Saturday 30 October 2010


“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” - Gilbert K. Chesterton

It was a busy day today with lots to get done, and much running around. The rain did not help which was quite heavy. At least our reservoirs are filling up with the total capacity being up to 50% full. Tonight I went out with friends to a restaurant in Southbank (“The Red Emperor”, a favourite Chinese restaurant of mine) and that was very enjoyable.

The restaurant was full as it was Derby Day today (poor horses must have swum to the finish!), so all the women were in their finery and millinery. Add to that the young people dressed up in fancy dress for Halloween and it was a very festive atmosphere. We had a Chinese banquet which was delicious and there was much mirth and conversation, laughter and gaiety. Everyone’s horse seems to have won…

For Music Saturday today, I am continuing on the Halloween theme: Here is Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette”. The music in the beginning represents two members of a Marionette troupe that have had a duel and one of them has been killed. A party of pallbearers is organised and the procession sets out for the cemetery in march time. The music soon takes on a more cheerful spirit, for some of the troupe, wearied with the march, seek consolation at a wayside inn, where they refresh themselves and recall the many virtues of their late companion. At last they get into place again and the procession enters the cemetery to the march rhythm - the whole closing with the bars intended to reflect upon the brevity and weariness of life, even for marionettes.

“Alfred Hitchcock Presents” is well known for its title sequence, which uses this music as its signature. The camera fades in on a simple line-drawing caricature of Hitchcock’s characteristic profile. As the program's theme music, Charles Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette, plays, Hitchcock himself appears in silhouette from the right edge of the screen, and then walks to center screen to eclipse the caricature. He then almost always says “Good evening” and introduces the programme…

Thursday 28 October 2010


“Witch and ghost make merry on this last of dear October’s days.”

With Halloween approaching, Food Friday must pay an obligatory tribute to Halloween food and drink!

Pumpkin Fritters

500 grams mashed pumpkin (not too young a pumpkin, as it can be watery)
125 grams flour
2 level teaspoonfuls baking powder,
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Ground nutmeg, mace and fenugreek to taste
1 beaten egg
A little milk if the consistency is too viscous
1 extra egg and breadcrumbs for coating
Vegetable oil for frying

Mix well all ingredients and dip into beaten egg before coating with breadcrumbs
Drop with a tablespoon into hot oil
Lightly brown both sides
Drain on absorbent paper and serve hot

Pumpkin Scones

2.5 cupfuls self-raising flour
1 cupful mashed pumpkin
55 grams butter
1 egg
0.5 cupful milk
1 teaspoonful of salt
1 teaspoonful of mixed herbs
Pinch nutmeg
Pepper to taste

Beat butter until soft
Add pumpkin and egg and mix well
Add milk, mixing well
Slowly add flour
Turn dough onto a floured board and knead well
Roll out dough to 2 cm thickness and cut with cookie cutter into 5 cm circles
Place on greased baking tray
Bake at 200˚C for 15 minutes.

Pumpkin Milkshake

1/3 cup cold mashed pumpkin
1/4 - 1/2 cup cold milk
1/4 teaspoonful vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoonful ground cinnamon
A pinch of ground cloves
A pinch of ground nutmeg
A pinch of ground mace
2 tablespoonfuls brown sugar
2 cupfuls vanilla ice cream
1-2 cinnamon cookies

Place all ingredients except for the cinnamon cookies in a blender
Start with 1/4 cupful milk and then slowly add more if needed to make the blender process it all
Sprinkle with crushed cinnamon cookie crumbs and dust with cinnamon before serving.

Wednesday 27 October 2010


“For my part I believe in the forgiveness of sin and the redemption of ignorance.” - Adlai Stevenson

I am reading a book by Khaled Hosseini, “The Kite Runner”, first published in 2003. Khaled Hosseini was born in 1965 in Kabul, the Afghani capital. His father was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and History at a large high school in Kabul. The Afghan Foreign Ministry relocated the Hosseini family to Paris in 1976 but when they were ready to return to Kabul in 1980, Afghanistan had witnessed a bloody communist coup and the invasion of the Soviet army. The Hosseinis sought and were granted political asylum in the United States. In the autumn of 1980, Hosseini’s family moved to San Jose in California. Khaled graduated from high school in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1988. The following year, he entered the University of California School of Medicine in San Diego, where he graduated with a Medical Degree in 1993. He now lives in northern California.

While in practicing medicine, Hosseini began writing his first novel, “The Kite Runner”, in March of 2001. In 2003, as soon as the novel was published it immediately became popular and has since become an international bestseller, translated widely and published in 48 countries. In 2006 Hosseini was named a goodwill envoy to UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency). His second novel, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” was published in the Spring of 2007. Khaled has been working to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan through “The Khaled Hosseini Foundation”, which he founded after an emotional trip to Afghanistan made by the author in 2007 with the UNHCR.

“The Kite Runner” is well written, but part of its appeal is its superficial simplicity through which the author touches on some important, profound concepts, and evergreen but also contemporary issues: Friendship, betrayal, forgiveness, guilt, redemption, childhood, sacrifice, politics, terrorism, nationality, violence… The novel reads like a memoir and obviously the author was inspired by some events of his own life, but it really is a novel, not a biography. The numerous and startling twists and turns of the story (sometimes implausible) make for good reading and there are many poignant moments. However, the characters are memorable and through an Afghani’s eyes we see his own anguish over his birthplace and the sad state of affairs that have made this previously obscure country, fodder for the first pages of the press every now and then in recent times.

The story of the novel centres on Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, who is raised in a privileged and protected environment. His friend Hassan, is the son of the servant of Amir. The two children live an idyllic childhood in the relatively stable Afghanistan of the early 1970s and become inseparable. They fly kites, tell stirring stories of magic places and brave warriors until a violent event forever changes their relationship, eventually bonding them in ways than neither of them could have guessed. After Amir and his father escape to America, Amir remains haunted by his past actions and his betrayal of his friend. The major part of the book is Amir’s attempt to exorcise the demons of his past and his efforts to redeem himself of the cowardice that motivated his actions in childhood.

If you haven’t read this book I recommend it most highly and although many parts of it are harrowing, it is full of humanity and deeply felt emotion.

redemption |riˈdemp sh ən| noun
1 The action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil: God's plans for the redemption of his world.
• [in sing.] figurative A thing that saves someone from error or evil: His marginalisation from the Hollywood jungle proved to be his redemption.
2 The action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.
archaic the action of buying one's freedom.
Beyond (or past) redemption (of a person or thing) too bad to be improved or saved.
ORIGIN late Middle English: From Old French, from Latin redemptio(n-), from redimere ‘buy back’.

Tuesday 26 October 2010


“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” - Stacia Tauscher

In Australia today we celebrate National Children’s Day, which is marked every year on the fourth Wednesday of October. It is not a particularly well-known or well-observed commemorative day, which may be partly because it conflicts with the “Universal Children’s Day”, taking place on November 20th annually. There is also an “International Children’s Day” celebrated in some parts of the world on June 1st. Many other nations declare days for children on various other dates. I guess that is because every day is children’s day really, as children are the future of our world and they need to be loved, nurtured, protected and educated.

In honour of this day, a poem that celebrates childhood.


Through a small child’s eyes
The world’s a place of wonder,
And time cannot run fast enough
To keep up with the turning wheels
Of its mind’s new, shiny machine.

A child’s heart still pure and gentle,
Has enough love in it to spread
Around the world and still have
Some left over to give generously
To whoever needs it most.

A child’s questions ever asked,
Will often cause a wise man
To muse over and in perplexed vexation
He will not answer, his wisdom not enough,
His ponderings unfruitful…

A child’s touch is a breath from God,
Living reminder that He is not yet
Discouraged of sinful Man;
Allowing the human race to run its course
In hope through new generations.

A child needs love, tenderness, affection
Understanding, guidance, counsel.
The young mind like a sponge absorbs,
The young heart simply trained
To love, equally as easily to hate.

The child, a being of light and optimism,
Of endless prospects and untold possibilities;
How grave the duty to have and raise a child,
How immense such a responsibility,
How profound and critical such a commitment!


“My hometown was so dull that one time the tide went out and never came back.” - Fred Allen

Well, it’s official! Melbourne is the best city in Australia to work, play and live in. We Melbournians knew that all along of course, but kept it a secret just incase we had an influx of immigrants that want to share our good fortune! A national survey was just published indicated that our nation’s Number 1 tourism destination for sport, culture, shopping, theatre, restaurants, bars and nightlife is Melbourne, eclipsing Sydney and the up-and-coming pretender Brisbane… It is the country’s sporting capital and confirmed as the best Australian city to host sporting events, as well. Melbourne was also commended for being home to world-class golf courses, a capable host for musical and theatre experiences and also for having top regional experiences close to the city.

Well, I can’t be an objective commentator as I love my hometown and I am proud of Melbourne. Its lifestyle and facilities, its parks, its galleries, museums, roads, public transport and also of course its people are amongst the best in the world. Melbournians are generally friendly, approachable, cosmopolitan, fashion-conscious, trend-setting, cultured and with a good sense of humour. Having lived here for several decades I have seen Melbourne blossom into a world metropolis from what originally was a large town masquerading as a city. Progress has been staggering and the development that has occurred in the last couple of decades is astounding, to say the least!

Progress though, comes at a price… I shall now be the devil’s advocate and try to become less subjective. The already immense population increase in our city has statisticians predict that Melbourne will become Australia’s most populous city in the next few years, rapidly overtaking Sydney. This will create all sorts of issues that have city planners cringe. Increased traffic, demand for living space, housing, resources, pressure on the surrounding countryside, inadequate public transport and roads, are all bound to become very real threats in the immediate future. Increasing crime, pollution, smog, overcrowding, creation of ghettoes and rising property prices are also anticipated. We are already experiencing some of these problems and no doubt we should brace ourselves because they are likely to worsen, given the refractory nature of bureaucracy and city planning.

It should be noted that most respondents of the survey were people living interstate and contemplating Melbourne as tourist destination. I would hate to city my hometown become “a lovely place to visit, but I wouldn’t like to live there” type of place (incidentally exactly the way that think of Sydney!). Incidentally, Victoria rated fourth in world-class natural attractions, behind Queensland, Northern Territory and New South Wales. It also came fourth on unique history and heritage attractions, the Tourism Victoria survey shows.

Sunday 24 October 2010


“The lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of imagination all compact.” - William Shakespeare

I really must moderate my expectations of everything, as setting them too high can so often lead to disappointment. It so often is the case with movies, especially if the marketing machine has drummed up some of these films to be so wonderful and so definitely worth seeing that one goes in and expects the great heavens to open up! We had such an experience yesterday when we watched Terry Gilliam’s 2009 “The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus”. The film was an extremely self-indulgent fantasy which was based on a Faustian “pact with the devil” story, serving as a springboard for some hallucinatory excursions in the fantastical.

The plot is set in modern-day London where Doctor Parnassus sets up his itinerant and antiquated sideshow troupe. Accompanying him are his young daughter Valentina, the midget Percy, and his assistant Anton. The sideshow is called an “Imaginarium”, and while in trance, Dr Parnassus is able to transport anyone who enters into it into an imaginary world where their dreams come true. Meanwhile, the troupe rescues Tony, a young man that was hanged on a bridge by the Russian Mafia. Tony and Valentina fall in love with each other and the jealous Anton discovers that his competitor for Valentina’s affections may be a liar. The Doctor claims to have lived for more than one thousand years because long ago he made a deal with the devil (“Mr Nick”), in which he gained immortality. Many centuries later, on meeting his one true love, Dr Parnassus made another deal with the devil, trading his immortality for youth, on condition that when his first-born reached its 16th birthday he or she would become the property of Mr Nick. Valentina is now almost the doomed age and Doctor Parnassus makes a new bet with Mr. Nick, that whoever seduces five souls in the Imaginarium will have Valentina as a prize. Dr Parnassus promises his daughter’s hand in marriage to the man that helps him win the bet. While the race for the souls is running, Dr Parnassus must fight to save his daughter and overcome surreal obstacles, while trying to undo the mistakes of his past.

The movie belongs to veteran actor Christopher Plummer who gives a magnificent performance as Dr Parnassus. Often of course, he has to act drivel, but that doesn’t take away from his marvellous recital. He relishes the role and the character and makes the most of the material that he has. Heath Ledger, who plays Tony, gave a middling performance although once again the script failed him. It was poignant watching him not only because this was his last role (what a waste of a life!), but also because at one point he has some lines that seem to be very prophetic: “But...Rudolph Valentino, James Dean, Princess Di... All those people... They’re all dead. Yes, but immortal, nevertheless. They won’t get old or fat. They won’t get sick or feeble. They are beyond fear. Because, they are forever young. They are gods...”

As Ledger died during the shooting of the film he was replaced by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell as “Imaginarium Tonies 1, 2 and 3”. The plot was convoluted enough to allow face-changing and the stitching is almost invisible. Depp, Law and Farrell were paying tribute to a fellow actor and friend and their contribution is summed up by Depp’s statement: “Well... the unfortunate passing of Heath was such an utter devastation, obviously to his family and friends, but also he was in the middle of... Dr. Parnassus with Terry Gilliam. Gilliam was kind of stuck... We got together - three actors, Colin Farrell, Jude Law and myself - and finished up the role basically for Heath. Basically, what we said was ‘just give Heath... it’s Heath's money and it should go to Matilda [Heath Ledger's daughter].’”

Valentina is played with verve by Lily Cole, and Anton is played well enough by Andrew Garfield. Percy the Midget steals the scene every time he appears, played by Verne Troyer. On the other hand, Mr Nick is a caricature, a cheap and tawdry pantomime Mephistopheles played in a rather pedestrian way by Tom Waits who at least looks suitably slimy and repulsive for the role. The remaining supporting cast is greatly variable, ranging from the excellent to the ordinary. The music by Jeff Danna and Mychael Danna was unobtrusive but not memorable and the cinematography good, although as far as imaginative computer-generated fancies go, I still prefer “MirrorMask” and “The Fall”.

An interesting aside that seasoned piano players will appreciate. There is a visual pun in the film where a giant staircase is being climbed to a lofty peak, that that refers to the Latin phrase “Gradus ad Parnassum”. This means “A Step to Parnassus”. Parnassus was used to denote the highest point of a mountain range in central Greece, a few miles north of Delphi, of which the two summits, in Classical times, were called Tithorea and Lycoreia. In Greek mythology, Mount Parnassus was sacred to Apollo and the nine Muses, the inspiring god and goddesses of the arts. The phrase has often been used to refer to various books of instruction, or guides, in which gradual progress in literature, language instruction, music, or the arts in general, is sought. “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” is a satirical piano composition by Claude Debussy, from his suite “Children’s Corner”, poking fun at Muzio Clementi’s original collection of instructional piano pieces called “Gradus ad Parnassum”.

I will probably see this film again in a few years time, and I shall be interested in reviewing it again. As it was, I still recommend it to others to see, having all that I have written above in mind, I am sure that you will enjoy it more than I did.


“Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso

Seeing it’s Pablo Picasso’s (1881 - 1974) birthday tomorrow, for Art Sunday today let’s have a Picasso painting. A Picasso painting in fact, which pays homage to that of another artist: Édouard Manet 
(1832-1883). Manet shocked Paris when he exhibited his highly controversial “Luncheon on the Grass” in 1863. Manet was paying homage another artist before him, Giorgione and his painting “The Tempest” of 1508. Each of the artists admired his predecessor’s art but reprocessed that art into a completely new and satisfying work, which contained more of each of the copier’s personality and talent than a work simply being copied.

In all cases a naked woman is depicted with men, who are dressed. This is perhaps what shocked the public, affronting its morality and insulting propriety. Hence the cries of “obscenity”. But many admired and lauded the painting. Émile Zola was one of these, who wrote in defence of the painting:

“The Luncheon on the Grass is the greatest work of Édouard Manet, one in which he realizes the dream of all painters: to place figures of natural grandeur in a landscape. We know the power with which he vanquished this difficulty. There are some leaves, some tree trunks, and, in the background, a river in which a chemise-wearing woman bathes; in the foreground, two young men are seated across from a second woman who has just exited the water and who dries her naked skin in the open air. This nude woman has scandalized the public, who see only her in the canvas. My God! What indecency: a woman without the slightest covering between two clothed men! That has never been seen. And this belief is a gross error, for in the Louvre there are more than fifty paintings in which are found mixes of persons clothed and nude. But no one goes to the Louvre to be scandalised.”
Claude Monet also admired the painting, being inspired to do his own less controversial but nevertheless monumental and striking version of “Luncheon on the Grass”.

Picasso turned his attention to Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, in the early 1960s, working intensively for almost two years on some 150 drawings and 27 paintings. As Manet had taken the right to renew the theme of Giorgione, Picasso took his right to extrapolate hundreds of commentaries on the situation proposed by Manet. These variations, with their many shifts in mode, were in keeping with Picasso’s intense interest in what makes a painter a painter—why a landscape with a nude and some clothed men can release so many emotional resonances.

Pablo Picasso was a Spanish artist whose name is almost synonymous with 20th century art. No artist was ever as famous as Picasso was in his own lifetime. The controversies over his strong personality, extreme arrogance, multiple affairs with younger women, and unwillingness to be classified in the art world only added to his fame and public appeal.

Whatever his human flaws, as an artist Picasso was a true genius. He was able to create incredibly complex and powerful paintings with a few strokes of the brush, or capture the essence of someone’s face as though viewing it in three dimensions, all captured on the flat expanse of canvas. As an individualist, Picasso was a founder of art movements, such as Cubism, but paradoxically refused to do what other people did, and whenever the art world caught up with him and thought they knew what to expect, he would change completely and surprise them.

When he was a child, Picasso was as skilled in realist portraits as in expressionist symbolism. He was also incredibly proficient, especially near the end of his life, when he would often complete three paintings in one day. It was as if he believed he could delay his death through painting. At the time many of these works were dismissed, in the words of Douglas Cooper, as “the incoherent scribblings of a frenetic old man”. It wasn't until long after Picasso's death that critics took a new look at his later works and realized that Picasso had invented neo-expressionism and was, as usual, decades ahead of his time.