Wednesday, February 29, 2012


My first rock 'n' roll memories are from the 1960s group, the Monkees. I just learned that Davy Jones, the Monkees lead singer, died today at the age of 66.  

The Monkees started out as a fictional band assembled for a TV series of the same name, a sort of goofy children's sitcom with one or two songs performed during each episode. Eventually, the Monkees succeeded beyond television and became a "real" rock 'n' roll band.

The Monkees had a number of hits including Last Train to Clarksville, I'm a Believer, (I'm Not Your) Steppin Stone, Pleasant Valley Sunday, Daydream Believer, and of course, the Theme from the Monkees TV show. The Monkees were originally modeled after the Beatles. Yet, for a short time, they were actually more popular. I have fond memories of running home from elementary school to watch their TV show in re-runs. In fact, I still have the Monkees Greatest Hits album. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Will Siku Become the Danish Knut?

Last March, Knut, the world famous polar bear living at the Berlin Zoo, unexpectedly died after he collapsed into his enclosure's swimming pool. He was suffering from encephalitis and was only four years old. His death was mourned world wide.

Now there is Siku, a baby polar bear living in Denmark. Siku is considered a possible successor to Knut's fame. Like Knut, Siku was also rejected by his mother at birth and raised by zookeepers.

"Knutmania" spanned the globe and spawned toys, DVDs, books, and all kinds of paraphernalia. I even have a debit card with Knut's picture on it. Knut made millions for the Berlin Zoo; and perhaps, Siku will do the same for the Danish animal park where he resides.

Monday, February 27, 2012

New Music Favorites

Here are some of my current music favorites

Great visuals from Eric Hutchinson. 

Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song

Nina is Still Going Strong

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hilarious "Burka Woman" Parody.

Believe it or not, Pakistan has a long tradition of political tolerance and freedom of speech. People in the West often have preconceive notions about Islamic countries. We often equate Pakistan with violence, drugs, and intolerance. But what about humor? Here is Saad Haroon performing his version of "Pretty Woman," a song made famous by Roy Orbison.  Mr. Haroon is a Pakistani actor and Stand Up comedian who uses satire to poke fun a social customs and politics. He performs in English across Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Watch this very funny video. 

Kiezdeutsch: A New Way to Speak German?

Warning:  This post makes more sense if you know a little German. Nevertheless, I hope this post is enjoyable to non-German speakers as well. 

Like all languages, German has its share of slang and dialects. One of the first things I encountered in Berlin is the prevalence of non-standard German spoken throughout the city. At school, non-Germans learn Hochdeutsch or standard German. However, when actually living in Germany, it adds interest if you have some familiarity with non-standard German, especially if you want to make sense of the language of the urban youth. 

Kiezdeutsch is the language spoken by many young people living in multi-ethnic communities in Berlin such as Kreuzberg, a neighborhood not far from where I live. "Kiez" is a word common in Berlin that means a district within a neighborhood. Thus, Kiezdeutsch literally means "Neighborhood German." Kiezdeutsch is a kind of German "jive."

I first encountered Kiezdeutsch at the Kreuzberg U-bahn station. I overheard a young German tell her mother on a cell phone, "Ich geh jetzt Karstadt" instead of "Ich gehe jetzt zu Karstadt" (I'm going to Karstadt [Department Store]). During the same conversation she also said, "Ich bin Kotti" (meaning "I'm Kotti"). At first, I thought her name was "Kotti," but in context, I eventually realized that the young woman had meant to say, "Ich bin an der Kottbusser Tor U-bahn." (I am at the Kottbusser Tor Subway station.)

I often hear Kiezdeutsch on the streets, in shops and on the subway. Most people assume that speakers of Kiezdeutsch are immigrants or their children. But that's not necessarily true. Kiezdeutsch is spoken by many urban city dwellers, including young people of German origin, and is often portrayed in movies as menacing jargon. 

Most experts agree that Kiezdeutsch is not a dialect, but a style of speaking. In Kiezdeutsch, word order is less strict. You often hear phrases like: "Morgen ich geh Kino," instead of "Morgen gehe ich ins Kino"(Tomorrow, I will go to the movies).

Also, articles or endings of words are often dropped. For example,"musstu" is derived from "du muss" meaning "you should." Words also get combined and shortened. "Es gibt" (there is) becomes "gibs," and "lass uns mal" (let us) becomes "lassma." Kiezdeutsch also borrows many Arabic and Turkish words. 

Listening and even understanding this form of urban speech adds yet another facet to your Berlin experience. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pictures of the Day: Ogunquit, Maine

It's still February but it seems like spring. Hopefully, winter is over. I'll keep my fingers crossed.Today seemed almost magical. Here are some pictures from Ogunquit, Maine. Ogunquit is a beach community about 35 miles south of Portland. If I do say so myself, these pictures are good enough to be postcards. 
Ogunquit Beach
Beautiful Maine Coastline
Ogunquit, Maine
Photographers taking a picture through a window frame. How artistic!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

14 Ways to Love in the Movies

From the Bride of Frankenstein
February 14th was Valentine's Day and it got me thinking about romance in the movies. Surprisingly, there are few movies that can really convey the feeling of romance and love on the big screen. Here are my favorite 14 movies that succeed in showing us the joys and sorrows of love. Notably absent are some well-known movies, including Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Love Story, Annie Hall, and Doctor Zhivago

Amelie (Le fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain) (2001)
A fantasy fable about longing and failure. Set in Paris, Amelie stars the adorable Audrey Tautou who sets out to help others but is unable to help herself.

Gray Matters (2006)
A screwball comedy with a twist: finding love when you least expect it.

Away From Her (2006)
A movie that is wonderfully acted and full of emotional potency. Can love survive the loss of memory and the onset of disease?

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
This movie has it all: haunting musical score, crisp cinematography and marvelous chemistry between Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney in the title roles. This is a movie for the romantic at heart. 

The Lady Eve (1941)
A brilliant film combining witty dialogue and slapstick comedy, splendidly acted by Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. Simply a classic.

Roman Holiday (1953)
Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn star in this tale of romance and adventure set in Rome. The movie broke the conventions of its time with its "modern" and unconventional ending.

Brief Encounter (1945)
What does it mean to love? Can love survive the confines of marriage? This movie is still relevant today.

Enchanted (2007)
A Disney film that is delightful and surprisingly entertaining. It leaves you singing and smiling. 

Atonement (2007)
A story of tragic love during the second world war. How a lie can change everything. This is a tear jerker!

Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Starring the beautiful Catherine Deneuve, this movie still enchants us with its beautiful cinematography and music of the 1960s.

Shall We Dance (1996)
Do not confused this Japanese film with the awful American version. This movie is about a man's personal discoveries through dance.

Sunrise (1927)
A silent film that harmonizes German expressionism and Hollywood romanticism. Part psychological thriller and part love story, this movie could have been made in 2012. A must see!

Swept Away (1975)
A study of romance and class warfare. In Italian and directed by Lina WertmΓΌller.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)
A romantic western about a secretive love affair between two cowboys. Yes, there are gay cowboys.

Friday, February 17, 2012

South Portland: Food Destination?

Fresh from Scratch Baking Co.
Despite its small size, the City of Portland, Maine (66,000) has a well-earned reputation as one of New England's best food cities. Sure, Boston has more restaurants, but Portland has the quality! And this food scene isn't confined to Portland. Just on the other side of the Casco Bay Bridge is the City of South Portland. Not much goes on there, and few tourists bother to visit. However, for many locals, this is the place to eat during the summer months when hoards of tourists descend on Portland and all the restaurants get crowded. South Portland has a number of good restaurants, bakeries, and cafes, making it one of the unappreciated food destinations in southern Maine.

My favorite lunch spot, at the moment, is Verbena. It's an unpretentious, yet sophisticated place that caters to the South Portland business community. Its menu changes daily, with only a few items offered on a regular basis. The regular menu offers flank steak, grilled vegetable, and chicken salad sandwiches. The daily specials usually include a vegan option, such as black bean cakes or spicy tofu sandwiches. I particularly like their spicy squash sandwich, oatmeal cranberry cookies, and brownies (not vegan).

Just down the street from Verbena is the Bridgeway Restaurant. The Bridgeway is an old-style restaurant. Nothing fancy here, just simple, well-prepared food at very reasonable prices. If you want to travel back to the 1950s, go to the Bridgeway and have a Martini.

Scratch Baking Co. is a wonderful bakery that has been around for a few years. It always has fresh bread, bagels, pastries, and cookies. It's located in Willard Square, a pleasant intersection in a residential area that seems to be evolving into a mini-food node. Recently, David's opened a second restaurant just down the street.

158 Pickett Street Cafe
Finally, there's 158 Pickett Street Cafe. Located near Southern Maine Community College, 158 has the best bagels in the Portland region. A causal place for a quick morning bite, 158 is bursting with atmosphere and friendly folk. And most importantly, 158 is inexpensive. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pure Inspiration: Sita Sings the Blues

Sita Sings the Blues is a quirky animated feature film that combines elements of Bollywood, 1920/30's Blues music and the Hindi folk tale, the Ramayana. The creative animation, the jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw, and the hilarious narration make for a surprisingly original and enjoyable movie. The movie is the creation of the brilliant Nina Paley. Sita Sings the Blues is more than just a bit of whimsy. It's a cleverly disguised cautionary tale about the role of women in relationships. I really enjoyed it! The movie is in the creative commons and can be watched free online. It's worth it. Thank you Nina for this work of genius!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Quality TV = That Girl!

Before Mary Richards on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, there was Ann Marie on That Girl. The MTM Show is generally credited as the first TV show featuring a single independent woman living and working on her own. However, do you know who actually was the first career girl on a TV sitcom? That Girl!

That Girl followed the exploits of aspiring actress, Ann Marie (the girl with the perfect flip hairstyle) in New York City. Marlo Thomas played the goofy, yet charming Ann Marie, and Ted Bessell played her dependable boyfriend, Donald Hollinger. There is real chemistry between these two (so rare these days), and the show still holds up after all these years as opposed to modern TV sitcoms that rarely make me laugh.  

In many respects, That Girl foreshadowed the changing roles of women in early Feminist America. That Girl ran from 1966-1971, with each episode beginning with someone exclaiming ". . . that girl!," as the camera then focuses on Thomas. The opening and closing credits show Thomas wandering the streets of New York City, in an era before all those glass skyscrapers. It had a catchy theme song and was also ground breaking. In 1968, following feminist protests against wearing bras and other feminine products, Marlo Thomas began going bra-less on the show. "God created women to bounce," Thomas said. "So be it."

I saw That Girl while flipping channels. It can be seen on ME-TV Portland, Maine at 9:30 PM. ME-TV stands for Memorable Entertainment Television, and that it is! The network showcases classic TV shows from the 50s through the 80s, and it's worth a visit, if you're in Maine and want to unwind with some quality nostalgia.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ellen DeGeneres and JC Penny

Here is the talented Ellen DeGeneres speaking about her selection as the JC Penny spokesperson. In response to the JC Penny decision, a group called One Million Moms sought to have Ellen fired because she was gay. Undeterred, JC Penny stood by its decision and by Ellen. Good for you JC Penny!

In the video, Ellen specifically addresses One Million Moms, which claims to represent "traditional family values." (I've always found it audacious that any group would claim to represent this vague concept of "family values," whatever that means.)  

In a related development, a federal appeals court last week upheld Maine's campaign disclosure law requiring groups that raise or spend more than $5,000 "to influence elections" to disclose its donor list. The lawsuit stems from a 2009 ballot-question that repealed Maine's same-sex marriage law.

In 2009, Maine approved same-sex marriage. Shortly thereafter, opponents of same-sex marriage launched a campaign to repeal the law through voter referendum. The issue was placed on the ballot and it passed by a vote of 53 to 47 percent, thereby banning gay marriage in Maine. The National Organization for Marriage (a national anti-gay group) donated $1.9 million to a Maine organization that used the funds in the successful 2009 campaign; however, NOM refused to comply with Maine's disclosure law, claiming disclosure of its donor list would stymie free speech and make it less likely for people to donate. (What a shame.) The federal appeals court disagreed with NOM's argument and upheld the Maine law. (NOM will likely seek an appeal to the US Supreme Court. I'll keep you posted.) 

NOM does have a point! In 2008, during the Proposition 8 campaign (a similar ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in California), opponents of same-sex marriage made their donor lists public, causing many people to boycott businesses that supported the anti-gay marriage initiative. I guess it doesn't pay to be a bigot anymore!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Reaction to the Susan G. Koman Foundation: What Breast Cancer Is, and Is Not!

Here is an emotional response by a breast cancer survivor to the decision by the Susan G. Koman Foundation to stop funding Planned Parenthood. Although the Foundation had to reverse its decision, the damage was done. This video is worth watching.

The Foundation will never get one dollar from me again! It's sad that the Foundation decided to kowtow to certain religious fanatics.  When did cancer become political? Shame on you!