Culture Corner

An interview with art gallery owner David Tunick

Bernie Langs

David

David Tunick, Photo by Bernie Langs

David Tunick Inc. is an art gallery located at 13 East 69th Street, specializing in fine prints and drawings from the 15th to the mid-20th centuries. The gallery boasts high quality and rare examples of works by Rembrandt, Dürer, Goya, Fragonard, Matisse, Picasso and many others. David Tunick, the gallery president, has been active in the field of works on paper since 1966. Mr. Tunick kindly agreed to answer email questions for Natural Selections.

BL: The information you provide for each Old Masters (and other) prints is detailed and exhaustive. Not only must you research the history of the physical print and the artist, but trace its provenance as well. How do you undertake such background work?

DT: We work at it, but some discoveries are luck. If by provenance, you mean its actual meaning, the history of ownership, we go about it carefully and methodically. We take note of every collector’s stamp, mark, notation, scribble, etc. on the recto and verso of the sheet. Can we identify them if we don’t know them? To do that we go to Lugt, Les Marques de Collections de Dessins et d’Estampes both in the old two volume hard copy and the augmented online version. If a mark is in there—there are thousands— we read about it, and that may lead to other sources. We want to add to our description of every print and drawing that comes in as much in the way of ownership history as possible. Sometimes that means looking in old gallery or sales catalogues, or correspondence with a museum, more often with a former owner or gallery owner, to see if there are further records in old files. Here’s an example of the luck part: recently a man unknown to us called me from France. He had seen an important 1950 Leger gouache on our website that had turned up on the wall of old master drawing collectors here in NY. It had been “missing” since 1971, when it was last seen in public in an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris.  The NY collectors asked us to sell it for them, and we were thorough in researching the provenance, but there were gaps. The man from France said he remembered seeing this Leger on his aunt’s wall when he was a child. He filled in all the blanks, which we went on to verify. It felt good, as if we had fulfilled a responsibility, in a way, to the work of art.

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Culture Corner

Six Perfect Songs

By Bernie Langs

I enjoy listening to music of all genres and styles and truly appreciate the efforts of not only good composition and musicianship, but of superlative production in the recording studio. On a visceral, emotional, tactile and maybe even soulful level, I have many favorite tunes that I deem perfect. These are songs I’ve never tired of hearing after years of listening to them. I would include such pop songs as diverse as Midnight Confessions by The Grass Roots that was a hit in 1968, Billie Jean, the Michael Jackson mega-hit with stellar production by Quincy Jones, and the live version by The Cream of I’m So Glad, which boasts a ripping solo by Eric Clapton, which I consider the best in all of live rock recordings. I could make the case for many songs as “perfect”, but I’ve chosen the following six to make remarks on:

SIx: Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page, guitarist of Led Zeppelin, has spoken of his obsessiveness in getting imaginative production sounds for his instrument in the studio, but even more importantly of the band’s consistent search for great “riffs.” And the clever, engaging riffing history of this monster band began with the very first notes of their first big hit, Whole Lotta Love and culminated with the ascending guitar notes that makes a later song Kashmir a spiritually inviting mystical journey. Whole Lotta Love has front man Robert Plant singing at full throttle impassioned best. The abstract middle-break instrumental, with fading in and out head-play sounds, was unprecedented at the time. Drummer John Bonham has a great rollout of that interlude, which is followed by the piercing wail of Page’s axe, which in turn segues back to the original riff. Brilliant!

Five: Heroes by David Bowie. Bowie fans will forever be intrigued by his Berlin period, when he retreated in the 1970s to that Cold War city to change artistic direction and wax philosophical. The album Heroes has a fabulous unity of thought and it’s a disturbing one in which Bowie ruminates about the state of human emotion and its quasi-surreal future. The album production by Brian Eno, with assistance from Tony Visconti, is a perfect fit for Bowie’s dark mood. Never before had synthesizers been utilized so fabulously in the rock music genre, melding perfectly with the structure of Bowie’s dense and revelatory songs. The album’s title song, “Heroes,” isn’t just a Cold War simultaneous desperate lament and solitary moment-in-time celebration. It boasts technical musicianship unmatched by any of Bowie’s and Eno’s contemporaries. Decades after most rock music is forgotten, they’ll still be studying David Bowie.

Four: Adagietto of the 5th Symphony by Gustav Mahler. This movement of Mahler’s 5th is simply the most beautiful theme in music history. Theorist Theodor Adorno called passages of Mahler’s symphonies “songs” so Mahler’s passage here fits neatly in this list crowded with rock songs. I first heard the Adagietto at the IBM Gallery of Art, where it was played in an auditorium during the Gallery’s exhibition on the ancient, volcanically obliterated city of Pompeii. Images of the destroyed city and its artifacts were displayed in a slide show in the darkened theater to the sounds of Mahler’s emotionally-charged song. Adorno’s point that Mahler never completely repeats entire themes as practiced by his predecessors, holds true in this case. The passage’s sad strings often do mournfully restart, but Mahler tweaks the presentation as if developing the yearning thoughts. The crescendo is forceful, and, unlike many of Mahler’s themes, resolves beautifully. One finds oneself longing for—what is it? Love? An unattainable soul mate? Understanding? For a better world? It’s all there in this perfect “song.”

Four: Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Street Fighting Man, Honky Tonk Women by the Rolling Stones. Yes, I know that’s three songs. Released in quick succession from 1968 to 1969, only Street Fighting Man was imbedded on an album (Beggar’s Banquet). All three have what’s missing in much of today’s pop and rock music: ingenious melodies, unique guitar riffs (by Keith Richards), entertaining lyrics, and roughshod emotion all tarted up in within tight production. Mick Jagger sings his living guts out, Charlie Watts drives the pounding beat home, and bassist Bill Wyman patiently picks his moments to emerge from the mix to take us all on a ride. The lyrics range from catchy and clever to novelistic in the case of Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which tells the improbable tale of an unlikely protagonist “born in a crossfire hurricane” climaxing with his drowning, where he is “washed up and left for dead.” Top shelf Stones.

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Diwali: India & Beyond

By Sarala Kal

Home to twenty-two different languages and seven different religions, a festival is always being celebrated somewhere throughout the Indian Subcontinent. Diwali, however, is one of the few unique holidays celebrated by everyone in the country, regardless of region, religious belief, or caste. Also called Deepavali, the festival is not only celebrated in India, but also in Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji, Suriname, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Mauritius, Myanmar, Trinidad & Tobago, and Guyana. Though the historical significance behind the festival differs across each region and religion, everyone sanctions and celebrates the triumph of good over evil in splendor and grandeur. Communities also take this time to reflect, meditate, discover their inner strength, absolve any sins, and create a new beginning filled with light, love, and peace.

Ian Brown_Wikimedia Commons

Days and weeks before the festive day of Diwali, lights are hung around houses, office buildings and retail centers. Above is a retail center with trees and shop fronts in festive lights.

The historical significance of Diwali originates from the many grandiose myths, legends, and folklore of India. The polytheistic nation believes that each god or goddess signifies a particular role to ward off evil and offer protection and solace. With wide-eyed enthusiasm, children of the south learn about the indestructible demon Narakasura whose head is cut off by Lord Krishna, and the celebration of peace ensued named Deepavali. The northern parts of India offer their salutations and reverence to the Goddess Kali whose strength and energy epitomizes the battle between creation and destruction. Her defeat over the forces of destruction is celebrated as Diwali.

Because most people in India follow the lunar calendar, the exact date of Diwali depends on the position of the moon and falls in either October or November of each year. The festival lasts from three to five days and is celebrated with an abundance of sweet treats and dazzling decorations. Some practice fasting as a process of cleansing, some perform rigorous prayers, and others allocate more time towards their loved ones. It is customary for everyone in the household to purchase new clothes or jewelry, for children to receive money and presents from friends and relatives, and for everyone to enjoy decadent food. It is a time for married people to renew their vows, siblings to give each other gifts, and extended families to come together and cherish the love of being together. Lamps are lit with sesame oil in every part of the household to ward off negative energy, and preserve the purity welcomed in. Dancing commences early after dinner and continues throughout the night with people of all ages coming together and enjoying the melodic music. The vibrant colors and mellifluous sounds of power, purity, light, and love ring throughout the country.

We live in a world in which we are faced with challenges every day, witness pain and suffering, and learn of a multitude of acts committed through anger and hatred. The ultimate message of Diwali is universal and resonates with everyone around the world. It presents a uniting theme that is embodied by those who choose to look past the negativity, and focus on progressing with a pure and bright spirit. It is a time to reflect and remember to give and forgive, to rise and shine, to unite and unify, prosper and progress, and illuminate your inner self with positive energy.

Henry IV

By Alyssa Luong

The waiting crowd is hushed at 7:24 p.m. under the dim lights and high ceilings of Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse on a windy night in early November. A man in a security uniform bellows for us to step aside, “Inmates coming through! Please step aside.” Furrowed eyebrows are relaxed and smiles slowly appear when we realize it is part of the show. We hear the jangling of metal chains and see the imprisoned women all in uniform grey sweatshirts and sweatpants, with their eyes looking indifferently at the people who’ve come to see their production.

Donmar Warehouse and St. Ann’s Warehouse presents the American Premiere of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV in the context of a women’s prison, directed by Phyllida Lloyd. The all-female cast initially feels like a gimmick in response to the history of all-male Shakespearean casts, but soon becomes irrelevant as the inmates begin Part I among children’s kitchen toys and tiny chairs and tables. It almost feel voyeuristic, watching upon playful props and sleepwear robes-turned royal. “Perhaps this is too personal for us to see?,” I thought.

The prison setting proves effective as we see how the roles are played, inferring that the inmates may be true representations of their characters. The most commanding performance comes from Harriet Walter, who plays King Henry. Her presence brings a simple, unwavering intensity.

Another burst of energy comes from Jade Anouka, who plays Hotspur, living up to the nature of his name. The overall atmosphere is well-balanced, taking us through comic relief delivered by Falstaff, played by Sophie Stanton, and Clare Dunne with a crescendo of development as the maturing heir, Hal, to King Henry.

The ensemble is led through a musical cover of Glasvegas’ “Daddy’s Gone,” led by Lady Percy, played by Sharon Rooney. It’s a delicate aspect of the play that offers a light melody, dueling with the rebellion and national conflict.

Lloyd succeeds in weaving the prison backdrop through the play, exposing the layers of the story with an abrupt incident when the Hostess, played by Zainab Hasan, runs off the stage in response to offensive language that has been directed at her. The lights came on and the prison guards came out, reminding us of the setting. Then, at the end, when Hal is crowned King, an uproar develops that triggers alarms and the guards emerge to end the play.

This strong cast with bold performances make the play worth experiencing. It’s a stimulating layering of stories in which we have privy.
Henry IV runs through December 6, 2015
Runtime: 2 hours 15 minutes
St. Ann’s Warehouse, 45 Water Street, Brooklyn

Culture Corner

Reading Ancient Texts: The Campaigns of Alexander in the Landmark series

By Bernie Langs

“Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam—and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer barrel? Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away. Oh, that that earth, which kept the world in awe, Should patch a wall t’ expel the winter’s flaw!” – Hamlet, Act V.I

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Arrian’s The Campaigns of Alexander in the Landmark series edition

Shakespeare wrote several plays featuring heroes and heroines from ancient Greece and Rome and often, as in the quote above from “Hamlet”, waxed poetic on the myths and history of the ancient world. The idea that there is much to be gleaned, through a serious approach, from the empires of Greece and Rome was the impetus behind Italy’s surge in the arts, literature, and study during its Renaissance. In addition, a look at handwritten monastic Medieval texts from across Europe quietly exuded such curiosity centuries earlier as well.

From up high upon the perch of our world today, we have a wide chasm to cross back to the ancient world, divided as we are by not just time itself, but the changes in culture and mores in the millennium in between. When reading Cicero’s or Seneca’s letters or Livy’s histories or Plato’s dialogues, one of the initial shocks is that the conversations, philosophies, and the general tone is not at times so very different in how we write, think and converse today. It is my contention that such familiarity is partially a mirage and an attempt to cross the years back to the very day in which these texts were written and try to “see” with the eyes of the ancients the world in which they lived, is to experience an exhilaration on par with a mystery wine-soaked celebration honoring Dionysus.

The actual physical artifacts, wall paintings, architectural ruins, sculptures, vases and so on, are on display in the countries of the ancient world, locally in New York City museums, and grace the pages in photos in countless books. These are the essential supplements to the study of books from past epochs. The Landmark series is publishing a handful of ancient texts accompanied by detailed maps, photos of the lands discussed and other artifacts of interest, and extremely helpful footnotes and sidebars to further elucidate the details of the written word. I am just starting the patient endeavor of reading the series’ “The Campaigns of Alexander” written by the ancient Roman Arrian hundreds of years after the time of Alexander. The edition is edited by James S. Romm, translated by Pamela Mensch, and the series editor is Robert B. Strassler. While reading, I try my best to visualize the mind-set and the times of the Roman world where Arrian stood as well as the Greek and Asian lands where Alexander trekked – no easy task of course and only, at best, a loose subjective experience.

I am reminded that the French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote how a time period is experienced as if its culture is gleaned in collective moments that have been created by historical forces converging from a vast multitude of varying directions. Alexander is often dissected and analyzed in terms of his military strategy, but he also took time to honor the gods in the tradition in which he lived. The way we stand in a forest and look and experience nature is not the very same way that a soldier or general of the ancient world would have seen it. The stars, sky, heavens and earth were in their minds as living breathing forces with real implications for how their lives would unfold. A constellation, for example, would reflect a tradition of myth deeply embedded in the soul of the individual and the collective consciousness (and unconsciousness) of their time.

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Kykuit, The Rockefeller Family Estate – For a Very Special Day Trip

By Susan Russo

810867_seThe 3,000-acre estate of four generations of the Rockefeller family is nestled in the lovely area of Pocantico Hills, New York. The name of the estate, Kykuit, means “lookout” in Dutch, an apt name, since the vistas over the Hudson River are magnificent. John D. Rockefeller had the six-story mansion built in 1913. The architects were Delano (cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and Aldrich.

The house’s interiors are beautiful, but not overly ornate, as were many grand mansions of the time. The designer was Ogden Codman, Jr., who rejected the cluttered decors of the turn-of–the-century, and created a more modest yet graceful style. Codman, who designed novelist Edith Wharton’s home in Newport, collaborated with her on a book published in 1897, called “The Decoration of Houses,” which introduced this more livable style.

You will notice on your tour of the house that there is no ballroom, a main showplace of many U.S. and European mansions. John D. Rockefeller, a Baptist, did not allow dancing or alcohol in the mansion. Mr. Rockefeller, did, however, have a small pipe organ, later removed, in a family room. In this room now reside portraits by the American painter, John Singer Sargent. A Sargent landscape painting also depicts the huge Fountain of Oceana in front of the mansion, a replica of a fountain in Florence, Italy.

810869_seNelson Rockefeller’s collection of mostly modern artwork is exhibited in the subterranean art gallery, where the ceilings are covered with ingeniously-designed Italian tiles made by the Guastavino family, originally from Spain. These elegant ceramic tiles can also be seen outside the Grand Central Terminal Oyster Bar, in the New York City Municipal Building, in Grant’s Tomb, and in the City Hall subway station. In the Kykuit gallery are amazing tapestries designed by Pablo Picasso, commissioned at Nelson’s request, and woven in France. Throughout the house and estate you will see artwork by, among others, Constantin Brancusi, Louise Nevelson, Henry Moore, Joan Miró, Andy Warhol, Jacques Lipschitz, Alberto Giacometti, and Alexander Calder. Cynthia B. Altman has been curator of the art collection for the Rockefeller family, the Kykuit estate, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and our own Rockefeller University campus for over twenty years, and she also serves as an advisor to the National Trust for Historical Preservation, the International Center for Photography, and the Empire State Plaza Art Commission.

The gorgeous landscaping, designed by William Welles Bosworth, includes peaceful settings such as the rose garden, the Japanese garden and teahouse, a replica of the Greek Temple of Aphrodite and grotto, more elegant fountains, an Italianate loggia, and the swimming pool garden. On the “Classic Tour,” you will be taken by bus to the Coach Barn, which features a charming collection of the Rockefellers’ horse-drawn carriages, saddles, and classic “touring” and other luxurious cars.

Some of the private parts of the estate are “The Playhouse,” still a family retreat, and the nine-hole reverse golf course, where only the family and their guests are permitted to play.

If you have a car or can manage a fairly long walk, you can visit the family-built church, the community’s Union Church of Pocantico Hills, which is free to all. On Sundays, services are held at 9:00 and 11:00am year round. This charming stone building was enriched by the Rockefeller family with thirteen amazing windows designed by Marc Chagall, and a rose window designed by Henri Matisse. I was told by a guide that M. Matisse came out of retirement in his 80s at the request of the Rockefellers to design that window. Since the church is near the surrounding towns, one special event is a Harvest Church Fair, this year on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 16-17, from 9:00am to 4:00pm, and on Sunday, October 18, from 12 noon to 4:00pm.

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To Dubrovnik, with love

By Qiong Wang

Photos: Qiong Wang

IMG_3095 If you are not very familiar with the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, you must have heard of “Game of Thrones.” Yes, the HBO series was filmed there. Dubrovnik is located on the very southern tip of Croatia by the east coast of the Adriatic Sea. The entire city is built on sea cliffs, encircled by 3-to-5-meters-thick, 25-meters-high and 1950-meters-long brick walls, constructed mostly from the 13th to the 17th centuries. These city walls rise up and down along the cliff rocks, having protected the city for nearly 1000 years from both the sea and the land, are still standing strong and admirable. Five fortresses of different sizes, altitudes and styles are niched in between the walls. The sight of this marvelous city and its geographic setting reminded me immediately of the legendary city of Constantine during the Byzantine Empire, even though I have never been there.

The Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andric said that the city roofs alone could be a subject of an entire study. If you look at any city in the world from the air, Dubrovnik is probably one of the most easily identifiable cities. Climbing onto the top of the city wall, a sea of red slanted tile roofs of various sizes and orientation flashed in front of my eyes, making me fascinated with their texture and structure immediately. IMG_3181They snuggled so nicely together, without any clay in between it seemed. At some places on the city wall, they are within reach. Under the sun, the roof shadow brought out great contrast for different shades of red, crimson, and maple, random yet harmonious. The 50-shades-of-red on the roof tiles are vibrant but not flirty, because their high spirits are brought securely to the ground by the unanimously clay-colored solid stone houses, a great background color to address the roof tiles.

As a beautiful medieval city on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik went through great prosperity during the golden era of Mediterranean trading, and became the business and trading center of the south Dalmatian region, rivaling against Venice at the time. IMG_3302Because of its geographic and business significance, Dubrovnik had always been under the protection of different cross-continental empire powers. Dubrovnik was pretty lucky in this way. Its geographic location is a gift from god, making it far from the most turbulent regions. However in 1667, on a morning just before Easter, a major earthquake hit Dubrovnik, killing about half the inhabitants. Many buildings were damaged, including my favorite construction in the city, the Onofrio’s Fountain. This 15th century rotunda-shaped monstrous structure was used to supply water to the city habitants in the past via 16 masked animal faces, when drinking water was scarce. This fountain is like no other fountain I have ever seen, cute, over-sized and down-to-earth, just like the Baymax of Dubrovnik.

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Culture Corner

Visiting Hemingway’s House in Key West

By Bernie Langs

viewViews of the Key West home of Ernest Hemingway (photos by BL)

After shopping on Duval Street in Key West, Florida on a hot and beautiful day in late April, my wife and I were guided by our closest friends through back roads to The Hemingway Home and Museum to visit the house where the famed author spent most of the 1930s producing some of his best written works. This was my first visit to Key West and the anticipated imaginings of how it would look had missed the mark. The closely placed houses on the streets leading to “Papa’s” abode all had beautifully manicured small yards boasting fabulous and unique trees. The local vegetation had a scintillating quality to it and the leaves of the palm trees swayed slowly, dancing to the beat of the occasional wind. The serene atmosphere primed us for the grounds where Ernest Hemingway had lived.

We entered the house and set out for a tour of the property. Our guide was a colorful character who had probably given the same prepared speech from room to room hundreds of times over the years. She had a peculiar, yet engaging, Southern drawl and although she was restrained, she exuded a continuous enthusiasm for her subject. I found her dry jokes about Hemingway and his antics truly engaging as our group learned about Hemingway’s life, his four wives, his children, and about his many passions for drinking, deep-sea fishing, travel, and general debauchery. I had learned a bit of this, as many of us do, in school, but the sense of the man as an individual was enhanced by being surrounded by the things he’d actually lived with and experienced.

A highlight of the visit was the up-close look at the beautiful swimming pool on the grounds, which is surrounded by various trees and shrubs. It was the first pool built in Key West and the largest at the time for many miles. Our guide told the story of Hemingway’s wife, Pauline, who had put the swimming pool in, to his distress, the costs ran up to $20,000 ($330,000 today adjusted by inflation). It is said he tossed a penny at her, angrily declaring that she’d take his very last penny. She retaliated by imbedding the penny in the still wet cement of the patio and it’s there to this day for tourists like myself to gaze at in amusement.

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Zeena Nackerdien: From Rockefeller to Novelist

By Aileen Marshall

Not all Rockefeller University (RU) scientists have a traditional career path. Some go on to teach or continue research. But some expand their horizons while still keeping science in their life. One such Rockefeller alum is Zeena Nackerdien, a research associate in Joshua Lederberg’s lab from 2000 to 2008, who went on to a diverse career in medical writing and who has recently published a novel, The Heroine Next Door, with a science theme.

ZNHeadshot

Nackerdien is originally from South Africa. She got her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Cape Town. She then earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Stellenbosch, in South Africa, studying chromatin structure.

In 1989 she was offered the position of guest researcher at The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and decided to take the opportunity. At NIST she helped to identify indicators in DNA associated with free radical damage, and learned to perform capillary electrophoresis of nucleic acids. She then worked as a post-doc at Memorial Sloan Kettering for a year. Nackerdien moved to RU in 2000, where she began her eight-year stint.   “Like many post-docs, I had a series of stop-and-go experimental projects that ended in frustration,” Nackerdien remembers. While in the lab she published a hypothesis with Professor David Thaler on the rearrangements of chromosomes in cancer and evolution. She also worked on bacterial growth. She described the experience as “tearing my hair out over an inability to explain the bursts of fast growth observed in rich media of a Gram-negative pathogen, Vibrio parahaemolyticus.” Vibrios are a genus of bacteria that often cause infection from eating undercooked seafood. Some strains give off light. “We showed that the growth rates of the light-emitting Vibrios could be impacted by bioluminescence-dependent- and independent-components. However, the buried headline is that some bacterial strains can double very quickly in a manner that cannot easily be attributed to artifacts,” Nackerdien said. She published a paper on this with Dr. Lederberg and Dr. Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University, an expert in quorum sensing. Nackerdien was working on cultivating other bacterial species of the microbiome not easily done by standard plating techniques. Sadly, Dr. Lederberg died in 2008. It was then that she decided to start a writing career, “I have always been a poet at heart. However, it has taken me many years, first as a medical writer, then a patient advocate, and now an author to come up with a blended style that articulates my unique spirit.”

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Three Weeks in Australia

By Natalia Ketaren

image1The Twelve Apostles, Port Campbell National Park, Victoria, Australia. Photo credit: Natalia Ketaren

After almost three years of being away, I was returning home for a summer Christmas. The last time I visited, my days were spent lazing in parks and beaches along Port Phillip Bay, dinners at trendy Melbourne joints with balconies where we could smoke and drink and of course, I did plenty of shopping. Coming home was all about catching up with friends and family, just… hanging out. However, this trip would be different. My American boyfriend was coming with me and he had never been to Oz. So this time around, it was fewer everyday indulgences and more sightseeing. Here’s a little of what we did and saw.

Week 1 Victoria

Melbourne is the most populous city in the State of Victoria and the second most populous city in Australia, behind Sydney. Melbourne is Australia’s business epicenter. It’s the fashion capital and the music capital of Australia. It is a sporting city, home to major tennis tournaments, the home of cricket Australia and the birthplace of Australian Rules football. Australia was declared a Federation under a tree in Melbourne’s botanical gardens. Five of the country’s most prestigious universities are located here, not to mention numerous others. Thus, it’s not surprising that the birthplace of Gough Whitlam carries a great worth in Australia and its citizens harbor abundant city pride. Whenever I visit my hometown, here are a few things I reacquaint myself with:

Food and Drink

Melbourne is known for its rich food culture, thanks to years of global immigration. My staples every time I visit are:

A good parma at Mrs. Parmas on Lt. Bourke Street or the Leveson Hotel in North Melbourne. Pho on Victoria Street, just after Hoddle Street in Richmond. It doesn’t really matter where you go, this street is lined with Vietnamese restaurants and you’re sure to get good pho and spring rolls when you’re here. Crispy pork at China bar near the corner of Exhibition Street. A souvlaki and chunky fries cooked in olive oil at Stalactites on Exhibition Street. Pizza at D.O.C pizza on the corner of Drummond and Faraday Street serves authentic Roman style pizza. Fish and chips down Acland Street in St. Kilda. Be sure to go to the shop closer to the Barkly Street end. Chips with gravy, dim sum, chunky spring rolls and potato cakes, available at Charcoal chicken chain stores all over Melbourne and coffee.

Coffee is a Melbourne institution, which serves some of the best coffee in Australia. The city is packed with little lane ways strewn with cafes and coffee houses, serving alongside coffee and tea, amazing desserts and delicious sausage rolls and meat pies.

Melbourne nightlife is forever changing. Drinks in Australia are expensive, where, on average, it’s $10/pint of beer and $20/cocktail. No tips required in the service industry, but the going is still quite dear. Rooftop bars in Melbourne can be quite fun. Our go to on the trip is Rooftop Bar on Swanston Street in the city center. They do very nice Pimm’s cups and champagne cocktails in the summertime.

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2015: Chinese New Year of the Sheep

By Peng Kate Gao

If I have to name one day of an entire year that I wish dearly to be with my family-on-the-other-side-of-the-planet, it’s the Chinese New Year. Also called Spring Festival, it is the most cherished and celebrated holiday in China, as families reunite to ring out the old year and celebrate the coming new year. According to the Chinese Animal Zodiac, every year is associated with one of twelve animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. On February 19, 2015 we say farewell to a previous year of the Horse, and welcome the beginning of a year of the Sheep.

The myth of Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year celebration has a long history, dating back over 4,000 years. According to ancient legends, it began with a mythical beast called Nian. Nian was a ferocious monster with a gigantic horn and sharp teeth. It lived in the deep sea all year long, but once every year it would crawl out of the water to wreak havoc on villages. Every year on this day, villagers, young and old, would flee deep into the mountains to hide from Nian’s attack.

One year, while the villagers had started their rush to the mountains, an old beggar came through the neighborhood. An elderly grandmother gave him food, and warned him to hide so as not to be harmed by Nian. The beggar laughed and said that he could chase Nian away. Surprised and hesitant, the old woman left on her own.

At midnight, Nian arrived in the village. It was pitch black everywhere, except for the old woman’s house, which shone brightly with candle and lantern light. The monster bounded towards the house, but stopped short, trembling at the sight of a piece of bright red paper on the door. Suddenly, firecrackers began to explode. Terrified, Nian ran away from the village.

When the villagers returned the following day, they were surprised to find that everything was safe and sound. The old woman told the story of the beggar. Noticing the red paper on the door and the remnants of candles, lanterns, and firecrackers, the villagers suddenly realized that Nian feared the color red, bright light, and loud noises. Rejoicing in relief and excitement, they celebrated. Wearing new hats and clothes, they visited family and friends, and congratulated each other on the prospect of a peaceful year ahead.

Since then, every year on the day that Nian would appear, families adorn their doors with red paper, set off firecrackers, and light candles and lanterns in their homes. The next morning, which marks the start of a new year, people visit their relatives and friends, with festivities lasting for 15 days. This tradition of gratitude and hope has continued till today.

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Roses are Red, Violets are Blue

By Aileen Marshall

Esther_Howland_1850Valentine’s Day, also known as Saint Valentine’s Day, is celebrated on February 14. It is the day that couples customarily show their love for one another. People give their loved ones cards, flowers (usually roses), candy (usually chocolate), or a romantic dinner. If you are well off, you may get or receive jewelry as your Valentine’s Day gift. It is a traditional holiday, but not a government holiday, so businesses are still open.

Valentine’s Day was originally known as Saint Valentine’s Day. It was a feast day in several Christian churches. Yet, the origin of the saint is murky. There were at least three different Saint Valentines, and not much is definitely known about any of them. The two legends seem to have melded to make up the origin of the holiday tradition. One was the Bishop of Terni, in Italy, who died around the year 270. The other was also a Roman priest, who was executed in 496. The legend says that Roman Emperor Claudius II felt that married men were too distracted to make good soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for them. Valentine performed marriages for them in secret. He was jailed and sentenced to death for this crime. While he was incarcerated, he supposedly healed the blind daughter of his jailer. On the night before his execution, he sent her a letter, signed “Your Valentine.” This is how the association of Saint Valentine and romantic love began. Interestingly, some Saint Valentines are also considered the patron saints of beekeepers and epilepsy.

Some sources say that the church naming Saint Valentine’s Day was an attempt to Christianize the pagan festival of Lupercalia, an ancient Roman festival of fertility, celebrated around February 15. Besides slapping the hide of a freshly slaughtered goat on young women of the city to ensure fertility, the single women would put their names in an urn, and the single men would pick a name to be paired off with for that year.

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The Pursuit of Vocation

By Peng Kate Gao

Work is love made visible.

−Kahlil Gibran

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in his brilliantly written book The Happiness Hypothesis, summarized three ways that people generally view their work: a job, a career, or a calling. A job is what people do to earn money and to support their families. A career is what people do to achieve higher goals, such as advancement and prestige. A calling, on the other hand, is for those who find their work so intrinsically engaging and fulfilling that they do it for the sheer love of it. These people usually would continue to work even without pay, if they suddenly became very wealthy. They would have found their life’s vocation.

How do we find ours? In many ways, this is an age-old question. Two and a half millennia ago, Confucius advised, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Nowadays in industrialized western society, where individual autonomy and achievement are farmers among the highest priorities, this question seems even more urgent. As Apple entrepreneur Steve Jobs, remembered as much for his passion as his success, once said, “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” This type of sentiment has always created mixed feelings in me. I am deeply moved and inspired, but at the same time confused and even frightened, as one question burned in my mind: what is my burning idea and would it be strong enough to motivate me to the end? For a long time, I thought my passion was out there, like some great truth, waiting to be found.

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A One Day Jaunt: Whirlwind D.C. Trip on the Cheap

By Susan Russo

A one-day trip to Washington D.C.? Are you crazy? No, I am just ultra-cheap. You won’t get to everything on your must-see list, but you can manage a lot with some planning. Maps of DC’s most popular tourist spots in what is called the “Federal District” are easily available on the Web. Most of these places are FREE. Starting on the National Mall, you can visit the Smithsonian museums—the American Art Museum, the National Air & Space Museum, the Freer and Sackler art galleries, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Gallery of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery (sorry, Stephen Colbert’s portrait has been taken down.) Also free are the outdoor memorials—the Jefferson, the Lincoln, all the war memorials, and the Washington Monument (you can even go up to the top with a free pass on the day you arrive, or with a $1.50 advance ticket). Within walking distance are the White House, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Capitol Building. The Library (Monday through Friday) and the Capitol (Monday through Saturday) offer free tours of their amazingly beautiful interiors (advance reservations are recommended for the Capitol). Easily reached on the Metrorail system (“the Metro”) is the wonderful National Zoo (also free) with grounds opening at 6:00 a.m., buildings at 10:00 a.m. and closing at 8:00 p.m., with free strollers and wheelchairs available. Also on the Metro, you can go to Georgetown, with its elegant townhouses, cafés, restaurants, and the C&O Canal Walk, and to Dupont Circle, with bookstores, restaurants, ice cream parlors, and, nearby, the impressive, varied mansions housing most of the embassies.

Walking and the Metro are my favorite ways of touring, but there are also Old Town Trolley Tours and the DC Ducks (amphibious vehicles). These can be boarded at Union Station, Washington, DC, where trains and some buses arrive. Trolley Tours (the hop-on, hop-off variety – $35/adults; $26/child; free for children under 4 years) will take you to all the places mentioned above, as well as to Arlington Cemetery and the Tidal Basin (where you can hire paddle boats). DC Ducks ($35/adult; $26/child) is a 90-minute talking tour past most of the sites above, but also onto the Potomac River. “Segway Tours” (helmets and training provided) are guided and must be booked in advance for different time periods: the Experience tour ($65/2 hours), the National Mall tour ($75/3 hours), the Food Truck tour ($65/3 hours), and the Monuments and Memorials tour ($75/3 hours).

My thrifty one-day (and longer) trips are by bus, all of which make rest stops at highway centers with food concessions and clean restrooms (more about that later). The fares I have obtained were for travel roundtrip on Saturday, September 6. Greyhound Bus Lines (starting from the Port Authority at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, and arriving at Union Station in D.C.) offers  Web fare of $45 roundtrip, if you book very early departures and late returns (e.g., the 3:45 a.m. bus stops in Maryland and arrives at 11:05 a.m.; the returning 8:00 p.m. bus arrives at 12:30 a.m.).  The BoltBus (starting near Macy’s 34th Street and arriving at Union Station) charges fares from $1 to $25 each way, depending on when you buy your ticket and on the time of day (e.g., for $23 the 6:30 a.m. bus arrives at Union Station at 10:45 a.m.; for $15 the return bus at 6:30 p.m. arrives in New York at 11:00 p.m.). GoToBus, also called Eastern, starting near Macy’s and arriving at Washington’s Chinatown, charges $25 each way (e.g., the 7:30 a.m. bus arrives at 12:01 p.m. and the returning 8:00 p.m. bus arrives at 1:00 a.m.).  I have taken the GoToBus for 30 years, starting when the fares were $10 each way, and they were called the Chinatown buses, leaving from and returning to Chinatowns in both cities.

For the more affluent, trips to D.C. can also be made on Delta and USAir shuttles, the current costs for roundtrip being $290.There is now, however, a Metro stop at Reagan National Airport, so there’s no expensive taxi ride to and from D.C.  And then there is Amtrak, which is $79 each way (or higher if the less expensive seats are sold out or if you take the Acela), but my last trip on Amtrak to and from Williamsburg, VA, was marred by the deplorable conditions of the restrooms, which I wrote about to the Directors of Amtrak, daring them to take a trip of over three hours on one of their trains. I did, however, add that the courtesy of the conductors and café staff were excellent. And the seats are really more comfortable than on the bus!

An Extraordinary Early American in Europe

By Susan Russo

Portrait_of_Ira_Aldridge,_by_Taras_Shevchenko_(1858)Ira Aldridge was born in New York in 1807 to free black parents: Daniel, a clerk and preacher, and Luranah Aldridge. Ira was schooled at home until 1820, when at the age of 13, he was enrolled in the African Free School Number Two. In the 1820s in New York City William Alexander Brown, a West Indian, started four “backyard” or public garden theatres, with plays followed by musical entertainments. During the same period, Brown founded the first all-black “African Theatre,” presenting Richard III, followed by an opera and a ballet. City officials closed all of Brown’s and others’ similar enterprises shortly after each opening following complaints, the last closing culminating in a riot.

At 14, Aldridge found a job in New York as a dresser at the whites-only Chatham Garden Theatre. His employer was a touring Anglo-American actor, James William Wallack. It is not known whether the connection with Wallack played a part in his decision, but, in 1824, Aldridge embarked for Liverpool, England, on his way to accept the award of a scholarship to study theology at Glasgow University. (During this period, a number of religious institutions and anti-slavery societies in England, Scotland, and America were active in supporting advanced education, but in limited subjects, for Africans and African-Americans.)

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Puerto Rico in March – Summer at the tip of Winter

By Natalia Ketaren

El Yunque

Puerto Rico, “the rich port,” is an unincorporated territory of the United States. To us travellers from the US, that means that the currency is in dollars, our cell phones work and we need only a valid US license to travel there. San Juan is the capital. It is one of the most important ports in the Caribbean, situated on the northeastern side of the Island. Aside from its beautiful beaches, Puerto Rico is home to the US’s only tropical rainforest, El Yunque. We took a seven day trip through this lovely island, and here’s a little of what we saw and did.

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Scientists Decide: No interesting stories in Science

By John Borghi

First Flight of a Liquid Propellant RocketOn March 16, 1926, Robert H. Goddard launched the first ever liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts. Though this test did little to silence the mocking editorials and harsh criticisms that had followed Goddard since his 1920 proposal that liquid-fueled rockets would eventually reach beyond Earth’s atmosphere, it was a major breakthrough in modern rocketry. Collecting the pieces of his rocket from a snowed over cabbage patch late in the afternoon on the 16, Goddard probably could not have envisioned that his harshest critics would eventually turn to avid supporters. On July 17, 1969, the day after the launch of Apollo 11, the New York Times published an apologetic retraction of its criticisms of Goddard and hailed him as “the father of modern rocketry.”

Eighty-eight years almost to the day after Goddard’s launch, a group of scientists working at the State Hospital at Montpelier (SHAM) released a statement that no interesting stories could possibly emerge from science. “Science is serious business, obviously,” reads the statement, written primarily by the SHAM’s director of communication, Dr. P.H. Ony. “An engaging narrative requires interesting characters, a conflict, and a resolution. Unfortunately, science just doesn’t include any of those things. Have you ever read the methods section of a scientific paper? Pretty dry, am I right? I’m speaking as a scientist myself; there are just no interesting stories in science.”

Members of the scientific community have been quick to respond to Dr. Ony’s statement. On Facebook, the famed molecular biologist Dr. P. Seudo wrote “Nope, that’s completely incorrect,” and “Sometimes scientists get so wrapped up in their grants and lab work that they forget the drama of what is happening around them. Of course there are interesting stories. Science is full of people trying to solve problems, often while under a tremendous amount of stress.”

Dr. Ony could not be reached for comment, but a statement on his Twitter account stated his position simply: “Always remember, there is nothing exciting about molecular biology, rockets, or vindication.

Happy Halloween!

By Aileen Marshall

600px-Balle-à-leunettes_10

A jack-o’-lantern, made from a pumpkin, lit from within by a candle

Halloween is coming up at the end of this month on October 31st. It has become a very big holiday in this country, for children as well as adults, and it is growing in other countries. How did Halloween get started?

The holiday we know today is actually a combination of a pagan harvest festival and a Christian holy day to honor the dead. It actually started in Ireland in medieval times as a harvest festival called Samhain (pronounced so win). Samhain in Gaelic means “summer’s end.” It was the end of the Celtic calendar, the start of the “dark half of the year.” It coincided with the end of the growing season, with the crops dying off and days getting shorter. The ancient Celts believed it was a day the deads’ spirits could return to earth and visit their relatives or on which evil spirits possess someone. Wearing costumes was a way of fooling ghosts and demons. People would also light bonfires and carve out a turnip and put a candle in it as a means of keeping evils sprits away. There is an ancient Irish folktale of a man named Jack who tricked the devil, and trapped him in one of those carved turnips. The devil eventually got out and cursed Jack to wander the earth every Halloween carrying his lantern. Hence the term “jack o’ lantern” or Jack of the lantern. It was also common to have games of fortune telling. One game was to peel an apple so the skin came off in one piece and throw the peel over one’s shoulder. It was said the peel would form the first letter of the person he or she would marry. In England and Scotland people would go “guising,” visiting friends in costume and asking for food or coins.

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New York State of Mind

This Month Natural Selections interviews Carly Gelfond, Assistant Director of Development. Country of origin: United States.

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

I’ve been living here for seven years, since I graduated from college in central New York State. I’m originally from New Jersey.

2. Where do you live?

I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It takes me an hour to get to and from Rockefeller, but it’s worth it. I love where I am at both ends of the trip.

3. Which is your favorite neighborhood?

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An American in Athens

By Christina Pyrgaki

It is not certain whether this bronze statue (480-300 BCE) represents Zeus or Poseidon because we are not sure if there was a trident or a lightning bolt in its right hand. The statue was found in two pieces at the bottom of the sea off the Cape of Artemission in the 1920s. (Picture by the author)

Since the news of the financial crisis in Europe reached the us, whenever I meet someone for the first time, I have to emotionally prepare for the inevitable discussion that usually follows my answer to the question “Where is your accent from?” You see, I am Greek, and since it so happened that Greece was the first country to be singled out as the failure of the eu, I have to face the “consequences.” When people find out that I am Greek, I am, more often than not, showered with comments of concern about my “trouble-ridden” country. Less often I have to politely dismiss tasteless jokes about my country’s lack of financial responsibility. After that I usually have to respond to questions pertaining to what caused the financial crisis and what course of action will correct it, what is the future of Greece in the eu, or whether we are going to go back to the drachma (the national pre-euro currency) or not. Questions that, tapping into my guilt-ridden nature (courtesy of my Greek Orthodox upbringing), make me feel terribly inadequate  since my answer to all of  them is “I do not know.” I cannot but berate myself: What kind of Greek am I that I don’t know! But really, should I know? Should I have thought of a solution for the crisis and call up our prime minister? Should I magically transform into a modern day Cassandra and warn the citizens of my country: “Beware of the Germans bearing gifts?” Believe it or not, it takes time to overcome the guilt and forgive myself. I just don’t know what went wrong. And that is not because I do not care to find out or because I am away from home. Greek citizens living in Greece do not know either. My hardworking farmer dad who has been working in the fields since he was twenty years old and now, along with the rest of Greek citizens, has to bear the burden of extravagant taxation, does not know what went wrong. And neither does my grandfather, who also worked as a farmer his entire life, Continue reading