Saturday 25 July 2015


“When I die, I’d like to come back as a cello.” - Wayne Newton

Giovanni Battista Cirri (1 October 1724 – 11 June 1808) was an Italian cellist and composer in the 18th century. Cirri was born in Forlì in the Emilia-Romagna Region of Italy. He had his first musical training with his brother Ignazio (1711–1787) and was for a time organist at Forlì Cathedral. He also studied with Giovanni Battista Martini, in Bologna.

In 1739 he was admitted to Holy Orders but decided to pursue a musical career. From 1759 he was a member of the “Accademia Filarmonica”. He was in Paris during the first half of the 1760s and his first works were published including a “Symphony”, which was performed at the Concert Spirituel on 5 April 1763.

In 1764 he settled in London where he was employed as chamber musician to the Duke of York and Albany and director of music to the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh. His first public appearance in London on 16 May 1764 was as an accompanist to violinist Marcella. He played solos at the eight-year-old Mozart’s first public concert in London. He also participated in the Bach-Abel Concerts, which were very popular at that time.

While in London he also composed numerous works for cello including the “Drei Sonaten für Violoncello und Basso continuo” (c. 1765). In the year 1780 he returned to his native Forlì to help his ailing brother at the Cathedral, though he played away from Forlì and in 1782 was principal cellist at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples. In 1787 he succeeded his brother as “maestro di cappella” at Forlì Cathedral. He died in Forlì in 1808.

Here are his complete Cello Concertos played by Balasz Maté (Cello) and the Aura Musicale:

1. Cello Concerto No. 1 in A major, Op. 14/1: 1. Allegro maestoso
2. Cello Concerto No. 1 in A major, Op. 14/1: 2. Adagio cantabile
3. Cello Concerto No. 1 in A major, Op. 14/1: 3. Tempo di Minuetto
4. Cello Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 14/2: 1. Allegro spirituoso
5. Cello Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 14/2: 2. Largo assai
6. Cello Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 14/2: 3. Rondo. Allegro
7. Cello Concerto No. 3 in D major, Op. 14/3: 1. Allegro con Spirito
8. Cello Concerto No. 3 in D major, Op. 14/3: 2. Adagio
9. Cello Concerto No. 3 in D major, Op. 14/3: 3. Allegretto
10. Cello Concerto No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 14/4: 1. Allegro
11. Cello Concerto No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 14/4: 2. Adagio molto
12. Cello Concerto No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 14/4: 3. Allegretto
13. Cello Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 14/5: 1. Allegro moderato
14. Cello Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 14/5: 2. Andante cantabile
15. Cello Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 14/5: 3. Allegro
16. Cello Concerto No. 6 in C major, Op. 14/6: 1. Allegro spirituoso
17. Cello Concerto No. 6 in C major, Op. 14/6: 2. Larghetto
18. Cello Concerto No. 6 in C major, Op. 14/6: 3. Rondo. Allegretto

Friday 24 July 2015


“With sushi, it is all about balance. Sometimes they cut the fish too thick, sometimes too thin. Often the rice is overcooked or undercooked. Not enough rice vinegar or too much.” - Nobu Matsuhisa

Have you ever tried making sushi at home or is it something you always buy from a specialty take away shop? In Melbourne we have so many of these (very good!) establishments that make excellent Japanese take away food that it seems silly to try and make such delicacies at home. However, it is always a challenge to try one’s hand at cooking something new and if one is really into Japanese food, why not try to make sushi, or sashimi, or tempura, or teriyaki?

2 cups short grain rice
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup rice vinegar
Fillings of your choice (e.g. grated carrot, avocado, pickled daikon, mushrooms, tofu, sesame seeds, strips of omelette, boiled prawns, caviar, smoked salmon, grilled chicken)
Pickled ginger
Wasabi (horse radish powder/ paste)
Nori sheets
Mirin rice wine

While the rice is cooking, mix the sugar and vinegar together. Strain the rice and pour the vinegar solution over it.  Stir and fan the rice until all of the grains are glossy then put it aside to cool.
Chop up the vegetables including the ginger.  If you are using wasabi powder, mix in a little water to make it into a paste.
Place the nori shiny side up on the sushi rolling mat.  Rub a little mirin on your hands to lubricate them and cover two thirds of the nori sheet with an even layer of rice about 7.5mm thick, leaving the top third bare.  Place the other fillings in a strip across the middle of the rice.
Rub a little more mirin on the top edge of the nori to make it ready to stick, and then with the help of the mat roll up the sushi by folding the nori sheet in half, rolling it back over itself and then rolling it up like a scroll. You'll end up with a long cylinder, which you can slice to make bite-size pieces.
Refrigerate, cut up and serve with little bowls of wasabi and shoyu

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Thursday 23 July 2015


“And the hooded clouds, like friars, Tell their beads in drops of rain.” - HenryWadsworth Longfellow

How wonderful it is to lie in bed and hear the sound of rain falling on the roof, listen to the gurgling of the water as it runs down the gutters and the sound of cars on the wet streets. One is grateful and the mind turns to places affected by drought, California for example. Australia is often affected by severe droughts and we sympathise with our cousins across the great ditch…

We live on a planet whose surface is largely water, with 71% of it covered by water. However, this water is largely unusable because of its high solute content. Water locked away as ice in the polar regions is fresh, but inaccessible.  Lakes and rivers are becoming increasingly polluted and climate change in many cases reduces their water capacity, with water levels decreasing. Rain falls torrentially in some parts of the world, causing floods and destruction, with little possibility of long-term storage and alarm bells are ringing in many temperate regions where rain is becoming scarcer and scarcer.

Desalination of seawater has been suggested as a possible way of ensuring a reliable, and potentially limitless, fresh water supply for our major urban centres, many of which are coastal. Desalination is already operating in some countries and is providing water, although at a cost! The Middle East Desalination Research Centre, which is located in Muscat (Sultanate of Oman), was conceived out of the Middle East Multilateral Peace Process as an international organisation, which is dedicated to research in desalination technology. As water resources in the region are already under stress and future population and economic growth will require an increased supply, the Centre will seek to bring together scientists, engineers, water policy-makers and water system operators in the Middle East/North Africa region to work on areas of research that will reduce the cost of desalination. The economy of the Middle East is tied to desalination of seawater and brackish ground water.

Another way that can be used to generate fresh water is based on the principle of condensing water from humid air. This technology is already in use in small scale and machines are available for use in the home to produce drinking water directly from the air. To scale up this process is another suggestion for resolving our fresh water supply problems. Cost-effectiveness is the real limiting factor in this process and unless one has access to a cheap, renewable supply of energy, the process becomes too expensive in order to be scaled up. The use of nuclear power to run desalination and condensation plants has various attendant difficulties and raises a host of concerns.

Other ways of ensuring reliable fresh water supplies for big urban centres have been proposed, including increasing use of recycled water from waste water, building larger reservoirs in water catchment areas, better utilisation of groundwater and aquifers and also building urban water supplies that are more water efficient and allow recycling of grey water in applications that would allow its safe use (flushing toilets, watering parks and gardens, some industrial uses).

In any case, increasing public awareness of climate change, water shortages, green-efficient solutions, recycling and cognisance of the importance of reducing waste will help in more effective use of our precious resources.

My word for this Thursday is a neologism that describes what will become an increasingly major issue around the world:
Hydroeconomics |ˈhīdrōˌekəˈnämiks| (noun, pl.)

The study of the physical, cultural, political, and financial aspects of human interaction with the water cycle. The study of hydroeconomics will attract more interest in the near future as human populations find it necessary to make more efficient use of our dwindling fresh water supplies.

Wednesday 22 July 2015


“Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.” - John F. Kennedy

Another of my short stories today, one which is unfortunately perennially current and relevant as mankind continues to go to war…


“Mama, I’m scared…”
“I’m here my treasure, I’m holding you.” Her voice gentle and her hands firm around the fragile little body that trembles against her racing heart.
“Mama, the walls might crash down on us and kill us…”
“The walls are strong, your grandfather built this house with his own hands. The walls have stood firm for many years now and they will be here for your children to grow up in.” Her eyes wide open, the whites shining in the darkness. The face haggard and dirty, every now and then illuminated by the flash of an exploding bomb. The small window in the basement that would not close fully was enough to let the fear in. The smell of death encircled them and the noise of battle surrounded them.

“Where is my father, Mama?” The little voice was shaky, the trembling of the little body in her embrace not only caused by the cold.
“Your father is helping injured people, my love. He is at the hospital, you know that.”
“Why do they want to kill us, Mama?”
“They do not want to kill us, my darling, they are bombing the bad people.”
“Was my friend next door bad?”
The woman closed her eyes and stifled a wave of emotion. She should not cry now. She should be strong. Strong for her daughter’s sake.
“No, our neighbours were not bad, just unlucky…” She hugged the child tightly. “They were hit by mistake as they were coming back from the market.”

There was a respite in the awful sound of warfare outside and the flashes of light gave way to an unearthly greenish light. The sudden quiet in the cellar was more foreboding to her ears than all of the unholy uproar previously. She shuddered to think of the future, yet that future was only moments ahead. The concept of ‘next week’ was something that had become foreign to her. To survive this day, to keep herself alive for her daughter, that was her only purpose now. If tomorrow dawned for them she could thank God and try her best to survive that tomorrow also.

“Mama, when is my father coming back?”
“Hush darling, you know he is needed where he is more than here.” Her voice was hardly a whisper and it took great restraint not to cry out the pain that was bottled up inside her for days now. She felt her heart beating and it seemed to her to be a hand grenade, ready at any moment to explode and devastate her whole being. Her husband would not come back, she knew that. Her daughter must not know, now.
“Is he helping the sick people?”
“Yes, my heart of hearts, he is at the hospital and he is operating on the injured, helping them to get better.” She embraced the girl and started to sing her a lullaby. A soft, peaceful sound that reverberated in the darkness and calmed herself more than the child. A lullaby that was sung to her by her grandmother and her mother. A lullaby that she wanted her daughter to sing to her own children when she had them. But that was light years away, the priorities of the here and now dictated otherwise.

The whistling sound of a bomb falling, a flash of brilliant light and an explosion were followed by more. The child started in her arms and screamed. These bombs were falling too close! Her blood turned to ice and her eyes closed as she hugged her daughter to her breast.
“Mama! I wish he was here now! He would protect us…”
“I’m here for you, my darling, I will not let them harm you, hush!” Her voice rang out above the sounds of explosions. The ground was shaking around them and the old timbers above them creaked. Showers of dust fell around them and the flash of the explosions illuminated them making them seem like a golden rain.

The house collapsed as if it were made of cards. Debris was hurled around the neighbourhood and the charred timbers pointed up accusingly as the bomber planes disappeared over the horizon. The village had been razed to the ground. Smoke billowed in dark clouds over slowly burning piles rubble and whimpers of the survivors under fallen walls were the only sound that could be heard now. Deep in a cellar a woman is quietly singing a lullaby clutching the child in her arms. She rocks her precious daughter in her arms amidst the ruins, and her tears stream down her face. The blackened skin of her cheeks is bleached as each hot droplet trickles down. Her voice breaks as she looks at the face of the lifeless child on her lap.

Tuesday 21 July 2015


“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places.” Ernest Hemingway

Today is St Praxedes’ Feast Day (Roman Catholic); Symeon the Holy’s and John the Holy’s Feast Day and St Marcella’s Feast Day (Greek Orthodox). It is Belgium’s Independence (National) Day (since 1831) and Guam’s Liberation Day.

Today is also the anniversary of the birth of:
Sixtus IV (Grancesco della Rovere), Pope of Rome (1414);
Paul Julius von Reuter, founder of famous news service (1816);
Hart Crane, poet (1899);
Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899);
Isaac Stern, violinist (1920);
Don Knotts, comedian (1924);
John Gardner, writer (1933);
Cat Stevens (Josef Islam), musician/Islamic fundamentalist (1948);
Robin Williams, actor (1952);
Jon Lovitz, comedian (1957).

Today’s birthday flower is the Canterbury bell, Campanula medium.  In the language of flowers, it is a plant signifying gratitude and constancy in the face of adversity.  It is dedicated to St Augustine.

Belgium is one of the Low Countries, formerly called Flanders, gaining its independence from the Netherlands in 1830. It has a low coastline onto the North Sea, which gives way to a fertile plateau in the North and then the land rises to the South towards the forested mountains of the Ardennes. Rainfall is frequent, the climate cool and mild, the weather changeable. The major crops are cereals, root crops, vegetables and flax. Meat and dairy products are also produced and the only mineral resource is coal. Metal and engineering industries are important contributors to the economy. The capital is Brussels, which is also the headquarters of the European Union. Other important cities are Ostend, Antwerp, Ghent, Liège, Charleroi and Bruges.

Monday 20 July 2015


“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” - George BernardShaw

Nazi plunder refers to items stolen as a result of the organised looting of European countries during the time of the Third Reich by agents acting on behalf of the ruling Nazi Party of Germany. Art theft constituted a large proportion of this plunder. Plundering occurred from 1933 until the end of World War II, particularly by military units known as the Kunstschutz, although most plunder was acquired during the war.

In addition to gold, silver and currency, cultural items of great significance were stolen, including paintings, ceramics, books, and religious treasures. Although most of these items were recovered by agents of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA), affectionately referred to as the Monuments Men, on behalf of the Allies immediately following the war, many are still missing. There is an international effort under way to identify Nazi plunder that still remains unaccounted for, with the aim of ultimately returning the items to the rightful owners, their families or their respective countries.

Adolf Hitler was an unsuccessful artist who was denied admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in his youth. Nonetheless, he thought of himself as a connoisseur of the arts, and in his ideological manifesto, “Mein Kampf”, he ferociously attacked modern art as degenerate, including: Cubism; Futurism; and Dadaism; all of which he considered the product of a decadent twentieth century society.

When in 1933 Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, he enforced his aesthetic ideal on the nation. The types of art that were favoured amongst the Nazi party were classical portraits and landscapes by Old Masters, particularly those of Germanic origin. Modern art that did not match this was dubbed degenerate art by the Third Reich, and all that was found in Germany’s state museums was to be sold or destroyed. With the sums raised, the Fuhrer’s objective was to establish the European Art Museum in Linz. Other Nazi dignitaries, like Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering and Foreign Affairs minister von Ribbentrop, were also intent on taking advantage of German military conquests to increase their private art collections.

Yesterday we watched a film that related directly to this Nazi plunder and efforts to recover the stolen art and return it to its rightful owners as WWII was ending. This was the 2014 George Clooney movie, “Monuments Men”, starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin. George Clooney was also involved in the writing of the screenplay together with Grant Heslov, based on the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter.

The film is an action drama focussing on an unlikely World War II platoon, which is tasked by FDR to go into Germany in order to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. A difficult mission, as it receives little support from the ally forces intent on winning the war at whatever cost. The art is trapped behind enemy lines and the German army is under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, while the Russians are intent on taking the looted art back to Moscow with them. The seven men are museum directors, curators, architects and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1, do the impossible and infiltrate enemy lines to find and recover the art. The Monuments Men, as they were called, find themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, risking their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements.

The basic premise of the film is good and the events it depicts are worthy of being more widely known – the making of such a film being a good way to increase public awareness. However, there are flaws, one of the most important being a weak script and lack of character depth. Add to that uninspiring direction by Clooney (who directs himself playing Clooney) and the film is a rather mediocre exposition of a wonderful true story.

The film repeatedly asks viewers whether a piece of art is worth a human life, and despite the platoon being composed of art lovers, we never get impression of why these people think that art is worth that much. The buddied up rescuers exchange mildly amusing repartee, trudge enemy lines and walk unopposed into unguarded treasure troves, recovering huge amounts of loot (at a cost) and in the end are congratulated by a grateful politician for what they have done, and once again the ponderous question is asked: “Was saving a piece of art worth a human life?” The question is not satisfyingly answered. This is an important question, especially as the film makes a couple of veiled references to the Holocaust, which is the elephant in the cinema that gets ignored…

Bill Murray and John Goodman act much better than do Damon and Clooney, but get less air time. Dujardin is too clichéd to take seriously and Blanchett is unfortunately cast as a token female and love interest in what is a essentially a guy-movie. Although we are shown seven Monuments Men, the real task force numbered around 350 (more believable, of course, but one has to bow to artistic license.

We watched the movie and it kept us engaged to a certain extent, but while watching it the flaws were irksome. It needed more experienced hands writing the script and directing it. It needed more structure, it needed a more coherent view of what art is and what its value to society is. It needed better development and exposition of the storyline with memorable scenes being built up to mini climaxes. Overall, the more I think about it, the more disappointing it seems… Watch it and make up your own mind.

Sunday 19 July 2015


“Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” - Winston Churchill

Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov, (born Jan. 7 [Jan. 19, New Style], 1865, St. Petersburg, Russia—died Nov. 22 [Dec. 5], 1911, Moscow), was a Russian artist whose works reflect a turning point in Russian art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as the shift from realism by way of Impressionism to Art Nouveau. Serov himself seemed to manifest the link between opposing artistic views and cultural eras.

His father, the composer Aleksandr Serov, died when Valentin was six years old. His mother, a musician and writer, was a woman with progressive ideas who was close to the Peredvizhniki (“Wanderers”) group. Serov’s first teacher was Ilya Repin, and later, at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, he studied with Pavel Chistyakov. A student of the Peredvizhniki, Serov did not diverge from the style of his teachers.

He exhibited with the Peredvizhniki (which he joined in 1894) and with the Union of Russian Artists, taught at the Academy of Arts and the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture (1897–1909), and was a member of the council of the Treyakov Gallery. At the same time, he was also a member of the group involved with Mir Iskusstva (“World of Art”; late 1890s) and the Munich Secession, which was disseminating the “new style” of Art Nouveau.

Such was the dynamism of Serov’s growth that he managed in a short period to assume various aesthetic directions. The first modern formalist of Russian art, Serov was also the first artist to consciously choose a particular style out of the many then available. His first famous portrait of Vera Mamontova “Girl with Peaches” (1887), displays his complete mastery of the Impressionist idiom. Yet another portrait of the same period, “Girl in Sunlight: Portrait of Maria Simonovich” (1888), already shows a Post-Impressionist approach to form.

The yellowish brown hues and the bravura of the brushstrokes of Serov’s Portrait of the Italian Singer Francesco Tamagno (1891–92) are reminiscent of Peter Paul Rubens and Diego Velázquez, while the Portrait of the Italian Singer Angelo Masini (1890) shows some similarity to Repin’s style.

Serov always sought an allusive pictorial sign that would give depth to the theme of the subject painted. In his landscapes of the countryside surrounding Moscow, for instance, he adopted the lyrical landscape reminiscent of Aleksey Savrasov. In his later monochrome portraits (Mariya Yermolova, 1905 - Feodor Chaliapin, 1905) and in his historical and mythological compositions (“The Rape of Europa”, 1910), Serov expressed, respectively, the essence of the St. Petersburg “painterly graphics” and the Art Nouveau style seen in much of the work of the Mir Iskusstva group.

Serov was unique in having discovered the intersection between the portrait genre and the formal ideal of Art Nouveau. At times Serov’s portraits border on exaggeration, but his mordant characterizations do not conflict with his subjects’ imposing qualities. Ostentation, ever the object of parodic portraits, is characteristic of Serov’s later works (Portrait of Olga Orlova, 1911). At times, as in “Ida Rubinstein” (1910), the striking portrayal expresses the very essence of an artistic persona.

Serov’s innovation is manifested not only in portraits but in other artworks as well. He almost merged genre painting with landscape, keeping a link with the peasant lyricism characteristic of the Peredvizhniki group. Serov also worked for the theatre: he designed the sets for his father’s opera Judith at the Mariinsky Theatre (1907), painted the curtain used by the Ballets Russes for its 1911 production of Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and created a superb theatre poster with an image of a dancing Anna Pavlova (1909).

Serov was one of the first Russian artists to use graphic art, which appears in his portraits, satirical caricatures, and illustrations of the fables of Ivan Krylov, on which Serov worked from 1895 until his death. For many Russian artists of several styles, Serov embodied the high aesthetic mission of the ideal artist. In the years in which the gulf between so-called high art and the demand for realism was sharply felt, Serov managed in both life and art to overcome this apparent dichotomy.

Serov travelled a lot, participating in exhibitions in Russia and abroad. In 1897-1909, Serov taught at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. His students noted that Serov was a superb technical master of many painting media. Among his pupils were N.N. Sapunov, M.I. Mashkov, P.V. Kuznetsov, N.P. Krymov, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, C.Y. Sudeykin, K.F. Yuon and others. In 1903, he was elected member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Serov died in 1911.

The painting above is “The Overgrown Pond. Domotcanovo” 1888. Oil on canvas. The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.