Saturday 13 June 2009


“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well used brings happy death.” - Leonardo da Vinci

Increasingly I feel as though my life is entering its downward phase. Once we reach a certain point, we realise that there suddenly more years past to be remembered, than years ahead to look forward to. This fills me with a certain disquiet, however, not alarm nor fear. There are still so many things I want to do, so many more sights to see, so much that is unknown, unexplored, unlived!

Here is a song sung by Belgian songstress, Maurane, that takes the past and adds some future to it. Maurane (her real name is Claudine Luypaerts) is a Belgian singer born in 1960. Her father was director in the Académie de Musique de Verviers, and when she was a teenager she took part in several musical contests. In 1979, she participated in the show, «Brel en mille temps», with Philippe Lafontaine and she was discovered there by the French songwriter Pierre Barouh. She later got small contracts singing backing vocals in cafés until she released her first album in 1986.

The song is titled “Sur Une Prélude de Bach” (On a Bach Prelude) and uses Bach’s famous C major prelude as accompaniment for a modern ballad.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday 12 June 2009


“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.” - From the movie “An Affair to Remember”

We had a very cold day in Melbourne today, and although it was fine, the sun had teeth that bit into the flesh. It was a presage of most of the winter still ahead. A busy day at work with little time to even think of anything else. On the train home this evening, lots of people with glum faces and suspicious eyes flitting to the person who coughed or sneezed. A pandemic of flu has been declared by the WHO and quite a few people at the station today were sporting face masks, and what little protection that may have afforded them…

The wintry weather and the strong smell of honey as I was walking by a café in the morning on my way to work made me think of a traditional Greek sweet that is often eaten at breakfast. Greeks have a sweet tooth and it is even manifest at breakfast! It is “loukoumadhes”, a deadly version of doughnuts.

Ingredients Batter:
1 packet (≈ 1 tablespoon) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pinch of salt
2 cups lukewarm water
3 cups plain flour
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 pinch ground cardamom

2 cups sugar
1 cup honey
3 cups water

Vegetable oil for frying
Ground walnuts
Ground cinnamon

Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup warm water and let it stand for 10 minutes. Sift the flour into yeast mixture. Mix gently while continuously adding the remaining warm water until a soft, thick batter is formed. Cover bowl with clean, damp dishtowel. Let the mixture double in size (about 1 -1.5 hours), at which stage the dough should be soft and foamy.

In a deep fryer, heat oil to a depth of 10 cm to 190˚C. Make sure there is at least 5 cm between the oil surface and the top of the fryer. While oil is heating, prepare the honey syrup. Add honey, sugar, and water to a small saucepan, mix to combine and bring to a boil over high heat for 6-7 minutes stirring occasionally, until sugar is completely dissolved. Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice into the syrup. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Working in batches, slide dollops of the batter (about the size of a heaping tablespoonful each) into the hot oil, making sure not to crowd the pan. Dollops will puff up and float to the surface. Fry, turning occasionally, until pastry is a crisp, golden brown on all sides, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat as many times as is needed. Place drained puffs on warm platter and keep warm.

To serve, reheat the syrup and place 4 or 5 fried loukoumadhes into the hot honey syrup. Allow puffs to soak for about 10 to 15 seconds, remove to a small plate, dust generously with cinnamon, and sprinkle with walnuts, to taste. Loukoumadhes are best if eaten warm, the same day they are made. Makes about 36 to 40 puffs, or 8 to 10 servings.

Wednesday 10 June 2009


“Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu!” - English round, ca 1260 CE

The ragged robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi, is the birthday plant for this day. The generic name is derived from the Greek word, lychnos = lamp, in reference to the bright flowers of this herb. The specific name means “cuckoo flower” in Latin and refers to flowering of the plant when the cuckoo is in full song. In the language of flowers, it symbolises wit and ardour.

It is St Barnabas’ Day today and this is the saint invoked in disputes, as he is a peacemaker saint who resolves arguments amicably. On his feast day, houses and churches were decorated with Barnaby garlands. These were made of roses, Sweet Woodruff and Ragged Robin. The garlands “hanged up in the houses in the heat of Summer, doth very well attemper the air, cool and make fresh the place, to the delight and comfort of such as are therein.” (Gerard, Herbal).

The ragged robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi, is said to bloom on this day when the cuckoo is in full song (flos-cuculi means “cuckoo-flower”). The plant is dedicated to St Barnabas:

When Saint Barnabie bright smiles night and daie
Poor ragged robin blossom in the haie.

Traditionally, this day is the one for the hay harvest, as another couplet attests:

On the feast of Barnabas
Put the scythe to grass.

Barnaby bright, Barnaby bright
Light all day and light all night.

In the days before the Gregorian reformation of the calendar, St Barnabas’s Day coincided with the Summer Solstice as it fell 11 days later. The rhyme recalls this, which is the longest day of the year. Especially important in the Northernmost countries where it can be light well into the small hours of the night.

For Word Thursday today, rather aptly:

onomatopoeia |ˌänəˌmatəˈpēə| noun
The formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g., cuckoo, sizzle).
• The use of such words for rhetorical effect.

onomatopoeic |-ˈpē-ik|| or onomatopoetic |-pōˈetik| adjective
onomatopoeically |-ˈpē-ik(ə)lē| or onomatopoetically |-pōˈetik(ə)lē| adverb

ORIGIN: Late 16th century, via late Latin from Greek onomatopoiia ‘word-making,’ from onoma, onomat- ‘name’ + -poios ‘making’ (from poiein ‘to make’).

Jacqui BB hosts Word Thursday.


“Every mile is two in winter.” - George Herbert

I was in Brisbane today for the day, thus it was another jam-packed full workday as well as a two-hour flight each way. The weather in Brisbane was fine and sunny with a top of 21˚C, while back in Melbourne it was cold, wet, wintry. Coming back at the airport tonight it was wonderful to see the sheets of rain coming down. Something we are not used to in these last 12 years of drought. Our water reservoirs are approaching 20% capacity and the rain will help to stop them emptying further, but we need the biblical 40 days of rain to fill them up, I think.

Travelling becomes all the more difficult in Winter. Getting up at 5:00 am (seemingly in the dead of night) and getting back home at 9:00 pm, where did the day go? A glimpse of the sunny landscape in between meetings…

Winter Reverie

Winter has arrived
Bringing with him,
The smell of decay, rotting leaves,
Wet soil and the perfume of daphne.

Milky white dawns,
Sun argent, feebly shining;
Plumes of grey smoke, evoking
Warm grates, hot buttered toast.

Lucidly cold nights,
Wet, shiny streets, on which
Only your footsteps echo, meandering
On the deserted, desolate footpaths.

Winter has arrived,
Clutching in his bony fist
Silken silences, fog-enveloped loneliness,
Cold, pure sheets and long, white nights.

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday

Tuesday 9 June 2009


“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” - W. Somerset Maugham

We have come a long way from the Mesopotamian clay tablets on which cuneiform script was incised. We have much advanced from the laborious making of papyrus and the artful hieroglyphics of the Egyptians. Even more progressed than the parchment of Pergamum on which Greek philosophers wrote their elegant Ionian epigrams. We have left the gorgeous medieval manuscripts behind us, and we have much refined Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type. And now, with all the advances in printing technology, we have books, books and more books.

Beautiful tomes, printed on fine paper and illustrated in glorious technicolour. We have all sorts of books that are published and printed with amazing speed and serving all purposes. Pamphlets, tracts, technical manuals, novels, textbooks, advertising and commercial booklets, works of fiction and non-fiction. Cheap and nasty publications or elegant volumes, long tracts in black ink on cream newsprint or illustrated glossy pages on shiny white paper. Books in Braille so that even the blind can read effortlessly like the sighted.

However, we see today the burgeoning of another kind of book. The electronic book or e-book, which is making itself increasingly visible around us. Have you seen someone on the train reading a novel on their iPhone? Perhaps someone chuckling over a humorous book on their Palm or SmartPhone? Or maybe you spotted someone using a Kindle and catching up on some homework, perusing their recommended electronic textbook. You yourself may have downloaded a book from the multiple sites that are on the web and which offer free e-books. For example:

I must say, that on the train, I am guilty of reading my e-book on my phone. It is so much more convenient and much more portable than the paperback. I am not the only one. Many of my fellow travellers do the same. And the readers of the paperback look suspiciously at us and frown into their printed paper pages and say silently: “Hurrrrrmph!” And we just smirk and read on, while peering into our phone screens and don’t deign to say anything at all, silently or otherwise.

Technology is wonderful and now with the advent of electronic paper, shortly, we shall be able to have even more convenient and light and portable electronic books. Nevertheless, I do keep on buying proper books… There is nothing like reading a printed book, turning the pages, luxuriating in the look and feel of the printed page; e-books or not, my allegiance lies with the legacy of Gutenberg. Long live the book! Printed (and electronic)…

What about you? What do you think about e-books? Do you love them or hate them?

Monday 8 June 2009


“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” - Theodore Geisel

Today’s review for Movie Monday concerns a film that was recommended to me by my friend Svetlana. As she spoke very highly of it, I tried to obtain it at my local video store, but I had no luck. I tried Amazon Australia, but it was not available. I then ordered it through Amazon USA, but I got a very nice message back from them, saying that although it was available, they were very sorry, but this video could not be shipped to Australia. Well that got me all the more intrigued and fortunately at that time, one of my friends was leaving for a conference in the USA and I asked him whether he could bring the DVD back for me.

He was most accommodating and promised he would. It was a little bit problematic for him also as when he looked in a couple of video stores, it was either not in stock or not kept in stock. Finally, his wife managed to find it in a suburban shopping centre in Las Vegas! They came back last week and we were able to watch this movie last weekend. I must say that I was thankful that both my friends and I persisted, as the movie was worth the effort!

It is Tarsem Singh’s 2006 film, “The Fall”. This is a film that works on multiple levels, but first and foremost it is visually beautiful, with an engaging and complex (but easily comprehensible) allegorical story that is woven artfully. The cinematography is stunning, the images absolutely gorgeous and the acting fantastic. The music, dialogue, entrancing interlaced stories and the direction are all faultless. It was a film that we enjoyed seeing and will see again in the future.

The story is set in Los Angeles in the 1920s. Young Alexandria is a little Romanian girl whose immigrant parents have settled in California. Her father has been killed in tragic circumstances and her mother is trying to make ends meet. The little girl is in hospital as she has broken her arm falling off an orange tree while picking fruit. In hospital she meets Roy, an actor/stuntman who has tried to kill himself because he was rejected by the love of his life. An unlikely friendship develops between Roy and Alexandria and the two of them explore each other’s lives (without much understanding each other’s world, at least initially) through the medium of fantastical stories that Roy relates to Alexandria.

Fantasy and reality are separate yet intertwined in this film and the connection between life at the hospital (and outside it) and the fantasy world that Roy imagines and relates to Alexandria is the way that leads both little girl and young man out of the maze that they have found themselves lost in. As the stories unfold we learn more about Roy and Alexandria and as each discovers more about each other (as well as themselves), the denouement is perfectly understandable and expected.

It was a rather roundabout way for me to see this film, but in the end, where there is a will there is a way. Of the films I have watched recently, it reminded me most of Dave McKean’s 2005 film “Mirrormask”. However, Tarsem’s film was rather more aligned to the real world and thus more appealing, I think even for the viewers who do not like the fantasy genre, as such. If you can get hold of this movie watch it and be pleasantly surprised as I was. Thank you again, Svetlana, for the recommendation.

Sunday 7 June 2009


“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” - Scott Adams

For Art Sunday today a lively cave painting several thousands of years old from Lascaux in France. These palaeolithic caves house paintings that are at least 16,000 years old. The Lascaux cave paintings were discovered on Thursday, September 12, 1940, by four French teenagers. The news of the discovery quickly spread and many villagers came to see it themselves. Soon archaeologists visited the site as well.

Shortly after World War II ended, the entrance to the cave was enlarged and the floor was lowered to enable easier access for visitors. Nearly 1,200 tourists visited the cave every day.

By 1955, it became apparent that the cave's popularity had begun to cause significant damage. A study showed that the primary cause was the high levels of carbon dioxide from the visitors' breath.

A system was implemented to monitor carbon dioxide levels, but soon patches of green algae on the walls and other damage began to appear. To protect the ancient site from further damage, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs closed the Lascaux cave to the public on April 20, 1963. The original climatic conditions were recreated, and the site is now in the state in which it was discovered in 1940.

A computerised system now monitors a variety of conditions in the cave, including temperature, moisture and carbon dioxide levels. To compensate for the great loss to the public in closing the cave, a detailed replica was created in 1980. The cave paintings were recreated by projecting images of the originals onto the replica wall. The recreated site, known as "Lascaux II," has been open to the public since 1983.