Saturday 10 November 2012


“The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.” - Charles Dickens

A Saturday the first of a few where the pleasure of the happy routine is to be disrupted. Parting is such sweet sorrow…

Here is Peggy Zina, singing the Greek song “Σου Χρωστάω Ακόμα ένα Κλάμμα” (I still Owe you Some Tears).

I still owe you some tears,
Things don't end just like that.
If you are not here,
How can happiness be mine?
I still must cry over you,
That’s how love always is.
If you are not here,
What life can I have after you?

Friday 9 November 2012


“Cooking is about passion, so it may look slightly temperamental in a way that it’s too assertive to the naked eye.” - Gordon Ramsay
A dip, or dipping sauce, is a common condiment for many types of food. Dips are used to add flavour or texture to a food, such as pita bread, dumplings, crackers, cut-up raw vegetables, seafood, cubed pieces of meat and cheese, potato chips, tortilla chips, and falafel. Unlike other sauces, instead of applying the sauce to the food, the food is typically put, dipped, or added into the dipping sauce (hence the name). Dips are commonly used for finger foods, appetisers, and other easily held foods. Here are recipes for a popular trio of Middle Eastern dips.
Hummus Dip

1 and 1/2 cups chick peas
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon tahini
5 tablespoons lemon juice
5 tablespoons olive oil
Sumac powder to garnish (optional)
Soak chick peas overnight and simmer in water for 2 hours or until soft (if the chick peas have not been pre-soaked they take longer to cook). Drain chick peas and reserve cooking liquid. Blend chick peas, garlic, tahini and lemon juice in food processor or blender adding as much reserved cooking liquid as needed to form a smooth, thick dip. Continue to blend lowly and add the olive oil little by little so that it is incorporated into the dip. Put into a serving bowl and sprinkle sumac powder on top (optional).

Baba Ganoush Dip

1 large eggplant
salt to taste
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 tablespoon tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
olive oil for frying
parsley to garnish (optional)
Cut the eggplant into slices around 1 cm thick. Sprinkle both sides with salt and let sit for 30 minutes (the salt draws out the bitterness of the eggplant). Wash off salt with water and dry well with a towel. Fry until soft.
Blend eggplant with garlic, tahini, and lemon juice. Put in a serving bowl and garnish with finely chopped parsley (optional).
Spicy Carrot Dip

5 large or 10 small carrots
2 or more cloves of crushed garlic
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground caraway
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons vinegar
Mild smoked paprika powder to garnish (optional)
Dice carrots and boil for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and mash with a fork. Add garlic, spices, oil and vinegar. Mix and chill, garnishing by sprinkling paprika powder on top (optional).

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

Thursday 8 November 2012


“Miracles are not impossible from a logical standpoint, and right reason does not deny them. Natural laws do not have the claim to be the only ones, nor are they threatened with being overturned by the appearance of other laws, supernatural ones, which also are conducive to the development and furtherance of creation… Miracles are a consequence of the Creator’s love for His creatures.” – St Nectarios

Saint Nectarios of Aegina (1846–1920), Metropolitan of Pentapolis and Wonderworker of Aegina, was officially recognised as a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1961. His Feast Day is celebrated every year on 9 November. The saint is one of the most widely known and loved of Greek Orthodox Saints and his name (meaning “sweet as nectar”) is a popular name for boys (Nectários) and girls (Nectaría) in Greece.

St. Nectarios was born on 1 October 1846 in Selymbria in Eastern Thrace to a poor but pious family, his parents being Dimos and Maria Kephalas. His given name was Anastasios Kephalas. At the age of 14, he moved to Constantinople (Istanbul) to work and also further his education as he loved learning. In 1866, at age 20, he moved to the island of Chios to take up a teaching post.

As he had long wished to take a monastic life, on November 7, 1876 he became a monk, at age 30, in the Monastery of Nea Moni. Three years later he was ordained a Deacon, taking the name Nectarios. He graduated from the University of Athens in 1885. During his years as a student of the University of Athens he wrote many books, pamphlets, and Bible commentaries.

Following his graduation he went to Alexandria, Egypt, where he was ordained a priest and served faithfully the Church of Saint Nicholas in Cairo. In recognition of his piety and brilliance as a preacher, as well as his administrative ability, he was consecrated Metropolitan bishop of Pentapolis (an ancient diocese in Cyrenaica, in what is now Libya) by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Sophronios in 1889.

He served as a Bishop in Cairo for one year, and because of his immense popularity with the people he was greatly envied by his peers. Internal squabbling in the church and this envy amongst the clergy resulted in lies being made up about him and false accusations regarding his activities were brought before the Patriarch. As a result, Patriarch Sophronios refused to listen to what St. Nectarios had to say in his own defence. He was sent away from Egypt without trial or any explanation whatsoever.

After his dismissal, he returned to Greece in 1891, and spent several years as a preacher (1891–1894). He was then appointed director of the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School for the education of priests in Athens, where his service was exemplary for fifteen years. He developed many courses of study, and wrote numerous books, all while preaching widely throughout Athens.

In 1904 at the request of several nuns, he established a nunnery for them on the island of Aegina, in the Saronic Gulf close to Athens. The nunnery was named Holy Trinity Convent. Nectarios ordained two women as deaconesses in 1911. Up to the 1950s, a few Greek Orthodox nuns also became monastic deaconesses. In 1986, Christodoulos, then the metropolitan of Demetrias, later to become archbishop of Athens and all of Greece, ordained a woman deacon in accordance with the “ritual of St. Nectarios” (the ancient Byzantine text St. Nectarios had used).

In December 1908, at the age of 62, St. Nectarios resigned from his post as school director and withdrew to the Holy Trinity Convent on Aegina, where he lived out the rest of his life as a monk. He wrote, published, preached, and heard confessions from those who came from near and far to seek out his spiritual guidance. While at the convent, he also tended the gardens, carried stones, and helped with the construction of the monastery buildings that were built with his own funds. Next to the original convent in Aegina a grand church dedicated to St Nectarios has been built. The church is still in the process of being completed.

St. Nectarios died on the evening of 9 November 1920 (O.S. 8 November) at the age of 74, following hospitalisation for prostate cancer. His body was taken to the Holy Trinity Convent, where he was buried by his best friend St Savvas of Kalymnos, who later painted the first icon of St. Nectarios. The funeral of St. Nectarios was attended by multitudes of people from all parts of Greece and Egypt. His anathema in Cairo was not lifted by the Alexandrian Patriarchate until 1998.

Many people regarded St. Nectarios as a Saint during his lifetime because of his devoutness, his humility, his purity, his writings, as well as the miracles he performed. St. Nectarios also had the gift of prescience. The relics of St. Nectarios were removed from the grave on 2 September 1953. Official recognition of Nectarios as a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople took place on 20 April 1961. Thousands of miracles have been attributed to his intercession.

Wednesday 7 November 2012


“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” - Plato
The day started out this morning with a walk along the Yarra River, quite early before I got to work. It had just rained and the atmosphere was clear with the air crisp and cool. As the sun was coming up through the clouds it illuminated the city high-rise buildings and made their glass and steel façades glitter. Their reflections in the quiet waters of the river were distorted by its gentle flow and the gulls flew about calling to each other with their cacophonous squawks. An occasional team of rowers flitted by quickly as their collected efforts made their boat glide through the water with ease.
I felt exhilarated and extremely lucky to be able to take this leisurely stroll along the river bank. A wonderful city, a comfortable existence, a peaceful place to live in. I had a job to go to, family to wait for me when I got home later tonight. It made me feel so thankful for my secure and enjoyable lifestyle, all of those things that we often take for granted if we live in such a place. How many people around the world can enjoy half, a quarter, a tenth a hundredth of these simple pleasures?
As the world situation becomes ever more volatile, as the financial crisis claims more and more victims, as the developing countries face enormous problems, as world populations move around the globe to find a better life for themselves, how easy it is to ignore it all and stay cossetted in our own cosy situation, oblivious to all else around us…
The haves can choose to pay no heed to the have-nots, at their peril. The rich can disregard the poor for a time. The secure can close their eyes to the insecurity of the dispossessed and the deprived. The comfortable may shut their ears to the cries of help of the uncomfortable. However, as the inequities grow greater, as the disparity between the wealthy and the indigent deepens, as the rift between the haves and the have-nots becomes wider, there is the risk of a reaction.
Crisis will often prompt people to desperate acts. Revolution as a means of righting social wrongs has in the past been a major force in upsetting the status quo. Comfortable existences cannot be maintained forever by simply ignoring the plight of the have-nots. Can constructive social changes prevent the violent resolution of inequity? Can socially-informed policies of governments around the world act in a way that the rights of all people are defended? Cannot the rich share part of their wealth so that the bulk of it is not wrested from them forcefully?
The re-election of President Barack Obama in the USA will usher in a presidency that will be surely more challenging in its second term than it was in its first. The people of the world, not only of the USA, have raised their expectations and the multitude of problems Obama’s country faces not only internally, but also in its external involvements will make for a time is wrought with tough decisions, difficult tasks, confronting policies and controversial actions.
Obama has to perform exceptionally well in order to make even some of his pre-election promises good. It will be a massive task and he will need a supportive and united team in order to make the impossible possible. He has had a reputation for being a little bit of a lone wolf. Will he in this new term of office be able to become more of a team player? Jilted Republicans will ensure that his office is not a pleasant one and his every decision will be challenged. I hope that things go well. I hope that the USA recovers and that by regaining a position of strength it can influence the rest of the world into a better shape than it is currently…

Tuesday 6 November 2012


“A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up to and outpace.” Ovid
Australians certainly love sport and although renowned for our egalitarianism, we are fond of “the sport of kings” - horse racing. One can find horse racing events around the nation on almost every day of the year. Of course, there is a lively wagering that goes on in association with these events too. Although I am not a gambler I do take part in the yearly flutter that comes with the Melbourne Cup in the form of the office sweepstakes where I hand over my two-dollar coin as I bid goodbye to it - I haven't won once! Anyway, that's the extent of my gambling…
The Melbourne Cup is the horse race of all Australian horse races. Every year when this race is run around 3:00 pm, it literally stops the entire nation. Melbourne Cup Day is fixed on the first Tuesday in November and although it is a public holiday only in the Melbourne Metropolitan area, Australians all over the nation are glued to their television screens or listen on the radio (or on the internet too, nowadays, I suppose) to watch this historic race.
The race is held over a distance of 3,200 meters, the traditional two-mile cup distance, for horses three years and older and is the richest and most prestigious “two-mile” handicap in the world. It is held in Flemington Racecourse, located in Flemington, one of Melbourne's inner city suburbs, which is named after a butcher who lived there in the 19th century. I certainly hope he didn't sell horse meat - that would be grand irony!
The first Melbourne Cup was run in 1861. There were 17 starters and the prize was 170 pounds and a hand-beaten gold watch (this was the trophy given before the traditional Loving Cup which the Melbourne Cup is known for). “Archer”, the first Cup-winning horse, had been walked to Melbourne from its stable in Nowra, New South Wales, a distance of about 800km. “Archer” won again the following year to a prize of 810 gold sovereigns (£810) and a gold watch. “Archer” went on to win the race the following year once more, making him one of the five horses to win the event more than once.
The Victoria Turf Club and the Victoria Jockey Club merged to form the Victoria Racing Club in 1864. The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) had taken charge of the proceedings since then. The Melbourne Cup saw even more promise and popularity under the auspices of the VRC. By 1865, Cup Day was declared a half-day holiday. By 1877 it was declared a whole day holiday to allow patrons to crowd the Flemington racecourse. The Cup was first held on the first Tuesday of November in 1875. It then too adopted the four-day format, which later evolved to today's well-attended Carnival. From then until now the Melbourne Cup was growing to a locally and internationally supported event.
The Flemington racetrack is the most popular course in Australia and the home of the organisers of the VRC. The whole field has a capacity of 120,000. Spectators who cannot get into Flemington watch from the television panels outside of the field. The pear-shaped track has a back straight of six furlongs. The final straight to the finishing post measures 450 metres long. The length of the home stretch has decided Melbourne Cup races throughout history.
“Green Moon” passed the winning post to take the 2012 Melbourne Cup. Sitting atop the flying six-year-old stallion was jockey Brett Prebble. “Americain”, the favourite, did not even rate a place - as is often usual with favourites! Prebble said on his win:  “It's a lifelong dream. That was super, he was outstanding. He's a machine, you can take him anywhere in the world and he's a high class animal. What can you say, I won a Melbourne Cup.”
The Spring Racing Carnival, but especially the Melbourne Cup and the Oaks Day races run the Thursday two days after the Cup, is a glamour fashion event also. Many people simply attend to be seen in their best finery. Women compete furiously for winning the fashion stakes and every year it is amazing to see what they balance on top of their heads in the form of some type of headgear: Caps, hats, fascinators, berets, shades, turbans, titfers, headdresses of every kind, from the sublime to the ridiculous (mostly the latter)!
This year, Charles the Prince of Wales and his Consort the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla, graced the Melbourne Cup with their presence. The royal couple met some of the jockeys who rode in the Melbourne Cup and they will stay in Melbourne for a total of three days, as part of their Australasian tour.

Monday 5 November 2012


“I laugh, I love, I hope, I try, I hurt, I need, I fear, I cry. And I know you do the same things too, So we're really not that different, me and you.” - Colin Raye
We watched the 2011 Stephen Daldry film “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”  starring Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow and Viola Davis. It was an adaptation of the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer with a screenplay by Eric Roth. It is a long and (for many people) painful movie as it involves the events of NYC on 9/11 and uses its events as a backdrop to its action. Some people have actually found this offensive. We didn’t feel offended by it, and although the references are painful and troubling, there is a moving and strong point made by the film about terrorist acts and their impact on ordinary people.
Oskar (Thomas Horn), is a troubled young boy with an autistic-type disorder who is trying to cope with the loss of his father (Tom Hanks). Oskar has a difficult relationship with his mother (Sandra Bullock) and often lashes out at her, and has a great deal of difficulty relating to the world. A year after his father’s death, he discovers a mysterious key in his father’s things and embarks on a search to find the lock the key opens. Oskar treats this quest like a mystery expedition, similar to what he and his father undertook in the past. He gets to meet tens of different people, some close to him some very distant and he gets to discover how to control his fears and cope with the enormity of his loss.
The film is offbeat, centring as it does on young Oskar, with whom some people will find difficulty to identify with. However, it is easy to view the film if one sees it more as a film about father-son relationships than as a comment on 9/11 (which it nevertheless is). Oskar’s father had a troubled relationship with his father and hence the perfect relationship that he worked hard to develop with Oskar. Oskar’s relationship with his father – his hero – was what underlies the immense and heart-breaking loss he feels. Oskar’s relationship with his grandfather and the way that he feels betrayed by it adds to his problems, although it is this relationship that catalyses Oskar’s final understanding and acceptance of the past.
All the actors performed extremely well in this movie, but it is young Thomas Horn and Max von Sydow that deserve the laurels for their performance. Viola Davis has an excellent supporting role and Sandra Bullock plays competently, although her absence during most of the film is noticeable (and ultimately explained). John Goodman has a cameo appearance, and I do believe he is maturing into a fine character actor. The New York setting is both apt and poignant, although this film is bound rub salt into the wounds of many people who were personally affected by the 9/11 tragedy. One can understand this, and one can expect a mass of emotions to surface, one can see why some people have responded extremely negatively to this film.
Some of the criticism levelled at the film is that it was one that was “Oscar-baiting” – i.e. it was made specifically to attract an Oscar for Best Picture. This is feel is slightly insulting to the film-makers as there is no rhyme nor reason to what the Academy will select as Best Picture and there have been many lemons that have got an Oscar and countless worthy movies that got no awards whatsoever. References to the Holocaust and to Oskar’s condition have also been found by some to be troublesome.
It is a challenging film to watch, a trifle too long and it does contain themes that many people will find confronting. Nevertheless we watched it with unflagging interest, we were emotionally involved and the film was poignant and touching in places, but balanced by scenes of sheer joy and joie-de-vivre. Young Oskar was a perfect depiction of a troubled child who is coping not only with a range of psychological disorders but also with the burden of an immense personal loss due to a senseless act of violence and terrorism. The way that he finally manages to cope with these issues and the way that he re-establishes his closest relationships at the end of the movie is the point of the film.

Sunday 4 November 2012


“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most.” - John Ruskin

For Art Sunday today, Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse (born December 31, 1869, Le Cateau, Picardy, France and died November 3, 1954, Nice). Matisse is the artist often regarded as the most important French painter of the 20th century. He was the leader of the Fauvist movement, which developed around 1900, and as its champion, he pursued the expressiveness of colour throughout his career. His subjects were largely domestic or figurative, and a distinct Mediterranean verve presides in the treatment. His use of flat colour and rich ornament make for highly decorative canvasses that evoke strong emotional responses in the viewer.

The artist’s parents were in the grain business, and Matisse displayed little interest in art until he was 20 years old. From 1882 to 1887 he attended the secondary school in Saint-Quentin; after a year of legal studies in Paris, he returned to Saint-Quentin and became a clerk in a law office. He began to sit in on an early-morning drawing class at the local École Quentin-Latour, and, in 1890, while recovering from a severe attack of appendicitis, he began to paint, at first copying the coloured reproductions in a box of oils his mother had given him. Soon he was decorating the home of his grandparents at Le Cateau. In 1891 he abandoned the law and returned to Paris to become a professional artist.

Although at this period he had, in his own words, “hair like Absalom’s”, he was far from being a typical Left Bank bohemian art student. “I plunged head down into work,” he said later, “on the principle I had heard, all my young life, expressed by the words ‘Hurry up!' Like my parents, I hurried up in my work, pushed by I don’t know what, by a force which today I perceive as being foreign to my life as a normal man”. This 19th-century gospel of work, derived from a middle class, northern French upbringing, was to mark his entire career, and soon it was accompanied by a thoroughly bourgeois appearance—gold-rimmed spectacles; short, carefully trimmed beard; plump, feline body; conservative clothes—which was odd for a leading member of the Parisian avant-garde.

He studied at the Academie Julian under the traditionalist Bouguereau and Moreau. Inspired by the works of the time, namely by post-impressionism, he always focussed on the importance and ability of colour to speak to the painter and the viewer. He often used pointillist techniques at the turn of the century. Initially he painted still-lifes and landscapes in a traditional style, at which he achieved reasonable proficiency. Matisse was influenced by the works of earlier masters such as Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Nicolas Poussin, and Antoine Watteau, as well as by modern artists such as Édouard Manet, and by Japanese art. Chardin was one of Matisse’s most admired painters; as an art student he made copies of four Chardin paintings in the Louvre.

He then moved to the French Riviera to work with a group of artists who became known as the Fauves or Wild Beasts for their flat, distinct work using symmetric lines that were to be expressive and non-detailed. Following this stint, he moved to Montparnasse. He then moved and lived outside of Nice so he could be close to the Riviera. Throughout World War I, he lived there painting.

After the war, his paintings revealed a return to something concrete, subdued, and physical in nature – something quite common in artistic circles of the day as artists also searched for answers to a war that had taken so much and so many.

It was Matisse’s travels to Spain, Germany, Russia, and Africa that would affect the painter’s work. By 1920, he had become a world-renowned artist and was commissioned by several prominent figures to complete murals, sculptures, and to give presentations. In his art, he fought against technology and vied for a return to something simpler and more expressive. Islamic art in particular influenced him to concentrate on the decorative elements rather than human figures.

During the last years of his life, he was a rather solitary man who was separated from his wife and whose grownup children were scattered. After 1941, when he underwent an operation for an intestinal disorder, he was bedridden much of the time; after 1950 he suffered from asthma and heart trouble. Cared for by a faithful Russian woman who had been one of his models in the early 1930s, he lived in a large studio in the Old Hôtel Regina at Cimiez, overlooking Nice. Often he was obliged to work on his mural-sized projects from a studio bed with the aid of a crayon attached to a long pole. But there are no signs of flagging creative energy or of sadness in his final achievements; on the contrary, these works are among the most daring, most accomplished, and most serenely optimistic of his entire career.

Matisse’s art has a vital force and persists into a personal world into which Matisse draws all his viewers. He was always attracted to the beautiful and produced some of the most powerful beauty ever painted. He was a man of anxious temperament, a man of peasant fears, well concealed. Matisse coaxed his nervous tension into serenity. He spoke of his art as being like “a good armchair” – a ludicrously inept comparison for such a brilliant man – but his art was a respite, a reprieve, a comfort to him.

The painting above is “The Lute” and it was painted in 1943. Strong colours and vibrant decorative elements are the backdrop for the woman playing the lute. That such a painting was created during the world war can be seen as a gesture of resistance and quiet struggle. The artist is influenced by the carnage and the upheaval, the red in the canvas perhaps symbolising the bloody battlegrounds of the war. The woman playing the lute and the plants luxuriantly burgeoning forth are a quiet confidence that humanity will survive and art will redeem the atrocities of the war. Having been through the horrors of WWI, Matisse could only look on WWII with forbearance and knew that once again the human spirit would overcome the savagery.