Saturday 14 July 2012


“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.” - Ernest Hemingway

Happy Bastille Day to French readers of this blog!
Vive la France!

Here is a marvellous French song sung wonderfully by Yves Montand celebrating the timeless romance of Paris.

Thursday 12 July 2012


“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” - George Bernard Shaw
Our wet, wintry weather is continuing with the short days and long cold nights crying out for comfort food. Here is a favourite recipe using the plentiful apples that are around at the moment.

Stuffed Baked Apples

6 Golden Delicious apples
1 cup crushed walnuts
2/3 cup sultanas
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, (optional)
2 tablespoons golden syrup (or honey)
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
1/2 cup apricot jam
1 and 1/2 cups apple cider
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 200°C. Lightly coat a shallow 30 cm baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Core apples all the way through with an apple corer, making a 2 cm-wide hole. Peel the upper third of each apple.
  • Using a sharp paring knife, score the flesh about 1/2 cm deep around the circumference, more or less where the peeled and unpeeled areas meet.
  • With the paring knife angled down, cut a shallow crater around the top of the hole to help hold the apricot jam that will go there. Set aside while you make the filling.
  • Place walnuts, sultanas and coconut (if using) in a food processor. Chop the mixture fairly well, but not too fine; you want it to remain somewhat textured. Add syrup, lemon zest, spices; pulse several times to combine.
  • Place the apples in the prepared baking dish and gently press 1/4 cup filling into each cavity. Spoon a generous tablespoon of apricot jam onto the crater of each apple.
  • Combine cider and butter in a small saucepan; heat over low heat until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla. Pour the liquid over and around the apples.
  • Cover the apples loosely with tented foil and bake on the centre rack for 30 minutes. Remove foil and baste the apples well.
  • Sprinkle some crushed walnuts pieces on top of each apple and continue baking, uncovered, for 20 to 35 minutes more (depending on the size of the apples), basting every 10 minutes, until the apples are tender throughout.
  • The best way to test them is with a thin bamboo skewer; the slightest bit of resistance near the centre is OK because they’ll finish cooking as they cool.
  • Let the apples cool right in the pan, basting periodically. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold, with some of the pan juices spooned over each.
  • You may also serve them with ice cream, custard or cream.

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


“There is no gilding of setting sun or glamour of poetry to light up the ferocious and endless toil of the farmers wives.” - Hamlin Garland

Magpie Tales this week has selected a lovely painting called “Chilmark Hay”, painted in 1951 by Thomas Hart Benton.
Thomas Hart Benton (April 15, 1889 – January 19, 1975) was an American painter and muralist. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement. His fluid, almost sculpted paintings showed everyday scenes of life in the United States. Though his work is strongly associated with the Midwest, he painted scores of works of New York City, where he lived for more than 20 years; Martha’s Vineyard, where he summered for much of his adult life; the American South; and the American West.

The painting evokes a wealth of emotions and thoughts of another time and of a pastoral place. Summer in the countryside, which although idyllic meant for so many long days of back-breaking work.

Summer Georgics

The purple heat of noon
Dries fields and makes gold the grain;
A cuckoo calling.

On land, a day’s work
By man and beast, who strive long –
Honest sweat drenches.

And evening falls late,
As balmy breezes blow soft,
A starry night sky.

Wednesday 11 July 2012


“The hungry world cannot be fed until and unless the growth of its resources and the growth of its population come into balance. Each man and woman - and each nation - must make decisions of conscience and policy in the face of this great problem.” - Lyndon B. Johnson

World Population Day is an annual event, observed on July 11th, and its purpose is to raise awareness of global population issues. The event was established by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989. It was inspired by the public interest in Five Billion Day on July 11, 1987, approximately the date on which the world’s estimated population reached five billion people. The world population on July 9, 2012 (As of 6.31 UTC), was estimated to have been 7,025,071,966.

The World Population Day 2012 Theme is “Universal Access to Reproductive Health Services”. Reproductive health is one of the important factors and is crucial in a world where every pregnancy is a wanted one, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled. Universal access to reproductive health by 2015 is also one of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals. Unfortunately, we are still far from this goal.

Reproductive health problems remain the leading cause of ill health and death for women of childbearing age worldwide. Some 222 million women who would like to avoid or delay pregnancy lack access to effective family planning services and products. Nearly 800 women die every day in the process of giving birth. About 1.8 billion young people are entering their reproductive years, often without the knowledge, skills and services they need to protect themselves.  On World Population Day many activities and campaigns call attention to the essential part that reproductive health plays in creating a just and equitable world.

Tuesday 10 July 2012


“Everything great in the world is done by neurotics; they alone founded our religions and created our masterpieces.” - Marcel Proust
Henbane or stinking nightshade, Hyoscyamus niger, is the birthday plant for this day.  The generic name of the plant was given it by Dioscorides and is derived from two Greek words, hyos, “of a hog” and kyamos, “bean”, supposedly because hogs ate the fruit.  The whole plant has an offensive smell and is poisonous. The plant has been used medicinally and was historically used in combination with other plants, such as mandrake, deadly nightshade, and datura as an anaesthetic potion, as well as for its psychoactive properties in “magic brews”. These psychoactive properties include visual hallucinations and a sensation of flight. Its usage was originally in continental Europe, Asia and the Arab world, though it did spread to England in the Middle Ages. The use of henbane by the ancient Greeks was documented by Pliny. The plant, recorded as Herba Apollinaris, was used to yield oracles by the priestesses of Apollo.

The name henbane dates at least to A.D. 1265. The origins of the word are unclear but “hen” probably originally meant death rather than referring to chickens. Hyoscyamine, scopolamine, and other tropane alkaloids have been found in the foliage and seeds of the plant. Common effects of henbane ingestion in humans include hallucinations, dilated pupils, restlessness, and flushed skin. Less common symptoms such as tachycardia, convulsions, vomiting, hypertension, hyperpyrexia and ataxia have all been noted. Henbane can be toxic, even fatal, to animals in low doses. Not all animals are susceptible, for example, the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Cabbage Moth eat henbane. It was sometimes one of the ingredients in gruit, traditionally used in beers as a flavouring, until replaced by hops in the 11th to 16th centuries (for example, the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 outlawed ingredients other than barley, hops, and water).

The poison hyoscyamine, derived from the young shoots and leaves of the plant was used by Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen, an American homoeopath living in London, in 1910 to murder his wife. Henbane is thought to have been the “hebenon” poured into the ear of Hamlet’s father, as described by Shakespeare. The plant symbolises imperfection and is under the astrological rule of Saturn.

Famous birthdays on this day are:
  • John Calvin, theologian (1509);
  • James McNeill Whistler, artist (1834);
  • Henryk Wieniawski, composer (1835);
  • Marcel Proust, novelist (1871);
  • Giorgio da Chirico, Italian artist (1888);
  • Carl Orff, composer (1895);
  • Saul Bellow, novelist (1915);
  • David Brinkley, TV personality (1920);
  • Owen Chamberlain, physicist (1920);
  • Fred Gwynne, actor/writer (1926);
  • Alice Munro, writer (1931);
  • Jerry Herman, composer (1933);
  • Arlo Guthrie, singer (1947)

Carl Orff
(1895–1982) was a German composer and music educator. His best-known work is Carmina Burana (1937), a secular oratorio derived from medieval German and Latin poems. His system for teaching music to children, based on rhythmic and verbal patterns and the pentatonic scale, is widely used. He also wrote several operas, amongst which are Der Mond (1937-8) and Die Kluge (1941-2).

It is also the national day of the Bahamas. The Bahamas are a group of about 700 islands and 2,000 coral reefs to the North of Cuba and the Southeast of Florida. The country became independent of the UK in 1973, the capital being Nassau. The Bahamas are just under 14,000 square km in area and have a population of about 300,000. The major employer is tourism while other economic supports are ship registration and off-shore financing and banking. Fishing and domestic agriculture are under development in order to reduce imports.

Monday 9 July 2012


“Every unpunished murder takes away something from the security of every man’s life” - Daniel Webster
The Film Noir genre describes stylish Hollywood crime dramas, which highlight cynical attitudes and sexual motivations in a whodunit setting. The classic film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. The term “film noir” is French for “black film” and was first applied to Hollywood films by French critic Nino Frank in 1946. It was a term unknown to most American film industry professionals of the classic era.

Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography. Many of the stories and much of the attitude of classic noir are derived from the school of popular crime fiction that emerged in the USA during the Depression. Cinema critics defined the film noir retrospectively. Before the term was widely adopted in the 1970s, many of the classic film noirs were referred to as melodramas.

Though the film noir genre was originally identified with American movies, films now customarily described as noir have been made around the world. Many pictures released from the 1960s onward share attributes with film noirs of the classic period, often treating noir conventions in a self-referential manner. Such latter-day works in a noir mode are often referred to as neo-noirs. It is an easy genre to parody and many successful comedies are based on a film noir premise.

We watched a neo-noir film at the weekend, the Andrew Jarecki 2010 movie “All Good Things”, starring Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst and Frank Langella. This is based on the true story of real estate heir Robert Durst who was suspected but never tried for killing his wife Katie who disappeared in 1982. The screenplay by Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling attempts to fill in gaps. Although the movie doesn’t use real names and the press notes say it’s “inspired” by the Durst case, it seems to follow many of the facts rather closely, while mixing in some provocative speculation.

Robert Durst, the scion of a very prominent Manhattan real estate family was charged with murder in Texas.  Durst, arrested while disposing of a neighbour’s dismembered body and dressed in drag, hadn’t been seen since 1981. That’s when authorities identified him as a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Kathie, who was declared legally dead in 2001.  Durst was acquitted in the Texas killing on grounds of self-defence. He has never been charged in his wife’s disappearance, or in the murder of his best friend, in California, at about the same time as his neighbour’s death. It was a messy, complicated case and there was much that was hidden, while speculation abounds that Durst got away with multiple counts of murder.

The film strongly suggests that Robert Durst killed his wife, that his now deceased father may have helped dispose of the body and bought off the Westchester district attorney and that Durst murdered the Texas neighbour (Philip Baker Hall), who killed the California friend (Lily Rabe) at his behest because of blackmail demands. It is not surprising that the Durst family has threatened to sue over this movie, which was sold back to Jarecki after the original distributor, the Weinstein Company, got cold feet over its release.

Mr Durst said he actually liked the movie, parts of which made him cry. He is living on $65 million gained in a settlement with his family, splitting his time among homes in Houston, Los Angeles and Harlem. Douglas Durst, Robert’s younger brother, who contends that the film maligns the family real estate company, the Durst Organization, which he now runs, and his dead father, Seymour Durst, the patriarch who is played by Frank Langella. The Durst company that orginally vowed to sue when the film is released, pulled back on that threat. Douglas Durst said that: “Fortunately this movie will be seen by so few people that litigation would be superfluous.” It is interesting the company has raised no objection to the portrayal of Robert, who has been estranged from the family for many years…

The film refer to Robert’s childhood in a motherless home; his psychological problems; his whirlwind romance with Kathy, 19, a dental hygienist who seemed to offer an escape from the pressures of his life. The couple married and moved to Vermont, where they opened a health-food store, “All Good Things” – hence the punning title of the film. However, under pressure from Robert’s father, Seymour, they returned to Manhattan to join the family business and, once there, the marriage began to falter.  Robert did not want children. Kathie ended up having an abortion and began to assert her independence. She started medical school and was soon complaining to friends that Robert was rough with her. In 1981 she spoke to a divorce lawyer, though she never filed. The following year she disappeared one night after a fight at the couple’s weekend home in South Salem, N.Y.  Robert did not report her missing for four days and told police that she had taken the train home to their West Side apartment. Someone matching her description was seen there by several people. The film then speculates n what really transpired and hence the controversy that it gave rise to.

Frank Langella gives a great performance as the tough father who drives his family in the quest of power and wealth. Ryan Gosling offers a strong performance of the psychologically unstable “David” (i.e. Robert) who changes many faces and behaviours through the film. Kirsten Dunst gives a wonderful performance as “Katie” (= Kathie), the simple bright girl whose life is quashed by a powerful family’s demands and dysfunctional relationships. The rest of the cast is very good, including the performances by Philip Baker Hall and Lilly Rabe.

This is a challenging and confronting film, especially as one knows that it is based on real people and that there has never been an “official” explanation of the mysterious murders at its core.

Sunday 8 July 2012


“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” - Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall, (born July 7th, 1887, Vitebsk, Belorussia, Russian Empire [now in Belarus] -died March 28th, 1985, Saint-Paul, Alpes-Maritimes, France), Belorussian-born French painter, printmaker, and designer. He composed his images based on emotional and poetic associations, rather than on rules of pictorial logic. Predating Surrealism, his early works, such as “I and the Village” (1911), were among the first expressions of psychic reality in modern art. His works in various media include sets for plays and ballets, etchings illustrating the Bible, and stained-glass windows.

Chagall was the oldest of nine children in a working-class Jewish family. At age 20 he began to study painting, first in Vitebsk, then in St. Petersburg. His distinctive style was already beginning to appear in his early works.  In 1910 he began four years of living in Paris, a city that attracted him for the rest of his life. In Paris, he became acquainted with art movements of the time, including Fauvism and Cubism. He also became acquainted with leading artists of the time, including Braque, Picasso, Delaunay, Leger, and others.

He held a very successful, one-man show in Berlin in 1914, as part of an eventual journey home. At the outbreak of WWI, Chagall returned home to Vitebsk, where he married Bella Rosenfeld. He worked in Vitebsk for several years and became director of the Vitebsk Academy of Arts. He moved to Moscow in 1920 and worked on stage decors and painted panels for the avant-garde Jewish Theatre. After it was made clear he would not have the freedom to develop, given the political realities of Marxist socialism, he left Moscow for Europe in 1923.

After arriving in France, he met French art dealer Ambroise Vollard and started creating etchings for future publications. These were not published until years later due to Vollard’s death and WWII. Chagall’s paintings were shown at galleries in New York as well as Paris, Berlin, and other European cities. He was commissioned by Vollard to produce a series of etchings illustrating the Old Testament version of the Bible. These were also not published until after WWII. During his travels, Chagall fell in love with the Cote d’Azur. Chagall eventually moved away from Paris to a villa near Porte d’Auteuil.

Chagall continued to work in France despite the growing influence of the Nazi movement and the invasion of France by Germany in 1939. He was eventually convinced by his daughter Ida to leave France. Marc and Bella first travelled to Marseilles, and eventually left for the United States in May of 1941. Their daughter Ida joined them a short time later.  Marc Chagall arrived in New York City in June 1941. In addition to paintings, he worked on theatre sets and costumes.

His paintings were exhibited in New York, Chicago, and Paris. His wife Bella died suddenly in 1944 due to a viral infection. Marc ceased all work for almost a year. In 1946, after the end of WWII the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City held an exhibition showing 40 years of Chagall’s work. He had become very well known. He began making plans to return to France.  Chagall returned to Paris in 1948 and signed Teriade to publish his graphic works. He settled in Vence, in Provence in 1950. In addition to painting, he continued to create graphic works. Many of his earlier etchings and lithographs were finally published in the early 1950’s. His daughter Ida introduced him to Valentine Brodsky, whom he later married.

In this period, he expanded the mediums in which he worked to include ceramics, stone sculptures, mosaics, and tapestries.  In 1958, he designed scenery and costumes for the ballet “Daphnis and Chloe” for the Paris Opera. This led to other public commissions in the 1960s, including stained glass windows for the Hadassah Synagogue near Jerusalem, the United Nations, and several cathedrals in Europe. He designed a new ceiling for the Paris Opera House and panels for the Lincoln Center in New York. He also produced what many consider his best graphic works, the “Daphnis and Chloe” suite of lithographs in 1961.

In 1966, Chagall moved from Vence to St. Paul de Vence (still in Provence). Chagall’s reputation continued to grow. He continued painting, producing graphic works, and working on public commissions. His works were exhibited at the galleries and museums throughout the world, including the Louvre and Petit Palais in Paris. He produced the America Windows for America’s Bicentennial celebration in 1977 in gratitude for America taking his family in during WWII. These windows can be viewed today at the Art Institute of Chicago.  He died March 28, 1985 in St. Paul de Vence, where he was buried. His long, prolific career and distinctive themes and use of colour make him one of the acknowledge masters of 20th Century modern art.

“The Falling Angel” of 1922 above is typical of the artist’s highly individual work, with bold colour and striking, audacious forms that draw the viewer’s eye in and make it swirl around the canvas in a wonderful tour of delights. The spots of bright colour shine from the gloom of the background and make the viewer emote together with the artist, and the response becomes a deeply affecting one. The clash of religious images, Jewish and Christian is prevented by the shared common form of the falling angel, which highlights that the religious differences between the two belief systems is perhaps not as great as one would think and that the shared symbols, faith and philosophy unite rather than divide. The image of the falling angel is nevertheless one that causes disquiet and is a premonition of the changing political landscape in Europe and the world, a presage of the raw horrors of WWII ahead.