The Twilight Time

twilight

This night has been so strange that it seemed
As if the hair stood up on my head.

— William Butler Yeats, “Presences” (1919)

Kiss from a Rose

manet lilacs and roses
Édouard Manet, “Vase of White Lilacs and Roses,” 1883

Only a masterpiece will do for a one-of-a-kind Mom…
Happy Mother’s Day!

Beginnings

hopeHope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering,
‘It will be happier.’
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Daddy

leon chu de leonMy father loved the sun. In an amazing conversation that we had when he was in the hospital a few weeks before he died, I was able to tell him that the overriding memory of him that had always stayed with me throughout my life was of he and I as a child at a beach, shortly after daybreak, my arms around his neck, in the still waters of the vast ocean. “Such peace,” he remembered.

It was one of many early mornings that we shared at that beach, and I always wondered why he liked to take me and my brothers there at the crack of dawn. Turns out his years as a rower had left the habit of arriving early to the shores for rowing practice, before the waters became too choppy to navigate.

Daddy had the strength and fortitude of a lion, qualities uncannily reflected in his name (yes, it really is “Leon de Leon,” we often had to clarify) and as if to really bring home the point, he was even born under the sun sign of Leo. What are the odds of that?

His magnetism was irresistible, his presence overpowering. Movie-star handsome, with formidable intellectual faculties that never failed to result in an illuminating perception or two. Most importantly, he was a steadfast husband and father who provided such a comforting continuity to our lives.

That strength that lay so essentially at the core of his being was never more evident than in the valiant fight that he waged in his last years, inspiring every one of us with the courage so typical of how he always approached life.

We’ll miss you so very much, Daddy. The vibrant sun of your good heart will shine on us eternally. And please know that I will remain, forever — and gratefully — “tu bebita.”

Perch Perfect

birdhouse romebirdhouse the scream canadaIn another example of how creativity takes many forms, even the simple birdhouse has contributed to a flight of fancy or two, as wonderfully depicted in the recently released book, Birdhouses of the World, compiled by author and bird expert Anne Schmauss.
A collection of dozens of what she calls the “coolest” nest boxes from around the globe, they range from the avian architecture pictured above, made from natural spruce ply (and modeled after the Palazzo Venezia in Rome), to “The Scream” birdhouse inspired by the famous Munch painting and constructed by blacksmith artist Anthony Cateaux, shown right. Many of the houses took weeks to build, others even years. The quirky and often highly embellished creations are reminders that there’s nothing insignificant enough to not challenge the human imagination.

(Photos: top: Elephant Room Creative; right: London Fieldworks)

What’s Cooking, Watson?

watson cognitive cooking
Not content to rest on its laurels as Jeopardy!’s all-time champion, IBM’s artificial-intelligence computer system, Watson, has now donned a chef’s hat, showing off its culinary chops in a recently unveiled project called “Cognitive Cooking.”

It’s all part of an effort to broaden the horizons of computing to incorporate that most unique of human qualities — creativity — which has long eluded technological reach. Tapping into a database of more than 35,000 recipes stored in the IBM “cloud,” Watson sniffs out flavor profiles and chemical compounds with a nose for novel combinations, in pairings that number in the quintillions (that’s 18 zeros).

cognitive apple pieThe system searches for the most interesting gastronomic matches by ingredient, cuisine, and dish type, resulting in such unorthodox creations as “Baltic Apple Pie” (with a topping of pork tenderloin, left) and a “Belgian Bacon Pudding” that mixes bacon and figs along with egg yolks and buttermilk (and a pinch of cumin). Other confections whipped up so far: a “Caymanian Plantain Dessert,” “Peruvian Potato Poutine,” and an “Austrian Chocolate Burrito” (ground beef alongside dark chocolate and Edam cheese).

The public got its first sampling at an IBM Watson Food Truck in Austin, Texas last month. Visitors at the city’s SXSW Festival tweeted their choices for favorite dishes, as Watson spewed out recipes ranked by their ability to surprise. For the “Vietnamese Apple Kebab,” it identified a common flavor compound found in both pork and apple. Add curry, mushrooms, and strawberries, and any traditional notion of shish-kebab is turned upside down.

graphics cognitive cookingWatson’s human counterparts will admit that in some ways they can’t compete. James Briscione, one of the chefs from the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) who is working with IBM on the Cognitive Cooking venture, told NBC News: “This is stringing together five or six ingredients at a time that are all matched based on the flavor compounds that they share. That’s something that’s way beyond my ability as a chef.”

IBM has even loftier goals for the project, seeing possibilities for global impact in such areas as obesity and malnutrition. The thinking is that by using computational creativity technologies to analyze chemical compounds and ingredients, the food-service industry can avail itself of new recipes and combinations that will be both healthier and more efficient to produce.

But for now, Watson, how about a taste of the “Caribbean Snapper Fish & Chips”? (Non-fried, of course.)

Walking on Water

cape cod brewster flatsThe sea-shore is a sort of neutral ground, a most advantageous point
from which to contemplate this world.

— From Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau

Among the memorable experiences from a first-time vacation on Cape Cod last week was encountering the Brewster Flats (we stayed at a cottage on a bluff overlooking the ocean in the town of Brewster), the widest expanse of their kind in North America, a factoid I was unaware of until after my visit. One can literally walk on water for a (squishy) mile over what is for most of the day Cape Cod Bay, into an oasis of peace and serenity that can only compare to what I felt at the top of a huge glacier in Alaska many years ago.

Watch long enough and the moored boats begin to rise almost miraculously as high tide returns, a ritual that depicts nature in all its transformative glory. The area is remarkable for its schizzy weather shifts as well, where a blinding fog can lift in a matter of minutes, and gorgeous sunlight is doused by ominous clouds in what seems like seconds. The sunset on our last day ranked as one of the most magical I’ve ever seen; applause was heard from a far-off distance as the sun finally disappeared beneath the horizon.

In Cape Cod (published in 1865), Thoreau wrote, “Even the sedentary man here enjoys a breadth of view which is almost equivalent to motion.”  Nearly 150 years later, the sweep of that view remains as moving as ever.
Cape Cod Massachusetts Brewster Flats