Saturday 7 June 2014


“Every year on your birthday, you get a chance to start anew.” - Sammy Hagar

For Music Saturday music by a little-known Baroque composer: Michelangelo Falvetti (1642–1692), who was an Italian Baroque composer as well as a Catholic priest. Falvetti was born in Melicuccà in Calabria, Southern Italy on December 29, 1642, but spent most of his life and musical career in Sicily. In 1670, he became Maestro di cappella in Palermo, and in 1679 founded the ‘Unione dei Musici’ in that city. In or around 1682 he moved to Messina where he was named Maestro di Cappella del Senato di Messina. Falvetti died in Messina in 1692.

He composed several operatic style oratorios, “Abel figura dell’agnello eucaristico” (1676), “La spada di Gedeone” (1678), “La Giuditta” (1680), “Il trionfo dell'anima” (1680s), “Il Nabucco” (1683), “Il sole fermato da Giosuè” (1692).

In this oratorio, ‘Il Diluvio Universale’ (The Universal Deluge), (1682) the four elements plead to God for man’s destruction, but death intervenes in his favour: Man will know the might of the flood only, and will finally be saved from the waters. In the tradition of Carissimi and Handel, the highly original music reflects Sicily, a hybrid land known for having combined the songs of East and West. The oratorio includes sung parts for Noah, Rad, Water, Death, Divine Justice, God, Human Nature. The recording here is with Leonardo García-Alarcón, La Cappella Mediterranea, Choeur de chambre de Namur. Ambronay 2011. The video includes French and English subtitles.

The painting above is Francis Danby’s “The Deluge” exhibited 1840 (Tate Gallery).

Friday 6 June 2014


“Vegetarian and frugal it may be, but the chickpea is one of the most versatile ingredients you could keep in your cupboards.” - Yotam Ottolenghi

For Food Friday, a recipe with the humble chickpea (or garbanzo bean, as it is sometimes called). Chickpeas are an excellent source of the essential nutrients, iron, folate, phosphorus, protein and dietary fibre. They are low in fat and most of the fat they contain is polyunsaturated. Preliminary research has shown that chickpea consumption may lower blood cholesterol. Because of their high protein content, chick peas are also increasingly used as animal feed.

Chickpea and Vegie Curry

3/4 cup chick peas
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2  teaspoon chilli powder
2 teaspoons turmeric
4 sticks celery, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
(Other seasonal vegetables, depending on market availability may be used/substituted)
2 teaspoons ginger, grated
2/3 cup vegetable stock
2/3 cup Greek yoghurt
100g mushrooms


Soak chick peas overnight. Simmer for 1-2 hour or until tender, (this will take longer if the chick peas have not been soaked).  Sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic and spices and sauté for a few seconds more. Add carrots, celery, (other vegetables), and ginger and sauté further. Add stock, yoghurt and chick peas and simmer for 20 minutes. Add sautéed mushrooms and cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle with desiccated coconut and serve with rice, chutney and pappadams or Indian flat bread.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,

and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 5 June 2014


“Tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you who you are.” - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

The fig, Ficus carica, is believed to be indigenous to western Asia and to have been widely distributed by humans throughout the Mediterranean area. Remnants of figs have been found in excavations of sites traced to at least 10,000 B.C. Spanish missionaries brought it to the United States in 1520 A.D.

In Greek mythology, Sykeus was one of the giants who waged war on the Olympian gods. During one of the battles, while Syceus was fleeing from an angry Zeus, his mother Gaia (the Earth) hid him in her bosom, transforming him into the first fig-tree (sykea, in Greek). The Greek goddess of agriculture, Demeter, was said to have given the fruit of the fig as a gift to the god of wine, Dionysus. The fruit was subsequently blessed by the gods.

Plato reports that Greek athletes at the Olympic Games were fed diets of figs to increase their running speed and overall strength. Dried figs, especially, contain a high concentration of sugars, which is virtually like feeding the athlete an energy bar. Figs were an important part of the basic diet of ancient people living around the Mediterranean and near East, and like the olive and vine, were a symbol of peace and prosperity.

The fig is considered by many people to have been the forbidden fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in Eden. This is because in the same tract, it is described how God made garments of fig leaves (Gen. 3:7) so that Adam and Eve could cover their nakedness. The Jewish King, Hezekiah, was cured of a life-threatening plague by applying figs to the infected spot (2 Kings 20). The most famous Biblical reference to figs is that, in which Jesus cursed a fig tree for not producing any fruit for him as he passed by, a curse that killed the fig tree (Matt 21:18). The Apostle, James, brother of Jesus, used the metaphor of the fig tree to describe the appropriate behaviour that one is expected to follow from Christian living (James 3:12). 

The fig develops from a cluster of hidden flowers, all within the fruit (technically called a syconium). Because of this peculiar form of the flower of figs, ancient Indians regarded the fig as a flowerless tree. Buddhist and Hindu texts sometimes refer to “seeking flowers in a fig tree” to indicate something that is pointless or impossible, or to indicate the total absence of some quality.

Cooked figs were used as sweeteners in ancient times and this practice is still used in many countries in Asia. Ripe figs contain over 50% sugar. The tiny seeds of the fig are not digested by the stomach and offer a great laxative effect, especially useful to the elderly or those people with a sedentary lifestyle. Figs are good source of flavonoids and polyphenols both compounds having strong antioxidant properties. Figs and other dried fruit measured for their antioxidant content showed that two medium size dried figs produced a significant increase in plasma antioxidant capacity. Figs also have higher quantities of fibre than any other dried or fresh fruit. Figs are high in iron, calcium, potassium, and they are used as a diuretic and a laxative by naturopaths.

In harvesting the figs, it is important to pick the fruit from the tree, when it is completely mature (usually when it sags, droops, and changes colour). If the figs are taken from the tree prematurely, the sweetness declines, but more importantly, if the figs are removed in the juvenile developing state, a white milky fluid (latex) exudes from the stem, which is transferred to a person’s hands and then eyes or mouth. The fluid is very irritating and should be washed away as quickly as possible. Aristotle noted its use for coagulating milk to make cheese and it is still used in this way today in traditional cheese making. The latex is also used medicinally, and is widely applied on warts, skin ulcers and sores.

The beautiful leaves of the fig tree are used to make an odd scented perfume with the aroma of wood or musk. Figs can be frozen whole or sliced in plastic bags or jars and can be expected to last satisfactorily for one year. Dried figs can be soaked in warm water to restore their shape and softness. Figs contain protein-digesting enzymes and can be used as a meat tenderiser and a taste enhancer. Dried figs are often used to substitute for recipes calling for dried apricots, dates, or prunes.

Wednesday 4 June 2014


“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.” - George Carlin

Poetry Jam this week is moonstruck! The Instructions are: “…this week be inspired by the Moon and let share whatever emotions come into your heart. Make your poem as long or short as you desire, just let it flow.” Here is my contribution:

The Moon Alone

The wind blows all the stars away,

Sweeping them under the carpet of the clouds.
The moon alone remains high up
On her silver balcony,
And smiles.

She watches me, stifling her laugh,

As I search for my lost heart;
Mislaid perhaps – or hiding in a summer’s night,
Or taken by a spring morning;
Maybe stolen?

The clouds gather up and draw the curtains

Giving the moon the privacy she wants, to be alone.
I too, sit alone; where is my soul tonight?
Flying with the gulls, mayhap?
Or sailing…

The wind whistles a lonely song tonight,

The dry leaves shake, and the tiles rattle,
The window creaks, and I’m awake, sighing.
Are you watching the moon? You too alone,
Sleepless perhaps?

Tuesday 3 June 2014


“We owe respect to the living; to the dead we owe only truth.” -Voltaire

Death is inevitable; to try and evade it, is foolish, we all know that! Yet how many of us live our life as though we were immortal? We have forgotten that daily ritual our forebears engaged in: The reminder of one’s death by looking at the Latin inscription “Memento Mori” usually adorning a suitably morbid artefact, or the daily contemplation of a skull or other such symbol of mortality. We distance ourselves from even the idea of death and we live surrounded by a youth-oriented, “fun” culture where the present and ephemeral pleasures are glorified with dying marginalised in our lives. Such lives soon run out of energy and old age soon succeeds middle age, with withdrawal from the society that is so averse to maturity, decline and death.

There are many who live their life devoted to pursuits that are equally futile and they too ignore death. We once had an acquaintance who spent his whole life making money and spending precious little time enjoying it. When he was dying of lung cancer he spent his last days ringing his stockbroker in order to sell and buy shares so as to maximise his profits. The odd thing was that he was an old bachelor with no close family that survived him. He had no friends and he died intestate, so his considerable fortune went to the State. It was a very sad situation, as I recall it, and if his last thoughts were on money and how to make more of it (for what reason, I do not know) and to me it seemed the ultimate wasted action of a life wasted.

We live surrounded by death and yet we turn away from it. Our clinical, hygienic, hedonistic existence in the West shuns death and worships life. It is not wrong to celebrate life and live it to the maximum, but it is a biased existence if one ignores the ultimate end of it - just as it foolish to toss a coin and expect it to turn up heads all the time. If a death happens close to us we are loth to acknowledge it, it makes us uncomfortable, and close contact with it is avoided. Mechanisms in place in our society help us to distance ourselves from death.  Public expressions of grief and mourning are frowned upon and even funerals have become “Celebrations of the Life of…” Many such funerals become a sideshow of a rose-tinted biography, the eulogy replete with amusing anecdotes and expurgated versions of the truth that are illustrated with charming photographs. The dead person is discreetly out of view and the wake is a long-dead tradition that is itself nowadays almost never practised.

It is true, as Sophocles remarks: “If it were possible to heal sorrow by weeping and to raise the dead with tears, gold would be less prized than grief.” However to grieve the dead is something that we must do, the psychologists tell us. It very well to be very civilised and mourn one’s dead with a brave smile, remembering the good points of their life, but if one bottles up the feelings of loss and dams the rivers of sorrow, the pressure builds up and an irruption of that woe deep into the heart is inescapable and will have dire consequences. One may frown at the very public grief exhibited at the traditional Mediterranean funerals - the black dresses, the wails of woe and the unstoppable tears – it all may seem undignified and excessive to the Western eye, but this outpouring of grief is a catharsis, the cleansing of a soul sullied by the death of a loved one.

We expect people to live a long life this day and age. Infant mortality in the West has declined dramatically over the last century and modern medicine carries out its daily miracles of life extension and elimination of what in the past were killer diseases. We have forgotten how to die in the West and we have forgotten to remember the inevitability of death’s arrival. Similarly, we have forgotten how to grieve. I am not suggesting that the death of a loved one leaves us cold and we are not hurt by it, nor that we have become so callous as to continue our life as before without a second thought. But we are embarrassed by death, and its “ncommonness” has made us feel unable to cope with its occurrence. Hence, our resort to life even in the face of death. But this postponement of the expression of grief, the holding back of tears, the exhibit of a cool exterior, the civilised delay in the acknowledgement of the death is harmful. “Waiting is worse than knowing. Grief rends the heart cleanly, that it may begin to heal; waiting shreds the spirit.” wrote Morgan Llywelyn.

I have been thinking of death a lot lately as I have had some people relatively close to me and some not so close die. A colleague’s mother died after a long fight with cancer. The brother of a friend died in a car accident recently and one of my mother’s friends also expired lately. I attended one funeral and the theme there was one of life and happy memories. The MC (what else can I call him?) kept the whole affair upbeat and the as the deceased was an atheist, the ceremony took place in a hall. A cremation followed and the neither family or friends attended it, but all were present after the ceremony for drinks and refreshments. The undertakers were there and they did everything that was necessary for the “disposal” of the body. The move away from religion in many modern Western countries has also reified death and the attitude towards as an end rather than a new beginning has contributed to this glorification of life.

I sat stunned through the whole proceedings and felt completely mortified, hardly being able to restrain my tears while the guests laughed at appropriate parts in the eulogy where the young man’s “life was celebrated”. It was a very civilised affair, the mother of the dead man wore a beautiful pink dress, the father a smart grey suit, the brother of the dead man talked with gusto and his speech was anything but elegiac in tone, while the guests were a multicoloured crowd who had a good time at the function afterwards.

Did that family not feel pain and grief? Of course they did! Did they not feel a loss and didn’t they love their departed son, brother? Of course they did! Did they display their emotions? No, of course not… A suitable restraint was shown. Their grief was controlled or postponed, it was not a public ourpouring. In any case that pain must have remained bottled up inside them and must have gnawed their hearts and souls. Is our modern day coping mechanism an active disregard of death?

In the past, death was commonplace and people regarded it with respect, but also with familiarity. Death was a part of family life. Up to the 19th century most people died in their homes, among their relatives. In the close-knit communities of villages, passers-by would join the priest bearing the last sacrament on his visit to the dying. Death did not spare babies or children who succumbed to diphtheria, whooping cough and all manner of other childhood infections. Young people in their prime were taken by tuberculosis and pneumonia. Grief was immediate, cathartic and well supported by an empathising community who had all gone through similar experiences.

Modern medicine and the advances in disease prevention and treatment did much to subvert this acceptance of death. The protraction of the dying process has become a major medical industry. Medicine regards death as alien, bad, unnatural and to be avoided at all costs. Doctors now concentrate on “curing”, with the “caring” for the sick person having assumed a secondary role. The increasing rationality and spread of the scientific method, industrialisation and urbanisation led, within a few decades, to a striking change of attitudes to death. In the industrialised nations, many people now die in hospitals or hospices, away from most of their family and friends. The nuclear family of the Western world has also isolated a lot of the elderly dying people and helps their family distance themselves from death.

The development of the death industry has parallelled these medical advances. Evelyn Waugh’s “The Loved One” views this industry with great irony and comments wryly on our modern attitudes to death. Drive-in cemeteries have appeared, for those who need to pay their respects to the dead while dealing with other pressing engagements also. The disposal of the body has become a means of quelling the voices of guilt and magnificent coffins, elaborate embalming methods and grand graves are a means of satisfying a sense of obligation towards the dead person. How different from the very simple funerals of the past – a shroud and a wooden box. Og Mandino has the right idea when he remarks: “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”

Death is part of life. We must learn to accept it and deal with it when it happens. We must grieve our loved ones’ death openly and sincerely, and allow our friends to share our pain with us. Death should not be feared or shunned, but on the other hand life is too precious to be wasted and death should not be actively sought. Be happy while you live, as when you die you will be a long time dead! Grieve for your dead, seek the support of family and friends, don't be afraid to let your emotions show. Death ungrieved for is a like a cancer that consumes us and destroys us. Tears cleanse our soul and grief expressed is a balm to a heart ravaged by death.

The illustration above is the painting “Memento Mori 'To This Favour'” by William Michael Harnett, ca 1879

Monday 2 June 2014


“I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” - Winston Churchill

Is it possible to make a comedy film about a very serious issue without risking making the whole exercise ridiculous, or trivialising the issues involved? The answer is an overwhelming “yes”. Comedy is infinitely more complex than a means of generating a few laughs. True comedy is serious business and any comedy that takes itself seriously and doesn’t depend on the scatological or slapstick for humour has underlying themes that are challenging. Think of some of your favourite jokes – chances are that they deal with some sensitive topics, topics that challenge our comfort zone.

Humour is a way of relieving tension, defusing potentially emotionally taxing situations and taking the sting out of situations that are tragic. Major tragedies like the Challenger disaster or Hurricane Katrina left in their wake jokes, ranging from the poignant to the frankly tasteless. In all cases people were attempting to deal with an emotionally draining and immensely heartrending situation by taking a view of it that allowed some lightening of the discomfort with a take on it that was humorous.

Humour has many faces, comedy can be of many kinds, but in all cases the effect is beneficial. Laughter (and lots of it!) aids our physical health, reduces the chance of mental illness, helps to prolong our life. For Movie Monday today, I am reviewing a 2005 comedy I saw recently that deals with several serious and distressing topics. First: Paedophilia (child molestation); second: Death; and third: Obesity and body image problems. It is by Greek Director Olga Malea and is titled: Λουκουμάδες με Μέλι (Loukoumádes me Méli – Doughnuts with Honey).

The film was made with the help of six adorable piglets and 23,500 doughnuts. The piglets survived; however, many of the doughnuts were eaten during the making of this movie. The cast is well chosen and Pavlos Haikalis, especially plays a very difficult role well. The leads are likeable and handle the comedy well, while many of the supporting actors enjoy the excesses of the script with gusto. Olga Malea seems to be able to balance the slapstick with the pathos, and some scenes get a belly laugh, while in the same breath one finds one’s heartstrings tugged.

The cinematography is gorgeous and many of the scenes display the beauty of springtime in rural Greece wonderfully. We also saw some innovative camera work in the way that some difficult scenes were handled. Small town life in provincial Greece is brought to life successfully and there is a wry commentary on modern-day mores and technology, and how these impinge on traditional attitudes and strait-laced cultural icons.

A very good movie, see it if you can, not only for the laughs, but also for an excellent consideration of some very “heavy” material that confronts us in an unexpected way and challenges our comfort zone. As far as the piglet and where it fits into the story, you’ll have to watch the film and find out, its role is crucial!

Sunday 1 June 2014


“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” - Leonardo da Vinci

I have many favourite paintings, which I particularly like looking at and some of which I use as a wallpaper on my computer screen, have prints of, or even a couple that are hanging on my wall at home. In terms of famous paintings that I particularly like there are several. I am sharing one of these with you today for Art Sunday: Pieter Brueghel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” ca 1558. It is oil on canvas, mounted on wood (73.5 x 112 cm) and hangs in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels.

There is a dream-like quality to this painting that always draws me in. There is mystery and imagination in it. The legend of Icarus whose wings held together by wax melted as he flew too close to the sun is one of my favourites in Greek mythology, but this legend takes a subsidiary role in this painting. You can just make out the legs of Icarus in front of the ship in the right lower part of the painting, which seems to be more a bucolic, idyllic land/seascape.

The greenish light, the view from up high on the slope of a mountain, the setting sun, the broad vista of the seascape and distant city make this painting quite special. The figures in the foreground are the people seeing the flying humans and are dressed in 16th century garb - anachronistic, yet very suited to the mood of the painting. When I visited Brussels I made a special point of visiting the museum there and looking at this painting for ages. It was gorgeously beautiful…

The legend of Daedalus and Icarus in greater detail: Daedalus was a brilliant inventor who was in great demand by the various kings as his inventions were useful in both peace and war. King Minos of Crete managed to obtain the services of Daedalus for his court. King Minos asks Daedalus to design a maze (the Labyrinth) in which to put the terrible monster, the Minotaur (half bull-half man).

Unfortunately, Daedalus angered King Minos when he helped Theseus kill the Minotaur and escape the labyrinth. Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the labyrinth and forbade them to ever leave Crete. Desperate to escape, Daedalus uses wax, twine and birds’ feathers to build some wings for himself and his son. Daedalus warns his son to fly at a middle height: The seawater will dampen the wings if he flies too low, and the sun will melt the wax if he flies too high.

Father and son strap on the wings and manage to fly out of the labyrinth. People on the ground, including shepherds and ploughmen, stop their work to gaze up at Daedalus and Icarus. They are surprised at the sight of two people flying in the air, thinking that Daedalus and Icarus might be gods, since no human has ever achieved flight before. Icarus heeds his father’s advice for a while, but then he gets cocky. He forgets the warnings and flies too close to the sun. Sure enough, his wings melt, and Icarus plummets into the sea and drowns. Daedalus is devastated by his son’s death, but he cannot do anything. He flies on to Sicily, where he mourns Icarus and builds a temple in honour of the god Apollo (god of the sun).

While living in Sicily, Daedalus strikes up a friendship with King Cocalus, the ruler of the island. When King Minos comes searching for Daedalus, Cocalus takes pity on him and hides the inventor. King Cocalus’ daughters kill King Minos with scalding water, freeing Daedalus from his pursuer forever.

There is a dark side to Daedalus, and this is hinted at in the painting. In the lower right hand corner between the falling Icarus and the figure by the seashore is a partridge roosting on a branch. Daedalus was so proud of his achievements that he could not bear the idea of a rival. His sister had placed her son Perdix under his charge as an apprentice. Perdix was an apt scholar and gave striking evidences of ingenuity. Walking on the seashore he picked up the the skeleton of a fish. Imitating it, he took a piece of iron and notched it on the edge, and thus invented the saw. He put two pieces of iron together, connecting them at one end with a rivet, and sharpening the other ends, and made a pair of compasses. Dædalus was so envious of his nephew’s inventions that he took an opportunity, when they were together one day on the top of a high tower, to push him off. But Athena, who favours ingenuity, saw him falling, and arrested his fate by changing him into a bird called after his name, the Partridge. This bird does not build his nest in the trees, nor take lofty flights, but nestles in the hedges, and mindful of his fall, avoids high places…

What is your favourite painting that you particularly like or remember at this moment?