Saturday 29 March 2008


“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” - Lao Tzu

Greetings from Sydney, where I am attending an extremely interesting conference on Complementary Medicine Research. It is being held at the Sydney Convention Centre in Darling Harbour, which is a beautiful part of Sydney, very close to the city, but not as well known overseas as Sydney Cove with its views of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In any case if you are visiting Sydney you are bound to see it and experience all of its attractions.

It’s a lovely day in Sydney with blue skies and warm (25˚C) temperatures, lots of people everywhere, both at the conference as well as around the Harbour. There is a festival of Greek Culture with music, dancing, food, exhibitions and many visitors. There are buskers and jugglers, food stalls, lots of boats and ferries, waving flags, a Sunday feeling of carefree relaxation and enjoyment of the day of rest.

However, some of us have to work eve on this day, so I am off to the conference again after having written all of you this little postcard, just to say “hello, wish you were here”!


“By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower.” - Rabindranath Tagore

A Greek song this Saturday, with lyrics by poet Kostas Karyotakis (November 11, 1896 – July 20, 1928). It is sensitively set to music by Lena Platonos and sung by Savina Yannatou.
A Smile

Tonight, the evening is like a dream.
Tonight the valley is dipped in magic.
It’s not raining any more and the rested girl
Lay down in the moist clover.

The lips parted like two cherries,
And as she breathes deeply,
Her breast rises and falls
Like an April rose in the wind.

Sunrays escape from a cloud
And hide themselves in her eyes.
A lemon tree sheds dewdrops on her
And they drop on her cheek like diamonds,
As if she had been crying,
Though she smiles gazing at the sun.


Απόψε είναι σαν όνειρο το δείλι.
Απόψε η λαγκαδιά στα μάγια μένει.
Δε βρέχει πια κι η κόρη αποσταμένη,
Στο μουσκεμμένο ξάπλωσε τριφύλλι.

Σα δυο κεράσια χώρισαν τα χείλη
Κι έτσι βαθειά γεμάτα σ’ ανασαίνει.
Στο στήθος της ανεβοκατεβαίνει
Νέον αγριοτριανταφύλλο του Απρίλη.

Ξεφεύγουνε από το σύννεφο ακτίδες
Και κρύβονται στα μάτια της.
Τη βρέχει μια λεμονιά με δυο δροσοσταλίδες,
Που στάθηκαν στο μάγουλο διαμάντια
Και που θαρρείς το δάκρυ της πως τρέχει,
Καθώς χαμογελά στον ήλιο αγνάντια.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday 28 March 2008


“Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent.” – Epictetus

I have had a rather busy week, more so than usual, and at the weekend I have to go to Sydney for work, staying there till Monday. Sydney is always nice to visit, but whenever I go there I always conclude that I wouldn’t like to live there. In any case, it does not look as though I’ll be seeing lots of the city as a very busy schedule awaits me.

Today we had Greek bean soup (Φασολάδα = fasoládha), a typical vegetarian dish that characterises much of the “ordinary” Greek cuisine. Beans are one of the staples that a Greek pantry is never without. This bean soup is so typically Greek that (in Greece) it is often called the “Greek national dish”! To the Greeks beans are an inexpensive, nourishing meal that is most usually served on its own with a little bread, some tomatoes and cheese. It is considered “peasant food” and replaces the more expensive meat dishes.

1 cup dried haricot beans
2 cups vegetable stock (you can use V8 juice and omit the tomato paste)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, cut in slices
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 can of Roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp. tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tbsp. freshly chopped parsley for garnish
1 bay leaf

1) Place beans in a bowl, cover with water and let them soak overnight. Drain and rinse beans.
2) Meanwhile in a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium setting.
3) Add the onion, celery and carrots and salt for about 5 minutes or until soft.
4) Add the tomatoes, stock, tomato paste and beans.
5) Simmer uncovered for about 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender. You may add more or less stock, depending on how watery/thick you want the soup to be.
6) Season with salt and pepper and add chopped parsley before serving.
7) Serve with crusty bread, a simple salad, some anchovy fillets and cheese.

Beans are an excellent source of many essential nutrients and have been show to contain components that protect against many diseases. High in protein, low in fat, with no cholesterol, high in fibre and rich in many vitamins and minerals, beans are indeed a “poor man’s meat”. A diet rich in beans and other legumes protects against many gastrointestinal diseases (including cancer of the large bowel), but also against prostate and breast cancer, through the high content of phyto-oestrogens in legumes. The added goodness of vegetables in this dish makes it highly nutritious and healthful, as well as tasting delicious!

Thursday 27 March 2008


“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand.” - Neil Armstrong

One of the highlights of my travels around the world is my visits to Egypt, both times travelling down the length of that majestic river, the Nile, and visiting many of the important ancient sites: Alexandria, Cairo, Giza, Saqqara, Dendera, Deir el Bahari, Luxor, Karnak, Valley of the Kings, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Philae, Abu Simbel… One of the most magnificent and unforgettable sights by anyone’s reckoning is the great plain of Giza and the pyramids there. One of the ancient Seven Great Wonders of the World, as reported by the ancient Greeks, the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Giza is the only ancient wonder still standing.

The sheer size of this “artificial hill” is astounding and the amount of stone used to build quite mind-boggling. It was originally just over 146 metres tall (480 feet) but over the 43 or so centuries it has stood, it lost about 10 metres of that height, through removal of blocks from the top. It is calculated that about two million stone blocks, each weighing about 1.5 tons, were used in its construction, at about 2560 BC.

Many people have been drawn to the Great Pyramid of Giza, What are they looking for? Some considered the Great Pyramid from purely an academic curiosity. They may be archaeologists, historians, scientists, mathematicians and their work involves the Great Pyramid in one way or another. It is certainly worthy of academic study.

Throughout history, many well-known individuals and great leaders were fascinated by the Great Pyramid. Herodotus visited it and described it in his “Histories”, Alexander the Great was drawn to the Great Pyramid and visited it. Napoleon also visited the Great Pyramid and even spent time alone in the King's Chamber. Sir Isaac Newton was extremely interested in the Great Pyramid and even wrote a dissertation on it. Many well-known explorers made it a point to visit the Great Pyramid of Giza. Its status as a wonder, as a tomb of a great king, as a magnificent man-made structure may have attracted the interest of these people.

However, even the ordinary person is attracted to Giza and the pyramids. Since the Great Pyramid has always been enshrouded in mystery, many people think it may contain the answers to some fundamental questions about life and death. People wonder why was the pyramid built, for what purpose, who built it and when? Does it have any significance or purpose for us today? Does it contain any hidden or lost information? As you may know, archaeologists have been searching for hidden chambers and passages for some time. Some are searching for lost treasures and others for lost secrets from an ancient civilization. Just the mystery of it is enough to attract people to explore and study it.

Also many common everyday people have gone out of their way to visit and explore the Great Pyramid. Many who have not had the opportunity to go to Egypt have undertaken an intensive and life long study of the Great Pyramid. There is no common denominator. People from different cultures, walks of life, diverse time periods, rich or poor, great or small, have been drawn to the Great Pyramid. Contemplating it is awe-inspiring. Clambering into it is an experience not to be missed and as one becomes encased in tons upon tons of rock, the weight of the centuries becomes a palpable reality. When one finally reaches the heart of the pyramid and stands in the King’s Chamber, one feels a sense of timeless wonder and a communion with the history of centuries of human existence in this spot of the earth.

Perhaps it is easy to understand why people have tried to attach a supernatural significance to the pyramid and why the parascientific discipline of “pyramidology” has sprung up. People have managed to construe all sorts of significance into the dimensions, the orientation, the height, the width, the placement of the pyramid. Each pyramidologist can provide evidence for his or her views, usually from a new-age or supernatural perspective. Pseudoscientific “validation” of these points usually gives the claims a superficial respectability and ease of digestion, that convinces many that their claims are indisputably true.

Apropos, the word for Thursday is:

pyramid |ˈpirəˌmid| noun
1 a monumental structure with a square or triangular base and sloping sides that meet in a point at the top, esp. one built of stone as a royal tomb in ancient Egypt.
Pyramids were built as tombs for Egyptian pharaohs from the 3rd dynasty ( c. 2649 bc) until c. 1640 bc. Monuments of similar shape are associated with the Aztec and Maya civilizations of c. 1200 bc – ad 750, and, like those in Egypt, were part of large ritual complexes.
2 a thing, shape, or graph with such a form : the pyramid of the Matterhorn.

Geometry a polyhedron of which one face is a polygon of any number of sides, and the other faces are triangles with a common vertex : a three-sided pyramid.
• a pile of things with such a form : a pyramid of logs.
Anatomy a structure of more or less pyramidal form, esp. in the brain or the renal medulla.
• an organization or system that is structured with fewer people or things at each level as one approaches the top : the lowest strata of the social pyramid.
• a system of financial growth achieved by a small initial investment, with subsequent investments being funded by using unrealized profits as collateral.

verb [ trans. ]
heap or stack in the shape of a pyramid : debt was pyramided on top of unrealistic debt in an orgy of speculation.
• achieve a substantial return on (money or property) after making a small initial investment.
pyramidal |piˈramidl| |pəˈrømədl| |ˈpɪrəˈmɪdl| |-ˈramɪd(ə)l| adjective
pyramidally |ˈpɪrəˈmɪdli| |pəˈrømədli| |-ˈramɪd(ə)li| adverb
pyramidical |ˌpirəˈmidikəl| |-ˈmɪdɪk(ə)l| adjective
pyramidically |ˈpɪrəˈmɪd1k(ə)li| |-ˈmɪdɪk(ə)li| adverb
ORIGIN late Middle English (in the geometric sense): via Latin from Greek puramis, puramid-, of unknown ultimate origin.

Wednesday 26 March 2008


“A physician without a knowledge of Astrology has no right to call himself a physician.” -

The stars, the moon (in June), high up on Mars, poetry finds words to lay bare our innermost and most hidden thoughts, emotions. Gazing up on the night sky with wonder, we try to fathom secrets of our existence, and as we gaze we wonder whether up there revolving around another distant star, is there someone gazing up at ours? Writing poetry perhaps?

Casting Horoscopes

Trine Jupiter and square Mars,
The moon in opposition
While Mercury yet again is retrograde.
I gaze up counting all the stars,
Trying to define my position,
While searching for your hand, so much afraid.

Sextile Jupiter and Saturn,
Gemini in the eleventh house,
Aquarius on the ascendant.
You left me once, now it’s my turn,
Trying my love for you to douse,
Ignoring all the pains attendant.

The sun sets, Venus will follow
The zodiac rotates, and high up in the sky,
Cybele reflects in the moon’s shade.
My heart is empty, feels so hollow,
I cast the die, I try to push thoughts of you by,
But time reminds me of a fate I can’t evade.

The sky is dark,
My thoughts so stark;
My hand still languishes lonely,
Stars for my company, only.
I cast you far away,
The moon to keep at bay
My maddening, whirling thoughts of you.
I read my horoscope and find in it a taunting déjà vu.

Monday 24 March 2008


“The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

I am in the middle of reading a novel by Peter Elbling called “The Foodtaster” and first published in 2002. Peter Elbling is an actor and screenwriter (he is one of the screenwriters of “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid” and has been in many TV shows). The novel is set in Renaissance Italy and is the tale of an Italian peasant, Ugo DiFonte. Supposedly, the book is the author’s translation of the diary of Ugo, which has fortuitously fallen into his hands. A common literary device these last few years…

Ugo is widowed young and finding himself back in his father’s house, with a baby daughter, he tries to make ends meet. By chance, he and his young daughter Miranda are snatched and taken to the estates of Duke Federico Basillione DiVincelli, the Duke of Corsoli. Ugo thinks life can't get any worse, until he is forced to replace the recently de-tongued royal food taster. Though this elevates his position considerably, it also places him in the midst of court intrigues that constantly endanger his life and his position.

An added complication is that Miranda is growing up into beautiful womanhood and needing Ugo’s protection from her suitors and her own desires. Miranda teaches Ugo how to read and write, and Ugo eventually writes his fantastic tale as a memoir. The novel is full of memorable meals, sex, intrigue, action and humour. The style is mostly picaresque and often reminiscent of a fairy tale (as told by Monty Python!), but there are touching moments, scenes that allow the author to lightly philosophise and enough colour and historical detail to keep the reader interested throughout.

Not for the faint-hearted, this novel is often earthy (or even bawdy, and in places reminiscent a little of Gargantua and Pantagruel), and has quite a lot of operatic situational tension. A touch of Rigoletto here and there keeps the readers on their toes. A good, light-hearted read, justifying its best-seller status in several countries.

Lady Day is the day when the church commemorates the feast of the Annunciation. It was on this day that the archangel Gabriel proclaimed to the Virgin that she would conceive and bear a son nine months later. His name would be Emmanuel.
Ave Maria, gratia plena
Dominus tecum:
Benedicta tu in mulieribus.

Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with you:
Blessed are you amongst women.
Luke I:28

This is the fulfilment of the prophet Isaiah’s prophecy:
Ecce, virgo concipiet,
Et pariet filium
Et vocabitur nome ejus Emmanuel.
Butyrum et mel comedet,
Ut sciat reprobare malum,
Et eligere bonum.

Behold, a virgin shall conceive,
And bear a son
And he shall be called Emmanuel.
Fed on butter and honey,
He will grow to the age of refusing what is bad
Choosing what is good.
Isaiah VII:14-15

This day is also the National Day of Greece, commemorating the beginning of the struggle for the liberation of Greece in 1821, from nearly 400 years of Ottoman rule. The day is celebrated with especial brilliance in Greece, as it is a national holiday, as well as a great religious feast day. Although it falls in Lent, the fast is relaxed on this day and traditionally fish is eaten.



"It is not from reason and prudence that people marry, but from inclination." - Samuel Johnson

Recently we have come to view relationships rather more liberally than the traditional model as espoused by church and society in most countries in the West for the past few centuries. Marriage in particular, has been seriously questioned and the traditional, monopolising role of the church in celebrating wedding ceremonies has been upstaged by other ways in which a couple may “tie the knot”. Ceremonies officiated by marriage celebrants in parks, homes, gardens, more exotic locations; ceremonies in town halls celebrated by mayors; ceremonies in all sorts of places carried out by all sorts of people.

However, even marriage as such is not as popular as it used to be and many people simply live together in a “de facto” relationship. The state recognizes such relationships and legally, they can be as binding as official marriages with each partner having the same rights as those in an “official” marriage. Gay relationships, couples separated by an enormous age gap and other unorthodox relationships also abound.

Many people also do not have a permanent relationship and choose to live alone. They opt for the casual encounter and eschew the commitment that a longer-term relationship entails. In fact for some people the idea of marriage or any permanent sort of relationship is absolute anathema. We live in an age where such casual encounters in both our public as well as private lives are becoming increasingly more common.

The increasing numbers of divorces seem to also contribute to the idea that marriage as an institution is having a tough time of it. Or is it? For Movie Monday today, a French film that explores these ideas and does so in a refreshing and humorous way. The movie is Eric Lartigau’s 2006 film, “Prête-moi Ta Main” (“I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single”).

This sparkling comedy is just the thing for a night in, while you snuggle up to your significant other (or not!) and the rain falls outside. It concerns a confirmed bachelor who is besieged by women. Firstly his family: A widowed mother and his countless sisters and nieces. Then by his girlfriends (of the one-night stand variety). A bolt out of the blue is the decision by his family that it is high time he got married, seeing he is in his forties. Poor Luis (played wonderfully by Alain Chabat) is steamrollered into dating suitable matches (as arranged by his mother and sisters). He decides he has had enough and hires the charming Emma (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to pose as his girlfriend and intended wife-to-be for his family. All will go smoothly until the bride does not turn up at the ceremony and the heart-broken Luis will have found his peace of mind again, seeing his family will respect his heartbreak. Well that’s the plan, anyway…

The plot is as old as the hills, but it is well done and the performances are excellent. As a French farce, the contrivances are excessive and the characters stock and shallow. However, who cares? This is a feel-good bit of fluff that is played for laughs. As is the case with all comedies, however, even the most shallow ones, there is pointed social criticism aimed towards the mores of our times. An interesting subplot revolving around Emma’s adoption of a Brazilian child provides another more sobering dimension to the plot and the escalating statistics that show that many women in the West now are having great problems conceiving shows us that the family as we think of it may need serious reconsideration in the very near future.

Sunday 23 March 2008


“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” -
Pope John Paul II

Happy Easter to those of you celebrating this holiday on this Sunday!

The day has been a glorious one here in Melbourne and many people have been out celebrating, on vacation as well as in churches. We are in a strange season this time of the year – traces of summer with heat and bright sunlight during the day, but cool nights and even a little dew in the morning.

Easter has been traditionally a spring and fertility holiday that was syncretised with the resurrection of Christ when Chrsitiniaty overtook the pagan religions of Europe. Eggs are associated with springtime because the rooster is considered the herald of the sun and because egg production increases in springtime. Thus, from ancient time decorated eggs were believed to help the cycle of the seasons and to bring on spring and the new growth of animals and crops; the potential to bring fertility was enhanced by the symbols.

Ukrainian decorated eggs or pysanky, are world famous for the richness of the designs and colours. The designs drawn on the egg include ears of wheat, grapes, rakes, cross-hatchings symbolizing the plowed field, pictures of chicks, rams and other farm animals, and, of course, pictures of the sun. Decorated eggs were buried in fields to transfer their fecundity productiveness to the earth and in houses to protect the home. Archaeological excavations of these buried eggs tell us how ancient pysanky are. When Christianity came to Ukraine, pysanky acquired a Christian meaning. They became Easter eggs. Old symbols were reinterpreted in the Christian context. Thus, representations of the sun, the four-spoked solar wheel, for example, came to represent the cross. New symbols were added and pictures of churches were drawn on eggs, as were the first letters of the words “Christ is risen”.

Pysanka comes from the word "to write" - pysaty. Making Easter Eggs in Ukraine dates back to thousands of years. Many Slavic groups paint eggs with their own interpretations. The writing of Easter eggs was suppressed by the Soviets in the past century and many beautifully decorated eggs were destroyed in museum. Throughout Ukraine the pysanka has enjoyed a resurgence as with other customs. Every region decorates eggs in their own distinctive style and meaning.

Another form of the pysanky which is also very common at Easter time are the krashanky. It comes from the verb - krasyty - to color, to dye. The eggs are dyed a one single color. Years ago Ukrainians used various varieties of plant material to color the eggs. A very popular method even now is to save onions skins for any months and then boil them in water. The eggs are dropped in later, boiled and turn out various shades of brown.

Symbols of Easter Eggs can be grouped into 6 main categories which are: 1) solar symbols, 2) bezkonechnyk - never ending lines, 3) plant symbols, 4) animal symbols, 5) geometric symbols and 6) Christian symbols. When Ukrainians accepted Christianity in 988 AD, the eight-pointed star, the then sign of a sungod, became a symbol of Christ. Dots depict stars in the heavens, and also recall Mary's tears when a legend tells, Pilate refused her plea for mercy. Deer and other animals of the Carpathian Mountains signify prosperity. Waves and ribbons circling an egg, without beginning or end suggest eternity. Originally pysanky symbolized the release of the earth from the shackles of winter and the coming of spring with its promise of new hope, new life, health and prosperity. Folklore has it that a decorated egg can avert any evil, bring good crops, and help a young maiden to win the man of her desire. After the advent of Christianity, the decorated eggs took the new symbols of the Resurrection with its promise of a better world.

Colours also have a symbolic meaning. Some examples: Yellow - is the symbol of light and purity. It speaks of youth, happiness, the harvest, hospitality, love and benevolence. It is the colour consecrated to the light deities and is the Christian symbol of recognition and reward. Red - the magical colour of folklore is considered a positive colour signifying action, fire, charity, spiritual awakening. It also glorifies the sun and the joy of life and love. In Christian symbolism, it denotes the divine love and passion of Christ. As seen in spring renewals, green symbolizes the breaking of shackles, freedom from bondage. It is the color of fertility, freshness, health and hope. In the Christian context, it represents bountifulness, hope and the victory of life over death. It is the color of Christmas, Easter and Epiphany. Blue carries with it wishes for good health, blue skies or the life-giving air.

Pysanky are magic symbols of life. The egg itself is magic in that it resembles an inert object, and yet contains the potential for a new life, of food for those already living. When they become pysanky, eggs are become more magical in that they are dyed. This is done using a technique similar to batik: Colours are protected with beeswax from subsequent dyes, rather than painted on. As an egg is worked, colour after colour disappears under the dark wax, to be magically revealed at the end when the wax is removed.

Many folk tales have been told about the origins of Ukrainian Easter Eggs. These stories may vary 
somewhat from one to another, but all show the importance Ukrainians placed on their pysanky. A legend that is 1,000 years old tells of a young woman who was on her way home 
one morning from the market in town with a basket of eggs and a jug of fresh water. When she 
was traveling the home to her home, she met a stranger sitting on a rock. Thinking He must 
be tired, she offered Him a drink of her water and was startled to see there were wounds on 
His hands. The stranger said nothing but accepted her offer and then continued on His way. 
When the woman arrived at her home, she uncovered her basket and discovered her eggs 
were transformed into pysanky. The stranger was Jesus Christ - and that morning was the first Easter.

Another story tells of a poor peddlar who was on his way to market to sell his basket of eggs when
 he came upon a crowd who was mocking and jeering a man carrying a heavy cross. The peddlar ran 
to help the man carry the cross for a while. When the peddlar returned to his basket of eggs by the
roadside, he found that they had been transformed into beautiful pysanky. The peddlar was 
Simon the Cyrenian, the man carrying the heavy cross was Christ.

A legend sometimes told is of one year long ago when birds who were traveling south 
were surprised by a sudden sharp freeze. The poor creatures fell to the ground, too frozen to fly. The generous Ukrainian peasants took the birds into their homes and nursed
 them until spring when they could fly away on their own. In gratitude for the kindness shown, 
the birds returned with decorated eggs for the peasants who saved their lives. And so, it is said, ever since then, eggs are decorated in beautiful pysanky every spring.