Thursday, 30 July 2015


“Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health.” Julia Child

I read a delightful little cookbook the other day. It is a 1960s reprint of Edouard de Pomiane’s book “Cooking in Ten Minutes”, first published in France in 1948 and translated into English by Peggie Benton. The author subtitles his work “Or, The Adaptation to the Rhythm of our Time”, which goes to show that the idea of fast food is not as recent as we would like to think. However, reading this highly amusing little book, one gets the idea that Monsieur Pomiane gives us recipes for good old fashioned slow food, prepared quickly, rather than the “fast food” that we seem to think of when we hear the term. For example, here is one of M. Pomiane’s 10-minute menus for a dinner:
Lobsters à l’ Americaine
Tournedos Rossini
Asparagus vinaigrette
Cheese and fruit

The book is delicious to read and the author’s style is humorous (though never flippant), his advice often delivered ex-cathedra (but always sensible) and his recipes adventurous (but always following the “prepared in 10 minutes” rule). The book is illustrated with lovely little sketches reminiscent of Toulouse Lautrec and is full of essential, basic information that one should know but never had the temerity to ask about!

I’ll give you samples of this book, beginning with what the author has to say about it:

 “I am neither a fool nor a micromaniac (which is the opposite to a megalomaniac and means a man with a passion for exiguity. This word, by the way, is not to be found in the dictionary). And yet the day my book “Cooking in Six Lessons” appeared I was called frivolous. I was criticised for teaching the art of cooking in six lessons when everyone knows it takes ten years to become a cook. I replied to this criticism in a preface showing the part that science can play in the rhythm and measure of teaching any art, including cookery. I tried to show that I had a feeling for speed and that I didn't simply disregard the question of time.
Now I maintain that one can prepare a meal in ten minutes, and as this is an incredibly short time I shall be treated as a micromaniac.”

M. Pomiane has advice regarding hors d’ oeuvres:
“Do not rush into complicated hors d’ oeuvres. You have not the right, nor the time. In any case they only attenuate the voluptuousness of your hunger for the principal dish, so use them with parsimony. If you have a passion for hors d’ oeuvres, have the courage of your convictions and make a whole meal of these gastronomic frivolities.

This will reduce your cooking to the infinitely simple, that is to say, to the preparation of coffee. Bring home some mortadella or salami, some tunny fish, some olives, mushroom salad and three slices of smoked ham. Add some butter, a slice of Roquefort cheese, some fruit, and you will be happy. But be careful. Do not repeat this dînette often. It would damage your health. And in any case you will soon get tired of it.

You can, however, perfectly well begin your meal with one of the delicacies mentioned. Do not make an egg dish on that day. You will eat your tunny fish or your two sardines while the pork chop which will afterwards appear with chestnut puree is turning a crisp golden brown.”

And finally his recipe for scrambled eggs (which I think are one of the most difficult things to cook properly!).

You will need two eggs. It is difficult to scramble a solitary egg as it sets too quickly.
Break two eggs into a bowl. Beat them with a fork. Salt.
Melt and heat a large walnut of butter in a frying pan. Pour in the eggs and as soon as they begin to stick to the bottom of the pan break them loose with the back of the fork, stir them, worry them, torment them, mix them, beat them, so that all the lumps are broken up. Stir them on a gentle fire. When the eggs begin to thicken draw them off the fire. Stir. They continue to set, As soon as the eggs are ready, that is to say still creamy, pour them on to a slightly warmed plate. Eat immediately.

You can add all sorts of things to scrambled eggs as variations before you begin to cook them:
Cervelat cut in cubes.
Minced ham.
Tinned green peas.
Shelled shrimps.
Boiled mussels.
Croutons of bread fried in butter.
Mushrooms fresh from the frying pan.
and so on.

But remember that you must only add very small quantities. Eggs with green peas must not become green peas with eggs.

One must receive, above all, the impression of creamy eggs cooked to a turn. The flavour of the addition must be of secondary importance. Besides, scrambled eggs with green peas are a delightful spectacle, while green peas with eggs are a depressing sight.

I must say that I love the type of advice given in this cookbook: “Sauerkraut: Buy some of it already prepared as you will never have the time to do it yourself. If you go to a good shop it will be far better than any you could prepare anyway!” That’s my kind of cooking!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


"Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity." George Bernard Shaw

Mikis Theodorakis, Greek composer, was born on this day in 1925.  He is the composer that people the world over equate most with modern popular Greek music. His well-known and loved "Zorba’s Dance" and other popular Greek music and songs have captured the Greek character so well in many of its forms and variations.

However, it is relatively unknown that Theodorakis has also composed major works in the Western “classical” tradition.  One such of his works that I particularly like is his "Symphony No 3", especially the 3rd movement, titled Byzantine Hymns for Petro of EPON.  Another major work is his "Canto General", a choral work based on extracts from the monumental poetic work of the same name by Pablo Neruda.

The song cycle "The Ballad of Mauthausen" on lyrics by Iacovos Campanellis is also a favourite of mine, especially the lovely first piece, the “Song of Songs”.  These four songs express the anguish and horror of the Nazi Concentration camps but also the inexhaustible hope and universal humanity of the prisoners, even as they march into the gas chambers.

Theodorakis’ music reaches its elegiac best when the theme is a melancholic one. The music soars and tugs at our heart and soul, its sweetness drawing from us the deepest emotion. As Percy Bysshe Shelley remarks: “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts.”

Politically, Theodorakis identified with the left because of the long time connection with the Communist Party of Greece. He was MP with the KKE from 1981 to 1990. Nevertheless, in 1989 he ran as an independent candidate within the centre-right New Democracy party in order for the country to come out of the political crisis that had been created due to the numerous scandals of the government of Andreas Papandreou and helped to establish a large coalition between conservatives, socialists and leftists.

In 1990 he was elected to the parliament (as in 1964 and 1981), became a government minister under Constantine Mitsotakis, and fought against drugs and terrorism and for culture, education and better relations between Greece and Turkey. He continues to speak out in favour of left-liberal causes, Greek-Turkish-Cypriot relations, and against the War in Iraq. He has consistently opposed oppressive regimes and was a key voice against the Greek junta 1967-1974, which imprisoned him.

Here is Maria Farandouri, one of the most celebrated interpreters of Theodorakis’ songs, singing the Ballad of Mauthausen song cycle:

Tuesday, 28 July 2015


“Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: you find the present tense, but the past perfect.” - Owens Lee Pomeroy

Gilbert Bécaud - the legendary “Mr 100,000 volts” of the French music world - rose to fame in the 1950s and enjoyed a successful career spanning more than 40 years before he died in December 2001. One of the most popular music French stars of all time, Bécaud performed at the famous Olympia music hall in Paris 33 times, a record!

Gilbert Bécaud, was born François Silly in Toulon, a lively port on the Mediterranean coast on 24 October 1927. François had a relatively happy upbringing, despite the fact that his father abandoned the family while François was still in early childhood. Madame Silly’s new partner, Louis Bécaud, raised François, Jean and Odette as his own children, although he was never able to marry their mother (her first husband steadfastly refusing to consent to a divorce). From an early age, François showed an enormous musical talent and he was able to study in the Nice conservatory until the war put an end to his studies in 1942. During the war François and his older brother Jean joined the resistance. After the war the family settled in Paris where François began to work in nightclubs and wrote songs.

He soon met Maurice Vidalin and Pierre Delanoë, fellow songwriters and the team wrote many successful songs well into the ‘50s. He met Edith Piaf, wrote her some songs and went on to manage Edith. In 1952 François officially adopted his new stage name, Gilbert Bécaud. It was also around this time that the singer began to forge his legendary image, sporting the famous spotted tie, which would appear around his neck at every single concert throughout the rest of his career.

In 1954 Bécaud was invited to inaugurate the newly refurbished Olympia music hall in Paris and such was the excitement of the crowd that they began ripping out seats and destroying L’Olympia’s brand new decor. This kind of behaviour at a concert was totally out of the ordinary in the 1950’s and the French press had an absolute field day over the affair. Numerous papers and magazines ran stories on Bécaud’s explosive concert, dubbing the young singer “Monsieur Dynamite”, “The Atomic Bomb” and, most famously of all, “Monsieur 100,000 volts”.

In 1961 Bécaud rocketed to the top of the French charts once again with his enormously successful hit single “Et Maintenant”. This was written by Pierre Delanoë and would prove to be one of the most famous songs of Gilbert Bécaud’s entire career. The song would be covered more than 150 times by a host of French stars and the English version of “Et maintenant”, entitled “What now my love”, would go on to become an international hit in its own right.

In 1964 Bécaud returned to the studio to record a new single entitled "Nathalie". This single proved phenomenally successful, selling thousands of copies within months of its release. Indeed, "Nathalie" would go on to become one of the most famous hits of his entire career. Later that same year Bécaud would perform "Nathalie" live on stage at the Olympia, during his tenth concert performance at the legendary Paris music hall. He went on to record many more hits and remained a successful singer/songwriter until his death in 2001.

It is this last-mentioned song that I wish to share with you today as I associate it with some of my earliest childhood memories in Athens. We had the record at home and I remember hearing it often and being enthused by its poignancy and vibrancy even at my very tender age.

Nathalie, Gilbert Bécaud

La Place Rouge était vide
Devant moi marchait Nathalie
Il avait un joli nom, mon guide

La Place Rouge était blanche
La neige faisait un tapis
Et je suivait par ce froid dimanche

Elle parlait en phrases sobres
De la Révolution d'Octobre
Je pensais déjà
Qu'après le tombeau de Lénine
On irait au Café Pouchkine
Boire un chocolat

La Place Rouge était vide
Je lui pris son bras, elle a souri
Elle avait des cheveux blonds, mon guide
Nathalie, Nathalie

Dans sa chambre, a l'université
Une bande d'étudiants
L'attendait impatiemment
On a ri, on a beaucoup parlé
Ils voulaient tout savoir
Nathalie traduisait.

Moscou, les plaines de Krim
Et les Champs-Elysées
On a tout mélangé et on a chanté
Et puis, ils ont débouché
En riant à l'avance
Du champagne de France
Et on a dansé

Et quand la chambre fut vide
Tous les amis étaient partis
Je suis resté seul avec mon guide

Plus d'questions de phrases sobres
Ni d'au Révolution d'Octobre
On n'en était plus là
Fini le tombeau de Lénine
Le chocolat de chez Pouchkine
C'est, c'était loin déjà

Que ma vie me semble vide
Mais je sais qu'un jour à Paris
C'est moi qui lui servirai de guide

Nathalie by Gilbert Bécaud

The Red Square was empty
In front of me walked Nathalie;
She had a pretty name, my guide:

The Red Square was white,
The snow made a carpet.
And I followed, on this cold Sunday,

She spoke in sober sentences
About the October Revolution.
I thought that after seeing the tomb of Lenin
We would go to the Pushkin Café
To drink a hot chocolate.

The Red Square was empty
I held her arm, she smiled
She had fair hair, my guide, Nathalie,

In her room, at the university
A group of students awaited us impatiently
We laughed, we spoke much.
They wanted to know everything,
Nathalie translated.

Moscow, Kremlin square,
And the Champs-Elysées -
We mixed everything up and we sang…
And then, they opened,
While laughing, in anticipation,
A bottle of French champagne,
And we danced.

And when the room was empty
When all the friends had left
I remained alone with my guide,

No more questions, nor sober sentences
About the October Revolution.
I’m not there any more.
The tomb of Lenin is no more,
The chocolate of the Café Pushkin
Is far away already.

Now my life seems empty,
But I know that one day in Paris
It is I who will be Nathalie’s guide,

Nostalgia is a bitter-sweet emotion and what better accompaniment to it than an old song that reminds us of those times long ago?

Monday, 27 July 2015


“Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.” - Mark Twain

Honoré de Balzac (20 May 1799 – 18 August 1850) was a French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of short stories and novels collectively entitled La Comédie Humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the 1815 fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. Owing to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. He is renowned for his multifaceted characters, who are morally ambiguous.

His writing influenced many subsequent novelists such as Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Edgar Allan Poe, Eça de Queirós, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Oscar Wilde, Gustave Flaubert, Benito Pérez Galdós, Marie Corelli, Henry James, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino, and philosophers such as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. 

Many of Balzac’s works have been made into or have inspired films, and they are a continuing source of inspiration for writers, filmmakers and critics. An enthusiastic reader and independent thinker as a child, Balzac had trouble adapting to the teaching style of his grammar school. His wilful nature caused trouble throughout his life and frustrated his ambitions to succeed in the world of business. When he finished school, Balzac was an apprentice in a law office, but he turned his back on the study of law after wearying of its inhumanity and banal routine.

Before and during his career as a writer, he attempted to be a publisher, printer, businessman, critic, and politician; he failed in all of these efforts. La Comédie Humaine reflects his real-life difficulties, and includes scenes from his own experience. Balzac suffered from health problems throughout his life, possibly brought on by scant attention to proper nutrition, strict nightly rest, or daily heart-healthy exercise. His relationship with his family was often strained by financial and personal difficulties, and he ended several friendships over critical reviews. In 1850 he married Ewelina Hańska, his longtime love; he died five months later.

Such a man, whose life resembled a novel, could hardly not inspire a biopic… We watched an old French telemovie at the weekend, which attempted to present a patchwork of Balzac’s life. And patchwork it certainly was, however, one could see evidence the rich fabrics from which the patches were selected.

The 1999 film, directed by Josée Dayan and a screenplay by Didier Decoin, was entitled “Balzac” and starred Gérard Depardieu, Jeanne Moreau, Virna Lisi, Fanny Ardant, Gert Voss and Katja Riemann. This was originally made for TV in France and as one would expect from the stellar cast and demanding audience, it was exceptionally well-acted and pretty faithful to the life of Balzac.

The film represents 19th century France beautifully with excellent costumes, sets, locations, props and atmosphere. Depardieu gives a grand performance as Balzac (and one overlooks his superficial likeness to the real Balzac). The screenplay examines mainly Balzac's many relationships with various important women in his life. Jeanne Moreau is wonderful as Balzac’s mother, Virna Lisi and Fanny Ardant as the two women he loved to excess, while Katja Riemann plays the flightly and whimsical paramour that he dallied with for a while. Gert Voss plays a supporting role as Victor Hugo, while the rest of the cast do a sterling job of supporting the action.

The film is a useful overview of Balzac’s life, and the word patchwork comes to mind once again. One comes away from this movie, wishing to learn more of the man not through reading a comprehensive biography, but rather to read more of his works. Balzac included much autobiographical material and distillations of his various interaction with the people in his life in his novels – reading the novels tells us a lot about the man and having watched the movie, some of the complexities of his character have been revealed. Good to watch, kept us engaged for the whole 200 minutes or so…

Sunday, 26 July 2015


“As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight, and the subject-matter has nothing to do with harmony or sound or of colour. The great musicians knew this. Beethoven and the rest wrote music – simply music, symphony in this key, concerto or sonata in that.” – James Abbott McNeill Whistler

LeRoy Leveson Laurent Joseph (Roy) de Maistre (1894-1968), painter, was born LeRoi Levistan de Mestre on 27 March 1894 at Maryvale, Bowral, New South Wales, son of Etienne Livingstone de Mestre, gentleman, and his wife Clara Eliza, née Rowe, and grandson of Prosper de Mestre. From 1898 the family lived at Mount Valdemar, Sutton Forest, where he was educated by tutors and governesses. In 1913 Roi went to Sydney to study the violin and viola at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, and painting at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales, under Norman Carter and Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo, who encouraged interest in Post-Impressionism. He also studied at Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School.

In 1916, as Roi Livingstone de Mestre, he tried to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force; he was accepted for home service, as his chest measurement was not up to standard. Discharged in 1917 with general debility, he became interested in the treatment of shell-shock patients by putting them in rooms painted in soothing colour combinations. In November 1916, as Roi de Mestre, he had first exhibited. That year’s paintings were Impressionist interiors and landscapes, impasted and concerned with the effects of light. With the Conservatorium director's son, Adrien Verbrugghen, he theorised about the relationship between painting, music and colour.

In 1919 he devised a colour–music theory that allied the colours of the spectrum to musical scales and, with fellow artist Roland Wakelin, held an exhibition of eleven paintings and five room designs based on this theory. The paintings are characterised by simplified forms, large areas of flat paint and heightened, non-representational colour. De Maistre was influenced by international art, but these works are a unique Australian hybrid of Post-Impressionism.

Further experiments in 1919 led de Maistre to produce Australia’s first abstract paintings. From 1923 to 1925 he was in Europe on a travelling scholarship. On his return to Sydney he held two solo exhibitions at the Macquarie Galleries (1926, 1928), worked on room and furniture designs and lectured on modern art. In 1930 he returned to London where he lived until his death. De Maistre’s work of the 1930s comprised mainly Surrealist paintings and renewed colour–music experiments, such as “Arrested Phrase from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Red Major” (1935; Canberra, N.G.). After 1940 he developed a decorative Cubist style. Following his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1949 he concentrated on religious paintings (e.g. the “Stations of the Cross”, 1956; London, Westminster Cathedral), studio interiors (“Interior with Lamp”, 1953; London, Tate), flower paintings and portraits.

The painting above, “Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor” was painted in 1919 and is considered the first abstract Australian painting. It exemplifies de Maistre’s theory of colour harmonisation based on analogies between colours of the spectrum and notes of the musical scale. It is also aligned with de Maistre’s search for spiritual meaning through abstraction, akin to other artists such as Kandinsky who were interested in the ideas of the theosophy and anthroposophy movements, spiritualism and the occult. The painting is in oils on paperboard and its dimensions are 85.3 x 115.3 cm. It is exhibited in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Saturday, 25 July 2015


“When I die, I’d like to come back as a cello.” - Wayne Newton

Giovanni Battista Cirri (1 October 1724 – 11 June 1808) was an Italian cellist and composer in the 18th century. Cirri was born in Forlì in the Emilia-Romagna Region of Italy. He had his first musical training with his brother Ignazio (1711–1787) and was for a time organist at Forlì Cathedral. He also studied with Giovanni Battista Martini, in Bologna.

In 1739 he was admitted to Holy Orders but decided to pursue a musical career. From 1759 he was a member of the “Accademia Filarmonica”. He was in Paris during the first half of the 1760s and his first works were published including a “Symphony”, which was performed at the Concert Spirituel on 5 April 1763.

In 1764 he settled in London where he was employed as chamber musician to the Duke of York and Albany and director of music to the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh. His first public appearance in London on 16 May 1764 was as an accompanist to violinist Marcella. He played solos at the eight-year-old Mozart’s first public concert in London. He also participated in the Bach-Abel Concerts, which were very popular at that time.

While in London he also composed numerous works for cello including the “Drei Sonaten für Violoncello und Basso continuo” (c. 1765). In the year 1780 he returned to his native Forlì to help his ailing brother at the Cathedral, though he played away from Forlì and in 1782 was principal cellist at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples. In 1787 he succeeded his brother as “maestro di cappella” at Forlì Cathedral. He died in Forlì in 1808.

Here are his complete Cello Concertos played by Balasz Maté (Cello) and the Aura Musicale:

1. Cello Concerto No. 1 in A major, Op. 14/1: 1. Allegro maestoso
2. Cello Concerto No. 1 in A major, Op. 14/1: 2. Adagio cantabile
3. Cello Concerto No. 1 in A major, Op. 14/1: 3. Tempo di Minuetto
4. Cello Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 14/2: 1. Allegro spirituoso
5. Cello Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 14/2: 2. Largo assai
6. Cello Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 14/2: 3. Rondo. Allegro
7. Cello Concerto No. 3 in D major, Op. 14/3: 1. Allegro con Spirito
8. Cello Concerto No. 3 in D major, Op. 14/3: 2. Adagio
9. Cello Concerto No. 3 in D major, Op. 14/3: 3. Allegretto
10. Cello Concerto No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 14/4: 1. Allegro
11. Cello Concerto No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 14/4: 2. Adagio molto
12. Cello Concerto No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 14/4: 3. Allegretto
13. Cello Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 14/5: 1. Allegro moderato
14. Cello Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 14/5: 2. Andante cantabile
15. Cello Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 14/5: 3. Allegro
16. Cello Concerto No. 6 in C major, Op. 14/6: 1. Allegro spirituoso
17. Cello Concerto No. 6 in C major, Op. 14/6: 2. Larghetto
18. Cello Concerto No. 6 in C major, Op. 14/6: 3. Rondo. Allegretto