Friday 21 November 2014


“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

Saint Cecilia (Latin: Sancta Caecilia) is the patroness of musicians. It is written that as the musicians played at her wedding she “sang in her heart to the Lord”. Her feast day is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches on November 22. She is one of seven women, excluding the Blessed Virgin, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

Cecilia is one of the most famous of the Roman martyrs, even if the familiar stories about her are apparently not founded on authentic material. It was long supposed that she was a noble lady of Rome who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius, and a Roman soldier Maximus, suffered martyrdom in about 230, under the Emperor Alexander Severus. The research of Giovanni Battista de Rossi agrees with the statement of Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 600) that she perished in Sicily under Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180.

According to the story, when the time came for her marriage to be consummated, Cecilia told Valerian that she had an angel of the Lord watching over her who would punish him if he dared to violate her virginity but who would love him if he could respect her maidenhood. When Valerian asked to see the angel, Cecilia replied that he would see the angel if he would go to the third milestone on the Via Appia (the Appian Way) and be baptised by Pope Urbanus.

The martyrdom of Cecilia is said to have followed that of Valerian and his brother by the prefect Turcius Almachius. The legend about Cecilia’s death says that after being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days, and asked the pope to convert her home into a church. The Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere is reputedly built on the site of the house in which she lived. The original church was constructed in the fourth century; her remains were placed there in the ninth century and the church was rebuilt in 1599.

“Hail! Bright Cecilia” (Z.328), also known as “Ode to St. Cecilia”, was composed by Henry Purcell to a text by the Irishman Nicholas Brady in 1692 in honour of the feast day of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicians. Annual celebrations of this saint's feast day (22 November) began in 1683, organised by the Musical Society of London, a group of musicians and music lovers. Purcell had already written Cecilian pieces in previous years, but this Ode remains the best known.

The first performance was a great success, and received an encore. Brady’s poem was derived from John Dryden’s “A Song for St Cecilia’s Day” in 1687, which suggested that Cecilia invented the organ. With a text full of references to musical instruments, the work requires a wide variety of vocal soloists and obbligato instruments. Brady extols the birth and personality of musical instruments and voices, and Purcell treats these personalities as if they were dramatic characters.

The airs employ a variety of dance forms. “Hark, Each Tree” is a sarabande on a ground. It is a duet on a ground-bass between, vocally, soprano and bass, and instrumentally, between recorders and violins (“box and fir” are the woods used in the making of these instruments). “With That Sublime Celestial Lay” and “Wond’rous Machine” are in praise of the organ. “Thou Tun’st this World” is set as a minuet. “In vain the am’rous Flute” is set to a passacaglia bass.

In spite of Brady’s conceit of the speaking forest (it should be remembered that English organs of the period typically had wooden pipes), Purcell scored the warlike music for two brass trumpets and copper kettle drums instead of fife and (field) drum. The orchestra also includes two recorders (called flutes) with a bass flute, two oboes (called hautboys), strings and basso continuo. Purcell is one of several composers who have written music in honour of Cecilia.

Here is Purcell’s “Ode to St. Cecilia”, 1692, with Lucy Crowe, soprano; Anders J. Dahlin, tenor; David Bates, countertenor; Neil Baker, baritone; Luca Tittoto, bass; Richard Croft, tenor; Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble directed by Nicolas Jenkins and Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble directed by Marc Minkowski.

The illustration is “St Cecilia” by Jacques Blanchard (1600–1638), painted in the first half of the 17th century, now in the Hermitage Museum.


“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” - William Blake

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia, but I think this is a great North American tradition that could well be imported into our country. It certainly is more deserving of import rather than say, Valentine’s Day or Halloween – both of which have been well and truly ingrained themselves into Australian society, especially so with the younger generations.

Here is a rather non-traditional Thanksgiving recipe that we shall be having at home, simply because we like it! I also think that it is worthwhile stopping every now and then and taking stock of all the things we have and we take for granted, and being thankful for them…

Grilled Turkey Breast Fillets
120 g unsalted butter
4 shallots, finely chopped
Salt, to taste
240 mL white vinegar
480 mL chicken stock
Cracked black peppercorns, and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 kg turkey breast, cut into 10 cm pieces and pounded into ½ cm thick medallions
40 mL olive oil

Make the sauce:  Melt half of the butter in a 30 cm skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped shallots and salt; cook until golden. Add vinegar and bring to a boil; reduce by half. Add the stock and cook until liquid is reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining butter and cracked peppercorns until butter is melted; set sauce aside and keep warm.

Prepare Turkey:  Heat a charcoal grill. Brush turkey with oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill, flipping once, until browned and cooked through, 3–4 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with some of the sauce; serve with remaining sauce on the side. Accompany the turkey with mashed potato, roast pumpkin, roast parsnip, mushy peas, steamed green beans and a fresh seasonal salad.

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving or any other similar tradition? What are some of your favourite recipes for the occasion? Use the Mr Linky tool to share your recipes:

Thursday 20 November 2014


“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” - George Bernard Shaw

I am re-reading a novel that I first read when I was in High School and had pushed out of my mind until last week when I picked it up after rummaging around my bookshelves and decided to read it again. It is “The Sundowners” by Australian author, Jon Cleary. It has given me immense pleasure and I have appreciated much more than on first reading.

Jon StephenCleary was born in 1917 in Sydney, New South Wales, into a working class family as the eldest of seven children. He joined the army in 1940 and served in the Middle East and New Guinea where he started writing seriously publishing several short stories and a radio play, “Safe Horizons” which won awards. He worked as a journalist in London (1948-49) and in New York from (1949 to 1951). His most famous novel, “The Sundowners”, was published in 1951, and sold more than three million copies.

The book was based on stories Cleary had been told by his father, who ran away to Queensland when he was a teenager. Additional research was provided by C.E.W. Bean's “On the Wool Track”. Cleary wrote the novel in long-hand during the evenings after work while he was living in New York working as a journalist, with the manuscript typed out by his wife Joy. The novel was a large success, eventually selling over three million copies, and was well reviewed overseas. It was his second book to be published in the USA.

The story is set in the 1920s, and tells of a drover, Paddy Carmody. He travels from job to job in a horse-drawn wagon with his wife, Ida, and son, Sean. Paddy refuses to settle down and does not want to give up drifting in the Australian bush, which creates conflicts with his wife. In 1960 Fred Zinnemann directed a first-ratefilm based on the book, staring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr. It was shot on location by Jack Hildyard.

Jon Cleary’s last novel was “Four-Cornered Circle” (2007). He won numerous awards and some of his other works have been made into TV series or films. During his lifetime, Cleary was one of the most popular Australian authors of all time. According to Murray Waldren, “his own assessment was that he lacked a poetic eye but had an eye for colour and composition and was strong on narrative and dialogue. And he took pride in the research underpinning his works”. Cleary died on 19 July 2010, aged 92.

Tuesday 18 November 2014


“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” - Oscar Wilde

How many times in our lives it is necessary for us to conceal what is in our mind, what is in our heart, what we really feel in our soul, and present to the world a picture that is acceptable for the circumstances… Our public mask whether a cheerful one, whether one of well-measured composure, or one of self-assured competence is one that may hide below it pain, bitterness, disappointment, disillusionment, grief, loss, despair…

Below is my contribution to the Poetry Jam poetry meme, where the theme this week is “Identity”.

I Am What I Am

You ask of me to bare myself –
Remove my public mask
Reveal my hidden side,
Shed my chameleon cloak.

You ask of me to doff an armour
I have worn so long, it feels like second skin;
To cast off artifice, duplicity,
Discard my cultivated image.

You ask of me to trim my tresses,
Make you a gift of my vulnerability;
Be rid of my convenient nebulosity
Appear before you naked, like the truth.

The mask removed reveals a second mask beneath it;
My armour shed, reveals a hardened carapace below it;
Stripped of my shifting colours,
I simply show you my camouflage even better.

I am that which I am; what I am, I am not,
I am what you have made me, not what I truly am.

Monday 17 November 2014


“The long unmeasured pulse of time moves everything. There is nothing hidden that it cannot bring to light, nothing once known that may not become unknown.” – Sophocles

Haiti - Vertieres’ Day. Latvia - Independence Day (since 1918). Morocco - Independence Day. Oman - National Day.

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Carl Maria von Weber, composer (1786);
Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, pioneer photographer (1789);
W.S. Gilbert, writer of Gilbert and Sullivan fame (1836);
Amelita Galli-Gurci, soprano (1889);
Eugene Ormandy, conductor (1899);
George H. Gallup, of poll fame (1901);
Alan B. Sheppard, US astronaut (1923);
Mickey Mouse, cartoon brainchild of Walt Disney (1928);
Margaret Attwood, writer (1939);
Brenda Vaccaro, US actress (1939);
David Hemmings, actor (1941);
Linda Evans, US actress (1942).

The wild asparagus, Asparagus officinalis, is the plant for birthdays falling on this day.  The name could be related to the Greek word aspartos = “not sown, growing wild”.  It is also known as sparrow-grass or sporage, the long Greek word being anglicised so that the Anglo-Saxon tongue would not trip and fall over itself!  The shoots of the plant have been eaten from ancient times and many of the ancient writers (Pliny and Cato for example) wax lyrically over the virtues of this vegetable.  The Elizabethans considered it an aphrodisiac.  Herbalists prescribed asparagus boiled in broth as a laxative and boiled in white wine as a diuretic.  The asparagus symbolises beauty complemented by brains.  It is under the astrological dominion of Jupiter.

Haiti won independence from France in The Battle of Vertières, on November 18th, 1803. The site is now part of an historical monument in the northern city of Cap Haitien. A national holiday, The Battle of Vertières Day is celebrated each year on November 18th. In 2011 a crowd of over 200,000 Haitians gathered to celebrate and hear Haitian President Michel Martelly deliver a speech at the monument site. The Battle of Vertières marked the first time in recorded history that slaves successfully led a revolution for their freedom. Less than two months after the battle, Haiti became the first black independent republic.

The Republic of Latvia was founded on 18 November 1918. However, its de facto independence was interrupted at the outset of World War II. In 1940, the country was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941, and re-occupied by the Soviets in 1944 to form the Latvian SSR for the next fifty years. The peaceful Singing Revolution, starting in 1987, called for Baltic emancipation of Soviet rule. It ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and Latvia declared the restoration of its de facto independence on 21 August 1991.

Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber (1786–1826,) was a German composer who is considered to be the founder of German romantic opera. He wrote 10 operas, including Der Freischütz (1821) and Oberon (1826). Among his instrumental works is the popular Invitation to the Dance (1819).

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (18 November 1787 – 10 July 1851) was a French artist and photographer, recognised for his invention of the daguerreotype process of photography. He became known as one of the fathers of photography. Though he is most famous for his contributions to photography, he was also an accomplished painter and a developer of the diorama theatre. Daguerre’s name is one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel tower.

Sunday 16 November 2014


"Can there be a love, which does not make demands on its object?" - Confucius

A French movie for Movie Monday, today: “Jeux D’ Enfants” by Yann Samuell (2003), its English title being “Love me if you Dare”. This is an odd film, but nevertheless one that I watched with great interest and in the end with great satisfaction, as well. If you have seen “Amélie” or “L’ Auberge Espagnole”, then this is film is like them, but nothing like them. It was described on the DVD packaging as a “Romantic Comedy”, but I beg to differ – it’s neither comedy, nor terribly romantic, yet there are scenes in it that make you laugh right out loud and other scenes that remind one of “Romeo and Juliet”…

But what is it about? Julien and Sophie are the hero and heroine of this film, he a typical French boy, and she a “dirty Pollack” as she is called by the other school children. Their friendship begins in childhood where they play a game of dares revolving around handing each other a biscuit tin in the shape of a colourful merry-go-round, only to be claimed if the dare is successfully completed.  The dares become more outrageous and dangerous as the children grow to adolescents and then to adults. Love and sex intrude in unexpected ways and the relationship between Julien and Sophie becomes more complex, more destructive – for themselves as well as for the people around them.

The characters of the film are hardly likeable, and yet they are irresistible in their raw energy and vitality. In them we recognise parts of ourselves that we actively bury deep inside us lest they manifest themselves and destroy us. And yet it these hidden parts of ourselves that drive us and motivate us, and it is these self-destructive forces within us that move some of us to the ultimate love experience that transcends death itself. Both Julien and Sophie are struggling with difficult home situations, and it is their families that force them to seek each other out and find in each other support but also a challenge to deal with their relatives (selfishly, but that is how one preserves oneself!).

The film is tremendously creative, visually rich and full of life and passion. It is an allegory of love, a film that analyses relationships that teeter between love and hate, that balance on the razor’s edge of insecurity, it is about people in love who constantly test each other’s love, that dare each other to prove their love no matter what. The ending itself (although predictable) is not what it seems and it this ending that puts the whole film into perspective in terms of the allegory hat I mentioned earlier.

Guillaume Canet (Julien) and Marion Cotillard (Sophie) are perfectly cast and play superbly under the expert direction of Yann Samuell. The soundtrack is memorable as it includes several renditions of “La Vie en Rose”, which is perfect for the film. Watch it, it's well worth it!


“What is indispensable to inspiration? ...Sound sleep and the provocation of a good book or a companion.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Looking through my books this morning, I found a book on a French 19th century artist that I had misplaced and which gave me the idea for this Sunday’s Art Sunday. It is Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) who was an influential and prolific French painter, a realist painter par excellence. Courbet, together with his compatriots Honoré Daumier and Jean Francois Millet, founded the mid-19th-century art movement subsequently called “realism”.

Courbet, was a farmer's son and was born June 10, 1819, in Ornans. He went to Paris about 1840, ostensibly to study law; instead, he taught himself to paint by copying masterpieces in the Louvre, Paris. In 1850 he exhibited “The Stone Breakers” (1849, formerly Gemaldegalerie, Dresden, destroyed 1945), a blunt, forthright depiction of labourers repairing a road. In it, Courbet deliberately flouted the precepts of the romantics’ champions of emotionally charged exoticism and of the powerful Academicians, guardians of the moralising Beaux-Arts traditions.

Courbet further outraged Academicians with his enormous “Burial at Ornan” (1850, Musée d' Orsay, Paris), in which a frieze of poorly clad peasants surrounds a yawning grave. Courbet compounded his defiance of convention in another huge painting, “The Artist's Studio” (1855, Musée d’ Orsay), which he subtitled “A True Allegory Concerning Seven Years of My Artistic Life”. In it, Courbet sits painting a landscape centre stage, attended by a small boy, a dog, and a voluptuous female nude; at left a listless, bored group studiously ignores him; at right a lively, spirited crowd of his friends admires his work. At the same time he issued a provocative manifesto detailing his social realist credo of art and life. By this time he was enjoying widespread popularity.

He continued to flout his critics by painting as he liked, what he liked and often found himself censured with his controversial choices of subject matter. Explicit female nudes and realistic studies of “hard grit” type of subjects, were however, interspersed with idyllic landscapes, hunting scenes, extravagant bouquets of flowers and sensitive pencil sketches of intimate, homely types of subjects. The sleeping form fascinated this artist and on more than several occasions, his subjects are asleep. Surely, canvases such as this catered to the tastes of genteel society and must have earned Courbet quite a great deal of his income. Nevertheless, even in such “bread-and-butter” work, his genius is able to shine through.

The painting illustrated is one of my favourite works of Courbet. There is much emotion and raw energy in this work and even though realistic, this work is also impressionistic to a certain extent and even romantic in its mood. It is the “Stormy Sea” of 1869. A dramatic, roiling, cloudy sky overhangs portentously the stormy sea. Green waves break on the beach and the foam shines white amongst the dark water. The boat in the distance battling the elements is in contrast to the boats seemingly safe on the beach – but are they really safe? This is a great depiction of the power of natural forces, but also an allegory for the artist’s passionate and angry view of life…