Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Different Christmas


When for a number of reasons I decided it would be best to stay put this Christmas and not travel to Portugal, as we usually do at this time of the year, I had no idea the weather and travel conditions would be as chaotic as they've turned out to be during the past two weeks. I'm really glad we're warm and cozy in our haven. It's as if I guessed.

This is my first Christmas away from my parents. I'm 42, so that's saying something. It will be a very different Christmas for them and for me. We've sent each other so many parcels over the last month that I'm almost sure that between us we've spent more on mail services than the airfare we would have spent on a cheap airline had we booked our four tickets sufficiently early. Online photo albums, You Tube and email have made the separation much easier to bear than it would have been possible just some years ago, though. When my parents, my sisters and I moved to Beavercreek, Ohio some 30 years ago, we felt almost cut off from family and friends back in Portugal: overseas phone calls were expensive and annoyingly "echoish", intercontinental flights were prohibitively expensive, airmail was agonizingly slow and not really useful to keep in touch or be a source of news. During the four years we lived in the American Midwest we heard Portugal being mentioned in the news only once and that for less than a minute. 99% of my high school friends had no idea of what Portugal was and even less of where it might be. The smartest ones thought it was a region of Spain.

Technology has changed our perception of distance and people like me and my husband have taken advantage of that to pursue opportunities that would perhaps have seemed too daring just a couple of decades ago. The trouble is that when technology fails, like it has with Eurostar, airline companies and utility companies during the past weeks, distance regains its former isolating and intimidating dimension, humbling us into admitting that we're still really pretty powerless in the grand scheme of things. Reality checks are always useful.

Merry Christmas, whoever and wherever you are!

Friday, November 20, 2009

To my sister on her birthday

Titu e Tareca

We may not always see eye to eye
Feel or think or act alike
But I'll love you 'til I die
And I'm with you, come what might!

Happy 40th birthday!

Friday, November 06, 2009



Dark, strenuous, dizzying and repetitive yet strangely beautiful when seen from above.

The Year of Yes

Tapestry of leaves

I wish I had said Yes!
When you asked me out to walk
among the leaves
the turning leaves
You were offering me
the sound of dreams,
And I turned you down

Not today, I smiled
Maybe, tomorrow?

But I wish I had said Yes!
I wish we had shared this light.

Next time don't ask
Just take me!
Order me to dress!

I am going to need your help
To begin the Year of Yes.

by Shaista Tayabali

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


May you never walk alone

In his latest and utterly ravishing blog entry, dear blogger friend Rauf (whom I met through this ancient post) reminded me that the two of us started blogging four years ago this October. I hadn't remembered this and it hit me that it feels like a lot longer: so many things have changed so dramatically since October 15 2005 that that date seems to belong to another lifetime. This blog's original purpose has long been fulfilled and rendered obsolete: people and situations change and underlying creative frameworks (necessity, inspiration and technology) change accordingly. I don't believe in definite ends so I've let The Millstone (a tribute to my favourite Margaret Drabble novel) linger on. Sometimes - though it's increasingly rare - I even find it enjoyable to come back and feed it once again, wondering what I'll think of all of this twenty years from now (I doubt anyone else will find it worth the while to come back, my kids included). I expect most entries will serve as memory triggers for happy, complex or curious episodes which haven't been registered in writing but are engraved in recondite corners of my mind, waiting to be pulled out. Were I a good writer and had the spark of inspiration they might make a good book: even the dullest things can be turned into great stories if you're a good storyteller and know how to let the " little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you".(*)

I've learnt so much from other bloggers during these four years! I've enjoyed the enormous privilege of glimpsing into their minds and dispositions, their experiences and worlds! Rauf (Daylight Again), Mariana (Gatochy's Blog), Sylvia (Kókosbolla), Gert (gertsamtkunstwerk), Tina (Swiss Miss), Ruth (synch-ro-ni-zing), Peter (Peter's Paris), Jill (Caffeine Court), Heather (Dooce), Catherine (Petite Anglaise), Lucy (Lucy Pepper), Claudia (O Mundo de Claudia), and so many others: thank you, I owe you immensely!

(*) Thank you Ruth!

Monday, November 02, 2009

A Noiseless Patient Spider


A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood, isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my Soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my Soul.

-- Walt Whitman --

Monday, October 19, 2009



First ever apple and autumn fruit fair at nearby Waddesdon Manor. Fun but nothing compared to Brogdale where we might return during the upcoming half-term break. Beautiful crisp weather.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day - Climate Change

“Climate change is the biggest threat to all our futures. It will affect every individual, every family, every community, every business and every country" -- Gordon Brown

Do your bit towards reversing climate change:
  • Turn off lights when you leave a room
  • Only boil the amount of water you need in your kettle
  • Turn off televisions, videos, stereos and computers when they are not in use - they can use between 10 and 60% of the power they use when on
  • Close curtains at dusk to keep in heat
  • Let your clothes dry naturally rather than using a tumble drier
  • Turning down the thermostat for your heating by 1 degree could cut your heating bill by 10%
  • Use economy programmes on dishwashers or washing machines
  • Use energy saving lightbulbs - they use a quarter of the electricity and last much longer
  • Insulate your hot water tank and pipes
  • Fit seals to externals doors, skirting boards and floor boards to reduce heat loss - 15% of heat is lost through draughts and 15% through the floor
  • Make your windows draught proof or fit double glazing - this cuts heat loss in half - up to 10% of heat is lost through uninsulated windows
  • Fit loft insulation - which should be at least 200mm thick to be most effective - 25% of heat is lost through an uninsulated roof
  • Fit wall insulation - up to 33% of heat is lost through uninsulated walls

Friday, October 02, 2009

Do Good!

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Beloved Dust

Paris: Absence

And you as well must die, beloved dust,
And all your beauty stand you in no stead,
This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head,
This body of flame and steel, before the gust
Of Death, or under his autumnal frost,
Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead
Than the first leaf that fall, --- this wonder fled.
Altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.

Nor shall my love avail you in your hour.
In spite of all my love, you will arise
Upon that day and wander down the air
Obscurely as the unattended flower,
It mattering not how beautiful you were,
Or how beloved above all else that dies.

-- Edna St. Vincent Millay --

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Cambridge - St.John's College
St. John's College in Cambridge

Those who pursue the scientific way
In a different language display
Their ignorance and the way they pray.
They too one day shall be dust and clay.

-- Omar Khayyam --

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


The goldenrod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.

The gentian's bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusky pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.

The sedges flaunt their harvest
In every meadow-nook;
And asters by the brookside
Make asters in the brook.

From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes' sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.

By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer's best of weather,
And autumn's best of cheer.

-- Helen Hunt Jackson--


Dad 2002

Ana - Agosto 2002

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Tahitian Women On the Beach
Tahitian Women On the Beach, Paul Gauguin, 1891.

"Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge." -- Paul Gauguin.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

For my adored Mother

Summer Flowers

We will all be thinking of you all day long. Good Luck.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Scenes from Friday evening

It's 14º C outside and it's raining with a vengeance.

Friday evening

It's [still] raining a lot . . .

Coffee in Heaven

Paris: Balcony with a view

You'll be greeted
by a nice cup of coffee
when you get to heaven
and strains of angelic harmony.

But wouldn't you be devastated
if they only serve decaffeinated
while from the percolators of hell

your soul was assaulted
by Satan's fresh espresso smell?

-- John Agard --

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Too much rain...


How are you supposed to feel when something you do involuntarily while reading, such as rubbing your eyes or scratching your arm is precisely what the main character in the book does just a little while after you do it? Not once or twice but three times in less than one hour... Oh, and it's a book you've never read before, too. Weird, that's how you feel.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Hazy Summer matrix

Blue skies in Milton Keynes are not that common. This was yesterday. Now it's raining again. It's cold too. Doesn't feel like Summer.

It's the end of the school year. Parties, concerts and all kinds of events are happening every other day. Swine flu is the main topic of conversation. Everyone knows someone who's ill and with all the media hype people have started talking about the flu as if it were the bubonic plague. Crazy times. The origins and timing of this virus inspire innumerous conspiration thories and I'm inclined to go along with some of them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009



Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

-- W. S. Merwin --

Grandma died a year ago.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Introduction to Poetry

Playing with light

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

- Billy Collins -

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Being Boring

Being Boring

If you ask me 'What's new?', I have nothing to say
Except that the garden is growing.
I had a slight cold but it's better today.
I'm content with the way things are going.
Yes, he is the same as he usually is,
Still eating and sleeping and snoring.
I get on with my work. He gets on with his.
I know this is all very boring.

There was drama enough in my turbulent past:
Tears and passion-I've used up a tankful.
No news is good news, and long may it last,
If nothing much happens, I'm thankful.
A happier cabbage you never did see,
My vegetable spirits are soaring.
If you're after excitement, steer well clear of me.
I want to go on being boring.

I don't go to parties. Well, what are they for,
If you don't need to find a new lover?
You drink and you listen and drink a bit more
And you take the next day to recover.
Someone to stay home with was all my desire
And, now that I've found a safe mooring,
I've just one ambition in life: I aspire
To go on and on being boring.

-- Wendy Cope --



My Dad sent me this photo - taken in the Summer of 1948 - of my Mom (in the right), her sister (in the middle) and an Austrian World War II refugee who spent that Summer with them in the Portuguese countryside. My Mom was in convalescence and she looks very frail, especially in comparison with her photo companions. I've noticed that in most of the photos I have of her, the mouth might be smiling but the eyes are usually sad, as if saying: "Fragile. Handle with care."

Friday, June 26, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's music always made me feel good. He undoubtedly played an important role in the making of the soundtrack of my life and his young boy's smile always made me smile. He will be remembered for the good and not the bad.

RIP Michael.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Le Pont Mirabeau

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Les mains dans les mains restons face à face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l'onde si lasse

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

L'amour s'en va comme cette eau courante
L'amour s'en va
Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l'Espérance est violente

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passé
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Guillaume Apollinaire

Touching base

My parents are due to arrive tomorrow to celebrate Clara's 9th birthday with us. Last year they said they would probably not come again because they already felt too old and tired. Yet, for the sake of their granddaughters, they overcame those feelings and a couple of months ago decided to book the flight to come. They bring us such joy! Can't wait for them to be here!

I feel like I'm in convalescence. Grief and bereavement do that to you, I guess, but this is taking longer than what's deemed convenient. You know that you're supposed to snap out of it quickly, that your sadness is an uncomfortable nuisance to everyone around you, but setbacks happen and sometimes you're sent spinning back into those dark spirals again. Not practical when you've got small kids. They take in everything that goes on around them, which adds to your feelings of guilt. I'm not one to go around breaking everything in cathartic fits of rage but I tend to go into shutdown mode, minimum, life-support-system-only mode, "I'll handle it later" mode.

Having Mom and Dad around for a couple of days will be such a blessing.


Monday, June 08, 2009



What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind,
In the primal sympathy,
Which having been must ever be,
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering,
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

-- William Wordsworth --

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Can't seem to go any deeper than Facebook these days... a sign of the times perhaps.

English bluebell

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Here's to Life!

I have had no time or will to blog - or indeed to sit at the computer - for the past month. There's so much to do and think about, important decisions to make, that I'm feeling a bit drained and stressed at the moment. In spite of that, I managed to get a few days away from it all, with Hubby and the kids, in the exhilaratingly beautiful southwest corner of England. Ana and Clara loved Stonehenge and the City of Bath (especially the Roman baths) but what did ME a world of good was staying in a secluded North Cornwall hamlet for a few days, no telephones, no computers, no TV, just the sea, the rugged cliffs - setting of numerous shipwrecks and looting in the past - the tiny, secret coves and paths, the seagulls and the wind. It felt good to be reminded that there's a lot more to Life than the daily routine of stress that's keeping me captive lately.

I intend to be back. Both to Cornwall and to blogging.

Monday, March 16, 2009



Spring brings lots of joy but also lots of cleaning and gardening to do! Less time to blog, I'm afraid...

Spring cleaning

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

-- Billy Collins --

Friday, March 13, 2009

In Praise of the Fighters

There are men who struggle for a day and they are good..
There are men who struggle for a year and they are better..
There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still..
But there are those who struggle all their lives: ,
These are the indispensable ones..

-- Bertolt Brecht in the play The Mother (1930) --

I dedicate this post to my family and friends.

Everything was brighter two years ago...

Good Morning!

...and more inspired.


Signs of spring

First Crocuses

First daffodil 2009

The first flowers of 2009 are blooming.

Tough job


Thursday, March 12, 2009

History is written by the victors

Both Ana and Clara are studying World War II at school at the moment, at different levels of depth and detail, of course. Clara's learned a lot about the London Blitz and she wrote an article on it that's going to be featured in the school play in a couple of weeks' time. She's also learned about rationing, the blackouts and how the children of London were separated from their parents and sent to the countryside to be safe from the bombs. Ana is studying darker aspects of the war, namely the events that lead up to the Kristallnacht, the Final Solution, and the death camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz. The three of us have been watching some good child-friendly documentaries on the History Channel and I've noticed that the bombing of Dresden and other atrocities perpetrated by the Allies are rarely mentioned, so I briefly mentioned them so that their knowledge is a bit more well-rounded.

Meanwhile BBC2 has been showing reruns of the fabulous 1973 documentary "The World at War" (the one with Lawrence Olivier as narrator) which is mandatory viewing for anyone interested in the subject but way to complex and extensive for kids. I had wanted to buy the DVDs with the whole series as a gift to my Dad but found out that the current edition doesn't have subtitles in any language, including English, so I'm not going to until a new one is released (hopefully it will come soon as there are a couple of one star ratings in because of this and they really taint the overall outstanding reviews and stand out against the large majority of five star ratings).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Crisis of Credit Visualized

Greed greed greed...and BOOOM!

Monday, March 02, 2009

The future

the future

I'm still trying to figure out what on Earth Twitter is good for...

A couple of friends are using it and I just don't see the point, especially when all you want is to keep 2 or 3 people informed about something... isn't email enough? Through one of my friends' tweets I came upon some big time celebrity tweets which I briefly browsed and which puzzled me even more... why do fifty thousand people want to be instantly notified when Lily Allen decides to share her thoughts or disclose what she has just eaten, seen or done? Why do a quarter of a million people have urgency in knowing that Stephen Fry is just about to take a dive with the sharks or that he has lost his GSM signal?

Beats me...

Anyway, even God is on Twitter... as well as no.10 Downing Street...

Finn update

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Salman Rushdie on adaptation

I enjoyed reading Salman Rushdie's article in yesterday's Guardian on the adaptation of novels to movies.

It's always rewarding to read something written by someone universally acclaimed as a top thinker that reflects an opinion closely resembling our own on a particular subject.

Lori Nix

Lori Nix, Library

My interest in contructed photography has been growing steadily ever since my Mother showed me some of James Casabere's work. Yesterday I stumbled upon this Lori Nix photograph and was fascinated by it. Lori Nix bends the line between truth and illusion in her photographs. She accomplishes this by photographing miniatures and models and I particularly like her The City Series.

"The line between truth and illusion in photography is one that has been frequently crossed by practitioners since the invention of the medium. Sometimes that line was crossed deliberately through the use of simple techniques like double exposing the film in order to place the same individual in two different parts of the picture (a popular technique for professionals and amateurs at the end of the nineteenth century). Other times the breach of the truth was dictated by the limitations of the materials needed to produce a picture. For example, no clouds ever appeared in a sky made with orthochromatic film, and until the 1930s rarely was a scene rendered in color, which is the most obvious breach of truth in a long list of possibilities associated with the medium. With so many opportunities to bend reality, it was inevitable that practitioners from advertising photographers to artists would exploit this characteristic of the medium."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Isn't this just plain child cruelty?

What do you call some of the most unlucky people in Britain?

Justin Case, Barb Dwyer and Stan Still.

It sounds like a bad joke, but a study has revealed that there really are unfortunate people with those names in the UK.

Joining them on the list are Terry Bull, Paige Turner, Mary Christmas and Anna Sasin.

And just imagine having to introduce yourself to a crowd as Doug Hole or Hazel Nutt.

The names were uncovered by researchers from parenting group after trawling through online telephone records.

Retired airman Stan Still, 76, from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, said his name had been "a blooming millstone around my neck my entire life".

"When I was in the RAF my commanding officer used to shout, 'Stan Still, get a move on' and roll about laughing," he said.

"It got hugely boring after a while."

But 51-year-old Rose Bush, from Coventry, West Midlands, said she loved her name.

"I always get comments about it but they are always very positive," she said.

Researchers also scoured phone records in the US and found some unlikely names there too.

Spare a thought for Anna Prentice, Annette Curtain and Bill Board the next time you sign your name.

A string of Americans also have very job-specific names, including Dr Leslie Doctor, Dr Thoulton Surgeon and Les Plack - a dentist in San Francisco.

A spokesman for said: "When the parents of some of those people mentioned named their children, many probably didn't even realise the implications at the time.

"Parents really do need to think carefully though when choosing names for their children.

"Their name will be with them for life and what may be quirky and fun for a toddler might be regretted terribly when that person becomes older or even a grandparent perhaps."

Jo King
Barry Cade
Carrie Oakey
Priti Manek
Tim Burr

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Favourite movies scenes

Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!

Great new voice

Tristan and Isolde - Liebestod

You either love it or hate it, indifference is impossible. I love it.

One of the most beautiful, passionate musical works ever written is Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde. The 19th century conductor Hans von Bülow called it “the zenith of musical art up to now!” And some of the greatest music from it is the final scene, which has come to be known as the “Liebestod,” or “Love-Death.” Wagner himself called it Isolde's Verklärung, which means "a coming to clarity."

A central reason it’s beautiful, I believe, is in how it puts together struggle and resolution, difficulty and ease. In his book Self and World, Eli Siegel wrote:

"Something like struggle is needed by the human being. Something even like discontent is needed by the human being. ….One cannot think of a world made up of smooth roads strewn with roses and bordered by exceedingly accessible marshmallows. The world, like the human body, is a compound of resistance and ease, obstruction and going forward, obstacle and companion. "

These words have me understand the beauty of the “Liebestod” in a way I’m tremendously grateful for.

Wagner's opera tells the story of the love of Tristan, a Knight in the service of King Marke of Cornwall in what is now southern England, for Isolde, an Irish princess who was promised in marriage to the elderly King. She, however, falls in love with Tristan—and when their love is discovered, he is mortally wounded by a knight loyal to Marke. Isolde tries to reach Tristan to heal him, but arrives too late, and he dies in her arms. Then, in a rapture, as she imagines Tristan waking, returning to life, she sings, “How gently and quietly he smiles, how fondly he opens his eyes!. Do you see, friends? Do you not see?” Right from the start, there is a feeling of striving against opposition, a sense of resistance in the music, as the melody rises and falls and then rises higher. The melody is slow, and it comes in softly, almost out of silence.

[Ex 1: beginning to measure 9]

The orchestral texture is itself a relation of difficulty and ease; it is thick, with the low strings playing sustained chords; and they play tremolo, which both adds to the impediment, the thickness, and at the same time makes for a feeling of motion and expectation. The melody Isolde sings begins with a short, two-measure figure, which, as the Liebestod continues, we hear again and again in the orchestra in different keys and on different instruments, growing steadily in intensity.

That two bar phrase begins with a strong, assertive motion, rising from the dominant, up a fourth to the tonic. Yet immediately there is opposition—the melody is stopped from rising further; the tonic note is repeated, and the melody is turned back, dropping a half step and then another half step. In general, it’s easier to descend than to ascend, but this gentle descent of two half steps brings the music to a Cb major chord, very distant from the Ab major chord it began with. It is unsettling and restful at once. Then, with a little rush, the melody ascends two whole steps, but where do we end? On a Bb major chord. The chords resist and push forward at once. They contradict the key we began with, they also open the door for modulation, for moving on to newer keys. Then Isolde repeats this phrase, now in a higher key.

As the music continues, the orchestra takes up the theme, with Isolde sometimes agreeing and often disagreeing.

[ex. 2: measure 9 to “Fühlt und seht ihr’s nicht?”]

Perhaps the most intense and beautiful feeling of struggle comes about midway through. Isolde believes she hears a melody coming from Tristan, and sings, “Are they waves of refreshing breezes? Are they billows of heavenly fragrances? As they swell and roar around me, shall I breathe them, shall I listen to them?” Accompanying this, the violins begin a chromatic melody—a slow upward climb in tight half-steps, struggling to reach something, which again and again falls back and then climbs higher. As it does, the chromatic line is often dissonant to the harmony below and to Isolde’s melody. Yet, because these dissonances by their very nature seek to resolve themselves, they push and pull the melody along. The opposition makes for the advance. Throughout, along with struggle, there is a feeling of unrelenting, inevitable progress, and it is thrilling and deeply satisfying.

[ex. 3: 3:30-4:02, “sind es Wellen” to “sol ich lauschen?"]

The climax of the Liebestod is magnificent; there is a feeling of tremendous achievement, of soaring and freedom. It seems all obstacles are overcome—only there is this amazing thing: the highest note, a C#, is outside the chord, and there is a terrific feeling of dissatisfaction, as it wants to pull back down to the B, the home key. Then the orchestra and Isolde gradually descend and the music comes to an E minor chord—a moment of darkness. Wagner seems to be saying, “In your achievement, don’t forget the struggle.” Finally, after Isolde’s last notes—an octave leap from F# to high F#—a single oboe bravely plays a high D#, the sweet major third of the key, the full orchestra joins it, and the music resolves on the pure B major chord it has been aiming for from the beginning. It is because the struggle is honored that the achievement is both believable and so satisfying.

[ex.4: 3:30 to end, from “Höre ich nur diese Weise”]

A large question about this music is: What is the relation of love and death here? From what I have learned from Aesthetic Realism, I think the “Liebestod” affirms the fact that something in us, our narrow, selfish self, must be defeated in order for us to love truly another person. In his poem, “Love; or, When Good Will Wins,” Eli Siegel wrote:

To love a person
Is to be willing
To give up your wrong care for yourself
(Which may be seen as true care)
For good will for that person.
And so love is clearly
The most beautiful thing in the world:
Which everyone, surely,
Knows it is.

(Alan Shapiro)

Monday, February 23, 2009



Using everyday objects as design inspiration is nothing new, but rarely do we see it executed in such a poetic and gorgeous way as Steven Haulenbeek’s Cumulus Light Canopy made from simple white photographers’ translucent “shoot-through” umbrellas. The umbrellas, which can be arranged in various configurations and numbers, making the system fully scalable, creates a cloudlike form (hence the name ‘Cumulus’) while making the umbrella a playful light fixture rather than a shield from the dreary rain.

For enquiring minds

The '101 greatest questions of all time' have been answered in a BBC magazine. Here are some of them:

Where is the safest place to stand outside in a thunderstorm?

Tall, pointy objects standing alone in an open space are more likely to get struck by lightning but it’s by no means a certainty. Sometimes the flat ground next to a tall tree can be hit. A car or other enclosed metal structure is the safest place to be in a thunderstorm. Failing that, a ditch, trench or group of shrubs of uniform height is better than nothing. Keep away from boundary areas between dissimilar terrain (water and land; rock and earth; trees and fields). Also keep at least five metres away from metal objects or other people as lightning will often jump from one object to another.

Why do identical twins have different fingerprints?

Although identical twins share the same DNA, they don’t look identical cell-for-cell, because not every aspect of your physical appearance is rigidly determined by your genes. Fingerprints are formed semi-randomly as the foetus develops in the womb andare affected by such things as chance fluctuations of hormone levels. Similarly, the pattern of freckles and moles on the skin is caused by random mutations and will vary between identical twins.

Is the human race still getting taller?

The average height, at least in Western society, is increasing because of better childhood nutrition and sexual selection. But the tendency of women to find men taller than six feet (183cm) more attractive can’t be extrapolated upward, and people above 6ft 2in (188cm) are much more likely to suffer back problems. Above 6ft 8in (203cm), and the heart strains to pump blood round the body.

Why do I feel cold and shiver when I have a fever?

A fever is when your body increases its internal thermostat, found in the hypothalamus. If you exercise hard or it’s a hot day, your body temperature might increase, but the thermostat remains at around 36.8°C. When you feel hot the hypothalamus tries to correct this with sweating and increased blood flow to the skin. But with a fever, it is the thermostat that has risen. This means your body temperature is now below 36.8°C, so you feel cold and shiver, to try and raise your temperature. The higher body temperature may help fight infection by speeding white blood cell production and slowing bacteria reproduction.

What is OK short for?

The most popular theory is that OK comes from ‘oll korrect’, a deliberately misspelled writing of ‘all correct’. It was popularised in Boston newspapers around the 1840s when it was fashionable to go around spelling things incorrectly for humorous effect. Legend also has it that New York Democrats later adopted the abbreviation to promote their candidate Martin Van Buren – the initials ‘OK’ were derived from his nickname, Old Kinderhook.

Why can’t we just fill in the ozone hole with man-made ozone?

The sheer scale of the notorious hole – or, more accurately, depleted region – in the Earth’s ozone layer over the Antarctic beggars belief. At its peak each September, it spans an area bigger than the continental United States, and tens of millions of tonnes of ozone would be needed to fill it up again. Simply creating that amount of ozone, let alone getting it where it’s needed, would be astronomically expensive.

Why do fingers and toes wrinkle when left in water?

The waterproof coating on our skin gets rubbed away from areas of our bodies like our hands and feet that are frequently in contact with objects. If you immerse yourself in water with a lower concentration of dissolved salts than that of your cell contents, water will be absorbed by osmosis and cause your skin cells to swell. Since they are anchored to the tissues below, they are forced to corrugate to accommodate this.

What is a hiccup?

A hiccup comes from an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, producing asudden intake of air. The glottis (the vocal apparatus of the larynx) slams shut at the same time, so that the column of air strikes the closed glottis to produce the characteristic, onomatopoeic noise.

Is there an easy way to prove the Earth is round?

Yes, travel. Because the Earth’s surface is curved, you’ll notice that different constellations of stars are revealed.

Can you have a fish out of water?

Yes. Several species of fish can breathe air and crawl on land. There are about 50 species of flying fish, too.

Why is sea air good for you?

It isn't, particularly. In Victorian England, seaside resorts got a reputation for having healthy air – maybe in comparison to the era's city smogs. The seaside's "bracing" smell is caused by a chemical produced by coastal bacteria, present in very low concentrations. But a study last year found that sea salt can react with chemicals in marine exhaust fumes to worsen the atmospheric pollution in a busy port.

Do plants die of old age?

Given good conditions, some plants can live for ever. It takes a change in external conditions to finish them off. But annuals die soon after seeding.

Does chewing gum really stay inside you for years?

No. Chewing gum is indigestible but it doesn't have any magic property that allows it to escape the normal digestive transit. Three days is the usual limit.

Where do phobias come from?

Around 10 per cent of the population suffer from phobias. Some may be triggered by a traumatic event while others are linked to physical problems. Studies suggest that simple phobias are partly genetic while others may be due to cultural history. For example, a fear of spiders may be passed down from the Middle Ages when spiders were associated with the plague, as victims' deserted homes became shrouded in cobwebs.

Do men have cellulite?

Yes. It's not just women who are cursed with orange peel skin, although in men cellulite tends to be in different places, usually around the neck and abdomen.

Can germs catch germs?

Yes. The germ would be an even smaller organism that attacks its host germ from within.

Why do I get more car sick in the back?

It's probably because you don't have such a good view of the horizon. Motion sickness occurs when the balance mechanism in your ear registers movement while your eyes are telling you that you are stationary.

Could we live on water and supplements?

No. As well as vitamins and minerals we need carbohydrates, fats and proteins for energy and cell repair.

Do hot drinks cool you down?

Yes. They make your body think you are hotter than you really are so you sweat more and that leads to heat loss.

What would happen if there were no Moon?

The most immediate effect (other than the lack of moonlight, of course) would be on the Earth’s tides. With only the Sun’s gravitational influence, the difference between high and low tides would be reduced dramatically - as would tidal drag, which slows the Earth down at a rate adding about 0.002 seconds to the length of a day each century. Long term, the effects would be far more serious. The climate of the Earth is sensitively dependent on the 23.5° tilt of the Earth’s axis, and without the stabilising presence of our relatively huge Moon, the gravity of the other planets would produce big changes in this angle - as it does with Mars, whose tilt changes by 60° over a few million years.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

To a Friend

West Wycombe Park

I ask but one thing of you, only one,
That always you will be my dream of you;
That never shall I wake to find untrue
All this I have believed and rested on,
Forever vanished, like a vision gone
Out into the night. Alas, how few
There are who strike in us a chord we knew
Existed, but so seldom heard its tone
We tremble at the half-forgotten sound.
The world is full of rude awakenings
And heaven-born castles shattered to the ground,
Yet still our human longing vainly clings
To a belief in beauty through all wrongs.
O stay your hand, and leave my heart its songs!

-- Amy Lowell --

Thursday, February 19, 2009

El amor brujo

El amor brujo (Love, the Magician) is a piece of music composed by Manuel de Falla. It was initially commissioned in 1914-15 as a gitanería (gypsy piece) by Pastora Imperio, a renowned gypsy dancer, and was scored for voice, actors, and chamber orchestra. Unfortunately, it was barely successful.

In 1925, Falla transformed it into a ballet scored for a full symphony orchestra with three short songs for mezzo-soprano. In this form, El amor brujo succeeded.

"El Amor brujo tells the story of Candelas, a gypsy girl, whose love for Carmelo is tormented by the ghost of her faithless former lover. The work is distinctively Andalusian in character with the songs in the Andalusian dialect of the Gypsies. The music contains moments of remarkable beauty and originality and includes the celebrated Ritual Fire Dance and the Dance of Terror." --

"Gitana" by Fabian Perez

You can apreciate Arthur Rubinstein's extraordinary piano performance of this beautiful piece of music on You Tube.

Keeping an eye on things... ;-)

Hurray for live webcams... I can't resist taking a peek every now and then...

Lisbon Live

Alvor Live
Alvor, Algarve

Lagos Live
Lagos, Algarve

paris live

(click images to access live webcams)

BTW, this is MK live... :-(

Keep Calm and Carry On

keep calm

The greatest motivational poster ever?

By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

Millions of copies of the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster were printed on the eve of World War II, but never displayed. Now the message has taken on a new lease of life in our troubled peacetime.

The simple five-word message is the very model of British restraint and stiff upper lip. Keep calm and carry on.

In 1939, with war against Germany looming, the Government designed three posters to steady the public's resolve and maintain morale. These featured the crown of King George VI set against a bold red background, and three distinctive slogans - "Freedom is in Peril", "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory", and "Keep Calm and Carry On".

Two-and-a-half million copies of "Keep Calm" were printed, to be distributed in the event of a national catastrophe, but remained in storage throughout the war.

The message was all but forgotten until 2000, when a copy was discovered in a box of books bought at auction by Stuart Manley, a bookseller from Northumberland.

"I didn't know anything about it but I showed it to my wife. We both liked it so we decided to frame it and put it in the shop," explains Mr Manley.

"Lots of people saw it and wanted to buy it. We refused all offers but eventually we decided we should get copies made for sale."

Sales remained modest until 2005, when it was featured as a Christmas gift idea in a national newspaper supplement.

"All hell broke loose," says Mr Manley.

"Our website broke down under the strain, the phone never stopped ringing and virtually every member of staff had to be diverted into packing posters."

The poster was just one of hundreds produced by the Ministry of Information during the war to influence public opinion.

"The poster was a major medium in a way that it isn't now," says Professor Jim Aulich, an expert in propaganda art at Manchester Metropolitan University.

"It wasn't competing with television. It was one of the main ways of reaching people, through billboards and on public transport."

Rescued from obscurity after 70 years, the Ministry of Information's appeal for calm has risen to cult status. Mr Manley's store, Barter Books in Alnwick, receives an average of 1,000 orders a month from around the world. Customers include 10 Downing Street and assorted embassies. The design has been reproduced on T-shirts and coffee mugs, shopping bags and cufflinks.

It has also spawned imitators. One company has given it a twist, replacing the original slogan with "Now Panic and Freak Out".

Of course, it might be difficult for the current government to come up with a poster with quite the same appeal during this time of economic stress. Context is everything, says social psychologist Dr Lesley Prince.

"If the government is in tune with you, you will listen. If you think the government is working on your behalf, you will listen."

This was indisputably the case during WWII, but is less clear-cut even in the most troubled period of peacetime.

And a message of such powerful simplicity might not be so forthcoming these days. Today's government posters attempt to convince the public of an unappreciated danger and get them to modify their behaviour. The "Keep Calm" poster is merely an injunction to think another way and continue acting as you have always acted.

"It's very good, almost zen," says Dr Prince. "It works as a personal mantra now. If people are thinking 'I'm about to lose the house', it's good advice."

People are drawn to the calming Britishness of the message, says Mr Manley.

"It's interesting to look at the kind of places we often sell to; doctors' surgeries, hospitals, schools and government departments. It seems to strike a chord anywhere that works at a hectic pace."

Prof Aulich adds that the message has universal appeal.

"It speaks to peoples' personal neuroses. It's not ideological, it's not urging people to fight for freedom like some propaganda posters did."

Following the end of WWII, most of the posters are believed to have been pulped, never having seen the light of day. Only two original copies are known to have survived.

Thanks to a chance discovery in a dusty box of books, the soothing entreaty is finally having its intended effect, bringing comfort to a nation in turmoil.