Saturday 30 March 2013


“Be thou comforted, little dog, Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.” - Martin Luther
For Music Saturday on this Easter Saturday, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Easter Oratorio”, BWV 249. This oratorio also called “Kommt, eilet und laufet” (Come, hasten and run) was composed in Leipzig and first performed on 1 April 1725. The first version of the work was completed as a cantata for Easter Sunday in Leipzig on 1 April 1725, then under the title “Kommt, gehet und eilet”. It was named “oratorio” and given the new title only in a version revised in 1735. In a later version in the 1740s the third movement was expanded from a duet to a four-part chorus.
The work is unlike most of Bach’s major choral works (e.g. the masses, or even the Christmas oratorio) as is a “parody”. This means that it was based on the music for a pre-existing work, with new text set to make it fit the occasion. In this case a secular cantata, the so-called “Shepherd Cantata” (“Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen”, BWV 249a) was used,  which is now lost, although the libretto survives. Its author is Picander who is also likely the author of the oratorio's text.
The oratorio has no narrator but four conversing characters assigned to the four voice parts: Simon Peter (tenor) and John the Apostle (bass), appearing in the first duet hurrying to Jesus' grave and finding it empty, meeting there Mary Magdalene (alto) and "the other Mary", Mary Clopas (soprano). The choir was present only in the final movement until a later performance in the 1740s when the opening duet was set partly for four voices. The music is festively scored for three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, oboe d’ amore, bassoon, two recorders, transverse flute, two violins, and basso continuo.
The work is opened by two contrasting instrumental movements that are probably taken from a concerto of the Köthen period. The oboe melody in the adagio is scored over “Seufzer” motifs (sighs) in the strings. The first duet of the disciples was set for chorus in a later version, the middle section remaining a duet. Many runs illustrate the movement toward the grave.
“Saget, saget mir geschwinde”, the aria of Mary Magdalene, is based on words from the Song of Songs, asking where to find the beloved, without whom she is completely orphaned and desolate. The words are close to those opening Part Two of the St Matthew Passion. The final movement in two contrasting sections resembles the Sanctus composed for Christmas 1724 and later part of the Mass in B minor.
Although this oratorio has never been as popular as other Bach cantatas and major church masterworks, it contains some lovely music (whatever its source) and it has a festive, bright air well-suited to the theme of resurrection.

Friday 29 March 2013


“At the cross God wrapped his heart in flesh and blood and let it be nailed to the cross for our redemption.” - E. Stanley Jones

Good Friday is the most solemn and sorrowful day in the Christian calendar.  Traditionally, no work was done on this day of prayer and reflection. All Christians go to church to hear the recounting of Christ’s passion and mourn for His death on the cross.  Tools made of iron are not to be handled and especially so hammers and nails. This is so that one does not act out the crucifixion of Christ anew.  Even clothes are not to be washed on this day, because if they are, a member of the family will die. If clothes are hung out to dry they will be spotted with blood.  This belief is from the apocryphal story that relates of a washerwoman mockingly throwing dirty washing water on Christ on his way to Calvary. Parsley seed can be planted on this day, provided a wooden spade is used. Parsley was associated with death and funerals since the days of the ancient Greeks.

Hot Cross Buns are baked on this day in memory of the kindly woman who gave Christ some bread on His way to Calvary.  It is said that no bread or buns baked on this day will grow mouldy.
            Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs

            With one-a-penny, two-a-penny, Hot Cross Buns
            Whose virtue if you’ll believe what’s said
            They’ll not grow mouldy like ordinary bread.


Hot Cross Buns protect sailors from shipwreck and houses from fire. Good Friday bread should be dried and kept for if is soaked in milk and consumed will cure all sorts of stomach ailments.  On the other hand, Russian tradition and religious observance forbid baking on Good Friday. Here is a recipe for hot cross buns:

Hot Cross Buns


2 tsp dried instant yeast
500 g plain four
90 g sugar
300 mL milk
1tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
60 g butter
1 large egg
140 g sultanas
30 g mixed peel 

For the Crosses
2 tbsp self raising flour
2 tbsp cold water 

4 tbsp sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
150 ml boiling water

Sift together flour, spices, salt and the add the yeast, stirring through to evenly distribute.
Warm the milk in a microwave and melt the butter into it.
In a separate bowl beat the egg.
Add the milk and butter mixture to the flour and mix thoroughly. Add the egg and mix well to form a dough.
Work in the dried fruit and peel.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it feels smooth and is no longer sticky (approx 10 mins).
Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise.
Leave for an hour or until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down and then separate it into 12 equal portions.
Place the buns close together on a lightly greased baking tray.
Cover and allow to prove until doubled in size and very light (about another hour).
For the crosses: Mix the flour and water thoroughly to form a thick paste. Spoon into a plastic bag, cut a little hole out of the corner of the bag and use it to pipe the mixture in crosses on top of the buns.
Bake the topped buns at 220°C for 15–20mins.
For the glaze: Mix together all ingredients, dissolving the sugar in the boiling water. Brush over the buns lightly while still hot.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 28 March 2013


“Christ died to save this lost world; he did not come to destroy, maim or pour out wrath.” - David Wilkerson

The Thursday before Easter is Maundy Thursday, and it is celebrated today by the Western Christian churches. The Eastern Christian churches celebrate Easter about month later this year (Easter Sunday is May 5th, 2013). On Maundy Thursday, Christians reflect on the Last Supper, when Jesus and his Disciples dined together for the last time before his death.

Jesus said: “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:31-35).

The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for commandment (mandatum), which Jesus talked about when he told his disciples that he was leaving them “a new commandment,” that they “love one another.” There must have been an electric atmosphere in that upper room where Jesus and the Disciples had their last supper together, with may thoughts and wild emotions in everyone’s mind. Not the least would have been bewilderment as Jesus told them that someone in that very room would betray him.

Jesus handed everyone (including his soon-to-be betrayer) bread and wine. Passing these around, he spoke momentous words: “This is my body… this is my blood.” An extraordinary dictum for an extraordinary Passover supper. These words connected with what he had said previously by the shores of the Sea of Galilee: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty…. whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”. (John 6:35, 54).

Jesus told the Disciples to repeat this meal in the future, so they would remember him and do what he had taught them to do. Judas Iscariot skulked away to what he had been destined to do. Jesus and the Disciples followed and in the quiet olive grove, Jesus prayed in agony:
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:39-56)

The events following this outline the divine plan and the betrayal, trial and execution of the Christ fulfil the prophecies of old and set in place the new covenant as outline in the New Testament, such that mankind be saved. Christians the world over commemorate Passion week and then rejoice at Easter with the tidings of Resurrection and the promise of life everlasting.

Wednesday 27 March 2013


The 2013 competition is now open for entries. Entries in the competition will close on Thursday 28 March 2013.

There is over $18,000 worth of prizes, including cash, writing courses and books, to be won by finalists and winners.

You can follow the centre and the competition on Twitter. The hashtag is #bestblogs13


“The stage is a magic circle where only the most real things happen, a neutral territory outside the jurisdiction of Fate where stars may be crossed with impunity. A truer and more real place does not exist in all the universe.” -  P.S. Baber

World Theatre Day is celebrated on March 27th. It was the brainchild of the International Theatre Institute (ITI). Various national and international theatre events are organised around the world to celebrate this occasion. One of the most important of these is the circulation of the World Theatre Day International Message through which at the invitation of ITI, a figure of world stature shares his or her reflections on the theme of Theatre and a Culture of Peace. The first World Theatre Day International Message was written by Jean Cocteau (France) in 1962.

It was first in Helsinki, and then in Vienna at the 9th World Congress of the ITI in June 1961 that President Arvi Kivimaa proposed on behalf of the Finnish Centre of the International Theatre Institute that a World Theatre Day be instituted. The proposal, backed by the Scandinavian centres, was carried with acclamation. Ever since, each year on the 27th March (date of the opening of the 1962 "Theatre of Nations" season in Paris), World Theatre Day has been celebrated in many and varied ways by ITI National Centres of which there are now almost 100 throughout the world.

Each year a figure outstanding in theatre or a person outstanding in heart and spirit from another field, is invited to share his or her reflections on theatre and international harmony. What is known as the International Message is translated into more than 20 languages, read for tens of thousands of spectators before performances in theatres throughout the world and printed in hundreds of daily newspapers. Colleagues in the audio-visual field lend a fraternal hand, with more than a hundred radio and television stations transmitting the Message to listeners in all corners of the five continents.

Here is the 2013 World Theatre Day message, by Dario Fo, read by Julian Sands, English actor:


Theatre is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music or dance. Elements of design and stagecraft are used to enhance the physicality, presence and immediacy of the experience.

The specific place of the performance is also named by the word "theatre" as derived from the Ancient Greek théatron, “a place for viewing”, itself from theáomai, “to see”, “to watch", “to observe”. Modern Western theatre derives in large measure from ancient Greek drama, from which it borrows technical terminology, classification into genres, and many of its themes, stock characters, and plot elements. Theatre scholar Patrice Pavis defines theatricality, theatrical language, stage writing, and the specificity of theatre as synonymous expressions that differentiate theatre from the other performing arts, literature, and the arts in general. Theatre today includes performances of plays and musicals.

Tuesday 26 March 2013


“Human identity is the most fragile thing that we have, and it's often only found in moments of truth.” - Alan Rudolph
René François Ghislain Magritte was born on November 21st, 1898 at Lessines, a province of Hainaut in Belgium. This surrealist artist is renowned and very popular for his thought-provoking images, which sometimes cause amusement, sometimes shock and often wonder and puzzlement. Magritte in his art, wishes to put an end to our sense of familiarity with the world. Although he depicted ordinary things in his canvases, he modified them with his imagination and presented them in absurd contexts and with such illusory blends and counter-logical associations that very often the viewers are moved to challenge their beliefs and question their frame of reference. Magritte’s work is thought provoking and his canvases present visual enigmas, which are sure to puzzle and challenge the spectators. Many contemporary artists have been influenced by the remarkable works of René Magritte. He died at the age of 68 on August 15th 1967, in Brussels of pancreatic cancer.
Magpie Tales has chosen Magritte’s “Not to be Reproduced” (La reproduction interdite), as the springboard on which we launch our creative endeavours this week. The painting is owned currently by the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. This painting was commissioned by poet and Magritte patron Edward James and is considered a portrait of James although James’ face is not depicted. This painting was one of three produced by Magritte for the ballroom of James’ London home. The other two were “The Red Model” (1937) and “Time Transfixed” (1938).
The book on the mantel is a well-worn copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (written here in French as Les aventures d’Arthur Gordon Pym). Poe was one of Magritte’s favourite authors and he made other references to the author and his work. Magritte painted another portrait of Edward James titled “The Pleasure Principle” (1937). It depicts James from the front, sitting at a table; however, his face is obscured by a bright flash like that produced by a camera flash.
Here is my poem based on Monsieur Magritte’s painting, which I have reproduced shamelessly and counter to his imperative.
Whence have I come?
Where am I at?
Whither shall I go?
The stranger I am looking back at in the mirror
Stays silent and will not answer my questions.
Who is he?
Why does he remain silent?
How will I get to know him?

The years pass by, all too swiftly now,
As the sand grains run out of my hourglass.
How many years more?
Which way to the finish?
Wherefore have I lived?
My life before outweighs the life I have after the present minute
A ratio tending towards infinite minuteness.
Who is that man?
Why does he not speak?
How shall we become acquainted?
My life spirals downwards, and as I descend in ever smaller whorls,
The infinitude below overwhelms me.
Whence have I come?
Where am I at?
Whither shall I go?

Monday 25 March 2013


“Too many women throw themselves into romance because they’re afraid of being single, then start making compromises and losing their identity. I won’t do that.” - Julie Delpy
We seem to watch an awful lot of chick flick rom coms lately. But on reflection, maybe not, it just seems that way… The genre is a popular one so moviemakers churn these types of films out with great regularity. Once again, the movie we watched at the weekend was retrieved from the specials bin and the only reason we watched it was that we wanted nothing heavyweight, depressing, or anything that would get us thinking about deep and meaningful stuff – so fluff and nonsense it was to be. It was the 2005 Clare Kilner film, “The Wedding Date” starring Dermot Mulroney, Debra Messing, Jeremy Sheffield, Amy Adams, Jack Davenport. It was based on the novel “Asking for Trouble” by Elizabeth Young and the screenplay was by Dana Fox.
Kat (Debra Messing) is a successful airline executive living in the USA, while most of her family is in the UK. She has been through a traumatic relationship break-up with ex of seven years, Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield), who is still living in the UK. Her half-sister will have her wedding in London and the best man is Jeffrey. Kat who still loves Jeffrey and who is still single, whishes to go to the wedding accompanied by a man whom she can pass off as her new boyfriend. Kat spends $6,000 plus business class tickets for Nick (Dermot Mulroney) a professional escort, to accompany her to London pretending to be her boyfriend. Kat’s sister, Amy (Amy Adams) has planned a wedding extravaganza to last four days, complete with picnics, cricket, parties, hens’ and stag nights, and more. However, there are some dark secrets that will be revealed and most of the characters will have to make choices that will affect their whole lives.
Critics crucified this movie, but it resonated well with much of the public. At a cost of $15 million the film grossed $47 million worldwide, $11 million of that made on the opening weekend in the USA. The film is formulaic, predictable and sprinkled with Hollywood glitz – the UK locations being the gimmick (and this works well). The cast is more or less likeable and they do a more or less good job with the material they have been given. Some of the minor supporting cast characters were the most enjoyable for us, and we actually disliked the leads (Mulroney and Messing), which didn’t help.
I wonder if these types of movies nowadays fulfill some sort of grown-up penchant with romantic fairy tales of old – wish fulfillment “Cinderella” stories that extend our childhood fantasies. Needless to say that these grown-up fairy tales are peppered with soft porn, the sex spicing the story in an obvious way, whereas in the traditional fairy tale the eroticism was symbolic or understated. The same could be said of the literary chick lit genre or the “Hills of Doom” type of romance novels. They work and they are popular because they are written to a strict formula, they have stock characters and plot lines so that their fans are not greatly surprised or disappointed when they read them.
This film is average as far the genre goes. It is not original nor is it ground-shaking moviemaking at its best. However, it has no pretence about itself. The tag-line for the movie “Love Doesn’t Come Cheap” summarises the aspirations of the movie quite well. While it is not pure bathos, it lacks the sparkle and charm of the 1990 “Pretty Woman” by Garry Marshall, a similar plot with the genders reversed. We watched “The Wedding Date”, it didn’t tax our minds greatly, we liked the scenery, we smiled once or twice, and that was it. The film will be promptly forgotten… If you have 90 minutes up your sleeve and  it’s on, watch it and don’t have great expectations – it’s fluff. Otherwise don’t go out of your way to seek it out.

Sunday 24 March 2013


“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows follow behind you.” - Maori Proverb
Anthony van Dyck (born March 22, 1599 Antwerp, Belgium, died December 9, 1641) was a Flemish painter and draughtsman who lived in England for quite a few years of his life. Anthony was the seventh of twelve children born to a wealthy silk merchant in Belgium. The child was very talented and began to paint at an early age. By the age of nineteen, he had already become an art teacher in Antwerp. Soon afterward, he collaborated and trained with the famous Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens.
In 1620, at the instigation of George Villiers, Marquess of Buckingham, van Dyck went to England for the first time where he worked for King James I of England, receiving £100. It was in London in the collection of the Earl of Arundel that he first saw the work of Titian, whose use of colour and subtle modelling of form would prove transformational, offering a new stylistic language that would enrich the compositional lessons learned from Rubens.
After moving back to Flanders, Van Dyck decided to go to Italy in 1620, where he studied the paintings of Titian and Paolo Veronese and worked for six years as a successful portrait painter for the Italian nobility. He became so well known that in 1632 King Charles I of England summoned him to London to be his exclusive court painter and eventually gave him a knighthood. Van Dyck’s numerous portraits of Charles I and his family were greatly admired by his contemporaries.
Realising that Charles’s political and financial fortunes were in decline, van Dyck left England in for Antwerp and Paris. A year later, after several unsuccessful projects abroad, he returned to London in 1641 in ill health and died shortly thereafter. Van Dyck is buried in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, a distinction reserved only for illustrious British subjects.
Most major museum collections include at least one van Dyck, but easily the most outstanding collection is the Royal Collection, which still contains many of his paintings of the Royal Family. The National Gallery, London (fourteen works), The Museo del Prado in Madrid, (twenty-five works), The Louvre in Paris (eighteen works), The Alte Pinakothek in Munich, National Museum of Serbia in Belgrade, The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Frick Collection have splendid examples of all phases of his portrait style.
Van Dyck’s portraits of men, notably Charles I and himself, are painted with the short, pointed beards then in fashion; the result is that this particular kind of beard was much later (probably first in America in the 19th century) named a vandyke or Van Dyke beard (which is the anglicised version of his name).
In the self-portrait above (painted after 1633), Van Dyck paint himself wearing a rich red silken overshirt with a heavy gold chain draped and displayed prominently over his right shoulder. This is a prominent display of the painter’s status as a successful and lauded artist. He holds a sunflower (then recently introduced to Europe from the Americas), which is a symbol of adoration, as they turn their heads to the sun, which is the origin of their common name. Perhaps Van Dyck is making a rather unsubtle and none too modest statement about his noble status and great talent. An alternate meaning of the sunflower is “pure and lofty thoughts” so if we wish to be kinder to the artist, perhaps we should ascribe this menaing to it…