Saturday 20 June 2015


“The difference between a violin and a viola is that a viola burns longer.” - Victor Borge

Viola jokes are a category of jokes directed against violas and viola players. The jokes are thought to have originated from the 18th century when the part of the viola was very uncomplicated and often just a filler part, thus attracting musicians who were not usually very talented either musically or intellectually. Another reason is that viola players were often previously violinists who were not particularly talented and are therefore asked to play the viola, as violin parts are often more demanding. This led to a generally lower standard of violists, which meant that jokes were made about them.

In Italy in the early 1700s, the following story occurred and it is thought that it was the origin of many viola jokes despite being a true story: The violinist Francesco Geminiani arrived in London in 1714, one of the many expatriate musicians who settled in England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. As a young man Geminiani was appointed head of the orchestra in Naples, where according to English music historian Charles Burney he was “so wild and unsteady a timist, that instead of regulating and conducting the band, he threw it into confusion”, and was demoted to playing the viola.

The jokes come in many different forms. Some of them are only understandable to musicians and people acquainted with musical terms, while others are meant to be understood for everyone, regardless of their musical knowledge. Some jokes make fun of the viola itself while others make fun of violists, while some jokes are in fact directed the opposite direction, effectively jokes to musicians who tell viola jokes.

Jokes aside, the viola is a beautiful instrument. It is generally strung with heavier strings than the violin. This, combined with its larger size and lower pitch range, results in a deeper and mellower tone. However, the thicker strings also mean that the viola speaks more slowly. Practically speaking, if a violist and violinist are playing together, the violist must begin moving the bow a fraction of a second sooner than the violinist. The thicker strings also mean that more weight must be applied with the bow to make them speak. The sound of the viola is a beautiful alto, rich and sweet like caramel.

Music that is written for the viola differs from that of most other instruments, in that it primarily uses the alto clef, which is otherwise rarely used. Viola music employs the treble clef when there are substantial sections of music written in a higher register. The viola occasionally has a major role in orchestral music. In the earlier part of the 20th century, more composers began to write for the viola, encouraged by the emergence of specialised soloists such as Lionel Tertis. Englishmen Arthur Bliss, York Bowen, Benjamin Dale, and Ralph Vaughan Williams all wrote chamber and concert works for Tertis. William Walton, Bohuslav Martinů and Béla Bartók wrote well-known viola concertos. Paul Hindemith wrote a substantial amount of music for viola. In the latter part of the 20th century a substantial repertoire was produced for the viola.

Here is a lovely concerto for viola. It is Carl Stamitz’s “Viola Concerto in D major”, Op.1, with soloist Ulrich Koch, accompanied by the Collegium Aureum. Carl Philipp Stamitz (Czech: Karel Stamic; baptised 8 May 1745 – 9 November 1801), who changed his given name from Karl, was a German composer of partial Czech ancestry. He was the most prominent representative of the second generation of the Mannheim School. He was the eldest son of Johann Stamitz, a violinist and composer of the early classical era. Born in Mannheim, he received lessons from his father and Christian Cannabich, his father’s successor as leader of the Mannheim orchestra.

Friday 19 June 2015


“Black beans and soy beans are the cornerstones of longevity diets around the world.” - Dan Buettner

Tempeh is a traditional soy product originally from Indonesia. It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form, similar to a very firm vegetarian burger patty. Tempeh is unique among major traditional soy foods in that it is the only one that did not originate from the Sinosphere cuisine. It originated in contemporary Indonesia, and is especially popular on the island of Java, where it is a staple source of protein.

Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but it is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh's fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fibre, and vitamins. It has a firm texture and an earthy flavour, which becomes more pronounced as it ages. Because of its nutritional value, tempeh is used worldwide in vegetarian cuisine, where it is used as a meat analogue. Here is a vegetarian recipe using tempeh.

Tempeh Burgers
200 g tempeh
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Spring onions
1 onion, minced
1/3 cup celery leaves, chopped
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten

Mash the tempeh thoroughly. Add the garlic, finely chopped shallots and onion, celery leaves, pepper and soy sauce. Mix well. Shape into burgers and roll in the breadcrumbs, then in the beaten egg and again in the breadcrumbs. Deep fry for about 5 minutes until crispy brown and serve hot with peanut sauce. A seasonal fresh side salad complements the dish well. For a more gourmet presentation, serve the burger with some béarnaise sauce, steamed asparagus and pumpkin mash.

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Thursday 18 June 2015


“Great abilities produce great vices as well as virtues.” 
Greek Proverb

Greek mythology is a rich storehouse of literature in which mortals, heroes, gods and goddesses interact with monsters, strange creatures and the forces of nature. Amazing metamorphoses abound, tales of bravery and guile, adventure and pathos all blend together to weave a rich tapestry of brilliant pattern and matchless colour.

Apollo was the ancient Greek god of the sun, light, the arts and more specifically of music. Athena was the virgin goddess of wisdom and of righteous battle. One of the legends that concerns these two gods is that of the hapless Marsyas. One day Athena, having time on her hands, was whittling deer bones and her ingenuity contrived on them the first long flute (or in some versions of the myth an oboe). She was so proud of her invention, that she came with her oboe to the banquet of the gods on Mont Olympus to play for them.

Aphrodite and Hera, the two beautiful goddesses of Olympus, seeing Athena’s cheeks puffed out, mocked her exquisite playing and called her ugly. Athena left in anger and came to a spring in Mount Ida to view herself in the water. She blew her oboe and looked at herself in the water of the spring, understanding why she was mocked: Her face was puffed up and red with the effort of the blowing. Disgusted, she threw away the oboe, vowing that whoever picked it up would be severely punished.

Marsyas was a rustic Phrygian satyr who found Athena’s discarded oboe. He became extremely skilled in its playing and the forests rang out with his beautiful melodies. People and animals were enchanted with his music and he was quite proud of himself, daring to say he played even better than the god of music himself, Apollo, could play his lyre. In his hubris, Marsyas dared to challenge Apollo to a musical contest, the conditions of which were that the victor should do what he pleased with the vanquished.

Apollo incensed with Marsyas bragging and grave insult, agreed to the contest. When King Midas of Phrygia (of golden touch fame!), who had been appointed judge, declared in favour of Marsyas, Apollo punished Midas by changing his ears into ass’s ears. Marsyas then inevitably lost and was flayed alive by the god for his presumption. The rustic gods then transformed him into a stream. Thus was Marsyas’s arrogance and impiety punished. Furthermore, the myth asserts the superiority of Greek music over Phrygian music and Apollonian spirit over Dionysian passion.

Wednesday 17 June 2015


“It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.” - PopeJohn XXIII

Poets United this week has challenged participating poets to write a poem addressing some aspect of fatherhood. This is in view of the upcoming celebration of Father’s Day in the USA. Here in Australia, we celebrate Father’s Day on the first Sunday of September. Nevertheless, the sentiments are the same never mind what the date of the celebration is! Here is my poem:


A memory:
An album leaf in the book of images of my mind;
A beach, some blue,
The sound of waves breaking.
Bright sun
And the smell of salty water carried by the wind.

Above all else, a firm and loving hand
Holding me tight.

Never again have I felt so safe…

Tuesday 16 June 2015


“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” - Epicurus

Remember Julie Andrews in “Sound of Music” as she burst into full song and listed some of “her favourite things” – things that made her happy? She certainly got the von Trapp children out of their melancholy mood… Isn’t that a wonderful idea, I thought, reflecting on all of those warm and fuzzy things, happy occasions that we experience… We sometimes appreciate them for what they are, but at other times ignore them, or miss them as they pass us by fleetingly, or even worse, we take them for granted. Reflecting on happy experiences makes us appreciate them all the more when they occur, but also they are the stuff of joyous memories, a storehouse of pleasure that we can resort to when we are feeling unhappy.

Epicurus (born 341 BC, Samos, Greece - died 270, Athens) was a Greek philosopher, author of an ethical philosophy of simple pleasure, friendship, and retreat. He founded schools of philosophy that survived directly from the 4th century BC until the 4th century AD. Very often his common sense, humanist views are misunderstood and his name has been perversely associated with the word “epicure” now signifying a person who takes particular pleasure in fine food and drink – a mere gourmet!

This is a gross simplification and distortion of his philosophy. Epicurus stated that pleasures of the mind, as opposed to the coarse pleasures of the body, are the ones to pursue. He taught that the highest pleasure obtainable is the pleasure of tranquillity, which is to be obtained by the removal of unsatisfied wants. The way to do this is to eliminate all but the simplest wants; these are then easily satisfied even by those who are not wealthy. There is difference between eating a simple meal to satisfy one’s hunger and indulging in the finest food and drink in a sumptuous banquet that will jade one’s palate, if carried to excess. What in fact Epicurus said about eating was that it’s not important what we dine on, what is most important is whom we share our meal with…

I am an epicurean at heart, and by that I mean that I embrace Epicurus’ philosophy: I pursue things that are “good”. How do we know if something is good? Epicurus enjoins us to ask if it increases pleasure or if it reduces pain. If it does this, it is good as a means; if it does not, it is not good at all. Thus, for example, to be just is good but is merely useful as it prevents mutual harm. Would we commit an injustice if we could get away with it? No, Epicurus says, because the constant fear of discovery will cause a painful anxiety – not good! Epicurus also glorified friendship, and the Epicureans were famous for the warmth of their personal relationships; but, again, they proclaimed that friendship is good only because of its tendency to create pleasure.

“Freedom from pain in the body and from trouble in the mind” is the ultimate aim of a happy life, Epicurus states. In addition, the wise man must also provide himself with security. This he achieves in two ways: By reducing his needs to a minimum and withdrawing, far from human competition and from the noise of the world, to “live a hidden life”; and by adding the private compact of friendship to the public compact from which laws arise. Epicurus established his philosophical school in his own garden, and he saw his students and friends there, in his home. Even when old and ill, he was still occupied in writing letters of reprimand, guidance, and comfort - announcing his teachings of peace, and (under the name of pleasure), inviting to love one’s fellow human beings.

Epicureanism was adopted by Lucretius who flourished in the first century BC. His name in full was Titus Lucretius Carus. He was a Latin poet and philosopher known for his single, long poem, De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things). The poem is the fullest extant statement of the physical theory of the Epicurus, but it also alludes to his ethical and logical doctrines. A useful book to read if you want to know more of Epicureanism is: “The Philosophy of Epicurus: Letters, Doctrines, and Parallel Passages from Lucretius”, translated by George K. Strodach (1963).

Now, having set the stage, let me populate it with the players in the form of my ten favourite, things that happened to me last week, things that gave me happiness and pleasure, and for which I am deeply grateful:
1. Seeing my eyes reflected in the eyes of my beloved as we held hands and listened to some quiet music, while rain fell outside.
2. Receiving a letter from my sponsored child in India and seeing his smile in the accompanying picture.
3. Coming back home safely after a long drive at night on congested roads and walking into the warm glow of a peaceful house after braving the cold, wet darkness outside, feeling grateful that all had gone well.
4. Enjoying a simple impromptu meal with friends after they called in unexpectedly. Compatible company, pleasant conversation, soft music in the background while we had a crisp garden salad and some freshly-baked savoury scones.
5. Feeling good - not having a health problem, appreciating my wellness of body, spirit and mind.
6. Appreciating my family, around me. Knowing that they are there for me when I need them and vice-versa.
7. Having a useful occupation. Furthermore, an occupation that I enjoy doing and feeling that I am helping a little bit to make the world a better place through my job.
8. Rejoicing in our garden, watching it through the window and appreciating the growth of flowers, vegetables and greenery in it, knowing that I am in the lucky minority around the world, in having one.
9. Receiving an unexpected card in the mail from an ex-student, saying she remembered me now that she is practicing her profession and thanking me for all she learnt with me as it is helping her much now.
10. Receiving some wonderful messages from my friends here on my blog.

What are your 10 favourite happy things that happened to you last week?

Monday 15 June 2015


“There’s no life without humour. It can make the wonderful moments of life truly glorious, and it can make tragic moments bearable.” - Rufus Wainwright

When cleaning my study the other day I found my old copy of PG Wodehouse’s “My Man Jeeves”, which is a collection of short stories, first published in the United Kingdom in May 1919. Of the eight stories in the collection, half feature the popular characters Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, while the others concern Reggie Pepper, an early prototype for Wooster. It was quite amusing now to think that the cleaning was forgotten as I sat leafing through the book and becoming absorbed in re-reading a story and chuckling to myself as the antics of Jeeves and Wooster unfolded in my mind once again…

Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE (15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975) was an English author, and one of the most widely-read humorists of the 20th century. He was born in Guildford, the son of a British magistrate based in Hong Kong. Wodehouse had happy teenage years at Dulwich College, to which he remained devoted all his life. After leaving school he was employed by a bank, but disliked the work and turned to writing in his spare time. His early novels were mostly school stories; he switched to writing comic fiction, creating several regular characters who became familiar to the public over the years. They include the feather-brained Bertie Wooster and his sagacious valet, Jeeves; the immaculate and loquacious Psmith; Lord Emsworth and the Blandings Castle set; the Oldest Member, with stories about golf; and Mr Mulliner, with tall tales on subjects ranging from bibulous bishops to megalomaniac movie moguls.

Which brings me to the subject of Movie Monday. It is the excellent dramatisation of the Jeeves stories in the 1990-1993 TV series “Jeeves and Wooster”. Starring Hugh Laurie as  Bertie Wooster, Stephen Fry as Jeeves,  Robert Daws as Tuppy, and  Mary Wimbush as Aunt Agatha, with a host of other excellent actors the TV series really brings to life Wodehouse’s characters and recreates wonderfully Edwardian times and mores. Fry and Laurie are perfect for their parts and carry the roles off with aplomb and marvellous humour.

The sets, costumes and locations have been rendered perfectly and one becomes absorbed in the times and customs depicted. The halls and manors that Bertie and Jeeves visit become familiar and as new characters are introduced. There are ever new sources of amusing situations, sticky predicaments and storms in teacups that brew and threaten to embroil Bertie into all sorts of trouble. Enter Jeeves, ever dependable, and all becomes calm once again.

The music is another plus and one hears hits of the 1920s as well as one of the most catchy themes, which while fairly repetitive adds to the charm and period atmosphere. Bertie playing the piano and singing actual songs of the period is fun and rounded off a wonderful soundtrack.

Reading Wodehouse’s books of course is the epitome of wit and humour, but the series does not disappoint and perhaps brings the characters and stories to some people who will never read the books. The episodes in the series are a mix of accurate rendition and loose interpretation of the original Wodehouse stories. Overall, a wonderful viewing experience that will have you chuckling and even belly laughing. Watch it!

Sunday 14 June 2015


“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” - Aristotle

Cimabue (1240-1302) was a master Florentine painter and mosaicist, who was a pioneer in the artistic movement towards naturalism in his time. Cimabue introduced three-dimensional designs using the Romanesque approach, with Byzantine models and medieval techniques to create his own style. Cimabue built on existing styles of painting to create more life-like and proportional figures, making subjects more realistic to the viewer. Cimabue may not have received credit for many of the changes in art style at this time, but he was a great contributor and major force of naturalism in art and the realist movement.

There is very little documentation about Cimabue’s early life and training in art. It is thought that Cimabue was born in Florence and died in Pisa, Italy. There are a number of works attributed to Cimabue, however, only one was dated with certainty and that is the mosaic of St. John the Evangelist, created in 1301-1302 in the Pisa Duomo. His first attributed work, the Crucifixion, in the church of San Dominico in Arezzo, was thought to have been created in 1270. In 1280, it is said that he painted the Maesta, now displayed at the Louvre Museum. Cimabue is said to have been a nickname, meaning “bull-headed”. His real name is thought to have been Cenni di Pepi, but he was also known as Bencivieni di Pepo, or Benvenuto di Giuseppe. Because his works were not dated or signed, and many were destroyed by time or natural disaster, Cimabue may not have received the credit which he so deserved. Many of his artworks are still disputed today because of the lack of documentation.

Cimabue was strongly influenced by the Greek Byzantine style, but he introduced his own more natural treatment of these traditional subjects and formal Byzantine style. He was one of the first artists of his time to leave the traditional, somewhat stiff Byzantine style of art, opting to find more beauty in the reality of nature and life. He used soft and natural outlines, with finer portrayal of muscles and bones. These three-dimensional designs exhibited his dramatic and sentimental approach to art. Cimabue worked with egg tempera on panel to create his paintings, but also worked in fresco and mosaic. His subjects were of the crucifixion, saints and apostles, and scenes from the Apocalypse. He used linear perspective, which was later more refined by his pupil Giotto. It is thought that although the Florentine school was attributed to Giotto, it was Cimabue’s style that inspired this movement. Members of the later formed Florentine School, were masters such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Although Cimabue is a somewhat forgotten artist, he set a new direction for art of his time period. Life-like figures, with realistic traits and proportions, were a radical departure from the European artistic tradition of the time. Remaining true to the theme of religious icons, Cimabue introduced realism to his art, anticipating the naturalist movement to come. Cimabue’s Madonna, in the Church of Santa Maria, has been regarded as a marvel of art. Cimabue’s last work, the Large Mosaic of St. John in Pisa Cathedral, was started in 1302, but he died that same year, leaving the altarpiece to be completed by his student Giotto. Cimabue’s style was respected and admired by other artists such as Giotto and Duccio, but was also was a catalyst for the realism movement.

The work above is the fresco “Madonna Enthroned with the Christ Child, St. Francis and Four Angels”, painted about 1280 and found in the Lower Church of St Francis in Assisi. In this large scale (320 × 340 cm) work, one can see Cimabue’s artistry patently. The figures of the Madonna, Christ and saints are beautifully modeled and one appreciates the three-dimensional rendition of the faces and limbs. The poses are more natural and less formal than in the Byzantine icons and even the colours are beginning to assume a more realistic approach so that the eye of the viewer is led into thinking this is a true rendition of a real scene.