Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Yesterday, I got from the library a beautiful book Aging Gracefully, Portraits of People Over 100, by the German photographer/ writer Karsten Thormahaelen. The book contains 52 portraits of men and women who have already celebrated their 100th birthdays. On the pages facing their photographs, they tell us briefly what makes them tick. The author had a wonderful relationship with his grandparents when he was growing up and his passion is taking photographs of old people. He has traveled all over the world to bring us these portraits. And what portraits! Just looking at them makes us feel good. Most of these centenarians are smiling and happy; their faces exude a quiet strength and contentment. They are from all over the world (France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Italy, the United States, Peru) but many are from two places known for the longevity of their inhabitants: Vilcabamba( Ecuador) and Okinawa ( Japan).

After enjoying the photographs, I tried to mine the capsule biographies for clues to the longevity of these people. What was it that enabled them to live long and, more importantly, to remain engaged and happy? At first they did not seem to have much in common. For instance, many of them had long and happy marriages but then there was Henriette Cathala, a Parisienne and former hotel staff manager. She had never been married and is happy with her lot. “No husband, no children, no problems”, she says with a smile. Sometimes, people contradicted themselves. One, a Dutchman, advised “Go to bed early, don’t smoke and don’t drink – although you can make an exception now and then for a whisky, And for gin, too.” That hardly makes him an advocate for abstinence.

Surprisingly, only a few mentioned prayer and of the five who did, two were priests.

These are the things I did find that many of them shared.

  1. Many of them were born poor and had led very difficult lives. Several had begun to lose their faculties. Some were suffering loss of hearing, one had lost the use of her legs and another was blind. Yet all of them accepted their lot and retained their positive attitude. They did not let their handicaps cramp their style but worked around them.
  2. They were still independent to a surprising degree. They lived by themselves, cooked and cared for themselves with only occasional help from the family or from caregivers. Many of those from Okinawa and Ecuador grew their own vegetables in little family plots.
  3. Many stressed the importance of walking or otherwise being active. One Norwegian described how he takes short walks every two hours throughout the day.
  4. Many had hobbies or interests which they enjoyed. Common hobbies were music, singing, working out, reading, knitting, gardening and watching TV. One man from Los Angeles took up metal sculpting late in life and had his first exhibition at the age of 100!
  5. They were very social and maintained close relationships with family, friends and neighbors. A lady from Okinawa said that it was important not to stay at home but to do things with others.
  6. They were moderate in their habits.” Never go to extremes “as one put it.
  7. Lastly and most importantly, was maintaining a positive attitude, avoiding stress and trying to do good. This was expressed by several people in different ways. “Enjoy, be happy, laugh”. “Give love to others. Be noble”. “Live and work in harmony with yourself and others’.

Perhaps the attitude of these centenarians is best exemplified by Edward Palkot of Long Island who still plays golf at age 102, lives on his own, tends his garden, eats out frequently, reads, does crossword puzzles, chats with the neighbors and loves doing the polka.

I admire the vigor and zest for life that these elders have but what I appreciate even more is the serenity and sense of fulfillment they possess. One gentleman from Okinawa, who is very much at peace with himself and his life, says that if he ever met a kind hearted fairy, he wouldn’t know what he could possibly ask  for.” I really have everything I need.”

What a wonderful thing to be able to say.




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Robin Williams suicide a couple of months ago evoked an unprecedented level of sadness and just among movie fans. Everyone who had worked with him was distraught, and I read that many of them could not speak of his passing without breaking down in tears. It seems to have been not just about the manner of his passing or the loss of a formidable talent. More than anything else, it was about his lovable, childlike personality. The actress-director Penny Marshall called him “… the sweetest, gentlest man..”.

I don’t think I have ever seen anyone with his genius for improvisation. Wayne Brady and his cohorts on Whose Line is it Anyway? are very good but it is no criticism to say that they are not in the same class as Robin Williams. The only one who even came close was Jonathan Winters. Both Williams and he had a quicksilver wit, lightning fast and unpredictable in the directions it took. They were always on; their minds were never still. Perhaps because they were never able to relax, both men suffered from mental disorders. Winters had nervous breakdowns and was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder; Williams suffered from depression which led to battles with cocaine and alcohol. As far as their personae were concerned, Williams was like a big kid, his rubber face and zany look making him instantly likable; Winters, on the other hand. sometimes came across as scary.

One story about Robin Williams that illustrates his wit, and which I will always remember, is this: Penny Marshall ( Laverne) had directed a 1990 movie ” Awakening”, in which Robin Williams played a doctor who tries dopamine on encephalitis victims who are unable to move. On the publicity tour for the movie, Williams came along. In Penny Marshall’s words, “I slurred and said the film was set in a menstrual hospital instead of mental hospital- and Robin immediately said ” It’s a period piece!”‘.

Only he could have instantly come up instantly with a line like that. R.I.P Robin Williams.

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Two weeks ago Ann Coulter, the conservative political pundit, unloaded on the game of soccer, averring that ” Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay. “ In her column she then proceeded to tell us why she felt so. Here is a synopsis of her reasons with my reactions ; the italicized portions are direct quotes of Coulter’s.

1. Soccer is collectivist. ( … the blame is dispersed and no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability). Really, Ann. Try telling that to anyone on the Brazilian team that took the field against Germany. Or to Jose Luis Scolari, the Brazilian coach. I don’t think they will ever live down the ignominy of that defeat. As for heroes, three of the top highest paid athletes in the world are soccer players. They wouldn’t command that kind of money unless fans lionized them, paid to watch them play and bought their merchandise.
2.Soccer is effeminate. (… a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys.) Soccer demands more from players than any other sport in the world. 90 minutes of total effort, only three substitutions. The only other sport that comes at all close is basketball but it only lasts 48 minutes, has frequent stoppages and players go in and out of the game.
4. Real sport carries the prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury; soccer doesn’t. For humiliation, see my response to item 1. As for personal injury, I’d think that Neymar’s injury certainly qualifies, don’t you?
5. You can’t use your hands in soccer. So what? That’s why they call it football in most parts of the world. Duh !
6. Soccer is being pushed on Americans.( the same people … are demanding that we love HBO’s ” Girls”, light rail, Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.)This is so ridiculous it doesn’t deserve a rebuttal.
7.It’s foreign. Well, so what? Not everything good is of American origin.
8.It’s like the metric system, which is also European. That again ? I like the British system but I recognize that the metric system is more logical, has innumerable advantages and is the world standard. Only the U.S, Liberia and Myanmar still follow the British system and we will have to change sooner or later.
9. Soccer is not catching on. Not true. More people watched the Portugal – U.S game than watched last year’s World Series or this year’s NBA finals.
Coulter concludes her diatribe by writing “ If more Americans are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Ted Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. No American whose grandfather was born here is watching soccer.” Partly true. There is no doubt that many of the American soccer fans are immigrants, particularly Hispanics. However, there is an increasing number of native born Americans who are beginning to like the game. A case in point is my neighbor and friend, a’ real’ American of the type that Coulter would approve of. He is a WASP, was born in this country, and I know he is reading Glenn Beck’s latest book. He also follows the World Cup avidly, ( as do his son and grandson), and he used to coach when his son played soccer as a kid. Now , the grandson plays soccer and loves it.
Ann Coulter’s broadside was so beyond the pale that other commentators have wondered if it was not tongue in cheek. Some have opined that it was deliberately inflammatory because it was a means of keeping herself in the spotlight. I wondered about that myself before rejecting both theories. Coulter doesn’t have a funny bone in her body and while she is a publicity seeker, the references to the New York Times, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy’s immigration law lead me to think that conservative politics is at the root of her explosion. Too bad for her. The New York Times will be around long after Ann Coulter is forgotten and Hillary Clinton will be the President in 2016, if she chooses to run. Better get used to the idea , Ann.

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When 23 -year -old Van Cliburn won the 1958 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition it created shock waves around the world .Even I , a teenager in faraway India , read about it though I didn’t fully understand its significance .

In 1958 , American confidence was at a low ebb . Russia had just sent aloft the Sputnik to become the first nation in space . For post-WWII Americans who had been accustomed to being Number 1, this was a tremendous blow. In this atmosphere of self-doubt and fear , an unheralded 23-year-old went to Moscow and wowed the audience and the judges to capture the Tchaikovsky first prize . He was not expected to win . Until then , Russians had swept previous competitions and they were expected to win this one too. As the Wall Street Journal put it ” A Russian was supposed to win “.

Right from the early rounds , Van Cliburn became a darling of Russian audiences . They fell in love with this tall, boyish looking , intense American who played Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff with such soul piercing mastery. When he completed his final performance , the entire audience leapt to its feet and gave him an eight minute standing ovation .   How wonderful it would have been to be in the audience that day !

Even in the face of Van Cliburn’s  virtuosity , the judges had to get Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s permission to award the prize to Van Cliburn. Khrushchev , who was in the audience and had enthusiastically applauded Van Cliburn’s performance , did the right thing . “ Is he the best ?” , Khrushchev is reported to have asked , “ Then give him the prize!’ Van Cliburn was duly awarded the gold medal and 25,000 rubles ( approx . $ 2,500) .

To put Van Cliburn’s win in perspective : It has to be the greatest win ever by an American underdog. Even the U.S  ice hockey team’s gold medal win in Lake Placid in the 1980 Olympics , magnificent though it was , comes a distant second . Our hockey heroes  were playing at home and their victory was based on indisputable goal differential , not on the whims of judges. Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow , at the height of the Cold War  and, no matter how well he played, his gold medal hopes could have been scuttled by the judges . That he was able to win them over as well as the audience  is an indication of how magnificent his playing was that day .

Van Cliburn returned home to a hero’s welcome and a ticker tape parade down Broadway. He signed a lucrative contract with RCA Victor , and his recording of this signature piece , Tchaikovsky’s Concerto Number 1 , went triple platinum  and was the best-selling classical album for over a decade. He gave concert performances  all over the United States  and abroad and , in the course of his career , performed for every U.S President from Eisenhower to Obama . He was awarded many honors including the Congressional Medal of Freedom ( U.S) and the Order of Friendship ( Russia) , the two highest civilian honors in the respective countries. Unfortunately , he was not able to completely  fulfill his early promise . Music critics feel that his meteoric early success and heavy concert schedule meant that he did not put in the necessary hard work to develop his unquestioned talent .

Though critics might have their caveats about his musical standing , no one has anything but the highest praise for Van Cliburn , the man . I’ve read his obituaries in half a dozen papers and I’ve never seen anyone praised so lavishly . Everyone agrees that he was gracious , kindhearted , generous , and humble. The Wall Street Jornal recounts how , when Igor Stravinsky joined to perform  with him at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle , Van Cliburn insisted on carrying the famous  composer’s heavy bags to their backstage dressing rooms .  Another delicious story : A N.Y times reader  , Kar from Lincoln , Neb, wrote in to say “My uncle was a taxi and limousine driver in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s. He took Van Cliburn from the airport to the hotel, but some of his luggage had been lost, including the white tie and tails for his concert that evening. Van Cliburn told my uncle to wait while he made some calls to a fellow Texan tall enough to have clothes to fit, who told him to come on over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. My uncle got to meet Lyndon Johnson, and Van Cliburn, properly outfitted, invited him to watch the concert from backstage. It was one of the highlights of my uncle’s long life.”

Reader after reader writes to the New York Times to say how listening to Van Cliburn’s recordings instilled a deep love for classical music in their lives . Those who were lucky to attend one of his concerts remember them with a mixture of fondness and awe . Joe from Pennsylvania , concludes his tribute to Van Cliburn thus ”  May we all leave a small fraction of such joy behind when we depart from this life.  Thank you Mr. Cliburn.  You will be missed but then in some ways you will always be with us.”

Amen .

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Monday was Presidents Day and, as usual ,  there were articles about whom we consider our best Presidents. Predictably , Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were at the top of the list for most of those who responded  but,  after those two , there were as many different opinions as there were responses. That isn’t surprising because most of us , me included, know very little about obscure Presidents like Chester Arthur , Millard Fillmore or John Tyler. We are very familiar with icons like Washington , Lincoln and FDR and with 20th century presidents ,but even there ,our political leanings color our choices . When George W. Bush left office , most Americans ranked him as one of the very worst Presidents we’ve ever had ; however , 1% of the respondents ranked him as the best president we’ve had , up there with Lincoln and Washington ! Another drawback of trying to rank the Presidents is that they belonged to different eras and faced vastly different political realities. It’s even more meaningless than trying to rank the best basketball players of all time .

On the other hand , rating the Presidents is a much more sensible exercise . Rather than trying to compare them to each other, it is more realistic to assess their performance and give them a letter grade , much as we do for students at the end of a school year. Of course , even this pre-supposes a familiarity and a deep study with the achievements and shortcomings of each of them . It is not something that anyone of us can undertake . Luckily , there is a recent book by Kenneth C. Davis which does just that . Davis is the author of a series of previous best sellers  , the Don’t Know Much About  series , the  latest title of which is Don’t Know Much About The American Presidents .

It is a very interesting book , written in an easy , almost conversational style . There is one chapter on each of our Presidents and a chapter typically consists of a brief biography , milestones , Fast Facts , quotes ( ” Presidential Voices”), an assessment of the White House years and a Final Judgment ( a Letter Grade).The following is a summary of the grades that Davis awards our Presidents .

A+  : George Washington , Abraham Lincoln , Theodore Roosevelt , Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan

A  : Thomas Jefferson , Andrew Jackson, James Polk,Woodrow Wilson , Harry S. Truman , Dwight Eisenhower

B :  John Adams , James Madison , James Monroe, Grover Cleveland , William McKinley **, John F. Kennedy** , Lyndon Baines Johnson , Bill Clinton

C : John Quincy Adams , Martin Van Buren , John Tyler, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester Arthur , Benjamin Henry Harrison , William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge , Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford , George  W. H. Bush

D : Ulysses S. Grant, Richard Nixon , Jimmy Carter

F : Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson , Warren Harding , George W.Bush

I : William Henry Harrison * , Zachary Taylor *, James Garfield **, Barack Obama

Legend :  * Died in office     ; ** Assassinated during his term of office.

Before I read each chapter , I assigned a letter grade to the President in question based on what I knew about him , which in some cases wasn’t much . As expected , I didn’t fare very well with the lesser known 19th century Presidents . however , I was surprised and , not a little happy , that my grades for the better known Presidents coincided almost exactly with those of the author’s.My thoughts :

1. My one major disagreement was about Ronald Reagan , whom I felt deserved a B , not an A. I fully agree that Reagan was the right man in the right place because when he came to the White House , America was at a low ebb. Americans’ confidence and self-image had been seriously battered by the hostage taking of American diplomats in Iran . Reagan made us feel good about ourselves again by projecting an image of power and decisiveness so sadly lacking in his predecessor , Jimmy Carter. He also was instrumental in bringing an end to the Cold War , though I give the greater credit to his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev.  True, he reined in domestic spending but his tax cuts were slanted heavily towards the rich and , in spite of all the rhetoric about the deficit , it actually ballooned during his years in power. Ironic , when you consider how, during his run for the presidency ,  he attacked Carter for being unable to rein in the deficit. He was an excellent communicator but , I feel , his rhetoric his  and image overshadowed. his actual accomplishments .

2. I wish the author had split up the B and C grades into B+ , B, B- , C+ , C and C – because I think the compartments are too broad at present.

3. I would have given JFK an I , instead of a B, because he did not spend a full term in the White House before he was so tragically assassinated. Barack Obama , now having completed one term , I’d assign him a B.

4. I was happy to see Dwight Eisenhower rated A. Like his predecessor , Harry Truman , he was under rated for the longest time and it is only recently that we have come to appreciate him . One of the things I didn’t know about him is that he played a large part in the development of our highway system . He was much more complex and activist than had been thought during his term of office and immediately after.

5. We , as a nation , are extraordinarily fortunate to have had such a large number of great Presidents , many of whom appeared on the scene at exactly the right time . George Washington at the birth of the nation , Abraham Lincoln when the nation was deeply split , FDR who led us out of the Great Depression , Harry Truman who had he difficult decisions to make about the A-bomb ….and the list goes on.

6. Over the years , I have met a surprising number of people who like to read about our Presidents and ,gradually, I have come to understand why . Reading this book has strengthened my desire to read more about our Presidents . I don’t have the stamina to read Robert Caro’s monumental tomes on LBJ , excellent though they may be . I want to know more but not that much .I know a fair bit about Washington , Lincoln , Truman and the modern Presidents who were in the White House during my lifetime . I think I’ll start by reading about Eisenhower and then go back in time to fill in the blanks in what I know of Theodore Roosevelt. It should be fascinating and enjoyable .

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This morning’s TV news had an item about NJ Governor Chris Christie considering a run for the White House . Looking at the TV footage of Gov. Christie , I wonder whether he has any realistic chance of becoming  President . My doubts arise because of his weight more than because of his politics . We Americans like our Presidents to look …um … Presidential and I don’t know that Gov. Christie fits the bill.

I remember reading a long time ago that the President of the U.S has two functions . In addition to carrying out his official duties , he has to look every inch the leader. Our first President , George Washington , fulfilled both roles admirably. His exemplary performance as President does not need to be repeated here but his looks are less well-known . Not at all like  the stiff portrait we see on the dollar bill , George Washington was in fact very regal looking . He is  described as being ” as straight as an Indian ,six feet two inches in his stockings, and weighing 175 pounds when he took his seat in the House of Burgesses in 1759. His frame is padded with well-developed muscles, indicating great strength. His bones and joints are large, as are his feet and hands. He is wide shouldered, neat waisted,  broad across the hips, and with rather long legs and arms. His head is well-shaped though not large, and  is gracefully poised on a superb neck. A large , straight rather than prominent nose; blue-gray penetrating eyes, which are widely separated and overhung by a heavy brow. His face is long rather than broad, with high round cheek bones, and terminates in a good firm chin. He has a clear though rather a colorless pale skin, which burns with the sun. A pleasing, benevolent, though a commanding countenance, dark brown hair, which he wears in a cue. His mouth is large and generally firmly closed . His features are regular and placid,though flexible and expressive of deep feeling when moved by emotion. In conversation he looks you full in the face, is deliberate, deferential and engaging. His voice is agreeable rather than strong. His demeanor at all times calm and dignified . His movements and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic .” In modern parlance , he would be described as a “hunk “or a “hottie”.

That was our first President ,and his successors , though not in his class , have generally been impressive looking specimens . To be sure , there have been some anomalies like the corpulent William Howard Taft , who weighed in excess of 300 lbs. In the modern era , every President beginning with Eisenhower has been tall and relatively slim . In fact, a height of 6 ft or more seems to be an absolute requisite. When Michael Dukakis ran for President , his campaign was undone when he posed for photos in a U.S army tank. At 5′-9″ he was not exactly a shrimp but he did not exactly inspire confidence . I know it is unfair but it does seem as if we judge our presidential candidates , at least partly , on the basis of their looks. An appreciable number of  women voters , I suppose , want their President  to be attractive while the men want him to look strong.

Governor Christie is certainly tall enough , but a hunk he is not . I am not sure if he weighs as much as President Taft did  but he is definitely very heavy. This should not matter at all to the electorate . As the New York Times critic , Frank Rich  said , what matters are a candidate’s politics , not his looks . I myself will not be voting for Christie , not because he is obese but because I don’t think he has done anything remarkable as Governor . I didn’t vote for him as Governor and I certainly don’t want to see him as President.

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The preface to ” Furious Love ‘ begins  by recalling  the time the gossip columnist Liz Smith was asked to name the five greatest love affairs of all time . She didn’t even have to think who would be atop the list .Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. That might seem like a stretch to many of us but, nevertheless ,  we would be hardpressed to name a more famous pair of lovers. In the second half of the 20th century , at least , there was no more famous couple than ” Dick and Liz”.

Furious Love by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger  is an account of the Burton -Taylor love affair from their first meeting on the sets of ” Cleopatra” ,right through their two marriages with their explosive quarrels and their innumerable reconciliations all the way to his premature death at age 58.It is a fascinating book , loaded with detail , and a must for movie fans. I am not much for movie star bios and I had only intended to skim the book but I quickly got absorbed in it and read it cover to cover.

The beginnings of the Taylor -Burton romance when they were filming “Cleopatra” are well known to all. In order to marry each other , they both had to ditch their respective spouses . The divorces were bitter in the extreme and Richard Burton was greatly affected by his split with Sybil Burton. They were both from Wales and his family adored her . Burton’s obsession with Elizabeth Taylor was too strong for him to resist but the guilt that he felt in divorcing Sybil continued to haunt him long afterwards.

The book then goes on to give us the backgrounds of the two principals . Richard Burton, it transpires , was actually born Richard Jenkins. We are told about his  impoverished family : his father, ” Dic ” Jenkins  who labored his whole life in the coal mines and was an inveterate drunk . His mother , Edith , who worked hard to put food on the table for her large brood and who died when Richard was only two. His beloved older sister Cis and his idolized older brother, Ifor. We learn of his childhood love of poetry and of the lilting Welsh tongue, how he cultivated his wonderful speaking voice and how ,at the age of 15, he was taken in by Philip Burton , a teacher , actor and director. P hilip Burton  became his legal guardian, gave him his name ,  and nurtured the talent that was even then apparent. Though recognized as a consummate stage actor , Richard Burton ‘s movie career was not remarkable until the filming of ” Cleopatra ” when his screen romance with Elizabeth Taylor carried over into real life and electified the world.

Elizabeth Taylor’s  childhood was quite different from that of Richard Burton. A household name as a child star ( think ” National Velvet” ) , she had led a pampered life and never wanted for anything. Everything she desired , she got . At the time ” Cleopatra ” was being filmed , she was still recovering from the death of her third husband , Mike Todd, a flamboyant personality who perished in an aircrash. She was attacted to forceful , domineering men in the image of Todd and she found one in the person of Richard Burton.

The book gives a detailed account of their romance , their peripatetic married life with her huge entourage in tow , their idyllic days in Puerto Vallarta during the shooting of  Night of the Iguana , their out of control drinking bouts , the collapse of their careers and the abiding attraction between them which would not allow them to live happily together and yet precluded a life apart. It is painful to read of those years when they seemingly had everything only to see it all slip away. How could a relationship between  two people who were so much in love ( or at least in lust ) break up so spectacularly ?

Sam Kashner , one of the authors of Furious Love , is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the book is written in true Vanity Fair style, offering a mass of detail and a plethora of anecdotes and allowing readers to come to their own conclusions.

It becomes clear that Dick and Liz , except for their twin obsessions  of sex and drink , had not all that much in common. Burton was , in spite of his lack of a formal education , an intellectual and a serious student of the craft of acting. One of his great pleasures was to curl up with a good book . Liz , however , though a better , more natural actress than her detractors are willing to concede, was a spoiled , greedy , self-absorbed  , shallow-minded  beauty. In the limelight since her teenage years , she had learnt to be private in public , something which Richard hadn’t. Consequently she was able to handle the white-hot glare of publicity that was trained on them after their marriage .He wasn’t. One is appalled at the lengths that fans go to . Once , when they were in Boston , a frenzied mob of fans rushed them as they were about to check into the Copley Plaza Hotel. ” Fans grabbed at the couple’s clothing and tore hair from Elizabeth’s head … ( she ) was being pulled in opposite directions at the same time . People were tugging at each arm and even crushed her face against the wall when she attempted to free herself.”  There is no doubt that the constant publicity played a part in wrecking their marriage . Jealousy, personal and professional , also seems to have been a contributing factor. For a long time , Richard seems to have chafed at the fact that his wife was more famous than he was and was earning more than him. For her part , Elizabeth was always suspicious and fearful that he might have a fling with one of his co-stars , a not unreasonable worry given that he was a notable cocksman with a roving eye. Less understandable is why he was so worried about her being promiscuous; she hadn’t given him any reason for concern in that regard. Perhaps it had to do with his perception that he was the junior partner in their marriage and the consequent  feelings of inadequacy. If only he had won an Oscar , it might have augmented his self-worth but though he was nominated for an Oscar six times , he lost out each time , the last time to John Wayne in True Grit . John Wayne !!

When a marriage fails , both parties must bear some part of the blame . In the case of Dick and Liz , it seems to me that Liz must bear  more of it than Dick. Though she undoubtedly loved him , she seems to have been curiously unsupportive when he was trying to cut down on his drinking , continuing to imbibe freely in his company rather than going on the wagon herself. Both of them had an astonishing capacity for drink. He once drank twenty-three shots of tequila in a single evening and, late in his career, was polishing off three bottles of vodka a day . She was able to handle drink better though she often matched him drink for drink. What is unfathomable is that while this was happening they didn’t see what it was doing to their careers and to their health.

The book is not only about Dick and Liz . There are a host of bit players in the story of their marriage and the authors tell us stories  about Joe Mankiewicz who directed them in ” Cleopatra”, Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds,Ava Gardner, Montgomery Clift , Jack Warner, Rex Harrison and a host of others. There are also vignettes of the life the  pair led aboard their luxurious yacht Kalizma  and at their Swiss Chalet. It is fascinating to read about their excesses and the way in which they spent their money . One wishes however that the authors had been a bit more selective in their choice of detail . If the book had been a little less detailed , it  could have been thirty or forty pages shorter and all the better for it .

Furious Love . By Sam Kasner and Nancy Schoenberger , Harper Collins , New York ( 2010). $27.99.

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There are some news stories which sound like hoaxes but then you find out that they’re true.

When I first heard about the Foreign Accent Syndrome , it sounded like a joke . As a matter of  fact , it is a rare medical condition, the side effect of severe brain injury resulting from trauma or stroke. People suffering from this syndrome suddenly find themselves talking in a foreign accent. An exceedingly rare phenomenon, less than 60 cases of the syndrome have been reported worldwide. 

It was first identified during the closing days of World War II ; a Norwegian woman who was hit on the head by shrapnel woke up from her coma speaking with a German accent. As can easily be imagined , she was ostracized by her neighbors.

A typical case is that of Bronwyn Fox (59), a New Zealand woman from Invercargill on the South Island, who has suffered from multiple sclerosis for the past 25 years. Two years ago she suddenly found herself speaking in an accent which she later identified as Welsh. This was very strange since , inspite of her Welsh first name, she has never been to Wales. Hospital tests showed that she had developed two lesions in her brain probably triggering the change in her accent. Her family has adjusted to her new accent and her husband even said it makes a boring day interesting.However, the Welsh accent also has it’s drawbacks.When Bronwyn Fox calls friends who haven’t heard from her in awhile, they cant believe it’s really her and they hang up the phone. Bronwyn says ” My family have grown used to it but the worst thing is friends I haven’t seen in a long time. If they ring me up, they don’t believe it’s me on the phone. Even my best friend from Christchurch hung up on me.” 

Several of these FAS cases have been reported in England. In 2006, a woman from Coventry was recovering from a stroke when she began speaking with a Jamaican accent.In 2007, Chris Gregory ( 30) was recovering from surgery to correct the life threatening rupture of a blood vessel in his brain . While still in his hospital bed at Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital, he burst into a rousing version of the popular Irish ballad ” Danny Boy” and began speaking in an Irish brogue much to the consternation of the nurses and his family. His wife said ” His Yorkshire accent disappeared completely and he was talking like an Irishman all the time. ” Gregory  has since recovered his previous speech patterns and teases his wife that she should have recorded him singing ‘Danny Boy ‘ ! Then there’s Sarah Colville (35) of Devon , England who suffers from migraines. Early this year, she suddenly found herself speaking with a Chinese accent after a particularly severe headache. It must have made for some interesting situations !  

 There is even a case of FAS in America .Three years ago, Robin Vanderlip , a single mother of two, was attending a 4-H conference in Chevy Chase MD. when she fell backwards down a flight of stairs and wound up in hospital. She was unable to speak for awhile , but when she regained her speech she found she had acquired a Russian accent.  She is now suing the conference organizers for a million dollars claiming that she is  mortified to go out in public  now and it’s their fault because a  “dysfunctional handrail” was partly responsible for her fall.

I guess a million dollars should make  things all right again.

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The recent locker-room incident involving Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton of the NBA’s Washington Wizards has justly been condemned by many commentators. For those of you who are not sports fans , this , in brief, is what happened: Arenas, a star guard, and Crittenton, a little -used reserve ,had  issues with each other. Arenas allegedly brought four , unloaded, guns to the Wizard locker-room and left them in front of Crittenton’s locker with a note that said ” Take your pick.” Crittenton responded by pulling  out a pistol of his own  and loading  it with a clip. Thankfully, the incident did not go any further.

 One wag reminds us that the Washington Wizards were formerly known as the Washington Bullets and another joker says the team should be called the Washington Guns and Bullets. But this is no laughing matter.  Over the years, there have been a number of unsavory incidents involving pro athletes and this is merely the latest, if potentially the most serious.The NBA has suspended Arenas indefinitelywithout pay  while it continues to investigate  the incident. Crittenton meanwhile denies that anything  happened .

Today’s Washington Post features a column headlined ” Celebrities and athletes offer a Poor example on Guns and Violence .”Here are some  excerpts.   Can you guess who wrote these words ? Hint: It’s a well known black activist.

Guns are not a joke. Violence and recklessness continue to be treated as acceptable and even heroic behavior by part of our society……

I also feel a keen sense of guilt that black leaders have not raised our voices more dramatically. If the assailants in these incidents had been white, we would have been marching, but because this is same-race behavior, we shake our heads, say a few words and allow it to continue.

None of us — not the government, private industry, clergy, civil rights leaders or parents — has responded with the needed urgency. It is a crisis that youth today think they have more in common with Scarface than with Martin Luther King Jr., or look up to mobsters more than to Malcolm X. All of us must deal with the romanticizing of gunplay and denounce the idea that it is acceptable to resolve differences with destructive behavior. Our society cannot continue to reward commercial success while telling people that their private misdeeds have nothing to do with their public images. We must have and enforce a standard for American heroes.”

I agree with everything that he writes except the last sentence. I don’t consider any pro athlete a hero. But I digress.

The column was written by Al Sharpton! Al Sharpton !! I still cannot quite believe it. After all , this is the same Al Sharpton who has been notorious for playing the politics of race , most infamous for pushing the Tawana Brawley case even after it was widely conceded to be a fraud. The same Al Sharpton who has been a self-seeking publicity hound during his entire career.

At a time when some commentators are calling this a symptom of a societal problem and characterizing Arenas as ” immature”, I’m glad to see that Sharpton  is stepping up to the plate and saying what needs to be said. Bill Cosby tried to do the same some years ago and ran into a firestorm of criticism . I hope that this time these remarks are seen as constructive and not derogatory. Kudos to Sharpton for saying the right things.

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About 25 years ago, an elderly gentleman came to my office to ask why his product was no longer on our approved list. When he handed me his business card, I noticed that his name ( Kellogg) was the same as that of the manufacturer of the product.When I remarked upon the “coincidence”, he replied that it was not a coincidence and that he himself had started the company some 50 years earlier ! Futher conversation revealed that he was 94 years old and still went to the office daily though he had reduced his responsibilities. Unbelievable ! He was nattily dressed ,sharp as a tack and looked like a man 25 or 30 years younger.He passed away a few months later after a long, productive life, doing the things he wanted to do right till the very end.

As we grow older, such stories are a source of inspiration since that is what we would wish for ourselves…to be healthy, active and productive as long as we live. There are not a few such examples. For instance, the Australian writer Jon Cleary ( author of the Scobie Malone mysteries) and champion jockey turned mystery writer Dick Francis  have continued to write well into their eighties. Then there is the Manhattan socialite, active in charity work , whose name I can’t recall but who , when she turned 80, wrote an article about how the previous 10 years were the best of her life. Ten years later, when she turned 90, she wrote another article about how her eighties were even better !

However the best role model for those interested in living long , productive lives is a Japanese physician Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara who is still practising , though he is 97 going on 98.He sees patients at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo ,teaches at St.Luke’s College of Nursing and is on the Board of Trustees of both institutions. Since the age of 75, he has published 150 books , one of which , ” Living Long ,Living Good” , has sold more than 1.2 million copies.These are some of his precepts for a long and healthy life:

Energy comes from feeling good, not eating well or sleeping a lot. When children are having fun, they often forget to eat or sleep. As adults , we should keep the same attitude.

If you would live long, control your weight. There are no overweight old people ! For breakfast, Dr. Hinohara has coffee, a glass of milk and some orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil added to it. Lunch is milk and cookies — or nothing, if he is busy. Dinner is veggies, a bit of fish and rice and , twice a week, 100 grams of lean meat.

Always plan ahead. Keep busy.Dr. Hinohara’s schedule is all booked up until 2014 !

No need to ever retire but, if you must, put it off as long as you can.The retirement age of 65 was set earlier when people did not live much beyond it.

Share what you know. The Doctor gives some 150 lectures a year, speaking for 60 minutes to 90 minutes , standing , to stay strong. Sometimes he addresses 100 elementary school kids  and  other times , up to 4500 business people.

To stay healthy, always take the stairs and carry your own stuff. The doctor himself takes the stairs two at a time !

Doctors can’t cure everyone. If a doctor recommends you take a test or have some surgery, ask him if he would have his spouse or children have the same procedure.

Pain is mysterious; having fun is the best way to forget it. When a child with a toothache gets absorbed in a game, he forgets his pain. You can be the same way.

Don’t be crazy about amassing material things. Remember, you don’t know when your number is up and you can’t take it with you.

 Science alone can’t cure or help people. Science lumps us all together, but illness is individual. Each person is unique, and diseases are connected to their hearts. To know the illness and help people, we need liberal and visual arts, not just medical ones.

Find a role model and aim to achieve even more than they could ever do. Dr. Hinohara”s father was one of his heroes.When he is stumped, he asks himself how they would deal with the problem.

It’s wonderful to live long. Dr. Hinohara says “Until one is 60 years old, it is easy to work for one’s family and to meet one’s goals. But in our later years, we should strive to contribute to society.” Since the age of 65, he has  worked as a volunteer and still puts in 18 hours, seven days a week and loves every minute of it.

Dr. Hinohara says that one of his inspirations is Robert Browning’s poem ” Abt Vogler”, which his father used to read to him.” It encourages us to make big art, not small scribbles. It says to try to draw a circle so huge that we can never finish it while we are alive. All we can see is an arch: the rest is beyond our vision but it is there in the distance.”

So , there you have it , Dr. Hinohara’s  secrets to a long and healthy life. No doubt, we have heard many of these same precepts uttered by others. One thing which was somewhat different was the importance that Dr. Hinohara attaches to having fun. The difficulty lies in being able to follow these rules on a consistent basis. For one thing , I know that I , as a foodie , would never be able to stick to such a spartan diet , even for a week! Ah, well, I guess I’ll have to settle for living to age 80 !

( Much of the information about Dr. Hinohara was taken from an article by Judith Kawaguchi that appeared in the Japan Times.)

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