Saturday, 15 June 2013


“Everyone who plays the flute should learn singing.” - James Galway
Severio Mercadante was a prolific composer of opera during the nineteenth century, and was influential in his day for his “reformed” operas of the 1840s. Reacting to excesses in both bel canto style and grand-opera effects, he purposely restrained himself from those tendencies to arrive at a more effective drama on stage. These reforms were critical for the kinds of operas Verdi pursued early in his career.
Mercadante was born in Naples and studied with Niccolò Zingarelli between 1816 and 1820. While some of his earliest music was for various instrumental ensembles, he began to compose operas around 1819. With an opera buffa in Rossini’s style, Elisa e Claudio (1820), his seventh opera, Mercadante achieved notice in Italy, and he followed that work with many others.
From 1829 to 1830, Mercadante lived in Spain and Portugal, where he continued to compose. With no long-term contracts emerging at the time, Mercadante returned to Italy. He served as maestro di cappella at the Cathedral in Novara from 1833 to 1840, and it was then that Mercadante reconsidered his approach to opera. His “reformed” style begins with his most famous opera, Il Giurnamento. In this work he avoided any effects that did not serve the drama directly, and purposely varied the forms used in set pieces. This prevented his resorting to strings of da capo arias or diva-based scenas. Such self-imposed restrictions were part of Mercadante’s style for the rest of his career.
In 1839 Mercadante became director of the Liceo musicale in Bologna, and in 1840 he was offered the post that his teacher Zingarelli had held in Naples. He took the post in Naples and remained there for the rest of his life. While his compositional output during the latter part of Mercadante’s career lessened, it was nonetheless impressive for the workmanship present in the later works. For a while Verdi associated with Mercadante, but the two parted company soon after Mercadante assisted the younger composer with finding singers for a production of Macbeth in Naples in 1848. Soon Verdi’s career eclipsed that of Mercadante, and the dramaturgy that Verdi pursued was regarded as more effective than that of the older Mercadante. While Mercadante’s reputation declined, his operas are nonetheless interesting for the quality of the music in them. Mercadante also was a prolific composer of religious music, and is well-remembered for some of his flute concertos, and those compositions bear consideration for their refined and elegant style.
Here is his E minor Concerto for Flute and Strings played by the Turkish flautist Şefika Kutluer: 1) Allegro Maestoso; 2) Adagio; 3) Rondo Russo (Allegro Vivace Scherzando).

Friday, 14 June 2013


“Go vegetable heavy. Reverse the psychology of your plate by making meat the side dish and vegetables the main course.” Bobby Flay

Vegetarianism has been proven to be by much research to be a healthful eating option, and even if one is not a fully committed vegetarian, it is worthwhile reducing one’s meat intake to a minimum. Nowadays, there is a wide variety of fresh vegetables available throughout the year and one can eat a wonderful array of seasonal produce cooked in an interesting manner. As well as being healthful, vegetarian dishes can be tasty and appealing to the eye.

Vegetarian Thyme Gratin

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
500 g ripe red tomatoes, cut into 0.5 cm slices
2 green zucchini, cut diagonally into 0.5 slices
2 golden zucchini, cut diagonally into 0.5 slices
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1-1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Freshly ground black pepper to taste 

In a medium frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low if they’re browning too quickly. Add the garlic and sauté until soft and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Spread the onions and garlic evenly in the bottom of an oiled 2-litre, oval shallow gratin dish and let cool.
Heat the oven to 190˚C. Put the tomato slices on a shallow plate to drain for a few minutes and then discard the collected juices. Sprinkle with some thyme. Place in an oiled baking pan and put into the oven until they are soft. You may turn them over to ensure they are done well, then lay aside.
In a medium bowl, toss the zucchini and squash slices with 1-1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil, some thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Reserve half of the cheese for the top of the gratin.

Spread the zucchini on an oiled baking dish and bake until they begin to shrivel – don’t cook right through. Repeat until all zucchini is prepared and lay aside.
Sprinkle some thyme over the onions in the gratin. Starting at one end of the baking dish, carefully lay a row of slightly overlapping tomato slices across the width of the dish and sprinkle with a little of the cheese.

Next, lay a row of green zucchini, overlapping the tomatoes by two-thirds, and sprinkle with cheese. Repeat with a row of golden zucchini, and then repeat rows, sprinkling each with cheese, until the gratin is full.

Season lightly with pepper and the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt.
Drizzle olive oil over all. Combine the reserved cheese and breadcrumbs with a little thyme and sprinkle this over the whole gratin.
Cook until well-browned all over and the juices have bubbled for a while and reduced considerably, 55 to 60 min. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday, 13 June 2013


“Economy does not lie in sparing money, but in spending it wisely.” - Thomas Huxley
The global financial crisis is a fact and many countries around the world are facing enormous economic, social and development problems as the world economies contract, financial markets become uncertain, unemployment rates increase and austerity measures by governments are now a commonplace policy as governments reduce spending. Perhaps nowhere have the effects been as widely publicised as in the Southern European member states of the European Union. The financial woes and economic trials and tribulations of Greece, Spain and Portugal, especially are constantly appearing in news reports. But not only – the world economy can be influenced by the fiscal health of a relatively small stakeholder in the EU, hence the heavy-handed approach to budgetary constraints, financial policies and imposed cuts and austerity measures imposed by the EU powerbrokers and the notorious International Monetary Fund.
The most recent controversy has been the decision taken a few days by the conservative Greek government, to shut down ERT, the country’s public broadcaster. This is one of the most drastic measures yet to reduce spending on Greek public institutions as part of the widespread and unpopular austerity measures. It is a move that has angered the journalists, politicians and unions, not to mention the long-suffering populace.
ERT has not been a massively popular TV service over its long history (presently having less than 20% of the Greek TV viewing public), and sure enough its administration has not been exemplary. The government has characterised the broadcaster as a rotten apple, suffering from chronic mismanagement, lack of transparency and waste. Even ERT employees admit that ERT had a questionable past, being used for political appointments and offering exorbitant pay to a few handpicked reporters, executives and advisers. It appears, however, that these were the exception and it is unlikely that the 2,700 employees who have been laid off by ERT were all on sinecures and had all been political appointments. Apparently, government sources, maintain, that one of the many sins of ERT was that not a single employee had been hired transparently or on merit – which is hard to believe...
ERT radio service has been on air since 1938. It is sad to observe that was not silenced during the German occupation of Greece in WWII, or during the military junta in the late 1960s. On June 11, 2013, ERT was switched off and thousands of people suddenly were unemployed. Furthermore, as well as the broadcasting having ceased in Greece, all international transmissions were also stopped. We received the ERT international service, here in Australia, and it was a reassuring, dependable and familiar service for us Greeks of the Antipodes. Turning the TV on and tuning in to ERT, one could maintain links with the mother country, hear the Greek news first hand, watch the religious programs, enjoy some well-produced documentaries and travel programs, and every now and then some entertainment value programming. Sure enough there were a lot of programs that were of little value and a waste of time and resources – but isn’t that the case with any TV broadcaster, public or private?
Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, has stood by his move describing ERT as “the symbol of waste and lack of transparency”. He continued in a public address by saying that: “We are not closing down public radio and television. In fact, it is only now that we are going to get proper public radio and television.” The Opposition leader, Alexis Tsipras, urged President Carolos Papoulias to cancel an executive order closing ERT, however, the President responded by saying that he was powerless to do so. The situation became further complicated by protest rallies being held in support of laid off ERT staff, with thousands rallying outside ERT’s headquarters in Athens, and unions organising strikes.
This unprecedented draconian and remarkably rapid move by the Greek government has created world-wide interest and a tsunami-like response through social media, internet news sites, newspapers, radio and TV. The closure of ERT may precipitate a political crisis in Greece, whose fragile governing tripartite coalition is already in a precarious leadership position. Meanwhile, the government is reassuring the public by unveiling plans to open a slimmed down version of ERT in August, with an employee base of around 1,200, appointed on merit and without consideration of political affiliations. This has given rise to much skepticism and disbelief amongst the population, given the manner in which ERT was closed down.
The director general of the BBC, Tony Hall, has asked the Greek government to reopen the state broadcaster immediately condemning its sudden closure as “undemocratic and unprofessional”. In a petition to the Greek prime minister, the directors general of 50 European TV and radio broadcasters including the BBC urged him to see sense pointing out that “public service media and their independence from government lie at the heart of democratic societies”. The other signatories included the heads of German, French, Swiss, Danish, Spanish and Italian TV. This is likely to fall on deaf ears, as the closure of ERT was a rapid way of fulfilling the International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank’s demands that public sector staff numbers be shrunk by 2,000 by the end of the summer...
Attempts by governments or government agencies to financially stimulate an economy are a standard practice. An economic stimulus is the use of monetary or fiscal policy changes to kick start a lagging or struggling economy. Governments can use tactics such as lowering interest rates, increasing government spending and quantitative easing, to name a few, to accomplish this. It seems that the EU is forcing upon struggling economies of the Southern European countries directives and policies that have the opposite effect of economic stimulation. The closure of ERT is another of these counterproductive measures, which is causing hardship, discontent, increasing unemployment and the opposite effect to economic stimulation. The problems are deep and chronic, economic policies worldwide are not working and globalisation is having unfortunate and deeply problematic effects…

Wednesday, 12 June 2013


“Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men the most.” - Thucydides

Today is the anniversary of the birthday of:
Johann Georg Ahle
, German organist (1651);
John Augustus Roebling
, bridge builder (1806);
Charles Kingsley
, author (1819);
Egon Schiele
, Austrian artist (1890).
Djuna Barnes
, author (1892);
Anthony Eden
, British PM (1897);
Leon Goosens
, English oboist (1897);
Normal Hartnell
, coutourier (1901);
Irwin Allen
, movie producer (1916);
George Bush
, US President (1989), (1924);
Vic Damone
(Vito Farinola), singer (1928);
Anne Frank
, diarist (1929);
Rona Jaffe
, author (1932);
Jim Nabors
, actor (1932);
Chick Corea
(Armando Anthony Corea), musician (1941); 
Bert Sackman, German Nobel laureate (1991), physiologist (1942);

The pear tree, Pyrus communis, is the birthday plant for today.  It symbolises satire and the language of flowers ascribes the meaning “do not forget” to the pear.  Pear trees grow slowly, as the rhyme suggests: “Plant your pears for your heirs.”

Today is Independence Day in the Philippines (since 1898). The Philippines was a Spanish colony from 1565 to 1898 when it was ceded to the USA. It became fully independent in 1946. It is an archipelago in the Western part of the South China sea with three main island groups, with an area of 300,000 square km and a population of 62 million. The capital is Manila with other centres being Cebu, Quezon City, Bacolod, Davao and Zamboanga. It is subject to earthquakes, volcanic activity and typhoons.

Much of the Philippines is covered by rainforest thriving in the tropical monsoon climate. Fishing and farming on a small scale domiante the economy with rice and copra being the main produce. Textile production, electrical manufactuirng and forestry are becoming increasingly important economically but unemployement and emigration are still high in this developing country.


Dying on this day: In 816, Leo III, Pope of Rome; in 1842, Dr Thomas Arnold, English educational reformer; in 1982, Dame Maria Rambert, ballerina; in 1983, Norma Shearer, actress.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


“Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes
Magpie Tales has provided the image above. Followers of her blog are invited to write a creative piece stimulated by her prompt. Here is my poem related to this image of a Charleston door lock.
The Island and the Garden
None talks to me,
None to listen.
Untouched, unkissed
Unloved, unyearned for
I am that island
That no man is.
None searches for me
None has found me.
Unseen, unlooked for,
Unwon and undiscovered.
I am that island
That still holds its secret.
None needs me
None cares for me.
Unused, unfrutiful
Untended and unhappy
I am a secret garden
Amidst the desert sands.

None takes my key
None opens wide my door.
Unopened, unexposed
Unsearched, unsolved.
I still cling to my mystery,
All alone.

Monday, 10 June 2013


“Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself.” - Lao Tzu
There have been some wonderful films out of the Scandinavian countries in the last few years and they have been refreshingly original, although often confronting and sometimes unpleasant to watch as they are raw and violent. We saw another of these films at the weekend, Morten Tyldum’s 2011 film “Headhunters” based on the novel by Jo Nesbø, and starring Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Synnøve Macody Lund. No, the film is not about Amazonian primitive tribes hunting for heads to shrink, but rather it is about a man who works in an employment recruitment agency and who lives beyond his means – this of course, gets him into all sorts of trouble.

I should warn the faint-hearted that this film is extremely violent and contains some very gruesome scenes. This is often the case with many of these films (I am reminded of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) with the violence depicted, although excessive and unpleasant, forms an integral part of the plot. So it is with “Headhunters”, one of these new wave Norwegian films.
The plot revolves around Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who is one of the most powerful headhunters in a top employment agency in Norway. He has an extravagant lifestyle, a beautiful wife and an expensive mortgage. To support his lifestyle of the rich and famous he is also a part-time art thief, which he does in cahoots with his friend, the gun aficionado Ove Kjikerud, who work in a security company. Once they rob the art works, they replace the originals with forgeries, which go undetected at least until the trail back to the thieves goes cold. Brown is cool, calm and collected and he works hard to build a reputation as a top professional. However, this masks his insecurities, fuelled by his short stature at 1.68 metres.
Roger Brown feels that wealth and power are the only way to make his mark in the world and to get what he wants. He has a trophy wife, the beautiful art gallery owner Diana Brown (Synnøve Macody Lund). Roger seems to like the thought of what Diana represents more than Diana herself and he denies her what she most wants – a baby. Brown also he has a mistress on the side named Lotte. Diana introduces her husband to Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a successful and handsome businessman. Clas Greve seems to be the perfect candidate for the CEO position at Pathfinder, a high tech company, for which Roger is currently recruiting.
Greve is also in possession of a priceless Rubens, which if Roger and Ove can steal, would be by far their most lucrative art theft to date. Although Brown and Kjikerud steal the painting without hitch, things start going wrong for Roger. He find out that Diana is having an affair with Greve and that someone is trying to kill him. He learns that it is Greve, who seems to know his every move. The remainder of the film is a cat and mouse game with Brown and Greve crossing swords and secrets being uncovered...
Both Aksel Hennie and Nicolai Coaster-Waldau are perfectly cast and Synnøve Macody Lund does a good job in her debut-role. The rest of the cast is excellent in supporting roles and the direction is faultless, as one would expect of someone of Morten Tyldum’s stature. The editing is wonderful and punchy and the action rolls on relentlessly, keeping the viewer on tenterhooks throughout the length of the movie. Upon its release, the film was sold to over 50 countries - a record for any Norwegian film. Summit Entertainment bought the rights to produce an American remake of this film, even before its initial release. This seems a pity, given the calibre of the original.
We enjoyed the film, although as I said earlier, the violence is quite confronting and some of the scenes are quite gruesome. The morals of the story (and especially the ending) may be questioned by the puritan viewer, however, there are quite fundamental transformations that occur in the characters, the message being that redemption is not beyond the reach of any of us, not even the most hardened criminal. If you can stomach raw and violent scenes on screen, watch the movie and you will be enthralled.

Sunday, 9 June 2013


“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” - Maya Angelou

Vincenzo Foppa (1430 – 1515) was a Renaissance painter from Northern Italy; an elderly contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519). He was born at Bagnolo Mella, near Brescia in the Republic of Venice. He settled in Pavia around 1456, serving the dukes of Milan and emerging as one of the most prominent Lombardy painters, eventually returning to Brescia in 1489.

His style shows affinities to Andrea del Castagno (1421 – 1457) and Carlo Crivelli (1435 – 1495). Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574) claimed Foppa had trained in Padua, where he may have been strongly influenced by Andrea Mantegna (1431 – 1506), who was an innovative perspectivist painter. During his lifetime, Foppa was highly acclaimed, especially for his skill in perspective and foreshortening. His important works include a fresco in the Brera Gallery of Milan, the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, and a Crucifixion (1435) in the Accademia Carrara of Bergamo. Many of his works have been lost. In addition to major fresco cycles and altarpieces, he also painted touching images of the Madonna and Child for private devotion.

Foppa was influential in the styles of Vincenzo Civerchio (1470 – 1544) and Girolamo Romanino (1484 – 1562). His work now in the Uffizi Gallery, Madonna and Child with an Angel, has been said to reveal the artist’s “complex cultural personality” (Kren and Marx, Web Gallery of Art). It shows an influence from Northern European painting, specifically Flemish, additional to his Italian traditions.

“The Young Cicero Reading” of about 1464 is a delightful work of Foppa’s, showing the Roman philosopher as child reading (rather anachronistically) a book. It is the only surviving fresco from the Banco Mediceo, Milan. In 1455 Francesco Sforza gave the Palazzo to Cosimo de’Medici, who had it lavishly restyled. Foppa, the leading Lombard master of the quattrocento period, was commissioned to fresco the courtyard. The “Young Cicero Reading” may have been intended to accompany the Virtues as an emblem of Rhetoric, one of the Liberal Arts. Set in the open courtyard for four hundred years, the fresco was removed, c.1863, framed and extensively retouched, which explains some of the compositional inconsistencies which are now apparent. It is now exhibited in the Wallace Collection in London.