Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Woman Wakes Up at Her Own Funeral

Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News
When I heard this story, it sounded too far-fetched to be true, but it seems to be very well-documented. A Russian woman woke up at her funeral only to die a few minutes later from the shock at finding herself inside a coffin. The woman had been declared dead after she collapsed at her home suffering from chest pains. The funeral attendees were a bit shaken when the "dead" woman woke up and began screaming. A few minutes later, the woman had another heart attack, and this time, she was officially declared dead. The woman's husband is now suing the hospital. 

This is not the first case where a hospital has declared someone dead only to have them wake up during their funeral. In 2009, a baby born 16-weeks premature in Paraguay was declared dead only to wake up during his funeral service several hours later. In this case, the baby survived. 

Another version of a Safety Coffin
Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, this was a bigger worry for people. In some cases, people had safety coffins constructed, which permitted communication with the outside world should a person revive once buried. A safety coffin was a low-tech device. It had a cord inside the coffin that was attached to a bell on the outside. In more elaborate models, breathing tubes were also installed. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mistakes Have Happy Endings

Whatever happens, happens for a reason; and often, a mistake turns out better than expected. Last week, on my last full day in New York City, I had a special treat: catered lunch on the 31st floor over looking the city, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and New Jersey. 

It turns out there was a mix-up in ordering lunch for the DDD Breakfast Seminar. Usually, lunch is ordered when there's a full day's class. On Monday, there was just the morning seminar, which ends by noon. Unfortunately, lunch had already been ordered and none of the 
participants could stay. So it was just Eric and myself to enjoy the food and the view. I must say, this wasn't your usual business lunch. This was good! There were gourmet sandwiches, wraps, salads, drinks and great desserts.

Sitting with Alice in Wonderland
I just hope the housekeeping staff took the food home that was left. So what started out as a big money loss for the company, turned out to be a special treat.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Those Activists

As reported by Sue Sylvester.

Gay Marriage. Now it has happened in New York. What's this world coming to? First it was those "activist" judges, then those "activist" legislators, what will it be next: "activist" voters? We need to keep the issue of gay marriage where it belongs: with our religious leaders. Remember, this is America!
And that's how Sue "C's" it. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Imelda May - I'm Alive

I heard this song while having breakfast at a restaurant on 3rd Avenue in NYC. The song is by the Irish singer Imelda May. I'd never heard of Ms. May before this song captured my heart with its catchy rockabilly lyrics and melody. She has a fan now.

Meine Lieblings-Blogs: Berlin Cafes und Mehr

Es gibt viele Blogs im Internet, die ich gelesen habe. Meine Favoriten sind    und

CafeKulture diskutiert die Kafffee-Kultur Berlin. Es ist gut geschrieben und hat Empfehlungen für die besten Cafes in Berlin. Der Nachteil ist, dass es in Englisch geschrieben ist. 

MyViewFomMaine ist eine gute Quelle für Informationen über Portland Maine. Es hat nutzinformationen. Diese spezialisierten Blogs sind lesenswert.       

There are some very good Blogs on the Internet. Some of my favorites include  and

CafeKulture is an excellent English language blog that specializes on the coffee culture of Berlin, including some of the best places to find that special cup of Java. MyViewFromMaine is an excellent resource for information about Portland, Maine, including places to eat and places to avoid. So check them out and have a good read.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brooklyn: The Other New York

View of Brooklyn Botanic Garden

New York is truly a city that never sleeps. There are few places like it. While London comes closest to describing its vitality and Berlin has many of the same cultural activities, New York is genuinely distinct and apart from these other great cities.

Bug Sculpture in Children's Garden
However, one problem I have with New York is the feeling that I need to continually do things while I'm there. All that “doing” can be tiring, and it's nice to take a break. But where do you go to escape all that energy? Central Park is nice, but it's too exciting to be restful, even on weekdays.

I go to Brooklyn, and my favorite neighborhoods are Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights. These places have many of the same amenities that make Manhattan wonderful, including plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops, but they also have quiet, tree lined streets with less noise and traffic.

Enjoying summer at BBG
If I'm really in need of an urban break, I go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, in the heart of Brooklyn. It's seldom crowded, and it's an oasis from all the grit and grime of the city. It's hard to imagine you're in the middle of a huge metropolis while surrounded by trees and grassy knolls. And for the record, the cafe in the Garden turns out to be an affordable restaurant with a rather good salad nicoise. So next time you're in New York don't forget Brooklyn.

Tribute to Classic Films!

Here is a video of some truly classic films. They bring back some good memories. How many can you name?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Making Whoopie

Maine isn't just lobsters and picturesque lighthouses. It's also home of the Whoopie pie. A Whoopie pie is a sweet confection about the size of a hamburger, made with two bun sized devil's food cakes separated by a thick white filling. Whoopie pies are found everywhere. You can find Whoopie in grocery stores, convenience stores, bakeries, and even upscale restaurants.

Last March, the World's Largest Whoopie Pie was made in South Portland. It was 5 feet in diameter and weighed 1,062 pounds. That's some insulin rush!

Even the Maine Legislature got into the act. This April, Maine declared the Whoopie pie the official “state treat” and the Blueberry pie, the official “state dessert.” I find it amusing that the Legislature had the time to pass such important pieces legislation. I guess naming the official state treat and dessert ranks right up there with fixing the state's fiscal woes and dismal unemployment rate. So next time you hear a legislator say, "We can't address this particular issue right now because we're too busy working on the state's economy and finding more jobs for our citizens," just remember, the Legislature somehow found the time to name the official state treat and dessert. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bizarre New York City: At Every Turn Something Unusual

Even the squirrels in New York City are friendly! This New York squirrel in Madison Square Park was so aggressive that he climbed over the fence and then up my trouser leg looking for food. By contrast, Maine Squirrels are reserved and skittish.  

I don't know why, but I found the sight of this Home Depot
in Manhattan odd. This is hardly the normal big orange box!
I saw this in Brooklyn. Isn't this a clever way to keep your bicycle protected from the elements? 

I found this sticker on the Brooklyn Bridge.

KidRobot in Soho. Check out the link for some playful gifts. 

Is it just me or does this restaurant name seem incongruous? 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

New Yorkers are Friendly to Tourists and Birds

Pale Male and Lima Watching Over Their Chicks

Despite the stereotype, New Yorkers are probably the friendliest people around. From a person throwing you a causal smile on the street to a bird watching enthusiast eager to discuss the nesting habits of red-tailed hawks (named Pale Male and Lima) living near Central Park, New York City is people oriented. Sure New Yorkers can be curt and brusk, but for the most part, they seem ready to engage in a real conversation. Not just a friendly "hello" so common in uptight California. (I can say that because I'm an uptight native Californian.)

For example, last Wednesday, I had an interesting conversation with a retired Merck chemist at a local diner on 3rd Avenue. We happened to be sitting at adjoining tables and started to converse. This guy helped develop statins, the drugs that lower cholesterol. In his opinion, statins should only be prescribed to people with a history of heart disease. He would never take statins just to lower cholesterol since statins have so many side effects, including memory loss problems.

See what you can learn by going to a diner when people are willing to talk to strangers.

Happy Father's Day! Fun Posters and Paintings.

Re-imagined Movie Poster (Craig Redman)
Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen
This is Not a Pipe
Rene Magritte (1928-1929)
Magritte said, "I've been criticized enough for this work.
Yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation.
So if I had written 'This is a pipe.' I would have
been lying.
I found these works of art in the Guardian. Enjoy!

Movie Poster for the film Grand Prix (1966)
It certainly conveys the feeling of speed
and excitement.
From the film Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
The photograph is a work of art
in itself!

Amnesty International Poster
Freedom in the 80s
Japan 1980
Amnesty International Poster
Le Colombre et le Prisonnier (1959)
Donated by Picasso

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Japanese Weddings in New York City

A couple of days ago, as I was wandering around Central Park enjoying the near perfect weather, I noticed at least seven Japanese couples having their photographs taken in full wedding attire at a variety of Central Park landmarks. I talked with one of the photographers, and he told me that a traditional Japanese wedding in Japan often costs around $100,000. However, if the couple comes to the USA, the cost is usually around $15,000, including air fare and hotel accommodations for 1-3 days.

In Japan, a wedding involves expensive wedding gowns (not just one), a traditional ritual, and a big wedding reception attended by hundreds of guests. By marrying abroad, the honeymoon can be combined with the ceremony, and the number of guests reduced. More and more Japanese couples are taking advantage of these special wedding packages abroad. It's a win-win for everybody, including the American economy.   

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rooms With a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century

"Rooms With a View" is a wonderful exhibition now showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This small exhibition explores windows used as the focal element in paintings. Most of the paintings are by German, French and Scandinavian artists from the 1800s. The paintings depict both domestic settings and artists' studios. In several paintings, you see women standing by windows looking outside. Some art historians say this suggests a yearning to explore the world outside the confines of the home. Others suggest that the dark interior spaces represent life on earth while the bucolic views from the windows represent a glimpse of the afterlife. 

From the Scottish Collection
The popular Alexander McQueen exhibition "Savage Beauty" is also at the Metropolitan. McQueen, the avant garde fashion designer of the 1990s and 2000s, died last year at the age of 40. McQueen was known for his sexually provocative designs and equally exciting runways shows. This exhibition attempts to convey that sense with the use of music, lighting, and special effects. Unfortunately, the exhibition is too crowded and claustrophobic to be adequately appreciated. 

Rat Patrol

At W Hotel
At Columbia University
Yesterday morning, as I was leaving the W Hotel-Union Square, I encountered a giant inflatable rat! (It was the sort of balloon they use in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.) It turns out that the rat was placed there by Rat Patrol, a group of union organizers seeking better wages and benefits for service workers in NYC. Apparently, the W Hotel doesn't measure up when it comes to fair labor practices. Then, just a half hour later, I was exiting the subway station at the entrance to Columbia University, and what did I see? You got it. Another giant rat from Rat Patrol. Shame on you W Hotel and Columbia University!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Innovative Landscape Architecture in New York City: High Line Park

The High Line before
it Became a Park
When I think of New York City, I seldom think of innovative Landscape Architecture. Of course there's Central Park designed by the father of American Landscape Architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted; but that was over 100 years ago. For the most part, NYC appears to lack creative landscape design. At least, that's what I thought.

High Line Park Today
As an Undergraduate studying Landscape Architecture at Berkeley, I recall my professors discussing European, Asian, and even modern Californian landscape design. There was even some mention of creative landscape designs in New Orleans, Washington D.C., Savannah, and Seattle. But for the most part, discussions concerning NYC were limited to Central Park. However, NYC has had a renaissance in landscape design in the last few years. There's new sculpture in a number of city parks, Battery Park has been re-designed, and there are even newly created bicycle lanes and pedestrian zones that were once traffic lanes on major avenues.

Evocative Paving at High Line Park
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to visit High Line Park on my current visit to NYC. High Line Park is built on a former elevated freight railroad line known as the “High Line,” which runs along Manhattan’s lower west side. It has been re-designed and planted as an urban aerial green way.

By the 1980s, the High Line had been abandoned and parts of its track demolished. What remained were tracks taken over by native grasses, shrubs, and trees. In effect, nature was reclaiming the urban environment.

Sculpture at
Madison Square Park
Central Park
Central Park

Low Tech Cooling
at High Line Park

From High Line 
Just Me
Park you can see the Statute of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the NYC skyline. Although its design is not limited to American native plants, High Line Park is planted with wildflowers, clump grasses, smoke-bushes, birches, and a lawn. The design retains some of the High Line's original tracks, railway overpasses and Art-Deco railings. The Landscape Architect was particularly creative by designing a paving pattern that is evocative of rail ties. There's even a modern “birdhouse” sculpture, and a water element that uses low tech evaporative cooling to moderate the temperature on hot days. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Besuchen Sie das Literaturhaus und probieren Sie aromatischen Kaffee

Overlooked by visitors to Berlin, Literaturhaus is a beautiful villa devoted to literature. It also houses a cafe and the occasional art exhibition. There are regular readings open to the public (mostly in German) and it hosts a number or writers-in-residence.

I stumbled across Literaturhaus after friends suggested we meet there for coffee. It turns out, Literaturhaus was about 5 minutes from where I used to live. It was literally in my backyard, and I didn't know it existed.

I like Literaturhaus primarily for its wonderful cafe and garden. Literaturhaus defines elegance; and, its aim is to make literature a communal experience, not just a solitary activity. If you're looking for the hip crowd or where the latest trends are, then skip Literaturhaus. It's not the place for you. However, if old-world charm and understated sophistication are what you're after, then by all means, head to Literaturhaus. BTW: The coffee and desserts are FANTASTIC! 

Literaturhaus is located at Fasanenstraße 23 in Charlottenburg just off the Kurfürstendamm and next to the Kathe-Kollwitz Musuem, an entirely wonderful experience in its own right.   

Saturday, June 11, 2011

In Memory of Bradley

1999 - June 2011
We remember a gentle giant and smart game player. 

You'd Be Surprised: Heritage Radio

I enjoy music. So recently I began to take piano lessons. I'll never be a concert pianist, but the challenge of learning a new skill is always exciting. It's like learning a new language or taking up ballroom dancing.

I also like to listen to the radio while driving. It's my time to be alone and away from the pressures of daily living. Unfortunately, a lot of music on the radio just isn't my taste. I guess, I'm just too old to enjoy the pleasures of rap.

Portland has a very good classic radio station (WBACH 104.7 FM) and an excellent rock station (WCLZ 98.9 FM), but what excites me these days is commercial free Heritage Radio. Broadcasting from Yarmouth Maine, Heritage Radio (WYAR 88.3 FM) plays songs from the first half of the twentieth century. Sure, the songs are kitschy, but there's something endearing about the lyrics and the old-fashioned melodies. You'd be surprised how good these songs are.

Unfortunately, Heritage Radio doesn't have live streaming. It's in the works; so hopefully, you will soon be able enjoy this unique treasure too. I know it sounds strange, but I find myself enjoying the songs my grandparents and great-grandparent used to listen to. 

BTW: I've included Eddie Cantor's "You'd Be Surprised," and "Put the Blame on Mame." Even if you don't enjoy the song, Rita Hayworth is a knock-Out! Wow, she certainly was something!

Friday, June 10, 2011

So You're "From Away"

So you're From Away.” I hear that statement more often than I would like. Whenever I open my mouth, Mainers know from the first syllable that I utter that I'm “From Away.” My strong accent is a dead giveaway. “From Away” is a term used by Mainers to describe anyone who is not from Maine. Even if you live in Maine and have done so for years, you're still “From Away.”

Last week, I overheard a conversation at a local restaurant between two Mainers. One guy was talking about a client who had accused him of being “From Away.” Even though the guy was born and raised in Portland, the client had expressed concerns about his non-standard Maine accent.

In Maine, being From Away” lowers your social standing in the community. There's an unsaid law that requires Mainers to avoid socializing with the From Away” folks unless absolutely necessary. If there's one word to describe Maine it would be "insular." Having lived most of my life in California, a state that is home to immigrants from around the world, insularity is a concept difficult for me to understand. Since most people in California are From Away,” you would have a difficult time engaging in business or social activities if your discourse was limited to the locals. Perhaps, this insularity explains why Maine is Maine, and California is the world's seventh largest economy.  

In any case, most Mainers tell me they detect a southern accent in my speech. Yes, an accent from the land of Dixie. When I say I'm from California, they seem astonished. When people think California English, they often recall the stereotypes made famous by Frank and Moon Unit Zappa in their song “Valley Girl,” circa 1982. “Like totally! Gag me with a spoon!” famously intoned by Moon Unit, and instantly cementing a stereotype of California English as primarily the province of Valley Girls and Surfer Dudes. But California is not just the land of beaches and blonds. While Hollywood images crowd our consciousness, the real California, with a population of around 35 million people, has a variety of accents.

When I reflect on the California accent, I immediately think about its “strong” quality as distinguished from the soft southern or flat mid-west accent. I know it when I hear it. Nevertheless, Californians do have a tendency to use “I'm like,” or “she's/he's like” to introduce quoted speech, as in “I'm like, 'where have you been?'” A shrug, a sigh, or any of a number of other expressive sounds usually follow the statement. I've never heard that expression and its subsequent stylization used anywhere but in California.

Before I left the “Golden State,” I also noticed that a number of younger people were saying, “I'm all” or “she's all” as a replacement for “I'm like.” So while accents and certain types of phrases may tell a person where you're from, they also reflect your age and generation. Accents and types of expressions aren't static. That's why a phrase such as totally awesome” could some day be a term used only by the senior set.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Revel in Routine

It's easier for me to do something every day than to do it just some days. For example, I find it easier to exercise when I exercise every day. If I try to do it just 3-4 times a week, I spend a lot of time arguing with myself about whether today is the day, or tomorrow, or the next day.

If I do something every day, I fall into a routine; and there's something about routine activity that makes me happy. It's true that novelty and challenge can bring happiness; but, the pleasure of doing the same thing, the same way, every day shouldn't be overlooked. Believe it or not, I find happiness in activities such as making the bed, sweeping the floor, and making the morning coffee. The things I do every day take on a certain beauty.

Andy Warhol said it best:

Either once only, or every day. If you do something once it's exciting, and if you do it every day it's exciting. But if you do it, say, twice or just almost every day, it's not good any more.

So if there's something that you wish you did more regularly, try doing it every day; and if you do something every day, revel in it. 

One of my goals is to do one act of kindness each day so it becomes routine.