Saturday, 12 October 2013


“For other nations, utopia is a blessed past never to be recovered; for Americans it is just beyond the horizon.” - Henry A. Kissinger
Antonín Leopold Dvořák (date of birth: 8 September 1841, Nelahozeves, Bohemia, Austria. [now Czech Republic]; date of Death: 1 May 1904, Prague, Czech Republic) was the son of a butcher, but he did not follow his father’s trade, even though he was brought up with that intent by his parents. While assisting his father part-time, he studied music, and graduated from the Prague Organ School in 1859. He also was an accomplished violinist and violist, and joined the Bohemian Theatre Orchestra, which was under the baton of Bedrich Smetana in 1860s. For financial reasons he quit the orchestra and focused on composing and teaching.
He fell in love with one of his students, but she married another man. Her sister was single, so Dvorak married the sister, Anna, in 1873, and they had nine children. Dvorak’s early compositions were influenced by Richard Wagner and Johannes Brahms, and with their support his music was performed in European capitals and received international acclaim. His performances in 1880s of Slavonic Dances, the Sixth Symphony and the Stabat Mater were a success in England, and Dvorak received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge.
He made a successful concert tour in Russia in 1890, and became a professor at the Prague Conservatory. In 1892 he received an invitation to visit America from Jeannette Thurber, the founder of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Dvorak was the Director of the National Conservatory in New York for three years (1892-95), where he also taught composition and carried on his cross-cultural studies.
Dvorak broadened his experiences through studying the music of the Native Americans and African Americans, many of whom became his students and friends. Dvorak was inspired by the originality of indigenous American music and culture, as well as by the spirituals and by the singing of his African American students. Dvorak incorporated his new ideas, blended with his Bohemian roots, into his well-known Symphony No.9 in E minor “From the New World”. He worked on this symphony for most of the spring and summer of 1893, and made it's glorious premiere in Carnegie Hall in December, 1893.
In America he also wrote the remarkable Cello Concerto and two string quartets, including the Quartet in F (“The American”). Dvorak was doing very well in New York financially, but his heart was in Prague and he left America for his Czech fatherland. He had a big family with his wife and nine children in Prague. He became the Director of the Prague Conservatory in 1901 and kept the position until his death in 1904.
Here is his most famous work, Symphony No.9 in E minor “From the New World”, performed by the Wiener Philarmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

The painting above is Johnson Eastman's "Life in the South: My Old Kentucky Home".

Thursday, 10 October 2013


“Our curses on them that boil the eggs too hard! What use is an egg that is hard to any person on earth?” - Lady Gregory
World Egg Day is celebrated every year on the second Friday in October. The first World Egg Day in modern times was celebrated in 1996, but the egg has been celebrated since ancient times. People may make a special effort on this World Egg Day to enjoy the wonderful versatility of the egg. Eggs have a vital role to play in feeding people around the world, in both developed and developing countries.  They are an excellent, affordable source of high quality protein. To this end, here is a delicious egg recipe:
Spanish Omelette
500g waxy potatoes, such as Charlotte
50 g of butter
2 small red onions, finely sliced
1 red pepper, finely chopped
8-9 eggs
Chives (optional)
Salt, pepper, nutmeg
Finely slice the onions and chop the red pepper, removing the seeds. Cut the potatoes into roughly ½ cm slices.

Heat the butter in a medium (about 24cm) frying pan over a low heat and cook gently for 10 – 15 minutes until starting to go brown, add the peppers and cook for a further 5 mins.

Put the potatoes in a steamer over boiling water for 10 - 12 minutes to soften. If you don’t have a steamer, put in a saucepan, cover with boiling water and simmer gently for around 8 - 10 minutes until just cooked through and drain well.

Break the eggs into a jug and beat with a fork, season with a generous grind of pepper, a pinch of salt and some ground nutmeg. Use scissors to snip the chives into small pieces and stir in (if using).

Heat the grill. Add a little more butter to the frying pan and add the potatoes. Pour over the egg mixture. Cook for 15 mins until almost set and golden brown underneath - you can use a spatula to lift the omelette up and check. Put the frying pan under the grill. Make sure the handle is outside the oven as it will become very hot and can burn. Cook for a further minute or two and serve.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.


“I adore my art... when I am alone with my notes, my heart pounds and the tears stream from my eyes, and my emotion and my joys are too much to bear.” - Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi (October 10, 1813 - January 27, 1901) one of the greatest opera composers that ever lived, was born in the Italian town of Le Roncole, a village in the province of Parma (Emilia-Romagna region) of Italy. Verdi and Richard Wagner (also born in 1813) are considered the two preeminent opera composers of the nineteenth century. Verdi dominated the Italian opera scene after the eras of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture, as “La donna è mobile” from Rigoletto, “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (The Drinking Song) from La Traviata, “Va, pensiero” (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, the “Coro di zingari” from Il Trovatore and the “Grand March” from Aida.

When he was still a child, Verdi’s parents moved from Le Roncole to Busseto, where the future composer’s education was greatly facilitated by visits to the large library belonging to the local Jesuit school. When Verdi showed early talent, Antonio Barezzi, a music-loving grocer paid for his music education. Back then, Italy was not a united country, and a lot of it was under Austrian rule – in fact technically, Verdi was born a Frenchman, as Le Roncole was under French rule at the time of his birth.
It was in Busseto that Verdi was given his first lessons in composition. The young composer went to Milan when he was twenty to continue his studies. He took private lessons in counterpoint while attending operatic performances and concerts, often of specifically German music. Milan’s Beaumonde association convinced him that he should pursue a career as a theatre composer. During the mid-1830s, he attended the Salotto Maffei salons in Milan, hosted by Clara Maffei.
Returning to Busseto, he became the town music master and gave his first public performance in 1830 in the home of Antonio Barezzi, the music lover who had long supported Verdi’s musical ambitions in Milan. Because he loved Verdi’s music, Barezzi invited Verdi to be his daughter Margherita’s music teacher, and the two soon fell deeply in love. They were married on 4 May 1836, and Margherita gave birth to two children, Virginia Maria Luigia (26 March 1837 – 12 August 1838) and Icilio Romano (11 July 1838 – 22 October 1839). Both died in infancy while Verdi was working on his first opera and, shortly afterwards, Margherita died of encephalitis on 18 June 1840, aged only 26. Verdi adored his wife and children and was devastated by their deaths.
Nabucco, one of the earliest operas that Verdi wrote, included a chorus of Hebrew slaves longing for their country “so beautiful and lost”. Italians latched onto Verdi’s “Chorus of Hebrew Slaves” as an unofficial anthem for their divided nation that was ruled by foreign occupying powers. Verdi and his music became part of the Italian struggle for independence. Even his name became a political statement. The letters V-E-R-D-I are the first letters of the phrase “Vittorio Emanuele, Rei D’Italia”, which translates to “Victor Emanuel, King of Italy”. Victor Emanuel was the man Italians wanted to be their ruler. When Italians shouted “Viva Verdi” (long live Verdi)! their Austrian rulers didn’t know that they were talking politics, not opera, because the Austrians knew how much the Italians loved opera.
In his late thirties, Verdi composed Rigoletto (1853), and La Traviata (1853). Although the public loved them, critics were often scandalised by their subject matter - they seemed to condone rape, suicide, and free love. But Verdi was fiercely independent and himself lived openly with his second wife for ten years before marrying her. After these operatic successes had made him wealthy, Verdi bought an estate in Busseto; and in 1861 he was elected in the first parliament that convened after Italy had become a nation. In his later years he wrote Aida (1871), Otello (1887), and at the age of seventy-nine his final opera, Falstaff (1893).
Verdi composed not for the musical elite but for a mass public whose main entertainment was opera. He wanted subjects that were “original, interesting and passionate; passions about all!” Almost all his mature works are serious and end unhappily; they move quickly and involve extremes of hatred, love, jealousy, and fear; and his powerful music underlines the dramatic situations. Expressive vocal melody is the soul of a Verdi opera. There are many duets, trios, and quartets; and the chorus plays an important rule. Verdi’s style became less conventional as he grew older; his later works have greater musical continuity, less difference between aria and recitative, more imaginative orchestration, and richer accompaniments. His last three operas, Aida, Otello, and Falstaff, are perhaps his greatest. Falstaff, his final work, is a comic masterpiece which ends with a carefree fugue to the words “All the world's a joke!"
Here are the Three Tenors (Carreras, Pavarotti and Domingo) with Verdi’s “La Donna e Mobile” (Rigoletto) and “Brindisi” (La Traviata).

Wednesday, 9 October 2013


“Mental health is often missing from public health debates even though it's critical to wellbeing.” - Diane Abbott

This week is Mental Health Week, with World Mental Health Day tomorrow, October 10. A number of high profile Australians are supporting this health initiative this year, with celebrities, business people, politicians, sporting stars and organisations making a personal mental health promise. The purpose is to achieve three objectives:
  1. Break down stigma, and convince people that mental illness is something that can be dealt with effectively, just like any other illness;
  2. Bring communities together and get them talking about mental health and sharing their experiences;
  3. Encourage people to seek help when they need it.

The impact of mental illness within the Australian population has become increasingly apparent. The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that an estimated 3.2 million Australians (20% of the population aged between 16 and 85) had a mental disorder in the twelve months prior to the survey. The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003 study indicated that mental disorders constitute the leading cause of disability burden in Australia, accounting for an estimated 24% of the total years lost due to disability.

The onset of mental illness is typically around mid-to-late adolescence and Australian youth (18-24 years old) have the highest prevalence of mental illness than any other age group. Common mental illnesses in young Australians are: Anxiety disorders (14%), depressive disorders (6%) and substance use disorders (5%). About 65% of people with mental illness do not access any treatment. This is worsened by delayed treatment due to serious problems in detection and accurate diagnosis. The proportion of people with mental illness accessing treatment is half that of people with physical disorders.

According to new research by the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA), four out of ten Australians who use mental health services are very satisfied with them. This research shows that there is a lot of good news for those who experience mental illness in Australia. It is a particularly encouraging fact for those who may be thinking about seeking help. The MHCA is calling on people to make and share their mental health promise, to encourage more people to open up about mental health. Anyone can make a promise at this website:

Monday, 7 October 2013


“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” - William Penn
Magpie Tales has selected this week an image by Crilleb50 to act as a stimulus for creative endeavours. Here is my offering:
Tempus Edax Rerum
Infinite Time forever rushing forth
You run, you never stop, never to die.
In, out, unendlessly you weave a cloth,
A wily web in which we fall and helpless lie.
Time, tireless traveller, you never tarry
Unheeding to our cries of: “Mercy, stop!”
You hurry forward and Death you carry
His sickle sharp and ready for the crop.
Unending Time, the one without beginning,
How weak we be, if we should try to fight!
You only can the victor be, forever winning;
Glory for you, fame light; for us an endless night.
Even the strong you break as forth inexorably you fly;
Time in the end only surviving, all other things to die.


“Far less envy in America than in France, and far less wit.” - Stendhal
We watched three French films recently and overall they were all very good. Living in Australia it is rather more difficult to find a wide variety of good international movies in most DVD shops, so when I see something that looks interesting and in a language other than English, I enthusiastically grab it. In some cases the film has disappointed, but in over 90% of cases we have generally enjoyed my choices.
The first, was the 2009 Catherine Corsini movie, “Leaving” (Partir), which starred Kristin Scott Thomas, Sergi López and Yvan Attal. This was a graphic tale of power, family, love, sex and complex relationships in a typical love triangle - shades of Madame Bovary in a modern-day setting. The film does contain some sex scenes, so be warned.
Scott Thomas plays Suzanne, a well-to-do married wife and mother in the south of France. Her idle, comfortable bourgeois lifestyle bores her and as her children are growing up, she decides to go back to work as a physiotherapist. She begins to study as a refresher, and her doctor husband (Attal) agrees to renovate a storage building as a consulting room for her in their backyard. When Suzanne and Ivan (López), the man hired to do the building, meet the mutual attraction is as sudden as it is passionate. Suzanne has little hesitation to give up her life, her family and all her future plans in order to live this love to the fullest.
The film is gritty and realistic, and even though Suzanne is depicted as the faithless wife betraying her husband and family, one cannot help but sympathise with her, especially as the film develops and her husband’s attitude towards her is explored. It is difficult to fathom what Suzanne is experiencing: Is it true love, an overwhelming passion, or an attempt to reaffirm her femininity in order to experience Ivan’s tenderness towards her (something that is missing from her relationship with her husband)? The vulnerability of each of the three main characters is artfully displayed by the director, who is very restrained in the way she depicts the foibles of all three. Quite an enjoyable movie.
The second film was “IP5: The Island of the Pachyderms” (IP5: L'île aux pachyderms) a 1992 film by director Jean-Jacques Beineix, starring Yves Montand, Olivier Martinez and Sekkou Sall. This was part road movie, part coming-of-age tale, part quest for the ideal love movie. It is notable for being Yves Montand’s last movie (he died in 1991, before the film’s release).

Two young people, Tony (Martinez) a dysfunctional anti-social angry youth and his friend, Jockey (Sall) a black boy, live a precarious existence in the ethnic minority slums of Paris. They deface walls with graffiti and decorate billboards with art. Tony gets in serious trouble with a gang of drug pushers and in order to extricate himself, agrees to deliver a consignment of “gnomes” to Grenoble. En route, Tony decides to head for Toulouse instead, in pursuit of a girl he met briefly in Paris and with whom he has fallen in love. The two youngsters dump the truck, steal a couple of cars and in the second one, they find that Leon, a tramp and mystic (Montand), is hiding in the back seat. They form an unlikely threesome, each pursuing a dream, each finding within themselves a redeeming feature that changes their lives.
Beineix has made some interesting films, including “Betty Blue”, “The Moon in the Gutter” and “Diva”. Socially marginal anti-establishment characters on a quest seems to be a recurring theme with this director. This film has an engaging style, often lapses into visual lyricism and Montand’s acting shines forth like a diamond. The two young leads also do a great job acting and the cinematography, music and direction are wonderful. We were kept engaged and interested throughout this movie that looks at France’s minorities, some of their problems, but more importantly, the universality of human emotions and needs.
Third in the list is Claude Lelouch’s 2007 movie, Crossed Tracks” (“Roman de Gare”) starring Fanny Ardant, Dominique Pinon and Audrey Dana. This was a quirky film that was nevertheless well made, original and kept you guessing for quite a while with its clever plot and false leads. One has to pay close attention to the story, but at the same time, this is not hard to do as the movie is interesting, the acting is good and the plot has few if any holes in it. One’s changing evaluation of the characters as one watches and learns more of them, is part of the pleasure of watching this film.
The plot centres on (but is not mainly about!) the successful novelist Judith Ralitzer (Ardant). We start out with Judith’s interrogation at a police station regarding the disappearance of her ghost-writer. A the same time, a serial-killer/child rapist escapes from a prison in Paris. A school teacher leaves his wife and children and goes missing, while his wife desperately tries to find him but instead falls in love with the police detective in charge of the case. Further afield, on the road, an annoying and stressed hairdresser, Huguette (Dana) is abandoned at a service station by her fiancé Paul while driving to the farm of her family in the country in order to introduce her fiancé and announce their wedding to them. A man (Pinon) offers her a ride and she pleads with him to assume the identity of her fiancé for 24 hours so as not to disappoint her mother. Who is who? What is truth and what is a lie? Who is the killer and who is the victim?
This is a great movie, full of incident, quirky characters, humour, pathos, intrigue, mystery and drama. We enjoyed it very much and had a laugh, identified with some situations, booed at the villain only to discover that it was a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and were surprised by the ending. The film could have easily been a mess, but Lelouch shows his mastery of the medium, while the actors pull all stops out to give fantastic performances. Pinon is really the star of the film, but is ably supported by Ardant and Dana is quite refreshing as the pathetic “airhead” hairdresser.

Sunday, 6 October 2013


“I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 
Her beauty and her terror 
The wide brown land for me!” – Dorothea Mackellar

Hans Heysen was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1877 and migrated to Adelaide, South Australia with his family at the age of six. As a young man in new surroundings, Heysen showed an early interest in art. He dropped out of school at 14 to work as a hardware merchant and study at art school in the evenings. Drawing and design became vital to Heysen’s art and ideology. Through his accomplishments as a draughtsman, Heysen developed a great control of line and shape and this is evident in his paintings, but also in his studies drawn in pencil, pen, chalk and charcoal.

Heysen was very fortunate with patrons and at only the beginning of his career as an artist, four prominent Adelaide businessmen were so impressed by his enthusiasm that they agreed to sponsor his studies in Europe, in lieu of the right to sell whatever he painted abroad. Later he sold art works to the State galleries in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and carried out commissions for prominent patrons such as Dame Nellie Melba and the Governor of Victoria.

After hosting his second solo exhibition in Melbourne in 1912, Heysen was able to afford to purchase a property “The Cedars”, near Hahndorf in the Adelaide hills. He lived there for the rest of his life recording the essence of the landscape and the labours of the German farmers in the fields, until his death in 1968. The property was the inspiration for many of Heysen’s famous subjects, gigantic gums, timber hauling and toilers, and is open to the public to this day.

Heysen’s artwork is highly traditional. Whilst he painted Australian subjects such as the Hahndorf pastorals, the Flinders Ranges and his iconic gums, they are strongly influenced European models of dark and light compositional elements, which distil the essence of the harsh Australian light. His animal and bird studies feature the cattle, sheep, pigs and ducks of his own farmyard, rather than Australian mammals. However, Heysen helped define a national identity for Australia through his original approach to the Australian landscape, light and rural life.

Best known for his watercolours of the bush, Heysen won the prestigious Wynne Prize for landscape painting an astonishing nine times. The first win was in 1904 with the famous large oil, “Mystic Morn” which now belongs to the Art Gallery of South Australia. Heysen produced an enormous body of work and his pictures have been enthusiastically collected across the country since the beginning of the twentieth century. Knighted in 1959, Sir Hans Heysen holds a distinctive place as one of the nation’s most honoured artists of the Federation era.

The Heysen Trail in South Australia was named after Sir Hans Heysen. This is a long distance walking trail in South Australia. It runs from Parachilna Gorge, in the Flinders Ranges via the Adelaide Hills to Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula and is approximately 1,200 kilometres long. Heysen’s daughter, Nora Heysen, was also a successful artist.

Heysen’s “Droving into the Light” (1914-21) is an iconic painting that is highly representative of this artist’s work. It is exhibited in the Art Gallery of South Australia and is a large oil on canvas, 121.9 (h) x 152.4 (w) cm. It is a gift of Mr W H Vincent, in 1922. Although it deals with the droving of sheep, the painting depicts the majesty of Australian eucalyptus trees. The combination of the gum-tree motif with a theme of end-of-day homecoming is symbolic of a new age: A unified Commonwealth of Australia had been created and was still in the process of formation. "Droving into the Light" is one of Australia’s greatest Federation pictures.

The gum trees set the scene, leading the eye into a sunbathed landscape beyond. Its dynamic compositional elements, rich colour, fine draughtsmanship make of this painting a successful, complex visual treat. It demonstrates Heysen’s successful use of light and is my favourite of all his gum-tree paintings in oil. The painting pivots upon the the River Red Gum right of centre. The River Red Gum was in fact an afterthought. Heysen recalled in 1954 that it was introduced to remedy a compositional disharmony:
“I realised the weakness of the composition and repainted portions, introducing the large central Red Gum. This helped to bind the two sides and made a great improvement, materially enhancing the whole conception.”