Saturday, 24 March 2012


“Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile.” - William Cullen Bryant
As the leaves turn to gold, as the weather cools, as the days get shorter, as the sun weakens, as night gets longer and darker, you know autumn is arriving.

As your heart beats less strongly, as your skin shows more wrinkles, as your hair shows more white than black, as your steps begin to lose their spring, you know autumn is here.

As fruit mellows, as new wine is made, as the fire crackles in the hearth, as laughter echoes in the contentment of harvest, autumn smiles and brings with it rich gifts.

As you sit reflecting on a life full and eventful, as you remember old loves, friends who came and went, as you recollect a lifetime's richness and fulfilment, you know autumn has touched you...

Here is a beautiful piece celebrating Autumn by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. "October" from "The Seasons", arranged for chamber orchestra and played by the Chamber orchestra "Province", conducted by Igor Lerman.

Thursday, 22 March 2012


“Rice is born in water and must die in wine.” - Italian Proverb
We have had a real Autumn day in Melbourne today. The temperature barely managed to climb up to 17˚C, but the wind around made it feel more like 14˚C. We had some sunshine, but mainly a cloudy day, which led to quite a bit of rain in the afternoon. Apparently there was a light dusting of snow up in the mountains also. When I got home this evening it was quite dismal and I was glad the lights and the heater were on. There was also a delicious smell of pumpkin roasting in the oven! The dish we had was perfect for the weather…

Pumpkin Risotto

900g pumpkin, peeled, cut into 1cm cubes
1/2 cup olive oil
900ml vegetable stock
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, very finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice
2 threads of saffron
2/3 cup white wine
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to garnish
1/2 tsp ground dried sage leaves
2 tbsps grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C.Put the pumpkin cubes in an even layer on a large baking tray and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.  
  • Roast for 15 minutes, then remove and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, tossing well to coat each piece. Roast for a further 15 minutes until cooked and golden.   
  • Place stock in a saucepan and keep at a simmer over low heat.   
  • Heat another two tablespoons of oil in a large heavy-based pan over low heat. Add onion and stir for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add celery and cook for 1 minute, then add rice and cook for a further minute, stirring to coat the grains with oil. Increase heat to medium-low, add the wine and cook until absorbed.   
  • Add stock a ladleful at a time, allowing each to be absorbed before adding the next. Continue for 15 minutes or until rice is cooked. Add the saffron and stir well. Add lemon juice, pumpkin and parsley.  
  • Season, then stir in parmesan.Serve with shavings of parmesan, a dusting of sage powder and extra parsley.

    Wednesday, 21 March 2012


    “Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.” - Albert Szent-Györgyi

    World Water Day is held every year on March 22 and focusses attention on the importance of the availability of clean, safe, reliably sourced freshwater for all people, and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. World Water Day has been observed since 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared 22 March as World Day for Water. This day was first formally proposed in Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Observance began in 1993 and has grown significantly ever since.

    In order for the general public to show support (especially so in Western countries), it is that people not use their taps throughout the whole day. This shows in a very real way what people in some developing countries have to face on a daily basis, where water is a precious resource and no tap water is available.

    The UN and its member nations devote this day to implementing UN recommendations and promoting specific activities within their countries regarding the world’s water resources. Each year, one of various UN agencies involved in water issues takes the lead in promoting and coordinating international activities for World Water Day. Since its inception in 2003, UN-Water has been responsible for selecting the theme, messages and lead UN agency for the World Day for Water.

    The theme for 2012 is “Water and Food Security”. There are 7 billion people to feed on the planet today and another 2 billion are expected to join by 2050. Statistics say that each of us consumes from 2 to 4 litres of water every day, however most of the water we ‘drink’ is embedded in the food we eat: Producing 1 kilo of beef for example consumes 15,000 litres of water while 1 kilo of wheat ’drinks up’ 1,500 litres. Food production is inextricably linked with water and some foods are extremely demanding in terms of the water need to produce them. Eating food that is sustainably produced will also conserve water resources.

    A billion people in the world already live in chronic hunger with extremely limited water sources. Freshwater resources are under pressure worldwide and the climate change we are experiencing is also playing havoc with both our food production and management of water resources. We cannot pretend the problem is ‘elsewhere’ – it is with us here and now, and being experienced in almost all countries around the world.

    Drought is still the most significant problem throughout the world. Drought ranks as the single most common cause of severe food shortages in developing countries. Drought caused more deaths during the last century than any other natural disaster, and Asia and Africa rank first among continents in the number of people directly affected. All human activities use water: Drinking, cooking, washing, but also and mostly, for producing food, paper, clothes, etc.

    Water scarcity already affects every continent and more than 40% of the people on our planet. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions. The lack of water limits farmers’ ability to produce enough food to eat or earn a living. South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East for example are already close to their resources limits, and their population is still growing.

    Coping with population growth and ensuring access to nutritious food and adequate freshwater supplies for everyone calls for a series of actions we can all help with: 
    • Eat a more environmentally friendly and sustainable diet; it’s healthier for you too! 
    • Consume less water-intensive products.  
    • Reduce the shameful food wastage: 30% of the food produced worldwide is never eaten and the water used to produce it is definitively lost. 
    • Produce more food, of better quality, with 
less water. 
    • Do not encourage the bottled water industry where safe, clean drinking water is available on tap. 
    • Recycle water as much as possible in the home and garden.

    Tuesday, 20 March 2012


    “Turn yourself not away from three best things: Good Thought, Good Word, and Good Deed.” - Zoroaster
    Nowrūz (Persian, meaning “[The] New Day”) is the name of the Iranian New Year and the corresponding traditional celebrations according to the traditional Persian calendar. Nowruz is also widely referred to as the “Persian New Year”. Nowruz is celebrated and observed by Iranian peoples and has spread to many other parts of the world, including parts of Central Asia, Caucasus, South Asia, Northwestern China, India, the Crimea and some groups in the Balkans.

    Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox, which usually occurs around March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday and having significance amongst the Zoroastrian ancestors of modern Iranians, the same time is celebrated in parts of the South Asian sub-continent as the new year.

    The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalises night and day is calculated exactly every year and Iranian families gather together to observe the rituals. Originally being a Zoroastrian festival, and the holiest of them all, Nowruz is believed to have been invented by Zoroaster himself, although there is no clear date of origin. Since the Achaemenid era the official year has begun with the New Day when the Sun leaves the zodiac of Pisces and enters the zodiacal sign of Aries, signifying the Spring Equinox. The Jewish festival of Purim is probably adopted from the Persian New Year. It is also a holy day for Sufis, Ismailis, Alawites, Alevis, and adherents of the Bahá'í Faith.

    The term Nowruz in writing, first appeared in Persian records in the 2nd century AD, but it was also an important day during the time of the Achaemenids (ca 548–330 BC), where kings from different nations under the Persian empire used to bring gifts to the Emperor, also called King of Kings (Shahanshah), of Persia on Nowruz. The significance of Nowruz in the Achaemenid empire was such that the great Persian king Cambyses II’s appointment as the king of Babylon was legitimised only after his participation in the New Year Festival (Nowruz).

    The UN’s General Assembly in 2010 recognised the International Day of Nowruz, describing it a spring festival of Persian origin which has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. During the meeting of The Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage of the United Nations, held between 28 September – 2 October 2009 in Abu Dhabi, Nowrūz was officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


     “Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower” - Albert Camus

    Today is the Equinox – Vernal in the Northern Hemisphere, Autumnal in the Southern. Officially, on an astronomical basis, tomorrow is the first day of Spring in the North and the first day of Autumn in the South.
    An equinox occurs twice a year (around 20 March and 22 September), when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the centre of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth’s equator. The term equinox can also be used in a broader sense, meaning the date when such a passage happens. The name “equinox” is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because around the equinox, the night and day have approximately equal length.

    “…My love loves so much
    All the bright hues of autumn
    The big cool drops of rain.
    The scent of wet earth,
    The ripe berries
    The taste of sweet young wine…”

    Monday, 19 March 2012


    “Friends show their love - in times of trouble, not in happiness” - Euripides

    At the weekend we watched a film of a book we had read in the past, and about which I blogged. It is the novel “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, who was born in 1965 in Kabul, the Afghani capital. His father was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and History at a large high school in Kabul. They relocated to Paris in 1976 but when they were ready to return to Kabul in 1980, Afghanistan had witnessed a bloody communist coup and the invasion of the Soviet army.

    The 2007 Marc Forster movie “The Kite Runner” starring Khalid Abdalla, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada and Atossa Leoni is a good adaptation of the novel, with an excellent screenplay by David Benioff. The film has an authentic atmosphere and the recreation of Kabul before and after the Soviet invasion is convincing and compelling. Director Mark Forster wanted to make the film as authentic as possible and insisted on filming Afghani characters speaking in Dari (with English subtitles). Iran and Afghanistan share a language (called Farsi in Iran and Dari in Afghanistan – which is essentially the same language, but the accent is very different). The scenes shot in California are in English mainly.

    The action of most of the film takes place in Afghanistan, with later scenes in the USA. In the 1970’s in Afghanistan, the Pashtun boy Amir and the Hazara boy Hassan, are friends. Hassan is the most loyal friend of the two, but Hassan is also the son of Amir’s Hazara servant Ali. The two boys are raised together in Amir’s father’s house, playing and flying kites competitively on the streets of a peaceful Kabul. Amir feels that his father blames him for the death of his mother during his birth, and also that his father loves and prefers Hassan to him. This is a misconception of Amir’s, as his father is fair and good-hearted. By contrast, Amir feels a great respect for his father's best friend Rahim Khan, who supports his intention to become a writer.

    After Amir wins a competition of kite flying, Hassan runs to bring a kite to Amir, but he is beaten and raped by the brutal older boy, Assef. Amir witness the assault but does nothing to help the loyal Hassan. This episode convinces Amir that he must get rid of Hassan and on the day after his birthday party, Amir hides his new watch in Hassan’s bed to frame the boy as a thief and force his father to fire Ali. His plan is successful insofar as Ali resigns and leaves with Hassan, but Kabul is about to become a very different place, and Amir and his father must leave Afghanistan as refugees, fleeing to the USA. Amir’s life in California is upset when Rahim Khan makes a startling revelation and implores Amir to return to Afghanistan in order to make good former wrongs.

    The film is acted extremely well and many of the Afghani players are not professional actors, but nevertheless act very well, giving the film authenticity and in parts an almost documentary-like feel. Although the film is mainly shot in China, Kabul is recreated realistically and the vivid descriptions in the novel have been transferred well to the screen. Although the 128 minutes of the film leave out details in the novel (which is inevitable), the film retains the immediacy and poignancy of the book, making for a very engaging and emotionally compelling movie.

    The main theme of the film is Amir’s redemption. Amir as a child commits an act that is cowardly and atrocious, but as a man he redeems himself with courage and daring, putting his own life at risk in order to correct some of the errors of the past. Amir’s father who had his own demons to fight, did teach Amir how to behave honourably, and Amir’s matured character draws upon his father’s sense of justice and fairness in order to act with determination and bravery.

    The film was quite controversial when it was released because of two reasons – one being a concern about the child actors and the possible psychological damage that may have been wrought during the making of the film and, two about the politics of Afghanistan and the repercussions that it may have had with the Taliban, who are depicted as soulless monsters in the film. The child actors are wonderful and the even the scene of violence depicted is done sensitively and handled with great aplomb by the director. In terms of the depiction of the Taliban, I think watching the news and seeing documentaries about Afghanistan is infinitely more shocking and gives an even more stark picture of the changes in this country over the last thirty years or so…

    We recommend this film highly and of course if you can read the novel, it is well worth reading.

    Sunday, 18 March 2012


    “Just looking at light and its effects on objects. That is what the Impressionism did, the Impressionists did, in finding ways to paint that.” – Joseph J. Rishel
    For Art Sunday today, a contemporary USA neoimpressionist painter, Margaret McWethy. She is an artist with a lifelong interest in art and the natural world. She paints scenes full of light and life that surround her, following the rhythms of the seasons and the changes in nature over the passage of the year. Margaret studied art history and biology at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, United States.

    Since she graduated she has sought master teachers who can pass on more of the magic and mystery of their art to her. Margaret’s technique has benefitted from sessions with master colourist, Henry Hensche and portrait artist Cedric Egeli. The skills and discipline needed to express Margaret’s view of nature have been honed by these associations. The pursuit of knowledge to enhance her “seeing” of the world has become an ongoing journey for Margaret.

    Margaret’s background in the sciences tends to make her approach a blend of the analytical and intuitive. “I like the idea of reducing things to parts to see how they work, then reconstructing and editing. Not with the object of reducing things to formulas but to reach some real understanding with which one can then begin to create. I always like exploring the small landscape of the still life. I enjoy the intimacy of the relationships.”

    Margaret, a native of Maryland, now lives and paints in Massachusetts. She teaches painting the Impressionist Still Life locally. She is a featured artist in the publications, Painting the Impressionist Landscape by Lois Griffel, Capturing Radiant Color in Oils by Susan Sarbeck, Painting the Impressionist Watercolor by Lee Boynton and is a charter member of the New England Plein Air Painters. Her work hangs in private collections in the United States and Europe.

    The painting above, Peaches and Garlic highlights Margaret’s proficient use of colour, studied composition and good handling of light in a classic, formal still life. The forms are rendered competently and the patches of light and shadow, transparency and opacity, dullness and shininess are playfully counterpointed. This is an artwork that is accessible and easily appreciated by most people and one that most would like enough to hang on their wall in order to look upon it for a length of time. Although the style is derivative and not wildly original, the handling of the paint is done with consummate confidence and the artist’s manner is facile and full of joy.

    More of her art can be found on her website: