Monday, February 27, 2017

Santiago Calatrava’s New York City Oculus

The main concourse inside the Oculus
I know it’s a cliché to say, I don’t know much about art—but I know what I like. But in my case it is true. I also know little about architecture, but that has never stopped me from appreciating great examples of the form, be they magnificent Gothic cathedrals or cloud-busting skyscrapers; iconic bridges, or beautifully constructed Victorian homes.

On my visit to New York City last year, I often found myself surfacing from the bowels of the massive Fulton Street subway station, from where I made my way into Santiago Calatrava’s amazing Oculus, or to give the building its official title, the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. Calatrava seems to have become a somewhat controversial architect for reasons I don’t fully understand, and since I am not qualified to comment on them, I won’t try and explain them here. I have not personally seen any other of his architectural constructions, so I can offer no comment on those either.

What I have seen with my own eyes, however, is the Oculus that sits above the vast underground subway and Path train network that services New Jersey, and sends tendrils of underground railway lines snaking up the island of Manhattan, all the way into the Bronx, and across the East River into the heart of Brooklyn.

Each time I walked into the vast hall that sits below the soaring white ribs that form its outer shell, I have been awed by the grandeur and vast scale. I suspect many New Yorkers don’t take the time to linger in the building or pause to appreciate the towering interior. If that is the case, it is a great pity.

The Oculus seen from Brookfield Place
Might that be why the building has come in for much criticism? Even now that the building is complete, the Oculus comes in for regular bagging. Why? Is it the design? Is it the final cost, which blew out from an initial projected cost of $2.2 billion to around $4 billion? Is it because only 40-50,000 commuters pass through the hub on an average weekday? Is it because, as the writer Martin Filler describes it in his article for the New York Review of Books, headlined New York’s Vast Flop, nothing more than a glorified shopping centre? Maybe it is for all these and many other reasons. 

In the article (which is in fact a review of three newish books examining various aspects of what came to be known as Ground Zero), Filler complains that the construction of the Oculus was a “…stupendous waste of public funds.” To be fair to Martin Filler, the title and thrust of his review seems to be aimed at the whole of the World Trade Center complex, not just at Calatrava’s Oculus.

However, I just can’t bring myself to agree with Filler’s feelings about the Oculus, which, apart from the “…stupendous waste of public funds,” he variously describes as "...this kitschy jeu d'esprit" (meaning: a light-hearted display of wit and cleverness, especially in a work of literature.) Literature? Whatever...

The Oculus and WTC One
Martin Filler also talks about the “…maudlin sentimentalism of his [Calatrava’s] design," and in his most damning paragraph writes in part: “What was originally likened by its creator to a fluttering paloma de la paz (dove of peace) because of its white, winglike, upwardly flaring rooflines seems more like a steroidal stegosaurus that wandered onto the set of a sci-fi flick and died there.”

Wow. Don’t hold back, Martin. And he doesn’t. He goes on to write: “Instead of an ennobling civic concourse on the order of Grand Central or Charles Follen McKim’s endlessly lamented Pennsylvania Station, what we now have on top of the new transit facilities is an eerily dead-feeling, retro-futuristic, Space Age Gothic shopping mall with acres of highly polished, very slippery white marble flooring like some urban tundra.”

And further:
“Far from this being the “exhilarating nave of a genuine people’s cathedral,” as Paul Goldberger claimed in Vanity Fair, Calatrava’s superfluous shopping shrine is merely what the Germans call a Konsumtempel (temple of consumption), and a generic one at that.”

Whew! I think it’s pretty clear that Martin Filler doesn’t like the Oculus. Personally, I’m with Paul Goldberger from Vanity Fair. I love the building. I love the “white, winglike, upwardly flaring rooflines,” and I also love the “retro-futuristic, Space Age Gothic shopping mall” feel of the building. If it doesn’t turn up in a big budget, oversized superhero movie sometime during the next five years I’ll eat my hat.

Who, but a handful of New Yorker’s cares that the complex took twelve years to complete instead of the five originally planned for? Who, but a bunch of bean counters even remembers that the price of the building blew out to $4 billion? And does it matter that Grand Central Terminal has a daily commuter tally of 750,000 subway riders, compared to the already noted 40-50,000 that pass through the Oculus? Of course not. Nor does it matter, that it cost more than One World Trade Center.

What matters today is that the building stands completed, and that as long as it is maintained and cared for properly it will still be standing there in not just fifty years, but in a hundred years. Properly cared for and maintained, no one (apart from a few critics
Visitors gather for the official opening, August 16, 2016
and envious architects), will remember or care about the length of time it took to complete, or the final cost.

Finally, in his March 9, 2017 article, Filler writes that the Oculus "...opened to the public in March 2016. thought with no fanfare whatever." While that may have been the case, it is also true that there was in fact an official opening for the center six months after Filler's article was published, on Tuesday, August 16. I know this because I was there, as were thousands of other people.

Native New Yorkers, and the many thousands of visitors who pass through the Oculus will make up their own minds about how they feel about the building. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of them will stop to look up and admire the sheer scale and beauty of this new architectural gem, which I predict will eventually go on to be lauded for the “retro-futuristic, Space Age Gothic” building it may well be.

More Information:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Was David Letterman At 1969 Jimi Hendrix Gig?

Well you can call me crazy but today I was watching a YouTube video of Jimi Hendrix playing a concert at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall in 1969, and as a camera pans across the faces of audience members, I swear I spotted David Letterman in the crowd.

Yes, that’s the David Letterman of the old Late Show With… show.

Letterman, who was born in 1947, would have been around 21 or 22 at the time of the concert.

Does anyone know whether he ever mentioned seeing Hendrix in London on his show?

Below is a screen grab from the video with an insert I’ve added of Letterman. You can see a clear resemblance, or am I imagining things?

In the video of the 1969 Royal Albert Hall concert, Letterman appears for about three seconds the 2:43 mark.

So, am I crazy or not? 

Festive Times in The Festival State

Adelaide Fringe Parade
As ‘Mad March’ fast approaches, Adelaide, the capital of South Australia is well into its festive season. Already this summer the city has hosted the Tour Down Under (January 17—22), that annual international bike race that was first staged in 1999, with the local rider Stuart O’Grady taking the win. Since then the Tour has grown to become the biggest cycle race in the southern hemisphere with international cycle stars like Cadel Evans, Marcel Kittel, Andy Schleck and Andre Greipel just a few of the many great cyclists who have participated. 

But the Tour Down Under is only the starter event for South Australia’s festival season. Underway as I write this is the Adelaide Fringe (February 17—March 19). The Fringe has been taking place for more than 55 years, and this year features a veritable smorgasbord of more than 500 acts covering everything from comedy to cabaret, music to magic, visual arts, theatre, film, and so much more.

For many local and visitors, the Adelaide Fringe holds more interest and excitement than the premier arts event in South Australia, the annual Adelaide Festival (March 3–19). This major international festival has been taking place since 1960, and features a program of theatre, opera, music and dance, more visual arts and film, talks, and installations, some commissioned specifically for the event.

Writer's Week
A major component of the Adelaide Festival is the free Writer’s Week (March 4–9), which takes place in the open air at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. This year, as always, Writer’s Week celebrates a diverse range of writers and writing, and includes writers from Chile and Cuba, Ireland, Iceland and Indonesia, the United States and Canada, and of course a host of writers from Australia. For a book lover like myself, the opportunity to listen to some of the best writers on the planet talk about books and read from their latest works is not to be missed.

But wait, there’s more!

Rev heads, have not been left out. Somewhere, in the middle of this high art and low culture, the annual Supercar motor race, the Clipsal 500 (March 2–5), hits the streets. During this event visitors get to indulge their love of fast cars, burnt rubber, skimpily clad women, and high-octane fuel. At the end of the day's activities on Friday and Saturday night, participants can rock into the night to the music of the Hilltop Hoods, The Funkoars, Baby Animals and one of the great Aussie rock bands, Hunters & Collectors.

But Mad March (as the locals refer to this period every summer), is the gift that keeps on giving. If you have not yet been exhausted or financial broken by fast cars, highbrow theatre and arts, books and their writers, and the almost unlimited shenanigans of the Adelaide Fringe you can always put on your tie-dye T’s, braid your hair into dreadlocks, douse yourself in patchouli oil, and spend a weekend at WOMADelaide (March 10–13).

This four-day world music festival is located in the city’s Botanic Gardens, and this year includes more than 60 acts and speakers from more than 20 countries. Among the performers this year are the Hot 8 Brass Band from New Orleans; the Specials, a band that brought an updated version of British Ska music to the world; and The Philip Glass Ensemble which will be performing music from Koyaanisqatsi. Apart from the music, WOMADelaide features workshops, Planet Talks, an ElectroLounge, a KidZone, a host of international food stalls, and a Healing Village for those needing some time out from the feasting and dancing.

Whew! I'm exhausted simply from the anticipation and the promise this list of amazing events suggests. Sadly, time, money and age will all combine to ensure that at most, I will only be able to dip into the many sweets on offer. But then, that is probably exactly how it should be.

Dear reader, you may not be able to attend any of the above events at this time, but I seriously encourage you to think about planning a visit to Adelaide during the summer festival season. If there is one thing I can guarantee you, it is that you won't be bored.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Crop Trust: Global Seed Vault

Nestled in the Svalbard archipelago lies a small unassuming-yet-sturdy building created to last forever. While it may look minimal, this building is one of the most important in the world because it hold the key to continual hitman survival. It houses the world’s largest—and most secure—collection of crop diversity.

While the Svalbard Global Seed Vault isn’t the only gene bank in the world, its seed collection is the most likely to maintain funding while also withstanding war, natural disasters and climate change.

Built by the Norwegian government and encouraged by the Crop Trust when the vulnerability of other gene banks came to light, the Global Seed Vault serves as a timeless record of crops throughout generations. It is meant to ensure—regardless of what happens to the planet—that agriculture can survive and thus, the human race can survive.

Since 1903, more than 93 percent of fruit and vegetable varieties in the United States have gone extinct. With a changing climate, the only way agriculture can adapt and continue to feed the world is with crop diversity. The Global Seed Vault’s mission is to ensure agriculture remains resilient to environmental changes.

There are currently more than 880,000 samples in the vault—seeds from every country in the world. Ultimately, the hope is to greatly increase this number. The vault has the ability to store 4.5 million varieties of crops and a maximum of 2.5 billion seeds.

It is every citizen’s moral duty—and in the world’s best interest—to come together to fund the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, helping it to not just survive, but thrive. Every $625.00 saves a single crop variety. Please join GoPro in supporting Crop Trust’s Seed Vault to safeguard crop diversity forever.

Below, follow world-renowned scientist Cary Fowler into the heart of the arctic, where the Svalbard Global Seed Vault lies nestled in the frozen Norwegian landscape.

Want to get involved? Visit Crop Trust here…

- o0o -

Just days after adding this post, more information popped up on my Facebook feed linking the a Smithsonian magazine story titles, Syria Just Made a Major Seed Bank Deposit in the Svalbard Seed Bank.

According to the story, in 2011, during the Arab Spring, “…an advisor to the Crop Trust, which operates the vault in Svalbard, reached out to the Syrian-based seed bank to ask if they needed to back up their seeds. Though officials initially refused, they eventually acquiesced—just in case. Soon after, the political situation began to degrade.”

Thankfully, 49,000 types of seeds arrived in Svalbard just before turmoil hit Aleppo.

Writers From Life's Other Side

A small selection of books bought this year
Over the past few years I have made a point of seeking out writers that have never been on my radar, despite the accolades they have garnered for their writing. I am especially interested in discovering and reading writers from ethnic backgrounds that offer a new and unique (for me), view of life that I have never experienced or imagined. Additionally, I have been seeking out male and female writers of colour, who tend to add another layer of insight and experience to their writing that non-white male and female writers are simply unable to provide.

Among my female 'discoveries' have been Maya Angelou (I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings); Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God); Jesmyn Ward (Men We Reaped, and Salvage The Bones); and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (That Thing Around Your Neck, and Americanah).

Male writers of colour that have also come to my attention and join my list of new 'discoveries' include the brilliant and insightful Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Beautiful Struggle, and his stunning follow-up, Between The World And Me); Teju Cole (Every Day Is For The Thief); Colson Whitehead (Apex Hides The Hurt); Ernest J. Gaines (A Gathering of Old Men); and Daniel Black, whose recent book The Coming, I examined here...

Still more of my recent book buying adventures
Of course, I am not completely ignorant about the pantheon of great African-American writers who were, or are contemporaries of the above writers. Men such as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, W.E.B DuBois and Ralph Ellison are names I have been familiar with for many years. Of these four writers, the only one I had read was James Baldwin. Indeed, earlier this year I reread two of Baldwin's now classic essay collections, Nobody Knows My Name (from 1961), and The Fire Next Time (1963).

I had read these and other books by James Baldwin during my 20's, but was motivated to read them again because two contemporary writers, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Jesmyn Ward have responded to Baldwin's famous essay, The Fire Next Time, by publishing in these past couple of years, Between The World And Me (Coates, 2015), and a collection of modern essays edited by Ward called The Fire This Time (2016).

Until recent years, my knowledge of female minority writers has been all but non-existent. I have read Toni Morrison over the years, and while I was familiar with Alice Walker and her book, The Color Purple, I had not, and still have not, read that or any other of her books. To be honest, I can not recall having read a novel by another woman of colour before Toni Morrison, which, for an avid reader like myself, feels like a terrible admission to be making.

Clearly I have a lot of catching up to do, and the list of authors, both male and female that I am adding to my reading list, continues to grow and expand. I just hope I have the time and energy to do the authors and their books, justice.

Here are links to some of the books I have read (or plan to read) this year...

All are worth reading.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Travel Tales From The Past: A Venetian Diddler

As an avid reader, I make it a habit of mine to regularly scan through the new additions to that great online collection of public domain books at the Gutenberg.Org website. Currently there are more than 54,000 titles available on the site, and all are free to download (in the ePub and Kindle format), or read online.

Today, on a whim I decided to check out the September 5, 1840 edition of The Irish Penny Journal, and to my delight found the following cautionary tale from a mister Michael Kelly who recounted his experience with a Venetian scammer.

Note: Wikipedia explains that a zecchino or sequin, was "...a gold coin weighing 3.5 grams (0.12 oz) of gold." It was minted by the Republic of Venice from the 13th century onwards.

Oh, and a Capon is a rooster that has been castrated to improve the quality of its flesh for food - although, I hasten to add, not the quality of its sex life! But I digress. Let's get on with our cautionary tale...

* * * 

A Venetian Diddler
When in Venice, I had but two zecchinos left wherewith to fight my way through this wicked world. My spirits for the first time deserted me: I never passed so miserable a night in my life, and in shame of my “doublet and hose,” I felt very much inclined to “cry like a child.”

While tossing on my pillow, however, I chanced to recollect a letter which my landlord of Bologna, Signor Passerini, had given me to a friend of his, a Signor Andrioli; for, as he told me, he thought the introduction might be of use to me.

In the morning I went to the Rialto coffee-house, to which I was directed by the address of the letter. Here I found the gentleman who was the object of my search. After reading my credentials very graciously, he smiled, and requested me to take a turn with him in the Piazza St Marc. He was a fine-looking man, of about sixty years of age. I remarked there was an aristocratic manner about him, and he wore a very large tie-wig, well powdered, with an immensely long tail. He addressed me with a benevolent and patronizing air, and told me that he should be delighted to be of service to me, and bade me from that moment consider myself under his protection. “A little business,” said he, “calls me away at this moment, but if you will meet me here at two o’clock, we will adjourn to my cassino, where, if you can dine on one dish, you will perhaps do me the favour to partake of a boiled capon and rice. I can only offer you that; perhaps a rice soup, for which my cook is famous; and it may be just one or two little things not worth mentioning.”

A boiled capon—rice soup—other little things, thought I—manna in the wilderness! I strolled about, not to get an appetite, for that was ready, but to kill time. My excellent, hospitable, long-tailed friend was punctual to the moment; I joined him, and proceeded towards his residence.

As we were bending our steps thither, we happened to pass a luganigera’s (a ham-shop), in which there was some ham ready dressed in the window. My powdered patron paused,—it was an awful pause; he reconnoitred, examined, and at last said, “Do you know, Signor, I was thinking that some of that ham would eat deliciously with our capon:—I am known in this neighbourhood, and it would not do for me to be seen buying ham. But do you go in, my child, and get two or three pounds of it, and I will walk on and wait for you.”

I went in of course, and purchased three pounds of the ham, to pay for which I was obliged to change one of my two zecchinos. I carefully folded up the precious viand, and rejoined my excellent patron, who eyed the relishing slices with the air of a gourmand; indeed, he was somewhat diffuse in his own dispraise for not having recollected to order his servant to get some before he left home. During this peripatetic lecture on gastronomy, we happened to pass a cantina, in plain English, a wine-cellar. At the door he made another full stop.

“In that house,” said he, “they sell the best Cyprus wine in Venice—peculiar wine—a sort of wine not to be had any where else; I should like you to taste it; but I do not like to be seen buying wine by retail to carry home; go in yourself; buy a couple of flasks, and bring them to my cassino; nobody hereabouts knows you, and it won’t signify in the least.”

This last request was quite appalling; my pocket groaned to its very centre; however, recollecting that I was on the high road to preferment, and that a patron, cost what he might, was still a patron, I made the plunge, and, issuing from the cantina, set forward for my venerable friend’s cassino, with three pounds of ham in my pocket, and a flask of wine under each arm.

I continued walking with my excellent long-tailed patron, expecting every moment to see an elegant, agreeable residence, smiling in all the beauties of nature and art; when, at last, in a dirty miserable lane, at the door of a tall dingy-looking house, my Mæcenas stopped, indicated that we had reached our journey’s end, and, marshalling me the way that I should go, began to mount three flights of sickening stairs, at the top of which I found his cassino: it was a little Cas, and a deuce of a place to boot; in plain English, it was a garret. The door was opened by a wretched old miscreant, who acted as cook, and whose drapery, to use a gastronomic simile, was “done to rags.”

Upon a ricketty apology for a table were placed a tattered cloth, which once had been white, and two plates; and presently in came a large bowl of boiled rice.

“Where’s the capon?” said my patron to his man.

“Capon!” echoed the ghost of a servant; “the——”

“Has not the rascal sent it?” cried the master.

“Rascal!” repeated the man, apparently terrified.

“I knew he would not,” exclaimed my patron, with an air of exultation, for which I saw no cause. “Well, well, never mind, put down the ham and the wine; with those and the rice, I dare say, young gentleman, you will be able to make it out. I ought to apologise, but in fact it is all your own fault that there is not more; if I had fallen in with you earlier, we should have had a better dinner.”

I confess I was surprised, disappointed, and amused; but as matters stood, there was no use in complaining, and accordingly we fell to, neither of us wanting the best of all sauces—appetite.

I soon perceived that my promised patron had baited his trap with a fowl to catch a fool; but as we ate and drank, all care vanished, and, rogue as I suspected him to be, my long-tailed friend was a clever witty fellow, and, besides telling me a number of anecdotes, gave me some very good advice; amongst other things to be avoided, he cautioned me against numbers of people who in Venice lived only by duping the unwary. I thought this counsel came very ill from him. “Above all,” said he, “keep up your spirits, and recollect the Venetian proverb, ‘A hundred years of melancholy will not pay one farthing of debt.’”—Reminiscences of Michael Kelly.

* * *
For other cautionary tales of travel scams, read One Ring To Scam Us All, and Another City, Another Scam.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Bitter End—Loud and Live

Screenshot from the live Bitter End feed
I have written about that famed New York City venue, the Bitter End on numerous occasions on this blog, and today I am going to write more.

Coming of age during the heady folk and rock-filled days of the 1960s, I have long been aware of the place the Bitter End, and other long-lost venues have had in the development of modern folk, rock, jazz and blues music. Many of the biggest names in contemporary music have played on the venue’s small, unassuming stage. The Legends page on the Bitter End website name-checks dozens of comedians, musicians and bands including Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bette Midler, Miles Davis, Billy Crystal, and Woody Allen, to name just six.

During each of my four visits to New York I have made a point of visiting the venue multiple times. Each time looking forward to seeing up-and-coming singer-songwriters, established bands, and first-timers. I have rarely been disappointed by the talent on offer. The Bitter End still holds true to its roots by hosting open mic’s, fundraisers, album launches, and tribute nights throughout the year, along with a full calendar of nightly music that often features as many as seven different acts. 

So what’s a poor boy to do when he lives—as I do—10,000 miles away from the venue he holds in such high regard?

Thankfully, when it comes to the Bitter End, I, and potentially thousands of others, can log on to the nightly Live Internet Stream and enjoy the music from the comfort of our own homes. And that is exactly what I do as often as I can from my lounge room in Adelaide, Australia. In fact, as I write this, I am watching the regular Monday night jam hosted by Richie Cannata.

At this point I should probably mention that when it is 7:00pm in New York City (when the entertainment begins at the Bitter End), it is a very reasonable 10:30am the following morning in Adelaide! And since I am a 68-year-old retiree, and don’t have to be at work, or indeed anywhere at 10:30 in the morning, I have plenty of time—and bandwidth—to devote to watching great live music from the Big Apple. As the song says, Some days are diamonds.

Wig Party
In this post, apart from singing the venue’s praises once again, I thought I would mention several of the groups that have impressed me over the past few weeks as I have tuned in to the live feed, and share my brief communications with some of them. I should explain that when a group impresses my mightily, I make a point of seeking them out on Facebook (and pretty much everyone is on Facebook, nowadays), and sending them a personal message to convey my appreciation for the music they played during their sets. To my surprise, most people performing at the venue don’t seem to be aware that there is even a live feed reaching out to the world.

For example, when I sent a message to the group Wig Party just after they left the stage around 3:00am one recent morning, I wrote (in part):
Really enjoyed your great set all the way 'down under' here in Adelaide, Australia, where I have been watching the The Bitter End's live internet stream… I especially enjoyed the playing of your amazing guitarist, Vincent Ventriglia. That man really knows how to play. Dom Palombi [the drummer] is no slouch either.

A member of Wig Party soon responded with: 
Jim thank you so much!! Didn't even know there was a stream. It's kinda crazy when you think about it, someone on the other side of the world was listening and watch the show. 

Crazy, all right. And a real treat. For the record Wig Party are guitarist and vocalist, Vincent Ventriglia, John Cisco (Bass/Vocals); Dom Palombi (Drums), and Hank Rosenthal (Keyboards and Vocals).

Another group that tore down the house recently was the four piece ensemble, LEVEL 5. The quartet are an “…instrumental fusion band led by drummer, Mark Feldman.” On Facebook, the promo material notes that the group performs compositions by the guitarist, Oz Noy, although it’s not clear if the tunes they play are all exclusively composed by Oz Noy. As it happens, the Oz Noy Trio also have a residency at the Bitter End, and precede Richie Cannata’s Monday Night Jam every week.

Level 5
My message to Level 5 said in part: 
WOW! You guys totally 'killed it' tonight at the Bitter End. What an amazing set… Most days I log into the venues live internet stream just for the joy and excitement of seeing bands and singers I have never heard of, and tonight Level 5 tore down the house.
In response the band sent this message:
Hey Jim! That's awesome! Thank you so much for the kind words. If you give me your email address and post code I can add you to our mailing list so you'll know about our shows. Thanks again.

The final group I want to mention is THE SECTIONALS, a trio of teenagers from New York City who play mostly original “Alternative, Rock, Blues” music. Their Facebook bio reads: 
Sofia D’Angelo (guitar & vocals), Michael Golden (drums), and Cyan Hunte (bass) are three sixteen-year-olds with such a passionate love of music that they decided to make their own. From three different NYC schools, they met at a Lowell’s World Young Musicians Showcase at the Underground Lounge and formed the band in October 2012, and they have performed shows  throughout NYC and surrounding areas including The Bitter End, The Parlour, Tammany Hall, The Studio at Webster Hall and The Stephen Talkhouse to name a few. Their self-titled debut EP is available on iTunes and Spotify. 

The Sectionals
While a little rough around the edges, the group is a perfect example of why I watch the live feed from the Bitter End. You can never be sure who or what style of performer will take to the stage there. Today’s beginners may well go on to be the big stars of tomorrow. After all, Lady Gaga herself played the Bitter End in the early days of her career. I was impressed with the energy and enthusiasm (how could I not be), of The Sectionals, and sent them the following message via Facebook…

Just caught your set at the Bitter End, and wanted to say how much I enjoyed the show. I…liked how you throw yourself into your performance and ‘own the stage’. That is a skill that many performers never learn. Congratulations, again on a great set. I hope your career in music is long and successful.

Soon after sending that message (Sofia?) responded:
OMG!! This so sick. Thank you so much for tuning in, so glad you liked our stuff.

To conclude, I have made a point of sending performers personal greetings to not only thank them for their music, but also because I think it is important to let them know that their potential audience stretches far beyond the narrow confines of that great venue on Bleecker Street. I know Wig Party, Level 5, and The Sectionals would have all gotten a huge buzz from playing at the Bitter End—that landmark venue that has launched a thousand careers—but all three groups clearly got a buzz from learning that I was watching their performances thousands of miles away on the other side of the planet.

Next time they play at the Bitter End, they will have that knowledge in the back of their minds, and hopefully it will inspire them to crank their performances up a notch or two and take them to a higher level. Taking a few minutes to get in touch through individual Facebook pages is the least I can do.

Finally, dear reader, I would encourage you to check out the Bitter End live internet feed for yourselves, and also take the time to seek out and get in touch with the musicians, whether soloists or ensembles, and send them a note or two of appreciation. You can be sure it will make their day—or night.

A little encouragement can go a long way.

Monday, February 20, 2017

NYC: The Frick Collection

The Frick Collection may not be the biggest collection of art in New York City, but the unique nature of the collection makes it well worth visiting, especially for frequent visitors to the city who have 'done' the major museums and galleries and who are looking for something different to do. 

Smaller collections like those at the Frick are also worth visiting if you have a limited amount of time to spend in New York. You don't need to set aside the best part of day (or two) to appreciate the full collection as you would if visiting the Metropolitan Museum, or the Museum of Modern Art.

The collection was assembled by the Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) and is housed in his former residence on Fifth Avenue, one of New York City’s few remaining Gilded Age mansions. The museum opened in 1935 and has continued to acquire works of art since Mr. Frick’s death. Among the many artists represented in the collection are Rembrandt, Giovanni Bellini, El Greco, Goya, Vermeer, William Turner, James McNeill Whistler, and numerous others.

Space is set aside for temporary exhibitions (the exhibition, Watteau’s Soldiers was taking place when I visited in late August, 2016), while another room screens short films examining the history of the collection.

Like most modern institutions, the Frick now has an excellent app for both Android and Apple smartphones and tablet devices. The app allows you to explore the galleries, search for specific works of art or artists, and provides information about current exhibitions and tours.

In fact, as I write this, the app offers a Director’s Choice tour with 38 stops; a Turner tour (again with 38 stops), and several others. You can not only examine each work of art, but brief audio explanations accompany each image as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Frick, and the chance to walk through one of New York City's famed Gilded Age mansions is an added bonus that should not be passed up either.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

My 52-Book-Year Challenge

Just a few of the eBooks on my iPad 
Welcome to my 52-book-year challenge. I have always been an avid reader. My mother used to recall how, as I child, I could often be found in a quiet corner of the large garden surrounding our home reading comics and books.

This love of reading helped guarantee good English grades throughout my school years, and the enjoyment and knowledge I get from books has continued throughout my life until here I am, at age 68, still trying to match the rate of my book reading with the pace of my book buying.

Already this year I have purchased 32 print books, and eight eBooks! I have read eleven books to date, and my goal is to read a minimum of 52 books by the end of the year. I managed to do this last year, despite spending three months in New York City (from where, by the way, I returned to Australia with a small case filled with books).

In 2015, I read a total of 90 books. No wonder I needed to invest in a new pair of reading glasses! Of course, I have not been able to maintain this reading pace all my life. Work and family obligations, as well as other interests and activities, often got in the way of my reading habit, and ate into much of the spare leisure time I had to devote to my book collection. However, now that I am retired I seem to have hours to spare, and when not online reading through my daily newspaper and magazine updates from the New Yorker, New York Times, The Guardian, and other online publications, I make time to work through my ever expanding collection of books.

Given the extent of my current book collection, both in print and digital form, I have more than enough books to keep me reading for the next couple of years before I have to supplement my reading list. However, I simply can't walk past a bookshop (whether selling new, secondhand or remaindered books), without stopping to browse the titles on display.

My voracious appetite for books ranges across fields and genres that include history, crime, travel, literature, philosophy, politics, the arts (music and film), and many others. The genres I rarely if ever read include romance, historical fiction, food related titles, fantasy novels and far too many other genres to mention. There are simply not enough hours in the day, or years left in my life to read all the books I would like to be able to read.

I will endeavor to add reviews of all, or most of the books I read to this blog as the year progresses.

My 52-Book-Year #11: The Coming

In The Coming, Daniel Black recounts the horror surrounding the capture of hundreds of native Africans, the weeks-long sea journey to America, and the subsequent sale into slavery of those few hardy native men and women who survived the brutality meted out to them at every step along the way.

In his Dedication to the book, Black writes:
“This book is dedicated to the memory and celebration of African souls lost in the Atlantic Ocean. We have not forgotten you. You are our strength. We, your children, exalt you and sing of your glory forever. This is also for those who reached land but never made it home. Your struggle was not in vain. We remember you. We name our children after you. We travel to Mother Africa and take you with us. You are home again.”
This is not any easy book to read. There are no snappy one-liners, no jokes, and little to ameliorate the constant horror that unfolds across some 280 pages. The book's narrator, recalls in unrelenting detail the almost constant abuse (beatings, whippings, rapes, and murders), experienced by the hundreds of captives from the moment of their captivity, to the moment they either died during the voyage or were sold into a life of bondage and slavery.

Lest readers of The Coming think that the author is overstating the events he describes in his novel, let me quote in full from The Irish Penny Journal, dated Saturday, November 28, 1840 (#22, Vol.1):
HORRORS OF THE SLAVE TRADE.—Commander Castle, R.N., while on service with the preventive squadron in 1828, in command of H.M.S. Medina, captured the Spanish brig El Juan, with 407 slaves on board. It appeared that, owing to a press of sail during the chase, the El Juan had heeled so much as to alarm the negroes, who made a rush to the grating. The crew thought they were attempting to rise, and getting out their arms, they fired upon the wretched slaves through the grating, till all was quiet in the hold. When Captain Castle went on board, the negroes were brought up, one living and one dead shackled together; it was an awful scene of carnage and blood; one mass of human gore. Captain Castle said he never saw anything so horrible in his life.
In the year 1831, the Black Joke and Fair Rosamond fell in with the Rapido and Regulo, two slave vessels, off the Bonny river. On perceiving the cruisers they attempted to make their escape up the river; but finding it impracticable, they ran into a creek, and commenced pitching the negroes overboard. The Fair Rosamond came up in time to save 212 slaves out of the Regulo, but before she could secure the other, she had discharged her whole human cargo into the sea. Captain Huntley, who was then in command of the Rosamond, in a letter, remarks—“The scene occasioned by the horrid conduct of the Rapido I am unable to describe; but the dreadful extent to which the human mind is capable of falling was never shown in a more painfully humiliating manner than on this occasion, when, for the mere chance of averting condemnation of property amounting to perhaps 3000l., not less than 250 human beings were hurled into eternity with utter remorselessness.”
Note: A Google Maps search suggests that the Bonny River mentioned in the above quote is in the region of Port Harcourt/Bonny Island, Nigeria.

Despite the horrors he writes about, Daniel Black's writing is remarkable beautiful, even to the point of being poetic. The following excerpts will give readers a sense of the overall mood and feel of the book and Daniel’s writing.
We wailed to remind ourselves we still existed. We wailed the names of our women above, whose screeches and pleadings drove us mad. We wailed for those who’d be dead by morning. We wailed for sons without fathers. Fathers without families. Families without communities. Communities without elders. Elders without children.
Writing about the impending birth of a child conceived as a result of rape and abuse during the sea voyage from Africa to the New World, Black writes:
Crewmen had used her body as a plaything, and now she carried someone’s offspring. She wanted to love the child, at least the part that was hers, but how do you divide a living thing? How do you love one part and seek the destruction of the other? And which part belongs to you? This was a mystery with no answer.
In her book, Where The Twain Meet, published in 1922, the Australian author Mary Gaunt writes about her travels through the Caribbean and in particular Jamaica. In successive chapters, Gaunt traces some of the history of slavery and the introduction of slaves into the Caribbean and Jamaica.

There are far too many horrific examples of abuse to select from in Gaunt’s book, but these few quotes from just one chapter, The Castles On The Guinea Coast, should more than suffice to support the research that Daniel Black put into writing The Coming. Unfortunately, Mary Gaunt neglects to provide details for the books or reports she quotes from throughout Where The Twain Meet, which makes it impossible to know more about a man called Spear, who she quotes from often.
Spear, in his book on the American slave trade, tells how, in the days when the trade was being suppressed, the British warship Medina, on boarding a slaver off the Gallinas River, found no slaves on board. “The officers learned afterwards, however, that her captain really had had a mulatto girl in the cabin … but seeing that he was to be boarded, and knowing that the presence of one slave was enough to condemn the ship, he tied her to a kedge anchor and dropped her into the sea. And so, as is believed, he drowned his own unborn flesh and blood, as well as the slave girl.”
In another passage, Mary Gaunt quotes a man called, Phillips, who I assume is the captain of a slave ship.
“We had about twelve negroes did wilfully drown themselves, and others starved themselves to death, for ‘tis their belief that when they die they return home to their own country and friends again. I have been informed that some commanders have cut off the legs of the most wilful to terrify the rest, for they believe if they lose a member they cannot return home again. I was advised by some of my officers to do the same, but I could not be persuaded to entertain the least thoughts of it, much less to put in practice such barbarous cruelty to poor creatures who, excepting their want of Christianity, true religion (their misfortune, more than fault) are as much the works of God’s Hands and no doubt as dear to Him as ourselves.” Surprising words from a slaver!
Surprising words from a slaver, indeed! How Phillips, Spear and the many other captains of slave ships could rationalise the hypocrisy between their so-called Christianity and the truly awful brutality they inflicted on their captives is beyond comprehension.

In several extended passages, Black seems to be writing about the world and society as it is today, while at the same time offering a commentary about a life of excess and indulgence before capture:
The allure of things caught our eye and made many of us desire what none of us needed. We began to throw away food simply because we didn’t want it. We crafted so much garb we couldn’t wear it all. We made huts large enough for ten when there were only five. This was not everyone, but it was enough of us to plant the seeds of excess among a people who generally valued simplicity. We had invited this plague of materialism and it had come.
As much as I marvelled at Daniel Black’s skill as a writer, I became emotionally exhausted by the constant descriptions of physical, mental and sexual abuse that filled the pages of The Coming. Add to these the regular descriptions of degradation (men and women lying and living in their own excreta and urine, vomit, and menstrual blood, et cetera), and I found myself wishing the book would end so that I, and the narrator of this sorry tale could finally get some peace.

But then maybe that is Black's intention. There is no way to pretend that the history of slavery was anything but savage and barbaric. The capture and removal of millions of Africans to the so-called New World, deserves to be exposed in all its many abhorrent ways. Especially since the legacy of this hideous trade still resonates around the world today, especially in the United States.

Daniel Black has written numerous books including, Perfect Peace, They Tell Me of a Home, The Sacred Place, Listen To The Lambs, and Twelve Gates to The City.

Daniel Black's writing is eminently suitable for quoting, as the following two quotes pulled from the book illustrate:
Silence is the enemy of history, and history is all we have.
— Daniel Black, The Coming

Greed cares not who carries it. It simply longs to live. And it can live in the heart of any man.
— Daniel Black, The Coming

Despite the graphic nature of The Crossing, I commend Daniel Black for writing about this import subject, and highly recommend the book to my readers, who may wish to purchase the book from Amazon in either print or eBook format via the link below.

- o0o -
Since first publishing this review on February 19, I have read more about the slave trade and the awful abuses that took place during one of the worst periods of Western history. As a result I have updated the initial review with quotes from The Irish Penny Journal, dated Saturday, November 28, 1840 (#22, Vol.1), and from Mary Gaunt's 1922 book, Where The Twain Meet. Both of these publications can be found on Gutenberg.Org.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Wifi On Flights Out Of Australia?

A recent article (Here’s when you will be able to access free Wi-Fi on planes), over at the New Daily site examined the introduction of WiFi on airlines servicing the Australian flying public.

As someone who has made numerous international trips since 2008, I know how frustrating it can be to feel like you are cut off from the rest of the world while flying at 30,000 feet.

While it can be a positive experience to be able to ignore the constant demands of your smartphone or tablet device, and spend anywhere from two to 24 hours watching inflight movies, many travellers do need to be in contact, even if it is intermittent contact, with friends, family or their work colleagues.

Happily, things are starting to change, albeit slowly, and the complete disconnect from the online world during long-haul flights looks like it will soon be a thing of the past for Australian travellers, with the New Daily reporting that "...several local airlines [are] planning to roll out in-flight Wi-Fi."

This image shows the current state of WiFi availability with some of the major airlines servicing the Australian market. It would appear that Qantas is going to offer free WiFi to their passengers, although the article does not mention whether there will be restrictions on the amount of data that can be used by passengers.

If it is anything like the miniscule 10MB limit that Emirates are currently offering, you might as well leave your mobile devices turned off! On the other hand, if Qantas is going to offer free unlimited Wifi to all passengers, then I for one will be more than happy to make that airline my international carrier of choice.

According to the article, "Qantas plans to have the technology installed by late February, and Virgin Airlines is expected to follow suit later in the year."

I can't see the budget airlines, Jetstar and Tigerair, offering free Wifi anytime soon, let alone offering the service at all, but I live in hope.

So, what do you think, dear reader; can you live without a constant stream of tweets, Facebook updates, and Instagram uploads while flying to your next holiday destination, or are you, like me, so addicted to your mobile device that you begin to experience withdrawal symptoms two hours into your flight? Your comments await...

Site of The Day: 13.Org - Treasures of NYC

The New York City television station, THIRTEEN currently has 24 great programs ranging in length from around 28-minutes to 58-minutes.

As the series name suggests, each program examines an organisation or institution based in New York City, and of those I have watched to date about the Flatiron Building, St. Patrick's Cathedral, The Cooper Hewitt Museum and several more, I can attest they each offer great insight and information about the topic under examination.

I am sure that even resident New Yorkers will be rewarded with a new appreciation for many of the featured organisations when they watch the videos.

Unfortunately, not all of the films in the Treasures of New York collection seem to be viewable from Australia, which is where I live. When clicking links to some of the films I keep getting stopped by the message: We're sorry, but this video is not available in your region due to rights restrictions.

Visitors to Thirteen.Org from other parts of the world may have different results. Of course, if you live in the United States you should have no trouble viewing all the films on the site.

Here is a 57-minute video which serves as a great introduction to the Treasures of New York series. This examines the Landmarks Preservation Movement which is responsible for helping to save thousands of potentially endangered buildings across the five city boroughs. Without the Landmarks Commission, New York would not be the same wonderfully diverse and fascinating city it undoubtedly is today.

Note: For a time I was having trouble watching some online videos using Google Chrome. Happily it didn't take me long to fix the issue after I eventually asked 'Dr. Google' for the answer. This page, Fix Videos That Won’t Play in Chrome, provided the cure I was looking for. The problem is due to the fact that my Chrome browser settings had been set to HTTPS Everywhere. When I remove the 'S' (security) designation, videos played without a problem. Videos also played in a Google Chrome INCOGNITO window without issue. Given that the Safari browser on my system is not plagued with the same problem, I tend to use that as my default browser for watching online videos.

Note also that the HTTPS Everywhere setting even stops the embedded video on this page appearing on my iMac! Again, opening this page in a separate Incognito window solves the issue. To confuse matters even more, when I open this page on my PC laptop, my second generation iPad, and my Galaxy S7 smartphone it appears exactly as it should. Go figure!

UPDATE: Several hours after adding this blog post it occurred to me to check YouTube to see if the videos were available there, and lo and behold, most, though not all of them were. Sadly, the above video is not on the Thirteen.Org YouTube page. Still, if videos don't load on the organisation website, you can always try their YouTube page.

Sigh... After more than 25 years of using computers, I am amazed by how easy it is to still be confounded and frustrated by them.

Oh, and here is the link to the Thirteen.Org Treasures of New York section on YouTube. Enjoy...
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