Saturday 5 December 2009


“We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” – Jimmy Carter

Another wonderful Saturday! I started the day off by having my hair cut. Fortunately my barber opens at about 8:00 am, so I was able to not waste much the day on such a chore. We then went shopping and visited the public library. Today we were at the Lalor Shopping Centre, which is in an outer working class suburb of Melbourne. I love this shopping centre as it is still a vibrant, vital and zesty strip shopping centre with many old-fashioned shops, cafés, quite a cosmopolitan air.

An Italian cake shop is right next to a Lebanese bakery. A Greek delicatessen opposite a Spanish take-away shop, next to a Turkish restaurant. A Vietnamese two-dollar shop, a Chinese department store, an Australian supermarket, Serbian greengrocers, Polish cafés, Korean newsagents, old English butchers, multinational clothes and shoe shops, everything one may need! And people, always masses of polyglot, multicoloured and endlessly varied people! The public library there is well-stocked, not only with English books, but with a variety of other items - books, CDs and videos in languages to reflect the multicultural population of the suburb. It is always such a lucky dip in that treasure trove and I come back with all sorts of CDs of various nationalities.

In one of the pedestrian byways, on most Saturdays, a couple of elderly Italian buskers play an accordion and sing old Italian songs contributing to the festive atmosphere. Today a Chinese woman was dancing along while a few pensioners of varying nationalities were sitting on the benches and were clapping their hands in time. The greengrocers were shouting out their specials, while the butchers further down the street had a barbeque set up and were grilling a variety of their sausages for people to sample.  Further along some groups of friends were telling jokes and laughing. The world might have gone crazy, terrorists may have decided to blow everyone up, war might be raging far away, but in Lalor today everyone was having a lovely time!

Here is a song, “Marina” by Rocco Granata from 1959, and one that was on the Lalor Buskers’ repertoire today:

Later in the afternoon, we watched a movie and then in the evening a wonderful dinner with all the trimmings and some divine dessert…

Thursday 3 December 2009


“All religions must be tolerated for every man must get to heaven his own way.” - Frederick the Great

December 4th is St Barbara’s Feast Day. When I was young I used to really like our religious instruction classes as we were taught the lives of the saints. I used to especially enjoy those saints’ lives where a great deal of torture and adversity featured prominently, and the saint always used to come shining through like some superhero, foiling the torturers’ plans of wicked malfeasance. It was like a religious Batman and Joker episode. I used to retell these stories adding my own “sauce”, making the trials and tribulations of the saint more varied and lurid, the stories more adventurous, and the rescues more phantasmagorical through the intervention of angels, other saints and occasionally quite impressive acts of God where the almighty came in and through magnificent acts of deus ex machina saved the tortured saint. Really good boy’s own adventure stuff!

Well, here is the story of St Barbara, without any of my added sauces. St Barbara was a beautiful young princess who was imprisoned in a high tower by her father, so that her many suitors were discouraged from pursuing her (some authors inject a dash of incestuous jealousy on the father’s part). One of Barbara’s handmaidens smuggled in some Christian books to her and she embraced the Christian faith with much fervour.  When her pagan father learned of her conversion he handed her over to be tortured as she would not renounce her new faith. No matter what the torturers devised, St Barbara could not be harmed and her faith preserved her body. In the end, her father, became so incensed that he beheaded her himself, upon which he was instantly struck dead by lightning.  Therefore, St Barbara is invoked against tempests and storms and she is the patron saint of artillery men and gunners, makers of fireworks and explosives.

In Greece, on St Barbara’s feast it is a fast day (the Lesser Lent before Christmas) and a special sweetmeat is made, which is suitable for the fasting Feast Day. It is called “Várvarra” after the name of the saint, which is “Varvárra” in Greek. Here is the recipe and it is of very ancient (pre-Christian) provenance:


500 gr whole wheat grains
500 gr sugar (may be substituted by honey)
2 pinches salt
2 cups of sultanas
1 level tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup plain flour, sifted
250 gr chopped dried figs
250 gr chopped dried apricots
250 gr chopped walnuts
1 pomegranate
Icing sugar for dusting

Soak the wheat grains overnight and the next morning, rinse them and boil them in much water until the grains are fully cooked and split open. Add the sugar (or honey) and salt and continue to heat, being careful to add some more water if needed, to maintain the consistency of gruel. Add the sultanas when the mixture is fairly viscous and allow them to heat right through. Remove from the heat and allow to become lukewarm.
Heat a pan and add the flour and spices and stir until it becomes golden brown. Remove from the heat and add the flour mixture to the wheat mixture slowly, stirring all the while until it all has been incorporated. Heat the mixture over low heat, until it becomes fairly viscous (no too much as it will become firmer when it cools – if it is too viscous add some hot water to the mixture). Add the chopped figs and apricots and stir through.
Put in a large serving bowl and allow to cool. To serve, prepare the topping by separating the pomegranate seeds, mixing them with the walnuts and spreading all over the top of the dessert. Spoon into dessert bowls and just before serving, dust with icing sugar.

Wednesday 2 December 2009


“Feast, n: A festival. A religious celebration usually signalized by gluttony and drunkenness, frequently in honor of some holy person distinguished for abstemiousness.” - Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

The Roman Calendar specifies today’s date as III Nones December and on this day the ancient Romans celebrated the festival of the Bona Dea. The Bona Dea was a very ancient and holy Roman goddess of women, fertility, virginity, fruitfulness and healing, and was worshipped exclusively by women. Her true name was sometimes said to be Fauna, which means “She Who Wishes Well”. Fauna was considered her secret name, not to be spoken (especially by men). Bona Dea means the “Good Goddess”. Bona, in Latin, has overtones of meaning implying worthiness, nobility, honesty, bravery, health, and rectitude, as well as connections to wealth (a “bonus”, even now, means an extra gift, of money or other good things). Rites in her honour were celebrated annually and the Vestal Virgins officiated. The festival was strictly off limits to men and was attended only by women. Another festival in honour of the Bona Dea was celebrated on the Kalends of May (May 1st).

The festival was celebrated in May in a specially dedicated temple, or in December in the house of the Pontifex Maximus (chief magistrate), in which his wife and respectable matrons of the city played a key role in the very exclusive ceremony. These ceremonies were very secret and males were excluded not only from participating but also from knowing what precisely the rites involved. The presence of a male in the ceremony was a gross sacrilege and great pains were taken to ensure that it was a “women only” affair.

On December 3rd, in the year 62 BC, the celebration honouring the Bona Dea was held in the home of Julius Caesar, then praetor and Pontifex Maximus of Rome. His wife Pompeia and his mother, Aurelia, were in charge. A rash young politician called Publius Clodius, dressed up as a woman and tricked Caesar’s wife into allowing him in the vicinity of the ceremony. He was caught by Caesar's mother and unceremoniously kicked out of the house! The ceremony had to be performed anew after suitable purifications. A great scandal arose when this sacrilege became public knowledge. Caesar immediately divorced his wife, who was innocent and only duped. Caesar’s excuse for this rather harsh treatment was the comment that: “Not only must Caesar’s wife be innocent, she must also be above suspicion of guilt.”

Publius Clodius was sued and at his trial Cicero demonstrated Publius’ guilt by proving his alibi was not genuine. The two men became mortal enemies over the affair. The rites of the Bona Dea seemed to have fallen into disrepute over the events, and by the early empire, Juvenal suggested that the festival of the Bona Dea was nothing but a drunken orgy for girls.

bonus |ˈbōnəs| noun
A payment or gift added to what is usual or expected, in particular.
• An amount of money added to wages on a seasonal basis, esp. as a reward for good performance: The staff were all expecting big Christmas bonuses this year.
• Something welcome and often unexpected that accompanies and enhances something that is itself good: Good weather is an added bonus but the real appeal is the landscape.
• Basketball An extra free throw awarded to a fouled player when the opposing team has exceeded the number of team fouls allowed during a period.
• Brit. An extra dividend or issue paid to the shareholders of a company.
• Brit. A distribution of profits to holders of an insurance policy.
ORIGIN late 18th cent. (probably originally London stock-exchange slang): From Latin bonus (masculine) ‘good,’ used in place of bonum (neuter) ‘good, good thing.’


“Freedom is never given; it is won.” - A. Philip Randolph

The United Nations has established December 2nd as the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. The resolution was passed in 1949 to recognise ongoing efforts worldwide to abolish all forms of slavery. We seem to think that slavery is something that was common in ancient Greece and Rome and died out with the emancipation of the black slaves in America, however, the stark reality is that are more people living as slaves today than at any other time in history. A shocking realisation for most people who first find out about this. The other startling and distressing part of this realisation is that most of the estimated 27 million victims of slavery around the world are women and children.

Surprised? Surely this can’t be right, not nowadays when virtually every nation on earth has condemned and outlawed slavery? Unfortunately it is true. Why? Because it is underground, because it goes by names less distasteful than “slavery” and because enormous financial interests are involved. Of the estimated 27 million people in some form of slavery or other, the vast majority (as many as 20 million perhaps) are Indians who work as “bonded labourers.”  This is an illegal system throughout India, but unfortunately is widely practiced. Most bonded workers spend their lives working to pay off debts that were incurred generations ago, according to a report by Human Rights Watch published in 1999. These people work under slave-like conditions breaking rocks, in building, working in fields or factories, for less than a dollar a day.

In today’s globalised economic market and the multinational economic concerns, labour has become a commodity that can be bought and sold. If there is a plentiful supply of cheap labour throughout the world, individuals are increasingly treated as “disposable” to be used, abused, and replaced at will. Complicating the issue is that organised crime control most of this slavery, buying, selling and transporting victims in illegal networks that span national borders.
Even in Western, first world nations, the enforcement of existing anti-slavery laws is erratic and poorly enforced. In developing nations, corruption is widespread with police and law enforcement officials being actively involved in the slave trade. Even if public officials are honest, they may not be able to act as they are “neutralised” as soon as they begin to investigate the slavery networks. The slaves of the 21st century are a diverse group made up of people of diverse backgrounds, ethnic identities and income levels. As a result, slavery can exist unnoticed even in advanced post-industrial societies like Australia, the USA, UK and Japan.

Unfortunately, even if we are becoming increasingly aware of it, slavery is not likely to be ever completely eradicated. It has been an integral part of humanity from the earliest times, and will exist as long as humans seek to exploit or dominate one another. It seem that we humans hide within us such sentiments. We may possess a fine mind, have on our exterior the veneer of civilisation and the sentiments of equality, liberty and fraternity. Given half an opportunity, the devil that lurks within will spring out and dominate, exploit and enslave others…

Hail, Homo sapiens sapiens!

The human is the wickedest animal
(If we can do to animals this injustice
By such an unfair comparison).
A human to another human
Will mete out such horrors
That no self-respecting animal
Will ever do to others of its kind.

The human mind is the most intricate,
Capable of such wonders,
Such sheer marvels!
And yet its shrewdest cleverness
Is used to wreak much evil,
That to be an idiot seems
A heavenly blessing.

The human is the peak of all creation,
Or apex of evolution,
(Depending on your credos);
Compassion, pity, love, affection, tenderness,
Can fill a heart with angelic sentiments.
And yet in most of us
A devil lurks and will often out, given half a chance…

You, human, I salute, all hail!
Murder most foul, exploitation,
Prostitution, lying, deception,
War, extortion, slavery, injustice,
Betrayal, duplicity, evil, immorality,
Are but some of your works!
Hail, Homo sapiens sapiens!

 Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday.

Monday 30 November 2009


“It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance.” - Elizabeth Taylor

The World Health Organisation has declared December 1st as the World AIDS Day. This year it is perhaps appropriate to spend some time bringing the disease to the forefront as worldwide there has been an alarming jump in new infection rates in the past few years. In Australia, there has been a 40% increase in infections since 2005. Last year, there were 995 new cases of HIV infection in Australia, which according to world standards may translate as a low rate, however, it represents an unacceptably high rate by Australian standards.

The reasons given for this increase in new infections is that there is a lack of publicity campaigns about the disease and its consequences, similar to the ones that were initially launched when AIDS first appeared. The younger generation are inadequately educated about the disease and the message of “safer sex” is not getting through to the Y generation. Better treatments for the disease (at least in developed countries) have meant that the disease is not seen as the death sentence that is was in the past. The optimism and the feeling of invulnerability of the young coupled with non-awareness of what life-long treatment with a cocktail of drugs can mean, have led to irresponsible sexual activity and a high infection rate with the virus.

Increased tolerance to “alternative” lifestyles and increased acceptance of homosexuality have also been blamed for the resurgence of cases of AIDS. However, it is often the young, heterosexual and drug users who seem to be most at risk of infection. Educational programmes, public awareness campaigns, advertisements on TV, radio, newspapers and internet are the way that we can hope to spread the message about HIV and what a terrible price to pay for a “free lifestyle” AIDS is.

What is counterproductive and extremely dangerous is what has occurred in Uganda’s parliament today. A bill for introducing the death penalty for homosexuals was put before it today. The Anti-homosexuality Bill will not only apply to Ugandans who live in the country, but also to Ugandans living abroad who commit such offences, even if homosexuality is legal in the country of their residence. The law proposes death by hanging for serial offenders or those who commit same-sex acts while being HIV-positive. The law further proposes that “touching another person with intent to have homosexual relations” is punishable by a life sentence in gaol. And even more outrageous is the fact that membership of gay organisations, funding them, advocacy of gay rights, provision of condoms or safer sex advice to gays will result in a seven-year gaol term for promoting homosexuality…

Africa continues to have the biggest problem in the world in terms of HIV infection and AIDS. In some countries more than 60% of the population is HIV positive. It is those same countries that have no means of effectively fighting the infection, drugs being expensive or simply unavailable, with the disease spread by poor hygiene (especially in a health care setting where disposable, one-use medical equipment is serially re-used). Lack of knowledge about HIV or downright wrong and fanciful preventative and curative strategies (like the infection being cured if a man has sex with virgins) also continues to increase the prevalence of the infection. In many parts of Africa, anal sex in heterosexual couples is a routine birth control measure. Unprotected anal sex still continues to be the highest risk sexual activity in spreading the virus. Even with Uganda’s draconian legislation against homosexuals, the problem of AIDS will remain in the country, especially if safer sex practices and education about the disease is actively discouraged by the obscurantist government.

Perhaps the greatest victims of the disease are babies borne by HIV-positive mothers. In this case, the congenital AIDS that develops in about a third will lead to a short and painful existence for the majority of them if they are born in a developing country. The sight of congenital AIDS in an infant is one of the most heart-rending and pathetic one can witness. The plight of these young children is enough for everyone of us to be active in AIDS awareness and participation in community education programs. Safer sex practices is a given of course, as is the provision of good health services that promote safe, reliable medical treatment and good hygiene practices. The WHO and Doctors Without Borders do some excellent work in providing health care in developing countries. Many volunteers and missionaries who work with these organisations also do their bit to fight against AIDS.

World AIDS Day is a timely reminder to us about the devastating effects of this disease on any person’s life. The virus causing AIDS, HIV, does not discriminate. Any person may be infected and the statistics are sobering. It does not matter if one is heterosexual or homosexual, male, female or transgender, young or old. What matters is being aware of the risks that one takes if engaging in unsafe sex practices (especially if one has many partners), the risks of sharing syringes when using drugs, unsafe medical practices, unsafe body piercing and tattooing practices, and of course, knowing the risks of having a baby if female and HIV-positive.

Sunday 29 November 2009


“A truth that's told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.” - William Blake

At the weekend we watched an old film about which I had heard nothing until I saw it at our video shop. Quite intrigued, I picked it out to watch and we were surprised by the subject matter and the way the topic was handled, considering when it was made. The William Wyler film is his 1961, “The Children’s Hour”. It is based on a play by Lillian Hellman, who also collaborated on the screenplay. To a certain extent, the movie’s stage origins can be discerned in the film, as is the case with many such screen adaptations of stage plays. However, the story is powerful enough to survive the transit from stage to screen.

There are two main themes explored in the film with a number of tangential topics that are touched upon. The major theme is the vitriolic nature of a lie and what tragic consequences it can have. The second theme relates to prejudice and the way that society ostracises its “black sheep”, mindless of what may befall upon them. A third topic that is laid before the viewer is the “innocence” of childhood and how mistaken we can be if we presume this as a given in our interactions with children. Several other matters that are examined are the constancy of friendship, the doubt that may sow itself as a noxious weed in the garden of love and the price we have to pay for justice. Heavy? Yes it was…

The plot concerns itself with Karen (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha (Shirley MacLaine), who are the headmistresses of an exclusive school for girls. They have been friends since their College days and the school they have started together represents all that they possess as they have poured into it their savings and all of their dreams and hopes. Dr Joe Cardin (James Garner) is Karen’s “chronic” boyfriend, who has been needling her to marry him for a long time, but the school has always taken priority. When Karen and Martha discipline a malicious little girl, the vindictive child twists an overheard comment into slander and accuses her teachers of questionable and “unnatural” behaviour. The scandalous gossip immediately engulfs the school community with repercussions that are swift, crushing and tragic.

The movie is quite harrowing and even though it is a little dated, its basic premises are still relevant and quite topical even today, when we would like to think that we are a little more tolerant and view homosexuality as slightly less scandalous – or do we? I am sure that there still many parts of the world where such behaviour is punishable by death and even in the “enlightened” West, in many parts where Christian fundamentalism is still strong, this “crime against nature” will still raise the wrath of the community and the church.

Because of the supposed innocence of childhood, the inherent maliciousness and cruelty of children is something that will often be ignored in cases where “unnatural” acts are suspected. Better safe than sorry. How many of us would take action to remove a homosexual teacher from the school where our children go – just in case, to be on the safe side? If they are homosexual, surely they could be paedophiles as well? In the case of the supposedly lesbian headmistresses of the film, the community judged and delivered its verdict. An overwhelming “guilty” based on a single lie told by a spoilt little girl ruined the lives of three people.

Another subplot and theme concerns itself with Martha’s freeloading ex-actress aunt, Mrs Lily Mortar. She is responsible to a certain extent for the rumour that starts and the lie that is told by little Mary, but even more than that she is responsible for the consequences of that lie. She shirks her responsibilities and when summoned to testify in the defence of her niece, she chooses not to attend because “she was touring” and because she did not want her “good name besmirched”. Loyalty, family affections, selfishness, irresponsibility, and sheer callousness are played out to their limits and they counterpoise the main themes.

This film, I believe is a forgotten classic and is well worth hunting out to have a look at. It also makes us squirm a little as we question what our reactions would have been. A tragic figure, I found to be Mary’s elderly grandmother who is hasty to draw conclusions based on what her precious little granddaughter ahs told her, but once she recognises the vile slander for what it is, her crushing regret and remorse is quite pathetic. The way that she is brushed off by Karen when she comes to apologise and offer reparation is quite a blow that one feels will have consequences of its own. We found ourselves challenged by this movie and we discussed it at length afterwards. It raises so many very difficult issues and there are no easy solutions…


“An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

As I was doing some cleaning up of my study today, I came across some French postcards which I had bought in Paris. They are the inspiration for today’s Art Sunday as the art of the street scenes of Paris by Antoine Blanchard, 
(1910-1988) characterise the city artistically, socially as well as architecturally. Antoine Blanchard was often introduced to collectors that visited Paris with a view to acquiring some art, as the foremost artist of Parisian street scenes of his day. Like his predecessors, the French masters Cortes, Loir and Utrillo, Blanchard has made quite an impact on contemporary art.

He was born in 1910 in a small village near Blois in the Loire Valley. Blanchard was encouraged at a young age to follow an artistic career. His parents first sent him as a young boy to an art school in Blois, and then relocated the entire family to Rennes in Brittany so that young Antoine could study there at the Ècole des Beaux-Arts. Three years later, in 1932, the young artist moved to Paris in order to Study at its world famous Ècole des Beaux-Arts. Upon completion of his studies, Blanchard was awarded the Prix de Rome, an honour rarely given to an artist so young.

He spent quite a few years in Paris recording scenes of the city’s bustling streets characterised by glowing street lamps, flower vendors pushing carts full of brilliantly-coloured flowers and pedestrians crowding the sidewalks and showing off their fashionable clothes. His works were an immediate success, and critics have compared his works to the traditional Paris street scenes painted in the late 1800s and early 1900s in both style and subject matter. It is, however, important to note that Blanchard’s pieces are more delicate in brushwork, more generous in colour and capture more movement than those of his predecessors.

Combining his years of classical training with innovative techniques of the 20th century, Blanchard was a trendsetter. The artist’s works executed throughout his fifty year long career are witness to his gradual development in technique, moving from heavy and dark tones similar to those of the old masters, to a new style using numerous strokes of colour lightly applied to the canvas. With immense imagination, profound understanding of colour and light and accuracy in architectural detail, Blanchard has continually delighted the art world with his compositions.

In 1979, his large canvas “Le Café de la Paix” won the Premier Grand Prix at the first art competition held in Paris’ famed Café de la Paix on the bustling Boulevard des Capucines. That work is now part of a major collection in Salt Lake City, Utah. Spanning five decades of ceaseless hours spent in front of the easel, Blanchard’s career was fired by a pressing goal to continually excel. This strict discipline did not, however, harden his work – it proved only to refine it. Along with Utrillo, Loir, Guys, Galien-Laloue and Cortes, Antoine Blanchard is one of the great impressionists of modern times.

Looking at his art, I am struck by the nostalgically dated look of his paintings. It is a contrived style that, yes, does pander to the tourist tastes, but at the same time it captures the essence of Paris. Not contemporary Paris perhaps, with its race riots, its traffic problems and pollution, its crime and bomb scares, but the Paris that most people have in their mind: A romantic city of art and music, good food and fashion, fun and frolic.

The painting above is “Le Café de la Paix”, which charactarises both the style and subject matter of Blanchard.

Have a good week!