Saturday 26 January 2013


“Oh, my ways are strange ways and new ways and old ways, And deep ways and steep ways and high ways and low, I’m at home and at ease on a track that I know not, And restless and lost on a road that I know.” - Henry Lawson

Today is Australia Day. Australia is a continent-country, in area the sixth largest country in the world, about 7.6 million square km in area.  It gained its independence from UK in 1901 and its population of only about 23 million people has accrued through colonisation and large immigration programmes. The capital city is Canberra, but this is an artificial city, a created small administrative centre, with under 400,000 people population.

The largest urban centres are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Darwin.  The North is subtropical and the South-eastern coast has temperate, almost Mediterranean climate, of greater variability of weather, however.  The majority of the continent is arid desert and scrub, making Australia one of the driest, if not the driest place on earth.

Vast mineral, oil, coal and natural gas resources exist and the fertile plains around the coast make this a bountiful land.  Immense open spaces make Australia one of the least density populated nations with only 2 people per square km. It is a country of largely underdeveloped rich resources, great natural beauty and relative isolation, which ensures Australia’s growing importance as a local and world power in the future.
Happy Australia Day!
Here is Australian composer Nigel Westlake’s Antarctica Suite for Guitar and Orchestra – 3rd Movement, “Penguin Ballet”.

Friday 25 January 2013


“Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world's resources. A vegetarian diet is better.” - Nicholas Stern

Quinoa is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is from a South American plant, Chenopodium quinoa. It contains more protein than any other grain, and is lower in carbohydrates than most other grains. It can be substituted for rice and couscous for more dietary variety. Here is a recipe for a vegetarian quinoa risotto, or “quinotto”.

Vegetable Quinotto 
4 cups vegetable stock
2 cups quinoa
Olive oil – about 3 tbsp
2 medium red capsicums, chopped
1 medium eggplant, chopped
2 medium yellow zucchini, finely chopped
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
1/3 cup lemon juice (optional)
Fresh oregano leaves, to serve (can substitute with chopped parsley)

Place stock and quinoa in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bringing to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer covered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until just tender. Remove from heat and mix through a tablespoon of the olive oil. Set aside, covered for 10 minutes.
Cover the base of a heavy-based saucepan with a thin layer of olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat. Add capsicum and eggplant. Cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes or until beginning to soften. Add zucchini, onion and oregano, and stir for 2 to 4 minutes. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes or until softened. Toss to combine. Cook, covered, until zucchini is tender.
Add zucchini mixture and lemon juice (if using) to quinoa. Toss to combine. Season with pepper. Sprinkle with oregano (or chopped parsley).

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

Thursday 24 January 2013


“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” - Theodore Roosevelt

I am snowed under with work these days. Since January 2, when I returned to work I have been doing the work of three people, as two of my colleagues resigned just before Christmas. I am in acting position to cover one of them, continuing doing my own job, as well as picking up urgent matters from the other colleague’s job. It leaves me little time to do much else, however, Last year I had also promised to do a short series of lectures on video for a free online course, and these past two weeks this has been another imposition on my time. Add to that some editing work I am doing on a dictionary – my days (and nights) are full!

I have been getting about 4 hours sleep a night, which even for me is not quite enough. The weekend is welcomed with great expectancy every week, and I can use the blessed two days to catch up. I am not grumbling, don’t get me wrong, being kept busy stimulates and enlivens me. However, what is not good is that I don’t have as much time as I would like to have in order to unwind and spend some time in relaxation and doing some of the things that take my mind off work. As much as one enjoys one’s job, there is always the need for tuning off work and enjoying one’s personal interests and hobbies and leisure activities.

Keeping up my daily blog posts has been difficult, but at least that commitment is a safety valve that lets off some steam and allows my mind to wander in areas that are not related to my work. However, I am not spending much time at all surfing the web, or visiting the blogs that I enjoy reading. I have neglected keeping up with friends, face to face as well as online… Even family is complaining that I am not as accessible as I used to be in the past.

I hope that we replace the two colleagues who have departed the office, very soon! This will allow some semblance of sanity to come back into my life and hopefully I can go back to my very busy lifestyle from my current hectic one!

Wednesday 23 January 2013


“The more one pleases everybody, the less one pleases profoundly.” - Stendhal

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
John Hancock
, American patriot (1737);
Muzio Clementi
, Italian composer (1752);
Marie Henri Beyle (Stendhal)
, writer (1783);
Édouard Manet
, French artist (1832);
Humphrey Bogart
, actor (1899);
Hideki Yukawa
, Japanese physicist (1907);
Django Reinhardt
, Belgian Gypsy jazz guitarist (1910);
Bob Paisley
, footballer/trainer (1919);
Jeanne Moreau
, French actress (1928);
John C. Polanyi
, Canadian chemist (1929);
Bill (William Elphinstone) Gibb
, fashion designer (1943);
Princess Caroline of Monaco
The black nightshade, Solanum nigrum, is the birthday flower for this day.  The plant symbolises sorcery and witchcraft, scepticism, obscurity and death. The language of flowers ascribes the meaning “your thoughts are dark” to the black nightshade.  The berries of the plant are most poisonous when green and their black colour when ripe is the nigrum reference of the specific name. The young shoots of the plant may be boiled with other wild greens (especially Amaranthus blitum), potatoes and zucchini, and eaten as a vegetable dish, dressed with a simple vinaigrette sauce.  Astrologically, the black nightshade is under the dominion of Saturn.

Muzio Clementi (1752–1832) was an Italian composer, pianist, and conductor. His more than 100 piano sonatas set the definitive form for this genre of music, and he had a great influence on all aspects of piano music. He is remembered for his series of études, Gradus ad Parnassum (1817). He lived most of his life in England and did much to advance English music. He longed to write powerful symphonies and attempted to emulate Beethoven’s style. Latest editions of his works include four reconstructed symphonies, but these are minor works compared to those of his idol.

Many artists died on this day: Gustave Doré, the French illustrator in 1883; Edvard Munch, the Norwegian painter and lithographer (of The Scream fame) in 1944; Pierre Bonnard, the French painter in 1947; (Felipe Jacinto) Salvador Dalí (y Pubol), the most famous of the surrealist painters in 1989. The American composer, Samuel Barber, died in 1981 on this day.

Tuesday 22 January 2013


Magpie Tales image prompt this week was rather stressful for me as I had recently heard the story of the attempted abduction of a friend of a friend's child. Fortunately that ended well, however, how many of these occurrences do we hear of that end in great pain or tragedy? We live in a wondrous world that is populated by many good people. But it’s enough for a single evil person to cause havoc and destruction - a devastation of lives that are unfortunate enough to interact with that evil...
A Child’s World
A child’s hand, so small:
A microcosm modelled
On that of its parents’ wide world.
A child’s hand, so soft,
As vulnerable as a flower,
As beautiful as a butterfly.
A child’s hand, so curious;
A world of rhymes and songs,
Of games and drawings.
A parent’s guiding hand,
Protective, loving, caressing;
A child safe, happy, content
Allowed to grow and flourish.
A world of possibilities,
Of endless potential and growth;
A child’s hand, so wondrous…
A world so fragile, easily upset,
As frangible as crystal;
A child’s hand, so easily led astray.
A lamb, easily led to slaughter,
Innocence lost, a life interrupted.
A child’s hand, so trusting.
A stranger’s rapacious hand,
The talon of a bird of prey;
A child abducted, molested,
Its life stopped, a growth arrested.

Monday 21 January 2013


“A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love.” - Max Müller

We watched an interesting Greek film at the weekend. It was not very special or very original and the plot could even be described as quite ordinary or even simple. The movie-making was straightforward and traditional, very slow in its development and the actors capable but to exceptional. However, looking at the whole package, it worked and overall ended up being quite engaging despite all of the cons that seemed to outnumber the cons. It was the 2005 Laya Yourgou movie “Lioubi”, starring Alexis Georgoulis, Eugenia Kaplan, Nikos Georgakis, Lena Kitsopoulou and Olga Damani.

The plot is very much a social comment on the Greek reality of the early 21st century. A country beset by economic and social problems, a place where racism and prejudice have come to the fore and where the battle for survival (at any price) becomes a primary consideration in a society that is in a state of disequilibrium and destabilisation. The film is very much a reflective piece and it describes the journey of a young Russian woman who comes to Greece to work and to perhaps build a better life for herself.

Liubi (whose name means “love” in Russian) is the young Russian woman, played sensitively by Eugenia Kaplan, who is the central character of the movie. She comes into the lives of a typical middle-class Greek family in Athens, engaged as the carer for the elderly matriarch of the family Mrs Eleni (Olga Damani) who suffered a stroke and is unable to speak or move, but who understands everything happening around her. Liubi is happy that she has been offered this small but important opportunity to try and build a life for herself. Dimitris, Mrs Eleni’s son (Alexis Georgoulis), is engaged to Penny but he is unhappy with his relationship and Penny’s demands. Anna, his sister (Lena Kitsopoulou) is on the verge of hysteria as she is desperately trying to not to have continual miscarriages. Anna’s husband (Nikos Georgakis) is a lazy good-for-nothing who is more of a burden than a help to the family. Liubi and Dimitris find themselves attracted to one another and they try to reach out to each other, but things get complicated as several critical situations put inordinate pressure on an already fragile set of relationships…

The film was sensitively and candidly shot and the director Laya Yourgou, who also wrote the script touches on several sensitive topics dealing with the characters and situations in an objective manner. The movie had some poignant moments, some of them relating to the special relationship that Liubi develops with Mrs Eleni. The two women seem to understand one another without being able to fully communicate. However, the final scenes of the movie bring out this touching connection and the seemingly powerless old woman manages to reward Liubi for the love she has shown her and give her the opportunity that she has been searching for in Greece.

A well-made and acted movie, definitely a B feature, but one that is warm and sensitively made, highlighting some flaws in the dysfunctional household in a country that is going through some tough times and is having to cope with numerous stressors and destabilisers of its social fabric.

Sunday 20 January 2013


“The most seductive thing about art is the personality of the artist himself.” - Paul Cezanne

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) was a French painter who is often called the father of modern art. He strove to develop an ideal combination of naturalistic representation, personal expression, and abstract pictorial order. Among the artists of his time, Cezanne perhaps has had the most profound effect on the art of the 20th century. He was the greatest single influence on both the French artist Henri Matisse, who admired his use of colour, and the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, who developed Cezanne’s planar compositional structure into the cubist style. During the greater part of his own lifetime, however, Cezanne was largely ignored, and he worked in isolation. He mistrusted critics, had few friends, and, until 1895, exhibited only occasionally. He was alienated even from his family, who found his behavior peculiar and failed to appreciate his revolutionary art.

Cezanne was born in Aix-en-Provence in the South of France, on January 19, 1839. His family was well-to-do and his father was a successful banker. His boyhood companion was Émile Zola, who later gained fame as a novelist and man of letters. As did Zola, Cezanne developed artistic interests at an early age, much to the dismay of his father. In 1862, after a number of bitter family disputes, the aspiring artist was given a small allowance and sent to study art in Paris, where Zola had already gone. From the start he was drawn to the more radical elements of the Parisian art world. He especially admired the romantic painter Eugène Delacroix and, among the younger masters, Gustave Courbet and the notorious Édouard Manet, who exhibited realist paintings that were shocking in both style and subject matter to most of their contemporaries.

Many of Cezanne's early works were painted in dark tones applied with heavy, fluid pigment, suggesting the moody, romantic expressionism of previous generations. Just as Zola pursued his interest in the realist novel, however, Cezanne also gradually developed a commitment to the representation of contemporary life, painting the world he observed without concern for thematic idealisation or stylistic affectation. The most significant influence on the work of his early maturity proved to be Camille Pissarro, an older but as yet unrecognised painter who lived with his large family in a rural area outside Paris.

Pissarro not only provided the moral encouragement that the insecure Cezanne required, but he also introduced him to the new impressionist technique for rendering outdoor light. Along with the painters Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and a few others, Pissarro had developed a painting style that involved working outdoors (en plein air) rapidly and on a reduced scale, employing small touches of pure colour, generally without the use of preparatory sketches or linear outlines. In such a manner Pissarro and the others hoped to capture the most transient natural effects as well as their own passing emotional states as the artists stood before nature. Under Pissarro’s tutelage, and within a very short time during 1872-1873, Cezanne shifted from dark tones to bright hues and began to concentrate on scenes of farmland and rural villages.

Although he seemed less technically accomplished than the other impressionists, Cezanne was accepted by the group and exhibited with them in 1874 and 1877. In general, the impressionists did not have much commercial success, and Cezanne’s works received the harshest critical commentary. He drifted away from many of his Parisian contacts during the late 1870s and ‘80s and spent much of his time in his native Aix-en-Provence. After 1882, he did not work closely again with Pissarro. In 1886, Cezanne became embittered over what he took to be thinly disguised references to his own failures in one of Zola’s novels. As a result he broke off relations with his oldest supporter. In the same year, he inherited his father’s wealth and finally, at the age of 47, became financially independent, but socially he remained quite isolated.

This isolation and Cezanne’s concentration and singleness of purpose may account for the remarkable development he sustained during the 1880s and ‘90s. In this period he continued to paint studies from nature in brilliant impressionist colors, but he gradually simplified his application of the paint to the point where he seemed able to define volumetric forms with juxtaposed strokes of pure color. Critics eventually argued that Cezanne had discovered a means of rendering both nature’s light and nature’s form with a single application of colour.

He seemed to be reintroducing a formal structure that the impressionists had abandoned, without sacrificing the sense of brilliant illumination they had achieved. Cezanne himself spoke of “modulating” with colour rather than “modelling” with dark and light. By this he meant that he would replace an artificial convention of representation (modelling) with a more expressive system (modulating) that was closer still to nature, or, as the artist himself said, “parallel to nature”. For Cezanne, the answer to all the technical problems of impressionism lay in a use of colour both more orderly and more expressive than that of his fellow impressionists.

Cezanne's goal was, in his own mind, never fully attained. He left most of his works unfinished and destroyed many others. He complained of his failure at rendering the human figure, and indeed the great figural works of his last years—such as the “Large Bathers” (circa 1899-1906, Museum of Art, Philadelphia)—reveal curious distortions that seem to have been dictated by the rigour of the system of colour modulation he imposed on his own representations. The succeeding generation of painters, however, eventually came to be receptive to nearly all of Cezanne’s idiosyncrasies. Cezanne’s heirs felt that the naturalistic painting of impressionism had become formularised, and a new and original style, however difficult it might be, was needed to return a sense of sincerity and commitment to modern art.

For many years Cezanne was known only to his old impressionist colleagues and to a few younger radical post-impressionist artists, including the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and the French painter Paul Gauguin. In 1895, however, Ambroise Vollard, an ambitious Paris art dealer, arranged a show of Cezanne’s works and over the next few years promoted them successfully. By 1904, Cezanne was featured in a major official exhibition, and by the time of his death (in Aix-en-Provence on October 22, 1906) he had attained the status of a legendary figure. During his last years many younger artists traveled to Aix-en-Provence to observe him at work and to receive any words of wisdom he might offer. Both his style and his theory remained mysterious and cryptic; he seemed to some a naive primitive, while to others he was a sophisticated master of technical procedure. The intensity of his colour, coupled with the apparent strictness of his compositional organisation, signalled to most that, despite the artist’s own frequent despair, he had synthesised the basic expressive and representational elements of painting in a highly original manner.

In the painting above, “Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine” (ca 1887), at the Courtauld Institute of Art, we have a favourite theme of Cezanne’s The Montagne Sainte-Victoire is a mountain in southern France, overlooking Aix-en-Provence. It became the subject of a number of many of Cézanne’s paintings. In these paintings, Cézanne often sketched the railway bridge on the Aix-Marseille line at the Arc River Valley in the center on the right side of the picture. Especially, in Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley (1885–1887), he depicted a moving train on this bridge. Only half a year after the opening of the Aix-Marseille line on October 15, 1877, in a letter to Émile Zola dated April 14, 1878, Cézanne praised the Mont Sainte-Victoire, which he viewed from the train while passing through the railway bridge at Arc River Valley, as a “beau motif (beautiful motif)”, and, in about that same year, he began the series wherein he topicalised this mountain.