Saturday 13 October 2012


“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” - Ludwig van Beethoven
For Music Saturday today, some classic Beethoven, fro his Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92, the second movement, “Allegretto”. This is one of the most sublime and beautiful Beethoven themes, one that moves from dark and lugubrious introspection to a sunny repose, and then once again back into the dark spaces of a tortured soul.

Friday 12 October 2012


“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.” - Vincent Van Gogh

One of the great advantages of visiting Tasmania is the great variety of fresh foods available and the increasing sophistication of the restaurant scene. Every sort of seasonal fruit and vegetable (particularly those thriving in a cooler climate) are always available, a variety of meats, but also in particular, freshly caught seafood and fish. Tonight we went out to eat at a very good restaurant in Launceston and I had the following dish. Chatting with the chef afterwards, and while complimenting him on his culinary skills, he was kind enough to give us the recipe. I hope I remember it, although I ma pretty sure as it was a fairly simple recipe, which nevertheless tasted delicious.


16 large scallops in their shells
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 lemon
1 tablespoon flour
2/3 cup of white wine
1 cup of water (more or less depending on the thickness of the sauce desired)
1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
Salt, pepper
1 rhizome of ginger, grated. 

Wash and clean the scallops, removing all the grit and the gut. Drain them and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil until very hot, scald the ginger and immediately the oil heats again put in the scallops, ensuring they are seared all around. Stir in the flour and once it browns slightly, pour in the wine and water, stirring all the while. Add the rosemary and keep heating until the sauce thickens. Serve each scallop in each pre-heated shell (have them in the oven while cooking the scallops).

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

Thursday 11 October 2012


“It is acknowledged even by all the rival colonies that of all the colonies Tasmania is the prettiest… [it] may be said of the small island that, go where you will, the landscape that meets the eye is pleasing, whereas the reverse of this is certainly the rule on the Australian continent. And the climate of Tasmania is by far pleasanter than that of any part of the mainland… Everything in Tasmania is more English than is England herself.” – ‘Australia and New Zealand’; by Anthony Trollope, 1873

I am in Tasmania for work for a few days and it was a delight to arrive here this morning to a delightful Spring day, especially since it was cold, wet and gray in Melbourne. Usually, Tasmania, being to the South of the mainland, has a colder, wetter and much cooler temperate climate than any other Australian place. As well as that, it boasts the southernmost state capital
in Australia, Hobart.

Tasmania is an island state 240 kilometres in the south of the Australian continent, separated by the Bass Strait. The state includes the island of Tasmania, the 26th largest island in the world, and the surrounding 334 islands. The state has a population of 507,626 (as of June 2010), of whom almost half reside in the greater Hobart precinct. Tasmania’s area is 68,401 square kilometres, of which the main island covers 62,409 square kilometres. The subantarctic Macquarie Island is also under the administration of the state, as part of the Huon Valley Council local government area.

Tasmania is promoted to tourists as the “Natural State”, the “Island of Inspiration” and “A World Apart, Not A World Away”, owing to its large and relatively unspoiled natural environment. Almost 37% of Tasmania lies in reserves, national parks and World Heritage Sites. The island is 364 kilometres long from its northernmost to its southernmost points, and 306 kilometres from west to east.

The state capital and largest city is Hobart, which encompasses the local government areas of City of Hobart, City of Glenorchy, and City of Clarence, while the satellite town of Kingston (part of the Municipality of Kingborough) is generally included in the Greater Hobart area.

Wednesday 10 October 2012


“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” - Laurell K. Hamilton

October 10th has been declared by the WHO as World Mental Health Day. This is a day that raises public awareness about mental health issues. It promotes open discussion of mental disorders, and investments in prevention, promotion and treatment services. This year the theme for the day is “Depression: A Global Crisis”.

Depression affects more than 350 million people of all ages, in all communities, and is a significant contributor to the global burden of disease. Although there are known effective treatments for depression, access to treatment is a problem in most countries and in some countries fewer than 10% of those who need it receive such treatment.

On this 20th anniversary of World Mental Health Day it is appropriate to remember the founder of the event, Richard Hunter (1914-2004). He was a man with a vision that mental health concerns would be recognised as an integral part of overall health, and who felt that mental health should be considered with equal importance alongside physical health. He did much to improve the care of people with mental illnesses, and each year without knowing it the organisers of national and local World Mental Health Day activities carry forward his vision. He would have been very proud to see how widespread World Mental Health Day is now and how aware people have become of mental illness through the activities organised on this day.

Richard Hunter trained as a lawyer in Minnesota, USA. His career changed direction when he registered for alternative service as a conscientious objector during World War II, having declined to serve in the armed forces. He was assigned to work as an attendant in a psychiatric hospital and spent three years at institutions in North Carolina and New Jersey. Those years made him aware of the plight of people with mental health problems and the need to improve standards of care.

He was also moved by the writings of Clifford Beers (1876- 1943), who experienced severe mental illness and in recovery led a movement in the United States to reform the conditions he had experienced in mental hospitals. After the war Dick Hunter joined the staff of the National Mental Health Foundation and later became a senior staff member of the National Mental Health Association (now Mental Health America). On his retirement, Dick was recruited as the Deputy Secretary General of the World Federation for Mental Health, serving in that capacity as a volunteer from 1983 until 2002, a central figure in the Federation’s worldwide network.

He continued to work at his office as an advisor to the Federation until a few weeks before his death in 2004. It was he who promoted the idea in 1992 that mental health deserved an annual “Day,” like similar observances for other causes. He saw that an international World Mental Health Day could be, in his own words, “a focal point around which global mental health advocacy could gain maximum public attention.” When the suggestion came up that the World Federation for Mental Health should sponsor an international telecast, he saw a valuable opportunity. A broadcast received in many countries could become a central feature of a wider celebration linking activities not only for advocacy but for much needed public education.

Depression is a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or low self-esteem, disturbed sleep or appetite, and poor concentration. Moreover, depression often comes with symptoms of anxiety. These problems can become chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individual’s ability to take care of their everyday responsibilities. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Almost 1 million lives are lost yearly due to suicide, which translates to 3000 suicide deaths every day. For every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their life.

While depression is the leading cause of disability for both males and females, the burden of depression is 50% higher for females than males.  In fact, depression is the leading cause of disease burden for women in both high-income and low- and middle-income countries. Research in developing countries suggests that maternal depression may be a risk factor for poor growth in young children. This risk factor could mean that maternal mental health in low-income countries may have a substantial influence on growth during childhood, with the effects of depression affecting not only this generation but also the next.

Depression is a disorder that can be reliably diagnosed and treated in primary care. Preferable treatment options consist of basic psychosocial support combined with antidepressant medication or psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy or problem-solving treatment. Antidepressant medications and brief, structured forms of psychotherapy are effective. Antidepressants can be a very effective form of treatment for moderate-severe depression but are not the first line of treatment for cases of mild or sub-threshold depression. As an adjunct to care by specialists or in primary health care, self-help is an important approach to help people with depression. Innovative approaches involving self-help books or internet-based self-help programs have been shown to help reduce or treat depression in numerous studies in Western countries.

Monday 8 October 2012


“But love’s a malady without a cure.” - John Dryden

Magpie Tales has selected the painting “Sick Woman” of 1665, by Jan Steen as the creative stimulus for this week’s meme. Jan Steen (Havickszoon) was born ca. 1626, in Leiden, Netherlands and died Feb. 3, 1679, in Leiden. He was a painter, ranked immediately after Rembrandt and Hals as a painter of everyday scenes. Steen is unique among leading 17th-century Dutch painters for his humour; he has often been compared to the French comic playwright Molière, his contemporary, and indeed both men treated life as a vast comedy of manners. Some of the artist’s biblical and classical paintings may have been inspired by the contemporary stage.

Steen was enrolled at the University of Leiden in 1646 and in 1648 was one of the founding members of the Leiden painters’ Guild of St. Luke. His early teachers seem to have been the historical painter Nicolaus Knupfer at Utrecht, genre and landscape painter Adriaen van Ostade at Haarlem, and the landscapist Jan van Goyen at The Hague. In 1649 Steen married van Goyen’s daughter and settled at The Hague for the next few years. He moved to Delft in 1654 and to Haarlem in 1661. In 1670 he was back in Leiden, and in 1673 he married again.

In Steen’s landscapes, including his winter scenes, small earthy figures recall those of Adriaen and of Isack van Ostade. In his later works the figures are larger, less crowded, and more individually characterised. He shows them playing cards or skittles, or carousing in their cups. His frequent use of inns probably reflects his own background as the son of a brewer and sometime brewer and tavernkeeper himself. He was a master at capturing subtleties of facial expression, especially in children. His best works display great technical skill, particularly in the handling of colour.

During Steen’s last years, his paintings began to anticipate the Rococo style of the 18th century, becoming increasingly elegant and somewhat less energetic and showing a heavy French influence and an increased flamboyance.

I have selected and detail from the painting  and came up (predictably, perhaps) with this:

The Malady

“Doctor, heal me for I am sick,
My pulse is weak and my face pallid,
I have no appetite and I am weak.
My fevered brow turns quickly cool and clammy…”

He takes her pulse
And looks at her intently.
His practiced eye
Examines every sign.

“Doctor, heal me for surely
I shall die forthwith.
My heart beats weakly
And my breast heaves belabouredly…”

He touches gently,
Hearkens the heartbeat,
Listens to ragged breathing,
Observes and notes.

“Doctor, prithee, give me physic,
For soon, I feel, I shall expire.
If not to die today, I shall swoon,
And breathe my last as morrow breaks…”

He looks at her shrewdly
And he nods his head,
With serious countenance,
At last observing:

“Indeed, my lady, thou art sick!
But no degree of physic I can give
Will cure what ails thee.
Thy heart will surely break,

And thy breath will fade,
If remedy be not given.

But, all my healing arts are not enough,
And my experience wanting;

All my knowledge useless,
For love cannot
by herbs be cured…”


“Where there is no imagination there is no horror.” - Arthur Conan Doyle

At the weekend we watched a British thriller of 2011, Julian Gilbey’s “A Lonely Place to Die” starring Alec Newman, Ed Speleers and Melissa George. The famous “Hammer Horror” British films of the 1960s and 1970s gave way to what was pretty much of a vacuum, but there is now resurgence of British thrillers like the “The Descent" of 2005 and “Eden Lake” of 2008, and of course the film I started reviewing.

The brothers Julian and Will Gilbey co-write the screen play, which Julian then directed. The remote location and lack of well-known actors probably contributed to why this film was overlooked and was relegated to the bottom shelves of the video stores. Interestingly, this low budget movie with the basic sounding plot hides a tense and disturbing thriller that builds well and engages the viewer. The film opens harmlessly enough, but soon, the shocks begin to follow one another and despite the poor dialogue and less than optimal characterisation, the film chugs along.

Melissa George plays a rock-climber who together with some of her friends go climbing in he beautiful rocky wilds of Scotland. Quite accidentally, they stumble across a little Serbian girl buried alive in a tiny subterranean chamber in the woods. They rescue her and try to go for help but discover that they’re not alone. They are pursued by the kidnappers and the second half of the movie loses its low-key creepiness and subtle horror to an all out gun-fest with lots of gore and blood.

The acting was solid enough from everyone although the highlight was Melissa George in her leading performance. Ms George does not deliver an outstanding performance, but on the other hand she is not playing Shakespeare either… The little girl played by Holly Boyd is a scene stealer and manages the right mix of emotions and demands placed on her by her role. The villains are quite scary characters and played with gusto by Sean Harris and Stephen McCole.

Sure, one has to suspend belief once or twice (well maybe three or four times…), but after all this is a thriller and unless the characters do silly things to put themselves at risk there would be no movie. It was interesting to see the scenes of the Celtic street festival in the village towards the end of the film. I was reminded of “The Wicker Man”  and the director/writer obviously introduced these scenes as a means of introducing some (unnecessary) naked flesh in the movie. They were quite spectacular scenes, though and despite their unlikelihood in the context shown, they made the chase more interesting.

It’s a good enough film to watch for mindless entertainment value, and with a little tighter script and maintenance of the creepy, understated tension of the beginning and a more intense and better thought out ending, it would have been an outstanding thriller. As it is, it is a B-grade tense little horror movie, with the blood and gore taking over the second half. Watch it at your discretion, especially if you are acrophobic!

Sunday 7 October 2012


“Though there are some disagreeable things in Venice there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors.” - Henry James

Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal - born Oct. 18, 1697, Venice and died April 20, 1768, Venice) was an Italian topographical painter. His masterful expression of atmosphere in his detailed views (“vedute”) of Venice and London and of English country homes influenced succeeding generations of landscape artists.

Canaletto was born into a noble family whose coat of arms he occasionally used as a signature. How he came to be known as Canaletto is uncertain. It is the diminutive form of “Canal” and perhaps the name was first used to distinguish him from his father, Bernardo Canal, a theatrical scene painter in whose studio Canaletto assisted. Canaletto is recorded as working with his father and brother in Venice from 1716 to 1719 and in Rome in 1719–20, painting scenes for Alessandro Scarlatti operas. It was in Rome that Canaletto left theatrical painting for the topographical career that was to bring him international fame so quickly. Nevertheless, throughout his life, he retained a close connection to theatrical work in his choice of subject matter, his use of line and wash drawings, and his theatrical perspective.

On his return to Venice, he began his contact with the foreign patrons who would continue as his chief support throughout his career. Four large paintings were completed for the Prince of Liechtenstein, in or before 1723, and in 1725–26 he finished a series of pictures for Stefano Conti, a merchant from Lucca. Dated memorandums accompanying the Conti pictures suggest how busy and yet how exacting the artist was at this time. Canaletto indicates that delays in the delivery of the pictures had been due to the pressure of other commissions and his own insistence on obtaining reliable pigments and on working from nature.

In his pictures of the late 1720s, such as “The Stonemason's Yard”, he combined a freedom and subtlety of manner that he was rarely to achieve again with an unrivalled imaginative and dramatic interpretation of Venetian architecture. His understanding of sunlight and shadow, cloud effects, and the play of light on buildings support the contention in his memorandums that he was working out-of-doors, which was a most unusual procedure for painters of that time.

Throughout the 1730s Canaletto was deeply absorbed in meeting foreign demands for souvenir views of Venice. Such was the pressure upon him that he ultimately was forced to work largely from drawings and even from other artists' engravings, rather than from nature. He also developed the use of the “camera ottica”, a device by which a lens threw onto a ground-glass screen the image of a view, which could be used as a basis for a drawing or painting. Finally, he developed a mechanical technique, in which ruler and compasses played a part, and architecture and figures were put into the picture according to a dexterous and effective formula. Such a vast number of views of Venice were produced during his lifetime that it is often thought that Canaletto was head of a large studio, but there is no evidence of this.

Owen Mac Swinney, an English operatic figure and patron of Canaletto, wrote as early as 1727: “The fellow is whimsical and varys his prices, every day: and he that has a mind to have any of his work, must not seem to be too fond of it, for he'l be ye worse treated for it, both in the price and the painting too.”

The outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740, which cut down sharply the number of visitors to Venice, seriously affected Canaletto's commissions. At this point, an early acquaintance, Joseph Smith (publisher, merchant, and later British consul in Venice) stepped into the breach. As standardised views of Venice dropped from demand, Smith seems to have encouraged Canaletto to expand his range of subjects to include Roman monuments and the area of Padua and the Brenta River. Pictures composed of more or less recognisable elements rearranged (“capricci”) and pictures composed of almost completely imaginary architectural and scenic elements (“vedute ideate”) now began to play an increasingly important part in Canaletto's work. In 1741–44 Canaletto also made a series of 30 etchings, exceptionally skilful and sensitive, showing a command of perspective and luminosity.

Canaletto's international reputation served him well as the tourists became more scarce. In 1746 he went to England, where he was welcomed, and remained until 1755, despite an invitation to Dresden from the elector of Saxony. He worked mainly in London, on English views. Although English atmosphere, architecture, and topography differed considerably from that of Venice, Canaletto there produced many works of great freshness and impact. On his return to Venice, however, his reputation had not diminished; and at last he received official recognition—election to the Venetian Academy in 1763 and, in the same year, appointment as prior of the Collegio dei Pittori.

The “View of the Grand Canal with the Rialto Bridge” shown here is typical of the artist’s oeuvre and highlights the idealised, spectacular views of Venice that tourists were rather keen in. This painting is in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the date of the painting is not exactly known , but represents Canaletto’s well-developed style. One can see why this artist was popular and successful in his lifetime, giving his public exactly what they wanted: A delightful souvenir of their visit to Venice, which would provide them with wonderful memories every time they admired it on their wall back home…