Friday, May 31, 2013

German Police Cars Could Become More "American"

Germany may soon have a new sound on its streets. Germany's police cars and sirens (das Martinshorn) may soon sound and look more "American" if the German Bundesrat agrees with a recent decision by the Federal Ministry of Transportation. The flashing red lights and siren sound found on US police cars could soon be added to the German police car. A decision is expected soon. 

American Public Libraries Rule

In the USA, public libraries have traditionally been important community centers. With the advent of the World Wide Web and with fewer bookstores around, the public library's role is adapting. The public library is no longer just a place to borrow books, but a place to get DVDs/CDS, use a computer, access the Internet, disseminate and obtain information, meet friends, and even enjoy a cup of coffee.

Pablo Neruda Bibliothek
Friedrichshain Berlin
Many public libraries have also become places to showcase art exhibitions, have guest lecturers, hold book readings, and even improve language skills. For example, at Portland's central library, there's a section, which provides tutorial assistance for people learning English.  

Germany also has an impressive public library system; but, without being too bold, it's no match for the American system. In Germany, libraries are open for fewer hours, usually lack Wi-Fi and computers, and are generally less user friendly.

A couple of days ago, I was working at my neighborhood library (Pablo Neruda Bibliothek) in Berlin. It's an impressive building with an extensive collection. Yet, for all of its modernity, it lacked sufficient seating and table space, offered neither Wi-Fi nor computers, and had bad acoustics. Of course, this is just one library, but I've noticed the same phenomena at other libraries throughout Germany and Europe. Europeans like to flaunt their superior social services (with good reason), but when it comes to public libraries, America's system is better. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Macondo: A Cafe With Good Food But Lacking Hygiene

Macondo is a cozy cafe that's minutes from where I live in Berlin. The ambiance invites you to lounge and relax on its vintage sofas, armchairs, and tables. The day I visited, I had the Colombian breakfast
(€5,50), which included 3 arepas (corn cakes made from a special precooked corn flour), 3 empanadas (stuffed pastry), beans, and salad. It was very tasty and quite filling. 

On the plus side, the service was excellent and quick. There's plenty of reading material and a nice view of Boxhanger Platz. On the negative side, there's a backroom where smoking is allowed, and the smoke tends to drift into the non-smoking area. In addition, the restroom needs help. There was no paper, no soap, and absolutely, no cleanliness!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Buckeye's in Berlin

The Buckeye or Horse Chestnut tree (Aesculus californica) reminds me of my native California. Its white flowers are a signal that spring has arrived; and when the leaves drop in July, it's a signal that the scorching hot weather has begun. 

In Europe, the Red Horse Chestnut (Aesculus x carnea) is very similar to the California variety except its flowers are pink and the leaves drop in the Fall. After the Linden tree, the Red Horse Chestnut is probably the most common street tree in Berlin. Berlin is trying to add more trees to the city, and their work is beginning to pay off. All over town, I'm seeing a lot of newly planted trees. It certainly softens this gray and rather cold city. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Whimsical Architecture in Berlin

Directly across from Treptower Park in Berlin is the Blaue Apotheke (Pharmacy). By attaching five plastic flowers to the building facade, the owners of this structure have transformed a rather ordinary piece of architecture into something whimsical. What better way to attract customers and improve the urban landscape.

On cold and cloudy days, this building adds a little sunshine to the bleak environment. It certainly brought a smile to my face. Unfortunately, there's not much whimsy in current architectural design. It seems that many architects take their designs too seriously. What ever happened to the Gaudi's of the world? 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Plenty of Pot Pies in Portland

It's the ultimate comfort food. A chicken pot pie is a baked savory pie filled with chicken, gravy, and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, green beans, and peas) and completely encased by a flaky crust. Yes, I know people commonly call things with only a top crust pot pies, but those are just chicken stews with a crust floating in it.

This traditional American dish does a good job of covering the four major food groups though it's also loaded with calories, salt, and fat. In Portland, chicken pot pies can be found at supermarkets, delis, bakeries, restaurants, and even at road stands. Here are a few places that I've tried.

The Cookie Jar (My personal favorite)

Located on Cape Elizabeth, the Cookie Jar makes an excellent pot pie with a flaky crust, plenty of vegetables, and a good portion of chicken. At $15 for a 10 inch pie, the Cookie Jar's pot pie is a good value. BTW: the traditional pastries and cookies at the Cookie Jar are excellent. 

Two Fat Cats

This well-known bakery located near Portland's old port is generally over rated, and their pot pie is likewise good, but not worth the fuss. The crust is just right and there's a healthy portion of chicken; however, the filling has too many whole pearl onions and there are not enough vegetables. At $20 for a 9 inch pie, it's on the pricey side.

Leavitt and Sons

This upscale family style deli located in Falmouth sells a dish that claims to be a pot pie. There's plenty of chicken and a good sampling of vegetables, but this pie has one major flaw: there's no bottom crust. It's expensive at $17 and is on the small side. If you can overlook the lack of bottom crust (which, ultimately, I cannot!), the pie isn't bad. 

Pat's Meat Market

Pat's is a neighborhood market/deli that has some great sandwiches and homemade soups. It occasionally sells pot pies that are similar to the supermarket variety. In a pinch, a pot pie from Pat's will do, but stick to their sandwiches and avoid the pie altogether.

Friday, May 17, 2013

ABC Not So Cool Afterall

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that ABC had done something really cool by permitting YouTube to show some of its movies from the 1970s TV series The ABC Movie of the Week. Many of these movies were quite good and unavailable on DVD. Unfortunately, my elation over ABC was premature. A couple of days ago, I discovered that most of these movies had been deleted. 

Airing these long forgotten movies was the sort of thing that could have helped ABC develop a sort of cult following and reminded people that ABC even existed. It's unlikely ABC will ever get direct revenue from these movies, but they could have gotten some positive viral marketing. No wonder network TV is losing its audience and quickly becoming irrelevant as an entertainment medium.  

Naked Bea Arthur

John Currin's controversial painting of Bea Arthur (Maude and The Golden Girls) recently sold for an astounding $1.9 million. The 1991 work continues to provoke the ire of feminists and critics. Perhaps, its depiction of a post-menopausal woman rubs people the wrong way. In any case, I like the painting. It certainly fits the Maude character. Maude was a sort of 1970s Joan of Arc of feminism. BTW: the work was derived from a photo of Arthur with her clothes on. 
Bea Arthur Naked
John Currin

Latest Fashion: "Balls Out Jeans"

I wonder if this fashion trend will make it?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Barbie's Dream House in Berlin

Barbie's house is now on display in Berlin. Barbie fans can explore the 2900 square foot house, which offers a glimpse into Barbie's private life. Among other things, the interactive exhibition displays Barbie's living room, bedroom, and hundreds of her outfits. 

The exhibition is not without controversy. Police will be on hand guarding the house after feminist groups and left-wing activists said they would picket the exhibition, calling it sexist propaganda and the wrong role model for young girls. Although Barbie isn't my thing, it is a cultural phenomena that many people will find interesting. 

Barbie Dreamhouse Experience, Voltairestraße 2a/Dircksenstraße, Berlin; +49 30 4799 7433; May 16-August 25, 2013; open daily from 10 a.m.-8 p.m; admission €15 for adults, €12 for children under 14.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

TV Trivia: Which Darrin Was Better?

Bewitched was an American television series that ran from 1964-1972. It was one of my favorite shows. It continues to play in re-runs, and is currently on Me-TV in Portland at 8:00 PM. Surprisingly, the show still holds up.

Perhaps, the biggest controversy on the show was the switch of Darrins. Dick York played Darrin from 1964-1969 until Dick Sargent replaced him. The phrase "Darrin Syndrome" (AKA "The Other Darrin") comes from the show. It's a term for replacing a character on a TV show without explanation. It happens a lot on TV shows, but in the case of the character Becky in the series Roseanne, there were jokes about the switch. In one episode, the family was watching Bewitched on TV when the actress Sarah Chalke (the second Becky) remarked that she preferred the second Darrin. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Bueno Loco: Maine's Version of a "Mexican" Restaurant

Southern Maine is known for its scenic coastlines, wonderful seafood, and its burgeoning foodie culture; however, when it comes to Mexican food, this part of the USA hasn't a clue. Therefore, I was surprised to learned of a new (and reportedly authentic) Mexican restaurant located in Falmouth. (After eating there, I think "Mexican-inspired" might describe it better.) 

Bueno Loco features interesting and rather unique "Mexican" dishes, which include gluten free and vegan options. The chef is Russian who learned his trade while visiting Guatemala, Belize, and the Yucatan. The day I visited, I tried the Bueno Burrito. Overall, the dish was tasty and rather filling. The ingredients included a nice mixture of black, kidney, and pinto beans, shredded turkey, rice, fresh greens, and vegetables. In addition, the accompanying chips were just right, crisp and not too salty. Unfortunately, what they called a "burrito" was spectacularly bland, even by Maine standards! Moreover, the service was slow.  

Bottom line: if you want real Mexican food, you won't find it at Bueno Loco. Nevertheless, Bueno Loco is a satisfactory dining option for those of you looking for something different. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Poirot Investigates"

The Dust-jacket illustration
of the first UK edition in 1924

(I guess this is how the publishers
envisioned Poirot.)
I'm generally not fond of the short story format and this may explain my reaction to Poirot Investigates (1924), the most recent book I've read toward my goal of reading all of Agatha Christie's published works.

This was Christie's fifth published book and unless you're an ardent Christie fan, I would skip this collection of 14 unoriginal and flat stories (I suspect these stories were cliché even by 1924 standards). The writing is crisp and some of the stories even humorous, but the mysteries themselves are repetitive and uninspiring. Unlike The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which featured a uniquely developed and nuanced Poirot, this short story collection makes Poirot and Hastings seem like second rate versions of Holmes and Watson.

No doubt about it, Christie is light reading, but some of her works have imaginative and creative plots that account for her continuing popularity. Unfortunately, Poirot Investigates is not an example of Christie's best work.

Rating: D