“I believe the future is only the past again, entered through another gate.” - Arthur Wing Pinero
I’m feeling a little flat tonight. Last night I didn’t sleep too well, I’ve had a long day and then tonight even after an unexpected dinner out with friends, driving back home was a rather revelatory experience where old ghosts pursued me, new situations just lived through exasperated me and where the future is mapping itself out as completely different to what I had expected of it until now. Anything seemed possible only yesterday and then today everything is upended and the past seems a better place…
A song from the past, which at the time was greatly significant. Tonight as though I am hearing it for the first time and already it has another meaning… Mike and the Mechanics – Silent Running
Pre-Christmas parties are notorious in the workplace as they can often degenerate into a complete shambles where bosses may make complete fools of themselves, where sexual harassment often rears its ugly head and where many a staid co-worker is outed as the “wild thing” that has been suppressed all year under that cool office-efficient exterior. I have no problems with Christmas parties as I tend not to drink much, circulate a lot and generally ensure that while everyone has a good time, things don’t get out of hand.
This evening we had our work pre-Christmas party. It was in Melbourne’s Greek Precinct on Lonsdale Street at Tsindos Greek Restaurant. We had quite a lot of people there – about 100, which made for a very noisy and crowded do, but fortunately the weather today was cool, which made a difference. It all went well and people enjoyed themselves. It is important to have several of these social functions all year round, giving people a chance to interact and let their hair down. It is also an opportunity for the employer to thank the staff for all their hard work during the past year and for staff to enjoy themselves in an environment where the usual “rules” of the workplace are relaxed, but where they nevertheless are with their workmates.
The party this evening went very well and everyone had a great time. The theme was “wear a Christmas hat” and the best three hats were given prizes. This created a fun atmosphere and many people had gone to a great deal of trouble to adorn their head with all sorts of flights of fancy. This of course contributed to the levity and the mirth.
The food was Greek and was accompanied by an open bar where the alcohol flowed freely. It was comforting to see that most people stayed sober and the most excessive of excesses was that some got up to dance. Here is what we had:
• Dolmades – stuffed vine leaves, with a fragrant herb-flavoured rice and meat mixture;
• Keftedakia – small, round, deep-fried meatballs;
• Spicy prawns – Tossed in a seasoned flour mixture and fried;
• Chicken drumettes – Tender chicken pieces marinated, seasoned and grilled;
• Kreatopites – Fried pastry parcels filled with a seasoned meat mixture;
• Selection of meat cuts, marinated and grilled.
I gave a brief speech (nothing worse than a long speech at these functions) and the winners of the best hats were given their prizes. Everyone had a good time, there was much laughter, collegiality, and enjoyment. Another year is drawing to a close…
“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Gautama Buddha
The festival of the Hanukkah is one of the most popular and joyous of the Jewish festivals. In 2009 it begins at sundown on Friday December 11and is an eight-day holiday both in and outside of Israel. It commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 164 BC, after the armies of Judas Maccabaeus (the “Hammer”) had routed the forces of Antiochus IV. On that occasion, there was a miraculous relighting of the perpetual light in the Temple in Jerusalem. The ritual oil that kept the light burning had run out and only enough was left for one day. However, miraculously, the light kept burning for eight days.
To commemorate that event, candles are lit in synagogues and homes. The menorah is the special candelabrum used for this ritual. One candle is lit every night in each of the seven nights of the festival. While the Hanukkah lights are burning parties are held, games are played, gifts are exchanged and various other entertainments and plays are featured. This is as close to Christmas as the Jewish faith gets! Tradition limits work only during the time that the Hanukkah candles are lit.
According to Jewish law, Hanukkah is one of the less important Jewish holidays. However, Hanukkah has become much more popular in modern practice because of its proximity to Christmas. In more liberal Jewish households, this holiday has absorbed many of the Christmas traditions – for example, exchange of gifts, decoration of the house, special family dinners, etc. Many parents hope that by making Hanukkah extra special their children won't feel left out of all the Christmas festivities going on around them.
Hanukkah falls on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar based, every year the first day of Hanukkah falls on a different day – usually sometime between late November and late December. Every community has its unique Hanukkah traditions, but there are some traditions that are almost universally practiced. They are: Lighting the hanukkiyah, spinning the dreidel and eating fried foods.
Lighting the hanukkiyah: Every year it is customary to commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah oil by lighting candles on a hanukkiyah. The hanukkiyah is lit every night for eight nights.
Spinning the dreidel: A popular Hanukkah game is spinning the dreidel, which is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters written on each side. Gelt, which are chocolate coins covered with tin foil, are part of this game.
Eating fried foods: Because Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot during the holiday. Latkes are pancakes made out of potatoes and onions, which are fried in oil and then served with applesauce. Sufganiyot (singular: sufganiyah) are jam-filled donuts that are fried and sometimes dusted with confectioners’ sugar before eating.
Hanukkah |ˈ kh änəkə; ˈhänəkə| (also Chanukah) noun
a lesser Jewish festival, lasting eight days from the 25th day of Kislev (in December) and commemorating the rededication of the Temple in 165 bc by the Maccabees after its desecration by the Syrians. It is marked by the successive kindling of eight lights. ORIGIN from Hebrew ḥănukkāh ‘consecration.’
I am mindful of the Northern Hemisphere Winter approaching, being reminded of it in what fellow bloggers are writing in their blogs here at Blogger. For the last few days and for the next few, even here in Springtime Melbourne, temperatures have been relatively low (necessitating turning the heater on in the morning!) and we have got some welcome rain, also. This juxtaposition of the seasons Northern and Southern is something that my mind turns to often. I guess that’s my Northern Hemisphere genes stepping in, even in my Southern Hemisphere existence.
Here is a beautiful poem by Heinrich Heine that contrasts the snowy Winter of lovelessness with the Springtime blossoming of love…
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 poem has been translated into Greek by Angelos Vlahou, and set to music by Manolis Zaharakis. Here it is, sung by Greek singer, Eleni Dimou.
“Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.” - C.P. Snow
You may recall a few weeks ago when I blogged about an image I had found on the web and did not know who it was painted by. I bemoaned the fact that I wasn’t able to upload it and get Google to search the web for me to find out what it was (I since did find out what the image was through some detective work and the help of one of my readers). Well, it looks like that I did not have to wait that long to see my request made into reality! Well, in principle, anyway!
Google has launched a new application for the Google Android mobile phone that allows you to search for more information about a landmark by taking a picture of it with your Android phone and submitting it to a Google application known as “Google Goggles”. At this stage, the application can recognise landmarks, works of art, books, wine labels and company logos. In the near future, I can see it recognising famous faces, and as we move into the future other images will taggle along…
The way that it works is that when the user takes a picture of the feature in question, the phone sends it to the Google databases where elements of the photographed image are compared with features of images on the Google databases. When a match is made, Google notifies the user what they are looking at and provide a list of web references and news stories relating to that identified item. What also helps is that Google can use the user’s location (through the GPS locator in the phone) to aid in the ID process (take a picture of a faraway landmark in a poster at your place of residence and see if that will confuse the poor dear!).
Google maintains that tens of millions of locations, landmarks, logos, etc can be recognised. As I pointed out in my earlier blog, searching by an image is so much more convenient in many cases, and an image search on a mobile phone through a captured image can be so much easier than text searches.
The whole concept brings to the fore the developing technology in computer vision (and by extension of course, robot vision). This is technology still in its infancy, but one can see the tremendous potential of applications such as Google Goggles. We may be soon approaching the time where we may simply point our finger at something and through our special decorative ring-cum-camera-cum-phone, and then through our speaker-enabled sunglasses hearing a description of what we are pointing to…
Google has also started to add real-time results to its search engine, channelling feeds from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other user content that has just been added by web users, in response to queries. This means that the person doing the search gets answers to their query on a results page as the content is being generated on the source website. Google once again claims that this is the first time a search engine has integrated real-time web-content into a web search results page.
Once again, this latest development raises some questions. How reliable will such search results be, if all sorts of live, real-time results are given from the myriad of blogs, tweets, and other content, which may be (and often definitely is) quite spurious? How do we tell rubbish is rubbish? There was much adverse publicity lately about the reliability of information in Wikipedia. This was because of malicious feeding of specious or fallacious information into Wikipedia articles by malfeasants and other people with ulterior motives. We live in an age of excess information. Being able to filter this information and derive form it the useful, genuine and reliable bits is quite an art. It will become an even bigger art in the future as we are surrounded by even more information, which will become increasingly more easily available. How do we go about navigating through this dangerous sea of excess data? Will this superabundance of information be a boon or a curse?
“Vanity, revenge, loneliness, boredom, all apply: Lust is one of the least of the reasons for promiscuity.” - Mignon McLaughlin
At the weekend we watched a 1947 British film directed by Michael Powell and Emmeric Pressburger, their “Black Narcissus”. This was a technicolour film, which used colour to great effect, but also with great restraint when it needed to. The cinematography by Jack Cardiff is quite stunning, especially considering that the scenery was mostly painted backdrops and involved glass backing shots (considering it was 62 years ago), were quite sophisticated an very realistic. Ivor Beddoes the scenic artist who also looked after the special effects did a remarkably good job. The music, costumes, sound and technical production of the film were also all quite remarkable. We watched the movie on BluRay and it was a superb quality experience.
The plot concerns five young British nuns who are invited to move to a windy “palace”, the former residence of the concubines of an old general, on the top of a mountain in Mopu, in the Himalayas. Their mission is to convert the “house of sin” to the convent of Saint Faith, with a school for children and girls, and an infirmary for the local people. Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is assigned as the sister superior, and her liaison with civilisation is the rude but very manly, government agent Mr. Dean (David Farrar). Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) is rather unstable and the isolation, her jealousy of Sister Clodagh and her carnal desire of Mr Dean, become the impetus for a many tragic event.
The plot is embroidered with a couple of sub-plots, one involving a liaison between servant girl Kanchi (Jean Simmons) and the Young General (Sabu), while another involves the interaction of the Westerners with the natives, especially the culture clash on matters of religion, medicine and love. Flora Robson plays Sister Philippa, the nun in charge of the garden who has to battle her own demons, while May Hallatt plays with great gusto the native housekeeper of the convent Angu Ayah. David Farrar makes great effort to appear dashing, but the unfortunate choice of costume in the initial scenes provoked laughter with us. His floppy hat with feathers, shot-sleeved shirt, shorts and sandals have got to be seen to be appreciated!
This was an engaging, well-crafted film based on Rumer Godden’s novel, which was made through the efforts of many talented people in a manner that is rarely replicated nowadays. The acting was superb, with top honours going to Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron, whose screen interaction was quite electric. Kathleen Byron’s portrayal of the unbalanced Sister Ruth is masterly, although it may appear a little melodramatic to today’s audiences. Deborah Kerr’s acting centres on her face and every muscle, every blink, every twitch is significant and well played. Jean Simmons has a silent role, but manages to be very winsome and plays her scenes with great enjoyment.
I recommend the film to everyone who enjoys old movies, especially those of a more sedentary, cerebral nature. The plot is rich in innuendo and there is much to be read into simple remarks and fleeting glimpses afforded to us by the camera. Incidentally the “Black Narcissus” of the title is a perfume and symbol of decadence and moral terpitude. There are no car chases, no elephant stampedes and no battle scenes in this movie. However, it was a delight to watch and artistically it was one of the best British films of the 1940s I have seen.
“Celebrate the happiness that friends are always giving, make every day a holiday and celebrate just living.” - Amanda Bradley
Today is St Nicholas’ Feast Day. St Nicholas was a bishop of Myra in Asia Minor in the 4th century. Even as a baby, legend recounts, he was so pious that he would not suckle milk on Wednesdays and Fridays, the Days of Penance and Fasting. He is reputed to have saved three maidens from prostitution one night by throwing to them through their window three golden balls, which they used as dowry. He also revived three murdered boys that were thrown in a brine tub. He is thus considered the patron saint of children. The connection with the brine may also account for his patronage of sailors in some countries (e.g. Greece). Pawnbrokers also claim the saint as their own, using the three golden balls recounted in the saint’s story as an emblem.
The Saint is associated in the northern European countries especially with gift-giving to children and Santa Claus is a corruption of the name of Saint Nicholas. In Holland, where I lived for a while, Sinter Claes Day is an excuse for a lovely celebration where the saint dressed up in his bishop’s regalia and accompanied by his black servant (Zwarte Piet) visits little children and leaves them gifts.
As it was my day to celebrate today, I did just that. We woke up rather late (slept in till seven in the morning!) and after snuggling in bed for a while I got up and had a lovely breakfast in the garden. The temperature was a little cool, but the morning sun was very pleasant and we sipped our coffee and listened to some music surrounded by the flowers and greenery, smelling the wonderful smells of the morning garden.
We then decided to go out and we drove to Croydon where there is a Sunday Market. We sometimes visit this market as it is quite a small but always busy one. Besides the regular stall holders there are always some surprises and one may occasionally find a little treasure hiding out amongst the trash. Today I found three very good books as well as some CDs and a couple of DVDs. We walked to the mall adjacent to the market and just enjoyed the festive air of the Christmas decorations and the hustle and bustle of the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, which has well and truly started.
We went back home for lunch and watched a movie in the afternoon. We were frequently interrupted by phone calls of well-wishers for my name day. Then some gardening and for dinner we went out. We went to a lovely old hotel near where we live, the Old England Hotel in Heidelberg. This offers a range of services including accommodation, a restaurant, a pub, a coffee shop as well as a gambling venue (thankfully I’ve never had the inclination to sample the last!).
We partook of a lovely fishy dinner with oysters, lobster and fish, all washed down with an excellent oaky South Australian Chardonnay. The day was very enjoyable and restful and celebratory and in fact, what more could I have wished for my name day?
For Art Sunday today, am Italian fresco illustrating the St Nicholas story. It is from Giornico, I the St. Nicolao church, painted by Nicolao da Seregno, ''A miracle of St. Nicholas'', frescoes decorating the apse, 1478.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.