Thursday 31 December 2009


“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.” - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

New Year’s Eve in Melbourne today turned out to be a day full of weather! We had an extremely hot day that turned very windy, with temperatures in the high 30s. A cool change with electrical storms and rain was predicted for later tonight and this was going to interfere with the open-air New Year’s Eve celebrations by the river.

We went shopping early in the day to avoid the crowds and the heat. Then the rest of the day was spent inside with air-conditioner going full blast to cool the living room down a little. The bedrooms upstairs became very hot very early on and later on this evening we’ll have to cool those down as well.

We will have a very quiet New Year’s Eve at home this year.

Happy New Year to all! I hope that 2010 will be full of health, happiness and prosperity!

Wednesday 30 December 2009


“Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” - Hal Borland

As the year draws to a close, a review of the year that has been is inevitable and most of us will take stock of all that has transpired. Most will find lots to ponder over and to try and rationalise. Some happy moments, some sad, some difficult times, some melancholy ones. Work, leisure, family, friends, foes. The problems we have encountered seem to pale into insignificance if we put the year’s affairs into perspective and compare them to all the years already past.

My poem today reflects these ruminations and as we approach New Year’s Eve, I can be thankful for all that that transpired. The difficulties have cost me some more gray hairs, but I have survived. The happy moments have made it all worthwhile, and these I shall remember. And as the New Year approaches, hope still smiles…

As the Year Draws to a Close

December is on his deathbed, wheezing,
Soon to expire, while in Time’s pregnant belly
Another fetus January stirs and quickens,
Ready to come forth, laughing instead of crying.

The year about to end, a year of difficulties,
With some happy moments – these we shan’t forget –
And our hopes already fixed on that cackling infant
Who promises much with his idiot baby laughter.

Our resolutions, already written (in good faith),
Are biting at the bit, like racehorses
Confined in their boxes before the race start,
Not knowing that most will not finish this course…

And as each year works its way down time’s
Corkscrew spiral, we watch and listen,
Growing older with each turn, and we grow tired,
As each year expires and as each year is born.

And as the lights grow dimmer, as the moon tarnishes,
As the sun loses its brilliance and the blooms their perfume,
We each take a step closer to the grave,
And the world a smaller, poorer, more confining place.

And when we’ve had enough, when all is surfeit,
When nothing seems new, when the enchantment’s lost,
A pale blue butterfly circles our head and rests lightly on our shoulder.
Hope, is ever present, ever alive, ever young;
Ever the one to colour each new year with rainbows,
The one to give us sweetness, the one to play us new songs…

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday, visit her blog for more poems!

Monday 28 December 2009


“At Christmas play and make good cheer, For Christmas comes but once a year.” - Thomas Tusser

In the past, Christmas Carol singing continued throughout the 12 Days of Christmas (Christmas Day to the Epiphany on the 6th of January).  Carol singers used to go from house to house “wassailing”.  The term “wassail” is from the Anglo-Saxon Waes Heil, which means “Good Health”.  A wassail bowl was carried by the carollers, which was refilled by each house they stopped at.  A communal drinking bout resulted after each round of carols finished.  The mixture inside the bowl was referred to as “Lamb’s Wool”.  The Gloucestershire Wassail carol advises:
    Wassail, wassail, all over town
    Our bread is white and our ale is brown
    Our bowl is made from good maple tree
    We be good fellows all; I drink unto thee.


1    quart (950 mL) of good ale
1    pint (475 mL) white wine
1/3    cup brandy
11/2    cups sugar
1    teaspoonful ground cinnamon
1    nutmeg grated
10    roasted crab apples
5    slices bread, toasted

Heat the wine and dissolve the sugar and spices in it.  Add the ale and stir thoroughly.  Mix in the brandy and the crab apples. Float the toast on top and serve in a very hot punch bowl.  Each person sips a little of the mixture and the bowl goes around until the drink is finished.

I think that by the time the carollers had done the round of houses in their neighbourhood, they would have been more than tipsy, given the alcoholic content of the beverage!

Today we spent all morning in the garden, working until the heat of the day drove us inside. We managed to get a lot done, including many jobs, which I had put off for a long time. We then stayed inside as the heat became too much. I worked a little on the computer and then in the afternoon, we watched a movie. This evening will be very quiet and relaxing. This iwhat being on holiday is all about!


“Why should people go out and pay money to see bad films when they can stay home and see bad television for nothing?” - Samuel Goldwyn

Have seen quite a few movies these past couple of weeks and I will give a very brief review of each.

“The Brave One” 2007, directed by Neil Jordan, starring Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard.
This is a stock thriller drama about the victim of a violent crime and how she succumbs to the spectre of revenge in the style of “an eye for an eye”. Jodie Foster gives a very good performance, as does Terrence Howard.
I found the film very violent and raw and my stomach turned a little as the sensitive woman was changed into a vengeful harpy thirsty for blood. As a film it was well done, and raised some important questions regarding crime and punishment, the undermining of the fabric of our society by violence and the seeming inability of our policing and judicial system to cope with this. 7/10

“Eyes Wide Shut” 1999, directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
A very disappointing film and a swan-song that turned into a croak. We had not seen this film when it first came out, but we were aware of its highly controversial reception. It seemed that people either loved it (the artsy crowd) or hated it (the ordinary person in the street) – and I may be generalising here.
We found it mediocre and unsatisfying as a film. Simpering performances, non-existent characterisation, shallow plot, unfortunate and anti-climactic let down at the end of the film… We were not in the least interested in the antics of these rich New Yorkers – sexual or otherwise. There was no trace of humanity in this film. Kubrick was indulging himself and was transferring onto film some of his perverse sexual fantasies. We were not interested in that, I’m afraid… 5/10

“Live and Let Die” 1973, directed by Guy Hamilton, starring Roger Moore and Jane Seymour.
A conventional James Bond action thriller, with its usual (and sometimes tiresome mixture) of sex, action, gadgetry, hot pursuits and double entendres.
Escapist nonsense that does what it does effectively enough and has not pretensions about being “high art” (as the previous film did). 6/10

“St Trinian’s” 2007, directed by Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson (two of them?!) and starring – who cares?
What a waste of celluloid! An “updating” of the wonderful old St Trinian’s films of the 1950s. This was so bad that it was embarrassing to admit watching it through. The really sad part is that there is a 2009 sequel and a 2010 trequel! 4/10

“Belle de Jour” 1967, directed by Luis Buñuel, starring Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Genèvieve Page.
What a classic! This is the second time we have watched this and it has greatly improved on second viewing. Kubrick should have been embarrassed to release his “Eyes Wide Shut” if he compared it to this film. The plot is rather similar, but the characters, their motivations and their actions are so much more involving than Kubrick’s film. Buñuel is a master and this film displays his art amazingly well.
The plot is much more believable, and although it concerns itself with the French bourgeoisie, one is more drawn in and the exploration of female sexuality that unfolds is much more enlightening than that hinted at in “Eyes Wide Shut”. 8/10

“Walk, Don’t Run” 1966, directed by Charles Walters, starring Cary Grant, Samantha Eggar, Jim Hutton, John Standing.
This trivial romantic Hollywood comedy of the 1960s has the distinction of being the vehicle for Cary Grant’s final screen appearance. More of a whimper rather than a bang to finish with, but all considered, the film is innocent enough and there are a few chuckles here and there. The plot is childish and the situations hardly surprising. Nevertheless, an amusing trifle for a matinee at home… 5/10

Enjoy your week and the last few days of 2009!

Sunday 27 December 2009


“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” - Jack London

A quiet day today spent at home. Did quite a lot of gardening, which was relaxing enough, especially as I had my i-pod with me and listened to a great deal of music (notably, all of Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” and his “Vespers”) while pottering about in the garden. Nevertheless, at the end of the day I was quite tired, but satisfied as much was done that needed doing.

For Art Sunday today, Eustache Le Sueur, a French painter (1616-1655). He is known for his religious pictures in the style of the French classical Baroque. Le Sueur was one of the founders and first professors of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Le Sueur studied under the painter Simon Vouet and was admitted at an early age into the guild of master painters. Some paintings reproduced in tapestry brought him notice, and his reputation was further enhanced by a series of decorations for the Hôtel Lambert that he left uncompleted. He painted many pictures for churches and convents, among the most important being St. Paul Preaching at Ephesus (Louvre), and his famous series of 22 paintings of the Life of St. Bruno (Louvre), executed in the cloister of the Chartreux. Stylistically dominated by the art of Nicolas Poussin, Raphael, and Vouet, Le Sueur had a graceful facility in drawing and was always restrained in composition by a fastidious taste.

Le Sueur also painted many mythological subjects. The paintings above depict seven of the nine muses of Greek mythology. They decorate the Cabinet of the Muses of the Hotel Lambert in Paris. These charming, delicately painted pictures foreshadow the coming of Poussin. The muses are the goddesses of creative inspiration in poetry, song and other arts, they are the companions of Apollo. They were the daughters of Jupiter and the Titaness Mnemosyne (memory) who had lain together for nine consecutive nights. The muses were originally nymphs who presided over springs that had the power to give inspiration, especially Aganippe and Hippocrene on Mount Helicon and the Castalian spring on Mount Parnassus. The nine muses and their usual attributions are the following.

Clio, the muse of history (book, scroll or tablet and stylus).
Euterpe, the muse of music, lyric poetry (flute, trumpet or other instrument).
Thalia, the muse of comedy, pastoral poetry (scroll, small viol, masks).
Melpomene, the muse of tragedy (horn, tragic masks, sword or dagger, crown held in hand, sceptres lying at feet).
Terpsichore, the muse of dancing and song (viol, lyre, or other stringed instrument, harp, crowned with flowers).
Erato, the muse of lyric and love poetry (tambourine, lyre, swan, a putto at her feet).
Urania, the muse of astronomy (globe and compasses, crowned with a circle of stars).
Calliope, the muse of epic poetry (trumpet, tablet and stylus, books, holds laurel crown).
Polyhymnia (or Polymnia), the muse of heroic hymns (portative organ, lute or other instrument).

Seven of the nine muses are illustrated above: Melpomene, Erato and Polyhymnia; Terpsichore; Clio, Euterpe and Thalia.

Saturday 26 December 2009


“Such parting break the heart they fondly hope to heal.” – Lord Byron

A full day today, with some shopping, a couple of visits to friends and then tonight, we had dinner out. The city was rather quiet and the restaurant was only half full. Nevertheless the company was good and the food nice. We ate Japanese at Koko Restaurant in the Crown Casino complex.

For Song Saturday today a beautiful Italian song sung by Gigi Finizio:

I have translated the lyrics, but they are so very poetic in Italian, that the English doesn’t do it justice. In any case, just enjoy the song and the music!

The Mirror of My Thoughts

Sitting on the shore of my consciousness,
Melancholy counts my days
Full of the experiences of my life.
It looks like a seagull with wings spread along the horizon
Embracing the sky and flying over me
Sinking into the scenery of a sunset.

I always read those butterfly wings inside your eyes
With the hope that your skin was only mine,
But you planned another adventure, a story without me.
And your perfume I no longer like, is nearly washed out of the sheets,
Into the open sea of a memory.

I am without you, like a picture of someone who leaves,
And in the mirror of my thoughts, I see you but I never reach you.
I tear my anger into pieces, I kick this sand
If I could love another, I would delete you from the time past.
But without you, I follow a suburban route.
The sky is crying over us, who knows if tears are bathing your eyes?
I try to find you, but you are like a breath that is lost blown against a glass,
Or on the canvas of a painter who paints what is not there.

Love abandons us and the vortex of time does not enfold us any more;
Lost in the sphere of a world that turns us upside down.
You lose the hope to find yourself again in my life
Maybe you were just an abandoned photograph in the closet of memories…

I am without you, like a picture of someone who leaves,
And in the mirror of my thoughts, I see you but I never reach you.
I tear my anger into pieces, I kick this sand
If I could love another, I would delete you from the time past.
But without you, I follow a suburban route.
The sky is crying over us, who knows if tears are bathing your eyes?
I try to find you, but you are like a breath that is lost blown against a glass,
Or on the canvas of a painter who paints what is not there.

Lo Specchio Dei Pensieri Miei

Seduta sulla riva di questa mia coscienza
La malinconia far conto dei miei giorni
Comprese le esperienze di questa vita mia
Somiglia ad un gabbiano con le ali aperte lungo l’orizzonte
Abbraccia il cielo che e’ sopra di me
che affonda dentro lo scenario di un tramonto.

Io che leggevo sempre ali di farfalla dentro gli occhi tuoi
Nutrivo la speranza che la tua pelle fosse solamente mia
Tu invece programmavi un’avventura un’altra storia senza me
E il tuo profumo non mi va piu’ via dalle lenzuola
Il mare aperto di un ricordo.

Io senza di te fotografia di chi va via e
nello specchio dei pensieri miei ti vedo ma non ti raggiungo mai
Faccio a pezzi la mia rabbia,
prendo a calci questa sabbia
se sapessi amare un’altra ti cancellerei dal tempo.

Io senza di te seguo una via di periferia
Il cielo sta piangendo su di noi chissa’ se sta bagnando gli occhi tuoi
Io ti cerco come un fiato che si perde contro un vetro
Sulla tela di un pittore che dipinge quello che non c’e’

L’amore ci abbandona e il vortice del tempo non ci avvolge piu’
Sperduti in quella sfera di un mondo capovolto che ci spinge giù
Si perde la speranza di ritrovarti ancora nella vita mia
Forse eri solo la fotografia abbandonata nell’armadio dei ricordi

Io senza di te fotografia di chi va via
il cielo sta piangendo su di noi
Chissà se sta bagnando gli occhi tuoi
Io ti cerco come un fiato che si perde contro un vetro
Sulla tela di un pittore che dipinge quello che non c’e’.

Thursday 24 December 2009


“Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.” - Washington Irving

Merry Christmas, Everyone! I hope you are having a lovely Christmas Day!

The first Christmas card (illustrated above) was created in England on December 9, 1842.  Christmas cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole in London, and featured an illustration by John Callcott Horsley of Torquay, England. The picture, of a family with a small child drinking wine together proved controversial, but the idea was shrewd as Cole had helped introduce the Penny Post three years earlier. Two batches totalling 2050 cards were printed and sold that year for a shilling each.

This was also the most expensive Christmas card was sold at an auction in England in 2001 for £20,000, approximately $40,000 USD. The card was from 1843.

The first Christmas greeting by SMS was a simple 'Merry Christmas'.

President Eisenhower issued the first official White House Christmas card in 1953. By the year 1961, the White House was sending out 2000 cards. By 2009, that number has risen to over 1.7 million.

Only one in 100 Christmas cards sold in Britain in 2006 contained any religious imagery or message, a recent survey has shown.

'Merry Christmas' is the greeting preferred by 53% of Americans; 21% of people like 'Happy Holidays' and only 12% like 'Season's Greetings'. In Australia, ‘Merry Christmas’ is the overwhelmingly popular majority.

In 2004, the German post office gave away 20 million scented stickers free to make Christmas cards smell like a fir Christmas tree, cinnamon, gingerbread, or a honey-wax candle.

An average household in America will mail 28 Christmas cards each year and see 28 eight cards return in their place. In Australia, the average number mailed out by a household is 35 cards.

As early as 1822, the postmaster in Washington, D.C. was worried by the amount of extra mail at Christmas time. His preferred solution to the problem was to limit by law the number of cards a person could send. Even though commercial cards were not available at that time, people were already sending so many home-made cards that sixteen extra postmen had to be hired in the city.

During the Christmas buying season, Visa cards alone are used an average of 5,340 times every minute in the USA.

The first Christmas stamp was released in Canada in 1898 and not Austria in 1937 as some claim.

The poinsettia, traditionally a Christmas flower, originally grew in Mexico; where it was known as the "Flower of the Holy Night". It was first brought to America by Joel Poinsett in 1829.

The traditional flaming Christmas pudding dates back to 1670 in England, and was derived from an earlier form of stiffened plum porridge.

Christmas became a national holiday in America on June, 26, 1870.

The twelve days of Christmas are the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany (6th of January) and represent the length of time it took for the wise men from the East to visit the manger of Jesus after his birth.

The Christmas tree displayed in Trafalgar Square in London is an annual gift to the UK from Norway since 1947. The Norwegian spruce given is a token of appreciation of British friendship during World War II from the Norwegian people.

English Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas between 1647 and 1660 because he believed such celebrations were immoral for the holiest day of the year.

Christmas trees arrived in England in the 1830s and became enormously popular when Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, took a tree to Windsor Castle in 1841. It is thought that the first tree to be decorated with lights was in 1882 when the vice-president of the Thomas Edison Electric Company, E. Johnson, strung together small light bulbs on his tree.

Wednesday 23 December 2009


“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” - Charles Dickens

It’s Christmas Eve here in Melbourne and as night falls the gray of the day is slowly changing to black. We have had an overcast day with a few showers and tomorrow’s Christmas day weather promises to be very mild with a maximum temperature of 22˚C. So much for the beach-side barbeque that some people had planned, some showers have also been forecast. We shall have a quiet family Christmas, mostly spent indoors, relaxing, nibbling, listening to music, eating, chatting and laughing.

We have decorated the house and it all looks very festive now. We always put the Christmas decorations up a few days before Christmas and they normally stay up until the 7th January, St John’s Day. This evening is the time for Christmas carols and good cheer. We had a quiet day today, except for a few visits to take some sweets and Christmas hampers to some friends and a few elderly people that we know will not be having a good Christmas. It is so easy and it takes so little to make people happy that it is a pity that not more of us do that. The joy of the season surely is in giving, and what better than to give to people who least expect it, people that one hardly knows.

I’d like to take the opportunity to wish all the readers of my blog a very Happy Christmas and all the very best for yourselves and your families. May you have a peaceful, joyful day tomorrow.

Here is one of my favourite Christmas carols:

Merry Christmas!


“From a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it.” - Katharine Whitehorn

We went to a Shopping Centre today. The day was to be hot (it topped at 39˚C) and as we needed to do some Christmas shopping, we decided the air-conditioned comfort of the centre would be a good idea. Bad idea! The pullulating crowds, the constant noise, the incessant tinkling of the Christmas music, the traffic, the forced cheeriness was all a bit too much. Reminders everywhere that Christmas has become a commercial activity and that its temple is the large department store in shopping centres similar to the one we visited today…

We couldn’t take too much of the crassness and ended up cutting the expedition short and going back home via a nursery. This was less crowded and although the major part of it was hot and uncomfortable, we found some coolness and green serenity in the shade of the fern house. At least in the darkness of the shadehouse we were able to get away from the milling crowds and in a quiet little corner, saw in a grotto a small and intimate, simple nativity scene. A few small figures assembled by a loving hand and recreating simply the Christmas story. That alone seemed to capture the essence of the season, noticed only by the two of us, alas!

The Season’s Greetings

The greeting cards announce in cursive script:
“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”.
The mailbox fills with cardboard wishes
And stock sugary images, empty felicitations.

The carols blare in lifts, in shopping centres:
“Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth”.
The children bright-eyed in greedy innocence,
Watch with hungry eyes toy store displays.

The Father Christmases in their thousands, chuckle:
“Ho, ho, ho!” their white beards and hair a pale caricature.
The milling crowds around them hope to be infected
By their pretend jollity and ersatz joviality.

The decorations brightly sparkle, the Christmas lights shine,
“Noël, Noël” the electronics tinkle as they flicker on and off.
The families gather united under the same roof,
The enmities suspended temporarily under false smiles.

Somewhere a tiny baby is in a hovel born ,
Its mother unmarried, only a distant relative is present.
The stars burn bright in the firmament
And one falls, streaking bright across the blue velvet.
In the cold air, the lowing of the cattle breaks the silence,
While somewhere in the distance a shepherd’s pipe
Begins to play a simple tune that’s carried by the wind.
Christmas again this year has come.

Jacqui BB is hosting Poetry Wednesday.

Tuesday 22 December 2009


“The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.” – Seneca

I am reading a book called “Death and the Afterlife” by Brian Innes. It is a large format book with lots of colour illustrations and filled with amazing bits and tidbits – science, superstition, myth and legend, sociological, religious and psychological aspects of the whole topic of death and the afterlife. It is an extremely interesting and very readable book, with some amazing photographs and illustrations that are striking to say the least.

One of the author’s points in this book is that modern society in Western countries tends to “sanitise” death and remove the living from its influence, creating an unhealthy unfamiliarity with it and also a distancing of the “modern, civilised” Westerner from its inevitability. Most people living in the West have never seen a dead body and will take inordinate steps to preserve themselves from any contact with the dead or death. Even the thought of death is banished and our modern medical machinery has become obsessed with preserving life, no matter what.

On the other hand, in traditional Mediterranean culture, in Russia, in the East, in “developing” countries death is an inevitable part of life and people are exposed to it more frequently - and by that I don’t necessarily mean exposed to it in the form of killings in warfare or social violence. The laying out of the corpse in the parlour for the traditional wake still occurs, with relatives and friends being able to say their goodbyes and close that final chapter of the dead person’s book. The rituals surrounding death are mechanisms whereby acceptance of death is gained. The open expression of grief on the part of the bereaved is an important means in coming to terms with the fact of death. And that is healthy…

Michael Gorer has written an interesting book (“The Pornography of Death”) and in it he says: “In the twentieth century there seems to have been an unremarkable shift in prudery; whereas copulation has become more and more mentionable in Anglo-Saxon societies, death has become more and more ‘unmentionable’ as a natural process.” Our whole society is fixated on life and death is shunned. The euphemisms that are resorted to when it needs be mentioned are an indication of the fear that people have developed in what is essentially a perfectly natural and significant event. The whole of the funeral trade is another example of the insulation that has evolved in our societies in order to make death as remote as possible and as clinically removed from the business of the living. Society is youth-, health- and life-oriented. It is hardly surprising that people in the West cannot cope with old age, disease and death…

This is perhaps reflected by the shift in the symbolic image of death. Charon in Ancient Greece was often depicted as youthful and god-like. Charon in his boat is accompanied by Hermes, the psychopomp, who conducted the shade of the departed to the Styx so that Charon could ferry it across. The same youthful, god-like figure of Charon is depicted in ancient prose and poetry. How the image of Charon degenerated into the “Grim Reaper” is perhaps an indication of our view of death in the West. The illustration above by Olexandr Lytovchenko typifies this view of Charon (and death) as the grim, aged, pitiless and fearful reaper of life.

At the same time that we shun real death, virtual death has of course become infinitely appealing, courtesy of Hollywood – the more violent, the better. The entertainment industry is quick to supply vicarious corpses in order to satisfy the curiosity that the general population has regarding death and the “awfully big adventure” as Peter Pan says. The fantasy is provided to the masses who gorge themselves on the spectacle of simulated death in the comfort of their own lounge room…

Sunday 20 December 2009


“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Yesterday we watched an interesting film, which although being quite fluffy (i.e. not deep and meaningful, at least superficially), nor artistically noteworthy it was quite enjoyable as entertainment and a bit of escapism (pun intended, you’ll see what I mean). It was Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, “The Prestige”. It starred Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansonn. On the International Movie Database (IMDB) site, the film has a rating of 8.4/100 based on about 175,000 votes, which means a lot of people that have seen it thought it was a pretty good movie. However, I am not always convinced of the merit of the ratings on IMDB. They can be skewed quite considerably in favour of the people that use the site and may not necessarily represent a good cross-section of the movie-viewing public. Nevertheless, as I said earlier, the movie was enjoyable and good enough to watch as a bit of escapist fare for a Sunday matinee.

The plot revolves around a pair of magicians in 19th century London. Hugh Jackman plays Robert Angier (magician #1) and Christian Bale plays Alfred Borden (Magician #2). These two start out as good friends but end as bitter enemies with each bent of revenge in the wake of a botched stage act that goes tragically wrong. Both magicians become famous and as their rivalry grows, each sabotages the performance of the other on stage. When Alfred performs a successful trick, Robert becomes obsessed trying to uncover the secret of his competitor. They are aided by their ingénieurs (masters of the devices and devisers of the mechanics of the tricks). There is a particularly good performance by Michael Caine, as Cutter, Angier’s ingénieur. In search of the ultimate trick, Robert goes to the USA, finds Nikola Tesla, the famous physicist (played with great aplomb by David Bowie!) and gets him to construct an amazing electrical device that helps him create the magic trick that astounds all of London…

The film examines the duality of human nature and the triggers that force a human being to go from good to bad, from loving to hating, from helping to hindering. It asks the question is even a saintly person likely to turn to an evil one given a powerful enough trigger? It posits that most of us enclose within both the good and the bad balanced precariously. It is a constant struggle to maintain the balance weighed down on the good side. The movie looks at what pushes that balance towards the bad side.

The cinematography, costumes and sets are successfully Victorian and the atmosphere that is created is one of authenticity. One has a good insight into end-of-the-century Vaudeville and the cut-throat competitiveness that existed then. The direction is very good and the music is quite suitable and appropriately unobtrusive. Although the film is 130 minutes long, it is not tiring. A word of warning: There are some challenging scenes, which the faint-hearted may find disturbing (people drowning, canaries being violently killed…).

The film reminded me of a clutch of other films that have to do with magicians. For example, “Houdini” the 1953 classic with Tony Curtis. The 2007 “Death-Defying Acts” with Guy Pearce and Catherine-Zeta Jones; and the very satisfying 2006 film “The Illusionist” with Edward Norton.

Quite a good movie to watch and unwind with.


“Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.” - Edgar Degas

For Art Sunday today and artist of whom we know little and none of whose paintings have survived. It is the ancient Greek painter of the 5th century BC, Zeuxis. In ancient records we are told that Zeuxis, following the initiative of Apollodorus, had introduced into the art of painting a method of representing his figures in light and shadow, as opposed to the older method of outline, with large flat masses of colour for draperies, and other details, such as had been practised by Polygnotus and others of the great fresco painters. The new method led to smaller compositions, and often to pictures consisting of only a single figure, on which it was easier for the painter to demonstrate the perfect roundness of form of the painted figure.

The effect would appear strongly realistic, as compared with the older method of flat colour, and to this was probably due the origin of such stories as the contest in which Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes appearing so real that birds flew towards it, while Parrhasius painted a curtain which even Zeuxis mistook for real. It is perhaps a variation of this story when we are told that Zeuxis also painted a boy holding grapes towards which birds flew, the artist remarking that if the boy had been as well painted as the grapes the birds would have kept at a distance.

Lucian, in his “Zeuxis”, speaks of the artist as carrying a search of not only to novelty of technique, but also to a novel and strange degree as in subject matter and the emotional reaction this subject had on the viewer, as illustrated in the group of a female Centaur with her young. When the picture was exhibited, the spectators admired its novelty of theme and overlooked the skill of the painter, to the vexation of Zeuxis. The pictures of Heracles strangling the serpents to the astonishment of his father and mother, Penelope, and Menelaus Weeping are quoted as instances in which strong themes naturally presented themselves to the artist. But, in spite of the tendency towards realism inherent in the new method of Zeuxis, he is said to have retained the idealism, which had characterized his predecessors.

Of all his known works it would be expected that this quality would have appeared best in his famous picture of Helen of Troy. Quintilian states that in respect of robustness of types Zeuxis had followed Homer, while there is the fact that he had inscribed two verses of the Iliad under his figure of Helen. As models for the picture he was allowed the presence of five of the most beautiful maidens of Croton at his own request, in order that he might be able to "transfer the truth of life to a mute image." Cicero assumed that Zeuxis had found distributed among these five women the various perfect elements that went to make up a figure of ideal beauty. It should not, however, be understood that the painter had made up his figure by the process of combining the good points of various models, but rather that he found among those models the points that answered to the ideal Helen in his own mind, and that he merely required the models to guide and correct himself by during the process of transferring his ideal to form and colour. This picture also is said to have been exhibited publicly, with the result that Zeuxis made much profit out of it.

Zeuxis is said to have laughed to death at one of his own paintings. It was the painting of an old maid who had requested to pose for him in order that he might paint a picture of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love.

The painting above “Zeuxis et les Filles de Crotone” is by François-André Vincent (1746-1816), painted in 1749 and exhibited in the Louvre. It illustrates Zeuxis choosing the five beautiful young women of Croton, who he will use as his models on which to base his painting of Helen. The painting is full of a neo-classicism, full of charm but at the same time replete with archaeologically correct detail, reminiscent of David.

Saturday 19 December 2009


“Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” - German Proverb

The closer we get to Christmas the more frenetic the pace and the more things to do. People, cars, congestion, traffic, no parking, frayed tempers, and the endless shopping…

For Song Saturday, a classic song by Arleta, a Greek songstress and composer. She started singing in the 1960s, coming to prominence with a group of singers that identified themselves as the “New Wave”. Here is one of her songs, “The Wolf”.

The Wolf - Arleta

It’s twelve o’clock
It’s the time of madmen;
I’ll meet you somewhere
I’ll find you some place…

In their cells, people
Sleep lightly, leaving
The empty streets
Free for playing chasey.

It’s midnight
It’s the time of madmen;
If you hear hoarse laughter,
Draw the blind closed.

Wolf, O, my good wolf
Are you here, Mr Wolf?
I am coming out of my lair
And I follow you.

Wolf, O, my good wolf
Are you here, Mr Wolf?
You’re my only hope.
And I follow you!

My beautiful little lamb,
What are you doing in the street?
We’re all tangled up
In its own rules.

The stars grow teeth,
Claws are sprouting on the street,
While the mad night
Plays cops and robbers.

When darkness falls,
The wolf roams the square,
Of the lost city
Searching for his prey.

All the little lambs locked up,
The key is made of sugar.
Some lonely park benches,
Bushes and silence.

Wolf, O, my good wolf
Are you there, Mr Wolf?
It’s your wild side
That moves me…

It’s midnight
It’s the time of madmen;
When darkness blooms.
It’s twelve o’ clock,
It’s the time of madmen;
I’ll meet you somewhere
I’ll find you some place…

Αρλέτα - Ο Λύκος

Είναι δώδεκα η ώρα
Είν' η ώρα των τρελών
Κάπου θα σε συναντήσω
Κάπου θα σε βρω

Στα κελιά τους οι ανθρώποι
ύπνο κάνουν ελαφρό
Ειν΄ ελεύθεροι οι δρόμοι
για κυνηγητό

Είναι δώδεκα η ώρα
Είν' ώρα των τρελών
βραχνό γέλιο αν ακούσεις
κλείσε το ρολό

Λύκε -λύκε μου καλέ μου
Λύκε -λύκε μου είσ' εδώ
Βγαίνω από τη φωλιά μου
και σε κυνηγώ

Λύκε -λύκε μου καλέ μου
Λύκε -λύκε μου είσ' εδώ
Είσαι η μόνη μου ελπίδα
Και σ' ακολουθώ

Όμορφο μου προβατάκι
Τι γυρεύεις μες το δρόμο
Είμαστε' όλοι μπερδεμένοι
Στο δικό του νόμο

Δόντια βγάζουνε τα αστέρια
Νύχια φύτρωσαν στους δρόμους
Ξέφρενη η νύχτα παίζει
κλέφτες κι αστυνόμους

Όταν πέφτει το σκοτάδι
Βγαίνει ο λύκος στην πλατεία
Στη χαμένη πολιτεία
Και ζητά τροφή

Κλειδωμένα είναι τα αρνάκια
Ζαχαρένιο το κλειδί
Κάτι απόμερα παγκάκια
Θάμνοι και σιωπή

Λύκε -- λύκε μου καλέ μου
Λύκε- λύκε είσαι εκεί
Είν η άγρια πλευρά σου
που με συγκινεί.

Thursday 17 December 2009


“No party is any fun unless seasoned with folly.” - Desiderius Erasmus

Today was my last day at work before the Christmas/New Year holidays. I shall be having a little break and try to relax, as this year has been long and hard. Back to work on the 4th of January. The day was quite pleasant as for morning tea we had our Kris Kringle. We all drew lots to choose the person we had to get a gift for and the rules stated that (a) we did not spend more than $10 on the gift; (b) we remained anonymous and; (c) the gift started with the same letter that name of the person started with. I drew the name of a very nice part-time lecturer whose name started with “T”. The choice was simple: A personal tea set (a tea mug, a tea infuser and a bag of tea) – very good deal for $9.99!

Then I had to rush through quite a great deal of work, had a couple of meetings, answered ten million emails, discussed a few issues with staff, went through some urgent matters with my PA and all in time for a Christmas party at the Alfred Hospital. I am involved in a research project there at the cardiothoracic surgery unit and they had a function in one of the newly opened restaurants in Prahran (The Terrace Bistro and Bar). This was a good ending to the year as the group was small and the atmosphere very relaxed. We had a few drinks, some very nice tapas and a very leisurely conversation. A surprise was meeting one of my students from a few years back who came back form private practice to do a research PhD at the Hospital. She was very happy to see me and was still very complimentary of my lectures in pathology when she was a student. This was rather touching and brought some fond memories for me…

I’ll try and do as little to do with work as possible during the break and hopefully I’ll be able to spend some time at home, do things that please me, maybe we’ll go on a road trip after Christmas…

Now seeing it’s Food Friday, I’ll talk a little about food. Those of you that read my blog, know that at weekends we like to sit and watch a movie sometime during the weekend. If it s around lunchtime, we usually lunch on a big bowl of home-made popcorn. We dislike the instant microwave variety and pop our own in a popcorn maker and season it in a special way. The secret of the taste is the mixture of herbs and spices we use to flavour it. Here is the secret: Take a large clean plastic bag and put in it salt, pepper, curry powder, a variety of dried herbs, mustard powder, ground dried ginger, paprika, etc (whatever herb or spice you fancy). Then put into the bag your popped corn. Twist the bag closed and shake the pop corn well. Add about half a cup of olive oil into the bag and after twisting closed again, shake the bag well so that the pop corn is well-coated with the herbs, spices and oil. Put into a bowl and if desired reheat in a microwave for a minute. Enjoy!

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday 16 December 2009


“Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone, but primarily by catchwords.” - Robert Louis Stevenson

I am reading a book by Tony Thorne at the moment called: “Shoot the Puppy”, with the subtitle: “A Survival Guide to the Curious Jargon of Modern Life”. It was first published by Penguin in 2006 and is still available. The title and subtitle say it all, and it is an amusing book that attempts to navigate the unwary reader through the “ever-growing heap of bizarre (sometimes downright silly) contemporary jargon from around the English-speaking world and explains where it comes from, who uses it and what it really means.”

In its most positive sense, “jargon”, is a type of professional, efficient shorthand. The word “jargon” can be traced to 14th century Old French, but the actual origin is unknown. “Jargon” is perhaps derived from the 14th century term for “twittering or warbling of birds,” which in turn has the root ‘garg’ from which also stem such words as “gargle,” and “gurgle.” The original meaning was “to make a twittering noise or sound, but by modern standards, it has three uses. One current or modern definition of jargon is “an outlandish, technical language of a particular profession, group, or trade.” Another meaning is “unintelligible writing or talk.” Yet another definition is “specific dialects resulting from a mixture of several languages.” Since the recurring problem with jargon is that only a few people may understand the actual terminology used by different groups, this may explain its origin from “twittering” which, of course, would be misunderstood by most people. However, a “jargonaut”, one who studies jargon, may claim that jargon was invented simply as a professional shorthand, developed out of convenience rather than intentional trickiness.

“Slang”, a word often confused with “jargon” is defined as “an informal vocabulary composed of invented words, arbitrarily changed words, or extravagant figures of speech.” Slang is a compilation of words that have been labelled as “unruly, unrefined, and illogical.” The word “Slang” derived, according to most etymologists, obscurely. The general consensus it that it is related to the standard word “sling” as used in archaic expressions such as “to sling one’s jaw,” meaning to “speak rowdily or insultingly.” Others believe it to be a derivation from the French word for language, “langue.” Quite often, the slang of specific groups (eg. of the underworld) may have been invented or elaborated upon so as to obscure meaning, except to the initiated.

Here are examples of jargon versus slang to describe a “black eye”:
Medical jargon: Unilateral periorbital haematoma;
Slang: A “shiner”.

Now back to the book: What does “to shoot the puppy” mean? Well, I’ll let the author explain in his own words in this extract from the book:

shoot the puppy
meaning: to dare to do the unthinkable

Desperate measures are needed: “There's nothing else for it, we're going to have to shoot the puppy!” This latest bizword was nominated by correspondent David Murray, who described the context in which the phrase is used: “Only the true leader has the strength to challenge ideas which are emotionally sensitive… and do what nobody else has the heart to do.” So shooting the puppy is all about ultra-macho decision-making, several steps beyond “grasping the nettle” or “biting the bullet”. In a corporate climate where down-sizing has become capsizing (“capping” staff numbers until there’s no one left to steer the ship) and right-sizing has given way to downclosing, the idea is often invoked negatively: “I’m not going to be the one to shoot the puppy; we’d better hire in a consultant to recommend the restructuring.”

Of course the phrase has overtones of irony, satirizing the ruthlessness with which business decisions have to be made, but it started out as a satire on another institution; the American television game show. Back in the early 1980s US television producer Chuck Barns used to muse about how far the public would be prepared to go if tempted by greed or fame. He fantasized the ultimate television entertainment in which an audience would be presented with a small child holding a puppy and be offered money to shoot the animal live on air. The host would gradually reduce the amount of cash on offer to see who would do it just to appear on television. Barris, incidentally, may have been inspired by an even earlier magazine cover for National Lampoon, in which a pistol is held to a puppy's head with the caption, “Buy this magazine or die dog gets it.” Maybe Barris’s black satire doesn’t any longer seem so far-fetched, and in a virtual way it has come true. There’s now a video game from called “Just Shoot the Thing!” which allows you to take out your frustrations by scanning in your own targets - boss, client, product, etc. - which can then be shot at.

An alternative version of our phrase, shoot the dog, was used by singer George Michael as the title of a widely banned anti-Iraq War single attacking George W Bush and Tony Blair. Michael was probably alluding also to Wag the Dog (the movie satirizing war-mongering politicians) and to one of my other favourite clichés, "Don't shoot the messenger."


“Summer has set in with its usual severity.” - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The sun beat down in the city today and the predicted temperature maximum of 39˚C was reached by early afternoon. This very hot day came out of the blue, but thankfully tomorrow we are going back to a more manageable 25˚C maximum after a cool change that will come through overnight. Most people weren’t coping too well in the heat, but when I went out the sun felt quite pleasant and I was luxuriating in the summer’s fervid embrace.

The Summer’s Breath

The sun beats down melting the asphalt
The heat haze rising in shape-shifting undulations.
The crowd uneasy, ratty, dazed, scurries short-temperedly,
Looking for shade and cooling draughts, repose.

The city suffocates and breathless, dries up, languishes,
The buildings seemingly turning to wax, melting;
The cars inch along, like portable broiling ovens,
Roasting their occupants that sit basting in sweat.

The Summer’s breath like a dragon’s fiery exhalation;
The sun lashes down, scorching naked flesh.
The air, now still, now twisting in a windy down-draught,
Sears, burns and turns green blades of grass to dried hay.

My heart burns too, and mirrors summer sun,
My skin so cool, in some weird example of relativity;
My lips, though dry and parched, seek cooling kiss,
That will like ice, refresh, relieve, revive.

I take the early train and seek chilled recourse
In lover’s ardent embrace that annuls the heat outside.

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday. Visit her blog for more poems...

Tuesday 15 December 2009


“Do not value money for any more nor any less than its worth; it is a good servant but a bad master.” - Alexandre Dumas fils

For today’s blog I am climbing on my soapbox. This will be a rant, and you are warned to stop reading now as I will be raving on about one of my pet hates: Banks and bankers! Unless you are a banker or have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in bank stocks, I think you may have some gripes that are similar to mine… If this is the case, read on. If you are a banker or an investor, this is not the blog for you, go away!

How often have you gone to a bank and several minutes later after negotiating some transaction you feel your blood pressure rising and the arteries in your brow pulsating? How often have you gone from teller, to customer service officer, to the Section Head and finally to Branch Manager, getting more and more upset after each encounter? How often is it that you have to maintain a point of view (perfectly reasonable and logical) only to have to be forced to abandon because it “doesn’t adhere to bank policy”? And how often is it that you go in to have those cryptic “bank charges” that appear on your account statement deciphered? As far as interest goes, let’s not go there - banks have highway robbery down to a fine art (and it’s all legal).

Bankers are good at making money for themselves and sometimes for their banks (and shareholders), but they are a social liability. A new study published by The New Economics Foundation in the UK has found that bankers are a drain on society. In fact, it estimated that for every $1 a banker creates in terms of value to society, he effectively takes $7 from society -from us! The study rated jobs on how much they help or hinder society through the social, economic and environmental effects of their work. Using these criteria, the study concludes that the view of “bankers creating wealth that eventually trickles down to others” is no longer correct.

Instead, the study says, the actions of high-earning investment bankers had damaging social effects. It was mainly through the actions of these bankers that the global financial system was brought to the brink of collapse, causing jobs to be lost and increasing public debt. The report says that advertising executives and tax accountants also destroy more of society’s wealth as they go about creating their own. They are not only all overpaid, but they are overpaid at the expense of others. The “others” being you and me!

In contrast, lowly-paid workers such as hospital cleaners, waste recyclers and childcare workers are far more valuable. Childcare workers, for example, free up potential wealth for society by helping parents to keep on working generating about $9.50 for every $1 they are paid. Waste recycling workers who promote recycling, reducing carbon emissions and goods being thrown into landfill, generate about $12 for every $1 they earn. Is it a surprise that the Foundation recommended that there needed to be a “fundamental rethink of pay scales”?

Last week there was a tremendous public outcry when Westpac, one of our “successful” banks launched the infamous “banana” advertising campaign to justify its increase of bank charge and interest rates. The bank was embarrassed to the nth degree as the ill-fated advertisement received damning reviews and immense customer backlash:

The patronising tone, the ill-used analogy, the thinly-veiled sarcasm as greed was camouflaged as magnanimous social care are all truly sickening. The bank raised its rates to keep the bankers living in the style they are accustomed to. Pure and simple, no bananas enter the equation at all.

That’s it, rant over, getting down from my soapbox!

Sunday 13 December 2009


“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” - Elizabeth Stone

Yesterday we went for a drive as it was Sunday and we wanted to get out of the house. The weather has been rather cool and wet (which we have been appreciating, don’t get me wrong!), but it has been forcing us indoors more than the season would merit. In any case, the outing was quite a disappointment as the shops looked rather dowdy, the people rushing hither and thither like headless chickens and the atmosphere of Christmas-motivated consumerism quite depressing. Even the decorations were more tinselly than usual and the piped Christmas music a token gesture.

We came back home and sat down to see a movie. It proved to be a good one, which I had heard about but had never actually seen. It was Clint Eastwood’s 1993 “A Perfect World”. It was once again a harrowing movie, but one with a great deal of feeling and one which stays in one’s mind. Clint Eastwood has mellowed in his middle years and old age into an excellent director and in this film where he both directs and acts he does an excellent job.

The plot concerns two prison escapees who barely tolerate one another and want to stick together just enough so as to as to get away from the prison. After escaping, they kidnap a little boy from a single mother who is a Jehovah’s Witness and has three young children to raise. The film has less violence and blood than one would expect from such an outline, but because the violence is sparingly used, it jars one’s sensibilities even more. Butch, played very well by Kevin Kostner, is not a “good guy”, but he is not the worst man either, as he himself says. The boy Phillip (played by TJ Lowther), has been brought up to follow their family’s religion, which forbids him to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, participating in parties, and pretty much any fun common for children of his age. A relationship develops between Butch and Phillip, Phillip seeing in Butch the father he needs, while Butch sees in Phillip himself as a youngster and the son he has never had.

Clint Eastwood plays relatively minor role (Chief Red Garnett - a Texas Ranger who's in charge of Butch’s capture). Laura Dern plays Sally Gerber, a criminologist the Governor forces upon Red has a supporting role, highlighting the male chauvinist attitudes of 1960s Texas. Their function in the script is like a Greek chorus, supplying further information about Butch’s past and commenting on the action. They both do a good job, but the film belongs to Costner, easily one the best roles of his career.

The direction and character development are fantastic, and once again the viewer is led into having ambivalent feelings towards the anti-hero – Butch. One ht one hand, his past with the two murders he has committed repels us, his kidnapping of the boy and his encouragement of the boy to break the law is hardly an attractive part of his character, but one cannot help but feel a warming sympathy towards, especially as we learn more about his background.

The film which is over two hours long doesn’t pall at all and it maintains a good pace, with an easy unfolding of the story, each scene revealing a little more about the complex relationships that are inherent in the plot. The ending of the movie is one of the most tense and sad ones I have seen for a little while and the actors are all excellent in what must have been a particularly taxing one, emotionally. John Lee Hancock, who wrote the script has done a fine job and he is no novice, having several other films in his oeuvre, as writer, director and producer.

See this film, it’s a good one. I’d like your opinion of it if you have seen it.


“Great art picks up where nature ends.” - Marc Chagall

For Art Sunday today, Marc Chagall (1887-1985).  He was born in Vitebsk, Byelorussia to a poor Hassidic family. The eldest of nine children, he studied first in a heder before moving to a secular Russian school, where he began to display his artistic talent. With his mother's support, and despite his father's disapproval, Chagall pursued his interest in art, going to St. Petersburg in 1907 to study art with Leon Bakst. Influenced by contemporary Russian painting, Chagall's distinctive, child-like style, often centring on images from his childhood, began to emerge.

From 1910 to 1914, Chagall lived in Paris, and there absorbed the works of the leading cubist, surrealist, and fauvist painters. It was during this period that Chagall painted some of his most famous paintings of the Jewish shtetl or village, and developed the features that became recognizable trademarks of his art. Strong, and often bright, colours portray the world with a dreamlike, non-realistic simplicity, and the fusion of fantasy, religion, and nostalgia infuses his work with a joyous quality. Animals, workmen, lovers, and musicians populate his figures; the “fiddler on the roof” recurs frequently, often hovering within another scene. Chagall's work of this period displays the influence of contemporary French painting, but his style remains independent of any one school of art. He exhibited regularly in the Salon des Independants.

In 1914, before the outbreak of World War I, Chagall held a one-man show in Berlin, exhibiting work dominated by Jewish images and personages. During the war, he resided in Russia, and in 1917, endorsing the revolution, he was appointed Commissar for Fine Arts in Vitebsk and then director of the newly established Free Academy of Art. The Bolshevik authorities, however, frowned upon Chagall's style of art as too modern, and in 1922, Chagall left Russia, settling in France one year later. He lived there permanently except for the years 1941—1948 when, fleeing France during World War II, he resided in the United States. Chagall's horror over the Nazi rise to power is expressed in works depicting Jewish martyrs and Jewish refugees.

In addition to images of the Hassidic world, Chagall's paintings are inspired by themes from the Bible. His fascination with the Bible culminated in a series of over 100 etchings illustrating the Bible, many of which incorporate elements from Jewish folklore and from religious life in Vitebsk. Chagall's other illustrations include works by Gogol, La Fontaine, Y. L. Peretz, and his autobiographical Ma Vie (1931; My Life 1960) and Chagall by Chagall (1979).

Chagall painted with a variety of media, such as oils, water colours, and gouaches. His work also expanded to other forms of art, including ceramics, mosaics, and stained glass. Among his most famous building decorations are the ceiling of the Opera House in Paris, murals at the New York Metropolitan Opera, a glass window at the United Nations, and decorations at the Vatican. Israel, which Chagall first visited in 1931 for the opening of the Tel Aviv Art Museum, is likewise endowed with some of Chagall's work, most notably the twelve stained glass windows at Hadassah Hospital and wall decorations at the Knesset.

Chagall received many prizes and much recognition for his work. He was also one of very few artists to exhibit work at the Louvre in their lifetime.

In 1963 Chagall was commissioned to paint the new ceiling for the Paris Opera (illustrated above), a majestic 19th-century building and national monument. André Malraux, France's Minister of Culture wanted something unique and decided Chagall would be the ideal artist. However, this choice of artist led to controversy: some objected to having a Russian Jew decorate a French national monument; others took exception to the ceiling of the historic building being painted by a modern artist. Some magazines wrote condescending articles about Chagall and Malraux.

Saturday 12 December 2009


“I believe the future is only the past again, entered through another gate.” - Arthur Wing Pinero

I’m feeling a little flat tonight. Last night I didn’t sleep too well, I’ve had a long day and then tonight even after an unexpected dinner out with friends, driving back home was a rather revelatory experience where old ghosts pursued me, new situations just lived through exasperated me and where the future is mapping itself out as completely different to what I had expected of it until now. Anything seemed possible only yesterday and then today everything is upended and the past seems a better place…

A song from the past, which at the time was greatly significant. Tonight as though I am hearing it for the first time and already it has another meaning…
Mike and the Mechanics – Silent Running

Friday 11 December 2009


“When the wine goes in, strange things come out.” - Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller

Pre-Christmas parties are notorious in the workplace as they can often degenerate into a complete shambles where bosses may make complete fools of themselves, where sexual harassment often rears its ugly head and where many a staid co-worker is outed as the “wild thing” that has been suppressed all year under that cool office-efficient exterior. I have no problems with Christmas parties as I tend not to drink much, circulate a lot and generally ensure that while everyone has a good time, things don’t get out of hand.

This evening we had our work pre-Christmas party. It was in Melbourne’s Greek Precinct on Lonsdale Street at Tsindos Greek Restaurant. We had quite a lot of people there – about 100, which made for a very noisy and crowded do, but fortunately the weather today was cool, which made a difference. It all went well and people enjoyed themselves. It is important to have several of these social functions all year round, giving people a chance to interact and let their hair down. It is also an opportunity for the employer to thank the staff for all their hard work during the past year and for staff to enjoy themselves in an environment where the usual “rules” of the workplace are relaxed, but where they nevertheless are with their workmates.

The party this evening went very well and everyone had a great time. The theme was “wear a Christmas hat” and the best three hats were given prizes. This created a fun atmosphere and many people had gone to a great deal of trouble to adorn their head with all sorts of flights of fancy. This of course contributed to the levity and the mirth.

The food was Greek and was accompanied by an open bar where the alcohol flowed freely. It was comforting to see that most people stayed sober and the most excessive of excesses was that some got up to dance. Here is what we had:
•    Dolmades – stuffed vine leaves, with a fragrant herb-flavoured rice and meat mixture;
•    Keftedakia – small, round, deep-fried meatballs;
•    Spicy prawns – Tossed in a seasoned flour mixture and fried;
•    Chicken drumettes – Tender chicken pieces marinated, seasoned and grilled;
•    Kreatopites – Fried pastry parcels filled with a seasoned meat mixture;
•    Selection of meat cuts, marinated and grilled.

I gave a brief speech (nothing worse than a long speech at these functions) and the winners of the best hats were given their prizes. Everyone had a good time, there was much laughter, collegiality, and enjoyment. Another year is drawing to a close…

Thursday 10 December 2009


“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Gautama Buddha

The festival of the Hanukkah is one of the most popular and joyous of the Jewish festivals. In 2009 it begins at sundown on Friday December 11and is an eight-day holiday both in and outside of Israel. It commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 164 BC, after the armies of Judas Maccabaeus (the “Hammer”) had routed the forces of Antiochus IV.  On that occasion, there was a miraculous relighting of the perpetual light in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The ritual oil that kept the light burning had run out and only enough was left for one day. However, miraculously, the light kept burning for eight days.

To commemorate that event, candles are lit in synagogues and homes.  The menorah is the special candelabrum used for this ritual. One candle is lit every night in each of the seven nights of the festival.  While the Hanukkah lights are burning parties are held, games are played, gifts are exchanged and various other entertainments and plays are featured.  This is as close to Christmas as the Jewish faith gets! Tradition limits work only during the time that the Hanukkah candles are lit.

According to Jewish law, Hanukkah is one of the less important Jewish holidays. However, Hanukkah has become much more popular in modern practice because of its proximity to Christmas. In more liberal Jewish households, this holiday has absorbed many of the Christmas traditions – for example, exchange of gifts, decoration of the house, special family dinners, etc. Many parents hope that by making Hanukkah extra special their children won't feel left out of all the Christmas festivities going on around them.

Hanukkah falls on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar based, every year the first day of Hanukkah falls on a different day – usually sometime between late November and late December. Every community has its unique Hanukkah traditions, but there are some traditions that are almost universally practiced. They are: Lighting the hanukkiyah, spinning the dreidel and eating fried foods.

Lighting the hanukkiyah: Every year it is customary to commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah oil by lighting candles on a hanukkiyah. The hanukkiyah is lit every night for eight nights.

Spinning the dreidel: A popular Hanukkah game is spinning the dreidel, which is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters written on each side. Gelt, which are chocolate coins covered with tin foil, are part of this game.

Eating fried foods: Because Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot during the holiday. Latkes are pancakes made out of potatoes and onions, which are fried in oil and then served with applesauce. Sufganiyot (singular: sufganiyah) are jam-filled donuts that are fried and sometimes dusted with confectioners’ sugar before eating.

Hanukkah |ˈ kh änəkə; ˈhänəkə| (also Chanukah) noun
a lesser Jewish festival, lasting eight days from the 25th day of Kislev (in December) and commemorating the rededication of the Temple in 165 bc by the Maccabees after its desecration by the Syrians. It is marked by the successive kindling of eight lights.
ORIGIN from Hebrew ḥănukkāh ‘consecration.’

Wednesday 9 December 2009


“An old man in love is like a flower in winter.” - Portuguese Proverb

I am mindful of the Northern Hemisphere Winter approaching, being reminded of it in what fellow bloggers are writing in their blogs here at Blogger. For the last few days and for the next few, even here in Springtime Melbourne, temperatures have been relatively low (necessitating turning the heater on in the morning!) and we have got some welcome rain, also. This juxtaposition of the seasons Northern and Southern is something that my mind turns to often. I guess that’s my Northern Hemisphere genes stepping in, even in my Southern Hemisphere existence.

Here is a beautiful poem by Heinrich Heine that contrasts the snowy Winter of lovelessness with the Springtime blossoming of love…

New Spring (1)

Sitting underneath white branches
Far you hear winds are wailing;
Overhead you see the cloudbanks
Wrap themselves in misty veiling,

See how on bare field and forest
Cold and barren death is seizing;
Winter’s round you, winter’s in you,
And your very heart is freezing.

Suddenly white flakes come falling
Down on you; and vexed and soured
You suppose some tree has shaken
Over you a snowy shower.

But it is no snow that’s fallen,
Soon you see with joyful start –
Look, it’s fragrant almond blossoms
Come to ease and tease your heart.

What a thrilling piece of magic!
Winter’s turned to May for you,
Snow’s transmuted into blossoms,
And your heart’s in love anew.
Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

The poem has been translated into Greek by Angelos Vlahou, and set to music by Manolis Zaharakis. Here it is, sung by Greek singer, Eleni Dimou.

Jacqui BB is hosting Poetry Wednesday!

Monday 7 December 2009


“Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.” - C.P. Snow

You may recall a few weeks ago when I blogged about an image I had found on the web and did not know who it was painted by. I bemoaned the fact that I wasn’t able to upload it and get Google to search the web for me to find out what it was (I since did find out what the image was through some detective work and the help of one of my readers). Well, it looks like that I did not have to wait that long to see my request made into reality! Well, in principle, anyway!

Google has launched a new application for the Google Android mobile phone that allows you to search for more information about a landmark by taking a picture of it with your Android phone and submitting it to a Google application known as “Google Goggles”. At this stage, the application can recognise landmarks, works of art, books, wine labels and company logos. In the near future, I can see it recognising famous faces, and as we move into the future other images will taggle along…

The way that it works is that when the user takes a picture of the feature in question, the phone sends it to the Google databases where elements of the photographed image are compared with features of images on the Google databases. When a match is made, Google notifies the user what they are looking at and provide a list of web references and news stories relating to that identified item. What also helps is that Google can use the user’s location (through the GPS locator in the phone) to aid in the ID process (take a picture of a faraway landmark in a poster at your place of residence and see if that will confuse the poor dear!).

Google maintains that tens of millions of locations, landmarks, logos, etc can be recognised. As I pointed out in my earlier blog, searching by an image is so much more convenient in many cases, and an image search on a mobile phone through a captured image can be so much easier than text searches.

The whole concept brings to the fore the developing technology in computer vision (and by extension of course, robot vision). This is technology still in its infancy, but one can see the tremendous potential of applications such as Google Goggles. We may be soon approaching the time where we may simply point our finger at something and through our special decorative ring-cum-camera-cum-phone, and then through our speaker-enabled sunglasses hearing a description of what we are pointing to…

Google has also started to add real-time results to its search engine, channelling feeds from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other user content that has just been added by web users, in response to queries. This means that the person doing the search gets answers to their query on a results page as the content is being generated on the source website. Google once again claims that this is the first time a search engine has integrated real-time web-content into a web search results page.

Once again, this latest development raises some questions. How reliable will such search results be, if all sorts of live, real-time results are given from the myriad of blogs, tweets, and other content, which may be (and often definitely is) quite spurious? How do we tell rubbish is rubbish? There was much adverse publicity lately about the reliability of information in Wikipedia. This was because of malicious feeding of specious or fallacious information into Wikipedia articles by malfeasants and other people with ulterior motives. We live in an age of excess information. Being able to filter this information and derive form it the useful, genuine and reliable bits is quite an art. It will become an even bigger art in the future as we are surrounded by even more information, which will become increasingly more easily available. How do we go about navigating through this dangerous sea of excess data? Will this superabundance of information be a boon or a curse?

What do you think?


“Vanity, revenge, loneliness, boredom, all apply: Lust is one of the least of the reasons for promiscuity.” - Mignon McLaughlin

At the weekend we watched a 1947 British film directed by Michael Powell and Emmeric Pressburger, their “Black Narcissus”. This was a technicolour film, which used colour to great effect, but also with great restraint when it needed to. The cinematography by Jack Cardiff is quite stunning, especially considering that the scenery was mostly painted backdrops and involved glass backing shots (considering it was 62 years ago), were quite sophisticated an very realistic. Ivor Beddoes the scenic artist who also looked after the special effects did a remarkably good job. The music, costumes, sound and technical production of the film were also all quite remarkable. We watched the movie on BluRay and it was a superb quality experience.

The plot concerns five young British nuns who are invited to move to a windy “palace”, the former residence of the concubines of an old general, on the top of a mountain in Mopu, in the Himalayas. Their mission is to convert the “house of sin” to the convent of Saint Faith, with a school for children and girls, and an infirmary for the local people. Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is assigned as the sister superior, and her liaison with civilisation is the rude but very manly, government agent Mr. Dean (David Farrar). Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) is rather unstable and the isolation, her jealousy of Sister Clodagh and her carnal desire of Mr Dean, become the impetus for a many tragic event.

The plot is embroidered with a couple of sub-plots, one involving a liaison between servant girl Kanchi (Jean Simmons) and the Young General (Sabu), while another involves the interaction of the Westerners with the natives, especially the culture clash on matters of religion, medicine and love. Flora Robson plays Sister Philippa, the nun in charge of the garden who has to battle her own demons, while May Hallatt plays with great gusto the native housekeeper of the convent Angu Ayah. David Farrar makes great effort to appear dashing, but the unfortunate choice of costume in the initial scenes provoked laughter with us. His floppy hat with feathers, shot-sleeved shirt, shorts and sandals have got to be seen to be appreciated!

This was an engaging, well-crafted film based on Rumer Godden’s novel, which was made through the efforts of many talented people in a manner that is rarely replicated nowadays. The acting was superb, with top honours going to Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron, whose screen interaction was quite electric. Kathleen Byron’s portrayal of the unbalanced Sister Ruth is masterly, although it may appear a little melodramatic to today’s audiences. Deborah Kerr’s acting centres on her face and every muscle, every blink, every twitch is significant and well played. Jean Simmons has a silent role, but manages to be very winsome and plays her scenes with great enjoyment.

I recommend the film to everyone who enjoys old movies, especially those of a more sedentary, cerebral nature. The plot is rich in innuendo and there is much to be read into simple remarks and fleeting glimpses afforded to us by the camera. Incidentally the “Black Narcissus” of the title is a perfume and symbol of decadence and moral terpitude. There are no car chases, no elephant stampedes and no battle scenes in this movie. However, it was a delight to watch and artistically it was one of the best British films of the 1940s I have seen.