Saturday 1 June 2013


“We ought to fly away from earth to heaven as quickly as we can; and to fly away is to become like God, as far as this is possible; and to become like him is to become holy, just, and wise.” - Plato
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) was a French composer of the Baroque era. Exceptionally prolific and versatile, he produced compositions of the highest quality in several genres. His mastery in writing sacred vocal music, above all, was recognised and hailed by his contemporaries. He is unrelated to Gustave Charpentier, the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century French opera composer.
Here is his “Leçons de Ténèbres-Office du Vendredi Saint: Première Leçon.” It is music of exquisite beauty and showcases his mastery of polyphonic writing. Singers: Agnès Mellon: Dessus; Gérard Lesne: Haute-contre; Ian Honeyman: Taille; Jacques Bona: Basse-taille with Il Seminario Musicale-Gérard Lesne.

Friday 31 May 2013


“I think careful cooking is love, don't you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a valentine as you can give.” - Julia Child

We have some very wet days ahead in Melbourne as Winter is well on its way. Something sweet and light for Food Friday, in order to counteract the Winter blues!

New York Style Cheesecake

250 g plain sweet biscuits
125 g unsalted butter, melted
750 g cream cheese, at room temperature
250 g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
2 tbs plain flour
4 eggs
300 mL thickened cream
Punnet of strawberries

Preheat oven to 160°C. Line the base of a 23 cm spring-form baking pan with non-stick baking paper.
Place the biscuits in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely crushed. Add the butter and process until well combined. Transfer to the lined pan. Spread and press the biscuit mixture firmly over the base and side of pan, leaving 1cm at the top of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill.
Meanwhile, use an electric beater to beat the softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon rind in a large bowl until just combined. Beat in the flour. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition until combined. Stir in the cream until well combined.
Pour the cream cheese mixture into the base. Place the pan on a baking tray and bake for about 90 minutes or until just set in the centre. Turn oven off. Leave the cheesecake in oven, with the door ajar, for 2 hours or until cooled completely (this will prevent cheesecake from cracking). Place in the fridge for 4 hours to chill. Spread a thin layer of whipped cream on top of the cheesecake and top with the hulled, halved strawberries. Cut into wedges to serve.

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

Thursday 30 May 2013


“We owe respect to the living; to the dead we owe only truth.” – Voltaire

Today is the anniversary of the birthday of:
Peter the Great, Russian czar (1672);
Roger Newdigate, of poetry prize fame (1719);
Mikhail Alexandrovitch Bakunin, Russian anarchist (1814);
Peter Carl (Karl Gustavovitch) Fabergé, goldsmith (1846);
Cornelia Otis Skinner, actress/author (1901);
Countee Cullen, writer (1903);
(Leslie) Smokey Dawson, motorcyclist (1906);
Mel Blanc, famous cartoon character voices (1908);
Benny (David) Goodman, musician (1909);
Christine Jorgensen, pioneer transsexual (1926);
K.C. “Pro” Hart, Australian artist (1928);
Keir Dullea, actor (1936);
Wynonna Judd, singer (1964).

The clover flower, Trifolium repens, is today’s birthday flower.  The ancients personified hope as a small child, standing on tiptoe holding clover. The druids considered clover a sacred plant and a four-leaf clover has always been equated with good luck:
           One leaf for fame,
            And one for wealth,
            One for a faithful lover,
            And one to bring you glorious health
            Are in a four-leaf clover.

However, a five-leaf clover was a bad omen and considered as unlucky as the four-leafed variety was lucky.  Clover alone or together with ash was used in many love oracles:
           A clover, a clover of two,
            Put it in your right shoe, 

            The first young one that you meet,
            In field, street or lane,
            You shall have that one
            Or one of the same name.

The clover symbolises the sentiment “think of me” and a four-leaf clover means “good luck”. In the language of flowers, a four-leaf clover means “be mine”. Astrologically, clover is a plant belonging to Mercury.

Jean D’ Arc, the maid of Orléans, is burnt at the stake on this day in 1431 at age 19. In 1593, Christopher Marlowe, English playwright was killed in a tavern brawl.  In 1640, Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish painter died. Alexander Pope, the English poet died in 1744, while Voltaire died on this day in 1778. In 1960, another literary figure expired: Boris Pasternak, Russian poet and author of Dr Zhivago.

Wednesday 29 May 2013


“Civilisation has ever accompanied emigration and conquest - the conflict of opinion, of religion, or of race.” - Alfred Russel Wallace
On this day, in 1453 AD, the Fall of Constantinople (the capital of the Byzantine Empire) occurred, after a siege by the Ottoman Empire, led by 21-year-old Ottoman Turk Sultan Mehmed II. The defending army inside the city was commanded by Byzantine Greek Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos. The siege lasted from Friday, 6 April 1453 until Tuesday, 29 May 1453 (according to the Julian calendar), when the city was conquered by the Ottomans.
The capture of Constantinople marked the end of the last remnant of the Roman Empire, an imperial state whose reign and influence had lasted for nearly 1,500 years. It was a massive blow to Christendom, and the Moslem Ottomans thereafter were free to advance into Europe without an adversary to their rear. After the conquest, Mehmed made Constantinople the Ottoman Empire’s new capital. Several Greek and non-Greek intellectuals fled the city before and after the siege, migrating particularly to Italy. It is argued that they helped fuel the Renaissance. Some mark the end of the Middle Ages by the fall of the city and empire.
Constantinople was one of the most heavily fortified cities in the world, and was defended by, at most, 10,000 men. The Ottomans had between 100,000 and 150,000 men on their side. During the 50-day siege, the Turks employed various important war tactics in taking over the city. They used huge cannon to destroy the walls and warships were used to counter the city’s sea defences. They also used an extensive infantry to engulf the city.
For seven weeks Mehmed’s massive cannon fired on the walls, but it was unable to sufficiently penetrate them, and due to its extremely slow rate of reloading the Greeks were able to repair most of the damage after each shot. Meanwhile, Mehmed’s fleet could not enter the Golden Horn due to the large chain the Byzantines had laid across the entrance. To circumvent this he built a road of greased logs across Galata on the north side of the Golden Horn, and rolled his ships across. This succeeded in stopping the flow of supplies from Genoan ships and demoralising the Byzantine defenders, but did not help in breaching the land walls.
Mehmed offered to raise the siege for an astronomical tribute that he knew the city would be unable to pay. When this was declined, Mehmed planned to overpower the walls by sheer force, knowing that the Byzantine defenders would be worn out before he ran out of troops. On the morning of May 29 the attack began. The first wave of attackers, the Bashi-bazouks, were poorly trained and equipped, and were meant only to kill as many Byzantine defenders as possible. The second assault focused on a section of the Blachernae walls in the northwest part of the city, which had been partially damaged by the cannon; the attackers managed to break through, but were just as quickly pushed back out by the Byzantines.
The Byzantines also managed to hold off an attack by the more disciplined and highly skilled Ottoman Janissary army, but the Genoan general in charge of the defense, Giovanni Giustiniani, was wounded in the attack, and the Greek troops began to panic. Unfortunately, the Kerkoporta gate in the Blachernae section of the walls had been left unlocked (some say this was the act of some traitor), and the Ottomans soon discovered this. The Ottomans rushed in, and Constantine XI himself led the last defence of the city, dying in the ensuing battle in the streets. The city was looted for three days, in accordance with the traditional punishment allotted on a city that had resisted a siege, but Mehmed restrained his troops out of respect for the ancient but now conquered empire. Mehmed was subsequently nicknamed “The Conqueror”.
Mehmed renamed the city Istanbul. To further glorify the city he built mosques, palaces, monuments and a system of aqueducts. The city was now officially claimed for Islam. New rules and regulations came about for the conquered. The Greeks were to form communities within the empire called milets. The Christians were still allowed to practice their religion, but had to dress in distinguishing attire and could not bear arms. Those who stayed were mostly confined to the Phanari and Galata districts. The Phanariotes, as the Greeks were called, often provided capable advisors to the Ottoman sultans, and were just as often seen as traitors by other Greeks. Even to this day, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople in Phanari, Istanbul, is considered to be the chief seat of the Greek Church.

Tuesday 28 May 2013


“Remembrance and reflection how allied. What thin partitions divides sense from thought.” - Alexander Pope

An image (“Ponytail” by Last Exit) has been provided by Magpie Tales to function as the creative spark for all who will venture to take up her challenge. Here is my offering, and pardon my creative intervention with the original image – poetic licence and all that!


Your remembrance
Knocked on my door last night,
And in my wakefulness,
Despite the rivers of wine consumed,
I saw your smiling eyes again,
Sparkling, through the smoke
Of my countless cigarettes.

Smoke, though insubstantial
Has an effect –narcotic, irritant, choking;

Alcohol, subtle though it may be,
Has an effect –narcotic, irritant, choking;
And your memory, disembodied as it is,
Has an effect - narcotic, irritant, choking.

Monday 27 May 2013


“Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.” - Confucius

Since ancient times, fairy tales have served a very useful social, developmental and psychological purpose. Every nation in the world has a rich treasury of fairy tales, myths, legends and folk tales that have been handed down since time immemorial from generation to generation as a precious legacy. Fairy tales operate on multiple levels, but their primary purpose is to educate children. Fairy tales acknowledge a child’s daily inner fears, and vocalise many of these in settings that are both familiar and safely distant. By appealing to children’s curiosity, apprehensions and wonderment, they build courage and confidence, so that children are able to cope with the world’s challenges. By offering hope, the fairy tale presents a means by which children can understand the world and themselves.

The film we watched at the weekend is another example of a fairy tale that was reworked in order to become an action fantasy movie, suitable for general consumption – more so as adult fare than children’s. The movie was the Rupert Sanders 2012 “Snow White and the Huntsman" starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron. The screenplay by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini uses the bare bones of the Brothers Grimm tale published in 1812 in the first edition of their collection “Grimms’ Fairy Tales”. The tale has become a fantasy adventure, the role of the conventional rescuer/prince having been supplanted by the unconventional huntsman who becomes a trainer/peer to Snow White, eventually replacing the Prince as Snow White’s preferred partner.

The plot is very loosely based on the Grimms’ fairy tale. Snow White is the daughter of a kind and good king, who is a widower. The king falls under the spell of an evil woman who becomes his Queen and kills him immediately after they are married. The evil queen imprisons Snow White and is content to reign in the kingdom, although it becomes blighted and cursed. She consults her magic mirror regularly to reassure herself that she is beautiful. Her beauty however, is dependent on her robbing the youth and beauty of young maidens, which her evil brother supplies. Snow White escapes as the Magic Mirror declares her to be the way in which the evil Queen will gain permanent beauty and immortality. The Queen sends her men, led by a local huntsman, to bring her back from the dark, enchanted forest. When Snow White is captured, the huntsman finds he has been cheated by the Queen and turns against the Queen’s men, saving Snow White in the process. Meanwhile, Snow White’s childhood friend, Prince William, learns that she is alive and sets off to save her. Revolutionary dwarves become involved and Snow White becomes a warrior princess set upon reclaiming her rightful throne and deposing the evil Queen.

An immediate and obvious comparison to the movie “Mirror Mirror” is in order. While “Mirror Mirror” is another retake on Snow White fairy tale, it is light hearted and almost verging on pantomime. The theme of the feisty young woman taking charge of her fate is common to both of these versions of the fairy tale and thus more empowering for girls who may watch these movies. Another comparison would be the classic animated version by Walt Disney, which although quite faithful to the fairy tale is given the Disney make-over in terms of the musical elements and the animated production. The roles are traditional and 1937 certainly subscribed to the model of the meek and powerless princess needing the dashing young prince to rescue her so that they could live happily ever after. The 21st century has given us other social models to satisfy and new gender roles to apply to traditional tales. The two recent movies of the Snow White fairy tale conform to these new desiderata.

Fairy tales will continue to be told to children because to dispense with them, will mean that we rob children of their childhood. Child hood is a transition period in which knowledge, experience and growing responsibility are gained. Fairy tales ensure that instinctive hopes and fears of childhood are disciplined and made to work in a positive manner. Fairy tales amuse, but they also have a moral significance. Children react to the tale, whether it’s distress or humour, and in this way the virtual experience gained help build the character traits of the nascent adult and a direction set to the development of the future personality.

In terms of fairy tales being reprocessed for adult consumption (which seems to be a trend nowadays), it may be a product of our leisure-oriented and hedonistic society. Fairy tales for adults are the intellectual sugar-hit that we are only too ready to consume and derive pleasure from. There is the nostalgia value also, and the way in which we hanker for those pleasant, carefree days of childhood, when the world was simpler and choices coloured a simple black or white. We were in two minds about “Snow White and the Huntsman”. On the one hand it was pure entertainment and a well-produced movie (more or less competently acted for the most part), but why call it “Snow White” – I am sure it would have worked equally well if it were a completely new tale, not relying on the age-old fairy story…

Sunday 26 May 2013


“How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” - William Shakespeare

Bernaert (or Bernard, or Barend) van Orley (b. about 1488 Brussels, Belgium, d. 1541 Brussels, Belgium), was Flemish painter of religious subjects and portraits and designer of tapestries and stained glass. His contemporaries (rather flatteringly) called him the “Raphael of the Netherlands” for his interpretation of Italian Renaissance ideas and forms. His first encounter with such compositions occurred when Raphael’s Vatican tapestry cartoons were woven in Brussels beginning in 1516.

Van Orley was the leading artist of his day in Brussels, becoming court painter to Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands, in 1518, and to her successor Mary of Hungary in 1532. His work is characterised by the use of individually processed Italianate motifs. There is no evidence that he visited Italy, and his knowledge presumably came from engravings and from Raphael’s tapestry cartoons, which were in Brussels c.1516-19.

Bernaert van Orley was probably taught by his father. By 1517 he was a leading designer for Brussels’s thriving tapestry industry, master in the painter’s guild, and head of a large workshop. Van Orley created a theatre-like feeling in his paintings by assimilating Italianate architectural and figural motifs. Around 1525 he shifted his attention to towards tapestry and stained-glass design, including windows for the Brussels Cathedral. His presentation drawings for tapestries, by far the most numerous surviving examples of his draughtsmanship, depict the lineage of the House of Nassau, the Netherlands’ royal family.

In 1520, when Dürer visited the Netherlands, Orley gave a banquet for him, and Dürer drew his portrait. His best-known work is the turbulent Job altarpiece (Musées Royaux, Brussels, 1521). As a portraitist his style was subdued and more thoughtful. None of van Orley’s paintings bears a date later than 1530; after that time he was chiefly occupied with the decorative arts.

The “Calvary Altarpiece Triptych” illustrated above is an interesting example of van Orley’s personal style. The setting is conventional, but as well as showing some Italian influence, it draws heavily on the Flemish tradition. The Altarpiece is in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk in Bruges, and dates from 1534. It was commissioned by Margaret of Austria originally for the funeral monument in the church of Brou in Bourg-en-Bresse in Burgundy. The side panels were finished much later by Marcus Gerards the Elder and brought to Bruges by Margaret of Parma, regent of the Netherlands under king Philip II of Spain. The central part represent the Calvary, the left panel the Crown of Thorns, the Scourging of Christ and Christ carrying the Cross. The right panel depicts the Pietà and the Limbo of the Just.

Among his most important paintings is the “Triptych of Virtue of Patience” (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels), is also called the Job altarpiece, and was again commissioned in 1521 by Margaret of Austria to illustrate a poem she wrote about the virtue of patience. The interior panels represent the trials of Job, while the outer panels recount the parable of Lazarus and Dives (instead of the usual grisaille paintings of saints). This triptych is completely by the hand of Bernard van Orley. He must have been especially proud of his work as he signed it twice and added his coat of arms and twice his monogram BVO and the motto 'ELX SYNE TYT' (each his own time). This relates to his artistic opinion that an artist should be a man fully integrated in his time.