Saturday 2 January 2010


“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” - Confucius

This was the last day of the holidays for me, tomorrow bright and early it’s back to work! Another day today taking it easy, doing some gardening and also cleaning up my study. We went out for a drive and we came back in the afternoon, to relax a little and then have dinner. A quiet night tonight and here goes another year!

For Art Sunday today, Raphael. He was an Italian Renaissance painter, considered to be one of the greatest and most popular artists of all time. Raphael was born Raffaello Santi (or Sanzio) in Urbino on April 6, 1483, and received his early training in art from his father, the painter Giovanni Santi. He also studied with Timoteo Viti at Urbino, executing under his influence a number of works of miniature-like delicacy, including Apollo and Marsyas and The Knight's Dream. In 1499 he went to Perugia, in Umbria, and became a student and assistant of the painter Perugino. Raphael imitated his master closely; their paintings of this period are executed in styles so similar that art historians have found it difficult to determine which were painted by Raphael.

In 1504 Raphael moved to Florence, where he studied the work of such established painters of the time as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Fra Bartolommeo, learning their methods of representing the play of light and shade, anatomy, and dramatic action. At this time he made a transition to a more animated, informal manner of painting. His development during his Florentine period can best be traced in his numerous Madonnas.

Raphael's most important commissions during his stay in Florence came from Umbria. His most original composition of this period is the Entombment of Christ, an altarpiece that nevertheless shows the strong influence of Michelangelo in the postures and anatomical development of the figures.

In 1508 Raphael was called to Rome by Pope Julius II and commissioned to execute frescoes in four small stanze (rooms), of the Vatican Palace. The walls of the first room, the Stanza della Segnatura, are decorated with scenes elaborating ideas suggested by personifications of Theology, Philosophy, Poetry, and Justice, which appear on the ceiling. On the wall under Theology is the Disputà, representing a group discussing the mystery of the Trinity. The famous School of Athens, on the wall beneath Philosophy, portrays an open architectural space in which Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient philosophers are engaged in discourse. On the wall under Poetry is the celebrated Parnassus, in which the Greek god Apollo appears surrounded by the Muses and the great poets. The second Vatican chamber, the Stanza d' Eliodoro, painted with the aid of Raphael's assistants, contains scenes representing the triumph of the Roman Catholic church over its enemies.

After the death of Pope Julius II in 1513, and the accession of Leo X, Raphael's influence and responsibilities increased. He was made chief architect of Saint Peter's Basilica in 1514, and a year later was appointed director of all the excavations of antiquities in and near Rome. Because of his many activities, only part of the third room of the Vatican Palace, the Stanza del Incendio (1514-1517), was painted by him, and he merely provided the designs for the fourth chamber, the Sala Constantina. During this period he also designed ten tapestries illustrating the acts of Christ's apostles for the Sistine Chapel; the cartoons, or drawings, for these are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Raphael also devised the architecture and decorations of the Chigi Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo and the decorations of the Villa Farnesina, which include the Triumph of Galatea (1513?).

In addition to these major undertakings, he executed a number of easel paintings, including a portrait of Julius II (1511-1512), a series of Madonnas, and the world-famous Sistine Madonna. Other religious paintings during this period include the Transfiguration (1517-1520, Vatican), completed posthumously by the most notable of Raphael's many followers, Giulio Romano. Raphael died in Rome on his 37th birthday, April 6, 1520.

His 'Madonna della Seggiola' (or The Seated Madonna, 1514) illustrated above is a fine example of his innovative style. For the first time the Madonna is portrayed with a more natural motherly expression, and her head is covered in a peasant's scarf. This more informal pose is set in the formal and elegant tondo (round) shape, thus retaining the finest in Quattrocento (early Renaissance) expression.

Enjoy your week!


“At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.” - Plato

The curious state of being in love that we find ourselves in at some stage of our lives colours our existence as long as we live thereafter. Loving and being loved is certainly a magical feeling and the poets, artists, musicians have all striven to capture the magic of this.

For Song Saturday today, a poem by French poet Paul Éluard, one of the founders of the surrealist movement in literature. It has been set to music and sung by Greek songstress Nena Venetsanou. This song always washes over me like a gently lapping sea on a quiet inlet, its silvery watery notes caressing me like the hands of the beloved.


Elle est debout sur mes paupières
Et ses cheveux sont dans les miens,
Elle a la forme de mes mains,
Elle a la couleur de mes yeux,
Elle s'engloutit dans mon ombre
Comme une pierre sur le ciel.

Elle a toujours les yeux ouverts
Et ne me laisse pas dormir.
Ses rêves en pleine lumière
Font s'évaporer les soleils,
Ils me font rire, pleurer et rire,
Parler sans avoir rien à dire.

Paul Éluard (1895-1952)


She is upright on my eyelids
And her hair is in mine,
She has the shape of my hands,
She has the colour of my eyes,
She is absorbed in my shadow
Like a stone in the sky.

She always has wide-open eyes
And doesn’t let me sleep.
Her dreams in full light
Evaporate the suns,
They make me laugh, cry and laugh,
Talking without having anything to say.

Friday 1 January 2010


“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” - Langston Hughes

The storm came at about 9:00 pm last night and it was a wild one. Much lightning and thunder with lashing rain that held until after midnight. It did ruin the outing for many people who had gathered by the riverside to watch the fireworks show. But they still had the fireworks, although it was poor competition for the lightning. Nevertheless, they say that rain on New Year’s Eve is good luck, it bodes well for the year ahead…

We stayed inside and had a quiet night. Listening to the thunder and the rain outside was consolation enough. The night was humid and the house still hot. Thank heavens for the air conditioners. We don’t use them often, but they are worth their weight in gold on days and nights such as these.

The day today was relaxing and serene. We had quite a few phone calls in the morning with people ringing us to wish us Happy New Year and we rang a few ourselves. The weather continued being overcast and humid, with the occasional shower. Another storm tonight with more lightning and thunder.

January is named after Janus, the Roman two-headed god; and the choice is particularly apt for this month.  One of Janus’s faces is old and weary, looking back towards the year that has just been, and the other face youthful and carefree, full of hope, looking ahead towards the year that will be.  Janus was the god of doorways, the keeper of the doors of heaven and earth.  He is usually portrayed holding a sceptre in his left hand and in his right a key.  The sceptre is a symbol of power while the key was used to lock the door out of which the old year left and open the door from which the new years entered.  He must have been a god of contradictions, Janus. Surely he could not have been offended if he were called “two-faced”. One can imagine him in constant interminable arguments with himself. A splitting headache would have been the result, I am sure!
In Anglo-Saxon, this month was called Giuli, in reference to Yuletide.  In Gaelic, January is An ceud Mhìos na Bliadhna “the first month of the year”.  In Welsh, January is Ionawr.

In the Greek Orthodox calendar, today is St Basil’s Day. St Basil was one of the Fathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. He was born in Caesarea (Palestine) in the fourth century AD and during his life he sailed to Greece, where he was active, until his death on the 1st of January.  Many legends relating to his life commemorate his kindness to children.  This has led to the custom of gift giving on New Year’s Day in Greece.  St Basil has been equated with the Santa Claus of other nations.  Being the first day of the year, tradition has it that one must receive money on this day (and hence continue to receive it everyday of that year!).  This is the Greek custom of the “bonamas” (a term perhaps related to the Italian buon anno or even the French bonne âme), a monetary gift to friends and relatives.  The vassilopitta, St Basil’s Cake, is another tradition, and this is a sweet, raised yeast cake which contains a silver or gold coin (depending on the family’s finances!).  The father of the family cuts the cake after the New Year is heralded in and distributes the pieces in strict order: First, one for the Saints, then one for the House, then one for each member of the family, from the most senior to the youngest child. Then pieces for the guests, livestock and then for the poor, the remainder being for the “house”.  The person finding the lucky coin is assured of luck for the rest of the year.

The tradition of the “first foot” or podhariko is widespread in Greece, as it is in some other European countries, and the British Isles.  This involves the first visitor to enter the house on New Year’s Day.  He sets the pattern of good or bad luck that will enter the house for the year.  The luckiest first foot is a dark-haired stranger who must be male.  Unlucky first foots are female, red or blond-haired, cross-eyed, with eyebrows that meet across the nose.  The first foot must have been outside the house before midnight and must enter the house any time after the clock has struck midnight, as long as he is the first to come in.  Good luck is ensured if the “first foot” brings with him some token gift, a loaf of bread symbolising sustenance for the whole year, coal or wood symbolising warmth or a few coins or some salt, symbolising prosperity.

Other Greek traditional sweets for New Year’s Day (except the vassilopitta) are melomakarona (honey macaroons see recipe below) and dhiples (thin, crisply fried pancakes served with honey and crushed nuts).  A renewal of the water in the house is another custom.  Fresh spring water is drawn and taken into the house on New Year’s morning as St Basil’s Water.  This is used to fill ewers, jugs, vases and other containers, thus blessing the house for the whole year.

Carolling is popular and the carollers must be given some money to ensure prosperity for the coming year.  The carol sung is the New Year’s kalanda (from the Latin calendae, first day of the month). The carollers often hold a model of a sailing ship, beautifully made and decorated, symbolising St Basil’s ship on which he sailed to Greece. They accompany themselves with steel triangles, drums, fifes and other folk instruments while going around from house to house.

MELOMAKARONA (Honey  Macaroons)

3    cups oil
1    cup orange juice
1/2    cup brandy
1    cup sugar
1/2    kg self raising flour
1/2    kg fine semolina
1    teaspoonful ground cinnamon
    toasted sesame seeds mixed with chopped walnuts, ground cloves/cinnamon

2    cups sugar
2    cups honey        for the syrup
2    cups water

Whisk the oil until well aerated and add the orange juice and the brandy little by little. Continue beating well to keep the oil/juice emulsion aerated. Mix the cinnamon with the flour and add to the oil mixture little by little. Knead into a firm paste and shape into elongated oval macaroons placing them on a greased baking tray. Bake them in a hot oven until golden brown.  Allow the macaroons to cool. Prepare the syrup by boiling the ingredients for 10 minutes. Dip each macaroon into the boiling syrup until saturated, and arrange in layers, sprinkling each layer liberally with the sesame-walnut mixture.

God be here, God be there,
We wish you all a happy year!
God without, God within,
Let the Old Year out and the New Year in!

                Anonymous English Rhyme

It is now a well-entrenched custom in many countries while recovering from the New Year’s Eve party, to set aside a few minutes on New Year’s Day and make New Year’s Resolutions.  Usually these resolutions are of the self-improvement type, renouncing bad habits, improving oneself as a person and generally making oneself a better member of society. One may vow to give up smoking, become involved in a community group, drink less, take up a new hobby or become fit.  Needless to say that in most cases, these resolutions are forgotten barely has the sun set on January the 1st!

In many countries it was believed that whatever one did on January 1st would influence what transpired over the whole year. Hence, this was a day of merry-making, good food, sweet words and pleasantries. No work was done, nothing was taken out of the house (only brought in). Especially so with money, fuel, matches and bread such that one would not lack any of these during the year. No bills or debts were paid on this day and nothing was lent out. If one had to take something out of the house that day, a coin was taken out the previous night and then brought in the next morning before one took out the item.
    Take out then take in, bad luck will begin;
    Take in, then take out good luck will come about.

Thursday 31 December 2009


“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.” - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

New Year’s Eve in Melbourne today turned out to be a day full of weather! We had an extremely hot day that turned very windy, with temperatures in the high 30s. A cool change with electrical storms and rain was predicted for later tonight and this was going to interfere with the open-air New Year’s Eve celebrations by the river.

We went shopping early in the day to avoid the crowds and the heat. Then the rest of the day was spent inside with air-conditioner going full blast to cool the living room down a little. The bedrooms upstairs became very hot very early on and later on this evening we’ll have to cool those down as well.

We will have a very quiet New Year’s Eve at home this year.

Happy New Year to all! I hope that 2010 will be full of health, happiness and prosperity!

Wednesday 30 December 2009


“Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” - Hal Borland

As the year draws to a close, a review of the year that has been is inevitable and most of us will take stock of all that has transpired. Most will find lots to ponder over and to try and rationalise. Some happy moments, some sad, some difficult times, some melancholy ones. Work, leisure, family, friends, foes. The problems we have encountered seem to pale into insignificance if we put the year’s affairs into perspective and compare them to all the years already past.

My poem today reflects these ruminations and as we approach New Year’s Eve, I can be thankful for all that that transpired. The difficulties have cost me some more gray hairs, but I have survived. The happy moments have made it all worthwhile, and these I shall remember. And as the New Year approaches, hope still smiles…

As the Year Draws to a Close

December is on his deathbed, wheezing,
Soon to expire, while in Time’s pregnant belly
Another fetus January stirs and quickens,
Ready to come forth, laughing instead of crying.

The year about to end, a year of difficulties,
With some happy moments – these we shan’t forget –
And our hopes already fixed on that cackling infant
Who promises much with his idiot baby laughter.

Our resolutions, already written (in good faith),
Are biting at the bit, like racehorses
Confined in their boxes before the race start,
Not knowing that most will not finish this course…

And as each year works its way down time’s
Corkscrew spiral, we watch and listen,
Growing older with each turn, and we grow tired,
As each year expires and as each year is born.

And as the lights grow dimmer, as the moon tarnishes,
As the sun loses its brilliance and the blooms their perfume,
We each take a step closer to the grave,
And the world a smaller, poorer, more confining place.

And when we’ve had enough, when all is surfeit,
When nothing seems new, when the enchantment’s lost,
A pale blue butterfly circles our head and rests lightly on our shoulder.
Hope, is ever present, ever alive, ever young;
Ever the one to colour each new year with rainbows,
The one to give us sweetness, the one to play us new songs…

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday, visit her blog for more poems!

Monday 28 December 2009


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

In the past, Christmas Carol singing continued throughout the 12 Days of Christmas (Christmas Day to the Epiphany on the 6th of January).  Carol singers used to go from house to house “wassailing”.  The term “wassail” is from the Anglo-Saxon Waes Heil, which means “Good Health”.  A wassail bowl was carried by the carollers, which was refilled by each house they stopped at.  A communal drinking bout resulted after each round of carols finished.  The mixture inside the bowl was referred to as “Lamb’s Wool”.  The Gloucestershire Wassail carol advises:
    Wassail, wassail, all over town
    Our bread is white and our ale is brown
    Our bowl is made from good maple tree
    We be good fellows all; I drink unto thee.


1    quart (950 mL) of good ale
1    pint (475 mL) white wine
1/3    cup brandy
11/2    cups sugar
1    teaspoonful ground cinnamon
1    nutmeg grated
10    roasted crab apples
5    slices bread, toasted

Heat the wine and dissolve the sugar and spices in it.  Add the ale and stir thoroughly.  Mix in the brandy and the crab apples. Float the toast on top and serve in a very hot punch bowl.  Each person sips a little of the mixture and the bowl goes around until the drink is finished.

I think that by the time the carollers had done the round of houses in their neighbourhood, they would have been more than tipsy, given the alcoholic content of the beverage!

Today we spent all morning in the garden, working until the heat of the day drove us inside. We managed to get a lot done, including many jobs, which I had put off for a long time. We then stayed inside as the heat became too much. I worked a little on the computer and then in the afternoon, we watched a movie. This evening will be very quiet and relaxing. This iwhat being on holiday is all about!


“Why should people go out and pay money to see bad films when they can stay home and see bad television for nothing?” - Samuel Goldwyn

Have seen quite a few movies these past couple of weeks and I will give a very brief review of each.

“The Brave One” 2007, directed by Neil Jordan, starring Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard.
This is a stock thriller drama about the victim of a violent crime and how she succumbs to the spectre of revenge in the style of “an eye for an eye”. Jodie Foster gives a very good performance, as does Terrence Howard.
I found the film very violent and raw and my stomach turned a little as the sensitive woman was changed into a vengeful harpy thirsty for blood. As a film it was well done, and raised some important questions regarding crime and punishment, the undermining of the fabric of our society by violence and the seeming inability of our policing and judicial system to cope with this. 7/10

“Eyes Wide Shut” 1999, directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
A very disappointing film and a swan-song that turned into a croak. We had not seen this film when it first came out, but we were aware of its highly controversial reception. It seemed that people either loved it (the artsy crowd) or hated it (the ordinary person in the street) – and I may be generalising here.
We found it mediocre and unsatisfying as a film. Simpering performances, non-existent characterisation, shallow plot, unfortunate and anti-climactic let down at the end of the film… We were not in the least interested in the antics of these rich New Yorkers – sexual or otherwise. There was no trace of humanity in this film. Kubrick was indulging himself and was transferring onto film some of his perverse sexual fantasies. We were not interested in that, I’m afraid… 5/10

“Live and Let Die” 1973, directed by Guy Hamilton, starring Roger Moore and Jane Seymour.
A conventional James Bond action thriller, with its usual (and sometimes tiresome mixture) of sex, action, gadgetry, hot pursuits and double entendres.
Escapist nonsense that does what it does effectively enough and has not pretensions about being “high art” (as the previous film did). 6/10

“St Trinian’s” 2007, directed by Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson (two of them?!) and starring – who cares?
What a waste of celluloid! An “updating” of the wonderful old St Trinian’s films of the 1950s. This was so bad that it was embarrassing to admit watching it through. The really sad part is that there is a 2009 sequel and a 2010 trequel! 4/10

“Belle de Jour” 1967, directed by Luis Buñuel, starring Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Genèvieve Page.
What a classic! This is the second time we have watched this and it has greatly improved on second viewing. Kubrick should have been embarrassed to release his “Eyes Wide Shut” if he compared it to this film. The plot is rather similar, but the characters, their motivations and their actions are so much more involving than Kubrick’s film. Buñuel is a master and this film displays his art amazingly well.
The plot is much more believable, and although it concerns itself with the French bourgeoisie, one is more drawn in and the exploration of female sexuality that unfolds is much more enlightening than that hinted at in “Eyes Wide Shut”. 8/10

“Walk, Don’t Run” 1966, directed by Charles Walters, starring Cary Grant, Samantha Eggar, Jim Hutton, John Standing.
This trivial romantic Hollywood comedy of the 1960s has the distinction of being the vehicle for Cary Grant’s final screen appearance. More of a whimper rather than a bang to finish with, but all considered, the film is innocent enough and there are a few chuckles here and there. The plot is childish and the situations hardly surprising. Nevertheless, an amusing trifle for a matinee at home… 5/10

Enjoy your week and the last few days of 2009!

Sunday 27 December 2009


“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” - Jack London

A quiet day today spent at home. Did quite a lot of gardening, which was relaxing enough, especially as I had my i-pod with me and listened to a great deal of music (notably, all of Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” and his “Vespers”) while pottering about in the garden. Nevertheless, at the end of the day I was quite tired, but satisfied as much was done that needed doing.

For Art Sunday today, Eustache Le Sueur, a French painter (1616-1655). He is known for his religious pictures in the style of the French classical Baroque. Le Sueur was one of the founders and first professors of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Le Sueur studied under the painter Simon Vouet and was admitted at an early age into the guild of master painters. Some paintings reproduced in tapestry brought him notice, and his reputation was further enhanced by a series of decorations for the Hôtel Lambert that he left uncompleted. He painted many pictures for churches and convents, among the most important being St. Paul Preaching at Ephesus (Louvre), and his famous series of 22 paintings of the Life of St. Bruno (Louvre), executed in the cloister of the Chartreux. Stylistically dominated by the art of Nicolas Poussin, Raphael, and Vouet, Le Sueur had a graceful facility in drawing and was always restrained in composition by a fastidious taste.

Le Sueur also painted many mythological subjects. The paintings above depict seven of the nine muses of Greek mythology. They decorate the Cabinet of the Muses of the Hotel Lambert in Paris. These charming, delicately painted pictures foreshadow the coming of Poussin. The muses are the goddesses of creative inspiration in poetry, song and other arts, they are the companions of Apollo. They were the daughters of Jupiter and the Titaness Mnemosyne (memory) who had lain together for nine consecutive nights. The muses were originally nymphs who presided over springs that had the power to give inspiration, especially Aganippe and Hippocrene on Mount Helicon and the Castalian spring on Mount Parnassus. The nine muses and their usual attributions are the following.

Clio, the muse of history (book, scroll or tablet and stylus).
Euterpe, the muse of music, lyric poetry (flute, trumpet or other instrument).
Thalia, the muse of comedy, pastoral poetry (scroll, small viol, masks).
Melpomene, the muse of tragedy (horn, tragic masks, sword or dagger, crown held in hand, sceptres lying at feet).
Terpsichore, the muse of dancing and song (viol, lyre, or other stringed instrument, harp, crowned with flowers).
Erato, the muse of lyric and love poetry (tambourine, lyre, swan, a putto at her feet).
Urania, the muse of astronomy (globe and compasses, crowned with a circle of stars).
Calliope, the muse of epic poetry (trumpet, tablet and stylus, books, holds laurel crown).
Polyhymnia (or Polymnia), the muse of heroic hymns (portative organ, lute or other instrument).

Seven of the nine muses are illustrated above: Melpomene, Erato and Polyhymnia; Terpsichore; Clio, Euterpe and Thalia.