Saturday, 15 August 2015


“If you persevere in reciting the Rosary, this will be a most probable sign of your eternal salvation.” - Blessed Alan de la Roche

Today is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the festival celebrating the bodily death of the Virgin and her entrance into Heaven.  This feast is called in Scotland “Great St Mary’s Feast in Harvest”. In many Mediterranean countries the feast is celebrated with great brilliance and rejoicing.  The great church of the Virgin on the Greek island of Tenos is home to one of the greatest festivals in Orthodoxy and this attracts many pilgrims every year.

In Scotland, on this day Mary’s Bannock (Moilean Moire in Gaelic) was made. The ears of new corn were plucked and dried in the sun.  They were husked by hand, ground with stones to make flour.  The flour was made into dough and kneaded on a sheepskin and made into a cake.  A fire was made with rowan wood and the cake was toasted on its embers.  A piece of the Bannock was eaten by each member of the family in strict order of age.  All family members then walked sunwise around the fire.  The embers were then gathered in a pot and were carried around the farm grounds and fields in a sunwise direction.  This ritual ensured prosperity and good health for all family members.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (12 August 1644 (baptised) – 3 May 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist. Born in the small Bohemian town of Wartenberg (Stráž pod Ralskem), Biber worked at Graz and Kroměříž before he illegally left his Kremsier (Kroměříž) employer (Prince-Bishop Carl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno) and settled in Salzburg. He remained there for the rest of his life, publishing much of his music but apparently seldom, if ever, giving concert tours.

Biber was one of the most important composers for the violin in the history of the instrument. His technique allowed him to easily reach the 6th and 7th positions, employ multiple stops in intricate polyphonic passages, and explore the various possibilities of scordatura tuning. He also wrote one of the earliest known pieces for solo violin, the monumental passacaglia of the “Mystery Sonatas”.

During Biber’s lifetime, his music was known and imitated throughout Europe. In the late 18th century he was named the best violin composer of the 17th century by music historian Charles Burney. In the late 20th century Biber’s music, especially the “Mystery Sonatas”, enjoyed a renaissance. Today, it is widely performed and recorded.

The “Rosary Sonatas” (also known as the “Mystery Sonatas”) are a collection of 16 short sonatas for violin and continuo, with a final passacaglia for solo violin. Each has a title related to the Christian Rosary devotion practice and possibly to the Feast of the Guardian Angels. It is presumed that the “Mystery Sonatas” were completed around 1676, but they were unknown until their publication in 1905.

The music of Biber was never entirely forgotten due to the high technical skill required to play many of his works; this is especially true of his works for violin. Once rediscovered, the “Mystery Sonatas” became Biber’s most widely known composition. The work is prized for its virtuosic vocal style, scordatura tunings and its programmatic structure.

Here are the “Mystery Sonatas” of Biber with Musica Antiqua Koln conducted by Reinhard Goebel.

First Part
I. The Annuciation
II. The Visitation
III. The Nativity
IV. The Presentation
V. The Finding in the Temple
VI. The Agony in the Garden
VII. The Scourging of Jesus
VIII. The Crowning of Jesus with Thorns

Second Part
IX. Jesus carries His Cross
X. The Crucifixion
XI. The Resurrection
XII. The Ascension
XIII. The Descent of the Holy Ghost
XIV. The Assumption of our Lady
XV. The Crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary

XVI. Passacaglia

Friday, 14 August 2015


“I want to have a good body, but not as much as I want dessert.” - Jason Love

One of my favourite teatime treats is the classic English Bakewell Tart. Although there are many versions using different types of jams and toppings, the almond/raspberry combination is the winning one for me.

Bakewell Tart
For the pastry:
175g plain flour
75g chilled butter
2-3 tbsp cold water
For the filling:
2 tbsp raspberry jam
125g unsalted butter
125g caster sugar
125g ground, blanched almonds
1 large egg, beaten
½ tsp almond extract
50g flaked, blanched almonds
Punnet of raspberries
For the icing:
80g icing sugar
2½ tsp cold water

Make the pastry by sifting the flour into a bowl and rubbing in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water, mixing to form a soft dough.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and use to line a 20cm flan tin. Leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200˚C (180˚C fan).
Line the pastry case with foil and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for about 15 minutes, then remove the beans and foil and cook for a further five minutes.
Once cooked, spread the base of the flan generously with raspberry jam.
Stir the sugar into the melted butter. Add ground almonds, egg and almond extract.
Pour into the flan tin and sprinkle over the flaked almonds.
Arrange the fresh raspberries on top in a pleasing pattern.
Bake for about 35 minutes. If the almonds seem to be browning too quickly, cover the tart loosely with foil to prevent them burning. 
Meanwhile, sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Stir in cold water and transfer to a piping bag. Once you have removed the tart from the oven, pipe the icing over the top, giving an informal zig zag effect.

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Thursday, 13 August 2015


“We would often be sorry if our wishes were gratified.” - Aesop

The Catholic faith celebrates today St Hippolytus’s and St Cassian’s Feast Day. St Cassian was a very strict Christian schoolmaster in Imola near Ravenna, who was hated by his pagan students.  He found death after being stabbed to death by his pupils’ iron pen nibs.  He is therefore the patron saint of schoolteachers.
Greek Orthodox Christians celebrate Holy Maximus the Confessor’s Feast Day; St Irene the Queen’s Feast Day.

It is also International Left Handers’ Day. Today the Central African Republic celebrates its Independence Day; The Congo commemorates Independence Day I and Tunisia celebrates Women’s Day.

It is the anniversary of the birth of:
William Caxton, printer (1422);
Johann Christoph Denner, inventor of clarinet (1655);
George Gabriel Stokes, physicist (1819);
Annie Oakley, frontier woman (1860);
John Ireland, composer (1879);
Alfred Hitchcock, director (1899);
Charles (Buddy) Rodgers, actor  (1904);
Ben Hogan, golfer (1912);
Frederick Sanger, Nobel laureate (1958, 1980) chemist (1918);
George Shearing, pianist (1920);
Fidel Castro Ruz, revolutionary and dictator (1926);
Dan Fogelberg, musician (1951);

Vetch, Vicia sativa, is the birthday plant for today.  It was formerly grown extensively as fodder crop. It symbolises shyness.

A cocktail that I enjoy around this time of the year is the Manhattan. Here’s how I make it.

2          ice cubes
1          part sweet vermouth
2          parts white rum
1          Maraschino cherry

Put the ice cubes in a glass jug and pour in the vermouth and the rum. Stir vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. Drop in the cherry and enjoy…

The Maya of Central America were an ancient people intrigued by and obsessed with time. Amongst the ancients, they had the most accurate calendar and they believed that time was finite with a definite starting and ending point.  This day in 3,114 BC, according to the Maya marked the creation of time and its ending was predicted to be the 23rd of December 2,012 AD. A new cycle would then begin with a new universe and a new order of things.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015


“Were it not for music, we might in these days say, the Beautiful is dead.” - Benjamin Disraeli

Poets United this week has as its theme “Beauty”. Contributors are asked to share a poem where beauty speaks to the readers…

Sometimes a few notes of a song half heard while one is rushing past another car on the road, or when one changes radio station, a few fleeting notes, can bring back with great strength memories of the past. Vivid images that one thought were forgotten are quickly resurrected. A snatch of melody, that someone hums in the street, a few mumbled words of lyric are enough to rekindle flames amongst the cold ashes. Music speaks to our soul and the only way for us to answer is with our heart. When our heart sings, the melody will cause our brain to raise a white flag, defeated.

The Child in the Truck

The streets, empty and cold.
The morning, grey and cloudy.
The leaves of yesterday’s paper
Waltzing with the wind on wet asphalt,
While bleary-eyed the newspaper boy
Sourly announces a newer version of the news.

And I, serene, relentlessly introverted,
Listen to your rhythms
Leaving your melodies to wander aimlessly
In the deserted alleyways of my mind.
Your verses loiter, lingering
In room after room of grey matter
Proselytising from my memory
Images - pale, faded, ideal…

“Oh, my precious urban loneliness,
Grey-dressed, frigid sister,
How slowly you unravel round me!
You unsex yourself,
And in your newly muscular grip
You tighten your wily snares
To entrap me with no hope of escape.”

Bathed in the wan, grey morning light
That tiny child looks feebly, wide-eyed
Through the dirty window of the truck.
And in the stark beauty of waiting
Sits silent and alone, abiding
The inexorable loss of innocence.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015


“Necessity is the mother of invention.” - Plato

The Perseid meteor shower appears every year at around this time in the skies of the northern hemisphere. The phenomenon has been observed since at least 830 AD and has delighted night sky observers year after year. Gazing up at the cloudless skies, near the constellation of Perseus up to 60 meteors appear per hour, lighting up the sky with falling stars.

A meteoroid is any interplanetary body of relatively small size that enters the Earth's atmosphere. In colliding with atmospheric atoms and molecules at high velocity, the object begins to burn up and heats the air around it. The resultant luminous phenomenon is called a meteor. If the object survives its plunge through the atmosphere and lands on the ground, it is termed a meteorite. Meteoroids vary in size from small rocks to large boulders weighing a ton or more.

Perseus, in Greek mythology, was the son of Zeus and Danaë, the daughter of Acrisius of Argos. As an infant he was cast into the sea in a chest with his mother by Acrisius, who knew of a prophecy that said he would be killed by his grandson. The chest grounded on the island of Seriphus where Perseus grew up. King Polydectes of Seriphus, who desired Danaë, tricked Perseus into promising to obtain the head of Medusa, the only mortal among the Gorgons (winged female creatures of a terrible beauty, whose hair consisted of snakes).

Helped by the gods Hermes and Athena, Perseus pressed the Graiae, sisters of the Gorgons, into helping him by seizing the one eye and one tooth that the sisters shared and not returning them until they provided him with winged sandals (with which he could fly), the helmet of Hades (which made him invisible), a curved sword, or sickle, to decapitate Medusa, and a bag in which to conceal the head. Because the gaze of Medusa turned all who looked at her to stone, Perseus guided himself by her reflection in a shield given him by Athena and beheaded Medusa as she slept. He then returned to Seriphus and rescued his mother by turning Polydectes and his supporters to stone at the sight of Medusa’s head.

On his way to Seriphus, Perseus rescued the Ethiopian princess, Andromeda. Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, had claimed to be more beautiful than the Nereids (sea nymphs), so Poseidon had punished Ethiopia by flooding it and plaguing it with a sea monster. An oracle informed Andromeda’s father, King Cepheus, that the ills would cease if he offered Andromeda to the monster as a sacrificial victim, which he did. Perseus, passing by, saw the princess and fell in love with her. He turned the sea monster to stone by showing it Medusa’s head and afterward married Andromeda.

Later Perseus gave the Gorgon’s head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, and gave his other accoutrements to Hermes. He accompanied his mother back to her native Argos, where he accidentally struck her father, Acrisius, dead when throwing the discus, thus fulfilling the prophecy that he would kill his grandfather. He consequently left Argos and founded Mycenae as his capital, becoming the ancestor of the Perseids, including Heracles. The Perseus legend was a favourite subject in painting and sculpture, both ancient and Renaissance. The chief characters in the Perseus legend, Perseus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and the sea monster (Cetus), all figure in the night sky as constellations.

Monday, 10 August 2015


“A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” - Stanley Kubrick

We’ve been watching a few movies and TV series lately so today for Movie Monday, I’ll give you some mini reviews of four of them.

Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam(1999 – “Straight from the Heart”): This is a lush, big, Bollywood romantic comedy/drama that pulls out all stops to deliver a satisfying movie for audiences addicted to Hindi movies. It has everything guaranteeing to please: Big stars, great song and dance routines, fantastic costumes and sets, good story, and as a bonus a last reel shot in Budapest, Hungary (posing as Italy according to the plot!). It was directed and written by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and starred Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, and the beautiful Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Worth having a look at if you haven’t seen a Bollywood movie before and wish to see spectacle and colour done a Hollywood Hindi style, running for a longish 188 minutes!

The Guilty (2013): A BBC three-part mini series exploring the circumstances around the disappearance of a four-year-old boy from an affluent English suburban estate. The writer is Debbie O’Malley and the director is Edward Bazalgette, while it stars Darren Boyd, Tamsin Greig, Katherine Kelly and Jay Simpson. This is a reasonably good whodunit, with good performances and a few twists, as well as a couple of subplots that maintain interest. The constant flashbacks I found a bit annoying initially, but at least they are colour-coded (softer, old polaroid type of colour) compared to “present day” more bluish cast, so one can immediately tell whether the action is “then” or “now”. A compact 140 minutes for the three episodes makes it easy to watch at one sitting.

Albert Nobbs (2011): Rodrigo García directs this period piece set in Dublin, Ireland in the late 19th century. Albert Nobbs, an eccentric man in the latter part of middle age, works as a waiter in Morrison’s Hotel. Albert is hard working and saves his money so that one day he will be able to run his own business rather than work at the hotel. One day, a man named Hubert Page comes to paint one of the rooms in the hotel. The hotel manager forces Hubert to share Albert’s bed for the one night, much to Albert’s horror. Hubert discovers the reason Albert did not want to share a room with him. But rather than the issue being a problem, Hubert shows Albert that he can follow a slightly different life path than the one he envisioned for himself - one closer to the life that Hubert leads with his wife Cathleen - which includes getting married and having a wife to support him emotionally. The film stars Mia Wasikowska, Janet McTeer, Pauline Collins, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Glenn Close, in a trouser role. This was a dark and rather sad movie, although well-acted and directed and with a fairly reasonable plot revolving around society and gender.

2 Days in Paris (2007): Julie Delpy wrote, directed and acted in this movie, so she has to take the blame for end result which is a tedious, unfunny piece of drivel filled with uninteresting characters and vacuous plot: Marion (Julie Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) try to rekindle their relationship with a visit to Paris, home of Marion’s parents and several of her ex-boyfriends. Much of the screen time is spent on stupid arguments and empty conversations, peppered with vapid sexual references and much pointless swearing. I did not want to know these people or anything about their lives. Avoid this one…

Sunday, 9 August 2015


“One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.” - Joan of Arc

George Kordis (Γεώργιος Κορδής) is a modern Greek artist who has been trained to paint icons in the Byzantine tradition and has achieved great fame in Orthodox iconography. He uses traditional techniques and style, choosing to paint in the difficult medium of egg tempera on specially prepared board or wood. As well as painting in the traditional religious icon genre, he has also chosen to paint large works in the same style but of secular, mythological and folk themes. He is very prolific, all the more amazing given the large canvases he paints and his meticulous work with the difficult medium he uses.

George Kordis was born in Greece in Makryracchi of Phthiotis in1956, and grew up in Athens. He studied theology in the Theological School of the University of Athens and concurrently studied Byzantine iconography under the tutelage of Cypriot hagiographer Symeon Symeou. He obtained a Master of Theology at the Holy Cross Seminary in Boston and also studied art at the School of Art of the Boston Museum.

When he returned to Athens he continued his art studies in painting and engraving under Fotis Mastichiadis. He has become an expert in theology and the aesthetics of Byzantine painting. In 1991 he obtained a Doctorate of Theology and since 2003 he is a lecturer in the Theological School of the University of Athens. His painting style owes much to the Byzantine tradition. He uses examples of Byzantine lay painting to set the stage for his subjects, which are often indebted to the West for their iconographic references and technique.

He has exhibited his work widely, in more than 25 personal exhibitions and even more collective ones. His works are in many public and private collections. As a hagiographer, he has an intimate knowledge of the past Byzantine riches of the icon, but he does not simply copy old works, he creates his own personal style, which although is traditional and builds on solid historical foundations, is fresh and startlingly original. He has painted many icons, but also has created the mural decorations of many churches in both Greece and abroad.

The painting above is his “Night” of 1995. The style is byzantine, but the subject matter is reminiscent of an ancient Greek myth, while the setting seems to be modern. It this juxtaposition of anachronistic elements that adds interest to the painting and despite the disparate components, it is a unified, satisfying whole.