Saturday 6 February 2010


“A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.” - Aesop

What a day today! We didn’t stop from dawn to dusk as I had quite a lot to do for work including some shopping for the week-long workshop that we are organising next week. Then shopping for dinner and social obligations in the evening. I am pooped!

The music I feel like hearing tonight is something soft and mindless. Hypnotic and mellifluous. Here is Era with “Angel”…

Have a good weekend!

Thursday 4 February 2010


“An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Some of you may know that Australia is a popular place for international tertiary students to study in. Not only do we have a very good University system, but also students who complete certain specially prioritised courses (based on community and economic needs), can then apply for residency in Australia. Education is a good way for immigrants to gain entry into the country. This is meant to fill the occupational and developmental gaps in our country’s social and economic system, as well as building up our population. On the ground level some tension is being created as the native population view the incoming migrants as competitors and there are also some racial prejudices that are coming to the fore.

The latest wave of “educational immigrants” are mainly from the Indian subcontinent and Melbourne seems to be particularly attractive as a destination city. There have been several unfortunate occurrences in the past couple of years that have involved attacks on Indians and in the last few months even some fatal incidents. Racial tensions have escalated to alarming heights and there has even been diplomatic crossfire between Australia and India over these episodes.

Most of the population (especially in multicultural Melbourne) is supporting the Indians and deplores the violence and prejudice against minorities. However, there are small pockets of racist elements and also violent gangs that target such minorities. Melbourne’s established Indian community is quite a large one and is relatively well-organised and affluent. They are well represented in all strata of society, all the professions and Melbourne Indian restaurants are amongst the best in the nation (even better than some Indian ones in India!).

A tremendous initiative that has been recently organised as a show of solidarity with the Indian community and Indian students here in Melbourne is outlined by the organising group’s website. In this mass protest aptly and alliteratively called “Vindaloo Against Violence” the challenge is to turn out en masse at Melbourne’s Indian restaurants on Wednesday 24th February and have an Indian meal as an indication of support for the Indian community and to show actively that Melbourne does not support any form of violence, but much less against innocent students who have been sent here by their families for a better future. A fantastic initiative and well-deserving of widespread support, sign up now if you live in Melbourne and don’t forget to book your table for the 24th!

In the meantime, here’s a chicken vindaloo recipe to try at home!


3 cups chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 and a 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (about 4 medium)
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 and a 1/2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garam masala*
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 skinless and boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 and a 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 and a 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth or water

Blend all of the ingredients (except for the oil, chicken, potatoes and broth) in a food processor until a paste forms. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add paste from processor and cook until golden, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add chicken and potatoes; sauté for five minutes. Add broth and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Season with more cayenne, if a hotter vindaloo is desired, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with boiled basmati rice and a side dish of Greek-style yoghurt on which you have sprinkled some chopped coriander.

*Garam masala is a spice mixture available at Indian shops, some specialty foods stores, and many supermarkets. To substitute, mix 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin, 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon; use 1 teaspoon of mixture.

Bon appétit!

Wednesday 3 February 2010


“A book that is shut is but a block.” - Thomas Fuller

I have blogged before about book burning and it is the topic of today’s blog once again. The burning of books is one form of biblioclasm (book destruction) and which for me represents one of the worst crimes against civilisation and against freedom. Wikipedia has a good article on this, which is worth reading.

What prompted me to write about this topic today was an old (2007) news item about Tom Wayne the owner of a bookshop, “Prospero’s Bookstore” that I discovered while doing an unrelated internet search. The bookshop is located in Kansas City Missouri (91800 West 39th Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64111). It is a vast shop where I would gladly spend several months browsing and reading and buying merchandise. However, I am a bibliophile and not a bibliopyroclast (book burner!), hence my obsession.

Tom Wayne has observed that modern society is becoming divorced from the act of reading. His diminishing sales and increasing stock attest to this, as well as figures from the bureau of statistics, and this is not a phenomenon confined to the USA; I was horrified to learn that in Greece approximately 8-9% of the population reads for pleasure. Astounding for the country that prides itself as the cradle of Western civilisation and with an uninterrupted history of literature for thousands of years! In the USA, less than 50% reads for pleasure (in 1982, the percentage was 57%). I must say that I feel very proud to live in Australia where our percentage of readers for pleasure (over 18 adults who read for pleasure every day, most days of the week) is 78%!

Now back to Mr Wayne: On Sunday May 27th 2007, he decided to hold a protest and goad the non-reading public into action. He had discovered that not only could he not sell his surplus books, he could not even give them away to libraries and thrift shops as “they had no room”. He decided to publicly burn books outside his store as a protest.
His justification for this and I quote, from his website:

“Q1: Why burn books?
A:   As a cultural wake-up call.
Burning books is an inflammatory act.  Books can contain our most sacred and valuable thoughts. The Nazis burned books to keep people from reading them.  Prospero's burned books to incite you to read - by not reading, the culture is empowering forces like the Nazis. It's giving them exactly what they want without a fight.”

The burning persisted for 50 minutes until the fire brigade arrived to douse the flames with the excuse that Mr Wayne did not have the requisite permit. Extreme? Yes, and I suspect that Mr Wayne’s motives were more geared towards publicity rather than protest. I quote from the article I found (see above):

“After slogging through the tens of thousands of books we've slogged through and to accumulate that many and to have people turn you away when you take them somewhere, it's just kind of a knee-jerk reaction,” Mr Wayne said. “And it's a good excuse for fun.”

I am very uneasy about Mr Wayne’s actions. Whether done in “fun” or as a “protest” or in fact as a publicity stunt (or all of these), the whole affair makes me shudder with revulsion. Investigating the matter a little further, I discovered that Mr Wayne is not the first bookseller to have performed this public book incineration. An excellent Times article highlights the case of Mr Shaun Bythell of Wigtown, Scotland performed the same stunt in 2005. And this in Wigtown, which in 1997 was proclaimed Scotland’s “National Book Town”, having 25 book-selling businesses.

The idea of book burning repels me. Even in the case of damaged books that can’t be salvaged, I would opt for recycling. Take that paper that as trapped winged thoughts and pulp it, give it a new lease of life, let new words be printed on it and let a new generation of readers delight in the printed word. In terms of increasing the percentage of the reading public, we must be doing something very right here in Australia, compared to what is being done in Greece, say. What is to blame for people abandoning reading? Our society and its values. The ease with which one may be entertained and diverted, the cheap and easy non-cerebral pleasures offered by TV, movies, music, drugs, alcohol, dancing, sport. The low value our society places on intellectual pursuits compared to the high value it places on superficial fame afforded to rock stars, sporting personalities, filmstars, etc. The financial rewards it offers to people involved in intellectual pursuits versus what a “star” can make is sobering and disturbing.

Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451” is a paean to books and reading. It looks at biblioclasm and ts effects on a society. Read it, it's fantastic!

Tuesday 2 February 2010


“Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by imagination.” - Voltaire

For poetry Wednesday today, an old poem of mine that I have only recently translated into English. Translating poetry is difficult, even if it is one’s own, as there are many factors to consider. Meaning, rhyme, metre, cadence and alliteration, the sheer sound of the words as they resonate in one’s ears as they are recited. The Italians have a proverb: “Traduttore, traditore”, usually rendered in English as “translator, traitor”, losing the punning quality but preserving meaning. I chose to preserve the “feel” of the poem and its rhyming. In both versions, the word “love” is not mentioned, even though this is the obvious subject.

That Little Something

What a feeling... Almost nothing,
In my mind and in my heart.
It is nothing or it’s something;
But it makes me jump and start...

What could I be lacking now?
What I need and what I want
Would my sweetest fate allow,
Or its lack my dreams to haunt?

Is it hunger, is it thirst?
No, my stomach wildly turns.
What to wish for, should I, first?

Ease of mind, for which it yearns?
Or peace of heart, about to burst?
What a feeling... How it burns!

(The illustration is Étienne-Maurice Falconet’s “Seated Cupid” [1757] in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.)

Oh, and here is the original poem in Greek:

Το κάτι τι

Νοιώθω ένα κάτι τι,
Μα δεν ξέρω τι ‘ναι, τι;
Η καρδιά μου φτερουγίζει,
Το μυαλό μου πεταρίζει…

Θέλω κάτι και τι νά ‘ναι,
Είν’ γλυκό, κι όλοι ζητάνε.
Τι πικρό που δεν το έχω,
Μα τι να ‘ναι δεν κατέχω.

Νά ‘ναι δίψα του πιοτού;
Νά ‘ναι πείνα φαγητού;
Το στομάχι μου γυρίζει,
Δεν τα θέλει τα ξενίζει…

Νοιώθω ένα κάτι τι,
Μα δεν ξέρω τι ‘ναι, τι;
Την εικόνα σου μονάχα
Εσέ θέλω, αυτό νά ‘χα!

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

Monday 1 February 2010


“Love’s first snow-drop, virgin kiss.” - Robert Burns

The snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, is the birthday flower for this day, the feast of Candlemas.  It symbolises purity, hope in sorrow and friendship in adversity. A legend concerning the origin of the bloom relates how when Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, snow began to fall. They were dejected as they had lived in the perpetual spring of the garden before that.  An angel took pity on them and changed a few of the drifting snowflakes into snowdrops, a promise that Spring would soon return.  Galanthus is from the Greek and means “milk-white flower”, while nivalis means “of the snow” in Latin.

In ancient Rome, the Februalia Festival honoured Demeter who searched for her daughter Persephone after she had been abducted by Pluto, the god of the underworld. Priests of Ceres (the Roman Demeter) paraded in her temples with lit candles, recreating the goddess’s search day and night for her daughter. This festival was absorbed into the Christian tradition as the festival of Candlemas, the pagan Demeter becoming syncretized with the Virgin Mary.

Candlemas celebrates the Virgin Mary going into the Temple of Jerusalem to ritually cleanse herself and present the infant to the rabbis, forty days after His birth .  There the elderly Simeon prophesied that Christ would be “a light to lighten the Gentiles.” Hence the association of this feast with the lighting of candles.  The image of the Virgin Mary was removed from its place in church and ritually cleaned.  Snowdrops were scattered in its place.  The following couplet associates snowdrops with Candlemas:
    The snowdrop, in purest white arraie
    First rears her hedde on Candlemas daie.

Another couplet presages the abundance of the pea crop:
    On Candlemas Day, if the thorns hang a drop,
    Then you are sure of a good pea crop.

    If Candlemas day be bright and clear
    There’ll be two winters that year.
    But if Candlemas be mild or bring it rain,
    Winter is gone and will not come again.

In a similar vein:
    If Candlemas Day bring snow or rain
    Winter is gone and won’t come again;
    If Candlemas Day be clear and bright
    Winter will have another flight.

    Candlemas Day, plant beans in the clay
    Put candles and candlesticks all away.

The last reference was to the increasing light in the afternoons and evening, which allowed indoor work to be done at that time without the aid of candlelight.

In the USA, this day is celebrated as Groundhog Day, where groundhogs (woodchucks - Marmota monax) help to predict the weather for the year ahead. Supposedly, the groundhog is said to come out of its hole at the end of its hibernation. If the animal sees its shadow (i.e., if the weather is sunny) it is said to portend six weeks more of winter weather. An oracular tradition based on contraries similar to the British Candlemas seems to be the order of the day.


“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

Several brief movie reviews today, as over the last holiday break we watched quite a few good movies (and some bad ones!).
“Adam’s Rib” (1949 – directed by George Cukor)
This is a light-weight comedy with that wonderful couple, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. They play a pair of barristers married to one another, and who cross swords in the courtroom. She defends a woman who attempts to shoot her philandering husband and he is the lawyer wanting to convict the near murderess. Needless to say that the legal sparring in the courtroom interferes with the happily married couple’s life at home and fundamental issues about women’s rights, unfaithfulness, upholding the law, separating public and private life, keeping job and home well apart, are explored. This is a cheeky, funny film with lots of fun moments and the Tracy/Hepburn pairing sparkles and shines with the love between them manifest clearly even on the celluloid! (7.5/10)

“Escape from Alcatraz” (1979 – directed by Don Siegel)
Clint Eastwood plays a prisoner with high IQ who is transferred to Alcatraz – that most impregnable of penitentiaries with a clear record regarding escapees, until this case – or so the film wants us to believe. The film is a typical dick flick where macho men do their thing but at the same time reveal their sensitivities and are capable of also demonstrating higher values such as friendship, loyalty, camaraderie and protecting one another from aggressors. The film is very enjoyable as it is fast-moving, develops the characters very well, has its touches of humour and pathos, and is characterised by excellent acting. Eastwood in particular gives a faultless performance and his handling of the role predicts the fantastic work he does now in directing. (7.5/10).

“Confessions of a Shopaholic” (2009 – directed by P. J. Hogan)
This movie based on Sophie Kinsella’s best selling novels “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and “Shopaholic in Manhattan” and seeing that we watched the movie with someone who has read both novels, the film is apparently sadly deficient in the humour and satire that the books display. I must admit that this film didn’t strike me as overly amusing or satirical, but rather prosaically formulaic and it definitely falls into the chick flick class, with hardly much class. Isla Fisher plays a young woman with an irresistible urge to shop (on bad credit) until she drops. Through some dithery job application business she manages to get herself employed by a financial magazine rather than the fashion magazine she hopes to be employed by. More shopping mayhem results and also some unintended success with writing for the magazine. A romantic story is inevitably woven into the story, with parting and despair followed by the inevitable happy ending. Pedestrian and contrived (5/10).

“The Fly” (1986 – Directed by David Kronenberg)
OK, this is a standard issue horror/sci fi movie with quite an intelligent plot, lots of thrills and spills and lots of revolting (but good) special effects (the film got an Oscar for best make-up and a Saturn award for best horror film). Jeff Goldblum plays a scientist who is trying to perfect a teleportation machine. He uses himself as a guinea pig and manages to mix his tissue with the tissues of a fly that by chance flies into the teleport chambers during the experiment. He slowly transforms into a man/fly creature with horrible consequences. Geena Davis plays the love interest and has one of the worse scenes on film to act through! So bad it’s good (6.5/10)!

“The Fly II” (1989 – Directed by Chris Wallas)
This is the “Son of The Fly” literally, as it deals with the son of the scientist in the previous film, who has inherited his father’s fly/human chromosomes. OK, as far as sequels go this is an attempt to capitalise on the success of the original film, and as most sequels go, it manages to take the story that little bit further and lowers the bar somewhat. Although it’s an inferior film to the original, it is not all trash, and we found it curiously engaging. The yukky special effects are there again and the depth of the movie comes from its exploration of the issue of “fatherhood”. Just don’t watch it on the same day as the original film (5.5/10).

“The Missionary” (1982 – Directed by Richard Loncraine)
This is a typical English refined and subtle comedy written by Michael Palin, who also stars as the Missionary of the title. There are hardly any similarities to the Monty Python movies, despite Palin’s associations. The humour here is subtle, gentle, sometimes covert and dry and there is great characterisation, with hardly any action. The plot takes place in Edwardian London, in 1905. After 10 years of being a missionary in Africa, the Reverend Charles Fortesque (Palin) is recalled to England, where his bishop gives him his new assignment. He is to minister to London’s prostitutes. Charles hopes Deborah, his fiancée, will object and give him an excuse to say no to the bishop, however, she is so imperturbably innocent that she totally fails to understand what he is being asked to do, and urges him to do his best. Wealthy Lady Ames is expected to fund the work, but she makes it clear to Charles that there will be no contribution unless he shares her bed… (7/10).

Sunday 31 January 2010


“Self is the only prison that can ever bind the soul.” - Henry Van Dyke

For Art Sunday today, a flight of fancy or rather a descent into the dark imaginings of a whimsical artist. It is Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778). He was an Italian etcher, archaeologist and architect, born in Venice but active in Rome from 1740. He became famous for his poetic views of Rome, and his drawings of the fanciful reconstructions of antiquities. More original are his fantastic imaginary interiors. His Vedute (Views) is a series of 135 etchings of ancient and contemporary Rome, published from 1745 onwards, which established the popular mental image of the city, which even today we romantically adhere to.

His effects of scale conspired to make the buildings appear larger and grander. He also exaggerated the contrasts of light and shade to invest them with drama. The most remarkable etchings of his oeuvre are those of imaginary interiors, the Carceri d' Invenzione (Imaginary Prisons), a series of plates issued in 1749-50 and reworked in 1761.

Piranesi who believed in the supremacy of Roman over Greek architecture, an argument he propounded in his Della magnificenza ed architettura dei Romani (On the Magnificence of Roman Architecture, 1761). In his other major treatise, the Parere sull' architettura (Observations on Architecture, 1765), he advocated an imaginative use of antique Roman models to produce a new style of architecture. Only one building was ever erected to his designs, the rather ordinary church of S. Maria del Priorato, Rome (1764-6).

Piranesi's influence as an architect may have been negligible, but his romanticised views and imaginary interiors had a profound effect on stage designers, painters and even writers. In the 20th century his imaginary interiors have been admired by the Surrealists and provided source material for horror film set designers.

Here is his Carceri d'invenzione: Plate XI: The Arch with a Shell Ornament (Later State), 1749–50 and 1761
Etching on 18th-century laid paper
15 7/8 x 21 1/2 inches, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia.