Saturday 1 December 2012


“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day.” - Vincent Van Gogh
The first day of Summer here in Melbourne was at first warm and sunny, with a change coming through in the afternoon that brought some rain. The night will be cooler and at least we shall sleep easier than the last couple of nights, which were very hot. As I look out the window, I can see the moon peeking between the clouds now and then. A piece of music immediately springs to mind…
Here it is: Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti.

Friday 30 November 2012


“Go vegetable heavy. Reverse the psychology of your plate by making meat the side dish and vegetables the main course.” - Bobby Flay
For Food Friday, a favourite soup that can be adjusted according to what season it is and what vegetables you have available at the time. Feel free to mix and match vegetables and to experiment! Serve with crusty, toasted bread.
Mixed Vegetable Soup

2 onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 carrots
2 zucchini
A handful of green string beans
1 leek
1 potato
1 tomato
6 small mushrooms
Black pepper
Salt to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of ground coriander seeds
Pinch of ground cardamon
Chicken stock (can substitute with water if vegetarian)
Roasted pine nuts and parsley (optional)
Boil a chicken carcasse in two litres of water for a couple of hours, topping water as required. Sauté onions in the hot oil in large saucepan until soft. Add garlic and after a few seconds add the finely chopped mushrooms. Then, toss in all the vegetables. Sauté for a further 10 minutes. Add pepper, spices and enough stock (or water) to just cover vegetables. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are cooked. Garnish with parsley and pine nuts, if desired.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 29 November 2012


“The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat, can influence your life by 30 to 50 years.” - Deepak Chopra

With “Movember” almost over, it is perhaps appropriate to take stock of this initiative and evaluate its goals. Movember (a portmanteau word from moustache and November) is an annual, month-long event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of men’s health problems and to raise funds for associated charities. The Movember Foundation runs the Movember charity event, housed at

The goal of Movember is to “change the face of men’s health.” By encouraging men (“Mo Bros”) to get involved, Movember aims to increase early cancer detection, diagnosis and effective treatments, and ultimately reduce the number of preventable deaths. Besides getting an annual check-up, the Movember Foundation encourages men to be aware of any family history of cancer, and to adopt a more healthful lifestyle.

Since 2004, the Movember Foundation charity has run Movember events to raise awareness and funds for men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer and depression, in Australia and New Zealand. In 2007, events were launched in Ireland, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, the United Kingdom, Israel, South Africa, Taiwan and the United States. The event has spread from Australia to South Africa, Europe and North America. As of 2011 Canadians were the largest contributors to the Movember charities of any nation. In 2010, Movember merged with the testicular cancer event Tacheback. In 2012 the Global Journal listed Movember as one of the top 100 non government organisations in the world.

The immense popularity of the event cannot be denied and there is a great buy-in from the community. The emphasis on prostate cancer, while understandable (this is after all “the” male cancer par excellence to counterbalance the women’s own breast cancer), is a little unfortunate. There is quite a controversy raging in terms of screening for prostate cancer. The advocates for screening (typically specialist doctors who treat prostate cancer) and those who do not believe in its efficacy (typically public health practitioners and GPs) quote studies and research that support their divergent opinions.

The extensive prostate cancer screening trials (similar to the ones for breast cancer 30 years ago), have only been published recently, and the results are ambiguous. Some studies show a small benefit, while others show no benefit of screening. It is something that statisticians are still arguing over and it supplies each side of the debate with enough ammunition to further its own different opinion. As far as the general public is concerned, there is confusion (as man may get conflicting advice from equally respectable men’s heath experts) and there is the touting of prostate screening by some organisations as the “magic bullet” that will reduce prostate death rates in a similar way that breast cancer screening has (breast cancer screening certainly works!).

Unfortunately, prostate cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment is a minefield. Not only is screening equivocal, but once the disease is definitively diagnosed, the treatment is damaging too. Despite real advances in surgical removal of cancerous prostates (“radical prostatectomy”), the chances are that most men will be rendered impotent by the operation and most will develop urinary incontinence. So, there may even be harm in prostate cancer detection! Detecting cancer in men for whom treatment will confer no benefit is very damaging. Even the diagnosis of this cancer is with ridden problems: Men diagnosed with prostate cancer  are nearly ten times more likely to commit suicide than before...

So what is the answer? Everyone agrees (and the research evidence is quite strong) that cancer prevention works. Diet and lifestyle are the by far the most effective measures in protecting against a range of cancers, including prostate cancer. Eating a wide variety of good food with lots of fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruit less dairy and meat, reducing fats especially saturated fat, keeping physically active, stopping smoking and making sure you greatly reduce alcohol consumption are very real, effective ways of lessening the incidence of cancer (and many other diseases!). Movember would be a better advocate for men’s health if it highlighted these self-help steps.

We are fast becoming a society of instant gratification, hedonistic pleasures, immediate solutions, technological fixes and “magic bullet” cures. Taking personal responsibility for one’s health, while advocated in many quarters does not have the uptake that it needs to have to make a difference. We would much rather swallow a miraculous tablet, have a wonderful life-saving operation that will rid us of disease, and in the meantime enjoy ourselves with physical pleasures. Movember can make a difference, but it does need a shift in its emphasis to be even more effective.

Wednesday 28 November 2012


“Although the future of religion is bleak but yet one hope is there in the form of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji which teaches us all God’s message of love and gives direction to life.” – Arnold Toynbee
On November 28, Gurunanak Jayanti is celebrated. This is the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and among the Sikhs it is a most important feast and an occasion for great rejoicing. Guru Nanak was born near Lahore, and his birth anniversary is celebrated with much pomp and religious fervour across the Sikh community.
Guru Nanak (1469 AD – 1539 AD) was born in a village named Rai Bhoi di Talwandi, presently popular as Nankana Sahib, near Lahore, Pakistan. Biographical sources state that from childhood he showed deep interest in matters pertaining to divinity and spirituality. Later in his life he completely engrossed himself in preaching the importance and power of spirituality in one’s life and his teachings ultimately gave birth to Sikhism.
The festivities for the day begin with early morning processions known as the “prabhat pheri”. The procession starts at a local Gurudwara (Gateway to the Guru, is the place of worship for Sikhs) and makes its way around the neighbourhood, with everyone chanting verses and singing hymns. Prabhat pheris are held on the days prior to Gurunanak Jayanti; and for the three days too, there is a continuous reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, from beginning to end, without a break.
The Guru Granth Sahib is the principal sacred scripture of Sikhism. Originally compiled under the direction of Arjan Dev (1563–1606), the fifth Sikh guru, it contains hymns and religious poetry as well as the teachings of the first five gurus. Also called Adi Granth, Granth, and Granth Sahib.

The day of the festival is marked by a special procession in which pride of place is reserved for the Guru Granth Sahib, carried on a beautifully decorated float and accompanied by musicians and five armed guards (who represent the panj piaras). Prayers and kirtans at Gurudwaras are followed by community meals (langar), where everyone (irrespective of religious conviction) are welcome.
The Harmandir Sahib also Darbar Sahib and informally referred to as the Golden Temple  is a prominent Sikh Gurdwara located in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, India. It was built by the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Arjan Dev, in the 16th Century. In 1604, Guru Arjan Dev ji completed the Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikhism, and installed it in the Gurdwara. There are four doors to get into the Harmandir Sahib, which symbolise the openness of the Sikhs towards all people and religions. The present day Gurdwara was rebuilt in 1764 by Jassa Singh Ahluwalia with the help of other Sikh Misl’s. In the early nineteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh secured the Punjab region from outside attack and covered the upper floors of the Gurdwara with gold, which gives it its distinctive appearance and English name the Golden Temple.

Tuesday 27 November 2012


“And every occasion when a mask was torn off, an ideal broken, was preceded by this hateful vacancy and stillness, this deathly constriction and loneliness and unrelatedness, this waste and empty hell of lovelenessness and despair, such as I had now.” - Hermann Hesse

Magpie Tales has provided a photo prompt for this week’s creative challenge. Here is my contribution:


Bare walls and empty rooms
Resound with the redundancy
Of the echoes of your thoughts.

Cold nights and winter gardens
Engulf the shuffle of your footsteps
Treading the same paths.

Impassive moon, the stars cold, indifferent
Gaze emptily on your well-worn orbit
Eclipsing constantly an ever elusive,

Never glimpsed at sun.

Sunday 25 November 2012


“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death” - Albert Einstein
Sometimes one watches a movie and it ticks all the boxes: Good story, good acting, good scenario, well made, well produced. It is very much an example of entertainment, education, emotional lift and a case of 100 or so minutes of time well spent. Such was a film we recently watched, Justin Chadwick’s “The First Grader”  of 2010, starring Oliver Litondo, Naomie Harris, Emily Njoki and Alfred Munyua. Even though this is not a “feel-good” movie “especially suitable for children” as it is touted, it is a very good film for all ages and good for children at school who can watch it under supervision and can be guided through the debriefing that should follow it.
The plot is Ann Peacock’s version of the true story of Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge (Litondo), an 84-year-old Kenyan man who, following a Kenyan Government pronouncement that “Free Education is Available for Everyone”, successfully enrolled in first grade. Maruge is a former Mau-Mau revolutionary and prisoner of war. After being tortured by the British army in the 1950s, and having his family killed, he was interred in concentration camps. His spirit, however, was never broken. The film highlights the neglect of former revolutionaries by newly installed bureaucrats – a common enough occurrence in many countries, and as depicted in the film, in Kenya as well. The dedicated teacher (Harris) who accepts Maruge in her class comes to understand Maruge and his motivation and is willing to risk her job and her life and limb in order to give Maruge the chance to an education she feels he deserves.
It is a somewhat simplified story, but its sketched out and highlighted episodes serve to bring to the fore the terrible treatment that Africans were subjected to during colonial rule. The scenes of torture and the war atrocities shown only scratch the surface, but they are powerful and necessarily violent scenes that serve as important reminders of historical facts and they underpin the viewers’ understanding of Maruge’s motivation.
In terms of the actors, all the school children and most of the players were not professional actors but ordinary Kenyan people. The exception was Naomie Harris, an excellent English screen actress, who played Jane Obinchu, the first grade teacher, impeccably. The performance by Oliver Litondo as Maruge is quite amazing, and he is perfect for the role. Litondo is a native Kenyan who used to be a news anchor with no previous acting experience. Chadwick and their crew spent several weeks in Kenya working with locals while preparing to shoot this movie and the result is an extremely sensitive and poignant film. While there are some lighter moments of humour, most of the time this film touches the heart and makes the viewer deplore the very worst that is shown in human nature.
The cinematography and direction of the film are very good and the sweeping landscapes of Kenya are used to great effect as the backdrop to the story. The thriving metropolis of Nairobi as the setting for the “New Africa for Africans” is also very effective and shows off well the battle of the “little guy” against the “government bureaucracy”. A highly appropriate soundtrack underscores the action perfectly without being obtrusive.
As an educator I especially enjoyed the film, seeing how I concurred with the Kenyan wise saying: “Keep on learning until you have soil in your ears”. We recommend the film most highly, but be prepared for some highly charged themes and violent scenes and if this film is shown to schoolchildren, they should be suitably prepared and debriefed afterwards.


“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” - Edgar Degas

For Art Sunday today, the life and art of Diego María Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez (born December 8, 1886, Guanajuato, Mexico died November 25, 1957, Mexico City), more familiarly know simply as Diego Rivera. He was a Mexican painter whose bold, large-scale murals stimulated a revival of fresco painting in Latin America.

A government scholarship enabled the talented child Rivera to study art at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City from the age of 10 years. A grant from the governor of Veracruz enabled him to continue his studies in Europe in 1907. He studied in Spain and in 1909 settled in Paris, where he became a friend of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and other leading modern painters. At about 1917 he abandoned the Cubist style in his own work and moved closer to the Post-Impressionism of Paul Cézanne, adopting a visual language of simplified forms and bold areas of colour.

Rivera returned to Mexico in 1921 after meeting with fellow Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros. Both sought to create a new national art on revolutionary themes that would decorate public buildings in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. On returning to Mexico, Rivera painted his first important mural, “Creation”, for the Bolívar Auditorium of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City (see above). In 1923 he began painting the walls of the Ministry of Public Education building in Mexico City, working in fresco and completing the commission in 1930. These huge frescoes, depicting Mexican agriculture, industry, and culture, reflect a genuinely native subject matter and mark the emergence of Rivera’s mature style. Rivera defines his solid, somewhat stylised human figures by precise outlines rather than by internal modelling. The flattened, simplified figures are set in crowded, shallow spaces and are enlivened with bright, bold colours. The Indians, peasants, conquistadores, and factory workers depicted combine monumentality of form with a mood that is lyrical and at times elegiac.

Rivera’s next major work was a fresco cycle in a former chapel at what is now the National School of Agriculture at Chapingo (1926–27). His frescoes there contrast scenes of natural fertility and harmony among the pre-Columbian Indians with scenes of their enslavement and brutalisation by the Spanish conquerors. Rivera’s murals in the Cortés Palace in Cuernavaca (1930) and the National Palace in Mexico City (1930–35) depict various aspects of Mexican history in a more didactic narrative style.

Rivera was in the United States from 1930 to 1934, where he painted murals for the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco (1931), the Detroit Institute of Arts (1932), and Rockefeller Center in New York City (1933). His “Man at the Crossroads” fresco in Rockefeller Center offended the sponsors because the figure of Vladimir Lenin was in the picture; the work was destroyed by the centre but was later reproduced by Rivera at the Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City. After returning to Mexico, Rivera continued to paint murals of gradually declining quality. His most ambitious and gigantic mural, an epic on the history of Mexico for the National Palace, Mexico City, was unfinished when he died. Frida Kahlo, who married Rivera twice, was also an accomplished painter of iconic and highly individualistic works. Their stormy liaison and marriages punctuated and marked both their work and personal lives. Rivera’s autobiography, “My Art, My Life”, was published posthumously in 1960.

Rivera’s murals are overwhelming and arresting when one sees them, f nothing else for their boldness of execution and gigantic scale. On closer inspection, however, one is struck by the rich iconography, beautiful colours, sureness of design and composition and the accomplished drawing. The mastery of the technique of fresco is a difficult undertaking but Rivera manages to subdue this medium and handles it with ease and aplomb. Having seen some of his work with my own eyes I can fully appreciate Rivera’s inspired art and expert technique, and the vastness of its scale.