Enjoying Authentic Southern Italy Cuisine with Friends at Doppio Zero

“Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.”—Anna Quindlen, author and journalist

Thanks to an enthusiastic thumbs up from a friend, Cecile and I changed our dinner plans with Susan and Nelson Bye to give Doppio Zero (DZ) in Cupertino, CA a try. The words Doppio Zero means “double zero.” It dates back to a 200 year tradition of authentic Neapolitan pizza-making using the lightest and finest grade of flour.

There is nothing like Italian hospitality. Once you walk through their doors, Doppio Zero’s goal is to have you “become part of the extended famiglia italiana,” where you are invited to relax, eat (manga) and enjoy.

Though Neapolitan style pizza put them on the map, DZ offers a diverse menu of Compania style cuisine based on inexpensive ingredients like pasta herbs, fish, vegetable and fish. Compania runs along the gulf of Naples and Sorrento and is home to picturesque towns with strong cultural traditions that always caught the attention of artists and poets. During the Roman period, the region was a hot spot for the rich whose breathtaking villas dotted the coastline.

Our Italian waitress Chiara (means light) who served us well, made every effort to speak with us in between attending to the bustling crowd of Italian food lovers. Most of the young and energetic male waiters are from Italy as well.

The mission statement of DZ is to make sure your leave with a full stomach and a full smile. In this regard they did not dissappoint.
For starters we shared a Pulcinella oven-baked pizza that contains San Marzano cherry tomatoes, eggplant, fresh mozzarella, basil and pesto; and Trecciolina Salad: Organic Arugula, hearts of palm, tomatoes, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, mozzarella in lemon avocado vinaigrette; Brussel Sprouts with pancetta, parmigiana region and red wine vinegar. Cecile and I shared a dish of Spaghetti Bottarga: Fresh Spaghetti, roasted garlic, olive oil, cured Fish Roe, fresh salmon, lemon zest and Italian chiles The Byes shared entrees of Eggplant Parmigiana and Spinach Ravioli with wild mushrooms, ricotta and fondue truffle sauce. 

While waiting for dessert I texted a photo of all of us to our daughter Michelle and son in law Kyle who are currently in Rome. By the time we got home, it was morning in Italy and Michelle sent us a text back greeting us with "Buon Giorno," and photos of the gastronomic delights they indulged themselves with during the first two days of their arrival. Aside from planning to visit their old stomping grounds in Florence where they went to a school abroad program while at Cal Poly, they are intending to revisit Naples, the heart of the very pizza-making techniques we had just experienced. 

We all shared a delectable Tiramisu and Panna Cotta. By this time we exchanged a few pleasantries with DZ's affable manager, Francesco who is originally from Reggio Calabria, a ferry boat ride to Sicily, home of my ancestors. (photo). I shared stories of my Sicilian roots and our visits to family in the Amalfi coast, Torino and Rome. He offered us a complimentary shot glass of Limoncello before we called it a night.

Postscript: Many of you that follow me on Facebook and subscribe to my blog: enjoyyourlifenow.net have shared that you have tried some of the same restaurants I write about. Don’t let this one pass you by! 
Buon Appetito!

Exploring the Magical City of Nashville & Attending the Grand Ole Opry with Friends

“The Grand Ole Opry, to a singer, is what Yankee Stadium is to a baseball player…Broadway is to an actor. It’s the top of the ladder, the top of the mountain. You don’t just play the Opry, you live it.” —Bill Anderson

As first time visitors to Nashville, we never expected to have such fun and diverse experiences. It has all the excitement one would expect of a big city coupled with a small town feel that exhibits southern charm and gracious hospitality. It is full of recording studios, historical sites, amazing restaurants and has the cool vibe of of country as well as rock’n’roll music. The residents and tourists that come to visit Broadway Street know how to party. There are horse and buggy rides, trolley, double decker buses, Segues, rickshaws as seen in the photos that clearly outnumber automobiles. If you like drinking beer, you have many creative outlets such as pedal taverns to celebrate birthdays, private parties, and bachelor and bacheloratte parties. The vendors of these services offer an experienced bartender, a premium sound system and electric assist motor that everyone can pedal without strain while drinking their favorite brew. 

Aside being the epicenter of the country music industry, we saw The Parthenon at Centennial Park where we witnessed a full scale replica of the Greek Parthenon built in 1897. Before it was known as “Music City,” Nashville was referred to as the "Athens of the South.” Why? By the 1850s it was the first American southern city to establish a public school system, and several higher education institutions like Vanderbilt University, St. Cecilia Academy, Belmont University to name a few. Nashville was filled with wealth and culture, had several theaters and plenty of elegant accommodations. Everything was going well until the onset of the Civil War beginning in 1861 when Nashville was devastated until 1865, when the city began to rebuild itself.

We had tickets for the Grand Ole Opry for 7PM. We heard about a dozen performers from the old country musicians to newcomers on the scene. To name a few we saw Brook Eden, “Act Like You Don’t (Feb 2017 release) which scored 18 million plays on Spotify; Jesse McReynolds, 88, a veteran bluegrass performing artist playing the mandolin; Carson Peters, age 14, a child prodigy who plays the fiddle with his Iron Mountain band; Linda Carter, who performs with her All Star Band and sometimes with her daughter Jessica. Carter is also an actor who played “Wonder Woman.” But, Cecile and I especially wanted to see our favorite Charles “Chip” Esten who played the role of “Deacon Claybourne” on the hit ABC TV drama series “Nashville.” Esten made his theatrical debut in London portraying Buddy Holly, singing, acting, and playing the guitar in the hit West End Musical, Buddy. He performed for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phiip and eventually for President and Mrs George H.W. Bush at the White House. During his first season on Nashville, Esten or “Deak” as he is called on the show was honored to make his debut on the Grand Ole Opry stage.

Before moving to the Opry House in 1974 and began to proudly boast that theirs was “The show that made country music famous,” it was housed at the Ryman Auditorium for 40 years. The Opry puts on three live shows a week in the same live radio format it has used for more than 90 years. 
The history of the Grand Ole Opry began on the evening of November 28, 1925, as a simple radio broadcast when an announcer on Nashville’s radio station WSM introduced fiddle player Uncle Jimmy Thompson as the first performer of the new show: “The WSM Barn Dance.” From these humble beginnings it became the live entertainment phenomenon it is today. The Opry has become an American icon and the city of Nashville’s number one tourist attraction for audiences of all ages.

Chillin' Out at Pajaro Dunes Beach Resort on the Shores of Monterrey Bay

“Life is different at the beach. Time doesn’t move hour to hour, but moment to moment. We live by the currents and let the day unfold into relaxation and bliss in
the company of those we love.” —Dennis Augustine

After a walk on the trails and early morning yoga class, Cecile and I and Jason’s dog Daisy drove over the Santa Cruz Mountains for a day at the beach. We were invited to join Kim and Al Chien and their family for a pre-Mother’s Day celebration. Esconced in her designer travel carrier bag Daisy was as excited as we were to hit the road. Our son-in-law, Kyle and our daughter Michelle, Al’s mom Dana and dad Jack, Al’s brother RIch and wife Lisa and their precious children Olivia and Simone were awaiting our arrival. Having just attended a wedding in London and on his way back from a side trip to Paris, Jason wasn’t able to join us. What can I say, he inherited his travel bug genes from his parents.

With instant communication being what it is, we were told to look out for Kyle jogging at the side of the road a couple of miles from the beach house. We picked him up as well as Michelle moments later who got a later start on “her" morning jog.

We arrived near noon in time for lunch which included a hot bowl of Clam Chowder soup, followed by a walk on the beach. It was on the cool and windy side but we were able to relax in the comfort of a well appointed home with floor to ceiling windows that gave us a panoramic view of the ocean. Pajaro escapes the usual pollution that is common in modern day life. The only sound we heard were the hypnotic roar of the crashing surf, the chirping of shore birds and wailing and squawking of seagulls. Some of us played Mahjong, Gin Rummy, while Michelle and Kyle, Al and myself played Scrabble. Al was ahead of the pack until Michelle hailed victory in the final minutes of the game. 

Kyle, who knows how to take care of his father-in-law made me back-to-back Moscow Mules, a cocktail he introduced to me a couple of years ago. We all enjoyed a casual dinner that included: Cioppino, crab legs, shrimp, fresh Halibut, sautéed bell peppers from Phil’s Fish Market, a 4 1/2 star rated eatery in Moss Landing. After dinner we had an assortment of speciality cookies Cecile and I brought for dessert from our favorite bakery, “Icing on the Cake.”

Pajaro Dunes is a beautiful beach north of the Pajaro River dating back to the 1800s when it became a popular recreation area for picnics, camping, and fishing. Archaeologists discovered the remains of campfires that were made by a Native American tribe of the Costanoan people. After discovering a large grass-fed stuffed bird mounted on at the mouth of the river, they chose the name “Pajaro,” which means “bird” in Spanish. The Pajaro Dunes resort was established in 1973 and is located on a 1 1/2 miles of uncrowded, pristine, sandy beach on the shores of Monterey Bay, near the midpoint between Santa Cruz and Monterey. It is made up of very distinctive fully-furnished homes, condominiums and event facilities in a private gated resort that harmonize with a rich natural environment.

Thanks to our hosts, Kim and Al for a pleasurable, relaxing day!

Touring The Country Music Hall of Fame & the Historic RCA Studio Built for Elvis

Nashville…is a music hub that accepts and allows all genres to be present, and I think there’s been a kind of fusing of genres lately that for me makes me happy and excited.”
—Taylor Swift

Cecile and I and Susan and Nelson Bye toured the vast and impressive Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame. The truth is it took me kicking and screaming to admit I was a fan of country music. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the music of some of the greats like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, and Dolly Parton. But, it was the more modern country and country inspired singers and musicians and pop crossover artists like Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, Kerry Underwood, Keith Urban and Blake Shelton that won me over. 

After the Hall of Fame tour, we boarded a tour bus to Nashville’s Only Historic Studio Tour. “RCA’s Studio B was built for Elvis,” said our guide and musician, George who performs in a country band with his brother David. “But, over the years 1000 hit records were recorded here."

George gave us a fascinating tour, recalling the history of the studio with all the passion only a lover
of music and musical greats could do. He shared a number of anecdotes with us. For example, he showed us a cabinet that a turntable used to sit on, that Elvis kicked causing a piece to break off. The reason: He was angry at RCA because of the poor quality of the turntable they provided him to audition songs he was about to record. 
RCA, displeased with Elvis’s temper tantrum refused to repair the cabinet and there it sits in disrepair to this day.

George showed us how the lighting system Elvis had installed to change the mood his songs evoked. As he played a dozen or so recordings, five by Elvis himself, he showed us how it worked. 
There was a vintage Steinway piano in front of the glass enclosed recording studio. What made it special was that it was Elvis’s favorite. I found this interesting since Elvis owned a gold grand piano that Pricilla bought for him which we saw on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame we had visited.

George offered to take a photo of us seated at the piano and since Cecile and I were the closest to it we stepped up take advantage of this opportunity. As George said, the piano keys contains the DNA of the some of the world’s greatest musicians.

After listening to Elvis’s songs and learning about some of the things that happened behind the scenes there was no denying that the spirit of Elvis was alive. George added that Elvis won’t be leaving this studio any time soon but unfortunately, after the next two songs, we must go.

Onstage with the Memphis Jones Band & a Pilgrimage to Graceland

“The many sounds of Memphis shaped my early musical career and continue to be an inspiration to this day.”
—Justine Timberlake

We disembarked the American Queen on the last day of our seven day cruise on the Mississippi in an upscale neighborhood in Memphis called Harbor Town, and made our way to Memphis Park on Beale Street. Our guide Allegra asked the driver to stop. She introduced us to Memphis Jones who was standing on the corner with his guitar. Before we knew it, he was invited to hop aboard the front of the bus. He welcomed us to Memphis and sang two songs by Elvis including Blue Suede Shoes and a song by Johnny Cash. Allegra said that he would be performing at B.B. King’s House of Blues at 5 PM. After Jones got off the bus, we followed as Allegra invited us to see the bronze statue of Elvis. I went up to Jones to thank him for his performance on the bus and asked him if we could take a photo together for my blog enjoyyourlifenow.net Not only did he oblige, the good natured guitarist unexpectedly took off his guitar and gave it to me to use as a prop, as we struck a pose.

Our group then explored Beale Street, which comes alive in the evening. Beale street has a lot of history. It is where General Grant had his Civil War headquarters, it is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., marched, and where B.B. King and Elvis Presley got their start. Before the 1900s Beale Street was a place where Jewish, Italian, Greek and Chinese immigrants lived and worked, and where the African-American freedmen came to make a make a life for themselves. 

Our bus then proceeded to the Graceland Mansion estate that was owned by Elvis Presley which serves as a museum. It was declared a National Historic Landmark on March 27, 2006, and is the second (only to the White House) as the most visited home in America, with over 650,000 visitors a year. Elvis’s car collection and showcases of Elvis memorabilia was incredible. After having lunch there we checked into our hotel.

At 4:30 PM we met Susan and Nelson Bye at the Peabody Hotel to witness the Peabody Duck March, a charming tradition that has been going on for over 80 years. It began in 1933 after the Peabody’s general manager returned from a hunting trip empty handed with the smell of Jack Daniels on his breath. He bitterly released his English call ducks that he had used as bait into the Grand Lobby fountain as seen in one of the photos. It became a big hit with guests.

We then went to listen to Memphis Jones and his band perform the B.B. King House of Blues at 5:15 PM. It was a one of a kind interactive experience. Jones is not only an exceptional high energy performer, but an avid “music historian.” He can tell you the stories behind music. He pointed out B.B. King didn’t discover the Blues, he mastered it. Elvis didn’t invent rock and roll, he mastered it. After one of his sets, I went in front of the stage and asked Jones “Do you remember me? We met in the park this morning.” After dropping a $20 bill in the jar, he smiled, thanked me and said, “Would you like to come up on stage and have a picture taken with the band for your blog?” I said, yeah, that would be great.

After that fun encounter with Memphis Jones, we went to dinner with the Byes at Itta Bena on the top floor of the club. It was named after the town where B.B. King was born. The ambience couldn’t have been more perfect, the food exquisite and Nelson introduced us to a wonderful blend of wine from California called Conundrum. We topped it off with a peach cobbler.

Visiting B.B. King's Museum & the Ebony Club House of Blues featuring Jake and the Pearl Street Jumpers

"You only live...once, and when you die you're done, so let the good times roll."—B.B. King

Cecile and I, Susan and Nelson disembarked the American Queen at Greenville, the “Heart & Soul of the Mississippi Delta. We perused some of main attractions in town such as the Flood Museum, Hebrew Union Congregation established in 1880 and rebuilt in 1906, and The First National Bank Building built in 1903.

The next stop was the B.B. King Museum, the number one tourist attraction that was located in King’s hometown of Indianola. It was an old cotton mill where B.B., the son of a Sharecropper worked as a kid. The first thing you see when you see is his tour bus parked in the parking lot.

When we entered the museum we were welcomed by staff and escorted into a room where the United Male Chorus sang several sets of old time, inspirational, gospel music which had us clapping our hands and tapping our feet.

Afterwards, we entered the museum, watched a 15 minute narrated film of recordings and concerts of the greatest Blues Master of all time. There was a part in the film when B.B. admitted to being a naughty young man and his father said, “Boy, you might as well give your heart to God because your tail end belongs to me.”

After viewing all the exhibits and visiting the gift shop we paid our respects at B.B’s gravesite adjacent to the museum. It’s been said that when he was buried they didn’t have enough room in his coffin for his lifelong muse guitar, Lucille.

We then went to the Ebony Club House of Blues for lunch and were entertained by Jake and the Pearl Street Jumpers. They were awesome. One of the guitarists with a red guitar at the right of the stage is the grandson of Muddy Water.
A woman on our tour named Laney began dancing with so much passion, it was as if a tornado hit hit land. Just as I began to take a photo of the band she twirled her scarf over her head and I caught it on camera. She was so into it that Jake invited her up on the stage to dance with him. Afterwards, he said this music sneaks up on you.

Among other songs, the band played Tennessee Whiskey. Setting up the song, Jake said, “We have whiskey here that is 200 proof, we call it moonshine.”

On the way back to the American Queen, our guide said, “Now, I will tell you about B.B. King that they didn’t mention at the museum.” B.B. had 15 children by 15 different women which is ironic since doctors told him he could never have kids since he had a low sperm count. He had 50 grandchildren. He died at 93 and his estate was sued. Unfortunately, the only ones who will see any money are the attorneys. But, B.B. undeniably brought so much joy to a lot of his fans, and his legend will live on. Cecile and I had several opportunities to see him perform. The first time was in smaller venues in Chicago when we were in our early 20s. He was friends with Elvis and Frank Sinatra. Elvis got him to play in white clubs and Ole Blues arranged to have him play in Vegas.

After a nap and dinner, we hooked up with the Bye’s on the American Queen for the 7:45 PM show: "Let Freedom Ring" featuring Jay (Bird) Chalmers & the Syncopators. Jay is known for being Tennessee’s Best Live One-Man-Keyboard Entertainer. He jokingly stated that one of his CDs was a million dollar seller, meaning he has one million dollars worth of CDs in his cellar. Here is a photo that was taken of Jay and I at the end of the show.

An Evening with American Humorist & Novelist Mark Twain Aboared the American Queen

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”—Mark Twain

"Life is short. Break the rules!...Kiss Slowly. Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile."—Mark Twain

We spent An Evening with Mark Twain while leaving the port of Natchez, Mississippi. Yes, I know he is supposed to be dead—again. Read on!
Cecile and I and Susan and Nelson Bye caught up with the great American humorist, novelist and social critic (formerly known as Samuel Clemens) before and after his performance (see photos). He said that Tom Sawyer was easy to write about because “I was writing about me,” then segued into “I wonder if God created man because he was disappointed in the monkey.”

While in London back in the day, someone started a rumor that he was gravely ill. This was followed by another rumor that he had died.

According to a widely repeated, legend, one major American newspaper actually printed his obituary. When Twain was told about this by a reporter, he quipped:

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

This was one of the first documented reports of FAKE News:-)

Twain couldn’t decide whether to be amused or annoyed when a New York Journal news representative informed him about a report that he was dying in poverty in London.

It was indeed true that in late May, 1897 the English correspondent for the New York Journal, Frank Marshall White, contacted Twain in London to inquire about his health when he was in the midst of a world wide tour. He had hoped to use his fees from speaking engagements to pay off his considerable amount of debts he owed in the US, due to a series of unsuccessful investments and publishing venture.

Twain said,“I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. James Ross Clemons, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.” (See image of Twain’s handwritten notes about the incident).

Mark Twain played by actor, Lewis Hankins

Source: http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/…/reports-of-my-death-are-gr…

 

My Wife Cecile & I Doing Time at the Louisiana State Penitentiary—Known as Angola

Are you ready to go to prison, asked out tour guide? “You look like one shady bunch,” she joked. The last two times I found myself in a prison was visiting Nelson Mandela’s old jail cell with my brother-in-law, Joseph MCallister at Robbin’s Island in South Africa; and prior to this during my three month podiatry medical externship at Stateville Correctional Center in Jolliet, Illinois in the late 70s

We first toured the grounds with the Byes and our group. If you didn’t know you were on prison grounds you could have easily mistaken it for a country club or a rich farmer’s estate with wild lush grass and narrow creek beds and lakes running through it. During our visit, we were introduced to a fit 50 year old "lifer" named Daryl who has served 25 yeas behind bars. He was wearing a red t-shirt that read: Finding Higher Power 2018 Angola. He wasn’t permitted to talk about his crime, but rumor had it, he had committed murder while under the influence of alcohol. He has been a model prisoner, serving as a pastor and mentor to younger inmates. After the Q&A I told him I sat meditation with former inmates from San Quentin and Folsom at a meditation center in Redwood City, CA. Meditation has proven to reduce the recidivism rate of inmates. And, in the case of lifers, it helps them make peace with themselves and accept responsibility for the poor choices they made.

Afterwards, we visited with another prison inmate named Darren who was caring for a 27 years old Percheron horse, named Big Boy who weighed 2400 pounds. Big Boy was a beauty. He was gentle and seemed to love people. Darren told us that the horse was mainly used for crowd control during special events and for pulling the hearse during funerals of inmates. 

There are 6300 all male prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary nicknamed the “Alcatraz of the South” and “The Farm” which was established in the 1800s. It is named after the 18,000 acre Angola Plantations and beyond that after the African Country that was the origin of many enslaved African brought to Louisiana. Angola is the largest maximum-security prison in the United States. 75% of the prison population is black and 25% white. The average age is 18-80. 5000 prisoners are in for life unless pardoned or released through the the great advocacy work of the Innocence Project. The top three crimes that have led up to their incarceration are homicides, aggravated rape and armed robberies.

Angola has become a tourist attraction. More than 75,000 people visit the prison each year. The prison houses the Angola Rodeo, has a 10,000 person arena, concession stands that serves family recipes of the inmates, wild horse racing and other events that bring in about a half a million dollars a year. The funds go towards maintenance of the multiple, chapels on the prison grounds, educational programs, sand seminary classes. An Arts and Crafts show runs during rodeo season featuring paintings by the inmates. There is even a golf course that was built by prisoners. Anyone can play a round of golf (except inmates)for only $10. Angola has its own newspaper, radio and TV station that is run by the inmates. There are 1600 staff members and 2200 head of cattle. It costs $1.43 a meal to provide inmates with 3 square meals a day.
Angola once designated the worst prison in America has come a long way. Except for the 75 men on Death Row, inmates live in dormitories, not cells. They wear T-shirts blue jeans, tennis sneakers. There are no conjugal visits in the state of Louisiana.
The inmates get good medical care and there are no problems recruiting physicians who are paid a good wage.

 

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The Great Storyteller Tour Guides Along the Mississippi who are Making our Journey Come Alive

“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Native American Proverb

After an informative lecture about the Mississippi and a special presentation by special guest, Barbara Barnes Sims, called “Sun Records and the Birth of Rock and Roll," we disembarked and boarded a bus to the Nottoway Plantation, the largest and grandest plantation home in the South. It was completed in 1859 and is known for surviving the Civil War. The 53,000 square foot antebellum mansion was built by sugarcane magnate John Hampden Randolph for his wife and 11 children. Due to it’s elaborate Italianate design it was nicknamed The White Castle of Louisiana. We were greeted by a guide in a Victorian period piece dress who took us through the home. We then headed to the historic Laura Plantation where we learned about the fascinating world of true Louisiana Creoles who lived apart from the American mainstream for over 200 years. Our docent guide, Kati was one of the most prolific guides I have ever experienced during my years of travel. She was so emotive and passionate I felt like we were watching a one woman theatrical performance. She really brought the dark history of slavery to life in a way that would make any credentialed black history professor take notice.

On the way back to the American Queen, Theron, our 50 year old tour bus guide who reminded me of actor Terence Howard who stars in the hit series “Empire,” regaled us with stories like how he met Fats Domino who dated his father’s sister Josephine and how she broke his heart. Domino wrote a song about her called “My Girl Josephine.” Theron’s family has been here for 300 years. He speaks French and Spanish. “Louisiana was exploited by the Spanish and colonized by the French,” he said. At the same time, he told us hostile or not, many countries contributed to Louisiana's culture, especially in the area of cuisine. His parting words before we headed back to our boat was, “Kick back and relax and enjoy life in the Big Easy, and never let your journey end because it’s just the beginning.” When we exited the bus I told him he was a master storyteller. We took a photo together and exchanged contact information.

After a wonderful dinner on the boat with friends Susan and Nelson Bye, we walked around and decided to visit the engine room. Though it was humid it turned out to be a very interesting experience. I introduced myself to one of the crew members named Mark. He told me he was from Minneapolis, MN., works 20 days on and has 20 days off. He has two kids 9 & 5 and was hoping to take his family on a riverboat cruise. He was monitoring a terminal that had a lot of pressure gauge readings. I asked him if the steam engine for a boat is similar to a steam engine train. He said, yes, the only difference is that a steam engine on a boat is like a train engine on steroids.

After watching a “Southern Celebration” show put on by the American Queen Ensemble and the back up band performing some of the best music of the South, we headed to our cabin to relax, and get ready for the next days's adventure.

 

A Riverboat Cruise Along the Majestic Mississippi Aboard the American Queen

A Riverboat Cruise Along the Majestic Mississippi Aboard the American Queen

"Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass this way again. Enjoy every moment of your life.” 
—Daily Inspirational Quotes

Cecile and I have never been to the Mississippi nor have we ever been on a river boat cruise. So, when we were invited by Nelson and Susan Bye to join them to experience the legendary thrill of a Mississippi River Cruise, we jumped at the opportunity.

After touring the World War ll museum in New Orleans, and watching a film narrated by actor Tom Hanks, and watched a chorus of students from an International school from New Jersey who were in town for the French Quarter Festival, we made our way to the American Queen on the dock of the River Walk.

As we boarded, a band was playing Dixieland Music on the upper deck including the old spiritual favorite: “When the Saints Go Marching in.” We were served appetizers and shown the way toward our room.
We were lucky to get an upgrade and were placed in room 452 at very end of the Veranda with a river view.
The Mississippi played a pivotal role in the American Civil War. In fact, the control of the river marked a major change in the battle between the Union and the Confederate army.
Steamboat traffic was in full throttle before and after the war. Mark Twain wrote prolifically about it in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Life on the Mississippi,” where he recalled his own personal experiences along this famous waterway. The late Johnny Cash sang about the Mississippi in a song called the “Big River.”

But, it is one thing to read or listen to a tale about the Mississippi and another thing to experience its majesty.
After we toured the boat, we put on our orange life west and participated in Coast Guard mandate fire drill and then returned to our room.

The louver doors of our cabin are made of polished wood and the interior is decorated with Victorian patterns, framed photos that celebrates the steamship era.
The Lady’s parlor, and the Men’s card room, are also furnished with antiques and reproductions dating back to the Victorian period.

We ate dinner in the JM White dining room where we were served by Kirk and his assistant Keyah. I had Tuna Tartar, spit pea soup, Spinach salad, and Roasted chicken.
We drank generous portions of a California Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay. For dessert we had a delicious wild berry cobbler and cappuccino.

Following dinner we watched a magnificent sunset from the veranda and headed to the Grand Salon to be welcomed and entertained by the cruise director and the American Queen entertainment team after which we called it a night.

Partying on at the 35th Annual French Quarter Festival in New Orleans 

“There’s certain thing in life that I love. One is architecture…music, culture, food, people…and New Orleans has all of that.”
—Lenny Kravitz

We met our friends and neighbors, Susan and Nelson Bye in New Orleans this weekend to enjoy the 35th Annual French Quarter Festival prior to our scheduled river boat cruise on the Mississippi River tomorrow afternoon. It was a visual, musical and gastronomical feast. Susan who was born in Ecuador, and raised in Chile to Jewish parents said she was going to take us to church. Huh? I thought. After walking around the market district we heard church bells. She bumped into a priest from another Catholic parish who told her a service was taking place at St. Patrick’s Church right up the street. Though Susan is not particularly religious, she has had a long standing love affair with church choirs. We discovered that the church was established in 1833 and was on the National Historic Register. Before we new it we were sitting in the cedar wood pews. The grand pipe organ was playing, and a choir was singing. It was beautiful, calming and majestic and brought me back to my childhood when I used to attend mass.

Next stop was Compere Lapin Caribbean Restaurant located in the Warehouse Arts District. We were scheduled to meet our niece Emily and her friend Abbey there at 11:30 AM for brunch. Emily has been attending the French Quarter Festival for three years now and recommended Compere Lapin which in French means, brother rabbit. We introduced Emily and Abby Stockwell to the Byes. The quaint eater specializes in Creole and Cajun style and was awesome. Our two hour visit passed by quickly, we walked together down the street, then before parting company hugged and said our goodbyes.

Cecile and I and the Byes walked along the waterfront. It was a windy day and the smell of marijuana was in the air. There were several bands playing in stages stretched along the waterfront. We stopped at a few to enjoy the music. The scene was vibrant, alive, colorful. Large paddle boats were ever-present on the river.
I bumped into a few interesting characters and took photos of and with them. One in particular was an African American balloon making clown named Dwayno. He was making animal shaped figures for the kids, some with their fathers who were from the East Coast. He mentioned he used to work at Seaport Village in NYC but lived in Hoboken. I got his attention and said: “I’m from Hoboken.” An instant connection was made. We talked about Frank Sinatra, Hoboken’s favorite son, etc.

We then walked to the legendary and late BB King’s Blues Club. We paid our cover charge, got the top of our hand ink stamped with BB and Nelson and I had a beer. We listened to the Joy Owens band and I finished one of the beignets we ordered to go from the one and only Cafe du Monde. On each table top, was a painted portrait like the late Muddy Waters, the “father of modern Chicago Blues (photo).

After we left BB King’s, we walked some more, perused some shops and made our way to the award winning Palace Club in the French Quarter for a 6:15 PM dinner. It was an upbeat and lively cafe housed in the historic Werlein’s Music building. We had a wonderful waitress Kathleen serve us and a young good-natured young man named Bryson brought us our cocktails. I had a Shilo, the supper clubs version of a Moscow Mule, only they use tequila instead of Vodka. The Byes and myself ordered fish and seafood and Cecile had a cauliflower tort with Brie cheese which was out of this world. For dessert, Bryson made us Bananas Foster Flambé (photo). After bidding our servers farewell, we caught a trolley and went to hear Steamboat Willie, a veteran musician perform a set with his band at Cafe Beignet, before, heading back to our hotel. We clocked over 14,000 steps and were finally ready to call it night.

A Fabulous Sunday Brunch with Family at Jack Rose Libation House Named After a Drink with a Notorious Past

A Fabulous Sunday Brunch with Family at Jack Rose Libation House Named After a Drink with a Notorious Past

It was great day to sit outdoors. It was sunny and mild. Cecile and I recently joined Kim and Al Chien and Al’s parents Dana and Jack, our daughter Michelle and Kyle and Kyle’s brother Chip in from New York. Having been away on vacation in South East Asia for over a month, we hadn’t been able to gather together in quite some time. It was a good time to check in, gather ourselves up from the ups and downs (loss* and gains) of life we all go through and just be present with and for one another other (See Memorial postscript).

Jack Rose is known for its artistic cocktail-crafting bartenders who know how to make a drink for its patrons at the bar or as a take-away to sit under one of the sun-drenched patios with the orange umbrellas, and cushioned sofas and chairs. They keep expanding the seating areas, a good sign that they are doing well. The food and drinks were terrific and the service was excellent. Though we have been here for drinks this was the first time we tried their Sunday brunch.

Jack Rose is a cocktail made of applejack, grenadine in a syrup made from pressed pomegranate seeds, and lemon or lime juice (See last photo). One theory has it that it was named after the notorious NYC gambler and underword figure, Jacob Rosenzweig (aka Baldy Jack Rose) who was alleged to have ordered a contract hit on Herman Rosenthal, the owner of several gambling dens in what resulted in the “Trial of the Century.” The drink was very popular in the 1920s and 30s and known to be the favorite drink of literary great, John Steinbeck who lived in our neighboring town, Monte Sereno from 1926-28. While there he wrote “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Mice and Men."

The location used to house La Hacienda Inn and Restaurant, a West Valley Landmark that was founded by a friend, Michael Morosin’s father who came over from Italy with little money in his pocket. We used to go there for lunch when the restaurant was operated by a Persian restauranteur and acquaintance I knew from my health and fitness club.

Some time after Michael’s father passed away he and his sisters inherited the property and sold it to real estate investors Michael Messinger and business partner Russ Stanley for $6.5 million. The Stanleys opened Jack Rose Libation House in early 2014. With the craft movement on the rise, the Jack Rose cocktail has regained its popularity that was tarnished by its past mob history association.

Postscript: The heart and candle image is in memory of Kyle's grandmother, Dolores C. Lewis who passed away recently at the age of 95, and to Kim's beloved sister Deborah (Debbie) Jeanne Shoffner who also passed away recently after a long bout with cancer at the age of 68. We attended their memorial services this past week. May they RIP.

Celebrating a Simple Passover Seder: a Festival That Even Non-Jews Have Come to Enjoy

Like every year Cecile wanted to prepare a Passover Seder. It was only going to be her, Jason and myself. Our daughter Michelle and her husband Kyle couldn’t make it this year. We discovered that our friends and neighbors, Susan and Nelson Bye were free and were more than delighted to join us. After the candle lighting blessing, and the blessing over the wine and Matzah (unleavened bread), dinner was served. Cecile prepared a wonderful meal beginning with Charoset (a dark paste of ground dates, raisins and nuts), roasted carrots and potatoes, avocado salad, cucumbers and tomatoes, vegetarian pate and “Fred Steak,” named after a man named Fred who created a special marinade for his roasts over 40 years ago. We finished off with a heavenly home-made dessert of Chocolate Souffle with fresh whipped cream. Yes, folks, it was to die for. 

Unlike other communal religious rituals, Passover’s appeal to both secular and religious Jews as well as non-Jewish guests is that it doesn’t take place in a synagogue, but rather at the dinner table. The common question asked by parents of their children during Passover is “What makes this night different from all other nights?”
The answer: Passover is an invitation for Jews to relive the liberation of their people (Ancient Hebrews) from slavery in Egypt and believe the story should be passed on from generation to generation. But in modern times the response you might get is that it is a Jewish festival that non-Jews love to attend. It has become chic to invite a non-Jew to a Jewish seder. Even the White House held a Passover seder during Obama’s presidency beginning in 2008 (See Reuters Photo).

Actually there is some precedent for this. Hillel the elder, a famous Jewish religious leader of his time and one of the most important figures in Jewish history could not recall a particular practice relating to Passover the way it has come to be known. It is said that he resolved the matter my saying, “Go out and see what people are doing.” After embracing this challenge, he concluded: “Come to my house, and you’ll see how we do it–with an array of participants. Jews, non-Jews, all are welcome here!

It would be totally understandable if Jews kept their tradition totally to themselves since non-Jews don’t share their lineage. In other words we are not a member of the tribe. Yet, non-Jews of all stripes or colors and sexual orientations that have experienced being oppressed and persecuted can relate to the Passover story. Martin Luther King Jr. alluded to the Exodus story in a speech he gave the day before he was killed. “I’ve been to the mountaintop…I looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” King shared the same vision of Moses, the Jewish prophet at the center of the Passover story, who led the Israelites through the desert but wasn’t able to take that final stretch into the Land of Israel or the Promised Land.

Since Cecile and I met 46 years ago, I have become a fan of this holiday that lasts for 7 days and 8 nights. Of course, as Jews assimilate into mainstream society it’s become common for interfaith couples like Cecile and I and Nelson and Susan to share the traditions of our childhoods. 

Happy Passover, to our family and Jewish friends.

Sources cited:  
Lauren Davidson, The Jewish Holiday of Gentiles, The Atlantic April 14, 2014
Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, Moment Magazine, Saturday, March 31, 2018

Celebrating TIna the Birthday Girl whose Friends Call her the "Bearer of Gifts"

“A grateful and generous heart is like a magnet. When you take the time to acknowledge the abundance in your life and share the wealth, you attract even more blessings and reasons to feel grateful…”
—Cheryl Richardson

No one embodies this aspiration more than our friends Tina and Wayne Levenfeld. The former owners of the Toll house hotel in Los Gatos are on the short list of two of the most generous people we know. 

Tina threw a birthday dinner party for herself at Flights (formerly Hults), a tapas style restaurant in the quaint village of Los Gatos (The Cats).
Old school etiquette experts like Miss Manners would say throwing your own birthday celebration is pretentious since the traditional expectation is when you are invited to a birthday party you're expected to buy a gift. Friends of Tina and Wayne would say, “WRONG!”
Tina is known in her circle of friends to be kind, loving, inclusive and generous to a fault. Not only did she and her loving and devoted husband Wayne host the dinner but none of Tina’s sisterhood friends left her party without a personalized gift. Yes, you heard that right. She was the “bearer of gifts” at her own birthday party. How sweet is that? At a certain point during the festivities Tina took the time to address the group, thanking us for coming, telling us how much her family and friends mean to her. She is fond of reminding people,“Your presence is my gift.” Need I say more?

The venue was charming. Flights had a bit of a stylish nightclub feel and the drinks and food kept coming. Just when you thought it was done, there was more food to indulge the most heartiest of appetites. Restauranteur and former hockey player for the San Jose Sharks, Alex Hult and his wife Sarah, Miss Nevada (2011) conceived the idea for their trendy eatery while on vacation in Hawaii in search of the perfect flight of cocktails…Flights is built on the premise of serving comfort food and great cocktails to its customers at a reasonable price and in a casual atmosphere. Everything is served with a trio of different flavors whether it is food, wine, beer, cocktails and desserts like the three Angus beef sliders, three different types of Mac & Cheese, fried calamari, three types of meatballs, and delectable Vanilla Creme Anglais, Chocolate and strawberry Beignets that melt in your mouth. The friendly servers are called “flight attendants,” and it looks like Alex and Sarahs concept restaurant is ready for take off as new locations are on the drawing board.

Happy Birthday Tina and thanks for a wonderful evening! We love you and Wayne!

 

 

Celebrating our 41st Wedding Anniversary with the Hurleys at Aldo's Ristorante

"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage."—Lao Tzu

This is dedicated to the one I love—My best Friend Cecile whom I have lived with for 46 years.
Aldo's, was the perfect venue to enjoy a special evening with our dear longtime friends, Judith and Michael Hurley. The food was extraordinarily good as always. Marco and his assistant waiter seen here provided great service and good cheer.

Reflecting back, It’s so amazing when someone comes into your life and you find yourself afraid to commit. But suddenly, you realize the person in front of you is all you ever needed. When we first met, Cecile, I felt like everything in my life was propelling me towards you: my choices, my fears, my heart aches, my indecisions and my regrets. 
When we began to connect on the heart level I realized my past grievances with myself seemed worth it. Because, had I done anything different our paths may have never crossed. Love isn’t always perfect. Though we certainly had our many, many peak moments, it wasn't always a fairytale. Love is overcoming obstacles, facing challenges, accepting our differences fighting to be together, holding on and never letting go. It is a short word, easy to spell, difficult to define and impossible to live without. Love is work but most of all it's realizing that every second, every minute every hour and every year was worth it. And, with two great kids (Jason and Michelle who have gone on to become self fulfilled adults, who can ask for anything more. Happy Anniversary sweetheart!

Sip, Sip Hooray: Free Wine & Beer and Delicious $3.00 Tacos To Go at Bay Club Courtside

“It’s all about good, old-fashioned hospitality, and a good atmosphere.”—Kevin Burns

After an early evening yoga class at Bay Club Courtside recently I spotted a sign in the lobby outside the trendy indoor gourmet eatery called Cafe Vida that read: “Sip, Sip Hooray.” There was wine and beer being poured. I asked Christina, a young enthusiastic staff member with the dark pony tail doing the pouring, if it was complimentary? She promply answered yes! Of course, in the back of my New Jersey mind I’m thinking what’s the catch? Was it sponsored by a Wine and Beer Club or something? I discovered that the special treat for members was going on every evening for a month and due to its popularity rumor has it that it may be extended after that to a couple of days a week until the end of Memorial Day weekend. 

This reminded me of the good old days, when the wineries in Napa Valley used to have free, wine tastings. How was it being received by members? Judging by the crowd and the tip bowl, it was getting a very warm reception. Haley, another staff member who was doing the pouring the following evening, said it is the club’s way of giving back to its members and creating an atmosphere where people could mingle.

It was also Taco Thursday. A long table and grill were set up right next to the free booze. Grab and go tacos with fresh healthy ingredients were made right on the spot. At $3.00 a taco, it was a deal. After finishing my glass of wine, and complimentary, small cup of pretzel snacks that came with it, I bought three tacos to go and a can of Organic Light beer.

I had done a blog post on the very colorful grand opening of Cafe Vida last August and got acquainted with Jose’, the ever friendly, hardworking food service coordinator seen here grilling the chicken for the tacos. The other hard working members of the staff I photographed with Jose’ are Juan and John. It was John’s last day. He's leaving for Florida to study to become a commercial airline pilot.

Bay Club is always surprising and delighting its members by introducing new food and drink themes, organizing parties, and events like Margarita night, Sunday breakfast burritos to go, or to eat on the outdoor patio dining area around the fire pit and overlooking the family pool. Most National holidays are celebrated including the 4th of Juloy so members and their families have another opportunity to bond with one another. Their exemplary hospitality makes members feel right at home and I am grateful for the extra touches they employ to make us happy. 

I also have to give props to my loving wife Cecile, who continuing the Mexican theme made a killer Mexican Chile Casserole (last photo) a few days later for our son Jason and I. Es muy delicioso!

A Toast to My Paisano the Saint on St. Patrick's Day! Say What? Read On!

During yoga today, our substitute yoga teacher named June was wearing green for St. Patrick’s Day. As she looked around the yoga studio she said, “I am going to have to pinch you for not wearing green.” 
But, St. Patrick and his followers, would have had to deal with being pinched since back in the day they wore "St. Patrick’s Blue.” In fact, so did the Irish military. The color green became popular after it was linked to the Irish Independence Movement in the late 18th century. It made me think of other myths associated with this popular holiday.

Though St. Patrick is considered the patron saint of Ireland for making his mark by introducing Christianity to Ireland in 432 AD, he wasn’t even born in Ireland. Historians believe that he was born in Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton in Scotland which was technically part of Britain at the time. His parent’s Calpurnius and Conchessa were Italian and lived on a British estate. So, as my late father Frank—who
loved to read religious history and was a Catholic seminarian for a year would say, "technically St. Patrick was Italian.” Yes, we all laughed and thought he was off his rocker. But, do yourself a favor folks, do a Google search! It is not uncommon for common day myths to collide
with history. It happens all the time. This saintly guy is my “paisano,” the equivalent of “homie” to Italians and Italian Americans. It appears that the common saying: “everyone is a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day” requires a bit of revision. 

Another example is that Irish folklore states that St. Patrick gets the credit for driving all the snakes our of Ireland. But, scientists point out that according to the fossil record, Ireland was going through an Ice Age and was too cold to host any reptiles. Mythologists believe it as a metaphor for getting rid of the pagans who were referred to as "snakes."

Drinking was prohibited on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day for most of the 20th century because it was deemed mostly a religious holiday in Ireland. This changed when it was converted to a national holiday. Since 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through the streets of NYC proclaiming their connection with their Irish roots, over a quarter of a million people have marched on Fifth Avenue on St Patrick’s Day. 

Photos: The delicious chocolate and banana cupcakes with the 3 leaf clovers and that say kiss me were bought at the iconic “Icing On the Cake” after my dental hygiene appointment. A cute young Asian vendor at the Farmers Market with the green antenna hair clip. Eating Irish green sprinkled cookies and drinking a non-alcoholic lemonade and fresh ginger (I know boring but good:-)

 

Enjoying & Photographing the Cloud Play & the Wildlife in Between the Serial Rainfall

“Nature is at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.”—John Muir

These photos were taken in the last 72 hours between the series of rainfalls we’ve been having of late in the South Bay, most of them where we live and the rest between going to Courtside Bay club and running errands.

Photographers will tell you that the best time to take a photograph is immediately after it rains. During a rain storm the clouds are diffuse, dark and murky. But afterwards there is a golden opportunity—a moment of unparalleled clarity. The cloud formation one sees can be so dramatic. After a storm passes, the blue sky emerges adding a stunning contrast to the broken clouds. 

The birds, Geese and ducks take shelter in a rain storm. It’s a myth that ducks like the rain, other than perhaps a misty rain. Turtles retreat to lower levels, then when the sun pops out the geese and ducks can be seen gliding gently on the pond again and the turtles can be found sunbathing on the rocks. The ponds and lake become still and the landscape and flowers glisten again.

Quoting John Muir again, “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy,” while every care in the world will “drop off like autumn leaves.”

And finally, ending with a poem that I adapted by Catherine Defreitas called: 

“Rain by Mother Nature.”

"She sets up and dims the lights
…wind blowing through lush green trees
With the sun peaking over the glittering hills…
She slips away and hides in solitude
To write another song
To shatter the earthly silence
Once again to amaze us all
And shower us with ‘Rain’”

It looks like we are in for another round of rain.
Enjoy!

Why the Beer Yoga Phenomenon & Other Controversial Yoga Trends are Alarming Purists

“If you are going to yoga with the goal of getting high or buzzed, at least do so after yoga and not before or during class…Anything that alters your natural state of mind is no longer yoga in my book.”
—Jake Panasevich, Contributor, US News & World Report

In a 1940 Professor Walter Kitschnig told Holyoke College students to “keep their minds open—but not so open that your brains fall out.” 

I had been meaning to write this post for a some time. What prompted me to write it today is a couple of photos that were texted to me yesterday by our friends and neighbors Susan and Nelson Bye with the following message: “Thinking of you at the Hoffbrauhaus in Las Vegas.” They were having dinner and watched people doing yoga poses with beer bottles and found it humorous. Little did they know that posting about alternative and controversial yoga programs that were popping up around the world were on my “To Do List.”

Yoga has been taught as a sequence of physical poses to get fit and to calm the mind from the stresses of the day. For those wanting to take it further, it can be a pathway to personal transformation. But, there are a number of outlets that are selling the loftier charm of taking “inner calm” to a “higher level” (pun intended). The original “Bier Yoga” ads presents itself as the “marriage of two great centuries-old therapies for mind, body and soul” that pair the philosophies of yoga with the pleasure of beer drinking to take one to a higher state of being (again, pun intended). Two Berlin-based instructors were inspired to offer Bier Yoga classes after seeing it done at Burning Man (Esquire: January 01, 2017).

In recent years the focus has been to lower the bar to welcome the greatest number of people. But, the concern among mainstream yoga studios and aficionados is how to best accomplish this without diluting the essence of yoga.

There has been a great debate taking place on the world stage on whether yoga has “sold its soul” by passing off anything and everything as YOGA and pushing towards global commercialization rather than staying closer to its spiritual roots. Those roots include adhering to social and personal ethics, proper breath control, and reprograming the mind through mindfulness meditation to think in healthier, less stressful ways and create your own inner sanctuary of peace. The latter is becoming more common place in sports, high tech and financial service companies, schools, fire departments and law enforcement to name a few.

There are a plethora of yoga styles for the adventurous, some utilizing experimental musical genres, or alternative venues like beach yoga, yoga in the park, on a roof top, at an art gallery, nightclub, vineyard, and farm.

There are dog yoga classes with your four legged-friend, aerial yoga, laughing yoga, and even naked yoga that proposes to transform personal limitations, inhibitions and shame into a realm of personal freedom. On the more artistic side, there is glow yoga that utilizes fluorescent body paint that glows in the dark.

Then there are those who are pushing the envelope even further with cannabis (pot) yoga, and at the far extreme, the highly controversial: “gun yoga,” created by someone who was stationed with the US ARMY in India. I’m not even going to touch that one as it is no where near being on my bucket list, but have included a photo.

In closing, there is no way to put a lid on experimentation especially with the young and carefree. In the 60s I did plenty of experimentation. Gradually I upgraded my addictions to healthier outlets like yoga and meditation. When I first started doing yoga over 30 years ago, there were very few males in class.  If the only thing that is going help women get their husbands and boyfriends to take a yoga class is Beer Yoga or ganja yoga, until they find out they can obtain an organic high without the intoxicating additives, who am I to argue? But for those of you who are looking for a healthier workout that honors the mind, body and spirit in it’s purest form, your average accredited neighborhood yoga studio is still the way to go. As for me, I prefer to slowly sip a cold mug of beer with friends without yoga being a distraction:-).

Postscript: For the sake of fair reporting there are some teachers around the country that do straight up yoga classes with the add-on being pairing it with a beer at the local pub afterwards. They are happy to report that many of their male students confide in them that they would have never set foot in a yoga class were it not for the promise of beer. By the end of class, they were amazed how good they felt and have joined the growing ranks of students worldwide discovering the many benefits of yoga.

Photo Credit for first 2: Susan Zanders Bye & Nelson Bye
Photo Credit 3: Rediff.com
Photo Credit 4: Indiatimes.com
Photo: Jerry & Me drinking a cold one in Cambodia

Capturing The Beauty of The Mahogany Mourning Cloak Butterly While It was Sunbathing

"Nevermore will a flying flower drift by you unnoticed..."
—Flutter-Blog 

During a walk on the trails of Rinconada Hills with my wife Cecile, I experienced my first sighting of a Mourning Cloak Butterfly (Nymphalis Antiopa, 1758 by Linnaeaus) basking in the sun. It was laying flat atop a low lying green plant with dry woody stems near the water’s edge of a cascading pond near our town home. I was amazed it allowed me to get close enough to photograph it without flying off.

This Mahogany brown butterfly with light tannish yellow edges is named after the funeral shawls worn over a pale dress or petticoat by grieving widows. The darker brown band around the main wing is accented with pale blue-lavender spots that adds to its beauty.

The Mourning Cloak butterflies, do not migrate long distances but hibernate over winter through a process called “cryopreservation,” that involves the secretion of chemicals which acts like anti-freeze during the winter months. In the spring they emerge as adults ready to mate (much sooner than other butterflies). Males mate with several females. Sadly, these stunning and graceful creatures live for about a year and die soon after mating. I discovered that the reason it was basking in the sun is to warm up its flight muscles making it possible for it to fly about. Actually all butterflies need to warm up before they can fly. It is theorized that the dark wings of a Mourning Cloak make it easier to absorb the spring sun. The Mourning Cloak is found in many regions of the world including California. One of the reasons it is so widespread is that this striking flier uses a variety of host trees such as the Cottonwood, Willow, Popular and Elm to flourish. Their main diet is tree sap and decaying fruit and they extract salts and minerals form mud. Their main predators are insect eating birds. The males are highly territorial and defend their territory from other males, other butterflies, hummingbirds and even Scrub Jays. They have also been seen head-butting a human hand, demonstrating that even a delicate butterfly can put up a fight if necessary.

I was invited to send my photo to inaturalist.org to help scientists interested in studying years fluctuations in the butterfly population. With more rainfall occurring in California following years of drought the Mourning Cloak butterfly has been making a comeback.

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