Saturday 2 February 2008


“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” - Benjamin Franklin

February 3rd is US illustrator and artist Norman Rockwell’s birthday (1894-1978). In commemoration of this, I am featuring his work and life on Art Sunday. His art was recognised and loved by almost everybody in US and in many other countries around the world. The cover of The Saturday Evening Post was his showcase for over forty years, giving him an audience larger than that of any other artist in history. Over the years he depicted there a unique collection of Americana, a series of vignettes of keen observation, warmth and humour. In addition, he painted a great number of pictures for story illustrations, advertising campaigns, posters, calendars, and books.

As his personal contribution during World War II, Rockwell painted in 1942 the famous "Four Freedoms" posters, symbolising for millions the war aims as described by President Franklin Roosevelt. "Freedom of Speech", “Freedom from Want”, “Freedom from Fear” and “Freedom of Worship” are the ideals he immortalised.

Rockwell left high school to attend classes at the National Academy of Design and later studied under Thomas Fogarty and George Bridgman at the Art Students League in New York. His early illustrations were done for St. Nicholas magazine and other juvenile publications. He sold his first cover painting to the “Post” in 1916 and ended up doing over 300 more. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson sat for him for portraits, and he painted other world figures, including Nasser of Egypt and Nehru of India.

In 1957 the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington cited him as a Great Living American, saying that… “Through the magic of your talent, the folks next door - their gentle sorrows, their modest joys - have enriched our own lives and given us new insight into our countrymen.”

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts has established a large collection of his paintings, and has preserved Rockwell's last studio as well.


“Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.” – Amelia Burr

The sweet melancholy of our days colours our thoughts and dims the sunlight of childhood memories. Night falls early and despite the summer twilight that drags on, darkness with its velvet shades obscures the luminosity of evening skies as effectively as the curtain that falls on illuminated stage sets.

Here is the adagio from Alessandro Marcello’s "Oboe Concerto in D minor". Clare Schanks (baroque oboe), directed by Christopher Hogwood.

Memento mori…

Friday 1 February 2008


“I want to have a good body, but not as much as I want dessert.” - Jason Love

A short blog entry today as I am travelling for work and I am rather pressed for time. Here is a recipe for your delectation. Friends of the family gave it to us when we visited them at their farm in Zürich.

160 g peeled, grated carrots
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cupful sugar
160 g finely chopped, roasted hazelnuts
2 teaspoonfuls finely grated orange rind
1/2 cupful plain flour
1/2 teaspoonful baking powder

300 mL of citrus fruit yoghurt
11/2 cupfuls of icing sugar for the icing
≈1/2 cupful icing mixture
chopped walnuts

Grease well an 18 cm square cake tin. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Stir in the carrots, hazelnuts and rind. Sift in the flour and baking powder, folding into the mixture. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into the mixture gently. Turn into the prepared cake tin and bake in a moderate oven (180˚C) for 40-45 minutes. Leave in the tin for 2-3 minutes after taking out of the oven and then turn onto a wire rack to cool. Mix the yoghurt and the icing sugar, adding enough icing mixture to make a spreadable paste. Spread on the surface of the cake and sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

Enjoy and have a good weekend!

Wednesday 30 January 2008


“That dire disease, whose ruthless power Withers the beauty's transient flower.” - Oliver Goldsmith

Vinca major, the white periwinkle is the birthday flower for today. It symbolises tender recollections and pleasant memories. Astrologically, the plant is ruled by Venus. The vinca is rich in alkaloids, making it poisonous, but this property has also made it useful in medicine, as it has yielded two important cancer-fighting drugs, vincristine and vinblastine. These are drugs that are now used routinely in many forms of cancer chemotherapy, especially as agents in the treatment of leukaemias, lymphomas, and testicular cancer.

This brings us to our word for the day, chemotherapy, which means:

chemotherapy |ˌkēmōˈθerəpē| noun
the treatment of disease by the use of chemical substances, esp. the treatment of cancer by cytotoxic and other drugs.
chemotherapist |-pist| |ˈkimoʊˈθɛrəpəst|| noun
Late 16th cent.: from French chimique or modern Latin chimicus, chymicus, from medieval Latin alchymicus, from alchimia + mid 19th cent.: from modern Latin therapia, from Greek therapeia ‘healing,’ from therapeuein ‘minister to, treat medically.

Franz Peter Schubert (1797–1828) born on this day, was an Austrian romantic composer. German lieder reached their greatest expression in his beautiful lyrical songs, especially in the great cycles Die Schöne Müllerin [Fair Maid of the Mill] (1823) and Die Winterreise [The Winter’s Journey] (1827). His symphonies are the final flowering of the classical sonata forms, and the Fifth (1816), Eighth (the Unfinished, 1822), and Ninth (1828) rank with the best orchestral music. His chamber works include the well-loved Quartet in D Minor (Death and the Maiden, 1824) and the Quintet in A Major (The Trout, 1819). Schubert also wrote stage music, choral music, Masses, and much piano music.

Unfortunately for Schubert, chemotherapy in his day was not highly developed and the drugs used in treating some common afflictions of the past were either ineffective or extremely toxic. Poor Schubert managed to contract syphilis after an unfortunate and disastrous encounter in 1822 and died at the age of 31 of this disease. Nowadays, syphilis can be treated effectively with a single injection of penicillin (or other chemotherapeutic agents, if you are allergic to penicillin).

Here is some stormy and emotionally charged music by Schubert, his famous “Erlkoenig”:

Text by by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Music by Franz Schubert
Wiki article on it here

Der Erlkoenig

Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

"Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?"
"Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif?"
"Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif."

"Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel' ich mit dir;
Manch' bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand."

"Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht?"
"Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind."

"Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn,
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein."

"Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort?"
"Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau."

"Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt."
"Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt faßt er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!"

Dem Vater grauset's, er reitet geschwind,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
Erreicht den Hof mit Müh' und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

The Elf King

Who rides so late through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He holds the boy safe in his arm
He holds him safe, he keeps him warm.

"My son, why do you hide your face so fearfully?"
"Father, do you not see the Elf king?
The Elf king with crown and robe?"
"My son, it's a wisp of fog."

"You lovely child, come, go with me!
Nothing but beautiful games I'll play with you;
Many colourful flowers are on the shore,
My mother has many golden robes."

"My father, my father, can't you hear,
What the Elf king quietly promises me?"
"Be calm, stay calm, my child;
It is the wind rustling in the dry leaves."

"Do you want to come with me, fine lad?
My daughters should already be waiting for you;
My daughters lead the nightly folkdance
And rock you and dance and sing."

"My father, my father, and can't you see there,
The Elf king daughters in the gloomy place?"
"My son, my son, I see it well:
It is the old grey willows gleaming."

"I love you, your beautiful form entices me;
And if you're not willing, I shall use force."
"My father, my father, now he takes hold of me!
The Elf king has wounded me!"

It horrifies the father; he rides swiftly,
Holding in his arms the moaning child.
He reaches the yard with great difficulty;
In his arms, the child was dead.

Tuesday 29 January 2008


"If I know what love is, it is because of you." - Hermann Hesse

Many years ago when I visited Italy, I listened to a song on the radio that enchanted me. I tried in vain to find out who sang it, to listen to it again, to search for more songs by the same artist, but all my efforts proved fruitless. The lyrics impressed themselves on my mind and some years later my brain begat this version after working on the remembrance of that Italian song…

As remembered from the Italian

The pagan tribes of Araby revere the sun
The Saracens all to the moon pay homage.
The stars and winds in blackest Africa are adored
And I my love only your eyes do worship.

In times of strife all men the saints invoke
In hardship everyone to gods does turn,
In tempests raging the sailors Christ recall
But I my love to you in my misfortune pray.

All slaves crave for their freedom sweet,
All prisoners to loose their fetters try,
All cagéd birds to escape their bars attempt,
And I, my love, to you myself enchain.

To war, searching for glory soldiers go,
To power king and noble all would sacrifice
To miser more than life the glint of gold is worth,
But I my love would for your smile expire.

Enjoy the rest of your week, and visit Sans Souci’s blog for the Poetry Wednesday tour.
The image accompanying the poem s called “Moon Goddess” and is by artist Susan Seddon Boulet.


“Wine hath drowned more men than the sea.” – Thomas Fuller

I am reading a book by Pauline McLynn at the moment, in case you can’t place the name, she played the inimitable Mrs Doyle in “Father Ted”, and has appeared in numerous other film, television and stage roles. Pauline McLynn grew up in Galway, and first started acting while studying history of art at Trinity College, Dublin. She has written several quirky, amusing and whodunit novels (“Summer in the City”; “Right on Time”; Better than a Rest”; Bright Lights and Promises”) and she now divides her time between London and Dublin where she lives with her husband.

The novel I am reading is called “The Woman on the Bus” (published 2005). The bus referred to in the title is the one that runs from Dublin to Limerick in Ireland. This public means of transportation never troubled the inhabitants of the village of Kilbrody much, until a mystery woman steps out of it, marches into the pub and drinks herself into unconsciousness. She finally does wake up, several days later, and discovers that not only Charlie Finn (the publican who put her to bed) but the whole village are talking about her. Her mystery disrupts the village and although the book is full of humour, it touches on some serious topics: Alcoholism, infidelity, loss…

This author’s writing style is tender and charming with the Irish warmth of a perfect Summer’s day. I am enjoying the book immensely, and even though I have not finished it yet I can recommend it wholeheartedly.

You can hear Ms McLynn in a BBC interview, talking about this book, here.

Monday 28 January 2008


“We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.” – Iris Murdoch

I usually hate seeing movies on airplanes. The screen is too small, the picture quality bad, the sound terrible, the lighting execrable and the interruptions legion. So I avoid it. On the flight back from Singapore, however, I could not sleep and started to watch Matthew Vaughn’s “Stardust” (2007). I was captivated as I was in that sleepless kind of mood and felt in need of a fairytale. If you have watched “The Princess Bride”, “Willow” or maybe even “Shrek”, you will enjoy “Stardust”.

The film is a fantasy for adults (which precocious children will also enjoy!) and is full of magic and witchcraft, heroes and villains, strange beasts and delightful characters. The plot revolves around Tristan, a young man on a quest to find a fallen star and bring it back to Victoria, the vain woman he loves as proof of his love for her. The star has fallen on the other side of “The Wall”, a magic doorway between England and a fairy kingdom called Stormhold.

The cast is well picked and The three I enjoyed the most was Michelle Pfeiffer, playing the evil witch, Lamia; Robert de Niro playing Captain Shakespeare, a pirate with a curious dress sense and Ricky Gervais as a receiver of stolen goods. A cameo performance by Peter O’ Toole is also a highlight and the two romantic leads Clare Danes and Charlie Cox are convincing. The film is quirky and humorous, adventurous and bewitching and just the right sort of fluff to watch when you are in that “Fairy tale” sort of mood…

I recommend it most highly!