“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” - Epicurus We had a typical Melbourne autumn day today, starting out grey, misty and overcast with a cool bite to the air. However, as the day progressed, the clouds parted and a yellow sun appeared that blossomed into the most wonderful afternoon – mellow, warm, sweet like a ripe fragrant melon. It was a day that lent itself to some gardening efforts and at autumn there many things to tidy up in the garden. The weather helped, of course.
Then a very nice evening celebrating a special anniversary, with a wonderful dinner and then dessert… A contented day, one that makes me grateful for being alive, for all the bounties that I enjoy, for the people around me that I love and love me.
Here is the Adagio of the Grand Quintet in C, opus 163 D956, by Franz Schubert. It is scored for two violins, viola, and two violoncellos. It is played by the Festetics Ensemble, comprising Wieland Kuijken, Istavan Kertesz, Erika Petöfi, Péter Ligeti, Rezsö Pertorini.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” - J.R.R. Tolkien
Every now and then we like to indulge ourselves and have a very special dinner, just like a dinner party but only for two. We have a beautifully decorated table, the best china and the cut crystal, sparkling silverware and some delightful classical music playing. There is chilled champagne, and for the comestibles: Hors d’oeuvres, an elaborate main course with all the trimmings, with dessert of course following the meal and afterwards coffee and a praline. It’s nice to do this periodically (usually at weekends) and enjoy a leisurely, civilised dinner where good food, good wine, pleasant conversation make of eating a cultural and social event, even though only two partake of this intimate tête-a-tête.
It is important to realise that quality is more important than quantity in these meals, and as Socrates said, “Worthy people eat to live, worthless ones live to eat.” This is especially true at a dinner party for two, when one can be tempted to over-provide with an excess of delicacies. A variety of food, each served in small delicate portions is preferable to the quantity of food that one eats on a winter’s evening where a single large course will have to satisfy one’s hunger.
One of the hors d’ oeuvres we frequently enjoy at our dinner parties (not only those for two but also for more guests) is Caviar Canapés à l’ Harlequin. These are simple to prepare and look quite wonderful on the serving platter. They are also very tasty.
Caviar Canapés à l’ Harlequin Ingredients
50 g of red caviar
50 g of black caviar
1 lemon, peeled, thinly sliced and each slice quartered
Melba toast squares
Softened, good quality butter for spreading (French unsalted butter is nice)
Lemon peel and herb sprigs for decoration
Spread each small Melba toast square liberally with the softened butter.
Lay a quarter of the lemon slice on one corner of each buttered toast square.
Spread a liberal amount of caviar on the rest of the toast square, not getting any of the caviar on the lemon.
Use red caviar for half the squares and black caviar for the other half.
Serve with chilled champagne.
As I was looking through some of my old photos yesterday I came upon the one that I have illustrated this post with. I looked at it for a while and a Japanese term came to mind, something that I had heard from one of my art lecturers a long time ago, when I was studying art (part-time, while I was working!). The term is wabi-sabi (侘寂) and represents a comprehensive Japanese world-view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience.
This quintessential Japanese aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin), specifically: Impermanence (無常 mujō), suffering (dukkha) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (sunyata). Characteristics of wabi-sabi include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.
The words wabi and sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; sabi meant “chill”, “lean” or “withered”. Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations. Wabi now connotes “rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness”, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or it can imply “understated elegance”. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is “beauty or serenity that comes with age”, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs. In other words an appreciation of the imperfections and transience of everything in this world, something that becomes apparent as time passes.
Wabi-sabi as a feature of traditional Japanese art and perception of beauty is quite different to the classical aesthetic values of Greek ideals of beauty and perfection that are admired in the West and from which Western art has evolved. Greek art stresses symmetry, idealisation of form, perfectly finished surfaces, beautiful subjects and a view of the ideal, perfect, divine nature of things. Greek art aspires to become god-like and wishes to imitate the perfect world of Olympus and the gods that reside there. Wabi-sabi is the complete opposite, and stresses the humanity of the world, with all of its imperfections, asymmetry, confoundedness, transience, corruption and inability to reach the ideal state. If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi accepts the authenticity of our existence by acknowledging three simple realities: Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.
Coming from a thoroughly Western background and having Greek origins, I can understand completely the Western aesthetic and the beauty expressed by classical Greek art, architecture, pottery and sculpture. However, my schooling, reading, travels, experiences and interactions with others have made me able to also appreciate the simplicity and innate humanity of the wabi-sabi aesthetic. I find Japanese art, architecture, cultural institutions, gardens and music particularly attractive and even though my roots are in Western classicism, I can embrace wabi-sabi and find it immensely beautiful and serene.
Western classicism strives for perfection and symmetry, attempts to approximate the divine by demonstrating all that is best in human nature, leaving the viewer uplifted and ready to strive for the divine ideal himself. Wabi-sabi and Japanese art acknowledges the innate imperfection of the human state and through the exaggerated demonstration of the imperfect, the incomplete and the transient, assures us that only the divine is perfect and that we as imperfect humans need to accept this and appreciate the beauty of the things that we can touch and experience first-hand.
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” - Anatole France
Another big change is about to happen in my life, and this one I have brought upon myself, so I am looking forward to it. Many people struggle with change and they feel more comfortable with the security of routine. Stability and predictability seem easier to deal with and most people given a choice would opt for this sedate existence where things change as little as possible. The quiet waters of a lake are less challenging than the changeable ocean where its serenity can become a tempestuous maelstrom from one minute to the next. Although I enjoy serene waters as much as the next person, I do desire some variety and yearn for new challenges with ripples and waves in the sea of my life.
Our modern urban existence is a constantly changing environment and the pace of change seems to be increasing with enormous rapidity year by year. Technology is making our lives more complex, and more dependent on it, and it seems even the simplest of our activities relies more and more on technology every day. Even our lifestyle and morals are changing rapidly. People are more likely to change jobs more often, change partners, change hairstyle, change the place where they live. People change attitudes, change their minds and the way they live more easily and more readily than they used to, say 50 years ago. Some may interpret this as an increased stressor in today’s lifestyle. Others welcome the freedom that such changes may bring with them.
If change is looked upon with a positive attitude, people will find it easier to deal with. If one accepts the change, then dealing with it becomes simpler. This is especially true if the change is from an external source that one has no control over. What one must do is analyse the change, look for new opportunities brought about by the change and then act so as to make the most of those new opportunities within the context of the new changes. It is quite important to stay flexible and relaxed about the change, which will allow rapid response to obstacles that may appear ahead.
Stubborn resistance to change is a negative response and many people may hang onto the old status quo, denying that change is taking place. This means that one cannot respond to the new state of affairs, there is inflexibility, reduced ability to react in appropriate ways and one is more likely to be dismissed as one that clings to the past and is unable to keep up with the new ways.
I like change and welcome it when it happens. Sometimes I bring it on myself as I see the opportunities that the change brings with it. However, when one moves on and commits to the change, there is some sadness that accompanies the end of an era and the commencement of a new one. This needs to be acknowledged, and accepted and sufficient time need be given to the grieving process that will inevitably occur. Once one has dealt with this, the changed environment can be embraced and its opportunities exploited.
The fielddaisy, Bellis perennis, is today’s birthday flower. It is the symbol of purity and virginity, adoration and innocence. In the language of flowers, the daisy speaks the words: “I share your sentiments”. It is under the dominion of Venus and in the past bruised leaves were applied to the testes to reduce swellings there! It used to be said, that Spring had not truly arrived until one could step over 12 daisy blooms under one foot on a lawn where they were growing. For the Northern Hemisphere, this is quite an apt birthday flower for this day, as Spring has truly sprung there.
The first cuckoos of Spring should be heard around this time in Europe. It is very lucky to be walking around when you hear the first cuckoo. On the other hand, one should be sitting when one sees the first swallow of the year:
Gang and hear the gowk yell
Sit and see the swallow flee
‘Twill be a happy year with thee.
If you hear the first cuckoo from your bed, you or someone in your family will die that year. If you have no money in your pocket or if you fail to jingle the coins in your pocket when you hear the first cuckoo call, then you will be poor all year. If you take some earth from under your right foot where you were standing when you heard the first cuckoo, scatter it where you do not want fleas to breed.
The cuckoo is a merry bird, she sings us as she flies
She brings us good tidings, she tells us no lies.
She dries up the dirt in the Spring of the year
And sucks little birds’ eggs to keep her voice clear.
Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933) was a Greek Alexandrian poet whose family was one of the oldest and most renowned of the Greek diaspora. He lived in Alexandria, Constantinople and London and just as he was coming to the end of adolescence, his family’s fortunes changed and his poetry is tinged with the colours of decadence and remembrances of past glories. His intense eroticism and “art for art’s sake” puts him on a parallel course with Oscar Wilde. Although embracing the European decadence he never denies his Hellenism and often his poems mine deeply into the past in order to gain inspiration and comment cuttingly on the present and future. His poetry influenced not only his compatriots but through his involvement with the English made him one of the better known of the modern Greek poets. The recurrent theme of Eros as viewed by the ancient Greeks often revolves around his own homosexuality and with implicit and tacit understanding transcends the fleshly Eros as described and attempts to capture the spiritualism of love.
Without thought, without pity, without shame
They built around me tall, forbidding walls.
And as I sit here now, in hopelessness,
I think of nothing else, my mind corroded by this lucklessness;
Because I had so much to do outside the walls.
How careless I must have been, not to have seen them building walls…
And yet I never heard the sound of builders or of construction.
They isolated me from the world around me quite imperceptibly.
“Fear follows crime and is its punishment.” – Voltaire
We have been watching some episodes of the Miss Marple telemovies starring Geraldine McEwan and some of them we have been enjoying. I was always a fan of Agatha Christie and have read just under 90 of her books, so whenever there is a transfer of these to screen, I look at the finished product with interest. There have been numerous Miss Marples in the movies and I have seen several films. Geraldine McEwan does a good job as the woolly but astute sleuth.
Jane Marple, usually referred to as Miss Marple, appears in twelve of Agatha Christie’s crime novels and in twenty short stories. Miss Marple is an elderly spinster who lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and acts as an amateur detective. Alongside Hercule Poirot, she is one of the most famous of Christie’s characters. Her first appearance was in a short story published in The Sketch magazine in 1926, “The Tuesday Night Club”, which later became the first chapter of The Thirteen Problems (1932). Her first appearance in a full-length novel was in The “Murder at the Vicarage” in 1930.
Margaret Rutherford was a memorable Miss Marple in the 1960s films. “Murder, She Said” (1961, directed by George Pollock) was the first of four British MGM productions starring Rutherford. Most viewers of the films agree that Rutherford was a delightful Miss Marple exemplifying the innocent, wide-eyed exterior that hides the astute and highly intelligent brain that keeps on working underneath the sweetness.
In 1980, Angela Lansbury played Miss Marple in “The Mirror Crack’d” (EMI, directed by Guy Hamilton), based on Christie’s 1962 novel. The film featured an all-star cast that included Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Geraldine Chaplin, Tony Curtis, and Kim Novak. Edward Fox appeared as Inspector Craddock, who did Miss Marple’s legwork. Lansbury’s Marple was a crisp, intelligent woman who moved stiffly and spoke in clipped tones. Unlike most incarnations of Miss Marple, this one smoked cigarettes.
American TV was the setting for the first dramatic portrayal of Miss Marple with Gracie Fields, the legendary British actress, playing her in a 1956 episode of Goodyear TV Playhouse based on “A Murder Is Announced”, the 1950 Christie novel.
American stage and screen legend Helen Hayes portrayed Miss Marple in two American made-for-TV movies, both for CBS: “A Caribbean Mystery” (1983) and “Murder with Mirrors” (1984). Sue Grafton contributed to the screenplay of the former. Hayes’s Marple was benign and chirpy. From 1984 to 1992, the BBC adapted all of the original Miss Marple novels as a series titled Miss Marple. Joan Hickson played the lead role. (Coincidentally, Hickson had played a housekeeper in the first film in which Margaret Rutherford played Miss Marple).
Beginning in 2004, ITV broadcast a series of adaptations of Agatha Christie’s books under the title “Agatha Christie’s Marple”, usually referred to as “Marple”. Geraldine McEwan starred in the first three series. One other TV movie called “At Bertram’s Hotel” (2007). Julia McKenzie took over the role in the fourth season. The adaptions are notable for changing the plots and characters of the original books (e.g., incorporating lesbian affairs, changing killer identities, renaming or removing significant characters, and even using stories from other books in which Miss Marple did not originally feature). The purists would shudder, but once again, if one sees the finished products as cinema and judges them as that, they are fine.
And just for the quirkiness of it, from 2004 to 2005, Japanese TV network NHK produced a 39 episode animé series titled “Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple”, which features both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Miss Marple’s voice is provided by Kaoru Yachigusa. I haven’t seen these but I would dearly love to cast a critical eye over an episode as I cannot imagine Miss Marple as an animé heroine!
The most recent film we saw was Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2007 “Nemesis” starring Geraldine McEwan, Laura Michelle Kelly and Dan Stevens. The novel is a classic Christie whodunit full of memorable characters, twists and turns of plot and some poignant moments. Unfortunately, this version is sadly mangled and the production is a little scratchy with an overpowering soundtrack and jerky camera work. The screenplay has also been “tampered with” due to no good reason! The 1987 Joan Hickson version stayed much closer to the book and was much better.
Having said all of that, I still prefer reading the Christie books, as they are the original and the best and a reader with an imagination will certainly construct in their mind the “perfect” Miss Marple and any actress that portrays her will disappoint compared to the one in one’s mind!
“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” - Martin Luther
Today Orthodox Easter is celebrated. The term Easter commemorates the feast of the pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostra, the goddess of the dawn. Her sacred animal was a hare. This may have been the origin of the “Easter Bunny”. In the Christian tradition Easter is one of the most important holidays of the year, the Orthodox faith in particular assigning to it the most importance amongst the Feast Days. It is a commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ, which took place during the Jewish Passover, the Pesach. The Greek and Latin terms for Easter, Pascha, are derived from the Jewish term. The adjective “Paschal” is used in English, relating often to the “Paschal Lamb” and the “Paschal Candles”.
Herrings, herrings white and red
Ten a penny, Lent is dead.
Rise Dame and give an Egg
Or else a piece of bacon.
One for Peter one for Paul
Three for Jack-a-Lent’s all:
Away, Lent, away!
A tradition in many countries (including Greece) is the wearing of some new article of clothing on Easter Day. If this is not carried out, bad luck will be yours all year. The wearing of a new Easter Bonnet to church is linked to this tradition. Incidentally, any new item of clothing should first be worn to church. Whenever that article of clothing that was first worn on Easter Day is worn again, the wearer will experience good luck.
At Easter let your clothes be new
Or else be sure you will it rue.
Greek Easter is celebrated joyously, beginning with the evening liturgy, which extends well into h morning hours and the most joyous part being the resurrection, which is announced on the stroke of midnight. The faithful light their candles as the priest chants the good news:
Χριστός Ανέστη εκ νεκρών,
θανάτω θάνατον πατήσας
και τοις εν τοις μνήμασιν,
Christ is risen from dead,
On death treading victorious,
And to those in the grave
Giving the gift of life.
Many Orthodox Christians in Australia celebrate Easter (Pascha) according to the Easter date in the Julian calendar, usually later than the Western Church Easter, which is calculated according to the Gregorian calendar. Easter is the most important event in the Orthodox church calendar. As most Orthodox Christians in Australia fast during Lent prior to Easter, Easter Sunday is a time for families and friends to get together for a festive meal, where meat and dairy products can be eaten again. Lamb and tsourekia (or tsoureki), which is a type of Easter bread, are popular Easter dishes in many Greek Orthodox communities in Australia. Many people leave the city and go in the countryside to celebrate Easter and spit roast the lamb over an open bed of charcoal.
In the afternoon, the “Agápee Liturgy” is celebrated, which is dedicated to loving our neighbor and forgiving wrongs that people ay have done one. The congregation at the conclusion of this liturgy shake hands and exchange symbolic kisses, denoting forgiveness and reflecting divine love.
The mosaic above is a detail of the “Anastasis” (Resurrection), from the west vault of Cathedral of St. Mark, Venice, ca 1180 AD.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.