Saturday, 11 February 2012


“When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere” - François de la Rochefoucauld
A relaxing day today with the usual morning of shopping and chores around the house, but a lovely afternoon and evening spent with good friends enjoying some fine food and wine.

For some Saturday Serenity, why not enjoy this delightful piece by Camille Saint-Saëns, “Le Cygne” - The Swan. This is the thirteenth movement of “The Carnival of the Animals”. The piece features a solo cello in tenor clef and two accompanying pianos. It is in 6/4 time, with a key signature of G major. It makes use of legato and slurring, the music flowing and giving the impression of a swan gliding through the water. This piece is often played using much vibrato.

This is the only movement from “The Carnival of the Animals” that the composer would allow to be played in public during his lifetime as he thought the remaining movements were too frivolous and would damage his reputation as a serious composer.

The photograph is of a native black swan I photographed in our extensive and beautiful Botanic Gardens in Melbourne.

This post is part of the Saturday Sareenity meme.

Thursday, 9 February 2012


“Grant that I may become beautiful in my soul within, and that all my external possessions may be in harmony with my inner self. May I consider the wise to be rich, and may I have such riches as only a person of self-restraint can bear or endure.” - Plato

I had an overseas guest at work yesterday so it was quite a mad rush to get everything done, as well as have numerous meetings with him and other staff members. It was a very long day but also a tiring one, as I had to not only do the requisite work-related tasks that the visit required, but had to entertain him as well. He was Muslim, so lunch had to be Halal. We fortunately have a Halal restaurant close by so that was not an issue, but it turned out that when he travels he also becomes a vegan. In his home country he consumes chicken, fish, dairy products and eggs, but in Australia he is vegan.

I was pleasantly surprised that after some negotiation with the waiter, the restaurant chef was able to provide him with a suitable dish that met his approval. It was a vegetable stir-fry with eggplant, beans, soy curd, zucchini, fried onion flakes, chopped nuts and chili. He pronounced it delicious and quite suitable for his sensibilities, and definitely not Haram!

Food that is not halal is termed Haram (forbidden). Food can be forbidden in Islam if it includes:  Blood, alcohol, meat or any products from a forbidden animal, including pigs and any carnivorous animals or birds of prey, meat or any products of an animal which has not been slaughtered in the correct manner in the name of Allah Under Islamic law (sharia). It is permissible (halal) to consume items that would otherwise be termed haram so long as it is a matter of survival and not just an act of disobedience.

Thinking about it afterwards, I concluded that it must be very difficult to have such a special dietary requirement when travelling. One has to constantly be very careful of what one eats and search for suitable eating places where one would be assured of one’s requirements being met. In a big city like Melbourne this would be quite easy, however, in smaller towns it may be more difficult. One would have to resort to eating fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and grains, quite often. Especially so in countries where special dietary requirements are not all that common. However, as my guest demonstrated, discipline and self-restraint are what determine one’s adherence to one’s principles. No doubt, one would be prepared in many cases to go hungry rather than compromise oneself.

halal |həˈläl, həˈlal| adjective
Denoting or relating to meat prepared as prescribed by Muslim law: Halal butchers.
• Religiously acceptable according to Muslim law: Halal banking.
halal meat.
ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from Arabic ḥalāl ‘according to religious law.’

haram |ˈhe(ə)rəm, ˈharəm| adjective
forbidden or proscribed by Islamic law.
ORIGIN from Arabic ḥarām ‘forbidden.’


“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” - Martin Luther

Tu B’Shevat is a minor Jewish holiday, occurring on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat (in 2012 this occurred from sunset on February 7 through the time when you can see three stars in the sky on February 8). During Biblical times, Jewish farmers set out trees on this day and performed ceremonies to bless the standing orchards.  It was also customary to plant a new tree for every newborn child - a cedar for a boy and a cypress or pine for a girl.  It was also usual for boughs of these trees to form the marriage canopies for the bridal couple.  Children of modern Israel celebrate this day with tree plantings and outdoor games.  In other lands, Jews observe the Tu B’Shevat Festival by eating oranges, figs, pomegranates, dates, raisins and other fruits that grow in their homeland.

On February 9th, it is St Apollonia’s Feast Day. Apollonia was an aged deaconess of Alexandria. She was martyred by having all her teeth pulled out one by one. The mob of heathens then threatened to burn her alive unless she renounced her Christian faith. Apollonia eagerly jumped into the flames herself rather than submit to any further torture or threats. She is invoked by the faithful in cases of toothache and she is the patron saint of dentists.

February can be one of the coldest months, as this folk rhyme advises:
            Walk fast in snow
            In frost walk slow;
            When frost and snow are both together
            Sit by the fire and save shoe leather.

The Northern Hemisphere is experiencing some very severe weather at the moment, with extremely low temperatures, snowfalls, ice and freezing of rivers and canals. In the Netherlands, the Elfstedentrocht (Eleven Cities Tour) looks like it will run this year, something which only happens in very cold winters. At almost 200 km, is the world's largest speed skating competition and leisure skating tour. It is held in the province of Friesland, Netherlands, only when the ice along the entire course of waterways is at least 15 cm thick.

The tour, almost 200 km in length, is conducted on frozen canals, rivers and lakes between the eleven historic Frisian cities: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker, Dokkum, then returning to Leeuwarden. The tour is not held every year, mostly because the ice is not thick enough every Dutch winter, and also because about 15,000 amateur skaters may take part, putting high requirements on the quality of the ice. The last tours were held in 1985, 1986 and 1997. All skaters must be members of the Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities. A starting permit is required. Skaters must collect a stamp in each city, and at three secret check points, and must finish the course before midnight. The finishing point of the Elfstedentocht is a canal near Leeuwarden, called the “Bonkevaart”, close to the famous landmark windmill, De Bullemolen, Lekkum.

Monday, 6 February 2012


“The heart is the only broken instrument that works.” - T. E. Kalem
Magpie Tales has presented to us this week with an image of a grave at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. It is the grave of Aleksandr Nikolayevich Bakulev (1890 - 1967) who was a Soviet surgeon, one of the founders of cardiovascular surgery in the USSR, and his wife, Valentina Petrovna Bakuleva (1904 - 1990). The image of the hands holding the ruby-red heart is both apposite, given the métier of Bakulev, and striking in terms of artistic appeal. The image of heart and ruby was a strong prompt.


My heart last night was bled
The drops of blood, gout by gout extracted,
Falling like pomegranate grains
On barren soil.

Seeds of precious ruby
On rocky, drought-stricken land were thrown –
Pearls cast before the swine,
Such wasted toil.

My curious exsanguination
Casually observed by silent spectators,
Puzzled by my libations, mindless of the labours of
My midnight oil.

And yet the heart will fill again,
The pallid body will with rose blooms be coloured,
Ready for yet another sacrifice –
Again and yet again,
Until my final breath expires,
Until I shuffle off
This mortal coil

Sunday, 5 February 2012


“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” - Immanuel Kant
Yesterday we watched a good film, Francis Lawrence’s 2011 “Water for Elephants” , starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz. This movie is based on the novel of the same name by Sara Gruen, an as with all movies that are based on books, much has been omitted, simplified or otherwise slightly tweaked. Ultimately one has to leave the book well alone, watch the movie and ask oneself does this work as a film? Was the screenplay good? Was the direction, the cinematography good? Was the casting appropriate, did the cast act well? Was the film of high quality, with good productions values, was it enjoyable to watch and engaging? Obviously if one has read a great book and enjoyed it, watching a film which is not exactly like the book or not up to one’s high expectations, will cause great disappointment…

Watching the film, one of us had read the novel and one had not. We both greatly enjoyed the film, and it was fortunate that we both watched the movie as a movie, without talking about the book before or during it. The discussion occurred afterwards, regarding differences between book and film. Yes, there are differences but a book, is a book, is a book, and a film, is a film, is a film. And the movie was a good one. Like a good, old fashioned, Hollywood movie, which they don’t often make nowadays.

In a nutshell, the plot has as follows: In the midst of the Great Depression and Prohibition in the USA, Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson), the son of Polish immigrants is left penniless and homeless after his parents die in a car accident. Although he is a veterinary student at Cornell University and only needs little time to become qualified, he leaves all and joins a circus as their vet. He befriends some fellow workers and fits in well enough, but he has to work under an unstable and violent boss, August (Waltz). August is unscrupulous, sadistic and violent making everyone be cautious around him, including his beautiful and quiet wife Marlena (Witherspoon), of whom August is very possessive and jealous. Jacob finds himself attracted to her, especially given her gentleness with the circus animals, which August mistreats. Rosie, an elephant that is acquired to star in a new act proves to be catalytic for all sorts of crises that will test each of the main characters.

Warning: Do not watch this film if you feel strongly about cruelty against animals. I had to grit my teeth and felt quite miserable when such scenes were shown. The makers of the movie certify that no animals were really hurt making the movie, but it was hard to remember that when watching the very realistic scenes of animal cruelty. They are graphic scenes and reflect the times and circumstances that film relates to, thus forming an integral part of the plot. But they really are heart-wrenching scenes that made very upset and angry.

The leads were excellent, especially Reese Witherspoon as the fragile Marlena and Christoph Waltz as the sadistic August. Pattnson shows great promise, and I am sure that he will make a fine actor as he matures. The supporting cast were very good and the illusion of the Circus worked well, in a very convincing set with the appropriate acts, costumes and props. The period atmosphere of the film was great and was transferred well to screen. With an estimated budget of $38 million, one can tell that things were not done on the cheap. The critics gave the film a fairly harsh criticism, but the public liked it well enough with opening weekend takings being  $16,842,353 (24 April 2011; 2817 Screens) and grossing $58,700,247 (7 August 2011, USA).

The direction, cinematography, music and production are excellent and as I said earlier reminded me of the golden age of Hollywood. The dialogue was ingenuous, earnest, believable and once again in keeping with the times and circumstances depicted in the movie. It is a beautiful looking film with many poignant moments, some humour and quite a lot of drama. I am determined now to read the novel and make up my own mind as to how well it was transferred to screen. However, as a movie it worked for us and we enjoyed it thoroughly. We can recommend it most highly.