Saturday 24 November 2012


"Absence sharpens love, presence strengthens it." - Thomas Fuller
Ton Absence
Yves Duteil

Comme une bouffée de chagrin
Ton visage me dit plus rien
Je t'appelle et tu ne viens pas
Ton absence est entrée chez moi

C'est un grand vide au fond de moi
Tout ce bonheur qui n'est plus là
Si tu savais quand il est tard
Comme je m'ennuie de ton regard

C'est le revers de ton amour
La vie qui pèse un peu plus lourd
Comme une marée de silence
Qui prend ta place et qui s'avance

C'est ma main sur le téléphone
Maintenant qu'il n'y a plus personne
Ta photo sur la cheminée
Qui dit que tout est terminé

Tu nous disais qu'on serait grands
Mais je découvre maintenant
Que chacun porte sur son dos
Tout son chemin comme un fardeau

Les souvenirs de mon enfance
Les épreuves et les espérances
Et cette fleur qui s'épanouit sur le silence...
Ton absence

Je dors blotti dans ton sourire
Entre le passé, l'avenir
Et le présent qui me retient
De te rejoindre un beau matin

Dans ce voyage sans retour
Je t'ai offert tout mon amour
Même en s'usant l'âme et le corps
On peut aimer bien plus encore

Bien sûr, là-haut de quelque part
Tu dois m'entendre ou bien me voir
Mais se parler c'était plus tendre
On pouvait encore se comprendre

Mon enfance a pâli, déjà
Ce sont des gestes d'autrefois
Sur des films et sur des photos
Tu es partie tellement trop tôt

Je suis resté sur le chemin
Avec ma vie entre les mains
À ne plus savoir comment faire
Pour avancer vers la lumière

Il ne me reste au long des jours
En souvenir de ton amour
Que cette fleur qui s'épanouit sur le silence...
Ton absence.

Friday 23 November 2012


“Better eat beans in peace than cakes and ale in fear.” – Aesop

The Greeks consider beans an inexpensive, nourishing meal that is most often served on its own with a crusty bread, tomato salad and cheese. It is considered a peasant food and replaces the more expensive meat dishes. Beans are rich in protein, fibre, B vitamins, folic acid and biotin. Beans retain about 70 percent of their B vitamins (after preparation) as well as high levels of folate, which helps form red blood cells. Minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphate, manganese, calcium, copper, zinc and potassium are also all found in beans. In addition, beans are rich in phyto-oestrogens, important in prevention of breast and prostate cancers.


1 cup dried haricot beans
2 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 celery heart (stalks and leaves), chopped
1 can of whole tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp. tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
Freshly chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

1) Place beans in a medium bowl and cover with water and let them soak for a few hours. Drain and rinse beans.
2) Meanwhile in a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium setting.
3) Add the onion, celery, carrots and salt and stir for about 5 minutes or until soft.
4) Add the tomatoes, stock, tomato paste and beans.
5) Simmer uncovered for about one and a half hours or until beans are tender.
6) Season with salt and pepper and you may add chopped parsley before serving.

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

Thursday 22 November 2012


“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices and gives thanks for those things which he has.” – Epictetus
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists (in what was to subsequently become the USA), and the indigenous Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first celebrations in the colonies that was the antecedent of Thanksgiving. These celebrations were a continuation of the tradition of harvest festivals that were imported from the “old country”, but more importantly for the colonists it was a way of marking their survival for yet another year in what was often a harsh and inimical land.
Unfortunately, the peace between the Native Americans and the European settlers lasted for only a generation. The Wampanoag people do not share in the popular reverence for the traditional New England Thanksgiving. For them, the holiday is a reminder of betrayal and bloodshed. Since 1970, many native people have gathered at the statue of Massasoit in Plymouth, Massachusetts each Thanksgiving Day to remember their ancestors and the strength of the Wampanoag.
For more than two centuries, days of Thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. In 1846, Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of a magazine called Godley’s Lady’s Book, campaigned for an annual national thanksgiving holiday after a passage about the harvest gathering of 1621 was discovered and incorrectly labeled as the first Thanksgiving. In her 74th year, Hale wrote to President Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the “…day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” She explained: “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”
President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale’s request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. Thus advised, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November in 1863.
The original proclamation is set out below, which is well worth reading. According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln’s secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary how he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.
By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State

To all my American readers, best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving. It is a wonderful holiday and it is a grand thing to be able to have day formally set aside to give thanks for all the things that we usually take for granted. It should be a day of rest and for family get-togethers, a day for bountiful feasts and joy in the home where all the family members gather, but also it should be a day of reflection and gratitude. A day of giving thanks where thanks are due.

Wednesday 21 November 2012


“No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s always exciting to go to a conference that is in one’s discipline, in one’s area of interest. It is not only a pleasant break from the routine of one’s job, but also an opportunity to catch up with one’s peers, acquaintances and friends that are attending the same conference. Being exposed to new and challenging ideas, engaging with the experts that are presenting their latest work, having a chance to present one’s own work are all great opportunities for professional development and serve as great stimuli for innovative ideas.

The conference I am attending is centring on e-Learning and ways in which new technologies are expanding the horizons of education in the tertiary environment. This is very germane in today’s rapidly evolving world where new technology is expanding and renewing itself on a daily basis. Academics have traditionally been quite conservative, but the pressure is on nowadays and one can be left behind very quickly.

The latest destabilising influence in e-Learning around the world is the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). This is a relatively new initiative that was first discussed in 2008 but really wasn’t taken up to any great extent until the last couple of years. 2012 has already been described as the “Year of the MOOC”.

The basic idea behind a MOOC is that it is a fully open course (i.e. anyone can do it) that could be followed online (no face-to-face attendance necessary) and for free (gratis, zilch, nada!). The idea behind the title of this course is important as it derives from the Connectivism theory which (paraphrasing heavily here) says that learning/training in this era will be successful if we learn how to connect and build relevant networks. This idea of connecting to each other to construct knowledge is one of the key dynamics of a MOOC.

Deconstruction of the monopolised tertiary education landscape is underway. Probably in a couple of years the traditional university will have all but died out. The academics living in their ivory towers are a thing of the past – ivory is out in case… Free knowledge is the thing of the future. The “Sage on the Stage” has given way to the “Guide on the Side”. People who are amateurs in a field of learning are deciding to teach a subject that they are passionate about and they are showing dyed in the wool academics a thing or two. Academics must change with the times or they will become extinct. Soon…

Tuesday 20 November 2012


“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” - Frederick Douglass
Universal Children’s Day is celebrated annually on November 20th. It was first proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954, and was established to encourage all countries to institute a day, to firstly promote friendship and understanding among children all over the world, and secondly to initiate policy, strategy and action to benefit and promote the welfare of the world’s children. It is also an occasion to rejoice in the beauty and innocence of childhood.
Universal Children’s Day is immediately preceded by International Men’s Day on November 19 creating a 48 hour celebration of men and children respectively during which time the positive roles men play in children’s lives are recognised. It is a 48-hour period in which father and their children can celebrate the special bond that unites them. Events and activities focus on language and literacy, health, sport and recreation, the arts and science, as well as children’s cultural, social and emotional needs.
In 2000 world leaders outlined the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015. Although the Goals are for all humankind, they are primarily about children. UNICEF notes that six of the eight goals relate directly to children and meeting the last two will also make critical improvements in their lives.
In 2012, the Secretary-General of the UN launched a new initiative “Education First”. The Initiative aims to raise the political profile of education, strengthen the global movement to achieve quality education and generate additional and sufficient funding through sustained advocacy efforts. Achieving gains in education will have an impact on all the Millennium Development Goals, from lower child and maternal mortality, to better health, higher income and more environmentally-friendly societies.

Monday 19 November 2012


“Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.” - Jean-Luc Godard
Georges Méliès was born on December 8, 1861, Paris, France and died January 21, 1938, Paris. He was an early French experimenter with motion pictures, the first to film fictional narratives. When the first genuine movies, made by the Lumière brothers, were shown in Paris in 1895, Méliès, a professional magician and manager-director of the Théâtre Robert-Houdin, was among the spectators. The films were scenes from real life having the novelty of motion, but Méliès saw at once their further possibilities. He acquired a camera, built a glass-enclosed studio near Paris, wrote scripts, designed ingenious sets, and used actors to film stories. With a magician's intuition, he discovered and exploited the basic camera tricks: Stop motion, slow motion, dissolve, fade-out, superimposition, and double exposure.
From 1899 to 1912 Méliès made more than 400 films, the best of which combine illusion, comic burlesque, and pantomime to treat themes of fantasy in a playful and absurd fashion. He specialised in depicting extreme physical transformations of the human body (such as the dismemberment of heads and limbs) for comic effect. His films included pictures as diverse as Cléopâtre (1899; “Cleopatra”), Le Christ Marchant sur les Eaux (1899; “Christ Walking on the Waters”), Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902; “A Trip to the Moon”), Le Voyage à Travers l’ Impossible (1904; “The Voyage Across the Impossible”); and Hamlet (1908). He also filmed studio reconstructions of news events as an early kind of newsreel. It never occurred to him to move the camera for close-ups or long shots. The commercial growth of the industry forced him out of business in 1913, and he died in poverty.
I start Movie Monday with Méliès’ biography as the film that I will review revolves around his life. We watched Martin Scorsese’s 2011 “Hugo” at the weekend, starring Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen and Christopher Lee. The screenplay was by John Logan based on the novel by Brian Selznick.
The film has generated quite a controversial response from movie-goers giving rise to as much negative criticism as to passionate plaudits. This may have much to do with the way that it was marketed and the way in which people’s expectations were fanned before viewing it. The film’s tagline is: “One of the most legendary directors of our time takes you on an extraordinary adventure.” The marketing hype centred on the word adventure and many of the viewers went to the theatre expecting to see a film like one of the Harry Potter series or one of the Narnia films. However, the film is an adventure on a more cerebral level and is the tribute of a great director to one of movie-making’s great pioneers, Méliès.
There is a story of course, to dress the film up, and a very good story it is too, appealing to adults as much as it does to children: Hugo (Butterfield) is an orphan boy living in the secret passages and rooms behind the walls of a central train station in 1930s Paris. Hugo’s father (Jude Law, in a cameo role) was a clockmaker who taught his son to fix clocks and other gadgets. Once his father dies, Hugo’s uncle takes him to the train station and after his uncle disappears Hugo keeps the train station clocks running and stealing food to survive. The only thing Hugo has left that connects him to his dead father is an automaton that doesn’t work without a special key which Hugo needs to find to unlock the secret he believes it contains. On his adventures, he meets with a shopkeeper, Georges Méliès (Kingsley), who works in the train station and his adventure-seeking god-daughter (Moretz). Hugo finds that he and Isabelle have a surprising connection to his father and the automaton, and he discovers the automaton brings some painful memories the old man has buried deep inside him.
The film is beautifully shot and the cinematography, special effects and CGI are used extremely well to propel the story. As one would expect, the film is directed with panache and one can feel the love that has gone into this movie. Scorsese supposedly made this movie for his 12-year-old daughter and as he also pays tribute to one of his great cinematic forebears one can imagine that a lot of heart went into this film. The acting is wonderful, with young Asa Butterfield truly starring in the action, with Chloë Moretz providing good support, although she does tend to over-enthuse in some of the scenes looking like an over-eager puppy. Kinglsey does a great job as Méliès and Christopher Lee has an interesting little cameo as a bookshop owner. Jude Law is also perfect as young Hugo’s father. Sacha Baron Cohen is perfect as the film’s villain – the Train Station’s overenthusiastic security guard – who wishes to capture Hugo and send him to the orphanage. Dante Ferreti’s production design is quite astounding with costumes, sets and a sympathetic Howard Shore score giving the film authentic atmosphere and ambience.
A bonus of the film is the interpolation, at key points, of scenes from old movies. Méliès’s, of course, but also some of the other silent era greats, including the iconic scene of Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock high above the street in “Safety Last!” (1923). This scene is recreated as Hugo scales the clock-tower of the train station to escape from the clutches of the Train Inspector (Cohen). One should not fail to add that a constant theme running through the movie is the comment on “man versus machine”. The clockwork, the mechanical man and Hugo’s search for love and a family play on this theme and needless to say are a comment on Méliès’ art having been superseded by the professional and “modern” film studios.
We loved this film and were totally enthralled by it, its two hours duration passing easily and pleasantly. There are many layers in the film and numerous beautiful moments. It is a great tribute to the art of movie-making made by a master director. The interweaving stories of the plot serve as a perfect foil for Scorsese to showcase his art and at the same time give homage to Méliès. Don’t expect a swash-buckling adventure, but rather and adventure of the heart and soul.

Sunday 18 November 2012


“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” - Henry Ford
François-Auguste-René Rodin (12 November 1840, Paris, France to 17 November 1917, Meudon, France) was a prominent French sculptor best known for his iconic sculpture “The Thinker”. His father, Jean-Baptiste Rodin, was a detective in the Paris police department. His mother, Marie Cheffer, was a former seamstress. Rodin was somewhat shy and nearsighted from an early age. Young Rodin started serious drawing lessons at the age of 10. From the age of 14 he studied art at the École Impériale de Dessin, a government school for craft and design in Paris. There he discovered sculpture and acquired a thorough grounding in the tradition of French 18th-century art. Rodin also studied anatomy under the tutelage of sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye.
In 1858 he left the École Impériale de Dessin and sought admission to study at the École des Beaux-Arts. Although he applied three times he was rejected each time. So, instead of a formal education, Rodin served a long and difficult apprenticeship under Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, a highly successful sculptor, for whom Rodin started as a modeller, then became an assistant. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 he followed his teacher to Belgium. There he became a partner of Antoine Van Raspbourgh and worked on monumental allegorical sculptures for the Brussels Bourse. Rodin considered “Man with the Broken Nose” to be his earliest major work. Much to his disappointment, the Salon rejected the work twice, in 1864 and 1865.
While in Brussels Rodin sculpted a number of decorative female figures in terra cotta, beginning to sign his name. In 1875 he went to Italy where he studied the works of Michelangelo. In 1876 the artist created “The Bronze Age”, which was exhibited in Brussels and at the Salon des artistes Français in Paris. He was falsely accused by critics of having cast the entire statue from a live model. The French government bought “The Bronze Age” and a bronze model of St. John the Baptist.
From 1879-1882 Rodin worked at the Manufacture de Sevres. In 1884 the city council of Calais commissioned a sculpture that became the monumental sculpture group “The Burghers of Calais” (illustrated above). In 1888 the French government commissioned “The Kiss” in marble for the Universal exhibition of 1889. Rodin became the founding member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. At that time he exhibited with Claude Monet. In the 1890s he created monuments to Claude Le Lorrain, Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac, and also worked on other commissions.
In 1892 Rodin was promoted to Officer of the Légion d’ Honneur. In 1899 the large-scale “Eve” was shown at the Salon. In 1903 Rodin was appointed Commander of the Légion d’ Honneur. In 1864 Rodin met a seamstress, Rose Beuret. They had a son, named Auguste-Eugene Beuret, who was born in 1866. Rose became the model for many of his works. She and Rodin remained lifetime companions and formally married in 1917, the year they both died.
Rodin had another relationship with a student named Camille Claudel, who was 25 years younger than him. She became his mistress at the age of 18, and inspired Rodin as a model for several sculptures of passionate love couples. Camille was also a talented pupil; she worked for Rodin and assisted him during his four-year work on the bronze group “Les Bourgeois de Calais” (1884-1888). Unfortunately, her mental problems brought tragic complexity in Rodin’s life (she was eventually committed to a mental asylum). He remained attached to Rose, who patiently endured his other affairs.
In 1903 he met an English painter, Gwendolen Mary John, and she became his mistress and was his model for “The Whistler Muse”. In 1904 Rodin met the American-born Duchess Claire de Choiseul, who dominated his life until 1912. His complex relationships found reflection in his works: “Eternal Spring”, “The Poet and Love”, “The Genius and Pity”, “The Sculptor and his Muse”. Rodin preferred to sketch the natural spontaneity of amateur models, street acrobats, athletes and dancers. From these quick sketches he modelled works in clay, which he later reworked and fine-tuned, then cast in plaster and forged into bronze. A large staff of pupils, craftsmen and stonecutters were working for him, including Bourdelle.
Rodin’s method of evolutionary development of his initial idea into a masterpiece was demonstrated by creation of “The Kiss” and “The Thinker”, which were derived from smaller reliefs within “The Gates of Hell”, a work he was commissioned to create in 1880 for a museum in Paris. For that project he made a palm-size sketch of “The Kiss” and a first small plaster version of “The Thinker” as a figure of the poet Dante Alighieri. “The Kiss” was completed in marble in 1889. By that time he had exhibited a mid-size version of “The Thinker”, which was cast in bronze in the 1890s. Meanwhile, Rodin made countless variations of “The Thinker” by subtle alterations to its pose and expression until he achieved the desired result with one of the bigger versions.
Rodin’s works are distinguished by their energy and realism that create an illusion of a living, breathing form. His art embraced all aspects of humanity, ranging from distress and moral weakness to the heights of passion and beauty. “The Thinker” was an achievement of a special harmony in showing a trio of human qualities that appealed to the art lover: The heroic, poetic and intellectual. It was recast in over 20 copies for major museums, and was also reproduced in millions of smaller versions and became one of the most recognizable icons of art.
From 1908-1917 Rodin lived at the Hotel Biron in Paris. There his neighbours included artist Henri Matisse, writer Jean Cocteau and dancer Isadora Duncan. In 1912 the French government scheduled the Hotel Biron for demolition and ordered the tenants to vacate. Rodin persuaded the government to allow him to stay. As an exchange, in 1916 Rodin gave his entire collection of art to France on the condition that the state maintain the Musée Rodin. The collection contains Rodin’s most significant works, including “The Thinker”, “The Kiss”, “The Gates of Hell” and “The Burghers of Calais” in the front garden. Rodin's living rooms are decorated with paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Auguste Renoir that he had acquired. Rodin's own works and other art objects are still placed as Rodin set them.
Auguste Rodin enjoyed friendships with some of the most important writers and artists of the day, such as Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne, Émile Zola, Robert Louis Stevenson and George Bernard Shaw. Rodin died on November 17, 1917, in Mendon, France, and was laid to rest beside Rose Beuret in the Cemetery of Mendon, Ile-de-France. A bronze cast of “The Thinker” was placed at the base of his tomb.

This short video takes us on a tour of the Musée Rodin.