Saturday 9 May 2009


“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” - Vincent Van Gogh

As I look out of the window over the dark garden, the clouds covering the sky part just for a few moments and the silvery moonlight illuminates the dark foliage. What more perfect music to describe that flicker of silvery light than Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”? Here is it is in Leopold Stokowski’s transcription for orchestra, played by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch (1923-) in the Minato-Mirai Hall, Yokohama, Japan, in May, 1999.

Friday 8 May 2009


“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…” – John Keats

The weather in Perth was gorgeous. Fine, warm, sunny not windy at all and reminiscent of Spring! Flying back home today to come back to autumn, with grey skies, showers, cooler temperatures. The trees are turning their leaves to gold and red, gusts of wind likely to carry the falling leaves into piles by the wayside. Autumn has its charms, to be sure. As fruits autumnal mature and apples especially come into season, cider was freshly made at this time. Here is a recipe for syllabub. This old fashioned dessert was once very commonly served and relished.

1 pint (≈ 470 mL) apple cider
1 pint (≈ 470 mL) double cream
1 cup superfine sugar
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoonful freshly grated nutmeg
Macaroons or brandy snaps to serve with.

Mix in a large bowl the lemon juice, rind and sugar, adding the grated nutmeg last, with enough cider to dissolve the sugar. Add the remaining cider, stirring well. Add the thick cream, two to three spoonfuls at a time, stirring lightly. Once all the cream is added, gently stir once only and let the syllabub stand for two hours in very cool place before it is eaten. The cider should curdle the cream and the bubbles of the cider should permeate the curd making it light and fluffy.
Spoon into glasses and serve with macaroons.

For a variation, see Nigella Lawson making Amaretto Syllabub:

Have a great weekend!

Thursday 7 May 2009


“People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy.” - Anton Chekhov

I am in Perth (,_Western_Australia) for a couple of days for work and as the flight was the early morning “red-eye-special”, it’s been a very long day. More so as Perth is two hours behind the East coast. The weather here was beautiful, with temperatures in the high 20s, sunny and balmy. So word Thursday today, the topical:

Indian summer (noun)
A period of unusually dry, warm weather occurring in late autumn.
(fig.) A period of happiness or success occurring late in life.

Indian summer can be in September, October, or early November in the northern hemisphere, and March, April, or early May in the Southern hemisphere. It can persist for a few days or extend to a week or more. This term is not related to the summer season in India.

ORIGIN: American, in reference to the period when Indians used the time to prepare for the winter cold by hunting and gathering.

Wednesday 6 May 2009


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

For Poetry Wednesday today, two poems, epigrammatic in their contrariness:

Wind of Spring

You touch the willows, and make a new green;
You breathe on the peaches, and restore a pristine red;
But for my fading countenance and my greying hair
I dare not blame you, Oh East Wind…
Ch’ên Chieh (Active 1260s AD)

The Grape
No, not by ephemeral roses saddened
That passing Spring will wither, kill;
But rather by grapes bunched shall I be gladdened
That ripen on the sloping hill,
On my fair valley joy bestowing,
The golden Autumn’s richest pearl,
As lithely tapered, freshly glowing
As fingers of a sweet young girl.
Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837)

I still feel the tension between Northern and Southern hemispheres, and the Spring versus Autumn battle till wages deep inside me.

Tuesday 5 May 2009


“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” - Abraham Lincoln

Today is a day that is celebrated in Mexico and countries where many Mexicans live, for example the Southern states of the USA. “Cinco de Mayo” (the 5th of May) is not officially the Mexican Independence Day (this is celebrated on the 16th of September), but perhaps Cinco de Mayo should be. Cinco de Mayo is also not an American holiday, but perhaps it should be. Mexico declared its independence from Spain on midnight, the 15th of September, 1810. But it took 11 years before Spanish soldiers were forced to leave Mexico.

So, what is the significance of Cinco de Mayo and why should Americans celebrate this day also? Because 4,000 Mexican soldiers smashed the French and traitor Mexican army of 8,000 at Puebla, Mexico, 100 miles east of Mexico City on the morning of May 5, 1862. The French had landed in Mexico (along with Spanish and English troops) five months earlier on the pretext of collecting Mexican debts from the newly elected government of democratic President (and Indian) Benito Juarez. The English and Spanish quickly made deals and left. The French, however, had different ideas.

Under Emperor Napoleon III (who detested the United States), the French who were sent to Mexico came to stay. They brought a Hapsburg prince with them to rule the new Mexican empire. His name was Maximilian and his wife’s, Carlota. Napoleon’s French Army had not been defeated in 50 years, and it invaded Mexico with the finest modern equipment and with a newly reconstituted Foreign Legion. The French were not afraid of anyone, especially since the United States was embroiled in its own Civil War. The French Army left the port of Vera Cruz to attack Mexico City to the west, and the French assumed that the Mexicans would give up should their capital fall to the enemy (as European countries traditionally did).

Under the command of Texas-born General Zaragosa, (and the cavalry under the command of Colonel Porfirio Diaz, later to be Mexico's president and dictator), the Mexicans awaited. Brightly dressed French Dragoons led the enemy columns. The Mexican Army was less stylish. General Zaragosa ordered Colonel Diaz to take his cavalry, the best in the world, out to the French flanks. In response, the French did a most stupid thing; they sent their cavalry off to chase Diaz and his men, who proceeded to butcher them. The remaining French infantrymen charged the Mexican defenders through sloppy mud from a thunderstorm and through hundreds of head of stampeding cattle stirred up by Indians armed only with machetes.

When the battle was over, many French were killed or wounded, while their cavalry was being chased by Diaz's superb horsemen miles away. The Mexicans had won a great victory that kept Napoleon III from supplying the confederate rebels for another year, allowing the United States to build the greatest army the world had ever seen. This grand army smashed the Confederates at Gettysburg just 14 months after the battle of Puebla, essentially ending the Civil War.

Union forces were then rushed to the Texas/Mexican border under General Phil Sheridan, who made sure that the Mexicans got all the weapons and ammunition they needed to expel the French. American soldiers were discharged with their uniforms and rifles if they promised to join the Mexican Army to fight the French. The American Legion of Honor marched in the Victory Parade in Mexico City. It might be a historical stretch to credit the survival of the United States to those brave 4,000 Mexicans who faced an army twice as large in 1862, but who knows, maybe not…

In gratitude, thousands of Mexicans crossed the border after Pearl Harbor to join the U.S. Armed Forces. As recently as the Persian Gulf War, Mexicans flooded American consulates with phone calls, trying to join up and fight another war for America. Mexicans don’t forget who their friends are, and neither do Americans. That’s why Cinco de Mayo is such a fiesta and should be celebrated by both Mexico and the USA.


Monday 4 May 2009


“Man! The only animal in the world to fear.” - D.H. Lawrence

The weekend was one of glorious autumn weather, with beautiful fine, sunny days in which the temperature was around 18˚C, but extremely pleasant. The temperature dropped at night to single digit figures, but it meant a very comfortable night under the doona! We went for a drive and visited friends in Emerald, in the Dandenongs, on Sunday, which was very nice, but I also managed to do some work on my projects. There was even time on Sunday evening to watch a movie.

It was the rather gruelling 2004 documentary by Canadian film-maker Velcrow Ripper, “Scared Sacred”. This documentary is an intense and confronting view of some of the “ground zeros” of the world: Bhopal, India (site of the Union Carbide factory pesticide leak that killed 22,000 in 1984); the Killing Fields of the Khmer rouge regime in Cambodia (where at least 200,000 people died between 1974 and 1979); the Nazi extermination camps (where six million Jews were murdered); Afghanistan with its thousands of Taliban victims in the 1990s; World Trade Centre in New York (where on September 11th 2001, nearly 3,000 people died); Hiroshima, Japan (where on August 6th, 1945 the first atomic bomb attack occurred and killed 140,000 people); Israel/Palestine where continuing conflict claims victims on both sides; Bosnia, Pakistan and other such terrible sites…

The documentary’s punning title reflects Ripper’s wish to find some hope in the darkest moments of mankind’s history. The documentary took five years to make and Ripper had to undergo some serious soul searching himself in order to be able to cope with what he encountered worldwide. The film is intimate because Ripper narrates it and it is often in a way that is almost like a diarist writes – to satisfy his own needs. We feel a voyeuristic embarrassment by watching and listening to this exposition of mankind’s most terrible deeds in a way that forces us to confront our own fears and repressed emotions.

The theme of the documentary is violence and how we react to it. Ripper tries to convince us that while our primitive human nature seems to prompt us to respond to violence with violence, our higher civilised self motivates us to react in a different, more intellectual (and ultimately more emotionally satisfying) manner. Some of the most confronting of scenes for me were those of Palestinians and Jews who had lost their children. Children that were accidentally shot in the crossfire of the conflict. The way that the parents reacted to this loss was in an amazingly courageous and highly civilised way. Their pain was not lessened more effectively thus, nor was their loss recouped, but the way in which they acted was astounding and possessed of a magnificent dignity and altruism…

Ripper can get a little too nebulous and “flower-childlike” in some ways, taking in all of the blackness, destruction, negativity and sheer terror, and exhaling sunshine and positive energy. This Polyanna-like mentality can grate on some people’s nerves. However, he means well and the examples that he gives in support of his interpretations and reactions rescue his new-ageist point of view. In fact when the people in the midst of the disasters begin to give their own personal accounts of their survival and relate how they coped with the immensity of the grief that they had to confront, it is then that the documentary is at its most powerful.

Overall, I would say that is a documentary well worth seeing, despite its faults: It is a trifle too long, episodic and meandering, sometimes reminiscent of an amateur film (perhaps this is not a disadvantage). I suspect, however, that it is sermon that is directed towards the converted and the preaching of Ripper is only effective when it is directed towards those who are already sensitized to the sacred and scared aspects of humanity’s ground zeros.

Watch it, it’s a good one!

Sunday 3 May 2009


“The moon is a silver pin-head vast, That holds the heaven's tent-hangings fast.” - William R. Alger

Winslow Homer (1836-1910) was an American artist or should I say, one of America’s greatest artists. His work has become very popular with collectors and museum visitors, having an instant appeal with most people who first look at it. Although a landscape painter and printmaker, he is best known for his characteristic seascapes and marine subjects.
Homer was largely self-taught and began his career working as a commercial illustrator. He subsequently took up oil painting and produced major studio works characterised by the weight and density he exploited from the medium. He also worked extensively in watercolor, creating a fluid and prolific oeuvre, primarily chronicling his working vacations.

A stay in England from 1881 to 1882, during which Homer lived in a fishing village, led to a permanent change in his choice of subject matter. From then on he concentrated on large-scale scenes of nature, particularly scenes of the sea, of its fishermen, and of their families. Taking up solitary residence on the Maine coast at Prout's Neck, he produced such masterpieces of realism as “Eight Bells”. In such paintings, the drama of the sea scene is imbued with an epic, heroic quality that symbolises the dominant theme of his maturity: Human struggle against the forces of nature.

After 1884, Homer spent many of his winters in Florida, in the Bahamas, and in Cuba. His many scenes of the Tropics were painted mostly in watercolor, and his technique was the most advanced of its day—loose, fresh, spontaneous, almost impressionistic, although it never lost its basic grounding in naturalism.

The painting above is his “Summer Night” of 1890. It is a very luminous night scene in which two women are dancing by the seaside during some kind of celebration. The dark mysterious figures in the background seem to be an audience and yet they are not. It looks as though they are gazing out to sea rather than at the women. The women are in the light, almost as if spotlit, while behind them, the moon shines, reflected on the sea. It is a puzzling painting full of intrigue and mystery. Rather surrealistic and dreamlike, it captivates the viewer and haunts one’s memory.