Saturday, 14 November 2009


“Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.” - Fyodor Dostoevsky

A serene Saturday, starting with breakfast in the garden where the temperature was just right as the sun was rising. A crisp, clear morning promising a warm day ahead. We went out for some shopping in Camberwell and then back home before the heat of the afternoon. The house remained cool and we sat down and watched a movie, nibbling on home-made popcorn. I then cleaned up my study a little as it was as though a bomb had hit it. These last few weeks with the proof-reading for the book, my study was very much a working room and the accumulated debris of several months had to be cleared.

This evening a special dinner and an even more special dessert. The night should finish with some perfect sounds. This is Patrick Cassidy’s “Vide Cor Tuum”, which is based on Dante's "La Vita Nuova", specifically on the sonnet "A ciascun'alma presa", in chapter 3 of the Vita Nuova. The song was produced by Patrick Cassidy and Hans Zimmer and was performed by Libera/Lyndhurst Orchestra, conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Artists are Danielle de Niese and Bruno Lazzaretti, who sing Beatrice and Dante, respectively.

The song first appeared in the movie “Hannibal”, while Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Inspector Pazzi see an outdoor opera in Florence, and was especially composed for the movie. This aria was chosen to be performed at the Oscars in 2002 during the presentation of a lifetime achievement award to producer Dino De Laurentiis and at the 53rd Annual Emmy awards. It was used later in Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, during King Baldwin IV's funeral.


Chorus: E pensando di lei
Mi sopragiunse uno soave sonno

Ego dominus tuus
Vide cor tuum
E d'esto core ardendo
Cor tuum
(Chorus: Lei paventosa)
Umilmente pascea
Appresso gir lo ne vedea piangendo

La letizia si convertia
In amarissimo pianto

Io sono in pace
Cor meum
Io sono in pace
Vide cor meum.


Chorus: And thinking of her
Sweet sleep overcame me

I am your master
See your heart
And of this burning heart
Your heart
(Chorus: She trembling)
Obediently eats
Weeping, I saw him then depart from me

Joy is converted
To bitterest tears

I am in peace
My heart
I am in peace
See my heart.

Illustration above from the painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti “Beata Beatrix” 1864 - 1870 Oil on canvas 87.5 x 69.3 cm, Tate Gallery, London, England.

Friday, 13 November 2009


“Edible, (adjective): Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.” - Ambrose Bierce

Another very busy week comes to a close and tonight has me feeling rather sleepy and tired. We watched a program on Greek Satellite TV tonight called “Love Bites”. It is an inane show, but occasionally there was a gem or two of one-liners volunteered by the participants. The show is a blind date type of program where four young people each on a consecutive night have to cook for a member of the opposite sex, who then has to choose whom to take away on a trip. I was amazed by the lack of cooking skills shown and also the gaucheness and shallowness of these young people in their mid-twenties. The young woman who was the “guest of honour” in tonight’s show had meals cooked for her and the last fellow who had to prepare the dinner decided to cook an exotic Hawaiian meal, which unfortunately did not turn out too well. The young woman sampling it was disgusted by it and couldn’t eat it as the tastes were too “foreign for her.

I was wondering how I would have fared in a similar situation in my mid-twenties, but from what I remember, I think I would have done much better. It is interesting how we associate food with love, the old proverb must have an element of truth in it: “The way to a man’s heart is though his stomach” (well a woman’s too!).

On the subject of “foreign” and exotic tastes, living here in Melbourne, we are lucky to have a huge variety of cuisines to sample, in many cases prepared better here than in their country of origin. I was thinking what would constitute something really foreign and bizarre for me and I thought that instead of having to eat something from a distant geography and it tasting “strange”, I would rather have to go to a distant place in time. Most ancient and medieval dishes we would feel tasted bizarre. One factor in this would be the lack of many modern ingredients we take for granted, while another factor would be the propensity to mix very incongruously any number of ingredients to produce a melange of questionable appetising appeal.

Here is an example:

Puddyng of purpaysse
PERIOD: England, 15th century | SOURCE: Harleian MS 279 | CLASS: Authentic
DESCRIPTION: Stuffed porpoise stomach

.xl. Puddyng of purpaysse. Take þe Blode of hym, & þe grece of hym self, & Ote-mele, & Salt, & Pepir, & Gyngere, & melle þese to-gederys wel, & þan putte þis in þe Gutte of þe purays, & þan lat it seþe esyli, & not hard, a good whylys; & þan take hym vppe, & broyle hym a lytil, & þan serue forth.
- Austin, Thomas. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books. Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS. 4016, with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS 55. London: for The Early English Text Society by N. Trübner & Co., 1888.

Pudding of porpoise. Take the Blood of him, & the grease of him self, & Oatmeal, & Salt, & Pepper, & Ginger, & mix these together well, & then put this in the Gut of the porpoise, & then let it boil easily, & not hard, a good while; & then take him up, & broil him a little, & then serve forth.

Porpoise blood
Porpoise grease
One porpoise stomach

Combine the porpoise blood, porpoise grease, and oatmeal, and season it with salt, pepper, and ginger. This should be a thick and moist stuffing-like mixture. Stuff the porpoise stomach about half full with this, as the stuffing will swell during cooking. Sew up the stomach tightly or secure each end with string, and prick it all over with a large needle to avoid bursting. Put an upturned plate in the base of a pot of boiling water, stand the stomach on this and bring back to the boil; boil steadily for 3 to 4 hours. Cook until done; remove from water and drain well. Place in a broiler and cook for several minutes on both sides to slightly crisp the skin, then serve.

This recipe is essentially a porpoise haggis, as it uses all the elements found in the traditional Scottish haggis of a boiled sheep stomach with an oatmeal stuffing.

Bon appétit!

Thursday, 12 November 2009


“Instruction in sex is as important as instruction in food; yet not only are our adolescents not taught the physiology of sex, but never warned that the strongest sexual attraction may exist between persons so incompatible in tastes and capacities that they could not endure living together for a week much less a lifetime.” - George Bernard Shaw

A 12-year-old girl in Dubbo, NSW has given birth to a baby boy. The girl had shared a bed with the father of the unborn child from the age of 11 after her mother allowed him to move into their home. The girl’s father, who is separated from the mother, repeatedly pleaded with staff at the Department of Community Services (DOCS) helpline, but they did nothing about the situation. The department admitted it failed to act earlier because staff were working on more urgent cases. The police said they were also unable to intervene because both children were under the age of consent. If the boy was 18, police would have immediately begun a criminal investigation. When the girl’s father finally took custody of her in March, he discovered she was pregnant.

Reports say that the girl was “petrified” when she went into labour and had to have an emergency caesarean section. Three weeks after the birth, the girl was still struggling to cope with being a mother despite receiving constant counselling and parental training. The father of the girl is providing her with all the help and support he can. Everyone around the girl and her family was advising her to have an abortion, but the father who is a Christian was against it. However after speaking to counsellors and representatives from DOCS, he said that he changed his mind and advised his daughter to have an abortion. However, the girl spoke to her boyfriend at the time, who dissuaded her from having an abortion. The girl and the baby’s father are no longer together and the girl is living together with her mother again, and they will raise the baby together. The girl has decided to continue her schooling, although it will have to be (at least initially) by distance education.

In NSW between 2005 and 2009 there were six registered births to girls aged 11 to 13, according to the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. More than 3000 girls and women aged between 13 and 19 gave birth each year between 2005 and 2008, which is about 3.5 per cent of all registered births in NSW.

The story is sad and highlights irresponsibility on several levels. On the part of the family of the girl, the state, the police. A young girl’s life has been irretrievably disrupted by events that are beyond her capacity to cope with. Our eroding social mores and the pernicious influence of the media, consumerism, sexual revolution, inappropriate exposure of the young to feelings, situations and relationships beyond their understanding are all contributing to problems like this faced by this young girl and the people around her.

Add to that the increasing number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in Australian society lately, compounds the problem of the sexually active child. However, the problem of STDs is not confined to the young. Almost all sexually active Australians say they have had unprotected sex, and yet more than half of them report that they have never had a test for an STD. A poll of more than 1000 people between 18 an 40 years found that “unsafe sex” was prevalent throughout the group, not just amongst the younger participants, to the tune of more than 90%. The message of “safer sex” seemed to be losing strength and hence the increase in teen pregnancies and rise in STD rates. Sexual health experts Marie Stopes International have begun a campaign to raise awareness and will send mobile phone users two free condoms in a plain envelope when they text their name and address to 19SEXTXT (1973 9898)…

The story is a complex one and it has multiple angles with many different aspects to it. Whatever the girl and her family would have done, new problems would be encountered. Had the girl aborted the baby, the trauma and psychological duress of the procedure would have haunted the rest of her life. Now that she has had the baby, any semblance to a normal childhood has been abandoned. The splitting up of the girl and the father of the baby has created other problems as well. The solution? Not easy, but goes back to fundamental changes in the way that our society operates. Likely to happen? Probably not. My guess is that things will get worse, much worse before they get better. What do you think?

sex |seks| noun
1 (chiefly with reference to people) sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse: He enjoyed talking about sex | She didn't want to have sex with him.
• [in sing. ] a person's genitals (used in novels to avoid more vulgar or anatomically explicit terms).
2 either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions: Adults of both sexes.
• the fact of belonging to one of these categories: Direct discrimination involves treating someone less favorably on the grounds of their sex.
• the group of all members of either of these categories: She was well known for her efforts to improve the social condition of her sex.
verb [ trans. ]
1 determine the sex of: Sexing chickens.
2 ( sex someone up) informal arouse or attempt to arouse someone sexually.
sexer noun
ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting the two categories, male and female): from Old French sexe or Latin sexus.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


“What a cruel thing is war: To separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.” - Robert E. Lee

At 11 am on 11 November in 1918 the guns of the Western Front fell silent. This was a momentous occasion after more than four years of continuous warfare and many million deaths. The allied armies had driven the German invaders back, having inflicted heavy defeats upon them over the preceding four months. In November the Germans called for an armistice in order to secure a peace settlement. The Germans accepted the terms of the allies with an unconditional surrender. This was the end of World War I, the “Great War”, one whose viciousness and brutality astounded even hardened soldiers. Remembrance Day is an anniversary that is observed in most Commonwealth countries around the world and The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month has attained a special significance. The moment when hostilities ceased on the Western Front became universally associated with the remembrance of those who had died in the war, but as the years have passed the remembrance of the fallen in all wars of the past is a solemn occasion to observe this day.

The bright red Flanders poppy has long been a part of Remembrance Day. After the First World War, red poppies were among the first plants to spring up in the devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium. In soldiers’ folklore, the vivid red of the poppy was thought to come from the shed blood of their fallen comrades that had soaked the ground. The sight of poppies on the battlefield at Ypres in 1915 moved Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae to write the poem “In Flanders Fields”. In English literature of the nineteenth century, poppies had symbolised sleep or a state of oblivion; in the literature of the First World War a new, more powerful symbolism was attached to the poppy – the sacrifice of the shed blood of fallen soldiers.

Lest we forget:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

Monday, 9 November 2009


"For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three." - Alice Kahn

The keyboard card of my computer decided to die today. Without it the computer won;t function so I am not using my own computer to write this, which of necessity will be a very short blog.
We are experiencing a heat wave at the moment, with temperatures hovering in the mid 30s. The garden is taking a beating and the poor roses in full bloom are getting roasted.
Hope my computer will be fixed tomorrow...

Sunday, 8 November 2009


“Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children.” - George Bernard Shaw

If you frequent the Gutenberg site you will know that there are a huge number of e-books to be downloaded for free. One of these is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tales of the Jazz Age”. In this collection of stories you will find the very interesting “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. This short story was first published in Colliers Magazine during 1921 and was subsequently anthologised in the book, which you have downloaded from Gutenberg already, haven’t you? The story is an interesting proposition, where a baby is born already very aged (“three score years and ten”) and then gradually becomes younger as he grows “older”. The story is well worth reading as it has originality and is well written.

Now, flash-forward to the film we saw at the weekend. It is the film adaptation of this short story made in 2008, directed by David Fincher and has the same title as the short story: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. That’s just about where the similarity ends. Well, there is a baby that is born old and grows younger as he ages, but the screenplay has become infinitely richer and extended, with many subplots and greater depth than the short story (sorry, F. Scott!). Eric Roth and Robin Swicord have done an extremely good job of adapting the short story into a powerful, engaging and moving screenplay. It works well on many levels and one is not only fascinated by the quirkiness of the plot, but at the same time one is made to think and ponder about the personal, social and moral implications of the story. I believe it is best if one reads the story first and then watches the film. The two work at different levels, but I believe it is one of those exceptional circumstances where the film works much better than the short story.

The baby is born aged, but the mother dies at childbirth. The distraught father, button manufacturer Mr Button, takes the monstrous child and abandons it at the steps of an old people’s home. A kindly black carer adopts the child and brings it up as her own. The relationship between mother and adopted son is poignant and touching and raises some important issues about race (nothing heavy-handed, it is a very subtle, very well-written sub-plot). As Benjamin grows, he is surrounded by elderly people so he doesn’t find his appearance or surroundings unusual (sub-plot number two). However, as he grows and as he encounters some younger individuals he begins to become aware of his curious circumstances and his personal drama begins. I won’t spoil it for the readers here who haven’t seen it, but I am telling you right now to try and see it, it’s well worth the effort of finding it and watching it.

Brad Pitt is very good in the title role and the make-up artists who worked on his face, headed by Greg Cannom, deserved very much the Oscar they got. The film also got two other Oscars, one in Art Direction and the other in Visual Effects, both also well-deserved. The feeling of time past that is evoked is marvellous, helped by the excellent music score by Alexandre Desplat. The film also won the Saturn Award of the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (USA), as well as several other awards and a multiplicity of nominations. Cate Blanchett is a worthy leading lady and Tilda Swanson makes a dashing appearance as a supporting guest star. Taraji P. Henson who plays Benjamin’s foster mother gives a fantastic performance and the remaining cast is excellent, every role having been carefully thought out and beautifully cast.

Fincher directs the film with aplomb and every scene is beautifully set and unfolds without effort. It is very much a director’s achievement that makes this very long film (166 minutes) so enjoyable and one in which the viewer loses the sense of time (pun intended!). It is a magical confection of fantasy and reality, truth and falsehood, humour and pathos. The film looks at death and old age, but it celebrates life and every wonderful moment of our life, which we should enjoy whatever our age is. Benjamin’s life played in reverse is a parody of the normal life that we all live from youth to old age. However, it is through Benjamin’s curious predicament that we come to examine our own life and what it means to live it fully. We are immersed in the glory of love and how it can transcend time, but at the same moment we have to acknowledge that some things are not meant to be and we have to be our age and to associate with our peers in terms of relationships.

I found the film interesting, engaging, funny, sad, poignant, confronting and one that made me think. I think that is quite rare in a “mainstream” Hollywood production and hence my accolades for this particular movie. If you haven’t seen it, make sure that you do, if you have seen it, I would appreciate your comments.

Enjoy your week!


“Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.” - Julia Cameron

For Art Sunday today something different. In these days of the internet and high technology, the readiness with which we can lay our hands on information is quite astounding. Billions of facts and figures are only a click away and we can find some of the most obscure and recondite information in the blink of an eye. We can find people interested in similar things we are interested in, halfway around the world. We can listen to voices of friends in distant places, exchange almost immediate messages, send information instantaneously even to the Antipodes.

And yet there are still some things that remain difficult. For example, the painting you see above was sent to me several years ago by a friend as an attachment to an email. I had liked it then and saved it on my computer. Cleaning up my archived files, I came across it and to my irritation I had found that I had not kept any details of the painting, artist, where it was from. Having found it after all these years, I am glad to say I still like the painting, but now I am at a loss as to how to identify the artist who painted it.

I thought, how wonderful it would be if I could go somewhere on the internet and find an image search engine, where I simply upload an image and it does a search, comparing it to other images and it comes up with a possible ID. Wouldn’t you find that useful? I daresay, it may exist before not too long, if it doesn’t already exist.

I like the painting because primarily its colours and composition are pleasing to me. The blues, greens and turquoises shine out of the gloomy dark navy of the background, which even in itself is quite interesting visually. The interweaving of the pattern of the chaise longue with the real flowers is playful but sombre at the same time. The framing of the recumbent figure in flowers makes me think of death, funerals and the grave. Ophelia comes to mind, but so does Titania, or even Miranda to keep it all Shakespearean. The setting yellow moon in the distant sky and the dark blue poppies with the red centres are suggestive of sleep and oblivion. The face is interesting, but ever so sad. Betrayal is written on it, as is “Nevermore”, the eyes infinitely sad but devoid of tears, as if there were none left to cry.

I guess I can appeal to the readers of this blog! Firstly, do you like the painting? Secondly, do you know who painted it, and when? Who the sitter is? What the title of the painting is? Any other information about the painting?