Saturday 31 December 2011


“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” - Confucius

Nikiphoros Lytras (Greek: Νικηφόρος Λύτρας; 1832, Pyrgos, Tinos – June 13, 1904, Athens) was a nineteenth century Greek painter. He was born on Tinos Island, and trained in Athens at the School of Arts. In 1860 he won a scholarship to Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Munich. After completing these studies, he became a professor at the School of Arts in 1866, a position he held for the rest of his life. He remained faithful to the precepts and principles of the academicism of Munich, while paying greatest attention both to ethographic themes and portraiture. His most famous portrait was of the royal couple, Otto and Amalia, and his most well-known landscape a depiction of the region of Lavrio.

In this well-known genre of painting of his, the “Calanda” (= carol singing) he depicts a household scene with great humour and many touching elements. The young singers could singing Christmas or New Year’s carols. Let’s pretend is the traditional Greek New Year’s carol, widely sung by children who still go a-carolling on New Year’s Day:

New Year's Carol

Start of the month and start of the year,
My tall rosemary bush!
And start of the year, a good year,
In church, in church with the holy throne!

Start of the year, when Christ came
Most holy and spiritual;
To walk on earth
And to make our heart good.

St Basil is coming
And welcomes all of us,
He comes from Caesarea,
And you milady are noble woman!

He holds an icon and writing paper,
Sugar candy and a baked cake.
The writing paper and the ink,
Look at me the young brave lad!

The ink wrote on the paper,
My fortune all it wrote,
And the paper talked to me,
My white St Basil!

This post is part of the Psalm Sunday meme.

Friday 30 December 2011


Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man. - Benjamin Franklin

As another year expires, we are awaiting the birth of a new one. What better music to herald its entry than some music by the “Waltz King”? Johann Strauss II (October 25, 1825 - June 3, 1899); also known as fully Johann Baptist Strauss, and Johann Strauss Jr. was an Austrian composer of light music, particularly dance music and operettas. He composed over 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and other types of dance music, as well as several operettas and a ballet. He was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century.

Strauss was born in St. Ulrich (now a part of Neubau), the son of Johann Strauss I, another composer of dance music. His father did not wish him to become a composer, but rather a banker; however, the son defied his father’s wishes, and went on to study music with the composer Joseph Drechsler and the violin with Anton Kollmann, the ballet répétiteur of the Vienna Court Opera. Strauss had two younger brothers, Josef and Eduard Strauss, who became composers of light music as well, although they were never as well-known as their elder brother.

Some of Johann Strauss’s most famous works include The Blue Danube Waltz, Vienna Blood Waltz, Kaiser-Walzer, Tales from the Vienna Woods, the Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka, and the Pizzicato Polka. Among his operettas, Die Fledermaus and Der Zigeunerbaron are the most well-known.

Best wishes for a New Year
full of health, happiness and prosperity!

Thursday 29 December 2011


“My soul is dark with stormy riot: Directly traced over to diet” - Samuel Hoffenstein

We have invited a Jewish couple to dinner in the New Year and we are reading up on what is permissible (“Kosher”) and what is not (“Traif”). The first source of course is the biblical passage of Leviticus, chapter 11, and Deuteronomy, Chapter 14, which list the dietary restrictions God gave to the nation of Israel. The dietary laws include prohibitions against eating pork, shrimp, shellfish and many types of seafood, most insects, scavenger birds, and various other “impure” animals.

At the time that these restrictions were put in place and given the geographic and climatic conditions prevailing, these restrictions made a great deal of sense. In a hot climate shellfish quickly spoils, for example, and can cause very severe food poisoning. Pork is notorious for the number of parasites it can contain and the horrible disease it can give rise in humans if the pigs are not kept in hygienic conditions and the animal is not slaughtered properly. Moslems have some dietary restrictions that are similar and are based on the same hygienic factors.

According to Jewish dietary laws, to be “pure” an animal must also be free from certain defects, and must be slaughtered and cleaned according to specific regulations (Shechita). Any product of an impure or improperly slaughtered animal is also non-kosher. Animal gelatin, for example, has been avoided, although recently kosher gelatin (from cows or from fish prepared according to kosher regulations) has become available. The status of shellac is still  controversial. The prohibitions also extend to certain parts of pure animals, such as blood, certain fat tissues, and the sciatic nerves.

It is forbidden to cook milk or dairy product with meat. Meat and milk are not even eaten in the same meal and different pots, crockery, cutlery and washing up equipment are used to cook them. Dairy food, even a cup of tea, may not be eaten until 3 hours after the consumption of meat or fowl. Other regulations affect wine, cheese and their derivatives such as wine vinegar and grape juice. All these products must be made under strict Rabbinical supervision. Leaven is also to be avoided at prescribed times of the religious calendar and it must eradicated from the house – in many cases different sets of crockery, pots and pans, cutlery, glassware being used in a different kitchen during the period of prohibition. Fasting si also prescribed on certain religious feast days.

The short answer as to why Jews observe dietary laws is because the Torah says so. The Torah does not specify any reason for these laws, and for a Torah-observant, traditional Jew, there is no need for any other reason. Orthodox, observant Jews follow the dietary laws, in a similar way to Islam, in order to show obedience to the word of God.

It is interesting that in the New Testament, Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). God gave the apostle Peter a vision in which He declared that formerly unclean animals could be eaten: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). When Jesus died on the cross, He fulfilled the Old Testament law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:24-26; Ephesians 2:15). This includes the laws regarding clean and unclean foods.

Romans 14:1-23 observes that not everyone accepts the fact that all foods are clean. As a result, if we are with someone who would be offended by our eating “unclean” food, we should give up our right to do so as to not offend the other person. We have the right to eat whatever we want, but we do not have the right to offend other people, who believe differently. Christians have the freedom to eat whatever they wish as long as it does not cause someone else to stumble in his/her faith.

Now in terms of our dinner party, the next place to mine of course, would be Jewish cookbooks where we can find some interesting recipes to try. Fortunately in Melbourne we have a plethora of shops that sell Kosher foods and ingredients and it should be fairly easy to obtain ingredients for the menu we decide on. Failing all, of course, we could order some Kosher food in from a Kosher restaurant! Any other suggestions welcome!


“I have no way of knowing how people really feel, but the vast majority of those I meet couldn't be nicer. Every once in a while someone barks at me. My New Year's resolution is not to bark back.” - Tucker Carlson

Many thanks to all those who commented on yesterday’s blog, I appreciate your kindness. I feel much better today and I am sure that by New Year’s Day, I shall be back to my usual cheerful self – well at least as cheerful as I am usually… It will be good to see the back of 2011 and I look forward to next year as one when I shall achieve some of my long-term goals, look seriously at my retirement options, finish a couple of my major projects and hopefully travel overseas in the second half of the year.

Are you the sort of person who makes New Year’s resolutions? I used to, but many years ago when I was younger. Now I prefer to set some goals at appropriate times throughout the year and then do my best to achieve them. Some of my colleagues come back to work in the New Year with impressive lists of resolutions (a couple of them even post them up above their desk so that they can look at them daily), however, come February, they are rather unceremoniously forgotten, taken down or covered by other bits of paper that are posted over them.

New Year’s Eve has always been a time for looking back to the past, and more importantly, forward to the coming year. Taking a tally of all that has happened and not happened in our life and making some decisions about what we want changed in our life. It’s a time to reflect on the changes we want (or need) to make and resolve to follow through on those changes. If you are in the habit of making New Year resolutions, see how close they come to a popular “top ten list”:
1)    Spend More Time with Family & Friends
2)    Exercise more, get fit
3)    Lose weight so as not to be obese
4)    Quit smoking
5)    Enjoy life more, be happier
6)    Quit drinking
7)    Get out debt
8)    Learn something new
9)    Help other more
10) Get more organised

I am sure that most people would have found a few of those that resonated with them and that were perhaps familiar from last year, or even the year before. Funny thing about these resolutions they keep recurring like clockwork, year after year…

resolution |ˌrezəˈlo͞oSHən| noun
1 A firm decision to do or not to do something: She kept her resolution not to see Anne any more | My New Year's resolution is to lose weight and get really fit.
• A formal expression of opinion or intention agreed on by a legislative body, committee, or other formal meeting, typically after taking a vote: the conference passed two resolutions.
• The quality of being determined or resolute: he handled the last French actions of the war with resolution.
2 The action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter: the peaceful resolution of all disputes | a successful resolution to the problem.
Music the passing of a discord into a concord during the course of changing harmony.
Medicine the disappearance of inflammation, or of any other symptom or condition.
3 chiefly Chemistry the process of reducing or separating something into its components.
Physics the replacing of a single force or other vector quantity by two or more jointly equivalent to it.
• the conversion of something abstract into another form.
Prosody the substitution of two short syllables for one long one.
4 the smallest interval measurable by a scientific (esp. optical) instrument; the resolving power.
• the degree of detail visible in a photographic or television image.
ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin resolutio(n-), from resolvere ‘loosen, release’

Tuesday 27 December 2011


“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As the year draws to its close, I find myself in a melancholy mood. “Dark biliousness” – so did the ancient Greeks call this excess of negative humours that manifests itself as a feeling of glumness with a sad mien and lack of energy, propensity to tears, a depression. It is a mood that makes one particularly selfish. One stays inside and pulls the blinds down – staying in at home is optional.

With lots of thoughts. So many thoughts that one’s head threatens to burst asunder. “What if…”; “Maybe…”; “Had things been different…”; “If so-and-so had said this, done this…”; “If only…”; “All would be different now…” – so many alternative universes that my head will surely explode. Parallel realities, all unreal. How can one escape from this dark, deep pit that saps one’s life?

Another year draws to a close. Where did all that time go? What happened? How did all those days and nights rush by? Even with a few hours sleep a night every night, the year rushed by as if I were on an express train, seeing all the brightly-lit stations flit by, and only now, I am stopped still in a dark tunnel. The train has stopped, no lights, no lights at the end of the tunnel. And yet my destination awaits me – who knows how far ahead, but it’s there. That is the only certainty.

Clutching the darkness, I feel the palpable black bile that surrounds me with its glutinous, suffocating texture. Searching for something substantial to hold on to. A hand? No, it could clutch a dagger. A rope? No it could strangle me. A chain firmly fixed? No it could fetter me. A piece of wood? No, a crucifix to crucify me. Maybe just a warm embrace that I could sink into and be rescued by. Even if it stifles me…

And yet I go on, I invent my own rescue. I move on pulling myself forward with invisible threads, each strand attached to each of my cells. I follow a faint glimmer of hope in the darkness. A tiny, pale, blue little light. Hope is a lambent blue butterfly invented to rescue me from madness. So insubstantial and yet its wings strong enough to pull the invisible threads upwards and lift me out of my dark pit.

Another year waits in the wings, ready to come on stage upon hearing its cue. We shall travel together you and I. You, young and golden-haired, and I, well I am old and old enough to know better and be strong and go forward. I pull myself up and will manufacture a light at the end of the tunnel. We must hope otherwise we shall die at once. Death will come soon enough, no need to invite him before his time. This too shall pass.

Monday 26 December 2011


“No mask like open truth to cover lies, As to go naked is the best disguise.” - William Congreve

How many times in our lives it is necessary for us to conceal what is in our mind, what is in our heart, what we really feel in our soul, and present to the world a picture that is acceptable for the circumstances… Our public mask whether a cheerful one, whether one of well-measured composure, or one of self-assured competence is one that may hide below it pain, bitterness, despair, disappointment, disillusionment…

This is my contribution to the Magpie Tales poetry meme.

I Am What I Am

You ask of me to bare myself –
Remove my public mask
Reveal my hidden side,
Shed my chameleon cloak.

You ask of me to doff an armour
I have worn so long it feels like second skin;
To cast off artifice, duplicity,
Discard my cultivated image.

You ask of me to trim my tresses,
Make you a gift of my vulnerability;
Be rid of my convenient nebulosity
Appear before you naked, like the truth.

The mask removed reveals a second mask beneath it;
My armour shed, reveals a hardened carapace below it;
Stripped of my shifting colours,
I simply show you my camouflage even better.

I am that which I am; what I am, I am not,
I am what you have made me, not what I truly am.

The image above of Marilyn Monroe is by Bert Stern


“Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person.” - Tennessee Williams

You know how sometimes you save special things for a special treat when you feel you need to have one? Just push something to the back of the closet so when the occasion demands it, ta-dah! Here it is, let’s have it out and enjoy it. I do that with some movies that we have bought and I consciously save them for a day when we are in that sort of mood to really savour them. So it was with the movie we watched yesterday. I am very partial to a good science fiction yarn, especially one where the plot involves some sort of social spin, as most good science fiction does. Science fiction, is a genre of writing that uses known scientific facts and postulates future worlds and possible new technology as an extension of today’s scientific knowledge. The purpose of such fiction is to explore possibilities and dream up new ideas, examining all the while how people in the future may cope with such technological breakthroughs that will change their lives so dramatically. Unfortunately, my “special reserve film” turned out to be a giant fizzer…

This was surprising as it received rave reviews and IMDB rates it as an 8.9/10 based on nearly half million viewer votes. Well, clearly I am not amongst the majority in this one and my rating for it would be 4.5/10 based solely on the special effects and CGI. In fact the whole film was a long series of stunts, explosions, people trying to kill one another, car chases, moderately outlandish sets, more action sequences, and more CGI and the whole thing kept going on and on and on for a long 148 minutes! The thing was endless.

It was Christopher Nolan’s 2010 “Inception” with Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard and Ellen Page (with a cameo by Michael Caine). Nolan must have been given a carte blanche by the studio to develop this idea of his (and as he both wrote the screenplay and directed the movie) he is largely responsible for the end result. It won four Oscars, but they were largely on the look and sound of the film, which were slick. Nothing about acting, script, direction, music etc. It did win best SciFi film in the Saturn awards, but that’s different kettle of fish.

The plot concerns Dom Cobb (Di Carpio), who is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the dangerous art of “extraction”, stealing valuable trade secrets from deep within the subconscious of the subject during the dream state, when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb’s ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved. Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible: “Inception”. Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse: Their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one in the mind of a corporate chief. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime. But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming.

The plot then starts to go into dream sequence within dream sequence, until the viewer loses track of what is what or who is who or what the heck they are doing where. This is a device to hide the lack of a real plot. Not that the viewer minds after the first half hour. The characters are unlikeable – I couldn’t work up enough sympathy for Cobb (or anyone else) and I viewed all of them as villains that (as far as I was concerned) didn’t matter if they lived or died or achieved their goals or were redeemed or not. I mean the movie is about one corporate giant CEO wanting to crush the competition by planting an idea in the rival CEO’s mind. We are meant to be sympathetic to this? Who cares a pip? Both CEOs should have been neutralised in the first five minutes. The thing was absolute bilge.

Unlike good science fiction, the film did not stimulate new thoughts in my mind, it did not present new problems of humanity or suggest solutions for old ones. It was uninvolving, unoriginal, with weak plot, long, boring, jumbled, with an ending that was predictable as soon as we learned what the goal was. The film left me emotionally cold, unengaged and with no curiosity about what will happen at the end. I kept hoping that there would be a redeeming ending where everything is turned around and our valuable time-investment is finally justified, but unfortunately, the ending falls flat on its face and the whole film is an insult to the intelligent viewer of film.

We do not recommend you see this film unless you are 14 years old and want to see car chases and people getting killed (again and again and again for 148 minutes). No plot, no involvement, no intellectual stimulation. Michael Caine’s pay cheque must have been huge in order for him to consent to play two senseless scenes in this rubbish.

Sunday 25 December 2011


“Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most.” - Ruth Carter Stapleton

Merry Christmas!

For Psalm Sunday today, a Greek Orthodox Kontakion that celebrates the Nativity of Jesus Christ.

A Kontakion is a type of thematic hymn in the Orthodox Church and other Eastern Christian churches. Originally, the kontakion was an extended homily in verse consisting of one or two proemia (preliminary stanzas) followed by several strophes called oikoi (singular oikos), usually between 18 and 24. The kontakia were so long that the text was rolled up on a pole for use in the services - the origin of the name kontakion, which means “from the pole” in Greek.

It is typical of the form that each of the proemia and strophes end with the same refrain. Acrostics are also a hallmark of this hymnographic form.  In current practice, the kontakion has been greatly abbreviated. Only the (first) proemium and first strophe are sung or read after the sixth ode of the canon at orthros. The proemium alone is sung at the Divine Liturgy, following the troparia, and most other services of the daily cycle. The kontakion is not sung at vespers.

According to tradition, Saint Romanos the Melodist wrote the first kontakion, the Kontakion for the Birth of Our Lord, by divine inspiration. Legend aside, Romanos established the kontakion in the form it retained for centuries, and he is the most famous composer of kontakia.

Kontakion for Christmas
By Romanos the Melodist

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him,
The wise men journey with a star to guide them
For our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

It is illustrated by a neo-Byzantine fresco of the Nativity.
I hope your Christmas was peaceful, restful, contented and well-spent beside those you love.