Saturday 28 December 2013


“Where words fail, music speaks.” - Hans Christian Andersen

Antonio Maria Bononcini (18 June 1677 – 8 July 1726) was an Italian cellist and composer, the younger brother of the better-known Giovanni Bononcini.

Bononcini was born and died at Modena in Italy. Like his brother, he studied with Giovanni Paolo Colonna. Between 1690 and 1693, he played in the orchestra of Cardinal Pamphili. In 1698 he composed an allegory, “La Fama Eroica”, for performance in Rome. He worked for some years with his brother, and joined him in the court orchestra at Vienna, where in 1705 he became Kapellmeister to the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI.

In 1713 he returned to Italy, where he worked in Milan, Naples and Modena. In 1721 he became the maestro di cappella in Modena, where he remained for the rest of his life. In addition to his stage works, he composed over 40 cantatas (most of them for solo voice and harpsichord), as well as sacred music including a Mass in G minor, a Stabat Mater in C Minor, and a Salve Regina.

Here are his Mass in G Minor and the Stabat Mater, performed by Concerto Italiano, directed by Rino Alessandini, with Silvia Frigato and Raffaella Milanesi, sopranos, Andrea Arrivabene, countertenor, Elena Biscuola and Sara Mingardo, contraltos, Raffaele Giordani and Valerio Contaldo, tenors, and Salvo Vitale, bass.

Friday 27 December 2013


“I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand.” - Benjamin Franklin

After the culinary excesses of Christmas it is a good idea to detoxify a little and have a light meal for a few days (before the New Year’s Eve excesses!). As we are having some hot weather in Melbourne at the moment, this smoked salmon salad foots the bill very nicely.



3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoon chopped dill
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 cups baby spinach
6 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut crosswise into 1 cm ribbons
2 Lebanese cucumbers; peeled, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
4 radishes, halved and thinly sliced
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
Pine nuts for garnishing (optional)

In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil with the lemon juice and dill and season with salt and pepper. Add the spinach, smoked salmon, cucumber, radishes and onions to the bowl and toss well. Transfer the salad to plates and serve, garnishing with roasted pine nuts if desired.

Serve with crusty bread and a light white wine.

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

Thursday 26 December 2013


“Every man who possibly can should force himself to a holiday of a full month in a year, whether he feels like taking it or not.” - William James
These days over Christmas and New Year are a perfect opportunity to take some holiday time and relax. Resting and taking one’s mind off work is something we should do daily and at weekends, so what is more opportune than doing so at the end of the year when the holy days also conspire to make us take some holidays also? However, today I heard from a friend who is working over this holiday break as he needs to catch up with work… This friend is a confirmed workaholic and having no family is something that unfortunately allow shim to work long and hard.
The workaholic is very much a product of our modern society and is nowadays in many cases the rule rather than the exceptional case that we were familiar with in the past. Work makes enormous demands on our time, not only in the workplace, but it also invades our own space and private life. How easy it is to take work with us every night. Simply a matter of loading some files into a USB drive and the computer at home takes over from where the computer at work left off. Email access is universal and we are expected to be able to send and receive work emails at any place and any time. Mobile phones increase our accessibility and before not too long we may be called upon at all hours to respond to employers’ demands.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is certainly something that applies to today’s world as much as it did, all those centuries ago when the folk sage came out with this saw. It is surprising that in this day and age of labour-saving devices, increasing leisure time and strictly regulated work hours many of us still manage to run out of time in order to amuse ourselves and take pleasure in the company of our friends and dear ones. A re-examination of one’s life is in order if this is the case, and the workaholic is certainly one who should be chastened by this re-examination.

Wednesday 25 December 2013


“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.” - E. B. White
It’s Christmas Day and there is always time today to sit and reflect a little. It is a time for family, feasting and gift giving – a time for peace and togetherness and of spirituality. Yet even in our contentment, our minds should have charitable thoughts for those who are not able to celebrate as well as we are able to. There are many hotbeds of violence and warfare across the globe and the economic crisis still claims victims in many countries of the world. Extremes of climate and foul weather have made many people miserable on what should have been a happy day. This year, tens of thousands of Britons remain without electricity on Christmas Day after torrential rainfall flooded homes and hurricane-force winds battered the country.
Christmas in Australia tends to be a very relaxed time. It is usually hot across all of the continent and this means the holiday is celebrated out of doors. Barbeques, garden dining, Christmas by the beach and fun in the sun is what Christmas means to most Australians. However, we also have a problem with the homeless and the disadvantaged even here in the “lucky country”. Charity organisations do much to relieve the plight of beggars, homeless, the impoverished, the mentally unstable and the abused. The Salvation Army is the largest provider of homelessness services in Australia, and a report reveals that the Salvos helped 22,594 homeless people in the six months to December 31 last year. Furthermore, Australia-wide this Christmas the Salvation Army expects to assist more than 300,000 people during the Christmas period (this being double what is seen on average per month during the year). They will distribute nearly 500,000 toys to families in need; feed Christmas Lunch to over 14,000 people; distribute 100,000 food vouchers and hampers. You can donate to the Salvos here.
The plight of refugees is a worldwide issue currently and perhaps Australia does not have a very good record in terms of assistance to refugees. Many Australians view refugees unkindly as they regard them as “queue jumpers”, economic refugees, illegal immigrants. However, it is dangerous to tar all refugees with the same brush, as there are many who are people in genuine need and who face survival problems if they stay in their own country. Many of these refugees will be in mortal danger if they stay put because of civil unrest, warfare, political upheavals or problems of ideological conflict.
Australia for UNHCR is an Australian charity that raises funds to support the work of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Australia. The aim of this organisation is to help Australians change the lives of refugees and displaced people around the world. As well as providing emergency relief like shelter, food, water, and medical care, the generous supporters improve refugees’ future opportunities, providing infrastructure, schools, and income generating projects. Monthly donors also provide vital funding for UNHCR’s Emergency Response Teams who are on the ground saving lives within 72 hours, whenever and wherever crisis strikes. Australia for UNHCR donations can be made here.
I cannot help but think of the plight of many people in Southern Europe – Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal who are facing enormous economic problems. With youth unemployment close to 50% in some cases, draconian austerity measures in place, and many years of problems with negative economic development, have left many people desperate – so desperate that the only solution they see is suicide. Suicides increased by 45 percent during the first four years of Greece’s financial crisis, a mental health aid group recently stated that there are indications of a further “very large rise” over the past two years. The Athens-based group Klimaka said officially reported suicides rose steadily, accounting for an annual jump in deaths from 328 in 2007 to 477 in 2011, according to data from the Greek Statistical Authority. The group said, based on its own research, the number of suicides has continued to rise through 2012 and 2013. It should be kept in mind the official suicide rate in Greece is lower than the actual as there is still considerable stigma attached to suicide.
Every so often a dramatic act of despair catches the country’s imagination. In spring last year a 77-year-old retired pharmacist shot himself in the head in the central square of Athens, leaving a note saying that he could not bear the idea of “scavenging in dustbins for food and becoming a burden to my child...” And anybody who knows Greece well can probably think of at least one acquaintance whose death was prompted, entirely or in part, by financial desperation.
Christmas is a special time of the year. For children especially, it should be a happy, magical, bright and peaceful time. Yet how many children the world over not only will not have gifts this Christmas, but also will go hungry? Millions of children are poor; they lack access to safe drinking water, essential vaccines, education and nutrition; they are at risk of being exploited and abused. You can make a difference by becoming involved locally, but also donating to help children further afield. The crisis in Syria for example claims many innocent children daily. Save the Children is an organisation that does very good work and you can help here.
Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy the time with your family and friends. If you can, help make someone else’s Christmas happy too.

Tuesday 24 December 2013


“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store.” - Dr Seuss
Today is Christmas Eve. It is the anniversary of the birth of:
  • Benjamin Rush, physician/humanitarian (1745);
  • Kit Carson, Western scout (1809);
  • James Prescott Joule, physicist (1818);
  • Matthew Arnold, English poet (1822);
  • Peter Cornelius, German composer (1824);
  • Emanuel Lasker, chess champion (1868);
  • Juan Ramón Jiménez, Nobel laureate (1956) Spanish poet (1881);
  • Howard Hughes, USA millionaire (1905);
  • Ava Gardner, actress (1922);
  • Robert Joffrey, choreographer (1930).

The birthday flower for this day is the chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum sinensis X indicum.  It is an emblem of the solar disc and is under the dominion of Sagittarius.  It symbolises abundance and wealth, regal beauty and cheerfulness in adversity.  A red chrysanthemum in the language of flowers speaks the words: “I love you”; a white one stands for “truth”, while a yellow one implies dejection and slighted love.
“Silent Night” was composed on this day in 1818 by Franz Gruber and sung for the first time the next day, Christmas 1818.
On Christmas Eve all Christmas decorations should be put up, the Christmas tree trimmed and the ivy, holly and mistletoe brought it to the house for the first time only today.  The Yule Log or “Christmas Brand” must be brought into the house and this log should be taken from your own trees, found or be given to you, but never bought.  It should be lit at dusk with a splinter from last year’s Yule Log. It should burn all night, but preferably burn all night and then all through the twelve nights of Christmas.  It should not be left to go out but it can be extinguished and re-lit. The piece that is kept for lighting next year’s log will protect the house from burning down all through the year.  The Christmas candle should be lit for the first time tonight and it should be large enough to light the evening meal for the next twelve days.  It should be bright red in colour and must never blow out accidentally but always snuffed at the end of the meal.
The Finns have a tradition that recounts how on Christmas Eve, one of the longest nights in the year, ghosts roam the earth. They set out candles on the graves of dead relatives making the travels of the spirits from and to the graves easier. The candles also placate the ghosts and ensure that the family is safe.

Monday 23 December 2013


“How incessant and great are the ills with which a prolonged old age is replete…” - C. S. Lewis
We watched the Dustin Hoffman 2012 film “Quartet”  starring Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Tom Courtenay. The screenplay is based on Ronald Harwood’s play, and this stage origin sometimes shows. The film was very reminiscent of “The Very Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” which I have previously reviewed here. Maggie Smith’s character in particular was very similar.
The plot in a nutshell concerns former opera singers, Cecily (Collins), Reggie (Courtenay), and Wilfred (Connolly) who are in a home for retired musicians. Every year, on October 10, there is a concert to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday and they take part. Another operatic soprano, Jean (Smith), who used to be married to Reggie, suddenly arrives at the home and disrupts their equilibrium. She still acts like a diva, but refuses to sing as she believes she has lost the agility of her voice. The three residents have to build bridges over broken relationships first and then to convince Joan to sing and take part in the gala concert.
This film is Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut at age 75. This is a movie for veteran actors, and there are many good, solid performances in this ensemble piece about the ageing residents of the retirement home. Hoffman doesn’t stray into overwrought drama or mawkishness and his direction is restrained. The humour ranges from the subtle to the occasional slapstick but there is also an emotional undercurrent. Although the stars play satisfying characters well (as they should at their age), the supporting actors are also well chosen. The sets and costumes are delightful, and the music is of course wonderful.
Although we enjoyed this movie, it is nowhere near the calibre of “The Very Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, which deals with a similar topic. It is not as deep nor as satisfying as the “Marigold Hotel”. Nevertheless, it is a light-weight, enjoyable movie, perfect for a quiet night in or a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Sunday 22 December 2013


“Every man with a bellyful of the classics is an enemy to the human race.” - Henry Miller
Cesar Santos (born 1982) is a Cuban-American artist. He studied at the Miami Dade College and the New World School of the Arts before travelling to Florence, where he trained at the Angel Academy of Art under the tutelage of Michael John Angel, a student of Pietro Annigoni. He returned to Miami, where he developed his philosophy of marrying both the classical and the modern juxtaposed within one painting.
His influences range from the Renaissance to the masters of the nineteenth century to Modernism. With superb technique, he infuses a harmony between the natural and the conceptual to create works that are provocative and dramatic. He has been the recipient of numerous accolades including a first place award from a competition sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Santos has had exhibitions throughout the United States, Europe and Latin America, including the Villa Bardini Museum in Florence, Italy, the National Gallery in Costa Rica and the Frost Art Museum in Miami, Florida.
With his paintings, Santos proves that beauty is timeless. Influenced by the Renaissance, masters of the nineteenth century and Modernism, his works reflect both classical and modern interpretations. In many of his works, a refined painting technique comes together with colourful and at times abstract contemporary fragments. And the results are amazing: Men, women, and icons such as “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” and “Mona Lisa's Niece” become personages of today while keeping their original charm. His "Rebirth of Painting" above shows evidently his homage to classicism, but once again there are modern elements that surprise and intrigue. It will be interesting to watch this artist's maturation and development of a style that goes beyond the derivative.

A video about his activities (not only in painting!) can be seen here: