Saturday 28 June 2008


“The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears.” - John Vance Cheney

Artists are a closely knit group and as such develop symbiotic relationships with one another. Birds of a feather flock together and one artist will attract another, not necessarily just physically and in space, but often, also through time and spiritually, through their art. Art is very much a derivative pursuit and an artist may be inspired through contemplation of another artist’s art. The world becomes richer through this approximation, which although derivative is no plagiarism for a new art piece is created, fresh and different.

For Song Saturday today, Austrian, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Dominican, Juan Luis Guerra (1957-). The former everyone knows, the latter not as many. Separated by centuries and both composers. Mozart has inspired Guerra, in at least one piece, and how different the original from the derived work! But there is that little matter of time and space that lies between them…

In any case, in both cases the mood is tearful, the music lovely and the emotions run deep.

(Juan Luis Guerra – Inspired by "Lacrimosa" from the Requiem of Mozart)

es todo lo que queda de ti
una cruel ilusión
que marchita mi vida
un rosario que nunca rezó
un enredo fatal
que me arrastra sin camino
la amargura de mi corazón
hoy me queda un hilito de luz
y lo pierdo contigo
yo te hacía bendita, mujer
pero se equivocó mi querer
y me hundo en el olvido
un puñal es tu cariño
no me lo claves que aún vivo
curando las noches
de amor que te di
quiero beberme tus ojos
llorarlos sin fin
ni un pañuelo me has dejado
para secar el pasado
de besos mojados
que hoy suda mi piel
quiero beberme tu boca
besarte, mujer
me devuelvas el pacto de amor
que la luna celosa nos dio
sobre un papel de arena
si te dicen que pierdo razón
es que en mi corazón
la verdad miente de pena
Si te alejas, vida...

Nota: El último fragmento de música de la mano de Mozart son los ocho primeros compases de "Lacrimosa". La pieza, al igual que varias otras secciones del Réquiem, fue completada por su alumno Franz Xaver Süssmayr.

Lacrimosa (Teary-Eyed)
A dream –
All of you is a cruel illusion
That has withered my life.

You are:
A rosary that entangled me
And holds me back, making me lose my way

A song,
It’s the bitterness of my heart.
Today I have left only a single ray of light
I lose it and with it, you

A saint!
I blessed you, woman,
But I was mistaken,
And I need to sink into forgetfulness.

In tears,
Your love is a dagger
That stabs me, but still keeps me alive,
Curing the nights of love that I gave you.
I want to drink your eyes
To make them cry endlessly

Teary eyed,
Not even a handkerchief have you left me with
To dry the past passionate kisses
That even today make me swoon.
I want to drink your mouth,
Kissing you, woman.

I want you to give me back the pact of love
That the jealous moon gave us,
Written on sand, as if on paper.

It’s forbidden…
If they tell you that I’m going crazy,
It’s because my heart lies about the pain.
If you go away, I’ll lose my life…

Note: The last fragment of music by the hand of Mozart in his “Requiem” is the eight first notes of the “Lacrimosa”. The piece, like several other sections of the Requiem, was completed by his student, Franz Xaver Süssmayr.

Friday 27 June 2008


“A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.” - Elsa Schiaparelli

There is no doubt we are in the middle of winter in Melbourne. The nights are long and chilly, the days short and often a little wet (but still no decent rain!). And the weather is just right for soup. Here is a favourite for this time for the year, a slight variation of a French classic:

Celeriac, Onion and Potato Soup

30g butter
2 large (400g) brown onions, chopped coarsely
1 clove garlic, crushed
1.5kg celeriac, trimmed, chopped coarsely
1 large (300g) potato, peeled, chopped coarsely
1 litre (4 cups) salt-reduced chicken stock
2 cups (500ml) water
300ml cream
celery salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Heat the butter in a large saucepan, cook onion and garlic, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until onion is soft. Add celeriac, potato, stock and water; bring to the boil.
Reduce heat; simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes or until vegetables are very soft. Blend soup, in batches, until smooth.
Return soup to cleaned saucepan; add cream, stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve sprinkled with chives.


Thursday 26 June 2008


“Economic advance is not the same thing as human progress.” - John Clapham

Madagascar has always fascinated me. I remember in primary school during geography lessons looking at this huge island sitting in the ocean to the east of southern Africa and looking at the few pictures accompanying the sparse (yet intriguing) text in the geography book. Exotic names: Lemurs, baobab trees, chameleons, thorn trees… Fascinating yet alien, exotic but strangely inviting, faraway and yet seemingly so welcoming.

How did I remember it? My calendar says that today is Madagascar’s Independednce Day, celebrated since 1960. Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island with an area of 600,000 square km, a population of 12 million, and home to the Malagasy Republic. The capital city is Antananarivo with Toamasina, Fianarantsoa, Toliara, Mahajanga and Antsiranana being other major cities. It was a French colony from 1896 until 1960 when it became independent. The landscape is richly varied with a high central plateau of arid scrub and savannah with deserts in the South. The East coast is hot, humid and covered by tropical rainforest. Little of the land is cultivated although most of the population are subsistence farmers. Cloves, vanilla, coffee, sugar, rice and cassava are the major products. Deforestation by a burgeoning timber industry is threatening this island’s unique flora and fauna.

The relatively recent animated Disney movie “Madagascar” (2005) may have alerted many people to the delights of Madagascar, but in these days of environmental destruction and threatened biosphere, this movie may be a timely reminder for the wholesale environmental ruination of a unique and wildly beautiful place in the world.

And for our Word Thursday, something apt:

lemur |ˈlēmər| noun
an arboreal primate with a pointed snout and typically a long tail, found only in Madagascar. Compare with flying lemur . • Lemuridae and other families, suborder Prosimii; includes also the sifaka, indri, and aye-aye.
ORIGIN late 18th century: Modern Latin, from Latin lemures (plural) ‘spirits of the dead’ (from its spectre-like face).

Tuesday 24 June 2008


“He only lives, who living enjoys life.” – Menander

Some places draw us like magnets and make us feel a special enervating energy as we tread the ground. A sense of mystery, an awe, a deep-seated feeling of a diachronic present tense, which nevertheless is imbued with the import of centuries suffuses our soul as we walk though those unique places. One may sense it in the centre of Australia, walking amongst the Olgas or around Uluru. Or as one is walking through the Acropolis, in Delphi, in Notre Dame in Paris, or in Chartres cathedral. In Stonehenge or under millions of tons of stone in the Great Pyramid of Giza…

I felt this in my recent trip while walking through ancient sites. In Sounion, in Athens, in Salamis… Here is a poem that I wrote trying to capture something of this feeling of time and space as they relate to a special place of such a kind.

The Eleusinian Mysteries

The sun, wild,
Lashes without pity
Naked bodies.
The ancient marble lolls
Strewn amongst the pine trees
And the noontime silence
Is mirrored in the
Midsummer heat.

Somewhere in the forest,
Dense and shady,
A fountain trills
Like Pan’s flute.
In the heart of the mountain,
Deep in the rocks,
Sleeps lightly.

It’s enough to find a magic word,
A word both true and ancient,
And if you murmur it,
Twenty five centuries
Will shatter like glass
And crash in front of
The violet-tinged temple,
Raised from the ground anew.

Monday 23 June 2008


“Murder may pass unpunish'd for a time, But tardy justice will o'ertake the crime.” – John Dryden

For our literary Tuesday today I am reviewing a book that I read while on my holiday. It is the crime novel “A Taste for Death” by British writer P. D. James. This is the pen name of Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, FRSA, FRSL (born 3 August 1920) who is a life peer in the British House of Lords. She only started writing when she was 30 years old and has written abut 20 books, including an autobiography, a science fiction novel and a mainstream novel. However, her forte is crime fiction, a genre that she excels in. Her investigator extraordinaire is Adam Dalgliesh of the New Scotland Yard, who also happens to be a poet. Her first Adam Dalgliesh novel “Cover her Face” was first published in 1962.

“A Taste for Death” (seventh in the Commander Adam Dalgliesh series) is a satisfying crime novel, but also a study in human character and a wry look at the complex motivating forces in people’s lives. One can often forget the crime in a PD James novel and rather concentrate on the characters’ emotions, psychology and ideas. PD James writes beautifully and her prose often lapses into a style that is more fitting to a “serious” novel, rather than the typical crime fiction. However, in this way she resembles the other “mistresses of crime fiction”, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Ruth Rendell. This particular novel of James won the Silver Dagger in 1986, and has also been adapted for a 1988 UK television miniseries.

The plot of the novel revolves around the murder of an acquaintance of Commander Dalgliesh. In the dark and shabby vestry of St. Matthew's Church, Paddington, two bodies are found with their throats slashed with an old fashioned shaving razor. One of the victims is an alcoholic vagrant, and the other is Sir Paul Berowne, a baronet and recently resigned Minister of the Crown. Adam Dalgliesh investigates a convoluted murder case which involves both himself and his assistant, Inspector Kate Miskin in a web of intrigue and danger.

I can recommend PD James’ works and especially this one, so if you have not sampled her oeuvre, here’s my encouragement to do so. The style is relaxed, the narrative slow and deliberate, the action at sufficiently paced intervals to keep one’s interest up and the characters varied, believable, with great depth and complexity so as to keep the reader’s interest up.

Happy reading!


“If ridicule were employed to laugh men out of vice and folly, it might be of some use.” - Joseph Addison

I hate watching movies on planes, but sometimes it is something that I resort to after having worked on my computer a little, having read a little more, having solved some crosswords and having run out of power on my computer after working on it more. And when that is the case, the movie I usually choose is something light and escapist that requires the least concentration, as distractions are many and varied during the flight.

On the way back from Singapore, I watched the 2008 epic “10,000 BC”, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Steven Strait and Camilla Belle. This is the perfect sort of movie to watch out of the corner of your eye while all sorts of other things are going on in the plane around you. Remember the ridiculous “One Million BC” of 1940, and the still more ridiculous “One Million Years BC” of 1966? Well, add to those two films, the sublimely ridiculous “10,000 BC” of 2008.

A group of Ice Age hunters (who we know didn't live in large groups), lives in Europe in a village (hmmm, remember your history saying they were nomads, they didn't live in permanent villages, right?), are spending winter in the mountains (that’s one of the reasons they were nomads, not to spend the winter up in the mountains!). They hunt for any mammoths that happen by chance to wander by, chasing them with spears and killing them with single spear throws! ( highly dubious). There is some supernatural mumbo-jumbo, a blue-eyed beauty who gets abducted by more civilised riders and a weakling who then decides to rescue the woman by tramping with his companions through East Asian bamboo jungles to sub-Saharan Africa and finally to what looks like ancient Egypt, over the course of a few weeks. Did I mention the mammoths were helping to build the pyramids? Or that people from Atlantis were running the show? I was expecting Santa Claus and the Martians to walk in at that stage.

The plot is weak to non-existent, the assumptions the audience is expected to make immense and the tolerance level of the viewer enormous. The acting is cheesy, the dialogue inane and the stone-age people sanitized beyond redemption. Some special effects and CGI attempt to make the movie appealing, but overall, a movie to watch while you’re not watching a movie on a long flight to while away the long hours. Otherwise, don’t bother!

Sunday 22 June 2008


“Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer, the mirror, or the painter?” – Pablo Picasso

The ancient Greeks were quite proficient in the art of painting. Not only vase and wall painting, but also in easel painting on panels of wood or marble. What we know of easel painting of the classical era we know from contemporary descriptions of the life of artists and their works. However, no ancient Greek easel painting of the classical era has survived. Many artists such as Zeuxis and Parrhasius, Timanthes, Pamphilus and Pausias, Apelles and Protogenes are described as masters of their art, and their paintings make many writers wax lyrical about them.

One set of examples of ancient Greek art on a wood panel we have, was discovered in the sacred grotto dedicated to the nymph of Pitsa near Corinth. This is one of the rare examples of "Archaic" Greek painting, and it can be dated about 540 BC. It represents a short procession of donors approaching a low, bare altar at the right. Offerings are being brought by garlanded women and youths: Wine by the imperious woman leading the group; a lamb by the boy behind her; flowering branches by the serene figures behind a pair of musicians. It is the best preserved of four tablets found in Pitsa, which constitute, together with the pinakes of Penteskouphia (now in Berlin), the most ancient documents of that painting which historians assure us was born in Corinth. Proof can be found in the analogous quality of the vase painting, in a similar employment of judicious, yet joyful, dramatic variations that do not disturb the outlines of the compositional cadences. The name of the artist was inserted in the writing at the top, but today this is unfortunately lost. All that remains is the eponym "Corinthian." which is, nevertheless, useful information. The small painted tablets called pinakes were suspended on the walls of little chapel-like structures in tombs.

The tablets are thin wooden boards or panels, covered with stucco (plaster) and painted with mineral pigments. Their bright colours are surprisingly well preserved. Only eight colours (black, white, blue, red, green, yellow, purple and brown) are used, with no shading or gradation of any sort. Probably, the black contour outlines were drawn first and then filled in with colours.

Those familiar with Christian church services might assume that Greek hymns were sung inside ‘god’s house’, i.e. his temple, perhaps before the cult image itself, which was (usually) placed seated in the cella. But Greek religion was conducted largely out of doors: Processions and sacrifice (both typically accompanied by hymn-singing) focussed on the spatial transition from town to temple and in particular on the altar erected outside the temple entrance. Aristophanes (in his plays “Clouds” and “Peace”) mentions ‘most holy processions to the gods’ (prosodoi makaron ierotatoi).

This precious painting and three more from the same location can be admired today in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens!