Saturday, 11 July 2009


“As contraries are known by contraries, so is the delight of presence best known by the torments of absence.” - Alcibiades

For my last Art Sunday blog on Yahoo 360, a painting by J.M.W. Turner, “The Fighting Temeraire” of 1838. It is displayed in the National Gallery in London, and shows the last ship from Admiral Nelson’s force at Trafalgar. It rises ghost-like, but still majestic, on the left of the canvas, and is shown being towed towards its final berth in East London in 1838 to be broken up for scrap. It is being passed by a steamboat. The painting shows the end of the sailing era and the beginning of the steam era. The old ship rises ethereally and elegantly above the water on a background of mist and blue sky, while the steamboat, dark and solid, hugs the water and pollutes the air above it with clouds of smoke. One technology is coming to an end, and another is beginning. The painting illustrates change, the only constant thing in this world.

On the right, close to the horizon is the sun, which may be setting or may be rising, depending on which boat you are travelling on. High up on the left is the moon, waxing or waning, once again depending on your perspective. One may look back or forward, may embrace change and make the best of it, or else may stick with things that have passed and be, in time, an amusing anachronism.

There is a strong sense of nostalgia and loss in the painting. Turner is thought to have represented here the decline of Britain’s naval power, so for him it is definitely a waning moon above the sunset and hence the ethereal sailing ship rising wraith-like above the waters, evoking the glorious past. Turner was in his sixties when he painted this canvas and his mastery of the medium and the artistry of colour usage is manifest. Sea and sky are rendered in paint laid on thickly and the essence of the light of the sun’s rays striking the clouds is beautifully done. The ship's rigging is meticulously painted, by contrast, in thinner and carefully applied colour.

When this painting was first exhibited, a London reviewer by the name of William Makepeace Thackeray wrote the following about Turner’s painting: “It is absurd to grow so politically enthusiastic about a four foot canvas, representing a ship, a steamer, a river and a sunset. But herein lies the power of the great artist. He makes you see and think of a great deal more than the object before you; he knows how to soothe or intoxicate, to fire or depress, by a few notes, or forms, or colours, of which we cannot trace the effects to the source, but acknowledge the power.”

Goodbye to everyone on Yahoo 360, see you at Google’s blogger, where I can be found here:

“Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetime, is certain for those who are friends.” - Richard Bach


“Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.” - Dr. Seuss

The days of Yahoo are numbered. Every time I log in, I get the message that the countdown is nearing time zero when it will be shut down. It’s sad, as it was here that I became part of a virtual community where I met some wonderful people and had some great conversations. I exercised my mind, I was moved, I was entertained, laughed, shed a tear or two, made a few good friends. Time passes, alters everything, changes us. Nothing stays the same, nothings is so good it lasts forever. All this that we had at Yahoo was a special moment in time and our memories are made of such moments. We enjoyed it while it lasted, now we move on.

You can find me continuing to blog at:

Some of my friends from Yahoo have already migrated there, I hope to see you there too. I dedicate this song to all my friends and acquaintances here at Yahoo 360. It’s been great!

Alan Parsons Project

Flowing like a river,
Beckoning me.
Who knows when we shall meet again, if ever
But time, keeps flowing like a river, to the sea.
Goodbye my love, maybe for forever.
Goodbye my love, the tide waits for me.
Who knows when we shall meet again, if ever.

But time, keeps flowing like a river...
On and on, to the sea, to the sea...
Till its gone forever
Gone forever
Gone forever
Ah, forever!

Goodbye my friend, maybe for forever?
Goodbye my friend,
Who knows when we shall meet again.
The stars wait for me.
Who knows when we shall meet again, if ever.
But time, keeps flowing like a river
To the sea, to the sea
Till its gone forever
Gone forever
Gone forever
Ah! Forever more!
Forever more!
Forever more!

Friday, 10 July 2009


“I refuse to believe that trading recipes is silly. Tuna fish casserole is at least as real as corporate stock.” - Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

Do you own a recipe book? I don’t mean the printed variety, rather, the good old-fashioned handwritten one, where favourite recipes have been added gradually and lovingly. A recipe book with a personal touch. One perhaps that you have inherited from your mother or grandmother? A beloved aunt, maybe? Surely everyone must have one of those kinds of recipe books. Once upon a time of course they were the only recipe books around and they included recipes not only for food, but also recipes for medicines and beauty aids, cosmetics and make-up.

Recipes and recipe books were the glue that bound social networking within families in the past. The circulation of recipes and collections of them in books lubricated the wheels of friendship and united families. They were the means whereby relationships were cemented and maintained the connections between the generations. How many old family recipes are still jealously guarded today lest an outsider get hold of them? Indeed, some of these old recipes still form the basis of many a large and profitable business, for example, Tabasco sauce…

With the advent of printing, recipe books became one of the staples of the industry, together with bibles and other religious books. People’s fascination with food and the way to prepare it assured these early printers of a steady market for their wares. Rather than the plethora of cookbooks that we see today, in the past they were few and famous. Mrs Beeton, for example, published her renowned one in 1861: “The Book of Household Management Comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.”

As over 900 of the 1,112 pages of the Beeton book, contained recipes, the popular name for the volume is Mrs Beeton's Cookbook. Most of the recipes were illustrated with coloured engravings, and it was the first book to show recipes in the format that is still used today. Many of the recipes were plagiarised from earlier writers, but this was common practice and the Beetons never claimed that the book's contents were original. After all, we all do this with recipes and each cook will add his or her own personal touch.

Older cookbooks are delightful to read as they are very quaint and sometimes use ingredients that are quite outlandish or outright bizarre. Here is a recipe from Anne Fanshawe’s recipe book of about 1664. It is believed to be the first recipe for ice cream in English:

“To make Icy Cream

Take three pints of the best cream, boyle it with a blade of Mace, or else perfume it with orang flowerwater or Ambergreece, sweeten the cream with sugar, let it stand till it is Quite cold, then put it into Boxes, either of Silver or tinn, then take Ice chopped into small peeces and putt it into a tub and set the Boxes in the ice covering them all over, and let them stand in the Ice two hours, and the Cream Will come to be Ice in the Boxes, then turne them out into a salver with some of the same Seasoned Cream, so serve it up at the Table.”

What is the oldest recipe you have? Where did you find, who gave it to you? Is it a good one?

Thursday, 9 July 2009


“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.” - Mark Twain
Rapa Nui is the indigenous name of Easter Island, a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the most southeastern point of the Polynesian triangle. It is a special territory of Chile annexed in 1888. Easter Island is most famous for its monumental statues, called moai created by the Rapanui people. It is a world heritage site with much of the island protected within the Rapa Nui National Park. An interesting drug which is currently in the news is rapamycin (also called sirolimus). It is an immunosuppressant drug that is used to prevent rejection in organ transplantation (especially useful in kidney transplants).

Rapamycin is a macrolide, drug that was found to be a product of the bacterium Streptomyces hygroscopicus in a soil sample from Easter Island (Rapa Nui, hence the name. The drug was first used as an antifungal antibiotic. However, this use was stopped when it was discovered that it had very potent immunosuppressive and anti-proliferative properties. That is it prevents the rejection of transplanted tissue and also it can reduce the growth of cancers.

A study was published yesterday as a letter to the prestigious journal Nature and it indicates that rapamycin can prolong the life of mice, and I quote from the article:

“…rapamycin fed to mice beginning at 270 days of age also increased survival in both males and females, based on an interim analysis conducted near the median survival point. Rapamycin may extend lifespan by postponing death from cancer, by retarding mechanisms of ageing, or both.”

The increase in lifespan is up to 38% in mice. If this increase in lifespan were translated to human years, it might allow humans to easily live more than a hundred years. The elusive youth serum has been found? The experimental data is certainly highly suggestive, but it may well be more than 5-10 years before we see it on the pharmacy shelves. The interest in its anti-ageing effects may speed up research, there is big money in this.

Other drugs may be used as agents for extending life. For example, resveratrol isolated from grape pips (yes, you should eat them together with the grapes!), which has also prolonged life in lab mice. Resveratrol is now a common ingredient in vitamin supplements and heath food store merchandise. Other research looks at identifying what precisely cause some animals to live longer than others. It appears that bats, for example, live longer because of the way their proteins are constructed.

Human beings have been searching for the “fountain of youth”, the “philosopher’s stone”, the “aqua vitae”, the “elixir of youth” for thousands of years. Every culture has legends about perpetual youth and how to attain it. It is a reaction against our mortality, against the ravages of age that manifest themselves all too soon. It is a psychological weapon against the host of terrible disease that become so very much more common the older we get. The Fountain of Youth is the legendary spring that reputedly restores youth in anyone who drinks of its waters. Florida was described as its location and the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, Puerto Rico's first Governor, is associated with its search. He was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he travelled to Florida, which he thought to be an island. He explored Florida in 1513 but never found the elusive fountain.

The scientists investigating Rapamycin may be like Ponce de Léon. Rapamycin can have serious side effects, because of its immune suppressant properties. Long term consumption can make users susceptible to opportunistic infections. It has also been linked to hyperlipidaemia (high levels of triglycerides in the blood), which can lead to heart disease. It's unclear whether these problems would counteract any longevity benefit that rapamycin might provide in humans.

Interesting, considering what may lie around the corner. A prolongation of life, a reduction in cancer incidence, a healthier old age. At the same time, we must learn to accept the idea of senescence, of death, of our own mortality…

senescence |səˈnesəns| noun
Biology: The condition or process of deterioration with age.
• loss of a cell's power of division and growth.
senescent |səˈnɛsnt| adjective
ORIGIN: Latin, senex ‘old man.’

Jacqui BB hosts Word Thursday

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” - Kenji Miyazawa

We often hear that one does not appreciate what one has until one loses it. It is certainly true and perhaps it does not apply anywhere more aptly than in the realm of relationships. Taking people for granted is something that is too commonplace. Assuming that the person who loves us will always be there and take anything we dish out has been the undoing of many a relationship. Waking up one morning and finding that special person gone brings home the awful meaning of that old saw: You don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it…


I lit the chandelier in the drawing room
And turned the music on, loud.
I feign a cool indifference
As I roam in empty rooms,
Singing sotto voce now and then,
So that I hear a voice in the desert.

I look at an old photograph of yours
And drink drop by drop your wine –
How bitter-sweet it tastes.
My voice breaks and is shattered
By a sob, unexpected, loud.
Each teardrop that falls, is pleading
“Come back, don’t torture me any longer…”

The light burns bright in shining crystal
While within me darkness stifles me.
The music plays, loud, and the house is filled
But my soul won’t hear it, it cannot.
I think of you, I see you, I hear you
But my empty hand won’t be fooled
And clutches emptiness as my fingers grip
A handful of nothing, nowhere, never.

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


“Every man prefers belief to the exercise of judgment.” - Seneca

The Hoshi Matsuri is a Shinto festival celebrated in Japan today. It commemorates the two Tanabata lovers who were separated by a raging river. Magpies took pity on them and formed a living feathered bridge across which the two lovers were reunited. The lovers were fixed in the firmanent as stars (Cowherd Star [Altair] and Weaver Star [Vega]), but unfortunately, still separated by the Milky Way. They get together once every year on the seventh day of the seventh month. Japanese families tie samples of their children’s handwriting to bamboo poles and offer them to the lovers in hope of improving their children’s script. This has evolved from an ancient Chinese myth to which the following Chinese poem alludes:

The Seventh Night of the Seventh Month
To “Magpie Bridge”

Sparse clouds and faintly glowing moon–
Where can the bridge be built?
Surely the magpies are many and the crows few.
Between the mortals a nightly sharing of the net curtains,
But alas! How quickly does wedded bliss grow cold.
For a whole year there is the grief of separation,
And now in early autumn there is the glad reunion.
All through this night the two stars dread the coming of dawn
And I ask: “Had they not been separated by the Milky Way,
How could they have felt the full joy of their reunion?”

Hsü Tsuan-Tsêng (17th century AD)

Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion, which is believed to have started at about 500 BCE (some say even earlier). It was originally an amorphous mix of nature worship, fertility cults, divination techniques, hero worship, and shamanism. Its name was derived from the Chinese words “shin tao” (The Way of the Gods) in the 8th Century CE. Shinto has no real founder, no written scriptures, no body of religious law, and only a very loosely-organized priesthood.

Many texts are valued in the Shinto religion. Most date from the 8th century CE, for example, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters), which is the the mythological history of Japan. The Gods of Shinto, which is a polytheistic religion, are said to have created Japan as their image of paradise on Earth, and placed the emperor as its true ruler. The Emperor is a direct descendant of Amaterazu, the Goddess of the Sun.

Other famous Shinto texts are the Rokkokushi (Six National Histories), the Shoku Nihongi or Nihon Shoki (Continuing Chronicles of Japan) and the Jinno Shotiki (a study of Shinto and Japanese politics and history), which was written in the 14th century

Shinto recognises many sacred places: Mountains, springs, forests, etc. Shrines are built in these places and each shrine is dedicated to a specific Kami who has a divine personality and responds to sincere prayers of the faithful. When entering a shrine, one passes through a Tori, a special gateway for the Gods. It marks the demarcation between the finite world and the infinite world of the Gods. Believers respect animals as messengers of the Gods. A pair of statues of “Koma-inu” (guard dogs) face each other within the temple grounds.

In the past, believers practiced “misogi”, the washing of their bodies in a river near the shrine. In recent years they only wash their hands and wash out their mouths in a washbasin provided within the shrine grounds. Shrine ceremonies, which include cleansing, offerings, prayers, and dances are directed to the Kami.

Kagura are ritual dances accompanied by ancient musical instruments. The dances are performed by skilled and trained dancers. They consist of young virgin girls, a group of men, or a single man. Mamori are charms worn as an aid in healing and protection. There come in many different forms for various purposes. An altar, the "Kami-dana" (Shelf of Gods), is given a central place in many homes.

Seasonal celebrations are held at spring planting, fall harvest, and special anniversaries of the history of a shrine or of a local patron spirit. A country-wide National Founding Day is held on February 11th of each year. Other festivals include: January 1st – 3rd Oshogatsu (New Year); March 3rd Ohinamatsuri (Girls' festival); May 5th Tango no Sekku (Boys' festival); and July 7th Hoshi Matsuri (Star festival). Followers are expected to visit Shinto shrines at the times of various life passages. For example, the “Three-five-seven matsuri” involves a blessing by the shrine Priest of girls aged 3 and 7 and boys aged 5 and is held on November 15th.

Many followers are involved in the "offer a meal movement." in which each individual bypasses a breakfast (or another meal) once per month and donates the money saved to their religious organisation for international relief and similar activity.

Origami ("Paper of the spirits"): This is a Japanese folk art in which paper is folded into beautiful shapes. They are often seen around Shinto shrines. Out of respect for the tree spirit that gave its life to make the paper, origami paper is never cut.

Shinto is different to most religions because of a few reasons:
  • It is polytheistic, believing in several gods.
  • It has very little theology
  • It practices no congregational worship.
One of the most recognised Shinto arts is calligraphy, the types of paper, styles of writing, inks and utensils and methods of pressures on the paper are all variables that add beauty and style to this very ancient art.

Sunday, 5 July 2009


“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” - G.K. Chesterton

I had a head cold over the weekend and it was a good excuse to stay in and get some work done. Dosing myself on medication so the symptoms abated, I was able to get most of the last work on my book finalised. It is quite a big project and the last part of it is related to illustrations, photographs and diagrams, graphs and charts, about 40 per chapter, at 24 chapters that’s close to about 1000 illustrations. Not a mean feat working through and ensuring that they are all exactly what is required, of adequate resolution, correctly labeled and relevantly placed within the text. Nevertheless, they’re all done and now the completed manuscript will go off to the publishers.

Despite the work, we had some time to relax also and see a movie or two. One of them was an old film, Henry Hathaway’s 1957 “Legend of the Lost” starring a famous trio: John Wayne, Sophia Loren and Rossano Brazzi. This was a real adventure story, a kind of toned down precursor of the Indiana Jones movies. The core of the movie, however, was more serious with a moral, and a love story thrown in for good measure. It was slightly reminiscent of Somerset Maugham’s short story “Rain” in its tale of sin and redemption.

The plot centres on three people and the relationships amongst them. Paul Bonnard (Rossano Brazzi) arrives in Timbuktu in search of a guide to escort him into the Sahara desert. American Joe January (John Wayne) reluctantly takes the job despite misgivings about Bonnard’s undisclosed plans. Dita (Sophia Loren), a prostitute who has been deeply moved by Bonnard’s spiritual nature after a long conversation she has with him, follows the two men into the desert. Once in the Sahara, Bonnard reveals his plans. He has a letter from his father who wrote to him about a lost city in the desert where there is hidden a fabulous treasure. After some days trekking through the sands, the trio arrives in the ruins of a Roman city, where Bonnard hopes to discover the legacy of his father. What Bonnard finds alters him in unexpected ways, with tragic results.

Once you get over the observation that there is almost no chemistry between the leads, John Wayne and Sophia Loren, the movie was fun and reminded me of the sort of movies I used to watch on TV as a child. There was quite a lot of colour and action, adventure and romance (in the sense of a feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life) and the ruined city was fantastic. The ruined city is referred to as “Timgad” in the film. This is a Holywoodian geographical blooper as the distance from Timbuktu (in Mali) to Timgad (in Algeria) is about 3,500 km – definitely not possible given the time course of the trek depicted in the film.

Timgad was the ancient Roman city of Thamugadi on the high plateau north of the Aurès Mountains in northeastern Algeria, which offers the most thoroughly excavated and one of the most well-preserved Roman remains in North Africa. Thamugadi, founded by the emperor Trajan in AD 100, proved to be of strategic importance in the defence of Numidia. Its long prosperity was derived from the fertility of the surrounding territory. In the late 4th century it became the seat of the bishop Optatus, one of the most ardent supporters of Donatism, a heretical Christian movement, and the stronghold was sacked by Berbers in the early 6th century, toward the end of the Vandal supremacy in Africa.

The 10,000–15,000 inhabitants of Thamugadi lived in a classic Roman type of city, quasi-military in appearance, with all streets intersecting at right angles. That life there was comfortable is evidenced by the remains of a forum, a public library (4th century AD), a theatre capable of holding about 4,000 people, and an exceptionally large number of public baths.

This of course is at variance with the directions given to Bonnard by his father, as the city he described was Ophir, a lost city mentioned in the Bible. This was a mythical place, famous for its wealth. King Solomon is supposed to have received a cargo of gold, silver, sandalwood, precious stones, ivory, apes and peacocks from Ophir, every three years. Many Egyptian pharaohs reported sending naval expeditions to Punt (Somaliland) for monkeys, ivory, frankincense, and slaves lends credence to an East African site. On the other hand, the Jewish historian Josephus and St. Jerome evidently understood that India was the location of Ophir. The Hebrew words for the products of Ophir may be derived from Indian languages; furthermore, sandalwood and peacocks are commonly found in India, whereas, at least in modern times, they do not exist in East Africa.

The real location where the was shot film is neither Timgad, nor Ophir! It is Leptis Magna in Libya. This is a magnificent ancient site, the largest city of the ancient region of Tripolitania. It is located 100 km southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast of Libya. Lying 3 km east of what is now Al-Khums. Leptis Magna contains some of the world’s finest remains of Roman architecture. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. The city was founded as early as the 7th century BC by Phoenicians, it was later settled by Carthaginians, probably at the end of the 6th century BC. Its natural harbour at the mouth of the Wadi Labdah contributed to the city's growth as a major Mediterranean and trans-Saharan trade centre, and it also became a market for agricultural production in the fertile coastland region.

Near the conclusion of the Second Punic War, it passed in 202 BC to Masinissa's Numidian kingdom, from which it broke away in 111 BC to become an ally of Rome. Through the 1st century AD, however, it retained several of its Punic legal and cultural traditions, including its municipal constitution and the official use of the Punic language. The Roman emperor Trajan (reigned AD 98–117) designated Leptis a colonia (community with full rights of citizenship). The emperor Septimius Severus (AD 193–211), who was born at Leptis, conferred upon it the jus Italicum (legal freedom from property and land taxes) and became a great patron of the city. Under his direction an ambitious building program was initiated, and the harbour, which had been artificially enlarged in the 1st century AD, was improved again. Over the following centuries, however, Leptis began to decline because of the increasing insecurity of the frontiers, culminating in a disastrous incursion in 363, and the growing economic difficulties of the Roman Empire. After the Arab conquest of 642, the status of Leptis as an urban centre effectively ceased, and it fell into ruin.

So, there you go a B grade movie got me to review my ancient Roman history and to find out something more about Leptis Magna and Timgad.
Enjoy your week!


“A portrait is a picture of a person with something wrong with the mouth.” - John Singer Sargent

Today for Art Sunday, John Singer Sargent (born in Florence, 12 Jan 1856; died in London, 25 April 1925). He was and American painter and draughtsman, active in England. Sargent was the most fashionable portrait painter working in England and the USA in the late 19th century. He was brought up by expatriate American parents in an environment of restless travel and an insulated family life. On both sides of the Atlantic the famous Sargent was sought after to paint portraits of American businessmen and financiers, English manufacturers and their wives, fashionable Edwardian aristocrats, and the English gentry. The international art community admired his style of seemingly effortless, bravura brushwork and dashing likenesses.

Best known is his portrait “Madame X” (Madame Gautreau, one of the most elegant and fashion-conscious beauties of Parisian society), which created a scandal at the 1884 Salon; critics found it eccentric and erotic, and the sitter's mother claimed it made her daughter a laughingstock. Discouraged, he moved permanently to London, though he often visited the U.S. He tired of portrait requests and increasingly turned his attention to painting his sisters Emily Sargent and Violet Ormond and Violet's family, and, more and more, holiday subjects in watercolor and oil.

Sargent was cosmopolitan in outlook, a linguist, a fine pianist and an avid reader of the classics. The spirit of self-sufficiency and isolation, both physical and emotional, remained with him all his life. He never married, grew wary of emotional entanglements and remained closest to his sisters, especially the eldest, Emily.

Here is his “Nonchaloir” (Repose), of 1911. It is 64 x 76 cm, oil on canvas and exhibitied at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The painting is characteristic of Sargent in that the style is relaxed and effortless and manages with a limited palette and easy fluid strokes to evoke the essence of “rest”. The woman in Repose is Sargent’s niece, Rose-Marie Ormond Michel. The portrait is informal and the sitter is depicted as a languid, anonymous figure absorbed in poetic reverie. The consummate luxury and nonchalance is documenting the end of an era. The lingering aura of fin-de-siècle gentility would soon be shattered by massive political and social upheaval in the early twentieth century.