Saturday 13 September 2014


“Enjoyment of the landscape is a thrill.” - David Hockney

Charles-François Daubigny (15 February 1817 – 19 February 1878) was one of the painters of the Barbizon school, and is considered an important precursor of Impressionism. Daubigny was born in Paris, into a family of painters and was taught the art by his father Edmond François Daubigny, and his uncle, miniaturist Pierre Daubigny. Initially Daubigny painted in a traditional style, but this changed after 1843 when he settled in Barbizon, which provided him with more opportunity to work outside in the open air.

Even more important to his change in style was his meeting with Camille Corot in 1852 in Optevoz (Isère). On Daubigny’s famous boat ‘Botin’, which he had turned into a studio, he painted along the rivers Seine and Oise, often in the region around Auvers. From 1852 onward he came under the influence of Gustave Courbet. In 1866 Daubigny visited England, eventually returning because of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. In London he met Claude Monet, and together they left for the Netherlands. Back in Auvers, he met Paul Cézanne, another important Impressionist. It is assumed that these younger painters were influenced by Daubigny.

Daubigny’s finest pictures were painted between 1864 and 1874, and these for the most part consist of carefully completed landscapes with trees, river and a few ducks. It has been said that when Daubigny liked his pictures he added another duck or two, so that the number of ducks often indicates greater or less artistic quality in his pictures.  One of his sayings was, “The best pictures do not sell”, as he frequently found his finest achievements little understood.

Daubigny is chiefly preferred for his riverside pictures, of which he painted a great number, but although there are two large landscapes by Daubigny in the Louvre, neither is a river view. They are for that reason not so typical as many of his smaller Oise and Seine pictures. His most ambitious canvases are ‘Springtime’ (1857), in the Louvre; ‘Borde de la Cure, Morvan’ (1864); ‘Villerville sur Mer’ (1864); ‘Moonlight’ (1865); ‘Auvers-sur-Oise’ (1868); and ‘Return of the Flock’ (1878).

He was named by the French government as an Officer of the Legion of Honor. Daubigny died in Paris. His remains are interred at Cimetière du Père-Lachaise (division 24). His followers and pupils included his son Karl (who sometimes painted so well that his works are occasionally mistaken for those of his father), Achille Oudinot, Hippolyte Camille Delpy, Albert Charpin and Pierre Emmanuel Damoye.

The painting above ‘Washerwomen on the Banks of the Oise’ of 1874 is a work typical of his style: A river view with abundant verdant vegetation, a sky full of interest and the occasional figure that counterbalances the essentially natural view of the landscape. The brushstrokes are bold and the colours fresh, although somewhat subdued. One can see that this type of “plein air” painting would resonate with the new artists of the impressionist school.

Friday 12 September 2014


“Losing my sight had nothing to do with my focus on music. My passion for music was already there, so it would be a mistake to give too much significance to my blindness.” - Andrea Bocelli
Joaquín Rodrigo Vidre (22 November 1901 – 6 July 1999) was a Spanish composer of classical music and a virtuoso pianist. In spite of being blind from an early age, he achieved great success. He was born in Sagunto, Valencia, and lost his sight almost completely at the age of three after contracting diphtheria.
He began to study piano and violin at the age of eight, but despite being best known for his guitar music, never mastered the instrument himself. Rodrigo studied music under Francisco Antich in Valencia and under Paul Dukas in Paris. After briefly returning to Spain, he went to Paris again to study musicology, first under Maurice Emmanuel and then under André Pirro.
In 1925 he received Spain’s National Prize for Orchestra for “Cinco piezas infantiles”. From 1947 Rodrigo was a professor of music history, holding the Manuel de Falla Chair of Music in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, at Complutense University of Madrid. His most famous work, “Concierto de Aranjuez”, was composed in 1939 in Paris. It is a concerto for solo classical guitar and orchestra. The central adagio movement is one of the most recognisable in 20th century classical music, featuring the interplay of guitar with English horn.
The success of this concerto led to commissions from a number of prominent soloists, including the flautist James Galway and the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. In 1954 Rodrigo composed “Fantasía para un gentilhombre” at the request of Andrés Segovia. His “Concierto Andaluz”, for four guitars and orchestra, was commissioned by Celedonio Romero for himself and his three sons.
In 1991, Rodrigo was raised to the nobility by King Juan Carlos, given the title Marqués de los Jardines de Aranjuez [Marquis of the Gardens of Aranjuez]. He received the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award (Spain’s highest civilian honour) in 1996. He was named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1998. He married Victoria Kamhi, a Turkish-born pianist, on 19 January 1933, in Valencia. Their daughter, Cecilia, was born 27 January 1941. He died in 1999 in Madrid. Joaquín Rodrigo and his wife Victoria are buried at the cemetery at Aranjuez.
Here is his “Concerto de Aranjuez” (1939) with the DRSO. Soloist, Pepe Romero and conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.
1. Allegro con spirito
2. Adagio
3. Allegro gentile


“Go vegetable heavy. Reverse the psychology of your plate by making meat the side dish and vegetables the main course.” - Bobby Flay

Welcome to another Food Friday! Today, perfect for changeable Spring or Autumn weather, a Vegetarian Casserole that is tasty, nutritious, filling and satisfying.

Vegetarian Casserole

2 eggs
1 tsp salt
Ground black pepper to taste
2 tsp French mustard
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup grated, sharp, semi-hard cheese (e.g. Romano)
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
2 cups cooked rice (e.g. brown rice)
1 red onion, diced
1 cup zucchini (cut into matchsticks)
1 cup sautéed chopped mushrooms
A few sliced cherry tomatoes for garnishing
4 sprigs of fresh Italian parsley, cut into thin strips

Preheat oven to 175˚C.
Whisk eggs, salt, pepper, mustard and garlic in a medium bowl. Stir in cottage cheese and the Romano cheese. Stir in the rice, zucchini, and mushrooms. Stir until rice and vegetables are fully coated in the egg mixture.
Transfer all ingredients to a baking dish. A 20 cm × 30 cm pyrex dish is suitable. Top with the sliced cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.
Cover casserole with foil and bake until set, approximately 20 min.  Remove foil and bake until the top is well browned, approximately 40 min.
Remove from oven and let cool for 15 min. Top with fresh chopped parsley.

Please leave your Food Friday link below, using the Mr Linky tool.

Wednesday 10 September 2014


“Islam teaches tolerance, not hatred; universal brotherhood, not enmity; peace, and not violence.” - Pervez Musharraf

One of the most insidious and feared diseases is cancer. With good reason, as many cancers that afflict us humans are diseases that develop deep in our body and we are not aware of them until it is too late. A cluster of our very own cells that has mutated, becomes autonomous and grows at the expense of the other, normal cells in the body. The cancer expands, destroys more and more of our tissues and gradually takes over more and more of our vital organs until the whole body is involved and we die as a result of the cancer spreading through our body.

On the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, I think of the events on this day and I am reminded of cancer, as it is an analogy for what is happening in many countries around the world presently. Terrorism has become a world-wide phenomenon and in many, if not most, cases the people involved have either infiltrated into or live within the society they terrorise. The idea of the “home-grown” terrorist is something that many people find unbelievable or at least particularly abhorrent. To think that one of your own, a relative, your next door neighbour maybe, a friend or friend of a friend is capable of being a terrorist is, in the very least, disquieting.

Surely, we are all aware of international terrorist organisations, such as Al Qaeda, that have taken responsibility for many terrorist acts around the world. We also know that adherents and operatives of these organisations are spread all over the world, in many cases living amongst us. The threat of terrorist acts hangs over our head like a Damoclean sword, and the “war on terror” initiated by the Bush administration on the wake of the September 11th attacks is much publicised but has had precious little real effect on the operations of most large terrorist organisations.

The war in Iraq (a war to assure the oil-thirsty American economy of its crude oil supplies), was ostensibly part of the war on terror. You believe this publicised benevolent reason if you are naïve enough to believe that the Trojan War was waged for the sake of Helen of Troy, rather than the real economic and expansionist reasons that the warring Greek states had. The Middle East is forever going to be a region of conflict, unless another cheap, easily purveyed alternative to oil is found so as to provide an energy-consuming world its ever-increasing energy needs.

A book that I read and which is precisely concerned with this “enemy-from-within” theme is John Updike’s “Terrorist” (2006), the author’s 22nd novel. John Updike was born in 1932, in Pennsylvania, USA. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954 and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of ‘The New Yorker’. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal.

Although “Terrorist” is not Updike’s best novel, it attempts to handle an important theme The novel centres around eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, the son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father, who disappeared when Ahmad was three. At the age of eleven years, Ahmad turned to Islam and became a devout Muslim under the guidance of his local mosque’s imam. The imam becomes his father surrogate and the words of the Holy Qur’an, become his vision of perfection in what he sees is an all-too imperfect world around him.

Teenage rebellion coupled with internal conflicts make Ahmad see his faith threatened. The turmoil is compounded by the materialistic, hedonistic society he lives in, and the factory town of New Prospect, in northern New Jersey, is a suitable backdrop for the external struggle that awaits him. Jack Levy, his guidance counsellor at his high school, who provides depressing and world-weary advice and Joryleen, Ahmad’s seductive black classmate, both act as catalysts for Ahmad’s choosing to follow the “Straight Path” as described by his religion. Things reach a crisis when Ahmad begins to work in a furniture store owned by a family of recent Lebanese, migrants. Ahmad becomes aware of the web of a plot that threatens to trap him.

Besides the dominant theme of religion and social/moral codes imposed on an individual by it, another important theme of the novel is history and how an individual sees himself situated within that pageant. Any single person, even the most insignificant, Updike reminds us can become historically significant through a single act. That act can save or destroy a whole population and can glorify or damn that individual in the future. What does it take for each of us to master our own fate, make the “right” decision within the context of family, society, religion, mores, conscience is something that Ahmad struggles with and gives the reader plenty of food for thought.

On this 13th anniversary of 9/11, the violent terrorist act that claimed the lives of 3000 or so innocent victims still haunts the memory of all people around the world who believe that non-violent means for achieving a change for the better is the only means that befits a rational, humane and thinking human being. September Eleven still horrifies and disturbs all human beings who have a pure heart. The world has changed since that attack and we, the survivors have a duty to do our best in order to ensure that such acts become not only impossible in the future, but are declared to be reprehensible and heinous, all over the world by all leaders.

The way that we bring up our children, the way that we worship our God, the way that we live our life, the way that we administer justice, the way that we ensure that each person on this earth has dignity, freedom and a comfortable life where basic needs are met, should all contribute to the war against terror. This is how we ensure that such attacks do not recur. One does not go to war to stop terrorism - one does not fight a terrorist act with another terrorist act.

All of this is becoming more germane as we have heard President Obama announcing a ramp-up of allied military efforts to target Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria. However, as Obama knows all too well, further escalation of military intervention could backfire, potentially playing into the hands of IS and its sophisticated recruitment strategy to attract radicalised Muslims from around the world. Recent history shows that military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq was complicated, unsuccessful and unresolved. The allied military intervention radicalised and mobilised not only the communities the West was trying to protect (or liberate), but also others in faraway countries who viewed Western interference in holy lands as another sign of Muslim oppression.

Increasing military action overseas will also have a knock-on effect at home. Obama’s announcement of increasing military action is likely to aggravate or frustrate IS supporters who haven’t been permitted to travel to the conflict zones. They may, instead, wish to demonstrate their support by potentially carrying out attacks at home.

It is important to remember what the Holy Book of Islam says in Chapter 2, verse 190: “Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.” The essence of the verse is to fight back if you are attacked by your persecutors, but don’t fight back indiscriminately. Follow the rules of engagement. Mainstream Muslim clerics agree that these “rules of engagement” are explicit: Women, children, and innocent civilians are off limits. A terrorist, whatever their religion does not respect these rules of engagement…


“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” - Albert Camus

‘The Sea’ is this week’s prompt at Poetry Jam and all who take up the challenge offer a poem. Here is mine:


Evening Promenade

Twilight: Shadows lengthen,
While sunset dyes all in orange mellowness.
Whispers of night advancing –
Illusions rustling by,
Taking advantage of the failing light.

The usual sounds of evening
Quietly merge with the silence
Which more befits the mystery of night.
Cheated even by hope, and disillusioned
You walk slowly towards the sea.

The sun vanishes and only a faint afterglow
Reflects itself on shifting waters
Of a duplicitous sea.
Dreams, fantasies, visions,
Distortions of reality, pass you by…

And then it is all so easy:
It’s all a dream, all so unreal in any case –
But then what’s real you ask?
You walk into the sea
And let the waves take you into their embrace.

You breathe in, but cool, fresh, living
Salty water suffocates your scream,
Filling your lungs with saline
Giving you joy, confusion, pain,
And then, thankfully, oblivion.

The illustration is an underwater sculpture by artist JasondeCaires Taylor.

Monday 8 September 2014


“It would be nice if the Food and Drug Administration stopped issuing warnings about toxic substances and just gave me the names of one or two things still safe to eat.” - Robert Fuoss

Do you really know what you eat? I don’t mean not knowing what you are consuming generically, like “ice cream” or “apple pie”, what I mean is do you know what else you are eating when you are eating food, especially many of the processed foods available in your supermarket? It is estimated that the average Australian consumes over 5 kg of food additives per year. In other Western countries this amount may be even higher.

Food additives are chemicals added to foods to keep them fresh or to enhance their colour, flavour or texture. These chemicals are listed on the label, along with other ingredients, in a descending order by weight. Sometimes, the additive is spelt out in full; at other times, it is represented by a code number. Over the past 50 years the use of food additives has escalated to the point where very few of us know exactly what is in the food we eat. The rates of diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, autism, depression, asthma and ADHD have also increased dramatically over this time and many researchers are linking these increases in disease incidence (at least in part) to some of the food additives that are widely used. How many of us know what these chemicals are, what they do, which ones are safe and which ones are known to be harmful?

Not all food additives are harmful and a few of them have been used in food for hundreds or even thousands of years. Currently, 400 or so additives are approved for use in Australia, most of them are safe, well-tested and pose no problem for most people. However, there are at least 60 food additives used in our foods, which are at best questionable in terms of safety, or in the worst case known to be harmful.

The different types of food additive and their uses include:
Anti-caking agents - stop ingredients from becoming lumpy.
Antioxidants - prevent foods from oxidising, or going rancid.
Artificial sweeteners - increase the sweetness.
Emulsifiers - stop fats from clotting together.
Food acids - maintain the right sourness level.
Colours - enhance or add colour.
Humectants - keep foods moist.
Flavours - add flavour.
Flavour enhancers - increase the power of a flavour.
Mineral salts - enhance texture, taste.
Preservatives - stop microbes from multiplying and spoiling the food.
Thickeners - enhance texture.
Stabilisers - maintains uniformity of food dispersion.
Flour treatment - improves baking quality.
Glazing agent - improves appearance and can protect food.
Propellants - help propel food from a container.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is responsible for the approval of food additives that are allowable in Australian foods. All food additives used in Australia undergo a safety assessment, which includes rigorous laboratory testing and animal trials, before they are approved. Similarly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supervise and regulate the use of additives in products sold in the United States.

Toxicological tests on animals are routinely used to find out the amount of additive that is expected to be safe when consumed by humans. This is usually an amount 100 times less than the maximum daily dose at which ‘no observable effects’ are produced by an additive consumed over the test animal’s lifetime. If there is any doubt over the safety of an additive, approval is not given. If new scientific information becomes available suggesting that a food additive is no longer safe, the approval to use the food additive would be withdrawn.

There are some problems with the testing procedures that can cause reactions in a human population. Most food additives are tested in isolation rather than in combination with other additives. The long-term effects of consuming a combination of different additives are currently unknown. A small number of people in the population are sensitive or allergic to particular food additives and may have reactions like hives or diarrhoea. This doesn’t mean that all foods containing additives need to be automatically treated with suspicion. People with food allergies and intolerances are also often sensitive to chemicals found naturally in certain foods, such as nuts or shellfish.

It should also be remembered that there are other, worse things to fear in food than food additives. Food additives would come in at the end of the line, after food-borne microorganisms (like Salmonella), inappropriate hygiene and eating habits, environmental contaminants and naturally occurring toxins in food. Also, there is a common misconception that processed foods automatically contain food additives. Foods like long-life milk, canned foods and frozen foods are all processed, yet none of them need extra chemicals and many of them are completely free of additives.

Some common food additives that may cause problems for some people and their code numbers include:
Flavour enhancers - monosodium glutamate (MSG) 621.
Food colourings - tartrazine 102; yellow 2G107; sunset yellow FCF110; cochineal 120.
Preservatives - benzoates 210, 211, 212, 213; nitrates 249, 250, 251, 252; sulphites 220, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225 and 228.

If you think you may have a food additive sensitivity, it’s important to seek professional help, since all of the symptoms you may be experiencing can also be caused by other disorders. It is usually suggested to people suspecting they have an allergy to keep a food diary and note carefully any adverse reactions. In the case of a sensitivity being identified, the usual practice is to eliminate all suspect foods from the diet and then reintroduce them one by one, to see which additive (or additives) causes the reaction. This should only be done under medical supervision, since some of the reactions - such as asthma - can be serious.  Here is a link with the code numbers of common food additives.

So what is the answer? Should we worry about what we eat, should we try and avoid food additives? Are we at risk? In short, the answer is that most of the food additives are safe. Some can cause serious reactions in a minority component of the population. If you can avoid foods that contain many additives, do so. This would mean preparing a lot of your own food from fresh ingredients and avoiding many of the processed, pre-prepared meals. Eating a good healthful diet prepared from fresh ingredients can also protect from all sorts of other diet-related disease, such as cancer of the large bowel.

Sunday 7 September 2014


“Art does not recognise any boundaries when it speaks the language of truth.” – Michael Cacoyannis

For Movie Monday I am reviewing the 1977 Michael Cacoyannis film “Iphigeneia”. I remember seeing this film as a University student and being thunderstruck by it. Now, on a subsequent viewing its gut-wrenching power has not abated. Cacoyannis made three films all based on ancient Greek tragedies by Euripides and "Iphigeneia (in Aulis)" is one of them. The other two are “Electra” (1962) and “Trojan Women” (1971). All of them are good adaptations of the ancient Greek tragedies, and the film medium has been used to its full advantage in order to recreate a picture of archaic Greece at the time of the Trojan War. You may be familiar with the other famous film directed by Cacoyannis, “Zorba the Greek”.

The sets and costumes are very effective and the earthy protoculture of the Mycenaean times has been captured well. The director does not resort to superstition to explain the action, but rather allows the film to be seen in human terms. Greed, lust for glory, envy, power struggles, resentment and hunger for revenge all vie for prominence, and the gentler sentiments of parental love, the wish to protect one’s offspring and the nobler quality of allegiance to one’s country act as a counterfoil to the baser emotions.

The casting and acting is superb, with the grand-dame of Greek cinema, Irene Pappas as Clytemnestra, pulling all stops out. She is matched by Kostas Kazakos, playing Agamemnon and the (then) newcomer Tatiana Papamoschou doing a sterling job as Iphigeneia. The sets are raw and arid, minimalist to a certain extent, but also rich in their simplicity and naturalness.  The music score by Mikis Theodorakis supports the action admirably without becoming obtrusive. I watched the DVD version of the movie and the English subtitling was sympathetic to the original modern Greek soundtrack.

In this movie Cacoyannis uses his directorial palette to paint with masterful strokes a rich canvas where human emotions come to the fore and assail our senses. His style is bold but tender, raw but polished at the same time. He pays homage to Euripides, but the film is not subservient to the ancient playwright. The ancient drama is the foundation on which the director builds a modern tower with the aid of the present-day technology of storytelling.

The plot follows Euripides’ “Iphigeneia in Aulis” rather closely. The Greek army is about to set sail from the Greek port of Aulis to Troy, in order to (ostensibly) defend the honour of Menelaus, whose wife Helen of Troy was abducted by Paris, a Trojan prince. The Greek soldiers, tired of the poor rations they are receiving daily while waiting for favourable winds to blow, decide to go on a rampage and slay herds sacred to Artemis, the huntress goddess. A sacred deer is also slain, contrary to the advice of Agamemnon, Menelaus’ brother and leader of the Greek army.

Artemis punishes the Greeks by not allowing any winds to blow and in order to allow the Greeks to leave Aulis, and she gives word to Calchas, the seer, that she will only let the winds blow favourably if Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigeneia to her. Agamemnon initially refuses to do so, but Odysseus and Menelaus convince him to consent. He writes to his wife Clytemnestra in Argos to send his daughter to him, with the excuse of marrying her to Achilles. His real reason is of course the grisly human sacrifice to the slighted Artemis…

I won’t spoil it for you if you are not familiar with the story, so if you get a chance to see this movie, do so! A word of warning, it is for mature viewers. There are some violent scenes and some nudity. Something that I found particularly confronting and distasteful as an animal lover, was the brutal slaying of the herds of Artemis. I sympathised with the goddess on this matter, actually…


“I love a challenging and creative life. Freedom and the sense of liberty is achieved through my ability to express what I am seeing and feeling. As an artist, you have developed good insight and a taste for life – life is what you make it, so try to make it beautiful. Being an artist and art teacher has provided me a lifelong love.” – Shijun Munns

For Art Sunday today, a contemporary artist whose work I have just become aware of. Shijun Munns is a painter who was born in the province of Guangdong, China where the foundation for her art was laid during her childhood. She graduated from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 1987, and quickly after this she gained a large number of awards and wide recognition for her paintings. Although a passionate artist and creator (she draws and writes as well), she followed the path of becoming an art instructor also.

Over the years her work has been viewed and collected internationally. She moved to Georgia, USA, in 2003 where she currently works and lives in a quaint and quiet home with her husband. She creates and teaches in her studio at home and stays very active within the Fine Arts world in Atlanta, having her work exhibited in many galleries throughout the area.

Many of Shijun’s pieces show a style that stems from traditional roots, but which also show evidence of modern techniques and themes. She has noted inspiration from artists such as Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh as well as some of the old Chinese masters. Her love for the texture, design, and vibrant colours of these artists’ works shine through into her own. She has also acknowledged gaining inspiration from her students. Alongside everything else she is a photographer and writer having published articles in her home country as well as creating travel journals documenting places and people.

Shijun’s work displays themes that glorify the feminine mystique and energy and its connection with the environment. The canvases show a balance between the serenity of nature and the strength of civilised narrative. Myth, symbolism and humour often amplify the messages in her paintings, which can be described as quirky, deceptively “pretty”, but in many cases mysterious and contemplative. They are very painterly, but at the same time populist, and easily appreciated by the ordinary person in the street.

A few of her canvases reminded me of a more modern and malerisch Tretchikoff or Marcel Dyf. As such they border on the kitsch, but stay on the better side of good taste – unlike say Louis Shabner’s work or (heaven forbid!) Giovanni Bragolin’s bathos. The work above, entitled: “UnderSea” (oil on linen, 2006, 46"x58") is a good example of her style. Richly textured and vividly coloured, the stylised figures shine forth with a jewel-like intensity. The deceptively simple composition enhances the decorative aspect of the work and the unified whole holds an easy appeal.