Saturday 6 June 2009


“Death is a delightful hiding place for weary men.”- Herodotus

For Song Saturday, a movement form Nicholas Lens’ Requiem, “Flamma Flamma”. This is large-scale work which is structured to echo the form of a Requiem Mass, and is set for a classical orchestra and chorus, with six soloists, but it also has elements of ethnic music from around the world, especially the use of the "Bulgarian Voices," a folk-based characteristic ethnic ensemble .

The text is by Herman Portocarero, who chose Latin for its singability, for its direct association with Roman Catholic ritual, and for its sense of timelessness and universality. The composer has written that to him the only thing that makes life bearable is death, or, rather the knowledge that death will bring it to an end. This insight, he says, makes it possible to enjoy life fully. He uses fire as a metaphor for death, and also as the agent that cleanses. He conceived this work as a kind of ritual that united the European classical culture with non-European cultures' magic. The classical soloists represent "six gods or the higher conscience of Man." The ethnic elements revitalise the weariness of European culture.

The text is deliberately shaped to echo the structure of the liturgical Mass for the Death. The instrumental soloists are a player of koto and bass koto, a player of three kinds of flute, a player of oboe and English horn, a trumpeter, four violinists, two percussionists, and a keyboard player. The work includes several other ethnic instruments and a notable use of electronic sounds.

The piece I have chosen is “Deliciae Meae” (My Sweet Love), with Claron McFadden, Laverne Williams, Gary Boyce, Zeger Vandersterne, Henk Lauwers, Macello Rosca:


Deliciae meae,
Venustas tua
Ipsi morti super est.

Ultimum lavabo
Corpus nudum tuum
Lacrimis meis.

Pyra non altius
Amoris mei igne
Ardere potest.

Invideo et odi
Servos funebres quibus
Te tangere licet.

Post me
Procus nullus
Nisi mors
Te possidet.


My sweet love,
Your beauty
Even through death still shines.

A last time I shall wash
Your naked body
With my tears.

The pyre cannot burn higher
Than the fire
Of my love.

I envy and I hate
The undertakers men
Who are allowed to touch you.

After me,
No lover
But death
Will know you.

Friday 5 June 2009


“A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.” - Welsh Proverb

“Fawlty Towers” was one of the most successful and funny TV comedy series ever produced. Its few episodes have become classics of the genre and the actors that were assembled to act in them were exceptional and worked as a wonderful team. One of the episodes features an irascible American guest of Basil Fawlty’s establishment who wants to eat a Waldorf salad… How did I remember this? Well it was Waldorf salad tonight for dinner, with crisp, tart new season apples. You know the kind, acidly sweet, juicy, crisp and flavoursome. Here is the recipe – with no sugar, no raisins, with home made mayonnaise (so it’s not sweet) and apples that are tart. This is a savoury dish, remember, not a dessert!

3 cupfuls diced tart apples (e.g. Granny Smiths)
2 cupfuls finely chopped, tender celery stalks (and leaves, if desired)
1/2 cupful chopped toasted walnuts
3 tablespoonfuls home-made mayonnaise
1/2 cupful sour cream (or yoghurt)
1 teaspoonful of mustard powder
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon (to taste)
lettuce leaves

Mix the mayonnaise with the cream, mustard powder and the lemon juice, stirring well to incorporate. Add the other ingredients except the walnuts and blend well. Refrigerate for three hours before serving, folding in the walnuts just before serving on a bed of lettuce leaves. Garnish with chopped chives.

There are a few apocryphal stories around regarding the origin of this salad, but the true origins are as follows: The salad was created at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1896 not by a chef but by the maître d'hôtel, Oscar Tschirky. The Waldorf salad was an instant success, even though the original version of this salad contained only apples, celery and mayonnaise. Chopped walnuts only became an integral part of the dish later.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday 4 June 2009


“The silence often of pure innocence persuades when speaking fails.” – William Shakespeare

Today is the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression. The purpose of the day is to acknowledge the pain suffered by children throughout the world who are the victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse. The commemorative day originated when the United Nations observers became appalled by the great number of innocent Palestinian and Lebanese children victims of Israel’s acts of aggression. On 19th August 1983, the United Nations General Assembly decided to commemorate 4th June of each year as the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression. It reminds people that throughout the world there are many children suffering from different forms of abuse, and there is an urgent need to protect the rights of children.

This day affirms the United Nations commitment to protect the rights of children. According to the United Nations, the statistics of child abuse include:
• More than two million children killed in conflict in the last two decades.
• About 10 million child refugees cared for by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
• In the Latin America and in the Caribbean region about 80 thousand children die annually from violence that breaks out within the family.

Child abuse is now a major problem globally and the UN is working hard to help protect children around the world. One key factor is the process of international negotiation and action centered around the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

aggression |əˈgre sh ən|noun
Hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront: His chin was jutting with aggression | Territorial aggression between individuals of the same species.
• The action of attacking without provocation, esp. in beginning a quarrel or war: The dictator resorted to armed aggression | He called for an end to foreign aggression against his country.
• Forceful and sometimes overly assertive pursuit of one's aims and interests.

ORIGIN: Early 17th century (in the sense [an attack] ): From Latin aggressio(n-), from aggredi ‘to attack,’ from ad- ‘toward’ + gradi ‘proceed, walk.’

Wednesday 3 June 2009


“You have come into a hard world. I know of only one easy place in it, and that is the grave.” - Henry Ward Beecher

News item:
“PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) – The first sighting off Brazil's coast of possible wreckage from a missing Air France jet signals the start of what could be one of the most challenging operations ever mounted to retrieve the tell-tale "black box." The box, which is in fact two separate devices containing cockpit voice recordings and instrument data, offers the best chance of finding out why the Airbus jetliner vanished in an Atlantic storm en route to Paris with 228 people on board. The devices are designed to send homing signals when they hit water, but merely locating them presents one of the most daunting recovery tasks since the exploration of the Titanic and barring good fortune, could take months, experts said. If they are in waters as deep as some people fear, 4,000 meters (13,100 ft) or more, unmanned submersibles would be tested to their limits. Yet past disasters have led to advances in equipment which do give hope for finding out what happened…”

The poem doesn’t trivialise the disaster, but likens it to another on a more personal dimension whose enormity is comparable in emotional magnitude to the survivors.

Fatal Flights

The flight was doomed
The plane would crash
The sea would swallow it.
As fearful death loomed
As bodies turned to ash
Tears would follow it.

Sad flotsam now marks
The site of death and blight;
And deep sea hides:
Secrets, circling sharks,
Fright, a fatal flight,
Covered by shifting tides…

The black box pings
In ocean depths,
Containing answers;
Does it matter?


Our love was cursed
Our union would collide
And time devour it.
Rancour we nursed,
As sparks of love died
Hate, as wine would sour it.

Our double soaring wings
Were cut, and down we dived,
From air, we crashed to earth.
Severed are heartstrings
Yet both of us survived
To live a sentient death.

Love letter sings
In a forgotten drawer,
Containing promises;
How it matters!

Tuesday 2 June 2009


“Do ye not comprehend that we are worms, Born to bring forth the angelic butterfly That flieth unto judgment without screen?” - Dante Alighieri

Italian Republic Day
Today is Italian Republic Day celebrating the birth of the Italian Republic on June 2nd, 1946. Until 1946, Italy was officially a monarchy ruled by the House of Savoy, kings of Italy since the Risorgimento (reunification of Italy, 1814–1861). After the October 28, 1922 “March on Rome” Benito Mussolini, with the support of the monarchy, imposed fascism on Italy. This led to Italy joining Nazi Germany as an ally in World War II. In 1946, Italy became a republic after the results of a popular referendum. Suspicions of fraud were raised by the loyal Monarchists, however, these were never proved. A Constituent Assembly was elected at the same time and this has been the political system of Italy ever since.

Italy an ancient land with a glorious history, is a Southern European Mediterranean country surrounded by the Adriatic, Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas. It is about 301,000 square km in area and has a population of about 60 million people. It is a mainly mountainous and hilly country with only the vast fertile plain of the Po River in the North, which climbs up to the Alps that separate Italy from Switzerland. Many people are still engaged in agriculture, with cereals, vegetables, fruit, vines and olives being the principal crops. In the North, heavy industry and manufacturing contribute greatly to the country’s economy. The capital city is Rome with Milan, Naples, Genoa, Turin, Palermo, Bologna, Venice and Florence other major centres.

The history of Italy is a rich tapestry of glorious military, artistic, religious and musical achievements. There is no shortage of famous scientists, sportspeople and philanthropists either! The currently available evidence point out to a dominant Etruscan, Greek and Roman cultural influence on today’s Italians. During the Iron Age Italy entered the historical period. Until the end of 5th century CE Italy was dominated a number of tribes, and finally the Romans. The last hundred years of the Western Roman Empire, from the second half of the 4th century, coincided with large migrations of Germanic peoples (Visigoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Huns, Heruli, Alemanni etc.) who on different occasions settled within Italian territories. At the same time economic conditions also reflected the political instability of the imperial government, it deteriorated gradually and was accompanied by a chronic fall in population.

It was during this time that the influence of the Christian church began to make itself felt more consistently. This was in contrast to the progressive orientalisation of the Empire, now focused on its new capital of Costantinople, founded by the emperor Constantine between 326-330 CE on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium.

The Normans and then the Hohenstaufen (1220-1266), the feudal system came into Italy and this led to the development of city states. The ending of imperial authority, quickly followed by the papal crisis involving the transfer of the papal seat from Rome to Avignon in France from 1309 to 1377. In the prosperity of the next few decades, the first city-states developed into true and proper States, whose political force was directly connected to their economic power. Culture prospered with a new enthusiasm for the study of the classical world and a renewal of interest in nature and man (humanism). The arts (from literature to the expressive and figurative) had one of their finest moments. The appearance of towns was transformed with the introduction of new styles of architecture. During this period Italy indeed became the cultural centre of Europe. This was the Renaissance, stimulate especially by the influx of Greeks following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Between the mid-15th century and the mid-18th century, Italian city states fought against the Spanish and then the French domination. They gained their independence after this long and politically chaotic period. The next fifty years saw a period of relative political stability and economic progress for all the various Italian States. The echo of the French Revolution (1789) and the tragic end of the French monarchy (1792) and then the resounding reality of the Napoleonic armies affected Italy adversely, with the French and Spanish squabbling for ascendancy. Italy had to concede to France cultural leadership. A contribution that was to play a significant role in the political and philosophical debate leading to the revolutionary spirit of the 18th century and the Enlightenment.

The Italian political and territorial picture, which at the end of the 18C seemed to have stabilised, rapidly disintegrated in the face of Napoleon Bonaparte's military campaigns. The defeat of Napoleon had nevertheless sown the seeds of change and liberty in Italy with the establishment of first republican structures and then the Kingdom of Italy. Following the plebiscite that voted in favour of annexation to Piedmont (1860), began the construction, together with the territory of Southern Italy that had been taken by Garibaldi's expedition of `The Thousand', of the United Kingdom of Italy. This was to be proclaimed at Turin on 17 March 1861, though the acquisition of Rome and Venice were still outstanding. The latter was added five years later (1866) following an unfortunate conflict with Austria, which was resolved in Italy's favour thanks to the intervention of Prussia; Rome was conquered by force, 20 September 1870, on the fall of Napoleon III. With these events the territorial unity of the Italian nation was almost complete and it was now necessary to construct its own social, economic and cultural image.

Happy Italian Republic Day!

Sunday 31 May 2009


“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.” - Peter Ustinov

At the weekend we saw a rather amusing French film, Francis Veber’s 2006, “La Doublure” (The Stand-in) – “The Valet” being its English title. This is standard French farce fare, but well acted by the principals Gad Elmaleh who plays the title role of a valet who parks cars for a living (François Pignon). Daniel Auteil playing the rich industrialist Pierre Levaseur, Kristin Scott playing his wife, and Alice Taglioni playing Elena, M. Levaseur’s mistress. The classic bedroom cast of characters is assembled for an entertaining romp, which should not be too critically judged as it makes no pretences about its innate worth. It is made for amusement and delivers some laughs – true, not full bodied belly laughs, but quite a lot of titters and chuckles.

The story concerns the industrialist who has chronically cheated on his wife with beautiful model Elena, who incidentally, loves him deeply. The wife knows about the affair but owns the majority of the shares (so a divorce is not really an option for M. Levaseur). The bumbling industrialist who wants his cake as well eating it, believes all can be bought for money. When his cheating is captured on the camera of a paparazzo, innocent bystander Pignon is commandeered to “stand-in” as the model’s boyfriend. A complicating factor is Pignon’s unrequited love for his childhood sweetheart (who has money problems and is not willing to marry penniless Pignon). M. Levaseur’s money seems to offer a perfect solution, but then things get a little complicated…

Some characters tend to detract form the film, although some people may find them funny. Pignon’s girlfriend’s father (who is a doctor) is one of these characters and the long standing joke of the doctor who is treated by the patients he visits at home runs out of steam after the first time. Pignon’s flatmate is also a little tiresome, as is Pignon’s girlfriend’s slimy suitor (a mobile phone salesman) but I recognise there must be some subplots to maintain interest.

Veber is the writer (as well as director) of this movie and he has also made “The Dinner Game”, “The Closet”, “La Cage Aux Folles”, “Les Fugitifs”, “My Father the Hero” and more such comedies. He has a certain flair for writing and directing farce and this is evident in this particular movie. Of all his movies listed above (and which I have seen) I think I enjoyed “The Dinner Game” the most, which I recommend if you wish to be introduced to the comedy work of this particular moviemaker.

In terms of “La Doublure”, it is overall an amusing film, lightweight and fluffy. If you decide to watch it, don’t look for high art, deeper meanings or guffaws of mirth – rather prepare to be entertained and pass 90 or so minutes quite pleasantly.


“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” - Aristotle

For Art Sunday, a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) It is his “Duel after a Masked Ball”, 1857; Oil on canvas; The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Gérôme was a French painter and sculptor, a pupil of Paul Delaroche from whom he learnt his highly finished academic style. His best-known works are his oriental scenes, made authentic through his several visits to Egypt. These orientalist paintings were very popular in the late 19th century and won Gérôme great acclaim. Riding on the crest of this success, he had considerable influence as an upholder of academic tradition and enemy of progressive trends in art; he opposed, for example, the acceptance by the state of the Caillebotte bequest of Impressionist pictures.

Another genre that he painted extensively in was that of scenes of classical antiquity. His carefully composed canvases of Roman and Greek scenes are full of charming detail and historically accurate representations of everyday life. His snapshots of the stuff of legend and history bring these scenes of antiquity back to life and certainly make the study of history more interesting. However, it should be noted that in both his oriental and antique styles, Gérôme often sacrifices the telling of the story to some thinly veiled eroticism and voyeurism. A liberal sprinkling of female nudes make his art border on the salacious.

The last group of his works represent portraiture and miscellaneous scenes that generally tell a story. The painting above is such an example and from this scene one can imagine a rich tale of love, betrayal, honour regained and death.

Jean-Léon Gérôme died in his atelier on 10 January 1904. He was found in front of a portrait of Rembrandt and close to his own painting “The Truth”. At his own request, he was given a simple burial service, even without flowers. But the Requiem Mass given in his memory was attended by a former president of the Republic, most prominent politicians, and many painters and writers. He was buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in front of the statue “Sorrow” that he had cast for his son Jean, who had died in 1891.