A Royal Solar Boat

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The Solar Boat

The Solar Boat. Giza, Egypt. Circa 2500 B.C.

Purpose: To transport the king and his worldly possessions across the heavens in his afterlife.

Dimensions: 143 feet long and 19.5 feet wide.

Discovered: In 1954 at the foot of the Great Pyramid in Giza. It was broken into 1224 carefully laid out pieces that made it possible to be reassembled into a fully intact ship.

Material: Lebanon cedar

Prediction: If placed in water, it could sail today.

Location: The Solar Boat Museum in Giza, Egypt.

I’m Serious as a Heart Attack: I Dread Winter

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cactus

Take me to the desert.

BY FRANK TERRANELLA

This time of year as I venture outside I often think of the old song:

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.
California dreamin` on such a winter’s day

The older I get, the more I dread winter. Since my heart attack more than a decade ago I have been excused from any heavy-duty snow shoveling. I still operate the snow blower from time to time, but even that chore is now often handled for me by others. So snow removal is not the issue. Driving in snow is still bothersome, but it’s not such a big deal because I need only drive two miles to my bus every morning.

No, the real issue is the cold. I can’t take it as well as I used to. Maybe I can blame it on losing 40 pounds of fat since last winter. Or maybe my heart medications have irrevocably thinned my blood. But after a week of sub-freezing temperatures I’m ready to move south. But since I still need to work for a living and work is in the windy, concrete canyon that is Manhattan, the best I can do is make a hot cup of coffee and look at pictures of warm places.

In that vein, I was looking recently at some pictures I took of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona last year. I was reading that during the winter months, from November to April, the daytime temperatures in the Sonoran Desert range from 70°F to 90°F. That sounds extremely cozy for a January day. I wish I was there.

As I mentioned, I visited the Arizona portion of the Sonoran Desert last year. This year, I plan to visit the California portion, which includes Palm Springs. While desert living used to be only for the extremely hardy, air-conditioning has opened up these areas to a lifestyle that is Nirvana to a cold New Yorker. Of course snow is not an issue except on the top of mountains. The fact that it rains only a few days a year means almost constant sunshine. Having a dreary winter day in the Northeast? Just dial up a webcam in the desert and you can almost feel the dry heat.

The other thing I do to conjure up the desert is to look at my pictures of Saguaro cactus. These are the large, iconic cacti that grow only in the Sonoran Desert.They live to be as much as 150-200 years old I found them really beautiful and surprisingly hard to the touch. Before I went to Arizona, I had always thought that these cacti were soft, but the Saguaro Cactus has a hard wood-like feel similar to a tree. And in fact, I was told that dead Saguaro cacti are often used as wood for construction of roofs and fences in Arizona.

So as I endure yet another New York winter, my eye is on the calendar. Spring training begins in mid-February and the first pre-season Yankees game is March 4. After that, it’s a hop, skip and a jump until the first day of spring. Until then, I can huddle over a cup of hot something or other, look at pictures and think of the warm desert. California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Pigging Out. We All Do It

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Leftover restaurant Caesar's salad doctored with my lamb stew and a glass of vino.

Restaurant leftovers with wine.

From Julie:

Is it not a great and guilty pleasure to stand in the kitchen and stuff your face with leftovers without worrying about calories or manners?

On nights when Steve’s out, I love emptying the fridge of teflon containers and plastic-wrapped bowls and pouring myself a glass of wine for my kitchen counter feast. It’s so wonderfully decadent. And because the rule is no holds barred, I am so grossed out by my excessiveness that sticking to a game plan of fastidious gym attendance and low carb entrees is a piece of cake, until the next urge to splurge descends with a vengeance.

From Lois:

My pig-out leftovers don’t make it to the “teflon containers and plastic-wrapped bowls.” I do like to stand, though. The best pig-outs for me are after a party. Once the party is over, I walk amongst the ravaged, scooped-out platters and taste everything. Just a fork-full. Unless there is an open bag of potato chips. That I need to sit down for. I can eat them until the corners of my mouth are sore and split from the salt and sharp edges — until I roll on the floor, content, but with stomach curdling, and arms and legs splayed out in a gluttonous tribute to the joy of just letting go.

My Back Room: Memories Amidst the Dust Bunnies

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studio pre cleanseBY JULIE SEYLER

I have been cleaning up and cleaning out the back room. It is the master bedroom of my apartment, but has always functioned as a studio — a place where I had my easel and oils and drawing books and pastels and thread and canvas and stretcher bars and papier-maché and beads.

But I am starting to move stuff out. The house in New Jersey has an attic and the attic is to become a working space of mine. I am organizing and gathering and chucking, and between the dust bunnies and crap, I found a cache of memories.

There are notebooks filled with slides of paintings, and drawing books filled with collages. I have photograph books that hold the two-dimensional representation of my three-dimensional papier-mache sculptures that took over my living room in my old apartment. It was so sad because they were too big to come with me when I moved to this apartment. Rediscovering my stash of work reminded me of the years when I would wake up and paint and come home from work and paint and in-between draw, sew, take classes, make collages, and paint.

I pored through my photograph albums and found forgotten gems like this one:

IMG_1005

I just cracked up. What a poem! What a poet!

I found a two-page photo spread of a 1996 ski trip to Vermont which included pics of Lo and her toddler sons, a dirty sink, a pot of fondue and a kitchen floor carpeted in bubbles. For some reason I have no recollection of that trip, probably because I don’t ski. I tumble and fumble. Best to forget those embarrassing experiences. But Lola had instant recall. She remembered who made the fondue, how the sink got completely clogged and that someone put liquid soap into the dishwasher, thereby leading to a bubble explosion.

So amidst the dreaded chore of cleaning, vacuuming and dusting, I got to “review” some ephemera of my life at this ripe old age of young middle age. (We are only young middle age, still, right?) I am sure when I again look back, the glow of the past will have an even more burnished lustre, but no doubt that, just like this time, I will be enthralled remembering how much fun I’ve had and how many fabulous people I have known and loved for these many years.

This Ex-Hippie is Old: My Hip is Osteoarthritic

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Is this my future anatomy?

Does my future include a prosthetic device?

BY BOB SMITH

I’ve had a persistent low-grade ache in my right thigh for over a year now. I wrote it off to too much running and not enough stretching, but lately the pain has gotten worse.  So I started getting regular massages, switched from the treadmill to the elliptical trainer, and did flexibility exercises hoping to erase the problem, but nothing changed.

Then, like Ebenezer Scrooge, I had a Christmas Eve miracle and revelation.

Every year we host an elaborate Christmas Eve feast featuring all sorts of seafood as well as fresh, crisp-crust bread and exquisite pastries from the local bakery.  But to get any of those goodies without waiting on line for an hour, you have to get to the bakery as soon as they open on Christmas Eve morning.  My over-50 body forces me to toddle out of bed every night in the wee hours to use the bathroom, so I’m the natural for that crack of dawn bakery run.

When I got there at 5:50 the lights in the main serving area weren’t on yet, but I saw activity inside. My right leg tends to stiffen up if I’m sitting still for a while, so rather than leaping out of the car and running across the street as I would have years ago, I carefully eased out of the driver’s seat and stood for a second to gauge the pain and let the stiffness dissipate. Not too bad – after a couple of seconds it felt fine, and I walked into the bakery with only a slight hitch in my step.

Incredibly, there were already three people on line, waiting in semi-darkness for the women bustling behind the counter to recognize the start of business. By the time I had my three dozen rolls and box of pastries ten minutes later, there were eight people behind me on a line, growing by the minute, that was snaking out the door. I’d dodged the bullet.

When I got home, because of my achy leg and partly out of just plain laziness, I decided I’d carry everything (including my convenience store coffee and newspapers) in one trip.

That took some planning: first I put the coffee on the hood of the car, leaving the house keys hanging from my left pinky. Then I put my left arm around the bulging bag of warm rolls, and with my right hand folded the newspapers under my left arm.  I slid my right index finger under the red and white twine on the pastries so the box dangled below my hand, then carefully kicked the door shut using my pain-free left leg.

My left hand was still free (except for the keys on my pinky), so I used that to awkwardly reach down and grab the coffee cup from the hood while still hugging the bag of rolls and squeezing my armpit on the newspapers. I figured once I got up the steps, I could put the pastry box on the side table by the door, take the keys from my left pinky with my right hand, and unlock the door. Mission accomplished!

But my hip had other plans.

I began to climb the steps, but because of the pain I failed to raise my right foot above the riser, and tripped. Because I was walking so slowly, I fell in slow motion. The box of pastries rocked, my finger released the string, and the heavy box slid away across the step, unharmed, as my right hand came down to break my fall.

As my left side came down, I somehow placed the tall Styrofoam cup of coffee onto the porch without spilling a drop. Simultaneously, my arm splayed out and the bag of rolls plopped onto the step ahead of me – remaining upright and jostling, but not dislodging, any of the rolls sticking out of the top. Even the newspapers had fallen from under my arm onto the step in a neatly folded stack.

I stood there, feeling foolish, with the house keys waggling on my pinky.

The Christmas Eve miracle: I’d spilled nothing and was unhurt. The revelation: I’d fallen climbing my own front steps, and could have been badly injured. So I made an appointment with my doctor, got an x-ray, and a week ago was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the right hip. So now I’m officially old, with an old person’s chronic ailment, an old person limp, and maybe a need for an old person remedy: a new hip.  We’ll see.

But it’s all good. Like Scrooge, I’m thrilled to be alive — even if it means hobbling around like Tiny Tim.

‘Relationship’ with Computer Fraught with the Artificial

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Me and my gal.

BY FRANK TERRANELLA

The upside of Netflix being shut out by movie studios from streaming new Hollywood movies is that they have had to look high and low for content. The low has been some putrid indie films. The high has been some great British television. An example of the best is a British television series called “Black Mirror.” There are only six episodes available, but they are well worth your time.

Black Mirror has been described as an anthology series like The Twilight Zone, and it does have some similarities in that each episode is thought-provoking and often deals in moral or ethical issues. It’s set in the near future and technology plays an important role in each episode. For example, there is an episode called “The Entire History of You” that envisions a time where we all have video recorders attached to our eyes and implanted in our heads. This allows us to play back everything we experience at will on nearby television screens. While this instantly settles disputes about what people said, it also causes lots of problems. For example, the question “where were you last night?” is not simply answered by words any longer. Now we go to the videotape to actually see what you saw last night. It’s an intriguing concept and one bound to improve honesty. But a young couple with trust issues finds the pitfalls of having all this “evidence” to dwell on.

Another episode that really struck me was one called “Be Right Back” in which a man tells his wife he’s just going out and will be right back, but then gets killed in an auto accident. At the funeral, a friend tells the widow that there is a service available that takes all of a person’s online activity (pictures, emails, tweets, etc.) and creates a humanoid in that person’s form that has that person’s personality including memories, vocabulary and sense of humor. She urges the widow to simply re-create her husband from his online persona. After some initial misgivings, she agrees. The humanoid arrives and is indistinguishable from her husband and has all his online memories. But there are problems in any human-humanoid relationship and the episode shows them and how they are resolved. The episode seeks to explore the question whether a person is really just the sum of his online communications. By the way, the widow is played by Hayley Atwell, whom you may know as Agent Carter in the recent ABC television series.

The “Be Right Back” episode reminds me of another film that explored the romantic relationship between man and machine. It is the 2013 Spike Jonze film “Her” starring Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johansson. There, Phoenix plays a man who literally falls in love with the Siri-like voice of his computer. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. As computer assistants become more and more sophisticated, we are encouraged to think of them as persons. That’s why they have names. But any relationship between artificial intelligence and real intelligence is bound to be fraught with problems and that is what “Her” shows. Can a person be in love with a dis-embodied voice or is a body necessary? If you think about it, this is not a new question. In the past, there have been dis-embodied, long-distance relationships by mail or later telephone. Most of these did not work out once the parties met face to face, because real life is different from the intellectual life.

About six months ago I wrote about the peril of mistaking a life online with a real life. I urged readers to “Friend someone who lives in your neighborhood, rather than on Facebook. Deliver a Tweet in person. Interact with flesh and blood people and not just their avatars.” Television programs such as  “Black Mirror” and films such as “Her” show why artificial friends are as unhealthy as imaginary ones. It’s easy to be seduced by technology. That voice on your phone sounds so real. It’s always polite and helpful. Real people can be bothersome, rude and even hostile. But ultimately an online relationship is a fantasy. And living in a fantasy world, you always run the risk of a rude awakening.

Martin Luther King Jr.

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MLK

His eyes reflected compassion, kindness, fearlessness and brilliance.

Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 86 this past Thursday, January 15. What would he think of the state of affairs that we live with today? Would he consider his “dream” for racial equality as somewhat undone, unraveled? Or still evolving?

The eloquence of his message is as relevant in 2015 as it was in 1968 when he died. Perhaps we could honor him today by examining present-day America through his eyes.

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