Saturday 2 March 2013


“Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.” - Lao Tzu

For Music Saturday, one of the most important works of the Baroque by one of the giants of music. Georg Friedrich Handel Concerti Grossi Op 6, Nos 1-12.

Handel was born to Georg Handel (1622-97) and Dorothea Taust (1651-1730). Handel’s father, Georg, was a barber-surgeon for the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels; his mother was the daughter of a pastor. Because Handel’s father wanted him to become a lawyer, Georg prevented Handel from playing any musical instruments. However, Handel managed to sneak past his father’s command by playing the hidden clavichord in the attic. At the age of 9, the Duke heard Handel playing the organ and convinced Georg to let Handel study music under Friedrich Zachow. When Handel was just 12, his father died leaving Handel as the “man of the household.”

Perhaps just in case Handel’s musical career was not as successful as he hoped it would be, records show that Handel had, in fact, enrolled into Halle University in 1702. A month later, Handel was appointed organist at the Calvinist Cathedral, but after one year, his contract was not renewed. Handel decided that he would follow his musical dreams and shortly thereafter, he left Halle for Hamburg. In Hamburg, Handel played violin and harpsichord for the only opera company in Germany that existed outside the royal courts, and also taught private lessons. Handel wrote his first opera, Almira in 1704. In 1706, Handel moved to Italy, where he gained a wealth of knowledge on setting Italian lyrics to voice. In 1710, he was appointed Kapellmeister at Hanover, but soon took leave to London. Then, in 1719, he became musical director of the Royal Academy of Music.

Much of Handel’s time during the 1720’s and 30’s was spent composing operas. However, he still found time to compose many other works. During the last few years of the 1730’s, Handel’s operas were not as successful. Afraid of his future success, he responded by focusing more on oratorio. In 1741, Handel composed the wildly successful Messiah, which was originally sung by a choir of 16 and an orchestra of 40. He left to Dublin for the premiere of the piece. During the last ten years of Handel’s life, he regularly performed his Messiah. Because of its success, he returned to London and with a new found confidence he composed another oratorio, Samson along with many others. Before his death, Handel had lost his vision due to cataracts. He died on April 14, 1759. He was buried at Westminster Abbey, and it was said that over 3,000 people attended his funeral.

Friday 1 March 2013


“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” - Paul McCartney

For Food Friday today, an Indian Vegetarian dish, which is tasty, nutritious and healthful. Add some rice and you have a complete, filling meal.

Vegetarian Korma


1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion finely chopped
3 cardamom pods, crushed
2 tsp each ground cumin and coriander
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp curry powder
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
5 cm piece ginger, finely chopped
800g mixed vegetables: Carrot, cauliflower, potato, zucchini, chopped
300 mL hot vegetable stock
200g frozen peas
200 mL plain Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp ground almonds (optional)


Heat the oil in a large pan. Cook onion with the dry spices over a low heat for 5-6 minutes until the onion is golden. Add the chilli, garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute, then toss in the vegetables (except the peas) and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the peas, cooking for 3 minutes more until the vegetables are tender.
Remove from the heat and stir through the yoghurt and ground almonds, if using. Serve garnished with chopped coriander if desired,  and accompany with basmati rice or naan bread on the side.

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

Thursday 28 February 2013


“As human beings, we are vulnerable to confusing the unprecedented with the improbable. In our everyday experience, if something has never happened before, we are generally safe in assuming it is not going to happen in the future, but the exceptions can kill you and climate change is one of those exceptions.” - Al Gore

It’s official! Australia has experienced its hottest Summer on record. Average temperatures beat the record set in the summer of 1997-98, and daytime maximum temperatures knocked over the 1982-83 record. January 2013 has been the hottest month since records began in 1910. Our climate is changing and we now have the weather records to prove it.

Climate is a statistical description of weather. It describes the average weather experienced over a period of time, over either a single location, or averaged over a large region. Climate also describes how variable the weather is around those averages. Climate also describes trends: Longer-term changes in weather that are distinct from the shorter-term variability.

When it comes to climate change, there is often confusion as to when one should consider a particular meteorological event to be “just weather” or something more significant in a climatological context. Individual weather and climate events that scientists consider most significant are those that are both at the extremes of our historical experience, and consistent with quantifiable trends.

September 2012 to February 2013 were warmer than the previous high for that period, set in 2006-2007. Average summer temperatures across Australia were 1.1°C above the 1961-1990 average, surpassing the previous record, set in 1997-98, by more than 0.1°C. Daytime maximum temperatures also set a record; they were 1.4°C above normal, and 0.2°C above the 1982-83 record. And the most significant thing about all of these extremes is they fit with a well established trend in Australia, that is it’s getting hotter, and record heat is happening more often.

Australia has warmed by nearly a degree Celsius since 1910. This is consistent with warming observed in the global atmosphere and oceans. Over the next century, the world will likely warm by a further 2 to 5 degrees, depending on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Under mid-to-high emissions scenarios, summers like this one will likely become average in 40 years time. By the end of the 21st century, the record summer of 2013 will likely sit at the very cooler end of normal.

An interesting feature of the heat this summer is that it occurred during a “neutral” period in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (that is, it was neither La Niña nor El Niño). Up until this year, six of the eight warmest summers, and the hottest three summers on record, occurred during El Niño years. This essentially means that the record was consistent with warming trends, and achieved without an extra push from natural variability associated with El Niño.

The oceans surrounding Australia have also been exceptionally warm. January 2013 was the second warmest on record, following an unusually hot 2012, and a record hot 2011 for Australian-region sea surface temperatures. These temperatures are measured very differently to air temperatures over land.

Apart from the heat, the summer of 2012-13 will be notable for rain and floods along the east coast, especially those which fell in late January as the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Oswald tracked south just inland from the coasts of Queensland and northern New South Wales, bringing heavy rains along the length of its track. A second round of heavy rain occurred in southeast Queensland and coastal New South Wales in the last week of February. The late January rainfalls were significant and led to major flooding in numerous rivers, especially the Burnett, which reached record levels after a one-day catchment-average rainfall which was nearly 70% above the previous record.

December 2012 was the hottest December on record for Southern Hemisphere land areas, and January 2013 was the hottest January. Australia was a large contributor to this, but so were southern South America and southern Africa. Many parts of southern Africa had their hottest January on record, while the month was also much hotter than normal in large parts of Argentina, Chile and Brazil. In parts of Patagonia, January temperatures were more than 4°C above normal.

We have to get used to records like this being broken as our climate changes worldwide. A few degrees up or down may not sound like much, but repeated small increases have a cumulative effect with many consequences on a global scale. Humans have relative little power to deal with weather at the best of times and where climate is concerned we have even less power. Global warming may be the problem presently, but it only takes a major volcanic explosion with much ash ejected into the atmosphere to have a very real effect on climate for many years – in this case a cooling effect.

“Following the huge eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, enough reflective volcanic aerosols were ejected into the atmosphere that the following year was known as the year without a summer.  But the effects of that debris have been much longer-lived.  According to the report in ‘Nature’ this week, the volcanic-induced cooling of the oceans caused by Krakatoa's eruption lasted almost a century, enough to offset a large amount of anthropogenic rises in ocean temperature and sea level.  In plain English, were it not for Krakatoa going boom all those years ago, we'd be in a worse state currently than we are.” (Jonathan M Gitlin, Feb 10 2006).

Whether we modify our behaviour that may be instrumental in climate change or not, there are forces of nature at play on our planet that demonstrate to us that we humans are puny and impotent. What we must do is act wisely, take care of our environment in the best way we can and hope for the best in terms of natural events that we have no control over…

Wednesday 27 February 2013


“Thus the wise and worthy singer 
Sings not all his garnered wisdom;
Better leave unsung some sayings
Than to sing them out of season.” - The Kalevala

February 28, is Kalevala Day in Finland. The Kalevala is Finland’s national epic poem, researched and transcribed by Dr. Elias Lönnrot (1802-1835). Lönnrot and his assistants travelled throughout the country, asking people to tell them whatever they could remember about the folklore surrounding Kalevala, the “Land of Heroes”. On February 28, 1835, after years of research, Lönnrot signed the preface to the first edition of the poem. Its more than 20,000 verses brought to life the adventures of such characters as the warrior Lemminkäinen and the blacksmith Ilmarinen, who played a part in the creation of the world when he forged the “lids of heaven”. This event marked a turning point in Finnish literature; up to this point, little had been written in the Finnish language. Lönnrot is honoured with parades and concerts on this day.

The first edition of the Kalevala appeared in 1835. Inspired by his later collecting trips and the folk poetry recorded by others, Lönnrot decided to broaden his epic to create a more extensive whole. The second edition of the Kalevala appeared in December 1849. The work contains 22,795 lines of verse divided into 50 distinct cantos. To distinguish between the two editions, the expanded version was referred to as the “New Kalevala” and the earlier version came to be known as the “Old Kalevala”.

The Kalevala is made up of metric folk poems: epic and lyric poetry, as well as incantations and wedding poetry. The metre of the poetic language, generally known as the kalevala-metre, is trochaic tetrametre, the prevailing poetic metre north of the Gulf of Finland and in Ingria.

The publication of the Kalevala was a significant factor in the National Awakening movement in Finland, part of the patriotic nationalist revival taking place throughout Europe during the mid-19th century. This led ultimately to Finnish independence and to a greater role for literature in Finnish, rather than in Swedish as had been the rule prior to this.   The poems of the Kalevala have been illustrated by some of the country’s greatest artists.

Composer Jean Sibelius, too, made extensive use of Kalevala themes in his music, for example in the Four Lemminkäinen Legends, Pohjola’s Daughter, the Kullervo Symphony, and the symphonic poem Tapiola. The epic poem was also reportedly a source of inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien in his “Lord of the Rings” novels, and was definitely in the mind of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow , who adapted the idiosyncratic Kalevala meter for his Song of Hiawatha.

In a completely different vein, Kalevala characters and places still live on in business life, in the names given to many key Finnish companies, although in recent years there is a tendency to replace traditional names with more “international” ones!

Tuesday 26 February 2013


“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” - Salvador Dalí

Surrealism is a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature, which sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images. Launched in 1924 by a manifesto of André Breton and having a strong political content, the movement grew out of symbolism and Dada and was strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud. In the visual arts its most notable exponents were André Masson, Jean Arp, Joan Miró, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Luis Buñuel.

Magpie Tales has presented us with a sculptural confection by that master of Surrealism, Salvador Dalí. As a child, Dalí’s first sculpture was a clay copy of the Venus de Milo. He later recalled: “My first experience as a sculptor gave me an unknown and delicious erotic joy.” The original Venus de Milo, now on display at the Louvre Museum, is one of the most famous works of Greek antiquity, a marble sculpture of the goddess of love. This armless figure has become the icon of classical female beauty.

The goddess Venus held a great attraction for Dalí, who returned to her throughout his career. She is the focus of his 1939 “Dream of Venus” Pavilion at the World’s Fair, where the viewer is invited to walk through her dreams. In The “Hallucinogenic Toreador” of 1969, shadows across her body become the source for an illusion of a bullfighter’s face. In a 1973 hologram, she appears as musician Alice Cooper’s microphone.

For this 1936 Surrealist object, Dalí cuts six drawers into Venus, transforming the Greek goddess into a piece of living furniture, a visual pun on the phrase “chest” of drawers, also known as a bureau. Her simple, white surface, is complemented by elegant fur knobs, a tribute to her beauty and erotic potential. In addition, the drawers are a metaphor for the way Freudian psychoanalysis opens the hidden areas of the unconscious. In Dalí’s words: “Freud discovered the world of the subconscious on the tumid surfaces of ancient bodies, and Dali cut drawers into it.”

Here is my contribution to this week’s Magpie.

The Music of Your Thought

“Of all the numbers of the alphabet
I adore crimson…”, she said;
And I looked at her bemused,
Amused too, by her propensity to add colour
To even the dullest topic.

“The sea, she flies so well, chasing rocks
As they rise up to the bottom…”
I smiled at her, basking in the sunshine
Of her hyperboles, approaching nearest to her star
In that single moment of a hyperbolic perihelion.

Of all the music of your touch,
I love sweetness…”, she added;
And I sang with my hand,
Leaving a trace of honey, treacly, sticky,
On her smooth skin.

“My secret thoughts live in a locked drawer
In my belly…”
I nodded, as I caressed her navel,
Wanting to open up her innermost
Secret hiding places to lose myself into.

“I appreciate the honesty of pegasi
Who in their moulting season admit they cannot fly…”
She pensively remarked, stroking my shoulder blade,
And at that moment I knew,
As I prepared for a perpetual aphelion,

That I had lost her, evermore.

Sunday 24 February 2013


“When good Americans when they die go to Paris.” - Thomas Gold Appleton

Last weekend we watched the delightful 2011 Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris” starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Carla Bruni and Marion Cotillard. Allen both wrote and directed this whimsy and it is a glowing tribute to the great city of Paris, the past, love, art and literature. It won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, but also won another 16 awards and was nominated for another 52 distinctions.

The film is a loving tribute to the “Ville Lumière” as only a besotted American can do it (and I mean that as a compliment!). The cinematography is superb, the costumes and music wonderful, the rich ambience of times past and the spirit of place have been captured beautifully. The casting is very well done and one has the feeling of watching a rich cavalcade of the famous artists and thinkers of the 1920s who parade through the plot, the only reason being to be seen…

The story concerns Gil (Wilson) and Inez (McAdams), an American couple who travel to Paris as a tag-along vacation on Inez’s parents business trip. Gil is a rich and famous Hollywood writer but is struggling on his first novel. He falls in love with Paris and suggests to Inez that they should move there after they get married. Inez does not share his romantic notions of the city or the idea that the 1920s was the “golden age”. One night, when Inez goes off dancing with her friends, Gil takes a walk at midnight and discovers that he can slip into a time warp if he is at the right place at the right time and finds himself in his “golden age” of the Paris of the 1920s. Gil is jubilant and finds his recurring trips to the past a great source of inspiration for his writing. While his writing improves, his relationship with Inez becomes tense and strained…

Allen has made a similar film as a paean to a great city, his “Manhattan” of 1979. “Midnight in Paris”, however, is a much more mature and mellow work, where Allen allows his imagination free rein and where his distillation of what it is to live and love is spelt out quite clearly. Gil’s ventures into the past may fulfil him as an artist, but his life has to reach its full potential in his present time, and it is only when he realises this is the essence of his happiness that he is able to make the right decisions.

The film is a light and winsome fable. Light and frothy as a whipped cream dessert, rich with champagne bubbles and frollery (= frisky drollery :-). It is no classic but it doesn’t aspire to be. It is no masterpiece, but it is an enchanting and entertaining bauble that makes a point, no matter how self-evident and platitudinous it may be. The way that Allen serves us this confection appeals to our jaded palate and we sit there enjoying serve after serve. There is subtle humour and some wonderful one-liners, but no belly laughs. This is no slapstick.

We recommend this film, especially more so if you have been to Paris and have succumbed to its manifold charms…


“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.” - Helen Keller

Honoré Victorin Daumier (26 Feb 1808 - 10 Feb 1879) was a French artist, painter, draughtsman and sculptor who rose to prominence as the caricaturist of 19th century French politics and society. His determined focus on the foibles of 19th century France make him the one artist who comes closest to summing up this turbulent period of French history. Forced to quit school at the age of 12, Honore Daumier developed a life-long sympathy for the poor. Unfortunately, he sympathised so much with them that he died in debt and was buried in a paupers grave.

Honoré Daumier used his skills as a lithographer to ridicule French government and society. In his youth, he even ended up in gaol for caricaturing the French King. An extremely productive artist, he made almost 4,000 prints before going blind. He was also a talented painter and sculptor, but these works mainly became known after his death.

Daumier lived in an age of dramatic political, economic, and social upheaval. During his lifetime, there were five major changes in government as his countrymen grappled with the aftermath of the 1789 French Revolution. The Industrial Revolution was also taking place during this time, which served as a blow to the old social order, creating an entirely new class of impoverished industrial workers in the process. Against this backdrop, Honoré Daumier used his art as biting social commentary.

Honoré Daumier was born in 1808 in Marseilles, France. In 1816, his father moved the family to Paris to try his hand at poetry. His father did not achieve much economic success so at the age of 12, Daumier was forced to quit school and work at a bailiff's office. Witnessing the problems of those rifling in and out of jail imparted him with a life-long sympathy for the poor. At the age of 16, Daumier began receiving training in the art of lithography with Alexandre Lenoir and studying at the Academie Suisse.

Daumier used his print-making skills in several satirical publications of the era. During this period, this was a powerful social platform from which to influence the masses. In 1832, he published an offensive cartoon against the government and received a suspended sentence. He then published another anti-governmental cartoon that was just as vicious and was jailed for six months. Afterwards, he only caricatured the middle-class and particularly liked criticising lawyers and the justice system. In 1846, Daumier’s son was born and he married the mother of the child, a 24-year -old seamstress shortly afterwards. Sadly, his son died two years later.

In his old age Daumier increasingly worked on his sculptures and paintings. His works were accepted to exhibit at the Salon four times but received little attention, although modern critics consider them to be ahead of their time. Daumier was particularly interested in the theme of Don Quixote and painted one iconic image of him riding off into the sunset. In 1878, a few months before his death, his friends rounded up a number of his paintings to be shown at Durand-Ruel’s gallery. However, these works did not meet with much critical reception until after his death.

Daumier worked in a number of styles, depending on the medium. He was equally adept at caricature, naturalistic drawing, painting and sculpting. He is best known for his caricature works and he used the classic caricature techniques of physical absurdity to lay bare the cruelty, unfairness and pretension of 19th century French society and politics.

The medium of lithography allows for quick, sketchy, images, which create a sense of movement - and also a sense of a candid moment. Critics described him as a master at recording the unrehearsed moments of daily life. Daumier came to painting (and naturalism) fairly late in life and he painted religious as well as historical themes. If it were not for this inclusion of historical material, he would be considered purely a Realist. The naturalist philosophy believes in man’s futility against nature and some of Daumier's religious paintings suggest this. He also used everyday subjects, such as The Laundress, to provoke discussion about wider social issues. He was also interested in exploring literary themes, in particular the ones contained in the popular novel Don Quixote, the fool who thinks he’s a hero as he, in the famous scene, battles windmills. Daumier also tried his hand at sculpting, which was not a popular form of art at the time. His sculptures are known for being remarkably life-like.

“Le Wagon de Troisième Classe” (The Third-Class Carriage) of 1864 seen above, is one of a three-part series commissioned by Walter Thompson Walters, the other two works being The First Class Carriage and The Second Class Carriage. The inspiration for this painting came from the railroad itself and Daumier’s preoccupation with themes of social justice.

Like with many of Daumier’s later paintings, the loose handling and calligraphic brush work that he employs in The Third-Class Carriage is extraordinary. The painting is left unfinished, however, it is still obvious that Daumier seeks to capture the plight of the working class by capturing the quiet moments of their everyday lives. The dark colours and the crowded surroundings help to focus the viewer’s attention to the figures in the foreground.

The family depicted here, grandmother, mother and children with the notable absence of their menfolk, suggests that these women are making their way in the world on their own. One gets a sense of the circumstances through the weariness of their posture and the shabbiness of their clothes. Although the mother’s face is sweet, the weariness present in the grandmother’s face suggests the hardships that she must have experienced in her long life. Her shrewd face confronts the viewer, while the sleeping grandson still clutching a box besides him tells us that quite possibly this child is already working to support the family.