Saturday, 11 June 2011


“A rose is the visible result of an infinitude of complicated goings on in the bosom of the earth and in the air above, and similarly a work of art is the product of strange activities in the human mind.” - Clive Bell

It was a beautiful, fine day today and perfect for some gardening. And so it was. Alas, my hands are blistered, scratched and cut from the serious pruning and weeding that took most of the day, however, it was all worth it as the garden looks all the better for it. Most of our rose bushes are getting a little old, which is sad as we have a large and varied selection. I like a rose to possess fragrance as well as look beautiful, so most of our roses are both fragrant and also every shade available: White, yellow, gold, orange, all shades of red, burgundy, many pinks,  and lavender. However, we need to do some serious culling, taking out the oldest and start replacing them with new bushes in the spring.

And as we are speaking of roses, here is some world music performed by “Rosa Negra” (Black Rose). Rosa Negra is a five-piece “novo fado” group, a variation on the age-old traditional Portuguese genre of the fado (popular songs of love, loss and fate). This is a flexible genre that allows the influence of other music to seep through and assert themselves. This piece from 2006, “Fado Ladino”, has significant Asian and Arabic influences that infiltrate the familiar Iberian, but not enough that the music gives itself up totally to foreign genres and loses its natural Portuguese soul.

The lush string instrumentation is amplified by trumpet, piano, accordion and percussion, which together creates a sensual and dramatic tapestry of emotions and textures. But the heart of the group is the vocals of Carmo the lead songstress, whose interpretation of the typically gloomy lyrics (intense songs about love, loss of love, longing for past, and fado itself) are, theatrical and utterly captivating. Her navigation of that fine line between the ancient and the new is quite compelling.

Here is the gist of the lyrics:
“A warm breeze inside me blows and raises me towards the East. Is it real or a mirage on the road? Will it have an end? Perhaps the wind hides my destiny behind the shadows of loneliness… Fado Ladino, my heart is like a black rose, waiting amongst the delights of the garden. A rose in an oasis of eternal hope, a feeling of jasmine memories in my heart.”

Thursday, 9 June 2011


“The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?” - J.B. Priestley

I had a very full and busy day today with many meetings, quite a few loose ends to take care of and many staff members coming to see me. In between everything I was finalising a submission, which thankfully got put in the mail on time. I managed to finish by five o’clock and at that stage felt rather tired, having been in at work since 7:00 am. Everyone, not the least myself, was looking forward to the end of the day as we have the Queen’s Birthday long weekend ahead of us. This is traditionally the opening of the ski season.

Our winter has come early and with bared claws this year so it is no surprise that most of the alpine resorts in Victoria are reporting a good coverage of snow and are expecting crowds of visitors and skiers for the long weekend. Snowmakers have been topping up the natural snow cover and the forecast is for mostly fine conditions throughout the long weekend with a chance of some isolated snow showers. This link will take you to the official Snow Report page of the Victorian ski fields.

I haven’t been skiing for a couple of decades now and don’t feel inclined to go in a hurry! I regard it as one of the follies of my youth, so consequently as I am no longer young, there is no reason for me to resume that particular folly. Snow is delightful to watch as it falls, of course, preferably from inside a warm room where the fireplace is glowing with a bright fire and the hot eggnog is sending its nutmeggy aroma through the room. The last time it snowed in metropolitan Melbourne was about 30 years ago, but there is sightseeing snow within an hour’s drive at Lake Mountain.

This is the time of the year for comfort food. As we had roast lamb a couple of days ago, here is a recipe that will utilise the leftovers in the fridge:

For the filling

    30 g lard
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
    1 large carrot, peeled and diced
    1 cup of frozen peas
    450 g leftover roast lamb, minced
    1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
    1 tbsp plain flour
    1 tbsp tomato purée
    300 ml beef stock
    2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
    1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
    1/2 tsp ground mace

For the topping
    450 g potatoes
    2 tbsp double cream
    130 g unsalted butter
    2 pinches nutmeg, freshly grated
    grated parmesan (optional)


1. For the filling: Melt the lard in a large frying pan and add the onion. Cook for a few minutes until soft but not browned. Add the carrot and peas.

2. Add the minced lamb and fry for 2 minutes, then add the tomato purée, garlic if using it, and flour, mixing well. Add the mace.

3. Add the stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes until the stew thickens but does not stick to the pan.

4. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, parsley and some salt and pepper, and remove from the heat. Put into a pie dish of about 900ml and leave to cool.

5. For the topping: Peel the potatoes then cut them into even pieces and put into cold salted water. Bring to the boil and cook until tender, then drain and return to the pan. Put back on the heat to dry out carefully, stirring all the time.

6. Put the double cream and 90 g of the butter into a clean pan and bring to the boil.

7. Mash the potatoes or pass them through a potato ‘ricer’ and add to the cream mixture. Stir well, season with salt and pepper and add some nutmeg. Allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 180˚C.

8. Put the potato into a piping bag with a 2cm star nozzle and pipe on to the meat mixture in the pie dish. Put the pie dish into the preheated oven for 10 minutes to set the potato topping.

9. Melt the remaining butter and carefully brush over the top of the pie and add the parmesan on top if using. Put back in the oven for a further 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


“Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.” – Epictetus

The desire to adorn ourselves is something that has its origins deep in our dim and distant past. Something that is ingrained within our genetic make-up, reflecting our animal origins where ostentatious display signifies readiness for mating and where the brightness and splendour of the display could prove to make a big difference between reproducing many times or not reproducing at all. The feathers of a peacock, the mane of a lion, the plumage of a bird of paradise are all cases in point.

The sporting of bright clothing, enormous hats, outrageous hairdos, extensive tattoos, exaggerated make-up and shiny jewellery by humans certainly developed from this type of animal display and its purpose of course is to attract potential mates. The way that we adorn ourselves can prove to be a powerful attractant and the character of the adornment will send out signals as to who we are and whom we wish to draw to us. The display of a rooster will leave a peahen quite unmoved, while the bristling, spotted fur of a hyena will fail to attract a lion. The beautifully made-up face of an attractive woman who wears earrings, has carefully coiffed hair and is dressed appropriately will attract many a blue-blooded male who will gravitate towards her. A similar style of adornment on a male (à la Boy George) will turn most males right off, but then again may attract some other people who are so inclined to admire such adornment.

Adornments can also be worn to embellish, enhance, or distinguish the wearer. They can define cultural, social, or religious status within a specific community. When items of adornment display economic status, they are often rare or prohibitively expensive to most others. Adornments include cosmetics, jewellery, clothing accessories, medals, ceremonial additions to clothing or hair, facial hair, fingernail modification, piercing, lip plates, tattooing, braiding, and head gear.

Personally, I will tolerate no jewellery or other adornment on me, and it is even grudgingly that I wear a watch (which is functional and quite plain). My clothes could best be described as drab (dark shades of gray, blue, black and navy), while my hair is very short and cut in a very conservative style. Oh, I don’t wear any make-up either. I do tend to blend into a crowd. Perhaps that may explain that there are no potential mates beating a path to my door…

The picture above is of Elaine Davidson, a former nurse, born in Brazil but now residing in Edinburgh, Scotland. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Elaine Davidson is the “Most Pierced Woman in the World”. In May 2000, Davidson had 462 piercings, with 192 in her face alone. By August 9, 2001 when she was re-examined she was found to have 720 piercings. Performing at the Edinburgh Festival in 2005, the Guardian reported that she now had 3,950 body piercings. She has more piercings in her genitalia than in any other part of the body - 500 in all, externally and internally. The total weight of her jewellery is estimated to be about 3 kilograms. As of May 2008, Davidson’s piercings totalled 5,920. In February 2009 her piercings totalled 6,005, while in March 2010, Elaine reported a total of 6,725 piercings.

Elaine appeared at the Edinburgh registry office having added another ring to her collection of jewellery, this time a wedding ring. She was married to an unnamed man today. Which proves the point that her jewellery display was a strong attractant to a mate…

adorn |əˈdôrn| verb [ trans. ]
Make more beautiful or attractive: Pictures and prints adorned his walls.
adorner noun
adornment noun
ORIGIN: Late Middle English: Via Old French from Latin adornare, from ad- ‘to’ + ornare ‘deck, add lustre.’


“The sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.” - Joseph Conrad

We had a small dinner party last night, which was very pleasant. As it was midweek it finished relatively early, but we enjoyed it very much.

Today is World Oceans Day. In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly decided that, as from 2009, 8th June would be designated by the United Nations as “World Oceans Day” (resolution 63/111, paragraph 171). Many countries have celebrated World Oceans Day following the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The oceans are essential to food security and the health and survival of all life, power our climate and are a critical part of the biosphere. The official designation of World Oceans Day is an opportunity to raise global awareness of the current challenges faced by the international community in connection with the oceans.

Here is an apt poem for this day:

Sea Fever

I MUST go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

John Masefield (1878-1967)

Monday, 6 June 2011


“Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.” - Chili Davis

Vesta is the Roman goddess of the hearth fire and is analogous to the Greek goddess Hestia. Vesta is one of the most ancient of the Roman deities, and her cult goes back to the 7th century BC. Tradition has it that the cult of Vesta was instituted by Numa Pompilius (753-673 BC; the legendary second king of Rome, 715-673 BC, succeeding Romulus).

The cult of Vesta was in the hands of the Vestal Virgins, a special female priesthood. Vesta only had one temple in Rome, the circular Temple of Vesta in the Forum Romanum. Inside the round temple burnt the eternal fire, the symbolic hearth of Rome and all the Roman people. If the fire was extinguished it was thought that it would have grave consequences for the Romans. Also inside the temple, to which only the six vestal virgins had access, were kept the objects that Aeneas was said to have brought with him on his flight from Troy. This included the Palladius (an ancient wooden statue of Minerva), and the images of the Penates (guardian spirits of the pantry). Vesta was represented by the burning fire. There was no cult statue in the temple, but Augustus had a statue placed on an altar in his house on the Palatine Hill in 12 BCE.  Other round temples have erroneously been attributed to Vesta by architectural analogy.

The Vestalia Festival of ancient Rome honoured Vesta, the goddess of the household and the hearth.  Her temple was the home of the Vestal virgins and it was closed, forbidden to everyone throughout the year.  On the 7th of June, the Vestal Virgins opened the shrine to married women of Rome for eight days. The matrons walked to the temple barefoot and there took part in rituals honouring the family hearth and household. On the 15th June, the matrons returned home and the temple was closed to outsiders until next year.

Some people born today:

Pope Gregory XIII, (1583);
John Rennie, civil engineer (1761);
George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummel, English dandy (1778);
Richard Doddridge Blackmore, author (1811);
(Eugène Henri) Paul Gauguin, artist (1848);
Knud Johan Victor Rasmussen, explorer (1879);
Imre Nagy, Hungarian revolutionary (1896);
George Szell, conductor (1897);
Elizabeth Bowen (Elizabeth Dorothea Cole), writer (1899);
Virginia Apgar, physician (1909);
Jessica Tandy, actress (1909);
Pietro Annigoni, artist (1910);
Dean Martin (Dino Paul Crocetti), actor/singer (1917);
Rocky Graziano, pugilist (1922);
Virginia McKenna, actress (1931);
Tom Jones (Thomas Jones Woodward), singer (1940);
Prince (Rogers Nelson), musician (1968).

A red tulip, Tulipa gesneriana, is today’s birthday flower.  It symbolises ardent love.  The tulip is an importation into the West from Turkey and Persia, the word tulip being derived from the Turkish word tulband, meaning “turban”.  Young men in Persia would present their love with red tulips, this signifying their heated countenance (red petals) and their heart burnt to a coal (the black base of the petals).  The tulip also stands for eloquence, oratory and fame.

For each ecstatic instant
We must in anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.

For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years,
Bitter contested farthings
And coffers heaped with tears.
                Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)


“Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.” - Carl Sandburg

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art –
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors –
No – yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever – or else swoon to death.

John Keats (1795-1821)

We watched the Jane Campion 2009 film “Bright Star” at the weekend. Its title is taken from the sonnet by John Keats reproduced in its entirety above. The poem was used by Keats as a declaration of love for his muse Fanny Brawne, a young woman who seemingly had nothing in common with the poet. However, she inspired in him a great love and in turn loved him earnestly and steadfastly. Their love was never consummated, a love cut short by Keats’ untimely early death.

The film concentrates on the short period of time when John Keats and Fanny Brawne meet and interact, eventually falling in love. The movie starts in 1818 in Hampstead Village on the outskirts of London. Poet Charles Brown lives in one half of a large house, while the Dilkes family live in the other half. Through their association with the Dilkes, the fatherless Brawne family get to know Mr Brown. The Brawne’s eldest daughter, Fanny Brawne dislikes Mr Brown a feeling he reciprocates. She thinks him arrogant and rude, while he thinks that she is pretentious and uneducated. He dismisses her as a “seamstress”, knowing only how to sew (although well, as she makes all her own fashionable clothes). He criticises her for being a shallow flirt and accuses her of giving opinions on subjects she knows nothing about. The struggling impoverished poet John Keats comes to live with his friend, Mr Brown. Miss Brawne and Mr Keats have a mutual attraction to each other, a relationship which, however, is slow to develop in part since Mr Brown does his utmost to keep the two apart. When they do eventually manage to get together, other obstacles face the couple.

The film is slow and contemplative. Anyone who comes to watch it expecting a rich plot, endless scintillating repartee, twists and turns of narrative, and adventurous action will be sorely disappointed. This is a film highlighting the romance of two young and immature, romantically inclined and sensitive people, one of whom happens to be a brilliant poet. The plot plods along and follows their insecurities, self-doubts, misapprehensions and weaknesses. Their romance follows a rocky path, which is not helped by their inexperience and their overwhelmingly doubtful and tentative attempts at initiating their love affair. Fanny’s verbal exchanges with Mr Brown are the only amusing thing in the film and there are some witty one-liners there.

Jane Campion is well known to cinemagoers from her previous successful work and her 1993 film “The Piano” is one which remains memorable for a long time after one sees it. I was half expecting something similar with this film and there are touches reminiscent of “The Piano” here and there. For example, Toots, Fanny’s young sister is very much like Flora (Anna Paquin) in the older film. There are some stunningly beautiful images that resemble a moving painting in both films and the acting is overall very good. Music is apt and well-selected for “Bright Star” also, although lacking the passion and tempestuousness of “The Piano”.

We so wanted to like this film immensely, but unfortunately it left us strangely unsatisfied. It was well acted, well photographed, conveyed the atmosphere of the time well and was overall well-crafted. It contained some beautiful moments and the photography was beautiful, with some stunning images at times. Nevertheless, the plot was weak and the subplot insubstantial and more of a distraction than anything else. As a movie it was forgettable, although some of the images were quite memorable including the one illustrated above where Fanny is reading one of Keats’ letters in a field of bluebells.

Watch the movie if you would like something to distract you and would like some beautiful images to admire. However, there was no bite or deep emotion in the film and even some very sad moments failed to move us. No poignancy and no climax, rather, a very pedestrian, ambling type of film where the characters walk on and off their scenes acting well, but somehow not managing to be truly passionate about what they were feeling. Perhaps it is a true reflection of the times and of the people involved. Deep romantic love but no spark of passion to ignite their deepest feelings and needs.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


“The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end, take their revenge; for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future.” - Marya Mannes

Today is World Environment Day, which is an annual event aimed at being the biggest and most widely celebrated day for positive environmental action, worldwide. The commemoration of this day began in 1972 and since then the day has grown to become the one of the main vehicles through which the UN stimulates awareness of the environment and encourages political attention and action all around the world.

The UN Environment Programme is able to personalise environmental issues and enable everyone to realise not only their responsibility, but also their power to become agents for change in support of sustainable and equitable development.  This is also a day for everyone to come together to ensure a cleaner, greener and brighter outlook for themselves and future generations. This is the day to do something positive for the environment: Organise a neighborhood clean-up, stop using plastic bags and get your community to do the same, plant a tree or better yet organise a collective tree planting effort, walk to work, start a recycling drive. The possibilities are endless and it’s up to everyone of us to invest in them, not only today, but every day of the year.

Art Sunday today looks at a very apt work. It is one of the jungle pictures of Henri Julien Félix Rousseau (1844 –1910), the French naïf artist. It is “The Hungry Lion” and it features a scene in the African jungle. The rain forest’s thick green foliage is illuminated by a deep red setting sun. In the centre, a lion bites deeply into the neck of an antelope. Other animals are visible in the dense undergrowth: A panther at the right, an owl holding a bloody strand of meat in its beak in the centre, with a second bird to the left, and a dark ape-like shape lurking in the left. Rousseau based the central pair of animals on a diorama of stuffed animals at the Paris Muséum National d’ Histoire Naturelle, entitled “Senegal Lion Devouring an Antelope”.

Rousseau himself supplied a very long subtitle to his work: “The lion, being hungry, throws itself on the antelope, [and] devours it. The panther anxiously awaits the moment when it too can claim its share. Birds of prey have each torn a piece of flesh from the top of the poor animal, which sheds a tear. The sun sets.”

“The Hungry Lion” is now held by the Fondation Beyeler and is exhibited at their gallery at Riehen, near Basel, in Switzerland. It is a huge canvas, 200 cm × 301 cm painted in oils. Despite its apparent simplicity, this and other jungle paintings of Rousseau were built up meticulously in layers, using a large number of green shades to capture the lush exuberance of the jungle. One cannot but immerse oneself in this painting and glorify in the pristine natural depicted. The violence of the scene is hardly alarming as it depicts something one expects to see in nature. Survival of the fittest, the food chain in action and the great balance of the environment.

Rousseau was a clerk in the Paris toll service who nevertheless dreamed of becoming a famous artist. He is also known as “Le Douanier”, meaning the “Toll Officer”. His “day job” allowed him to support his family but also gave him the means to pursue his true passion, art. From his post at the toll gates and on strolls through the suburbs of Paris, Rousseau observed the world and filled numerous notebooks with sketches from nature. He retired at age forty-nine to become a full-time artist.

Although he painted many exotic scenes, Rousseau never left France. He often explored the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden and zoo in Paris where he studied and drew plants and wild animals. He visited museums for artistic inspiration, and based some painted characters on pictures in books and magazines. The public laughed at Rousseau’s bold, primitive style, but he was admired and championed by modern artists such as Pablo Picasso and the surrealists.

Rousseau’s work is characterised by heavy dependence on line, stiff and unrealistic portraiture, wild juxtapositions and flattened perspective from which the Cubists and Surrealists drew heavily. His imagination plays a major role in his work and it seems wrong to label his work as “primitive” without acknowledging the sense of wonder behind it. Though no contemporary artist was doing anything even remotely like his work, and critics were unkind (as critics so often are), Henri Rousseau remained supremely confident in his talent. He took it as his due that a younger generation of artists - Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Redon, Gauguin and Kandinsky among them - would draw inspiration from and champion his vision. Rousseau’s ultimate goal was to have his paintings hung in the Louvre. This came to pass, even if it was unfortunately posthumously.