Tag Archive | Manningtree Archive

Anne of the Thousand Days

Manningtree Archive has its own story – of memories one has of the past which reflect in the private collection its title implies – a non-profit library stacked with books, movies and music. Looking at it in the right way one can see that this collection is like an ever-growing garden, no doubt. Here below is a promo write-up presenting one of the movies in our collection.

Anne of the Thousand Days

(1969, Panavision-Technicolor, Hal Wallis Production/Universal Pictures)

Produced by veteran producer Hal B. Wallis (Becket, True Grit, Casablanca, Little Caesar) and directed by Charles Jarrott, this engrossing costumer with authentic sets explores the life and times of King Henry VIII. and his pursuit and conquest of the beautiful Anne Boleyn that changed the course of English history.

Adapted by Richard Sokolove from the play by Maxwell Anderson, the events, though in-accurate, are set in one of the great eras of English history – and include the tragic day of Tuesday, 19th of May 1536 when hapless Anne was beheaded by the black-masked French executioner’s sword on Tower Green in the Tower of London. She is a prisoner of history and the facts of that history are now widely known.

 Hal Wallis, a giant in the film industry, was always deeply interested in English history. In 1964, his stunning historical spectacle Becket was released – superbly acted by the million-dollar piece of talents Richard Burton (as Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Becket) and Peter O’Toole (as King Henry II.) and helmed by director Peter Glenville. Becket was a moneyspinner. According to Wallis, it was during the filming of Becket when Burton showed his interest in filming Anne of the Thousand Days and wanted Wallis to buy the play for him. At length, this was duly done surpassing incidental issues regarding the play’s rights.

In a role originally offered to Buenos Aires-born actress Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet, 1968), the young French-Canadian actress Geneviève Bujold shines as Anne Boleyn, the winsome young Maid of Honour who danced into Henry VIII’s line of vision and eventually became the second of his succession of wives, fostered by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.

Hailing from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the convent-educated Bujold had appeared in Montreal’s theatre productions and in films such as director René Bonniére’s Amanita Pestilens (1962), La Fleur de l’Age ou les Adolescentes/Adolescents (1964), before she was chosen in Europe by French director Alain Resnais to play in La Guerre est finie/ The War Is Over (1966) opposite Yves Montand and Ingrid Thulin. This was followed by Le Roi de Coeur/King of Hearts (1966) and Le Voleur/The Thief of Paris (1967). However, her only successful performance during that time came in the title role of Isabel (1968) – written, produced and directed by her then husband Paul Almond. In their 28th September 1970 cover story on Bujold, Time magazine called Isabel a success d’estime.

Hal Wallis who screened movies in his private screening room at home in search of new talents was impressed by the sensitivity, warmth and youthful maturity of Bujold’s performance in Isabel for which she won the Canadian Film Award for Best Performance by a Lead Actress. He has now found his Anne Boleyn and words were pledged to Bujold.

Richard Burton who held approval rights over his co-star, also found her acceptable. Burton’s position garnered all respect. Bujold reminded him of “the late and lamented Vivien Leigh.” Burton insisted that Bujold, whom he nicknamed “Gin”, must be given ‘star’ treatment as he did himself. This didn’t digest well with wife Elizabeth Taylor who haunted the set to keep an eye on them.

Producer Elliott Kastner (Where Eagles Dare, 1968) had earlier sought Liz Taylor to do a film at the same time as Richard Burton did Anne of the Thousand Days. During the early pre-production stages a problem arose – a sense of onrushing doom for the movie. Indeed, it was the role of ravishing Anne Boleyn which Liz wanted to play.

Hal Wallis took Liz’s request with gloomy silence of disapproval. She has past her prime to play the beautiful and coquettish young Anne. According to Wallis, Burton who was there chipped in and skilfully let the steam off: “Sorry, luv. You’re too long in the tooth.”

References to Anne’s appearance from all that I have read indicate that, besides her tall stature and classical oval shaped face with a deceptively prim mouth, the other notable feature of this refreshingly witty conversationalist was her expressive dark eyes and a wealth of black hair.

When the film was released, Bujold’s success in the role of Anne was so pronounced that it earned her the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, turning her into an overnight sensation in Hollywood. Some critics hailed her as the new Hepburn.

With many royal roles gracing his acting career, playing royalty was nothing new to Richard Burton. Seeking a powerful screen performance, Burton donned the part of Tudor King Henry VIII. (Reign: 1509-1547) – that finest dressed sovereign with a beard of gold, gigantic appetites and a will of iron who desperately desired to swiftly divorce Katherine of Aragon, his queen of nearly 2 ½ decades, to hastily wed the dazzling Anne Boleyn although her elder sister Mary Boleyn’s improper familiarities with Henry VIII. were hardly a secret in a close court where it is hard to keep secrets.

With this role, Burton entered the realm of actors who has portrayed the controversial Tudor monarch marvellously interpreted previously by Charles Laughton in the sweeping biographical movie, The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933, D: Alexander Korda).

Greek actress Irene Papas is the richly apparelled, Queen Katherine of Aragon, daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile who proffered royal support to Christopher Columbus in his expeditions. Papas came across perfectly as a queen lovely in person and in mind – truly gentle and feminine in her manners as Katherine of Aragon is reputed for.

The Toronto-born Shakespearean actor John Colicos as the villainous Thomas Cromwell and one of Britain’s most brilliant character actors Michael Hordern as Anne’s father Sir Thomas Boleyn; give noteworthy performances in their pivotal roles.

Apparelled all in red is Anthony Quayle as the skilled diplomat Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. During his earlier stage career, Quayle had tackled the title role in director Tyrone Guthrie’s theatre production of Henry VIII at Stratford-on-Avon. In that fine performance, Quayle’s Henry, with short red hair, was a very political king, strong and vigorous with a lust for life. Soon after watching the play in 1950, His Majesty King George VI. (r.1936-1952), who was with Queen Elizabeth, had gone to the dressing-room and congratulated Quayle on his splendid performance. Adding to Quayle’s favourite part of his growing resume, this portrayal as Cardinal Wolsey in Anne of the Thousand Days won him the nomination for the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role category in the 42nd Academy Awards 1970.

Others in the supporting roles are:

Joseph O’Conor (Bishop John Fisher),

Peter Jeffrey (Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk),

director Jarrott’s then wife Katharine Blake (Elizabeth Boleyn),

Valerie Gearon (Mary Boleyn),

William Squire (Sir Thomas More),

Terence Wilton (Lord Henry Algernon Percy, heir to the Earl of Northumberland who offered Anne Boleyn his hand and heart);

Lesley Paterson (Jane Seymour);

Nicola Pagett (Princess Mary);

Amanda Jane Smythe (Baby Elizabeth), et al et al.

At the insistence of Richard Burton, Liz made a surprise (un-credited) appearance in a bit role as a masked lady with low-cut gown in a scene featuring Katherine of Aragon being interrupted while praying in Greenwich Chapel. A report indicates that Liz Taylor purportedly received pay of $35 for the afternoon’s work. Un-credited bit roles feature Liz’s daughter, Liza Todd and Burton’s daughter, Kate.

Crew includes:

Bridget Boland and John Hale (Screenplay);

Georges Delerue (Music Composer);

Arthur Ibbetson B.S.C. (Cinematography);

Maurice Carter (Production Design);

Lionel Couch (Art Direction);

Margaret Furse (Costume Design);

Mary Skeaping (Choreography);

Richard Marden (Editor) and others.

Made at Penshurst Place, Hever Castle (Kent) and Shepperton Studios outside London, the film, sprouting from a script of 144 pages long, brims with excitement, pageantry and scenery reflecting the Tudor love of music, dancing, gardens and flowers. At that juncture when the filming was being completed, the whole world was abuzz over the landing of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the moon on 20th July 1969.

Anne of the Thousand Days was released three months early and qualified for ten Academy Award nominations. Margaret Furse (Becket, The Lion in Winter) was the winner of Oscar for Best Costume Design. Her richly superb costumes were patterned after the famous portraits by German painter Hans Holbein the Younger whilst the period costumes and footwear were prepared by London firms: Bermans and Frederick Freed, respectively. The other Golden Globe awards honouring the film came for the categories: Best Motion Picture – Drama; Best Director; Best Screenplay.

Anne of the Thousand Days was selected by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for the Royal Film Performance and shown at the Odeon Leicester Square, London on 01 February 1970. Prominent among the dignitaries presented to Her Majesty on that unique Annual event for charity was the film’s producer Hal B. Wallis, wife/actress Martha Hyer and Geneviève Bujold clad in a long white gown with a white cape worn over it and escorted by director/husband Paul Almond. A well-made movie – it’s our turn to have a good time. Jo

Notes:

  • Some delightful remembrance of King Henry VIII in our collection: The Sword and the Rose (1953, James Robertson Justice), A Man for All Seasons (1966, Robert Shaw); Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972, Keith Michell), The Prince and the Pauper/Crossed Swords (1977, Charlton Heston); Henry VIII (2003 TV series, Ray Winstone); The Other Boleyn Girl (2008, Eric Bana).
  • DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred to in this article are available with leading dealers.
  • Image source: Wikipedia, amazon, Pinterest, and from my private collection.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS

I think of my life like a stone thrown into a calm pool.”

                                – Kirk Douglas, The Ragman’s Son

This tribute to Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas is truly accidental than most of my posts, in the sense that this never followed the carefully visualised course I planned at its inception – which was to create a 1,200-word write-up. But as my research evolved over the last many months, I chanced upon a profusion of representational materials about Kirk that my endeavour to piece together the salient landmarks in his life finally brimmed to the expanse of dimension you will come across in the text below.

Kirk Douglas is one of the last remaining great male movie stars of the studio era, even though certain cinematic greats like Clint Eastwood who came close behind Kirk cannot be ignored. Back in the good old days when movies had little competition and the moviegoers were devoted and regular, Kirk emerged from obscurity to turn into an established star on the strength of combining toughness with an acute intelligence in his choice and interpretation of the parts he played. Amongst the many directors he had the privilege to work with are the best of the crop such as Joseph L. Mankiewicz, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Vincente Minnelli, John Sturges, John Huston, Burt Kennedy, etc.

As with all stars, the glamour and publicity surrounding Kirk is part of his work and charisma. Kirk Douglas once wrote, “When you become a movie star, you create an image for the public.” This perfectly complemented the dialogue Kirk’s character Jonathan Shields spoke to Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) in a scene in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), “When you’re on the screen, no matter who you’re with, or what you’re doing, the audience is looking at you. That’s star quality.”

Kirk Douglas came into my life when I first saw a movie during its re-run in a local theatre two decades after its release. I could recall it as Ulysses (1954). Watching it, Kirk had come across to me as a versatile star – vibrant, handsome, virile – all rolled into one. In those teenage days, I was taken by the ease and punch of his portrayal in the title role, and since then, whenever possible, I had tried to follow his career which, over the years, grew in stature gaining brilliant achievements.

Now, how many millions around the world have seen Kirk’s movies? How many were liked or disliked or earned moviegoers to his films owing to Kirk’s acting and/or celebrity factor? What screen or personal stories perpetuated his legend in the public’s mind?

Many years ago, a magazine featured an interview with one of Kirk’s secretaries of the late 1960s. She fondly remembered him as “a very demanding person to work for, and works at a frantic pace himself. He has many businesses apart from films…. He is a very nice person…. I found him very attractive and virile – a real man’s man.”

Think of it. There is a tremendous amount of the past in all our presents. I have not met Kirk personally. Although I would love to, it is most unlikely that I will ever meet him. But I have always nurtured that curiosity to find out specifically how Kirk earned the reputation of a self-made man, a legendary hardworking American stage/screen actor, producer, director, author, millionaire, humanitarian, philanthropist, art collector, winner of awards/honours for achievements both on and off screen, and a family man with a beautiful wife called Anne Buydens sheltered in a solid marriage now nearing its 64th year on May 29th.

My growing film archive of about 6,500 movies gives primacy to films released up to early 1980s – most of which are now historic milestones of the movie industry. Thus far, it contains almost three dozen movies featuring Kirk Douglas. No doubt, that three dozen would be much lesser compared to the numerous hardbound volumes of scripts of all of Kirk’s movies which, according to Kirk’s memoirs, are arranged in chronological order on the top shelf at his house.

Likewise, I feel lucky that I was born during a period when I could enjoy those just-released films on a large theatre screen – maybe with a lesser quality presentation, but enough to be content in those happy days. And at the close of the movie, to walk out into the Lobby amidst the excited, arguing, impressed viewers. It’s no fun if one happens to see those movies now on TV – greatly edited and, like in our part of the world, interrupted by numerous (but necessary) persistent and disparate commercials that pounce on your senses like rapid gunfire from an AK47; or shown either during the work days or too late into the night.

At length, this compilation is derived from a trail of information that lay scattered in innumerable books, magazines, media interviews, movie documentaries or whatever sources I could possibly access – to all of which this write-up is thankfully and humbly indebted. This is neither a scholarly compilation of biographical data nor could it be free of possible errors – mainly whereas the schedule of production of movies is subject to re-takes, fillers, etc. This is just my personal attempt to recapture the great events, and some minor ones, of Kirk’s life – primarily up to the period before early 1980s.

To minimalize the content, some finer details about Kirk and his movies, readily available in numerous books, websites, visual media, etc., are left out. Keeping in par with the good old times Kirk’s films captured, I must honestly add that, the theory I have adopted for this write-up is to overlook any broken fence and admire the flowers in the garden. As you read further on, I hope you will chance upon the many pleasant factors that inspired me to write about – Mister Kirk Douglas.

(The First instalment of this series follows)

Jo

Notes:

  • DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred above is available with leading dealers.
  • Picture credits: Please refer to “About” of my web page for more details.
  • It would be factual to endorse that the year-long delay in my posts occasioned from a string of turbulence of personal nature that thrashed on the cruising path of my life during the last so many months and yet, the ducks are not in a row. I dedicate this tribute with love and gratitude to: 1) Renate Elisabeth (Carina), my wife and oracle of love for her support, wisdom and unfailing vigilance; and to 2) Carolyn Page, the sweet spot who fondly lit a fire under you-know-where to turn the heat on me to accelerate the publishing of this post.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

 

The Kaleidoscope of Hoof Prints

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(This follows my article The Ballad of JEANETTE and MICHEL  of March 2, 2016)

If there are phrases on my tongue which connote the blessings that can unwittingly come in many disguises to the gentle-natured donkey, it is those plans and purpose which chanced upon as revealed in some events of “The Bible”. With Palm Sunday (March 20, 2016) followed by Easter (March 27, 2016) coming up, bringing in a time when it is not unusual for people to be religious in thoughts, I take a little liberty to reflect on those events.

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Animals like sheep, camel, donkey, have afforded their presence to many episodes of the Bible. Indeed there are momentous occasions when the donkey was part of events that were important junctures in the life of Jesus Christ.

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The ass of Palestine and the Bible has been identified as the Nubian wild ass of Egypt. This common beast of burden, used for agricultural work and also for riding, is not in the East by any means a despised or a despicable animal – but considered part of a moderate household. Whole families rode him, shared food with him, and sometimes allowed him to stay in a section of the room with the family.

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Visitation: It is related that Mary, pregnant with Jesus, used a donkey when she set out on her journey for her ‘Visitation’ to congratulate cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with the child who would one day become known as John the Baptist. According to tradition, that donkey had travelled about seventy miles from Nazareth over hills and through valleys to the little town in the Judaean hills where Elizabeth and her husband, priest Zachary dwelt. Considering that the feast of the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus is held on March 25th, this journey could probably have occurred during the last days of March or early April when the rainy season was just over. Although Joseph is not named in this journey, it is unlikely that Mary would have ventured on a long and arduous journey alone and abode with Elizabeth for about three months before she rode back to her home in Nazareth. Besides, it was customary to have a driver for the donkey, when women rode on them.

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To Bethlehem: The initial scenes of William Wyler’s biblical epic movie “Ben-Hur” (1959) portrays Joseph, a village carpenter, leading a meek donkey by the bridle, on which sat his pregnant wife Mary covered with a long cloak, during their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in Judea to enrol their names in a census which had been ordered by Caesar Augustus. The vague details of that journey of about seventy miles could be visualised as five days of privation, fatigue and discomfort through an uncomfortable path in the winter chill of December. A book on the Virgin Mary names this donkey as “Eleabthona”, but we could only wonder if it was the same animal which had previously been similarly used when Mary went on her “Visitation” to Elizabeth.

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To Jerusalem: Whichever donkey it was, that animal had the opportunity to be closer to the newly born Jesus in the stable outside Bethlehem. Besides, amongst the few other domesticated animals present there, he was the one who would render service as the mode of transport to Joseph’s family when, at the age of forty days, the infant Jesus was taken to Jerusalem for presentation in the Temple and return.

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To Egypt: Sometime thereafter, warned of an imminent danger to the child, the family hastily embarked on a journey in the middle of the night, with Mary and the child riding the donkey, as they rushed out of the territory of King Herod to retire into Egypt. With the winter still persisting, that journey of ten days covering about two hundred miles via the city of Pelusium (modern Tell el-Farama) was not without difficulties and dangers arising from cold, wet and stormy weather, lack of shelter over their heads, less water, attack by robbers and wild beasts, proceeding partially through the shifting sands of the desert as far as the land of Gessen, where they resided (1). Not until had King Herod died in the spring of 4 BC, did they retire to the early home of Joseph and Mary at Nazareth of Galilee.

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Soon after, the donkey of those journeys slips into obscurity even though according to a recorded event of Jesus’ youth, at the age of twelve, Jesus was taken on a long journey to Jerusalem to attend the Passover before returning to Nazareth when the service of a donkey would have been required.

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It is widely held that the dark line down a donkey’s back and across the forequarters in the shape of a Latin cross denotes the heritage of that race from the day one of their forebears carried Jesus on its back during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem which is commemorated as the first Palm Sunday (Dominica in ramis Palmarum), and marks the beginning of what is technically called Passion Week.

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To Jerusalem: According to the Gospels, Jesus, having come to the little village of Bethphage (Beitphage) on the summit of the Mount of Olives sent two disciples into the village to fetch an ass and a colt they would find tied there. Having brought the animals, they cast their garments upon the ass and made Jesus sit thereon. (2) The animal carried Jesus, sitting meek and gentle on its back, as it treaded over the olive palm fronds strewn over the garments laid on the path, amidst the joy and singing of a multitude of accompanying people wielding branches of palm trees as a testimony of honour and respect.

At that time Jerusalem was surrounded with fertile fields and trees, and on the southern slope of Olivet, where they were passing, date-bearing palm trees grew in great abundance. The Palm has been in all times and places the emblem of victory and its reward and it was the custom to carry and wave palm-branches as a sign of joy and victory.

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At length, the donkey carried Jesus down the hill, passed between the walls of Gethsemane and the Garden of Olives, crossed the Cedron valley (Kidron), through the road leading up to St. Stephen’s Gate (Lions’ Gate), and entered the Temple through the Golden Gate with its beautiful pillars. This occasion, commemorated on Palm Sunday with a Procession of Palms was customary in Jerusalem as early as 386 when it was first mentioned, and was adopted in the west by the seventh century as attested to by Isidore of Seville, who died in 636.

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Until the Reformation in the Middle Ages, the event was remembered in a folklorised ritual on Palm Sunday (Palmsonntag) in some southern German speaking regions when, in addition to the tradition of the blessing of palms (Palmbüscheln), a procession known as “Palmesel” (Palm Sunday donkey) was held when a statue of Jesus mounted on a wooden effigy of an ass fixed on a wheeled wooden bier was taken round the streets spread with clothes and strewed with palm branches. To mark this joyous occasion, people sang hymns and waved fronds of palm or of some other similar tree, while at some places bouquets of flowers attached to boughs of trees were sometimes carried in the procession calling it the Easter of Flowers.

The ass was not forgotten either. A book on ecclesiastical architecture relates an old tradition that “the ass on which Christ made His entry into Jerusalem left Judea immediately after the Crucifixion, and passing over the sea dry-shod to Rhodes, Cyprus, Malta, Sicily, and Aquileia, finally reached Verona, where it lived to a very old age. After its death its bones were collected and deposited in the belly of the wooden ass of Santa Maria in Organo, which was made as a memorial of it and its exact image.”

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Just as that event at Jerusalem made them an object of peculiar reverence to the early Christians, the cross on its back inspired belief that children suffering from whooping cough will be cured if they are made to sit on the mark and the donkey walked in a circle nine times.

It is interesting to think, with what different sentiments one regards the donkey at different periods. The poor quadruped which tradition says earned its reputation for stupidity in the Garden of Eden when it could not remember its name when God asked it, is actually, as one of my friends wrote, a poorly understood animal.

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Ass, when properly kept, is a handsome animal – much stronger in proportion, and much more hardy than the horse. The positive efforts of institutions such as Kölner Zoo in Germany, The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon, England, etc, very much help the welfare of the docile and friendly donkey to save them from becoming snapshots of a bygone era. Let us be glad that they are there and keep alive the age old tradition that to see a donkey will bring one the good luck. Until next time, Ciao, Jo

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Notes:

  1. According to some publications, the particular place where Joseph settled in Egypt is probably Metaryieh, near On/Heliopolis, about two hours distance north-east of Cairo.
  2. A Franciscan church, built on the foundation of an ancient shrine, stands to commemorate the place where Christ mounted the ass, contains a stone traditionally identified as used by Jesus to mount the ass for the journey to Jerusalem.
  3. Thanks to: Mr. Bernd Marcordes, Kurator, AG Zoologischer Garten Köln, Germany for the picture of Michel and Jeanette; to Ms. Pippa Helock of The Donkey Sanctuary, Devon for the picture “Looking Handsome”; and to Stefan Ahrens of Bistum Regensburg, Germany for the four pictures.
  4. Print and visual versions of “Ben-Hur” is available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.

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Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Roots and Wings of Valentine

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Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year – the holidays of the short evenings are over. The spring vegetables are slowly entering the markets. Owing that love is the keynote of that sweetest day of February when moments are made into memories, shops have displayed pretty favours for exchange between lovers and couples to mark the Valentine’s Day. As usual, a good number of high-flying hotels will be a much sought after destination on the 14th of this month for the lovers and couples out for a memorable candlelit evening of gastronomy, drinks, music, romance and to feel like a million dollars.

2Where we live, distinctive venues for such occasions are many and more are sprouting up every other month. Ecstatic to get it going, the dining tables there will be prettily decorated with fresh flowers, ferns, bisque cupids, candles, tableware, in addition to scattered red rose petals over the table cloth where a wide range of delicacies will be served with emphasis on its appearance since eye has much to do with the flavour of all food. Some even have in-house Mehndi artists or caricaturist to enhance the romantic ambiance.

The succulent specialities on offer in many restaurants, especially on occasions of festivities present an extensive spread of seafood, meat and vegetarian delicacies and gorgeous after-food deserts very much compatible to all those gourmets. There are only a few of the dishes that need any explanation. From past experiences, the cuisine for the V-Day could include freshly shucked oysters, poached lobsters with dill and limoncello cream sauce, river Prawn Saganaki, baked fish, Beef Stroganoff, Braised Balsamic Chicken, Porcini Pork Tenderloin, Broccoli Quinoa Casserole, asparagus salad, etc, incorporating many of the general favourites of authentic regional Indian favourites cooked to perfection by chefs and their skilful teams playing cupids at the live stations. Be it ever so humble, praise for their delicious food never misses to light up their eyes as if they had won the lottery.

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The objective is to make the Valentine’s Day the sweetest and memorable day of the year – touchingly sentimental, fun and ethical for those who wish to share their love and affection towards one another. In a time when affection and meaningful human communication takes a back seat as most eyes are buried in Smartphones, iPads, or other distractions, occasions like the V-Day reminds us to show that we love.

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It is related that the tradition of the Festival of Love probably owes its origins to one of the pagan Roman festivals, Lupercalia, the festival of fertility which was celebrated in mid-February in ancient Rome. As part of its ritual, two young boys of patrician families dressed in goatskins, daub their faces with the blood of sacrificed goat and dog, and during a traditional course whipped maidens with stripes of leather as they passed. Expressing joy and happiness, such lashes were appreciated reckoning they would miraculously prevent or cure infertility. Somewhere between belief and doubt lies the faith.

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After Christianity became more prevalent in Rome, the festival became associated with St. Valentine (1) a Christian priest and physician in Rome who was martyred on February 14, c. 269 AD (on the eve of Lupercalia) for being an advocate for the cause of peace and love. The book “Saint Valentine” by Robert Sabuda relates the story about how Valentine restored the blindness of a young girl with his deep faith and healing skills. The custom of sending Valentines stems from a medieval belief that birds began to pair on the day Valentine was beheaded under the cruel Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus (Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius/Claudius the Goth, 268 to 270) who succumbed to plague in 270 AD. Amongst the customs that continued was the opportunity to choose a sweetheart or Valentine and letters or tokens can be sent secretly to the object of affection as a declaration of romantic love.

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The rejuvenation of this event, after a slack in popularity but persisting through writings including those of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1345-1400) and William Shakespeare (1564-1616), could be attributed to the innumerable cards, books, poems, songs, stage presentations and films that flourished since the eighteenth century onwards. Nevertheless, it is always those couples entwined in their genuine love for each other, blessedly always much abundant in the world, who have kept this tradition of love alive and blooming. Some of the legends and stories of love that sparkled as jewels through the timeline of our world has inspired millions and has undoubtedly caught the imagination of the world.

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I can think of many love deities and personalities in every culture dedicated to different fervours of love: Egyptian divinities Osiris and Isis; Roman Jupiter and Juno (Greek Zeus and Hera); Solomon and Sheba; Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) and Queen Nefertiti; Orpheus and Eurydice; Queen Cleopatra and Mark Antony; Justinian and Theodora; Lancelot and Guinevere; Layla and Majnun; Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal; Salim (Emperor Jahangir) and Anarkali (Nadira Begum or Sharf-un-Nissa);

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; Napoleon and Joséphine de Beauharnais; Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir; Romeo and Juliet; Tristan and Isolde; Robin Hood and Maid Marian; Tarzan and Jane; to those stars of the film world who, at certain times, had become real life romantic characters they played on screen (2):

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Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks; Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini; Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy; Clark Gable and Carole Lombard; Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles; Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall; Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor; etc… the love is always in the air and for some, sometimes everything falls together.

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Of the many customs built around this festival of love, few old customs like the artistic Victorian cards, some of which often had trick or secret chambers to hide secret messages from the eyes of strict Victorian parents, have sadly disappeared while more formal ways of messaging through emails or SMS or that great equalizer called WhatsApp have taken over in popularity.

11Then again, besides the enthusiasm of some couples, the reason Valentine’s Day has garnered more popularity today is due to the print and visual media and to the efforts of the corporate/marketing strategists striving to make it a gross consumer fest.

If the customary choices of the old school fancied Valentine cards, books, tokens, boxes of Belgian chocolates or selected kinds of gifts, and even considered a hug as a great gift; the preferences has presently progressed to all things high-flying – the posh sort – choices big and small, often putting some aficionados under “wallet” pressure – choices of couture labels, a Visconti pen, a Supreme Goldstriker iPhone with the highest GB, a gorgeous clutch bag, a beautiful sparkling necklace, amazing Stuart Weitzman shoes, vintage boots, a Patek Philippe or Breitling wristwatch, luxury fragrances, a Lamborghini Veneno car, a holiday in The Bahamas, diamonds, secret tattoos, belly button ring, …. the list has become endless to maximize the vibes… The choice is ours.

Nevertheless, fresh flowers have always remained one of the popular gifts.

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To give fresh flowers, those embodiments of perfect beauty, to a sweetheart….. what gift could honestly be nicer and special? They even leave their fragrance on the hand that bestows them.

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When young mortal Adonis of Greek mythology lost his life owing to a wound he received from a boar during a chase, Aphrodite (Venus by the Romans), the goddess of love and beauty and the love of his life, found solace from her deep grief in the beautiful Anemone flower which sprung from his blood (or from her tears), until the gods of the lower world favoured her by allowing Adonis to spend six months of every year with Aphrodite upon the earth. And it is from Aphrodite’s son Eros (Cupid/Amor) that V-Day earned the grace of Cupid, the god of love – a wanton boy with arrows in a golden quiver, who is related to a thousand tricks and cruel sports – the most potent being the pierce from his golden arrow that would kindle love in the stricken heart.

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When my wife first came to meet me, she brought along an enormous bunch of fresh ivory coloured tulips in a box all the way from England, carefully looked after by the cabin crew of British Airways. She has a heart of gold. She specifically chose that spring flower having known of my ardent “tulipomania”. Of course, one’s own preferred choice would be different. A friend’s wife preferred velvety red roses, the symbol of happy and passionate love, from her husband while another friend suggested that if possible we bring garden daisies to cheer his hospitalised wife when we visited her.

15Somewhere along the way, love has taken its place in the age-old form of art that associate flowers with different meanings. Floriography signifies the name of the language of flowers as practiced in traditional cultures in many parts of the world. The Japanese call it Hanakotoba.

As ivory coloured tulips will always be the symbol of true love for me, the symbolism and hidden meaning of those flowers that express love and affection, subject to change with various combination (3), is generally regarded as: Apple Blossom (Good fortune) – Balsam (Ardent love) – Jasmine (Grace and Elegance) – Lavender (Devotion) – Lilac (First Emotions of Love) – Orchid (Fertility, love and Beauty) – Red Tulip (Declaration of Love) – Sunflower (Adoration) – Violet (Faithfulness), Hibiscus (Sacred Love and Beauty)….

Naturally, I do not remember them all and neither have I endeavoured to remember by practising that simple advice: “When meeting someone for the first time, repeat their name three times, and you won’t forget them.”

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Amongst the vast array of flowers lingers the “Forget-Me-Nots”, the lover’s flower. The legend has it that a valiant German knight slipped and fell into water when stooping to gallantly pick up some beautiful blue flowers growing in the water which his paramour wanted him to get for her. Before he finally sank under the water for the last time, he threw the flowers at his love and implored her to “Vergiß mein nicht” (Forget Me Not). It was the voice of genuine love that was calling out, to remind, “I will be always with you. I will love you just as you are.”   

Amore!   If love is the key to our hearts, then the heaven is within us. Ciao, Jo

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Notes:

  • According to the Roman Martyrology, two persons under the name of Valentine were martyred on February 14, c. 269. One is St. Valentine who was buried on the Flaminian Way where a basilica was erected in 350. Another Valentine was the bishop of Interamna (Terni) about 104 kms from Rome, beheaded there by order of Placidus, prefect of Interamna. Many scholars believe that the two are the same.
  • The book Saint Valentine by Robert Sabuda and DVDs of the movies of the stars referred above are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other reputed dealers.
  • Re. Flowers: I have noted variations in meanings in different texts.

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 (©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 24: The Shell Seekers

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“Life is so extraordinary. Wonderful surprises are just around t

he most unexpected corners.”

This quote appeared on the Facebook page of a friend just in time for Christmas of last year. The quote from Winter Solstice by British author Rosamunde Pilcher was familiar to me from one of the only two books by her I have read in early March 2001 while in Rome. The part-time Receptionist of my hotel, an American student in Rome, had just finished reading it and lent it to me to keep me “company”.

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Set in the north of Scotland, Winter Solstice tells the story of Elfrida Phipps. Single and in her 60s, she had retired with her canine companion “dog size” Horace to Dibton in pretty Hampshire, England after a long career on the stage. Though this delightful novel of people who converge to form an unlikely family; of loss and the healing power of love, was a best seller; unlike the 1989 TV movie adaptation of her 1987 novel The Shell Seekers, (the only other novel of Ms. Pilcher I have read), the TV movie adaptation of Winter Solstice (2003) starring Sinéad Cusack, Geraldine Chaplin and Jean Simmons did not conjure up much inspired reviews.

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Author Rosamunde Pilcher OBE (née Scott) was born to Helen and British commander Charles Scott on 22 September 1924 in Lelant, Cornwall, England. After World War II during which she was on active service as a member of the WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service), she married Graham Hope Pilcher in 1946 and moved to Dundee, Scotland, where she raised two daughters and two sons. It was here she took up writing in order to earn a living. Setting off as an author of Mills and Boon romances, she wrote under the pseudonym Jane Fraser: (Half-Way To The Moon (1949), Dangerous Intruder (1951), A Day Like Spring (1953), A Family Affair (1958), The Keeper’s House (1963), A Long Way from Home (1963), Young Bar (1965), etc).

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Having switched her pseudonym to her married name Rosamunde Pilcher in 1955, her breakthrough into the more lucrative American fiction market in the 1970s gave a much needed transformation to her career and the birth of nearly 30 novels, the front sleeves of some of which are pictured here.

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While many of her stories are set in the land of her childhood and featured characters so very human, they also presented culinary recipes and tips for gardening. “The Shell Seekers”, Ms. Pilcher’s 13th novel and international breakthrough, had topped the New York Times best-seller list for 30 consecutive weeks and was nominated by the British public in 2003 as one of the top 100 novels in the BBC’s Big Read.

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In the Introduction to the Tenth-Anniversary Edition of “The Shell Seekers”, Ms. Pilcher wrote that the ideas for this “big fat novel for women” took shape when she saw a programme on television entitled “Painting the Warmth of the Sun” – about the painters of West Penwith, in Cornwall, some of whom she had known. Of the many Pilcher movie adaptations in my movie collection, viz., September (1996), Nancherrow (1999), Winter Solstice (2003), etc, the one I preferred most was her poignant family saga The Shell Seekers (1989).

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Filmed entirely on location on the beautiful island of Ibiza (Islas Baleares, Spain), Cornwall, Lee International Studios, Shepperton, England and the picturesque villages of the Cotswolds, “The Shell Seekers” is the story of Penelope Stern Keeling and “the disastrous effect that the prospect of an inheritance, worldly goods and money, can have on a perfectly normal family.”

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This typical English poignant family drama opens with Penelope, age 63, recuperating in a hospital bed from a mild heart attack. No sooner we take in the scene, she discharges herself from the hospital where she was supposed to stay at least a week and heads for her little cottage called Podmore’s Thatch in the village of Temple Pudley. Happy to be back home, she was absolutely determined to get down to make her garden into something special that year.

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However, Penelope’s departure from the hospital against the doctor’s wishes was nothing short of concern and displeasure to her children owing to their concern for her living alone at her little cottage.

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Progressively, the film moves ahead to reveal the passions, tragedies, and secrets, her bohemian childhood at Cornwall with her painter father and French mother years and years ago, her loveless marriage during the World War II with Ambrose Keeling; her forsaken love affair with Richard Lomax, an American friend of her father; down to the troubled relationship with her three children, Nancy, Noel and Olivia, she had failed to bring up a little better.

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  1. Nancy Chamberlain: Penelope’s tiresome social-climbing first born, who liked to think that she was responsible for her mother. Brought up in London and indulged in fantasies nurtured by the romance novels of Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer which she devoured, she presently lived in an old Georgian vicarage at Bamworth, Gloucestershire, trapped in a miserable marriage with George, and overshadowed by Dolly Keeling, an unsolicited alley who is her father’s sister, the one who disliked Penelope and sought every opportunity to belittle her.
  2. Noel Keeling: The young and handsome, materialistic and self-centred son, obsessed with his desire to become a commodity broker.

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  1. Olivia Keeling: A cool-headed, compassionate woman in love and living in Ibiza with a divorced Italian called Cosmo Hamilton and his teenage daughter Antonia. She was desperate to secure a career as a Managing Editor of a magazine, a position for which she had worked for quite some years. Liked by matriarch Penelope, she is the only one of Penelope’s children truly concerned of her Mumma’s health and knew her closely down to the point that Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik” was her Mumma’s favourite.

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When Nancy and Noel learned that one of the landscape paintings of their long-dead grandfather Lawrence Stern (1870-1945) had fetched £200,000/- in an auction triggering a flurry of renewed popularity in his paintings, the event set Penelope’s life on a course of discoveries about the hidden sides to her children’s ugly personalities and family devotions.

15Nancy and Noel were quick to figure out the fortune that could be earned from the sale of Stern’s last painting “The Shell Seekers”, which their mother owned and considered her prized possession, although Noel had till then thought of it as old fashioned. Symbolizing Penelope’s unconventional life, Stern’s painting featured his wife Sophie Stern (1906-1943) and their child Penelope happily playing on the beach.

Nancy’s first ploy was to incite her mother to sell the masterpiece which hung on the wall of her little cottage and to use the money mainly for her mother’s well-being and care, She lauded about all the good things that the money could bring Penelope: she could have a gardener; a housekeeper; a nurse…. Simultaneously, Nancy and Noel’s necessities, which were also of a higher nature and could not be attained with their present financial resources, can be appropriately resolved.

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  1. For Nancy the simple has become obsolete and the complex more attractive. Nancy was prodded with monetary issues such as: money to pay the school fees of her two children Melanie (age 14) and Rupert (age 11) to attend expensive boarding schools; to purchase new clothes for Melanie; funds for George’s club fees which were already late, etc. Allowing that Penelope could unload some money from the painting on Nancy, all these could be dealt with to her satisfaction;
  2. Noel could use the money to keep up his extravagant lifestyle which he was now striving to achieve from a tiny apartment in a superior location of the town. It would still remain a distant dream for him unless he could obtain his share of inheritance which would enable him to leave his low-income job and become a commodity broker. He would also buy a bigger Flat from where he could work, break into certain highflying circles and entertain them.

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Like Penelope, Olivia was unmotivated to cash in on her inheritance. She loved her mother and admired her non-judgmental attitude. Penelope knew it all. For her, the painting and some sketches are mainly all that’s left of her father. If an occasion arises for her to sell the painting, she will only chose at her own choice. However, she cannot sit on the fence undecided. The emphasis on monetary affairs had left her bruised, but much wiser. She devised a scheme which she believed would not only be important to her but would also be best for her children and could pave way for peace amongst them. The first step toward creating an improved future is developing the ability to envision it. At the outset, she would go to Cornwall. You simply cannot do away with the past.

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A Central Film production for Central Television in association with Marian Rees Associates, Inc, The Shell Seekers was produced by Anne Hopkins and directed by the BAFTA Award-winning, Lucknow, (Uttar Pradesh, India) born Waris Hussein (“Henry VIII and His Six Wives” (1972), “Edward And Mrs Simpson” (1978)). It is adapted from the novel for the TV by John Pielmeir, the winner of the Humanitas Prize for “Choices Of the Heart”, and features the following:

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Production crew: James di Pasquale (Music), Fred A. Chulack (Editor), Jane Martin (Production Designer); Brian West (Director of Photography); Judy Moorcroft (Costume designer); Ann Brodie/Magdalen Gaffney (Make-up); Paul le Blac (Ms.Lansbury’s Hair & Wig Design).

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Many of Rosamunde Pilcher’s novels were made as long-running series of television adaptations (“Die andere Frau”, “Federn im Wind”) in Germany and were shot on location in Cornwall and other parts of England. It is an undeniable fact that her novels have given a much needed fillip to the tourism in Cornwall as tourists flock there to enjoy a first-hand experience of Ms. Pilcher’s world in Cornwall where good things happen to good people.

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What a happy woman I am, living in a garden, with books, babies, birds and flowers, and plenty of leisure to enjoy them. Sometimes I feel as if I were blest above all my fellows in being able to find happiness so easily,” Ms Pilcher wrote in The Shell Seekers. Plain and simple – if you like happily ever after movies that warm the heart, The Shell Seekers is a gift for you. So long for now, Jo

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Notes:

  • To honour the 90th birthday (22 September 2014) of Rosamunde Pilcher, a Cornwall Art Exhibition titled “THE SHELL SEEKERS” was organised by Seventh Wave Gallery, UK featuring 30 Cornish Artists showcasing 60 pieces of original artwork at The Castle, Bude, Cornwall from 11 September to 4 October 2014.

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  • The Shell Seekers was adapted for the stage in 2006 by husband-wife team Terence Brady and Charlotte Mary Thérèse Bingham.
  • Another TV adaptation of The Shell Seekers directed by Piers Haggard appeared in 2006 starring Vanessa Redgrave, Prunella Scales and Victoria Hamilton.
  • Books/Audio books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with http://www.amazon.com, http://www.amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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The disease of indifference toward others arises when

each person thinks only of himself, and loses the sincerity

and warmth of personal relationships.” Papa Francesco

(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Flutter by, Melodic Butterflies

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There’s a song in the air !

        There’s a star in the sky !

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I have always found music delightful for relaxation. Lately I had been listening to music either streamed or downloaded from the web where we could find any kind of music we wish for. Unlike the effort to flip through our musical collections of vinyl albums, CDs, cassettes and videos for enjoying music in the conventional way, one needs only to flick some icons on the web, and the music comes pouring into the room. But how can I resist from admitting that I like music on physical formats, especially the tangible experience of holding a vinyl album and admiring the big cover art while it plays with the pops and cracks and imperfections of an old gramophone record.

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A week ago we were sorting out the Christmas albums in the storage shelf where they were waiting for the right time to arrive when we would let them play their joyful melodies – to experience the pleasure they would bring us.

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Waiting for Christmas! The instance reminded me of an old adage which relates that “a test for true love is a rose which has been picked on Midsummers’ Day and put away until Christmas. If it is found still fresh at Christmas, the love of the girl who plucked it and her beau will run true and flourish.” – the kind of love where the boy will kneel down and tell her that she is the sweetest, most charming and ravishing girl in the world and that he would be unable to live one more second without her! I personally know of instances like this.

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But vis-à-vis our present subject, the fact remains that listening to greater part of carols and Christmas songs surely create an effect we aspire to in our house.

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Christmas time is a warm and nostalgic time of a year – and Christmas, winter’s merriest tale, is all about the birth of Jesus Christ and cannot be rightly told without music. As it happens, throughout the festive season and often beyond – while we set up the Christmas tree and the Christmas crib, or hang up the stockings and decorations, or prepare the feast, or merry-make in the festive gathering, we play them as background music just for the warmth and joy of those seasonal melodies.

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Those are classical instrumentations by Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Beethoven, etc, or sung by choirs, or carol singers or by Earl Grant, Ray Conniff, Harry Belafonte, Nat King Cole, Brenda Lee, Nina Simone, Pierino Ronald “Perry” Como, Frank Sinatra, Judy Collins, Tom Jones, Fernand Gignac, Nana Mouskouri, Celine Dion, Muriel J, Jose Feliciano, Ajejandro Sanz, Andrea Bocelli, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Rod Stewart, Boney M and many others.

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Behind those songs were the lyrical and musical talents of folk singers, monks, the clergy, literary and musical luminaries.

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In the movies “The Alamo” (1960), “To Kill a Mocking Bird” (1962), “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), the viewer might have noticed a versatile actor named Jester Hairston who was also a songwriter/composer/conductor and singer. In 1956, Hairston wrote fresh lyrics for an earlier song he had written titled “He Pone and Chocolate Tea” and attuned in calypso rhythm but was never recorded in that form.

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The song with the new lyrics, later characterised as a Christmas carol, was titled “Mary’s Boy Child” and the world first heard of it when Harry Belafonte released it through his album “An Evening with Belafonte” (1956).

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The song was subsequently recorded by music artists such as Jim Reeves, Tom Jones, Andy Williams, Anne Murray, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, including a version in 1978 by Boney M which is still popular like most of the Boney M songs released when they were in the prime of their time.

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Christmas carols lend an air to this festive season and over the years have spawned a variety of classics to make good cheer. In England of the olden days, groups went on “Wassailing” for “luck-visits” from house to house at Christmas time – singing carols and sharing the contents of their wassail bowls for which they expected to be rewarded with gifts, food and drinks.

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15They were considered to be the forerunners of modern day carol singers. This practise later evolved into modified versions. Then again, what is true in England is also true in Italy and in our Cochin, or everywhere.

And so, wassailing was enacted in our Cochin also when numerous groups dressed in character of Santa Claus and shepherds and shepherdesses in knee-length, floating skirts as dancers, together with their entourage of singers and musicians. They visited houses, predominantly in Fort Cochin and the coastal belt, to entertain during Christmas time.

Although this practise is slowly dying down, few groups are still active during the Christmas season. The songs which maintain great popularity in their street collection lists are “Jingle Bells”, and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” which tells of the approach of Santa Claus and his pack of reindeers.

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These songs are nice accompaniments to dancing and rather similar to renditions such as “Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer”, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, etc.

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20Interspersed in their collection are popular songs from movies or simultaneously, versions in local language which some enlightened ones find not ‘hip’ and very un-English without some English terms peppered in it. But if there is one carol that is generally heard here throughout the Christmas time is the English version of “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht), a reverential rendition written in German in 1816 by Friar Joseph Mohr of Austria with music added to it by Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818.

This is said to be one of the main songs (and also ‘Adeste Fideles’) the German and the English soldiers jointly sung on the first Christmas of the First World War, in 1914 when, in a spontaneous and unofficial Christmas truce, their guns fell silent for a brief period and they emerged out of their trenches into no-man’s land in a number of places along the Western Front: to exchange gifts, cigarettes and joyously sing carols and songs to commemorate the birth of baby Jesus. They knew that the war was going to last a long time and many would not live through for another Christmas Day or even see their wives back home knitting socks for the soldiers at the Front.

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This chivalry between enemies in the military air to uphold the Christmas spirit is depicted in the films: “Joyeux Noël” (Merry Christmas – 2005/French); Oh, What a Lovely War (1969/UK) (1)

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Many a Christmas carols and songs have played at the chords of the human heart with its angelic fingers: “The Twelve Days of Christmas” covers the 12 days starting with Christmas Day till 6th January (Epiphany); “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”; “O Little Town of Bethlehem”; “In The Bleak Mid-winter”; “Joy to the World”; “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, “Away in a Manger”; “Ding Dong! Merrily on High”; “Adeste Fideles/O Come All Ye Faithful”; “In Excelsis Gloria”, and many many more. Some of these titles are highlighted here.

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The most ancient carols known to us date from the Middle Ages. Historians contend that the word “Carol” passed from French into the English language in about 1300 and was associated with words, music and dance. Books of carols were cried about the streets of Paris as early as the thirteenth century.

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These carols shadow forth the true spirit of miracle plays, religious spectacles, and old religious legends. In most cases, they were by and large in Latin which was the medium for prayers and chants in the churches in those days. Latin being unversed to most common men of Italy, San Francesco di Assisi presented the carols in his native language – supported by theatrics.

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From there it gathered popularity, and despite occasional hindrances (such as the temporary abolition of Christmas in England in the 17th century), it survived through transitory periods spanning the medieval, the renaissance (rise of music printing and of vocal music performed with instruments), the baroque (invention of opera), the rococo (rise of comic opera and the symphony), the classicism (flowering of instrumental music), the romanticism (rise of the conductor and the golden age of the piano), the post-romanticism (dominance of mammoth orchestra), up to our time. In 1918, carols received the biggest boost when the “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols”, a Christmas Eve service which includes carols and readings from the Bible, were adopted by King’s College Cambridge.

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People vary greatly in their way of responding to music. Tastes have altered. Then again, there is great proliferation of Christmas carols and songs, owing to the creative flair of many contemporary musicians who retain its originality.

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As for us, we treasure each Christmas of our years gone past – its virtues of humility, generosity and love. We admire the splendour of its true traditions: the birth of baby Jesus, the Christmas tree, the Christmas crib, the star, the old decorations of rosemary and bays, the holly and the ivy, the poinsettias (Flores de Noche Buena/Flowers of the Holy Night), the Mistletoe, the greeting cards, exchange of gifts, the banquet which includes plum pottage, minced pies, roast beef, Christmas ale, and of course, Santa Claus, dancing and singing….

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Although the Christmas festive season will come only once a year, our steadfast delight in the Christmas carols and songs ensure that those cherished melodies flutter around in our house, like butterflies, whatever the season may be. Enjoy your Christmas holidays! Ho! Ho! Ho!! Jo

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Notes:

  • Christmas Truce: In books: Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub; Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy, etc. It is also the theme of Sainsbury’s official Christmas 2014 Advertisement
  • DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred above is available with main dealers of movies.
  • This is dedicated to Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI who received Doctorates honoris causa on 04 July 2015 for five contributions to knowledge and culture – which includes his great respect for the musical tradition of the Church and his remarkable sensitivity to the music of faith. May he enjoy blessings of good health.

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 (©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

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ORDER A GOOD CHEER

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ORDER A GOOD CHEER

The secret is out. One of my friends, Chef Rasheed Abdulkhader who often surprised us with his mastery in culinary flairs is soon to retire after few decades with the Taj Group of Hotels, one of the top hospitality groups in India where he had worked up the ladder to become one of the top Executive Chefs of this Group.

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Over the years, Chef Rasheed’s passion and dedication had gotten him to a position where he could deal with the meals of the high and reputed guests from different parts of the world – the sheer brilliance of his culinary delights earning the adulation of many. Each of his dishes stood up for itself for its excellence, freshness, taste and simplicity. The culinary aspects of many of our own parties were overseen by him and it will be sad to see this shining personality with a never-fading smile take an exit due to “getting on in years.”

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Now first things first. In the olden days, the chef (then known as “Kokki” or cook) didn’t triumph in the popularity and acquired glamour they have today. Back then, the thought about that leader of the kitchen rarely crossed one’s mind when you dined in a hotel. Like the cook in an upscale restaurant or in a smaller establishment like a toddy shop, you are aware they are there. In the context of my childhood, they made their personal appearance in your life to cook for occasions such as a marriage in your house when, following the religious ceremony, a wholesome feast (vivahasadya) of time-honoured family recipes (unaltered over the years) reproduced authentically keeping the taste firmly on the original version, was served inside the house or in a fabricated marquee (pandal) within the residential compound, enhancing the intensely close-knit personal atmosphere.

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It was an occasion when all the near and dear ones were invited with true open-handedness. And they might all come and attend the feast to celebrate with lavish experience.

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The cook turns up some days prior to the function to list the items to be arranged for his work which will commence mostly by the morning of the previous day of the wedding since there would be dinner served on the eve of the wedding day.  The cooking will continue overnight in a temporary outdoor cook-house for a second day running till the lunch is served following the wedding ceremony.

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Besides a couple of his assistants/washers-up, help in the shapes of scores of relatives and neighbours assist the progress of the cook’s work and other arrangements. Many would fondly recall the smell of the wood smoke hanging in the air or hear the sound from the bubbling pans.

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In those times, the caterers with table-ready food service and event managers and pretentious food were unheard of. Relatives and friends had time for manual help and there was collective participation in arrangements: the pandal was erected with sturdy bamboo poles roofed with tarpaulin and decorated with white-painted bamboo trellis panels fencing all around while decorations adorn the white cloth covering the ceiling.

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The hired trestle tables dressed with plain white cloth (without drape or box-pleat or petticoat) were arranged on the tarpaulin laid down on the ground. The cooking pots and pans, serving dishes, china, cutlery, moveable water-tank, chairs and even petro-max for artificial emergency lighting were hired.

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Besides ensuring that cultural traditions survive, thoughtful planning by the elders eliminated potential faults. Reliable relatives and family friends were conscripted as servers of food. There was a personal touch everywhere. Everyone participated – ate, drank and later merrily went away.

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The cook was sent away happily and that was the last time you saw him until another occasion turns up when he is needed or you see him working at another function. Those were simple and affordable, and joyous occasions. Time passes.

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Then came the time when the pomp and middle-persons took over and put a high price tag to everything – much before specialised food shops appeared throughout the length of the State. Soon common Italian words like Spaghetti Pomodoro, tiramisu, etc were no longer a novelty locally. The haute cuisine is here!

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14Cookery books have come a long way from “The Forme of Cury” (Form of Cooking), the earliest surviving mediaeval cookery guide written by the Chef Maister Cokes (Chief Master Cooks) of young King Richard II of England (Richard of Bordeaux, 6 January 1367 – c. 14 February 1400) in about 1390. Apart from the masses of books and DVDs on cookery, many of which are beautifully accomplished, with the advent of TV channels, radio and web shows, movies, foodie bloggers, culinary schools, etc, (and surely many more to come), food and cooking has become two of the most common subjects around, especially on the web – rapidly commercialised and glamourised.

Such medium are good tools to inspire us to try new recipes or to learn the techniques involved to mete out our expertise on the dining plates.

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Concurrently, it also brings about a healthy breeding ground not only for the qualified and dedicated chefs, but also, truth be told, for persons with the slightest inclination in cooking or scant knowledge in qualities of the cooking ingredients or dietary criteria, to gallop their way to recognition on the back of knowledge acquired from cookery books or shows or experience gained through apprenticeship as kitchen assistants or diploma in culinary education in tutorials. Not all that glitters is gold.

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My paternal grandmother never used a recipe in all her life but the heady aroma from her kitchen could lure a fully fed child back to the dining table. I often try my hand in the cooking department – but mind you, not as a hobby cook who ventures into the home kitchen to tackle culinary talents in the mid-afternoon of a Sunday or on a holiday or on one of those perennial local fun-days at home: hartal.

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Just like the innumerable budding actors finding exposure on the vast ever-growing entertainment scene, anyone linguistically proficient with common-sense approach and some knowledge/confidence in cooking can grow into a good cooking presenter on TV and web cookery demonstrations.

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The upshot is that apart from gaining wealth and fame, their perks could include opportunities to bring out cookery books/DVDs or conduct personal cookery classes/workshops, etc.

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The hostess of a TV cookery show once commented, ‘My Domestic chores? I am all behind like a cow’s tail. Where would I find time to cook when my daily schedule is tightly fitted around films lined up for shooting and other public appearances to be made? How do I keep up with it all day?’ The show is just a piece of cake for her. Owing to her profession, she is unfazed by the lights, camera and cables.

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It is implied that she just needs to turn up for the shooting of the episode, gets beautifully attired (in most cases chef’s uniform is avoided), decked with gold ornaments all over the body, hair let loose rather than tucked under a Chef’s cap or headscarf. The emphasis for such hosts is on glamour. In one’s hankering for ostentation and attention, one tends to forget that one actually has more lustre than gold.

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Good cookery shows do not just happen. Unlike most of today’s presenters who try to put in 100% data of their own for each episode, some amateur celebrity presenters in “cooking partnership” with the studios just follow the script guidelines for the episode researched and provided to them by the TV Studio writers for study and possible input. These writers often think visually. They push for the big goal: the show must be exiting and full of drama to hold the audience and entice sponsors.

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At the studio, where the presenter is already well acquainted with the many cookware and other aids at hand, he/she just needs to make a mental run-through of the episode, make mental notes for the occasional change of pace if the script calls for it, before the final shooting which would be suitably edited later. As the shoot progresses, it would likely trigger impulsive, spur-of-the-moment ideas in the presenter to suit the characterisation being projected. They needn’t be afraid to try something new. Amateurs built the ark. If you enjoy yourself, so will others. That’s the long and short of it.

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Being cheerful and unflustered from the curtain-raiser down to the end of the presentation, they are programmed to come across as culinary specialists, inspired by a deep love of home life, and smitten with the nostalgia of home-cooked cuisine of their childhood. If there is a guest for the show, their pleasing disposition is highlighted through chats with him/her who, in most cases, would be another popular personality who himself gets a shot to showcase himself with a song or dance or other gimmickry – all part of the ingredients of the cookery show.

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Currently, there are some truly amazing cookery programmes dominating the airwaves. To watch the shows of learned and talented chefs, including Michelin Star Chefs, Nutritionists, Hotel Management professionals, wellness experts, expressing valid ideas and tips for healthy and tasty food is always a pleasure and benefits us to learn and discover new recipes or smarten up the known ones.

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In fact, we watch the German show “Lafer! Lichter! Lecker!” hosted by Chef Johann Lafer and Horst Lichter. At other times, we find pastime in MasterChef Australia, a reputed show co-hosted by Chefs Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris, and food critic Matt Preston where the emphasis, besides good cooking, is on drama and competitiveness within a limited time. However, we keep away from another franchise show where some contestants sport an inborn addiction to mouth bad language while cooking good things.

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Our intense travel has brought us in contact with many top chef de cuisines in different countries. They have ensured that our appetites are in safe hands. Their skill and enthusiasm in their respective specialties are quite amazing.

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Some of them also possess that special gift of “blessed hand” known locally as “Kaipunyam”. Chef Stefan Trepp of Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bangkok and Chef Joseph of Grand Hotel, Cochin are the owners of such brilliance. Chef Ken Murphy, Chef Nicolas Bourel, ……. it is impossible to name here all of them known to us. Of course, I do not leave out Carina’s skill in German cooking.

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Traditional cuisine of different countries has grown through little change over the years. In Kerala, keeping in line with the massive promotion of tourism, there is a renaissance of traditional dishes. The set-up of the recipes and the vocabulary of cooking sessions remain almost unchanged down to that most commonly and frequently used word in cookery: “….a little bit of …….”

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However, with the growing popular interest in good food, cooking is a process of evolution – subject to amalgamation of spices with different ingredients; mixing of flavours and culture like Chinese/Italian, Indian/Thai, etc.

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Imagination is the highest kite that can fly. Like Chef Rasheed whose thirst for knowledge and willingness to experiment with new ideas had driven him forward, a dedicated chef knows that his/her profession also calls for a very imaginative level of creativity and do-ability.

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During a dinner party we attended in Milan, the guests stayed longer than the proper time. The hostess, a French aristocrat known for her elegance and imagination where hospitality is concerned, was not at all disconcerted. She had a huge dish of Spaghetti Bolognese ready, specially prepared earlier envisaging such a circumstance. When everyone cheered her, she happily let out her plans for her next party. “Now let me tell you about that other dish I am going to cook next time. What about Saltimbocca?” There you go! I was nailed. Everyone is entitled to hope. Until next time. Jo

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Picture above: Rose of Melon with Capocollo, a speciality of Trattoria Ristorante Il Porcospino, at Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini in Florence, Italy. Il Porcospino is worth visiting for its fine cuisine.

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Notes:

1.. Many thanks to friends Ms. Suparat Phumrattanaprapin, Ms. Clarissa Lo Cascio and Chef Rasheed Abdulkhader  for their hands on support to illustrate this article with their pictures.

2.. For more details on Kerala cuisine: http://www.keralatourism.org

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)