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Saturday, February 27, 2021

COFFEE BEANS & BEINGS / REALLY! HOW HEALTHY IS COFFEE / EPISODE 6


GUEST BLOG / By Kris Gunnars, Healthline.com
--Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages. Thanks to its high levels of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients, it also seems to be quite healthy. 

Studies show that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of several serious diseases. Thanks to our friends at Healthline.com for the next few Saturdays, this column will highlight one at a time the top 13 health benefits of coffee. Here’s Number Six:

6. 

May Lower Your Risk of Alzheimer’s 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease and the leading cause of dementia worldwide. This condition usually affects people over 65, and there is no known cure. 

However, there are several things you can do to prevent the disease from occurring in the first place. This includes the usual suspects like eating healthy and exercising, but drinking coffee may be incredibly effective as well. 

Several studies show that coffee drinkers have up to a 65% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

SUMMARY Coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, which is a leading cause of dementia worldwide. 

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WEEKLY COFFEE QUIZ--Where in the world is this coffee establishment? Answer next Saturday in PillartoPost.org Coffee Beans & Beings post. 


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LAST WEEK’S COFFEE QUIZ ANSWER
—Baku is a port city on the Caspian Sea. It is also an Azerbaijan hot bed for coffee aficionados. Coffee House [photos here] on Aziz Aliyev Street is one of a dozen in Baku’s thriving and remarkably modern downtown. Whether you want to be tempted by the smell of dark Turkish coffee blends or the honeyed sweetness of Middle Eastern pastries, enjoy a third-wave coffee in stylish surroundings or sit back in a Parisian-style café, the best cafés and coffee shops in Baku will not disappoint. 



Friday, February 26, 2021

FERLINGHETTI FRIDAY / ONE POEM BY SAN FRANCISCO’S LAUREATE


THE CHANGING LIGHT 

By Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021) 

The changing light 

At San Francisco 

Is none 

of your East Coast light 

None of your pearly light of Paris 

The light of San Francisco 

is a sea light 

an island light 

And the light of fog 

blanketing the hills 

drifting in at night 

through the Golden Gate 

to lie on the city at dawn 

And then the halcyon late mornings 

after the fog burns off 

and the sun paints white houses 

with the sea light of Greece 

with sharp clean shadows 

making the town look like 

it had just been painted 

But the wind comes up at four o'clock 

sweeping the hills 

And then the veil of light of early evening 

And then another scrim 

when the new night fog 

floats in 

And in that vale of light 

the city drifts 

anchorless upon the ocean.

2003. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

THE FOODIST / HELLO, I’M LUCY YOUR DOOR-TO-DOOR RUTABAGA PERSON


T
oday Lucy knocked on the door of our home in the historic North Park neighborhood of San Diego. 

It was an unexpected visit from a young stranger, a trim 20-something who was dressed for hiking on a warm February day here in San Diego. 

Masked and burgundy baseball capped, she thanked us for greeting her after she had retreated about 20 feet after ringing our doorbell. 

She is one of a growing legion of Millennials that have come to realize they have to take their economic future in their own hands. No desk jobs for them. 

Her gig is cold call sales aka going door to door representing Farm Fresh To You, a long-time farm coop in California’s central valley, selling fresh produce and related items. 

Once a week on Wednesday’s we’ll receive a box of veggies that we’ve tailored for us. 

Info or Order: Click Here: 

Tell them Lucy sent you. 

From 2nd generation farm owners: Growing organically since 1976, our farm, Capay Organic, was founded by our parents, Kathleen Barsotti and Martin Barnes, with the steadfast commitment to grow great-tasting food the way nature intended, organically. Today, we continue our mission to connect sustainable farms and nourish communities by delivering organic produce fresh from our farm and other local farms conveniently to your doorstep. Together, we are changing our food system! 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

DESIGN SPACE / MOVING EXPERIENCE ON THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO

The tricky part moving this old Victorian to another location came a the beginning when movers inched the 1882 oldie downhill to its new site at 635 Fulton, downtown San Francisco.

A private owner in the midst of a complex San Francisco real estate deal is mixing and matching the past with the future to make a buck. 

But first he has to deal with the present and that’s moving an 1882 Victorian Italianate at Franklin and Turk Streets to another site on Fulton Street, eight blocks away. 

The owner, at the new site, has already collected an older and larger vintage building, a former mortuary. The row house will be moved next door. There the two oldies will be renovated into a combined 17 residential units. 

Meanwhile back at Franklin Street, the soon to be empty lot will be home to a new 48-unit condominium project. The narrow row house was moved at a top speed of 1 mph but that’s like rocket velocity compared with the eight years it took the 70-year-old owner to weave the project through a morass of city red tape. 

But patience won in the end. The move was done last week. 

Above is a similar Victorian being moved in 1977 to a new location.

To read more of the details involved CLICK HERE for an article by Carrie Sisto writing for Hoodline.com, a multi-city web newspaper featuring local news in each city it covers with an emphasis on real estate comings and goings. The article here appeared in the San Francisco edition of Hoodline.com 

Move route from top to bottom




Here's the new residential condo project for the old Victorian site.  Kerman-Morris, architects.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

AMERICANA / WHO ARE YOU CALLING ELDERLY?

Beth Ann Fennelly (right) and her mother, before the pandemic. 
(Photo by Pableaux Johnson)
 

As the pandemic raged, my independent mother’s memory worsened, her isolation increased — and I was far away 

GUEST BLOG / BY BETH ANN FENNELLY (as it appeared in the Washington Post)--‘I’d like to come visit,” my mother said, calling from her home in Illinois, early last March. “For St. Patrick’s Day.” 

“Mom, you can’t,” I said, from my home in Mississippi. “I’m sorry, but you can’t. This new virus, corona? It’s serious. And it’s killing people, particularly elderly —” 

 “Who are you calling elderly?” Earlier that year, she’d asked me not to throw her a big birthday party, as I’d done for her 70th and 75th. She’d decided to ignore turning 80. She’s beautiful, my mother, and has always passed for younger. She has a patrician air, and green eyes with small pupils that are coolly penetrating, used with sobering effect on my high school boyfriends. 

But there was no ignoring her increasing memory loss, at least for me. She was repeating herself at times, struggling for words at others. Further, the last time she drove me somewhere, her wide sedan drifted from lane to lane like a party barge. 

She was blithe to the angry beeps from passing motorists, while I flinched and stomped my imaginary brake pedal. I screwed up the courage to ask her to pull over. After we traded places, I faced her and articulated the sentence I’d practiced and dreaded: “Mom, you shouldn’t be driving anymore.” 

She waved her fingers, as if to say, “To each his own.” 

I inhaled. “And you should be tested for Alzheimer’s.” 

“I have been tested,” she said. “I don’t have Alzheimer’s.” 

“Can I talk to your doctor?” 

“He’s busy.” She changed the subject, in the same way she’d done when my husband and I asked her to move to Mississippi. She didn’t want to talk about it. She liked her home, her friends, her church. She had a busy life. Which was growing less busy daily. As the novel coronavirus began to spread fear around the country, she was the only player who showed up for bridge, and called me to complain. 

“But, Mom,” I said, “the others probably didn’t go because it’s not safe. You shouldn’t be cruising for bridge partners, either. You shouldn’t be touching cards and passing them, you shouldn’t be sitting knee-to-knee at a small table.” 

She sniffed, unconvinced. 

So, no more bridge. Or book club. St. Mary’s closed its doors, which meant no more church circle, no more post-Mass coffee with “the girls.” Then the community center shuttered, so no more tai chi or aqua aerobics. No movie theaters. 

Of course, the same closures were curtailing our lives in Mississippi, but shelter-in-place feels different when your place hums with four other humans — my husband and three children. 

And, sad as I was that our oldest had been sent home from her first year at college, I luxuriated in gathering my babies around my dinner table, no one begging to eat out with friends or rushing off to band practice. 

For my mother, alone, each canceled activity was a small door shutting to the world beyond herself. To the neurons in her brain that would have fired when she was counting bridge tricks or practicing her one-legged golden rooster stance in tai chi. 

And now she was asking to visit for Easter. “Mom,” I faltered. I was raised in a strict Irish Catholic family, my upbringing almost Victorian, with a focus on being ladylike at all times. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, was a constant refrain. Children should be seen and not heard was another. 

My life in Mississippi is nothing like that — our three children loud and messy and confident. And I’ve grown into a confident adult. But it still pains me to displease my mother. “Mom, it’s too risky,” I said. “If the kids gave you the virus. ... But this can’t go on forever. When we have a vaccine. ...” 

In addition to being terrifying, COVID-19 has been tedious, everyone trading the same grievances, always ending with the wish for a vaccine, so life can “return to normal.” 

But my mom was lonely, and maybe depressed, and she was slipping. A vaccine might stop COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but it can’t replace what COVID-19 has stolen. That land called “normal”? Already I knew not all of us would be returning there. 

I doubled down, sent little gifts, cards from my kids. We spoke daily, and when we did, Mom repeated herself, called me by her sister’s name. I tried to teach her how to use Zoom so she could join her friends for happy hour, but the system baffled her. 

 One day, I called in time to stop her from sending money to an Internet insurance scam. (Oh, may the flames be scorching in that circle of hell where those who prey on the elderly will writhe.) 

Another day, she locked herself out of her home. She told me the locksmith was her first face-to-face conversation in months. “Face-to-face?” I asked. “You mean mask-to-mask? You wore masks, right?” 

“Oh, probably,” she said, “but don’t worry, he was a very nice young man.” 

I explained, again, how the virus is passed, face-to-face, even by nice young men. I asked her how much the locksmith charged. She didn’t remember. This couldn’t continue. 

My husband wondered if we should just pile the kids in our minivan and drive the 11 hours to spring Nana from her solitary confinement. We might kill her with COVID-19. But protecting her from it was also killing her. We were discussing our options when the phone rang. 

“Beth Ann, you need to come home,” said my mother, a woman famous for her stiff upper lip. “I’m falling apart.” 

I coated myself in hand sanitizer, flew to O’Hare International Airport and took a car service to my mother’s house. And somehow, somehow, I was unprepared to find her so changed. Her sweater was stained. Her house had an odor. And she wasn’t fumbling for an occasional phrase; she couldn’t finish a sentence, each word a fish slipping out of her hands. 

My beautiful mother, her green eyes not piercing now, but pierced. The food she was pulling from the fridge for dinner didn’t look or smell fresh. “Mom, rest. I’ll go pick something up,” I said. But walking into her garage, I found her car’s front smashed like a tin can. Now she was behind my shoulder, cringing at being discovered, like the teen I’d been, busted for sneaking in past curfew with a fresh dent in the family station wagon. I’d heard about this, your parent becoming your child. 

The transference was complete. 

Things moved quickly after that. She agreed to let me call her doctor. Who said that he’d often asked for permission to speak to me, but she’d assured him I was “too busy.” He agreed Mom shouldn’t live alone. She was truthful at least about not having Alzheimer’s. 

But her diagnosis, “mild cognitive impairment,” is similar and similarly degenerative. 

Two weeks later, in early August, my husband and I helped her pack up her house, no small task, stuffed as it was with antiques she’d inherited and collections she’d amassed over decades. While winnowing the furnishings of her three-bedroom house to fit a one-bedroom in an assisted living complex near us, I kept finding tiny scraps of paper, notes she’d written to jog her memory. Most of them had to do with me. “Poet laureate” read a tiny curl of paper by her desk phone. “Poet loreit” read another scrap by her kitchen phone. I’m the poet laureate of Mississippi, a fact she’s proud of, and, I suppose, wanted to get right when bragging to friends or frenemies. 

 Other scraps held the name of the literary festival I’m organizing. “Ask Beth Ann,” read another. 

I tucked one scrap into my wallet; it said, simply, “Remember.” 

Mild cognitive impairment can’t be reversed, but it can be slowed. That’s what we hope is happening now, in her new life, not even one mile from our house. 

Even here, COVID-19 is managing to put the screws on — Mom isn’t allowed to leave the grounds of her assisted living, which means she can’t come to our house, not even for Sunday dinner. 

But, after her first 72 hours of in-room quarantine, we’ve been allowed to visit. She has to stay inside the building, and we sit outside, masked. For the first few days, we had to speak with a glass door between us, using intercoms, like a bad prison movie. (“What are you in for?” I wanted to joke, but couldn’t. She doesn’t get jokes anymore). 

Finally, the glass door was opened and we were able to visit, masked, at opposite ends of a 6-foot table. That day, I’d brought my 9-year-old and a late summer plum cake, which I bake every September when plums are ripe and sweet and plentiful. We’d brought the cake, still cinnamon-warm from the oven, so she could share slices with the other residents hanging out by the hummingbird feeders. 

I want her to make friends. 

And cake makes friends. 

By that point, she’d been out of quarantine for a week, and already was beginning to seem a bit more herself, especially when directing her grandson to the residents deserving of plum cake. 

“Him?” I indicated a long-legged man cruising by on a motorized scooter with a flapping flag. 

“Not him,” Mom said. “He’s loud.” Then she instructed, “Make sure Richard gets some.” 

Hmmm, I thought, look at that. Mom has a friend, and she remembers his name. When the nurse came to tell us our hour was over, I slid the last piece of cake across the long table to Mom and stood, my arms awkward at my sides when they yearned to hug her. 

“Do you want me to carry your cake?” the nurse asked my mom. 

“Fat chance! I’ll keep it in my protection.” And I swiveled my head to marvel at her teasing tone and easy sentence. 

I’ll never know what my mother’s mental state would have been if she hadn’t suffered six months of isolation. I’ll never know what COVID-19 took from her. But it didn’t take everything. 

And it did bring her close, right down the street, while there’s still a lot of sweetness to enjoy. Late summer plum cake. Remember. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Beth Ann Fennelly is poet laureate of Mississippi and the author of six books, most recently “Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs.” This article appeared in The Washington Post. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

MEDIA MONDAY / ANALYSIS OF THE CATALAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT; NINE CENTURIES OF DISCORD

Millions attended the protests, yet, in 2010 only 20% of Catalans supported secession. In 2012, a mass protest on the National Day of Catalonia, September 11, explicitly asked for the Catalan government to take steps toward independence. 

GUEST BLOG / By The Eurasia Center, Washington DC
--The Catalan independence movement is a social and political nationalistic movement in which the northeast region of Catalonia seeks independence from the rest of Spain. 

This movement also extends to the other Catalan Countries, territories in which Catalan is spoken, small parts of France, Italy, Andorra, and other neighboring regions of Spain. 

However, the movement primarily focuses on Catalonia’s own push for independence from Spain rather than absorbing lands claimed by other countries. Although the modern movement began in the 21st century, the Catalan fight for independence has existed in one form or another since medieval times. 

Catalans have resented their Spanish rule since the 12th century when a Barcelonan count married the Queen of Aragon, making Catalonia part of the Kingdom of Aragon and no longer independent. As the wealthiest region in Spain and centered around the profitable Mediterranean port of Barcelona, Catalonia has always been at the center of its kingdom’s economy and culture— a trend that still exists today. 

As such, Catalans have always tended to be wealthier than those who possess their land, thus feeling as though they have unjustly supported the rest of the country financially. 

Under the unification of Spain in the late 15th century with the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, Catalonia became part of Spain. However, Catalans still preserved their own parliament, laws, and language rather than become fully absorbed into Spanish culture. 

Upon Columbus's first voyage to the Americas, a reception was held in Barcelona by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.

Yet, under Spanish rule, Catalans were never fully at peace. 

In 1640, the territory first rebelled and sought its independence along with Portugal. Although the Portuguese got their independence, the Catalans did not, and discontent remained within the region. Various efforts for independence prevailed but were unsuccessful for the next few centuries. 

Additionally, the Castilian Spanish rule began to discriminate against the Catalan language and culture, and the Catalans revived their separate identity from the rest of Spain. The Spanish Civil War was even more devastating for Catalonia’s status as the Catalans fought against the fascism of Francisco Franco. 

Ironically, many Catalonian republicans, such as these demonstrators in Barcelona in 1936, resisted Franco's attempt to overthrow the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War.



Once under Franco’s reign, the Catalans were discriminated against even further with the suppression of all minorities: their language, music, and even dances were banned. Franco also moved other Spaniards into Catalonia in an effort to dilute the Catalan population. After Franco’s death in 1975, Catalonia gained a new constitution with greater regional autonomy and control over its own language and education, making Catalan once again taught in schools and its identity much stronger. 

Catalonia’s history of discrimination and fight have pushed the region’s modern national identity and drive for independence today. 

So, in 2010 when the Constitutional Court of Spain ruled that some elements of the 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, a text that provides basic institutional regulations for Catalonia agreed upon by both Spain and Catalonia, were unconstitutional and needed to be interpreted more restrictively, the Catalans began to protest again. 

These protests quickly came to also include calls for independence once more. Many modern Catalans believe that their region has the right to self-determination, especially since it has financially supported Spain much more than it has received in return. More than 550 municipalities in Catalonia held symbolic independence referendums between 2009 and 2011. 

Millions attended the protests, yet, in 2010 only 20% of Catalans supported secession. In 2012, a mass protest on the National Day of Catalonia, September 11, explicitly asked for the Catalan government to take steps toward independence. As a result, Catalan president Artur Mas called for a snap general election on the issue, which resulted in a majority of voters as pro-independence for the first time. 

This demand for an independent state was unique in the sense that it was connected to no other concrete program for change or specific political party; it was instead a simple proposition by the people to unite around the common goal of independence and unification for all Catalans regardless of other differences in political opinions. 

A few months later, Catalonia’s parliament adopted the Catalan Sovereignty Declaration, which asserted that Catalans had the right to determine their own political future. 

However, the movement struggled to reach certain segments of the population: big businesses and traditional power centers, as well as many of the working class neighborhoods in industrial and post-industrial areas where descendants of the Spaniards who migrated there during Franco’s regime are still concentrated. 

In November 2014, Catalonia held a referendum in which citizens answered two questions on whether or not they wanted 1) Catalonia to become a state, and 2) that state to become independent if so. The government of Spain ruled this referendum unconstitutional, making the government of Catalonia change it from a binding one to a non-binding consultation. 

Even so, Spain banned the non-binding vote; yet Catalonia still conducted it. 81% of Catalans who participated voted yes to both questions. However, another election in September 2015 gained the majority of seats for pro-independence parties yet fell just short of the majority of votes with 47.8%. Even such, the new parliament declared that the region would start the independence process in November 2015. 

A Spanish riot police officer swings a club against would-be voters near a school assigned to be a polling station by the Catalan government in Barcelona.

Mas’ successor, Carlos Puigdemont, ignored warnings from the Spanish government and pushed forward with the region’s plans for a referendum in October 2017. With the upcoming referendum central to all Catalan politics as well as a confrontation with the Spanish government, Catalonia still lacked a solid plan on how to accomplish its independence goal. 

Although Puigdemont’s government publicly promised that the referendum would occur, it privately believed that the Spanish government would stop it, leading to a lack of plan for what would happen after the referendum occurred. Moreover, Spanish police attempted to use force to stop the referendum and Spain declared it illegal once more. 

However, the referendum did occur as planned with 90% of participants voting for independence and a 42% voter turnout. As a result of the referendum, Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence, also proposing that it be suspended for two months to allow for conversations. 

However, when Catalonia voted later that month to unilaterally declare independence from Spain, the Spanish senate immediately approved the use of article 155 in Spain’s constitution, allowing for the national government to directly assume rule of Catalonia, remove Puigdemont and his cabinet from office, and call for another snap regional election. 

Key members of Catalonia’s government and pro-independence activists were arrested and charged while others fled to Belgium before they could face arrest. Spanish direct rule was not lifted until June 2018 when a new Catalan government took control. Since the referendum, Catalonia’s independence movement has lost momentum even though some major Catalan politicians still push for it. 

Some argue for a unilateral uncompromising path toward independence, whereas others suggest a less confrontational and more pragmatic approach. In 2019, Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan independence leaders, convicting them of sedition and other crimes against the Spanish state for their role in the 2017 independence referendum, sparking a whole new wave of protests against the Spanish government calling for amnesty for the convicted leaders and the renewal of Catalan independence. 

Since February 2020, the Catalan and Spanish governments have agreed to meet monthly, committing to discuss the political conflict face-to-face with both sides sitting down for negotiations. President of the Spanish government Pedro Sánchez reiterated in June 2020 that the way out of the conflict with Catalonia will be through “dialogue, political agreement, and electoral referendum.” But there is no clear path for a resolution between Spain and Catalonia whose peoples share different languages and separate national identities, as well as complete opposite directions for their political futures. 

Only time will tell if and when Catalonia can finally achieve the independence it has sought for nine centuries. 

It was not lost on the world that during Spain’s remarkable road to winning soccer’s 2010 World Cup, flags of Basque and Catalan independence flew along side the national flag of Spain. 



Sunday, February 21, 2021

SUNDAY REVIEW / NORTHEAST BLIZZARD FICTION: MAINE TO THE RESCUE!

 

Left to right: Older New York; Virginia, Maine and Younger New York

These girls are all in quite different "states" at Miss Wayland's School. Short story writer, Laura E. Richards [1850-1943] had a particularly warm spot for Maine (and puns), who loved winter snow storms the best and was the heroine who saved the day in this quaint story. The author raised her own family in Gardiner, Maine, so she knew a thing or two about blizzards! 

"Oh, dear! oh, dear! It's snowing hard!" "Hurrah! hurrah! It's snowing!"

Massachusetts looked up from her algebra. She was the oldest student in the school. She was rosy and placid as the apple she was generally eating when not in class. Apples and algebra were the things she cared most about in school life. "Whence come these varying cries?" she said, taking her feet off the fender and trying to be interested, though her thoughts went on with "a 1/6 b =" etc. 

"Oh, Virginia is grumbling because it is snowing, and Maine is feeling happy over it, that's all!" said Rhode Island, the smallest girl in Miss Wayland's school. "Poor Virginia! It is rather hard on you to have snow in March, when you have just got your box of spring clothes from home." 

"It is atrocious!" said Virginia, a tall, graceful, languishing girl. "How could they send me to such a place, where it is winter all the spring? Why, at home the violets are in blossom, the trees are coming out, the birds singing--" 

"And at home," broke in Maine, who was a tall girl, too, but lithe and breezy as a young willow, with flyaway hair and dancing brown eyes, "at home all is winter--white, beautiful, glorious winter, with ice two or three feet thick on the rivers, and great fields and fields of snow, all sparkling in the sun, and the sky a vast sapphire overhead, without a speck. Oh, the glory of it, the splendor of it! And here--here it is neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring. A wretched, makeshift season, which they call winter because they don't know what else to call it." 

"Come! come!" said Older New York, who was 16 years old and had her own urban ideas of dignity. "Let us alone, you two outsiders! We are neither Eskimos nor Hindoos, it is true, but the Empire State would not change climates with either of you." "No, indeed!" chimed in Much Younger New York, who always followed her leader in everything, from opinions down to hair-ribbons. 

"No, indeed!" repeated Virginia, with languid scorn. "Because you couldn't get any one to change with you, my dear." 

Younger New York reddened. "You are so disagreeable, Virginia!" she said. "I am sure I am glad I don't have to live with you all the year round--" 

"Personal remarks!" said Massachusetts, looking up calmly. "One cent, Younger New York, for the missionary fund. Thank you! Let me give you each half an apple, and you will feel better." She solemnly divided a large red apple, and gave the halves to the two scowling girls, who took them, laughing in spite of themselves, and went their separate ways. 

"Why didn't you let them have it out, Massachusetts?" said Maine, laughing. "You never let any one have a good row." 

"Slang!" said Massachusetts, looking up again. "One cent for the missionary fund. You will clothe the heathen at this rate, Maine. That is the fourth cent today." "'Row' isn't slang!" protested Maine, feeling, however, for her pocket-book. 

"Vulgar colloquial!" returned Massachusetts, quietly. "And perhaps you would go away now, Maine, or else be quiet. Have you learned--" 

"No, I haven't!" said Maine. "I will do it very soon, dear Saint Apple. I must look at the snow a little more." Maine went dancing off to her room, where she threw the window open and looked out with delight. The girl caught up a double handful and tossed it about, laughing for pure pleasure. Then she leaned out to feel the beating of the flakes on her face. "Really quite a respectable little snowstorm!" she said, nodding approval at the whirling white drift. 

"Go on, and you will be worth while, my dear." She went singing to her algebra, which she could not have done if it had not been snowing. 

That's Virginia with the curls in front of headmistress Miss Wayland.
Massachuesetts, the oldest, is at the top; seated next to Miss Wayland are New York (the elder and New York, the younger).  Of course, our heroine Miss Maine is (top row, far left) then comes Rhode Island then (in order, but didn't appear in the story): New Hampshire and Vermont.

The snow storm went on increasing from hour to hour. By noon the wind began to rise; before night it was blowing a furious gale. Furious blasts clutched at the windows, and rattled them like castanets. The wind howled and shrieked and moaned, till it seemed as if the air were filled with angry demons fighting to possess the square white house. 

Many of the pupils of Miss Wayland's school came to the tea-table with disturbed faces; but Massachusetts was as calm as usual, and Maine was jubilant. "Isn't it a glorious storm?" she cried, exultingly. "I didn't know there could be such a storm in this part of the country, Miss Wayland. Will you give me some milk, please?" 

"There is no milk, my dear," said Miss Wayland, who looked rather troubled. "The milkman has not come, and probably will not come to-night. There has never been such a storm here in my lifetime!" she added. "Do you have such storms at your home, my dear?" 

"Oh, yes, indeed!" Maine said, cheerfully. "I don't know that we often have so much wind as this, but the snow is nothing out of the way. Why, on Palm Sunday last year our milkman dug through a drift twenty feet deep to get at his cows. He was the only milkman who ventured out, and he took me and the minister's wife to church in his  red wagon. "We were the only women in church, I remember. Miss Betsy Follansbee, who had not missed going to church in fifteen years, started on foot, after climbing out of her bedroom window to the shed roof and sliding down. All her doors were blocked up, and she lived alone, so there was no one to dig her out. But she got stuck in a drift about half-way, and had to stay there till one of the neighbors came by and pulled her out." 

All the girls laughed at this, and even Miss Wayland smiled; but suddenly she looked grave again. "Hark!" she said, and listened. "Did you not hear something?" 

"We hear Boreas, Auster, Eurus, and Zephyrus," answered Older New York. "Nothing else." 

At that moment there was a lull in the screeching of the wind; all listened intently, and a faint sound was heard from without which was not that of the blast. 

"A child!" said Massachusetts, rising quickly. "It is a child's voice. I will go, Miss Wayland." 

"I cannot permit it!" cried Miss Wayland, in great distress. "I cannot allow you to think of it. You are just recovering from a severe cold, and I am responsible to your parents. What shall we do? It certainly sounds like a child crying out in the pitiless storm. Of course it may be a cat--" 

Maine had gone to the window at the first alarm, and now turned with shining eyes. "It is a child!" she said, quietly. "I have no cold, Miss Wayland. I am going, of course." 

Passing by Massachusetts, who had started out of her usual calm and stood in some perplexity, she whispered, "If it were freezing, it wouldn't cry. I shall be in time. Get a ball of stout twine." She disappeared. 

In three minutes she returned, dressed in her blanket coat, reaching half-way below her knees, scarlet leggings and gaily wrought moccasins; on her head a fur cap, with a band of sea-otter fur projecting over her eyes. In her hand she held a pair of snow-shoes. She had had no opportunity to wear her snow-shoeing suit all winter, and she was quite delighted. 

"My child!" said Miss Wayland, faintly. "How can I let you go? My duty to your parents--what are those strange things, and what use are you going to make of them?" 

By way of answer Maine slipped her feet into the snow-shoes, and, with Massachusetts' aid, quickly fastened the thongs. "The twine!" she said. "Yes, that will do; plenty of it. Tie it to the door-handle, square knot, so! I'm all right, dear; don't worry." 

Like a flash the girl was gone out into the howling night. Miss Wayland wrung her hands and wept, and most of the girls wept with her. Virginia, who was curled up in a corner, really sick with fright, beckoned to Massachusetts. "Is there any chance of her coming back alive?" she asked, in a whisper. "I wish I had made up with her. But we may all die in this awful storm." 

"Nonsense!" said Massachusetts. "Try to have a little sense, Virginia! Maine is all right, and can take care of herself; and as for whimpering at the wind, when you have a good roof over your head, it is too absurd." 

For the first time since she came to school Massachusetts forgot the study hour, as did every one else; and in spite of her brave efforts at cheerful conversation, it was a sad and an anxious group that sat about the fire in the pleasant parlor. 

Maine went out quickly, and closed the door behind her; then stood still a moment, listening for the direction of the cry. She did not hear it at first, but presently it broke out--a piteous little wail, sounding louder now in the open air. 

The girl bent her head to listen. 

Where was the child? 

The voice came from the right, surely! She would make her way down to the road, and then she could tell better. Grasping the ball of twine firmly, she stepped forward, planting the broad snow-shoes lightly in the soft, dry snow. As she turned the corner of the house an icy blast caught her, as if with furious hands, shook her like a leaf, and flung her roughly against the wall. 

Her forehead struck the corner, and for a moment she was stunned; but the blood trickling down her face quickly brought her to herself. She set her teeth, folded her arms tightly, and stooping forward, measured her strength once more with that of the gale. 

This time it seemed as if she were cleaving a wall of ice, which opened only to close behind her. On she struggled, unrolling her twine as she went. The child's cry sounded louder, and she took fresh heart. Pausing, she clapped her hand to her mouth repeatedly, uttering a shrill, long call. It was the Indian whoop, which her father had taught her in their woodland rambles at home. 

The childish wail stopped; she repeated the cry louder and longer; then shouted, at the top of her lungs, "Hold on! Help is coming!" 

Again and again the wind buffeted her, and forced her backward a step or two; but she lowered her head, and wrapped her arms more tightly about her body, and plodded on. 

Once she fell, stumbling over a stump; twice she ran against a tree, for the white darkness was absolutely blinding, and she saw nothing, felt nothing but snow, snow. 

At last her snow-shoe struck something hard. She stretched out her hands--it was the stone wall. And now, as she crept along beside it, the child's wail broke out again close at hand. 

"Mother! O mother! mother!" 

The girl's heart beat fast. "Where are you?" she cried. At the same moment she stumbled against something soft. A mound of snow, was it? No! for it moved. It moved and cried, and little hands clutched her dress. She saw nothing, but put her hands down, and touched a little cold face. 

She dragged the child out of the snow, which had almost covered it, and set it on its feet. "Who are you?" she asked, putting her face down close, while by vigorous patting and rubbing she tried to give life to the benumbed, cowering little figure, which staggered along helplessly, clutching her with half-frozen fingers. 

"Benny Withers!" sobbed the child. "Mother sent me for the clothes, but I can't get 'em!" 

"Benny Withers!" cried Maine. "Why, you live close by. Why didn't you go home, child?" 

"I can't!" cried the boy. "I can't see nothing. I tried to get to the school, an' I tried to get home, an' I can't get nowhere 'cept against this wall. Let me stay here now! I want to rest me a little." 

He would have sunk down again, but Maine caught him up in her strong, young arms. "Here, climb up on my back, Benny!" she said, cheerfully. "Hold on tight round my neck, and you shall rest while I take you home. So! That's a brave boy! Upsy, now! there you are! Now put your head on my shoulder--close! and hold on!" 

Ah! how Maine blessed the heavy little brother at home, who would ride on his sister's back, long after mamma said he was too big. How she blessed the carryings up and down stairs, the "horsey rides" through the garden and down the lane, which had made her shoulders strong! 

Benny Withers was eight years old, but he was small and slender, and no heavier than six-year-old Philip. No need of telling the child to hold on, once he was up out of the cruel snow bed. He clung desperately round the girl's neck, and pressed his head close against the woollen stuff. 

Maine pulled her ball of twine from her pocket--fortunately it was a large one, and the twine, though strong, was fine, so that there seemed to be no end to it--and once more lowered her head, and set her teeth, and moved forward, keeping close to the wall, in the direction of Mrs. Withers's cottage. 

For awhile she saw nothing, when she looked up under the fringe of otter fur, which, long and soft, kept the snow from blinding her; nothing but the white, whirling drift which beat with icy, stinging blows in her face. But at last her eyes caught a faint glimmer of light, and presently a brighter gleam showed her Mrs. Withers's gray cottage, now white like the rest of the world. 

Bursting open the cottage door, she almost threw the child into the arms of his mother. The woman, who had been weeping wildly, could hardly believe her eyes. She caught the little boy and smothered him with kisses, chafing his cold hands, and crying over him. "I didn't know!" she said. "I didn't know till he was gone. I told him at noon he was to go, never thinking 'twould be like this. I was sure he was lost and dead, but I couldn't leave my sick baby. Bless you, whoever you are, man or woman! But stay and get warm, and rest ye! You're never going out again in this awful storm!" 

But Maine was gone. 

In Miss Wayland's parlor the suspense was fast becoming unendurable. They had heard Maine's Indian whoop, and some of them, Miss Wayland herself among the number, thought it was a cry of distress; but Massachusetts rightly interpreted the call, and assured them that it was a call of encouragement to the bewildered child. 

Then came silence within the house, and a prolonged clamor--a sort of witches' chorus, with wailing and shrieking without. Once a heavy branch was torn from one of the great elms, and came thundering down on the roof. 

This proved the finishing touch for poor Virginia. She went into violent hysterics, and was carried off to bed by Miss Wayland and Younger New York. 

Massachusetts presently ventured to explore a little. She hastened through the hall to the front door, opened it a few inches, and put her hand on the twine which was fastened to the handle. What was her horror to find that it hung loose, swinging idly in the wind! 

Sick at heart, she shut the door, and pressing her hands over her eyes, tried to think. Maine must be lost in the howling storm! 

She must find her; but where and how? Oh! if Miss Wayland had only let her go at first! She was older; it would not have mattered so much. But now, quick! she would wrap herself warmly, and slip out without any one knowing. The girl was turning to fly up-stairs, when suddenly something fell heavily against the door outside. 

There was a fumbling for the handle; the next moment it flew open, and something white stumbled into the hall, shut the door, and sat down heavily on the floor. "Personal--rudeness!" gasped Maine, struggling for breath. "You shut the door in my face! One cent for the missionary fund." 

Soon the great storm ended. 

Keen eyes will note the snowy village is not new England but France, where artist
Claude Monet painted the beautiful scene in 1875.

Next morning, the sun came up, and looked down on a strange, white world. No fences, no walls; only a smooth ridge where one of these had been. Trees which the day before had been quite tall now looked like dwarfs, spreading their broad arms not far from the snow carpet beneath them. 

Road there was none; all was smooth, save where some huge drift nodded its crest like a billow curling for its downward rush. 

Maine was jubilant. Tired! not a bit of it! A little stiff, just enough to need "limbering out," as they said at home. "There is no butter!" she announced at breakfast. "There is no milk, no meat for dinner. Therefore, I go a-snow-shoeing. Dear Miss Wayland, let me go! I have learned my algebra, and I shall be discovering unknown quantities at every step, which will be just as instructive." 

Miss Wayland could refuse nothing to the heroine of last night's adventure. Behold Maine, therefore, triumphant, sallying forth, clad once more in her blanket suit, and dragging her sled behind her. There was no struggling now--no hand-to-hand wrestling with storm-demons. 

The sun smiled from a sky as blue and deep as her own sky of Maine, and the girl laughed with him as she walked along, the powdery snow flying in a cloud from her snow-shoes at every step. 

Such a sight had never been seen in Mentor village before. The people came running to their upper windows--their lower ones were for the most part buried in snow--and stared with all their eyes at the strange apparition. 

In the street, life was beginning to stir. People had found, somewhat to their own surprise, that they were alive and well after the blizzard; and knots of men were clustered here and there, discussing the storm, while some were already at work tunnelling through the drifts. 

Mr. Perkins, the butcher, had just got his door open, and great was his amazement when Maine hailed him from the top of a great drift, and demanded a quarter of mutton with some soup meat. 

"Yes, miss!" he stammered, open-mouthed with astonishment. "I--I've got the meat; but I wasn't--my team isn't out this morning. I don't know about sending it." 

"I have a 'team' here!" said Maine, quietly, pulling her sled alongside. "Give me the mutton, Mr. Perkins; you may charge it to Miss Wayland, please, and I will take it home." 

The butter-man and the grocer were visited in the same way, and Maine, rather embarrassed by the concentrated observation of the whole village, turned to pull her laden sled back, when suddenly a window was thrown open, and a voice exclaimed: "Young woman! I will give you ten dollars for the use of those snow-shoes for an hour!" 

Maine looked up in amazement, and laughed merrily when she saw the well-known countenance of the village doctor. "What! You, my dear young lady?" cried the good man. "This is 'Maine to the Rescue,' indeed! I might have known it was you. But I repeat my offer. Make it anything you please, only let me have the snow-shoes. I cannot get a horse out, and have two patients dangerously ill. What is your price for the magic shoes?" 

"My price, doctor?" repeated Maine, looking up with dancing eyes. "My price is--one cent. For the Missionary Fund! The snow-shoes are yours, and I will get home somehow with my sled and the mutton." 

So she did, and Doctor Fowler made his calls with the snow-shoes, and saved a life, and brought cheer and comfort to many. 

But it was ten dollars, and not one cent, which he gave to the Missionary Fund. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR American author Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards (1850 – 1943) wrote more than ninety books, many of them delightful morality tales especially for children. She (left) won the Pulitzer Prize in 1917, along with her co-author sister, Maud Howe Elliott, for the biography of her mother, Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), best remembered for composing The Battle Hymn of the Republic. We feature Richards in our collection of Pulitzer Prize Winners. 

Richards grew up in Massachusetts, her parents both abolitionists, her mother also an activist poet who crafted the Union's theme song during the American Civil War. She married and moved to Gardiner, Maine to raise three children. This explains Richards' love for winter and her soft-spot for Maine, as in her feel-good story, Maine to the Rescue. Richards' literary nonsense poem, Eletelephony continues to delight children and their parents who rediscover it. It was adapted and aired on the enduring children's show, Sesame Street. Pulitzer Prize winner, 1917 OK, it’s not Maine but it is [Claude]Monet “Snow at Argenteuil” {not far from the Seine} winter 1874-75. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

COFFEE BEANS & BEINGS / REALLY! HOW HEALTHY IS COFFEE / EPISODE 5


GUEST BLOG / By Kris Gunnars, Healthline.com
--Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages. Thanks to its high levels of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients, it also seems to be quite healthy. 

Studies show that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of several serious diseases. Thanks to our friends at Healthline.com for the next few Saturdays, this column will highlight one at a time the top 13 health benefits of coffee. 

Here’s Number 5: 

5. 

May Lower Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes 

Type 2 diabetes is a major health problem, currently affecting millions of people worldwide. It’s characterized by elevated blood sugar levels caused by insulin resistance or a reduced ability to secrete insulin. 

For some reason, coffee drinkers have a significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. 

 Studies observe that people who drink the most coffee have a 23–50% lower risk of getting this disease. One study showed a reduction as high as 67%. 

According to a large review of 18 studies in a total of 457,922 people, each daily cup of coffee was associated with a 7% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. 

SUMMARY Several observational studies show that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of type 2 diabetes, a serious condition that affects millions of people worldwide. 

*** 

WEEKLY COFFEE QUIZ--Where in the world is this coffee establishment? Answer next Saturday in PillartoPost.org Coffee Beans & Beings post.

 

*** 


LAST WEEK’S COFFEE QUIZ ANSWER— Café de Paris is a coffeehouse and restaurant in the Belle Époque style of the 1900s, located in Monte Carlo and next to the Casino de Monte-Carlo, on the Place du Casino, facing the Hôtel de Paris. Founded in 1868, at the same time as Monte Carlo, with its Casino de Monte-Carlo and the Hôtel de Paris by François Blanc and Prince Charles III of Monaco, it was originally baptized Café Divan. It was transformed several times until the 1930s, then completely renovated in 1988 in the Belle Époque style of the 1900s like the old Parisian bistros. .

Friday, February 19, 2021

FRIDAY NOIR AT THE MOVIES / LANA TURNER’S RACY WHITE SHORTS


Yes, it was a recent entertainment article by AARP.org’s of all places that remarked “all movie genres go through boom and bust cycles” so too with Film Noir. Early in 2021 we saw the arrival of “The Little Things” a dark cop flick that stars Denzel Washington, Jared Leto and Rami Malek (all Academy Award winners). 

But one neo-noir doesn’t make a trend. That leaves us with AARP’s compendium “12 Classic Film Noir Picks to Stream” (during the Pandemic). Kudos to AARP writer Chris Nashawaty for the picks. 

PillartoPost.org will join AARP in saluting doozies of Film Noir in this space once a week. 

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) 

From the first split-second that John Garfield sees Lana Turner in her racy white shorts, it's all but cinched that he will end up helping her kill her husband. It's no coincidence that the film opens with a shot of a sign that says “Man Wanted.” If that sounds like Double Indemnity, it's because it's written by the same deliciously twisted mind, James M. Cain. Garfield is perfect as a drifter who falls into a black widow's web, and Turner has never had as deadly a sting. Lust, murder, betrayal — this one has all the ingredients you want in a great noir—By Chris Nashawaty for AARP. 

Where to Stream: The Postman Always Rings Twice, on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube.

MORE ON THE MOVIE:  Click here.



 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

SPACE CADETS / HELICOPTER LANDS ON MARS! TRUE STORY

 

Members of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover team watch in mission control as the first images arrive moments after the spacecraft successfully touched down on Mars, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith. And, the first ever Mars helicopter will take off soon. Keep up to date with the mission at NASA.gov. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls For text of NASA Touchdown article click here. 

THE FOODIST / NO MENU, NO OUTSIDE SIGN, NO PROBLEM

Restaurant El Passadis del Pep is at the end of a long corridor at the bottom of 
nondescript apt. building.  The 40 year old home of excellent Catalonian cuisine
has no sign outside or menu inside.  Entry is far left of image.

"A number of images gathered in a certain way becomes something far above and beyond what any of them represent individually" 
--Francis Ford Coppola, friend of the Passadís. 

"Sit back and relax. I already know what you are going to want to eat," says Barcelona restaurateur Joan Manubens, Jr., owner of El Passadis del Pep. “I have spent my entire childhood watching my father read minds thirsty for experiences and satisfying stomachs starved for emotions. 

“My late father had the incredible ability to tell the customer exactly what they want to eat. And when you have this ability and you run a restaurant at the end of a corridor, you don't need a menu of dishes or a sign on the front with your name, you just need consistency and an excellent product. 

“After almost 40 years, in the Passadís we continue working the same, with an excellent product, with the same perseverance as always and without the menu that we have never had.  

Straight ahead, you can't miss it if you got this far.

“We are in the heart of the Borne neighborhood, at number 2 of Pla de Palau, right at the end of the most famous corridor in the old town of Barcelona. So you can come taking a pleasant walk through this historic neighborhood, considered the soho of Barcelona. 

Manubens continues, “We work without a menu and only with good products. So our recommendation is that when you enter the Passadís, relax and take advice from Modesto. We will take care of the first ones (seafood is sure to be there) and if you have any cravings, don't hesitate to ask. Second, the two magic words: meat or fish. Whatever your choice, be it a turbot in Donostia style or a steak, you will be right. 


 “And if you prefer that we surprise you we are here to please you,” says Manubens. 

 To get to Passadís you have to go to Pla de Palau, a square that, in 16th century Barcelona, became the only gateway to everything that arrived by sea. For this reason, at that time, Pla de Palau was known as the main square of commercial Barcelona, since all the fresh products that came from overseas were sold here. 

IV centuries later, in 1979, Joan Manubens, Sr., picked up the spirit of the square and decided to open a restaurant without a menu of dishes and with exclusive dedication to the fresh products that arrive every day at the port of Barcelona. But Joan was just starting out in the world of cooking, so the first person in charge of the kitchen would be his mother, the excellent cook, “Señora Pilar”. The only thing left to do was to name the restaurant and he decided to call it "Passadís del Pep", in homage to his brother Josep, who was the one who pushed him and helped him in the beginning of this adventure.” 


Prices range from around $70 per person to whatever you are willing to spend. House specials including Iberian “Joselito” ham with tomato bread, grilled baby squid, and chicken and foie gras cannelloni. 

 Pla de Palau, 2 Barcelona, 08003 Spain +34 933 10 10 21 

https://passadis.com/?lang=en

MORE IMAGES FROM PASSADIS:

Iberian jamon "joselito"

Baby squid "calamari"
Just ask for the huge pan of shrimp


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

MARS LANDING AHEAD / GALLERY OF RED PLANET IMAGES FROM NASA


Tomorrow, NASA’s most sophisticated rover will attempt a landing on Mars. God speed, Perseverance. It will be a major media event. To entertain ourselves as we hold our collective breaths here are a medley of NASA’ greatest (photo) hits.  Captions after final image listed.












CAPTIONS: TOP TO LOWER:
1. Taken by the Viking lander on July 20, 1976, this is the first image from the Mars surface. 
2. Here’s Valles Marineris, a mosaic comprising 102 Viking orbiter images. The canyon system is more than 2,000 kilometers long and about 8 kilometers deep. 
3. Korolev crater more than 50 miles across filled with water ice (near north pole. 
4. Curiosity rover snapped this 2015 image of Mount Sharp. 
5. Sand dunes in the Nili Patera region taken by HiRise camera onboard Mars Reconnaissance orbiter. 
6. Newer crater photographed by the HiRise camera, November, 2013. 
7. Kilometer size crater showing frost on its south facing slopes, June 2014. 
8. Curiosity selfie in 2016 in the Murray Buttes area of lower Mount Sharp. 
9. In 2001, NASA’s Mars Surveyor shows examples of before and after an all planet Mars dust storm. 
10. Human debris found outside of Murray Buttes Starbucks store.



Tuesday, February 16, 2021

CURIOSITIES & RITUALS / SEALED KEY TO THE SISTINE CHAPEL

The ancient key that opens the Sistine Chapel each day.

GUEST BLOG / By Associated Press reporters Paolo Lucariello and Elisa Colella with Nicole Winfield
-The Sistine Chapel reopened to public view last week for the first time since its November coronavirus closure, but for Gianni Crea, the doors to Michelangelo’s magnificent frescoes were never really closed. 

Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers (4 1/2 miles) of one of the world’s greatest collections of art and antiquities. 

The Associated Press photographer Andrew Medicini followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him before dawn in the downstairs “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. 

As the keys dangled and jangled from giant keyrings he wears around his wrist, Crea wound his way through the Gallery of Maps, past the famed marble “Laocoön and His Sons” statue and finally to the Sistine Chapel. There, at a tiny wooden doorway, Crea drew out a white envelope from his suit pocket, ripped it open and pulled out a small silvery-brass key. 

Using a small flashlight to guide his way, he slipped the key into the keyhole, turned it gently and creaked open the door to reveal the still-darkened chapel where popes are made during the secret ceremonies that draw their very name — “conclave” — from the crucial role that keys play in them. 

Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key- keeper, shows the sealed envelope where the 19th century key of the Sistine Chapel is kept, in the a safe where the museum's keys are kept. 

Cardinals are essentially locked away “with a key” in the Sistine Chapel and the nearby Vatican hotel for the duration of the solemn vote to elect a new pope. As a result, the Sistine Chapel key is of particular importance and is handled with its own protocol: After the room is shuttered for the day when the last visitor leaves, the key is put back in a new white envelope, sealed, stamped and replaced in the bunker wall safe, with its comings and goings duly noted in a thick registry book. 

Crea recalls fondly the day that, three years into his now-23 years of service, he was finally allowed to open the door to the Sistine Chapel alone. The privilege in the two decades since has given him a chance to visit Michelangelo’s “Last Temptation” and scenes of the New Testament and Old all alone, in the empty quiet of dawn. 

“All the statues, all the rooms have a unique history, but naturally the Sistine Chapel always gives you a particularly emotion,” Crea said. Even though the public was shut out of the Vatican Museums for 88 days, Crea and his team of 10 key-keepers kept up their routine of opening and closing doors, since the exhibition rooms had to be cleaned, dusted and maintained by a small army of museum workers. 

Gianni Crea opens the sealed envelope containing the 19th century key of the Sistine Chapel, at the Vatican. Sistine Chapel key is of particular importance and is handled with its own protocol: After the room is shuttered for the day when the last visitor leaves, the key is put back in a new white envelope, sealed, stamped and replaced in the bunker wall safe, with its comings and goings duly noted in a thick registry book.

Restorers took the opportunity to do maintenance work that would otherwise be impossible when the nearly 7 million annual visitors pass through the museums during a normal year. But 2020 was anything but normal. Only around 1.3 million visitors came, arranging visits around Italy’s two COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Now, to maintain social-distancing protocols, up to 400 people can be admitted every 30 minutes, with timed tickets purchased in advance online. Crea, who confesses that he sometimes misplaces his own house keys, will make sure the doors are open for them. “It is a unique emotion, an incredible privilege for me and my colleagues to have the possibility of showing these extraordinary art works, that are part of our history, to visitors from all over the world,” he said. 

Behind the old door reveals the chapel where popes are made during the secret ceremonies that draw their very name — “conclave” — from the crucial role that keys play in them. Cardinals are essentially locked away “with a key” in the Sistine Chapel and the nearby Vatican hotel for the duration of the solemn vote to elect a new pope. 

Gianni Crea in a pre-pandemic photos is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. 





 



Monday, February 15, 2021

MEDIA MONDAY / AL JAZEERA’S TAKE ON THE FEATS, FIATS & FAILURES OF U.S. NEWS NETWORKS

The proverbial cash cow.

With Trump gone and ratings dipping, US broadcasters will have to reconsider their corporate approach to news. 

GUEST OPINION BLOG / By Marwan Bishara, Senior political writer at Al Jazeera--During Donald Trump's presidency, the viewership and profits of American TV networks CNN, Fox News and MSNBC rose dramatically

Those three main US news networks have enjoyed a roller-coaster ride over the past five years, thanks to one man, Donald J Trump. His presidency may have not been great for America, or for democracy, but it was fantastic for the news channels. 

But now that the curtains are drawn on the Trump spectacle, the orphaned networks are bracing themselves for tougher times, dwindling revenues and deep identity crises. The major networks afforded Trump more coverage after he announced his candidacy in mid-2015 than any other candidate. They broadcasted his rallies and press conferences, live and unedited, enabling him to say whatever outrageous things he damn pleased. 

It was good for business. Trump, the infamous trickster, whose false claims about President Barack Obama’s birthplace – aired on Fox News – propelled him to the national stage, understood from early on that the TV networks cared first and foremost about their ratings. 

So, he went on attracting attention by making one controversial statement after another, to provoke, entertain and outrage. And the networks devoured his musings like hotcakes. The benefit was mutual, the synergy palatable. Even when the coverage turned critical after the 2016 Republican Convention, TV ratings and Trump PR continued to feed off of each another. 

By the end of 2016, the networks had made billions and Trump had made it to the White House. From then on, the news broadcasters saw their revenues increase substantially as they focused mainly on Trump’s tweets, tales and tantrums. The president referred to liberal media as “the enemy of the people” and called CNN and other outlets, “fake news”. 

THE BREAKING OF THE NEWS.

While the reporters felt threatened, the networks thrived. Their ratings rose and so did the profits, but the quality of their journalism declined. Reporting became poorer by the day, cheaply produced and quickly delivered, to keep up with the internet. Cable TV is called “medium”, so the joke went, because it is neither rare nor well-done. But the joke was on their viewers, Americans and others. 

As journalistic quality dropped, CNN and Fox News became among the greatest profit generators for their corporate parents, and MSNBC began to catch up as well. 

In 2018, the year after Trump took office, their revenues jumped by 4 percent to $5.3bn. CNN has generated an average of a billion dollars in profit annually for its parent company, AT&T, thanks to its coverage of Trump and other random domestic and international dramas. 

As CNN celebrated its 40th anniversary as the first 24-hour news network, it claimed 2020 was its best year ever. And last week it celebrated its most-watched month, rising past its main competitors, Fox News and MSNBC. 

Since the November 4 election, CNN has beat Fox News in total day viewership for the first time since December 2001. It was with this achievement in hand that CNN President Jeff Zucker chose to announce his long-anticipated departure. Having signed Trump for the Apprentice show in 2004 – which made the real estate mogul a household name – Zucker has proved himself a talented producer and savvy executive but, unfortunately, his approach to journalism has been driven by profit and expediency, not by inquiry and civic responsibility. 

He infamously claimed that “the idea that politics is sport is undeniable, and we understood that and approached it that way”. In other words, Zucker has treated politics as if it is just a game focusing on “scoring points” not “making points”, focusing on the horse race, not the substance. 

That has meant featuring the usual suspects among a limited selection of paid pundits and commentators who voice their “opinions”, unchecked and unedited, just like on the studio-based sports channel, ESPN. CNN and other networks have brought in the pundits to reaffirm or refute whatever is said in Washington, instead of investigating factualness and implications for the general public. 

Doing so, of course, would be costlier, as it would require extensive reporting from various parts of the country and the world. It is journalism by opinion and conviction, not by inquiry. Needless to say, corporate news media are expected to run as “businesses” and they have done so under the likes of Fox’s Roger Ailes long before Zucker showed up on the scene. But Zucker took the corporate logic to a whole new level at CNN, raking in billions at the expense of serious journalism. 

The corporate “bottom line” pressures that Ailes and Zucker advocated have long made journalists unhappy with their profession, with two-thirds believing such pressures were “seriously hurting” the quality of the news. Instead of covering real stories and reporting the facts, corporate media has been trafficking in outrage through punditry, hoping to attract more “eyeballs” on the cheap. 

In his recent book, How America Lost Its Mind, Thomas Patterson, professor of government and the press at Harvard University, analyses in great detail how the cable networks rather irresponsibly have helped deepen American social and political tribalism. None achieved this more than Fox News, where dogmatic anchors have taken liberties with facts and logic and where the most outrageous TV hosts have been paid the highest, with Sean Hannity cashing in more than $30m in annual pay. 

 Once Trump was elected, the networks stopped whatever they were doing or saying in order to focus on his every tweet. Somehow, they always had lots to say about what little he said, whether in denunciation or admiration. Whether they saw him as a modern-day prophet or the devil incarnate, covering Trump had to be intense, theatrical, superficial and, of course, “Breaking News”. 

This ran contrary to the vision of CNN’s founding executives who, more than 40 years ago, hoped to deliver a different kind of broadcast journalism. According to Lisa Napoli’s recent book, Up All Night, the founders of 24h broadcasting believed the news was not about what you say; it was about what you can show. 

They believed that journalism is about investigating the merits and truthfulness of what is said and how it affects people. For them, it was about people and what they think, about “people’s power”, not the opinions of a few overpaid New York and Washington executives and anchors who are out of touch with the rest of the country and the world. 

Take any of the questions polarising the country, from health care to climate change, and you will notice how these important issues are generally covered in a way that angers and divides and not in a way that informs and explains. CNN and MSNBC rightly focused on Trump’s lies, but they failed to explain why so many supported him anyway. 

They focused on Trump’s exaggeration about the border wall but neglected to cover why so many vehemently opposed immigration, illegal or otherwise. They focused on the absurdity of Trump’s attempts at reviving coal energy but failed to convey the anger and frustration among working-class Americans. In other words, the networks found it easier and cheaper to pick on Trump’s fumbles and exaggerations than report, really report on the fears and anxieties of ordinary Americans. 

But now that Trump is no longer “the gift that keeps on giving”, now that he is gone and may not be back at the White House for a long time, if ever, the networks are sure to struggle unless they find an alternative strategy. All three major news networks are projected to see their viewership and revenues dip this year. Even CNN’s impressive January ratings went down in the last week of the month, following the inauguration, signalling a downward trend in the post-Trump era. When veteran NBC anchor and author Tom Brokaw was asked what was his advice to TV journalists, he noted the obvious: They should get away from “the power centres”, travel to the rest of country, not just for visits, but to get to know the politics and the culture there. 

This is a good place to start. It is high time to report on what people feel and think. As important trendsetters, the failure or success of American news outlets will have important ramifications for other cable and satellite news networks in America and the rest of the world. The latter, mostly state-run satellite news networks, broadcasting from various capitals to the rest of the world, are facing a different set of challenges that reflect badly on their journalism. But that is a topic for another day. 

ABOUT THE WRITER Marwan Bishara, a Senior political analyst at Al Jazeera, was previously a professor of International Relations at the American University of Paris. An author who writes extensively on global politics, he is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Middle East and international affairs.