Saturday 27 July 2013


“They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it. Death cannot kill what never dies.” - William Penn
“L’ Orfeo” (SV 318), sometimes called “L’ Orfeo, favola in musica”, is a late Renaissance/early Baroque opera by Claudio Monteverdi, with a libretto by Alessandro Striggio. It is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus, and tells the story of his descent to Hades and his attempt to bring his dead bride Eurydice back to the living world. Written in 1607 for a court performance during the annual Carnival at Mantua, “L’Orfeo” is one of the earliest music dramas still regularly performed.
Claudio Monteverdi, born in Cremona in 1567, was a musical prodigy who studied under Marc’ Antonio Ingegneri, the maestro di cappella (head of music) at Cremona Cathedral. After training in singing, strings playing and composition, Monteverdi worked as a musician in Verona and Milan until, in 1590 or 1591, he secured a post as suonatore di vivuola (viola player) at Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga’s court at Mantua. Through ability and hard work Monteverdi rose to become Gonzaga’s maestro della musica in 1601.
Vincenzo Gonzaga’s particular passion for musical theatre and spectacle grew from his family connections with the court of Florence. Towards the end of the 16th century innovative Florentine musicians were developing the intermedio (a long-established form of musical interlude inserted between the acts of spoken dramas) into increasingly elaborate forms. Led by Jacopo Corsi, these successors to the renowned Camerata were responsible for the first work generally recognised as belonging to the genre of opera: “Dafne”, composed by Corsi and Jacopo Peri and performed in Florence in 1598.
"Dafne" combined elements of madrigal singing and monody with dancing and instrumental passages to form a dramatic whole. Only fragments of its music still exist, but several other Florentine works of the same period (“Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo” by Emilio de’ Cavalieri, Peri’s “Euridice” and Giulio Caccini’s identically titled “Euridice” survive complete). These last two works were the first of many musical representations of the Orpheus myth as recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and as such were direct precursors of Monteverdi’s “L'Orfeo”.
Here is the complete "L' Orfeo" of Monteverdi performed by La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Conducted by Jordi Savall, with stage settings by Gilbert Deflo and directed by Brian Large. The painting above is by Margherita Fascione.

Friday 26 July 2013


“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” - William Blake

It’s still Winter here in Melbourne despite the blooming of the bulb flowers and the riotous yellow of the flowering wattles. Soups are de rigueur, and here is an easy but delicious wintry offering.


1/4 cup butter
1 and 1/
2 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 leek (white portion only)
1 can of cream of celery soup
1 and 1/
2 cups of milk
2 cup fresh chopped parsley
Nutmeg, thyme, pepper to taste

1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

Sauté the chopped leek in the butter until tender.  Add the mushrooms and cook thoroughly until golden, stirring all the while.  Add the soup and heat through, stirring while adding the milk and parsley.  Simmer for about 15 minutes, adding a little more milk to maintain the volume constant.  Add the spices and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Mix in the grated cheese and serve immediately, garnished with a sprig of parsley.

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

Thursday 25 July 2013


“For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.” - William Penn

Today is the anniversary of the birthday of:
Henry Doulton, potter (1820);
Arthur Balfour, British PM (1848);
Eric Hoffer, author (1902);
Elias Canetti, Bulgarian author (1905);
Jack Gilford, actor (1907);
Paul J Weitz, US astronaut (1932);
Janet Margolin, actress (1943);
Louise Brown, world’s 1st test tube baby (1978).

Purple lilac, Syringa vulgaris, is today’s birthday flower. It means in the language of flowers: “Do you still love me?”.  It is symbolic of memory, first love and fastidiousness.

Today is said to be an auspicious day for commencing journeys. Both St Christopher and St James are traveller Saints and are invoked for special protection by travellers.  St Christopher (from the Greek Christos + Phoros means “Christ bearer”), according to legend was a giant who carried the infant Jesus on his shoulders across a flooded rushing river.  A St Christopher medal is carried by travellers and its adoration in the morning protects the faithful from harm during that day. In the Low Countries, St Christopher was identified with the Norse god of thunder, rain and farming, Thor. Well into the middle ages St Christopher was invoked (just as Thor was invoked) against thunderstorm-induced damage to their crops. The flowers dedicated to St Christopher are the vetch, meadowsweet, fleabane and royal fern.

Many people in Spain celebrate the life and deeds of James, son of Zebedee, on Saint James' Day (Santiago Apostol), which celebrated today, July 25. St James (Santiago) is the Patron Saint of Spain. James was one of Jesus’ first disciples. Some Christians believe that his remains are buried in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. St James travelled from Palestine to Spain where he preached the Gospel. His principal shrine in Compostella attracts many pilgrims to make the journey from all around Europe to adore his burial place.  He is the protector of pilgrims and they often wore the Compostella scallop shell as a badge as a symbol of their pilgrimage and the saint’s protection. Today is an auspicious day for picking chicory, as this plant (Cichorium intybus) is dedicated to St James.

This year of course, it is a sad day for Spain and Compostella as the train accident that killed about 80 people and injured many more is an occurrence that will mark the lives of hundreds of families indelibly. The driver of a Spanish high-speed train that derailed, killing at least 80 people, has been named as a suspect in one of Europe’s worst rail accidents. A court in Santiago de Compostela ordered police to question Francisco Jose Garzon, 52, who had admitted to driving at 190 kilometres per hour on a curve where the speed limit was 80km/h.

The train carrying 218 passengers from Madrid to Ferrol derailed and split apart late on Wednesday at Angrois, about 4km from the regional capital, Santiago de Compostela. Officials confirmed that the number of dead had risen from 78 to 80. Ninety-five injured people remained in hospital. Thirty-six of them, including four children, were in critical condition. The injured included several citizens of the US and the UK, the two countries’ embassies said.

Wednesday 24 July 2013


“The party is a true art form in Sydney and people practise it a great deal. You can really get quite lost in it.” - Baz Luhrmann
Sydney is known as the Harbour City and with good reason as it is built around a magnificent natural harbour. It is the largest, oldest and most cosmopolitan city in Australia with an enviable reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It is full of history, culture, art, fashion, cuisine, design and within the city or a short distance from it are areas of great natural beauty, The city is set next to kilometres of ocean coastline and sandy surf beaches. Recent immigration trends have led to the cities reputation as one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in Australia and the world. The city is also home to the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, two of the most iconic structures on the planet.
The Greater Sydney area is a vast sprawling metropolitan area with the suburbs spreading up to 100km from the city centre. The traveller visiting the suburbs will find less crowded beaches, parks, cheaper shopping, commercial centres, cultural festivals, and hidden gems. The Eastern Suburbs are between the City and the sea, and include the world-famous Bondi Beach and other city beaches, which are strong drawcards for visitors and residents in the city during summer.
The City Centre is the busy centre of government and finance, but also home to many famous attractions, fine restaurants, and shopping. Just to the west of Circular Quay, is the Rocks, the first colonial village of Sydney and the iconic Harbour Bridge, which are now a cosmopolitan and touristic area. Immediately to the west of the CBD is Darling Harbour, an extensive leisure and entertainment area. You can see restaurants, boardwalks, aquariums, wildlife, and museums by foot or from above by monorail. In the City South district is the Haymarket, Chinatown and Central Station, being an area home to markets, cafes, Chinese culture and cuisine, and some cheaper accommodation and shopping. In the City East region, are Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, Woolloomooloo and Moore Park. It’s here where you can sample the busy nightlife, trendy coffee shops, fashion and entertainment. The City West area is best seen in early morning, with a trip to the bustling fish markets, and then exploring the Powerhouse Museum, finding a maritime pub or vistiing The Star Casino.
Southern Sydney is the area south of the CBD and north of the Georges River, including the areas surrounding Sydney Airport and Brighton Le Sands on Botany Bay. In the Inner West are Sydney’s original suburbs, which are now bohemian and a hub of cheap eats, shopping and inner-city culture. Also contains Sydney Olympic Park, the home of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, parks, cycling, and events.
In the Lower North Shore, over the Harbour Bridge are leafy residential areas stretching northwards. The North Shore also has major commercial and retail areas at North Sydney and Chatswood, many smaller boutique shopping areas, and many parks and gardens, and Sydney’s famous Taronga Zoo. The Upper North Shore  includes leafy residential areas, national parks and waterways. The Northern Beaches stretch from Manly, North along the coast to Palm Beach. The North West contains the Northern Districts with includes Sydney’s Silicon Valley at Macquarie Park, the northern side of the western reaches of Sydney Harbour, and the largely residential area of the Hills District in the north-west of the city.
Parramatta is considered Sydney’s “second CBD”, with history, shopping, eating, all just 30 minutes from the city centre. Sutherland Shire is the district to the far south and east of the city centre including Cronulla and Captain Cook’s Landing Place. The South West contains the centres of Liverpool and Campbelltown, which are a large swathe of residential and commercial Sydney locales. In the Outer West is a vast area stretching from Parramatta out to the Blue Mountains. The Hawkesbury is a semi-rural area to the northwest of the city, centred around the Hawkesbury River. Its main towns are Richmond and Windsor.
If you are visiting Sydney and are serious about getting to know the greater metropolitan area, ensure you allow yourself plenty of time as there are numerous attractions, a huge area to explore and an immense variety of experiences ranging from the cultural to the consumeristic, options that take in natural beauty or the hustle and bustle of one of the great metropolitan centres of the world.

Monday 22 July 2013


“It’s my friend Jimmy Lynch. But there’s much more to this painting than Jimmy. When I was young, I used to ride horse and motorcycles at night along with the local farm boys - in the middle of summer in the middle of the night, all of us naked. I was intrigued by the bodies of those farm kids - their faces so tanned, their bodies, covered up by their work clothes, looking like they were covered with wax. Nude bodies streaking around at night always impressed me. When I was doing this painting, I’d take off my clothes and, together, Jimmy and I would drive around - at two in the morning on his big Harley-Davidson. It wasn’t cold, for it was late August. The mist at night was fascinating. It combines the mystery of my youth with the shock of today. I have to laugh, for this one turns most people off.” - Andrew Wyeth

Magpie Tales has chosen Andrew Wyeth’s 1990 painting “Man and the Moon” as a stimulus for engendering creativity amongst the community of Magpie Talers. Here is my contribution:

Mead Moon

And when the wild ride was over,
He stood beside his steel steed, naked as the truth,
And looked up to see the Mead Moon rise.

The moonbeams tangled as they touched his skin
Knitting a translucent chain mail shirt,
Cooling his white-hot flesh, but not dousing his ardour.

And when the others had all left, he alone stood there,
Brave enough to confront his solitude,
The headlight paling into insignificance as moon shone on.

She smiled at him, the moon, amused by his feebleness
Although his young body concealed taut muscle, tough sinew,
His hands strong enough to squeeze the life out of one.

And when his thoughts finally had run out of his head,
Swarming around him like a hive of buzzing bees, he looked up
And invoked ancient spells, extracted from his latent femininity.

The night was mystic and the moon a witch bewitching,
And the sky tore like stiff cardboard and stars fell, like silver rain,
And the moonlight screamed while streaming down,
And his heart beat like huge bass drum, insistent.

And when the spell was done, he looked at himself with new eyes,
Able to admit at last his innermost desires, they too naked;
And he mounted on his steed and chased after the reality
Of what was some moments before, only a dream.


“Let no one who loves be called altogether unhappy. Even love unreturned has its rainbow.” - J.M. Barrie

We watched an Indian film at the weekend, loosely based on O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi”. This short story tells of a young impoverished couple who love each other very much, and at Christmas give each other gifts that neither of them can afford, or in the end, neither needs anymore. It is nevertheless proof of the immense love they have for each other. The film was Rituparno Ghosh’s 2004 production, “Raincoat”, starring Ajay Devgn, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and  Annu Kapoor.

Mannu (Devgn) lives with his mother in a village outside Calcutta and has become unemployed as the jute factory he was working at closed down. As the money runs out, he decides to travel to the big city in order to borrow some money from his old (and now successful) school friends in order to start his own business. He stays with friends in Calcutta, and the wife (Mouli Ganguli) in particular, understands his difficult situation and tries to help him. Mannu has another reason for visiting Calcutta. It is to visit his former girlfriend, Neeru (Rai Bachchan), whom he was to marry, but who preferred to marry someone richer from Calcutta.

The two former sweethearts have not seen each other for years and during a rainy afternoon in Neeru’s old house, in a room filled with antique furniture and bric-a-brac they talk about their lives. Each of them tells a false story to save their pride. Neither of them is happy and they wish to conceal that from each other, and while the afternoon drags on, they remember the past with nostalgia and remorse. At one point, Neeru puts on Mannu’s raincoat, so she can go out and buy something for him to eat as she is fasting. She warns him not to open the windows nor to let anyone in. Nevertheless, when alone, Mannu opens the windows and a man approaches, requesting entry into the house to use the toilet. Mannu lets him in, and afterwards the two begin to converse. It during this conversation that Mannu learns the truth about Neeru, her husband, and their married life…

The film is a poignant romantic story, slow-paced and intimate. While the central theme is taken from O. Henry’s story, Rituparno Ghosh (who wrote the scenario as well as directing) very definitely makes it his own and contextualises it to highlight some of the problems of contemporary Indian reality. The rain that forces Mannu to borrow a raincoat from his friends and the same rain that causes Neeru to wear it when she exits the house, is catalytic in dissolving the web of lies that the two former sweethearts have constructed. The darkness of the old house, the crowded room and the candlelight (so important in highlighting Neeru’s state of affairs) make for a look that has the dull glow of silver covered by the patina of time. The exquisite music and poetry of the film add to the mystery and pathos of the situation.

The dialogues in the script are insightful and packed with numerous details that hint at the reality behind the sham, the essence beneath the façades that each of the characters builds. There is much talk in this movie and not much action, however, the dialogues are engaging and poetic, revealing and filled with a rawness of emotion that immerses us in the predicament of the two leads. At one point, the narrator reciting some poetry epitomises the desperate situation that the two sweethearts currently find themselves in.

All of the actors play with conviction and make the most of their lines. Both Ajay Devgn and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan immerse themselves in the pent-up emotions of the characters they play and although there are many raw, unspoken feelings, we are aware of the characters’ inner turmoil and infinite regrets they have. They play with great restraint and elegance, making the most of the seemingly casual lines they often deliver, their faces showing us the reality neither of them will admit to.

This film is mellow and bitter-sweet, well acted and directed, with wonderful dialogue, costumes and sets. Its music complements the action well and the whole production is amongst the best I have seen in Indian films. It is definitely worth seeing, however, don’t expect action and thrills, but rather a piece from the heart for the heart. The star-crossed lovers and their sacrifices are touching and poignant, the film is intelligent and visually satisfying, as well as beautiful on many levels. Well worth seeing…

On 30 May 2013, the director Rituparno Ghosh suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away in Calcutta at the age of 49. He was suffering from pancreatitis.  Rituparno Ghosh was first acknowledged in the 90’s when he made films in Bengali with strong and sensitive subjects. He went on to direct some Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in major productions. Ghosh won many national awards and his film “Chokher Bali” starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Raima Sen was nominated for Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival in 2003.

Sunday 21 July 2013


“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” - Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas was born in Paris France on July 19, 1834 to Célestine Musson De Gas and Augustin De Gas who was a wealthy banker. He was the oldest of five children. Degas began to paint as a young boy. By the time he turned eighteen, he had turned his bedroom into an artist's studio. He registered to be an art copyist at the Louvre museum in Paris, the done thing for young artists being to copy paintings there, thus developing their skill. He was one of the few artists of the time who had plenty of money and could devote himself wholeheartedly to his art.
In 1855, Degas met Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres whose art he respected very much. He never forgot his advice: “Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory, and you will become a good artist”. Later that same year Degas enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and studied drawing with Louis Lamothe who was a former student of Ingres. After having finished his studies he went to Italy where he stayed for five years, studying and copying meticulously the old masters of the Renaissance. His decision to study the old masters was typical for his personality - that of a perfectionist.
Back in France in 1859, Degas exhibited his works for the first five years at the official Salon in Paris. Later he joined the Impressionists and showed his artwork in their exhibitions from 1874 to 1886. The favourite subjects of Degas were scenes from the world of entertainment and later from everyday life. Ballet dancers, little ballerinas, women in intimate situations and horse races are the subjects that are immediately associated with him. Degas in contrast to his impressionist colleagues, preferred to work in a studio. He made sketches of his subjects on the spot and created the painting later in his studio. Toulouse-Lautrec, who was a great admirer of Edgar Degas, had the same work style.
Degas' “Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer”, which he displayed at the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881 is one of his most famous works. It was also one of his most controversial. Some art critics thought it was of “appalling ugliness” while others called it a “blossoming”. He wanted to show his dancer at rest, in an unposed way. The young dance student that posed for Degas was Marie van Goethem. Though she never became a famous dancer, she always will be remembered from Degas' work.
Japanese prints were very popular at the end of the nineteenth century and had a great influence on the French impressionists. Edgar Degas was one of the admirers of Japanese prints. Their influence can be seen in some of his daring compositions using large areas of flat colour. Degas was an artist torn between traditional art and the modern impressionist movement. He admired the French artist Ingres and the great Italian painters. His own compositions of images are harmonious and follow the traditions of the old masters. And what often looks like the spontaneous sketch of a fleeting moment, was in reality the elaborate result of a perfectionist at work. From the impressionists he had learned the use of creating effects with light, a daring use of colour and new ways to show the human figure in motion.
Degas used a wide variety of mediums and techniques. When he grew older, he turned to sculpturing, pastels and printmaking. Striving for perfection, he repeated the same subjects again and again. When he concentrated on printmaking in the nineties, his preferred subjects were female nudes, either nude women at their toilette or nude dancers. Edgar Degas had a collection of decorative utensils like a bathtub, a sofa and a curtained bed in a corner of his studio, which he used to assist his models posing for him.
During the war with Germany in 1870-1871 Degas served in the French army. Since his time in the army, he developed problems with his eyes, although the exact medical cause is not precisely known. In his late years the artist's eyesight deteriorated more and more. He was unable to create paintings and focussed his artistic creativity on sculptures. Degas formed his sculptures using wax or clay. Favourite subjects were ballerinas and race horses. When Degas had died, he left more than 2000 oil paintings and pastel drawingss and 150 sculptures. The sculpture models were all cast after his death. Even before his death, Degas was considered an important artist. His colourful works of everyday life crossed over the accepted ways of creating art, his work collectively being considered a corpus of great beauty. Degas himself is now recognised as one of the greatest Impressionists.
The work reproduced above is The Entrance of the Masked Dancers” of 1884 - pastel on paper (49x65 cm, at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts USA).