Saturday, 12 January 2013


“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” - Plato
For Music Saturday a wonderful set of works by Georg Philipp Telemann. It is his “Essercizii Musici”, a set of sonatas for chamber instruments, performed (beautifully!) in this case by Camerata Köln.

Georg Philipp Telemann (14 March 1681 – 25 June 1767) was a German Baroque composer and multi-instrumentalist. Almost completely self-taught in music, he became a composer against his family’s wishes. After studying in Magdeburg, Zellerfeld, and Hildesheim, Telemann entered the University of Leipzig to study law, but eventually settled on a career in music.
He held important positions in Leipzig, Sorau, Eisenach, and Frankfurt before settling in Hamburg in 1721, where he became musical director of the city's five main churches. While Telemann’s career prospered, his personal life was always troubled: His first wife died only a few months after their marriage, and his second wife had extramarital affairs and accumulated a large gambling debt before leaving Telemann.
Telemann was one of the most prolific composers in history (at least in terms of surviving oeuvre) and was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the leading German composers of the time - he was compared favorably both to his friend Johann Sebastian Bach, who made Telemann the godfather and namesake of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and to George Frideric Handel, whom Telemann also knew personally.
Telemann’s music incorporates several national styles (French, Italian) and is even at times influenced by Polish popular music. He remained at the forefront of all new musical tendencies and his music is an important link between the late Baroque and early Classical styles.

Friday, 11 January 2013


“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” - Albert Schweitzer

A vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat or fish, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons. Vegetarians usually eat dairy products and eggs. A vegan is a person who does not eat or use any animal products whatsoever. From antiquity, many philosophers have espoused the vegetarian diet: Plutarch, Hesiod, Horace, Plotinus, Buddha, and since then many other notable people (see the interesting Wikipedia list).

Here is a vegetarian pâté that is both wholesome and delicious.

Lentil pâté with nuts


3 cups diced carrots
1 and 1/2  cups cooked lentils
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon chopped sage
1 teaspoon curry
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon of soy sauce
3/4 cups rolled oats, ground
3/4 cups pecan nuts or walnuts chopped finely
2 tablespoons of parsley
1/3 cup yoghurt
1/3 cup tahini (optional)
Olive oil
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper

Sauté in olive oil the onions and garlic until golden, and then stir in the oats and spices. Cook the carrots and blend with lentils and onions and garlic to make a purée.  Add the rest of ingredients and mix well. Put it into greased baking pan and bake it at 180ºC for 40 minutes. For best results, refrigerate overnight. Serve at room temperature or cold. Great on a sandwich.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday, 10 January 2013


“Australians have stewardship of a beautiful, diverse and unique environment. Positioning Australia to respond to a changing climate, securing supplies of water to meet our domestic, agricultural and industrial needs, protecting our globally unique biodiversity and providing positive futures for Australian communities are the critical issues facing the nation.” - CSIRO

Bushfires once again are rampant throughout much of Southeastern Australia this Summer. The relatively wet climactic conditions over the last few years have created lush vegetation, which in the dry heat that we have been experiencing now, is perfect fuel for the wild fires that sweep through the wooded areas. Bushfire has been part of the Australian landscape for millions of years, but while we consider it a major threat, some of our flora and fauna depend upon it for their survival. Australia’s native vegetation encourages the spread of fire and as a consequence of evolution, bushfires create a number of surprising benefits for the Australian environment that cannot be created any other way.

Eucalyptus forest litter is coarse and decays slowly, ensuring that after several years there will still be an abundant build-up on the forest floor to carry the next fire. The bark of many native species is highly flammable and loosely attached to the trees, making ideal firebrands to carry fire across natural barriers. The green leaves contain highly flammable oils and resins that act as a catalyst to promote combustion before the leaves are fully dry. These factors predispose greatly to fires and sooner or later, in some part of Australia, weather patterns will occur so that strong, hot, dry winds will blow from the centre of the continent, so all that is needed is a spark to produce a conflagration. If these conditions of hot dry weather are associated with a drought of any length, the massive bushfire that develops will not be stopped until the weather moderates.

The Australian Aborigines lived in harmony with the environment before European settlement and they had learnt that they had to break up the forest fuel in order to survive within the landscape filled with many hazards. They burnt off vegetation extensively and often, so as to reduce forest litter. They learnt by observation the responses of the plants and animals to burning and took advantage of these responses to exist harmoniously and sustainably within the natural environment.

Since European settlement, the total amount of fire in the Australian landscape has declined. The bushland areas and particularly those around Sydney and Melbourne have thickened and accumulated more fuel. As a result, the infrequent fires that now occur under extreme weather burn much more intensely and have a significant impact on the built environment. Fragmentation of the bush by different land use practices, such as spreading urbanisation and agriculture, means that the Aboriginal fire regime is no longer possible or desirable in these areas.

Australian native flora and fauna have evolved to survive in a fire-prone environment. In order to maintain the biodiversity of the native areas of vegetation and its resident fauna, we have to accept that fire is a process that must be used to manage our bushland. Nothing else except bushfire does the following:
  • Fire produces the chemicals in the ash to stimulate new growth of vegetation;
  • Smoke stimulates the flowering and regeneration of particular species;
  • The heat pulse of a passing bushfire removes growth-inhibiting toxins in the litter;
  • Opens tightly-closed fruits to release new seed;
  • Penetrates deep into the soil to stimulate the germination of long-buried seed.
Nothing else except bushfire produces the succession of plant development to which our native fauna have adapted to meet their requirements for food, shelter and reproduction.

Australian bushfires fires threaten lives and property and cause millions of dollars of damage each year. To a large extent, this is because since European settlement we have modified the Australian native environment and have made it adapt to a land use and settlement pattern that is more suited to a northern European, cooler and wetter climate, which has a completely different flora and fauna. The introduction of many exotic tree species such as European and American deciduous trees and also the evergreen pines has meant that the response of the landscape to bushfires has become less characteristic and unpredictable. The construction of residences within or adjacent to wooded areas has increased the risk of property destruction and loss of life. People’s ideas regarding the aesthetics of the landscape – i.e. that it should be green and lush and unravaged by the effects of fire is contrary to the Australian environment and the wise management of the land that the Aborigines were in charge of so successfully for millennia.

We must learn to accept that in Australia, bushfire is an ecological process that is as natural as the sun and the rain. We must learn to accept that bushfire determines the composition of our flora and fauna and contributes to its success within Australia’s unique landscape. If we want to reduce the devastating and tragic effects of uncontrolled bushfires, we must make fire suppression a strategic and regular occurrence in our lives, in locations that are appropriate. We need to learn that it is the dry undergrowth and dead leaf, bark and twig litter that provides the fuel for bushfires, and use prescribed, planned burn-offs at appropriate times of the year in order to reduce fuel loads. This implies that people need to individually take responsibility for managing the fuels in their properties, and maintain their gardens and adjacent land so that they do not burn uncontrolled in summer.

Fire services and land management agencies need the support of individuals and community groups even when there is no fire emergency and accept the minor inconvenience of smoke in the air when fire is prescribed for hazard reduction, forest regeneration or biodiversity management. People living in areas adjacent to high fire hazards must plant wisely, manage the flora and potential bushfire fuel in their gardens and construct properties that are bushfire resistant and well-prepared for a wave of fire that may sweep through their property. As part of any bushfire survival plan, farmers and homeowners should assess how they can make their property defendable, consider what fire protection systems need to be in place and ensure they know the location of their nearest shelter in the event that they need to evacuate quickly. As fires can occur at unexpected times, it’s also important to plan for different scenarios, such as on a workday, during school holidays or at a social function. Above all, if people choose to evacuate, they must leave their property early.

We live in a vast, beautiful land. It is often that we find ourselves in a harsh and punishing environment. If we respect the land and work with it, we make our own survival more probable, while nurturing and sustaining the native flora and fauna that we are the custodians of.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


“In industry is all.” - Periander (One of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece).

The anniversary of the birth of:
John Smith
, American colonist (1580);
Gregory XV
(Alessandro Ludovisi), Pope of Rome (1554);
Carrie Chapman Catt
, feminist (1859);
Chaim Nachman Bialik
, poet (1873);
John Watson
, founder of behaviourism (1878);
Karel Capek
, Czech playwright (1890);
Gracie Fields
(Grace Stansfield), singer (1898);
Chic Young
(Murat Bernard Young), “Blondie” cartoonist (1901);
Rudolf Bing
, conductor (1902);
Simone de Beauvoir
, French writer (1908);
Richard Milhous Nixon
, 37th president (1968-74) of the USA (1913);
Gypsy Rose Lee
(Rose Louise Hovick), stripper/writer (1914);
Judith Krantz
, writer (1928);
Joan Baez
, singer (1941);
Susannah York
(Susannah Yolande Fletcher), actress (1941);
Crystal Gayle
, singer (1951).

The birthday plant for this day is lavender, Lavandula spica.  The name of the plant is derived from the Latin lavo = “wash”, as the plant has been used for centuries to scent bath water and soaps.  The Greeks called lavender nardos, from which the English “nard”.  This is because the herb grew abundantly in Naarda, Syria.  The plant signifies assiduity, mistrust and acknowledgment.  Mercury rules this plant according to the astrologers.  Before the more recent meaning of distrust was attached to the herb, lovers exchanged sprigs of lavender as a sign of affection:
            “He from his lasse him lavender hath sent,
            Showing her love and doth quit all crave.”
                                              (Michael Drayton, 1563-1631)

It was customary, however, for lavender not to be grown in a household where there were daughters, as “lavender will only grow in old maids’ gardens”. If the herb thrived in a garden, it was said that the daughter of the house would never marry.

On this day in 1848, Caroline Lucretia Herschel, died. She was an English astronomer, the sister of William Herschel for whom she worked as an assistant. She discovered 9 comets. Also died on this day in 1878, Victor Emmanuel, the first king of Italy.


1       400 g can of full cream, condensed, sweetened milk
1       canful of water
50     g butter

1/2    teaspoonful vanilla essence
2       drops of lavender essential oil

1/2    drop each of red and blue food colour (to make purple)
450   g granulated sugar


Pour the milk into a saucepan, fill the can with water and add it to the milk. Stir and add the butter, vanilla essence and sugar. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then boil steadily, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage (116˚C on a sugar thermometer). For a softish candy remove from the heat immediately and add the lavender oil and food colour, stirring all the while. Grease a 20 cm square tin with a little butter and pour in the unbeaten mixture. Allow to become almost cold and then mark into squares. Wrap the squares in cellophane once they are cold. (If you prefer a crisper candy, once the soft ball stage has been reached, boil slowly at 116˚C for a further 1-2 minutes, then treat as previously).

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


“Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

Magpie Tales has provided a visual prompt by Daniel Murtagh, as a means of stimulating some literary creativity. The image is quite striking and resulted in this response from me…


Eyes of flint and limpid quartz
Flashes of evil witchcraft in your arcane gaze.
Eyes of serpents, fireflies, lizards
Green laurel and deadly nightshade –
A healing balsam mixed with poison!

The nightingale and the siren sing
Sweet words that hide a fatal meaning.
Your voice enchanting music
Your teeth biting each syllable,
Making it shout in barbarous pleasure…

Your lips are red like a gaping wound
Your kiss is cold like the sepulchral marble,
Yet burning like infernal fire.
Your lips are scarlet like a strawberry,
A bite and sweet blood flows! Juice of the forbidden fruit.

As my hands touch your soft skin
Your silver nails gash my flesh;
The vice of your embrace crushes me,
I die and suffocate whispering your name,
While up in the sky the sickle of a moon
Cuts the thin thread of my life.

Monday, 7 January 2013


“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the weekend we watched the 2011 Tate Taylor movie “The Help”, starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard. It was based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, with a screenplay by the film’s director, Tate Taylor. The film was excellent and despite its 146 minute run-time it kept us engaged and entertained the whole time we were watching it. It has its mix of pathos and humour, light-heartedness and poignancy, sadness and happiness. Not having read the novel, this review is limited to the movie, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

The plot is set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the tumultuous 1960s, when civil rights had become a burgeoning issue in the USA. Skeeter (Stone) is a southern society girl who returns from “Ole Miss” determined to become a writer, and begins by getting a job as a newspaper’s household hint columnist, a topic she knows nothing about. As she turns to the black housemaids for advice, she decides to interview these black women who have spent their lives taking care of the well-to-do southern families. Aibileen (Davis), Skeeter’s best friend’s housekeeper, is the first to talk to Skeeter. This causes the dismay of Aibelene’s friends in the black community who are suspicious of Skeeter’s motives and afraid of repercussions. Skeeter places her childhood friendships on the line when she and Aibileen continue their collaboration. Several deplorable incidents involving the humiliation and victimisation of the black maids, cause more of them to come forward to tell their amazing and sad stories. Along the way, new alliances are made, old friendships are reviewed and new friendships forged.

This movie is a good example of how well a Hollywood movie can be made about an issue that is sensitive, controversial and quite thorny. It confronts and challenges the viewer, but at the same time it uses humour subtly, in order to relentlessly satirise and ridicule attitudes that caused so much misery and despair in the lives of so many people at those times. The humour is often scatological, but there is a good reason for this, given the whole issue regarding the use of separate toilets by the black and white people in the same households, which was quite a widely debated topic at that time and place.

The acting is excellent and Viola Davis shines forth in a magnificent performance as Aibeleen, the black maid. Octavia Spencer as Minny, another black maid, provides the right mix of humour and bravura, while Emma Stone, as Skeeter, puts in a good performance in what is a difficult role, one that could easily be sugar-coated. However, Stone’s performance is genuine and sensitive. Bryce Dallas Howard is great in her rendition of Hilly Holbrook, a social shark, displaying her full glory of ignorance, entitlement and superiority. Her minions and followers emulate her moves and adopt her views, hoping to gain her approval. The cinematography, costumes, hair and make-up are perfect in setting up the class differences and taking us back in time very successfully. The incidental TV and radio segments provide context and timing with the deaths of Medger Evers and JFK.

This is a film worth watching and it certainly motivated us to look for the book in order to read it.

Sunday, 6 January 2013


“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.” - Vincent Van Gogh

Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817-1900) was born in the family of a merchant of Armenian origin in the town of Feodosia, in the Crimea.  His parents suffered economic hardship and he spent his childhood in poverty. With the help of people who had noticed the talented youth, he entered the Simferopol gymnasium, and then the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, where he took the landscape painting course and was especially interested in seascapes.

In the autumn of 1836 Aivazovsky presented 5 marine pictures to the Academic exhibition, which were highly appreciated. In 1837, Aivazovsky received the Major Gold Medal for “Calm in the Gulf of Finland” (1836) and “The Great Roads at Kronstadt” (1836), which allowed him to go on a long study trip abroad. However, the artist first went to the Crimea to perfect himself in his chosen genre by painting the sea and views of Crimean coastal towns.

During the period of 1840-1844 Aivazovsky, as a pensioner of the Academy of Arts, spent time in Italy, traveled to Germany, France, Spain, and Holland. He worked much and had many exhibitions, meeting everywhere with success. He painted a lot of marine landscapes, which became very popular in Italy: “The Bay of Naples by Moonlight” (1842), “Seashore; Calm” (1843), “Malta; Valetta Harbour” (1844). His works were highly appreciated by J.W.M. Turner, a prominent English landscape and marine painter.

In the course of his work, Aivazovsky evolved his own method of depicting the motion of the sea – from memory, without preliminary sketches, limiting himself to rough pencil outlines. Aivazovsky’s phenomenal memory and romantic imagination allowed him to do all this with incomparable brilliance. The development of this new method reflected the spirit of the age, when the ever-increasing romantic tendencies put an artist’s imagination to the front.

When in 1844 the artist returned to St. Petersburg, he was awarded the title of Academician, and became attached to the General Naval Headquarters. This allowed him to travel much with Russian fleet expeditions on different missions; he visited Turkey, Greece, Egypt, America. From 1846 to 1848 he painted several canvases with naval warfare as the subject; the pictures portrayed historical battles of the Russian Fleet “The Battle of Chesme” (1848), “The Battle in the Chios Channel” (1848), “Meeting of the Brig Mercury with the Russian Squadron” (1848).

Towards the 1850s the romantic features in Aivazovsky’s work became increasingly pronounced. This can be seen quite clearly in one of his best and most famous paintings “The Tenth Wave” (1850) and also in “Moonlit Night” (1849), “The Sea; Koktebel” (1853), “Storm” (1854) and others.

The process, which determined the development of Russian art in the second half of the 19th century, also affected Aivazovsky. A new and consistently realistic tendency appeared in his work, although the romantic features still remained. The artist’s greatest achievement of this period is “The Black Sea” (1881), a picture showing the nature of the sea, eternally alive, always in motion. Other important pictures of the late years are “The Rainbow” (1873), “Shipwreck” (1876), “The Billow” (1889), “The ‘Mary’ Caught in a Storm” (1892).

Aivazovsky left more than 6000 pictures, which vary greatly in artistic value. There are masterpieces and there are second-rate works. He failed in drawing landscapes, and was challenged when attempting to paint the human figure. Aivazovsky got good commissions and became quite rich. He spent much money for charity, especially for his native town, he opened in Feodosia the first School of Arts (in 1865), then the Art Gallery (in 1889). He was a member of Academies of Stuttgart, Florence, Rome and Amsterdam.

The artist visited Constantinople several times throughout his life and returned to the subject often. Aivazovsky’s talents were recognised by Sultan Abdülaziz (1830-1876) who commissioned a series of views of Constantinople in 1874 to decorate the Dolmabahçe Palace. Sotheby’s London achieved the record price for a Turkish view by Aivazovsky with “View of Constantinople and the Bosphorus”, (1856 – see above) which sold for £3,233,250 in April 2012.