Saturday 12 April 2014


“My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” - Martin Luther

Francesco Venturini (born ?Brussels, c1675; died Hanover, 18 April 1745), was a German composer and violinist. He served at the Hanoverian court, becoming Konzertmeister in 1713 and later Kapellmeister. His 12 orchestral “sonatas” (c1714) are richly scored; each has a substantial first movement and a series of shorter movements, mostly dances, conforming to the form of a Baroque “suite”.

Venturini’s music possesses all the qualities needed to captivate the listener. By turns nimble and dramatic, cheerful and serious, it invariably displays great refinement. Perfectly synthesising the different musical movements of the time, the composer devotes his subtle art to a quest for expressiveness, yet without losing any of his spontaneity. The rediscovery of his “Concerti da Camera Op.1” is most certainly a significant event for our knowledge of the early eighteenth-century orchestral repertory.

Here is a selection, played by La Cetra, directed by violinist David Plantier:
  • Sonata IX in G minor
  • Sonata II in A minor
  • Sonata VI in E major
  • Sonata V in A minor
  • Sonata VIII in A major.

Friday 11 April 2014


“He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise.” - Henry David Thoreau

When I was in Germany some time ago, I was in a city called Ulm, doing some work at the University Hospital there. One of the doctors I was working with had a charming wife who loved to cook. One of her specialties was this cake, which I loved to eat when she made it. I was given the recipe when I left Ulm and whenever we make it at home, I remember my time there.

BLITZKUCHEN (Lightning Cake)

Ingredients -For the base
200 mL cream
200 g sugar
4 whole eggs
400 g self raising flour
For the topping
125 g molten butter
200 g sugar
2 tablespoonfuls of milk
1 teaspoonful of vanillin sugar
200 g blanched toasted almond flakes


Mix the cream, sugar and eggs together and beat until smooth. Add the flour and mix thoroughly. Spread thinly on a flat baking tray for 10 minutes in an oven heated to 200˚C. While it is cooking, mix the topping: Add the sugar to the molten butter and mix well, adding the milk, vanillin and almond flakes. Spread the topping over the half-cooked base and bake for another 10 minutes.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,

and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 10 April 2014


“Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.” - Paul Tillich

John Donne states: 
“No man is an island, entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…
Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

While browsing a book last night I was surprised to learn of some amazing statistics that related to people living alone. These were culled from an advertiser’s handbook - and I have a great respect for such handbooks as they reflect exactly what is going on and who is involved (billions of dollars of profits are made by advertisers who have to know intimate details about how we live our lives and what makes us tick).  It seems that a growing trend in Western countries is the single-person household. Part of being human is the need and desire to be in intimate relationships and yet our society is constructing situations and pressures where being solitary is the easy option out.

In 1950 about 3% of the population of Western Europe and the USA lived alone. Currently in the UK seven million adults live alone (which is three times as many as 40 years ago). Estimates by “Social Trends” (a publication considered to be a bible of statistics) indicate that by 2020, one-person households will make up 40% of total households.  In France, the number of people living alone has more than doubled since 1968. Currently, over 50% of households in Frankfurt, Munich and Paris contain only a single person, while in London the proportion is 40%. This is the situation also in Sweden with 40% of households comprising a single person. Since 1960, the number of German 25- to 45-year-olds living alone has risen by 500%.

Why should people in the USA in a survey say watching “Friends” was a major part of their social life? Amazing stuff! Watching TV on one’s own has become a surrogate social experience! The number of people who spend time alone in front of a computer screen is increasing dramatically as well. How many of us choose to talk to someone on the telephone rather than make the effort of making time to see them? What is happening to us all so that more and more of us choose to go it alone? All this so as to reduce our contacts with other people to a minimum?

In a consumer society it makes sense to minimise the number of people living in a household to the least possible – one… The more households one has to peddle goods to, the more the profits go up. One fridge is needed when living in a household of four, four fridges needed when four people each lives alone in a household. A person living alone can be more easily manipulated by media, has more dependency on solitary means of entertainment (TV, computer, radio etc) and is more amenable to all sorts of marketing ploys. A person alone relies on solely their ideas and their decisions are solely their own – this can often lead to impulses taking control and this can benefit the advertiser and the manufacturer.

The way that we interact with other people in our intimate relationships, the way that we view marriage, commitment, sex, love has also changed. People are less willing to put up with anything that is less than ideal in a partner. How many more marriages and relationships end simply because the partners are unwilling to compromise a little? It has suddenly become the norm to be selfish in all things relating to a relationship and to be completely non-negotiable in terms of living together and making concessions to the person sharing your life and household. Love has become more egocentric, and in a relationship one views the other person as an accessory to one’s own happiness rather than as an equal partner with exactly the same needs, rights and desires. People in a relationship often will find nowadays that living in two different households preserves this self-centred “balance” better.

What about the older person? Now that divorce has become more common and socially acceptable, how many more of these older people find themselves in a situation where they have been unceremoniously “dumped” and are forced to live alone? The nuclear family may well have been the aim of Western society and its adoption may have been almost universal, but what happens when this type of family undergoes fission? Its fragments persist after the explosion and each solitary piece travels outward in its lonely trajectory getting further away from each of its neighbours.

The extended family has many things about it that are far from ideal and there are some serious issues relating to individual freedom, personal choice, breathing space and being the master of one’s own fate. However, one of the good things about it is the support and intimacy it provides to each and every one of its members. There is always someone around to interact with, the sense of intimacy, companionship and unconditional love is something that one grows up with, and not only is given but one gives back too. It is more in touch with our tradition and history in terms of tribes and clans and age-old family groupings. Such a family structure promotes intimacy and social interaction and togetherness, but it deprives one of the glory of being in solitude, when one needs to be.

Which bring me back to the quote by John Tillich that I started with: “Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.” Finding the balance in this modern day world living in a predominantly urban environment is difficult tightrope to walk on. Independence and interdependence must be juggled artfully and the way that we manage it will ensure our contentment. Loneliness and solitude are two sides of the same coin and we flip that coin too often nowadays, and risk losing out on the joys of companionship.

Wednesday 9 April 2014


“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” - Coco Chanel

Poetry Jam  this week has a theme comprising two options: “Baseball and Barriers”. I have chosen the latter, with the barriers I wrote about being walls. Walls enclose, protect, keep out, but also keep in. They can delimit, cut off, secure, imprison and separate. Walls are more than supports for a roof, as they can be free-standing and serve a purpose of isolating the thing enclosed. Walls can be built around us by others, but how often is that we knowingly and willingly build our own tall walls around ourselves? Here is my offering.


The walls around me keep standing tall,

They close in, stifling all my sighs,
Their chains keeping me in thrall.

Silence covers me with its deathly pall

Each evening as my icy heart dies,
The walls around me keep standing tall.

My lonely prison drips black, bitter gall,

As walls grow higher, obscuring skies
Their chains keeping me in thrall.

I have no other choice but to stumble, fall

As brick by brick, barriers ever higher rise;
The walls around me keep standing tall.

I feel defeated, powerless and small

As walls around me grow in size,
Their chains keeping me in thrall.

Your name without effect I call,

You left me with unanswered whys;
The walls around me keep standing tall,
Their chains keeping me in thrall.

Tuesday 8 April 2014


“I was always afraid of dying. Always. It was my fear that made me learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment, and kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit.” - Chuck Yeager

The Malaysian Airlines tragedy has been in the news constantly over the last few weeks and has generated tremendous interest worldwide. The mystery surrounding the disappearance of the suspected fatal flight of MH370 has spawned numerous theories including the usual conspiracy plots, outlandish alien involvement and the more hopeful hijacking scenarios. The lack of evidence of a crash after widespread searches contributes to the continuing bafflement of authorities and governments, while the agony of uncertainty of the relatives and friends of the missing passengers is prolonged.

On Tuesday morning, relatives and friends of many of the 153 Chinese passengers on Flight MH370 gathered outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing to demand that Malaysian officials tell them the truth about the fate of the flight. They went there despite assurances from the police that the Malaysian ambassador would come to their hotel to talk to them, an apparent effort to dissuade them from going to the embassy, according to people on the scene. The protesters, who presented the embassy with a scathing collective statement, said that the families wanted answers and would consider Malaysian officials and the airline to be “murderers” if the families found that wrongdoing had led to the deaths of their loved ones.

In Kuala Lumpur, officials with Malaysia Airlines stressed that despite the lack of details about the plane’s fate, the relatives of the passengers and crew must accept that their loved ones had almost certainly died. Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, announced Monday that new data left no doubt that the plane had gone down in the ocean. Mohammed Nor Mohammed Yusof, the chairman of Malaysia Airlines, stated: “We must accept the painful reality that the aircraft is now lost, and that none of the passengers or crew on board survived,” said. He added that the airline’s primary responsibility now was caring for the grieving families.

The Aircraft Crashes Record Office (ACRO), a non-government organisation based in Geneva, compiles statistics on aviation accidents of aircraft capable of carrying more than six passengers, excluding helicopters, balloons, or combat aircraft. In 2008, ACRO announced that, in terms of number of accidents, 2007 was the safest year in aviation since 1963. Compared to 164 events in 2006, there were 136 registered accidents, resulting in a total of 965 deaths (this is compared to 1,293 in 2006). Since then, both 2009 (122) and 2010 (130) saw fewer registered accidents. The lowest number of fatalities (771) since the end of World War II, was in 2004. The year with most fatalities was 2001, with 4,140 deaths (mainly due to the September 11 attacks). Those numbers may be less than the total aircraft accidents fatalities as ACRO only considers accidents in which the aircraft has suffered such damage that it is removed from service.

Aviation safety is a term encompassing the theory, investigation, and categorisation of flight failures, and the prevention of such failures through regulation, education, and training. It can also be applied in the context of campaigns that inform the public as to the safety of air travel.  Within Australia, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau is the federal government body responsible for investigating transport-related accidents and incidents, covering air, sea, and rail travel. Formerly an agency of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, in 2010, in the interests of keeping its independence it became a stand-alone agency.

Commercial airlines around the world now carry nearly 2.5 billion passengers a year, and despite the inherent dangers of rocketing through the sky, kilometres above the Earth in a very heavy piece of metal, these travellers are amazingly safe. In fact, the odds of dying on a commercial airline flight are as low as 9 million to 1! That said, a lot can go wrong at 10 km above the ground, and if you’re unlucky enough to be aboard when something does, the decisions you make could mean the difference between life and death. Keep in mind that about 95% of airplane crashes have survivors, so even if the worst does happen, your odds aren’t as bad as you might think. The following are steps that increase your chance of survival:
  • Wear comfortable clothes: Long pants, a long-sleeve t-shirt or windcheater, and sturdy, comfortable, lace-up shoes.
  • Sit as close as possible to an exit, and aisle seats are generally preferable. In addition, try to sit in the back of the plane. Passengers in the tail of the aircraft have 40% higher survival rates than those in the first few rows.
  • You’ve heard it tens of times, but it is important: Read the safety information card and pay attention to the pre-flight safety speech.
  • Make a survival plan. If the plane is going to crash, you almost always have several minutes to prepare before impact: Ensure you know where the nearest exit is; put on life vest if the plane is over water; take blanket with you if it is cold outside.
  • Keep your seat belt securely fastened at all times and avoid moving around the cabin without reason.
  • Brace yourself for impact, using one of the recommended brace positions, depending on where you are sitting.
  • Remain calm, level-headed and don’t get caught up in the panic immediately before and after the crash. Follow air crew instructions!
  • Put your oxygen mask on before assisting others. You only have about 15 seconds to do this before losing consciousness, should the need arise to use oxygen.
  • Protect yourself from smoke. Fire and, more commonly, smoke is responsible for a large percentage of crash fatalities. Use a cloth (moistened preferably) to breathe through.
  • Get out of the airplane as quickly as possible. It’s critical to get out of the aircraft without delay: If fire or smoke is present, you will generally have less than two minutes to safely exit the plane.
  • Get at least 150 metres upwind from the wreckage. If you’re stranded in a remote area, the best thing to do usually is to stay close to the aircraft to await rescuers. You don’t want to be too close, though. Fire or explosion can happen at any time after a crash, so put some distance between you and the plane. If the crash is in open-water, swim as far away from the plane wreckage as possible.
  • Do help others as much as you can, although each person is primarily responsible for their own safety. Babies, children, the elderly and the incapacitated may need your help the most.

Monday 7 April 2014


The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. - Mahatma Gandhi

To what extent are we prepared to forgive? What does forgiveness entail? Are some things simply unforgivable? Even if we do forgive, do we ever forget? If we choose not to forgive and not to forget, to what extent does this choice change our lives, quite often for the worse?

These are some of the questions that underpin a highly controversial movie that we watched recently. The film is Paul Thomas Anderson's 1999 drama “Magnolia”. The first thing I should say about it is that it is a long film – 181 minutes of it! The second thing that may turn some people off completely is the gratuitous offensive language. F*** and C*** and C*** and other four-letter words abound in the script, often for no reason at all.

What annoyed me mostly was the intrusive music soundtrack that played almost non-stop for the first two hours of the film even when the characters were talking to each other. When the music suddenly stopped, it was oh so wonderful! Just as well we watched the movie on DVD and had the English subtitles on, as it was difficult to sometimes understand what the characters were saying over the music.

This is a film that looks at some important issues. There are people in it that are interconnected knowingly and unknowingly and the story weaves in and out of their lives in measured counterpoint. There are themes around relationships – husbands and wives, parents and children, lovers and friends. Themes about disease (cancer is the major one) and how people cope with that and also themes around forgiveness, which I mentioned earlier. Coincidence and chance are brought forward as one of the basic premises of the storyline, but I didn't see it as that much important as the element of choice, which is an important one and which every major character has to confront.

There were some extremely good performances, Tom Cruise doing an excellent job as a sleazy motivational speaker, Julieanne Moore giving her role of a hysterical, regretful woman the full works, William H. Macy and Phillip Baker Hall good solid performances and much other good acting in what can only be called an ensemble piece. Many people have called the film overly pretentious and smug - Paul Thomas Anderson not only directed the movie but also wrote the script and even created the movie poster. It does seem at times that he is patting himself on the back.

This is a movie you will love or hate and it has certainly polarised audiences. Do I recommend that you see it? Hmmmm, difficult one. My personal rating for it is 6/10. It could be improved and tightened on several fronts, but it is a thought-provoking film, a challenging film and one that forces the viewer to take a position. In that respect, I feel that it is worth seeing. If mature themes, violence, sexual references, strong language and drug use offend you, definitely not the film to watch, get a Disney movie out.

I will end this review with my original questions, directed to everyone who reads this, but perhaps the people who have seen the film will know my reasons for asking them: To what extent are we prepared to forgive? What does forgiveness entail? Are some things simply unforgivable? Even if we do forgive, do we ever forget? If we choose not to forgive and not to forget, to what extent does this choice change our lives, quite often for the worse?

Sunday 6 April 2014


“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” - PabloPicasso

Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino – born, 1483; died April 6, 1520), was a great Italian painter. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael makes up the great trinity of the High Renaissance period. He was noted for his clarity of form and ability to convey grandeur, beauty and perfection.

Raphael was born in the Italian city of Urbino in the Marches area of Italy. His father was a court painter and Raphael followed in his father’s footsteps, gaining a wide education in the arts, literature, and social skills. This enabled Raphael to move easily amongst the higher circles of court society and this helped his career in gaining commissions. Compared to Michelangelo, Raphael was more at ease in social circles; he didn’t have the same brusqueness that got Michelangelo into trouble. His style was also considered more refined. He didn’t have the same inventive genius of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, but he had a supreme grace of painting. He concentrated on a more classical interpretation of perfection, but was still somewhat influenced by the contemporary Florence tradition.

By 1501, Raphael was held in high esteem and he gained important commissions, such as the Mond de Crucifixion in 1503. From about 1504, Raphael lived mainly in Florence, which was a burgeoning centre of the renaissance. He became acquainted with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (with whom he fell out with on numerous occasions). In 1508, he was invited to Rome by Pope Julius II. The pope asked Raphael to paint some rooms in the Vatican. This was at the same time as Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel, and although the Sistine chapel overshadowed the work of Raphael, his paintings are still considered some of the finest of European art. This work included some of masterpieces such as: “The School of Athens”, “The Parnassus” and the “Disputa”.

As well as being a great painter, Raphael was also a noted teacher, who could inspire his fellow pupils to greater standards. He had one of the largest art schools in Rome, with over 50 pupils. His enthusiasm and talent helped his school become a famous place of art. As well as a painter, Raphael was also a noted architect, draughtman, and with Raimondi a printmaker of his engravings. He died in April 6 1570, aged only 37. Yet, he left behind a considerable legacy and was celebrated even during his lifetime, with thousands of people attending his funeral.

The piece illustrated above is “Fire in the Borgo”, a fresco painted in 1514 in the Vatican, measuring 647 cm at the base.  It is the most complex of the four episodes in the Stanza dell’ Incendio di Borgo. It is full of references to classical antiquity, to medieval architecture at the time of the affirmation of the Church, and to themes used by contemporary artists. It celebrates the intercession of Leo IV, by whose grace a fire, which spread through the Borgo, a popular section of Rome near the Basilica of St Peter, was extinguished. The event depicted happened in AD 847 and is documented in the “Liber Pontificalis” (a collection of early papal biographies). Pope Leo IV managed miraculously to halt the raging fire, which was threatening an area of the city, by his benediction from the loggia of Old St Peter’s.

The structure of the composition is complex: Two colonnades of clear classical derivation define a square. The Pope, who bears the features of Leo X, blesses the frightened crowd from a gallery located beyond the colonnades. The façade of old St Peter’s appears behind him, in the background. While those in the foreground are desperately trying to put out the fire, the female figure in yellow with her back to us is begging them to look at the only effective source of help, the pope.

The term “scenographic” can appropriately be applied to this painting. Clearly, Raphael was concentrating on richer, more varied, but less harmonious compositional solutions than those of his previous paintings. The figure groups express great formal beauty, but they lack harmonious relationships and remain pure examples of episodical representation. The group in the left foreground, for example (made up of an old man on the shoulders of a young man, and a child), may be drawn from the episode of the Aeneid in which Aeneas escapes with his father, Anchises and his son, Ascanius. The woman with children in the centre of the fresco and the water carrier at right, whose clothes blow in the wind, represent similar stereotypes.

The nude descending from the wall at left recalls the heroic figures of Michelangelo. Notwithstanding these limitations, the scene is highly effective and demonstrates Raphael’s skill as an illustrator, although, as the critics maintain, it was executed largely by his pupils (albeit based on his sketches and under his supervision).