Wednesday, 26 November 2014


“It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” - Charles Spurgeon

Poetry Jam this week asks participants to: “…write a ‘how-to’ poem. The tone and intention of your poem are yours. What you write can be serious or lighthearted, genuinely helpful or even intentionally misleading.”

Here is my contribution:

How to be Happy

You start each day being thankful

For what you have,
No matter how meagre, or how inconsequential.
You offer up your gratitude
As if you were grateful for a treasure trove.

You keep yourself occupied,

In that which must be done,
No matter if it be work, a chore, or even a pastime.
You are gainfully employed as if your life depended on it,
As if you were performing the most momentous task.

You eat your meals, slowly,

With measure and moderation,
No matter how much is spread before you.
You eat only that which will just sate your hunger, and no more,
And feel as though you have partaken of a banquet.

You love with all your heart,

And let those around you feel wanted, needed,
Even if they do not reciprocate your affections.
You give of yourself liberally,
And feel your stores of good humour replenished endlessly.

You accept that which is offered you,

Willingly, gratefully, with deep appreciation,
For many will give you freely what they can ill-afford to give.
You accept lovingly, humbly,
And feel as though you have earnt heaven;
For truly you have, and you shall then be happy.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


“To limit the press is to insult a nation; to prohibit reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves.” - Claude-Adrien Helvetius

A friend sent me to complete this meme list recently, so I gladly oblige to fill in my answers, making this my offering for Book Tuesday.

1. Name one book that changed your life:
My first alphabet book, from which I learnt to read and write. Had I not been given the opportunity to learn to read that, my life would certainly have been different… Literacy is the cornerstone of civilised life. As far as other books that influence our lives are concerned, I agree with the words of E. M. Forster:  “I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves.”

2. What is the one book that you have read more than once?
The Little Prince” by Frenchman Antoine de St Exupéry. It is a fairy tale, a love story, a philosophy book, a children’s book but also, anything but a children’s book. It is magical, it is make-believe, it is real, it is fantastical, it is fantastic! It has told me different things every time I read it. It has made me laugh, it has made me cry.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
“Practical Boat Building & Sailing for Beginners” by Robinson Crusoe. :-)

4. What is one book that made you laugh?
Don Quixote de la Mancha” by Spaniard Miguel de Cervantes. A classic tale, an allegory, a drama and a comedy, a grand work, a reflection of life. Touching and poignant at times, farcical at others. One empathises with the hero, one feels for him, and yet he also strikes us as the buffoon, the aloof aristocrat, the knight in shining armour and the idealist in an imperfect world. One of the great classics of world literature.

5. And what about one book that made you cry?
When I was young and impressionable, still in High School, I read a book by Sylvia Engdahl called “The Heritage of the Star”. This is a science fiction book, but well written and has a plot that is engaging and makes a social comment (as I guess, all good science fiction books do). I remember staying up all night to read this and the emotionally charged ending that brought me to edge of tears. Ah, how sensitive our youth, how soft our heart is then…

I have been trying to find my copy of this book, lately, but I cannot locate it, which is very annoying, as I usually know where all my books are and I don't lend out my books (I give books as gifts, but do not lend mine, especially to friends!).

6. Name one book that you wish you had written:
Guy de Maupassant’s “Short Stories”. Well written, amusing, poignant, varied in scope and extent, thematically varied. Marvellous gems of the short story genre.

7. Is there one book you wish had never been written?
No book is evil, the person who writes it, may be. No book is immoral, the reader may be. As Oscar Wilde says on the matter: “There is no such thing as a moral book or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”
All books must be read and understood for what they are. There are good books and bad books. “A bad book is as much labour to write as a good one, is comes as sincerely from the author's soul.” Says Aldous Huxley.

Books that contain terrible deeds in them must be read so that we know what atrocities people are capable of and eschew them; books containing horrible thoughts inoculate our minds against the horrors they describe and give us ammunition for our arguments against violence, injustice, prejudice and inequity. An intelligent person can read any book and learn something from it.

8. What book are you currently reading?
Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s “The Angel’s Game” (El juego del ángel, 2008), which is a prequel to the 2001 novel “The Shadow of the Wind”, which I have also read and greatly enjoyed. Like “The Shadow of the Wind”, “The Angel’s Game” was translated into English by Lucia Graves, daughter of the poet Robert Graves, and published in 2009. “The Angel’s Game” is set in Barcelona in the 1920s and 1930s and follows a young writer, David Martin, who is approached by a mysterious figure to write a book. The novel returns to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Barcelona’s Raval district, and the Sempere & Sons bookshop, from “The Shadow of the Wind.”

9. One book you have been meaning to read:
 “Tales from the Mountain” by Miguel Torga

10. Anyone who reads this and wants to do this meme, please do so and write a comment so other readers (and I!) can peruse your answers!

Monday, 24 November 2014


"Before you criticise someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes" – Anonymous

I had a pleasant and an unpleasant surprise this weekend as far as movies go. A couple of acquaintances of ours had recommended the 2005 film “Elizabethtown” as a good movie to watch. I did and I was not terribly impressed. Supposedly it was touted to be a wonderful “road movie” but I found it trite and annoying with sub-standard performances by the leads, Orlando Bloom (who spent most of the movie looking like a stunned mullet) and Kirsten Dunst (who was cloyingly, annoyingly, saccharine sweet throughout). Susan Sarandon was at a loss on how to deal with her role and must have been quite embarrassed with the result when she looked at the finished product. This was Hollywood at its sentimental worst and Cameron Crowe’s direction was pedestrian to the point of hobbling. The plot predictable, the characters worn and uninteresting and the whole movie trying: Trying to be funny, trying to be profound, trying to be original, trying to be witty, trying to be sad, trying to be poignant and never getting past the trying part.

On the other hand, the pleasant surprise was a movie that I had thought was going to be mushy and a typical “chick flick” was very good and a pleasure to watch. This second movies was Curtis Hanson’s “In Her Shoes” (2005) with Cameron Diaz, Toni Colette, Anson Mount and Shirley Maclaine.  Firstly, let me say that this was typical Hollywood too, but also was a movie that attempted to inject some character into its characters and tried to make the plot a little three-dimensional.

The plot revolves around two sisters, Maggie (Cameron Diaz), the almost illiterate, bubbly, party girl and Rose (Toni Colette) who is plain but intellectually brilliant. Maggie is unemployed, a petty thief, promiscuous and superficial while Rose is a lawyer, organised, busy and has a problem with attracting men. Add to that the tragic loss of the women’s mother while they were still girls, a stormy relationship with their stepmother and conflict over the man that Rose finally manages to get into her bed. The sisters’ relationship breaks down and Maggie disappears, going to Florida to visit (read ‘sponge off’) her recently discovered grandmother (Shirley Maclaine) that neither of the sisters knew was still alive.

This is a movie about self-discovery, as much as it is about the relationship between the two sisters. The screenplay is well adapted from the best seller by Jennifer Weiner and the direction is excellent. The actors revel in their roles and Toni Colette once again proves her mettle in this difficult role where she needs to express an inner warmth and beauty that her external very unglamorous appearance has to radiate. Cameron Diaz has been well cast as the flighty Maggie and there are also some very good supporting role performances throughout.

As far as the shoes in the title are concerned, there is a very obvious sexual symbolism in that the two sisters wear the same size shoes, and also the fact that Maggie constantly wears her sister’s shoes. The fact that the grandmother also wears the same size shoe is significant and through the story, the women in the family have to be in each other’s shoes in order to experience life from that perspective.

Chick flick? Yes, it was. Did I enjoy it as a guy? I sure did. Why? Because of a good plot and screenplay, great characterisation with believable characters, excellent direction and good development. Yes, there are flaws, yes the film is slightly longer than optimal, yes the male characters are a little underdeveloped, but overall, I would recommend it highly. If you haven’t seen it, well worth getting hold of the DVD and seeing it (don’t be misled by the rubbishy blurb on the cover).

Sunday, 23 November 2014


“The world worries about disability more than disabled people do.” - Warwick Davis

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa (24 November 1864 – 9 September 1901) was born in Albi, Tarn in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France, the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec. An aristocratic family (descendants of the Counts of Toulouse) that had recently fallen on hard times, the Toulouse-Lautrecs were feeling the effects of the in-breeding of past generations; the Comte and Comtesse themselves were first cousins, and Henri suffered from a number of congenital health conditions attributed to this tradition of inbreeding. A younger brother was born to the family on 28 August 1867, but died the following year.

At the age of 13 Henri fractured his left thigh bone, and at 14, the right. The breaks did not heal properly. Modern physicians attribute this to an unknown genetic disorder, possibly pycnodysostosis (also sometimes known as Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome), or a variant disorder along the lines of osteopetrosis, achondroplasia, or osteogenesis imperfecta. Rickets aggravated with praecox virilism has also been suggested. His legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was only 1.54 m tall, having developed an adult-sized torso, while retaining his child-sized legs, which were 0.70 m long..

Physically unable to participate in most of the activities typically enjoyed by men of his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in his art. He became an important Post-Impressionist painter, art nouveau illustrator, and lithographer; and recorded in his works many details of the late-19th-century bohemian lifestyle in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec also contributed a number of illustrations to the magazine ‘Le Rire’ during the mid-1890s.

Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, an area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and for being the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers. Tucked deep into Montmartre was the garden of Monsieur Père Foret where Toulouse-Lautrec executed a series of pleasant plein-air paintings of Carmen Gaudin, the same red-head model who appears in ‘The Laundress’ (1888). When the nearby Moulin Rouge cabaret opened its doors, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. Thereafter, the cabaret reserved a seat for him, and displayed his paintings.

Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs are depictions of the singer Yvette Guilbert; the dancer Louise Weber, known as the outrageous La Goulue (“The Glutton”), who created the “French Can-Can”; and the much more subtle dancer Jane Avril. Toulouse-Lautrec spent much time in brothels, where he was accepted by the prostitutes and madams to such an extent that he often moved in, and lived in a brothel for weeks at a time. He shared the lives of the women who made him their confidant, painting and drawing them at work and at leisure. Lautrec recorded their intimate relationships, which were often lesbian. A favourite model was a red-haired prostitute called Rosa la Rouge from whom he allegedly contracted syphilis.

Toulouse-Lautrec gave painting lessons to Suzanne Valadon, one of his models (and possibly his mistress as well). An alcoholic for most of his adult life, Toulouse-Lautrec was placed in a sanatorium shortly before his death. He died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the family estate in Malrome, fewer than three months before his 37th birthday. He is buried in Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometers from the Chateau of Malrome, where he died. Toulouse-Lautrec's last words reportedly were: “Le vieux con!” (old fool!). The invention of the ‘Tremblement de Terre’ is attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec, and this is a potent mixture containing half absinthe and half cognac. Habitual absinthe drinking is associated with a host of medical conditions.

Throughout his career, which spanned less than 20 years, Toulouse-Lautrec created 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, some ceramic and stained glass work, and an unknown number of lost works. Toulouse-Lautrec is known along with Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin as one of the greatest painters of the Post-Impressionist period. His debt to the Impressionists, in particular the more figurative painters Manet and Degas, is apparent. In the works of Toulouse-Lautrec can be seen many parallels to Manet’s bored barmaid at ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’ and the behind-the-scenes ballet dancers of Degas.

He excelled at capturing people in their working environment, with the colour and the movement of the gaudy night-life present, but the glamour stripped away. He was masterly at capturing crowd scenes in which the figures are highly individualised. At the time that they were painted, the individual figures in his larger paintings could be identified by silhouette alone, and the names of many of these characters have been recorded. His treatment of his subject matter, whether as portraits, scenes of Parisian night-life, or intimate studies, has been described as both sympathetic and dispassionate.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s skilled depiction of people relied on his painterly style which is highly linear and gives great emphasis to contour. He often applied the paint in long, thin brushstrokes which often leave much of the board on which they are painted showing through. Many of his works may best be described as drawings in coloured paint. After Toulouse-Lautrec’s death, his mother, the Comtesse Adele Toulouse-Lautrec, and Maurice Joyant, his art dealer, promoted his art. His mother contributed funds for a museum to be built in Albi, his birthplace, to house his works. As of 2005, his paintings had sold for as much as US$14.5 million.

The painting above is “Abandonment – The Two Friends” of 1895. It is oil on cardboard and is in a private collection.

Saturday, 22 November 2014


“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

Saint Cecilia (Latin: Sancta Caecilia) is the patroness of musicians. It is written that as the musicians played at her wedding she “sang in her heart to the Lord”. Her feast day is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches on November 22. She is one of seven women, excluding the Blessed Virgin, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

Cecilia is one of the most famous of the Roman martyrs, even if the familiar stories about her are apparently not founded on authentic material. It was long supposed that she was a noble lady of Rome who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius, and a Roman soldier Maximus, suffered martyrdom in about 230, under the Emperor Alexander Severus. The research of Giovanni Battista de Rossi agrees with the statement of Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 600) that she perished in Sicily under Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180.

According to the story, when the time came for her marriage to be consummated, Cecilia told Valerian that she had an angel of the Lord watching over her who would punish him if he dared to violate her virginity but who would love him if he could respect her maidenhood. When Valerian asked to see the angel, Cecilia replied that he would see the angel if he would go to the third milestone on the Via Appia (the Appian Way) and be baptised by Pope Urbanus.

The martyrdom of Cecilia is said to have followed that of Valerian and his brother by the prefect Turcius Almachius. The legend about Cecilia’s death says that after being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days, and asked the pope to convert her home into a church. The Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere is reputedly built on the site of the house in which she lived. The original church was constructed in the fourth century; her remains were placed there in the ninth century and the church was rebuilt in 1599.

“Hail! Bright Cecilia” (Z.328), also known as “Ode to St. Cecilia”, was composed by Henry Purcell to a text by the Irishman Nicholas Brady in 1692 in honour of the feast day of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicians. Annual celebrations of this saint's feast day (22 November) began in 1683, organised by the Musical Society of London, a group of musicians and music lovers. Purcell had already written Cecilian pieces in previous years, but this Ode remains the best known.

The first performance was a great success, and received an encore. Brady’s poem was derived from John Dryden’s “A Song for St Cecilia’s Day” in 1687, which suggested that Cecilia invented the organ. With a text full of references to musical instruments, the work requires a wide variety of vocal soloists and obbligato instruments. Brady extols the birth and personality of musical instruments and voices, and Purcell treats these personalities as if they were dramatic characters.

The airs employ a variety of dance forms. “Hark, Each Tree” is a sarabande on a ground. It is a duet on a ground-bass between, vocally, soprano and bass, and instrumentally, between recorders and violins (“box and fir” are the woods used in the making of these instruments). “With That Sublime Celestial Lay” and “Wond’rous Machine” are in praise of the organ. “Thou Tun’st this World” is set as a minuet. “In vain the am’rous Flute” is set to a passacaglia bass.

In spite of Brady’s conceit of the speaking forest (it should be remembered that English organs of the period typically had wooden pipes), Purcell scored the warlike music for two brass trumpets and copper kettle drums instead of fife and (field) drum. The orchestra also includes two recorders (called flutes) with a bass flute, two oboes (called hautboys), strings and basso continuo. Purcell is one of several composers who have written music in honour of Cecilia.

Here is Purcell’s “Ode to St. Cecilia”, 1692, with Lucy Crowe, soprano; Anders J. Dahlin, tenor; David Bates, countertenor; Neil Baker, baritone; Luca Tittoto, bass; Richard Croft, tenor; Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble directed by Nicolas Jenkins and Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble directed by Marc Minkowski.

The illustration is “St Cecilia” by Jacques Blanchard (1600–1638), painted in the first half of the 17th century, now in the Hermitage Museum.

Friday, 21 November 2014


“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” - William Blake

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia, but I think this is a great North American tradition that could well be imported into our country. It certainly is more deserving of import rather than say, Valentine’s Day or Halloween – both of which have been well and truly ingrained themselves into Australian society, especially so with the younger generations.

Here is a rather non-traditional Thanksgiving recipe that we shall be having at home, simply because we like it! I also think that it is worthwhile stopping every now and then and taking stock of all the things we have and we take for granted, and being thankful for them…

Grilled Turkey Breast Fillets
120 g unsalted butter
4 shallots, finely chopped
Salt, to taste
240 mL white vinegar
480 mL chicken stock
Cracked black peppercorns, and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 kg turkey breast, cut into 10 cm pieces and pounded into ½ cm thick medallions
40 mL olive oil

Make the sauce:  Melt half of the butter in a 30 cm skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped shallots and salt; cook until golden. Add vinegar and bring to a boil; reduce by half. Add the stock and cook until liquid is reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining butter and cracked peppercorns until butter is melted; set sauce aside and keep warm.

Prepare Turkey:  Heat a charcoal grill. Brush turkey with oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill, flipping once, until browned and cooked through, 3–4 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with some of the sauce; serve with remaining sauce on the side. Accompany the turkey with mashed potato, roast pumpkin, roast parsnip, mushy peas, steamed green beans and a fresh seasonal salad.

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving or any other similar tradition? What are some of your favourite recipes for the occasion? Use the Mr Linky tool to share your recipes:

Thursday, 20 November 2014


“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” - George Bernard Shaw

I am re-reading a novel that I first read when I was in High School and had pushed out of my mind until last week when I picked it up after rummaging around my bookshelves and decided to read it again. It is “The Sundowners” by Australian author, Jon Cleary. It has given me immense pleasure and I have appreciated much more than on first reading.

Jon StephenCleary was born in 1917 in Sydney, New South Wales, into a working class family as the eldest of seven children. He joined the army in 1940 and served in the Middle East and New Guinea where he started writing seriously publishing several short stories and a radio play, “Safe Horizons” which won awards. He worked as a journalist in London (1948-49) and in New York from (1949 to 1951). His most famous novel, “The Sundowners”, was published in 1951, and sold more than three million copies.

The book was based on stories Cleary had been told by his father, who ran away to Queensland when he was a teenager. Additional research was provided by C.E.W. Bean's “On the Wool Track”. Cleary wrote the novel in long-hand during the evenings after work while he was living in New York working as a journalist, with the manuscript typed out by his wife Joy. The novel was a large success, eventually selling over three million copies, and was well reviewed overseas. It was his second book to be published in the USA.

The story is set in the 1920s, and tells of a drover, Paddy Carmody. He travels from job to job in a horse-drawn wagon with his wife, Ida, and son, Sean. Paddy refuses to settle down and does not want to give up drifting in the Australian bush, which creates conflicts with his wife. In 1960 Fred Zinnemann directed a first-ratefilm based on the book, staring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr. It was shot on location by Jack Hildyard.

Jon Cleary’s last novel was “Four-Cornered Circle” (2007). He won numerous awards and some of his other works have been made into TV series or films. During his lifetime, Cleary was one of the most popular Australian authors of all time. According to Murray Waldren, “his own assessment was that he lacked a poetic eye but had an eye for colour and composition and was strong on narrative and dialogue. And he took pride in the research underpinning his works”. Cleary died on 19 July 2010, aged 92.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” - Oscar Wilde

How many times in our lives it is necessary for us to conceal what is in our mind, what is in our heart, what we really feel in our soul, and present to the world a picture that is acceptable for the circumstances… Our public mask whether a cheerful one, whether one of well-measured composure, or one of self-assured competence is one that may hide below it pain, bitterness, disappointment, disillusionment, grief, loss, despair…

Below is my contribution to the Poetry Jam poetry meme, where the theme this week is “Identity”.

I Am What I Am

You ask of me to bare myself –
Remove my public mask
Reveal my hidden side,
Shed my chameleon cloak.

You ask of me to doff an armour
I have worn so long, it feels like second skin;
To cast off artifice, duplicity,
Discard my cultivated image.

You ask of me to trim my tresses,
Make you a gift of my vulnerability;
Be rid of my convenient nebulosity
Appear before you naked, like the truth.

The mask removed reveals a second mask beneath it;
My armour shed, reveals a hardened carapace below it;
Stripped of my shifting colours,
I simply show you my camouflage even better.

I am that which I am; what I am, I am not,
I am what you have made me, not what I truly am.