Saturday 13 February 2016


“Let no one who loves be called altogether unhappy. Even love unreturned has its rainbow.” - J.M. Barrie

In the early 1850s, Richard Wagner (1813-1883) began reading the works of the German philosopher Arthur Schoepenhauer (1788-1860). For Schoepenhauer, music occupied a station above all other arts, including poetry, which meant that the text of an opera was relegated to a supporting role. Wagner resonated to this ad he started to show evidence of his exposure to Schoepenhauer by the mid-1850s. “Tristan und Isolde”, the composer’s major operatic project of the decade reflected this influence and the music of the opera assumed an overarching role, soaring above and beyond the lyrics.

Until “Tristan und Isolde”, no one had quite imagined the extent to which music alone could embody drama. In one long musical utterance, Wagner lays bare the inner lives of the opera’s title characters, as their love, doomed from its beginning, finds fulfillment in death. The “Prelude and Liebestod” (Love-Death) comprise the beginning and ending of the opera.

The Prelude opens with the cellos softly playing four notes. The last note fades into an extraordinary chord played by oboes, bassoons, and English horn. This chord, the famous “Tristan chord,” sounds strange because it is an unresolved dissonance, an academic way of saying that it sounds like it is leading to something which our ear finds acceptable and “final”. But because Wagner, at this point, withholds resolution, the chord is, at this point, a beginning without an end.

What follows is a lush orchestral work that charts the psychology of the opera, which itself explores the unexplainable, primal nature of love. The chord returns during the course of the opera, but it is only resolved during the work’s final, ecstatic closing “Liebestod”. It is the culmination of the opera’s tragic events, set in motion when Tristan and Isolde drink a love potion. Tristan, though, has claimed Isolde on behalf of his lord, King Marke. When Marke discovers the lovers together, one of the king’s knights stabs Tristan, who returns to his fortress to die.

Isolde has just arrived to find Tristan dead when the “Liebestod” begins. Her worldly surroundings fade away as she contemplates sinking unconscious into supreme bliss and finally consummating her love with Tristan in death. The passage builds to a climax as “waves of refreshing breezes” begin envelop Isolde (at the words “Heller schallend, mich umwallend” i.e. “Sounding more clearly, wafting around me”) and again as she imagines expiring in “the vast wave of the world’s breath” (“in des Welt-Atems wehendem All”). She sinks down as the winds, over luminous violins, float to a final and satisfying resolution of the “Tristan chord” from the Prelude.

Here is the orchestral version of the “Prelude and Liebestod” played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georg Solti.

And here is Stephen Fry exploring the “Tristan chord” and its significance to modern music.

And the painting above is “Tristan and Iseult” depicted by Edmund Blair Leighton (1853–1922).

Friday 12 February 2016


“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” - Marcus Tullius Cicero

One of the prime joys of our back garden is the great variety of flowers that we have growing. Many annuals, flowering perennials, many rose bushes, Spring bulbs, summer tubers, etc. To have fresh blossoms for one’s vase, to wander in amongst the greenery and inhale the fragrance is wonderful. There is also a secondary joy, which is the inclusion of seasonal vegetables in amongst the flowers. Now in the summer garden, we have a couple of zucchini vines, some patio tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, capsicums and of course herbs.

It is so good to be able to pick garden fresh, organic produce from one’s own garden and make lunch or dinner! We made such a dish a couple of days ago, with our very own produce. Here is the recipe. If you do not have a garden, you are allowed to buy the vegetables at the greengrocer…


2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. dried, chopped herbes de Provence (tarragon, savory, sage, thyme, marjoram)
6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 large yellow onions, quartered
1 bay leaf
2 medium zucchini (about 500 g), cut into 5 cm pieces
1 medium eggplant (about 400 g.), cut into 5 cm pieces
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and quartered
1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and quartered
10 whole peeled ripe tomatoes (or use canned tomatoes)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 200˚C.
Heat oil in a 6-Litre Dutch oven over medium heat. Add herbes de Provence, garlic, onions, and bay leaf; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
Increase heat to high; stir in the zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Uncover pot, transfer to the oven, and bake, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 1 and 1⁄2 hours.
Stir in basil and parsley, transfer ratatouille to a serving bowl, and serve warm or at room temperature.
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Thursday 11 February 2016


"A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love." - Max Müller

Centaurea cyanus (commonly known as cornflower, bachelor’s button, bluebottle, boutonniere flower, hurtsickle or cyani flower), is an annual flowering plant in the family Asteraceae, native to Europe. The name “cornflower” is also used for chicory, and a few other Centaurea species; to distinguish C. cyanus from these it is sometimes called common cornflower.

It is an annual plant growing to 40-90 cm tall, with grey-green branched stems. The leaves are lanceolate, 1–4 cm long. The flowers are most commonly an intense blue colour, produced in flowerheads (capitula) 1.5–3 cm diameter, with a ring of a few large, spreading ray florets surrounding a central cluster of disc florets. The blue pigment is protocyanin, which in roses is red because of the specific chemical environment of the rose petals.

In the past this flower often grew as a weed in cornfields (in the broad sense of the word “corn”, referring to grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, or oats), hence its name. It is now endangered in its native habitat by agricultural intensification, particularly over-use of herbicides, destroying its habitat; in the United Kingdom it has declined from 264 sites to just 3 sites in the last 50 years. In reaction to this, the conservation charity Plantlife named it as one of 101 species it would actively work to bring ‘Back from the Brink’. It is also, however, through introduction as an ornamental plant in gardens and a seed contaminant in crop seeds, now naturalised in many other parts of the world, including North America and parts of Australia.

Several cultivars have been selected to grow as an ornamental plant in gardens with varying pastel colours, including white, pink and purple. Centaurea is also grown for the cut flower industry in Canada for use by florists. The most common colour variety for this use is a doubled blue variety such as 'Blue Boy' or 'Blue Diadem'. White, pink, lavender and black (actually a very dark maroon) are also used but less commonly. It is also occasionally used as a culinary ornament.

Cornflowers have been used and prized historically for their blue pigment. Cornflowers are often used as an ingredient in some tea blends and herbal teas, and are famous in the Lady Grey blend of Twinings tea. A relative, Centaurea montana, is a perennial plant which is also cultivated as a garden plant. Cornflowers germinate quickly after planting in full sun. It flowers all summer. The cornflower is considered a beneficial weed, and its edible flower can be used to add colour to salads.

In folklore, cornflowers were worn by young men in love; if the flower faded too quickly, it was taken as a sign that the man’s love was not returned. In traditional Western herbalism, a decoction of cornflower is used in treating conjunctivitis, and as a wash for tired eyes. The blue cornflower has been the national flower of Estonia since 1968 and symbolizes daily bread to Estonians. The blue cornflower was also one of the national symbols of Germany, while in Austria the blue cornflower is a political symbol for pan-German and rightist ideas.

In France the "Bleuet de France" is the symbol of the 11th November 1918 armistice and, as such, a common symbol for veterans (especially the now defunct poilus of World War I), similar to the Remembrance poppies worn in the United Kingdom, Australia and in Canada. The cornflower is also the symbol for motor neurone disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The cornflower is also often seen as an inspiration for the German Romantic symbol of the “Blue Flower”. A Blue Flower (German: Blaue Blume) is a central symbol of inspiration. It stands for desire, love, and the metaphysical striving for the infinite and unreachable. It symbolises hope and the beauty of things. The blue flower also symbolises the joining of human with nature and the spirit, so that a complete understanding of nature and the human’s place in it is reached.

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme,

and also part of the Blue Monday meme.

Wednesday 10 February 2016


“And you left your mark on me... With the destruction of us, finally, we became no one.” ― Nadège Richards

This week, PoetsUnited has as its Midweek Motif, “The Inanimate & The Non-Human”. We humans are so anthropocentric that it is seldom that we do not imbue the inanimate and non-human with human qualities… Here is my poem:

Your Door

When I loved you, I loved you so
That even your door, shut as it was,
Was a thing beloved.
When I loved you, I loved you so
That I had to spend each night outside your window,
Until you turned off your light.
When I loved you, I loved you so
That tears would flow from my eyes,
Whenever I but thought of you.

Now so much time has passed,
That your door, even though open wide,
For me has no appeal.
Now so many things have come between us,
That even though your light burns all night,
I would not even know it.
Now so much has my heart hardened,
That the tears that you may shed for me
Are but scattered raindrops in a parched desert.

Tuesday 9 February 2016


“Egypt is not a country we live in but a country that lives within us.” - Pope Shenouda III

Welcome to the Travel Tuesday meme! Join me every Tuesday and showcase your creativity in photography, painting and drawing, music, poetry, creative writing or a plain old natter about Travel!

There is only one simple rule: Link your own creative work about some aspect of travel and share it with the rest us!

Please use this meme for your creative endeavours only. Do not use this meme to advertise your products or services as any links or comments by advertisers will be removed immediately.
The Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops) is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex bordering what is now the suburb of Cairo, El Giza, in Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact.

Based on a mark in an interior chamber naming the work gang and a reference to fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu, Egyptologists believe that the pyramid was built as a tomb over a 10 to 20-year period concluding around 2560 BC. Initially at 146.5 metres, the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for more than 3,800 years. Originally, the Great Pyramid was covered by casing stones that formed a smooth outer surface; what is seen today is the underlying core structure. Some of the casing stones that once covered the structure can still be seen around the base.

There have been varying scientific and alternative theories about the Great Pyramid's construction techniques. Most accepted construction hypotheses are based on the idea that it was built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place. There are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. The lowest chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built and was unfinished. The so-called Queen's Chamber and King's Chamber are higher up within the pyramid structure.

The main part of the Giza complex is a setting of buildings that included two mortuary temples in honour of Khufu (one close to the pyramid and one near the Nile), three smaller pyramids for Khufu's wives, an even smaller “satellite” pyramid, a raised causeway connecting the two temples, and small mastaba tombs surrounding the pyramid for nobles.

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme.

Monday 8 February 2016


“The dance can reveal everything mysterious that is hidden in music, and it has the additional merit of being human and palpable. Dancing is poetry with arms and legs.” - Charles Baudelaire

Last week we watched a classic old film, which although I had heard lots about I had never actually seen. It was Michael Powell’s and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 film “The Red Shoes”, starring  Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann. It is loosely based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, but is more of a chronicle of the world of ballet dancers, teachers and impresarios. It is one of the early British colour films and it quickly became one of the most popular British films in the post-WWII period. The film is included among the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”, edited by Steven Schneider.

The film has original music by Brian Easdale and cinematography by Jack Cardiff, and is well regarded for its creative use of Technicolor. Filmmakers such as Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese have named it one of their all time favourite films. The movie employs the story within a story device, with the lives of the dancers, choreographers and impresarios being the main story, and a ballet they are producing being the other story. The film includes a staging of the ballet they are working on, which runs for about 15 minutes.

The plot is as follows: Under the authoritarian rule of charismatic ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Wallbrook), his protégés realise the full promise of their talents, but at a price: Utter devotion to their art and complete loyalty to Lermontov himself. Under his near-obsessive guidance, young ballerina Victoria Page (Shearer) is poised for superstardom, but earns Lermontov’s scorn when she falls in love with Julian Craster (Goring), composer of “The Red Shoes”, the ballet Lermontov is staging to showcase her talents. Vicky leaves the company and marries Craster, but still finds herself torn between Lermontov’s demands and those of her heart.

Pressburger originally wrote the screenplay for Alexander Korda as a vehicle for Korda’s future wife Merle Oberon. After some years had passed without the film being made, Powell and Pressburger rewrote the screenplay, including more emphasis on dancing, and produced it themselves. Powell and Pressburger decided early on that they had to use dancers who could act rather than actors who could dance a bit. To create a realistic feeling of a ballet company at work, and to be able to include a fifteen-minute ballet as the high point of the film, they created their own ballet company using many dancers from The Royal Ballet. The principal dancers were Robert Helpmann (who also choreographed the main ballet), Léonide Massine (who also choreographed the role of The Shoemaker), Ludmilla Tchérina and Moira Shearer.

Boris Lermontov is the film’s dominant character, and is an obvious portrait of Sergei Pavlovich Dyagilev (1872-1929), one of the 20th century’s greatest cultural figures and the driving force of the ‘Ballets Russes’. Walbrook plays this character with restraint and is a perfect “bad guy” in a gentlemanly sort of way. Shearer and Goring as the lovers are rather more conventional leading actors and give good but perhaps slightly clichéd performances. Nevertheless Shearer is quite enchanting once she starts to dance.

The film gives an insight into the creative process in the arts, especially so the ballet, but also highlights the sad lot of the composer of the music used in ballet… The conflict between professional life and personal is well depicted, as well the way that true artists are passionate about their art. One exchange that stuck with me was: “Why do you want to dance?” Boris Lermontov asks Victoria Page; “Why do you want to live?”, is her response.

The 15 minute ballet “The Red Shoes” is a highlight of the film and this is a gloriously cinematic view of a ballet sequence. The music conducted flawlessly by Sir Thomas Beecham suits the action well and the choreography by Robert Helpmann and Leonide Massine is amazing. The glorious Technicolor cinematography by Jack Cardiff is quite stunning. Incidentally, we watched the film on Bluray, which was the copy of the 2006 digital restoration of the film done by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging. The digital pictures were frame by frame digitally restored at Prasad Corporation to remove dirt, tears, scratches, and other artifacts, giving the film its original look.

Quite an amazing film and indeed well worth looking at, especially if you like ballet, music, the arts and the creative process.

Sunday 7 February 2016


“I do not innovate. I transmit.” - Andre Derain

André Derain (1880-1954) was considered by leading critics in the 1920s to be the most outstanding French avant-garde painter and at the same time the upholder of the classical spirit of French tradition. He was born on June 10, 1880, in Chatou, and began to paint when he was about 15. He studied at the Academy Carrière in Paris (1898-1899), where he met Henri Matisse. Derain was a close friend of Maurice Vlaminck, with whom he shared a studio in 1900 and also his radical views on painting, literature, and politics.

Derain was drawn, through Vlaminck and Matisse, into the art movement known as Fauvism. Derain’s first artistic attempts were interrupted by military service (1901-1904), after which he devoted himself exclusively to art. He experienced impressionism, divisionism, the style of Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh, and Vlaminck’s and Matisse’s techniques by applying them to his own work. He copied in the Louvre and travelled a great deal in France to paint its various landscapes. He spent the summer of 1905 at Collioure with Matisse and that fall exhibited with the Fauves.

The art dealer Ambrose Vollard signed a contract with Derain in 1905, and the following year the artist went to London to paint some scenes of the city commissioned by Vollard. Derain’s Westminster Bridge is one of his Fauve masterpieces. About 1908 Derain became interested in African sculpture and at the same time explored the work of Paul Cézanne and early cubism. He became a friend of Pablo Picasso and worked with him in Catalonia in 1910.

In Derain’s work, which comprises landscapes, figure compositions (sometimes religious), portraits, still lifes, sculptures, decors for ballets, and book illustrations, we can discern various periods, all of which are distinguished by masterpieces. About 1911 he was attracted by Italian and French primitive masters; he also admired the “primitive” art of Henri Rousseau.

After World War I, during which Derain served at the front, he studied the masters of the early Renaissance and then Pompeian art. All these left traces in his work. Finally he emerged as a realist and intensified his contact with nature. In rejecting the cerebral art of cubism and abstraction, he defended the return of the human figure to painting. His development as an artist was dramatic, and although Picasso called him a guide de musées, in other words, not an innovator but a traditionalist, Derain's best work will survive many of the experimental attempts of his contemporaries because of its inherent painterly qualities.

Toward the end of his life Derain lived, practically forgotten, in his country home at Chambourcy. The retrospective exhibition in Paris in 1937 was the climax of his fame. He died in Garches on Sept. 2, 1954. The large retrospective exhibitions organized from 1955 to 1959 established a new appreciation of Derain as a major artist.

The painting above is “The Dance”, painted in 1906. After receiving an African fang mask in 1906 by one of Derain’s fauvist contemporaries, Derain started an impressive collection of African art. “The Dance” is an example of the influence that Derain’s African art collection had on his painting. The painting features a brightly coloured landscape, with three main human figures and one figure in the background. The piece references both African art and Fauvism. With the wildly, vibrant colours its apparent that the painting is fauvist in nature. The rest of the painting references African art through African masks, primitive body painting, and curvy forms that reflect ancient stylised female figurines. These heads reflect African fang masks, in particular the face of the figure on the very left. Overall, the canvas is full of vibrant colour, exuberant movement and a rhythm that typifies vivacious African dances.