Saturday, 21 November 2015


“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” - Frederick Douglass

Robert Alexander Schumann (1810 - 1856) was the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer, and he showed early abilities in both music and literature, the second facility used in his later writing on musical subjects. After brief study at university, he was allowed by his widowed mother and guardian to undertake serious study of the piano with Friedrich Wieck, whose favourite daughter Clara was later to become Schumann’s wife.

His ambitions as a pianist were thwarted by a weakness in the fingers of one hand, but the 1830s nevertheless brought a number of compositions for the instrument. The year of his marriage, 1840, was a year of song, followed by attempts in which his young wife encouraged him at more ambitious forms of orchestral composition. Settling first in Leipzig and then in Dresden, the Schumanns moved in 1850 to Düsseldorf, where Schumann had his first official appointment, as municipal director of music. In 1854 he had a serious mental breakdown, followed by two years in the asylum at Endenich before his death in 1856. As a composer Schumann’s gifts are clearly heard in his piano music and in his songs.

The piano music of Schumann, whether written for himself, for his wife, or, in later years, for his children, offers a wealth of material. From the earlier period comes “Carnaval”—a series of short musical scenes with motifs derived from the letters of the town of Asch; this was the home of a fellow student of Friedrich Wieck called Ernestine von Fricken, to whom Schumann was briefly engaged. The same period brought the “Davidsbündlertänze” (‘Dances of the League of David’), a reference to the imaginary league of friends of art against the surrounding Philistines. This decade also brought the first version of the monumental “Symphonic Studies” (based on a theme by the father of Ernestine von Fricken) and the well-known “Kinderszenen” (‘Scenes of Childhood’).

“Kreisleriana” has its literary source in the Hoffmann character Kapellmeister Kreisler, “Papillons” (‘Butterflies’) has a source in the work of the writer Jean Paul, and Noveletten has a clear literary reference in the very title. Later piano music by Schumann includes the “Album für die Jugend” (‘Album for the Young’) of 1848, “Waldszenen” (‘Forest Scenes’) of 1849, and the collected “Bunte Blätter” (‘Coloured Leaves’) and “Albumblätter” (‘Album Leaves’) drawn from earlier work.

Here is his “Kinderszenen” (‘Scenes of Childhood’) op. 15, played by Martha Argerich. This is a set of thirteen pieces of music for piano written in 1838. In this work, Schumann provides us with his adult reminiscences of childhood. Schumann had originally written 30 movements for this work, but chose 13 for the final version. Nr. 7, Träumerei (Dreaming), is one of Schumann's best known pieces; it was the title of a 1944 German biographical film on Robert Schumann.

Schumann had originally labeled this work “Leichte Stücke” (Easy Pieces). Likewise, the section titles were only added after the completion of the music, and Schumann described the titles as “nothing more than delicate hints for execution and interpretation”.

Friday, 20 November 2015


“A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece.” - Ludwig Erhard

For Food Friday, a traditional British recipe that my grandmother used to make often. She had an English friend who gave her the recipe, which was then passed down to my mother. This is called Victoria Sponge after Queen Victoria, who was known to enjoy a slice of the sponge cake with her afternoon tea.

Victoria Sponge Cake
Ingredients for Cake:
200g softened unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
6 tbsp raspberry jam
250ml thickened cream, whipped
For Butter Icing:
250g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
450g (3 cups) pure icing sugar, sifted
60ml (1/4 cup) milk at room temperature
Optional – fresh berries for decoration

Heat oven to 180˚C. Grease and flour 2 x 20cm sandwich tins.
Place the butter, sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl and beat well to a creamy consistency. Slowly beat in the eggs, one by one, then fold in the flour and mix well.
Divide the mix between the cake tins, place into the oven and bake for about 20 mins until risen and golden brown. The cakes should spring back when gently pushed in the middle. When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 mins in the tin, before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely.
Spread the jam onto one cake and top with the cream. Sandwich the cakes together.
For the butter icing, place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Use an electric beater to beat for 2 minutes or until very light and fluffy.
Gradually add the icing sugar and beat until the mixture is very pale and fluffy. Gradually add the milk and beat until smooth and well combined.

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Thursday, 19 November 2015


“A myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world.” - Alan Watts

The Charites (Gratiae) were according to Graecoroman mythology the Graces. They were three lovely sisters, Euphrosyne, Aglaia, and Thalia, the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome. They are represented as beautiful, slender maidens in the full bloom of youth, with hands and arms lovingly intertwined. They portray every gentle emotion of the heart, which vents itself in friendship and kindness, and were believed to preside over those qualities which constitute grace, modesty, unconscious beauty, gentleness, kindliness, innocent joy, purity of mind and body, and eternal youth.

They not only possessed the most perfect beauty themselves, but also conferred this gift upon others. All the enjoyments of life were enhanced by their presence, and were deemed incomplete without them; and wherever joy or pleasure, grace and gaiety reigned, there they were supposed to be present. Temples and altars were everywhere erected in their honour, and people of all ages and of every rank in life entreated their favour. Incense was burnt daily upon their altars, and at every banquet they were invoked, and a libation poured out to them, as they not only heightened all enjoyment, but also by their refining influence moderated the exciting effects of wine.

Music, eloquence, poetry, and art, though the direct work of the Muses, received at the hands of the Graces an additional touch of refinement and beauty; for which reason they are always regarded as the friends of the Muses, with whom they lived on Mount Olympus. Their special function was to act, in conjunction with the Seasons, as attendants upon Aphrodite, whom they adorned with wreaths of flowers, and she emerges from their hands like the Queen of Spring, perfumed with the odour of roses and violets, and all sweet-scented blossoms. The Graces are frequently seen in attendance on other divinities; thus they carry music for Apollo, myrtles for Aphrodite, &c., and frequently accompany the Muses, Eros, or Dionysus.

Closely allied to the Graces were the Horæ, or Seasons, who were also represented as three beautiful maidens, daughters of Zeus and Themis. Their names were Eunomia, Dice, and Irene. It may appear strange that these divinities, presiding over the seasons, should be but three in number, but this is quite in accordance with the notions of the ancient Greeks, who only recognised spring, summer, and autumn as seasons; nature being supposed to be wrapt in death or slumber, during that cheerless and unproductive portion of the year which we call winter.

In some parts of Greece there were but two Horæ, Thallo, goddess of the bloom, and Carpo, of the corn and fruit-bearing season. The Horæ are always regarded as friendly towards mankind, and totally devoid of guile or subtlety; they are represented as joyous, but gentle maidens, crowned with flowers, and holding each other by the hand in a round dance. When they are depicted separately as personifications of the different seasons, the Hora representing spring appears laden with flowers, that of summer bears a sheaf of corn, whilst the personification of autumn has her hands filled with clusters of grapes and other fruits.

They also appear in company with the Graces in the train of Aphrodite, and are seen with Apollo and the Muses. They are inseparably connected with all that is good and beautiful in nature, and as the regular alternation of the seasons, like all her other operations, demands the most perfect order and regularity, the Horæ, being the daughters of Themis, came to be regarded as the representatives of order, and the just administration of human affairs in civilised communities.

Each of these graceful maidens took upon herself a separate function: Eunomia presided more especially over state life, Dice guarded the interests of individuals, whilst Irene, the gayest and brightest of the three sisters, was the light-hearted companion of Dionysus. The Horæ were also the deities of the fast-fleeting hours, and thus presided over the smaller, as well as the larger divisions of time. In this capacity they assist every morning in yoking the celestial horses to the glorious chariot of the sun, which they again help to unyoke when he sinks to rest. In their original conception they were personifications of the clouds, and are described as opening and closing the gates of heaven, and causing fruits and flowers to spring forth, when they pour down upon them their refreshing and life-giving streams.

The illustration is Sandro Botticelli's "Primavera". The three Graces can seen on the left of painting, between Hermes and Aphrodite.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


“Cowards are cruel, but the brave love mercy and delight to save.” - John Gay

“Mercy” is this week’s theme challenge for participants of Poets United. We seem to be losing this quality of mercy as our civilisation progresses. Everything can be bought and sold, including people, consciences and allegiances. Mercenaries have always existed, but nowadays they form a readily available fighting force to be had by the highest bidder.
Here is my entry:

Death of a Soldier

Killing of innocents without regard
Blind to unending pain:
Mercenary without a heart.

Killing of innocents without regard
Immune to pleas of mercy.
Mercenary without a heart -
His gun spits out death, victims’ bodies lie senseless.

Immune to pleas of mercy
Mercenary hardened to death
His gun spits out death, victims’ bodies lie senseless.
Lying there, still.

Mercenary hardened to death
Blind to unending pain
Lying there, still,

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one of its pages.” - SaintAugustine

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 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.

Please link your entry using the Linky tool below:

I’m starting off with one my photos from Athens, taken during one my trips there. Athens (Modern Greek: Αθήνα, Athína; Ancient Greek: Ἀθῆναι, Athēnai) is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world’s oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning around 3,400 years, and the earliest human presence around the 11th–7th millennium BC. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state that emerged in conjunction with the seagoing development of the port of Piraeus. A centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, it is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilisation and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of the then known European continent.

Today a cosmopolitan metropolis, modern Athens is central to economic, financial, industrial, political and cultural life in Greece. In 2012, Athens was ranked the world’s 39th richest city by purchasing power and the 77th most expensive in a UBS study. Athens is recognised as a global city because of its geo-strategic location and its importance in finance, commerce, media, entertainment, arts, international trade, culture, education and tourism. It is one of the biggest economic centres in southeastern Europe, with a large financial sector, and features the largest passenger port in Europe, and the third largest in the world. According to Eurostat in 2004, the Athens Larger Urban Zone (LUZ) was the 7th most populous LUZ in the European Union (the 5th most populous capital city of the EU), with a population of about 4,500,000. Athens is also the southernmost capital on the European mainland.

The heritage of the classical era is still evident in the city, represented by ancient monuments and works of art, the most famous of all being the Parthenon, considered a key landmark of early Western civilisation. The city also retains Roman and Byzantine monuments, as well as a smaller number of Ottoman monuments. Athens is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Acropolis of Athens and the medieval Daphni Monastery. Landmarks of the modern era, dating back to the establishment of Athens as the capital of the independent Greek state in 1834, include the Hellenic Parliament (19th century) and the Athens Trilogy, consisting of the National Library of Greece, the Athens University and the Academy of Athens. Athens was the host city of the first modern-day Olympic Games in 1896, and 108 years later it welcomed home the 2004 Summer Olympics. Athens is home to the National Archaeological Museum, featuring the world’s largest collection of ancient Greek antiquities, as well as the new Acropolis Museum.

The photo is of the main building of the Academy of Athens, which is a neoclassical building between Panepistimiou Street and Akadimias Street in the centre of Athens. The building was designed as part of an architectural trilogy in 1859 by the Danish architect Theophil Hansen, along with the University and the National Library. Funds had been provided by the magnate Simon Sinas specifically for the purpose, and the foundation stone was laid on 2 August 1859. Construction proceeded rapidly, after 1861 under the supervision of Ernst Ziller, but the internal tumults during the latter years of King Otto’s reign, which resulted in his ousting in 1862, hampered construction until it was stopped in 1864. Works resumed in 1868, but the building was not completed until 1885, at a total cost of 2,843,319 gold drachmas, most of it provided by Sinas, and, after his death, by his wife Ifigeneia.

Monday, 16 November 2015


“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” - John Buchan

We Watched Lasse Hallström’s 2011 movie “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” at the weekend. It proved to be an interesting, quirky movie, which in the end was quite enjoyable. It stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked and Kristin Scott Thomas, and the screenplay is by Simon Beaufoy based on Paul Torday’s novel.

Yemen is an Arab country in Southwest Asia, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen is the second largest country in the peninsula, occupying 527,970 km2, with its coastline stretches for about 2,000 km. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea to the south, and Oman to the east. Although Yemen's constitutionally stated capital is the city of Sana’a, the city has been under rebel control since February 2015. Because of this, Yemen’s capital has been temporarily relocated to the port city of Aden, on the southern coast. Yemen’s territory includes more than 200 islands; the largest of these is Socotra.

The film obviously relates to more peaceful times in the Yemen, and is about dreaming big and realising one’s dreams no matter how impossible to realise they may seem. The plot revolves around a visionary, Sheik Muhammed (Amr Waked), who believes his passion for the peaceful pastime of salmon fishing can enrich the lives of his people, and he dreams of bringing the sport to the not so fish-friendly desert. Willing to spare no expense, he instructs his representative to turn the dream into reality, an extraordinary feat that will require the involvement of Britain’s leading fisheries expert, Dr Jones (McGregor), who happens to think the project both absurd and unachievable. That is, until the Prime Minister’s overzealous press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) latches on to it as a ‘good will’ story. Now, this unlikely team will put it all on the line and embark on an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible, possible.

The film is a quirky, satirical, romantic comedy. It is gentle British fare that manages to pleasantly charm the viewer into accepting the persiflage of the unlikelihood of fishing for salmon in the desert with all of its attendant leaps of faith. It is a film about friendship, love, cross-cultural bridges and of course, fishing. In the same breath, let me say that one does not need to fish to enjoy the movie. There is also the unlikely romance that sparks between Dr Jones (McGregor) and investment consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt) while working on this theoretically possible (but difficult to realise) project.

The acting is great, all characters making the most of the good (and occasionally) very witty script. Direction is understated and often tongue-in-cheek, as one would expect from Lasse Hallström whose most successful films (“Chocolat”, “The Cider House Rules”, “My Life As a Dog”) turn on flights of fancy. We enjoyed the film and remained engaged during its 107 minute duration. Comedy and social comment, mixed with romance, cultural ethography and wit, with just a touch of whimsy!

Sunday, 15 November 2015


“Often the losing of a battle leads to the winning of progress. Less glory but greater liberty: the drum is silent and the voices of reason can be heard.” - Victor Hugo

Ferdinand-Eugène-Victor Delacroix was born on April 26, 1798, in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, France. His father, Charles, was a minister of foreign affairs and served as a governmental prefect in Marseilles and Bordeaux. His mother, Victoire Oeben, was a cultured woman who encouraged young Delacroix’s love of literature and art. Delacroix’s father died when he was 7 years old, and his mother passed away when he was 16.

He attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris but left school to begin his artistic studies. Sponsored by a helpful and well-connected uncle, he joined the studio of the painter Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. In 1816, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts. Delacroix also made many visits to the Louvre, where he admired the paintings of such Old Masters as Titian and Rubens.

Many of Delacroix’s early paintings had religious subjects. However, the first work he exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon, “Dante and Virgil in Hell” (1822), took its inspiration from literature. For other works of the 1820s, Delacroix turned to recent historical events. His interest in the Greek War of Independence, and his distress at the atrocities of that war, led to “The Massacre at Chios” (1824) and “Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi” (1826).

Even at this early stage of his career, Delacroix was fortunate enough to find buyers for his work. He was hailed as a central figure in the Romantic era of French art, along with Théodore Géricault and Antoine-Jean Gros. Like these other painters, he portrayed subjects fraught with extreme emotion, dramatic conflicts and violence. Often inspired by history, literature and music, he worked with bold colours and free brushwork.

Delacroix continued to impress the critics and his clients with works such as “Death of Sardanapalus” (1827), a decadent scene of a defeated Assyrian king preparing to commit suicide. One of his most famous paintings was “Liberty Leading the People,” a response to the July Revolution of 1830, in which a woman holding a French flag leads a band of fighters from all social classes. It was purchased by the French government in 1831.

After travelling to Morocco in 1832, Delacroix returned to Paris with new ideas for his art. Paintings such as “The Women of Algiers in Their Apartment” (1834) and “Moroccan Chieftain Receiving Tribute” (1837) defined his Romantic interest in exotic subjects and faraway lands. He also continued to paint scenes borrowed from the work of his favourite authors, including Lord Byron and Shakespeare, and he was commissioned to paint several rooms at the Palais Bourbon and the Palace of Versailles.

From the 1840s onward, Delacroix spent more time in the countryside outside Paris. He enjoyed friendships with other well-known cultural figures such as the composer Frédéric Chopin and the author George Sand. In addition to his literary subjects, he produced flower still lifes and multiple paintings titled “The Lion Hunt.”

Delacroix’s last major commission was a set of murals for the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. They include “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel,” a scene of intense physical combat between two figures in a dark forest. This commission occupied Delacroix throughout the 1850s and into the following decade. He died on August 13, 1863, in Paris.

The painting above, “Liberty Leading the People” (French: La Liberté guidant le peuple) commemorates the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled King Charles X of France. A woman personifying the concept and the goddess of Liberty leads the people forward over the bodies of the fallen, holding the flag of the French Revolution – the tricolour flag, which remains France's national flag – in one hand and brandishing a bayonetted musket with the other. The figure of Liberty is also viewed as a symbol of France and the French Republic known as Marianne.

By the time Delacroix painted “Liberty Leading the People”, he was already the acknowledged leader of the Romantic school in French painting. Delacroix, who was born as the Age of Enlightenment was giving way to the ideas and style of romanticism, rejected the emphasis on precise drawing that characterised the academic art of his time, and instead gave a new prominence to freely brushed colour. Delacroix painted his work in the autumn of 1830. In a letter to his brother dated 21 October, he wrote: “My bad mood is vanishing thanks to hard work. I’ve embarked on a modern subject—a barricade. And if I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her.” The painting was first exhibited at the official Salon of 1831.