Saturday, 29 October 2011


“Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe.” - Douglas Adams

Today was a relaxing day, with a leisurely breakfast, then a walk in our garden – freshly washed by the rain overnight. We went out to do some chores, go to the library, do some shopping and then back home as the weather was quite changeable, with more rain forecast. We had lunch, drank some champagne and celebrated being alive, being thankful for life’s bounty. We watched a movie and then it was evening, with more rain…

Here is one of the most sublime pieces of music ever written. It is Bach’s “Air on the G String” from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 In D Major BWV 1068. There is both a stately repose and a gentle, insinuating ever-forward moving impetus in this piece. The bass seems to drive the whole piece inexorably forward while the veils of sounds coming from the violins above caress the ears and touch the heart. The middle strings provide the silken support for the whole soaring edifice of sound. Here is the mystery of life and its simplicity laid out for all to hear. Immortal Bach!

Thursday, 27 October 2011


“So long as the sugar is on the tongue, you feel the sweetness in taste. Similarly, so long as the heart has love, peace and devotion, you feel the bliss.” - Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Today at lunchtime I went for a walk to the Queen Victoria Market. This market has been a vibrant, cosmopolitan and diverse place where Melburnians have been shopping for 130 years. The Market is best known for its huge variety of fresh produce and foods. Almost 50% of the Market area is dedicated to the sale of fresh produce, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, chicken, seafood and delicatessen products. The Market is divided into a number of Market Precincts: The Delicatessen Hall, the Elizabeth Street Shops, F shed laneway, Victoria Market Place Food Court, Fruit and Vegetables, The Meat Hall, The Seafood Aisle, Organics, General Merchandise, Victoria Street Shops and the Wine Market.

The remainder of the Market is used for variety and specialty goods, with Sundays being the most popular day for this category. On Sundays, the hustle and bustle of the weekday Market gives way to a more relaxed and leisurely family day. Queen Street is closed and converted into an outdoor café area, with children’s rides and other activities.

It was a pleasure to walk through the aisles of the greengrocers’ stalls and admire the huge variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Even though I was just wandering through, in the end I couldn’t resist buying some rhubarb and raspberries for a wonderful dessert that we make in the Spring:

Rhubarb and Raspberry Fool

  • 500 g rhubarb, trimmed and sliced, at 1 cm thick
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split
  • 1cup heavy whipping cream (chilled)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 6 crumbed, sweet, plain biscuits
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Candied Rhubarb Strips (optional)
  • 1 stalk rhubarb
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup reserved fluid from the compote
To make the fool, put the rhubarb, honey, orange zest and juice, candied ginger, and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir to combine, then cover and cook, stirring every few minutes, for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture has come to a boil and the rhubarb has softened. Add the raspberries, stir through and remove immediately from the heat, allowing to cool. Remove the vanilla bean and transfer the compote to a colander over a bowl, refrigerating uncovered for at least 30 minutes, until very cold. Reserve the fluid.

Whip the cream and sugar until soft peaks form. Set aside 1/3 cup of the compote to garnish the dessert, then fold the remaining compote into the whipped cream. Spoon the fool into six 1/2-cup glasses or dishes and chill for 1 hour. Mix the crumbed biscuits and cinnamon with the butter until they are well buttered. Serve topped with the remaining compote and sprinkle with buttered biscuit crumbs. This fool is best served the day it is made, but any leftovers can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

If you would like to garnish the dessert with candied rhubarb strips, make them as follows: Preheat the oven to 100°C. Line a baking sheet with lightly greased baking paper. Cut the rhubarb into 15-cm lengths, then cut each piece into strips 1/2 cm to inch thick with a mandoline. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Cook and stir until the sugar is dissolved, then remove from the heat. Dip the rhubarb ribbons into the syrup, and leave them to soak until the syrup has cooled somewhat. Place the strips on the prepared baking sheet, laying them out flat and ensuring that they do not touch each other. Bake for about 45 minutes, until dry. While they are still warm, twist the strips into shapes, wrapping them around your finger or the handle of a clean wooden spoon. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Bon Appétit!


“The most important thing in illness is never to lose heart.” – Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

October has been declared internationally Breast Cancer Month. Pink Ribbon Day in Australia was on October 24, 2011. Every “pink ribbon” sold helps the National Breast Cancer Foundation fund research into the prevention and cure of breast cancer. This national Breast Cancer day is now in its 19th year and every year more money has been raised, as well as having the highly desirable effect of increasing community awareness of this common and devastating disease.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation is the leading community-funded national organisation in Australia, supporting and promoting research for the prevention and cure of breast cancer.  Since its establishment in 1994, over $67 million has been awarded to 256 research projects across Australia to improve the health and well-being of breast cancer victims. Research programs funded by the NBCF cover every aspect of breast cancer, from increasing understanding of genetics to improving ways to support women and their families.

Most of us know someone who has had breast cancer. Some of us may know a woman who has died prematurely from the disease. Some of the readers of this blog may have been diagnosed with the disease and have survived. All women, in theory, are at risk, but at the present time the risk is highest in Western-type, industrialised countries like Australia, USA, Canada, UK and other European countries. Women who have had a long reproductive life are at greater risk, as are women with a history of breast cancer in their family, and childless women, or mothers who have had children late in life. Diet plays a role, with high saturated fat diets with few fresh fruits and vegetables, low in fibre, placing women at higher risk. An Australian woman’s chance of getting breast cancer in her lifetime is on average about 1 in 12.

Most women that present with the cancer feel a lump in their breast. For this reason, women are advised to start doing breast self-examination (BSE) early. By examining her breasts, a woman gets to know how her breasts look and feel. Therefore, she may increase her likelihood of early detection of breast cancer, if it develops. Women are generally advised to do breast self-checks from 20 years of age, once a month. Women who are breast-aware notice suspicious changes to their breasts earlier. It is important to realise that not all breast lumps are cancerous (in fact most are not!) and that breast cancer can also present with other symptoms and not a lump. Older women are advised to have regular mammograms (breast X-ray examinations) in order to catch very small cancers early on.

Fortunately, breast cancer nowadays is a disease with a good prognosis. The earlier the cancer is detected, the greater the chance of long-term survival and cure. A great number of treatments are available and not all breast cancer patients need to have a mastectomy. Prognosis and survival rate varies greatly depending on cancer type, staging and treatment, with the 5-year relative survival rate varying from 98% to 23%, with an overall survival rate of 85%.

If you suspect that there is something abnormal in your breasts, do not delay but go and see your doctor immediately. It is better to err on the side of safety. More information is available online from a number of reputable websites, as for example:

MBF Insurance, Australia:

Cancer Council of Australia:

Surveillance and Epidemiology and End Results USA Govt Site

National Cancer Institute USA

cancer |ˈkansər| noun
The disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body: He's got cancer | Smoking is the major cause of lung cancer.
• A malignant growth or tumour resulting from such a division of cells: Most skin cancers are curable.
• A practice or phenomenon perceived to be evil or destructive and hard to contain or eradicate: Racism is a cancer sweeping across Europe.
cancerous |ˈkansərəs| adjective
ORIGIN: Old English, from Latin, ‘crab or creeping ulcer,’ translating Greek karkinos, said to have been applied to such tumours because the swollen veins around them resembled the limbs of a crab. canker was the usual form until the 17th century.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


“Tradition simply means that we need to end what began well and continue what is worth continuing” - José Bergamín

It is the night of the new moon tonight and Hindus in India and all over the world celebrate Diwali. Diwali (or Deepaawali) means “a row of lamps” (deep = lamp, vali = array). Of all the festivals celebrated in India, Diwali is one of the most loved and quite an important one. It is a joyous feast and its magical touch creates an atmosphere of well-being and merriment. It is a family festival celebrated 20 days after Dussehra (commemorating the triumph of Lord Rama over the demon Ravana), on the 13th day of the dark fortnight of the month of Ashwin (October / November). Diwali is a festival of lights symbolising the lifting of spiritual darkness and the victory of righteousness over evil. It celebrates the glory of light and commemorates Lord Rama’s return to his kingdom Ayodhya after completing his 14-year exile.

During Diwali, homes are decorated, traditional sweets are distributed by everyone and thousands of lamps are lit to create a world of fantasy and fairy tale beauty. The dark moonless night is overcome by the arrays of lamps that give hope and joy to everyone celebrating. Although Diwali is a time for fun and revelry, it is also a time for puja (devotions, prayer) and traditions.

In rural areas of India Diwali is also a harvest festival. It occurs at the end of a cropping season and a festival marked the prosperity that a good harvest normally brings. The celebration therefore, was begun by farmers after they reaped their harvests. They celebrated with joy and offered praises to the gods for granting them a good crop. It is easy to imagine how a successful harvest signified the blessing of the gods and the defeat of the mischievous demons that wanted to ruin the crops.

Diwali is the festival of Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth who, it is believed, visits everyone during Diwali and brings peace and prosperity to all. On the night of Diwali “Laxmi-Pujan” is performed in the evenings. This is a traditional devotional ritual performed after sunset in all the homes. Five lamps are lit in front of the deities, offerings of traditional sweets are given to the goddess and devotional songs in praise of goddess Laxmi are sung. After the Puja people light diyas (lamps) in their homes to usher in light, and clear the darkness from the world.

October 26th is also St Demetrius’s Feast Day, a saint much beloved of believers in the Orthodox faith. St Demetrius is the patron saint of the Greek city of Thessalonike (Salonika), the place of his birth and death (late 3rd, early 4th century AD).  St Demetrius was a soldier and after becoming a Christian he preached the gospel, for which he was speared to death by pagans.  He was buried in Salonika and very soon after his interment, a delicious smell of myrrh permeated the vicinity of his grave. This miraculous occurrence led eventually to the construction of a basilica over his grave, which is still the place of pilgrimage for many Orthodox Christians. The smell of myrrh can still be enjoyed in the church, giving the saint the appellation “myrrhobletus” or myrrh-spouter.

 St Demetrius’s Day in Greece also marks a division of the agricultural year, marking the official end of all the summer activities, the end of contracts and work agreements and the beginning of the winter cycle.  On this day farmers must have all their produce in storehouses and food must be laid up for the winter months.  Traditionally the new wine was also opened on this day to be tasted, a good occasion for feasting and merriment. As the liberation of Salonika from Turks is also celebrated on this day, St Demetrius’s Day is an occasion of widespread carousing and feasting in this, the second largest Greek city.

Monday, 24 October 2011


“Anyone who hasn't experienced the ecstasy of betrayal knows nothing about ecstasy at all.” - Jean Genet

Today’s image provided by Magpie Tales is by Lee Friedlander (born July 14, 1934). He is an American photographer and artist. In the 1960s and 70s, working primarily with 35mm cameras and black and white film, Friedlander evolved an influential and often imitated visual language of urban “social landscape” with many of the photographs including fragments of store-front reflections, structures framed by fences, posters and street-signs. His “America By Car” exhibition that showcased photographs taken from his car while driving around the USA, was held in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, September 4–November 28, 2010.

Another Song for the Road

It stretches up ahead, the road;
And like a length of string I follow,
On road map maze, (feeling hollow),
Your sudden parting to decode.
As car speeds on, cities rush by,
I try to sense your shade and find you;
See using only my heart’s eye
While my mind’s charts hidden view.

Where did you go? Why did you leave?
Unanswered questions, and an empty house.
My only fault was too much to believe
And endless words of love espouse.

The road like a silk ribbon unwinds
Having no end and no beginning;
Reflections, images of all kinds
My mind reels, the road is spinning.
As landscapes change, I leave behind
My past, my family and my friends;
To all, save my quest, I’m blind,
And if I’m wrong I’ll make amends…

I know I’ll never find you, but I drive,
I speed, I travel on, just to survive.
You left, I followed so I could live,
Hoping to find you, all to forgive.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” - Oscar Wilde

We watched a very good movie last weekend. It was Guillermo Arriaga’s 2008 movie “The Burning Plain” with Charlize Theron, John Corbett, Kim Basinger, Joaquim de Almeida, Jennifer Lawrence and José María Yazpik. Arriaga has written the screenplay of this movie, but he also has several other screen-writing successes under his belt: “Babel” (2006), “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” (2005), “21 Grams” (2003), “Amores Perros” (2000), amongst others.

The film is quite complex as it is told in flash-forwards/flashbacks, examining the lives of seemingly unconnected individuals, who by the end of the film are intimately interconnected. The themes are infidelity, motherhood, self-image and self-worth, childhood and different forms of love. The story is straightforward enough as the ending will show, however, following a trend amongst “modern” film-makers, it has been made as complicated as possible by showing it to us out of order, in temporal and geographical disarray. This device detracts from the compelling story, and draws attention to the film-maker’s technique, and away from the drama that is central to the plot.

“The Burning Plain” starts with very dramatic scene in which a caravan in the middle of the southwestern US desert blows up and is enveloped by all-consuming plains. This event is the connection point for all characters of the film, only we, as viewers, do not know it yet. Arriaga tells the story of four women and a young girl: Sylvia (Charlize Theron) is a restaurant owner who has an affair with one of her married employees (John Corbett), but is deeply unsatisfied and sleeps with other men; Gina (Kim Basinger) is a typical American housewife, except that she is a breast cancer survivor and is cheating on her husband (Brett Cullen) with a Mexican man named Nick (Joaquim de Almeida); Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence), Gina’s daughter, has the most problems, especially after she starts a relationship with Nick’s son Santiago (JD Pardo); Maria, a young girl who travels from Mexico to the United States with a family friend to find her long lost mother.

The film is gritty and confronting, with several scenes and themes that some people may find extremely challenging. It makes several important points about contemporary morals, “modern” relationships and family ties. There is an underlying sub-theme about cultural differences between Mexicans and Americans but this is subtle and not overly explored. Sylvia is played extremely well by Theron, who manages to be convincing, powerful, vulnerable and intense, just as the role demands. Some of the most touching and poignant moments in the film come from Basinger, who is usually good at playing damaged, vulnerable women. From the males, de Almeida has an immensely sensitive and tender role to deliver, which he does exceedingly well given his fame as a rough crime lord in “Desperado”. Lawrence plays her difficult role with aplomb and maturity justifying the Mastroianni Award for “Most Promising Newcomer”, which she won at the Venice Film Festival. Many of the supporting actors (e.g. Corbett) play remarkably well and command the screen with their presence, even though they are not on for much time.

This is a very good film, notwithstanding Arriaga’s directorial debut and his somewhat brusque and sometimes formulaic devices in terms of plot and direction. The film deserves my recommendation and one can watch it with interest and be touched by the broken lives it depicts. It is a realistic drama that has strength and poignancy. The psychological baggage the characters carry with them many viewers will identify with, to an extent, and the story is interesting enough to satisfy the even the most seasoned cinephile.


“All is ephemeral, - fame and the famous as well” - Marcus Aurelius

For Art Sunday today, a little-known painter from Portugal. His name is João Marques de Oliveira and he was born in Porto, Portugal, on August 23rd, 1853, dying on the 9th October 1927 at the age of 64. He was a naturalist painter who specialised in painting landscapes, portraits and genre scenes. In 1864 he joined the Porto Academy of Fine Arts, completing the course of the history of painting in 1873. He lived in France from 1873 to 1879, with his colleague Silva Porto (1859-1893), with whom he studied in the Porto Academy. Both of the painters received a bursary for further study from the Portuguese Government after competing for a painting prize.

Both painters are considered the initiators of naturalism in Portugal. In 1876 and 1877 he travelled with Silva Porto to Belgium, the Netherlands, England and Italy, where he remained for some time. De Oliveira participated in the Paris Salons of 1876 and 1878. In 1879, he returned to Porto and with Silva Porto, introduced “plein air” outdoor painting to Portugal. Back in Portugal, De Oliveira created with Columbano Bordallo Pinheiro, the Lion Group, so named because its members met in a brewery of the same name. From 1881 and until 1926 he taught at the Porto Academy of Fine Arts, where he held the post of Director. His friend Silva Porto was appointed Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Lisbon.

Naturalism in art refers to the depiction of realistic objects in a natural setting. The Realism movement of the 19th century advocated naturalism in reaction to the stylised and idealised depictions of subjects in Romanticism, but many painters have adopted a similar approach over the centuries. Naturalism is a type of art that pays attention to very accurate and precise details, and portrays things as they are.

De Oliveira’s work is painterly, full of vivacious brushstrokes and with a good understanding of colour and light. His landscapes have a more impressionistic quality to them, while his large easel genre paintings owe much to Gustave Courbet, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes or even to Jean-François Millet who was active earlier. During his travels, the artist would have familiarised himself with the prevalent styles of the time and he made his choice, leaning towards realism and classicism while wilfully ignoring the more modern waves of surrealism, expressionism, fauvism, cubism, and abstract expressionism – especially so later in his life when he returned to Portugal to assume the directorship of the conservative Porto Academy of Fine Arts.

As such, his work has been somewhat neglected, as the critics class his painting as derivative and backward-looking, rather than innovative and of a personally distinctive style. However, his work has much to offer and I believe he merits more attention. While his painting is highly decorative it is also lively, and his skill as a fine draughtsman cannot be denied. The painting above of 1892 “Waiting for the Boats” shows a beautiful use of colour and light, is beautifully composed and drawn, while the artist conveys skillfully the expectation for the return of the fishermen by their wives and daughters on the beach. Such scenes of everyday life are the mainstay of naturalism, with the artist often making a social comment by the themes he chose.