Saturday 9 February 2008


"I don't like nostalgia unless it's mine." - Reed, Lou

The day was definitely autumnal today, the first hint of autumn, perhaps. The rain we had last night had cleaned the air, cooled the temperatures and the first lot of yellow leaves from the plane trees were littering the ground. We spent the whole day working in the garden and since a neighbour was ripping out some bricks, we went and rescued them from being thrown out. Good solid red bricks are always useful and they come in handy around the garden.

Listened to some old Spanish, French and Italian pop songs of the 60s and 70s today, so here is a sample of a few. Interesting how these songs have remained with us… I remember hearing them as a child while growing up and each is associated with a host of memories.

This is Jeanette singing “Porque te Vas?” a Spanish pop song composed in 1974 by Jose Luis Perales and used to good effect in the very good 1976 film “Cria Cuervos” with Geraldine Chaplin.

Here is Salvatore Adamo in the 1965 hit “La Notte” – a classic Italian pop song about a love affair gone sour. “Even if during the day I can make myself not think of you, at night I curse you… Night makes me go crazy.”

In the 60s and 70s, a beautiful young Egyptian woman called Dalidá took France by storm and sang all the hits of those times in French and Italian mainly. Here she is singing “Marina”, by Rocco Granata (1959):

Friday 8 February 2008


“All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt!” – Charles Schulz

A busy day today and all sorts of things to do at work but also at home. Seeing I’m keeping this entry short as the bed beckons too invitingly, how about a nice convoluted recipe, just right for the weekend?

1 kg cleaned chicken livers (no hearts)
3 carrots
2 celery stalks (with leaves)
4 sprigs of parsley
4 sprigs of rosemary
10 peppercorns
225 g butter
2 onions finely minced
2 teaspoonfuls salt
2 teaspoonfuls dry mustard
1 teaspoonful Tabasco sauce
3 teaspoonfuls Worcestershire sauce
1/3 teaspoonful mace
1/3 teaspoonful nutmeg
1 pinch ground cloves
1/2 wine glassful of dry sherry (or brandy)

Clean the chicken livers thoroughly, leaving no trace of membranes, veins or gall. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and add the peeled, chopped up carrots, celery, parsley, rosemary and peppercorns. Boil for 10 minutes and then add the livers, cooking for a further 10-15 minutes, until the livers are cooked. Remove from the heat and drain.
Melt the butter and heat until it starts to spatter. Add the finely minced onions and stir through until golden brown. Add the livers and vegetables, stirring through thoroughly. Add the spices, Tabasco and mustard, stirring through thoroughly. Add the sherry and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Purée in a blender until the mixture is reduced to the consistency of a fine paste. Put the pâté in a serving dish and smooth the top, decorating with sliced stuffed olives and a gelatine glaze if desired. Chill for about 6 hours before serving. Serve with slices of crusty French bread.
Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday 7 February 2008


"What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." – Confucius

Happy Chinese New Year! This is the year of the Rat! The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar one and is called the Yin-Yang Li = “sun-moon calendar”. All Chinese and Vietnamese festivals are calculated according to this calendar, which is the longest chronological record in history, dating from 2600BC, when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the zodiac. The Chinese Lunar Calendar is a yearly one, with the start of the lunar year being based on the cycles of the moon. Therefore, because of this cyclical dating, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. A complete cycle takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each. The calendar has twelve lunar months 29 or 30 days in length, with an extra month being inserted every 30 months in order to realign the lunar months with the solar year. The first month of the Chinese calendar begins on the second new moon after the Winter Solstice. The months are not named but are numbered. Thus the First Month corresponds with January/February of the Gregorian calendar.

The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the twelve years after an animal. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came to bid him farewell and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound horoscopical influence on personality, saying: “This is the animal that hides in your heart”. The animals of the Chinese zodiac are: Rat (zi), Ox (chou), Tiger (yin), Rabbit (mao), Dragon (chen), Snake (si), Horse (wu), Ram (wei), Monkey (shen), Rooster (you), Dog (xu) and Boar (hai).

The celebration of the Chinese New Year takes place over 15 days. The first day of the Lunar New Year is "the welcoming of the gods of the heavens and earth". Many people abstain from meat on the first day of the new year because it is believed that this will ensure long and happy lives for them.

On the second day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors as well as to all the gods. They are extra kind to dogs and feed them well as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs.

The third and fourth days are for the sons-in-laws to pay respect to their parents-in-law.

The fifth day is called Po Woo. On that day people stay home to welcome the God of Wealth. No one visits families and friends on the fifth day because it will bring both parties bad luck.
On the sixth to the 10th day, the Chinese visit their relatives and friends freely. They also visit the temples to pray for good fortune and health.

The seventh day of the New Year is the day for farmers to display their produce. These farmers make a drink from seven types of vegetables to celebrate the occasion. The seventh day is also considered the birthday of human beings. Noodles are eaten to promote longevity and raw fish for success.

On the eighth day the Fujian people have another family reunion dinner, and at midnight they pray to Tian Gong, the God of Heaven.

The ninth day is to make offerings to the Jade Emperor.

The 10th through the 12th are days that friends and relatives should be invited for dinner. After so much rich food, on the 13th day you should have simple rice congee and mustard greens (choi sum) to cleanse the system.

The 14th day should be for preparations to celebrate the Lantern Festival, which is to be held on the 15th night.

calendar |ˈkaləndər| noun
A chart or series of pages showing the days, weeks, and months of a particular year, or giving particular seasonal information.
• A datebook.
• A system by which the beginning, length, and subdivisions of the year are fixed.
• A timetable of special days or events of a specified kind or involving a specified group: The college calendar.
• A list of people or events connected with particular dates, esp. canonized saints and cases for trial.
verb [ trans. ]
enter (something) in a calendar or timetable.
calendarize |ˈkaləndəˌrīz| verb
calendric |kəˈlendrik| adjective
calendrical |kəˈlendrikəl| adjective
ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French calendier, from Latin kalendarium ‘account book,’ from Latin kalendae, calendae ‘first day of the month’ (when accounts were due and the order of days was proclaimed); related to Latin calare and Greek kalein ‘call, proclaim.’

Wednesday 6 February 2008


“Silence is a source of great strength.” – Lao Tzu

To those of you who have wished for a flood of words when arid, stony silence was all you got, my poem is dedicated today.

The Strength of Silence

Silence, says he, is golden,
Words are silvern
So speak not, for it’s more precious
That way, the speechless way;
For even in the account book of words,
His mind on profit.

Strong, silent type, he is,
Or so he would have you believe him be;
A man of few words, silvern – remember?
But more often the loud silence
Of hollow ringing as each gold ingot falls on begging ears:
Taciturnity now passes off for fortitude.

When evening fell, when night cut cold
When every fibre of your orphan soul
Was crying out for a flood of words,
Brazen, leaden, wooden even –
His silence (precious but empty, golden but hollow)
Met your expectancy.

And in the darkness, as your heart froze
His icy golden fortress of quiet
Chilled your being even more.
How strong, the silent type,
How motionless, immovable,
How unmoved, unmoving…

The strength of silence harder than rock,
Sharper than scalpel blade,
Colder than arctic tundra,
More efficient executioner than falling axe.
The strength of silence hides weakness,
Crippled emotion, cowardice, egoism.

Tuesday 5 February 2008


“Confessed faults are half-mended.” - Scottish Proverb

Shrovetide is the period just before Lent when people made their “shrifts”, or they were “shriven” i.e. made their confessions. Lent is a period of meditation, fasting, doing penance, preparing spiritually for Easter and giving money to charity. No weddings should be performed during Lent, couples usually waiting until Easter Sunday, a very popular day to celebrate a wedding in many countries. Traditionally, the 40-day period of Lent was also a time that new candidates for admission into the Christian faith prepared for their baptism, which occurred on Easter Sunday.

In England, Shrove Monday is also called Collop Monday, meaning the day on which the meat forbidden during Lent had to be consumed in the form of “collops” or “rashers”. Mutton collops or bacon collops were eaten on this day together with eggs. Merry making and the playing of practical jokes was also a custom on the Shrovetide days. Carnival as such was not celebrated in England.

Rosenmontag, or Rose Monday, is a German pre-Lenten tradition. On this day, friends exchange a single white rose, this explaining the name of the holiday. Rosenmontag is included in the week prior to Lent when Carnival is celebrated with parades, processions and masquerades. The Sunday before Rosenmontag and Shrove Tuesday are termed the “Three Mad Days” as this is when the carnival reaches its zenith. The main carnival procession is held on Rosenmontag (Shrove Monday) and the processions of Mainz and Cologne are by far the most famous and grand. In Cologne, the parade stretches for up to 7 km and is watched by 1.5 million people. The leading float is occupied by the Prince of the Carnival and following this are other floats, many coaches, dancers, giant dummies depicting well-known personalities in caricature. Brass bands follow on with riders on richly-caparisoned horses, costumed figures, clowns and girls who throw chocolates, carnations and mimosa blossom (flown in from the South of France) into the crowd.
Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday”, or “Pancake Tuesday” are alternative names for Shrove Tuesday. In most Western churches this is the last day of the pre-Lenten non-fasting period. It was a day during which all remaining eggs, milk, butter and cheese in the house had to be consumed, hence the custom of making pancakes.

The term Lent is derived from the Anglo-Saxon lenctene, meaning the time when days lengthen. The Scottish term for Lent is “Fasterns” while the Gaelic and Welsh terms also allude to the period of fasting. In Latin the term carnesprivium is given to Lent and means “the time of abstinence from meat”. Before the fast, all foods forbidden during Lent had to be consumed and generally this was a time for merry-making and feasting. Carnival is derived from the Latin carnelevarium, meaning “taking away of meat”. Other sources link carnival with carnevale, literally, “goodbye to meat”. No eggs, milk, cheese, meat or fish are partaken during the period of fasting, a largely vegetarian diet being followed. The Roman Catholic faith has relaxed the requirements of Lenten fasting whereas the Greek Orthodox church still applies the same stringent requirements to the faithful.

Happy Mardi Gras! Have a good Lent. Reflect, meditate, pray…

Monday 4 February 2008


“Civilisation is the process of setting man free from men.” - Ayn Rand

We watched an excellent Greek Movie by Nikos Grammatikos, at the weekend, called Ο Βασιλιάς - “The King” (2002). This is a tense, psychological thriller about what makes us tick as a “civilised” society and how civilised we really are in these days of high technology, equal opportunity and the supposed inalienable rights of the individual. The anti-hero of the film experiences first-hand ostracism by a small, tightly-knit community, simply because he chooses not to compromise and not to capitulate on what he sees as his right to his individuality and freedom of expression and action.

This film has elements of Greek tragedy. Tragedy in its primeval theatrical meaning was a situational drama in which the hero or heroine proceeded along a course of action even though they knew that the consequences would be personally devastating. This predetermined dance of destiny, the inescapable fatal denouement, the move towards the precipice, knowing full well that one would plunge down into the abyss, is what makes us squirm with discomfort when we watch a tragedy. We wish to cry out and warn the heroes of their impending doom, but no matter how shrilly we shriek, to their doom they march.

The anti-hero of the film is a man, just released from jail after detention involving drug use and trafficking. He has made a tough decision while in jail to make a fresh start and go straight. To this end he decides to move to his father’s village and live in a dilapidated house, which he restores. He is befriended by an unconventional policeman, but the rest of the village view him with suspicion and hate. He is the archetypal outsider, more detestable than even the migrant workers that the villagers take advantage of as labourers. His past intrudes when his girlfriend from Athens joins him, bringing with her the ghosts of his past who will upset the precarious equilibrium he has fought so hard to establish.

There are some powerful, gut-wrenching scenes in the film and some raw images may shock the observer reared on Hollywood-style, arcade-game violence. The film repels and attracts with equal force. The anti-hero evinces both aversion and sympathy. There is both a deep humanity and an inhuman savage mindlessness that moves the characters of this film. One to watch and ponder on.

The film is available on DVD and if you have access to it via an outlet that is more adventurous and exotic in its stock choices, it is worthwhile seeing. It is not a great movie – the cinematography and screenplay are not masterpieces of the art, however, the cast does a great job, the story is convincingly and poignantly evinced and the film raises important points about social behaviour, xenophobia, the “us and them” mentality.