Saturday 21 August 2010


“In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.” - Charles de Gaulle

It’s our Federal Election day here in Australia today and we got our voting over and done with early in the morning. Just as well, as later in the day it was very busy in all of the polling places and the traffic in the city was particularly heavy. The main contenders of course are extremely nervous as this poll is on a knife edge, with the possibility of a hung parliament. The Greens are becoming a growing force in our politics and perhaps this may be a good thing as the two major parties have become mirror images of one another.

I need something soothing and gentle tonight: Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No 1 for piano, which in this version is orchestrated and strikes the right chord…

Thursday 19 August 2010


“Sin is sweet in the mouth and bitter in digestion. It lies hard on the stomach.” – Henry Ward Beecher

I am on a diet. Well not really a diet, I am just a little bit more careful about what I am eating, or rather even more importantly, how much I am eating. Since our return from Vietnam I have lost 2.5 kilos. It’s been simple really, cutting back on some things that are not necessary, reducing the intake of fats, not drinking alcohol (not that I drank all that much before, but between having none and having a glass with a meal is a reduction!). No chocolate, but still having a lolly or two every now and then. Not having ice cream or cream, but enjoying real milk in my coffee. Having chicken, but boiled; not fried, nor roasted. Enjoying lots of fresh salads, home made bread – one slice or two, not buttered. No margarine, rather olive oil and only a little of it. Fruit for lunch, but only one or two pieces and only fresh, seasonal fruit.

It is important to watch the quantity of what we eat first, and then the type of food and how it’s cooked. My grandfather used to say, “Eat whatever you like, but only a little of it. Whenever you have a meal, eat enough to satisfy your hunger, but leave your stomach unloaded. If it were imperative that you eat again immediately after having completed a meal, you should be able to do so without discomfort…” Wise words which he abided by. He lived a healthy, happy life and was fit until he died in his early nineties.

A “diet” can be a good culinary experience and one may still enjoy one’s meals. Once the appropriate weight has been reached, one can start including some of the more “sinful” foods one avoided, but in greatly reduced quantities. This helps to maintain the desired weight and also of course one is not a “spoil-sport” at dinner parties or restaurants. One may then eat anything and everything, but only in small portions. My mother has been doing this all her life and she has always been slim, trim and healthy.

Exercise, of course, is the other side of good nutrition when trying to lose weight. Once again moderate exercise: Walking not running; swimming not jogging; light weight lifting till one is fatigued rather than increasing the weights lifted more and more; sensible warm-ups and stretching rather than launching into a gym workout immediately; dancing and even having sex rather than doing pushups! Exercise like that becomes an enjoyable routine that alters metabolism and is gentle on the body, while having its beneficial effects.

Unfortunately, the older one gets, the harder it is to lose weight if one has put it on and the harder it is to maintain good form. It’s easier to opt for quick meal solutions and to become addicted to nutritiously harmful routine meals. Many older people can also try to do good by taking vitamins, minerals and other nutritious supplements, but these instead of helping can sometimes even do great harm. Nutritional supplements can interact adversely with medications, some older people can overdose on vitamins with dire effects, and such people can be misled into thinking that if they take supplements they needn’t look after their diet properly. Malnutrition can still happen if one is taking lots of vitamins and minerals but not eating right!

Wednesday 18 August 2010


“For myself I hold no preferences among flowers, so long as they are wild, free, spontaneous. Bricks to all greenhouses!  Black thumb and cutworm to the potted plant!” - Edward Abbey

The scarlet pimpernel, Anagallis arvensis, is the birthday flower for today.  The generic name is derived from the Greek anagelas, “mirth”. Pliny describes taking this plant internally in order to dispel gloom.  It is often described as the “cheerful pimpernel”, but this may relate also to its use as a weather oracle: The blooms close up when bad weather is nigh. The flower symbolises faithfulness, childhood, change and an assignation.  Astrologically, it is a solar plant. The blue variant of the plant, the blue pimpernel Anagallis arvensis (ssp caerulea) has striking blue flowers and symbolises nostalgia.

Most people are familiar with (if they have not read) the classic novel “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (1905) by the Baroness Emmuska Orczy, who then proceeded to write ten sequels [“I Will Repay” (1906), “Elusive Pimpernel” (1908), “Eldorado” (1913), “Lord Tony’s Wife” (1917), “League of the Scarlet Pimpernel” (1919), “Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel” (1922), “Sir Percy Hits Back” (1927), “Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel” (1929), “Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel” (1933), “Sir Percy Leads the Band” (1936) and “Mam’zelle Guillotine” (1940)]. A full online text (and summary) of the novel can be found here.

The original novel was based on a play by Orczy, and it was inevitable that the novel then engendered several movies, a Broadway musical and a TV series, as well as several parodies! The Mecca for Pimpernel fans is Blakeney Manor, the fanciful original home of the English noble whose alias the Pimpernel was.

The first movie of the novel was the silent film “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (1917) directed by Richard Stanton and starring Dustin Farnum. Harold Young’s 1934 classic “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is good fun, with a spirited performance by Leslie Howard. The UK 1999 TV series starring Richard E. Grant  was highly praised and was popular with the public.

As far as the plot is concerned, it takes place at the time of the height French Revolution. The name of one man was a curse on the lips of the new regime and a prayer on the lips of the aristocrats who had fallen from grace: The Scarlet Pimpernel, so-called from the flower with which he signed his messages. A master of disguise, unsurpassed swordsman, and superlatively quick-witted strategist, he masterminded the rescuing of countless condemned prisoners before they could lose their heads to the guillotine, ably assisted by the League of the Pimpernel, a band of devoted followers (many of whom were young English noblemen). Though the French, personified by their sadistic agent Chauvelin, sought to unmask and capture the Pimpernel, he continued to evade their best efforts.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was the alias of Sir Percy Blakeney, one of the richest men in England, seen by his peers as a fool, a brainless fop married in a loveless relationship to Marguerite. This was of course just what Percy wanted people to think, as he and his loving wife, herself one of the “most clever women in Europe” continued to run rings round their opponents. The novel is thinly veiled propaganda for monarchy as a political system, however, it is just made entertaining and adventuresome, a perfect vehicle for advancing the cause of royalists.

royalist |ˈroiəlist| noun
A person who supports the principle of monarchy or a particular monarchy.
• A supporter of the king against Parliament in the English Civil War.
• A supporter of the British during the American Revolution; a Tory.
Giving support to the monarchy : the paper claims to be royalist.
• (in the English Civil War) supporting the king against Parliament : the royalist army.
Royalism |-ˌizəm| noun
ORIGIN late Middle English: From Old French roial, from Latin regalis ‘regal.’


“I beg you take courage; the brave soul can mend even disaster.” - Catherine II

I cannot but continue to think of the Pakistani drama still being enacted in the flooded wastes that the once fertile fields have become. I ruminate upon the disaster and the new calamities still ahead for millions of people and cannot but be moved to help in any way I can. Even the writing of a poem can touch a reader and perhaps generate sympathy in a person who is fatigued by the continuous reports of disaster and woe the world over…

When the Rains Came

When the rains came, they blessed the fields;
The thirsty earth drank deeply, gratefully,
And the dormant seeds swelled in their coats
Like content, fat children awaiting puberty
To turn their puppy fat into elegant tallness.

The rains came and stayed.
The dry land was flooded.
Wheat fields turned into rice paddies
And all fat seeds were drowned; rotting in the sodden soil.

The rains fell and the spate was unleashed;
Gentle rivulets became torrents,
Rushing forth uprooting violently all in their path.

The rains came and came and came,
Their blessing converted to a curse.
The water of life in its surfeit carrying death:

Dead bodies of people wrapped in liquid winding sheets;
Uprooted trees now like floating seaweed in the deluge;
Animal carcases bobbing in the swollen rivers;
Countless flotsam, silent testimony to millions of ruined lives.

Mother, you suffer, weeping for your lost children!
Father, your livelihood is bleak destruction, ruination!
Brother, your sister is missing: Drowned? Saved? Hungry? Cold?
Sister, your tears another flood; another wretchedness
That adds to the watery devastation of your once beautiful homeland…

Tuesday 17 August 2010


“He who gives when he is asked has waited too long.” - Sunshine Magazine

The news that keeps coming out of Pakistan is mind-numbing. The extent of the humanitarian and environmental disaster there is of amazingly tragic proportions. Even while away I was keeping up with the news on BBC World on TV and since getting back I have been following the relief effort with concern. Last week the World Bank estimated that the floods destroyed crops worth around $1 billion. Pakistani estimates place this figure to at least double that. About 17 million acres of agricultural land have been submerged, and more than 100,000 animals have perished. This is a severe economic burden for the country, where about a quarter of the economy and nearly a half of its workforce depend on agriculture.

The floods, the worst in Pakistan’s history, have affected at least 14 million people with over 1,600 fatalities. No doubt the death toll is bound to rise in the wake of even more downpours, further flooding and the terrible wave of concomitant infectious disease epidemics. Cholera, dysentery, typhoid, paratyphoid, hepatitis and other diseases will cause much distress and even more tragedy in a country that has already suffered enormous losses. The pictures that accompany the news reports are heart-rending and even the most hardened amongst us, used to daily reports of fatalities, tragedies, terrorism and natural disasters, cannot but be moved.

Anger amongst the survivors is mounting with reports of inadequate aid provision, hunger, lack of clean water and shelter. Unfortunately, the appeals for help from Pakistan although loud and clear are unheeded by many. Various agencies that are usually involved in international appeals and aid are struggling to attract funds for the millions of Pakistani flood victims. The international aid effort has been meagre because the country suffers from an “image deficit”. I find this the most distasteful and inhuman characterisation of a woeful response. To have approximately 20 million people affected directly and indirectly, the great majority of them poor and innocent, with aid being withheld because of fears it will go to the hands of the Taliban is quite monstrous.

The victims are farmers, mothers, children. Poor agricultural workers that struggle to survive in the best of circumstances and often, they themselves are victims of the Taliban. The media so often paints Pakistan in dark colours, that public opinion links it immediately to terrorism and corruption. By extension, through some weird logic the victims are not as innocent as others. The UN is struggling to obtain $A515 million to provide emergency aid to six million victims of the country ravaged by heavy flooding. According to the latest update of funding pledges, the international community has transferred $A166 million (32%) of the total needed by the UN since the appeal was launched last week. Yesterday, the World Bank agreed to provide a $A1.01 billion loan to Pakistan following a request from Islamabad. No doubt a hefty interest will be charged…

What a marvellous civilisation we have evolved into! This is the 21st century informed by centuries of history, enriched by experience, wealthy beyond the dreams of most empires of the past, more informed, more educated, more able to be compassionate and just and charitable and humane… And yet we turn off our noble sentiments and withhold our sympathy, deny our aid to a stricken groups simply because the country they live in has a “bad image”. It’s like denying giving the starving elderly beggar a dollar because he might spend it unwisely, or lose it. We have become so civilised, so refined, so sensitive and so politically correct that we have lost our humanity…

Please donate to the Pakistan appeal in any of these sites here:

Monday 16 August 2010


“Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression.” - Isaac Bashevis Singer

For this Movie Monday I will tell you about a film I have not seen… Rather odd I know to review a film that I have not seen, but there you go. I’ll tell you about it and once I watch it I’ll tell you again about what my impressions were.

I was speaking to my parents at the weekend and as we were talking we spoke about some good films that we had seen. They told me about a film that they had seen when young and which they had never forgotten. I had heard about this wonderful film before and they always spoke very highly of it. The conversation ended with the observation: “Well, no use talking about it now, it’s highly unlikely that it can be found to watch now – how will you get hold of a Soviet film of the forties, which everyone has forgotten about?”

Well, that comment got me searching the web and knowing only its title (in translation) I was finally able to not only find which film it was, but all sorts of other interesting history about it. The trip through the cyberalleys ended up with me finding a DVD of it for sale on Amazon. Of course I ordered it, and I shall give the DVD to my parents as a gift (after I watch it of course!).

The film is Alexandr Ptushko’s 1946 fantasy film “The Stone Flower” (Каменный цветок, Kamennyy tsvetok). It was the Soviet Union’s first colour film shot on AgfaColor negative film seized in Germany by Russian troops, and was entered into the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. Apparently the colours of this film were beautifully pastel, the cinematography exceptional and the subject matter based on an old Russian fairy tale.

I looked for the film on IMDB and found it there with several reviews that speak of memories of this film that cannot be forgotten. It seems that whoever saw this film was very impressed by it and was struck by its beauty. All of this of course has made me extremely curious to see it and can hardly wait until the DVD arrives in the post so I can watch it and make up my mind!

The whole story of “The Stone Flower” can be found here as retold by Kathleen Jenks. I wonder if any of my readers has seen this film and what they thought of it?

Sunday 15 August 2010


“It is with our passions as it is with fire and water; they are good servants, but bad masters.” - Roger L'Estrange

Toulouse Lautrec for Art Sunday today, and in fact one of his most famous works: “At Le Moulin Rouge”, the notorious cabaret in Montmartre where Lautrec was often found associating with the demimonde and its citizens of the night.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born on November 24th, 1864, in Albi, France. He was  the son and heir of Comte Alphonse-Charles de Toulouse and last in line of an aristocratic family that dated back a thousand years. Henri’s father was rich, handsome, and eccentric. His mother was overly devoted to her only living child, Henri, who was weak and often sick. By the time he was 10 he had begun to draw and paint.

At 12 young Toulouse-Lautrec broke his left leg and at 14 his right leg. The bones failed to heal properly, and his legs stopped growing. He reached young adulthood with a body trunk of normal size but with abnormally short legs. He was only 1.5 meters tall. Deprived of the kind of life that a normal body would have permitted, Toulouse-Lautrec lived wholly for his art. He stayed in the Montmartre section of Paris, the center of the cabaret entertainment and bohemian life that he loved to paint. Circuses, dance halls and nightclubs, racetracks. He observed all of these spectacles and he worked feverishly to set them down on canvas or made into lithographs.

Toulouse-Lautrec was very much a part of all this activity. He would sit at a crowded nightclub table, laughing and drinking, and at the same time he would make swift sketches. The next morning in his studio he would expand the sketches into bright-coloured paintings. In order to become a part of the Montmartre life, as well as to protect himself against the crowd's ridicule of his appearance, Lautrec began to drink heavily. In the 1890s the drinking started to affect his health. He was confined to a sanatorium and to his mother’s care at home, but he could not stay away from alcohol. Lautrec died on September 9th 1901, at the family chateau of Malrome. Since then his paintings and posters, particularly the Moulin Rouge group, have been in great demand and bring high prices at auctions and art sales.

The painting above epitomizes Lautrec’s life: In the background is La Goulue, the Moulin Rouge’s reigning dance star, who is adjusting her red hair while the dwarfish Toulouse-Lautrec and his tall cousin, Gabriel Tapié de Céléreyan, walk toward the left. The glum assembly of characters seated around the table includes writer Édouard Dujardin, entertainer La Macarona, photographer Paul Sescau, winemaker Maurice Guibert and another redhead, most likely entertainer Jane Avril. The woman with the green face illuminated with artificial light is May Milton, another popular dancer of the day.