Twenty-first Century Racism in America

Tracy Adams

Photo courtesy of Wolfram Kastl/Getty Images

For decades, four simple words have been the articulation of hope for people of color who, speaking out against never-ending violence and injustice in their communities, are simply fed up…“No Justice, No Peace!” These four words have been the rallying cry of every protest, march, and assembly of people who simply just want to be heard. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Over the last several decades, countless police shootings of unarmed Black Americans have gone, and continue to go, unchallenged and unpunished by our nation’s law enforcement.

A demonstrator holds a sign at the rally for Philando Castile outside the Governor’s residence in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 2016 – Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull

The Origins of Racism in America

To understand the current state of society, you would have to understand our beginnings as Black people in America. The foundational fabric of the United States of America has been rooted and grounded in slavery from the late 1500s until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, where it became unlawful to enslave, own, purchase, or trade another human being as you would commodities. Prior to the Thirteenth Amendment, property law was applied to every Black man, woman, and child—they were stripped of all dignities and human rights and viewed as property such as real estate or land. Blacks were not viewed as people but rather tangible things that could be manipulated and controlled. This mindset made it all too easy for captors, slave “owners,” and oppressors to disassociate themselves from the humanity of Black people. The elements of human nature did not apply to people of color and they were regarded as sub-human. Blacks could not own property, could not vote, and were denied education and basics of life that we sometimes take for granted. In the 2019 movie “Harriet,” the white plantation owner reprimanded the protagonist, Harriet Tubman, for requesting her freedom by “reminding her” that he allowed her to marry a free Black man even though he was denying her petition to also be free. This highlighted the inhumane circumstance that Black people were denied even basic human rights to decide who and when to marry.

In the years leading up to the drafting of the Constitution of the United States in 1789, the notion of slavery, although widely practiced, was a hotly debated topic to the point that the actual word “slavery” was not included anywhere in the official writings. Yet it was implied that slavery would be legally permitted. Legal sanctioning of slavery, in one form or another, has been a part of American culture since its origins. 

Photo courtesy of Oliver Haynes/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Changing Faces of Slavery

Often when people hear the word “slavery” they immediately imagine shackled, kidnapped, beaten Africans being brought over to the “new world” on ships by Europeans crossing the Atlantic. Although this is a true part of American history, this practice has been banned for over 200 years. Africans are no longer brought over in droves to work fields or gins from sunrise to sunset, but make no mistake, modern-day slavery is alive and well. Slavery takes on many forms in the modern-day world such as “debt bondage, child slavery, domestic servitude, forced labor,” and human trafficking. Over forty million people live in some form of slavery worldwide with 1 in 4 being children and 71% being women and girls. The many changing faces of slavery and social injustice today are far too often masked by political strategies and legislation that make it completely legal to oppress and even eradicate Black people. Some of these avenues of oppression are voter suppression, “justified police shootings,” income inequality, unemployment, and lack of affordable housing. In 2018, the poverty rate for Black people in America was 22% compared to 9% for white people and 19% Hispanic people.

Image Courtesy of Poverty USA

The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 sent the Black community and people of all races into utter shock whilst enraging many to the point of action. The actions of four police officers brought feelings of frustration, anger, and fear to what is now an absolute boiling point. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A riot is a language of the unheard.” What we are witnessing in our streets and cities is a collective body of people desiring to be heard, desiring policy changes, desiring people of all shades to be regarded as human beings equally. This desire manifests in the form of peaceful protests as well as lawless rioting and looting. For six years, after the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) movement has been working tirelessly to bring acute awareness to the sufferings of Black people, to be that united voice of change…real, sustainable change. Healing and transformation is needed, not just for the Black community but for the world. Oppression and segregation have long-reaching effects and hurt every individual that has blood flowing in their veins. It is these social ills that poison and cripple cultural and economic potential. 

The Global Experience

The U.S. is recognized as a world-class leader in power, innovation, entrepreneurship, commerce, immigration, and quality of life. After decades of police brutality, clashes with ill-intended civilian vigilantes, and social injustice against Black people, the question remains: by whose standards is the U.S. a leader? The words of Abraham Lincoln’s campaign speech, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” still ring boisterously true today. However, we as a nation have somehow forgotten their true meaning. If we say (and believe) that we are world leaders whose actions spark and motivate global reactions, then we collectively have an inherent duty to protect our citizens—each and every one—from division and separatism. By calling uncomfortable matters as they really are and finding sustainable solutions, we can garner the praise that we so relish. As Lincoln revealed, a nation cannot have two sets of differing ideals and expect to be whole. Moreover, it cannot be respected as a leading force if there is chaos within. The world has taken notice and is responding in kind. The BLM movement is sweeping the U.S. and the globe, for what has affected one is now affecting all. People of all races want change; the people want justice for all.

Image Courtesy of US News

Let us remember:

George Floyd

Sandra Bland

Freddie Gray

Breonna Taylor

Tamir Rice

Eric Garner

Philando Castile

Alton Sterling

Oscar Grant

Sean Bell

and countless others…

Aftrican Americans and the Year of the Vote

Tracy Adams

Photo Courtesy: St. Louis Public Library.

It is without doubt or hesitation that African Americans have deep-seated roots in the cultivation, development, design, and fabric of this blessed country, the United States of America. Carter Godwin Woodson, the “Father of Black History,” expressed his beliefs that “Blacks should know their past in order to participate intelligently in the affairs in our country.” With the support of schools, key organizations and the general public, Woodson founded Negro History Week, the forerunner to Black History Month. He centered his work around the idea that “Blacks should be proud of their heritage and that other Americans should also understand it”. The Association of the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) has declared, “The year 2020 marks the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment and the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement.  The year 2020 also marks the sesquicentennial of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) and the right of black men to the ballot after the Civil War.”

History – The Turning of the Ages

In a time when substantial economic and social differences divided how the northern states and the southern states existed, those differences were the driving forces that dictated those lifestyle choices. While the North was experiencing well established industrial and manufacturing periods of development and growth, the South was heavily dependent on a system of agriculture which was even more tightly tied to its dependency on human capital for domestic servitude and forced labor. Tensions were already at a boiling point, and Abraham Lincoln, “the Great Emancipator,” had just one guiding rule: “My policy is to have no policy.” He put the country on a course of no return.

The end of the American Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, fought from 1861 to 1865 between the North and the South, ushered in a new era for Black people—particularly freedom from enslavement and the basic right to be counted as equal. (Post-Civil War some four million slaves were freed.) The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865 abolished slavery and forced servitude and the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1868 gave Black people the right to citizenship. These were followed by the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1870 which prohibited the government from prejudicially denying voting privileges to any citizen. This move was tremendously significant in the step towards healing the wounds and forbidden hope of decades of oppression, but this did not come without huge cost that would be paid by African American men and women throughout the country for almost a century to come.

The southern states used various means to disenfranchise African Americans, including exercising poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud, force, and intimation to discourage (and eliminate) Black men from voting. The fight for African American suffrage raged on for decades. This unfair treatment was debated in the press, in Congress, and on the street through numerous protests and marches, rallies, and petitions, sometimes leading to death. A full fifty years after the Fifteenth Amendment passed, Black Americans still found it difficult to vote, especially in the South. “What a Colored Man Should Do to Vote” lists many of the barriers African American voters faced.

Moving Ahead … Despite the Odds

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to 250,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Demonstrators, black and white, rich and poor, stood together to fight for equal rights of black people and fair and equal voting rights for all. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote. Prior to this only 23% of voting-eligible Blacks were registered to vote, but by 1969 that number rose significantly to 61%. The Voting Rights Act strengthened the Civil Rights Movement and began to eliminate the fundamental barriers that had historically prevented equality while laying the foundation for a new normal of diversity and inclusion throughout our society.

From 1928 to the present day, ASALH dedicates each year to a unique theme that inspires continuous learning and activism. “Over the years, the themes reflect changes in how people of African descent in the United States have viewed themselves, the influence of social movements on racial ideologies, and the aspirations of the black community.” This year’s theme is “African Americans and the Vote.” Black voters are considered a key voting alliance with the Democratic Party. A recent survey of 1200 Black voters showed that Black Americans are more interested in voting in the upcoming election than they were in the election of 2016.


As reported by the Pew Research Center, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other racial or ethnic minorities accounted for 26.7% of voters in 2016, a share unchanged from 2012.

Present Day – The Time is Now

There could not be a more important time in the history of recent elections where standing for ideals that promote the continuity of life matter more. Our society paints the idea that if we collectively, as a people, desire the same social, economic, civil, and cultural advancements, then opportunities to fulfill those wants are accessible to all. It has been roughly 155 years since slavery was abolished and voting rights have been mandated—yet voter turnout in the black community is still low due to jaded minds that the change our forefathers fought and died for will never truly be fully realized.

The time is now. Former President Barack Obama said in his February 5th, 2008 speech to supporters, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the ones we seek.” This election has each of our names handwritten on it. The nation is changing its views on respect, sustainability, enrichment, resilience, religious freedoms, and well-being. Each one, each voice, each vote has the power to literally change the world—and impact how the world sees us. This upcoming 2020 electoral race for the White House has emboldened twenty-seven candidates, both politically seasoned, as well as newly sworn in counterparts, to strap on their boots, focus on the most demanding and challenging societal concerns, and head for the finish line. Just the success of gaining the most coveted political position in the nation leaves many with starry eyed hope and ambition to leave their own individual mark on history.

Politically and globally, it is an exhilarating time to engage in issues that affect the worldwide community running the gamut from curing diseases to ensuring clean running water to climate readiness. It is a perfect time to start (if you haven’t already) a new personal initiative to make the necessary adjustments to life as we have known it by getting more involved in community activities  and making your own mark on history.

Demonstrators walk down a street during the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Photo credit: Peter Pettus, 1965, Library of Congress.

Socially, the country is becoming more aware of the world we are a part of and the concerns (and cries) of our brothers and sisters in neighboring countries. We accept and defend the right to be recognized as a global leader with the responsibility to set the tone for social wellness the world over. Economically, we are reaching new heights and chartering new territory, with the U.S. taking the lead position in economic health, at just over $20 trillion in GDP, due in part to high average incomes, a large population of over 327 million people, capital investment, low unemployment rate (3.6%), high consumer spending (71% of GDP), a relatively young population (median age of 38.1 years), and technological innovation. Environmentally, we MUST save the planet. With each election year, we see growing interest to make this an enduring priority for the elected officials at the Federal, State, and local levels through environmental protection and preservation initiatives, like the NYC Carbon Challenge, NYC ZeroWaste, and GreeNYC. Visit for more information.

We can join the present-day civil rights movement like African American heroes of the past and present: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B Du Bois, Jessie Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama, or “Wait for some other person or some other time.”  How will you vote?

For more information on voting in NYC, visit

Boxing in 2017: A Resurgence for the Sweet Science?

Owen Clark

GGG and Canelo exchange a cold stare ahead of their September showdown.

In my prior musings, I’ve alluded to the cliché of “__ is dead.” I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue against the notion that the sport of boxing is the undisputed pound-for-pound champion of this futile declaration. According to many, if not most, boxing has been dead for essentially my entire lifetime. If I’m being deadly honest, there’s a fair amount of truth to this assertion, certainly when compared to the glory days of the 1940s to the 1960s when boxing was one of, if not the most popular sports in the USA—my aunt (whose contempt for violence makes her a reasonably unbiased source) often mentions how in the 1950s Bronx of her childhood, everyone would watch the fights come Saturdays. We’re certainly a long way from the times when boxers like Muhammad Ali, and even the Mike Tyson of my early childhood were arguably the most famous athletes on the planet. However, for fans of the sweet science, there’s a certain whiff of excitement in the air at the host of marquee matchups that 2017 has had/continues to have, garnering near-feverish excitement at the possibility of the ultimate comeback story for this historic sport.

Through my many failed attempts to get friends and family interested in the sport, I’ve come to accept that most see it as one of the two B’s—barbaric or boring. I can certainly understand both of these positions. I actually classify myself as a seemingly paradoxical anti-violence boxing fan. I’m the furthest thing from the stereotypical “casual” that tunes in to see an all-out hands-at-the-waist slugfest, complete with gushing blood and mangled faces. I’m more of a highly skilled, ultra-slick, defensive tactician kind of guy—simply out to appreciate the mastery of a boxer like Floyd Mayweather Jr. taking the “hit and don’t get hit” ethos to matrix-like levels. I definitely feel a sense of guilt when fighters suffer serious injuries; and seeing an ageing Roy Jones Jr.—one of the greatest boxers of all time—getting knocked out by guys that couldn’t tie his shoes twenty years ago—makes me well up every time I think about it. But perhaps that capacity for tragedy is one of the many facets that makes boxing so captivating.

Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua lands a thunderous body shot on fellow 6′ 6” behemoth Wladimir Klitschko.

As for boredom, I’d say as with all sports, but actually boxing in particular, it becomes far more interesting once you know a little about the boxers and understand their styles, personalities, rivalries, and legacies. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more tedious than watching out-of-shape heavyweights bumble through a 12 round clinch-fest, and bouts frequently fail to live up to expectation. However, it’s no accident that so many films have been made about boxing (eclipsing any other sport by this metric) from historic classics like Rocky to modern-day masterpieces like The Fighter, both of which won multiple Oscars. It’s also no accident that legendary writers like Ernest Hemingway waxed lyrical about the sheer exhilaration of boxing, while artists like George Bellows chose the sport as their subject matter. It’s undeniable that there’s a certain poetry and beauty to the sweet science—that gladiatorial aspect of two pugilists stepping into the squared-circle, after potentially years of rivalry, and expectations concerning the matchup of contrasting styles—and the fact that it all goes out the window once that bell rings. There’s also an element of the complete unknown that is fairly unique to boxing, in that no matter what happens during the course of the bout, it can all end with one punch—one of the main aspects that keeps fans on the edges of their seats. Lastly of course, it’s an underdog’s sport. As legendary Middleweight champion “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler put it, “…it’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5 a.m. when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas.” Boxing is unquestionably the sport of the poor; the list of boxers that have risen from the depths of poverty, crime, and deprivation to become world champions is too long to count. As the saying goes “You don’t choose boxing, boxing chooses you,” and for many boxing still offers the potential for fame, glory, and riches for those otherwise short of hope.

OK, so I can tell at this point that I’ve probably hooked you in as a bona fide boxing fan, so the next obvious progression is to list a whole host of complaints about the current state of boxing, because as boxing fans that’s mostly what we do. I can give a pretty good rundown, but if you prefer to hear the struggles of the industry by having them yelled at you by an angry Brooklyn native, I’d suggest you checkout promoter Lou DiBella voicing his many complaints on sports writer Chris Mannix’s excellent podcast.

Philadelphia’s legendary Blue Horizon boxing venue sits in disrepair, a foreboding metaphor for the state of boxing

First of all, the obvious elephant in the room, the landscape of the boxing viewer seems at times as if it’s almost designed to be impossible to navigate. The majority of fights are either on HBO or Showtime, both premium cable channels that represent a significant cost to the average viewer. Then, to add insult to injury, all of the top fights (and these days plenty of the lower caliber fights), are on pay-per-view (PPV), which in the U.S. at least carries the frankly astounding price tag of $75-100 per fight. As Lou says, “The entire business model is irrational. You don’t have the World Cup on PPV!” It’s pretty tough to see a path to entry for new fans with the current premium channel/PPV-heavy format, and until boxing is taken into the twenty-first century, it may remain as a niche sport propped up by its most loyal and devoted fan base. Even if you’re OK with ponying up that kind of money to watch a fight, the undercards of PPV fights (i.e. the bouts preceding the main event) are often woefully poor matchups, with the main event not coming on until midnight or so. I’ve heard plenty of tales of fans throwing boxing parties to get their friends on board, only to have people fall asleep by the time the main event comes on. It’s a dire state of affairs in many ways.

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Challenging Conventions in Rei Kawakubo’s Art of the In Between

Dakota Blackman

DAKOTA BLACKMAN | Natural Selections

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a classic tourist destination in New York, overflowing with a sweeping collection of art that traverses time periods and cultures. Among the classics, which include the Greco-Roman sculpture hall, or a collection of European paintings from Rembrandt to Gauguin, is a more modern draw: the Costume Center.

Founded in 1946 with the help of funds from the fashion industry, and reopened in 2014 as the Anna Wintour Costume Center, it focuses on the intersection between fashion and art in both the present day and the past. The Center consists of a range of works throughout the museum, from nineteenth century dresses and trousers to the museum’s comprehensive collection of medieval armor. More well-known efforts of the Center include dedicated gallery spaces for thematic exhibits such as Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty in 2011, and an exploration of the punk movement in PUNK: Chaos to Couture in 2013. Former First Lady Michelle Obama, who cut the ceremonial ribbon at the 2014 reopening, describes the Costume Center as a place “…for anyone who cares about fashion and how it impacts our culture and history.”

Along the lines of the former First Lady’s words, the work of Rei Kawakubo, the designer behind the clothing label Comme des Garçon, is currently on display in a thematic exhibit at the Costume Center. Among works of art that are defined by the very notion of convention, Kawakubo’s Art of the In Between is presented as an exhibit that pushes against the conventions of classic art, of culture, and of fashion itself.

DAKOTA BLACKMAN | Natural Selections

Kawakubo’s commentary on, and pushback against, the norms of fashion has long been a hallmark of her company’s work, and it is exemplified in both the layout and garments on display in Art of the In Between. The architecture of the gallery, which was designed by Kawakubo herself, isn’t simply dress forms on display behind panes of glass; the exhibit has museum-goers weave through a maze of snow white architectural anomalies—domes, pods, hollowed cylinders with small methodically placed cutouts—to catch a glimpse of the garments inside.

The bright white architecture provides a stark contrast to the vibrantly colored and uniquely shaped garments, which undoubtedly fulfill the goal of the Costume Center by turning a commentary on culture and fashion into art. The exhibit is divided into ten parts, all of which present two sides of a defined binary within which the garments exist: Clothes/Not Clothes, Design/Not Design—and, perhaps most notably, Fashion/Anti-fashion—to name a few. The titles of individual exhibit sections help to align the viewer with the question posed by Kawakubo and how her garments seek to answer it.

Kawakubo isn’t afraid to tackle big issues, and in the exhibit, she explores class, time, age, gender, and even the human form. High/Low, for example, juxtaposes the styles of bikers and prima ballerinas: the dress forms donned in skewed black tutus under meticulously cut leather jackets. This section questions class, placing the garments in the intersection between the high, or elite, and the low. In another section, titled Object/Subject, Kawakubo’s “Dress Meets Body, Body Meets Dress” collection from the 1970s is on display. Kawakubo wraps ginghams and pastel pinks and blues around dress forms augmented with intentional but unnatural masses distributed throughout their forms, producing pseudo-dresses. These lumps and bumps, as the collection has been deemed by critics, are reminiscent of those formed by a child stuffing a pillow in their shirt to grow a pretend belly. The garments encapsulate the heart of the exhibit, creating a completely new human form and challenging viewers to reorient their view of what a standard, conventionally fashionable garment can and should do. In an interview with Vogue at the time of the collection’s release, Kawakubo said, “It’s our job to question convention. If we don’t take risks, then who will?”

True to her word nearly fifty years later, Kawakubo has continued to take risks. The garments in Art of the In Between are not particularly beautiful, at least not by conventional standards, but it is clear that beauty is not Kawakubo’s goal. She rips fabric, forms “lumps and bumps,” and even mixes plaids (a fashion no-no). But there is a new kind of beauty within her garments, and within Art of the In Between as a cohesive unit. They play with norms in a way that is both mischievous and thought-provoking, and—most importantly—refreshingly accessible to those casually interested in fashion, in art, or both. Art of the In Between will be on display at the Met through September 4.

DAKOTA BLACKMAN | Natural Selections

Culture Corner


Who Killed Rock and Roll?

Bernie Langs

Bob Dylan with President Obama after playing at the “In Performance at The White House: A Celebration of Music from The Civil Rights Movement” concert, February 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for…
“Not I,” says the referee
Don’t point your finger at me
….It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all…”

Who killed Davey Moore…
“Not us,” says the angry crowd…”
“Not me,” says his manager…”
“Not me,” says the gambling man…”
“Not me,” says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist….
“It was destiny, it was God’s will.”

Who killed Davey Moore

Why and what’s the reason for?

(Excerpts from Who Killed Davey Moore? by Bob Dylan)

Who killed rock and roll?

Why and what’s the reason for?

Not us, says the popular radio stations. We have charts and graphs and demographic studies proving what the people want to hear. So what if the classic rock stations play the same exact songs for years after years, grinding them into the ground and reducing the so-called precious recording artist’s output to a handful of songs? They should be grateful for the exposure if not the royalty checks. It doesn’t matter at all that what was once rare and precious is as free as oil spreading across a pristine bay. We have to maintain our advertising revenue. No shame in that, for after all, any good rock star will tell you a buck is a buck. “Hotel California” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” until your ears bleed? Get a real problem. It wasn’t us who made rock fall, no you can’t blame us at all.

Who killed rock and roll?

“Not us,” says MTV, we just made songs visual for all to see. Okay, maybe we had a few years of blatant racism until we saw the dollar signs in Michael Jackson’s eyes, and perhaps there are hundreds— okay, thousands—oh, okay, tens of thousands of videos demeaning women, reducing them to sexual objects for the pleasure of idiotic bad boys. Okay, the whole thing is one Marxist, drooling commodity fetish. But we spiffed up the genre with dancers! Scantily clad dancers, sure. And now we have really good looking artists, posers, and fashion leaders. If anything we expanded rock’s reach. We don’t even know what auto-tune is! They all lip-sync anyway! Live videos? Live is dead, man, get with it. It wasn’t us who made rock fall, no you can’t blame us at all.

Who killed rock and roll?

Not us, say the popular magazines. Sure, we loved to cover all the tragic rock stars’ meteoric falls into drug and alcohol abuse and their paranoid ravings and simplistic political posturing, but we also have our tearful in-depth profiles of their rebirths, their recoveries and all the life lessons learned. And now they’re making the very best music of their lives (of course not, but, hey, what do our readers know – just what momma would call “a little white lie” as Forrest Gump says). Really, doesn’t everybody want to know about the songs written about breakups between our stars, more craft in the guessing than in the actual music composition? As a guitarist yourself, you know you can strum from C to G all afternoon and get at least ten songs out of it! If you think of it that way, that’s real talent. And as our reporters are let into the artist’s inner sanctum, our readers just love to hear how we ate sushi with them and went to the studio and someone thought they saw Bono crossing the street. That’s news, my friend! Let us tell you a trade secret: There ain’t no art there in the first place, so why ask about it? Besides, we make drugs and drinking and promiscuity keep up the image of sex and drugs and rock and roll. You say that was always just a cheap slogan and never had meaning for the real music? That’s why you are writing for an online newsletter and not Entertainment Weekly or Rolling Stone. It wasn’t us who made rock fall, no you can’t blame us at all.

Who killed rock and roll?

Not us, say the music stars, even Elvis didn’t really play guitar. Sure you think that David Bowie’s music predicted the emotionally dead, empty-thought, technological charred ruin of an ISIS Internet state, and that Led Zeppelin’s journey through Kashmir is as mystical as a real life Aladdin carpet ride, and that The Beatles grew in leaps and bounds as composers the likes of which we haven’t seen since Wolfgang Amadeus. Be happy you had that and don’t blame us for not measuring up to those standards! It’s a job, for crying out loud. It’s community, the swaying sing along at the end of the show proving we are all one, we are together, we all love, until we get to our cars to go home—and if that guy doesn’t get the hell out of my way…Didn’t Elmo sing “Every day can’t be Christmas”? Well, every concert can’t be Woodstock. And you try to write a hit, my man, there are only so many notes on a guitar and a piano, they’ve all been taken, my friend. A wise man once said that there are only three or four plot lines in literature. Well, we’re just repeating the same old guitar and piano lines, but look at the polish of it! Our producers have more power in their consoles than the rockets that went to the moon! If you’re looking for art, try twisting a volume control these days—not so easy! And this constant criticism of our parties and of stars gazing at stars—seems a bit like sour grapes, Mister Home Recording hermit. It isn’t us who makes rock fall, you can’t blame us at all.

Who killed rock and roll?

Not us says Dylan, Springsteen, the Stones, Paul, Ringo and Led Zeppelin, we’ve kept our integrity. And this is something of which I completely agree.

Who killed rock and roll? Why and what’s the reason for?
Laid low in a cloud of mist
“It was destiny, it was God’s will.”


For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 1 Edition

Jim Keller

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes (2017) FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES

No matter how you spin it, 2016 was not a kind year for women who remain trapped on the other side of a cracked glass ceiling. So it is with great pleasure that I begin this first in a four-part series focused on the leading ladies of the Best Actress race. Last year’s race saw the defeat of #OscarsSoWhite with people of color represented in all of the major categories, and of course, Best Picture, in a turn as dramatic as the films themselves, going to Moonlight following an envelope mix-up backstage. (Can someone please explain why that guy hasn’t been fired yet?) As we look to Oscar nominations in January 2018, we do so under the shadow of a man who is hidden behind a veil of secrecy. It will be interesting to see how the Academy is affected by the state of the union. Will they choose to support performances from films of heavy subject matter, or go the opposite direction and support those from films of lighter fare? If the historic win of Moonlight this year is anything to go by, the shiny happy sheen of a film, such as La La Land and those who dream, was not what the Academy wanted, to make a bold statement. Last Oscar season, the race came down to two very deserving actresses in roles that were the polar opposite of one another: the eventual winner, Emma Stone, as the fictitious young ingénue in La La Land and Natalie Portman as the titular Jackie Kennedy in Jackie. What story has yet to be told this year? The film screenings to take place over the next couple of months will weave that narrative. For now, let’s examine last year’s Best Actress nomination results.

Of the eleven roles that were discussed here, only two went on to join Stone and Portman and secure Best Actress nominations: Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins and Ruth Negga for Loving. Viola Davis ended up being nominated in a supporting role and winning for her searing performance in Fences. Jessica Chastain and Rosamund Pike’s films, The Zookeeper’s Wife and A United Kingdom, respectively, were pushed to this year, thereby falling out of contention. Finally, Allied, Passengers, and The Light Between Oceans were seen as genre fare, promptly taking Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Lawrence, and Alicia Vikander, respectively, out of the running and leaving behind Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures), Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train) and the aforementioned Adams who had two chances for a nomination: Nocturnal Animals and Arrival. I would argue that when all was said and done, the only real snub was Adams who all but literally carried Arrival on her back to earn eight nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. The last nominee was Isabelle Huppert (Elle).

THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – The Papers (director: Stephen Spielberg):
FYC: This historical drama, inspired by true events, involves a cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents and drove the country’s first female newspaper publisher of The Washington Post, Kay Graham (Streep) and its hard-driving editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) to join an unprecedented battle between journalists and the government in publishing the Pentagon Papers. Streep is discussed every year in this column. The actress has racked up 17 Oscar nominations and three Oscar wins—two in lead (Sophie’s Choice in 1983 and The Iron Lady in 2011), and one in supporting (Kramer vs. Kramer in 1980). Unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, you know that the film is highly relevant following constant attacks on the press by, and several ongoing investigations of, the man who currently occupies the White House.

THE LESBIAN: Emma Stone – Battle of the Sexes (directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Feris):
FYC: The comedy-drama film is loosely based on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Stone) and ex-champ/serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). Stone is on fire at the moment having won the Oscar for Best Actress just this year. She was previously nominated for her supporting role in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) in 2015. What’s more, the last film directed by Dayton and Feris, Little Miss Sunshine, was nominated for two Oscars and won two others, including Best Supporting Actor for Alan Arkin.

THE WILDCARD: Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (director: Martin McDonagh):
FYC: A dark comedic drama that depicts the plight of a mother (McDormand) who takes a stand against a revered chief of police (Woody Harrelson) using three billboards leading into her town after several months have passed without a culprit for her daughter’s murder. McDormand was first nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1989 for Mississippi Burning. She won Best Actress in 1997 for Fargo, and earned two more Best Supporting Actress nominations for Almost Famous and North Country in 2000 and 2006, respectively. Although McDormand has largely remained outside of the Oscar conversation since her last nomination, the trailer for the film shows a lot of range from the actress, who appears to be relishing in the role. Sight unseen, I have her as the one to beat this year.

THE DAME: Dame Judi Dench – Victoria and Abdul (director: Stephen Frears):
FYC: This British-American biographical drama film based on Shrabani Basu’s book of same name depicts the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria (Dench) and young Indian clerk Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). It’s hard to believe that Dench who has been nominated of Best Actress five times (most recently for Philomena in 2014) and Best Supporting Actress two others (Mrs Brown in 1997, Chocolat in 2001) has only won a single Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love in 1999. Further, like McDormand, if the range depicted in the trailer is anything to go by, we will be seeing an awful lot of Dench this awards season.

THE PERENNIAL: Jennifer Lawrence – Mother! (director: Darren Aronofsky):
FYC: Although very little is known about this thriller-horror that centers on a couple whose relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive, disrupting their tranquil existence, Aronofsky’s Black Swan did quite well with the Academy (despite naysayers saying that the film wasn’t within their wheelhouse), earning four nominations, including Best Picture, and winning the Best Actress Oscar for Natalie Portman. Black Swan is also described as a thriller; could lightning strike twice? Lawrence earned her first Best Actress nomination in 2011 for Winter’s Bone and she won the Oscar in 2012 for Silver Linings Playbook. She went on to net a Best Supporting Actress nomination for American Hustle (2014) and her third Best Actress nomination for Joy last year. Even though all of her performances do not catch fire in the awards race, Lawrence remains one of the most bankable actresses to date, and in our capitalist society, bankability often translates to awards heat.

THE REDHEAD: Kate Winslet – Wonder Wheel (director: Woody Allen):
FYC: The plot is unknown for this period drama set in a late 1950s amusement park at Coney Island, Brooklyn New York, but Allen’s films often find themselves in the thick of the Oscar conversation. Winslet’s career has yielded two Best Supporting Actress nominations (Sense and Sensibility in 1996 and Iris in 2002) and three Best Actress nominations (Titanic in 1998, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2005 and Little Children in 2007). In 2008, she infamously won the Oscar for Best Actress for her would-be supporting role in The Reader over Streep’s wonderful turn in Doubt. Winslet last brushed shoulders with Oscar when she was nominated for her supporting role last year for Steve Jobs. Early images from the film show Winslet with red hair engaged in a passionate argument with co-star Justin Timberlake. Given that she excels in relationship dramas, and the film has a December 1st release date, she’s a pretty safe bet.

Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake in Wonder Wheel (2017) AMAZON STUDIOS

THE CLASS ACT: Emma Thompson – The Children Act (director: Richard Eyre):
FYC: This drama based on Ian McEwan‘s novel of the same name concerns British High Court judge Fiona Maye (Thompson) who is asked to rule in the case of a minor refusing treatment because of his family’s religious beliefs. Thompson won the Best Actress Oscar in 1993 for Howard’s End and went on to be nominated the following year for The Remains of the Day. 1996 brought her not one, but two Oscars: Best Actress and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published for Sense and Sensibility. Thompson was most recently in the Oscar conversation in 2013 for Saving Mr. Banks, but she was snubbed by the Academy for her role as P.L. Travers—the author behind the Mary Poppins books. It’s important to note that the last film to be adapted from one of McEwan’s novels, Atonement, garnered six Oscar nominations, including Best Actress and Best Picture. It seems a safe bet to throw Thompson’s hat in the ring at this early stage.

THE GAMBLER: Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game (director: Aaron Sorkin):
FYC: This drama marks the directorial debut of Sorkin and is based on Molly Bloom’s memoir Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker. Bloom was a former Olympic hopeful-come-successful entrepreneur who became the subject of an FBI investigation after she established a high-stakes, international poker game. Chastain, perhaps the actress most overdue for a win discussed here,

was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Help in 2012 and Best Actress the following year for Zero Dark Thirty. As per usual, she has a few other films in contention this year: The Zookeeper’s Wife, and Woman Walks Ahead. But having more films, doesn’t necessarily equate to more chances to win—especially with an actress as talented as Chastain who consistently delivers—because the Academy often splits the vote without a consensus. For now, I’m putting my money on this one having the highest profile of the bunch, and that late November release date sure doesn’t hurt.

As always, the women discussed here are some of those with the pedigree to earn a nomination. Others include Saoirse Ronan in another McEwan adaptation On Chesil Beach—a drama set in the early 1960s centered on a young couple on their honeymoon. The actress also stars with Annette Bening in The Seagull, who also has a shot with Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Then there’s Helen Mirren in The Leisure Seeker who stars as one-half of a runaway couple on an unforgettable journey in the faithful old RV called “The Leisure Seeker.” Sally Hawkins also has two films to consider: The Shape of Water from visionary director Guillermo del Toro and Maudie—a role for which she is already winning rave reviews. As if that weren’t enough, Halle Berry has her shot in Kings from Turkish director Deniz Gamze Ergüven in a drama that follows a foster family in South Central LA just before the city erupts in violence following the verdict of the Rodney King trial in 1992.

The Oscar race will really get its start with the Venice International Film Festival August 30 – September 9, 2017 and the Telluride Film Festival August 30 – September 4, 2017. These festivals often set the stage for the season to come as frontrunners emerge. Stay tuned in September when I take a look at the leading men of the Best Actor race.

The Giro D’Italia


Francesca Cavallo

The Giro dItalia, or Tour of Italy, is one of the world’s most famous bicycle races. Twenty-two international teams compete for three weeks in a contest of racing tactics, willpower, and raw athleticism. The 2017 Giro is extra special: it’s the 100th race!

Even if you’re not a cycling enthusiast, you have probably heard about this multiple-stage bicycle race held in Italy every May, which, along with the Tour de France and Vuelta a España (collectively known as Grand Tours), represents the world’s most prestigious road bicycle race. Also, known as Corsa Rosa (Pink Race, because the race leader wears a pink shirt), Giro dItalia was established in 1909, an idea of Tullio Morgagni, a journalist with the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. At the time, cycling was already a popular sport, with the first races having taken place in 1869.

The first Giro dItalia left from Piazza Loreto in Milan on May 13, 1909. Overall, the first Giro consisted of eight stages, held three times a week, between May 13 and May 30, covering a total of 2,448 km. Since then, except for interruptions during World Wars I and II, the Giro dItalia has taken place every year in May over the course of three weeks. Although the starting point varies every year, the arrival is always in Milan, the headquarters of Gazzetta dello Sport. In 1931, it was decided that the race leader needed to display a symbol that would make him instantly recognizable amid the dense pack of racers; thus, the iconic maglia rosa, pink jersey, was introduced.

The golden age of the Giro was between 1931 and 1950, when such cycling greats as five-time winner Fausto Coppi (il Campionissimo) champion of champions and his historic rival three-time winner Gino Bartali (nicknamed Ginettaccio) competed and inflamed fans, dividing Italy into supporters of one or the other. Between 1956 and 1978, the race lead was taken by foreigners, especially the Belgian Eddy Merckx, who won the Giro five times in seven years and earned the nickname “The Cannibal” because, it was said that he wouldn’t let anyone else win.

The 1990s saw the emergence of Marco Pantani, who became a real sports idol in Italy, winning the Giro dItalia in 1998 (the same year, he won the Tour de France, the last cyclist, and one of only seven, to win the Giro and the Tour in the same year). Nicknamed “il pirata” (the pirate) because of his shaved head and the bandana and earrings he always wore. Pantani is considered one of the best climbers of his era. In 1999, while leading the race, he was expelled due to irregular hematocrit values. He was accused of Erythropoietin, or EPO, use, which is thought to have led him into a depression from which he never fully recovered. He died of acute cocaine poisoning in 2004.

The latest years of the race have been dominated by the Spaniard Alberto Contador (one of only six riders to have won all three Grand Tours of road cycling), and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (like Contador, he has won all three Grand Tours). Since the beginning, Nibali has been nicknamed Lo Squalo (the shark) for his technique, which consists of always rushing to the attack, and for his Sicilian origins. Nibali is the current Giro dItalia title holder, having won the 2016 race (he previously won the 2013 edition).

2017 marks a special year for the Giro dItalia as it celebrates its 100th edition. Giro dItalia 2017 will run from Friday, May 5th to Sunday, May 28th, from the island of Sardinia, to the heel of Italy’s boot, to the Alps. After leaving Sardinia, where the first three stages will take place, it will move to another island, Sicily. The Sicilian leg’s highlight will be the climb up the Etna volcano. The next day, the race will end in Nibali’s hometown of Messina. Giro dItalia 2017 will continue through the heel, traversing Puglia’s Valle d’Itria, then proceeding north through Umbria’s Sagrantino wine country. Two stage starts will be Tuscany’s Ponte a Ema and Piedmont’s Castellania, birthplaces of Italian cycling greats Bartali and Coppi, respectively. The Apennines traverse will be followed by the Alps, with the climb of the famous Stelvio Pass. Then it’s the majestic Dolomites, which will involve some brutal climbs (stage 18 features five ascents!). Like every year, Giro dItalia 2017 will conclude in Milan.

If you are inspired by Giro d’Italia and you are an active person I suggest that you bike across Italy. You will pedal to extraordinary art cities such as Venice, Florence, Lucca and Pisa. If you have enough time, add to this the rural landscapes of Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Chianti and Maremma areas of Tuscany and you will have the best of Italy. One of the most popular bike tours in Italy is coast-to-coast cycling from the Adriatic coast in the east to the Tuscan coast line in the west. This bike route takes you form Marche through the Umbrian hills and onto the Tuscan mountains before descending to the Tuscany coastline. Along the way you can have a wine tasting at a family winery, observe the medieval art, and learn culinary secrets behind the incredible regional cooking.

Last but not least is the biking tour in Sardinia. The captivating island is famous for its beautiful beaches and the beautiful turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Sardinia’s best kept secret is its amazing network of immaculately scenic and quiet roads that are perfect for cycling. The island’s rugged and remote mountainous interior boasts rivers, lakes, archaeological sites and an amazing variety of wildlife such as flamingos, falcons, and wild boar.

Culture Corner

Bernie Langs

Martin Scorsese and Silence

Martin Scorsese (source: Wikipedia)

Martin Scorsese, who I consider America’s greatest living film director, is a creative talent with the ability to continuously surprise his audiences in terms of what he chooses for his huge enterprises. Yet, the quality of the final story on the screen may vary. With that said, I find some of his movies absolutely brilliant, from their rich palettes of cinematography, to the impassioned and inspired performances of the actors and actresses, and the stimulating ideas that always aren’t black and white in these tales of extreme moral and ethical quandaries. My personal favorites from the Scorsese oeuvre include Raging Bull, The Departed, Good Fellas, and The Aviator.

From his early days of films such as Mean Streets and later (more blatantly) in The Last Temptation of Christ, it became apparent that the Italian-American Scorsese was struggling to come to terms with his Catholic upbringing and the meaning behind the story and lessons from the life of Jesus Christ. In the final scene of Raging Bull starring Robert DeNiro in a beautifully nuanced performance as troubled boxer Jake LoMotta, the screen displays these words from the New Testament (John IX. 24-26): “So, for the second time, [the Pharisees] summoned the man who had been blind and said: ‘Speak the truth before God. We know this fellow is a sinner.’ ‘Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know.’ the man replied. ‘All I know is this: once I was blind and now I can see.‘” The idea of being clothed in the darkness of ignorance and having the light shine in on life, courtesy of a Savior, is powerful.

Scorsese’s 2016 film Silence is right up there as one of his very best. It is a movie about not just Catholicism because it also examines the boundaries, trials and tribulations, and other tumultuous ethical situations surrounding the ideal of staying true to one’s own morality and choices, not only in God’s eyes. It is a long movie and didn’t fare well at the box office, but I was absolutely riveted from start to finish and overwhelmed by the force of the ideas on display.

Silence stars Andrew Garfield as Sebastião Rodrigues and Adam Driver as Francisco Garupe as a pair of young 17th century Jesuit priests traveling from Portugal to Japan to locate their former teacher (played by Liam Neeson), who had gone to Japan to teach and convert the populace to the ways of Catholicism and goes missing after supposedly renouncing his faith.

When Fathers Sebastião and Garupe reach Japan, they are taken in and hidden by the terrified villagers who are converts to Christianity at a time where the religion is being violently suppressed and must be practiced in secret. While watching Silence, I was awed by the beautiful, lush scenery of the mountains and foliage depicted. The stunning scenery becomes the backdrop of the violence that reigns down from the minions of a horrific inquisitor on these people. The inquisitor is masterfully played by Japanese actor and comedian, Issey Ogata, who the New York Times noted as stealing ever scene he is in.

As one watches the struggles of Sebastião unfold, dozens of questions and ideas run through the mind of the viewer on issues that center around the crux and core of faith in God, but also Western ideas forced onto Eastern cultures, and on the difficult notion of whether one should betray ones greatest beliefs for the greater good. The focus centers on the dilemma facing Sebastião when he is given the choice of renouncing Catholicism or seeing villagers tortured to death. All of the intellectual banter of the inquisitor and his interpreter, the latter beautifully portrayed by Tadanobu Asano, devolves into their extreme meeting out of violence on the bodies and minds of the poor villagers, who they deride as worthless peasants. By breaking Sebastião, they can publicly break a man who has devoted his heart, life and soul to what they believe is the affliction invading Japan.

Before Sebastião does his act of apostasy, the inquisitor brings in the man Sebastião has come to find, Father Cristóvão Ferreira, played by Neeson. He arrives late in the movie like Marlon Brando’s Kurtz does in the film Apocalypse Now. As he begs his former pupil to renounce his religion in the hope of saving lives, he makes one extremely powerful argument: that these poor, uneducated Japanese men and women, the derided so-called peasants, aren’t truly practicing Christianity because of their prior beliefs and ingrained culture and simple notions of spirits. He’s basically saying, “It’s all for nothing.”

Silence is a reminder that barbarity, such as that practiced by ISIS today, the torturing and murder in the name of God and religion goes back to the dawn of man’s conceptualization and organization into religious sects. The inquisitor, a witty, well-read man of knowledge, can banter with Sebastião on ideals and ethics one moment, while ordering the decapitation of a prisoner in a courtyard for all to see the next. Scorsese has a long history of using extraordinary violence in the hopes of finding some inkling of why God has put us on earth in the first place, and to seek an idea of how to live one’s life in the face of brutality and terrible suffering. But he never openly actually says, “Jesus is the answer.”

From the interviews I’ve read with Scorsese about Silence and from what I’ve learned from reading about him in the past, he is more a man who is opening up ideas about searching for rather than explaining the meaning of life. He often sounds quietly and admittedly lost, but very glad to have the opportunity to make art and films about his state of confusion.

It has become my opinion that because most people are taught about faith and religion in childhood, it is incredibly hard to shed any of the major faiths later in life. It’s akin to an indoctrination. As I’ve grown older, I’ve read many of the books from the past by religious luminaries, such as Rashi’s commentaries or Jerome’s letters and books by Augustine and Philo; the texts of ancient Buddhists or the ideas behind the spirit religions of Japan; the fascinating words of the “Upanishads” and the “Bhagavad Gita” and the creation stories as presented in Assyrian myths or related by Hesiod to the Greeks, and many other illuminating treatise. I believe at some point one must start anew with a clean slate and admit that the spiritual notion behind the concept of God is as complex as advanced physics and that a child’s idea of what lies behind the abstraction, hinted at in the Old Testament, that a casual once-a-week (at most) rote Sabbath notion has as much truth and merit as an adult belief in say, Santa Claus. Imagine that the power and forces of life or what is popularly called “the divine” is encased inside of a statue of a golden calf and that all of the major faiths and religions are blind and given only one part to feel with their hands and gather its meaning. Each religion falsely and confidently believes they know the full statue and its secrets, while in truth, the one with the dominant voice in society may very well have its hands on the rump. None of the followers of any religion knows or realizes that the power lies hidden inside the idol and that the statue has very little to do with the immense power of this vaguely traceable treasure. Why settle for one set of rules and rituals when there is such a rich tapestry available for study, which weaves together everything from philosophy to astronomy and on and on, endlessly woven, ripe for discovery and continued revelation? (Unified Field Theory indeed). What is really so terrible that we end up like Martin Scorsese in some way: in awe of the unanswerable, and finding ways to express our intuitions and discoveries in art, music, books, and science? Because in the end, whether it is Judaism, Christianity, Islam or the religions of the East, the zealots of each faith make them all superstitious faiths borne of unspeakable and unjustifiable violence while serving as Band-Aids to the open wound of awareness of one’s own mortality.

Dominique Ansel Nominated Best Pastry Chef in the World: A Cronut Comeback?


Juliette Wipf

Picture by Edmondo Campisi

Who hasn’t heard of the famed 2013 food the Cronut? After quickly gaining worldwide attention, Cronut followers were soon considered frivolous, and the pastry over-hyped. TIME magazine naming the pastry one of the 25 best inventions of the year in 2013, can be a particularly bittersweet pill for us scientists to swallow. However, the fame of this hybrid delicacy is based on the skills of an extraordinary chef, Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut, who recently won the title of “Best Pastry Chef in the World,” as part of the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Ansel received his training at Fauchon in Paris, a legendary delicatessen company and symbol of French-style luxury. Without having any sort of culinary degree, he started as a seasonal staff member, and ultimately worked himself up to head of Fauchon’s international expansion. In 2005, he settled down in New York City and worked as the executive pastry chef at Daniel, a renowned French restaurant on the corner of 65th Street and Park Avenue. Many ascribe a large part of Daniel’s success to Ansel, who worked at the restaurant when it first received three Michelin stars. He finally opened his own bakery in Soho in 2011, which gained cult status long before the Cronut® hype. Other popular pastry creations by Ansel are the DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann, a Breton puff pastry), Frozen S’mores (ice cream covered in chocolate millefeuille and flamed marshmallow, served on an apple wood-smoked willow branch), the Chocolate Chip Cookie Shot (a shot glass shaped cookie filled with cold-infused vanilla milk, only available after 3 p.m.), the Magic Soufflé (notably the only soufflé that does not collapse, with Grand Mariner liquor and orange blossom), the Gingerbread Pinecone (a layered pastry finished with 70 individual chocolate petals), and the Christmas Morning Cereal (only available in December). You can also choose from more conservative, but similarly beautifully presented pastries on display, or a classic chocolate croissant. My favorite is the Pear & Champagne Mousse Cake.

In case you decide to try a real Cronut, let me give you some advice. Everyday, about 350 Cronuts are made. The flavor of the Cronut changes every month, and is never repeated. Dominique Ansel Bakery opens at 8 a.m., and to secure a Cronut you should arrive before 7:30 a.m. If you are lucky, the bakery will serve you a sweet little appetizer while you are waiting in line. Once you get to the cashier, you can purchase two Cronuts per order. However, you can go back to the end of the line, wait again and purchase two more. If you don’t want to wait in line, you can plan ahead and preorder the pastry online. Every Monday at 11 a.m. sharp, orders are taken for dates two weeks out. You will therefore wait longer for your pastry fix, but are allowed to purchase up to six Cronuts at a time.

Good Luck!

Picture by Juliette Wipf

Picture by Edmondo Campisi

What We Celebrate on 5th of May or Cinco de Mayo


Guadalupe Astorga

We can appreciate Mexican culture in the United States like no other place in the world. We have all probably entered a shop in New York City and experienced the magical sensation of being instantaneously transported to Mexico. This is not only because cashiers are Mexicans wearing self-expressive t-shirts, or due to the language they speak, but it’s also the traditional rancheras music they play, and their kindness that immerse us in such an inviting atmosphere.

It’s no coincidence that Mexican culture today is deeply ingrained in the American one. This is not only because parts of the American Southwest belonged to Mexico less than 200 years ago, but also because a large number of Mexicans were incorporated into the US together with that land, bringing their own culture and traditions.

Some people think that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, but it’s not. Independence from Spain was a 10-year process that ended in 1821 and is celebrated on September 16. Shortly after, Mexico was at war with the US, unsuccessfully defending its ownership over Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and California (yes, almost half of current United States land). A treaty was signed in 1848, where Mexico gave up its sovereignty over those territorities.

Years later, driven by the desire of extending the French empire to the Americas, the French army, led by Napoleon, attacked Mexico from the Atlantic coast. Outnumbered three times in size by the French forces, the Mexican army had little chance of success. After taking over several cities, the French advanced towards the Mexican capital, Mexico City. It was in the city of Puebla that Mexican troops defeated the French in the heroic “Battle of Puebla” in 1862. After this, the French army withdrew their forces from the country. This victory unified Mexico and restored a lost sense of nationalism and patriotism.

Although Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico, the states of Puebla and Veracruz have declared it a holiday where people preserve the traditions and celebrations of the day. So why celebrate it in New York City? Maybe it’s due to the important population present in the city who are native to the state of Puebla.

May 5 is a meaningful day for me, not only because important people in my life were born on that date, or because it’s the name of the street where my mom grew up and where I have so many childhood memories, but also because it’s the date that represents the improbable victory of the weak against the powerful.

Isle of Man TT: The World’s Most Dangerous Race


Owen Clark

The spectrum of the “daredevil” has always been somewhat of a curiosity to me, particularly in the world of motorcycles. There are those that wouldn’t go near a bike if you paid them—I’ve met plenty in that category; those that ride, but are content with the confines of commuting; others such as myself, a former 250cc man that recently graduated to the beastly power of an inline-4 900cc engine, toeing the line in the “twisties” every once in a while—this alone might earn me the classification of daredevil” in some eyes (read: my mum); weekend warriors who test themselves even further, laying rubber down on track days; and of course their professional counterparts that push the limits to extremes on the racetrack; but then there are those, known collectively as complete and utter lunatics, who race motorcycles at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour on tiny country roads lined with dry stone walls, telegraph poles, curbs, houses, and a whole host of other hazards, in the oldest, most dangerous race in the world—The Isle of Man TT.

The Isle of Man TT Festival—TT stands for “Tourist Trophy”, or more colloquially “titanium ____ “ (I’ll let you fill in the blank) —takes place once a year during late May/early June, with a week of practice sessions followed by a week of individual races—culminating in the blue riband event, the senior TT. It has been in existence since 1907, though the current Snaefell Mountain course wasn’t devised until 1911. It’s 37.73 miles run entirely on the Isle of Man’s public roads (closed during racing of course), through tiny villages, hedge-lined country lanes, and a mountain. It contains a staggering 265 corners, said to require at least three years of competitive racing to learn, where six laps amount to 226.5 miles of unflinching mental steel. The races consist of a time trial format, with riders competing as much against the course as the competition. Northern Irishman Michael Dunlop holds the honor of the fastest lap on record, taking just under seventeen minutes to complete the course at a jaw-dropping 133.962 MPH average speed last year. Kiwi Bruce Antsey achieved the unofficial record top speed of 206 MPH during practice. Eighty percent of the race is done at full throttle, which I can tell you as a biker, seems utterly unfathomable. Just watching an on board lap is enough to make you nauseous.

Often considered more infamous than famous, it has a reputation for its unparalleled danger. The mountain course has claimed 251 fatalities to date, with five deaths occurring just last year. Colorful character that he is, mutton-chopped racer/truck mechanic/TV personality Guy Martin refers to “that near-death thing” as the raison d’etre of racing in the TT. On a 2010 crash that almost claimed his life— “The buzz from that was just unbeatable. That moment between crashing and almost dying. That’s raised the benchmark. I want to get back to that point. Money can’t buy it. Everything’s been so sanitised with bloody PC nonsense and health and safety that there’s nothing else is there? If it was dead safe I wouldn’t do it.” To others, this seemingly senseless loss of life provokes a rallying cry for banning the TT entirely. Indeed, safety concerns were a major factor in the race losing its world championship status in 1976.

If I’ve managed to pique your interest at this point, I would urge you to seek out the fascinating 2011 documentary TT3D: Closer To The Edge (the full movie is available on YouTube), or even better go one step further and read Rick Broadbent’s excellent book That Near Death Thing (which takes its name from Guy Martin’s quote). Even to those with little interest in motorcycle racing, it’s hard to deny the fascinating psychology at play here. Gaining a glimpse into what makes road racers risk life and limb for relatively little reward—through early footage of their childhood and interviews with both family members, those involved in the race, and the riders themselves, is a captivating experience. The supporting cast offers an engaging insight as to how people cope with the obvious elephant in the room, balancing the compulsion to race with the threat of death. We hear from the mechanic responsible for fine-tuning all of the top bikes’ engines, and the sense of guilt he feels, likening himself to a drug dealer supplying the fix that might ultimately end a rider’s life. There’s also a compelling interview with Bridget Dobbs, widowed after the death of her husband Paul Dobbs in the 2010 TT. Though left to raise their two children alone, she harbors an amazing resilience in knowing that Paul died doing what he loved, as to those in and around the TT, life is there to be lived, no matter what the risk.

Then there’s the main cast, a veritable band of misfits with a unifying compulsion to race, despite the inherent dangers. There’s stalwart talisman John McGuiness, whose un-athletic figure masks an exceptional talent that’s led him to a remarkable 23 TT wins, just three shy of the record held by the legendary Joey Dunlop. There’s Michael Dunlop—nephew of Joey, whose brother William (son of Joey) also races in the TT. Michael’s practically psychopathic racing instinct has brought him much success and notoriety in recent years, and the Dunlop family were the subject of the 2014 documentary Road, narrated by Liam Neeson. Joey, known as much for his humanitarian work in the Balkans as for his gifts on two wheels, was tragically killed in a little-known road race in Estonia at the age of 48—paying the ultimate price for his steadfast refusal to hang up his leathers for good. His brother Robert (Michael’s father) was killed racing eight years later, and remarkably, a 20-year-old Michael raced and won the TT’s warm up event—The Northwest 200—just two days after burying his father. There’s soft-spoken Yorkshireman Ian Hutchinson—who recovered from nearly losing his leg after being run over by another racer in a closed-circuit race early on in his career, to eventually go on to achieve an unprecedented five wins at the 2010 TT. There’s local boy Connor Cummins, who survived a now infamous crash that left him looking like the Wiley Coyote in a full body cast, only to fully recover and compete in the TT the very next year. In truly legendary fashion, both of these men were told by doctors that they would never race again. Then of course there’s the resident controversy-magnet Guy Martin, whose trademark lack of filter, delivered through a nearly indecipherable Lincolnshire accent, has landed him a legion of fans, but sadly no TT wins so far.

Hollywood is said to be capitalizing on the capacity for epic drama that exists on the Isle of Man, with a Ben Younger (Boiler Room, Bleed for This)–produced movie in the works, rumored to be centering on an American that comes out of retirement to race in the TT. If you replace “American” with “Canadian”, and “comes out of retirement” with “gives up everything to live on the island and race in the TT,” then this story slightly resembles the true-life tale of Mark Gardiner, who wrote about his experience ticking off the pinnacle of the biker’s bucket list in his 2012 book Riding Man.

All that being said, the 2017 Isle of Man TT is fast approaching, with all the potential for a cracking set of races. As with many of the more niche sporting events, television coverage in the US leaves a bit to be desired. Despite a viewership of 30 million people worldwide, to my knowledge none of the practice sessions/races will be available for live viewing on a US TV network. However with a VPN you can access UK channel ITV’s coverage from their on-demand service. and YouTube has a dedicated channel that provides highlights of some of the races. Sharing five wins between them in 2016, Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson are the men to beat, but after a year lay-off, the return of Guy Martin in search of his maiden win will add some tantalizing drama to the mix. No matter how the races play out, you can bet good money that the TT will never be short on excitement.

Quotable Quote


“Why are we suddenly a nation and a people who strive for security above all else? In fact, security is essentially elusive, impossible. We all die. We all get sick. We all get old. People leave us. People surprise us. People change us. Nothing is secure. And this is the good news. But only if you are not seeking security as the point of your life. Here’s what happens when security becomes the center of your life. You can’t travel very far or venture too far outside a certain circle. You can’t allow too many conflicting ideas into your mind at one time as they might confuse you or challenge you. You can’t open yourself to new experiences, new people, and new ways of doing things. They might take you off course. You cling desperately to your identity… Real security cannot be bought or arranged or accomplished with bombs. It is deeper. It is a process. It is the acute awareness that we are all utterly interdependent and that one action by one being in one town has consequences everywhere. Real security is the ability to tolerate mystery, complexity, ambiguity—indeed hungering for these things.”

(Eve Ensler, 1953 – )

New York City Dialect New York-ese, Lesson 6

Aileen Marshall

Hey! Welcome to the sixth and last lesson in our series on the New York City dialect. By now you should be able to understand the natives well enough to ask for subway directions (which also makes it obvious that you are a tourist). Don’t worry about being able to understand the announcements in the subway, no one can understand them.

To review last month’s lesson, a number of words in the city dialect drop the “H” in words that start with that letter. The two examples are ‘uge and ‘uman. Here are some more examples of them used in a sentence.

  • Katz’s Deli sandwiches have a ‘uge pile of cold cuts between two slices of bread.
  • Sometimes Grand Central Station can seem like a sea of ‘umanity.

This month’s lesson:

The New York dialect is known for two qualities: we speak very fast and tend to blur our words together. So much so, that phrases, and even entire sentences, can seem like one word. Life in the city is fast paced, so we don’t have time to even wait for the next word. Here are some examples of words in the New York dialect. Click on the links to hear the pronunciation.

  • Amirite A word used at the end of sentence, asking for confirmation.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a Broadway play, amirite?

  • Fugedaboudit. A word used to express resignation or forgiveness.

You can’t drive anywhere in the city on a Sunday afternoon, fugedaboudit, the traffic is too much.

  • Gedoutahea A word used to express surprise or disbelief.

You got a rent controlled apartment in Chelsea for $700 a month? Getoudahea!

  • Ariteaready A word used to express annoyance at being pushed or hurried.

I’m moving, aritearedy, I just double parked for a minute!

Final exam: see if you can interpret this conversation between two natives.

First Guy “jeetyet?” Second Guy “No, jew?”

I hope you have enjoyed these lessons in the New York City dialect. Listening to conversations among locals is the best way to tune your ear in to the pronunciation. It’s also a great way to learn about and experience what this great city has to offer. Don’t forget there are five boroughs in the city, it’s not just Manhattan. There is a wealth of culture, cuisine and entertainment to explore. So many people come here every year to visit or to stay. Not only is the United Nations headquarters here, but there are over 100 different ethnicities in the city’s population, that’s why they call the city “The Capital of the World”.


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An Italian Easter

La Colomba (the Dove) is the traditional Easter cake in Italy. iStock by GETTY IMAGES

Francesca Cavallo

Easter brings to mind egg hunts, chocolate, jelly beans, and the Easter bunny.

In Christianity, Easter is the holiest and oldest of all traditions, and it’s related to the even more ancient Jewish festival of Passover, which is described in the Old Testament. Both holidays are often celebrated at the same time of year, in the same week. Passover takes place over one week in remembrance of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. For Christians, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Christ after his crucifixion.

Many things about Easter are neither Jewish nor Christian in origin. For example, the English name “Easter” and the German name “Ostern” are both derived from old Germanic roots. Also, the traditions of having an Easter eve bonfire or burning Easter wheels come from Germanic and Celtic heliolatry, or sun worship. Even the popular colorful Easter egg has its origins in another pagan belief: it was considered a symbol of fertility in Egypt.

Today, eggs are synonymous with Easter in many countries, including Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. At the end of Lent, hard-boiled eggs are colored, Easter trees or bouquets are decorated with little wooden figurines and hollowed-out painted eggs, and people buy or bake special sweet Easter breads, often bursting with raisins.

But how is Easter viewed and celebrated in Italy? There is an Italian proverb which says: ‘Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi (Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you wish), which illustrates the fact that Pasqua (Easter) is considered a less intimate festival than Christmas. You probably won’t see the Easter bunny if you’re in Italy for Easter, but you will find some interesting Italian Easter celebrations. Like all holidays in Italy, Easter has its share of rituals and traditions. The Monday following Easter, la Pasquetta is also a public holiday throughout Italy. While the days before Easter in Italy include solemn processions and masses, Easter is a joyous celebration.

Easter mass is held in every church in Italy, and the biggest and most popular Mass is held by the Pope at Saint Peter’s Basilica. On Good Friday, the Pope celebrates the Via Crucis or Stations of the Cross in Rome near the Colosseum. A huge cross with burning torches lights the sky as the stations of the cross are described in several languages. At the end, the Pope gives a blessing. Solemn religious processions are held in many towns on the Friday or Saturday before Easter and sometimes on Easter Sunday. Many churches have special statues of the Virgin and Jesus that play a big part in the processions. The statues may be paraded through the city or displayed in the main square. Parade participants are often dressed in traditional ancient costumes. Olive branches are often used instead of, or along with, palm fronds in the processions and to decorate churches.

Since Easter is the end of the Lenten season, food plays a big part in the celebrations. Normally we spend Domenica di Pasqua (Easter Sunday) with the family, engaged in the traditional act of stuffing ourselves with food, such as roasted lamb or kid, hard boiled eggs, which have been taken to church to be blessed at the end of the Mass, and of course chocolate eggs. The traditional Easter cake is la Colomba (the Dove), a cake similar in flavor and consistency to the Christmas cake Panettone, but baked in the form of a stylized dove.

It’s studded with candied orange peel, then topped with almonds and a sprinkling of sugar to form a crisp, nutty crust.

Numerous myths surround the Colomba cake. According to one particularly dramatic story, the city of Milan was defending itself against invaders on Easter in 1176. Just when the Milanese seemed destined to lose the battle, three doves flew over the city. Soon after, the battle shifted and the invaders were vanquished. Legend holds that after the victory, the Milanese celebrated by eating cakes shaped like their savior doves.

Although Italians do not decorate hard–boiled eggs nor have chocolate bunnies, nor pastel marshmallow chicks, the biggest Easter displays in bars, pastry shops, supermarkets, and especially at chocolatiers are brightly wrapped uova di Pasqua (chocolate Easter eggs) in sizes that range from 10 grams (1/3 ounce) to 8 kilos (nearly 18 pounds).

Most of them are made of milk chocolate in a mid-range, 10-ounce size by industrial chocolate makers.

All eggs contain a surprise. The very best eggs are handmade by artisans of chocolate, who offer the service of inserting a surprise supplied by the purchaser. Car keys, engagement rings, and watches are some of the high–end gifts that have been tucked into Italian chocolate eggs in Italy.

Another traditional Easter dessert that’s popular in Naples and southern Italy is pastiera, a ricotta and whole grain pie with a mouthwatering aroma so distinctive that any blindfolded Neapolitan could instantly identify it. Pastiera is considered by many to be one of Italy’s most important desserts. It is prepared in special pans, whose edges angle slightly outward. The pie is often given away as a gift and always in the pan it was baked in because of its fragile pastry. The pie needs to rest for two days for the flavors to meld, so it’s traditionally finished on Good Friday so that it will be ready for Easter. Pastiera has become so popular that it is now available year-round in Naples.

The day following Domenica di Pasqua is Lunedi’ di Pasqua (Easter Monday), better known as Pasquetta (Little Easter) or LunedidellAngelo (Monday of the Angel). The name Lunedi’ dellAngelo refers to the Gospel story in which the women who went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body the day after Easter were told by an angel that Jesus had been resurrected. This day is probably the most popular part of the festivities for Italians, and it’s traditional to celebrate Pasquetta with a “gita fuori porta“ (a trip outside the city gates), usually for a picnic with friends. One interpretation of this tradition comes, once again, from a Gospel story which recounts that on the day of the resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples who were travelling to Emmaus a few kilometers outside the city gates of Jerusalem. The gita fuori porta tradition could be seen as a kind of “re-enactment“ of this story, although like many traditions most people are not really aware of its origins. A way to spend the gita fuori porta is a visit to a small historical town. Many of these towns will hold an event, such as an antique market, and will be packed with tourists. Whatever is done for Pasquetta, the deciding factor is, of course, the weather: everybody always hopes for a beautiful sunny warm day.

I wish to everybody a peaceful and happy Easter. Buona Pasqua a tutti!

New York City Dialect New York-ese, Lesson 5

Aileen Marshall

Yo! Welcome to lesson five in our series on the New York City dialect. I hope you’ve been practicing. By now you should be able to hold a light conversation in New York-ese, and order a bagel with a schmear.

To review last month’s lesson, a number of words in the city dialect have an elongated A sound, sounding like “aw.” Our vocabulary words were tawk, thawt and dawg.  Here are some more examples of them used in a sentence.

Don’t sit next to that guy tawkin’ to himself.

I thawt he was a tourist askin’ for directions, but he was a bum askin’ for change.

You can make money in your spare time as a dawg walker.

Other examples of the elongated A are walk, cough and taught. Here are some examples of these words used in a sentence.

If you want to get around in the city, don’t pay any attention to wawk signals.

Bus exhaust usually makes me cawf.

My mother tawt me never to touch the handrails in the subway.

This month’s lesson:

Native New Yorkers often drop the H in words that start with that letter. The two most common instances of this are huge and human.

Here are some examples of words using the dropped H words used in a sentence. Click on the links to hear the pronunciation.

Dat demonstration on 57th Street is really goin’ to be ‘uge.

It’s been good to see New Yorkers stand up for ‘uman rights.

Keep practicing by listening to locals conversing. Hang out at your neighborhood pizza joint. The two traditional establishments in this neighborhood are Sutton Pizza, on First Avenue and 63rd Street, and Pizza Park, also on First Avenue, at 66th Street. Tune in next month for a test of your newly acquired language skills.

Life on a Roll

Qiong Wang

Las Ruinas y Las Piramides

This was my first visit to Mexico, and my first visit to the Yucatán peninsula, which must be a magical land. Despite a plan for every detail on the trip, things started to fall apart the moment I landed. However, all the adventures became so worthwhile when I finally saw the ancient Mayan civilization. Here is a peek at the great Chichén Itzá, the breezy Tulum ruins, and the magnificent Governor’s Palace at Uxmal.

Governor’s Palace at Uxmal, By Qiong Wang

Chichén Itzá, by Qiong Wang

Ruins at Tulum, by Qiong Wang

Carnival done Italian-style

Francesca Cavallo

February in Italy is infiltrated by masks, confetti, colors, and lights that create a very exciting and unique atmosphere. Carnival is a huge winter festival celebrated 40 days before Easter and ends on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday. It is not a single day or event, but a whole season of masquerades and fun for people of all ages, especially children who really love it. When I was a child, I looked forward to it all year long because every Sunday you could run through the town square wearing costumes that represented cartoon characters or superheroes while tossing confetti to create a rainbow shower for passersby. Pranks are also common during Carnival, hence the saying: “A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale”, “anything goes at Carnival”. During this time, you could even prank your classmates and not punished for it. It was fantastic!

Carnival has its roots in pagan festivals, and traditions are usually adapted to fit in with Catholic rituals. Historically, it was the last chance for Catholics to indulge before they gave up meat (traditionally) for Lent, though today people give up all sorts of other things for Lent. The name for the festival in Italian is “Carnevale” the word “carne” means meat in Italian. It was perhaps not only a last chance to indulge, but also an opportunity to consume any meat that had been put up for winter that might not stay fresh enough for consumption until spring.

The tradition of getting dressed up at Carnival is one that dates back to a time when the class system played a major role in society. It is celebrated in many different ways, varying from region to region, and city to city. Venice, Viareggio, Putignano, and Ivrea are towns that hold the biggest and most elaborate Carnival festivals in Italy. Carnival in Venice is very refined, elegant, and chic. Masks (maschere) are an important part of the Carnival festival and Venice is the best city for traditional masks. Its traditions began as a time for celebration and expression throughout the classes because wearing masks hid any form of identity between social classes. Today, approximately three million visitors come to Venice for the celebrations. Two of the classic Venetian costumes are the Bauta and the Moretta. Bauta is composed of a black cloak (tabarro), a black tricorn (tricorno), and a white mask called larva. It tends to be the main type of mask worn during Carnival.  It was also used on many other occasions as a device for hiding the wearer’s identity and social status. It was thus useful for a variety of purposes: some of them illicit or criminal, others personal, such as for romantic encounters. The Moretta is an oval mask of black velvet that was usually worn by women visiting convents.  It was invented in France and rapidly became popular in Venice as it brought out the beauty of feminine features. The mask was accentuated with a veil, and secured in place by a small part in the wearer’s mouth. Carnival in Venice is a unique and dazzling experience, probably because this city has a particular glamour to it, especially during winter.

Viareggio, on the Tuscany Coast, has one of the biggest Carnival celebrations in Italy. Viareggio’s Carnival is known for its giant, allegorical papier-mâché floats used in parades, not only on Shrove Tuesday, but also on the three Sundays before and the Sunday that follows. Festivals, cultural events, concerts, and masked balls take place throughout the Carnival season both in Viareggio and in neighboring regions, and restaurants have specialized Carnival menus. The artistic refinement of the papier-mâché  masterpieces are admired as true works of art, similar to the luxurious masquerades in Venice.

However, the oldest carnival celebrations in Europe are found at the Putignano Carnival in Puglia. Dating back to 1394, it was only during the Fascist era that this rural carnival developed into the more refined, suburban event of today. This was when the parade of floats, a favorite form of communication in Fascist culture, came into fashion. The first floats are said to have been made with straw and rags, then cardboard and wood, until the current technique of papier-mâché over wire structures was developed. The floats always have themes related to scathing political satire or current affairs, and feature giant caricatures of politicians or TV personalities. They are accompanied by troupes of costumed dancers and loud music to engage the crowds of spectators.

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A New Encounter on Stage: SugaGold

Alice Marino

As soon as you arrive in New York City, you immediately learn that there is not much time to get bored. We are surrounded by tons of things to do, places to explore, museums to visit, new restaurants to try, street fairs, street art, street performances, and the list goes on. This city offers such a unique variety of activities that somehow allows it to feed the needs of its huge population.

For example, I have always been a live music addict, but while getting to know the potential of this city, at some point I became more selective with my choices. I began to be intrigued by concerts which took place in smaller venues, rather than giant locations. These spots became my favorite. First of all, they are friendlier, more welcoming, and they also have better and cheaper beers. Second, seeking out these locations gives you the chance to explore the city deeper, getting to better know its neighborhoods, and appreciate its many facets. Third, in these small venues, the atmosphere gets creative and the connection between the audience and the new emerging musicians becomes special; not to mention that you’ll often be extremely surprised by the quality and level of the music. Obviously, there are many ways (web, apps, friends, magazines, etc.) to find out when and where concerts are happening, but recently I found out that the best way is to be invited by a member of the band: Guadalupe Astorga, who is a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University, and also a web designer and contributor for Natural Selections. Excited and full of curiosity for the new musical adventure, a few friends and I decided to get ready to face a chilly winter night out and head to Harlem to experience the sounds of SugaGold live.

But first, let’s shed some light on this band. SugaGold is an independent rock/funk band, formed at the beginning of 2016 by the interaction of five talented minds, not only with regards to music. In fact, three of them are neuroscientists at Rockefeller University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, one is a language researcher, and another is a producer and musician. This collaboration started from a mutual passion for music and from the desire to create an original and innovative instrumental mix. The incredibly powerful voice of Natalia Sáez, who also contributes with the flute and indigenous instruments, harmonizes perfectly with the sound of the drums and electronic notes of Guadalupe Astorga, the drums and percussions played by Ben Deen, the lead guitar of Martin Luque, and the bass of Rodrigo Pavão. The result is an incredible new sound, born out of the creativity of each component, and by the mix of their personal influences and backgrounds. Apparently, “mishmash” is their key word. Did you know that even their band name comes from a mixture of their beloved pets’ names, Sugar and Goldie? The name was supposed to be temporary, but over the time, they liked it and never changed it. SugaGold started to perform around New York City quite fast, considering that the band was brand new. Not bad, guys!

Pictures by Alice Marino

The concert was hosted at Shrine World Music Venue in Harlem. This is a multimedia arts and culture venue founded in 2007 by musicians and music fans. Because it is primarily a location for bands who would like to promote themselves, you can always find passionate musicians ready to face a challenge, while having fun with the audience. Since we didn’t arrive late, for once, we rewarded ourselves with a drink, sitting at the table just in front of the stage, looking at the band preparing for their show. Stage fright? Panic? Tension? What are those? SugaGold were definitely comfortable on stage, and an energetic flow of funky notes came out from the speakers, as if it were the most natural thing on earth. This formed a perfect match with Natalia’s voice, who was also alternating between the flute and the guitar throughout the whole concert. On stage, the performance was very dynamic, as different members of the band would change roles depending on the song; for example, the drummer would change roles to a percussionist, and vice versa. They have a good repertoire of pieces, both in English and Spanish, with a strong South American influence. They all virtually owned the stage, as the audience enjoyed the interesting rhythms and vibes coming from their Djembe, guitar, drums, flute, synthesizer, and bass. The quality of the acoustic was very good, despite a brief incident involving a temporarily crackling microphone. Things that happen only in a live performance! As song after song played, their time on stage began to run out, but they managed to steal a few more minutes to play one last song. Oh yes, the crowd didn’t give them a break!

When I mentioned my passion for music I truly meant this: an amazing atmosphere created by enthusiastic people gathered together to enjoy music and have a blast! The overall impression of the concert was great, from the choice of the venue to the participation of the audience. I loved the pure energy that the live music released. Their concert was a success and SugaGold have, for sure, a bunch of new fans. I can’t wait to see them again on March 17th, at Silvana in New York.

Memories of the Golden State

Owen Clark


A smokestack towers above Mono Lake. All Photos by OWEN CLARK/NATURAL SELECTIONS.

Armed with a DSLR camera, travel guitar, two Haight and Ashbury-acquired shawl-cardigans, and three of my oldest friends, I left the perpetual fog of the San Francisco Bay.

Having played out the scene a thousand times in my head, I had romanticized the drive down California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway to levels approaching cliché. But despite trading the flashy convertibles of Entourage’s Vincent Chase or Californication’s Hank Moody for a grey Hyundai Sonata rental car, it still failed to disappoint. Practically every bend on that winding road greeted me with a stunning scene of pure, rugged beauty. California’s jagged cliffs are lined with earthy hues of bright red and orange, while each inlet of the vast Pacific Ocean contains a perfectly balanced array of turquoise and green pastels that one might have found on Winslow Homer’s palette.


The famous Bixby Bridge at Big Sur. All Photos by OWEN CLARK/NATURAL SELECTIONS.


High Sierra ghost town Bodie.

Despite navigating hairpin turns surrounded by 300-foot drops under cover of total darkness, we made it safely to Big Sur. My friends liked to joke that being the obsessive ball of neuroses that I am, I had already lived out the entire trip through the lens of professional photographers on Instagram prior to leaving, and was only in for disappointment at the real sights. The reality was the opposite—I couldn’t shut up about how gorgeous it all was. Warming my hands with a dawn-break coffee on the porch of our log cabin surrounded by towering redwoods; driving up-and-down the coastline in search of that perfect photo; soaking up the previously elusive sun on the picturesque Pfeiffer Beach; capping off the day with fireside beers: everything just seemed to fall perfectly into place. Fitting on a day when one of my travel companions and I woke up to the bizarrely coincidental news that we had both become uncles overnight.

Though I had fallen in love with the California coast, we had to move on to the next stop on our long list. After stocking up on instant noodles and mac-and-cheese ahead of our first foray into camping, we headed out across the eerie plains of middle California’s desert to the iconic Yosemite National Park. Having spent several hours driving down deserted roads, where the only sites of interest were dust devils and “Another Farmer for Trump” billboards, the granite rock formations of the Yosemite Valley were a welcome treat. As with many experiences, a departure from the beaten path yields the most satisfaction. I had that feeling in mind when I raced up 200 feet of granite rock face to capture the stunning panorama of Upper Cathedral Lake and the peaks beyond, away from the day tourist Valley crowds, in the Tuolumne Meadows area of the park. After returning to my friends relaxing by the lake, we were instantly rewarded by the photo gods, with the arrival of an actual cowboy, actually leading his horses to water.


A cowboy rides the dusty trail, Yosemite National Park.

Keeping with the Western theme, we left Yosemite the next morning in search of gold. Well aware that the California gold rush had ended a good century ago, we thought we would give it a try anyway. After a quick stop at the saline Mono Lake Tufta (as pretty as it was smelly), we navigated the three miles of bumpy dirt track leading to the historic High Sierra ghost town of Bodie. Blazing heat, dried-out long grass, corrugated iron shacks, a chapel, a school, a saloon; it was something straight out of a video game. Though saintly patience was required for the authentic ghost town shot (i.e., minus groups of dawdling tourists) it was quite the experience. Once again our departure yielded an instant photographic gift. There aren’t many days where you experience awe-inspiring natural phenomena while blasting Chris Brown’s “Forever” from your car stereo, but this was one of them. As a blues guitarist, I was familiar with Howlin’ Wolf’s classic “Smokestack Lightnin,” but like many I had absolutely no idea what it meant. We had been monitoring a strange cloud throughout the day that was now towering above the distant Mono Lake and Yosemite, resembling the mushroom clouds of the early atomic bomb tests. As I proceeded to photograph/Snapchat away, a professional nature enthusiast informed me that a distant forest fire had generated enough smoke to form an entire cumulus cloud (smokestack) that then created enough thermal pressure to produce lightning! Touché nature, touché.


Secret Cove, Lake Tahoe.

After a thrilling journey spent playing a profession guessing game through the twisty, scenic High Sierra roads and the strange casino-and-gun-shop lined small towns of Nevada, we arrived at our next major destination: Lake Tahoe. The relatively palatial luxuries of South Lake Tahoe were a welcome retreat from the cruel realities of nature that we had just experienced (camping), and we took advantage of the flowing booze and ubiquitous live music to try something that we hadn’t really done all trip—relaxing. Stock images of Lake Tahoe always show someone diving into its crystal blue waters and this was a real bucket list item for me. I managed to get a near perfect dive on video despite a throbbing gin and tonic-induced headache. Definitely worth it for those two likes on Facebook.


Mountain biking the Flume Trail, Lake Tahoe.



That night I stayed off the booze in anticipation of what would be one of the biggest highlights of the trip: mountain biking the world famous Flume Trail. I had seen YouTube videos of this classic, but like many things on the trip nothing could truly prepare me for the extreme multisensory experience of engaging in an adrenaline-pumping ride coupled with stunning 360 degree views 8,000 feet above the banks of a 200-square mile lake.

Sad to leave, we departed Lake Tahoe the next morning, down a winding mountain pass that led to the golden hills of Napa Valley. Navigating hectic Highway 1 back to San Francisco was a stark reminder that we were back to civilization. With my friends headed back to my homeland of England, I sat alone at the airport gate, waiting for my delayed flight, looking back over my many images of stunning landscapes and wild animals, and dreaming of my next adventure in this vast land.


Upper Cathedral Lake, Yosemite National Park.

For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 3 Edition

Jim Keller 


Mahershala Ali in Moonlight (2016). Photo Courtesy of A24.

As laid out in last year’s column, the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races of the Academy Awards are extremely unpredictable. Just take a look at the outcomes below in comparison to what was discussed to see for yourself. It is for this reason that I have chosen to keep the format adopted last year for this edition instead of laying out each actor’s accomplishments and why I would, or would not, bet on them for a nomination. I have broken down the different circumstances these actors find themselves in and how that narrative may or may not ultimately influence Oscar voters. Various critics groups, including The New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), the National Board of Review (NBR), and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) have announced their respective winners and The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) has announced its nominees.

These events help to form a consensus of Oscar nominees and make the acting categories all the more clearer as we approach nominations on January 24th. Together with nomination announcements from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), these announcements signal the start of the Oscar race’s second leg.



Last Year’s Best Supporting Actor Results:

Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton — Spotlight: Both were nominated, but the latter in lead (due to category fraud).

Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper — Joy: Neither were nominated because the film tanked with critics.

Mark Rylance — Bridge of Spies: Nominated and won.

Tom Hardy — The Revenant: Nominated

Idris Elba — Beasts of No Nation: Not nominated. Making their debut in the Oscar race, Hollywood proved just how scared it was of streaming services, such as Netflix, by snubbing the film entirely.

Last year’s fourth nominee was Sylvester Stallone for Creed, a film that saw its release after completion of this column. For many, Stallone became the frontrunner, and while the Hollywood Foreign Press, the BFCA, and the NBR dressed him up with their awards, Hollywood turned its back on him on Oscar night.

This leaves our last nominee, Christian Bale for The Big Short. Like Creed, the film wasn’t released until after the completion of this column. However, of the film’s sprawling ensemble, awards groups rallied around Bale and he completed the all white acting category.

The results show that by the same time last year, it was pretty easy to determine more than half of the actors in supporting roles that would go on to be nominated by the Academy.

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