Saturday 6 September 2008


“First love is a little foolish and a lot of curiosity.” - George Bernard Shaw

OK, I am remembering my adolescence… No other explanation for sharing this little French number with you all. Sweet, mindless, music for the masses, but soooooo catchy! Forget your age, your inhibitions and your classical ambitions and just enjoy it.

Alizee, singing “Moi, Lolita”

Moi, Lolita

Moi je m'appelle Lolita
Lo, ou bien Lola
Du pareil au même
Moi je m'appelle Lolita
Quand je rêve aux loups
C'est Lola qui saigne
Quand fourche ma langue,
j'ai là un fou rire aussi fou
Qu'un phénomène Je m'appelle Lolita
Lo de vie, lo aux amours diluviennes.

Moi je m'appelle Lolita
Collégienne aux bas
Bleus de méthylène
Moi je m'appelle Lolita
Coléreuse et pas
Mi-coton, mi-laine
Motus et bouche qui n'dis pas
À maman que je suis un phénomène
Je m'appelle Lolita
Lo de vie, lo aux amours diluviennes


C'est pas ma faute
Et quand je donne ma langue aux chats
Je vois les autres
Tout prêts à se jeter sur moi
C'est pas ma faute à moi
Si j'entends tout autour de moi
Hello, helli, t'es A (L.O.L.I.T.A.)
Moi Lolita

Me, Lolita

Me, I'm called Lolita
Lo or just Lola
It's all the same
Me, I'm called Lolita,
When I consider my mistakes
It's Lola who has to bleed.
When my tongue slips, I laugh elatedly
Elated, like a phenomenon
I'm called Lolita,
Lo for spirit, Lo for a flood of love

Me, I'm called Lolita
Student underneath
Tight blue jeans.
Me, I'm called Lolita
Quick-tempered or maybe not
Half-cotton, half-wool
With a mouth that doesn't tell mum
That I am a phenomenon
I'm called Lolita
Lo for spirit, Lo for a flood of love


It's not my fault
And if I want to quit
I see the others
All ready to throw themselves upon me.
It's not my fault,
If I hear everything around me
Hello, helli, you're A (L.O.L.I.T.A.)
Me Lolita

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday 5 September 2008


“Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” - Ernestine Ulmer

Looking through my diary that I was writing when I was staying in Leiden, Holland, quite a few years ago, I found this forgotten recipe that I picked up from a colleague (named Suzette!) who was working in the same laboratory that I was. I remember with fondness my time in Leiden and the taste of these delicious pancakes contributes to the sweetness of the memory.

• 1 and 1/2 cups of milk
• 1/3 cup melted butter
• 1 cup plain flour
• 1 egg
• 2 teaspoonfuls vanilla essence
• 1/3 cup butter
• 1 cup of marmalade
• 1 cup of orange juice
• 1 orange, peeled and divided into pithless segments
• Zest of one lemon
• 2 tablespoonfuls Cointreau liqueur
• Icing sugar for dusting
• Whipped cream
• Mint sprig for garnish
• Cherry syrup.

Beat the egg and add the milk gradually alternating with the melted butter. Sift in the flour and mix well to form a smooth batter. Add the vanilla essence, stir well and put aside to rest for about an hour while preparing the filling.

Heat the marmalade in a pan until smooth. Add the lemon zest and the orange segments. Warm until the juice of the oranges is half absorbed, stirring gently so that the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and add the liqueur. Heat the butter in a skillet and drop enough batter on it to cover the bottom of the pan in a thin layer. Cook on one side and then flip to cook the other side. Remove and repeat with the other pancake. Spoon the filling into the pancakes and roll up, laying each one aside.

Heat the pancakes in a microwave oven until hot. Place each pancake on a dish, dust with icing sugar and pipe some whipped cream peaks on the side. Decorate with the mint and pour some cherry syrup on the empty part of the plate so that the pancake is surrounded by the syrup.

Thursday 4 September 2008


“Butterflies count not months but moments, and yet have time enough.” - Rabindranath Tagore

It was on this day in 1751 that the British Parliament decreed that Britain should change over from the old style, Julian Calendar to the new style, Gregorian Calendar, which corresponded with the solar calendar and was therefore 11 days ahead. To make up for the discrepancy, in 1752 September 4th was followed by September 14th. This led to wild demonstrations in the streets of London where the angered mob demanded: “Give us our 11 days back!”.

The solar year depends on the revolution of the Earth around the sun, each revolution taking 365.2422 days. The tilt of the Earth’s axis is responsible for the seasons. At the same time, the moon has influenced the development of a calendar with each lunar cycle lasting for approximately 1/12 of the solar year. This has given rise to subdivision of the year into 12, sometimes 13 months. The word month itself shows its close association with the word moon. The ancient Greeks had a similar association: mén = “month”, méne = “moon”.

The Western calendar developed from the ancient Greek and Roman calendars. The term calendar itself is derived from the Latin calenda meaning the first day of the month. The ancient Roman calendar is the one that corresponds most closely to our own and was called the Julian Calendar as it was standardised by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. His Greek astronomer Sosigenes devised a 12 month calendar of 365 days, with a leap year of 366 days every four years. Each month had 30 or 31 days except for February, which was considered unlucky and hence had 29 days except every leap year when it had 30. This was until Augustus Caesar renamed the old Roman month Sextilus after himself, in the process robbing February of a day in order to increase August’s 30 days to 31.

The Julian calendar assumed that the year lasted for exactly 365.24 days. The real year was about 11 minutes and 14 seconds shorter than the Julian year and over the decades, the seconds and minutes added up to hours and days, making the real seasons drift away from the calendrical seasons. After a few centuries, the Church began to find it difficult to set the moveable Church feasts such as Easter, which depend on the Vernal equinox. Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 decided to remedy the situation, which by that time had led to a calendrical discrepancy a few days ahead of the seasonal calendar. The Pope decreed that February would have 29 days in century years that could be divided evenly by 400 (e.g. 1600, 2000), but only 28 days in century years that could not be divided evenly by 400 (e.g. 1700, 1800, 1900). Commencing in October 1582, ten days were dropped from the calendar in order to correct the discrepancy! The resulting calendar is the Western Gregorian Calendar in use throughout most countries around the world today.

Most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendrical reformations immediately after Pope Gregory’s modifications, and other Western nations followed suit soon after (e.g. France, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg 1582). As the Pope had no authority over the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Julian calendar persisted in its use in the countries where the Orthodox faith was the official state religion (e.g. Russia [adopting the Gregorian calendar in 1918], Rumania [1919], Bulgaria [1915], Greece [1923]). Even when for practical reasons the Gregorian calendar was adopted by the laity, the religious feast days continued to be calculated according to the Julian Calendar. This situation persists in some countries to this day. Some of the Eastern Churches calculate all of their feast days according to the Julian Calendar (which is now 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar!). For example, the Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January.

Calendar is of course derived from Calends, the first day of the Roman months. Aptly our word of the day:

calends |ˈkaləndz; ˈkā-| (also kalends) plural noun
The first day of the month in the ancient Roman calendar.
ORIGIN Old English (denoting an appointed time): from Old French calendes, 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.’

Tuesday 2 September 2008


“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

A poem today by a favourite of mine, Louis Macneice (1907 - 1963).

The Sunlight on the Garden

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.
Louis Macneice

Louis Macneice was born on September 12th, 1907, in Belfast, Ireland. He attended Oxford, where he majored in classics and philosophy. In 1930, he married Giovanna Ezra and accepted a post as classics lecturer at the University of Birmingham, a position he held until 1936, when he went on to teach Greek at Bedford College for Women, University of London. In 1941, he joined the BBC as a staff writer and producer. Macneice found an audience for his work through British radio. Some of his best-known plays, including 'Christopher Columbus' (1944), and 'The Dark Tower' (1946), were originally written for radio and later published.

Early in his career, Macneice was identified with a group of politically committed poets whose work appeared in Michael Roberts's anthology “New Signatures”. Macneice drew many of the texts for Modern Poetry: “A Personal Essay from the New Signature poets”. Modern Poetry was Macneice's plea for an "impure" poetry expressive of the poet's immediate interests and his sense of the natural and the social world.

Despite his association with young British poets Stephen Spender, W. H. Auden, writer Christopher Isherwood, and other left-wing poets, Macneice was as mistrustful of political programs as he was of philosophical systems. He was never a member of the Communist Party or any other political groups, and he was quite candid about the ambiguities of his political attitudes. "My sympathies are Left," he wrote. "But not in my heart or my guts."

Although he chose to live the majority of his adult life in London, Macneice frequently returned to the landscapes of his childhood, and he took great pride in his Irish heritage. His poetry is characterized by its familiar, sometimes humorous tone and its integration of contemporary ideas and images. In addition to his poetry and radio dramas, Macneice also wrote the verse translation “The Agamemnon of Aeschylus” (1936), translated Goethe's “Faust” (1951), and collaborated with Auden on the “Travelogue Letters from Iceland” (1937).

In August of 1963, Macneice, on location with a BBC team, insisted on going down into a mineshaft to check on sound effects. He caught a chill that was not diagnosed as pneumonia until he was fatally ill. He died on September 3, 1963, just before the publication of his last book of poems, “The Burning Perch”. He was 55 years old.

Monday 1 September 2008


“When the mind is thinking it is talking to itself.” - Plato

The gladiolus, Gladiolus spp, is the birthday flower for this day. The name is derived from the Latin gladius, meaning “sword”, in reference to the sword-shaped leaves. The gladiolus symbolises readiness for battle and in the language of flowers means: “You pierce my heart”. Some famous people born this day: Georg Böhm, German composer (1661); Liliuokalani, last queen of Hawaii (1838); Henry George, economist (1839); Wilhelm Ostwald, Nobel laureate (1909) chemist (1853); Allan Drury, author (1918); Jimmy Connors, tennis player (1952).

On this day in 490 BC, supposedly Phidippides ran the first Marathon to announce the victory of the Greeks over the Persians in Marathon, Attica, Greece. He dropped dead from exhaustion promptly afterwards. The tradition of running the Marathon in the Olympic Games is a commemoration of that historic victory and the original fatal run. There is quite a controversy surrounding this claim and one may investigate it here, and here.

In 1666 on this day the Great Fire of London started and lasted for 3 days. Everyone knows the Great Fire of London started in a baker's shop in the aptly named Pudding Lane, but was it an accident or a “pernicious Papist plot” as people wildly proclaimed? Following decades of political and religious upheaval, the restoration in 1660 of the Protestant Charles II ensured that suspicion lingered around republicans and Catholics alike. With the country also at war with the French and Dutch, paranoid xenophobia (a familiar English trait) was widespread.

Fires in London were very common, given the capital's largely timber construction. Yet for years there had been warnings of London's total destruction by fire: In 1559 Daniel Baker had predicted London's destruction by 'a consuming fire'. In April 1665, Charles had warned the Lord Mayor of London of the danger caused by the narrow streets and overhanging timber houses. Furthermore, a long, hot summer had left London dry and drought had depleted water reserves.

Yet the greatest fear among Londoners was not fire. Plague had killed over 68,000 people in the previous two years. Although Charles II had returned to Whitehall in February 1666, London remained unsafe, with death carts still commonplace. What worried inhabitants most was the strong east wind. This, combined with the dry, dusty air, was known to be particularly effective in carrying plague. It would prove as equally efficient as fire in taking lives…

It is the Proclamation of Independence Day in Vietnam today (since 1954). Vietnam was part of French Indochina and only gained its independence in 1954. Decades of internal discord, civil war mixed with external interference and tragic armed conflicts have hampered its development until recently. The country has an area of 330,000 square km and a population close to 70 million people. It stretches along the South China Sea down a mountainous backbone and encompassing two river deltas: The Song Hong in the North and the Mekong to the South. Rice, coffee and rubber are the main crops with reserves of coal, anthracite, lignite, tin, iron ore and extensive rainforests beginning to be developed. The climate is monsoonal with moderate rainfall. The capital city is Hanoi with other major cities including Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hué, Rach Gia, Nha Trang and Haiphong.

Sunday 31 August 2008


“The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can ever end.” - Benjamin Disraeli

It is the first day of calendrical Spring in the Southern hemisphere today and the day was punctuated with some bursts of sunshine, gusts of wind and tussles of gray clouds flitting across the skies. Changeable weather is a hallmark of Melbourne, and perhaps not more so than in Spring when we experience rather a lot of it. The garden is blooming with fragrant blossoms: Freesias, narcissi, hyacinths, jonquils, stocks, leptospermum. Tulips, primroses, anemones, ranunculus and plum blossom colour the grey days with splashes of colour. Showers alternating with sunshine, cold and warm in succession, blue skies and gray. Whatever the weather says, Spring is here.

At the weekend, there was a clutch of household duties, work activities and chores to get through, but nevertheless on Sunday we managed to watch a movie. It was the 2006 Gallic portmanteau film, “Paris, Je T’ Aime” the collective work of 18 different directors who each directed a 5-minute-or-so segment of the movie. The 18 stories are little cameos - independent, but interdependent and all having the same theme: Love, and what’s more, Love in Paris. There are some great actors and actresses obviously having a wonderful time, gallivanting through Paris neighbourhoods. Gerard Depardieu, Fanny Ardant, Bob Hoskins, Ben Gazzara, Marianne Faithfull, Juliette Binoche, Nick Nolte, Li Xin, Elijah Wood, Natalie Portman, Gena Rowlands, etc… Various directors go through their paces and include The Coen Brothers, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Vincenzo Natali, Oliver Schmitz, Alexander Payne, Gus Van Sant, Gurinda Chadha.

Some stories are fantastic and marvelously inventive, some funny, some poignant and sad, others wistful and poetic, some downright silly. Nevertheless, most of them are well crafted and beautifully acted. There are vampires and tourists, young and old people, mimes and children, lovers and would-be lovers, French and non-French people. Various forms of love are explored and towards the end we see some characters from some stories fleetingly interacting. However, one of the strengths of the movie is the epigrammatic and self-contained characterization that is so well-handled by most of the screen writers and the directors. The success of this film is to be emulated by a film that is being made now, “New York, I Love You”, the collective effort of 12 different film-makers, producing – you guessed it – a portmanteau film of 12 stories about love in New York…

“Paris Je T’ Aime” is a delightful film to watch, even though one cannot enjoy equally all of the stories one sees. The great variety that is spread there for one’s delectation is like a banquet that one can sample at will, nibble here and there and reach satiety very pleasantly.


“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” – Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, (Eugène-Henri-) was born June 7th, 1848, Paris; died, May 8, 1903, Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. He is one of the leading French painters of the Postimpressionist period, whose development of a conceptual method of representation was a decisive step for 20th-century art. After spending a short period with Vincent van Gogh in Arles (1888), Gauguin increasingly abandoned imitative art for expressiveness through colour. From 1891 he lived and worked in Tahiti and elsewhere in the South Pacific.

Gauguin's art has all the appearance of a flight from civilisation, of a search for new ways of life, more primitive, more real and more sincere. His break away from a solid middle-class world, abandoning family, children and job, his refusal to accept easy glory and easy gain are the best-known aspects of Gauguin's fascinating life and personality. This picture, also known as Two women on the beach, was painted in 1891, shortly after Gauguin's arrival in Tahiti. During his first stay there (he was to leave in 1893, only to return in 1895 and remain until his death), Gauguin discovered primitive art, with its flat forms and the violent colors belonging to an untamed nature. And then, with absolute sincerity, he transferred them onto canvas.

Femmes de Tahiti [Sur la plage] (Tahitian Women [On the Beach])
1891 (150 Kb); Oil on canvas, 69 x 91 cm (27 1/8 x 35 7/8 in); Musee d'Orsay, Paris