Saturday, 7 May 2016


“Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.” - Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) is widely considered the most popular Russian composer in history. His work includes the The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. His work was first publicly performed in 1865. In 1868, his First Symphony was well-received. In 1874, he established himself with Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat Minor. Tchaikovsky resigned from the Moscow Conservatory in 1878, and spent the rest of his career composing yet more prolifically. He died in St. Petersburg.

Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840, in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Vyatka, Russia. He was the second eldest of his parents’ six surviving offspring. Tchaikovsky’s father, Ilya, worked as a mine inspector and metal works manager. When he was just 5 years old, Tchaikovsky began taking piano lessons. Although he displayed an early passion for music, his parents hoped that he would grow up to work in the civil service. At the age of 10, Tchaikovsky began attending the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, a boarding school in St. Petersburg.

His mother, Alexandra, died of cholera in 1854, when he was 14 years old. In 1859, Tchaikovsky honoured his parents’ wishes by taking up a bureau clerk post with the Ministry of Justice—a post he would hold for four years, during which time he became increasingly fascinated with music. When he was 21, Tchaikovsky decided to take music lessons at the Russian Musical Society. A few months later, he enrolled at the newly founded St. Petersburg Conservatory, becoming one of the school’s first composition students. In addition to learning while at the conservatory, Tchaikovsky gave private lessons to other students.

In 1863, he moved to Moscow, where he became a professor of harmony at the Moscow Conservatory. He became a prolific composer and his work was first publicly performed in 1865, with Johann Strauss the Younger conducting Tchaikovsky’s Characteristic Dances at a Pavlovsk concert. In 1868, Tchaikovsky's First Symphony was well-received when it was publicly performed in Moscow. The following year, his first opera, “The Voyevoda”, made its way to the stage—with little fanfare. After scrapping “The Voyevoda”, Tchaikovsky repurposed some of its material to compose his next opera, “Oprichnik”, which achieved some acclaim when it was performed at the Maryinsky in St. Petersburg in 1874.

By this time, Tchaikovsky had also earned praise for his Second Symphony. Also in 1874, his opera, “Vakula the Smith”, received harsh critical reviews, yet Tchaikovsky still managed to establish himself as a talented composer of instrumental pieces with his Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat Minor. Acclaim came readily for Tchaikovsky in 1875, with his composition Symphony No. 3 in D Major. At the end of that year, the composer embarked on a tour of Europe. In 1876, he completed the ballet “Swan Lake” as well as the fantasy “Francesca da Rimini”.

Tchaikovsky resigned from the Moscow Conservatory in 1878 to focus his efforts entirely on composing. As a result, he spent the remainder of his career composing more prolifically than ever. His collective body of work constitutes 169 pieces, including symphonies, operas, ballets, concertos, cantatas and songs. Among his most famed late works are the ballets “The Sleeping Beauty” (1890) and “The Nutcracker” (1892).

Struggling with societal pressures to repress his homosexuality, in 1877, Tchaikovsky married a young music student named Antonina Milyukova. The marriage was a catastrophe, with Tchaikovsky abandoning his wife within weeks of the wedding. During a nervous breakdown, he unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide, and eventually fled abroad. Tchaikovsky could afford to resign from the Moscow Conservatory in 1878, thanks to the patronage of a wealthy widow named Nadezhda von Meck. She provided him with a monthly allowance until 1890; oddly, their arrangement stipulated that they would never meet.

Tchaikovsky died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893. While the cause of his death was officially declared as cholera, some of his biographers believe that he committed suicide after the humiliation of a sex scandal trial. However, only oral (no written) documentation exists to support this theory.

Here are all of Tchaikovsky’s six symphonies and the “Manfred” Symphony, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich.

Symphony No.1 in g-minor, Op.13 'Winter Reveries':
I. Allegro tranquillo - 00:00
II. Adagio cantabile ma non tanto - 12:23
III. Scherzo. Allegro scherzando giocoso - 24:34
IV. Finale. Andante lugubre - Allegro maestoso - 31:44

Symphony No.2 in c-minor, Op.17 'Little Russian':
I. Andante sostenuto - Allegro vivo - 45:17
II. Andantino marziale, quasi moderato - 56:37
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto vivace - Trio - 01:04:18
IV. Finale. Moderato assai - Allegro vivo - Presto - 01:09:27

Symphony No.3 in D-major, Op.29 'Polish':
I. Introduzione e Allegro - 01:20:17
II. Alla tedesca. Allegro moderato - 01:34:39
III. Andante elegiaco - 01:42:14
IV. Scherzo. Allegro vivo - 01:52:24
V. Finale. Allegro con fuoco - 01:57:49

Symphony No.4 in f-minor, Op.36:
I. Andante sostenuto - Moderato con anima - 02:06:55
II. Andantino in modo di canzone - 02:26:25
III. Scherzo. Pizzicato ostinato - Allegro - 02:36:58
IV. Finale. Allegro con fuoco - 02:42:29

Manfred Symphony, Op.58:
I. Lento lugubre - Moderato con moto - Andante - 02:51:42
II. Vivace con spirito - 03:09:36
III. Andante con moto - 03:18:15
IV. Allegro con fuoco - 03:30:29

Symphony No.5 in e-minor, Op.64:
I. Andante - Allegro con anima - 03:51:59
II. Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza - 04:08:47
III. Valse. Allegro moderato - 04:23:26
IV. Finale. Andante maestoso - Allegro vivace - 04:29:47

Symphony No.6 in b-minor, Op.74 'Pathetique':
I. Adagio - Allegro non troppo - 04:44:00
II. Allegro con grazia - 05:02:52
III. Allegro molto vivace - 05:10:42
IV. Finale. Adagio lamentoso - Andante - 05:19:43

Friday, 6 May 2016


“Society is like a stew. If you don't stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.” - Edward Abbey

We have some cool and wet weather predicted for the weekend and the week after so it is time to start making some hearty, hot and delicious stews for the cold evenings. The recipe below has the advantage of being vegetarian too. You can swap and change ingredients according to taste and what you have available in your fridge/pantry!

Vegetarian Stew
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 and 1⁄2 cups sliced onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup carrot, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
1 cup celery, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
1 large leek, white part only, sliced
3 medium potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 can tomatoes, undrained, coarsely chopped
2 cups cooked cannellini (white) beans
1 large can of chopped mushrooms in butter sauce
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
1⁄4 cup water
1⁄4 cup red wine

Heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and leeks. Cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add small amounts of water, if necessary, to prevent sticking. Add remaining ingredients, except flour, 1/4 cup water, and wine. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Stir occasionally while cooking. In a small bowl, gradually stir flour into 1/4 cup water until smooth. Add to stew, along with wine. Cook, stirring, 5 more minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf before serving.

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Thursday, 5 May 2016


“Herbs deserve to be used much more liberally.” - Yotam Ottolenghi

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. Coriander is native to regions spanning from southern Europe and northern Africa to southwestern Asia. It is a soft plant growing to 50 cm tall. The leaves are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the flowering stems.

The flowers are borne in small umbels, white or very pale pink, asymmetrical, with the petals pointing away from the centre of the umbel longer (5–6 mm) than those pointing toward it (only 1–3 mm). The fruit is a globular, dry schizocarp 3–5 mm in diameter. The seeds are generally used as a spice or an added ingredient in foods or recipes, although sometimes they are eaten alone.

First attested in English late fourteenth century, the word coriander derives from the Old French: coriandre, which comes from Latin: coriandrum, in turn from Ancient Greek: κορίαννον koriannon. The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek 𐀒𐀪𐀊𐀅𐀙 ko-ri-ja-da-na written in Linear B syllabic script, (reconstructed as koriadnon), (similar to the name of Minos’s daughter Ariadne) which later evolved to koriannon or koriandron. Cilantro is the Spanish word for coriander, also deriving from coriandrum. It is the common term in North American English for coriander leaves, due to their extensive use in Mexican cuisine.

Coriander seems to have been cultivated in Greece since at least the second millennium BC. One of the Linear B tablets recovered from Pylos refers to the species as being cultivated for the manufacture of perfumes, and it appears that it was used in two forms: As a spice for its seeds and as a herb for the flavour of its leaves. This appears to be confirmed by archaeological evidence from the same period. Large quantities of the species retrieved from an Early Bronze Age layer at Sitagroi in Macedonia could point to cultivation of the species at that time. Coriander was brought to the British colonies in North America in 1670, and was one of the first spices cultivated by early settlers.

The leaves have a different taste from the seeds, with citrus overtones. However, some people find the leaves to have an unpleasant soapy taste or a rank smell and avoid them. The fresh leaves are an ingredient in many South Asian foods (such as chutneys and salads); in Chinese and Thai dishes; in Mexican cooking, particularly in salsa and guacamole and as a garnish; and in salads in Russia and other CIS countries. Chopped coriander leaves are a garnish on Indian dishes such as dal. As heat diminishes their flavour, coriander leaves are often used raw or added to the dish immediately before serving. In Indian and Central Asian recipes, coriander leaves are used in large amounts and cooked until the flavour diminishes. The leaves spoil quickly when removed from the plant, and lose their aroma when dried or frozen.

The dry fruits are known as coriander seeds. The word coriander in food preparation may refer solely to these seeds (as a spice), rather than to the plant. The seeds have a lemony citrus flavour when crushed, due to terpenes linalool and pinene. It is described as warm, nutty, spicy, and orange-flavoured. The variety C. sativum vulgare has a fruit diameter of 3–5 mm (0.12–0.20 in), while var. microcarpum fruits have a diameter of 1.5–3 mm (0.06–0.12 in). Large-fruited types are grown mainly by tropical and subtropical countries, e.g. Morocco, India and Australia, and contain a low volatile oil content (0.1-0.4%). They are used extensively for grinding and blending purposes in the spice trade. Types with smaller fruit are produced in temperate regions and usually have a volatile oil content of around 0.4-1.8%, so are highly valued as a raw material for the preparation of essential oil.

Roasting or heating coriander seeds in a dry pan heightens the flavour, aroma and pungency. Ground coriander seed loses flavour quickly in storage and is best ground fresh. Coriander seed is a spice in garam masala and Indian curries which often employ the ground fruits in generous amounts together with cumin acting as a thickener in a mixture called dhana jeera. Roasted coriander seeds, called dhana dal, are eaten as a snack. They are the main ingredient of the two south Indian dishes: sambhar and rasam.

Outside of Asia, coriander seed is used widely in the process for pickling vegetables. In Germany and South Africa (e.g. boerewors), the seeds are used while making sausages. In Russia and Central Europe, coriander seed is an occasional ingredient in rye bread (e.g. borodinsky bread), as an alternative to caraway. The Zuni people of North America have adapted it into their cuisine, mixing the powdered seeds ground with chili and using it as a condiment with meat, and eating leaves as a salad. Coriander seeds are used in brewing certain styles of beer, particularly some Belgian wheat beers. The coriander seeds are used with orange peel to add a citrus character.

In the language of flowers, a sprig of the green herb indicates “passionate love”, while the flower heads and seeds signify “lust”. Coriander seeds were used in love spells and charms. And old love spell is to take seven coriander seeds and grind them in a pestle and mortar, chanting “Warm seed, warm heart, let them never be apart”, three times. The drop the crushed seeds into a glass of wine and share the drink with your lover. Supposedly, coriander seeds had aphrodisiac properties.

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme,
and also part of the Friday Greens meme,
and also part of the Food Friday meme.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016


“If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.” - Khalil Gibran

For its midweek motif, Poets United has the theme of “secrecy”. This actually inspired me to write three poems in quick succession. I guess the topic appealed to me… Here is the most literal of the three.

The Tryst

Come into my bower,
Where hidden from prying eyes we’ll meet
Under the twining branches
Of sweet briar roses.

The words we softly utter
Shall belong to us, only,
And secrecy will be assured
By Harpocrates holding his rose aloft.

Our clandestine tryst
In secret garden arbour
Will let our love flourish
And against all odds survive.

The mystery of our assignation
Sealed with a fiery kiss,
And our endless protestations of love
Subdued by cooing doves above.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust

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 of 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.
Luxembourg (Luxembourgish: Lëtzebuerg; German: Luxemburg), officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, is a landlocked country in western Europe. It is bordered by Belgium to the west and north, Germany to the east, and France to the south. Its capital Luxembourg City is together with Brussels and Strasbourg one of the three official capitals of the European Union and seat of the European Court of Justice, highest juridical instance in the EU.

Its culture, people and languages are highly intertwined with its neighbours, making it essentially a mixture of French and Germanic cultures. The repeated invasions by its neighbour countries, especially in World War II, resulted in the country’s strong will for mediation between France and Germany and led to the foundation of the European Union. It comprises two principal regions: The Oesling in the north as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland (“Good Land”) in the south.

With an area of 2,586 square kilometres it is one of the smallest sovereign states in Europe (about the same size as the state of Rhode Island or the English county of Northamptonshire). Luxembourg had a population of 524,853 in October 2012, ranking it the 8th least-populous country in Europe. As a representative democracy with a constitutional monarch, it is headed by a grand duke, Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and is the world’s only remaining grand duchy.

Luxembourg is a developed country, with an advanced economy and the world's highest GDP (PPP) per capita, according to the United Nations in 2014. Its central location has historically made it of great strategic importance to numerous powers, dating back to its founding as a Roman fortress, its hosting of a vital Frankish castle during the Early Middle Ages, and its role as a bastion for the Spanish Road between the 16th and 17th centuries.

Luxembourg is a founding member of the European Union, OECD, United Nations, NATO, and Benelux, reflecting its political consensus in favour of economic, political, and military integration. The city of Luxembourg, which is the country’s capital and largest city, is the seat of several institutions and agencies of the EU. Luxembourg served on the United Nations Security Council for the years 2013 and 2014, which was a first in the country’s history. In 2016, Luxembourgish citizens had visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 172 countries and territories, ranking the Luxembourgian passport 6th in the world, tied with states like Canada or Switzerland.

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme.

Add your own travel posts using the Linky tool below, and don't forget to be nice and leave a comment here, and link back to this page from your own post!

Monday, 2 May 2016


“Imitation, if it is not forgery, is a fine thing. It stems from a generous impulse, and a realistic sense of what can and cannot be done.” - James Fenton

Combining Art Sunday and Movie Monday this week as I have been extremely busy with work and family! The bane of the art lover is forgery. For a serious collector to be able to obtain an original art work from a favourite famous artist is the holy grail of his existence. Enter the forger, ready to make a dream come true by providing the desired art work… Often of course the forgery is masterful in its own way and the forger can be an accomplished artist with much talent (if not genius). The niggling concept of “originality” is raised along the way, but one has to consider how often great artists plagiarised others and even their own works. In any case the subject is fraught with difficulty and always along the way the matters of “money”, “investment” and “financial gain” rear their ugly heads. These of course have nothing to with love of art and some of the great collectors of art have been pure and simple investors with no genuine love of art per se.

For Movie Monday, an interesting 2014 film by Philip Martin, “The Forger”, starring John Travolta, Christopher Plummer and Tye Sheridan. The plot centres on the world’s best art forger (Travolta) who makes a deal with a crime syndicate to get an early release from prison, but in return he must pull off an impossible heist - he must forge a painting by Claude Monet, steal the original from a museum, and replace it with a replica so perfect that no one will notice. He takes on the task but has to ask the help of his father (Plummer) and son (Sheridan). The three generations of the family plan together the forgery and heist, but on the way their relationships are examined and each has to deal with some issues that have been causing some consternation for some time.

The film is not a typical action/thriller but has elements from these genres. However if one goes in to see it and expects high adrenaline action scenes will be disappointed. It is more of comedy/drama piece of relationships between male members of a family and the way they deal with their feelings and lack of communication along their way. The forgery and heist have a part to play in the story, but they also act as a catalyst for the very real issues faced by each of the main characters.

The acting is very good, with veteran Christopher Plummer adding class to extremely good line delivery. Travolta does a great job and seems to cope well with the different demands of a portmanteau role and Tye Sheridan delivers a brilliant performance as the troubled son. Cinematography, music and direction are excellent and the plot (apart from a couple of small holes) is engaging and balances well the two strands of the narrative action vs human interest. Some critics have said of the movie that it is a little slow-paced, but when we watched it we found that its 92 minutes runtime was just right for what it was trying to say.

Now in terms of what I would like hanging on my wall, a forgery or an original… Of course an original is better if for nothing else, sentimental reasons: Knowing that the creative hands of the artist had touched the canvas and applied the paint on it gives a frisson of pleasure and makes of the painting a little of a precious artifact. However, if I had in my possession a good forgery I would enjoy it almost as much and revel in the knowledge that another artist (albeit a forger) had devoted so much time to learn about the artist he was copying, study the way he prepared the canvas, sketched out the design, applied colour, wove the brushstrokes and swirled the palette knife so that even the experts were fooled. We live in an age of duplication (i.e. “art prints”, cheap factory made “originals” and dubious “modern art” that is produced to a formula), so a forged canvas of a great artist of the past seems to me to be a good way to enjoy truly great art. Which raises another thorny topic, what makes art “great”?

How do you feel about forgeries? I guess the main objection to a forgery is that is made in order to profit from it by defrauding the person who buys it in the belief that it is genuine. Financial considerations aside, is a good forgery an imitation? If a copy were made for the love of art and an artist, and not for ill-gotten profit, is it still art?