Monday, 31 December 2007

"Each age has deemed the new-born year the fittest time for festal cheer." - Sir Walter Scott


A very Happy New Year to all my friends here on
Yahoo 360.

May 2008 be full of health, happiness and prosperity for you!

Sunday, 30 December 2007


“Mystic Morn”: This is a large oil painting (122.8 cm x 184.3 cm) by Hans Heysen (1877-1968). Painted in 1904, it shows a small group of cattle threading their way through a group of saplings early in the morning. The cattle are entering the picture from the left and lead the eye towards a distant clearing that is just visible through the thicket of trunks. In the foreground is a shallow pool.

Sir Hans Heysen was born in Germany but was raised in Australia after his family moved there when he was six years old. He worked mostly out of Adelaide and became a leading figure in Australian art history.


“Red Gold”: This is a 1913 oil painting by Hans Heysen (1877-1968). It captures a moment at the end of the day as a herdsman takes his cows home down a country road. In the foreground are two massive gum trees, behind which are stands of gums that stretch away towards a distant line of hills. The golden light, which floods the entire landscape, and the long raking shadows that run across the road and up the tree trunks, suggest that it is late afternoon - the sky has purplish tints often associated with this time of day. The herdsman can just be seen at the far right of the picture. The two cows at the rear of the herd are disappearing around the base of the large gum on the left, leaving the centre of the work almost empty.


We took the bus back to the city and as it was extremely hot we decided to spend the afternoon in the Art Gallery of South Australia. We always visit this wonderful gallery when we are in Adelaide and the art on display is truly magnificent. The Gallery collects and displays art from Australia, Europe, North America and Asia. The Gallery has one of the largest art museum collections in Australia, numbering around 35,000 works. The collections span the period from Ancient Rome to the present day, and include paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, textiles, ceramics, glass, metalwork and jewellery, and furniture. The collections are displayed by both culture and medium, providing visitors with a historical and cultural framework with which to view them.

The Australian collection presents a comprehensive survey of Australian art from around 1800 to the present and showcases the nation’s art history through paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings and photographs and decorative arts, with a strong commitment to Australia’s Indigenous art. The European collection ranges from the late fifteenth century to the present and also includes a wide-ranging and representative collection of British art. The Asian collections represent countries from throughout the region, including Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Our favourite works are those by the Australian artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the “Australian Impressionists”. Noteworthy amongst them are Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Jane Sutherland, Walter Withers, but also, Hans Heysen, an artist with German roots who spent most of his life around Hahndorf. The gallery has significant canvasses by many of the Australian Impressionist painters of the “Heidelberg School”, and two magnificent works by Heysen.


“Art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind.” - Louise Nevelson

We had a lovely day out and about today despite the crippling heat (the mercury was hovering around the 40˚C mark!). We left our hotel early in the morning and had a great walk tot eh Festival Centre, whose café serves one of the best cappuccinos in Adelaide. The view over the river Torrens is magnificent and sitting gazing out across the lovely lawns, listening to the chirping of the birds and sipping on the coffee while munching our hot croissants was a great way to start the day.

We then walked to Grenfell St and caught the bust that was heading out to the Adelaide Hills. The buses are comfortable and air-conditioned and for $4.50 one is taken up the hills to the beautiful small towns and villages there. There is Stirling and Bridgewater, Mt Lofty and Macclesfield and Birdwood, but surely one of the most famous towns, is Hahndorf - Australia's oldest surviving German settlement, about 28 km SE of Adelaide. There's still a strong German flavour in Hahndorf, evident in the smallgoods outlets, German bakeries and the souvenir shops selling German figurines and cuckoo clocks that line the bustling Main Street.

The Cedars is the former home and studio of artist Sir Hans Heysen, still owned by the Heysen family. It houses a fine collection of paintings and drawings displaying Heysen's remarkable versatility in subject and medium. Also on the grounds, Heysen's working studio, his painting materials and tools, sketches, notes and more are to be seen.

We visited the Hahndorf Academy - a regional centre for the arts and heritage based in a charming 150-year-old building. We walked through its four galleries, migration museum, artist's studios, retail gallery and enjoyed viewing some really good work by the Academy’s students.

The history of Hahndorf starts in 1838 when George Fife Angas went to London as a director of the South Australian Company to try and promote colonisation. While he was there he met Pastor August Ludwig Christian Kavel who was trying to organise for Lutherans (who were being persecuted by the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm III) to emigrate. Angas was moved by the plight of the Lutherans and not only persuaded Kavel that South Australia was a suitable place for emigration but also financially assisted them with a generous £8,000. The first German settlers arrived on 25 November, 1838 at the unfortunately named Port Misery. These settlers were to establish distinctly German villages at Klemzig, Glen Osmond, Lobethal and most famously Hahndorf.

Hahndorf's history is connected to the arrival at Port Adelaide, on 28 December, 1838 of the 344 ton ship, Zebra, under the control of Captain Dirk Hahn. He was impressed by his passengers to such a point that upon their arrival in South Australia he was determined to help them. Although a Dane it is he who is honoured with his name being the basis of the town's name.

The ship was carrying 187 German immigrants. For a time the immigrants lived in tents at Port Adelaide then Hahn came to an agreement to rent 150 acres of land (this was the present site of Hahndorf) which would be divided up so there was 38 acres for living quarters and the rest for farming. Later the grant was expanded to 240 acres. A group of twelve men on horseback and some ladies in a carriage travelled to inspect the site and Hahn was so taken by it, that he said: “It seems to me as if nature had lavished her choicest gifts on South Australia, I should like to end my days here and never return to the busy world.”

The conditions for settlement were generous. The Germans were given provisions for the first year. They were also provided with a preacher and a substantial amount of livestock. All that was required was that they worked hard and produced a reasonable return on the land and livestock. Not surprisingly the early settlers worked hard planting crops and grazing the cattle they had been given. They all contributed to the construction of a church, which was completed within a year of the settlement.

Within the first decade the town prospered. Vineyards were established, the women worked as shepherds, the men hired themselves out to the surrounding landowners as cheap labour and slowly substantial houses, many of which still stand, were built. However, the town was struck by intense anti-German feelings during World War I (rather stupid given that most of the residents could trace their origins back to 1839) and the name was changed to Ambleside by a 1917 Act of Parliament. The German Arms Hotel, for example, became the Ambleside Hotel and did not change its name back until 1976.

We spent several hours in Hahndorf, enjoying the attractions the town has to offer. Sure enough it is a very touristic place, but nevertheless, it still retains its charm and is certainly worth a visit if one is in Adelaide. There is no shortage of places to have lunch or dinner at and although there are many eateries with a distinctly German slant to their menu, one may also enjoy contemporary Australian cuisine, Mediterranean delights as well as many styles of Asian cooking.

Friday, 28 December 2007


“Yea, foolish mortals, Noah's flood is not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world it yet covers.” - Herman Melville

Today we visited a friend of ours in the morning and had coffee with her at her home. After catching up and chatting for an hour or so, we said our goodbyes and we were picked up by another friend who had offered to make a day excursion down to Victor Harbor with us. Although the day was hot, this proved to be a good idea as Victor Harbor is always 5-6˚C cooler than city temperatures.

Victor Harbor is a coastal town only 80 km (just over an hours' drive), south of Adelaide. The town, which overlooks historic Encounter Bay and the Southern Ocean, is a short drive from Cape Jervis and the ferry to Kangaroo Island. The approach from Melbourne is one of the most attractive journeys in Australia, especially along the coast and through the Fleurieu Peninsula. Victor Harbor has a classic Mediterranean climate that is moderated by its proximity to the Southern Ocean, which provides cooling sea breezes at the end of each warm summer's day. Its maritime location also means that Victor Harbor has mild, attractive winters.

In 1802 Captain Matthew Flinders met Captain Nicolas Baudin 11 nautical miles out in Encounter Bay. The explorers were on a very similar mission to chart the coast and record the local flora and fauna of New Holland. Although Britain and France were at war at the time, scientific expeditions were permitted to sail unhindered. France had an interest in claiming portions of the new continent as Britain had done with New South Wales. Governor King of New South Wales had warned Baudin when he arrived in Sydney that the whole of the continent and Tasmania had been claimed by Britain. Nevertheless, Baudin ventured off to explore, chart and name many parts of the southern coast. When Baudin and Flinders met they discussed their discoveries and Flinders advised Baudin the best route back to Sydney. Flinders recorded that, "in consequence of our meeting here, I distinguish it by the name of Encounter Bay".

The area around what is now Victor Harbor was probably known of by white men even prior to this meeting. Whaling out of Sydney was a growing industry and American ships were already competing with British and Australian ships along the southern coasts. The American vessel Union spent the winter of 1803 at the inlet on Kangaroo Island. It has been recorded that gangs of sealers and whalers ranged up and down the coast hunting and accumulating sealskins and barrels of oil.
Firearms, the slaughter of wild life, the introduction of disease and the abduction of Aboriginal women by white men all contributed to Aboriginal hostility toward Europeans. In 1830 Captain Sturt journeyed down the Murray River to the sea and noted that the native Ngarrindjeri people of the area were hostile and wary of firearms. In the following year Captain Collet Barker was killed by Aborigines at the Murray Mouth.

Ridgway William Newland, a Congregational clergyman from the south of England, led the first true party of settlers to Encounter Bay in July 1839. The group comprised his family, some relations and friends along with several skilled farm workers and their families. Newland had obtained letters of introduction to Governor George Gawler from Lord Glenelg, Secretary of State for the Colonies. Gawler told Newland that the village of Adelaide was becoming overcrowded, that most of the nearby land had been taken up and splendid land was available at Encounter Bay for only one pound an acre. Newland took his advice and transported his party to their new home via the Lord Hobart

The whalers ferried the passengers ashore to Police Point where the excited welcome by the Ramindjeri natives terrified the women and children. Newland chose a campsite in a spot close to Yilki where they pitched their tents in a circle. They lived here for almost two years because Newland's first priority was to make his little community self supporting, even before they built houses. However, they did construct a chapel from bush timber to hold regular Sunday services that all in the vicinity were welcome to attend.

Victor Harbor soon became a bustling seaside port, actually known as 'Port Victor'. The Yilki precinct is home to the original whalers' quarters and tavern. Due to the increased trade up and down the River Murray, Victor Harbor was selected as a safe port for ships to dock and transport wool and grain overseas. The first railway (Horse Drawn) was built from Goolwa to Port Elliot and later extended to Victor Harbor to carry goods brought down by the Paddle steamers. This important historic transport network is still working today, however the Horse Tram takes you to the platform of the steam powered Cockle Train, which links to the paddle steamers at Goolwa Wharf. A visit to the Encounter Coast Discovery Centre on Flinders Parade, is a great place to start your visit to discovering the history of Encounter Bay.

We had a pleasant saunter through the town and its shopping centre, bustling with tourists and locals. There are many souvenir shops, and some with a definite sea-side flavour, including a nice shop called “Nauticalia”. This is a great place to shop for men’s gifts and I certainly enjoyed spending some time in there. Women may find this disappointing (as the ones in our party found), but I was enthralled by all the gadgets, the nautical paraphernalia (compasses, sextants, telescopes, ships equipment, etc), the books, the bric-a-brac, etc.

We had lunch at the Crown Hotel, which offered standard pub food but nevertheless quite fresh and of good quality at a reasonable price. The hotel was full with quite a few locals amongst its patrons (which is always a good sign if one is looking for somewhere to eat).
Granite Island is one of the most recognised ecological attractions in Victor Harbor due to its unusual granite formations with crashing white waves, elevated views, flora and fauna and walking trails that provide outstanding panoramic coastal views. Since the early 1990's, significant redevelopment of the island has enhanced the visitor experience and enabled better protection of its flora and fauna. The creation of 300 new penguin burrows in the precinct of the bistro provides a safer and larger breeding habitat.

Many of the unusual features on the island are due to the particular way granite is weathered by wind and water. Typical are the large rounded boulders on the surface of the island. These may become undercut to produce intriguing shapes such as "Umbrella Rock". "Nature's Eye" is another example but in the form of a water-worn pothole. Within the granite on the Bluff and Granite Island, are pieces of pre-existing rock masses which the magma engulfed in its rise from the depths before it solidified into granite. They are known as xenoliths.

To access Granite Island, travel across the wooden causeway by Horse Drawn Tram or take the short walk and watch anglers fish at sea. Facilities include public amenities, a restaurant, kiosk and a souvenir shop.


“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” Hilaire Belloc

Quite on the spur of the moment we decided to come to Adelaide. I got quite a good deal on the internet and we flew in yesterday evening. We have friends here, so it’s always nice to visit. We like the rather laid back atmosphere, which is at the same time cosmopolitan and almost Mediterranean lifestyle. There is quite a lot to do and see here.

Adelaide is the capital of the state of South Australia. Situated at the base of the Mount Lofty Ranges, 14 km inland from the centre of the eastern shore of the Gulf St. Vincent, it has a Mediterranean climate with hot summers mild winters and a fairly low average annual rainfall. The site of the city was chosen in 1836 by William Light (the colony's first surveyor general), and is on slightly rising ground along the Torrens River, which divides it into a southern business district and a northern residential section. The city is separated from its suburbs by extensive areas of lush parklands. It is named after Queen Adelaide, consort of the British king William IV, and it was incorporated as Australia's first municipal government in 1840, but the city council ran into considerable debt and became defunct in 1843. Adelaide was thereafter controlled by the provincial government until 1849, when a city commission was formed. A municipal corporation was reestablished in 1852, and the city gained a lord mayoralty in 1919.

The fertility of the surrounding plains, easy access to the Murray lowlands to the east and southeast, and the presence of mineral deposits in the nearby hills all contributed to the city's growth. As an early agricultural marketing centre, it handled wheat, wool, fruits, and wine. Adelaide, aided by its central position and a ready supply of raw materials, has since become industrialized, with factories producing automobile components, machinery, textiles, and chemicals. A petroleum refinery was completed in 1962 at Hallet Cove, south of Adelaide near Port Noarlunga; a second refinery has also been completed. Adelaide is connected by pipeline with the Gidgealpa natural-gas fields in Cooper Basin, northeastern South Australia. A focus of rail, sea, air, and road transportation, Adelaide receives the bulk of the products of the lower Murray River valley, which has no port at its mouth. Adelaide's own harbour facilities are at Port Adelaide, 7 miles (11 km) northwest.

Notable city landmarks include the University of Adelaide (founded in 1874), Parliament and Government houses, the Natural History Museum, and two cathedrals: St. Peter's (Anglican) and St. Francis Xavier's (Roman Catholic). The biennial Adelaide Festival of Arts (instituted in 1960) was the first international celebration of its kind to be held in Australia. Population of the metropolitan area is about 1.2 million people.

We spent the day in a leisurely way, firstly ambling around Melbourne St in North Adelaide where our hotel is. Then a short walk through parklands in towards the City, we stopped at the Festival Centre (the white polygonal building in the photograph) and had a cup of coffee by the riverside (River Torrens). Then into the City, where we walked down Rundle Mall and finally we took the tram to the busy cosmopolitan seaside suburb of Glenelg where we had a delicious lunch. We came back to our hotel and our friends came to pick us up to go out to dinner.

Thursday, 27 December 2007


“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is a part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.” - Hermann Hesse

The plant for today’s birthday is the ash, Fraxinus excelsior. It is a symbol of grandeur, nobility, adaptability and modesty. The language of flowers it speaks the words: “With me you are safe”.

It is St John’s Feast Day today, for the Roman Catholic church. St John the Evangelist was the disciple that Christ loved the most. He is the author of the fourth Gospel, three Epistles and the Revelation. He and his brother James the Greater were sons of Zebedee. His symbol as an evangelist is the eagle and he is the patron saint of authors, publishers, printers and booksellers. The Gospel according to John is clearly different from the other three Synoptic Gospels. John may have used the Gospels of Mark and Luke as his sources. The evangelist has two aims in the Gospel: To show that Christ is the vital force in the Universe forever, and that He lived on earth to reveal Himself in the flesh. This Gospel is by far the most literary of all four and in a philosophical prologue, Jesus is identified with the Word (Logos).

The Apocalypse or Revelation is the 27th and last book of the New Testament, written around 95 AD on the Greek island of Patmos by one John; whether he was the St. John the Apostle or another John, is disputed. This work is mysterious and prophetic consisting mainly of visions and dreams that show allegorically the end of evil and the triumph of God. The careful plan depends heavily on patterns of sevens, e.g, letters to seven churches in Asia Minor and the opening of the seven seals on the scroll in the hand of God. The style is majestic, with constant allusion to Old Testament prophecies, especially those of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Isaiah. It has been a very influential work and numerous interpretations of it have appeared from the earliest of times.

On this, St John’s Day, people who were afraid of being poisoned went to church and drank from a chalice of blessed wine, this supposedly protecting them from the effects of poison. The tradition arose from an apocryphal legend that recounts how St John was offered a cup of poisoned wine and he, well aware that it was poisoned, drained it after making the sign of the cross over it.

Today we flew to Adelaide for a four-day holiday. Adelaide is a beautiful city and we always enjoy visiting here and catching up with some old friends. More tomorrow!

apocalypse |əˈpäkəˌlips| noun (often the Apocalypse)
The complete final destruction of the world, esp. as described in the biblical book of Revelation.
• an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale : A stock market apocalypse | An era of ecological apocalypse.
• ( the Apocalypse) (esp. in the Vulgate Bible) the book of Revelation.
ORIGIN Old English , via Old French and ecclesiastical Latin from Greek apokalupsis, from apokaluptein ‘uncover, reveal,’ from apo- ‘un-’ + kaluptein ‘to cover.’

Wednesday, 26 December 2007


“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.” - Herman Melville

Today is Boxing Day, St Stephen’s Feast Day and also the beginning of Kwanzaa.

Boxing Day is so called from a sealed clay pot with a slit on its top (the “Christmas Box”), which tradesmen, servants and children took “boxing” with them. They solicited tips from householders they had served during the past year.
When Boxing Day comes round again
O then shall I have money;
I’ll hoard it up, and Box and all
I’ll give it to my honey.

This type of sealed clay pot is still in use in Greece as a money box (koumbarás) that children use to save their coins in. Once it is full, the clay pot is smashed releasing its treasures.

St Stephen was the first Christian martyr, explaining the proximity of his Feast Day to Christmas. Boxing Day was also called “Wrenning Day” because of the old Suffolk custom of stoning a wren to death in memory of St Stephen’s martyrdom. The dead wren was then carried about on a branch of gorse by boys who begged for money.
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
Was caught St Stephen’s Day in the furze;
Although he be little, his honour is great,
Then pray kind gentleman, give us a treat.

Kwanzaa is an American celebration that is growing in popularity. Celebrated every year from December 26 through to New Year’s Day, this festival sets aside time for African-Americans to commemorate African and African-inspired culture and food, while reinforcing values passed along for generations. Kwanzaa means “first fruits of the harvest” and appropriately, this week-long festival culminates in a glorious feast on December 31 that draws on a variety of cuisines. At the center of the celebration is the table, set with a bowl of fruits and vegetables, a straw place mat, a communal cup and a seven-branched candelabra. The kinara (candle holder) is placed on a handmade woven mat. The kinara holds seven candles, each one standing for one of the seven principles.

Umoja (unity) To work together in peace with our family, our community, our nation, and our race.
Kujichagulia (self-determination) To team up our minds to accomplish the goals we have set for ourselves.
Ujima (collective work and responsibility) To team together to solve problems and to make our community a safe and productive place.
Ujamaa (cooperative economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and profit from them together.
Nia (purpose) To have a plan for the future and to be willing to help others to succeed as well.
Kuumba (creativity) To always do as much as we can, in any way we can, in order to leave our community a better and more beautiful place.
Imani (faith) To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

The center candle is black, three are red, and three are green. The candles’ colors stand for the dark skin of Africa's people, the continents' green hills, and the blood Africans shed for freedom. And, while the table includes a wide variety of creatively inspired appetizers, main dishes and desserts, the feast is not complete without recipes made with sweet coconut.

1 1/2 cups shortbread cookie crumbs (about 20 cookies)
1 2/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut, divided
1/3 cups butter or margarine, melted
1 large banana, sliced
1 1/2 cups cold milk
1 package (4-serving size) vanilla flavour instant pudding & pie filling
1 can (8 oz.) crushed pineapple, well drained
2 cups thawed frozen whipped topping
Heat oven to 325˚F. Mix cookie crumbs, 2/3 cup of the coconut and melted butter in medium bowl until well blended. Press mixture evenly into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake 10 minutes or until golden. Cool. Arrange banana slices in crust. Pour cold milk into large bowl. Add pudding mix. Beat with wire whisk 2 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 cup coconut. Spoon over banana slices in crust. Gently stir pineapple into whipped topping. Spread over mixture. Sprinkle with toasted coconut, if desired.
Refrigerate 4 hours or until set. Store leftover pie in refrigerator. Makes 8 servings.

Monday, 24 December 2007


“Do you love your Creator? Love your fellow-beings first.” – Mohammed

The birthday flower for today is the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, which is symbolic of the Nativity of Christ. In the language of flowers, the hellebore means calumny and scandal. The flower is also dedicated to St Agnes who is the patron saint of young virgins.

Light Christmas, light wheatsheaf Dark Christmas, heavy wheatsheaf.
The day on which Christmas fell prognosticates the weather and the year ahead:
If Christmas falls on a Sunday, that year shall be a warm Winter,
The Summer hot and dry, peace and quiet amongst the married folk.

If on Monday, a misty Winter, the Summer windy and stormy;

Many women will mourn their husbands.

If on a Tuesday, a cold Winter and much snow, the Summer wet,

But good peace amongst the Princes and the Kings.

If on Wednesday, the Winter naughty and hard, the Summer good,

Young people and many cattle will die sore.

If on a Thursday, the Winter mild and the Summer very good and abundant,
But many great men shall perish.

If on a Friday, the Winter neither bad nor good, the Summer harvest indifferent,
Much conflict in the neighbourhoods, treachery and deception.
If on a Saturday, Winter will snow, blow hard winds and bitterly cold,

The Summer good with a harvest full and bounteous,

But war shall rack many lands.

The Dies Natalis Invicti Solis was an ancient Roman festival more of a religious nature and thus important to priests predominantly. It was the "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun" and marked an important date on the calendar of the Mithras cult. The Mithraic cult was one of the chief pagan competitors to Christianity. Mithras was a sun god and his birthday fell close to the winter solstice, when the days began to lengthen and the sun once again appeared unconquered. The Christian tradition absorbed this festival and also that of the Saturnalia, thus attracting many pagans but re-interpreting their mythology according to more appropriate Christian symbolology.

Another winter solstice festival that became absorbed into Christmas was that of Yule or Jol, celebrated especially in the North, wherever the Norse pantheon held sway. Jolnir was another name for Odin, the chief god, the Norse equivalent of Zeus or Jupiter. Odin was the god of ecstasy and intoxicating drink, but also the god of death. The sacrificial beer of Odin became the blessed Christmas beer of the middle ages and also survives in the wassail cup of lamb’s wool. The feasting that occurred during Yuletide also included providing food and drink for the ghosts that roamed the earth around this time (see the Finnish Christmas Eve tradition from yesterday’s blog). Bonfires were lit and this tradition has survived in the form of the yule log (see December 24th). The Christmas tree tradition is essentially a Germanic one that may hail back to the Norse legend of Yggdrasil, the great tree on whose branches rested the universe.

The ivie and holly berries are seen,
And Yule Log and Wassaile come round agen.

At Christmas play, and make good cheer,

For Christmas comes but once a year.

Thomas Tusser (ca 1520-1580).

Sunday, 23 December 2007


"A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!" - Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol)

Christmas Eve this year has crept up on us without realisation, without much warning. We were talking about it yesterday and concluded that the pace of life must be getting so rapid, so hectic, that time seems to rush by. Either that or we are getting older! Melbourne this year seems to be rather quiet and the traffic has suddenly been reduced. I think that many people have taken an extra long weekend and they have gone away from the metropolis to enjoy an extra long weekend away. For us, a quiet Christmas at home with family and friends.

I take this opportunity to wish all my friends here on Yahoo 360, all the best for the Festive Season, many wishes for a Merry Christmas, health and happiness for everyone and peace for the world.

Tradition dictates that on Christmas Eve all Christmas decorations should be put up, the Christmas Tree trimmed and the ivy, holly and mistletoe brought into the house for the first time only today. The Yule Log or “Christmas Brand” must be brought into the house and this log should be taken from your own trees, found or be given to you, but never bought. It should be lit at dusk with a splinter from last year’s Yule Log. It should burn that night, but preferably burn all night and then all through the twelve nights of Christmas. It should not be left to go out but it can be extinguished and re-lit. The piece that is kept for lighting next year’s log will protect the house from burning down all through the year.

The Christmas candle should be lit for the first time tonight and it should be large enough to light the evening meal for the next twelve days. It should be bright red in colour and must never blow out accidentally but always snuffed at the end of the meal.

The Finns have a tradition that recounts how on Christmas Eve, one of the longest nights in the year, ghosts roam the earth. They set out candles on the graves of dead relatives making the travels of the spirits from and to the graves easier. The candles also placate the ghosts and ensure that the family is safe.

“Silent Night” was composed on this day in 1818 by Franz Gruber and sung for the first time the next day.


“Architecture is frozen music.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Today the sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn, and will remain there until it exits it on January 20th. Capricorn is ruled by Saturn and is a cardinal, feminine, negative, earth sign. Polar or opposite sign is Cancer. Its fixed Star is Algiedi.

Adjectives that characterise Capricornians are: Aloof, Ambitious, Calculating, Careful, Competitive, Cool, Dependable, Dogged, Earnest, Goal-setting, Patient, Practical, Prudent, Quiet, Self-disciplined, Serious, Tough. The Capricornian may be summarised with the verb: “I utilise”. A mountain top, a great father figure, the boss, the executive. A Capricornian quote: “I will be lord over myself.”

Acanthus, Acanthus spinosus is the birthday flower for today. It signifies in the language of flowers “love of art” and that nothing will separate the giver and the receiver. The astrologers say that acanthus is ruled by the moon. Acanthus leaves served as the inspiration of the Corinthian order of Greek column capitals.

Seeing that I have mentioned the “orders of architecture”, I may as well take that as my subject for Art Sunday. Orders of architecture indicate in any of several styles of classical or Neoclassical architecture, building styles that are defined by the particular type of column and entablature they use as a basic unit. The form of the capital (topmost part of the column) is the most distinguishing characteristic of a particular order. There are five major orders: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite.

The unit used in the measurement of columns is the diameter of the shaft at the base; thus, a column may be described as being eight (lower) diameters high. Ancient Greek architecture developed three distinct orders, the Doric the Ionic, and the Corinthian capital, which were adopted and slightly modified by the Romans in the 1st century BC and have been used ever since in Western architecture.

The Doric order is characterized by a slightly tapered column that is the most squat of all the orders, measuring in height (including the capital) only about four to eight lower diameters. The Greek forms of the Doric order have no individual base and instead rest directly on the stylobate (topmost “step” of the base of the building), although subsequent forms of Doric frequently were given a conventional plinth-and-torus base. The Doric shaft is channeled with 20 shallow flutes. The capital, as stated before, consists of a simple necking; a spreading, convex echinus; and a square abacus. The frieze section of the Doric entablature is distinctive. It is composed of projecting triglyphs (units each consisting of three vertical bands separated by grooves) that alternate with receding square panels, called metopes, that may be either plain or carved with sculptured reliefs. The Roman forms of the Doric order have smaller proportions and appear lighter and more graceful than their Greek counterparts. The Greek Doric order is characterised as being masculine and virile in its appearance. The prime example of the Doric order is the Parthenon of the Acropolis of Athens.

The Ionic order differs from the Doric in having more flutes on its shaft and in the scrolls, or volutes, that droop over the front and rear portions of the echinus in the capital. The echinus itself is carved with an egg-and-dart motif. The height of the entire Ionic order—column, base, capital, and entablature— is nine lower diameters. The base of the column has two tori (convex moldings) separated by a scotia. The shaft, which is eight lower diameters high, has 24 flutes. On the entablature, the architrave is usually made up of three stepped bands. The frieze lacks the Doric triglyph and metope, and hence this area can hold a continuous band of carved ornament, such as figural groups. The Ionic order is described as being feminine and graceful in its general appearance.

The Corinthian order is the most elegant of the five orders. Its distinguishing characteristic is the striking capital, which is carved with two staggered rows of sylised acanthus leaves and four scrolls. The shaft has 24 sharp-edged flutes, while the column is 10 diameters high. This order is the most lavish and opulent and gives a general appearance of richness and luxury, even decadence.

The Tuscan order is a Roman adaptation of the Doric. The Tuscan has an unfluted shaft and a simple echinus-abacus capital. It is similar in proportion and profile to the Roman Doric but is much plainer. The column is seven diameters high. This order is the most solid in appearance of all the orders.

The Composite order, which was not ranked as a separate order until the Renaissance, is a late Roman development of the Corinthian. It is called Composite because its capital is composed of Ionic volutes and Corinthian acanthus-leaf decoration. The column is 10 diameters high.

The Doric and Ionic orders originated nearly simultaneously on opposite shores of the Aegean Sea; the Doric on the Greek mainland and the Ionic in the Greek cities of Asia Minor. (The volutes of the Ionic capital were adapted from Phoenician and Egyptian capital designs.) The Doric may be considered the earlier order of the two only in its developed form. Both orders originated in temples constructed out of wood. The earliest well-preserved example of Doric architecture is the Temple of Hera at Olympia, built soon after 600 BC. From these beginnings, the evolution of the stone Doric column can be traced in architectural remains in Greece, Sicily, and southern Italy, where the Doric was to remain the chief order for monumental buildings for the next eight centuries.

The Greeks as well as the Romans regarded the Corinthian as only a variant capital to be substituted for the Ionic. The first known use of a Corinthian capital on the outside of a building is that of the choragic Monument of Lysicrates (Athens, 335/334 BC). The Corinthian was raised to the rank of an order by the 1st-century-BC Roman writer and architect Vitruvius.

The Romans adopted the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders and modified them to produce the Tuscan order, which is a simplified form of the Doric, and the Composite order, which is a combination of the Ionic and Corinthian orders. Another Roman innovation was the superposed order; when columns adorned several successive stories of a building, they were normally of different orders, in an ascending sequence from heaviest to most slender. Thus columns of the Doric order were assigned to the ground floor of a building, Ionic ones to the middle story, and Corinthian or Composite ones to the top story. To avoid the complications of separate orders for each story, the architects of the Renaissance invented the Colossal order, which is composed of columns extending the height of two or more stories of a building.

Friday, 21 December 2007


“None love, but they who wish to love” – Jean Baptiste Racine

It is Jean Baptiste Racine's (French playwright - 1639) and Giacomo Puccini’s birthdays today (1858). The birthday plant for this day is the houseleek, Sempervivum tectorum. The name is derived from the Latin: semper = ever; vivum = living; tectorum = of roofs. It was often planted on cottage roofs to stops leaks and to protect against lightning. This explains the common name for the plant and also some of its alternative names: Jupiter’s beard, Thor’s beard (both were gods associated with thunder and lightning). Medicinally, the plant was used to treat burns, fevers and headaches. It signifies industry and domestic economy and astrologically it is a plant of Jupiter.

Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924) was an Italian operatic composer. He was the last great exponent of Italian opera. His lyric style, wonderful orchestration, and his sentimental effects, have his operas some of the best loved. Some of the most celebrated are Manon Lescaut (1893), La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904), and Turandot (produced, 1926).

For our Song Saturday, therefore, what better than some music by Puccini? Here is the famous “Humming Chorus” from his opera “Madama Butterfly”.

Just the sort of thing to listen to and relax after a hectic day out there in the pre-Christmas frenzy!

Enjoy your weekend…

Thursday, 20 December 2007


“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” - Harriet van Horne

The closer it gets to Christmas, the more hectic it is. Traffic on the way to work this morning was horrendous even though it was only 7:30 a.m. (I am an early bird and usually like to get in early). Yesterday on the way back home from work I stopped at a shopping centre as I needed to get a couple of presents for my colleagues (we have our Unit pre-Christmas party today!) and it was hellishly difficult to get a parking spot. The people appear to be possessed by some curious and malign frenzy as they invade the shopping complexes and their eyes seem to be crazed, gleaming with impassioned consumerism.

At the shopping centre I saw some Italian Christmas cakes, the Panettone or ‘big bread’ as it called. I love this light, sweet, fragrant and fruity cake and I was reminded that I was given a recipe for it by an Italian friend some time ago. Here it is if you are in a baking mood and you are not tempted to buy it ready-made from your local Italian patisserie:

1 pound (≈ 450 g) white bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 ounces (≈ 90 g) sugar
1 ounce (≈ 30 g) fresh yeast
3-4 fluid ounces (≈ 90-125 mL) warm water
4 ounces (≈ 115 g) sultanas
2 ounces (≈ 55 g) mixed candied peel
1 lemon, peel and juice
3 eggs
4 ounces (≈ 115 g) softened butter
2 ounces (≈ 55 g) flaked almonds
1 pinch nutmeg
4 drops vanilla essence

Sift the flour, salt and sugar together into a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Soak the sultanas and the peel in the juice of the lemon. Beat the eggs well and add them together with the yeast, vanilla essence and softened butter to the flour. Knead well. Put dough on a floured board and knead in the drained sultanas, peel, almonds, nutmeg and lemon zest. Add more lemon juice if the dough needs more liquid. Continue to knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Let the dough rise in a covered bowl for two hours or until double in bulk. Divide into two portions and put each in a lined and greased 15 cm cake tin to which you have tied a collar of greased foil to come 6-8 cm above the top of the tin. Cover the tins with greased film and allow the panettoni to rise well up into the tins. Brush the tops with molten butter and bake in a moderate oven (350˚F or 180˚C) for 40-50 minutes. Allow to cool in tins until the sides shrink slightly and then gently remove and cool on wire racks.

Christmas in Italy is delightful, especially so in the smaller towns and villages. As well as the religious side of the holiday, which is still staunchly observed, there are numerous customs and folk traditions (varying from village to village and region to region), which make the celebration of this holiday particularly charming. Needless to say that special dishes and sweets are prepared and the panettone is only one of these.

Although panettone is quintessentially Milanese, it is more popular today in central and southern Italy, which accounts for 55% of sales, than in the Milan region in the north, with 45% of sales. It is served in slices, vertically cut, accompanied with sweet hot beverages or a sweet wine, such as Asti. In some regions of Italy, it is served with Crema di Mascarpone, a cream made from mascarpone cheese, eggs, and typically a sweet liqueur such as Amaretto; if mascarpone cheese is unavailable, zabaglione is sometimes used as a substitute to Crema di Mascarpone.

Enjoy your Christmas!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007


“In gardens, beauty is a by-product. The main business is sex and death.” - Sam Llewelyn

The masdevallia orchid, Masdevallia coccinea, is the flower that is associated with birthdays falling on this day. The magenta blooms have three petals and the meaning associated with the plant is: “I must have you at any cost”. This orchid genus is named for Jose Masdeval, a physician and botanist in the court of Charles III of Spain. These plants are found from Mexico to southern Brazil, but mostly in the higher regions (2,500 - 4,000 m) of the Andes of Ecuador and Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. They may be epiphytes, terrestrials or growing as lithophytes on damp rocks. All these orchids look alike and ordinary when they are not in the flowering season. But then the surprise is the greater when their wonderful flowers open up.

Tonight is St Thomas’s Eve. In the past, girls used to perform the following old love charm. They got a large red onion, peeled it and stuck nine pins into it, one in the centre, the others arranged radially around it. The girl would then say:

Good St Thomas, do me right,
Send me my true love tonight,
In his clothes and his array
Which he weareth every day,
That I may see him in the face
And in my arms may him embrace.

The onion would then be placed under the pillow (sic!) and the woman would dream of her future husband. If the smell of onions was rather offensive, an alternative charm was to scratch the initials of potential husbands on several onions (unpeeled!) and then place them in a dark place. Whichever sprouted first disclosed the future husband.

Tradition has it that ghosts are allowed to walk the Earth from this night until Christmas Eve. Extra precautions were taken and prayers invoked whenever one ventured out at night.

orchid |ˈôrkid| noun
A plant with complex flowers that are typically showy or bizarrely shaped, having a large specialized lip (labellum) and frequently a spur. Orchids occur worldwide, esp. as epiphytes in tropical forests, and are valuable hothouse plants. • Family Orchidaceae: numerous genera and species.
• the flowering stem of a cultivated orchid.
orchidist |-ist| |ˈɔrkədəst| noun
ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from modern Latin Orchid(ac)eae, formed irregularly from Latin orchis based on Greek orkhis, literally ‘testicle’ (with reference to the shape of its tuber).

orchiectomy |ˌôrkēˈektəmē| (also orchidectomy |ˌôrkiˈdektəmē|) noun
surgical removal of one or both testicles.
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from modern Latin orchido- (from a Latinized stem of Greek orkhis ‘testicle’ ) + -ectomy.


"Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your heart or burn down your house, you can never tell." - Joan Crawford

To love is to be fortunate; to be beloved is a rare treat. To love and to be loved in return is a blessing. But to love an unrequited love is bitter tyranny; to love someone unworthy of one’s love, truly a misery. Only when one experiences this gamut of loves can one appreciate the spectrum of emotions that run from profound ecstasy to the blackest of melancholies… Here is a poem I wrote many years ago when experiencing one of love’s direst forms.

Les Adieux

“Drink!” You bade me and I drank down in a single draught
The glass you gave me, not thinking once
That the bitter tang of the wine was due to poison in it.

“Look!” You commanded, and I stared wide-eyed
Unheedingly at whatever I might see,
And even if the light burnt my eyes to cinders.

“Speak!” You asked of me and I told you all
The secrets that my heart dictated,
Not seeing how you had stopped up your ears.

“Hear!” You said, and I listened and felt your pain,
My heart writhing in pangs of sympathy,
Even if all you said was lies, and you were playing games.

“Goodbye…” You whispered as you slipped out secretly at night,
And in the darkness failed to see how I had been left behind,
Blinded, deafened, poisoned, betrayed…

Poetry Wednesday is graciously hosted by Sans Souci. Please visit her blog and take the tour.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007


“Age does not protect you from love, but love to some extent protects you from age.” – Jeanne Moreau

Very close to where we live there is an Old People’s Home. It is a fairly modern establishment, only a few years old, well-equipped and staffed. The majority of the inmates are of Greek origin as the home has been built with donations from the Greek community, Greek welfare groups and, of course, contributions from the state and federal governments. The increasing number of elderly people in our communities (and in a multicultural country like Australia, where there are many elderly people who do not speak English well), places quite a strain on social services. Hence, there is quite a great deal of support for the establishment of new facilities that look after the elderly, especially those old people that belong to minority groups.

The odd thing that struck me the first few times I drove past this establishment was that although the car parking lot is quite large, there never seem to be any cars parked in it. Sure enough, there are always cars in the “staff only” area, but the visitors’ car park is empty. Was it this that first made me stop and park there? Or maybe it was the sign that encouraged people to enter and have an inspection tour. In any case, I parked there and went in.

Helpful staff attended to me immediately, and after I had introduced myself I explained that although I had no relatives there, I would like to have a look around. I was given the tour of the place by an efficient, good-humoured employee and also met some of the inmates, to whom I was introduced. The building sure enough was new, clean, well-designed. There were adequate facilities, roomy common areas and the bedrooms were comfortable and well-appointed. Staff were pleasant and competent, there were large windows, plenty of light, a garden. However, there was a coldness in the place too (even though the day was hot) and a sense of institutionalised, clinical, crispness. This was definitely a “Home” not a home.

My eyes met the eyes of the elderly people living there and a quiet melancholy gripped me. Their gazes were kindly, their lips turned up in a smile, their words sweet enough. As I stopped and chatted with a few people, their smiles broadened as they heard me uttering their mother tongue. Their questions inundated me, their curiosity was inexhaustible, their eagerness to engage in conversation amazing. We laughed, I shared a few jokes with them, some snippets of news from “the outside”.

Suddenly I was not the stranger that had walked in earlier. For each of the old men, each old woman in the Home, I was a son, a grandson, a nephew, a grand nephew, a son-in-law, a dear relative. Their bony hands clutched mine and blessings were heaped upon me as tears trickled slowly down their wrinkled cheeks. The forgotten people found it hard to believe that a stranger had remembered them on an ordinary day like this, when their kin had perhaps hardly even thought of them. My heart felt crushed in my chest and I too felt a curious sense of kinship with these old people - grandfather, grandmother, great-aunt, great-uncle…

I spoke to the employee who had given me the tour. Most of these people were lucky to have a visit once every six months, once a year, he said… An elderly woman (certainly the exception, he assured me as he pointed her out) had not been visited for two and a half years. “Did she not have any relatives?”, I enquired. “Indeed, she did!” He assured me. “They pay the bills, that is enough to keep the voice of their conscience quiet…”

I looked at the woman with no visitors. She had clasped my hand tightly just before. Her eyes had been lucid and she was smiling – no tears from her! “Come back, visit us again, when you can!” She had said to me and gently patted my hand. She was now in her wheelchair looking out of the window towards the visitors’ car park. Hoping perhaps to catch glimpse of a familiar car, the face of one of her relatives?

I’ll visit again soon, before Christmas. I’ll have small gifts for them. Some sweets, a few books, some music. But more importantly, some of my time shared with them. A friendly smile, a gentle touch, some time spent listening to them, reassurance that they have not been forgotten…

Monday, 17 December 2007


“Whenever monarchs err, the people are punished.” – Horace

We watched the Stephen Frears 2006 film “The Queen” with Helen Mirren, yesterday. I had a very mixed reaction to this movie, I must admit. Firstly, I had heard so many rave reviews about it that my expectations were extremely high. Once we began to watch the film, I was awaiting eagerly for the development, the drama, the revelations, but unfortunately none of that was there. There is no doubt that Helen Mirren’s performance is faultless and that it is she who makes this ordinary film watchable.

However, at one point early in the film, its purpose became immediately apparent. “The Queen” is nothing more than propaganda for the House of Windsor. The Royal Family has its staunch supporters and its limitless influence (economical as well as political) is enough to be able to produce such a film. Sure enough, the portrayal of the Queen Mother as an irrelevant gin-swilling has-been of the ancien régime, of Prince Phillip as a bumbling fuddy-duddy immersed in his own little universe of hunting and gathering wool and of Prince Charles as a weak and powerless pawn in the Queen’s gambit may be uncomplimentary of Royalty, but the film is after all called “The Queen” and it is to the Queen’s glory that it is dedicated.

The Queen is portrayed in the film as a sophisticated, serene and worldly woman, a consummate statesperson, a glorious, dignified and wise monarch intent on maintaining a tradition that has a history of several centuries. She is cast in this film in the mould of Elizabeth I, although unlike her, Elizabeth II is not such an extraordinary personage nor is she such a powerful political and social force. The news media of today have exposed the extraordinary ordinariness of Queen Elizabeth II and this film would have been much more believable if it did show the monarch in this true, albeit less flattering light.

What I found also very disturbing was the seamless incorporation of actual documentary footage into the film, which superficially gave the events depicted authority and veracity. However, this is the stuff of propaganda. A great Greek song by Theodorakis says:
“They told you many lies,
They tell you lies again today;
And tomorrow they’ll tell you lies once more.
Your enemies tell you lies,
But even your friends hide the truth from you…”

This is the sort of film that will in the future remain a powerful corrupter of the future generations’ sense of history. It does this through its clever use of documentary evidence, tacit approval by the personage it portrays, and through its “heroic” treatment of ordinary events (that have been rendered even more sordid in reality by the high media exposure of the people they concern). Tony Blair’s character is portrayed with some authenticity, perhaps. He is shown as a typical Labour leader whose ideals soon fall to the wayside as his own propaganda machine (the advisers and hangers-on successfully telling him how to handle the Dianagate affair) finally not managing to prevent him from succumbing to the Queen’s fascination.

Blair’s epiphany is laughable, but quite believable. He did end up to be one of the most un-Labour-like leaders see in British politics in the last few decades. What caused this is not perhaps the Queen, but rather political expediency and buckling under the pressure of capitalistic globalisation concerns.

Curiously the film reminded me of British films of the 40s and 50s where there was an almost martyr-like portrayal of tragic Britishers intent on maintaining a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. A paean to all things British and oh, so gung-ho and full of insular, snobbish rubbish about the superiority of the English. The whole scene with the stag and the heavy-handed pointed identification of Elizabeth with the regal stag is quite sickening in its sentimental kitchness.

Watch this film if you are a monarchist and rejoice – optional waving of the Union Jack at appropriate points and munching of cucumber sandwiches (delicately) is advised. If you are after a film with intense scrutiny of recent social and political events, airing of controversial theories and a ruthless investigation of the truth, then this film is not for you. If you wish to enjoy Helen Mirren and Martin Sheen playing their roles with gusto and convincing theatricality as the Queen and Mr Blair respectively, then the film is also worth watching. However, if you wish to watch a film that is an intense exploration into the obviously complex relationship between Elizabeth and Diana, this film is not for you. The film would have been much more interesting had it shown with far greater detail the whole story of Diana, instead of just the week surrounding her death. Without the story, this film suffered from a lack of complexity and drama.

Is it art? Definitely not. Is it cinerealism? You’ve got to be kidding! Is it a glossy monarchist filmic production akin to royal-watchers’ saccharine publications for home consumption? You bet it is!

Sunday, 16 December 2007


“England is the paradise of individuality, eccentricity, heresy, anomalies, hobbies and humours.” George Santayana

Today is a noteworthy day as it is the birthday of a whole variety of interesting persons:
  • Catherine of Aragon, 1st wife of Henry VIII (1485);
  • Ludwig van Beethoven, German composer (1770);
  • Jane Austen, English novelist (1775);
  • George Santayana, writer (1863);
  • Zoltán Kodály, composer (1882);
  • Noël Coward, playwright/musician (1899);
  • V. S. Pritchett, writer (1900);
  • Margaret Mead, anthropologist (1901);
  • Arthur C. Clark, writer (1917);
  • James McCracken, tenor (1926);
  • Liv Ullmann, actress (1939);
  • Elayne Boosler, comedienne (1952).
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) is the German composer who is widely recognised as one of the greatest composers who ever lived. Mozart and Haydn acknowledged Beethoven’s talent while he was still young. His remarkable piano virtuosity and astounding compositions won him the generous support of the Viennese aristocracy despite his boorish manners. In 1801 he started to realise that he was becoming deaf, a condition which worsened progressively and was total by 1817. His creative work was never restricted and some of his greatest compositions he never heard while they were being played.

Beethoven's early works, influenced by the tradition of Mozart and Haydn, include the First and Second Symphonies, the first three Piano Concertos, and a many piano sonatas, including the Pathétique. From 1802, his work broke new ground, leaving behind the formal conventions of classical music. This most productive middle period included the Third Symphony (Eroica); the Fourth, Fifth (Fate), Sixth (Pastoral) Seventh (Dance) and Eighth Symphonies; his one Violin Concerto; and his only opera, Fidelio.

Beethoven's final and most mature period, dates from about 1816. It was productive of works of greater depth, including the Hammerklavier Sonata; the lofty Ninth Symphony (Choral), with its innovative choral finale (based on Schiller’s Ode to Joy); the Missa Solemnis; and the last five String Quartets. Beethoven also produced many smaller works for a variety of instruments and groups. His work terminated and epitomised the classical period and initiated the romantic era in music.

Here is Freddy Kempf playing the second movement of the Pathétique piano sonata (Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, op. 13).

The 1820 portrait of Beethoven above is by Joseph Karl Stieler.

Preparations for Christmas are well under way and we decorated the house all day today. The holiday mood is already infecting people. I guess this is the time to finish writing the last of the Christmas cards. Such a tradition that it has become. The Victorians are responsible for most of our Christmas traditions. They seem to have elevated Christmas from a religious/family holiday to one of general celebration and communal merry-making. The crass commercialism of Christmas today is thinly veiled in sentimental Victorian traditionalism. Rather difficult nowadays to find a place in the world where Christmas still means something spiritual. But I guess anything is what each of us makes of it, Christmas included. If one wants to make Christmas something else than what the big shopping centres tell one, something else than what is blasted out of the TV screen, then it is in one’s heart that one should search.

Saturday, 15 December 2007


We should not let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes. - John Fitzgerald Kennedy

How easy it is to destroy, how difficult to create. We criticise easily, to praise is much harder. Any idiot can hate with a passion, but it takes a special person to love. We demolish with such facility but to build takes great trouble and effort. War is a game any moron can play, but peace how demanding a state and seemingly an impossible dream to make into reality. I am constantly disappointed by all the negativity around me, all the instances of people being nasty and horrible to each other and I have great misgivings about humanity and its future.

And then I witness a simple inconsequential kindness of one human being to another, a friendly gesture, evidence of love and take heart. I look at the products of artistic creation, I read a book, I listen to some music and I dare to hope…

For Music Saturday, hopeful and sweet sounds, composed by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847). Here is his Op. 34, No. 2 “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges” on a poem by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856). It is sung by the incomparable Victoria de Los Angeles.

Auf Flügeln des Gesanges,

Auf Flügeln des Gesanges,
Herzliebchen, trag ich dich fort,
Fort nach den Fluren des Ganges,
Dort weiß ich den schönsten Ort;
Dort liegt ein rotblühender Garten
Im stillen Mondenschein,
Die Lotosblumen erwarten
Ihr trautes Schwesterlein.
Die Veilchen kichern und kosen,
Und schaun nach den Sternen empor,
Heimlich erzählen die Rosen
Sich duftende Märchen ins Ohr.
Es hüpfen herbei und lauschen
Die frommen, klugen Gazelln,
Und in der Ferne rauschen
Des heilgen Stromes Well'n.
Dort wollen wir niedersinken
Unter dem Palmenbaum,
Und Liebe und Ruhe trinken,
Und träumen seligen Traum.

On Wings of Song

English Translation by Marty Lucas

On wings of song,
my love, I'll carry you away
to the fields of the Ganges
Where I know the most beautiful place.
There lies a red-flowering garden,
in the serene moonlight,
the lotus-flowers await
Their beloved sister.
The violets giggle and cherish,
and look up at the stars,
The roses tell each other secretly
Their fragant fairy-tales.
The gentle, bright gazelles,
pass and listen;
and in the distance murmurs
The waves of the holy stream.
There we will lay down,
under the palm-tree,
and drink of love and peacefulnes
And dream our blessed dream.

Friday, 14 December 2007


“Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Appreciate your friends. Continue to learn. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.” - Mary Anne Radmacher

Call me a kill-joy if you like, call me a spoil-sport, call me a wowser, but today for Food Friday, I’d like to have a chat about dietary fats. It seems particularly apt at this time of the year when people overeat seriously on an almost daily basis. Christmas foods are traditionally full of fats and our intake of fats and oils around this time of the year can be excessive.

The first thing to note about dietary fat is that there is a minimum requirement for fat (not for total fat), but only for the fatty acids linoleic acid (a so-called omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid). These are the so-called “essential fatty acids”. The best way to understand what they do in the body is to see what happens when we do not include them in our diet.

Deficiencies of these two fatty acids have been seen, for example, in hospitalised patients fed exclusively with intravenous fluids containing no fat for weeks. Symptoms of deficiency include a dry skin, hair loss, and impaired wound healing. Essential fatty acid requirements (a few grams a day) can be met by consuming approximately a tablespoon of polyunsaturated plant oils daily. Fatty fish also provides a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Even individuals following a low-fat diet generally consume sufficient fat to meet requirements.

However, in the vast majority of the industrialised world, quite the opposite is the problem! Too much fat is consumed in the diet and if this fat is rich in cholesterol (particularly the “bad” cholesterol LDL and other saturated fats) it is linked to obesity, and an increase in heart disease risk. It is widely accepted that a low-fat diet lowers blood cholesterol and is protective against heart disease. Yet, the situation is complicated by the fact that different fatty acids have differing effects on the various lipoproteins that carry cholesterol. Furthermore, when certain fats are lowered in the diet, they may be replaced by other components that carry risk. In general, saturated fatty acids, which are found primarily in animal foods, tend to elevate LDL and total blood cholesterol (and hence risk of fat disease).

When saturated fatty acids in the diet are replaced by unsaturated fatty acids (either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated) LDL and total blood cholesterol are usually lowered, an effect largely attributed to the reduction in saturated fat. However, polyunsaturated fatty acids tend to lower HDL cholesterol levels, while monounsaturated fatty acids tend to maintain them. The major monounsaturated fatty acid in animals and plants is oleic acid. The good dietary sources of this monounsaturated are olive, canola, and high-oleic safflower oils, as well as avocados, nuts, and seeds. Historically, the low mortality from CHD in populations eating a traditional Mediterranean diet has been linked to the high consumption of olive oil in the region, although the plentiful supply of fruits and vegetables could also be a factor.

The two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids found in foods are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Linoleic acid, the primary omega-6 fatty acid in most diets, is widespread in foods (major sources being vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, and corn oils). Low cardiovascular disease rates in Eskimo populations eating traditional diets high in omega-3 fatty acids initially provoked the speculation that these fatty acids may be protective against CHD. The primary lipid-altering effect of omega-3 fatty acids is the reduction of blood triglycerides. Omega-3 fatty acids may also protect the heart and blood vessels by lowering blood pressure, reducing blood clotting, preventing irregular heart rhythms, and acting as anti-inflammatory agents.

The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are derived from alpha-linolenic acid, a shorter-chain member of the same family. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, and tuna are high in both EPA and DHA. Flaxseed is an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid, which the body can convert to the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, canola oil, soybean oil, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, and egg yolk. A diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids may increase LDL lipid oxidation and thereby accelerate atherosclerosis; therefore, it should be accompanied by increased intakes of vitamin E, an antioxidant. Fish oil supplements are not advised without medical supervision because of possible adverse effects, such as bleeding.

The safety of trans (as opposed to naturally occurring cis) unsaturated fatty acids has been called into question because trans-fatty acids in the diet raise LDL cholesterol to about the same extent as do saturated fatty acids, and they can also lower HDL cholesterol. Trans-fatty acids are found naturally in some animal fats, such as beef, butter, and milk, but they are also produced during the hydrogenation process, in which unsaturated oils are made harder and more stable. Certain margarines, snack foods, baked goods, and deep-fried products are major food sources of trans-fatty acids.

So what is the moral of this story? Eat as little fat as is practicable. Eat foods with low saturated fat content and consume more of the omega-3 fats. A diet that is low in fats, varied in terms of seasonal fruits and vegetables, high in fibre and low in red meats is a healthier diet. But you didn’t need me to tell you that, you knew it all along. It’s just that we need to put it all into practice. Maybe after the festive season, what do you think?


“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” Robert Heinlein.

December 13th is the Feast Day of St Lucy. St Lucy was a virgin martyr who lived in the 4th century in Syracuse, Sicily. She was martyred by having her eyes taken out and these are often depicted in her images on a platter that she carries. Her name, Lucia, means light and she is the patron saint of oculists and optometrists. She is invoked against all eye diseases. In Sweden, St Lucia’s day is celebrated with special brilliance. As her name suggests, the Swedes celebrate her day with numerous lights, especially candles that are thought to dispel the dismal Northern winter darkness. The eldest daughter of each family dressed in a long white dress and crowned with a garland fashioned of pine boughs on which are balanced lit candles brings coffee to her parents in bed. The whole family then go down to a special breakfast feast served in a brightly lit room. The daughter is given the place of honour.

In Iceland, this day marks the beginning of the visits of the Yuletide Lads. These are 13 impish creatures that are bent on making mischief, one each day until Christmas Eve. Their individual names suggest the pranks they get up to: “Pot Scraper”, “Window Peeper” and “Sausage Sniffer”. In Icelandic mythology they were sons of Gryla the ogre and they started out as being horrible cannibals. As they became absorbed into the Christian tradition they became rather more benign and are considered to be mere pranksters and friends of children to whom they bring presents. The Yuletide Lads are reminiscent of the Greek folk tradition of the Christmas Imps, the kallikantzaroi, who cause similar havoc around home around Christmastime.

Seeing that today is also Heinrich Heine’s (the great German poet’s) birthday, here is a poem of his:
New Spring (1)

Sitting underneath white branches
Far you hear winds are wailing;
Overhead you see the cloudbanks
Wrap themselves in misty veiling,

See how on bare field and forest
Cold and barren death is seizing;
Winter’s round you, winter’s in you,
And your very heart is freezing.

Suddenly white flakes come falling
Down on you; and vexed and soured
You suppose some tree has shaken
Over you a snowy shower.

But it is no snow that’s fallen,
Soon you see with joyful start –
Look, it’s fragrant almond blossoms
Come to ease and tease your heart.

What a thrilling piece of magic!
Winter’s turned to May for you,
Snow’s transmuted into blossoms,
And your heart’s in love anew.
Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

The word of the day is:

lucid |ˈloōsid| adjective
1 expressed clearly; easy to understand: A lucid account | Write in a clear and lucid style.
• showing ability to think clearly, esp. in the intervals between periods of confusion or insanity : he has a few lucid moments every now and then.
• Psychology (of a dream) experienced with the dreamer feeling awake, aware of dreaming, and able to control events consciously.
2 poetic/literary bright or luminous : birds dipped their wings in the lucid flow of air.
lucidity |loōˈsidətē| |luˈsɪdədi| |-ˈsɪdɪti| noun
lucidly |ˈlusədli| adverb
lucidness |ˈlusədnəs| noun
ORIGIN: late 16th cent. (sense 2) : from Latin lucidus (perhaps via French lucide or Italian lucido), from lucere ‘shine,’ from lux, luc- ‘light.’

And related to this as far as etymology is concerned:

Lucifer |ˈloōsəfər| noun
1 another name for Satan. [ORIGIN: by association with the [son of the morning] (Isa. 14:12), believed by Christian interpreters to be a reference to Satan.]
2 poetic/literary the planet Venus when it rises in the morning.
3 (lucifer) archaic a match struck by rubbing it on a rough surface.
ORIGIN Old English , from Latin, ‘light-bringing, morning star,’ from lux, luc- ‘light’ + -fer ‘bearing.’

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


“Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.” - Elie Wiesel

A poem written quite a few years ago, remembered tonight only because I just drove past the very place that inspired it.
Life is a prankster, a jokester, a jester. It loves to toy with us and play its games and we move according to its rules like pawns on a chessboard. No matter how dark and dismal life seems one minute, the next it catapults us into the seventh heaven where all is light and laughter.


A flashing neon sign illuminates
The few dead leaves spinning aimlessly
In endless circles,
And dead paper carried in the whirls of the wind eddies.
The night air – cold, sharp, clear,
While in the empty street
Only my hollow steps resound.

A snatch of melody
Brought to me by a gust of wind.
A few familiar notes,
Just enough to remind me of you.
It hurts me to remember how
That song always used to make me cry,
But now only a couple of half-heard notes
Of just another love song,
Carried pointlessly by the wind...

Acrid smoke stifles my bitter breath
Bringing with it solace;
An opiate to soothe away the pain
Of your remembrance.
I used to love you with such fire,
Now only ashes and wisps of smoke
From a dying cigarette.
The song that’s drifting in the wind
Meant all that you had silently confessed
But now only a faded keepsake
Pressed tightly between the pages of my closed heart.

A song of love.
An empty street.
A frozen heart.
A never-ending night.
And as always, my footsteps only
Resounding hollow on the dreary cobbles...

After the night, daylight, after the darkness light!

With many thanks to Sans Souci who is the gracious hostess of our Poetry Wednesday!

Monday, 10 December 2007


The finest words in the world are only vain sounds, if you cannot comprehend them. - Anatole France

I have been very busy in my spare time lately working on the dictionary project that I have written about it before here, and those of you who read this blog may know what it’s all about. It is a monumental project and the work involved is quite demanding and exacting. This is on top of my normal daytime job, so I manage to work on the dictionary every night for a couple of hours and obviously spend more time on it at weekends.

Fortunately, since my fellow editors and I worked together on the first edition, we have a good working relationship and much of the foundations of what we are doing now we set down a couple of years ago. At this stage we are reviewing the lists of “headwords”. What is this? Well, all of the words contained in the dictionary have been subdivided into topic areas. Overall we have 47 topic areas in the dictionary. There are three of us editors-in-chief and we each look after 15-16 topic areas. The headwords are the lists of words that must be included in the dictionary. The number of headwords that we have to work with in this medical dictionary is over 40,000. The dictionary has over 2,000 pages and 2,400 illustrations. Each topic area must be reviewed to ensure that the headwords are in their proper topic area.

My editing topic areas include Anatomy, Haematology, Autoimmune Disease, Laboratory Diagnosis, Pathology, Rheumatology, Computers in Medicine, Urology, Radiology, etc, etc. Each of these topic areas is “farmed out” to a specialist consultant. The consultant is in charge of the entries and actually writes the definitions. I have to liaise with each consultant in these areas I look after, and follow through the process of headword checking and cross-referencing, as well as checking the definitions as written by the consultant.

In addition to being an editor-in-chief I am also a consultant and I am in charge of the three following areas: Laboratory Diagnosis, Computers in Medicine, and Pathology. So I write the definitions that pertain to these areas. The process is then checked by another editor-in-chief so that there are always two people looking at each headword and its definition. Some terms are then given to reviewers who check the entries as a final quality control process.

The process is time-consuming and quite laborious, there is constant checking and cross-checking and if one is consulting one has to be very familiar with the topic area that one is looking after as inevitably there are new headwords to include and occasionally headwords to be deleted. An enormous responsibility rests on consultants, reviewers and editors as one has to be punctilious about the precision and accuracy of the information that is included in the dictionary. It is a reference work that will be consulted by health professionals who are are looking after the well-being of patients and it is vital that the dictionary is a reliable source of up-to-date information.

So now you know why I have not been able to visit your blogs as much as I would like to. I am trying to keep up with the writing of my own blogs (which is fun and relaxing for me, providing a sanity break from work and more work), but to visit each and every one of my friends’ blogs is an impossible task.