Saturday 21 January 2012


“During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.” - Howard Thurman
Summer is back this weekend and we had a very hot and sunny day today. As we had another leisurely morning and a lazy breakfast, it was already 10:00 a.m. by the time we decided to go out. It was already quite warm and we didn’t want to drive far, nor spend too much time in the hot sun. It was a perfect day we decided to go to the National Gallery of Victoria. There is a wonderful sculpture garden in the back courtyard, and plenty of things see and do inside, in air conditioned comfort!

It’s always a pleasure to visit our Gallery as it is of world standard with many significant works: Paintings, sculptures, drawings, decorative art pieces, ancient artifacts and ever-changing temporary exhibitions. Add to that an excellent gallery shop that specialises in art books, several bars, cafés and a restaurant. It seems that many people had the same idea today and it was rather crowded there! It is quite civilised that entry to the gallery is free (although a donation of course is appreciated) but if one wants to see the visiting temporary exhibitions one has to pay an entrance fee.

Another wonderful thing about the Gallery is that one may take photographs inside it (without flash, of course), but only in the permanent collection areas. Temporary exhibitions are sacrosanct and one may not photograph the exhibits. However, I am very pleased that I am allowed to use my camera in the Gallery and one may take some stunning photographs not only of the exhibits but also of the wonderful architecture.

The special temporary exhibition at the present time is called “The Mad Square - Modernity in German. It covers a tumultuous time in Germany in the early twentieth century. After the First World War, the monarchy was abolished and replaced with the Weimar Republic. This was a period of political unrest, but it was also an era of optimism characterised by industrial development, innovation, and unprecedented freedom of expression. In Berlin and cities throughout Germany, avant-garde art movements flourished: Expressionism, Dada, Constructivism, Bauhaus and New Objectivity.

Artists experimented with new forms, techniques and great changes and innovations extended across all art forms, including painting, photography, design, decorative arts, film, theatre and political satire. The temporary exhibition brings together over 200 works exploring the fascinating and complex ways in which artists represented the modern world, including major works by Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad, Hannah Höch, August Sander, László Moholy-Nagy and El Lissitzky. The art works exhibited are drawn from renowned international and Australian collections. It certainly is a grand collection of works highlighting the broad spectrum of modern German works from this period.

Expressionism is a term that can be used to cover a huge variety of subjects and styles in which shape or colour is exaggerated or distorted so as to express the emotional essence of a subject. This often leads to creation of confronting works that elicit gut reactions in the viewers. In Germany, where Expressionism dominated the artistic circles in the first decades of the 20th century, the movement is associated with two generations of artists. The first – such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky – included the Brücke and Blaue Reiter groups, founded between 1905 and 1911, which were swept up by the idealism and optimism of the new century. The second, born ten years later – like George Grosz and Otto Dix – came to maturity on the brutal battlefields of the First World War.

In tribute of the special exhibition, I am showcasing a work by the German painter Felix Nussbaum. He was born in Osnabrück in 1904. In 1922 he studied at the Hamburg State School of Applied Arts. In 1923 he attended the private Lewin-Funcke-School in Berlin. In 1924-25 he became a student of the Berlin School of Fine and Applied Arts and a master student of Hans Meid in 1928-29. Beginning in 1929 he established a studio together with the Polish painter and later partner and wife Felka Platek.

In 1932 Nussbaum received a scholarship for the Villa Massimo in Rome. With the National Socialists taking over power in 1933, the political and cultural atmosphere in Germany underwent drastic changes. His Berlin studio was set on fire because of his Jewish heritage, and some 150 of his works went up in flames, an immense cultural and artistic loss. His scholarship at the Villa Massimo was at first extended by three months, but it was then cancelled and Nussbaum had to leave precipitously. His paintings were sent on to him in Alassio.

In 1935 Felix Nussbaum and his wife were in Paris, from where they travelled to Oostende. He changed his place of residence in Belgium several times, finally residing in Brussels in 1937. As German troops marched into Belgium in 1940, Nussbaum was arrested as a hostile foreigner and had to go to a detention camp in Saint-Cyprien, from where he managed to escape. He went back to Brussels and rescued his paintings, giving them to two of his friends in 1942 for safekeeping. He and his wife hid in the apartment of the Belgian sculptor Dolf Ledel.

Despite the hardships, Nussbaum continued working. As the smell of turpentine could reveal his hiding place, he worked in the basement of the house of an art dealer that he was friends with. In the 1940s he painted a number of extraordinary self-portraits and haunting pictures, dealing with his personal impressions, such as the “Selbstbildnis mit Judenpass” (Self Portrait with Jewish Passport) in 1943. Nussbaum and his wife were arrested on June 20, 1944 and were deported to Auschwitz where he died on July 31, 1944.

Felix Nussbaum is one of the main representatives of New Objectivity. His hometown opened the Felix-Nussbaum-House in 1998, where 170 works, some two thirds of this oeuvre, are exhibited.

Shown above is the “Masquerade” of 1939. This is a powerful and evocative work a distillation of the misery an anxiety of his time and life. Superficially, the people in masks are shown to be having a good time. The face on the right blowing the horn and the one on the left shouting (drunkenly?) that are “enjoying themselves” frame the remaining faces that show fear, disbelief, amazement, pain, impassivity. The group occupies a cramped space in the centre of the canvas. On the right tall buildings of an empty city that contributes to the claustrophobic feeling of the group. On the left, a desolate, moonlit landscape with a lone leafless tree that fails to allay the feeling of imminent danger and doom – rather it contributes greatly to it.

The painting is also a self-portrait, as Nussbaum used himself as the model for all six faces. The hats are the cultural heritage that Nussbaum is conscious of – the artist’s beret, the workman’s cap, the religious yarmulke, the mediaeval triangular cap, the top hat of the German burgher in which Nussbaum acknowledges his German Jewish roots. The artist also shows his female anima, which however, has been silenced. The closed eyes or masks worn by the figures show how everyone ignored the imminent holocaust of the war. A broken communication tower in the background contributes to the feeling of isolation, dysfunction and crumbling of civilisation shown in the painting.

The masquerade theme is also significant as it alludes to the period of latitude, wild abandon and revelry seen during the pre-Lenten carnival time. The heady pre WWII years in Berlin where a carnival-like atmosphere predominated, were followed by a period of agony and sacrifice, the holocaust being superposed on the passion of Christ. This is an amazing work where one may find much of the pain and misery that the artist experienced in the last five years of his short life.


“He enjoys true leisure who has time to improve his soul’s estate.” - Henry David Thoreau

It was a relaxing day today. Got up early, but stayed in bed a little and read, then a leisurely breakfast and an amble in the garden. Some chores and shopping next, then a pleasant lunch while watching a movie. In the evening a wonderful dinner and a delightful time opening some belated Christmas/New Year presents…

Now, as the night progresses, what better a lullaby than a beautiful Bach aria? Here is J.S. Bach’s “Schlafe mein Liebster” BWV 213, from “Die Wahl des Herkules”.

“Sleep, my darling, and take care that you rest,
Follow the thoughts that allurement has kindled.
Taste the contentment of sleep
On this soft breast
And let your pleasure know no bounds.

Friday 20 January 2012


“The most lasting and pure gladness comes to me from my gardens.” - Lillie Langtry

I am certainly glad it’s the end of the working week. It has been particularly exhausting, especially yesterday when I put in 13 hours work, going in extra early in the morning and then after the normal working day was over, staying back to run a course information session until 7:30 pm. The session went very well but at the end of it I was pooped. Another busy day today but thankfully, the weekend is ahead.

Despite the vagaries of our weather – cool alternating with hot, hail with dry spells, rain with soaring temperatures – our garden is not doing too badly. The roses of course always tend to suffer with the heat, but once we have a shower or two, they spring back and new blooms sprout forth. We always have a few seasonal vegetables here and there in between the flowers and rose bushes, and we are now enjoying fresh organic tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, beans and some salad greens. Summer is a wonderful season for home-grown produce and often the garden can provide a healthful salad, side dishes of vegetables or even a complete meal – even if it’s only a couple of plants of each variety that one has planted out.

Eggplants are certainly a rewarding vegetable to grow and a single plant can be extremely prolific, providing enough fruit for 2-3 people. The best ones to plant are the grafted varieties and this year we planted one in a large pot (for lack of space in the garden), and it grows quite happily there, fruiting away. Eggplant is also called aubergine, melongene, brinjal or guinea squash while its botanical Latin name is Solanum melongena. It is a plant of the family Solanaceae (also known as the nightshades) and bears a fruit that are used in a multitude of ways in cooking. The fruit is botanically classified as a berry, and contains numerous small, soft seeds, which are edible, but have a bitter taste because they contain nicotinoid alkaloids; this is unsurprising as it is a close relative of tobacco. As a nightshade, it is also closely related to the tomato and potato. It is native to India and is extremely popular in Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean countries.

Here is a vegetarian eggplant recipe from Greece, variations of which may be found in other Mediterranean countries.

Eggplant Au Gratin
1 can of tomato purée or tomato pieces (fresh, ripe tomatoes may be used if available)
2 large eggplants (or four smaller ones)
250 g mozzarella cheese cut in slices
2/3 cup grated parmesan
Olive oil for frying
Salt, pepper, oregano, thyme

Remove the stem from the eggplant and peel them. Cut in slices about 1 cm thick.
Liberally salt the eggplant slices and put in colander for about 30-40 minutes to expel fluid.
Rinse and dry the slices with kitchen paper.
Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the eggplant until it is golden.
Drain the fried eggplant on kitchen paper until all the excess oil has been removed.
While this is occurring, prepare the tomato sauce. Put the tomato purée in a frying pan with some olive oil and season with salt, pepper and herbs. Heat and cook, reducing it to a thick consistency.
Place the eggplant slices in a baking dish and pour the tomato sauce on top.
Cover with the mozzarella slices and sprinkle the grated parmesan on top.
Bake for 7-8 minutes until the cheese is molten and golden brown.
Serve with a fresh garden salad, crusty bread and some red wine.

Thursday 19 January 2012


“If you would be loved, love, and be loveable” - Benjamin Franklin
A yellow rose, Rosa spp, is today’s birthday flower. It symbolises jealousy and infidelity.  In the language of flowers a yellow rose means: “Let us forget” and may be symbolic of dying love, especially if full-blown.  A rose thorn is symbolic of sin, death and pain.  In the last few decades, the yellow rose has lost some of its old negative meaning and is now more associated with the positive symbolism of happiness, return to the good times and joy about to be fulfilled. This is perhaps influenced by the meaning of the yellow ribbon tied around a tree. The custom of tying a yellow ribbon around a tree to symbolise waiting love seems to go back at least as far as the days of Nero. A recently unearthed villa (thought to be that of Nero’s wife) in Pompeii and covered by the Mt Vesuvius eruption of AD 79 contains a mural depicting a man standing at a tree with a yellow ribbon tied around it.

Today is St Agnes’s Eve, and on this eve, young women used to take their shoes put a sprig of rosemary in one, a sprig of thyme in the other, sprinkle them with water, place them one on each side of their bed and say:
            St Agnes, that’s to lovers kind,
            Come ease the trouble of my mind.
They would then dream of their future husband.

Today is also St Sebastian’s Feast Day, this saint being the patron saint of athletes. St Sebastian was born in France of Italian parents in the 3rd century AD. So as to help his fellow Christians who were dying as martyrs he went to Rome and enlisted as an officer, becoming a great favourite of the emperor Diocletian. He converted many to Christianity until he was betrayed to the emperor by a false friend. Diocletian tried to make him change his faith but Sebastian was not to be shaken. The emperor ordered his archers to execute the Saint. Although every part of his body was pierced by arrows and the soldiers left him for dead, Sebastian was alive. A kindly widow, Irene, nursed him back to health and Sebastian went back to the emperor, urging him to stop his persecution of the Christians. Diocletian was intransigent and ordered a new martyrdom for Sebastian. The Saint was clubbed to death in the amphitheatre (hence the connection with athletes). Saint Sebastian is buried in the Roman catacombs.

St Sebastian seems to have been a firm favourite of artists over the centuries and there are numerous works of art depicting the martyrdom of the saint with arrows piercing him. In these paintings and sculptures the saint is depicted as handsome man in the prime of his youth, underlining the association with athletes.

The painting above is Gerrit van Honthorst’s (1592 – 1656) “Saint Sebastian”. This artist was a Dutch Golden Age painter from Utrecht.

feast day |ˈfis(t) ˌdeɪ| noun
A day on which a celebration, esp. an annual Christian one, is held.
ORIGIN Middle English: From Old French feste (noun), fester (verb), from Latin festa, neuter plural of festus ‘joyous.’
Old English: dæg, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch dag and German Tag .

Wednesday 18 January 2012


“Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” – Aristotle
On the night of Friday, January 13, the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia, with more than 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members on board, struck a reef, keeled over, and partially sank near Isola del Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany in Italy.

The news of the disastrous sinking of the Costa Concordia has left the world stunned. Not only because of the size (290 m long) of the modern cruise ship (entering service in 2006), its proximity to shore (150 m from land) and the good weather conditions, but also because of the circumstances surrounding it, in terms of the lack of responsibility shown by the master of the ship and his officers. Captain Francesco Schettino, 52 years old, a captain since 2006, is accused of “inexcusable” recklessness after it emerged that he steered too close to shore to come within sight of his head waiter’s family home on the island of Giglio. Mario Palombo, his former captain, is on the record as saying that Schettino was a braggart, too exuberant and more than once he had had to put him in his place.

The death toll has reached 11 with divers recently locating more bodies, all of them adults wearing life jackets, in the rear of the ship near an emergency evacuation point. Tens of people are still missing and amongst the survivors many are injured. The survivors have lost all of their belongings and they relate stories of panic and confusion, but also tales of courage and heroism.

Captain Schettino, who has been stripped of his command, was arrested on Saturday. Prosecutors urged at the hearing on the mainland that he be held in prison. The magistrate released Captain Schettino from jail but placed him under house arrest. He faces a possible 15 years in prison for multiple manslaughter charges and for abandoning ship while dozens of passengers were still aboard. Dramatic audio recordings on the night of the shipwreck reveal a coastguard official yelling at the captain to get back on board and coordinate the rescue efforts from the ship, as he should.

Still, tales of courage and heroism have emerged as both passengers and staff recount stories where people selflessly tried to help others, complete strangers doing their utmost to help others survive, and staff risking their lives to help passengers who were trapped or too elderly to help themselves. Aside from the persistent efforts of official rescuers, who are still scouring the Costa Concordia for survivors, there are news of a husband giving his life jacket to his wife while he perished, people creating human ladders so that passengers could climb to safety and swimmers helping the non-swimmers to reach safety.

The question is why the Captain showed such a lack of consideration for his passengers and crew, abandoning the ship in a most cowardly manner, while ordinary people showed so much more fortitude and bravery, staying behind to rescue fellow passengers and crew? I guess the answer lies in variations of human nature and differences in character. The brave conquer the fear they feel and it is only they who know how scared they are in adverse and dangerous circumstances. They retain their composure and act level-headedly, having the clearest vision of what dangers are before them, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet them. The brave person dies only once, the coward dies a thousand times, each death more painful than the one before it.

Altruism is something that human beings demonstrate in numerous situations fraught with peril and in many cases an altruist will put himself at risk to save others, often giving up his life in the attempt. Such selflessness is what we recognise as courage, bravery, heroism and stout-heartedness. It is a quality that many people will display in adverse circumstances and the most unlikely persons may step up to the challenge and surprise even themselves.

A coward is someone whose life is ruled by fear. Like the brave person he may hide that fear but unfortunately the façade is a flimsy edifice built of bluster, arrogance, swagger and ostentation. He is loud and aggressive, usually to those in positions of lesser power than himself or those who are physically weaker and smaller. An attitude of flamboyance and loudness – but only in fair weather. When the storm comes, the coward is the first to run and hide. His lack of courage is easily demonstrable in situations that demand leadership, cool-headedness, swift action and selflessness. The coward is selfish and his first thought is to preserve his own life, even if it means sacrificing tens or hundreds of others to do so. Putting such a person in a position of leadership and responsibility is disastrous.

The Costa Concordia disaster was one that was avoidable and which should not have happened. Its occurrence was the result of a profound irresponsibility, lack of judgment and thoughtlessness. Those responsible should be held accountable and steps taken to ensure that they are never again entrusted with similar responsibilities. The victims silently demand justice, the bereaved families ask for retribution. The persons responsible for the tragedy protest their innocence – this surely is adding insult to injury…

Tuesday 17 January 2012


“Drink does not drown care, but waters it, and makes it grow faster.” - Benjamin Franklin

Magpie Tales has selected an image from the new installation in The Museum of Underwater Modern Art, Mexico by Jason de Caires Taylor. These striking installations explore the relationships between art, science and environment and while the photographs are amazing, it must be quite an experience to be able to see these sculptures in situ.
The given image prompted this response:

Drowning in the Bottom of a Glass

I’ll drink tonight,
And for an hour I’ll forget,
Sink into oblivion in an hour.
No more will moon shine
Piercingly into my empty room;
The garden scents, the flowers
For an hour I’ll forget...

I’ll drink alone tonight,
And for an hour my hand not empty,
Will be stroking the smoothness of my glass;
An hour of forgetfulness,
As songs and moonlit gardens
Sink, drown, all perish in my glass;
I will not care.

Swimming in Lethe’s cup
For only an hour’s indifference,
Sinking, falling, drowning,
In the sparkling liquid,
So I’ll not remember
How sunshine, songs and forest walks
Were made for two.

The cool glass,
Caresses, words unsaid yet understood,
Sharing a new world, blue skies,
The touch of your hand,
All lie forgotten for an hour,
All dead, drowned, dissolved
In the bottom of an empty glass...

Sunday 15 January 2012


“You can only be young once. But you can always be immature.” - Dave Barry

We watched a terrible film at the weekend, made all the more cringe-worthy as it was recommended to us by an acquaintance who said it was “ace film”. Now this acquaintance is in her early twenties and the daughter of a friend, who fortunately has better taste and knowledge than the daughter. However, it did make me think whether this was generation gap thing and made me ask myself: “Am I getting old and crusty?”

The film was based on “Beastly”, a 2007 novel by Alex Flinn (see a review here). It is a retelling of the fairytale “Beauty and the Beast”, set in modern-day New York City told from the point of view of the beast. Flinn researched many versions of the Beauty and the Beast story to write her book. Many of these are playfully alluded to in portions of the book, particularly the chat room transcripts in which the character of Kyle talks to other teens who have been transformed into creatures. Let me admit that I have not read the novel (nor do I wish to, after seeing the film), which is directed towards a young adult readership.

The 2011 film, also called “Beastly” was directed by Daniel Barnz who also wrote the screenplay. It stars Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens and Mary-Kate Olsen, all of whom I had not heard of before nor seen in other movies. The plot revolves around Kyle (Pettyfer) a narcissistic high school student who is obsessed by his good looks and thinks that he can get away with anything because he is popular and good looking. He abhors homely people and mocks those who are ugly or unconventional. Kendra (Olsen), a fellow student who is a goth and has rather a rather individualistic dress sense and delights in garish make-up is picked upon by Kyle as an object of a prank where he humiliates at a school dance in front of their classmates. Kendra is a witch and curses Kyle, transforming him into a “beast”, which reflects his “inner beastliness”. Well, he is sort of a scarred, bald, tattooed fellow but not too beastly. If he manages within a year to get a girl to say “I love you” to him sincerely, his curse will be lifted and he will become handsome again. The redeeming girl is Lindy (Hudgens), a fellow student with whom he has had some previous contre-temps.

The script is childish but without the elegance of a fairy tale, the transfer to modern times rather lame, the plot completely unoriginal and without any surprises, and the acting, directing and cinematography all pedestrian. There is some pop music throughout to further appeal to the teen audience. It was obvious that this novel and film are a spin off of the popular teenage vampire novels, movies and series that have inundated us of late (“New Moon” and “Twilight” and “Eclipse” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and so on - I won't go there in terms of reviewing any of those).

The movie was puerile and extremely shallow. Even the moral was delivered heavy-handedly, the characterisation was at kindergarten level and the world depicted in it, although pure fantasy, was disturbingly and disappointingly realistic in terms of attitudes and morals of the present time.  Thinking a little more about the movie I found myself reflecting on what the youth of today find interesting, amusing and engaging. If this bathos represents the general taste of our youth, then God preserve us! What is the intellectual capacity of the average teenager nowadays if this bilge is what is consumed avidly by them? I know that having an intelligent conversation with many of them is quite impossible, but to what level have they sunk to? And I am talking about the “average” teenager here – I also know some highly intelligent, well-read, highly motivated and extremely mature young people who are amazing to talk to…

Perhaps, I am getting old! I do sound like an old fuddy-duddy who is mouthing the same old conservative truisms that old fuddy-duddies have been preaching forever for time immemorial! The trouble about older people is that as they age (and provided they do not become demented!), they may become wise. However, wisdom brings with it conservative attitudes, lack of spontaneity, increased caution, reticence and a general inertia. At the same time, wisdom is not always something that accompanies old age and in other cases cynicism and bitterness is seen instead. Perhaps I should watch this movie again? Well, no, perhaps I won’t!


“A picture is the expression of an impression. If the beautiful were not in us, how would we ever recognise it?” - Ernst Haas

Lilla Cabot Perry (born January 13, 1848, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.—died February 28, 1933, Hancock, New Hampshire), was an American artist who was much influenced by the innovations of French Impressionism. She was also a major promoter of Impressionism in the United States. Lilla Cabot was a descendant not only of the “Boston Brahmin” Cabot family but also of the equally distinguished Lowells. In 1874 she married Thomas Sergeant Perry, a professor of 18th-century literature at Harvard University. The couple had three daughters, who would become frequent models for their mother’s paintings. The Perry home became an intellectual salon for such writers as Henry James and William Dean Howells and for Lilla Perry’s brother-in-law, artist John La Farge. It may have been the latter who urged her to study painting.

Starting with private lessons in 1886, she attended the Cowles School of Art in Boston. She and her family traveled to Paris in June 1867. On this trip abroad Perry studied at the Académie Julian and at the Académie Colarossi with the English painter Alfred Stevens.  The most important influence on her artistic development, however, came from her relationship with the Impressionist painter Claude Monet. For many years the Perry family summered in Giverny, France, near Monet’s home, and he became a friend and mentor to Perry. Monet suggested that Perry commit her first impression of a scene to canvas rather than to sketchbook. Through such lessons Perry mastered Impressionist techniques.

After returning to Boston with one of Monet’s images of Etretat, France, Perry encouraged American interest in him and the other Impressionists by lecturing and publishing essays on the movement and by urging her friends to purchase Monet’s paintings.  From 1893 to 1901, Perry lived in Tokyo where her husband taught English literature. During this period she painted more than 80 pictures of Japanese scenes, incorporating Japanese and Chinese painting techniques into her work. Like other Impressionists, she found subjects for her painting both in landscapes and in ordinary daily activities. The paintings of her later period feature landscapes near Hancock, New Hampshire.

Much of her work involves portraits and in this respect some of her work is reminiscent of Mary Cassat’s portraits, although Perry’s work is a little more formal and restrained, without the fluidity of line, the immediacy and joyousness of Cassat’s work. Perry’s landscapes show the most affinity to those of the impressionists and more particularly those of her teacher and mentor, Monet.

The painting above, “A Stream Beneath Poplars” painted
circa 1890-1900
(oil on canvas
25 3/4 x 32 inches
signed lower left
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart P. Feld
1973) is exhibited in the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It shows the impressionist style that Perry absorbed from Monet and the scene is reminiscent of Monet’s Giverny paintings. Lilla Cabot Perry is second only to Mary Cassatt as a recognised woman Impressionist painter and her activities in popularizing impressionist art in the USA cannot be underestimated.