Saturday 9 February 2013


“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” - Confucius

It is Chinese New Year’s Eve today and tomorrow the Year of the Snake begins. The year will be 4711 of the Chinese Calendar. Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival. Chinese New Year is the main Chinese festival of the year and it is not a religious event.

As the Chinese use the Lunar calendar for their festivals the date of Chinese New Year changes from year to year. The date corresponds to the new moon in either late January or February. Traditionally, celebrations last for fifteen days, ending on the date of the full moon. In China the public holiday lasts for three days and is the biggest celebration of the year.

The Chinese zodiac follows a twelve-year cycle, each of the years being named after an animal. The Chinese believe that people born in a particular year take on the characteristics of the animal associated with that year. For example, if you are born in the Year of the Snake, you are likely to be charming and a good thinker. You love the finer things in life, so only the best is good enough. Snake people are good at making and saving money. While they are patient, charming and wise, they prefer not to rely on other people.

To celebrate the Chinese New Year, here is some traditional Chinese music, 闗山月 – “The Moon Over Wall Gate at the Frontier”.

新年好 – Happy New Year!

Friday 8 February 2013


“Work is the meat of life, pleasure the dessert.” - B. C. Forbes

Although we should eat a healthful diet, occasionally we may indulge ourselves a little and have a decadent dish or two. This is especially the case with rich, creamy, chocolaty desserts. The key take home point is moderation: Don’t have these too often and don’t have large portions. Otherwise, indulge yourself.
Chocolate Cream Dessert

1 package of choc ripple biscuits
250 grams mascarpone cheese
200 mL heavy whipping cream
200 mL milk
100 mL Frangelico liqueur (may substitute Crème de Cacao or Bailey’s)
100 grams caster sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Nutella spread
Chocolate (grated for garnish); and/or chopped nuts; and/or crushed biscuit crumbs
Whipped cream for garnish (optional)
Whip the cream in a large bowl and refrigerate. Soften the mascarpone cheese, mashing it well. Add the sugar, vanilla extract and half of the sugar. Mix well and add to the whipped cream, stirring through until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
You may assemble the dessert in individual containers (e.g. old fashioned dessert glasses or champagne bowls) or alternatively in a larger crystal bowl).
Mix the milk, Frangelico and the rest of the sugar. Dip a couple of the biscuits in the milk. Leave it for 20-30 seconds to become soft (be careful not to leave the biscuits too long, cause they will disintegrate).
Place a layer of biscuits in the serving plate. Dribble a couple spoonfuls of softened Nutella (microwave it for 5 seconds) over them. Add one layer of the mascarpone and cream mixture over that.
Repeat the steps until your cream cheese mixture and biscuits finish. Garnish with whipped cream and grated chocolate. Place in the fridge for a couple of hours, preferably overnight and serve cold.

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

Thursday 7 February 2013


“Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.” - Plato

Next week, an asteroid will approach Earth in what is being described as a historic “close shave”. Astronomers say that there’s no chance that the rock will crash into our planet on this occasion. The 45 meter long asteroid 2012 DA14 will approach earth and on February 15 will be as close as 27,700 kilometres. This is extremely close and personal on cosmic terms, coming nearer than the ring of satellites that are in geosynchronous orbit. This will be the closest distance of approach that we know of in advance for such a large asteroid, however, there is no need to predict doom.

NASA has a special department called the “Near-Earth Object Program Office” and this can accurately predict the asteroid’s path with the observations and measurements already obtained. It is known that there is no chance that the asteroid might be on a collision course with Earth. The approach, however, will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close.

Asteroid 2012 DA 14 was discovered in February last year by astronomers with the La Sagra Sky Survey in Spain. The asteroid has been orbiting the sun once every 368 days, though next week’s close pass will reduce its orbital period to 317 days. At its closest approach on February 15, the rock will be just 1/13th as far from Earth as the moon is and will whiz by our planet at about 28,000 km/h as it makes its closest pass for at least the next 30 years.

The asteroid will be visible as a point of light through binoculars and small telescopes during the close encounter. The best observing will be from Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia, NASA officials said. 2012 DA 14 will have faded considerably by the time Earth’s rotation brings the object into view for people in the continental United States. Radar astronomers plan to take images of the asteroid about eight hours after closest approach using the Goldstone antenna in California’s Mojave Desert, which is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Several other known asteroids have approached Earth even more closely than 2012 DA14 will, but those objects were all smaller. Asteroids of the size of 2012 DA14 flit past earth about once every 40 years and actually hit Earth every 1,200 years or so. Other relatively large asteroids have probably zipped very close to Earth recently without being spotted. Astronomers have identified more than 9,000 near-Earth asteroids to date, but perhaps a million or more such space rocks are thought to exist. If 2012 DA14 did strike our planet, it would likely cause serious damage on a local scale. An object of similar size flattened 2,000 square km of forest when it exploded above Siberia's Podkamennaya Tunguska River in 1908.

The asteroid seems to have a very prosaic name, but it reflects the rule of nomenclature for minor heavenly bodies. I think I’ll call it “Valentino” given its discovery by Spanish scientists around about February 14! There is already an asteroid called “Eros”!

As if this cosmic even wasn’t enough, a comet is approaching our sun and some scientists say it could dazzle as a “comet of the century” later this year. Comet ISON was discovered in September 2012 by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok using a 0.4-metre telescope of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON), near Kislovodsk. Incidentally, “ison” in Greek means a drone note, or a slow-moving lower vocal part, used in Byzantine chant and some related musical traditions to accompany the melody, thus enriching the singing, at the same time not transforming it into a harmonized or polyphonic piece. Hence the comet will enrich the music of the spheres!

Comet ISON will make its closest approach to the sun on November 28, when it will approach within 1.2 million km of our star’s surface. As of mid-January, the comet’s tail was more than 64,400 km. If the comet survives the approach, and does not fade or break apart, it could transform into a spectacular celestial sight, rivaling the full moon, scientists have said. The comet will make its closest approach to Earth on Dec. 26, when it will fly within 64 million km of our planet. It poses no impact threat to the Earth, NASA scientists said.

Tuesday 5 February 2013


花鳥風月 (Kachou Fuugetsu) Literally: “Flower, Bird, Wind, Moon” -This means: Experience the beauties of nature, and in doing so learn about yourself.
Setsubun (節分) in Japan is traditionally the day before the beginning of spring. Setsubun literally means “seasonal division,” but it is most commonly in reference to the division between winter and spring, more specifically called Risshun. It is celebrated annually on February 3 as part of the Spring Festival (Haru Matsuri). In its association with the lunar new year, Setsubun was traditionally thought of as a sort of New Year’s Eve, and so was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. This custom is called mamemaki or literally “bean-throwing.”
Mamemaki is still performed at most shrines and temples all over Japan. It is also enthusiastically espoused by children who go about throwing beans at one another at school, in playgrounds and at home. It is customary at home for an adult to wear an evil mask and get pelted with beans! Roasted soybeans (called “fortune beans”) are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an oni (demon) mask, while the people recite “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (Demons out! Fortune in!) and slam the door. A similar ritual in the West is the throwing of rice at weddings – banish evil attract good fortune for the newlyweds.
The beans are thought to drive away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them, so the custom of mamemaki is a purification ritual. Another part of ensuring good luck is to eat roasted soybeans, one for each year of one’s life, and in some areas, one for each year of one’s life plus one more for bringing good luck for the year to come. Stores sell a long uncut makizushi (sushi) roll called eho-maki (literally, “lucky direction roll”). It’s to be eaten in silence on Setsubun while facing the yearly lucky compass direction, determined by the zodiac symbol of that year.
At Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines all over Japan, there are celebrations for Setsubun. Priests and invited guests will throw roasted soy beans (some wrapped in gold or silver foil), small envelopes with money, sweets, candies and other prizes. In some bigger shrines, even celebrities and sumo wrestlers will be invited; these events are televised nationally. Many people come, and the event turns wild, with everyone pushing and shoving to get the gifts tossed from above. Monday, 11 February 2013 has been designated as the official Setsubun holiday when the temple celebrations will be carried out. It is not a national holiday.

Monday 4 February 2013


“Alas, regardless of their doom, the little victims play! No sense have they of ills to come, nor care beyond today.” - Thomas Gray

The image supplied this week by Magpie Tales was a photograph of the Central Library, Manchester, U.K., taken by Robin Gosnall. As is my usual habit, I have rather changed the image (with apologies to Robin G). The original was one of rather melancholy atmosphere and what I started out as a colourisation that would make it cheerier, instead turned it into one of utter doom… No wonder the resultant poem is also tinged by grimness and desperation!

The Day After

The day after
Only a few cannibal carrion birds
Will fly above deserted streets
Shrieking in dismay
As all the dead have been vaporised.

As night falls
The silence profound and absolute,
As the last wild beast
Retreats limping weakly to its lair,
With empty stomach to expire.

The city empty
Dark, taciturn, but still imposing –
Like a stern emperor
Who even bereft of subjects
Will still pronounce hollow decrees.

The day after
Dawns as even the vermin die out:
Rats turning into decomposing, foul-smelling mush
And cockroaches into empty shells,
Leaving the world now completely lifeless.

As noonday sun shines and burns
And sterilises the putrescence,
Only the proud and tall edifices will proclaim

The short reign of Homo sapiens
Who came, conquered and destroyed
All that lived, even himself…


“Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke.” - Benjamin Disraeli

We watched the 2008 Tomas Alfredson film “Let the Right One In” yesterday. This is a Swedish film based on the John Ajvide Lindqvist novel, and stars Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson and Per Ragnar. It is an unconventional vampire tale, but the vampirism is not the main theme, it’s almost incidental. There is subtle horror and tragedy, however, the film is about mainly friendship, loyalty. love and schoolyard bullying.

The film is set in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg in 1982 and concerns Oskar (Hedebrant), a bullied 12-year old boy. He is quite powerless to face up to the bullies as he lacks courage, only being able to dream of revenge. He meets Eli (Leandersson), a peculiar girl who lives in the flat next door. She is really strange: She doesn’t seem to feel the bitter winter cold, can’t stand the sun, is unable to eat food and in order enter a room she must to be invited in. Eli gives Oskar the strength to hit back but when he realises that Eli needs to drink other people’s blood to survive he is faced with a tough choice. How much can Oskar forgive once he becomes aware that as well being repelled by Eli, he also loves her…

The young lead actors are remarkable, giving performances that are restrained, subtly nuanced and displaying perfect chemistry between them. Similarly, production values are wonderful, with excellent technical care throughout. Lighting is fantastic, the original music by Johan Soderqvist quite appropriate, and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is remarkable. This is not a cheap thrills horror movie, but a carefully crafted Hitchcockian tale with a tense psychological underpinning.

Although there is considerable violence in the film, it is not of the gratuitous type and one feels that it is absolutely necessary for the telling of the tale. The use of children to convey the gristliness of the tale is quite a masterstroke and one is reminded constantly of how cruel childhood can be. But there is also the yearning for friendship and acceptance and love that children (as well as adults!) need. The film is quite masterful cinematically, and thematically one almost rues the fact that a vampire has to be involved in the story – it somehow cheapens it, and yet it absolves the heroine in a wayward manner.

The film begs comparison with other vampire tales and movies. However, it would be doing it an injustice to be compared with the likes of the popular and quite dreadful “Twilight” series or the old and now rather caricature-like Hammer horror battle-axes. The 2010 remake “Let me In” by Matt Reeves is the one film that one should compare it with, however, I have not seen this one. If one gives credit to IMDB scores, the original Swedish film is scored at 8.0, while the remake is scored at 7.2. Perhaps I shall have a look at the new version in a few months time…

Do have a look at the original Swedish version, it is quite good and represents excellent film-making, although it is slow and it does deal with a strange mixture of themes and myths. It goes to show, I guess, that one can make an engaging and wonderful film about anything at all. Rather like Mozart setting his laundry list to exquisite music.

Sunday 3 February 2013


“Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.” - John F. Kennedy

Albert Bloch (1882-1961) was an American artist, born in St. Louis, Missouri, of Czechoslovakian and German-Jewish ancestry. He spent his early life in the Midwest, first He initially earned a living from commercial art, working between 1905 and 1908 as a caricaturist and illustrator for William Marion Reedy’s literary and political weekly “The Mirror”. Reedy noticed Bloch’s talent, and provided him with a monthly stipend to study abroad.

At the beginning of 1909, Bloch sailed for Europe and between 1909 and 1921, Bloch lived and worked mainly in Germany, making brief visits to other countries in Europe and to America. As he spoke German, he decides to settle in Munich, which was then a thriving art center. Reedy pressed Bloch to attend classes at the Royal Bavarian Academy in Munich, however, Bloch never enrolled, preferring instead to take lessons from painters working in the academic style outside the academy.

Initially Bloch displayed little interest in the modern art revolution that was sweeping through Europe around the turn of the century, but a 1910 trip to Paris exposed him to the work of Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Odilon Redon. The following year, he saw a catalogue of the second exhibition of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (the New Arts’ Union of Munich), which included reproductions of works by, among others, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Georges Rouault, and Wassily Kandinsky. Bloch identified with these artists.

He soon met Kandinsky and Franz Marc, both of whom invited him to participate in the first exhibition of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a group of modernist artists who broke away from Neue Künstlervereinigung. With his contribution of six canvases, Bloch was the only American represented in the show, which was held in December 1911 at Munich’s Thannhauser Gallery. The Blaue Reiter artists had no formal manifesto, but they shared a desire to express emotional and spiritual truth through painting and, in particular, through symbolic use of color. The group, active from 1911 to 1914, represents one current in the broader expressionist impulse that spread through Germany and beyond in the first half of the twentieth century.

Bloch established a successful career in Germany and remained there, exhibiting his work through World War I. In 1912, he showed at the second Blaue Reiter exhibition, and he was included in the 1912 Sonderbund Exhibition in Cologne, the most famous exhibition of modernism in Europe at that time. The only painting by Bloch accepted for this show was “The Duel”, a 1912 painting that recalls Edvard Munch’s work. That same year, Bloch showed at Herwarth Walden’s Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin, participating in a small exhibition that featured paintings rejected from the Sonderbund exhibit. Walden, one of the foremost proponents of modernism in Europe, fashioned this 1912 exhibition as a protest against the Sonderbund show that, he believed, had not adequately represented members of the Blaue Reiter group.

Bloch’s fame now reached America. Arthur Jerome Eddy, the Chicago collector and tireless promoter of modernism, began buying Bloch’s paintings at Kandinsky’s recommendation, and eventually added more than 25 of Bloch’s works to his collection. In 1915, Eddy’s collection of paintings by Bloch was the basis of a one-man show at the Art Institute of Chicago; the exhibition traveled to the St. Louis Art Museum.

In 1921, Bloch returned to the United States, greatly disappointed with what Germany had become. He lived in the USA until his death in 1961. To support himself, as he had little money, Bloch decided to become an art teacher. His first position began in 1922 at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, but lasted only one year. From 1923 until his retirement in 1947, Bloch was Professor and Head of the Department of Drawing and Painting at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.

Bloch frequently chose biblical subject matter or sweeping emotional themes of anguish or exaltation. Wishing to remain behind the American art scene and unwilling to trade on his European connections, Bloch and his work faded from public view. Over time, Bloch’s reticence about discussing his former affiliation with the Blaue Reiter artists obscured his early contributions to an important passage in the history of art. Throughout his career, Bloch destroyed any paintings that, from his point of view, were unsuccessful. Regrettably, many more early works in German collections were destroyed in the bombings of World War II, while others were banished to Switzerland by the Nazis as “degenerate art.” Extant examples of his work from this early period are rare and valuable artistic documents.

The painting above is his “Three Pierrots and Harlequin” of 1914. While the characters of Commedia dell’ Arte are clearly identifiable, the darkness of the first World War can be discerned in the battleground-like setting which the figures populate. Exploding spheres of colour illuminate the environs eerily and Harlequin is in full flight, seemingly running to escape the sinister trio of Pierrots. This is a powerful and disturbing work making us privy to the artist’s state of mind in the historic context of his life at the time it was painted.