Saturday, 26 April 2014


“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” ― Aldous Huxley

Giacomo Carissimi (baptised April 18, 1605 – January 12, 1674) was an Italian composer. He is one of the most celebrated masters of the early Baroque or, more accurately, the Roman School of music. Carissimi's exact birthdate is not known, but it was probably in 1604 or 1605 in Marino near Rome, Italy.

Of his early life almost nothing is known. His father was a barrel maker. At the age of 20 Carissimi became chapel master at Assisi. In 1628 he obtained the same position at the church of Sant’Apollinare belonging to the Collegium Germanicum in Rome, which he held until his death. This was despite him receiving several offers to work in very prominent establishments, including an offer to take over from Claudio Monteverdi at San Marco di Venezia in Venice. In 1637 he was ordained a priest.He seems to have never left Italy at all during his entire lifetime. He died in 1674 in Rome.

Carissimi’s successor as maestro di cappella at the Collegium Germanicum in 1686 described him as tall, thin, very frugal in his domestic affairs, with very noble manners towards his friends and acquaintances, and prone to melancholy. The great achievements generally ascribed to Carissimi are the further development of the recitative, introduced by Monteverdi, which is highly important to the history of dramatic music; the further development of the chamber cantata, by which Carissimi superseded the concertato madrigals which had themselves replaced the madrigals of the late Renaissance; and the development of the oratorio, of which he was the first significant composer.

Carissimi’s position in the history of church, vocal and chamber music is somewhat similar to that of Francesco Cavalli in the history of opera. While Luigi Rossi was his predecessor in developing the chamber cantata, Carissimi was the composer who first made this form the vehicle for the most intellectual style of chamber music, a function which it continued to perform until the death of Alessandro Scarlatti, Emanuele d’Astorga and Benedetto Marcello. Carissimi is also noted as one of the first composers of oratorios, with “Jephte” as probably his best known work, along with Jonas. These works and others are important for establishing the form of oratorio unaccompanied by dramatic action, which maintained its hold for 200 years.

The name “oratorio” comes from their presentation at the Oratory of Santissimo Crocifisso in Rome. Carissimi may also be credited for having given greater variety and interest to the instrumental accompaniments of vocal compositions. Charles Burney and John Hawkins both published specimens of his compositions in their works on the history of music, while Henry Aldrich collected an almost complete set of his compositions, which are currently housed at the library of Christ Church College, Oxford. The British Museum also possesses numerous works by Carissimi. Most of his oratorios are in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris.

Here is Cantus Cölln, under Konrad Junghänel. in Giacomo Carissimi’s – “Historia di Jephte - Oratorio à 6”
I. Cum vocasset in proelium
II. Cum autem victor Jephte
III. Cum vidisset Jephte
IV. Abiil ergo in montes filia Jephte
V. Plorate filii Israel

Friday, 25 April 2014


“The sea hath fish for every man.” - William Camden

Last night we cooked this very easy smoked salmon pizza, but without much preparation and no messy dough making. The thin flat bread rounds are easily found in most supermarkets and the rest of the ingredients are also available at the supermarket or greengrocer. It tastes delicious and is very filling. A nice chilled dry white wine and a green seasonal salad goes well with this.


Ingredients (mainly from supermarket - for 2 pizzas)
2 flat bread rounds, ready baked 
1 tub of taramosalata
250 g grated Coon cheese
200 g sliced smoked salmon
A few sprigs of dill, chopped finely
2 medium dried red onions, peeled and cut in thin slices
A couple of handfuls of rocket leaves
100 mL sour cream
Juice of half lemon, added to sour cream
Ground pepper
Olive oil


Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Spread the olive oil on both sides of the flat bread and place on two pizza baking trays. Sprinkle the grated cheese on the flat bread, covering it well. Put in the oven until cheese melts (approx. 5 minutes).
Lower the oven heat to 150˚C. Remove from oven and spread the taramosalata over the melted cheese. Layer the smoked salmon slices over the taramosalata, covering the whole area of the flat bread. Arrange the onion slices over the salmon and sprinkle dill all over the pizza. Add a few capers here and there. Put pizza back in the oven for 5-10 minutes, watching that the salmon does not dry out.
Lower the oven heat to 100˚C. Take out from the oven and arrange the rocket leaves over the whole of the pizza. Drizzle the sour cream over the pizza, covering the whole area with thin streams. Put pizza back in the oven for another 5 minutes and serve immediately once it is ready. Watch that you don't wilt the rocket leaves - they should just be warmed up.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,

and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.


“One man's meat is another man's poison” – Proverb

Ever since I can remember our family meals were at times supplemented by wild green plants, growing in abundance in country and city, field and garden, mountain and plain. Greens that nobody sowed intentionally and so often contemptuously dismissed as “weeds” by the “serious” gardener. However, having a Greek heritage, I was brought up to know of wild things that grow abundantly in uncultivated places and which can be gathered at pleasure to be put to all sorts of uses. Wild plants that are carefully collected for food, for medicine, or to make into pleasant drinks for winter or summer. Wild plants to repel insects and to add fragrance to freshly washed clothes. Flowers to dry and hang up to repel unfriendly spirits, herbs to use for flavouring and spicing up traditional dishes. Wild plants to nibble on while one was walking in the fields or mountains, or greens to collect and use to create dishes that were tasty, nutritious and healthful.

I was learning from my parents, my grandparents and the rest of the relatives, each of them teaching me a little of the lore that they inherited from our forebears. These are plants that nature gives us most bountifully and which we should not be so quick to delegate to the list of “noxious weeds”. Serious medical and epidemiological research has shown us that diets such as the traditional Mediterranean diet are helpful in protecting against such diseases as constipation, diverticulosis, cancer of the large bowel, prostate and breast cancers, heart disease and stroke. The wild plants gathered from nature play their role in not only supplementing diet but also in protecting against disease. Active constituents in them preserve normal functioning of the intestinal tract, ensure that liver and gall bladder operate optimally. These lowly weeds lower fats in the blood, provide a wealth of vitamins, minerals and trace elements and contribute to healthy longevity.

Wild plants can be divided into several groups depending on the use to which they are put. There are medicinal ones and fragrant ones, others that are decorative and associated with traditional or superstitious uses. Many of the edible ones can be collected and eaten raw as a salad in their own right, or alternatively prepared in all manner of ways either on their own or alternatively mixed with spinach, silverbeet, etc.  Wild plants have here been divided into the following groups:
Tisane greens (eg. wild marjoram, dittany, chamomile, etc).
Herbs and flavourings (eg. wild thyme, oregano, dittany, fennel, etc)
Salad greens (eg. dandelion, chicory, rocket, mustards, etc)
Boiling greens (eg. wild lettuce, mustards, rocket, etc)
Stewing greens (eg. docks, mallow, fennel, etc)
Toxic medicinal plants (eg. foxglove, opium poppy, belladonna, etc)
Highly toxic plants (eg. oleander, hemlock, aconite, etc)
Plants giving rise to allergies (eg. poison ivy, box elder, several pollens, etc)
Ceremonial or decorative plants (eg. palm fronds, wild olive branches, laurel, etc).

A great deal of skill, experience and knowledge is required to confidently and correctly identify most of the wild plants that are useful to collect. Unless one is sure that a plant has been identified correctly, one should not pick it, much less consume it! Many poisonous plants are unfortunately similar in appearance to the ones that are nutritious and beneficial (eg. wild mushrooms). Some plants may require special treatment in order to become edible (eg cooking rather eating them raw) and some plants belong to groups whose consumption is contraindicated in certain diseases (eg. kidney disease or gout).

When collecting plants, one should be sure to do so only in places that have not been sprayed with weed killers or pesticides. Many of the plants I have mentioned above are considered by many to be “weeds” and steps are taken to eradicate them each season. The chemicals used for spraying are toxic and can cause harm or serious poisoning.

Wild plants should be harvested in a manner that does not damage the ecological niche in which they are found. Most of the plants I mentioned above are considered undesirable by the majority, so few will object to their removal and they will self-sow the next season. However, one must be careful in how and where one's bounty is collected, as one can easily trample on fragile protected species while harvesting one's “noxious weeds”. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


“The avarice of the miser may be termed the grand sepulchre of all his other passions, as they successively decay. But unlike other tombs, it is enlarged by repletion and strengthened by age.” - Charles Caleb Colton

This week, Poetry Jam has prompted followers with the theme of “Deserts”. Here is my offering:

The Hidden Tomb

In endless, shifting desert sands
A hidden tomb lies undiscovered;
Far from all sacrilegious hands,
In centuries of dust lies covered.

The wind and sky will sing a dirge
The stars and moon shed tears;
While ghostly shadows urge
Old memories to flee from biers.

A lonely traveller lost will trip
On buried headstone drab,
And with a crazy fervour grip
The ancient broken marble slab.

Here treasure lies, shiny gold
Here rubies, pearls, more jewels.
Much more than he can ever hold,
The endless wealth his avarice fuels.

He fills his pockets, clutches treasure,
While desperately he thirsts for water;
He laughs with endless mirth and pleasure, 
Forgotten thoughts of wife and daughter.

The desert sands will move and shimmer
The sun will burn and scorch and wither.
A year has passed, his white bones glimmer
Among the bright gold, vipers slither…

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.” - Greek Proverb

A discussion with a friend yesterday brought Hobbes’ name to the fore and we both remarked how relevant his philosophical views were to today. The Englishman Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is best known for his vision of the world, which is strikingly original and still relevant to contemporary politics. The main concern in his writings is the problem of social and political order: How human beings can live together in peace and avoid the danger and fear of civil conflict. His monumental work “Leviathan” discusses the essential nature of humans and how their societies are driven by their physical nature, which he describes as a sophisticated machine.

Thought, too is regarded mechanistically by Hobbes and human action is explained as a complex of desires and appetites that arise in the human body and are discomforts or pains that must be overcome. Thus, each of us is motivated to act in such ways as we believe likely to relieve our discomfort, to preserve and promote our own well-being. Everything we choose to do is strictly determined by this natural inclination to relieve the physical pressures that impinge upon our bodies. Human volition is nothing but the determination of the will by the strongest present desire.  Hobbes, however, supposed that humans are free in the sense that their activities are not under constraint from anyone else.

As Hobbes acknowledged, this account of human nature emphasises our animal nature, leaving each of us to live independently of everyone else, acting only in his or her own self-interest, without regard for others. This produces what he called the “state of war”, a way of life that is certain to prove “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. The only escape is by entering into contracts with each other - mutually beneficial agreements to surrender our individual interests in order to achieve the advantages of security that only a social existence can provide.

The last paragraph is what my friend and I discussed and seemed particularly relevant to the modern age. It seems an almost universal attitude nowadays, this egocentricity that rules our lives. The complete lack of regard for others often stems from such an attitude where the individual’s own importance translates to selfishness. The “ego” reigns supreme and fails to acknowledge other individuals who should have a similar right. How many of us have been reduced to exist in this emotional desert through that lack of social intercourse? Instead of enriching our life, this functioning as an independent organism detracts from our social well-being. Hobbes’ ideas are still relevant to us on a personal, social and global level, it appears.

Monday, 21 April 2014


“In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.” - AlfredHitchcock

In movies, the director has become one of the most important people who manages the way that the final motion picture will look and “feel”. The art of controlling the evolution of a performance out of material composed or assembled by an author is the business of the director. It is the director who works together with the cinematographer and actors in order to bring the script to life.

A good director will be able to get the actors to say their lines well and believably in a milieu that is consistent with the scriptwriter’s vision. An excellent director will take the script and actors and make a film that lives and breathes according to the vision that inspired the author. A director who is a genius of his craft will create a piece of art that cannot be expressed in any other medium and will remain a classic of cinema – a unique film that melds together the author’s script, the actors’ action and the scenes that have been captured optimally by the cinematographer, all according to the director’s inspiration.

Fritz Lang was an Austrian-born American motion-picture director who is considered to be a genius amongst directors. He was born December 5th, 1890, in Vienna and died August 2, 1976, Los Angeles. His films deal with the concept of fate and how a person may deal with the fate that has been meted out to him, such that each person may best make his own destiny work for him. His films are masterpieces of visual composition and were at the forefront of the art of the cinema when they were first released. They have remained classics and even today, and even watching a Fritz Lang silent film can be extremely rewarding.

The son of an architect, Lang briefly studied architecture at Vienna's Technical University, then travelled widely before settling for a time in Paris as a painter. While recovering from wounds suffered in the service of Austria during World War I, he started to write screenplays; after the war he went to Berlin to work with Erich Pommer, a German film producer.

Recently, we watched a beautifully restored version of Lang’s Metropolis (1926) on DVD. This is silent film and despite its shortcomings still manages to remain a powerful and wonderfully expressionistic vision of the future. The struggle of an individual against the establishment is the theme and the images are quite stunning, even if the plot is rather predictable. It is one of he silent classics and well worth seeing it.

M (1931), is Lang’s most famous German film, this exploring the compulsion of man to murder. Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1932; The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse), in which a madman speaks Nazi philosophy, attracted the attention of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis’ chief propagandist, who invited Lang to supervise German films. Lang left for Paris the same evening and later moved to the safety of the United States.

Fury (1936), a study of a lynch mob, is his most praised American film. Others include You Only Live Once (1937), Western Union (1941), Hangmen Also Die (1943), Scarlet Street (1945), Clash by Night (1952), Rancho Notorious (1952 with Marlene Dietrich!), Moonfleet (1955), and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

Sunday, 20 April 2014


“If the Resurrection is resurrection from the dead, all hope and freedom are in spite of death.” - Paul Ricoeur

The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark (officially known in Italian as the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco and commonly known as Saint Mark's Basilica) is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, northern Italy. It is the most famous of the city's churches and one of the best-known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. It lies at the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco, adjacent and connected to the Doge's Palace. Originally it was the chapel of the Doge, and has only been the city's cathedral since 1807, when it became the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, formerly at San Pietro di Castello. For its opulent design, gold ground mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, from the 11th century on the building has been known by the nickname Chiesa d'Oro (Church of gold).

The upper levels of the interior are completely covered with bright mosaics covering an area of about 8000 square metres. Most of these mosaics use the traditional background of gold glass tesserae, creating the shimmering overall effect. Unfortunately, the Doge retained a workshop of mosaicists until the late 18th century, and in the 19th century contracted a mosaic workshop run by the Salviati glassmaking firm, and the majority of the medieval mosaics have been “restored” by removing and resetting, usually with a considerable loss of quality, so that only about one-third of the mosaic surface can be regarded as original.

The earliest surviving work, in the main porch, perhaps dates to as early as 1070, and was probably by a workshop that had left Constantinople in the mid-11th century and worked at Torcello Cathedral. They are in a fairly pure Byzantine style but in succeeding phases of work Byzantine influence reflecting the latest style of the capital was reduced by stages, disappearing altogether by about the 1130s, after which the style was Italian in essentials, reflecting a change from a colonial to a local art. The main period of decoration was the 12th century, a period of deteriorating relations between Venice and Byzantium, but very little is known about the process or how it was affected by politics.

The mosaics in the interior recount the events of the New Testament, with the great message of Christian salvation. The mosaics in the atrium, carried out afterwards, during the 13th century, are a meditation on the Old Testament, in particular the books of Genesis and Exodus, and are well located as precursor of and preparation for the interior. Interwoven with this main plan one identifies many others: The story of the Virgin, the martyrdoms of St. Peter and St. Clement, the events of St. John the Evangelist's life and those of John the Baptist and St. Isidore, the great pantheon of saints worshipped by the Venetians and, most important of all, the cycles with the legend of St. Mark. The gold background of the mosaics does not only give unity to the mosaics themselves but, in accordance with the oriental conception, has a precise symbolic value as the colour of the Divine, the image of that light which, for the theologians and Fathers of the mediaeval church, was God himself.

In the centre of the basilica, at the intersection with the transept, the dome celebrates the concluding mystery of the life of Jesus: His Resurrection and Ascension to heaven. The decoration of the Ascension cupola, dating to the second half of the 12th century, is the mosaic masterpiece of St. Mark's and the heart of the church's spiritual message. It is considered to be the best mosaic expression in the whole church for structure, quality and preservation.  The Greek master who, with his assistants, created this cycle has been defined as the “agitato style” master. There could be no more suitable definition of this mosaicist who, in the creation of these scenes of the Death, Resurrection and Ascent, expresses all the dramatic tension and renewal of humanity and the universe. He manipulates the line in a myriad of curves that delineate the faces and create highly complicated folds that wind in broad spirals, spreading out into elegant fan-shaped drapery and extending in an extremely harmonious fluttering that recalls Hellenic solutions. (For another post on Byzantine mosaic, see here).

Above is the mosaic of the Resurrection, quite apt for Easter Sunday. I hope you have had a peaceful Easter/ Pascha/ Passover with your loved ones.