Lawn Bowling

Lawn bowling has been an English sport for centuries, and all the former English colonies have clubs that organize and promote the sport.

But I’d never had a chance to try lawn bowling myself until I found myself in Queenstown, New Zealand. Queenstown is best known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. Bordering a long, deep lake and surrounded by tall mountains, the town attracts hikers, mountain bikers, bungee jumpers, paragliders, parasailers, jet-skiers, snow skiers, snowboarders and more.

But for me, the biggest thrill was lawn bowling. The English (as well as Kiwis, Aussies, Scots, Canadians and Indians) just call it bowling. But as an American, I’ve got to call it lawn bowling, to distinguish it from the bowling that we practice indoors, which involves attempting to knock over ten pins.

Bowling, for the uninitiated, is a bit like bocce, in that the object is to get your balls close to the little white ball at the other end of the lane. However, the balls you’re rolling aren’t perfectly symmetrical; as they roll, they want to curve a bit to one side—sort of like the stone does in the sport of curling, which we watch in the Olympics every four years. Which brings up the question of why curling is in the Olympics and not bowling, and which I won’t attempt to answer.

Bowling is a sport for all ages. The physical exertion is minimal. And if you wish, you can partake of your favorite adult beverage at the same time, as we did.

Queenstown Bowling ClubFor our purposes, the Queenstown Bowling Club, which recently celebrated its 100th birthday, was an ideal place to learn the basics, including the policy of keeping your adult beverage on the beer bench and not carrying it onto the green.

Interestingly, the green in Queensland was artificial, and smooth as a billiard table.

Here’s a video of my wife demonstrating fine bowling form.

But a few days later, we had a chance to play on natural grass (the shortest flattest grass I’ve ever seen) at the St. Clair Bowling Club in Dunedin. Both were wonderful.

St. Clair Bowling Club Sadly, the sport of bowling seems to be in slow decline. It’s an old folks’ game. But I did enjoy my two outings (not least because I won), and if I ever get another chance to play, I’ll take it!

Tesla Model 3 and an Underappreciated Aspect of Tesla Ownership

This is a prototype of the Tesla Model 3, a battery-powered car that will go 215 miles on a charge and cost $35,000.

tesla-model-3

In the hours before the prototype was unveiled last week, Tesla accepted $1,000 deposits from 115,000 people.

In the days that followed, the number grew to top 276,000 people, and it’s still climbing. And that’s for a car that won’t even go into production for more than a year!

Those reservations will translate into revenue of $9.8 billion for Tesla if everyone buys the base model—less if some people cancel their reservations and more if some people add options.

To this point, most commentators on the situation have focused their attention on the car, and that’s understandable; it’s a revolutionary, beautiful, yet practical machine.

But few people have mentioned another revolutionary aspect of the car that is equally appealing to many people—the fact that you don’t need to deal with car salespeople to buy one!

Note: I’m far from an unbiased reviewer; my Tesla Model S, delivered in September 2013, now has more than 33,000 miles on it. And while I’ve had occasion to visit a Tesla service center several times since then, every visit has been refreshing, because Tesla’s culture is entirely different from those of traditional auto dealers.

Traditional auto salesmen make their money through commissions, and the main profit center of the dealership is through service. As a result, car salesmen are not well respected.

honesty

At Tesla, contrarily, the service centers don’t aim to make a profit; they aim to make their customers happy. And so far they’ve succeeded.

So, when you’re evaluating Tesla’s cars versus those of the competition, don’t forget to factor in the value of a retail/service experience that is actually pleasant. It’s an underappreciated aspect of Tesla ownership.

Jury Duty

Most people try to avoid jury duty—within the scope of the law.

They postpone it. They plead unavoidable responsibilities, like work or childcare. Or they claim that they won’t be able to render a fair decision, thanks to preconceived opinions and other biases.

But I like serving on juries; it’s an opportunity to learn something, and it’s an opportunity to help.

Jury BoxMy first case, in Boston, more than ten years ago, involved the “theft” of business secrets (basically knowledge of customers) in the freight forwarding industry when an employee went to work for a rival firm. That case was settled on the third day.

My second case, in Peabody five years ago, involved a young man who had driven drunk in a cemetery one night and damaged headstones. That case too was settled, on the first day.

But my most recent case was a big one, and a difficult one. It involved the alleged rape of a minor female, over a period of time between six and eight years ago, by a man who was her mother’s live-in boyfriend.

This much we learned during jury selection, and as you might expect, these facts alone were reason enough for a lot of jurors to say, “I can’t do this.”

But after a day and a half, a jury of 14 citizens was selected.

And after three and a half days of testimony, the jury (minus two randomly selected alternates) began deliberations—which was a great relief, because since the day the trial started, we hadn’t been able to talk to anybody about the case, even each other!

So job number one was just getting our thoughts out there.

Job number two was coming to a unanimous decision, which we did, after roughly two and a half hours.

And job number three was transmitting that decision back to the judge and then to the court as a whole, in curiously archaic Massachusetts legalese.

For the record, we found the defendant guilty, but it was not easy. There was no actual physical evidence. And the judge told us later that this was actually a retrial; a previous jury had deliberated for two days and been unable to reach a unanimous conclusion!

My strongest thoughts after the experience are these:

I’m sobered by a newfound realization of the prevalence of domestic abuse of all sorts, and the emotional pain that people dealing with it—personally or professionally—go through every day.

I’m proud of my fellow jurors, who were a diverse group of good, regular citizens faced with making a difficult decision. Several of those jurors, interestingly, had had personal experiences with abuse, which they shared with our group, and those experiences helped inform our decision-making process.

I’m proud of the young woman in this case, who not only chose to go through this legal ordeal but also appears to be putting her life back together and getting on track to becoming a productive member of society.

Lastly, I’m proud of our legal system. It’s not perfect, but I believe it’s a heck of a lot better than any other. And I hope I get called again!

The Museum of Russian Icons

The Museum of Russian Icons, located in Clinton, Massachusetts, is worth a visit, especially if you like this kind of art.

saint john of climacusI certainly do.

This wooden panel—notice how it’s curved over the centuries—was painted around 1750, and depicts the teachings of Saint John of Climacus (of the ladder).

Saint John was born in 579, became a hermit, and at the age of 16 moved into a monastery on the Sinai Peninsula of what is now Egypt.

Eventually, he put his wisdom in a book, which he titled, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.”

Designed as a guide to living the proper religious life, the book has 30 chapters, each dealing with a particular vice or virtue. Master them all and you get to Heaven, in essence climbing the metaphorical ladder from earth to the better world.

Here they are, from lowest rung to highest.

1. Forsaking the World
2. Detachment
3. About being a foreigner
4. Obedience
5. Repentance
6. Remembrance of death
7. About weeping
8. Angerlessness
9. Remembrance of wrong
10. Slander
11. Talkativeness
12. Lies
13. Despair
14. Gluttony
15. Purity
16. Greed, love of money
17. Not possessing things
18. Insensitivity
19. Indolence, sleep
20. Prayer
21. Keeping vigil
22. Fear
23. Meekness
24. Faith
25. Humility
26. Judging others
27. Silence
28. Mercifulness
29. Passions
30. Love

But what happens if you fail to master a rung on the ladder?

Down you go, like the unfortunate souls on the left side of the picture.

=

The Museum of Russian Icons has more than 100 icons, organized by theme. Most, like the one above, are of egg tempera, which maintains its bright colors over the centuries.

They were collected by a local businessman, Gordon B. Lankton, who in 2006 opened his collection to the public in this purpose-made museum, located in old industrial buildings in the otherwise unremarkable town of Clinton.

On the Friday my wife and I were there, the museum had only a handful of other visitors, so we were able to view the collection slowly and carefully, enjoying all the details of these inspiring artworks. It’s worth a visit!

The Museum of Russian Icons

Strandbeests

“What is Art?”

That’s the age-old question that came to me when viewing Theo Jansen’s unique creations at the Peabody Essex Museum recently.

Jansen is a Dutchman who’s spent 25 years working with PVC conduit—material usually used by electricians—to create increasingly complex machines that “walk,” either with or without human assistance.

Because they walk, they seem a bit alive (as opposed to things on wheels.)

And because the best place for them to walk is the beach, they’re called Strandbeests, which in English translates to beach beasts, or beach animals.

You can see more here.

I had the opportunity to push a smaller Strandbeest back and forth across a carpeted floor inside the Peabody Essex Museum, but the video isn’t good enough to share. Here’s a detail.

strandbeestsJansen talks about the Strandbeests evolving over time, but it’s really him who’s done all the work and made all the improvements, and while he would like the animals to keep evolving at the hands of others, the odds are that they’re at (or near) the peak of their evolution now.

Jansen is 67 years old, and having his moment of fame among the U.S. art world, but after this what?

When Jansen is gone will his creatures “survive?”

And—is it art?

Allergy Season

All my life I’ve suffered from seasonal allergies.

The season is now, and the main culprit is ragweed, depicted here in a book my wife published last year.

ragweedMy symptoms are typical, including itchy nose, sneezing, clogged sinuses, watery eyes, itchy throat, swollen glands and swollen face.

And I’ve tried all the cures, including decongestants, antihistamines, bronchodilators, immunotherapy (shots), corticosteroids and local honey.

They all help a bit, to varying degrees. But some have side effects, like insomnia.

And none of them address the real problem, which is that we live on a farm, and that our house has no air conditioning, so our windows are normally open.

Yesterday, my daughter asked me if, after I retire, I’d spend allergy season elsewhere, like Florida. And I said, “No, not Florida. But I wouldn’t mind traveling more at this time of year. In fact, I’ve already got a rough plan for this season next year!”

Note: That book my wife published last year depicted every variety of wildflower that bloomed on Cabot farm that year—spring, summer and fall.

In total, there were 93, including nine varieties of goldenrod!

  • Blue-stemmed Goldenrod
  • Canada Goldenrod
  • Elm-Leaved Goldenrod
  • Grey Goldenrod
  • Lance-Leaved Goldenrod
  • Pine-Barren Goldenrod
  • Rough-Stemmed Goldenrod
  • Seaside Goldenrod
  • Sweet Goldenrod

They’re pretty, but it’s ragweed that’s the bane of my allergy season.

Thomas Hart Benton

The Peabody Essex Museum of Salem has a great exhibit titled American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood, which explores the connections between Benton’s art and the growing cultural force of the movies.

On view until September 7, it’s a very enjoyable show, for both serious students of art and more casual students of American culture.

Benton, born in Missouri in 1889, studied art in Paris and lived in New York for 20 years. But his politics were not as progressive as those of most artists; his art had a strong populist flavor that resonated with the masses, and he eventually returned to Missouri, where he became a leader of the art movement known as regionalism.

Over the course of his career, Benton’s work (including numerous murals) depicted America’s history, its natural beauties, its hard-working men and women, its soldiers, and its industry, all in a signature fluid style (occasionally cartoonish) that rendered men with sinuous muscular limbs, and women with abundant curves.

One of my favorite pieces in the show is Bootleggers, a big (68-¾” x 74 ¾”) painting that Benton completed in 1927, midway through the country’s 14-year experiment with Prohibition.

bootleggersThe picture depicts the cycle of money under the law, with the wealthy capitalist at left paying for a bottle, the laborer at right loading a plane with illicit goods, the pilot above waiting for his load, another plane in the sky (this was the same year Lindbergh successfully flew across the Atlantic), a train speeding past (with noxious red smoke), and an armed robbery at center, while a uniformed cop “sees nothing.”

If you have a chance, see the show!

The Trulli of Puglia, Italy

Puglia encompasses the “heel” of Italy, and is notable for:

  1. Its olive oil. The region produces 40% of Italy’s olive oil.
  1. Its rusticity. It’s one of the least-developed parts of Italy
  1. Its trulli.

What are trulli?

Trulli are houses with distinctive conical toppings made of stone, like this.

Trullo 1 or this

Trullo 2 or this

Trullo 3

The origin of the trulli (the singular is trullo) is lost to history. They’ve been built in the region since roughly 500 AD, and appear to be indigenous to the area. They were neither copied from elsewhere, nor copied by others.

Still, the trulli work in Puglia, where rocks are plentiful, wood is scarce, and the total rainfall is light. (The region’s name in Italian is Apulia, which means “without rain”.)

There was a period when the trulli was neglected. The stigma of living in primitive conditions led to a flight to the cities and the construction of numerous more modern homes. Without care, trulli fall down, and when down, they resemble nothing more than a pile of rocks.

But since the region has been enjoying a boom in tourism by people, like us, who want to enjoy a less touristy part of Italy, the trulli have been preserved, and many restored.

Here’s the one we stayed in for a week, which was restored seven years ago. Note how uniform the cone is compared to the older structures above.

Trullo 4The inside of our trullo was quiet as a tomb, with only two small windows on the back side. It stayed cool all day, as long as the door was closed.

 

And the front doorway, bracketed by flowering lavender bushes, smelled heavenly, while the doorway echoed with the sound of buzzing bees.

 

Heavenly.

The Best Pizza in Italy?

On our recent trip to Italy, I was looking forward to eating pizza in Naples; after all, Neapolitans are said to have not only created the dish but also to have perfected it.

So I had pizza three times in Naples, and all three were wonderful.

But the one that sticks in my mind was from Pizzeria Le Sorelle Bandiera, which according to what I read on my place mat, had a special advantage over the others, thanks to what lies under the restaurant.

pizzeria le sorelle bandiera menuTranslated, the place mat reads:

The First Geothermal Pizzeria in the World

Neapolitan Yellow Tuff benefits from an extraordinary thermal insulation and moisture control system. These special features are attributed to both the vacuous structure of the rock and the absorption properties of zeolites, special minerals in tuffs; the latter can absorb and release water molecules, making tuff cool during hot weather and warm during cold periods.

This physiochemical phenomenon makes tuff an excellent thermal insulation, allowing minimal changes in the environment’s temperature and humidity. These constant conditions of temperature and humidity are favorable for the rising process, allowing the leavened pizza dough to confer the unmistakable organoleptic characteristics and digestibility of Neapolitan pizza.

Microclimate measurements and urban studies conducted between the Decumani and Cardini have shown that the “belly of Naples”, once a Roman forum and today Piazza San Gaetano, is an “island microclimate”, where the average constant temperature and humidity guarantee full leavening (maturation).

Inside the monastery of Teatini, once the temple of Castor, was born the pizzeria La Sorelle Bandiera, where leavening is constantly monitored by observing environmental parameters that have been identified to make our pizza unique. Le Sorelle Bandiera is the first geothermal pizzeria, the only one where the mixture has a natural leavening process approximately 24 hours in an environment made of tuff using products exclusively made in Italy. The secret, then, is geothermal energy, which is built into the tuff of this city.

A stone that has the ability to maintain a constant temperature creating a sort of microclimate that ensures the dough will rise in the ideal conditions.

But could I actually taste the difference imparted by that underground microclimate?

It’s hard to say.

Anyway, it’s a good story, and the pizza was delicious. Here’s Julie and Michael after receiving theirs.

julie and michaelNow, you’ll notice the pizzas aren’t cut. Perhaps it’s because doing so before the actual moment of eating would destroy the integrity of the product, allowing the juices to make the crust soggy—perhaps it’s simply the pizzeria passing on the work to the customer. That’s the way it is everywhere in Naples.

Note: The basic margherita pizza was five euros, and prices went up from there, but not much.

Also, Naples as a city was more enjoyable than I expected. It wasn’t crawling with tourists, like Rome, Florence and Venice. The people were friendly, helpful and full of life. And after a while, I even got used to the graffiti, a plague that I optimistically think will run its course.

Next week: Puglia

Boston’s Bid for the 2024 Olympics

Every day, the Boston Globe brings new details on the bid—by the private group Boston 2024 Partnership—to bring the Olympics to Boston. The Boston Group beat out Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC for the bid, but public support for the bid is tepid at best.

olympic ringsProponents say the games would boost the city’s economy and really put it on the world’s map (as if it weren’t there already).

Detractors say that traffic would become impossible, that public transportation—especially in light of the recent system’s poor performance this past winter—couldn’t handle the crowds, and that, as with most Olympics games, expenses would mushroom out of control.

Me, I’m torn.

On the one hand, I believe that Boston should go for it, seize the opportunity, and follow the advice of Ezra Pound, who wrote, “When you cannot make up your mind which of two evenly balanced courses of action you should take – choose the bolder.” (Advice I’ve been trying to follow in recent years.)

On the other hand, I’m afraid that the Olympics would bring out the worst of Boston, as exemplified by the selfish, shortsighted, greedy, small-minded, obtuse, unethical—and sometimes criminal—behavior of the people who in recent years have been “in charge” of bringing casinos and medical marijuana to the state.

In both cases, they’ve done an absolutely terrible job, earning the distrust of citizens across the state. It took three and a half years from voters’ approval of casinos to the opening of the first casino (expected late this month in Plainridge), with uncountable instances of bad behavior along the way.

And it took more than two and a half years from voters’ approval of medical marijuana to the opening of the first dispensary (located in Salem), but from what I can see, the dispensary has nothing to sell, and this is in large part due to the fact that public officials—following their own convictions rather than the will of the people—continue to put up roadblocks.

The most recent roadblock is a regulation imposed by the Department of Public Health stipulating that lead levels in cannabis flowers can be no greater than 212 parts per billion, a level that is nearly 14 times lower than what Connecticut allows and almost 50 times lower than what’s permitted by Colorado. According to several testing labs, this level is so strict that no grower can achieve it. And it’s only that high because the department assumes that patients will ingest an ounce of marijuana a day!

So, as much as I think having the Olympics in Boston would be great, I dread the prospect of living through the shenanigans (to put it mildly) of the people who would be in charge of any aspect of that enterprise. That includes public officials, who would be involved in construction, permitting, transportation and security, as well as private parties, who would be involved in construction, ticketing and more. As recent history has shown, when many people are confronted with opportunity, they think of themselves first.