Saturday 4 September 2010


“There's a long, long trail a-winding into the land of my dreams.” - Stoddard King, Jr.

For Song Saturday, a beautiful Greek song, sung by Manolis Lidakis. He sings the verses of Alkinoos Ioannidis, set to music by Giannis Spathas.


I have searched for you
In the land of angels,
There where dreams live.
From never to the future,
In the everlasting moment.

At the secret crossroads of the world,
There where dreams live.
Come give me a kiss,
A single kiss, only one.

Oh, we poor people
Live within nothingness,
But when we lose ourselves,
We grow wings
And we are reborn again.

Ah, I saw you in a dream
Arethusa, with the red hair
I’ll climb onto your balcony

At the moon’s ancient well,
There where dreams live
You had given me a caress,
You had granted me a wish.
I’ll search for you till the end of time
At the start of the sky.
With a song for the road,
I’ll search for you everywhere.

Oh, we poor people
Live within nothingness,
But when we lose ourselves,
We grow wings
And we are reborn again.

Ah, I saw you in a dream
Arethusa, with the red hair
I’ll climb onto your balcony

I have searched for you
In the land of angels,
There where dreams live.
From never to the future,
In the everlasting moment.

Illustration above is by Maria Pace-Wynters

Thursday 2 September 2010


“One should eat to live, not live to eat.” - Cicero

Brown rice is something that is gaining in popularity and it is now a standard option in many restaurants, sushi bars and of course on supermarket shelves. Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, more healthful and has a nutty flavor and chewier texture than white rice. Brown rice (sometimes called “unpolished rice”) is like normal white rice with the coating of high-fibre bran still over the grans. It is this coating of bran on it that makes brown rice a much more healthful version of normal rice, and it also contains generous amounts of vitamins and fibre in it. However, knowing how to cook brown rice is important as there differences from the normal method of cooking white rice. This is because the extra coating of bran on brown rice makes the cooking time of brown rice much more than that of normal rice.

To cook brown rice on the stove top, rinse it well in a strainer under cold running water for a 20-30 seconds. Swirl the rice around to allow the contaminants to flow away. Now bring the water to boil in a large pan or a pot. Once the water has started boiling, add the brown rice and stir it once. Add salt to taste at this stage. Now for thirty minutes, turn the heat to medium and let the rice simmer along. Stir it occasionally. Once the rice is cooked (try a few grains), pour the rice into the strainer over the sink. Let the excess water drain off for around ten seconds. Return the rice to the pot and heat very gently while covering the pot with a tight fitting lid. Allow the rice to steam up for around ten minutes, occasionally taking the pot off the fire and shaking a little. Uncover it and season it with some butter or a little olive oil.

Brown rice has a number of health benefits like reducing the chance of developing arterial diseases, helping avoid abrupt spikes in blood sugar levels, aiding in digestion while reducing constipation. It is also known to help reduce the overall incidence of heart disease.

Diet Fried Brown Rice

2 cups of cooked brown rice
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tsp olive oil
2 carrots, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 spring onions, chopped
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen corn
Soy sauce to taste
Water as needed
(you may add or substitute any other vegetables in addition to those listed above)

Over a wok heated to medium-high heat, add 1 tsp oil and when hot, cook the egg into an omelette. Remove the omelet, add the remaining oil and cook the carrot, celery and onion. Stir fry over high heat adding a little water until the vegetables are tender-crisp. Add the peas and corn, stirring to heat thoroughly. Add the chopped omelette and stir. Finally, add the rice and soy sauce and stir to mix well. Serve immediately.


“A good book is never exhausted. It goes on whispering to you from the wall. Books perfume and give weight to a room. A bookcase is as good as a view, as the sight of a city or a river. There are dawns and sunsets in books – storms, fogs, zephyrs.  I read about a family whose apartment consists of a series of spaces so strictly planned that they are obliged to give away their books as soon as they’ve read them. I think they have misunderstood the way books work.
Reading a book is only the first step in the relationship. After you’ve finished it, the book enters on its real career. It stands there as a badge, a blackmailer, a monument, a scar. It’s both a flaw in the room, like a crack in the plaster, and a decoration. The contents of someone’s bookcase are part of his history, like an ancestral portrait.” - Anatole Broyard

I love bookshops. The big multinational ones like Borders, the little corner shop ones in local shopping centres, the medium-sized ones, like Angus & Robertson, in the plazas, the specialist ones, like the Foreign language Bookshop, the new ones and the old ones, the market stalls selling books, the carts at the public library selling cast-offs, even! One of my favourite kinds of bookshop is the second-hand dealers where one gets lost in room after room of books and one can find all sorts of treasures. I can happily spend several hours in such shops and pore over the volumes, climb the ladders to get to the shelves (and if it’s the right kind of shop) sit on a comfortable armchair and leaf through the more intriguing tomes. Here is a good website with lots of Victoria Bookshops.

Needless to say, I seldom resist the temptation to buy a book or two (or three, or four, or five…) and it is such a difficult thing to go past a bookshop and not go in. You may ask, why buy the books if you can go to the public library and borrow any kind of book that you desire, at no cost? It’s hard to explain. I want to have my own books at home, I want them in all of my spaces, at work (and even in my car there are books)… It is such a wonderful feeling to go into my bedroom and have favourite books in the two bookcases there. To sit in my study and surround myself with my bookcases that line the three walls and have books in them from floor to ceiling! To go into the music room and be greeted by more books in more bookcases that line another three walls. The living room, the lounge, the upstairs landing, the kitchen, even they, have bookshelves, and yes, the littlest room in the house has books in it too! To be able to turn around and take out of the shelf a favourite book to leaf through at will…

What books do I have? A huge variety of fiction and non-fiction, in English, Greek, French, Italian, Latin. Old and new, antique and first editions, hard and soft cover. Picture books and textbooks. I can randomly list some titles that I can see as I look at the bookcase beside me now, to give you an idea:

•    “Turkish Linguistics” by Slobin and Zimmer
•    “The Lore of the Land” by Westwood and Simpson
•    “Fairy Tales” by the Brothers Grimm
•    “Greek-English Lexicon” by Lidell and Scott
•    “The Farm Book” by Rien Poortvliet
•    “Grammar of Modern Greek” by Triandafyllides
•    “Handbook of Chemistry” by Lande
•    “The Complete Encyclopedia of Illustration” by Heck
•    “Le Général et son Train” by Georges Coulonges
•    “Quintetto Italiano” by Totaro and Zanardi
•    “The Neohellenic Koiné Language” by Babiniotis
•    “The Spanish Gardener” by Cronin
•    “The Golden Treasury” by Palgrave
•    “Sense and Sensibility” by Austen
•    “Aesop’s Fables” by Aesop
•    “Mathematics in the Making” by Hogben
•    “The Story of Writing” by Robinson
•    “Clinical Examination” by Talley and O’Connor
•    “Bacteriological Atlas” by Muir
•    “Synthetic Food” by Pyke
•    “History of Atlantis” by Spence
•    “The Minoans” by Hood
•    “The Drawings of Edgar Degas” by Pecirka
•    “Books of Hours” by Harthan
•    “Culinaria – France” by Konemann
•    “The Explorers” by Flannery
•    “Historia Naturalis” by Pliny the Elder

And so on and so on, you get the idea. There are novels and biographies, short stories and novellas, children’s books and adults’ books, fiction and non-fiction, scientific and artistic books. Books on medicine, science, biology, architecture, geography, history, culinary arts, folklore, linguistics, mythology, gardening, cookbooks, herbalism, alchemy, travel, literature, literary criticism, film, photography, poetry, philosophy, psychology, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, crime, romance, ethnology, ethics, anthropology… A suitable array of topics and genres for a biliophile!

bibliophile |ˈbiblēəˌfīl| noun
A person who collects or has a great love of books.
bibliophilic |ˌbiblēəˈfilik| adjective
bibliophily |ˌbiblēˈäfəlē| noun
ORIGIN early 19th century: From French, from Greek biblion ‘book’ + philos ‘loving.’

Wednesday 1 September 2010


“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” - Anne Bradstreet

It is the first day of Spring in the Southern Hemisphere today and we have had a gray, cool and rainy day today. Not that I have had much of a chance to go out, but perhaps it was just as well. It has been a very busy day with much to do and a couple of deadlines to adhere to. Fortunately, all went well and the documents were al ready to go at the appropriate time by close of business…

It is St Giles' day today, and he was a 7th century hermit living in Provence.  He loved wild animals and on one occasion he saved a hind, which was pursued by hunters by causing thick bushes to spring around it and conceal it. His protecting hands around he hind save it from a huneter’s arrow, but the saint’s hand was pierced instead. The hind is his symbol and he is the patron saint of cripples, beggars and hermits.

Many fairs were held on this day in England.  St Giles’s fair in Oxford is one of the oldest surviving British fairs.  Eccles Wake in Lancashire is another one, celebrated around the Parish church dating from 1111 AD, although most of the modern building is from the 15th century.  This is where Eccles Cakes were first made about 300 years ago.  Eccles Cakes may be bought in many bakeries and pastrycooks’ shops in Britain but the original recipe is a prized secret of Messrs Bradburn & Co, a family firm in Lancashire’s Eccles Borough.

Eccles cakes are made from a rich butter puff pastry and are round, about 3 inches (≈ 7.5 cm) in diameter.  They are filled with currants, butter and sugar that are wrapped in the pastry.  The cake is rolled twice, dusted with sugar and three light diagonal cuts are made over its surface.  The cakes are baked, sugar-side up, in a very hot oven for 15 minutes.  They are served cold.  Closely related to Eccles Cakes are Coventry Godshead, Chorley and Hawkshead Cakes.

It is the first day of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of the church calendar in the Greek Orthodox faith, known as Indictus, from the Latin “indictio” (a fiscal period of fifteen years used as a means of dating events and transactions in the Roman Empire and in the papal and some royal courts. The system was instituted by the Emperor Constantine in AD 313 and was used until the 16th century in some places).

For today, a Spring poem:

    Daisy’s Song

    The sun, with his great eye,
    Sees not so much as I;
    And the moon, all silver, proud,
    Might as well be in a cloud.
    And O the spring – the spring!
    I lead the life of a king!
    Couched in the teeming grass,
    I spy each pretty lass.
    I look where no one dares,
    And I stare where no one stares;
    And when the night is nigh,
    Lambs bleat my lullaby.
            John Keats (1795-1821)

Monday 30 August 2010


“Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.” - Fyodor Dostoevsky

Every morning I take the train to work and I usually sit at about the same place in the same carriage, as must do a lot of my fellow travellers, seeing I meet them commuting with me almost every morning. There is one young man who has headphones on and is listening to rather loud music on his iPod (I try and avoid sitting near him), but who also has a mobile phone and constantly plays games on it or sends SMS messages on it. Occassionally he switches to reading a newspaper too. “Ah! Great,” you may say “A multi-tasker! Top marks!”… Well, not quite!

I read an article today (and I wasn’t not listening to my iPod at the time!) that is based on several studies done at Universities in the USA and which maintained that overuse of portable digital devices (phones, ipods, ipads, etc) contributes to brain fatigue and compromises the brain’s ability to remember, think creatively, process information and learn. The main tenet of this study is that if we keep on stimulating our brain non-stop, we lose the precious “down-time” that it needs and in which it processes information, filters out “junk” and creates important interconnections between neurones, which are the basis of long-term memory, creativity and imagination.

University of California San Francisco researcher Loren Frank, researches the brain’s ability to use experience to guide behaviour (i.e. learning). This is one of the most remarkable abilities of the brain. His research has as its goal to understand how activity and plasticity in neural circuits underlie both learning and the ability to use learned information to make decisions. His laboratory focuses on the circuitry of the hippocampus and anatomically related regions of the brain, by recording neurological activity in awake, behaving animals. For example, when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory of the experience. This also applies to human brains.

The ability to multi-task may be good and we may increase our efficiency, however, we should also be rather careful to preserve the precious “down-time” that our brain needs to rest, recover, review, repair and regain its readiness to accept new inputs. I may add quickly, that one may also go to the other extreme, which is also very bad: Under-stimulating the brain is a situation that creates its own set of problems that are equally destructive to the brain;s core functions.

On a related note, those amongst us who take the time to be more aware and appreciate small moments of happiness, laughter and joy each day tend to be happier people overall. Such people are more likely to be resilient against adversity and be more successful in jobs, relationships and also be healthier. Yes, to take time out and smell the roses, appreciating the moment and luxuriating in the present is good for you. The more we dwell on the past, the more we agonise over the future, the unhappier we become and the more we lose our ability to live the moment and take pleasure from the present.

Many people would see both of these conclusions of research studies as common sense and may begrudge the researchers their funds for carrying out research on such “obvious” points. However, the scientist is a curious creature that needs to build foil-proof constructions around simple conjectures and thus verify the soundness of these “obvious” conclusions.

As I mentioned the future before and its connection to happiness (or unhappiness), I should mention something else that I read. It seems that “Vision Boards” are becoming a popular motivational tool that can be used personally or even organisationally. In their simplest form, these are large pieces of cardboard on which one can stick pictures they have cut out of magazines or papers, and which feature desired outcomes, objects of desire or reifications of goals. Motivational coaches use the technique to make people harness the power of the constant stimulation of their object of desire, to help them achieve their goals.

John Assaraf is such a motivational coach who uses such techniques and claims that when he cut out a picture of his dream mansion from a lifestyle magazine and stuck it on his Vision Board, five years later he realised his dream by acquiring the home and living in it. Such coaches invoke the “Law of Attraction”, which in its simplest form says that your feelings and thoughts can attract events that contribute to realisation of your vision and can act in a way that persuades the cosmos to act in your favour… Moonshine? Maybe, but there is evidence that positive thought can influence not only your own actions but also those of people around you.

Some motivational coaches purport that your Vision Board should be as specific as possible, visualizing precisely your goal – for example, the exact model, colour and make of the sports car you want to drive. Other coaches say that simple assembling on your Vision Board any image that has a positive influence and is somehow associated in your mind with your goal is good enough. Both agree that being confronted by the images on Vision Board regularly and for prolonged periods will focus your mind’s energy on achieving the outcome illustrated. Over to you to try…

Sunday 29 August 2010


“A raised weight can produce work, but in doing so it must necessarily sink from its height, and, when it has fallen as deep as it can fall, its gravity remains as before, but it can no longer do work.” - Hermann von Helmholtz

We watched a standard Hollywood action movie at the weekend, which although full of action, average performances and a passable story missed the mark on multiple levels. It was the Martin Campbell 2000 film, “Vertical Limit”. The scenario by Robert King was adapted by him from his own novel. Initially, in a seniors’ moment I got him confused with Stephen King, however, I soon realised my mistake. Robert King is more of a TV and screenwriter rather than a novel writer. The film is an action, adventure, thriller with typical spills and thrills à la Hollywood, rather typecast characters, and dialogue that’s mainly limited to “watch out!”, “oh, no hold on!”, “I’LL SAVE YOU, DON’T LET GO!”.

The plot centres on an American climbing/mountaineering-crazy family, the Garretts. The brother and sister have a bad experience rock climbing with their father, resulting in the sister persevering with the climbing and becoming an expert mountaineer, while the brother abandons high places altogether and becoming a successful National Geographic photographer. Several years later they meet up in Pakistan where the sister is preparing to climb K2 (the second tallest mountain peak in the world after Everest), accompanying a billionaire who wants to climb the mountain partly because he’s daredevil mountaineer, but mainly because he wants to use the climb as a publicity stunt for his new airline. Add a few other characters with their own issues and agendas and prepare yourself for lots of rocks and snow, falls and explosions (did I mention that there are canisters of nitroglycerine that need to be carried to the mountain?). It’s like a bit of a cross between the 1998 movie “Cliffhanger” (with Sylvester Stallone, remember that one?) and the classic 1953 “Wages of Fear” (although I am taking Henri-Georges Clouzot’s name in vain here…).

The cast is a bunch of mainly attractive people looking young, healthy and suitably silly for the most part and one thing we immediately remarked upon was: “Aren’t you glad we are no longer young and silly to even think about going and doing stupid things like that?” A comment which had to be somehow recanted when we saw an old codger (played by Scott Glenn) gallivanting about the mountain tops and being the “old expert” who saves the day. Chris O’Donnell and Izabella Scorupco look highly decorative (and yes, they do pair up in the end) but their acting is average, however, good enough for this potboiler. Now that I’ve mentioned potboiler, it’s worth noting that this film opened at #2 at the North American box office, making $15.5 million USD in its opening weekend behind “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. So, as far as movies go, it was a fairly popular one.

The scenery is quite breath-taking, especially if you watch the movie in bluray as we did. There are some stunning views of Monument Valley, USA, in the opening sequence followed by majestic snow capped mountains as we change location to Pakistan and K2. Some of the filming was done in New Zealand, no surprise, given Campbell is a New Zealander and there is no shortage of snow-capped mountains in his native land.

The verdict? Escapist nonsense, which unfortunately did not have any poignancy or emotional involvement for the viewer. It was formulaic and predictable and one gets tired after a while of people falling off cliffs and explosions. Also some of the feats performed (except being extremely stupid, hazardous, “don’t-try-this-at-home-boys-and-girls” type) are highly unlikely and they demand of the viewer a high level of credulousness and naiveté. Every ten minutes someone is hanging from a cliff as their climbing partner struggles to pull them back up and this is the case in every action sequence in the film. Good enough to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon, after spending most of the morning in the garden, and just wanting to sit and relax and rest up a little. Catching a nap or two while watching it won’t challenge your brain as it all is very predictable anyway…