Saturday 29 August 2009


“And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs
And as silently steal away.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A grey lingering winter’s day today, with some rain and coldness reminiscent of late July. After a hurried morning sortie to do some shopping we came back home and stayed in for the whole of the day. In the evening, as the sun was setting the clouds parted in the western sky a little and the golden glow illuminated the grey landscape creating an eerie and almost preternatural picture.

For Music Saturday, a piece from Michael Nyman’s soundtrack of Jane Campion’s film “The Piano”.

Friday 28 August 2009


“The healthy being craves an occasional wildness, a jolt from normality, a sharpening of the edge of appetite, his own little festival of the Saturnalia, a brief excursion from his way of life.” - Robert MacIver

It is an obsession of our times (at least in certain parts of our communities) to eat “healthful, organic, additive-free food”. It is part of the “greening”, carbon footprint reduction, environmentally friendly revolution that is occurring world-wide. Don’t get me wrong, I too am environmentally conscious, I do my bit to reuse and recycle, we grow our vegetables and herbs in the backyard, we are water conscious and don’t waste our resources.

However, I refuse to go out of my way and search for organic, certified pesticide-free foods and do not waste my time searching in the markets for the “pure and natural” produce. Not so with some of our acquaintances. There is a woman we know who even goes and busy “organic” toothpaste (at $9.00 a tube!). The other day I saw a bottle of “organic water”. Once upon a time “organic” meant “manure” – as in “organic fertiliser” (which I love and spread liberally on our garden). Nowadays it is trendy to have organic everything. Even toothpaste!

Hence the obsession I mentioned at the beginning. Well, now it appears that the latest research into this organic craze has classified a new psychological disorder: “Orthorexia” (from Greek, orthos, “correct” and orexis “appetite”). People who suffer from this orthorectic disorder worry much about their health and the purity of their meals, they will only eat what they consider a healthful meal, organic produce and may deny themselves entire food groups. The typical person suffering from orthorexia nervosa is well-educated, middle class and over 30 years of age.

These orthorectics may eliminate sugar, caffeine, salt, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast, soy products, corn and dairy foods form their diet. Foods that contain pesticide traces, or have additives like MSG or preservatives may also be avoided. Nowadays, they may also go out of their way to hunt down and eschew genetically modified foods. The older term for these people was “food cranks”. Once again, don’t get me wrong, we all have our quirks about food. Even though I am of Mediterranean origin, I abhor black olives and fetta cheese (funnily enough I eat green olives and every other kind of cheese – now how cranky is that?). Also, we should exclude people with food allergies, who can have serious or even fatal reactions if they eat the allergenic food (eg, peanuts, seafood, egg, etc).

Orthorectics often have rigid (although, often completely irrational rules) about what they eat. This can lead to malnutrition and can make eating well nigh impossible, especially socially, putting a great strain on relationships and friendships. In their concern over the quality of food they put into their bodies, they reduce their quality of life and will often compromise their physical health as well as their mental health.

My great grandfather used to eat everything and anything. However, he always ate seasonal, fresh food and he ate sparingly. He used to say that when at table, you should always eat as much as would curb your hunger and no more. He said that if you left the table, you should have eaten so much that if you were compelled to sit and eat again at another table, you would be able to comfortably eat as much as you had eaten already. He lived well into his late nineties and was as healthy as an ox.

What I know is that there is a very fine line between those people who eat a healthful, balanced diet and who avoid the obvious “bad things” (too much salt, sugar, alcohol, preservatives) and those who are fully fledged orthorectics. Anything carried to excess is unhealthy, and perhaps even healthfulness being pursued to excess is unhealthy, as the studies show. Moderation in all things (and the occasional indulgence!) seems to lead to a better life all around.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday 27 August 2009


“I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.” - Eartha Kitt

Are you a person who multi-tasks? Typically, it is said, women multi-task easily and men have a very hard time doing so. I must be an exception to the male rule as I will quite happily multi-task (or at least devote time to a multitude of tasks within any one time). In any case, multi-taskers have been glorified and held up as shining examples of efficiency and competence. Up until now, that is… Clifford Nass, a Stanford University communications professor conducted a study on multitasking that has found some surprising results, contrary to popular belief.

The study showed that people who habitually multi-task are easily distracted and get bogged down by irrelevancies. The study found that those who juggle with multiple inputs, such as emails, web-searches, text chats and videos performed worse than those who concentrated their attention to one task at a time. Eyal Ophir the lead author of the research describes how the group of researchers kept trying to find something that multi-taskers did better than the group of single-taskers and they couldn’t find it. Multi-taskers were particularly bad at organising information and logically processing it. They also performed poorly when it came to remembering information and filtering out the “junk” data.

Social science has long held that people cannot process more than one string of information at a time. Concentrating on one task, one problem, one issue at a time seem to be the way that our brain is wired for maximum efficiency. Some other research appears to be in conflict with this and suggests that with some tasks the brain may be facilitated by the concurrent activity. For example it was reported several years ago that listening to Mozart’s music while studying improved memory and learning.

Alzheimer's patients exposed to music by Mozart also do better in spatial and social activities, and the famous composer's sonatas reduce electrical activity associated with seizures in epileptics. To date, no other type of music has delivered the same benefits. Experiments with rats who heard Mozart showed increased expression of genes responsible for stimulating and changing brain cell connections. "Smart" genes encouraged by the music included CREB, a learning and memory compound; BDNF, a nerve cell growth factor; and synapsin I, responsible for synapse formation. All improve function in the hippocampus, a brain area linked to learning and memory…

So if you must multi-task, then do it with Mozart playing in the background. Otherwise one thing at a time and listen to the sounds of silence!

multi-tasking |ˌməltiˈtaski ng; ˌməlˌtī-| noun Computing
The simultaneous execution of more than one program or task by a single computer processor.

multi-task |ˈməltiˌtask; ˈməlˌtī-| verb

Human multi-tasking is the performance by an individual of appearing to handle more than one task at the same time. The term is derived from computer multi-tasking. An example of multi-tasking is listening to a radio interview while typing an email. Some believe that multi-tasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and apparently causing more errors due to insufficient attention. Other research illustrates our brains are capable dealing with certain 'dual multiple tasks' at the same time.

ORIGIN: From Latin multus ‘much, many.’ & Middle English: From an Old Northern French variant of Old French tasche, from medieval Latin tasca, alteration of taxa, from Latin taxare ‘censure, charge’. An early sense of the verb was [impose a tax on.]

Jacqui BB is hosting Word Thursday

Wednesday 26 August 2009


“Man loves company even if it is only that of a small burning candle.” - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Mining the archives of old notebooks, I came across this poem written aeons ago. The memory of its writing is still fresh because it is associated with the piece of music that prompted its creation. It is the instrumental piece whose title is also serving as the title of the poem. It is by Greek singer-songwriter Georges Moustaki who became famous in France in the 1960s. This short guitar piece is a perfect little miniature and encapsulated at the time my feelings, which I hoped to express by writing this poem, vocalising the emotion implicit in the music.

Rue de Fossés Saint-Jacques

My loneliness,
A silver needle in my heart,
A wreath of flames on my head.
My loneliness,
A knot caught in my throat, stifling me,
Poisoned bitter wine,
On my lips killing me
With every sip, repeatedly.

My loneliness,
A guitar ringing out,
(With the G slightly out of tune)
In an empty room.
My loneliness,
A single bed, a white sheet
Like a snow-covered frigid plain.

My loneliness,
A promise that was never kept,
Wasted words only,
Taken like dead leaves by the wind.
My loneliness,
A salty tear and brumy eyes,
Secret sighs in a dark room,
The counting of hours until dawn.

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday.

Monday 24 August 2009


“Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger.” - Saint Basil

A storm for Melbourne today. The weather bureau and the State Emergency Service have been warning resident of our city since yesterday about the cold front that would move through Melbourne at approximately 5:00 pm on Tuesday afternoon. There were all sorts of dire warnings, with winds predicted to reach speeds of 120 km/hr in some parts of the state. Commuters in the City (of which I am one!) were warned to leave work early in order to not have their schedule disrupted by service interruptions to trains and trams.

The temperatures were quite low today compared with the past two weeks and our building was frigidly cold this morning when I got to work just after seven. There were problems with the heating, apparently, but fortunately I have a small heater in my office and it was able to warm it up once I closed the door. I had to pop out to the bank at lunchtime and the wind was chilly. However, in the afternoon, the sky was quite blue and the sun was shining, although it was still cold. Some people began to laugh and joke about the weather bureau getting it wrong once again…

On the train this afternoon on the way home, the sky began to darken ominously, the wind began to blow (hard!) and by the time I got home it was dark and dismal, and the heavens did indeed open up and the wind blew forcefully to give us a storm the likes of which of we don’t often see. Still it wasn’t as bad as most people expected, but nevertheless, enough to make it worthy of blogging about…

The rain of course is blessed. With our perpetual drought and dwindling water supplies in Victoria, the storm with its bucketfuls of rain was a pleasure to behold. We have been told that our water in the future will be assured as it will be supplied by a desalination plant, for which tenders have been submitted and between the two finalists one was successful. This desalted water will be at a considerable cost. The taxpayers have already paid for the unsuccessful tender, the losing company given a “consolation payment” by our State Government running into several millions of dollars. The winning tender will be given generous concessions and of course the water prices and rates will increase precipitously once the water begins to flow to the consumers. After all, we shall need to maintain the executives of a private company to the life style they have been accustomed in their previous employ. Six figure salaries, share packages, generous superannuation, tax benefits and a golden handshake that runs into several millions of dollars when they finally retire.

Utilities like electricity, water, gas, telephone services, postal services, health care, etc, should be government-owned and run. Two decades ago, when this was the case in Australia, there were jobs, cheap rates, good service and government accountability for failures, poor service and rate hikes. Now that we have privatised it all, who can tell where we shall end up? Perhaps the readers of this blog in the USA can tell us?

Here is a short video I shot through the front room window while the rain was pelting down.

Sunday 23 August 2009


“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.” - Douglas MacArthur

My grandfather always used to say: “Parents can look after their ten children, but the ten children can’t look after their two parents”. I guess this is a fact of life in so many cases because just when the parents get old and decrepit and need care, their children have their own children and need to look after the next generation. However, in many cultures the extended family tradition is still alive and well and is a way that family members can all live together and support each other across the generations. In most Western countries, the nuclear family has all but made the extended family obsolete and a relic of the past. This creates numerous problems and leads to situations that are depicted in the film that we watched at the weekend.

The Tamara Jenkins 2007 film “The Savages” starring Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Bosco explores the way that two children (Linney and Hoffman) cope with their dementing father (Bosco) who needs to be put into care. The situation is complicated by the preexisting relationship (or rather lack of it) that these two children had with their parents. The mother abandoned them when young and their father was anything but a caring parent. However, the blood ties are strong enough for these two scarred individuals to want to “do the right thing”.

The film works on many levels. The story is everyday and trite in many ways, but because of this, it reeks of humanity and appeals to the viewer because one can identify with characters and situations in many ways. There is subtle humour, pathos, humility and sadness in this movie and one can see it and become embarrassed because there are many venial sins depicted that could be on any one of our consciences. This wasn’t a film that moved me particularly, although I felt involved and there was a great sense of pity that I felt for all the characters.

The daughter is a thirty something relief worker who is trying to get a grant to write a play. She is having an affair with a married man fifteen years her senior, lies about unimportant things and downs pills of all sorts. Her reactions are emotional, a little unstable, motivated by the love she has been denied when growing up. The son is older, apparently more down-to-earth, ostensibly more sensible and less inclined to emotional outbursts, but nevertheless conceals a soft centre and is not coping with his relationship with a Polish woman whose visa has run out and get out of the country.

The father is perhaps the most enigmatic of the characters as he is the one who has the least to say, but is perhaps the one we wished said the most. He is played beautifully by Philip Bosco and he acts as the catalyst for the great changes that will occur in his children’s life after the interaction they have with him in the twilight of his life. The supporting role of Lenny (the daughter married lover) played by Peter Friedman is an excellent casting choice and to a certain extent this character acts as a fulcrum for the changes that happen later in the film.

Tamara Jenkins (who also wrote the script) directs form the heart and gets everything right in this film. The chemistry amongst the cast is great and the cinematography very good. The stark contrast between retirement-ville in Arizona with its manicured lawns and plastic-like shrubs, and the cold, wintry, stark New England landscape is symbolic and poignant. The music provides a good support for the action, is often a bridge or transition and a reminder of the former times that the father is regressing into. Overall, a very satisfying film, well worth seeing.


“A spark neglected makes a mighty fire.” - Robert Herrick

The devastating fires in Attica, Greece, just to the north of Athens have been burning since Friday evening and have reduced to ash forests and gutted properties. The fire broke out late on Friday in a village about 40 km (25 miles) northeast of the Greek capital and, fanned by strong winds, spread to neighbouring villages and northern suburbs of Athens. Greek authorities declared a state of emergency in eastern Attica on Saturday where the flames seared about 12,140 hectares of forest, farming fields and olive groves.

The fire brought back memories of 2007, when Greece's deadliest wildfires in living memory raged for more than 10 days on the Peloponnese peninsula and Evoia island, killing 65 people. Fortunately, until now, there have been no deaths with these fires, but authorities fear for the worst as residents are frantically trying to stop the flames from reaching their houses with garden hoses and tree branches.

A detail from Bosch’s central part of the “Triptych of The Temptation of St Anthony” (painted 1505-06), Oil on panel (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon) is apt for this fiery Sunday. A burning village illuminates the dusky background, probably a reference to the disease of ergotism or "St Anthony's Fire", whose victims invoked the name of St Anthony for relief.

Hieronymus Bosch (ca 1450-1516) was Netherlandish painter, named after the town of 's-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc) in northern Brabant, where he seems to have lived throughout his life. His real name was Jerome van Aken (perhaps indicating family origins in Aachen, Germany). Bosch married well and was successful in his career (although his town was fairly isolated, it was prosperous and culturally stimulating). He was an orthodox Catholic and a prominent member of a local religious brotherhood, but his most characteristic paintings are so bizarre that in the 17th century he was reputed to have been a heretic. About forty genuine examples of Bosch's work survive, but none is dated and no accurate chronology can be made.