just published: an evolutionary journey

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Is it me or are we a culture obsessed with our own personal evolution? My local bookstore is bursting with floor-to-ceiling shelves devoted to inner growth and spiritual fulfillment; a whole cadre of television shows barrages me daily with the tantalizing promise of ‘breaking through’ and attaining the next, stronger, higher level of my potential. And don’t even get me started on the Internet and the flurry of suspect emails that continually flood my inbox.

I blame Charles Darwin.

READ MORE (pdf download).

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marching off to war

IMG_2178Observe the brave sons of Minnesota, marching off to die in the battle of Big Round Top. This band of Civil War re-enactors took over a field above Castle Williams this weekend on Governor’s Island. In head-to-toe wool they made their Gettysburg encampment, demonstrating firearms, answering questions, and generally reminding everyone who paused to take notice just how primitive and punishing the act of making war once was.

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please pack your knives and go

ObesityNZ1New Zealand is – surprisingly – the third most obese nation in the developed world (after the United States and Mexico) yet a 266-pound resident and successful chef from South Africa is currently in the process of being deported after 6 years in the country. The reason is simple: he is too fat for New Zealand. The fat guy is Albert Buitenhuis, who is five feet ten inches tall and has a body mass index of 40 – making him clinically obese. Immigration New Zealand (INZ) says that an applicant’s BMI must be under 35. But Buitenhaus is not leaving without a fight. “INZ’s medical assessors have said to consider to what extent there might be indications of future high-cost and high-need demand for health services,” an official said, as quoted by the Huffington Post. The chef has appealed to the country’s immigration minister, citing a recent weight loss, but the incident begs a larger conversation which, frankly, nobody wants to initiate: what is the collective cost of endemic obesity? The INZ might be coming at this from out of left field – and surely there will be charges of unfairness, even discrimination – but that shouldn’t negate the promise of government to promote the general welfare.

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from the archives: beachfront bliss

alg-grace-bay-beach-jpgThe most developed of the 40-strong chain of islands that constitutes Turks and Caicos, Providenciales – or Provo, as the locals call it – is no mere gateway, but a destination unto itself. Pristine nature and crystal blue waters coexist easily alongside chic hotels and elaborate spas. And since Provo is also a nonstop flight from New York, the powdery Turks and Caicos beaches are a lot closer than you’d imagine. READ MORE

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wish list: faraway, so close

13063619536535391028_1If you’re like me you’ve long dreamed of Cuba, the faraway, so close island off the coast of Florida that’s been off-limits to US citizens for more than fifty years. Rich in history, culture, and all that glorious music, it’s an American traveler’s version of Snuffleupagus: a rare creature able to be seen by everybody but us. Insight Cuba, a leader in small group people-to-people travel, is about to change all that. As travel to this enigmatic island is made legal for only the third time in fifty years, this licensed tour operator has me salivating at the chance to explore the once-forbidden island with a sweepstakes, running now through June 17th. To take part, ‘Like’ the Insight Cuba Facebook page and enter via the “Win a Trip to Cuba for Two” tab at the top. A winner will be selected at random on June 18th and receive a free trip for two on the tour of their choice: Undiscovered Cuba, Cuban Music & Art or Classic Cuba. The grand prize includes round-trip airfare from Miami to Havana; first-class accommodations, meals and activities; an Insight Cuba tour leader and Cuban guide; entrance fees; in-country ground transportation and transfers; 24-hour emergency service and maybe most important of all, a U.S. Department of the Treasury License and Letter of Authorization. Underdeveloped, stubbornly unchanged for decades, the revolution and the resulting embargo may have decimated the travel industry in Cuba, but it didn’t kill it. And the irresponsible policies of our own government have done nothing to squelch the abiding curiosity about our neighbors 90 miles to the south.

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don’t forget to tip your driver

sanctuary of aphaia

A quick chat with a taxi driver let us in on the fact that the Temple of Aphaia is Aegina’s major archaeological site, and before you know it we found ourselves driving at breakneck speed through fields of pistachios trees and toward the northeastern corner of the island. I’m glad we took his advice – and his cab – as the ruins were certainly impressive: a Doric temple has stood on this spot since the 5th century BC. Legend has it the temple forms an isosceles triangle with the Parthenon and the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, which makes for a great story, whether or not it holds true. On a clear day it feels like you can see forever, or at least all the way to the port of Piraeus. Click the panorama below, then click again for greater detail. And don’t forget to tip your driver.

aphaia panorama

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second thoughts

pony and trap

The first sight we see upon docking at Aegina is a line-up of pony and traps waiting to tramp tourists around the main town. Uh oh. Perhaps the proximity of the island to Athens makes it more of a tourist hub than originally anticipated. (Even though by all outward appearances there seems to be at most five identifiable tourists wandering the esplanade, and the klatsch of carriage drivers are too busy smoking and talking to pay us any heed.) We opt for ice cream – pistachio, natch – and a pause to look at our options.

pistachio ice cream

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let’s go to that beautiful sea

aegina

The phrase “Greek Isles” summons up visions of an idyllic Neverland of ethereal sunsets, white-washed buildings, olive groves, turquoise water, and all the romance that comes from being shipwrecked on a remote island.  There are an astounding 3,000 such little Edens scattered across Greece’s corner of the Mediterranean, which means to each his own: everyone has their particular, or peculiar, favorite. The most famous are far afield – Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes, Lesbos, Corfu – but for the daytripper there are a few easy options close to Athens, too. The most popular excursion is one of those three-in-one boats, which stops off for about half an hour at each of three nearby islands. I wanted something a little more adventurous – and immersive. So, instead of going the package experience route, we decided to head off on our own via the fast ferry to the island of Aegina – without a map or an agenda and knowing little more than that it happens to be famous for its pistachios.

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four freedoms

Four Freedoms Memorial2

Louis I. Kahn is widely considered one of the masters of 20th century architecture. Infusing the International-style with a poetic humanism his monumental, often monolithic, works respond to a human scale without hiding their weight, their materials, or even the manner in which they are assembled. They are not so much the work of a builder, as a philosopher. When Kahn was found dead of a heart attack inside the men’s restroom at New York’s Penn Station in 1974, his briefcase contained the completed renderings for a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Four Freedoms Park, so named for the wartime speech in which the President looked forward to a world founded on four human freedoms – freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear – would remain, like many of Kahn’s controversial proposals, unbuilt. Until now, that is. 38 years after plans for the park were first announced, the daunting project has been realized at the tip of Roosevelt Island, honoring the man who guided the nation through the Depression, the New Deal and a world war. It can’t help but be a de facto memorial to its author, too: an open room and garden at the bottom of the island, framing the United Nations and the Manhattan skyline. Allées of linden trees on either side define the green space and highlight the triangular shape of the site, emphasizing the feeling of a ships prow and forcing a perspective that draws focus to a colossal head of FDR at the threshold of the water. It’s magisterial in its simplicity, like a roofless version of a Greek temple. Unfortunately nobody has seemed to give any thought as to what visitors might actually do at the memorial. After a pleasant promenade there is little incentive to linger. The site abuts the ruins of New York City’s abandoned smallpox hospital; above that there is a nursing facility fallen into disrepair. If the powers behind the memorial don’t discover a way to synthesize the project with the surrounding island it might very well suffer the epithet Five Freedoms, due to a freedom from visitors.

Four Freedoms Memorial

Linden tree allee

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iconic nyc: tram-a-lama-ding-dong

roosevelt island tram

59th street bridge

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the richard iii effect

Glamis Castle

Actors consider it bad luck to say his name, but a Scottish Member of Parliament hopes that a new tourist trail dedicated to Macbeth will bubble, not trouble, the fortunes of Scotland’s tourist industry. “Apart from boosting tourism, I would also hope the Macbeth trail would put some facts behind the myths about Macbeth,” said Alex Johnstone, who represents Northeast Scotland. And with this latest initiative, any plans dedicated to the rehabilitation of a villainous British monarch through tourism shall henceforth be known as The Richard III Effect, after the notorious Duke of York, who was slain at Bosworth while calling for his horse and recently discovered buried ignominiously beneath a Leicester car park. The proposed trail is expected to include sites such as Lumphanan, the village in Aberdeenshire where Macbeth was killed in battle in 1057, and Cairn O’Mount where he took his supporters en route to his defeat. Famous sites such as Glamis in Angus, where Macbeth died in Shakespeare’s play – written around 550 years after the king’s death - are also likely to be included. Other sites include Spynie Castle in Pitgaveny – where the battle between Duncan and Macbeth took place – and Dunsinane, the hill fort in the hills above Perth, where the Thane of Cawdor fought a battle with Earl Siward of Northumberland. Notably absent is the tiny island of Iona, part of the Inner Hebrides, and at one time the burial ground of early Scottish Kings. (Macbeth, Malcolm, and Duncan are all known to have been buried on the grounds of Iona Abbey, though none of their graves are now identifiable.) As many of the locations are spread out, consider the trail a good pretext for a “fair is foul and foul is fair” golf holiday. Then again “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” seems a tailor-made complement to Edinburgh’s annual arts festival. Or there’s my favorite justification: the “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” crawl across the Highland’s whisky distilleries.

iona abbey

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wishlist: spitbank

Spitbank Fort

The English city of Portsmouth has been fortified since Henry VIII built Southsea Castle in 1544 to protect the entrance to the harbor. The Tudor monarch was well aware that the strategic naval port on the south coast of Hampshire was exposed to attack from the French, a consideration that also concerned Prime Minister Palmerston a few years later in the mid-nineteenth century. Across the Channel, a newly crowned Emperor Napoleon III had revenge for his uncle’s defeat at Waterloo on his mind, which caused the British Government to reassess their coastal defenses. The result: a ring of detached sea forts - Spitbank, Horse Sand and No Man’s Land – built on the Spithead shoals in case of French invasion. The irony is that the forts never saw any action in the defense of he city, landing them the nickname “Palmerston’s  Follies.” De-activated by the end of WW II, the forts have been privately owned since 1982, going through many guises until one of them – Spitbank – finally found its true calling as a luxurious hideaway hotel. Arrive in style from your own private yacht or let them pick you up from nearby Gosport in a water taxi. The first thing you’ll notice is how things have changed since 1867: the previous gun emplacements have been transformed into eight stunning bedroom suites with sea views. The rooftop’s been converted to highlight a hot pool, expansive sun decks, and a steam sauna – all of which look out to Portsmouth Harbor and the iconic glass Spinnaker Tower. Your biggest decisions are likely going to involve where to eat and what to drink, so start with some bubbly in the Victory Bar before moving on to local crab and ribeye in the historic arched, brickwork of the Officer’s Mess. How about digestifs round the fire pit, looking out over the Isle of Wight? If the breeze proves too strong, settle in for brandy and roulette (or poker) in the Crow’s Nest. Win or lose, there’s nothing like waking up to the sound of the waves. Take a room for a short break or – more to my liking – hire the fort out as your own private island, with your own private crew. There’ll be no need to worry about neighbors telling you to keep the noise down – until the other two forts go condo that is.

spitbank suite

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the people have spoken

carnival kit

I’ve gotten a number of e-mails from readers wondering why, despite the volume of fanciful Carnival pictures posted, I’ve neglected to document my own festive gear. In spite of my tendency to remain in the background – at least visually – the people have spoken, what can I say? Witness then my first (and likely last) personal appearance on this site. Oh and just to be clear, I’m on the right.

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no man’s land

no man's land

I can think of no better way to end my short visit to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago than today’s catamaran sail around the Caribbean coast. My destination: a little peninsula affectionately known as No Man’s Land, which more than lived up to the promise of its nickname. As always, click then double-click the image for greater detail.  And yes, the water really is that Crayola shade of  blue-green.

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tucking in, up a tree

Jemma's Sea View Kitchen

Don’t let the boarded up window on the side of the road dissuade you, Jemma’s Sea View Kitchen has one of the best views in Tobago. And yes, like the sign says, it’s a proper treehouse, too, resting in the boughs of an Indian almond tree. (Which goes a way towards explaining why the breeze from the sea – and the panorama of Goat Bay and Little Tobago – is so fine.) It’s also a popular location for home cooking, Trini-style: curried shrimp, fish stew, grilled lobster, and a handful of old-fashioned herbal drinks like maundy fizz. Beyond having a nice piece of fish or fruit, I’ve never had an affinity for Caribbean cuisine. It’s so boring – and starchy. Not so Trinidad and Tobago, however; the influence of French and Indian flavors combine to create dishes that are unique, like roti, a thin Indian bread piled with potato, chana and curried chicken, doubles, which I’ve already gone on about, and pelau, a rice and chicken jambalaya that’s closer in spirit to paella. Two new additions to the favored list, thanks to Jemma: breadfruit pie, which has all the texture and taste of a really creamy mac ‘n’ cheese and tanya fritters, a crunchy hush puppie made of ground provisions with a healthy kick of cayenne. Does the rest of the Caribbean know what’s going on here – or do they just not care?

breadfruit pie

tanya fritters

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