Saturday 11 September 2010


“When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?” - George Canning

The World Trade Center disaster anniversary is occurring at the same time this year as the horrible gas explosion in San Francisco, which has destroyed homes and taken away lives. In both, the efforts of the emergency workers to protect the community have been foremost in my mind. So much altruism and work for the common good that highlights the meaning of humanity, kindness, strength of spirit and true Christian charity.

At the same time that these brave humans are risking their lives to save their fellows, some “men of God” incite hatred and organise burnings of holy books. The burning of any book is an act of blind barbarism, an absence of culture and civilisation, a dark and despicable act of a narrow mind which cannot see beyond the blinkers of its own prejudice and ignorance. How much more so if the book burnt is considered holy by others? How much more so if this act of hatred is espoused and incited by a "man of God"?

How have we come to this? This day and age of enlightenment and civilisation? An age of abundance and tolerance? One would think that we were living in the ages of the Crusades or the Inquisition. The age of the Conquistadors or the Borgias. Why so much hatred all over again?

Here is Bach the second movement – adagio – from Bach’s second Violin Concerto in E Major BWV 1042 with Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert.

Friday 10 September 2010


“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: It is the time for home.” - Edith Sitwell

Our winter is dragging on quite a bit, with cold and rain again today, and overall a gray day. Another very busy day at work with lots going on. It was good to get home and have some hearty winter soup which is quick to make, tasty and nutritious too. Use whatever else you have on hand from the vegetable crisper in the fridge!

Easy Winter Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
1 red capsicum seeds removed, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 cup red lentils, rinsed, drained
1 and 1/2 litres (6 cups) chicken stock
Low-fat natural yoghurt, to serve

  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the onion, capsicum, celery and carrot and cook for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add cumin and coriander and cook, stirring, for a further minute.
  • Add the red lentils and chicken or vegetable stock, bring to boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Serve in bowls with a dollop of yoghurt.

Wednesday 8 September 2010


“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.” - Benjamin Franklin

Shana Tova Umetukah! A Happy and Sweet Jewish New Year, 5771. It is the first day of the Jewish new year today, the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. This is a high Holy Day as it is regarded as the birthday of creation and is celebrated on the first of the Jewish month of Tishrei. It is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the birthday of mankind, highlighting the special relationship between God and humanity It is also a day of memorial, recalling to mind personal acts and reviewing events occurring since the beginning of time.  Synagogue services express hope for the future and feature the story of Abraham’s intended sacrifice of Isaac, with God’s intervention at the last moment to save the child and reward Abraham’s faith.

God’s providence is commemorated by the blowing of the ceremonial ram’s horn, the shofar, unless Rosh Hashanah falls on the Sabbath. The sounding of the shofar represents, among other things, the trumpet blast of a people’s coronation of their king. The cry of the shofar is also a call to repentance. At home, special prayers are recited for a good year ahead and wishes are pronounced over an apple dipped in honey, with the intention being for the year to be as sweet. A pomegranate is eaten, symbolising the wish to have a year full of mitzvot and good deeds as a pomegranate is filled with luscious seeds. Carrots are also eaten for their sweetness and because the Yiddish word for carrot, meren, means “to increase” and everyone wants all good things to increase during the year. Special round, smooth loaves of bread (challah) are baked symbolising the smooth and prosperous New Year to be.  Orthodox Jews observe the festival for two days. Today is the start of the Ten Days of Repentance.  Sabbath-like restrictions on work for both days (today and tomorrow) in both Israel and the Diaspora.

On this holiday, the faithful go to a lake, a river or to the sea and recite the Tashlich prayers, where symbolically the people cast their sins into the water, in evocation of the verse, “And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea”. Thus old shortcomings are left behind, and the new year is begun with a clean slate. As with every major Jewish holiday, women and girls light candles on each evening of Rosh Hashanah and recite the appropriate blessings. After the prayers each night and morning, a Kaddish is recited on wine, a blessing made over the challah, and a festive repast is enjoyed. Here is a typical Rosh Hashanah recipe:

Classic Honey Cake

3 Eggs
1 and 1/3 cups honey
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup strong black coffee
2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3 tbsps. butter, softened
4 cups flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch gorund mace

•    Preheat the oven to 170˚C.
•    Grease and flour a 20 by 30 cm cake pan.
•    In a large mixer bowl, beat eggs and honey together.
•    Add sugar and mix again.
•    Mix coffee with baking powder, and then add with butter to the egg mixture.
•    Add baking soda, flour, and spices and beat together well.
•    Pour into greased cake pan.
•    Bake for 55 minutes to an hour.

Kaddish |ˈkädi sh | noun
An ancient Jewish prayer sequence regularly recited in the synagogue service, including thanksgiving and praise and concluding with a prayer for universal peace.
• A form of this prayer sequence recited for the dead.
ORIGIN: from Aramaic qaddīš ‘holy.’


“Through literacy you can begin to see the universe. Through music you can reach anybody. Between the two there is you, unstoppable.” – Grace Slick

Today is the United Nations/Unesco International Literacy Day. It is a day that is observed so that everyone who can read and write can celebrate that fact, but also to draw awareness on the fact that one in five people on this planet are still illiterate.

The Words I Write

The words I write are full of gratitude,
Each rounded letter a thank you,
Each line a heartfelt appreciation
Of my teachers’ tireless persistence.

The pages I read are full of knowledge,
Each word a bird in flight,
Each phrase a new friend, a new acquaintance,
Met in distant places, wandering through fabled cities.

The books I read are full of pleasure,
Each page full of new-felt emotion and senses;
Each sentence a laugh, some tears,
Some gentleness, some fiery argument.

The verse I write is full of thought and heart,
Of pain and joy, of brain and soul, love, friendship.
I write and read, and with unconscious ease effortlessly
Take for granted this precious gift of literacy.

I thank my luck for this privilege, this gift of providence,
That I was amongst the chosen to experience
This mystery of written word, of imprisoned sound,
Of captured language and word-pictures.
The present of literature, the happiness of calligraphy
The indulgence of a memoir, the work of words,
The magic of communication,
This richness of script.

Monday 6 September 2010


“Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right.” - H.L. Mencken

I have had a very busy two days at work with back-to-back meetings, writing of reports, answering emails and letters, dealing with urgent matters and resolving a few staff issues. Tomorrow I am flying to Brisbane for the day as there is an important meeting to attend at the offices of one of the Government regulating bodies. This particular department is a typical bureaucracy staffed by public servants who are inefficient, consumed by rules and regulations, interested in the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law, and completely oblivious to the real world and its issues outside their own little bailiwick.

Speaking of bureaucracies and regulating bodies, we finally have a Federal Government in Australia. The three independent MPs elect have made their choices and we now have the first minority Federal Government in Australia since 1940. The support of the two country independents means the Labour government has been returned to power with a House of Representatives majority of 76 seats to 74, which it needed to form a stable government. The Labour party needed the support of only two of the three independents while the Coalition led by Tony Abbott needed all three. This of course means that Julia Gillard has been returned to power as the nation’s Prime Minister.

The nation’s dichotomous decision in the polling booths was the result of the two major forces in Australian politics being unable to convince voters that either one was worthy of overwhelming support. There were issues with both leaders, most people objecting to both Abbott and Gillard as the PM of Australia. The party policies of both Labour and Liberal Parties have shifted so close to each other that both hover around the centre, exchanging positions in the centre right and centre left in a higgledy-piggledy fashion that thoroughly confuses voters and makes either party a non-option. The increased proportion of votes for the Greens can be interpreted as a protest vote, especially in the knowledge that the Greens would be unable to form a government in their own right and that their preferences would be channelled to the Labour Party in any case.

There is widespread nervousness about this decision in many quarters both in Australia as well as overseas. The confidence of many in the new government is shaky, while many others are breathing sighs of relief. The political situation has polarised some communities (and even households!), with passions running high, however, the majority of the population shrugged and got on with their life, simply saying that in any case it was “six of one” or “half a dozen of the other”.

Time will tell how effective this minority government will be. However, I suspect that the balancing act in parliament will cause the government in power to exercise caution and govern conservatively. Every action of this government will be watched very carefully by the opposition and by the independents, whose support of the ruling party is vital to effective government. At least, we can now move on and have something else in the news except the rants of politicians and the whining of the minorities on both sides of politics who wish to influence opinion and wrest the dominance of news reportage, for five minutes of fame…

Sunday 5 September 2010


“Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity.’ – Robert Morgan

Well, we have watched the film I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. As you may remember, this was the 1946 Ptushko film “The Stone Flower”. First, it showed its age and one could see it in the acting, the plot, the direction, the approach… One could see that this was a film touched by time and yet it was curiously timeless also. Second, the story which was a typical fairy tale had been translated fairly literally to the screen, and this was part of its dated charm. Third, the colour was delicate and striking in parts, which I can understand would have made its 1946 audience gasp with delight, but nowadays would only be important historically. Fourth, the film was also a cultural document, rich in folklore and traditions. The music was lovely and complemented the images well, contributing to the overall image-painting.

However, the film would not satisfy a demanding modern audience used to high definition images, millions of colours of every hue and shade, stunning computer graphics and many layers of sophisticated story-telling underlain by lush scores that were written specially to wring every shred of emotional response from a jaded audience. Comparing “The Stone Flower” against something like the 2006 film “Mirrormask” or the 2005 film “The Fall” may be like comparing apples to oranges and hence unfair, however, apples and oranges are both fruit and I am not comparing apples to cartwheels. The thing to keep in mind is that today’s audience will immediately compare everything to whatever the latest memorable film is and hence any “old” film will suffer, except if we are dealing with an “old” film which is a masterpiece or a seminally innovative and groundbreaking work.

“The Stone Flower” was not a masterpiece, but it was certainly worth watching and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in history, folklore, movies, art, anthropology, Russia, etc, etc. It is a documentary as much as it is a piece of art and it also has a political subtext if one is familiar with the Russian politics and history of the mid-40s – It was Stalin who said at about that time: “How can you tell a fairy tale in a present-day world that pretends to be one?”. It is a significant film and I am very glad I watched it for all these reasons. However, I am glad I watched it for other reasons also…

It was interesting quizzing my parents after they had watched it again after all those years, and asking them if it was like the first time they had watched it. I wrote in my last blog about this film how both my mother and father had raved about this movie, which they had seen in the early 50s. They both said that they remembered the film differently and that somehow it seemed less bright, less colourful, less monumental than when they had seen it the first time. They expressed surprise at the acting, which they both characterised slightly “wooden” and the story, which somehow seemed to them to be somehow simplified. My father asked if the version we were watching had been cut. No, it had not been…

I was a little sorry that I had hunted down this film and had given it to my parents to watch again after all those decades. I felt terrible because I had taken a beautiful memory that had remained fresh and precious in their minds and had made them confront its reality in their now experienced and wiser years. All those intervening decades of life and maturity had made the stuff of memory and nostalgia evaporate in a few minutes, with the pleasure of the memory being all but destroyed for them. How often it is that our well-intentioned do-good instincts may actually harm more than benefit? I remarked that I was sorry that I had shattered the illusion for them, but my mother said something that stuck in my mind: “Oh, never mind, I’ll just make sure I won’t watch it ever again… I am certain that in a couple of months time, the good memory of this second viewing will re-enforce the even better memory of the first viewing. Thank you for going out of your way to find it, and I am glad you have seen it too. We now share a memory about this film, even if this memory may not be congruent at this time, however, give yourself time too…”

Funny thing about memories – time tends to blunt them, round them, polish them. Even the ugliest sharp stone will become a beautiful polished pebble if immersed in the sea and it is dashed against others as the waves repeatedly break against the shore, dragging those stones in and out. Our memories are but stones in the sea of time, whose relentless waves eventually turn them into beautiful rounded pebbles. I shall have a beautiful memory of this film – and part of that memory will be the story of how I searched for it and watched it together with people whom I love. The second part will obviously be more important as time goes by…


“Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.” - Rabindranath Tagore

I illustrated yesterday’s blog with an image by Maria Pace-Wynters, and I decided for Art Sunday to say a little about this Canadian artist and showcase another of her beautiful works. She is well-schooled, with several qualifications in fine arts in the 1980s and 1990s. She has had several exhibitions since then and is very prolific, most of her work in mixed media and much of it quirky, winsome portraits of women and children. The artist’s website has a wealth of her art, as well as links, her resumé and lots of other goodies.

Her style is individual and her palette coruscates not only with brilliant colour (reminiscent of  Odilon Redon), but also with pastel shades (Like the pink period Picasso), whose superposition creates a rich visual texture. The waif-like faces of the children with expressive eyes contrast with the red-haired vamps of the adult women that populate her paintings and create the artist’s own mythology. The circus has inspired some painting cycles with “Circus Girl” and “Harlequins” exemplifying this.

Cats and dogs wander in and out of the compositions providing pivot points for the human figures. Bright flowers decorate the backgrounds, figure on fabrics or hang suspended from the air and provide a focal point that somehow manages to concentrate one’s attention even more on the subject.

The painting above is called “The Felted Hat” and shows Ms Pace-Wynters’ skill in depicting the innocence of childhood and her mastery of colour.