Friday 20 February 2015


“Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.” - Aristotle

Eurozone finance ministers agreed in principle on Friday to extend Greece’s financial rescue by four months, averting a potential cash crunch in March that could have forced the country out of the currency area. The deal, to be ratified once Greece’s creditors are satisfied with a list of reforms it will submit next week, ends weeks of uncertainty since the election of a leftist-led government in Athens which pledged to reverse austerity.

European Union paymaster Germany (and Greece’s biggest creditor), had demanded significant improvements in reform commitments by Athens before it would accept an extension of eurozone funding. The two main combatants around the table put a radically different gloss on the result. “Being in government is a date with reality, and reality is often not as nice as a dream”, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters, stressing Athens would get no aid payments until its bailout program was properly completed.

On the other hand, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said the talks had shown elections could bring change to Europe. He insisted he had averted recessionary measures and said the government still hoped to raise the minimum wage and rehire some public sector workers. “Nobody is going to ask us to impose upon our economy and society measures that we don’t agree with”, Varoufakis said.

Given these current affairs, my choice of music for Music Saturday may seem a little ironic… German composer Beethoven writing music about Greece, and more specifically about Athens, in ruins after the Turkish occupation of 400 years.

The Ruins of Athens (Die Ruinen von Athen), Opus 113, is a set of incidental music pieces written in 1811 by Ludwig van Beethoven. The music was written to accompany the play of the same name by August von Kotzebue, for the dedication of a new theatre at Pest. A second overture was written in 1822 for the same play. It was composed especially for the reopening of Vienna’s Theatre in the Josefstadt in 1822. The second overture is now known as “The Consecration of the House”.

Perhaps the best-known music from The Ruins of Athens is the “Turkish March”, a theme that even many who are not avid classical music listeners are familiar with. The overture and the Turkish March are often performed separately, and the other pieces of this set are not often heard. Another of Beethoven’s compositions, “Six variations on an original theme”, Op. 76, uses the Turkish March as its theme. The music for “The Ruins of Athens” was reworked in 1924 by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

Here are the Berliner Konzertchor and Berliner Symphoniker conducted by Hans Hubert Schönzeler, playing “the Ruins of Athens”.

1. Overture, Op. 113, (Andante con moto, G minor - Allegro, ma non troppo, G major)
2. Chorus: Tochter des mächtigen Zeus (Andante poco sostenuto, E-flat major)
3. Duet (a Greek and a Greek girl): Ohne Verschulden Knechtschaft dulden (Andante con moto - Poco piu mosso, G minor)
4. Dervish Chorus: Du hast in deines Ärmels Falten (Allegro, ma non troppo - G major)
5. Turkish March (Vivace - B-flat major)
6. Music from the back of the stage (Allegro assai ma non troppo - C major)
7. March with chorus, Op. 114: Schmückt die Altare (Assai moderato - E-flat major)
8. Recital: Mit reger Freude
9. Chorus: Wir tragen empfängliche Herzen im Busen (Allegretto ma non troppo - G major)
10. Aria and Chorus: Will unser Genius noch einen Wunsch gewähren? (Adagio - C major) Er ist’s! Wir sind erhört! (Allegro con brio - C major)
11. Chorus: Heil unserm König! (Allegro con fuoco - A major).

A translation of the first two vocal pieces below gives you an idea of the tenor of the work:
Daughter of Mighty Zeus! Awake!
Her name resounds!
The years of wrath are past!
We are reconciled!

To suffer slavery, though guiltless, is misery!
Every day new sorrow to get our scrap of bread!
On its branch shines the fig tree’s sweet fruit,
Not for the slave that tended it but for the cursed master!
The people oppressed, bent low by his hand,
Ah! ah! ah! ah!
What has befallen you,
My poor fatherland!


“I’d like to have any sort of Mexican or Italian food any time of the day!” - Brenda Song

This is a dish that I had at a friend’s place a couple of times and which I liked. When I asked for the recipe she said that there wasn’t one and that she improvised with whatever was around at the time. So I took her example and tried it at home with whatever was in the pantry/fridge – with the exception of taco shells and avocados that were bought specially! It was very tasty, so I jotted down the recipe!

Olive oil for frying
250 g chopped mushrooms (morels would be nice!)
1 large onion, chopped
2 capsicums (1 red and 1 green), diced
100g corn kernels
250 g boiled white beans
1 can peeled tomatoes
Pinch curry powder, Tabasco sauce (to taste), mixed herbs
1.5 cups grated tasty cheese
Taco shells
3 cups steamed rice
1/3 cup butter
Sweet paprika powder
1 ripe avocado, diced fresh tomatoes, sour cream

Heat the olive oil in a wok and fry the chopped mushrooms until cooked.  Remove from the pan and drain them.  Brown half of the chopped onion in the oil in which the mushrooms were fried and then add the diced capsicum, corn, beans and tomatoes.  Season with paprika, curry, Tabasco sauce, mixed herbs. Cook thoroughly and add the cooked mushrooms. Heat the butter until it is just beginning to turn golden and add the chopped onion and paprika, until onion is golden. Add the steamed rice, stirring it in.
Arrange the rice on a plate next to a taco shell and spoon the vegie chilli mixture over it. Sprinkle the cheese on the tacos. Garnish with sour cream, avocado slices and diced tomatoes dipped in vinaigrette sauce.

Please add your own favourite recipes using the linky tool below:

Wednesday 18 February 2015


“Yes, we love peace, but we are not willing to take wounds for it, as we are for war.” - John Holmes

The following is an excerpt from a message which a Romanian writer, Constant-Virgil Gheorghiu (1916-1992), sent to the South Korean people in 1972. Gheorghiu was persecuted in his native country for his liberal and anti-totalitarian views and sought refuge in France. His most important work La Vingt-cinquieme Heure is famed throughout the world. In 1974 he visited Korea and gave a lecture to the Korean people. This message originally written in French, was translated into English:

“You have lived through a long history of trials and tribulations, but you are not pitiable losers. Each one of you is the king. Do not forget this. Those of the powerful countries who commit aggression and impose their domination over others may not know that you are the kings.

Those who live in large countries, in the glory of victory, in wealth and boredom may not know the beauty of humanitarian love of those who hold hands and offer their sympathies to each other. They may not know the happiness that is created from hardships.

Have courage. Even the history of hardships could not take away your beautiful poetry, songs, and prayers. You possess the soul that the world has lost.

You, who possess the soul of the king! What you have created are not refrigerators, television sets, or automobiles. What you have created are the everlasting smiles and peace for mankind which could overcome earthly things and shed bright light. What I have said about the east from which the light may come may very well mean the small country of Korea where you live. There should be no surprise if one said that the tomorrow's light will rise from your country of Korea.

It is so because you are the people who have overcome countless hardships and come out victorious from each hardship. You are the people who raised your heads high with bravery, wisdom, and inner strength in the midst of trials and tribulations.”

peace |pēs| noun
1 freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility: You can while away an hour or two in peace and seclusion.
• mental calm; serenity: The peace of mind this insurance gives you.
2 freedom from or the cessation of war or violence: The Straits were to be open to warships in time of peace.
• [in sing. ] a period of this: The peace didn’t last.
• [in sing. ] a treaty agreeing to the cessation of war between warring states: Support for a negotiated peace.
• freedom from civil disorder: Police action to restore peace.
• freedom from dispute or dissension between individuals or groups: The 8.8 percent offer that promises peace with the board.
3 (the peace) a ceremonial handshake or kiss exchanged during a service in some churches (now usually only in the Eucharist), symbolising Christian love and unity. See also kiss of peace.
1 used as a greeting.
2 used as an order to remain silent.
at peace 1 free from anxiety or distress. • dead (used to suggest that someone has escaped from the difficulties of life). 2 in a state of friendliness: A man at peace with the world.
hold one’s peace remain silent about something.
keep the peace refrain or prevent others from disturbing civil order: The police must play a crucial role in keeping the peace.
make peace (or one’s peace) reestablish friendly relations; become reconciled: Not every conservative has made peace with big government.
no peace for the weary = no rest for the weary.
ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French pais, from Latin pax, pac- ‘peace.’

Tuesday 17 February 2015


“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” - May Sarton

Poetry Jam this week has set the theme of Loneliness/Solitude as a prompt for poetic outpourings.

Some people find themselves alone and immediately search for companionship, failing to differentiate between the two strikingly different faces of being alone: The self sufficiency of solitude and the gnawing pain of loneliness. It is a terrible thing when we have no choice in the matter – when we start by enjoying our solitude, but then as it turns into loneliness, we have no recourse to companionship…

Here is my offering:

The Castaway’s Island

the shipwreck

the survivor
–cruel sea!–
the laughing witch
the blue-green island
the ever moving waves
the hypnotising murmurs

the castaway

the solitudes
–gentle sea!–
the kind, lucid days
the island a prison of gold
the sunsets gilded yellow
the twilights violent violet

the shipwreck

the memories
–dark crystal sea!–
the impassive lizard
the island of a ghostly love
the palms battered by the wind
night awakening the shadows

The castaway:

A lonely death…
–Cruel, endless sea!–
Bleached bones on golden sands;
The island solitary, pitiless, self-serving
While on the horizon, deriding hope,
White sails of a ship appear.


“There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read.” - G.K. Chesterton

Although I teach in a medical area, and most of my book-listed material for my subjects comprises books that are related to science, biology and medicine, I often recommend other books for reading to my students, books that are found in the literature section, rather than the medical and science shelves of the Library. These books I think are essential for their education as they concern themselves with social and moral issues, pose important questions about society and people, relationships and human interactions.

Some other books relate to the practice of medicine and how it fits into society. Anyone working in the medical field must have a very broad education and be familiar not only with their science, but also know something of people and the forces that motivate their actions, the emotions that colour their lives, and the thoughts and deeds that ultimately may relate to the diseases they present with.

When discussing HIV infection and AIDS for example, I recommended they read “April Fools Day” by Bryce Courtenay. When I talk about the pathology of birthmarks, I refer to “The Scarlet Pimpernel” by Baroness Orczy, with my tongue in my cheek. “The Plague” by Albert Camus gets more than one mention as not only does it talk about ills of the body but also about sickness in social systems. Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” is an old standard amongst my recommendations and “The Elephant Man” (the play by Bernard Pomerance) is recommended, but read by the odd one or two in my class, while most prefer to watch the movie.

For the romantic and idealistic young things in my classes that wish to change the world, the rather old fashioned novels by A.J. Cronin (physician and author) still appeal. Novels such as “The Citadel” and “Shannon’s Way”, and his short stories “Adventures of a Black Bag”. Similarly old-fashioned, but still an entertaining read is Axel Munthe’s “The Story of San Michele”, which appeals to many of them. Albert Schweitzer’s writings are often on my “unorthodox” reading list, especially his autobiography “Out Of My Life and Thought”. Kafka is recommended to a select few and read by even fewer. Philosophers’ works figure prominently and also some by famous essayists.

Something that I often recommend to them is “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. This is excellent when one is teaching cloning, genetic engineering, in vitro fertilisation, use of fertilised ova in medical research, stem cells, etc. Huxley’s work, wonderfully prophetic (as all good science fiction is) is ever germane.

Huxley wrote “Brave New World” in 1932 and set it in a futuristic society the whole existence of which is based on pleasure without moral repercussions. Eugenics is the novel’s theme and the title is taken from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, where Miranda says, "O brave new world, that hath such people in’t." The novel is replete with references to “free sex” and drugs and this explains why it was consecutively banned in many countries around the world.

Huxley wrote the book after a visit to the USA and in his novel he expressed his outrage towards the culture of youth, inane cheeriness, crass commercialism and parochial nature of many Americans he observed. In many respects, the novel can be regarded as Huxley’s way of ringing the alarm bells against what he saw as the americanisation of British society, and the world at large. His brutal dystopia is extreme and designed to shock, but at the same time is one that poses important moral questions and generates ethical dilemmas in his readers.

Although “Brave New World” was condemned when it was first published, it has since become a modern literary classic. If you haven’t read it, go to your public library and borrow it – an excellent book!

Sunday 15 February 2015


“The pain passes, but the beauty remains.” - Auguste Renoir

We watched a very enjoyable film at the weekend, which was a feast for the eyes and a wonderful respite from the stresses of everyday life. One of those film you sit back, look at and enjoy at a slow pace, relaxing and taking it all in, just quietly. Obviously it was not an action film, nor a thriller, nor an adventure story… It was Gilles Bourdos’ Renoir, starring Michel Bouquet, Christa Théret, Vincent Rottiers, Thomas Doret and Romane Bohringer.

The film is set on the French Riviera in the summer of 1915, where famous impressionist painter Auguste Renoir is in his dotage. He is still painting, however, and as was his custom still surrounding himself with beautiful young women who look after him in his country house on his estate. It is WWI, and his two eldest sons, Pierre and Jean (Vincent Rottiers), are at war, while his youngest, Claude – “Coco” (Thomas Doret), just a boy, plays around the estate, claiming to be an orphan (his mother dead and his father an old man). Out of the blue, a beautiful young woman (Christa Theret) comes to the estate, wishing to model for Renoir. Her beauty inspires the old man and he immediately engages her to be his model.

Jean Renoir arrives home and begins an affair with the model, Andrée Heuschling (who by-the-by, would later change her name to Catherine Hessling and star in many of Jean Renoir’s early films). The film looks at the relationships between all family members as Jean’s affair with Andrée progresses, as the elderly Renoir continues to paint and wisely offers advice to all around him.

The movie is beautifully shot and the cinematography by Ping Bin Lee is to die for. The gorgeous landscapes of Provence, the interiors, the exterior shots and the women could all be paintings by Renoir. The wonderful light of the Midi is captured wonderfully, as are the amazing landscapes. Alexandre Desplat provides an understated but lush score that complements the action very well. The plot is thin but maintains the viewer’s interest and there is enough action to keep one’s mind on the movie for its 112 minutes of run time. The acting is excellent throughout and the cast is extremely well-chosen – anyone familiar with Renoir paintings and family photographs will agree on that score. Michel Bouquet as the elderly, arthritic and cranky artist is magnificent.

This is a film worth seeing, especially if you are interested in art. It is based on historical fact, and suggesting what motivated the younger Renoir to become the extraordinary film-maker that he became. France submitted this film for the Academy Awards as Best Foreign Film (it didn’t win), and it also received a host of other nominations, but in the end succeeded in winning only one César Award for the best costume design.

It is a slow-moving, but satisfying film, with subtle humour, a lot of wryness and much heart-felt emotion. Don’t expect twists and turns, great drama, gun battles, explosions and special effects. Be prepared to be transported to an older, quieter, gentler time where people, however, still felt the same intense passions and emotions, and were beset by the same psychological problems we still face today.


“Impressionism is the newspaper of the soul.” - Henri Matisse

Thomas William “Tom” Roberts (9 March 1856 – 14 September 1931) was a prominent Australian artist and a key member of the Heidelberg School of Australian Impressionists. Roberts was born in Dorchester, Dorset, England, where his parents were newspaper editors, and he migrated with his family to Australia in 1869 to live with relatives. Settling in Collingwood, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, he worked as a photographer’s assistant through the 1870s while studying art at night under Louis Buvelot and befriending others who were to become prominent artists, notably Frederick McCubbin.

He returned to England for three years of full-time art study at the Royal Academy Schools from 1881 to 1884. Through the 1880s and 1890s he worked in Victoria, in his studio at the famous studio complex of Grosvenor Chambers at 9 Collins Street in Melbourne, and at a number of artists’ camps and visits around the colony. He married 35-year-old Elizabeth (Lillie) Williamson in 1896, and they had a son, Caleb. Many of his most famous paintings come from this period.

Roberts was an expert maker of picture frames, and during the period 1903–1914, when he painted relatively little, much of his income apparently came from this work. He spent World War I in England assisting at a hospital. In Australia, he built a house at Kallista, near Melbourne. This was a particularly productive and happy period in Roberts’ life. Elizabeth died in January 1928, and Tom remarried, to Jean Boyes, in August 1928. He died in 1931 of cancer in Kallista near Melbourne. He is buried near Longford, Tasmania.

Roberts painted a considerable number of fine oil landscapes and portraits, some painted at artist camps with his friend McCubbin, but perhaps his most famous works, in his time, were two large works, the iconic “Shearing the Rams” (posted above) and the monumental “The Big Picture”. Shearing the Rams, based on a visit to a sheep station (large farm) at Brocklesby in southern New South Wales, depicted the wool industry that had been Australia’s first export industry and a staple of rural life. At the time it was exhibited, it was criticised because many critics did not feel that it fitted the definition of ‘high art’. However, since the wool industry was Australia’s greatest export industry at the time, it was a theme which many Australian people could identify with. The painting showed a view of the shearing sheds, which was not in some cases realistic. Shearing would probably have been much messier; for instance the shearer on the left has picked the ram up to move it, when normally it would have been dragged backwards. Roberts loved this theme because it valued the work of ordinary Australian people.

He made many other paintings showing country people working, with a similar image of the shearing sheds in “The Golden Fleece”, a drover racing after sheep breaking away from the flock in “A break away!”, and with men chopping trees in “Wood splitters”. Many of Roberts’ paintings were landscapes or ideas done on small canvases that he did very quickly, such as his exhibits at the famous “9 by 5 Impression Exhibition” in Melbourne, “9 by 5” referring to the size in inches of the cigar box lids which most of the paintings were done on. Roberts had more works on display in this exhibition than anyone else. Many of the paintings had humorous touches and anecdotes, showing Roberts’ sense of humour.

The Big Picture”, a depiction of the first sitting of the Parliament of Australia, was an enormous work, very notable for the event depicted as well as the quality of Roberts’ work. Many examples of Roberts’ work can be seen at the National Gallery of Australia, but “The Big Picture” is displayed at Parliament House, Canberra. Whilst in Sydney, Roberts met Charles Conder and the two became friends, painting together at Coogee beach. Roberts’ time in Sydney proved extremely influential on the young artist, and Conder followed him to Melbourne later that year to join the group of artist friends at Heidelberg.

Roberts’ life was dramatised in the 1985 mini series “One Summer Again”.