Saturday 13 November 2010


“They are sick that surfeit with too much, as they that starve with nothing.” - William Shakespeare

Today is World Diabetes Day, quite an important observance given the epidemic proportions that diabetes mellitus has reached in the industrialised, western-type countries around the world. Although there are congenital forms of diabetes, the most common type is the acquired, obesity-associated disease, which is causing a problem not only in adults but also in children.

Diabetes mellitus is a disease of disordered metabolism due to a relative or absolute lack of insulin in the body.  Diabetes literally means “siphon” in Greek and is in reference to the increased quantities of urine produced by the body in the disease.  Mellitus means “honeyed” and refers to the glucose lost in the urine of the afflicted.  Increased urine production and wasting away of the body tissues were noted as features of the disease even in ancient times and Aretaeus in the second century AD described the disorder as “...a melting down of the flesh and limbs into urine...” Thomas Willis discovered in the seventeenth century that the urine of diabetics was sweet.

Type II Diabetes mellitus accounts for 85% of cases of the disease and obesity predisposes to the development of the disease as do frequent and large meals. Genetic predisposition makes the development of the disease more likely in people who gain weight and have a poor diet, in terms of load and high content of processed, simple carbohydrate loaded meals. Unfortunately, diabetes is a disease that has systemic effects throughout the body and every organ system is affected. Most diabetics die of cardiovascular system complications: Heart attacks, strokes, gangrene, aneurysms, small vessel disease are all common causes of morbidity and mortality.

Treatment of the disease depends on whether blood-glucose levels can be lowered by diet, diet and drugs, or whether insulin injections are needed. In all cases a healthy diet and exercise are beneficial.

As it is Art Sunday today, pardon the obesity take on Michelangelo’s David, but unfortunately we are becoming a fat society and obesity carries with it an increased risk of all sorts of diseases, not only diabetes. Any day that raises awareness of these diseases, using every means that will get the message across, deserves to be widely observed…


“Don’t threaten me with love, baby. Let’s just go walking in the rain.” - Billie Holiday

We are having a very wet weekend with lots of rain that’s keeping many people inside. We went out briefly this morning and came back home wet and cold, to stay inside for lunch. More rain forecast for tomorrow. The garden is getting a good soaking and our water reservoirs are over 51% full. That’s a lot more water than they have had for quite a few years…

For tonight, here’s Greek singer’s Notis Sfakianakis’ cover of Uriah Heep’s 1972 song “Rain”. For a very special someone whose favourite it is…

Thursday 11 November 2010


“I reckon being ill as one of the great pleasures of life, provided one is not too ill and is not obliged to work till one is better.” - Samuel Butler

We have quite a few people at work, off sick at the moment. Our highly variable weather may have something to do with it, but also there must be some viruses going around. Most of these illnesses are the common cold and of nuisance value only, although some other infections can be a little more worrisome if they develop into bronchitis or a bronchitic-asthmatic attack. In Melbourne we have a very high incidence of asthma compared to other parts of the world and this is combination of our climate and the gene pool of the population.

Fortunately, most of these springtime infections are short-lived and all they require is a day or two off work (which will do much to help prevent the spread of infection, as well as contribute to recovery). This is especially true of course, if at home one does indeed rest and gets spoilt with lots of TLC, drinks lots of fluids and eats strengthening foods. Orange juice and other drinks and fruits containing vitamin C are touted to be wonderful in not only contributing to a speedy recovery, but also preventing many of these nuisance infections. Vitamin C was first recommended as a treatment for the common cold in the 1970s. However, despite its widespread use, experts say there’s very little proof that vitamin C actually has any effect on the common cold. It has been investigated widely for its effects on the immune system, but the results are equivocal, at best!

The good news is that vitamin C is an important vitamin and antioxidant that the body needs to maintain healthy function. Vitamin C is used in the maintenance of connective tissues such as bones, muscle, and blood vessels. Vitamin C also assists in the formation of collagen and helps the body absorb iron. Its deficiency leads to a very serious disease called scurvy, but nowadays this is a medical rarity. Consuming lots of orange juice or other juices and fruits high in Vitamin C when one has a cold certainly helps in keeping the body hydrated and well supplied with vitamins and simple nutrients.

Now you have probably all had your mother or grandmother giving you the good old homely chicken soup when you have a cold. This is actually very good for colds! University of Nebraska researchers tested various chicken soups made with different recipes and found that its effect in the body was physiological: When people with a cold consumed chicken soup, it was found to block the migration of inflammatory white cells from blood vessels into tissues. This is an important finding, because cold symptoms are a response to the accumulation of inflammatory white cells in the bronchial tubes. The amino acid cysteine, released from chicken during cooking, chemically resembles the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine, which may explain the results. The soup’s salty broth keeps the mucus thin (and thus easily expelled), the same way cough medicines do. Added garlic and onions, and various spices can increase the soup’s immune-boosting power and some even have direct antibacterial effects!

So chicken soup it is! Here’s a recipe:

Cold-Fighting Chicken Soup

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions – diced
4 garlic cloves – diced
1 jalapeno pepper – diced
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons of fresh, chopped rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
6 whole berries of allspice
2 large bay leaves
3 teaspoons salt
3 large carrots – diced
4 stalks celery – diced
1 large turnip – diced
1 potato – diced
1 whole chicken and 1 chicken carcass, chopped into pieces
10-12 cups of water
1/2 cup rice (or noodles)
Chopped fresh parsley for garnishing


Use a large stockpot and gather all of your ingredients together.
Add the olive oil to your stockpot and heat it, adding the onions, garlic to cook until slightly golden.
Add the chicken and carcass pieces and brown all over.
Add the spices and herbs and stir through.
Add the vegetables and cook until they are slightly wilted.
Add water to the stockpot enough to cover the ingredients and bring the water level to about 5 cm from the top.
Allow to come to a boil, then lower heat and allow the soup to simmer for at least 90 minutes.
Add more water if needed.
Strain the broth reserving in the stockpot, and throw out all solids except the meaty chicken pieces. Let cool slightly so it is easier to remove meat from bones.
Boil the strained broth again and add the rice (or noodles).
While the rice (or noodles) is cooking, remove the bones and skin form the chicken and chop the chicken meat into small pieces.
When the rice is cooked add the chicken pieces and stir through.
Serve up in bowls, garnish with a little chopped parsley.

Bon appétit and get well soon!


“Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today is Remembrance Day, with the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month marking the signing of the Armistice, on 11th November 1918, to signal the end of World War One. It is a special day set aside to remember all the men and women who were killed during the two World Wars and other conflicts around the globe. At one time the day was known as Armistice Day but was renamed Remembrance Day after the Second World War. Wreaths are laid beside war memorials by companies, clubs and societies. People may also leave small wooden crosses by the memorials in remembrance of a family member who died in war.

The “Last Post” is traditionally played to introduce the minute’s silence in Remembrance Day ceremonies. It is usually played on a bugle. (In military life, “The Last Post” marks the end of the day and the final farewell.) The sounding of “Reveille”, ends the minute’s silence, followed by the recitation of the “Ode of Remembrance” (“For the Fallen”) by Laurence Binyon (1869 - 1943).

The Fourth stanza of this ode is the most famous and reads:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

Remembrance Day is also known as Poppy Day, because it is traditional to wear an artificial poppy. The link between Red Poppies and war is usually attributed to a Canadian physician and soldier, Lt. Col. John McCrae, through his famous poem about WW1, “In Flanders Field”; published in Punch Magazine in 1915. The obvious symbolic correlation between red poppy and blood spilt with loss of life on European battlefields, had already been noted by the end of the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the 19th century.

I would not describe myself as a redneck, as a nationalist, as an extremist or a fascist. I have always thought of myself as quite democratic, perhaps leaning towards the side of socialism and humanism. I feel that extreme acts of nationalistic pride are quite old-fashioned and out of place in the modern world, where national frontiers are being broken down and world populations are becoming increasingly mobile and have begun to mix freely. Extreme religiosity and fanaticism about religion is insulting and intolerant to the extreme and religion is the cause of much violence, pain and hardship. Most religious fanatics go against the basic tenets of their faith in their extremism; and that goes for any faith, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever else.

However, reading an article today in the newspaper I was quite annoyed and even angered. VicRoads, one of our Government Departments that looks after our roads admitted that they forbade their staff to observe the minute’s silence for Remembrance Day. The excuse they gave was that they “did not wish to offend people from different cultural backgrounds…” I have not heard a more offensive reason! What about the offence that such rubbish causes to the Australian population, whose young men died in their thousands in wars thousands of kilometers away over the past century or so?

If one migrates or visits this country, they do so bearing in mind that they are coming into a country where certain laws, by-laws, traditions, culture and language are in force. Most people come to Australia, precisely because of what this country has to offer in terms of safety, respect, lifestyle and an environment and where they can have freedom to retain their own culture, religion and language. However, if the lifestyle, customs, culture and language of this country offends them, then perhaps they have chosen the wrong country to come into. If someone is offended by having to hold their tongue for a minute as a mark of respect for the fallen of all wars around the world, there is something wrong.

Even if this is cause of distress or offence for anyone, then by all means let them take a sick day and stay at home and shout to their heart’s content on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month! You cannot please all people all of the time, so you try and please most of the people as long it is reasonable and fair and equitable to do so.

My workplace is multicultural. There are Australians, Italians, Greeks, Indians, Spaniards, South Americans, Germans, New Zealanders, Indonesians, Japanese, Serbs, Ethiopians, South Africans. We all observed the minute’s silence, most people wore a poppy on their lapel. We were silent and we paid tribute to our dead, even if they were on opposing sides in past wars. We lamented the wasted lives and the youth that were robbed of the contentment of old age, the joy of seeing their descendants carry their families on. We remembered irrespective of race, religion, politics or other persuasion. We shared our humanity that silent minute and reflected on the futility of war, all wars, all countries. I don’t think we offended anyone…

Tuesday 9 November 2010


“Plaisir d'amour ne dure qu'un moment; Chagrin d'amour dure toute la vie.” - Jean de Florian (1755–1794)

The joys of love are few and the pains of love endless in number, but in the reckoning, those few pleasures always manage to cancel out the infinitude of torments. Love shared between two is paradise, love unrequited is hell. Love’s triangles hide other agonies, duplicity, betrayal, faithlessness, perfidy. Love conquers all, or rather, all are conquered by love… Love is an ember, a warm glowing hearth, a wild fire uncontrolled or a conflagration – love like fire easy to spring into existence, easy to douse, but once started in earnest, easy to burn out of control and leave behind only cold ashes. Love can warm us, love can burn us. Lack of love can make us freeze all over or its escape can leave us burnt out.

A poem from two decades ago, from one of my journals…

The Long Ribbon of the Road

I count the minutes as they pass
The road stretches ahead an endless ribbon unfurling.
I count the seconds as they linger on
The road heartless, the miles to you unending.

The long ribbon of the road unwinds
And I attempt to catch the loosened end.
The ribbon of the road stretches ahead
My love for you like it, is inexhaustible.

Biding time as the road stretches ahead,
I weather storms, battle with windmills,
Cheat the hours, lie to myself, swallow my pride,
All just to be in your embrace for a stolen night.

Monday 8 November 2010


“We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.” – Joan Didion

Coming home on the train this evening I read a news story about a German musician who forgot his violin on the train. I nearly skipped through to the next article, but then the value of the violin caught my eye! It is worth about one million Euros ($1.4 million dollars) as it was made in Italy in 1748 and is a valuable heirloom piece as well as a superlative musical instrument. Good violins get better the more they age and a good Stradivarius can be worth several millions of dollars.

The forgetful musician had been performing in Asia and had just got back in Munich, taking the regional train to return home. One can imagine his exhausted and dazed state as he was getting out of the train, struggling with luggage, and one can understand him forgetting the violin case behind him – easy enough to do, or is it? For a musician of his stature his violin would be his most precious possession worth more than the monetary value. For a violinist the violin is almost an extension of the body, part of oneself, an appendage that forms part of one’s soul, not only one’s body.

His reaction was understandable once he realized that he had left his instrument on the train. He became physically ill and required treatment by a doctor. The police in the meantime began the investigation and fortunately the lost violin was recovered on the train seat exactly where it had been left, untouched and in its pristine condition. Needless to say the anxious violinist was a very happy man once he was reunited with his violin.

All of us can be very forgetful sometimes, some of us more than others, more so as we age or if we are tired, distressed or anxious. Trains seem to be good places to lose things and I have forgotten many an umbrella in a train carriage (no, not a single Stradivarius umbrella!). Hundreds of items are handed into the lost property offices in train stations each week by rail workers who find them abandoned on trains. Umbrellas, mobile phones, spectacles, and jackets are among the most commonly forgotten items but more bizarre articles are also left stranded in carriages: From musical instruments to animals, wheelchairs and bikes.

In Edinburgh last year, a passenger left half of a shotgun, along with the licence and ammunition, while a trumpet, two clarinets and two violins caused confusion when they were all handed in on the same day. It seems that a chamber orchestra decided to get forgetful all at once! In the same office a package containing a large dead octopus was handed into the lost property department. Obviously someone’s gourmet dinner got mislaid. As fresh foodstuffs are only kept for a day, the octopus had to be disposed of!

Lost property found abandoned in stations or trains are stored securely for several weeks to months (depending on the rail service and country), after which time items that haven’t been claimed are “disposed of”. Typically, this means they are auctioned, with the proceeds going to charity.

One thing I did do when it was time for me to get off the train at my station today was to check very carefully that I had all my belongings with me: Briefcase, coat, glasses… Yes, all there! Then I got off the train.

Sunday 7 November 2010


“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

We watched the 2009 Niels Arden Oplev movie “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” at the weekend. The film is from Stieg Larsson’s novel of the same name, and part one of the “Milennium Trilogy”. I haven’t read the book and I am always a little reluctant to see a movie before I read a book, especially in the case where the book is a best seller and there has been so much publicity surrounding both book and movie. However, as I don’t have time at the moment to read the book and seeing that that the movie was on special at our DVD store, it was to be an exception to the rule. To this end, this is a film review and not a book review.

First, this is Swedish film and hence subtitled. I love subtitles, but realise there are many people out there who hate them with a passion. I often find that I have to watch even English-speaking film with subtitles nowadays, as the diction and accents are so bad and the sound effects and/or music so loud, that trying to make sense of what everyone is saying is an effort. In fact I always ensure that there are subtitles with all DVDs we buy. We are rather spoilt that way now with DVDs…

Swedish films of course have a great legacy – all I need to mention is the magic name Ingmar Bergman – and all new Swedish films have a certain yardstick with which one measures them. Having said that, let’s forget all about it! This is no Bergman movie, although it is a very good movie. Bergman’s films were about relationships and emotions, human nature and character, with little action and yet curiously absorbing and riveting. “The Girl…” is an action-packed thriller, violent and raw. It explores the dark beastliness of ugly humans and lays bare cruelty, madness, brutality, sadism, perversion, ruthlessness and lack of basic humanity. This is not a film for the squeamish and explores those black parts of the human soul that most of us hunt for within us in order to eradicate. But, as one of the characters says in the film: “Everyone has secrets…”

The story (and I won’t spoil it for you) centres around Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative reporter for a current affairs magazine, who is convicted for libel after being framed. As he is waiting to serve his sentence he is approached by the elderly Henrik Vanger, of the filthy rich Vanger clan. Henrik wants Mikael to investigate the murder of his young niece, Harriet, a crime that happened 40 years previously. The reluctant Mikael accepts and just when he thinks the task is impossible, given the tight-knit protectiveness of the inimical Vanger clan and the length of time that has elapsed from the crime, he gets a cryptic email that presents to him the first clue towards finding out the truth. The email is from Lisbeth Salander, a troubled young woman (yes, she has a dramatic dragon tattoo on her back) who makes a living as a computer hacker/private investigator with no scruples, it seems. The two are brought together and begin to uncover the dark secrets of the Vangers.

The film is directed impeccably by Niels Arden Oplev, and gentleness is superimposed with violence, cruel rapes contrasted with scenes of immense tenderness, passion with stirrings of love. The actors are all excellent and the cinematography wonderful. Top marks go to the starring duo of excellent actors, Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace who play Mikael and Lisbeth, respectively. The music by Jacob Groth supportive and appropriate, never intrusive. We enjoyed the film, although it was a full 152 minutes long (the Swedish version is three-hours long). It is an excellent thriller, although replete with violence and images that shock and disturb. I recommend it to adult viewers who are not shocked by violence and confronting themes.

Now, will read the book? Probably not! However, I look forward to watching the other two parts of the trilogy: “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who kicked the Hornets’ Nest”.


“The artist does not see things as they are, but as he is.” - Alfred Tonnellé

For Art Sunday today, Caravaggio – or to give him his correct name: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). He was an artist who achieved one of the most important revolutions in painting. He came into a world where the classical idealism of Michelangelo was still the norm (all the more so in the depiction of the human body), and where the peculiarities of his successors, who did not paint from life at all, distorted what the eye actually sees.

Caravaggio (so-called from his town of birth, near Bergamo) rejected both of these notions completely His realism was immediate until then unequalled. His painting style was so novel and influential, that it had an immediate, profound and lasting impact. All the great painters of the first half of the seventeenth century paid homage to it and it helped shape the golden age of European art in the decades ahead.

Caravaggio’s technique was as spontaneous as his temper. He painted straight onto the canvas with minimal preparation, contrary to what his colleagues were doing at the time, who spent much time in sketching, making studies and underpainting for days or weeks before starting the painting proper. Sometimes he abandoned a disappointing composition and painted new work over the top. Much to the horror of his critics, he used ordinary working people with irregular, rough and faces full of character as models for his saints and showed them in recognisably contemporary surroundings. This offended many people who saw prostitutes dressed up as saints and neighbourhood drunks posing as apostles.

His paintings are characterised by their dramatic, almost theatrical lighting and Caravaggio is acknowledged as the master of “chiaroscuro” (a light and shade effect of high contrast created by light falling unevenly or from a particular direction on something). Caravaggio created his own style, flouting convention and breaking all the rules in the book. This turned his life first into anarchy, then tragedy, but also made him an artist of astonishing originality and creative power. He destroyed the old order and imposed a new one.

The work illustrated above is “The Musicians”,  was painted in 1595-1596 for Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, one of the leading connoisseurs in Rome. It is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.