Saturday 17 January 2009


“We do not remember days; we remember moments.” – Cesare Pavese

Nostalgia again today for Song Saturday. Silvana Mangano was one of the great actresses of post-WWII Italy and she made several classic films. One of these was the 1951 weepie, “Anna”.

Anna is the story of a woman with a past that catches up with her. A young girl, Anna, falls in love with a soldier during the war and their acquaintance develops into a love affair. The soldier is reassigned, Anna becomes depressed and takes a wrong turn, becoming a cabaret singer and dancer. She receives news that her lover has been killed and decides to leave her life of sin and atone for it by becoming a nun. The past, however, will not leave her in peace especially as she is brought face to face with a man from her past…

Several catchy songs were in this movie, which became world-wide hits in the 50s. Here is “El Negro Zumbon”, with Silvana doing her thing in the night club.

The other song which is remembered more as sung by Nat King Cole is “Non Dimenticar…”: Don’t forget that I’ve loved you deeply… What if fate separated us, what if you are so far away from me, I always feel I’m next to you…

However, this is the original version!

Ahhhh, they don’t write songs like that any more!

Friday 16 January 2009


“In nothing do men more nearly approach the gods than in giving health to men.” - Cicero

I was speaking to a family friend the other day and she was talking about her food intolerance and how adversely it affects her life. She constantly has to be on her guard because if she consumes any of the foods that cause her distress, it can lead to an extremely unpleasant set of consequences that make her life miserable. One the things that she always had to do is read very carefully the ingredients list on all packaged avoiding those that contain the offending foodstuffs. Other acquaintances suffer from food allergies, with rather dramatic and even more dangerous consequences than those of a simpler intolerance. Contrary to popular belief, food allergies are rare. Most reactions to food are an intolerance. The symptoms of allergies and intolerances usually affect three main sites of the body, the skin, the respiratory and the digestive systems.
Allergies are an over-reaction of the body’s immune system to a specific component, usually a protein. These proteins may be from foods, pollens, house dust, animal hair or moulds and these substances are known as allergens. The word ‘allergy’ means that the immune system has responded to a harmless substance as if it were toxic. Allergic reactions occur in genetically predisposed people, which explain why “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”…

Food intolerance is a specific adverse reaction that some people have after eating or drinking; it is not an immune response. Food intolerance has been associated with asthma, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Food intolerance is much more common than food allergy. Food intolerances also have a genetic component and in some cases are associated with abnormal metabolic reactions occurring because some metabolic pathway in the body is somehow compromised. The symptoms of food allergies are often difficult to distinguish from those of intolerance. As these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, medical diagnosis is always needed.

Symptoms of food intolerance may be immediate or delayed and are often triggered only after a threshold level of exposure is reached. They can include the following: Nervousness, tremor; sweating, palpitations, rapid breathing, headache, migraine, diarrhoea, burning sensations on the skin, tightness across the face and chest, allergy-like reactions due to histamine and other amines in some foods, asthma from food containing benzoates, salicylates, MSG and sulphite derivatives.

Symptoms of food allergy tend to be more immediate and can be life-threatening. Common symptoms include: Itching, burning and swelling around the mouth, runny nose, skin rash and hives, eczema, urticaria (skin becomes red and raised), diarrhoea, abdominal cramps breathing difficulties, including wheezing and asthma, vomiting, nausea, life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Allergies are on the increase worldwide and in recent times, food allergies have become more prevalent, particularly peanut allergy in preschool children. In June 2002, 6.2% of preschool children in NSW had a food allergy, with the reported prevalence of peanut and nut allergy at less than 2 per cent. About 60 per cent of allergies appear during the first year of life, with cow’s milk allergy being one of the most common in early childhood. Most children grow out of it before they start school. Less than one per cent of adults have food allergy. About 90% of allergies are caused by nuts, eggs, milk or soy. Peanut allergy is one of the most common allergies in older children. Other foods that cause allergies include (in order from the most common):
* Egg
* Peanut
* Milk
* Other nuts
* Sesame
* Fish
* Grains such as rye, wheat, oats
* Soy
* Molluscs, such as oysters, mussels, clam, squid and octopus
* Crustaceans, such as lobster, prawn, crab, shrimp
* Fruit, berries, tomato, cucumber, white potato or mustard.

The foods that tend to cause intolerance reactions in sensitive people include:
* Dairy products, including milk, cheese and yoghurt
* Chocolate
* Egg, particularly egg white
* Flavour enhancers such as MSG (monosodium glutamate)
* Food additives
* Strawberries, citrus fruits and tomatoes
* Wine, particularly red wine.

Reactions may not always occur, as they are usually related to the amount of food consumed. A small amount may not cause any reaction. In most cases, symptoms appear within a few minutes of eating the particular food, which makes pinpointing the allergen an easy task. However, if the cause is unknown, diagnostic tests may be needed such as:
* Keeping a food and symptoms diary to check for patterns.
* Cutting out all suspect foods for two weeks, then reintroducing them one at a time to test for reactions (except in cases of anaphylaxis).
* Skin prick tests using food extracts.
* Blood tests.

The easiest way to treat a food allergy or intolerance is to eliminate it from the diet. Sometimes, the body can tolerate the food if it is avoided for a time, then reintroduced in small doses. Before you eliminate foods from your diet, seek advice from a doctor or dietitian. In Australia, the December 2002 Food Standards Code requires food labelling to declare certain substances in foods and certain foods including:
* Cereals containing gluten and their products
* Crustacea and their products
* Egg and egg products
* Fish and fish products
* Milk and milk products
* Nuts and sesame seeds and their products
* Peanuts and soybeans, and their products
* Added sulphites in concentrations of 10mg/kg or more
* Royal Jelly presented as food or present in food, bee pollen and propolis.

These foods must be declared whenever they are used as an ingredient or part of a compound ingredient (even if they are carry-over ingredients); a food additive or compound of a food additive; a processing aid or component of a processing aid.

All foods produced after December 2002 must bear labels that comply with new labelling laws. To avoid allergic foods, learn the terms used to describe these foods on foods labels, for example:
* Milk protein - milk, non-fat milk solids, cheese, yoghurt, caseinates, whey, lactose.
* Lactose - milk, lactose.
* Egg - eggs, egg albumen, egg yolk, egg lecithin
* Gluten - wheat, barley, rye, triticale, wheat bran, malt, oats, cornflour, oatbran.
* Soy -soybeans, hydrolysed vegetable protein, soy protein isolate, soy lecithin.
* Salicylates - strawberries and tomatoes.

Your doctor and a dietician may be able to help you live a more or less normal life even if you have a serious allergy, but it vey definitely a case where your health and well-being lies squarely in your own hands and you have to take responsibility personally.

Thursday 15 January 2009


“One should examine oneself for a very long time before thinking of condemning others.” - Molière

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Jean Baptiste Poquelin Molière, French playwright born in 1622. Molière is rated by most critics as the greatest comic dramatist of all times and considered worthy to stand beside Aristophanes and Shakespeare. He wrote:

“’Tis a mighty stroke at any vice to make it the laughing stock of everybody; for men will easily suffer reproof; but they can by no means endure mockery. They will consent to be wicked but not ridiculous.”

These lines were written in defense of his play “Tartuffe” ranked as his most outstanding and most representative of plays. In the 17th century powerful cliques attempted to censor every play that did not happen to coincide with their own views or selfish interests. We can realise the bitterness of the campaign against Tartuffe from the fact that it was not finally licensed for public performance until more than three years after its first performance before Louis XIV. “Tartuffe” is about a religious hypocrite and the public outcry that followed the play was initiated by a group of ‘Dévots’ (ostensibly devout people, very influential in the French court at the time, but also very opportunistic and hypocritical).

“Molière” was in reality only the stage name assumed when as a young man the playwright joined a group of strolling players. So famous did he make it, that few of us today recognise the surname “Poquelin”. Molière’s father was a prosperous tradesman, upholsterer to the King by appointment. Since this was a hereditary honour, the son shrewdly made use of it to establish and strengthen himself in the King’s favour, when, after twelve years in the provinces, he returned to Paris.

These twelve years of trouping and training not only made Molière a comedian of unsurpassed ability, but they also gave him that insight into life and character that were to make his later comedies outstanding. He was 36 years old when he returned to establish himself in Paris. At 40, successful in his profession and in prosperous circumstances, he married the twenty-year-old sister of Madeleine Bejart, his leading lady. Owing probably to the disparity in their ages and to his own jealousy, the marriage was not wholly a success. This with the death of a favorite son, and the constantly increasing attacks of the various groups who had found themselves and their pretensions the butt of Molière's biting satire, made his later years unhappy. He still wrote and acted his own plays, however, and it was in the midst of a stage performance that he burst a blood vessel in a fit of coughing and died shortly thereafter.

Fit to be ranked with his masterpiece, “Tartuffe”, are other of his such as “Don Juan”, “The Misanthrope”, “The Learned Ladies”, “The Bourgeois Gentleman”, “The Imaginary Invalid” and a host of lesser comedies all of which are still read and revived to this day.
The word of the day is fittingly:

Tartuffe |tärˈtoōf| noun poetic/literary or humorous
A religious hypocrite, or a hypocritical pretender to excellence of any kind.

ORIGIN: from the name of the principal character (a religious hypocrite) in Molière's Tartuffe (1664).

Tartufferie |-ˈtoōfərē| (also Tartuffery) noun

The 2007 French film of Laurent Tirard, “Moliére”, is an enjoyable and semi-fictionalised account of a “lost period” in Moliére’s life and is reminiscent of the play “The Bourgeois Gentleman”. Quite a treat if you can lay your hands on it.

Wednesday 14 January 2009


“Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him.” - Albert Schweitzer

Each day I commute to work on the train. In the City around the railway station one sees all sorts of people: Many of the regular fellow-commuters, the newspaper sellers, the waiters and café owners who are up early opening their businesses, some early morning tourists walking around with map in hand, delivery men parking their trucks and unloading their consignments, workmen fixing some faults on the road and of course all of the morning hustle and bustle of a city waking up to a new day and preparing for a day’s work. Today there was someone unusual, someone I hadn’t seen before. A woman sitting on the steps of the train station begging. We don’t have many beggars in Melbourne, so it is rather a strange thing to see one in the City. There are many buskers, but beggars, no.

Is it a sign of the times? A sign of the worsening economic crisis and the difficult months ahead? Is it a sign of the increasing problems we have with gambling? Is it a sign of the increasing numbers of street people we have to deal with? I looked at the woman and there was at first a negative reaction towards her, which I am glad to say was only momentary and passed as quickly as it had made its presence felt. I looked at her and in a few seconds I had taken stock of her clothes, her physical condition, her bearing, and decided that this human being was to be pitied and one should feel compassion towards her rather than aversion and distaste. A few coins that one can part with and not think further about may make a big difference to her survival.

What forces people to beg, to lose their dignity and rely on the kindness of strangers in order to survive? How many tragic stories of human frailty and how many examples of human failings are hidden in each of these people living in the streets? Vices may cause the offenders to end up in gaol, foibles are generally regarded as mere eccentricities, but serious faults that fail to be corrected, human errors that go unchecked, repeated failures that may cause someone to become so demoralised and hopeless as to end up in the street begging are to be regretted and one cannot help but feel sadness and be moved to compassion for a person’s reduction to this state…


She sits alone, forgotten on the steps
Her head bowed low as she recollects:
She too lived once, so long ago,
Amidst bright lights all aglow…

She sits, now grey-haired, past her prime
Her clothes all torn, her shoes in grime;
Once she was garbed in furs and satin
A queen, the toast of all Manhattan.

Her mind is numb as she tries stopping thought,
She knows regret and bitterness will lead to nought.
Her cold and bony body now demurs
To admit that fame and glory once were hers.

A coin clinks in the can, thrown at her feet
Her huddled form forlorn, black in the icy street.
Once, suitors kissed her jewelled shoes,
She found it so amusing all to refuse.

Now gloom and darkness, hopelessness, despair
Even her lips deny to chant a simple prayer.
When all is lost, how harsh the world
Into the dark abyss of Lethe she is hurled.

She sits alone, forgotten on the steps
In nothing does she hope, none she expects.
She too lived once, so long ago,
Where once was sun, now only snow;
Death comes and she wishes him to be quick
The candle sputters, dies, it’s burnt its wick…

Tuesday 13 January 2009


“A ‘sin’ is something which is not necessary.” George Gurdjieff

It is the anniversary of the birth of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff today. Gurdjieff was an Armenian-Greek, born this day in Alexandropolis, Armenia, in 1877 (although some claim it was in 1866). His father, a Pontian Greek, had inherited a rich ancient culture mainly through the oral tradition and it was thanks to him that Gurdjieff’s childhood was filled with stories and poems of the distant past. He grew up in the southern Caucasus where many different races, nationalities, traditions, religions and customs meet. Although he was brought up in the Eastern Catholic faith, Gurdjieff was interested throughout his life in many other faiths and cultures. As he grew up, he became convinced through his contacts that true knowledge of man and nature had existed in the past, but modern man had lost it. He made it the object of his life to rediscover these ancient mysteries and it was this conviction that shaped his whole life.

He formed the group “Seekers of the Truth” comprising archaeologists, doctors, linguists, artists, musicians, etc and he was thus able to connect with many strata of the communities in the Middle East and Central Asia where he travelled in order to discover a rich storehouse of traditions and obscure knowledge. He disappeared for 20 years and practiced an existence devoted to self-examination, a honing of his personal philosophy and a refinement and distillation of the numerous ideas he was exposed to. In 1912, he went to Russia, living in Moscow and St Petersburg, dedicating his life to transmitting his knowledge and philosophy.

In 1922 he moved to France and settled near Fontainebleau, beginning in 1924 to write many of his famous works: “Meetings with Remarkable Men”, “Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson” and “Life is real Only When ‘I Am’”. Gurdjieff claimed that people do not perceive reality, as they are not conscious of themselves, but live in a state of hypnotic “waking sleep.” He said: “Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies.” Gurdjieff taught that each person perceived things from a completely subjective perspective and essentially, each one of us manufactures his own reality. Gurdjieff stated that maleficent events such as wars and so on could not possibly take place if people were more awake. He asserted that people in their typical state were unconscious automatons, but that it was possible for a man to wake up and experience life more fully.

Something which has become associated with Gurdjieff is the enneagram and the system of personality analysis it has engendered. Although Gurdjieff never explained the significance of the enneagram in detail in this context, he did allude to it as a means of self exploration, Gurdjieff maintains that the enneagram figure is a symbol that represents the “law of seven” and the “law of three” (the two fundamental universal laws) and, therefore, the figure can be used to describe any natural whole phenomenon, cosmos, process in life or any other piece of knowledge. It is a nine-sided figure inscribed in a circle and vertices can be associated with musical notes and can be used allegorically to represent passages from one state to another.

Gurdjieff shared his ideas in a multitude of ways, including meetings and lectures, music, sacred dance, writings, and group work. He was not consistent in his use of these methods through his lifetime, with his six years in Paris being devoted primarily to writing, while composition of music and movement centered around a few distinct periods. In Russia he was described as keeping his teaching confined to a small circle of “disciples”, while in Paris and North America he gave numerous public lectures and demonstrations. Gurdjieff’s music has great inner simplicity, purity and clarity. It is beautiful and has an indefinable, special character that seems to touch our soul. It is definitely music that one may listen to and explore one’s inner world with introspectiveness and reflection. Gurdjieff collaborated in writing some of his music with Ukrainian composer Thomas de Hartmann, one of his pupils.

Gurdjieff died in Paris on the 29th of October, 1949. Since his death, his ideas have spread widely and have found a resonance with many people all over the world, particularly the USA. As a mystic and a philosopher Gurdjieff with his life’s work has the ability even nowadays to galvanise people into increasing and focussing their attention and energy in various ways, and to minimise daydreaming and absentmindedness. According to his teaching, this inner development of oneself is the beginning of a possible further process of change, whose aim is to transform a man into what Gurdjieff believed he ought to be and has the capability of being.

Sunday 11 January 2009


“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” - Mark Twain

If you had a choice, would you like to know exactly when you were going to die? Just think, you could schedule it in your diary: “6:15 pm Wednesday evening, October 6th 2010 – Dying”. You could plan ahead, ensure that everything was in order, and prepare yourself for the appointment with the Grim Reaper. Does this appeal to you? Many people have cogitated over this and the majority concur that no, this is not something human beings take a shine to. Most people (96% of them) prefer NOT to know when they will die…

This topic came up in a film we watched last weekend. It was an excellent movie with two very good actors in it, – Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman – but also well directed and with a good plot. The movie is Rob Reiner’s 2007 “The Bucket List” . The plot revolves around a car mechanic, Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), who is a man with a good life education and culture and the embittered billionaire, Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) who owns many hospitals. Carter has been married for 45 years to Virginia and has a happy family, Edward has many divorces on his record and one daughter with whom he has not spoken for years. What is common to both of these men is that they each have a terminal illness and they meet in one of Edward’s hospitals, where (according to general policy), they have to share a room. As they get to know one another, they develop a friendship and when Edward finds a discarded list (the “ Kicking the Bucket List” of title) written by Carter where he has started to write all the things he would like to do before he dies, Edward decides to make the list a reality. Edward includes his own items and invites Carter on a journey of friendship, personal growth and redemption.

The film is strangely uplifting, given its topic, but also very moving and although it could descend into bathos and moralising, it doesn’t. There are some great one-liners in it, delivered with appropriate aplomb by both of the leads, some very sad moments, some laugh out aloud moments, but one is apt to wipe a tear from one’s eye at the end. A fun film, a serious film, a road film, a coming of age film – all the more interesting as both characters who come of age are well past middle age…

Now, going back to my question, “would you like to know when you are going to die?” My answer is that I would rather be in the 4% of the population. Death is part of life. We all die and as much as we may want to postpone death, it remains an inescapable inevitability. We live our life better if we resign ourselves to the fact that we are mortal and that we could die at any moment. If we prepare ourselves for death, then the when doesn’t matter one whit. As Marcel Proust says:

We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance.”

We live a better life if we prepare for our death as if it were to arrive this very day, this afternoon. To try and preserve our life as long as possible is certainly commendable, but the quality of life is as important as its quantity. And always of course we should aim to die as young as possible, although we may want to survive for as many years as possible…
What about you? What do you think about death? If it were possible would you like to know the time you were to die?


“Dancing is the poetry of the foot.” - John Dryden

For Art Sunday today, a painting by Edgar Degas (born July 19, 1834, Paris; died, Sept. 27, 1917, Paris) 
a French artist, acknowledged as the master of drawing the human figure in motion. Degas worked in many mediums, preferring pastel to all others. He is perhaps best known for his paintings, drawings, and bronzes of ballerinas and of race horses.

The art of Degas is concerned with the psychology of movement and expression and the harmony of line and continuity of contour. These characteristics set Degas apart from the other impressionist painters, although he took part in all but one of the 8 impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1886. Degas was the son of a wealthy banker, and his aristocratic family background instilled into his early art a haughty yet sensitive quality of detachment. As he grew up, his idol was the painter Ingres, whose example pointed him in the direction of a classical draughtsmanship, stressing balance and clarity of outline. After beginning his artistic studies with Louis Lamothes, a pupil of Ingres, he started classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts but left in 1854 and went to Italy. He stayed there for 5 years, studying Italian art, especially Renaissance works.

Returning to Paris in 1859, he painted portraits of his family and friends and a number of historical subjects, in which he combined classical and romantic styles. In Paris, Degas came to know Édouard Manet, and in the late 1860s he turned to contemporary themes, painting both theatrical scenes and portraits with a strong emphasis on the social and intellectual implications of props and setting.

In the early 1870s the female ballet dancer became his favorite theme. He sketched from a live model in his studio and combined poses into groupings that depicted rehearsal and performance scenes in which dancers on stage, entering the stage, and resting or waiting to perform are shown simultaneously and in counterpoint, often from an oblique angle of vision. On a visit in 1872 to Louisiana, where he had relatives in the cotton business, he painted The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans (finished 1873; Musée Municipal, Pau, France), his only picture to be acquired by a museum in his lifetime. Other subjects from this period include the racetrack, the beach, and cafe interiors.

Here is his “Four Ballerinas” of 1899, now in the National Gallery, Washington DC. The composition is simple yet sophisticated, with the four figures partially shown, crowded together in the left half of the canvas, while the right half is the indistinct scenery of the stage set, depicted in swards of colour and brooding shapes in indigo. The sinuous movements of the dancing arms of the ballerinas eloquently describe the grace of the dance while their torsos are highlighted by the background and their flaring tutus. The red/bronze highlights of the sky are picked up by the heads and bodices of the dancers. This is a highly original and deeply beautiful work of art.

Enjoy your week!