24 Aug 2015

Inspire Aspire - Pamela Anderson

Mother, wife, actress, model, TV personality, animal lover, vegan, activist, environmental carer and Playboy centerfold. The lady is a sex-symbol but beyond the image of her titillating the glossies and undressing the male psyche is a woman whose heart is in the right place and whose mind is set on doing her bit in society. As much as Pammy is a media focus, she is also a mama focused, and that is what makes her enticing, in my eye.

Pamela Anderson's biggest achievement goes beyond being the hottest poster girl in a red bathing suit since Farrah Fawcett. She put sexy, sassy and spiritedness into veganism, animal and societal causes, and converted a good number of regular girls to the off-center joys of veg(etari)anism, shaking off the old cliché coconut about animal militancy, all too often associated with a bohemian lifestyle of make-dos on the fringes of society, in a tumble of dreadlocks, tie-dyes, hand-me-downs, tambourines, hand-knits, dream-catchers and psychedelia.

Maneless and demure on the Fall 2014 cover of NO TOFU - (pict source)

Pamela not only made her own dreams come true (an inspiration all to itself to the myriads out there stuck in jobs they abhor), but behind the voluptuous dizzy blonde smokescreen (sunscreen?) stands a woman driven, of many talents, and a maker of her own destiny (she has no agent!).

Anderson's looks are her asset. They have certainly helped her get media exposure in the first place and secured those lucrative contracts that she has capitalised on. She got noticed, but after adversely getting the tabloids limelight in her younger years, has finally channelled the attention into something constructive and productive. 

And this is what I find enticing: a strong independent daring woman who is focused, unafraid to steer her career, personal life and belief system off the norm, while remaining humane, and not losing sight of her value system (what really matters in life), thus fiercely proud and protective of her extended brood (family, pets, PETA, and the countless societal campaigns she sponsors). Alongside this, The Pamela Anderson Foundation supports a wide range of committed environmental charities and animal organisations across the world. The lady is a busy activist indeed.

Suburban pastel poster wife on the Fall 2014 cover of NO TOFU

Pammy's legendary provocative pout and scandalous antics of the past only look scandalous to the ill-intentioned, the ones with the bruised egos, intent on feeding off gossip mags to spot the next scandal and delight in the prospect of possible demise, because misery in their lives seeks out the company of misery out there.

I take Pammy's cartoonesque Varga girl poses for what they are: a PR expectation for the public and a dollop of good clean fun for the lads and the cameras. Yet by reading her interview with NO TOFU magazine, it was made clear that she was eager to unstick those archetypes and just be allowed to be taken seriously, be her 40+ year-old self minus the showgirl attributes.

What interests me here is the fact that, as PETA's Honorary Director, and through her involvement with other organisations like The Gentle Barn or MAC's Viva Glam Aids Fund campaign, she has raised awareness and funds and worked consistently to change consumer habits and perceptions. Her celebrity status gives her clout as a high-profile influencer at a diplomatic level. Her unfailing commitment spans two decades, and that puts to shame some of her celebrity peers who – say - did a one-off for PETA's 'We'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur' campaign and then threw caution to the wind as they hit the catwalk.

Pammy teases because she's Pammy. Now get over it. If that troubles you in the name of feminism, then look away, but do remember that she is no victim of 'the macho world', she is in control of her image. She teases and gets things done and helps make the world a better place. So be it if her female detractors fester and flood social media with poison arrows, they secretly wish (for the most part) that they had the killer looks and achieved something with their lives. Jealousy is so lousy!

Must-Watch: A conversation with Pamela Anderson, a candid documentary about her Foundation.

18 Aug 2015

Dairy Malaise

Not only are we talking dairy malaise but also a general malaise that has 'egg-xacerbated' the whole farming industry worldwide for years. It is just that dairy price wars have featured on the French and British news lately, and pork price wars are doing the headlines right now. Yet to begin with, we do not need to look further than the antagonistic words 'farming' and 'industry' forcefully sitting next to each other as in 'farming industry', in order to understand the roots of the malaise. And there is no word - nor book title - more eloquent than CIWF's Farmageddon, to sum up the disastrous consequences that a drive for cheap brings.

The Honest Farm Toy by CIWF
Farming was once a history of small family-run concerns and pastoral endeavours that helped families sustain themselves, look after the countryside, build closely-knit communities, be self-sufficient and economically-independent, albeit modestly. The Industrial Revolution lured millions of rural families to the city lights that engulfed them into the darkness of coal mines and textile mills. From the 1920s onwards, farming increasingly became mechanised, and as such, less labour intensive. After World War II, it shifted to a lean, automated, extensive and intensive (monoculture-based), chemically-pumped, figure-churning, competitive industrial model set to satisfy corporate demands for their ever-increasing profit margins at the expense of farmer and flock. This has been amplified since as farming is currently being forcefully channelled into the global one-size-fits-all model. Except that one size fits not.

"Animal and crop rearing were once a happy partnership. Industrialisation divorced them." - Philip Lymbery, Farmageddon

As faceless as industrial models are, the first thing that happened to farming was a faceless revolution in the 1960s as flocks, herds and cattle were moved en masse from their lush pastures to concrete pens tucked away from sunlight and our sight, into barren sheds and hangars. Away from sight means away from the mind of the modern consumer, who associates their pack of sliced ham to a sandwich rather than to the pig it belonged to. And animals in their millions to be farmed for slaughter yearly (currently 70 billion worldwide) have become just that: an obscene number that defies the human mind capacity to fathom them as a collective of individual animals. The number appears as a desensitised distant emotionless global mass instead. Faceless in the hangars and faceless on the mind. Faceless on paper too as numbers are being tweaked and crunched to squeeze productivity out of farm animals to exhaustion, before they end up on the abattoir's conveyor belt on their way out of a short, brutal, confined, loveless - and ultimately pointless - existence.

(Available to purchase via Amazon)
Industrial farming means a serving of pain on your plate, and cheap animal produce (dairy, eggs, meat) is an additional serving of hurt. Now you may think I'm serving you the obligatory activist spiel as a vegetarian, but don't forget that I was once an omnivore, and pretty much oblivious to the fact that the whole farm-to-fork line is nothing more than a series of productivity processes that use and abuse animals to death. I am not seeking to discourage anyone from a meat-based diet, I just want to set the record straight so you get the facts in order to make up your mind for yourself.

I was brought up on a meat diet by meat-loving parents born in the 1940s who underwent full-on the changing consumer habits of the post-war Western world with all the false truths that went along, and for whom a meat-based regimen was (is) a sign of healthy living, social success and a status symbol. To be honest, I never was that much of a meat lover, but peer pressure and preconceptions meant I didn't question my own carnivore habits until only a few years ago.

A lonely calf peeping out of a veal crate... Photography by Jo-Anne McArthur, from her book We, Animals

Just to show you how out of touch with the reality of farming I was, I used to believe (well into adulthood) that dairy cows just so happened to naturally produce milk, without any intervention! The stark reality of dairy farming is that cows are perpetually made pregnant (by natural means or artificially inseminated), then separated from their calves at birth (sending their maternal instinct into disarray) or a few days later, and their milk - that should be feeding their young - is pumped away from them in order to feed us, humans. To the strain of repeated pregnancies, you add the trauma of a mother's separation from her baby, plus the painful milking process, and a life behind bars that ends up in the slaughterhouse, to realise that dairy is dreary!

As multinationals are forcing down produce prices and controlling the commodities market, animals (the very commodities at the heart of the farming industry) are forced to produce more, while their living conditions deteriorate further. And if farmers refuse to comply with the demands or refuse to bow to the pressure of turning their middle-size dairy farm into a super-farm, they lose their concerns to the banks, and the multinationals move on to source out cheaper milk from countries like Germany, Serbia or Poland, where cows have a tougher life. Farmers are as much victims as their animals here. They live from hand to mouth, work extremely long hours for a pitiful wage. Pushed to the end of their tethers by those unscrupulous men in suits, they resort to suicide (one suicide every other day in France). Now pause for a minute and consider the irony of it all: those (animals and farmers) who feed us are the ones who starve and suffer!

La Ferme des Mille Vaches (1000 Dairy Cow Farm) is France's first ever US-style mega-dairy farm, est. 2014.

My purpose is not to condone veg(etari)an practice at the expense of another, or sound like the newscaster of doom and gloom at every article I write. La Baguette Magique being about Lifestyle with Attitude, I am not going to follow the herds down the well-trodden middle of the consumerist road to ukulele you a song about Happy Meals! Instead we'll take one step back in order to get a clearer vision and stay ahead. My purpose is to raise awareness and then leave it up to you, dear readers, to think it over, investigate the issue further if it resonates with you, and decide - or not - to review your consumption habits. Let us bear in mind though that only collectively through our changing consumer habits will we be able to impact the faceless powers that are ruling our food shelves and ruining our food chain. Will you take that stance with me?

P.S: Watch Karma the cow being finally reunited with her calf at The Gentle Barn sanctuary, after a life of misery. Who said cows have no feelings?

Further Reading:

12 Aug 2015

Flat-Leaf Parsley Soup

Serves 4 (as a main dish)
Preparation: 10 mins
Cooking: 40-45 mins

What do you do when your next-door neighbour brings you a generous bunch of flat-leaf parsley from his vegetable garden? You make Flat-Leaf Parsley Soup!

Hiding from behind the wild fennel bush!

Believe you me, I was well excited at the prospect of making my very first soup from scratch, and parsley was to provide me that opportunity, under my mum's incredulous eye, as she knows how fussy I am usually about soup. But eh, this one I would love! It's a little like with kids: other people's kids do your nut, but when it's your own, you just melt!

  • Big bunch (200g/ 7oz) flat-leaf parsley 
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 small red onions
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 1l (1.7 pints) cold water
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Prepare the parsley: cut off the stalks from the base of the leaves and discard the stalks. Place the leaves in a strainer and run water over to rinse them off. Then chop them finely in the food processor (or by hand if preferred). Peel the garlic, slice it roughly and add to the processor. Do the same with the onions. Peel the potatoes, finely chop them by hand and keep aside.

Heat the oil in a big saucepan on medium heat. Then add the parsley mix, add a pinch of nutmeg, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for a couple of minutes, to just lightly soften the parsley and develop the flavours. Then pour the water over in one go, and add the potato slices. Bring to the boil gently, stirring occasionally, then cover with a lid and turn down to medium heat. The overall cooking process should take about 40-45 mins. Season just before serving.

You may want to 'pimp up' your soup with garlic croûtons, a pinch of paprika, a tablespoon of double cream or a serving of parmesan, and other soup essentials of your liking. Or you may just savour it as is, with a couple of crunchy slices of bread by the side.

This is a light-hearted, healthy, tasty and incredibly easy-to-make soup that reminds me in taste of watercress soup. It is perfect as a main course for warming up a little Summer evening breeze on the patio, or served in small mugs as an entrée. Enjoy!

6 Aug 2015

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Lion Scorned!

Karma avenged Cecil the Lion in more ways than anyone could have bargained for, and Walter Palmer's life will never be the same again. Do we feel sorry for the big game serial killer who also happens to play the dutiful dentist and family man somewhere in Minnesota when he's not out there killing for fun? He overstepped the mark of respect for life and respectability for himself by the distance that separates his locale from Zimbabwe. One of the comments I read sums up how I feel about him: 'This man is a menace to society.'

Cecil, Hwange National Park, photography by Brent Stapelkamp, via National Geographic

I shall leave Palmer with a quote by Rachel Carson which - no doubt - will elude his propensity for ponder but reaffirm to the universe our intention for a compassionate world. Meanwhile everything that had to be said has been said in the media frenzy over the last week or so, and truly the man's ethics are as empty as a blank and that makes him a jerk, so I won't waste my words. In fact, no words will bring Cecil back to life, or the thousands of other trophy hunting casualties for that matter. Please sign the petition for Cecil and for trophy hunting and canned hunting to be made illegal and punishable by law, thank you.

Click to sign PETA's petition

"Until we have the courage to recognize cruelty for what it is -- whether its victim is human or animal -- we cannot expect things to be much better in this world. We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing, we set back the progress of humanity." - Rachel Carson

(Pict source)

5 Aug 2015

Atomic Parabellum

Despite its cheerful-sounding name, Enola Gay was never going to be a jolly affair. Little Boy and Fat Man neither. Yet in the same breath, Japan had made it clear that they wanted to surrender. America heard it, then pressed the button that dropped the bomb on the city of Hiroshima on 6th August 1945, wiping out 70,000 civilians in one fell swoop. Then as if this wasn't lethal enough and pointless enough in its nihilism, it went on to drop another bomb, three days later, on Nagasaki. And that is the way WWII ended. In an atomic blast.

Aerial view of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima

To say that there are winners and losers in a war is an aberration, because the concept of war itself is anathema to what humanity stands for. War is a failing, a failure. Man's propensity for creation and destruction combine into what I refer to as The Human Paradox.

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic disasters were yet another crime against humanity, although American propaganda chose to shun this. It was at the same time the latest exemplification of human capability in destruction of others. And by destructing others we destruct self. Those scientists who had worked on the atom, with civilisation advancement in mind, never thought for one second that their discoveries would be turned around and channelled towards life extermination. The acute realisation, echoed by Albert Einstein, is that technological progress both serves and unserves humanity: -

'I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.' - Albert Einstein

By blasting Japan, the US showed how far they were prepared to stand as contenders for world domination. The message was sent out loud and clear to the USSR and other nations that would stand in their way. Atomic was the ultimate all-powerful weapon of mass destruction.

The nuclear blasts signed off the end of WWII and the start of another war, insidious and sinister, the Cold War. It unleashed a new era, of shameless consumerism in the atomic age, the trademark of the (not that) 'Fabulous Fifties'. One step closer to the New World Order as we know it today.

The Enola Gay crew

3 Aug 2015

Monsanto: Deadly by Name, Evil by Nature

Would you trust a biotech company that once produced the notorious Agent Orange, a dioxin-based chemical warfare used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam during the eponymous war, and which affected over three million civilians and servicemen in its deadly wake?

Would you believe a company that has managed to control Agribusiness by consistently investing an incredible amount of its profits in legal and financial teams in order to intimidate and bully governments the world over, buy out seed companies in order to kill off any form of competition and exterminate heirloom cultivars and the riches of the natural world?

A company that drives uncooperative farmers out of business, exploits those who are forced to comply under duress, silences mainstream media, sues corporations... and the U.S. state of Vermont...

(Venus Fly Trap) 'Seed Pods at Kew' photography by Andrew Withey, via Flickr

A company that is an aggressive world supremacist in seed engineering technology, plays God with biodiversity, eradicates traditional seeds, contravenes traditional cultivation methods and promulgates monoculture. It is part of the quadrangle of death and deceit, alongside DuPont PioneerSyngenta and Bayer CropScience, other major purveyors of hybrid and GMO seeds and crop chemicals worldwide. Currently No.2 in the world, Pioneer is vying the top seat and contemplating a strategic alliance with Dow AgroSciences that would counterbalance any Monsanto-Syngenta merger. Syngenta delivers crop protection and GE (genetically-engineered) seeds as per its 'More Food from Less Land' formula. Increase in yield and decrease in wildlife are guaranteed. The sharp decline in bees, a direct result of the use of Neonics and glyphosate in the pesticide/ herbicide industry, is incumbent upon the GMO biotechs! Bayer is behind 'Science for a Better Life', and science for death, as manufacturers of poisonous trenches gas during WWI, and later the deadly Zyklon B for the gas chambers (via their subsidiary). 

A company that produces the notorious Roundup, a powerful, highly-toxic carcinogenic glyphosate-based broad-spectrum herbicide that kills off every living organism (vertebrates, invertebrates and vegetal), bar its trademark ('Roundup Ready') crops - how convenient!

A company that is responsible for the vast decline in monarch populations in the U.S. as a result of the above, as wild milkweed (which the butterflies feed on) has been wiped off the face of the countryside!

'Milkweed' photography by Andy Goodwin, via One Eyeland

A company that wants us to believe in the greater good of GMOs, and gets the likes of Nestlé ('Good Food, Good Life') to purport the message, while we are told that Monsanto employees will NOT eat GMO food at the staff canteen...

A company that tampers with genetic codes à gogo, creates Frankenstein plants that cross-pollinate with nature and contaminate it, in effect compromising and irrevocably threatening organic produce...

A company that dispenses with and bypasses the necessary trials, careful research and ethical conclusions that would just put a stop to this diabolical experiment...

A company whose scope of activity spans the 4Fs of food, feed, fiber and fuel. Understand, not only cattle feed and the sinister cattle growth hormone, but also cereals, fruit and vegetables for human consumption... plus the cotton that clothes us (88% of the US production in 2009 was GMO!), and let's not forget biofuels!

'Morning Glory Harvest' photography by Renee Rendler-Kaplan, via Flickr

A company that has infiltrated the FDA to the top, bought out the U.S. government, and is working hand in hand with food multinationals to force-feed us its crap aimed at getting us sick in the long term, for the benefit of Big Pharma... This one's for you, Bayer!

A company whose business activity is nothing but ONE BIG CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY, legalised by the governments it bought out, and wreaking havoc with the natural codes of nature and life...

A company that is a huge player in the sinister Agenda 21 programme that has been designed for us - the populace.

A company that tampers with the natural order is evil incarnate, and the devil's industry of choice. Nothing positive can or will come out of it.

Monsanto has a lot to answer for regarding the shape of things to come, and consumers are in for a bumpy ride! Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Further Reading:

28 Jul 2015

My French Summer Beauty

If you tasked some mystery shopper to call at my place, head right to my bathroom and then off to raid the bedside cabinet, they would have to report back that this woman is living her truth for a simple life in harmony with nature's nurture laws. And super beauty oils are a big part of it.

The French connection: Nuxe, Melvita, Lift'Argan and Caudalie

Gone are the days when I believed the hype of high-profile beauty brands with the so-called magic power creams, backed up by an ingredient list with unpronounceable words and aggressive formulae straight out of a chemical plant, only beautified by sleek, expensive packaging, and purported by a punchy media strategy packed-full with supercilious supermodels high on retinoids.

Let's just say that I went through years of the high-maintenance regimen, and the promised results were not quite as expected. Alongside this, the question of animal testing kept nagging me, with no clear answer from those beauty multi-nationals that just like to keep it opaque, I wonder why?

A flurry of French brands with nature at the heart!

Meanwhile after undergoing the high-tech cosmeceuticals treatment throughout the late 1990s to late 2000s, the beauty industry has undergone another revolution, this time over softer, and with caring in mind. It has been revitalised by a flurry of new and exciting brands like Estelle & Thild, REN, Tata Harper and One Love Organics that are organic, plant-based, nature-focused and irresistibly trendy in looks and offerings. They also state loud and proud that they do not test on animals. And that's a thumbs-up from me!

On the basis of less being more, my skincare routine has pared down, phasing out those products with the long lists of incomprehensible ingredients, cryptic formulations, misleading claims and/ or questionable ethics. I have switched to less ingredients, less products, less fuss. My quest for simplicity and honesty doesn't mean less efficiency or less potency, because the products I am now using daily harness the best that nature has to offer, backed by the wisdom and knowledge of our elders and ancient cultures who live(d) side by side with nature.

Borage is rich in Vitamin E, fights free radicals, and keeps skin supple.

Botanists and chemists have dug deeper to understand the make-up (compounds) of those miracle plants, verify their properties and ascertain their benefits, most of which have entered pharmacology. Plant cultivation has increased in line with demand and the renewed interest for natural remedies.

Well then, what are those super beauty oils I wax lyrical about? My numero uno is Nigella sativa. Every morning I cleanse my face, neck and décolletage with Caudalie Gentle Cleansing Milk, before taking a shower. Then I lightly massage pure (100%) Nigella (sativa seed) Oil by Melvita into my face, neck and décolletage, wait 5-10 minutes before applying a 50 SPF (*) mineral sunscreen (the latter only if I am planning on going out). I do not use any face cream because Nigella oil brings sufficient moisture. I am not ruling out face creams for the Winter months though, like the elegant rose-scented Rosa angelica by Sanoflore.

Nigella sativa

Nigella sativa (a.k.a. Black Cumin, Black Seed) grows wild, mostly in the Middle East, although I have found some specimens in Corsica. When dry, the flowers yield thick black seeds, which in turn yield a sacred, highly-reputed, vitamin-laden (A, B, and C) oil, rich in amino and fatty acids, not to mention calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and trace elements. Taken orally or applied topically, the oil has been used for over a thousand years, since (at least) the Pharaohs, with the emphatic claim of healing 'everything except death'. A bottle of Black Cumin oil was found in Tutankhamun's tomb as evidence of its importance in the immortality process. Meanwhile Cleopatra's legendary beauty was said to be a result of Nigella oil, and that is sterling testimonial to me! Yet beyond the skin-depth of beauty, the medicinal properties of Black Seed and scope of use, from epilepsy to diabetes via asthma and more, all backed up by scientific research, are certainly amazing.

In terms of topical use and skin-related properties, it purifies and tonifies skin, clears blemishes, blackheads, dull complexion, and treats skin disorders as varied as eczema, acne, psoriaris, fungal infections... and even skin cancer! My skin feels hydrated, soft, smooth and soothed all at once. A little oil goes a long way. I even used a few drops to moisturise the tips of Tickle's ears that were parched and dry, and this has worked wonders! Personally I love the oil scent, which reminds me of thyme in olive oil. Some users might find it a little overpowering, but this quickly dissipates. So yes, I am sold to the powers of Nigella oil!

Oils of Hooray!

Other oils I use: -
  • Huile Prodigieuse by Nuxe (Nature & Luxe) is the French brand's cult product and best-seller that has spurred countless imitations on the beauty market since its creation in 1991! The multi-purpose dry oil nourishes, repairs and soothes face, body and hair. It is a Summer, beachy lifestyle must-have as well as a party companion! Huile Prodigieuse is made up of at least 95% natural ingredients. It is the successful alliance of 6 botanical oils (Macadamia, Hazelnut, Borage, Sweet Almond, Camellia and St. John's Wort), and is enriched in vitamin E (known to protect skin cell membranes against ageing). In addition, Huile Prodigieuse is heavenly-scented. It is available in its 'Original' version and 'Or' (contains gold particles for a shimmer effect), and countless limited edition bottles. 'Or' compliments my Summer tan beautifully with a hint of iridescence. Most of all, I spray it to the dry ends of my highlighted locks (especially after an afternoon at the beach), and  otherwise apply a few subtle touches here and there (exposed shoulders, collarbone), or sometimes to highlight certain areas of my face (cheekbones, T-Zone).
  • Huile d'Argan by Lift'Argan is 100% unadulterated organic argan oil. Referred to as 'Liquid Gold', argan was once the closely-guarded anti-ageing beauty secret of Moroccan women. It is rich in fatty acids (Omega 6 and 9) as well as vitamin A + vitamin E (tocopherol, a powerful natural antioxidant). Argan oil has a rich yet delicate nutty fragrance reminiscent of walnut and olive oil. Like Nigella sativa, it is powerfood for the skin, soothing and nourishing it to great effect. Argan trees grow in the desert. Goats climb the trees in order to eat the fruit and its properties certainly help them to keep supple joints! Farmers collect the nut part of the fruit in order to extract the oil. Argan oil not only benefits skin, but also hair and nails. I am fonder of argan oil in the colder months of the year, when I massage it into my face, before daycream. In the Summer, I use it when my skin feels a little tired. I apply it before bedtime, as a night-time boost to my Nigella sativa morning skincare routine. You can also purchase 100% Pure Argan Oil via Josie Maran.
  • Wild Rose Body Oil by Weleda is a rich and heavenly-scented body oil made up of a combination of Jojoba seed oil, Sweet Almond oil, Rose flower oil and antioxidant-rich organic Rosehip seed oil, as the main ingredients. I use Wild Rose Body Oil as a revitalising pick-me-up for when my body needs a little relaxation (after a spot of gardening or DIY for instance), or to moisturise legs and arms.

Rosa damascena, northern Corsica

P.S: The first two pictures of this article feature Vinoperfect Radiance Serum by Caudalie. Please note that this is not a face/ body oil. It is a serum that addresses sun spots, age spots and other blemishes. I have included Vinoperfect to the photo because it is part of my skincare routine, albeit not majorly anymore, especially since I have started developing melasma on my cheekbones. Melasma has made me reconsider my blemish-free quest, to investigate new ways of addressing the skin condition that is notoriously difficult (if not impossible) to eradicate. I have a little hope in Nigella sativa to at least tone down the effects, though I am aware that more drastic measures are required.

(*) P.P.S: Addendum (30/07/2015): In her latest video, famed international make-up artist Lisa Eldridge discusses sunscreens and points out an interesting fact about SPF50 vs. SPF30 that should make us reconsider SPF30 as a healthier option.

Further Reading:

19 Jul 2015

William Blake's Animal Manifesto

A few days ago, I rediscovered a famous poem by Romantic English poet William Blake (1757-1827), and I was instantly struck by the modernity and vivacity of its author and the modernism of its tone, themes and values. The piece might well have been written today and thus shatters any preconceptions one may hold against poetry that is two centuries old. Now is an invitation to rediscover the great poet, and you might surprise yourself at relishing in the potence of his words and delighting in the message they behold.

Dhara the baby Indian elephant, rescued in July 2012 by IFAW, was a casualty of monsoon season. I sponsored her vet fees, only to be informed 2 weeks later that she had sadly not survived her ordeal.

The poem is called 'Auguries of Innocence', the full version of which (one undivided sequence of 132 aphoristic lines) is a click away at Poetry Foundation. The original manuscript may be viewed at The William Blake Archive. I concede that the poem title might not strike a chord right off the bat, but its exact first four lines somewhat will: -

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

The piece is assumed to have been written in 1803, yet was not published until decades after Blake's death, in 1863. It starts off as an introduction of sorts, a reflection of the wider cosmos into the finite and defined that is a grain of sand and a flower, then themselves imploded into an inner expansion and extension of cosmos into micro-cosmos, and the correlation between the two.

Luna was saved from the dairy industry and now lives peacefully at Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary.

Then the poem develops into a manifesto for the welfare, respect and dignity of animals, and in particular those who share our environment or revolve in its periphery, from cat and dog to horse and hare, via the humble gnat and dutiful spider. It then expands to the different segments of human society. The poem is a cautionary tale of retribution to those who scorn innocence and purity of heart in all their guises. The powerful forces of the Law of Attraction will eventually remedy any wrong-doings - or failing that - chastise the wrong-doers. If you mistreat an animal, expect to be mistreated back: 'You get what you give'. Bad karma boomerangs back, so beware!

For the purpose of this article, I am only including herewith excerpts. Missed-out parts are identified as "[...]". As for the animal pictures I have included, all have in common a connection to man - good or less so. Now let's get back to our poem...

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage

Mondika baby gorilla, Cincinnati Zoo, photography by Mark Dumont, via Flickr (August 2014)

A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr' all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the Hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear
A Skylark wounded in the wing
A Cherubim does cease to sing
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright
Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul
The wild deer, wandring here & there
Keeps the Human Soul from Care

I adopted this lovely little lad, Tickle, from Manchester Dogs Home, in August 2006.

The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
The Wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity

Mendoza canestrinii (female jumping spider), photography by Juraj Komar, via Flickr

He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar
The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat
Feed them & thou will grow fat
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue
The poison of the Snake & Newt
is the sweat of Envys Foot
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent


Esther the Wonder Pig might well be the most pampered pig on earth! (pict source)

He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age & Death
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death
The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons
The Questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to Reply
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out

Twiggy was saved from the 'mean' streets of Vigo, Spain. (pict source)

Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of Day

* * *

P.S: Dying to entertain you? The Tyke Elephant Outlaw documentary film exposes the drama and outrage behind performing animals and the abomination and cruelty of the circus industry, as epitomised here by Tyke, an elephant whose spirit had been broken as a calf so she could just follow orders and perform circus tricks on cue. In August 1994 in Honolulu, she snapped. She trampled down her trainer and went on the rampage. She escaped the circus and her prison sentence of a life, but her natural quest for freedom would see her robbed of her life, under a hail of gunfire.

10 Jul 2015

Marching Down the Champs-Elysées

On foot, horse-back, motorbikes, in camouflaged tanks and other combat vehicles, on fighter planes and helicopters short of a supersonic bang, French troops and allies will be marching down, driving past, flying over, and jumping off aircrafts down the Champs-Elysées for their yearly military parade, on 14th July, otherwise known as Bastille Day. The super-mediatised military event packs a punch and raises the goose bumps, but do we still feel grand and patriot in a fractured nation within a fractured Europe within a fractured world?

The foreign legion marches on! (14 July 2013)

First off, here's a little-known fact for our foreign friends: France is only one of less than half a dozen nations in the world to conduct military parades of the sort, alongside Russia, China and North Korea. Sounds a little, ahem, unsettling? Thing is, this is not just a military parade, it is a solemn and orchestrated showcase of our savoir-faire, technological expertise and prowess, and other tools of propaganda and self-promotion flaunted not just to France itself but also to the rest of the world, as a military power and potential belligerent to be reckoned with, alongside being a manufacturer of top-notch military engines, and re-affirming our services as an intelligence consultancy, and other 'peace-keeping' endeavours. Any warmongering undertone is channelled into 'Si vis pacem, para bellum' (If you want peace, prepare war). The Bastille Day send-off is a little like a fashion catwalk for military gear. Foreign nations watch the show, scratch their noses and fill in those order forms. The message sounds clear enough.

Yet not clear enough as to why we need to flaunt such an expensive and lavish operation in times of economic austerity and when so-called European unity dispenses us from any overzealous national pride. In terms of costs, the parade might have worked out at only 5 cents per French inhabitant back in 2013, it still added up to €3.3 million, no less! And the sumptuous firework displays that are partaken with later in the night are not accounted for. Besides I doubt that deep down the military feel like parading past the French president, when the government's cutbacks are drastically affecting their budgets.

La Garde Républicaine (14 July 2013)
Sadly, as grand and respectable as the parade is, I cannot help but see it turn more and more into some obligatory charade, not only because European rule and the worldwide banking system rule out any national spirit and pride and squash in the bud those Free Trade and entrepreneurship values that once gave an individual their chance at making it for themselves and for their nation, but also because what remains of national spirit and pride is either condensed into a national holiday, or channelled by the media into a political rally. It feels almost contrived and certainly out of context, almost discordant.

The irony of the Bastille Day parade goes even further. A few years ago, France landed a juicy military order from Russia: two BPC Mistral warships, Vladivostok and Sébastopol. With the French presidency being nowadays little more than Obama's labradoodle and Merkel's schnauzer, it bowed to the pressure and refused to deliver the goods to Russia in some sort of blackmail retaliation regarding the Ukraine and NATO. Problem is, the warships had been manufactured, they were ready to be delivered, and Russia had paid the bill. The ships are now stranded in a French port and their upkeep alone is costing us €5 million a month, notwistanding the hefty penalty charges. I doubt the US and Germany will help us with that!

Going over(board)? (14 July 2012)
When a government bangs on about employment, and bangs on about cost-saving measures, and bangs on about Bastille Day - virtually all in one sentence, and then in the next refuses to deliver a military order they originally honoured, they find no other response than to promise to create 8500 public service jobs in 2016! Forget about the logic, there is none.

9 Jul 2015

Palomitas de Cúrcuma

Serves 2
Preparation: a few seconds!
Cooking: approx. 7 mins 

Weary of the savoury junk snacks from the shops, I had been contemplating for a while the idea of making savoury popcorn as an appetiser for Summer alfresco apéritifs. Yet I didn't want it plain and was looking to devise a tropical version of popcorn: jazzed up and with a kick to it. I improvised a healthy veg(etari)an recipe out of the blue, using only four simple ingredients: organic popping corn, olive oil, sea salt and turmeric powder. It came out wonderful! The hints of olive and turmeric give it a light sunny taste and hue, with the salt bringing out the flavours.

I had to give this recipe a Spanish name because Palomitas de Cúrcuma sounds so much more mellifluous, moreish and tropical than plain Turmeric Popcorn, don't you think? It just rolls off the tongue in a twist and is a lovely echo to our recent Santa Fe excursion! The Spanish language beautifully captures the sunny undertones of this recipe. And "palomitas" is one of my favourite Spanish words - together with "pastel" (cake) and "estrella" (star).

Please note that I do not have a special popcorn pan. I make my popcorn using a standard medium-sized saucepan and lid. I find it easier therefore to make small batches of popcorn at a time, rather than one big portion in one go. That's why this recipe is for two servings.
  • Half a cup organic popping corn
  • Enough olive oil to generously coat the entire surface of the pan and the maize kernels (i.e. approx 4-5 tablespoons oil)
  • Sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
Pour the olive oil into the pan, then add the turmeric and a good pinch of salt. Tilt the pan and swoosh around to ensure its bottom surface is evenly and generously coated. Add more olive oil if necessary. Then add the popping corn, place a lid securely onto the pan and swoosh some more. Heat up on medium heat, keeping an eye on the stove. Shake the pan regularly to prevent the kernels from sticking, and keep the lid firmly onto the pan while doing so.

After a few minutes, you will start hearing the kernels pop. Carry on shaking the pan, keeping the lid on. Then when the popping noises have started subsiding, carefully lift the lid and check. Take the pan off the heat, pour its contents into a serving bowl. Add another good pinch of salt and roughly stir with a wooden spoon (or just run your fingers through). Et voilà! The palomitas are a perfect accompaniment to soft drinks, long drinks and shorts. Let's get the party started, amigos!

4 Jul 2015

Santa Fe Way

When you feel sizzled to a jalapeño on fire, and the colours on your photography have discoloured to a shimmy on the horizon line... When your day is air-conditioned, with a view over next door's dusty empty pool, and the desert heat beats down your windows like vacuumed into the cooling pipes... When Georgia O'Keeffe's desert flowers are as freshly-picked as Heaven on your mind, and Bananarama's Cruel Summer drifts from the radio to you like a whiff of sticky cotton candy from the fun-fair down the road... Somehow my friend, you are heading Santa Fe way.

Source: All photography La Baguette Magique, except (4). From top down: (1) Mr. Tickle prancing on the bed, all "dandified" in his recently-acquired pareo! (2) A handful of dried bougainvillea bracts reveal their inflorescence... and their decorative power. (3) If Piña Colada were to be a candle, it probably would resemble this one, from French retailer Monoprix. (4) 'Rose', oil on board painting by Georgia O'Keeffe (1957). (5) Small ceramic 'Sunshine' bowl by Chehoma. (6) Wild euphorbia, northern Corsica. (7) Ladies, feel fresh and fabulous with 'Jasmin' eau de toilette by French perfume house Fragonard. (8) The Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) in my parents' garden is growing new leaves. They start off soft as baby skin, before going spiky! (9) Set for the beach - and the desert heat - in my stunning 'Capri' Tunic in Coral Woodblock by Stella & Dot! Still packaged up but not for long! (10) "My name is Tickle, not Tiki! Let's just forget about that pareo!" OK, Tick-Tick! Now come on, let's go to the beach!

28 Jun 2015

Inspiration's Den of Iniquity

In December 2012, I came across an article in Brain Pickings about The Daily Routines of Great Writers, and their creative space and process. This got me thinking about my own daily routine (or lack thereof) as a (yet-to-be-published) writer. I remember commenting on BP's Facebook page on the subject, sharing what a 'typical' day was for me as a writer:
"My personal routine as a writer is simply not to have any... I write in a state of distraction and urgency, not to say chaos, in noisy places, on random bits of tatty paper, guided by the guises, quirks and fancies of inspiration, driven by both emotion and rationale. You will never find me locked away in solitary confinement, sat at a desk in a neat and tidy room, writing calligraphic-style on the beautiful pages of a beautiful notebook, within a set timeframe like this is the day job. I may be a writer but never aspire to look like one either."

Brett Easton Ellis' The Typewriter Campaign with Persol

All in all, I couldn't help but be a little taken aback by the lack of creative process in some of those daily lives I was reading about. There was a rigor, a rigidity, a structure, an orderliness, and a predictability resulting from repetitive acts, that fashioned what a typical writer's day was supposed to look like. If anything, it verged on the superstitious, the mechanical and the obsessive, which I found at odds with creativity and untransferrable to a less disciplined character like myself. There is method in my madness though, yet I find that I would be counter-productive if I were subjected to some rigid routine pattern.

For me, imagination, curiosity, observation and inspiration - the intermingled fuels that feed creativity - work hand in hand with the act of creating, a.k.a. the art form. It is a unison work in progress, a symbiosis that accompanies the artist beyond the projects they are working on. It is a way of life. Creativity is very messy and undisciplined - and that is the beauty of it! Inspiration hits you anywhere and at any time, whether the moment is appropriate or not, whether you are in the mood to transcribe it there and then - or not. It is up to you to seize the day as it turns out to become, capture the spark in its blessing, as it twinkles at you for you to translate into creative genius - or just let it peter out, often never to be able to rekindle it again, at least in its very same form.

Christian Dell Table Lamp, circa 1929-1930 (pict source)

Back to the Brain Pickings article, Ray Bradbury was on that same wavelength:
"My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this." - Ray Bradbury
The creative urge is what defines artistic life as a holistic experience. It shatters to smithereens any preconceived idea around the 'typical' working day. It happens and you deal with it - or you don't. Multi-talented chanteuse Lady Gaga goes even further, lending some mystical connotation to the experience:
“The most important thing about creativity is that you honor your creativity and you don’t ever ignore it or go against what that creative image is telling you… Last night I was lying in bed and I had an idea for an outfit and I just made myself get up and sketch it real fast then went back to sleep. I think it’s when you say “I’m too tired I have to go to bed” is when creativity stops coming. If God calls you, pick up the damn phone.” - Lady Gaga
Cyphus germari by Michaël Cailloux, via Les Pépins

I have answered that phone in those most incongruous of moments. In the middle of the night, waking up from a dream, or while on the move, in my travels, sometimes hardly prepared for it, stopping my car by the roadside, scribbling away those words on random bits of paper I find in my handbag (if that notebook I have left home), or even texting myself the words. If no paper and no phone, then trying to remember those words and sentences (or just scale down to some trigger words that help me remember the text or poem I have just created 'out of the blue'), and recite them parrot fashion on my way home or to a place where I can scribble them down.

In this spontaneous interchange between inspiration and the receiver (the artist), I fail to find any room for the showroom office, the tidy desk, the neatly-aligned books, comforting grigris and perfectly-sharpened pens, under the solemn time-ticking auspices of the alarm clock structuring your working day. A writer's working day is hardly a 9am-5pm office job. My better half, Roby, who is a published American author, says that his office is only tidy when he is not working. Let us not forget though that no matter how messy and untidy creativity may appear at source, it comes out disciplined and structured once channelled onto paper. Therefore the apparent untidiness of the artist should not define them or their craft.

Bret Easton Ellis For Persol Typewriter Edition from Persol.

Creativity is an on-going process. It doesn't start, it doesn't end. Now you are welcome to that obligatory 20-minute morning walk ritual before you start your artistic endeavours, supported in your task by your favourite songtrack and your loyal artefacts as they tune you in - should you be of the belief that these externals will help trigger your genius onto paper afterwards. For my part, I will not have my creative life regimented to that extent. I do not have a typical day. The only routine I have is imposed upon me because I currently live at my parents' house, and the set meals and other family obligations structure some sort of routine into my day, but this will change soon, when I move out.

I will not push the words either. French author and 2012 Goncourt Prize winner Jérôme Ferrari summed up his technique nicely in a recent interview to a local French newspaper: "I do not search for words, I allow them to come to me." Nothing of a high calibre will come out when creativity is forced out of you, like you are on a tight deadline, with a multitude of other parameters attached. Rules and conditions restrict creativity. They do not expand it.

'Art is a journey into the most unknown thing of all - oneself. 
Nobody knows his own frontiers… 
I don’t think I’d ever want to take a road 
if I knew where it led.' - Louis Kahan 

P.S: More from the Persol-Bret Easton Ellis Typewriter Campaign in our previous post.


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