Saturday 2 September 2017


“The ability to play the clarinet is the ability to overcome the imperfections of the instrument. There’s no such thing as a perfect clarinet, never was and never will be.” - Jack Brymer

Johann Joseph Beer (18 May 1744, Grünwald, Bohemia – 28 October 1812, Berlin) was one of the first internationally famous clarinet virtuosos, with connections to many major composers of the era.

Beer served as trumpeter first in the Austrian and then in the French army during the Seven Years’ War. In 1771 he went to Paris, and there took up the clarinet, on which he rapidly became the first major performer of his time. In 1782 he left Paris, and travelled through Holland, Italy, Russia, and Hungary.

As a performer Beer effected a complete revolution in the clarinet, which he greatly improved by the addition of a fifth key. Until aged nearly fifty he had heard only French players, but having heard in Brussels a German performer, Schwartz, he discovered the instrument’s tonal capabilities, and finally became as celebrated for the softness and purity of his tone, for the delicacy of his nuances, and especially his decrescendo, as he was for his execution.

His compositions comprise three concertos for clarinets, variations, and duets. Here is his Concerto for Clarinet in B flat. Dieter Klöcker, clarinet Münchener Kammerorchester Hans Stadlmair (Recorded by Bayrischen Rundfunk in 26 October, 1995).


Friday 1 September 2017


“If you’re not the one cooking, stay out of the way and compliment the chef.” - Michael Strahan 

Apicius is a collection of Roman cookery recipes, usually thought to have been compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD and written in a language that is in many ways closer to Vulgar than to Classical Latin; later recipes using Vulgar Latin (such as ficatum, bullire) were added to earlier recipes using Classical Latin (such as iecur, fervere).

The name “Apicius” had long been associated with excessively refined love of food, from the habits of an early bearer of the name, Marcus Gavius Apicius, a Roman gourmet and lover of refined luxury, who lived sometime in the 1st century AD during the reign of Tiberius. He is sometimes erroneously asserted to be the author of the book that is pseudepigraphically attributed to him.

Apicius is a text to be used in the kitchen. In the earliest printed editions, it was usually called De Re Coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking), and attributed to an otherwise unknown Caelius Apicius, an invention based on the fact that one of the two manuscripts is headed with the words “API CAE” or rather because there are a few recipes attributed to Apicius in the text: Patinam Apicianam sic facies (IV, 14) Ofellas Apicianas (VII, 2). This ancient cookbook is also known as De Re Culinaria. This can be found in its entirety in an English translation here.

Here is a sweetmeat recipe from Apicius, given a modern interpretation. Apicius qualifies these as Dulcia Domestica, or “home-made sweets” to distinguish them from the sweetmeats one bought from the numerous confectioners that could be found easily in any ancient Roman city. 

Home-Made Sweets

30 large, sweet dates, pitted
35 g walnuts
35 g pine nuts
freshly ground pepper
a little fine salt
6 tbsp honey
Mascarpone cheese
Ground pistachio for garnishing 

Crush finely the nuts separately, and mix the walnuts with a little ground pepper, while lightly salting the pine nuts. Slit the dates to form a pocket and fill half of them with pine nuts, and the other half with walnuts. Tie the dates securely with kitchen string so that the stuffing does not fall out.
Heat the honey in a pan, add the dates, and cook gently for a few minutes until the honey has saturated the dates and they are heated right through. Allow to cool. Carefully remove the string from the dates, pipe with softened mascarpone cheese and sprinkle with some crushed pistachio nuts for garnishing.

Thursday 31 August 2017


“Pepper is small in quantity and great in virtue.” - Plato   

Aframomum melegueta is a species in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. This spice, commonly known as ossame, grains of paradise, Melegueta pepper, alligator pepper, Guinea grains, fom wisa, or Guinea pepper, is obtained from the ground seeds; it imparts a pungent, peppery flavour with hints of citrus. Although it is native to West Africa, it is also an important cash crop in the Basketo district of southern Ethiopia. The Pepper Coast (or Grain Coast) is a historical coastal region named after this commodity. 

A. melegueta is a herbaceous perennial plant native to swampy habitats along the West African coast. Its trumpet-shaped, purplish flowers develop into 5 to 7-cm long pods containing numerous small, reddish-brown seeds. The pungent, peppery taste of the seeds is caused by aromatic ketones; e.g., (6)-paradol (systematic name: 1-(4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-decan-3-one). Essential oils, which are the dominating flavour components in the closely related cardamom, occur only in traces.

The stem at times can be short and usually shows signs of scars and fallen leaves. The average leaves are usually 35 cm in length and 15 cm wide, with a well-structured vascular system. The flowers of the herbaceous plant are described as “handsome”, aromatic, with an orange-coloured lip and rich pinkish-orange upper part. The fruits contain numerous, small, golden red-brown seeds.

Melegueta pepper is commonly used in the cuisines of West and North Africa, where it has been traditionally imported by caravan routes through the Sahara desert, and whence they were distributed to Sicily and the rest of Italy. Mentioned by Pliny as “African pepper” but subsequently forgotten in Europe, they were renamed “grains of paradise” and became a popular substitute for black pepper in Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Ménagier de Paris recommends it for improving wine that “smells stale”.

In 1469, King Afonso V of Portugal granted the monopoly of trade in the Gulf of Guinea to Lisbon merchant Fernão Gomes, including the exclusive trade of Aframomum melegueta, then called “malagueta” pepper - which was granted by 100,000 real-annually in exchange for exploring 100 miles of the coast of Africa a year for five years. After Christopher Columbus reached the New World in 1492 and brought the first samples of Capsicum frutescens, and the name malagueta was then taken to the new chili “pepper”.

Malagueta, thanks to its low price, remained popular in Europe even after the Portuguese opened the direct maritime route to the Spice Islands around 1500. The importance of the spice is shown by the designation of the area from the St. Johns River (present day Buchanan) to Harper in Liberia as the “Grain Coast” in honour of the availability of grains of paradise. Later, the craze for the spice waned, and its uses were reduced to a flavouring for sausages and beer.

In the 18th century, its importation to Great Britain collapsed after a Parliamentary act of George III forbade its use in malt liquor, aqua vita, and cordials. In 1855, England imported about 15,000 to 19,000 lbs per year legally (duty paid). By 1880, the Encyclopædia Britannica (9th edition) was reporting, “Grains of paradise are to some extent used in veterinary practice, but for the most part illegally to give a fictitious strength to malt liquors, gin, and cordials.” 

Today, the spice is sometimes used in gourmet cuisine as a replacement for pepper, and to give unique flavours in some craft beers, gins, and Norwegian akvavit. In America, grains of paradise are starting to enjoy a slight resurgence in popularity due to their use by some well-known chefs. Alton Brown is a fan of its use, and he uses it in okra stew and his apple pie recipe on an episode of the TV cooking show "Good Eats". Grains of Paradise are also used by people on certain diets, such as a raw food diet, because they are less irritating to digestion than black pepper.

In West African folk medicine, grains of paradise are valued for their warming and digestive properties, and among the Efik people in Nigeria have been used for divination and ordeals determining guilt. The presence of the seeds in the diets of lowland gorillas seems to have some sort of medicinal properties for their cardiovascular health in the wild. As captive lowland gorillas have not had them usually available in their diets, it could be a cause of their occasionally poor cardiovascular health in zoos. A. melegueta has been introduced to the Caribbean and Latin America, where it is used in religious (voodoo) rites.

The fronds of A. melegueta in the language of flowers signify: “My ardour for you is well hidden”. A flower of the plant carries the message: “You are the source of my delight.”

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme.

Tuesday 29 August 2017


“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” - Plato 

Last weekend we watched film, which could have been better had the writing and editing been a bit tighter and the film cut a little more energetically. As it was, at 137 minutes, it dragged on somewhat, and given its rather “heavy” subject matter it tended to tire viewers rather than lead them into sympathetic introspection and involvement with the plot and characters. Perhaps this was because the writer and director were the one and the same person and self-indulgence ultimately won the day. It was nevertheless a film that we shall recommend for viewing (with reservations).

Manchester by the Sea (2016) Drama – Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan; starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges. – 6/10

Lee Chandler (Affleck) is a brooding, irritable loner who works as a handyman for a Boston apartment block. One damp winter day he gets a call summoning him to his hometown, north of the city. His middle-aged brother Joe (Chandler), who has had a heart disorder dies suddenly, and Lee has been made guardian of Patrick (Hedges), his 16-year-old nephew. As if losing his only sibling and doubts about raising a teenager weren’t enough, his return to his home town and the re-awakening of the past opens old wounds and makes him ultimately face an unspeakable tragedy that he has suppressed and marginalised for years.

The pace of the film is slow and laboured, and no doubt will depress some viewers who may choose to leave it half-watched. Flashbacks are used constantly, partly to reveal the reasons for Lee’s moroseness and loneliness, but also for dramatic effect. As a consequence, the story starts and stops, backtracks and then hardly advances, making for a weak screenplay. Flashbacks are a devil of a thing to get right… If you’re expecting fast action, car chases, thrills and spills, this is not the film for you. Yes, it is a psychological drama (even perhaps a melodrama as some clichés are used liberally – the use of music for dramatic effect I found a little heavy-handed), and thus prepare to be taken down into the dark depths.

However, it’s not all bad and towards the end as the film reaches a climax, the tragedy of the past is revealed, but somehow the protagonists remain strangely remote and cold, and Lee fails to be transformed or change positively as one would have predicted given the subject matter of the film. Affleck acts well enough for the needs of the script and Hedges is OK. The rest of the cast works well enough with what they’ve been given.

A tad pretentious perhaps, overlong and repetitive, melodramatic and slow, overflashbacked and with an anticlimactic end that leaves the viewer unsatisfied, why on earth would one watch it, I hear you ask. Well, it’s hard to answer that question, but nevertheless I don't regret seeing the movie. There were good moments in it and the plot showed promise, some scenes had great cinematography – enough for me to recommend the movie to someone to watch (with the provisos I have listed above). Would I watch this movie again? – Which is the ultimate test for a really good movie for me, – no, I wouldn’t…


“The biggest difference between England and America is that England has history, while America has geography.” - Neil Gaiman 

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.
Shrewsbury is the county town of Shropshire, England. It is on the River Severn and has a population of approximately 72,000. Shrewsbury is a market town whose centre has a largely unspoilt medieval street plan and over 660 listed buildings, including several examples of timber framing from the 15th and 16th centuries. Shrewsbury Castle, a red sandstone fortification, and Shrewsbury Abbey, a former Benedictine monastery, were founded in 1074 and 1083 respectively by the Norman Earl of Shrewsbury, Roger de Montgomery.

The town is the birthplace of Charles Darwin. Horticulture remains popular, and the Shrewsbury Flower Show is one of the largest horticultural events in England. Located 14 km east of the Welsh border, Shrewsbury serves as the commercial centre for Shropshire and mid-Wales, with a retail output of over £299 million per year and light industry and distribution centres, such as Battlefield Enterprise Park, on the outskirts. The A5 and A49 trunk roads cross near to the town, and five railway lines meet at Shrewsbury railway station.

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Ruby 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 27 August 2017


“If you want to make the most of travel to Russia, it is better to leave tight plans and preconceptions behind and just enjoy the journey.” - Tim Cope 

Konstantin Alekseyevich Korovin (Russian: Константи́н Алексе́евич Коро́вин, first name often spelled Constantin; 5 December [O.S. 23 November] 1861 – 11 September 1939) was a leading Russian Impressionist painter. Konstantin was born in Moscow to a merchant family officially registered as “peasants of Vladimir Gubernia”. His father, Aleksey Mikhailovich Korovin, earned a university degree and was more interested in arts and music than in the family business established by Konstantin’s grandfather. Konstantin’s older brother Sergei Korovin was a notable realist painter. Konstantin’s relative Illarion Pryanishnikov was also a prominent painter of the time and a teacher at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

In 1875 Korovin entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, where he studied with Vasily Perov and Alexei Savrasov. His brother Sergei was already a student at the school. During their student years, the Korovins became friends with fellow students Valentin Serov and Isaac Levitan; Konstantin maintained these friendships throughout his life. In 1881–1882, Korovin spent a year at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, but returned disappointed to the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. He studied at the school under his new teacher Vasily Polenov until 1886. In 1885 Korovin travelled to Paris and Spain. He later wrote: “Paris was a shock for me … Impressionists… in them I found everything I was scolded for back home in Moscow”.

Polenov introduced Korovin to Savva Mamontov’s Abramtsevo Circle: Viktor Vasnetsov, Apollinary Vasnetsov, Ilya Repin, Mark Antokolsky and others. The group's love for stylised Russian themes is reflected in Korovin’s picture “A Northern Idyll”. In 1885 Korovin worked for Mamontov’s opera house, designing the stage decor for Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida”, Léo Delibes’ “Lakmé” and Georges Bizet’s “Carmen”.

In 1888 Korovin travelled with Mamontov to Italy and Spain, where he produced the painting “On the Balcony, Spanish Women Leonora and Ampara”. Konstantin travelled within Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia and exhibited with the Peredvizhniki. He painted in the Impressionist, and later in the Art Nouveau, styles. In the 1890s Korovin became a member of the Mir Iskusstva art group. Korovin’s subsequent works were strongly influenced by his travels to the north.

In 1888 he was captivated by the stern northern landscapes seen in The Coast of Norway and the Northern Sea. His second trip to the north, with Valentin Serov in 1894, coincided with the construction of the Northern Railway. Korovin painted a large number of landscapes: “Norwegian Port”, “St. Triphon’s Brook in Pechenga”, “Hammerfest: Aurora Borealis”, and others. The paintings are built on a delicate web of shades of grey. The etude style of these works was typical for Korovin’s art of the 1890s. Using material from his trip, Korovin designed the Far North pavilion at the 1896 All Russia Exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod. He painted ten big canvasses for the pavilion as well, depicting various aspects of life in the northern and Arctic regions. After the closure of the Exhibition, the canvasses were eventually placed in the Yaroslavsky Rail Terminal in Moscow. In the 1960s, they were restored and transferred to the Tretyakov Gallery.

In 1900 Korovin designed the Central Asia section of the Russian Empire pavilion at the Paris World Fair and was awarded the Legion of Honour by the French government. In the beginning of the 20th century, Korovin focussed his attention on the theatre. He moved from Mamontov’s opera to the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. Departing from traditional stage decor, which only indicated the place of action, Korovin produced a mood decor conveying the general emotions of the performance. Korovin designed sets for Konstantin Stanislavsky’s dramatic productions, as well as Mariinsky’s operas and ballets, sets that became famous for their expressiveness.

In 1905 Korovin became an Academician of Painting and in 1909–1913 a professor at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. One of the artist’s favourite themes was Paris. He painted “A Paris Café” (1890s), “Café de la Paix” (1905), “La Place de la Bastille” (1906), “Paris at Night”, “Le Boulevard Italien” (1908), “Night Carnival” (1901), “Paris in the Evening” (1907), and others.

During World War I Korovin worked as a camouflage consultant at the headquarters of one of the Russian armies and was often seen on the front lines. After the October Revolution Korovin continued to work in the theatre, designing stages for Richard Wagner’s “Die Walküre” and “Siegfried”, as well as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” (1918–1920). In 1923 Korovin moved to Paris on the advice of Commissar of Education Anatoly Lunacharsky to cure his heart condition and help his handicapped son. There was supposed to be a large exhibition of Korovin’s works, but the works were stolen and Korovin was left penniless.

For years, he produced the numerous genre paintings of Russian Winters and Paris Boulevards just to make ends meet. In the last years of his life he produced stage designs for many of the major theatres of Europe, America, Asia and Australia, the most famous of which is his scenery for the Turin Opera House’s production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Golden Cockerel”. Korovin died in Paris on 11 September 1939. Konstantin’s son Alexey Korovin (1897–1950) was a notable Russian-French painter. Because of an accident during his childhood he had both feet amputated. Alexey committed suicide in 1950. 

The painting above is “Venice”, painted in 1894.