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Friday, July 27, 2012

Resentin....drink up!

During my past week in Urbino, Italy, every supper typically began around nine and finished around midnight.  Each meal ends with grappa and lemoncello, the traditional after-dinner drinks of Italy.  An espresso is also de rigueur and a true Italian will pour a small amount of grappa into his almost empty espresso cup, swirl it around, then down it in one swig.  This espresso-infused grappa called resentin or "little rinser".

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cliff walk, Cape of Good Hope

An appropriate place, on a beautiful evening, to end the expedition....

Friday, July 20, 2012

Jackass Penguins, Boulders Beach, South Africa cute...they are monogamous and can live for 25 years or more.

The African Penguin, or Jackass Penguin as it is known as because it brays like a donkey, lives an endangered life on the southern coastline of Africa.  This colony lives in Simon's Town on the Cape of Good Hope and appear unperturbed by people (as one might surmise given that they are often seen walking down the sidewalk).  The whales were just off-shore (kelp in foreground).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fairy Circles. Who ya gonna call?

Midsummer Eve (1908) by pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Robert Hughes

A scientist!  A mystery is afoot, quite literally.  You may have read about it in the New York Times Science section recently – Namibian “Fairy Circles,” From Start to Finish.  Biologist Walter Tschinkel of Florida State University recently wrote a fascinating paper about the “life cycle” of strange spots that appear and eventually disappear on the surface of the Namibian desert.  He offers no explanation for the formation of these fairy circles but does debunk a few prior hypotheses including hydrocarbon seeps, termite colonies, or self-organized landscape features.

Namibian fairy circle (photo by Walter Tschinkel)

Tschinkel's paper did not consider the possibility that these circles could be caused by fungi, the cause of fairy rings seen elsewhere in the world (pic below)….maybe you’ve been lucky enough to see one?  A really nice history of fairy rings, and how they can kill local vegetation, can be found on Wikipedia.

However, the mystery deepens with the “heuweltjies”, or “little hills”, of South Africa, located just south of Namibia.  We would drive for hours in South Africa through the polka-dotted landscape of the heuweltjies but, unlike further to the north, they are not flat but are mounds.  The accepted wisdom is that these are fossil termite mounds but I am skeptical, especially after reading Tschinkel’s study.  However, I also can’t imagine how fungi could build such large mounds.  I sampled sediment in and outside of the heuweltjies but when I realized I couldn't bring soil samples back to the U.S. I left the bags with a Cape Town graduate student, Eugene, in hopes that he'd be inspired to investigate further.  Mystery beckons, scientific glory awaits!

Heuweltjies north of Cape Town

More heuweltjies (look in middle distance)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hanging out in Strip Mines in South Africa....

Dear friends, family, and followers,

I know some of you have noticed I haven't been blogging for awhile and quite of few of you have been poking me with the figurative stick in hopes I'll start up again.  Here's hoping!  I miss it too and want to get back to it.  I'm trying to find a new equilibrium with a busier job in an endlessly distracting city.  I'm going to make it a bit more personal....hopefully avoiding saccharine quicksands of self-indulgence. 

So, I'll continue with a few blog posts from South Africa, where I recently went on a geological field expedition in search of ancient shorelines from past warm climates. We first headed north (not quite to the Skeleton Coast of Namibia) to a down-on-its-luck mining town called Hondeklip.  The De Beers mining company has very effectively stripped off the surface of the land in its quest for buried diamonds.  The landscape is quite ravaged and ugly but it does make for some easily accomplished field geology.....nice exposures!

 We stayed a few nights at the Honnehok (or Kennels) Chalets in Hondeklip having home-cooked dinners at The Red Spider (no menu, just let proprietress know in the morning you're coming).  I love the use of shells on the chain fence....the sign above the shell bucket says "Leave your cares here".

 It never ceases to surprise me that even in the remotest places on Earth art has a way of inserting itself.

Shell and kelp garlands gussy up the place....

Shipwreck covered with seabirds.  Shortly after this picture was taken four of us had a debate about whether or not we saw a green flash.  My view is that if you are debating it, it probably didn't happen -- my lifelong quest continues.....

Heading down into one of the strip mines....

 Sea level!  Fossil barnacles on fossil oysters on a not so ancient beach 30 meters elevation.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Beach walk bonanza, a shell chandelier

A new book, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, documents the household habits of a representative group of middle class Americans and reveals what we long suspected -- we have way too much shit in our houses.  In fact we have so much crap it stresses us out and makes us unhappy.  Needless to say, Morris would be appalled.....he lived by the dictum "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful".   Seen above are the handmade, beautiful and useful dining room chandeliers of The Farmhouse Hotel, a lovely hotel in Langebaan near the West Coast National Park in South Africa.  The local beaches are littered with shells, limpets in particular, and here they are used to spectacular effect.  The shells are hung from two concentric metal hoops.  I'm saving up my shells to make my own chandelier someday.

Here is an entertaining Boston Globe article about the book.  Here is the book:

Friday, July 13, 2012

THON 2012, The Amazing Face of Penn State

 The big reveal....Over 10 million!

 The exhausted and happy captains after the crowds have departed. 

With the grim news about the "responsible adults" at Penn State this week I couldn't help but think back to a magical weekend in February when more than 15,000 Penn State students capped a year of fund-raising for pediatric cancer with THON, a 30 hour dance marathon held at the Bryce Jordan Center.   Over 700 students dance on the Bryce floor while their teams, filling every seat in the auditorium to the rafters, also stand (yes, if you're in the auditorium you must be standing).  The THON organization set a new record this year, raising over 10 million dollars "For the Kids".  The whole weekend was joyful, adrenaline-filled and, at times, heart-breaking.  THON not only donates money to support cancer researchers and labs at the Hershey Medical Center, including the money used to build the new Pediatric Cancer Pavilion, they also provide outreach, support, fun activities, and smiles for every kid dealing with cancer.

The entire year's operations are organized solely by students -- I kid you not, they had one faculty liaison.  Fifteen "captains" are responsible for 15 different aspects of the endeavor: public relations, rules and regulations, technology, alumni and donor relations, supply logistics, finance, morale, etc.  They each hire large teams that work under them all year (nobody gets paid) and a new set of captains, mostly seniors, is hired each summer.  Overseeing 15,000 "employees" and $10,000,000 in "assets", I would hire any of these graduates in a New York minute.  These kids are truly the amazing faces of Penn State.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

National Archeological Museum of Athens

Here are a few of my favorite pieces in the National Archeological Museum in Athens.  When I checked into the lovely Athens Gate Hotel in the shadow of the Acropolis, I found two randy (okay, arty) pictures, almost identical to above, over my bed.  The next day who did I happen upon in the museum but the two lovers, life-size, in the marble.  I'd recognize those abs anywhere!

Love this statue of Aphrodite fending Pan's advances off with her sandal!  On my last day in Athens there was yet another protest march --- by the poets and artists of Athens.  Apparently all their signs were in poetic form.  A poetry slam!  I wonder what the busloads of police in full riot gear thought of this group?  Next stop, Venice....

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Protests in Greece...

This evening in front of the Arch of Hadrian.

In Athens, at a meeting at the National & Kopodistrian University of Athens, one of the oldest "modern" institutes of learning in Greece.  We meet daily in the main building which dates to the early 19th century.  Its front plaza, the propylaeum, has been the historical center of social protest for decades (centuries?).  Graffiti is all over Athens, angry graffiti....on historical buildings, statues, stores, houses.....the city is suffering.  And yes, the venal Goldman Sachs had something to do with it (here).

Please follow this link...Morris I know you are listening.  Yiannis Billris, your photographs are amazing.

"Goldman Sachs helped the Greek government to mask the true extent of its deficit with the help of a derivatives deal that legally circumvented the EU Maastricht deficit rules. At some point the so-called cross currency swaps will mature, and swell the country's already bloated deficit."

Monday, March 19, 2012

Attention, crossword aficionados....

Here is the s-t-o-a in the a-g-o-r-a!  One of the world's oldest strip malls, two stories, in the ancient marketplace of Athens.  A little museum shop keeps the commercial tradition alive.  By coincidence, one-across in today's Intl. Herald Tribune crossword puzzle (aka the NYTimes puzzle) was very greek :-).  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Parthenon, Athens

The original lego construction?

blocks waiting to go in....

The Erechteion, with the six Caryatids, women holding up under pressure.... 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fountain of Heavenly Bliss, King Humayun's tomb


The four streams of water, wine, milk and honey come together at the Fountain of Heavenly Bliss....

"Humayun's tomb is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun. The tomb was commissioned by Humayun's wife Hamida Banu Begum in 1562 AD, and designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyath, a Persian architect. It was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent, and is located in Nizamuddin EastDelhiIndia. The tomb was declared a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site in 1993, and since then has undergone extensive restoration work, which is still underway."  ----from wikipedia