Saturday 3 April 2010


“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” - Mahatma Gandhi

On this Holy Saturday, I am featuring a Greek hymn singer who has brought the chants of the Orthodox faith closer not only to many of the faithful, but also to many who were not aware of the glory of Byzantine hymnology. It is Petros Gaïtanos who is singing some of the Holy Week Byzantine hymns. This piece is encomium “E Zoé en Táfo” (Η Ζωή εν Τάφω – “Life in the Sepulchre”) that is chanted on Good Friday and laments the death of Jesus.

Christ, you, who are Life itself,
were placed in a sepulchre,
and legions of angels were astonished
by your condenscendence.

How is it possible for you who is Life itself to die?
To abide in a grave?
You, who has dissolved the rule of Death
and resurrects Hades’ dead?

The ruler of all is beheld dead;
and in a new sepulchre is placed
he who has emptied all sepulchres of their dead.

Christ, you, who are Life itself,
were placed in a sepulchre,
and through your death you conquered Death
and sprung forth life into the world.

Strangest of paradoxes, and of inexplicable things!
the provider of my breath is carried breathless
by Joseph for burial.

Christ, you, who are Life itself,
were placed in a sepulchre,
and legions of angels were astonished
by your condenscendence.

Have a Peaceful Easter!

Thursday 1 April 2010


“More die in the United States of too much food than of too little.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

As it is Good Friday today, I thought I’d blog about fasting, which is a traditional way of eating in many of the Southern Mediterranean countries, like Greece, Italy and Spain.  The fasting is cyclical and reflects the traditions and proscriptions of the religious calendar, closely associated with seasonal cycles and the availability of certain produce. It is also closely tied to the life of the countryside, where farming activities often dictate what food is available when. With fasting of course, comes feasting to celebrate various holy days and feast days.

In the Orthodox faith, there are there are four major fasts during the year:

1) The Great Lent, which begins on a Monday, seven weeks before Easter. This Monday, called Katharí Dheftéra (Καθαρή Δευτέρα), translates as Clean Monday. Fasting restrictions are eased on weekends (not abandoned), and Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday (the weekend before Easter).
2) Fast of the Apostles, which lasts from one to six weeks, begins on a Monday, eight days after Pentecost, and ends on June 28th, the day before the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. 

3) Fast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, from August 1st to 14th. 

4) Christmas Fast (Little Lent), from November 15th to December 24th.

Individual Fast Days
•    January 5th - eve of the Epiphany,
•    August 29th - the Beheading of St. John the Baptist,
•    September 14th - the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, and
•    Wednesdays and Fridays.

Similarly, there are certain days when fasting is not permitted:

•    between Christmas (25th December) and the Epiphany (January 6th),
•    the 10th week before Easter,
•    the week after Easter, and,
•    the week after Pentecost (50 days after Easter).

The fasting that is necessitated by Greek Orthodox Church tradition is essentially one of vegan fare and the permissible dishes do not include any dairy products, meats, and fish. This may sound very Spartan, but there are many wonderful traditional dishes that are both nutritious and delicious. For example:

•    Artichoke hearts with vegetables in a light lemon-dill sauce that is a Greek classic.
•    Beans with capers, which is an easy dish that uses black-eyed peas with the tastes of onions, capers, and dill. Because it is often served chilled or at room temperature, it is called a salad, but it makes a good warm main dish too.
•    Broad beans and artichoke hearts are a delightful taste combination and a favorite main dish during the Lenten season. It can also be served as a side dish.
•    Lentils and rice is a vegan recipe for lentils cooked with rice, herbs, and spices and meets the most stringent Greek Orthodox guidelines for periods of fasting and the Great Lent. It also happens to be frugal, healthy, and delicious as a main dish.
•    Tomato and pasta soup is made with fresh tomatoes, vegetables, and pasta, which is a hearty soup and a cold-weather delight.
•    Legumes are an important part of the Greek diet, and lentil soup is a perennial favorite as well as a Lenten dish consumed during fasting periods in the Greek Orthodox faith.
•    Fresh French beans with tomato stew is a simple recipe but tastes delicious. Fresh green beans, tomatoes, herbs and spices are simmered together long enough for the tastes to meld. Served in larger portions, it is a main dish.
•    The national food dish of Greece is Fassoladha, is a hearty bean soup. It is a delicious dish that represents the best of Greek cooking: vegetables, herbs, and olive oil. There are many variations of this wonderful dish, and this recipe can be made with tomatoes or with lemon.
•    Chickpea soup is a warming and filling thick soup that isn't as appealing to the eye as it is to the tastebuds. It's easy to make, vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, with only a few ingredients.
•    “Spanakorizo” or spinach risotto is made with fresh spinach, and is a quick dish that is a meal both delicious and healthy.
•    Stuffed cabbage leaves is a very nice dish where blanched cabbage is stuffed with a mixture of rice and herbs. They are made into small rolls and make for an elegant Lenten dish.
•    Stuffed vine leaves with a filling of rice, dill, parlsey, spring onion, tomato, with a light sauce of lemon juice.
•    Stuffed vegetables (tomato, capsicum, zucchini, eggplant, potato – as illustrated above) can be made into a vegetarian version where the minced meat is omitted. Οne may also stuff zucchini flowers, when they are in season.
•    Salads are a very common fasting dish and a great variety of them exist in Greece. The term “Greek Salad” is perhaps misleading as there are an almost infinite variety of fresh, healthy, zesty Greek salads!

Remember, we eat to live, not live to eat!
Have a Happy Easter!


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

Another long day at work today, but now I am looking forward to a break with four days of holiday. Easter is always a time of rest and relaxation here in Australia, as most people take the opportunity to go away and spend some time away from home, enjoying the autumnal weather. The religious aspect of the holiday is very much underplayed and if people go to church it is usually only for the Easter Sunday mass or service.

Greek Australians still maintain the traditions of the “old country” and the whole of Holy Week before Easter is devoted to religious activities and traditions surrounding the Passion and Resurrection. The Greek Orthodox church has often been referred to as the “Church of the Resurrection”, as its greatest holy day is Easter. Most Western churches place greater emphasis on Christmas, prompting the remark that Western Christianity is still in its infancy whereas Orthodoxy is mature. The criticism is unfounded and perceived degrees of importance assigned to different holy days cannot be used as a yardstick for the philosophical slant that one church may have compared to another, however, the Eastern church emphasises Easter as the “Feast of Feasts”.

Holy Week in the Eastern Orthodox Church encasulates the sanctity of the whole calendar year of the Church. Its centre of commemorations and inspiration is Easter, where the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. Every Sunday is dedicated in the Eastern Orthodox Church to the Resurrection. One hundred days also are also directly dedicated to Easter, 50 before it for preparation, and another 50 after it for commemorating the glorification of Jesus Christ.

St John Chrysostom’s mass is the culmination of the resurrection liturgy, in which the congregation is enjoined to: “Take part in this fair and radiant festival. Let no one be fearful of death, for the death of the Saviour has set us free...O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is Thy victory? Christ is Risen and Thou art overthrown. To Him be glory and power from all ages to all ages.”

religion |riˈlijən| noun
The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods: Ideas about the relationship between science and religion.
• Details of belief as taught or discussed: When the school first opened they taught only religion, Italian, and mathematics.
• A particular system of faith and worship: The world's great religions.
• A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance: Consumerism is the new religion.
Get religion informal be converted to religious belief and practices.
Religionless adjective
ORIGIN Middle English (originally in the sense [life under monastic vows]): from Old French, or from Latin religio(n-) ‘obligation, bond, reverence,’ perhaps based on Latin religare ‘to bind.’

Tuesday 30 March 2010


“If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” - Charles Darwin

I had a very busy day at work today, working uninterruptedly from 7:00 am until past five in the afternoon. I got an almighty headache afterwards and had to rush out. The afternoon was warm and sunny, beautifully autumnal. The train was packed and once again I thought of the poor people in the Moscow Metro bomb blast. Do we prepare ourselves every day, every moment to meet our death? We should…

William Blake for Poetry Wednesday today:


 Is this a holy thing to see
   In a rich and fruitful land, -
 Babes reduced to misery,
   Fed with cold and usurous hand?

 Is that trembling cry a song?
   Can it be a song of joy?
 And so many children poor?
   It is a land of poverty!

 And their sun does never shine,
   And their fields are bleak and bare,
 And their ways are filled with thorns:
   It is eternal winter there.

 For where'er the sun does shine,
   And where'er the rain does fall,
 Babes should never hunger there,
   Nor poverty the mind appall.

Aptly for Holy Week, today Blake’s observations on society and the inequality between rich and poor come to the fore in this poem written as a comment on the charity distributed to the poor around Eastertime. Blake thought charity to be evil, and that it was an easy way for the rich to make themselves feel better. He abhors the social system that allows the rich to become richer and the poor to become poorer. Usury (action or practice of lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest) is a word we seldom hear nowadays, though it is so widespread. Dante in his hell reserves delicious tortures for the usurers. Even in these bleak days of the “financial crisis”, the greedy banks and loan companies still continue to practice the state-sanctioned usury while the bankers grow fatter on their obscene salaries.

The poet bemoans the fact that even though these poverty-stricken children live in a rich land, they are dependent on charity to survive. If poverty were to be wiped out, one wouldn’t need charity nor pity. The hymns sung by the poor children to praise the glory of God cannot be heard by Blake and make him rejoice as all he hears are wails of despair, coming from children who protest their endless wintry lives.

William Blake
(28 November 1757– 12 August 1827) was a complex man. He was a poet, illustrator, engraver, draughtsman, but his efforts, due to the unorthodox nature of his work, were highly unappreciated during his lifetime. Working as an engraver he learned many things, things that helped him to surround one of his poems with his own hand-coloured illustrations. Among his most important works are the “Illustrations of the Book of Job” (1825), and the hundred watercolours to Dante's “Divine Comedy”. A mystical and deeply religious man, Blake claimed he had visionary experiences. His social and political conscience railed against the prevailing academic painting of the eighteenth century.

Monday 29 March 2010


“True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason.” - Alfred North Whitehead

The atrocious terrorist attack in the Moscow Metro yesterday has once again made me wince with consternation and distress. The reality of terrorism in our days is something that we are not permitted to forget as daily events around the world draw attention to desperate and extreme acts performed by minorities that attempt to draw attention to their cause. These are cowardly acts of blackmail and instead of support and sympathy (for whatever cause) they attempt to garner, all they do is to succeed in gaining the revulsion and opposition of any person with a shred of humanity within them.

I was not interested to learn more about which organisation or group was behind this latest mass slaughter in Moscow, or the reasons for this madness. All I want is that the perpetrators be found and punished as befits criminals and murderers of the worse kind. Sympathy with their cause or interest in their point of view is the thing most distant in my mind at this point. The image of masses of innocent commuters packed into trains making their way to work that were killed is with me as I get into my train every morning. These ordinary people like you and me, are the victims of terrorists not of liberation fighters, of assassins not of idealists, of fanatics not of visionaries.

One of the most distasteful aspects of the attack is that the suicide bombers were women. Even if these women had lost husbands and children, how could they sink into the same quagmire of hate and violence that destroyed their own families? Does killing several tens of innocent civilians compensate them for their loss? An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a barbarity that is propounded by violent and uncivilised brutes whose motivation is the same as that of the criminal they are intent on punishing.

The atrocity was preceded by yet another terrorist attack, this time in Athens, late on Sunday night. A 15-year-old Afghani boy was killed and his mother and his 10-year-old sister wounded when a home-made pipe bomb exploded. The boy was looking in a bag in a rubbish bin containing the bomb, when the blast occurred. The girl was taken to a children’s hospital with burns to her face and hands, as well as bruising. Her mother, who was in a state of shock, was also injured and taken to a different hospital. No group has claimed responsibility and the terrorist attack has blighted the streets of a residential area of another European city whose inhabitants are living a hard enough life already.

The bomb exploded outside the offices of the Hellenic Management Association, a non-profit organisation. Since a teenager was shot dead by a policeman in Athens in December 2008, there have been frequent attacks on public buildings. Most of these blasts have been blamed on far-left and anarchist groups, but typically these explosions have been minor and caused no injuries. Last week, three bombings targetted the offices of an ultra right wing party, a police immigration centre and a Pakistani immigrant leader’s home. The “Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire” group claimed responsibility for those bombings and said they were intended to highlight racism in Greece.

The father of the killed boy visited the site of his son’s death today. He and his family migrated to Greece for a better life. He couldn’t speak Greek or English but his sorrow was immediately and palpably intelligible as it needed no words to convey the immense sense of loss and devastation he felt. He knelt and wept at the steps where his son lost his life. He sobbed and bewailed his fate. He escaped terror in his own country, searching for a better life in a distant land and all he found was death and endless misery from now on. What sort of society are we becoming? The savage beasts of the jungle are less terrible and less brutal than we humans are. We take cut the thread of human life as easily as if we were chopping the stalk of a lettuce.

Dare we call ourselves civilised? Can such a civilisation survive? Hw can we end this chain of violence and terror we have become trapped by?

Sunday 28 March 2010


“Love unlocks doors and opens windows that weren't even there before.” - Mignon McLaughlin

Yesterday we watched a rather surprising film from Italy.  Surprising, as we had never heard anything of it and the only reason we got it to watch was the sleeve notes and the rather beautiful actress on the front cover. OK, I know, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a DVD by its sleeve, but call it a whim, we suspected that it was going to be a good movie and we were glad that we did. Apparently the movie has won several awards in several festivals, including best actress, best actor, best script, best film.

The film is Ferzan Ozpetek’s 2003 “Facing Windows” or to give it its Italian title, “La Finestra di Fronte”. It starred Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Giovanna, a young woman, married to Filippo (Filippo Nigro), living in a small, contemporary, suburban Rome apartment with their two young children. Across the road, is an apartment where a young, handsome man lives on his own, Lorenzo (Raoul Bova). The two of them see each other daily and a fascination develops into love. This is a love that is improper and condemned by society, so Giovanna tries to stifle her feelings for Lorenzo and instead takes out her frustrations on her husband who tries his best for the family by working night shifts and looking after his children.

The story is overlaid on another “improper” love affair, which took place in Rome in 1943. The connection is Simone (Massimo Girroti), who is an elderly man who has lost his memory and is “rescued” from the streets by Giovanna and Filippo. As Simone almost becomes part of the family (much to Giovanna’s initial consternation and annoyance), we learn of his story and his memories are revealed piecemeal and the strange parallelism between his improper love and Giovanna’s is slowly brought to the fore. Other commonalities also emerge, including Giovanna’s passion of pastry-cooking and Simone’s seeming expertise in this art.

The film is well-crafted, with an engaging story that keeps one immersed in the world portrayed in the screen. It explores the themes of racism, prejudice, intolerance, duty, responsibility and of course the different meaning that we give to the word “love”. It is an adult (though not R-rated) movie, and I am loath to call it a chick flick, although it was described like that by the video store guy. The cinematography is great, the music fantastic and the performances very good. We enjoyed it very much and recommend it most highly. Get your hands on it and watch it!


“And she was fair as is the rose in May.” – Geoffrey Chaucer

Had a very relaxing Sunday today with no work being done at all! We went out for a drive in the morning, visited a Sunday Market and then came back home, had lunch and watched a movie. In the afternoon, I played some music and then we went out to dinner.

For Art Sunday today, and Australian artist, Thea Proctor (1879-1966) or to give her full name, Alethea Mary Proctor. She was born in NSW and studied under Julian Ashton in Sydney, and in London. Her work is notable for its great fluidity of line and the delicate colouration of her watercolour paintings along with black-and-white and hand-coloured prints. She specialised in relief prints and designs and her influence brought public attention to the linocut and woodcut.

Although Proctor's work was comparatively conservative, in Australia it was considered “dangerously modern”. In 1932 Art in Australia devoted an issue to her work. She taught design at Ashton’s Sydney Art School and privately, introducing many young artists to linocut printing, and in the 1940s taught drawing for the Society of Arts and Crafts.

Considered an arbiter of taste and always elegantly dressed, Thea Proctor wrote on fashion, flower arranging, colours for cars and interior decoration. She organized artists’ balls in the 1920s, designed the fashionably modern Lacquer Room restaurant (1932) for Farmer & Co. Ltd and produced theatre décor in the 1940s. In her latter years she continued to encourage young and innovative artists and to paint, in a looser, sensuous manner, carried out portrait commissions, exhibited regularly with the Macquarie Galleries and promoted the neglected work of her relation John Peter Russell. She commented: “I am not the sort of person who could sit at home and knit socks”. Unmarried, Thea Proctor died at Potts Point on 29 July 1966 and was cremated with Anglican rites.

The work illustrated here is in the Gallery of New South Wales and is entitled “The Rose” (ca1928). It is a woodcut, printed in black ink, from one block and subsequently hand-coloured. Such works explored form and colour in ways previously not attempted, and reflect the challenging thinking of the time and leadership demonstrated by Thea Proctor. In her works, she highlighted a modernist aesthetic link that Australia had not seen before.