Saturday 19 February 2011


“Is there anything better than to be longing for something, when you know it is within reach?” - Greta Garbo

Another busy week that was quite tiring and on some occasions stressful. Thankfully today was a day of rest and relaxation. We went shopping this morning, followed by a visit to the library. It’s always good to visit the library, and today it seems that many people had the same idea. The weather may have helped as it was hot and quite muggy. Libraries are always cool an air-conditioned! This evening dinner out and a wonderful time just enjoying intimate company.

For Song Saturday today, a singer that was a favourite of my grandmother, my mother and now of myself! She is the famous Portuguese Fado singer, Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999). She had a brilliant 40-year international career and her velvet voice was perfectly suited to the Portuguese “blues” of the fado – a passionate, mournful and emotional style of music. This music is usually linked to the Portuguese word “saudade” which symbolises the feeling of loss (a permanent, irreparable loss and its consequent life-lasting damage).

This song, “Coimbra” was written in the 1930’s, with music by Raul Ferrao and lyrics by José Galhardo, but more widely known as “April in Portugal”. Coimbra is a city in Portugal on the Mondego River about 100 miles north of Lisbon. It is also the seat of an old university, and the original lyrics of this romantic song are such an odd, incomprehensible allusion to student life that one can hardly imagine that anybody wrote them with any expectation that the song would become world-famous. It did indeed achieve fame, though, with new title and new lyrics in English, French and other languages. Choupal is a district along the Mondego, and Inês was the heroine of a medieval drama.

COIMBRA (Original Portuguese Lyrics)

Coimbra do Choupal,
Ainda és capital
De amor em Portugal,
Ainda és capital.

Coimbra, onde uma vez
Com lágrimas se fez
A história dessa Inês taõ linda

Coimbra das canções
Taõ meigas que nos pões
Os nossos corações à luz.
Coimbra dos doctores,
Pra nós os seus cantores
A fonte de amor és tu.

Coimbra e uma liçaõ de sonho e tradiçaõ.
O lente e uma cançaõ e a lua a faculdade.
O livro é uma mulher só passa quem souber
E aprende-se a dizer saudade.

COIMBRA (Literal English Translation)

Coimbra of the Choupal,
You are still capital
Of love in Portugal,
You are still capital.

Coimbra, where once upon a time
The tearful story of the lovely Inês
Took place…

Coimbra of the songs
So tender that you turn
Our hearts to the light.
Coimbra of the professors,
For us, your singers,
The fount of love you are.

Coimbra is a lesson of dreams and tradition.
The lens is a song and the moon is the faculty.
The book is a lady. Whoever just passes knows
And learns to say ‘longing’.

Thursday 17 February 2011


“Strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause.” - Victor Hugo

Tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus, is the birthday plant for this day.  It is named after Artemis, ancient Greek goddess of the hunt and of the moon.  The specific name is the Latin term for “little dragon”, alluding to the medicinal use of the plant for treating the bites of all sorts of venomous creatures.  Tarragon has been in culinary use for many hundreds of years, especially in France where it is an essential ingredient of French mustard, tarragon vinegar and the chicken dish known as poulet à l’ estragon.  To make tarragon vinegar, pick the young leaves of the plant, cover them with white wine vinegar and leave them to macerate for a few days. Strain the vinegar and rebottle.  The tarragon plant symbolises “strong and bitter words said in order to fan the flames of love”.  It is under the astrological dominion of Mars.

Here is Jacqueline Kennedy’s recipe for Poulet à l’ Estragon

Poulet à l’ Estragon

1.4 kg chicken parts (can use whole chicken)
50 g flour
salt & pepper
100 g butter, for browning (may need more)
2-3 shallots, finely chopped
120 ml chicken stock
120 ml dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
2 parsley sprigs
1 tablespoon dried tarragon or 1 bunch fresh tarragon
250 ml light cream
100 g parmesan cheese, grated
fresh tarragon leaves, to garnish (optional)

•    Season the flour with salt and pepper to taste and coat the chicken; reserve the flour not used for making the sauce later.
•    Brown the chicken in some butter and sprinkle the shallots over the chicken, simmering for a few minutes.
•    Add the chicken stock, wine, bay leaf, thyme, parsley and tarragon; cover and simmer chicken parts for about 25 minutes, if using whole chicken, simmer about 45 minutes or until tender, turning frequently.
•    Remove from pan and keep hot.
•    To the pan juices add the cream and grated cheese, and any flour not used in coating the chicken.
•    Simmer over low heat until sauce is thick.
•    Strain sauce over the chicken and garnish with tarragon leaves.


“Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope of a fool than of him.” - Proverbs 26:12

While travelling I was once again painfully aware of some people that do not make good travellers. Most of the fellow passengers I meet on my travels are decent and considerate, they are respectful of the other people around them and generally make the trip an easy one, However, every now and then, one meets the “traveller from hell” that makes the trip a nightmare. You know the one: Loud, obnoxious, selfish, inconsiderate, oafish and rude. This sort of traveller can ruin the whole trip, not only for you, but for a large number of other people too.

I pity the flight attendants who have to deal with this type of traveller on a regular basis, whereas I can always say to myself: “This too shall pass, I shall soon be home and be rid of this nuisance!” On this recent trip, there was one these travellers sitting two rows behind me and the whole plane was aware of his presence. A very loud voice that proclaimed inanity upon inanity, a raucous laugh (at his own jokes – not amusing) and an attitude towards the flight attendants that verged on insult. Their professionalism and patience when dealing with this person amazed me.

My observations were timely as in the news in this evening’s paper there was a report of a similar incident on a flight from LA to Sydney where one Brian McFadden was apparently involved in an unfortunate “bad traveller” incident. I had to look up who this person was, even though the article assured me of his fame. Apparently he is a singer, talent show judge and Delta Goodrem’s fiancé (the significance of all these things was once again lost on me, but I admit I lead a sheltered life). Allegedly, the “star” was drunk, abusive, disruptive and also smoked on board the jet, running from his business class section into the economy cabin and having to be restrained by fellow traveller (and equally famous) Kyle Sandilands (who is an Australian radio and TV personality, I am advised).

The “stars” denied the allegations and although Australian Federal Police were on standby when the delayed flight landed in Sydney, the pair were released as the airline did not press charges. Twitter entries by McFadden and Goodrem sprang into damage control mode and remarks by McFadden about his “favourite airline V Australia” and the “very nice Virgin staff” hints at an “agreement” having been reached before the plane landed.

Fame does strange things to people and oh, so many of them assume a god-like attitude that is offensive and ridiculous at the same time. One is tempted to laugh if it weren’t so annoying and insulting to the “ordinary people” like us. Young sportspeople are some of the worse offenders and their shenanigans are the embarrassment of their coaches, their sporting clubs and their families. Their doting fans seem to be unfazed and they will forgive them anything, something that fuels further their self-importance and lengthens the list of their misdemeanours. As far as actors go, well, let’s not go there. I think the latest nonsense that Charlie Sheen has been guilty of, is a good example of silliness magnified by fame.

Wednesday 16 February 2011


“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” - Langston Hughes

I was in Adelaide for the day for work today and it was a beautiful day weather-wise, although I saw remarkably little of it, being ensconced in meeting rooms all day. It was a full day as we were being audited and the panel was an interesting mix of people. There was one slightly problematic member, but he made the discussions lively and interesting. The good thing was that all went well and we passed the audit.

As soon as the plane landed in Melbourne on my return, the rain started to pelt down and we had very significant falls last night, with some flash flooding again in some parts of Melbourne. The climate has been subtropical this summer and the warm humid conditions have affected all sorts of things, including the vegetation, crops, insect numbers, infrastructure, people’s ability to carry on with normal activities, get to work, etc. The flash flooding in even some of the metropolitan areas has seriously disrupted everyday life and has caused lots of damage.

Climate variation is something that occurs routinely and we have to learn to not only live with it, but also be more proactive in planning for this variation. Changing the way that we construct our dwellings, being more prudent when choosing the geographical locations where we develop our housing and being more aware of sustainable and environmentally-friendly ways of utilising the technology available so that we work with climate variation pro-actively, rather than reactively.

Climate variation will almost certainly affect not only the ways that we produce our food, but also may fundamentally change the very components of our diet. Already there is much talk of utlising non-standard, but highly nutritious, food sources such as earthworms and insects for example. Most people would find these items revolting if they are on a menu, but the less prejudiced and more open-minded children that were given food prepared from such sources were delighted with these meals.

Nevertheless, last night I enjoyed the sound of the rain falling and once again felt fortunate to be safe, warm and dry in our home. That is a luxury that many humans on this earth do not have.

Quite apt this choice today, then, for Poetry Wednesday:

Rain In Summer

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!

How it clatters along the roofs
Like the tramp of hoofs!
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!

Across the window-pane
It pours and pours;
And swift and wide,
With a muddy tide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Tuesday 15 February 2011


“There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it.” – Gautama Buddha

Today is the day that the Lupercalia was celebrated in ancient Rome. However, even the Romans of the first century were at a loss to explain exactly which deity or deities were being honoured on this day! It was an ancient observance, that survived from the days when Rome was nothing more than a few shepherds’ huts on a hill known as Palatine and was surrounded by forested wilderness teeming with wolves (lupus = ‘wolf’ in Latin). The derivation of the term ‘Lupercalia’ makes sense for a festival that was connected with a settlement of shepherds, whose most feared predator was the wolf.

Lupercus, protector of flocks against wolves, is a likely candidate deity honoured on this day. Other scholars favour Faunus, the god of agriculture and shepherds. Others still, suggest it was Rumina, the goddess whose temple stood near the fig tree under which the she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus.  There is no question about the importance of the Lupercalia, with official records indicating that Mark Antony was master of the Luperci College of Priests. He chose the Lupercalia festival of the year 44 BC as the proper time to offer the crown to Julius Caesar.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus tells us that in his day (first century BC), an ancient hut, made out of sticks and reeds, stood on the slope of the Palatine Hill towards the Circus Maximus. This hut was honoured as a sacred place and was kept in good repair. Modern archaeology has discovered the post-holes of huts dating to the eighth century BC (the traditional date of Rome’s foundation was 753 BC). The association of wolves with Rome is also highlighted by the legend of Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome, who were abandoned in a forest by a usurper to the throne and suckled by a she-wolf, only to grow and take their rightful kingship of Rome.

In general, the Romans viewed the Lupercalia as a purification and fertility rite. The ritual involved the sacrifice of goats and a dog in the Lupercal (sacred cave at the foot of the Palatine to honour the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus) by priests called Luperci, who smeared the foreheads of two noble young men with the blood of the sacrificed animals and then wiped it off. At this point, the youths were required to laugh. The luperci, clothed in loincloths, then ran about the area, lashing everyone they met with strips of skin from the sacrificed goats. Young wives were particularly eager to receive these blows, because it was believed that the ritual promoted fertility and easy childbirth. These ceremonies were accompanied by much revelry and drinking. Valentines’ Day is probably a continuation of the fertility aspect of the Lupercalia.

The Lupercalia was so popular that it survived the onset of Christianity, but in a different form. In 494 AD, the Pope made February 15 the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, thus perpetuating the festival and preserving the purification aspect of the ancient holiday. This of course has occurred with many other pagan feasts and festivals which have been syncretised with the Christian tradition.

Sunday 13 February 2011


“Who, being loved, is poor?” - Oscar Wilde

Happy Valentines’ Day!

If you are into celebrating it, that is… Nearly everyone I know is not impressed with this observance and it seems that the older one gets, the more crotchety about poor old Valentine one is. It must say something about my immediate circle, mustn’t it? Well, even to me Valentines’s Day does reek of pubescent exuberance or fumbling attempts at romance by jejune first time lovers. It was disconcerting on the train to see scores of young women in their late teens and early twenties carrying sad and wilting flowers – single red roses were popular – dutifully delivered to their workplace by the obligatory boyfriend. They were being carried like precious booty, the spoils of some battle won. A pyrrhic victory, perhaps…

To me Valentines’ Day is every day. If two people love each other there are a multitude of ways to demonstrate it to each other every moment. An unexpected hand-written note, a gentle caress, a phone call for no reason, a gift on no occasion, an email just to say ‘I care about you’. A shoulder to lean on or to cry on, as is needed. A hug, a shared laugh, a reliance on each other. An ally in difficult times, a friend to share all the good times with. Someone to rejoice with when things all go right and to feel that you can share all with, the good and the bad.

We watched a couple of movies at the weekend, but I’ll choose something apt for the day, although it is apt in an offbeat kind of way. It was a French movie starring the irrepressible Gérard Depardieu and the gorgeous Cécile de France. That’s as French as you can get, I guess! It was the 2006 movie “Quand j’ Étais Chanteur” (“The Singer”), written and directed by Xavier Giannoli. For lovers of French croon-tunes, this is the movie for you! It is an offbeat romantic comedy of the Winter/Spring variety. He is old and experienced; she is young and vulnerable, he is love with her, she sees him with fascination; he is prepared to do everything for her, she vacillates. It’s more romantic than comedic, perhaps even quite tragic…

Gérard Depardieu plays Alain Moreau, an ageing “has-been” singer, who still sings for his supper in a dance hall, where the more second rate champagne that is sold the more commission he gets. He is managed by an old flame of his Michèle (charmingly played by the winsome Christine Citti), who although still in love with him is getting ready to marry his best friend, Bruno. Marion, a young seemingly unattached woman comes into Alain’s life one night, at Alain’s dance hall. They end up sleeping with each other, but Marion abandons him in the morning, deeply embarrassed. He is hurt and tries to win her, while all the while trying to deal with his insecurities, his growing loneliness, his awareness of his middle age, his fading singing popularity, his failing voice.

It is a charming little film, not great, not earth-shaking, with no surprises, and yet it is quite honest and frank and deals with its subject matter with sensitivity. It’s a quiet, easy-going film that will please most people of my vintage who have a little romantic bone in them, even though they may think that single red Valentine roses are a little jejune…

Depardieu sings quite a lot of French hit songs, with a smattering of Spanish and Italian ones thrown in for good measure. However, there is one song, which is of special significance to him as he discovers the depths of his feelings for Marion, but which he doesn’t sing. Instead, he plays it on an old jukebox that he has in home (he also has a little pet goat that runs around the lounge room, but I won’t dwell on that!). The song is Bobby Solo’s “Una Lacrima Sul Viso” - here is that song:

Da una lacrima sul viso
Ho capito molte cose
Dopo tanti tanti mesi ora so
Cosa sono per te.
Uno sguardo e un sorriso
M’ han svelato il tuo segreto
Che sei stata innamorata di me
Ed ancora I lo sei…

From a teardrop on your face
I understood so much;
After so many months, only now do I know
What I mean to you.
A glance and a smile
Revealed your secret to me:
That you were in love with me
And now I know it…


“Love must be as much a light, as it is a flame.” - Henry David Thoreau

Google is a big company that has become very successful on the back of the net revolution. It is innovative and ground-breaking in many areas and can be very influential. Sure enough, the bottom line is profit, but Google also has lots of nice freebies and it appears that it has a social conscience as well. It hosts Blogger, for example, and here I am using it and being grateful for this blog hosting service. As well as that there are various other projects of scientific or artistic merit.

For example, the Google Earth project is a geographer’s dream come true and this is now being used by all sorts of other enquiring minds for study and discovery. For example, there are many arm-chair archaeologists that are viewing Google Earth sites and making discoveries from the comfort of their own living room. The case of the Australian archaeologist who made some interesting archaeological discoveries in Saudi Arabia through Google Earth was recently reported.

The amazing Body Browser (you need the Google Chrome Beta browser to view this!) is a fantastic anatomical tool that will delight, educate and make the life of many an anatomy student easier. It presents a body, which can be electronically “dissected” layer by layer, organ system by organ system, rotated and magnified, labelled and viewed in all sorts of anatomical views. It’s a complete anatomical atlas and it’s free! This is an amazing resource that will no doubt find use in educational settings, but also it a wonderful tool for the artist.

Google has now embarked on a wonderful new venture, which is called the Google Art Project. This consists of a collaboration between Google and 17 of the world’s top art galleries and museums, to give you a “Street-view” type of approach to the world’s most famous art. You can view 1,061 magnificent artworks, but there are also 17 special “gigapixel images” – one image for each participating institution’s most treasured piece, allowing viewers to zoom right in to brush-stroke level of detail. Over the past 18 months, a Google team has been going around museums like Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Palace of Versailles using trolley mounted cameras to photograph corridors and galleries. Users can explore each gallery from room to room and create their own collections of masterpieces.

Here is how it was done:

The 17 participating museums and galleries are:
Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin - Germany
Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC - USA
The Frick Collection, NYC - USA
Gemäldegalerie, Berlin - Germany
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC - USA
MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, NYC - USA
Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid - Spain
Museo Thyssen - Bornemisza, Madrid - Spain
Museum Kampa, Prague - Czech Republic
National Gallery, London - UK
Palace of Versailles - France
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - The Netherlands
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg - Russia
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow - Russia
Tate Britain, London - UK
Uffizi Gallery, Florence - Italy
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam - The Netherlands

Here is Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” like you’ve never seen it before! You can zoom in and see every little brushstroke and crack in the paint, every nuance of colour and every touch of the master artist’s creative trail. It is an example of the “gigapixel” data paintings and gives an amazing insight into this remarkably beautiful work (see detail above).