Wednesday, 1 October 2014


“The first magic of love is our ignorance that it can ever end.” - Benjamin Disraeli

“Magic” is the theme for this week’s Poetry Jam challenge - Let us explore the world of magic in our writing and all that it means to us.”
Here is my contribution:


O, what a moon tonight!
A perfect, limpid night,
This year’s first truly summer’s night!
And in the languid garden, just watered,
In the heavy, warm, wet, jet-black air
Streams golden moonlight
From a bright, full orb of a moon.

The still, thick air is rich with perfumes:
The heady honeysuckle and gardenia,
The devastating bouvardia,
(A hint of green poison lurking in its leaves);

Homely, honest lemon verbena,
Pennyroyal, spearmint, peppermint
(High notes of freshness),

Solemn parsley, pungent fig,
Bitter crushed ivy underfoot,
And sweet, dreamy, dusty lavender
(Fresh sachets)…

Melding with shadows, a black dog
Barks up at the face in the moon;
Melting with moonlight reflection in the pond,
The distant chant of crickets.

Mixed with the magic of the night,
Echoing in the stillness of green-black leafy shadows,
Coalescing in water drops that trickle down wet foliage,
Is the sound of my soft footfall,
(In empty garden).

Gently around the paths between the sleepless beds,
My steps, gingerly
Tracing an endless, enchanted circle
Of mystic insomnia,
(My daydreams made real by magic of the night).

Tuesday, 30 September 2014


“Man is a political animal” – Aristotle

Today I am looking at the genre of political novels. These obviously have as a theme politics, but also look at society and the conflicts arising because of a clash of ideas. Sometimes, these novels can have propaganda value, but generally they fall into the group of writing that examines freedom and the price that people pay for attaining it. These types of novel have been very influential as they have often been written in adverse circumstances, sometimes have been banned, frequently have been censored and in some cases have even been made illegal to possess. The list of such novels is huge and I shall only limit myself to a few that I can recall easily as I was impressed immensely when I first read them.

I shall start with a novel that was based on real events and highlights the terrible social evils of totalitarian regimes. It is Vassilis Vasilikos’ “Z”. In Greek, “Zee” means “He lives” and is a monument to the memory of Grigoris Lambrakis, a distinguished athlete, doctor and politician, as well as an active pacifist and humanitarian. He was assassinated by thugs under the control of right-wing government organisations. The book depicts the way para-state and paramilitary mechanisms operated in Greece in the 1960s and the efforts of an honest investigator against them. The book was made into a successful film by Costa Gavras in 1969 (

“All the King’s Men” is a novel by Robert Penn Warren, which won the Pulitzer Prize. It is as relevant today as when it was written in 1946. This novel about American politics traces the rise and fall of demagogue Willie Stark, a fictional character who resembles the real-life Huey Long of Louisiana. In Louisiana, the smart, populist, manipulative Willie Stark is elected governor largely through the support of the lower social classes. He joins a team composed of his bodyguard and friend Sugar Boy; the journalist from an aristocratic family Jack Burden; the lobbyist Tiny Duffy; and his mistress Sadie Burke, to face the opposition of the upper classes. When the influential Judge, Irwin supports a group of politicians in their request for Stark’s impeachment, Stark assigns Jack Burden to find some incriminating “dirt” in the life of Irwin, leading to a tragedy in the end. This novel has also made it into films, once in 1949 ( and in 2006 (, as well as a TV series in 1958 (

“The Manchurian Candidate” is Richard Condon’s controversial 1959 Cold War thriller. It tells the story of Sergeant Raymond Shaw, an ex-prisoner of war (and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honour). Shaw has been brainwashed by a Chinese psychological expert during his captivity in North Korea and has come home programmed to kill a US presidential nominee. The actions of Raymond Shaw are not what everyone believes they are, and the nightmares of a US Army officer, Bennett Marco, leads to the investigation of Raymond that unlocks a stunning political conspiracy that sweeps up Senator Johnny Iselin and his wife, Eleanor Iselin (who is also Shaw’s mother). Only Bennett Marco can possibly stop the plot and there are several people who are out to ensure that he does not succeed.  The 1962 movie  ( was taken out of circulation for 25 years following the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Everyone conversant with English knows and probably often uses the phrase “catch-22” to describe a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. Many people who use this phrase may not know its origin. It is the title of a brilliant novel, “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller that mocks war, the military, and politics. It is classic satire where Yossarian, a bombadier in World War II, desperately tries to be declared insane by the Air Force in order to go home. However during the process he slowly watches each of his friends and crew die off in the horrors of war.  His desire to avoid the dangerous missions is taken to prove his sanity. Once again, this has been made into a 1970 movie ( and a 1973 TV series (

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee explores attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s through the eyes of eight-year-old Scout Finch, “one of the most endearing and enduring characters of Southern literature”, and her father, Atticus Finch. The novel is a powerful document of the tension and conflict between prejudice and hypocrisy on the one hand and justice and perseverance on the other. The 1962 film of the novel ( has become a classic in its own right.

Are human beings inherently evil and destructive, savages that will not heed reason, or are they inherently good and bound by the laws of society whatever context they find themselves in? William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” is a classic novel that shows how thin the veneer of civilisation might be, as it explores what happens in the absence of rules and order. A group of boys are marooned on an island after their plane crashes. With no adult survivors, they create their own society in miniature. Ralph is elected chief and he organises shelter and fire. Jack, the head of the choir takes his boys hunting for wild pigs to feed the community. A bitter rivalry develops between Jack and Ralph as both strive for leadership. The “hunters” become savage and primal, under Jack’s rule, while Ralph tries to keep his group civilised. The growing hostility between them leads to a frightening climax. Once again, this novel has engendered filmic treatments, the better 1963 version ( and in my opinion, the inferior 1990 version (

“Big Brother” is term most people around the world are familiar with for the wrong reason. Everyone knows the execrable TV reality shows around the world in which “Big Brother” is a person exercising total control over a group of people’s lives as they are confined in a house. Once again, most people would not know the origin of the term. It is derived from “1984” by George Orwell written in 1949, where he describes a dystopia that he imagines the world has deteriorated to in 1984. Orwell introduces Big Brother and other concepts like newspeak and thoughtcrime. In this imagined future, the world is dominated by three totalitarian superpowers, people’s actions are scrutinised to the extreme and personal freedom has become unknown. The novel has generated two films, the 1956 version ( and the superior 1984 version (

George Orwell also wrote another classic political and social allegory, “Animal Farm”. In this novel, Orwell satirises Stalinist Russia, by describing the revolt of the animals of Manor Farm (i.e. the common people) against their human masters (the aristocracy). Led by the pigs Snowball (Lenin) and Napoleon (Stalin), the animals attempt to create a utopian society. Soon, however, Napoleon gets a taste for power, drives out Snowball, and establishes a totalitarian regime as brutal and corrupt as any human society. Manor Farm becomes a world where all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others… Interestingly, this novel has been brought to the silver screen as animated feature films, the 1954 version ( and the 1999 version (

I could probably go on and talk about Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange”, Allen Drury’s “Advise and Consent”, Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and many more. I could talk about authors like Kafka, Machiavelli, Voltaire, Clancy, Grisham, Crichton, who write fiction that is largely politically motivated, or at least politically actuated, but I have tried your patience enough.

It is obvious, that this genre of literature is engaging and effective as a tool for social change. Humans are political animals and personal experience, the experience of both private and public characters, forms the heart of what fiction is, so it is not surprising that many of the great literary works are politically motivated. People do read a lot of political fiction, a lot of culturally critical fiction, and the sales of popular authors like Grisham and Crichton support this. Enjoy your reading!

Monday, 29 September 2014


“Film is one of the three universal languages, the other two: mathematics and music.” - Frank Capra

Last week I reviewed “Voyage to Cythera” an Angelopoulos film, which disappointed us greatly. It was an exasperating, slow moving, artsy film that had almost no plot and even less dialogue. I promised this week to review another Greek film we watched and which in contrast was infinitely more enjoyable. This too was “artsy”, but there was a plot, there was incident, dialogue, great cinematography and overall, for us at least, provided a much engaging and enjoyable viewing experience.

The film was the 2011 Stelios Haralambopoulos film “I Ypografi” ('The Signature'), starring Georges Corraface, Maria Protopappa, Alexia Kaltsiki and Nikos Kouris. Haralambopoulos also wrote the screenplay and cinematography was by Elias Kostandakopoulos. The excellent soundtrack was composed by Nikos Kypourgos.

The plot has as follows: Maria Dimou (Maria Protopappa) was a celebrated artist and her life’s work will be presented in a retrospective exhibition prepared by art historian Anna (Alexia Kaltsiki). Anna discovers that crucial to preparing a meaningful exhibition is Angelo (George Corraface), who was Maria’s partner just before her sudden and unexplained death. As the preparations for the exhibition progress, Anna finds that Angelo’s attitude and what he discloses creates more mystery and raises more questions about Maria and her work than before Anna met him.

This is a movie full of atmosphere, romanticism, mystery and perhaps even a touch of film-noir. It has wonderful cinematography, and many of the location shots are in Arcadia, the place of many an ancient Greek myth and the Renaissance ideal of an earthly paradise. The film makes many a reference to the Latin phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego”. This famously appears as the title of two paintings by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). They are pastoral paintings depicting idealised shepherds from classical antiquity, clustering around an austere tomb. The more famous second version of the subject, measuring 87 by 120 cm, which is in the Louvre, Paris, and also goes under the name “Les bergers d’Arcadie” (“The Arcadian Shepherds”).

The translation of the phrase is “Even in Arcadia, there am I”. The usual interpretation is that “I” refers to death, and “Arcadia” means a utopian land. It would thus be a memento mori. During Antiquity, many Greeks lived in cities close to the sea, and led an urban life. Only Arcadians, in the middle of the Peloponnese, lacked cities, were far from the sea, and led a rustic life. Thus for urban Greeks, especially during the Hellenistic era, Arcadia symbolised pure, rural, idyllic life, far from the city. This theme is picked up in the movie and the way that death enters the plot in the beautiful mountainsides of Arcadia is a reminder of our mortality and our human foibles.

The main theme of the film is love and what we are capable of achieving in the name of love. However, it also explores artistic inspiration, talent and the price of fame. There are strong performances from the leads and while the pacing is slow, there is a fast moving climax. Although the dialogue can occasionally seem banal, at least there is an intelligent build-up to the denouement. This is not a detective story so one cannot accuse the writer/director of “lack of suspense”, but there is a sense of mystery and a great deal of melancholy and drama as the tragic love story resolves itself.

This is not a masterpiece of the seventh art, but we found it to be and enjoyable and wonderful film after watching the annoying “Voyage to Cythera” of Angelopoulos.

Sunday, 28 September 2014


“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.” - Abraham Maslow

For Art Sunday today, Odilon Redon, a favourite artist of mine. He was born April 20th, 1840, in Bordeaux, France and  died July 6th, 1916, in Paris. He was a symbolist painter, lithographer, and etcher, of poetic sensitivity and imagination, whose work developed along two divergent lines. His prints explore haunted, fantastic, often macabre themes and foreshadowed the Surrealist and Dadaist movements. His oils and pastels, are chiefly still lives with flowers, which won him the admiration of Henri Matisse and other contemporary painters as an important colourist. His imagination found an intellectual catalyst in his close friend, the Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé. Redon was also associated with the group of Symbolist painters.

Redon produced nearly 200 prints, beginning in 1879 with the lithographs collectively titled ‘In the Dream’. He completed another series (1882) dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe, whose poems had been translated into French with great success by Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire. Rather than illustrating Poe, Redon's lithographs are poems in visual terms, themselves evoking the poet’s world of private torment. There is an evident link to Goya in Redon’s imagery of winged demons and menacing shapes, and one of his series was the ‘Homage to Goya’ (1885).

About the time of the print series ‘The Apocalypse of St. John’ (1889), Redon began devoting himself to painting and colour drawing – sensitive floral studies, and heads that appear to be dreaming or lost in reverie. He developed a unique palette of powdery and pungent hues. Though there is a relationship between his work and that of the Impressionist painters, he opposed both Impressionism and Realism as wholly perceptual.

In 1903 Redon was awarded the medal of the Legion of Honour. His popularity increased when a catalogue of etchings and lithographs was published by André Mellerio in 1913; that same year, he was given the largest single representation at the New York Armory Show. Redon died on July 6, 1916. In 1923 Mellerio published Odilon Redon: ‘Peintre Dessinateur et Graveur’. An archive of Mellerio’s papers is held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In the YouTube video below, you’ll notice that I mainly used images of Odilon Redon to illustrate the song by Alkinoos Ioannidis. His drawings and paintings seemed to fit the lyrics so well, that it was almost inevitable to choose them when I was considering what to use as a backdrop to the music and lyrics. Enjoy!

Saturday, 27 September 2014


“I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better.” – George Frideric Handel

‘Samson’ (HWV 57) is a three-act oratorio by George Frideric Handel, considered one of his finest dramatic works. It is usually performed as an oratorio in concert form, but on occasions has also been staged as an opera. The well-known arias “Let the bright Seraphim” (for soprano) and “Total eclipse” (for tenor) are often performed separately in concert.

Handel began its composition immediately after completing Messiah on 14 September 1741. It uses a libretto by Newburgh Hamilton, who based it on Milton’s ‘Samson Agonistes’, which in turn was based on the figure Samson in Chapter 16 of the Book of Judges. Handel completed the first act on 20 September 1741, the second act on 11 October that year and the whole work on 29 October. Shortly after that he travelled to Dublin to put on the premiere of Messiah, returning to London at the end of August 1742 and thoroughly revising Samson. The premiere was given at Covent Garden in London on 18 February 1743, with the incidental organ music probably the recently completed concerto in A major (HWV 307). The oratorio was a great success, leading to a total of seven performances in its first season, the most in a single season of any of his oratorios. Samson retained its popularity throughout Handel’s lifetime and has never fallen entirely out of favour since.

Act 1 (0.04:28): Blind and in chains, Samson is recovering from his slavery since the Philistines are having a festival in honour of their god Dagon. He grieves at his fate. The Israelites observe how their once invincible hero lies and that there is now no hope. Micah sees the whole people's lot reflected in his own. Samson reproaches himself, because he has been betrayed by his wife Dalila, and especially laments his loss of sight. Samson's father Manoah finds Samson and is shocked by his transformation. Samson longs for death, but is comforted by the Chorus of Israelites that he will triumph over death and time.

Act 2 (1:22:14): Micah and the Israelites call upon God to look upon the troubles of his servant. Dalila tries to recover Samson's love but her attempts to re-ensnare him come to nothing. The Philistine Harapha comes to insult Samson, who challenges him to a duel. Harapha, however, reviles Samson, claiming it is beneath his dignity to fight with a blind man. Samson mocks him as a braggart. Micah proposes to measure the power of Dagon against that of the god of the Israelites. The Israelite and Philistine choruses both praise their God.

Act 3 (2:41:36): Harapha arrives to take Samson to the feast of the Philistines and show him off there. Samson at first refuses to be present at the worship of Dagon, but then thinks of a plan and agrees to go to the festival, though he warns the Israelites to stay away from it. Manoah arrives with plans for the children of Israel, including how to free Samson. From a distance are heard the songs of the Philistines, calling on Dagon. Suddenly the audience hears noise and panic. An Israelite messenger arrives and tells the audience what has happened: Samson pulled down the building on himself and the Philistines. Samson's dead body is brought out and the children of Israel play and sing a funeral march. At the end, the Lord is praised.

This performance from the Royal Albert Hall in the BBC, Proms 2009, with Susan Gritton: soprano; Lucy Crowe: soprano; Iestyn Davies: countertenor; Mark Padmore: tenor; Ben Johnson: tenor; Neal Davies: bass; Christopher Purves: bass; The English Concert & The New Company conducted by Harry Bicket.

Friday, 26 September 2014


“I think of dieting, then I eat pizza...” - Lara Stone

We recently made this pizza at home after a friend gave us the recipe for the yoghurt dough, which does not require any yeast or raising. The topping is very much a personal matter and you can put whatever your favourite topping ingredients are on this base. The recipe I give you is for a very rich, non-vegetarian pizza that is a very satisfying meal for two to three people (depending on how hungry they are!). We make two of these pizzas, freeze one and then share the other one for a complete meal. We serve it with a fresh garden salad, a dry red wine and extra tasty cheese cubes on the side.

Ingredients (for two 30 cm diameter pizzas)
200 g natural Greek yoghurt
200 mL water (fill and rinse out the yoghurt container with this)
1 tsp salt
100 mL olive oil (half the yoghurt container full)
500 g sifted self-raising flour
Some olive oil for frying
2 x 250 g cans of peeled tomatoes, diced and stewed with a tbsp. of oil until much of the water is removed and the tomatoes are cooked and of a firmer consistency (leave to cool)
Oregano, dried and crumbled
300 g of grated tasty/mozzarella cheese mix
1 x 150 g of button mushrooms cut into small pieces
300 g of smoked leg ham cut into small cubes
1 green capsicum diced
2 x 100 g cans of anchovies
2 small onions, sliced thinly and separated into rings

In a bowl mix the yoghurt and water, adding the salt and oil, stirring to blend well. Add the flour and mix to form a smooth, soft dough. Don't over-knead the dough. Divide into two equal pieces and flatten out into disc shapes.
In a 30 cm flat frying pan put enough olive oil to just cover the bottom. Put one of the dough disks and with your hands flatten the dough carefully to cover the whole of the bottom of the pan, working all round to ensure a smooth, flat disc.
Fry the dough until it is golden on the bottom. Flip the dough disc and fry the other side. Transfer onto a 30 cm round pizza tray. Brush the top of the pizza base with some olive oil.
Spread half of the tomato mixture onto the pizza base and sprinkle oregano on this.
Add the grated cheese, one of the cans of chopped mushrooms, half the diced ham, half the diced capsicum. Add the one can of anchovy fillets, arranging them around the pizza so that they cover most of the area. Sprinkle the onion rings all round the pizza.
Repeat for the other pizza and bake in a preheated oven at 200˚C for 20 minutes or so, until the topping is cooked.
You can easily freeze one of the pizzas and rewarm when needed.

Please join me for Food Friday, adding your recipe choice in the Mr Linky list below:

Thursday, 25 September 2014


“What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?” - Lin Yutang

Have you ever stopped to think how many of our foods and drinks are named after a specific place? This of course is no surprise because many of them are very much products of a certain region or have been first made in that specific place. It occurred to me last weekend when we were drinking some excellent Australian sparkling wine made locally by Domaine Chandon. Notice how I did not use the word “Champagne” which is a strictly controlled appellation (“appelation contrôlée”) and reserved only for those sparkling wines produced in the 312 wine producing villages and towns in France. Rheims and Epernay are Champagne cities, but also the villages with charming names like Dizy, Bouzy and Rilly (honestly!)…

Similarly, Cognac is the French brandy produced in the Charente region. And incidentally, “Grande Champagne Cognac” can be used with impunity as the “champagne” in this instance refers to the Latin word from countryside or field “campania” (just as it refers to the bubbly’s etymology, but I guess the champagne producers do not mind because cognac does not compete with champagne in the marketplace!). I had to look up what VSOP stands for – “Very Special Old Pale”, which indicates what a fine cognac should be like! Armagnac is brandy from the Gers region, and some aficionados consider this superior to cognac.

I should also mention Jerez in the context of sherry and Oporto in the same boozy breath as port. Jerez takes its name from the province of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain, sherry being an Anglicisation of Jerez. Oporto is the capital and port of the district of the same name in northern Portugal. The city lies along the Douro River, 3 km from the river's mouth and 280 km north of Lisbon. World-famous for its port wine, Porto is Portugal's second largest city and is the commercial and industrial centre. The British have always been very partial to port and by extension, the colonies have similar tastes.

Now that we have had quite a bit of alcohol, what better than a bit of cheese? Gorgonzola is named after the tiny village of the same name close to Milan, Italy. The moist, delicious blue cheese has saved this village from obscurity. Parma of course produces the famous “parmigiano” – parmesan cheese, but also the delicious Parma ham. Would you like a little Dijon mustard with that? (Dijon being the capital of Côte d’Or département and of Bourgogne (Burgundy) région, east-central France – now that I’ve said Burgundy, how about a glass of it with your parmesan and ham? If you really know your wines and the Bourgogne, you can’t go past the tiny village of Nuits-Saint-Georges, said to produce the finest burgundy of France). Perhaps you’ve had enough alcohol and would rather have some Vichy water, from the notorious town in France that was the seat of the collaborationist government after France’s defeat in the Second World War. I should also mention the delicious vichyssoise, a soup made with potatoes, leeks, and cream and typically served chilled (although it’s debatable whether its origin is really French or American!).

If wine and water are not your beverage, how about some Pilsen beer? Pilsen is a city in the Czech Republic, whose citizens in 1295 were given the privilege by King Wenceslas II (son of the famous “Good King Wenceslas” of Christmas carol fame!) to make beer and sell it from their houses. Breweries sprang up and this would not have amounted to much, if not for the developments in the 19th century and the efforts of Josef Groll, master brewer. He experimented, and striking a great combination of Czech malt, hops and the soft Pilsen water produced a wonderful new beer: The light, clear, golden beer known as “Pilsner Urquell” (German for “original source”). Incidentally, Budweiser beer owes its origins to the nearby town of Ceské Budejovice.

Now how about some fish? Let’s go to Scotland and Arbroath, where the declaration of Scottish independence was signed in 1310 AD. Most people however, know this city for its “Arbroath Smokies”, a delicious hot smoked haddock dish. Down to England for some Worcestershire sauce from the town of Worcester. Both of these names have plagued English students with their pronunciation (woŏstərˌsh i(ə)r and ˈwoŏstər)! How about some Melton pies or Mowbray pies? Fancy some dessert? Then Bakewell tart it is for you!

Now that we are talking about desserts, how about some Eccles cakes or Pontefract cake, from the city of West Yorkshire. Also of course, Yorkshire pudding, which is not a dessert, but rather a popover made of baked unsweetened egg batter, and typically eaten with roast beef. Dundee in Scotland is a fine town and home to the wonderful Dundee cake. If you want something fancier, you need to go to Germany and have some Battenberg cake, from Battenberg in Hesse. You know the one, – a bit kitch, its chequered yellow and pink slices enveloped in marzipan and which was created in honour of Louis, Prince Battenberg. His son was Britain’s first Sea Lord in WWI and for obvious reasons, the name was anglicised to Mountbatten!

So far I’ve confined myself to Europe, but the USA is equally rich in this custom of place name foods. Idaho potatoes and Kentucky fried chicken are almost as well known internationally as in their place of origin. New York steaks, California rolls, Waldorf salad, Boston baked beans, Boston buns, New England clam chowder, Mississippi mud cake, Manhattan cocktails, Philly steak, Tex-Mex food, etc, etc.

Perhaps the most famous creation of the Americans is the hamburger. Not Hamburg, Germany, but Hamburg, New York State was the place where the popular fast food was invented. It was at the Hamburg annual fair organised by the Erie Agricultural Society that the hamburger was first sold in 1885. Frank and Charles Menches sold their traditional hot pork sandwiches there for years, until hot weather prevented slaughtering of pigs. Beef mince was used instead and the rest is history.

I could go on and talk about the Earl of Sandwich, tell you about Swiss rolls, Greek salad and Peking Ducks. Bombe Alaska, Long Island iced tea and Welsh rarebit. French Toast, Chinese Gooseberries and Bombay duck (which is really a fish!) and many many more. But I’ll stop here - I’m rather tired of kitchen chair travelling and getting rather hungry…