Saturday 4 October 2014


“Beauty in art is truth bathed in an impression received from nature. I am struck upon seeing a certain place. While I strive for conscientious imitation, I yet never for an instant lose the emotion that has taken hold of me.” - Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

For Art Sunday today, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796–1875) who was an influential 19th century French painter best known for his landscape paintings. His artistic style inspired many Impressionists. Born in Paris, France Camille Corot’s prosperous family allowed him the means to pursue his passion for painting without having to worry about earning a living. Though it took some time before Corot was a success, by the 1850s his work was extremely popular. Corot painted more than 3,000 pictures during his career. He died in Paris in 1875.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was born into a well-to-do family on July 16 (some sources say July 17), 1796, in Paris, France. His Swiss-born mother ran a fashionable milliner’s shop and his father worked as a draper, or textile merchant. Corot tried to apprentice as a draper, but failed in the endeavour. By the time he was 26, his parents had given him an allowance that would permit him to pursue his passion for painting. Corot first had lessons with Achille-Etna Michallon, then became a student of Jean-Victor Bertin. Both Michallon and Bertin had studied with landscape painter Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, and Corot began to paint landscapes as well.

From 1825 to 1828, Corot lived in Italy and honed his artistic skills. These influential years saw him painting the city of Rome and its countryside, as well as Naples and Ischia. It was a happy time for Corot, during which he declared to a friend, “All I really want to do in life ... is to paint landscapes. This firm resolve will stop me forming any serious attachments. That is to say, I shall not get married”.

In 1827, Camille Corot's “The Bridge at Narni” was displayed at the Paris Salon the most prestigious art exhibition of the time. Corot continued to send paintings to the Salon and was awarded a Salon medal at the age of 37. He became a regular exhibitor in the 1830s, with paintings such as “Hagar in the Wilderness” (Salon of 1835). Corot returned to Italy in 1834, where he sketched and painted places such as Florence, Pisa, Genoa and Venice. He would continue to travel throughout his life, visiting Avignon and the south of France as well as Switzerland and other European locations.

On trips abroad and while in France, Corot worked outdoors during the warmer months, trying to capture views and landscapes. These sketches were not meant to be displayed or sold (the larger pictures Corot intended to exhibit and sell were produced inside his studio). Though he received some critical praise, only a few of Corot’s paintings sold in the 1830s. In 1840, the state purchased one of his works, “The Little Shepherd”. Corot’s artistic achievements were further acknowledged in 1846 when he was made a member of the Legion of Honour (an order of merit that was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802).

In the 1850s, Corot began to paint in a softer style, using a restricted palette of colours. Collectors and dealers were scrambling to buy his work as the 1850s progressed. Six of his pieces were seen at the Exposition Universelle of 1855, where Corot won a gold medal and sold a painting to Emperor Napoleon III. Corot also created paintings that focused more on emotion and atmosphere. He described them as “souvenirs”, as they were based on memories of places he had visited.

Corot was in close contact with and influenced by painters of the realistic Barbizon school, such as Jean-François Millet, Théodore Rousseau and Charles-François Daubigny. Corot’s landscapes and plein air sketches also served to inspire Impressionist painters. Corot even taught some Impressionists, such as Camille Pissaro. Devoted to painting, Corot continued to work throughout his life, producing more than 3,000 pictures during his career. In the 1860s, he also experimented with photography and printmaking, and used a technique called cliché-verre to combine the two. Corot died in Paris on February 22, 1875, at the age of 78.

His “Les Trois Arbres en vue de lac” (Three Trees with a View of the Lake) is in a private collection. It is a 45 x 64 cm oil on canvas work from ca 1865/70. It is typical of his later work, drawing on a limited colour palette and having a strongly contrasted, bold composition, almost impressionistic in scope. The appearance of the tree boughs blown by gusts of the wind is counterbalanced by the small figures on the right, with their windswept garments. This is a satisfying and painterly work that shows Corot’s experience and talent well.

Friday 3 October 2014


“Music is nothing else but wild sounds civilised into time and tune.” - Thomas Fuller

For Music Saturday, some of the violin concertos of a remarkable musician whom I heard of first only recently, Joseph Boulogne (1745-1799). Joseph Boulogne “Chevalier de Saint-Georges” was born on Christmas Day, 1745. He was an African-French classical music conductor, composer, musician, and military officer. Boulogne was born on the West Indies island of Guadeloupe, where his mother Nanon was a slave. Boulogne’s father was a Frenchman, George de Boulogne Saint-Georges. He owned the plantation on which Joseph spent his early childhood.

The word “Chevalier” means Knight in French. It was a title of nobility in the Kingdom of France. Joseph could not inherit his father’s status as a member of the nobility because his mother was an African slave. Even so, he was called “Chevalier de Saint-Georges” from a young age. At age 10, Saint-Georges moved to France with his parents. There he continued his studies in classical music. He was tutored in violin by Jean-Marie Leclair, and studied composition with François-Joseph Gossec.

Saint-Georges also spent six years at the boarding school of Texier de La Boessiere, a master of arms. Athletics and fencing brought him a reputation at an early age. He swam across the River Seine in winter with one arm tied behind his back. Saint-Georges’ military career began in 1761 as an officer in the King’s Guard. In his music career, the conductor of the prestigious Le Concert des Amateurs orchestra chose Saint-Georges as First Violin in 1769.

Saint-Georges made his public debut as a violin soloist during the 1772-73 concert season, performing his own violin concertos. Many say that Saint-Georges demonstrated the influence of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He has even been called “Le Mozart Noir” or The Black Mozart. History shows that Mozart came to Paris in 1778 to study the “Paris School” of composition while Saint-Georges was active there.

In 1775, Queen Marie-Antoinette appointed Saint-Georges as her music director, and King Louis XVI named him director of the Paris Opera. Saint-Georges was also the first person of African descent to join a Masonic Lodge in France. He was initiated in Paris to “Les 9 Soeurs”, a Lodge belonging to the Grand Orient of France. As a conductor, he later traveled to Vienna and commissioned Franz Joseph Haydn to compose the Paris Symphonies, Nos. 82-87, which premiered in 1787. No. 85, called "The Queen", was a favourite of Marie-Antoinette.

Saint-Georges joined the pro-Revolution National Guard in 1789. That same year the Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued by the National Assembly. On Sept. 7, 1792, a delegation of men of colour asked the National Assembly to allow them to fight in defence of the Revolution and its egalitarian ideals. On the next day the Assembly, authorised the Légion des Hussards Américains [Legion of American Soldiers], which had 1,000 volunteers of colour, with Saint-Georges as their colonel. One of its squadron leaders was Alexandre Dumas Davy de La Pailleterie (1762-1806). Like his colonel, he was the son of a French aristocrat and an African slave. He later had a son, Alexander Dumas, who wrote “The Three Musketeers.”

On September 25, 1793, Saint-Georges lost his command due to false charges of misusing public funds. He spent 18 months in the house of detention at Houdainville before being acquitted. After his release Saint-Georges took part in the Haitian Revolution. Saint-Georges produced 14 violin concertos and 9 symphonies between 1773 and 1785. He wrote 2 solo violin sonatas, 2 symphonies, 3 sonatas for violin and harpsichord, and 18 string quartets divided into 3 collections of 6 quartets in each. Saint-Georges also composed several operas for the Comedie-Italienne, beginning in 1777. Saint-Georges lived alone in a small apartment in Paris during the final two years of his life. He died of gangrene in a leg wound on June 12, 1799.

Here is Jean-Jacques Kantorow and the Orchestre de Chambre Bernard Thomas playing four of Joseph Boulogne’s violin concertos.


“Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.” - Nelson Mandela

We are experiencing highly variable Spring weather at the moment: Warm to hot one day, gray, cool and wet the next. Windy and rainy, then dry and balmy the next. This cornbread recipe is perfect for those still cool nights when a stew begs for a bread with a crunchy crust and soft centre, perfect for mopping up rich sauces!

Cheesy Cornbread
Melted butter, to grease
420g can corn kernels, drained
430g polenta
160g coarsely grated cheddar cheese
115g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
625ml buttermilk
180g butter, melted
3 eggs, lightly whisked
Butter, to serve

Preheat oven to 180°C. Brush a 6cm-deep, 12.5 x 24.5cm loaf pan with melted butter.
Place corn on a plate lined with paper towel to drain excess moisture. Combine the polenta, cheddar, flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir in corn and chives until well combined.
Stir in the buttermilk, butter and egg. Pour into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Sprinkle some chopped chives on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Serve with butter.

Add your own recipe link in the Mr Linky tool below! And please leave a comment when you do so.

Thursday 2 October 2014


“The intellectual man requires a fine bait; the sots are easily amused. But everybody is drugged with his own frenzy, and the pageant marches at all hours, with music and banner and badge.” - R.W. Emerson

Nípali Nikámi? Éo sin pálo ka gádo sofiné on nípalo Nikámi. Éos mádha min sin didáhe! Nikámi éosi pádha e!

Have you understood anything in the sentences above? I doubt it very much – in fact I would be surprised if you had the foggiest idea of what I had written about! So what is it all about, what am I getting at?

People that know me a little through this blog, may know of my fascination with language and words. I love languages, linguistics, etymololgy, grammar, writing, alphabets, symbols, spelling, orthography, history and evolution of language. So for something to do (call it an intellectual diversion, if you like), I have taken it upon myself to invent a new language, “Nikamian” spoken on the imaginary world of “Nikamia”. I am nearly through writing a book called “The Grammar of Nikamian”, but progress is slow because simply there are not enough hours in the day (or night!).

Some people may say this is a useless exercise, a waste of time! But as for me, I find it extremely interesting and amusing. As most hobbies tend to be, this diversion of mine is self-gratifying and it pleases me, the person who is pursuing it, the most. I am in the process of devising a unique alphabet for the Nikámian language at the moment and ideas for this can be jotted down anywhere on any scrap of paper, instead of doodles. The script in the illustration is a prototype of  the word “Nikamia” written in Nikamian.

The word for the day, aptly is:
hobby 1 |ˈhäbē| noun ( pl. -bies)
1 an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure: Her hobbies are reading and gardening.
2 archaic a small horse or pony.
historical an early type of velocipede.
ORIGIN late Middle English hobyn, hoby, from nicknames for the given name Robin. Originally in sense 2 (compare with dobbin ), it later came to denote a toy horse or hobbyhorse, hence [a pastime, something done for pleasure.]

Oh, and in case you were wondering what I said at the beginning of this post, here is the translation:
“Do you speak Nikamian? I certainly speak it and I enjoy it very much when we speak Nikamian. My mother has not taught it to me. Nikamian is my own child!”

OK, I admit it. I’m weird! Now tell me what is one of your weird pastimes, diversions, hobbyhorses?

Wednesday 1 October 2014


“The first magic of love is our ignorance that it can ever end.” - Benjamin Disraeli

“Magic” is the theme for this week’s Poetry Jam challenge - Let us explore the world of magic in our writing and all that it means to us.”
Here is my contribution:


O, what a moon tonight!
A perfect, limpid night,
This year’s first truly summer’s night!
And in the languid garden, just watered,
In the heavy, warm, wet, jet-black air
Streams golden moonlight
From a bright, full orb of a moon.

The still, thick air is rich with perfumes:
The heady honeysuckle and gardenia,
The devastating bouvardia,
(A hint of green poison lurking in its leaves);

Homely, honest lemon verbena,
Pennyroyal, spearmint, peppermint
(High notes of freshness),

Solemn parsley, pungent fig,
Bitter crushed ivy underfoot,
And sweet, dreamy, dusty lavender
(Fresh sachets)…

Melding with shadows, a black dog
Barks up at the face in the moon;
Melting with moonlight reflection in the pond,
The distant chant of crickets.

Mixed with the magic of the night,
Echoing in the stillness of green-black leafy shadows,
Coalescing in water drops that trickle down wet foliage,
Is the sound of my soft footfall,
(In empty garden).

Gently around the paths between the sleepless beds,
My steps, gingerly
Tracing an endless, enchanted circle
Of mystic insomnia,
(My daydreams made real by magic of the night).

Monday 29 September 2014


“Man is a political animal” – Aristotle

Today I am looking at the genre of political novels. These obviously have as a theme politics, but also look at society and the conflicts arising because of a clash of ideas. Sometimes, these novels can have propaganda value, but generally they fall into the group of writing that examines freedom and the price that people pay for attaining it. These types of novel have been very influential as they have often been written in adverse circumstances, sometimes have been banned, frequently have been censored and in some cases have even been made illegal to possess. The list of such novels is huge and I shall only limit myself to a few that I can recall easily as I was impressed immensely when I first read them.

I shall start with a novel that was based on real events and highlights the terrible social evils of totalitarian regimes. It is Vassilis Vasilikos’ “Z”. In Greek, “Zee” means “He lives” and is a monument to the memory of Grigoris Lambrakis, a distinguished athlete, doctor and politician, as well as an active pacifist and humanitarian. He was assassinated by thugs under the control of right-wing government organisations. The book depicts the way para-state and paramilitary mechanisms operated in Greece in the 1960s and the efforts of an honest investigator against them. The book was made into a successful film by Costa Gavras in 1969 (

“All the King’s Men” is a novel by Robert Penn Warren, which won the Pulitzer Prize. It is as relevant today as when it was written in 1946. This novel about American politics traces the rise and fall of demagogue Willie Stark, a fictional character who resembles the real-life Huey Long of Louisiana. In Louisiana, the smart, populist, manipulative Willie Stark is elected governor largely through the support of the lower social classes. He joins a team composed of his bodyguard and friend Sugar Boy; the journalist from an aristocratic family Jack Burden; the lobbyist Tiny Duffy; and his mistress Sadie Burke, to face the opposition of the upper classes. When the influential Judge, Irwin supports a group of politicians in their request for Stark’s impeachment, Stark assigns Jack Burden to find some incriminating “dirt” in the life of Irwin, leading to a tragedy in the end. This novel has also made it into films, once in 1949 ( and in 2006 (, as well as a TV series in 1958 (

“The Manchurian Candidate” is Richard Condon’s controversial 1959 Cold War thriller. It tells the story of Sergeant Raymond Shaw, an ex-prisoner of war (and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honour). Shaw has been brainwashed by a Chinese psychological expert during his captivity in North Korea and has come home programmed to kill a US presidential nominee. The actions of Raymond Shaw are not what everyone believes they are, and the nightmares of a US Army officer, Bennett Marco, leads to the investigation of Raymond that unlocks a stunning political conspiracy that sweeps up Senator Johnny Iselin and his wife, Eleanor Iselin (who is also Shaw’s mother). Only Bennett Marco can possibly stop the plot and there are several people who are out to ensure that he does not succeed.  The 1962 movie  ( was taken out of circulation for 25 years following the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Everyone conversant with English knows and probably often uses the phrase “catch-22” to describe a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. Many people who use this phrase may not know its origin. It is the title of a brilliant novel, “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller that mocks war, the military, and politics. It is classic satire where Yossarian, a bombadier in World War II, desperately tries to be declared insane by the Air Force in order to go home. However during the process he slowly watches each of his friends and crew die off in the horrors of war.  His desire to avoid the dangerous missions is taken to prove his sanity. Once again, this has been made into a 1970 movie ( and a 1973 TV series (

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee explores attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s through the eyes of eight-year-old Scout Finch, “one of the most endearing and enduring characters of Southern literature”, and her father, Atticus Finch. The novel is a powerful document of the tension and conflict between prejudice and hypocrisy on the one hand and justice and perseverance on the other. The 1962 film of the novel ( has become a classic in its own right.

Are human beings inherently evil and destructive, savages that will not heed reason, or are they inherently good and bound by the laws of society whatever context they find themselves in? William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” is a classic novel that shows how thin the veneer of civilisation might be, as it explores what happens in the absence of rules and order. A group of boys are marooned on an island after their plane crashes. With no adult survivors, they create their own society in miniature. Ralph is elected chief and he organises shelter and fire. Jack, the head of the choir takes his boys hunting for wild pigs to feed the community. A bitter rivalry develops between Jack and Ralph as both strive for leadership. The “hunters” become savage and primal, under Jack’s rule, while Ralph tries to keep his group civilised. The growing hostility between them leads to a frightening climax. Once again, this novel has engendered filmic treatments, the better 1963 version ( and in my opinion, the inferior 1990 version (

“Big Brother” is term most people around the world are familiar with for the wrong reason. Everyone knows the execrable TV reality shows around the world in which “Big Brother” is a person exercising total control over a group of people’s lives as they are confined in a house. Once again, most people would not know the origin of the term. It is derived from “1984” by George Orwell written in 1949, where he describes a dystopia that he imagines the world has deteriorated to in 1984. Orwell introduces Big Brother and other concepts like newspeak and thoughtcrime. In this imagined future, the world is dominated by three totalitarian superpowers, people’s actions are scrutinised to the extreme and personal freedom has become unknown. The novel has generated two films, the 1956 version ( and the superior 1984 version (

George Orwell also wrote another classic political and social allegory, “Animal Farm”. In this novel, Orwell satirises Stalinist Russia, by describing the revolt of the animals of Manor Farm (i.e. the common people) against their human masters (the aristocracy). Led by the pigs Snowball (Lenin) and Napoleon (Stalin), the animals attempt to create a utopian society. Soon, however, Napoleon gets a taste for power, drives out Snowball, and establishes a totalitarian regime as brutal and corrupt as any human society. Manor Farm becomes a world where all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others… Interestingly, this novel has been brought to the silver screen as animated feature films, the 1954 version ( and the 1999 version (

I could probably go on and talk about Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange”, Allen Drury’s “Advise and Consent”, Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and many more. I could talk about authors like Kafka, Machiavelli, Voltaire, Clancy, Grisham, Crichton, who write fiction that is largely politically motivated, or at least politically actuated, but I have tried your patience enough.

It is obvious, that this genre of literature is engaging and effective as a tool for social change. Humans are political animals and personal experience, the experience of both private and public characters, forms the heart of what fiction is, so it is not surprising that many of the great literary works are politically motivated. People do read a lot of political fiction, a lot of culturally critical fiction, and the sales of popular authors like Grisham and Crichton support this. Enjoy your reading!