Saturday, 17 July 2010


“One often calms one's grief by recounting it.” - Pierre Corneille

I am in a rather melancholy mood tonight and usually Bach is what I listen to when I feel like this. It is soothing and introspective music that helps me think and meditate.

Here is the Bach Prelude for Lute in D Minor BWV 1008, played by David Tayler on the archlute.

Friday, 16 July 2010


“If junk food is the devil, then a sweet orange is as scripture.” - Terri Guillemets

Our orange tree is laden with wonderful, ripe, bright oranges. They shine like beacons amongst the glossy dark green leaves and the tree is more beautiful than a decorated Christmas tree. The taste of the oranges is rich, sweet and sour and the flavour is wonderful: The essence of winter that encloses within it the promise of spring. We eat them, juice them and cook with them. Here is a winter recipe:


•    Finely grated rind of 1 orange
•    Juice of 1 orange
•    6 egg yolks
•    300 g caster sugar
•    600 ml thickened cream

1.    Preheat the oven to 160°C.
2.    Place the orange rind, juice, egg yolks and 150g caster sugar in a food processor and process until combined.
3.    Place the thickened cream in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to just below boiling point. Stir the orange mixture into the heated cream, then divide the mixture among six 120 ml ramekins. Place the ramekins in a large roasting pan, then pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up sides of the ramekins. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes until the mixtures have just set.
4.    Remove the roasting pan from the oven and carefully remove the ramekins from the water. Cool for 20 minutes, then chill in the fridge for 2-3 hours until firm.
5.    For the topping, have ready a large bowl or sink filled with cold water. Place the remaining sugar and 130 ml water in a pan over low heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Increase heat to medium - do not stir. Cook for 3-4 minutes until a light caramel colour.
6.    Remove from heat, then plunge the base of the pan into cold water to stop cooking process. Pour a thin layer over the custards and leave to set.

Thursday, 15 July 2010


“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” - John Ruskin

The last few days at work have been a whirlwind. I have been doing ten million things at once, have had meetings, working on submissions that are due to be lodged, entertaining interstate visitors, making preparations for a staff workshop next week, dealing with network outages, attending to several crises and numerous troubleshooting interventions. I didn’t have time to have lunch yesterday and even going in at 7:00 a.m. and leaving at 6:00 p.m isn’t enough to deal with the work that is accumulating. I have brought home some work to be done at the weekend, but I am too tired to work in the evening. I think that 11 and 12-hour work days are long enough. I certainly hope that by the end of the month the workload will ease…

Today is St Swithin’s Day in the Anglican calendar. St Swithin was a Saxon bishop of Winchester, well-beloved of his flock, who is believed to have died in 862 AD.  As his last wish before he died, he stipulated to be buried in the common churchyard amongst his poor parishioners.  His wish was granted, but so many miracles occurred at his grave that monks moved his remains to a magnificent shrine in Winchester Cathedral.  The Saint wept in protest causing a downpour that lasted for forty days:

St Swithin’s Day, if thou dost rain
Full forty days it will remain.
St Swithin’s Day, if thou be fair
For forty days ‘t will rain no mair.

In Buckingamshire the following variant of the weather oracle exists:

If on St Swithin’s day it really pours
You’re better off to stay indoors.

However, it was also believed in some parts of Britain that rain on St Swithin’s Day “christened” the apples which still should be unpicked on the trees.  No apples should be picked before St Swithin’s blessing is bestowed upon them; only then are they to ripen fully and reach their maturity. St Swithin is invoked in droughts, when it is thought that his intercession will bring about rain.

oracle |ˈôrəkəl| noun
1 A priest or priestess acting as a medium through whom advice or prophecy was sought from the gods in classical antiquity.
• A place at which such advice or prophecy was sought.
• A person or thing regarded as an infallible authority or guide on something : Casting the attorney general as the oracle for and guardian of the public interest is simply impossible.
2 a response or message given by an oracle, typically one that is ambiguous or obscure.
ORIGIN: late Middle English : via Old French from Latin oraculum, from orare ‘speak.’

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


“Most men are more capable of great actions than of good ones.” – Montesquieu

It is Bastille Day today, the National Day of France. France is a Western European country with shores on the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. It has an area of 544,000 square km and a population of 60 million. Its terrain is varied with high plateaux, mountain ranges and lowland basins. Its climate is mild ranging from typical Mediterranean in the South, to mild and wet further to the North. Agriculture is favoured by both land and climate making France one of the major European exporters of wheat, barley, sugar beet and wine. Manufacturing is the other major employer with rich reserves of oil, gas and coal assisting greatly the economy. French perfumes and other luxury goods are a major income earner while tourism is also a major industry. Paris is the capital city with other major cities being Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille, Grenoble, Rouen, Nantes and Toulouse.

The Bastille was an infamous prison in Paris, which the people stormed and seized in 1789, thus starting the French Revolution that toppled King Louis XVI and the aristocracy, ushering in the Republic. The revolutionary French song, “La Marseillaise” was composed by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792 and soon became the rousing song of the revolution and later, the national anthem.
The first stanza is:

    Allons enfants de la patrie,
    Le jour de gloire est arrivé.
    Contre nous de la tyrannie
    L'étendard sanglant est levé.

    Arise, children of the nation!
    The day of glory is here.
    Against us we see raised
    Tyranny’s bloody banner!

Hector Berlioz in the 19th century arranged the anthem for chorus and orchestra. In true French style, where the composer would normally instruct “tenors and basses” to begin singing, Berlioz wrote “everyone with a voice, soul, and blood in his veins, sing!” After another revolt in 1830, there was new interest in La Marseillaise. De Lisle wrote Berlioz a letter of appreciation for his arrangement, and invited Berlioz to discuss a libretto that de Lisle had written, but de Lisle died before they could meet.

The Bastille Day holiday in France symbolises the overthrow of the old monarchy and the beginning of the French Republic. Not only was the French monarchy undemocratic, but the king and aristocracy also owned most of the arable land and extracted not only the rent but imposed taxes and restrictions on the people. The Bastille with its many poor prisoners, many of them debtors and political prisoners, symbolised all that was bad in the corrupt, greedy and profligate monarchy. Economic injustice caused the French revolutionaries to storm the Bastille. Economic injustice still remains in today’s world. Many third world countries still do battle with unjust systems and have to do daily battle with corrupt, greedy powerbrokers in power. The spectre of the Bastille still haunts many an unfortunate land…

As we are looking at France today, here is a poem by Paul Eluard:

The Deaf and Blind

Do we reach the sea with clocks
In our pockets, with the noise of the sea
In the sea, or are we the carriers
Of a purer and more silent water?

The water rubbing against our hands sharpens knives.
The warriors have found their weapons in the waves
And the sound of their blows is like
The rocks that smash the boats at night.

It is the storm and the thunder. Why not the silence
Of the flood, for we have dreamt within us
Space for the greatest silence and we breathe
Like the wind over terrible seas, like the wind

That creeps slowly over every horizon.

                                        Paul Eluard (14 December 1895 – 18 November 1952)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


“You are invited to the festival of this world and your life is blessed” - Rabindranath Tagore

Obon is one of the most important cultural traditions of the Japanese. It is a Buddhist festival and is traditionally a period of praying for the repose of the souls of one’s ancestors. Prayers are said especially for anyone who has died in the previous year as it is believed that they need more guidance to find their way. People believe that their ancestors’ spirits come back to their homes to be reunited with their family during Obon.

Obon is an important family gathering time and many people return to the place they were born or where their family resides. Traditionally, Obon was originally celebrated around the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. However, with the introduction of the Western solar calendar to Japan, Obon periods are nowadays different in various regions of Japan. In most regions, Obon is celebrated around August 15th on the solar calendar. It starts from August 13th and ends on 16th. In some areas in Tokyo, Obon is celebrated around July 15th on the solar calendar, and it is still celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar in many areas in Okinawa.

The festival was started in the 7th century although many of the events have changed and it is one of the most significant and enjoyable of the Japanese festivals. It goes by a variety of names, the most popular of which is “The Festival of the Dead”. People clean their houses and offer a variety of food such as vegetables and fruits to the spirits of ancestors in front of the butsudan (Buddhist family altar). The butsudan is decorated with flowers and chouchin (paper lanterns). On the 13th, chouchin are lit inside houses, and people go to their family’s graves to call their ancestors’ spirits back home. This custom is called mukaebon. In some regions, fires called mukaebi are lit at the entrances to homes to guide the ancestors’ spirits.

On the 16th, People bring the ancestors’ spirits back to graves, hanging chouchin painted with the family crest to guide the ancestors’ spirits. This is called okuribon. In some regions, fires called okuribi are lit at entrances of homes to send the ancestors’ spirits away. During Obon, the air in houses and cemeteries in Japan are filled with the smell of incense called senko. Toro Nagashi (floating paper lanterns) is a custom often held during Obon. On the evening of the 15th, people send off ancestors’ spirits with a paper lantern inside which is a lit candle. The lanterns are floated down a river to the ocean.

Bon odori (folk dances) are customary during Obon. The kind of dance varies from area to area. People wearing yukata (summer kimono) go to the neighbourhood bon odori hall and dance around a yagura stage. Anyone can participate in bon odori, and everyone is invited to join the circle of dancers and imitate what others are doing. Usually, taiko drums keep the rhythms in bon odori.

Monday, 12 July 2010


“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge - myth is more potent than history - dreams are more powerful than facts - hope always triumphs over experience - laughter is the cure for grief - love is stronger than death” – Robert Fulghum

We watched Jerry Zucker’s 1995 film “First Knight” at the weekend. I had already seen it once when it was first released and I remember that I had not liked it much then. However, we had it given to us on a Bluray disc so we watched it. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised, as not only it did not grate, but it was quite entertaining. The picture quality was stunning and the sound magnificent, and this time round I did not concentrate too much on the departure from the “standard” Arthurian legends, nor did pay too much attention to the daggy costumes. The film was entertaining because of the restrained performances, the good dialogue and the winsome actors.

The first thing to say to the detractors of the film (including me many years ago!) is that the Arthurian legends are simply that – legends! There is no historical King Arthur, nor is there a Merlin or Morgan le Fay or a Mordred or an Excalibur! So if a film does not follow the “legend” it is not a departure from history, it is an interpretation, an alternative story, a retelling, if you like. This particular film does not have an ounce of the supernatural in it and as such, appears more authentic than the “usual” Arthur legends. There is a good action story behind it all and it feels more like a historical romance than a grandiose blockbuster epic reworking of a legend. However, despite the romantic story, there is action in and battle scenes and swordfights…

The story concerns an ageing King Arthur who is just returning to Camelot after having won some battles and is looking forward to a content “retirement”, deciding to marry Lady Guinevere of Lyonesse, the neighbouring kingdom. Lancelot is an orphaned young man who lives by the sword, fighting for money with his swordmanship, which he has honed to a fine entertaining art. Lady Guinevere, on her way to marry King Arthur is ambushed by the evil Sir Malagant, a fallen knight of the Round table who now wishes to subjugate both Camelot and Lyonesse, as well as making away with Guinevere. In the ambush Guinevere is captured by Malagant’s men and Lancelot who chances to be in the forest, rescues her. They fall in love, but Guinevere is honourable and sees in Arthur not only a noble a husband, but also a protector for her beloved Lyonesse. Lancelot and Guinevere part, but only temporarily because Lancelot turns up in Camelot on her wedding day and earns the right of a kiss, which he gallantly foregoes and makes a friend of Arthur. Many more adventures follow in which Malagant, Arthur and Lancelot feature prominently. Who will win the heart of Guinevere in the end?

The movie is filled with incident and there are some gorgeous landscapes. My favourite is the view of Lyonesse with a windmill in the foreground which looks like an old Flemish painting, with due credit to Adam Greenberg, the cinematographer. Camelot is rendered nicely, although looking rather fake and I have already mentioned the shortcomings of the costumes. The music is suitably rousing and tender as befits the scene but one expects that of a Jerry Goldsmith score. Jerry Zucker does a good job with directing this movie, considering his forte is really comedy (“Flying High”, “The Naked Gun”, “Ruthless People”, etc).

Overall, the movie was more enjoyable this second time around and I am glad that I gave it a second chance. If you are a purist and seek a true to the legend Arthur, this film is not for you. Rather it is a good “film inspired by” the Arthurian legends and should please both boys and girls...

Sunday, 11 July 2010


“I am essentially a painter of the kind of still life composition that communicates a sense of tranquillity and privacy, moods which I have always valued above all else.” – Giorgio Morandi

When I was younger I really detested modern abstract painting. For example, Jackson Pollock and his “Blue Poles” or Kasimir Malevich’s pathetic and insulting “Black Square”.  I still dislike most of it, but have developed a liking for some abstract art that generates some sort of positive emotional response, rather than a negative one of abhorrence, anger or bamboozlement. On the other hand, I dislike modern pretty paintings of most realists that comes under the umbrella of “kitch” or “kiss-me-pretty” type of art. You know the kind that Thomas Kinkade glorifies in and is a Christmas-card perfect, saccharine-sweet and pastel-coloured view of the world.

I am still to be convinced about some artists that dabble in neo-realism, but in any case one has to wonder at their technical expertise and wonderful rendition of the world in glorious, technicolour photorealism. Generally, their paintings sell well and they sell at a pretty price too. Admittedly, given the choice I would rather a photorealist painting rather than an abstract one. They are less obtrusive and jar one’s senses less... I typically prefer my art more painterly, more expressionistic, more emotional and sensuous painting that grips one and draws one into the canvas.

For Art Sunday today, a photorealist who started out with a sense of painting in an academic style that was almost surrealistic in its realism and who in his later world has begun to approach the commercialism of Kincade. It is Evgeny Lushpin, who was born in Moscow in 1966. He graduated from Art-graphic department MGPU and Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts. Lushpin’s work follows the traditions of representational art of both Russian and West European pictorial art. Virtuosity and technical excellence in handling the medium, a good sense of color and form, and good composition are all found in his art.

Lately Lushpin paints landscapes and cityscapes, which he paints in a realistic manner that can err into the prettification and idealism of a plastic kitch universe. The dramatic lighting of sunset or dvanced twilight is a favourite of his, with contrasting blues and yellow-oranges of natural failing light and artificial light. His works are popular and can be found in many private collections in the USA, Europe and Russia.

Above is a painting of his that I really like. A study of bottles and other stock “still life” items that have been assembled together to highlight the painter’s skill in handling colour, composition and supreme mastery of his medium. This a calming work that can have a Zen-like effect on one’s consciousness. It dates from 1999.

On the other hand, here you can find a painting of his that I don’t find particularly appealing and is typical of his later work: The Kincade-like cityscape of dramatic lighting and saccharine sweetness of his “Evening Journey”. The jury is still out on Mr Lushpin…