Saturday 5 July 2008


“It is not sex that gives the pleasure, but the lover.” - Marge Piercy

Passionate nights are winter’s most reliable warmers. When one has their heart’s desire beside them and skin touches skin under the bedclothes, it matters little if the wild wind is blowing outside, nor if the rain is lashing the windowpanes. Sex is OK, but if it part of a loving relationship it is fantastic…

For my someone very special, tonight:

Friday 4 July 2008


“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell

Happy Independence Day to all my American friends!

Enjoy this most important day in your national calendar and rejoice in those best features of your country that make it special amongst all the nations. Seeing it is Food Friday, I’ll dedicate my blog today to the gastronomic delights of the USA. It’s easy to think of hot dogs and hamburgers when one thinks of the USA, but the culinary tradition of this country of 400 years or so is particularly rich and complex, drawing on its inspiration on many sources: Native Indian, English, Dutch, Irish, German, Jewish, French, Italian, Greek, Spanish…

I was amazed by the variety of food available in New York City the first time I visited this melting pot of cultures, full of imported delicacies but processed and altered in such a way as to make them uniquely American. The delicatessens of New York and their wonderful pastrami sandwiches, smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, cheesecakes and New Jersey beefsteak tomato salads. The wonderful seafood of the Mid-Atlantic states – Chincoteague oysters, cherry-stone clams and striped bass. Although New England’s seafood vies for first place, with lobsters, clams, scallops and salt-water fish. I remember with fondness the traditional New England clambake ritual and the delicious flavours I enjoyed when visiting there a couple of decades ago! And who can forget Boston’s baked beans, or the pure maple syrup poured over pancakes and toasted oven-fresh brown bread with lashings of butter?

Regional touches on the East coast are the Pennsylvania Dutch dishes of shoofly pie, ponhaus (scrapple) and chicken pot pie. And what about blueberries or wild strawberries with cream? Or maybe butternut fudge and beach-plum jelly?

Travelling down towards the south, one encounters the famous southern fried chicken, corn bread, Smithfield country ham, collard greens and black-eyed peas. The wonderful spicy tastes of Creole, Cajun cooking of New Orleans – dirty rice, Creole cream cheese, catfish dishes with piquant sauces, chicory coffee… Further towards Florida, the wonderful Key lime pies, orange cake, a cornucopia of tropical fruits in fruit salads full of pineapple, mango, guava, tamarind, kumquats, papaya, limes, oranges. The influence of Cuba and the Caribbean mix with the simple ways of fisher folk and the high class restaurants of resort cities. Shrimps, stone crabs, red snapper, all served in a mind-boggling array of ways and styles.

Texas and the Southwest are the traditional home of the barbeque, with anything and everything thrown on the grill – quails, steers, antelope, wild turkey, bear and kid. Tex-Mex cuisine with chili and fiery sauces are influenced by the neighbours across the border: Enchiladas, tacos, tortillas, tamale pie, chili con carne and chiles rellenos. Okra, piñon nuts, garbanzo beans, wildbrush honey are all often-used regional ingredients. Pecan pie, mustang-grape pie, agarita jelly, hominy bread and black-eyed peas are to be found here too.

The Plains States offer us braised pheasant from Dakota, barbequed beef in Oklahoma, beef steaks cooked to perfection in Nebraska. Old Scandinavian recipes abound in the bakeries and pastryshops and there are also Bohemian and Russian influences in the Dakotas. The Mid-West abounds with foreign influences: Chicago, Milwaukee, St Louis and Cincinatti have a strong German influence, in Detroit and Cleveland, the flavour is Polish. If one tours these states, one may sample delicacies such as fried rabbit and squirrel, navy beans with ham hocks, hot biscuits, persimmon pudding, poke greens and wilted lettuce.

The Mountain States are rich in game and fresh-water fish. Trout, bass, greyling, crappie, char and perch are often cooked on the campfire of the successful fisherman. Braised moose, venison steaks, wild turkey and ruffed grouse, partridge and pheasant will often grace the tables of the hunters. The great outdoors, simple food of the hunter, fisherman and gatherer where the bounty of nature is enjoyed in picnics and in the campsites are the specialty of these states.

Washington and Oregon are full of memories for me as I have visited there a couple of times. Lovely seafood such as salmon, halibut, trout, Dungeness crabs, razor clams, large Pacific oysters and tiny Olympia oysters are all treats. Wild berries in profusion, apples, pears, peaches, and other stone fruit. Tillamook cheese, Frango ice cream and apricot and apple candy are specialties not to be missed. The produce markets of Seattle are a pleasure to visit and are full of wonderful, luscious fresh food.

California is a blessed state where fruit and vegetables are produced all year round. Vineyards and wine-making provide 80% of wine of the USA. The food here is cosmopolitan and heavily influenced by Italian, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese and local cuisines. The seafood bounty of the Pacific also figures prominently here.

Hawaii provides an exotic touch to the mainland states and the visitor is likely to sample all delights in a traditional Hawaiian luau. A potent Mai Tai cocktail will herald the feast, where pit-roasted pig and chickens take pride of place. Macadamia and kukui nuts, marinated raw fish, steamed crabs, poi, coconuts, bananas, pineapples, guavas, papayas and fruit punch complete the feast. If that isn’t enough, why not sample some authentic Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Portuguese dishes?

Alaskans like mooseburgers, barbequed reindeer steaks, caribou sausage, bear chops, pot roast of beaver, ptarmigan pie – seriously! If you would rather fish, how about baked king salmon, king-crab salad, butter-fried razor clams, grilled shee-fish, whale steaks and Arctic char? Berries, vegetables, fiddle-head ferns, rosehips, cranberries all complete the menu.

America is also the land of the snack, the comfort food, the gratuitous mouth candy. Frozen custard, candy floss, popcorn, candied apples, cookies, burgers, hot dogs, fries, grits, ices, pies are all there to tempt you. Unfortunately, it is also the home of the infamous frozen TV dinner, the processed glop that masquerades as cheese, the unidentifiable concoctions that are shaped as crumbed deep-fried “chicken”, “fish” or “beef” croquettes and all manner of other fast food sins. Supermarket freezers are full of ignominious manufactured garbage masquerading as food and one needs to steer of most such offerings…

One can have a feast in the USA and if one chooses carefully some remarkably good eating is to be had there. Rejoice in your bounty but remember, you are what you eat!

Wednesday 2 July 2008


“Every dog has his day” – Popular saying

I am in Brisbane again for work and this is the perfect time for being here, weather-wise. While Melbourne is in the clutches of Winter, Brisbane enjoys mild temperatures of 24-25˚C and beautiful sunny, warm days. It is just after 7:30 in the morning and I am looking out of the hotel window at the sunlit parks and gardens and listening to the dulcet tones of Yvonne Kenny singing Purcell’s “O, Let Me Weep”.
"O let me weep, for ever weep, My Eyes no more shall welcome Sleep; I'll hide me from the sight of Day, And sigh, and sigh my Soul away. He's gone, he's gone, his loss deplore; And I shall never see him more."

Here is the piece from YouTube, with an introduction about the opera, the song given by the performer, Yvonne Kenny, before the video of this aria. The aria itself begins at the 2:02 time mark.

The Dog Days begin today. These were hot and (according to the Romans) unhealthy days that were heralded by the ascent of Sirius, the Dog Star. These days lasted from today until about the 11th of August. Many cultures considered the “Dog Days” to have a baleful influence on humans. During these days it was considered wise to “abstain from the company of women”, “not let blood or take physic” and “seeth well your meals and take heed of feeding violently”. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky and was very important in many ancient cultures. The Ancient Egyptians, for example, calculated the annual flooding of the Nile with the aid of the ascent of Sirius. The rising of Sirius has over the centuries come at a later and later date, presently rising in late August. Hence the “Dog Days” of the Romans no longer correspond with the rising of Sirius. The term is still strongly entrenched in the language and many people still regard the superstition of these days with some concern.

Aptly for our Word Thursday, therefore:

dog days, plural noun
the hottest period of the year (reckoned in antiquity from the heliacal rising of Sirius, the Dog Star).
• a period of inactivity or sluggishness: In August the baseball races are in the dog days.
ORIGIN: from Latin, caniculares dies (days of the dogs).


“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!” - Sir Walter Scott

I wrote this poem a very long time ago and found it by chance a few days ago.

The Old Woman Weaving

The old woman sits weaving
And weaving, and weaving…
The shuttle flies
The woven cloth lengthens.

Multicoloured yarns,
Endless designs.
And the old woman weaves,
And weaves, and weaves…

The cloth is wound up,
As the shuttle flies.
The loom sings,
The loom cries, tak, tak, tak…

And it weaves on,
Using the yarn until it ends,
Or until it’s cut,
It gets woven.

Decorations, variations,
Improvised designs, easy and difficult,
A myriad of colours
A thousand of threads.

And yet the old crone refuses to weave
Into my life’s cloth, your own yarn.

Tuesday 1 July 2008


“Begin - to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.” – Ausonius

July is named after Julius Caesar. This name was given to the month after Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, in order to honour the killed leader. Before that time, the month was called Quintilius meaning the fifth month (Martius being the first month in the old Roman calendar). It is of significance that this month had 31 days, because anything less would not have been good enough for honouring the dead Caesar! In Anglo-Saxon the month is called Litha, meaning the month of the Midsummer Moon. In Gaelic it is Am Mios buidhe, the yellow month. In Welsh, July is termed Gorfennaf, meaning the “Month of Completion”.

Hot July brings cooling showers,

Apricots and gillyflowers.

In Australia of course, July is the midwinter month, equivalent to the Northern hemisphere January. July 1st is also the beginning of our financial year and I ma immersed in the budgeting process for this financial year, at work!

The birthstone for July is the ruby. The name of the gem is derived from the Latin rubeus, meaning red. The best rubies are said to be of a dark red colour identical to the colour of pigeons’ blood. Natural, large red rubies are the most expensive of gems. It is an aluminium oxide, a variety of corundum. India and other Eastern countries such as Burma are associated with the mining of beautiful natural stones. Nowadays, however, synthetic rubies abound and it may be difficult for a non-expert to tell a natural from a synthetic gem. The water lily symbolises July.

Lorsque vole bas l’aronde
attends alors que la pluie tombe
(When the swallow flies low
wait soon for the rain to fall)
French weather rhyme

Juillet sans orage
famine au village
(July without storm
famine in the village)
French weather rhyme

Gather up the wheat and tie it
Thresh it, bundle it up and mill it
To your health this good cup

Give a piece of bread to me to sup.
Greek folk rhyme

Today is Canada Day, so best wishes to my Canadian friends. Canada is the world’s second largest country with an area of close to 10 million square km and a population of just over 33 million people. It was created in 1867 by the British North American Act. It comprises the great barren Arctic Ocean islands in the North, through the huge grasslands in the central South and the Rocky Mountain chain in the West to fertile farmlands in the East close to the great lakes. Mineral resources, oil, gas, timber, extensive farming have contributed to Canada’s economic success, but the majority of the country remains greatly unexploited. The capital city is Ottawa and other cities include: Montréal, Québec, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg and Halifax.

Monday 30 June 2008


“Work while you have the light. You are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you.” - Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Imagine having a wonderful talent, a divine gift that makes you special, makes you shine, a wonderful ability, which elevates you to the heights of glory. Imagine becoming rich and famous, enjoying the adulation of millions. Imagine then suddenly, at the height of your success, losing that talent and having to live day to day with the knowledge that you were once capable of true greatness but it exists now only in your memories and in the records of your success that immortalise you but at the same time torment you…

Such is the subject of the film we watched at the weekend, Franco Zeffirelli’s “Callas Forever” (2002) with Fanny Ardant and Jeremy Irons. The film examines the final few years of Maria Callas’ life in a highly fictionalized account, which nevertheless is appealing and gives Ardant a magnificent opportunity to pull all stops out in order to bring to life the talent of Callas. She is ably supported by Jeremy Irons and their performances feed off one another in a very sensitively portrayed duet that brings to life the “difficult” relationships that Maria Callas had in her professional life.

The film looks at Callas’ last years when she was living in her Paris apartment as a recluse, knowing full well that she had lost her voice. Her ex-manager visits her and convinces her to make a comeback through the magic of technology. He proposes that Callas act in a movie version of “Carmen”, an opera she recorded, but which she never played on stage. They will use the excellent recording from the 60s and she will mime through the action and during the playback. Callas has qualms, but she is convinced and the film is made, a successful project in every way.

Just as the film is ready to be released, thus signaling Callas’ return to the public, the great diva begins to grapple with her conscience. She regards this technologically assisted production a fake and she cannot allow herself to be a party to this fraud. Instead she wishes to make a film of “Tosca”, but this time she will sing the role anew. The producers back down…

This is a well-produced film, with great performances and the voice of the diva used throughout. There is a chance to see Carmen as it may have been acted and sung by Callas and Fanny Ardant manages to complete the illusion. Recommended for al opera buffs, but also for anyone who may enjoy a good story full of emotion and spectacle.

Sunday 29 June 2008


“Style is the dress of thoughts.” - Philip Dormer Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield

Art Sunday today is dedicated to Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, better known as Parmigianino, as he was born in Parma. He became Italy's most influential Mannerist painter in his brief twenty-year career. His father and uncles taught him the techniques of painting, and by age sixteen he had already completed an altarpiece for a local church. Beginning in 1520, the celebrated Renaissance artist Correggio became his primary inspiration. Scholars believe that the younger artist may have assisted Correggio with his frescoes at a church in Parma, where Parmigianino may also have completed his own frescoes.

In 1524 Parmigianino visited Rome to present a self-portrait to Pope Clement VII. There the young artist experienced Raphael and Michelangelo's art firsthand, and his style became more grand, elegant, and noble. Following the Sack of Rome in 1527, Parmigianino escaped to Bologna, but within three years he had returned to Parma, where he received a commission to paint frescoes in another church. At this time, according to some accounts, Parmigianino became a devotee of alchemy, transforming himself into a lunatic and completing little work at the church. He was imprisoned after nearly a decade of slow progress but escaped. Scholars believe that Parmigianino was the first Italian artist to make etchings, and his work significantly influenced the art of printmaking.

The term mannerism is derived from the Italian “maniera”, meaning simply “style,” mannerism is sometimes defined as the “stylish style” for its emphasis on self-conscious artifice over realistic depiction. The sixteenth-century artist and critic Vasari (also a mannerist himself) believed that excellence in painting demanded refinement, richness of invention, and virtuoso technique, criteria that emphasized the artist’s intellect. More important than his carefully recreated observation of nature was the artist’s mental conception and its elaboration. This intellectual bias was, in part, a natural consequence of the artist’s new status in society. No longer regarded as craftsmen, painters and sculptors took their place with scholars, poets, and humanists in a climate that fostered an appreciation for elegance, complexity, and even precocity.

Parmigianino’s “Madonna dal Collo Lungo” (Madonna with Long Neck), painted 1534-40 (Oil on panel, 216 x 132 cm Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) is a typical mannerist work. It was painted for the church of Santa Maria dei Servi at Parma. It is the masterpiece of the culminating period in the art of Parmigianino, done almost the same time as the frescoes of the Steccata at Parma. The painter worked upon the picture for six years, but this notwithstanding, it remained unfinished. It is a work of intense if somewhat aloof poetical feeling, this effect mainly arising from the splendid abstraction of the forms, so smoothly rounded under the cool and polished colour.

The painting takes its subject from a simile in medieval hymns to the Virgin which likened her neck to a great ivory tower or column. Appropriate to the traditional understanding of the Virgin as an allegorical representation of the Church, this imagery was also exploited in poems. Thus the exaggerated length of the limbs of the Virgin and her son, as well as the presence of columns in the background of the painting, are not contrived merely for their decorative value, but clearly signal the painting's religious meaning.