Friday, 16 February 2018

FOOD FRIDAY - MADELEINES

“One day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines’, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake.

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?”
Marcel Proust - À la recherche du temps perdu 


Madeleines are that famous little French butter cake, which have a literary reputation, having served as Marcel Proust’s muse in his famous book: “Remembrance of Things Past.” Although madeleines appear to be simple they require patience and careful measuring of ingredients and following of instructions. When well-prepared, madeleines are a delightful little cake, browned and crispy on the outside and spongy and soft on the inside. Perfect for your afternoon cup of tea. 

Madeleines
Ingredients

2 large eggs
2⁄3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup all-purpose flour
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
Icing sugar 


Method
Preheat oven to 190°C. Generously butter and flour pan for large madeleines (recipe is for 20 pieces).
Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and 2/3 cup sugar in large bowl just to blend. Beat in vanilla and lemon peel. Add flour; beat gently until just blended.
Gradually add cooled melted butter in steady stream, beating just until blended.
Spoon 1 tablespoon of batter into each indentation in the pan. Bake until puffed and brown, about 10-16 minutes.
Cool 5 minutes. Gently remove from pan. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch (can be made 1 day ahead). Dust with icing sugar.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

READING...

“So many books, so little time.” ― Frank Zappa 

Books I’ve read lately and enjoyed:  

“Puzzled” by David Astle 
A great book for Cryptic Crossword aficionados, this is partly a vade mecum on how to solve those devilish Friday DA cryptics in the “Age” newspaper, but also an amusing memoir, an eclectic autobiography of the master setter himself, replete with humorous anecdotes and examples of great clues and how to solve them.

 “Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon 
A lovely book, part coming-of-age story, part mystery, part romance, but above all a paean to books and the love of books. 

“At Home” by Bill Bryson 
An amusing history of “private life” through the ages and the place where it all happens, the home and its various rooms. But not only! Famous and infamous personages, common and uncommon people and also so many interesting tangents and tidbits make for a treat to read.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

POETS UNITED - WORDS

“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.” - Buddha 

This week, Poets United has as its Midweek Motif the topic “word”. Words are the building blocks of our meaningful utterances. We speak them, write them, read them. They appear fleetingly electronically or acquire a more enduring presence when printed. Better still, words hand-written make the stuff of memories when the writer is a person beloved. 

But words can be two-faced: Smiling or menacing, serene or agitated, calm or angry, superficial or deep, nonsensical or full of substance. Words can be our hope, our solace, our comfort, our joy; but words (or the absence of the right words) can be our nemesis, words can cut sharper than razor, words can wound more deeply than a knife, can kill more surely than a bullet.

Correspondence I
October 9th 1990

Waiting for your letter:
A promise of rain in the drought;
But why must so much die,
While waiting for the rain?

Waiting for your letter:
A promise of freedom to the prisoner
Who must learn to live
Alone with his thoughts in a locked cell.

Waiting for your letter:
A promise of hope to the betrayed
Who already knows that promises are hollow
And hope is an illusion.

“I’ll write...” you said, “I give you my word.”
And once again I dared to hope, that you write me that word,
Knowing full well of the falsity of smiles
And the despair of fruitless waiting.

Correspondence II
October 10th, 1990

Your “letter” awaited me
When I came home today...

It was as I expected it,
And a lot less...

Empty, cold, impersonal
Scribbled hastily on the post office counter.

Few frosty words,
A shallow wish of “...happiness to come...”

And not even a name, nor initial
Signed beneath, only a line quickly drawn
As if with the impatience,
The gladness of having completed
An unpleasant, onerous obligation...

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

TRAVEL TUESDAY #118 - CARCASSONNE, FRANCE

“In France we have a saying, Joie de vivre, which actually doesn’t exist in the English language. It means looking at your life as something that is to be taken with great pleasure and enjoy it.” - Mireille Guiliano 

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.
Carcassonne is a fortified town in the French department of Aude, in the region of Occitanie. It is the departmental prefecture. Inhabited since the Neolithic period, Carcassonne is located in the Aude plain between historic trade routes, linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean sea and the Massif Central to the Pyrénées. Its strategic importance was quickly recognised by the Romans, who occupied its hilltop until the demise of the Western Roman Empire. In the fifth century, it was taken over by the Visigoths, who founded the city.

Its strategic location led successive rulers to expand its fortifications until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. The city is famous for the Cité de Carcassonne, a medieval fortress restored by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853 and added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Consequently, Carcassonne relies heavily on tourism but also counts manufacture and wine-making as some of its other key economic sectors.

The fortified city itself consists essentially of a concentric design of two outer walls with 53 towers and barbicans to prevent attack by siege engines. The castle itself possesses its own drawbridge and ditch leading to a central keep. The walls consist of towers built over quite a long period. One section is Roman and is notably different from the medieval walls with the tell-tale red brick layers and the shallow pitch terracotta tile roofs. One of these towers housed the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th century and is still known as “The Inquisition Tower”. Carcassonne was demilitarised under Napoleon and the Restoration, and the fortified cité of Carcassonne fell into such disrepair that the French government decided that it should be demolished. A decree to that effect that was made official in 1849 caused an uproar.

The antiquary and mayor of Carcassonne, Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille, and the writer Prosper Mérimée, the first inspector of ancient monuments, led a campaign to preserve the fortress as a historical monument. Later in the year the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, already at work restoring the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, was commissioned to renovate the place. In 1853, work began with the west and southwest walls, followed by the towers of the porte Narbonnaise and the principal entrance to the cité. The fortifications were consolidated here and there, but the chief attention was paid to restoring the roofing of the towers and the ramparts, where Viollet-le-Duc ordered the destruction of structures that had encroached against the walls, some of them of considerable age.

Viollet-le-Duc left copious notes and drawings on his death in 1879, when his pupil Paul Boeswillwald and, later, the architect Nodet continued the rehabilitation of Carcassonne. The restoration was strongly criticised during Viollet-le-Duc’s lifetime. Fresh from work in the north of France, he made the error of using slates and restoring the roofs as point-free environment. Yet, overall, Viollet-le-Duc’s achievement at Carcassonne is agreed to be a work of genius, though not of the strictest authenticity.


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

Sunday, 11 February 2018

ART SUNDAY - ALEKSANDRA MITROFANOVNA BEĻCOVA

“A true portrait should, today and a hundred years from today, be the testimony of how this person looked and what kind of human being he was.” - Philippe Halsman 

Aleksandra Mitrofanovna Beļcova (Russian: Бельцова, Александра Митрофановна, March 17, 1892 in Surazh, Chernigov Governorate – February 1, 1981 in Riga, Latvian SSR) was a Latvian and Russian painter.

Aleksandra Beļcova graduated from the Secondary School for Women in Novozybkov in 1912. Later she started studies in Penza city art school, from which she graduated in 1917. While in Penza she met several Latvian painters who studied there as refugees. Among them were Jēkabs Kazaks, Konrāds Ubāns and Voldemārs Tone. Especially close relationships developed between her and Romans Suta, another Latvian painter who studied in Penza.

In 1917 she went to Petrograd to study in State Free Art Workshop under Nathan Altman. It was in Petrograd that her first solo exhibition was held in 1919. Just after the exhibition she moved to Latvia along with Romans Suta and became a member of the Riga Artists Group. The couple married in 1922 in Riga and after marriage they visited Paris, Berlin and Dresden.

In 1923 their daughter Tatiana was born in Paris. In 1925 she painted “The White and the Black” (above). She was involved in the Roller group exhibitions and Riga Graphic Artists Association in the following years. Her paintings were mostly portraits and still lifes, beginning as a Cubist she turned to realism in later years. Her mediums were oil, watercolour, ink and pencil, and she also painted on porcelain. Beļcova died on February 1, 1981.[1] The home of Aleksandra Belcova and Romans Suta in Elizabetes street 57A-26 in Riga is now turned into memorial museum and art gallery.

An excellent critique of the painting above can be found here: https://deepbaltic.com/2017/03/02/baltic-artists-brought-the-world-home-but-at-what-cost/

Saturday, 10 February 2018

MUSIC SATURDAY - GIOVANNI BENEDETTO PLATTI


“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” ― Maya Angelou 

Giovanni Benedetto Platti (1692 - 1763) was born in Padua or Venice in 1692 or 1697. He was musically educated in Venice. His teachers were most probably Francesco Gasparini, Vivaldi, Lotti and indeed Albinoni and the Marcello brothers. There is no significant information about his life before he came to Würzburg in 1722 together with a group of Italian musicians.

Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn who was Prince-Bishop of Bamberg and Würzburg was deeply preoccupied with Italian music and wanted to expand the music at court. He employed a number of foreign musicians, mostly Italians. Together with Platti six further Italian musicians were employed in 1722. After the sudden death of the Prince-Bishop in 1724, conditions for the musicians at court deteriorated. The number of musicians was considerably reduced, and only two of the Italian musicians could stay on.

In 1723 Platti married the soprano Maria Theresia Lambrucker. She was also employed at court. When Friedrich Carl von Schönborn, brother of Johann Philipp, was elected new Prince-Bishop in 1729, conditions improved. Platti stayed in Würzburg until his death in 1763. His wife gave birth to at least ten children. She died in 1752. Platti was “Oboist, Violinist und Tenorist”. A list of the court musicians from 1730 shows that “Virtuos Platti” was the best paid musician, and continued to be so, despite changes of monarch. He earned twice as much as the “Kapellmeister”.

Platti’s position at court was unique. He was involved in chamber and church music and served as oboist and violinist. Later on he was assigned other tasks, including pedagogical ones. In a decree of 1730 it is stated that he was to teach Johanna Wolf (daughter of the Dance Master), the castrato Busch, and (after Busch’s disappointing lack of development) the soprano Vogel. In a record from 1757 it is mentioned that two military band musicians were to stay at court in order to follow Platti’s tuition. He was thus also supposed to teach oboists. Platti was no doubt a virtuoso.

As a composer Platti is renowned for his harpsichord sonatas, numerous pieces for cello and his church music. His work has distinct pre-classical features, associated with composers such as Haydn. His melodious imagination and lively, elegant style are apparent. His slightly anonymous existence in Würzburg obviously contributed to the fact that he never gained the recognition he deserves.

Here are some of his cello concertos:
1. Concerto in A for obbligato cello & strings, D-WD 654 0:00
2. Concerto grosso in D (after Corelli's Op. 5/1), D-WD 538 13:59
3. Concerto in D minor for obbligato cello & strings, D-WD 657 25:08
4. Concerto grosso in C (after Corelli's Op. 5/3), D-WD 539 39:18
5. Concerto in D for obbligato cello & strings, D-WD 650 50:36
Stefano Veggetti Violoncello; Andrea Rognoni Violin; Franziska Romaner Violoncello; Ensemble Cordia

Friday, 9 February 2018

FOOD FRIDAY - SAVOURY MUFFINS

“I believe in stopping work and eating lunch.” – L’Wren Scott 

We sometimes need a little more substantial lunch than the fresh, seasonal fruit we usually have and in that case it’s easy to rustle up some savoury muffins that can be made quickly and eaten straight out of the oven. They are also very nice for a Winter breakfast. 

Savoury Muffins
Ingredients

4-5 pieces bread, torn into small pieces (enough to fill 12 muffin tins almost to top)
4 slices ham
1 cup grated tasty cheddar cheese
8 eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper (or more or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
dried Parsley
dried chopped chives (or finely chopped Spring onions) 


Method
Preheat oven to 200˚C. Grease muffins tins well.
Place bread pieces evenly in muffin tins until they come about 2/3 of the way up the tin.
Sprinkle ham pieces evenly in each tin, followed by the grated cheese.
Whisk together eggs, milk, ground mustard, pepper, mace, parsley and chives (or onions).
Pour egg mixture evenly in each muffin tin.
Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown on top and cooked through the middle.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

POETS UNITED - SHOES

“Just walk a mile in his moccasins
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse.
If just for one hour, you could find a way
 
To see through his eyes, instead of your own muse.”
 – poem excerpt from “Judge Softly” by Mary T. Lathrap, 1895 

This week in Poets United the Midweek motif is “Shoes”. The origin of the English idiom “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” is given above. My poem below: 

Walk in His Shoes

It’s easy to dismiss the homeless man as lazy,
A good-for-nothing shirker of responsibility.
He is the foolish grasshopper who now freezes in Winter,
Because he sang all Summer long, isn’t he?
While we, industrious ants, were working hard…

He sits in a large carton, wrapped in an old, dirty blanket
While his breath condenses into tiny snowflakes.
He trembles and his eyes stare vacantly into the night,
While passers-by (few that they are) ignore him
Wrapped as they are in furs, woolen coats, warm boots.

He knows their thoughts and he’s given up hoping
For a few coins, that would buy him something hot to eat.
Way out beyond hope is the expectation of a kind word,
Someone who’s willing to stop and acknowledge him,
And his wretched existence as a fellow human.

The wind howls and the people rush to catch the train home,
Tonight is no night for laggards, there is no promenading.
The homeless man feels his teeth chattering as the sharp razor
Of the midwinter cold slices through him, freezing his heart
(Does he still have one? – He wonders).

A man and his son stop in front of him and the father drops some money
Into the empty tin the homeless one has forgotten beside his carton.
As the vagrant warmly smiles, the son frowns and admonishes his father:
“Our teacher said to not give money to bums; that sort of thing encourages them,
And they only spend it on booze, and the problem multiplies…”

The father looks at the son, surprised, and says calmly:
“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes, Son...”
The son look askance at the homeless man, who shifts in his carton
Revealing his bare, dirty, bluish, freezing feet;
“Ha! Look he has no shoes; no doubt he spent the money on liquor.”

The father looks at his son’s warm boots and says:
“Take off your boots and give them to this barefoot man.
Then judge him when you’ve walked home on your naked feet,
Trudging that long mile through icy puddles, mud and dirty water…”

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

TRAVEL TUESDAY #117 - BRUGES, BELGIUM

“In the middle ages people were tourists because of their religion, whereas now they are tourists because tourism is their religion.” - Robert Runcie 

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. 
Bruges (Dutch: Brugge) is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium, in the northwest of the country. The area of the whole city amounts to more than 13,840 hectares, including 1,075 hectares off the coast, at Zeebrugge (from Brugge aan zee meaning “Bruges by the Sea”).

The historic city centre is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. It is oval and about 430 hectares in size. The city’s total population is 117,073 (1 January 2008), of whom around 20,000 live in the city centre. The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 616 km2 and has a total of 255,844 inhabitants as of 1 January 2008.

Along with a few other canal-based northern cities, such as Amsterdam, it is sometimes referred to as The Venice of the North. Bruges has a significant economic importance thanks to its port and was once one of the world’s chief commercial cities. Bruges is well known as the seat of the College of Europe, an elite university institute for European studies regarded as “the EU’s very own Oxbridge.”

Bruges has most of its medieval architecture intact, making it one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The historic centre of Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. Many of its medieval buildings are notable, including the Church of Our Lady, whose brick spire reaches 122.3 m, making it one of the world's highest brick towers/buildings. The sculpture Madonna and Child, which can be seen in the transept, is believed to be the only of Michelangelo’s sculptures to have left Italy within his lifetime.

Bruges’ most famous landmark is its 13th-century belfry, housing a municipal carillon comprising 48 bells. The city still employs a full-time carillonneur, who gives free concerts on a regular basis.

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

Saturday, 3 February 2018

MUSIC SATURDAY - ITALIAN BAROQUE DANCES

“Old things are always in good repute, modern things in disfavour.” - Tacitus

Let us travel back in time… Let us transport ourselves to Italy of the early Baroque and let us take a few steps in courtly dances that delighted nobles and amused princes. Here is a selection of Pavanes, Gagliardes, Ciaccones and Passacaglias played on instruments old and wondrous with sounds that fall easily on our jaded ears and manage to captivate our attention and gladden our soul.

0:00 Innocenzio Alberti: Pavana & Gagliarda Jordi Savall Hespèrion XXI
5:14 Biagio Marini: Passacaglio Jordi Savall Hespèrion XXI
8:39 Antonio Valente: Gagliarda Napoletana Jordi Savall Hespèrion XXI
11:40 Benedetto Marcello: Ciaccona from Sonata F Major Op 2
15:57 Antonio Bertali: Ciaccona L'Arpeggiata
21:49 Maurizio Cazzati: Ciaccona & Passacaglia Christina Pluhar L'Arpeggiata
31:42 Tarquinio Merula: Ciaccona
34:47 Andrea Falconieri: Passacaglia & Ciaccona D'EL'SA Consort
40:24 Tomaso Antonio Vitali: Ciaccona Virtuosi Italiani
48:56 Niccoló Jommelli: Ciaccona per Orchestra Gioacchino Longobardi

Friday, 2 February 2018

FOOD FRIDAY - ITALIAN "PESCHE"


“In Italy, they add work and life on to food and wine.” - Robin Leach 

We visited an Italian pastryshop the other day and I asked for a particular type of sweet that I used to really like, but unfortunately they did not make it. I vaguely remembered seeing a recipe for it in our trusty recipe notebook and yes, when we got back home I did find the recipe. Here is the recipe, which we made that afternoon. 

Pesche (Peaches)
Ingredients

1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
apricot jam
maraschino liqueur
red and yellow food colouring
caster sugar
Whole cloves, crystallised angelica (or fresh mint leaves) for decoration 

Method
Heat oven to 180°C. Lightly grease baking trays.
Mix together sugar, eggs and oil. Add flour and baking powder, stirring to form a light dough (you may need to add a little more flour to shape balls).
Form 2.5 cm balls and place on flat baking tray, pressing slightly on top to form hemispheres and bake about 10-15 minutes (until lightly browned on the bottom and pale on top).
While still warm, take a small pointed knife and scoop out a pocket on the flat side of each cookie. Fill with jam and spread a small amount on the flat sides as you join 2 cookies together to form the peach.
Colour the maraschino liqueur with a little food colouring to make a light peach colour and brush on the peaches to give them a “blush”. Then roll the peach in granulated sugar, placing a clove on top of each peach for a “stalk”. You may garnish with crystallised angelica “leaves” (or fresh mint leaves) for presentation.

In Italy, pesche are often served at wedding feasts as they are a symbol of Hymenæus, the Graeco-Roman god of marriage and they signify a long and happy marriage.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

POETS UNITED - MOON

“The moon is friend for the lonesome to talk to.” ― Carl Sandburg 

The poetic inspiration seems to hover like a will-o’-the-wisp, bright and distant, uncatchable if pursued. And yet if one stays put and tries not to catch it at all, it will approach and alight on one’s heart and the words will gush forth. In the past few weeks I’ve been busy with work, family, have had to overcome a swathe of problems. Writing was confined to things of science and things that were matter of fact.

Creativity it seems, thrives on misfortune, but it also thrives on the availability of time and inclination to follow a certain creative path. My creative path took me away to music, so the poet’s voice remained silent. Music sustained me, but poetry beckoned like that ignis fatuus, and I wisely chose to ignore it.  Last night the moon was blue and it was a great moon, which was eclipsed. A once in a century or two phenomenon. The poetic inspiration coincided with this week’s Poets’ United theme, which was: “Make a new poem  for the moon, using a perspective new to you.” Here is my poem: 

The Moon’s Answer 

I ask the silvery moon, as she shines white
High in the sky, making my garden bright: 
“Moon, why should I speak with you
And not with my Love? Pray, tell me, do…” 

She smiles and stays far, so wan and silent,
Her light now steely blue, and cutting – violent; 
“Oh, Moon, you see all, up on your argent throne
But you choose to stay hushed, wise, like a crone.” 

A cloud passes before her lovely face
To hide a tear perhaps, or frown efface? 
“Moon, you too are sad and make good company,
Come with me, and my lonely song accompany.” 

She winks, and off the cloud she shrugs, she smiles,
(Her ways are strange and her manner full of wiles)… 
“Speak, Moon, please answer me my earnest query:
Is my Love true to me, or is she with betrayal leery?” 

A shadow passes and moon’s countenance bloodies,
Her voice rings out and she, in now darkened night,
Replies: “Your Love’s untruth the waters muddies, 
She lies and mocks, and sows doubt and blight.”

“Oh, cruel Moon, why speak such spite incarnadine?
Your golden, uncertain silence, I preferred, ‘twas more benign…” 

The Moon eclipsed speaks hurtful truths, no dulcet lies;
But when she brightly shines, fills she with hope the velvet skies.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

TRAVEL TUESDAY #116 - GHENT, BELGIUM

“La rue est une musée pour tous!” (The street is a museum for everyone) ― Hergé

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. 
Ghent (Dutch: Gent; French: Gand; German: Gent) is a city and a municipality in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province and after Antwerp the largest municipality of Belgium. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Leie and in the Late Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe, with some 50,000 people in 1300. It is a port and university city.

The municipality comprises the city of Ghent proper and the surrounding towns of Afsnee, Desteldonk, Drongen, Gentbrugge, Ledeberg, Mariakerke, Mendonk, Oostakker, Sint-Amandsberg, Sint-Denijs-Westrem, Sint-Kruis-Winkel, Wondelgem and Zwijnaarde. With 240,191 inhabitants in the beginning of 2009, Ghent is Belgium’s second largest municipality by number of inhabitants. The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 1,205 km2 and has a total population of 594,582 as of 1 January 2008, which ranks it as the fourth most populous in Belgium. The ten-day-long Ghent Festival (Gentse Feesten in Dutch) is held every year and attended by about 1–1.5 million visitors.

Much of the city's medieval architecture remains intact and is remarkably well preserved and restored. Its centre is the largest carfree area in Belgium. Highlights are the Saint Bavo Cathedral with the famous Ghent Altarpiece, the belfry, the Gravensteen castle, and the splendid architecture along the old Graslei harbour. Ghent has established a blend between comfort of living and history; it is not a city-museum.

The city of Ghent also houses three béguinages and numerous churches including Saint-Jacob’s church, Saint-Nicolas’ church, Saint Michael’s church and St. Stefanus. In the 19th century Ghent’s most famous architect, Louis Roelandt, built the university hall Aula, the opera house and the main courthouse. Highlights of modern architecture are the university buildings (the Boekentoren or Book Tower) by Henry Van de Velde. There are also a few theatres from diverse periods.

The beguinages, as well as the belfry and adjacent cloth hall, were recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in 1998 and 1999. The Zebrastraat, a social experiment in which an entirely renovated site unites living, economy and culture, can also be found in Ghent. Campo Santo is a famous Catholic burial site of the nobility and artists.

Important museums in Ghent are the Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Museum of Fine Arts), with paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Paul Rubens, and many Flemish masters; the SMAK or Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (City Museum for Contemporary Art), with works of the 20th century, including Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol; and the Design Museum Gent with masterpieces of Victor Horta and Le Corbusier. The Huis van Alijn (House of the Alijn family) was originally a beguinage and is now a museum for folk art where theatre and puppet shows for children are presented.

The Museum voor Industriële Archeologie en Textiel or MIAT displays the industrial strength of Ghent with recreations of workshops and stores from the 1800s and original spinning and weaving machines that remain from the time when the building was a weaving mill. The Ghent City Museum (Stadsmuseum, abbreviated STAM), is committed to recording and explaining the city’s past and its inhabitants, and to preserving the present for future generations.

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

Saturday, 27 January 2018

MUSIC SATURDAY - DUŠEK

“When you play, never mind who listens to you.” – Robert Schumann 

František Xaver Dušek (German: Franz Xaver Duschek or Dussek); baptised 8 December 1731 – 12 February 1799) was a Czech composer and one of the most important harpsichordists and pianists of his time.

Dušek was born at Chotěborky, near Jaroměř. He was taught the harpsichord in Vienna by Georg Christoph Wagenseil and established himself around 1770 in Prague as a successful keyboard teacher. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was probably his guest in his Villa Bertramka in Košíře, just outside Prague, although no documentation exists to support claims originating in nineteenth-century literature that he stayed there frequently.

Mozart himself never reported staying there and no contemporary witness ever reported seeing him there. The best evidence that he ever stayed there comes from a reminiscence of Mozart’s son Karl Thomas Mozart that dates from 1856 and indicates that he was at the Bertramka during his second visit to Prague (during October and November 1787). Karl Thomas was not himself a witness to the incident reported, rather he only heard about it from friends of Mozart whom he met as a child in Prague during the 1790s. Furthermore, there is no documentation to support widespread claims that Mozart completed the operas “Don Giovanni” and “La clemenza di Tito” at the Bertramka, or indeed that he even worked on them there.

Dušek died in Prague. He was a teacher of Mozart’s son Karl Thomas, who became a gifted pianist, although he did not pursue a career in music. Dušek’s wife Josepha Hambacher (7 March 1753 – 8 January 1824) had been taught by him and was a famous pianist and soprano. She sang important soprano roles in Mozart operas in early performances, and Mozart's concert aria “Bella mia fiamma” (catalogued as K. 528) was written for her. Dušek composed sonatas, variations and concertos for harpsichord and piano and several symphonies and string quartets. Much of his music is in the galant style of the early Classical period.

Here are three concertos for piano by Dušek, performed by Karel Košárek (Piano) and the  Prague Chamber Orchestra:
1. Concerto for Piano in D major
2. Concerto for Piano in E flat major
3. Concerto for Piano in C major

Thursday, 25 January 2018

ALL ABOUT HYSSOP

“Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” - verse 7 of Psalm 51: King JamesBible 

Hyssopus officinalis or hyssop is a herbaceous plant of the genus Hyssopus in the family Lamiaceae, native to Southern Europe, the Middle East, and the region surrounding the Caspian Sea. Due to its properties as an antiseptic, cough reliever, and expectorant, it is commonly used as a medicinal plant.

Hyssop is a brightly coloured shrub or subshrub that ranges from 30 to 60 cm in height. The stem is woody at the base, from which grow a number of straight branches. Its leaves are lanceolate, dark green in colour, and from 2 to 2.5 cm long. During the summer, the plant produces bunches of pink, blue, or, more rarely, white fragrant flowers. These give rise to small oblong achenes. The species as a whole is resistant to drought, and tolerant of chalky, sandy soils. It thrives in full sun and warm climates.

Hyssop has a long history of use in foods and herbal medicine. A strong tea made of the leaves and sweetened with honey is a traditional remedy for nose, throat, and lung afflictions and is sometimes applied externally to bruises. In the Middle Ages, hyssop was a strewing herb. Its modern uses are for flavouring meats, fish, vegetables, salads, sweets, and liqueurs. Honey made from hyssop pollen is considered especially fine. The leaves contain oil of hyssop, a volatile oil used by perfumers.

A plant called hyssop has been in use since classical antiquity. Its name is a direct adaptation from the Greek ὕσσωπος (hyssopos). The Hebrew word אזוב (ezov, esov, or esob) and the Greek word ὕσσωπος probably share a common (but unknown) origin. Ezov, the “hyssop” of the Bible, was historically used in ritual cleansing of lepers but researchers have suggested it is not Hyssopus officinalis, which is exotic to Palestine; it may have been a species of caper or a type of savoury.

Under optimal weather conditions, herb hyssop is harvested twice yearly, once at the end of Spring and once more at the beginning of Autumn. The plants are preferably harvested when flowering in order to collect the flowering tips. Once the stalks are cut, they are collected and dried either stacked on pallets to allow for draining or hung to dry. The actual drying process takes place in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area, where the materials are mixed several times to ensure even drying. Drying herbs are kept from exposure to the sun to prevent discolouration and oxidation. The drying process takes approximately six days in its entirety. Once dried, the leaves are removed and both components, leaves and flowers, are chopped finely. The final dried product weighs a third of the initial fresh weight and can be stored for up to 18 months.

The essential oil includes the chemicals thujone and phenol, which give it antiseptic properties. Its high concentrations of thujone and chemicals that stimulate the central nervous system, including pinocamphone and cineole, can provoke epileptic reactions. The oil of hyssop can cause seizures and even low doses (2–3 drops) can cause convulsions in children. Self-dosing is not recommended for children, pregnant women or even for adults, and prescription of hyssop oil medicinally is best left to professionals.

The fresh herb is commonly used in cooking in some regional cuisines. Herb hyssop leaves are used as an aromatic condiment. The leaves have a lightly bitter taste due to its tannins, and they possess an intense mint-like aroma. Due to its intensity, it is used moderately in cooking. Za’atar is a famous Middle Eastern herbal mix, which has dried hyssop leaves as one of the main ingredients (sumac being the other main ingredient). Essence of hyssop can be obtained by steaming, and is used in cooking to a lesser extent. 

Za’atar
Ingredients (all herbs dried)
1/2 cup sumac
3 tablespoons hyssop
2 tablespoons thyme
1 teaspoon cumin powder
2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons marjoram
2 tablespoons oregano
2 teaspoons coarse salt 

Method
Grind the sesame seeds in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
Store the za’atar in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. When stored properly, za’atar can last from 3-6 months.

Hyssop is commonly used by beekeepers to produce a rich and aromatic honey. The herb is also used to flavour liqueur, and is part of the official formulation of Chartreuse and of Absinthe.

In folklore, dried hyssop has been hung in homes to provide protection from the evil eye, and from witches. It has also been planted frequently on graves as protection for the dead from the living. It has been considered an aphrodisiac when combined with ginger, thyme, and pepper. In the language of flowers, the sprigs of the herb without flowers mean: “I shall sacrifice myself in order to protect you”, while flowering sprigs mean: You cleanse and purify my soul”.

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme.