Saturday, 9 September 2017


“I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no melancholy.” - Charles Baudelaire 

Josef Suk (4 January 1874 – 29 May 1935) was a Czech composer and violinist born in Křečovice, Bohemia. He studied under Antonín Dvořák, whose daughter he married. From a young age, Josef Suk was deeply involved and well-trained in music. He learned organ, violin, and piano from his father, Josef Suk senior, and was trained further in violin by the Czech violinist Antonín Bennewitz. His theory studies were conducted with several other composers including Josef Bohuslav Foerster, Karel Knittl, and Karel Stecker. He later focused his writing on chamber works under the teachings of Hanuš Wihan.

Despite extensive musical training, Suk’s musical skill was often said to be largely inherited. Though he continued his lessons with Wihan another year after the completion of his schooling, Suk’s greatest inspiration came from another of his teachers, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. Known as one of Dvořák’s favorite pupils, Suk also became personally close to his mentor. Underlying this was Dvořák’s respect for Suk, reflected in Suk’s 1898 marriage to Dvořák’s daughter, Otilie, marking some of the happiest times in the composer’s life and music.

However, the last portion of Suk’s life was punctuated with tragedy. Over the span of 14 months around 1905, not only did Suk’s mentor Dvořák die, but so did Otilie. These events inspired Suk’s “Asrael Symphony”. Because of a shared heritage (and the coincidence of their dying within a few months of one another) Suk has been closely compared, in works and style, to fellow Czech composer Otakar Ostrčil. Suk, alongside Vitezslav Novak and Ostrčil, is considered one of the leading composers in Czech Modernism, with much shared influence among the three coming in turn from Dvořák.

Eminent German figures such as composer Johannes Brahms and critic Eduard Hanslick recognized Suk’s work during his time with the Czech Quartet. Over time, well known Austrian composers such as Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg also began to take notice of Suk and his work. Although he wrote mostly instrumental music, Suk occasionally branched out into other genres. Orchestral music was his strong suit, notably the “Serenade for Strings”, Op. 6 (1892).

His time with the Czech Quartet, though performing successful concerts until his retirement, was not always met with public approval. Several anti-Dvořák campaigns came into prominence; criticism not only being directed at the quartet, but towards Suk specifically. The leftist critic Zdeněk Nejedlý accused the Czech Quartet of inappropriately playing concerts in the Czech lands during World War I. While these attacks diminished Suk’s spirits, they did not hinder his work. Suk retired in 1933, although he continued to be a valuable and inspirational public figure to the Czechs. Josef Suk died on May 29, 1935, in Benešov, Czechoslovakia. He is the grandfather of famed Czech violinist Josef Suk.

Suk’s musical style started off with a heavy influence from his mentor, Dvořák. The biggest change of Suk’s style came after he reached a dead end in his early musical style, just before he began a stylistic shift during 1897–1905, perhaps realising that the strong influence of Dvořák would limit his work. Melancholy was always a large factor in Suk’s music. For instance, he wrote his own funeral march in 1889 and it appears significantly also in a major work, the “Funeral Symphony, Asrael”, Op. 27. “Ripening”, a symphonic poem, was also a story of pain and questioning the value of life.

Other works, however, such as the music he set to Julius Zeyer’s drama “Radúz a Mahulena”, display his happiness, which he credited to his marriage with Otilie. Another of Suk’s works, “Pohádka” (Fairy Tale), was drawn from his work with “Radúz a Mahulena”. The closest Suk came to opera is in his incidental music to the play “Pod jabloní” (Beneath the Apple Tree).

Here is Suk’s “Serenade for Strings in E flat major”, Op. 6 (1892), performed by The Young Danish Chamber Orchestra:
1. Andante con moto (0:00)
2. Allegro ma non troppo e grazioso (4:57)
3. Adagio (10:38)
4. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo presto (19:29)

While Suk was studying under Antonín Dvořák at the Prague Conservatory, Dvořák noticed a melancholy strain in much of Suk’s music, and recommended he write some lighter and more cheerful music. Based on Dvořák’s suggestion, Suk produced this serenade for strings. Two movements were publicly conducted by Suk in late 1893 in Tábor. The first complete performance was on 25 February 1895, at the Prague Conservatory, conducted by Antonín Bennewitz, Suk’s violin teacher at the Conservatory. The Serenade soon brought Suk considerable fame and Dvořák’s longtime supporter, Johannes Brahms, endorsed its publication.

Friday, 8 September 2017


“Fresh herbs really belong anywhere you put them.” - Alex Guarnaschelli 

Basil (Ocimum basilicum), also called great basil or Saint-Joseph's-wort, is a culinary herb of the mint family Lamiaceae. It is also called the “king of herbs” and the “royal herb”. The name basil comes from Greek βασιλικόν φυτόν (basilikón phutón), “royal/kingly plant”. Basil is possibly native to India, and has been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years. It was thoroughly familiar to the Greek authors Theophrastus and Dioscorides.

It is a tender plant, best known as a culinary herb prominently featured in Italian cuisine, and also plays a major role in Southeast Asian cuisines of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Taiwan. Depending on the species and cultivar, the leaves may taste somewhat like anise, with a strong, pungent, often sweet smell. There are many varieties of Ocimum basilicum, as well as several related species or species hybrids also called basil.

The type of basil used in Italian food is typically called sweet basil (or Genovese basil), as opposed to Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), lemon basil (O. × citriodorum), and holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), which are used in Asia. While most common varieties of basil are treated as annuals, some are perennial in warm, tropical climates, including holy basil and a cultivar known as “African blue basil”. Fine-leaved Greek basil (Ocimum basilicum var. minimum) has a strong, highly aromatic and sweet flavour.

Basil is most commonly used fresh in recipes. In general, it is added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavour. The fresh herb can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water. The dried herb also loses most of its flavour, and what little flavour remains tastes very different, reminiscent of coumarin, like hay.

Basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto—a green Italian oil-and-herb sauce. The most commonly used Mediterranean basil cultivars are “Genovese”, “Purple Ruffles”, “Mammoth”, “Cinnamon”, “Lemon”, “Globe”, and “African Blue”. The Chinese also use fresh or dried basils in soups and other foods. In Taiwan, people add fresh basil leaves to thick soups. They also eat fried chicken with deep-fried basil leaves. Basil (most commonly Thai basil) is commonly steeped in cream or milk to create an interesting flavour in ice cream or chocolates (such as truffles).

 The leaves are not the only part of basil used in culinary applications, the flower buds have a more subtle flavor and they are edible. Thai basil is also a condiment in the Vietnamese noodle soup, phở. When soaked in water, the seeds of several basil varieties become gelatinous, and are used in Asian drinks and desserts such as faluda, sharbat-e-rihan, or hột é.

 Most culinary and ornamental basils are cultivars of the species Ocimum basilicum, but other species are also grown and there are many hybrids between species. Traditionally a green plant, some varieties, such as ‘Purple Delight’ have leaves that appear purplish. Basil grows between 30–130 cm tall, with opposite, light green, silky leaves 3–11 cm long and 1–6 cm broad. The flowers are small, white in colour and arranged in a terminal spike. Unusual among Lamiaceae, the four stamens and the pistil are not pushed under the upper lip of the corolla, but lie over the inferior lip.

After entomophilous pollination, the corolla falls off and four round achenes develop inside the bilabiate calyx. Basil is sensitive to cold, with best growth in hot, dry conditions. It behaves as an annual if there is any chance of a frost. However, due to its popularity, basil is cultivated in many countries around the world. Production areas include countries in the Mediterranean area, those in the temperate zone, and others in subtropical climates.

In sunnier climates such as Southern Europe, the Southern states of the U.S., the North Island of New Zealand, and Australia, basil will thrive when planted outside. It also thrives over the summertime in the central and northern United States, but dies out when temperatures reach freezing point. It will grow back the next year if allowed to go to seed, as it easily self seeds. It will need regular watering, but not as much attention as is needed in other climates.

Basil can also be propagated reliably from cuttings with the stems of short cuttings suspended for two weeks or so in water until roots develop. Once a stem produces flowers, foliage production stops on that stem, the stem becomes woody, and essential oil production declines. To prevent this, a basil-grower may pinch off any flower stems before they are fully mature. Because only the blooming stem is so affected, some stems can be pinched for leaf production, while others are left to bloom for decoration or seeds.

There are many rituals and beliefs associated with basil. The French sometimes call basil “l’herbe royale” (royal herb), while in Welsh it is called “brenhinllys”, meaning the same. Jewish folklore suggests it adds strength while fasting. In Portugal, dwarf bush basil is traditionally presented in a pot, together with a poem and a paper carnation, to a sweetheart, on the religious holidays of Saint John and Saint Anthony.

However, basil represented hatred in ancient Greece, and European lore sometimes claims that basil is a symbol of Satan. African legend claims that basil protects against scorpions, while the English botanist Culpeper cites one “Hilarius, a French physician” as affirming it as common knowledge that smelling basil too much would breed scorpions in the brain. Holy basil, also called tulsi, is highly revered in Hinduism.

Basil has religious significance in the Greek Orthodox Church, where it is used to sprinkle holy water during blessings or purification rituals. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Serbian Orthodox Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church and Romanian Orthodox Church use basil (Bulgarian and Macedonian: босилек; Romanian: busuioc, Serbian: босиљак) to prepare holy water and pots of basil are often placed below church altars. In Europe, basil is placed in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey to the next life. In India, they place it in the mouth of the dying to ensure they reach God. The ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks believed it would open the gates of heaven for a person passing on.

In Boccaccio’s “Decameron” a memorably morbid tale (novella V) tells of Lisabetta, whose brothers slay her lover. He appears to her in a dream and shows her where he is buried. She secretly disinters the head, and sets it in a pot of basil, which she waters with her daily tears. The pot being taken from her by her brothers, she dies of her grief not long after. Boccaccio’s tale is the source of John Keats’ poem “Isabella” or “The Pot of Basil” – which in turn inspired the paintings “Isabella” (Millais painting) and “Isabella and the Pot of Basil” (Holman Hunt painting). A similar story is told of the Longobard queen, Rosalind.

In certain central regions of Mexico, basil is used to draw fortune by hanging a bunch of the plant in the door or window of the shop. The plant’s growth reflects the wealth of the business, showing how dutifully the owner cares for his shop and the herb.

In the language of flowers sprigs of non-flowering basil with large leaves signify hatred. Sprigs of small-leaved, aromatic Greek basil mean “blessings upon you”. Flowering sprigs of basil carry the message: “You are the ruler of my heart”. Sprigs of purple basil mean: “You are noble and generous of spirit”.

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” ― Anaïs Nin

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.
Mystras (Greek: Μυστράς, or Μυζηθράς, [Myzithras] in the Chronicle of the Morea) is a fortified town and a former municipality in Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece. Situated on Mt. Taygetos, near ancient Sparta, it served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea in the 14th and 15th centuries, experiencing a period of prosperity and cultural flowering.

In late 1248, William II of Villehardouin, ruler of the Frankish Principality of Achaea, captured Monemvasia, the last remaining Byzantine outpost on the Morea. This success was soon followed by the submission of the restive Tsakones on Mount Parnon, the Slavic Melingoi tribe of Mount Taygetos, and the inhabitants of the Mani peninsula, thereby extending his sway over all of Laconia and completing the conquest of the peninsula, which had begun in 1205, in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade.

Laconia was incorporated into the princely domain, and the young prince passed the winter of 1248–49 there, touring the country and selecting sites for new fortifications such as Grand Magne and Leuktron; finally, near his residence of Lacedaemon (ancient Sparta), on a spur of Mount Taygetos, he built the fortress that came to be known as Mystras.

The site remained inhabited throughout the Ottoman period, when it was mistaken by Western travellers for ancient Sparta. In the 1830s, it was abandoned and the new town of Sparti was built, approximately eight kilometres to the east. In 1989 the ruins, including the fortress, palace, churches, and monasteries, were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The photo shows Pantanassa’s monastery, (Greek: Μονή Παντανάσσης), which was founded by a chief minister of the late Byzantine Despotate of the Morea, John Frankopoulos, and was dedicated in September 1428. It is the only monastery on the site still permanently inhabited. Today it is inhabited by nuns providing hospitality. Its “beautifully ornate stone-carved façade” is of architectural note.

Above the monastery one can see the fortress of William II of Villehardouin. Mystras constitutes a monumental late-Byzantine complex with distinct and well-preserved elements such as land-planning, street planning, secular and ecclesiastical architecture, and artistic production. Its authentic urban character, which has not been affected by human interventions, has been preserved through the centuries. The most important monuments on the site give the visitor the chance to perceive various aspects of the Byzantine culture.

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:

Monday, 4 September 2017


“We are born of love; Love is our mother.” - Rumi 

Sheshmetet (šsm.t.t: Shesmet, Shesemtet, or spellings with Shez-; Hellenised as Smithis) is an ancient Egyptian goddess mentioned in the Pyramid Texts and was usually referred to as the deceased’s mother. She was depicted as a lion or a woman with a lion’s head, and thus was sometimes considered a form of Sekhmet or Bastet, but one of her epithets “Lady of Punt”, differentiates her from them and may refer to a possible African origin.

Originally she seems to have had the shape of a woman, but since the fifth dynasty, under the influence of her association with Bastet she became a lion-headed deity. At times she was shown sporting four heads, apart from her own, those of Wadjet, Bastet and Sekhmet. Her major attribute is that of a maternal and protectress goddess.

Her name is derived from a ritual girdle or apron called a shesmet, her name meaning ‘She of the shesmet’. The shesmet is described by P. E.Newberry as “a leather belt from which were suspended narrow strips of hide ending in tassels; sometimes the girdle was ornamented with beads and cowries; sometimes the hanging pieces were decorated with Hathor-heads”.

The shesmet, which is worn by Gods such as Horus, Seth, Thoth, Sepa, and Amun, but which is particularly characteristic of Soped, was perhaps originally a garment for unmarried girls. Similar garments (called rahat or hauf) exist among several East African peoples to the south of Egypt, which are broken by the bridegroom to complete the wedding ceremony. Moreover, Herodotus compares the aegis worn by the Greek Goddess Athena to such garments, worn by Libyan women. 

Shesmet is also the name in Egyptian for the green mineral malachite, which was used by Egyptians as an eye paint. ‘Shesmet-land’ is also an Egyptian name for an area in the eastern part of Egypt centering around Per-Soped, ‘the House of Soped’, modern Saft el Henneh, a few miles to the east of Bubastis. Significantly, this area was known in early Arab times as El-Hauf, a virtually direct translation of the Egyptian ‘Shesmet-land’.

Shesmetet is paired with Sekhmet, a Goddess also depicted as a lioness, in a formula from the Pyramid Texts which was to be reused in the Coffin Texts and finally in the Book of the Dead, where it is affirmed that the deceased king “was conceived by Sekhmet, and it was Shesmetet who bore the king”. In a passage where the wrathful aspect of Hathor is described, it is said of of those s/he smites, “I make warmth for them in this my name of Shesmetet.’

Shesmetet was a protective deity, at times called upon to perform magic in order to combat death causing demons. As a maternal deity Shesmetet she was referred to as “the mother of the Pharaoh”. As the formerly royal beliefs about life and death became widespread among the population at large, she became mother and protector of all the deceased. In a spell to be recited on the last day of the year the name of Shesmetet is invoked as a magical force against demons of slaughter.

Sunday, 3 September 2017


“Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.” - Edgar Degas

Albert Baertsoen (9 January 1866 – 9 June 1922) was a Belgian painter, pastellist and graphic artist. He was born in Ghent. His father was an industrialist and textile manufacturer.

In 1882, Baertsoen began attending the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied under Gustave Den Duyts and Jean Delvin. His debut as a painter came in 1887, when he participated in an exhibition in Brussels held by the secessionist group L’Essor He continued his studies in Paris, at the art school of Alfred Philippe Roll, and exhibited at the Salon in 1889. The following year, he accompanied James Ensor, Frantz Charlet and other Belgian painters on a study trip to London.

In 1894, he helped found the “Cercle des Beaux-Arts d’Ostende”. The years 1894/95 saw another stay in Paris, where his painting “Oude Vlaamse Vaart” (Old Flemish Sails) was acquired by the Musée du Luxembourg and he participated in an exhibition held by La Libre Esthétique. From 1896 to 1901, he continued to exhibit throughout Europe, winning several Gold Medals.

In 1913, he served as a member of the art jury for the Ghent World’s Fair. During World War I, he lived in London, returning to Ghent in 1919. That same year, he was appointed a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium. Two years later, a retrospective of his work was held at the Galerie Georges Giroux in Brussels. He died in Ghent in 1922.

His work is impressionistic in nature, although much of his work can seem a little lugubrious to one used to the French impressionist works. However, he could also be a brilliant colourist, especially when travelling to sunnier climates. As well as a painter, Baertsoen was a fine draughtsman and his composition is always interesting and often surprising. The painting above is the “Rope Makers”.