Saturday 24 January 2009


“Alas for those that never sing, But die with all their music in them!” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

For Song Saturday, a beautiful song by Lucio Dalla, “Caruso” sung by Lara Fabian, an Italian/Belgian singer who trained as a classical lyric soprano before becoming a pop idol.

by Lucio Dalla

Here where the sea sparkles,
And where the wind blows forcefully,
On an old terrace above the gulf of Sorrento,
A man embraces a young woman
Who has just wept…
Then he clears his voice
And begins anew his song:

“I love you so very much,
So very, very much, you know;
It’s a chain by now
It’s a heat in the blood
Inside the veins, you know…”

He looks at the lights shimmering on the sea
And brings to mind the nights there in America.
They are only the fishing lamps
And the sparkling wake of the boat on the water.
He feels the pain of the music,
Stands up, away from the piano;
But as he sees the moon emerging from behind a cloud,
Even death seems sweet to him, then.
He looks at the girl’s eyes,
Those eyes, as green as the sea,
From which a tear falls
In which he believes that he might drown.

“I love you so very much,
So very, very much, you know;
It’s a chain by now
It’s a heat in the blood
Inside the veins, you know…”

What power there is in lyric opera,
Where every drama is false!
A little make-up is all it takes
And with a little acting,
You can become someone else.
So everything becomes so small,
Like the nights there in America…
You turn and you see your life disappear
Like the wake of the boat on the water…

“I love you so very much,
So very, very much, you know;
It’s a chain by now
It’s a heat in the blood
Inside the veins, you know…”

One of my aunts in Greece died this week. She was 88 years old and she had recently had a bad fall. They did not tell us of her death until after the funeral. Distance and time separate people, families are split, our lives become propelled by so much forceful acceleration that it becomes hard to stop, take stock of things and do something before it’s too late.

My aunt represented another time and place for me, so distant that even her death has made little difference to my idea of her as living history. The last time I had seen her was several years ago when I had visited Greece and I had been surprised at how much she had aged and had become smaller, more fragile than what she seemed when I was a child. She had looked at me then with pride and had laughed when I was telling her of our life here in Australia. We drove out into the countryside and visited a place that I remembered from infancy, one of the earliest memories of mine form the 60s. How the place had changed and yet the spirit of it was the same. Because she had been there, both times?

She was the last left of my father’s eight siblings left alive and now only my father lives.
Vale, auntie…

Friday 23 January 2009


“Drunkenness is temporary suicide.” - Bertrand Russell

The Mojito is a Cuban cocktail that has rum as its base and is flavoured with mint and limes. It originated in the 16th century when Sir Francis Drake was in the Caribbean plundering the wealth of the New World, his piracy officially sanctioned by Elizabeth I. When he was visiting the West Indies, Francis Drake was to sack Havana and plunder its gold, but at the last minute he sailed away. Richard Drake, his subordinate was left behind and he invented a drink called the Draque based on aguardiente, the forerunner of rum.

In 1593, no doubt inspired by Elizabeth I’s monopoly patent on spirits, Richard Drake concocted the Draque. Aguardiente, sugar, lime and mint were combined to make a drink whose purpose was medicinal. Well that was Drake’s story and he stuck to it… In the 1800s, Don Facundo Bacardi Massó (the founder of the Bacardi company), substituted the aguardiente with rum and the mojito was born. The word mojito is a diminutive of “mojo” of African origin (Gullah: “moco”) meaning a magic charm, talisman, hoodoo or spell. An alternative derivation is from the Spanish verb “mojar” (to make wet), and “mojo” meaning wet. A popular Cuban sauce made of limes, sour oranges, garlic and olive oil is also known as “mojo”.

A mojito is traditionally made of five ingredients: white rum, sugar (or even better “guarapo” – sugar cane juice), lime, mint and soda water. It has a taste which is a combination of sweetness, refreshing citrus and mint flavours that mask the potent kick of the rum. The mojito is a popular summer drink.

To prepare a mojito, lime juice is added to sugar (or syrup) and mint leaves. The mixture is then gently mashed with a muddler. The mint leaves should only be bruised to release the essential oils and must not be shredded. Then rum is added and the mixture is briefly stirred to dissolve the sugar and to lift the mint sprigs up from the bottom for better presentation. Finally, the drink is topped with ice cubes and sparkling water, and mint leaves and lime wedges are used to garnish the glass. Variosu recipes exist and personal taste prevails as to the exact proportions. The Bacardi mojito web page has several. Here is a classic recipe:


1 part white rum
½ lime
Some mint leaves
Dessertspoonful icing sugar
Ice cubes
Enough soda water to fill the highball glass

Place the lime in wedges, the sugar, the mint in a highball glass and muddle with pestle. Don’t crush the mint, just bruise it gently so that it releases its fragrant oils and the lime its juice. Add the rum and ice cubes and fill the glass with soda water. Stir and garnish with a mint sprig and a lime slice.

Thursday 22 January 2009


“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” – Galileo Galilei

Mullein, Verbascum nigrum, is today’s birthday plant. It symbolises nature and in the language of flowers says: “Take courage”, its bright yellow flowers striking a confident note. Astrologically, it is a saturnine plant. In olden times the plant was stripped of its leaves, the stem dried and dipped in tallow grease to make candles. Hence the alternative name for the plant “candelwick”, “hedge taper” and “Jupiter’s staff”.

Those of the Catholic faith celebrate St Vincent of Saragossa’s Feast Day today. St. Vincent, the protomartyr of Spain, was a deacon of the 3rd century. Together with his Bishop, Valerius of Saragossa, he was apprehended during a persecution of Dacian the governor of Spain. Valerius was banished but Vincent was subjected to fierce tortures before ultimately dying from his wounds. According to details of his death (which seem to have been considerably embellished later on), his flesh was pierced with iron hooks, he was bound upon a red-hot gridiron and roasted, and he was cast into a prison and laid on a floor strewn with broken pottery. But through it all his constancy remained unmoved (leading to his jailer's conversion) and he survived until his friends were allowed to see him and prepare a bed for on which he died. The saint's fame spread rapidly throughout Gaul and Africa. He is the patron saint of winegrowers, winemakers, vinegar makers and schoolgirls!

If the weather is good (in the Northern hemisphere) on this day, a good wine harvest is said to be assured:
Remember on St Vincent’s Day
If that the sun his beams display
For ‘tis a token, bright and clear
Of prosperous weather all the year.

Fittingly, the word of the day is: “Oenophile”

oenophile |ˈēnəˌfīl| noun
A connoisseur of wines.
Oenophilia /ˌɛnoʊˈfɪliə/; oenophilist |ēˈnäfəlist| nouns
Oenophilia originally from Greek, is the love (philia) of wine (oinos). An oenophile is a lover of wine.

The Greek Orthodox faith celebrates St Anastasius I (ca 430-518 AD) who was a Roman emperor of the East (491-518), successor of Zeno, whose widow he married. He made peace with Persia, maintained friendly relations with Theodoric the Great and made Clovis I an ally. He protected Constantinople from attack by building a new city wall and he aided the poor in his kingdom by revising the tax system. He abolished gladiatorial contests, but his monophysite tendencies stirred religious unrest in the empire. St Anastasius is the patron saint of goldsmiths.

Wednesday 21 January 2009


“Sometimes, when one person is missing, the whole world seems depopulated.” – Alphonse de Lamartine

A poem that was written quite a few years ago and seemed at the time to presage an imminent finality, which really only heralded a new beginning. As Jean Giraudoux wisely observes: “Sadness flies on the wings of the morning and out of the heart of darkness comes the light.” But how slowly that dawn is in coming, and how the night tarries… How hopelessly lost hope seems and how easy it is to think that the only solution is the end?

Solutions in the End

Early morning, wan light creeping in through half-shut window,
Remembrance of the full-moonlight last night; your indifference;
The phone that refused to ring, refused to ring, refused to ring…
And above all the smell of bitter almonds, cyanide.

Your smile, how I read into it so much, so many hidden meanings…
But it’s really silent, inarticulate, mute – I imagined it all,
While a false hope stops me solving everything neatly, quickly, finally.
And the bitter taste, that pungent acridity of strychnine.

My thoughts, the rain, the tyranny of your relentless presence;
Even when absent, you’re by my side, with me.
My fantasy, a secret mythology - how endless, inexhaustible my patience…
And there, now, I feel the keen caress of sharp razor on my wrist.

Pleasure so dear, of its precious draught I tasted only a single drop,
Like a drop of water on parched lips of desert traveller lost in the sands;
Your oasis a cruel mirage, a simple illusion by physics explained.
And next to my ear, the deafening sound of a discharging pistol.

The endless night, the dawn that comes, comes, comes,
And never arrives; while in futility, I wait and wait and wait…
You never arrive, never beside me, never with me.
Yet death comes in a thousand guises,
He hurries, running to keep our appointment
Bringing with him, the end, solutions and redemption…

Monday 19 January 2009


“Would I might rouse the Lincoln in you all.” – Vachel Lindsay

The inauguration of President Elect Barack Obama is making headlines around the world today and Washington is preparing for a massive influx of people from all over the US who want to be present at this historic event. The charismatic Obama succeeds the gauche Bush who has been described by many newspapers around the world as the “worst president the USA has had”. The Iraq war, a controversial re-election, the response to Katrina, the lying to Congress, the personal exemption of himself from the laws of the country he was president of, the unleashing of a “war on terrorism”, that if anything made things worse than better, and many more such acts have made outgoing President Bush a good contender for the title of “Worst President”. His presidency is ending with one of the worst economic crises to hit the world since the 1930s depression. His popularity is sinking to new lows not seen since the Nixon years (now, there’s another contender for the title of “Worst President”!).

Now that Obama-fever has swept the globe there is great hope that the incoming US president will lead the world into a new crisis-free era. The “Obama Effect” is being hailed as being enough to shorten the global recession. Analysts are more realistic and have warned that we should temper our expectations for his rule somewhat. Obama has already planned two trips to Europe in April for attending an international summit on the economic crisis and a NATO alliance meeting. European politicians are optimistic that more cooperation will be possible with the Obama administration than what has occurred with the Bush administration. This seems to be the general opinion in most countries around the world, with an average of 67% of people polled in various countries believing that Obama will strengthen America's relations abroad. Questioned about what the priorities of Obama should be, the answers were hardly surprising: The global financial crisis should be top priority, followed by pulling US troops out of Iraq, tackling climate change, brokering peace in the Middle East, improving social conditions at home, the health system, etc.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was one of the few world leaders to express skepticism of the “Obama Effect”. Putin stated with Slavic pragmatism that: “I am deeply convinced that the biggest disappointments are born out of big expectations”. I would certainly agree, and once the celebrations are over, once the early days of the “honeymoon” are over, once Obama begins to tackle the immense problems that he finds on his desk (and no doubt finds a few skeletons in the White House cupboards, also), the immensity of the task ahead of him will become manifest. Although I have confidence in Obama’s ability, the situation worldwide is not one that will be repaired with a few signatures here and there, a couple of state visits in a few countries and the passing of a few bills through Congress.

Barack Obama has a momentous task ahead of him. This is possibly the worst time that a President Elect has been in the position of assuming power in the most powerful political office in the world. Decisive action, immense diplomacy, boldness coupled with sensitivity, tact and moderate views, tolerance and goodwill are some of the many traits and qualities that Obama need resort to in order to deal with the many political, economic and social wildfires that are raging around the world. I only wish that the “Obama Effect” will help. My experience and logic say that things will get a lot worse before they get better – my innate optimism and hopeful nature want to believe that things can only get better, and they will begin to do so soon…


“Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.” - Simone Signoret

The joys of marriage have been extolled through the ages by all the great authors and its woes have been bemoaned by countless ordinary folk who have to live through its misfortunes (here of course I define marriage in its broadest sense, de facto couples and all forms of other partnerships included). Marriage can be heaven or it can be hell, depending on whether you marry an angel or a devil. Marriage can be the highest estate or the basest torture. However, most marriages seem to amble along through the years reaching neither the heights of ideal union, nor do they plunge into the depths of Gehenna. Most marriages last for years and the two partners drift apart and come back together again in paths that criss-cross with affections that waver, feelings that twinkle sometimes dim and sometimes bright.

The movie I’ll review for Movie Monday examines a relationship that has reached a crisis point. A partnership that is forced to re-examine itself through an external agency. Most marriages of course will be affected by external stressors and it is usually an factor from the outside that will prove to be the undoing of the marriage. The film we watched last weekend is Anthony Minghella’s 2006 “Breaking and Entering”, which was also written by him. It stars Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright-Penn, Martin Freeman and Rafi Gavron. It is a quirky film, well directed and acted, with sufficient interest to maintain interest despite the rather slow pace and the 120 minute length.

The plot unfolds in Kings Cross, London, where the British architect Will lives with his Swedish mate Liv. Theirs is a tired relationship, where passion has died and where Liv’s sole occupation is to devote herself to the needs of Bea, her autistic daughter. Will and his partner Sandy move into a warehouse in Kings Cross in quite an unsavoury neighbourhood. Their grand plan is an architectural urban renewal project of magnificent proportions which will transform the seedy neighbourhood into prime residential and retail paradise. Miro is an orphan and a refugee from Serbia, and he lives close by with his mother Amira, who is a seamstress.

Miro is influenced by his crooked uncle and cousin who are thieves. Miro is a traceur - practitioner of “parkour”, an activity with the aim of moving from one point to another as efficiently and quickly as possible, using principally the abilities of the human body. It is meant to help one overcome obstacles, which can be anything in the surrounding environment, from branches and rocks to rails and concrete walls. He uses his considerable abilities to break into Will and Sandy’s company to burgle computers. This happens twice in a row, and after the police give Will and Sandy little hope of catching the burglars, Will decides to stake-out during the nights to find the culprit, and he witnesses Miro trying to break-into the firm again. Will runs after Miro and finds out where he lives.

Will does not call the police, and the next day visits Amira on the pretext of having a coat of his repaired. Will is attracted to Amira, visiting her everyday, while becoming more estranged from Liv. Amira finds out that Miro has been involved in the burglary of Will’s company and as Will is attracted to her, she has sex with him in order to obtain compromising photographs with which to blackmail him and assure that her son doesn’t end up in gaol…

The film is quite atmospheric in parts, very earthy and seedy in others. A couple of sub-plots prove to be rather distracting instead of enriching the main story line. However, the plot itself is strong enough to shine through and one enjoys seeing the movie, despite its minor weaknesses. Juliette Binoche is a wonderful Amira and the young Rafi Gavron plays the confused, displaced and hurt Miro marvellously. Jude Law is more decorative than accomplished as Will and Robin Wright-Penn plays the fragile Liv very well.

The theme of the movie is love and the type of love that can survive shocks and external stressors versus the “love” that is based on sexual attraction, lust, passion. Affection and love are contrasted as are different types of love, such as the love between mother and child and the love between son and (absent or lost) father. The fading relationship of Liv and Will is beautifully presented and in a conversation,Will says to Liv:
“I feel as if I'm tapping on a window. You're somewhere behind the glass but you can't hear me. Even when you're angry, like now, it's like someone a long long way away is angry with me.”

Amira who initially sees in Will a romantic love, and finds in her broken heart some sparks of love being reignited. She suffers when she suspects that Will is using her to put her son and brother in law behind bars. In defence of her son’s crimes she screams at Will:
“You steal someone's heart, that's really a crime.”

See the movie, I think it’s worth your while to hunt it out at your local video shop and rent it out, rather than wait for our TV to show it. In the meantime, tell what do you think of marriage? What are your experiences of it? Has it been Heaven or Hell for you? Or is it something that you wear, like a comfortable pair of jeans that gets more and more faded and threadbare with time?

Sunday 18 January 2009


“A woman can say more in a sigh than a man can say in a sermon.” T. Arnold Haultain

“Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars” by John Gray was published in 1992 and created quite a stir, although there was nothing much in it that was new. Gray was considering the age-old question, “Are men and women different and in what way?” The author uses the metaphor of women being Venusians and men being Martians as a way of illustrating the fundamental differences between the two sexes, that are so vast, they may as well be from different planets. Contrary to most psychologists Gray stresses these differences more than the similarities and uses examples to highlight them, especially in the way the two sexes react to stress and the way they resolve problems.

Venus and Mars were the Roman equivalents to the Greek Aphrodite and Ares, the gods of love and war respectively. That these two gods personified the archetypal female and male is not chance as they each as characteristics essential female and male traits. Numerous pieces of art in ancient Greece and Rome glorified these two gods, especially so Aphrodite/Venus. In the renaissance the ancient ideals were revivified and the ancient gods were resurrected.

Today a painting from 1483 by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) that depicts Venus and Mars after an adulterous assignation (Venus was married to the lame god Vulcan). Mars, exhausted, slumbers while Venus keeps vigil, her face calm yet alert, serene yet hiding much internal turmoil. Around them young fauns cavort and play with Mars’ armour, but not even the clash of iron nor the conch’s sound will wake the god of War. The clothed Venus, a picture of modesty, conceals an adulteress. Mars’ undress underlines the unruly young god’s insouciance and his only concern the sowing of wild oats…
Enjoy the week ahead…