Saturday, 5 July 2014


“It seems to never occur to fools that merit and good fortune are closely united.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

One of the most famous pieces of music of the 20th century is Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”. Carl Orff (July 10, 1895 – March 29, 1982) was a German composer, who also developed an influential approach toward music education for children. Carmina Burana is a “scenic cantata”, which is rarely performed on stage as intended originally, and is almost universally performed now as a concert piece.

The video here was the dramatic rendition of Carl Orff's most famous piece of music, in the manner he wanted it to look and be sung. It was filmed by West German TV in 1975 with the close co-operation of Orff in honour of his 80th birthday. The various stories of young lust and gluttony are playfully and skilfully brought to life.

This version of Orff's masterpiece of the sacred and profane was hard to find in Germany. Not so strange, it was banned there for decades, most likely because of its almost literal interpretation of the texts Orff put music to. The mixture of Christian and pagan imagery is completely consistent with the lyrics, which were found in a monastery, and are a mixture of sacred and profane songs, but were obviously too tough to swallow…

Director: Jean Pierre Ponnelle; Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Tölzer Knabenchor; Münchner Rundfunkorchester; Lucia Popp (soprano); John van Kesteren (tenor); Hermann Prey (baritone).

Friday, 4 July 2014


“Eating vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to eat boring, humdrum dishes.” - MarcusSamuelsson

Happy Fourth of July to my American readers! As this is a day of picnics, barbeques and general merriment, here is a vegetarian burger recipe for those who wish to have a vegetarian barbeque meal out in the parklands!

Vegie Burgers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 zucchinis, grated
1 large carrot, grated
100g (about 4 slices) wholemeal bread, crusts removed
400g canned chickpeas, rinsed, drained
3 teaspoons mild curry paste
3 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves, plus extra leaves to serve
6 bread rolls (we used cape seed)
Mayonnaise, chutney, lettuce and tomato, to serve

Heat half the oil in a large frypan over medium-low heat, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes or until softened.
Add the garlic, zucchini and carrot, then cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until wilted and softened. Drain off any liquid.

Place bread and chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.

Add softened vegetables, curry paste, peanut butter, yolk and coriander. Process until mixture comes together.

Form the mixture into 6 patties and chill for 10 minutes. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frypan over medium heat and cook the burgers, in batches if necessary, for 1-2 minutes each side until golden.

Serve in rolls with mayonnaise, chutney, lettuce, tomato and extra coriander leaves.

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Thursday, 3 July 2014


“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” - Mark Twain

I read a novel recently and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is “Maestro” by Peter Goldsworthy (published 1989). The author was born in Minlaton, South Australia, in 1951 and he grew up in various country towns, finishing his schooling in Darwin. Since graduating in medicine from the University of Adelaide, he has devoted his time equally to medicine and writing. He is married to a fellow graduate and they have three children. Peter Goldsworthy has published six collections of poetry, including “This Goes With That: Selected Poems 1970-1990”. He is the author of seven collections of short fiction, including “Little Deaths”, and seven novels, including “Honk if You Are Jesus” and “Wish”. He has won numerous awards including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize and an Australian Bicentennial Literary Award.

“Maestro” is a semi-autobiographical work set in the Australian city of Darwin. This is a city that is small and tropical, a port, half-outback, half-oriental, lying at the tip of North Australia. The hero of the novel is Paul Crabbe, a newly arrived adolescent to Darwin from Adelaide, in the South. There, he encounters Eduard Keller, the ‘maestro’ of the title, a Viennese refugee with a mysterious past. Their first meeting is the occasion of a piano lesson, what is to be the first of many.

The novel is a coming of age story, charming in its simplicity - if one looks at it superficially.  However, there are deeper currents to be plumbed: What is perfection in art, what defines beauty, how do we distinguish talent from simple proficiency, what is genius? All of these are questions posed by Peter Goldsworthy in the context of the piano lessons that form the backbone of the story. It is a novel that traces Paul’s voyage into maturity, a maturity that is achieved through suffering. It is a study of the perceived and self-constructed conceit and infallibility of youth into the doubt, greater understanding and humbleness of maturity. It is a chronicle of the birth of a talented artist, even though that artist is not fated to become a genius of his art.

I greatly enjoyed the novel and recommend it unreservedly to anybody who likes to read a book with a little bit more substance to it than airport paperbacks, but at the same time it is a book that is easily approached and enjoyed because its language is simple, direct and unpretentious.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


“A person can only be born in one place. However, he may die several times elsewhere: in the exiles and prisons, and in a homeland transformed by the occupation and oppression into a nightmare.” - Mahmoud Darwish

Leaving one’s place of birth and settling elsewhere, for whatever purpose, may often be followed by success, with one’s new life being comfortable, prosperous and filled with content. While one is grateful for the new homeland’s bounty, the need to visit one’s place of origin is a thirst that can only satisfied by a return there. However, nostalgia is a bad advisor and often what we fondly remember is forever lost and the water of return is contaminated by the bitterness of irrevocable change.

Poetry Jam this week is looking at the theme of “thirst” and my offering is below:

The Return

My heart searches to slake its thirst
In heady wine of the return, so ruby-red.
Vermillion poppies are sweet draughts
In emerald chalice of unripened corn.

My heart searches to revive itself
With life-giving blood and sacred breath.
Anemones like drops of blood on hillsides
And in the azure of sky a breath of God.

My heart searches for a cordial word to hear,
A smiling friendly face to warm itself.
In every boat of the Aegean I see a letter spelling “welcome home”
While ancient statues smile at me like next of kin.

My heart searches far and wide for honey, balsam,
A therapy for all its wounds so that it will love again.
Violet-coloured, scented evenings in islands white,
And sweet fragrances are medicine enough in balmy nights.

My heart searches for all of these and more,
But as time inexorably flows, it passes, wounds, destroys.
Time conquers all that I knew and fondly recalled,
And my return is poison, soured wine and bitter gall.

The photo is "Poppies in Polyhrono, Greece" by Ilian Pavlov

Tuesday, 1 July 2014


“Eat to live; not live to eat.” - Socrates

The rituals of eating and our carefully orchestrated mealtime productions are a characteristically human behaviour that separates us from our animal cousins. Over the millennia, as we evolved, what was something that we resorted to purely to survive, has become also a highly ritualised social behaviour, (sometimes reaching ridiculous proportions). Whenever I go into a bookshop I am amazed by the space that is devoted to cookery books, lifestyle books (in which the meal ritual plays an important role), cooking ingredient books, cookery/travelling books, ethnic cookbooks, etc, versus, say, classic literature. The number of cookery magazines, and space devoted to cooking in other magazines, is also quite astounding. Add to that the TV programmes that centre on cooking, the web pages that are cookery-oriented and the number of cooking schools around, and it seems that we are living in the midst of a food conspiracy. And here I am contributing to this deluge in this blog, as well!

Eating is certainly a popular activity and the preparation of food is something that can take up considerable time. A great degree of skill and experience is also important because if someone lacks those, even when the best ingredients and appropriate recipe is around, the result can be quite disgusting. Sometimes this is evidenced by the preparation of the simplest of meals. I fondly (now, not then) remember the graphic illustration of the “he-can’t-boil-an-egg” situation when a roommate at University tried boiling some eggs and after forgetting the pan on the stove for an hour or so, came back to a black pan and carbonised egg remnants. The smell was disgusting and persisted for several weeks.

The excesses of the ancient Romans where food is concerned have not perhaps been surpassed, which is easy to understand when one looks at some of their recipes that have survived in the literature. Who for example, would be tempted by a menu that had “virgin sow’s uterus stuffed with nightingale tongues and served with a honey and fish sauce”? Not all their recipes are as revolting as this, as examination of surviving ancient Roman cookbooks proves. One famous one is “De Re Coquinaria” by Marcus Gaius Apicius. For example, if you would like to eat hamburgers, Roman style, you can get this and several Apicius recipes here.

What people around the world eat is absolutely mind-boggling! It is truly a case of “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”. Amongst all the animals that seem to be the most under-represented on our menus is the group of insects – unwisely so, nutritionists tell us as many insects would be extremely nutritious and good value as far energy and food efficiency value are concerned. The Australian aborigines have long eaten witchetty grubs, which are the larvae of moths and beetles which bore into and eat the wood and sap of trees and shrubs, and are considered to be a delicacy. Honey ants are another such delicacy.  Other aficionados of entomophagy (insect eating!) point out that there are 1,462 of recorded species of edible insects. That’s not including the thousands that haven’t been tasted yet. Grasshoppers, beetles, scorpions, crickets, etc all feature prominently on the menu. Native Americans have a long tradition of entomophagy. For recipes to make your next dinner party unforgettable, and more information, see here.

Snails, guinea pigs, frog-legs, horse, octopus, snakes, crocodiles, jellyfish, lizards, monkeys, cats, dogs, sea slugs are also some of the more unusual foods that would be quite ordinary fare to many people around the world. If you wish to discover more, it’s worth visiting the weird food site.  Who but the French would rack their brains to come up with exciting recipes for rhinoceros and elephant, giraffe and other zoo animals? When Paris was under siege by Prussian army in 1870, at the time of the Franco-Prussian War, after about 60,000 dogs and cats were eaten (not to mention countless rats), all the animals in the Paris zoo were also eaten, including Castor and Pollux the elephants, which were until then darlings of zoo visitors.

Another controversial food item is offal: Liver, milt (spleen), tripe (stomach), kidneys, chitterlings (intestines), brain, sweetbreads (thymus or pancreas), testicles, lights (lung), gizzard (birds’ crop), andouilles (pigs’ large intestine), heart, all make an appearance on the table. Everyone has heard of the famous Scottish dish haggis (but only the brave have tasted it), which consists of sheep stomach stuffed with a boiled mix of liver, heart, lungs, rolled oats and other ingredients.

And if you would like to play Russian roulette while sitting at table, why not try some Japanese fugu? This is a kind of pufferfish, which contains a deadly poison in the organs. Despite the risk, fugu dishes remain as a special delicacy in Japan. Even the milt is considered as a great delicacy. The kanji (Chinese characters) used to write fugu translate as “river pig”. It’s reported that about 40 kinds of pufferfish are caught and cultured in Japan and that 10,000 tons of fugu are consumed each year.  The fish contains lethal amounts of the poison tetrodotoxin in the internal organs, especially the liver and the ovaries, but also in the skin and the testes. Only specially licensed chefs can prepare and sell fugu to the public, and consumption of the liver and ovaries is forbidden. Since small amounts of the poison in the fugu eaten give a special desired sensation on the tongue, the poisonous parts are considered to be the most delicious by some gourmets. Every year a number of people die because the amount of poison in the consumed fish parts has been underestimated. The poison paralyses muscles while the victim stays conscious, and eventually dies from asphyxiation. There is currently no antidote, and the standard medical approach is to try to support the respiratory and circulatory system until the effect of the poison wears off.

At the other extreme are people who choose to eat very frugally, their food largely or exclusively of vegetable origin. Healthy vegetarianism is a viable option and many strict vegetarians enjoy a varied, nutritious and delicious diet. However, because of religious, misguided health, conscientious or other reasons, the diet of other people may consist of foods that are bland, without variety and in some cases devoid of essential nutrients. Food faddism has been recognised as a medical problem in many instances and can lead to serious disease or even death. As is the case with any other part of our life, our diet should adhere to Cleobulus’ wise saying: “The mean is best in all things”.

Monday, 30 June 2014


Look in the mirror. The face that pins you with its double gaze reveals a chastening secret.” - DianeAckerman

For Movie Monday today I’ll deal with a classic movie that I watched again at the weekend for after many years since I saw it first. It is Roman Polanski’s Chinatown of 1974. It is the story of Los Angeles detective Jake Gittes who is hired by Mrs. Mulwray to spy on her husband, whom she suspects of infidelity. Shortly after Gittes is hired, a second woman, who proves to be the real Mrs. Mulwray appears in his office threatening to sue if he doesn’t drop the case immediately. Gittes pursues the case and discovers a trail leading to corruption, murder and terrible family secrets.

This is a wonderful movie of the “film noir” type set in Los Angeles of the 1940s. It is full of atmosphere, boasts excellent acting and masterful direction. Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway are perfect in their roles and the director John Huston who plays Mrs Mulwray’s father proves he can act as well as he directs. The setting and prop details in this movie are painstakingly recreated and the whole effect is that of a classy homage to the famous film noir films of the 1940s. If you haven’t seen this movie, it is well worth seeing, especially if you like thrillers and intelligent, well-made, film noir.

Film Noir (literally ‘black film or cinema’) was coined by French film critics (first by Nino Frank in 1946) who noticed the trend of how ‘dark’, downbeat and black the looks and themes were of many American crime and detective films released in France to theatres following the war, such as The MalteseFalcon (1941), Murder, My Sweet (1944), Double Indemnity (1944), The Woman in the Window (1944), Laura (1944), The Blue Dahlia (1948) and D.O.A. (1950). A wide range of films reflected the resultant tensions and insecurities of the time period, and counter-balanced the optimism of Hollywood’s musicals and comedies. Fear, mistrust, bleakness, loss of innocence, despair and paranoia are readily evident in noir, reflecting the ‘chilly’ Cold War period when the threat of nuclear annihilation was ever-present.

The criminal, violent, misogynistic, hard-boiled, or greedy perspectives of anti-heroes in film noir were a metaphoric symptom of society’s evils, with a strong undercurrent of moral conflict, purposelessness and sense of injustice. There were rarely happy or optimistic endings in noirs. Classic film noir developed during and after World War II, taking advantage of the post-war ambience of anxiety, pessimism, and suspicion. It was a style of black and white American films that first evolved in the 1940s, became prominent in the post-war era, and lasted in a classic ‘Golden Age’ period until about 1960 (marked by the last film of the classic film noir era, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958).

Strictly speaking, film noir is not a genre, but rather the mood, style, point-of-view, or tone of a film. It is also helpful to realise that film noir usually refers to a distinct historical period of film history (the decade of film-making after World War II), similar to the German Expressionism or the French New Wave periods. However, it was labelled as such only after the classic period - early noir film-makers didn't even use the film designation (as they would the labels ‘western’ or ‘musical’), and were not conscious that their films would be labelled noirs.

Very often, a film noir story was developed around a cynical, hard-hearted, disillusioned male character [e.g., Robert Mitchum, Fred MacMurray, or Humphrey Bogart] who encountered a beautiful but promiscuous, amoral, double-dealing and seductive femme fatale [e.g., Mary Astor, Veronica Lake, Jane Greer, Barbara Stanwyck, or Lana Turner]. She would use her feminine wiles and come-hither sexuality to manipulate him into becoming the fall guy - often following a murder. After a betrayal or double-cross, she was frequently destroyed as well, often at the cost of the hero’s life. As women during the war period were given new-found independence and better job-earning power in the homeland during the war, they would suffer, on the screen, in these films of the 1940s.

Sunday, 29 June 2014


“I equate inspiration with desire – the desire that moves us to be artists in the first place. To attempt to make a painting without this motivation is a waste of time.” - Nita Engle

Johannes (Jan) Vermeer was baptised October 31, 1632, in Delft, the Netherlands and buried December 16, 1675, in Delft. He was a Dutch artist who created paintings that are among the most beloved and well-known images in the history of art. Only about 36 of his paintings survive, and these rare works are among the greatest treasures in the world’s finest museums. Vermeer began his career in the early 1650s by painting large-scale biblical and mythological scenes, but most of his later paintings (the ones for which he is most famous) depict scenes of daily life in interior settings. These works are remarkable for their purity of light and form, qualities that convey a serene, timeless sense of dignity. Vermeer also painted cityscapes and allegorical scenes.

Vermeer’s fame was not widespread during his lifetime, largely because his paintings were collected by local patrons and because his output was small. After his death the paintings continued to be admired by a small group of connoisseurs, primarily in Delft and Amsterdam. By the 19th century a number of Vermeer’s paintings had been attributed to other, more prolific Dutch artists, among them de Hooch. Later, studies of his work led to a rediscovery of this artist and as private collectors and public museums actively sought to acquire his rare paintings during the early years of the 20th century, prices for his work skyrocketed

The “View of Delft” (c. 1660–61) above, is a painting of the artist’s native city, Delft, which was an active and prosperous place in the mid-17th century, its wealth based on its thriving Delftware (pottery) factories, tapestry-weaving ateliers, and breweries. Within Delft's city walls were picturesque canals and a large market square, which was flanked by the imposing town hall and the soaring steeple of the Nieuwe Kerk (“New Church”). It was also a venerable city with a long and distinguished past. It still retains its picturesqueness and when I visited it for the first time it was difficult when seeing it not to be transported back to Vermeer’s time.

The Art of Painting (c. 1665–66) is a very important painting in Vermeer’s oeuvre. With a large curtain, drawn back as though revealing a stage setting, Vermeer creates an allegory for his art. An elegantly dressed artist is in the midst of painting Clio, the muse of history (recognisable through her attributes: a laurel wreath symbolising honour and glory, the trumpet of fame, and a large book signifying history). Vermeer juxtaposed Clio and a large wall map of the Netherlands to show that the artist, through his awareness of history and his ability to paint elevated subjects, brings fame to his native city and country. This painting was so important to Vermeer that his widow tried to keep it from creditors even when the family was destitute.

Girl with the Red Hat (1665–66) is one of my favourites, both in terms of its subject matter, but also in its technique. The colours shine and the light gleams in the highlights. The expression of the richly attired woman is half-surprised, half-haughty. The parted lips and wide-open eyes express a blasé attitude perhaps, but there is also an impression of several glasses of wine having been consumed… The busy background is an intricate tapestry-like backdrop, but through the clever use of soft-focussing and aerial perspective where the colours are dulled it is not intrusive. The finials of the chair in the foreground are wonderfully three-dimensional and the dots of colour in the highlights make them project outwards.

In The Love Note (c. 1666), Vermeer uses some clever techniques to convey a sense of intimacy but also a voyeuristic feel to the whole scene. As the maid interrupts the playing of her mistress in order to deliver the billet-doux, we sense a foreboding as we suspect that perhaps this message is to arrange a secret tryst, or a to reveal illicit feelings of love, or to announce a love long held back. The clogs in the foreground are symbolic of the erotic overtones of the painting. The large dark masses of the drapery, the furniture and the door that take up most of the area of the painting serve as mechanisms whereby the artist heightens the emotional impact of the scene depicted and focus our attention to the brightly lit scene in centre stage. I have always sensed an immense theatricality in Vermeer’s work that makes his paintings appealing to me. There are stories waiting to be told in these paintings.

The marvellous painting Girl with a Pearl Earring is one of Vermeer’s works that has generated a story, as is told by Tracy Chevalier’s novel and the beautiful 2003 film of the same name by Peter Webber. The painting is currently housed at The Mauritshuis in The Hague. It is sometimes referred to as “the Mona Lisa of the North” or “the Dutch Mona Lisa”. It is a masterpiece in technique, use of colour, composition and subject matter.

Although Vermeer and the painting both are real historic figures, the screenplay is based on Tracy Chevalier’s novel and therefore largely fictional or hypothetical. As only 36 Vermeer paintings are known to exist today, and none of the models have ever been positively identified. A poster of the painting in her bedroom inspired Chevalier to write her own version of how it came to exist based on the framework of Vermeer’s known history. Chevalier sold the film rights and opted not to have any involvement in the film or screenplay, although after its release said she was pleased with the results.