Saturday 18 July 2015


“The violin sings.” - Joshua Bell

Giuseppe Torelli (22 April 1658 – 8 February 1709) was an Italian violist, violinist, teacher, and composer. Torelli is most remembered for his contributions to the development of the instrumental concerto, especially concerti grossi and the solo concerto, for strings and continuo, as well as being the most prolific Baroque composer for trumpets.

Torelli was born in Verona. It is not known with whom he studied violin though it has been speculated that he was a pupil of Leonardo Brugnoli or Bartolomeo Laurenti, but it is certain that he studied composition with Giacomo Antonio Perti. On 27 June 1684, at the age of 26, he became a member of the Accademia Filarmonica as suonatore di violino.

On 1687 Giuseppe Corsi da Celano, played Torelli’s music, from Op. 3, in Parma at the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata. By 1698 he was maestro di concerto at the court of Georg Friedrich II, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, where he conducted the orchestra for “Le pazzie d’ amore e dell’ interesse”, an idea drammatica composed by the maestro di cappella, and the castrato Francesco Antonio Pistocchi, before leaving for Vienna in December 1699.

He returned to Bologna sometime before February 1701, when he is listed as a violinist in the newly re-formed cappella musicale at San Petronio, directed by his former composition teacher Perti. He died in Bologna in 1709, where his manuscripts are conserved in the San Petronio archives. Giuseppe’s brother, Felice Torelli, was a Bolognese painter of modest reputation, who went on to be a founding member of the Accademia Clementina. The most notable amongst Giuseppe’s many pupils was Francesco Manfredini.

Here are Catherine Weiss (violin); Crispian Steele-Perkins (trumpet); David Blackadder (trumpet) and the Collegium Musicum conducted by Simon Standage playing some concerti by Torelli:
Concerto for two violins, Op. 8 No. 2 in A minor (0:00)
Concerto for violin, Op. 8 No. 8 in C minor (6:56)
Sinfonia for trumpet in D major; G 8 (13:44)
Concerto for two violins, Op. 8 No. 5 in G major (18:59)
Concerto for two violins, Op. 8 No. 6 in G minor in forma di Pastorale per il Santissimio Natale (26:37)
Concerto for two trumpets in D major (32:49)
Concerto for two violins, Op. 8 No. 4 in B flat major 39:01
Concerto grosso for violin, Op. 8 No. 11 in F major 48:21
Sinfonia for two trumpets in D major G 23; in D major (58:40)
Concerto for violin, Op. 8 No. 9 in E minor (1:05:37)

Friday 17 July 2015


“We don’t walk. We overeat because we’ve made it easy to overeat. We have fast-food joints on every corner. By the way, the ‘we’ is all of us. It’s not the government. It’s all of us doing this together.” - Mehmet Oz

Some days there is no time to cook and while the belly is rumbling, one has to raid the fridge and put together something simple and satisfying rather than reach for the phone and order take aways.

This is a fast-food favourite, and provided one has the magic ingredients on hand it can be made as gourmet as one wishes. A green salad fresh from the garden usually accompanies this. And it is really more healthful than a lot of other fast food!

4 English muffins (or 8 slices of multigrain bread)
Olive oil
Sliced smoked leg ham
Sliced tasty cheese
Sliced tomatoes
1 tub of spring onion dip
French mustard
Salt and pepper

Slice muffins in half and spread liberally with olive oil. On one half spread some French mustard and lay ham slices on it. Add the cheese slices and tomato. Season with pepper and salt. On the other half, spread some spring onion dip and close the sandwich. Toast or grill until muffin is golden and cheese has melted.

One can also substitute the muffins with wholemeal bread or with flatbread, in the latter case making wraps around the filling. The wraps can then be put in the oven or griller to cook.

Use the Linky tool below to add your own favourite recipes:

Thursday 16 July 2015


“Just living is not enough... one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” - Hans Christian Andersen

Nymphaeaceae is a family of flowering plants. Members of this family are commonly called water lilies and live as rhizomatous aquatic herbs in temperate and tropical climates around the world. The family contains eight large-flowered genera with about 70 species. The genus Nymphaea contains about 35 species in the Northern Hemisphere. The genus Victoria contains two species of giant water lilies endemic to South America.

Water lilies are rooted in soil in bodies of water, with leaves and flowers floating on the surface. The leaves are round, with a radial notch in Nymphaea and Nuphar, but fully circular in Victoria. Water lilies are a well-studied clade of plants because their large flowers with multiple unspecialised parts were initially considered to represent the floral pattern of the earliest flowering plants, and later genetic studies confirmed their evolutionary position as basal angiosperms.

Analyses of floral morphology and molecular characteristics and comparisons with a sister taxon, the family Cabombaceae, indicate, however, that the flowers of extant water lilies with the most floral parts are more derived than the genera with fewer floral parts. Genera with more floral parts, Nuphar, Nymphaea, Victoria, have a beetle pollination syndrome, while genera with fewer parts are pollinated by flies or bees, or are self- or wind-pollinated. Thus, the large number of relatively unspecialised floral organs in the Nymphaeaceae is not an ancestral condition for the clade.

Horticulturally water lilies have been hybridised for temperate gardens since the nineteenth century, and the hybrids are divided into three groups: Hardy, night-blooming tropical, and day-blooming tropical water lilies. Hardy water lilies are hybrids of Nymphaea species from the subgenus Castalia; night-blooming tropical water lilies are developed from the subgenus Lotos; and the day-blooming tropical plants arise from hybridisation of plants of the subgenus Brachyceras.

The flower is named after the Nymphae, water nymphs of classical mythology.  In German folklore, the lilies are water nymphs that have transformed themselves into flowers to escape the advances of lustful males.  The flower is symbolic of chastity, silence and purity.  The flowers are spotlessly pure even if they emerge from the murkiest waters. Numerous cultivars of the various species are known, ranging in colour from white, cream, through yellow, orange, pink, red, mauve and blue. Astrologists claim the water lily is under the rule of the moon.

Wednesday 15 July 2015


“I am a part of everything that I have read.” John Kieran

I have been rather busy these last few days and have had to revise my daily schedule several times. Today, I offer you a short story that I wrote several years ago, in response to a challenge that involved writing a story with the requirement that it begin with the last line from a favourite books. I chose as my first line, the last sentence in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”, which ends: “In Pace Requiescat!” Now, read on!

In Pace Requiescat! On the gravestone a sad memorial, the letters eroded and barely legible. The filmy curtain of falling rain makes the task of reading the inscription even more difficult, the twilight seeming to be darker and gloomier in the moisture-laden air. As the heavens weep, the gentle sound of rain is a distraction, further lessening the sharpness of vision. A sudden noise behind him. Was that a twig breaking? He looks back. Nothing. Only the massive outlines of the cypresses around the cemetery looking at him threateningly - an army of cyclopean dimensions ready to attack. And yet, they stand firm. His jaw clenches tightly.

He stands motionless and looks at the grave, one of many, so many, in the old cemetery. He sighs and despite his urgency he stands his ground and scans the graveyard, struggling to read the faint inscriptions of more gravestones ahead. Time, he needs more time. This will never do. He will not be able to find the grave in time. His hand tears down a creeper that obscures the lettering on a stone. The darkness steals upon him with each passing moment and he kneels to decipher the inscription. Not this one, either. He blinks to free his eyes of rain that clings to his eyelashes and as if they are tears, the drops run down his cheeks.

The sodden earth sticks to his boots as he strides forth to the next group of memorial stones. They rise from the ground as if bleak bystanders turned to rock. His gloved fingers brush away cobwebs that have captured a myriad diamond-like raindrops and he stoops to read. Lichens and moss further hamper the task of making out the old writing on the dark grey stone. Laura… Could this be what he searches for? A ray of hope is lit in the darkness of his heart of hearts. A weight seems to be lifting, but as he clears the lichen away the caption of another life long gone is revealed: Wife of Thomas, here interred… He sighs and sinks into despondency again. Time – time is running out as the last failing light is giving way to night.

Another sharp sound behind him makes him rise and turn abruptly. A shadow dashes into the dark yews, becoming part of them. A faint susurration merges with the sound of dripping rain and quietly disappears as if a snake were disturbed and slowly slithers away. They will be here soon! Time! He runs to the next grave, a large crypt, its gaping maws black and menacing through the half-open grille of the ironwork gate. In the murky wetness he looks up to see what name is graven on the ancient stone, as he pulls down an obscuring creeper: Wexway… This is it! This is the name he searches for! Behind him shadows move, and a fetid odour mixes with the cold dampness of the moist earth smell. Wet moss and decayed wood. He ignores the approaching noise and dashes into the tomb, slamming the gate behind him. He looks for a latch, a lock, and finds a bolt that he draws shut securely. Fiery eyes regard him from the gathering darkness outside and the hissing sounds are clearly heard through the fainter sounds of rain.

He takes a tinderbox from his greatcoat pocket and strikes. The sparks fly ineffectually and he strikes again, this time a flame jumping up. It burns brilliantly and he lights the lantern that he had concealed in his knapsack. The hissing outside increases in volume and the fiery eyes move a little more distantly. He looks around, shaking the rain off him. The tomb is so quiet after the drone of the rain outside. The smell of death and seeming aeons of decay assails his senses and the oppressive weight of stone above him makes him shudder. There is a stairway hewn into the rock ahead leading downwards. The gloom below impenetrable, his lantern light too weak to penetrate the depths. Resolutely he descends. This must be done!

The flickering light of his lantern plays upon the rough walls and shadows dance as he descends the steps. The hissing above him mixes with banging sounds on the ironwork of the gate. It must hold fast! He hurries downwards and enters the burial chamber, his lantern a promise of hope and salvation in the dank shadows that surround him. A dais made of stone is in the centre of the chamber and on it a sarcophagus. This must be she! Laura! The banging on the doorway upstairs echoes down the steps into the chamber. The furious hissing sounds rise in frustration as the doorway remains shut. He breathes heavily as he approaches the platform and his heart all but stops.

On the stone of the cover, her name is carved in simple letters: “Laura”. His Laura? His eyes well up and hot tears stream down his face. They drop heavily on the stone. He hastily wipes them away and rests the lantern on a ledge opposite him. The flame flickers and then begins to burn more steadily. How can she be lying here dead when only last night they spent the night together? No, it cannot be. This is some trickery, the old man was wrong. He misled him. Even if this is her coffin, even if it is his Laura’s coffin, surely it must be empty… He must look inside. Make sure.

He takes the iron bar from his knapsack and he hesitates only a little, aware of the rapid beating of his heart and his raspy breath. Outside the hissing has not stopped and still a thwarted bang echoes on the ironwork. He grasps the iron bar firmly and he prises the tip under the lid. With great effort and a harsh sound, stone grinds against stone and slowly the lid begins to shift. He stops as a thought grips like a vice his whole being. What if she is here, lying motionless within this tomb? His mind echoes with a silent scream that his heart lets out. Laura cannot be here. He pushes the lid determined and it crashes to the floor, breaking and raising a veil of dust. The sounds from above are silenced momentarily and as he opens his eyes he looks inside the coffin.

A white shroud encloses the shape of what could only be a corpse. The cloth shines out in the darkness as if it were phosphorescent. He extends his trembling hand to touch but lightly and withdraws it, as though the winding sheet were white hot. His heart races, as his breath comes out roughly, gasping. His hand slowly extends towards the shroud once again. What would he do if his eyes beheld what he could not bare to see? What if this body were to be Laura, his beloved? Then he had to commit an act that he cannot bear even to contemplate. Laura!

The noises upstairs have started again, this time with the enraged energy that frustration breeds. He glances towards the stairs and then with one swift movement drags the shroud away from the coffin. His blood freezes. Laura in all her beauty is lying there, serene, as though asleep. Her dark, shining hair, her beautiful face, her red full lips… He whimpers and he knows it all is true. The noises up the stairs have reached a fever pitch. Her creatures are almost upon him. He brushes away hot tears and with rapid motion takes a wooden stake and mallet from his knapsack. Her eyelids part and her eyes regard him with a strangely vacuous stare. This must be done, and then In Pace Requiescat

Tuesday 14 July 2015


“O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world That has such people in’t!” - William Shakespeare (The Tempest Act 5, scene 1, 181–184)

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is about to reveal to us earthlings a new alien world for the first time. At 7:49 am ET today, the probe became the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto, our solar system’s outermost dwarf planet. This is a historic day for astronomy and science, but also for all people who are curious about our universe, life and everything…

New Horizons has been en route for the last nine years, travelling more than 3 billion miles. The flyby was over in a matter of minutes, as the probe frantically took hundreds of photos and collected data on Pluto’s atmosphere, geology, and moons. All this data will be enormously valuable to scientists as they seek to understand our solar system and how it formed billions of years ago.

New Horizons embodies a fundamental characteristic of our curious, rational species: Our urge for exploration, our desire to see a new world simply because it’s there. It represents the best of humanity, the heights of what we can accomplish through ingenuity, focus, and cooperation. More than anything, this mission is about broadening our horizons — taking in just a little bit more of the impossibly vast universe we live in.

It’s hard to really comprehend how far away Pluto truly is from us. If we think of Earth as a basketball, comparatively speaking, Pluto would be just a little larger than a golf ball. To keep to the planetary scale in our analogy, we’d have to put that golf ball incredibly far away: 80 to 130 km (depending on its location in orbit)! This goes to show how vast even our own little corner of the universe is…

Pluto was discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh in 1930 and was originally considered the ninth planet from the Sun. After 1992, its status as a planet fell into question following the discovery of the Kuiper belt, a ring of objects beyond Neptune that includes Pluto among other large bodies. In 2005, Eris, which is 27% more massive than Pluto, was discovered, which led the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to define the term “planet” formally for the first time the following year. This definition excluded Pluto and reclassified it as a member of the new ‘dwarf planet” category (and specifically as a plutoid). Some astronomers believe Pluto should still be considered a planet.

Pluto has five known moons: Charon (the largest, with a diameter just over half that of Pluto), Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Pluto and Charon are sometimes considered a binary system because the barycenter of their orbits does not lie within either body. The IAU has not formalised a definition for binary dwarf planets, and Charon is officially classified as a moon of Pluto.

As the new high resolution images of Pluto trickle in in a few hours, watch and learn, wonder and ponder, speculate and surmise! A rare glimpse into the bottomless pit of creation, a taste of eternity, a wild beauty, and an awe-inspiring view of primordial mysteries. Pluto is part of our solar system, a neighbouring world, an alien planet that nevertheless is built of the same cosmic dust that we are built of.

Sunday 12 July 2015


“Although for some people the cinema means something superficial and glamorous, it is something else. I think it is the mirror of the world.” - Jeanne Moreau

Omar Sharif (born Michel Demitri Chalhoub; 10 April 1932 – 10 July 2015) was an Egyptian actor. He began his career in his native country in the 1950s, but is best known for his appearances in both British and American productions. His films included “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “Doctor Zhivago” (1965) and “Funny Girl” (1968). He was nominated for an Academy Award. He won three Golden Globe Awards and a César Award.

Sharif, who spoke Arabic, English, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian, was often cast as a foreigner of some sort. He bridled at travel restrictions imposed during the reign of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, leading to self-exile in Europe. The estrangement this caused led to an amicable divorce from his wife, the iconic Egyptian actress Faten Hamama, for whom he had converted to Islam. He was a lifelong gambler, and at one time ranked among the world's top contract bridge players.

Sharif's first English-language role was that of Sharif Ali in David Lean’s historical epic Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. This performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, as well as a shared Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor. He went on to play several more character roles, until he collaborated with Lean again in 1965, to create one his most characteristic roles, Doctor Zhivago.

“Doctor Zhivago” (1965) was an adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel, which was banned in the USSR for 30 years. Set during World War I and the Russian Revolution, Sharif played the role of Yuri Zhivago, a poet and physician. Film historian Constantine Santas explained that Lean intended the film to be a poetic portrayal of the period, with large vistas of landscapes combined with a powerful score by Maurice Jarre. He notes that Sharif’s role is “passive”, his eyes reflecting “reality” which then become “the mirror of reality we ourselves see.” In a commentary on the DVD (2001 edition), Sharif described Lean’s style of directing as similar to a general commanding an army. For his performance, he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama, while the film received ten Academy Award nominations, but Sharif was not nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Sharif was also acclaimed for his portrayal of Nicky Arnstein in “Funny Girl” (1968). He portrayed the husband of Fanny Brice, played by Barbra Streisand in her first film role. His decision to work alongside Streisand angered Egypt’s government, because of her support for Israel during the Six Day War, however, and the country condemned the film. It was also immediately banned in numerous Arab nations. Streisand herself jokingly responded, “You think Cairo was upset? You should’ve seen the letter I got from my Aunt Rose!” Sharif and Streisand became romantically involved during the filming.

Among Sharif’s other films were the western “Mackenna’s Gold” (1969), playing an outlaw opposite Gregory Peck; the thriller “Juggernaut” (1974), which co-starred Richard Harris, and the romantic drama “The Tamarind Seed” (1974), co-starring Julie Andrews, and directed by Blake Edwards. Sharif also contributed comic cameo performances in Edwards’ “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976) and in the 1984 spy-film spoof “Top Secret!” In 2003, he received acclaim for his leading role in “Monsieur Ibrahim”, a French-language film adaptation of the novel “Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran”, as a Muslim Turkish merchant who becomes a father figure for a Jewish boy. For this performance, Sharif received the César Award for Best Actor. Sharif’s later film roles included performances in “Hidalgo” (2004) and “Rock the Casbah” (2013).

Sharif once ranked among the world’s top 50 contract bridge players, and played in an exhibition match before the Shah of Iran. With Charles Goren, Sharif co-wrote a syndicated newspaper bridge column for the Chicago Tribune for several years, but mostly turned over the writing of the column to Tannah Hirsch. He was also both author and co-author of several books on bridge and licensed his name to a bridge video game.

In 1954 Sharif starred in the film “Struggle in the Valley” opposite Faten Hamama, who shared a kiss with him, although she had previously refused to kiss on screen. The two fell in love; Sharif converted to Islam and married her. They had one son, Tarek El-Sharif, born in 1957 in Egypt, who appeared in Doctor Zhivago as Yuri at the age of eight. The couple separated in 1966 and the marriage ended in 1974. Sharif never remarried; he stated that since his divorce, he had never fallen in love with another woman. In later life, Sharif lived mostly in Cairo with his family. In addition to his son, he had two grandsons, Omar (born 1983 in Montreal) and Karim. Omar Sharif, Jr. is also an actor.

Vale, Omar Sharif!


“In painting you must give the idea of the true by means of the false.” - Edgar Degas

Jacques Blanchard (1600–1638), also known as Jacques Blanchart, was a French baroque painter who was born in Paris. He was raised and taught by his uncle, the painter Nicolas Bollery (ca. 1560–1630). Jacques’s brother Jean-Baptiste Blanchard (after 1602–1665) and son, Gabriel Blanchard (1630–1704), were also painters.

Jacques spent the years from 1624 to 1628 studying in Bologna and Venice. After briefly working in Turin at the court of the Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy (ca. 1628) he returned to France and set himself up in Paris in 1629. Blanchard was dubbed the “French Titian” in homage both to his Venetian-influenced use of colour and his evocative handling of female beauty.

Jacques Blanchard is best known for his small religious and mythological paintings. He died in Paris in 1638. This painter should not be confused with the French sculptor of the same name who lived from 1634 to 1689. Nothing seems to be known of his work before he left for Rome at the age of twenty-four. After two years he moved to Venice, where he remained for two more years. It was there that his style was formed. He then went to Turin, where he worked for the Dukes of Savoy, before returning to France 1628.

It is from the brief but productive period after his return to France that all his dated works survive. They show him to stand quite apart from his contemporaries, not only in his painting style but also in his choice of sensual subject-matter, for example the “Bacchanal” at Nancy. The chief influences were the sixteenth century painters, especially Titian and Tintoretto with their rich, warm colours, and Veronese, whose blond and silvery colour and limpid light he used most effectively in his small religious and mythological subjects.

The several versions of “Charity”, depicted as a young woman with two or three children, are excellent examples of his tenderness of colour handling, and of a softness of sentiment nearer to the 18th than to the 17th century. He was also a sensitive portrait painter, and played a leading part in French painting of the 1630s.

The painting above is “St Sebastian Nursed by Irene and her Helpers”, painted between 1630 and 1638. It is a good example of Blanchard’s mature style and typical in terms of subject matter, technique and composition. St Sebastian was named captain in the praetorian guards by Emperor Diocletian, as did Emperor Maximian when Diocletian went to the East. Neither knew that Sebastian was a Christian. When it was discovered during Maximian's persecution of the Christians that Sebastian was indeed a Christian, he was ordered executed. He was shot with arrows and left for dead, but when St Irene and the widow of St. Castulus went to recover his body, they found he was still alive and nursed him back to health. Soon after, Sebastian intercepted the Emperor, denounced him for his cruelty to Christians, and was beaten to death on the Emperor’s orders.