Saturday 22 March 2014


“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” - George Eliot

Antonín Leopold Dvořák (September 8, 1841 – May 1, 1904) was a Czech composer. Following the nationalist example of Bedřich Smetana, Dvořák frequently employed features of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia (then parts of the Austrian Empire and now constituting the Czech Republic). Dvořák’s own style has been described as “the fullest recreation of a national idiom with that of the symphonic tradition, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them.”

Born in Nelahozeves, Dvořák displayed his musical gifts at an early age. His first surviving work, Forget-Me-Not Polka in C (Polka pomněnka) was written possibly as early as 1855. He graduated from the organ school in Prague in 1859. In the 1860s, he played as a violist in the Bohemian Provisional Theatre Orchestra and gave piano lessons. In 1873, he married Anna Čermáková, and left the orchestra to pursue another career as a church organist. He wrote several compositions during this period.

Dvořák’s music attracted the interest of Johannes Brahms, who assisted his career; he was also supported by the critics Eduard Hanslick and Louis Ehlert. After the premiere of his cantata “Stabat Mater” (1880), Dvořák visited the United Kingdom and became popular there; his Seventh Symphony was written for London. After a brief conducting period in Russia in 1890, Dvořák was appointed as a professor at the Prague Conservatory in 1891. In 1892, Dvořák moved to the United States and became the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City, where he also composed. However, shortfalls in payment of his salary, along with increasing recognition in Europe and an onset of homesickness made him decide to return to Bohemia.

From 1895 until his death, he composed mainly operatic and chamber music. At his death, he left several unfinished works. Among Dvořák’s best known works are his “From The New World Symphony”, the “American String Quartet”, the opera “Rusalka” and his “Cello Concerto in B minor”. Among his smaller works, the seventh “Humoresque” and the song “Songs my mother taught me” are also widely performed and recorded. He composed operas, choral music, a wide variety of chamber music, concerti and many other orchestral and vocal and instrumental pieces. He has been described as “…arguably the most versatile composer of his time.

Here is his “Requiem in B flat Minor” Op. 89, B 165, a funeral mass for soloists, choir and orchestra, composed in 1890. Dvořák composed the Requiem at the beginning of his peak creative period. The construction of the mass is not typical: The composition is divided in two basic parts, each of which begins with the original interconnection of several liturgical sequences. Dvořák inserted between the “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei” a lyrical “Pie Jesu” movement based on the final text of the “Dies Irae” sequence.

The Requiem's basic melodic motif is created by two ascending half-tones with an incorporated very sorrowful diminished third, which begins the piece and continues in many variations as the main motif throughout the whole work. Dvořák’s Requiem is a supreme opus of classicist-romantic synthesis. This composition inspired many other Czech composers, such as Josef Suk and Bohuslav Martinů. This composition was performed for the first time on 9 October 1891, in Birmingham, England, with the composer conducting.

Friday 21 March 2014


“No man can taste the fruits of autumn while he is delighting his scent with the flowers of spring.” - Samuel Johnson

Quinoa is a superfood that is very healthful and contains a large variety of nutrients. It looks and cooks like grain, but quinoa is actually a seed with high levels of antioxidant phytonutrients. It’s higher in fat than grains like wheat, and provides heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, in the form of oleic acid. It’s also much higher in protein than most grains.

Quinoa is a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium), which is a crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudo-cereal rather than a true cereal, as it is not a member of the true grass family. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beetroots, spinach and tumbleweeds. After harvest, the seeds must be processed to remove the coating containing the bitter-tasting saponins. The seeds should always be rinsed very well to remove any traces of the bitterness remaining.

Quinoa seeds are in general cooked the same way as rice and can be used in a wide range of dishes. Also, unlike many grains, quinoa is quick and easy to cook, and quite tasty. It cooks faster than rice and has lots more nutrients (essential amino acids like lysine, fibre and acceptable quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and iron, as well as being gluten-free). Mild-flavoured, it complements well any vegetable, cheese, meat or seafood that you can cook with. It comes in a variety of colours including white, red and black and can be served hot or cold. Quinoa leaves are also eaten as a leaf vegetable, much like amaranth, but the commercial availability of quinoa greens is limited.


1 and 3/4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup coarsely chopped seeded tomato
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped seeded cucumber
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine stock and quinoa in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; fluff with a fork. Stir in tomato and remaining ingredients. Cover; let stand 1 hour. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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

Thursday 20 March 2014


“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch - we are going back whence we came.” - John F. Kennedy

The island of Poros is situated off the East coast of the Peloponnesus, a stone’s throw away from the little coastal town of Galatas.  Less than an hour’s journey from Athens' port, Piraeus, on the Flying Dolphin hovercraft, it is a magical place to visit, exemplifying in many ways the picture of a Greek island most people have in their imagination.

It is a small place, in reality two islands that are joined together by a short isthmus. The smaller of the two, Sphaeria, and the larger Calavria. Ancient settlements on both islands are known from references in ancient authors, but little now remains in the form of ruins. A few slabs of marble from a temple of Poseidon on a wind-blown hill surrounded by pine trees, schinum bushes and yellow stubbly summer-dried grass is enough to evoke ancient mysteries while one gazes at the deepest azure of the sea stretching out to the horizon.

What a magical place those few ruins become in the searing shimmering heat of Greek midsummer!  The drone of the cicadas is made more intense by the heat and the sparkle of the sea while the far-off susurration of the waves breaking gently on the shore is enough to transport one to another age.  How easy it is to imagine the centuries past crumble into insignificance while one is watching the crystal waters of the Aegean lap the embroidered scalloped shores...

Bathing in those same waters while the heat is at its most intense is easily accomplished at any of a hundred or more suitable places all around the coast.  A little to the North of the Neorion bay about 100 meters from the main road joining the two islands is an enchanting little cove, “Love Bay”.  The water is an aqueous greenish blue, crystal clear, reflecting the overhanging pine boughs from the trees that grow almost to the water’s edge.

Look on the smooth rocks that dot the shore on either side of the rocky beach and you will see the black spiny sea urchins that threaten your naked feet.  Limpets hold tightly fast on those same rocks and through the magnifying lenses of the clear sea a hundred little fishes dart around in packed shoals.  The common black urchin of the Mediterranean is easily that day’s lunch by the same shore that invites you back from your swim.

The way that these sea urchins are prepared is simplicity itself, provided one takes care to wear sturdy gloves as the spines are sharp and very pointy. A sharp knife is used to cut open the urchins so that the middle cavity is exposed.  The orange roe is the only edible tasty part.  Wash the roe with sea-water and squeeze ample fresh lemon juice onto the roe.  Eat from the shells with freshly baked crusty bread.

Wednesday 19 March 2014


“The wailing owl screams solitary to the mournful moon.” - David Mallet

Poetry Jam this week is devoted to owls. We are enjoined to: “So this week think and write about this mysterious of birds. This wonderful, beautiful free spirit of the night sky.”
Here is my contribution:

The Owl and the Moon

Tu-whit tu-whoo...

The owl cries and the crickets chirp
As full moon rises,

Who calls? Who walks?
When all would sleep,
As clouds part,

Tu-whit tu-whoo,
With eyes wide-open,
Mirroring owl-moon,

A ghost? A sprite?
Unquiet graves haunting,
As moon spellbinds,

Tu-whit tu-whoo -
Fear not, walk slow,
True wisdom’s always silent,
Stay calm, and banish demons
Tonight and every night.

My hand is cold,
My heart beats quick,
As owl hoots, tu-whoo,
And nightjar warbles,

An owlet screeches,
A nighthawk cries:
My love wanes cold,
My bed lies empty
Tonight and every night…

Tuesday 18 March 2014


“Force may subdue, but love gains, and he that forgives first wins the laurel.” - William Penn

Apollo was the ancient Greek god of the sun, light, music, medicine and art. He was the twin brother of Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt and nature. Daphne was Apollo’s first love and this was not brought about by accident, but by the malice of Eros (Cupid), the mischievous son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Apollo saw the boy Eros playing with his bow and arrows, and being proud of his recent victory over Python, the evil snake that had pursued his pregnant mother, he said to Eros: “Why do you play with warlike weapons, boy?  Leave them for hands worthy of them. Look at my worthy bow and arrows with which I won my battle with Python, who stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain!”

Aphrodite’s son heard these words, and replied: “Your arrows may strike all things and kill without error, Apollo, but mine shall strike you, and make you regret your words!” He stood on a rock of Mount Parnassus, and drew from his quiver two arrows of different effect, one to excite love, the other to repel it.  The former was of gold and sharp-pointed, the latter blunt and tipped with lead. With the lead shaft he struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus, and with the golden one Apollo, through the heart. Immediately, the god passionately fell in love with Daphne, and at the same time, she abhorred even the thought of loving. She delighted in woodland sports and the hunt. When her father asked her to relent and marry to give him a grandson, she said: “Dearest father, grant me this favour, that I may always remain unmarried, like Artemis.”  He consented.

Apollo loved Daphne, and longed to make her his own. He followed her; she fled, swifter than the wind, and would not be swayed by his sweet words.  “Don’t run,” he said, “I am not an enemy, but someone who loves you. I am the god of song and the lyre.  My arrows fly true to the mark; but an arrow more fatal than mine has pierced my heart!  I am the god of medicine, and know the virtues of all healing plants.  But, now I suffer an illness that no balm can cure!”

The nymph continued to run, and would not hear of his entreaties. The god grew impatient to find his wooing rejected, and, sped by Eros, was about to reach her. As her strength failed and saw that she was about to be caught, she called upon her father, the river god: “Help me, my father, Peneus!  Open the earth to swallow me up, or change my form so that I may not be caught and raped!”

Her father heard her and he granted her request. A stiffness seized Daphne’s limbs; her bosom began to be enclosed in a bark; her hair became leaves; her arms became branches; her feet drove in the ground, as roots; her face became a tree-top, retaining nothing of its former self but its beauty.  Apollo stood amazed.  He touched the stem, and felt the flesh tremble under the new bark. He embraced the branches, and lavished kisses on the wood.  The branches shrank from his lips. “Since you cannot be my wife,” he said, “you shall assuredly be my tree.  I will wear you for my crown.  With you I will decorate my harp and my quiver; and when the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows.  And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be evergreen, and your leaf know no decay.”  The nymph, now changed into a laurel tree, bowed its head in grateful acknowledgment and the god since then wore a garland of laurel.

The painting above is Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s “Apollo Pursuing Daphne”, c. 1755.

Monday 17 March 2014


“It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.” - PopeJohn XXIII

A very good Mexican film for Movie Monday today. It is Gustavo Loza’s 2004 film “Al OtroLadostarring Carmen Maura, Héctor Suárez, Vanessa Bauche. Loza also wrote the screenplay for this movie, and it was selected by the Mexican Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as the Official Entry for Mexico in the 78th Annual Academy Awards in the Foreign Language Film category. Although the film did not win an Oscar, it was awarded the prize of the Jury at the 4th Latin America Film Festival in Bremen in 2006. The film also won awards at the Lleida Latin-American Film Festival 2006 and the Newport Beach Film Festival 2006.

The film is a drama featuring three stories on a similar theme about the bonds between children and absent fathers. A Mexican boy, Prisciliano, experiences the absence of his father who decides to go and work in USA as an illegal immigrant. A Cuban boy, Ángel, who lives in poverty with his mother and grandfather, longs to visit his father who lives in USA. A Moroccan girl, Fatima, attempts to reunite with her father, who is working in Spain. The stories are interwoven and the themes are explored in each case with the dangers facing the children who seek their fathers highlighted as the film progresses.

The Mexican story is the most extensively covered and is strengthened by the quasi-fantasy inset of an ill-fated Pre-Columbian princess who haunts a lagoon. The Cuban story was quite tragic and the Moroccan tale had us squirming with its realism, and we were very concerned about poor little Fatima’s fate. As the tales mingle, the pathos of the three children who all wish to be reunited with their absent fathers makes for compelling viewing.

The acting was extremely good and the three children played admirably. After all it is their film, with the adults having supporting roles. The cinematography was very good and the music outstanding – sympathetic to the action, appropriate and never intrusive, but always noticeable. I guess that is what good film music is all about.

“Al Otro Lado” is a modest movie, 90 minutes long, but nevertheless contains great storytelling and avoids cheap sentimentalism, which it could easily have descended into. Telling the story from the viewpoint of the children, reduces it to its most essential and human component, with emigration seen as terrible thing that separates families. The stories are told sincerely, with some funny moments and some poignant ones.  We enjoyed it very much and recommend it most highly.

Sunday 16 March 2014


“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” - Jonathan Swift

William James Glackens (born March 13, 1870, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.—died May 22, 1938, Westport, Conn.), was an American artist whose paintings of street scenes and middle-class urban life rejected the dictates of 19th-century academic art and introduced a matter-of-fact realism into the art of the United States. He was a member of the artists group, The Eight, who favoured cheerful subjects of leisure activities over the dark manner and social realism of others in that circle.

Born in Philadelphia, Glackens attended Central High School along with John Sloan and the collector Albert C. Barnes. In 1891 he began a career as an artist-reporter for various Philadelphia newspapers and in the evenings, attended classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. That same year Sloan introduced him to Robert Henri, with whom Glackens shared a studio for a year and a half. After travelling to France and The Netherlands in 1895, Glackens moved to New York, where he continued working as an artist-reporter, magazine illustrator, and painter. In 1898 he accompanied the U.S. Army to Cuba to record the Spanish-American War for McClure’s magazine.

In 1904, Glackens gave up illustration in order to devote himself to painting. He made a second trip to Europe in 1906, returning to New York to prepare for an exhibition of paintings by The Eight held in 1908. In the same year, one of Glackens’s paintings was shown at the National Academy of Design, where the New York public was surprised at the change in the artist’s palette. After nearly a decade and a half of producing paintings that reflected the influence of Robert Henri in their muted colours and gestural brushstrokes, Glackens, inspired by his visits to France and the Netherlands, had turned to depicting outdoor scenes, using bright, lively colours.

His change in style was reinforced by frequent trips to France, including a 1912 journey sponsored by his friend Albert Barnes, who sent Glackens to France as his agent to purchase contemporary French paintings, including works by Cézanne, Matisse, and Renoir. Glackens served as chairman of the committee that selected American art for the Armory Show in 1913, and later, in 1917, was first president of the Society of Independent Artists.

Glackens’s mature style suggests Monet’s paintings of the 1860s in the broad and direct treatment of colour, quick touch, and jewel-like dashes of colour that denote foliage and the sun’s shimmering reflections on the water. Glackens distinguished himself from impressionism, however, by not allowing light to dissolve the contour of his forms. From about 1925 to 1932 he divided his time between New York and France, but he continued his involvement in the New York art world and his friendship with other artists associated with The Eight until his death in 1938.

Glackens is sometimes criticised for his similarity to Renoir. The critics branded him as an imitator. The charge was made that during the 1920s and 1930s “his once vigorous artistic personality had been blunted by too close an imitation of Renoir’s late style.” Glackens himself seems not to have been affected by any doubts about his own purpose and originality. His art did not reflect the social crises of the day, such as the Great Depression; rather, it offered a refuge from that darkness.

Collector Albert C. Barnes bought many of Glackens’ best paintings, some of which are exhibited by the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Juliana Force were admirers and purchased works for the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Duncan Phillips purchased a Glackens oil for the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. The largest collection of Glackens’ art has been housed since 2001 at the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, where an entire wing is dedicated to his work; the museum holds approximately 500 Glackens paintings in its permanent collection.

The painting from ca 1905 above, “Central Park in Winter” (63.5 x 76.2 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) is a favourite of mine. Glackens often favoured the almost square format shown here and this particular painting shows his style well. A nicely composed canvas, with rich colours, despite the wintry scene and fluid lines with strategically placed figures that show him to be a master of observation.