Monday, May 28, 2007

Highlands Photographic Guild in Milford, PA

"Photography has always reminded me of the second child.. trying to prove itself. The fact that it wasn’t really considered an art.. that it was considered a craft has trapped almost every serious photographer." - Richard Avedon

Trudi and I recently discovered a fascinating photography collection in Milford, PA. It is the Highlands Photographic Guild. Based on the quality of their work, I am certain that these photographers can "hold their own" with any other art form.

I was captivated by this collection of well crafted photos, which were both compelling and eclectic. I have always enjoyed photo displays that present a number of different artists. Such an experience is both visually stimulating and intellectually rewarding. It forces you to categorize the different styles, and thus to better understand each photographer's point of view.

Karen Kruger, one of the 10 resident photographers, was kind enough to walk us through the collection, and to give us some background on each artist. Karen is in love with color. She uses it in a bold but controlled way. Her photos grab your attention, and elicit a powerful emotional and cerebral response. She is particularly gifted in her use of blue. Her photo of flagstone steps, a jar and a door mesmerized me. The different shades of turquoise, cobalt, and navy leaped out from the picture and overwhelmed me. It was a most pleasant experience!

Contact information - and hours - can be found at HPG. They also participate in Art After Dark, where a number of artists, musicians, and merchants stay open from 6-9 PM the second Saturday of each month. This sounds like a new and interesting activity for people (like Trudi and I) who find themselves doing the same thing every weekend.

After viewing the collection at the Highlands Photographic Guild Gallery, I challenge any painter or sculptor to claim that their art is on a higher level. These photos speak for themselves, and the message is that the Guild Gallery collection is fine art in every sense of the word!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Help Support an End to the Breeding of Chimpanzees for Research.

An organization called Project R&R, is collecting names on a petition to end the breeding of chimpanzees for research. If you want to add your signature, please click here.

The Chimpanzee Genome was completed in 2005. Scientists determined that there is less than a 2% difference between human and Chimpanzee DNA. We are genetically closer to chimpanzees that we are to Neanderthals.

This data provides a valid reason to rethink the use our furry cousins for medical research.

I welcome your comments (pro and con) on this issue.

Words of Wisdon from Richard Wagner

Based on what humans have done to our planet, I wonder if Richard Wagner's words are still true.

Perhaps Planet of the Apes would be an upgrade!

Friday, May 11, 2007

There Are Still Some Good People Left in the World!

This afternoon, I went into the Boonton, NJ Post Office to mail some letters. After I entered, I witnessed a very rude and obnoxious customer giving a hard time to the postal clerk who was waiting on him.

I was amazed by how well this postal clerk interacted with this customer. The clerk kept his cool and was very professional, even when he encountered insulting and condescending comments. I said to myself, "Now this is a guy who has some class and personal integrity!" That postal clerk was Vincent DeCristofaro.

Vincent and I started talking, and I explained that I was mailing letters in support of my fight against YP.Corp, a company that added a charge to my home phone bill, without my request, knowledge, or consent. In December of 2006, YP.Corp agreed to issue $2 million in refunds, after settling in court, with 34 State Attorneys General for improper business practices.

I informed Vincent about "cramming", which is a form of telephone fraud. I told him that many innocent people and groups - including charities, churches, schools, and non-profit organizations - are being victimized by this unethical business practice. It doesn't get much sleazier than to improperly take money from churches, schools, and charities!

Vincent informed me that he and a group of Italian friends recently started a non-profit organization called Vero Amici - which means "True Friends" in Italian. This group, designated as a 501(c), raises money for needy people and causes, including:
  • Special needs children and adults
  • Single mothers
I was not surprised that an individual who would have the character to deal so well with a rude customer, would also be actively involved in charity work. It helped to reaffirm my faith in humanity!

Vincent informed me that almost 100% of the money raised by Vero Amici goes towards the causes that they support - a very impressive figure! I don't contribute to the large corporate charities because so much of the money raised goes towards overhead.

I encourage you to check out Vero Amici and to support their work. Kudos to you Vincent!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Petrarca Cucina E Vino - A Casual New York Trattoria with Superb Food and Wine!

Wikipedia defines Serendipity as "the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely. The word derives from an old Persian fairy tale and was coined by Horace Walpole on 28 January, 1754 in a letter he wrote to a friend. The letter read,

"I once read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip. As their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of."

Today was a serendipitous day for my wife Trudi, my sister Vicki, and I when we discovered a charming restaurant in lower Manhattan called Petrarca Cucina E Vino.

We originally set out from SoHo to participate in the TriBeCa Family Festival Street Fair, which we were told was located somewhere on Church Street. But alas, we found out - after walking down to the World Trade Center (about 20 blocks) - that the Street Fair was located elsewhere.

It was on the way back through TriBeCa that we happened upon Petrarca Cucina E Vino. I was immediately attracted to the restaurant by its resemblance to the trattorias that I frequented in Tuscany.

The interior was uncluttered, with nicely spaced tables, so that you didn't have to be involved in your fellow diners' conversations. The walls were lined with wine racks, interspaced with jars of preserved fruit. This environment made me feel like I could just "chill out" and enjoy a casual meal - something which is hard to come by in The Big Apple.

The wine menu was impressive, with a generous selection of Italian reds and whites. We chose a Super Tuscan "Corbaia" 1997 by Bossi. This turned out to be a full bodied and fruity red, with a wonderful bouquet, and a substantially long finish. It was a delightful discovery which we greatly enjoyed. Trudi has added it to our "We Have To Get More of This Wine" list. The "Corbaia" was $35 for a half bottle, which I thought was reasonable in a city where many restaurant wines come with three digit price tags.

Petrarca Cucina E Vino offers many of their best wines in half bottles, which I think is a smart marketing move. It allows diners to sample wines that might normally be out of their price range, and thus to increase their wine experience. It also increases the inventory turn for the higher priced wines, which can tie up a lot of a restaurant's cash.

During our meal, I spoke with Giorgio Conte, the Manager. He was trained as a sommelier. His talent and passion were clearly evident in the quality of the wine selection.

One thing that I don't enjoy about many restaurants is the wine glasses. Many are thick, clunky containers, without the full bow that allows you to fully appreciate a wine's bouquet. They look like they are designed more to survive hundreds of dishwashings than to optimize the wine tasting experience. This restaurant, to their credit, served our wine in the same quality wine glasses that we use at home. I give them high marks for this!

Petrarca Cucina E Vino also offers a Happy Hour from 4:30 PM to 7:00 PM on Monday through Friday. During this event, they offer 75 wines by the glass, and 350 wines by the bottle, an impressive number of choices for any New York restaurant!

For my entree, I chose Fettuccine Alla Bolognese, ($17.50) which was fettuccine with a red meat sauce. The portion was generous and the meat sauce melted in my mouth! It was so good that I wound up eating the entire portion.

Trudi opted for Pollo Paillard, ($17.50) which was grilled chicken with arugula, tomato, and onions. The chicken was juicy, with a nice caramelized glaze that blended perfectly with the vegetable topping. Trudi has traveled to Italy for over 20 years on business. She said that her chicken dish was as good as any meal she had in "The Old Country".

Vicki selected Penne Al Tonno, ($17.50) which was penne with fresh tuna, tomatoes, black olives, and capers. The chef was successful in broiling the fish into "The Perfect Tuna Zone". I define this as the degree of "doneness" where the outside has a delicious crust while the inside is cooked enough to take the raw taste out of the fish - but not so much that it loses the succulent texture that makes sushi so delicious.

We were also served wonderful Italian bread, with extra virgin olive oil.

No Italian meal is complete without a cup of cappuccino. Petrarca Cucina E Vino's offering was well prepared, and provided an enjoyable conclusion to our meal.

As far as service, our waiter was attentive, but not intrusive - a rare commodity in New York restaurants! In many places, you either can't find your waiter for half an hour, or they are hovering around you like a nervous puppy.

Very good food, an excellent selection of wines, and reasonable prices. Combined with a relaxed dining atmosphere and good service, I give Patrarca Cucina E Vino - 5 Bananas. I will recommend it to all of my primate friends!

The Monkey Prose Restaurant Rating System goes from 0 Bananas (It makes Army food look good.) to 5 Bananas (An exceptional dining experience.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

No Touch Monkey! - by Ayun Halliday

I discovered "No Touch Monkey" during one of my weekly visits to Barnes & Noble. It was sitting on the "Hmm, that's interesting!" table - in between the Science section and an immense wall of "Chicken Soup for the ....." books. Boy, have they milked the last ounce of revenue out of that cash cow!

Being a monkophile, I was compelled to touch "No Touch Monkey" and give it a quick scan. After one paragraph I was hooked!

The author, Ayun Halliday, chronicles her journeys around the world, with a host of travel companions. As a young adult, she embraced the "I'm bulletproof" self image that many of us shared at that age. That sense of invulnerability is what allowed us to take on risky,and maybe crazy adventures that would have frozen older souls with fear.

Bruce Lee once said "The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering." In Ayun's travels, she acquired more fascinating experiences than many people encounter in a lifetime. And I am certain that the rest of her life will be richer for it!

The aspect that I enjoyed most about "No Touch Monkey" is that it was "a good read". Her story flowed smoothly - like conversation with a friend, when you are each on your third glass of wine. Her descriptive prose was colorful; forming vivid images in my head as she chronicled her exploits. The only other author who affected me this intensely was Ernest Hemingway - not a bad comparison for literary chops!

But unlike EH, Ayun doesn't take herself too seriously. She has a razor sharp wit, and a natural talent for discovering irony in whatever she encounters. That substantially increased my enjoyment of her book.

I finished "No Touch Monkey", a 272 page book, in four days, which is somewhat of a record for me. I was saddened when I was done. I felt like I was losing a new friend. As a result, I would read this book again, just to re-experience that relationship.

Summary: I give "No Touch Monkey" two opposable thumbs up. If you would like to experience the adventure of world travel, without encontering mayhem, missed connections, and malaria, then this book is for you!

You can find our more about the author at Ayun Halliday.

Among Chimps and Bonobos, the Hand Often Does the Talking

Chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans share a common use of gestures to enhance their communication. This implies that this trait is genetic and not cultural.

You can read this story at The New York Times.

Update on the Court Battle Over Primarily Primates Inc. in Texas

Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Seven chimps formerly used in research at Ohio State University could be returned to a troubled primate sanctuary, nearly six months after being removed from the Ohio preserve amid allegations of mistreatment.

A probate judge last week returned control of Primarily Primates Inc. to its restructured board of directors, provided its founder and former executive director, Wallace Swett Jr., cuts ties with the company.

Nine chimps and three monkeys, used for cognitive research at OSU, came to the sanctuary in March 2006, in a more than $300,000 contract to care for the animals.

One of the monkeys escaped the day it arrived at the 75-acre facility in San Antonio, and two chimps died within months of moving in. Concerns arose quickly about conditions at Primarily Primates, and the chimps' former caretakers sued the sanctuary alleging mistreatment and mismanagement.

A judge eventually decided that a court-appointed caretaker should oversee the facility while the legal matters were sorted out, and placed Lee Theisen-Watt in charge.

Theisen-Watt decided the park was overcrowded and in terrible condition, a claim Primarily Primates disputed, and shipped the chimps to a sanctuary in Louisiana.

The agreement between Primarily Primates and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott puts the park back under the control of the company's board, ending Theisen-Watt's oversight.

"The condition of the facility has been greatly improved and overcrowding has been alleviated," said Abbott's spokesman, Tom Kelley. The agreement requires Primarily Primates to build adequate enclosures for the chimps by October and submit to inspections over the next two years.

Critics note that the settlement reinstates two members who served on the board last year, including Priscilla Feral, who said she expected former board member Stephen Tello to be named temporary executive director.

Thanks to Benjamin Bayliss and Monkeywire for this story.