Saturday 7 January 2012


“Each morning sees some task begin, Each evening sees it close; Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night's repose” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A quiet day with an even quieter evening at home. Nothing better than some gorgeous Bach to cap the day off and lead into the repose of the night. Here is the second movement, Largo Ma Non Tanto, of Johann Sebastian Bach’s, Double Violin Concerto in D minor (BWV 1043).

The Concerto for Two Violins in D minor is perhaps one of the most famous works by J. S. Bach and considered among the best examples of the work of the late Baroque period. Bach wrote it in Leipzig sometime between 1730 and 1731, most likely for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, of which he was the director. It also exists in an arrangement for two harpsichords, transposed into C minor (BWV 1062). The concerto comprises three movements: Vivace; Largo ma non tanto; Allegro.

In addition to the two soloists, the concerto is scored for strings and basso continuo. The concerto is characterised by the subtle yet expressive relationship between the two solo violins and the accompanying strings throughout the work. The musical structure of this piece uses fugal imitation and much counterpoint. The middle slow movement has a mood of tranquil repose and the sweet melodies are as mellifluous as a gentle lullaby. Enjoy!

Thursday 5 January 2012


“A love for tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril” - Winston Churchill

Today the Christian Church celebrates the Epiphany. The Epiphany (also called Theophany) celebrates three important events in the Christian calendar.  The first is the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem and the adoration of the Christ Child; the second is the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist; the third the miracle at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine, when there was no more wine for the guests at that same wedding that Jesus was invited to.

In the Western Christian churches, the adoration of the Magi is the most important of these celebrations while in Eastern churches, Christ’s baptism is the most important.  The word epiphania in Greek means “manifestation” and refers to the appearance of the Christ child to the Magi. The winter jasmine (yellow jasmine), Jasminum nudiflorum, is a flower symbolic of the Epiphany and is also an attribute of the Virgin Mary.

In Greece, the ritual of the blessing of the waters is carried out today to commemorate Christ’s baptism. After the divine morning liturgy in church, the clergy and the people join a procession with the blessed cross to the nearest body of living water (lake, sea or river). If there is no body of open water near the church, the blessing ceremony is held outside the church in a baptismal font filled with water. At the end of the ceremony the priest will bless the waters by casting a cross into the water. If practicable, it is now the turn of volunteers – mostly young men – to participate in the ceremony. They dive into the water to recover the cross. The lucky one who returns the cross to the priest, receives a special blessing. In the past a gold cross to wear around the neck was the custom, but it is unfortunate that nowadays this is no longer done.

The church liturgy also blesses water in the church and the Greek Orthodox faith teaches that on this day a miracle happens as the blessing is performed and the nature of the blessed water changes and it becomes holy and incorrupt. People take this Holy Water at home and sprinkle their house, their fields, their animals. They also drink it, believing they derive a special blessing from these rituals. Sprinkling the waters also cleans the world of the mischievous Kalikantzaroi (the pesky goblins that trick and torment God-fearing Christians throughout the festive season).

As it is Food Friday, we should mention that in Greek Orthodox tradition the 5th of January is a strict fast day. Not only are meat, fish, dairy products and eggs forbidden, but also oily substances (including vegetable oils). It is believed that this fast cleanses the body after the dietary indiscretions of the holiday season and prepares it for receiving the Holy Water that will be drunk on the Epiphany.

A traditional fasting food that was consumed in Crete is called “Photocóllyva” or “Pappoúdia”. This was made with boiled wheat, together with all sorts of pulses like split peas, beans, broad beans, lentils. It was served well boiled and consumed with a little bread and some chopped raw onions and parsley. The term “Photocóllyva” is derived from the name of the holiday “Phota” (=lights) and “Cóllyva” a traditional dish made for the memory of the dead with boiled wheat. A particularly touching part of the ritual was that this food was shared with the household animals, particularly the oxen, which helped to produce the wheat and the pulses through their efforts. By sharing one’s food with the animals that helped in its production acknowledges their invaluable help.

Wednesday 4 January 2012


“Find something you love to do and you'll never have to work a day in your life” - Harvey Mackay
While I am still officially on holidays, I went in to work for a short time today as I was in the City and close by. We are officially open, but we are operating with a skeleton staff, the majority of people returning to work next Monday. It was quite strange going into my office with hardly anybody around and feeling a little bit like a visitor. Even as I sat down on my chair at my desk, it felt quite peculiar – mainly because of my psychological state, I guess. I was still in “holiday mood”. The main reason I went in was to water my pot-plants, which after the heat over the last few days certainly needed it.

I chatted with a colleague who has already gone back to work as part of the skeleton staff and we discussed the holiday break. Neither of us had gone away over the break and we were both bemoaning the fact that holidays pass all too soon, and before one knows it, it is time to return to work again. As he is quite a lot younger than me, I had to observe that he will certainly have to work for many years more than me still, before he considers retirement. Whereas, if I take the option of early retirement I can certainly retire by next year.

I have always enjoyed my various jobs and every morning I look forward to going into work. However, after a long haul of many months without a break and without a holiday, one’s mind and body feels the effects of accumulated stresses and anxieties, and going off on a protracted break is certainly attractive; to recharge the batteries, so to speak. In the past we used to travel quite a great deal, both locally and abroad. However, as the years pass by, we seem to travel much less. It must be a sign of increasing age, perhaps.

It may also have something to do with the world’s woes at the present time. It is quite disturbing to hear the news every morning. The continuing bad news of the global financial crisis, wars, terrorism, kidnappings, abductions, racial hatred, mass migrations, political instability, uncertainty… It seems to be the same the world over. I am wondering if all of this was happening in the past as well, but being younger we did not heed it as much. As one ages, some things become less important, while others fade into insignificance. Age changes us and it changes the way we see the world.

I am content to have travelled all over the world when I was younger. I consider myself lucky to have been in places that most people would only know from their geography book or as some hard to pronounce name only seen once on an atlas page. The great majority of people I met on my travels and the most places I visited provided me with a wealth of positive experiences and a firm belief that we humans are extremely similar no matter what our skin colour, our religion or our politics. Human culture is astounding in its variety, our customs and manners may differ, but deep down we all share a basic humanity, a sense of humour and wonder with which we view our world. We all wish to share our experiences with fellow humans and most of us are generous, friendly and hospitable with even complete strangers.

When I hear the bad news, I take heart, given my past travels and positive experiences. There are some bad apples in this barrel of our world, but fortunately they are only a minority. The trouble is that these evil people can make the world such a horrible place for the silent, ever-suffering majority of the good ones… The perennial quandary seems to be how to identify the bad apples and get rid of them before they ruin the whole barrelful!

travel |ˈtravəl| verb ( travels, traveling , traveled ; also chiefly Brit. travels, travelling, travelled)
1 [ no obj. ] Make a journey, typically of some length or abroad: The vessel had been travelling from Libya to Ireland | We travelled thousands of miles in our last journey abroad.
• [ with obj. ] Journey along (a road) or through (a region): He travelled the world with the army.
• (usu. as adj. travelling) go or be moved from place to place: A travelling exhibition.
informal Resist motion sickness, damage, or some other impairment on a journey: He usually travels well.
• Be enjoyed or successful away from the place of origin: Accordion music travels well.
dated go from place to place as a sales representative: He travelled for a shoe company through Mississippi.
• (of an object or radiation) Move, typically in a constant or predictable way: Light travels faster than sound.
informal (esp. of a vehicle) Move quickly.
2 [ no obj. ] Basketball take more than the allowed number of steps (typically two) while holding the ball without dribbling it.
the action of travelling, typically abroad: I have a job that involves a lot of travel.
• (travels) journeys, esp. long or exotic ones: Perhaps you'll write a book about your travels.
• [ as modifier ] (of a device) designed so as to be sufficiently compact for use on a journey: A travel iron.
• the range, rate, or mode of motion of a part of a machine.
ORIGIN Middle English: variant of travail and originally in the same sense.


“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” - Henry Van Dyke

The calendar holds a special fascination for me as does the cycle of the year with its seasons, its special occasions, its commemorative days, its celebrations and feasts, as well as all other occasions that help to make some days special in some way. We humans love to mark off time and even greater is the desire to mark some days of our existence as “red-letter-days”, which help us navigate our way through the routine of our humdrum lives.

Every year in December I spend some time compiling my own annual calendar for the year ahead, I illustrate it with my photos and for every special day there is some reference, with religious days commemorated in the Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian and Neopagan belief systems. International commemorative anniversaries are marked, phases of the moon, beginning and ends of daylight savings, the various public holidays and also an inspirational quote for the month.

This year, December was a little bit of a write-off with so much happening and quite a bit of an upheaval not letting me do things according to my usual “schedule”. The calendar was the casualty, meaning that I have been greatly delayed in its production to the disappointment of many friends who are used to receiving it as a New Year’s gift. I was quick to reassure them that yes, it was still happening, it was just slightly delayed this year…

One may reflect a little on this and think about expectations. Things that are assumed and which one may take for granted. This past year more than any other I have realised what a great effort I expend on an almost daily basis in order to do what is expected of me. Things at work and at home, things that other people expect of me and things I expect of myself. And how little it takes to unsettle that fine balance – how little a spanner needs to be if it is to disrupt the works, when it is thrown in.

Perhaps, in the end, I should resolve something this year and that is to moderate expectations of me. Clearly spell out (to myself first) that what I expect of myself need be more realistic and that my timelines need be more elastic. Also to ensure that others understand that what they expect of me need be judged by some reasonable standard and that they understand my multiple commitments, activities and responsibilities. The more we idealise others, the higher our expectations of them. I have tried too hard maybe to be the ideal, hence others’ high expectations of me… If we expect nothing, we are grateful for whatever comes to us genuinely, spontaneously and unasked for.

Monday 2 January 2012


“The cure for anything is salt water: Sweat, tears or the sea.” - Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

Magpie Tales has chosen a Marina Moevs painting as a stimulus to get our creative juices flowing this week.

“Marina Moevs' breathtaking oil paintings present the often awe inspiring beauty of powerful natural events, such as floods, fires and storms. Seductively serene, they resonate with psychologically volatile meanings and metaphors, not only personally for the artist, but as collective archetypes that speak for humanity as a whole. Indeed, just as psychoanalytic discourse equates the unconscious with nature itself (from which the idea of ‘human nature’ evolved), Moevs' paintings employ natural imagery to express the autonomy and subjectivity of human moods. They also stand as brilliantly crafted and imagined ‘shrines’ that both associate and segregate human beings’ and nature’s mysteriously linked creativity.”
Andy Brumer

The paintings of this artist turned my mind to things anatomical and pathological. For what are we but water (60% of our body weight, in fact…).


Water sustains us, for we are of water;
Our humours ebbing and flowing,
Running incessantly in our subcutaneous rivers:
Blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile.

Water nourishes, for without it we die;
Our bodies desertified, our a flesh mere husk
Where lack of juices fails to vivify:
Sweat, tears, saliva and other secretions.

Water within us, for we are born of it;
Creatures of some primordial sea that
We still carry inside us – hear the waves breaking:
Amniotic fluid, cerebrospinal fluid and tissue fluid.

Water kills, for we are designed for drowning;
Our lungs so easily filled with oedema,
Or with water breathed in, to stifle us:
Exudate, insudate, transudate and inspired water.

Water flows, runs, rushes, scours, floods;
Our tears tsunami-like, can overwhelm.
Lymph bubbles and swells painfully within confined space,
Our gastric juice corrodes, digests our flesh,
And we surrender, give up the ghost to some massive internal haematoma.

Our internal waters, sometimes placid like limpid lakes;
Sometimes rough seas that swallow whole islands – like Atlantis;
Our waters: Healing, nourishing, beneficial like breast milk;
But also destructive torrential rivers, that flatten our house;
Like vomit that we breathe in, a horrible aspirated death thus delivered.


“Nothing is to be preferred before justice.” - Socrates

We watched a very good film a couple of days ago, about which we had heard nothing, but it was another of these great discoveries in the bargain bin of our video store. It was the 1993 movie “Flesh and Bone”, written and directed by Steve Kloves, and starring Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, James Caan and Gwyneth Paltrow. The film was first rate in all aspects and I am quite at a loss to explain the “average” rating that it has received in the IMDB “popularity meter” – however, one should not be surprised, given the drivel that attracts high ratings (e.g. “Inception”!).

The plot revolves around Arlis (Dennis Quaid) who is a vending machine owner who roams from small town to small town in West Texas. Arlis is haunted by horrific memories from his childhood, and he fails to connect emotionally with the women he meets. He has a “woman in every town” having these flings with married women where there are no strings attached. One day Arlis meets Kay (Meg Ryan), who is running away from an abusive and gambler husband. Kay begins travel with Arlis on his circuit and they fall in love. Arlis’ evil father (James Caan) comes back into the life of his son and Arlis must once again deal with the heavy burden of the ties that bind them. Complicating matters is the young drifter and petty thief Ginnie (Gwynneth Paltrow) that Arlis’ father has picked up. The film develops slowly and irrevocably into a dramatic dénouement, where each person must confront the ghosts of the pasts, especially so Arlis…

“Flesh and Bone” is possibly one of the 1990s most neglected classic films. It is subtle, understated, powerful and extremely well made and acted. The story is tight and engaging, the characters believable and tragic and the themes sombre. All actors in the leading quartet give sterling performances, with Quaid perhaps (who gives his character an understated tragic desperation that becomes quite devastating by the end) deserving the line honours. Quaid never allows Arlis to become pathetic, which perhaps would have been easily done by a lesser actor. Caan is great as always, and Ryan gives a magnificent performance, while Paltrow impresses, playing a difficult role without any of the sugary sweetness that was the ingredient of most of her roles that followed.

There is precious little about this film that isn’t of high quality. It has a good script, skillful and sensitive directing, stark cinematography that suits the plot to a tee, excellent performances, and haunting soundtrack. It is an excellent piece of film making and strorytelling. We highly recommend this movie as it is original, engaging, moving and exceedingly well-made. If you haven't seen it, it is well worth your while to hunt it down and watch it!