Saturday 19 July 2014


“Tragedy in life normally comes with betrayal and compromise, and trading on your integrity and not having dignity in life. That's really where failure comes.” - Tom Cochrane

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, originally spelled Rembrant (born July 15, 1606, Leiden, Netherlands—died October 4, 1669, Amsterdam), was a Dutch painter and printmaker, one of the greatest storytellers in the history of art, possessing an exceptional ability to render people in their various moods and dramatic guises. Rembrandt is also known as a painter of light and shade and as an artist who favoured an uncompromising realism that would lead some critics to claim that he preferred ugliness to beauty.

Rembrandt was the son of a miller. Despite the fact that he came from a family of relatively modest means, his parents took great care with his education. Rembrandt began his studies at the Latin School, and at the age of 14 he was enrolled at the University of Leiden. The program did not interest him, and he soon left to study art - first with a local master, Jacob van Swanenburch, and then, in Amsterdam, with Pieter Lastman, known for his historical paintings. After six months, having mastered everything he had been taught, Rembrandt returned to Leiden, where he was soon so highly regarded that although barely 22 years old, he took his first pupils. One of Rembrandt’s students was the famous artist Gerrit Dou.

Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in 1631; his marriage in 1634 to Saskia van Uylenburgh, the cousin of a successful art dealer, enhanced his career, bringing him in contact with wealthy patrons who eagerly commissioned portraits. An exceptionally fine example from this period is the “Portrait of Nicolaes Ruts” (1631, Frick Collection, New York City). In addition, Rembrandt’s mythological and religious works were much in demand, and he painted numerous dramatic masterpieces such as “The Blinding of Samson” (1636, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt). Because of his renown as a teacher, his studio was filled with pupils, some of whom (such as Carel Fabritius) were already trained artists. In the 20th century, scholars have reattributed a number of his paintings to his associates; attributing and identifying Rembrandt’s works is an active area of art scholarship.

Rembrandt produced many of his works in this fashionable town house in Amsterdam. Purchased by the artist in 1639, when he was 33, it proved to be the scene of personal tragedy: His wife and three of his children died here. The house became a financial burden, and in 1660 Rembrandt was forced to move. A new owner added the upper story and roof, giving it the appearance it still bears. In 1911 the Dutch movement made it a Rembrandt museum -preserving it both as a shrine of a revered national artist and as an imposing example of 17th Century Dutch architecture.

In contrast to his successful public career, however, Rembrandt’s family life was marked by misfortune. Between 1635 and 1641 Saskia gave birth to four children, but only the last, Titus, survived; her own death came in 1642- at the age of 30. Hendrickje Stoffels, engaged as his housekeeper about 1649, eventually became his common-law wife and was the model for many of his pictures. Despite Rembrandt’s financial success as an artist, teacher, and art dealer, his penchant for ostentatious living forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1656. An inventory of his collection of art and antiquities, taken before an auction to pay his debts, showed the breadth of Rembrandt’s interests: Ancient sculpture, Flemish and Italian Renaissance paintings, Far Eastern art, contemporary Dutch works, weapons, and armour. Unfortunately, the results of the auction - including the sale of his house - were disappointing.

These problems in no way affected Rembrandt’s work; if anything, his artistry increased. Some of the great paintings from this period are “The Jewish Bride” (1665), “The Syndics of the Cloth Guild” (1661, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), “Bathsheba” (1654, Louvre, Paris), “Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph” (1656, Staatliche Gemäldegalerie, Kassel, Germany), and a self-portrait (1658, Frick Collection). His personal life, however, continued to be marred by sorrow. His beloved Hendrickje died in 1663, and his son, Titus, in 1668 - only 27 years of age. Eleven months later, on October 4, 1669, Rembrandt died in Amsterdam.

The painting above, in the Prado Museum, Madrid, is “Artemisia” painted in 1634 and shows Rembrandt’s style of chiaroscuro (light-and-dark), masterly use of colour, composition and form, as well as his image of a perfect female figure. The full title is “Artemisia Receiving Mausolus’ Ashes” but it is also known as “Sophonisba Receiving the Poisoned Cup”. The subject of the picture is still unclear. It portrays a young woman, variously identified as Sophonisba or Artemisia, or a generic queen due to her jewels and rich garments, receiving a cup from a maiden. The cup could contain the ashes of Artemisia’s husband, King Mausolus, or, in the case of Sophonisba, the poison, which killed her. For the woman, Rembrandt probably used his wife Saskia as model.

Queen Artemisia (died 350 BC) is renowned in history for her extraordinary grief at the death of her husband (and brother) Mausolus. She is said to have mixed his ashes in her daily drink, and to have gradually pined away during the two years that she survived him. She induced the most eminent Greek rhetoricians to proclaim his praise in their oratory; and to perpetuate his memory she built at Halicarnassus the Mausoleum, a celebrated majestic monument, listed by Antipater of Sidon as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and whose name subsequently became the generic term for any splendid sepulchral monument (mausoleum, Greek: μαυσωλεῖον).

Sophonisba (fl. 203 BC) was a Carthaginian noblewoman who lived during the Second Punic War, and the daughter of Hasdrubal Gisco Gisgonis (son of Gisco). In an act that became legendary, Sophonisba poisoned herself rather than be humiliated in a Roman triumph.

Friday 18 July 2014


“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” - Ernest Hemingway

The world is reeling from the senseless loss of Malaysia Airlines MH17, the second such tragedy to hit the airline in the last few months. The circumstances behind this latest tragedy are reprehensible. Warfare hits the most innocent the hardest and this is a case in point. The Ukrainian crisis is fanned by politicians pro- or contra-Russian who wish to come into power and reap personal benefits. I am sure the Ukrainian people would not mind who is in power if they were assured of a decent life that affords them the necessities to live a content and dignified existence.

Each passenger on the doomed flight has a personal story to tell that mirrors that of innocent civilians in Ukraine that have lost their lives in the savage internecine warfare. Hundreds of dreams, hopes, aspirations; thousands of young lives cut short, stories of unrealised potential. Stories of experience and talent lost, families destroyed, relationships wrecked, so many fine minds destroyed, so much waste…

As we try and cope with the tragic deaths of crew and passengers of flight MH17, we also remember the innocent Ukrainian civilians lost in the power struggles that wreak havoc in the troubled land of Ukraine. Here is a musical offering to remember them by and to wish them to rest in peace: Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem”, op. 48, with André Cluytens, Orchestre De La Société Des Concerts Du Conservatoire, Victoria De Los Angeles, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Thursday 17 July 2014


“People can have many different kinds of pleasure. The real one is that for which they will forsake the others.” - Marcel Proust

A croque-monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. It originated in French cafés and bars as a quick snack. Typically, Emmental or Gruyère cheese is used. The name is based on the verb croquer (“to crunch”) and the word monsieur (“mister”). The sandwich’s first recorded appearance on a Parisian café menu was in 1910. Its earliest mention in literature appears to be in volume two of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in 1918.

A croque-monsieur served with a fried egg or poached egg on top is known as a croque-madame (or in parts of Normandy a croque-à-cheval). Many dictionaries attribute the name to the egg resembling an old fashioned woman’s hat. According to the Petit Robert dictionary, the name dates to around 1960. The name croque-mademoiselle is associated with many different sandwiches, from diet recipes to desserts.

Here is my take on the croque-madame, in a non-ham guise.


1 slice of homemade wholemeal bread
50 g fresh butter
2 slices of Leidsekaas (Gouda flavoured with cumin)
Some butter sautéed mushrooms
Tablespoon of homemade mayonnaise
1 egg, poached
Salt, pepper, paprika, mace, (or curry if desired), sprig of parsley


Melt the butter in a flat omelette skillet and heat until it is sizzling and turning brown.  Fry the bread in the butter until both sides are golden.  Put the cheese and mushrooms on the bread in a plate and top with the mayonnaise. Poach the egg, seasoning well and top the open sandwich with it, heat in a very hot oven for a few minutes and garnish with the chopped parsley.

Please link your recipe ideas here:

Wednesday 16 July 2014


“Humour is just another defence against the universe.” - Mel Brooks

Today is Revolution Day III in Iraq, Rivera Day in Puerto Rico; Independence Day in Slovakia, and Constitution Day in South Korea (since 1948). It is also the anniversary of the birth of:
Anne Hutchinson, religious skeptic (1591);
Isaac Watts, writer (1674);
Elbridge Gerry, 5th Vice President of the USA, inventor of the gerrymander (1744);
John Jacob Astor, fur trader millionaire (1763);
Shmuel Yosef Halevi Agnon, Israeli novelist (1888);
Erle Stanley Gardner, writer (1889);
Frank Forde, Australian PM (1890);
James Cagney, actor (1900);
Christina Stead, novelist (1902);
Phyllis Diller, comedienne (1917);
Donald Sutherland, actor (1934);
Pat McCormick, writer (1934);
Peter Schickele, composer (1935);
Lucie Arnaz, actress (1951);
David Hasselhoff, actor (1952);
Phoebe Snow, actress (1952).

The birthday plant for this day, is caraway, Carum carvi. The name is derived from a place in Asia Minor, Caria.  The seeds have been used form ancient times to flavour food, especially breads and cakes. The plant signifies the sentiment “you will grow to love me”.  Astrologically, it is under the rule of Mercury.

Slovakia is a central European country 49,000 square km in area and with a population of 6 million people. It separated from the Czech Republic in 1993 and traditionally it has always been less developed economically, politically and culturally than its erstwhile sister state. Its capital is Bratislava with other major cities being Kosice, Banská, Zilina, Nitra and Bystrica. It is a landlocked country with harsh winters and warm summers. Other than coal, the country lacks mineral resources but under the former communist rule heavy industry was encouraged to the detriment of the few resources and to catastrophic environmental effects. To the Northeast there are the Carpathian Mountains while to the South there is agricultural land. The country is slowly recovering, albeit at a slower rate than the Czech Republic.

Iraq is a Middle Eastern country through which flow the historic Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the small seafront that the country possesses on the Persian Gulf. It is just under 439,000 square km in area with a population of close to 20 million. The capital is Baghdad with other major centres being Basra, Mosul, Sulaymaniyah, Karbala, Ba’qubah and Al Amarah. The climate is mainly arid with low rainfall, high mountains, deserts and marsh. The fertile crescent between the two rivers has been sustaining rich agriculture for millennia. However, the major export is oil from the extensive reserves the country possesses. Wars in the 1980s and 1990s have crippled the economy and several decades may pass for complete recovery to occur.

Margaret the Virgin-Martyr, known as Margaret of Antioch (in Pisidia) in the West, and as and Saint Marina the Great-Martyr (Greek: Ἁγία Μαρίνα Μεγαλομάρτυς) in the East, is celebrated as a saint by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches on July 20 and on July 17 in the Orthodox Church. Her historical existence has been questioned. She was declared apocryphal by Pope Gelasius I in 494, but devotion to her revived in the West with the Crusades. She was reputed to have promised very powerful indulgences to those who wrote or read her life, or invoked her intercessions; these no doubt helped the spread of her cult.

According to the version of the story in Golden Legend, she was a native of Antioch, and she was the daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. Her mother having died soon after her birth, Margaret was nursed by a pious woman five or six leagues from Antioch. Having embraced Christianity and consecrated her virginity to God, she was disowned by her father, adopted by her nurse and lived in the country keeping sheep with her foster mother (in what is now Turkey).

Olybrius, Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East, asked to marry her but with the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. One of these involved being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon’s innards. The Golden Legend, in an atypical passage of skepticism, describes this last incident as “apocryphal and not to be taken seriously”. She was put to death in A.D. 304. Saint Margaret, as Saint Marina, with associations to the sea, “may in turn point to an older goddess tradition”, reflecting the pagan divinity Aphrodite.

The Eastern Orthodox Church knows Margaret as Saint Marina, and celebrates her feast day on July 17. She has been identified with Saint Pelagia, “Marina” being the Latin equivalent of the Greek name “Pelagia” who, according to a legend, was also called Margarita. We possess no historical documents on St. Margaret as distinct from St. Pelagia. The Greek Marina came from Antioch, Pisidia (as opposed to Antioch of Syria), but this distinction was lost in the West.

Died on this day: In 855, St Leo IV, Pope of Rome

Tuesday 15 July 2014


“Which death is preferable to every other? The unexpected.” - Julius Caesar

Poetry Jam this week is looking at the theme of “The Unexpected”. Writers who participate are invited to write “…a poem about the unexpected. This could be an unexpected visit, present or offer. You might want to write about an unexpected object, person, feeling or situation.” Here is my offering:

The Visitor

As I stretched my hand to grab the red balloons,
A visitor entered suddenly – and he was so unexpected…
I let the red balloons fly up to the sky, as he turned,
And I started as I glimpsed his awe-inspiring face.

He had unkempt, black, hair, his wet ringlets
Smelling of earth after the rain;
His green eyes were soft,
Like fresh, moistened moss;
His lips were red as if coloured by
Ripe red, pomegranate seeds;
His hands were white, with long fingers,
As he stretched them towards me.

Outside the rain kept falling,
While indoors there was darkness, silence,
An empty void.
I touched his proffered hand and was surprised
To feel his icy grip.
His arms locked around me
And his embrace was firm, inescapable,
Heavy, as if it were made of wet clay.

Now, he stoops and kisses me, tenderly like a father,
And his red lips freeze the life out of me;
While my last warm breath
Tries to melt the ice of his cold heart,
So that it warms with pity towards me.

Pitiless, he holds my hand and leads me
Out into the falling rain –
We don’t mind its liquid silver drops
And we go ever forward, to be lost,
Never to come back again.

Above the clouds where the sun always shines,
A thousand red balloons
Fly ever upward,
And so far away…


"High-tech tomatoes. Mysterious milk. Supersquash. Are we supposed to eat this stuff? Or is it going to eat us?" - Annita Manning

Agriculture and the way that we produce our food worldwide is a very relevant and timely topic that many people are discussing and of course is quite a controversial issue. A century ago in Australia, 30% of the national economy was represented by agriculture. Since the 1980s, it has fluctuated between 4% and 6%. At the same time there have been impressive increases in productivity. The smaller farms have disappeared or have been aggregated into larger ones, so that we now have fewer, but larger farms. China buys most of our exported agricultural products and this is a trend that will increase. Biofuels is a growing industry, and one that we shall expand as petrol becomes scarcer and more expensive.

Our reliance on science and technology for increases in productivity, and also of course, in improving the quality of our produce is indisputable. Science and technology will also be needed to better manage our water resources. Australia is the driest continent on earth and from early colonial history droughts have been the scourge of the farmer. In such a hostile farming environment, making the most of our water resources is an imperative that cannot be ignored.

Cloning of animals and genetic modification of crop plants is of concern to people worldwide. It is becoming apparent that in a world where increasing population pressures are forcing reliance on technology for increasing efficiency in food production, cloning and gene technology are inevitable. We may be looking at a future where the elite and rich of the earth eat “natural, wild-type” non-genetically modified foods, while the masses will subsist largely on genetically engineered foods that are produced more cheaply and efficiently and in much vaster quantities than the “natural, organic” types.

My personal view is that genetically modified (GM) food will become acceptable to the majority of people once they are convinced of its safety and wholesomeness, and of course, if it costs much less than the equivalent non-genetically modified food. The USA is currently the world’s greatest producer of GM food, with 68% of the world’s total GM crop production in 2000 being in the United States, followed by 23% in Argentina. The type of crops varied, but 82% of all GM crops in 2000 were soybeans or corn.

Very few of today’s genetically modified foods make it to the supermarket as whole plants or grains, but highly processed foods such as vegetable oils and breakfast cereals contain a small percentage of GM ingredients. These highly processed foods include GM materials because of inadvertent mixing of process streams. Also, soybean derivatives are extremely common food additive in the USA meaning that most consumers in America today have eaten GM food (See the article here).

Most people are horrified of GM food, but the WHO has assured consumers, that GM food is perfectly safe for consumption. On this page, you can see some common questions about GM food answered. When one considers that most of the modern-day non-GM foods that we consume bear little resemblance to the wild foods that they are derived from, as we have selectively bred into them desirable characteristics, it is an example of genetic modification that is low-tech.

Genetic modification is part of our agricultural reality and it will play an increasing role in food production this century. It is inevitable that we will be consuming more and more of this type of food in the future. As is the case with all technology, safeguards will need to be put in place such that the science involved is used responsibly and safely. All new scientific and technological discoveries can be used well or badly. It is our responsibility to ensure that the good uses greatly outnumber the bad. How we control it and police it is the all-important question…

Monday 14 July 2014


“Film spectators are quiet vampires.” - Jim Morrison

For Movie Monday, something completely different. Here are ten films I’ve watched all beginning with the letter “G”. They are all notable in some way and some of them are extremely enjoyable. See what you think of my list, and if you like, construct a similar list of titles of films you’ve seen and liked beginning with the letter of your choice!

Gadjo Dilo (1997; Romania/France) - Stéphane, a young Frenchman from Paris, travels to Romania. He is looking for the singer Nora Luca, whom his father had heard and admired before his death, but on the road, Stéphane finds more than he bargained for. (

Gaslight (1944; US) – Classic George Cukor film noire, with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman (

Gattacca (1997; US) – A science fiction movie that explores the theme of eugenics and is set in a “Brave New World” type of dystopia. It is about the struggle of human spirit against totalitarianism (

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953; US) – Great comedy/parody with Marilyn Monroe, which is an interesting social commentary of the times (

Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003; US/UK/Lux) – Excellent film inspired by a great painting by Vermeer. Beautifully shot and exploring artistic inspiration and motivation (

Glen or Glenda (1953; US) – An amazingly bad film by a terrible director, Ed Wood. However, it is a genuine film about a topic that was very much taboo in the 50s. (

Goodbye Mr Chips (1939; US) – A classic film of a topic dear to my heart – a teacher’s relationship with his students. (

Good Will Hunting (1997; US) – Another film on the topic of shaping young minds (

Grand Hotel (1932; US) – Greta Garbo strutting her stuff together with a bouquet of other stars of the 30s in a plush Berlin hotel where "People come, people go. Nothing ever happens." (

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967; US) - Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn give great performances next to Sidney Poitier. “You think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man” (


“It is indeed a desirable thing to be well descended, but the kudos belongs to our ancestors.” – Plutarch

Have you noticed that some words seem to come into fashion and everyone uses them for a while all of the time? Everywhere you go, all you talk to seem to be forever using that word, aptly or not, correctly or incorrectly and one gets a little tired of the thing! I am currently developing an allergy towards the word “kudos”. Previous to this I had developed quite an adverse reaction to the word “issue”, especially as used in the sense of problem, bug, snag, hitch, drawback, stumbling block, obstacle, hurdle, hiccup, setback, catch; predicament, plight; misfortune, mishap… Then before that, the word “basically”, with which people used to pepper their conversation, but as Plato said, “Pepper is small in quantity and great in virtue.” And so should be used sparingly…

kudos |ˈk(y)oōˌdōs; -ˌdōz; -ˌdäs| noun: praise and honour received for an achievement.
ORIGIN: late 18th century from Greek: Κῦδος
USAGE Kudos comes from Greek and means ‘glory’, especially on the battlefield. Despite appearances, it is not a plural form. This means that there is no singular form *kudo* and that use as a plural, as in the following sentence, is incorrect: he received *many kudos* for his work (correct use is | he received much kudos for his work).

So many users of the word use it incorrectly and seeing there are so many other, more familiar (and therefore more likely to be used correctly) words to use in its place: Praise, glory, honour, status, standing, distinction, fame, celebrity; admiration, respect, esteem, acclaim, prestige, cachet, credit, full marks, bravo, etc… Despite the many synonyms available, this word seems to be used indiscriminately as it has an attractive appearance and it rolls off the tongue…

It’s interesting how the opposite of kudos, the word “aidos” (Αἰδώς) does not get much air time… “Aidos” means shame, dishonour, lack of pride. It’s not a popular thing…

The inscription on the painting above is in Greek and says: “Achilles great glory (read “kudos”!) of the Greeks”. The painting is a fresco on the upper level of the main hall of the Achilleion Palace at Corfu, Greece. The artist is Franz Josef Karl Edler von Matsch (also known simply as Franz von Matsch or Franz Matsch; 16 September 1861, Vienna — 5 October 1942, Vienna). He was an Austrian painter and sculptor in the Jugendstil style.

Sunday 13 July 2014


“All nature is but art unknown to thee.” - Alexander Pope

For Art Sunday, I am featuring a painter of the Baroque, Giovanna Garzoni (1600–1670). She was one of the first women artists to practice the art of still life painting, and she pursued her career with great passion. Garzoni trained with an otherwise unknown painter from her home town of Ascoli Piceno. She gained substantial success at her trade in Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples, and Turin. Cassiano dal Pozzo, Carlo Emanuele II, Duke of Savoy, the Medici family, and Anna Colonna, the wife of Taddeo Barberini, were among her patrons.

When the artist was thirty, she moved from Venice to Naples with her brother, and painted numerous miniatures for her patron, the Spanish Duke of Alcalà. In letters she professes to being unhappy in Naples, preferring to work in Rome. When the Duke of Alcalà returned to Spain, Garzoni used the opportunity to accept the invitation of the Duke of Savoy to move to Turin. She worked in Turin for five years but the commencement of the War of the Two Ladies forced her to leave. During the 1640s, the artist moved to Florence and became the official miniaturist to the Medici Court, painting numerous still-lifes for the Grand Duke Ferdinando II de Medici. By 1654, the artist settled in Rome where she renewed her activity with the Accademia di San Luca, an association of artists founded in 1593. Although it was not customary to admit women to the organisation, records show that she enjoyed many of the same benefits as male members (including cakes brought to her when she was ill).

During her life, Garzoni’s paintings were so well liked that, according to one writer, she could sell her work “for whatever price she wished.” One of Garzoni's earliest works, a 1625 calligraphy book, includes capital letters illuminated with fruits, flowers, birds, and insects. These subjects were to become her specialty, and tempera on vellum was her preferred medium. Garzoni’s refined interpretation of plants and animals suited the taste of her aristocratic patrons, like the Medici family, and could be found decorating their villas. Her work is delicate and botanically accurate, the composition well balanced, and looking deeper into her work one can contemplate a higher philosophy.

In 1666, Garzoni made a will bequeathing her entire estate to the painters’ guild in Rome, the Accademia di San Luca, on condition that they erect her tomb in their church of Santi Luca e Martina. She died four years later, after enjoying a life of steady work and constant success. Mattia De Rossi designed the funerary monument, making Garzoni the first woman artist to have her portrait on her tomb.

Her “Still Life with Bowl of Citrons” above, painted in the late 1640s is typical of her work. It is painted in tempera on vellum, and its dimensions are, height: 276 mm (10.87 in) and width: 356 mm (14.02 in). Current location of the work: The J. Paul Getty Museum. A finely drawn work with delicate stippling in colour provides a botanically accurate view of the citron, Citrus medica (“the Median apple”), a fruit native to Persia and Media and the first of the citrus fruits to appear in the Mediterranean Basin. The fruit has a thick white rind and inconsequential flesh, which is used to make preserves, is candied and made into jam, as well as being pickled. The citron is also used by Jews (the word for it in Hebrew is “etrog”) for a religious ritual during the Feast of Tabernacles; therefore is considered as a Jewish symbol, and is found on various Hebrew antiques and archeological findings. Citrons used for ritual purposes cannot be grown by grafting branches.