Saturday, December 15, 2012

Magisch Maastricht

It’s war and wet in Maastricht this weekend, but the weather doesn’t dampen enthusiasm for the local Christmas Market, on the Vrijthof through January 1 2013.  Although it doesn’t compare with the big celebrations in Koln or Brussels, it’s a well-proportioned local event, with rides, shopping stalls, grilled krakauer sausages, mulled gluhwein, and a busy skating rink.

And a commemorative mok, this year going for 2.50 euro.

The lights are especially good this year, and I’ve been over to wander the grounds and take  few pictures ‘twixt nibbles and sips.


Friday, December 14, 2012

It’s a 5-2 world

Wine societyThe Royal Society of Chemists held a wine tasting in Cambridge last week, a festive event with good conversation and excellent bottles from The Wine Society.The  moderator,  a leading sommelier, started everyone off with dilute cups of tartaric acid, glucose, and ethanol so that we could learn the location and progression of each component.  The cups were then combined in various mixtures so that we could characterize flavors and alcohol content.  Then on to a selection of 12 wines, from both an aesthetic and chemical perspective.

I got pretty good at tastes, but we didn’t have similar guidance for smells.   I struggled all evening with identifying fruits and flowers: I‘m not a naturalist like my British peers, who quickly specified sources down to the genus.

In Latin. 

Nonetheless, it was a really fun and interesting evening, and I have a better approach to a glass in a good restaurant.

Along the way, the sommelier was asked how often it was safe to drink wine.  He commented that his partner, a physician, told him that excessive drinking leads to up-regulation of the liver enzyme that breaks down ethanol.  The enzyme also creates free radicals when not metabolizing alcohol, thus causing associated liver damage.

The way to avoid liver damage was to prevent up-regulation.  This could be accomplished by abstaining from alcohol two days each week.

The 5-2 Rule: In each week, do what you want for five days, but abstain for two.

I’ve been practicing a 5:2 diet for a couple of months and dropped 15 pounds by fasting on Monday and Thursday.  Now a 5-2 path to liver health.

Do two examples point to a rule?

  • 5 days work : 2 two days rest at the weekend.
  • 5 days training : interspersed with 2 days rest to let the muscles recover (and Standard 5:2 Split routines within workouts)
  • Golden RatioThe aesthetically perfect Golden Ratio (right).  Ah, you say, a bridge too far: the value of the Ratio is  1.618!  Yes, but the formula  (1+√5)/2, is at least in metaphoric distance.

Maybe not. 

But my point is that the secret to achieving balance in life may rest with something as simple as taking two days off for every five days doing it. 

I’ve long taught (but seldom practiced) that it’s important to keep balance in life: a new business will suck every moment that you offer it and always demand more.  A proportionate break, a 5:2 strategy to embrace life’s alternatives, to stop doing something that is good in moderation but bad in excess, is a nice strategy...

  …that you may observe discretion and your lips reserve knowledge.  Proverbs 5:2

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Back to the Continent

I‘m in the last pre-Christmas travel tumble, a quick oscillation between the UK and NL before taking wing to the US.  Eurostar was pricing Standard and Premium at the same fare so I took the upgrade to see how the other half lives.  Nicer seats, power plugs; no wi-fi, but free magazines and a ‘light snack’ accompanied by a nice Medoc. 

‘Pleasant enough journey, but not an upgrade I’d do for more than 15 euro.


It was also a cold journey biting wind and drizzling rain.  I worked on receipts and tax reviews, read a bit, listened to the news.  We pulled into Brussels a half hour late, but the trains connected well enough to still arrive in Maastricht by 9.

They always do a nice Christmas here.  There was a choir in the station and lights reflected in puddles on the streets.





There are cascades of lights crowning the Sint Servaasbrug (once again under repair) and icicle lights among the trees in Kesselskade.  I suspect that the SMS-Tree is even back in the Mossae Forum (text a number, change the lights).

No sign of the Christmas Market at the river; certainly no repeat of the city-wide celebration from a few years back.

But, over at the Vrijthof, things are still hopping as they always have.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Where science meets art on a cold misty morning.

Science: A deposit of needle-like ice crystals formed by direct condensation of water onto surfaces at temperatures below the freezing point.


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Monday, December 10, 2012

Kerstmis along South Bank

DSC04745London has established a European-style Christmas Market along the south bank of the Thames.  If you’ve been to it’s German cousins, it’s familiar and cute, ‘not too crowded yet attracting a younger crowd than Koln or Aachen.  There are all of the usual suspects: craft huts and sausage vendors, gluhwein and Jager shots (at 5.50 gbp!).  The carousel is colorful and the huge skillets of potatoes and onions are a nice variation on the theme.   But no sign of ice skating or lebkuchen, and I miss the commemorative mugs and eierpunsch.

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The evening’s most spectacular scenes were in the restaurant, though (Bistro Bruno Loubet),

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and across the river, skyline and light against the churning skies.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Turner, Gormley, Constable

A warm winter Sunday ahead of a cod blast rushing in from the northeast; a perfect dry day to scurry in and see London at Christmas.  There are lights around the man squares, a big tree in Trafalgar, holiday decorations in the store windows, colorful sweets at F&M.  It was really a nice afternoon to wander and take it all in.


A few new exhibits have opened as well.  The Royal Academy of Arts is featuring a retrospective of landscapes by Turner, Gainsborough, and Constable. through February.  It begins with several galleries of etched prints from Italy and Holland that preceded, perhaps inspired, the later works.  A final room is filled with several paintings by each of the three masters, characteristic but not iconic.  The accompanying text brushed by interesting ideas (the relationship of Picturesque, Sublime, and Romantic landscape styles) without elaboration or illustration.

I’m a big fan of Turner (Color!) and Constable (Skies!), but it’s hard to see the point of this exhibition.



DSC04644The accompanying (free) exhibit “Almost Real Art” was almost better… whimsical sculptures and witty placards that made me smile.


Then over to the White Cube to see the new Gormley exhibition.  It features two main themes, one interesting, the other baffling. 

The baffling one is Model, a gigantic sculpture of welded metal plates that  (after signing a release) you enter and explore.  It’s pitch dark, featureless, echoing, close, and (sorry) meaningless.   The catalog says that it’s a metaphoric experience of the dark interior of the body, but it was hard to  connect with.

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Better were the cubic renderings of human bodies, with an DSC04668accompanying room of studies.  Although abstract, I thought they conveyed a lot of feeling (one in particular that seemed to show a body wearily resting, head against the wall, was appealing). 

But it’s been that kind of week.