January 31, 2011

When I'm ⅬⅩⅤ ♬

…Learn to work the saxaphone 
play just what you feel
drink Scotch whiskey all night long…
-adopted from Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues"

January 20, 2011

Musical DNA? ♬

Well, there we have it.  David Cope, a composer and professor at UCSC, wrote a computer program that can imitate the musical DNA of great artists; His program, named EMI (Experiments in Musical Intelligence),deconstructs the works of great composers, finding patterns within their compositions, and then creates brand new compositions. 

Life is amazing.  We have worshiped dead composers and musicians, but will we enjoy their ghostly binary renditions, you decide. 

January 17, 2011

Many Yesterdays

It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London.
- Sherlock Holmes

On a visit to the Royal Society at Carlton House Terrace, I noticed this tiny gravestone to the right of the top of the Duke of York steps.

Hoesch of course was German Ambassador Leopold von Hoesch and Giro his pet Alsatian dog.

Von Hoesch himself died from a stroke only two years later at the age of 55 and his funeral cortege left Carlton Terrace to an impressive send-off.

Led by two companies of Grenadier Guards, and with a 19-gun salute from St James’s Park, his Swastika-draped coffin was taken to Victoria Station and then to Germany on board Royal Navy destroyer HMS Scout. A remarkable piece of film shows the Nazi flag being escorted by bearskin-wearing British guardsmen, several high-ranking ministers, and the diplomatic corps.

The reception Ambassador von Hoesch had in Germany was in marked contrast. Only the Foreign Minister attended his funeral in Dresden all the Party members stayed away. Von Hoesch predated the coming to power of the Nazis in 1933 and had few illusions about them. The strain of trying to retain Anglo-German relations in such hostile circumstances may well have contributed to his early death.

He was replaced by Joachim von Ribbentrop in 1936.  Von Ribbentrop’s first act was to rebuild the embassy interior in more modern, Nazi style, by knocking Nos. 8 and 9 Carlton House Terrace into one. The marble on the main staircase was said to have been a gift from Mussolini and Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, visited London twice to see progress. The Nash exterior was retained as it was listed but lost was the impressive ballroom that had been the setting for a glamorous ball attended by the Royal Family in 1858 when Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter Vicky married Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (later Emperor Frederick III, who ruled for 99 days). Anglo-German relations soured, of course, with the start of World War I. After World War II, the building was requisitioned as enemy property and is now the home of the Royal Society.

There is still a small door on the left of the steps leading up from The Mall that was once a private entrance to the embassy. On August 4, 1914, Foreign Office attaché, Harold Nicolson knocked here late at night with an urgent message. War had been declared earlier that day but the earlier note had said Germany had declared war on Great Britain. In fact, Germany had sent no reply to a British ultimatum to respect Belgium’s neutrality; Great Britain had declared war on Germany. The ambassador of the time, Prince Lichnowsky, was already in bed but was roused to receive the updated message.

January 03, 2011


“Bonjour, madame et monsieur,” says the driver, and on the way to the house he regales us with the latest island gossip.

More champagne is consumed here than in all of France. It is the Birthplace of Napoleon’s Empress Josephine and the site of Gauguin’s famous landscape paintings. Martinique is a sensory paradise with its white sandy beaches and verdant rainforests. On the way to the house I see beautiful blue water as well as lush countryside with banana plantations, pineapple and sugarcane fields. The road twists through villages whose charming streets are lined with little shops and outdoor cafes filled with people.

Brightly colored bougainvilla, hibiscus and poinsettias grow alongside mango trees, papaya, and coconut palms.

Part of France, and as Gallic as Bordeaux with women who look like they’ve just left Paris; superb French–Creole cuisine and eclectic music–this place is tres, tres chic.

Photo David Sanger
The friendly people are of African, French, Asian, and Middle Eastern ancestry whose credo is joie de vivre. They have created a vibrant culture with a unique cachet. Martinican Cuisine is culinary heaven. Combine French cooking (without the heavy sauce) with fragrant Creole spices that enhance the flavor of local fish, meat, fruits and vegetables– the result is simply delectable.

I could forever float in the crystalline waters of Josephine’s Bathtub, savoring the turquoise hues that surround me. With picture-perfect beaches and coves, Martinique is a playground for blue water adventures, including swimming in the legendary shallows (La Baignoire de Josephine) where Napoleon’s empress reputedly liked to bathe as a young girl.  A full day excursion aboard a sailboat is one of my favorite things. I sunbath, swim, snorkel, explore, and revel in the glory of nature.

Martinique was named the “Best Eco Island” by Caribbean World magazine. Two thirds of the island is protected parkland, where visitors can experience the diverse natural habitat through rainforest and mangrove tours, botanic garden walks, or climbing Mont Pelée.

Through a network of entrepreneurs called Tak-Tak Martinique, visitors can tour farms and artisan producers and see how various products ranging from chocolates to herbal medicine have been made on the island for many generations.

Since “all roads lead to Rhum” in Martinique, I went on a tour of the Depaz Distillery, one of several rum producers on the island. Martinique’s distinctive rums are made in the agricole method, from sugar cane juice instead of molasses. Sugar cane, grown primarily for rum production today, has been the island’s most important crop, but much of it has been replaced with banana plantations.
The world’s most popular fruit is featured in a unique Banana Museum in a former plantation home. Exhibits on banana production are creatively presented and include a garden pathway through many species of banana trees. The museum offers products such as banana liqueurs, chips, soaps and even a piquant banana ketchup made on neighboring St. Lucia.

The colorful Fort de France Market hums with women in bright madras selling an array of fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers and jewelry made of coconut shells. My favorite drink, passion fruit with the top cut off, a little cane sugar stirred in, eaten with a spoon – seeds and all.

Colombo is the Creole equivalent of Indian curry. Typically made with meat, Colombo dishes vary widely, but the cook here described it simply as a blend of “the generosity of Africa, French savoir-faire, Indian spice, and Caribbean love.” The metaphor sums up nicely the spirit of Martinique.

Along with a taste for Creole cuisine, the view from the hilltop house is heavenly. I look out on the lush, hilly plantations nestled beside an inlet bay and see the nature of this vibrant island, shaped by its colorful landscape and rich heritage.

Bonne nuit friends...

Felix and Mona

January 01, 2011

Everybody needs a little inspiration.

"Theophilus Thistle, the successful thistle sifte,
Is sifting a sieve of unsifted thistles."

If the above tongue-twister doesn't ring a bell, then you had best run, not walk to see "The King's Speech." I saw it today, and it is hands-down one of my favorite movies of the year.

Ostensibly, it is about King George VI (I know, I know, Charles, the Tecks, a rum lot) and his efforts to overcome a debilitating stammer with the help of an unconventional speech therapist (played by Geoffrey Rush, brilliant as always). However, like all great movies, its emotional tentacles stretch much deeper.

"The King's Speech" is about bravery, perseverance, and forging ahead despite crippling fear. It is about faith. It is about friendship. It is about family. In addition, it is about the challenges of being human.

Colin Firth plays the reluctant monarch; both heartbreaking and inspiring (cue "Best Actor" nomination.)

Visually, the film is a wonder for design nerds like me. Apparently, they were restricted to a pauperish budget, but trust me, you will never know it.

Men, do you covet George VI's slim-cut elegance? It is Henry Poole & Co., still operating today. Is it not amazing to think that all these years later you can have a bespoke suit made by the same Taylor? His patterns are probably still in the back somewhere.

The quiet power of "The King's Speech" continues to reverberate long after you leave the theater. Even now as I write this, Rudyard Kipling's famous poem "If" has lodged itself in my brain and I cannot help wondering if it held any personal significance for George VI. Published in 1910 and so he certainly knew it. Below, a stanza that fits his situation perfectly:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Interesting Tidbit: One of the strategies Lionel Logue taught George VI was that if he encountered words beginning with a challenging consonant, he should try to "hop up" onto them (e.g. to say "a-pledge" instead of "pledge", "a-way" instead of "way" and so on). Listen carefully to his speech and you can hear him use these little tricks.