Saturday 29 December 2012


“I worked hard. Anyone who works as hard as I did can achieve the same results.” - Johannes Sebastian Bach

I sat in the garden today and enjoyed some quiet time in the perfect warmth of a summery afternoon. The enveloping greenness of the burgeoning vegetation, the sweet perfume of the summer flowers, the light breeze, the cooling shade of the canopy above, and a wonderful book in my hands, were only complemented and enhanced by the sounds of a Bach concerto playing quietly in the background. Oh what joy to be alive and at peace with oneself! The world may have raged outside but in this summery afternoon in my enclosed garden all was well.

Here is the first movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s A minor violin concerto, performed by Lara St. John, accompanied by a graphical score by Stephen Malinowski.

Friday 28 December 2012


“Our bloom is gone. We are the fruit thereof.” - Wallace Stevens

We are enjoying some summer weather, intermittently that is, with some hot days interspersed with cool ones and then again some warm ones, so that we have some variety. It’s always the case during the Summer here in Melbourne. Generally, during the Christmas/New Year break the weather tends to be all over the place and then when everybody goes back to work we get a surfeit of all the stinking hot days in February…

In any case, with the fruits that are in season at the moment we are enjoying some delicious fruit salads. We have these with breakfast, for a light lunch or a perfect dessert after dinner. With or without some fat-free yoghurt they are a healthful and refreshing meal on their own or a smaller portion to accompany another meal. Here is the recipe for one we had today for lunch.

Summer Fruit Salad


1 large ripe mango
2 apricots
4 plums
1 heaped cup cherries, pitted
2 nectarines
1 peach
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lime
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon apricot or peach liqueur
1 tablespoon melon liqueur
Sprig or two of lemon verbena for garnish


Wash and peel the fruit that needs peeling. Squeeze the orange and lime into a bowl and add the liqueurs, stirring well. If you like your fruit salad extra sweet you may add a tablespoon of sugar now. Chop the fruit into small pieces and add into the bowl. Mix well and refrigerate until cool. Enjoy!

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

Thursday 27 December 2012


“…So when the last and dreadful hour; This crumbling pageant shall devour, The trumpet shall be heard on high, The dead shall live, the living die, And Music shall untune the sky” - John Dryden

Today according to the Roman Catholic calendar is St John the Evangelist’s Feast Day. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were nicknamed by Jesus “the sons of thunder.” John is involved in many of the central events of Jesus’ life, including the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion, and the discovery of the Resurrection. He is “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and the one to whom he consigned the care of his mother Mary. He is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles; later he was exiled to the island of Patmos. He is said to have died at Ephesus. He wrote a Gospel, three Epistles, and the Apocalypse.

St John’s symbol as an evangelist is the eagle and he is the patron saint of authors, publishers, printers and booksellers. The Gospel according to John is clearly different from the other three Synoptic Gospels. John may have used the Gospels of Mark and Luke as his sources. The evangelist has two aims in the Gospel: To show that Christ is the vital force in the Universe forever, and that He lived on earth to reveal Himself in the flesh. This Gospel is by far the most literary of all four and in a philosophical prologue, Jesus is identified with the Word (Logos).

The Apocalypse or Revelation is the 27th and last book of the New Testament, written around 95 AD on the Greek island of Patmos by one John; whether he was the St. John the Apostle or another John, is disputed. This work is mysterious and prophetic consisting mainly of visions and dreams that show allegorically the end of evil and the triumph of God. The careful plan depends heavily on patterns of sevens, e.g. letters to seven churches in Asia Minor and the opening of the seven seals on the scroll in the hand of God. The style is majestic, with constant allusion to Old Testament prophecies, especially those of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Isaiah. It has been a very influential work and numerous interpretations of it have appeared from the earliest of times.

On this, St John’s Day, people who were afraid of being poisoned went to church and drank from a chalice of blessed wine, this supposedly protecting them from the effects of poison. The tradition arose from an apocryphal legend that recounts how St John was offered a cup of poisoned wine and he, well aware that it was poisoned, drained it after making the sign of the cross over it.

The illustration above is a detail from Dirk Bouts’ “St John on the Island of Patmos”, completion Date: ca 1465.

Tuesday 25 December 2012


“At Christmas play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year.” - Thomas Tusser

The birthday flower for today is the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, which is symbolic of the Nativity of Christ.  In the language of flowers, the hellebore means calumny and scandal. The flower is also dedicated to St Agnes who is the patron saint of young virgins.
Light Christmas, light wheatsheaf,
Dark Christmas, heavy wheatsheaf.
The day on which Christmas fell prognosticates the weather and the year ahead:
If Christmas falls on a Sunday, that year shall be a warm Winter,
The Summer hot and dry, peace and quiet amongst the married folk.
If on Monday, a misty Winter, the Summer windy and stormy;
Many women will mourn their husbands.
If on a Tuesday, a cold Winter and much snow, the Summer wet,
But good peace amongst the Princes and the Kings.
If on Wednesday, the Winter naughty and hard, the Summer good,
Young people and many cattle will die sore.
If on a Thursday, the Winter mild and the Summer very good and abundant,
But many great men shall perish.
If on a Friday, the Winter neither bad nor good, the Summer harvest indifferent,
Much conflict in the neighbourhoods, treachery and deception.
If on a Saturday, Winter will snow, blow hard winds and bitterly cold,
The Summer good with a harvest full and bounteous,
But war shall rack many lands.
The Dies Natalis Invicti Solis was an ancient Roman festival more of a religious nature and thus important to priests predominantly. It was the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun and marked an important date on the calendar of the Mithras cult. The Mithraic cult was one of the chief pagan competitors to Christianity. Mithras was a sun god and his birthday fell close to the winter solstice, when the days began to lengthen and the sun once again appeared unconquered. The Christian tradition absorbed this festival and also that of the Saturnalia, thus attracting many pagans but re-interpreting their mythology according to more appropriate Christian symbolology.

Another winter solstice festival that became absorbed into Christmas was that of Yule or Jol, celebrated especially in the North, wherever the Norse pantheon held sway. Jolnir was another name for Odin, the chief god, the Norse equivalent of Zeus or Jupiter. Odin was the god of ecstasy and intoxicating drink, but also the god of death. The sacrificial beer of Odin became the blessed Christmas beer of the middle ages and also survives in the wassail cup of lamb’s wool (see December 29th).  The feasting that occurred during Yuletide also included providing food and drink for the ghosts that roamed the earth around this time (see the Finnish Christmas Eve tradition).  Bonfires were lit and this tradition has survived in the form of the yule log (see December 24th).  The Christmas tree tradition is essentially a Germanic one that may hail back to the Norse legend of Yggdrasil, the great tree on whose branches rested the universe.
The ivie and holly berries are seen,
And Yule Log and Wassaile come round agen.
At Christmas play, and make good cheer
For Christmas comes but once a year.
               Thomas Tusser (ca 1520-1580).

Monday 24 December 2012


“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.” - Khalil Gibran

Yesterday we watched the Tarsem Singh 2012 movie “Mirror, Mirror”  starring Lily Collins, Julia Roberts and Armie Hammer. We had heard quite conflicting reports about this, some very good some very bad. It appears that the movie has been a rather controversial one generating some extremely opposite reactions. It is a essentially a “fractured fairy-tale” as retold by Marc Klein and Jason Keller   (screenplay), and Melisa Wallack   (screen story). It joins the spate of other fairy tales that have been filmed, including Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Puss-in-Boots, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, etc, etc. Perhaps the most akin to this film is the other 2012 adaptation of the same fairy tale, “Snow White and the HUntsman", this being a darker and more “heroic” version when compared to the light-hearted “Mirror, Mirror”. One should not forget, however, the classic 1937 Disney version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.

We saw the film and were in two minds about it. This was not the familiar Snow White fairy tale. It was an updated, post-feminist tale where the hero is a heroine and where the Prince is quite an ineffectual toy-boy. The wicked stepmother is vain and conceited but is not really wicked, nor bewitchingly beautiful nor is she transformed into the epitome of ugliness when she does change. The dwarfs are brigands and highwaymen, the kingdom has financial difficulties and the household staff are saccharine sweet, while the courtiers suitably scatty.  It is a major reworking of the Snow White tale and even the apple got in only by the skin of its teeth in the last reel.

As is the case with many other Tarsem Singh movies, the visuals in this film are stunning, as are the costumes. Both the sets and the CGIs are quite amazing and there is a lot of fun that was had by the wardrobe designers and the prop people. However, compared to Singh’s “The Fall”, this movie is several degrees inferior. Nevertheless, “Mirror, Mirror” is a visual feast and the colours, sets, costumes and compute effects are wonderful.

Julia Roberts must have enjoyed making this film as she is quite at ease and delivers her lines with bravado and is clearly amused by the whole nonsensical goings-on. Lily Collins is the real star of the show, playing the perfect mix of both the “traditional” and “modern” fairy tale princess. She is a wonderful ingénue, although her characterisation as the “fairest in the land” with the kind of Frida Kahlo eyebrows she sports would only convince some members of the audience. The Prince in the face of Armie Hammer is suitably gauche and vain and he manages to make something of his relatively slight role. The supporting cast wears a little thin at times, although Nathan Lane does a good job camping it up as Brighton, the Queen’s right-hand-man.

As far as the negatives of the film are concerned, they are mainly the rather cheesy and often forced comedy, and the plot. Many of the comedic lines will elicit a chuckle or a groan, depending on the degree of your sophistication. There are a couple of good gags but this is not a film to belly-laugh over. While the Snow White tale is more-or-less adhered to, some of the more iconic parts of the story are lacking. Yes, Disney has spoilt this film for us…

It is a good light-weight film to watch, kids will probably like it more than adults. The romantic comedy is pushed a little and there are enough innuendos there to make the mummies and daddies giggle while the kids grin. It is adhering to a Hollywood stock formula and Tarsem Singh’s direction has not salvaged the film in this respect. Watch it and see for yourself.

Sunday 23 December 2012


“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.” - Dr. Seuss

Gerard David, (born c. 1460, Oudewater, Netherlands – died August 13, 1523, Bruges, Belgium), was Flemish painter who was the last great master of the Bruges school.  Very little is known about David’s early life, during which time his work reflects the influence of Jacob Janszoon, Dieric Bouts, and Geertgen Tot Sint Jans. He went to Bruges, presumably from Haarlem, where it is believed he formed his early style under the instruction of A. van Ouwater. He joined the guild of St. Luke at Bruges in 1484 and became dean in 1501.

In his early work, such as “Christ Nailed to the Cross” (c. 1480) and the “Nativity” (early 1480s), he followed the Haarlem tradition as represented by Ouwater and Geertgen but already gave evidence of his superior power as a colourist. In Bruges he studied masterpieces by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, and Hugo van der Goes, and he came under the influence of Hans Memling. To this period belong the “Madonna Triptych” (c. 1495–98) and the “Enthroned Madonna with Angels” (c. 1490–95). But the works on which David’s fame rests most securely are his great altarpieces – the “Judgment of Cambyses” (two panels, 1498) and the triptych of the “Baptism of Christ” (c. 1502–07) at Bruges; the “Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor” (c. 1505); the “Annunciation” (1506) on two panels; and, above all, the documented altarpiece of the “Madonna with Angels and Saints” (1509).

These are mature works – severe yet richly coloured, show a masterful handling of light, volume, and space. The “Judgment” panels are especially notable for being among the earliest Flemish paintings to employ such Italian Renaissance devices as putti and garlands. In Antwerp David became impressed by the life and movement in the work of Quentin Massys, who had introduced a more intimate and more human conception of sacred themes. David’s “Deposition” (c. 1515) and the “Crucifixion” (c. 1510–15) were painted under this influence and are remarkable for their dramatic movement.

Authorities disagree about the intent of David’s eclectic, deliberately archaic manner. Some feel that he drew on earlier masters in an effort, doomed by lack of imagination, to revive the fading art of Bruges. Others see David as a progressive artist who sought to base his innovations on the achievements of the founders of the Netherlandish school.