Saturday 4 May 2013


“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” - Psalm 118:24

Easter Saturday and the day was devoted to going to church. We visited two Orthodox churches, one Russian and one Greek. Orthodox Easter is full of traditions and the liturgies of the Holy Week are quite moving.

Here is the Resurrection troparion (hymn), “Christos Anesti” – Christ is Risen. The troparion is first sung during the Paschal Vigil at the end of the procession around the church, which takes place at the beginning of Matins. When all are gathered before the church’s closed front door, the clergy and faithful take turns chanting the troparion.

The troparion in the original Greek:
Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν,
θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας,
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι,
ζωὴν χαρισάμενος!

Christós anésti ek nekrón,
thanáto thánaton patísas,
ké tís en tís mnímasi,
zoín charisámenos!

A typical translation in English runs:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!
Happy Easter! Καλή Ανάσταση!

Friday 3 May 2013


“My mom used to say that Greek Easter was later because then you get stuff cheaper.” - Amy Sedaris

Great Thursday of the Holy Week in the Orthodox Church calendar is devoted to kitchen duties in the home, in order to prepare for Easter. Eggs are dyed blood red to signify Christ’s resurrection, sweet Easter bread is baked and Easter cookies are prepared for Easter Sunday. Both bread and cookies are full of eggs, butter and milk, all of which were forbidden foods during the period of fasting of the Great Lent. Here is a recipe for Greek Easter Cookies:

            • 2 eggs (+1 for glazing)
            • 550 g of self raising flour
            • 125 g unsalted butter
            • 1/2 cup of milk
            • 1 cup sugar
            • 1/2 tsp baking powder
            • 1/2 tsp vanillin sugar

Cream the butter and the sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the whole two eggs, beating continuously. Add the milk a little at a time, whilst continuing to beat the mixture. Mix the baking powder and vanillin sugar with the flour and add to the mixture while stirring. Knead into a soft dough. Roll into long cylinders slightly thicker than a pencil (they rise a lot). Shape into small plaits and put into a greased baking tray. Brush with beaten egg and bake in a pre-heated oven at 175˚C until golden brown.

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

Thursday 2 May 2013


“Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.” - Khalil Gibran

In 2013, Greek Orthodox Easter falls on Sunday May 5th. This is much later than both Western Easter (in 2013 31st March, in case you’ve forgotten) and the Jewish feast of Passover (the latter is significant as according to the scriptures, the Passion of Christ occurred in connection with Passover). Colleagues always ask me why is Greek Easter on a different date? Well, not always! Some years it is actually on the same date (e.g. 2014, 2017). How is Greek Easter calculated? Well, it’s complicated!

Calculation of Orthodox Easter is governed by these three main conditions:
1. It must be based on the Julian (as in Julius Caesar) calendar, not the Gregorian (as in Pope Gregory) calendar
2. It must be after the Jewish holiday of Passover
3. It must be on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which for this purpose is fixed as March 21st.

The basic reason for the difference between the two Easters is that the Western Easter uses a different set of calculations based on the current Gregorian calendar created by Pope Gregory instead of the ancient Julian one, first used under the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. Under the Gregorian system, Easter can actually be in March, something that will not happen with the Julian-based method of calculating Easter.

For a full (and fascinating!) explanation on the intricacies of calculating Easter dates, please see Claus Tøndering’s Calendar FAQ excellent site, which one can find other fascinating facts about the various world calendars.

Both Orthodox and Western Christian churches celebrate Easter for the same reason, of course: The resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter Sunday or Resurrection Day is typically the most well-attended Sunday service of the year for all Christian churches. Christians believe, according to Scripture, that Jesus came back to life, or was raised from the dead, three days after his death on the cross. As part of the Easter season, the death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion is commemorated on Good Friday, always the Friday just before Easter. Through his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus paid the penalty for sin, thus purchasing for all who believe in him, eternal life in Christ Jesus.

Because of Easter’s pagan origins (named after the pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring and fertility, Eostre, or Ôstara), and also because of the commercialisation of Easter, many Christian churches choose to refer to the holiday as Resurrection Day. In Greek, Easter is termed “Pascha”, derived from the Jewish “Pesach” – Passover.

Tuesday 30 April 2013


“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” - Dr. Seuss
Magpie Tales has provided an illustration British illustrator Helen Ward as a visual prompt for today’s literary offerings. Helen Ward has illustrated many children’s books, and an excellent interview can be found here, which describes her life and work. With apologies to Ms Ward for my alteration of her illustration, here is my offering:

An Academic Discourse

Two rabbits, some hares,
Were splitting their hairs:
Their intent to argue creation,
Rain, and such condensation.

A rat, a gnat and two moles
Were digging four holes,
Deep in which to inter
Bread, butter, liqueur.

A frog from a bog and a hen
Constructed a large pen
To herd mewling cats,
All wearing elegant hats.

A badger, a toad, carrying a load
Conversed in Morse code,
While giving great pain
To everyone’s brain.

A stoat and a goat, quick to emote,
Cried long in their boat,
Their tears enough, no surprise,

To make it capsize.

And there were you, I,
And a blue-bottle fly,
Singing in tune under full moon,
Sometime in late June,

While pigs flew overhead
And our theories misled.

Monday 29 April 2013


“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” - Albert Einstein

I must confess that like any one of us I have my faults. One always tries of course to better oneself and expunge parts of one’s character or disposition that are unwholesome or irritating or annoying, even (or especially!) to oneself. However, there is a batch of niggling traits, ideas, misconceptions, petty prejudices and irrational little bêtes noires that seem to stick and pepper one’s life with their absurdity. One example of such a dislike of mine is the antipathy I have towards Facebook. Even though I consider myself technology savvy (even geeky to a certain extent), even though I blog, tweet, pin things on Pinterest, subscribe to LinkedIn, etc, etc, I took an instant dislike to Facebook as soon as it appeared on the horizon and have never fallen to the temptation to even try it out. As I said, it may be quite irrational, but there it is, it’s just me…

Now how does this relate to Movie Monday? I was thinking about films I had seen to review for today and then the thought struck me, what about the movies I haven’t seen – or worse still, the films I refuse to see… “The Social Network” (2010) is an obvious example. Friends who have seen it and recommend it, are mystified when I inform them that I won’t watch it. I have absolutely no interest at all in this film or its bunch of geeky heroes, that are one of the real life success stories of the 21st century “.com bubble”. My antipathy to Facebook has been transferred to the film – sight unseen.

Another film I would not see is “Sex and the City” (2008).  Once again, I am showing my prejudices here, as I have not watched a single episode of the TV series. Just reading the description of the series and plot outline of the first episode was enough to put me off. Watching the film trailer out the cherry on top of the cake and confirmed my dislike. Something about the concept, something about the leading actresses, something about the setting and the whole conceit of the thing was quite distasteful for me.

Another set of movies that are do not appeal is the recent clutch of reprocessed and transmogrified fairy tales of the ilk of “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” (2013) and “Jack the Giant Slayer” (2013). From the publicity material that is being splattered across the internet, I have been completely put off the Hollywoodised CGI-rich, updated and modernised tales that to me reek of the ludicrous – a modern version of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (1964). Not that fairy tales are not fantasy, but there is good fantasy and bad fantasy…

Then there is another group of “contemporary” comedies which seem to rely on the scatological, grubby, slimy, profane humour, and in which is a cast of unlikeable antiheroes that give me the willies even when I see the movie poster or DVD cover. “Get Him to the Greek” (2010) is an example, as is “Wayne’s World” (1992) or “The Campaign” (2012).

As I am not a spectator sportsman nor a couch potato sports fan, so movies about sports, sportspeople, teams and struggles of sportspeople to get to the top of the pecking order in sportsdom leave me quite cold. “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) seems quite distasteful to me from the plot description and the trailer, although some friends have recommended it highly to me. “Coach Carter” (2005), “Resurrecting the Champ" (2007) and a multitude of movies about baseball and football (e.g. “Remember the Titans" [2000]), also leave extremely cold.

There are many others, of course, but that’s enough of my ranting for today. If you think you have a good reason that will make me shed my prejudices about any one of these films, please tell me. I’m always willing to reform, if I am shown the error of my ways…

Sunday 28 April 2013


“Any landscape is a condition of the spirit.” – Henri-Frédéric Amiel
The Australian landscape painter Sir Arthur Ernest Streeton (1867-1943) was a leading member of the Heidelberg school, the Australian version of impressionism, which became widespread in Australia in the last quarter of the 19th century. The artist, nicknamed, “Smike” was born at Mt. Duneed, near Geelong in Victoria on 8th April 1867. He showed a leaning towards art and an early aptitude for sketching. Moving to Melbourne, he became a lithographer’s apprentice, and while still in his teens he began studying at the National Gallery Art School.
When the painter Tom Roberts returned to Melbourne in 1885, the impressionist principles he brought back inspired a group of young artists. These artists became the Heidelberg School (named from the locale of the group’s principal painting camp, overlooking the river Yarra, near Melbourne – Heidelberg is now a Melbourne suburb). Streeton joined the group in 1886 and was deeply influenced by impressionism. But he saw the need to stress high-key tonal values in order to translate into paint “the blue of the Australian skies and the clear transparency of Australian distances”. His ideas took him on a brand new course and his canvasses inspired many an artist that worked in the Heidelberg School.
After the sale of one of his landscapes in 1888, Streeton decided to abandon lithography. His artistic skill matured quickly, and “Golden Summer” and “Still Glides the Stream” (both painted in 1888) are among his most notable paintings. In 1889 he and the Heidelberg group exhibited “9 × 5 Impressions” (paintings on the 9”x5” cigar-box lids) and the proceeds of the sales enabled Streeton to pursue his career. Much of his finest work was done in the next few years, such as the “Purple Noon’s Transparent Might” (1896) – an iconic Australian art work. This painting clearly shows the harsh light and brilliant colours that Streeton had to adapt the impressionist technique to in Australia.
In 1898 Streeton went to London. On his return to Melbourne in 1907 he had a successful exhibition with good sales. His “Australia Felix” dates from this year. A one-man show in Sydney and a second in Melbourne followed. Back in London, he had little difficulty in securing commissions. Nevertheless, the Paris Salon awarded him its Gold Medal in 1909.
Streeton joined the British army as a private in 1914. After being invalided out, early in 1918 he was commissioned by the Australian government as a war artist. After spending 2 years in Melbourne and then revisiting London, Streeton decided in 1923 to return permanently to Victoria. From his home in the picturesque hill country east of Melbourne, he continued to paint in his established manner. He was knighted in 1937 and died at Olinda, Victoria, on September 1, 1943.
Streeton was a pioneer of the heroic impressionism, the style which dominated the nation’s art for half a century, beginning in the 1880s. In settings of well-clothed rolling countryside, his paintings invested the continent’s fertile pastoral lands with a truly Arcadian grandeur. His contemporaries saw him as a true product of “the sun and soil of his land”, and he was acknowledged to be “a natural technician, with virtuosity and technical perfection including correct drawing and balanced design”.
The painting above from 1888 is “Early Summer - Gorse in Bloom” painted when the artist was 21 years old. It is presently exhibited in the Art Gallery of South Australia, and is a work in oils on canvas, 56.2 cm by 100.6 cm. It is typical of Streeton’s Australian impressionist landscapes, with the brilliance of the blue sky complemented by the yellow blooms of the gorse bushes. Common gorse is the most widely familiar species (Ulex europaeus) of this genus, and is the only species native to much of Western Europe. In many areas of North America (notably California and Oregon), southern South America, Australia, New Zealand and Hawai’i, the Common Gorse, introduced as an ornamental plant or hedge, has become naturalised and is a weed and invasive species due to its aggressive seed dispersal; it has proved very difficult to eradicate and detrimental in native habitats.
That gorse is a central part of this canvas is perhaps ironic, given Streeton’s commitment to creating an “Australian” art, seeing how the species is an introduced invasive plant. Perhaps, this is symbolic of the transplantation of French impressionism on Australian soil and its immense influence for many decades in the Australian art scene…