Saturday 10 January 2009


“Love's first snow-drop, virgin kiss.” - Robert Burns

It’s 11:30 pm and I’m looking out of the window at the moon, which is nearly full. The sky is clear and the silvery light is making everything delicate and fragile. The garden looks as though it’s something out of a fairy tale. And yet the silvery light makes the shadows look even darker. The delicacy of the moonlight makes the leaves shine and sparkle, but in the darkness a cat’s eyes are fiery like a devil’s. What to sing this moonlit night for Song Saturday?

Here is Maria Nazionale singing a popular Neapolitan song, “Ciao, Ciao”. Star-crossed lovers who are separated and meet up again years later after much has changed, or has it?

Ciao, ciao…

Goodbye, you mustn’t cry,
Goodbye, if you want to, write to me,
Goodbye, I love you, believe me, I do!
Goodbye, you’ll see that I’ll come back…

You loved him the minute you saw him,
He was the man of your dreams.
He was the tenderness you were looking for.
He was the first man you kissed.
And now, a hug you know will be the last…

Ciao, ciao…
Goodbye, you mustn’t cry,
Goodbye, if you want to, write to me,
Goodbye, I love you, believe me, I do!
Goodbye, put your coat on, it’s cold,
Goodbye, leave me now, they’ve called you already,
Goodbye, you’ll see that I’ll come back…


Even if he came back, he’s got married.
You see him and you still feel your heart miss beats,
Yes, maybe you still love him..
He was the first man you kissed.
You’ve never forgotten him,
You’ve never forgotten that kiss…

Ciao, ciao…
Goodbye – but how many kids must he have now?
Goodbye – he’s put on a bit of weight…
Goodbye – where does he live now?
Goodbye – let’s meet, let’s see one another…
Goodbye – how’s your mother?
Goodbye – and his wife? What’s her name?
Goodbye – maybe she’s prettier than me…

Goodbye, you mustn’t cry,
Goodbye, if you want to, write to me,
Goodbye, I love you, believe me, I do!
Goodbye, leave me now, they’ve called you already,
Goodbye, you’ll see that I’ll come back…
Goodbye, it’s cold, I must put my coat on…

Thursday 8 January 2009


“In Mexico we have a word for sushi: Bait.” - José Simons

Avocadoes are in season here at the moment and they are a very versatile fruit/vegetable, which as well being healthy and nutritious, taste delicious. There are numerous ways one may eat avocadoes, raw or cooked, but one can’t go past the classic way that they often served in Latin America, in guacamole. Guacamole is a word derived from Latin American Spanish, from Nahuatl ahuacamolli, from ahuacatl “avocado” + molli “sauce”. There are many different ways to make guacamole, but mashed avocado mixed with chopped onion, tomatoes, chili peppers, and seasonings are the base ingredients. Here is a recipe for guacamole the way we make it at home. Feel free to vary it and experiment with it, until you arrive at your own definitive version.

2 Avocadoes
1 Onion, finely minced
2 Limes juiced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste (about 1 tsp. to 1 tbsp.)

Cut open the avocadoes, remove the seed, scoop out the flesh and crush them in a bowl in which you have squeezed the lime juice, mixing well all the while. Add the minced onion and the salt. Blend in the olive oil, a little at a time. Add more lime juice if you want to.
Serve with tortilla chips, salsa and bean dip (see below).

1 Onion, diced
2 Tablespoons lime juice
3 Medium tomatoes, diced in small pieces
A bunch coriander leaves, chopped
Jalapeno peppers
Serano peppers
Salt to taste

Chop and mix all ingredients. The chunkiness of the salsa depends on how big you chop the ingredients, so it is up to you to give it your individual preference. Jalapeno peppers are very hot and have irritant compounds in them (do not touch your eyes when you are chopping them up and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards!). Obviously the hotness/spiciness of the salsa will depend on the quantity of jalapenos used. Season to taste and let the salsa sit for 1 –2 hours before serving.

Bean Dip Ingredients
1 Small can of white beans
2 Heaped tablespoons sour cream
1 Tablespoon of powdered onion soup
Salt to taste
Olive oil

Drain the beans well. Heat the oil in a pan and quickly fry the beans until they are well heated through. Add the onion soup powder and stir well, cooking until the beans are just beginning to turn golden brown. Remove from heat and add the sour cream, stirring well (you may add more cream depending on how creamy you want the dip). Season and let the dip to cool.

Bon Appétit!


“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.” - Oscar Wilde

Thomas Beatie, the “pregnant man” achieved notoriety last year when he gave birth to a daughter. “He” is now pregnant again.

We watched Thomas Beatie and his wife Nancy being interviewed on a Greek talk show program on satellite TV yesterday. They talked about his first pregnancy and his current one, about the couple’s relationship, their ideas about their family, and the way the pregnancies occurred. The discussion went on to explore gender, sex, traditional sex and family roles, and several guests including a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a gynaecologist, a paediatrician and a journalist also put their two bobs worth in.

We were left rather puzzled by this program. I would like to consider myself a tolerant and open-minded person who respects people’s freedom to live their life as they choose, provided they do not harm others when doing so. Science and medicine have advanced enough in order to help us understand homosexuality, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, hermaphroditism, etc, etc. In a civilised society we no longer burn these people at the stake, but rather try to understand them and help them live their life in a way that makes them feel part of the community and live in a way that they can contribute to society and have a fulfilling life.

I say all of this because the Thomas Beatie case created quite a great deal of confusion in my mind. Thomas Beatie maintains he is a man and the state of Oregon in the USA recognizes him legally as a man. However, Thomas Beatie has a uterus and ovaries (which he chose not to have removed when he started taking male hormones) and this to my mind makes “him” more of a biological woman than a man, no matter what the state of Oregon or he says he is. The case of “his” pregnancy –biologically is ludicrous. Biologically Thomas Beatie is female and “he” had a normal, uterine female pregnancy. “He” delivered “his” baby normally, through the birth canal.

A man does not have a uterus and the only way he could become pregnant would be to firstly be dosed up with female hormones, making his body receptive to the implantation of an embryo. The fertilised ovum (prepared easily via in-vitro methods – a donated ovum and the man’s own sperm if so desired) would then be surgically implanted into the peritoneal cavity. This results in what is called an ectopic pregnancy. It can also occur naturally in a woman if the fertilised ovum implants outside the uterine cavity. In this latter case, the pregnancy in the abdominal cavity has a viability rate of about 5%. Most ectopic pregnancies result in the death of the embryo and/or a massive, life-threatening haemorrhage for the mother. One would assume that the same complications (or even worse) would be seen in an ectopic pregnancy in a man. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that an ectopic pregnancy could be carried to term by a man.

I don’t think that a normal man would ever want to have such a pregnancy in his body, although there are several other biological men with gender dysphorias, or of different sexual orientation, or of specific circumstances who may be attracted to the idea. One is reminded of the urban myth several years back, that promised the first man to have a baby a gift of a million British pounds…

And this is where my unease with the Beaties began. They could have done whatever they wanted and kept it to themselves. A little discretion on their part and the confidentiality of medical records would have assured them of privacy and a more or less normal family once the pregnancy ended. Instead they chose to make of their circumstances a media circus. Why? I suspect that money lies at the bottom of this rather (as it has become) sordid story. For every interview, for every media appearance, for every photograph, the Beaties’ bank account gets a little fatter. The million British pounds story may in fact become reality!

We have become a society of virtual ghouls that like to feast on salacious gossip. Nothing is private any more, nothing is sacred, nothing is sacrosanct. We speak about everything publically and we do not think of the consequences. Did this couple think of the consequences their preset actions will have on their child as it grows up? Will the strange sex roles at home imprint on its young psyche in adverse ways?

Thomas Beatie came from a home environment that was disrupted. His mother committed suicide when he was young and he grew up in a house full of males. He describes how he always felt “male” and at the first opportunity (interestingly after he met Nancy, his current partner) he took male hormones. He had a breast reduction operation. However, he chose to retain the fundamental female biology – ovaries, uterus and birth canal. That to me denotes a “she” not a “he”, no matter how hairy the face is and how muscular the physique. I am a little concerned for the little girl growing up in this unusual family. If Thomas Beatie’s new baby is a male one, then that child may grow up even more confused. Growing up in a loving family, whatever that family comprises may be a good step in bringing up well-adjusted children, but fundamental biological, psychological, behavioural and deeply ingrained instinctive patterns not only determine who we are, but how we influence people’s behaviour around us.

As well as the family, we depend on society for our conditioning and our successful assumption of the roles that we traditionally associate with a normal family unit and which biologically and sociologically have worked for centuries. The publicity surrounding the Beatie children will generate much negativity while they grow up. Not everyone is as loving and as non-conditionally accepting as these children’s parents. Some people already see the Beaties as freaks and they will extend the same characterization to their children. Hence my question earlier. Why did they not keep their activities private? Surely, all the money in the world is not worth the possible hardship that their children will have to live through while growing up?
Aptly, my word for the day is “gender”:

gender |ˈjendər| noun
1 Grammar (in languages such as Latin, Greek, Russian, and German) each of the classes (typically masculine, feminine, common, neuter) of nouns and pronouns distinguished by the different inflections that they have and require in words syntactically associated with them. Grammatical gender is only very loosely associated with natural distinctions of sex.
• the property (in nouns and related words) of belonging to such a class: Adjectives usually agree with the noun in gender and number.
2 the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones): Traditional concepts of gender | [as adj. ] gender roles.
• the members of one or other sex: Differences between the genders are encouraged from an early age.

ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French gendre (modern genre), based on Latin genus ‘birth, family, nation.’ The earliest meanings were [kind, sort, genus] and [type or class of noun, etc.] (which was also a sense of Latin genus).

USAGE The word gender has been used since the 14th century primarily as a grammatical term, referring to the classes of noun in Latin, Greek, German, and other languages designated as masculine, feminine, or neuter. It has also been used since the 14th century in the sense ‘the state of being male or female,’ but this did not become a common standard use until the mid 20th century. Although the words gender and sex both have the sense ‘the state of being male or female,’ they are typically used in slightly different ways: sex tends to refer to biological differences, while gender tends to refer to cultural or social ones.

Tuesday 6 January 2009


“Lord save us all from a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.” - Mark Twain

The more I listen to the news the more disheartened I become and the more convinced I am that we heading towards imminent disaster. The Fool of the tarot pack comes to mind, who recklessly walks right up to the precipice despite the best efforts of his little dog who tries to warn him and bring him back to safety. What is happening to us? Is the human race doomed to destroy itself? Have we become so corrupt, so degenerate, so arrogant, so selfish, so violent and so foolish that there is no other option open to us except self-destruction? The darkness that has taken hold of our collective souls seems hard to shake off. To hope for a dawn seems to be pointless.

However, as I think of it, there have surely been many other times in history when the world seemed close to destruction. How did the Romans feel when the Vandal hordes sacked their empire and brought Rome to its knees? How did the Byzantines cope with the fall of Constantinople when the Ottoman warriors painted the streets red with blood and burnt the civilisation of centuries to cinders? How did soldiers in WW I trenches feel as they saw the wasteland of the Western Front and they breathed in death in the form of poisonous clouds of phosgene?

To survive as a species is difficult in the best of times, even for a dominant one (ask the dinosaurs!). In difficult times would it be best to hope for intervention by an external agency – whatever that may be? I feel not. I think both our destruction and our salvation lies within ourselves. We have the capability of either destroying ourselves or saving ourselves. What it will be, will be determined by how soon we wake up to the immense magnitude of the threat that lies ahead us. It is time to take heed of the yapping little dog at our feet, as the precipice below us is deep, dark and promises us certain self-destruction.

Peripheral Vision

In darkness how blind the eyes,
When they look straight ahead:
Peripheral vision much more acute,
And strangely, more perceptive.

How cool logic is often dulled
In drear darknesses of the soul,
Emotion responds more sensitively,
Not surprisingly, more perceptive.

Our preconceptions, how they shade
The bright colours of our existence!
Innocence, if we let it, will allow
Our heart to be more perceptive.

The blindness of unquestioning dogma,
Of mindless religiosity,
How often has it cast us into darkness?
Tolerance lets us be, more perceptive.

Darkness and light can both blind us,
Excess of either cannot be distinguished.
A fine line divides sufficiency from surfeit,
Wise moderation is difficult,
Enlightenment so chimeric,
True perception almost unattainable…

Monday 5 January 2009


“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.” - Rabindranath Tagore

January 6th is celebrated in the Western Church as Epiphany and in the Orthodox faith it is known as the Holy Theophany. The churches following the “old style” (Julian) calendar celebrate Theophany on January 19th. In Hispanic and Latin culture, as well as some places in Europe, it is known as Three Kings’ Day (Spanish: El Dia de los Tres Reyes, la Fiesta de los Reyes, or el Dia de los Reyes Magos; Dutch: Driekoningendag).

Epiphany is the climax of the Advent/Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are usually counted from the evening of December 25th until the morning of January 6th, which is the Twelfth Day. In following this older custom of counting the days beginning at sundown, the evening of January 5th is the Twelfth Night. This is an occasion for feasting in some cultures, including the baking of a special Kings’ Cake as part of the festivities of Epiphany (a Kings’ Cake is part of the observance of Mardi Gras in French Catholic culture of the Southern USA). In some church traditions, only the full days are counted so that January 5th is the Eleventh Day of Christmas, January 6th is the Twelfth Day, and the evening of January 6th is counted as the Twelfth Night.

For many Protestant church traditions, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6th until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent leading to Easter. Depending on the timing of Easter, this longer period of Epiphany includes from four to nine Sundays. Other traditions, especially the Roman Catholic tradition, observe Epiphany as a single day, with the Sundays following Epiphany counted as Ordinary Time. In some western traditions, the last Sunday of Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday.

The term epiphany means “to show” or “to make known”. In Western churches, it commemorates the visit of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing “reveal” Jesus to the world as Lord and King. In some Central and South American countries influenced by Catholic tradition, Three Kings’ Day, or the night before, is the time for opening Christmas presents. In most eastern churches, and especially so the Orthodox ones, Epiphany or the Theophany (meaning “manifestation of God”) commemorates Jesus’ baptism, the visit of the Magi in these churches linked to Christmas.

As with most aspects of the Christian liturgical calendar, Epiphany has theological significance as a teaching tool in the church. The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as “King” and so were the first to “show” or “reveal” Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ. The day is now observed as a time of focussing on the mission of the church in reaching others by “showing” Jesus as the Saviour. It is a time of focussing on Christian brotherhood and fellowship, especially in healing the divisions of prejudice and bigotry that we all too often create between God’s children.

In the Eastern churches, the holiday is associated with the manifestation of Christ as Son of God and is a feast day associated with brilliance and light, blessing of the waters and the celebration of the end of the Christmas Season.

Here is a traditional Greek carol sung on the day of the Theophany.


“Peace hath higher tests of manhood than battle ever knew.” - John Greenleaf Whittier

For Movie Monday today, a film we watched some months ago and which has stayed in my mind and is quite apt given the events in the Gaza Strip. It is the 1987 “Wedding in Galilee”, written and directed by Michel Khleifi. It is an Israeli/Palestinian/French/Belgian co-production and is a film that is complex and rich, even though quite episodic and of almost documentary, anthropological interest.

The film as the title suggests is about a wedding in Galilee (which immediately brings to mind the biblical wedding at Cana). A Palestinian asks the Israeli administration permission so as to have the curfew waived such that he is able to give his son a fine wedding. The military governor agrees, on the condition that he and his officers attend the wedding. The father of the groom accepts, but the groom berates his father for agreeing to this condition.

Much of the film is taken up with the traditions surrounding a Palestinian wedding with the women ritually preparing the bride; men preparing the groom. The guests begin to arrive and to gather, giving opportunity to Palestinian youths to plot violence against the Israelis. A female Israeli officer swoons in the heat and the Palestinian women take her into the cool house to recover. A valuable horse gets loose and runs into a minefield. Israeli soldiers and Palestinians must cooperate if they are to rescue it. Darkness falls and tensions between the army and the villagers become more acute. The film is hampered in this part by the very dark exposure and bewildering action that confuses and befuddles the viewer. Although this may be symbolic, there is no question about he symbolism of the groom’s wedding-night anger and impotence, which threaten family dignity and honour. Will the situation implode in on itself with massively destructive results or will the two conflicting sides reach some sort of amicable understanding?

As I mentioned before this is an interesting film, examining traditional village customs and a study of the tensions inherent in the Israeli/Palestinian coexistence in a land they both claim as their own through centuries of occupation. The exploration of ethnic, generational, political and gender divides was patchy, but an astute viewer will read between the lines and perhaps this is what the director is aiming at. The portrayal of Palestinian men as proud but powerless, ashamed and angry epitomizes the situation we see even today in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian father is powerless to keep the Israelis away from his son’s wedding, but once they are his guests, relieved that there is incompetency in planning and carrying out an attack against them. The code of hospitality and the code of honour clash but the highly symbolic horse episode brings to the fore the need for cooperation in order to achieve a commonly acceptable and beneficial goal.

Palestinian women are portrayed as more sensitive, sensual, peaceful and more willing to work together with the “enemy”. There was a none too subtle eroticism portrayed in the interactions between the women, but this may be my very simplistic reading of it. One could argue that these erotic overtones simply demonstrated the regard the women have for one another and the sisterly love that they feel for one another.

This was not a great movie by any means – it had too many “cinematic double faults” in it - however, it was a movie that was fascinating to watch and extremely thought-provoking. It tackled some core issues of the Middle East and showed that reconciliation is the only way that survival of all can be assured.

Sunday 4 January 2009


“An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” - Mahatma Gandhi

The horror of the pictures from the conflict in the Gaza Strip continues to assault our senses in all of the news bulletins here and it is hard to ignore this new escalation of the violence in the region. Is peace possible in this troubled land or is Nostradamus right – this is where World War III will start? Is this the Holy Land, where unholy warfare is being carried out and Jews, Moslems and Christians try to outdo one another in the depths of their atrocities?

For Art Sunday today, art and a poem from Palestinians:

Wall Against Our Breath

We witness October in flames,
and every other month following,
is the same, the streets

we walk through a reminder

of who we are and what they will

never make of us…

human portraits in corners
we forget to look at or forget to reach…

pictures stuck on walls as if
they belong nowhere

a groom and bride forced to wed
anywhere but where they should,

and yet, we keep asking:

what victory blows candles out

what sea speaks of another sea
Nathalie Handal

The artist is Faten Tobasi and the title of the work is “View from Akka”