1. Largo; 2. Un Poco Allegro; 3. Largo; 4. Allegro
Concerto in D major, FWV L:D14 - 50:23
1. Allegro; 2. Largo; 3. Allegro


The illustration is Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s, “Landscape with the Flight into Egypt”, 1563.