Saturday, 13 April 2013


“Ah, there are so many things betwixt heaven and earth of which only the poets have dreamed!” - Friedrich Nietzsche

Art Sunday is dedicated today to Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978). De Chirico was born in Volos, Greece into the family of an Italian railroad engineer. In the years before World War I, he founded the scuola metafisica art movement, which profoundly influenced the surrealists. After 1919, he became interested in traditional painting techniques, and worked in a neoclassical or neo-Baroque style, while frequently revisiting the metaphysical themes of his earlier work.

After studying art in Athens (mainly under the guidance of the influential Greek painter Georgios Roilos), and in Florence, De Chirico moved to Germany in 1906, following his father’s death in 1905. He entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he read the writings of the philosophers Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer and Otto Weininger, and studied the works of Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger.

He returned to Italy in the summer of 1909 and spent six months in Milan. At the beginning of 1910, he moved to Florence where he painted the first of his “Metaphysical Town Square” series. In 1910, de Chirico moved to Paris where he made contact with Picasso and befriended Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), French poet and leader of the avant-garde movement rejecting poetic traditions in outlook, rhythm, and language. In Paris de Chirico began to produce highly troubling dreamlike pictures of deserted cities, e.g. “The Great Tower”, “The Soothsayer’s Recompense”, “Mystery and Melancholy of a Street”. These were paintings with an incogruous combinations of images that carried a charge of mystery. The same haunting shapes tend to appear again and again in poetic combinations.

In 1917 in the Ferrara military hospital, de Chirico met a compatriot, also a painter, Carlo Carrà (1881-1966), and together they founded the Metaphysical Painting movement. Although the movement was short-lived, it was perhaps the most original and important movement in Italian art of the 20th century, and the highest point in de Chirico’s painting career. De Chirico’s metaphysical paintings were hugely influential on Surrealist artists, who recognised in them the eloquent expression of the unconscious and nonsensical to which they themselves aspired. “In words and by example, Ernst, Tanguy, Magritte, and Dali, among others, showed a rare unity in acknowledging de Chirico as a forerunner master.” (in “Modern Art” by Sam Hunter et al. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2000).

In 1918 de Chirico and Carrà contributed to the periodical “Valori Plastici” which gave a literary aspect to Metaphysical painting. By the 1930s, however, de Chirico had moved to a more conventional form of expression. His great interest in archaeology and history took the form of Neo-Baroque paintings full of horses, still-lives, and portraits. The Surrealists, in particular, condemned his later work. In 1929 de Chirico wrote “Hebdomeros”, a dream novel; but in the 1930s, after he had returned to Italy, he renounced all his previous work and reverted to an academic style, and to his study of the techniques of the old masters. He published his autobiography “Memorie della mia Vita” in 1945.

He remained extremely prolific even as he approached his 90th year. In 1974 he was elected to the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. He died in Rome on November 20, 1978. His brother, Andrea de Chirico, who became famous as Alberto Savinio, was also a writer and a painter.

The painting above “L’ enigma dell’ arrivo e del pomeriggio” (The Enigma of the Arrival and of the Afternoon) painted in 1911-1912 (oil on canvas, 70 x 86.5 cm in a private collection) is a typical de Chirico work where enigmatic figures move in stage-set like backgrounds reminiscent of a classical world. The yellow-green light and the other-worldly atmosphere immediately causes disquiet and the viewer is transported to a dream landscape where reality becomes irrelevant. The painting could be an illustration of a scene from the Odyssey, de Chirico’s background and influences well within this milieu.

Friday, 12 April 2013


“In music the passions enjoy themselves.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

2013 is the year when the world celebrates the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901). Verdi’s critical fortunes waned and waxed even in his lifetime, but since the days of Ernani (1844) and Rigoletto (1851), his works have aroused furore, delirious excitement, pathos and immense delight wherever opera is performed.

Verdi was perhaps a man of his tumultuous times and his music reflects this. He was born in an era in which the only known means of terrestrial locomotion was the horse-drawn carriage. When he died, a web of railways criss-crossed the Earth, and Agnelli had founded FIAT two years earlier. Two years after Verdi’s death, the Wright brothers made the first powered flight. When Verdi was born, candles and oil lamps were the only known means of illumination. When he died, the use of gaslight was widespread. Verdi was born in a divided Italy, when Europe was intent on squelching Napoléon’s armies and the ideals of liberté, égalité, and fraternité. When Verdi died, the third and final monarch of the Kingdom of Italy reigned, and socialism was spreading in Europe.

Verdi is considered with Richard Wagner the most influential composer of operas of the nineteenth century, and he dominated the Italian scene after Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture, as “La donna è mobile” from Rigoletto, “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (The Drinking Song) from La traviata, “Va, pensiero” (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, the “Coro di zingari” from Il trovatore and the “Grand March” from Aida.

Moved by the death of compatriot Alessandro Manzoni, Verdi wrote in 1874 the “Requiem Mass” in his honour, regarded as a masterpiece of the oratorio tradition and a testimony to his capacity outside the field of opera. Visionary and politically engaged, he remains – alongside Garibaldi and Cavour – an emblematic figure of the reunification process of the Italian peninsula (the Risorgimento).

As Mary Jane Phillips-Matz says in her book, 'Verdi: A Biography': - "To the world, as to the nation he helped to found, Verdi left an enduring legacy of music, charity, patriotism, honour, grace, and reason. He was and remains a mighty force for continuing good."

Here is the delicious Prelude from Act I of his opera “La Traviata”.


“Let’s face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.” - Audrey Hepburn

I know that I advocate healthful eating on this blog, and also the benefits of vegetarianism. However, I also must say that even more important is the tenet: “Moderation in all things” rather than an extreme approach to healthful nutrition (that is, orthorexia = a morbid adherence to a healthful diet, so much so that it interferes with a normal, sane life). Instead of no alcohol whatsoever, have a little alcohol – a standard glass of wine, with food three meals a week with a no alcohol day in between the alcohol days. Rather than no sugar at all or no desserts at all, moderate servings, e.g. a small slice of cake when there is a particularly nice one available! If you are not a vegan (which is rather extreme), then aim for some animal protein in your diet once a week: Lean red meat, chicken or fish.

A balanced diet is important, with lots of fresh, seasonal produce, complex carbohydrates, raw foods – plenty of salads and fruit, lots of pulses, whole grains, olive oil, dairy (especially things like yoghurt and cheese in moderation). This regimen allows you to have a treat now and then and occasionally even go on a splurge like enjoying a very special dinner out or a special dinner party.

To learn more about food and your health, enrol in the free online course, Food Nutrition and your Health.

Here is a recipe for chocolate cake, which can be enjoyed in small doses!

Chocolate Cake


Melted butter or margarine, for greasing
50g cocoa powder
125mls boiling water
125g butter, at room temperature
275g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs
150g self-raising flour
40g plain flour

75g unsalted butter
175g best quality dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
300g icing sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup (or light corn syrup)
125ml cream
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 180°C. Brush a deep 22cm round cake pan with the melted butter or margarine to grease and then line the base with non-stick baking paper.
Sift cocoa powder into a bowl. Gradually add almost all the water, stirring to form a smooth, thick paste. Stir in remaining water. Set aside.
Use electric beaters to beat the butter, sugar and vanilla essence in a medium mixing bowl for 1-2 minutes or until pale. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until combined,
Sift together the flours. Use a large metal spoon to fold the flours into the butter mixture alternately with the cocoa mixture, in 2 batches each, until well combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake pan and smooth the surface with the back of the spoon.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Stand for 3 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.
Cut the cake carefully, horizontally into two halves.

To make the icing, melt the butter and chocolate in a good-sized bowl either in the microwave or suspended over a pan of simmering water. Go slowly either way so the chocolate doesn’t spoil.
While the chocolate and butter are cooling a little, sieve the icing sugar into another bowl.
Add the golden syrup to the cooled chocolate mixture, followed by the cream and vanilla and then when all this is combined whisk in the sieved icing sugar.
When you’re done, you may need to add a little boiling water (a teaspoon or so) or some more icing sugar, depending on whether you need the icing to be runnier or thicker. It should be liquid enough to coat easily, but thick enough not to drip off.
Spoon about a third of the icing on to the centre of the cake half and spread with a knife or spatula until you cover the top of it evenly. Sit the other cake on top, normal way up, pressing gently to sandwich the two together.

Spoon another third of the icing on to the top of the cake and spread it in a swirly, textured way (though you can go for a smooth finish if you prefer, and have the patience). Spread the sides of the cake with the remaining icing and leave a few minutes till set.

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

Thursday, 11 April 2013


“It is my feeling that Time ripens all things; with Time all things are revealed; Time is the father of truth.” - François Rabelais

A pebble thrown into a serene pond will disrupt its quiet waters and start off a series of ripples that will travel a great distance across the whole surface of the body of water to eventually reach the distant shores. The perfect reflections on the water will be fractured and the ever-widening wavelets will add another dimension of beauty to the pond. So is the quiet life of routine that many of us lead: A still, quiet pond where all is familiar and ordered. And then, an unexpected event disrupts the routine, just like a pebble thrown in the pond.

The pebble that caused ripples in my life this week was an unexpected phone call at work from a person I had not heard from for more than 35 years – an old fellow student from my university days. I must confess that I have not kept up with my fellow students even though the relationships and friendships formed at the time were quite genuine and deep. A group of us, around a dozen, completed our first postgraduate degree together and then we nearly all went off and pursued further study. Our paths separated, we scattered across different institutions, in different states. I had heard of one or another of them over the years through mutual acquaintances or on the net, however, there was no “proper” contact.

The phone call earlier this week was quite a surprise. Its purpose was to inform me that a reunion was being planned. This is the first such event that I have ever been invited to and although I was quite pleased to learn of it and have no qualms about attending it, it made me think. We were a closely-knit group for at least two years, we had experienced a lot together and we had enjoyed some excellent times at university, at what was our prime. All of us in our young adulthood, full of enthusiasm, our lives ahead of us, our heads full of ideas and our hearts light, our life full of endless possibilities. Here we are now, all of us now at middle age, many of us contemplating retirement in the next few years. More than three decades have intervened. We have lived the better part of our working lives and have achieved what we have achieved, professionally. Are we ready to confront each other’s aged selves and thus, perhaps more importantly, acknowledge the passage of time over ourselves?

How old we feel is sometimes incongruent with our biological age. I have caught sight of myself in a mirror unawares and have been startled by the middle-aged man looking out at me. Who is this stranger looking at me? Especially so if I have been thinking young ideas at the time! Such is the nature of ageing and the passage of time. It touches us more and more with each passing day and when we awaken one morning we find ourselves quite old. Where has our life gone? How have the years passed? Where did we squander all of that precious time?

It is a good thing at such times when we reflect upon the passage of time to consider our lives and our achievements. How time has weathered us and has ground away the hard edges. How we have matured emotionally, spiritually, mentally – not only biologically. The success of this self-evaluation, is the consideration of our advancing age and diminishing years we look forward to, contrasted with our increased experience and wisdom. We live and gain each day something new to be added to our storehouse of memories, experiences, knowledge and personal inner space. Life is a wonderful gift and we should learn to appreciate it every living moment. The older we become the more precious is this gift of life. I look forward to seeing my old fellow students at the planned reunion because I will acknowledge not only the richness of their past lives, but I will also re-examine my own life and acknowledge its enrichment as time has washed over it.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


“Caresses, expressions of one sort or another, are necessary to the life of the affections as leaves are to the life of a tree.” - Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Degas drawing has been provided by Magpie Tales to function as the creative spark for all who will venture to take up her challenge. Here is my offering:
Voyaging on your Body
The voyage of my hand
On your soft skin,
Leaves a glistening trail
Of a caress, like the wake
Of a ship on a smooth sea.
The forest of your hair
Will hide the secrets
Of my kisses, as they alight,
Like birds to roost
On verdant boughs.
The cave of your mouth
Entices me to explore it,
Finding a treasure chest
Of warm and fragrant wood,
Containing all that was promised.
The two mounds of your breasts
Invite my fingertips to leave an imprint
Like footsteps on sandy dunes,
Their warm softness
Suffusing my flesh.
The twin pillars of my arms
Rise up to support you,
Letting you entwine them
As if you were ivy
Climbing up their shafts.
The voyage of your hand
On my quivering flesh
Is welcomed like a deliverer,
Much awaited and hoped for,
Bringing all that has been foretold.


“Two great talkers will not travel far together.” – Spanish Proverb
I was in Sydney for work and the trip was quite eventful, full of non-stop appointments, meetings and working parties. Having just got home, I’ve checked my emails and I think I’ll have an early night tonight. Travelling for work certainly is hard work and the travel part of it quickly loses its mystique!
At least the trip went well and my two travel companions supported me well. Overall success of a work trip makes the travel worthwhile and the discomforts one experiences bearable.

Monday, 8 April 2013


“Come away, O human child: To the waters and the wild with a fairy, hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” - William Butler Yeats

We watched a rather depressing movie at the weekend. It was Joe Carnahan’s 2011 “The Grey” starring Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney and Frank Grillo. The screenplay was by Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, based on the latter’s short story “Ghost Walker”. The film is very similar to several others we have watched in terms of its basic plot and exposition, this being essentially a group of people trekking across a natural wilderness full of dangers overt and hidden, desperately trying to survive. As such a tale, the film doesn’t really measure up too favourably with pre-existing movies that have done it better… For example, “The Way Back”; “Rabbit-Proof Fence”; “Deliverance”; “Alive”; “The Flight of the Phoenix”, and many many more.

The plot of “The Grey” is set in the wilds of Alaska, where a team of oil workers board a flight a plane to take them home (this may explain the constant stream of expletives used through the movie too). Unfortunately for them, a wild storm develops and their airplane crashes. Only seven workers survive in the freezing, uninhabited wastes and John Ottway (Neeson), who is a huntsman that normally kills wolves to protect the workers at the oil plant, assumes leadership of the group. While they try to hatch a plan for survival and escape to a settlement, they become aware that they are surrounded by a large pack of wolves. They seek protection in the woods some distance off, however, the wolves follow them intent on killing them. Warning, there are some graphically violent scenes of animal against human in this movie!

The film examines several themes: Man against nature; the idea of death and how we each become resigned to our own mortality; faith; companionship and friendship in the face of adversity; leadership and the way that we need each other in order to have a chance of survival. The movie is quite ambitious, but perhaps it tries to do too much with too little material and then even succumbs to supernatural overtones through the representation of the wolves as vengeful killing machines that will not let their human prey escape, their motivation being “revenge”.

Neeson (but also the rest of the cast) play their roles well, working within the limitations of the script. The cinematography is good and the frozen expanses work well. What CGI and animatronics effects are used are used well. This is Hollywood at its usual technically competent best. However, this is not enough to make a satisfying movie. The ending especially was particularly lame and made one question the point of the movie, as it struck a rather nihilistic note.

We were engaged by the movie up to a point. Midway through its rather long 117 minute length, we started to get a little restless and there was some repetition. Watch the movie if you come up against it and you are in that “what-are-we-humans-we-are nothing” philosophical frame mind. However, I wouldn’t recommend going out to search especially for this movie to watch.

Sunday, 7 April 2013


“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” - Oscar Wilde

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (March 28, 1483 – April 6, 1520), known simply as Raphael, was an Italian painter. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, he forms the triumvirate of great masters of the High Renaissance period of Italy. Raphael was especially noted for the grace and beauty of his paintings and became a model for this high renaissance style of art.

Raphael was born in the Italian city of Urbino in the Marches area of Italy. His father was a court painter and Raphael followed in his father’s footsteps, achieving a wide education in the arts, literature, and social skills. This enabled Raphael to move easily amongst the higher circles of court society and useful in advancing his career in gaining artistic commissions. The elegant and highly decorative style of Raphael contrasted with the more eccentric genius of Michelangelo. Michelangelo, arguably came to be the more revered artist, but, he certainly lacked the refinement of Raphael in dealing with others and unlike Raphael often found himself in dispute with his customers…

By the age of 18 years, Raphael was already considered a Master painter with considerable talent. He gained his first commissions, including the Mond Crucifixion in 1503. From about 1504, Raphael spent considerable time in Florence where he was influenced by the explosive artistic culture of the City. As he was the contemporary of Leonardo and Michelangelo he had plenty of opportunity to interact with these and other major artists. Michelangelo had a terrible temper and had the habit of easily falling out with other artists – Raphael proved to be no exception. Whilst Raphael absorbed the Florentine artistic tradition he was experiencing, his talent was more attuned to the classic form of perfection in form and composition. This was a somewhat different direction to the flair, inventiveness and genius of Leonardo and Michelangelo.

After Michelangelo had completed the Sistine Chapel, he complained that Raphael had even gone as far as “plagiarising his work”, though this was not the case. This can be seen to be a back-handed compliment where Michelangelo acknowledged Raphael’s genius. Raphael’s career blossomed and in 1508 he was invited to Rome by Pope Julius II. Whilst Michelangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel, Raphael was given rooms in the Vatican to paint. The rooms that he painted were considered some of the greatest Italian art on display. The first room known as the Stanza della Segnatura included the masterpieces – “The School of Athens”, “The Parnassus” and the “Dispute”.

By 1511 Raphael had one of the largest art schools in Rome, with over 50 pupils. It is said Raphael was not just a genius of art but also excellent at managing and inspiring his pupils, helping the school become a famous place of art. As well as a painter, Raphael was also a noted architect, draughtsman, and with Raimondi a printmaker. He died in April 6 1570, aged only 37. Yet, he left behind a considerable legacy and was celebrated even during his lifetime, with thousands of people attending his funeral.

Raphael’s life was short, but while he lived he was one of those geniuses who continually evolve and develop. He had an extraordinary capacity (like, though greater than, Picasso’s) to respond to every movement in the art world, and to subsume it within his own work. As a portraitist, Raphael is an observer, effortlessly cutting through the defences of his sitter, yet courteously allowing whatever image the sitter’s ego would seek to have portrayed. This represents a duality, looking beneath the surface and yet remaining wholly respectful of the surface, gives an additional layer of meaning to all his portraits. The two portraits shown here were both believed to be self-portraits of Raphael. We now know that one is of Bindo Altoviti (c. 1515) and the other is definitely a self-portrait (1504-06).

There is a congruency between these two portraits, but they are also quite different. Although the poses are in counterpoint, Raphael’s earlier self portrait is rather stark and honest, where the artist has stripped himself down to the essentials, the eyes looking at the observer serenely yet searchingly. “This is me and this is how I look at the world”, Raphael pronounces.

 Bindo Altoviti was handsome, a successful banker, and rich: Not unlike Raphael himself, in his later years. Although there is a feeling of fellowship in the work, the sitter’s face is sensitively fleshed out and the technical proficiency of the artist is laid out for us. Half the face is in shadow, as if to allow the sitter his mystery, his maturing, his own destiny. The lips are full and sensual, balanced by the deep-set eyes with their confrontational stare, almost defiant. The ruffled shirt is half-covered by the young man’s locks, calculatedly casual, at odds in their dandyish profusion with the plain beret and the rich but simple doublet. He holds a darkened hand dramatically to his breast, maybe to show off the ring, maybe to indicate psychic ease. This is a more accomplished work, complimentary to the sitter and well-suited for ostentatious display, while at the same time retaining the precepts of classic beauty and understated simplicity.