Saturday 5 May 2012


“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
Another cool, gray Autumn day today. We went to the City this morning, but the rain came, fell and kept falling, finally defeating us so we came back home early. It was good to turn the heater on, have lunch and watch a movie.

Here is some Saturday Serenity with Alicia de Larrocha, piano and the English Chamber Orchestra London conducted by Sir Colin Davis playing one of the most sublime slow movements from Mozart’s piano concertos. This is the Adagio from Piano Concerto No.23 in A major K.488.

Thursday 3 May 2012


“It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber.” - Robert Fulghum

We had an afternoon tea at work today, for no special reason except that it was Friday and Autumn, and everyone wanted a little bit of a treat at the end of the week. A few people brought in some goodies to eat, including chocolate cake, savoury party pies, cookies, pinwheel sandwiches and the pièce de resistance, Scottish Raisin Scones, which I liked particularly well. The woman who brought them in was congratulated heartily all around for her baking prowess and she was kind enough to share the recipe:

Maddy’s Scottish Raisin Scones

1 tbsp. vinegar
1 cup milk
4 - 6 cups unsifted plain flour
4 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup seedless raisins
1 egg yolk
sugar for sprinkling

•    Preheat oven to 230˚C
•    Stir vinegar into milk and set aside
•    Combine 4 cups flour, sugar, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Mix well
•    Cut in butter, rubbing through lightly until mixture resembles coarse crumbs
•    Stir in raisins
•    Add milk mixture to dry ingredients at once and stir with a fork until all ingredients are moistened
•    Add additional flour if mixture is too moist (i.e. you are not able to knead it easily)
•    Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead gently about 20 times
•    Make balls of dough about 4 cm in diameter
•    Brush with egg yolk and sprinkle sugar on top
•    Bake in preheated oven at 230˚C oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until done.

These were so good, I think I’ll suggest we bake them for Sunday brunch!

This post is part of the Food Friday Meme,
and also for the Food Trip Friday Meme.


“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” - George Washington

On May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day is annually observed to inform the community that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights. This day reminds people that many journalists brave death or face jail to bring daily news to the public. The day gives people the opportunity to acknowledge media professionals who risked or lost their lives in the line of duty. Many communities, organizations and individuals take part in this day through various events such as art exhibitions, dinners featuring keynote speakers, and awards nights to honour those who bring news to the world in an objective, truthful and candid manner.

World Press Freedom Day was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1993 as an outgrowth of the Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press. This seminar took place in Namibia in 1991 and led to the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media. The Windhoek Declaration called to establish, maintain and foster an independent, pluralistic and free press. It emphasized the importance of a free press for developing and maintaining democracy in a nation, and for economic development. World Press Freedom Day is celebrated annually on May 3, the date on which the Windhoek Declaration was adopted.

Although World Press Freedom Day has only been celebrated since 1993, it has much deeper roots in the United Nations. Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that everyone “has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

Each year since 1997, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is awarded to honour the work of an individual or an organisation defending or promoting freedom of expression, especially if it puts the individual’s life at risk. The award is named after a journalist murdered in 1986 after denouncing drug barons. Last year it was awarded posthumously to a Russian investigative reporter who was murdered in a contract-style killing in 2006.

The theme for World Press Freedom Day 2012 is “New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies”. The recent uprisings worldwide have highlighted the power of the media, the human quest for freedom of expression and the confluence of press freedom and freedom of expression through various traditional and new media, such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. This has given rise to an unprecedented level of media freedom. New media have enabled civil society, young people and communities to bring about massive social and political transformations by self-organising, and engaging the global youth in the fight to be able to freely express themselves and the aspirations of their wider communities.

However, it must be understood that media freedom is fragile, and it is also not yet within the reach of everyone. As more reporting is now done online, more and more online journalists including bloggers are being harassed, attacked or even killed for their work. We should take great pains to allow freedom of expression of individuals on whatever platform they choose. By being aware of the important and fundamental human right of freedom of speech, we can safeguard it and help make it a respected right worldwide.

Rights have also attendant responsibilities and freedom of expression is no exception. Many people interpret freedom of the press and freedom of speech to mean that anything can be reported and written with impunity. However, it is the responsibility of good journalism to be objective, respectful of other people, inclusive, civil, tactful and cautious. Freedom of the press doesn’t imply that a reporter may vilify, abuse and denigrate nor does it give free rein to fabrication and sloppy reportage that is deficient in facts and laden with poorly formed opinion. A good reporter has all the facts, is objective and while incisive and honest, is never slanderous or pejorative.

Wednesday 2 May 2012


“Everything beloved is the centre point of a paradise.” - Novalis
Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, is the plant for today’s birthdays.  It symbolises courage and resistance and in the language of flowers means: “I declare against you”.  An old name for the herb is athanasia (Greek for “immortality”). In the past it was used to preserve corpses which may be associated with this older name.  Consequently, the herb was sacred to St Athanasius. The herb was used to flavour many Easter dishes (cakes, omelettes and the Paschal lamb) and was representative of Lent as a bitter herb.  Astrologically, it is under the dominion of Venus.

Novalis (1772 - 1801) was the pen name of Friedrich Leopold, Baron von Hardenberg. He took the name from “de Novali” which was an old family name. The future Baron von Hardenberg was born into a noble German family in lower Saxony. He was sent to a religious school as a boy, but he was stifled by the strict atmosphere and he never adjusted to its severe discipline. He later lived with his uncle who introduced him to the French literature and rational philosophy. He then went to Weissenfels, where his father moved, and entered the Eisleben gymnasium. In 1790-91 he studied law at the University of Jena, where he met Friedrich von Schiller and Friedrich Schlegel. Novalis completed his studies at Wittenberg in 1793.

In the 1790s, the ideas of the French Revolution spread among idealistic intellectual circles throughout Europe, greatly inspiring the young Novalis. He was also deeply moved by reading the mystical philosophical writings of Goethe. Goethe’s book “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship”, which he read in 1795, influenced him deeply; he considered it the Bible for the “New Age”. In 1795-96 he studied the works of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. At the age of 21 he moved to Tennstädt and took up job in civil service.

When Novalis was a young man, he fell in love with a teenage girl named, appropriately enough, Sophie (Sophia is a personification of the goddess of wisdom, the feminine embodiment of the divine in Western gnostic traditions). His experience of love for the young woman was so deep that it became a transformative, “mystical” experience for the young and impressionable Novalis, whose reading had made him receptive to the concept of ideal love. Sadly, Sophie von Kühn died two years later of tuberculosis.

In 1798 Novalis published a series of philosophical fragments, “Fragmenten”. The loss of his beloved caused an infinitude of pain and sorrow for the hapless young lover, but it also served as strong inspiration and source of creative energy. His “Hymnen an die Nacht” (Hymns to the Night - 1800) was the resultant work. This is a collection of prose, poetry and aphorisms in praise of the sacred encounters with nature, night, sleep, and the magnetic connection between the masculine and the feminine.

Novalis died at the age of 29 of tuberculosis, the same disease that claimed Sophie. He is considered one of the early German Romantics, and he is sometimes referred to as “the prophet of the Romantics”.

Hymns to the Night – No 6
Longing for Death

Into the bosom of the earth,
Out of the Light's dominion,
Death's pains are but a bursting forth,
Sign of glad departure.
Swift in the narrow little boat,
Swift to the heavenly shore we float.

Blessed be the everlasting Night,
And blessed the endless slumber.
We are heated by the day too bright,
And withered up with care.
We're weary of a life abroad,
And we now want our Father's home.

What in this world should we all
Do with love and with faith?
That which is old is set aside,
And the new may perish also.
Alone he stands and sore downcast
Who loves with pious warmth the Past.

The Past where the light of the senses
In lofty flames did rise;
Where the Father's face and hand
All men did recognize;
And, with high sense, in simplicity
Many still fit the original pattern.

The Past wherein, still rich in bloom,
Man's strain did burgeon glorious,
And children, for the world to come,
Sought pain and death victorious,
And, through both life and pleasure spake,
Yet many a heart for love did break.

The Past, where to the flow of youth
God still showed himself,
And truly to an early death
Did commit his sweet life.
Fear and torture patiently he bore
So that he would be loved forever.

With anxious yearning now we see
That Past in darkness drenched,
With this world's water never we
Shall find our hot thirst quenched.
To our old home we have to go
That blessed time again to know.

What yet doth hinder our return
To loved ones long reposed?
Their grave limits our lives.
We are all sad and afraid.
We can search for nothing more --
The heart is full, the world is void.

Infinite and mysterious,
Thrills through us a sweet trembling --
As if from far there echoed thus
A sigh, our grief resembling.
Our loved ones yearn as well as we,
And sent to us this longing breeze.

Down to the sweet bride, and away
To the beloved Jesus.
Have courage, evening shades grow gray
To those who love and grieve.
A dream will dash our chains apart,
And lay us in the Father's lap.


Tuesday 1 May 2012


“Sooner or later comes a crisis in our affairs, and how we meet it determines our future happiness and success. Since the beginning of time, every form of life has been called upon to meet such crisis.” - Robert Collier

It is May Day today and I have blogged before about this anniversary, its history and traditions, here, and also here and lastly here. Today at lunchtime I was walking back to the office after a meeting and chanced upon a May Day demonstration in central Melbourne. It was a rather mild affair with a few dozen of protesters, but they did manage to stop the traffic for a few minutes while the crowd watched with expressions ranging from apathy to mild amusement to annoyance. The police were there to keep an eye on things and the demonstrators moved on after a while.

We are still relatively fortunate here in Australia in these terrible times of economic crisis. The unemployment rate tends to be quite low compared to other Western nations, the economy (although not booming) is still fairly healthy, and our lifestyle is still quite relaxed. We are counting our blessings, but the question is, till when? How long will the mining boom that has buoyed up the economy last? Will international pressures force our economy down sooner rather than later.? One thinks of the fat and lean cows, and we must prepare ourselves for the worse…

I dare say that labour demonstrations marking May Day that will take place across the world will be more vehement and rather more well-attended than the Melbourne one. Europe with its backdrop of unpopular austerity measures and rising social unrest will play a leading role in these demonstrations, I should think. Greece, Spain and Portugal are set to hold large nationwide demonstrations. At a Paris rally, National Front leader Marine Le Pen is expected to tell her supporters who they should vote for in Sunday's presidential run-off vote. The Occupy protest movement has urged May Day action spanning the globe…

The Occupy protest movement released a statement that said: “The Occupy Movement has called for A Day Without the 99% on May 1st, 2012”. This is in reference to its slogan that the wealthy 1% rules over a powerless 99%.  The main Occupy rally will be in New York in the afternoon rush hour. The Occupy movement in San Francisco called for a Golden Gate Bridge protest, with the statement there being: “This May Day we look forward to seeing strong, powerful picket lines, unlike anything the Golden Gate Bridge bosses have seen before”.

Rallies have already taken place across Asia, with the protest in Hong Kong attracting about 5,000 workers who marched demanding a rise in the minimum wage. In Jakarta, Indonesia, more than 9,000 workers marched to the state palace calling for better pay and job protection. In Manila, the Philippines, some 8,000 workers rallied near the Malacanang palace to call for pay increases.

We live in interesting times, and things are going to get all the more interesting as time progresses. As with any crisis a resolution will follow - history teaches us that. In any resolution some things will get better, but also there will be many casualties. One hopes that some good sense prevails and we vote in some politicians that will think of the greater, longer term good.

Sunday 29 April 2012


“Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.” - E. B. White

We watched an interesting French film at the weekend, which although rather slow and of an almost documentary-like look, was quite effective and made some strong points about some of the problems immigrants face in France. It was the 2007 film by Abdellatif Kechiche, La Graine et le Mulet - “The Secret of the Grain”, starring Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi and Farida Benkhetache.

At the port of Sète, near Montpellier in Southern France, Mr Slimani, a 60-year-old man, works the local shipyard. He is from Tunisia, but has been working at the shipyard for 30 years. As the economy gets worse and the shipyard loses business, big demands are made on the workers so that productivity increases as staff is laid off.  Mr Slimani is divorced and a good father who stays close to his family despite the existing tensions amongst the family members. Tempers flare, arguments are easily sparked off and financial difficulties make everything even more intense. Making things more complicated is his lady friend who is a cheap hotel owner and her young daughter who adores Mr Slimani, as if he were her own father. Mr Slimani is going through a difficult period in his life and everything seems to make him feel a failure. He has a dream to start up his own restaurant. When Slimane is laid off, he has nothing to lose and rescues an old ship from the wreckers and remodels it to become a floating restaurant. What seems to be an unreachable dream suddenly begins to become reality with the help of family and friends who rally around him to support his project: His sons help with the boat’s renovation; his girlfriend’s daughter helps acquiring the necessary bank loans and official documents; and his ex-wife cooks the restaurants signature dish – fish couscous. But unfortunately all is not rosy…

The grain referred to in the title of the film is the staple dish of North Africa, couscous. This is to be the specialty of the restaurant and it is to be served with fish, special sauces and delicious hors d’ oeuvres. All is cooked to perfection, but his philandering son throws a spanner in the works on the party night that Mr Slimani has invited all the city VIPs to show them how his restaurant will function faultlessly.

The movie was over-long at 151 minutes and a lot of film should have been left on the cutting room floor to make it tighter, to flow more easily and to discard a lot of irrelevant details that were bordering on the tiresome (the sequence with Mr Slimani’s grandaughter’s toilet training was a typical example). One can argue that the meandering dialogue was natural and believable, but it laboured a point and most viewers would lose interest very quickly in a long discussion about the price of nappies. However, as the film progressed, the pace quickened and the final scenes contrasted very much with the earlier part of the film.

The acting was excellent and Habib Boufares gives an understated, dignified performance as Mr Slimani. Hafsia Herzi and Farida Benkhetache sparkle as the adopted and blood daughters and the supporting cast do a great job of making the family and their contacts come to life. Many of these were not professional actors and much of the dialogue surely must have been improvised on the spot (highlighting once again the need for tighter editing). The cinematography is good and the music very apt.

The restaurant is of course symbolic of the dreams of immigrants and hopes of immigrants, wishing to make it good in the “new country”. To achieve a success that will elevate them in their new community, while raising their status amongst their peers. The wish to integrate and work in their new community, whilst still retaining the culture and customs of their homeland is a tough balancing act, but Mr Slimane tries to do this valiantly. The community’s dual attitude toward immigrants is an issue that the film confronts. During a party at Slimane’s restaurant, the invited guests (who all accepted and turned up for the free feed) compliment their host and try their hand at a little Arabic; however, as soon as Slimane’s back is turned, they whisper amongst themselves that “he’s not from around here”; “he’ll ruin the market for us – his prices will be much cheaper than at our own restaurants”; and “of course he cannot moor his boat restaurant at the good side of the port”…

The ending of the film is abrupt and quite shocking, leaving the viewer flummoxed. But one has to remember that this is not an ordinary film. It is documentary-like tragicomedy, with real glimpses of family life, tensions between the immigrant community and the autochthonous elements, love and devotion – parental, filial and otherwise, as well as the value of dreaming and the hope of achieving one’s dreams. It is a difficult film to watch but quite rewarding for those who are interested in off-beat, unconventional and highly individualistic movies.


“It is our illusions that create the world” - Didier van Cauwelaert
Op art, also known as optical art, is a style of visual art that makes use of optical illusions. Op art works are abstract, with many of the better known pieces made in only black and white. When the viewer looks at them, the impression is given of movement, hidden images, flashing and vibration, patterns, or alternatively, of swelling or warping. This art became popular in the 1960s, but as more artists became involved in the movement, the predominantly black and white style became infused by colour.

Bridget Louise Riley CH CBE (born 24 April 1931) is an English painter who is one of the foremost proponents of Op art. Riley was born in London and spent her childhood in Cornwall and Lincolnshire. She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. She studied art first at Goldsmiths College (1949–52), and later at the Royal College of Art (1952–55), where her fellow students included artists Peter Blake and Frank Auerbach.

Her early work was figurative with a semi-impressionist style. Around 1960 she began to develop her signature Op Art style consisting of black and white geometric patterns that explore the dynamism of sight and produce a disorienting effect on the eye. Early in her career, Riley worked as an art teacher from 1957-58 at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Harrow. Later she worked at the Loughborough School of Art (1959), Hornsey College of Art, and Croydon College of Art (1962–64). She also worked as an illustrator for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency prior to giving it up in 1964. In 1968 Riley, with Peter Sedgley and Peter Townsend, created the artists' organization SPACE (Space Provision Artistic Cultural and Educational), with the goal of providing artists large and affordable studio space.

Bridget Riley may be best known for her optical black and white paintings – now  synonymous with the 1960s – but in the stunning colour work that she started experimenting with in 1967, she continued her exploration of perception through the relationship between structure and colour. In 1968, Riley represented Great Britain in the Venice Biennale. She was the first British contemporary painter, and the first woman, to be awarded the prestigious International Prize for painting. In many works since this period, Riley has employed others to paint the pieces, while she concentrates on the actual design of her work.

In 2009 Bridget Riley was recipient of Germany’s most prestigious prize, The Goslar Award for Modern Art and in 2012 she will be awarded the Rubenspreis der Stadt Siegen. Her work is in the collection of major international museums including Neues Museum, Nurnberg; MoMA, New York; Tate Gallery, London; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo among others. Two wall paintings as well as paintings and studies are also currently on view in a unique exhibition, Bridget Riley: Paintings and Related Work, at the National Gallery in London, which was on view until 22 May 2011.

The work above is “Debut”, 1988, oil on linen, 167,6 x 226,1 cm.