Saturday 26 November 2016


“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” - Khalil Gibran 

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (12 August 1644 [baptised] – 3 May 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist. Born in the small Bohemian town of Wartenberg (Stráž pod Ralskem), Biber worked at Graz and Kroměříž before he illegally left his Kremsier (Kroměříž) employer (Prince-Bishop Carl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno) and settled in Salzburg. He remained there for the rest of his life, publishing much of his music but apparently seldom, if ever, giving concert tours.

 Biber was one of the most important composers for the violin in the history of the instrument. His technique allowed him to easily reach the 6th and 7th positions, employ multiple stops in intricate polyphonic passages, and explore the various possibilities of scordatura tuning. He also wrote one of the earliest known pieces for solo violin, the monumental passacaglia of the “Mystery Sonatas”.

During Biber’s lifetime, his music was known and imitated throughout Europe. In the late 18th century he was named the best violin composer of the 17th century by music historian Charles Burney. In the late 20th century Biber’s music, especially the “Mystery Sonatas”, enjoyed a renaissance. Today, it is widely performed and recorded.

The “Rosary Sonatas” (also known as the “Mystery Sonatas”) are a collection of 16 short sonatas for violin and continuo, with a final passacaglia for solo violin. Each has a title related to the Christian Rosary devotion practice and possibly to the Feast of the Guardian Angels. It is presumed that the “Mystery Sonatas” were completed around 1676, but they were unknown until their publication in 1905. Once rediscovered, the “Mystery Sonatas” became Biber’s most widely known composition. The work is prized for its virtuosic vocal style, scordatura tunings and its programmatic structure.

The music of Biber was never entirely forgotten due to the high technical skill required to play many of his works; this is especially true of his works for violin. Violinists therefore always were partial to the works as they provide a showcase for their talents and they allow exploration of the violin’s potential for different sonorities and unusual chord soundings with the scordatura  tuning.

The second work in which Biber explored scordatura techniques is Harmonia Artificioso-Ariosa (1696), his last known published collection of instrumental music. It contains seven partitas for two instruments and basso continuo: five for two violins, one for two violas d’amore, and one for violin and viola. Six of the partitas require scordatura tunings, including those for viola and two violas d’amore; Biber utilises the full potential of the technique, including all possibilities for complex polyphony: Some of the pieces are in five parts, with both of the melodic instruments carrying two. Interestingly, no other chamber works by Biber use such devices, and the only other pieces to use scordatura are two of the sonatas included in Sonatae violino solo of 1681. That collection comprises eight sonatas for violin and basso continuo, all noted already by Charles Burney in late 18th century, for the brilliant virtuosic passages and elaborate structures. In contrast to both Mystery Sonatas and Harmonia, these works consist mostly of pieces in free forms (prelude, aria) or variations, rather than dances.

Here is Harmonia Artificioso-Ariosa of 1696, played by by Musica Antiqua Köln and Reinhard Goebel. You may buy these excellent CDs on Amazon.

Friday 25 November 2016


“Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.” - Oren Arnold 

It’s that time of the year again and if you haven’t made your Christmas cake yet (like us, here), you’re leaving it a bit late. This weekend is our last chance, so here it goes, leaving it to mature a few weeks before serving it up at the Christmas table!

Christmas Fruit Cake
1kg mixed dried fruit (use a mix of raisins, sultanas, currants, cherries, cranberries, prunes, figs, candied citrus peel)
zest and juice 1 orange
zest and juice 1 lemon
150ml brandy, plus extra for feeding
250g unsalted butter , softened
200g light soft brown sugar
175g plain flour
100g finely ground almond meal
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 tsp ground cloves
1/3 tsp ground mace
100g flaked almond
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Icing of your choice (optional)

Put the dried fruit, zest and juice, brandy, butter and sugar in a large pan set over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Tip the fruit mixture into a large bowl and leave to cool for 30 mins.
Heat fan-forced oven to 130˚C. Line a deep 20cm cake tin with a double layer of baking parchment, then wrap a double layer of newspaper around the outside – tie with string to secure.
Add the remaining ingredients to the fruit mixture and stir well, making sure there are no pockets of flour. Tip into your prepared tin, level the top with a spatula and bake in the centre of the oven for 2 hrs. Remove the cake from the oven, poke holes in it with a skewer and spoon over 2 tbsp of brandy. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin.
To store, peel off the baking parchment, then wrap well in cling film. Feed the cake with 1-2 tbsp brandy every fortnight, until you ice it. Don’t feed the cake for the final week to give the surface a chance to dry before icing.

Feel free to share a recipe of your own:

Thursday 24 November 2016


“A little backbiting gives life piquant sharpness.” - Agatha Christie 

Helichrysum italicum is a flowering plant of the daisy family Asteraceae. It is sometimes called the curry plant because of the strong smell of its leaves. It grows on dry, rocky or sandy ground around the Mediterranean. The stems are woody at the base and can reach 60 cm or more in height. The clusters of yellow flowers are produced in summer, they retain their colour after picking and are used in dried flower arrangements. 

An oil is produced from its blossoms, which is used for medicinal purposes. It is anti-inflammatory, fungicidal, and astringent. It soothes burns and raw chapped skin. It is used as a fixative in perfumes and has an intense fragrance. It has been claimed on some gardening forums that the curry plant is as effective a cat deterrent as the “scaredy-cat” plant, Plectranthus caninus (also known as Coleus canina).

This plant is used as a herb. Although called “curry plant” and smelling like curry powder, it has nothing whatsoever to do with this mixture of spices, nor with the curry tree (Murraya koenigii), and is not used as masala for curry dishes either. Rather, in cooking it has a resinous, somewhat bitter aroma reminiscent of sage or wormwood and is used like these: The young shoots and leaves are stewed in Mediterranean meat, fish or vegetable dishes til they have imparted their flavour, and removed before serving. Use cautiously as the flavour is intense!

A flowering branch in the language of flowers means: “Your manner is piquant”.

Wednesday 23 November 2016


“Only the broken-hearted know the truth about love.” - Mason Cooley

“Post-Truth” is Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year. The Oxford Dictionaries website told readers post-truth could be “one of the defining words of our time.” The term comes from an idea that became popular during the 2016 election campaign in the United States. Post-truth, as the website defines it, means to relate to situations where “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Oxford Dictionaries officials say they chose post-truth as Word of the Year because of its rising popularity. They said the term’s usage appeared to increase 2,000% in 2016 alone…

I note this as the Midweek Motif in the Poets United site this week relates to “stretching the truth” or to give it a more literary mien, to “use hyperbole”. This means to make exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally; and as a literary device relates to use exaggeration, going beyond the truth, in order to make a point. The word comes from the Greek: “huperbolē” meaning ‘excess’ (from huper ‘above’ + ballein ‘to throw’).

When in love we live in a world of hyperboles and our emotions are working overtime, being thrown above and beyond the ordinary, our every action and word being an exaggeration. Hence my poem is a love poem, which I cast in the form of a folk song – once again rather aptly, given the theme this week:

How Much Do I Love You?

I love you, dear, as heaven’s high
As deep as deep blue sea;
As broad and wide as endless sky
As tall as greenwood tree.

My love as endless, darling heart,
As universe no bounds;
And for each lovely starry part
My love expands its grounds.

To me you are more precious, love,
Than all the purest gold;
Rich gems and jewels I think of
Unmoved will leave me, cold.

Your sparkling eyes so lucent, clear,
Put diamonds bright to shame;
Your rosy lips so fiery red appear,
That put out fulgent flame.

I love you, dear, as hell is hot,
And as the ice is frozen;
My love for you a steady thought
For you’re the one I’ve chosen.

The illustration is a detail from John William Waterhouse's painting" "The Soul of the Rose".

Tuesday 22 November 2016


“I love driving; driving along the California coastline is the best drive in the world.” - Al Jardine

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.
San Diego (Spanish for “Saint James”) is a major city in California, in San Diego County, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, approximately 190 km south of Los Angeles and immediately adjacent to the border with Mexico. With an estimated population of 1,394,928 as of July 1, 2015, San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the United States and second-largest in California. It is part of the San Diego–Tijuana conurbation, the second-largest trans-border agglomeration between the US and a bordering country after Detroit–Windsor, with a population of 4,922,723 people.

San Diego is known as “the birthplace of California” and is known for its mild year-round climate, natural deep-water harbour, extensive beaches, long association with the United States Navy and recent emergence as a healthcare and biotechnology development centre. Historically home to the Kumeyaay people, San Diego was the first site visited by Europeans on what is now the West Coast of the United States. Upon landing in San Diego Bay in 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo claimed the entire area for Spain, forming the basis for the settlement of Alta California 200 years later.

The Presidio and Mission San Diego de Alcalá, founded in 1769, formed the first European settlement in what is now California. In 1821, San Diego became part of the newly-independent Mexico, which reformed as the First Mexican Republic two years later. In 1850, it became part of the United States following the Mexican–American War and the admission of California to the union. The city is the seat of San Diego County and is the economic centre of the region as well as the San Diego–Tijuana metropolitan area.

San Diego’s main economic engines are military and defence-related activities, tourism, international trade, and manufacturing. The presence of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), with the affiliated UCSD Medical Centre, has helped make the area a centre of research in biotechnology.

Downtown San Diego is located on San Diego Bay. Balboa Park encompasses several mesas and canyons to the northeast, surrounded by older, dense urban communities including Hillcrest and North Park. To the east and southeast lie City Heights, the College Area, and Southeast San Diego. To the north lies Mission Valley and Interstate 8. The communities north of the valley and freeway, and south of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, include Clairemont, Kearny Mesa, Tierrasanta, and Navajo. Stretching north from Miramar are the northern suburbs of Mira Mesa, Scripps Ranch, Rancho Peñasquitos, and Rancho Bernardo.

The far northeast portion of the city encompasses Lake Hodges and the San Pasqual Valley, which holds an agricultural preserve. Carmel Valley and Del Mar Heights occupy the northwest corner of the city. To their south are Torrey Pines State Reserve and the business centre of the Golden Triangle. Further south are the beach and coastal communities of La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, and Ocean Beach. Point Loma occupies the peninsula across San Diego Bay from downtown. The communities of South San Diego, such as San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, are located next to the Mexico–United States border, and are physically separated from the rest of the city by the cities of National City and Chula Vista. A narrow strip of land at the bottom of San Diego Bay connects these southern neighbourhoods with the rest of the city.

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

Add your own travel posts using the Linky tool below, and don't forget to be nice and leave a comment here, and link back to this page from your own post:

Monday 21 November 2016


“Twins have a special bond. They feel safer with each other than with their peers.” - Jeanne Phillips

We are watching the 2013 TV Series “Orphan Black created by John Fawcett and Graeme Manson, and starring Tatiana Maslany, Dylan Bruce and Jordan Gavaris. It is a Canadian science fiction thriller and focusses on human cloning. The series raises issues about the moral and ethical implications of human cloning, and its effect on issues of personal identity.

The plot centres on Sarah Manning (Maslany), who is an orphan, an outsider and street-wise grifter. After witnessing the suicide of a woman who seems to be her twin, Sarah assumes the stranger’s identity. Sarah wants to clean out the dead woman’s savings, but instead Sarah is thrust into a deadly mystery as she realises the unbelievable truth: She and the dead woman are clones. Sarah searches for answers that will help her survive, and she discovers that there are plenty more women like her out there – all genetically identical individuals who were planted in unsuspecting birth parents and nurtured in completely different circumstances. With no idea who created the clones, she’ll need to discover the reason in a hurry as an assassin is killing them one by one. Her foster brother Felix Dawkins (Gavaris), an eccentric, gay, over-the-top, artist helps Sarah in her quest for the truth.

After watching the first few episodes we were hooked. The series is well-written, well-produced, with extremely good acting and direction and a perfect blend of mystery, comedy, drama, science fiction and poignancy. Tatiana Maslany is amazing in her depiction of the clones, each of which has her own personality, quirks and mannerisms. Jordan Gavaris does a great job in depicting the unconventional Felix, but so often provides comic relief, making the sometimes “heavy” plot roll along. Maria Doyle Kennedy who plays Sarah’s foster mother does a great job with a character that hides many surprises.

We are up to Season 3 at the moment and still enjoying it immensely. The series received generally favourable reviews, with the first season scoring a 73 out of 100 on Metacritic; season 2 scoring a 79 out of 100; season 3 scoring 70 out of 100; and season 4 has a score of 80 out of 100. The fifth and final season will be aired in 2017 and I look forward to watching this series to the end. I am sure it will not disappoint.

Sunday 20 November 2016


“To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.” ― Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (in full Pierre-Cècile Puvis de Chavannes; born December 14, 1824, Lyon, France—died October 24, 1898, Paris) was the leading French mural painter of the later 19th century. He was largely independent of the major artistic currents of his time and he developed a style characterised by simplified forms, rhythmic line, and pale, flat, fresco-like colouring for allegorical pieces and idealisations of themes from antiquity. He was much admired by a diverse group of artists and critics, including Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Charles Baudelaire, and Théophile Gautier.

Puvis de Chavannes was born Pierre-Cécile Puvis in a suburb of Lyon, France. He was the son of a mining engineer. Being descended from of an old noble family of Burgundy, he later added the ancestral ‘de Chavannes’ to his name. Throughout his life, however, he spurned his Lyon origins, preferring to identify himself with the ‘strong’ blood of the Burgundians, where his father originated. Puvis de Chavannes was educated at the Amiens College and at the Lycée Henri IV in Paris. He intended to follow his father’s profession until a serious illness compelled him to convalesce at Mâcon with his brother and sister-in-law in 1844 and 1845, interrupting his studies.

A journey to Italy opened his mind to fresh ideas, and on his return to Paris in 1846 he announced his intention to become a painter. He studied first under Eugène Delacroix, but only very briefly, as Delacroix closed his studio shortly afterwards due to ill health. He studied subsequently under Henri Scheffer and then Thomas Couture. His training was not classical as he found that he preferred to work alone. He took a large studio near the Gare de Lyon and attended anatomy classes at the Académie des Beaux Arts. It was not until a number of years later, when the government of France acquired one of his works, that he gained wide recognition. Puvis de Chavannes made his Salon debut in 1850 with “Dead Christ”, “Negro Boy”, “The Reading Lesson”, and “Portrait of a Man”. In Montmartre, he had an affair with one of his models, Suzanne Valadon, who would become one of the leading artists of the day as well as the mother, teacher, and mentor of Maurice Utrillo.

Puvis de Chavannes’ work is seen as symbolist in nature, even though he studied with some of the romanticists, and he is credited with influencing an entire generation of painters and sculptors, particularly the works of the Modernists. One of his protégés was Georges de Feure. Puvis de Chavannes is best known for his mural painting, and came to be known as 'the painter for France.' His first commission was for his brother’s chateau, Le Brouchy, a medieval-style structure near Cuiseaux in Saône-et-Loire. The principal decorations take the four seasons as their theme. His first public commissions came early in the 1860s, with work at the Musée de Picardie at Amiens. The first four works were “Concordia” (1861), “Bellum” (1861), “Le Travail” (Work; 1863) and “Le Repos” (Rest; 1863).

Over the course of his career, Puvis received a substantial number of commissions for works to be carried out in public and private institutions throughout France. His early work at the Musée de Picardie had helped him to develop his classicising style, and the decorative aesthetic of his mural works. Among his public works are the later cycles completed at Amiens (“Ave Picardia Nutrix”, 1865), at Marseille, at Lyon and at Poitiers. Of particular importance is the cycle at the Palais de Beaux Arts in Lyon, which includes three significant works, filling the wall space in the main staircase. From left to right, the works are “Antique Vision” (1884), “The Wood Dear to the Arts and the Muses” (1884), and “Christian Inspiration”(1884).

Puvis’ career was tied up with a complicated debate that had been ongoing since the beginning of the Third Republic (1870), and at the end of the violence of the Paris Commune. The question at stake was the identity of France and the meaning of ‘Frenchness’. Royalists felt that the revolution of 1789 had been an immense disaster and that France had been thrown off course, while the Republicans felt that the Revolution had allowed France to revert to its true course. Consequently, works that were to be displayed in public spaces, such as murals, had the important task of fulfilling the ideology of the commissioning party. Many scholars of Puvis’ works have noted that his success as a ‘painter for France’ was largely due to his ability to create works which were agreeable to the many ideologies in existence at this time.

His first Parisian commission was for a cycle at the church of Saint Genevieve, which is now the secular Pantheon, begun in 1874. His two subjects were “L’Education de Sainte Geneviève” and “La Vie Pastoral de Sainte Geneviève”. This commission was followed by works at the Sorbonne, namely the enormous hemicycle, “The Sacred Grove” or “L’Ancienne Sorbonne” amongst the muses in the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne. His final commission in this trinity of Republican commissions was the crowning glory of Puvis’ career, the works “Summer” and “Winter”, at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris. Many of these works are characterised by their nod to classical art, visible in the careful balanced compositions, and the subject matter is frequently a direct reference to visions of Hellenistic Greece, particularly in the case of “Antique Vision”.

Puvis de Chavannes was president and co-founder in 1890 of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (National Society of Fine Arts) founded in Paris. It became the dominant salon of art at the time and held exhibitions of contemporary art that was selected only by a jury composed of the officers of the Société. Those who translated best the spirit of the work of Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes in their own creations were, in Germany, the painter Ludwig von Hofmann and in France, Auguste Rodin. His easel paintings also may be found in many American and European galleries.

The illustration above is the fresco “Summer” painted in the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris, from the end of the artist’s career.