Sunday, November 27, 2011


Cover of book from York University Press website

I just finished reading a book about Galileo written by David Wootton published by York University Press. Galileo was born in 1564 and died in 1642 which puts him squarely in the Renaissance, on of the most interesting periods in history. He was one of the founders of modern science, committed to science yet forced to bow to religion. He was a brilliant mathematician yet he was inept socially.

In his book, David Wootton looks at Galileo as an astronomer, an engineer and a writer. He worked from original documents such as Galileo's letters that he wrote and received. using this material he pieced together a vivid picture of Galileo. from his youth through his tumultuous formative years, to his discoveries in astronomy and physics.

Galileo was one if the first to understand how the telescope could be used as a tool to explore the cosmos.

"Philosophy is written in this very great book which always lies open before our eyes (I mean the universe), but one cannot understand it unless one first learns to understand the language and recognize the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language and the characters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures; without these means it is humanly impossible to understand a word of it; without these there is only clueless scrabbling around in a dark labyrinth."

The passage above is Galileo's most famous quote. It was Galileo's commitment to a realist theory of knowledge. his point of view was that mathematics is the language of science. Newton may have developed calculus but he built it on the foundation established by Galileo and his students.

Wootton's purpose in writing the book was to provide an intellectual biography of the one of the world's greatest scientists; Galileo. he wanted to demonstrate the evolution of Galileo's thinking over time. In Galileo's book, The Dialogue, published in 1632 he argues that the universe does not serve humanity. Galileo's universe is mysterious and unknown. It's size is unknowable. Galileo even argues that there are probably other planets with other beings. We on earth are simply terrestrials.

Galileo was the first true, modern scientist. He invented the thermometer, the micrometer, and the pendulum clock. he transformed the telescope from a toy into a tool for serious scientific investigation. I thoroughly enjoyed the book by David Wootton. I would recommend to everyone who has an interest in science.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I guess it is time to wrap up these posts on out trip to Europe this Spring seeing that the year is hurtling towards the finish line.

After Florence out next stop was Civitavecchia, which means ancient town in Italian. It comes by the name honestly since it is built on the site of a former Etruscan settlement. Many people on the ship bought tours to Rome. They had to endure a train ride of an hour or more to get to Rome, rip through galleries and tourist sights, get back on the train and arrive back at the boat before it set sail. If it was the only chance that we were going to have to see Rome we might have done that but we had plans after to the cruise to spend extra days in Rome.

Instead, we booked an excursion into the Tuscan countryside where we would visit a medieval town, Tuscania, that was once ruled by the Medici family then we would visit an olive farm and taste a variety of Tuscan foods and olive oils. It sounded infinitely more relaxing than scurrying around Rome trying to cram as many sights as you could into one day. We were on the bus after breakfast. Our guide was an Archeologists which was perfect for our excursion. The town that we were going to visit was called Tuscania. As it turned out, our guide was actually born in the town of Tuscania. Her English was quite good, inflected with a pleasant Italian accent. She gave us a running commentary of the area as well as a general history of the area starting with the Etruscans.


Tuscania was a picturesque town with lots of opportunities to take pictures and enjoy the Tuscan countryside.

A Tuscan ruin

The Tuscan countryside

There are people who still live in the town and there is an international school in the town which is mainly financed through the fees of foreign students who go to the town to learn Italian and Italian, history and culture.

Lorenzo de' Medici school

An ancient vine growing on the front of someone's home

After our visit to Tuscania we boarded the bus for a short trip to the olive farm, Casale Bonaparte. As it turned out this particular farm has been owned by Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, Lucien Bonaparte. It was a very nice location and the the farm house had been nicely preserved. I would say that it has seen a recent renovation but it still maintained the feel of the period of the late 1700's.

Lucien Bonaparte's farm house

There was a little explanation about the farm and how olive were harvested and processed; the first virgin pressing, the second and third pressings. It was all very informative.

Our guide and our host

Afterward we were invited to sit down at long tables and eat. there was bread with meat and cheese and salads with many types of olive oil to try. there was also wine and beer to drink. It was a tasty lunch in pleasant relaxing surroundings.

Pavilion where we had lunch

In a way it was the opposite of the hectic day that we had spent in Florence the day before. After eating, my wife and I strolled around the grounds taking pictures and generally soaking in the ambiance of the Tuscan countryside.

Road from the farm to the main road

A field of poppies with olive trees  in the background

We were reluctant to get back on the bus and head back to Civitavecchia. It was only mid afternoon when we returned to the boat. After depositing the oil that we bought in our stateroom we took the shuttle bus to Cittavechia which was only a five minute bus ride. We decided that we would just walk around the city without any real plan. as we strolled up the Corso Centrocelle we came upon a small maritime museum that was free to enter so we took the tour. I was a very small museum with some statuary that dated back to the Roman and Etruscan period as well as pottery shards. It also showed the ramparts of the old city as it was in the pre-Christian era. It was all very interesting. We continued our stroll up the street until we came to a square that had a small shrine to the Virgin Mary. At the point we decided that we would try a few side streets as we made our way back to the boat. There was no danger of getting lost because the boat was in plain sight most of the time.

Eventually, we found a small gelateria that served the locals. Although it was the middle of the afternoon the place was very busy. We saw a few tourists from the boat but most of the people were locals. I had a wonderful Baci flavored gelato and my wife had her favorite flavor in the world; Spumoni. We had just about finished our gelato when we saw a little leather shop near the pier. It was very tiny but it was packed with leather goods. After looking through their goods my wife bought herself a nice leather purse that could be quickly transformed int a back pack or a regular purse. It was very versatile. I bought two nice leather belts, one brown and one black. With purchases in hand we made our way back to our cruise ship. We had a very nice day in Civitavecchia.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Well, this is the end of our vacation in New York. We had four event filled days that seemed to have sped by us like an express Manhattan train. We left our borrowed apartment before 6:00AM leaving the key with the concierge. I was great having the use of our son-in-laws apartment in Jersey City but it was time to go home. There was still one more gesture of goodwill that he extended to us. with all the points that he had accumulated on Amtrak he was able to push two tickets for our return trip home on Amtrak in business class. We were extremely happy to have that extra perk.

As I said, we left before 6:00AM and we are at Exchange place just after 6:00AM. We thought that the place would be deserted but there were at least a dozen other early morning commuters on the platform. When we got on the train at Grove street that was going to 33rd street there was standing room only. After getting off at the 33rd street station we stopped at the McDonald's on 7th Avenue near Penn station.

In Penn station there is a waiting room where you can sit comfortably as long as you have a train ticket. After we parked all our suitcases in the waiting room my wife went to Zaros to get half a dozen bagels of different variety to take with us on the train. There was no way we were going to leave Penn Station without getting bagels from Zaros.

On the platform we were directed to the first class car. Although all the seats for two people were taken we found single seats, one in front of the other. There was a copy of the New York times in each seat, a nice touch. We were located right behind the canteen and we had our own bathroom. When you consider that we were going to be on the train for the next ten to twelve hours have these simple amenities was going to make all the difference. After finishing my muffin and coffee I sat back and read the New York Times. By the time I had worked my way through the Times we were already passing through Poughkeepsie. Along with Vassar College, Poughkeepsie is also the home of the CIA, that is the Culinary Institute of America. My wife has often talked about visiting the CIA in Poughkeepsie. They also serve gourmet meals at the CIA. One of these days we will do that.

Eventually, some of the other passengers left and we had two seats together which we kept for the rest of our journey. It was a pleasant comfortable trip in business coach. we passed the time looking at the scenery as the train passed through the country side. Fall foliage was starting to appear and there were a lot of colorful trees to look at. We also talked about our vacation in New York. We also spoke with the couple in front of us who it turned out were from Texas. They had spent a few days in New York and were on their way to Niagara Falls Canada to round out their vacation. We also spent time reading.

Eventually, we made it to the Canadian border where we had to get off the train to clear customs. Being in Business coach we got to go through customs first which only took about two minutes. After waiting for everyone else to clear customs we got back on the train and continued on our way.

The rest of the trip was not more than an hour and we were home. Our vacation in New York was great. We saw and did so much that it will take some time to digest it all. Yet there was so much that we didn't see. We never did make it to Central Park. That would be an entire day trip in itself. My wife would like to spend time in the fashion district. She only managed to visit one shop on this trip. I imagine that she could spend an entire morning or afternoon in the fashion district. That be an opportunity for me to spend time at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). We would like to go back to Chelsea to visit the shops and art galleries. I would like to go through some of the major galleries in Soho as well and there is the Whitney gallery and the Frick collection. All of that is just in Manhattan.

Then there are the other Burroughs of New York. There are many things to see in Brooklyn. There is a Pratt Institute sculptural garden. There is the Bronx zoo. I could go on and on but you get the picture. We have to go back to New York to see everything we didn't see the first time!

Friday, November 18, 2011


This was our last full day in New York and we wanted to make the best of it. Our plan was to spend the morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then spend the afternoon exploring Central Park. That's not quite how it turned out. The one thing that everyone who contemplates going to the Metropolitan Museum of Arts must think about is what they are going to see and what they are not going to see. With some 3 million works of art sprawled over 7 square miles, there is no way you could see everything in one week even if you spent every waking minute at the museum. So we made our choices.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

We decide that we would spend some time looking at European sculpture

A sculpture in walnut by Master of Soeterbeeck, about 1470

and decorative arts then move on to Modern Art on the first floor. After that we would go upstairs and take in some more modern art.

Art Nouveau Mural

We figured that we could do that in an hour or so then see some European painting followed by Greek and Roman art then some Egyptian art to round things off. we figured we would be done by half past noon. After all, we did get to the museum right at 9:00 AM when it opened. That way we could spend the afternoon in Central Park which is directly behind the museum. As it was, we barely got passed Modern Art by the time we decided we had to time to eat. We went downstairs to the cafeteria and checked out the menu. paying $15 for a hamburger that was kept warm under heat lamps was more than we could stomach. Instead, we went outside and bought lunch off of one of the trucks outside the museum, Lunch was not quite as good as the food truck outside of St. Barts but it was certainly good and cheap. Lunch for both of us was less than $20. It has started to rain so we stood as close to the wall of the museum and ate out lunch. It wasn't very refined but we didn't get wet. So, after lunch we decided to go back into the museum. One reason was that we had a lot more to see. The other reason was that it was now raining and we did not want to tramp around Central Park in the rain.

Constantin Brancussi - Bird in Space - 1923

Marc Chagall - The Lovers - 1913-1914

Henry Moore - Reclining Figure #4 - 1954-1955

This beautiful fabric was actually made from pieces of recycles materials such as bottle caps and wire and other found objects.

This piece was composed of pieces of cut mirror that were glued onto a substrate.

Rodin - From the Gates of Hell - The Thinker

Claude Monet - Water Lilies - 1919

Henri Matisse - Odalisque with Grey Trousers - 1927

Vincent Van Gogh - Irises - 1890

In the afternoon we spent time with Greek and Roman art, Medieval European art, then the European Sculpture gallery was outside the cafe on the ground floor. I have to admit that I really enjoyed my time with the sculptures. One of my favorites was the Burghers of Calais by Rodin.

The Burghers of Calais - 1884 - 1895

While I was admiring and taking pictures of the Burgers an artist was drawing them. We finished up the day in the Egyptian gallery which was completely amazing. We had never seen so many mummies and we had never seen ones that were so elaborate. What really impressed me were the life size wooden statues that were over 2,000 years old. when I think of the tools that they had and the quality of the work that I was looking at, well it was humbling.

Merti and his wife - 2350 B.C.

Illustratiing the many layers of a mummy

We spent five hours at the Metropolitan Museum of art and we barely scratched the surface. There was so much more to see and take in. I look at it this way, it is one more reason for a return visit to New York.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


On Tuesday morning, after a restful night, we were ready to go again. The plan for Tuesday was an architectural tour of Midtown, the heart and soul of New York City. Again, we took the train to 33rd street. this time we walked north on seventh avenue then east on 40th street to the New York Public Library. When you approach the front entrance of the library you are struck by the opulence of the facade of this Beaux-Arts masterpiece.
New York Public Library

 Inside the library there is sheer elegance. we toured all the sections of the library eventually winding up in the Rose Main Reading Room where we had some free time on a public computer to catch up on some of our emails. All we had to do was show some picture ID.

The Rose Reading Room

After the library we headed east on 42nd street towards Grand Central Terminal. As we walked, we had various views of the Chrysler building. I took pictures at various vantage points.

The Chrysler building

When arrived at the 42nd street entrance to Grand Central I was so impressed with the facade that I had to take pictures of the sculpture, Transportation, adorning the top of the clock. The three figures are Mercury flanked by Hercules and Minerva.

Mercury, Minerva and Hercules on top of clock of facade at Grand Central Terminal

Inside the terminal we were awed by the immensity of the great hall.

Great hall at Grand Central Terminal

When you look up there are figures of the zodiac across a pale blue ceiling.

We walked around the mall and looked in the various shop windows. I took a few pictures of the wonderful cakes in Zaro's window.

Zaro's bakery at Grand Central

We literally walked through the terminal to get to Park Avenue. A few block north of Grand Central is the famous Waldorf Astoria. We waltzed into the hotel as if we were long term residents and sauntered around the lobby and the promenade beyond taking in the art-deco murals, mosaics and ornamentation. If nothing else, the Waldorf Astoria is opulent.

Continuing north on park Avenue for just one more street to 50th street we cane upon St. Batholomew's church. What you notice about St. Bart's from the outside is its intricately tiled Byzantium dome.

St. Bart's Byzantine dome

Inside the church is an oasis of stillness in the activity of Park Avenue. There are lovely stained glass windows

Stained glass window at St. Bart's

and an absolutely beautiful baptismal font that is a sculpture of an angel holding a basin.

Baptismal Font at St. Bart's

Of course, my wife lit a candle which she has done in every church that we have visited.

Back out on the street, we realized that it was noon and we were hungry. After our little extravagance at Momofuku the day before we decided that we would dine off of one of New York's famed curb side food trucks. Since we did not know which one's were best we went with the truck that had the longest line figuring that the best would have repeat customers. We were not wrong. I had a lamb pita and my wife had a Greek salad. For both, we paid $11.00. both of us agreed that lunch was outstanding. We found a place to sit along the side of the church. It was great.

After lunch we walked west along 50th street to St. Patrick's Cathedral. When we entered mass was already under way so we sat down in a pew and waited respectfully until the mass was over. After mass we toured the church. I was impressed with the sheer immensity of the church. Of course, there were also outstanding works of art and sculpture. The architecture of the cathedral was a statement to the faith of the Irish workers who built the church in 1859.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

After St. Patrick's cathedral it was time for more secular sights. We continued north on 5th Avenue then west on 53rd street with the intention of going to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Unfortunately, MoMA is not open on Tuesdays so we had to content ourselves with going into the MoMA shop which probably has one of the most extensive and up to date collections of books on Modern and Contemporary art that I have ever seen. It is a worthwhile trip just to browse through the books in the museum shop.

After browsing through the MoMA shop we walked south down the Avenue of the Americas to Radio City Music hall where I took several pictures of the facade.

Radio City Music Hall

Around the corner and we were in the Rockefeller Center. There is so much to see in the Rockefeller Center that it is hard to see it all at one time.

After all the walking that we had done we felt it was time for a break so we went into Bouchon Bakery that was across the street from NBC.

Bouchon Bakery

I had a coffee, My wife had a tea and we split a muffin. Those three things cost more than the lunch that had purchased from the food truck! Still, it was very good and the ambiance at Bouchon was wonderful. After our brief but expensive refreshment we went back to the lower plaza of the Rockefeller Center to take pictures of Prometheus.


We agreed that we had walked enough and began the trek back to the 33rd street station to take the train back to Jersey City. Taking 7th Avenue to 33rd street took us through Time Square. My wife and I agreed that Time Square was the least favorite part of New York that we toured. Time Square is a larger than life barrage of billboards, flashing neon lights, hustlers and hawkers.

Time Square

We moved through Time Square as quickly as we could. However, we did make one detour to a sewing notions and supplies shop in the fashion district which is just south of Time Square. My wife bought some buttons for the Christening gown that she was making for our granddaughters upcoming christening.

After dinner that evening but before it was dark we went out onto the deck on the top of the building to take pictures of Manhattan. here are some of those pictures.

Lower Manhattan

The Empire State Building  and the Chrysler Building
A close up of the Chrysler Building