Saturday 27 December 2014


“Every artist was first an amateur.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unico Wilhelm, Count van Wassenaer Obdam (30 October 1692 - 9 November 1766) was a Dutch nobleman who was a diplomat, composer, and administrator. He reorganised the Bailiwick of Utrecht of the Teutonic Order. His most important surviving compositions are the Concerti Armonici, which until 1980 had been misattributed to the Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) and to Carlo Ricciotti (1681-1756).

Van Wassenaer was born into a distinguished family of wealth, power and accomplishment—the House of Wassenaer. He grew up in the Hague, where he was taught to play the harpsichord and violin. In 1707-09 he stayed with his father and three sisters in Düsseldorf at the court of Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine. The strong Italian influences at the court had a major influence on his musical development.

On 18 September 1710 Unico Wilhelm was admitted to the University of Leiden to study law. In December 1711 he interrupted his studies to go to Frankfurt for the coronation of the Emperor Charles VI. In June 1713, after completing his studies, he returned to Düsseldorf where his father and sisters had settled. He may have accompanied Arent van Wassenaer Duyvenvoorde on a visit to Britain in 1715-16. He made a grand tour of France and Italy in 1717-18. In 1723 Unico Wilhelm married Dodonea Lucia van Goslinga (the daughter of Sicco van Goslinga), with whom he had three children.

While based at the Hague between 1725 and 1740, Unico Wilhelm wrote the seven Concerti Armonici. The Concerti Armonici, published anonymously in 1740, were printed in London in 1755 as compositions by the violinist and impresario Carlo Ricciotti (c. 1681–1756). It has since been established that these were the work of Unico Wilhelm. There is no evidence that Ricciotti wrote any music. The concerti were dedicated to Wilhelm’s friend, Count Willem Bentinck. The slow movements of the concerti are especially remarkable and have expressive beauty.

The Polish composer Franciszek Lessel (1780–1838) asserted incorrectly that the concertos were written by Pergolesi. Since the style of the concertos is Italian, laid out in typical Roman fashion with four parts for violin and consisting of four parts instead of the Venetian three, they are comparable to works by Pietro Locatelli. However, in 1979-1980 a manuscript of the six concerti was found in the archives of Twickel Castle (the castle where Van Wassenaer was born) labelled “Concerti Armonici”. Although the handwriting was not by Van Wassenaer, the manuscript did have an introduction in his hand, reading: “Partition de mes concerts gravez par le Sr. Ricciotti”. Research done by the Dutch musicologist Albert Dunning, established there can be no doubt that the concerti were, in fact, written by Van Wassenaer.

The Concerti Armonici were among the works that formed the basis for Igor Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella”, based on works considered at the time to be by Pergolesi. Apart from Concerti Armonici, three sonatas for recorder and continuo also by Van Wassenaer were discovered in the early 1990s.

Friday 26 December 2014


“Underneath our nice, friendly façades there is great unease. If I were to scratch below the surface of anyone I would find fear, pain, and anxiety running amok. We all have ways to cover them up. We overeat, over-drink, overwork; we watch too much television.” - Joko Beck

After the excesses of the Christmas dinner table, it is good to have something light to eat in order to give your stomach a chance to recover. Here is such a dish, which nevertheless is quite filling and tasty. It is also one that can be whipped up in a hurry from ingredients that can be stored in your pantry (tinned stuff) and freezer (seafood highlighter, shelled prawns), making it the perfect dish to serve to unexpected visitors who turn up and decide to stay to lunch or dinner… Serve with fresh, crusty bread (or even crackers), some sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, and wash down with some bubbly.


45 g tin of anchovy fillets in olive oil
185 g tin of tuna chunks in olive oil
170 g tin of shredded crab meat in brine
250 g thawed seafood highlighter (formed seafood chunks), sliced thinly
150 g thawed, shelled, cooked prawns, deveined and chopped finely
2 tbsp baby capers
2 tbsp chopped dill baby gherkins (cornichons) – buy Polish ones, which are not sweet
Juice of a lime
1 tbsp olive oil
Ground white pepper and salt, to taste
A little chopped dill, to taste
300 g Thomy Mayonnaise Delikatess (easily the best mayonnaise in a jar, with the least sugar! We use home-made mayonnaise that has zero sugar in it, but Thomy is good at a pinch)


Open all tins and prepare the contents by draining well and chopping up. In a large bowl shred the tuna chunks and add the chopped anchovy fillets. Mix well.
Add the well-drained crab meat chunks, the chopped seafood highlighter and chopped prawns. Mix well.
Add the capers, chopped cornichons, lime juice, olive oil, dill and seasonings, mixing well.
Fold in the mayonnaise, using a little more or less so that it binds all the ingredients together.
Chill for about 30 minutes and serve.

The success of the salad depends on using ingredients that contain no added sugar. Most mayonnaise in a jar is sickly sweet, as are the dill gherkins. The sweet taste combined with the seafood can ruin the salad, which should be slightly tart, savoury and pleasantly peppery, not hot.

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Thursday 25 December 2014


Christmas Day, today in Melbourne was a delight weather-wise. It was fine and sunny, warm not hot and the blue skies were punctuated now and then by white clouds that promised a rainy night, as it happened. A walk in the morning down to the Parklands proved to be a wonderful start to the day.

Our Christmas was a quiet family affair, spent indoors with music, good food and wine and thankfully gentle spirits. I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed a day like today, full of peace, joy and good cheer. To all my friends, here at Google Blogger I wish you all the best for the Festive Season! 

Merry Christmas; Καλά Χριστούγεννα - Kalá Christoúyenna; Joyeux Noël; Feliz Navidad; Buon Natale; Nadolig Llawen; Nollaig faoi shean; God Jul; Glückliches Weihnachten; Gelukkige Kerstmis; Feliz Natal!

An extended quote of the day today that to me delivers the message of Christmas so well…

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
New Testament; 1 Corinthians  XIII.

Tuesday 23 December 2014


“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” - Luke 2:10

Well, it’s beginning to feel like Christmas, at long last. Yesterday, we had the Christmas decorations out and by late evening everything was up. The lights are lit, the wreaths and trees and balls send out a message of good cheer, while the holly and the mistletoe hark back to our European heritage of a wintry Christmas, although here in the Antipodes we had a top of 30˚C today! It’s interesting how here in Australia, we have preserved the Christmas traditions almost completely intact and it is only relatively recently that we are adapting to the climate and the summer celebration of Christmas.

Christmas as a Christian celebration came to supplant a pagan festival and customs relating to the ancient cults and gods were syncretised with the Christian ritual in order to absorb securely as many as possible of the new converts to Christianity. The Dies Natalis Invicti Solis was an ancient Roman festival more of a religious nature and thus important to priests predominantly. It was the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun and marked an important date on the calendar of the cult of Mithras.

The Mithraic cult was one of the chief pagan competitors to Christianity. Mithras was a sun god and his birthday fell close to the winter solstice, when the days began to lengthen and the sun once again appeared unconquered. The Christian tradition absorbed this festival and also that of the Saturnalia, thus attracting many pagans but re-interpreting their mythology according to more appropriate Christian symbolology.

Another winter solstice festival that became absorbed into Christmas was that of Yule or Jol, celebrated especially in the North, wherever the Norse pantheon held sway. Jolnir was another name for Odin, the chief god, the Norse equivalent of Zeus or Jupiter. Odin was the god of ecstasy and intoxicating drink, but also the god of death. The sacrificial beer of Odin became the blessed Christmas beer of the middle ages and also survives in the wassail cup of “lamb’s wool”.  The feasting that occurred during Yuletide also included providing food and drink for the ghosts that roamed the earth around this time (Finnish Christmas Eve tradition).  Bonfires were lit and this tradition has survived in the form of the yule log.  The Christmas tree tradition is essentially a Germanic one that may hail back to the Norse legend of Yggdrasil, the great tree on whose branches rested the universe. 

            The ivie and holly berries are seen,
            And Yule Log and Wassaile come round agen.
            At Christmas play, and make good cheer,
            For Christmas comes but once a year.
                                     Thomas Tusser (ca 1520-1580).

Appropriately, the word for the day is: “Christmas

Christmas |ˈkrisməs| noun ( pl. -mases |ˌkrɪsməsəz|)
the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ's birth, held on December 25.
• the period immediately before and after December 25: We had guests over Christmas.
Exclamation, informal: Expressing surprise, dismay, or despair.
Christmassy |-məsē| |ˌkrɪsməsi| adjective
ORIGIN: Old English Crīstes mæsse (see Christ , Mass ).

Christ |krīst| noun

The title, also treated as a name, given to Jesus of Nazareth.
Exclamation: An oath used to express irritation, dismay, or surprise.
before Christ full form of BC .
Christhood |-ˌhoŏd| |ˌkraɪstˈhʊd| noun
Christlike |-ˌlīk| |ˌkraɪs(t)ˈlaɪk| adjective
Christly |ˌkraɪs(t)li| adjective
ORIGIN: Old English Crīst, from Latin Christus, from Greek Khristos, noun use of an adjective meaning ‘anointed,’ from khriein ‘anoint,’ translating Hebrew māšīaḥ ‘Messiah.’




“Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.” - Samuel Butler

There is a passage in C.S. Lewis’s book “The Silver Chair” where Eustace and Jill (the children who are transported by magic to Narnia, the land of Aslan) find themselves amongst giants. They are mollycoddled and made much of, fed all manners of things delicious and made as comfortable as possible. All seems to be delightful and they enjoy their sojourn there until they discover a giants’ cookery book that has this in it:
“MAN: This elegant little biped has long been valued as a delicacy. It forms the traditional part of the Autumn Feast, and is served between the fish and the joint. Each man...”

When I first read this as a child I felt a shiver of morbid fascination and abhorrence down my spine. I imagined myself in the place of poor Eustace and Jill, being fattened by giants so that I would be part of a rare and gastronomically delightful course in the Autumn Feast banquet. Cannibalism fascinates us and at the same time strikes us as the utmost indication of barbaric behaviour. Yes most of us think nothing of biting into a delicious ham sandwich, or a juicy steak or a serving of coq-au-vin.

The art of dining has been elevated to an exquisite art form and all manner of exotic ingredients are combined with the staples from the garden, the vegetable patch, the orchard and of course the farmyard to concoct delicious dishes to tempt even the most jaded palate. Vegetarians are few and far between, although the percentage of vegetarians in Western countries is on the increase (about 1% of Western populations would be classed as strict vegetarians – see this interesting [though dated] article:

For our literary Tuesday today, I offer you a book that is a veritable bible for vegetarians and animal activists, as it considers the plight of farm animals – animals raised for the sole purpose of providing food for humans. The book is “The Pig who Sang to the Moon” by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (2003). He argues convincingly that farm animals have feelings and consciousness. Intelligence and curiosity, self reliance and humour, sociability and bravery, grief and dignity are hardly the words that would immediately spring to our mind to describe goats and pigs, cows and chickens; however, Masson demonstrates that these emotions and attributes are evident in these ‘lowly’ animals.

In his 300-page book, Masson devotes each chapter to an animal: Cow, pig, chicken, sheep/goat, duck, etc and examines through history, literature, anecdotes, scientific studies and his own personal experience the way that we describe these creatures as “dumb beasts without feelings” is completely wrong. We all have immense sympathy for companion animals and pets like cats and dogs. We would think it enormously inhumane and barbaric to kill cats and dogs for food, but most of us would not blink an eyelid at eating a ham sandwich. However, pigs are cleaner than dogs and easier to housetrain, of all animals their physiology and flesh is most like ours, they are incredibly friendly and will curiously follow us all day, more so than our pet cats. In fact, “mini” pigs have been successfully adopted as pets by some people.

Masson’s position in his book is that farm animals that have been specifically bred for our table fare are living in a completely artificial environment (in some cases analogous to a medieval prison in human terms). These animals find themselves struggling to cope in an environment that is all wrong for them. The specific instinctual behaviours that these animals carry in their genes do not have a chance of being expressed in these wrong environments. They have been unable to adapt as adaptation takes hundreds of thousands of years and we have domesticated them for only thousands of years. How can a cow that is separated from her calf immediately it is born and bred to be milked by a machine daily, carry out the incredibly tender and loving rearing of her young that we see in wild cattle? How can a battery hen luxuriate in an obviously enjoyable dust bath that the free range chicken can? How can a pig be curious and companionable and clever if it is confined to an indoor “factory farm” sty and never sees the light of day in its life?

This is a book that will elicit gut-wrenching emotion from most of its readers, as it really does pack a punch in the stomach (both puns are intended!). Masson describes a harsh and brutal reality (and yes, the truth is bitter), but he is also optimistic about the way that some enlightened farmers go out of their way to make an environment that is more pleasant for the animals they rear, seeing that we are unable to completely do away with farm animals.

To be a devil’s advocate, Masson does fling some wild hypotheses around in his book (which are not substantiated or even argued through logically). He can become emotional over what he discusses and tugs at our heartstrings rather than the intellect in places. He can jump around from topic to topic without much connection or the rigour of a scientific paper. He often preaches from his self-righteous pulpit and can be extremely negative about some things (for example, arguing that even when raising chickens humanely in a free range farm, it is immoral to take their eggs from them).

Nevertheless, when we consider that 10 billion farm animals are killed for human consumption annually in the USA alone, Masson’s book is extremely thought-provoking. We have known for hundreds of years that we don’t need to eat animals to survive (vegetarians and vegans have lived long healthy lives throughout recorded history). Increasing evidence shows that vegans live a longer and healthier life than others. Gandhi said: “…first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight with you, then you win.” Masson closes his book by suggesting a variety of ways that we can help the plight of farm animals (not necessarily by becoming a vegetarian or a vegan).

Jeff Masson’s other books on animals are also worth looking at:
“When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals”
“The Emperor’s Embrace: Reflections on Animal Families and Fatherhood”
“Dogs Never Lie About Love: The Emotional World of Dogs”
“The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats: A Journey Into the Feline Heart” 

Monday 22 December 2014


“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honour. - Aristotle

We have had some bushfires already here in Victoria, so the fire season has officially started. This is always an important issue every Summer in Australia, and as the season progresses we dread the news of highly destructive bushfires breaking out and causing loss of bushland, homes or even worse, lives. I think with gratitude of the dedicated people that fight fires, which in the countryside are often volunteers of the Country FireAuthority. They do much to educate the public, prevent fires through clearing and back-burning, and if there are fires, doing their utmost to save properties and lives.

So for Movie Monday a film that I have watched and has fires and firefighting as a theme. The bravery and self-sacrifice of firefighters is something that we seem to forget or push to the back of our minds until a time of crisis. However, these people can be called upon to put their lives at risk on a daily basis in order to save others’ lives, property and uphold social order during times where most of us would crack under immense physical and psychological strain.

The film is Ron Howard’s 1991 Backdraft. This could easily have been a film where overacting, over-the-top special effects and heavy-handed directing were the way that things could have turned out. However, despite what the detractors say, the film is satisfying, the performances are good and the directing is excellent. The plot revolves around sibling rivalry and unresolved psychological problems from the past, but overall, I feel, it is a tribute to firemen and a way of saying thank you to these men on whom we rely so much in times of catastrophe and when emergencies threaten our very lives.

The film immerses us in the lives of two firefighters, the brothers McCafferty, Stephen and Brian. The younger (and now rookie fireman) Brian, watched his firefighter father die in a fire when a child. Stephen, the older is in the force and in the same station as Brian. The two brothers have had a hard time seeing eye to eye and the conflict between them is inflamed by working together. A series of suspicious blazes begin to occur and each has been set in order to kill someone. Brian starts to investigate the suspected arson and this seems to cause more friction between himself and his brother.

Robert De Niro, Kurt Russell, William Baldwin and Donald Sutherland give good performances and as it is to be suspected, the female roles in the film are rather underplayed and of secondary importance. The special effects are effective and keep one on the edge of the seat. A subplot involving political corruption is an essential part of the movie and underpins the action at several key points. The script could have been tighter, but still the movie works. This is certainly a film that is worth seeing.