Saturday 16 April 2011


“I am playing the violin, that's all I know, nothing else, no education, no nothing. You just practice every day.” - Itzhak Perlman

A busy day today, but also relaxing. The weather was fine, a beautiful sunny day, good for our shopping in Preston this time. There is a fine market there with all sorts of shops, greengrocers, butchers, delicatessens, fishmongers, clothing and shoe stores, supermarkets, cafés and right next to fine strip shopping along High Street.

For Song Saturday today, a beautiful Tchaikovsky piece, the “Sérénade Mélancolique” played on the violin by the incomparable Itzhak Perlman. If you wish to have the pdf score of this piece, it is available for download at this music manuscript wiki-site here.

It is a marvellous piece, is it not?

Friday 15 April 2011


“It’s clearly more important to treat one’s fellow man well than to be always praying and fasting and touching one’s head to a prayer mat.” - Naguib Mahfouz

While we are now well approaching Easter, it is still Lent. People of Greek Orthodox faith have been fasting for the past five weeks or so, with no meat, dairy products or eggs being consumed. The fasting gets even stricter next week, which is the final week before Easter. Some people will not even consume fish, or any kind of fat, as well as the usual restricted diet without meat, dairy products or eggs. So what will be eaten you may ask… Fresh fruits and vegetables, pulses, nuts, olives (yes, the ones from which olive oil comes – go figure!), pickles of various kinds, tahini (pulverised sesame seed paste, which is quite oily actually, so that is cheating a bit, but nevertheless allowed), bread, rice, sugar-preserved or glacé fruits, lollies, jams, marmalades. Some people also eat octopus and squid, but they are rather boring when prepared without oil.

Fasting is good for health, especially so the first kind, not the highly restrictive type mentioned in the latter case. During fasting the body is rid of toxins, lighter meals are consumed, seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables are eaten in greater quantities and there is a decreased fat intake, especially the saturated fats associated with eggs, meat and dairy products. There are several such fasting periods throughout the year, not only the Great Lent before Easter, but also the Lesser Lent before Christmas and then various other smaller fasting periods (for example the first two weeks of August before the Dormition of the Virgin), as well as Wednesday and Friday fast days. Here is a Greek Lenten recipe conforming with the dietary fasting rules of the less strict type (i.e. cake contains oil, but no dairy products or eggs).


500 g white self-raising flour
500 g fine semolina
250 g olive oil (light)
500 g sugar
1.5 glassfuls of freshly squeezed orange juice
1 shot glassful of lemon juice
zest of one orange
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 shot glassful of brandy
1.5 tsps baking soda
1 glassful sultanas
Orange marmalade

  • Preheat the oven to 180˚C.
  • Sift the flour and add the semolina, mixing well. Make a well in the centre and pour in the oil, mixing very well until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  • Mix the sugar and orange juice, stirring to dissolve well. Add the lemon juice, zest, cinnamon, cloves.
  • Dissolve the baking soda in the brandy and add it to the sugar mixture. Add to the flour/oil mixture and mix well. Add the sultanas and mix well.
  • Pour into a Bundt cake mould and bake in the pre-warmed fan-forced oven for about an hour, until it is well cooked.
  • Once cooled, cut in half horizontally and remove the top carefully. Spread orange marmalade on the lower half and reassemble the cake. 

Thursday 14 April 2011


“How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence.” - Benjamin Disraeli

I was in Sydney for the day for work today, and once again it was a very full but satisfying day as a lot did get done and I was able to look at our new campus premises there. They are situated in the CBD and are in a large, modern building close to public transport, facilities, shops, services. I always like visiting Sydney, and especially so today as it was a glorious autumn day, mild and sunny. Although Melbourne is crowded and busy and cosmopolitan, Sydney is even more crowded and one often forgets that until one gets there. The traffic alone was horrendous, but walking in the City, the number of people rushing hither and thither was a bit of a challenge…

Our new premises are close to Chinatown and Darling Harbour, so it is an enviable location! One of my favourite places in Sydney is the Chinese Garden of Friendship. It is a serene, green and beautiful pocket of paradise in the midst of the helter-skelter of the metropolis. The Garden is located at the southern end of Darling Harbour, near the Sydney Entertainment Centre and adjacent to Chinatown. It is open daily from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm and attracts many local and international visitors.

The project of the Garden was begun by the Sydney Chinese community as a means of sharing their rich cultural heritage with their adopted homeland of Australia. The celebration of Australia’s 1988 Bicentenary, was the occasion for realising this project and the Chinese Garden is the result of a close bond of friendship and cooperation between the sister cities of Sydney and Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, China.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship was designed and built by Chinese landscape architects and gardeners. Similar to every classical Chinese Garden, there are traditional principles, which are considered and govern the use of four key elements of water, vegetation, stone and architecture. Together, these four elements combine to create perfect rapport with one another. The concepts of Yin and Yang, Feng Shui as well as artistic aesthetics all combine to create a harmonious and balanced whole, that leaves the visitors refreshed and calm once they have entered the compound.

The art of Chinese Garden design began in imperial parks during the Shang dynasty 3000 years ago. Later, gardens flourished on a smaller scale in the private gardens of China’s rich and powerful nobility and the successful merchant class. The Chinese Garden of Friendship at Darling Harbour is a scaled-down version of a typical private garden from this era.

Chinese Gardens differ from western-style gardens in that there are no planted flowerbeds or manicured lawns. Instead, wild aspects of nature are recreated in artfully designed landscapes that feature waterfalls, mountains, lakes and forests in “miniature”. While full-scale trees are used, there are symbolic elements that signify a clump of beautifully shaped rocks as “tall mountain”, a stand of trees as “forest”, and a large pond as “lake”, etc.

Exploring a Chinese Garden is a journey of discovery in which one finds many details that all blend together in a satisfying whole. One wanders along the pathways, crosses the bridges, climbs hillocks, observing only that part of the Garden that is visible at a time. Changing vistas bring into view new delights and surprising elements that refresh the soul and caress the eyes. As one follows the serpentine walkways, one encounters elegant pavilions, sheltered walkways and a pagoda or two scattered amongst the greenery and the rocky landscape. Private courtyards alternate with water features and art in the form of pottery, sculpture and bas reliefs for an integral part of the experience. A wonderful place to visit indeed!

serenity |səˈrenitē| noun ( pl. -ties)
The state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled: An oasis of serenity amidst the bustling city.
• (His/Your, etc., Serenity) a title given to a reigning prince or similar dignitary.
ORIGIN late Middle English: From Old French serenite, from Latin serenitas, from serenus ‘clear, fair’.

Wednesday 13 April 2011


“The foliage has been losing its freshness through the month of August, and here and there a yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair amidst the locks of a beauty who has seen one season too many.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

The autumnal mood has certainly taken hold of me with all this gray rainy weather we have been having, so what better for Poetry Wednesday than the old favourite, possibly what is th most anthologised poem in the English Language:

John Keats (1795-1821)
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

And here is the poem read out also…

Monday 11 April 2011


“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The heavens opened up last night and we experienced the wettest April day in more than 30 years. Near-record rainfall fell on parts of Melbourne with the equivalent of a month’s rainfall in about 24 hours. Flash flooding, damage to buildings, roof leaks and disruptions to transport all meant that State Emergency Services personnel, police and fire services were kept very busy. More than 200 calls to emergency services were made last night during the storms that woke many up (including us!). The Eastern suburbs (especially Burwood, Doncaster and Nunawading) were hardest hit by the storms, but the inner city was also flooded in many areas. There were reports of drivers being rescued from cars trapped in flooded roads near Syndal Station in Glen Waverley.

Rail services were disrupted, as low lying stations and cuttings were inundated, with Windsor station tracks heavily flooded, disrupting rails services for about five hours as pumps had failed. Rail system faults also surfaced at various places and caused added disruptions and delays. My own train this morning at 6:31 am was delayed for about 15 minutes, which delay time was not unusual throughout the public transport system, with trams and buses also delayed. Needless to say that traffic was particularly heavy this morning. More showers and low temperatures are forecast for tomorrow. There has also been some snow falling in the Alpine regions, and predictions for a heavy winter with good snowfalls are making the skiers very happy.

Listening to the heavy rain last night while lying in my warm bed made me grateful and content that I was in a safe, dry and warm place, while many others were not so fortunate. How many homeless were coping with the deluge, how many people had damage to heir house to deal with, how many were rushing to their aid. A siren of an emergency vehicle passing by outside underlined this thought. The sound of the rain lulled me back to sleep only to wake up later during another period of heavy rainfall. I got up and looked outside. The rain fell in long sheets, highlighted by the streetlights. Big puddles of water on the road threw wave of water to the gutter as cars rushed by, their headlights showing the heavy rain falling. I felt cold and went back to bed falling asleep again, unaware of the extent of the damage caused by the heavy rain until the next day.

Today is the Hindu festival of Sri Ram Navami (राम नवमी), celebrating the birth of Lord Rama to King Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya of Ayodhya. Ram is the 7th incarnation of the Dashavatara of Vishnu. The festival falls on the ninth day of the “shukla paksha”, or bright phase of the moon, in the lunar month of Chaitra (April-May). The first day of Chaitra, or “Ugadi”, also marks the beginning of the Indian year.

Rama is one of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, and one of the two most popular, along with Krishna. Consequently, Ram Navami is widely celebrated, though not on the scale of festivals like Diwali or Dussehra. According to legend, Rama was born at noon. Rama is the epitome of perfection, the “uttama purusha”, fulfilling all his duties towards both family and subjects.

Rama was the first of the four sons of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. When it was time for Rama to be made crown-prince, his stepmother, Kaikeyi, got Dasharatha to send him to the forest for 14 years. His wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana also accompanied him. In the forest, Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. Rama, together with Hanuman and the monkey army, built a bridge to Lanka, killed Ravana, and brought Sita back.  It is believed that listening to the story of Rama cleanses the soul. Meditating on the noble Rama and chanting his name is believed to ease the pains of life and lead one to moksha, or liberation. It is also common practice to chant the name of Rama while rocking babies to sleep. 

Though Ram Navami is a major festival for Vaishnavites, it is widely celebrated by worshippers of Shiva, too. It is considered auspicious to undertake a fast on the day in the name of Rama. The more devout fast for nine days, from Ugadi to Ram Navami. The objective of the fast is not to ask for special favours of the deity but to seek perfection as a human being. Devotees perform elaborate “pujas” (devotions) and chant the name of Rama.

Temples of Rama have special services and bhajan sessions through the day.  One significant and popular element of the celebration is the Ramayana parayana, a discourse on the Ramayana, by a “pundit” or a professional story-teller. It usually lasts nine days, beginning on Ugadi and ending on Ram Navami. A skilled story-teller who can liven up the event by weaving in contemporary events attracts massive crowds.

Since Rama is also one of the most sung-about deities in Indian classical music and literature, week-long (and sometimes, month-long) musical programmes are organised.  Sacred places associated with Rama, like Ayodhya, Ujjain and Rameshwaram, draw tens of thousands of devotees. In Rameshwaram, thousands take a ritual bath in the sea before worshipping at the Ramanathaswamy temple.  Many places in North India host fairs in connection with the festival, culminating in spectacular fireworks on Ram Navami.

Sunday 10 April 2011


“If a man is not rising upwards to be an angel, depend upon it, he is sinking downwards to be a devil.” - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Yesterday afternoon we watched a strange film. It is one of these relatively lately-spawned movies derived from obscure comic books, that have had or still have a cult following. It was Michael J. Bassett’s 2009 film “Solomon Kane”. Solomon Kane, the titular hero, is gaunt and dressed in black, with a gloomy demeanour wearing his trademark slouch hat. He carries a versatile sixteenth century arsenal, usually bladed weapons, often a rapier, and at least two old fashioned pistols. Kane wanders the world to vanquish all the evil he encounters in an attempt to regain his lost soul. The character was the creation of author Robert E. Howard, and the first story was published in 1928. Howard is more famous for creating the character Conan the Barbarian.

The movie starred James Purefoy in the title role, Max von Sydow as his father, Rachel Hurd-Wood as Meredith, the slight romantic interest (more so, the damsel in distress). Pete Postlethwaite as Meredith’s father, and a host of other actors hardly recognisable under tons of make-up, latex, prostheses and other monster-making devices. Michael J. Bassett also wrote the script and if the film starts with a spoken introduction by the director/writer, I tend to groan…

The film is very definitely made for fans and cult followers, and is of marginal interest to the casual film-goer. It comes with a warning of graphic violence, which is indeed well-placed. If slashing people’s heads off and curtailing of other bodily parts with rapiers is your thing this is the film for you, otherwise if you are fainthearted, stay well away! There was too much blood and gore and violence for our taste, but that is given with the gothic/heroic type of genre that this film represents. On reflection there were quite a lot of axes in the film as well, and they got a lot of use…

There is some very good cinematography in the film, especially in the quieter moments. The music tends to be generic, but at least it is not intrusive. The performances are generally OK, with some very good cameo roles (Max von Sydow is such an example), and poor Pete Postlethwaite, a very good character actor, gives his all in one of his last film roles before his death in 2011. Rachel Hurd-Wood does a good job in looking fragile and delicately beautiful, just the thing for a damsel in distress. James Purefoy looks stern and suitably heroic when called upon to do so, doing as much he could with the (mostly) nonsensical script.

The film could have actually worked really well if the basics of the plot were retained, but the supernatural elements were eliminated. However, that would not be Solomon Kane and thousands of fans would have been disappointed. If you are a fan, no doubt you have seen this film and probably enjoyed it. If you have a good stomach for graphic violence and like supernatural themes, then you will enjoy the film. If you are a bit lily-livered, stay well away. Definitely a dick flick this Movie Monday…


“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand.” - Leonardo da Vinci

We had a wonderful Sunday today. The heating was on as it was quite cold outside, and we had a nice late breakfast with classical music and warm toast that made the house cosy. As the sun peeped out of the clouds now and then, we decided to venture out despite the weather report predicting showers and a cool day with a maximum temperature of 18˚C expected. We dressed appropriately and after some vacillation ended up going to Yarra Bend Park. This is the largest area of unspoilt native bushland left in inner Melbourne. It comprises 260 hectares of park only 4 km from the city centre with a large river flowing through it is something that few large cities can boast. This is about a kilometer from our house so it is handy to visit.

Fortunately the weather held for some time and we were able to walk along the river for a couple of hours, taking pictures, looking at the bushland, observing the many boats and canoes in the river and taking lots of beautiful photos. One of the highlights was having a look at the bat colony, which numbers about 12,000. They were all concentrated in a relatively small area of the park, hanging like furry/leathery fruits from the topmost branches of the gum trees. At about noon as we were going back to our car the showers started and thankfully we didn’t get wet, but also enjoyed the outing.

As the day was rather bucolic, here is a painting in a similar vein. It is Peter Paul Rubens’ (1577 – 1640) “Milkmaids with Cattle in a Landscape” c.1618.

Rubens was a Flemish painter and diplomat, who was educated in languages but nevertheless is most remembered as an accomplished baroque master. After apprenticeships in Antwerp, he was admitted to the painters’ guild in 1598. He went to Italy in 1600 and until 1608 worked for the duke of Mantua, who in 1603 sent him to Spain to present paintings and other gifts to Philip III, the first of many diplomatic missions he would perform for various courts over three decades. The enormous fame he would achieve made him welcome at royal courts, and sovereigns often discussed affairs of state while they sat for portraits.

Returning to the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium) in 1608, he was appointed court painter to the Spanish Habsburg regents, and over the next decade produced numerous altarpieces. He was a devout Catholic and became the Counter-Reformation’s chief artistic proponent in northern Europe. In 1620 he was contracted to design 39 ceiling paintings for the Jesuit church, to be completed by his assistants, including the young Anthony Van Dyck. In France he painted 21 large canvases for Marie de Médicis and a tapestry cycle for Louis XIII; for Britain his Allegory of Peace and War (1629 – 30) commemorated the success of his own diplomatic efforts to end hostilities between Britain and Spain, and he decorated the royal Banqueting House for Charles I; in Spain he did more than 60 oil sketches for Philip IV’s hunting lodge.

Both kings (Charles and Philip) knighted him. His output was quite enormous, but he had a large studio full of apprentices and assistants who aided him in his work. Rubens was the greatest exponent of Baroque painting’s dynamism, vitality, and sensual exuberance. His profound stylistic influence extended over three centuries. His paintings often depicted religious and mythical heroes in realistic and exuberant poses, but he is equally respected for his landscapes and portraits. He is considered one of the greats in Western art history.