Saturday 12 March 2016


“The prospect of an early death sits differently upon each person. In some it gifts maturity far outweighing their age and experience: calm acceptance blossoms into a beautiful nature and soft countenance. In others, however, it leads to the formation of a tiny ice flint in their heart. Ice that, though at times concealed, never properly melts.” – Kate Morton

Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola (January 27, 1806 – January 17, 1826) was a Spanish Basque composer. He was nicknamed “the Spanish Mozart” after he died, because, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, he was both a child prodigy and an accomplished composer who died young. They also shared the same first and second baptismal names; and they shared the same birthday, January 27 (fifty years apart).

Arriaga was born in Bilbao, Biscay, on what would have been Mozart’s fiftieth birthday. His father (Juan Simón de Arriaga) and the boy’s older brother first taught him music. Juan Simón had some musical talent and at age seventeen was an organist at a church in Berriatúa. He worked in Guernica and in 1802 moved to Bilbao and became a merchant in wool, rice, wax, coffee, and other commodities. The income generated in this way allowed Juan Simón to think about providing his son, who had shown prodigious musical talent, a way of developing those gifts.

In September 1822 Arriaga’s father, with the encouragement of composer José Sobejano y Ayala (1791–1857), sent Juan Crisóstomo to Paris, where in November of that year Arriaga began his studies. These included the violin under Pierre Baillot, counterpoint with Luigi Cherubini and harmony under François-Joseph Fétis at the Paris Conservatoire. From all evidence, Arriaga made quite an impression on his teachers. In 1823, Cherubini, who had become director at the Conservatoire the previous year, famously asked on hearing the young composer’s Stabat Mater, “Who wrote this?” and learning it was Arriaga, said to him, “Amazing – you are music itself.”

Arriaga soon became a teaching assistant in Fétis's class, and also became noted both among the students and other faculty at the Conservatoire for his talent. Cherubini referred to Arriaga’s fugue for eight voices (also lost) based on the Credo Et Vitam Venturi simply as “a masterpiece”, and Fétis was no less effusive (apparently, what impressed all his mentors was Arriaga’s ability to use musically sophisticated harmonies, counterpoint, and related techniques, without having been taught).

Fétis was already familiar with Arriaga’s now-lost opera Los Esclavos Felices (“The Happy Slaves”), stating that “without any knowledge whatsoever of harmony, Juan Crisóstomo wrote a Spanish opera containing wonderful and completely original ideas.” Arriaga was well-supported during his four years in Paris by his father, but the intensity of his commitment to his studies at the Conservatoire and the almost meteoric rise one could expect based on his teachers’ compliments and assessments of his promise, may have taken a toll on his health. Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga died in Paris ten days before his twentieth birthday, of a lung ailment (possibly tuberculosis), or exhaustion, perhaps both. He was buried in an unmarked grave at the Cimetière du Nord in Montmartre. Thanks to the Spanish Embassy, there is since 1977 a plaque marking the house at 314 rue Saint-Honoré in memory of the composer.

Arriaga’s music is elegant, accomplished and notable for its harmonic warmth. His greatest surviving works are undoubtedly the three string quartets, which (like his predecessors D. Scarlatti, Soler and Boccherini) contain notably Spanish ethnic rhythmic and melodic elements, especially in the galloping 6/8 finale of No. 1 in D minor and the meditative second (slow) movements of No. 2 in A major (an impressive set of variations in D major taking off from the slow D major variation movements in Mozart’s K. 464 and Beethoven's Op. 18 No. 5, which climaxes in a D minor variation even more passionate than Mozart's D minor variation in K. 464, in the form of an impassioned, plangent lament on the top two strings of the viola going up to the second A above middle C) and No. 3 in E-flat major (a tender G major lullaby for the newborn Christ child). Periodwise, his style is on the borderline between late Classicism and early Romanticism, ranging from the late Classical idiom of Mozart to the proto-Romanticism of early Beethoven.

The amount of Arriaga’s music that has survived to the present day is quite small, reflecting his early death at age 19 years. Here is the String Quartet No 1 in D minor, composed when he was 16 years old, played by the Guarneri Quartet:
I. Allegro

II. Adagio con Espressione

III. Menuetto

IV Adagio – Allegretto

Friday 11 March 2016


“The sea hath fish for every man.” – William Camden

Salmon is a popular food. Classified as an oily fish, salmon is considered to be healthful due to the fish’s high protein, high omega-3 fatty acids, and high vitamin D content. Salmon is also a source of cholesterol, with a range of 23–214 mg/100 g depending on the species. According to reports in the journal “Science”, farmed salmon may contain high levels of dioxins. PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) levels may be up to eight times higher in farmed salmon than in wild salmon, but still well below levels considered dangerous. Nonetheless, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the benefits of eating even farmed salmon still outweigh any risks imposed by contaminants. Farmed salmon has a high omega 3 fatty acid content comparable to wild salmon. The type of omega-3 present may not be a factor for other important health functions.

Salmon flesh is generally orange to red, although white-fleshed wild salmon with white-black skin colour occurs. The natural colour of salmon results from carotenoid pigments, largely astaxanthin, but also canthaxanthin, in the flesh. Wild salmon get these carotenoids from eating krill and other tiny shellfish. The vast majority of Atlantic salmon available around the world are farmed (almost 99%), whereas the majority of Pacific salmon are wild-caught (greater than 80%). Canned salmon in the US is usually wild Pacific catch, though some farmed salmon is available in canned form.

Smoked salmon is another popular preparation method, and can either be hot or cold smoked. Lox can refer to either cold-smoked salmon or salmon cured in a brine solution (also called gravlax). Traditional canned salmon includes some skin (which is harmless) and bone (which adds calcium). Skinless and boneless canned salmon is also available. Here is a recipe for salmon fillets:

Marinated Baked Salmon
2 tablespoons French mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 (@200 g) pieces centre-cut salmon fillet (1 inch thick)
Ginger dill sauce
4 tablespoons home-made mayonnaise (not sweet!)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped dill

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 190°C. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Whisk together oil, wine, lime and lemon juice, chives, dill, and pepper in a shallow bowl. Add salmon, turning to coat, and marinate, covered, in the fridge for about 40 minutes.
Remove salmon from marinade, letting excess drip off, and discard marinade. Bake salmon, skin sides down, on baking sheet until just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Lift salmon from skin with a metal spatula and transfer to a plate, discarding skin.
Whisk ingredients of the sauce gently until homogenised. Serve on top of the salmon fillets.

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Thursday 10 March 2016


“The olive branch has been consecrated to peace, palm branches to victory, the laurel to conquest and poetry, the myrtle to love and pleasure, the cypress to mourning, and the willow to despondency.” - Dorothea Dix

Myrtus, with the common name myrtle, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Myrtaceae, described by Linnaeus in 1753. The Myrtus genus has two species recognised today: Myrtus communis, common myrtle; native to the Mediterranean region in southern Europe and Myrtus nivellei, Saharan myrtle; native to North Africa.

Myrtus communis, the common myrtle or true myrtle, is native across the northern Mediterranean region (especially in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, where it is locally known by the name of murta). The plant is an evergreen shrub or small tree, growing to 5 metres tall. The leaf is entire, 3–5 cm long, with a fragrant essential oil. The star-like flower has five petals and sepals, and numerous stamens. Petals usually are white. The flower is pollinated by insects. The fruit is a round berry containing several seeds, most commonly blue-black in colour. A variety with yellow-amber berries is also present. The seeds are dispersed by birds that eat the berries.

Myrtle, is used in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica to produce an aromatic liqueur called Mirto by macerating it in alcohol. Mirto is one of the most typical drinks of Sardinia and comes in two varieties: mirto rosso (red) produced by macerating the berries, and mirto bianco (white) produced from the less common yellow berries and sometimes the leaves. Many Mediterranean pork dishes include Myrtle berries, and roast baby pig is often stuffed with myrtle sprigs in the belly cavity, to impart an aromatic flavour to the meat. The berries, whole or ground, have been used as a pepper substitute. They contribute to the distinctive flavour of mortadella sausage and the related American bologna sausage. In Calabria, dried figs are threaded through a myrtle branch and then baked. The figs acquire a pleasant taste from the essential oils of the herb. They are then enjoyed through the winter months.

Myrtle occupies a prominent place in the writings of Hippocrates, Pliny, Dioscorides, Galen, and the Arabian writers on medicine. In several countries, particularly in Europe and China, there has been a tradition for prescribing this substance for sinus infections. A systematic review of herbal medicines used for the treatment of rhinosinusitis concluded that the evidence that any herbal medicines are beneficial in the treatment of rhinosinusitis is limited, and that for Myrtus there is insufficient data to verify the significance of clinical results.

In Greek mythology and ritual the myrtle was sacred to the goddesses Aphrodite and Demeter: Artemidorus asserts that in interpreting dreams “a myrtle garland signifies the same as an olive garland, except that it is especially auspicious for farmers because of Demeter and for women because of Aphrodite. For the plant is sacred to both goddesses.” Pausanias explains that one of the Graces in the sanctuary at Elis holds a myrtle branch because “the rose and the myrtle are sacred to Aphrodite and connected with the story of Adonis, while the Graces are of all deities the nearest related to Aphrodite.” Myrtle is the garland of Iacchus, according to Aristophanes, and of the victors at the Theban Iolaea, held in honour of the Theban hero Iolaus.

An ancient Greek legend tells of how Aphrodite was angered when Myrrha, a Syrian princess boasted that she was more beautiful than the goddess. Aphrodite caused Myrrha to fall in love with her own father and helped her trick him into consummating her passion with him for 12 nights. When Myrrha became pregnant she realised the magnitude of her sin and ashamed she ran into the forest to hide. Aphrodite then took pity on her and transformed her into the myrtle. Later the bark of the tree broke open and a baby was born, which was Adonis, Aphrodite’s lover (see here for that myth).

In Rome, Virgil wrote that “the poplar is most dear to Alcides, the vine to Bacchus, the myrtle to lovely Venus, and his own laurel to Phoebus.” At the Veneralia, women bathed wearing crowns woven of myrtle branches, and myrtle was used in wedding rituals. In the Aeneid, myrtle marks the grave of the murdered Polydorus in Thrace. Aeneas’ attempts to uproot the shrub cause the ground to bleed, and the voice of his dead brother warns him to leave. The spears which impaled Polydorus had been magically transformed into the myrtle which marks his grave. In the Mediterranean, myrtle was symbolic of love and immortality. In their culture the plant was used extensively and was considered an essential plant.

In Jewish liturgy, the myrtle is one of the four sacred plants of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles representing the different types of personality making up the community. The myrtle having fragrance but not pleasant taste, represents those who have good deeds to their credit despite not having knowledge from Torah study. The three branches are lashed or braided together by the worshipers a palm leaf, a willow bough, and a myrtle branch. The etrog or citron is the fruit held in the other hand as part of the lulav wave ritual.

In Jewish mysticism, the myrtle represents the phallic, masculine force at work in the universe. For this reason myrtle branches were sometimes given the bridegroom as he entered the nuptial chamber after a wedding (Tos. Sotah 15:8; Ketubot 17a). Myrtles are both the symbol and scent of Eden (BhM II: 52; Sefer ha-Hezyonot 17). The Hechalot text Merkavah Rabbah requires one to suck on a myrtle leaves as an element of a theurgic ritual. Kabbalists link myrtle to the sefirah of Tiferet and use sprigs in their Shabbat (especially Havdalah) rites to draw down its harmonizing power as the week is initiated (Shab. 33a; Zohar Chadash, SoS, 64d; Sha’ar ha-Kavvanot, 2, pp. 73–76).[19] Myrtle leaves were added to the water in the last (7th) rinsing of the head in the traditional Sephardic tahara manual (teaching the ritual for washing the dead).

An Arabic legend says that when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, Adam took with him three things: A sheaf of wheat, being the chief of all kinds of food, a date palm, being the chief of all fruits, and a branch of myrtle, being the chief of all sweet-scented flowers to remind him of the days of happiness, and the first days of his love for Eve.

In neo-pagan and wicca rituals, myrtle, though not indigenous beyond the Mediterranean Basin, is now commonly associated with and sacred to Beltane (May Day). Myrtle in a wedding bouquet is a general European custom. Crowns of myrtle are used in the Ukrainian wedding ceremony. A sprig of myrtle from Queen Victoria’s wedding bouquet was planted as a slip, and sprigs from it have continually been included in royal wedding bouquets in Britain.

Wednesday 9 March 2016


“Maybe your weird is my normal. Who’s to say?” – Nicki Minaj

The Midweek Motif for Poets United this week is “Weird”. My contribution below:

Weird Alchemies of Love

The forks of Spring are whetted
With tines sparkling sharp,
Like the ravenous spikes of my appetite,
For love…

As nights grow short, like my patience,
The days growl with increasing strength,
With accelerating insistence, their every minute elongated,
For love…

My body cries out to be devoured
By all-consuming, flagrant passions,
Burnt to a cinder by raging conflagrations,
For love…

As Spring ripens, like a cherry reddening,
And buds give way to flowers and seed,
My cells swell and pullulate, dividing,
For love…

My heart cries out to be crushed
Like a ripe pomegranate whose ruby seeds,
Yearn to be sucked dry of their ichor
For love…

For all-consuming love eats and is itself eaten –
Like acid quickly dissolving all it touches and is itself neutralised,
Yet retaining all elemental constituents,
Becoming enriched by that dissolved.
And upon sublimation the thing devoured is reconstituted
By strange alchemies of erosion, purification and crystallisation,
For what else is love?

Tuesday 8 March 2016


“Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests, and see whether we also, in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered.” - Daniel Webster

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 of 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 United States Capitol, often called Capitol Hill, is the seat of the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. It sits atop Capitol Hill, at the eastern end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Though not at the geographic centre of the Federal District, the Capitol forms the origin point for the District’s street-numbering system and the District’s four quadrants.

The original building was completed in the year 1800 and was subsequently expanded, particularly with the addition of the massive dome. Like the principal buildings of the executive and judicial branches, the Capitol is built in a distinctive neoclassical style and has a white exterior. Both its east and west elevations are formally referred to as fronts, though only the east front was intended for the reception of visitors and dignitaries. In 2014, scaffolding was erected around the dome for a restoration project scheduled to be completed by early 2017.

In spring 1792, United States Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson proposed a design competition to solicit designs for the Capitol and the “President’s House”, and set a four-month deadline. The prize for the competition was $500 and a lot in the Federal City. At least ten individuals submitted designs for the Capitol; however the drawings were regarded as crude and amateurish, reflecting the level of architectural skill present in the United States at the time.

The most promising of the submissions was by Stephen Hallet, a trained French architect. However, Hallet’s designs were overly fancy, with too much French influence, and were deemed too costly. A late entry by amateur architect William Thornton was submitted on January 31, 1793, to much praise for its “Grandeur, Simplicity, and Beauty” by Washington, along with praise from Thomas Jefferson. Thornton was inspired by the east front of the Louvre, as well as the Paris Pantheon for the center portion of the design.

Thornton’s design was officially approved in a letter dated April 5, 1793, from Washington, and Thornton served as the first Architect of the Capitol (and later first Superintendent of the United States Patent Office). In an effort to console Hallet, the commissioners appointed him to review Thornton’s plans, develop cost estimates, and serve as superintendent of construction. Hallet proceeded to pick apart and make drastic changes to Thornton’s design, which he saw as costly to build and problematic.

In July 1793, Jefferson convened a five-member commission, bringing Hallet and Thornton together, along with James Hoban (winning architect of the “President’s Palace”) to address problems with and revise Thornton’s plan. Hallet suggested changes to the floor plan, which could be fitted within the exterior design by Thornton. The revised plan was accepted, except that Secretary Jefferson and President Washington insisted on an open recess in the centre of the East front, which was part of Thornton’s original plan.

The original design by Thornton was later modified by famous British-American architects Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Sr. and then Charles Bulfinch. The current cast-iron dome and the House's new southern extension and Senate new northern wing were designed by Thomas U. Walter and August Schoenborn, a German immigrant, in the 1850s, and were completed under the supervision of Edward Clark.

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

Monday 7 March 2016


“Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” – Ed Viesturs

We watched Baltasar Kormákur’s 2015 film “Everest” at the weekend. It starred Jason Clarke, Ang Phula Sherpa, Thomas M. Wright, Emily Watson, Emily Watson and Sam Worthington, with a screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, based we were told on the outset on “true story”. This is meant to get the viewers into accepting whatever is dished out and be suitably overawed. The film is just over two hours long – or should I say a long two hours?

Humans are strange creatures who will do silly things (despite what their intellect and logic may advise against their foolhardy course of action). One of these silly things is to go and climb tall mountains where the air is too thin to breathe, the temperatures are too cold year-round, and the hazards of avalanches, sudden storms and bottomless crevasses are a constant threat. Besides that, there are the risks of inept other humans around who instead of helping you may hinder your progress and where human error (even by so-called experts) reigns supreme. This film documents all of these things…

In a nutshell, the story centres on climbers from two commercial expeditions start their final ascent toward the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth, on the morning of May 10, 1996. What started out as a calm day with good weather conditions ends with a violent storm that strikes the mountain, engulfing the adventurers in one of the fiercest blizzards see in the region. Challenged by these conditions, the teams must endure strong winds, freezing temperatures, human error and towering egos in an attempt to survive. There are many fatalities…

The cinematography is good and one does get to admire the beauty and the terror of nature on the top of the world. One gets to admire it on many, many occasions throughout the film. Too bad there are these idiot humans spoiling the view by doing silly things from start to finish. The script is rather pedestrian and exceedingly predictable. The dialogue hackneyed and trite and the actors go through stock situations, almost assuming “attitudes” in order to act out stock character reactions. And there was lots of snow, and ice and wind and more snow and ice and wind and too little oxygen.

Perhaps I watched this movie with my expectations set too high – you see, I had read and heard all the hype. The characters were mainly unlikeable or neutral and failed to raise any degree of sympathy in me. Hence I did not care a fig if they fell off cliffs, froze to death or quietly went blue due to lack of oxygen. Yes, it was based on a real story, but this is the stuff of documentaries and there have been good documentaries made about these events. The film fails to deliver on many levels.

You’d be better off watching “Everest: The Death Zone” (1998) by David Breashears, Liesl Clark. Better quality all round and it is a documentary, not a movie.

Sunday 6 March 2016


“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” – Michelangelo

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (March 1475 – 18 February 1564), was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer of the High Renaissance who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art. Considered to be the greatest living artist during his lifetime, he has since also been described as one of the greatest artists of all time.

Despite making few forays beyond the arts, his versatility in the disciplines he took up was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his fellow Italian Leonardo da Vinci. A number of Michelangelo’s works in painting, sculpture, and architecture rank among the most famous in existence.

His output in every field of interest was prodigious; given the sheer volume of surviving correspondence, sketches, and reminiscences taken into account, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century. Two of his best-known works, the “Pietà” and “David”, were sculpted before the age of thirty. Despite his low opinion of painting, Michelangelo also created two of the most influential frescoes in the history of Western art: The scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and The Last Judgment on its altar wall.

As an architect, Michelangelo pioneered the Mannerist style at the Laurentian Library. At the age of 74, he succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo transformed the plan, the western end being finished to Michelangelo’s design, the dome being completed after his death with some modification. In a demonstration of Michelangelo’s unique standing, he was the first Western artist whose biography was published while he was alive.

Two biographies were published of him during his lifetime; one of them, by Giorgio Vasari, proposed that he was the pinnacle of all artistic achievement since the beginning of the Renaissance, a viewpoint that continued to have currency in art history for centuries. In his lifetime he was also often called Il Divino (‘the divine one’). One of the qualities most admired by his contemporaries was his “terribilità”, a sense of awe-inspiring grandeur, and it was the attempts of subsequent artists to imitate Michelangelo’s impassioned and highly personal style that resulted in Mannerism, the next major movement in Western art after the High Renaissance.

The Cumaean Sibyl was the priestess presiding over the Apollonian oracle at Cumae, a Greek colony located near Naples, Italy. The word sibyl comes (via Latin) from the ancient Greek word sibylla, meaning prophetess. There were many sibyls in different locations throughout the ancient world. Because of the importance of the Cumaean Sibyl in the legends of early Rome as codified in Virgil's Aeneid VI, and because of her proximity to Rome, the Cumaean Sibyl became the most famous among the Romans.

The Erythraean Sibyl from modern-day Turkey was famed among Greeks, as was the oldest Hellenic oracle, the Sibyl of Dodona, possibly dating to the second millennium BC according to Herodotus, favoured in the east. The Cumaean Sibyl was painted in the Sistine Ceiling of Michelangelo (above) and her powerful presence overshadows every other sibyl, even her younger and more beautiful sisters, such as the Delphic Sibyl. There are various names for the Cumaean Sibyl besides the “Herophile” of Pausanias and Lactantius or the Aeneid’s “Deiphobe, daughter of Glaucus”. Other sources give her the names: “Amaltheia”, “Demophile” or “Taraxandra”.