Saturday 14 January 2017


“And tears are heard within the harp I touch.” - Petrarch 

Sir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax KCVO (8 November 1883 – 3 October 1953) was an English composer, poet, and author. His prolific output includes songs, choral music, chamber pieces, and solo piano works, but he is best known for his orchestral music. In addition to a series of symphonic poems he wrote seven symphonies and was for a time widely regarded as the leading British symphonist.

Bax was born in the London suburb of Streatham to a prosperous family. He was encouraged by his parents to pursue a career in music, and his private income enabled him to follow his own path as a composer without regard for fashion or orthodoxy. Consequently, he came to be regarded in musical circles as an important but isolated figure. While still a student at the Royal Academy of Music Bax became fascinated with Ireland and Celtic culture, which became a strong influence on his early development. In the years before the First World War he lived in Ireland and became a member of Dublin literary circles, writing fiction and verse under the pseudonym Dermot O’Byrne.

Later, he developed an affinity with Nordic culture, which for a time superseded his Celtic influences in the years after the First World War. Between 1910 and 1920 Bax wrote a large amount of music, including the symphonic poem ‘Tintagel’, his best-known work. During this period he formed a lifelong association with the pianist Harriet Cohen – at first an affair, then a friendship, and always a close professional relationship. In the 1920s he began the series of seven symphonies, which form the heart of his orchestral output.

In 1942 Bax was appointed Master of the King’s Music, but composed little in that capacity. In his last years he found his music regarded as old-fashioned, and after his death it was generally neglected. From the 1960s onwards, mainly through a growing number of commercial recordings, his music was gradually rediscovered, although little of it is regularly heard in the concert hall.

Here is his ‘Quintet for harp and strings’ (1919). This is a single-movement work for harp and string quartet written at the time of his first visit to Ireland following the First World War. This visit led to Bax’s lifelong fascination with Ireland and Irish mythology. It is played by the Mobius Ensemble (Philippe Honoré, Maya Iwabuchi [violins], Vicci Wardman [viola], Sally Pendlebury [cello], Alison Nicholls harp]).

Thursday 12 January 2017


“How the Doctor’s brow should smile, crown’d with wreaths of camomile.” - Thomas Moore

Chamomile (or chamomile) is the common name for several daisy-like plants of the family Asteraceae that are commonly used to make herbal infusions to serve various medicinal purposes. Popular uses of chamomile preparations include treating hay fever, inflammation, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders, insomnia, ulcers, gastrointestinal disorders, and haemorrhoids. Chamomile tea is also used to treat skin conditions such as eczema, chickenpox and psoriasis.

The word ‘chamomile’ derives, via French and Latin, from Greek χαμαίμηλον (khamaimēlon), i.e. ‘earth apple’, from χαμαί (khamai) ‘on the ground’ and μῆλον (mēlon) ‘apple’. The more common British spelling ‘camomile’, is the older one in English, while the spelling ‘chamomile’ corresponds to the Latin and Greek source.

Matricaria chamomilla (synonym: Matricaria recutita), is the so-called German chamomile, which is most commonly used in herbal tisanes and is an annual plant with the familiar daisy-like flowers and feathery leaves. Chamaemelum nobile commonly known as Roman chamomile, is a low perennial plant found in dry fields and around gardens and cultivated grounds in Europe, North America, and in Argentina. C. nobile is, along with Matricaria chamomilla, an important source of the herbal product known as ‘chamomile’.

Chamomile tisane is a herbal infusion made from dried chamomile flowers and hot water, though does not contain black, green, yellow or white tea (Camellia sinensis). Either German chamomile or Roman chamomile dried flowers may be used to make the tisane, or sometimes a mixture of both.

A wide variety of chemical compounds derived from both types of chamomile have been isolated and studied. They possess significant pharmacological actions, including antispasmodic, antidiarrhoeal, anti-inflammatory, antineoplastic, anticoagulant and anxiolytic effects. This may explain the traditional uses of chamomile in herbal medicine for treatment of inflammation associated with haemorrhoids when topically applied. There is level B evidence that German chamomile possesses anti-anxiety properties and could be used to treat stress and insomnia.

Chamomile is frequently added to skin cosmetics to serve as an emollient, and for its anti-inflammatory effects. Chamomile is also often used to enhance the colour of blonde hair and is used as a rinser after shampooing to this effect. German chamomile oil is used as a diffuser for aromatherapy benefits; and is also used to treat wounds and be blended with other essential oils such as lavender and rose.

People who are allergic to ragweed (also in the daisy family) may also be allergic to chamomile, due to cross-reactivity. However, there is still some debate as to whether people with reported allergies to chamomile were actually exposed to chamomile and not a plant of similar appearance. It is also important to realise that use of chamomile and its products medicinally may interact adversely with several pharmacological drugs that the patient may be also using. Also, because chamomile has been known to cause uterine contractions that can invoke miscarriage, the U.S. National Institutes of Health recommends that pregnant and nursing mothers not consume Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). A doctor can provide suitable advice.

In the language of flowers, German chamomile means: “Have patience and find sources of energy in your adversity”. A sprig of Roman chamomile implies: “Take heart and find resources to support your enterprise”.

Wednesday 11 January 2017


“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.” - Helen Keller

We live in a harsh age where people have become hardened and twisted, apathetic and callous. We live in times where values have been degraded so that the thing most valued is what can be sold for most money to the highest bidder. People close up like clams and their hearts shrivel up like mummified corpses. And we wonder why things keep going from bad to worse…

For those of us who still manage to feel, and empathise and remain open-hearted (at great personal risk), this world can seem to be nightmarish at the best of times, hellish at the worst. And yet we hope and we try to keep our openness at any cost. Poets United this week has the theme of “The Door”. My contribution below: 

Closed Doors 

Our doors are closed –
Just like our hearts –
For these are hard times,
Harder than corundum
Ready to grind down
Any trace of mercy.

Our doors are closed –
Just like our minds –
Free thought causes dissent,
Dissent is disunity
And disunity is weakness:
Far easier for prejudice and fear to rule.

Our doors are closed –
Just like our fists –
Clenched tight, ready to strike:
The best defence is swift attack,
Hit now, question later,
Collateral damage easy enough to justify.

Our doors are closed –
Just like our borders –
For we are pure and superior,
And we do not want to be tainted
By foreign blood,
Content in our incestuous decadence.

Our doors are closed –
But some of us leave the keys under the mat:
We of the generous open heart;
We of the free, open mind;
We of the outstretched open hand;
We of the open borders.

We wait for our door to open
And lay another plate on our table
For our food’s enough for one more.
We welcome change and progress
And we embrace the stranger
For our gods have taught us hospitality’s sacredness.

Tuesday 10 January 2017


“And finally Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.” - Roy Bean 

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 climate in Greece is predominantly Mediterranean. However, due to the country’s unique geography, Greece has a remarkable range of micro-climates and local variations. To the west of the Pindus mountain range, the climate is generally wetter and has some maritime features. The east of the Pindus mountain range is generally drier and windier in summer. The highest peak is Mount Olympus, 2,918 metres. The north areas of Greece have a transitional climate between the continental and the Mediterranean climate. There are mountainous areas that have an alpine climate. Overall, people have in mind Greece as a country with mild climate, lovely hot summers with little rain and generally warm winters free from extremes of temperature and certainly no snow. This is usually the case, especially in the islands…

This Winter, however, has been different. Meteorologists last Wednesday warned that a high-pressure system from Siberia is to sweep into Greece on Thursday, bringing freezing temperatures and snow to many parts of the country, including the capital. And so it was, with the extreme weather system named “Ariadne” sweeping into Greece and blanketing the whole country in snow, in some areas as deep as two metres and sending the temperatures plummeting to minus 20˚C in some areas. In Athens, the temperature failed to rise above 0˚C and several of the islands were covered in snow, right up to the beach. Some of the Greek islands are home to thousands of migrants and many are being moved to temporary housing and heated tents.

Icy temperatures right across Europe have left more than 20 people dead causing much havoc with disruption to electricity supplies, freezing water mains and closing roads. Italy saw ferries and flights cancelled and schools in the south closed on Monday. Turkey has also been badly affected. The Bosphorus was closed to shipping as a heavy snowstorm hit Istanbul. At least 10 people died of cold in Poland. Night temperatures in Russia plunged to minus 30˚C. Normally milder Greece has witnessed temperatures of minus 15C in the north where an Afghan migrant died of cold last week and roads were closed.

Here is a photo of the unusual situation where the Acropolis of Athens is covered with snow… Unusual, but not rare. I remember when we used to live in Athens, it did snow in Winter for a day or two, usually mid- to late January. The snow never lasted long and the cold was not as bitter as presently. But snow we did see! If you like the cold and snow, now is the time to go see Greece dressed in white!

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

Sunday 8 January 2017


“Painting is the most beautiful of all arts. In it, all sensations are condensed; contemplating it, everyone can create a story at the will of his imagination and-with a single glance-have his soul invaded by the most profound recollections; no effort of memory, everything is summed up in one instant. -A complete art which sums up all the others and completes them. -Like music, it acts on the soul through the intermediary of the senses: harmonious colors correspond to the harmonies of sounds. But in painting a unity is obtained which is not possible in music, where the accords follow one another, so that the judgment experiences a continuous fatigue if it wants to reunite the end with the beginning. The ear is actually a sense inferior to the eye. The hearing can only grasp a single sound at a time, whereas the sight takes in everything and simultaneously simplifies it at will.” - Paul Gauguin 

For Art Sunday today, one my favourites: Paul (Eugène, Henri) Gauguin, born June 7th, 1848, Paris, and died May 8th, 1903, Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. He was one of the leading French painters of the Postimpressionist period, whose development of an original and conceptual method of representation was a ground-breaking step for 20th-century art. After spending a short period with Vincent van Gogh in Arles (1888), Gauguin increasingly abandoned imitative art for expressiveness through colour. From 1891 he lived and worked in Tahiti and elsewhere in the South Pacific. His masterpieces include the early “Vision After the Sermon” (1888) and “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” (1897-98).

Although his art was to lie elsewhere, Gauguin began his painting surrounded by Impressionists. His artistic sensibility was deeply influenced by his experience of the first Impressionist exhibition, and he himself participated in those of 1880, 1881 and 1882. The son of a French journalist and a Peruvian Creole, whose mother had been a writer and a follower of Saint-Simon, he was brought up in Lima, joined the merchant navy in 1865, and in 1872 began a successful career as a stockbroker in Paris.

In 1874 he saw the first Impressionist exhibition, which completely entranced him and confirmed his desire to become a painter. He spent some 17,000 francs on works by Manet, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir and Guillaumin. Pissarro took a special interest in his attempts at painting, emphasizing that he should `look for the nature that suits your temperament', and in 1876 Gauguin had a landscape in the style of Pissarro accepted at the Salon. In the meantime Pissarro had introduced him to Cézanne, for whose works he conceived a great respect -so much so that the older man began to fear that he would steal his ‘sensations’. All three worked together for some time at Pontoise, where Pissarro and Gauguin drew pencil sketches of each other (Cabinet des Dessins, Louvre).

In 1883-84 the bank that employed him got into difficulties and Gauguin was able to paint every day. He settled for a while in Rouen, partly because Paris was too expensive for a man with five children, partly because he thought it would be full of wealthy patrons who might buy his works. Rouen proved a disappointment, and he joined his wife Mette and children, who had gone back to Denmark, where she had been born. His experience of Denmark was not a happy one and, having returned to Paris, he went to paint in Pont-Aven, a well-known resort for artists.

Here, he stopped working exclusively out-of-doors, as Pissarro had taught him, and generally began to adopt a more independent line. His meeting with van Gogh, the influence of Seurat, the doctrines of Signac, and a rediscovery of the merits of Degas--especially in his pastels--all combined with his own streak of megalomania to produce a style that had little in common with the thoughtful lyricism of the work of his erstwhile mentor Pissarro. Monet confessed to a liking of his Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1888; National Gallery of Scotland), which he saw at the exhibition Gauguin organised in 1891 to finance his projected excursion to places where he could live on “ecstasy, calmness and art”; the proceeds amounted to 10,0000 francs, some of it coming from Degas, who bought several paintings. There were still evident in these new works traces of pure Impressionism, and of the very clear influence of Cézanne (as in the Portrait of Marie Lagadu, 1890; Art Institute of Chicago) - a fact pointed up by a Cézanne still life owned by Gauguin which is shown behind her - but basically this period marked the parting of the ways between Gauguin and Impressionism.

Gauguin’s art has all the appearance of an abandonment of civilisation, of a search for new ways of life, more primitive, more real and more sincere. His break away from a solid middle-class world, leaving family, children and job, his refusal to accept easy glory and easy gain are the best-known aspects of Gauguin’s fascinating life and personality. One of his early “primitive” paintings, known as “Two Women on the Beach”, was painted in 1891, shortly after Gauguin’s arrival in Tahiti and was seminal for his stylistic shift. During his first stay there (he was to leave in 1893, only to return in 1895 and remain until his death), Gauguin discovered primitive art, with its flat forms and the violent colours belonging to an untamed nature. And then, with absolute sincerity, he transferred them onto canvas.

Gauguin’s Tahitian women, the bright violent colours of the clear Pacific sun, the tropical landscape and the unashamed sensuality of his compositions appealed to the French public, who were always on the lookout for the exotic, the sensual and the novel. It is these Tahitian canvases that established him as one of the most famous of the post-impressionists in the art scene and as one of the great artists of the world.

The painting above is “Pastorales Tahitiennes” (1892 87x113cm oil/canvas Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia). This work was painted during Gauguin’s first stay in Tahiti and it captures the idyll of the natural primitive life which Gauguin sought when he set off for Polynesia. He combined this romantic dream with his vivid impressions of the exotic landscape and wildlife, the unusual appearance of the islanders and their natural grace, their mysterious beliefs and rituals. One of the Tahitian girls is playing a flute: The Tahitians devoted flute music to the goddess of the Moon. It is evening, when the sun sets and the times of ritual dances and music in honour of the goddess begin. Beside the dog is what is probably a vessel for sacrifices of small birds and such like, carved out of a pumpkin. The painting is made up of a combination of pure colours, a rhythmic arrangement of lines and broad areas of colour, which is in harmony with the musical theme.