Saturday 27 February 2010


“In music the passions enjoy themselves.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Today is the Independence Day of the Dominican Republic  (celebrated since 1844). The Dominican Republic gained its independence from Spain in 1821.  It is in the Eastern part of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, the Eastern part of the island occupied by Haiti.   The mountainous country has an area of about 48,500 square km and a population of 7.5 million people.  The capital San Domingo is found on the Southern coastal plain where the island’s main agricultural products are grown.  Coffee, cocoa, sugar and tobacco are the main exports.  Mineral resources include bauxite, gold, silver and nickel. The Dominican Republic has become the Caribbean's largest tourist destination and its economy is the second largest in the Caribbean. The country's year-round golf courses are among the top attractions. “Quisqueya”, as Dominicans often call their country, has an average temperature of 26 °C. Music and sport are of the highest importance in Dominican culture, with merengue as the national dance and song and baseball the favorite sport.

Juan Luis Guerra (b. 1957) is a Dominican singer/songwriter who has sold 20 million records, and won numerous awards including nine Latin Grammy awards, two Grammy awards and two Latin Billboard Music Awards. He does not limit himself to one style of music, instead, he incorporates diverse rhythms like the merengue, bolero-bachata, balada, salsa, rock and gospel.

Here is a wonderful love song of his, “Señales de Humo” (Smoke Signals):

Te mando señales de humo
como un fiel apache
pero no comprendes el truco
y se pierde en el aire
Te mando la punta de un beso
que roza la tarde
y un código Morse trasmite
el "te quiero" de un ángel
se pierde en el aire...
Ay, amor...

I send you smoke signals
Like a loyal Apache,
But you don’t understand the trick
And it loses itself in the air.
I send you the tip of a kiss
On the edge of the afternoon,
And a Morse code that transmits
The “I love you” of an angel,
But it is lost in the air,
Ah, love!

Thursday 25 February 2010


“If I had been around when Rubens was painting, I would have been revered as a fabulous model. Kate Moss? Well, she would have been the paintbrush.” - Dawn French

A friend is trying to lose weight but she is cursed with a sweet tooth… She cannot live without her sweets and desserts. I must admit I have a mouth full of sweet teeth also, and always tend to want something sweet after dinner. For all of us sweet-tooths, out here, there are some healthy option that do not pile on the calories and yet can satisfy a sweet tooth and taste much more unhealthy than they really are. Here is an example, which is high in fibre and vitamins, while low in sodium and fats.

Summer Fruit Crumble

Ingredients – for the filling
400 g cherries, pitted and halved
4 cups peeled, pitted and sliced mixed summer stone fruits (nectarines, peaches, apricots)
1 tablespoon wholemeal flour
1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar

Ingredients – for the bottom and topping
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup blanched, lightly toasted, almond slivers
4 tablespoons whole-meal flour
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons walnut oil
2 tablespoons honey

Preheat the oven to 175˚C. Lightly coat a 24 cm square baking dish with cooking spray. In a bowl, combine the cherries and stone fruits and sprinkle with the flour, add the sugar and toss gently to mix.
In another bowl, make the topping by combining the oats, almonds, flour, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Mix well to blend. Stir in the oil and honey and mix well.
Take half of this mixture and spread it thinly on the bottom of the pan, packing it well. Put in the oven and bake for a few minutes until it becomes golden brown in colour (be careful that you don’t burn this!). Take the pan out of the oven and spray the base with cooking spray again.
Spread the fruit mixture evenly in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining topping mixture evenly and lightly over the fruit. Bake until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is lightly browned, about 45 to 55 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature (OK, if you're not on a diet, serve it with cream, or ice-cream, or both!).


“There will be sleeping enough in the grave.” - Benjamin Franklin

A Dutch study published recently suggests that lack of sleep is associated with shrinkage of some areas of our brain, with less gray matter in insomniacs, than in people who sleep normally. An imaging study on the brain of people with chronic sleep problems found there was a decreased area in the region of gray matter, which is used to make decisions. The worst loss was demonstrated in severe insomniacs, regardless of how long they had suffered from the disorder. It was not determined whether the insomnia preceded the gray matter loss or whether it followed it.

It has long been reported by sleep researchers that insomnia disrupts brain function and behaviour, but this study begins to answer why that malfunctioning happens. This may also shed some light on how to more effectively treat it. It could cause a shift in paradigm in the way that we deal with insomnia. That is, treating insomnia specifically, relying on recognising a problem, diagnosing it using a test, and developing a specific treatment plan.

An older Swiss study has linked insomnia with addiction to drugs. This is in support of a previous US study that found similar results in teenagers with insomnia. One in four teens showed significant symptoms of insomnia every day for a month. What is even more worrying is that the effect seems to be “transmissible” to other teens. That is, in a study of 8,000 adolescents in the US, a teen with a friend who sleeps under seven hours a night is 11% more likely to do the same and 19% more likely to try marijuana.

Furthermore, a Boston University School of Medicine study supports the fact that we need sleep for normal, organic functioning of our body. It was found that study participants that reported sleeping less than 6 hours, or more than 9 hours a day had an increased incidence of diabetes, compared to those study participants who slept the “average” 7-8 hours.

I sleep about five hours per night and have done so for several decades now. I seem to suffer no ill effects and have no addictions and no loss of brain substance (that I can tell, based on my activities!). There are many different patterns of sleep and the number of hours of sleep that people require seem to vary quite dramatically. I have friends and colleagues who need anything between 7-11 hours of sleep a night. The average adult generally requires 7-8 hours of sleep a night for optimal functioning. The number of hours of sleep each individual needs to sleep, however, is a matter of ‘circadian rhythm” or the biological clock that regulates our sleep-wakefulness cycle.

Some research suggests that intellectually active people require less sleep. For example, Leonardo da Vinci regularly slept only 2 hours per night! Isaac Newton slept 3-4 hours, Benjamin Franklin 2-4 hours, Napoleon 4 hours.

I think the general consensus is to sleep for as long as you need to and to not force yourself to stay awake nor force yourself to sleep if you don’t want to. In terms of insomnia, if you suffer from it, seek treatment, keeping in mind that there are some natural, effective non-drug treatments. Some people, of course will need medication, but your practitioner can advise you as to the best course of action.

insomnia |inˈsämnēə| noun
Habitual sleeplessness; inability to sleep.
insomniac |-nēˌak| noun & adjective
ORIGIN early 17th century: From Latin, from insomnis ‘sleepless,’ from in- (expressing negation) + somnus ‘sleep.’

Tuesday 23 February 2010


“The past not merely is not fugitive, it remains present.” - Marcel Proust

The sense of smell is one that characterises more than any other of our senses, our animal origins. Smell is ever-present and can be associated with any situation, person, place or event in our life, stamping indelibly in our memory that peculiar smell with that time, place but more importantly emotions we were feeling then. Our olfactory memories have strong emotional associations and are linked with the experiences we lived through. The sense of smell is processed by the same part of the brain (the limbic system) that handles memories and emotions so it is not surprising that smell and sentiment feed off one another.

We find that we can immediately recognise and respond to smells from childhood such as the smell of Mum’s clean sheets, the cake baking in the oven, the smell of new books in grade one, or a musty cellar in Grandpa’s house. We remember the smell of the skin of our lover, the perfume that our high school teacher wore (and who we had a crush on!) or the smell of a street that we walked on during our first overseas holiday. Even if these smells cannot be specifically identified, their re-encounter later in life sparks off a shower of memories that trigger off a domino effect of strong emotional experiences.

This poem I wrote when I found a bottle of perfume belonging to an old flame, whose smell triggered off a cascade of sentimental reactions and feelings…

The Scent Bottle

A mislaid, forgotten bottle of your scent
I found today and opened to inhale;
A flood of memory spun a rich tale,
With costly perfumes from Tashkent
Souvenirs of whispers hidden by a veil.

Your pale demeanour, golden hair
Enveloped in a cloud of fragrance,
Enhancing so your silky elegance;
Reminded now by the scent so rare,
Again our parting making me despair.

The citrus, civet and the earthy musk
Are mixed with the delights of rose
That delicately caress the nose.
The summery afternoon, the violet dusk
What marvels for a scent bottle to enclose!

My wandering fingers on your skin
I recollect, absorbing with each touch
An aromatic kiss – in love so much!
Heady ambergris like sounds of violin,
Fading recall, as snowflake, I try to clutch.

A bottle of scent, and your memory I seek,
In billows of vetiver, nard and myrrh.
My loss, a perfume smelt, will now aver
Times past, of happiness gone to speak,
As echoes of long-lost love I stir.

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday!

Monday 22 February 2010


“Faith must be enforced by reason. When faith becomes blind it dies.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Today is the Roman Day VII Kalends March, the last day of the old Roman calendar, on which was celebrated the Terminalia Festival. This was a Roman feast that celebrated the god Terminus who protected boundaries and frontiers. Neighbours met at the boundaries of their properties to drape the termini (stone boundary markers) with garlands. Sacrifices of wheat, honey and wine were offered to Terminus. The women contributed torches ignited on their hearths; the sons brought baskets of produce from the property and the daughters added to the repast with special honey cakes. The women made two fires at the altar, these made carefully with interlaced sticks. Meanwhile, the sons held their baskets over the fire and their sisters shook them three times to scatter its contents into the fire, then sacrificed the cakes to the flames. Farm workers attended as well, dressed in white, carrying the wine. They concluded with singing the praises of the god. Ovid says the rites of the Terminalia form the close of all others. Anyone moving the sacred stones of the boundaries was accursed and would be punished by Terminus.

Legend says that around the sixth century BC, a Roman ruler ordered a temple built to Jupiter, the king of gods and men. He chose Rome’s Capitoline Hill as the favoured site. The legend continues, saying that none of the gods who were worshipped in this area objected to yielding their spots to Jupiter, none that is, except Terminus. Rather than becoming angry with Terminus or resorting to force, the king accepted the god’s decision. The king knew that, according to Roman custom, removing a boundary stone was forbidden. So, Jupiter’s temple was built around Terminus’ shrine. An opening was made in the roof of the temple directly above the stone considered especially sacred to Terminus, since, traditionally, sacrifices made to Terminus had to be offered under the open sky. Jupiter’s cult absorbed Terminus, the temple of Jupiter Terminalius thus serving the syncretised god.

Boundary stones were sacred to Terminus, and specific rituals accompanied the placing, or “planting”, of every new stone. An animal, usually a lamb or a pig, was sacrificed, and its blood and ashes, together with vegetables, fruits, honey, and wine, were placed in a hole made by the owners of the two adjacent properties. A stone or stump of wood, the boundary marker, was then put in place to fill the hole.

The Orthodox church celebrates the Feast Day of St Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna today. Polycarp was born in 60 AD or thereabouts. When he was 20 years old he became a Christian. St Eirenaeus, who was his student, writes that Polycarp was wise, ethical and devoted to his belief in Christ. He was beloved of St John, the Evangelist, who instituted him as the Bishop of Smyrna. He was a zealous church leader and was a teacher, protector of the needy, guardian of the weak and leader of his church. When the Christian persecutions began under the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (reigned 138-161 AD) he was suddenly, at age 86, to be arrested.

When he heard Roman officials were intent on arresting him, he decided to wait for them at home. His friends, terror-stricken, pleaded with him to flee, so to calm them, he finally agreed to withdraw to a small estate outside of town. But while in prayer there, he received some sort of vision and he reported to his friends that he now understood, “I must be burned alive”. Roman soldiers eventually discovered Polycarp’s whereabouts and came to his door, upon which he said: “God's will be done”, and he let the soldiers in.

He was escorted to the local proconsul, Statius Quadratus, who interrogated him in front of a crowd of curious onlookers. Polycarp seemed unfazed by the interrogation. He carried on a witty dialogue with Quadratus until Quadratus lost his temper and threatened Polycarp that he’d be thrown to wild beasts, he’d be burned at the stake, and so on. Polycarp just told Quadratus that while the proconsul’s fire lasts but a little while, the fires of judgment which were reserved for the ungodly cannot be quenched.

Soldiers then grabbed him to nail him to a stake, but Polycarp stopped them: “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.” He prayed aloud, the fire was lit, and his flesh was consumed. The chronicler of this martyrdom said it was “not as burning flesh but as bread baking or as gold and silver refined in a furnace.”

Polycarp in Greek means “many-seeded”, so this saint is beloved of farmers, who invoke his name:
    St Polycarp make our gardens grow
    St Polycarp ripen the wheat we sow.
                                               Greek folk rhyme

Chickweed, Stellaria media, is today’s birthday flower and is under the dominion of the moon.  It symbolises a rendezvous or a meeting. In the language of flowers it asks: “Will you meet me?”

Sunday 21 February 2010


“We challenge the culture of violence when we ourselves act in the certainty that violence is no longer acceptable, that it's tired and outdated no matter how many cling to it in the stubborn belief that it still works and that it's still valid.” - Gerard Vanderhaar

We watched a very gruelling and confronting film at the weekend. I must admit that we had bought the DVD a couple of years ago but we were putting off seeing it as the jacket notes were rather graphic, however, all of the comments that I had heard about the film were very positive. It is from New Zealand, and is the 1994 Lee Tamahori film, “Once Were Warriors”. It is a film about decadence and loss of pride. About dignity and self-respect, about love and hate, and how all of these things are interwoven with violence and a reduction of the humanity of those who are caught in a web of powerlessness and spiritual degeneracy.

The action takes place in urban Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. The story concerns itself with the Hekes, a family of Maoris living in a council house and caught between the unrelenting demands of two conflicting cultures. Jake Heke, the father, is a very violent man who frequently beats his wife, Beth, when drunk. This violence stems from his upbringing, the company he keeps and from his feelings of inferiority. Beth is of ‘noble’ lineage and he is of a ‘slave’ background. Jake obviously loves both his wife and his five children, but he is unable to show it in a way they can experience it. The macho man mentality and doing what he thinks is ‘manly’ get in the way of any show of emotion or tenderness towards his family.

The eldest son, Nig, is about to join a street gang and be initiated in the violence that he abhors in his father, while the second eldest son, Boogie, is in trouble with the police and faces court, which will put him into welfare custody. Jake's eldest daughter, Grace, is a sensitive and talented writer who in the youth of her 13 years already shows much promise and wants desperately to get in touch with her family, her culture, her emotions, her blossoming mind. The two youngest children are innocent and vulnerable and they cannot but witness the never-ending cycle of domestic and social violence they are exposed to on a daily basis.

Without spoiling the movie for those of you who haven’t seen it and wish to, all I shall say is that the feeling of tragedy that is ever-present from the film’s beginning finds release in a harrowing climax that has devastating effects for the Heke family and serves as a means of liberation for some of them, while for others it is the spark that sets off an explosion of self-destructive force that damns them eternally.

The film is a challenging one to watch and is full of bloody violence, which is never gratuitous but forms an integral part of the plot. Violence motivates and actualises the social groups that the Heke family lives in. We are introduced to all forms of violence and the film seemingly wishes to state its vocabulary by immersing us in the brutality that drives Jake and his mates, Nig’s gang and the street kids. The touches of tenderness that punctuate the film become all the more poignant and heart-rending when framed by all the cruelty and barbarity that tries to stifle out the humanity in each of the characters. The people that survive this environment must fight with all their might against violence and rise above it until it can no longer touch them.

This is a film you watch only when you are well-prepared for it and you must steel yourself to keep on watching without flinching. Ultimately, the message is one of hope and redemption. The survivors are only the strong, but those strong in spirit. Find it, watch it, it’s worth it!


“He who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Today is International Mother Language Day. This day was proclaimed by UNESCO's General Conference in November 1999. The International Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Languages are the most powerful agents of preserving and developing our heritage, both tangible and intangible. Every effort that promotes the preservation and dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

For today’s Art Sunday, what better painting of a mother and child, which illustrates the concept of mother tongue so well. It is from our mother that we learn our first words, and it is that language we hold dearest to our heart, should we learn to speak more during our life…

The painting is by Léon Bazile Perrault, (1832-1908) a painter of genre, history, religion and portrait. He stands in peril of not being remembered as distinctively as his successes might merit. In symbolic genre, he is unmatched, and in portrait so masterly, that his place in those arts is foremost.