Friday 5 September 2014


“Sweet as sweetest Grecian honey will my song be when I sing, O Beloved, in the season of the Spring!” - Rubén Darío

Beethoven played the violin (and especially the viola) but his writing for the violin is often considered unfavourable to the instrument. In his sonatas for piano and violin (this is his order), besides their musical virtues, and though the piano continues to be the main instrument, the violin often takes a leading and independent role, which was rare (if existing at all) in previous works of the genre. With his sonatas for piano and cello, he actually invented the genre; this cannot be strictly said about his violin sonatas (Mozart wrote some masterworks in the genre before), but one could still say that he brought it to maturity in terms of the violin role, which, historically speaking, was to shape subsequent development.

This achievement was obtained gradually, where the sonatas op. 24, op. 30, and op. 47 hold a prominent place. The sonata No.5 in F op. 24 (“Spring”) was written in 1801 and dedicated, like its predecessor op. 23 in A minor, to count Moritz von Fries. Fries was one of Beethoven’s patrons and supporters in Vienna, mainly in the beginning of the 19th century (until he went bankrupt). He was also the dedicatee of the string quintet op. 29 of the same year, and of the much later seventh symphony op. 92.

The sonata has four movements. The name “Spring” was not given of course, by Beethoven. Its general calm and pastoral character stands in sharp contrast to the highly energetic and stormy mood of the preceding one in A minor (op. 23), which was originally intended to be published together with it.

Thursday 4 September 2014


“Pasta doesn’t make you fat. How much pasta you eat makes you fat.” - Giada De Laurentiis

Some comfort food for today’s Food Friday. This is a version of “Pasta Alfredo”, which acts as the base and added to it are mushrooms and spinach. The addition enhances the pasta but also cuts down a little bit on the richness of the cream and cheeses.

Fettuccine con Funghi e Spinaci

1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 and 1/3 cups milk
1 and 1/4 cups 5 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups hot cooked fettuccine (8 ounces uncooked pasta)
1 cup steamed baby spinach leaves (about 4 cups uncooked)
1 and 1/2 cups sliced, sautéed mushrooms (3 cups uncooked)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Cracked black pepper


First prepare spinach and mushrooms and lay aside, keeping them warm. Prepare the fettuccine, boiling them for the required time as per instructions on the packet (I like my pasta cooked a bit more than the recommended “al dente” as I don't like crunchy pasta).
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in flour. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk. Cook 6 minutes or until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, cream cheese, and salt, stirring with a whisk until cheeses melt.
Add the warm mushrooms and spinach, stirring well. Toss sauce with hot pasta. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and chopped parsley. Garnish with black pepper, if desired. Serve immediately.

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The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.” - Helen Keller

Sight is arguably the most important of our senses (and I am prejudiced, as I am a person who can see). I have always felt an enormous admiration for the blind, who even in the case of congenital blindness seem to accomplish so many great things without recourse to this most essential of our senses. The most famous blind person everyone knows of, is of course Helen Keller (1880-1968), who not only had to contend with blindness, but also deafness, and yet went on to achieve greatness as an educator, author, speaker and political activist.

Other great creators who were blind or became blind and yet could not only see the spark of the divine but freely and unstintingly transmit it to others were:

Homer, the great Greek epic poet of the 8th century BC (“Iliad” & “Odyssey”)
•The great English poet John Milton (1608-1674), who wrote “Paradise Lost”;
•The artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917), who spent the last 20 years of his life as a blind recluse;
•The impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926), who despite his near blindness by glaucoma continued to paint until his death (eg. His famous “Waterlilies” series);
Frederick Delius (1862-1934) was another composer who became blind and paralysed and yet is one of the most famous of English composers of the 20th century (“Brigg Fair”);
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), the Argentinian author who went blind in 1955, but continued to write until some years before his death in 1986 (“The Book of Sand”);
•The composer Joaqúin Rodrigo (1901-1999) who composed “Concierto de Aranjuez”;
Ray Charles (1930-2004) who went blind at the age of 6 years but became an accomplished musician, nevertheless (“Georgia on my Mind”);
Stevie Wonder (1950-) is another musician who became blind shortly after birth, but his prodigious musical talent ensured him success (“You are the Sunshine of my Life”).

Louis Braille (1809-1852) is perhaps the most important blind person to have lived thus far, thanks to his extremely useful and ingenious writing system, which he devised when he was only 15 years old. Braille was himself blinded at the age of three in an accident that occurred while he was playing with tools in his father’s harness shop. An awl slipped and plunged into his eye. Sympathetic ophthalmia and blindness followed. Nevertheless, he became an excellent organist and cellist. Upon receiving a scholarship, he went in 1819 to Paris to attend the National Institute for Blind Children, and from 1826 he taught there.

Braille became interested in a system of writing, exhibited at the school by Charles Barbier, in which a message coded in dots was embossed on cardboard. When he was 15, he worked out an adaptation, written with a simple instrument that met the needs of the sightless. He later took this system, which consists of a six-dot code in various combinations, and adapted it to musical notation. He published treatises on his type system in 1829 and 1837.

Allegorical blindness is another kettle of fish… In literature, physical blindness can be seen as an allegory of spiritual blindness. Several books have been written on this topic, a well known one being John Wyndham’s science fiction book, “Day of the Triffids”. A more recent example is by Nobel Laureate (1998), Portuguese writer Jose Saramago. Jose Saramago is a writer, playwright and journalist. His work is full of themes that have been criticised as being subversive, but often it is his lucid interpretation of current events in his unique style and fresh perspective of looking at them that startles people and make his writings controversial. His work is rich in allegory on multiple levels.

Saramago was born in 1922, the son of rural labourers, and he grew up in great poverty in Lisbon. After holding a series jobs as mechanic and metalworker, Saragamo began working in a Lisbon publishing firm and eventually became a journalist and translator. He joined the Portuguese Communist Party in 1969, published several volumes of poems, and served as editor of a Lisbon newspaper in 1974–75 during the cultural thaw that followed the overthrow of the dictatorship of António Salazar. An anti-Communist backlash followed in which Saramago lost his position, and in his 50s he began writing the novels that would eventually establish his international reputation. (see his short autobiography on the web).

His novel “Blindness” (“Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira” in Portuguese) is an interesting allegorical work in which the population of an unnamed city mysteriously become blinded by a contagious form of “white blindness”. The novel has an uncanny atmosphere, with many references to how we function as a society, what cements us together, how we define “our neighbour”, what it takes for us to conquer our “base animal instincts” in a crisis and how we can rise above them altruistically. It reminded me of Albert Camus’ novel “The Plague”, to a certain extent.  “Blindness” is a difficult book to read, not the least because of the author’s narrative style, replete with large sentences and “generalised” dramatis personae, but the book is also very rewarding.

Tuesday 2 September 2014


“I wish I had invented blue jeans. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity - all I hope for in my clothes.” - Yves Saint Laurent

This week Poetry Jam has the theme of “Jeans” and the challenge is: This week write a poem about jeans: someone who looks good in jeans, tattered jeans, jeans that you have to lie down to button up, comfortable jeans, stinky jeans…”
Here is my contribution:

Faded Blue Jeans

Your blue jeans (dark indigo),
Always made me smile;
For they meant fun in the sun,
Worn without make-up
And little pretence
Of anything comme-il-faut.

Your blue jeans (ultramarine),
Had given me many smiles –
How happy we had been, by the sea…
Well-worn, and softened,
Surviving many washes,
Jeans and the comfort of déshabillé.

Your blue jeans (light as the sky),
How I loved you in them,
Happy, contented, laughing.
Worn always with the intent
Of doing nothing,
With an agenda of sans-souci.

Your blue jeans (badly faded),
Discovered in the depths of our wardrobe
Forgotten there intentionally.
No longer worn,
For you are long dead,
And they too, dyed in a couleur fugace.

Monday 1 September 2014


“As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.” - Buddy Hackett

For many years I was naïve enough to believe that providing Food Aid to nations that were impoverished and had large malnourished populations, was a noble and worthy cause. I know that one sixth of humanity goes to bed hungry at night, even in non-famine, non-emergency situations. I would try to do my little bit to help and donated money so that food from our surplus could be dispatched to these people. The situation in some of these developing countries has now become a chronic dependence on the rich, developed nations of Europe, America and Australasia for continuing handouts of food. This has led to a culture of “food dumping” by the multinational agricultural companies.

Let me differentiate immediately between emergency famine relief and the term “food dumping”. The former is a humanitarian action designed to provide food quickly in order to save lives in the short term – the latter is a calculated, long-term provision of food to a third-world country, such that its own agriculture and self-sufficiency is stifled.  The USA is one of the world’s largest “dumpers” (60%, in fact!) with wheat, maize, soybean, rice and cotton being the major crops dumped. The dumping of the surplus agricultural production for free (or at a very low price) to poorer nations means that the farmers from such countries cannot compete and are driven out of jobs, further slanting the “market share” to the favour of the larger producers such as the US and Europe. A clear-cut case of commercial opportunism lies at the heart of the matter.

The other concern is that food aid to the poorer nations is contaminated with genetically modified foods. No controls exist for this and a person living in Africa on the poverty line is unlikely to request a genetic analysis of the food they have been given free to feed their starving family. These poor people of course, may have the option to buy locally produced food, which in many cases is fully organic. However, the price of this local food is outrageously expensive.

In order to provide a long-term solution, aid must not only provide stimulation of local food production but also provide the support needed for the local economy to develop and help people to get out of the slough of poverty they live in. Canada, a large provider of food aid, has decided to use half its food aid budget to provide buy food locally in developing countries, rather than dump its own. This encourages local economies, rather than destroy them. Needless to say that my food aid dollar now goes towards initiatives that provide help to agricultural and industrial initiatives, rather than “food dumping”.

And some more sobering facts on poverty:
• Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day.
• The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
• Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
• Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
• 1 billion children live in poverty (1 in 2 children in the world). 640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services. 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (or roughly 29,000 children per day).

How can I help?
United Nations World Food Programme

The image is: Kathe Kollwitz’s – "Poverty" (1893-94); Etching and drypoint - Statliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden


“Am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly, or am I butterfly dreaming I am a man?” – Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu)

I am considering the films of French Director Claude Lelouch for this Movie Monday. This was sparked off by watching two of his movies lately. One I had not seen before “And Now Ladies and Gentlemen” (2002), which was a rather tame romantic/adventure story a pleasant enough, inoffensive, hodge-podge potboiler that I wouldn’t recommend too highly; and “Viva La Vie!” (Long Live Life! 1984) that I had watched in 1984 and then again yesterday afternoon on DVD. It is the latter film that I shall review, although with caution…

Claude Lelouch was born on October 30th, 1937 in Paris, France, the son of an Algerian-Jewish confectioner. He began his career in the mid-1950s, making his first short documentary films and billing himself as a “cinereporter”. In 1960, he formed “Les Films 13 Productions”, where he produced over two hundred “Scopiotones” (short musical films designed for jukebox use), much like the “Soundies” made in the USA in the 1940s and 1950s.

Lelouch produced, directed, wrote and acted in his first full length film, “The Right of Man”, in 1960. However, his fame was assured with his first international hit, “Un Homme et Une Femme” (A Man and a Woman, 1966), which captivated audiences with its simple plot, its warmth and sympathetic treatment of a contemporary topic. The film caused the critics dismay as they tried to find hidden meaning in this rather simple, old-fashioned romance. When for example, Lelouch was asked for the subtextual purpose of shifting between black-and-white and colour in some scenes of the film, he explained that he’d run out of money towards the end of production and couldn’t afford colour film stock…

When “A Man and a Woman” won a Palm d'Or at Cannes and a Grand Prix award, Lelouch was briefly the most popular and influential director in Europe. His subsequent films dealt often with the relationship between sex and crime, or sex and politics, or crime and politics. This made him a perfect commercial filmmaker and his box office successes attested to the fact. In the 1970s and 1980s, Lelouch seemed to run out of ideas and attempted to repeat his past successes. Films like “And Now My Love” (1974), “Another Man, Another Chance” (1977), “Live for Life” (1984) and “A Man and a Woman 10 Years Later” (1986) were variations of “A Man and a Woman”.

And now to the film “Viva La Vie!” (1984). This is very much an 80s film with an emphasis on the threat of nuclear war. The commencing sequence shows people running panic-stricken towards nuclear fallout shelters in a generic megalopolis. Claude Lelouch is then being interviewed on radio, the director of the film pleads with viewers not to disclose the plot of the movie after leaving the projection room. This is a very lame device calculated to increase controversy surrounding the movie and get more people to go watch it, hopefully increasing takings at the box-office.

The film is uncharacteristic of Lelouch, best classed as belonging to the thriller/science fiction genre. Lelouch himself claims that the movie is essentially a story revolving around the relationship of a man and a woman, thus making even this film quite lelouchian, according to the director himself. I’ll try not to give too much away, in my outline of the plot (succumbing to M. Lelouch’s plea), even though this would suggest that the film has more substance than it does – it hasn’t.

During a period of international tension and crisis amongst the nuclear powers of the world, a very rich, successful businessman and a budding actress vanish at precisely the same time and in similar circumstances. Three days later they reappear, remembering nothing of their experience, but apparently traumatised. After they are admitted to hospital, they vanish again, only to reappear in the Sahara Desert a few days later with identical curious wounds and stitches on their head and with a message of peace and tolerance. Who is sending the message? What is it all about? What is real and what is a dream? Who is who and what is the relationship between the people we are shown?

Sunday 31 August 2014


“It is the eye of ignorance that assigns a fixed and unchangeable colour to every object; beware of this stumbling block.” - Paul Gauguin

For Art Sunday today, one my favourites: Paul (Eugène, Henri) Gauguin, bon June 7th, 1848, Paris, and died May 8th, 1903, Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. He was one of the leading French painters of the Postimpressionist period, whose development of an original and conceptual method of representation was a ground-breaking step for 20th-century art. After spending a short period with Vincent van Gogh in Arles (1888), Gauguin increasingly abandoned imitative art for expressiveness through colour. From 1891 he lived and worked in Tahiti and elsewhere in the South Pacific. His masterpieces include the early ‘Vision After the Sermon’ (1888) and ‘Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?’ (1897-98).

Although his art was to lie elsewhere, Gauguin began his painting surrounded by Impressionists. His artistic sensibility was deeply influenced by his experience of the first Impressionist exhibition, and he himself participated in those of 1880, 1881 and 1882. The son of a French journalist and a Peruvian Creole, whose mother had been a writer and a follower of Saint-Simon, he was brought up in Lima, joined the merchant navy in 1865, and in 1872 began a successful career as a stockbroker in Paris.

In 1874 he saw the first Impressionist exhibition, which completely entranced him and confirmed his desire to become a painter. He spent some 17,000 francs on works by Manet, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir and Guillaumin. Pissarro took a special interest in his attempts at painting, emphasizing that he should “…look for the nature that suits your temperament.”, and in 1876 Gauguin had a landscape in the style of Pissarro accepted at the Salon. In the meantime Pissarro had introduced him to Cézanne, for whose works he conceived a great respect -so much so that the older man began to fear that he would steal his “sensations”. All three worked together for some time at Pontoise, where Pissarro and Gauguin drew pencil sketches of each other (Cabinet des Dessins, Louvre).

In 1883-84 the bank that employed him got into difficulties and Gauguin was able to paint every day. He settled for a while in Rouen, partly because Paris was too expensive for a man with five children, partly because he thought it would be full of wealthy patrons who might buy his works. Rouen proved a disappointment, and he joined his wife Mette and children, who had gone back to Denmark, where she had been born. His experience of Denmark was not a happy one and, having returned to Paris, he went to paint in Pont-Aven, a well-known resort for artists.

Here, he stopped working exclusively out-of-doors, as Pissarro had taught him, and generally began to adopt a more independent line. His meeting with van Gogh, the influence of Seurat, the doctrines of Signac, and a rediscovery of the merits of Degas (especially in his pastels) all combined with his own streak of megalomania to produce a style that had little in common with the thoughtful lyricism of the work of his erstwhile mentor Pissarro. Monet confessed to a liking of his ‘Jacob Wrestling with the Angel’ (1888; National Gallery of Scotland), which he saw at the exhibition Gauguin organised in 1891 to finance his projected excursion to places where he could live on “ecstasy, calmness and art”; the proceeds amounted to 10,000 francs, some of it coming from Degas, who bought several paintings. There were still evident in these new works traces of pure Impressionism, and of the very clear influence of Cézanne (as in the ‘Portrait of Marie Lagadu’, 1890; Art Institute of Chicago) - a fact pointed up by a Cézanne still life owned by Gauguin which is shown behind her - but basically this period marked the parting of the ways between Gauguin and Impressionism.

Gauguin’s art has all the appearance of an abandonment of civilisation, of a search for new ways of life, more primitive, more real and more sincere. His break away from a solid middle-class world, leaving family, children and job, his refusal to accept easy glory and easy gain are the best-known aspects of Gauguin’s fascinating life and personality. The painting above, ‘Two women on the beach’, was painted in 1891, shortly after Gauguin’s arrival in Tahiti. During his first stay there (he was to leave in 1893, only to return in 1895 and remain until his death), Gauguin discovered primitive art, with its flat forms and the violent colours belonging to an untamed nature. And then, with absolute sincerity, he transferred them onto canvas.

Gauguin’s Tahitian women, the bright violent colours of the clear Pacific sun, the tropical landscape and the unashamed sensuality of his compositions appealed to the French public, who were always on the lookout for the exotic, the sensual and the novel. It is these Tahitian canvases that established him as one of the most famous of the post-impressionists in the art scene and as one of the great artists of the world.

“Painting is the most beautiful of all arts. In it, all sensations are condensed; contemplating it, everyone can create a story at the will of his imagination and-with a single glance-have his soul invaded by the most profound recollections; no effort of memory, everything is summed up in one instant. -A complete art which sums up all the others and completes them. -Like music, it acts on the soul through the intermediary of the senses: Harmonious colours correspond to the harmonies of sounds. But in painting a unity is obtained which is not possible in music, where the accords follow one another, so that the judgment experiences a continuous fatigue if it wants to reunite the end with the beginning. The ear is actually a sense inferior to the eye. The hearing can only grasp a single sound at a time, whereas the sight takes in everything and simultaneously simplifies it at will.”
(‘Notes Synthetiques’, by Paul Gauguin From the manuscript, c. 1888)