Friday 1 August 2014


“I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better.” – George Frideric Handel

Handel’s Organ Concertos, Op 4, HWV 289–294, are favourite of mine and have provided infinite pleasure, especially on weekend mornings. These are six organ concertos for chamber organ and orchestra composed in London between 1735 and 1736 and published in 1738 by the printing company of John Walsh. Written as interludes in performances of oratorios in Covent Garden, they were the first works of their kind for this combination of instruments and served as a model for later composers.

Handel’s prowess as an organist had already been demonstrated in Rome in 1707 in a contest with the composer Domenico Scarlatti, when his playing on the organ was rated higher than Scarlatti’s playing on the harpsichord; his reputation as a great organist had already been established during his one year position as cathedral organist in Halle in 1702. Handel’s organ concertos thus have a special place in his oeuvre. They paved the way for Mozart and Beethoven, who like Handel achieved fame in their lifetimes as composers and performers of their own concertos.

It is surmised that when Handel faced financial difficulties in mounting Italian opera (exacerbated by a newly established opera company in fierce competition for an audience), decided to showcase himself as a virtuoso composer-performer, thus providing a rival attraction to the celebrated castrato Farinelli, the glittering star of his competitors. This pandered to the taste of the 1730s London theatre audiences, which were constantly clamouring for novelty and displays of virtuosity on the musical stage. Fortunately, the resulting concertos were not only able to satisfy this demand, but are also musically wonderful.

Here is The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra with Ton Koopman, organ and direction from the keyboard.

Thursday 31 July 2014


“I like chicken a lot because chicken is generous - that is to say, it's obedient. It will do whatever you tell it to do.” - Maya Angelou

It’s been a cold, wet and dreary Melbourne day today, with rain, hail and biting wind. It’s 7˚C out there as I am writing this, but with the wind chill factor it feels like 1˚C, my trusty weather app tells me. Thankfully there is a chicken in the fridge, which will serve for tonight’s dinner. It’s winter and we need warming with lots of comfort food…

Winter Warmer Chicken Casserole

1 chicken, about 1.8kg in weight
2 large onions
6 celery sticks
6 carrots
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
1 tsp black peppercorns
100g butter
3 small turnips, peeled and cut into wedges
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp French mustard
3 rounded tbsp cream
1 handful parsley, chopped


Put the chicken (including neck and giblets) in a large pot. Roughly chop one onion, one celery stick and one carrot and add to the chicken with the herbs, peppercorns and a sprinkling of salt. Add water to come three quarters of the way up the chicken, bring to the boil, then cover tightly and simmer for 1½ hours.
Cool slightly, remove the chicken to a dish, then strain the stock into a bowl (discard the vegetables). When the chicken is cool enough to handle, strip the meat from the bones and tear into pieces with your hands. Discard the bones, giblets and neck, reserving the chicken meat until needed.
Chop the other onion, and cut the remaining celery and carrots into thick slices. Heat the butter in the same pot the chicken boiled in, add the onion then gently fry for 5 mins until just starting to brown. Add the remaining vegetables, then fry for 5 minutes, stirring gently. Stir in the flour, then cook for 1 minute.
Measure 900ml stock (if you don’t have enough, make it up with water), then gradually add to the pan, stirring. Cover, then simmer for 20-25 mins until vegetables are tender. Return the chicken to the pan with the mustard and cream, then return to a simmer, stirring gently. Season and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with mashed potato.

PS: If you are in a hurry and need to cheat, substitute the raw chicken with a supermarket roast chicken, bone and prepare the meat as the recipe dictates and proceed with the remaining steps)…

Please link your recipe ideas here:

Wednesday 30 July 2014


“Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.” - John F. Kennedy

I must say that current events lately have put me in rather pessimistic mood. The continuing bizarre events and announcements from North Korea regarding bombing the White House with a nuclear bomb, the continuing problems in Iraq and the declaration of a Caliphate, the situation in Syria, with decapitations and hundreds of dead daily, the unrelenting and mounting open warfare and increasing instability in Israel between Palestinians and the Jews, the Ukrainian civil war, etc, etc…

No wonder that my poor addled brain gave up trying to come up with some explanation for all this. Some attempt at looking at the past, divining the future and seeing why all this is happening in the here and now, proved fruitless. Like Helen Keller, “I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.”  A poem was all I could come up with...


It’s all because:

There is no grain of truth
From which to grind the flour of concord,
No meal of happiness from which to bake a loaf of peace.

The water’s brackish so the thirst of knowledge won’t be quenched,
The mind athirst shall drink of bile, vinegar and blood,
The soul will sour, the heart will parch.

There is no freedom
From which to mould our dreams,
No images of hope to take delight in.

The food of love is lacking, for the birds are long now silent,
The music of the singing blood hushed long ago.
Spleen is with bitterness replete, brain rots,
And only teeth and nails still function faultlessly,
Ready to slash and bite ideals,
Poised to shred beliefs and gouge out seeds of dreams.

Tuesday 29 July 2014


“Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow.” - John Lennon

Poetry Jam this week is all about the ordinary made into the extraordinary: “This week I want you to choose one of the ordinary things around you and write about it. Look at this ordinary thing or scene in detail and notice what is there. Is there some unexpected beauty in its design or the way it fits in with its surroundings? Perhaps by doing this you can make it something extraordinary.”

Here is my offering, an ordinary moment made extraordinary when friends finally become lovers…

A Flower in the Moonlight

We started playing with words again tonight,
While the singer articulated softly our innermost desires,
And our hearts vocalised dumbly our sweetest bitter dreams.
The room so small, the light so dim,
The night so deep, the short space between us,
So immense it could in light years be measured...

We’ve played this scene so many times before,
Two actors on the stage fumbling with props
Struggling with our lines, trying inarticulately to improvise
Forgotten speeches that we would not dare to speak
Even if we had remembered them;
Your eyes avoid mine while a flower blooms in your hand.

Above us the air’s a prism, while a hundred light-bulb stars shine on a celluloid sky:
A room with walls of music, the pasteboard moon for a ceiling.
If we could only bridge the gap between us, dissolve the ice
If you could touch me now, think of what would be gained!

You stretch your hand, as years of silence crumble
A thousand nights, dead, are resurrected
And at last, this time on cue, you offer me
A flower in the moonlight…

Monday 28 July 2014


“The traveller was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes ‘sight-seeing’.” - Daniel J. Boorstin

It is Tuesday and the theme for the day is literature. As I am yearning for a holiday and since I have not been away for a couple of years, although I love travelling, I thought today I would write something about a type of literature that has a long history and relates to peregrination, adventures and travels to places distant from one’s home.

Travel literature is that literary genre that concerns itself with the people, events, sights and feelings of an author who is travelling in place away from his own place of residence for the pleasure of travel. Other words that describe such a genre are travelogue or itinerary, but because so many people nowadays travel for pleasure, the latter word especially has been hijacked by the travel agents who use it to describe the list of places you visit on your travels, with details of where you stay, what to visit, etc.

Travel literature must have certain characteristics in order to be called such, rather than a diary or a log, which may only contain the bare bones of what was visited, when and for how long. Generally to be literary, such a work must contain a definite coherent narrative thread, it must contain certain insights and thoughts, and be written in a way that is inviting to a reader, possessing the usual literary devices that are found in other literary genres. And I guess that excludes travel brochures from this genre, also...

One of the earliest such works is Pausanias’ (Greek: Παυσανίας) “Description of Greece” (Eλλάδος περιήγησις), a long work that describes ancient Greece from his own first-hand observations. Pausanias lived in the 2nd century AD (when Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius were emperors in Rome). He was an avid traveller and geographer and his work provides a crucial link between modern archaeology and classical Greece and classical literature. Pausanias writes carefully, in a no-nonsense style and is generally honest about his travels. He does not confine himself to the famous sites and monuments, but also takes trouble to visit less grandiose places and buildings and comments on obscure rituals and customs. Here is a pdf edition online, with a parallel ancient Greek and English translation text:

Marco Polo (15/9/1254 – 8/1/1324) was a Venetian trader and explorer who is famous for his pioneering travels to the East, which he recorded in his book Il Milione (“The Million” or “The travels of Marco Polo”). Marco Polo, together with his father Niccolò and his uncle Maffeo, was one of the first Westerners to travel the Silk Road to Cathay (China, as it was called then) and visit the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan). Polo in his book describes so many wonders of the advanced civilisation he saw, that his book was mocked as being a fabrication, people saying was filled with “a million lies”. You can read it yourself online:

Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch: 20/7/1304 – 19 /7/1374) was an Italian scholar, poet, and early humanist. He left us with an account of his ascent to the summit of Mt Ventoux, Provence, in 1336. He writes that he climbed the mountain for the sheer pleasure of seeing the top and for the view. He criticises his companions who stayed at the bottom for their frigida incuriositas (“a cold lack of curiosity”). He then wrote about his climb, making allegorical comparisons between climbing the mountain and his own moral progress in life.

Richard Hakluyt (ca. 1552 – 23/11/1616) was an English writer, famous for his travel book “Voyages”. It provided William Shakespeare and many others with material for their works, and was a foundation for this travel literature genre. It is interesting that the Hakluyt Society was founded in 1846 for printing rare and unpublished voyages and travels, and continues to publish two or three volumes per year. Haklyut’s works are available on the Project Gutenberg site:

The genre has been enriched since then with many more accounts of travels and impressions of foreign lands, people and customs and provides a piquant and vicarious way with which to indulge your love of travelling without ever leaving your favourite, overstuffed reading armchair…

Sunday 27 July 2014


“If I made Cinderella, the audience would be looking out for a body in the coach.” - Alfred Hitchcock

For Movie Monday today, I am reviewing the 2001 Frank Darabont film The Majestic. Jim Carrey, Martin Landau and Laurie Holden are the leads and they are joined by a cast of other talented actors for this movie, which was very enjoyable. Not a great movie, we thought, but a very good one nonetheless and well worth watching.

Jim Carrey plays an aspiring scriptwriter, Peter Appleton, living in Hollywood during the 1950’s. Just as his life seems to be coming together, he is suspected of being a Communist as he had joined a leftist student group in his College days to impress a girlfriend. His whole life is thrown into disarray and his career seems certain to founder. Having had a few too many drinks to drown his sorrows, he gets into a freak car accident and suffers amnesia. He is washed up on the sleepy shores of a small Californian town. He is identified as the son of the local cinema owner, who is believed to have died in action in Europe in WWII. In his amnesiac state he adopts this identity and just as his life seems to be getting back to normal, he is confronted with an image that brings back his memory…

The film looks at the questions of who are we, as individuals and as a society. It deals with what we consider “appropriate” and “honourable” and whether we can hold onto the ideals that we set for ourselves as personal goals and how these correlate with the ideas of society. When is expediency and discretion better than heroism and standing firm on what we believe to be true. Is there nobility in self-sacrifice to uphold these personal ideals? Or should in fact self-preservation kick in and we stay silent and observe societal “rules”, conforming to what si expected of us? Sure enough, some of these are heavy concepts, but the film does well in dealing with some of them, while at the same time remaining engaging.

Darabont is an interesting director and he has some popular and well-reviewed films under his belt (“The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile”). With this film he also has quite a great deal to say, although in parts he does scrape the bottom of the barrel and panders to sentimentality and thinly veiled patriotism/chauvinism (disguised as high-flown idealism). Nevertheless, the film was entertaining and despite its length (150 minutes or so) was pleasant enough to watch.