Friday 28 November 2014


“If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.” - George Bernard Shaw

For Music Saturday, an extract from a longer work by Luigi Boccherini played by The Carmina Quartet (Matthias Enderle, violin 1, Susanne Frank, violin 2, Wendy Champney, viola & Stephan Goerner, violoncello). It is the fourth movement (“Fandango”) from Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet G. 448 in D Major, with Rolf Lislevand, guitar and Nina Corti, castanets.

Rodolfo Luigi Boccherini (February 19, 1743 – May 28, 1805) was an Italian classical era composer and cellist whose music retained a courtly and galante style while he matured somewhat away from the major European musical centres. Boccherini is most widely known for one particular minuet from his String Quintet in E, Op. 11, No. 5 (G 275), and the Cello Concerto in B flat major (G 482). The latter work was long known in the heavily altered version by German cellist and prolific arranger Friedrich Grützmacher, but has recently been restored to its original version.

Boccherini composed several guitar quintets including the “Fandango” which was influenced by Spanish music. His biographer Elisabeth Le Guin noted among Boccherini’s musical qualities “an astonishing repetitiveness, an affection for extended passages with fascinating textures but virtually no melodic line, an obsession with soft dynamics, a unique ear for sonority, and an unusually rich palette of introverted and mournful affects.” Boccherini’s overriding concern was the production of smooth, elegant music; thus, his favourite expression marks were soave (soft), con grazia (with grace), and dolcissimo (very sweetly).

It is in his gentle warmth and superlative elegance—often with a hint of melancholy just below the surface—that Boccherini's most characteristic contribution may be found. His treatment of instrumental texture is richly varied, emerging as one of the most characteristic features of his music, particularly in his concertante writing, in which he obtained a wide variety of tone colours by writing high viola or cello parts (he was clearly influenced here by his own instrumental facility).

The illustration above is “The Fandango” by Charles Christian Nahl (1873).


“Beans are the cornerstones of longevity diets around the world.” - Dan Buettner

A hearty vegetarian recipe today, perfect for cool weather and guaranteed to warm you up, while giving you a wealth important nutrients.

Butter Bean Soup

1 cup butter beans (dried white beans)
1 small potato
1 red onion
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sweet, roasted paprika powder
2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, pepper to taste.


Soak butter beans overnight, drain and cook in fresh water for about 2 hours or until soft (this may take longer if you haven’t soaked them).  Chop onion, celery and potato. Sauté the onion in the oil then add the herbs and beans. Add the potato and water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for twenty minutes. Serve hot.
Please share your recipes by using the Mr Linky tool below:

Thursday 27 November 2014


“Dear Lord, we beg but one boon more: Peace in the hearts of all men living, peace in the whole world this Thanksgiving.” - Joseph Auslander

Living in Australia where we celebrate no Thanksgiving holiday, I have had to educate myself regarding this American tradition. My lessons in history had certainly made me aware of the reasons why this holiday was celebrated and its special significance to the US, especially, but I must confess that I did not know much about this tradition until I read about it in detail.

The first Thanksgiving in America was celebrated in 1621 in the Plymouth Colony by the Puritans who came from England. Governor of the colony, William Bradford, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to celebrate a good harvest after a particularly harsh growing year in the colony. The celebration was based on traditional English harvest festivals that were still fresh in the minds and hearts of the colonists. The local Wampanoag Indians were invited to this feast as a gesture of goodwill for their friendly attitude towards the colonists.

The colonists did not call their holiday a Thanksgiving but rather a harvest festival. Thanksgiving to their minds was a religious observance where one went to church to thank God for a victory in battle, for example. The first Thanksgiving was not celebrated every year afterwards, so it was not a tradition that too root immediately in the lives of the people. The original harvest feast took place sometime between September 21 and November 11, the English harvest festivals traditionally celebrated around the 29th of September. In the Plymouth Colony, in 1623 a day of fasting and prayer during a period of drought was changed to one of thanksgiving because the rain came during the prayers. Gradually the custom prevailed in New England of annually celebrating Thanksgiving after the harvest.

During the American Revolution an annual day of national Thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress. In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as a recurrent annual holiday, and by the middle of the 19th century many other states had done the same. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a day of thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. Since then, each president issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939 (approved by Congress in 1941).

What was on the menu of the first harvest feast of Thanksgiving? It’s almost certain that pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes weren’t on the menu. Venison and wild fowl are mentioned by contemporary writers and these are a certainty. Edward Winslow in 1621 writes in ‘A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth’:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

It is quite probable that various fish, lobster, seal and swan were also on the menu.  Most food was spit-roasted or boiled on an open fire as ovens weren’t at all commonplace. Vegetables were in short supply and the only ways to preserve food was by drying, smoking or pickling it. Salt was commonplace as a condiment, but pepper and spices were scarce and expensive. People had no forks and ate with their hands, spoons and knives. Seniority and social standing determined what you ate. As soon as the food was prepared, it was put on platters and placed on the table, the choicest being most accessible to the most important people. People tended to eat what was closest at hand and someone who was very low on the pecking order often had to make do with scraps and bones. Servants and children waited on the adults and then ate afterwards whatever left-overs they could get.

Pilgrims didn’t eat meals in courses as is done nowadays. All the foods were placed on the table concurrently and people ate in any order they chose. Sometimes there were two courses, but each of them would contain both meat dishes, puddings, and sweets. Sweets were a luxury item as sugar was in short supply and expensive. Spices such as cinnamon, ginger, pepper, nutmeg were used, but they were also expensive.

Some recipes have been handed down to us, and it appears that the 17th century cook was more reliant on improvisation, taste and experience rather than the following of a recipe. Many of the common people could neither read nor write, in any case! The biggest meal of the day for was eaten at noon and it was called noonmeat or dinner. Housewives would spend the better part of their morning cooking that meal. Supper was a smaller meal that they had at the end of the day. Breakfast tended to be leftovers from the previous day's noonmeat. The colonists and Wampanoag Indians ate very similar foods, but their eating patterns were different. While the colonists had set eating patterns, the Wampanoags tended to eat when they were hungry and had pots cooking throughout the day.

Here are a couple of 17th century recipes for Thanksgiving:
The Ancient New England standing dish.
But the Housewives manner is to slice them (pumpkin) when ripe, and cut them into dice, and so fill a pot with them of two or three Gallons, and stew them upon a gentle fire a whole day, and as they sink, they fill again with fresh Pompions, not putting any liquor to them; and when it is stew'd enough, it will look like bak'd Apples; this they Dish, putting Butter to it, and a little Vinegar, (with some Spice, as Ginger, &c.) which makes it tart like an Apple, and so serve it up to be eaten with Fish or Flesh: It provokes Urine extreamly and is very windy.

Here is the modern interpretation:
Mashed Pumpkin
4 cups of cooked (boiled, steamed or baked) pumpkin, roughly mashed
3 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 or 2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a saucepan over medium heat, stir and heat all the ingredients together. Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve hot.

Sauce for a Turkie
Take faire water and set it over the fire, then slice good store of Onions and put into it, and also Pepper and Salt, and good store of the gravy that comes from the Turkie, and boyle them very well together: then put to it a few fine crummes of grated bread to thicken it; a very little Sugar and some Vinegar, and so serve it up with the Turkey.
Gervase Markham , The English Huswife, 1623

Modern Interpretation:
Onion Sauce for Turkey
6 medium onions, sliced thinly
2 cups of water
2 teaspoons of coarsely ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (optional)
Follow your favourite recipe for roast turkey. Remove the turkey to a platter reserving the pan juices. Place thinly sliced onions in a pot with water and salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and cook until the onions are tender but not mushy. A good deal of the water should have boiled away. Set aside for a moment. Place the roasting pan over medium heat and stir to loosen any brown bits. Stir in the onion sauce, sugar, vinegar and breadcrumbs if desired. Add pepper to taste and adjust seasonings. To serve, pour over sliced turkey or serve alongside in a separate dish.

To all American friends, Happy Thanksgiving! May you have a peaceful and enjoyable day together with your family and friends. May you be thankful for all the good things in life and appreciate mostly each other on this special holiday.

Tuesday 25 November 2014


“It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” - Charles Spurgeon

Poetry Jam this week asks participants to: “…write a ‘how-to’ poem. The tone and intention of your poem are yours. What you write can be serious or lighthearted, genuinely helpful or even intentionally misleading.”

Here is my contribution:

How to be Happy

You start each day being thankful

For what you have,
No matter how meagre, or how inconsequential.
You offer up your gratitude
As if you were grateful for a treasure trove.

You keep yourself occupied,

In that which must be done,
No matter if it be work, a chore, or even a pastime.
You are gainfully employed as if your life depended on it,
As if you were performing the most momentous task.

You eat your meals, slowly,

With measure and moderation,
No matter how much is spread before you.
You eat only that which will just sate your hunger, and no more,
And feel as though you have partaken of a banquet.

You love with all your heart,

And let those around you feel wanted, needed,
Even if they do not reciprocate your affections.
You give of yourself liberally,
And feel your stores of good humour replenished endlessly.

You accept that which is offered you,

Willingly, gratefully, with deep appreciation,
For many will give you freely what they can ill-afford to give.
You accept lovingly, humbly,
And feel as though you have earnt heaven;
For truly you have, and you shall then be happy.


“To limit the press is to insult a nation; to prohibit reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves.” - Claude-Adrien Helvetius

A friend sent me to complete this meme list recently, so I gladly oblige to fill in my answers, making this my offering for Book Tuesday.

1. Name one book that changed your life:
My first alphabet book, from which I learnt to read and write. Had I not been given the opportunity to learn to read that, my life would certainly have been different… Literacy is the cornerstone of civilised life. As far as other books that influence our lives are concerned, I agree with the words of E. M. Forster:  “I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves.”

2. What is the one book that you have read more than once?
The Little Prince” by Frenchman Antoine de St Exupéry. It is a fairy tale, a love story, a philosophy book, a children’s book but also, anything but a children’s book. It is magical, it is make-believe, it is real, it is fantastical, it is fantastic! It has told me different things every time I read it. It has made me laugh, it has made me cry.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
“Practical Boat Building & Sailing for Beginners” by Robinson Crusoe. :-)

4. What is one book that made you laugh?
Don Quixote de la Mancha” by Spaniard Miguel de Cervantes. A classic tale, an allegory, a drama and a comedy, a grand work, a reflection of life. Touching and poignant at times, farcical at others. One empathises with the hero, one feels for him, and yet he also strikes us as the buffoon, the aloof aristocrat, the knight in shining armour and the idealist in an imperfect world. One of the great classics of world literature.

5. And what about one book that made you cry?
When I was young and impressionable, still in High School, I read a book by Sylvia Engdahl called “The Heritage of the Star”. This is a science fiction book, but well written and has a plot that is engaging and makes a social comment (as I guess, all good science fiction books do). I remember staying up all night to read this and the emotionally charged ending that brought me to edge of tears. Ah, how sensitive our youth, how soft our heart is then…

I have been trying to find my copy of this book, lately, but I cannot locate it, which is very annoying, as I usually know where all my books are and I don't lend out my books (I give books as gifts, but do not lend mine, especially to friends!).

6. Name one book that you wish you had written:
Guy de Maupassant’s “Short Stories”. Well written, amusing, poignant, varied in scope and extent, thematically varied. Marvellous gems of the short story genre.

7. Is there one book you wish had never been written?
No book is evil, the person who writes it, may be. No book is immoral, the reader may be. As Oscar Wilde says on the matter: “There is no such thing as a moral book or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”
All books must be read and understood for what they are. There are good books and bad books. “A bad book is as much labour to write as a good one, is comes as sincerely from the author's soul.” Says Aldous Huxley.

Books that contain terrible deeds in them must be read so that we know what atrocities people are capable of and eschew them; books containing horrible thoughts inoculate our minds against the horrors they describe and give us ammunition for our arguments against violence, injustice, prejudice and inequity. An intelligent person can read any book and learn something from it.

8. What book are you currently reading?
Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s “The Angel’s Game” (El juego del ángel, 2008), which is a prequel to the 2001 novel “The Shadow of the Wind”, which I have also read and greatly enjoyed. Like “The Shadow of the Wind”, “The Angel’s Game” was translated into English by Lucia Graves, daughter of the poet Robert Graves, and published in 2009. “The Angel’s Game” is set in Barcelona in the 1920s and 1930s and follows a young writer, David Martin, who is approached by a mysterious figure to write a book. The novel returns to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Barcelona’s Raval district, and the Sempere & Sons bookshop, from “The Shadow of the Wind.”

9. One book you have been meaning to read:
 “Tales from the Mountain” by Miguel Torga

10. Anyone who reads this and wants to do this meme, please do so and write a comment so other readers (and I!) can peruse your answers!

Monday 24 November 2014


"Before you criticise someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes" – Anonymous

I had a pleasant and an unpleasant surprise this weekend as far as movies go. A couple of acquaintances of ours had recommended the 2005 film “Elizabethtown” as a good movie to watch. I did and I was not terribly impressed. Supposedly it was touted to be a wonderful “road movie” but I found it trite and annoying with sub-standard performances by the leads, Orlando Bloom (who spent most of the movie looking like a stunned mullet) and Kirsten Dunst (who was cloyingly, annoyingly, saccharine sweet throughout). Susan Sarandon was at a loss on how to deal with her role and must have been quite embarrassed with the result when she looked at the finished product. This was Hollywood at its sentimental worst and Cameron Crowe’s direction was pedestrian to the point of hobbling. The plot predictable, the characters worn and uninteresting and the whole movie trying: Trying to be funny, trying to be profound, trying to be original, trying to be witty, trying to be sad, trying to be poignant and never getting past the trying part.

On the other hand, the pleasant surprise was a movie that I had thought was going to be mushy and a typical “chick flick” was very good and a pleasure to watch. This second movies was Curtis Hanson’s “In Her Shoes” (2005) with Cameron Diaz, Toni Colette, Anson Mount and Shirley Maclaine.  Firstly, let me say that this was typical Hollywood too, but also was a movie that attempted to inject some character into its characters and tried to make the plot a little three-dimensional.

The plot revolves around two sisters, Maggie (Cameron Diaz), the almost illiterate, bubbly, party girl and Rose (Toni Colette) who is plain but intellectually brilliant. Maggie is unemployed, a petty thief, promiscuous and superficial while Rose is a lawyer, organised, busy and has a problem with attracting men. Add to that the tragic loss of the women’s mother while they were still girls, a stormy relationship with their stepmother and conflict over the man that Rose finally manages to get into her bed. The sisters’ relationship breaks down and Maggie disappears, going to Florida to visit (read ‘sponge off’) her recently discovered grandmother (Shirley Maclaine) that neither of the sisters knew was still alive.

This is a movie about self-discovery, as much as it is about the relationship between the two sisters. The screenplay is well adapted from the best seller by Jennifer Weiner and the direction is excellent. The actors revel in their roles and Toni Colette once again proves her mettle in this difficult role where she needs to express an inner warmth and beauty that her external very unglamorous appearance has to radiate. Cameron Diaz has been well cast as the flighty Maggie and there are also some very good supporting role performances throughout.

As far as the shoes in the title are concerned, there is a very obvious sexual symbolism in that the two sisters wear the same size shoes, and also the fact that Maggie constantly wears her sister’s shoes. The fact that the grandmother also wears the same size shoe is significant and through the story, the women in the family have to be in each other’s shoes in order to experience life from that perspective.

Chick flick? Yes, it was. Did I enjoy it as a guy? I sure did. Why? Because of a good plot and screenplay, great characterisation with believable characters, excellent direction and good development. Yes, there are flaws, yes the film is slightly longer than optimal, yes the male characters are a little underdeveloped, but overall, I would recommend it highly. If you haven’t seen it, well worth getting hold of the DVD and seeing it (don’t be misled by the rubbishy blurb on the cover).

Sunday 23 November 2014


“The world worries about disability more than disabled people do.” - Warwick Davis

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa (24 November 1864 – 9 September 1901) was born in Albi, Tarn in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France, the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec. An aristocratic family (descendants of the Counts of Toulouse) that had recently fallen on hard times, the Toulouse-Lautrecs were feeling the effects of the in-breeding of past generations; the Comte and Comtesse themselves were first cousins, and Henri suffered from a number of congenital health conditions attributed to this tradition of inbreeding. A younger brother was born to the family on 28 August 1867, but died the following year.

At the age of 13 Henri fractured his left thigh bone, and at 14, the right. The breaks did not heal properly. Modern physicians attribute this to an unknown genetic disorder, possibly pycnodysostosis (also sometimes known as Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome), or a variant disorder along the lines of osteopetrosis, achondroplasia, or osteogenesis imperfecta. Rickets aggravated with praecox virilism has also been suggested. His legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was only 1.54 m tall, having developed an adult-sized torso, while retaining his child-sized legs, which were 0.70 m long..

Physically unable to participate in most of the activities typically enjoyed by men of his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in his art. He became an important Post-Impressionist painter, art nouveau illustrator, and lithographer; and recorded in his works many details of the late-19th-century bohemian lifestyle in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec also contributed a number of illustrations to the magazine ‘Le Rire’ during the mid-1890s.

Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, an area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and for being the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers. Tucked deep into Montmartre was the garden of Monsieur Père Foret where Toulouse-Lautrec executed a series of pleasant plein-air paintings of Carmen Gaudin, the same red-head model who appears in ‘The Laundress’ (1888). When the nearby Moulin Rouge cabaret opened its doors, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. Thereafter, the cabaret reserved a seat for him, and displayed his paintings.

Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs are depictions of the singer Yvette Guilbert; the dancer Louise Weber, known as the outrageous La Goulue (“The Glutton”), who created the “French Can-Can”; and the much more subtle dancer Jane Avril. Toulouse-Lautrec spent much time in brothels, where he was accepted by the prostitutes and madams to such an extent that he often moved in, and lived in a brothel for weeks at a time. He shared the lives of the women who made him their confidant, painting and drawing them at work and at leisure. Lautrec recorded their intimate relationships, which were often lesbian. A favourite model was a red-haired prostitute called Rosa la Rouge from whom he allegedly contracted syphilis.

Toulouse-Lautrec gave painting lessons to Suzanne Valadon, one of his models (and possibly his mistress as well). An alcoholic for most of his adult life, Toulouse-Lautrec was placed in a sanatorium shortly before his death. He died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the family estate in Malrome, fewer than three months before his 37th birthday. He is buried in Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometers from the Chateau of Malrome, where he died. Toulouse-Lautrec's last words reportedly were: “Le vieux con!” (old fool!). The invention of the ‘Tremblement de Terre’ is attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec, and this is a potent mixture containing half absinthe and half cognac. Habitual absinthe drinking is associated with a host of medical conditions.

Throughout his career, which spanned less than 20 years, Toulouse-Lautrec created 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, some ceramic and stained glass work, and an unknown number of lost works. Toulouse-Lautrec is known along with Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin as one of the greatest painters of the Post-Impressionist period. His debt to the Impressionists, in particular the more figurative painters Manet and Degas, is apparent. In the works of Toulouse-Lautrec can be seen many parallels to Manet’s bored barmaid at ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’ and the behind-the-scenes ballet dancers of Degas.

He excelled at capturing people in their working environment, with the colour and the movement of the gaudy night-life present, but the glamour stripped away. He was masterly at capturing crowd scenes in which the figures are highly individualised. At the time that they were painted, the individual figures in his larger paintings could be identified by silhouette alone, and the names of many of these characters have been recorded. His treatment of his subject matter, whether as portraits, scenes of Parisian night-life, or intimate studies, has been described as both sympathetic and dispassionate.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s skilled depiction of people relied on his painterly style which is highly linear and gives great emphasis to contour. He often applied the paint in long, thin brushstrokes which often leave much of the board on which they are painted showing through. Many of his works may best be described as drawings in coloured paint. After Toulouse-Lautrec’s death, his mother, the Comtesse Adele Toulouse-Lautrec, and Maurice Joyant, his art dealer, promoted his art. His mother contributed funds for a museum to be built in Albi, his birthplace, to house his works. As of 2005, his paintings had sold for as much as US$14.5 million.

The painting above is “Abandonment – The Two Friends” of 1895. It is oil on cardboard and is in a private collection.