November Cover

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on November Cover

Mental health in the age of COVID-19: an interview with mental health care professionals at Rockefeller

Anna Amelianchik

COVID-19 has affected public health in a myriad of ways. In particular, it has negatively affected the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of many people, highlighting the importance of mental healthcare and the urgent need for mental healthcare professionals to continue to provide services to their patients. Dr. Nisha Mehta-Naik, and Lauren Rosenblum, LCSW, provide confidential counseling and medical services to all Rockefeller University employees and students. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Nisha and Lauren about mental health in the age of COVID-19.

Dr. Nisha Mehta-Naik

Lauren Rosenblum, LCSW

Thank you for taking your time to speak with me today! To start, can you please briefly overview mental health resources available to Rockefeller employees and students? In addition, what is the difference between the work that Lauren does vs. Nisha?

Nisha: I am Nisha, I am a psychiatrist and faculty at Weill Cornell Medicine. Lauren will speak more to her role, but Lauren is a clinical social worker. For the past few years Rockefeller has partnered with Weill Cornell Medicine to provide confidential mental health services. Those services usually are on-campus, but of course because of the pandemic, they are now being offered virtually. All Rockefeller employees from graduate students to faculty to staff are able to utilize the Rockefeller mental health services. We recognize that the mental health system is not easy to navigate and that affordable care can be very difficult to find. We see our role as providing psychiatric evaluations and connecting people to the appropriate provider. And oftentimes we are able to provide all the necessary mental health services in-house, although there is no one-size-fits-all model in mental health care. So after an initial evaluation, we take different factors into consideration, including recommended treatment plan, insurance, access, availability, and come up with a shared decision about the next steps. Regardless we make sure that everyone gets set up with the right resources.

Lauren, can you speak as to what your new appointment adds to mental health care at Rockefeller?

Lauren: Sure! I came on with the focus to provide evidence-based psychotherapy in a short-term capacity. We know that short-term psychotherapy is incredibly effective, especially for targeting singular issues like exacerbated anxiety, depression, life adjustment concerns, or external stress, like one finds in graduate school. So I use a wide variety of modalities—a pretty eclectic approach—and cognitive behavioral therapy is certainly one that I resort to often and have used with the student population thus far. Beyond it being effective, it’s also then very helpful just to be able to graduate people out. The idea is that once you obtain these skills and have gone through some modules together, you might not need long-term therapy. As Dr. Mehta mentioned, for those who are interested in continual weekly therapy or more intensive therapy, we really do our best and are pretty successful in referring immediately out. And even following up and making sure it’s a good fit with the next provider.

You mentioned issues like anxiety. Is it one of the more common issues people struggle with?

Lauren: Anxiety is incredibly common! It’s a common aspect of multiple disorders, like depression. Both Dr. Mehta and I see a lot of anxiety right now. I will let Dr. Mehta speak for herself, but short-term evidence-based therapy is incredibly helpful, at least for people coming with anxiety.

Nisha: Exactly! I think what we know is that in society at large, rates of depression and anxiety disorders are quite high, and they are probably under-recognized. What we also know is that there have been numerous studies done in the past few years suggesting that in the graduate school population (especially science graduate students), there are even higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to the rest of the population. I think that’s consistent, and I think that the good news is that treating depression and anxiety helps and people get better and have a better overall experience.

Have the rates of depression and anxiety gone up recently because people are able to better recognize these issues and seek treatment or just because the prevalence is higher?

Nisha: There was a study done recently that highlighted that depression and anxiety levels in the graduate school student population did go up during the pandemic for multiple reasons. I think there is no silver lining in the pandemic, I don’t subscribe to that belief. It’s a tragedy on multiple levels, but I think it has raised awareness of taking care of your mental health and, as a result, I think there is an awareness to reach out for help because mental health has become more of a societal conversation. I also like to think that with the service being available on campus, there will be a positive buzz about it, the word will spread and it will decrease the stigma related to mental health difficulties.

Lauren: And that, in turn, will hopefully help us answer that question. With decreased stigma related to engaging in psychotherapy or psychopharmacology, maybe we can better assess whether we see a larger number of people or if indeed the rates are getting higher.

For people who are not quite there yet, for people who are dealing with stress, but don’t necessarily want to seek treatment for anxiety or depression, are there any tips and tricks you can recommend for dealing with stress during these very stressful times?

Lauren: Both Nisha and I would offer that if there is ever a recurring idea to seek support, please call us. We can certainly offer more structured therapy or a more casual supportive level. But there are tips that are pandemic-specific. We see a lot of people that lose structure, which causes a lot of reconditioning. Aerobic exercise, getting out of your environment is so important—there is a relationship between physical and mental health. So being cognizant of the daily rituals, like hygiene, sleep cycle, getting out, and feeling socially connected, whether it’s in some safe capacity outside or getting on a Zoom call with friends and family.

Nisha: I would echo that. I think maintaining a flexible structure is key, knowing that circumstances may change, that weather changes, and things that you can do in July may not be possible in December. But keeping some level of physical activity up, having some socialization, and some focus on productivity. Staying productive also leads to feeling fulfilled. Productivity may look different at different points of your career development or circumstance.

It definitely worked really well for me! I am a fitness freak, and when I lost access to the gym, I felt the psychological effects. But coming up with a structure, like running every day, really helped in the beginning of the pandemic.

Nisha: Well that’s the thing, too. Researchers have a really unique job that includes a lot of thinking, but at the same time a lot of physical activity. And with things like lab closures, people can easily lose their physical activity in their day-to-day lives, like standing at a bench, or quick social interactions, like seeing someone when you walk into the lab. So much has been lost and then regained in the spirit of time, that having flexibility and recognizing what is lost is really important.

Do you think anything goes when it comes to coping with stress or are there some counterproductive ways to deal with it and something you should avoid?

Lauren: It would just be the reverse of what I said. So really paying attention to isolation. We’ve seen so many people who just don’t feel safe leaving their homes. If you go a few days without having any social connection, it’s something to pay attention to.

Nisha: A couple come to mind. There is so much going on right now, but, in addition to that, there is still normal life stress of professional and personal development. I think it’s really important for people to focus on what they can control. Counterproductive coping strategies would be focusing on things we can’t control. I try to encourage everyone to stay ambitious and passionate and use that to focus on what they can control. Focusing on things that you absolutely can’t control can lead to a lot of undue anxiety and frustration. I also encourage people to avoid putting all their eggs in one basket. Sometimes in professional development, it can be tempting to derive all of your satisfaction and self esteem from career success. I tend to encourage people to think about success and productivity in different ways. Some people put all of their eggs in one basket and think work is the only way they are going to feel good about themselves. For other people it can be other areas, like a relationship or weight.

Lauren: And also sitting still and isolating with rumination. So you need to be really cognizant that you are not socially isolating and sitting alone with negative thoughts.

I think I know what you mean. I think for me, in the beginning, the most counterproductive thing was getting addicted to the news cycle. I thought that if I stayed informed, it would give me some level of control, but then I couldn’t put my phone down. I was unable to stop reading the news. I had to stop that eventually.

Nisha: I think it was all of us! Looking at the numbers every day and then trying to analyze the data. It was so tempting.

It wasn’t very productive though! I had to limit it to once a day, maybe. We briefly talked about it, and you mentioned that if someone frequently thinks about how much they need support, they need to come talk to you. What are some signs that your stress is beyond the normal levels? What are some of the signs that you actually need help with mental health care?

Lauren: I imagine, it’s pretty specific to the individual. We all have different thresholds and different levels of coping. So if it got to a point of severity and someone is getting to the clinically depressed level or feeling hopeless, having a hard time getting out of that mood state, before it gets to the emergent level, absolutely utilize us. I think what we are trying to develop is something that can be more inviting at earlier stages so it doesn’t actually have to get an acute place. If it gets more acute and people are feeling hopeless, they are not feeling like themselves, they are behaviorally isolating and their sleep and appetite might be compromised, panic symptoms, suicidal ideation, those are some not-so-early warning signs.

Nisha: I agree with Lauren. Don’t hesitate to reach out and reach out early because things will get better and treatment can be really helpful. Different people get better in different ways, but we try to have some flexibility in approach. That is part of the benefit of having Lauren on board—she offers a whole different skillset to make sure that people get the support they need. We are also able to get people connected to the right care. Don’t hesitate to reach out! I’d say if you are asking that question, it doesn’t hurt to meet with us even once to just check in. It’s a really challenging time, and grad school is really challenging. If you are wondering, “Is this a normal response?,” we can help keep an eye on things the same way you would with a primary care doctor or an endocrinologist if you have diabetes. I’d say if the way you are feeling is impacting your functioning, whether it be not being able to focus on work, not maintaining the same relationships that you usually do, things aren’t as interesting to you—these are all early signs to reach out.

This will definitely be helpful for a lot of people. Especially now that the days are getting shorter and there are less opportunities to socialize outdoors. So for people who suffer from seasonal affective disorders, for people who tend to get different when it’s fall and winter, how do they make sure that their issues are not exacerbated with COVID and seasonal changes?

Lauren: There are some behavioral approaches. I will use you as an example. You mentioned that during the initial stage of the pandemic, your focus was on constant stressors and news. And also you, being an athlete to some extent, really felt the impact of not being able to go to the gym. So just as you adapted and created your own schedule, I would suggest something very similar. There will be more isolation when it gets colder. Restructure your day to get some sunlight. That means taking a walk for thirty minutes, even if it’s a little cold, and getting some natural sunlight. Doing something like you did, and developing an aerobic exercise plan indoors. Doing enjoyable, pleasurable activities, and coping ahead—being able to come up with some creative ways to be together, to cook together, to socially connect.

Nisha: I agree with everyone Lauren said—exercise and getting sunlight during daytime hours are really important. I would also say, season changes affect some people more severely. Seasonal affective disorder is real, and there are some things that help with the treatment of seasonal affective disorder, including using a sun lamp and vitamin D supplementation if you have low vitamin D. There are also some psychiatric medications that can help with seasonal affective disorder, but before using a sunlamp, vitamin D or a prescribed medication, I would consult with a doctor to make sure there are no contraindications. 

Do you think the culprit of seasonal affective disorder is the change in how much vitamin D you are getting, or is it just one of the components?

Nisha: The studies on seasonal affective disorder and vitamin D show a correlation between the disorder and from vitamin D deficiency. Supplementing with vitamin D helps with symptoms. I am not sure the precise explanation in terms of pathophysiology. But it does help!

How do you think mental health care is going to change after we are done isolating?

Lauren: It’s already changed so immediately and abruptly. In the beginning, there was obviously a sense of urgency to get on remote platforms. In some ways, it’s been met with a lot of positivity and ease. I wonder if, because we are able to access more people, and because there is a little more flexibility, it’ll become the standard of care. It’s something that the field is certainly thinking about as an add-on. Of course, there is tremendous value in seeing your clinician in person. We are both excited to get back on campus. But, in our perspective, it has not affected clinical care, which is another positive outcome.

Nisha: I think it may be too soon to tell in the grand scheme of things how much video visits will be part of the future of treatment. But it’s hard to imagine us going completely back to normal. I think this will be part of the new normal, but it may be too soon to tell exactly how much. Part of that will depend on policy, both institutional, national, and state-wide. I agree with Lauren—I think we realized that the quality of care has not been negatively impacted by transitioning to video. That’s been great!

To schedule a confidential appointment with Dr. Nisha Mehta-Naik or Lauren Rosenblum, LCSW, please call 212-327-7257.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Mental health in the age of COVID-19: an interview with mental health care professionals at Rockefeller

Behind the Scenes with Rockefeller’s New Nobel Laureate, Charles M. Rice, Ph.D.

Jim Keller

Even if you’re still working from home, by now you have heard that Charles M. Rice, Ph.D. (or “Charlie,” as many call him at Rockefeller) is one of the recipients of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Harvey J. Alter (National Institutes of Health) and Michael Houghton (University of Alberta) for research that contributed to a cure for hepatitis C.

Nearly every congratulatory statement by Rice’s colleagues mentioned his exceptional kindness, a quality sometimes regarded as mutually exclusive with the pinnacle of career success. I spoke with Santa Maria Pecoraro Di Vittorio, the Administrative Manager of the Rice Lab, to gain further insight into Rice’s professional reputation and demeanor. I found that it is no facade—Rice is exactly who you would expect him to be: a well-rounded, hardworking scientist, with a penchant for dark chocolate and classical music, who is well-liked, respected, and admired by his employees and peers.

Pecoraro Di Vittorio came to Rockefeller more than fifteen years ago to join her then-fiancé Salvatore Di Vittorio who had been preparing to launch the Chamber Orchestra of New York, “[New York] made the most sense for both of us professionally,” Pecoraro Di Vittorio explained over e-mail, “It was my first big move, but everything actually fell into place.”

Two colleagues at the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies with knowledge of Rice’s character and reputation encouraged Pecoraro Di Vittorio to apply to his laboratory and even facilitated an introduction between them. Soon after, Pecoraro Di Vittorio found herself on a flight to NYC to interview with Rice. She recalled, “It was a campus holiday [President’s Day of 2005], but as in typical Charlie fashion, he was there working away, along with some lab members and his Australian Shepherds, Wrangler and Sadie.” Pecoraro Di Vittorio started in the Rice lab a few weeks later in March 2005. “It turns out they were having trouble finding someone for the position, so you can say I was looking at the right time. This was the only position I applied for. (I had just started my search! Lucky break!).”

Pecoraro Di Vittorio now oversees grants, finance, personnel, and other administrative duties for the lab. She described Rice as, “A generous and dedicated scientist and professor. He is incredibly thoughtful when writing letters of recommendation.” Pecoraro Di Vittorio continued by saying that working for him is “an amazing experience,” and added, “He works incredibly hard. He is passionate about the lab’s research and wants everyone to excel and succeed in their projects and careers.”

Pecoraro Di Vittorio recalled the 60th birthday symposium that the lab organized for Rice on August 25, 2012, in Caspary Auditorium, with 166 attendees. “He experienced a wonderful reunion of past and present students, postdocs, and colleagues. His undergraduate and graduate advisors were even present,” she said. “He was really happy.”

When the Nobel Assembly came knocking, it was not completely unexpected. “There was quite a bit of chatter by lab members about this potentially happening especially after he was awarded the Lasker in 2016,” Pecoraro Di Vittorio said.

Indeed, the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, one of four awards given by the Lasker Foundation, is presented to honor outstanding work for the understanding, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and cure of disease, and it is often viewed in the research community as a precursor for the Nobel Prize. So, as that fateful day, Monday, October 5 approached, just as in the last three years, Pecoraro Di Vittorio’s office was contacted to ask about Rice’s schedule on the day of the Nobel Prize announcement. As Rice indicated in the press conference that Rockefeller held following the announcement, at first, he ignored the call, suspecting it was a prank. But the calls kept coming, and Rice acquiesced and answered the phone to a Swedish accent.

Between his time at Washington University School of Medicine and Rockefeller, Rice has had thirty-four graduate students, helped train ninety-six postdocs, and has had a total of 338 lab members at Rockefeller alone. Accordingly, many alumni were anxious to congratulate Rice, so Pecoraro Di Vittorio organized a video conference meeting the following day with upwards of ninety participants. The meeting lasted almost three hours.

Pecoraro Di Vittorio could not comment on the Nobel Assembly’s plans for presenting the three scientists with their awards, virtually or in-person. “This is still being discussed between the Nobel Foundation and the winners,” she said.

When all is said and done, Pecoraro Di Vittorio believes that Rice’s receipt of this highest honor in science will not affect the day-to-day work of the lab. On the morning of the Nobel Prize announcement, “He sent an email to the lab’s COVID research group list around 5:30 a.m. only with the subject line ‘Do not get distracted!!!’” Pecoraro Di Vittorio said. “Many lab members responded that it was too late!”

View Rice’s press conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxrq20WUtLw&feature=youtu.be

Rice is the 26th scientist associated with The Rockefeller University to be honored with the Nobel Prize. In addition, four other Nobel Prize winners are current members of the Rockefeller faculty: Michael W. Young (2017), Roderick MacKinnon (2003), Paul Nurse (2001), and Torsten Wiesel (1981).

Born in Sacramento, California in 1952, Rice received his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1981 from the California Institute of Technology, where he stayed on as a postdoctoral research fellow from 1981 to 1985. Before he joined Rockefeller in 2001, he spent fourteen years on the faculty of the Washington University School of Medicine. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a previous recipient of the 2007 M.W. Beijerinck Virology Prize, the 2015 Robert Koch Award, the 2016 InBev-Baillet Latour Health Prize, and the 2016 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.

Merged screenshot showing many of the attendees at the congratulatory video conference.

Santa Maria Pecoraro Di Vittorio with Charles M. Rice outside his office after his 10 a.m. press conference.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Scenes with Rockefeller’s New Nobel Laureate, Charles M. Rice, Ph.D.

Natural Expressions

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Natural Expressions

Cyber Security Works from Home

Audrey Goldfarb

Despite research ramping down for most since March, Marty Leidner and his team have been working harder than ever. As Rockefeller University’s Chief Information Security Officer, Leidner is responsible for protecting precious data and blocking malicious traffic from invading our campus network.

Leidner defends the Rockefeller community against phishing and other attacks using constantly evolving strategies and security appliances. In the age of widespread Zoom and VPN usage at home, malware can breach Rockefeller’s network from hundreds of entry points in New York City and around the country. “It’s a cat and mouse game with the bad attackers,” Leidner said. “Some of the bad things that are happening we couldn’t have even conceived of six months ago.”

In response to the shutdown, Leidner and his team more than tripled Rockefeller’s VPN capacity, from around 200 to 700 users. This project required accurate and efficient  scaling in order to hastily accommodate a heightened average of 500 VPN users simultaneously.

Tripling the number of remote devices connected to Rockefeller’s network also triples the potential entry points for malware. “It’s much harder to protect everyone when they’re spread all over the place,” Leidner said. “It’s a whole different paradigm.”

Most students and employees are familiar with the concept of phishing, but multiple other threats are on Leidner’s radar. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) is a type of cyber attack that floods a network with malicious traffic. This can be achieved by connecting a collection of infected devices, called a “botnet,” and using them to send traffic through Rockefeller’s network. This clogs the network, making services unavailable to other users. Rockefeller has been under DDoS attack since last September. “We do not know the motivation for this attack,” Leidner said. “Routinely we have smaller DDoS attacks, but we have not had this magnitude in the fifteen years I’ve been here.”

Should Rockefeller be flooded by a DDoS attack, the consequences would be severe. Luckily, Leidner’s team is on it. “We mitigated the problem with a detection appliance that can figure out these traffic patterns and protect the campus network from these attacks,” he said.

However, more personalized attacks, especially via e-mail, are our biggest threat. “Phishing is the number one attack vector that we’re dealing with,” Leidner said.

Phishing attacks take advantage of emergency situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic in order to acquire victims’ credentials. For example, an e-mail might ask someone to enter their Rockefeller username and password in order to access their test results or view updates about lockdown policies. “We try to protect the e-mail system tremendously,” Leidner said. “We do a lot of spam protection, but there’s no way we can catch everything.”

“If people would be cognizant of potential bad e-mails, that would make everyone’s life easier,” Leidner said. “We wouldn’t have to invest so much time testing and remediating. We rely on the campus community’s alertness and awareness. We periodically test users by simulating phishing e-mails with safe ones that we send out. In the most recent internal phishing test 25% of those tested gave out their Rockefeller passwords.”

As some labs continue to do well publicized COVID research, they have become targets of phishing.

Leidner remotely checks in with his team at 10 a.m. most days, but the rest of the day is unpredictable. The team must respond to a multitude of emergencies precipitated by the pandemic, whether it be e-mail malfunctions or security threats. “Every day is very different,” he said. “Information tech in general is a very dynamic field. Cybersecurity is an order of magnitude more dynamic.”

Though the situation has increased his workload, working from home has been great for Leidner’s productivity. “I feel that the work at home has been excellent,” he said. “For me, it has been effective, efficient, and productive and while I miss on-campus interactions I really appreciate the benefits of working from home. My team, of which some also have very long commutes, also likes it, as do more than a few of my friends.”

Previously, Leidner spent nearly four hours commuting to and from campus every day on some days—50% of the time he actually spent on campus. This major inconvenience is unrelatable to those of us who live minutes from campus. “It’s physically grueling,” he said.

Soon after the campus shut down, Leidner realized that he didn’t need to leave Rockland County to complete the vast majority of his responsibilities, including attending online conferences and University meetings. He was also saving several hours of his day by working from his home office. “Morning work for me is very productive,” he said. “I’m up and running in five minutes.”

Further, Leidner is in a healthier place mentally and physically. Biking through Harriman State Park has been a favorite pastime of his throughout the spring and summer.

As New York City and Rockefeller work to establish a “new normal,” it may be worth considering that some quarantine practices need not be temporary. If, for example, our Information Security team works better to keep our data and network safe from home, why not keep it that way? “If anything, I think we may work too hard and don’t know how to shut it off at the end of the day,” Leidner said. “There’s always something more to do.”

On Friday, September 25, the Research Restart Committee chaired by Professors Tim O’Connor and Mike Rout announced that Phase III+ operations were a go. The following is stated in these guidelines: “Employees who need to be on-campus to work effectively are required to come to campus unless they are granted an exemption provided by existing Rockefeller employment policies, including but not limited to leave policies under Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), NYS Paid Family Leave (NYPFL) and NYS Disability.” This seems to encourage nearly all employees to return to campus, but perhaps we are missing an opportunity to embrace remote work as a strategy for increasing productivity and sustaining the mental health of Rockefeller employees.

Leidner’s team continues to work effectively from home, ensuring the cyber safety of our data and community. “We are blessed that the majority of our work can be done remotely, but this is only possible because of the dedicated and appreciated work of our colleagues on campus,” Leidner said.

Marty Leidner meets with his team via Zoom. Photo courtesy of Marty Leidner.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Cyber Security Works from Home

Natural Expressions

Digital

Bernie Langs of The Rockefeller University Development Office and his daughter, Jordan Langs, announce the release of their new music video “Different Drum.” Bernie Langs performs the music in “Different Drum,” originally written by Michael Nesmith in 1964 and famously performed by Linda Ronstadt and The Stone Poneys. Film from Jordan Langs’ international travels provide the video component of this father-daughter collaboration. “Different Drum” can be viewed on Bernie Langs’ YouTube page.

E-mail Megan E. Kelley at mkelley@rockefeller.edu to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events. Digital and online events/releases are welcome!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Natural Expressions

The Anderson Center for Cancer Research Lectures on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice

Audrey Goldfarb

The Anderson Center for Cancer Research (ACCR) will be hosting a series of four Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) lectures to increase consciousness and facilitate discussions surrounding DEIJ in science, medicine, and academia. The ACCR was established at The Rockefeller University in 2007 to provide support to scientists across many disciplines in their investigations of cancer and cancer-related fields. Its leader, Dr. Titia de Lange, believes that the ACCR’s scope should extend beyond biomedical fields in order to best serve cancer research and the Rockefeller community and thus initiated this DEIJ lecture series.

The first of the four virtual seminars, featuring Dr. Veronica Johnson speaking on mental health services for client populations of color, racial trauma, and racial socialization, took place on October 26, but there’s still time to attend the remaining three!

On Monday, December 14, Dr. Candace Miller will discuss race/ethnicity, urban sociology and culture, and race and belonging in University settings. On Monday, January 11, Dr. Sara Burke will speak on intergroup bias, stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, and experiences of sigma. The final lecture will take place on Monday, May 3, where Dr. Isaac Sabat will discuss the disclosure of hidden stigmas, and workplace diversity and discrimination.

All lectures will take place at 12 p.m. and links to the individual webinars can be accessed through the Rockefeller University calendar (VPN required).

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Anderson Center for Cancer Research Lectures on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice

Life on a Roll

Inside Iran: The luminosity of Shiraz

Nan Pang

I caught an overnight bus from Yazd and arrived in Shiraz just before sunrise, which was rather well-timed to visit Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, also  known as the Pink Mosque. It is said to be a feast to the eyes in the morning as the colors flood through the stained-glass windows and illuminate the carpet. Shiraz is often described as the city of poets and culture, and was home to Hafez, arguably the most celebrated and beloved Persian poet. Although the city of Shiraz had been famous for producing the finest wine in the world by the ninth century, alcohol has been prohibited in Iran since 1979. The city itself was pretty compact and walkable. Lots of mausoleums were free to enter, and I would definitely recommend Ali Ibn Hamza Mausoleum and Shah Cheragh Mausoleum. Their intense interior decorations with glass and mirrors were truly breathtaking.

At night, as I was enjoying faloodeh (a traditional Iranian sorbet-like dessert) with some new friends at the Arg of Karim Khan, we discussed why we decided to visit Iran. Strangely enough, I remembered a verse from Hafez’s poetry that someone taught me earlier in the day—“this place you are right now God circled on a map for you.” Perhaps that was why I was there.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Life on a Roll

Culture Corner

Top Shelf: A Look at Books in a Personal Library

Bernie Langs

The top shelf.

This is a photo of the top shelf of one of my home bookcases. What follows is a brief description of what I’ve taken away from each book and the way in which the author and their ideas changed the course of my thinking for the better.

Left side of the bookshelf.

Underworld by Don DeLillo: The novels of Don DeLillo (b. 1936) are filled with uniquely interesting characters often caught in a mysterious web of intellectual deceit, intrigue, and danger. The Names, my personal favorite, has a powerful plot centered on threats of impending murder contrasted with cerebral notions on the nature of language and communication. Ratner’s Star has passages swinging from the deeply disturbing to laugh aloud humor and includes wild debates on the nature of higher mathematics. 1997’s Underworld takes an unflinching look at American society through the lens of numerous alternating plot sequences. Many of these sequences revolve around Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard Around the World” homerun in 1951 at the Polo Grounds in New York City and the fate of the baseball picked up that day by a lucky—or unlucky—fan behind the stadium as it changes ownership through the years. This highly original story makes for a grand read.

Yes, Wittgenstein’s Nephew, My Prizes, and Extinction by Thomas Bernhard: I purchased Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989) on a whim in the 1980s, because I liked the cover photo of a Renaissance portrait of a bearded man. Each of the many books that I have voraciously read since by the author garners the same reaction of astonishment that I had after my first experience with his introspective work. All of Bernhard’s books have no paragraphs and feature an unrelenting first-person narrative in the voice of a young or middle-aged man, smart as hell, usually wealthy, and extraordinarily furious at the world. These confessional diatribes initiate on page one and continue unabated up to the last sentence, taking brief detours at times for improbable, well-placed humor. Bernhard consistently appears to be making the observation that the terrors and violence of Western European history remain vibrant and alive to this day—a remnant of cruel, barbarian tribes of Germanica during the age of the Roman Empire as well as the dark, punishing, superstition-based practices of the Medieval Holy Roman Emperor and Church. There is an omniscient psychological and physical cruelty in Bernhard’s novels as his characters live out their lives within a hateful social fabric accepted as the fated price for simply having been born in Austria. Extinction, his final published novel, is a monumental farewell by the author. The first half of the book is a reminiscence in the voice of the protagonist at the moment he’s been informed of the death of his parents in an auto accident, initiating a series of repetitive remembrances of his growing years on his family’s Austrian country estate, Wolfsegg.  The second half chronicles the events taking place on his return to his ancestral home, where as executor of Wolfsegg, he confronts his family’s eager acceptance of fascism during the years of Nazi rule. The book closes with a stunning and unexpected decision by the narrator regarding where the entire family fortune and property will be directed in perpetuity. Extinction is a masterful and moving summation of all that Bernhard communicated through his works over his far-too-brief lifetime.

The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell: This set of four books, focusing on a group of friends living in Alexandria, Egypt, was gifted to me decades ago by my brother and was a game-changer in my understanding of what mid-twentieth century literature as an art form could express in emotion and immediacy. These works of Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) are disturbing at times, and much is made throughout the writings of the Marquis de Sade, so often dismissed as a barbaric writer of cruel sexual titillation. When I tuned into an amusing British-produced television series on PBS, The Durrells in Corfu last year, within minutes I realized that the oldest son, Larry, was none other than the pre-fame Durrell who’d penned the Quartet. I honestly cannot recall many details of the Quartet outside of having enjoyed it immensely.

The Early Italian Poets translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The first edition of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s (1828-1882) collection of Italian verse composed during the Middle Ages was published in 1861. Rossetti was one of the founders of England’s Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and had a career across many genres, including poetry, illustration, and painting. The poems in this collection were written between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. The greatest and most important work is The New Life (La Vita Nuovo), penned by the translator’s namesake, Dante Alighieri. The lengthy poem recounts the supposedly true-to-life emotional moments when Alighieri sees for the first time the (very) young Beatrice, his muse. Beatrice also makes a vital, heavenly appearance in the poet’s masterwork, The Divine Comedy. The Early Italian Poets is also of interest as documentation of how the Italians began to take pride in their native “vulgar” language after centuries ceding anything of literary, religious, or historical value to Latin translation.

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima: Yuko Mishima (1925-1970) was the gateway author for my interest in Japanese novels, short stories, and novellas. Reading this collection of novellas and other post-war Japanese writers allows for a more significant (yet admittedly cursory) understanding of the nuances and culture of Japan compared to simply viewing Edo-period ukiyo-e woodblock prints or watching films by Akira Kurosawa. Mishima’s stories often touch on violence and tales of emotional cruelty presented and exposed as characteristic of societal norms, in many ways similar to what Bernhard does with Austria. When reading his final tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility, many readers are aware that immediately after Mishima bundled up the completed manuscript, he proceeded to die by his own hand in an act of ritual seppuku. Mishima stands tallest of the many Japanese writers I’ve enjoyed, with his bold and stark observances of life in post-World War II Japan. The currently popular writer, Haruki Murakami, continues Mishima’s tradition of upsetting and disturbing their nation’s applecart.

A History of Chinese Philosophy, Volumes I & II edited by Fung Yu-Lan: It’s a huge commitment of time when a reader takes on a book of this scope and size. Later I would read a similar compendium, A Sourcebook of Chinese Philosophy, to solidify the structure of thought built atop this foundation. The chapters are prefaced by Fung Yu-Lan’s introductory explanations about the selections by ancient writers who established the course of centuries of Chinese thinking. Works of Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism, and the poetic glosses of the Tao de Ching by Loa Tzu and Chung-tzu act as calming meditative balm to the reader. A most memorable chapter, The Eight Levels of Consciousness, presents an elegant treatise describing how during the ebb and flow of reality from one nanosecond to the next, the fabric of life, thought, and the physical world, is seamlessly born anew again and again. The description of how this occurs within the sizzling cauldron of white-hot, shining “perfumed seeds” is comparable to digging down to string theory level to explain how the space-time continuum folds out dimensionally from the subatomic level to form the visual world we take for granted as the ubiquitous space in which we go about our daily lives.

Right side of the bookshelf.

The Life of the Mind and The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt, The Truth in Painting by Jacques Derrida, and The Blue and Brown Books by Ludwig Wittgenstein: I read the books by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) in 1977 in college and recall asking the professor, “Is it my imagination or whenever Wittgenstein is on the cusp of culminating an idea, he slowly drifts off to a different subject?” to which he replied, “You’re catching on!” Many believe that Wittgenstein’s books cannot be understood outside of those working at the doctoral level of philosophical expertise. Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), who rose to the level of intellectual superstar, has also been dismissed at times for being a writer of equally confounding absurdity. I find Derrida and his method of deconstruction difficult reading yet tinged with wonderful moments of revelation and humor. The collection in The Truth in Painting and the post-9/11 interview published in 2003 in Philosophy in a Time of Terror proves that philosophy remains a vital method for understanding and explaining how and why we’ve intellectually arrived at this point in history amid ubiquitous turmoil.

The Life of the Mind and The Human Condition are admired as the greatest achievements of Hannah Arendt’s (1906-1975) intellectual career. In these books as in other essays, she expounds, for conclusive purposes of her own perspective, on the many vital ideas of Western philosophy as powerful credos by which to live a moral life. She delivers to her readers the concise “greatest hits” of essential philosophers such as Hegel, her former teacher, Heidegger, and a host of ancient Greek and Roman thinkers and orators. She also writes brilliantly about passages from the writings of Saint Augustine and Saint Paul, revealing their groundbreaking thinking on subjects such as free will and how “grace” may be understood as a philosophical construct.

The Beatles: The Authorized Biography by Hunter Davies: The volume displayed in the photo is the edition I purchased in 1968 when I was eleven years old (the cover is sadly lost). Released while The Fab Four were still a working band and recording their songs for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour, Hunter Davies (b. 1936) followed the group to the recording studio and their homes, having been granted unprecedented private access to all four Beatles. The Authorized Biography was my first experience with swear words on the printed page, and I recall my surprise at how much of what John Lennon said had such a harsh tone, contrasting with the public image the band had maintained up to that point. The late-1960s reader finally met the Beatles as actual, honest individuals in this biography, their lives displayed warts and all, with stresses and pains more common to our own experience than perhaps we’d wished to learn.

The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus and Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy by Michael Baxandall: Tacitus (56 – c.120 A.D.) was a Roman politician and historical author living during the reign of the Caesars. He gives an erudite and exciting history in the Annals of the days of the earliest post-Augustan rulers, Tiberius and Nero, both of whom descended into violent behavior as a form of political terror. Tacitus is a fabulous, yet strict storyteller and the reader marvels at the intimate details of the many larger than life historical figures that make appearances in the book.

An understanding of ancient Roman art and life is a must if one wants to fully appreciate the classical themes invoked in Renaissance art and architecture. Art historian Michael Baxandall (1933-2008) believed that when looking at Italian paintings, pagan and Christian themes held meanings in fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy, often overlooked by the modern viewer. Painting and Experience is a great addition to the works of scholars who believe that educated beholders of art must engage and open their minds to the culture and mores of the society in which a piece was produced. This approach is still a subjective one, and is actually more akin to a feat of imagination than science, yet the iconography explained in this book goes a long way in assisting viewers seeking to fully experience the lessons and beauty of Italian paintings.

The Iliad of Homer translated by Richmond Latimore: There is something in this ancient epic that inexplicably resonates with me, and I’ve read it three times. The classical Greek mind developed and rapidly progressed after the volatile Dark Age, morphing through the Pre-Socratic schools into the Classical Period, the Golden Age of Greece. That entire artistic and intellectual advancement was pushed to birth by Homer’s Iliad and the later Odyssey. Many ancient epics are thought to be compilations of songs and stories passed on for centuries as sacred oral traditions that were eventually codified. The Iliad revolves around the interaction between men and women with each other as well as the gods and goddesses influencing them, often without their knowledge. It presents an exaggerated, imaginative remembrance of what may (or may not) have been the causes and events of the historical Trojan War. Homer’s telling has a texture of action and dialogue not found in similar heroic tales of past ages or those by Hesiod and other contemporaries of Homer. This opened the door to writers, poets, playwrights, and philosophers who began to use a more measured, organized, and rational voice.

The last two books on the top shelf are Robert Lowell’s collection of poems, Day by Day, which my mother owned and kept on her bookshelf for many years, and Face to Face With Vincent van Gogh, a small book of Vincent’s paintings gifted to me by daughter on her return from Amsterdam in January 2020. The emotions elicited by these two books from my late mom and my recently college-graduated daughter are best related here in the words of Tom Hanks as Captain Miller in the film, Saving Private Ryan. During the final minutes of calm before the storm of the film’s furious final battle, Private Ryan (Matt Damon) graphically and happily tells the intimate and long story of how he spent his last night at home in Iowa with his three now deceased brothers, all of whom he has just learned to have been killed in the war. When he’s finished, he asks Miller to speak from his heart about the Captain’s wife and how she tends her garden and their rose bushes at their home, to which Miller softly replies, “No, no—that one I save just for me.”

Next week on Episode Two of “Top Shelf”

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Culture Corner

October Cover

Posted in Cover, Current Articles | Comments Off on October Cover

Culture Corner

An Interview with Artist Ann Chernow of Westport, Connecticut

Bernie Langs

The artist Ann Chernow was born in 1936 and grew up in New York City. She has worked extensively in the mediums of lithography, silkscreen, etching, and colored pencil as well as oil painting. Known as “The Queen of Noir,” she achieved extensive recognition for her portrait-style works evoking the images of female cinematic figures from the 1930s and 1940s, especially those appearing in black and white films. Ms. Chernow has lived in Westport, Connecticut for many years, where she is a long-time and beloved leader of the extended arts community.

Chernow’s second husband, Burt Chernow (d. 1997), was an art historian and professor at Housatonic Community College, where he founded the Housatonic Museum of Art. The couple established a wonderful art collection, including prints and works in various mediums by some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. She later became the life partner of actor and documentarian, Martin West (d. 2020). Chernow has traveled the globe and befriended numerous artists and art dealers.

When you view Chernow’s works in person, you can’t help but be struck by her use of representation and portraiture as a means of evoking a sense of veiled mystery. Chernow’s work elicits a tactile response to the many textures of her graphic details. Her works grab the beholder with immediacy and profound emotion.

In late August 2020, Chernow was kind enough to respond to interview questions by email:

You are in your 80s and you’ve said that with so many ideas for new works, you’ve considered putting together an Andy Warhol-like “Factory” of assistants to speed up the process of making prints, etc. Is it both a blessing and a curse that after decades you are as creative, if not more, as ever?

There are many artists who have assistants actually creating the artist’s work. I have had years of studio help but never had people making my work though I’ve considered it because I’ve never been able to bring to life all the images crowding and dancing in my mind. I usually fall asleep mind-creating images. If I could live hundreds of years, I could never realize all of them. Choosing the images I actually produce is akin to choosing what children you would keep. I’ve come to an acceptance that I can only do so much. But I decided long ago never to have other people making my work.

I have many non-artist friends who are retired but I’ve never thought about retiring. One of my mentors, the artist Isabel Bishop worked every day. Even in her late years with Parkinson’s as her devil, she took a subway when she was able to from the Bronx to her studio in Union Square in Manhattan. She, and others like her, are my heroes. It’s neither a blessing nor a curse that the images just keep coming, it’s just work; it’s my life.

“Left to Right: To a Wild Rose, Paper Doll, and Night and Day. Each is a lithograph from one stone.” Photo courtesy of Bernie Langs.

 

“Tea for Two, circa. 1981, oil on canvas, depicting the artists’ sisters and inspired by a Judy Holiday film.” Photo courtesy of Bernie Langs.

 

“Moonlight, Lithography from one stone; 11 x 14.” Photo courtesy of Ann Chernow.

I consider you one of the few remaining creatively original and great representational artists. What motivates your reality-based work?

During the past fifteen years most of my work has been informed by the movie genre of film noir. The images are based on specific impressions related to movies from the 1930s and 1940s then freely interpreted without altering the spirit of the chosen cinematic information. I try to create a sense of déjà vu or nostalgia without the sentimentality often associated with specific film references…I alter the perception of “star” using contemporary models; this attitude brings an image closer to the contemporary viewer. Depicting a universal gesture and establishing dramatic moments are paramount. Once experienced, a movie is never totally forgotten. Memories from films are channels, metaphor and private reverie through which I address the human condition. I’ve never followed “trends”.

Serious work began in college, NYU’s art programs offered new insights. It was the 1960s and Abstract Expressionism was the style of choice. I was asked to leave a number of classes because I refused to work abstractly. The artist Jules Olitski was the only instructor who understood what I was trying to reach, and even though he was an Abstract Expressionist, he allowed me to work realistically, telling visual stories. I’ve never deviated from that approach.

“Shadow of a Doubt series; each image: 36 x 90″, litho, pencil ink, sandpaper, wax pencil, and whiteout.” Photo courtesy of Ann Chernow.

Your Shadow of a Doubt series evokes an amazing response when experienced in person. How did you conceive of the series?
Shadow of a Doubt uses images culled from the film noir, Laura, which is one of my favorite films. I’ve watched it many, many times, sketch from it, then push the aesthetic to reach a satisfying composition with many levels of the colors black to white. The various media I used: lithography ink, pencils, sandpaper, razor blades, and “white out’ (yes, it’s the liquid that erases mistakes on paper, but it also works on other surfaces). I use this media combination with paintings, drawings, and prints. I usually concentrate on images of femmes fatales and Gene Tierney as Laura is [a] quintessential [femme fatales].

From late March to May of 2020, the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, CT had an exhibition, “Collaboration 2020: Ann Chernow and James Reed Explore the Lithographs of Pablo Picasso” where you researched Picasso’s techniques extensively and created a set of prints using what you had learned. How did the project and exhibition come about?
My master printer, James Reed, and I had the idea five years ago to try to replicate the surface feeling of a Picasso print. We researched and soon realized that even the most detailed catalogs did not include specific information on the methods or actual material processes used by Picasso. Further research and speaking with experts revealed that no printer could supply that information. So, James and I set out to use an image of mine to achieve this [texture]; we tried many experiments with various materials. When we finally successfully completed one print, we were so excited that over the next five years—between other print work—we realized sixty-one Picasso/Chernow works, most of which were experiments with media.

You were close friends with the artist Christo, who recently died, and his late wife and collaborator, Jeanne Claude. Your late husband, Burt Chernow, wrote a biography of the couple and your late companion, Martin West, was also deeply involved with their monumental projects. What can you say about having been so close to Christo and his influence?
My heroes are those whose work ethic dominated their lives. Christo and Jeanne Claude lived their work, not much else interested them. Once, their lawyer persuaded them they needed to take a vacation; after two days they came home, bored with doing nothing. That work ethic is what I most admired, along with the wonderful absurdity of their realized projects. We worked on every one from 1971 until the Central Park Gates. Before he wrote the biography of the Christos, Burt and I spent three weeks in Bulgaria, where Christo was born and lived until 1968 when he fled that country for France. It was one of the most interesting trips of our lives. Burt died before The Gates was realized. Martin West and I took open “rickshaws” around The Gates, and he [Martin] filmed them. All our lives were enriched by the years with the Christos.

My novella, The Empathiad, has your Lady in the Lake on the cover; seeing it changed the direction of the book after I discovered it online. Do you consciously aim to be inspirational and mysteriously obscure to your viewers and other artists?
Lady in the Lake embodies the raison d’etre for my work: it’s a reinterpretation from a film noir [film]. It’s a subject that’s universal, open to the viewer’s interpretation; what the femme fatale is doing is open to the imagination, it’s dramatic, it could be a placid moment or dangerous, but it’s accessible. To quote from Alice Munro, “You just have to have the will to disturb.”

How would you describe the magic of Westport as a haven for artists?
Westport, Connecticut, has, since the early 1900s, been known nationally as a haven for visual artists, writers, theatre people, musicians, art collectors, entrepreneurs, and teachers. One of the first artists to arrive here in the early 1900s was Arthur Dove, whose work here changed the face of American art. It happened like the Pied Piper: artists would move here, for the summer or for the year, their artist friends would visit and then follow. Martin West, my life-partner and documentarian, addressed this in his 2000 film A Gathering of Glory, which covers all the arts. In 2009 he created another film, [Years in the Making] about fifty Westport artists over the age of 70 who were still actively working in their studios and having national exhibitions. It won seven awards in national film competitions, had a red carpet opening at the local cinema in 2010, and was shown on national television. Martin was developing a documentary about my work, called A Moment in Time. A filmmaker friend hopes to complete it next year.

“Actor and filmmaker Martin West.” Photo courtesy of Ann Chernow.

Martin West was an extraordinarily kind and generous man. What else can you tell us about him?
Martin began his acting career in New York City in the play, The Andersonville Trial. He was 22 when he made Freckles, his first movie in Hollywood. [He also appeared in the last film made by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, Family Plot]. Before leaving Hollywood and moving here [Westport] in 1993 to open a filmmaking business, Martin starred in over thirty movies, [spent] nine years as a soap opera star as General Hospital’s Dr. Brewer, and [appeared] on numerous TV shows including Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Law and Order, and Bonanza among others. He was an extraordinarily wonderful person, smart, funny, empathetic, interesting, kind, and every other positive adjective to describe a special person.

You’ve had a difficult past year with the loss of Martin and Christo, being confined by the pandemic, and living without power for days after a recent hurricane. What lies ahead of you as an artist and with your commitment to the Westport artistic scene?
Yes, this has been a daunting year so far with both human and natural disasters. Work is my salvation. I have just completed ten lithographs for a portfolio titled, Femmes Fatales. I’m also illustrating a group of poems written in noir style by a friend about the seven deadly sins. I’m co-author of a monthly column: “ART TOWN” in The Westport News. I’ve been made an honorary member of the Westport Collective, a group of about 150 artists from in and around Westport. I continue to work with the Westport Public Art Collections, and the Housatonic Museum and Norwalk Community Art Collections. I write short stories when I’m too tired to make art [and] have had one published, which won an award. Towering above all of this, I have a caring family who has kept me sane through all of the major difficulties of the past year. I have always been a “glass half full” person and hope to continue working for a long number of years.

“View of the studio space of Ann Chernow.” Photo courtesy of Ann Chernow.

Posted in Culture Corner, Current Articles | Comments Off on Culture Corner

Three Degrees of Separation: Hideyo Noguchi and Me

George Cross

Who among you could guess what experience my grandfather, great uncle, and the revered Rockefeller scientist Hideyo Noguchi (whose bust decorates our library) have in common, and how might they have met?

Friends and colleagues who are nice enough—or foolish enough—to enquire about my activities in retirement risk being regaled about two undertakings that have preoccupied me in the past few years: political activism and genealogical research. With the coronavirus shutdown and the bleak weather upstate this spring, I no longer had an excuse to evade writing about either. After five years of research, for myself and others, I have a few ancestry stories I’d like to tell. One of them concerns the unlikely connection between my grandfather, my great uncle, and Hideyo Noguchi, the revered Japanese bacteriologist sometimes (mistakenly) credited with discovering the causative agent of syphilis. In December 1900, Noguchi travelled to the United States to join Simon Flexner’s lab in Philadelphia and moved with Flexner to The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in 1904, where he worked on syphilis and other infectious diseases, including, fatefully, yellow fever.

After our parents died, my cousin Peter and I discovered a few boxes containing family documents we had not previously seen. To our amazement, these boxes contained some of our grandfather’s ships’ logs, notebooks, letters, and other original documents. Having the time and knowing almost nothing about our ancestors, even those in our grandparents’ generation, Peter’s wife Sheila and I started our projects. Grandfather William Herbert Cross (1870–1918) was a Master Mariner, certified to captain merchant ships. He, along with his older brother Charles and younger brother Frederick, moved up the ranks to this position in the 1890s. They captained mainly cargo ships, both sail- and steam-powered, circumnavigating the globe and making many crossings of the Pacific Ocean between Japan and the United States. I have notes and photographs showing that my grandfather carried a few famous passengers to Alaskan gold-rush towns, and I have photographs of him taken in Brooklyn, when he was an apprentice seaman.

Sergei Konenkov’s 1927 bust of Noguchi, which stands in the Rockefeller library (Photo courtesy of George Cross)

Today’s tale starts with one letter we inherited, which was remarkable for the insight it provided into Herbert’s character and his close relationship with Charles. This letter to Charles, dated 1909, announced in flowery language his plan to marry. The letter included the following passage, with a riff on the number nine: “…the date fixed for this voyage is Sep 29th, 1909. My intended wife is 29 and I am 39 so you will see we are not seven but 9, not No. 9 Yokohama, no I have given that a miss for a long time.”

Which brings us to the answer to my first question, initially provided—unsurprisingly—by Google. No. 9 Yokohama is a brothel; a quite famous one apparently, or perhaps I should say infamous. Some of its history recorded online includes a photograph showing “Gorgeously dressed prostitutes…standing in the windows of the Nectarine brothel in Yokohama, a world-famous house of prostitution also known as No. 9 or Jimpuro [sometimes translated as Jinpuro or Shinpuro].” This website went on to describe No. 9 as well as one of its more famous patrons:

 Jimpuro was not only popular with foreigners, but with Japanese men as well. In 1900, bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928), who now graces Japan’s 1,000-yen bill and was nominated for a Nobel Prize three times, blew almost 500 yen (a small fortune at the time) at Jimpuro during a single night of pleasure. Some 300 yen of which he had received from an acquaintance, on condition that he marry her niece. Even worse, part of the money was supposed to have been used for the purchase of a ticket for passage to America. He managed [again] to borrow money from a friend and did make it to the States, where he eventually became a top bacteriologist at the Rockefeller Institute. He never married the niece, though, and left the repayment of the 300 yen to the same friend he borrowed money from for the ticket to the USA.

To publish this story, I thought I’d better do some fact checking. I found the above account to be entirely consistent with the 1929 Science obituary written by Rockefeller’s first president, Simon Flexner, and with the extensive and authoritative 2003 biography Dr. Noguchi’s Journey: A Life of Medical Search and Discovery written by Atsushi Kita and translated into English by Peter Durfee. The story of how Noguchi overcame physical disability and an impoverished rural background to find his way to Rockefeller is truly awesome. I recommend Kita’s book, which is in the Rockefeller library, to anyone interested in the early twentieth century history of viral and bacterial diseases; it’s a very readable and fascinating history of a Japanese and Rockefeller icon.

The biography tells us that, when he had cash in his pocket (he borrowed frequently from friends and mentors), Noguchi drank heavily and frequented brothels while training in Tokyo (1). It confirms that he obtained the money to pay for his move to the United States dishonorably, by accepting three hundred yen from a family whose daughter he agreed to marry when he returned to Japan (2), which he never did. Finally, it confirms that, a few days before his departure, he insisted on treating his Yokohama colleagues to a grand banquet at Jimpuro, the famous brothel and “supposedly finest restaurant in Kanagawa Prefecture at the time,” which cost him nearly the entire 500 yen in his possession (3). This expense led Noguchi to once again beg one of his mentors for money to buy a ticket to San Francisco. He departed on December 5, 1900 (4). He traveled by train from San Francisco to Philadelphia; imagine doing that today. He was 24 years old. Coincidentally, 500 yen is the entry fee to the Noguchi Memorial Museum in his birth town.

The biography provided a plausible answer to my second question. I doubt that Noguchi and my ancestors met at the brothel, but they might have met through the job Noguchi held briefly in September 1899 as a quarantine officer in the port of Yokohama (5), where he was apparently the only officer who spoke English. A quarantine officer’s duties included meeting incoming ships to check their crews and passengers for communicable diseases. I know for certain that my grandfather was in Yokohama exactly one year earlier, and that he made additional trips there between 1898 and 1904, and perhaps until shortly before his marriage in 1909, but I don’t have any ships’ logs or other records from 1899 onwards. Shortly after his marriage, my grandfather retired from his seafaring life, considering it too dangerous given his family responsibilities (his first son, Peter’s father, was born nine months after his wedding). Ironically, life on shore proved more dangerous than at sea, as he and another of his brothers died in the second wave of the 1918 flu pandemic.

On April 10, 1912, Noguchi married Mary Dardis, whom he had met while in Philadelphia. Late in 1917, they decided to build a small cabin in the Catskills town of Shandaken, about ten miles west of where I now live, by a stream that I have to assume was the Esopus Creek. The biography has a photograph of this cabin, with its mountainous backdrop, but I could not identify its exact location today. Noguchi died from Yellow Fever in Accra, in the country known today as Ghana, on May 21, 1928. I was able to find his name on the passenger list of the ship that conveyed him from Liverpool, on the 2nd of November 1927, to Accra.

That’s my story, the first of several I’m hoping to tell.

Footnotes:

  1. Kita, Atsushi, Dr. Noguchi’s Journey: A Life of Medical Search and Discovery, (2003) pp. 82, 89-90.
  2. ibid. pp. 122 and 125
  3. ibid. p. 126
  4. ibid. p. 128
  5. ibid. p. 109
Posted in Current Articles | Comments Off on Three Degrees of Separation: Hideyo Noguchi and Me

Pets of Tri-I

Pooja Viswanathan

For this issue, I interview Edith and Lio, the cats who live with our very own Audrey Goldfarb (Graduate Student, The Rockefeller University). I have been enjoying seeing pictures of these two since I found their social media account. I hope I can meet them in person soon.

Edith (right) and Lio (left)

Pooja Viswanathan: How old are you? In human years?
Edith: We turned 2 in August! We’re twins.
Lio: I’m technically thirty seconds older though.

PV: Is there a story behind your names?
E: There’s a story behind our middle names!
L: Mine is “Finch” after the family in To Kill a Mockingbird. Edith needed a bird middle name too, so we picked “Pigeon.” 

PV: Are you related? If not, what did you think of each other when you first met?
E: Yes, we’re sibs! We love each other sooooo much :)))))
L: When I first met Edith, I thought she was pretty weird, but her personality has grown on me over the last couple years.

PV: What is your first memory?
E: Breakfast! Speaking of which, I think it’s about time for lunch.

PV: Where do you live?
E: We live in Faculty House with four humans: Audrey, Joanna, César, and Marley.

PV: What are your favorite neighborhoods in NYC?
E: The kitchen and the bedroom!

PV: What are your favorite foods?
E: Why, do you have some? I’m not picky!
L: I usually snack on important paperwork and beloved plants.

PV: Besides your human roomies, who is your favorite human in the Tri-I community?
L: No comment…we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

PV: Do you have a funny story to share with us?
E: One time, Lio misjudged his trajectory to jump up on the table and fell off in the most inelegant way possible. It was hilarious.
L: That was you, and it has definitely happened more than once.

PV: Is there some way we can see more pictures of you on the interwebs?
E: Yes, we’re famous on Instagram! @edith_lio
L: We have thirty-three followers.

PV: If you could have any human ability, what would it be?
E: I wish I could grow my fur out as long as the humans were growing theirs during quarantine! So much fashionable potential.

PV: How have you helped your human get through these times?
L: By exemplifying stoicism in the face of adversity.
E: Snuggles!

Edith (left) and Lio (right)

Lio

Edith

Posted in Current Articles, Pets of Tri-I | Comments Off on Pets of Tri-I

New York Rhymes

MOLES

Konstantina Theofanopoulou

Poetry: Dr. Konstantina Theofanopoulou (Instagram: @newyork_rhymes)
One line art: Mikaella Theofanopoulou (Instagram: @m_theta_art)

Posted in Current Articles, New York Rhymes | Comments Off on New York Rhymes

Natural Expressions

Digital

This month, Bernie Langs of The Rockefeller University Development Office and Angelica Arroyo from Great Performances teamed up with El Indio to compose and record an original song, “Starry Eyes.” Arroyo and El Indio wrote the lyrics while Langs wrote and performed the instrumental accompaniment. Vocals were contributed by Langs and El Indio. “Starry Eyes” can be heard on Langs’ SoundCloud page.

Email Megan E. Kelley at mkelley@rockefeller.edu to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events. Digital and online events/releases are welcome!

Posted in Current Articles, Natural Expressions | Comments Off on Natural Expressions

On Running and Resilience

Anna Amelianchik

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to the lives of New Yorkers, including limited opportunities for exercise. While gyms, fitness studios, and yoga centers were shuttered, many New Yorkers turned to outdoor running in an attempt to boost their physical and mental health during this major public health crisis. Now that gyms are opening their doors again, novice runners are still sticking to their pandemic fitness routines—and with good reason!

A recent study published in The Journal of Neuroscience showed that voluntary physical activity in mice increases the brain’s resilience to psychological stress, which is a major risk factor for several mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. In fact, just three weeks of unrestricted access to a running wheel caused mice to display less anxiety-like behaviors in response to a light foot shock. This change was due to an increase in the levels of the protein called galanin. Galanin is produced in large quantities in the brain and spinal cord; its functional role in the central nervous system is widely debated, but several studies suggest that galanin might be important for coping with stress. To confirm that an exercise-related increase in galanin in the brain boosts stress resilience in mice, researchers used genetic tools to artificially increase galanin levels in the brains of sedentary mice. As a result, sedentary mice became just as resilient to stress as mice that had access to a running wheel but did not undergo any genetic manipulations. Would routine aerobic exercise confer a similar resistance to stress in humans? Considering how conserved the brain circuits that regulate stress responses are across species and how important they are for species survival, we would expect similar results in humans, though this has not been directly addressed. In addition, exactly how much aerobic exercise is necessary to give you nerves of steel remains unclear.

In the rodent experiment, mice ran up to 10-16 kilometers (6-9 miles) per day, which might not be feasible for us bipeds with full-time jobs. Moreover, high-volume and high-intensity running (such as often practiced by competitive runners) increases the risk of developing hip and/or knee osteoarthritis, a common condition that causes the protective tissue at the ends of bones known as cartilage to wear down. Conversely, recreational running protects your cartilage from wear and tear, especially when you compare recreational runners to people with a sedentary lifestyle. Taken together, these studies hint that there is a sweet spot when it comes to how much running you need to engage in to achieve maximal benefits for your physical and mental health. Although weekly running distance may vary depending on fitness level and exercise goals, studies suggest that clocking in as little as fifty minutes per week improves overall health and longevity and reduces mortality, especially when it comes to death from cardiovascular diseases and cancer. So, lace up, mask up, and get moving—your mind and your body could use a little more resilience.

Posted in Current Articles, Health | Comments Off on On Running and Resilience

September Cover

Posted in Cover, Current Articles | Comments Off on September Cover

Surviving a Pandemic, Six Months Out

Audrey Goldfarb

“How are you?” is more of a formality than a genuine question. Any response other than a variation of “Good! How’re you?” is unexpected. I personally find maintaining a façade of blue skies to be emotionally draining, so I tend to answer the “how are you?” question honestly when I’m actually not okay. However, for the last several months, can any of us claim to have been okay at baseline? And if the answer is no, are we admitting it?

I anonymously polled Rockefeller community members to gauge our wellbeing more accurately, as well as to give people an opportunity to outwardly acknowledge that they are indeed struggling. The responses were mixed, some reading as guarded and stoic, others raw and vulnerable. Individual experiences are also variable. I hope that sharing some of these experiences reinforces a sense of community around our mutual tumult and reminds us all that it’s okay to not be okay. “There are days of dread and fear, and others of hope,” one Rockefeller employee said.

Productivity and mental health have a complicated relationship, but often they suffer together. Our work life was severely disrupted during quarantine, and even though campus has reopened, it is a far cry from how it looked and felt in February. Shift work also puts limits on the time we can spend in the lab.

“Working from home is not efficient and productive for me,” one student said. “It’s harder for me to be focused on working at home because home really doesn’t give me the environment of working. And of course, I cannot go to the lab to do experiments so very little progress on research. Honestly speaking, I feel frustrated spending months at home getting limited things done.”

 Zoom makes lectures accessible from anywhere but staring at a screen all day takes a toll. Many of us struggle to achieve the same level of engagement they have during in-person lectures. “I can’t focus during Zoom classes or meetings, most of what was said in them has been erased from my memory,” a student said.

 “I am much less productive, and much less able to focus,” another student said.

 “It’s hard trying to work at home especially since before this I’ve always tried really hard to separate work and home spaces,” another student said. “I’ve just resigned myself to not being at the ‘height of productivity.’ Right now, I’m rethinking my approach to lab work and trying to put my personal well-being much more ahead of lab productivity.”

With no end in sight, the many concerns we obsess over remain unresolved. “The uncertainty of when everything will go back to normal, when will we go back to lab, when can we travel to see our families, when can people who are stuck somewhere in the world will be able to go out, when can we all feel safe again so I don’t have fear if a family member gets sick.”

“So far it seems like we are all learning about this virus day-by-day, with no clear end in sight.”

“Personally, I just keep reminding myself that this won’t last forever. It won’t go away tomorrow, but it’s not going to be like this for the next decade.”

Social distancing made it impossible to fully lean on friends and family for support. Our social lives were hit hard. “I’ve forgotten how to interact with people,” one student said. “I particularly noticed that I’m having difficulty looking at other people’s faces and maintaining eye contact in person, and that I’ve forgotten how to end conversations.”

We have been deprived of many of our coping mechanisms, socialization in particular, but also other escapes and entertainment around the city. Without space away from our internal and external conflicts, they become even more exhausting and tormenting. “It is my anxiety about racial conflicts on top of the usual pandemic issues that really keeps me up at night,” one international student said.

“Everyone has their special circumstances that have made dealing with this pandemic difficult,” a student, whose family member started chemotherapy in February, said. “For me it was concern about immunocompromised family members and social isolation leading to an almost agoraphobia due to lack of access to the outside…The existential dread was really able to set in!”

“I think in general we also need to talk more about how hard this has been without trying to one-up each other about who’s had it the hardest,” another student said.

The gradual reopening of campus and resumption of lab work comes with an expectation of personal productivity and functionality. Some might interpret this to mean that we should be adjusting to and coping with this “new normal,” refocusing on our work, and getting back on track. However, as reflected in the statements above, not everyone’s timeline is in sync.

A member of the Tri-Institutional community put it simply. “No one is okay,” he said. “We’re living through a global pandemic. Anyone who tells you they are okay is lying to themselves.”

The seating area outside Bass remains largely deserted as students and employees refrain from gathering for meals and socialization. Photo by Audrey Goldfarb

Posted in Campus Life, Current Articles, Health | Comments Off on Surviving a Pandemic, Six Months Out

New York Rhymes

QUITE QUIET

Konstantina Theofanopoulou

Poetry: Dr. Konstantina Theofanopoulou (Instagram: @newyork_rhymes)
One line art: Mikaella Theofanopoulou (Instagram: @m_theta_art)

Posted in Current Articles, New York Rhymes | Comments Off on New York Rhymes

Natural Expressions

Digital

Bernie Langs of The Rockefeller University Development Office is celebrating the digital release of “The Show Must Go On (and other songs by Queen).” Langs performs a medley of themes and sections from Queen songs, centered around Queen’s release, “The Show Must Go On” off their 1991 album Innuendo. Langs’ work can be heard online on his SoundCloud page here.

Email Megan E. Kelley at mkelley@rockefeller.edu to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events. Digital and online events/releases are welcome!

Posted in Current Articles, Natural Expressions | Comments Off on Natural Expressions