Showing posts from August, 2013

Taking a Break with a Classic Negroni!

Dear readers, I'm off for a week, I need a break - see you on September 9!

In the meantime, have a summer drink, the one I like best: Negroni done the classic way, following the Florentine recipe invented in the Café Casoni in 1919  at the behest of a client, Count Camillo Negroni. It  simply involves adding gin to an Americano instead of the selz water. Then there's the more sophisticated Milan version which calls for an additional dash of angostura bitters.

Here's the basic recipe:
- one part gin
- one part red Vermouth (semi-sweet)
- one part bitter Campari

Serve in a tumbler with lots of ice, stir and decorate with a slice of orange (to distinguish it from the Americano traditionally done with lemon)

Enjoy, let me know how you like it! 

Amazing Italy: A Historic Winemaker Buils a Groundbreaking $100 million Cantina

Antinori, the ancient family that has been making wine in the Chianti region since the 1500s, has just built a new groundbreaking winery in Bargino, near Florence, complete with a 200-seat auditorium, a museum, a restaurant and a shop. It is rapidly attracting the attention of architects and the public since it opened earlier this year.

A jewel of contemporary design covering 50,000 square meters (540,000 square feet), it is the brainchild of Florentine architects (Studio Archea) who felt that wine was the "oil resource", the "black gold" of Tuscany and deserved a monument to celebrate it.They dug up the hill over an area of 35 acres, sinking in 17,000 piles to stabilize the construction and covering everything up again to ensure the building would blend into the landscape. 

It ended up costing almost the double of what was originally planned, some €82 million ($110 million).

The result is striking. 

First, see how the building respects its surrounding landscape. Here …

Syria: What's the Rush to Enter the War?

There is no doubt that chemical attacks are a crime against humanity, an abomination that should be contained and punished.

But why the rush to launch military strikes against Syria?

It took US President Bush Senior five months after the invasion of Kuwait to start the war on Iraq.

Burning oilfield during Operation Desert Storm, Kuwait (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm not suggesting we should wait five months but we should at least put our case together in a strong, legal way. With the United Nations and the international community at large. 

So far, the countries supporting war besides the US are only two: France and Britain. Germany and Italy lean towards seeking UN Security Council approval first - which is no doubt going to be difficult given Russia's position of unfailing support to Syria. Not to mention China's. Still, it should be tried. 

I just can't understand why our politicians act like warmongers. It is fine to be morally indignant about chemical warfare, who isn…

Elite Breeding is Flourishing Around the World

A Reuters  Breaking Views columnist, Edward Hadas, just published an interesting piece on the spread of nepotism around the world. It's not just in China where "elite breeding" is a national institution but in all developed countries: children of the rich are the ones getting all the good jobs.

Now, I imagine you are wondering why this should be considered as news. It's been that way since the beginning of time and only after the industrial revolution and the rise of universal education did that start to change - just a little bit. But now, we are witnessing a throwback to earlier times.

The Bo Xilai trial is one symptom. The on-going US Securities and Exchange Commission's investigation into JPMorgan Chase hiring practices in China is another (the charge here is bribery). But as I said, it's not just China. Many studies show that social mobility is declining in most developed countries.

This is, as Edward Hadas calls it, "the resurgence of family-as-destin…

The Way We Were 600 Years Ago: Separated!

Around 1440, San Bernardino preached to crowds in Siena, Italy, and a local painter recorded the event:

I apologize for the quality of the image, I took it on the go in the museum next to the cathedral. But I wanted to share it with you because it shows something amazing. Did you notice it? 

Yes, all the women are on the left separated from all the men on the right! There's a barrier built between them.

And note further: all the women are covered from head to toe, you can't see their faces. Yet you do see the faces of the men, the painter made an effort to show them!

That was (almost) 600 years ago - some 25 generations have gone by since. That's how long it has taken the West to achieve gender equality...

How long will it take the Muslim world? They started off well two years ago with the Arab Spring...alas, it seems to have turned into an Arab Winter.

Still, I have great hopes that the evolution will be faster, they have an advantage over the West: they know which way the road…

The Real Victims in Egypt and Elsewhere in the Muslim World? The Women!

An Italian blogger just posted about the sorry state of women in the Muslim world, you can read his post (in Italian) here.

It is a tragedy and one that is too often overlooked. The Arab Spring has turned to winter and the women are the real losers...

Avaaz has recently tried to awaken consciences in the West, reporting, inter alia, on Sahar Gul's horrendous experience. Sahar (see picture) is a 15 year old girl whose in-laws imprisoned her, starved her, beat her with a hot steel rod, to force her to prostitute herself. 

The petition, posted by Avaaz on July 18 2013 had garnered only 716 signatures the last time I looked - it needs to reach 750 signatures for the petition to be sent to the Afghan authorities. To read story and sign petition, please click here.

I just signed it.

Honestly, something needs to be done. I don't think women in the West should go on ignoring what is happening to their sisters in the Muslim world...As Avaaz says, STOP THE ANTI-WOMEN GAG RULE!

And I'm ve…

Misunderstood Art: Jamie Wyeth's Masterpiece in a Closet

In Italy, the best museums are ignored by tourists, in America, a fantastic portrait is relegated to a closet. Only now, it's coming out of obscurity because suddenly the public realizes that Jamie Wyeth, the gifted son of Andrew Wyeth is as great an artist as his father.

Done in 1963 when Jamie Wyeth was still a young upstart, it is the portrait of a famous woman doctor, universally considered a pioneer and the founder of pediatric cardiology, Helen. B. Taussig (for her biography, click here). She was a strong woman, extraordinarily bright and gifted, and it shows. The portrait is an amazing psychological analysis as well as esthetically remarkable - the colors, the rendering of the flesh, the striking blue eyes, the fuzzy hair:

And here's the portrait's story in the Johns Hopkins Magazine published in 2011 (it shows the above photo of the portrait), to see click here

This week the New York Times picked the story up again as now the artistic value of the portrait is final…

Amazing Italy: A Forgotten Museum with Art Like the Louvre's Mona Lisa

In Palermo, Sicily, there is a museum that exhibits art as good as the best in the Louvre. And it is housed in an extraordinary 15th century palace, a rare example of gothic-Catalan architecture, fully restored back in the 1950s by one of Italy's best 20th century architects.

The museum is Palazzo Abatellis in Via Alloro, a suggestive old part of town, the Kalsa quarter near the sea. Here it is:

And the architect is Carlo Scarpa who magnificently brought back to life a palace that had been gravely damaged during World War II - like the whole town of Palermo that lost 80 percent of its buildings to bombings.

The art I'm talking about? Here it is, the magnificent head of Eleanor of Aragon by an unknown artist. For many, her smile is as beautiful and enigmatic as the Mona Lisa's - but I prefer her profile:

You see her as soon as you walk in. The next high point (after many other artwork) is Antonello da Messina's reading virgin, the extraordinary rendering of a musing young w…

Are Heroes Always Tragic Characters?

F. Scott Fitzgerald believed heroes were tragic characters, no doubt a belief that was the expression of a post-World War I mentality: 

I don't agree. 

I can think of many heroes that do not lend themselves to a tragic interpretation of their lives. Or heroins. Think of Florence Nightingale, the 'Lady with the Lamp' because she made rounds of the wounded at night, during the Crimean War:

Or Mother Teresa of Calcutta, here with the poor: 

Both inspirational lives! And I'm sure there are many more...How about you, can you think of uplifting heroes that would never fit into a tragedy?

Thanks to Amanda Patterson for sharing this literary quote on Facebook.

The Curious Case of the Publisher Who Hated Writers

We all sometimes hate our jobs, but recently in the UK Guardian, a publisher went overboard, giving vent to his rage and contempt for authors - in principle his lifeline. How could a publisher hate writers when he would have nothing to publish without them? If you're curious to read the piece click here.

And thanks to Passive Voice for drawing my attention to this. His post got over 100 comments (presumably) from irate authors, see here, while the Guardian got less than half the number (only 49).

The arguments put forward are bizarre in themselves. Briefly put:

1. This is a publisher who professes to prefer readers to writers

2. He finds writers are insufferable egotists: while readers are people who want to learn about the world, writers have "made up their mind and seek to deliver the resulting verdict to what they imagine is a waiting world". How idiotic and self-centered can authors be? 

3. He believes most writers don't know how to write: "the ability to write …

Is Egypt Sinking in Civil War? The Muslim Brothers Are Burning Christian Churches

All the signs that Egypt is sinking into a civil war are unfortunately here. Including one that is little noted in the news: the burning of Christian Churches by Muslim Brothers across the country. 

The New York Times reported the burning of 2 Coptic churches on August 13, and today, the International Herald Tribune quoted the Egyptian government official figure that admit of 7 churches that were burned. On August 14, the  International Christian Concern reported over 20 churches burned , France 24 in its news report last night mentioned 36 churches and reported this morning that at last count 52 churches have been attacked.

A terrifying escalation! 

And particularly distressing since Christian churches have nothing to do with the on-going crisis. They are collateral damage but a worrying sign of radicalization among the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Arab Spring was supposed to be a revolution of the people who wanted more jobs, health care, education and human dignity. But the gr…

Ready for Radical Life Extension? Americans Are Wary of Living to 120 and Beyond, According to Pew Research

A recent Pew Research study  reported on how Americans view "living to 120 and beyond". Current medical advances already mean that more than half of babies born in 2000 in countries with long-life expectancies - read: Japan, Australia and Western developed countries - can expect to live past 100 years old. I've blogged about this before (see here).

So "living to 120 and beyond" is no longer in the realm of impossible dreams. Indeed, Bolivia has just achieved a record of sorts, the oldest living person ever documented: an Aymara herder who is 123 years old! You can read about him (check this) and here he is, cutting a venerable figure:

What does it mean for most of us? Is it viewed as a beneficial advance or a burden? 

Not unsurprisingly, most Americans do not look on happily at the prospect. Here's an interesting highlight from the Pew Report:

Asked whether they, personally, would choose to undergo medical treatments to slow the aging process and live to be 12…

Beautiful Boomer Women: Where Are They Now?

On Yahoo movies, you get a look at "80s Babes Then and Now", a peek at how they've handled the passing of years, which is an elegant way of saying "aging" (!), to see click here.

It really should be Now and Then, on the left you have the current look, on the right the way these movie stars looked when they achieved success. 

Of the 12 photos, four struck me more than the others. Here is Sharon Stone:

Yes, handled well. She looks more intriguing than ever.

Here is Kim Basinger:

Fascinating if not the sex bomb she once was (but who is?).

Here is Brooke Shields: 

The virgin look is lost replaced by the beauty of maturity...Which do you prefer?

And here is a poignant Carrie Fisher who once sported a metal bikini in The Return of the Jedi (1983):

Yes, you guessed it, her life has been tough, fighting drugs and alcoholism but she's come out the winner. Thumbs up!

Go take a look at all 12 of them and share your views!

How to Promote Discovery of Quality Reads: the Awesome Indies Model

With the tsunami of self-published books, variously estimated at one to two million titles/year or more, finding a really good read has become a titanic enterprise. 

How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? 

Award-winning author Tahlia Newland who writes magical realism and contemporary fantasy has come up with what looks like a very good answer. She founded an evaluation site, Awesome Indies (to visit, click here), putting together a group ofprofessional reviewers who are tasked with using unassailable review criteria and a clear 5-star rating system to present on the site a list of "AIA-approved" self-published books deemed to be of the same quality of craftsmanship as books published by mainstream publishing houses.

Brilliant, the idea to adopt the standard set by mainstream publishing houses...No doubt, an excellent model of book discovery as long as the site maintains intact two aspects: the excellence/respectability of its reviewers and the correct use of review crit…

Good News: Why Hype Works and Negative Comments Don't

A new research into marketing has revealed something that is counter-intuitive but oh, so encouraging to anyone, writers especially, who have received bad reviews of their work. It seems that a thumbs-down view elicits a counter-reaction from other readers. By contrast, hype can work and feeds on itself as well.

Who says so? Not just anybody. Those are the very words of one of the researchers, Sinan K. Aral, a professor of information technology and marketing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Besides Mr. Aral, other scholars from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and New York University were involved in this new internet study. 

The question they sought to answer is key to figuring out what works in marketing:
is something popular because it is actually good or just because it is popular?

More details on how they answered that question can be found in an article by NYT's science reporter  Kenneth Chang here.

The implications for marketing are enormous and suggest a way forward…

Why did Amazon Buy the Washington Post?

A good question and it has left many people wondering. Amazon's founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos (the current Steve Jobs of the e-industry but I wish him a long life!) paid $250 million for the Washington Post. To some, it looks like a pittance, after all he's a billionaire and can afford it. Others buy yachts, antique cars and islands in the Pacific. He likes a historic newspaper that is America's political clarion.

Good for him!

Indeed, the $250 million he paid could be considered generous: after all, this is a paper that's been bleeding money and subscribers - losses are substantial and readers are down to about half of what they were a decade ago. He paid much more than what the Boston Globe went for (only $70 million). Interestingly, the Globe had cost the Times Corp. $1 billion to purchase ten years ago. 

Click here for a comprehensive New York Times article about this. I love the picture in that article of Bezos together with Donald Graham of the Washington Post (he'…

How to Clean Up Dog Poop: Mail Back the Poop to the Dog's Owner!

One mayor in Spain had a brilliant idea: send back the dog poop to the dog's owner in a nice, registered mail package, "cacaexpress". He sent it to some 150 dog owners and it worked! Dog owners in Brunete (pop. 10,000) are now seen busy picking up behind their dogs...

Here's the story in the Huffington Post: click here.

And here's a video from Jay Swanson that makes it very clear how prevalent the problem is also in France, starting with Paris:

And I can tell you the problem exists in Rome where I live and how!

The Spanish method has gone viral on Twitter with the hashtag #cacaexpress...It might be a good thing to imitate, what do you think?

Mayhem in Rome: The Roman Forum is Closed to Traffic and Open to Tourists

The proposed closure of one of Rome's main streets, the Via dei Fori Imperiali that crosses the Roman forum from Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum, has been controversial from the began thirty years ago!

For some, practical people who prefer to live in the present rather than the past, it would cause catastrophic traffic jams and hurt the sales of shopkeepers. For others - mostly Green-minded and lovers of History - it would at last give back to Humanity the fora of Imperial Rome, the Cradle of Western Civilization and, incidentally, help boost tourism.

This is the Fori Imperiali without traffic on a recent Sunday (the avenue has been closed on Sundays for years):

And here are some of the people who wanted the measure:

With Rome's new mayor, center-left Ignazio Marini, the closure has come to pass. Marini is a Sicilian born in Genoa and an organ transplant surgeon who worked 20 years in the US and held chairs as professor of surgery in two prestigious American univers…