Saturday 3 November 2007


Art Sunday today finds me rather tired as we stayed in all day shifting bookcases, moving books, making room for some recent purchases and generally rationalising space. When one buys books and does not bear to part with them once one has read them, the problem of space becomes ever more acute and pressing. We bought two new bookcases yesterday and then we had to find room for them. Once they were in place, we had to move books so that they were where we wanted them to be. Alphabetical by language and author for fiction, and by subject for non-fiction. A mammoth task when one considers that we have several thousands of books.

Therefore, my offering today is a single work by Albrecht Dürer. Dürer was born May 21, in 1471, in the Imperial Free City of Nürnberg, Germany and died April 6, 1528, Nürnberg. He was a painter, printmaker, draughtsman and art theorist, generally regarded as the greatest German Renaissance artist. His vast body of work includes altarpieces and religious works, numerous portraits and self-portraits, and copper engravings. His woodcuts, such as the Apocalypse series (1498), retain a more Gothic flavour than the rest of his work.

The work I give you toady is a favourite of mine, “The Large Turf” (1503, watercolour and gouache on paper. Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna, Austria, 41 cm x 32 cm). In this deceptively simple watercolour, Dürer creates a microcosm that is beautiful to behold and relaxing to meditate upon. One has to immerse oneself in this work and let the green serenity wash over one’s soul. To see this masterpiece with one's own eyes in Vienna is an amazing experience...


For Song Saturday today, I am featuring a Brazilian singer. Marina Lima (born 17/9/1955) who is a prominent pioneer of Brazilian rock music. From the age of 5-12 years, she lived in the USA and learned to read first in English and then in Portuguese. She gained attention in 1977 when popular singer Gal Costa recorded her song "Meu Doce Amor". Other songs she wrote were inspired by her brother’s poetry.

Her album, Simples Como Fogo (1979), would be extremely influential in the Brazilian Rock scene of the 1980s. She gained major success with the 1984 album Fullgás, with hit singles "Fullgás", "Me Chama" and "Mesmo que Seja Eu". She sings equally comfortably in English as well as Portuguese and sultry looks coupled with her rich voice have gained her a world-wide following. Here is one of my favourite songs of hers, “Something that we Missed”.

Friday 2 November 2007


We have had a rather civilised but slightly decadent night tonight with a lovely dinner, beautiful music, candlelight, quiet conversation, gentle laughter and to top it all off a rich, creamy dessert that hails from wonderful Sicily. I can’t share with you the intimate cosiness of the evening, the flicker of the candle flames or the ambience of the music resounding in the air, but I can share with you some of the sweetness left on the palate and the fragrance of the vanilla and the liqueurs that make of this dessert a wicked delight.


• 700 mL of cream
• 3 tablespoonfuls sugar
• Vanilla essence
• About a dozen Savoiardi biscuits (“sponge fingers”)
• 1/2 cup of chopped glace cherries, candied peel and sultanas
• 1 block of cooking chocolate
• 1/2 cup of ground, roasted almonds
• 1/2 cup of ground, roasted hazelnuts
• 1 measure each of Cointreau, Benedictine and Tia Maria

Soak the fruits in the Benedictine for a few hours. Moisten the biscuits in the Cointreau mixed with a generous amount of cream. Arrange the biscuits in a deep jelly mould (abour 20 cm diameter) to form a biscuit shell around the sides and bottom. Beat the cream, sugar and vanilla to form a stiff Chantilly and divide it into two portions. To one portion add the almonds and the Benedictine-fruits. Mix well and coat the biscuit shell leaving a depression in the middle. Melt the chocolate in a bain-Marie and add it to the reserved Chantilly together with the hazelnuts. Fill the depression in the mould with this mixture. Refrigerate overnight and when ready to serve, turn upside down onto a platter and dust with icing sugar.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday 1 November 2007


Today is the feast of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches that commemorates all Saints, known and unknown, and is called All Saints Day or All Hallows. Catholics are obliged to attend mass on this day, All Saints being one of the major feasts of the Roman Catholic faith. It is a holiday that principally honours martyrs of the church who died in groups and whose names are not known. In 609, the Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome, as a church in the name of Our Lady and All Martyrs. In England the festival was known as All Hallows, hence the name of the preceding day, Halloween. The Christian feast has melded with the Celtic feast of Samhain, the pagan of New Year festival when crops were blessed, stored fruits and grains were hallowed and the dead were remembered.

All the gods of this world were worshipped on this day
From sunrise to sunset.

When All Saints’ comes on Wednesday,
The men of all the earth will be under affliction.

Children born on All Hallowstide were sure to have the second sight and all November’s children were lucky, beloved and fortunate in their life:
November’s child is born to bless
He’s like a song of thankfulness.

A couplet from An Early Calendar of English Flowers remarks upon the scarcity of flowers at this time:
Save mushrooms, and the fungus race,
That grow till All-Hallow-tide takes place.

The weather on this day should be observed as it gives an indication of what lies ahead:
If ducks do slide at Hallowentide
At Christmas they will swim;
If ducks do swim at Hallowentide
At Christmas they will slide.

As the next day is All Souls’ Day, “soul cakes” were made on this night for distribution to the poor. The recipients of these cakes prayed for the souls of the departed, interceding on their behalf. The returning, visiting souls of the dead on this day were thought to somehow be able to partake of these “soul cakes”.

The illustration today is by Aladar Korosfoi-Kriesch and is called “All Souls' Day” (1910 Oil on canvas, 51,5 x 72,5 cm - Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest). The word for the day is:

hallow |ˈhalō| verb [ trans. ]
Honour as holy : The Ganges is hallowed as a sacred, cleansing river | [as adj. ] ( hallowed) hallowed ground.
• formal make holy; consecrate.
• [as adj. ] ( hallowed) greatly revered or respected : In keeping with a hallowed family tradition.
noun archaic
a saint or holy person.
ORIGIN Old English hālgian (verb), hālga (noun), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch and German heiligen, also to holy.

Tuesday 30 October 2007


The words in this poem kept whirling in my head last night and all through the day this morning. This afternoon they all fell into place, just in time for Halloween tonight!


It’s a dark, scary night
Halloween is tonight –
All the ghoulies are out
All the ghosties about…

With a crick and a crack
And a tap on my back
I’m trembling and shaking,
Fearing, a-quaking.

It’s a night of the fey
Take care not to stray,
All the witches do sport
All the fiends cavort.

With a quick step I tread
With a bat at my head:
It’s shrieking and squeaking
Victims is seeking.

It’s a dark, stormy night
Of the hag and the sprite –
All the zombies parade,
All the children afraid.

With a shudder and shake
Until dawn wide awake,
I’m quietly abiding
In the dark, hiding.

It’s the night full of screams
And of horrible dreams –
All the spectres take flight
All the banshees delight.

With a sob and a sigh
With a throb and a cry,
I’m shuddering, shivering
Queasily quivering
It’s Halloween!

Happy Halloween, to everyone! Enjoy your evening!


With Halloween fast approaching, and this being our Book Tuesday, I thought today to give you a Gothic novel/story quiz, which is in keeping with both occasions. Halloween, October 31st, is the last night of the Celtic year and is the night associated with witchcraft, fairies, elves and wicked spirits. In countries where the Celtic influence is strong, customs surrounding Halloween are still current and relate to pagan rituals celebrating the beginning of the Winter cycle. Tales of witches and ghosts are told, bonfires are lit, fortune-telling and mumming are practiced. Masquerading is the order of the night, making of jack-o-lanterns and the playing of games pass the hours pleasantly. Bobbing for apples in a tub of water is an age-old custom. These pagan practices have been incorporated into the Christian tradition through association with All Saints’ Day on November the first.

Gothic literature has often been criticised for its sensationalism, melodramatic qualities, and its play on the supernatural. However, the genre dominated English literature from its conception in 1764 with the publication of “The Castle of Otranto” by Horace Walpole to its supposed demise in 1820. These novels drew many of its dark and romantic images from the graveyard poets, who intermingled a landscape of vast dark forests with vegetation that bordered on excessive, ruins with rooms concealing horrors, monasteries, windswept castles and a forlorn character who excels at the melancholy. Although the Gothic novel influenced many of the emerging genres, like romanticism, the outpouring of Gothic novels started to ease by the 1820s. The genre has had several revivals, including a very recent one sparked by the popularity of New Age themes. This most recent revival (sparked by a Supernaturalism reaction against the growing Science and Technology developments of the late 20th century) seems to mirror the circumstances that created the genre (a Romantic reaction against the rationality and logic of the Age of Reason).

Now, for our quiz:
I have selected 10 important “Gothic” novels or short stories and have represented their titles as an image that may be a direct illustration of that title or a distinct allusion to it.
Your task, should you wish to accept it is to identify all 10 and firstly send me a message with the title and author of the work and then comment here telling me you are participating.
The winner is the first person who gets all ten correct (or the most correct!) and he or she will receive a prize!

For details see my 360 blog.

Sunday 28 October 2007


There is a virus called Ebola and it is endemic to Africa. It is one of the most deadly viruses known and causes an almost always fatal, haemorrhagic fever (up to 95% mortality). The virus first emerged in 1976 in simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and Zaire and is similar to another similar virus that is as deadly, the Marburg virus. The Ebola virus is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected persons. The animal that harbours the virus is still unknown, but the virus can infect a wide variety of species, including gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines. Infected bats seem to survive the infection, so perhaps these are the natural reservoir of infection.

Ebola virus infection is characterised by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, 2-21 days after infection. This is often followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases both internal and external bleeding. The organs liquefy and the infected person is highly infectious. No specific treatment or vaccine is yet available for Ebola haemorrhagic fever.

I have prefaced Movie Monday thus, as I am dealing with a “What If…” movie, which although is billed as a science fiction/horror movie it is based on some science and raises some important philosophical questions. The film is Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later…” (2002). This movie was marketed as a horror movie, but unfortunately, this was a wrong move. It has themes that are far more significant and the questions it poses are quite important and worthy of deep reflection.

The plot outline revolves around a new virus that causes infected animals and humans to become violent, bloodthirsty monsters overcome by rage. The first question the viewer is asked is: “How do you feel about animal experimentation?”. We are shown some graphic footage of monkeys in captivity in a scientific laboratory, which are being subjected to some horrific-looking experiments (this movie is not for the faint-hearted!). We the viewers are immediately tempted to take the side of the animal liberationists who have come to rescue these animals… However, the situation is not as simple as it looks. The monkeys are infected – the virus they are infected with is a terrible one and we do not know what the purpose of the experiments are. In their zeal, the liberationists unwisely release the virus-infected animals and become their first victims.

When the virus is unleashed, it very soon (28 days!) spreads and infects almost all of the population of England, converting the infected populace into a mass of wild, ravenous, beastly murderers intent of annihilating one another. The movie concerns a small group of uninfected people that try to survive. The second question posed by Boyle is: “At what price survival?” The uninfected can only protect themselves by becoming as efficient as possible at killing the infected people, no matter who they are – family, friends, lovers. Human relationships and basic human needs are explored by the film’s first half where the small group of uninfected people try to make their way from a deserted and desolate London (chillingly shown) to a location near Manchester where they have heard an army radio signal from another group of survivors.

The second half of the movie looks at the interaction between the two groups of survivors – Londoners and the Army unit near Manchester. This second half brought to mind “The Lord of the Flies” and the questions posed by Boyle are similar to those one is considering when reading Golding’s book. “How civilised are we really? Can we preserve our higher values and social organization when put under enormous stresses? Does our will to survive, our self-preservation instinct override all other considerations?”

There is extreme violence in the film and some horrific images. The language is often coarse and the plot quite confronting. The message of the film is timely, the situations portrayed disturbingly plausible and the tale spun is more than gory horror flick that satisfies the ghouls amongst us (there are other more gory and sickeningly horrific films that do this more efficiently). What was more disturbing for me were some images that were interspersed within the action and could be missed by the casual observer. A shot of goldfish swimming agonisingly in a tank with dwindling water; a scene where pills are handed out to a young girl “to make her not care” what will happen to her; a scene where the hero’s eyes glaze over as he is forced to commit a murder, which is so much against his nature…

The film has some flaws, but is powerful enough and sufficiently well constructed to overcome these and they are not what was left in my mind after I had watched the film. I recommend it, but be warned, this is a raw and confronting movie.


The wind today blew all day and managed to keep us in. A good opportunity to catch up with some housework, cleaning out and also to spend some quiet time reading and relaxing. We put our clocks forward one hour today and Summer has officially begun with the adoption of Summer time.

One painting from me for this Art Sunday; it is by Jan Van Eyck (≈1390-1441) a Flemish painter who perfected the technique of oil painting. He painted in a realistic, naturalistic style on wood panels, mostly portraits and religious subjects. His paintings are full of allegory and made extensive use of disguised religious symbols. Exquisite detail and painstakingly applied in thin layers and glazes make of his paintings marvellous shiny translucent, jewel-like confections. His masterpiece is the altarpiece in the cathedral at Ghent, the Adoration of the Lamb (1432). Hubert van Eyck is thought by some to have been Jan's brother.

“The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin” (1435 - Oil on wood, 66 x 62 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris) is one of my favourite paintings of his. Not so much for the foregorund, but for the microcosm that is to be seen in the background. A city built on a river with magnificent buildings, including a marvellous Gothic cathedral, a splendid bridge, milling crowds and lush countryside surrounding it. There are many stories in evolution in the background, not the least of which concern the two enigmatic figures gazing out on the landscape beyond them. The peacocks represent immortality, this stemming from the ancient legend that the flesh of the peacock did not decay, thus its association with the Resurrection of Christ. In addition the "multitude of eyes" upon its stunningly beautiful fan tail, suggested the all seeing eye of God and that of the church. The lilies growing in the patch of garden symbolize in Christian art chastity, innocence and purity, especially an attribute of the Virgin Mary.

Van Eyck's representation of the Virgin in this painting is based on a tradition of images known as the “Throne of Wisdom” or Sedes Sapientiae, in which the Christ Child sits very formally in the lap of His Mother. Nicholas Rolin, chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy, is portrayed in a realistic manner, warts and all manifesting his piety in front of the Holy Mother and Infant. Rolin's prayer posture is intended to project an earnest image in order to shape the public's perception of him. He appears static and trancelike as he sits at his prayer stool; indeed, like the divine figures in the scene, he is thoroughly impassive. By demonstrating his righteousness for all to witness, he is beyond reproach.

Jan van Eyck has been credited with the “discovery of painting in oil". Oil painting, however, was already in existence for many decades before Van Eyck, and was used to paint sculptures and to glaze over tempera paintings. The real achievement of Van Eyck was the development of a stable varnish that would dry at a consistent rate. This was created with linseed and nut oils, and mixed with resins.

The breakthrough came when Jan or Hubert mixed the oil into the actual paints they were using, instead of the egg medium that constituted tempera paint. The result was brilliance, translucence, and intensity of color as the pigment was suspended in a layer of oil that also trapped light. The flat, dull surface of tempera was transformed into a jewel-like medium, at once perfectly suited to the representation of precious metals and gems and, more significantly, to the vivid, convincing depiction of natural light. The development of this technique transformed the appearance of painting.

Enjoy your Sunday!