Saturday 31 May 2014


“Rice at present prices provides more food for the money than most of the other cereals.” - David F. Houston

For Food Friday, a healthful, nutritious and delicious vegetarian dish. The vegetables used can vary quite greatly, depending on the seasonal availability. Nutritionists recommend eating as varied a diet as possible, based on seasonal availability of foods. This is especially true of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Vegetarian Risotto
Ingredients (to serve 2)
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon coriander powder
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cm piece ginger, finely chopped
3/4 cup arborio or short grain white rice
50 mL dry white wine
2 cups very finely sliced seasonal vegetables (zucchinis, carrots, spinach, beans, broccoli, asparagus, etc – microwave with a little water for a few minutes until parboiled)
Parmesan cheese (may substitute with tofu pieces if vegan).

Put stock in a separate pot to simmer while frying spices and rice. Fry garlic and ginger in oil in a large saucepan for under a minute. Add the spices and fry for a few seconds until fragrant. Add the rice and toss around for a couple of minutes until well-coated with spice mixture. Add the wine and stir. Add half of the stock and simmer until mostly absorbed. Add the rest of the stock and simmer again until the rice is almost soft. If necessary, add more water to prevent it from drying out too much. Add the vegies and stir well. Remove from heat and cover tightly for five minutes, then add grated parmesan before serving.

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

Friday 30 May 2014


“Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity.” - Anna Komnené

Today, some vocal and instrumental works by Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684), a German Baroque composer, who played a part in transmitting Italian musical styles to the north.

He was born in Oelsnitz, near Plauen, Germany. He studied at the University of Leipzig, graduating in 1640. He served as organist of the Nikolaikirche Leipzig from 1651, and had been assured of advancement to cantor. He became director of music in absentia to the Altenburg court in 1654. However, in 1655 he was imprisoned in a scandal involving alleged homosexual activities.

Escaping from prison, he fled to Italy, and by 1658 was employed at Saint Mark’s in Venice. He composed many vocal works while teaching at an orphanage for girls, (Ospedale della Pietà) between 1678 and 1682. The works of Giovanni Legrenzi and Arcangelo Corelli were among his Italian influences and his sacred compositions show the influence of Heinrich Schütz.

In his last years, Rosenmüller returned to Germany with Duke Anton-Ulrich of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, at whose court he served as choir master. He died at Wolfenbüttel on 10 September 1684, and is buried there. The illustration is Paul Carl Leygebe’s (b. 1664, Nürnberg, d. 1756, Berlin) “Tabakskollegium of Frederick I”.

Thursday 29 May 2014


“For in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”  - Baba Dioum

Have you ever heard Greek, Turkish or Middle Eastern music? Do you immediately appreciate a different sound, highly characteristic of these countries? Exotic, lilting, plangent, melancholy, melismatic? Have you ever wondered why this type of music sounds so different and yet so specifically exotic? You may like to hear an example of this type of music:

This is a Greek Orthodox church traditional melody, sung by Petros Gaitanos. It is from the Second Ode to the Virgin Mary in the Plagal A sound (see below):
Αγνή Παρθένε Δέσποινα
Άχραντε Θεοτόκε
Χαίρε Νυμφή Ανύμφευτε
Παρθένε Μήτηρ Άνασσα…

Pure Virgin Mistress,

Blessed Mother of God,
Hail Bride, unblesmished,
Virgin Mother, Queen…

Well if the answer to all of these questions is yes, read on. I thought I would copy here a piece I wrote for a music composition and discussion group I belong to and which discusses Byzantine scales. These scales are direct descendant of the ancient Greek scales, from which stem the traditions of the Greek orthodox church chants, traditional Greek music and much of the Near Eastern and Middle Eastern music.

Each of the Byzantine musical collections of notes used in constructing a melody are called a "sound" [ήχος - eechos] and correspond to our concept of a scale. There are eight different "sounds" [ήχοι - eechoi]:
Principal A, Principal B, Principal C, Principal D, (these are the “main” ones [κύριοι - kyrioi]) and
Plagal A, Plagal B, Plagal C = “Heavy”  [βαρύς - barys], and Plagal D (these are the “oblique” ones [πλάγιοι - plagioi]).

Tetrachords (four-note groups) are used to construct the Byzantine “scales’ as they were used to construct the ancient Greek modes and some of the Byzantine scales are identical or very similar to the ancient Greek modes, while others are the same as diatonic scales.

There are different constructions of tetrachords and the emotional impact of the tetrachord will depend on the interrelationship of intervals in it. Some of the tetrachords are identical or very similar in construction in the different scales, and the groups of tetrachords that are thus similar are each called a “genus” [γένος - genos].

There are three genera:
1)    Diatonic: Principal and Plagal A and D
2)    Chromatic: Principal and Plagal B
3)    Enharmonic: Principal and Plagal C (= heavy)

Characteristically melodies in the diatonic genus are described as being of the following disposition [ήθος - eethos]: “joyful, imposing, festive”.  Melodies in the chromatic genus are described as being “sweet, melancholy, pensive, gloomy”. While melodies constructed in the enharmonic genus are described as being “pleasant, enthusiastic, masculine”.

The names of the notes in Byzantine music are:

C = Ni (νι)
D = Pa (πα)
E = Vou (βου)
F = Ga (γα)
G = Di (δι)
A = Ke (κε)
B = Zo (ζο)

Principal A and Plagal A  =  D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D’, C, B flat, A, G, F, E, D

Principal B = G, A flat, B, C, B, A flat, G.  But! G, F, E, D, E, F, G and G, F, E, D flat, C
Plagal B = D, E flat, F sharp, G, A, B, C, D, C, B flat, A, G, F sharp, E flat, D
Principal C and Plagal C = F major scale (F, G, A, B flat, C, D, E, F)
Principal D = E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, D, C, B, A, G, F sharp,/G, F/ E, D sharp, E
Plagal D = C major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C)

Note that these are approximations as the sharps and flats are not exactly so sounded, often an intermediate tempering used, rather than the equal tempering of diatonic scales. The notation of Byzantine music is in neumes (νεύματα - as in illustration above).

Understanding of these scales contributes positively to the listening experience of Orthodox Church chants as well as to the understanding of much Balkan folk music, and of Near and Middle Eastern music.

Wednesday 28 May 2014


“Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.” - Confucius

Poetry Jam has enjoined followers to write a poem: “…whatever your age, write away about the ever-old topics of age, aged or aging.” This topic has made me think about it on many occasions in the past, and you can see what I wrote here, and here, and here.

As it is Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, reflecting on old age becomes all that much easier as the year slows into its decline and ultimate fall. Here is my offering for this week:

Autumn Evening

As evening falls so softly, cold
Memory’s scent I follow,
And life grows dark and old.

Leaves die, as they turn to gold
The sound of voices hollow.
As evening falls so softly, cold

I try to break its stranglehold;
My spirits fall and ebb, so low –
And life grows dark and old.

I try to be so resolute and bold
To make my song again to flow
As evening falls so softly, cold…

The wood attacked, consumed by mould
Decay eats into it so slow,
And life grows dark and old.

My dreams to highest bidder sold
Love’s ghosts in sadness wallow:
As evening falls so softly, cold
And life grows dark and old.

Tuesday 27 May 2014


“The rose and the thorn, and sorrow and gladness are linked together.” – Saadi Shirazi

A rose is a woody perennial of the genus Rosa, within the botanical family Rosaceae. There are over 100 species. They form a group of plants that can be erect shrubs, climbing or trailing with stems that are often armed with sharp prickles. Flowers vary in size and shape and are usually large and showy, in various colours. Most species are native to Asia, with smaller numbers native to Europe, North America, and northwest Africa. Species, cultivars and hybrids are all widely grown for their beauty and often are fragrant. Rose plants range in size from compact, miniature roses, to climbers that can reach 7 meters in height. Different species hybridise easily, and this has been used in the development of the wide range of garden roses.

The name rose comes from French, itself from Latin rosa, which was perhaps borrowed from Oscan, from Greek ρόδον rhódon (Aeolic βρόδον wródon), itself borrowed from Old Persian wrd- (wurdi), related to Avestan varəδa, Sogdian ward, Parthian wâr. Rose, Rosa, Triantafyllia (Greek), Warda and Ouarda (Middle Eastern) are popular women’s names that reflect the flower's beauty.

No other flower perhaps is so universally known and admired as the rose, frequently referred to as the “queen of the flowers”. Its blossoms that range in colour from white through various tones of yellow and pink to dark crimson and maroon are widely encountered in art. Many varieties have been bred with beautiful blends of colour. The elusive blue rose has been impossible to breed because of the chemistry of the rose petal, although genetic engineering may make this possible in the near future. The size of rose flowers ranges from tiny miniatures 1.25 cm in diameter to flowers measuring more than 17.5 cm across. Roses can have a delightful fragrance, which varies according to the variety and to climatic and soil conditions.

There are several major classes of garden roses. The best-known and most popular class of rose is the hybrid tea roses, which account for the majority of roses grown in greenhouses and gardens and sold in florist shops. Hybrid teas come in the complete range of rose colours and have large, symmetrical blossoms. Hybrid teas resulted from the crossbreeding of frequently blooming but fragile tea roses with vigorous hybrid perpetual roses. The hybrid perpetuals achieved great popularity until they were supplanted by the hybrid teas in the early 20th century.

Polyantha roses are a class of very hardy roses that produce dense bunches of tiny blossoms. Floribunda roses are hardy hybrids that resulted from crossing hybrid teas with polyanthas. Grandiflora roses are relatively new hybrids resulting from the crossbreeding of hybrid teas and floribunda roses. Grandifloras produce full-blossomed flowers growing on tall, hardy bushes. Among the other classes of modern roses are climbing roses, whose slender stems can be trained to ascend trellises; shrub roses, which develop into large bushes; and miniature roses, which are pygmy-sized plants bearing tiny blossoms. Altogether there are approximately 13,000 identifiable varieties of roses in these and other classes.

Roses have been long used as symbols in a number of societies. Roses are ancient symbols of love and beauty. The rose was sacred to a number of goddesses including Isis, whose rose appears in Apuleius’ late classical allegorical novel “The Golden Ass” as ‘the sweet Rose of reason and virtue’ that saves the hero from his bewitched life in the form of a donkey. The ancient Greeks and Romans identified the rose with the goddess of love, Aphrodite (Greek name) and Venus (Roman name).

In Rome a wild rose would be placed on the door of a room where secret or confidential matters were discussed. The phrase sub rosa, or “under the rose”, means to keep a secret — derived from this ancient Roman practice. The decorative ceiling rose of Victorian architecture derives from this. The rose of course was the special flower of Harpocrates. In late Greek mythology as developed in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Harpocrates (Ancient Greek: Ἁρποκράτης) is the god of silence. Harpocrates was adapted by the Greeks from the Egyptian child god Horus. To the ancient Egyptians, Horus represented the newborn Sun, rising each day at dawn.

Medieval Christians identified the five petals of the rose with the five wounds of Christ. Roses also later came to be associated with the Virgin Mary. The red rose was eventually adopted as a symbol of the blood of the Christian martyrs. A bouquet of red roses, often used to show love, is used as a Valentine’s Day gift in many countries. Roses are occasionally the basis of design for rose windows in cathedrals, comprising five or ten segments (the five petals and five sepals of a rose) or multiples thereof, though most Gothic rose windows are much more elaborate.

The rose is the national flower of England. The usage dates from the reign of Henry VII who introduced the Tudor rose, combining a red rose, representing the House of Lancaster, and a white rose, representing the House of York, as a symbol of unity after the English civil wars of the 15th century which, long after, came to be called the Wars of the Roses. The rose thus appears in the histories of William Shakespeare and in the Child Ballads. It has been the symbol of England Rugby, and of the Rugby Football Union, since 1871.

In 1986 the rose was named the floral emblem of the United States, and the wild rose is the provincial flower of Alberta in Canada. The rose is also the state flower of four US states: Iowa and North Dakota (R. arkansana), Georgia (R. laevigata), and New York (Rosa generally). Portland, Oregon counts “City of Roses” among its nicknames, and holds an annual Rose Festival, as does Pasadena, California, holding the Tournament of Roses Parade since 1890 in conjunction with the Rose Bowl since 1902.

A red rose (often held in a hand) is a symbol of socialism or social democracy: It is used as a symbol by British, Irish, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Brazilian, Dutch, Bulgarian, Korean, and other European labour, socialist or social democratic parties, mostly adopted in the period after World War II.

Monday 26 May 2014


“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” - Arthur Golden

Rob Marshall’s 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha was rather controversial when it was first released. It is the screen adaptation of Arthur Golden’s beautiful novel, and like other literary works that has been translated onto the silver screen, it has its shortcomings. However, the plethora of criticism does not all relate to the screen adaptation per se.

The film was a very controversial one on several other grounds: First, many Asian viewers have been offended by the casting – three Chinese actors playing Japanese has sparked quite a debate about liberties taken with the film. Some Japanese reviewers have commented on how superficially the film deals with a very complex social and cultural tradition, that of the geisha. The issue of language, accent and unconvincing “japaneseness” of the cast keeps cropping up in discussions. The American director, it was said, has opted for a caricature vision of the Orient… Having read the novel and enjoyed it, being aware of the controversy surrounding the film, I was rather diffident in watching it. However, I was won over once I viewed it and must say that I enjoyed the experience thoroughly, despite its flaws.

Firstly, the film has some stunning cinematography and the colour/light elements within each shot are handled with mastery. Then, the music score by John Williams is luscious and complements the atmosphere of the film exceptionally well, without being obtrusive. I had no problem with the casting as remarkably powerful performances are given by not only the leads, but also the supporting cast. The recreation of WWII circum-bellum Japan is executed well and the sets and costumes look authentic. However, I must admit that I am watching it through Western eyes…

The plot of the movie revolves around a geisha. It is 1929 and an impoverished nine-year-old girl, called Chiyo, from a fishing village is sold to a geisha house in Kyoto’s Gion district and subjected to cruel treatment by the head geisha Hatsumomo. Her stunning beauty attracts the vindictive jealousy of Hatsumomo, until she is rescued by and taken under the wing of Hatsumomo’s bitter rival, Mameha. Under Mameha’s mentorship, Chiyo becomes the geisha named Sayuri, trained in all the artistic and social skills a geisha must master in order to become successful. Sayuri becomes a renowned geisha and enters a society of wealth, privilege, and political intrigue. As World War II looms ahead, Japan and the geisha’s world are inescapably changed.

Whatever one may think, the movie is not about sex and bloody violence. It is a psychological study of women and their problems that many men may find hard to relate to or in the other extreme it may be a revelation to many men. The film is about deceit, treachery and rivalries as much as it is about a little girl who gets sold into bondage by her poor family. It is also about a lifelong search for love in a society in which people are restrained and will not be open about their feelings for each other.

My criticisms related to the rather ad hoc way in which language is used in the film. Japanese is used in the first few minutes and switching on the subtitles on the DVD one sees the rather cryptic message: “Man talks in Japanese” – as if we did not know! When English is subsequently used, the occasional introduction of Japanese dialogue or isolated words puts the action in context, presumably, but one is rather bewildered. I would have preferred either completely Japanese dialogue with subtitles or completely English dialogue. At least English subtitles when the dialogue turned to Japanese would have been good.

The film has been dubbed “a women’s movie”. I beg to differ, as it held my interest throughout, even though at the core of the plot is a love story. There are interesting power struggles depicted and the atmosphere of the life of a geisha has been captured well. I would recommend that this film be seen, despite its shortcomings.