Saturday 28 November 2009


“A man is not where he lives, but where he loves.” - Latin Proverb

A Saturday devoted to relaxation and quietude. One must stop every now and then to take stock and discharge all the tension, all the pent up static. Then this evening, a lovely special time shared, and enjoyed precisely because it was shared…

Here is a song that is appropriate, sung by the great Lara Fabian:

Love is like a rose: Its beauty makes us forget its thorns...

Thursday 26 November 2009


“At Christmas play and make good cheer, For Christmas comes but once a year” - Thomas Tusser

This year has flown by and it is hard to believe that in less than four weeks it will be Christmas. The older we get the faster time seems to go by and the years seem like the months of childhood existence. Time is such a relative quantity and its elasticity never seems to surprise me, especially the older I get. Still, I am grateful for many special moments when I can concentrate on the passage of time and as I drink in each second, I am consciously aware of it, savouring its passing, bottling it like a preserve, so I can revel in its sweetness not only in the present but also in the future, when it has become a long-past memory.

Seeing Christmas is approaching fast, this weekend is pretty much the last chance to make your Christmas cake, giving you enough time to let it mature and be ritually soaked in brandy at appropriate intervals until Christmas! Here is a favourite recipe:

Ingredients Cake

500 g sultanas
500 g currants
500 g raisins
250 g pitted dessert prunes
250 g pitted dates
125 g glacé figs
125 g glacé ginger
125 g candied peel
500 g butter
2 cups of brown sugar firmly packed
10 eggs
3 cups plain flour
1 cup self-raising flour
1/4 cup brandy

Brandy caramel

2 tablespoons white sugar
30 g butter (molten and hot)
1/2 cup brandy (warmed)

Fondant icing
1 egg white
500 g icing sugar
60 g liquid glucose
Desired favouring and colouring

Marzipan paste and apricot jam


Have butter and eggs at room temperature. Place sultanas, currants and peel in a very large basin or plastic dish. Chop raisins, prunes, dates, figs and ginger the same size as the sultanas and add to the basin. Stir in the brandy caramel mixture. In another basin, beat the butter until soft, add the sifted sugar, beat only until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating each egg into mixture well before adding the next one. Add this butter/sugar/egg mixture to the fruits, mixing well with the hand to break up large clumps of fruit. Mix in the sifted flours well.

Line a deep 25 cm square or 28 cm round cake tin with one sheet of brown paper and then three sheets of greaseproof paper, bringing paper 5 cm above the edge of the tin. Bake in a slow oven (175˚C) for 2 hours and then at 150˚C for 3 hours, or until cooked when tested with a skewer.

When cooked, remove from the oven, brush the brandy over the top cover securely with aluminium foil and leave to cool completely. Remove cake from tin, leaving the paper intact around it.. Wrap the cake tightly in cling food wrap and store in an airtight tin. The cake will keep for three months if stored correctly. It may need a little brandy brushed over the top periodically.

When ready to serve, brush the cake all round with warmed apricot jam, ensuring all sides are covered well. Roll the marzipan to about 3 mm thickness and cover the cake completely, neatening up joins so that it presents a smooth, flawless surface. Beat some egg white and cover the almond paste brushing all surfaces well. Make the fondant icing by mixing all ingredients well and rolling out to 5 mm thickness. Cover the cake, neatening up the joints once again by coating the hand with icing sugar and smoothing the surfaces.

Decorate as desired.


“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” – Johannes A. Gaertner

Today is a very special day, an annual national holiday in the United States, which I think more countries around the world should imitate. A day that celebrates the harvest and other blessings of the past year in a family environment, where there is time to stop, reflect and be truly thankful for all the good things that we enjoy in our life often without a second thought, is a great opportunity to exercise some gratitude. We have forgotten being grateful in our everyday lives and we don’t say “thank you” and really mean it, often enough. A family sitting around a table and enjoying a meal together, enjoying each other’s company and thanking God, providence, each other and life for all the benefits they enjoy on a daily basis is a wonderful thing.

Americans generally believe that their Thanksgiving is modelled on a 1621 harvest feast shared by the English colonists (Pilgrims) of Plymouth and the Wampanoag Indians. The American holiday is particularly rich in legend and symbolism. Plymouth's Thanksgiving began with a few colonists going out “fowling,” possibly for turkeys but more probably for the easier prey of geese and ducks, since they “in one day killed as much as served the company almost a week.” They were then surprised by about 90 Wampanoag Indians who appeared at the settlement's gate, doubtlessly unnerving the 50 colonists. Nevertheless, over the next few days the two groups socialised without incident. The Wampanoag contributed venison to the feast, which included the fowl the Pilgrims had caught as well as fish, eels, shellfish, stews, vegetables, and beer. Since Plymouth had few buildings and manufactured goods, most people ate outside while sitting on the ground or on barrels with plates on their laps. The men fired guns, ran races, and drank liquor, struggling to speak in broken English and Wampanoag. This was a rather disorderly affair, but it sealed a treaty between the two groups that lasted until King Philip’s War (1675–76), in which hundreds of colonists and thousands of Indians lost their lives.

The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “Thanksgivings,” days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought. After 1798, the new U.S. Congress left Thanksgiving declarations to the states; with some objecting to the national government's involvement in a religious observance, especially Southerners. Thanksgiving Day did not become an official holiday until Northerners dominated the federal government. In the mid-19th century, the editor of the popular magazine “Godey's Lady's Book”, Sarah Josepha Hale, campaigned for a national Thanksgiving Day to promote unity. She finally won the support of President Abraham Lincoln. On Oct. 3, 1863, during the Civil War, Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26.

The holiday was annually proclaimed by every president thereafter, and the date chosen, with few exceptions, was the last Thursday in November. After a joint resolution of Congress in 1941, President Roosevelt issued a proclamation in 1942 designating the fourth Thursday in November (which is not always the last Thursday) as Thanksgiving Day. As the country became more urban and family members began to live farther apart, Thanksgiving became a time to gather together. The holiday associated with Pilgrims and Native Americans has come to symbolize intercultural peace, America's opportunity for newcomers, and the sanctity of home and family.

In the colonial period, days of thanksgiving were also celebrated in Canada. They arose from the same European traditions, in gratitude for successfully completed journeys, attainment of peace, and plentiful harvests. The earliest celebration was held in 1578, when Martin Frobisher held a ceremony in present-day Newfoundland to give thanks for a safe arrival in the New World. In 1879 Parliament established a national Thanksgiving Day on November 6; the date has varied over the years. Since 1957 Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated in Canada on the second Monday in October.

Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends. Be truly grateful for all good things in your life. There is plenty to be thankful for!

gratitude |ˈgratəˌt(y)oōd| noun
The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness: She expressed her gratitude to the committee for their support.
ORIGIN: Late Middle English: From Old French, or from medieval Latin gratitudo, from Latin gratus ‘pleasing, thankful.’


Tuesday 24 November 2009


“In my heart, I think a woman has two choices: Either she's a feminist or a masochist.” 
- Gloria Steinem

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. By resolution 54/134 of 17 December 1999, the General Assembly of the United Nations designated 25th of November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and invited governments, international organisations and non-government organisations to schedule activities designated to raise public awareness of this widespread problem on this day. Women's activists have marked the 25th of November as a day against violence since 1981. This date came from the brutal assassination in 1960, of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, on orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961).

Violence against women and girls is a worldwide problem of enormous proportions. Based on what country data that is available, up to 70 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime. Unfortunately, the majority of this violence comes from husbands, intimate partners or someone else they know. Among 15–44 year-old women, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today, violence against women devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development. It takes many forms and occurs in many places — domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.

The statistics are frightening:
• In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners.
• In South Africa, a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
• In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007.
• In Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day.
• Women and girls constitute 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually, with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
• Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
• More than 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.1 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million).
• An estimated 150 million girls under 18 suffered some form of sexual violence in 2002 alone.
• As many as 1 in 4 women experience physical and/or sexual violence during pregnancy, which increases the likelihood of having a miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion. Up to 53 percent of women physically abused by their intimate partners are being kicked or punched in the abdomen.
• In São Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
• In Ecuador, adolescent girls reporting sexual violence in school identified teachers as the
perpetrators in 37 percent of cases.
• Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
• In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence, mostly involving women and girls, have been documented since 1996, though the actual numbers are considered to be much higher.
• Domestic violence alone cost approximately US$1.16 billion in Canada19 and US$5.8 billion in the United States.
In Australia, violence against women and children costs an estimated US$11.38 billion per year.
• Between 40 and 50 percent of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace.
• In the United States, 83 percent of girls aged 12–16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.

This is the 21st century and we have attained a level of civilisation unprecedented in human history. Yet in some areas of our existence we are as backward as the half-animal ancestral hominids of the cartoons, where the male of the species subdues the female by violence and drags her to his dark cave by the hair. Violence of any form is the sign of a weak and stupid person. Violence against women, especially by men, is cowardly and demeaning, a sign of an unmanly man. My poem today takes its theme from the day and was inspired by a photograph of a victim of domestic violence on a poster I saw at the train station this morning…

Fairy Tale

She’ll cry herself to sleep again tonight,
While nursing bruises and her broken heart.
She lies huddled in her bed and sobs,
While picking up small fragments of her ego.

He snores beside her and her pain ignores,
His rage all spent, his violence a convenient outlet
For his little mind, his macho cowardice,
His puny job, his wilting manhood.

She would run away if she could, so far away!
She’d take her children and she’d go;
If she could save enough – courage and money –
If she had a job, a friend, some family…

He banks on her weakness, her dependence,
Her once-upon-a-time love, her once warm kisses.
He takes advantage and he blackmails,
He has the power, although the weaker of the two.

She wipes the drops of blood that trickle from her nose;
It could be broken, but no more than her dreams.
The pain in her body less than the pain in her soul,
Her patience exhausted, her love betrayed.

He’ll drink and hit again tomorrow,
He’ll laugh and shout and make her bleed.
She’ll sharpen the bread knife one of these days,
This fairy tale has no happy ending.

In Australia, we commemorate this day as White Ribbon Day. More details can be found here.

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday.

Monday 23 November 2009


“Never work just for money or for power. They won't save your soul or help you sleep at night.” - Marian Wright Edelman

I’ve had a really long day at work today, getting in at about 7:00 am and coming back home about 6:00 pm. Although this is not a typical day for me, it is usual for me on all days to work long hours and often my work comes home with me at weekends. I have much to do and many people depend on my activities, so things must be ready on time, ever time. Add to that the invariable crises that I need to deal with and that explains why I have to work so many hours. This is an expectation that most Australians have to live with in their place of employment. The Australia Institute has done a study on the work habits of Australians and they have published the results of surveys they have conducted, with some amazing (though not surprising) results.

On average, the typical Australian full-time worker does 70 minutes of unpaid overtime per day, Translating this to a yearly figure gives us 33 eight-hour days (over six weeks!). This is enough to nullify annual leave entitlements. Who is to blame? The Institute maintains it’s the workers themselves, who take pride in their work and do whatever they need to do to get the job done. What about the managers and bosses? They are often victims themselves, but some who work normal hours may not realise that their staff are overworked and putting so much time in the interests of the company. Peer pressure is to blame as well, and people who leave right on the dot are often frowned upon by the more “conscientious” workers.

Overtime is something that in some jobs is acknowledged and rewarded, but in other situations, unacknowledged and unrewarded overtime is part of the job. The eight-hour work-day that was won with such difficulty all of those decades ago is nowadays being eroded rather insidiously. The result of all this is of course an increased risk of health problems, relationship breakdown, alienation of family and friends. Someone who works nine and ten hour days with work brought home at the weekend will not be someone who is relaxing adequately and contributing to family life, nor able to be an active member in leisure and relationship-building activities.

Tomorrow has been declared as National Australian “Go Home on Time Day”. The Australia Institute is encouraging people to log on in their site and leave their email contact details there. You nominate the time you wish to be sent an email reminder with an attached skip of paper that tells you (and your boss!) that it is time to go home on time!

In terms of peer pressure, it is perhaps a good idea to start and educational program that gets people to be more efficient and be better time managers. Although many people are spending more time working, are they doing it as effectively as they can? Perhaps we may need to inculcate our workers with a culture of working to capacity and efficiently within the bounds of the eight-hour work day, and training them to frown on people who do unpaid overtime as inefficient, or as victims of a boss who takes advantage of them…

Tomorrow at least, if not every day from now on, GO HOME ON TIME!


“And so, to the end of history, murder shall breed murder, always in the name of right and honor and peace, until the gods are tired of blood and create a race that can understand.” - George Bernard Shaw

Do vile, abominable, contract killers who are responsible for heinous murders committed in cold blood have feelings? Does someone who is used to destroying life have a conscience? Is there difference between killing an adult and a child? Is there a difference between killing a stranger and an acquaintance? If you are a killer can you have friends? Can a contract killer repent, reform, move on? These are questions that the film we watched at the weekend raised. It was a challenging and difficult film to watch although it was advertised as a comedy. A black comedy, but nevertheless a comedy, and there are a few chuckles in there. However, most of the film I found disturbing and deeply thought-provoking.

It was Martin McDonagh’s 2008 film, “In Bruges”. Firstly, as the title suggests, the locations of the film are absolutely breathtaking. It is all shot in the Belgian city of Bruges (Brugge), the best preserved medieval town in northern Europe with a population of about 200,000. Famous buildings in the city that are showcased in the movie include the old Market Hall (13th–15th century), with a famous 47-bell carillon in the belfry, and the Town Hall (1376–1420). The Chapel of the Holy Blood (14th–16th century), which contains the Chapel of St. Basil (1150) and a gold casket that is reputed to hold a few drops of Christ’s blood brought from the Holy Land in 1150. Other notable churches include the Cathedral of St. Salvator (12th–16th century); the Church of Notre Dame, containing the tombs of Mary of Burgundy and her father, Charles the Bold; and the Church of Jerusalem (1428), a replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Notable among numerous museums with collections of Flemish art and history are the Memling Museum in the 12th-century Hospital of St. John, the Groeninge Museum, and the 15th-century Gruuthuse mansion. The béguinage (a retreat for secular nuns; 1245) is one of the finest in Belgium (ah, wonderful memories of our visit in Bruges!).

The cinematography is beautiful and shows off the naturally photogenic city in its best light, gruesome plot notwithstanding! This is a characteristic feature of the film – contrasts. Beauty is counterpoised against extreme horror, violence against tenderness, hate against love and affection, conscience against immorality. Yes, there is blood and there is foul language, but this is a movie about killers, remember? There is drug use and horrible murders, people who have no scruples whatsoever, or do they? The result is very complex, challenging and confronting film, which manages despite its subject matter and unlikely characters to draw us in so that we consider the moral questions that I asked at the beginning of the blog.

The plot, very briefly and without giving too much away, concerns two contract killers, Ken and Ray, the former older and very experienced, the other young and just having carried out his first (and very botched!) first job. They are sent by Harry, their boss, to Bruges for a couple of weeks until “things settle down” back home across the channel. Harry, however, has other plans for Ray and charges Ken to carry out his wishes. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” suits what happens next to a tee, and the situation forces Harry to come to Bruges to put things “right”. Things keep on going wrong, very wrong! Add to everything a seductive, local, young woman who is a drug dealer, an ex-boyfriend, some Canadian tourists, a dwarf and the plot thickens quite considerably and comes to a terrifyingly tense climax…

Colin Farrell as Ray does a great job as the antihero torn between an attack of conscience and duty. Brendan Gleeson as Ken is a fine supporting role and Ralph Fiennes is very convincing as the horribly vicious Harry. Clémence Poésy is a fresh-faced beauty who plays the local girl and the dwarf is well-played by Jordan Prentice. The direction is tight and well-handled by Martin McDonagh, who also wrote the script. This was a film that went against convention in many ways, arousing in the viewer conflicting feelings. It was hard to come to terms with feeling sympathy towards contract killers, but the film is after all about redemption so the revulsion one initially, feels turns to pity, turns to sympathy, turns to revulsion in quick succession.

I recommend the film most highly, but be warned, this is a violent and confronting movie. The accents are quite thick and it took us quite a bit of time to get used to them. There were no subtitles or captions on the Bluray disc we watched and we felt quite miffed! Felt short-changed and cheated, in fact! We come to expect the subtitles now and wonder how we did without them for so long in the old days of the VHS tape!

Sunday 22 November 2009


“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh

The illustration for yesterday’s blog is by today’s artist whose work and life I am showcasing for today’s Art Sunday offering. He is Gustave Caillebotte, born August 19th, 1848, died February 21st, 1894. He was a French painter and a generous patron of the impressionists, whose own works, until recently, were neglected. He was an engineer by profession, but also attended the Ècole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He met Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Pierre Auguste Renoir in 1874 and helped organise the first impressionist exhibition in Paris that same year.

He participated in later shows and painted some 500 works in a more realistic style than that of his friends. Caillebotte's most intriguing paintings are those of the broad, new Parisian boulevards. The boulevards were painted from high vantage points and were populated with elegantly clad figures strolling with the expressionless intensity of somnambulists, as in Boulevard Vu d'en Haut (1880; private collection, Paris). Caillebotte's superb collection of impressionist paintings was left to the French government on his death. With considerable reluctance the government accepted part of the collection…

In 1881 Caillebotte acquired a property on the banks of the Seine near Argenteuil, and moved there permanently in 1888. He stopped exhibiting his work at age 34 and devoted himself to gardening and to building and racing yachts. He was able to see his frieds and family at his property, and engaged in lively discussions on art, politics, literature, and philosophy. Although he never married, he had a serious relationship with Charlotte Berthier, a woman eleven years his junior and of the lower class, to whom he left a sizable annuity on his death.

In the early 1890s, Caillebotte stopped painting large canvases because of poor health. He died of pulmonary congestion while working in his garden at Petit-Gennevilliers in 1894 at age 45. After his death, Caillebotte's reputation as a painter was superseded by his reputation as a supporter of the arts, however, seventy years after his death, art historians began to re-evaluate his artistic contributions  and he is now regarded as a significant painter in his own right.

Above is his painting “Rue Halevy Seen from the Sixth Floor”, painted in 1878. It shows a favourite theme of his, an architectural extravaganza of a Paris boulevard, seen from above and with a highly characteristic perspective that is used in many of his paintings. I particularly like the violets and yellows in this painting that are set off by the more neutral creams and greys. It is more impressionistic than some of his other more realistic works, such as the “Paris Street, Rainy Day”, of 1877 that I featured in yesterday’s blog.

Have a good week!