Saturday 12 July 2014


“The sound of the orchestra is one of the most magnificent musical sounds that has ever existed.” - Chick Corea

For Music Saturday, a favourite of mine, “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”, which was composed by Benjamin Britten in 1945 (completed on New Year’s Eve 1945) with a subtitle Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell. It was originally commissioned for an educational documentary film called Instruments of the Orchestra, directed by Muir Mathieson and featuring the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. It was first performed in public in late 1946. In this 1955 recording, Benjamin Britten’s lifelong partner, tenor Peter Pears, narrates. Mono recording, clearly transcribed from an LP record, it still shines - both in performance and historical importance.

The work is based on the Rondeau from Henry Purcell’s incidental music to Aphra Behn’s “Abdelazer”, and is structured, in accordance with the plan of the original documentary film, as a way of showing off the tone colours and capacities of the various sections of the orchestra. In the introduction, the theme is initially played by the entire orchestra, then by each major family of instruments of the orchestra: First the woodwinds, then the brass, then the strings, and finally by the percussion.

Each variation then features a particular instrument in depth, in the same family order, and generally moving through each family from high to low. So, for example, the first variation features the piccolo and flutes; each member of the woodwind family then gets a variation, ending with the bassoon; and so on, through the strings, brass, and finally the percussion.

After the whole orchestra has been effectively taken to pieces in this way, it is reassembled using an original fugue, which starts with the piccolo, followed by all the woodwinds, strings, brass and percussion in turn. Once everyone has entered, the brass are reintroduced (with a strike on the gong) with Purcell’s original melody.

Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Igor Markevitch, narrated by Sir Peter Pears (1955).

Friday 11 July 2014


“I’ve always been a foodie. My grandmother got me hooked on cooking.” - Debi Mazar

Our wintry weather lends itself to traditional old-time favourite desserts that evoke good memories of grandmothers and warm kitchens. Here is such a dessert using rhubarb, a good old-fashioned ingredient!

Rhubarb and Coconut Slice

150g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup plain flour, sifted
1/4 cup rice flour
1/3 tsp ground cloves
2 bunches rhubarb, trimmed, washed, cut into 2 cm lengths
1/3 cup water
Vanilla essence
Raspberry jam
Coconut topping:
2 cups desiccated coconut
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly whisked


Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease and line a 3.5 cm deep, 16cm x 26cm lamington pan.
Using an electric mixer, beat butter, cloves and 1/2 cup of sugar until well combined. Add plain and rice flour. Mix well.
Using floured fingertips, press mixture evenly into pan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool. Increase oven temperature to 170°C.
Place rhubarb, remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and water into a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir for 5 minutes, or until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a simmer. Cover. Cook for 10 minutes, or until tender. Mix in the vanilla essence and cool for 30 minutes. Cover cake base with raspberry jam and spoon rhubarb filling over base.
Make topping: Combine all ingredients. Spoon over rhubarb. Press down. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until light golden.
Cool in pan. Cut into slices. Serve with whipped cream and fresh raspberries if desired.

Share your favourite recipes with others reading this post:

Thursday 10 July 2014


“Integrity means a willingness not to violate one’s identity.” - Erich Fromm

I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of economics (macro- or micro-). Nor do I think I am an expert in any high-flown financial matters. My budgeting sometimes probably leaves something to be desired, but at least, I do manage my personal finances more or less successfully so that I am comfortable, do not owe money to anyone and I am also able to put a little something aside, planning ahead for a rainy day in the future. So, you may say that unlike many other people I am managing to cope with matters financial…

But coping, only just! The vagaries of our economic system, capitalistic greed, our confounded politics, the insanity and unfairness of our taxation system, the escalating charges, costs and fees associated with a “user-pays” mentality are managing to erode financial coping mechanisms for many people. “User-pays” indeed! It would make sense in a system where personal taxation was more reasonable, but if you tax the average citizen highly and then expect him to pay for everything he uses as well, then the system becomes grossly unfair and is bound to fester discontent. And there is a lot of discontent around at the moment…

Speaking of fees, charges and escalating costs, the banks in Australia have gone completely crazy! This of course is in strict imitation of similar institutions in countries of the Western persuasion around the world. The charging of usurious interest rates, credit card rip-offs, the creation of ever-new fees and charges, “user-pays” costs and countless other ways of making money out of their increasingly poorer clientele is now a fact of life. The defence for their shameless profiteering is that their “shareholders must be kept satisfied”. And satisfied they are, as the banks’ profits escalate annually into the billions… One thing the banks forget, however, is that their ordinary customers far outnumber their shareholders. They cannot forever rob the numerous poor Peters to keep on making the few rich Pauls richer. This sort of thing led to several bloody revolutions in the past – France and Russia spring immediately to mind!

The soaring profits also keep the banking staff on the upper echelons of these august institutions in the lap of luxury as well. The lifestyle of the directors is truly imperial and commensurate with the salaries, which are truly obscene. The golden handshakes they receive upon termination of employment are offensive to the extreme, the bonuses that are habitually handed out to their ilk are an affront to the increasing poverty which is becoming widespread in the general population. The fee you paid yesterday and the new charge dreamed up today is keeping these people replete with champagne and caviar tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…

The solution? Reform! Reform on multiple levels. How to achieve this reform is a matter of contention and will require a great deal of effort and in many cases action that will be revolutionary. Revolution will need to be in the form of a radical change in the way that we interact with the state, large organisations, industries and companies – not revolution of the bloody kind. We are bled figuratively through our pockets, so our revolution must be a figurative one also. Resistance will need to be passive, and organised on a scale that makes a large dent in the profits of these companies. If the Peters fail to deliver the profit to the Pauls, then the Pauls will need to reconsider their stance, attitude and modus operandi.

Community banks and building societies are a way that the general populace can use to escape the mainstream banking sector. Avoidance of the use of credit cards (which now almost universally attract a user pays 1%-3% charge on top of the stated retail price) is another way. Opening accounts that are negotiated to be fee-free can be another mechanism and shopping around to get the best banking deal may also help.Unless the general population of bank customers reacts in a unified and universal way, witha a huge amount of publicity, isolated reactions by single users will not have an effect. Hence the difficulty of effecting change...

And now to the title of this blog post: Usury. An old fashioned word that one does not see written much nowadays. However, it is widespread in practice...

usury |ˈjuːʒ(ə)ri| noun [mass noun]
The action or practice of lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest. the medieval prohibition on usury.
ORIGIN: Middle English: From Anglo-Norman French usurie, or from medieval Latin usuria, from Latin usura, from usus ‘a use’.

Wednesday 9 July 2014


I see the entire world as Eden, and every time you take an inch of it away, you must do so with respect.” - Joni Mitchell

This week, Poetry Jam has given the instruction: “Set your poem this week in an impossible place”. Increasing population growth worldwide, escalating pollution, effects of climate change, dwindling resources and a spoilage of our natural environment make many of the world’s beautiful places no longer so. It is harder and harder for most people of the earth (who are rapidly becoming city dwellers in huge metropolises) to find a “natural”, unspoiled place where everything is “right”. This is the impossible place my poem yearns for…

Nocturne I

On the horizon low will sink the sun
And gentle sea the shore would kiss.
A gull the zephyr soft pursues
While fish in coralline castles hides.
Dolphin, Orion’s echoes searches for
And dances in the murky depths, anemone.

Unmarred by cloud the sky shines on
In ever deepening shadows phosphorescent.
Star burns in twilit backdrop smooth
And ceaselessly does the cicada drone.
Bird roosts in leafy bower still
The summer heat by evening unquelled.

For water sweet the arid earth does yearn
An earnest kiss the parchéd lips desire
A temperate lair the wild beast seeks
While living flesh caresses craves.
A want for cooling breeze is in the stifling air expressed
While for the music of the words of love ear hopes.

Pearl of a moon in opalescent ocean falls
The blue-white wave on velvet shore does break
In silence still the sea-sounds softly sing;
Enticed by mistress pale recedes the saline,
Shell glistens wet, crab backwards runs
And high above silver Cybele smiles.

For beauty endlessly the soul will search
In lover’s eyes would eyes be there reflected.
Heart needs to love, reason subduing
And arms would in embrace rejoice.
Perishable flesh be to your own attracted
And love while there still is time.

Tuesday 8 July 2014


“Eat the pomegranate, for it purges the system of envy and hatred.” - Prophet Muhammad

The pomegranate is one of the most famous and celebrated fruits of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions. Since ancient times, the many seeds of the fruit have symbolised hope, eternity, fertility and prosperity. Ancient Greeks used the tart, sharp-tasting juice of unripe pomegranates in the same way that we use lemon juice today. Since ancient times and right up to the present, Greeks have broken a pomegranate fruit on the threshold of shops, homes and offices on New Year’s day to ensure happiness and prosperity for the year ahead.

The pomegranate is the fruit of Punica granatum, a bush or small tree of Western Asia. The plant, which may attain 5 or 7 metres in height, has lance-shaped, bright-green leaves about 75 millimetres long and beautiful orange-red flowers, the petals of which are borne on a bright red, waxy calyx tube. The fruit is the size of a large orange, obscurely six-sided, with a smooth, leathery skin that ranges from brownish yellow to red; within, it is divided into several chambers containing many thin, transparent vesicles of reddish, juicy pulp, each surrounding an angular, elongated seed. The fruit is eaten fresh, and the juice is the source of grenadine syrup, used in flavourings and liqueurs.

Throughout the Orient, the pomegranate has since earliest times occupied a position of importance alongside the grape and the fig. According to the Bible, King Solomon possessed an orchard of pomegranates, and, when the children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, sighed for the abandoned comforts of Egypt, the cooling pomegranates were remembered longingly. The Muslims held the fruit in high regard as it was praised in the Koran.

While the pomegranate is considered indigenous to Iran and neighbouring countries, its cultivation long ago encircled the Mediterranean and extended through the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan, and India. It is commonly cultivated in the Americas from the warmer parts of the United States to Chile.

The ancient Greek legend of Persephone (Latin = Proserpina) contains a poignant detail involving the pomegranate. Persephone was the daughter of Zeus, the chief god, and Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. Persephone was gathering flowers in the Vale of Nysa when she was seized by Hades, god of the Underworld, and taken to the nether regions. Upon learning of the abduction, her mother, Demeter, in her misery, became unconcerned with the harvest or the fruitfulness of the Earth, so that widespread famine ensued. Zeus then intervened, commanding Hades to release Persephone to her mother. Because Persephone had eaten four pomegranate seeds in the underworld, she could not be completely freed but had to remain one-third of the year with Hades, spending the other two-thirds with her mother. The story that Persephone spent four months of each year in the underworld was no doubt meant to account for the barren appearance of Greek fields in full summer (after harvest), before their revival in the autumn rains, when they are ploughed and sown.

Some trivia about pomegranates:
• The hand grenade is named after the pomegranate
• Grenada, the island nation off the coast of South America, was named after the pomegranate.
• The Spanish city Granada is named after the pomegranate.
• The Koran mentions pomegranates three times (6:99, 6:141, 55:068) - twice as examples of the good things God creates, once as a fruit found in the Garden of Paradise.
• In Iran eating the fruit is believed to give a long and healthy life
• The pomegranate was the personal emblem of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximillian I (1459-1519).
• Greeks commemorating their dead, make “Kollyva” as offerings that consist of boiled wheat, parsley, roast chick pea meal, mixed with icing sugar and decorated with pomegranate seeds.
• The Babylonians believed chewing pomegranate seeds before battle made them invincible
• Exodus chapter 28:33-34 directed that images of pomegranates be woven onto the borders of Hebrew priestly robes.
• 1 Kings chapter 7:13-22 describes pomegranates depicted in the temple King Solomon built in Jerusalem.
• Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol for righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 commandments of the Torah. For this and other reasons many Jews eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah.
• Pomegranate consumption has been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure by inhibiting serum angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE).
• Research suggests that pomegranate juice may be effective against prostate cancer.
• The pomegranate was sacred to the ancient Greek goddess Hera, protectress of the institution of marriage. Pomegranates are still broken in modern Greek weddings for good luck.
• Ancient Egyptian pharaohs had pomegranates buried with them in their tombs.

Recipes with pomegranates can be found here.

Monday 7 July 2014


“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” - Leonardo da Vinci

We watched a very good Japanese film at the weekend. Although it seemed interesting even just by reading the synopsis and looking at the cover of the DVD, we were a bit diffident to watch it as it dealt with a rather lugubrious theme. It came highly recommended though, having won the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, as well as another 33 awards. When we watched it we discovered it was a curiously uplifting and even cheerful film despite the serious themes it dealt with.

It was the 2008 Yôjirô Takita film “Departures” with a screenplay by Kundô Koyama and starring Masahiro Motoki, Ryôko Hirosue, Kazuko Yoshiyuki and Tsutomu Yamazaki. At 130 minutes, this was a long film, but once one starts watching it, one does not notice time passing, which is always a good sign. The film ticked all the right boxes for us, with plot, character development, acting, cinematography, direction, music and thematic breadth all being excellently done.

The movie concerns itself with Daigo Kobayashi, who is a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved, and who now finds himself without a job. Daigo decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over, while living in his old family home. He answers a classified advertisement entitled “Departures” thinking it is a job in a travel agency, only to discover that the job is actually for a “Nokanshi” (an encoffineer, a funeral professional who prepares corpses for burial and entry into the next life). While his wife, friends and acquaintances despise the job, Daigo takes pride in his work and begins to perfect the art of “Nokanshi”, acting as a gentle gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed. The film follows his profound and sometimes comical journey with death as he uncovers the wonder, joy and meaning of life and living.

The film is complex and has several subplots, not the least of which is the relationship of parents and children, especially those parents who have left or have had to leave their children at a young age. The relationship of married couples is another theme and of course the obvious one of how we view death and what our feelings are towards the dead – dead bodies as well as well as people whom we love and have died. However, the most important theme of the movie is life – life and how we should live it. If we live life the ‘right’ way, then we have no issues with death and we are prepared suitably for its arrival.

This film is a tribute to ritual and the universal human need for it. No more perhaps needed by our psyche than at the time of death. In the film, the encoffination process is shown repeatedly, although it is the reaction of the relatives that show us the vastly different way in which people view death and the dead. Sometimes the mourners make it raucous, melancholy, embarrassing, joyful or even comic. However, the film demonstrates the quintessential Japanese culture that knows the value of theatre.

The movie helps the viewer grow through an examination of his/her own views towards death and how he/she woudl cope in situations such as those depicted. It is successful as a movie because it deals with fundamental human emotions that are universal and do not depend on specific ethnic or cultural experiences. An excellent movie, we recommend it most highly and it is an uplifting and in the end joyful film, that provides an insightful and wise view of death, and life!

Sunday 6 July 2014


“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is a part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.” - Hermann Hesse

Artemisia Gentileschi, was born 1593, in Rome, and died in 1652/53, in Naples. She was the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, who was a major follower of the revolutionary Baroque painter Caravaggio. She was an important figure, not only as a woman in what was then a man’s domain, but also was a second-generation proponent of Caravaggio’s dramatic realism, which during her time was still raising eyebrows with its unconventionality.

She was first a pupil of her father and later of his friend, the landscape painter Agostino Tassi. At first, she painted in a style similar to her father’s somewhat lyrical interpretation of Caravaggio’s example. Her first known work is “Susanna and the Elders” (1610), an accomplished work long attributed to her father. Artemisia was raped by Tassi, and, when he did not fulfil his promise to marry her, Orazio Gentileschi in 1612 brought him to trial. During that event she herself was forced to give evidence under torture. The trial lasted seven months at the end of which, Tassi was sentenced to imprisonment for one year, although he never served the time. The trauma of the rape and trial impacted on Artemisia’s painting. Her graphic depictions were cathartic and symbolic attempts to deal with the physical and psychological pain she had suffered.

Her father arranged her marriage to Pierantonio Stiattesi, a modest artist from Florence shortly after the trial. They moved to Florence where she joined the Academy of Design in Florence in 1616. While in Florence she began to develop her own distinct style. Her colours are more brilliant than her father’s, and she continued to employ the dark shadows and dramatic lighting made popular by Caravaggio long after her father had abandoned that style. Although her compositions were graceful, she was perhaps the most violent of all the followers of Caravaggio; she illustrated such subjects as the story from the Apocrypha of Judith, the Jewish heroine, beheading Holofernes, an invading general. Many of her paintings affirm the moral strength of women (eg. Judith), their integrity of character (eg. ancient Roman Lucretia), or mental prowess (eg. Clio the muse).

Artemisia Gentileschi was in Rome for a time and also in Venice. About 1630 she moved to Naples and in 1638–39 visited her father in London. There she painted many portraits and quickly surpassed her father’s fame. Later, probably in 1640 or 1641, she settled in Naples, but little is known of the final years of her life. After her death, she drifted into obscurity, her works often attributed to her father or other artists. Art historian and expert on Artemisia, Mary D. Garrard notes that Artemisia “…has suffered a scholarly neglect that is unthinkable for an artist of her calibre.” Renewed and overdue interest in Artemisia in recent years has recognised her as a talented seventeenth-century painter and one of the world’s greatest female artists. The first book devoted to her, “Artemisia Gentileschi - The Image of The Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art.” by Mary D. Garrard, was issued in 1989; the first exhibition of her works was held in Florence in 1991. A TV documentary, a play and, more recently, a film have advanced her visibilty as an important artist.

The painting above, “Esther before Ahasuerus” is in the Metropolitan Museum of (oil on canvas 208.3 x 273.7 cm). This painting, among Artemisia’s most ambitious, recounts the story of the Jewish heroine Esther, who appeared before King Ahasuerus to plead for her people. She, thus, broke court etiquette and risked death. She fainted in the king’s presence, but her request found favour. The story is conceived not as a historical recreation but as a contemporary event. Initially Artemisia included the detail of a black boy restraining a dog—still partly visible beneath the marble pavement, to the left of Ahasuerus’s knee.

Agnès Merlet has created an excellent, albeit controversial, film about Artemisia’s life called “Artemisia” and this examines the circumstances of the life of a woman who seemed to be ahead of her times on many a score. Well worth seeing this film!