Friday 18 September 2015


“Life, wrote a friend of mine, is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along.” ― E.M. Forster

Willem de Fesch (1687, Alkmaar – 3 January 1761) was a virtuoso Dutch violone player and composer. The pupil of Karel Rosier, who was a Vice-Kapellmeister at Bonn, de Fesch later married his daughter, Maria Anna Rosier. De Fesch was active in Amsterdam between 1710 and 1725.

From 1725 to 1731 he served as Kapellmeister at Antwerp Cathedral. Thereafter he moved to London where he gave concerts and played the violone in Handel’s orchestra in 1746. In 1748 and 1749 he conducted at Marylebone Gardens. He apparently made no public appearances after 1750.

His works included the oratorios “Judith” (1732) and “Joseph” (1746), as well as chamber duets, solo and trio sonatas, concertos and part songs. Both oratorios were thought lost until 1980 when a copy of a manuscript of “Joseph” was found in London’s Royal Academy of Music. De Fesch's music was influenced by the Italians, particularly Vivaldi, as well as Handel.

Here is a selection of his Concerti Grossi and Violin Concerti. 

Thursday 17 September 2015


“I like to peel it and share it with friends. You can spread the love with an orange.” - GinaRodriguez

We made some delicious orange cake a couple of days ago and there’s not a crumb of it left! This is a fairly easy recipe from Greece, which makes a rich, moist, flavoursome cake.

Orange Cake

1 large, unwaxed, thin-skinned, seedless orange
350 g sugar
500 g self-raising flour
2 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
5 eggs
140 g butter
Vanilla essence
Orange marmalade (optional)

Wash the orange well, remove the top part with the stem scar and the bottom, navel part and zest it. Halve and remove the central white core. Cut into segments and then blend (zested peel and all) into a smooth pulp. Reserve.
Beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy, with the sugar all dissolved.
Meanwhile, sift the flour and baking powder.
Add the eggs, beaten, one by one until well incorporated into the mixture.
Slowly add the orange pulp, stirring all the while.
Add the flour little by little and finally the vanilla essence.
Pour mixture into a greased and floured 30 cm rectangular cake tin and bake in an oven preheated to 170˚C for 50 minutes, with a skewer inserted into  the cake centre coming out clean.
While hot, spread top of cake with marmalade if desired.

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“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” - Jonathan Swift

Looking at the quote above, I must agree as raw oysters are not my cup of tea. When I was younger I refused to eat them and other shellfish outright, but now that I have developed a more inclusive diet and a more tolerant palate, I like oysters Kilpatrick, as long as they well cooked. Alternatively, I also enjoy them fried in seasoned flour or smoked (some excellent smoked oysters are available canned and here is my recipe using these). I also devised another recipe of my own that cooks the oysters well, while seasoning them and coating them in delicious baked mayonnaise.

Watching people eating raw oysters I am puzzled as they do not seem to savour or chew them, but rather swallow them whole forthwith to get the thing over and done with ASAP. I suppose that is one way of avoiding the issue of actually chewing and tasting them. One closes one’s eyes, thinks of England and swallows…

The oyster is any member of the families Ostreidae (true oysters) or Aviculidae (pearl oysters), and is a bivalve mollusk found in temperate and warm coastal waters of all oceans. Oysters are eaten by birds, starfishes, and snails, as well as by fishes, including skates. The oyster drill (Urosalpinx cinenea), a widely occurring snail, drills a tiny hole through the oyster shell with its tongue, then sucks out the living tissue. True oysters have been cultivated as food since pre-Christian times.

Pearl oysters also have long been valued for the precious pearls that develop in them. Pearls are formed in oysters by the accumulation of nacre, the material lining the oyster shell, around a solid piece of foreign matter that has become lodged inside the shell. Pearls formed in edible oysters are lustreless and of no value. The best natural pearls occur in a few Oriental species, particularly Meleagrina vulgaris, native to the Persian Gulf. This species is found mainly at depths of 14 to 36 metres. Pearls are taken mostly from oysters more than five years old.  Cultured pearls are grown around bits of mother-of-pearl inserted manually into the oyster. Most cultured pearls are grown in Japanese or Australian coastal waters.

In case you are a vegetarian, and oysters are quite out of the question, you can still enjoy salsify, also called Oyster Plant, or Vegetable Oyster (Tragopogon porrifolius), a biennial herb of the family Asteraceae, native to the Mediterranean region. The thick white taproot is cooked as a vegetable and has a flavour similar to that of oysters. Bon appetit!

Wednesday 16 September 2015


“Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” - Noam Chomsky

Poets United this week has as its theme, “Let your song be delicate”. Here is my offering:

At Night

Night fell softly, covering all
As if in flakes of blue-black snow;
Silence reigns, sky revolves.

I fought with sleeplessness
And won – as for my prize:
Your remembrance in a dream.

And it was as though I had drunk
A deep draught of sweet red wine,
Mixed with oleander poison, green.

Stars sparkle like tears falling,
The moon absent, perhaps it has set,
And an owl hoots.

I stir and turn, wakeful once again,
The room cold, dark, quiet,
And by my side, an empty space…

Tuesday 15 September 2015


“But the eyes are blind: One must look with the heart…” The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In the language of flowers, a red tulip, Tulipa gesneriana, symbolises ardent love.  The tulip is an importation into the West from Turkey and Persia, the word tulip being derived from the Turkish word tulband, meaning “turban”.  Young men in Persia would present their love with red tulips, this signifying their heated countenance (red petals) and their heart burnt to a coal (the black base of the petals).  The tulip also stands for eloquence, oratory and fame.

Tulipomania also called Tulip Craze, (Dutch: Tulpenwoede), was a speculative frenzy in 17th-century Holland over the sale of tulip bulbs. The tulip was first introduced into Europe from Turkey shortly after 1550. The delicate, vividly-coloured flowers became a popular but very costly item. The demand for differently coloured varieties of tulips soon exceeded the supply, and prices for individual bulbs of rare types began to rise to unwarranted heights in northern Europe. By about 1610 a single bulb of a new variety was acceptable as dowry for a bride, and a flourishing brewery in France was exchanged for one bulb of the variety “Tulipe Brasserie”.

The craze reached its height in Holland during 1633–37. Before 1633 Holland’s tulip trade had been restricted to professional growers and experts, but the steadily rising prices tempted many ordinary middle-class and poor families to speculate in the tulip market. Homes, estates, and industries were mortgaged so that bulbs could be bought for resale at higher prices. Sales and resales were made many times over without the bulbs ever leaving the ground, and rare varieties of bulbs sold for the equivalent of hundreds of dollars each. The crash came early in 1637, when doubts arose as to whether prices would continue to increase. Almost overnight the price structure for tulips collapsed, sweeping away fortunes and leaving behind financial ruin for many ordinary Dutch families.

Does this sound familiar? Do you invest in stocks and shares? Does it remind you of what happened when the stock market crashed in 1929? The Great Depression? The market collapse of the late 1980s? How frail we humans are. Ready to succumb to our basest desires. Avarice and laziness are ever present in our psyche. We want something for nothing. Easy life and riches obtained without hard work. Why work hard when you can invest your capital (even better if you can borrow it!) so that it magically multiplies. Be it tulips of shares, who cares? As long as we can make a fortune. The billions of dollars spent on lottery tickets is another instance of this attitude…

This attitude of getting “something for nothing” is unfortunately becoming increasingly more common around the world. It is not a feature of Western nations only (the “cargo cult” of New Guinea springs to mind) but it is certainly widespread in countries like ours. The consumer society that we live in contributes to it to a certain extent and the advertising messages that we are inundated with are difficult to resist. Increasing desires for consumer goods and aspirations to a lifestyle suited to the “rich and famous” bring with them desire for ready cash. We have gone beyond what we need to have a “comfortable” life and now desire and greedily want a “luxurious” one.

I grow tulips in our garden and the only profit I get out of it is the beauty of the blooms, a more than ample reward of the hard work I invest in growing my plants. I am not a stock market investor, nor do I actively buy and sell shares. My salary was always earnt through my own labours – I need no parasitic riches. I have forgotten the last time I bought a lottery ticket (well, yes, I admit it I occasionally buy one, I am human too), but should I win, my family and friends would be the ones that would most profit, my winnings spread liberally to those around me.

Monday 14 September 2015


“Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” - Albert Schweitzer

We watched a movie at the weekend which brought to my mind the term “B Movie”. That’s an old-fashioned characterisation for a film and one which is not used much nowadays, however, the film did remind me of such old potboiler Hollywood movies, despite the stellar cast and the brou-ha-ha surrounding its release.

A B movie in Hollywood was a low-budget commercial motion picture that was not an arthouse film and was designed for mass consumption, generally pandering to the tastes of the lowest common denominator. A bread-and-butter film. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the term more precisely identified a film intended for distribution as the less-publicised, bottom half of a double feature. Although the U.S. production of movies intended as second features largely ceased by the end of the 1950s, the term B movie continued to be used in the broader sense it maintains today. In its post–Golden Age usage, there is ambiguity on both sides of the definition: On the one hand, many B movies display a high degree of craft and aesthetic ingenuity; on the other, the primary interest of many inexpensive exploitation films is prurient.

Early B movies were often part of series in which the star repeatedly played the same character. Almost always shorter than the top-billed films they were paired with, many had running times of 70 minutes or less. B movies were generally understood to be inferior to the more handsomely budgeted headliners; individual B films were often ignored by critics. As the average running time of top-of-the-line films increased, so did that of B pictures.

In its current usage, the term has somewhat contradictory connotations: It may signal an opinion that a certain movie is (a) a genre film with minimal artistic ambitions or (b) a lively, energetic film uninhibited by the constraints imposed on more expensive projects and unburdened by the conventions of putatively “serious” independent film. The term is also now used loosely to refer to some higher-budgeted, mainstream films with exploitation-style content, usually in genres traditionally associated with the B movie.

So what was the film? The 2014 Rowan Joffe thriller “Before I go to Sleep” starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong. The film was hardly original, as it builds on the foundations of the more arty thriller “Memento” (2000) or even the comedic “50 First Dates” (2004).

Without wanting to spoil the movie for you if you have not seen it, the plot outline runs thus: Christine Lucas (Kidman) wakes up each day with short term memory loss and no memory beyond her early twenties; soon she begins to realise that some dark secrets are being hidden from her. She has no idea if her friends really are friends or actually foes. She is puzzled by her role as a housewife in her suburban home and looks perplexed at her husband Ben (Colin Firth) in bed next to her.

Christine is being covertly helped on a pro-bono basis by the neuro-scientist Dr Nash (Mark Strong). Nash reveals that she ended up in this state after being severely beaten up and left for dead near a Heathrow hotel. He persuades her to maintain a video diary of the days' events and recollections, but he has to remind her where she’s hidden the camera via phone every morning. Christine slowly uncovers a traumatic past, remembered (and then immediately forgotten) in dreams, but which only very slowly start to piece together during the waking hours. Will Christine piece together the jigsaw?

The film was well made and the acting was good. One has to expect that nowadays if the film has any hope of recouping its production costs. Whether or not it will be a hit and wow the public is another matter. This film failed to be a box office success, grossing just under $3 million in the USA. Ultimately one has to look at what the film delivers, and in this case, while the plot is resolved and one sees the conclusion come home more or less satisfactorily, there is an element of: “Oh well, is that it?”…

A strange one, as we watched it with interest, it was quite entertaining, but somehow remained uninspiring and certainly not one that would remain etched in one’s memory: I.e. a B movie... Maybe it would become better if I saw it again tomorrow after I have forgotten about it overnight?

Sunday 13 September 2015


“Just as it is poetry’s task to express feelings, painting must provoke them too. A picture must give the spectator as much food for thought as a poem and must make the same kind of impression as a piece of music...” - Arnold Böcklin

Arnold Böcklin (16 October 1827 – 16 January 1901) was a Swiss symbolist painter. His art has little in common with Impressionism or the academic art of his time. Instead, his depictions of demigods in naturalistic settings interpret themes from classical mythology in an idiosyncratic, often sensual manner. . In addition to imaginative, bizarre interpretations of the classical world, Böcklin painted mysterious landscapes punctuated by an occasional lone figure. These haunting later works made him an important contributor to the international Symbolist movement. They also appealed to some Surrealist artists, particularly Giorgio di Chirico, who declared, “Each of [Böcklin’s] works is a shock.”

Arnold Böcklin was born in Basle, Switzerland on October 16th 1827. The son of a merchant, he overcame his father’s opposition to following an artistic career, thanks to the support of poet Wilhelm Wackernagel and was thus able to devote himself to art. In 1845 he attended the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, where his teacher was Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, known for his heroic-panoramic style of painting.

Between 1847 and 1848 Böcklin travelled to Brussels, Antwerp, Switzerland and Paris. From the autumn of 1848 he worked in Basle, moving to Rome in 1850. In Rome he studied the work of the ancients and found the inspiration for many important works. In 1853 he married Angela Pascucci, a young Italian girl from Rome. There followed a somewhat obscure period, ending when he was appointed to the post of Professor at the Academy of Weimar in 1860. Two years later he returned to Rome to visit Naples and Pompeii and the frescos he observed had a lasting influence on his technique and his future artistic production.

In autumn 1866 he started work on the fresco that was to decorate the main staircase of the Museum of Basle. The period that followed was particularly productive and his style improved enormously in terms of colour, form and inspiration. From 1874-84 he lived in Florence, surrounded by disciples. During this period he produced his most controversial works, such as “The Island of the Dead” and “The Holy Wood”.

In 1895 he moved to his villa at San Domenico, near Fiesole. It was here that he lived the last years of his life, continuing to paint until his death on January 16th 1901. Art historians have always found it difficult to classify this original, proud, somewhat eccentric painter who, like Da Vinci, experimented in his garden with human flight. He disliked giving titles to his pictures and declared that he painted in order to make people dream.

The “Isle of the Dead” (German: Die Toteninsel) is the best-known painting Böcklin. Prints of the work were very popular in central Europe in the early 20th century—Vladimir Nabokov observed in his novel “Despair” that they were to be “found in every Berlin home”. Böcklin produced several different versions of the mysterious painting between 1880 and 1886.

All versions of “Isle of the Dead” depict a desolate and rocky islet seen across an expanse of dark water. A small rowboat is just arriving at a water gate and seawall on shore. An oarsman maneuvers the boat from the stern. In the bow, facing the gate, is a standing figure clad entirely in white. Just behind the figure is a white, festooned object commonly interpreted as a coffin. The tiny islet is dominated by a dense grove of tall, dark cypress trees (associated by long-standing tradition with cemeteries and mourning), which is closely hemmed in by precipitous cliffs. Furthering the funerary theme are what appear to be sepulchral portals and windows penetrating the rock faces.

Böcklin himself provided no public explanation as to the meaning of the painting, though he did describe it as “a dream picture: It must produce such a stillness that one would be awed by a knock on the door.” The title, which was conferred upon it by the art dealer Fritz Gurlitt in 1883, was not specified by Böcklin, though it does derive from a phrase in an 1880 letter he sent to the painting’s original commissioner. Not knowing the history of the early versions of the painting, many observers have interpreted the oarsman as representing the boatman Charon who conducted souls to the underworld in Greek mythology. The water would then be either the River Styx or the River Acheron and his white-clad passenger a recently deceased soul transiting to the afterlife.

Above is the third version of 1883. “Isle of the Dead” evokes, in part, the English Cemetery in Florence, Italy, where the first three versions were painted. The cemetery was close to Böcklin’s studio and was also where his infant daughter Maria was buried. (In all, Böcklin lost 8 of his 14 children). The model for the rocky islet was probably Pontikonisi, a small island near Corfu which is adorned with a small chapel amid a cypress grove. (Another less likely candidate is the island of Ponza in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The third version was painted in 1883 for Böcklin’s dealer Fritz Gurlitt. Beginning with this version, one of the burial chambers in the rocks on the right bears Böcklin’s own initials. In 1933, this version was put up for sale and a noted Böcklin admirer, Adolf Hitler, acquired it. He hung it first at the Berghof in Obersalzberg and, then after 1940, in the New Reich Chancellery in Berlin. It is now at the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.