Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What every child should read

Some of Britain's top writers were asked to choose 10 books every child should read before leaving secondary school.
One of my favorite authors, Nick Hornby, felt unable to contribute to this list and I, to some extent, sympathize with his reasoning. He said: "I used to teach in a comprehensive school, and I know from experience that many children are not capable of reading the books that I wanted them to read. If I choose 10 books that I think would be possible for all, it wouldn't actually be a list that I would want to endorse. I think any kind of prescription of this kind is extremely problematic."
Although I can see where he's coming from, I think he chose the easy way out. What makes this exercise both possible and so interesting is the pre-acknowledgement that there's a vast universe of literary masterpieces that are accessible to most teens if they are given proper support and encouragement. The difficulty is choosing just 10 books, those that best synthesize the very best in literature and which should be on the lists of parents and teachers of any common schoolchild.
Here's some of the lists of other famous writers:
JK Rowling
Author of the Harry Potter series

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Philip Pullman
Author of the His Dark Materials trilogy

Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner
The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens (or other good anonymous ballads)
First Book of Samuel, Chapter 17 (the story of David and Goliath)
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
A good collection of myths and legends
A good collection of fairytales

Andrew Motion
Poet laureate

The Odyssey by Homer
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Lyrical Ballads by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Waste Land by TS Eliot

Chosen among my own "important"childhood readings, the list of books I would like my children to read before they leave secondary school contains at least the following titles:

A Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
Julius Caesar, MacBeth and Romeo and Juliet - William Shakespeare
The Odissey and The Illiad - Homer
The Greek Myths - Robert Graves
Mithology - Edith Hamilton
The Republic and Dialogues - Plato
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Night - Elie Weisel
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
Of Mice and Man and The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinback
The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
Great Tales and Poems - Edgar Allan Poe
The Scarlett Letter - Nathaniel Hathorne
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams
Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgeral
Gulliver's Travels - Jonhathan Swift
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
The Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank
Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes
Selected Sonnets - Luis Vaz de Camões
Message - Fernando Pessoa
Short Stories - Eça de Queiroz
Clarissa - Erico Veríssimo
O Guarani and Iracema - José de Alencar
Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka
The Captain's Daughter - Alexander Pushkin
The Mother - Maxim Gorki
Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilyitch - Leo Tolstoi

And also these, chosen among more recent readings:

Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
His Dark Materials Trilogy - Phillip Pullman

Late night reflection

I feel like I've aged at least ten years in the past five years. The changes in my life and in myself have been so many and at times so overwhelming that I still get vertigo when I attempt to take them in (so I don't).
When I look at myself in pictures taken not so long ago (which I am finally trying to organize for my daughters and which brought upon this late night reflection) I see a different person, with a different personality, a different life, a different future, a different set of values and goals, a different referential axis altogether.
So I guess the truth is I still haven't come to terms with the "new me" in the "new world". But I've learned to accept that Strangeness is a part of life and that to survive you need to have the discernment to distinguish between what you can change and what you can't change and to know what is essential from what isn't. Then, you just have to accept what you can't change, with no great fuss, and make the most of the essential things that you can change. Simple, really. Isn't it ?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Playing on the iPod

Bach: panacea for the ills of the soul. Wonderful, therapeutic, enlightening, transcendent ...
The Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 was composed in 1708 and has inspired generations of sensitive souls ever since. Christopher Herrick is the organist in this 1990 Hyperion recording.

PS - If you want to hear the fugue after the toccata, click here. It's 7Mb so be patient while it downloads.

Snow and snow

I was saving the posting of this lovely poem by Ted Hughes for this year's first day of snow here in Bucks, England, where I live now and where snow is not that unusual. But something amazing has happened and I've decided to post it now instead: for the first time in 52 years, yesterday it snowed in Lisbon and in most of Portugal! True, what little snow fell almost immediately melted away, but it still was reported "LIVE FROM LISBON" with immense enthusiasm by friends and relatives. Even I, who am familiar with real snow since my Ohio years, felt thrilled on seeing the pictures of snow flurries falling on the familiar and usually very warm streets of Lisbon where I used to lead my life just a couple of years ago. We're all glad it doesn't happen that often, though: the country is not prepared for it and it almost came to a halt yesterday with closed motorways, mobile network failures, closed ports, people stuck in cars in the snow and a lot of accidents.


by Ted Hughes

Snow is sometimes a she, a soft one.
Her kiss on your cheek, her finger on your sleeve
In early December, on a warm evening,
And you turn to meet her, saying "It''s snowing!"
But it is not. And nobody''s there.
Empty and calm is the air.

Sometimes the snow is a he, a sly one.
Weakly he signs the dry stone with a damp spot.
Waifish he floats and touches the pond and is not.
Treacherous-beggarly he falters, and taps at the window.
A little longer he clings to the grass-blade tip
Getting his grip.

Then how she leans, how furry foxwrap she nestles
The sky with her warm, and the earth with her softness.
How her lit crowding fairylands sink through the space-silence
To build her palace, till it twinkles in starlight—
Too frail for a foot
Or a crumb of soot.

Then how his muffled armies move in all night
And we wake and every road is blockaded
Every hill taken and every farm occupied
And the white glare of his tents is on the ceiling.
And all that dull blue day and on into the gloaming
We have to watch more coming.

Then everything in the rubbish-heaped world
Is a bridesmaid at her miracle.
Dunghills and crumbly dark old barns are bowed in the chapel of her sparkle.
The gruesome boggy cellars of the wood
Are a wedding of lace
Now taking place.


I loved Oxford. Among its beautiful architecture, for centuries a shrine of scholarly learning and tradition, there's a healthy, young bustling that gives the city as much of a sense of "youth/future" as it has of "history/past". It's bursting with life, movement, culture and joie-de-vivre.
I loved seeing a mum bring a bunch of stuff (mostly dishes, plates and bowls covered with aluminum foil) to her student daughter and a friend. I loved the joy on their faces as the mum parked the car in front of the girls who were waiting, standing on the sidewalk in front of a huge dorm building. Looked like a Sunday routine. Blessed mums.
I loved seeing mums and dads with little kids strolling about in the cold but beautiful weather.
I loved seeing the restaurants, cafes and shops full of young people and young families.
While we were having lunch in a cozy French bistrot, I mentioned to Ana that I would really like it if both her and Clara would attend university either at Oxford or Cambridge. She answered she just wants to design clothes. Oh well.
PS - Please see my Oxford photos.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

And off we go ...

...to Oxford !
Hope I can post some pics on the Lovely Places blog later on.

It's cold out there !

Playing on the iPod is Placido Domingo's "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's beautiful La Bohème. Isn't it the most romantic of operatic arias ? Perfect for a gray and cold Sunday.

Note: every music previously played on my iPod can still be accessed by clicking on the CD cover picture in the corresponding "playing on the iPod" post.

We've been invited

Friday, January 27, 2006


And again no one wins ...
This time I didn't get any ROI to cover next week's bet but it's impossible to resist playing for such a huge amount of money.

I feel like Donkey in Shrek: Pick me ! Pick me ! Me ! Me !

Lips and eyes

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875), Woman with a Pearl

IN Celia's face a question did arise,
Which were more beautiful, her lips or eyes ?
“ We,” said the eyes, “send forth those pointed darts
Which pierce the hardest adamantine hearts.”
“ From us,” repli'd the lips, “proceed those blisses
Which lovers reap by kind words and sweet kisses.”
Then wept the eyes, and from their springs did pour
Of liquid oriental pearl a shower ;
Whereat the lips, moved with delight and pleasure,
Through a sweet smile unlock'd their pearly treasure
And bad Love judge, whether did add more grace
Weeping or smiling pearls to Celia's face.
Thomas Carew (1595-1645)

To whom it may concern ...

After a very, very long time without any updates, both my other hobby blogs have been updated.

Holocaust Day

Today is Holocaust Day.

January 27th marks the 61st anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, in 1945.
In 1933 approximately nine million Jews lived in the 21 countries of Europe that would be military occupied by Germany during the war. By 1945 two out of every three European Jews had been killed by the Nazis. 1.5 million children were murdered. This figure includes more than 1.2 million Jewish children, tens of thousands of Gypsy children and thousands of handicapped children.
BUT, today, not only should we remember the 6 million Jews that were murdered by Adolf Hitler, we should also remember all other victims of genocide. Who would have thought that after the horrors of World War II were known, Rwanda and Bosnia could still happen ...

Happy birthday Mozart

Playing on the iPod is the Menuetto Allegretto from Mozart's Symphony No.41 "Jupiter". Leonard Berstein conducts the Wiener Philarmoniker in a 1984 recording. Grand.

Mozart composed his last three symphonies in the summer of 1788 in the unbelievably short space of a mere six weeks. He wasn't on commission and there was no "external reason" (other than, perhaps, to try to overcome his financial difficulties and to distract him from "dark thoughts") for him to work at such immense speed. There's some uncertainty as to whether these symphonies were performed during Mozart's lifetime. Once they were known, thought, audiences were quick to recognize in them a pinnacle not only of Mozart's work but in the entire field of instrumental music.

For anyone who is wild about Mozart, I recommend The Times Online's Mozart 250th anniversary special dossier.

The following article was taken from today's Daily Telegraph:

Mozart, bravissimo!

The 250th anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's birth, which falls today, is an occasion for saluting the awesome scope of his achievement.

By the age of five, he was not merely performing in public, but also composing. His juvenilia stands up against the mature works of most composers. He had one talent in his short life - he died aged just 35 - that caused his reputation to survive so well, and to spread so widely, over the subsequent centuries.
He is, and always was, what is now called "accessible". Lest that word seem derogatory, let us add that Mozart's accessibility was of a rare order. He wrote music of immediate beauty to the undiscerning, and which impresses sophisticates with its inventiveness, innovation and sheer musicality. It is no wonder he inspired such jealous loathing among some of his inferior contemporaries.
Some dismiss Mozart as facile: he certainly could write with ease and to order, and had to keep body and soul together. Yet his facility does not indicate sterility, as it has in others with such a gift, but rather proves his unequivocal genius.
The last three symphonies; some of the piano concerti, notably the 21st; the chamber music for strings, including the six "Haydn" quartets, which prompted the dedicatee, no slouch himself, to tell Mozart's father that his boy was the greatest composer in the world: all are masterpieces with few rivals in the whole canon of music.
In the theatre, Mozart showed himself as adept with opera seria as with opera buffo. His range is stunning, and unmatched by any other composer, however long-lived.
Genius is rare in music as in all other arts. Perhaps Britain has only produced one - Benjamin Britten, whose originality and prodigious talent make him the closest we have ever come to having a Mozart.
In the rest of Europe, perhaps only Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner and Mahler could make a claim for parity - though France might offer up Ravel and Russia Tchaikovsky. That Mozart might see any of them off in a celestial all-comers bout is hard, though, to gainsay.
But while we rate his conspicuous genius, one factor is perhaps a more significant reason for our choosing to celebrate him so warmly today: that, when all is said and done, he remains the greatest entertainer.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The tech bit: all about Google

If you're reading my blog you're probably a Google user. And, if you do use Google and have a streak of curiosity in your personality, you might like to know a bit more about what's behind its amazing power (have you ever really thought about it ?!) and how this power will evolve, shaping things to come.
Here's an excerpt from a very interesting article in today's Guardian newspaper:
"Google has the potential to destroy the publishing industry, the newspaper business, high street retailing and our privacy. Not that it will necessarily do any of these things, but for the first time, considered soberly, these things are technologically possible. The company is rich and determined and is not going away any time soon. It knows what it is doing technologically; socially, though, it can't possibly know, and I don't think anyone else can either. The best historical analogy for where Google is today probably comes from the time when the railroads were being built. Everyone knew that trains and railways would change the world, but no one predicted the invention of suburbs. Google, and the increased flow of information on which it rides and from which it benefits, is the railway. I don't think we've yet seen the first suburbs."

Good morning !

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Pablo Casals's cello

Playing on the iPod is Pablo Casal's interpretation of Bach's Cello Suite No.1 in G major.
Right now, that's exactly how I feel.
Isn't music extraordinary ?
Legend has it that Sir Thomas Beecham, a famous British conductor, once addressed a particularly talentless woman cellist thus: "Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands and all you can do is scratch it."

Summer holidays

To lift spirits up a bit and because the January Sale on Expedia is about to end, I've started putting together our next Summer holiday.
First draft: 4 direct flights leaving and arriving at decent times + city hotel for 1 week + beach apartment for 3 weeks + car rental + car parking. Sum it all up and ... I really do need to win that Euromillions. Try again. Forget about the decency of time. Still too much. Forget about having A/C in the car. Still too much. Forget about 3 weeks by the seaside.
Oh well. So much for spirit lifting.

Mozart quiz

It's 250 years this week since Mozart was born.

One of the greatest composers, he wrote his first piece of music aged just five.

How well can you identify what's Mozart and what's not? Put your speakers or headphone on, and take the test.

PS - I scored 10/10 !!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The mother

Gustav Klimt, Mother and Child, 1905
Your children grow from you apart,
Afar and still afar;
And yet it should rejoice your heart
To see how glad they are;
In school and sport, in work and play,
And last, in wedded bliss
How others claim with joy to-day
The lips you used to kiss.

Your children distant will become,
And wide the gulf will grow;
The lips of loving will be dumb,
The trust you used to know
Will in another's heart repose,
Another's voice will cheer . . .
And you will fondle baby clothes
And brush away a tear.

But though you are estranged almost,
And often lost to view,
How you will see a little ghost
Who ran to cling to you!
Yet maybe children's children will
Caress you with a smile . . .
Grandmother love will bless you still,--
Well, just a little while.

Robert William Service

Back on track

No more cooking sprees !

Science and tech news

An extremely interesting article on the emergent medical belief that certain common everyday infections might trigger cancer. If so, vaccination could play a vital role in future cancer prevention schemes. Some months back it was announced that a new jab against cervical cancer could be available within 2 years. This could be a promising start in understanding and controlling cancer.
Chimpanzees are closer to man than to ape, a DNA study shows. A proposal to reclassify chimps as members of the human family, the only survivor of the genus Homo, has seen the light of day, shrouded in controversy.
A lot of people probably don't realize the huge amounts of energy they waste daily by leaving electric and electronic devices on standby mode. On the other hand, lots of them do realize this but can't (or won't) break the habit of not doing something about it. Do these gadgets really need to have standby buttons ?
Doesn't it upset you just a little to know that Google, Yahoo !, MSN and such others keep all the records of all the searches you ever ran through their search engines ?
The number of iTunes users is soaring. Do you know they are likely to drive VW's ?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bella figlia dell'amore

Playing on the iPod: Bella figlia dell'amore from Verdi's Rigoletto. Splendid.

Forget the parrot ...

... as far as I'm concerned it's just about diets and cheating on them. Since the New Year I've been on the strictest of diets and I've already managed to loose 5 Kg (not bad, if I may say so myself !!!). Today, however, I cracked (blame it on PMS, weather, anxiety, whatever) and I stuffed my face with the leftover biscuits from yesterday's cooking spree. You cannot begin to imagine just how dreadful I feel right now. Or maybe some of you can (story of our lives...).
Oh well. I'm off to bed. I feel as if I've taken too many sleeping pills. All I want to do is sleep. I hope to get back on the right track tomorrow. I'm not letting so much effort go to waste.
P.S. All's well with the apples of my eyes. They are sound asleep.

Diets, parrots and cheating

How Ziggy the indiscreet parrot gave a cheating girlfriend the bird.
When Chris Taylor’s parrot, Ziggy, repeatedly mentioned the name Gary, his suspicions were aroused. He didn’t know a Gary. And, when the parrot made slurpy kissing noises every time he heard the name Gary on television, Chris wondered if Ziggy was trying to tell him something about some other pretty boy.
The penny dropped when, one romantic evening as Mr Taylor cuddled his girlfriend Suzy Collins on the sofa, Ziggy blurted out: “I love you, Gary.”
What gave the game away was that Ziggy spoke the fatal phrase in Ms Collins’s voice. Even by the standards of African grey parrots, Ziggy is a mimic and a half, and from his cage in the corner he had heard every bill and coo of a secret love affair.
A chill ran down Mr Taylor’s spine. He turned to Suzy, whose cheeks had flushed to beetroot. As she dissolved in tears she was forced to admit to a month-long fling with Gary, some of their intimacies conducted in Mr Taylor’s home while he was out at work, but Ziggy wasn’t. She could not deny it; every time her mobile phone had rung, Ziggy had piped up in perfect imitation of her: “Hiya Gary.”
Feathers flew, the relationship was over, and Ms Collins, 25, a call-centre worker, was sent packing that very night from the house in Headingley, Leeds, she had shared with man and bird for a year. That was sad enough, but what is even more heartbreaking is that Mr Taylor has had to part with Ziggy. Hearing the bird constantly squawking the hated name of Gary in the voice of an ex-girlfriend was just too much.
Ziggy has found a new home thanks to the good offices of a local parrot dealer; Mr Taylor, 30, a computer programmer, is adjusting to life on his own. “I wasn’t sorry to see the back of Suzy after what she did, but it really broke my heart to let Ziggy go,” he said yesterday.
“I love him to bits and I really miss having him around, but it was torture hearing him repeat that name over and over again.”
He believes Ziggy was looking after his master’s interests as the bird never really took to Ms Collins, nor she to him. It might have been jealousy, which can flare so easily in a household of two males and one female.
“Ziggy was one in a million; he was a loyal friend, and I have no doubt he was looking out for me,” Mr Taylor said.
The bird was nothing if not multi-talented. He was, according to his former master, a better impressionist than Alistair McGowan, who could exactly imitate Chris’s friends, copy voices from television and radio, and do convincing impersonations of the doorbell, microwave and alarm clock.
Mr Taylor acquired him as a chick eight years ago and named him after the David Bowie character, Ziggy Stardust. He taught the bird to dance while it sang: “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.”
Ms Collins, who is staying with friends, admitted her fling yesterday but refused to identify Gary.
“I’m not proud of what I did but I’m sure Chris would be the first to admit we were having problems. We had spoken about splitting up several times and I think it was inevitable.”
She added: “I’m surprised to hear he’s got rid of that bloody bird; he spent more time talking to it than he did to me. I couldn’t stand Ziggy, and it looks now the feeling was mutual.”
Not, in her view, a pretty boy, then.
Story taken from the The Times.

La Mamma

Playing on the iPod, Charles Aznavour's "La Mamma".
On this day, for a very dear friend of mine.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The results

Cavaco Silva is Portugal's new President !
Congratulations Portugal!
This is how the BBC reports it.

An afternoon in the kitchen

Ana, Clara and me spent the afternoon baking biscuits (I had promised it to them quite a while back but kept on postponing it). We had loads of fun and the biscuits really came out delicious. Any one want some ? We have tons of leftovers ...

Recondita Harmonia

Playing on the iPod is the wonderful "Recondita Harmonia" from Puccini's Tosca. It was Maria Callas's interpretation of Floria Tosca that made me fall in love with opera when I was a child. I used to spend part of my holidays with my great-aunt and great-uncle, who didn't have a TV (they abhorred it!) but loved classical music and opera. I remember listening to Callas's poignant Tosca over and over on the record player while my great-aunt was busy in the kitchen and my great-uncle was taking his afternoon nap. I would delight at the pictures of her and found the story terribly romantic and sad. The stuff little girls's dreams thrive on. At least back then.

In anticipation of Spring

Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol, 1875

The subtle beauty of this day
Hangs o'er me like a fairy spell,
And care and grief have flown away,
And every breeze sings, "all is well."
I ask, "Holds earth or sin, or woe?"
My heart replies, "I do not know."

Nay! all we know, or feel, my heart,
Today is joy undimmed, complete;
In tears or pain we have no part;
The act of breathing is so sweet,
We care no higher joy to name.
What reck we now of wealth or fame?

The past--what matters it to me?
The pain it gave has passed away.
The future--that I cannot see!
I care for nothing save today--
This is a respite from all care,
And trouble flies--I know not where.

Go on, oh noisy, restless life!
Pass by, oh, feet that seek for heights!
I have no part in aught of strife;
I do not want your vain delights.
The day wraps round me like a spell
And every breeze sings, "All is well."

Poem by
Ella Wheeler Wilcox


The European Figure Skating Championships 2006. Superb: Irina Slutskaya and Evgeni Plushenko, both Russian in the individuals. Outstanding: Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov in pairs. From Russia with love.

An important day

Today Portugal will elect its new President and I'm sorry I can't vote. Due to burocratic delays, it turned out that if I really wanted to vote in these elections I would have to travel to Lisbon to do so, which is absolutely crazy (I don't have the money nor the time). I did travel to Portugal on purpose last Febuary to vote in the legislative election of the government but I was so unlucky that I lost my wallet with all my documents on the morning of the election and I couldn't vote after all. Believe me it took some time to recover from my anger. It was the first time ever I didn't vote on an election in my country. I firmly belive that voting is as much a right as an obligation in democracy.
In spite of Portugal being a parliamentary democracy, its President plays an important role as the supreme guarantor of balance and stability in the Republic.
How will things turn out ? Although no big surprises are expected nothing can be taken for granted.

What would you do ?

Next Friday, you could take home £100,000,000 (€146,000,000) if you're lucky enough to have the right combination of 7 numbers on your Euromillions lottery ticket. Can you even begin to imagine what you would do with the money and how your life (and that of those around you) would change ?

I received the following e-mail from the National Lottery this morning:

Dear Claudia,
We have some exciting news about the ticket that you bought for the Friday 20 January draw. Please Sign In to your Account at the National Lottery website for more details.
Kind Regards
Interactive Customer Care

Needless to say that I was pretty excited: with such astronomical amounts at stake 3rd, 4th, 5th and whateverth prizes are pretty good. Turns out I'd won £7.30. It covered expenses with a profit. I've already bought next week's ticket. And here's a public pledge: if I win first prize, all my family and friends are hereby invited to a Grand Banquet in one of my new chateaux. You won't have to bring food or drink or help clean-up afterwards.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Little everyday things

I usually keep the radio in the shower tuned in to BBC Radio2. Light enough stuff with a dose of hourly news (I find that listening to Radio4 in the morning is completely incompatible with my hectic routine). Yesterday I found the shower radio tuned in to Classic FM. Ana had changed it while taking her shower. Wow. My pre-teenage daughter who's a tremendous fan of rap also enjoys "proper" music. I must confess that my musical preference spectrum is not as broad. Must be all that Mozart and Rossini I made her listen to in the car stereo while she was just a baby ! I remember her delight every time the Pa-Pa-Papageno-Pa-Pa-Papagena aria was on, or the Queen of the Night or Figaro, Figaro, Figaro !

Nessun Dorma

And because today is Saturday and I feel very lyric, playing on the iPod is one of my all-time favourite operatic arias: Nessun Dorma, from Puccini’s Turandot. The opera’s double CD from Decca with Pavarotti, Sutherland and Caballe, was a present from a very dear group of friends 13 years ago!

Expect nothing

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) - The Girl With The Pearl Earring (1665)

Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
Become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.

Discover the reason why
So tiny human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.

Poem by
Alice Walker

A day out

Setting of a day out with Clara (Ana spent the day at Lauren's). Although it's bitterly cold out, everybody wants to make the most of this wonderful and rare sunlight. On days like this, in settings like this, it's easy to feel what inspired Constable, Gainsborough and Turner.


Painting by Moritz von Schwind, Early Morning, 1858

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Poem by Philip Larkin


Apparently I’ve disappointed at least two of my most cherished readers with the choice of political articles I’ve featured in this blog so far. I am no politician, journalist, opinion-maker or political analyst. I’m merely an interested and open-minded spectator of the mighty political arena who’s permeable, to some extent, to interesting and articulate points-of-view. I hate taking things at face value. I hate political party doctrines. I enjoy following political argumentations and counter-argumentations, as I learn immensely from them. I like to see light emerge from controversy. And, most of all, I look upon “conspiracy theories” with the utmost reserve.

My political open-mindedness, though, and this might not come through clearly enough, does not at any moment interfere with the very core and backbone of my personal political values (the ones by which I live), which comprehend far more social-driven principles than economy-driven ones. I side with the underdog against the system (on most occasions) and I firmly believe that the State has paramount responsibility in securing the welfare of its citizens, who, in turn, also have paramount responsibilities towards the State.

Unfortunately I’ve not been able to find any interesting or articulate “left-wing” articles in the papers for a long time or even anything that might raise some controversy with my “right-wing” readers. You could say that the press is all in the hands of the Capitalists and the left has no means of expressing itself other then by vote or strike. It might be. Any help with my search will be most welcome. Until then, I’ll abstain from further political references in this blog.

Your feedback has been precious and most helpful. Thanks.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jeunes filles au piano, 1892

Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things;
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up,
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell;
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And, for the Spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Give all you have for loveliness;
Buy it, and never count the cost!
For one white, singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost;
And for a breath of ecstasy,
Give all you have been, or could be.

Poem by Sara Teasdale

When the whale came

A 7 ton whale has made its way up the Thames to central London ! The 5 meter northern bottle-nosed whale, which is usually found in deep sea waters, has been seen as far upstream as Chelsea and is attracting huge crowds and media attention. More about it here.
PS - As you can probably see by looking at the picture, TODAY IS SUNNY !!! For the first time in ages ! And because it's Friday and I feel good, The Cure are playing on the iPod.


France is prepared to use nuclear weapons against any country that carries out a state-sponsored terrorist attack against it. Defending France's €3bn-a-year nuclear arms programme, Jacques Chirac yesterday said that the country's nuclear strike force was "not aimed at dissuading fanatical terrorists", but states who used "terrorist means" or "weapons of mass destruction" against France.
PS - to rationalize is to devise self-satisfying but incorrect reasons for one's behavior.