Saturday 23 February 2013


“The ability to play the clarinet is the ability to overcome the imperfections of the instrument. There’s no such thing as a perfect clarinet, never was and never will be.” - Jack Brymer

A wonderful Saturday with a grateful return to routine. A lovely evening all round.

For Music Saturday a marvellous Clarinet Concerto by that master of the theatrical in music, Carl Maria von Weber  (1786-1826). Here is his Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F Minor, played by Karl Leister (Clarinet) accompanied by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Rafael Kubelik.

Weber’s compositions for woodwind instruments occupy an important place in the musical repertoire. His compositions for the clarinet, which include two concertos, a concertino, a quintet, a duo concertante, and variations on a theme (posthumously), are regularly performed today. His Concertino for Horn and Orchestra requires the performer to simultaneously produce two notes by humming while playing—a technique known as “multiphonics”. His bassoon concerto and the Andante e Rondo Ungarese (a reworking of a piece originally for viola and orchestra) are also popular with bassoonists.

The first movement of this clarinet concerto is operatic in style and scope, the middle movement quietly reflective, while the last movement is a joyous celebration of life that has a comic overtone, which nonetheless carries an undertone of the melancholy about it in some sections. The whole concerto is a masterpiece of the romantic concerto genre that provides for an enjoyable listening experience, but which is fiendishly difficult to play even for accomplished clarinetists!

Friday 22 February 2013


“But friendship is the breathing rose, with sweets in every fold.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

For Food Friday, some traditional sweetmeats. Rose candy, that tastes of times past and is for the romantic at heart!
1    400 g can of full cream, condensed, sweetened milk
1    canful of water
50     g butter
1/2    teaspoonful vanilla essence
2 to 3    drops of rose essential oil (edible!)
1/2    drop each of pink food dye
450    g granulated sugar
Desiccated coconut flakes (optional)
Pour the milk into a saucepan, fill the can with water and add it to the milk. Stir and add the butter, vanilla essence and sugar. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then boil steadily, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage (116˚C on a sugar thermometer). For a softish candy remove from the heat immediately and add the rose oil and food colour, stirring all the while. You may divide the mixture into two, colour one half pink and the other leave white, for layered candy. Grease a 20 cm square tin with a little butter and pour in the unbeaten mixture. Allow to become almost cold and then mark into squares. Wrap the squares in cellophane once they are cold. (If you prefer a crisper candy, once the soft ball stage has been reached, boil slowly at 116˚C for a further 1-2 minutes, then treat as previously). Desiccated coconut flakes can be used to coat the candy (optional).
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 21 February 2013


“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” - Marcus Tullius

The Parentalia, was a Roman religious festival held in honour of the dead. The festival, which began at noon on February 13 and culminated on February 21, was a private celebration of the rites of deceased family members. It was gradually extended, however, to incorporate the dead in general. During the days of the festival, all temples were closed and no weddings could be performed. On the last day a public ceremony, the Feralia, was held, during which visits to the tombs of dead relatives occurred.

On the Feralia, ancient Romans travelled to the tombs of their ancestors (called “Manes”), taking with them offerings of wreaths, grain, salt, and bread soaked in wine, which would be left in the tomb. Violets would be scattered around and in the tombs. The wealthy families of Rome would prepare lavish public feasts at the tombs in honour of their ancestors and a means of appeasing the gods of the Underworld. The Feralia was considered a time for mourning. Marriages were banned during this time and public worship of the gods was suspended. No incense was burned on the altars and hearth fires were often left unlit.

The Feralia is a likely contender as one of the forerunners of Halloween. At midnight on the day of Feralia the heads of the Roman families would address the less pleasant ancestors and evil spirits. The Feralia rituals were intended to control these malevolent entities and force them to return to the spirit world for another year. Failure to properly observe the rites of Feralia could lead to the spirits remaining on the earth where they would appear as ghosts and bring misfortune throughout the coming year.

One ancient story tells of a time when the Feralia was ignored during wartime, causing spirits to rise from their graves and haunt the streets of Rome until proper tribute as dictated by ritual was made, which confined the spirits in their tombs once again. Once the “exorcism” of the Feralia was complete Romans could enjoy the happy family feast of Caristia on the next day, February 22nd. The similarity between Feralia-Caristia and Halloween-All Saints’ Day is striking.

The Caristia, also known as the Cara Cognatio, was an official but privately observed holiday that celebrated love of family with banqueting and gifts. Families gathered to dine together and offer food and incense to the Lares (household gods). It was a day of reconciliation when disagreements were to be set aside, but the poet Ovid observes satirically that this could be achieved only by excluding family members who caused trouble…

The Cara Cognatio remained on the calendar long after the Roman Empire had come under Christian rule. It appeared in the Chronography of 354, and the calendar of Polemius Silvius (449 AD) juxtaposed the old holiday with a feast day commemorating the burial of St. Peter and St. Paul. As a “love feast”,  the Caristia was not incompatible with Christian attitudes and some scholars have detected an influence of the Parentalia and Caristia on the Christian Agape feast, with the consumption of bread and wine at the ancestral tomb replaced by the Eucharist. In the 5th century, some Christian priests even encouraged participation in funerary meals.

Wednesday 20 February 2013


“I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.” Arthur C. Clarke

What part does astrology play in your life? In this day and age of high tech, enormous scientific progress, rationalism and skepticism, it is surprising how many people still read their daily horoscope (or have it cast professionally). It is perhaps a reaction against the bamboozling and mind-blowing progress in science and technology, which most people cannot understand and are mystified by. The “New Age” movement is another manifestation of this, I think.

Some people believe deeply in astrology and where strong belief begins, rational argument ends. Others view astrology as an interesting psychological exercise and a means by which one can do some soul-searching and get to know oneself a little better – a self discovery and assessment tool, if you will. In some societies astrology still plays an immense role in everyday life and something like a marriage would not be seen favourably unless the astrological profiles of the bride and groom were compatible, while the date of the wedding is also arranged on a propitious conjunction of the planets.

Astrology was one of the ancient “soft sciences” and it begat our modern day “hard science” of astronomy. Science and philosophy in the past were more connected than in the present day. Astrology as a philosophical concept is quite interesting and the study of the development of astrological systems is a fascinating subject as it is quite telling in terms of the human psyche and mind. Doubtlessly, astrology has had an enormous impact on human history and it has also stimulated a great deal of enquiry into human existence, the universe and our place in it. Countless works of art have also been inspired by astrological themes and ideas.

For the astrologically inclined, today the Sun enters the sign of the fish: Pisces…

PISCES THE FISH February 20th - March 20th. Ruled by Neptune. A mutable, negative, feminine, water sign. Polar or opposite sign is Virgo.  Fixed Star: Al Rischa.

Adaptable, Artistic, Compassionate, Creative, Deep, Elusive, Gentle, Imaginative, Instinctive, Moody, Musical, Philosophic, Sensitive, Sensual, Spiritual, Unworldly.

The Piscean may be summarised with the verb: “I believe”. The Piscean is romantic and mystical, often poetic and artistic.  A Piscean quote: “If you wander around in enough confusion, you will soon find enlightenment.” H. Blossom.

As a Piscean, the native is extremely sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others. Lack of strong willpower is made up by their sympathy for those they come in contact with, especially the poor, weak, or downcast. Generosity is occasionally bountiful, but usually to those who are “worthy” of natives. As a rule, the Piscean is good-natured and benevolent but is frequently shy and reserved around others. “Moderation” is a key word for the Piscean, as the duality of this sign keeps him or her on an even keel, content in the background, frequently keeping them from speaking up and taking a stand on an issue.  This is sometimes to the extent that the Piscean will have a neutral personality and will be the proverbial “fence-sitter”.

While often impractical, these people tend to be highly imaginative, creative, artistic and romantic.  This makes them vulnerable and they can be taken advantage of.  The Piscean needs to identify with someone strong and assertive, especially someone that can be admired and act as a source of inspiration and guidance.  The Piscean can, however, be occasionally brilliant, especially if their imagination is let to reign supreme and their artistic flair allowed to act unopposed.  The Piscean dislikes criticism, arguments, discord and will naturally seek a partner who is kindly, considerate, strong and supportive.  If their partner can make the decisions and provide the support needed by the Piscean, the relationship will be long and successful.

The Piscean will choose a profession that allows them to interact with other people and care for them; nursing, medicine, social work, psychology, paramedical fields are often attractive to them and they make very good professionals in these areas.  The Piscean can be a successful writer, artist, poet, musician, actor or dancer.  They are not very competitive or highly ambitious and therefore may lead a relatively quiet life even in what are considered to be very flamboyant occupations.  They will enjoy water sports, like swimming, diving, sailing although they rarely will become competition sports people.

The Piscean can be attracted to the occult and may be characterised as a “mystic”, although sometimes it is their introspective and rather moody nature that may be responsible for their seeming esotericism.

Tuesday 19 February 2013


“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” - William Shakespeare

Magpie Tales has used as a prompt the painting “Wind of History” by Jacek Yerka, about whom I have blogged before here. My offering, inspired by this painting is below:

A Winter’s Journey

Revisiting all the places of my past pain
Is my destiny, as Winter drags on year-long,
And endless sheets of falling cold, grey rain
Envelop landscapes in monotonous song.
(Forget I should what I must and mustn’t do…)

The distant goal of all my journeys is the same,
Approach so close and then so far again to be,
A cruel, repeated, endless, pointless game,
Treading the circling spirals of my traces, never to flee
(Forget I must what I should and shouldn’t do…)

The ruts of my previous journeys run deep,
But past experience futile, knowledge vain;
Each trek brings new torment, as I creep
Towards redemption – a goal I won’t attain.
(Forget I ought what I’m obliged and not obliged to do…)

As night falls my desperation grows more acute,
Memories haunt me, suffering grows strong –
The ruins of my former life form a familiar route
How could I live in such error, all my choices wrong?

Forget at last what I ought and oughtn’t do,
To live a life that’s fresh, unshackled by the past;
Escape from reminiscences, build all anew,
Tread paths unknown, my destiny recast.

Monday 18 February 2013


“All I ask is the chance to prove that money can't make me happy.” - Spike Milligan

At the weekend we raided the specials box at the local video store and got some bargain videos. Two of them were excellent films that we wanted to see for a long time, but we also bought a film that looked like a typical Hollywood romantic comedy/moral fable and the only reason we bought it was that three films were cheaper than two and nothing else in the box was even remotely interesting. We were in mood for mindless drivel at the weekend and we watched (rather unseasonably) this 2004 Mike Mitchell movie, “Surviving Christmas”, starring Ben Affleck, Christina Applegate and James Gandolfini.

As we suspected this was typical Hollywood grist for the mill, a rather unoriginal and mundane didactic B grade tale based on the premise “money can’t buy you happiness” (but it can sure cause you to be a gigantic pain in the behind for a lot of other people).  The story is heavy-handed and the acting is over the top, direction is slapdash and the improbability of the story makes for cringeworthy viewing. We suffered through it and swallowed the flavourless pap to the end to form a defensible opinion of the movie, if nothing else.

Drew Latham (Affleck) is a highly successful advertising executive leading an empty, shallow life devoted to his job and to making more and more money. All is going well for him until another lonely Christmas looms ahead. His lack of a family causes him to break up with his girlfriend and driven to desperation at the prospect of facing Christmas alone, Drew revisits his old childhood home with a view of rekindling some old memories. When he arrives, he finds that the house in which he was raised is no longer the home in which he grew up. It is inhabited by another family, of rather obnoxious character. Drew offers a substantial financial reward to the paterfamilias (Gandolfini) provided he allows Drew to pretend to be a member of the family over Christmas. Greed allows Drew to enter the family as a grown-up “son” but the family get more than they bargained for because Drew is overeager to celebrate Christmas in the way that he has always wanted. The family’s daughter (Applegate) provides he romantic interest.

This is a pedestrian movie designed to pull the heartstrings, but its fakeness, over-the-top schmaltz and weak attempts at humour make it quite tiresome. The sheer predictability of the plot and the average, to less than average, effort in making this film make it a C grade studio potboiler. The characters are inconsistent and the plot makes little sense, giving the impression that the movie was made from a rough draft of a slapdash scenario made on the premise of a rich guy paying a family to let him spend Christmas with them. Watch at your own peril, you have been warned…

Sunday 17 February 2013


“So many of my dreams were to actually be able to make a living of what I did as a hobby.” - Rick Baker

Ever since I can remember there have been pens, pencils, paper, paints, canvas, notebooks, drawing cartridge and coloured pencils at our house. It does help if one;s parents are artistically inclined and the stimulus to use all of these lovely things is immediate and uninterrupted. I started to draw even before I learnt to write, as most children, but I also started to paint with oil paints even before I learn to write. It's a pity that none of my very early efforts have survived, but that was the beginning of a very long love affair with art and the basis of one of my good hobbies - for I am only an amateur.

I have continued to draw and paint - whenever I have some spare time (which is less and less nowadays. What I still do is maintain a visual diary into which I scribble ideas and get to use the vast array of pens, markers, coloured pencils, and pastels that are on my desk. Here are two pages from such a visual diary. It relaxes me, allows my imagination free rein and it uses the part of my brain that my work often does not allow me to use as much as I would like...