Saturday, 25 July 2009


“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” - Chinese Proverb

A Greek song tonight from Aristophanes’ play “The Birds”, first produced in 414 BC. Ancient Greek plays had much music, solo and choral songs in them. This of course was the inspiration for opera in Renaissance Italy.

Manos Hadjidakis (1925 – 1994) was one of the great Modern Greek composers who wrote “serious” music as well as many popular songs. He wrote the incidental music and for the songs in the play.

Maria Farandouri is a well-known singer who worked with Mikis Theodorakis primarily. She also collaborated with other composers and musicians (eg John Williams). Her rich husky voice is perfect for this song.

The Swans

So the swans on the banks of the Hebrus,
Tio, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx,
Mingle their voices to serenade Apollo,
Tio, tio, tio, tio. tiotinx,
Flapping their wings the while,
Tio, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx;
Their notes reach beyond the clouds of heaven;
All the dwellers in the forest
Stand still with astonishment and delight;
A calm rests upon the waters,
And the Graces and the choirs in Olympus
Catch up the strain,
Tio, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx.

Thursday, 23 July 2009


“Hear! hear!” screamed the jay from a neighboring tree, where I had heard a tittering for some time, “winter has a concentrated and nutty kernel, if you know where to look for it.” - Henry David Thoreau

Today was a very cold morning. When I woke up and heard the weather report on the 5:00 am news bulletin, it was 3˚C, with the wind chill factor bringing the temperature down to almost freezing. It wasn’t much better an hour-and-a-half later when I was catching the train. Today was the sort of morning when breakfast has to be a substantial meal, with something piping hot and fragrant. Warm toast with lashings of butter and that wonderful smell of toasting bread filling the kitchen hits the spot. Alternatively, pancakes with honey and cream are good, or if completely spoilt one may indulge in handmade doughnuts (prepared by someone else of course!). But these latter foods are more of the weekend indulgence variety, rather than the ordinary weekday fare when time is at a premium.

Winter mornings are a wonderful experience. The prolonged darkness of night that lingers until later in the day and the bright stars overhead, made all the more bright by the crispness of the cold air are a sight to behold. Walking in the morning twilight, watching one’s breath cloud up and feeling that tingle of the cold on the face is a bracing, invigorating feeling that prepares one for the rigours of the day ahead. Snuggled up in a warm coat, with a scarf wrapped around the neck and gloves warming one’s fingers, walking to catch the train makes for a vibrant start to the day. Then, at work, discarding one’s overclothes layer by layer and luxuriating in the heated comfort of the office, watching the city come alive and the milky whiteness of winter morning gradually dispersing the wintry twilight is a good thing to experience.

For Food Friday today, some versions of a winter breakfast recipe for a wintry weekend morning tomorrow. “French Toast”, which is not really French nor is it strictly speaking toasted. Most French toast recipes have in common bread slices dipped in an egg batter mixture and pan-fried. The first such recipe seems to have originated in Rome. Today, just about every country around the globe has their own version of this classic breakfast food. And if you want to eat this in France don’t look for French Toast (Pain Français Grillé?) on the menu because the French refer to it as “pain perdu” (lost bread) or “pain doré” (gilded bread) depending on whether you are pessimist or an optimist.

It is said that French toast recipes evolved when even staple foods like bread were expensive and every bit of it had to be used up – even stale bread. The cooks of old found that dipping stale bread in a mixture of eggs and milk helped rejuvenate it. They then cooked it in a pan and served it up, much like our modern version. Another French toast recipe was reserved only for the wealthiest people of the olden times because it used expensive white bread, exotic and costly ingredients like vanilla, cinnamon and sugar.

Classic French Toast
• 8 slices of bread
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup milk
• 1/4 cup flour
• Butter
• Icing sugar

Mix together the eggs, milk, and flour and pass through a strainer. Dip slices of bread into the mixture and fry in the butter on both sides in a hot frying pan. Before serving, sprinkle with icing sugar.

Oven-Baked French Toast
• 8 slices white bread
• 3 tablespoons softened butter
• 1/2 cup maple syrup
• 1/2 cup milk
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• Icing sugar for dusting

Spread butter over each slice of bread, coating both sides. Place on a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes at 175˚C. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Stir in milk, cinnamon, salt, maple syrup, and salt. Place bread slices in a lightly greased casserole dish and top with the egg mixture. Bake until nicely browned, approximately 30 minutes. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Savoury French Toast
• 4 eggs
• 1 cup of milk
• Spices and herbs (as desired)
• 1/3 tsp dried mustard
• Olive oil for frying
• Grated cheese
• Parsley for garnishing

Mix the eggs and milk very well. Mix in the dried mustard, your favourite herbs and spices with the eggs and milk and beat until well-blended. Preheat your pan with a little olive oil to a medium temperature. Quickly dip each side of the bread into the egg/milk mix and place in the pan. Cook until the bottom side is golden brown; flip and cook the other side. On the top, sprinkle a little grated cheese and let it melt.

Cinnamon French Toast
• 4 eggs
• 6 slices thick bread
• Cinnamon to taste
• 2 tsp vanilla
• 1 cup milk
• Cooking spray

Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add milk, vanilla, and cinnamon, and beat well. Lightly coat a large skillet with cooking spray, and heat over a medium fire. While the skillet heats, soak bread in the milk mixture, turning to coat both sides evenly. Cook bread over medium heat until nicely browned, approximately 4 minutes per side.

One of course may alter these recipes in a variety of ways. For example using raisin bread, brioche, cake or panettone instead of plain bread, buttermilk or cream instead of milk. Allspice and nutmeg instead of cinnamon. A variety of sauces and fruits to accompany the bread, etc, etc.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009


“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” – Albert Camus

Last Friday night a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Geelong (a city 75 km southwest of Melbourne with a population of 161,000) committed suicide. She is the fourth student connected to a Geelong high school who has taken her own life in the last six months. This is frightening not only because of the age of the girl and the associated suicides at the same school, but also because the suicides appear to be connected to the internet and “cyber-bullying”. The unfortunate girl, Chanelle Rae killed herself hours after receiving a pernicious message on the internet.

The girl’s mother said her daughter was having “trouble” with some friends from school. After spending some time on the internet on Friday evening, Chanelle Rae went to her mother and said she had received a message that made her “want to die”. Mother and daughter spoke about it, the mother spending an hour with her and then after the mother thought the issue was resolved, left the daughter alone. When the girl’s father came home about an hour after the discussion of his daughter with his wife, he found the girl dead in her room.

I cannot imagine the plight of these parents, cannot comprehend the magnitude of the anguish they must be feeling in the wake of this disaster. To be speaking to your daughter one minute, to believe that you have discussed with her problems and resolved them (or at least lightened the perceived burden she was carrying) and then to find her later dead in her room must be one of the most horrific of experiences. The way in which the girl was reduced to the psychological state that drove to self-harm is also an alarming and chilling reminder of the pervasiveness of the internet and how it is affecting our everyday life.

Chanelle Rae’s mother is on the record as saying: “I can guarantee you if she didn’t go on the internet on Friday she’d still be alive today…” I find this statement as indication of a particularly abominable and deleterious use of a technology that is meant to make our life easier and more pleasant. How true of most inventions, one may say: We split the atom and unlocked the marvels of the atomic age and limitless energy, only to quickly harness that power into the destructive atom bomb. We discovered the wonderful therapeutic effects of narcotics, only to turn them into the drug menace that kills so many people around the world. We set satellites upon the heavens to enable the information revolution and help in our communication, but also perverted their use to enable them to function as spy machines and as a means to enable star-wars warfare. We use the internet as a tool, as entertainment, as a boon to communication and knowledge acquisition, only to also find in it the perfect medium for terrorism, bullying, pornography and every form of deception tat human mind can devise.

Are we so flawed, we humans? Do we suffer from a species-wide form of dissociative identity disorder that condemns us to perpetual expressions of our split personalities? Are we so dualistic in our collective psychology that we must forever fight within us a battle of good versus evil and find that the balance is so finely poised that we can tip so easily either way?

How easy it seems to be to give in to this gnawing, poisoning demand of evil upon our weak mind. When one reads the newspapers, watches television, listens to the radio, it seems that as a species we are becoming ever more likely to choose evil over good. Some of the news that I hear every day disappoint me more and more, and revulsion, horror, disgust, abhorrence and outrage overcome me. We seem to be more and more like the proverbial lemmings, stampeding towards the precipice that will seal our collective doom. It’s depressing stuff. Enough perhaps to drive some of us to suicide…

And yet, as humans we have redeeming qualities. We still create, we love, we can perform remarkable acts of self-sacrifice, heroism, altruism. We overcome adversity, we master our suffering and conquer disaster, transform tragedy into hope, defeat despair and transmute it into joy. The truly special human being is not the one to whom evil is unknown, not the one who lives like a hermit removed from the temptations of the world. The true hero is the one who battles the degeneration and vileness that lies within each one of us and has the strength to overpower them in order to do good, to be good, to resist following the easy path of depravity. To be able to choose to do battle in order to stay on course and follow the rocky, winding and steep path of integrity, dignity and virtue. Funny how we tend to hear those last three words less and less nowadays…

Cyber-bullying |ˈsībər-ˈboŏlē’i NG| noun
The use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.
ORIGIN: From Greek kubernētēs ‘steersman,’ from kubernan ‘to steer’ and probably from Middle Dutch boele ‘lover’. The original usage was as a term of endearment applied to either sex; later becoming a familiar form of address to a male friend. The current sense dates from the late 17th century.

Jacqui BB hosts Word Thursday


“The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea.” - Isak Dinesen

A poem tonight which is transcribed from an old journal I used to write in, before blogs and the internet! Funny how the keyboard and screen has now all but replaced paper and pen… I must admit though that pens, pencils, crayons, markers, paper of all sorts are never far away from reach on all of my desks (including at work!).


Seashell, sun-blond with crimson sound
Tears lonely air apart, rips silence;
And on a sea-blue negative
Records the gift of thirsty air.

The rosy cockle speeds through pink light years
To impale itself through black irises
Engraving an everlasting memory,
On marble slabs of my mind.

Sea murmurs, as if a lullaby singing,
In cool palaces of unstepped on ocean depths,
To put to sleep infant tritons
While Amphitrite smiles enigmatically.

The sea, pearl-embroidered, calls to me
Its sweet voice echoing in my empty heart
While my salt-water blood flows slowly
In veins of dolphin body.

Salt, sweetness, coolness, fire of flesh
Are kneaded with sun, and sea and sounds of waves,
With green darknesses in depths of eyes
Illumined by a flash of love, but for a moment.

Now drops of salty sea roll down my cheeks
To water my infertile desert.
The memory is with me, nonetheless
Even if the sea has long dried up.

I open up the locked chest of my mind
And there, I find your afterimage
Containing all of you in it,
Just as the seashell carries within it all of the sea.

In clenched fist I hold tight the conch,
A fragment of sun shines in my gaze,
My blood is salty and sea-green
My thoughts mirroring the has-been,
On my retina your blue-green afterimage
Burnt indelibly.

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday, so visit her site for more poems!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


“I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we're skeptical.” - Arthur C. Clarke

Tonight, I turn my eyes to the heavens as there are several stories in the news lately that concern heavenly bodies. First there was the 40th anniversary of the moon landing of the Apollo 11 mission on the 20th July 1969. As the astronaut Neil Armstrong climbed down from the landing module and set foot on lunar soil, he uttered the famous phrase: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. Edwin Aldrin soon followed and the two astronauts bounced about on the lunar surface with its gravity one-sixth that of earth’s.

I remember clearly that momentous event as I watched it together with half a billion people around the world on television. That was in fact watched on our first television set, bought especially for that purpose (well, it was a good excuse, anyway!). It was an amazing experience, especially for me, a young impressionable child watching history being made and witnessing the beginning of a brave new age of space exploration. Seeing the realisation of mankind’s dreams and the making of science fiction into science fact.

The second astronomical event of note, looming ahead, is the eclipse of the sun soon to occur. On Wednesday, 2009 July 22, a total eclipse of the Sun will be visible from within a narrow corridor that traverses half of Earth. The path of the Moon’s umbral shadow will begin in India and will cross through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. After leaving mainland Asia, the path will cross Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and curve southeast through the Pacific Ocean where the maximum duration of totality reaches 6 minutes 39 seconds. It will be the longest total solar eclipse in this century. The next longest total solar eclipse will happen on June 13, 2132.

This astronomical event has already begat numerous astrological discussions and predictions, especially in India, where astronomical observations and their astrological interpretation are seriously and widely pursued. Indian astrologers are of the view that the solar eclipse will usher in changes. Astrological predictions indicate that there are chances of massive floods or other disasters associated with water. Some astrologers are of the view that Capricorns, Cancers and Leos will experience some bad effects in the wake of the eclipse. Other astrologers are even more pessimistic and predict that there are chances of war and other politically related problems.

Some astrologers maintain that since the eclipse is taking place in Cancer, people governed by this sign should be careful while driving and avoid undergoing surgery for the time being. The period is not considered auspicious for Cancer, Libra, Scorpio, Capricorn and Pisces. On the other hand, the eclipse will be beneficial for signs like Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Leo, Virgo and Sagittarius. It is obvious that different astrologers will give conflicting predictions regarding the eclipse…

On July 28 and 29 the Southern Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower will be visible. The Delta Aquarids usually produce about 20 meteors (“shooting stars”) per hour at their peak. The shower will peak this year on July 28 and 29, but meteors can usually be seen from July 18 to August 18. The near first quarter moon will set early, providing an excellent viewing experience after midnight. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Aquarius. Best viewing is usually to the east after midnight.

On August 6 there will be a penumbral lunar eclipse. This eclipse will be visible throughout most of the Americas, Europe, Africa, and western Asia (for a full list of astronomical events, refer to: All of this activity in the heavens, is of course happening every year, but maybe we are paying a little bit more attention to it this year as 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy!

On Heavenly Contemplation

Don’t waste precious time gazing at stars,
Or plotting conjunctions of Venus with Mars.
Too many earthly woes and cares abound,
Our lives with thorny misery surround.

If cause of your misfortune search ye to find
Look not through telescope, nor planets mind;
Thoughts, actions, deeds must you probe
And find solutions for our troubled globe.

With outstretched hand seek that of brother,
A kindly deed will find a keen reception.
Render not ill to self or to another,
Do good, give kindness not deception –
How harder such a course, and not the other!
Easy to scan the sky, blunt our perception…

Monday, 20 July 2009


“Revenge is always the weak pleasure of a little and narrow mind.” – Juvenal

We watched Gérard Corbieau’s 1989 film “Le Maître de Musique” (The Music Teacher) at the weekend. This was a sumptuous French film for classical music lovers and although the plot was thin, the music and cinematography more than made up for it. Corbieau’s other forays into cinema have explored music and arts and his famous 1994 “Farinelli” and his “Le Roi Danse” also adhere to the genre.

In this film, the ageing Joachim Dallayrac, a famous and brilliant concert singer retires from the stage and retreats to his countryside mansion. He takes on the talented Sophie in order to teach her the singer’s art. He also brings Jean, a petty thief, into the household because he hears him singing and detects a wonderful voice. The relationships that develop are complex and involve as well as Joachim his partner, Estelle, Sophie and Jean. After rigorous and harsh training, Sophie and Jean manage to attain a standard that pleases their teacher. The two young singers are then invited to participate in a singing contest staged by Prince Scotti. Scotti himself was defeated in a singing contest by Dallayrac and Scotti is acing for revenge. Scotti’s protégé is set up to exact this revenge through the way that Scotti has organised the contest.

The music in the film is absolutely marvellous and performed well. It is also well chosen and underlines the plot. For example, Gustav Mahler’s (1860-1911) lied “Ich bin der welt abhanden gekommen” is associated with the teacher. The lyrics translate as: “I am lost to the world with which I used to waste so much time. It has heard nothing from me for so long it may well believe me dead… …I live alone in my heaven, in my love, and in my song”. In the climax of the film, “Sempre Libera”, the wonderful duet from Verdi’s “La Traviata” is used to great effect, sung by Sophie and Jean, who up till then have not sung together.

The cinematography of the film is one of its strengths and beautiful scene succeeds beautiful scene, with glowing colours and exquisite visual composition. I can easily imagine, however, someone who doesn’t like classical music finding the film tedious and boring. We certainly enjoyed it and would recommend it to fellow music lovers.

You may like to visit Dangerous Meredith's blog, who has also posted some films she has seen and recommends...