Saturday 30 June 2012


“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast” – Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
For Art Sunday today, a whimsical painter whose bizarre works have puzzled as well as delighted countless generation. Giuseppe Arcimboldo was born in Milan in 1527, the son of Biagio, a painter who did work for the office of the Fabbrica in the Duomo. Arcimboldo was commissioned to do stained glass window designs beginning in 1549. In 1556 he worked with Giuseppe Meda on frescoes for the Cathedral of Monza. In 1558, he drew the cartoon for a large tapestry of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, which still hangs in the Como Cathedral today. In 1562 he became court portraitist to Ferdinand I at the Habsburg court in Vienna, and later, to Maximilian II and his son Rudolf II at the court in Prague. He was also the court decorator and costume designer.

King Augustus of Saxony, who visited Vienna in 1570 and 1573, saw Arcimboldo’s work and commissioned a copy of his “The Four Seasons” which incorporated his own monarchic symbols. Vortumnus (Vertumno) Arcimboldo’s conventional work, on traditional religious subjects, has fallen into oblivion, but his portraits of human heads made up of vegetables, fruit and tree roots, were greatly admired by his contemporaries and remain a source of fascination today.

Art critics debate whether these paintings were purposefully painted strange or whether they were the product of a deranged mind. A majority of scholars hold to the view, however, that given the Renaissance fascination with riddles, puzzles, and the bizarre, Arcimboldo, far from being mentally imbalanced, catered to the taste of his times.  Arcimboldo died in Milan, to which he retired after leaving the Habsburg service. It was during this last phase of his career that he produced the composite portrait of Rudolph II, as well as his self-portrait as the Four Seasons.

His Italian contemporaries honoured him with poetry and manuscripts celebrating his illustrious career. His hidden-face still-lives are a possible influence on his younger Lombard contemporary Caravaggio, whose painting of fruit in the Brera museum in Milan ranks as one of the earliest independent still-lives.  When the Swedish army invaded Prague in 1648, during the Thirty Years' War, many of Arcimboldo’s paintings were taken from Rudolf II’s collection. 

His works can be found in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Habsburg Schloss Ambras in Innsbruck, the Louvre in Paris, as well as numerous museums in Sweden. In Italy, his work is in Cremona, Brescia, and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut, the Denver Art Museum in Denver, Colorado, the Menil Foundation in Houston, Texas, and the Candie Museum in Guernsey also own paintings by Archimboldo.

The bizarre works of Arcimboldo, especially his multiple images, were rediscovered in the early 20th century by Surrealist artists like Salvador Dali. The “The Arcimboldo Effect” exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice (1987) included numerous 'double meaning' paintings.  Arcimboldo’s influence can also be seen in the work of Shigeo Fukuda, Istvan Orosz, Octavio Ocampo, and Sandro del Prete, as well as the films of Jan Svankmajer.

The painting above “A Bowl of Vegetables” is a typical example of a double image. When turned around 180˚, the bowl is transformed into a typical Arcimboldo face made up of vegetables, and one sees "The Gardener" who produced the vegetables!


“Absence doth sharpen love, presence strengthens it; the one brings fuel, the other blows it till it burns clear.” - William Shakespeare

For Song Saturday, “L’ Orage” (The Storm), a French song of 1966 sung by one of the great and distinctive voices of the time, Marie Lafôret. Seems very apt tonight…

L’ Orage

J'entends ce soir l'orage
Gronder sur la forêt
Je revois le visage
De ce dernier été
Près de toi, j'ai eu peur
Lorsque le ciel en fureur
A chassé les étoiles
Qui nous portaient bonheur

La pluie à mon oreille
Chante comme autrefois,
Nos souvenirs s'éveillent
Cette nuit malgré moi
Loin de toi, mon coeur bat
Je crois entendre ta voix
Mais ce n'est que l'orage
Qui me parle de toi

J'entends ce soir l'orage
Me parler de ce temps
Qui, tout comme un nuage,
S'est enfui dans le vent
Près de moi, tu disais
Sous la pluie qui m'inondait
"N'oublie pas que je t'aime
Quoi qu'il puisse arriver"

J'entends ce soir l'orage
Gronder sur la forêt
Je revois le visage
De ce dernier été, loin de toi
Chaque fois qu'un orage éclatera
Je m'en reviendrai seule
Vivre nos joies enfuies
Et j'aimerais qu'il pleuve
Tout au long de ma vie

“…The rain in my ear
Sings as it did then,
Memories of that night awakened,
In spite of myself.
Far from you, my heart beats,
And I think I hear your voice:
But it is only the storm
That speaks to me of you…”

Friday 29 June 2012


“Get to know the Chef and you will start to enjoy dining out even more.” - John Walters
I have been attending a conference for work at Crown Conference Centre here in Melbourne. It all went very well and was faultlessly organised with some interesting speakers and robust discussion after each of the sessions. Last night was the conference dinner, held in the Riverview Room with a stunning outlook onto the Yarra River and the city lights across the other bank. The dinner itself was excellent and served meticulously and relatively quickly given the large number of guests.

I had the following courses, which ran as follows:
•    Entrée – Pan-seared scallops wrapped with smoked salmon and served with a julienne of fresh celeriac with mayonnaise dressing
•    Main course – Beef steak on the bone with seasonal vegetables
•    Dessert – A trio of vanilla bean ice cream, mini date pudding and chocolate mousse slice dusted with cocoa
•    Coffee and hand-made chocolates.

Champagne, white and red wine were served and to cap it all off, a very good jazz trio played live. It was a delightful night, except for the after dinner speaker who unfortunately spoke interminably, told bad jokes and peppered everything he said with references to rugby, which his audience hardly appreciated. The evening was nevertheless an enjoyable one, given the high quality of the food and wine, as well as the excellent and prompt service.

Here is the recipe for the entrée:

Smoked Salmon Wrapped Scallops

6 large scallops (white part only)
6 strips of smoked salmon slices
1 celeriac rhizome
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar
Mustard sprouts for garnishing

Peel the celeriac and grate it. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and mix in a good quantity of home made mayonnaise. Reserve.
Wash the scallops and pat dry.
Wrap a smoked salmon slice strip around each scallop and secure with a toothpick.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and sear the scallops, about two minutes on each side, being careful not to overcook.
Serve three scallops on a dish that has been brushed with a stripe of balsamic vinegar
Place a spoonful or two of celeriac on the side and garnish with some mustard seed sprouts.

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

Thursday 28 June 2012


“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” - Michael Jordan

It is now several weeks that I am at my new job and even though it has been a rather hectic time, while I learn the ropes, I am thoroughly enjoying it. My new colleagues have been very welcoming and helpful and I find the whole organisation quite different to what I have experienced in my past jobs. There is a great feeling of camaraderie and team spirit, and I have yet to experience any negativity or bitchiness, which unfortunately was very much the case in some of previous places of employ.

My new role involves leading a team of people, some of whom were already appointed when I joined the company while two more are being appointed at the present time. I report to an Executive Director who reports to the CEO. My job is very much one of communication, relationship-building and relationship-nurturing with a number of major tertiary education providers, as well as working with these universities to ensure high quality of their tertiary education programs and the offering of new programs through our institution. The team that I lead has a strong role to play institution-wide in terms of communication and relationship-building. My role is a newly created one as the company is rapidly expanding and there is huge growth in terms of personnel and specialisations in activity.

Getting a team together and facilitating its smooth and effective operation is a task that can be fraught with difficulties. In order to be an effective team member, whether one leads or works with others to bring about the overall success of the organisation, means that one has to understand firstly the mission and objectives of the organisation. One has to work closely with others in order to bring together different talents, diverse knowledge and experience, separate job tasks, a variety of personalities, work ethics and work styles in order to make the team coherent and unified in fulfilling the goals of not only the projects that it is working on, but also ensuring that the goals of the whole organisation are considered. Even though each member of a team has a specific role and task list and each may belong to different work groups, each member works with other members to accomplish the overall objectives. However, the leader must clearly define what the team needs to accomplish and how its goal fits into the bigger picture.

Successful team building is essential to create a focussed team that works well together and achieves results. Knowing something about each of the team members helps a leader work better with the team and this will help with task allocation so that each member can contribute the maximum to the team effort. This is why there are so many “team-building” activities that often have fun, or social context. Seeing your team members as individuals with personalities, knowing something about their likes and dislikes, their interests, hobbies and observing the way they interact with other people will allow you to make better decisions when the team is functioning in a professional context.

There must be clear communication to all team members what the expected outcomes of its work are, and how they are meant to perform to achieve these. Each team member must know why the team was created, and why they each are part of it. Adequate resources, time and money must be available to support the team’s work. The leader must ensure that the actions and tasks of team members are prioritised and that project milestones are reached.

The team must realise the importance of its activities, and how the outcomes of their work will help the organisation achieve its broader, communicated business goals. The organisation’s principles, vision and values must guide the team’s work and the leader must be able to clarify misunderstandings, resolve issues and communicate effectively on progress and achievements of the team, but also give timely advice regarding possible barriers and obstacles to the team achieving its goals. A good leader will elicit out of the team members a whole range of solutions to issues, and the team itself will then be able to get itself back on track.

It is important for team members to have commitment and to want to participate in the team. This is also part of a leader’s tasks, and clear explanations about the team’s mission and expected outcomes are vital. Team members must perceive that their activities are valuable to the organisation, but they must be aware also that their own careers and professional development are advanced. It is important to not only promise team members recognition for their contributions, but to also carry through with delivering rewards and recognition when the team achieves their goal. A good team will provide members with multiple opportunities to enhance their skill set and they should be able to demonstrate they have to grown and developed professionally while in the team. Team members should be excited and challenged by the opportunity to work together.

Wednesday 27 June 2012


“The man who is ostentatious of his modesty is twin to the statue that wears a fig-leaf” - Mark Twain
The fig tree, Ficus carica, is today’s birthday plant.  The fig was supposedly the first fruit tasted by Adam in the Garden of Eden and the fig leaf his first attire!  The Romans thought the tree sacred as it was a fig tree’s roots that caught the cradle containing Romulus and Remus as it was floating down the Tiber.  Therefore, a fig tree together with a grapevine and an olive tree were planted in the Roman Forum.

The tree symbolises argument and this is in respect of a Greek legend in which two famous soothsayers, Calchas and Mopsus were arguing as to which of the two was the greatest.  A fig tree laden with fruit was chosen as the arbiter and both attempted to guess the number of fruit on it. Calchas failed the test, pined away and died as the result.

Italians consider the tree unlucky as it is reputedly the tree upon which Judas hanged himself.  The Jews on the other hand see the tree as an emblem of peace and plenty.  A dream of figs indicates realisation of wishes, prosperity and happiness. Some oneirologists (dream interpreters) consider the fig as a symbol of the female genitalia.  Astrologically, the fig is assigned to Jupiter’s rule.

The fig is native to the temperate climate of Asia Minor (present day Turkey) and today is grown as important fruit of commerce in the eastern Mediterranean region, USA and Spain. However, it is also cultivated as a fruit tree in home gardens in temperate zones around the world. During each season it bears several hundred pear shaped fruits, twice a year, which vary in size and color depending on the cultivated variety.

Figs are low in calories, with 100 g fresh fruits providing only 74 calories. They contain health-benefitting soluble dietary fibre, minerals, vitamins and pigment anti-oxidants that contribute immensely to health and wellness. Dried figs are excellent source of minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants. In fact dried fruits are a concentrated source of energy, with 100 g dried figs provide 249 calories.

Fresh figs, especially “black mission”, are high in polyphenolic flavonoid antioxidants such as carotenes, lutein, tannins and chlorogenic acid. Their antioxidant value is comparable to that of apples at 3200 µmol/100 g. In addition, fresh fruits contain adequate levels of some of antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin A, E, and K. Altogether these phytochemical compounds in fig fruit help scavenge harmful oxygen free radicals from the body and thereby protect us from cancers, diabetes, degenerative diseases and infections. Research suggests that chlorogenic acid in figs help lower blood sugar levels and control blood glucose levels in type-II diabetes mellitus (adult onset).

Fresh as well as dried figs contain good levels of the B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine, folate and pantothenic acid. These vitamins function as co-factors for metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.  Dried figs are excellent sources minerals like calcium, copper, potassium, manganese, iron, selenium and zinc. 100 g of dried figs contain 640 mg of potassium, 162 mg of calcium, and 2.03 mg of iron. Potassium in an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Copper is required in the production of red blood cells. Iron is required for red blood cell formation as well for cellular oxidation.

Monday 25 June 2012


“Murder is born of love, and love attains the greatest intensity in murder” - Octave Mirbeau
“Touch of Evil” is a classic, Orson Welles film noir made in 1958. It is a stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in a Mexican border town. Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Vivien Leigh and Akim Tamiroff give stellar performances and the movie is gripping and has a plot line that is engaging and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Magpie Tales this week has selected a still from the movie as a point of departure for the creative endeavours that are highlighted by her blog every week. Here is my contribution:


He kills with ease, his hands are quick;
A knife, a gun, some rope
A “blunt object”…
His actions are deliberate,
He thinks long and hard
Before he executes.

He watches still, unmoving
And dispassionate, as his victims die;
His face a mask,
A waxen simulacrum of humanity,
As he snuffs out life
And gets a surge of power.

He touches slowly,
His fingers cool and probing,
Taking the coldness of steel
To give it to flesh expiring:
The touch of evil
Carries deadly caresses.

And as I watch him
Carry out his execution
With surgical precision,
I let myself be washed into
The tide of death’s oblivion
As my heart falters, trips, stops.

Unable to stop him,
Incapable of any reaction,
No cry, no struggle, no protection,
No instinct of self-preservation,
To end his assassination
Of a heart that loved too much.


“The final mystery is oneself.” - Oscar Wilde
When I was young I remember reading the Superman comics avidly and enjoying this particular character the most out of the all the superheroes that populated the newsagent stand in the comics section. I also remember watching with my friends the reruns of the 1952-1958 TV series “Superman” starring George Reeves. Sure enough the episodes were corny and clunky and badly made, but they still somehow managed to fire up the imagination and bring the comics to life. I soon outgrew both the comics and TV series, but like all things in our childhood, there is a strong sense of nostalgia that accompanies our memories of them.

When I saw at the video store the 2006 Allen Coulter film “Hollywoodland” and read the notes on the cover, I was a little intrigued, because the film was based on the mystery surrounding the death of George Reeves, officially by suicide, although there were all sorts of stories that suggested foul play may have been involved. I didn’t know anything about the life or death of the actor and as the summary of the plot looked interesting I got the DVD to watch. It starred Ben Affleck as George Reeves, Adrien Brody as Louis Simo, the private eye investigating his death, Dianne Lane as Toni Mannix, Reeves’ lover, and Bob Hoskins as Eddie Mannix, Toni’s husband.

The plot of the film has as follows: Louis Simo, a struggling third-rate LA private investigator, is hired by Helen Bessolo to investigate the death of her son, actor George Reeves. Simo has come across this job through his connections and the job is given to him as a returned favour by a former colleague. Reeves was best known for his title role in Superman, a role which he always despised, in part since it typecast him as a “cartoon” and because it prevented him being considered a “serious” actor. He died on June 16th, 1959 as a result of a single gunshot wound to the head, while in his bedroom in his Los Angeles home. Police ruled a suicide, although the death occurred while guests were in the house and even though the death wasn’t reported until 45 minutes following the shot being heard. The story of Reeves life and death is told in flashback as Simo, who is trying to make a name for himself with this case, talks to or tries to talk to some of the players involved, most specifically the wife of MGM General Manager, Eddie Mannix.

The film is quite hazy about what may have really happened and the viewer is left hanging, especially as the last scene fades and one wants to scream: “Don’t end like that, now!” However, on reflection, I think that the suspension and inconclusiveness in that last scene is quite powerful and contributes to the mystery. It tends to suggest that real life is like this. Full of unsolved mysteries, murders that never get figured out, people who disappear without a trace and criminals who get away with it. And of course add to that the millions who commit suicide and nobody ever gets to know the real reason why they do it.

The film was made with the “film-noir” genre in mind, the 1950s Hollywood setting recreated well, the sets, costumes and ambience looking authentic. The film makes several intriguing suggestions about the death of Reeves and three different “solutions” to the actor’s death are shown, one of them including the official suicide version. We enjoyed the film, although it was a trifle too long and some of the subplots were a distraction rather than adding to the story. The actors all played well and the flashback sequences illustrating the life of Reeves were one of the most interesting parts of the movie.

Diane Lane is great to watch first as a gorgeous vamp and then as the frustrated older woman. Ben Affleck rises to the occasion and gives a great performance. The two lovers play well and there is chemistry between them. Bob Hoskins is another actor who makes the most of his role and play with enough restraint and great conviction to develop a very real, frightening persona on screen. Adrien Brody was miscast as the detective and he struggles to convince. Besides which, the subplot centering on his family life is quite marginal to the plot and distracts.

We recommend the film and it is certainly one to hunt out and watch. It explores the dirty world of Hollywood and shows some of the rust on the tinsel of the place.

Sunday 24 June 2012


“Since the time of Homer every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.” - Edward Said

For Art Sunday today, Jean Léon Gérôme who was born May 11th, 1824, in Vesoul, France and died January 10th, 1904, in Paris. He was a French painter, sculptor, and art teacher. Son of a goldsmith, he studied in Paris and painted melodramatic and often erotic historical and mythological compositions, excelling as a draughtsman in the linear style of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, work typical of the Academicism.

His best-known works are scenes inspired by several visits to the Orient and Egypt. In his later years he produced mostly sculpture. He exerted much influence as a teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts; his pupils included Odilon Redon and Thomas Eakins. A staunch defender of the academic tradition, he tried in 1893 to block the government’s acceptance of the Impressionist works bequeathed by Gustave Caillebotte.

In 1853, Gérôme moved to the Boîte à Thé, a group of studios in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Paris. This would become a meeting place for other artists, writers and actors. George Sand entertained in the small theatre of the studio the great artists of her time such as the composers Hector Berlioz, Johannes Brahms and Gioachino Rossini and the novelists Théophile Gautier and Ivan Turgenev.

He started an independent atelier at his house in the Rue de Bruxelles between 1860 and 1862. He was appointed as one of the three professors at the École des Beaux-Arts. He started with sixteen students, most who had come over from his own studio. His influence became extensive and he was a regular guest of Empress Eugénie at the Imperial Court in Compiègne. When he started to protest and show a public hostility to “decadent fashion” of Impressionism, his influence started to wane and he became unfashionable. But after the exhibition of Manet in the École in 1884, he eventually admitted that impressionism “was not so bad as I thought”…

The painting here, “Harem Women Feeding Pigeons in a Courtyard” is typical of the Orientalist style, of which Gérôme was a prime proponent. Orientalism is a term used by art historians, literary and cultural studies scholars for the imitation or depiction of aspects of Middle Eastern, and East Asian cultures (Eastern cultures) by American and European writers, designers and artists. In particular, Orientalist painting, depicting more specifically “the Middle East”, was one of the many specialisms of 19th century Academic art. Since the publication of Edward Said’s “Orientalism”, the term has arguably acquired a negative connotation. This is especialy the case in the art of Gérôme, where in the wake of the burgeoning movement of impressionism, his art became old-fashioned and subject to derision by the new wave of moderns.

As an academic painting this is masterly, with beautiful composition and remarkable touches of colour, movement and an evocation of lofty space. The contrast of the “imprisoned” harem women with the soaring freedom of the pigeons is an obvious thematic element of the painting. As far as Gérôme’s style is concerned, this is typical of his orientalist paintings and one that is rather modest, given that he often took the opportunity to include sumptuous nudes of women in his paintings – something always popular with his (male) patrons as an example of respectable erotica…