Saturday 15 September 2012


“Yes! You are the ruin -the ruin -the ruin -of me. I have no resources in myself, I have no confidence in myself, I have no government of myself when you are near me or in my thoughts. And you are always in my thoughts now. I have never been quit of you since I first saw you. Oh, that was a wretched day for me! That was a wretched, miserable day!” – Charles Dickens

A wonderful Saturday. We went out for some shopping in the morning and then walked around the city for a while, acting much like tourists in our home town. We had a few laughs and even if it was tiring it was a much needed change. We came back home for some lunch and as the sun was shining we sat in the garden. The jasmine and the pittosporum made the air redolent with sweet perfume, while anemones, freesias, primroses, daisies, clivias, ranunculus and irises were in bloom all around.

In the evening, a return to the sweet routine of Saturday nights… The lights burning low, music playing and the shared intimacy of a meal, solving a cryptic crossword together, laughing, chatting, and the warm feeling of hand clasped in hand.

For Music Saturday tonight, a Turkish song from a successful soap opera, “Dudaktan Kalbe”, meaning, “from the lips to the heart”. A sad song of bad love! Subtitles translate the lyrics.

Friday 14 September 2012


“It’s spring fever... You don't quite know what it is you DO want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” - Mark Twain

Spring has sprung in the Southern Hemisphere, which means it’s time to ditch all the comfort foods and put the spring back into meals. Here is a fresh and light Spring vegetable soup that is wholesome as well as tasty.

Spring Vegetable Soup

2 tbs olive oil
1 large leek, pale section only, ends trimmed, washed, thinly sliced
1 celery heart, stalks and pale green leafy ends, thinly sliced
2 artichoke hearts, cleaned, trimmed, quartered lengthways, thinly sliced
350 g Desirée potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 cm cubes
1 litre salt-reduced chicken stock
150 g snow peas, chopped (= mangetout peas – can substitute frozen peas)

1/2 tsp ground dried mustard powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs chopped fresh thyme or parsley (optional)

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the leek, celery and artichokes and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until vegetables are soft.
  • Add the mustard powder and season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the potato and stock to the pan. Increase heat to medium-high. Cover and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes or until potato is tender.
  • Add the peas and cook until the peas are cooked.
  • Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Sprinkle with chopped thyme or parsley, if desired.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 13 September 2012


“He sends a cross, but He also sends the strength to bear it.” - Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy
Tomorrow, September 14, is Holy Rood (=cross) Day. This is officially known as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. There are a number of associations of various events to this day, some of them relating to the “True Cross” on which Christ was crucified, others relating to historical or apocryphal events surrounding the Christian symbol of the Cross or by association Christianity itself.
In the Greek Orthodox faith the celebration of this day is particularly splendid and solemn, and has references to the Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Just before a battle on this day in 312 AD, the emperor reportedly saw the sign of a luminous cross up in the sky with the words Εν Τούτω Νίκα (En toúto níka – “By this sign you shall conquer”). He ordered the sign of the cross to be emblazoned on his battle banners and went ahead to win the battle. Constantine then stopped the persecution of the Christians and his mother, the Christian empress Helena (Flavia Julia Helena) went on to discover the cross upon which Christ was crucified on the hill of Calvary, in Jerusalem. She demolished a Roman temple of Venus there, and built the Church of Resurrection at the site, where the remains of the True Cross were raised in 335 AD. The Orthodox Feast Day commemorates this first Exaltation of the True Cross.
The cross was afterwards (614 AD) carried away by Chosroes, king of Persia, but recovered by the Emperor Heraclius, and replaced amidst circumstances of great pomp and expressions of the highest devotion. The Catholic Church feast commemorates the restoration of the True Cross to Calvary in 629 AD, after the victory of Emperor Heraclius over the Persians.
Many churches in Britain were dedicated to the Holy Rood. One at Edinburgh became the nucleus of the palace of the Scottish kings. Holyrood Day was one of much sacred observance all through the Middle Ages. The same feeling led to a custom of framing, between the nave and choir of churches, what was called a rood-screen or rood-loft, presenting centrally a large crucifix, with images of the Holy Virgin and St. John on each side. A winding stair led up to it, and the epistle and gospel were often read from it.
Pieces of the wood derived from the True Cross have been traditionally kept in many churches and places of worship as holy relics in precious reliquaries, as the one illustrated above. In 1561 John Calvin wrote ironically in a tract that “…if all the pieces of the True Cross were gathered together, they would load a large ship, and would take 300 men, not one, to carry it.”
Some historians consider the feast of Holyrood a christianisation of the ancient Eleusinian feast of Demeter (part of the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries).  Holy Rood Day was also called Day of the Holy Nut or the Devil’s Nutting Day.  This was to mark the beginning of the nutting season when nuts began to be collected from the trees. Hazelnuts (filberts or cobnuts) collected on this day were thought to have powerful properties, but the proviso was that the nuts had to be fully ripe. Double nuts (two on one stalk) were thought to be particularly magical and could be used to cure toothache, rheumatism and witchcraft of all sorts.  The hazelnut tree (Corylus maxima and C. avellena) was thought to be a powerful and magical tree and divining rods made from its wood were considered to be the most efficacious.

Wednesday 12 September 2012


“Freedom of inquiry, freedom of discussion, and freedom of teaching - without these a university cannot exist” - Robert Maynard Hutchins

This week I had occasion to visit two Monash University campuses for work. Both were very full days, but it was godo to be able to slip out and have a look at the campuses. Although I have visited several Monash campuses in the past, I have not had the pleasure of being able to explore fully and leisurely the campuses. One needs several weeks (at least) on each campus for that. Nevertheless, one gets a good impression of the “atmosphere” of each university campus by wandering through it and seeing what facilities are available, what each cluster of buildings is like and also if possible chat to a few students and staff.

Monash University is a public university based in Melbourne, Victoria. It was founded in 1958 and is the second oldest university in the state. Monash is a member of Australia's Group of Eight and the ASAIHL. Monash enrols approximately 39,000 undergraduate and 16,000 graduate students, making it the university with the largest student body in Australia. It also has more applicants than any university in the state of Victoria.

Monash is home to major research facilities, including the Australian Synchrotron, the Monash Science Technology Research and Innovation Precinct (STRIP), the Australian Stem Cell Centre, 100 research centres and 17 co-operative research centres. In 2008, Monash University attracted more than $210 million of research investment and grants from various Government bodies and external organisations.

The university has eight campuses, six of which are Victoria (Clayton, Caulfield, Berwick, Peninsula, Parkville, and Gippsland), one in Malaysia, and one in South Africa. Monash also has a research and teaching centre in Prato, Italy, a graduate research school in Mumbai, India. and is developing a graduate school in Jiangsu Province, China.

Monday 10 September 2012


“The object in modern painting must become the main character and overthrow the subject. If, in turn, the human form becomes an object, it can considerably liberate possibilities for the modern artist.” – Fernand Léger

Magpie Tales on her creative meme page this week has fuelled participants’ imagination with a 1921 painting by cubist, Fernand Léger, called “Breakfast”. I must say that this image left rather uninspired until I turned it on its side. I then saw a sailor reaching for a spyglass, a microbiologist about to use a microscope, an astronomer gazing at the stars, a factory worker twiddling dials and machinery, but still failed to see any bacon and eggs or cups of tea!

I first learnt of this artist when I was in my seventh year of school, when I copied his canvas “The City”, of 1919. I was pleased with myself as I thought I did a very good job and remember thinking to myself in all the naiveté of my 13 years: “Well there’s nothing to this cubism thing…” I followed up by constructing my own “cubist” paintings, but my interest soon waned as I discovered the pre-Raphaelites, who appealed more to my adolescent stirrings of emotional, sexual and intellectual awakening.

I must say, however, that the ultimate inspiration for the poem was not the process that led to my inspiration (reflected in the title), but rather the fragmentary nature of the composition, the “exploded” forms and the September 11 anniversary that is commemorated today. The text in italics is from the King James Bible, Matthew 7:7-8

Seek, and Ye Shall Find

Ask, and it shall be given you;
But who has time or inclination to ask, now?
When seizing, capturing and snatching
Is the accepted form of taking what could be freely given…

Seek, and ye shall find;
But who has time to look for hidden truths, now?
When lies, falsehood and untruths
Can easily be invented and be passed off as true.

Knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
But who bothers knocking on closed doors, now?
When one can knock them down, rush in and violate,
Make public the private and break open what could easily be revealed?

For every one that asketh receiveth;
Enmity instead of friendship:
If violence is used instead of gentleness.

And he that seeketh findeth;
Coals instead of diamonds:
If cruelty replaces kindness.

And to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Pandora’s box, full of woes, opened:
And not even hope will be lingering in its depths…

Sunday 9 September 2012


“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” - C.S. Lewis

The last weekend we saw a very good film, which despite its “heavy” theme was quite uplifting and hopeful, ending in a very optimistic note. The other positive thing about it was that it was based on a true story, which was affirming in terms of the strength of the human spirit and the ability of human beings to overcome obstacles and rise up to challenging circumstances that would be seen by most to be desperate.

The film was Edward Zwick’s 2008 “Defiance” starring Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Alexa Davalos, George MacKay and Jamie Bell. The film was definitely something very different to Daniel Craig’s more familiar and publicised 007 role, and an affirmation that he is a good actor able to perform in a powerful and very demanding dramatic role. However, it is hard to fault any actor’s performance, with even minor characters being depicted in a powerful and believable way.

The film is set in Belorussia in 1941, in the midst of the Nazi invasion. The Jewish Bielski brothers manage to escape from the massacre orchestrated by the Nazis in their village where their parents were killed. They hide in the adjacent wild forest that they know well, and other runaway Jews soon join them. Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig), the eldest brother, assumes the leadership of the survivors and sets up a camp with tasks for everyone in the newly-founded community. However, his brother Zus Bielski (Liev Schreiber) wants to fight against the Germans and does not agree with Tuvia’s leadership. Zus decides to join the Soviet resistance fighters who believe that Jews do not fight. While Tuvia welcomes any survivor in his camp, which soon leads to the numbers of the forest dwellers swelling to many hundreds. The different ideologies and plans of action against the Nazis between the two brothers brings about a confrontation, until Zus finds that anti-Semitism among the Russian partisans is strong and vehement. Things come to a head when the Nazi forces become aware of the forest dwellers and decide to eliminate them.

Edward Zwick (of “Blood Diamond” fame) has created another thought-provoking film directing it in a sensitive and restrained manner, which still manages to evince beauty despite its often horrific and violent content. Even though the movie runs for 137 minutes, it managed to engage and captivate us and kept our interest up for its whole length. The cinematography was stunning and the direction faultless. Although the film does not glamourise the facts nor hide the “ugly” truth, it does introduce some cinematic elements and it does focus on some interpersonal relationships and the character development that one expects of a fiction-based movie.

It is a good film to watch and we would recommend it highly. It has a good balance of heavy hitting action and intense drama, and it is a bonus to know that these on-screen characters existed in real life and their courage and amazing actions were successful in saving the life of hundreds of people who would otherwise have been tortured and killed in Nazi concentration camps.


“I paint things as they are. I don't comment.” - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (24 November 1864 – 9 September 1901), was a French postimpressionist painter, lithographer, and illustrator, who documented the bohemian nightlife of late-19th-century Paris. His art broke new ground bringing together the immediacy of drawing, the verve of poster graphics and the painterly style of the studio canvas. His use of fluid line and bold colour married well with his masterly composition and his wide thematic work challenged the social and cultural mores of his time.

The artist was born in Albi into one of the oldest aristocratic families. Henri was weak and often sick. By the time he was 10 he had begun to draw and paint. At 12 young Toulouse-Lautrec broke his left leg and at 14 his right leg. The bones failed to heal properly, and his legs stopped growing. He reached young adulthood with a body trunk of normal size but with abnormally short legs. During his convalescence, his mother encouraged him to paint. He subsequently studied with French academic painters L. J. F. Bonnat and Fernand Cormon.

He stayed in the Montmartre section of Paris, the centre of the cabaret entertainment and bohemian life that he loved to paint. Circuses, dance halls, nightclubs, racetracks and Parisian brothels – all these spectacles were set down on canvas or made into lithographs. Toulouse-Lautrec was very much a part of all this activity. He would sit at a crowded nightclub table, laughing and drinking, and at the same time he would make swift sketches.

Toulouse-Lautrec preserved his impressions of these places and their celebrities in portraits and sketches of striking originality and power. Outstanding examples are “La Goulou Entering the Moulin Rouge” (1892, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi), “Jane Avril Entering the Moulin Rouge” (1892, Courtauld Gallery, London), and “Au salon de la rue des Moulins” (1894, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec).

Toulouse-Lautrec, many of whose works are in the museum that bears his name in Albi, was a prolific creator. His oeuvre includes great numbers of paintings, drawings, etchings, lithographs, and posters, as well as illustrations for various contemporary newspapers. He incorporated into his own highly individual method elements of the styles of various contemporary artists, especially French painters Edgar Degas and Paul Gauguin. Japanese art, then coming into vogue in Paris, influenced his use of sharp delineation, asymmetric composition, oblique angles, and flat areas of color. His work inspired Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, and Georges Rouault.

His alcoholic dissipation, however, eventually brought on a paralytic stroke, to which he succumbed at Malromé, one of his family's estates. Since then his paintings and posters (particularly the 'Moulin Rouge' group) have been in great demand and bring high prices at auctions and art sales.

Lautrec's 1889-90 painting “At The Moulin Rouge – TheDance” is characteristic of his work. Vivacious colour, wonderfully sparse drawing that contributes to the liveliness of the work and a composition that is beautifully balanced and focuses our attention on the dancing figure despite the carefully laid out figures of the foreground.