Saturday 9 April 2011


“My guitar is not a thing. It is an extension of myself. It is who I am.” - Joan Jett

The day today was thankfully rather more relaxed than yesterday. A late breakfast (at 7:30 am, as usually I am in at work by 7:00 am) and then a leisurely walk in the garden. The day started out fine, although windy, ahead of a change in the afternoon that brought rain. It’s still raining now and probably will for the rest of the night. How pleasant it is to listen to it gently falling outside, while in a warm, dry room…

We went and visited some friends in the morning and then did our shopping in Sydney Rd, Coburg. The street was busy with people were milling around the place, in and out of shops, in cafés and malls. This is multicultural Melbourne at its most vibrant with Turkish, Vietnamese, Greek and Lebanese shops, Chinese and Yugoslavian restaurants, Middle Eastern, Indian and Pakistani people talking their language as they walk in the street, many wearing their traditional clothes. We bought fruits and vegetables at the market, cheeses and bread and then finished by going to the library where we borrowed some books and CDs.

As it was still early when we got home, after putting away the shopping we went out again, this time to the Fairfield Boathouse by the Yarra River. This is very close to home and it is a beautiful restful place with extensive parklands all along the shores of the river and many venues for all sorts of entertainment and sport. Once again many people had the same idea, but nevertheless we enjoyed the walk and took some delightful photographs.

This evening was lovely as always and as I heard a some Spanish music on the way home, here is a wonderful Fandango by the group Mojacar Flamenco, featuring dancers Lauren Santiago, Misuda Cohen, Micaela Castellanos, with musicians Stephen Dick, Johnny Sandoval, Paulo Gustavo, playing Stephen Dick’s music.

Friday 8 April 2011


“No one can understand the truth until he drinks of coffee’s frothy goodness.” - Sheik Abd-al-Qadir Gilani

I was in Brisbane for the day, for work, my day starting at 4:00 am to catch a 6:00 am flight. It was a day of non-stop meetings, which left me little time to even think, but at least it was a day of achievement as many things got done and some projects finalised. My flight back to Melbourne this evening was greatly delayed and that meant I didn’t get home until close to midnight. That makes for a very long working day. At least, the weekend is up ahead and this will be a useful time to recharge the batteries and not even think of doing any work…

Lunch today was on the run, provided by the café on the campus, which is a franchised outlet of Merlo Coffee. They do make good coffees, but also have a variety of foods, many of which are healthful and wholesome. Their blurb states: “BarMerlo stores are Italian-style espresso bars. Merlo Coffee Private blend is served – exclusive to BarMerlo espresso bars – delivered fresh-roasted daily, directly from the Merlo Coffee Torrefazione. We also have a range of freshly prepared food items, delivered daily from the team of chefs at Merlo Kitchen.”

“Torrefazione” is an Italian word for “coffee roasting house”. At the five Merlo Torrefazioni one can buy everything one needs to make the perfect coffee at home, from the beans to machines! Coffee is  roasted daily, and custom ground to the customer’s requirements to help make the best coffee at home. They also run “Coffee Appreciation sessions”, which are quite popular and will initiate the novice to the art and science of making perfect coffee in the Italian style!

We had delicious cheese and fruit platters for lunch, with several different kinds of imported and local cheeses, including leidsekaas, brie, cheddar, tasty and chèvre. There were grapes, strawberries, melon, pineapple, passionfruit and watermelon. Accompanying this feast were gourmet crackers and lavosh, breadsticks and grissini. Needless to say there was also great, freshly made coffee. The working lunch was well received.

Wednesday 6 April 2011


“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book.” - Irish Proverb

It is World Health Day today, with a special emphasis on antimicrobial resistance, which unfortunately is becoming a major problem world-wide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning that antibiotic and antimicrobial drug resistance is being fuelled by widespread misuse of drugs and as a result, hundreds of thousands of people die of severe infections with multiply resistant microorganisms. As antimicrobial drug use is increasing and new drugs flood the market, illicit use and indiscriminate use of new drugs is making them useless, as the microorganisms they are meant to battle develop resistance and cause fatal infections, against which no drug is effective.

The slogan “Combat Drug Resistance” is the WHO’s call for urgent and well-organised action by governments, health professionals, industry, the community and patients in an effort to slow down the spread of drug resistance, limit its impact today and preserve medical advances for future generations. We have been spoilt these past few decades, having a wealth of miracle drugs that could cure effectively killer diseases of the past such as pneumonia, meningitis, peritonitis, tuberculosis, malaria, amoebiasis, syphilis, gonorrhoea etc.

Drug resistance of microorganisms is a natural phenomenon, through which bacteria and parasites acquire resistance to the drugs meant to kill them. It is a simple natural selection process whereby resistant mutant organisms survive because of the widespread use of drugs, which favours their survival while the susceptible organisms die. With each new generation, the microorganism carrying the resistant gene becomes ever more widespread until the drug is completely ineffective. Inappropriate use of infection-fighting drugs (underuse, overuse or misuse) causes resistant strains to emerge faster.

In 2010, nearly half a million of new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis were diagnosed and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis has been reported in 69 countries to date. The malaria parasite is acquiring resistance to even the latest generation of medicines, and resistant strains causing gonorrhea and shigellosis are limiting treatment options, with increasing numbers of people getting serious complications or dying of the consequences of widespread infection. Serious infections acquired in hospitals can become fatal because they are so difficult to treat and drug-resistant strains of microorganism are spread from one geographical location to another in today’s highly mobile and globalised world.

The WHO is advocating the following policies:
•    developing and implementing a comprehensive, financed national plan
•    strengthening surveillance and laboratory capacity
•    ensuring uninterrupted access to essential medicines of assured quality
•    regulating and promoting rational use of medicines
•    enhancing infection prevention and control
•    fostering innovation and research and development for new tools.

While governments and health organisations, are the first line of defence, hospitals and doctors must work within guidelines in order to put up a strong second line of defence. However, even the ultimate consumer, the patient, has an important role to play in this war against drug-resistant microbes. How often is it that a patient with a trivial infection, a virally-induced cold for example, demands from his doctor antibiotics? In such cases antibiotics are useless, but often the doctor bows down to the strong patient pressure and prescribes antibiotics. This is an example of indiscriminate use of antibiotics that promotes resistance of microbes that may reside in the patient’s body in very small numbers.

We are lucky to live in an age where we can be assured of timely, life-saving medical and surgical interventions that so often are life-saving. We are risking these advantages of modern medicine by misusing the very life-savers that can preserve us. Like the boy who cried “wolf” too often in jest, we too can lose all if a real wolf finally appears and threatens us and our life.

Tuesday 5 April 2011


“Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.” - Henry David Thoreau

I have so much on at work now that there seems to be a slew of deadlines hiding under every bit of paper on my desk, ready to attack me in case I miss them. I had several appointments today, and the rest of the day was spent completing a couple of urgent documents that need be submitted by the end of the week. Several people had to contribute and because everyone else at work is also so busy, it is difficult sometimes to get them to deliver the goods. I am usually good at juggling tasks and mostly get people to cooperate, with even the recalcitrant ones managing to give me what I need by the eleventh hour. It’s sometimes stressful, but it’s good stress and I seem to thrive on it…

The morning today was crisp, dark and the sunrise was beautiful and gold. Unusually, the train was almost full this morning and they were all a talkative lot. Laughter, repartee, guffaws, animated conversations, giggles, iPods going at full blast, audible even through the headphones. And all this on the 6:30 am to the City! I walked up the stairs, eschewing the busy escalators and at the cafés by the entrance to the station I inhaled the inviting aroma of freshly roasted and ground coffee being brewed. A cup of strong, black, bitter coffee reminded me of the past…

Not dwelling on memories, I walked on to cross the road, mindful now of the empty, still cold streets and wondering whatever happened to the train crowd. The paperwork littering my desk a daunting sight, but a saving buzz from the phone ensured my day would start well. The voice at the other end warm, loving and reassuring.

Another day has started.

Haiku for Morning

Look! The East’s on fire
Darkness is quickly dispelled:
I start to think of work.

A crowded train; packed
Escalators, hubbub, din –
Cold streets are empty.

Fragrance of coffee
Warm cup; steam in the cold air.
Bitter taste, absence.

Words, numbers, papers:
My desk chaotic. Your call
Orders my morning.

A full day ahead,
The diary’s crammed, I talk on,
Loth to lose your voice.

A sunny morning,
Cool air and leaves that yellow:
Work as clouds gather.

Monday 4 April 2011


“The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.” - Lucille Ball

If it is your birthday today, you are in good company! Here is a list of some famous people also born on this day:

Thomas Hobbes, British political philosopher (1588);
Elihu Yale, founder of the University (1649);
Catherine I, empress of Russia (1684);
Jean Honoré Fragonard, French artist (1732);
Ludwig (Louis) Spohr, composer (1784);
Jules Dupré, landscape painter (1811);
Linus Yale, lock inventor (1821);
Joseph Lister (Baron Lister of Lyme Regis), father of antisepsis (1827);
Víteslav Hálek, Czech poet (1835);
Algernon Charles Swinburne, poet (1837);
Albert Roussel, composer (1869);
Mistinguett (Jeanne Marie Bourgeois), French singer (1875;
Spencer Tracy, US actor (1900);
Bette (Ruth Elizabeth) Davis, US actress (1908);
Herbert von Karajan, conductor (1908);
Gregory Peck, US actor (1916);
Arthur Hailey, Canadian author (1920);
Ivar Giaevar, Nobel laureate (1973) physicist (1929);
Nigel Hawthorne, actor (1929);
Jane Asher, actress (1946);
Judith Resnick, US astronaut victim of Challenger (1949);
Agnetha Faltskög, ABBA singer (1950).

The blue violet, Viola odorata, is today’s birthday flower.  It symbolises love and faithfulness.  The plant in Greek mythology supposedly sprang from drops of blood shed by Ajax, one of the valiant Greek warriors of the Trojan War.  The ancient Greeks called the violet, ion, after Io, one of the loves of Zeus. Hera, Zeus’s wife, became very jealous when she discovered this affair and Zeus turned Io into a heifer so that she could escape Hera’s wrath.  Io fed on violets when she had been turned into a heifer.  Astrologically, the violet is under the dominion of Venus and the sign of Aries.

ARIES THE RAM (March 21st - April 20th) is your sign, which is ruled by Mars. It is a cardinal, positive, masculine, fire sign.  Polar or opposite sign is Libra. Fixed Star: Hamal. The Arian is Adventurous, Choleric, Competitive, Daring, Direct, Energetic, Enthusiastic, Eager, Forceful, Generous, Hasty, Honest, Impatient, Leading, Optimistic, Pioneering, Warm.

The Arian may be summarised with the verb: “I am”.  They are pioneers and trendsetters, go-getters and daredevils who know what they want and are sure of their abilities.  An Arian quote: “I want what I want and I want it when I want it!”

The Sun in Aries represents new beginnings. The Arian is full of enthusiasm and creative energy and is ready to apply this energy to initiate new enterprises. Never intimidated by failure, they are always ready to overcome obstacles and seek new challenges. These people have a strong desire to lead the way for others, finish first, and prove themselves more through actions and deeds than through words. They rarely give up things they have started and it is not unusual to find Arians amongst the explorers and adventurers.

The Arians are energetic and restless, generally excelling in sports and games.  They will rarely put up with situations that irritate them either in work or personal life.  As they are often uncompromising, their partners will need to yield.  When provoked the Arian can be violent, aggressive and argumentative. However, the anger is soon dissipated and grievances do not last long.  In love, the Arian can be possessive, jealous and faithful, often idealistic.

Leadership and challenge are what the Arian excels in and under a well-placed birth chart, these people will direct their energy to useful enterprises in which their courage and good sense will prevail with beneficial and fruitful results. Creativity is often neglected as the Arian is too busy and too active with other interests.  Dull routine is not for these people and in their career they engage in trendsetting activities, explore new areas, and develop original ideas.  The Arians abhor people getting in their way and they can be ruthless in achieving their aims.

The birthstone for April is the diamond.  The name of the gem is derived from the Greek adamas, meaning “unconquerable”, referring to the extreme hardness of this gemstone. The pure clear fire of the diamond is unmatched by any other stone.  Very expensive diamonds may also be coloured yellow, pink or blue. It is identical to graphite in composition, but is crystalline, thus formed under extremes of pressure and heat.  South Africa is the world’s most famed producer of beautiful diamonds, often of a large size.

Happy Birthday!

Sunday 3 April 2011


“If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.” - Tom Stoppard

As we were babysitting for a little while at the weekend, we watched a kids’ movie, which certainly pleased our young charge, but also left the grownups quite amused. It was a sequel, the 2010 Susanna White movie “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang”. The first film in the series was the 2005 “Nanny McPhee" directed by Kirk Jones. In both cases, the talented Emma Thompson not only stars in the film, but also has written the screenplay, based on characters in the Christianna Brand books, where Nurse Matilda is the equivalent Nanny. The films have as their foundation a governess who uses magic to rein in the behaviour of the naughty children in her charge. Along the way she teaches them valuable life lessons and with each lesson learnt, her hideous face becomes a little more beautiful. This of course is not a new plot, as one may remember the Mary Poppins series of children’s books by P.L. Travers. Once again a magical nanny comes into a troubled household, not wanted but needed, to put it right and leave just when she is no longer needed, but wanted.

This particular episode is set in England at the time of WWII, in the countryside. Nanny McPhee appears to help out a farmhouse family where the father is at war. The mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is under pressure to sell the farm to her nasty brother-in-law (Rhys Ifans), a ne’er-do-well who will not rest till he gets his way in order to repay his gambling debts. Meanwhile the children’s snooty, upper crust, spoilt London cousins come to stay in order to avoid the bombings in London.

 Nanny McPhee deals with all problems calmly and teaches the children five important lessons.

The cinematography is beautiful and the special effects engaging. One of the highlights of the film is the synchronised swimming piglets (look out Esther Williams!), while quite amusing is Nanny McPhee’s pet blackbird with the eating problem. The music is light-hearted and suited to he action, the children play well, while an added bonus are supporting role parts by Maggie Smith, Ewan McGregor and Ralph Fiennes.

The film has some sensitive themes that are dealt with light-heartedly, yet not dismissively nor off-handedly. Particularly poignant is the warm, loving relationship of the children with their absent father, while the cousins’ relationship with their divorcing parents provides a contrasting counterfoil. The confrontation between Cousin Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and his soldier father (Ralph Fiennes) in the War Office in London is particularly touching. The final scene containing a link between the first film and the sequel is very plaintive as it gets the viewer to reflect on childhood versus old age, with the indomitable, ever-capable and magical Nanny as the link.

This is a very entertaining film which I recommend for children of all ages, and if possible try to watch the first film before the sequel. Both are very good and will appeal to very young children as well as older ones. There are enough adult references to keep the movie appealing enough for grown-ups and both movies are excellent family fare. Well done, Ms Thompson!


“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” - Truman Capote

Rococo, which is also referred to as “Late Baroque” is an 18th century style which developed as Baroque artists gave up symmetry in their works. Their style became increasingly ornate, florid, and playful. Rococo rooms were designed as total works of art with elegant and ornate furniture, small sculptures, ornamental mirrors, and tapestry complementing architecture, reliefs, and wall paintings. It was largely supplanted by the more severe and simple Neoclassic style.

In 1835 the Dictionary of the French Academy stated that the word Rococo “usually covers the kind of ornament, style and design associated with Louis XV’s reign and the beginning of that of Louis XVI”. It includes all types of art produced around the middle of the 18th century in France. The word Rococo is seen as a combination of the French rocaille, meaning stone, and coquilles, meaning shells, due to reliance on these objects as motifs of decoration.

Italian Rococo was mainly inspired by French Rococo, as France was the founding nation of Rococo. The styles of the Italian Rococo were very similar to those of France. The style in Italy was usually lighter and more feminine than Italian Baroque art, and became the more popular art form of the settecento. The leading artistic centres during the Rococo in Italy were Venice, Genoa and Rome. Most Italian Rococo artists came from Venice, such as Canaletto, Tiepolo, Guardi, Piazzetta and Bellotto, but also from Rome and Genoa, such as Piranesi and Pannini. Artists such as Castiglione and Magnasco brought the vogue of Rococo art to Naples, and Neapolitan Rococo was mainly based on landscapes and naturalistic themes. Canaletto and Tiepolo were possibly one of the greatest rococo painters of all time, and they painted many frescos and cityscapes (particularly Canaletto).

Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697 – 1768), known as Canaletto, was born in Venice, the son of a theatrical scene painter. He was very influential, famed for his precisely depicted and evocative views of the city (“vedute”). He found that providing formulaic paintings for tourists was very lucrative. These, still highly skilled works, were produced by him often in collaboration with an organised workshop. They usually record the lavish Venetian public ceremonies, as in “Regatta on the Grand Canal”.

Canaletto was favoured by English collectors. He visited England repeatedly between 1746-56, painting works like “Eton College”. His most important assistant was his nephew Bellotto, who became an accomplished artist. Canaletto often made meticulous preparatory drawings. He may have used a camera obscura for topographical accuracy in creating some of his designs, but he always remained concerned with satisfying compositional design, not simply slavishly recording views.

Here is Canaletto’s “The Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day” painted circa 1732. It is an oil on canvas painting, part of the Royal Collection, UK. It is typical of his Venetian “vedute” and a perfect souvenir for a young gentleman after completing his “grand tour” that had included famous Venice. One can imagine it afterwards hanging in pride of place in some dark grey but noble house, reminding the nobleman of his wild oats sowing in sunny Italy…