Saturday 25 June 2011


“America is my country and Paris is my hometown.” - Gertrude Stein

A colleague left yesterday for a trip to France and it was his last day at work before his holiday. We talked about all sorts of things and I recommended a host of things to do and see in various places. Paris of course is a favourite… Many other friends and acquaintances are also leaving for trips overseas at about this time. It is a good time to escape to the summery northern hemisphere just as winter is setting in here. I felt a little envious as it looks like this winter we shall not be travelling very far at all.

Writing about France and Paris just now made me feel very nostalgic. We have been to France about a dozen times and enjoyed every single trip. We have stayed in Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux, Arles, Toulon, Avignon, Nîmes, Strasbourg. Have driven through the Côte d’ Azur, Provence, Lorraine and Alsace, and of course the Île de France. French food and French music are just two of the wonderful things one can enjoy there (not to mention the art, history, culture, scenery, architecture…). We have many favourite French singers, most of them hailing from the wonderful years of the sixties. One of them is Enrico Macias.

Enrico Macias is a singer/composer who was born in Constantine, Algeria in 1938, to a Spanish father and a French mother. He migrated to France in 1961, during the Algerian war of independence. Shortly after arriving in Paris, he composed a song about leaving his country. The song “Adieu, Mon Pays” (Goodbye My Country) eventually became his first major hit, not only in France, but around the world . The lyrics describe the emotional difficulties experienced by those who have been forced to leave their homelands, families and friends.

Enrico Macias as a singer, composer and guitarist, together with his low-key charismatic personality and rich romantic vocal tone, crosses international boundaries. He is one of those singers one can listen to and connect with, and it is not even necessary to understand the language of the songs in order to fully appreciate the extraordinary feeling, power and emotion of Enrico Macias. Besides French, he has recorded in several other languages, including Italian, Spanish, Hebrew and English. In addition to his 40 plus years of artistic career, he has actively been working towards contributing to world peace and the protection of human rights.

Here is a great song of his, “Paris, you have taken me into your arms”.

Paris, tu m’as pris dans tes bras

J’ allais le long des rues
Comme un enfant perdu
J’ etais seul j’ avais froid
Toi Paris, tu m’ as pris dans tes bras.

Je ne la reverrai pas
La fille qui m’ a souri
Elle s’ est seulement retournée et voila
Mais dans ses yeux j’ ai compris
Que dans la ville de pierre
Ou l’ on se sent etranger
Il y a toujours du bonheur dans l’ air
Pour ceux qui veulent s’ aimer
Et le coeur de la ville
A battu sous mes pas
De Passy a Belleville
Toi Paris, tu m’ as pris dans tes bras

Le long des Champs Elysιes
Les lumieres qui viennent la
Quand j’ ai croise les terrasses des cafes
Elles m’ ont tendu leurs fauteuils
Saint-Germain m’ a dit bonjour
Rue Saint-Benoit, rue Dufour
J’ ai fait danser pendant toute la nuit
Les filles les plus jolies
Au petit matin bleme
Devant le dernier creme
J’ ai ferme mes yeux la
Toi Paris, tu m’ as pris dans tes bras

Sur les quais de l’ Ile Saint-Louis
Des pecheurs, des amoureux
Je les enviais mais la Seine m’ a dit
Viens donc t’ asseoir avec eux
Je le sais aujourd’ hui
Nous sommes deux amis
Merci du fond de moi
Toi Paris, je suis bien dans tes bras
Toi Paris, je suis bien dans tes bras
Toi Paris, je suis bien dans tes bras
Toi Paris, je suis bien dans tes bras.

And my translation:

Paris, you have taken me into your arms

I was walking through the streets
Like a lost child
I was alone and I was cold
But you, Paris, took me in your arms.

The girl who smiled at me –
I’ll not see her again;
She only turned around and smiled, and there it was:
In her eyes I understood
That in this city of stone,
Where one feels foreign,
There is always joy in the air
For those who want to love.

And the heart of the city,
Was beating under my feet
From Passy to Belleville,
You Paris, you ‘ve taken me into your arms

Along the Champs Elysées
In the lights that come shine;
When I crossed the terraces of cafes
They offered their seats.
Saint-Germain said hello to me
I danced all night
On Saint-Benoit St, on Dufour St
The prettiest girls
From early morning’s pale light
To the last gleam of evening,
Till I have closed my eyes,
You Paris, you taken me into your arms.

On the quays of the Saint-Louis Isle,
There are fishermen and there are lovers.
I envied them, but the River Seine said to me:
“Come and sit down with them and be part of it all”.
I know, Paris, that today
We are friends!
I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Paris, I feel so good in your embrace!

Friday 24 June 2011


“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: It is the time for home.” - Edith Sitwell

Although it was a mild day today, and we even had some sunshine, I did not get much of a chance to enjoy it as I was very busy at work. I spent the whole day in meetings, on the telephone, talking to staff, and answering a bumper number of emails. By the time I got home, it was already dark and it had started getting cooler. It was good to enter a warm house and be greeted by the aroma of dinner cooking.

There is nothing better during winter than a hot soup. It warms one up, revives and refreshes while being tasty and nutritious. Here is a recipe today that foots that bill very well. A classic Potato and Leek Soup, also called “Vichyssoise”. There is much debate as to whether this is a French or an American recipe, and the battle of origins across the Atlantic still rages!

Jules Gouffé (1807 – 1877) was a renowned French chef and pâtissier. He created a recipe for a hot potato and leek soup, publishing a version of it in his “Royal Cookery” of 1869. He was nicknamed: L’ apôtre de la cuisine décorative (The apostle of decorative cooking). He had a deep influence on the evolution of French gastronomy by gathering an immense knowledge which he wrote down in his Livre de Cuisine and his Livre de Pâtisserie.

His learning began under his father’s supervision who owned a pâtisserie in Paris. Gouffé became Antonin Carême’s pupil at the age of 16. He remained with this teacher for seven years. In 1840 Gouffé opened a shop in Paris, which would soon gain fame. He sold the shop in 1855 and then became inactive.  In 1867 he accepted an offer from Alexandre Dumas and the Baron Brisse to become chef de bouche of the Jockey-Club de Paris. While he held this position he began writing books that would ensure him renown and posterity. Most of his works have been translated into English by his brother, Alphonse Gouffé, Head Pastry Cook to Queen Victoria.

Julia Child maintains that Vichyssoise is an American invention and Louis Diat, a chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City, is most often credited with its popularisation. In 1950, Diat told New Yorker magazine: “In the summer of 1917, when I had been at the Ritz seven years, I reflected upon the potato and leek soup of my childhood which my mother and grandmother used to make. I recalled how during the summer my older brother and I used to cool it off by pouring in cold milk and how delicious it was. I resolved to make something of the sort for the patrons of the Ritz.”

The same article explains that Diat’s soup was first titled crème vichyssoise glacée. Diat named it after Vichy, a town not far from his home town of Montmarault, France. This is the classic iced version. I must admit that I am no fan of cold soup so my sympathies lie with the original hot French version.

Hot Potato and Leek Soup

2 onions
1 large leek
3 spring onions
2 tbsp butter
1.5 litres chicken stock
3 large potatoes
8 tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp mace
8 tsp chives
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
500 mL milk

  • Peel and roughly chop the onions.
  • Trim off all the dark green part of the leek and spring onions and discard.
  • Split the remaining part of the leeks and spring onions in half from top to bottom.
  • Carefully wash out any mud and dirt (otherwise they are gritty) and finely shred the leek and spring onions.
  • Peel the potatoes and cut them into cubes.
  • Gently fry the onions and leek in the butter until they are soft.
  • Add the stock and potatoes. Simmer the soup for an hour and blend it to a puree.
  • Add the milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg and mace.
  • Simmer the soup for another twenty minutes.
  • Ladle the soup into eight small bowls.
  • Snip the chives finely.
  • Add a tablespoon of heavy cream and a teaspoon of chives to each bowl.
  • Serve hot!

Thursday 23 June 2011


“When we pray to God we must be seeking nothing – nothing at all.” - Saint Francis of Assisi

Every morning I commute to work on the train. I catch an early train, which means that I am usually in at my desk just after 7:00 a.m. It takes a little will power during the winter months as I get up in the middle of the dark night, it seems. The train is surprisingly full, one of the benefits of being an early bird is that provided your train journey is concluded by 7:00 a.m., it is free. The other benefit of course, is that one can do so much between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. when most other people get here. No distracting phone calls, no people knocking on your office doors, no meetings, no constant stream of emails that need to be looked at and acted upon.

An extra treat I sometimes allow myself occasionally is to stop for breakfast at one of the cafés in the lanes between Flinders St Station and work, which is further north. Today was a fine and mild morning and the warm glow of lights and the enticing aroma of freshly roasted and ground coffee from an open café was too much to resist. Many other people had the same idea as me and the patrons were not only commuters, but also many city residents who come down from their apartments for breakfast in one of these cafés, which provide an embarrassing choice of ambience, cuisine, décor and prices.

The clatter of cutlery and crockery, the whoosh of the steam and the bubbling of the milk as it is being frothed, the conversations from adjoining tables and the orders being given and acknowledged make for a particularly vital and invigorating mélange of sound that serves as a soundtrack for the rich visual stimuli. A mixture of people in all shapes and sizes, some happy some melancholy, the ugly and the beautiful, the lonely and the gregarious, the newspaper readers and the people watchers (like me!). The array of breakfast options being prepared and handed out is a delight to watch. The frugal toast or lone muffin, the omelettes, scrambled eggs, or the full cooked breakfasts such as bacon and eggs with grilled tomatoes and sausages, the sweet tooth choice of sticky waffles and syrup and there is always of course the healthy selection of cereals and fruit, muesli of various kinds.

Coffee is a Melbourne speciality and I am always amazed at the huge variety of types that one can choose from. Fully caffeinated to decaffeinated, light, medium and dark roasts, rich blends of beans to pure, single provenance pedigrees. Your choice of milk: Full cream, reduced fat, cow’s, goat’s or soy. Cappuccino, latte, macchiato, affogato, frappé, espresso, long black, short black, milk coffee, mocha chocolate, and the list goes on! And don’t think that the tea drinkers or herbal beverage consumers are hard done by either. Every kind of tea you can imagine, as well as the most exotic herbal infusions can be had as a matter of course with your waiter not blinking an eyelid while you give your pernickety order.

The morning papers are there to be read and if catching up with latest news is not your cup of tea first thing, there are always the crossword puzzle pages to hone one’s mind and ready it for the demands of the work day. “The Age” is the newspaper par excellence of Melbourne and its Cryptic Crossword is something that I am partial to in the morning. One is amused, somewhat challenged and greatly satisfied as the last clue falls into place and the puzzle is completed, just as one is swallowing the last mouthful of coffee.

As I continue up Elizabeth St, after having my breakfast (a two-shot latte with a blueberry muffin), it is advisable to walk briskly and work some of those calories off! Today on impulse I entered St Francis’s Church at the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Sts. This is Victoria’s first Catholic church, built between 1841 and 1845. I was greatly surprised at the large number of people inside, praying. Perhaps penance after a sin of gluttony on the early morning breakfast table? Or maybe asking for divine intervention in an untoward turn of events in one’s personal or professional life? An early morning routine for many, an act of devotion and faith that needs to be formalised in such a setting…

The church has a beautiful Lady Chapel on its Western side and in the early morning darkness it is an almost magical place. The gaudy colours of the frescoes are toned down, the flickering of the devotional candles provide a beautiful soft light and the quiet of the hour is conducive to reflection and meditation. One may sit down and think, contemplate, pray, muse and ponder on all sorts of things. The most earnest prayers are not those that ask for something, nor those requests for divine intervention to resolve problems that we have caused for ourselves and only we alone can resolve. They are those prayers uttered in the course of self-examination and reflection on one’s status quo. Those that are the result of a self-judgment of our actions and their motives. Those that come after an evaluation of how seemly, how proper, how decent and honourable our existence is. Those prayers that allow our conscience to come forth and converse with us in a frank and open manner.

The rest of the walk to work in the dawn light was concluded in a positive frame of mind and in a mood that was cheerful and bright. One’s day can only go well after such an early jaunt through the City streets, with two stops of such different character…

prayer |pre(ə)r| noun
A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship: I'll say a prayer for him | The peace of God is ours through prayer.
• (prayers) A religious service, esp. a regular one, at which people gather in order to pray together: 500 people were detained as they attended Friday prayers.
• An earnest hope or wish: It is our prayer that the current progress on human rights will be sustained.
Not have a prayer informal: Have no chance at all of succeeding at something: He doesn't have a prayer of toppling Tyson.
ORIGIN Middle English: From Old French preiere, based on Latin precarius ‘obtained by entreaty,’ from prex, prec- ‘prayer.’

Tuesday 21 June 2011


“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” - Eric Schmidt

I came across an interesting website that features up to date world Internet Usage, Population Statistics and Internet Market Research Data, for over 233 individual countries and world regions. There are some amazing figures that are published there, including the number of users and the penetration rate in the population.

For example, in the USA there are 239,893,600 Internet users as of June 2010, which represents a 77.3% penetration; while in Australia, there are 17,033,380 users as of March/11, with a 78.3% penetration. Contrast this with Ethiopia where there are 445,400 Internet users as of June 2010, representing 0.3% of the population. In terms of the highest penetration, Iceland boasts 301,600 Internet users as of June 2010, but has the highest penetration worldwide at 97.6%. In terms of the highest number of users, China has 477,000,000 Internet users as of March 2011, with only 35.7% penetration. India is an interesting case with 81,000,000 Indians being internet users, yet this representing only 7% of the Indian population.

Nevertheless, the Internet is a busy place! It is interesting to contemplate that in 60 seconds, Google will receive 700,000 queries around the world, 168,000,000 emails will be sent and 98,000 tweets will be posted on Twitter. 13,000 iPhone Apps are downloaded every 60 seconds while in 60 seconds there will have been more than 370,000 voice calls on Skype. It is estimated that on 31st March 2011, there were 2,095,006,005 Internet users worldwide.

It is encouraging to think that from a tool that was initially developed and used for military intelligence in the 1960s, the world wide web in its present form is an indispensable part of the lives of billions of people worldwide.

As it is Poetry Wednesday today, here is an amusing poem found (where else, on the internet) about social networking and blogging:

Community Creatures

A colony of bloggers secure in their topic
ranging in size from massive to microscopic.
The lesser ones surround and support the great
who set the direction for the others to debate.

A flock of forums grazing on knowledge
their shepherds guiding them to fresh foliage.
Free to chew the cud and relax within their walls
trusting the guardians to banish the jackals.

A hydra, a multi-headed oracle, it must be a wiki
tackling all problems from the simple to the tricky.
The multiple heads give it so much knowledge you see.
The only problem is... they do not always agree.

A mob of social bookmarkers, much like meerkats
take turns looking out and deciding what's good to peer at.
Hoping none of the sentinels is actually a pretender
directing them all according to their own agenda.

In the distance, a herd of social networkers
dashing all over the place. There's no room for shirkers.
Without any shepherds they all, every day,
have a role to play in keeping predators at bay.

©Adam Rulli-Gibbs 2007

Monday 20 June 2011


“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.” - Victor Hugo

As we approach Winter Solstice in the southern hemisphere (which is to be June 22, 3:16am), the darkness reaches its peak with the longest night of the year and the shortest day. On this day, the Earth’s south pole is tilted as far away from the Sun as it will get. The Sun rises north of east, sets north of west and reaches 28 1/2° above the horizon at noon. It felt like it today with darkness being absolute when I left home this morning and darkness again greeting me as I came back home.

Last night we had a severe storm in Melbourne with high speed winds (reaching 100 km/hr in some areas), much rain and coldness. There was damage to property with some houses even losing their roof in the high wind, with the emergency services rushing to help. Fortunately our house was spared but it was a wild night. Lying in bed and listening to the wind and pelting rain outside was quite sobering when one also thought of the people whose house was damaged, or even worse of those homeless people that had to brave such a terrible night out there somewhere. It is a very heavy winter we are experiencing this year and the cheery voices on breakfast radio telling us that the snowfields are having good snowfalls are not really providing much relief or reassurance to those who are suffering the worse of the wild weather.

This morning there was news of more disruptions to flights in southern Australia because of a new ash cloud from the Chilean volcanic eruption drifting over Australia. Many local and international flights were cancelled and thousands of people had their travel schedules disrupted, being stranded in strange places. Once again the weather would not have made a holiday of their delay.

Wild Weather

The wind is howling and the rain is falling down;
It looks as though the world might end tonight – outside.
But inside our cosy nest, I’m warm as toast
And in your arms I’ll brave even judgment day, content.

The air is freezing and the hail is pelting the roof now
Its sound like the shots on some desperate battlefield.
We sip our wine beside the fire that crackles merrily
And while we kiss, the infernal noise could well be music.

The night is dark and winter’s might manifest tonight,
The longest night that looks as though it never will dawn.
I look into the twin suns of your eyes, their sparkle
Enough to light my darknesses and warm my winters.

A winter’s night, the darkness long and cold;
The world outside a harsh and hostile place.
In the haven of your love, your warm embrace
Carries me to a paradise where light and hope
Will annul all wild weather that rages outside.

Sunday 19 June 2011


“His older self had taught his younger self a language which the older self knew because the younger self, after being taught, grew up to be the older self and was, therefore, capable of teaching.” - Robert A. Heinlein

At the weekend we watched the Robert Schwentke 2009 film “The Time Traveller’s Wife”. This was quite a popular novel and subsequently an equally popular movie, however, we had neither read the book nor seen the movie at the height of their popularity. The movie was on special at our DVD store so we got it and watched it to find out what all the fuss was about. A friend said that it was better to read the (500+ page) book as it was excellent and the movie had left her disappointed as much in the novel was missing, even what she thought were essential characters and plot twists. We nevertheless decided to watch the movie rather than read the book. Sure enough, classic books often make terrible movies, but so many classic movies have been made from good books…

First, this is not a science fiction movie despite its title and despite the fact that the hero is a time traveller. The film is a bitter-sweet romantic tale that one would class as a typical chick-flick (we seem to be watching an awful lot of these lately…). Second, I confess to having an antipathy towards Eric Bana, the male lead, however, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and persuaded myself to watch the film with an open mind. Third, the movie used the time travel as a metaphor for separation and its influence on a relationship. This I found gimmicky and a good storyteller would have found a more plausible reason for the separation without influencing the gist of the story, which really isn’t about time travel or science fiction.

In short, the plot has as follows: Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) has a genetic abnormality that causes him to travel through time unpredictably and without any conscious control of it. Adding to this embarrassment is the indignity of his clothes not travelling with him so he materialises in the past and future without a stitch on (this was comic relief, I guess?). Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams) is the love of his life and eventually becomes his wife, hence the title. Henry’s escapades through time are often dangerous, terrifying and sometimes life-threatening as he ends up in unknown places and times. Although Henry is a mild-mannered librarian with an alcohol problem he manages keep himself in shape and has some interesting survival skills such as pick-pocketing, street fighting and picking locks, all of which stand him in good stead in travels. After variable periods, he always goes back to his “present time” but for some reason (he sometimes) cannot influence his future and past even though he knows about it and has opportunity to do so. At other times he can influence it and does so (this is a nagging inconsistency). When he is 28, he meets 20-yr old Clare Abshire, whom he doesn’t know. She knows him however, as he visited her on many occasions ever since she was a child of 6 years. His love blossoms (hers is a given) and leads to their marriage even though it is interrupted by all sorts of trials and tribulations related to Henry’s time travels. One of his trips, however, will have profound and tragic consequences…

Superficially, this looks like a good movie but the schmaltz factor is high. It definitely pulls all stops out to tug the heart strings. However, I felt that it was all too strained, despite the good performances of both leads and the supporting actors – (OK, Eric Bana was sometimes a trifle wooden, but I have confessed my prejudice, so take this comment with a grain of salt and judge for yourself if you see the film). There was much repetition in the film and plot really didn’t go anywhere much (it was always in the same place but in the past, present and future). The strength of the storytelling was meant to reside in the emotional vicissitudes of the characters and the tale of their persistent and strengthening love even in the face of enforced absences and the unpredictability of Henry’s absences.

I think this is the sort of film that you will dislike or like, there is not much middle ground. I overall disliked, especially on reflection. The unfortunate thing is that I do not wish to read the novel now, despite being told that it is so much better than the film. This is the trap that many an author has fallen into: Allow your book to be made into a movie and watch your book die…


“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” - Clarence Budington Kelland

Pietro Ligari (Ardenno, February 18, 1686 - Sondrio, April 6, 1752) was an Italian painter of the classical era. He was born into a middle-class family, the Del Pelo, and took on the name of Ligari from a small hamlet near the town of Sondrio where the family lived. Pietro Ligari can be described as the greatest artist of the eighteenth century of the Valtellina region (the small Alpine valley on the border between Lombardy and Switzerland). At twelve years of age he went to study in Rome, where he was a pupil of Lazzaro Baldi, a follower of Pietro da Cortona, and while training there he absorbed the influences of Baroque painting.

After a trip during which he moved to various locations in Central Italy and Venice, Ligari settled first in Milan in 1710, and then finally in 1727 in Valtellina, where most of his works are to be found. There are many of these, with a significant collection of drawings and several paintings of his children Cesare and Victoria, who also became painters. Most of his oeuvre can be seen in the Valtellina Museum of History and Art.

Among the most representative of his art include “The Baptism of the Indian Princess” painted in 1717 for the Oratorio di Sondrio Palazzo Sertoli, a cycle of paintings and frescoes for the Palazzo Salis in Chur. While there he also oversaw the design of the Italian garden. He completed two altar pieces and the decoration of the apse and the apse of the Morbegno College.

Ligari was also an agronomist and architect (College of Sondrio, Lanzada Ossuary and the church, now destroyed, the bridge in Morbegno Ganda), but also dabbled in making clocks.

This is a painting of the artist’s father (Oil on canvas, 98 x 70 cm), currently in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan. The artist’s consummate skill in handling colour and form is shown in this dark and pensive portrait, which is not dated. The middle-aged man depicted here looks to the right with a brooding, concentrated gaze although his thoughts seem to be much further away than the object of his attention. There is respect, love and affection in this portrait by Ligari and one is conscious of the special relationship between father and son that must have existed here.

A very apt choice for Art Sunday today, as in the USA it is Fathers’ Day. Happy Fathers’ Day to all my readers in USA!