Saturday 15 December 2007


We should not let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes. - John Fitzgerald Kennedy

How easy it is to destroy, how difficult to create. We criticise easily, to praise is much harder. Any idiot can hate with a passion, but it takes a special person to love. We demolish with such facility but to build takes great trouble and effort. War is a game any moron can play, but peace how demanding a state and seemingly an impossible dream to make into reality. I am constantly disappointed by all the negativity around me, all the instances of people being nasty and horrible to each other and I have great misgivings about humanity and its future.

And then I witness a simple inconsequential kindness of one human being to another, a friendly gesture, evidence of love and take heart. I look at the products of artistic creation, I read a book, I listen to some music and I dare to hope…

For Music Saturday, hopeful and sweet sounds, composed by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847). Here is his Op. 34, No. 2 “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges” on a poem by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856). It is sung by the incomparable Victoria de Los Angeles.

Auf Flügeln des Gesanges,

Auf Flügeln des Gesanges,
Herzliebchen, trag ich dich fort,
Fort nach den Fluren des Ganges,
Dort weiß ich den schönsten Ort;
Dort liegt ein rotblühender Garten
Im stillen Mondenschein,
Die Lotosblumen erwarten
Ihr trautes Schwesterlein.
Die Veilchen kichern und kosen,
Und schaun nach den Sternen empor,
Heimlich erzählen die Rosen
Sich duftende Märchen ins Ohr.
Es hüpfen herbei und lauschen
Die frommen, klugen Gazelln,
Und in der Ferne rauschen
Des heilgen Stromes Well'n.
Dort wollen wir niedersinken
Unter dem Palmenbaum,
Und Liebe und Ruhe trinken,
Und träumen seligen Traum.

On Wings of Song

English Translation by Marty Lucas

On wings of song,
my love, I'll carry you away
to the fields of the Ganges
Where I know the most beautiful place.
There lies a red-flowering garden,
in the serene moonlight,
the lotus-flowers await
Their beloved sister.
The violets giggle and cherish,
and look up at the stars,
The roses tell each other secretly
Their fragant fairy-tales.
The gentle, bright gazelles,
pass and listen;
and in the distance murmurs
The waves of the holy stream.
There we will lay down,
under the palm-tree,
and drink of love and peacefulnes
And dream our blessed dream.

Friday 14 December 2007


“Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Appreciate your friends. Continue to learn. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.” - Mary Anne Radmacher

Call me a kill-joy if you like, call me a spoil-sport, call me a wowser, but today for Food Friday, I’d like to have a chat about dietary fats. It seems particularly apt at this time of the year when people overeat seriously on an almost daily basis. Christmas foods are traditionally full of fats and our intake of fats and oils around this time of the year can be excessive.

The first thing to note about dietary fat is that there is a minimum requirement for fat (not for total fat), but only for the fatty acids linoleic acid (a so-called omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid). These are the so-called “essential fatty acids”. The best way to understand what they do in the body is to see what happens when we do not include them in our diet.

Deficiencies of these two fatty acids have been seen, for example, in hospitalised patients fed exclusively with intravenous fluids containing no fat for weeks. Symptoms of deficiency include a dry skin, hair loss, and impaired wound healing. Essential fatty acid requirements (a few grams a day) can be met by consuming approximately a tablespoon of polyunsaturated plant oils daily. Fatty fish also provides a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Even individuals following a low-fat diet generally consume sufficient fat to meet requirements.

However, in the vast majority of the industrialised world, quite the opposite is the problem! Too much fat is consumed in the diet and if this fat is rich in cholesterol (particularly the “bad” cholesterol LDL and other saturated fats) it is linked to obesity, and an increase in heart disease risk. It is widely accepted that a low-fat diet lowers blood cholesterol and is protective against heart disease. Yet, the situation is complicated by the fact that different fatty acids have differing effects on the various lipoproteins that carry cholesterol. Furthermore, when certain fats are lowered in the diet, they may be replaced by other components that carry risk. In general, saturated fatty acids, which are found primarily in animal foods, tend to elevate LDL and total blood cholesterol (and hence risk of fat disease).

When saturated fatty acids in the diet are replaced by unsaturated fatty acids (either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated) LDL and total blood cholesterol are usually lowered, an effect largely attributed to the reduction in saturated fat. However, polyunsaturated fatty acids tend to lower HDL cholesterol levels, while monounsaturated fatty acids tend to maintain them. The major monounsaturated fatty acid in animals and plants is oleic acid. The good dietary sources of this monounsaturated are olive, canola, and high-oleic safflower oils, as well as avocados, nuts, and seeds. Historically, the low mortality from CHD in populations eating a traditional Mediterranean diet has been linked to the high consumption of olive oil in the region, although the plentiful supply of fruits and vegetables could also be a factor.

The two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids found in foods are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Linoleic acid, the primary omega-6 fatty acid in most diets, is widespread in foods (major sources being vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, and corn oils). Low cardiovascular disease rates in Eskimo populations eating traditional diets high in omega-3 fatty acids initially provoked the speculation that these fatty acids may be protective against CHD. The primary lipid-altering effect of omega-3 fatty acids is the reduction of blood triglycerides. Omega-3 fatty acids may also protect the heart and blood vessels by lowering blood pressure, reducing blood clotting, preventing irregular heart rhythms, and acting as anti-inflammatory agents.

The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are derived from alpha-linolenic acid, a shorter-chain member of the same family. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, and tuna are high in both EPA and DHA. Flaxseed is an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid, which the body can convert to the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, canola oil, soybean oil, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, and egg yolk. A diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids may increase LDL lipid oxidation and thereby accelerate atherosclerosis; therefore, it should be accompanied by increased intakes of vitamin E, an antioxidant. Fish oil supplements are not advised without medical supervision because of possible adverse effects, such as bleeding.

The safety of trans (as opposed to naturally occurring cis) unsaturated fatty acids has been called into question because trans-fatty acids in the diet raise LDL cholesterol to about the same extent as do saturated fatty acids, and they can also lower HDL cholesterol. Trans-fatty acids are found naturally in some animal fats, such as beef, butter, and milk, but they are also produced during the hydrogenation process, in which unsaturated oils are made harder and more stable. Certain margarines, snack foods, baked goods, and deep-fried products are major food sources of trans-fatty acids.

So what is the moral of this story? Eat as little fat as is practicable. Eat foods with low saturated fat content and consume more of the omega-3 fats. A diet that is low in fats, varied in terms of seasonal fruits and vegetables, high in fibre and low in red meats is a healthier diet. But you didn’t need me to tell you that, you knew it all along. It’s just that we need to put it all into practice. Maybe after the festive season, what do you think?


“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” Robert Heinlein.

December 13th is the Feast Day of St Lucy. St Lucy was a virgin martyr who lived in the 4th century in Syracuse, Sicily. She was martyred by having her eyes taken out and these are often depicted in her images on a platter that she carries. Her name, Lucia, means light and she is the patron saint of oculists and optometrists. She is invoked against all eye diseases. In Sweden, St Lucia’s day is celebrated with special brilliance. As her name suggests, the Swedes celebrate her day with numerous lights, especially candles that are thought to dispel the dismal Northern winter darkness. The eldest daughter of each family dressed in a long white dress and crowned with a garland fashioned of pine boughs on which are balanced lit candles brings coffee to her parents in bed. The whole family then go down to a special breakfast feast served in a brightly lit room. The daughter is given the place of honour.

In Iceland, this day marks the beginning of the visits of the Yuletide Lads. These are 13 impish creatures that are bent on making mischief, one each day until Christmas Eve. Their individual names suggest the pranks they get up to: “Pot Scraper”, “Window Peeper” and “Sausage Sniffer”. In Icelandic mythology they were sons of Gryla the ogre and they started out as being horrible cannibals. As they became absorbed into the Christian tradition they became rather more benign and are considered to be mere pranksters and friends of children to whom they bring presents. The Yuletide Lads are reminiscent of the Greek folk tradition of the Christmas Imps, the kallikantzaroi, who cause similar havoc around home around Christmastime.

Seeing that today is also Heinrich Heine’s (the great German poet’s) birthday, here is a poem of his:
New Spring (1)

Sitting underneath white branches
Far you hear winds are wailing;
Overhead you see the cloudbanks
Wrap themselves in misty veiling,

See how on bare field and forest
Cold and barren death is seizing;
Winter’s round you, winter’s in you,
And your very heart is freezing.

Suddenly white flakes come falling
Down on you; and vexed and soured
You suppose some tree has shaken
Over you a snowy shower.

But it is no snow that’s fallen,
Soon you see with joyful start –
Look, it’s fragrant almond blossoms
Come to ease and tease your heart.

What a thrilling piece of magic!
Winter’s turned to May for you,
Snow’s transmuted into blossoms,
And your heart’s in love anew.
Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

The word of the day is:

lucid |ˈloōsid| adjective
1 expressed clearly; easy to understand: A lucid account | Write in a clear and lucid style.
• showing ability to think clearly, esp. in the intervals between periods of confusion or insanity : he has a few lucid moments every now and then.
• Psychology (of a dream) experienced with the dreamer feeling awake, aware of dreaming, and able to control events consciously.
2 poetic/literary bright or luminous : birds dipped their wings in the lucid flow of air.
lucidity |loōˈsidətē| |luˈsɪdədi| |-ˈsɪdɪti| noun
lucidly |ˈlusədli| adverb
lucidness |ˈlusədnəs| noun
ORIGIN: late 16th cent. (sense 2) : from Latin lucidus (perhaps via French lucide or Italian lucido), from lucere ‘shine,’ from lux, luc- ‘light.’

And related to this as far as etymology is concerned:

Lucifer |ˈloōsəfər| noun
1 another name for Satan. [ORIGIN: by association with the [son of the morning] (Isa. 14:12), believed by Christian interpreters to be a reference to Satan.]
2 poetic/literary the planet Venus when it rises in the morning.
3 (lucifer) archaic a match struck by rubbing it on a rough surface.
ORIGIN Old English , from Latin, ‘light-bringing, morning star,’ from lux, luc- ‘light’ + -fer ‘bearing.’

Wednesday 12 December 2007


“Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.” - Elie Wiesel

A poem written quite a few years ago, remembered tonight only because I just drove past the very place that inspired it.
Life is a prankster, a jokester, a jester. It loves to toy with us and play its games and we move according to its rules like pawns on a chessboard. No matter how dark and dismal life seems one minute, the next it catapults us into the seventh heaven where all is light and laughter.


A flashing neon sign illuminates
The few dead leaves spinning aimlessly
In endless circles,
And dead paper carried in the whirls of the wind eddies.
The night air – cold, sharp, clear,
While in the empty street
Only my hollow steps resound.

A snatch of melody
Brought to me by a gust of wind.
A few familiar notes,
Just enough to remind me of you.
It hurts me to remember how
That song always used to make me cry,
But now only a couple of half-heard notes
Of just another love song,
Carried pointlessly by the wind...

Acrid smoke stifles my bitter breath
Bringing with it solace;
An opiate to soothe away the pain
Of your remembrance.
I used to love you with such fire,
Now only ashes and wisps of smoke
From a dying cigarette.
The song that’s drifting in the wind
Meant all that you had silently confessed
But now only a faded keepsake
Pressed tightly between the pages of my closed heart.

A song of love.
An empty street.
A frozen heart.
A never-ending night.
And as always, my footsteps only
Resounding hollow on the dreary cobbles...

After the night, daylight, after the darkness light!

With many thanks to Sans Souci who is the gracious hostess of our Poetry Wednesday!

Monday 10 December 2007


The finest words in the world are only vain sounds, if you cannot comprehend them. - Anatole France

I have been very busy in my spare time lately working on the dictionary project that I have written about it before here, and those of you who read this blog may know what it’s all about. It is a monumental project and the work involved is quite demanding and exacting. This is on top of my normal daytime job, so I manage to work on the dictionary every night for a couple of hours and obviously spend more time on it at weekends.

Fortunately, since my fellow editors and I worked together on the first edition, we have a good working relationship and much of the foundations of what we are doing now we set down a couple of years ago. At this stage we are reviewing the lists of “headwords”. What is this? Well, all of the words contained in the dictionary have been subdivided into topic areas. Overall we have 47 topic areas in the dictionary. There are three of us editors-in-chief and we each look after 15-16 topic areas. The headwords are the lists of words that must be included in the dictionary. The number of headwords that we have to work with in this medical dictionary is over 40,000. The dictionary has over 2,000 pages and 2,400 illustrations. Each topic area must be reviewed to ensure that the headwords are in their proper topic area.

My editing topic areas include Anatomy, Haematology, Autoimmune Disease, Laboratory Diagnosis, Pathology, Rheumatology, Computers in Medicine, Urology, Radiology, etc, etc. Each of these topic areas is “farmed out” to a specialist consultant. The consultant is in charge of the entries and actually writes the definitions. I have to liaise with each consultant in these areas I look after, and follow through the process of headword checking and cross-referencing, as well as checking the definitions as written by the consultant.

In addition to being an editor-in-chief I am also a consultant and I am in charge of the three following areas: Laboratory Diagnosis, Computers in Medicine, and Pathology. So I write the definitions that pertain to these areas. The process is then checked by another editor-in-chief so that there are always two people looking at each headword and its definition. Some terms are then given to reviewers who check the entries as a final quality control process.

The process is time-consuming and quite laborious, there is constant checking and cross-checking and if one is consulting one has to be very familiar with the topic area that one is looking after as inevitably there are new headwords to include and occasionally headwords to be deleted. An enormous responsibility rests on consultants, reviewers and editors as one has to be punctilious about the precision and accuracy of the information that is included in the dictionary. It is a reference work that will be consulted by health professionals who are are looking after the well-being of patients and it is vital that the dictionary is a reliable source of up-to-date information.

So now you know why I have not been able to visit your blogs as much as I would like to. I am trying to keep up with the writing of my own blogs (which is fun and relaxing for me, providing a sanity break from work and more work), but to visit each and every one of my friends’ blogs is an impossible task.

Sunday 9 December 2007


"A converted cannibal is one who, on Friday, eats only fishermen." - Emily Lotney

We watched a delightful German movie yesterday and we enjoyed it very much, even though the genre was described as belonging to the “romantic comedies”. It is Sandra Nettelbeck’s 2001 film, “Bella Martha” (“Mostly Martha” its English title). Firstly, this is not a shallow romantic comedy as defined by Hollywood and if you are in search of belly laughs, slapstick humour and grating, shallow, sexual innuendos, this film is not for you. Instead, there are scenes that are amusing, that will make you smile, perhaps laugh, but also scenes full of pathos and emotion that is straight from the heart.

The film title’s Martha is a successful head chef in her 40s in the plush (and expensive) Lido Restaurant in a dreary German port city. Martha is a perfectionist and her whole life revolves around food and cooking. Her uncompromising and precise art in cooking is carried over to her home life which appears she has structured it in such a way so as not interfere with her job. Martha’s existence is regulated, predictable, clinically controlled. Her boss and restaurant owner, Frida, compels Martha to see a therapist as the chef has problems dealing with customers who will not appreciate the food she prepares for them (one of the funniest scenes in the movie is the “this-steak-is-overcooked” scene…).

Martha’s clockwork-like existence is thrown into disarray when she has her 8-year-old niece thrust into her care. The girl is headstrong and deals with huge emotional and psychological issues, and to Martha’s consternation, the niece will not eat, anything! Add to that the new chef that has been employed by Frida (contrary to the agreement she had with Martha that only Martha would employ kitchen staff!). This new chef is Mario, an Italian of sunny disposition and quite the opposite in his approach to cooking compared to Martha’s clinical precision.

I found the movie extremely involving, even though the story-line was very simple, even predictable. As Martha says in one of her monologues about food: “To test the mettle of a good chef give them something extremely simple to prepare. The way they cook that dish will prove how good they are…” The dialogue and acting were extremely good, the gamut of emotions displayed by the characters sensitively portrayed and so real – no overacting, no clichés, no histrionics or hamming it up.

Martina Gedeck who plays Martha is a fantastic actress and she acts with every cell of her body. When she is on the phone listening to some bad news and she appears dumbstruck, her hands do the acting and a quiver of her little finger and the clouding of her eyes is enough to immediately make us aware of exactly what she is hearing. Young Maxime Foerste, who plays Lina, Martha’s niece is a great choice and so is Sergio Castellitto, playing Mario, the new chef. Add to that an excellent supporting cast and you have great material with which to tell your story. Sandra Nettelbeck (who also wrote the screenplay) does a sterling job directing the movie and her touch is light but incisive.

See this movie if you can get your hands on it, it is an excellent offbeat and understated movie. The acting is great, the emotions portrayed rich and genuine, the message uplifting and the humour even though understated and gentle, quite wonderful. Another bonus for me was the soundtrack, selected by Manfred Eicher (founder of ECM, the successful modern-jazz label) and it ranged from German lieder, classic vocal jazz, through to instrumental pieces by Keith Jarrett and others. Besides all of that, you get some wonderful advice about food, some recipes and a terrific feel-good ending!


Fishy Fishy

Fishy, Fishy in the Creek,
Come a-swimming quick, quick, quick,
Daddy's been fishing all the day
While you been swimming the other way,
Fishy stories he must have to tell,
Or he'll be mad as old Billy Hell...

Anna Archibald


Extract from:
Lost in Translation

Out of the blue, as promised, of a New York
Puzzle-rental shop the puzzle comes —
A superior one, containing a thousand hand-sawn,
Sandal-scented pieces. Many take
shapes known already — the craftsman's repertoire
nice in its limitation — from other puzzles:
Witch on broomstick, ostrich, hourglass,
Even (not surely just in retrospect)
An inchling, innocently-branching palm.
James Merrill


“… Look deep into my eyes, dear Bride, and see what you have not yet seen. For a stranger I have become, and a stranger I am indeed. The one you have forgotten, my dear, is Me. I am your Beloved, your first love. Remember how we loved to be together? Why did you not call upon Me in your time of woe? Why did you not call My name aloud? My love for you is sweeter than wine. Why did you not run after Me?”
George Davis


The Hateful Colour

I'd like to go out into the world,
Out into the wide world;
If only it weren't so green, so green,
Out there in the forest and field!

I would like to pluck all the green leaves
From every branch,
I would like to weep on all the grass
Until it is deathly pale.

Ah, Green, you hateful colour, you,
Why do you always look at me,
So proud, so bold, so gloating,
And me only a poor, flour-covered man?

I would like to lay in front of her door,
In storm and rain and snow.
And sing so softly by day and by night
One little word: farewell!

Hark, when in the forest a hunter's horn sounds -
Her window clicks!
And she looks out, but not for me;
Yet I can certainly look in.

O do unwind from your brow
That green, green ribbon;
Farewell, farewell! And give me
Your hand in parting!

Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827)


The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm.
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy;
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

William Blake (1757-1827)


“The will to do springs from the knowledge that we can do.” - James Allen

I keep a “visual diary” and have done so for several years; I have now collected many of these little journals and it is always interesting to look back into them and recall the times I documented there. These diaries are sketchbooks that I keep at hand and whenever the fancy strikes me, I scrawl some sketches, draw with coloured pencils, or markers, write little snippets here and there, or cut and paste interesting things that I have seen and would like to keep. So for Art Sunday today, I’m sharing with you some of my visual diary pages.

“It is good to be without vices, but it is not good to be without temptations.” - Walter Bagehot