Tuesday, May 31, 2016

CHELSEA | June 4–Rally to Save Oldest House

This house was a major stop for Harriet Tubman and others who aided fugitive slaves from the south.

I have written about it before on this blog and on Huffington Post (65 "Likes").

Rally is June 4 at 2 PM.

This is the only building in the Underground Railway left in Manhattan. Support the preservation of what is left in New York City of the Underground Railway. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

STAR WARS | May 25–Movie Opened

Star Wars–Foes and Friends.
This day in 1977, the first Star Wars movie opened. It received seven Oscars and grossed $800 million worldwide.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) recruited Wookiee Chewbacca and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and the robots C3PO and R2D2, on his mission to rescue the kidnapped Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from an Evil Empire governed by Darth Vader.

The film made stars out of its lead actors, and was followed by two big-screen sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983), featuring much of the original cast and continuing to receive critical and commercial success.

Han Solo's sidekick Chewbacca has seen recent popularity.

HERO DOG | Hachikō–Wookiee?

Our puppy Hachikō's name means "little eight" in Japanese.

It was the name of the chūken (loyal-heart) dog that returned faithfully to Shibuya Station every day for more than nine years.

He was looking for his master, famed Tokyo University professor Hidesaburō Ueno, who had died of a heart attack.

You will see me walking Hachikō on 22nd and 21st Streets between 8th and 9th Avenues in New York.

We are thinking that our Hachikō, based on similarities of appearance and temperament, is part Wookiee.

He may grow up to be a hero, like Chewbacca, the loyal Star Wars warrior.

So now we wonder:

Hachikō Moving to Warrior 2 Position.
Should we have his DNA tested? Apparently one can get a dog's DNA for $75. Do DNA tests track Wookiee ancestors? Do we have to locate a specialist on the planet Kashyyyk? Is there a Mormon in the house?

We are overwhelmed with the implications if Hachiko really is part Wookiee.

Should we send him to wherever Chewbacca trained for his spaceship navigation and security job with Han Solo?

Maybe, on reflection, we don't want to know.

Monday, May 23, 2016

LIBRARIES | May 23–NY Public Library Opens

The Main Reading Room of the NYPL, the world's most
accessible research library.
This day in 1911, presided over by President William Howard Taft, the New York Public Library was dedicated.

It was the largest marble structure ever constructed in the United States, extending from 40th Street to 42nd Street.

It took 14 years to complete at a cost of $9 million, with two lions (Patience and Fortitude) posted out front on Fifth Avenue to protect the books and collect late fees. The library then had a tad more than one million books.

New York City in the late 1890s passed Paris in population and was gaining on London, which was then then largest city in the world by population. Its library lagged behind the other cities. This was rectified by a merger among three library initiatives:
  • The Astor family library.
  • The Lenox family library.
  • The Tilden family, after the death in 1886 of N.Y. Governor Samuel J. Tilden. He left New York City $2.4 million to “establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York.” 
Out of these three legacies the New York Public Library was born. Its branch libraries were strengthened by a $5.2 million gift from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.

Today, the New York Public Library is visited and used annually by well over 10 million people (one estimate is as high as 18 million), and there are currently more than two million cardholders, more than for any other U.S. library system. (I am proud to have a card for the NYPL and for Friends of the NYPL.)


For ease of use, the NYPL must rank near the top of all the research libraries in the world. Of the five greatest libraries, two are in the United States (NYPL and Library of Congress), and two are in Britain (the British Library and Oxford's Bodleian). The fifth, the Bibliothèque Nationale, lags far behind the other four in accessibility. (I have library cards for all five of these libraries.)

After NYPL's annual visitors of 10-18 million (depending on how you count) there is a free fall to the 1.7 million-per-year figure at the second-placed British Library and Library of Congress.

I question Wikipedia's conclusion that the NYPL's 53 million books ranks it the third largest cataloged collection in the world after the Library of Congress (more than 160 million items) and the British Library (more than 150 million items). If Archives Canada in Ottawa has 54 million volumes or items, then Ottawa ranks third and NYPL only fourth in the world in collection size–still not shabby.  Russia (Moscow Library) is at 44 million items and France (Bibliothèque National) has 40 million items.

A spokesperson at the Library of Congress told me that there is some disagreement about how to count items. The British Library allegedly counts some individual stamps as items equivalent to a book, whereas the Library of Congress combined stamps into albums.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

BIRTH | May 11–Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman
This day in 1918 was born physicist Richard Phillips Feynman in Queens, N.Y. He went to New York City public schools. He was rejected by Columbia because his admission would have exceeded the Jewish quota of the time. 

Instead of Columbia, he went to MIT and then completed his doctorate at Princeton. He won the Nobel Prize in 1965 and is rated one of the greatest ten theoretical physicists of all time. 

He worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the nuclear bomb, and he was the youngest group leader in the project's theoretical division. When the first test bomb was detonated in 1945, he was excited and happy, but as soon as Germany ceased to be a threat to the world, he questioned his own work on the bomb. 

He made enormous contributions to the field of quantum mechanics. Feynman diagrams are now fundamental for string theory and M-theory, The world-lines of the diagrams have developed to become tubes to allow better modeling of more complicated objects such as strings and membranes. But shortly before his death, Feynman criticized string theory in an interview that is frequently quoted by critics of the theory
I don't like that they're not calculating anything. I don't like that they don't check their ideas. I don't like that for anything that disagrees with an experiment, they cook up an explanation—a fix-up to say, "Well, it still might be true."
He enjoyed his work and tried to convey the joys of physics to lay people. He said:
  • The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool. 
  • Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. 
  • Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it. 
He was married three times, the third time for 28 years until his death on February 15, 1988, in Los Angeles. He is survived by a son Karl and a daughter Michelle Louise.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

FOOD BIZ | Randolph Hotel, Oxford

L to R: John Tepper Marlin and Brigid Marlin.
It was a nice idea, going back to the MacDonald Randolph Hotel with my sister Brigid for lunch. 

The Randolph is right across from the Ashmolean Museum, which has been renovated and is a popular destination–except on Mondays, when it is closed.
Martyrs' Memorial from the Dining Room,

The Randolph dining room has a terrific view of the Martyrs' Memorial in St. Giles.

I was surprised to find the restaurant empty at noon and even at 12:30. We left at 1:30 pm and still there were few people at lunch.
My sister Brigid bearing up.

The service was attentive at all times, so the problem is not that the hotel does not want to please its customers.

My sister and I think that the reason there are few diners is that the food doesn't keep pace with the location.

I had a disappointing minestrone soup and an avocado salad with too much inferior salad dressing. Diners expect more than that nowadays.

However, an Oxford friend says I should consider this a lapse of the Randolph most likely caused by the lingering aftermath of a fire at the Randolph on April 20, 2015 caused by too much cognac in the flambéed beef stroganoff. 

So we won't go on about the poor quality of the meal.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

HERO DOG | KLM's Sherlock

Sherlock, KLM's Find-It Canine, has been watched
by 10 million people in eight months.
In the Time Travel blog we like to keep track of Hero Dogs.

KLM has one, the dog Sherlock, who has been filmed patroling Schiphol Airport to find the owners of lost cell phones etc. left in airplanes.

The dog runs to the plane, smells the lost item, then runs into the airport to find the owner.

He has a reportedly high success rate.

Watch the whole story here.

The dog is real.

Is it a true story?

It is true in the sense that it strikes a chord in the human heart.

But for those who insist on literal truth, the story does not measure up.

I mean, the ability of the dog to find its owner is not demonstrated.

Sherlock, the cute beagle who was said to be the “newest team member” of the KLM Airlines Lost & Found team, zipped through a Dutch airport in a video that by last month attracted more than 9.2 million YouTube views since it was posted on Sept. 23, 2015. My post should take it over 10 million (jus kidding).

The KLM employees in the video refer to Sherlock as their “tail-wagging secret weapon.” But actually his superhero qualities were invented and given verisimilitude by the KLM ad agency. I spoke with them today and they said that, yes, they were inspired by my story about Rondo the hero delivery dog.

BIRTH | May 6–Berko@475–The Queen & I Celebrate

A small place on its 475th birthday
welcomes a Queen who has just
celebrated her 90th.
Yesterday, May 6, was the 475th birthday of the Berkhamsted School and I was there to snap a few photos and reminisce.

Berkhamsted, Herts. punches above its weight.

It barely has 16,000 residents but its history puts it on the map:
Waiting for the Queen, well-wishers
line the street across from the
Berkhamsted School.
  • Its Castle was the place in 1066 the Saxon nobles came to bow down to William the Conqueror of Normany. 
  • It is now a train stop and a market town in the Chiltern Hills, 26 miles northwest of London. 
  • It's the home of Ashridge Business School.
  • And it's the home of the Berkhamsted Boys and Girls Schools.
Berkhamsted School candidates are decked out in
Union Jack hats.
Graham Greene attended the school, at which his father was a teacher and then headmaster. Young Graham was depressed as a student and then at Oxford, but found faith and wrote great literature from his keen sense of the dark side of life.

Eight of my nieces and nephews attended the Berkhamsted Boys School or Girls School–Benny Oakley; Roisin, Caitrin, Liadain and Ailise O'Neill; and Matthew, Kate and Jo Paice.  A ninth, Desmond Oakley, was offered a place but preferred to attend the Cavendish School where his brother Chris went, because Cavendish fielded a football team whereas Berkhamsted Boys played only rugby.

MARLIN | My Parents' Irish Wedding

Dublin, June 27, 1932. My Mom is sitting down with the bouquet. She is looking happy. My Dad stands
above her looking a bit apprehensive. My uncle Willem van Stockum sits at right; he brought the couple together. Willem was killed in 1944 in France, on duty as a bomber pilot. Dad died 1994, Mom 2006.
Willem with Dog.
My sister Brigid kindly passed on to me an album full of family photos, some of which I have never seen before. 

The photo above is the most special to me. It is the only photo of the wedding of my parents that I have seen that includes my Mom's brother Willem van Stockum, who is also shown at right. A book about World War II in Europe  has an excellent character study of  Willem–Time Bomber.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

SUBWAYS | Mastering the Métro

London Underground. The Underground (Tube) map is masterfully designed, showing the basic Circle Line grid in its logo. Since I first entered the Tube in 1947, the Circle Line has been my main orientation. Crossing through from west to east is the Central Line. I think of all the other lines as shortcuts or extensions.

Paris Metro.  The London Tube logo can be superimposed on the Paris Métro, with the 2 (Blue) line from Étoile to Nation for the northern half of the circle and the 6 (Green) line for the southern half. The equivalent of the Central Line would be the 1 (Yellow) line from La Défense to Château de Vincennes.

New York City Subway. For NYC, the London logo could be rotated a quarter turn to make the Greek letter phi - Φ. The vertical blue line then indicates the main Manhattan north-south subway lines, the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, A and C. The left side of the circle would be the PATH trains and the east side would be the network of trains to Queens and Brooklyn. Visitors mainly need to know the simple north-south (Bronx to Brooklyn) grid, because most cross-town trips in Manhattan are walkable:
  • The 1, 2 and 3 trains go up the West Side (the 1 is a local). 
  • The 4, 5 and 6 trains go up the East Side (the 6 is a local). 
  • The A and C (local)  trains outflank the 1, 2 and 3 trains until Central Park; then they hug the Park.

Monday, May 2, 2016

FRANCE | Valence–Maison Pic, 2008

Natalie and Jacques Dejoux, Oct. 2008, at Maison
Pic, Valence, France. This and other photos in
this post not otherwise identified are by JT Marlin.
Paris, May 2, 2016–In memory of a great meal eight years ago with the late Jacques Dejoux, Alice and I visited La Dame de Pic on the rue Louvre for lunch today.

We remembered our visit in 2008 to Jacques and Natalie in Valence in the South of France. They took Alice and me to lunch with his sister Sylvie and a French friend at the three-generation-old Maison Pic.

Sadly, first Sylvie and recently Jacques have passed away during these intervening years.
Jacques and Alice pick from some of
France's 400 cheeses.

Maison Pic is a 127-year-old Three-Michelin-Star restaurant named after the founder, a chef named André Pic.

His son took over and now his granddaughter Anne-Sophie Pic. She has become Europe's most celebrated female chef and has opened new restaurants in Paris and New York City.

Here is our memory of the unique experience in Valence in 2008, at a Cathedral of fine dining.

It was a month after the financial cataclysm in New York City and yet Jacques took the time to show us France at its most impressive.

October, 2008–This month Alice and I enjoyed an amazing meal in a town in France we had never heard of a year ago.

Jacques' sister Sylvie Dejoux, who 
predeceased him, and JT Marlin.
Photo by Alice Tepper Marlin.
The small town is Valence, pop. 65,000, and it is notable to me now for four things:
  • It is the first stop, 100 km. south, after Lyon, which is France's second largest city and a gustatory capital of France, on the TGV, train de grand vitesse. Valence therefore has two train stations.
  • It is the capital of the Drôme département, which borders on the Ardèche, where Jacques grew up.
  • It is considered the gateway to the south of France.
  • It is a gourmet destination because of the Pic (pronounced PEAK) family and their restaurant–Maison Pic. This is where I had the best meal of my life.
Service was sacerdotal.
Maison Pic is run by Anne-Sophie Pic, considered by food experts like Voyages-Liberation as France's, and probably Europe's, most important female chef. Anne-Sophie took over Maison Pic when her distinguished chef father Jacques Pic died.

Here are the courses of this memorable feast, savored over a long lunch period:

L'Amuse Bouche: The meal opened with a palate-teaser of four small, perfect, beautiful hors-d'oeuvres on a small tray. One was a small square cauliflower aspic.

Le Homard Bleu en Aiguillette et Tomates Anciennes. Lobster strips on a base of heirloom tomatoes.

Le Gratin de Queues d'Ecrevisses de Mon Grand-Père. Crayfish tails with cheese. Based on a recipe handed down from Anne-Sophie's grandfather, as handed down to him by his mother.

Le Bar de Ligne au Caviar d'Aquitaine, Comme l'Aimait Mon Père. French caviar in a lemon froth. Even a person who doesn't usually like caviar would love this combination.

The Menu.
Le Classique Tournedos de Boeuf Charolais. Tournedos of beef, perfectly cooked.

Les Fromages Frais et Affines. An offering of 20 local (Ardèche, Provence) cheeses from the 400 official French cheeses.

L'Intemporel Soufflé. Lemon soufflé made with liqueur–three warm and three cold (with ice cream), as Pic Père liked it.

Les Profiteroles. With strawberry sauce, ice cream and vanilla chantilly.

Unannounced Dessert Treat. The final dessert tray echoed the amuse-bouche with four delightful little chocolate and cookie treats on a rectangular tray as shown in the back of the photo of the lemon soufflé.

For a multiple-course meal like this, even though the individual portions are moderate in size, one needs to eat little during the day before and plan for the next 20 meals afterwards to be a disappointment. Instead, we would remember the great meal provided by Anne-Sophie and her Maison Pic.

Hotel + Restaurant Pic (since 1889)
283, Avenue Victor Hugo
BP111 26001 Valence, France

The world appears headed for a serious recession after the financial crisis of last month.

So I will add that the Voyages-Liberation  "Weekends Gourmands" report on Maison Pic notes an option for cognoscenti who want to sample Maison Pic cuisine without paying full price for full service.

The Maison Pic's trendy cafe "Le 7" (the name  for the local highway) offers a representative but less extensive menu with less formality for fewer euros.