Annamaria Alfieri
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Annamaria on Monday Last weekend, I spend a post Thanksgiving weekend in Philadelphia, a city I always enjoy.  I have dear friends there.  Besides which, it has world class just about everything: Sports teams, museums, and especially music!  I thought, while I was there, about the apocryphal epitaph said to be on the gravestone of one of its famous sons: W.C. Fields.   A rumor has been circulating for decades that said monument is inscribed, "All things being equal, I'd rather be here than in Philadelphia. " False!   Here is the evidence: W.C. grew up very poor and unhappy Philly.  When he started to earn money as an entertainer in New York, he went back to Philly, took his mother by the hand, left everything behind, and led her to an entirely new life.  He didn't put that wisecrack on his grave, but he did say a whole lot of  funny and sarcastic things: Here are some of his true wise cracks for your amusement, if not edification: On Booze Now don't say you can't swear off drinking; it's easy. I've done it a thousand times.. Back in my rummy days, I would tremble and shake for hours upon arising. It was the only exercise I got. Water? Never drink it.  Fish f*ck in it. During one of my treks through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew. We were compelled to live on food and water for several days. It's hard to tell where Hollywood ends and the D.T.'s begin. More people are driven insane through religious hysteria than by drinking alcohol. 'Twas a woman who drove me to drink. I never had the courtesy to thank her. Nothing stronger than gin before breakfast. True Wisdom [Charles Dickens was] the bravest man who ever lived. He fathered ten children before they became tax deductions. A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money. Never cry over spilt milk, because it may have been poisoned. Don't worry about your heart, it will last you as long as you live. It's headed for the brambles and we are all in our bare feet. On Human Behavior The human race has gone backward, not forward, since the days we were apes swinging through the trees. What a lovely day. What effulgent sunshine. It was a day of this sort the McGillicuddy brothers murdered their mother with an ax. Thou shalt not steal--only from other comedians. My daughter wants to throw a stone at a bad man. I stop her from throwing, shaking my head and giving her a little slap. My disapproval is complete. You think: 'That's right, she shouldn't throw a stone even at a villain.' Then I hand her a brick to throw. I was almost put out of business by a well-meaning corpse. Anything worth having is worth cheating for. On Show Biz The movie people would have nothing to do with me until they heard me speak in a Broadway play, then they all wanted to sign me for the silent movies.  Hollywood is the gold cap on a tooth that should have been pulled out years ago. A comic should suffer as much over a single line as a man with a hernia would in picking up a heavy barbell. I always made up my own acts; built them out of my knowledge and observation of real life. I'd had wonderful opportunities to study people; and every time I went out on the stage I tried to show the audience some bit of true human nature.
Susan Spann
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-- Susan, every other Sunday In Japan, we celebrate the changing seasons. Spring means Ume (plum) and cherry blossoms everywhere. In summer, it's kakigori (shaved ice) and similar cooling treats. Autumn brings colorful momiji (autumn maple leaves), as well as sweet potato and chestnut-flavored everything (I even found purple sweet potato flavored Greek yoghurt at the grocery store - and yes, I ate it . . . and, surprisingly, it was good). But if you're looking for sheer, unmitigated, over-the-top spectacle, it's winter you should come and see. At the start of December, Bavarian markets spring up across Japan like bratwurst-scented mushrooms, and "winter illuminations" light the nights with a sparkling glow. One of the largest and most famous winter illuminations in Japan takes place at Ashikaga Flower Park in Ashikaga City, about three hours north of Tokyo (by a combination of local and bullet trains). Ashikaga Flower Park is famous for its "Miracle Wisteria" - a quartet of massive, 150 year-old trees that are  the oldest and largest wisteria ever to be successfully transplanted. The park's eight areas feature thousands of plants and trees that bloom in one or more of the eight different "flower seasons" the park recognizes every year. In December, that means pansies and violas . . . and the spectacular "bejeweled flower garden" illumination* that transforms the flower park into a spectacle that takes well over an hour to walk through (and much longer if, like me, you're easily distracted). Last weekend, my husband and I made the trip to Ashikaga City . . . and the "bejeweled flowers" did not disappoint. I could tell you more, but I'd run out of superlatives long before I ran out of photographs, so I think I'll let the pictures speak for themselves: Arriving just at dusk...the distant view does NOT do it justice. The Santa lights up and moves across the "sky" A more down-to-earth version of Santa's sleigh This display cycled through (and changed for) every season of the year. The "Miracle Wisteria" Another of the massive wisteria, with LED flowers that changed colors to music. The 'tree of wonders' Traditional Xmas Tree The light-up lotus ponds - one of my favorites. "One World For All of Us" 'Tis the season, here in Japan, and whatever you celebrate (or don't) I hope you have as illuminating, bright and happy a holiday season as we're having here in Tokyo (and in Ashikaga City too). Poinsettias, light-up lotus, and Christmas doves over the wisteria *You may notice that many of the displays have Christmas themes--Christmas is very popular in Japan, despite the fact that less than 1% of the population is actually Christian. Japan has adopted Christmas as a secular holiday, with a focus on decorations, gifts, and Christmas treats (and let's be serious . . . who doesn't  like mulled wine, sausages, and Christmas cake?)
Saturday—Jeff As some of you may know, I’m a big fan of Robert Frost, and often turn to his work for inspiration on setting mood. This time I turned to one of his less known poems, “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things,” to explain what we’ve been through—and are still experiencing—out in the wilds of Northwest New Jersey. I love it out here, if only for the adventure each day—and passing storm—offers in the form of new challenges. At times, though, there are unexpected surprises, and they can be costly. So here’s my tale of what it means to be versed in country things.   To Farm we’d gone to be again Beneath clear skies far away from woe. But first came ice then snow heavy on the wood Like sugar candy glass brightly aglow. The trees stood poised along the way, To bear the weight or fall in shame Should a dancing breeze add wind to the heft To break their stiff backs and end the game. Alas some lost and fell to their end Most deep in woods or close by a road But one did find to land upon our roofs Another took down our power load. Lines still lie that once flew through the air And our propane supply is quite thin. But the tree’s off the house we can sigh Thanks to chainsaw and rope in my bin. All this week there’s been continuing grief Searching for fuel to keep up the fire   Hemmed in by power lines crossing the way; Plus down trees blocking all beyond each wire. Yet, more was to come to make me sad. Rejoiced when down to the farm workmen crept, Then learned our boiler had died, poor thing. Now heat’s back…along with great debt. If a tree falls in the forest and you happen to be sitting.... here, you definitely hear it! Plumbers to the rescue The costly culprit Ah yes, the joys of being versed in country things. By the way, here’s Robert Frost’s original version.   "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things" The house had gone to bring again To the midnight sky a sunset glow. Now the chimney was all of the house that stood, Like a pistil after the petals go. The barn opposed across the way, That would have joined the house in flame Had it been the will of the wind, was left To bear forsaken the place’s name. No more it opened with all one end For teams that came by the stony road To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs And brush the mow with the summer load. The birds that came to it through the air At broken windows flew out and in, Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh From too much dwelling on what has been. Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf, And the aged elm, though touched with fire; And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm; And the fence post carried a strand of wire. For them there was really nothing sad. But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept, One had to be versed in country things Not to believe the phoebes wept. —Jeff