Saturday 4 January 2014


“If I could I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results.” - Emily Brontë
Giovanni Henrico Albicastro was the pseudonym of Johann Heinrich von Weissenburg (c. 1660 – after 1730), a talented amateur musician who published his compositions pseudonymously. Albicastro came from the village of Bieswangen, near Pappenheim in central Bavaria, not far from the village of Weissenburg (“White Castle”, thus “Albicastro”). Johann Gottfried Walther included Albicastro in his Musicalisches Lexicon (1732) under the mistaken supposition that Albicastro came from Switzerland; consequently he has often been included in lists of Swiss musicians. He might be classified as a Bavarian-born composer of Italian music that was published in both the Protestant and Catholic Low Countries.
In 1686 Weissenburg arrived in Leiden, in the Netherlands, where he registered at the University of Leiden as a Musicus Academiae, but his name does not appear in the university’s archives. In 1696 a collection of twelve of his trio sonatas appeared, entitled Il giardino armonico sacro-profano (“The Sacred-Profane Harmonic Garden”), Opus 3. Edited by Francois Barbry, it was published in Bruges by Francois van Heurck; no copies of the last six, or of Albicastro's opus 1 or opus 2 from Bruges seem to have survived.

In Amsterdam a separate set of opus numbers were published by Estienne Roger: Collections of violin sonatas (Opp. 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9), trio sonatas (Opp. 1, 4 and 8), and string concertos (Op. 7) in a Corellian idiom. During the last phases of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1713), he served as a captain of cavalry. He remained active in this position until 1730, the last that is heard of him.
Here are his complete opus 7 concertos, played by Collegium Marianum & Collegium 1704 Riccardo Masahide Minasi, principal violin Václav Luks, harpsichord & direction Luca Giardini, Eleonora Machová, Markéta Knittlová, Edouardo Garcia Salas - violin I Lenka Koubková, Jan Hádek, Lenka Zelbová, Petr Zemanec - violin II Josef Fiala Donate Schack, Katerina Trsnavská - viola Marek Štryncl, Detmar Leertouwer, Doris Runge - cello Xenia Löffler, Meike Güldenhaupt - oboe Jan Krigovský, Ondřej Štajnochr - double bass Evangelina Mascardi – theorbo.

The illustration is Poussin’s “Landscape with a Calm Lake (1650/1651).

Friday 3 January 2014


“Go vegetable heavy. Reverse the psychology of your plate by making meat the side dish and vegetables the main course.” - Bobby Flay
We are experiencing a bout of cool, rainy weather in Melbourne at the moment. As the temperature is low, it is a good idea to revert to some nice soup for a light dinner. Use your own resources and seasonal vegetables to make this a year-round treat.
Pureed Vegetable Soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or parsley
6 cups chopped potatoes, broccoli, carrots, beans (or whatever other vegetables you have)
2 cups water
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch of ground mace
Heat butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until the butter melts. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes.
Stir in vegetables and cook for a few minutes to coat with oil and brown slightly.
Add garlic and thyme (or parsley); cook, stirring, until fragrant, about a minute or two.
Add water and broth; bring to a lively simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a rollicking simmer and cook until very tender.
Puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.) Stir in cream, salt, mace and pepper.
Serve with some crusty bread and butter.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 2 January 2014


“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” - Marcus Tullius Cicero
Living in the city certainly has its advantages. Our society is becoming increasingly urbanised and therefore governments tend to look after city dwellers better than they do country dwellers – after all that’s where most of the votes are. A city can offer convenience in transportation, shopping, amenities, services, facilities, entertainment, sporting venues, etc, etc. The down side of all of this of course is that we are becoming crowded into smaller and smaller spaces, with a decreased privacy, more liable to the effects of excessive noise, pollution, congestion, crime, etc, etc.
One of the greatest things that city dwellers may need to sacrifice is the pleasure of natural ambience, be it the wide open spaces of the great outdoors or the tamed natural space of a garden. Sure enough there may be parks in a city and some houses may be lucky enough to have a garden, but for the most part, in most large cities around the world, the opportunity to interact with nature may be limited.
I consider myself exceedingly lucky to live in a major metropolis (Melbourne has a population of 4.25 million, and it also has the fastest growing population rate amongst all Australian capital cities), but still be able to enjoy the pleasures of an urban garden. Our garden is a sanctuary, a space where we can enter and unwind, observe the change of the seasons, and be able to extend our activities into, as weather allows. It is a place where we can plant and cultivate – flowers for our vases, herbs for the kitchen pot and even a few seasonal vegetables: Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, lettuce, Spring onions, spinach, silverbeet, according to the season.
We are gradually being surrounded by increased housing density. Single dwellings in our street are being demolished and in their place there are multi-dwelling developments being built. Units, flats, apartment buildings. It is sad to see the gardens gradually disappearing and what once was a green suburb become a place of concrete and multi-storey (generally ugly) buildings. Such is the way of urban agglomerations, human greed and increasingly lax building regulations that allow more and more people to live in smaller and smaller spaces. At the current rate, it looks like Melbourne will become more like another of the overseas ugly large modern cities with great aggregations of multi-storey apartment buildings everywhere.
When we lived in Athens, our suburb was green and gardens were not infrequently seen. Now visiting Athens one doesn’t recognise the place of old. Athens has become a large, sprawling concrete jungle. Only the very rich and privileged can afford dwellings with gardens. Melbourne is marching down the same path, unfortunately.
For the present, we can enjoy our garden, our urban oasis and be grateful that we are able to maintain it against the overdevelopment that is surrounding us. Inevitably of course, even our little Eden will disappear and concrete will be found where now there roses blooming…

Wednesday 1 January 2014


“Celebrate what you want to see more of.” - Tom Peters

New Year’s Day: The Romans introduced the custom of celebrating the beginning of the year on January 1st in 46 BC.  They called this celebration the January calendae, and they decorated their houses with lights and greenery for the three days that the festivities lasted. People exchanged gifts that were carefully chosen so as to ensure the propitiousness of the year ahead. Gifts of honey and sweets were given and meant that one wished the receiver to have a year of peace and sweetness; gifts of money or gold meant that the year would be prosperous; while giving lamps or candles meant that the year would be filled with light and happiness.  The emperor also received gifts from the citizens to wish him a happy year ahead.

This tradition was adopted by the countries that Rome had subjugated. In England, for example, the feudal lords received samples of produce from the peasants tilling their land.  The lords in turn sent to the King something more valuable (gold was always a popular gift!).  Amongst the common people a traditional New Year’s Day gift was a dried orange stuck with cloves and a sprig of rosemary tied with silk ribbons.

Many Englishmen used to give their wives money so that they could buy pins for the whole year ahead. Before the industrial revolution of the 1800s, pins and needles were very expensive as they were hand-made. After the 1800s when pins and needles were mass-produced, the custom disappeared, but the term pin-money is still used to describe money set aside for minor personal expenses.

Handsel Monday, the first Monday in the New Year, was a great holiday in Scotland in olden times. It was devoted to the giving and receiving of presents or money.  Handsel refers to a gift at the commencement of a new season, some new beginning or the enduing of some new garment. Farmers used to treat their workers to a hearty breakfast on this day and young children visited their parents and relatives requesting a gift.  Postmen, deliverers of newspapers and other neighbourhood providers of various services also expected some sort of present, this “handsel” being the equivalent of the Boxing Day gift in England (see December 26th).  “Handsel Money” can also refer to the first (and hence lucky) sum of money a trader receives at the beginning of the trading day.  This tradition is still very much alive and well in Greece and many of the Near Eastern countries.

St Basil was one of the Fathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. He was born in Caesarea (now, in Turkey) in the fourth century AD and during his life he sailed to Greece, where he was active, until his death on the 1st of January.  Many legends relating to his life commemorate his kindness to children.  This has led to the custom of gift giving on New Year’s Day in Greece.  St Basil thus has a similar role to the Santa Claus of other nations.  Being the first day of the year, tradition has it that one must receive money on this day (and hence continue to receive it everyday of that year!).  This is the Greek custom of the “bonamas” (a term perhaps related to the Italian buon anno or even the French bonne âme), a monetary gift to friends and relatives.

The vassilopitta, St Basil’s Cake, is another Greek tradition, and this is a sweet, raised yeast cake which contains a silver or gold coin (depending on the family’s finances!).  The father of the family cuts the cake after the New Year is heralded in and distributes the pieces in strict order: First, one for the Saints, then one for the House, then one for each member of the family, from the most senior to the youngest child. Then pieces for the guests, livestock and then for the poor, the remainder being for the “house”.  The person finding the lucky coin is assured of luck for the rest of the year.

The tradition of the “first foot” or podhariko is widespread in Greece, as it is in some other European countries, and the British Isles.  This involves the first visitor to enter the house on New Year’s Day.  He sets the pattern of good or bad luck that will enter the house for the year.  The luckiest first foot is a dark-haired stranger who must be male.  Unlucky first foots are female, red or blond-haired, cross-eyed, with eyebrows that meet across the nose.  The first foot must have been outside the house before midnight and must enter the house any time after the clock has struck midnight, as long as he is the first to come in.  Good luck is ensured if the “first foot” brings with him some token gift, a loaf of bread symbolising sustenance for the whole year, coal or wood symbolising warmth or a few coins or some salt, symbolising prosperity.

Other Greek traditional sweets for New Year’s Day (except the vassilopitta) are melomakarona (honey macaroons) and dhiples (thin, crisply fried pancakes served with honey and crushed nuts).  A renewal of the water in the house is another custom.  Fresh spring water is drawn and taken into the house on New Year’s morning as St Basil’s Water. This is used to fill ewers, jugs, vases and other containers, thus blessing the house for the whole year.

Carolling is popular and the carollers must be given some money to ensure prosperity for the coming year.  The carol sung is the New Year’s kalanda (from the Latin calendae, first day of the month). The carollers often hold a model of a sailing ship, beautifully made and decorated, symbolising St Basil’s ship on which he sailed to Greece. They accompany themselves with steel triangles, drums, fifes and other folk instruments while going around from house to house. Here is the Greek New Year’s Carol:

Tuesday 31 December 2013

HAPPY 2014!

“In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, never in want.” Irish toast

“Resolve to make at least one person happy every day, and then in ten years you may have made three thousand, six hundred and fifty persons happy, or brightened a small town by your contribution to the fund of general enjoyment.” Sydney Smith

“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.” G. K. Chesterton

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” T. S. Eliot

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.” Benjamin Franklin

May what you see in the mirror delight you, and what others see in you delight them. May you live until you love and love until you live. May someone love you enough to forgive your faults, be blind to your blemishes, and tell the world about your virtues. May your path be straight and wide and easily trod; and if the path become hard and stony, may your shoes be strong enough to tread it to its end. May you have health and peace and happiness and a ripe old age. May you live until you want to and want to as long as you live.

Happy New Year to everyone!

Monday 30 December 2013


“You don’t fight racism with racism, the best way to fight racism is with solidarity.” - Bobby Seale

Quentin Jerome Tarantino (born March 27, 1963) is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, and actor. His films have been characterised by nonlinear storylines, satirical subject matter, and an aestheticisation of violence that often results in the exhibition of neo-noir characteristics. Tarantino has been dubbed a “director DJ”, comparing his stylistic use of mix-and-match genre and music infusion to the use of sampling in DJ exhibits, morphing a variety of old works to create a new one.

Tarantino grew up an avid film fan and worked in a video rental store while training to act. His career began in the late 1980s, when he wrote and directed “My Best Friend’s Birthday”, the screenplay of which formed the basis for “True Romance”. In the early 1990s, he began his career as an independent filmmaker with the release of “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992; regarded as a classic and cult hit, it was called the ‘Greatest Independent Film of All Time’ by Empire magazine. Its popularity was boosted by the release of his second film, 1994's “Pulp Fiction”, a neo-noir crime film that became a major critical and commercial success, widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. Paying homage to 1970s blaxploitation films, Tarantino released “Jackie Brown” in 1997, an adaptation of the novel “Rum Punch”.

Tarantino’s films have gained both critical and commercial success. He has received many industry awards, including two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, two BAFTA Awards, the Palme d’ Or, has been nominated for an Emmy and a Grammy, and has been named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine in 2005. Filmmaker and historian Peter Bogdanovich has called him “…the single most influential director of his generation”.

Last weekend we watched Tarantino’s 2012 “Django Unchained”, starring  Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. This is an offbeat “Western”, set in the Deep South, two years before the American Civil War. This gives Tarantino ample scope for making a brutal, bloody, terrifying, hilarious and awe-inspiring film masquerading as a buddy movie. Akin to “spaghetti Westerns” this movie is a “gumbo Southern”.

The first half of the film takes place on the road from Texas to Mississippi as bounty hunting dentist Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) recruits a slave named Django (Foxx) to help him find three outlaw brothers known by appearance to Django alone. After Django helps Schultz with his job, it’s time for the doctor to aid his partner to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda, who resides at “Candyland”, an antebellum plantation run by the sinister and sadistic Calvin Candie (DiCaprio).

The film is excessive on all counts and there are points of awkward humour, lots of bloody, gory violence and much pandering to populist racist/anti-racist sentiment. At 165 minutes, it is a long and meandering film, yet it has its moments and it does manage to keep interest up through a number of devices – plot twists, violence, character surprises, oddball humour, violence, playing on our expectations and did I mention violence? The movie is a western, a drama, a tragedy, a comedy, an action, a thriller, a parody, an anti-racist paean, and in its heart a romance as well. Typical Tarantino, with a cherry on top.

Not surprisingly, the film has polarised viewers. We saw it and were engaged by it, although some scenes were quite horrific and did not please us at all. If you can’t stomach violence this film is not for you. The idea behind the film was interesting and Tarantino’s screenplay showed originality – in answer to his critics perhaps, that his movies are derivative and a rehash of old ideas in new garb. The film is not in the best of taste, but somehow engages and the viewer watches helplessly. I am loth to recommend it, and yet will do so – watch it if you have a strong stomach and can cope with strong themes and colourful language.

Sunday 29 December 2013


“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Raphael Soyer (1899 - 1987), was a Russian-born American artist, best known for his compassionate, naturalistic depictions of urban subjects. His sensitive, penetrating portrayals include a broad range of city dwellers: Bowery bums, dancers, seamstresses, shoppers, office workers and fellow artists. Historically, Soyer is associated with the social realist artists of the 1930s, whose art championed the cause of social justice.

Born in Tombov, Russia in 1899, Soyer emigrated with his family to the United States in 1912. His siblings included a twin brother, Moses, and a brother, Isaac, who both became successful artists. After settling with his family in New York City, the young Soyer pursued an art education at Cooper Union from 1914 to 1917, at the National Academy of Design from 1918 to 1922, and intermittently at the Art Students League.

Soyer was referred to as an American scene painter. He is identified as a Social Realist because of his interest in men and women viewed in contemporary settings which included the streets, subways, salons and artists’ studios of New York City, although he avoided subjects that were particularly critical of society. He also wrote several books on his life and art. Soyer’s earliest work was consciously primitive in manner.

Until the late 1920s, he typically used frontal presentations, shallow pictorial space and figures rendered in caricature. Later, he developed a brushy, more gestural style that was tonal rather than coloristic. These early works are reminiscent of the paintings of Edgar Degas. Soyer’s interest in depicting his urban environment was expressed early in his career in works such as “Sixth Avenue” (ca. 1930-1935, Wadsworth Athenaeum).

As the Depression continued, the artist turned more and more to subjects directly related to the prevailing economic difficulties. One result of the mass unemployment of the 1930s that caught Soyer’s imagination was the new role of independent working women. Hemmed in by the crowd, the self-absorbed women in “Office Girls” (1936, Whitney Museum of American Art) are shown walking to or from work. Soyer’s sympathetic study of unemployed men in “Transients” (1936, University of Texas) is an example of a less propagandistic social realist work. In addition to paintings, he executed a number of lithographs of Depression scenes.

Soyer developed his subjects from New York City’s poorer sections. Unlike the painters of the Ashean School 25 years earlier, Soyer and his contemporaries did not view the city as a picturesque spectacle. Instead, they dwelt on the grim realities of poverty and industrialisation. Soyer’s work, however, is less issue-oriented than that of fellow social realist artists Philip Evergood and Ben Shahn.

After 1940, Soyer began to concentrate on the subject of women at work or posing in his studio. His technique grew more sketchy during the 1950s, but in his ambitious painting “Homage To Eakins” (1964-1965, National Portrait Gallery), he rendered the figures in a manner typical of his early work. Between 1953 and 1955, he edited “Reality”. He later wrote “Painter’s Pilgrimage” (1962), “Homage to Thomas Eakins” (1966), “Self-Revealment: A Memoir” (1969) and “Diary of an Artist” (1977).

In 1967, Soyer was given a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and his paintings have been displayed at many museums and galleries. He has taught at the Art Students League, the New School and the National Academy of Design in New York City.

In his “A Railroad Station Waiting Room” painted around 1940 (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC), we see a scene reminiscent of Daumier. An acute observation of ordinary people caught by the artist in an everyday situation. The linear composition framing the heads works well and allows the viewer to look at them all in succession. Each face tells a story and the props that surround them bring that story alive. The dark, sombre grays and browns are highlighted by the green striped wall and the splashes of colour here and there. The red headscarf of the young woman seeking work is a ray of hope, as is the baby in pink. However, when one looks at the older men further to the right, despair is seen. The yawning woman and the plump man look as though they are better off and hence in another compartment. The painting is social realism and depicts the issues of the day well.