Saturday 26 October 2013


“Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

For Music Saturday, Georg Philipp Telemann again with his 12 Parisian Quartets (1730 - 1738) for flute, violin, viola da gamba and continuo. With Barthold Kuijken (flute), Sigiswald Kuijken (violin), Wieland Kuijken (viola da gambe), and Gustav Leonhardt (continuo), on original instruments.
Georg Philipp Telemann,  (born March 14, 1681, Magdeburg, Brandenburg [Germany]—died June 25, 1767, Hamburg), was a German composer of the late Baroque period, who wrote both sacred and secular music but was most admired for his church compositions, which ranged from small cantatas to large-scale works for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Telemann wrote a lot of very good chamber music, but these Parisian Quartets show him at his best. They are full of wonderful melodies, and some amazing rhythmic quirks. If Telemann had not been so prolific, these works would be considered absolute masterpieces on the order of the Brandenburg Concertos of Bach - they are that good!

This is by far the best recording of these Quartets. The Kujiken brothers are skilled players of their instruments - a great achievement for self-taught musicians. Their version of these works of Telemann is fulfilled with virtuosity and panache, doing justice for the technically demanding scores. But there’s more than just technique. You will find a treasure trove of amazing, artful and delightful music in these works and their exceptional interpretation.

The painting is “The Love Letter” by François Boucher.

Friday 25 October 2013


“I don’t like gourmet cooking or ‘this’ cooking or ‘that’ cooking. I like good cooking.” - James Beard

We bought some lovely eggplant in the market today, so it’s all stops out to cook this classic Italian vegetarian dish.

Eggplant Parmigiana

3 large eggplants
plain flour
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes
salt and pepper
Basil leaves, chopped, plus extra leaves for layering
250 g bocconcini or fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
100 g parmesan, grated

Slice the eggplant no thicker than 1 cm. Sprinkle the slices with salt, stack in a colander and weigh down with a heavy object. Leave for 1 hour. Pat the slices dry and lightly coat in flour. Dip into the beaten egg, shaking off the excess, and fry in hot oil until golden brown on each side. Drain on paper towel.

To make the sauce, heat the oil and fry the onion and garlic until soft. Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil. Cook until lightly thickened. Season to taste and add half the basil.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Smear the base of a baking dish with sauce then add a layer of eggplant. Dot with slices of bocconcini, a sprinkling of parmesan and a few torn basil leaves. Continue to layer until you have used up the eggplant, and finish with sauce topped with cheese.

Bake for 20–25 minutes, until the top is golden. Allow to rest for 10 minutes or so and serve.

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

Thursday 24 October 2013


“Every people have gods to suit their circumstances.” - Henry David Thoreau
A myth is a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or one explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events. Mythology refers to a collection of myths and their study. All cultures have their own rich mythology that has initially been passed down the generations orally, and if that culture becomes literate, the myths are written down, some of them being incorporated into religious systems. The ancient Greeks are a good example of a people with a rich mythology, the advantage being that all of these myths were written down early in their history, surviving in their entirety to the present day. Ancient Greek religion is richly interspersed with myth, although during the Classical period, the Greeks themselves were the ones that doubted the veracity of some myths.
In appearance, the ancient Greek gods of myth were supposed to resemble mortals, whom, however, they far exceeded in beauty, grandeur, and strength. They were of commanding stature, height being considered by the Greeks an attribute of beauty in both men and women. The gods resembled human beings in their feelings and habits, intermarrying and having children, requiring daily nourishment to maintain their strength, and needing refreshing sleep to restore their energies. Their blood, a bright ethereal fluid called “ichor”, never engendered disease, and, when shed, had the power of producing new life.
The Greeks believed that the intellectual capacity of their gods was of a much higher order than those of men, but nevertheless, they were not exempt from human passions, and we read myths where the gods are driven by revenge, deceit, and jealousy. Gods, however, always punish the evil-doer, and any impious mortal who dares to neglect their worship or despise their rites is punished with untold calamities. We often hear of gods visiting mankind and partaking of their hospitality, and quite frequently both gods and goddesses become attached to mortals, with whom they unite. The offspring of these unions are called heroes or demi-gods, who are usually renowned for their great strength and courage, for example, Herakles (=Hercules), the offspring of Zeus, king of the gods and Alkmene, a mortal woman.
Although there were many points of resemblance between gods and men, there remained the one great characteristic distinction, namely that the gods were immortal. Still, they were not invulnerable, and we often hear of them being wounded, and suffering in consequence such exquisite torture that they have earnestly prayed to be deprived of their privilege of immortality.
The gods knew no limitation of time or space, being able to transport themselves to incredible distances with the speed of thought. They possessed the power of rendering themselves invisible at will, and could assume the forms of men or animals as it suited their convenience. They could also transform human beings into trees, stones, animals, either as a punishment for their misdeeds, or as a means of protecting the individual, thus transformed, from danger. Their robes were like those worn by mortals, but were perfect in form and much finer in texture. Their weapons also resembled those used by mankind; we hear of spears, shields, helmets, bows and arrows being employed by the gods. Each deity possessed a beautiful chariot, which, drawn by horses or other animals of celestial breed, conveyed them rapidly over land and sea according to their pleasure.
Most of these divinities lived on the summit of Mount Olympus, the highest peak in Greece, each possessing his or her individual palace, and all meeting together on festive occasions in the council-chamber of the gods, where their banquets were enlivened by the sweet strains of Apollo’s lyre, whilst the beautiful voices of the Muses poured forth their rich melodies to his harmonious accompaniment. They drank nectar, a delicious fluid, the word origin of which is derived from stems meaning “overcoming death”. They ate ambrosia, a fragrant food that was sometimes described liquid as a soup or solid like bread. Once again the word is derived from stems meaning “immortal”.
Magnificent temples were erected to the honour of gods and goddesses, where the divine beings were worshipped with the greatest solemnity. Rich gifts were presented to them, and animals, and indeed sometimes human beings (more so in pre-classical times), were sacrificed on their altars. Greek mythology is rich with incident and vivid descriptions of the deeds of the gods and heroes many of these myths explaining natural phenomena, the origin of many things and animals, demonstrate important moral lessons and illustrate ways in which human beings are either rewarded for good deeds or punished for wrongdoing.
The illustration is Raphael's fresco "The Council of the Gods".

Wednesday 23 October 2013


“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which mean never losing your enthusiasm.” - Aldous Huxley

Last night I looked at a photograph of myself that a colleague took while we were at a work lunch yesterday. It surprised me greatly as I saw a seriously middle aged man looking out at me. It was a shock as I hardly recognised myself, looking definitely much older than I feel, even on “bad” days. A world-weariness and disappointment in my face was captured by that particular shot, and my eyes certainly looked extinguished with my expression quite flat. I was never photogenic and there are few photographs of me as I don’t particularly like being in front of the camera as a subject – I’d rather be behind it, taking the photos. This particular photograph drove home several points decidedly, but once I thought about it I shrugged and dealt with it decisively.

It is a sign of growing older and hopefully wiser, this acknowledgement of the marks of time on one’s body. Being able to look in the mirror or at a photo and reconcile oneself with the ravages of time, is a sign of maturity – not of body, but of mind. We live in an ageist culture whether we like it or not and the older we get the more marginalised we expect to become, the more invisible. It is not surprising that most of us tend to hold on to our youthful image as long as possible. The huge number of older people undergoing plastic surgery, having personal training, subscribing to dieting and ageing-reversal regimens is compelling evidence of this.

In the past, in more traditional cultures old age was seen to be a privileged state and the aged held a place of special regard and eminence within the family, society and ruling classes. As the nuclear family became widespread in an increasingly urbanised world, as consumerism and globalisation spread their way across most of the world, a youth-oriented culture became the dominant moving force in society. As the aged got displaced out of the extended family model and become increasingly confined to the “grey zone” of the nursing home, it is not surprising that one wants to extend middle age, mimic a certain degree of youthfulness on one’s appearance, speech and ethos, and thus postpone one’s banishment to the grey zone as far into the future as possible.

When I was living in Holland several years ago, I was amazed that one of the first questions I was consistently asked by everyone was: “How old are you?”. As soon as I answered I could see the mental cogs of my interlocutors turning – there was a reckoning of age versus appearance, social status and achievements and even more importantly the calculation of my “use by date”, beyond which I would no longer matter. Certainly I was surprised by the very youthful appearance of Amsterdam – which was a city of young, beautiful and happy people. It intrigued me enough to ask of the locals: “But where are all of the old people?” The answer, half in jest and half in all seriousness was: “We export them to Belgium!” This turned out to be true to a certain extent, as Belgium was close enough to be easily accessible, but more importantly, its nursing home rates were more affordable.

Looking critically at this ageism that exists within our society, one has to consider the next steps. Already there is increasing debate about euthanasia. Having the right to take away one’s own life in cases where life has become insupportable due to serious disease or insufferable pain is gaining wide acceptance. Where do we draw the line? Taking away one’s life because one no longer fits into the social ideal of “young, beautiful and happy”? Shades of “Soylent Green”? It is a vexed question, but one that greatly conveniences the young – but obviously not as attractive to the aged.

As I come to terms with own increasing age, get acquainted with the idea of removing myself from the workforce, make plans for my retirement and beginning a new chapter of my life, I have to develop a more philosophical approach to life, the universe and everything… Old age brings with it a greater degree of introspection and one has to be comfortable with one’s thoughts, first and foremost. One has to develop new friendships, the most important such new friend being the idea of one’s demise. When death comes, one must be ready and welcoming, as if one is finally seeing a dear old pen pal that one has corresponded with for many years.

Confucius remarks of old age: “Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator…” This is certainly telling it like it is, but I intend to be an active spectator, a caustic critic of the performance, a viewer who enjoys (or not) the spectacle and is busy having a good time with my fellow spectators while we watch – booing, heckling, applauding and cheering included.

Tuesday 22 October 2013


“If you live long enough, you'll see that every victory eventually turns into a defeat.” - Simone de Beauvoir

Today is Somalia’s Revolution (National) Day II (since 1960); Vatican City’s - National Day and also an Egyptian Day (Dismal Day). Up until the 17th century in England, the Egyptian Days were commonly thought to be specific unlucky days throughout the year. Popular almanacs would list them as days on which to avoid such important activities as weddings, blood letting (a standard way of treating various illnesses), and travelling. No one knew why certain days were considered unlucky. In fact, which days were Egyptian Days seems to have depended upon which almanac was consulted; apparently, there was never any standard list that was widely circulated. Although it is not known for sure why they were referred to as the Egyptian Days, it’s possible that they were first computed by Egyptian astrologers or were somehow related to the Egyptian plagues. They were known as the Dismal Days, from Latin dies mali (meaning “evil days”).

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Franz Liszt
, composer (1811);
Sarah Bernhardt
, French actress (1844);
Ivan Bunin
, Nobel laureate (1933) writer (1870);
Sidney Kingsley
, writer (1906);
Joan Fontaine
(Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland), actress (1917);
Doris Lessing
, author (1919);
Robert Rauschenberg
, painter (1925);
Christopher Lloyd
, actor (1938);
Annette Funicello
, actress (1942);
Catherine Deneuve
(Catherine Dorléac), French actress (1943);
Jeff Goldblum
, actor (1952);

Savine, Juniperus sabina, is the plant that is assigned to birthdays falling on this day.  In the past, “wicked women have employed it to very ill purposes”, its effects on the uterus being used to induce abortions.  The plant is quite poisonous and modern herbalists do not use it internally.  In the language of flowers, savine means: “The fruits of love may sometimes be bitter”.  Astrologically, this is under the rule of Mars.

Today is the anniversary of the day in 4004 BC, that God created the Universe, according to James Ussher (1581–1656), an Irish Protestant prelate and scholar. He was archbishop of Armagh (1625) and was greatly admired for his learning. He established a chronology of the bible that set the date of creation at 4004 BC which was long used in some editions of the King James Version of the Bible.  His chronology is described in The Annals of the World (1650).  Perhaps it is no chance that this day was chosen to celebrate as the National Day of Vatican City!

Franz Liszt (1811–1886) was a Hungarian composer of romantic music, acknowledged as the greatest pianist of his time. He studied with Czerny and his expressive, flamboyant and dramatic playing enraptured his audiences.  Liszt taught most of the major pianists of the next generation. He originated the symphonic poem and developed “programme music” to a high art.

Some of his famous works are Les Préludes  and Mazeppa (1856). The Sonata in B Minor of 1853  was marked by the transformation of themes thus changing the face of the classical sonata form.  Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss were both admiring of his works and were influenced by him.  His piano works include the Paganini Études (1851); concertos; and Hungarian Rhapsodies.  One of his characteristic pieces that I like is the Fantasy Based on Hungarian Folk Melodies of 1853.

On this day in 1979, Nadia Boulanger (16 September 1887 – 22 October 1979), French composition teacher died. She was a composer, conductor, and teacher who taught many of the leading composers and musicians of the 20th century. She also performed as a pianist and organist.

From a musical family, she achieved early honours as a student at the Paris Conservatoire but, believing that she had no particular talent as a composer, she gave up writing music and became a teacher. In that capacity, she influenced generations of young composers, especially those from the United States and other English-speaking countries. Among her students were those who became leading composers, soloists, and conductors, including Aaron Copland, John Eliot Gardiner, Dinu Lipatti, Igor Markevitch, Quincy Jones, Philip Glass, and Ástor Piazzolla.

Boulanger taught in the US and England, working with music academies including the Juilliard School, the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Longy School, the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, but her principal base for most of her life was her family's flat in Paris, where she taught for most of the seven decades from the start of her career until her death at the age of 92.

Boulanger was the first woman to conduct many major orchestras in America and Europe, including the BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony, Hallé, New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia orchestras. She conducted several world premieres, including works by Copland and Stravinsky.

Monday 21 October 2013


“The main goal of the future is to stop violence. The world is addicted to it.” - Bill Cosby
We watched a very interesting film at the weekend, which proved that all is not what it seems. I had bought this out of the “specials” basket in our local video store, believing it to be a typical action, “dick-flick”, judging it from its cover and its star, Jean-Claude Van Damme. However, it was quite a surprise, turning out to be a satire, with elements of action, drama, comedy and action.
It was "JCVD" starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Valérie Bodson, Hervé Sogne. It was a Belgian/Luxembourgeois/French co-production with the soundtrack mainly in French, although there was some English dialogue. I am once again airing my displeasure with the producers of DVDs and BluRay discs who do not subtitle their films. While the French dialogue was subtitled on this disc, the English dialogue was not and half of it was unintelligible, greatly detracting from the enjoyment of the movie.
Van Damme plays himself in this movie, giving a great performance as an ageing action film star who has difficulty in getting good roles, problems with the tax department, and is in the middle of a custody case with his wife over their daughter. He tries to escape these problems in the USA by going back to his home in Brussels, Belgium. Unfortunately for him, when he goes into a Post office/Bank he stumbles into a hold-up where a number of hostages are being held by a bunch of desperate thugs. Unfortunately for Van Damme, the way in which things are perceived by people outside the post office, causes police and media alike to believe that Van Damme is the mastermind of the robbery, in order to pay his half-a-million-dollar legal bills.
The film opens with a signature Van Damme action sequence, with what everyone expects his movies to be like. Lots of violence, kicks, shootings, blood, gore and explosions. Typical generic guff that one sees not only with Van Damme but also with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, etc. It turns out that is just a short scene from a film that is being shot in Hollywood, with Van Damme as the star. It serves to highlight the plight of the actor who is typecast and who cannot break free from the shackles of Hollywood contracts. We are then transported to Brussels where Van Damme retreats in order to try and put his life in order. The film is episodic, with flashbacks, flash-forwards, repetition of scenes from different observer’s perspective and even contains quite an astonishing monologue where Van Damme bares his soul…
I was pleasantly surprised to see Van Damme act! I mean really act, rather than take part in a carefully orchestrated set of action sequences separated by a few scenes of minimal dialogue as in his usual films. The story was involving and the direction snappy and inventive. The film overall reminded us a little of the 1994 Quentin Tarantino, now classic, “Pulp Fiction”.
If you are interested in an action movie with a little more depth, if you are a fan of Van Damme, if you wish to see something that is unusual and rather offbeat, then watch this film. It still has quit a lot of violence in it, but it is after all a product of our times and shows the way that we parasitise violence to achieve our various ends.

Sunday 20 October 2013


“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” - Scott Adams
Robert Rauschenberg (October 22, 1925 – May 12, 2008) was an American painter and graphic artist whose early works anticipated the pop art movement. Born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1925, Robert Rauschenberg imagined himself first as a minister and later as a pharmacist. It wasn’t until 1947, while in the U.S. Marines that he discovered his aptitude for drawing and his interest in the artistic representation of everyday objects and people.
After leaving the Marines he studied art in Paris on the G.I. Bill, but quickly became disenchanted with the European art scene. After less than a year he moved to North Carolina, where the country’s most visionary artists and thinkers, such as Joseph Albers and Buckminster Fuller, were teaching at Black Mountain College. There, with artists such as dancer Merce Cunningham and musician John Cage, Rauschenberg began what was to be an artistic revolution. Soon, North Carolina country life began to seem small and he left for New York to make it as a painter.
In New York, amidst the chaos and excitement of city life Rauschenberg realised the full extent of what he could bring to painting. Rauschenberg’s enthusiasm for popular culture and his rejection of the angst and seriousness of the Abstract Expressionists led him to search for a new way of painting. He found his signature mode by embracing materials traditionally outside of the artist’s reach. He would cover a canvas with house paint, or ink the wheel of a car and run it over paper to create a drawing, while demonstrating rigour and concern for formal painting.
By 1958, at the time of his first solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery, his work had moved from abstract painting to drawings like “Erased De Kooning” (1953; which was exactly as it sounds) to what he termed “combines.” These combines (meant to express both the finding and forming of combinations in three-dimensional collage) cemented his place in art history.
One of Rauschenberg’s first and most famous combines was entitled “Monogram” (1959) and consisted of an unlikely set of materials: A stuffed angora goat, a tyre, a police barrier, the heel of a shoe, a tennis ball, and paint. This pioneering altered the course of modern art. The idea of combining and of noticing combinations of objects and images has remained at the core of Rauschenberg’s work.
As Pop Art emerged in the ’60s, Rauschenberg turned away from three-dimensional combines and began to work in two dimensions, using magazine photographs of current events to create silk-screen prints. Rauschenberg transferred prints of familiar images, such as JFK or baseball games, to canvases and overlapped them with painted brushstrokes. They looked like abstractions from a distance, but up close the images related to each other, as if in conversation. These collages were a way of bringing together the inventiveness of his combines with his love for painting. Using this new method he found he could make a commentary on contemporary society using the very images that helped to create that society.
From the mid sixties through the seventies he continued the experimentation in prints by printing onto aluminium, moving plexiglass disks, clothes, and other surfaces. He challenged the view of the artist as auteur by assembling engineers to help in the production of pieces technologically designed to incorporate the viewer as an active participant in the work. He also created performance pieces centered around chance. To watch dancers on roller-skates (”Pelican”, 1963) or to hear the sound of a gong every time a tennis ball was hit (”Open Score”, 1966), was to witness an art that exchanged lofty ambitions for a sense of excitement and playfulness while retaining meaning.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s Rauschenberg continued his experimentation, concentrating primarily on collage and new ways to transfer photographs. In 1998 The Guggenheim Museum put on its largest exhibition ever with four hundred works by Rauschenberg, showcasing the breadth and beauty of his work, and its influence over the second half of the century. Rauschenberg lives in Florida and continues to work, bringing his sense of excitement and challenge into a new century.
The work above is “Collection”, created in 1954 and modified again in 1955.