Saturday 12 May 2012


“The man who has seen the rising moon break out of the clouds at midnight has been present like an archangel at the creation of light and of the world” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Another busy Saturday with a morning full of chores and the usual rushing around to try and get the things that accumulated during the week done. Thankfully the evening arrives and it was time to relax and enjoy a quiet time while the cold wind blew outside. What better than to relax with some heavenly Bach? Here is the adagio from the Concerto in C Minor for Violin and Oboe BWV 1060 by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Friday 11 May 2012


“No man can taste the fruits of autumn while he is delighting his scent with the flowers of spring.” - Samuel Johnson

As the days continue to shorten and the temperatures continue to fall, we know that Autumn is progressing inexorably towards Winter. It is lovely to feel the bracing coolness in the air and hear the patter of the rain, especially if one is in a warm bed – the rain may then lash the windowpanes and the cold wind may blow, it is but a lullaby that sends one to sleep.

Seasonal fruit and vegetables figure prominently on our table and as always we love our salads. We could not imagine a meal without some sort of salad playing either an accompanying part or having starring role in the proceedings. Today we had a lovely salad that was put together with whatever was in the fridge and whatever could be gathered from the garden. These impromptu seasonal salads are tasty and surprisingly fresh and healthful. The carrots and last of the season’s tomatoes were from the greengrocer’s. The tamarillos, spring onions and herbs were from our garden. We have a lovely little tamarillo tree (Cyphomandra betacea) that is very productive and every autumn we enjoy its fruits.

Carrot, Tamarillo and Tomato Salad
4 carrots
3 tamarillos
1 large tomato
2 spring onions, chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped dill
1 pinch of dried oregano
1 tbsp capers
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper to taste

Grate finely the carrots and place in a salad bowl.
Add the finely chopped onions and herbs, and season with salt and pepper.
Mix well and then add the vinegar and oil, tossing well through the carrots.
Peel the tomato and dice finely into 0.5 cm cubes, arranging it on top of the carrots in the centre of the bowl.
Peel the tamarillos and dice finely into 0.5 cm cubes, arranging it around the tomato along the periphery of the bowl.
Garnish with the capers.
Toss at the table before serving.

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

Thursday 10 May 2012


“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” - Oprah Winfrey
Many Jewish communities around the world will observe today the Lag B’Omer holiday, also known as Lag BaOmer, which falls on the 18th day of the month of Iyar in the Jewish calendar. The name of this observance means “the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer”. The Counting of the Omer is a time for spiritual growth and some Jewish groups forbid haircuts, weddings, dancing and other forms of entertainment in this period. However, Lag B’Omer is a time of celebration and these restrictions are either lifted for one day or ended. Many people hold picnics or barbecues, sing, dance, and encourage their children to play outside with bows, arrows, bats and balls. In Meron, Israel, three-year-old boys are given their first haircuts on this holiday.

In Israel, Lag B’Omer is a school holiday. In the weeks or days beforehand, children and young people gather waste wood, particularly old doors and boards, to pile into huge bonfires. On the evening at the start of Lag B’Omer, the bonfires are lit. The bonfires may symbolise fires lit to communicate and celebrate that a war or period of fighting has ended. People may also offer “Chai Rotel” by donating or offering 18 rotel (about 13 gallons or 54 liters) of liquid food or drink to pilgrims attending the celebrations at the Hilula of R’Shimon bar Yochai in Meron, Israel. Many people believe that anyone who does this will be granted a miracle. An example of this would be that a woman who cannot have children through pregnancy may miraculously become pregnant.

The Lag B’Omer holiday originates from the time of Rabbi Akiva, a scholar and teacher of Jewish law who lived approximately during the years 50 to 135 CE. In a number of Jewish documents, there are passages, which report that 24,000 of his students died in a plague, because they had not respected each other. The plague ended on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, a period of 49 days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot.  Some scholars think that the “plague” refers to the Roman occupation of Jewish lands and that the students died resisting the Roman army, perhaps in the Bar Kokhba revolt in the years 132 to 135 CE. The bonfire connection may be made here, perhaps.

Many visit the resting place (in Meron, northern Israel) of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the anniversary of whose passing is on this day. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (ca 100-160 CE), was the first to publicly teach the mystical dimension of the Torah known as the “Kabbalah,” and is the author of the basic work of Kabbalah, the Zohar. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the date as “the day of my joy.” The chassidic masters explain that the final day of a righteous person’s earthly life marks the point at which “all his deeds, teachings and work” achieve their culminating perfection and the zenith of their impact upon our lives. So each Lag B’Omer, the Rabbi Shimon’s life and the revelation of the esoteric soul of Torah are celebrated.

Kabbalah |kəˈbɑːlə, ˈkabələ|(also Kabbala, Cabbala, Cabala, or Qabalah ), noun.
The ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Bible, first transmitted orally and using esoteric methods (including ciphers). It reached the height of its influence in the later Middle Ages and remains significant in Hasidism.

Kabbalism noun,
Kabbalist noun,
Kabbalistic adjective
ORIGIN: From medieval Latin cabala, cabbala, from Rabbinical Hebrew qabbālāh ‘tradition’, from qibbēl ‘receive, accept’.

Tuesday 8 May 2012


“Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody” - Mark Twain

Last Saturday we were treated to the closest and largest full moon of this year. Astronomers call this sort of close full moon a “perigee full moon”. The word perigee describes the moon’s closest point to Earth for a given month. But last year, when the closest and largest full moon occurred on March 19, 2011, many used the term “supermoon”, which was once again used to describe this 2012 close full moon. The word supermoon didn’t come from astronomy, but rather from astrology. Astrologer Richard Nolle of the website takes credit for coining the term “supermoon”. In 1979, he defined it as:
“…a new or full moon which occurs with the moon at or near (within 90% of) its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit (perigee). In short, Earth, moon and sun are all in a line, with moon in its nearest approach to Earth.”

According to Nolle’s definition, he says that:
“There are 4-6 supermoons a year on average.”

Well, what’s all the fuss about, then? Saturday’s close full moon lines up much more closely with perigee (the moon’s closest point to Earth) than Nolle’s original definition. At perigee, the moon lies only 356,955 kilometers away. Later this month, on May 19, the moon will swing out to apogee (its farthest point for the month) at 406,448 kilometers distant.

The moon won’t come as close as this month’s extra-close moon until August 10, 2014. Even the proximity of full moon with perigee in today’s moon isn’t all that rare. Looking further into the future, the perigee full moon on November 14, 2016 (356,509 km) will even be closer than the one on March 19, 2011 (356,575 km). The perigee full moon will come closer than 356,500 kilometers for the first time in the 21st century on November 25, 2034 (356,446 km). The closest moon of the 21st century will fall on December 6, 2052 (356,421 km).

All full moons bring higher-than-usual tides, and perigee full moons bring the highest (and lowest) tides of all. Each month, on the day of the full moon, the moon, Earth and sun are aligned, with Earth in between. This line up creates wide-ranging tides, known as spring tides. High spring tides climb up especially high, and on the same day low tides plunge especially low. Last Saturday’s extra-close full moon accentuated these monthly (full moon) spring tides all the more.

Did you know that each full moon every month has its own name (for Northern Hemisphere):
January: Old Moon, or Moon After Yule
February: Snow Moon, Hunger Moon, or Wolf Moon
March: Sap Moon, Crow Moon, or Lenten Moon
April: Grass Moon, or Egg Moon
May: Planting Moon, or Milk Moon
June: Rose Moon, Flower Moon, or Strawberry Moon
July: Thunder Moon, or Hay Moon
August: Green Corn Moon, or Grain Moon
September: Fruit Moon, or Harvest Moon
October: Harvest Moon, or Hunter’s Moon
November: Hunter’s Moon, Frosty Moon, or Beaver Moon
December: Moon Before Yule, or Long Night Moon

About once every 19 years, February has no full moon at all. Moreover, in 7 out of every 19 years, two full moons will fall in the same calendar month. The second of the month’s two full moons is popularly referred to as a Blue Moon. The next Blue Moon by this definition will happen on August 31, 2012.


“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.” - Dalai Lama
May 8th is World Red Cross/Red Crescent Day. This day was chosen to honour the birthday of Henri Dunant (1828 –1910), the Swiss founder of the Red Cross. His idea of a volunteer-based humanitarian organisation has grown into an international movement made up of 185 member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. People all over the world, united in their belief in humanity and their desire to make the world a better place, will take a moment on World Red Cross/Red Crescent Day, to recognise past achievements and look towards a better future.

Dunant received a Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to peaceful pursuits, which directly contributed to the creation of the Geneva Convention in 1864. Within this treaty, 12 nations agreed to grant neutrality to those willing to care for the wounded on the battlefield until recovery, and expedite supplies to those bearing the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent’s (IFRC) symbols.

The resulting global observance of the World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day dictates the annual themed focus representing the organisation's long term goals. The 2012 theme is “Together for Humanity”, representing a vision not unlike Dunant’s 148 years ago. Red Cross/Red Crescent youth volunteers worldwide will be on the move to lead positive change today in celebration of World Red Cross Red Crescent Day. It is gratifying to know that of the 13 million IFRC volunteers worldwide, half of them are young people.

The vision of the Red Cross/Red Crescent is to:
  • Initiate efforts for the reduction of deaths because of illnesses
  • Alleviate the impact of any kind of injury and death due to any sort of disaster
  • Decrease the rate of public health emergencies
  • Empower the Red Cross/Red Crescent and civil society along with local communities in order to ensure quick response to emergencies and vulnerable situations
  • Reinstitute human dignity at all the time.

All those who want to be a part of World Red Cross/Red Crescent Day celebration can do the following:
  • Support the Red Cross/Red Crescent and its programs or efforts
  • Send donation to Red Cross/Red Crescent Society near you
  • Donate blood
  • Become a volunteer of Red Cross/Red Crescent
  • Appreciate and recognise the efforts of the Red Cross/Red Crescent volunteers.

IFRC is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation, providing worldwide relief during times of disease, famine, disaster or war. It has around 97 million members and volunteers in some 170 countries and helps more than 230 million people every year. It represents the best of humanity, where compassion, fellow-feeling, kindness, concern, empathy and active help of one’s fellow human beings is manifest.

The Australian Red Cross is active both in Australia and overseas and is always in need of donations and volunteers. Make every day of the year a Red Cross/Red Crescent day by contributing in some way to the humanitarian work of this important body. The web page has many ways in which everyone of us can help the IFRC’s work.

Monday 7 May 2012


 “The pleasure of expecting enjoyment is often greater than that of obtaining it, and the completion of almost every wish is found a disappointment” - Samuel Johnson

We watched a rather disappointing film with George Clooney at the weekend. It was Anton Corbijn’s 2010 film “The American”, starring George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, Thekla Reuten and Violante Placido. I must say that a few films with George Clooney that we have seen lately have been lemons (who can forget the super lemon “The Men Who Stare At Goats” or the other super lemon “Syriana”?). This last film we watched was a mini lemon, suffering from a pedestrian script and a self-important, “we-are-making-a-serious-art-film-here-and-don’t-you-forget-it” type of attitude.

The plot was simple enough (and that was part of the problem): Jack (Clooney) is an assassin, a hitman, a murderer, but also a master craftsman who can modify guns to specification. He is an American who is working in Europe. A job in Sweden ends more messily than expected and he tells his contact, Pavel, that his next assignment will be his last. Jack goes to the Italian countryside, where he takes up residence in a small apartment in a small rural town posing as a landscape photographer. The assignment, as specified by a Belgian woman, Mathilde (Reuten), involves a gun being modified to specification. Jack is befriended by the local priest Father Benedetto (Bonacelli) and pursues romance with local hooker, Clara (Placido). However, things begin to sour when double crossing enters the equation.

First let me say that everyone acted well, there is no arguing with that. Second, the countryside and Italian townscapes provide for plenty of opportunity for good cinematography. The sound track is appropriate and the production values high. That summarises the good things about the movie. Now as for the bad, where do I start? At 105 minutes run time the film feels like it’s at least three hours long. Although it is described as an action thriller, this is a slooooow film, ostensibly about the feelings and moral dilemmas that a contract killer has. The script is laughable and the pretence of the basic idea makes this film tedious. There is a lot of gratuitous nudity and sex in the film, not necessarily relevant to the plot – I guess that was to make it more saleable? Really, nowadays? There were plot holes and the movie failed to engage the viewer. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, we are expected to feel sorry for Jack the contract murderer.

In the end, all we could muster was: “Oh? Is that all? Ho hum!” The film could have been made more exciting, more action-packed and the characters more engaging. I could not work up enough sympathy for poor old George and in the end could not help thinking he got what he deserved – he was a killer after all. His redemption was half-hearted and unconvincing. It was a boring film and too steeped in its own inflated self-importance. There were too many clichés and what was meant to be an exciting edge-of-your-seat thriller ended up being a love story and a soppy one at that.

This is a movie for George Clooney fans, very definitely one to appeal more to a female audience. I was quite bored and I am usually quite forgiving and want to give films every possible chance. I would not recommend it unreservedly and would suggest that if you watch it, do it while you are doing something else as well.

Sunday 6 May 2012


“It is the neglect of timely repair that makes rebuilding necessary.” - Richard Whately

Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya) is the legendary Church of Holy Wisdom in Istanbul, Western Turkey. Dedicated on December 26th, 537 AD by the emperor Justinian, the great church of Haghia Sophia was the religious centre of the Byzantine Empire for nine hundred years, in what was then the capital of the Empire, Constantinople (now Istanbul). After the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, The Hagia Sophia served as an imperial mosque of the Ottoman Empire. After the foundation of the Turkish Republic, it was turned into a museum in 1935.

The present structure dates from the reign of Justinian (527-565 AD), and was built by his architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus. Isidorus the Younger, nephew of Isidorus of Miletus, supervised significant restoration after an earthquake in Justinian’s time. Buttresses were erected much later by Emperor Andronicus Palaeologus in 1317 and minarets were added by Sultan Mehmet II (the Conqueror), Beyazit II, and Murat III.

The church was sumptuously built with rich carvings, marble facings, semiprecious stones, a solid silver iconostasis, and richly decorated with frescoes and mosaics throughout the centuries. The mosaics either depicted the Virgin Mother, Jesus, saints, or emperors and empresses. Other parts were decorated in a purely decorative style with geometric patterns. During the Sack of Constantinople in 1204, the Latin Crusaders vandalised valuable items in every important Byzantine structure of the city, including the golden mosaics of the Hagia Sophia. Many of these items were shipped to Venice, whose Doge, Enrico Dandolo, had organized the invasion and sack of Constantinople.

Following the building’s conversion into a mosque in 1453, many of its mosaics were covered with plaster, due to Islam’s ban on representational imagery. This process was not completed at once, and reports exist from the 17th century in which travellers note that they could still see Christian images in the former church. In 1847–49, the building was restored by two Swiss Italian brothers, Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati, and Sultan Abdülmecid allowed them to also document any mosaics they might discover during this process. This work did not include repairing the mosaics and after recording the details about an image, the Fossatis painted it over again. In some cases, the Fossatis recreated damaged decorative mosaic patterns in paint, sometimes redesigning them in the process.

The Fossati records are the primary sources about a number of mosaic images now believed to have been completely or partially destroyed in an earthquake in 1894. These include a great mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in the dome, a mosaic over a now-unidentified Door of the Poor, a large image of a jewel-encrusted cross, and a large number of images of angels, saints, patriarchs, and church fathers. Most of the missing images were located in the building’s two tympana. The Fossatis also added a pulpit (minbar) and the four large medallions on the walls of the nave bearing the names of Muhammad and Islam’s first caliphs.

Illustrated here is a particularly fine 12th Century mosaic (most likely from 1118 AD) of the Virgin Mary and the infant Christ flanked by Emperor John II Comnenus and the Empress Irene (Eirene). The inscription above the emperor reads: “John, in Christ the Lord faithful Emperor, Porphyrogenitus and Autocrat of the Romans, Comnenus”. The term porphyrogenitus means “born in the purple”, i.e. a legitimate son of the reigning emperor. Keep in mind that the first son of the preceding emperor did not always live long enough to be crowned himself (in fact, John’s two eldest sons died before him).  Also known as Kaloiannis (John the Beautiful), he was apparently quite ugly (the term beautiful apparently referring to his pious character). He married the daughter (later to be the Empress Eirene) of King Ladislaus I of Hungary. The inscription above her head reads: “Eirene, the most pious Augusta”.

This mosaic exemplifies the high art and technical expertise reached by the mosaic artists of the Byzantine era, who created shimmering, sparkling works with vivid and fresh colours. Mosaics have a high degree of permanency and that these mosaics survived for centuries and numerous attempts at defacement is a credit to the skill of the artists and craftsmen, as well as the permanency of the medium of mosaic.

With the Greek Election occurring today it is perhaps appropriate that one considers the persistence of the Greek people and the ever-recurring resurrection of a country and people that has been conquered, enslaved, subjugated, razed and humiliated on numerous occasions. The recent economic crisis and its numerous attendant misfortunes is yet another of these obstacles that will be overcome and Greece will rise from its ashes once again. It will be like a mosaic obscured by time, neglect, daubing with plaster, which is revealed by loving restoration.