Carnival done Italian-style

Francesca Cavallo

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.

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Culture Corner

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)

Bernie Langs

Caution: spoilers ahead!

Albrecht Altdorfer’s most famous painting: The Battle of Alexander and Darius at Issus (Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany; photo: Wikipedia – Public Domain)

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.

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Facing the Music: Life as a Born Again Musician

Owen Clark

My small but growing NY-style home studio

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.

 

The Face Behind the Mask

Guadalupe Astorga

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?

Christmas Holidays in Italy

Francesca Cavallo

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.

f26fd824-2e87-419f-9172-b5b44ba5d0f2-abbacchio_img_7036_food52The 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.

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New York State Of Mind

Guadalupe Astorga

This month Natural Selections interviews Stefannie Moak, Research Assistant, Gilbert Lab.

How long have you been living in the New York area? 

Seven months now.nysom

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.

New York City Dialect New York-ese

Aileen Marshall

Hey, how ya doin? Or in other words, welcome back to our series on learning the New York City dialect. Hopefully by now, you have your ears trained to pick up more words you hear about town.

To recap last month’s lesson, the G is dropped in words ending in “ing.” Our vocabulary words were doin, callin, and walkin.  Here are some more examples of them used in a sentence.

How are you doin? (a greeting)

I’ve been callin you for hours.

I wouldn’t go walkin through Central Park at night.

Other examples of the dropped G are thing and building. Here are some examples of these words used in a sentence.

The only thin that doesn’t belong on pizza is pineapple.

The Empire State Buildin used to be the tallest in the world.

This month’s lesson:

The R is dropped from some words in New York City. It sounds more like an Ah or Aw sound.

Here are some examples of dropped R words used in a sentence. Some examples of these words are: beer, here, river, and morning. Click on the links to hear the pronunciation.

Get your beah heah.

I am takin a rivah cruise up the Hudson.

I only get the Times on Sunday mawnin.

While learning the dialect of this great city, you might as well enjoy all it has to offer. Visiting small neighborhood stores and restaurants in the outer boroughs is probably the best way to experience the language. The outer boroughs have a lot to offer. There is a zoo, and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. There is a huge park in Queens, called Flushing Meadows. Queens also has Citi Field and Arthur Ashe Stadium. There is an aquarium, and the boardwalk at Coney Island in Brooklyn. One can take a ferry ride to Staten Island and see the Staten Island Yankees, the New York Yankee’s farm team. This is just a small representation of attractions in the outer boroughs. Whenever you have the chance, take the subway past Manhattan and explore a neighborhood.

Watch next month for a lesson in the elongated A sound.

Quotable Quote

Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood we live in; the school or college we attend; the factory, farm or office where we work. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

(Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884 – 1962)

Crossword

GEORGE BARANY AND FRIENDS

The three politically themed puzzles that follow come to you from a consortium of progressively-minded friends of Rockefeller alum (1977) George Barany, who is currently on the faculty of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.  Prepare to laugh and cry.  For more information, including links to the answers, visit here, here, and here.  More Barany and Friends crosswords can be found here.

Debate and Switch

Across
1. Shack
4. Refused to make one’s taxes public, e.g.debateswitchgrid
7. Plays a sophomoric prank on, informally
10. Lennon’s lady
11. Suffix with Capri
12. Mens ___ (criminal intent, in law)
13. Bee’s channel
14. Moving to the beat
16. Field for Krugman
18. Academy head
19. Collapse an arch
21. Wing it
22. U.S. Grant adversary
23. Word frequently used by The Donald, and about The Donald
24. Lock
Down
1. Inappropriate adjective, when applied to one’s teenage daughter
2. One fine day, to Puccini
3. Proportional
4. Schmooze with the elite
5. Hughes poem reprinted on a full page in “The New
York Times” (September 22, 2016)
6. Literally, with 7-Down. catch-phrase introduced by Hillary at Hofstra
7. See 6-Down
8. Pascal collection
9. Grp. once headed by Ronald Reagan
15. One who mopes
17. Big name in elevators
18. Hang (around with)
20. “___ we can”

What Happened in Vegas?

Across
1. Escalante who inspired “Stand and Deliver”
6. Muslim leader
10. Ancient Mexican
11. Like the first 44 US Presidentsvegasgrid
12. Deportation targets?
14. Bro, for one
15. Sickened feeling
16. Got up
17. Punctual
20. “Bingo!”
23. Hillary, to Donald
25. “L’___ c’est moi” (Louis XIV)
26. Rip from the mother’s womb, rhetorically
27. Type of details
28. Goes high
Down
1. Campaign issue
2. Jai ___
3. With .com, web site for cinephiles
4. Verbal shrug
5. Campaign issue
6. Saturate
7. Opportunity visited it
8. On the quiet side
9. Large butte
13. Attack bigly
16. Quick with quips
17. What a Jewish astronaut celebrates returning to
18. Defense alliance in the news: Abbr.
19. Russian autocrat
20. “Famous” cookie maker
21. Fabled loser
22. Formicary denizens
24. Samurai’s sash

In a Blue State

Across

1. Enthusiasmin_a_blue_state_grid
5. Point of view
9. Macho military type
14. Khayyám or Sharif
15. “Goldfinger” fort
16. Certain Alaskan
17. It means everything
18. Like some rumors
19. Composition of a metaphorical ceiling yet to be broken
20. Title for 48-Across on January 20, 2017 … we wish
23. “Star Wars” princess
24. Holiday quaff
25. Bill, to 48-Across … we wish
32. DC VIP
33. Target of Cain’s mutiny?
34. Year-round quaff
35. Has ___ with (is connected)
36. Majority leader, ironically?
38. Cultivate
39. NFL six-pointers
40. Piano, to a pianist
41. “Soave sia il vento” and “”Hab mir’s gelobt,” for two
42. Anthem for 48-Across … we wish
46. Be under par?
47. Palindromic Indian bread
48. One who won the popular vote on November 8, 2016
55. In a musical key
56. Make well
57. Lesbos, e.g.
58. Jeb, to Jenna and Barbara
59. Ultimatum word
60. Hounds
61. “The View” co-host Joy(anagram of REHAB)
62. Parodied
63. Mardi ___

Down

1. Whiz (by)
2. Statue of Liberty poet Lazarus
3. Novelist who was romantically involved with Chopin
4. Dress rehearsal
5. “Let’s not go there”
6. Costumed for “La Cage aux Foiles,” perhaps
7. He had a cameo in “Wordplay”
8. Donald and Ivana, e.g.
9. Ann or Andy, e.g.
10. Profess without proof
11. Like the Grinch
12. Arrest
13. Tiebreakers, briefly
21. Cluttered condition
22. Hacker’s harvest, briefly
25. Henry of “Fail-Safe”
26. Formal “Who’s there?” answer
27. “___ in the Balance” (1992 book by Gore)
28. Draft org.?
29. Nobelist Curie
30. Distant
31. A lot of it was fake
32. Way to go
36. Cabbage
37. Frequently, in verse
38. Like the Cheshire cat
40. Ben or Jerry
41. Spicy Asian cuisine
43. “I can’t hear you!”
44. Sheathe
45. Matched, as a poker bet
48. Sharpen
49. Creep
50. Big bird
51. Website for customer reviews
52. Russian autocrat
53. Russian name meaning “holy”
54. An “Untouchable”
55. Place to soak

Life on a Roll

Shaoxing—the Venice in the East

Qiong Wang

shaoxing-1

All photos by Qiong Wang

During my recent trip to China, Shaoxing was a pleasant surprise. The city sits nicely over a complex water canal system, woven together by stone bridges. Until today, local residents inside the old town often used canal water for their daily life activities. Just like Venice, man-powered gondolas are the only vehicles that could fit and roam in these narrow canals, mostly for tourist purposes. Shaoxing was the capital city of the Yue kingdom over 2,000 years ago. Many important historic scholars and important figures were born there or had resided there, which left an incredibly rich cultural heritage in and around the city. Shaoxing is also geographically convenient to get to, only one hour train ride from Shanghai and twenty minutes from Hangzhou.  Don’t miss it if you happen to be in the area.shaoxing-2shaoxing-3shaoxing-4

Twenty-four visits to Stockholm: a concise history of the Rockefeller Nobel Prizes

Part XXII: Roderick MacKinnon, 2003 Prize in Chemistry

Joseph Luna

mackinnon_2015-1449519982

Photo Courtesy of THE rockefeller university

In the early 1950s, two English physiologists named Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley wrote a five-part magnum opus of papers formally describing the electrochemical basis of action potentials, those short lasting impulses that travel along nerve cells. Starting with electrophysiological measurements of squid giant axons, they formulated a precise mathematical model of how action potentials arise and propagate based on the movement of small charged atoms called ions, across a cell membrane. Hodgkin and Huxley made their way to Stockholm in 1963 for this work, having achieved a true breakthrough in neuroscience. Yet such a complete synthesis was more of a molecular starting point founded on a key assumption: the Hodgkin-Huxley model critically relied on the idea that the cell membrane underwent transient changes in ion permeability. In other words, the cell membrane possessed a highly optimized border control system that would permit some ions in (or out) at one specific time and place, but not at others. How such a system actually worked at the molecular level could only be guessed at. For their part, Hodgkin and Huxley dryly wrote that the “details of the mechanism will probably not be settled for some time.” Their assumptions turned into predictions—the richest of guides for future scientists, among them Roderick MacKinnon.

One vital element of the Hodgkin-Huxley model that captured MacKinnon’s fascination centered on potassium ions (K+) and the heroic feat they needed to pull off to escape the cell. With a radius of 1.38 Ångströms, these water-loving ions manage to cross a cell membrane that resembles a great wall of grease, over 40 Ångströms thick. This would roughly translate into a barrier eight stories tall for a human sized potassium ion—scalable perhaps by Superman, were the building not made of solid Krypton. K+ ions can’t manage such an exploit alone. To get around this, Hodgkin and Huxley postulated the existence of a channel that would ferret K+ ions out of the cell. Despite the idleness implied by the name, the channel they predicted was no ordinary hallway for K+ ions. For the Hodgkin-Huxley model to work, this channel needed to be a complex machine capable of differentiating K+ ions from among scores of other (often smaller) ions, and it also needed to open and close at precise moments. In other words, it was a very selective gate.

For MacKinnon, this presented a tantalizing puzzle to determine the molecular basis of ion selectivity. How did the channel conduct potassium ions, but not others, such as physically smaller sodium (Na+) ions? After undergraduate thesis research in Chris Miller’s laboratory at Brandeis University, MacKinnon took a slight detour to go to medical school, before finding himself back in the Miller lab, thirty years old and feeling behind as a scientist, for post-doctoral work. He quickly caught up, and found himself amidst exciting times for ion channel research in the late 1980s. As a postdoc, MacKinnon worked out the mechanism of how a scorpion venom toxin blocked K+ channels in skeletal muscle (it plugged the pore). The first K+ channel called Shaker was cloned from fruit flies around the same time. Performing a “let’s see what happens” experiment, MacKinnon determined that the scorpion toxin also blocked the Shaker channel. This was fortuitous, since it meant that the specific amino acids that interacted with the toxin could be mapped to help define the pore of the channel. It was a solid first step that harnessed the power of molecular biology to explain potassium selectivity. Over the next few years, MacKinnon with his newly established lab at Harvard, determined which amino acids were essential for potassium conductance, and in broad strokes, worked out what the channel ought to look like. They imagined a tetramer of protein subunits encircling a central pore that could open and close, and where each subunit contributed a loop of amino acids whose job it was to discriminate K+ ions. And yet, despite a wealth of biophysical and biochemical data, a satisfying explanation of how the channel conducted potassium much better than smaller sodium ions remained elusive. MacKinnon sought to “see” an ion channel.

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Culture Corner

Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and the 2016 Presidential Election

Bernie Langs

I am close to finishing a masterpiece of historical and philosophical discussion written by Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975), The Origins of Totalitarianism. My purpose in writing about this book is not to convince anyone to read it, because it is an extremely dense and difficult nonfiction tome. I subscribe to my belief in a “trickle-up” theory, that if certain opinions get into the public sphere, perhaps they will rise not only to the level of a wider public discourse, but eventually reach someone who has influence somewhere in the chain of actual political power.

the-origins-of-totalitarianism

Photo Courtesy of Harcourt Publication

Dr. Arendt’s book is a painstaking view on how Hitler and the Nazis and the likes of Joseph Stalin could create the totalitarian states in Germany and Russia, which depended on cooperation and coercion to their purposes of the existing political and military structures and personnel, along with crafting an agenda that would attract and integrate their general populations to their ideologies. I think that many of us believe we know how this happened. My personal narrative went something like this before I picked up this book: Hitler rode a tide of German resentment after its defeat in World War One, taking advantage of the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, economic calamities such as monetary inflation and unemployment, and utilizing as “scapegoats” the Jewish population with relentless propaganda and attacks. The choice of the Jews for Nazi hate and annihilation, I believed, was the remnant and culmination of medieval Christian anti-Semitism which basked in physical attacks on Jews for hundreds of years.

Aristotle wrote in his work, Politics “…it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal…Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech…And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust…and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state.” I have always instinctively fought against and disliked this idea, mostly because I sense that if man is a political being, unlike the Greek’s belief that it leads to the common good, it is political nature that leads the species down the path to horrific events such as the Second World War and the Holocaust. And it was the “gift of speech” that was the incalculably helpful ally in the rise of the Nazis and the Bolsheviks that unleashed terror on the world that left countless millions dead.

After reading just the first few pages of The Origins, my idea of what caused the war (and why Hitler chose the Jews to attack) was shamefully exposed not only as overly simplistic, but downright ignorant. The first edition of the book appeared in the late 1940s and was revised over the next few decades for subsequent publications. I went in thinking I would take what I could from it, given that it is half a century old, and that in this current age of information, this is only Dr. Arendt’s view, and there are most likely many historians and social scientists who carefully refute her claims and ideas. But the real point is that Dr. Arendt doesn’t just study the post-Great War European climate to get to the causes of the unspeakable and well-organized slaughter, but meticulously traces it back to the late eighteenth century revolutions and the societies of the nineteenth century, showing how the situation slowly simmered to the boiling point of carnage. In this book we journey through France’s Dreyfus debacle and relive the nightmare of British imperialism. We follow both large and small political and social movements that are racist, jingoistic, hateful, and so on, some of which resonated with the populace of Europe, some that had no success, but all of which set the table for the rise to totalitarianism as practiced by Hitler and Stalin. There is an in-depth study of post-World War One stateless peoples of the European continent, noting how this sense of limbo experienced by millions gave rise to the horrific solutions offered by the Nazis. The Nazi ideology also finally gave an inclusive purpose to the listless masses of not only Germany, but other European nations as well, the breadth of which I had previously not been aware of.

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For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 2 Edition

Jim Keller

The storm of film festivals galore began at summer’s end with the one-two punch of the Venice (August 31 – September 10) and Telluride (September 2-5) film festivals. In recent years the former has been credited with birthing our eventual Best Picture winner into the world and so begins the Oscar race. In the second of a three-part series, we discuss the performances that are likely to feature in the Best Actor race.

billy-lynns-long-halftime-walk-joe-alswynThis year’s race feels peculiar in that at September’s end the festivals have not yielded any consensus of frontrunners. By this time last year we had already seen the performances of Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) by way of Telluride and Venice, respectively, and Matt Damon (The Martian) via The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Currently, we have little to go on because the films that have been shown have centered on a female, not a male, lead. Considering the Academy’s history of mostly nominating films for Best Picture that have a male lead, this is a very good problem to have. One thing is certain: in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, there are high hopes for Denzel Washington (Fences) and Dev Patel (Lion). This isn’t to say that there aren’t performances already out there that could become consensus decisions (Casey Affleck, Joel Edgerton, Ryan Gosling), just that it’s too early to tell what critic groups might circle back to.

Before we get to this year, let’s recap last year’s awards.

Of the eight roles that were discussed here, three went on to secure Best Actor nominations. The biggest story was that after 22 years, the Academy finally broke down and awarded the top prize to Leonardo DiCaprio for his searing performance in The Revenant. There really wasn’t much of a competition, given how overdue DiCaprio was for a win. But outside of Fassbender’s performance in Steve Jobs and Redmayne in The Danish Girl, Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) and Damon (The Martian) managed to sneak in. There was a short snub list comprised of Johnny Depp (Black List) and Michael Caine (Youth) as Fassbender’s other performance (Macbeth), and Ben Foster’s in The Program were not able to find early footing. Mark Ruffalo, the last actor discussed here, wound up being nominated in the supporting actor for Spotlight.

THE HEE-RO: Joe Alwyn – Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (director: Ang Lee):

FYC: Based on the novel of the same name by Ben Fountain, this drama concerns infantryman Billy Lynn (newcomer Alwyn) who recounts at a Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboys halftime show that he and his squad members made an appearance in during the final hours before the soldiers return to Iraq. Alwyn is as green as they come, with only a single screen credit to his name for the TV series documentary short, A Higher Education. As one of Lee’s many directorial strengths is getting brilliant performances from his actors (see Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain), there is reason to expect the same here. Having been shot at 120 frames per second, the highest frame rate for a film to date, all eyes will be on Lee’s film when it bows at New York Film Festival later this month.

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New York-ese, or a Guide to the New York City Dialect

Aileen Marshall

sign

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Schwen

People come to New York City for different reasons. Many come as tourists, others come to live and work here, not only from other parts of the United States, but from every corner of the globe. American citizens study standard American English in school. Visitors from other countries usually learn British English. Then they come to the city and hear phrases like “Hey, watcha doin?” or “Aw, fuhgeddaboudit”. Confused? Studies in standard English do not always prepare someone to interpret the New York City dialect. With that in mind, Natural Selections will be providing a new service. For the next few months, this column will give lessons in New York-ese. Each month will have a few new vocabulary words. Hopefully by the end, non-native New Yorkers will have a better idea what that man pushing past you on the subway is saying, or what those two hot dog vendors you just passed are fighting about.

Where did the New York City accent come from? Like the city itself, its origin is diverse. It was first studied and documented in the 1890s. The first influence was the Dutch. That’s why we refer to the stairs in front of a building as a stoop. Then the Irish, Scottish, French, German and Scandinavian groups came in and influenced our language. The term deli, used for a store where cold cuts, salads, and other prepared food is sold, is short for delicatessen, a German word. In the early twentieth century, Eastern European and Italian waves of immigrants added to the dialect. Yiddish words are often incorporated into the speech of a native New Yorker.

Linguists say it is the most recognizable accent in the world. Some famous speakers of the New York dialect include Woody Allen, Tony Danza, Fran Drescher, Robert De Niro, Cyndi Lauper, John Leguizamo, Rosie O’Donnell, Rosie Perez, Bernie Sanders, and Jerry Seinfeld, among many others.  Sadly, this accent is slowly disappearing. It is not heard in Manhattan as much as in earlier generations. Recent immigrants usually cannot afford Manhattan housing. Middle- and upper-class professionals from other areas of the country, who speak standard American English, make up most of the population of the main island. The dialect survives among working class natives of the metropolitan area, but linguists say there is a tendency among the millennial generation to try to drop the accent because of a perception of an association with a lack of education.

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QUOTABLE QUOTE

It is no easy task to be good. Anyone can act: get angry, give money, speak to friends, and so on. But to do something to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not easy.

(Aristotle, 384 – 322)

Second Monday in October

GEORGE BARANY AND MARTIN ABRESCH

George Barany is a Rockefeller alum (1977) currently on the Chemistry faculty of the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. Martin Abresch is a graduate of the University of Wyoming, currently living in Seattle, and this is his first published puzzle.  For more information, including a link to the answer, visit here. More Barany and Friends crosswords can be found here.

Across
1. Name hidden by Hirschfeldcolumbusdaynaturalselectionscpuzzle
5. Piece of Gail Collins’ mind
9. Candy launcher?
13. Like jelly beans
14. Nice old man?
15. Ballerina Tallchief
16. Thorpe and Alexie, for two, and peoples honored by California and South Dakota with an October holiday
19. Pushkin dandy who kills his friend in a duel
20. His final game in pinstripes marked the only time during the 2016 season that he played 3rd base
21. Mid-sized?
22. Winter time in NYC
24. Symbol for viscosity or index of refraction
25. They’re gained by RBs, WRs, and TEs
26. Beauty, it’s said
31. Mighty companion
33. Perfect
34. It’s spun about
36. Attic, perhaps, to bats
39. Long-time host of “Scientific American Frontiers”
40. Nick name?
42. No-win situation
43. Nation formed from a successful slave revolt
45. “Quit it!”
46. Site of Nobel Peace Center
47. Sonorous disc
49. Some Rio 2016 competitors in sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball
51. West who said “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted”
53. ___ Jones
55. Word before diem or capita
56. Coffee vessel
57. Largest dwarf planet in the solar system
59. One who will stop watching … after just one more episode
64. 18-Down’s first book … and a possible wish for the name of an October holiday
67. Astronaut getup
68. Place for lovers?
69. Absolute ___ (temperature at which all molecular motion ceases)
70. Rural agreement
71. Scott in an 1857 case
72. Fr. holy women

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Life on a Roll

Qiong Wang

One amazing thing about New York City is that it is never the same experience whenever you step out onto the streets. You will always witness different details, even if you are walking on the same street, at a different time of the day, on different days of the week, and in different seasons of the year, such as brand-new street arts that appeared overnight, new décor from fashion store windows or random moments of a New Yorker that fit beautifully into the city backdrop. It is like you are going on a date with a different city at different times. Here are just a few examples of these city moments on a roll.

lor-2lor-3ny3