Saturday 30 July 2016


“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.” - Timothy Leary

Isabella Leonarda (6 September 1620 – 25 February 1704) was an Italian composer from Novara. At the age of 16, she entered the Collegio di Sant’Orsola, an Ursuline convent, where she stayed for the remainder of her life. Leonarda is most renowned for the numerous compositions that she created during her time at the convent, making her one of the most productive woman composers of her time.

Anna Isabella Leonarda was born on September 6, 1620, the daughter of Giannantonio Leonardi and his wife, Apollonia. The Leonardi were an old and prominent Novarese family whose members included important church and civic officials and knights palatine. Isabella’s father, who held the title of count, was a doctor of laws. In 1636, Leonarda entered the Collegio di Sant’Orsola, an Ursuline convent in Novara. Her family maintained close ties with Sant’Orsola as benefactors, which some speculate may have contributed to Leonarda’s influence within the convent. She held various positions of authority throughout her time at Sant’Orsola - as madre (1676), superiora (1686), madre vicaria (1693), and consigliera (1700). The precise significance of these titles is unclear, but superiora was probably the highest office in the convent.

Leonarda was a highly regarded composer in her home city, but her music was apparently little known in other parts of Italy. Her published compositions span a period of 60 years, beginning with the dialogues of 1640 and concluding with the Motetti a voce sola of 1700. Leonarda is credited with producing nearly two hundred compositions during that period, though her only works appearing before 1670 were the dialogues printed by Gasparo Casati. It appears that she was over the age of 50 before she started composing regularly, and it was at that time that she began publishing the works that we know her for today.

Leonarda’s works include examples of nearly every sacred genre: Motets and sacred concertos for one to four voices, sacred Latin dialogues, psalm settings, responsories, Magnificats, litanies, masses, and sonate da chiesa. She also wrote a few sacred solo songs with vernacular texts. Sonate da chiesa refers to her Opus 16, which was historic in that it was an instrumental composition rather than vocal. Only two Italian women are known to have made contributions to instrumental music, each of them publishing only one collection in this field. Leonarda’s Opus 16 is one of these two collections, the other being a composition by Marieta Morosina Priuli.

Though Leonarda’s predominant genre was the solo motet, most of her notable historical achievements came from her sonatas. She was the first woman to publish sonatas, composing many throughout her lifetime. For example, Sonatas 1 through 11 are for two violins, violone, and organ. Sonatas 1, 3, 4, 7, and 8 are “concerted sonatas”: Each of the three instruments has at least one solo passage. Sonata 12 is Leonarda’s only solo sonata and one of her most renowned compositions. It is divided into seven sections with two slow movements which are recitative-like, inviting improvised embellishments.

Leonarda’s intricate use of harmonies is one example of her influence in the cultivation of polyphonic music at Sant’Orsola, as many other Italian nun composers were doing at their own convents during the same period. This style created an atmosphere conducive to the creativity of the musician, allowing for slight improvisation or musical ornamentation. Leonarda’s sonatas, however, are unusual in their formal structure. It is generally held that Arcangelo Corelli established the “standard” four-movement, slow-fast-slow-fast form of the sonata da chiesa. Leonarda’s sonatas, however, vary from as few as four (Sonatas 6 and 9) to as many as thirteen (Sonata 4), and her sonatas in four sections do not follow the slow-fast-slow-fast model.

Additionally, Leonarda uses refrains in a rather unusual way. Sonata 5 is the most regular; Sonata 10 has two refrains, in the pattern ABCDEBDFBG. Sonata 4 has the quite unusual plan of ABCDEFGHIJI'J'I'/'. Sections are essentially of three types: (1) fast sections in duple meter, often with some imitation, derived from the canzona tradition; (2) slow, expressive, homophonic sections in duple meter, related perhaps to the toccata and recitative; and (3) homophonic sections (occasionally with brief passages in imitation) in triple time, apparently related to the dance.

Here are Leonarda’s “Sonate a più Strumenti”, which are a wonderful introduction to the amazing music of this baroque woman composer.

Friday 29 July 2016


“My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with.” - Oprah Winfrey

Our Winter continues and the little bit of sunshine we saw earlier today quickly disappeared under a pall of grey cloud, wind and rain later on. As the cold temperatures persist, the warm kitchen beckons and what better a wintry treat than jacket potatoes?

Smoked Salmon Jacket Potatoes
4 large (≈200g each) washed sebago potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150 g sour cream
100 g sliced smoked salmon, finely chopped
1 and 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives (or Spring onions)
1 and 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
25g coarsely grated tasty cheddar
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh dill

Pierce each potato 5-6 times all over with a fork. Rub oil over the potato skins to evenly coat. Season with salt. Cover the microwave oven turntable with paper towel. Place the potatoes around the edge of the turntable. Cook on High (/800watts/100%), turning potatoes halfway through cooking, for 10-12 minutes or until tender when pierced with a skewer.
Carefully remove the hot potatoes from the microwave. Wrap them in foil and set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Cut one-third from the top of each potato. Use a spoon to scoop out the centres, leaving a 1cm shell. Divide the butter amongst the potatoes and rub it inside each hollowed out potato. Place scooped potato flesh in a bowl.
Add the sour cream to the potato flesh and mash with a fork until well combined. Stir in the salmon, 5 teaspoons of the chives, the lemon juice, cheddar and dill. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon potato mixture into the potato shells. Sprinkle with the remaining chives and season with pepper. Serve immediately.

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Thursday 28 July 2016


“I got all my boyhood in vanilla winter waves around the kitchen stove.” - Jack Kerouac

Vanilla is a flavouring agent derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, in the Orchidaceae family, primarily from the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla (V. planifolia). The word vanilla, derived from the diminutive of the Spanish word vaina (vaina itself meaning sheath or pod), is translated simply as “little pod”. Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid, called tlilxochitl by the Aztecs. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s.

Initial attempts to cultivate vanilla outside Mexico and Central America proved futile because of the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla orchid and its natural pollinator, the local species of Melipona bee. Pollination is required to set the fruit from which the flavouring is obtained. In 1837, Belgian botanist Charles François Antoine Morren discovered this fact and pioneered a method of artificially pollinating the plant. The method proved financially unworkable and was not deployed commercially. In 1841, Edmond Albius, a slave who lived on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, discovered at the age of 12 that the plant could be hand-pollinated. Hand-pollination allowed global cultivation of the plant.

Three major species of vanilla currently are grown globally, all of which derive from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern-day Mexico. They are V. planifolia (synonym V. fragrans), grown on Madagascar, Réunion, and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean; V. tahitensis, grown in the South Pacific; and V. pompona, found in the West Indies, and Central and South America. The majority of the world’s vanilla is the V. planifolia species, more commonly known as Bourbon vanilla (after the former name of Réunion, Île Bourbon) or Madagascar vanilla, which is produced in Madagascar and neighbouring islands in the southwestern Indian Ocean, and in Indonesia.

Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron, because growing the vine and producing the vanilla seed pods is labour-intensive. Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavour. As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture, and aromatherapy.

Vanilla grows as a vine, climbing up an existing tree (also called a tutor), pole, or other support. It can be grown in a forest (on trees), in a plantation (on trees or poles), or in a “shader”, in increasing orders of productivity. Its growth environment is referred to as its terroir, and includes not only the adjacent plants, but also the climate, geography, and local geology. Left alone, it will grow as high as possible on the support, with few flowers. Every year, growers fold the higher parts of the plant downward so the plant stays at heights accessible by a standing human. This also greatly stimulates flowering.

Flowers are greenish-yellow, with a diameter of 5 cm. They last only a day, and must be pollinated manually, during the morning, if fruit is desired. The plants are self-fertile, and pollination simply requires a transfer of the pollen from the anther to the stigma. If pollination does not occur, the flower is dropped the next day. In the wild, there is less than 1% chance that the flowers will be pollinated, so in order to receive a steady flow of fruit, the flowers must be hand-pollinated when grown on farms.

Fruit is produced only on mature plants, which are generally over 3 m long. The fruits are 15-23 cm long pods (often incorrectly called beans). Outwardly they resemble small bananas. They mature after about five months, at which point they are harvested and cured. Curing ferments and dries the pods while minimising the loss of essential oils. Vanilla extract is obtained from these pods.

The major chemical components from the pods are vanillin, vanillic acid, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde and 4-hydroxybenzoic acid. Natural vanilla extract is a mixture of several hundred different compounds in addition to the main ones listed previously. Artificial “vanilla essence” is often a solution of pure vanillin, of synthetic origin. Because of the scarcity and expense of natural vanilla extract, synthetic preparation of its predominant component has long been of interest. The first commercial synthesis of vanillin began with the more readily available natural compound eugenol. Today, artificial vanillin is made either from guaiacol or lignin. Lignin-based artificial vanilla flavouring is alleged to have a richer flavour profile than oil-based flavouring; the difference is due to the presence of acetovanillone, a minor component in the lignin-derived product that is not found in vanillin synthesised from guaiacol.

Vanilla was cultivated for use as a flavouring by pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people; at the time of their conquest by Hernán Cortés, the Aztecs used it as a flavouring for drinking chocolate. Europeans became aware of both chocolate and vanilla around 1520. The major use of vanilla noawdays is as a flavouring, usually in sweet foods. The ice cream and chocolate industries together comprise 75% of the market for vanillin as a flavouring, with smaller amounts being used in confections and baked goods.

Vanillin is also used in the fragrance industry, in perfumes (unfortunately for me – as I find these perfumes quite distasteful!), and to mask unpleasant odours or tastes in medicines, livestock fodder, and cleaning products. It is also used in the flavour industry, as a very important keynote for many different flavours, especially creamy profiles such as creamy soda.

Vanillin has been used as a chemical intermediate in the production of pharmaceuticals and other fine chemicals. In 1970, more than half the world’s vanillin production was used in the synthesis of other chemicals, but as of 2004, this use accounts for only 13% of the market for vanillin. Additionally, vanillin can be used as a general-purpose stain for developing thin layer chromatography plates to aid in visualising components of a reaction mixture. This stain yields a range of colours for these different components. Vanillin–HCl staining can be used to visualise the localisation of tannins in cells.

In the language of flowers the vanilla orchid signifies the sentiment: “My pure love will overcome all obstacles”. A vanilla pod indicates “my affection has turned to sweet love.”

Wednesday 27 July 2016


“Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it.” - Michael J. Fox

This week, Poets United is looking at the theme of “Acceptance”. Acceptance is when we accept what is offered to us, even if we know how bad that thing or situation may be; we accept an idea or a belief, even if we may not agree with it; we accept a difficult situation and we learn to live with it. We accept something if we live with it and we change our life accordingly so as to make it better, despite the differences that we have to cope with, the transformations that we go through, despite the rebuilding and reshaping. Adaptation forces us to evolve and evolution can make us better human beings.


The Moon!
How it has changed of late;
Still white and bright,
Shining clear and pure so high,
But cold and sterile,
So empty of meaning
Devoid of its mystique of old...

The Moon!
How I have changed, so gradually;
Less willing to believe,
Still hopeful and attentive,
But resigned to the facts
And able to accept
The Moon’s uncompromising frigidity...

Tuesday 26 July 2016


“Come with me to the Kasbah!” – Ganimian

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.
Morocco, officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Geographically, Morocco is characterised by a rugged mountainous interior and large portions of desert. It is one of only three countries (with Spain and France) to have both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines. The Arabic name al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyah (Arabic: المملكة المغربية‎‎, meaning “The Western Kingdom”) and Al-Maghrib (Arabic: المغرب‎‎, meaning “The West”) are commonly used as alternate names.

Morocco has a population of over 33.8 million and an area of 446,550 km2. Its political capital is Rabat. The largest city is Casablanca. Other major cities include Marrakesh, Tangier, Tetouan, Salé, Fes, Agadir, Meknes, Oujda, Kenitra, and Nador. A historically prominent regional power, Morocco has a history of independence not shared by its neighbours. Its distinct culture is a blend of Arab, indigenous Berber, Sub-Saharan African, and European influences.

Morocco claims the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara as its Southern Provinces. Morocco annexed the territory in 1975, leading to a guerrilla war with indigenous forces until a cease-fire in 1991. Peace processes have thus far failed to break the political deadlock. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The King of Morocco holds vast executive and legislative powers, especially over the military, foreign policy and religious affairs. Moroccan Arabic, referred to as Darija, and French are also widely spoken. Morocco is an influential member of the Arab League and a part of the Union for the Mediterranean. It has the sixth-largest economy in Africa.

Aït Benhaddou (Arabic: آيت بن حدّو‎‎), shown above, is a fortified city, or palace (ksar), along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. Most citizens living in the area now live in more modern dwellings in a nearby village, although there are 4 families still living in the ancient city. This giant fortification, which is made up of six forts (Kasbahs) and nearly fifty palaces, which are individual forts, is a great example of earthen clay architecture, which is also used in Moroccan architecture. Aït Benhaddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and several films have been shot there, including, Sodom And Gomorrah (1963), Time Bandits (1981), The Jewel of the Nile (1985), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Alexander (2004) and Prince of Persia (2010).

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,

and also part of the Trees & Bushes meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme.

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Monday 25 July 2016


“Vulnerability is the essence of romance. It’s the art of being uncalculated, the willingness to look foolish, the courage to say, ‘This is me, and I’m interested in you enough to show you my flaws with the hope that you may embrace me for all that I am but, more important, all that I am not.’ ” Ashton Kutcher

We have finished watching a 2011 Turkish TV series called “Bir Çocuk Sevdim” (literally “A Child I Loved”, but it could be also interpreted “A Girl I Loved” or “A Boy I Loved”). This was a well-produced and well-acted show with a host of talented stars and supporting cast. There were veteran actors like Çetin Tekindor and Bülent Inal, but also new talents like Gulcan Arslan making her TV debut in the starring role and Hakan Kurtas, the young male lead. We particularly enjoyed the performance of Sefika Tolun as the mother, Arzu Gamze Kilinç as the politically active aunt, Onuryay Evrentan as the psychologically challenged sister and the very talented youngster Ilayda Alisan. The series is set in Istanbul and there are many gorgeous external shots of this beautiful city making for some memorable scenes.

The plot is familiar enough for watchers of TV soaps, but there are several interesting subplots, which are developed well. The unfortunate thing about it is that the series finished abruptly (presumably because the plug was pulled) and the last episode finishes with a couple of cliff-hangers that are not resolved. Despite of its good quality of production and acting, the ratings must not have been high enough, or I wonder if the political subplot was one of the reasons that it was stopped…

In a nutshell, this is what it’s about: Turan (Çetin Tekindor) and Esmahan (Sefika Tolun) have three children: Emine the unmarried oldest daughter (Onuryay Evrentan), Erdal, a silly son (Ulas Torun) and Mine, the younger daughter (Gulcan Arslan) who is beautiful, clever and romantic. They seem to have a happy lower middle class family, notwithstanding some issues arising from Emine being jealous of Mine and being unable to get married. Mine is in love with Sinan (Hakan Kurtas), a young man from a rich family. Mine gets pregnant with Sinan’s baby and his parents send him away to the USA before he finds out about it, while Mine thinks he has abandoned her. Although Sinan tries to contact Mine, Emine scuttles this attempt.

Mine’s father is furious with his young daughter and conscious of the family’s reputation confines her to her room. His boss, the successful car dealer Timur (Bülent Inal) falls in love with Mine and proposes marriage, promising to look after her and the baby and telling Mine he does not expect her to share his bed. She accepts and she moves into his house having a separate locked bedroom. Timur has a teenage daughter, Merve (Ilayda Alisan) who resents Mine moving in and who proceeds to make life difficult for her.

The two important subplots centre on Mine’s aunt Sureya (Arzu Gamze Kilinç) who has lost her political insurgent husband after he was arrested for anti-government activities, and Emine the older sister who everyone takes for granted and acts like a spinster. Sureya’s search for her husband (or his grave) raises the issue of political freedom in Turkey and this may not have made the series too popular with government agencies. Emine’s transformation from a “spinster” to a predatory “vamp” is quite interesting to watch, and she plays the psychologically disturbed woman magnificently. A third thread in the plot follows the relationship of Mine’s father and mother and how they fare with the strains of having to deal with Mine’s (and Emine’s!) lapses from “socially acceptable” behaviour.

The Ibsen triangle of Mine, Timur and Sinan is interesting to observe, as is Mine’s transformation from a simple, romantic young girl into a mature, realistic and deeper thinking woman. Sinan, as the victim of a plot to foil his love and separate him from his son, is perhaps the most innocent of all the characters, but he remains relatively immature and perhaps the most devoted to the ideals of romantic first love. Timur as the worldly older man who nevertheless is not only in love, but loves Mine, will stop at nothing to ensure her happiness. He nevertheless does believe in the maxim “all’s fair in love and war”.

We enjoyed watching this series but the last (78th) episode was a little disappointing in that it prepared the ground for a second season that was never made. As I have written here previously, the Turkish TV series industry is fiercely competitive and the rating system is uncompromising as to dictating the fate of the shows that progress to multi-season hits.

Sunday 24 July 2016


“Religion doesn’t make people bigots. People are bigots and they use religion to justify their ideology.” - Reza Aslan

Emil Nolde, original name Emil Hansen (born Aug. 7, 1867, Nolde, near Bocholt, Ger.—died April 15, 1956, Seebüll, near Niebüll, W.Ger.) was a German Expressionist painter, printmaker, and watercolourist known for his violent religious works and his foreboding landscapes. Born of a peasant family, the youthful Nolde made his living as a wood-carver. He was able to study art formally only when some of his early works were reproduced and sold as postcards. In Paris, Nolde began to paint works that bear a superficial affinity to Impressionistic painting. In 1906 he was invited to join Die Brücke, an association of Dresden-based Expressionist artists who admired his “storm of colour.” But Nolde, a solitary and intuitive painter, dissociated himself from that tightly knit group after a year and a half.

Fervently religious and racked by a sense of sin, Nolde created such works as “Dance Around the Golden Calf” (1910) and “In the Port of Alexandria” from the series depicting “The Legend of St. Maria Aegyptica” (1912), in which the erotic frenzy of the figures and the demonic, mask-like faces are rendered with deliberately crude draughtsmanship and dissonant colours. In the “Doubting Thomas” from the nine-part polyptych “The Life ofChrist” (1911–12), the relief of Nolde’s own religious doubts may be seen in the quiet awe of St. Thomas as he is confronted with Jesus’ wounds.

During 1913 and 1914 Nolde was a member of an ethnological expedition that reached the East Indies. There he was impressed with the power of unsophisticated belief, as is evident in his lithograph “Dancer” (1913). Back in Europe, Nolde led an increasingly reclusive life on the Baltic coast of Germany. His almost mystical affinity for the brooding terrain led to such works as his “Marsh Landscape” (1916), in which the low horizon, dominated by dark clouds, creates a majestic sense of space.

Landscapes done after 1916 were generally of a cooler tonality than his early works. But his masterful realisations of flowers retain the brilliant colours of his earlier works. He was a prolific graphic artist especially noted for the stark black-and-white effect that he employed in crudely incised woodcuts. Nolde was an early advocate of Germany’s National Socialist Party, but, when the Nazis came to power, they declared his work “decadent” and forbade him to paint. After World War II he resumed painting but often merely reworked older themes. His last “Self-portrait” (1947) retains his vigorous brushwork but reveals the disillusioned withdrawal of the artist in his 80th year.

The painting above is the “Familienbild” (Family Portrait) of 1947. A tightly knit composition reflects the theme of the work and the colours are bright and bold, but still associated with each member of the group: The child bright and golden full of sunny future hopes. The father in olives, oranges and browns, has an aura of peace, despite that dark brooding look. The mother multi-coloured but the striking blue in face and clothing perhaps symbolic of depth and stability, trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith and truth.