Saturday, 21 December 2013


“That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.” - Albert Einstein
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643 – 24 February 1704) was a French composer of the Baroque era. Exceptionally prolific and versatile, Charpentier produced compositions of the highest quality in several genres. His mastery in writing sacred vocal music, above all, was recognised and hailed by his contemporaries.

His compositions include oratorios, masses, operas, and numerous smaller pieces that are difficult to categorise. Many of his smaller works for one or two voices and instruments resemble the Italian cantata of the time, and share most features except for the name. Charpentier calls them air sérieux or air à boire if they are in French, but cantata if they are in Italian.

The “Missa Assumpta est Maria” is the last of Charpentier’s many mass settings, written about 1700, and is considered his greatest work in the genre. This mass is notable for the warmth of Charpentier’s choral and vocal writing, which often has an intensity and harmonic richness that practically give it a Romantic character, particularly in movements like Et incarnatus, from the Credo. It is performed here by Le Concert Spirituel under Hervé Niquet.

The mass offers further evidence that Charpentier, whose music was virtually unknown except to scholars until the late twentieth century, deserves a spot in the pantheon of the most exceptional Baroque composers. His music was controversial during his lifetime, and he wrote of his discouragement that he had as many vociferous detractors as supporters. What is most striking to modern listeners is probably the transparent emotion expressed in his music, which gives it an extraordinarily modern sensibility. He is best known for his noble and often achingly poignant religious works, but his secular love songs dazzle with their simplicity and unmannered charm, and other works reveal a wicked wit.

Friday, 20 December 2013


“I did not become a vegetarian for my health, I did it for the health of the chickens.” - Isaac Bashevis Singer

Lentil Pie


4 small potatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 onion
1 large leek (white part only, finely chopped)
10 mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tablespoon plain flour
3 cups vegetable stock
pinch fresh or dried thyme
pinch freshly ground pepper
100mL thickened cream
400g boiled lentils
2 sheets ready- rolled puff pastry
1 tablespoon butter

Peel the potatoes and boil on medium heat until tender.
Heat olive oil in large saucepan, add chopped onion, leek and chopped mushrooms and heat for 10 minutes making sure they do not brown.
Stir in flour and stir constantly until the sauce thickens up. Add 2 cups of the vegetable stock. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add rest of stock if it’s too thick.
Add the thyme, pepper, cream and stir. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring now and then. Keep checking to make sure it does not stick to the pan.
Drain potatoes, chop into small chunks and add to saucepan.
Add the lentils, stir. Simmer for 5 minutes or until desired consistency, making sure it’s not too watery. Turn heat off and let it sit for 10 minutes to thicken up.
Meanwhile take puff pastry out of the freezer and let it thaw.
Get out a large baking dish and pour the mixture in, then top with puff pastry. Brush with butter (or egg). Alternatively, you can bake in individual ramekins or little pots.
Cook in 180˚ C oven until the puff pastry is golden brown (about 30 minutes). Serve from the baking dish.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday, 19 December 2013


“A myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world.” - Alan Watts

The ancient Greeks had several different theories regarding the origin of the world, but the generally accepted notion was that before this world came into existence, there was in its place a confused mass of shapeless elements called Chaos. These elements eventually resolved themselves into two widely different substances, the lighter portion of which, soaring on high, formed the sky or firmament, and constituted itself into a vast, overarching vault, which protected the firm and solid mass beneath.

Thus came into being the two first great primeval deities of the Greeks, Uranus and Gæa. Uranus represented the light and air of heaven, possessing the distinguishing qualities of light, heat, purity, and omnipresence, whilst Gæa, the firm, flat, life-sustaining earth, was worshipped as the great all-nourishing mother. Her many titles refer to her more or less in this character, and she appears to have been universally revered among the Greeks, there being scarcely a city in Greece which did not contain a temple erected in her honour; indeed Gæa was held in such veneration that her name was always invoked whenever the gods took a solemn oath, made an emphatic declaration, or implored assistance.

Uranus, the heaven, was believed to have united himself in marriage with Gæa, the earth. The first-born child of Uranus and Gæa was Oceanus, the ocean stream, that vast expanse of ever-flowing water which encircled the earth. Uranus also produced offspring who were of a much lesser material nature than his son Oceanus. These other children of his were supposed to occupy the intermediate space that divided him from Gæa. Nearest to Uranus, and just beneath him, came Aether (Ether), a bright creation representing that highly rarified atmosphere which immortals alone could breathe. Then followed Aër (Air), which was in close proximity to Gæa, and represented, as its name implies, the grosser atmosphere surrounding the earth which mortals could freely breathe, and without which they would perish.

Aether and Aër were separated from each other by divinities called Nephelae. These were their restless and wandering sisters, who existed in the form of clouds, ever floating between Aether and Aër. Gæa also produced the mountains, and Pontus (the sea). She united herself with the latter, and their offspring were the sea-deities Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia.

Co-existent with Uranus and Gæa were two mighty powers who were also the offspring of Chaos. These were Erebus (Darkness) and Nyx (Night), who formed a striking contrast to the cheerful light of heaven and the bright smiles of earth. Erebus reigned in that mysterious world below where no ray of sunshine, no gleam of daylight, nor vestige of health-giving terrestrial life ever appeared. Nyx, the sister of Erebus, represented Night, and was worshipped by the ancients with the greatest solemnity.

Uranus was also supposed to have been united to Nyx, but only in his capacity as god of light, he being considered the source and fountain of all light, and their children were Eos (Aurora), the Dawn, and Hemera, the Daylight. Nyx again, on her side was also doubly united, having been married at some indefinite period to Erebus.

In addition to those children of heaven and earth already enumerated, Uranus and Gæa produced two distinctly different races of beings called Giants and Titans. The Giants personified brute strength alone, but the Titans united to their great physical power intellectual qualifications variously developed. There were three Giants, Briareus, Cottus, and Gyges, who each possessed a hundred hands and fifty heads, and were known collectively by the name of the Hecatoncheires, which signified hundred-handed. These mighty Giants could shake the universe and produce earthquakes, representing active subterranean forces, whose power the ancients were well aware of.

The Titans were twelve in number; their names were: Oceanus, Ceos, Crios, Hyperion, Iapetus, Cronus, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phœbe, and Tethys. Uranus, the chaste light of heaven, the essence of all that is bright and pleasing, held in abhorrence his crude, rough, and turbulent offspring, the Giants, and moreover feared that their great power might eventually prove hurtful to himself. He therefore hurled them into Tartarus, that portion of the lower world that served as the subterranean dungeon of the gods. In order to avenge the oppression of her children, the Giants, Gæa instigated a conspiracy on the part of the Titans against Uranus, which was carried to a successful issue by her son Cronus.

Cronus wounded his father, and from the blood of the wound which fell upon the earth sprang a race of monstrous beings also called Giants. Assisted by his brother-Titans, Cronus succeeded in dethroning his father, who, enraged at his defeat, cursed his rebellious son, and foretold to him a similar fate. Cronus now became invested with supreme power, and assigned to his brothers offices of distinction, subordinate only to himself. Subsequently, however, when, secure of his position, he no longer needed their assistance, he basely repaid their former services with treachery, made war upon his brothers and faithful allies, and, assisted by the Giants, completely defeated them, sending such as resisted his all-conquering arm down into the lowest depths of Tartarus…

See also post Greek Gods - 1

Wednesday, 18 December 2013


“People don’t ask for facts in making up their minds. They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts.” Robert Keith Leavitt

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Charles Wesley
, co-founder of the Methodist sect (1707);
, empress of Russia (1709);
Joseph Grimaldi
, English pantomimist “the greatest clown in history” (1779);
Carl Maria von Weber
, composer (1786);
Edward Alexander MacDowell
, composer (1860);
(Hector Hugo Munro), author (1870);
Paul Klee
, painter (1879);
Edwin Armstrong
, FM radio pioneer (1890);
Christopher Fry
, writer (1907);
Willy Brandt
, German chancellor (1913);
Betty Grable
, US actress (1916);
Boris V. Volynov
, Russian cosmonaut (1934);
Steven Spielberg
, director (1947).

The holly, Ilex aquifolium, is today’s birthday plant.  It is symbolic of domestic happiness, good wishes, friendship and goodwill.  In the language of flowers, holly asks: “Am I forgotten?” Christian symbology ascribes the thorns of the leaves with the meaning “Christ’s passion”, while the red berries stand for the drops of blood of Christ.
            The holly bears a berry red,
            The ivy bears a black ‘un,
            To show that Christ His blood did shed,
            To save our soul from Satan.

In Latvia on this day a winter festival called the “Greeting of the Four Brothers” is celebrated. The festival celebrates the return of light and the birth of God called Diev. The Four Brothers Ziemassvétki are celestial being bearing gifts and are heralds of the solstice. Latvians decorate their houses gaily and cook all kinds of good food for the four-day feasting.

Edward Alexander MacDowell (1861–1908) was an American composer born in New York City. His outstanding works are four piano sonatas and his Indian Suite (1897) for orchestra. Woodland Sketches (1896) and Sea Pieces (1898) for piano are popular. The MacDowell Colony for artists, writers, and composers (Peterborough, N.H.) was founded by his widow.

Today is the Feast Day of Santa María de la Soledad (Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, Maria Santisima, Nuestra Señora Dolorosisima de la Soledad, Virgen de la Soledad) or Our Lady of Solitude. This is a title of Mary (mother of Jesus) and a special form of Marian devotion practised in Spanish-speaking countries to commemorate the solitude of Mary on Holy Saturday.

María de la Soledad is the patroness of Badajos and Parla, Spain; Porto Covo, Portugal; Oaxaca and Acapulco, Mexico; and of Cavite Province, Philippines, under the name Nuestra Señora de la Soledad de Porta Vaga. The Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad in Soledad, California was devoted to María de la Soledad. The given name María de la Soledad, often shortened to Marisol or Soledad, is used in Spanish-speaking countries.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013


“For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.” - Judy Garland

Poetry Jam issued the following challenge to followers of this creative writing blog: “This week write a poem from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in or someone on the inside looking out – or both…”

Here is my offering:

Walking in the Rain

The pattern of copper leaves on wet, gray sidewalk
A jigsaw in disarray –
The broken image of a season of discontent.
Sharp claws of cold scratch my face
While rain falls relentlessly
The river merging imperceptibly with the wet air.

I walk determined, ignoring my wet trouser legs,
Shivering even under layers of clothes
That fail to insulate me, leave me exposed
To late autumn weather;
The thought of you warms my core
And your sunny smile remembered moves me forward.

A sudden wind gust catches umbrellas
Turning them inside out, upside down,
And their owners struggle to discipline them.
The rain keeps falling
As I keep walking, each step takes me
Closer to you, my warm and cosy haven.

A homeless man wrapped in a dirty blanket
Sleeps fitfully as the rain soaks him
His wet hat failing to acknowledge the sound of my coin
Falling in its empty depths.
You are my home and no rain will keep me away
From your snug embrace.

I am soaked now but I can see your door,
All lit up brightly, a beacon in the gloom;
I smile, oblivious to the icy, biting wind
That only fans my ardour more,
This stolen hour just after midday
On a cold, wet, gray – but oh, so beautiful – day!

Monday, 16 December 2013


“Supernatural, perhaps; baloney, perhaps not.” – Bela Lugosi (‘The Black Cat’, 1934)

Hammer Films is a film production company based in the United Kingdom. Since its founding in 1934, the company became best known for a series of Gothic “Hammer Horror” films made from the mid-1950s until the 1970s. Hammer also produced science fiction, thrillers, film noir and comedies. In later years it diversified and entered television series production. During its most successful years, Hammer dominated the horror film market, enjoying worldwide distribution and considerable financial success. This success was due, in part, to distribution partnerships with major United States studios, such as Warner Bros.

During the late 1960s and 1970s the saturation of the horror film market by competitors and the loss of American funding forced changes to the previously lucrative Hammer-formula, with varying degrees of success. The company eventually ceased production in the mid-1980s. In 2000, the studio was bought by a consortium including advertising executive and art collector Charles Saatchi and publishing millionaires Neil Mendoza and William Sieghart.

The company announced plans to begin making films again after this change in ownership, but none were produced. In May 2007, the company behind the movies was sold again, this time to a consortium headed by Dutch media tycoon John de Mol, who announced plans to spend some $50 million (£25m) on new horror films. The new owners also acquired the Hammer group’s film library, consisting of 295 movies. Simon Oakes, who took over as CEO of Hammer, said: “Hammer is a great British brand - we intend to take it back into production and develop its global potential. The brand is still alive but no one has invested in it for a long time.” Since then it has produced the feature films ‘Let Me In’ (2010), ‘The Resident’ (2011), and ‘The Woman In Black’ (2012).

We recently bought a box set of three Hammer Horror movies in the sale bin of our video store. These were rather nostalgically reminiscent of the days in the early 70s when I used to watch these wonderfully lurid movies. We managed to watch all three in a couple of weeks and they were: ‘The Plague of the Zombies’ (1966), ‘The Mummy’s Shroud’ (1967) and ‘The Reptile’ (1966).

These are all typical Hammer Horror fare and of the three, ‘The Reptile’ is probably the best, followed by ‘The Plague of the Zombies’ and then ‘The Mummy’s Shroud’. By modern standards, all of these films are lacking in special effects and complex CGI glitz. However, at the time, these were good enough to gratify the morbid interest of the public that needed to be scared and titillated.

The acting is wooden to plastic, the sets not too bad, and the make-up good enough to be convincing. Watch these films for nostalgia value only – they are quite amusing if seen in perspective.

Sunday, 15 December 2013


“Colour possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour: Colour and I are one. I am a painter.” - Paul Klee

Paul Klee was born in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland, on December 18, 1879. Klee participated in and was influenced by a range of artistic movements, including surrealism, cubism and expressionism. He taught art in Germany until 1933, when the National Socialists declared his work indecent. The Klee family fled to Switzerland, where Paul Klee died on June 29, 1940.

Klee was the son of a music teacher and was a talented violinist, receiving an invitation to play with the Bern Music Association at age 11. As a teenager, Klee’s attention turned from music to the visual arts. In 1898, he began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. By 1905, he had developed signature techniques, including drawing with a needle on a blackened pane of glass. Between 1903 and 1905, he completed a set of etchings called “Inventions” that would be his first exhibited works.

In 1906, Klee married Bavarian pianist Lily Stumpf. The couple had a son, Felix Paul. Klee’s artwork progressed slowly for the next five years. In 1910, he had his first solo exhibition in Bern, which subsequently travelled to three Swiss cities. In January 1911, Klee met art critic Alfred Kubin, who introduced him to artists and critics. That winter, Klee joined the editorial team of the journal “Der Blaue Reiter”, co-founded by Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky. He began working on colour experiments in watercolours and landscapes, including the painting “In the Quarry”.

Klee’s artistic breakthrough came in 1914, after a trip to Tunisia. Inspired by the light in Tunis, Klee began to delve into abstract art. Returning to Munich, Klee painted his first pure abstract, In the Style of Kairouan, composed of coloured rectangles and circles. Klee’s work evolved during World War I, particularly following the deaths of his friends Auguste Macke and Franz Marc. Klee created several pen-and-ink lithographs, including “Death for the Idea”, in reaction to this loss. In 1916, he joined the German army, painting camouflage on airplanes (sic!) and working as a clerk.

By 1917, art critics began to classify Klee as one of the best young German artists. A three-year contract with dealer Hans Goltz brought exposure as well as commercial success. Klee taught at the Bauhaus from 1921 to 1931, alongside his friend Kandinsky. In 1923, Kandinsky and Klee formed the Blue Four with two other artists, Alexej von Jawlensky and Lyonel Feininger, and toured the United States to lecture and exhibit work. Klee had his first exhibits in Paris around this time, finding favour with the French surrealists.

Klee began teaching at Dusseldorf Academy in 1931. Two years later, he was fired under Nazi rule. The Klee family moved to Switzerland in late 1933. Klee was at the peak of his creative output during this tumultuous period. He produced nearly 500 works in a single year and created “Ad Parnassum”, widely considered to be his masterpiece.

Mount Parnassus, also Parnassos (Greek: Παρνασσός), is a mountain of limestone in central Greece that towers above Delphi, north of the Gulf of Corinth, and offers scenic views of the surrounding olive groves and countryside. According to Greek mythology, this mountain was sacred to Apollo and the Corycian nymphs, and the home of the Muses. The mountain was also favoured by the Dorians. There is a theory that Parna- derived from the same root as the word in Luwian meaning House.  The name “Parnassus” in literature typically refers to its distinction as the home of poetry, literature, and learning; the Montparnasse area in Paris, France, for example, bears its name from the many literature students who recited poetry in the streets, who as a result nicknamed it “(le) Mont Parnasse”.

Klee’s “To Parnassus” of 1932 makes allusions to this metaphor, with the mountain being seen as a the lofty peak of artistic endeavour. The mountain figures prominently in the painting, and the arched structure resembling a gate invites the viewer to venture inside the “house of art”, which the whole composition resembles. The subdivision of the painting plane in many multicoloured “pixels” predates the digital age, of course, and always reminds me of the wings of butterflies…