Saturday, 14 March 2015


“Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another.” - Homer

Rupert Charles Wulsten Bunny (1864–1947) an Australian artist, was born on 29 September 1864 at St Kilda, Melbourne, third son of Brice Frederick Bunny, barrister, and his wife Marie Hedwig Dorothea, née Wulsten. Educated at the Alma Road Grammar School, St Kilda, The Hutchins School, Hobart, and in Germany and Switzerland, in 1881 he enrolled at the University of Melbourne to study civil engineering. Abandoning his studies in the hope of becoming an actor, but frustrated by family opposition, he eventually joined the National Gallery schools under O. R. Campbell and G. F. Folingsby; his fellow students included Frederick McCubbin, E. Phillips Fox and Louis Abrahams. In 1884 Bunny went to London and enrolled at P. H. Calderon’s art school in St John's Wood. Two years later he left for Paris to study under Jean-Paul Laurens.

Bunny exhibited at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français (Old Salon) from 1888, becoming the first Australian painter to receive a ‘mention honorable’ for his painting “The Tritons”. He also began exhibiting with British societies and galleries including the Royal Academy, London, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Institute of Painters in Oil-Colours, the Fine Art Society, and the New Gallery, Grosvenor, and Grafton galleries. His participation in the Carnegie Institute’s ‘Pittsburgh Internationals’ was to continue for almost thirty years; he was awarded a bronze medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1900, and was represented in the Bendigo Victorian Gold Jubilee Exhibition of 1901-02.

In 1901 he left the Paris Old Salon for the New (Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts). This coincided with a change in his work from large, idealised subject compositions drawn from the Bible and especially classical mythology, painted in a neo-classical style touched with Pre-Raphaelitism, to paintings of women, landscapes, and portraiture. His interest in music is reflected in his portraits of musicians, especially of fellow Australians Nellie Melba, Percy Grainger and Ada Crossley.

In 1902 in Paris Bunny married Jeanne Heloise Morel, a former fellow student and favourite model whose portrait he painted often. His paintings now became more French, both in subject and style. One-man exhibitions were held at the Galérie Silberberg and the Galérie Graves, Paris. He produced some of his most successful works during this first decade of the new century. ‘Après le Bain’ was purchased for the Jeu de Paume, the first of many to be bought by the French government, followed by ‘Endormies’ (National Gallery of Victoria), ‘Summer Time’, his major compositional achievement, and ‘A Summer Morning’ (both in the Art Gallery of New South Wales).

At the height of his powers and with an enviable reputation he visited Australia in 1911 for successful exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney. His return to Paris in 1912 marked a period of crisis and uncertainty with World War I shattering an age of elegance. His work in the American Hospital in Paris also affected him deeply. Bunny again turned to the classics for inspiration, producing a brilliant series of mythological decorations that are among his finest works. These new decorative compositions reached their fullest expression in the 1920s with stylistic influences ranging from classical Greek art, through Puvis de Chavannes, Art Nouveau and Fauvism, to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Bunny also returned to painting landscapes, especially lyrical views of the south of France.

In the 1920s he held a number of exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney as well as in Paris, before hard economic times and the death of his wife in 1933 resulted in his finally returning to Melbourne to live. He exhibited with the Victorian Artists’ Society, various contemporary groups, and was artist vice-president and inaugural member of the Contemporary Art Society, established in 1939. The same year he began exhibiting annually at the Macquarie Galleries, Sydney. Bunny devoted increasing time to music in his last years and composed several ballets. In 1946 a major retrospective exhibition of his work was shown at the National Gallery of Victoria, the first time it paid such an honour to a living Australian painter.

He died on 25 May 1947 in a private hospital in Melbourne. Hailed as one of Australia’s finest artists of his time, Bunny was a skilfully eclectic painter whose works ranged from large-scale compositions in the grand manner to decorative scenes of feminine intimacy. His first work to enter an Australian Gallery was ‘Sea Idyll’, presented to the National Gallery of Victoria in 1892 by Alfred Felton, who, on his death in 1904 also bequeathed Bunny a life annuity. A self-portrait (c.1920) and a portrait of his wife (c.1902) are also in the National Gallery of Victoria.

Reproduced above is his ‘The Rape of Persephone’ of ca. 1913. It is a work in oil on canvas, 544 mm by 811 mm, currently in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. The work is a striking depiction of the moment of Persephone’s abduction by the ancient Greek god of the Underworld, Hades. Zeus, it is said, permitted Hades, who was in love with the beautiful Persephone, to carry her off as her mother Demeter was not likely to allow her daughter to go down to Hades. Persephone was gathering flowers with the Oceanides along with Artemis and Athena in a field when Hades came to abduct her, bursting through a cleft in the earth.

When Demeter found her daughter had disappeared, searched for her all over the earth with torches. While doing so, she neglected the earth and in the depth of her despair she caused nothing to grow. Helios, the sun, who sees everything, eventually told Demeter what had happened and at length she discovered the place of her abode. Finally, Zeus, pressed by the cries of the hungry people and by the other deities who also heard their anguish, forced Hades to return Persephone. Hades indeed complied with the request, but first he tricked her, giving her some pomegranate seeds to eat. Persephone was released by Hermes, who had been sent to retrieve her, but because she had tasted food in the underworld, she was obliged to spend a third of each year (the winter months) there, and the remaining part of the year with the gods above, thus explaining the cycle of the seasons.

Friday, 13 March 2015


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

Benedetto Giacomo Marcello (31 July or 1 August 1686 – 24 July 1739) was an Italian composer, writer, advocate, magistrate, and teacher. Born in Venice, Benedetto Marcello was a member of a noble family and his compositions are frequently referred to as being composed by "Patrizio Veneto". Although he was a music student of Antonio Lotti and Francesco Gasparini, his father wanted Benedetto to devote himself to law. Benedetto managed to combine a life in law and public service with one in music.

In 1711 he was appointed a member of the Council of Forty (in Venice’s central government), and in 1730 he went to Pola as Provveditore (district governor). Due to his health having been “impaired by the climate” of Istria, Marcello retired after eight years in the capacity of Camerlengo to Brescia where he died of tuberculosis in 1739.

Benedetto Marcello was the brother of Alessandro Marcello, also a notable composer. On 20 May 1728 Benedetto Marcello married his singing student Rosanna Scalfi in a secret ceremony. However, as a nobleman his marriage to a commoner was unlawful and after Marcello’s death the marriage was declared null by the state. Rosanna was unable to inherit his estate, and filed suit in 1742 against Benedetto’s brother Alessandro Marcello, seeking financial support.

Marcello composed a variety of music including considerable church music, oratorios, hundreds of solo cantatas, duets, sonatas, concertos and sinfonias. Marcello was a younger contemporary of Antonio Vivaldi in Venice and his instrumental music shows a Vivaldian flavor. As a composer, Marcello was best known in his lifetime and is now still best remembered for his “Estro poetico-armonico” (Venice, 1724–27), a musical setting for voices, figured bass (a continuo notation), and occasional solo instruments, of the first fifty Psalms, as paraphrased in Italian by his friend G. Giustiniani. They were much admired by Charles Avison, who with John Garth brought out an edition with English words (London, 1757).

The library of the Brussels Conservatoire possesses some interesting volumes of chamber cantatas composed by Marcello for his mistress. Although Benedetto Marcello wrote an opera called “La Fede Riconosciuta” and produced it in Vicenza in 1702, he had little sympathy with this form of composition, as evidenced in his writings. Benedetto Marcello’s music is “characterised by imagination and a fine technique and includes both counterpoint and progressive, gallant features” (Grove, 1994). With the poet Antonio Conti he wrote a series of experimental long cantatas.

Here are his 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 1, with  Silvano Frontalini conducting the Kaunas Chamber Orchestra. These are gorgeous Baroque concertos that highlight Marcello’s inventiveness, musicality and use of the sonorities of strings to create an atmosphere of elegance, which is nevertheless full of rich emotional content.

Thursday, 12 March 2015


“All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.” - John Gunther

When I lived in Amsterdam I often woke up very early in the morning, sometimes as early as 4:00 am. It was winter and in the warm kitchen I sometimes made this brioche for breakfast, while having my first milk coffee. The recipe is easily adapted for other uses.

1 packet of active dry yeast (7 g)
1/2 cup of warm water
1 cup of warm milk
2 teaspoonfuls sugar
1 teaspoonful salt
500 g plain flour
4 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Dissolve the sugar and salt in the warm water/milk mixture.  Add the yeast stirring thoroughly until dissolved.  Add three to four handfuls of the flour and whisk well to form a gruel.  Put in a warm place and wait for it rise until it is two to three times in bulk.  Melt the butter and mix in the oil, beating in the eggs one by one.  Add the yeast mixture little by little, all the while mixing well.  Add the flour and whisk to form a soft, sticky elastic dough.  Leave in a warm place to rise until double in bulk.  Punch down, pour into a well buttered brioche tin (loaf tin is fine) and let the dough rise in a warm place.  Bake until golden brown in a moderately hot oven (175˚C for 45-50 min). You may brush the top with egg or milk, if you wish it to have a glossy surface.  Allow about 2 hours preparation for this (mostly rising time).

Savoury Brioche-of-Sorts (“Fioche”)
The brioche can be made savoury by sprinkling on the bottom of the baking dish with chopped, dried rosemary, parsley, thyme, marjoram, dill, mixed herbs, rock salt, pepper and paprika, before pouring in the dough.  Grated cheese may be incorporated into the dough.  Once the brioche has almost baked, sprinkle grated parmesan and gouda mixed with herbs on the top of it and continue baking until golden brown.  This makes a very light savoury bread, a “fioche” (a cross between a foccacia and a brioche)!

Alternatively, the brioche can be made into a baba-of-sorts by preparing some syrup and pouring it on top.  Serve with lashings of whipped cream.
3 glassfuls of water
3 glassfuls of sugar
2 teaspoonfuls vanilla essence
2 tablespoonfuls of kirsch
Squeeze of lemon juice

Boil the sugar and water and add the vanilla essence.  Boil until the syrup has set (test by dropping some syrup into cold water; it is ready if it forms a little globule).  Remove from the heat and add the liqueur, and the lemon juice stirring well.  Pour the very hot syrup over the cold brioche.  Allow to cool and serve with whipped cream flavoured with Cointreau and garnish with orange peel strips.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2015


“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” - Lewis Grizzard

Before Columbus stumbled upon America in the 15th century, European cuisine was lacking many common foods and culinary ingredients that we now take for granted. The influx of fantastic discoveries from the New World, greatly altered the way that Europeans cooked and ate. Today, nearly 30% of the world’s cultivated plants originated in the New World. Some of the foods that came from the New World are: Tomatoes, potatoes, maize, cassava (manioc, tapioca), breadfruit, cocoa (chocolate!), vanilla, pineapples, peanuts, Lima beans, chili peppers (cayenne, paprika), pumpkins, squash, avocadoes, pecans, cashews, and not forgetting of course, the turkey!

When one thinks of Southern European cuisine, it is unimaginable that as late as the 15th century, there were no tomatoes used in it at all! So to honour the New World’s contribution to world cuisine, today’s blog is dedicated to the wonderful tomato.

The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) has origins traced back to the early Aztecs around 700 A.D. and it is believed that this fruit (so the botanists advise us, or vegetable if you believe the US Supreme Court!) is native to the Americas. Cortez first discovered the tomato in the year 1519, in the gardens of Montezuma in Costa Rica. He took its seeds back to Europe where they were planted as ornamental curiosities, but not eaten. However, in Southern Europe, the tomato was quickly accepted into the kitchen, yet as it moved northwards, more resistance was apparent. The British, for example, admired the tomato for its beauty, but long believed that it was poisonous.

It is thought the first variety to reach Europe was yellow in colour, since in Spain and Italy they were known as pomi d’oro, meaning yellow apples. The French referred to them as pommes d’amour, or love apples, as they thought them to have stimulating aphrodisiac properties (not true). The specific name lycopersicum is from the Greek and means “wolf-peach”, referring perhaps once again to the perceived dual nature of the tomato: Attractive as a peach to the eye, but baneful to health and vitality like a wolf! Italy was the first to embrace and cultivate the tomato with zest outside South America. This love affair of Italian cuisine with the tomato continues to this day.

The reason for this idea of the toxicity of the tomato was that rich people in the Elizabethan era used plates made of pewter, which has a high-lead content. Foods high in acid, like tomatoes, would cause the lead to leach out into the food, resulting in lead poisoning and death. The poor people, who ate off plates made of wood, did not have that problem, and hence ate tomatoes heartily. This is essentially the reason why tomatoes were only eaten by poor people until the 1800s when China plates became widespread and the tomato more acceptable as a dietary item even amongst the aristocracy.

What other changes in the 1800s contributed to increasing the tomato’s popularity? Mass immigration from Europe to America and the traditional blending of cultures was one of the prime reasons. Many Italian-Americans ate tomatoes and brought that food with them. But also, and perhaps equally as important, was the invention of pizza. There is no traditional pizza without tomato sauce, and pizza was invented around Naples in the late 1880s. The pizza was created by a restaurateur in Naples to celebrate the visit of Queen Margherita, the first Italian monarch since Napoleon conquered Italy. The restaurateur made the pizza from three ingredients that represented the colours of the new Italian flag: Red, white, and green. The red was the tomato sauce, the white was the mozzarella cheese, and the green was the basil topping. Hence, Pizza Margherita was born, which is still the standard for pizza.

It was not regarded as a kitchen vegetable until the times preceding The Civil War Period in the United States. From this point on, tomatoes have become a common item in kitchens the world round (with the exception of Far Eastern cuisine, perhaps). Americans apparently consume over 12 million tons of tomatoes each year!

We are currently growing some cherry tomatoes in our own garden and their taste and flavour is absolutely delicious! A simple salad that we make is the following: A couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes, some fresh tender tips of purslane, some capers, a chopped Spanish onion, cucumber slices (the small Lebanese cucumbers are wonderful), some oregano and optionally, small cubes of cheese (anything that you have in the fridge, cheddar, fresh parmesan, blue vein, brie…). A simple olive oil vinaigrette dressing and some salt is all you need to finish it off.

More tomatorecipes here. And incidentally, on etymological grounds, the correct way to say tomato is to*MAH*to (from French, Spanish, or Portuguese tomate, from Nahuatl tomatl) and not to*MAY*to!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


“Unless a tree has borne blossoms in spring, you will vainly look for fruit on it in autumn.” - Walter Scott

For this week, Poetry Jam has given a prompt relating to eyes, with the directive: “This week I would like you to write a NEW poem about eyes. A mother’s caring eyes. A father’s stern eyes. A child’s innocent eyes. A lover’s warm eyes. Eyes of God. Cold eyes. Open eyes. Closed eyes. Squinting eyes. Blind eyes. Inner Eye…”

Here is my contribution, keeping in mind that Autumn is coming to us who reside in the Southern Hemisphere:

Coming of Autumn

The rose was bled
And now it languishes,
Wilting, pallid, lifeless
Propped only by the collar of the vase.
The summer’s dead, its blue eyes
Forced shut by an autumn
Prematurely reigning –
Heat drowned by drizzle.

My eyes extinguished,
Are overcome by the opium
Of your memory;
Its presence strong, although illusory.
How can the frozen heart thaw
In autumn’s chills and icy rains?
How can even a sanguine libation
Revive the wilting rose?

No! – Coals of eyes cannot by fantasy’s
Cold fires be rekindled.
So I abandon me, in Fall’s grey skies,
A leaf unwilful, tossed by icy winds.
So I surrender me to a fading, wilting,
Premature exsanguination
And yield, succumbing me
To what fate has writ.

Monday, 9 March 2015


“If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.” - Aristotle

For our Literary Tuesday today, I am looking at Herodotus (484 BC – ca.425 BC), who is often described as the “Father of History”. We know little about this ancient Greek author, most information about his life being given by the Suda Encyclopaedia. This is an encyclopaedia written in the Byzantine period. The following text, is the encyclopaedia’s entry on Herodotus:

“Herodotus, son of Lyxus and Dryo, of Halicarnassus, from a prominent family, who had a brother Theodorus. He migrated to Samos because of Lygdamis, who was the third tyrant of Halicarnassus after Artemisia: Pisindelis was the son of Artemisia, and Lygdamis the son of Pisindelis. In Samos he practised the Ionian dialect and wrote a history in nine books, beginning with Cyrus the Persian and Candaules the king of the Lydians. He went back to Halicarnassus and drove out the tyrant; but later, when he saw that the citizens were jealous of him, he went of his own will to Thurii, which was colonized by the Athenians, and after he died there, was buried in the agora. But some say that he died in Pella. His Books are inscribed to the Muses.”

Herodotus is largely known by his nine-book work, the “Histories”. Herodotus did not actually give his work a title, nor did he divide it into nine books (something probably done in Roman times). The “histories” is a later title given to the book, probably because of the Greek word “historia” in the opening sentence of the works. The translation of the title to history is misleading, as Herodotus's work is not confined to historical details. It is full of mythology, storytelling, amusing anecdotes (some tall stories!), botany and sociology. This is the reason why Herodotus’ works have always been popular with readers over the centuries. His style is easy and polished and he reveals a shrewd and keen eye, his observations on the major part accurate and his reportage relatively unbiased. He is surprisingly free of hostility or contempt towards foreigners of whatever level of civilisation, but at the same time, one must remember that he was Greek and writing for a Greek audience.

Herodotus spells out his intentions at the start of his work as an attempt “to recall the heroic deeds of Greeks and barbarians alike” that they may not be forgotten with time. This is only a modest portion of what Herodotus actually achieved as he also covers ethnology and geography on large scale. Seeing that he lived in Halicarnassus, a cosmopolitan city of a mixed population and also because he travelled widely, it is not surprising he has a tolerant world-view.

People who have read Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient” may have first been introduced to Herodotus there, as the only possession that the Patient came with was a copy of Herodotus' histories that he carried through the fire that injured him. He has annotated these histories and, in a way, has identified himself with parts of them. There are quotations of Herodotus in this novel, and some readers may have been inspired to go and read the whole text of the “Histories” (and I personally believe the “Histories” are a far better read, as “The English Patient is a novel I loathe).

I remember first reading parts of Herodotus’ work in High School and then the whole of the text at University. It makes for interesting reading, as the style is highly readable and the episodes and anecdotes with which he peppers his narrative, often provide interesting digressions and pleasant respites. I was reminded a little of “The Odyssey” of Homer, and I think that Herodotus to a certain extent is mindful of the epic and sets about to construct a rather similar piece of literature, at least in construction and style.  I enjoyed reading Herodotus as it gave a vibrant and vivacious view of history, quite different to the staid history-book accounts.

The full text of Herodotus Histories is available online at Project Gutenberg: (Volume 1) (Volume 2)

Sunday, 8 March 2015


“Good science fiction is intelligent. It asks big questions that are on people's minds. It's not impossible. It has some sort of root in the abstract.” - Nicolas Cage

We watched Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 movie “Gravity” at the weekend. It starred Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Ed Harris (voice only). I had been looking forward to seeing this film after hearing all the hype about it and also seeing it received a rating of 7.9/10 in IMDB. Well, unfortunately it proved to be a case of “when you hear there are lots of cherries for the picking at some place, be prepared by taking with you only a small basket…”, as my grandfather used to say. This was a woeful movie, full of clichés and almost no plot, no character development, overlong (even at 91 minutes!), and frankly, boring.

In a nutshell this is what happens: Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) is in charge of the Shuttle Explorer mission to repair the Hubble Telescope by the rookie specialist Ryan Stone (Bullock). Suddenly Houston control advises them to abort the mission with a warning that a Russian missile hit a satellite, causing a chain reaction of destruction, with large clusters of debris coming upon them. Soon the astronauts lose communication with Mission Control in Houston. The debris strikes the Explorer and Ryan is cut loose from the shuttle while Kowalski is forced to bring her back. However, the Explorer is completely damaged and now their only chance to return to Earth is to reach a space station. But being short of oxygen and fuel is the least of their problems...

I love good science fiction and I am prepared to allow Sci-Fi to bend the rules of physics, for a good reason, and also I put up with a director using some clichés, provided he/she is packing some punch with plot, good characters or being innovative in dealing with some social, political or interpersonal issues, as all good science fiction does. “Gravity” fails in this respect. From start to finish there were blatant factual errors in everything from the laws of physics, engineering and orbital mechanics, right down to the unidentifiable views of the earth from space (yes, I saw the Nile and Arabia, as well as Florida, but nothing else recognisable). There is no intelligent plot, no world-shaking challenges, no engagement of the viewer.

Ryan Stone who was meant to be an astronaut behaved like a small child when trying to fly spacecraft, even resorting to “eenie-meenie-miney-moe” when trying to find the right button to press for some critical and essential function. Matt Kowalski was a pain to listen to and came across as complete idiot bordering on dementia, repeating trite stories about his life to Mission Control while offering motherhood statements and inane advice to Ryan.

The film is a special effects extravaganza, with CGI and special attention to 3D gimmicky. It’s meant to “wow” people with its depiction of how it would be to float up in space with the earth above/below/beside you as you spin all around. Yes, that’s OK for 5 minutes… What happens if there is no story and no good characters to make your film a memorable, engaging experience? Viewers lose interest and become bored.

I must say that I am becoming very wary of George Clooney films. They have disappointed me in the past (I shudder when I remember the bathos of “The Men Who Stare at Goats” or the muddled and pretentious “Syriana” or the disappointing “The American” – ugh!). It’ll have to be on the recommendation of someone I trust very much that I will now go and watch another Clooney film…

“Gravity” was a waste of my time. I’d rather watch a good old-fashioned sci-fi movie like one of the “Star Trek” series or one of the “Star Wars” ones! Better stories, better actors, great humour and special effects galore as well. If it’s drama, character development and tension you want instead, then watch a standard earthbound film, no need to go out in space or watch pretend science fiction!