Saturday 8 February 2014


“Beauty and folly are old companions.” - Benjamin Franklin

La Folía (Spanish), also folies d’Espagne (French), Follies of Spain (English) or Follia (Italian), is one of the oldest remembered and recorded European musical themes. The theme exists in two versions, referred to as early folia and late folia, the earlier being faster.

Over the course of three centuries, more than 150 composers have used this theme in their works. The first publications of the folia date from the middle of the 17th century, but it is probably much older. Plays of the renaissance theatre in Portugal, including works by Gil Vicente, mention the folia as a dance performed by shepherds or peasants. The Portuguese origin is recorded in the 1577 treatise “De musica libri septem” by Francisco de Salinas.

Jean-Baptiste Lully, along with Philidor l’Aîné in 1672, Arcangelo Corelli in 1700, Marin Marais in 1701, Alessandro Scarlatti in 1710, Antonio Vivaldi in his Opus 1 No. 12 of 1705, Francesco Geminiani in his Concerto Grosso No. 12 (which was, in fact, part of a collection of direct transcriptions of Corelli’s violin sonatas), George Frederick Handel in the Sarabande of his Keyboard Suite in D minor HWV 437 of 1727, and Johann Sebastian Bach in his Peasants’ Cantata of 1742 are considered to highlight this ‘later’ folia repeating theme in a brilliant way.  Antonio Salieri’s 26 variations, produced late in his career, are among his finest works.

In the 19th century, Franz Liszt included a version of the Folia in his Rhapsodie Espagnole, and Ludwig van Beethoven quoted it briefly in the second movement of his Fifth Symphony. La Folia once again regained composers’ interest during the 1930s with Sergei Rachmaninov in his Variations on a theme by Corelli in 1931 and Manuel María Ponce and his Variations on “Spanish Folia” and Fugue for guitar.

The “Early Folia relies in the application of a specific compositional and improvisational method to simple melodies in minor mode. Thus, the essence of the “early Folia” was not a specific theme or a fixed sequence of chords but rather a compositional-improvisational process which could generate these sequences of chords.
The “later Folia” is a standard chord progression (i-V-i-VII / III-VII-[i or VI]-V / i-V-i-VII / III-VII-[i or VI7]-V[4-3sus]-i) and usually features a standard or “stock” melody line, a slow sarabande in triple meter, as its initial theme. This theme generally appears at the start and end of a given “Folia” composition, serving as “bookends” for a set of variations within which both the melodic line and even the meter may vary.

In turn, written variations on the “later Folia” may give way to sections consisting of partial or pure improvisation similar to those frequently encountered in the twelve-bar blues that rose to prominence in the twentieth century.

Here is Arcangelo Corelli’s (17 February 1653 – 8 January 1713) version of the “later folia” for violin and continuo, taking the form of a suite of variations (from the Op. 5 Sonatas). It is a lively and inventive interpretation of this theme. One of Corelli’s famous students, Geminiani, thought so much of the Opus 5 Sonatas that he arranged all the works in that group as Concerti Grossi.

Friday 7 February 2014


“Anything is good if it’s made of chocolate.” - Jo Brand

The weather in Melbourne is very hot with the temperature reaching maxima around 40˚C for a few days. The heatwave will continue through February, and hopefully we shall start to see some lovely Autumn weather in March.

Lots of cool water to drink, salads to eat and ice-cold desserts will keep the body temperature down! Here is a rather rich and filling dessert, which nevertheless is quite cool and goes down easily after a very light meal such as a salad during these hot Summer days.

BLACK FOREST MOUSSE  (for 4 people)

4 slices of madeira or butter cake
4 tablespoons cherry conserve
4 dashes Kirsch liqueur
Griottines (cherries macerated in kirsch, common in Fougerolles, Haute-Saône, in Franche-Comté, eastern France
Enough standard chocolate mousse to fill your receptacles of choice
Lashings of whipped cream
Slivers of toasted blanched almonds (can substitute with chocolate cookie crumbs)
Grated dark chocolate

Mix the cherry conserve well with the Kirsch and wet each of the slices of cake in the mixture.  Cut the cake into small cubes and put at the bottom of your serving bowls (parfait glasses are good).
Spoon the chocolate mousse mixture on top of the cake, alternately with some griottines, filling your receptacles.
Top with whipped cream, grated dark chocolate, chopped almonds (or crumbed cookies) and a cherry on top!

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

Thursday 6 February 2014


“Which of these activities occupies more of your time: Foraging for food or surfing the Web? Probably the latter. We’re all informavores now, hunting down and consuming data as our ancestors once sought woolly mammoths and witchetty grubs. You may even buy your groceries online.” - Rachel Chalmers
Each year the Macquarie Dictionary names a Word of the Year from a shortlist of words that have made a valuable contribution to the language. And it has declared 2013 to be the year of the “infovore”. The Macquarie defines an infovore as “a person who craves information, especially one who takes advantage of their ready access to it on digital devices”.
The term infovore or informavore (also spelled informivore) describes a person that consumes information. It is meant to be a description of human behaviour in modern information society, and the word is formed in comparison to omnivore, as a description of humans consuming food.
George A. Miller coined the term in 1983 as an analogy to how organisms survive by consuming negative entropy (as suggested by Erwin Schrödinger). Miller states, “Just as the body survives by ingesting negative entropy, so the mind survives by ingesting information. In a very general sense, all higher organisms are informavores.”
An early use of the term was in a newspaper article by Jonathan Chevreau where he quotes a speech made by Zenon Pylyshyn of the University of Western Ontario’s Centre for Cognitive Science:
“Zenon Pylyshyn closed the conference with an apt description of Homo sapiens in the information age — Man the Information Processor, or Informavore.”
Jonathan Chevreau, “Some A1 applications wishful thinking”, The Globe and Mail, March 30, 1984
Soon after, the term appeared in the introduction of Pylyshyn’s seminal book on Cognitive Science, “Computation and Cognition”. More recently the term has been popularised by philosopher Daniel Dennett in his book Kinds of Minds and by cognitive scientist Steven Pinker.
Humans are active information foragers who gather and consume new knowledge, unlike a passive sponge that sits in the sea depths and relies on whatever the sea currents bring its way. From controlling the movement of our eyes to determining which sources of news to consult, judging the quality of alternative sources of information is a critical part of our behaviour.  Researchers are now investigating, explaining and predicting how people shape their information seeking behaviours to their information environments. Nowadays a lot of this relies  on the Web, Twitter, social tagging systems, media, etc.
By hunting around for reliable information that satisfies our need to learn we construct Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). A PLN is an informal structure of information sources around a learner (or informavore!), with which he/she interacts and derives knowledge from in an environment that is adapted to the individual’s own needs. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another information source with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection. Generally, in a PLN, individuals are involved and the interactions between them is how information is transferred.
An important part of this concept of PLNs is the theory of connectivism developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their personal development and knowledge.
A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is very much related to a PLN and is sometimes used synonymously with it. PLEs can be created independently, by building and collecting content sources from the Web, including creating content through blogs, podcasts, slideshares, etc. A natural extension of one’s PLE is the development of relationships with individuals that emerge from the process of building the PLE, which is how the PLN develops. When connections from a PLN are engaged, knowledge creation becomes interdependent.
In Dryden and Vos’s book on learning networks (Dryden, Gordon; Vos, Jeannette (2005). “The New Learning Revolution: How Britain Can Lead the World in Learning, Education, and Schooling”. UK: Network Educational Press Ltd), we read:
“For the first time in history, we know now how to store virtually all humanity’s most important information and make it available, almost instantly, in almost any form, to almost anyone on earth. We also know how to do that in great new ways so that people can interact with it, and learn from it.”

Wednesday 5 February 2014


“Death is better than slavery.” - Harriet Ann Jacobs

Poetry Jam this week has invited participants to write a tribute poem to honour someone, famous or not, who is nevertheless admired and is worthy of praise. The poem below was written after I watched a documentary on serf labourers, so common in many rural situations in Europe until the late 19th century. These people were no better than slaves and their life was long struggle for survival under cruel circumstances where the bondsmen had no rights and no avenue to appeal against whatever ill-treatment they received.

Most of us have family trees that are of fairly ordinary wood and which include ancestors who are common people of no other distinction than a will to survive in adverse circumstances. My poem is a tribute to those forebears who have lived and survived and whose issue we are.

With Eyes Closed

With eyes closed firmly, I sit and ponder,
Thinking of you, my distant forebear;
My thoughts unhindered run and wander
Through all the common history we share.

Your name, your fate and date of death
Is all I know; but that for me is ample
To give your picture life and breath,
So that I draw strength from your example.

You had a dream, you lived your life
Battling with dragons, just to survive;
Your children to protect, your wife –
And proof of your success, is that I thrive.

A yellowed photograph, your tattered bible,
The names of my ancestors written there;
A wooden statuette – memories ancient, tribal,
Enough to make me offer thankful prayer…

I have you in my heart, and give respect,
And through the ages we touch souls, connect;
Your blood flows in my veins and I bear fruits
Proud of your struggle, my heritage, my roots.

Tuesday 4 February 2014


“Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it.” - Ernest Holmes

Mirrors have a long history of use both as household objects and as objects of decoration. The earliest mirrors were hand mirrors; those large enough to reflect the whole body did not appear until the 1st century AD. Hand mirrors were adopted by the Celts from the Romans and by the end of the Middle Ages had become quite common throughout Europe, usually being made of silver, or of polished bronze, as a cheaper alternative.

A typical mirror nowadays is a sheet of glass that is coated on its back with aluminium or silver such that it produces images by reflection. A method of backing a plate of flat glass with a thin sheet of reflecting metal came into widespread production in Venice during the 16th century; an amalgam of tin and mercury was the metal used. The chemical process of coating a glass surface with metallic silver was discovered by Justus von Liebig in 1835, and this advance inaugurated the modern techniques of mirror making.

Present-day mirrors are made by sputtering a thin layer of molten aluminium or silver onto the back of a plate of glass in a vacuum. In mirrors used in telescopes and other optical instruments, the aluminium is evaporated onto the front surface of the glass rather than on the back, in order to eliminate faint reflections from the glass itself. This gives clearer and sharper images of astronomical bodies.

Mirrors are much more than accessories of vanity.  Throughout history they have been used to predict the future, believed to have been capable of capturing and transporting souls, and to have been capable of reflecting happenings at other places and times.  Mirrors have also served as metaphors with many meanings, as symbols of divinity and power, implements of distortion, and tools for self-reflection.  The mirror, in its variety of forms and applications, has captured the human imagination and is the subject of much symbolism, folklore and myth.

In symbolism, the mirror can point towards truth, clarity and self-knowledge because its reflective qualities represent thinking. It is also an obvious symbol of vanity. Breaking a mirror is often said to bring bad luck because it is said to be harming oneself. However, this may have to do with first glass mirrors that were made which were extremely expensive and the bad luck story may have been a cautionary strategy in order to get people to look after these precious objects well.

Sylvia Plath, writing in 1961, gave the mirror the role of a rather cold, dispassionate companion on life’s journey:
“I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.”

St. Paul’s mirror metaphor in 1 Corinthians 13:12 relates: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” This has been interpreted as meaning that man only sees through a glass, darkly and inaccurately, and signifies man’s earthly ignorance. St Paul implies that we can only become aware of the true face of God by gazing directly at him in the next life, as opposed to our perception of God “through a glass darkly” when we are alive.

In “Snow White”, the Mirror plays a very important role, being a cold, honest observer of the world and functioning much like Sylvia Plath’s looking glass. The mirror is both the servant and the master of the evil queen, forcing her to act in desperation in order to make the mirror reflect again the new truth of her own beauty once she destroys Snow White.

In “Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass”, Lewis Carroll has Alice travel through the flat boundary of the mirror’s glass in order to reach a magic land full of surprises and quirky creatures that represent a distorted version of reality within the depths of Looking Glass Land.

Catoptromancy is the word used to describe the use of a mirror to predict the future. This is a more specific term than “scrying”, which means to foretell the future gazing into a crystal ball or any other reflective object or surface. Catoptromancy can involve an oracle that scries into a mirror and foretells the future, or it can be catoptromancy in which a god or a demon is invoked and it is these supernatural beings that will proclaim the future using the mirror as portal. Mirrors have always been regarded as “supernatural” and their use in catoptromancy as a means to revelation is not surprising.

Mirror images have been immortalised by many artists throughout the ages. For example, Van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrait”, Velaszquez’s “Las Meninas”, Johannes Gumpp’s “Self-Portrait”, Manet’s “Bar at the Folies Bergére”, Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror” and M. C. Escher’s “Hand Holding a Reflective Sphere”. The way in which the artist may use the mirror as means of self-consciousness, both for himself as well as for the viewer is a powerful technique in such a voyeuristic medium as the portrait or self-portrait in art. This goes back to our own infancy, when we first begin to recognise our own reflection as being “us”, and this occurs at about the same time we first master the use of the pronouns “I” and “me” (from 20 to 24 months, when 65 percent of infants demonstrate recognition of their mirror images).

Monday 3 February 2014


“For what purpose humanity is there should not even concern us: Why you are there, that you should ask yourself; and if you have no ready answer, then set for yourself goals, high and noble goals, and perish in pursuit of them! I know of no better life purpose than to perish in attempting the great and the impossible...” - Friedrich Nietzsche
We seem to be going through a Turkish film viewing phase at the moment as our public library has brought in some very good DVDs lately. Turkish cinema has come very far in the last two decades and film production values are of a high standard, scenarios are varied and interesting and the acting is excellent. At the weekend we watched another such movie, which dealt with a current issue sensitively and explored some problems that Turkish society is coping with at the moment.
The film was the 2010 Nesli Çölgeçen movie “Denizden Gelen” (From the Sea), starring Onur Saylak, Ahu Türkpençe, Jordan Deniz Boyner, Burak Demir, and Emin Gursoy. It deals with Halil (Saylak), a policeman accused of killing a black illegal immigrant. His trial hearing in Izmir is suspended pending the evidence of an expert witness. Halil decides to take some time off and goes back to his hometown of Mugla to put in order his thoughts and make sense of his life. While on the beach he discovers a small black child, Jordan, floating in the water near the shore. The boy is nearly dead and Halil saves him and rushes him to hospital where the child is looked after. Yaren (Türkpençe), a nurse at the hospital develops a bond with the child and stirs Halil’s conscience regarding not only the child, but also his whole attitude towards illegal immigrants. Together, the nurse and Halil help the child try to contact his father as his mother has drowned in the boat that was taking the family to Greece.
The film deals with a burning issue that is causing concern around the world. Illegal immigrants and refugees are seen with increasing frequency and in increasing numbers in most Western-type countries. Globally in 2012, 45.2 million people became refugees because of forced displacement This figure includes 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers and 28.8 million internally displaced persons. Between 1993 and 2011, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettled more than 800,000 refugees. The top 10 countries of origin were Iraq (140,367), Burma (138,751), Somalia (97,912), Bhutan (74,470), Sudan (46,748), Afghanistan, (42,989), Iran (40,875), Bosnia and Herzegovina (27,368), Dem. Rep. of Congo (25,283) and Ethiopia (24,762).
Political, social and economic causes are the main reasons for refugee movements across great distances and at even greater risk, such that they find a better life or avoid imprisonment or death in their home country. Countless numbers of such refugees find tragic deaths in their attempt to survive and live a better life. Turkey and Greece are a nexus for the movement of illegal immigrants into the European Union and both countries try very hard to deal with this problem in a humane way. Needless to say that tragedy is never far, with many refugees dying or living a life of slavery and working in inhumane conditions as they are taken advantage of by unscrupulous people.
We were thoroughly absorbed by this movie, which kept our interest up throughout and dealt sensitively with a thorny issue. The acting was very good and the little child playing Jordan did a sterling job of conveying a range of emotions and coming across as a believable character. The issue of racism and prejudice is highlighted by the plot and the range of characters involved and the transformations they go through. A couple of weaker subplots regarding father/son relationships and problems faced by single women in Turkey are not developed fully, but nevertheless find a place in the main story and support the main theme.
Living in Australia, the film was particularly relevant to us as one constantly hears that we are being swamped by boat people and refugees, with much negativity and adverse public opinion about refugees being rampant within the community. The number of people arriving in Australia to claim asylum jumped by more than a third last year to 15,800 people, driven by an increase in arrivals from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Australia resettles the third largest number of refugees of any country per capita, but the actual asylum seeker numbers in Australia, while politically sensitive, remain numerically small. The UNHCR says Australia receives about three per cent of the total asylum claims made in industrialised countries around the world and, “by comparison, asylum levels in Australia continue to remain below those recorded by many other industrialised and non-industrialised countries”.
Watch this film if you can get your hands on it as it is well-made and deals well with the issues of refugees and displaced persons.

Sunday 2 February 2014


“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most.” - John Ruskin
Paul Ranson was a French painter and designer (born Limoges, 1864; died Paris, 20 Feb 1909). He was the son of a successful local politician and was encouraged from the outset in his artistic ambitions. He studied at the Écoles des Arts Décoratifs in Limoges and Paris but transferred in 1886 to the Académie Julian. There he met Paul Sérusier and in 1888 became one of the original members of the group known as the “Nabis”.
The Nabis, was a group of artists who, through their widely diverse activities, exerted a major influence on the art produced in France during the late 19th century. They maintained that a work of art reflects an artist’s synthesis of nature into personal aesthetic metaphors and symbols.
The Nabis were greatly influenced by Japanese woodcuts, French Symbolist painting, and English Pre-Raphaelite art. Their primary inspiration, however, stemmed from the Pont-Aven school, which centred on the Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. Under Gauguin’s direct guidance, Paul Sérusier, the group’s founder, painted the first Nabi work, “Landscape at the Bois d’Amour at Pont-Aven” (1888; also called “The Talisman”), a small, near-abstract landscape composed of patches of simplified, non-naturalistic colour.
From 1890 onwards, Ranson and his wife France hosted Saturday afternoon meetings of the Nabis in their apartment in the Boulevard du Montparnasse, jokingly referred to as ‘Le Temple’. Ranson acted as linchpin for the sometimes dispersed group. Noted for his enthusiasm and wit and for his keen interests in philosophy, theosophy and theatre, he brought an element of esoteric ritual to their activities. For example he introduced the secret Nabi language and the nicknames used familiarly within the group. He also constructed a puppet theatre in his studio for which he wrote plays that were performed by the Nabis before a discerning public of writers and politicians.
Ranson’s work showed a consistent commitment to the decorative arts: Like Maillol he made designs for tapestry, some of which were executed by his wife. His linear, sinuous style, seen in works such as “Woman Standing beside a Balustrade with a Poodle”, had strong affinities with Japanese prints and with contemporary developments in Art Nouveau design; it was a style suited to a variety of media, stained glass, lithography, ceramics or tapestry.
Ranson tended to favour exotic, symbolic or quasi-religious motifs rather than subjects observed from nature. In his Nabi Landscape of 1890, for example, he sets a variety of obscure feminine symbols within a fantasy landscape. After his early death in 1909 his wife continued to run the Académie Ranson, which they had opened in 1908 to disseminate Nabi aesthetic ideas and techniques to a younger generation. Teaching was undertaken on a voluntary basis by other Nabis, especially Denis and Sérusier.
The work above is “A Clearing at the Edge of the Forest” (1895). The strong decorative elements of the work show a kinship to the sinuous forms of Art Nouveau and its colours are similar to Gauguin’s palette, and contain the seeds of Fauvism. The painting also shows a relationship to Japanese prints with the gradations of colour in sky and background behind the yellow trees that show an almost abstract silhouette, against which the trees of the foreground are placed. It is a highly satisfying work and possesses an other-worldly beauty that invites the spectator into it.