February in Italy is infiltrated by masks, confetti, colors, and lights that create a very exciting and unique atmosphere. Carnival is a huge winter festival celebrated 40 days before Easter and ends on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday. It is not a single day or event, but a whole season of masquerades and fun for people of all ages, especially children who really love it. When I was a child, I looked forward to it all year long because every Sunday you could run through the town square wearing costumes that represented cartoon characters or superheroes while tossing confetti to create a rainbow shower for passersby. Pranks are also common during Carnival, hence the saying: “A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale”, “anything goes at Carnival”. During this time, you could even prank your classmates and not punished for it. It was fantastic!
Carnival has its roots in pagan festivals, and traditions are usually adapted to fit in with Catholic rituals. Historically, it was the last chance for Catholics to indulge before they gave up meat (traditionally) for Lent, though today people give up all sorts of other things for Lent. The name for the festival in Italian is “Carnevale” the word “carne” means meat in Italian. It was perhaps not only a last chance to indulge, but also an opportunity to consume any meat that had been put up for winter that might not stay fresh enough for consumption until spring.
The tradition of getting dressed up at Carnival is one that dates back to a time when the class system played a major role in society. It is celebrated in many different ways, varying from region to region, and city to city. Venice, Viareggio, Putignano, and Ivrea are towns that hold the biggest and most elaborate Carnival festivals in Italy. Carnival in Venice is very refined, elegant, and chic. Masks (maschere) are an important part of the Carnival festival and Venice is the best city for traditional masks. Its traditions began as a time for celebration and expression throughout the classes because wearing masks hid any form of identity between social classes. Today, approximately three million visitors come to Venice for the celebrations. Two of the classic Venetian costumes are the Bauta and the Moretta. Bauta is composed of a black cloak (tabarro), a black tricorn (tricorno), and a white mask called larva. It tends to be the main type of mask worn during Carnival. It was also used on many other occasions as a device for hiding the wearer’s identity and social status. It was thus useful for a variety of purposes: some of them illicit or criminal, others personal, such as for romantic encounters. The Moretta is an oval mask of black velvet that was usually worn by women visiting convents. It was invented in France and rapidly became popular in Venice as it brought out the beauty of feminine features. The mask was accentuated with a veil, and secured in place by a small part in the wearer’s mouth. Carnival in Venice is a unique and dazzling experience, probably because this city has a particular glamour to it, especially during winter.
Viareggio, on the Tuscany Coast, has one of the biggest Carnival celebrations in Italy. Viareggio’s Carnival is known for its giant, allegorical papier-mâché floats used in parades, not only on Shrove Tuesday, but also on the three Sundays before and the Sunday that follows. Festivals, cultural events, concerts, and masked balls take place throughout the Carnival season both in Viareggio and in neighboring regions, and restaurants have specialized Carnival menus. The artistic refinement of the papier-mâché masterpieces are admired as true works of art, similar to the luxurious masquerades in Venice.
However, the oldest carnival celebrations in Europe are found at the Putignano Carnival in Puglia. Dating back to 1394, it was only during the Fascist era that this rural carnival developed into the more refined, suburban event of today. This was when the parade of floats, a favorite form of communication in Fascist culture, came into fashion. The first floats are said to have been made with straw and rags, then cardboard and wood, until the current technique of papier-mâché over wire structures was developed. The floats always have themes related to scathing political satire or current affairs, and feature giant caricatures of politicians or TV personalities. They are accompanied by troupes of costumed dancers and loud music to engage the crowds of spectators.
Landscape Into Art: Thoughts on the book Albrecht Altdorfer and the Origins of Landscape (by Christopher S. Wood), and the film The Revenant (directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
Caution: spoilers ahead!
The inspired ideas and emotions one experiences when taking in the sights of nature, reading about the subject, or seeing a film with beautiful landscapes, can range wildly, from those of awe and wonder to absolute terror. I’ve come to believe that once humans banded together to hunt and farm, communicate effectively, and build communal living areas, the species irrevocably lost any direct association with natural surroundings. We were left with only the ability to examine the inner biological mechanics of being for understanding what is called “nature.” We were destined from an early time as persistently self-aware beings to be removed and isolated observers of the planet’s natural wonders, no matter how in awe we are by such magnificence.
Ideas about the relationship of Man and his natural surroundings are examined in fantastic detail in Albrecht Altdorfer and the Origins of Landscape by Christopher S. Wood, who is Professor and Chair of the Department of German at New York University. Professor Wood’s book is an incredible achievement in art historical theory and research. It investigates a single daunting question: What motivated the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Altdorfer (1480 – 1538) to paint the very first stand-alone landscape paintings in human history? How did a European world completely centered on religion, with its arts engulfed in religious or classically-themed pagan iconography, end up with an artist creating pictures either with no humans in them at all or as tiny figures in overwhelmingly dense forest settings?
Professor Wood thoroughly examines the mindset of the artists of the German Renaissance era in which Altdorfer worked, a much less studied locality than that of the Italian and Flemish schools. He also examines the implications on his thesis drawn from the scant information in the historical record about the artist’s personal life. The book has beautiful reproductions of the works by German masters of paintings, drawings and prints, many in color, lending themselves well to deep meditation on its themes.
Altdorfer was caught between the rising tide of Martin Luther’s iconoclastic teachings (Luther was alive and active during his time) and traditional Christianity as practiced out of Rome, but he never completely gave in to the former. Professor Wood notes that as the landscape setting encroached on the religious saints and the pagan heroes in paintings, certain aspects of the primeval forests took on their attributes in an odd substitution of sorts. Joachim Patinir, the visionary Netherlandish painter who set his small figures from Christian tales amid beautiful panoramic views of mountains, waterways, lush trees, and forests, is cited as a proponent of the widespread idea at the time that nature’s beauty is subservient to the religious experience and story. However, Altdorfer’s revolution swayed towards evincing the fear and harshness evoked by the dense forests of his native Germany as an independent entity, with no relationship to the stories of the Bible or Classical literature and myths in any way. In the long run, one also can see in these frightening German landscapes the source of a nationalistic pride in their terrors. This attitude eventually leads as an almost natural path to the unflinching murderous apects of National Socialism.
When I was twenty-eight I had a third-life crisis. Well, let’s be honest, my whole twenties were a series of quarter to third-life crises, but for whatever reason, this one stuck. I’ve always been prone to obsessions. Some on the fairly bizarre end of the spectrum—collecting pipes and cigars when I was nine years old; some more pragmatic—lifting weights or riding motorcycles. But it’s always the same story, my life becomes transformed, consumed with an intense singular focus, dedicated to achieving some lofty goal. During the early stages of a new hobby, nothing else matters. The problem is, they never last. My friend calls them my ‘kicks’. In the midst of a kick I can convince myself that I’ve a puncher’s chance of attaining Ryan Reynolds-like abs, or hauling a bike around a race track quicker than Valentino Rossi. Then, after the euphoric excitement subsides, I realize that I’m destined to be just another puny guy getting buried under a 175lb barbell; or that the legends of Moto GP that I idolize started racing bikes when they were three years old, and possess a near psychopathic lack of fear, whereas I’m afraid to walk past groups of teenagers on the street. Then a depression/hopelessness follows, then onto a new hobby! Rinse and repeat. It’s a timeless formula that’s served me well on my path to becoming a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
Music has been a recurring theme with these kicks. When I was fourteen I saw the movie Desperado. A mid-nineties hit starring Antonio Banderas as the ultra-slick, mysterious Mariachi man making his way through the violent drug towns of the Mexican desert to avenge the murder of his lover, and the maiming of his fretting hand by a local cartel leader, aided by a guitar case laden with firearms. I’m not exactly sure what triggered my obsession, perhaps the scene in which El Mariachi uses his guitar headstock to render a man holding a woman up at knifepoint unconscious (mid performance), but I became utterly hooked, watching it over and over again, isolating the exquisite Spanish guitar licks amongst scenes of gun-slinging bloodbaths. I, of course, immediately purchased a classical guitar, insisting that it come with a hard case should I ever need to carry a small arsenal to wage war on the drug dealers of Sheffield, England. I would later find out that one of my current guitar heroes, John Mayer, was inspired to play after seeing Michael J. Fox in the movie Back to the Future. I may lack his fame or virtuosic skills, but I feel my inspiration was slightly cooler.
In the coming weeks I would play several hours a day, diligently teaching myself, listening to my dad’s John Williams records in awe, dreaming of lightning fast fingers and an eventual mastery of the instrument. Not soon after, on my fifteenth birthday, I got an electric guitar, which I covered in electrical tape in an attempt to emulate my new hero, Eddie Van Halen. I still maintained focus over the next couple of years, eventually fronting a band, but despite my guitar teacher cutting me loose following his declaration that he’d taught me all I needed to know, I never felt like I truly understood the instrument. I took up the saxophone, which became my new primary focus (amongst other things), and while I never stopped playing guitar, as you might have guessed the obsession became a distant memory in the years to come.
Cut to twenty-eight, I finally said enough is enough. That late-twenties malaise, in which the impending doom of your thirties encourages you to take life by the scruff of the neck, had gotten a hold of me good. Figuring I’d safely made it past twenty-seven, the age that had tragically consumed several of my musical heroes, including Jimi Hendrix himself, it was time to become the next sensation. I started teaching myself guitar theory, diatonic intervals, the five patterns, dyads, triads, extensions, alterations: all that jazz (pun intended). I’ll spare the boring details, but after a few months of this utterly painstaking, slow and laborious process, it all started to click. This coincided with my coming home for Christmas, dusting off my gorgeous made in America Fender Stratocaster, criminally neglected under my bed for several years. I forgot how fun it was to just noodle around on an electric guitar (I had been teaching myself on an acoustic, fingerpicking style, slightly trickier/duller), sliding through my newly learnt scale and arpeggio patterns, bending strings; I remembered what I used to love about playing, and felt like all the good stuff was still to come.
When I returned to a desolate New York January, I purchased a worn-brown American made Gibson Les Paul. In case you’re not familiar, in conveniently simplistic terms guitarists often tend to think in terms of Les Paul or Stratocaster, and being a life-long Strat guy it was time for a new beginning. Switching to electric and armed with my newly acquired theory, playing no longer became a chore. I went from an hour a day to between three and four. On weekends I would spend entire days transcribing Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. I felt like I had learnt a new language, since I was able to understand exactly what these gods were doing, and exactly why it worked, rather than just learning by rote memorization as I’d done in the past. The guitar is a funny old instrument, due to the numbering of the strings and frets, you can learn music from tablature (a six line notation system where each line represents a string and notes are represented by fret numbers) and thus never really understand what you’re playing.
During the next few months I applied a renewed focus to becoming fully proficient at playing the blues, rock and jazz on electric, and fingerpicking style folk, pop and blues on acoustic. This leads me to another intriguing aspect of the guitar, its extremely multifaceted nature. There are several ways to skin a cat, and even more ways to play a guitar. Fingerpicking Spanish guitar requires a very, very different skillset from hair-metal style shredding; as does playing bottleneck slide blues; as does improvising over fast chord changes on a jazz chart. But to progress from that intermediate stage where so many of us tend to reside, to that elusive advanced stage, you’re kind of expected to know how to do it all. You also want to do it all. I find the majority of music I hear on guitar as fascinating as it is pleasing to the ear, and setting your sights on new genres can be as satisfying as juggling them is frustrating, one of my many love/hate relationships with the instrument.
Nothing seems to draw me to the guitar like the blues. Clapton put it best with “If you hand me a guitar, I’ll play the blues. That’s the place I automatically go.” There’s just something so deeply satisfying about sliding and bending through the same old blues licks that were born out of all that pain and suffering on the Mississippi Delta. Pondering how extreme adversity engendered such soul-stirring music. With that in mind, I set my first major goal of playing in Big Ed’s Blues Jam at The Red Lion on Bleecker Street, a stage that’s frequented by exceptionally talented professional musicians including the resident grouchy blues master himself, Ed Sullivan (and coincidentally shares the same name as the Sheffield pub where I used to hone my jazz-sax chops at jam sessions as a teen). Leaving my guitar at home, I set out for a little primer one Monday night in April, surveying the talent and thinking about how I’d shape up, having only been playing chord-based blues improvisation for a couple of months at this point. Obviously I was hoping to see a bunch of mediocre musicians fumbling their way around a few tunes, my people. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and I was instead awe-struck at the level of talent on display. Basically the best blues I had ever seen live, and I was somehow supposed to rock up to the stage and hold my own. Seemed like a tall task. I went back home and spent the next few weeks practicing like hell in a seemingly futile attempt to play without making a fool of myself by the end of May.
Eventually I ponied up the courage to walk on stage, guitar in hand. A lot of people I speak with are amazed that these jam sessions work at all. After all, you have a group of musicians that have never seen each other before in their lives, getting on stage to play a number together perfectly in sync and in tune, with about fifteen seconds to confer. It’s not quite as difficult as it sounds; thankfully the blues is fairly simple and generally revolves around one well-known chord-progression, with the chords being referred to by numbers relative to the root of the key you’re playing in. But still having not set foot on a stage since I was eighteen, only having a vague idea of what I was expected to play definitely added to the nausea sweeping through my body. Once the song started and I dropped in with some rhythm chords, I realized just how different performance is to bedroom rock starring. My hands were shaking to the point that I could barely fret chords. When it came time for my guitar solo (customarily everyone on a lead instrument gets a solo, indicated with a nod from the bandleader) it was genuinely like that classic scene in the movie Old School, where Will Ferrell reels off a long-winded answer to a complex question in a debate competition then asks, “What happened? I blacked out.” As I was walking to the subway, complaining about how badly I choked, my girlfriend started playing a clip on her phone of a guitar solo, to which I said ‘that sounds alright, who was that?’, then grabbing the phone I see my miserable looking mug, sternly concentrating on hitting notes I had no recollection of playing. Not that I was Muddy Waters of course, but I think I just about held my own.
Over the next few weeks I attended a few more times, getting slightly more comfortable on stage and eventually doing a few tunes as the band leader, singing and playing. However, becoming dissatisfied with sitting around for several hours on a Monday night to play two songs (it’s like they don’t even appreciate that some of us have bedtimes), I started a new chapter: writing my own music to perform as a soloist. I gravitated towards singer/songwriter style acoustic music (I just have a lot of feelings!). I let fly with my hands every Sunday afternoon, and managed to pen down a few semi-interesting progressions and riffs, scribbling down accompanying lyrics and forming a few rough songs to work with.
This has probably been the most challenging and interesting aspect of my musical journey. You don’t really think about it until you do it, but coming up with a completely original sound from scratch, when the sole creative burden lies on you, is actually pretty darn difficult. There are all sorts of decisions you have to contend with, and none of them came easy to me. Even something seemingly simple like singing in your natural voice is really an open-ended question. A lot of Englishmen like myself emulate American accents when we sing; others honor their native tongue (proudly representing my hometown, Alex Turner of The Arctic Monkeys is pretty far on this end of the spectrum). Lyrics are another particularly tricky subject to contend with. Some choose the direct literal approach; others favor a more abstract poetic tone. Both can be exceptionally effective at delivering a poignant message; both can be exceptionally effective at making a vocalist look lame as hell, where the line is drawn is completely in the eye of the beholder, adding to the complexity of the task at hand. It’s also very, very unnerving sharing your deepest darkest feelings with anyone that happens to be listening. I still struggle with this, and choose to essentially code my lyrics, steeping in metaphor to the point where the subject matter is semi-unrecognizable. Perhaps an unwise choice, but the alternative truly offends my closed-off English sensibilities. As one of my favorite artists Banks says, “sharing music is like giving away your children.” Lastly the music itself, again probably hard to appreciate until you try, but there’s such an incredibly fine line between one sound and another that you can find yourself switching between reggae and emo while you’re trying to write jazz. You’re striving for an original sound while building off of your influences; trying to keep it simple while delving into the complex; toeing the line between standing out in the crowd or being that guy. Essentially, it’s a minefield.
I set forth one steamy August night to perform my songs at a local open mic night, at The Graham Bar in East Williamsburg. It was a nervy walk, intensified by the constant appearance of ginormous rats scurrying from hot stinking piles of trash. My roommate and I coined it ‘rat city’, where stars are born. The venue itself was equally inauspicious, a hot shabby back room in a fairly deserted bar. But just like my earlier forays into the blues, I was once again amazed at the level of talent on display. I performed my allotted three songs as best as I could, attained a pretty good reception from the audience, and made some unquestionably hilarious wisecracks (honestly). All in all, a success.
I’ve played several times since that night, but I’ve never quite matched the sense of satisfaction I felt walking home that evening. In relative terms I’m of course still a newbie, but it seems to me like it never gets easy. When I hear the nasality of my voice on the mic or recording; hit a bum note on guitar; or follow a vocalist with pipes like a steam train; that sense of imposter syndrome really forces you to constantly question what you’re doing there. I suspect it’s an issue that plagues the creative community in general, especially here in the naked city, where inescapable talent surrounds us. Music is a particularly curious character, there’s no obvious formula for success. Some have talent coming out the wazoo, only to be scoffed at as ostentatious bores; some possess little in the sense of objective skill or creativity, but seem to strike a chord with their listeners that can’t be argued with. I find myself constantly analyzing anything that falls on my ears, picking apart composition, melody, harmony, rhythm—and while I’ve got a pretty good handle on how the music’s made, there’s always a faint whiff of pixie dust that makes it truly work, hooking us in time and time again, toying with our emotions like only music can.
And what of my obsession now? When I think back to last year, the flames have unquestionably died down, but the embers still glow. I no longer harbor hopes of becoming the next Jeff Buckley, Gary Clark Jr., or John Mayer; moving to Nashville to find work as a session guitarist; or attending Julliard as a precocious thirty-year-old man. I’m painfully aware of the fact that there are countless people out there, far, far more talented than I could ever hope to be, and far hungrier for a taste of the limelight. But I persevere. I still play every day—jazz, blues and rock before work in the morning; original acoustic material, repertoire and transcription after work, until ten, every night. My social life suffers, but it’s a sacrifice I feel inclined to make—though thankfully I only have one or two friends at the best of times. When it all comes together I feel like I’m channelling Jimi; but mostly, I feel like Ross Geller. Not a day goes by where I don’t stress about some aspect of my playing or my music. I experience bouts of elation on the odd occasions when I’m satisfied, but they’re increasingly fleeting, without fail extinguished either through the joylessness of repetition or the despair of inadequacy relative to the legends I so worship. Some days my guitar feels like a burden that I’ll forever carry, some days it feels like a blessing that can deliver a state of joy like no other. But whatever it brings me, I’m still along for the ride.
Do you remember the Greek myth of Narcissus? It’s the story of an attractive and arrogant man that fell deeply in love with his own face reflected on the water, to the point of losing all interest in life when the reflection was not visible. He died looking at the pond, with no other desire than gazing at his own image.
We have all probably encountered someone like this in our lives. Whether it is that popular guy at high school, the wife that spends two hours in front of the mirror, the husband, the impulsive boss, the public celebrity, the writer, the actor or even politicians, anybody can show some signs of narcissism. The problem begins when it becomes pathologic.
At first glance, people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) seem extremely confident, fearless, shameless, and self-sufficient. However, researchers and clinicians investigating these behaviors have found that they are actually a mask to cover low self-esteem, fear, shame, and lack of empathy. People with NPD have the need to be admired, valued over others, and expect to be treated as superiors.
More frequent in men than women, NPD is rarely treated by itself since it is often accompanied by more severe conditions such as depression, substance abuse, paranoia, eating or bipolar disorders. The causes of this personality disorder are not completely clear, but it has strong hereditary and social components. It’s often incubated during childhood, and blooms in adolescence and early adulthood. The major problem with NPD is not what happens with the individual itself, it’s what happens to others. It is common that people surrounding narcissists get humiliated, discredited, disregarded and disrespected by them. It is also common that in order to surpass the fear of falling short, narcissists develop a need for achievement, self-enhancement, perfectionism, and snobbery. However, society rewards these kinds of behaviors, especially in public personalities like artists and politicians. In a culture where success is overvalued and measured in comparison to others, NPD can drive individuals into privileged positions at the expense of others. The famous phrase by Machiavelli “the end justifies the means” is a magnificent example of the approach that these individuals can take in order to achieve their goals. But one can imagine that this is a double-edged sword, since the same attributes that brought them to success could end up dispelling their beloved ones away. In the end, patients with NPD are not aware of their condition and do not seek treatment by themselves. It is often a harmed third party that requests mental healthcare for an individual with NPD.
Do you know any politicians exhibiting any of these symptoms?
First, there were horse-drawn wagons. Then, during the industrial revolution, the steam engine took over and ultimately helped to win the West. But all of these achievements seem to pale in comparison to what the venerable Metropolitan Transport Authority, MTA for short, has unveiled on New Year’s Day: The new Q train extension, which for the first time in thousands, nay, millions of years, connects the rural more eastern side of a part of the Upper East Side to downtown Manhattan.
But jokes aside, it might seem weird to outsiders, the very intimate relationship we New Yorkers have with our subway system. A big part of the reason being that most of us don’t have a car and heavily rely on the old underground railway system to get to work, to this new must-go restaurant in Bushwick, or that special Starbucks with just the right amount of distraction to musefully work on our screenplays. Of course, this dependence has its downsides, most dramatically felt when trains aren’t running properly, which, let’s face it, is all the time. In fact, the MTA has an actual smartphone app solely dedicated to informing us about service changes during the weekend (called “The Weekender”)! But wherever you are on the MTA love/hate spectrum (please don’t get me started on the F train!), you have to acknowledge the sheer size of the operation: 6407 subway cars distributed among 35 lines running on a total length of 380 km (236 mi), and transporting over 5 million people on a typical weekday (over 1.7 billion (with a B!) per year). Which by the way happens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To the MTA’s credit, they are, at least for the most part, keeping this beast running. In addition, they are even trying to further expand the network and this is where the new Second Avenue line comes in.
This feat has been a long time coming. Originally proposed almost a century ago, the actual construction never got off the ground mainly due to the Great Depression kicking in. However, the plans were brought back on the table after the demolition of the Second and Third Avenue elevated tracks (1942-55) left the Lexington Avenue line (serviced by the 4,5 and 6 trains) as the only option for commuters on the Upper East Side. And everyone living and/or working there today knows that, particularly during the week, those trains are bursting at the seams. Construction of the first tunnels began in 1972, but had to be halted again in 1975 due to New York City’s fiscal issues at the time. Nonetheless, the city’s development never stopped, leading to an ever increasing number of subway commuters, further exacerbating the situation on the Lexington Avenue lines. Finally, in 2007, after thirteen years of (re-)planning (and, of course, many quarrels about costs and the actual route), the second attempt to build the Second Avenue Subway was undertaken. According to the MTA’s vision, the new line will be built in four construction phases that will take… actually, no one knows how long it will take; The MTA isn’t even trying to give an estimate. What we do know is that the fully completed line is supposed to run along Manhattan’s east side from the financial district (Hanover Square) all the way up to East Harlem (East 125th Street). And the other thing we know is that, as of last month, the first construction phase extending the Q line to the Upper East Side has been completed, baffling the natural skeptic/cynic that is alive and well in every New Yorker’s soul.
The daredevil that I am, I have already logged a sizable number of rides on the new Q, which connects the Lexington Avenue-63rd Street station with three brand new stations on the Upper East Side’s Second Avenue at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets. So what’s the verdict? Is the new Q faster, better, stronger? For everyone at the Tri-Institutions and around, the answer is a resounding… it depends. It depends on where you live but even more, whether you do a lot of dining, shopping, etc. on the Upper East Side. Personally, I do like the new Subway. I’m saying this, not because the new stations are really gorgeous (which they are!), and also not because I get to work significantly faster (and when it’s raining, probably drier as the closest entry to the 72nd Street station is already on 2nd Avenue/69th Street). I’m saying this, because I do enjoy certain places on the Upper East Side, which were inconvenient to get to from work, because walking to Lex just to ride the subway for one stop and then walk back to 2nd Avenue doesn’t really make sense. But also areas that are further uptown (and would make a little more sense to take the 6 train) are now easier to reach, like the one around 86th Street, where you might find me shopping at Fairway (and by Fairway, I of course mean Shake Shack) or going to the East 86th Street Cinema (again, Shake Shack). So overall, even if the new subway might not revolutionize your way of living, it at least opens up some more possibilities to travel to this mystical northern territory. And whether or not you’ve already acquainted yourself with the Upper East Side yet, now is the perfect time to get to know some great new places around Second Ave, and I’m sure that soon we will see each other buying bread at Orwasher’s, slurping ramen at Mei Jin or inhaling a burger at… well, you know where.
How long have you been living in the New York area?
As of this month, I’ve been living here for 1.5 years.
Where do you currently live? Which is your favorite neighborhood?
I live on Roosevelt Island. There are so many great neighborhoods in NYC. I typically enjoy areas that are a bit under the radar but still have great places to go to. One of these areas would be Astoria, but I’ve also been hanging out in Bushwick lately.
What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated?
Overrated: Times Square. Big lights? Broadway glamour? More like suffocating in a sea of tourists, while getting your pockets picked.
Underrated: Home cooking. I know, it’s hard especially in NYC where you have these great options to dine out or order in. Also, cooking at home is often more expensive and then there’s the whole dish situation afterwards. But on the other hand, preparing a meal for your friends and loved ones can be a very rewarding experience.
What do you miss most when you are out of town?
Definitely the food. You have authentic cuisine from just about all over the world right at your fingertips when you live here. When I’m back in Germany, especially during Christmas and it’s cold outside, I sometimes catch myself daydreaming about a hot bowl of spicy ramen (not the kind you buy at Gristedes of course!).
Has anything (negative or positive) changed about you since you became one of us “New Yorkers”?
I feel that I’ve become more impatient, something that I particularly notice when I’m out of town; Why is everyone moving SO slow?
If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be?
That’s easy: the insane rents!
What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?
My cop-out answer is: explore the city. This includes anything between walking around a new neighborhood, checking out a new restaurant or eating food I’ve never had before, going to see some weird exhibition, or going bar hopping in Soho.
What is the most memorable experience you’ve had in NYC?
That’s a tough question, because you can experience so many memorable things here. But I have to say, the moments that emotionally stick with me the most are very mundane ones. Like when I’m just taking a stroll with my fiancé through a nice neighborhood such as Greenpoint. It’s a weekend, the sun is out, and we’re just talking. It’s in these moments, where you get to feel a sense of calm, and counterintuitively, as if you were in sync with the city.
Bike, MTA or walk it?
In general, I love to walk the streets, which really allows me to feel the pulse of the particular neighborhood I’m in. But if I need to get somewhere, particularly when it’s far, I switch to my bike or the subway.
If you could live anywhere else, where would that be?
So far at least, my plan is to go back to Germany after my postdoc. There, I’d really love to live in Munich, which for me has the right mix between modernity and traditionalism. But if I leave out Germany, then I could see myself living in Amsterdam, which is very beautiful, diverse, and just perfect to explore by bike.
Do you think of yourself as a New Yorker?
According to some, you have to have been living here for at least ten years, while others say only if you’ve been mugged at knifepoint, you’re allowed to call yourself a New Yorker. When I think of a typical New Yorker, I think of a busy person, who may be very direct (this is what many outsiders mistake to be rudeness), but is ultimately very kind and helpful. I’d like to think of myself as that person, so I’m at least a New Yorker by heart.
Follow through on all your generous impulses. Do not question them, especially if a friend needs you; act on his or her behalf. Do not hesitate! Don’t sit around speculating about the possible problems or dangers. As long as you let your reason lead the way, you will be safe. It is our duty to stand by our friends in their hour of need.
(Epictetus, 55 – 135)
Hey guys! This is another typical New York City greeting. Welcome to lesson four in our series on the New York City dialect.
To recap last month’s lesson, the R is often dropped in words and replaced with an “ah” or “aw” sound. Our vocabulary words were heah, rivah and mawnin. Here are some more examples of them used in a sentence.
Don’t ya just love it heah?
His body washed up on the East Rivah last night.
You gotta get up early in the mawnin to get a seat on the subway.
Other examples of the dropped R are water, fear and father. Here are some examples of these words used in a sentence.
New York City used to have the best tap wada in the country.
If you live in the city long enough, you lose your feah of roaches.
This month’s lesson:
Some words in the city dialect have an elongated A sound, sounding like “aw.” The most famous example is the word talk. In the city, it is pronounced “tawk.”
Here are some examples of words using the elongated A used in a sentence. These words are: tawk, thawt, dawg, and cawffe. Click on the links to hear the pronunciation.
What’s wrong with da way I tawk?
Da thawt of leavin never crossed my mind.
Da law says you have to pick up after your dawg.
He gets his cawfee from da same street cart every mawnin.
Another way to absorb the culture and language of the city is to go on a walking tour. There are numerous companies in the city that provide either guided tours, or maps for self-tours. Probably the most famous one is Big Onion Walking Tours. They are often led by a history graduate student who has been certified by the city. They have tours focusing on history, culture, architecture, and food. I suggest trying either the Brooklyn Heights or the Fort Greene tour to get a good look at how typical New York City residents live. Another good source to try is Frommers. They have a lot of good information on all sorts of tours and attractions in the outer boroughs. They have information on a replica trolley tour in the Bronx, a pizza tour in Brooklyn, and a guide to the various neighborhoods along the 7 train in Queens.
Watch next month for a lesson in the dropped H. It’s going to be huge.
As soon as you arrive in New York City, you immediately learn that there is not much time to get bored. We are surrounded by tons of things to do, places to explore, museums to visit, new restaurants to try, street fairs, street art, street performances, and the list goes on. This city offers such a unique variety of activities that somehow allows it to feed the needs of its huge population.
For example, I have always been a live music addict, but while getting to know the potential of this city, at some point I became more selective with my choices. I began to be intrigued by concerts which took place in smaller venues, rather than giant locations. These spots became my favorite. First of all, they are friendlier, more welcoming, and they also have better and cheaper beers. Second, seeking out these locations gives you the chance to explore the city deeper, getting to better know its neighborhoods, and appreciate its many facets. Third, in these small venues, the atmosphere gets creative and the connection between the audience and the new emerging musicians becomes special; not to mention that you’ll often be extremely surprised by the quality and level of the music. Obviously, there are many ways (web, apps, friends, magazines, etc.) to find out when and where concerts are happening, but recently I found out that the best way is to be invited by a member of the band: Guadalupe Astorga, who is a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University, and also a web designer and contributor for Natural Selections. Excited and full of curiosity for the new musical adventure, a few friends and I decided to get ready to face a chilly winter night out and head to Harlem to experience the sounds of SugaGold live.
But first, let’s shed some light on this band. SugaGold is an independent rock/funk band, formed at the beginning of 2016 by the interaction of five talented minds, not only with regards to music. In fact, three of them are neuroscientists at Rockefeller University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, one is a language researcher, and another is a producer and musician. This collaboration started from a mutual passion for music and from the desire to create an original and innovative instrumental mix. The incredibly powerful voice of Natalia Sáez, who also contributes with the flute and indigenous instruments, harmonizes perfectly with the sound of the drums and electronic notes of Guadalupe Astorga, the drums and percussions played by Ben Deen, the lead guitar of Martin Luque, and the bass of Rodrigo Pavão. The result is an incredible new sound, born out of the creativity of each component, and by the mix of their personal influences and backgrounds. Apparently, “mishmash” is their key word. Did you know that even their band name comes from a mixture of their beloved pets’ names, Sugar and Goldie? The name was supposed to be temporary, but over the time, they liked it and never changed it. SugaGold started to perform around New York City quite fast, considering that the band was brand new. Not bad, guys!
The concert was hosted at Shrine World Music Venue in Harlem. This is a multimedia arts and culture venue founded in 2007 by musicians and music fans. Because it is primarily a location for bands who would like to promote themselves, you can always find passionate musicians ready to face a challenge, while having fun with the audience. Since we didn’t arrive late, for once, we rewarded ourselves with a drink, sitting at the table just in front of the stage, looking at the band preparing for their show. Stage fright? Panic? Tension? What are those? SugaGold were definitely comfortable on stage, and an energetic flow of funky notes came out from the speakers, as if it were the most natural thing on earth. This formed a perfect match with Natalia’s voice, who was also alternating between the flute and the guitar throughout the whole concert. On stage, the performance was very dynamic, as different members of the band would change roles depending on the song; for example, the drummer would change roles to a percussionist, and vice versa. They have a good repertoire of pieces, both in English and Spanish, with a strong South American influence. They all virtually owned the stage, as the audience enjoyed the interesting rhythms and vibes coming from their Djembe, guitar, drums, flute, synthesizer, and bass. The quality of the acoustic was very good, despite a brief incident involving a temporarily crackling microphone. Things that happen only in a live performance! As song after song played, their time on stage began to run out, but they managed to steal a few more minutes to play one last song. Oh yes, the crowd didn’t give them a break!
When I mentioned my passion for music I truly meant this: an amazing atmosphere created by enthusiastic people gathered together to enjoy music and have a blast! The overall impression of the concert was great, from the choice of the venue to the participation of the audience. I loved the pure energy that the live music released. Their concert was a success and SugaGold have, for sure, a bunch of new fans. I can’t wait to see them again on March 17th, at Silvana in New York.
As I’ve said many times one can liken the Oscar race to a horserace with each studio betting on its thoroughbreds hoping to place in the end. The studio is the owner, public relations is the jockey, and the horse is the actor or film in the analogy. Here I’ve included my rankings as they stood on Oscar nominations eve—the number in parentheses indicates my placement following nominations. I chose eight nominees for Best Picture out of a possible ten. All other categories reflect five nominees. The picks that appear in black text within the table were my nominee picks, those in red represent actual nominees that I had not selected.
It’s worth mentioning that from the moment I saw Nocturnal Animals, I knew that Michael Shannon would get a nomination, as evidenced in last month’s column. But as the race headed toward the finish line, Aaron Taylor-Johnson started appearing on the precursor circuit with a win at the Golden Globes and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) nomination, so I went with him.
With that, I give you my predictions as they currently stand:
Winter has come!
Winter is probably the best time of the year to take black and white pictures, especially when the sky is cloudy. Frost on a window in the utility room, frozen leaves in the garden or on the path of the north-facing slopes, and foggy fields are just a few examples of winter’s beauty. Enjoy it, until spring springs!
This politically incorrect (some might even say “disgusting”) puzzle comes to you from an anonymous source, known only to Rockefeller alum (1977) George Barany, who is currently on the faculty of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. For more about this specific puzzle, including a link to its answer, visit here and here. More Barany and Friends puzzles can be found .
1. Sometimes, they’re not given
6. Burro, e.g.
9. Oscar’s U.K. equivalent
14. Straight: Prefix
15. Word after good or bad
17. “___ In” (Wings hit that begins with “Someone’s knockin’ at the door”)
18. Sugary drink, often
19. Carl ___, whose September 2015 endorsement of fellow billionaire 58-Across was a “no-brainer”
20. Adjective that does not begin to describe 58-Across
23. McCorvey in a landmark case
24. Pay back?
25. Paddle-wheel craft
27. 58-Across inveighing against the IRS?
32. Apprentice, like 58-Across at electoral politics
33. Woman who raised Cain
34. Universal soul, in Hinduism
36. Acts the rat
39. Lawless princess?
Armed with a DSLR camera, travel guitar, two Haight and Ashbury-acquired shawl-cardigans, and three of my oldest friends, I left the perpetual fog of the San Francisco Bay.
Having played out the scene a thousand times in my head, I had romanticized the drive down California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway to levels approaching cliché. But despite trading the flashy convertibles of Entourage’s Vincent Chase or Californication’s Hank Moody for a grey Hyundai Sonata rental car, it still failed to disappoint. Practically every bend on that winding road greeted me with a stunning scene of pure, rugged beauty. California’s jagged cliffs are lined with earthy hues of bright red and orange, while each inlet of the vast Pacific Ocean contains a perfectly balanced array of turquoise and green pastels that one might have found on Winslow Homer’s palette.
Despite navigating hairpin turns surrounded by 300-foot drops under cover of total darkness, we made it safely to Big Sur. My friends liked to joke that being the obsessive ball of neuroses that I am, I had already lived out the entire trip through the lens of professional photographers on Instagram prior to leaving, and was only in for disappointment at the real sights. The reality was the opposite—I couldn’t shut up about how gorgeous it all was. Warming my hands with a dawn-break coffee on the porch of our log cabin surrounded by towering redwoods; driving up-and-down the coastline in search of that perfect photo; soaking up the previously elusive sun on the picturesque Pfeiffer Beach; capping off the day with fireside beers: everything just seemed to fall perfectly into place. Fitting on a day when one of my travel companions and I woke up to the bizarrely coincidental news that we had both become uncles overnight.
Though I had fallen in love with the California coast, we had to move on to the next stop on our long list. After stocking up on instant noodles and mac-and-cheese ahead of our first foray into camping, we headed out across the eerie plains of middle California’s desert to the iconic Yosemite National Park. Having spent several hours driving down deserted roads, where the only sites of interest were dust devils and “Another Farmer for Trump” billboards, the granite rock formations of the Yosemite Valley were a welcome treat. As with many experiences, a departure from the beaten path yields the most satisfaction. I had that feeling in mind when I raced up 200 feet of granite rock face to capture the stunning panorama of Upper Cathedral Lake and the peaks beyond, away from the day tourist Valley crowds, in the Tuolumne Meadows area of the park. After returning to my friends relaxing by the lake, we were instantly rewarded by the photo gods, with the arrival of an actual cowboy, actually leading his horses to water.
Keeping with the Western theme, we left Yosemite the next morning in search of gold. Well aware that the California gold rush had ended a good century ago, we thought we would give it a try anyway. After a quick stop at the saline Mono Lake Tufta (as pretty as it was smelly), we navigated the three miles of bumpy dirt track leading to the historic High Sierra ghost town of Bodie. Blazing heat, dried-out long grass, corrugated iron shacks, a chapel, a school, a saloon; it was something straight out of a video game. Though saintly patience was required for the authentic ghost town shot (i.e., minus groups of dawdling tourists) it was quite the experience. Once again our departure yielded an instant photographic gift. There aren’t many days where you experience awe-inspiring natural phenomena while blasting Chris Brown’s “Forever” from your car stereo, but this was one of them. As a blues guitarist, I was familiar with Howlin’ Wolf’s classic “Smokestack Lightnin,” but like many I had absolutely no idea what it meant. We had been monitoring a strange cloud throughout the day that was now towering above the distant Mono Lake and Yosemite, resembling the mushroom clouds of the early atomic bomb tests. As I proceeded to photograph/Snapchat away, a professional nature enthusiast informed me that a distant forest fire had generated enough smoke to form an entire cumulus cloud (smokestack) that then created enough thermal pressure to produce lightning! Touché nature, touché.
After a thrilling journey spent playing a profession guessing game through the twisty, scenic High Sierra roads and the strange casino-and-gun-shop lined small towns of Nevada, we arrived at our next major destination: Lake Tahoe. The relatively palatial luxuries of South Lake Tahoe were a welcome retreat from the cruel realities of nature that we had just experienced (camping), and we took advantage of the flowing booze and ubiquitous live music to try something that we hadn’t really done all trip—relaxing. Stock images of Lake Tahoe always show someone diving into its crystal blue waters and this was a real bucket list item for me. I managed to get a near perfect dive on video despite a throbbing gin and tonic-induced headache. Definitely worth it for those two likes on Facebook.
That night I stayed off the booze in anticipation of what would be one of the biggest highlights of the trip: mountain biking the world famous Flume Trail. I had seen YouTube videos of this classic, but like many things on the trip nothing could truly prepare me for the extreme multisensory experience of engaging in an adrenaline-pumping ride coupled with stunning 360 degree views 8,000 feet above the banks of a 200-square mile lake.
Sad to leave, we departed Lake Tahoe the next morning, down a winding mountain pass that led to the golden hills of Napa Valley. Navigating hectic Highway 1 back to San Francisco was a stark reminder that we were back to civilization. With my friends headed back to my homeland of England, I sat alone at the airport gate, waiting for my delayed flight, looking back over my many images of stunning landscapes and wild animals, and dreaming of my next adventure in this vast land.
When my younger brother was a child, he had a hard time following the teacher’s instructions at school. He was not intellectually incapable, but a restless and vivacious youngster. When the teachers found themselves unable to create any method to capture the interest and attention of this little creature, he was evaluated by a psychiatrist. The result was categorical—he was one of the unfortunate kids diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). My mother had to choose between dealing with a lively child or having to medicate him with psychostimulants such as amphetamines. The risk behind these drugs is not only that they do not improve learning abilities or memory, but essentially that they cause strong addiction, psychosis, heart attacks, dysfunction of heart tissue, and even sudden death.
While brain disorders affect as many as one out of every five people, over-diagnosis boosts these numbers due to the lack of specific biological markers in the field, resulting in millions of people over-medicated with antipsychotics, psychostimulants, pain relievers, and tranquilizers.
Particularly alarming is the dramatic increase in antipsychotic prescriptions in children under eighteen, including infants between one and two years old. Stimulants like amphetamines are chronically prescribed to adults, children, and toddlers diagnosed with ADHD in order to improve their concentration capabilities. But, why obsess over a toddler’s concentration? Do they need to be under the effect of one of the most addictive and destructive drugs to receive love and adequate boundaries as they grow up?
For a kid that is constantly bombarded with excessive information, duties and activities, focusing is not trivial. When I was a child (and that now feels like a long time ago), children had tons of free time to play and socialize with other kids, to struggle with their homework, to develop their creativity by building new toys from old pieces of wood or cardboard, and to think about the failures and victories in their hitherto short lives. Nowadays, modern society has brought technology deeply into our intimate spaces, even those of children. Surrounded by tons of electronic devices, video games, and TV shows, kids no longer struggle to create their own entertainment, they are constantly bombarded with more information than they can assimilate, and they don’t have time to get bored. If we also consider that couples are having babies at older ages, often helped by fertility treatments, the scene looks very scary, with kids being a precious trophy that must be protected at any price. This is a well-known psychosocial phenomenon known as “helicopter parents”, middle class couples that behave in an over-protective way, hovering above their kids at every moment, making them insecure, anxious, highly dependent and depressed.
We should ask ourselves as a society, as a health care and educational community, whether this form of parenting is responsible for the high levels of anxiety, depression and attention deficits shown by our children. How can we justify giving psychostimulant medication, such as Adderall or Ritalin, to toddlers? These drugs will not increase their learning capabilities, nor their memory capacities. Isn’t this a case where the remedy is worse than the disease?
Before prescribing a stimulant drug to a toddler or a child, we must be aware of their psychosocial environment and ask ourselves whether chronic medication is going to make their lives better.
Blood Diamond and the Epic Death of Danny Archer
Caution: spoilers ahead!
In the fabulous comedy Shakespeare in Love, Queen Elizabeth boldly sets a wager to her obsequious courtiers: “Can a play show us the very truth and nature of love?” I’ve been wondering about a similar notion: Can a contemporary film show us the essence of human tragedy in the epic sense of the word?
Sometimes in the evening, I roll through the cable stations on television and particular films grab my attention again and again. There are movies I’ve seen at least a dozen times and a great number I’ve viewed portions of 20 or 30 times. Recently, I’ve found myself transfixed with several films starring Leonardo DiCaprio, including The Aviator, The Departed, and Inception. DiCaprio also won an Oscar this year for The Revenant, a movie that in itself is a remarkable, stunning achievement.
But it is DiCaprio’s performance as Danny Archer in the 2006 film Blood Diamond that I find most fascinating. Blood Diamond is like no other movie I’ve ever seen and Archer is a unique, stand out character, with his strong Rhodesian accent, mannerisms, and mindset. Blood Diamond takes place in 1999 during the horrific unrest in Sierra Leone, and the title refers to the mined conflict diamonds illegally financing the combatants while enriching foreign companies that go on to sell the goods around the world. Jennifer Connelly portrays Maddy Bowen, a journalist set on exposing the trade in hopes of stemming it, and it is her efforts that show the modern audience how complicit we could be in the crime if anyone who innocently buys diamonds for a necklace, earrings, or engagement ring turns away blindly from knowing the terrible, often murderous source of the stones.
The movie’s plot centers on a poor fisherman, Solomon Vandy (played by Oscar-nominated Djimon Hounsou) whose young son is captured by the crazed Revolutionary United Front and forced to be a child soldier for their rampaging cause. Solomon is coerced to mine diamonds by the group and secretly, far out in a stream in the wilds, comes across an enormous, priceless stone which he conceals. In the meantime, Archer is a diamond smuggler working secretly with a large South African mining company and is a gunrunner for the fighting factions as well. He was formerly trained as a soldier by the Afrikaner Colonel Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo) and works with the Colonel’s smuggling efforts to get stones to Liberia and then, through a complex series of transactions, on to the European and American markets. Archer learns that Solomon, now freed from slavery, has hidden the diamond deep in the country’s interior, and they team together (and for a danger-filled time, with the journalist, Maddy Bowen) to retrieve both Solomon’s son and the stone.
Archer has witnessed a lifetime of the terrors of war and violence, including the brutal murder of his parents as a child. He and Colonel Coetzee are as hard and tough as any man can be, their emotional dictionaries long shut after participating in years of battles, but bent now only on making their personal profit and, for the Colonel, managing wars in Africa for power and gain. When the lives of Bowen and Archer intersect, she is able to slowly bring him to a state of empathy for the long trail of innocent victims of war and to fully comprehend the horrors in Sierra Leone. Archer especially learns to feel for what Solomon is seeking in regaining his son and how willing Solomon is to risk death in the slim hope of reuniting his family.
Colonel Coetzee, when meeting Archer on the Colonel’s massive South African property, tells Archer that he must find the huge diamond and hand it over to compensate him for a deal gone bad. Archer notes that he wants to take Solomon’s stone to make his way out of Africa, as his ticket “off of this God-forsaken continent.” In a moment of intense drama, the Colonel has Archer crouch down on his farmland and as he runs a reddish soil through his hands, explains to him that its crimson tint is said to come from the area’s long history of bloodshed. He tells Archer to face that he’ll never leave Africa. Archer squints in resignation, and feigns acquiescence, saying, “If you say so, Colonel, if you say so.”
After much soul-searching and bloodshed, Danny and Solomon locate the diamond amid the rebel stronghold and retrieve Solomon’s son. The Colonel, who with his mercenaries, attempted to take the stone by murdering Archer and Solomon, is killed when shot by Archer, but not before firing a bullet into Archer’s abdomen. This is where we begin to find the essence of a modern tragedy.
The many camera shots of Africa shown in Blood Diamond are stunning, leading one to wonder how such a place so different from America could exist on the same planet, just a plane ride away. As Solomon, his son and Archer flee the retaliating soldiers of the late Colonel in this lush landscape, Danny’s wound begins to incapacitate him. As they climb a steep plateau towards an airstrip atop which Archer’s partner in stealing the diamond will soon be landing a small aircraft, Solomon is tasked with carrying Archer on his back towards the summit.
At one point during their desperate ascent, Archer demands that Solomon put him down and explains that he’ll fend off the approaching soldiers as Solomon and his son race to the plane and to safety. The final exchange between Archer and the African tribesman, Solomon, is one that can move the viewer to tears, and includes a laugh between them on how they both knew that Archer might just as well have stolen the huge diamond. Solomon and his son make it to safety and Archer is left leaning against a large rock, bleeding out. He takes a moment to use his army communications phone to call Maddy Bowen, now in Europe, and charge her with writing the exposé of the blood diamond in Solomon’s possession, and to see to the release of the rest of Solomon’s family being held in a massive internment camp.
The love that had been growing between Danny and Maddy hits its peak as she realizes that he is doomed. Her final words to him: “I wish I could be with you,” to which he replies gazing out at the beautiful sight of Africa, “it’s alright, I’m exactly where I should be.”
Archer grabs some soil, the blood running off his hand to mix with the dirt, fulfilling the Colonel’s prophecy that Danny would never leave Africa and that very ground of the continent is mixed with the blood spilled over its riches, in the name of colonialism, and through tribal hatred. We last see Archer leaning against the rock, head tilted to the right, as the camera pulls away to expose the beautiful land with its one tragic son. Danny has come to know the love between a father and son, and the love of a woman who, although American, is very much akin to him. His heroic death is not in the vein of ancient tragedy, where a strong-headed king gets his comeuppance while the chorus weeps and wails, tearing their garments. Danny dies in the bright light of the lush African wild content from having learnt more about life and love than he could ever have believed was within himself and that his compatriots on the dangerous journey, are righteous, good, and set to change the world for the better.
As laid out in last year’s column, the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races of the Academy Awards are extremely unpredictable. Just take a look at the outcomes below in comparison to what was discussed to see for yourself. It is for this reason that I have chosen to keep the format adopted last year for this edition instead of laying out each actor’s accomplishments and why I would, or would not, bet on them for a nomination. I have broken down the different circumstances these actors find themselves in and how that narrative may or may not ultimately influence Oscar voters. Various critics groups, including The New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), the National Board of Review (NBR), and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) have announced their respective winners and The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) has announced its nominees.
These events help to form a consensus of Oscar nominees and make the acting categories all the more clearer as we approach nominations on January 24th. Together with nomination announcements from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), these announcements signal the start of the Oscar race’s second leg.
Last Year’s Best Supporting Actor Results:
Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton — Spotlight: Both were nominated, but the latter in lead (due to category fraud).
Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper — Joy: Neither were nominated because the film tanked with critics.
Mark Rylance — Bridge of Spies: Nominated and won.
Tom Hardy — The Revenant: Nominated
Idris Elba — Beasts of No Nation: Not nominated. Making their debut in the Oscar race, Hollywood proved just how scared it was of streaming services, such as Netflix, by snubbing the film entirely.
Last year’s fourth nominee was Sylvester Stallone for Creed, a film that saw its release after completion of this column. For many, Stallone became the frontrunner, and while the Hollywood Foreign Press, the BFCA, and the NBR dressed him up with their awards, Hollywood turned its back on him on Oscar night.
This leaves our last nominee, Christian Bale for The Big Short. Like Creed, the film wasn’t released until after the completion of this column. However, of the film’s sprawling ensemble, awards groups rallied around Bale and he completed the all white acting category.
The results show that by the same time last year, it was pretty easy to determine more than half of the actors in supporting roles that would go on to be nominated by the Academy.
This is my favorite time of year. There are so many great aspects to the Christmas season: good food, good music, and the special traditions that come along with the “reason for the season.” Come experience and discover how Italians celebrate the holidays.
The Christmas atmosphere is really felt in the Bel Paese (beautiful country) since the holiday is one of the most important ones in my country. Although there are commons traits, the magic of Natale (Christmas) is different all over the world. Christmas, for every Italian, is like Thanksgiving in the United States. It is a big family reunion that no longer reflects the symbolic religious tradition of the nativity, although many services still run on Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve). There is a famous phrase: “Natale con i tuoi, Capodanno con chi vuoi” (Christmas with yours [relatives], New Year’s Eve with whoever you want). Italians really feel the spirit from late November, but the Christmas season officially starts on December 8, the Day of Immaculate Conception. We decorate our homes and trees, bake cookies, wrap presents, and schools and offices are formally closed. From this day on, up to December 26, the holiday spirit grows. On many Italian streets decorations and huge Christmas trees are displayed, presepi (Nativity scenes) are placed outside for all to see, and the smell of chestnuts, wine, and Italian delicacies, is apparent on every corner. People hurry across the streets with lots of packages in their hands, zampognari (double chanter bagpipers) play Christmas melodies all around, and Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) gives candies to the children. Natale and Vigilia di Natale are observed in different ways all over the country, depending on where you are. Some Italians start celebrating with a nice dinner on December 24. My family and I prefer a light meal without meat and wait for a huge Christmas lunch the day after. However, the midnight Mass at the local church is a tradition from the North to the South. Afterwardwe brindiamo (make a toast) with a glass of spumante (Italian sparkling wine), a slice of panettone or pandoro (sweet treats), and open presents. When I was a child I was so excited by Santa’s arrival that I used to prepare a glass of milk, and place a slice of Christmas cake under the tree to thank Babbo Natale for the gifts.
The joy of this time reaches a fever pitch on December 25, which is a day for eating! This is the perfect occasion to meet up with your family, sit around the table almost all day long and enjoy good food. This happy and peaceful atmosphere lasts late into the evening, while households play board games, taste Italian delicacies and unwrap presents! On Christmas Day, the table abounds with different entrees: insalata di mare (seafood salad), types of salami, cured meats, and flat breads. The main course, depending on the region, consists of the famous tortellini in broth, lasagna or pasticcio (the amazing baked pasta prepared following grandma’s style), and lamb. Normally, after the main meal, a tasty variety of meat is served. Whatever the menu, Italians cannot end their lunch without some famous Christmas treats: pandoro and panettone. The former is a traditional Veronese sweet yeast bread, whereas the latter is a tall sweet bread enriched with raisins and dried fruits, hailing from Lombardy. One of my favorite things is to add more sugar to my sweet meal, with torrone (classic Italian nougat), hazelnut chocolate, and homemade cookies.
December 26, Santo Stefano Day, is a national holiday in Italy, and obviously another occasion to gather with your loved ones and taste other homemade specialties, and sometimes the Natale’s leftovers. Celebrations are not over yet! After these three days of merrymaking, the next date is December 31. This is another crazy opportunity to meet with friends and families and have a big party all night long. Capodanno (New Year’s Eve) normally starts late in the afternoon with the famous aperitivo, followed by a traditional big meal called cenone (big dinner), and the right party to welcome the new year! The day after, if you still have the energy and your stomach is up for more food, it’s time for another substantial lunch! If each Christmas meal differs from one family to another, each New Year’s Eve dinner is carefully thought out to serve the right food that promises to bring you luck, such as cotechino (pork sausage) lenticchie (lentils), and uva (grapes). January 1 is a day to relax, be with the people you care about most, and have some traditional food and dessert.
This month Natural Selections interviews Stefannie Moak, Research Assistant, Gilbert Lab.
How long have you been living in the New York area?
Where do you currently live? Which is your favorite neighborhood?
I live in the Upper East Side and my favorite neighborhood is SoHo.
What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated?
The excess of urbanity and the convenience of the city.
What do you miss most when you are out of town?
The multicultural spaces and the Sunday brunch restaurants.
Has anything (negative or positive) changed about you since you became one of us “New Yorkers”?
It has expanded my view in general about the diversity of people. There are people from every walk of life.
If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be?
I would make people take a deep breath before their morning commute. It would be a better start to the day if everybody was less stressed.
What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?
Playing ice hockey at Lasker Rink in Central Park.
What is the most memorable experience you’ve had in NYC?
Seeing my first Broadway show and watching Garth Brooks perform at Yankee Stadium.
Bike, MTA or walk it?
Definitely walk! You see so many more things.
If you could live anywhere else, where would that be?
I’m a Canadian so I’m biased, therefore I would like to try living in Vancouver.
Do you think of yourself as a New Yorker?
Maybe not yet, but getting there.