Saturday 9 November 2013


“O’ What may man within him hide, though angel on the outward side!” - William Shakespeare

For Music Saturday, a beautiful aria performed by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. It is “Alto Giove”, an aria for castrato male voice from  “Polifemo” (1735), an opera by the Neapolitan baroque composer Nicola Porpora (1686-1768).

The illustration is the 1733 painting, “Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his Sisters” by Philip Mercier (circa 1689-1760). In this portrait the 26-year-old Prince is shown playing the cello with three of his younger sisters; from left to right, Anne, Princess Royal (age 24) at the harpsichord, Princess Caroline (age 20) plucking a mandora (a form of lute) and Princess Amelia (age 22) reading from Milton. In the background is the Dutch House or Kew Palace at Kew where Anne lived before her marriage in 1734 to Prince William of Orange. The suggestion of harmony between the siblings belies the antipathy felt by his family for Frederick; it is said that he was hardly on speaking terms with Anne in the year that this portrait was painted.

Friday 8 November 2013


“Don’t drink at all, don’t smoke; you must exercise and eat vegetables and fruit.” - Robert Mugabe
We are experiencing strange weather these past couple of weeks. Rather wet, cool late Spring days mainly, punctuated by days of hot, fine, dry weather, interspersed amongst them. The garden is blooming, but roses are having a bit of a hard time, soaked one day, roasting the next. Similarly, the fruit available is not altogether the best, the weather playing havoc with their natural ripening.
Nevertheless, as is our habit we do enjoy fruit salads with whatever is available and yesterday we had a delicious one made with new season strawberries, the last of the pears and oranges, honey Murcott mandarins and Kiwi fruit.
Spring Fruit Salad
1 punnet of ripe strawberries
1 orange
1 honey Murcott mandarin
2 kiwi fruit
1 large, ripe pear
Juice of an orange
Juice of a lemon
2 tbsp raw sugar (or honey) – optional, but advisable as the fruit can be quite sour
1 tbsp of orange liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Curaçao or Triple Sec)
Hull the strawberries and cut them in quarters. Peel the orange, removing the rind and pith, leaving the exposed flesh. Cut into small pieces removing the core and seeds in the process. Do likewise for the mandarin.
Peel the kiwi fruit and cut into slices and then quarter them. Peel the pear and cut into small pieces. Mix all fruit together in the bowl.
Dissolve the sugar (or honey) in the mixed citrus juices and add the liqueur. Pour over the fruit in the bowl and chill the fruit salad.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Wednesday 6 November 2013


“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates
Poetry Jam is a meme that relates to a creative challenge issued by Mary on her blog of the same name. This week the challenge is:

•    To think of what you KNOW for sure and write about it
•    To think of what you DON’T know for sure and write about it
•    To think about what you WISH you knew for sure and write about it
•    To use one of the above quotes as inspiration for your poem

Here is my offering:
The quote by Socrates that begins this entry today made me ponder somewhat about the things that I know for sure. “Know” is a tricky word because many of us use it in ways that are not altogether the way that the meaning of the word is given by the dictionary. Which immediately made me look it up, and herewith the three main meanings of the word!

know |nəʊ|: verb ( past knew |njuː|; past participle known |nəʊn| )
1 [with clause] be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information: Most people know that CFCs can damage the ozone layer | I know what I’m doing.
• [with obj.] have knowledge or information concerning: I would write to him if I knew his address | [no obj.]: I know of one local who shot himself.
• be absolutely certain or sure about something: I just knew it was something I wanted to do | [with obj.] : I knew it!
2 [with obj.] have developed a relationship with (someone) through meeting and spending time with them; be familiar or friendly with: He knew and respected Laura.
• have a good command of (a subject or language).
• recognise (someone or something): Isabel couldn’t hear the words clearly but she knew the voice.
• be familiar or acquainted with (something): A little restaurant she knew near Leicester Square.
• have personal experience of (an emotion or situation): A man who had known better times.
• (usu. be known as) regard or perceive as having a specified characteristic: The loch is known as a dangerous area for swimming.
• (usu. be known as) give (someone or something) a particular name or title: The doctor was universally known as ‘Hubert’.
• (know someone/thing from) be able to distinguish one person or thing from (another): You are convinced you know your own baby from any other in the world.
3 [with obj.] archaic have sexual intercourse with (someone). [a Hebraism which has passed into modern languages; compare with German erkennen, French connaître.]

And hence to the challenge: I know that I love my sweetheart. Does my sweetheart love me? I wish I knew for sure if my sweetheart loved me!


My love loves so true
All the green leaves in Springtime;
My love loves the blooms and the breeze.
The doves on the wing
The splash of the fountain,
The laugh of a child.

My love loves so well
The gold dancing wheat fields,
The poppies, the song of the lark.
A cool murmuring brooklet
In the deep shady forest
Away from the midsummer’s heat.

My love loves so much
All the bright hues of autumn
The big cool drops of rain.
The scent of wet earth,
The ripe berries
The taste of sweet young wine.

My love loves so true
Each winter snowflake,
My love loves the sighs of the wind.
The crackle of fire blazing,
The mirror of lake frozen, wan.
My love loves all of these,
But my love loves me not,
My love loves me not.

Tuesday 5 November 2013


“Society exists for the benefit of its members, not the members for the benefit of society.” - Herbert Spencer

Today is the Cry of Independence Day in El Salvador; Liberty Day in the US Virgin Islands; Guy Fawkes’ Day in England; and is also a Dismal Day.

It is the anniversary of the birthday of:
Ida Tarbell
, writer (1857);
Raymond Duchamp-Villon
, artist (1876);
Will Durant
, writer (1885);
Joel McCrea
, actor (1905);
Roy Rogers
, actor (1912);
Vivien Leigh
(Vivian Mary Hartley), actress (1913);
Art Garfunkel
, singer (1942);
Elke Sommer
, actress (1942);
Sam Shepard
, playwright (1943);
Andrea McArdle
, actress (1963);
Tatum O’ Neal
, US actress (1963).

The silver wattle (mimosa), Acacia decurrens dealbata, is the flower for today’s birthdays.  It symbolises sensitivity, exquisiteness and fastidiousness. Some people consider it unlucky to bring this fragrant flower into the house.

Please to remember
The Fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

‘Twas God’s mercy to be sent
To save our King and Parliament
Three score barrels laid below,
For old England’s overthrow
With a lighted candle, with a lighted match
Boom, boom to let him in.
              Anonymous Hertfordshire Rhyme


In England, Guy Fawkes Night (also called Bonfire Night and Firework Night) is an annual celebration observed on November 5 for more than 400 years following the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when 13 conspirators planned to blow up Parliament and kill King James I.

Guy Fawkes was arrested while guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. People in London lit bonfires to celebrate the failure of the plot, and an act of Parliament was passed to appoint the date as a day of thanksgiving for the “joyful deliverance of James I”. This act remained in force for 254 years, until 1859.

Monday 4 November 2013


“People talk about mumblecore but I prefer bumblecore, hyper-realistic bee movies about how bees really are.” - Mindy Kaling

Last weekend we watched a very disappointing film that convinced me once again that I am definitely getting older and that I have crossed the generation gap (possibly two generation gaps…). I am now a middle aged man heading towards the conservatism of old age, and have begun to view many of the new generation’s “culture” with incomprehension and therefore a fair degree of disdain. There! Having confessed my prejudice, you can now take my review of the film with as much salt as you care to sprinkle on it.

The film is Lynn Shelton’s 2011 “Your Sister’s Sister” starring Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt. This is ostensibly classified as a comedy, but “romantic” it definitely isn’t. It concerns a triangle of two half-sisters and their man friend. One of the sisters is lesbian, the other is straight and the man is the most infuriating, lily-livered, sleazy nong I have seen in recent times in films. The sisters vie for his attentions and there is a lot of talking, swearing, sleeping with each other and generally a lot of airing of “contemporary” issues – sex, lesbianism, relationships, marriage, sex, friendship, family, sex, veganism, death, sex, lies, pretensions, dirty talk, hypocrisy…

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a very tolerant person and quite accepting of people’s lifestyles and sexual orientations. What I won’t tolerate is twaddle masquerading as wit, swearing masquerading as candour, and lack of a story masquerading as realism. The film was largely improvised by the three lead actors and it shows. Movies have a written script because it really does show when there is no script, as in this movie.  And actors who pretend to be real but turn out phony. The film was dull, predictable and completely lacking any charm.

Mark Duplass exemplified the bathos of acting in this movie, in which he was a co-producer, along with several others and Lynn Shelton the director who also ‘wrote” it. He is completely unlikeable and has no redeeming features whatsoever, I’m afraid. Emily Blunt I have watched before and she acted well, but in this film she cannot do anything with the drivel of first world problems she was subjected to act in. Rosemarie de Witt tries the hardest to make something of her cardboard cutout role as the lesbian sister, however, once again the material she has to work with betrays her efforts.

I watched very patiently through the first half-hour of the movie, trying to swallow the bilge, hoping it would start getting interesting… But no, it just went on and on without anybody saying or doing anything that made me think. The ending was the worst. Smug, gratuitous, predictable, self-indulgent and “mumblecore” to its core… In case you don't know what this is:

Mumblecore is a subgenre of American independent film characterised by low budget production values and amateur actors, heavily focussed on naturalistic dialogue, which began in 2002 and unfortunately continues to be made to the present. The first mumblecore movie is considered to be Andrew Bujalski’s 2002 movie “Funny Ha Ha” - another irritating movie without a plot, with people who are uninteresting, boring, whiny and aimless.

Watch “Your Sister’s Sister” at your risk – we felt we wasted 90 minutes of our life at the end of it. Reading some of the hype, including the critics’ quotes on the promo poster above makes me roll my eyes. What are these people thinking? Please, get a life!

Sunday 3 November 2013


“Every artist undresses his subject, whether human or still life. It is his business to find essences in surfaces, and what more attractive and challenging surface than the skin around a soul?” - Richard Corliss

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (b. 1699, Paris, d. 1779, Paris) was a French painter of still lifes and domestic scenes showing an intimate realism and a tranquil atmosphere. His paintings are infused with a luminous quality and show evidence of a masterly handling of the paint. For his still lifes he chose humble objects (“Le Buffet”, 1728), and for his genre paintings modest events (“Dame Cachetant une Lettre”, 1733 - Lady Sealing a Letter). He also executed some fine portraits, especially the pastels of his last years. He was nominated to the Royal Academy of Painting in 1728.

Born in Paris, Chardin never really left his native quarter of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Little is known about his schooling and training, although he worked for a time with the artists Pierre-Jacques Cazes and Noël-Nicolas Coypel. In 1724 he was admitted to the Academy of Saint Luc. His true career, however, did not begin until 1728 when, thanks to the portrait painter Nicolas de Largillière (1656-1746), he became a member of the Royal Academy of Painting, to which he offered “La Raie” (The Skate) and “Le Buffet”, both now at the Louvre Museum.

Although not yet established, he was beginning to gain a reputation. In 1731 he married Marguerite Saintard, and two years later the first of his figure paintings appeared, “Dame Cachetant une Lettre”. From then on Chardin alternated between paintings of “la vie silencieuse” (the silent life) or scenes of family life such as “Le Bénédicité” (The Grace) and half-figure paintings of young men and women concentrating on their work or play, such as “Le Jeune Dessinateur” (Young Man Drawing) and “L’ Enfant au Toton” (Child with Top, Louvre). The artist repeated his subject matter, and there are often several original versions of the same composition.

Chardin's wife died in 1735, and the estate inventory drawn up after her death reveals a certain affluence, suggesting that by this time Chardin had become a successful painter. In 1740 he was presented to Louis XV, to whom he offered “La Mère Laborieuse” (Mother Working) and “Le Bénédicité”. Four years later, he married Marguerite Pouget, whom he was to immortalise in a pastel portrait. These were the years when Chardin was at the height of his fame. Louis XV, for example, paid 1,500 livres for “La Serinette” (The Bird-Organ).

Chardin continued to rise steadily on the rungs of the traditional academic career. His colleagues at the academy entrusted him, first unofficially (1755), then officially (1761), with the hanging of the paintings in the Salon (official exhibition of the academy), which had been held regularly every two years since 1737 and in which Chardin had participated faithfully. It was in the exercise of his official duties that he met the encyclopaedist and philosopher Denis Diderot, who would devote some of his finest pages of art criticism to Chardin, the “grand magician”  that he admired so much.

Chardin’s carefully constructed still-lifes do not bulge with appetising foods and superficial brilliance often seen in the works of his contemporaries, but are concerned with the objects themselves and with the treatment of light. In his genre scenes he does not seek his models among the peasantry as his predecessors did; he paints the petty bourgeoisie of Paris. But manners have been softened, and his models seem to be far removed from Le Nain’s austere peasants. The housewives of Chardin are simply but neatly dressed and the same cleanliness is visible in the houses where they live. Everywhere a sort of intimacy and good fellowship constitute the charm of these modestly scaled pictures of domestic life that are akin in feeling and format to the works of Jan Vermeer.

Despite the triumphs of his early and middle life, Chardin’s last years were clouded, both in his private life and in his career. His only son, Pierre-Jean, who had received the Grand Prix (prize to study art in Rome) of the academy in 1754, committed suicide in Venice in 1767. By that time, the public’s taste had also changed. The new director of the academy, the all-powerful Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre, in his desire to restore historical painting to the first rank, humiliated the old artist by reducing his pension and gradually divesting him of his duties at the academy. Furthermore, Chardin’s sight was failing. He tried his hand at drawing with pastels. It was a new medium for him and less taxing on his eyes. Those pastels, most of which are in the Louvre Museum, are highly thought of in the 20th century, but that was not the case in Chardin’s own time.

Chardin lived out the remainder of his life in almost total obscurity, his work meeting with indifference. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that he was rediscovered by a handful of French critics, including the brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, and collectors (the Lavalard brothers, for example, who donated their collection of Chardins to the Museum of Picardy in Amiens). Especially noteworthy is the LaCaze Collection donated to the Louvre in 1869. Today Chardin is considered the greatest still-life painter of the 18th century, and his canvases are coveted by the world’s most distinguished museums and collections.

His “Still Life with Pipe and Jug” above, of 1737 in the Louvre, is characteristic of his still life painting.