Sunday, February 28, 2010

A bit of internet humor

I love this Doctor!

Q: Doctor, I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life. Is this true?

A: Your heart only good for so many beats, and that it...don't waste on exercise. Everything wear out eventually. Speeding up heart not make you live longer; it like saying you extend life of car by driving faster. Want to live longer? Take nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?

A: You must grasp logistical efficiency. What does cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So steak is nothing more than efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef also good source of field grass (green leafy vegetable). And pork chop can give you 100% of recommended daily allowance of vegetable product. Ice Cream even better everything Cow eats in one package!

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?

A: No, not at all. Wine made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that mean they take water out of fruity bit so you get even more of goodness that way. Beer also made of grain. All people who don't drink are unhappy. Happy people live longer so drink more. Bottoms up!

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?

A: Well, if you have body and you have fat, your ratio one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio two to one, etc.

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?

A: Can't think of single one, sorry. More people killed running on street than lying on couch. My philosophy is: No pain...good!

Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?

A: YOU NOT LISTENING! Food are fried these day in vegetable oil. In fact, they permeated by it. How could getting more vegetable be bad for you?!?

Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?

A: Definitely not! When you exercise muscle, it get bigger. You should only be doing sit-up if you want bigger stomach.

Q: What about food additives?

A: You want to complain about something for free? If it added it must be better like fuel additive!

Q: Is chocolate bad for me?

A: Are you crazy?!? HEL-LO-O!! Cocoa bean! Another vegetable! It best feel-good food around!

Q: Is swimming good for your figure?

A: If swimming good for your figure, explain whale to me..

Q: Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle?

A: Hey! 'Round' a shape!

Well, I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets.

And remember:

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - Chardonnay in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO-HOO, what a ride!!"


For those of you who watch what you eat, here's the final word on nutrition and health. It's a relief to know the truth after all those conflicting nutritional studies.

1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

3. The Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

4. The Italians drink a lot of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

5. The Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.


Eat and drink what you like.

Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

Claudio Giaconi

I have been reflecting on the earthquake in Chile. Somehow I was reminded of my college Spanish teacher, who was from Chile. It prompted me to do a Google search for him. You can see what I found at When I was 18 years old, I was focused on my GPA and the future. I did not take the time to know better this gentleman who smoked incessantly, and who had the slicked-back hair.  He was handsome, erudite, and sophisticated. I knew that he was a writer and that he was Chilean, but he rarely shared more about himself than his love for Unamuno, Garcia Lorca, and other Spanish writers. He was also a bit intimidating- his wit was sly and often I was not sure that I actually understood it. I am also not sure of the story of why Claudio was in Greensburg, PA teaching Spanish to a class in the fledgling University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.

I have many regrets, but now I have a new one. I regret not having had the opportunity to learn more about Claudio and to appreciate his art. One of my life’s missed possibilities.

BSG final episode- its worth repeating

The final two hours of Battlestar Galactica were amazing. There was an exciting final battle between the humans and the remaining cylons who wanted to exterminate the humans. The ramming of the giant ship into the cylon base was epic. The special effects were far superior to anything I can remember on television. It is important to remember that this done by the humans to rescue one little girl. It also spelled the death of the BSG. Its ageing and creaking body was teetering on the brink of destruction. Seeing its bulwarks fly into space with the resulting release of oxygen was, if you will pardon the pun, breathtaking. The final scenes took place on a new world, which looked, not so surprisingly, earthlike. Aside from the plot itself, BSG ended with several wonderful themes. The first was that the relationship between Adama and Roslin was deep and abiding. She died in his care, with a look of peace and joy on her face. I cannot remember the last time that we have unashamedly shared the love affair of two people over 50 years old. The second is that we learned that Starbuck, and the projections of Baltar, and Caprica were supernatural beings akin to angels. Their influence, both good and bad, on the final outcome of the journey of the humans and cylons was profound. Third, the planet itself was green and lush, a sharp contrast to the darkness of the BSG itself. Fourth, we learned that the terrible experience of the war so profoundly affected the main characters that they chose to be alone, even as they found their garden of eden. Adama wanted to be beside his fallen lover, alone, rather than be with his son. Adama had shouldered the burden of keeping the human race alive and he seemed existentially worn out and battered. He both chose and deserved his solace. He reached his goal of a new place to live, but it came at such a high price to his self-esteem, his pride, his spirit, and his view of what he was as a person. I regret that this show is over. It held up a mirror to the human experience. It held up a mirror for me to reflect on my battles with my personal cylons and how those battles extracted their pound of flesh from me. Maybe we are all Adama, but maybe we all are fortunate to have the angels showing us the way and propping us up. At least I hope so.

The Host- stop in the next time your are in Bishkek

Last evening two friends and I went to eat at “The Host”, an Indian restaurant across the street from our hotel in Bishkek. This is the second time I had eaten there, but the first for dinner. The restaurant is below ground, so the entrance is a series of polished marble stairs covered with what looks like hand-woven rugs. The lower door is opened to great us by one of the wait staff. The restaurant is decorated in shades of brown. To get to our table, we cross a glassed covered pond, which is a bit disconcerting at first. One either side of the pond is a curved floor-to-ceiling glass panels that serve as the spillway for a water feature. In the middle of the glass is a statue of an Hindu goddesses. We are led to a table in the back of the room.The table had banquet as well as chair seating. Each place setting has chargers, wine glasses, brown silk napkins embroided with the restaurant's name, each having a silver anpkin ring. Our waiter arrives. He is a young Asina-appearing man dressed in  traditional French-waiter style with a long brown apron and white gloves. He has difficulty with English, but he is is better at it than any of us are with Russian. We ordered a bottle of cabernet, which is uncorked and poured for us, follwed by the obligatory tasting. To me it was not really full-bodied, but it certainly was acceptable. The waiter waited to receive my verdict; he had a white napkin properly draped over his arm. We ordered from the high tea menu, which consisted of various samples of Indian food- sort of like an Indian version of tapas. The food was wonderful, except one of my female friends didn’t care for the mint sauce. She asked our waiter if she could get a peanut sauce instead. He didn’t understand her request, so the manager (maybe owner) of the restaurant came over to the table. He, of course, was very fluent in English. After he left, my two female companions went into spasms over his good looks. Indeed, he was handsome-, like someone straight out of a Bollywood movie. He also was dressed well in a pair of jeans and brown sport coat. He, like so many people in Bishkek, was slim and trim. The restaurant also had a nice mix of background music, ranging from international to new age. The service was attentive and the waiter’s white gloves were a nice touch. All of the food was wonderful, but particularly the fish and tempura-like vegetables. The total bill was about $50- not at all bad for a full meal for three and a bottle of wine. As we exited, it had become dark, and before going up the stairs, we notice a plexiglass chandelier made up of squares that seemed to be lit by LEDs that changed color. It was very nice. For those of you who get to travel to wonderful Bishkek, I suggest a visit to “The Host”. It is a classy, reasonably priced restaurant with good food in this most surprising of central-Asian cities.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Caprica"- I can't wait to see Moore.

I finally was able to see all of the episodes of “Caprica” in one sitting.

From Wikipedia: Caprica is a television series set in the fictional Battlestar Galactica universe. Beginning 58 years before the events seen in Battlestar Galactica, Caprica tells the story of how Colonial humanity first created the robotic cylons( a cybernetic lifeform node), who would later plot to destroy human civilization in retaliation for their enslavement., who would later plot to destroy human civilization in retaliation for their enslavement.

I initially did not enjoy the series, in part because I didn’t think it could be as good as BSG, but also because Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, and Katee Sackoff aren’t in it. However, it does have:

Main cast:
• Eric Stoltz as Daniel Graystone
• Esai Morales as Joseph Adama
• Paula Malcomson as Amanda Graystone
• Polly Walker as Sister Clarice Willow
• Alessandra Torresani as Zoe Graystone
• Magda Apanowicz as Lacy Rand
• Sasha Roiz as Sam Adama
• Scott Porter as Nestor

Eric Stoltz plays a Bill Gates-like technical genius who loses his daughter in a terrorist attack perpetrated by a group of dissidents who believe in one god rather than the Caprican many gods. Sound familiar? Dr. Graystone is so distraught over his daughter’s death that he implants an avatar of her in a cylon robot that he recently created for the government. The point of this is to keep his daughter alive so the grieving doesn’t hurt so much. Stoltz plays the father as a bit distant and intellectual but with great internal angst over the loss of his only child. Allesandra Torresani is compelling as the daughter. She is the right mix of youth, rebelliousness, and intelligence. There are scenes where Zoe is seen as the avatar and the camera shifts to where we see her as a cylon. This is particularly well done when she is speaking to her best friend.

Esai Morales plays the father of the William Adama (Olmos in BSG). Adama is a Tauron, a group that is despised and discriminated against in Caprica. His daughter was also killed in the attack and he wants to experience the same relationship that Graystone has with his daughter post her death. Morales shows his character’s grief through anger directed toward the Graystone’s who he blames for raising a terrorist daughter. Adams has a gay brother who is part of a Tauron mob.

While all of this may sound a bit convoluted, and maybe even silly, it does hold up a mirror to our own society. The reflection of our fear of terrorists and our discrimination against those who we think might be terrorists because of their skin color or their country of origin rings true. I am reminded of last year’s ejection of a “middle-eastern looking family” from an AirTran flight simply for talking about what the safest part a plane is and having dark skin. The view shared by some in our society that technology will solve our problems is also well portrayed. The similarities to Gates are remarkable. Even the Graystone mansion looks a bit like the Gates property. But, it seems like Graystone may also change his focus to non-technological ways to improve society, as has the Microsoft founder, but that remains to be seen. The conflict among groups that believe that their god (or gods) is better than another group’s also is a strong theme in “Caprica”, as was also the case in BSG. Irrational, yet understandable” emotional responses to the loss of loved ones is also an important them. Zoe’s rebellion against her family’s religious beliefs and how that leads to rebellion among the cylons as a group will be interesting to see unfold. This rebellion sets up the whole BSG story.

The series is filmed in Vancouver, which looks phenomenal. The music is by Bear McCready who also composed for BSG. His music is never incongruous with a scene. It is also full of creative orchestrations and is always interesting to listen to.

I look forward to seeing “Caprica” unfold. Ronald D. Moore writes stories that are full of detail and long thematic arcs. This means that missing episodes can interfere with understanding. It’s good that the series in available on the SyFy website.

Things I don't understand about TV- an ongoing monologue

Things about TV I don’t really understand:

1. Why when people on TV drink a cup of coffee, they cradle it in their hands, have a far-away look in their eyes, and look like they are having a drug-induced euphoria? To me, it’s just a cup of coffee.

2. Why is the movie “Armageddon” on TV so frequently? Why also “Striking Distance”?

3.  Does any one really believe that lady with the 'fro and the part on the South Beaach commercials.  She looks like she doen't believe herself what she is saying.  Watch her eyes. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"The Road" best left untraveled

“The Road”, starring Viggo Mortenson, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce, is a movie about survival in a post-apocalyptic world. This is a theme that has been around for awhile (for example, “On the Beach”) but there are several things that set this movie apart.

From Wikipedia: "The Road shares the premise of the novel on which it is based: a father (Mortensen) and his young son (Smit-McPhee) struggle to survive a number of years after an unspecified, devastating cataclysm has destroyed civilization, killed all plant and animal life, and obscured the sun; only remnants of mankind remain alive, reduced to scavenging or cannibalism. Man and boy are travelling toward the south, in the hope that it will be warmer. Along the way, they search for shelter, food and fuel, and avoid bands of cannibals while trying to maintain their own sense of morality and humanity. The man carries a revolver, but has only two bullets which the father seems to want to keep in case they need to commit suicide. Flashback and dream sequences spaced throughout the narrative show how the man's wife, who has a much more expanded role in the film than in the book, committed suicide after delivering the child into a seemingly doomed world and losing the will to go on."

Mortenson provides a strong portrayal of a father who is trying to maintain his humanity in the face of total societal, cultural and ecological meltdown in order that he might be a good role model for his son. The man also tries to show his son how to be strong and how to be wary of those who would do him harm. This is particularly important since it appears that the cannibals find meat from the young particularly desirable. As the man becomes sick, Mortenson’s face becomes sallow and sunken. It is an amazing transformation and does not seem to rely on appliances.

The boy (Smit-McPhee- what a name) shows a naïve openness to others, even in the face of their potential danger. He is shocked by his father’s brutality to others even when the viewer can see that that brutality seems warranted. SMP does as credible job of remaining a boy and not just an actor. However, I found the actions of the boy at the end to be a bit unbelievable. He is like a puppy that will go with anyone who offers even a small treat. Under the circumstances, we all would have impaired judgment, but somehow, the movie ended too quickly to show fully how the boy made his decisions. I would have liked a bit more to convince me that he decided to leave his dead father for more than a promise of friends his age (among other reasons).

Theron is not in the film for a long period but we get the sense that she has reached an existential crisis and cannot go on living in this devastated and unyielding world. Yet I find fault with either Theron’s acting or the director’s sense of her character. I simply did not see portrayed the utter despondency and the lack of connectedness that would d have lead up to her fateful choice. Also her decision on how she would take her own life seemed a bit too filled with self loathing.

Guy Pearce (he of the gaunt face and high cheekbones) was nearly unrecognizable as was Robert Duvall. To me, this was quite a tribute to the make-up artists.

The landscape, a character in its own right in the film, is barren and wasted. There is no green, no growth, and no bright sun, but only cold and leafless trees. Much of the movie was filmed in Western Pennsylvania. I recognized one office building that the SFX gurus made look like it had been burned and paritally collapsed. I also recognized a-long abandoned turnpike tunnel .

This movie has received great reviews, but for me, Mortenson was its best part. The shortcomings I described were enough to keep me from thinking it was great.

On suffering

I recently have been contemplating the concept of “suffering.” It’s one of those things we hear a lot about (like “accepting an apology” or “taking responsibility”) but may require closer examination. So why “suffering” you ask and I reply “Why not suffering?” Miriam Webster’s online dictionary defines suffering as:

1: to endure death, pain, or distress

2 : to sustain loss or damage

3 : to be subject to disability or handicap

Well I think that these definitions fall short of the human experience of suffering. Others are simply off the mark. For example, how do we know that someone “enduring death” suffers? This seems the stuff of a séance. Also, I doubt that many people who are developmentally disabled or otherwise handicapped would say that they are suffering from simply being subject to their disability. I’ll grant Webster that definition “2” has merit, but not for my analysis. I really want to focus on the notion of enduring pain or distress. “Enduring” is defined by Webster as “to continue in the same state.” Thus, suffering is continuing in pain or distress. My thesis is that to suffer one must remember the pain from yesterday, experience it today, and anticipate that it will be there tomorrow. In other words, suffering is a cognitive process that requires memory, perception, and anticipation.

In the Atlanta Symphony program notes from a concert I recently attended, there was a quote from Franz Schubert that seems to capture this notion. Schubert had a chronic illness, which for purposes of protecting the southern gentile, was not named in the program notes. Indeed he seems to have died from syphilis or the medication that was used to treat the disease at the time, or both. Anyway, here is the quote:

I feel myself to be the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world. Imagine a man whose health will never be right again, and who in sheer despair over this ever makes things worse and worse, instead of better; imagine a man, I say, whose brilliant hopes have perished, to whom the felicities of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain, at best, whom enthusiasm (at least of the stimulating kind) for all things beautiful threatens to forsake, and I ask you, is he not a miserable, unhappy being? “My peace is gone, my heart is sore, I shall find it nevermore”. I may well sing every day now, for each night, on retiring to bed, I hope I may not wake again, and each morning but recalls yesterday’s grief.”

Schubert remembers his pain from the day before (“…each morning but recalls yesterday’s grief”), he anticipates that his pain will not lessen (“Imagine a man whose health will never be right again…”), and he feels the pain contemporaneously (“I fell myself to be the most unhappy and wretched creature…”). Now that is suffering! It also provides insight into the conceptual nature of suffering, that is, that it requires higher-level cognitive functions rather than simply feeling pain. In fact, Schubert’s suffering, and maybe all human suffering, is existential (from experiential: derived from experience or the experience of existence or relating to or dealing with existence (especially with human existence)).

I remember a few years ago having flu that made me so miserable that I would have welcomed some sort of surcease from the memory of yesterday’s misery, today’s experience, and the anticipation that I would feel equally bad tomorrow. Schubert describer his suffering better, but I  certainly suffered in those few days.

Well on to other high-minded thoughts…..

Mozart- who needs him?

I attended the Atlanta Symphony concert last night. The program included:

PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 1

MOZART: Overture to La clemenza di Tito

SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9

The Mozart was first. I must be one of the few classical music mavens who do not like Mozart. (I also don’t like Beethoven all that much either). To me if you’ve heard one piece by Mozart you have heard them all, and he certainly was prolific, given the young age at which he died. In my opinion, his music is mannered, formulaic, cold, and devoid of great melody, but wait, that seems to describe the classic period of classical music anyway. So, I am not one to judge the ASO’s performance of this piece. At least it did not grate on me.

Ms. Josefowicz was the soloist in the Prokofiev. I heard her last year with the Pittsburgh Symphony and was underwhelmed, especially since she played the electric violin that seemed boring. With the ASO she played a real instrument and she was magnificent. She has a big tone and seems to hit all of the right notes. I liked this performance very much. The Prokofiev concerto is not particularly flashy and only hints at the sophisticated use of the wind instruments that are a hall mark of this composer’s later music. The score calls for a smallish orchestra that seemed to be a good fit with the bad acoustics of Symphony Hall.

The Schubert piece is very long clocking in at over 50 minutes. It is interesting to me that Schubert followed Mozart by about three decades yet music had already begun moving away from the classical style into the romantic period. Schubert had a knack for writing memorable and clever themes that he could develop throughout the piece. His themes are both hummable and rhythmic. He used the wood winds wisely and minimized the use of the horns. Again this style seems to suit the acoustics of the ASO hall better than when the brass play a more prominent role. The symphony is so likeable that its length is easily tolerated.

Abbado, the conductor, comes from a family of musical talent. His uncle is the famed conductor Claudio Abbado. Roberto is talented and seems to be liked by the ASO musicians. His tempi were on target and he keeps good balance within the orchestra. He seats the musicians in the traditional European style with the bass and celli sitting adjacent to the first violins. The second violins sit where the celli usually are in most American orchestras. For me, this arrangement elevates the bases from mere plucked instruments to actual participants in the melodic line. The ASO played admirably and I noticed only one premature entry by the trombones in the

Schubert, but compared to what I have heard before from the ASO, their ensemble was quite good.

All in all, this was a nice and well played concert.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger's crocs

Tiger Woods gave his apology. No surprise in that, since public apologies are rampant these days, even from the Toyota folks. I saw a report on one of the talking head stations that Mr. Wood’s sponsors accepted his apology. I don’t know which ones, but it’s not really germane here. This started me to wonder what accepting an apology means. So I turned to Wiki.answers and here is how it defined an apology: “An acknowledgment expressing regret or asking pardon for a fault or offense.” So by offering his apology Woods apparently is saying that he is sorry for what he did and he is asking us to pardon his fault or offense. I have had as a general rule that when I complain to a customer service representative about something their employer has done that is faulty or when the employer has committed an offense against me, that I hear the apology as accepting responsibility for the employer’s mistakes. I then will hold my pique in check. If they give me something akin to “that’s the way we do it” I mostly become angrier. But even an apology does not lead me to forgive the perceived offense. To me, accepting an apology takes our customer/ business relationship back to a somewhat neutral place, but it does not mean that I pardon the original offense. In other words, I am willing to forgo my anger until I see what happens next. So, if I accept Woods’ apology, I think I am only saying thanks, but I reserve the right to see that the offense does not happen again. An apology is a good first step, but to show that it is more than manipulation, the person giving the apology must show over time that he/she will not commit the offense again. In addition, by saying” thanks for the apology” I am not always saying that I forgive the transgression because some transgressions are so great that they cannot and maybe should not be forgiven. To me that’s a good self-protection strategy, that is, it makes me wary of the guilty party and what he/she might do in the future. Even if Bernie Madoff apologized to me for stealing my money, I would not give him my money to invest again. So if I was Mrs. T. Woods, I would say thanks for the apology and then proceed with great caution. “Once burnt, twice shy” seems appropriate. It the transgressor finds that unacceptable, then so be it. At least I would not have fallen victim again.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sophia, Bulgaria

To see my photos of Sophia, click on this link:

I had the opportunity to visit Sophia, Bulgaria for a short period of time. I was mostly in the University area, as well as the area around Hagia Sophia and the Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky. This area of the city is filled with beautiful classical revival, Byzantine, modern, and Victorian architecture. In contrast to most American cities, but similar to other European and Asian cities, Sophia has major installations of public art, most of which appear to be from the modern era. The city has a rolling topography and its infrastructure seems very well maintained. Major arteries in the area I visited are paved with bricks that are colored gold and appear to be glazed. They are so slippery in the snow that walking let alone driving on them are a major hazard. Sophia’s citizens are not outgoing and do not smile easily. They dress much like Americans- that is, they do not dress with much panache. I was surprised by how beautiful the city is and how well it is maintained. The highway to the airport, however, has many Soviet-style apartments, as well as fast food franchise operations. I would like to return to Sophia in warmer weather and when I have a lot of money- it is very expensive.

I visited three major churches in Sofia: Hagia Sophia, Alexander Nevsky, and St. Nicholas. Hagia Sophia is being excavated and restore. The Nevsky church is magnificent with grand chandeliers and huge frescoes that are dimmed by the effect of burning candles. I did not see the interior of St. Nicholas. No photos were allowed in Hagia Sophia or Alexander Nevsky, but DVD’s were available for purchase. I think that the 11th commandment is “Thou shalt make a buck on my behalf.”

From Wikipedia: Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria and the 12th largest city by population in the European Union, with 1.4 million people living in the Capital Municipality.[3] It is located in western Bulgaria, at the foot of Mount Vitosha, and is the administrative, cultural, economic, and educational centre of the country.

The Hagia Sophia Church is the second oldest church in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, dating to the 6th century CE. In the 14th century, the church gave its name to the city, previously known as Sredets.

The church was built on the site of several earlier churches and places of worship dating back to the days when it was the necropolis of the Roman town of Serdica. In the 2nd century CE, it was the location of a Roman theatre. Over the next few centuries, several other churches were constructed, only to be destroyed by invading forces such as the Goths and the Huns. The basic cross design of the present basilica, with its two east towers and one tower-cupola, is believed to be the fifth structure to be constructed on the site and was built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the middle of the 6th century (527-565 CE). It is thus a contemporary of the better-known Hagia Sophia church in Constantinople.

During the Second Bulgarian Empire (spanning the 12th to 14th centuries), the structure acquired the status of a metropolitan church. In the 14th century, the church gave its name to the city (Hagia Sophia meaning "holy wisdom" in Greek). In the 16th century, during Ottoman rule, the church was converted into a mosque: the original twelfth-century frescoes were destroyed and minarets were added. In the 19th century two earthquakes destroyed one of the minarets and the mosque was abandoned. Restoration work was begun after 1900.

The Hagia Sophia Church is now one of the most valuable pieces of Early Christian architecture in Southeastern Europe. The present building is a cross basilica with three altars. The floor of the church is covered with complex Early Christian ornamental or flora and fauna-themed mosaics. The Hagia Sophia Church stands in the middle of an ancient necropolis and many tombs have been unearthed both under and near the church. Some of the tombs even feature frescoes.

According to popular lore, St Sophia's miraculous powers protected the building over the centuries, warding off human invasions and natural disasters to keep the church as an example of the elegant, austere, and symmetrical architecture of the age.

Because St. Sophia represents divine wisdom rather than a historical saint, icons within the church depict Sophia as a woman standing above three other women representing faith, hope, and love. The church also displays icons of historical saints, including St. George and St. Vladimir.

The St. Nicholas church was built on the site of the Saray Mosque, which was destroyed in 1882, after the liberation of Bulgaria by Russia from the Ottoman Empire. It was built as the official church of the Russian Embassy, which was located next door, and of the Russian community in Sofia, and was named, as was the tradition for diplomatic churches, for the patron saint of the Emperor who ruled Russia at the time, Nicholas II of Russia. The church was designed by the Russian architect Mikhail Preobrazhenski in the Russian Revival Style, with decoration inspired by the Muscovite Russian churches of the 17th century. The construction was supervised by the architect A. Smirnov, who was building the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia nearby. The exterior decoration of multicolored tiles was done by G. Kislichev, and the interior murals were painted by a team of artists led by Vasily Perminov, who also painted those in Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The five domes are coated with gold. The bells were donated by Emperor Nicholas II.

Construction began in 1907 and the church was consecrated in 1914. The church remained open after the Russian Revolution and during the Communist period in Bulgaria (1944–1989), though priests and church-goers were carefully watched by the State Security police.

The exterior was recently restored by the Russian Government. The interior murals unfortunately are darkened by smoke from candles and from time, and are in need of restoration.

The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Built in Neo-Byzantine style, it serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria and is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world, as well as one of Sofia's symbols and primary tourist attractions. The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia occupies an area of 3170 m² and can take 5,000 people inside.

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a cross-domed basilica featuring an emphasized central dome. The cathedral's gold-plated dome is 45 m high, with the bell tower reaching 50.52 m. The temple has 12 bells with total weight of 23 tons, the heaviest weighing 12 tons and the lightest 10 kg. The interior is decorated with Italian marble in various colours, Brazilian onyx, alabaster, and other luxurious materials. The central dome has the Lord's Prayer inscribed around it with thin gold letters.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

New Thoughts on Bishkek

This morning was very snowy in Bishkek. Its wide streets, monuments and tree-lined parks looked beautiful. There is something so appealing for me about this city in this central Asian country. It has a beautiful government center that is replete with grand fountains and beautiful marbled walkways. It has several public theater buildings. The State Museum is clad in marble. Adjacent to the seat of government is a small amusement park, with rides that were new maybe 60 years ago. Yet everything is in need of maintenance. These once splendid examples of Communist rule seem doughty. Once white marble is now stained soot and grime. Sidewalks are uneven and broken. Soviet-era buildings, made of concrete, are dark and moldy. Yet, it is one of the most photogenic cities I have seen.

I am happy to have had the opportunity to be here. The Kyrgys people are beautiful. The women are slim and they dress beautifully. They wear stylish boots with their fur costs. The men are tall and they and also dress very well. Their styles contrast to our casual jeans and tee-shirt couture.

Maybe it’s Kyrgyzstan’s history as part of the fabled Silk Road. It has cities that are mythic, such Samarkand and Tashkent. Maybe this exoticism is what appeals to me. Whatever it is, I enjoy being here.

Brief Movie Reviews

While in my Bishkek hotel room I saw several movies:

1. “Fort Yuma”- an unintentionally humorous movie from 1955 starring Peter Graves and other Caucasians with heavy makeup to make them look like American Indians. The story plods, the acting is incredibly poor, but the scenery is beautiful.

2. “Kings of the Sun”- a story about the Mayas starring George Chakiris. Richard Basehart was also in the movie. He wore this massive gray wig that was silly. The plot was a Reader’s Digest version of the Mayan Kingdom. This was another 1950s movie with bad acting and inaccurate history.

3. “Tom Jones”- (from Wikipedia: Tom Jones is a 1963 British comedy film. It is an adaptation of Henry Fielding's classic novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), starring Albert Finney as the titular hero. It was one of the most critically acclaimed and popular comedies of its time,] winning four Academy Awards. The film was directed by Tony Richardson and the screenplay was adapted by playwright John Osborne. The film is notable for its unusual comic style: the opening sequence is performed in the style of a silent movie, and characters sometimes break the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera and addressing the audience.)

“Tom Jones” is a movie about the rascal and rake written by Fielding. This movie was an instant classic in the late 1960s and remains a wonderful story that is bawdy and tender. A very young Albert Finney played Tom and the beautiful Susannah York played his amour, Sophie Weston. An almost unrecognizable David Warner played the foppish Mr. Blifil, another suitor of Sophie. Joan Greenwood played Lady Bellaston, an older seductress, who enticed Tom into her boudoir. This movie is truly great. The only misstep for me was the leitmotif for Tom. It was too loud and intrusive, even when trying to be subtle. This is a small quibble with a classic movie.

4. “Lovely, Still- this is a small 2006 movie starring Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn. It’s the story of everlasting love and devotion in the face of failing memory. Landau was superb as the husband who was meeting anew his wife of many years and his son as a result of his deteriorating mental state. This is a touching sentimental movie. This movie was filmed in Omaha and its neighborhoods looked stunning, decked out in snow and holiday decorations. I recommend this movie.

Bright Eyes: Make a Plan to Love Me (from Lovely, Still):
I heard you're scheming new pyramids
Another big idea to get you rich
Make a plan to love me sometime soon
You said you had your foot in the door
You buy and then you sell, you buy some more
Make a plan to love me sometime soon
Life is too short
Death doesn't ask
It don't owe you that
Some things you lose
You don't get back
So just know what you have
And make a plan to love me sometime soon
First you want to ride off into the sun
Then you want to shoot straight to the moon
Make a plan to love me sometime soon
When you are young the world is a ferris wheel
I know we will grow old it is lovely, still
Make a plan to love me sometime soon
Life is too short
To be a fool
I don't owe you that
Do what you feel
Whatever is cool
But I just have to ask
Will you make a plan to love me?
Will you make a plan to love me?
Will you make a plan to love me sometime soon?

Ok- i am a romantic at heart.