Saturday, 23 January 2010


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

I watched a video on the news this morning that coloured all of my day black. It was from Haiti and it had graphic images of two young men shot by police because they were suspected of stealing a few bags of rice. One of them survived even though shot in the back, while the other one expired there on the street, bleeding to death while everyone watched, including the cameramen taking the video. The body remained there for hours, until the relatives were notified and the wailing mother cried her eyes out over the body of her son, shot dead for a bag of rice.

Sainkho Namtchylak from Tuva, singing “Midnight blue”.

Friday, 22 January 2010


“By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.” - Robert Frost

Another very busy week, with lots of meetings, much to chase up on, lots of submissions to write and quite a few issues to resolve. At least I have quite a feeling of achievement as there have been some very favourable outcomes in the last couple of days to show for all my hard work. It is also good to work with people that one can depend on and to be able to collaborate with as a team. One can achieve a lot more, but also there is that great feeling of camaraderie that bonds people together.

We have a fairly quiet weekend planned this week, with hopefully some time to rest and relax. It’s always hard to have a weekend full of commitments and activities when the week has been so tiring. Nevertheless, the simple fact of being at home and not going into the office can be enough of a respite. Most people tend to bring work home nowadays, and yes, I am guilty of that. However, one can work differently at home and there is no pressure, precisely because one works alone.

For food Friday today, I’ll tell you what we had for dinner, which was derived totally from our own garden in the back yard. No, it wasn’t roses (some of you may know that our back garden has mainly rosebushes in it), but rather food from the few small plots that we have where we grow seasonal vegetables and some fruit. In summer, we have a couple of tomato plants, some cucumber vines, an eggplant, a couple of capsicum plants, some bean plants, a couple of zucchini plants and some seasonal greens. In winter there are leeks, some broad beans, lettuces, spinach, snow peas, broccoli, etc. All year around of course, there are herbs growing everywhere so we always have on hand some parsley, dill, mint, rosemary, oregano, sage, chives, etc.

In summer a characteristic green that we plant is a typical Greek one, which is considered a weed in most Western countries, although consumed widely in various other places around the world. It is the humble blite or purple amaranth (Amaranthus blitum, to give it its botanical name). This needs little care, is multi-cropping and provides for a delicious, healthful and satisfying meal. It is always prepared and served together with other vegetables and greens. For example, also growing in the garden we have the black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) which is added to this dish in smaller amounts, and some French beans, a few baby zucchini and a couple of potatoes, as well. Blites, black nightshade, zucchini, beans and potatoes are all boiled together until tender, strained and served with a simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. Some crusty bread and a few pieces of cheese complete the meal, which believe it or not is very filling and satisfying.

The blites have lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre, as do the black belladonnas and the other vegetables. However, the black nightshade (a distant cousin of the deadly nightshade – Atropa belladonna) also contain some bitter principles that act as liver tonics. A very healthful meal, and completely organic, as it is harvested right from our own backyard! (we have sometimes even planted a few potatoes).

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, 21 January 2010


“Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark.” - Rabindranath Tagore

Today is the feast day of St Agnes, who was held in very honour amongst all of the virgin martyrs of Rome by the primitive church, since the fourth century. Her name in Greek means “pure” and the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, is dedicated to St Agnes.  Her feast day was celebrated on this day from 354 AD. Although there are numerous apocryphal stories regarding her martyrdom, there is no accurate and reliable narrative, at least in writing, concerning the details of her life and death. One thing seems to be universally agreed upon, this being that she was only 12 or 13 years old when she died a violent death under torture.

According to tradition, she was a beautiful virgin who turned away all suitors, declaring that she could have no spouse but Jesus (nuns are still to this day known as “Brides of Christ”). The rejected suitors informed Roman officials that she was a Christian, and she was punished by being exposed in a brothel. There she was left miraculously unharmed; the only man who attempted to violate her was struck blind, and she healed him with prayer. She was later murdered during the persecutions ordered by Diocletian, which occurred in 304 AD. After this point, Agnes's name appears several times in the historical written record. In the decades after her death, Agnes's tomb became a place of pilgrimage and she is considered a protector saint of young girls.

On St Agnes's feast day, two lambs from the Trappist monastery at Tre Fontane outside Rome are adorned with crowns and ribbons of red and white and blessed at her church by the Pope. They are then taken to the abbey of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, in Rome, where Benedictine nuns raise them. Their wool is shorn on Holy Thursday, and palliums (or pallia, if you want to be picky!) are then made from it. These are circular ceremonial bands worn over the shoulders in Roman Catholic ecclesiastical dress and signify one of the highest church offices. The Pope bestows a dozen or so annually to his archbishops.

Young girls in England made cakes on this day to commemorate St Agnes’s martyrdom. In some villages, once the cakes were made, the young women took one and climbing the stairs backwards, prayed to St Agnes and then ate the cake. This ritual was meant to reveal in a dream the man the young woman was to marry. Several other divinatory traditions relate to St Agnes. On St Agnes’s Eve, young women took their shoes put a sprig of rosemary in one, a sprig of thyme in the other, sprinkled them with water, placed them one on each side of their bed and said:
    St Agnes, that’s to lovers kind,
    Come ease the trouble of my mind.

They would then dream of their future husband.

pallium |ˈpalēəm| noun ( pl. pallia |ˈpalēə| or palliums )
1 a woolen vestment conferred by the pope on an archbishop, consisting of a narrow, circular band placed around the shoulders with short lappets hanging from front and back.
2 historical a man's large rectangular cloak, esp. as worn by Greek philosophical and religious teachers.
3 Zoology the mantle of a mollusk or brachiopod.
4 Anatomy the outer wall of the mammalian cerebrum, corresponding to the cerebral cortex.
pallial |ˈpalēəl| adjective (in senses 3 and 4) .
ORIGIN Middle English: from Latin, literally ‘covering.’

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


“The past is not a package one can lay away.” - Emily Dickinson

Readers of this blog may remember me mentioning on a couple of occasions that I have been in the habit of keeping journals and visual diaries for a few decades now. Occasionally when I have a clean-up around the house I will find a mysterious box all taped up and marked “N’s personal papers”. It more often than not contains some of these journals and diaries. It happened last weekend when I was cleaning my study that I shifted some furniture allowing me to get into a little cupboard under one of my bookcases. I had not been able to open this cupboard fully for several years. In it I found one of these “personal papers” packages that I mentioned and I spent a couple of hours immersed in browsing through its contents and reading some of what I had written ages ago – ah, youth!

This experience stimulated me to write the poem below.

Pages from the Past

A notebook by pure chance discovered,
Brings back old pages from the past;
As my experiences lie bare, uncovered
My feelings backwards are cast.

The even script, my younger self belies
My thoughts of yore, there are manifest.
Old tears, laughter, truths and even lies
Appear in pages, like flowers pressed.

My heart’s first stirrings faithfully recorded
The bitter disappointments, and the sheer joy;
I read, and on the train of the past boarded,
Travel to foreign parts of me, when a boy.

My inner being revels and perfectly resonates
With my younger self, my innocence engaged;
I look at my lined face, surprised that the fates
Have willed a youth, in body so much aged.

My pages from the past, the yellowed paper,
The mind’s awakening and the soul’s flight
Captured forever, and their evanescent vapour
Wafts in, a sweet aroma, a bright light…

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday.

Monday, 18 January 2010


“Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.” - William Shakespeare

At the weekend, there was a horrific fatal car crash in a suburb a few kilometers from where we live. I know the road where it happened as it is a couple of blocks up from my previous job. Plenty Rd, the main road there is already notorious for car crashes and there are several markers on the verge commemorating the lives lost. It is a long straight stretch of road leading to the outer suburbs, with two lanes on either side, separated by a median strip planted with bushes and greenery.

The accident claimed the lives of five teenagers last Sunday and the 19-year-old driver was possibly intoxicated (toxicology reports are pending). The driver, who was also a P-plater had been drinking at a party immediately before taking the wheel of the car. The car hit a large tree after mounting the median strip and spinning out of control, at an estimated 150 km/hr. The immense force of the impact uprooted the tree and caused it to fall on the wrecked car. Five young men died at the scene and the sole survivor was a 15-year-old girl, whose brother bravely put his body across her to protect her from the impact. She is presently in hospital fighting for her life.

Distraught relatives of the same young man who protected his sister have described him as a fine young man who liked fast cars. His uncle and aunt were at a loss to comprehend why Anthony would be in a car travelling at a speed of at least 140kmh or why he would allow his little sister to be in that Ford Falcon XR6 sedan with him. As soon as the girl recovers she may be able to shed some light in the events that surround the accident. However, it is simple to understand the basics: Youth + alcohol + fast cars + inexperience = Fatality.

The very next day after the crash, three more teenagers were caught driving at high speeds within 10km of the same crash site. Police early on Monday morning intercepted a 19-year-old probationary driver from South Morang driving at 165km/h in a 70km/h zone along Mahoneys Road, Reservoir. He is to be charged on summons for excessive speed. Less than an hour later, an 18-year-old driver was caught in McDonalds Road, Epping, travelling at 89km/h in a 60 zone. A 19-year-old woman, also a P-plater, was detected driving at 106km/h along the same road about 2.30am Monday morning.

These drivers will lose their driving licence for one month and six months respectively, however, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr Lay, conceded that hoon legislation doesn’t seem to be working. Already there are proposals to confiscate cars of young drivers who commit serious traffic offences (related to alcohol and speeding mainly). The cars should be crushed, some people suggest, while others say that they should be sold and the money donated to rehabilitation hospitals. Others suggest that speed delimiters be fitted to probationary drivers’ cars. In any case, the crash has started a big debate on the failing measure that are in place to reduce teenage fatalities on our roads.

I keep thinking of the families of the five dead teens. Imagine the telephone or the doorbell ringing in the middle of the night and being confronted with news of this sort. The sheer waste of young life, the immense stupidity of a few minutes that culminated in a few seconds of alcohol-fuelled, excess speed. I think of the young man who shielded his sister and try to imagine what was going through his mind for those last few split seconds. I think of that young girl who survived waking up in hospital asking to see her brother and her friends. Will she be able to sleep without having nightmares ever again? Lives lost, lives broken.

The grandmother of one of the victims encapsulates the pathos of the whole situation in one of the meorial notices published in the newspaper today:
            “A young man who lost his way, Rest in peace. Love – Nanna”.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


“Culture is roughly anything we do and the monkeys don't.” - Lord Raglan

We wanted some pure escapist nonsense on Sunday afternoon, as we stayed in, did some housework, some gardening and we were depressed enough with the news of the last week. We decided to watch the Tim Burton 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes”. Of course we had seen the Franklin Schaffner 1968 original “Planet of the Apes” with Charlton Heston, but knew nothing of this remake. It was on special at the DVD shop so I had bought it on impulse, seeing it was directed by Tim Burton. Well. Its time to be watched came yesterday.

Burton has some good, offbeat films to his name: “Beetlejuice”, “Batman”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Batman Returns”, “Ed Wood”, “Mars Attacks!”, “Sleepy Hollow”, “Big Fish”, etc, etc. I thought that if he were involved in a remake of a classic such as “Planet of the Apes” it would have a new twist, a new retelling of a familiar tale. The film was watchable, but not of the high standard of “Edward Scissorhands” or “Ed Wood”, for example. Compared to the original, Burton’s version fails on several grounds. The young protagonist Captain Leo Davidson, played by Mark Wahlberg is overwhelmed by the men in monkey suits and cannot command enough presence to even touch upon the heroic stature of Heston. He is still wet behind the ears as far as a heroic lead is concerned and his acting although tolerable is simply not commanding enough. The apes have the benefit of state of the art advanced make-up technology and the villainous Thade (played by Tim Roth) does an excellent job of aping it up, easily the best actor on the set. Ari (played by Helena Bonham Carter) tries to do as much as possible with her role, but the material she has to work with is flimsy. Kris Kristofferson has a cameo appearance as Karubi, an enslaved human (a waste of his talent, I think) and Estella Warren (playing Daena the scantily daughter of Karubi) provides some eye candy (I think she only uttered a dozen words in the whole film!) but is otherwise a weak ove interest and is easily overwhelmed by Ari, the apess(!).

The sets and cinematography are very good and the two moons of the planet look quite fetching in the sky. The ape city is convincingly alien and the ruined spaceship set is quite good. The battle scene is staged competently and the special effects are good. I loved the space pods (I want one for Christmas!) and the real chimps were cute and provided some pathos at times.

There was one flaw that made the whole movie predictable and its ending a given. When Captain Davidson gets in the pod and encounters the electromagnetic storm, we see the controls of his console. How much better the film would have been if we had not seen that vital detail – please oh please cut it out! Hence the surprise punch of the scene with the Statue of Liberty in the original movie! I also found the final scene of the remake very corny and a set up for a sequel if ever there was a set up for a sequel (however, thankfully, a sequel did not eventuate!).

The movie’s basic premise and “moral” if you like, is very much watered down compared to the original. In Schaffner’s original film, the apes are the only intelligent and articulate beings on the planet. Although they have only attained a pre-industrial level of civilisation they are a far more advanced species than the planet’s humanoid inhabitants, who lack the powers of speech and reason and live an animal-like existence. A true role-reversal. In Burton’s remake, humans and apes have similar powers of speech and intellect. The only reason humans are slaves is that the apes have greater physical strength, which enables them to dominate the planet even if they are a minority. The apes in the original film are noble and more civilised than humans. In Burton’s version, they are more aggressive and more obviously animals than in the original film; they can still move on all fours and emit fierce shrieks whenever angry or excited. The planet’s human population are like “noble savages” who long for freedom from the domination of the apes, and a few liberal, pro-human apes, especially Ari, the daughter of an ape senator are “human rights activists” who wish humans and apes to live as equals.

Schaffner’s film became a classic because it tackled head-on topical concerns of the late sixties: Racism, fear of a nuclear holocaust, the relationship between man and nature, the relationship between religion and science, Darwinism and animal rights. Burton’s film is a thinly veiled paean to animal rights (and a heavy-handed one at that).

Overall, the film was good for a Sunday matinee, which was when we watched it and it provided s with a few laughs. Watch it as a curiosity, as a “passa-tiempo”, as a bit of escapist nonsense.


“From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.” - Edvard Munch

Pablo Picasso for Art Sunday today. His painting “The Charnel House” (1944-45. Oil and charcoal on canvas. The Museum of Modern Arts, New York, NY, USA) encapsulates the horrors of violent death.

This was painted as reports of the death camps began to filter through Europe. The picture is painted in the gray tones of a newsreel and has an unfinished air. Picasso left ghostly, partially rubbed-out lines in the image; the colour is devoid of life. A still life in the upper left appears barren, abandoned. But “The Charnel House” is yet another example of Picasso's intuition about how an artist must approach the century's horrors. Not long after he painted the picture, writers would argue that art must fall mute before the Holocaust, that no image could represent its meaning in anything but the most broken, partial manner. In The Charnel House, Picasso begins but does not presume to end the accounting of the Holocaust: His lines fade toward nothingness.