Tuesday, 30 December 2014


“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” - C. S. Lewis

Fittingly, as the year draws to a close, I shall write an entry for “Book Tuesday”. I can certainly describe myself as a bibliophagic omnivore. I often may read several strange things, which can only be described as trash – if nothing else but to have an opinion of them. Andre Maurois says: “In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.” And best sellers often fit into this category of “astonishing choices” in the worst possible way! But, it is very easy also to dismiss “best sellers” wholesale as trash - one must remember that the classics of today were at some stage “best seller trash” too.

If I am reading something that is obviously badly written or formulaic in its approach, or gimmicky, I feel no compunction whatever in stopping reading it and throwing it out. Sometimes I am repulsed by a book that literary critics wax lyrical over. “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje is one such book that I cannot stomach at all. I have tried to read it on numerous occasions but it is a grossly repellent book for me. The film was one I walked out of, also. Maybe in my old age I shall come back to it and appreciate its (now hidden) glories…

What is a classic? It is a book that has stood the test of time and appears forever relevant and fresh and appealing in a diachronic fashion. It is a book you can return to with pleasure. “When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.” Says Cliff Fadiman. There are books that I read again for pleasure’s sake. “A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You should live several lives while reading it.” Styron remarks and it is such books that we return to because of their wealth of experience they offer us.  This of course goes well with Samuel Paterson’s opinion: “Books, like friends, should be few and well chosen.” My only trouble with this is that if one is forever re-reading a few, well-chosen classics, one is bereft of new experiences, undiscovered treasures, new worlds of discovery. I would rather risk reading many mediocre books in order to find a new gem, than to read only gems that others recommended to me. The thrill of discovery is even more acute if one treads the new paths oneself.

The Harry Potter books is an example of “best sellers” and they have become so because they follow a successful formula. They also capitalise on the “New Age” craze and they have behind them an enormous modern marketing machine. They are easily consumed, digested and promptly forgotten. Fashionable books rarely become classics. Compare to these Harry Potter books the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis. These were a favourite of mine during my childhood, but they were a pleasure to re-read as an adult. I classify them as classics of the genre and underlying their “fantasy” is a deeper philosophical underpinning, which is latent when they are read in childhood, but becomes so much more obvious when an adult reads them.

Now that I have mentioned them, I guess this book Tuesday I shall dedicate to these Narnia books. C(live) S(taple) Lewis, was born November 29, 1898, Belfast, Northern Ireland and died November 22, 1963, Oxford, England. He was a scholar, novelist, and author of about 40 books, most of them on Christian apologetics, the most widely known being “The Screwtape Letters”. He also achieved fame with a trilogy of science-fiction novels and with the Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven children's books that have become classics of fantasy literature. He fought in WWI and when he returned home he achieved an outstanding record as a classical scholar. From 1925 to 1954 he was a fellow and tutor of Magdalen College, Oxford, and from 1954 to 1963 he was professor of medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge.

The Chronicles of Narnia are extremely English books, in that they conform with that English characteristic, the reluctance to say goodbye to childhood… However, it is this character of the books makes them universally loved by people the world over who still have the child in their heart. The Narnia books are not only exciting, often humorous, highly inventive, but also many-a-time deeply moving. Lewis has utilised several archetypal images and characters but has woven them with threads of his own devising, making for a highly satisfying read.

The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels written by Lewis between 1949 and 1954, illustrated by Pauline Baynes and originally published in London between October 1950 and March 1956. The Chronicles of Narnia sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages and have been adapted several times, complete or in part, for radio, television, the stage, and film.

The series of books are set in the fictional realm of Narnia, a fantasy world of magic, mythical beasts, and talking animals. Various ordinary children from Earth are transported into Narnia one way or another and as they have adventures, they play central roles in the unfolding history of that world. The children are magically transported to Narnia, where they are called upon by the lion Aslan to protect Narnia from evil and restore the throne to its rightful line. The books span the entire history of Narnia, from its creation in “The Magician's Nephew” to its eventual destruction in “The Last Battle”.

Inspiration for the series is taken from multiple sources; in addition to adapting numerous traditional Christian themes, the books freely borrow characters and ideas from Greek and Roman mythology as well as from traditional British and Irish fairy tales. The books have profoundly influenced adult and children’s fantasy literature since World War II. Lewis’s exploration of themes not usually present in children’s literature, such as religion, as well as the books’ perceived treatment of issues including race and gender, has caused some controversy.

Despite the criticism about the books’ racist, sexist and religious subtexts, for me they still are satisfying reads, especially if one places them in the context in which they were written and the cultural background of the author. We may not burn a book from another age simply because it no longer agrees with our own more “enlightened” times. We read it and glean from it the best it has to offer and we attempt to understand the author’s intentions and the perspective it was written.

Monday, 29 December 2014


“Often it does seem such a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.” - Mark Twain

We watched Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 film “Noah” at the weekend. It was based on a screenplay by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, and starred Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, and Logan Lerman. Aronofsky is no novice to film-making, he has directed a good lot of movies, just to remind you: “Black Swan” (2010); “The Wrestler” (2008); “The Fountain” (2006); “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) and “Pi” (1998). Some of these were very good, however, I am afraid “Noah” falls into the dud category…

The film was controversial and many people became furious as it was not in line with Biblical teaching and there were numerous discussions on religious grounds, with many objections raised to the film bandying about with the word of God. For me more objectionable was the terrible mish-mash of the story with fragments all strewn together to try and make of it something that would succeed at the box-office. There was something there regarding the environment and vegetarianism, violence and pacifism, religion and obeying God, but there was also a lot about fanaticism and downright madness…

Noah is portrayed as a religious nut who is dooming a world of men to death because of something he believes God communicated to him in a dream. Noah becomes obsessed with saving all of the animals and of ending man’s time on Earth. He sits and watches many terrible things happen and then he also commits terrible acts simply because he wants mankind’s time to end on earth. This is surely something that must have rankled greatly with the believers of biblical teachings as divine truth.

The script is loaded with ridiculous baggage, not the least of which is the bad guy Tubal-Cain and the action-hero petrified disobedient giant angels turned into good guys. There were battle and action sequences to please the young crowd who expects them and there was populist environmental messages that were thought would please the greenie organic crowd that loves animals and thinks “meat is murder”.

The acting is annoyingly “straight” and it’s not only Ham that hams his part up (sorry, pun intended!). The CGI special effects look fake and the direction is turgid. Did I mention that we did not like this film? However, the movie had a budget of $125 million and made $359 million. I guess that means there was a profit. If it were a better film, I am sure that the profit would have been double or triple that. Noah’s story is a vivid episode of the Old Testament and most cultures have a deluge myth, beginning with the Mesopotamians, the Ancient Greeks and Native Americans. This indicates the universal appeal such a story has and how much more popular a well-made such modern film would have been.

This was a portmanteau movie designed to cash in on as much as possible of the public’s irrational viewing demands. It lacked humour, although it scored high on the ridiculometer. It lacked piety although it abounded on religiosity. It lacked good acting and good direction, although it had good actors and a competent director. It wasted a couple of our hours and entertainment it certainly wasn’t…

Sunday, 28 December 2014


“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” - Christopher Reeve

Piero di Cosimo (January 2, 1462 - April 12, 1522), sometimes known as Piero di Lorenzo, was born in Florence, son of a goldsmith, and apprenticed under the artist Cosimo Rosselli (1439 – 1507), from whom he derived his popular name. He assisted Rosselli in the painting of the Sistine Chapel in 1481.

In the first phase of his career, Piero was influenced by the Netherlandish naturalism of Hugo van der Goes (1440 – 1482), whose Portinari Triptych (now at the Spedale of Santa Maria Novella in Florence) helped to lead the whole of Florentine painting into new channels. From him Cosimo acquired the love of landscape and the intimate knowledge of the growth of flowers and of animal life. The manner of Hugo van der Goes is especially apparent in Cosimo’s Adoration of the Shepherds, (Berlin Museum).

He journeyed to Rome in 1482 with his master, Rosselli and proved himself a true child of the Renaissance by depicting subjects of Classical mythology in such pictures as the “Venus, Mars, and Cupid”, and “The Death of Procris”. This also includes his Perseus and Andromeda series, of which the painting “Perseus Frees Andromeda” (see above) is now at the Uffizi. Cosimo’s mythical compositions show the bizarre presence of hybrid forms of men and animals, or the man learning to use fire and tools. The multitude of nudes in these works shows the influence of Luca Signorelli (1445 – 1523) on Piero’s art.

During his lifetime, Cosimo acquired a reputation for eccentricity; reportedly, he was frightened of thunderstorms, and so pyrophobic that he rarely cooked his food. He lived largely on hard-boiled eggs, which he prepared 50 at a time while boiling glue for his artworks. He also resisted any cleaning of his studio, or trimming of the fruit trees of his orchard; he lived, wrote Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574), "more like a beast than a man”.

If, as Vasari asserts, he spent the last years of his life in gloomy retirement, the change was probably due to the religious reformer, Savonarola (1452 – 1498), under whose influence he turned his attention once more to religious art. The death of his master Rosselli may also have impacted Piero’s morose elder years. “The Immaculate Conception with Saints”, (or Incarnation) at the Uffizi, and “The Holy Family”, at Dresden, best illustrate the religious fervour to which he was stimulated by the stern preacher. Cosimo enjoyed a great reputation as a portrait painter: the most famous of his work being the portrait of a Florentine noblewoman, Simonetta Vespucci (1453 – 1476), mistress of Giuliano de Medici (1453 – 1478).

According to Vasari, Cosimo excelled in designing pageants and triumphal processions for the pleasure-loving youths of Florence. Cosimo exercised considerable influence upon his fellow pupils on Rosselli’s workshop, such as Albertinelli (1474 – 1515) and Fra Bartolomeo (1472 – 1517). He was the master of the influential Florentine Mannerist, Andrea del Sarto (1486 – 1531).

Perseus, in Greek mythology, was the son of Zeus and Danaë, the daughter of Acrisius of Argos. As an infant he was cast into the sea in a chest with his mother by Acrisius, who knew of a prophesy that said he would be killed by his grandson. The chest grounded on the island of Seriphus where Perseus grew up. King Polydectes of Seriphus, who desired Danaë, tricked Perseus into promising to obtain the head of Medusa, the only mortal among the Gorgons (winged female creatures of a terrible beauty, whose hair consisted of snakes).

Helped by the gods Hermes and Athena, Perseus pressed the Graiae, sisters of the Gorgons, into helping him by seizing the one eye and one tooth that the sisters shared and not returning them until they provided him with winged sandals (with which he could fly), the helmet of Hades (which made him invisible), a curved sword, or sickle, to decapitate Medusa, and a bag in which to conceal the head. Because the gaze of Medusa turned all who looked at her to stone, Perseus guided himself by her reflection in a shield given him by Athena and beheaded Medusa as she slept. He then returned to Seriphus and rescued his mother by turning Polydectes and his supporters to stone at the sight of Medusa's head.

On his way to Seriphus, Perseus rescued the Ethiopian princess, Andromeda. Andromeda's mother, Cassiopeia, had claimed to be more beautiful than the Nereids (sea nymphs), so Poseidon had punished Ethiopia by flooding it and plaguing it with a sea monster. An oracle informed Andromeda's father, King Cepheus, that the ills would cease if he offered Andromeda to the monster as a sacrificial vicitm, which he did. Perseus, passing by, saw the princess and fell in love with her. He turned the sea monster to stone by showing it Medusa's head and afterward married Andromeda.

Later Perseus gave the Gorgon’s head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, and gave his other accoutrements to Hermes. He accompanied his mother back to her native Argos, where he accidentally struck her father, Acrisius, dead when throwing the discus, thus fulfilling the prophecy that he would kill his grandfather. He consequently left Argos and founded Mycenae as his capital, becoming the ancestor of the Perseids, including Heracles. The Perseus legend was a favourite subject in painting and sculpture, both ancient and Renaissance. The chief characters in the Perseus legend, Perseus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and the sea monster (Cetus), all figure in the night sky as constellations. 

Saturday, 27 December 2014


“Every artist was first an amateur.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unico Wilhelm, Count van Wassenaer Obdam (30 October 1692 - 9 November 1766) was a Dutch nobleman who was a diplomat, composer, and administrator. He reorganised the Bailiwick of Utrecht of the Teutonic Order. His most important surviving compositions are the Concerti Armonici, which until 1980 had been misattributed to the Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) and to Carlo Ricciotti (1681-1756).

Van Wassenaer was born into a distinguished family of wealth, power and accomplishment—the House of Wassenaer. He grew up in the Hague, where he was taught to play the harpsichord and violin. In 1707-09 he stayed with his father and three sisters in Düsseldorf at the court of Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine. The strong Italian influences at the court had a major influence on his musical development.

On 18 September 1710 Unico Wilhelm was admitted to the University of Leiden to study law. In December 1711 he interrupted his studies to go to Frankfurt for the coronation of the Emperor Charles VI. In June 1713, after completing his studies, he returned to Düsseldorf where his father and sisters had settled. He may have accompanied Arent van Wassenaer Duyvenvoorde on a visit to Britain in 1715-16. He made a grand tour of France and Italy in 1717-18. In 1723 Unico Wilhelm married Dodonea Lucia van Goslinga (the daughter of Sicco van Goslinga), with whom he had three children.

While based at the Hague between 1725 and 1740, Unico Wilhelm wrote the seven Concerti Armonici. The Concerti Armonici, published anonymously in 1740, were printed in London in 1755 as compositions by the violinist and impresario Carlo Ricciotti (c. 1681–1756). It has since been established that these were the work of Unico Wilhelm. There is no evidence that Ricciotti wrote any music. The concerti were dedicated to Wilhelm’s friend, Count Willem Bentinck. The slow movements of the concerti are especially remarkable and have expressive beauty.

The Polish composer Franciszek Lessel (1780–1838) asserted incorrectly that the concertos were written by Pergolesi. Since the style of the concertos is Italian, laid out in typical Roman fashion with four parts for violin and consisting of four parts instead of the Venetian three, they are comparable to works by Pietro Locatelli. However, in 1979-1980 a manuscript of the six concerti was found in the archives of Twickel Castle (the castle where Van Wassenaer was born) labelled “Concerti Armonici”. Although the handwriting was not by Van Wassenaer, the manuscript did have an introduction in his hand, reading: “Partition de mes concerts gravez par le Sr. Ricciotti”. Research done by the Dutch musicologist Albert Dunning, established there can be no doubt that the concerti were, in fact, written by Van Wassenaer.

The Concerti Armonici were among the works that formed the basis for Igor Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella”, based on works considered at the time to be by Pergolesi. Apart from Concerti Armonici, three sonatas for recorder and continuo also by Van Wassenaer were discovered in the early 1990s.

Friday, 26 December 2014


“Underneath our nice, friendly façades there is great unease. If I were to scratch below the surface of anyone I would find fear, pain, and anxiety running amok. We all have ways to cover them up. We overeat, over-drink, overwork; we watch too much television.” - Joko Beck

After the excesses of the Christmas dinner table, it is good to have something light to eat in order to give your stomach a chance to recover. Here is such a dish, which nevertheless is quite filling and tasty. It is also one that can be whipped up in a hurry from ingredients that can be stored in your pantry (tinned stuff) and freezer (seafood highlighter, shelled prawns), making it the perfect dish to serve to unexpected visitors who turn up and decide to stay to lunch or dinner… Serve with fresh, crusty bread (or even crackers), some sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, and wash down with some bubbly.


45 g tin of anchovy fillets in olive oil
185 g tin of tuna chunks in olive oil
170 g tin of shredded crab meat in brine
250 g thawed seafood highlighter (formed seafood chunks), sliced thinly
150 g thawed, shelled, cooked prawns, deveined and chopped finely
2 tbsp baby capers
2 tbsp chopped dill baby gherkins (cornichons) – buy Polish ones, which are not sweet
Juice of a lime
1 tbsp olive oil
Ground white pepper and salt, to taste
A little chopped dill, to taste
300 g Thomy Mayonnaise Delikatess (easily the best mayonnaise in a jar, with the least sugar! We use home-made mayonnaise that has zero sugar in it, but Thomy is good at a pinch)


Open all tins and prepare the contents by draining well and chopping up. In a large bowl shred the tuna chunks and add the chopped anchovy fillets. Mix well.
Add the well-drained crab meat chunks, the chopped seafood highlighter and chopped prawns. Mix well.
Add the capers, chopped cornichons, lime juice, olive oil, dill and seasonings, mixing well.
Fold in the mayonnaise, using a little more or less so that it binds all the ingredients together.
Chill for about 30 minutes and serve.

The success of the salad depends on using ingredients that contain no added sugar. Most mayonnaise in a jar is sickly sweet, as are the dill gherkins. The sweet taste combined with the seafood can ruin the salad, which should be slightly tart, savoury and pleasantly peppery, not hot.

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Thursday, 25 December 2014


Christmas Day, today in Melbourne was a delight weather-wise. It was fine and sunny, warm not hot and the blue skies were punctuated now and then by white clouds that promised a rainy night, as it happened. A walk in the morning down to the Parklands proved to be a wonderful start to the day.

Our Christmas was a quiet family affair, spent indoors with music, good food and wine and thankfully gentle spirits. I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed a day like today, full of peace, joy and good cheer. To all my friends, here at Google Blogger I wish you all the best for the Festive Season! 

Merry Christmas; Καλά Χριστούγεννα - Kalá Christoúyenna; Joyeux Noël; Feliz Navidad; Buon Natale; Nadolig Llawen; Nollaig faoi shean; God Jul; Glückliches Weihnachten; Gelukkige Kerstmis; Feliz Natal!

An extended quote of the day today that to me delivers the message of Christmas so well…

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
New Testament; 1 Corinthians  XIII.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” - Luke 2:10

Well, it’s beginning to feel like Christmas, at long last. Yesterday, we had the Christmas decorations out and by late evening everything was up. The lights are lit, the wreaths and trees and balls send out a message of good cheer, while the holly and the mistletoe hark back to our European heritage of a wintry Christmas, although here in the Antipodes we had a top of 30˚C today! It’s interesting how here in Australia, we have preserved the Christmas traditions almost completely intact and it is only relatively recently that we are adapting to the climate and the summer celebration of Christmas.

Christmas as a Christian celebration came to supplant a pagan festival and customs relating to the ancient cults and gods were syncretised with the Christian ritual in order to absorb securely as many as possible of the new converts to Christianity. The Dies Natalis Invicti Solis was an ancient Roman festival more of a religious nature and thus important to priests predominantly. It was the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun and marked an important date on the calendar of the cult of Mithras.

The Mithraic cult was one of the chief pagan competitors to Christianity. Mithras was a sun god and his birthday fell close to the winter solstice, when the days began to lengthen and the sun once again appeared unconquered. The Christian tradition absorbed this festival and also that of the Saturnalia, thus attracting many pagans but re-interpreting their mythology according to more appropriate Christian symbolology.

Another winter solstice festival that became absorbed into Christmas was that of Yule or Jol, celebrated especially in the North, wherever the Norse pantheon held sway. Jolnir was another name for Odin, the chief god, the Norse equivalent of Zeus or Jupiter. Odin was the god of ecstasy and intoxicating drink, but also the god of death. The sacrificial beer of Odin became the blessed Christmas beer of the middle ages and also survives in the wassail cup of “lamb’s wool”.  The feasting that occurred during Yuletide also included providing food and drink for the ghosts that roamed the earth around this time (Finnish Christmas Eve tradition).  Bonfires were lit and this tradition has survived in the form of the yule log.  The Christmas tree tradition is essentially a Germanic one that may hail back to the Norse legend of Yggdrasil, the great tree on whose branches rested the universe. 

            The ivie and holly berries are seen,
            And Yule Log and Wassaile come round agen.
            At Christmas play, and make good cheer,
            For Christmas comes but once a year.
                                     Thomas Tusser (ca 1520-1580).

Appropriately, the word for the day is: “Christmas

Christmas |ˈkrisməs| noun ( pl. -mases |ˌkrɪsməsəz|)
the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ's birth, held on December 25.
• the period immediately before and after December 25: We had guests over Christmas.
Exclamation, informal: Expressing surprise, dismay, or despair.
Christmassy |-məsē| |ˌkrɪsməsi| adjective
ORIGIN: Old English Crīstes mæsse (see Christ , Mass ).

Christ |krīst| noun

The title, also treated as a name, given to Jesus of Nazareth.
Exclamation: An oath used to express irritation, dismay, or surprise.
before Christ full form of BC .
Christhood |-ˌhoŏd| |ˌkraɪstˈhʊd| noun
Christlike |-ˌlīk| |ˌkraɪs(t)ˈlaɪk| adjective
Christly |ˌkraɪs(t)li| adjective
ORIGIN: Old English Crīst, from Latin Christus, from Greek Khristos, noun use of an adjective meaning ‘anointed,’ from khriein ‘anoint,’ translating Hebrew māšīaḥ ‘Messiah.’