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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Whacky News From London - July 2015

I didn’t make this stuff up.  Comes from last Wednesday’s The Times. 

Don’t Expect Us to Show Up to Burglaries, Police Chief Warns

Report a burglary?  The London Police will make a note of it.  Other crimes the downsized police force will ignore include anti-social behavior, dope smoking, and criminal damage.  Residents are requested to do their own investigations and report back.

“I want to report my $$$ Porsche burgled.”

“Name please, address please, and time you advised the alleged criminal of his rights.”

Blackmailer put heiress’s pictures on porn websites

James Casbolt got 37 years for posting photos of his ex-wife on porn sites. Heiress Haley Meijer, worth some £5 billion turned down her ex-husband’s request for a miserly £2 million.  He admitted making threats against his wife’s family, but claimed mental illness.

At roughly $1.55 per £, £5 billion is $7.75 billion.  So, let’s see.  Haley Babe balked at giving her mentally ill, grieving husband a paltry $3.1 million, or .00041 percent of her estate. By the time her penniless husband is released, he’ll have lost his hair, his teeth, and be fit only for sucking on soft cookies.  Meanwhile, if his house is burgled while he’s incarcerated… well, make a note of it.

Wife wins £3.6 million from dead husband.  She’d given him £17.3 million when they divorced, but he killed himself and left his wealth to his adult brothers instead of his children.

This woman is a banker at heart, who Mark Twain says is a person who willingly loans you an umbrella, but wants it back at the first sight of rain, or in this case before the ink is dry on the death certificate.

Looks like this woman doesn’t give up anything easily.  Sure, she'll give the money to the children.

Lecturer who exposed Tim Hunt, updates ‘misleading’ online CV.

What did Noble Laureate Tim Hunt say to get himself sacked from his honorary position at The City University?

“Three things happen when women are in the lab…You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.”

Yes, it was a joke.  Hahahaha  You’re sacked!

Connie St Louis, a professor of science journalism reacted to this raw sexism with alarm and tweeted the quote.  Just forgot to mention it was said in jest.  Uh-oh, her bad. Oh, by the way, she lied on her CV (curriculum vitae, approximately a resume).  The City University quickly jumped into action to “help her correct her CV,” reconstruct what this paragon of truth really meant to say, and added a couple of things which this time are really, really true.

Said joking things about women, the cad!  Lied on her CV, well, obviously we didn’t do enough to help her.

Jane Austen lovers beware!

Hackers have begun to use extracts from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811).  Passages have been wrapped around malicious software to fool scanners into thinking they are on a respectable web page.

Jane replies:  I remain astounded at their infelicitous affectations that replace the soundness of bonafide civility with repressive notes of faux intellectual propriety where none exists.

Obesity up in the UK, calories and sugar down

Here are the basics:

About 15 million persons of immense size in Britain. Between 1974 and 2013, among Brit adults, daily caloric intake dropped from 2534 to 2192, yet average weight went up.

Average Weight Gain, per adult é 2 kg (about 4.4 pounds)
Calories ê 4.1%
Sugar intake ê 7.4%
Wait just a soda-can popping minute!  Didn’t experts tell us dropping calories and reducing sugar intake would make us lose weight.  The Institute of Economic Affairs compiled the data.  The Brits had economists compile the data?  That explains it.

Obese Claimants who refuse treatment may be denied benefits.

I suspect treatment includes gradually weaning off of Oreos, and voluntary pizza reduction therapy.  But, according to The Institute of Economic Affairs, they will still gain weight. (see article above)

I say, quit picking on the morbidly obese!  In the UK, 25% of heavy drinkers and 80% of druggies on heroin or crack cocaine receive benefits.  The government review, led by Dame Carol Black, the health advisor, will look at how companies can be encouraged to employ people who are struggling to recover from addiction and are otherwise worthless (added).

Sorry, I refuse to have Dr. Jack Daniels do my laser eye surgery, assisted by calorically challenged Cornelia Crumpet.  Of course, if you wait, there is a very good chance your National Health Service surgery will be performed by medical students working on your cadaver.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pompeii: Swallowed by the Gaping Mouth of Hell

The Temple of Jupiter, with Mt Vesuvius in the background

Around mid-day, sometime between 24 August and 24 November 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius awakened like an enraged god, shooting flames and ash miles into the air.  Scientists estimate the rate of rock and pumice at about 1.5 million tons per second, showering the countryside with six inches of ash every hour.

This wasn’t the first time Pompeii’s number had come up.  People in the area were used to tremors and even terrible earthquakes, one of which destroyed the city in 62 A.D.  By the time Mt Vesuvius erupted, the city was mostly rebuilt and apparently things were back to normal, the occasional tremor included.  Normality brings with it apathy, or at least a quietude that erases the specter of alarm.

Brings to mind people building houses on California hillsides, then being astonished at the next mudslide.  Or, maybe Florida coastal residents saying, “Hurricanes?  That’s soooooo last year.”

It’s not that Pompeii had no warning.  But, when you build a city next to a volcano, rumblings are as ordinary as your wife’s latest headache.

What warnings?  Earth tremors came first, then pillars of billowing steam, heated to over 2000ºF, coating the sky, only to condense, and turn to heavy rain, creating super-heated mud.  Then came the eruptions.

But, unlike some readers may suspect, lava did not flow into Pompeii, nor did the citizens immediately race to safety.  The sister city of Hurculaneum, on the other side of the volcano, was swallowed in an avalanche of hot mud, but accounts suggest Pompeii got pelted by ash, sending residents into their homes to wait out the worst.  Bad move. Soon the ash rained down in bigger chunks, along with rocks.  Roofs began to collapse.  Rain brought a thicker coating of ash.

People broke for the river Sarno, along roads leading anywhere away from the volcano.  Wasn’t the time to pack two bags and ring for the porter, but there are accounts of slaves bearing their masters out on sedan chairs.  Some travelers were caught on the roads when the gaseous winds swept through, poisoning everything that breathed.

Here’s a brief account by Pliny the Younger, describing the race to safety with his mother:

“Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood. 'Let us leave the road while we can still see,' I said, 'or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind. 'We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.”

After two full days of devastation, it’s a wonder that out of a population of some 20,000 people, estimates are that 90% escaped. 

And what of those left behind?  They and their city rested for some 2000 years.  Real excavations began in 1860 by Giuseppe Fiorelli.  He was the first to discover gaps left by organic matter and to pour plaster of Paris into the gaps, thus preserving the images of people and animals who died so long ago.  Obviously, excavations continue, but out of the entire city of some 150 acres, only about 2/3 have been uncovered.  There are plans afoot to leave most of the rest, to preserve the area for future generations to uncover.

Here are some things to think about.  Mt Vesuvius is one of Europe’s active volcanoes and last erupted in 1944.  An American Air Base was nearby and quickly evacuated, except for 18 aircraft, which were destroyed.  There’s more coming, folks, but nobody knows when.

Pompeii is about 5 miles from Mt. Vesuvius.  Naples is about 15 miles away, but that’s the heart of Naples.  Parts of the city are much closer.
Why is Pompeii such a big deal?  Lots of ruins spread around Europe.  Yes, but this was an entire city trapped in time.  Conjecture turns to certainty when you uncover a virtually untouched city.  Everything from homes to businesses, to customs, courtesies, dress, even diet comes to light.  How did they worship?  How did they live?  What amusements entertained them?  Pompeii answers these questions and more.

The remains of a 'fast food' stand, Roman style.

The collection of daily articles would fill several warehouses.

One more question:  Why did people build a city so close to an active volcano?  Lots of answers.  The closeness of the River Sarno made an ideal location for trade.  In addition, volcanic soil is apparently agricultural heaven.  As any realtor will tell you…location…well you know the rest of the jingle.

Lemons from near Pompeii 
I had an odd experience, walking the stone streets of Pompeii.  My visions seemed almost real.  People passing in the streets on their way to here and there.  Commerce and the life of the city passed before me.  Look, I know the half bottle of Grappa at lunch helped, but still…

Enjoy the photos, realizing one trip is simply not enough to photograph everything.  Miles of streets went undiscovered on my first visit.  It won’t be my last.

The Basilica, which was not a church, but a place for banking and legal matters.

Part of the ceiling in the public bath.

Entry to the public bath.

The soldiers and gladiators quarters. 
Some of the many homes uncovered.

A main street, flanked by shops.

More homes.

The small amphitheater, used not only for entertainment, but also public meetings.

A figure on the wall of the small amphitheater.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Lunch at Hotel Baudy in Giverny

Although Monet’s house and garden are the biggest and brightest stars in the Giverny sky, when you stroll the street you’ll find other glittering orbs in Monet’s firmament.  One spot you could walk by without noticing is Baudy’s Hotel.  Notice it!  Go inside.  Sit down.  Practice your French to the accompanying music of hysterical laughter, and eat like a king, or at least a well-fed duke. You won’t be the first.

The Baudy story begins in 1886, when a group of American artists visited Giverny and stumbled into the small grocery-café run by Angelina and Gaston Baudy.  True entrepreneurs never miss an opportunity.  The Baudys not only put up the artists (whom they described as speaking gibberish), but later added rooms, a back garden, and enclosed studios where artists could paint in bad weather, and when painting nudes.  Certainly wish my wife were that understanding.  “Honey, I’ve been thinking about converting the garage…you know, a quiet place where I could take some selfies…”

Hotel Baudy added a garden and two more studios. The hotel soon became a popular hangout, center of art, and the go-to place for Monet’s guests.  Monet was particular about his schedule and had a keen eye for punctuality. The story goes that he would send his car to pick up his guests (the hotel is 5 minutes away) and take them back, just to make sure they arrived and left on time.

And who were some of the names of note who slept under Madame Baudy’s roof.  Only the who’s who of the Impressionist era.  Paul Cézanne.  The sculptor Auguste Rodin (The Thinker).  Alfred Sisley (landscapes).  Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  The American, Mary Cassatt.

Renoir's Winter Landscape at Giverny, 1894
We often think of artists as working singularly, every canvas a product of only their own imagination. Not so.  Many of the Impressionists were friends, and shared a profusion of ideas.  Looking from one artist’s works to another’s, you often find a symbiosis of color, technique, style and design, filtered through their own eyes.  The very best originality does not form in a vacuum.
Alfred Sisley, Hill Path

Mary Cassatt, Woman in Green
By the way, when was the Impressionist era?  “Please, or please tell me,” you cry!  Ok.  To paint with broad strokes, which most of the Impressionists did, I offer these slipshod dates:  Born in the 1840s, died mostly around the turn of the century, except for a few, like Monet who died in 1926.

complimentary appetizer

Quintessentially French

Skip forward a few years to the spring of 2015.  We were hungry and stepped smartly into the Hotel Baudy.  Immediately we were transported into Impressionism's glory days, before the turn of the century.  You would swear nothing has changed.  Rustic.  Atmospheric. A mixture of French and gibberish floating through the air. Well, a few things have.  Originally there were only two tables, now there are many more.  Also, don’t count on getting a room.  The place is now called the L’ancien Hotel Baudy Restaurant-Museum.

After lunch, do not forget to stroll out back (where the toilettes are located).  You’ll find an ambrosial garden, the original studio, and a path that leads through beautiful and bountiful trees to the studio where Cézanne painted.

Back Garden

The first studio

I will not describe the lunch because the menu changes with the seasons.  But, Stevie Wonder could make your choices and you’d sing his praises between bites.  The French can teach anyone how to eat, and how to linger just a while longer for coffee, brandy, and conversation.  For now, be content to look at the photos and salivate…and maybe consider grabbing a palate and a few tubes of paint.  As for nude models…on the advice of counsel, you’re on your own.  I swear I did not paint that woman!