Saturday, December 31, 2016

In Honor of Joe Bionda, a New World Version of "Auld Lang Syne."


On Christmas Day my children unexpectedly lost their stepfather, Joe Bionda.  Joe had a bigger than life heart, and a spirit that bought him friends wherever he sailed, for he was a man who loved the sea, almost as much as he did my children and grandchildren.  In his honor I’m reposting a blog I put up one year ago for New Years Day.  It’s all about the words so many will sing tonight thinking of Joe.

God rest your blessed soul, Papa Joe.

This piece really should be written by a Scot since it’s derived from a poem by perhaps the most famous Scot of all—or was it reindeer of all—Robert Burns (1759-1796), but as a Mykonian friend who’d read my last week’s fracturing of  “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (aka “A Visit from St Nicolas” for you purists out there) suggested I take a crack at this New Years Eve standard, who am I to resist her request? 

Burns wrote the poem (here’s the original version) in 1787, set to the tune of a traditional folk tune (Roud #6294).  Its seminal phrase, “Auld Lang Syne,” is traditionally translated as “long, long ago” though “old long ago” is more literally correct (based upon my deep understanding of the Lowland Scots language) and is a song about love and friendship in times past. For those of us who believe in time travel, astral planes, and questionable sobriety, I should point out that the phrase “auld lang syne” has been used by other poets in their work, including one Allan Ramsay (1686-1757), which I guess gives our Caro and her Alan a claim to have beaten me to the punch (bowl).

Happy New Year, everyone—and please forgive me, Scotland.

Should odd acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should odd acquaintance be for not,
And made to toe the line?

For all fond thine, I cheer,
For all fond mine,
We'll share a cup o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

And surely you’ll pick yours to hug!
And surely I'll pick mine!
And we'll show a lot o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

For all fond thine, I cheer,
For all fond mine,
We'll share a cup o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

We all have run about the hills
In search of flower wine;
And wandered many a weary foot,
But we’re all fine.

For all fond thine, I cheer,
For all fond mine,
We'll share a cup o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

We too have paddled up the stream,
In mourning, fun, and grind;
And seas between us broad have roar'd,
But we’re all fine.

For all fond thine, I cheer,
For all fond mine,
We'll share a cup o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

And here's a hand, my trusty friend!
And give a hand o' thine!
And we'll drink to kindness and good will,
For we’re all fine.

For all fond thine, I cheer,
For all fond mine,
We'll share a cup o' kindness yet,
For we’re all fine.

To get your head back in the holiday mood--and me hopefully back in the good graces of the Scots--here's the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards playing Auld Lang Syne accompanied by a journey to the timeless Scotland of Robert Burns' inspiration.

A Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year to ALL!


Friday, December 30, 2016

Gone but never to be forgotten.

2016 seemed like a bad year, it started badly and got worse. Just when we thought it was as bad as it could get, democracy took a turn to madness.

It  has appeared to be a very bad year for the passing of those the public held dear to their hearts, people about whom it can be truly said ‘ we will never see there like again.’  Oh yes, a lot of   innovators of culture said their final goodbyes on this stage, and when we thought enough was enough and the  performance was over, that sadness was over, another name hit the headlines in their passing. There has been three in this very last week of  2016.

And the year has another 48 hours to go.

Meddling about on the net, I did find the answer to the question 'has this been a really bad year for ‘celebrity deaths’ or is that just the way it appears to be? Has the passing of well kent faces been amplified by social media and does that give rise to a snowball effect,  one popular mourning  piled on the back of the previous one.  And why is that  wrong? Losing one relative or pet is bad enough but losing two especially close together has a impact exponentially hard. Has the whole planet been suffering from this?

It turns out there has indeed been a spike in the  number of  deaths of celebrities ( hate using that word as they are all somebodies mum or dad, son or daughter, but  the term is important later) in 2016. It makes a weird kind of sense  when considered in terms of timing and that  ‘pop’ culture and the dawn of mass communication  spawned a generation of famous people that are now, unfortunately, at at age  around or beyond the three score years and ten.

There are now more people who are famous than were famous in the 1950's. Every ten years has shown a  huge increase. Even people we don’t like ( and have no discernible talent )and those that we have no interest in are known to us. Their  deaths are plastered everywhere so our awareness is so much greater, our interest engaged by the how did they die, who were they with and who is saying what about them. Everybody has an opinion.

So that accounts for the older ones. But what about those taken before their time? Some accidental. Too many, far too many,  had written their own obituary by their shennigans in their younger years. Illegal drugs are illegal for a reason, They are bad for you. A very sad but true fact.

And the younger they are, the more shocked we are by it. The '27' club is a clearly defined group for a reason.

Is there any sense that it has all turned into some kind of online sport? What did they die of? What does 'unexpected but not suspicious'  mean? Why were they alone? What had they been taking? Am I morbidly curious – ( or as I had hoped ..) just medically interested. When I heard of George Michael's passing, I thought back to that bad pneumonia he had a few years ago. At the time of writing this  there are a few rumours going around of heroin overuse but nothing from the PM yet. And what business of mine is it? But I still want to know. 

Then there is the offices sweepstake – placing money on who will go next/first at the start of the next year, bad taste certainly, but  in the two I know of, the money won goes to a charity that was supported by the deceased. No such thing as a totally ill wind.

Here are a few of them.

And I'll leave the last word to the man who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee.

Happy and peaceful new year to you all,

Caro Ramsay  30th Dec 2016

PS, after writing this on Wednesday night, I then woke up on Thursday morning. To add another.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Where to go?

Stanley – Thursday

Mette and I are on the road again.  This time to visit friends in Malawi, which was called Nyasaland by the colonising Brits.  Sitting on an airplane is always an opportunity to ponder.

Not having travelled much before I left South Africa in my mid-twenties, I’ve been very fortunate to make up for that since, partly through work and partly because I have itchy feet.

As a result, I am frequently asked where I suggest as a destination.  Of course, the answer depends on who is asking.  One answer certainly doesn’t fit all.  However, over the years, I have developed a shortlist of places that I think everyone should see.

Before I tell you what’s on the list, I should clarify the two criteria for making the list.

1.         The place has to be astonishing. 
2.         It has to make you shake your head in wonder.

The implication of these two criteria is that the place doesn’t have to be beautiful, although it can be.

Number 1:

My number one must-see destination is Egypt, both as a whole, and more specifically Luxor, hundreds of kilometres up the Nile from Cairo.

In Cairo, of course there are the pyramids, astonishing in size and construction – structures that made me seriously consider that aliens could have been part of our history.  More astonishing is the Museum of Cairo – not the gussied-up places such as the British Museum or the various Smithsonians, but rather a large, ho-hum building with amazing artifacts.  Set aside several days just for it.

Most astonishing in Egypt is Luxor, home of the Temple of Karnak, Temple of Luxor, Valley of the Kings, and Valley of the Queens.

Construction of the Temple of Karnak was begun about four thousand years ago and lasted for several thousand years.  It is astonishing that the obelisks there, weighing over 300 tonnes, were cut from quarries nearly two hundred kilometres farther upstream.  The Egyptians of the time figured out that slinging these huge stones under barges made transporting them much easier (fifteen hundred years before Archimedes).  These huge slabs were then taken from the barges, moved some distance to where were to be erected, then rotated into their vertical position.  The plinths of some of the tall columns weight 70 tonnes.  How did they get them up there?

On the other side of the Nile, the treasures of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens defy my ability to describe them adequately.  You have all seen the photographs of the various amazing artifacts.

To experience this must-see place, it is absolutely worth putting up with the never-ending assault by kids and other street vendors.

Number 2:

From the remarkable man-made (or alien-made) structures of Egypt to the natural beauty of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Rising in central Angola, the Kavango River flows south towards Namibia, then turns east into Botswana.  When it reaches the area around the small town of Shakawe, the river fans out into a delta of islands and crystal-clear water covering about 15,000 sq. km, before evaporating or disappearing into the desert.

Satellite photo of the Okavango

Michael and me in a Mokoro (in the 1980's)

The Delta is a haven for wildlife, including the ones you’d expect to see in an African game reserve – lions, elephants, leopards, hippos, crocodiles – as well as some amazing antelope, such as the sitatunga and Lechwe.  Even more so, it is a paradise for birds.  Michael, some friends and I were camping in the Delta once and recorded about 130 different species in twenty-four hours.  The prize for birders is Pels Fishing Owl – rarely seen.  Shakawe is the only place I have ever suffered from bird overload – more species in greater numbers than my mind could take in.

There is nothing more magical than being punted silently through the numerous channels of the Delta in a Mokoro – a dugout, usually from a Sausage tree.  The sights and sounds are food for the soul.

Number 3:

Jerusalem.  I am not religious, but the confluence of three major religions, with all the ramifications, historic and contemporary, filled me with wonder.  So much of so many cultures has ties to this city that I was in a constant state of awe. 

Temple Mount - holiest site in Judaism 
Church of the Holy Sepulchre - some believe Jesus was crucified here

al-Aqsa Mosque, where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended into heaven

Excavations in the area show human settlement over seven thousand years ago, and in that time, the city has been destroyed twice, besieged numerous times, recaptured numerous times, and always a city of turmoil.  

I didn’t find it a particularly attractive place visually, but rather was amazed at the extent that historic old was embedded in the bustling new – existing side by side, within each other.  It felt perfectly natural that an electronics shop could be neighbours with a place mentioned in the bible.

It was also a place that embodied what I find so incongruous in so many religions – peaceful philosophies surrounded by men with automatic weapons, trying to change the beliefs of others.  Not much acceptance of difference here.

Number 4:

Most people baulk at my next recommendation, exclaiming that it is not beautiful and that it embodies everything that is bad about human nature.  I always agree, because that it is exactly why Las Vegas is also on my list of places everyone should see.  It is an astonishing place that makes me shake my head in wonder.

It is a place with no redeeming features.  It is the ultimate shrine to crassness and greed.  And it is no accident that a town that grew out of the nothingness of the desert is where everyone wants something for nothing.

The Strip

It is so awful that I like to go there every four or five years.

I like to see the gazillion lights beaming invitations to people who fantasise about winning fortunes at the tables or hitting the jackpot on the slots.  I love watching men, past their prime, ogling the scantily-dressed women, also often past their prime.  And the more drinks the men have, the more they ogle and the worse they behave, and the more money they lose.  And since many drinks are free, the they drink even more.  And so on ad nauseam.  I love the sight.

And I love the tackiness dressed up in tuxedos.

Of course, the real reason Vegas is weird may lie in the fact that the US military conducted many atmospheric tests nearby in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Mushroom cloud near Vegas

And number 5:

There is nothing like seeing tens of thousands, nay hundreds of thousands, of migrating animals on the Serengeti (and Maasai Mara in Kenya).  There is no place on the planet that rivals this in terms of sheer numbers.  And of course, there is the accompanying hunting – by lions, by leopards, by cheetah, and crocodiles.

Uncountable wildebeest

The famous river crossing

Other countries, such as Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and South Africa have wonderful wildlife, but for sheer spectacle there is nothing to compare with the Serengeti migration.  Add to that a trip to the Ngorongoro crater, and a visit to Tanzania is a must.

So that’s my list of must-see places.  All astonishing.  All fill me with wonder.

Do you have such a list?  If so, what’s on it?

Wishing you all a very healthy, happy, and boring New Year. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas in the Chianti

Image result for Images christmas in the chianti

Annamaria on Monday

The Prelude

Good-bye to my beloved NYC

Hello JFK, where a Spanish couple brought this to check as luggage?!!??
Flight 94 to Madrid
Arriving at Dawn
Changing planes here's a snap
A breakfast snack
At home in Florence, Nicoletta has my tree all ready to greet me.

A quick gussy-up and off to the St. Regis for afternoon tea to celebrate Christmas Eve

I met Nicoletta when I was her student in Italian in NYC.

Her parents, Lilli and Marcello--my friends these 35 years!

Walking home passed an archangel

Christmas Day

Walk to morning coffee, a street-art Santa

Late morning stroll along the Arno


A view from the road into the estate and Simone's house

The view from his front door.  The wine we will drink came from these vines

Nicoletta's grandfather Bucciolini was a leading Italian playwright 

Simone and Gloria's grandsons
L'albero di Natale

Gli Antipasti
A New York friend once quipped that taking a picture of your food is the
Twenty-first Century equivalent of saying grace.

Pizza di Scarola, a special treat for the Neapolitan in me
The pasta course--PERFECT homemade tagliatelle alla bolognese.

Treats of the Nonnas for the main course

And Nicoletta's home-made NY cheesecake for dessert.  OOOPS!  All gone.

And gifts!

And cioccolatini.  I wish I could offer you all one.

Firenze in Evening

Wishing you all Comfort and JOY!!