Saturday 6 October 2012


“The goal of all good music is to affect the soul.” - Claudio Monteverdi

For Music Saturday today one of the Scherzi Musicali (“musical jokes”) of Claudio Monteverdi (15 May 1567– 29 November 1643). It is his “Damigella Tuttal Bella” or “Fairest Damsel”. It has quite a catchy tune and an infectious rhythm, perfect for Spring!

Friday 5 October 2012


“Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts.” - Charles Lamb

Asparagus is in season now and as we love this wonderful Spring vegetable, we often have it. Here is a simple yet delicious recipe using asparagus, which we had for dinner tonight. The flavour of asparagus complements that of the parmesan and wine beautifully!

Asparagus Risotto


500 g asparagus, thick ends removed, spears chopped
1/3 cup unsalted butter
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/3 cup arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add asparagus and cook until slightly softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Reserve 2 cups cooking water and set aside. Drain asparagus and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add spring onion and cook until softened but not browned, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring. Add rice and cook 3 minutes, stirring.
Add wine, bring to a boil over high, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until liquid is almost evaporated, stirring to prevent burning, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add reserved cooking water 1/4 cup at a time to saucepan, allowing each batch of liquid to be cooked out before adding the next 1/4 cup. Continue until the total 2 cups of cooking liquid has been used, stirring almost constantly. The process should take 15 to 20 minutes.
Add reserved asparagus and cheese to saucepan; stir to incorporate and warm through. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

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

Thursday 4 October 2012


“Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape.” – Canticle of the Sun, St Francis of Assisi

October 4th is the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi (born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone; 1181 – died: October 3, 1226). He was born to Bernardone, who was a wealthy cloth merchant of Assisi, a prosperous town of Umbria in Italy. He brought up his son in luxury intending him to follow his footsteps in the family business. Francis was a good-looking boy and he had for companions all the noblemen’s sons. It’s not surprising that he spent a considerable portion of his wealth in extravagant pleasures.
One day Francis when was merrymaking with his friends, a beggar came along crying for alms. Francis, who was soft-hearted, gave whatever he had in his pocket to the beggar. His companions mocked at him for his charitable act. However, this chance encounter caused him to think about the poverty and misery all around him, which until now he had ignored. He started to make amends and began to give much money to the poor. His father was alarmed by his son’s change of heart and felt the family’s fortune was being squandered, causing him to rebuke Francis.
Shortly after this, Francis became bedridden for many months on account of a serious disease, even his life being at risk at one stage. He managed to recover but his entire nature had changed and he decided to devote his life to God. Francis prayed to for light and guidance as to his future. He had a vision of Jesus who bade him go out and devote his life to the poor and miserable. He thus decided to renounce his old ways and spend the rest of his life dedicated to the service of humanity.

Francis’ parents were at first gravely disappointed and tried to dissuade him. When he stood firm by his decision, they became angry with him. Francis, however, was steadfast and began his new life by distributing his extravagant clothes, rich personal goods and much money to the poor. Francis’ father was incensed and said to his son: “Is this the gratitude you show to me ? I laboured hard and amassed wealth. You are lavishly wasting it on these miserable wretches.” Francis’ friends mocked at him when his father finally turned him out of the house and without anybody to turn to he started to live like a beggar. His old friends even pelted him with stones and mud. He bore everything with patience.

Francis went and lived in a cave in the mountains near Assisi and spent his time in prayer and meditation for two years. Sometimes kind peasants gave him food, but often he had to starve. Francis called his body “brother ass”, recognising it is the body and its needs and desires that resembles most the brute animals. He kept this “brother ass” under perfect discipline often fasting and braving the bitter cold.
He loved all God’s creatures, the birds and beasts, the poor and lowly, the depressed and the outcasts. He treated birds, beasts and all beings as his brothers and sisters. Francis went from village to village preaching the word of God which he summarised with one word: “Love”. He invited people to join him in his life of service if they were willing. Bernard, a rich man of Assisi, was very much attracted by the saintliness of Francis. He joined Francis and became his first follower. He donated all his wealth to the needy. Eleven others also joined Francis and Bernard, they too distributing all their wealth to the poor.
Francis and his followers went all over Italy preaching, teaching, healing and blessing wherever they went. The gospel of kindness and love of Francis soon spread all over Europe and earned for him the name of St. Francis. People called him the “little poor man of Assisi”. St. Francis collected many followers and founded the Order of Mendicant Friars or Franciscans. The members of this Order have to take a vow of poverty, chastity, love and obedience. St. Francis gave up his mortal coil in 1228. The followers of St. Francis built a beautiful church round him on the hill of Assisi, the hill he so dearly loved.
St Francis is the patron saint of animals, merchants and stowaways! In a famous anecdote from his life, Francis is said to have preached to hundreds of birds, his sermon being about how the birds should be thankful to God for their wonderful clothes, for their independence, and for God’s care of their every need. The story tells us the birds stood still as he walked amongst them, only flying off when he said they could leave. Another story involves a wolf that had been devouring people. Francis intervened when the town wanted to kill the wolf and talked the wolf into never killing again. The wolf became a pet of the townspeople who made sure that he always had plenty to eat…
On June 18, 1939, Pope Pius XII named Francis a joint Patron Saint of Italy along with Saint Catherine of Siena with the apostolic letter “Licet Commissa”, AAS XXXI (1939), 256-257. Pope Pius mentioned the two saints in the laudative discourse he pronounced on May 5, 1949, in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. St. Francis is honoured in the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church USA, the Old Catholic Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and other churches and religious communities on October 4. The Evangelical Church in Germany, however, commemorates St. Francis’ feast day on his death day, October 3.

Wednesday 3 October 2012


“Only the educated are free.” - Epictetus

I am in Adelaide for work and so far it has been a very enjoyable experience. I love the part of my job where I interact with other academics from other institutions and where I discuss matters of common interest that relate to higher education and way this can be made relevant to all levels of society. These meetings that I am attending are about collaborations between different providers of tertiary education and how these common programs that are developed by them can be used to offer the chance of a university education to everyone, even the “non-traditional” university students.

It is quite important, I think, to be able to offer accessible tertiary education to people who have not had another member of their family study at university before, to people with disabilities, women who are raising or have raised a family, and people who have been in the workforce for many years and have never had a chance to educate themselves. In the latter case it is also interesting to see the increasing numbers of retired people who come to universities to study. In these cases it is sometimes surprising to see that these students are very passionate, committed and highly motivated, often achieving brilliant results.

An educated society is one that is highly civilised, tolerant and flexible, adaptive to change and capable of achieving great things on social, cultural, artistic, political and developmental levels. While a university education is not the be all and end all of “education” it can give people the chance to expand their minds and be exposed to the world of exciting and daring ideas. I have known some people who although have not been to university are more “educated” than many university graduates. I am also aware of such cases who have gone to university after retirement and it is then that one sees an amazing growth and wonderful flowering of the intellect, all stimulated by the university milieu, which is conducive to the development of the mind.

On reflection, I have also had personal experience of the converse: Very narrow-minded people who have come to university and have failed to become “educated” although they pass their examinations and they get a degree or two. It is often these people that show the very worse side of human nature, their lack of “education” aided and abetted by their selfishness, their arrogance and cupidity. Unfortunately they often succeed to climb high in the social ladder and their malign influence may be seen in many professions, the political arena and unfortunately even the academic world…

Education to me represents an opportunity: A ladder by which one may reach the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Making that ladder available to as many people as possible is the responsibility of an enlightened society. That some may taste that fruit after it falls from the tree or should they steal it instead of gathering it themselves represents the side of human nature that is not particularly attractive. However, such rotting or stolen fruit of the tree of knowledge will almost certainly cause indigestion and will not be assimilated by the person consuming it.

Tuesday 2 October 2012


“And where two waging fires meet together They do consume the thing that feeds their fury.” – William Shakespeare
“It Must Be Time For Lunch Now”, 1979, by Francesca Woodman is what Magpie Tales has chosen to trigger a response from those who join her creative writing meme. Here is my contribution.
All-Consuming Love
The forks of Spring are whetted
With tines sparkling sharp,
Like the ravenous spikes of my appetite,
For love…

As nights grow short, like my patience,
The days growl with increasing strength,
With accelerating insistence, their every minute elongated,
For love…

My body cries out to be devoured
By all-consuming, flagrant passions,
Burnt to a cinder by raging conflagrations,
For love…

As Spring ripens, like a cherry reddening,
And buds give way to flowers and seed,
My cells swell and pullulate, dividing,
For love…

My heart cries out to be crushed
Like a ripe pomegranate whose ruby seeds,
Yearn to be sucked dry of their ichor
For love…

For all-consuming love eats and is itself eaten –
Like acid quickly dissolving all it touches and is itself neutralised,
Yet retaining all elemental constituents,
Becoming enriched by that dissolved.
And upon sublimation the thing devoured is reconstituted
By strange alchemies of erosion, purification and crystallisation,

For what else is love?

Monday 1 October 2012


“One should rather die than be betrayed. There is no deceit in death. It delivers precisely what it has promised. Betrayal, though ... betrayal is the willful slaughter of hope.” - Steven Deitz

The Film Noir is a genre of movie that is characterised cynical heroes, stark lighting effects, frequent use of flashbacks, intricate plots, and an underlying existentialist philosophy. The genre was prevalent mostly in American crime dramas of the post-World War II era. Early examples of the noir style included dark, stylised detective films such as John Huston’s “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), Frank Tuttle’s “This Gun for Hire” (1942), Otto Preminger’s “Laura” (1944), and Edward Dmytryk’s “Murder, My Sweet” (1944).

Banned in occupied countries during the war, these films became available throughout Europe beginning in 1946. French cinephiles admired them for their cold, cynical characters and dark, brooding style, and they afforded the films effusive praise in French journals such as “Cahiers du Cinéma”. French critics coined the term “film noir” in reference to the low-keyed lighting used to enhance these dramas stylistically, although the term would not become commonplace in international critical circles until the publication of the book “Panorama du Film Noir Americain” (1955) by Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton.

The style began to go out of fashion in the mid-50s and it was not until the 70s and 80s that occasional homages and references to film noir started to be more common. Perhaps the best contemporary examples of the genre are Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential” (1997), a bleak story of corrupt cops, and Joel and Ethan Coen’s “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001), a similarly dark story inspired by the crime novels of James M. Cain. Both films are presented in classic film noir style, the latter in black-and-white.

We watched Mikael Håfström’s 1940s period piece made in the film noir tradition, “Shanghai” of 2010 ( starring John Cusack, Li Gong and Yun-Fat Chow. This film was a somewhat troubled project, with its making being blocked just weeks before production was scheduled to begin. The crew and actors were relocated to Thailand and London, followed by delays on its release date.  The film is an acceptable neo-noir spy story set in 1941 in Shanghai. The story unfolds in a more or less natural and realistic way while conceding to the elements of film noir. It’s hard not to make comparisons with films like “Casablanca” and “The Third Man” because the screenwriter and director were obviously inspired by such films.

The film is a “spy versus spy” story, set against Shanghai in 1941, where the city has yet to fall to the Japanese, and thus becoming a hotbed of intrigue, espionage, wild entertainment and home to a burgeoning resistance movement. The many foreign residents still in the city have set up their own protective enclaves and trouble brews when one nationality ventures into another’s sector. John Cusack plays the lead character, Paul Soames, a naval intelligence agent sent to Shanghai to investigate the death of his good friend Connor (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). A series of intriguing events unfold, dealing with crossed loyalties and opportunistic alliances. Going under the cover of a journalist with pro-Nazi sentiments, he works his way to the upper echelons of German society in the city, and from there, linking himself up with the Germans’ new ally, Japan. Paul is on the verge of discovering something big, but human relationships and unrequited love get in the way of the real business of war.

Local triad leader Anthony Lan-Ting (Chow Yun-Fat) and his wife Anna (Gong Li) become associated with Paul. Tanaka, a Japanese intelligence officer (Ken Watanabe) becomes suspicious and wants to find out the truth behind Anna’s flirtatiousness and Paul’s seeming infatuation with her. Meanwhile on the world stage, bigger things are afoot...

We enjoyed the film, although it was not as meaty as we would have liked it to be. It is a good B-grade film noir and has extremely talented actors acting well in costumes and settings that are believable, in a homage to the film noir genre. It is entertaining but lacks real depth and poignancy.

Sunday 30 September 2012


“Mother is the home we come from. She is nature, soil, ocean.” - Erich Fromm

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was one of the most innovative and controversial artists of the early twentieth century. He was the son of a gold and silver engraver and was born in a suburb of Vienna, Austria. He studied at the State School of Applied Arts in Vienna.

In 1882, Klimt opened a studio of his own with his brother Ernst, and Franz Matsch, a fellow student. They specialised on executing mural paintings. They were quite successful from the beginning and received commissions from theaters, museums and other public and semi-public institutions. In the 1890s he produced murals for public buildings, including Vienna’s Burgtheater and new Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum), in the prevailing classical-realist style.

Klimt’s style grew increasingly experimental, however, and his murals for Vienna University, commissioned by the State in 1894, were roundly attacked by critics for their fantastical imagery and their bold, highly decorative style. Partly in response to this reaction, in 1897 Klimt helped form the Secession, a group of artists dedicated to challenging the conservative Academy of Fine Arts. Influenced by European avant-garde movements represented in the annual Secession exhibitions, Klimt’s mature style combined richly decorative surface patterning with complex symbolism and allegory, often with overtly erotic content.

After 1900 he concentrated on portraits and landscapes, although he also produced two of his greatest murals during this period, “The Beethoven Frieze”, exhibited at the Secession in 1902, and decorations for the Palais Stoclet in Brussels (1904-1911). Klimt spent most of his summers on the Attersee, near Salzburg, where he drew inspiration for many of his landscapes, and where he painted some of his best-known works, including “The Kiss” of 1907-8.

Klimt’s works were highly controversial during his lifetime because of the open display of nudity and the subtle sexuality and eroticism they contained. The artist created few paintings on the traditional canvas support. He saw himself more as a mural painter and decorative artist. He designed posters and worked as an illustrator for magazines - best known “Ver Sacrum” (The Rite of Spring). Ver Sacrum was published from 1898 to 1903.

From 1900 to 1903 Gustav Klimt worked on commissions by the Vienna University for a series of ceiling murals. For his mural works Klimt used a wide variety of media – including metal, glass and ceramics. The Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph II disliked Klimt’s art work intensely and abhorred the Secessionists deeply. His drivers had orders not to pass any buildings showing Secessionist art!

Here is a tenderly maternal detail from Klimt’s “The Three Ages of Woman”. This is rich in his trademark ornamentation and swirls of golden objects, floral motifs and bold colours. The portraits while striking in their positioning and boldness of composition are nevertheless reminiscent of a Madonna and child and convey the concept of maternal love beautifully.