Saturday 26 December 2009


“Such parting break the heart they fondly hope to heal.” – Lord Byron

A full day today, with some shopping, a couple of visits to friends and then tonight, we had dinner out. The city was rather quiet and the restaurant was only half full. Nevertheless the company was good and the food nice. We ate Japanese at Koko Restaurant in the Crown Casino complex.

For Song Saturday today a beautiful Italian song sung by Gigi Finizio:

I have translated the lyrics, but they are so very poetic in Italian, that the English doesn’t do it justice. In any case, just enjoy the song and the music!

The Mirror of My Thoughts

Sitting on the shore of my consciousness,
Melancholy counts my days
Full of the experiences of my life.
It looks like a seagull with wings spread along the horizon
Embracing the sky and flying over me
Sinking into the scenery of a sunset.

I always read those butterfly wings inside your eyes
With the hope that your skin was only mine,
But you planned another adventure, a story without me.
And your perfume I no longer like, is nearly washed out of the sheets,
Into the open sea of a memory.

I am without you, like a picture of someone who leaves,
And in the mirror of my thoughts, I see you but I never reach you.
I tear my anger into pieces, I kick this sand
If I could love another, I would delete you from the time past.
But without you, I follow a suburban route.
The sky is crying over us, who knows if tears are bathing your eyes?
I try to find you, but you are like a breath that is lost blown against a glass,
Or on the canvas of a painter who paints what is not there.

Love abandons us and the vortex of time does not enfold us any more;
Lost in the sphere of a world that turns us upside down.
You lose the hope to find yourself again in my life
Maybe you were just an abandoned photograph in the closet of memories…

I am without you, like a picture of someone who leaves,
And in the mirror of my thoughts, I see you but I never reach you.
I tear my anger into pieces, I kick this sand
If I could love another, I would delete you from the time past.
But without you, I follow a suburban route.
The sky is crying over us, who knows if tears are bathing your eyes?
I try to find you, but you are like a breath that is lost blown against a glass,
Or on the canvas of a painter who paints what is not there.

Lo Specchio Dei Pensieri Miei

Seduta sulla riva di questa mia coscienza
La malinconia far conto dei miei giorni
Comprese le esperienze di questa vita mia
Somiglia ad un gabbiano con le ali aperte lungo l’orizzonte
Abbraccia il cielo che e’ sopra di me
che affonda dentro lo scenario di un tramonto.

Io che leggevo sempre ali di farfalla dentro gli occhi tuoi
Nutrivo la speranza che la tua pelle fosse solamente mia
Tu invece programmavi un’avventura un’altra storia senza me
E il tuo profumo non mi va piu’ via dalle lenzuola
Il mare aperto di un ricordo.

Io senza di te fotografia di chi va via e
nello specchio dei pensieri miei ti vedo ma non ti raggiungo mai
Faccio a pezzi la mia rabbia,
prendo a calci questa sabbia
se sapessi amare un’altra ti cancellerei dal tempo.

Io senza di te seguo una via di periferia
Il cielo sta piangendo su di noi chissa’ se sta bagnando gli occhi tuoi
Io ti cerco come un fiato che si perde contro un vetro
Sulla tela di un pittore che dipinge quello che non c’e’

L’amore ci abbandona e il vortice del tempo non ci avvolge piu’
Sperduti in quella sfera di un mondo capovolto che ci spinge giù
Si perde la speranza di ritrovarti ancora nella vita mia
Forse eri solo la fotografia abbandonata nell’armadio dei ricordi

Io senza di te fotografia di chi va via
il cielo sta piangendo su di noi
Chissà se sta bagnando gli occhi tuoi
Io ti cerco come un fiato che si perde contro un vetro
Sulla tela di un pittore che dipinge quello che non c’e’.

Thursday 24 December 2009


“Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.” - Washington Irving

Merry Christmas, Everyone! I hope you are having a lovely Christmas Day!

The first Christmas card (illustrated above) was created in England on December 9, 1842.  Christmas cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole in London, and featured an illustration by John Callcott Horsley of Torquay, England. The picture, of a family with a small child drinking wine together proved controversial, but the idea was shrewd as Cole had helped introduce the Penny Post three years earlier. Two batches totalling 2050 cards were printed and sold that year for a shilling each.

This was also the most expensive Christmas card was sold at an auction in England in 2001 for £20,000, approximately $40,000 USD. The card was from 1843.

The first Christmas greeting by SMS was a simple 'Merry Christmas'.

President Eisenhower issued the first official White House Christmas card in 1953. By the year 1961, the White House was sending out 2000 cards. By 2009, that number has risen to over 1.7 million.

Only one in 100 Christmas cards sold in Britain in 2006 contained any religious imagery or message, a recent survey has shown.

'Merry Christmas' is the greeting preferred by 53% of Americans; 21% of people like 'Happy Holidays' and only 12% like 'Season's Greetings'. In Australia, ‘Merry Christmas’ is the overwhelmingly popular majority.

In 2004, the German post office gave away 20 million scented stickers free to make Christmas cards smell like a fir Christmas tree, cinnamon, gingerbread, or a honey-wax candle.

An average household in America will mail 28 Christmas cards each year and see 28 eight cards return in their place. In Australia, the average number mailed out by a household is 35 cards.

As early as 1822, the postmaster in Washington, D.C. was worried by the amount of extra mail at Christmas time. His preferred solution to the problem was to limit by law the number of cards a person could send. Even though commercial cards were not available at that time, people were already sending so many home-made cards that sixteen extra postmen had to be hired in the city.

During the Christmas buying season, Visa cards alone are used an average of 5,340 times every minute in the USA.

The first Christmas stamp was released in Canada in 1898 and not Austria in 1937 as some claim.

The poinsettia, traditionally a Christmas flower, originally grew in Mexico; where it was known as the "Flower of the Holy Night". It was first brought to America by Joel Poinsett in 1829.

The traditional flaming Christmas pudding dates back to 1670 in England, and was derived from an earlier form of stiffened plum porridge.

Christmas became a national holiday in America on June, 26, 1870.

The twelve days of Christmas are the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany (6th of January) and represent the length of time it took for the wise men from the East to visit the manger of Jesus after his birth.

The Christmas tree displayed in Trafalgar Square in London is an annual gift to the UK from Norway since 1947. The Norwegian spruce given is a token of appreciation of British friendship during World War II from the Norwegian people.

English Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas between 1647 and 1660 because he believed such celebrations were immoral for the holiest day of the year.

Christmas trees arrived in England in the 1830s and became enormously popular when Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, took a tree to Windsor Castle in 1841. It is thought that the first tree to be decorated with lights was in 1882 when the vice-president of the Thomas Edison Electric Company, E. Johnson, strung together small light bulbs on his tree.

Wednesday 23 December 2009


“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” - Charles Dickens

It’s Christmas Eve here in Melbourne and as night falls the gray of the day is slowly changing to black. We have had an overcast day with a few showers and tomorrow’s Christmas day weather promises to be very mild with a maximum temperature of 22˚C. So much for the beach-side barbeque that some people had planned, some showers have also been forecast. We shall have a quiet family Christmas, mostly spent indoors, relaxing, nibbling, listening to music, eating, chatting and laughing.

We have decorated the house and it all looks very festive now. We always put the Christmas decorations up a few days before Christmas and they normally stay up until the 7th January, St John’s Day. This evening is the time for Christmas carols and good cheer. We had a quiet day today, except for a few visits to take some sweets and Christmas hampers to some friends and a few elderly people that we know will not be having a good Christmas. It is so easy and it takes so little to make people happy that it is a pity that not more of us do that. The joy of the season surely is in giving, and what better than to give to people who least expect it, people that one hardly knows.

I’d like to take the opportunity to wish all the readers of my blog a very Happy Christmas and all the very best for yourselves and your families. May you have a peaceful, joyful day tomorrow.

Here is one of my favourite Christmas carols:

Merry Christmas!


“From a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it.” - Katharine Whitehorn

We went to a Shopping Centre today. The day was to be hot (it topped at 39˚C) and as we needed to do some Christmas shopping, we decided the air-conditioned comfort of the centre would be a good idea. Bad idea! The pullulating crowds, the constant noise, the incessant tinkling of the Christmas music, the traffic, the forced cheeriness was all a bit too much. Reminders everywhere that Christmas has become a commercial activity and that its temple is the large department store in shopping centres similar to the one we visited today…

We couldn’t take too much of the crassness and ended up cutting the expedition short and going back home via a nursery. This was less crowded and although the major part of it was hot and uncomfortable, we found some coolness and green serenity in the shade of the fern house. At least in the darkness of the shadehouse we were able to get away from the milling crowds and in a quiet little corner, saw in a grotto a small and intimate, simple nativity scene. A few small figures assembled by a loving hand and recreating simply the Christmas story. That alone seemed to capture the essence of the season, noticed only by the two of us, alas!

The Season’s Greetings

The greeting cards announce in cursive script:
“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”.
The mailbox fills with cardboard wishes
And stock sugary images, empty felicitations.

The carols blare in lifts, in shopping centres:
“Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth”.
The children bright-eyed in greedy innocence,
Watch with hungry eyes toy store displays.

The Father Christmases in their thousands, chuckle:
“Ho, ho, ho!” their white beards and hair a pale caricature.
The milling crowds around them hope to be infected
By their pretend jollity and ersatz joviality.

The decorations brightly sparkle, the Christmas lights shine,
“Noël, Noël” the electronics tinkle as they flicker on and off.
The families gather united under the same roof,
The enmities suspended temporarily under false smiles.

Somewhere a tiny baby is in a hovel born ,
Its mother unmarried, only a distant relative is present.
The stars burn bright in the firmament
And one falls, streaking bright across the blue velvet.
In the cold air, the lowing of the cattle breaks the silence,
While somewhere in the distance a shepherd’s pipe
Begins to play a simple tune that’s carried by the wind.
Christmas again this year has come.

Jacqui BB is hosting Poetry Wednesday.

Tuesday 22 December 2009


“The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.” – Seneca

I am reading a book called “Death and the Afterlife” by Brian Innes. It is a large format book with lots of colour illustrations and filled with amazing bits and tidbits – science, superstition, myth and legend, sociological, religious and psychological aspects of the whole topic of death and the afterlife. It is an extremely interesting and very readable book, with some amazing photographs and illustrations that are striking to say the least.

One of the author’s points in this book is that modern society in Western countries tends to “sanitise” death and remove the living from its influence, creating an unhealthy unfamiliarity with it and also a distancing of the “modern, civilised” Westerner from its inevitability. Most people living in the West have never seen a dead body and will take inordinate steps to preserve themselves from any contact with the dead or death. Even the thought of death is banished and our modern medical machinery has become obsessed with preserving life, no matter what.

On the other hand, in traditional Mediterranean culture, in Russia, in the East, in “developing” countries death is an inevitable part of life and people are exposed to it more frequently - and by that I don’t necessarily mean exposed to it in the form of killings in warfare or social violence. The laying out of the corpse in the parlour for the traditional wake still occurs, with relatives and friends being able to say their goodbyes and close that final chapter of the dead person’s book. The rituals surrounding death are mechanisms whereby acceptance of death is gained. The open expression of grief on the part of the bereaved is an important means in coming to terms with the fact of death. And that is healthy…

Michael Gorer has written an interesting book (“The Pornography of Death”) and in it he says: “In the twentieth century there seems to have been an unremarkable shift in prudery; whereas copulation has become more and more mentionable in Anglo-Saxon societies, death has become more and more ‘unmentionable’ as a natural process.” Our whole society is fixated on life and death is shunned. The euphemisms that are resorted to when it needs be mentioned are an indication of the fear that people have developed in what is essentially a perfectly natural and significant event. The whole of the funeral trade is another example of the insulation that has evolved in our societies in order to make death as remote as possible and as clinically removed from the business of the living. Society is youth-, health- and life-oriented. It is hardly surprising that people in the West cannot cope with old age, disease and death…

This is perhaps reflected by the shift in the symbolic image of death. Charon in Ancient Greece was often depicted as youthful and god-like. Charon in his boat is accompanied by Hermes, the psychopomp, who conducted the shade of the departed to the Styx so that Charon could ferry it across. The same youthful, god-like figure of Charon is depicted in ancient prose and poetry. How the image of Charon degenerated into the “Grim Reaper” is perhaps an indication of our view of death in the West. The illustration above by Olexandr Lytovchenko typifies this view of Charon (and death) as the grim, aged, pitiless and fearful reaper of life.

At the same time that we shun real death, virtual death has of course become infinitely appealing, courtesy of Hollywood – the more violent, the better. The entertainment industry is quick to supply vicarious corpses in order to satisfy the curiosity that the general population has regarding death and the “awfully big adventure” as Peter Pan says. The fantasy is provided to the masses who gorge themselves on the spectacle of simulated death in the comfort of their own lounge room…

Sunday 20 December 2009


“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Yesterday we watched an interesting film, which although being quite fluffy (i.e. not deep and meaningful, at least superficially), nor artistically noteworthy it was quite enjoyable as entertainment and a bit of escapism (pun intended, you’ll see what I mean). It was Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, “The Prestige”. It starred Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansonn. On the International Movie Database (IMDB) site, the film has a rating of 8.4/100 based on about 175,000 votes, which means a lot of people that have seen it thought it was a pretty good movie. However, I am not always convinced of the merit of the ratings on IMDB. They can be skewed quite considerably in favour of the people that use the site and may not necessarily represent a good cross-section of the movie-viewing public. Nevertheless, as I said earlier, the movie was enjoyable and good enough to watch as a bit of escapist fare for a Sunday matinee.

The plot revolves around a pair of magicians in 19th century London. Hugh Jackman plays Robert Angier (magician #1) and Christian Bale plays Alfred Borden (Magician #2). These two start out as good friends but end as bitter enemies with each bent of revenge in the wake of a botched stage act that goes tragically wrong. Both magicians become famous and as their rivalry grows, each sabotages the performance of the other on stage. When Alfred performs a successful trick, Robert becomes obsessed trying to uncover the secret of his competitor. They are aided by their ingénieurs (masters of the devices and devisers of the mechanics of the tricks). There is a particularly good performance by Michael Caine, as Cutter, Angier’s ingénieur. In search of the ultimate trick, Robert goes to the USA, finds Nikola Tesla, the famous physicist (played with great aplomb by David Bowie!) and gets him to construct an amazing electrical device that helps him create the magic trick that astounds all of London…

The film examines the duality of human nature and the triggers that force a human being to go from good to bad, from loving to hating, from helping to hindering. It asks the question is even a saintly person likely to turn to an evil one given a powerful enough trigger? It posits that most of us enclose within both the good and the bad balanced precariously. It is a constant struggle to maintain the balance weighed down on the good side. The movie looks at what pushes that balance towards the bad side.

The cinematography, costumes and sets are successfully Victorian and the atmosphere that is created is one of authenticity. One has a good insight into end-of-the-century Vaudeville and the cut-throat competitiveness that existed then. The direction is very good and the music is quite suitable and appropriately unobtrusive. Although the film is 130 minutes long, it is not tiring. A word of warning: There are some challenging scenes, which the faint-hearted may find disturbing (people drowning, canaries being violently killed…).

The film reminded me of a clutch of other films that have to do with magicians. For example, “Houdini” the 1953 classic with Tony Curtis. The 2007 “Death-Defying Acts” with Guy Pearce and Catherine-Zeta Jones; and the very satisfying 2006 film “The Illusionist” with Edward Norton.

Quite a good movie to watch and unwind with.


“Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.” - Edgar Degas

For Art Sunday today and artist of whom we know little and none of whose paintings have survived. It is the ancient Greek painter of the 5th century BC, Zeuxis. In ancient records we are told that Zeuxis, following the initiative of Apollodorus, had introduced into the art of painting a method of representing his figures in light and shadow, as opposed to the older method of outline, with large flat masses of colour for draperies, and other details, such as had been practised by Polygnotus and others of the great fresco painters. The new method led to smaller compositions, and often to pictures consisting of only a single figure, on which it was easier for the painter to demonstrate the perfect roundness of form of the painted figure.

The effect would appear strongly realistic, as compared with the older method of flat colour, and to this was probably due the origin of such stories as the contest in which Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes appearing so real that birds flew towards it, while Parrhasius painted a curtain which even Zeuxis mistook for real. It is perhaps a variation of this story when we are told that Zeuxis also painted a boy holding grapes towards which birds flew, the artist remarking that if the boy had been as well painted as the grapes the birds would have kept at a distance.

Lucian, in his “Zeuxis”, speaks of the artist as carrying a search of not only to novelty of technique, but also to a novel and strange degree as in subject matter and the emotional reaction this subject had on the viewer, as illustrated in the group of a female Centaur with her young. When the picture was exhibited, the spectators admired its novelty of theme and overlooked the skill of the painter, to the vexation of Zeuxis. The pictures of Heracles strangling the serpents to the astonishment of his father and mother, Penelope, and Menelaus Weeping are quoted as instances in which strong themes naturally presented themselves to the artist. But, in spite of the tendency towards realism inherent in the new method of Zeuxis, he is said to have retained the idealism, which had characterized his predecessors.

Of all his known works it would be expected that this quality would have appeared best in his famous picture of Helen of Troy. Quintilian states that in respect of robustness of types Zeuxis had followed Homer, while there is the fact that he had inscribed two verses of the Iliad under his figure of Helen. As models for the picture he was allowed the presence of five of the most beautiful maidens of Croton at his own request, in order that he might be able to "transfer the truth of life to a mute image." Cicero assumed that Zeuxis had found distributed among these five women the various perfect elements that went to make up a figure of ideal beauty. It should not, however, be understood that the painter had made up his figure by the process of combining the good points of various models, but rather that he found among those models the points that answered to the ideal Helen in his own mind, and that he merely required the models to guide and correct himself by during the process of transferring his ideal to form and colour. This picture also is said to have been exhibited publicly, with the result that Zeuxis made much profit out of it.

Zeuxis is said to have laughed to death at one of his own paintings. It was the painting of an old maid who had requested to pose for him in order that he might paint a picture of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love.

The painting above “Zeuxis et les Filles de Crotone” is by François-André Vincent (1746-1816), painted in 1749 and exhibited in the Louvre. It illustrates Zeuxis choosing the five beautiful young women of Croton, who he will use as his models on which to base his painting of Helen. The painting is full of a neo-classicism, full of charm but at the same time replete with archaeologically correct detail, reminiscent of David.