Saturday 8 October 2011


“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” – Aristotle

A quiet Saturday today with the usual chores, shopping and then back home for some rest and relaxation. Certainly much better than last Saturday! We had some rain, so it was good to stay inside and enjoy being homebodies, surrounded by familiar things. We need so little to feel happy and content…

Life is a gift and we should revel in it, making the most of every second! For Song Saturday, let’s go back to 1983 and the Eurovision Song Contest, to "Si La Vie Est Cadeau" the winning song from Luxembourg, sung in French by the lovely Corinne Hermès. Music by Jean-Pierre Millers and lyrics by Alain Garcia.

If Life is a Gift

We, we were immersed in blue,
A summer sky, a transparent ocean,
We, we were two,
And while we loved each other, time stood still.

But time betrayed us,
So why did you promise me the whole world?
Our love would have been enough,
I didn’t want an imaginary happiness…

If life is a gift,
A gift given, a gift taken back, a stolen gift,
Take love as a gift,
A gift given, a gift taken back, a stolen gift,
Happiness doesn’t last long…

We, “we” meant the child that I wanted
To give you as gift in Springtime.

But time has all the rights in the world,
So why did you promise me the whole world,
And a child that was never born?
Today my only happiness is an imaginary one.

If life is a gift,
A gift given, a gift taken back, a stolen gift,
Take love as a gift,
A gift given, a gift taken back, a stolen gift,
Happiness doesn’t last long…

Thursday 6 October 2011


“Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses, A box where sweets compacted lie” - George Herbert

I have been attending a two-day workshop on occupational health and safety at work, organised by our Human Resources Department. I must say that it was well run and had very good presenters, making it quite agreeable to attend and all of the people present were engaged and participating well in the proceedings. Everyone learnt something and some of the topics raised some vigorous discussion. In the past, I have attended some very dry and dull such workshops which if nothing worse, tended to put attendees to sleep. So it was a good couple of sessions, but nevertheless quite exhausting and the work does tend to bank up back at the coalface.

This evening I came home a little earlier than usual and one good thing about daylight saving time is that it does not get dark until much later in the evening. I took the opportunity to do some work in the garden (gently and very cautiously as my back still aches somewhat) and breathe in some fresh air. The garden looks beautiful now, with most of our roses having started to bloom in earnest, and many of the mid-Spring flowers putting on quite a display. The fragrance of the grapefruit, lemon and orange blossoms was overwhelming, while the native frangipani contributed its own distinctive perfume to the air. The irises are gorgeous at the moment, and the stocks also give out their own heady aroma, as are the lilacs, the carnations and the robinias. Many of the summer annuals such as pansies, marigolds, violas, petunias, daisies and lobelias are now coming into wild bloom. It is a lovely time of the year.

As the weather gets warmer, a greater variety of fresh vegetables are coming into season and one can find them easily at the greengrocers. It’s wonderful to begin using them in seasonal recipes. Apparently, the greater the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet, and the more seasonal their consumption is, then the more we lower our predisposition to gastrointestinal cancers. One thing that is seldom missing from our table is seasonal salads. This evening we had a delicious Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum, also known by its Italian name finocchio) and apple salad.

Fennel is much like a delicately licorice-flavoured celery. Crisp and crunchy with a distinctive flavour when raw. The inflated leaf bases that form a bulb-like structure above ground are used. Choose large, firm, crisp fennel with creamy white bulbs and bright green fronds that still look fresh and are not wilted. Fennel will keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, but it’s best eaten fresh. Remove the fronds (reserving them for use as a herb or garnish) and discard the tough stalks, leaving the tender bulb-like structure to use. Trim a fairly thick slice from the root end and discard. Slice the bulb in half. Slice or chop as desired, or as specified in the recipe.

Fennel and Apple Salad

3 Fennel bulbs
2 small, fresh and crisp peeled and cored Granny Smith apples
A handful of chives
1/2 tsp finely chopped mixed herbs
A handful of chopped walnuts
1/2 cup of home-made mayonnaise
1/2 cup of olive oil vinaigrette
1/2 tbsp mustard powder
Salt, pepper

  • Grate finely the fennel and apples, placing them in a colander over a bowl.
  • Press the fluid out of the fennel and apples, discard the fluid.
  • Place the drained grated fennel and apples in a salad bowl and mix well, fluffing up
  • Add the chives, mixed herbs and mix in well.
  • Place the mayonnaise in a small bowl, add the salt, pepper and mustard and mix well. Add the vinaigrette little by little until incorporated into the mayonnaise, to form a smooth dressing.
  • Pour dressing over the salad and mix well. Some more mayonnaise may be added if the salad looks a little dry.
  • Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the top and garnish with a couple of fennel fronds.


“I want to put a ding in the universe.” - Steve Jobs

Pancreatic cancer is one of the worse that can afflict the human body. As the pancreas is deep inside the body, and because it is a rather loose organ surrounded by a thin capsule, any tumour that begins in this tissue tends to grow quickly and spread widely before it causes symptoms. Generally, by the time the cancer causes symptoms, it has already spread to other organs (typically the liver, first) and it is very difficult to treat effectively. Add to that that a great many of these cancers occur in people with no predisposing factors to cancer, so it is difficult to predict who will be affected. True enough, some patients have a history of smoking or drinking (doing both makes it much more likely to develop the cancer) and some others have a history of chronic pancreatic inflammatory disease or of gallstones. However, most pancreatic cancers occur out of the blue in people with no likely pre-existing causative factor.

Steve Jobs (February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011) had pancreatic cancer for seven years. He was classed as a long-term survivor, given that most people with this type of cancer die within one to two years of diagnosis. He battled long and hard, he was given both surgical and medical treatments – during his time at Apple, Jobs took medical leave three times, underwent surgery in 2004 and received liver transplant surgery in 2009. In August this year Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple handing over the reins to Timothy Cook, who was at that time, Chief Operating Officer. For a man suffering from such a terrible, grave disease and having undergone such drastic treatments, it is surprising that he worked so long and hard, almost until his death. Such a man showing such behaviour at a critical time in his life, tells us something about how much Steve jobs loved what he did. He worked with gusto and enjoyed his work, something evident from the Apple new product presentations that he did.

Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco and he was adopted by Californians Paul and Clara Jobs. He never met his biological parents and knew nothing about them until he was 27 years old. His biological father, Syrian immigrant Abdulfattah John Jandali, apparently sent him birthday cards every year. Jobs had to be given up for adoption after Mr Jandali’s girlfriend at the time (an American graduate student and now speech pathologist) refused to marry him.

Steve Jobs was a college dropout, leaving Reed College in Portland, Oregon, after a single semester, but continued to take classes, including a calligraphy class. This, he cited as the reason Macintosh computers were designed with multiple available fonts on the system. After returning from a spiritual trek to India in 1974, he worked as a technician for video game pioneer Atari and joined a club of computer hobbyists with Steve Wozniak, a fellow northern California college dropout. Wozniak’s home-made computer drew attention from other enthusiasts, but Jobs saw its potential far beyond the geeky hobbyists of the time. The pair started Apple Computer Inc in Jobs’ parents’ garage in 1976.

According to Wozniak, Jobs suggested the name after visiting an “apple orchard” that Wozniak said was actually a commune.  Though he did not invent the first personal computer, Jobs certainly made them easier to use. His vision of simple, effective technology came to define the computer industry.  Before the Apple II, one of the first successful mass-produced home computers, machines were typically clunky wooden boxes encased in metal.  With its sleek design the Apple II – encased in plastic – went on sale in April 1977, and earned the company $600 million in 1981, a $598 million increase on the previous year’s sales. The rest is history.

iPhones, iPods, iPads, MacBooks, MacBook Air, a long list of revolutionary products that changed the world and made Apple Macintosh a household name. Jobs created a powerful brand, but more importantly, he created a “lovemark”.  Lovemarks transcend brands. They deliver beyond your expectations of great performance. Like great brands, they sit on top of high levels of respect - but there the similarities end. Lovemarks reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can’t live without. Ever.  Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a Lovemark away and people will protest its absence. Lovemarks are a relationship, not a mere transaction. You don’t just buy Lovemarks, you embrace them passionately. That’s why you never want to let go.  Put simply, Lovemarks inspire: “Loyalty Beyond Reason”.

It is perhaps apt to end with some of Steve Jobs’ words. These come from the commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 - his theme: “How To Live Before You Die”.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Vale, Steve Jobs!

Macintosh |ˈmakənˌtäSH| noun
A line of personal computers from Apple Inc. Introduced in 1984, the Macintosh computer was the first commercially successful personal computer to use a graphical user interface (GUI) and a mouse instead of a command-line interface.
ORIGIN: The Macintosh project started in the late 1970s with Jef Raskin, an Apple employee, who envisioned an easy-to-use, low-cost computer for the average consumer. It was named after his favorite type of apple, the McIntosh.

Wednesday 5 October 2011


“We generate our own environment. We get exactly what we deserve. How can we resent a life we've created ourselves? Who's to blame, who's to credit but us? Who can change it, anytime we wish, but us?” - Richard Bach

Every week, Magpie Tales publishes a picture and stimulates the creativity of a group of people that use this image to write a short piece, prose or poetry, inspired by it. This week, the image is both fanciful and menacing, playful and serious. This week’s Elephant with Wings looked firstly amusing and whimsical to me, but as I came back and kept looking at it for a couple of days it became ominous and dire. The cute yet improbable flying pachyderm (echoes of Dumbo!) was suddenly transformed into a calamitous admonishment about the destruction of the environment, increasing pollution, nuclear leaks, fallout, mutants and destruction of our planet. The grey-blue skies and sea, the smoking cooling towers of the power plant, the metal derricks of technological progress, and the low-hanging smog made of the elephant an evil portent…

When Elephants will Fly

My genome hurts,
The water burns,
And air corrodes my tissues.

My body shrieks,
Each cell distraught,
As sea turns to acid biting into beach.

My flesh creeps,
And cancers rage,
The wars within diminishing me.

My eyes extinguished,
My touch long-lost,
With oily residue polluting my pores.

Plutonium coats the sand, and cobalt paints the sky;
Iodine seas scintillate and thorium pebbles glow.
Each rasping breath begins a murderous clone of cells within me,
Rampant mutations that make me a freak in a sideshow.

My back sprouts wings,
My bones dissolve,
And thick skin turns to mush.

My life shortens,
My brain is porous
As radioactivity punctures me.

My world is ending,
My dreams defiled
The downfall of my species imminent.

My tribe extinct,
My peers unrecognisable
In monstrous transformations.

Uranium stars and curium moon that poisonously glow,
A rapidly burning palladium sun that turns all to ash.
Each step a torture, each touch an agony,
Liberation only in death, when elephants will fly.

Monday 3 October 2011


“If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.” - St. Francis of Assisi

Today is World Animal Day first commemorated in 1931 at a convention of ecologists in Florence as a way of highlighting the plight of endangered species. Since then it has grown to encompass all kinds of animal life and is widely celebrated in countries throughout the world. It is intended to be a day of awareness, celebration and action for anyone in the world who cares about animals. It is not restricted to any one nationality, creed, religion, political belief or ideology. People around the world are united by their love of animals and their special place in the environment. Conservation, sustainability and environmental issues take front stage today, when we can contemplate the special place that animals have in our lives.

October 4th is the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi who is the patron saint of animals and ecology. His Feast Day was a most appropriate day chosen to dedicate to animals. Francis was born at Assisi in Umbria in 1181. His father was a prosperous merchant, and Francis planned to follow him in his trade, although he also had dreams of being a troubadour or a knight. In 1201 he took part in an attack on Perugia, was taken hostage, and remained a captive there for a year. As a result of his captivity and a severe illness his mind began to turn to religion, but around 1205 he enlisted in another military expedition, to Apulia.

However, he had a dream in which God called him to his service, and he returned to Assisi and began to care for the sick. In 1206, he had a vision in which Christ called him to repair His Church. Francis interpreted this as a command to repair the church of San Damiano, near Assisi. He resolved to become a hermit, and devoted himself to repairing the church. His father, angry and embarrassed by Francis’s behaviour, imprisoned him and brought him before the bishop as disobedient. Francis abandoned all his rights and possessions, including his clothes.

Two years later he felt himself called to preach, and was soon joined by companions. When they numbered eleven he gave them a short Rule and received approval from Pope Innocent III for the brotherhood, which Francis called the Friars Minor. The friars travelled throughout central Italy and beyond, preaching for people to turn from the world to Christ. In his life and preaching, Francis emphasised simplicity and poverty, relying on God’s providence rather than worldly goods. The brothers worked or begged for what they needed to live, and any surplus was given to the poor. Francis turned his skills as a troubadour to the writing of prayers and hymns.

One of Francis’s most famous sermons is one he gave to a flock of birds. One day while Francis and some friars were travelling along the road, Francis looked up and saw the trees full of birds. Francis left his companions in the road, ran eagerly toward the birds and humbly begged them to listen to the word of God. One of the friars recorded the sermon, which overflows with Francis’s love for creation and its Creator: “My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you. God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part.”

Thomas of Celano records that the birds stretched their necks and extended their wings as Francis walked among them touching and blessing them. This event was a turning point of sorts for Francis. “He began to blame himself for negligence in not having preached to the birds before and from that day on, he solicitously admonished the birds, all animals and reptiles, and even creatures that have no feeling, to praise and love their Creator.”

In time St Francis’s brotherhood became more organised. As large numbers of people, attracted to the preaching and example of Francis, joined him, Francis had to delegate responsibility to others. Eventually he wrote a more detailed Rule, which was further revised by the new leaders of the Franciscans. He gave up leadership of the Order and went to the mountains to live in secluded prayer. There he received the Stigmata, the marks of the wounds of Christ. He died at the Porziuncula on October 3, 1226.


“Parenthood remains the greatest single preserve of the amateur.” -  Alvin Toffler

At the weekend we watched the 2009 Lukas Moodysson film “Mammoth”. It starred Gael García Bernal, Michelle Williams and Marife Necesito, although there were some good supporting performances, especially so from the three children, Sophie Nyweide, Jan David G. Nicdao and Martin de los Santos. Moodysson wrote the screenplay as well as directing the movie, so he is responsible to a very large extent for this overly long (125 minute - and often tediously didactic) movie.  Don’t get me wrong, the premise of the movie was promising and should have made a very good movie, however, cinematically this is dull and pompous filmic fare.

The plot revolves the idea of parenthood and what makes a good parent. The subplot is affluence in the decadent West contrasted with poverty in the developing East. Leo (Bernal) and Ellen (Williams) are a successful New York couple, he a web wiz, she a surgeon. They have a daughter, Jackie (Nyweide), who is being raised by Gloria, their Filipina nanny (Necesito). Gloria has two children back in the Philippines, Salvador (Nicdao) and Manuel (Santos), who are being looked after by her mother and brother. Gloria sends money to them so they can build a house and live a better life. When Leo goes to Thailand on business, he has a revelation and wants to change his life. Meanwhile, Ellen experiences a revelation of her own when she realises that Gloria has become the de facto mother of Jackie. When tragedy strikes back in the Philippines, Gloria rushes off and abandons both Ellen and Jackie to each other. Just in time for Leo to return, and attempt to salvage their lives, suitably chastened from his experiences in Thailand.

This film preaches; quietly, but preaches nevertheless. It does so heavy-handedly, although only wielding a feather. It is slow and cinematically flawed, but one is immediately aware of the point it wants to make. There are no surprises, no overwhelming climax and the sheer predictability of the ending wearies the viewer. We discussed the film in detail after seeing it and our attitudes were ambivalent. Yes, the film deals with important topics such as the social inequality between rich nations and poor ones, the different types of parents that there are: The good, the bad and the indifferent, and also the way that we each prioritise our lives. However, other films have said it more eloquently and poignantly. Other directors have tied everything together much more cinematically and the viewer was kept interested and engaged.

A comparison begs to be made with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2006 “Babel”, in which Bernal also played with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. This was a tighter, more rapidly moving film that tackled similar themes much more effectively. The direction is masterly and the interlocking stories that reveal the common thread that ties families together makes a much better film.

“Mammoth” tries to be ‘great’ and is just mediocre. The actors do a good enough job but their performances are laboured. I had great difficulty with Bernal who was quite unconvincing in his role. Williams was more believable but could not do much with what she was given. Necesito played in a restrained fashion and with dignity in what perhaps was the best performance of the three.

The “Mammoth” of the title refers to a mammoth ivory inlaid pen that Leo is given as a gift by his colleague. It costs $3,000 but its value is nil, as we are shown at the end. This is a movie to watch with caution. If I had to choose between “Mammoth” and “Babel” I would overwhelmingly choose the latter. Watch “Mammoth” if you have heaps of time and patience and forbearance.

Sunday 2 October 2011


“He who would be serene and pure needs but one thing, detachment.” - Meister Eckhart

For Art Sunday today, an American Artist, Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) who had a highly personal style, yet was influenced by impressionism and English aestheticism. He worked around the turn of the 20th century and from his native Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts, he went to Europe and studied at the Académie Julian in Paris and in Munich from 1836-1839. He returned to the USA to settle into a studio in New York City. He married Maria Oakey Dewing, an accomplished painter with extensive formal art training and links with the art world. He is best known for his ethereal, tonalist paintings of female figures situated in moody and dreamlike surroundings. Often seated, these women play instruments, write letters, or simply communicate with one another, Dewing’s sensitively portrayed figures are distant and private, keeping the spectator a remote witness to the scene rather than a participant.

Tonalism as a style resisted the violent surge of modernism and abstraction in art, although the political success of modernism eventually succeeded in branding tonalism as an outdated mode of artistic expression in popular culture. Now that the dogma of Modernism itself is under question, a fresh assessment of tonalism is underway, free of political influence or the sway of his contemporary fashionable trends.

Dewing was a member of the Ten American Painters, a group of American Impressionists who seceded from the Society of American Artists in 1897. He spent his summers at the Cornish Art Colony in Cornish, New Hampshire. The artist was quite fortunate in having a pair of wealthy patrons who were devoted to his work. The New York insurance magnate John Gellatly was convinced that Thomas Wilmer Dewing was “the greatest living painter” and consequently acquired thirty-one of his paintings, most of which were bequeathed to the Smithsonian Institution. The Detroit businessman and railroad-car manufacturer Charles Lang Freer was sufficiently enamoured of Dewing's “decorations” to have purchased twenty-seven of them for incorporation in his eponymous gallery of art in Washington, D.C. Though their subject matter no longer fulfills its original inspirational intent, the rich painterly skills of the artist continue to delight the eye and mind. Dewing stopped painting after 1920

The painting above is his “A Reading” of 1879. The interior space in this is softly painted, tonally fairly uniform and the colours muted and gentle to the eye. The two women depicted are typical of his oeuvre, prominently placed in shallow space. They are elegant, detached creatures, elusive, idealised, and contemplative. The woman reading aloud concentrates on the book in front of her and the faint suggestion of a smile may be discerned on her face, which is otherwise closed to the viewer, as her eyes are downcast and concentrating on the book. The woman listening is also introspective and toys with a flower she has plucked from the vase, the colour of which is in harmony with her gown. This is highly civilised and restrained art, almost decadent in its sensibility and detachment. There is elegance and distance, excellent draughtsmanship and colour-handling, but quite dispassionate – which perhaps contributes to its attractiveness.

As one critic observed, “…the Thomas Wilmer Dewing type was intellectual enough to be worthy of Boston; aristocratic enough to be worthy of Philadelphia; well enough dressed to be a New Yorker, but seldom pretty enough to evoke the thought of Baltimore – but always genteel enough to insulate the viewer from disturbing thoughts of the tumultuous changes that were taking place in the real world of commerce and industry.”