Atlantis Alumni

Monday, August 31, 2009

From The Celbrity Solstice

The outdoor pool area.

The latest in fashions for the gay male...a designer jockstrap...was featured in yesterday's episode of "Project Runway"

The "Dog Tag Tea Dance" is a very popular event on every Atlantis cruise.

We’re now sailing somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea en route to Alexandria, Egypt. We arrive there tomorrow morning then travel by motor coach to Cairo to visit the Pyramids and the Egyptian museum. We’re enjoying the Celebrity Solstice very much. We’ve made some new friends and cocktails and dinner are a lot of fun with our group. The ship is beautiful. It’s only about a year old. Here are some photos I took yesterday.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

At Sea!

We're on the Celebrity Solstice just now off the coast of Sicily. The ship is beautiful. Hope to have pics later.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Almost At Sea

We're off to board the Celebrity Solstice this morning. It sails at 6 PM. We'll be two days at sea before we reach Alexandria, Egypt. This is one of the great Caravaggio paintings inside the Church of St. Maria del Popolo. St. Peter asked to be crucified upside down out of respect for Christ, as the story goes.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Our Last Day In Rome

Galleria Borghese

Adrian, Jim, Harvey, and Dan at the Piazza Popolo in Rome

The main highlight of the last full day in Rome was our visit to the Galleria Borghese, set in a large and lovely park generally called the ‘Villa Borghese.’ Cardinal Scipione Borghese started this magnificent collection in the 17th century with some ancient Roman sculpture. He expanded it further with great Baroque masterpieces by Bernini and Caravaggio, and such Renaissance gems as Raphael’s “Deposition” and “The Lady with the Unicorn”, or Titian’s luxurious ‘Sacred and Profane Love.” Our shipmates Harvey and Adrian, and Wayne and Steve joined us for this tour. The last time we had been in Rome the museum was closed, so it was a thrill to again see the 6 Caravaggio paintings and the amazing statues of Bernini, including his “Daphne and Apollo.”

We walked through the park after the museum visit, and marveled over two large Caravaggio altarpieces in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo. These works were “The Conversion of St. Paul” and the “Crucifixion of St. Peter.” With their amazing diagonal compositions and dramatic lighting, they clearly showed the best of the artist who created the unique Baroque style of painting.

We showed Harvey and Adrian the Pantheon and the church of St. Agnese by Borromini, and seeing them a second time one noticed new details of those great buildings. After a jolly lunch near the Piazza Navona, we toured the gigantic Palazzo Doria Pamphili with the fellows from New York, before taking a taxi back to the hotel. Tonight we’ll search for another restaurant near the Piazza Navona, for our last dinner in Rome. Tomorrow we take a transfer bus to the port at Civitavecchia to board the ship “The Solstice” for our cruise on the Mediterranean.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rome: Day Three

Dan prepares to enjoy the famous chocolate tartufo at the restaurant Tre Scalini located at the Piazza Navona

View of the Roman Forum from the Capitoline heights

The main altar in St. Peter's basilica...St. Peter is believed to have been buried below.

St. Peter's Basilica

Thursday morning we slept in—a well deserved rest—and then headed out to the largest Christian church in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica. Though originally designed by Bramante in the 16th century, the Pope’s main church was later modified by many others, including della Porta, Vignola and Michelangelo, who crowned the great edifice with his magnificent dome. The spectacular interior includes such impressive sights as the Baldacchino of Bernini, over the high altar, and Michelangelo’s famed “Pieta,” one of his earliest sculptural masterpieces. Unfortunately, due to the maniacs who have tried to damage the marble statue, it is now located far from spectators behind plastic screens.

After leaving San Pietro, we took a cab to the Capitoline, or Capitol Hill where the 16th century Palace that houses the mayor is located. This building, and two others, were designed by Michelangelo at the request of one of the Renaissance popes. The unity of the three buildings is beautifully matched by the pavement stones and gigantic stairs, also planned by the great Renaissance master. Inside of the Capitoline Museum are such treasures as Caravaggio’s sensual “St. John the Baptist”, a Titian “Baptism of Christ” and many ancient Roman statues. They include the gigantic equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in bronze, the small bronze of the Spinario (a boy removing a thorn from his foot), the bronze she-wolf nurturing Romulus and Remus (the legendary founders of the city) and the gigantic head of the first Christian Emperor, Constantine.

Before lunch we visited the French church in Rome, San Luigi dei Francesi (St. Louis of the French.) It features a lavish Baroque interior, but its crowning glory are the three paintings that made Caravaggio a famous artist in Rome. The great inventor of the Baroque style of dramatic painting created three masterpieces on the life of St. Matthew for the Contarelli Chapel. Most famous is “The Calling of St. Matthew” which quotes a pose of Michelangelo, and combines realistic and mystical spaces and figures within the same masterpiece. Being the eternal innovator, Caravaggio made his St. Matthew a believable tax-collector, as he was before he became an Apostle. And in the painting, he is surrounded by young men and other tax collectors dressed in clothing from the time of Caravaggio’s 1601 Rome. Opposite these figures are Christ and St. Peter, dressed in ancient Roman togas. They seem on one level, to appear from another world, and Christ stretches his hand to call Matthew into his next life. A strong use of light and dark, or chiaroscuro, highlights all the figures and an extremely dramatic diagonal thrust of light from an unseen window. It’s an unforgettable masterpiece, a painting to rival those of Michelangelo and Raphael. The other two paintings in the series show other scenes from the life of St. Matthew. In one he is seen writing his gospels, inspired by a curvilinear angel. In the third painting Caravaggio depicts the martyrdom of the saint, when all the prisoners surrounding the apostle are astonished by an angel bearing his reward, a palm frond symbolizing martyrdom.

As a reward for traipsing through the hot streets of Rome, we treated ourselves to a lavish lunch at the Tre Scalini Restaurant in the Piazza Navona. We had just visited Borromini’s elegant church of St. Agnes, and we dined on crustaceans, various pastas, grilled fish, a white Sicilian wine and the restaurant’s signature offering, the tartufo. The tartufo is a rich chocolate ice-cream concoction filled with chunks of dark chocolate and cherries, topped by fresh whipped cream. You might wonder why we weren’t counting the calories, but after all our walking for the past three days, didn’t we need to replenish our tummies and tired feet? Ah well, such is the life of tourists in Roma.

- Dan

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rome, Day Two

PHOTOS: Two views of the beautifully restored Sistine Chaple, and the Castel Sant’Angelo

On the morning of our second day in Rome, we had reservations to see the Vatican Museums. The most magnificent part of them include the Sistine Chapel and the Stanze (gigantic rooms) decorated by Raphael. It was a revelation to see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, since its restoration. The frescoes of such famous episodes from the Book of Genesis as “The Creation of Adam” and “The Temptation and Expulsion are notable not only for their renewed brightness, but also their greater visibility. In the 1990s Michelangelo’s later fresco “The Last Judgment” was also restored. Its much darker story is also fascinating, and it occupies the wall over the main altar in the Chapel. On the Sistine Chapel’s side walls are further, earlier frescoes done by the predecessors of Michelangelo, including Perugino and Botticelli.

Luckily, because of our reservations, our party were the first ones into the Chapel, and it was good to converse about the masterpieces while not people swamped by crowds.

After the Sistine Chapel we devoted some time to the four Stanze, decorated by frescoes of Raphael and his followers. Though I’ve taught such masterpieces as “The School of Athens” for many years in college classrooms, it never fails to impress me. Now that the great fresco has been cleaned, it too glows with vivid color. In the Pinacoteca, or Picture Gallery, we saw masterpieces by Melozzo da Forli, Raphael, Caravaggio and many others.

After a rest stop for sodas, we took a cab to the Villa Farnesina, also on the same side of Rome. I had always wanted to see Raphael’s fresco of “Galatea” and was not disappointed by that graceful masterpiece or his frescoes about Psyche and Cupid. Our last stop before lunch was the Palazzo Corsini.

After lunch we returned to St. Peter’s, but decided the line waiting to enter the basilica was too long, particularly in such bright sun. So we walked onward to the Castel Sant’Angelo, the mammoth fortress of the Popes, originally built as the tomb of the ancient Emperor Hadrian. The view from the top terrace is spectacular. But after that attraction we took a taxi ride back to the Hotel Quirinale, and a rest before dinner. Dinner on the Via Rasella took place at a typical Roman hosteria.


Dan Writes: Our Return To Rome


On our first day back in Rome—after twenty-five years(!)—several things stuck me about the Eternal City. First of all, is the city’s scale. The buildings and streets are grand, and laid out in a grandiose manner. It doesn’t matter whether it was ancient Rome, Renaissance Rome or the city of the Baroque era in the 17th century. All were heights of architecture, art and living, and reached their apogee in Roma.

Even the vast throngs of tourists and the heat of August cannot dim one’s love and appreciation of this incredible city. Though our plane left Philadelphia late, we summoned up enough energy, after a short nap, to visit our first four attractions. While Borromini’s church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane was closed, its façade is worth while studying, for its undulating Baroque curves, in the late afternoon Roman light. The masterpiece of Gian Lorenzo Bernini was the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. Its theatrical grandeur combines painted interiors, rich marbles and painted ceilings. Yet all these elements are in the service of the mystical, ultra sensual statue of Saint Teresa and the Angel who pierces her heart with a golden arrow. On a return to the Palazzo Barberini we saw the Holbein portrait of Henry VIII, the imperious Tudor monarch, along with three Caravaggio paintings, including Judith dispatching Holofernes.

Down from the subtle Renaissance façade of the Palazzo Barberini runs the street called Via Rasella, where we stayed at the small Hotel Julia 25 years ago. Jim was delighted to return to the area, though we both enjoy our current hotel, the huge, late 19th century Hotel Quirinale on the Via Nazionale. Our last attraction at the start of the afternoon was the gigantic, ancient church of Santa Maria Maggiore—a combination of Early Christian, Renaissance and Baroque styles.

After showering and resting, we met shipmates Wayne and Steve, to have dinner near the Piazza Navona. On the way there we again passed the church of San Carlo, the Palazzo Quirinale, and wound up at the Trevi Fountain. Though jammed with tourists, it’s impossible not to appreciate the vigor of that great Baroque delight. We still had time to visit the interior of the Pantheon and then dine at a fine restaurant, La Scaletta, near the Piazza Navona.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Enjoying Rome!

It's been 25 years since we were last in Rome. Here we are at the romantic Trevi Fountain. The top photo is of the Pantheon. We had a good flight over. We took a nap then went sightseeing. In the evening we met two new friends, Wayne and Steve, who will be on our cruise next week to Egypt and the Greek Isles. We did some more sightseeing then we had dinner at a really fine restuarant near the Piazza Navona. We can still pack a lot into a day! Tomorrow we take a tour of the Vatican. We'll get to see the beautiful Sistene Chapel.
Jim & Dan

Monday, August 24, 2009

Afghanistan - Vietnam


No more troops for the war in Afghanistan.

The answer has to come from the Afghan people. The war is yet another example of misguided U.S. policy. When will we ever learn? Their are other options...regional powers need to be involved with peacekeeping forces. But we cannot nation buiild or force our values down the throats of the people there.

End the war now.


Friday, August 21, 2009

What's Important

I came upon a child of god
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me
Im going on down to Yasgurs farm
Im going to join in a rock n roll band
Im going to camp out on the land
Im going to try an get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And weve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe its the time of man
I dont know who l am
But you know life is for learning
We are stardust
We are golden
And weve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

By the time we got to woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devils bargain
And weve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

- Joni Mitchell

TRAILER: Michael Moore's 'Capitalism: A Love Story'

Michael Moore Knows What's Wrong

Here Is What's Wrong

Part of our problem is Obama, who does not have the temperamant of a leader, and the pols and hacks (e.g. Rahm) that he has surrounded himself with. Obama has turned out to be just another garden variety politician. "Change you can believe in" has turned out to be triangulation and betrayal.

But the real problem is systemic. As Larry Flynt and Michal Moore point out today over at Huffington, our political system is totally corrupt. The control of American politics by the uber wealthy, corporations, and the military-industrial complex is complete. That's why having a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress has meant just about nothing in the overall sceme of things. It doesn't matter which of the two major parties is in control. They are both bought and paid for. Nothing will change without political reforms that are not even being suggested let alone seriously considered.

Post Political?

I think I'm finally burnt out, or bummed out, or both. My Woodstock generation values are out of sync with post 1970 American values. I watched a documentary a few days ago that tried to make the point that the crowds massed at the Obama inaugural were like the peace and music crowd at Woodstock. I don't think so. Well, maybe the crowds were hopeful..."change" and all that, but Obama has turned out to be just another garden variety politician. "Change you can believe in" has turned out to be triangulation and betrayal. Progressives are miffed. I don't think I care much anymore.


Julie and Julia and Yuppies

We went to see "Julie and Julia" yesterday. It was good. Meryl Streep is just fantastic as always. The way that Yuppies are portrayed in the movie (as self absorbed) is not flattering. Last weekend I was reminded of the unselfishness of the young at Woodstock 40 years ago. What a difference in generations!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Holland Tunnel Graffitti

I saw this on my way into the Holland Tunnel yesterday. I thought it was very prophetic...


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's Sick, It's Vile, It's Educated, It's Healthcare

We shouldn't give up on health care or the promise of having real public health care in our country. When I see the beligerent Americans shouting in town halls, babbling endlessly about going back to an America the Founding Fathers had intended; you know, all white, Christian and people that care more about their wallets then their neighbor, I have to wonder if we aren't already lost. And any analogy of Obama to Hitler is ludicrous. Barney Frank said it best to a woman who stood up in front of him and said healthcare is like the Nazi regime: "Arguing with you is like arguing with the dining room table, I just won't do it." It's a lazy and stupid analogy regardless.
I've worked for big companies for over two decades and I can recognize manipulation when I see it. Insurance companies are full of them: hordes of men and women with MBA's and mediocre college degrees getting together and denying their responsibility to their fellow man. Using a spreadsheet and clever media manipulation to deny the obvious to so many.
I have a few thoughts on health care. It's essentially the same as public education; we need to give it away and lavish on it. It's a good people investment for our country and it's exactly the kind of thing our founding fathers could not have foreseen but absolutely would have wanted. If you don't believe me, go back to high school civics and this time worry less about your tests and more about what the book and teacher is saying. Ok, something more constructive? We live in a living Democracy, the Constitution and Bill Of Rights are not static documents. Google HR476 (one of the proposed bills in the House Of Representatives for health care). It is very straightforward and is the least we can do.
We are being manipulated. Quite heavily at this point. Let me Are public roads, schools, fireman, parks and the like socialist? Hardly! Is the Vets Administration or the Pentagon a bunch of socialists? Nope. Yet they are all paid for by our collective pooled taxes. I'll give you a not so subtle situation I found myself in just recently. In speaking with a manager in my firm, I had a not so subtle reminder that if I didn't "make my number" I could get a tap on the shoulder and I'd be looking for a new job in no time. What would my family do without income, health care and all of the wonder the firm blesses upon my humble self? I better pull in much more money for the firm or who knows what could happen? Doesn't sound like that has much to do with a friendly doctor's visit or choosing my doctor or single payer now, does it?
I also had another experience this week that struck me as strange. I had almost $1000 bill dropped in my lap for my kids wellness visits. Both my wife and I went into shock when we saw the bill and we were launched into a half a day of insurance call centers and very belligerent billing staffers at medical facilities. The bills we received were literally out of the blue; my whole family has extensive insurance and the bills went back almost 3 years! We think we may have gotten it all sorted out yet I am still going to be out well over $140; my wife warns me daily that nothing is done until we have some kind of paper saying it is done so I am keeping my joy under wraps until then.
I relate these two experiences because they are not in theory. They are real things that happen to me and thousands of others every day. And they happen so often I do know that they are not mere coincidence. Perhaps the health care industry is a bit more concerned over a crack that happens with public health care; public oversight. Right now, there is very little legislation to stop an insurer and a doctor from forcing me to pay $1k in medical bills they say I owe. And the system is so confusing, at some point it becomes completely futile to fight it.
Granted, the government doesn't have a good record of uncomplicating things, check out the tax code for the last 40 years. However our society is largely defined by how we treat the weakest in it, the one's that can't care for themselves. I have to wonder if and when we'll all find ourselves in that position some day. I hope we all have great health and care by then.

Don't Slip Slide Away

We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe were gliding down the highway
When in fact were slip slidin away

- Paul Simon

What's the worst drug you can take? Is it marijuana, alcohol, maybe LSD? Or is it the one that numbs you day in and day out, year in and year out? Finally you breathe your last with the realization that your life had little of worth in those few really valuable things, your loved one, animal companions, great art and music, that you were fortunate enough to be able to appreciate at least some of the time.

Better to stop, or be stopped as I was by this past weekend's Woodstock 40th anniversary celebration, before it's too late. Being taken back to that beautiful moment in time was a strong antidote to the pernicious drug of mundane living. It was a wake up call and reminder to me to do the really important things in life if I possibly can, and to savor what is truly valuable, if only for a fleeting moment, each and every day. It's easier said than done.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Woodstock Plus 40: America Gone Mad

Oh, to be back in the idyllic summer of 1969, when the biggest sin committed by the rebellious mobs at Woodstock was getting stoned. Something else is happening here in our anxious summer of 2009, when instead of flower-power and free love there are reports of death threats and fanatics packing guns.

Frank Rich in the NY Times, commenting on the current U.S. political and social environment. Take me back, please.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Santana - Soul Sacrifice (Woodstock 1969)

Just a fantastic performance and one of my favorites from Woodstock.

Woodstock 40th Anniversary

40 years ago this month I made plans with a buddy from my rock band to go to Woodstock. We didn't have much money, and I was working a summer job to help pay my college tuition. We were going to drive from Philly in my then 19 year old Plymouth jalopy (my car was as old as I was.) As the date approached, it became apparent that we would not be able to swing it financially, and even if we could my old car would probably not make it, so at the last minute we decided not to go. Instead, I did the responsible thing and worked at my summer job that mid August weekend in 1969. I've regretted not going to Woodstock ever since, but even those of us who weren't there still have the music, and through the music we can keep the Woodstock spirit of love and peace alive.


WOODSTOCK 40th: Circus Maximus - Wind

I wasn't there, and neither was Circus Maximus, but this great song from the 60s was one of the earliest progressive rock classics that I listened to at that time.