How the Subway can help you find heaven

From the wall of a New York subway car I found and wrote down this astonishing poem by Patrick Phillips. 

Holiday wreath on 3rd Avenue


It will be the past

and we'll live there together.

Not as it was to live

but as it is remembered.

It will be the past.

We'll all go back together.

Everyone we ever loved,

and lost, and must remember.

It will be the past.

And it will last forever.


I found later that "Heaven" by Patrick Phillips in included in a book called Boy published by The University of Georgia Press, 2008 and presented by the NY MTA as part of its Poetry in Motion series.

Fayez Mikhail - conservation's quiet IT hero

Kevin Grose and Fayez Mikhail (Information Management Group, 1996)

I first met Fayez Mikhail on joining the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 1991. Everyone knew Fayez as the only computer guy in the organization who could and would fix a problem. 

Fayez was not, however, about computer support. He was the IT professional that configured our business software; set the technical standards; designed and ran the Local Area Network (LAN) and made operational IUCN's external telecommunications links. 

His reputation for solving IT problems grew beyond the HQ's operation.  During the coffee breaks of the many meetings convened in Gland, there would be a steady stream of IUCN Councillors, regional and country and out-posted office staff lining up at his doorstep to seek his advice or help.  To this day, IUCN HQ delivers a centrally-managed email service to some thousand staff around the world.

IUCN was on the cutting edge of technology in the 1990s, and was among the first of the international organizations to embrace the potential of the Internet for global conservation.  An article in a 1994 issue of IUCN's InterAct magazine highlighted the potential of electronic networking.  In 1996 the Information Management Group issued a strategy for "Union-Link" - a strategy to take IUCN onto the Internet. IUCN.ORG got registered. IUCN hosted a meeting of the Geneva chapter of the Internet Society to showcase the first version of JAVA. In May 1998, the IUCN Management Services Committee approved the policy documents establishing information management services at IUCN. These documents put in place formal polices and procedures for hardware, software, computer support, disaster recovery, electronic communications, and systems. Importantly, it was at this time that the Knowledge Network was launched (a service and system that I believe is still very much in place).

The technical face of this transformation was Fayez.  Fayez took it upon himself to test new products, assess their usefulness and then put in place products that did the job, were robust and were cost effective.  He liked Microsoft because the Office products were on their way to becoming a kind of international language.  He liked Microsoft Exchange because its handling of email would serve both IUCN's HQs and its regional and country offices.  He also liked Microsoft because, at that time, its products were solidly supported by Digital Corp. in Geneva.  

But Fayez was also open to the new.  He learned telecommunications and Internet connectivity, LAN administration and IT security, he supported Cold Fusion and assisted a host of would-be database developers from the Commissions and elsewhere. And for the IUCN Congresses, he brought to life parallel networks and computer centers around the world - working amicably with host country staff and contractors - in English, French or Arabic.  

In my view, Fayez has been instrumental in shaping the nature and personality of IUCN through the availability of services to HQs and regional and country offices, the reliability and ease of use of those services, the friendly voice at the end of the telephone line, or the friendly smile in person.  I realize that he is not the only one to have contributed, but he has brought invaluable continuity. The result is an IUCN atmosphere of global collegial collaboration with ready sharing of information and perspectives  - the bedrock of effective action.

IUCN owes him a great debt.

The recent blunt-edged actions in Gland seem not to have acknowledged Fayez's contribution nor its impact on the Union. While I understand that organizational change comes to all organizations, grace in taking forward that change can and should be preserved - for the sake of all IUCN's global community of practitioners and supporters.


Food Network - a pinch of salt and pepper

Cape Town restaurant (Photo: K Grose)

The Channel promotes cooking at home, eating with family and friends as well as small and medium size American businesses.

To keep boredom at bay at the gym, I watch TV. My top choice is the Food Network channel.  Why? Because programs are presented in short segments that can be matched to the duration of my exercise routine.  I might see the benefits of a fine pasta while on the bike for 20 minutes, and swoon over a sugary dessert on the treadmill for 15 minutes.

Whatever - I have now become quite knowledgeable.  I now know some of the chefs - Ina Garten, Ree Drummond, Giada de Laurentis, Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri.  I know the formats - the "how to cook" shows like Ina's Barefoot Contessa, the restaurant drama shows like "Restaurant Impossible", The travel tale shows like Drive Ins, Diners and Dives, the chat shows like the new "The Kitchen" and the game shows like "Iron Chef".

From this exercise-induced immersion in the Food Network I have drawn some conclusions - good and bad.

The first is that the Food Network is good for America.  The channel with its TV programs, website, social media and publications promotes cooking at home - eating with family and friends - and small and medium size American businesses.

It challenges America's advertising-saturated news feeds pushing globalized brands and commercialized life styles.  It provides a practical guide on how to cook a simple snack, meal or drink that can be shared with those closest to you or widen to drawn new acquaintances, neighbors and colleagues (what Americans like to call co-workers) into your personal network.  

On cooking, the Barefoot Contesa brings you Ina Garten.  A talented and practical chef, Ina works her kitchen magic out of home in The Hamptons on Long Island with a friendly low-key flair - "Now isn't that easy!" she exclaims. Her techniques are solidly based on the best principles of cooking and her recipes are, for the most part, something one can replicate.  I like her Vegetable Pot Pie. Nutritionally, I perceive her offerings to reasonably balanced on the calorie counter scale.

Ree Drummond's Pioneer Woman mixes food preparation with the people in her life.  Ree is more cook than chef and focuses on what it takes to feed the folks in her life - centered on her family.  The program is charming and the recipes workable and easy.  Unlike Ina who is about entertaining, Ree is more about three meals a day.  Ree's Olive and Cheese Bread recipe has become one of my favorites.  Nutritionally, I perceive her offerings to be high calorie inventions and care is needed if you want to avoid rapid weight gain.

Brussels Sprouts, Cape Town (Photo: K Grose)Giada de Laurentis tops the food glamour charts.  A talented chef that showcases her Italian heritage in a down-to-earth manner.  Her recipes are excellent and workable but can sometimes have a lot of steps and stages.  She introduced me to KALE and RAW broccoli with her wonderful Kale and Gorgonzola Salad. Nutritionally, Giada's offerings are green and healthy - and calorie counts are at modest levels.

My only suggestion to the Food Network is their over emphasis of American comfort (and very fattening) foods.  Sure we all like 4 cheese chili, Mac&Cheese and Four Layer Chocolate Cake topped with hazelnut and chocolate purée, whipped cream and strawberries - who would not?  But the presentation of these kinds of dishes over and over and over again is not helping America find a nutritionally sustainable future.

Ireland in Spring

Arrived in Ahakista, Ireland to visit Mark at his home overlooking the sea. Coming for the first time in the spring, I was impressed by the range of wild flowers in bloom. Primrose, gorse, bluebells and dozens more are all on show.  Gorse in full bloom along the roadsideThis corner of southwest Ireland never fails to impart a sense of quiet interlinked to geologic timeframes - or, despite it all the world moves on and continues just the same.  

Impacts of sunshine on food and other stuff

A memorable feature of eating out in South Africa is a non-edible product -- SUNSHINE.  Every eating experience seems flooded with this entirely free commodity that has the pleasant impact of bringing conviviality.  Eating out seems always to be a time of cheerfulness even if the food, as in one case, did not contribute to the effect. Kevin enjoying the retro ambiance of La Petite Tarte, Waterkant

La Petite Tarte with its wide-open doors and sidewalk terrace provided a fully open-air experience; dappled sunlight filling the lively inside and outside spaces.  Food was elegant and quickly delivered and included my rhubarb and nut tarte! 

What made this little café so special was the constant presence of its owners, taking orders, talking to patrons and helping the staff to keep the busy machine working well.  Table service was very retro with stacks of old, odd and mixed pieces of china and cutlery.  I even thought that my mother's china was among the examples.

Every neighborhood in the city, seems to provide its sunny handouts and places to sit, eat and enjoy your table's company and soak in the local scene.  What is also of note, is that the scene is local and rarely do I ever feel I have got caught up in a purely tourist experience.

Speaking of local experiences, I feel the need to give my award for authenticity to the rural town of Swellendam - exactly half way between Cape Town and the Garden Route cities of George and Knysna.

The guidebook suggested that Swellendam, founded in 1742, is a picturesque small town. I am not so sure about picturesque, but I can vouch that it provides an authentic South African experience.  Its many preserved houses and buildings, including the grand Reformed Church to provide a pretty picture.  Equally, its simple restaurants serve well to feed and water the many locals and tourists driving between Cape Town the Garden Route Cities along the N2 highway. The serving counter and shop of the Old Gaol in Swellendam 

Beyond the pretty pictures, however, the town also presents a frank picture of a rural farming town of modest proportion and incomes.  It keeps what it has going and makes the most of it.  I found the town very relaxing, being not more or less than what it is.

At the Old Gaol, and yes, it was the town jail many years ago, we dined on locally backed bread, exceptionally delicious fresh pomegranate juice and "melktert" - a subtle custard tart.  All this on another open-air terrace shaded from the bright sunlight by 100 year old trees.

Note though that the most delicious melktert in the WHOLE world is available down the main road at the Old Mill Inn and restaurant. The Old Mill's version is lighter, and served warm.  And of course the experience is on its terrace shaded by trees and grape vines that provide a canopy of protection from Mr. Sun.

Knysna on the other hand, provides lots of sun, retail and outdoor dining but the overall experience for me proved largely middle-of-the-road.  Restaurants fit the criteria -sunny and bright with cheerful patrons - but often with less than sunny managers and staff.  

While my reviews of the Turbine Hotel can be found on TripAdvisor, I wondered broadly if this very pretty and special place was failing to articulate its [a] brand.  

Unlike Cape Town with its up market and cosmopolitan experience, and Swellandam with its down-to-Earth reality, Knysna offered spectacular scenery but with unimaginative eateries, dull, touristic retail, and hotels that lacked appeal, apart from offering a room.  View from one of many Tapas places on the Thesen Island waterfront

I was left wondering what exactly was the brand "Knysna" and longed to get back to the Cape Town.