Saturday, 16 February 2013


“To love beauty is to see light.” - Victor Hugo

A Schubert symphony for Music Saturday. Amongst the classical composers, Franz Schubert (1797-1828) is one of my favourites in terms of his tuneful melodies, lovely harmonies and wonderful musicality. Besides his amazing lieder, there is a treasure trove to be discovered in his orchestral works.

The fifth of Schubert's nine numbered symphonies was written in 1816 and was performed in October, a month after its composition, at the house of Otto Hatwig, a violinist in the Burgtheater orchestra. The musicians concerned were otherwise amateurs from the group that had been accustomed to meet at the house of Schubert’s father.

The music is in the tradition of what Schubert in his diary that year described as the magic sound of Mozart, the immortal. It is scored for flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, with strings, while the Unfinished Symphony was to make use of a larger orchestra that included clarinets, trombones, trumpets and drums.

The first movement leads us through the charm of its principal melodic material to an excursion into stranger keys, until a recapitulation that opens with the first theme in the key of E fiat, before the original key of the movement is restored. There follows a slow movement that is in that essentially Viennese operatic idiom of which Mozart was the greatest exponent, succeeded by a lively Minuet and Trio in the keys of G minor and G major respectively. The symphony ends with a finale that contains all the dramatic contrasts that the customary form encourages.

Here are Les Musiciens du Louvre, conducted by Mark Minkowski playing this bright and beautiful symphony.


Friday, 15 February 2013


“One man’s poison ivy is another man’s spinach.” - George Ade
For Food Friday, a tasty and nutritious vegetarian quick meal, perfect for lunch.
Spinach Quesadillas

1 tbsp olive oil
120g baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped
3 green onions, very finely chopped
50g parmesan cheese, grated
2/3 cup cheddar cheese, grated
2/3 cup tasty cheese, grated
Ground pepper
6 flour burrito tortillas
Heat the oil in a pan and lightly toss the onion and spinach until they wilt. Remove from heat and combine with cheeses. Season with pepper.
Preheat the sandwich press and brush cooking plates with olive oil. Place one tortilla in press. Spread spinach mixture over tortilla. Top with another tortilla. Cook until golden. Stand for 2 to 3 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve, garnished with tomato and capsicum pieces and drizzle some mayonnaise on top, if desired.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday, 14 February 2013


“Who loves not forever, is not a lover.” – Euripides
The history of St Valentine, the patron saint of lovers, is shrouded in mystery. February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. Saint Valentine became associated with ancient fertility rites at the period of christianisation of Italy and the syncretisation of pagan and Christian beliefs.

The Catholic Church recognises at least three different saints named Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realising the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl, possibly his jailer’s daughter, who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed: “From your Valentine”, an expression still in use today.

Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is obscure, the stories all emphasise his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial (probably occurred around A.D. 270) others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianise” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15.

Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or “lupa”. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat's hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide.

Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed, as it was deemed “un-Christian”, at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” Norman Cousins

Magpie Tales is showcasing the work of artist Joseph Lorusso, born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1966 and receiving his formal training at the American Academy of Art. He went on to receive his B.F.A. degree from the Kansas City Art Institute. Born of Italian descent, Lorusso was exposed to art at an early age. Through several early trips to Italy, his parents introduced him to the works of the Italian Masters. Lorusso would look to these influences throughout his early artistic development and they are still evident in his work today.

Here is my offering inspired by this painting.


The memory of a kiss
Is enough to sustain me
In the desert of your absence,
Its cooling draught
Relief for my parched lips.

The memory of an embrace
Will preserve my sanity
In the chaos of my singularity,
Its heat to warm
The frozen interstellar void.

The memory of a song,
To help me overcome
An existence without music,
The sound of your voice
A caress for my deaf ears.

The memory of a meeting
Is balm for my mangled heart –
A black frozen wasteland,
Its vacuum populated
By the shining sun of your existence.

We kissed and we embraced
When we met,
And music played –
To be remembered as our song, thereafter.

We parted and long after the goodbyes,
Memories still haunt me,
Wounding and healing
At the same time…

Monday, 11 February 2013


“What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?” - George Eliot
George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann, or Marian, Cross, née Evans) who was born November 22, 1819, in Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire, England and died December 22, 1880, London, is an English Victorian novelist. She developed the method of psychological analysis characteristic of modern fiction. Her major works include “Adam Bede” (1859), “The Mill on the Floss” (1860), “Silas Marner” (1861), “Middlemarch” (1871–72), and “Daniel Deronda” (1876).
At the weekend we watched a mini-series based on her novel “Daniel Deronda”, which is also Eliot’s last novel. The BBC production directed by Tom Hooper was excellent, and it starred Hugh Dancy, Romola Garai, Hugh Bonneville, Jodhi May, Greta Scacchi and Edward Fox.  As with similar BBC costume dramas, this was an amazing production looking and feeling extremely authentic. The acting was magnificent and every single character was brought to vivid life. The costumes, sets, music and direction were faultless. Andrew Davies has done a great job in producing a wonderful screenplay out of Eliot’s complex novel with its two intertwined plots.
Hugh Bonneville as the dastardly Henleigh Grandcourt is the true star of the series, stealing each scene he appeared in. Jodhi May and Greta Scacchi play well in the difficult supporting roles, and both women bring great depth to their roles, the first a desperate, haunted Jewess and the second Grandcourt’s scorned, bitter mistress. Romola Garai and Hugh Darcy both play competently, but even though their roles are the largest, they are certainly not the juiciest!
In brief, the plot is as follows: A spoiled and beautiful young woman, Gwendolyn (Garai), chooses to marry for money and social position so as to be rescued from a life of poverty and need when her family loses their money. Her husband, the evil and heartless Grandcourt (Bonneville), is a landowner whose sole pleasure lies in tormenting those around him. Be it his wife or dogs, this sadistic villain never takes greater pleasure than in dangling something before those around him and then taking pleasure in tearing it away again, only to give it temporarily to someone else. The second plot line, centred on Daniel Deronda (Dancy), a presumed illigitimate boy who has been raised to be a country gentleman by his guardian (Fox). One day while out boating he saves a beautiful Jewish songstress (May) from drowning herself, and sets out to discover his own true identity through finding her family.
Eliot’s masterly interweaving of the two plots and the depth of characterisation are preserved in the dramatisation and the series made for engaging and interesting viewing, which was satisfying on an artistic as well as an emotional level. The two interrelated plots (although one can argue that the novel is really two different novels fused into one) function well in the film. Gwendolyn’s story illustrates well the tension between ideals and the rules of society, selfishness and vanity, and the role of women in the Victorian marriage. On the other hand, Daniel’s story is one that focusses on heritage, nationality and family, and takes into account the nascent ideas of Zionism and the search for a Jewish homeland.
This is an excellent mini-series and if you can get your hands on it, do watch it. Failing that, go to your nearest public library and borrow the novel to read!

Sunday, 10 February 2013


“A picture is a poem without words.” – Horace

For Art Sunday today, the life and art of “Il Guercino”. This artist’s real name is Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (born February 8, 1591, Cento, near Ferrara, Papal States, Italy – died December 22, 1666, Bologna). He was an Italian painter whose frescoes freshly exploited the illusionistic ceiling, making a profound impact on 17th-century Baroque decoration. His nickname Il Guercino (“The Squinting One”) was derived from a physical defect.

Guercino received his earliest training locally, but the formative influence on his style came from Bologna, especially from the naturalistic paintings of Lodovico Carracci. Such early works as “Madonna in Glory with Saints and a Donor” (1616; Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels) have large forms, strong colour, and broad, vigorous brushwork. His method of using light and shadow was unrelated to the discoveries of Caravaggio and was derived from Bologna and Venice, which Guercino visited in 1618.

In 1621 Guercino went to Rome, where he played an important role in the evolution of Roman High Baroque art. Among many other commissions, he decorated the Casino Ludovisi. The main fresco, “Aurora,” on the ceiling of the Grand Hall, is a spirited romantic work, painted to appear as though there were no ceiling, so that the viewer could see Aurora’s chariot moving directly over the building. Yet it already reveals something of the crucial experience of his stay in Rome, his contact with Pope Gregory XV’s private secretary, Monsignor Agucchi, a propagandist for the classicism of Annibale Carracci’s balanced and restrained Roman style.

Guercino seems to have tried to make his own style conform with Carraccesque principles, an effort reflected in his “Sta. Petronilla” (1621; Capitoline Museum, Rome). On the death of Gregory XV in 1623, Guercino opened a studio in Cento. Then, upon the death of Guido Reni (1642), whose position in Bologna as heir to Annibale Carracci had been unassailable, he moved to that city, where he was the leading painter until his death. Some of Guercino’s late works, such as “Abraham Driving Out Hagar and Ishmael” (1657–58; Brera Picture Gallery, Milan), are impressive achievements, but other paintings seem weak or sentimental.

Guercino was remarkable for the extreme rapidity of his executions: he completed no fewer than 106 large altarpieces for churches, and his other paintings amount to about 144. He was also a prolific draughtsman. His opus includes many drawings, usually in ink, washed ink, or red chalk. Most of them were made as preparatory studies for his paintings, but he also drew landscapes, genre subjects, and caricatures for his own enjoyment. Guercino’s drawings are known for their fluent style in which “rapid, calligraphic pen strokes combined with dots, dashes, and parallel hatching lines describe the forms”. Guercino continued to paint and teach until his death in 1666, amassing a notable fortune. As he never married, his estate passed to his nephews, Benedetto Gennari II and Cesare Gennari.