Saturday 24 May 2014


“In some ways, I lament the introduction of civilisation on such a huge scale, because it has given us a lot of room to abuse each other, which we continue to do.” - RoyHarper

For Music Saturday a beautiful choral masterpiece: Thomas Tallis’ “Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet”. Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 - 23 November 1585) was an English composer. He flourished as a church musician in 16th century Tudor England. Tallis occupies a primary place in anthologies of English church music, and is considered among the best of England’s early composers. He is honoured for his original voice in English musicianship. No contemporary portrait of Tallis survives and the earliest, painted by Gerard van der Gucht, dates from 150 years after Tallis died, and there is no certainty that it is a likeness.

The Book of Lamentations (Hebrew: אֵיכָה, Eikhah, ʾēkhā(h), meaning ‘How’) is a collection of poetic laments for the destruction of Jerusalem. In Jewish bibles it appears in the Ketuvim (“Writings”), beside the Song of Songs, Book of Ruth, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Esther (the Megilloth or “Five Scrolls”), although there is no set order; in the Christian Old Testament it follows the Book of Jeremiah, as prophet Jeremiah is its traditional author.

Jeremiah’s authorship is no longer generally accepted; nevertheless, it is generally understood that the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE forms the background to the poems. The book is partly a traditional “city lament” mourning the desertion of the city by its god, its destruction, and the ultimate return of the divinity, and partly a funeral dirge in which the bereaved bewails and addresses the dead. The tone is bleak: God does not speak, the degree of suffering is presented as undeserved, and expectations of future redemption are minimal. The text can be found here.

Hainavanker (The Haywain), is a music vocal ensemble from Tallinn, Estonia that has performed since 1988. The ensemble is named after the famous altarpiece by Hieronymus Bosch, which depicts a huge wagonload of hay rolling through a world vexed by agony and greed. From atop the haywain, angels make beautiful music to heal the misery below. Since 1988, the Hainavanker ensemble has undertaken many concert tours, including Finland, France, Germany, Poland, Scandinavia, America and Switzerland. Known for their exquisite vocal quality, amazing blends, and perfect intonation, this group embodies the qualities that delight us when we listen to the human voice soar in harmony, unaccompanied.

Friday 23 May 2014


“Beans are the cornerstone of longevity diets around the world.” - Dan Buettner

As Winter approaches ever nearer in the Southern Hemisphere, we are changing our menus as the seasonal produce changes and the weather demands other types of food. Now is the time for hearty, wholesome meals that are nutritious and provide warm delicious fare that will hearten and gladden as well as nourish. One cannot fail to include a variety of soups in this type of fare. Here is a vegetarian soup that is full of protein, vitamins and minerals (if one is not vegetarian one may add chopped bacon when one is sautéing the onions).

Herbed Butter Bean Soup
2 cups butter beans
2 potatoes
2 onions
2 large carrots
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 bay leaf
4 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil

Soak butter beans overnight, drain and cook in water for about 2 hours or until soft (this will take longer if you haven’t soaked them) – add water as required. Peel and chop the carrots and microwave a few minutes until just tender; repeat with the potatoes. Peel and chop the onions. In a soup pot, sauté the onion in the oil then add the carrots, potatoes and herbs. Mix thoroughly with oil and sauté, finally adding the beans. Add the vegetable broth and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for twenty minutes. Serve hot.

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


“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.” - Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday 21 May 2014


“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.” - Rabindranath Tagore

For this week’s prompt, Poetry Jam has suggested the theme of “Rain” – either a flood of it or a dearth of it. Here is my contribution – remembering that April in Australia is in the heart of Autumn…

All Fools’ Day

All hail the Fool!

April ushers him in
As rain cascades:
It’s raining mirror bits today,
And like drops of mercury
The raindrops fuse and coalesce
In puddles–mirrors
Reflecting the multicoloured garb
Worn by the Fool,
Reflections shattering into a million fragments
Each time he laughs and cries.

It started to rain this morning at about three o’ clock.  I got up at four and drank of the rain. Then back into my warm bed listening to the pitter-patter of the raindrops through my open window.  I could not sleep.

The rain,

The warmth–
The dark,
The wet.
The weakness
Of the flesh.
The rain,
The warmth
The dark desire
The wet flesh,
The rain.

I finally closed my eyes to wake minutes later, rising early, bleary-eyed and discontented.

Autumn has arrived,

Like an old friend
The cool, wet, sweet
Earthy smelling garden
Greets me in the morning.

It rained on and off all day long today.  And in the evening the dry spell really broke in the paroxysm of a cooling, wet, lambent, deafening coruscating, electrical storm.  With the heavens I felt my every nerve fibre discharging and was urged to throw off every stitch of my clothing and run naked into the raw energy of the rain, letting it perform my ablutions for me.  That morning I climbed the dark stairs to the fourth floor music room.

The familiar pattern of black against white

The feel of cool ivory and warm, living ebony.
A caress is followed by the gentlest sigh.
A piercing song of passionate intensity
Is communicated through throbbing fingertips
After the petulant striking blows
Are dealt with a calculated force.

Meanwhile the rain fell and fell and fell.  Outside, across the football ovals, two solitary figures, one at each end, under the shelter of the grandstand.  The college towers stab the grey skies.  The grass so freshly washed; green, green, green.  E minor, B diminished, A minor, G minor, E minor.
And the rain
                  and fell
                        and fell
                              and fell…

I walk back to work

Sheltering ever so carefully
Under my small umbrella,
Fearing lest a raindrop may touch my flesh
And like a sugar candy crystal
I might dissolve.

Maria made an April Fool of me this morning and then she laughed and in her mirth she cried:

“April Fool,
              April Fool!”

The rain.

The leaves.
Falling, wet, yellow.
Dark eddies
Of swiftly moving water
Carrying debris,
Flooding the gutters.

My shoe, my left shoe, has a hole in it!  I can feel the wetness permeating my foot.  The rot has begun, the decay has set in...

The rain.

My hair.
The rain wets my hair
It smells of sandalwood and violets.

March winds and April showers

Bring forth Spring flowers. of sulphur

...the last, belated, forlorn
...tenacious leaves
...hanging persistently
...on naked twigs
...beneath grey skies

I pay her back!  I send her on a Fool’s errand, my pride restored, my gullibility repaid in kind.

I am the Fool.

You are the Fool.
We are all Fools.

It is raining again.

I bite my red, red lips

Till drops of blood
Dye the sulphur flowers.
The rain performs my ablutions.
The red and sulphur flowers
Float away on dark eddies
Of water flowing into a drain.

Ah, Autumn!

The grey, cloudy sky.  The wet, rain-saturated atmosphere and the endless pitter-patter of the raindrops.  And yet in a tiny little nook of that vast expanse of heavy, dark grey, rain-saturated sky there is a patch of blue visible only for an instant and a tiny yellow, sunlit, playful little wisp of a cloud.  Much like the memory of your eyes, your summer-yellow, sunlit hair.

Just like two bits of blue glass

Sapphires-paired on golden crown,
Smalt shining pure
In the precious metal.

And I, the dark grey clouds, must hide the sun deep in my deepest depths. And rain, tears, brook, lake, river, sea and ocean must wash away even the memory.

Blood, sulphur, rain.

Blue glass, tears, gold.
Blunt, sharp, dark, wet.
Black clouds, grey memory,

Ah, Autumn!

And then the purest, prettiest, most innocent, bright little drops of liquid mirror fall to the ground.  And sullied, defiled, polluted coalesce into a dirty puddle or into the dark eddies carrying:

1. Sulphur flowers.

2. Fallen leaves.
3. Red painful memories.
4. Blue-golden days.
5. Summers gone.
6. Black, grey debris.
7. Wet desires;
And a little leaden soldier on one leg
Floating precariously in a paper boat.

A h,   A u t u m n …

Tuesday 20 May 2014


“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” - Mahatma Gandhi

May 21st is the World Day for Cultural Development (UNESCO). Culture is a universal human characteristic and is engendered not only from our social nature but from our intellect and our desire to be creative and artistic. To be human means to not only concern ourselves with those things that we absolutely need to survive, but to also require many things that we want in order to make our survival more pleasant and more pleasurable. The complex of language, ideas, beliefs, customs, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, music, rituals, and ceremonies, are all together woven together to form the multicoloured fabric that we define as our culture. Our culture encompasses also the material objects used as an integral part of all of the things above and which together define this peculiarly human behaviour.

The capacity for rational or abstract thought, and more importantly perhaps, the ability of the human mind to create symbols and assign to things and events meanings that cannot be grasped with the senses alone is the uniquely human characteristic that is maybe the single most important thing that has created culture. Language is of paramount importance in defining our culture and together with this, our social ties and our religious feelings more than anything else breaks us up into our different cultural groups. Even so, eliminating all barriers are some fundamental cultural characteristics that define us as belonging to the human family.

Culture can transcend race, nationality, language and religion. Music can touch us all with a similar power and raise within us emotions that are universal. Artistic conventions, universal emotional experiences, common social behaviour and shared aims of existence are uniting features that make us able to relate to other humans from widely differing cultural backgrounds to our own. We can appreciate and enjoy culture of a culture widely separated from our own because we share a common humanity.

Albert Einstein remarks that: “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.” The tree from which all of these ennobling values branch is our common human culture. Culture frees us from the mundane existence of mere maintenance of our body. Freedom from our basic instincts of hunger, thirst, sexual drive, desire for sleep is what culture offers us. Culture does not liberate us in the sense that we can do without food or water, or any of our other basic physical needs, but it co-exists with these and elevates them to a different plane.  A wild animal tears flesh from the prey it has just killed to satisfy the basic instinct of hunger. A human being dines, following an elaborate ceremony where the satisfaction of hunger is heightened to a cultural experience, the gnawing instinct tempered with an intellectual satisfaction where the sparkle of crystal glasses, the shine of silverware and the transparency of porcelain offset the subtle flavours of a well cooked meal. Compatible company and stimulating conversation turn the meal into a social ritual that underpins civilized social behaviour.

I watched a young man yesterday out in the shopping centre, wolfing a paper-wrapped hamburger while hurrying down towards the exit, laden with his shopping. The sight was quite off-putting. His fingers were greasy, the procedure of eating reduced to an animal-like satisfaction of a basic instinct: Thoughtless, solitary, devoid of ritual, as obscene an action as defaecating (but even that action of egesting our waste has been ritualised to a certain degree). It is behaviour that seems to be becoming ever more common as our society tends to push us towards patterns of action that are calculated towards a mindless consumerism and an ever-increasing loneliness of experience. How many more people live alone nowadays, not by necessity but by choice? Each person living alone and fending for himself becomes a consumer that is demanding more and more and thereby increases the consumption of goods. A family needs a refrigerator but so does a single person living alone. Ten families of three need ten refrigerators, but thirty people living alone require thirty of them.

Similarly, mating in animals is an instinct driven act designed to satisfy a basic urge so that the continuation of the species is assured. Sex in humans has been ritualised to an extent that it becomes an elaborate ritual, with emotional factors involving love, respect and affection, consideration of one’s partner playing an important role in the enjoyment of what is ultimately the same act as in the animal. “Civilised people cannot fully satisfy their sexual instinct without love.” Bertrand Russell says and one must agree, that culture and civilisation make demands upon us that have become so ingrained in our psyche, that even the most cynical libertine would feel to some extent empty and exhausted after a purely sexual encounter that has satisfied the body alone.

Art, music, literature have “advanced” to such an extent, such that we now have to question seriously whether the dismantled air-conditioner that we see on the gallery floor is really just that or a piece of exhibited art. The music that is now produced is either a computer-written piece of predictable popular nonsense with deplorable lyrics that is churned out on a production line, all to a rock rhythm, or alternatively some dissonant high-flown and pretentious arty piece that resembles highly organised noise. Novels are written to pander to tastes of a sensationalism-seeking public with a heavy handed measure of sex and violence, or once again “literary” works that are morass of platitudes disguised by obfuscating stilted prose.

Religion is another cultural institution, which in western countries at least, appears to be in decline. Dwindling congregations have put many churches out of business and they are being sold to be converted into houses, units, galleries or shops. Basic ideas of Christian doctrine have been lost in the “modern” lifestyle and the values traditionally espoused by the faithful have deteriorated within the new reality of society, with an emphasis on the here and now rather than the hereafter.

One who sees this decadence of much of our cultural heritage in the West can perhaps understand better the concern of many of the other countries and faiths who have become very defensive and extremely resistant against “western cultural imperialism”. Islamic fundamentalism is but a knee-jerk reaction to such a decline in traditional cultural values of the West. Their fear of a deterioration in their culture has prompted them to try and preserve it at any cost, with what the West perceives as a repressive and antiquated regime.

We are experiencing an all-embracing redefinition of culture world-wide. Both in the West and in the developing countries. There are extremes on both sides and any extreme is unwise. We have forgotten the golden mean and we embrace excess in all things. It is this excess that makes us lose our humanity and makes us resemble the wild beasts with the bloodied maws. It is the glut of sensuality and much freedom, or conversely the repression of free expression carried to extremes that makes us desperate and can ultimately lead to a break down of civilization as we know it. Differing definitions of “culture”, the ever-widening social gaps, divergent systems of beliefs and traditions and the increasing fanaticism worldwide.

William Allen White says: “If each man or woman could understand that every other human being is as full of sorrows, or joys, or base temptations, of heartaches and of remorse as his own… how much kinder, how much gentler he would be.” How true and unfortunately how poignantly it shows our increasing isolation and blinkered view of the world, manipulated as it is by our politicians and demagogues. That is why the internet can be such an advantage to a free, thinking human being. It can demolish barriers, build bridges across gaps and create friendships around the globe.

Monday 19 May 2014


I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain. - Jane Wagner

When the digital versatile disc (DVD) came out in the late 90s, it revolutionised home entertainment and the features available on this format as well as the quality of the picture and sound have left the old VHS tape system a long way back in the past. A similar revolution was evident earlier when the CD replaced the LP and tape. I must confess to being a little bit of a technology junkie and I tend to keep an eye on new developments and often embrace these with alacrity if they offer better quality, value, ease of use or new features.

When the CDs first came out, I remember beginning to replace my classical LP collection even before I had purchased a CD player, I was so impressed with the technology! I’ll leave the vinyl aficionados to their well-worn rut of objections about the “warmth” of the sound of these old records. I am just glad to be able to listen to the music without intruding hisses, crackles, and other extraneous noises introduced by the damage the LP sustains every time it is played.

Similarly, when the DVD first came into the market, I remember watching a demonstration of this technology at an electronics show and being suitably impressed so that I started collecting these instead of the VHS tapes that I had collected earlier. I now have many movies that I really like on DVD and most of my music collection is in CD format. I still have a few favourite vinyl LPs that I am gradually transferring to CD as they are not available on this format.

Although the DVD is wonderful medium, there are several things about it that I abhor with a vengeance. These relate to the manufacturing and production of these rather than the technical aspect of the DVD. My major bugbear is the zone restriction embedded in the disc. This is to protect the commercial interests of the large film studios, but it is a feature so easily circumvented that it is simply of nuisance value. I have a multi-zone DVD player, so I can enjoy DVDs that I have purchased in USA, Europe and Asia, but some friends of mine had a player that was restricted to the Australian zone and hence they were unable to watch US DVDs. Until they found out on the web that they could reprogram their player with their remote control and now it is converted to a multi-zone player!

An extremely useful feature that I often use is the subtitle option. Even English subtitles on English speaking films is sometimes a boon, as the sound quality, accents or the complications of the script make subtitles necessary. I watched “Gosford Park” (2001) recently on DVD and was livid when I discovered that the DVD did not have the benefits of subtitling. The soundtrack of this movie contains so many asides, so much mumbling, some strange accents and also so much overlapping conversation that it was painful to try and decipher what was being said half the time. This was a pity as the film is a very good one. The other benefit of subtitles of course is that one may turn on the Italian or French or German or Spanish subtitles and practice one’s language skills.

Another thing that annoys me is the excessive piracy and copyright warnings on the DVD. In some DVDs there is even a 60 sec “trailer” about “stealing movies”, as well as the conventional FBI warnings about oilrigs and prisons and how you are not able to show these movies at those venues. I pay full price to get my DVD and then I am bombarded by all this nonsense that I can’t even fast forward through! Add to that the Dolby trailer and numerous company logos, distributor logos, production company animations, etc. It can be anything up to 5 minutes before you actually get to see the film!

Speaking of pricing, most DVDs are excessively priced, especially when first released. If the prices were more reasonable and consistently low, then I think the piracy problem would be minimized. I usually wait until I buy my DVD for my collection and instead of paying anything between $30-$40 for a newly released DVD, I wait for a few months and am able to buy it anywhere between $9-$12. Most people would prefer to own a copy of the original rather than the pirated inferior versions and this would be possible if the prices were consistently low.

Have you ever tried to read the film credits on the back of a DVD cover? The font of the used is so small and narrow that it is often illegible. I once even tried to read it with a magnifying glass on a particular DVD but failed to get any satisfaction. Similarly, the colours of the fonts used are also a rather bad choice as the contrast is very bad and makes reading the synopsis or credits a difficult undertaking. This is simply bad design.

For all their shortcomings, DVDs are much superior to VHS tapes and this explained their popularity. Now, that we have got used to them and grown to love them (and hate them) it’s time to adopt a new technology… Blu-ray discs, officially released in June 2006. By July 2010, more than 3,300 titles were released. During the high definition optical disc format war, Blu-ray Disc competed with the HD DVD format. Toshiba, the main company that supported HD DVD, conceded in February 2008, releasing its own Blu-ray Disc player in late 2009.

Blu-ray discs of course offer higher definition than DVDs and the image quality is striking on a suitable monitor. Add to that now the introduction of 3D on top of Blu-ray technology and one gets a glimpse of even more technological developments that we shall see introduced in the very near future. Although I buy Blu-ray discs if I have the option, pricing is still an issue, with most new Blu-ray discs being prohibitively expensive (especially if in 3D). If one waits a few months after the first release, the prices do drop significantly but are still relatively high, compared to DVD. Most of the criticisms I have of DVDs remain with Blu-ray discs, although the subtitling options are now mostly a standard feature.

Sunday 18 May 2014


“Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí.” - Salvador Dalí

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí (Born: 1904, May 11, Figueras, Catalonia, Spain Died: 1989, January 23, Figueras, Catalonia, Spain) was the Spanish artist who developed visual surrealism together with Magritte. But being more talented, successful and commercial than the others, Dalì was eventually expelled from the surrealist group, but nevertheless remained the most famous of the surrealist painters. To begin with, the surrealists did not include painters in their group. Surrealism was a cultural movement that began in 1920 with its centre in Paris. The group would meet in cafes and discuss psychology and social revolution. But later, visual arts played an important role in delivering the surrealist message to the public.

Salvador Dalí, being an accomplished painter with an eccentric personality and a genius for marketing himself, became a foreground figure of the surrealist movement. Dalí showed talent for drawing and painting at a very early age, as can be seen from his “Landscape Near Figueras” from 1910. At the age of 18, he began his studies at Academia de San Fernando (School of Fine Arts) in Madrid. He was well-known among his fellow students for his eccentric behaviour and dandy like manners, but even more so for his paintings; he was very gifted. In 1926 he was expelled from the school just before his final examination, after proclaiming that none of the professors were qualified to examine him.

In his work, Salvador Dalí was influenced by Raphael and Velázquez among others. Diego Velázquez inspired him to grow his famous moustache, which became his trademark. For a few years, Dalí was noticeably influenced by Picasso and Miró (Dalí and Picasso met in Paris in 1926). The cubist influence can be seen in Dalí’s painting “Cabaret Scene” from 1922, for example.

In 1929 Dalí joined the surrealists, and together with Magritte he rapidly developed the visual surrealist style. This was also the year he met his wife and muse, Gala. From this time is Dalí’s most famous painting, “The Persistence of Memory” (1931), which displays a landscape containing melting watches. Liquid shapes were often used by Dalí in his paintings, as were images of elephants and other animals. Images of the egg also played an important role. Psychology was of the utmost significance to the surrealists.

Surrealists were heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud, but did not admit to Freud’s description of the dark side of human nature. Dalí said: “There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.” Salvador Dalí accomplished a lot of things outside of painting. He participated in making films, the most famous one being “The Andalusian Dog” that he created together with Buñuel in 1929. He worked with Hitchcock, Disney and photographer Man Ray. He designed jewellery and sceneries for the theatre as well as making contributions to the world of fashion and many other areas. Some well-known examples of his work are The Lobster Telephone, Mae West Lips Sofa and the logo for Chupa Chups.

He often managed to create scandals, thus contributing to the mystic aura surrounding his person. In 1934, at the age of 30, Salvador Dalí was expelled from the Surrealist group. They were outraged by his refusal to take a political stand against fascism and by the commercialsation of Dalí’s work. Dalí said to this: “I myself, am surrealism.” Another citation by Dalí on this matter is: “The only difference between me and the surrealists is that I am a surrealist.” Dalí published his autobiography, “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí”, in 1942. It was a description of his life and work thus far and it received both praise and criticism. The book contains many accounts of his high opinion of himself, as well as colourful descriptions of his odd character.

The Dalí Theatre and Museum in his home town Figueras houses the single largest collection of Dalí’s work. He started working on the museum in 1960, and it was opened in 1974. The museum is a testament to the fantastic imagination of Salvador Dalí. In the basement of the museum lies Dalí’s crypt engraved with his title Marquis of Púbol, bestowed upon him by King Juan Carlos in 1982.

The painting above, “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire” (1940) depicts a slave market, while a woman at a booth watches some people. A variety of people seem to make up the face of Voltaire, while the face seems to be positioned on an object to form a bust. Dalí describes his work on the painting “to make the abnormal look normal and the normal look abnormal.” The image of Voltaire coming in and out of view in the painting is perhaps telling as Voltaire on the one hand harshly criticised slavery and on the other hand, together with fellow philosophers Guillaume Thomas Raynal, Denis Diderot, and Buffon, he speculated and tried to explain that the different races had separate origins and at times seemed to doubt that black people possessed the same intelligence as white people. He has also been charged as an anti-Semite although most of his critiques are actually directed towards religion as such and the bible, rather than Judaism specifically.

The painting contains a device often used by Dalí, an image which can be interpreted two ways – Voltaire’s face or two nuns. L Bonnarô (2002) in an interesting article states: “The perceptual reversal of ambiguous images has been a source of fascination for psychologists and artists alike, albeit for rather different reasons. For some artists, the allure in introducing ambiguity is to create in the observer an experience that is, explicitly, purely subjective and qualitative. It is a way of emphasising the constructive nature of perception, the observer’s share. For the psychologist, on the other hand, image ambiguity serves as a tool to probe the dynamics of the visual and cognitive system: the retina receives a single image comprising multiple interpretations, yet the visual and cognitive system is constrained so that only one percept is available at a time.”