Friday 2 March 2012


“When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in worship of the Creator” - Mahatma Gandhi
We’ve had autumnal weather today. Cool temperatures and almost non-stop rain. Just the sort of day to stay in, snuggle up and have a pleasant relaxing time, reading, listening to music, watching a movie and otherwise not doing much at all. A lovely restful day that will continue well into the evening. So what better introduction to a little Saturday Serenity?

Here is Claude Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” from his “Suite Bergamasque” transcribed for orchestra by Leopold Stokowski. It is a deleted segment from Walt Disney’s 1940 film “Fantasia”. Directed by Sam Armstrong performed by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra produced by Walt Disney. What a shame this wonderful sequence was deleted from the final version of the movie because it would make the film too long!

This post is part of the Saturday Sareenity meme.


“My salad days, when I was green in judgment…” - William Shakespeare
Another tiring day at work with quite a lot happening. Even if I do multitask, when there are many meetings and many staff members popping in to see me (I have an open door policy), it does make for a slowing down of my schedule. Nevertheless, it is Friday and the blessed weekend is here so I am looking forward to the rest and relaxation.

Tonight we had fish for dinner, but for me at least, even more delicious was the salad that accompanied it. One thing that I cannot do without at mealtimes is a salad. And we do have a surfeit of seasonal varieties of them. Here is what we had tonight:

4     medium, tender and fresh carrots
1     large ripe tomato
1     Lebanese cucumber (baby cucumber)
3     spring onions
1     tsp dry mustard
5     tbsp olive oil
2     tbsp vinegar
1     tsp salt
       pepper, ground coriander seed, finely chopped dill,

Peel the carrots and grate them finely. Press to remove some of the juice and put in a salad bowl.
Peel the tomato and dice into small cubes, about 0.5 cm side, add to the carrots.
Peel and dice the cucumber into small cubes, add to the salad.
Chop the spring onions and add to the salad.
Season with salt, pepper, spices and herbs.
Mix the oil, vinegar and dry mustard, beating well. Pour over salad and toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more vinegar, oil or spices before serving.

Thursday 1 March 2012


“A first rate soup is better than a second rate painting” - Abraham Maslow

Magpie Tales inspires today with soup. Bob Adelman’s 1965 photo of PopArt king, Andy Warhol shopping for some Campbell’s soup. In 1962, artist Andy Warhol took the familiar look of the Campbell’s soup can and integrated it into a series of pop art silkscreens, a theme he would return to off and on through the 1960s and 1970s. The first batch in 1962 was a series of 32 canvases. At first, the cans were accurate representations of actual Campbell’s cans, but as his series progressed, they became more surrealistic, with Warhol experimenting with negative-reversed color schemes and other varied techniques (many of these which would be used on other Warhol paintings of the period, such as his celebrity silkscreens of the 1960s).

The silkscreens themselves have become iconic pieces of pop art, with one in particular, Small Torn Campbell Soup Can (Pepper Pot - 1962), commanding a price of $11.8 million at auction in 2006. In 2004, Campbell’s themselves recognised Warhol’s art by releasing in the eastern United States a limited-edition series of cans that were inspired by the coloring and silkscreen effects of Warhol’s pieces. This marked one of the few times in the company’s history that they would change the trade dress for their main canned-soup line in any substantial manner…

Soul Food

My soul, she crieth for sustenance
Bereft as she sitteth: Still, weak and starvéd.
My heart, she holdeth back nourishment
And my mind weakeneth, my soul wilteth.

Willst thou, Love, furnish me with the means
To stop my soul’s demise, and my mind’s wanderings
In the distant land of utter folly?
Willst thou, Love, bestow upon me my salvation?

Givest thou the tonic nouriture,
And once my heart eateth and hath surfeit
And make willeth of its life-blood, pottage,
To give my soul the food she lacketh.

My soul diminisheth as my heart feeleth hunger:
For lack of love, my Love, will cause
My soul’s demise and my heart’s decease,
And my living body, though corpulent, will die.

Tuesday 28 February 2012


“Today is an ephemeral ghost... A strange amazing day that comes only once every four years. For the rest of the time it does not exist.” – Vera Nazarian
The yellow violet, Viola odorata, is today’s birthday flower.  It symbolises rarity, worth and rural happiness. Astrologically, the violet is under the dominion of Venus and the sign of Aries.  In the Middle Ages, together with the wallflower, the violet was considered a symbol of constancy.  A golden violet was the prize awarded to the best versifier in competitions where the troubadours sang their ballads.

The intercalary day of February 29th is added every four years except in those century years that cannot be divided evenly by 400 (e.g. 1700, 1800, 1900).  In those years February has 28 days.  In the Roman calendar the intercalary day was added after February 23rd (i.e. VII Kalends March) and the leap day was called VI Kalends of March, the same as the day that followed it. In a leap Roman year therefore there were two days that were called VI Kalends of March and the year was known as a bissextile year (i.e. sixth twice year).

The Leap Year’s Day was regarded as an unlucky day and many ill omens were associated with it.  This arises from the belief that it was the birthday of Biblical Job, which he blighted when he cursed the day he was born.  The Lord, in His mercy only allowed it to occur once every four years.  No new tasks were begun on this day and often candles were lit in churches so that the blight of the day would not influence the fate of the faithful.

The field forget-me-not, Myosotis arvensis, is a flower that was traditionally exchanged between friends on this day. If one began to travel on February 29th, it was customary to give them this bloom.  It symbolises remembrance and true love.

Traditionally, in some countries, February 29th was the time when “ladies have full and absolute licence to propose marriage to single gentlemen. If the gentleman be so rude as to refuse, he is infallibly bound to give the spurned lady a present, which is usually a pair of new gloves on Easter Day.” In 1228 a law was passed in Scotland allowing women to propose marriage only in a leap year.

Gioacchino Antonio Rossini (1792–1868) was born on this day and he is an Italian operatic composer. Of his many lively operas, The Barber of Seville (1816) is his comic masterpiece. After composing the opera William Tell (1829), he wrote only songs, piano pieces, and the Stabat Mater (1842). Some early works of his worth listening to are the String Sonatas 1-6 written at the age of twelve and anticipating the wit and lively nature of his mature music.

St Cassianus has his feast day today and he is considered by Greek heortology to be the patron saint of the lazy as his feast day falls only once every four years!  He is often depicted holding keys, which the Greek people interpret as the “keys of laziness”.


“There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction” - Winston Churchill

These days at work tend to be very busy, coinciding with the beginning of the first semester of the Academic Year, a batch of new students, orientation and induction, renovations and new teaching strategies. We have also had a spate of staff changes with the resignations of three key senior executives within three weeks, which has led to a restructure of the top levels of the organisation. This has created quite a few waves that have made some staff rather nervous. It is very difficult for some people to cope with change, especially if change occurs quickly and is widespread. The discomfiture and anxiety that change generates can be a destabilising factor in an organisation unless it is handled carefully.

Change can occur slowly and thus be managed more easily, but often change can occur with dramatic rapidity and be quite widespread, which catches many unwary people off guard and this can have a disruptive influence not only on one’s working life, but also for one’s home life. The effects of change are not only intellectual and emotional, but also physical. The number of people that show symptoms of a physical disease after their emotional and intellectual stability has been seriously compromised is not insignificant.

Fear, anxiety, frustration, despair, anger and excitement are all feelings experienced by people affected by change. It is essential to recognise it is the change that is causing these emotions, not other people. If we centre our response to the change on people, we can lose perspective and lose control. It is essential to remain calm, logical and analytical about the change that is happening. Understanding what exactly is happening and what the change entails is the first way of coping with it. If we understand change, we start to control our response to it. Analysing the situation may show that the change is not what we thought about initially and that a much less exuberant and less emotional approach is needed.

After getting over the initial shock and when we understand what the change is about, it is then that we can begin to actively take control. We can think of what we successfully did in the past and try the same strategies that worked then. When we think of the changes that we initiated in our own life to effect positive transformations in the way we work, live or even ways that we spend our leisure time, we can cope more effectively with the change that is imposed on us by others. It is also important to realise just how much change we allow ourselves to go through – we can control our destiny: Even if it is something as fundamental as changing jobs, for example.

It is essential when coping with change to find a mentor that we trust. It can be a colleague, a family member or a peer. They can give advice, ask important (and sometimes blunt and painful!) questions, challenge our rationale and think through with us the reason for our actions. Mentors are usually not close friends but people whom we trust to be honest with us and are able to force us to be honest with ourselves. A mentor can help refine our strategy, offer suggestions as to the choices that we have available to us (often many of these we may not have considered ourselves). Choices are important as they can help us control the outcome of the change.

Change often challenges our skill base and it is important in any case to continue to learn new things every day. Knowledge, new skills, increasing experience and new expertise in what we do will allow us to cope with change much more easily. Flexibility of attitude and ability to deal with new scenarios – i.e. change – is something that an expanding skill base makes us more adept at when handling all sorts of crises, including dramatic change.

After thinking through the change, considering our options and determining the way that we wish to respond to the change, it is important to plan ahead. We should start with small steps, consider the short-term goals, then progress to bigger steps and longer-term goals. If one of these planned moves fails, it is important that we do not get discouraged and we should persevere. Losing a battle doesn’t mean we will lose the war. We should regroup and replan and try again. At the same time it is important to celebrate our successes. We should so while looking back at where we have come from, what we have achieved and how our plan of action is progressing.

Change is inevitable and change is positive if it is done with good reason. How we cope with it is very much a personal matter and our choices in dealing with it, as well as our plan of action to deal with it, will determine our successful negotiation of all the transformations that change brings about.

Sunday 26 February 2012


“Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving another.” - Jean P.F Richter
Lent is the period of fasting before Easter, in commemoration of Christ’s 40-day fast in the desert. Interestingly, the 40-day period is one that recurs in the Bible: Moses spent 40 days on Mt Sinai, Elijah spent 40 days travelling to the Mount of God.  In most Western churches (including the Roman Catholic faith), Sundays are not included in the period of fasting and the fast begins on Ash Wednesday.  In the Greek Orthodox faith, the period of Lenten fasting begins on “Clean Monday” (which this year is today), and continues until midnight on Easter Saturday, a period of 48 days. The Greek term for Lent is Meghale Saracosté, meaning the “great 40th day”, fast being implied, and the “great” including the extra 8 days of fasting.  The “lesser 40th day fast” of the Greek Orthodox Church is the one preceding Christmas and lasts 40 days.

It was traditional for children to cut out a paper figure of an old lady with seven feet showing beneath her long skirt. This figure was dubbed “Mrs Lent”. She had no mouth as she was fasting, her hands are crossed in an attitude of prayer and contrition and she has 7 feet, one for each week of the Great Lent. As Lent progressed, one of the feet was cut off on the Saturday, the last one on Holy Saturday before Easter.  In the days before calendars, Mrs Lent was an easy way to keep track of the progress of the fasting and the advent of Easter.

The term “Clean Monday” also refers to the Spring-cleaning, which was traditionally done on this day. Everything was taken out of the house, furniture dusted, floors mopped, walls were whitewashed, houses aired, and the rubbish taken out of the village and burnt.  This represented a purification of the house, readying it for the Lenten period ahead.  In Greece, Clean Monday is a time when children go out and fly kites, a practice known as koúlouma, which usually combines this kite-flying with a picnic in the countryside.  It is customary to eat a special unleavened bread on this day, called a laghána.  The baking of this special bread may be related to the Roman Feast of Ovens, the Fornacalia at around this time. During this feast, it was customary to eat wheaten flat cakes resembling the laghána.  The Fornacalia cakes may also be linked to the tradition of baking pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.
The Great Apokriá is gone and o’er
Masquerading, feasting, alas no more.
Lent is here, Clean Monday dear -
Eat your olives and great God fear!
                                    Greek Folk Rhyme

The term Lent is derived from the Anglo-Saxon lenctene, meaning the time when days lengthen.  The Scottish term for Lent is “Fasterns” while the Gaelic and Welsh terms also allude to the period of fasting.  In Latin the term carnesprivium is given to Lent and means “the time of abstinence from meat”.  Before the fast, all foods forbidden during Lent had to be consumed and generally this was a time for merry-making and feasting. Carnival is derived from the Latin carnelevarium, meaning “taking away of meat”.  Other sources link carnival with carnevale, literally, “goodbye to meat”. No eggs, milk, cheese, meat or fish are partaken during the period of fasting, a largely vegetarian diet being followed.  The Roman Catholic faith has relaxed the requirements of Lenten fasting whereas the Greek Orthodox church still applies the same stringent requirements to the faithful.

Shrovetide is the period just before Lent when people made their “shrifts”, or they were “shriven” i.e. made their confessions.  Lent is a period of meditation, fasting, doing penance, preparing spiritually for Easter and giving money to charity.  No weddings should be performed during Lent, couples usually waiting until Easter Sunday, a very popular day to celebrate a wedding in many countries.  Traditionally, the 40-day period of Lent was also a time that new candidates for admission into the Christian faith prepared for their baptism, which occurred on Easter Sunday.
            Marry in Lent,
            You’ll live to repent.

In England, Shrove Monday is also called Collop Monday, meaning the day on which the meat forbidden during Lent had to be consumed in the form of “collops” or “rashers”.  Mutton collops or bacon collops were eaten on this day together with eggs.  Merry making and the playing of practical jokes was also a custom on the Shrovetide days.  Carnival as such was not celebrated in England.

Rosenmontag, or Rose Monday, is a German pre-Lenten tradition.  On this day, friends exchange a single white rose, this explaining the name of the holiday.  Rosenmontag is included in the week prior to Lent when Carnival is celebrated with parades, processions and masquerades. The Sunday before Rosenmontag and Shrove Tuesday are termed the “Three Mad Days” as this is when the carnival reaches its zenith.  The main carnival procession is held on Rosenmontag (Shrove Monday) and the processions of Mainz and Cologne are by far the most famous and grand. In Cologne, the parade stretches for up to 7 km and is watched by 1.5 million people.  The leading float is occupied by the Prince of the Carnival and following this are other floats, many coaches, dancers, giant dummies depicting well-known personalities in caricature. Brass bands follow on with riders on richly-caparisoned horses, costumed figures, clowns and girls who throw chocolates, carnations and mimosa blossom (flown in from the South of France) into the crowd.


“The purpose of painting is to decorate the walls. Therefore it has to be as rich as possible.” - Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919) was born in Limoges on 25 February 1841. His father was a tailor, and in 1954 Renoir was given an apprenticeship working as a painter in a porcelain factory in Paris, gaining experience with the light, fresh colors that were to distinguish his Impressionist work and also learning the importance of good craftsmanship. His predilection towards lighthearted themes was also influenced by the great Rococo masters, whose works he studied in the Louvre.

In 1862 he entered the studio of Gleyre and there formed a lasting friendship with Monet, Sisley and Bazille. He painted with them in the Barbizon district and became a leading member of the group of Impressionists who met at the Café Guerbois. His relationship with Monet was particularly close at this time, and their paintings of the beauty spot called La Grenouillère done in 1869 are regarded as the classic early statements of the Impressionist style.

Like Monet, Renoir endured much hardship early in his career, but he began to achieve success as a portraitist in the late 1870s and was freed from financial worries after the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel began buying his work regularly in 1881. By this time Renoir said “…I travelled as far as Impressionism could take me”, and a visit to Italy in 1881-82 inspired him to seek a greater sense of solidarity in his work.

The change in attitude is seen in his paintings for then on, which have a crisper and drier style, with duller coloring. After a period of experimentation with what he called his “manière aigre” (harsh or sour manner) in the mid 1880s, he developed a softer and more supple kind of handling. At the same time he turned from contemporary themes to more timeless subjects, particularly nudes, but also pictures of children in unspecific settings. As his style became grander and simpler he also took up mythological subjects and the female type he preferred became more mature and ample.

In the 1890s Renoir began to suffer from rheumatism, and from 1903 (by which time he was world-famous) he lived in the warmth of the south of France. The rheumatism eventually crippled him (by 1912 he was confined to a wheelchair), but he continued to paint until the end of his life, and in his last years he also took up sculpture, directing assistants (including Richard Guino, a pupil of Maillol) to act as his hands.

Renoir is perhaps the best-loved of all the Impressionists, as his subjects, pretty children, flowers, beautiful scenes, above all lovely women have instant appeal, and he communicated the joy he took in them with great directness. “Why shouldn't art be pretty?” he said, “There are enough unpleasant things in the world.” He was one of the great worshippers of the female form, and he said “I never think I have finished a nude until I think I could pinch it.”

His 1881 painting above, “Luncheon of the Boating Party” (Le déjeuner des canotiers) exemplifies Renoir’s style wonderfully. It shows a richness of form, a fluidity of brush stroke, and a flickering light and gorgeous colour with a marvellous rendition of light and shade. It is an instantly appealing work with richness of detail, humour and a sense of keen observation.

The painting depicts a group of Renoir’s friends relaxing on a balcony at the Maison Fournaise along the Seine river in Chatou, France. The painter and art patron, Gustave Caillebotte, is seated in the lower right. Renoir’s future wife, the seamstress Aline Charigot, is in the foreground playing with a small dog. On the table is fruit and wine.  The diagonal of the railing serves to demarcate the two halves of the composition, one densely packed with figures, the other all but empty, save for the two figures of the proprietor’s daughter Louise-Alphonsine Fournaise and her brother, Alphonse Fournaise, Jr, which are made prominent by this contrast. In this painting Renoir has captured a great deal of light. The main focus of light is coming from the large opening in the balcony, beside the large singleted man in the hat. The singlets of both men in the foreground and the table-cloth all work together to reflect this light and send it through the whole composition. A charming work exhibitied in The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.