Saturday 3 August 2013


“Music causes us to think eloquently.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

For music Saturday, a little of the Music of Chabrier. Alexis Emmanuel Chabrier (January 18, 1841 – September 13, 1894) was a French Romantic composer and pianist. Although known primarily for two of his orchestral works, “España” and “Joyeuse marche”, he left an important corpus of operas (including the increasingly popular “L’ étoile”), songs, and piano music as well.

His works, though small in number, are of very high quality, and he was admired by composers as diverse as Debussy, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Satie, Schmitt, Stravinsky, and the group of composers known as Les six. Stravinsky alluded to “España” in his ballet “Petrushka”, Ravel wrote that the opening bars of “Le Roi Malgré Lui” changed the course of harmony in France, Poulenc wrote a biography of the composer, and Richard Strauss conducted the first staged performance of Chabrier’s incomplete opera “Briséïs”.

Chabrier was also associated with some of the leading writers and painters of his time. He was especially friendly with the painters Claude Monet and Édouard Manet, and collected Impressionist paintings before Impressionism became fashionable. A number of such paintings from his personal collection are now housed in some of the world’s leading art museums.

Here are the four orchestrated pieces of his “Suite Pastoral: I: Idylle; II: Danse villageoise and in the second video, III: Sous bois; IV: Scherzo-valse. These are pieces from the piano suite “Dix Pièces Pittoresques”, the Ulster Orchestra is conducted by Yan Pascal Tortelier.

Friday 2 August 2013


“I did not become a vegetarian for my health, I did it for the health of the chickens.” - Isaac Bashevis Singer
Tzatziki is the Greek variation of a very trendy dip that has many versions in the neighbouring European and Middle Eastern countries. Good quality yoghurt is available throughout Greece and that yields a dip with a rich creamy texture. A true tzatziki in Greece is made of sheep or goat’s milk yoghurt as that is most readily available. In many places around the world, Greek style yoghurt is now available. Tzatziki can be served with a variety of foods as an accompaniment or it can be served with pita bread and vegetable sticks as a dip.
Tzatziki (Jajiki) Dip

2 cups Greek-style, natural yogurt
1 large English cucumber, peeled and grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Line a colander or a sieve with cheesecloth and place over a bowl.
Add yoghurt and allow to drain, covered in refrigerator for about 2 hours. Discard liquid.
Place grated cucumber in a sieve over a bowl and let drain as well, for about 1 hour and reserve. Discard liquid.
In a small bowl, combine yogurt and cucumber with remaining ingredients and stir well with wooden spoon.
Season to taste and refrigerate for about 2 hours before serving.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 1 August 2013


“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” – The New Testament, Matthew 4:4

August 1 is Lammastide (Lughnasad) and a Neopagan Sabbat. Lammastide, is named after Lammas, a contraction derived from “loaf mass”. It was on this day that the harvest beginning was celebrated.  The first cut sheaf of corn or the loaf of bread made from it, was offered in church to be blessed and ensure an abundant and untroubled harvest season. The Lammas Lands were the fields used for growing early crops or hay and these were opened on this day to allow common grazing until the next Spring.
           Till Lammas daie, called August’s wheel,
           When the long corn stinks of camamile.
In the Scottish Highlands, Lammastide became fused with Lugnasadh the festival of the Celtic god Lugh Lightborn.  This was celebrated with gatherings, bonfires, dancing, singing and sports.  It was one of the Quarter Days, when spirits walked the earth.  On this day, ladybird beetles caught should be released with the words:
           Lady, Lady Lanners
           Tak your cloak about your heid
           And fly away to Flanders.
           Fly ower moor and fly ower mead
           Fly ower living, fly ower dead;
           Fly ye East or fly ye west
           Fly to her (or him) that love me best.
The ladybird would then fly away and alight towards or on one’s beloved or their home.  At the Lammas Fair in Scotland it was also traditional to celebrate “handfast” marriages.  This consisted of unmarried persons of either sex to choose a companion according to their liking.  They were to live together until Lammas Day the next year.  If they were pleased with their match, they continued to live together for life; if not, they were free to choose another mate.
Harvesting of corn was a very important activity as it ensured the year’s supply of grain and flour.  The Harvest Lord or “King of the Mowers” was the most experienced and trusted man elected by the harvest workers to direct operations.  Reapers wore gloves to protect their hands from cuts and prickles while they cut the corn.
           Make sure of thy reapers, get harvest in hand
           The corn that is ripe, doth but shed as it stand.
           Grant Harvest Lord more, by a penny or two
           To call on his fellows better to do.
           Give gloves to thy reapers, a largess to cry
           And ever to loiterers have a good eye.
Five Hundred Good Points of Husbandry (1573); Thomas Tusser (ca 1520-1580)

Wednesday 31 July 2013


“I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is.” - Albert Camus

July 31 is the Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556). He was born on this day, in 1491, one of 13 children of a family of minor nobility in northern Spain. As a young man Ignatius Loyola was inflamed by the ideals of courtly love and knighthood and dreamed of doing great deeds as a brave knight. These plans were dashed in 1521, as Ignatius was gravely wounded in a battle with the French, when a cannon ball shattered his leg. Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, Ignatius whiled away the time reading books on the life of Christ and the lives of the saints. His conscience was deeply touched, and a long, painful turning to Christ began. As Ignatius experienced his conversion he decided to devote his life to God and His work.

Having seen the Mother of God in a vision, he made a pilgrimage to her shrine at Montserrat, near Barcelona. He remained at nearby Manresa for almost a year, sometimes with the Dominicans, sometimes in a pauper’s hospice, often in a cave in the hills, praying. After a period of great peace of mind, he went through a phase of doubt and undertook many harrowing physical and spiritual trials. There was no comfort in anything and he braved the extremes of the weather, fasted, subjected himself to great discomforts and prayed. At length, his peace of mind returned.

It was during this year of conversion that Ignatius began to write down material that later became his greatest work, the “Spiritual Exercises” (a set of Christian meditations, prayers and mental exercises, divided into four thematic 'weeks' of variable length, designed to be carried out over a period of 28 to 30 days. They were composed with the intention of helping the retreatant to discern Jesus in his life, leading him or her to a personal commitment to follow him. Though the underlying spiritual outlook is Catholic, the exercises can also be undertaken by non-Catholics).

Ignatius had always wanted to visit the Holy Land since his conversion, and finally he achieved his purpose of going there, but could not remain, as he planned, because of the hostility of the Turks. He spent the next 11 years in various European universities, studying with great difficulty, beginning almost as a child. Like many others, his orthodoxy was questioned; Ignatius was twice jailed for brief periods.

In 1534, at the age of 43, he and six others (one of whom was St. Francis Xavier) vowed to live in poverty and chastity and to go to the Holy Land. If this became impossible, they vowed to offer themselves to the apostolic service of the Pope. The latter became the only choice. Four years later Ignatius made the association permanent. The new Society of Jesus was approved by Paul III, and Ignatius was elected to serve as the first general. When companions were sent on various missions by the Pope, Ignatius remained in Rome, consolidating the new venture, but still finding time to found homes for orphans, catechumens and penitents. He founded the Roman College, intended to be the model of all other colleges of the Society.

Ignatius was a true mystic. He centred his spiritual life on the essential foundations of Christianity—the Trinity, Christ, the Eucharist. His spirituality is expressed in the Jesuit motto, “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” (For the greater glory of God). In his concept, obedience was to be the prominent virtue, to assure the effectiveness and mobility of his men. All activity was to be guided by a true love of the Church and unconditional obedience to the Holy Father, for which reason all professed members took a fourth vow to go wherever the Pope should send them for the salvation of souls.

Ignatius died in July 1556, was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1609, canonised by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, and declared patron of all spiritual retreats by Pope Pius XI in 1922. Ignatius is a foremost patron saint of soldiers, the Society of Jesus, the Basque Country, and the provinces of Gipuzkoa and Biscay. Of the institutions dedicated to Saint Ignatius, one of the most famous is the Basilica of St Ignatius Loyola, built next to the house where he was born in Azpeitia, the Basque Country, Spain. The house itself, now a museum, is incorporated into the basilica complex. His legacy includes many Jesuit schools and educational institutions worldwide. In the United States alone there are 28 Jesuit colleges and universities and more than 50 secondary schools.

Tuesday 30 July 2013


“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” - Helen Keller

Today is International Friendship Day. This is a day devoted to promoting friendship and fellowship among all human beings, regardless of their race, color or religion. Such a day has been celebrated in South American countries (and especially in Paraguay) for a long time, where the idea for a World Friendship Day was proposed back in 1958. Friendship Day observations have been held on different dates in different countries, but in 2011 the United Nations declared that the 30th of July would be the official International Friendship Day. A few countries in Asia, nevertheless, still celebrate Friendship Day on the first Sunday of August every year.

In the USA, a Friendship Day was first proposed by the greeting card industry when Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark cards in 1930, chose August 2nd as the day when people should celebrate their friendships by sending each other cards. This initiative was welcomed and further championed by the National Greeting Card Association in the 1930s, but failed to catch on with the public because it was seen at the time as a thinly disguised commercial ploy to sell greeting cards. By the 1940s the support for Friendship Day in the USA had diminished to the extent that the observation of Friendship Day nearly died out.

Several countries in Asia that had adopted Friendship Day, kept it alive until the UN declaration in 2011 brought it to worldwide attention once again. Friendship Day gifts such flowers, cards and jewellery are commonly exchanged amongst friends in Asia and South America. “Friendship bands”, especially, have become a traditional gift exchanged in countries like India, Nepal and Paraguay.

Since the UN’s official recognition of International Friendship Day in 2011, all Member States have been invited to observe the commemorative day in accordance with the culture and customs of their local, national and regional communities, including through education and public awareness-raising activities. The promotion of friendship and fellowship among all human beings, regardless of their race, colour or religion is a noble thing and it has resonated widely throughout the world.

“A friend,” the Heinemann Australian Dictionary defines as: “Someone whom one knows and likes well”. True enough, but rather clinical for one of the most complex and worthy of human relationships. Also a “friend” is a term that has become rather loosely used over time to define all sorts of more or less shades of meaning in several types of positive human relationships. Someone who is not our enemy is our friend, people we went to school with were our friends, the people in our neighbourhood that we greet everyday are friends, the people we are acquainted with and feel agreeable towards are our friends. But also those with whom we forge a special bond and thrive on their company when we interact with them are also our friends.

Humans are social animals and forming attachments to other people is an inevitable feature of being human. However, varying degrees of intimacy, appreciation, interaction, affection, love and regard are involved in these different types of friendly relationships. The generic term “friend”, has replaced the more specific meaning which means a person with whom we have a close and intimate relationship, with whom we form a special bond, where both people involved value and understand each other as individuals and accept and appreciate each other as they are.

I am not the first to write about friendship, nor will be the last. Many before me have very eloquently written about the inestimable value of a true friend. Perhaps the essence of friendship has been distilled by Antoine St Exupéry in “The Little Prince”. He defines friendship as a process akin to taming a wild animal, a formation of bonds. This is a good definition, for in taming something we build bridges of trust, we learn about what we tame, we understand it, we appreciate it. Establishment of bonds is a two-way process and we each gain through that effort a person who becomes different from everyone else for us, a special person. A person whom we can turn to, a person who always has time for us: “I value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar, but I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar.” Robert Brault remarks. At the same time, Exupéry says, forming bonds creates responsibilities. Being a friend carries with it a mental attitude and an important code of behaviour that should be adhered to.

Friendship involves co-operation. Ralph Waldo Emerson says: “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”  Each person must contribute to the creation of the bonds and in the process get to know the other person better. Each person’s virtues and talents are appreciated, their faults and weaknesses forgiven. “True Friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance. A want of discernment cannot be an ingredient in it.” Henry David Thoreau, remarks. There is trust and interdependence in friendship, respect and loyalty. True friends share their lives, the happiness and the misfortune. Especially so the sharing of good fortune and happiness, which a friend can accept without envy or jealousy as, “Too few rejoice at a friend's good fortune.” Aeschylus says.  A friend listens, understands, offers advice but doesn’t try to influence your decisions, just accepts them. Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes...

How do we choose our friends? They are not commodities to be sold and bought, we have to discover them and win them over. We need patience and forbearance, tolerance and good humour. In our friends we mirror the best part of ourselves and forgive our worst part. What initially attracts us to someone may turn to disenchantment as we get to know the person better or as their actions belie their words. A person who on first impression we dislike may win our affection and confidence as we journey on together.

The development of a friendship is like the planting of a seedling. We select what seems to be the healthiest, strongest, greenest sprout, plant it in good soil and take pains to care for it, water it, guard it from extremes of weather. We watch with delight and as the plant grows we free it from caterpillars and aphids. It buds and rewards us with an exquisite bloom. “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed.” Says James Boswell, “As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over. So in a series of kindnesses there is, at last, one which makes the heart run over.

I share many of my interests with my friends, but at the same time I value those things that interest my friends and I have no experience of or no regard for. I agree with many of my friends’ opinions but I have built friendships where the other person has an opinion that is diametrically opposed to mine. I accept, tolerate and respect that difference in opinion. There is a broadening of experience and enrichment of existence that comes with friendship, a new knowledge and a discovery of unknown things. Together we complement one another, we learn from one another, we depend on one another. Despite our differences we are united. Friends help you move – Real friends help you move dead bodies...

Truth and frankness are important in a friendship but being tactful and keeping one’s criticisms to oneself at certain critical times is also important. Mignon McLaughlin remarks on the matter: “It is important to our friends to believe that we are unreservedly frank with them, and important to friendship that we are not.” Nevertheless, a friend forgives, accepts, empathises: “Your friend is that man who knows all about you, and still likes you.” says Elbert Hubbard. We look at our friends’ actions and we comment on them, we judge, but do not condemn. Arnold Bennett encapsulates this well in his epigram: “It is well, when judging a friend, to remember that he is judging you with the same godlike and superior impartiality.

The value of a true friendship is further appreciated when we discover for one reason or another that someone whom we considered as a true friend has betrayed us. This may happen because of a multitude of reasons, but as E.M. Forster says, “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” When one is betrayed by a friend, the feeling is one of disillusionment, bitterness, dismay and scorn. When we lose someone we considered a true friend, it is as if the person had died, or as if something within us died for as Aristotle says: “What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”

Happy Friendship Day, share a little of it with some of your friends!

Monday 29 July 2013


“Chemistry can be a good and bad thing. Chemistry is good when you make love with it. Chemistry is bad when you make crack with it.” - Adam Sandler

At the weekend we watched an old Western the likes of which aren't made any more. I would say that even for its time it was “old-fashioned”, and it was no surprise given it starred that legend of westerns, John Wayne, in his second last film role before he died. The film was Stuart Millar’s 1975 flick “Rooster Cogburn”, starring John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn and Anthony Zerbe. It had everything a western should have, good guys, bad guys, shootouts, gold robberies, horses, Indians, magnificent scenery and a plot that would satisfy all expectations of the westerns lover.

The film is a sequel, building on John Wayne’s character of Rooster Cogburn from his earlier film “True Grit” of 1969. This previous film was so popular that a sequel was a no-brainer, given Wayne’s health being relatively good and Katharine Hepburn looking for something she could co-star in with Wayne.  Hepburn was one of John Wayne's biggest boosters of his talent, even though their politics clashed.

Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) is on the trail of a gang that massacred an army patrol and stole a gatling gun and a load of nitroglycerine to use in a bullion robbery they are planning. The gang headed by Richard Jordan with Anthony Zerbe who used to scout for Wayne go to an Indian settlement with a missionary school headed by father preacher (Jon Lormer) and daughter teacher (Hepburn). The gang shoots up the place and kills the preacher.  When Cogburn arrives on the scene, he gets saddled with Hepburn and an Indian teenager (Richard Romancito) who has just been orphaned in the massacre. The unlikely pair accompany him on the trail of Jordan and his gang and get enough adventure to last a lifetime.

Hepburn playing teacher Eula Goodnight can be compared to Rose Sayer in “The African Queen”. Although there are many similarities, there are also fundamental differences and the increased years of Hepburn in the 1975 role are in harmony with the more experienced woman of the world that Eula is, compared to Rose Sayer – who incidentally is much more of an action woman. This film was written around the two stars and is a perfect vehicle for their talents. They settle comfortably in their roles and have good chemistry, one seeing that they liked each other quite a lot. Hepburn said at the time that she thought John Wayne projected the same sense of integrity that Spencer Tracy did on the screen – and that’s quite a compliment coming from her!

We enjoyed the sense of nostalgia that the film exuded, bringing back memories of a simpler time – and I don’t mean the frontier days, I mean my youth!  The music by Laurence Rosenthal was suitably expansive and rhapsodic at times complementing wonderfully the magnificent cinematography by Harry Stradling Jr. Charles Portis who wrote the screenplay based it on the the character of Rooster Cogburn from the novel “True Grit” and he has done his best to accommodate the stars of the film in a plot that is engaging albeit conventional. We recommend the film, if nothing else for the great chemistry between the two stars towards the end of their careers.

Sunday 28 July 2013


“Nudity is the costume of lovers and corpses.” - Mason Cooley
Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins was born on July 25, 1844, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and he was an American painter, fine arts instructor, sculptor, and photographer. Eakins was born to Benjamin Eakins and Caroline Cowperthwait - his father, a second-generation Irish-American, was a calligrapher and writing master who greatly supported Thomas and his passion for art. Thomas attended the Zane Street Grammar School and later went to the prestigious Central High School in Philadelphia. He graduated on July 11, 1861, and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he studied art, and for a short time, he also studied anatomy at Jefferson Medical College.
He was able to avoid fighting in the Civil War, unlike some of his friends, because of the $25 bounty he paid.  From 1866 to 1870, Eakins travelled to Europe where he spent much time studying and apprenticing in France and Spain. He studied with Gérôme, A. A. Dumont, Bonnat, and he admired artists such as Velázquez. Around this time he tried painting his own works such as “A Street Scene in Seville” and “Carmelita Requeña”. In fact, later in life Gérôme was quoted as saying to Eakins “Your watercolour is entirely good and I am very pleased to have in the New World a pupil such as you who does me honour.”
Eakins returned home from Europe in 1870 and moved back to Philadelphia where he took up a teaching job at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1876. He also had some creative high points around this time as he created “Max Schmitt in a Single Scull” in 1871, and “The Gross Clinic” in 1875, which is perhaps his most famous work. It depicts a much-respected surgeon watching over other surgeons operating on a person’s thigh, which caused controversy at the time due to its graphic nature.  It was first shown during the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and sold for $250. As Helen C. Cooper, curator of American paintings and sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery says “This extraordinary work celebrates a different kind of human achievement - that of a great surgeon - but it too combines the best of head and hand. It owes much to the lesson of the rowers [in the painting of Max Schmitt].”
Eakins became director at the academy in 1882, where he was quite popular with the student body.  Eakins personal life around this time included change as well. He had been engaged to Kathrin Crowell in 1874, but she died in 1879 at age 30 from meningitis. He later married Susan Macdowell on January 19, 1884 in Philadelphia. It was also in 1887 that Eakins became friends with Walt Whitman until his death in 1892. Thomas Eakins teachings though at the academy became very controversial, especially among the administration as he used nude models in person, used dissection in class to learn about anatomy, watched athletes perform for motion lessons, and used oil paints. Due to these teaching techniques, he was forced under pressure to resign from his post in 1886.
This was a very unhappy time for Eakins and these events caused him severe depression and humiliation, so much so that it caused him to move to North Dakota for two years. However, a few years later Eakins broke through with creativity in his works. Some of his other famous works around this time include “The Swimming Hole” painted from 1884-45 which Eakins scholar Elizabeth Johns labels “…the most intense, the most thought-provoking picture,” “The Agnew Clinic” finished in 1889, “The Concert Singer” from 1890-1892, and “Miss Amelia C. Van Buren” completed in 1890.
It was not until the early 1900s though that Eakins gained public notoriety in his works. He mainly focused on portraits around this time and some of them include Portrait of Maud Cook from 1895, Archbishop William Henry Elder from 1903, and Monsignor James P. Turner completed in 1906. In addition to his paintings, Eakins also used the camera extensively, especially to help with the subjects in his paintings. In 1902, Eakins finally was accepted into the National Academy of Design.
Thomas Eakins has had a huge influence on the arts and humanities since his death. Though often over-looked when he was alive, today he is studied around the world. He is a major study in sexuality studies in art especially. Also, his realism in painting and his focus on portraits has left an impact on future artists such as Thomas Anshutz and Henry Tanner. Some critics though still say he was too traditional and relied too heavily on family and friends for his paintings. Critics and the people in his portraits at the time often were displeased by their melancholy appearance, perhaps influenced by Eakins’ own depression. Overall though, by examining Eakins galleries and paintings in today’s museums, as Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr, the National Gallery’s Curator of American and British Paintings from Yale University notes, it, “…allows you to burrow into the artist’s work … and see Eakins for the first time as a mature artistic personality.”
Thomas Eakins died on June 25, 1916, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He had been in declining health for years and many speculate it was due to lead poisoning because of the type of paints he employed in his work. He died from heart failure around one o’clock on the 25th, surrounded by his wife, friends, and some of his old students. He requested that he be cremated and that no flowers or funeral be given. His ashes now lay in a family plot near the Schuylkill River along with his wife Susan, who passed away in 1938.
“The Agnew Clinic” above, finished in 1889, is a companion work to his earlier “The Gross Clinic” of 1875, and in this later work, Eakins uses dramatic lighting of the foreground to draw attention to the surgery being performed in front of a class of surgery students. As a group portrait, this recalls “The Anatomy Lesson Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” painted in 1632 by Rembrandt. The intensity of the scene, the concentration of the aces and the rapt attention of the students in the dark background make this an arresting work, but still perhaps slightly shocking for the faint-hearted.