Most of us here at The Rockefeller University, and the Tri-Institutions, do basic research: figuring out the molecular mechanisms of various life forms. Many of us also do translational research: taking that basic research and applying it towards a product. However, we all do our work for the betterment of the human race, to paraphrase Rockefeller’s motto. We are all concerned in some way, of different aspects of human health. Most of us have probably dealt with some data from the World Health Organization (WHO) at some point in our careers. How many of you know that WHO is currently in the process of electing a new head, the title of Director-General? How much of an impact this will have on our work remains to be seen, but WHO’s work effects many people around the world in some way.
In 1945, Chinese United Nations (UN) delegate, Dr. Sze, proposed the creation of an international health agency under the UN to focus on public health. WHO was finally ratified on April 7, 1948. It was the first specialized UN agency to which every member pledged. In its early years, WHO ran programs to give mass vaccinations for tuberculosis and started a malaria and small pox eradication programs. They started an epidemiological information service that has become a standard today. In 1977, they released their first list of essential medicines: a list of drugs that WHO believes all countries around the world should have on hand. This can be very helpful to healthcare workers and advocates around the world in order to petition their governments for funding for these medications. In 1979, WHO reported that small pox had been eradicated, and with that, it became the first disease to be eliminated by human intervention. In 1986, WHO started its global program on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS around the world.
WHO is currently focused on many areas, primarily communicable diseases such as AIDS, Ebola, malaria, and tuberculosis. It also has programs promoting reproductive and occupational health, nutrition, healthy aging, and substance abuse prevention. WHO encourages countries to develop reporting methods, promotes cooperation between scientific and medical groups, and help governments develop research agendas. Today, it is known as the organization that puts health statistics from around the world in a unified system.
Besides these accomplishments, WHO has also endured controversy and criticism. It reproached the Vatican’s ban on condoms as being dangerous considering the AIDS pandemic, and it has been criticized for its classification of red meat and cell phone signals as possible carcinogens. In recent years, they have had negative media attention for a slow response to the Ebola crisis. Some say their focus is too wide and that the organization engenders too much bureaucratic red tape and internal politics. There have been calls for more accountability and transparency within WHO. There has also been a lack of funding for many of their efforts.
Located in Geneva, Switzerland, today WHO has 194 member states, and offices in Congo, Egypt, Denmark, India, the Philippines, and the United States. It is financed by contributions from member states, the largest contributor being the United States. WHO’s policy making branch is the World Health Assembly, which member states appoint delegates to. The delegates meet annually, usually in May, to vote on matters of policy and budget, and they elect a new Director-General every five years. The next election will have taken place by the time of this publication (at the end of May). The current Director-General is Margaret Chan, a physician from Hong Kong. Currently there are three candidates for the new head: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, from Ethiopia, Sania Nishtar from Pakistan, and David Nabarro of the United Kingdom. Whomever is elected will take office on July 1, 2017.
Tedros Ghebreyesus, 52, was born in Eritrea, and received a Bachelor’s in Biology from the University of Asmara in Ethiopia. He has a Master’s of Science in Immunology of Infectious Diseases from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a Ph.D. in Community Health from the University of Nottingham. He is the only non-medical doctor of the three candidates. Ghebreyesus’ first job out of college was as a junior public health expert for the Ministry of Health of Ethiopia where he worked on methods of malaria prevention. Then Ghebreyesus worked as the head of a Regional Health Bureau. He is recognized for a 20% reduction in AIDS and 70% reduction in malaria cases in that region during his tenure. In 2005, he was appointed Minister of Health. As Minister, he hired over 30,000 health extension workers throughout the country, increased hospital staffing and connected hospitals to the internet. He initiated a program that distributed 20 million insecticide-treated nets throughout Ethiopia. During his time as Minister of Health, deaths from malaria decreased by 50%, new AIDS infections by about 90%, and infant mortality by almost 30%. In 2012, he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs where he encouraged Ethiopia to adhere to WHO guidelines during the Ebola epidemic. He is known for having published many papers on malaria. As a candidate for Director-General, Gheebreyesus has stated that he supports strengthening health care systems and universal health care coverage.
Sania Nishtar, 54, was born in Peshawar, and received her medical degree in cardiology from Khyber Medical College in Pakistan. She earned a Ph.D. in Medicine from King’s College London. After medical school, she worked as a cardiologist at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences. In 1999, she founded Heartfile, a health policy think tank based in Islamabad, focused on ways to improve Pakistan’s health care system. She has served as an advisor to WHO on many occasions, most prominently co-chairing the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. Nishtar wrote Choked Pipes: Reforming Pakistan’s Mixed Health Systems, a book that was published in 2010. In 2013, she was a Federal Minister in the Government of Pakistan, overseeing the Ministries of Science and Technology, Education and Training, and Information Technology and Telecom. In this role she helped establish a Ministry of Health. Nishtar is a member of the Lancet and Rockefeller Foundation Commission on Planetary Health and the Working Group on Private Sector Health Systems established by Results for Development and the Rockefeller Foundation, among many other boards.
David Nabarrro, 68, is from the United Kingdom and obtained his medical degree from the University of Oxford. In his early years, he was a Medical Officer for Save the Children in Iraq and a District Child Health Officer in Nepal. Later, he became South Asia Regional Manager for Save the Children. Nabarro joined WHO in 1999, first as a project manager for Roll Back Malaria, a partnership among countries to coordinate efforts against malaria. Next, he helped start their Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. In 2003, he moved to WHO’s Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments division. He was the UN Special Envoy on Ebola in 2014. In 2015, he was Chair of an advisory group on WHO’s responses to outbreaks and emergencies. Now he is special advisor to the UN Secretary-General on sustainable development and climate change, and leading the UN’s response to the Cholera outbreak in Haiti. Nabarro has said that if he is elected WHO Director-General, his four goals would be: sustainable development goals, responses to outbreaks and emergencies, building relations with member states, and people-centered health policies.
By the time this issue comes out, it may be publicly known which of these candidates will be the next Director-General of WHO. Whichever one of the three candidates is elected Director-General, let’s hope WHO keeps up their high standards of statistic reporting and encouraging collaboration between scientific groups.
Jens Matthes, Information Security Architect.
How long have you been living in the New York area?
18 years, since March 1999. I remember I was terrified, I wanted to go back home after a week.
Where do you currently live? Which is your favorite neighborhood?
I live in the Upper West side near the Central Park and that’s probably one of my favorite neighborhoods. I also like the Lower East side, it’s fun down there.
What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated?
Overrated all the touristic places like Time[s] Square and the Statue of the Liberty. Underrated, the public transportation, it’s actually great here, even if people always complain about it. They don’t realize how much value it adds. I also like the ease of the access, everything is close, pharmacies and stores in every block. People don’t realize how convenient and easy it is to have it.
What do you miss most when you are out of town?
The fact of not having to drive. Every time I go somewhere and I have to drive everywhere, it really gets on my nerves pretty quick, to sit in the car for everything. I also miss the food, all the fantastic options, whatever you like for however much you want to pay. Also, the public transportation, most places, especially in the U.S., don’t have it. I remember I went to L.A. like 10 years ago and I hated it after three days.
Has anything (negative or positive) changed about you since you became one of us “New Yorkers”?
I come from a really small city in Germany, so things like homelessness and crazy people in the street would have affected me much more, because it wasn’t common and not a big issue. Here, I got a bit jaded about these things. When I see crazy people in the subway all I think is “I hope he doesn’t throw me down the tunnel.” I don’t think “how did this happen, or how could one help him?” This has definitely changed. Also, the stress of the city, when I get visitors they say “why do you have to run like that?” It’s something you don’t realize, you just become part of it. It’s negative, but after so many problems you see, you cannot get involved all the time, it’s just too much.
If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be?
One thing is the noise, it really stinks. It’s always noisy, also where I live, even the Central Park.
Another thing is prices. It’s just crazy, I don’t know how people live. I have a full-time job and also my wife and I still feel poor, that kind of sucks.
What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?
I like my brunch, NYC is definitely the capital of brunch. I like to play some tennis, do things with the kids, watch a show, or listen to some live music. I like to take advantage of the culture that NYC has to offer.
What is the most memorable experience you’ve had in NYC?
We used to go with some friends to the World Trade Center, in the twin towers, tower number two, 110th floor. “The Windows of the World”: on Wednesdays they had a cool DJ with good music, it was very impressive to have a beer there, see through the windows, especially after 9/11, I always remember that time.
Bike, MTA or Walk it?
It’s too far to walk home. I had to do it for the “Blackout” [of 2003] and it took me two and a half hours. I use the Citybike quite a bit if it’s available, it’s a great way to get around, saves me some time. MTA, of course, in the winter, subway and bus.
If you could live anywhere else, where would that be?
I could live in Florida, I have some family there, it’s cheap. California, of course too. I could also move back to Germany; I may even have to think about it with the current political situation, which really sucks.
Do you think of yourself as a New Yorker?
I have always been told that it takes about 20 years, so I’m not quite there. But, I guess I feel pretty much like a New Yorker, people from out of town come and complain I talk too much, I walk too fast, I talk too fast. So, they definitely think I’m a New Yorker.
I still feel connected to my roots and my culture, I have a lot of friends and family in Germany. In that sense, maybe a New Yorker with roots, I think that’s very common in NYC.
The Giro d’Italia, or Tour of Italy, is one of the world’s most famous bicycle races. Twenty-two international teams compete for three weeks in a contest of racing tactics, willpower, and raw athleticism. The 2017 Giro is extra special: it’s the 100th race!
Even if you’re not a cycling enthusiast, you have probably heard about this multiple-stage bicycle race held in Italy every May, which, along with the Tour de France and Vuelta a España (collectively known as Grand Tours), represents the world’s most prestigious road bicycle race. Also, known as Corsa Rosa (Pink Race, because the race leader wears a pink shirt), Giro d’Italia was established in 1909, an idea of Tullio Morgagni, a journalist with the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. At the time, cycling was already a popular sport, with the first races having taken place in 1869.
The first Giro d’Italia left from Piazza Loreto in Milan on May 13, 1909. Overall, the first Giro consisted of eight stages, held three times a week, between May 13 and May 30, covering a total of 2,448 km. Since then, except for interruptions during World Wars I and II, the Giro d’Italia has taken place every year in May over the course of three weeks. Although the starting point varies every year, the arrival is always in Milan, the headquarters of Gazzetta dello Sport. In 1931, it was decided that the race leader needed to display a symbol that would make him instantly recognizable amid the dense pack of racers; thus, the iconic maglia rosa, pink jersey, was introduced.
The golden age of the Giro was between 1931 and 1950, when such cycling greats as five-time winner Fausto Coppi (il Campionissimo) champion of champions and his historic rival three-time winner Gino Bartali (nicknamed Ginettaccio) competed and inflamed fans, dividing Italy into supporters of one or the other. Between 1956 and 1978, the race lead was taken by foreigners, especially the Belgian Eddy Merckx, who won the Giro five times in seven years and earned the nickname “The Cannibal” because, it was said that he wouldn’t let anyone else win.
The 1990s saw the emergence of Marco Pantani, who became a real sports idol in Italy, winning the Giro d’Italia in 1998 (the same year, he won the Tour de France, the last cyclist, and one of only seven, to win the Giro and the Tour in the same year). Nicknamed “il pirata” (the pirate) because of his shaved head and the bandana and earrings he always wore. Pantani is considered one of the best climbers of his era. In 1999, while leading the race, he was expelled due to irregular hematocrit values. He was accused of Erythropoietin, or EPO, use, which is thought to have led him into a depression from which he never fully recovered. He died of acute cocaine poisoning in 2004.
The latest years of the race have been dominated by the Spaniard Alberto Contador (one of only six riders to have won all three Grand Tours of road cycling), and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (like Contador, he has won all three Grand Tours). Since the beginning, Nibali has been nicknamed Lo Squalo (the shark) for his technique, which consists of always rushing to the attack, and for his Sicilian origins. Nibali is the current Giro d’Italia title holder, having won the 2016 race (he previously won the 2013 edition).
2017 marks a special year for the Giro d’Italia as it celebrates its 100th edition. Giro d’Italia 2017 will run from Friday, May 5th to Sunday, May 28th, from the island of Sardinia, to the heel of Italy’s boot, to the Alps. After leaving Sardinia, where the first three stages will take place, it will move to another island, Sicily. The Sicilian leg’s highlight will be the climb up the Etna volcano. The next day, the race will end in Nibali’s hometown of Messina. Giro d’Italia 2017 will continue through the heel, traversing Puglia’s Valle d’Itria, then proceeding north through Umbria’s Sagrantino wine country. Two stage starts will be Tuscany’s Ponte a Ema and Piedmont’s Castellania, birthplaces of Italian cycling greats Bartali and Coppi, respectively. The Apennines traverse will be followed by the Alps, with the climb of the famous Stelvio Pass. Then it’s the majestic Dolomites, which will involve some brutal climbs (stage 18 features five ascents!). Like every year, Giro d’Italia 2017 will conclude in Milan.
If you are inspired by Giro d’Italia and you are an active person I suggest that you bike across Italy. You will pedal to extraordinary art cities such as Venice, Florence, Lucca and Pisa. If you have enough time, add to this the rural landscapes of Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Chianti and Maremma areas of Tuscany and you will have the best of Italy. One of the most popular bike tours in Italy is coast-to-coast cycling from the Adriatic coast in the east to the Tuscan coast line in the west. This bike route takes you form Marche through the Umbrian hills and onto the Tuscan mountains before descending to the Tuscany coastline. Along the way you can have a wine tasting at a family winery, observe the medieval art, and learn culinary secrets behind the incredible regional cooking.
Last but not least is the biking tour in Sardinia. The captivating island is famous for its beautiful beaches and the beautiful turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Sardinia’s best kept secret is its amazing network of immaculately scenic and quiet roads that are perfect for cycling. The island’s rugged and remote mountainous interior boasts rivers, lakes, archaeological sites and an amazing variety of wildlife such as flamingos, falcons, and wild boar.
Rebooting the traditional food production model to improve climate and environment is driving innovative entrepreneurs to pursue a vegan path. The resulting alt-foods are, unlike alt-facts, solidly grounded in science, as the personnel list at these companies—data scientists, bioinformaticians, chemists, biologists, nutritionists and chefs—attests. While we already have soy-based meat alternatives, such as tofurky and veggie duck, the challenge lies in faithfully replicating, and even exceeding, the appearance and taste of animal-derived food products using solely plant-derived substitutes.
The most prominent/poster child of these is the Impossible Burger created by Impossible Foods – a one hundred percent vegan burger made with potatoes, beets, coconut oil, and most importantly, a plant version of heme protein—a distinctive component of animal muscles, which gives meat its distinctive taste. The founder of Impossible Foods is aware of the high threshold he has to overcome to win over die-hard meat-lovers. But undaunted, that is his goal—to not simply improve food options for vegans and vegetarians but to convert red in tooth and claw carnivores. So far, the feedback is encouraging with comparisons to turkey burgers.
The Impossible Burger isn’t alone—Beyond Meat, another startup, has a handful of pea- or soy-based “meat” offerings, including the Beyond Burger, Beyond Chicken Strips, and Beyond Beef Crumble that can be cooked just like the meat items they aim to replace. For those of you who failed to celebrate National Hamburger month (May) this is your chance to make amends. The Impossible Burger is served at several establishments countrywide, including BareBurger & Saxon+Parole here in NY. The Beyond Burger is available in grocery stores, including Whole Foods Market.
The stronger green credentials of Impossible Foods’ and Beyond Meat’s approaches are to be appreciated when compared with the efforts of Modern Meadow, a Brooklyn-based biotech company that aims to grow meat and leather in the lab using cultured cells from livestock. While noteworthy and arguably a more difficult undertaking to grow meat from scratch, the trouble with cultured mammalian cells is the requisite fetal bovine serum—a vital elixir for their sustained growth & nourishment—derived from unborn calves’ blood which doesn’t exactly circumvent the environmentally wasteful and greenhouse gas-emitting livestock industry.
Evidently, eggs from cage-free and pastured chickens weren’t sufficiently humane for the founders of Hampton Creek—they decided to get rid of eggs altogether, substituting them with a yellow pea protein as the emulsifier in their vegan Just Mayo. The company has other vegan offerings (salad dressing, cookie dough) and a mission to mine the cornucopia of thousands of plants to create cheaper, healthier and more stable foods than those that are animal-derived.
Living in NY, we are quite spoiled for dietary choice. Even so, one can imagine there can be moments when nothing appeals to the taste buds and yet life must be sustained. At such times, one can reach for Soylent—a completely animal-free food that provides a nutritionally complete meal from soy, algae and other plant-derived components in several easy to consume formats: bottled drink, powder, bar, and best of all, coffiest—breakfast + coffee in one drink. It seems like it was designed with busy New Yorkers in mind—no cutlery or flapping containers to deal with, just chug or chomp and go! For those of us who are neither culinarily gifted nor inclined, Soylent can replace hours of schlepping groceries, prepping ingredients and slaving over a stove before finally indulging in a meal. To some ardent foodies however, Soylent seems abhorrent (not least owing to the sci-fi reference) and only to be resorted to in a food desert.
Our industrial food system provides bountiful affordable nutrition and so the pressure to embrace these innovations is not yet urgent. Do we have this luxury? The human population is set to climb from 7 billion to just under 10 billion by 2050. The climate change debate is raging but the disappearing summer Arctic ice signifies a stark reality. However, a noble impetus to save the earth cannot force adoption of the healthier and sustainable foods 2.0. Ultimately, their success will be determined by the most important factor—taste.
Martin Scorsese and Silence
Martin Scorsese, who I consider America’s greatest living film director, is a creative talent with the ability to continuously surprise his audiences in terms of what he chooses for his huge enterprises. Yet, the quality of the final story on the screen may vary. With that said, I find some of his movies absolutely brilliant, from their rich palettes of cinematography, to the impassioned and inspired performances of the actors and actresses, and the stimulating ideas that always aren’t black and white in these tales of extreme moral and ethical quandaries. My personal favorites from the Scorsese oeuvre include Raging Bull, The Departed, Good Fellas, and The Aviator.
From his early days of films such as Mean Streets and later (more blatantly) in The Last Temptation of Christ, it became apparent that the Italian-American Scorsese was struggling to come to terms with his Catholic upbringing and the meaning behind the story and lessons from the life of Jesus Christ. In the final scene of Raging Bull starring Robert DeNiro in a beautifully nuanced performance as troubled boxer Jake LoMotta, the screen displays these words from the New Testament (John IX. 24-26): “So, for the second time, [the Pharisees] summoned the man who had been blind and said: ‘Speak the truth before God. We know this fellow is a sinner.’ ‘Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know.’ the man replied. ‘All I know is this: once I was blind and now I can see.‘” The idea of being clothed in the darkness of ignorance and having the light shine in on life, courtesy of a Savior, is powerful.
Scorsese’s 2016 film Silence is right up there as one of his very best. It is a movie about not just Catholicism because it also examines the boundaries, trials and tribulations, and other tumultuous ethical situations surrounding the ideal of staying true to one’s own morality and choices, not only in God’s eyes. It is a long movie and didn’t fare well at the box office, but I was absolutely riveted from start to finish and overwhelmed by the force of the ideas on display.
Silence stars Andrew Garfield as Sebastião Rodrigues and Adam Driver as Francisco Garupe as a pair of young 17th century Jesuit priests traveling from Portugal to Japan to locate their former teacher (played by Liam Neeson), who had gone to Japan to teach and convert the populace to the ways of Catholicism and goes missing after supposedly renouncing his faith.
When Fathers Sebastião and Garupe reach Japan, they are taken in and hidden by the terrified villagers who are converts to Christianity at a time where the religion is being violently suppressed and must be practiced in secret. While watching Silence, I was awed by the beautiful, lush scenery of the mountains and foliage depicted. The stunning scenery becomes the backdrop of the violence that reigns down from the minions of a horrific inquisitor on these people. The inquisitor is masterfully played by Japanese actor and comedian, Issey Ogata, who the New York Times noted as stealing ever scene he is in.
As one watches the struggles of Sebastião unfold, dozens of questions and ideas run through the mind of the viewer on issues that center around the crux and core of faith in God, but also Western ideas forced onto Eastern cultures, and on the difficult notion of whether one should betray ones greatest beliefs for the greater good. The focus centers on the dilemma facing Sebastião when he is given the choice of renouncing Catholicism or seeing villagers tortured to death. All of the intellectual banter of the inquisitor and his interpreter, the latter beautifully portrayed by Tadanobu Asano, devolves into their extreme meeting out of violence on the bodies and minds of the poor villagers, who they deride as worthless peasants. By breaking Sebastião, they can publicly break a man who has devoted his heart, life and soul to what they believe is the affliction invading Japan.
Before Sebastião does his act of apostasy, the inquisitor brings in the man Sebastião has come to find, Father Cristóvão Ferreira, played by Neeson. He arrives late in the movie like Marlon Brando’s Kurtz does in the film Apocalypse Now. As he begs his former pupil to renounce his religion in the hope of saving lives, he makes one extremely powerful argument: that these poor, uneducated Japanese men and women, the derided so-called peasants, aren’t truly practicing Christianity because of their prior beliefs and ingrained culture and simple notions of spirits. He’s basically saying, “It’s all for nothing.”
Silence is a reminder that barbarity, such as that practiced by ISIS today, the torturing and murder in the name of God and religion goes back to the dawn of man’s conceptualization and organization into religious sects. The inquisitor, a witty, well-read man of knowledge, can banter with Sebastião on ideals and ethics one moment, while ordering the decapitation of a prisoner in a courtyard for all to see the next. Scorsese has a long history of using extraordinary violence in the hopes of finding some inkling of why God has put us on earth in the first place, and to seek an idea of how to live one’s life in the face of brutality and terrible suffering. But he never openly actually says, “Jesus is the answer.”
From the interviews I’ve read with Scorsese about Silence and from what I’ve learned from reading about him in the past, he is more a man who is opening up ideas about searching for rather than explaining the meaning of life. He often sounds quietly and admittedly lost, but very glad to have the opportunity to make art and films about his state of confusion.
It has become my opinion that because most people are taught about faith and religion in childhood, it is incredibly hard to shed any of the major faiths later in life. It’s akin to an indoctrination. As I’ve grown older, I’ve read many of the books from the past by religious luminaries, such as Rashi’s commentaries or Jerome’s letters and books by Augustine and Philo; the texts of ancient Buddhists or the ideas behind the spirit religions of Japan; the fascinating words of the “Upanishads” and the “Bhagavad Gita” and the creation stories as presented in Assyrian myths or related by Hesiod to the Greeks, and many other illuminating treatise. I believe at some point one must start anew with a clean slate and admit that the spiritual notion behind the concept of God is as complex as advanced physics and that a child’s idea of what lies behind the abstraction, hinted at in the Old Testament, that a casual once-a-week (at most) rote Sabbath notion has as much truth and merit as an adult belief in say, Santa Claus. Imagine that the power and forces of life or what is popularly called “the divine” is encased inside of a statue of a golden calf and that all of the major faiths and religions are blind and given only one part to feel with their hands and gather its meaning. Each religion falsely and confidently believes they know the full statue and its secrets, while in truth, the one with the dominant voice in society may very well have its hands on the rump. None of the followers of any religion knows or realizes that the power lies hidden inside the idol and that the statue has very little to do with the immense power of this vaguely traceable treasure. Why settle for one set of rules and rituals when there is such a rich tapestry available for study, which weaves together everything from philosophy to astronomy and on and on, endlessly woven, ripe for discovery and continued revelation? (Unified Field Theory indeed). What is really so terrible that we end up like Martin Scorsese in some way: in awe of the unanswerable, and finding ways to express our intuitions and discoveries in art, music, books, and science? Because in the end, whether it is Judaism, Christianity, Islam or the religions of the East, the zealots of each faith make them all superstitious faiths borne of unspeakable and unjustifiable violence while serving as Band-Aids to the open wound of awareness of one’s own mortality.
The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.
(Helen Keller 1880-1968)
Beaune in Burgundy, France
Beaune is one of the wine capitals of my country, and is known for its Hospices and its famous roof made of glazed tiles (which you can glimpse in the 50-year old comedy, La Grande Vadrouille).
However, I have a clear preference for the Hospices’ courtyard itself, which hasn’t changed in years.
See more pictures taken in Beaune on my photoblog.
Who hasn’t heard of the famed 2013 food the Cronut? After quickly gaining worldwide attention, Cronut followers were soon considered frivolous, and the pastry over-hyped. TIME magazine naming the pastry one of the 25 best inventions of the year in 2013, can be a particularly bittersweet pill for us scientists to swallow. However, the fame of this hybrid delicacy is based on the skills of an extraordinary chef, Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut, who recently won the title of “Best Pastry Chef in the World,” as part of the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Ansel received his training at Fauchon in Paris, a legendary delicatessen company and symbol of French-style luxury. Without having any sort of culinary degree, he started as a seasonal staff member, and ultimately worked himself up to head of Fauchon’s international expansion. In 2005, he settled down in New York City and worked as the executive pastry chef at Daniel, a renowned French restaurant on the corner of 65th Street and Park Avenue. Many ascribe a large part of Daniel’s success to Ansel, who worked at the restaurant when it first received three Michelin stars. He finally opened his own bakery in Soho in 2011, which gained cult status long before the Cronut® hype. Other popular pastry creations by Ansel are the DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann, a Breton puff pastry), Frozen S’mores (ice cream covered in chocolate millefeuille and flamed marshmallow, served on an apple wood-smoked willow branch), the Chocolate Chip Cookie Shot (a shot glass shaped cookie filled with cold-infused vanilla milk, only available after 3 p.m.), the Magic Soufflé (notably the only soufflé that does not collapse, with Grand Mariner liquor and orange blossom), the Gingerbread Pinecone (a layered pastry finished with 70 individual chocolate petals), and the Christmas Morning Cereal (only available in December). You can also choose from more conservative, but similarly beautifully presented pastries on display, or a classic chocolate croissant. My favorite is the Pear & Champagne Mousse Cake.
In case you decide to try a real Cronut, let me give you some advice. Everyday, about 350 Cronuts are made. The flavor of the Cronut changes every month, and is never repeated. Dominique Ansel Bakery opens at 8 a.m., and to secure a Cronut you should arrive before 7:30 a.m. If you are lucky, the bakery will serve you a sweet little appetizer while you are waiting in line. Once you get to the cashier, you can purchase two Cronuts per order. However, you can go back to the end of the line, wait again and purchase two more. If you don’t want to wait in line, you can plan ahead and preorder the pastry online. Every Monday at 11 a.m. sharp, orders are taken for dates two weeks out. You will therefore wait longer for your pastry fix, but are allowed to purchase up to six Cronuts at a time.
We can appreciate Mexican culture in the United States like no other place in the world. We have all probably entered a shop in New York City and experienced the magical sensation of being instantaneously transported to Mexico. This is not only because cashiers are Mexicans wearing self-expressive t-shirts, or due to the language they speak, but it’s also the traditional rancheras music they play, and their kindness that immerse us in such an inviting atmosphere.
It’s no coincidence that Mexican culture today is deeply ingrained in the American one. This is not only because parts of the American Southwest belonged to Mexico less than 200 years ago, but also because a large number of Mexicans were incorporated into the US together with that land, bringing their own culture and traditions.
Some people think that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, but it’s not. Independence from Spain was a 10-year process that ended in 1821 and is celebrated on September 16. Shortly after, Mexico was at war with the US, unsuccessfully defending its ownership over Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and California (yes, almost half of current United States land). A treaty was signed in 1848, where Mexico gave up its sovereignty over those territorities.
Years later, driven by the desire of extending the French empire to the Americas, the French army, led by Napoleon, attacked Mexico from the Atlantic coast. Outnumbered three times in size by the French forces, the Mexican army had little chance of success. After taking over several cities, the French advanced towards the Mexican capital, Mexico City. It was in the city of Puebla that Mexican troops defeated the French in the heroic “Battle of Puebla” in 1862. After this, the French army withdrew their forces from the country. This victory unified Mexico and restored a lost sense of nationalism and patriotism.
Although Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico, the states of Puebla and Veracruz have declared it a holiday where people preserve the traditions and celebrations of the day. So why celebrate it in New York City? Maybe it’s due to the important population present in the city who are native to the state of Puebla.
May 5 is a meaningful day for me, not only because important people in my life were born on that date, or because it’s the name of the street where my mom grew up and where I have so many childhood memories, but also because it’s the date that represents the improbable victory of the weak against the powerful.
The spectrum of the “daredevil” has always been somewhat of a curiosity to me, particularly in the world of motorcycles. There are those that wouldn’t go near a bike if you paid them—I’ve met plenty in that category; those that ride, but are content with the confines of commuting; others such as myself, a former 250cc man that recently graduated to the beastly power of an inline-4 900cc engine, toeing the line in the “twisties” every once in a while—this alone might earn me the classification of daredevil” in some eyes (read: my mum); weekend warriors who test themselves even further, laying rubber down on track days; and of course their professional counterparts that push the limits to extremes on the racetrack; but then there are those, known collectively as complete and utter lunatics, who race motorcycles at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour on tiny country roads lined with dry stone walls, telegraph poles, curbs, houses, and a whole host of other hazards, in the oldest, most dangerous race in the world—The Isle of Man TT.
The Isle of Man TT Festival—TT stands for “Tourist Trophy”, or more colloquially “titanium ____ “ (I’ll let you fill in the blank) —takes place once a year during late May/early June, with a week of practice sessions followed by a week of individual races—culminating in the blue riband event, the senior TT. It has been in existence since 1907, though the current Snaefell Mountain course wasn’t devised until 1911. It’s 37.73 miles run entirely on the Isle of Man’s public roads (closed during racing of course), through tiny villages, hedge-lined country lanes, and a mountain. It contains a staggering 265 corners, said to require at least three years of competitive racing to learn, where six laps amount to 226.5 miles of unflinching mental steel. The races consist of a time trial format, with riders competing as much against the course as the competition. Northern Irishman Michael Dunlop holds the honor of the fastest lap on record, taking just under seventeen minutes to complete the course at a jaw-dropping 133.962 MPH average speed last year. Kiwi Bruce Antsey achieved the unofficial record top speed of 206 MPH during practice. Eighty percent of the race is done at full throttle, which I can tell you as a biker, seems utterly unfathomable. Just watching an on board lap is enough to make you nauseous.
Often considered more infamous than famous, it has a reputation for its unparalleled danger. The mountain course has claimed 251 fatalities to date, with five deaths occurring just last year. Colorful character that he is, mutton-chopped racer/truck mechanic/TV personality Guy Martin refers to “that near-death thing” as the raison d’etre of racing in the TT. On a 2010 crash that almost claimed his life— “The buzz from that was just unbeatable. That moment between crashing and almost dying. That’s raised the benchmark. I want to get back to that point. Money can’t buy it. Everything’s been so sanitised with bloody PC nonsense and health and safety that there’s nothing else is there? If it was dead safe I wouldn’t do it.” To others, this seemingly senseless loss of life provokes a rallying cry for banning the TT entirely. Indeed, safety concerns were a major factor in the race losing its world championship status in 1976.
If I’ve managed to pique your interest at this point, I would urge you to seek out the fascinating 2011 documentary TT3D: Closer To The Edge (the full movie is available on YouTube), or even better go one step further and read Rick Broadbent’s excellent book That Near Death Thing (which takes its name from Guy Martin’s quote). Even to those with little interest in motorcycle racing, it’s hard to deny the fascinating psychology at play here. Gaining a glimpse into what makes road racers risk life and limb for relatively little reward—through early footage of their childhood and interviews with both family members, those involved in the race, and the riders themselves, is a captivating experience. The supporting cast offers an engaging insight as to how people cope with the obvious elephant in the room, balancing the compulsion to race with the threat of death. We hear from the mechanic responsible for fine-tuning all of the top bikes’ engines, and the sense of guilt he feels, likening himself to a drug dealer supplying the fix that might ultimately end a rider’s life. There’s also a compelling interview with Bridget Dobbs, widowed after the death of her husband Paul Dobbs in the 2010 TT. Though left to raise their two children alone, she harbors an amazing resilience in knowing that Paul died doing what he loved, as to those in and around the TT, life is there to be lived, no matter what the risk.
Then there’s the main cast, a veritable band of misfits with a unifying compulsion to race, despite the inherent dangers. There’s stalwart talisman John McGuiness, whose un-athletic figure masks an exceptional talent that’s led him to a remarkable 23 TT wins, just three shy of the record held by the legendary Joey Dunlop. There’s Michael Dunlop—nephew of Joey, whose brother William (son of Joey) also races in the TT. Michael’s practically psychopathic racing instinct has brought him much success and notoriety in recent years, and the Dunlop family were the subject of the 2014 documentary Road, narrated by Liam Neeson. Joey, known as much for his humanitarian work in the Balkans as for his gifts on two wheels, was tragically killed in a little-known road race in Estonia at the age of 48—paying the ultimate price for his steadfast refusal to hang up his leathers for good. His brother Robert (Michael’s father) was killed racing eight years later, and remarkably, a 20-year-old Michael raced and won the TT’s warm up event—The Northwest 200—just two days after burying his father. There’s soft-spoken Yorkshireman Ian Hutchinson—who recovered from nearly losing his leg after being run over by another racer in a closed-circuit race early on in his career, to eventually go on to achieve an unprecedented five wins at the 2010 TT. There’s local boy Connor Cummins, who survived a now infamous crash that left him looking like the Wiley Coyote in a full body cast, only to fully recover and compete in the TT the very next year. In truly legendary fashion, both of these men were told by doctors that they would never race again. Then of course there’s the resident controversy-magnet Guy Martin, whose trademark lack of filter, delivered through a nearly indecipherable Lincolnshire accent, has landed him a legion of fans, but sadly no TT wins so far.
Hollywood is said to be capitalizing on the capacity for epic drama that exists on the Isle of Man, with a Ben Younger (Boiler Room, Bleed for This)–produced movie in the works, rumored to be centering on an American that comes out of retirement to race in the TT. If you replace “American” with “Canadian”, and “comes out of retirement” with “gives up everything to live on the island and race in the TT,” then this story slightly resembles the true-life tale of Mark Gardiner, who wrote about his experience ticking off the pinnacle of the biker’s bucket list in his 2012 book Riding Man.
All that being said, the 2017 Isle of Man TT is fast approaching, with all the potential for a cracking set of races. As with many of the more niche sporting events, television coverage in the US leaves a bit to be desired. Despite a viewership of 30 million people worldwide, to my knowledge none of the practice sessions/races will be available for live viewing on a US TV network. However with a VPN you can access UK channel ITV’s coverage from their on-demand service. and YouTube has a dedicated channel that provides highlights of some of the races. Sharing five wins between them in 2016, Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson are the men to beat, but after a year lay-off, the return of Guy Martin in search of his maiden win will add some tantalizing drama to the mix. No matter how the races play out, you can bet good money that the TT will never be short on excitement.
Late 20th century philosophy took a longwinded detour from practical thought with its micro-analysis on the importance of the structure of language, but there is one idea that emerged that I find of great interest. It is the notion that once an author writes a work of literature and publishes it for a wide array of readers, in some manner the writer relinquishes his or her rights as the sole proprietor of the work. Since the reader is drawing from their own experiences, what is created in their minds brings whole new meanings, imaginations, and so on beyond the control of the original author’s intention.
Along those lines, I would suggest that after The Beatles (George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and John Lennon) laid down the instrumentation and vocals for the songs on the 1967 masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with George Martin producing and scoring the orchestral charts and Geoff Emerick at the helm as engineer, the meaning of the work was passed on to their multitude of listeners as individuals. What follows here is a song-by-song analysis of my personal notion of Sgt. Pepper’s.
The LP opens to the sounds of a mulling crowd outdoors, awaiting the stage appearance of a good-time band, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A distant, surreal wave of an accordion invites the listener to join the pleasant afternoon outing. After the misery of touring and the madness of Beatlemania, McCartney devised the concept of Sgt. Pepper’s as a Beatles’ alter-ego group, who would perform the album. The famous first lines, “It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play,” nods to an imagined, sweet nostalgia. The guitars are on the heavy side and Martin introduces the first break with bold horns as the crowd elicits a peal of laughter to some antic on the bandshell they are witnessing.
McCartney enthusiastically tells us in his vocalization about what we will be hearing in the “live performance” to follow, and sends the cheering crowd off to listen to singer, “Billy Shears.” We’re seamlessly led next to the quieter studio sound of Starr singing With a Little Help from My Friends. The acoustics and overall sound of Pepper’s is immediately discovered to be new for The Beatles. The mature period of the band began with its two previous albums, Rubber Soul and Revolver, each boasting revolutionary songwriting and production, but still maintaining a loose feel in sections. Pepper’s, on the other hand, is musically and sonically perfect and The Beatles sang or played take after take to make sure it would be so. It’s incredibly cleanly produced and also very tightly bound, as if the band knew their efforts would be examined and listened to for many decades. This near sterility contrasts sharply with The Beatle’s swan song, Abbey Road. that is also technically perfect but very warm in production.
The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.
(Isaac Asimov c. 1920-1992)
Wuhan University, founded in 1893, is regarded as one of the most beautiful university campuses in China. Set by the peaceful East Lake, surrounding the Luojia Mountain, the campus spreads over 900 acres in the city of Wuhan, China. The palatial buildings of the university, blending Chinese and Western styles, have witnessed over 100 years of Chinese contemporary history. Many extraordinary scholars studied, worked and fought there, leaving their individual marks on the walls and floors. Walking on the rooftop of the historical dormitory building, and looking at the golden sunset beneath the flying roof-edge, I can’t help but feel proud of the land where I had spent four years of my life.
Spring has finally arrived, and it’s that time of the year again. Even from across the hemisphere, I can just imagine the rumbustious scene of thousands of visitors pouring into the campus for the cherry blossom spectacular.
Pretty Old Carved Stones in France
Don’t you like to observe the details of finely carved stones and try to feel the history behind it? Here are a few examples of those that I liked the most: the year of construction of a chimney in a modest house in a village in Corrèze, the shell-shaped motif on both sides of a door in a street of Beaune, and my favorite: a pretty young girl with braided hair on the tombstone of Philibert II, Duke of Savoy, in the Royal Monastery of Brou.
This month Natural Selections interviews Alicia Galicia. Conference dining/ catering, RU.
How long have you been living in the New York area?
I’ve been living in NYC for 28 years.
Where do you currently live? Which is your favorite neighborhood?
I live in Astoria and I love it, so Astoria is my favorite neighborhood.
What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated?
Most overrated in NYC I think is Time Square, nobody visiting the city misses it. Underrated, St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue. It’s a beautiful place to go, and pray and find yourself. For some people it may not be important in the way it is for me.
What do you miss most when you are out of town?
I miss the transportation. It’s so easy to move from one place to another in NYC. In other places like Chicago is much harder.
Has anything (negative or positive) changed about you since you became one of us “New Yorkers”?
I’ve changed in different aspects. I’m from Mexico and life there is harder. I feel that everything is possible in NYC if you pursue it. My first challenge was to learn English and I’m still trying to improve.
If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be?
The subway service. I feel we’re paying more each time more, but the quality is decreasing. The trains are slower and waiting times are longer.
What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?
I like to go to Central Park with my kids, they like to climb rocks and visit the zoo there. It’s a lot of fun for them to feed the cows and goats.
What is the most memorable experience you have had in NYC?
I came to work for a short time at Rockefeller and they liked my work, so they hired me. Since the first day I loved this place. I’ve been here for 21 years and I love the ambience, talking with professors, students and doctors. It’s a beautiful place to work and one of the best things that has happened in my life.
Bike, MTA or WALK IT???
I use the MTA because I don’t have enough space in my house for bikes.
If you could live anywhere else, where [would] might that be?
I would like to go back to the country I’m from, but it’s hard. I love NYC, the city that never sleeps. You have 24-hour stores, movies, and much more.
Do you think of yourself as a New Yorker?
Yeah, I feel part of NYC because I’ve been living here for 28 years and I’ve learned many things. Unfortunately, I was not lucky in my relationship, but I always teach my kids and myself to pursue your goals.
Hey! Welcome to the sixth and last lesson in our series on the New York City dialect. By now you should be able to understand the natives well enough to ask for subway directions (which also makes it obvious that you are a tourist). Don’t worry about being able to understand the announcements in the subway, no one can understand them.
To review last month’s lesson, a number of words in the city dialect drop the “H” in words that start with that letter. The two examples are ‘uge and ‘uman. Here are some more examples of them used in a sentence.
- Katz’s Deli sandwiches have a ‘uge pile of cold cuts between two slices of bread.
- Sometimes Grand Central Station can seem like a sea of ‘umanity.
This month’s lesson:
The New York dialect is known for two qualities: we speak very fast and tend to blur our words together. So much so, that phrases, and even entire sentences, can seem like one word. Life in the city is fast paced, so we don’t have time to even wait for the next word. Here are some examples of words in the New York dialect. Click on the links to hear the pronunciation.
- Amirite A word used at the end of sentence, asking for confirmation.
There’s nothing quite like seeing a Broadway play, amirite?
- Fugedaboudit. A word used to express resignation or forgiveness.
You can’t drive anywhere in the city on a Sunday afternoon, fugedaboudit, the traffic is too much.
- Gedoutahea A word used to express surprise or disbelief.
You got a rent controlled apartment in Chelsea for $700 a month? Getoudahea!
- Ariteaready A word used to express annoyance at being pushed or hurried.
I’m moving, aritearedy, I just double parked for a minute!
Final exam: see if you can interpret this conversation between two natives.
First Guy “jeetyet?” Second Guy “No, jew?”
I hope you have enjoyed these lessons in the New York City dialect. Listening to conversations among locals is the best way to tune your ear in to the pronunciation. It’s also a great way to learn about and experience what this great city has to offer. Don’t forget there are five boroughs in the city, it’s not just Manhattan. There is a wealth of culture, cuisine and entertainment to explore. So many people come here every year to visit or to stay. Not only is the United Nations headquarters here, but there are over 100 different ethnicities in the city’s population, that’s why they call the city “The Capital of the World”.
Art review: “The Berlin Painter and His World: Athenian Vase Painting in the Early Fifth Century B.C.”; Princeton Art Museum, March 4 – June 11, 2017
There are certain types of art exhibits that are more difficult to take in than others. I have always found, for example, that illuminated manuscript displays require a very tiring amount of concentration, though the effort is well worth the wonder evoked. Exhibitions of sculpture, unless of ancient pieces, and drawings (excluding those from the Renaissance) require a great deal of disciplined looking to garner the rewards of understanding.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, I would often visit exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and explore the permanent collection at length. At times, I’d be the only person lost in The Met’s side rooms displaying a huge inventory of ancient Greek vases, drinking cups, oil vessels, etc. There were cases and cases of them, many works graced by explanations written on typewriters indicating years of neglect and lack of attention. A few years ago, that all changed. The prize vases are now on glorious and ordered display, dozens of smaller, “lesser” works are upstairs from the main floor of the Leon Levy and Shelby White Court in a large, new repository and massive “study” space of ancient treasures that draw only a few curious, and, at times, quite knowledgeable viewers.
“The Berlin Painter and His World: Athenian Vase-Painting in the Early Fifth Century B.C.” at the Princeton Art Museum (March 4 – June 11, 2017) is a rare kind of exhibition. I can’t recall a major museum show featuring ancient Greek vases, let alone one centering around the works of an individual artist from this obscure period when attributions are hard to come by. I had no idea what I’d find when I drove out to Princeton on a March morning, but I had high hopes that the illustrious Ivy League institution would do the subject justice.
The magnificent exhibit is the fruit of decades of study on individual hands that can be catalogued from the time around 500 B.C. and later. Sir John D. Beazley (1885 – 1970) is noted by the curators as the first scholar who began cataloging vases to individual painters and The Berlin Painter is one of those who left no signature, but surely a recognizable and signature style. When one is dealing with the subject of actual artists from the Golden Age of Greek art and beyond, those of us who love art history are in awe of the mere mention of a sculptor, such as Praxiteles (4th century BC), or Apelles, a painter also of the Hellenistic Period. There are no remains of either of their outputs, but many “copies” and much speculation about what they produced and just what their works may have looked like. Apelles was legendary even in the days of Julius Caesar and inspired the Renaissance artist Botticelli to attempt to recreate one of the artist’s most famous works from antiquity (“The Calumny of Apelles”).
At the Princeton show, one easily finds a name, a style, and the hand of an exemplary artist. The various figures depicted on the vases in “red figure” style are elegant, smooth, and represent everything from mythical beings, to gods, athletes, fantastic beasts, wrestlers in repose, and so on, all adorned in smooth, simple, flowing chitons and draperies. There are swords and war, there are mystic offerings, there is Herakles undertaking his many tests, trials and tribulations, and there is the life and leisure of the ancients. One’s eyes widen in wonder at what is in the display cases.
The exhibit’s explanations are concise and very much on point, giving everything from historical context to notes on how one creates these pieces of pottery. The placards for each vase were also spot on, and I never found myself reading and drifting off to mutter “that’s a lot of words” which I often do. There was one very beautiful wine vessel that the museum noted was found completely intact. Most vases are pieced together from fragments, and in this exhibition, the viewer is blessed that most of the vessels displayed were not broken up too badly when they were found in either The Berlin Painter’s home area of Athens or in Etruscan Italy, an export destination. I can’t recall ever previously viewing a major Attic Red-figure vase that was found entirely in one piece, as if it was fresh from production and presented for use that very day in New Jersey.
When I was done visiting the galleries of the exhibition, I took in sections of the museum’s permanent collection and out of nowhere, I raced back to view The Berlin Painter with fresh eyes. I now knew how to approach it, and how to see it. On this second go-around, spending time with only the top pieces, they truly came to life and felt more vital and immediate to me. Cicero has a book called “On the Nature of the Gods” and the stamnos depicting Chiron, Nereus and Nereids (see photo) truly reflected The Berlin Painter’s notion of the cosmography by which he was bound by in space and historical time. By believing one could, for a moment, see the graceful mythic beings through his eyes, the cosmic dance commences, and it really is quite a show.