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Travel Feature

Autumn Hosannas In New York City

Autumn has come to New York at last. For a reason that is as yet unknown, The City's trees change color far later than the surrounding areas. Generally, while leaves in Vermont or South  'Jersey turn all sorts of colors, here in Manhattan they generally just turn yellow then brown before falling off and mucking up the sidewalk.

I've always felt cheated by this, for this time of year is the Plant kingdom's chance to party, and the riot of color can be truly breathtaking. The damn problem is that one has to get all the way to the outer suburbs to even get a really good view. But there's really no choice in the matter. All we get to look forward to is the decorative cabbage around the end of December.

If done right, leaf watching can be as a rewarding experience as amateur astronomy, except the travel expenses are greater. They start turning in Hudson Bay near the Arctic in the middle of August and end during Christmas time in mid-Florida. Peak color is a difficult proposition to predict due to global warming, but if you manage to hit it just right, the rewards are amazing.

The reason this happens is that trees have feelings. Not feelings as we know them, but they can sense changes in temperature and the like, and when the water in the ground or the air reaches a certain temperature for a certain length of time, then they know it's time to stop drinking the sunlight and get ready for bed. How they figure this out will probably remain a mystery for decades to come.

Each tree is an individual, and they start pulling the chloroplasts, that's how they feed themselves, out of their leaves at different rates depending on whether they're lazy or hungry or their roots are too dry. Light and shade have their effect too, sometimes a tree would pull the chloroplasts out of just the areas of the leaves that are shaded by other trees and leave the rest green for a bit longer to drink more sun while it lasts. That requires some really detailed control, which is pretty amazing for something that doesn't have the semblance of a brain or nervous system!

Color depends on the species and how individual trees are feeling at any given moment. Evergreens, obviously don't shed their leaves at any particular time, and when they do, they just gulp the green stuff and sugar down quickly into their trunks and let the things turn quickly brown while new needles grow in to replace them.

Ginkgoes, those bizarre living fossils descended from the ancestors of Pine clan, turn yellow from the edges inward, and for the most part just abandon the chlorophyll in the leaves when they fall to the ground. Oaks generally turn lighter, but the star of the show is the sugar maple.

Maple trees produce prodigious amounts of sugar, which, if the tree decides to leave it there after it drinks up it's chlorophyll first turns the leaves bright red. Empty leaves are yellow, thanks to a pigment called from xanthophyll so as the tree drinks up the sugar the leaves turn lighter and lighter shades of orange (some species have carotene, which makes carrots orange in their leave, too).

Sometimes a single Maple will be a rainbow of color, going through two thirds of the spectrum. Sumac Ivy acts this way too, and White Ash turns purple, which is kind of perverse but adds to the effect.

Unfortunately, the only places the Native New Yorker can see get a good look are in Central, Inwood and Prospect Parks and the best views are limited, timewise. But now seems to be the time, so go for it.

Stingray City: One View of Grand Cayman

It's 6:30 am and though the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort's beds are so comfortable that you and your love can't imagine ever leaving them, the bright sun, fresh ocean air and hunger for a hearty breakfast from the poolside beckons you to wake and get out to enjoy the day
 The back of Captain Marvin's boat
After about an hour spent getting your asses in gear, the two of you head down to The Red Parrot Restaurant where you scarf down some breakfast cereal and another cup of coffee before heading over to the lobby [filler] where the van from Captain Marvin's tours picks the two of you up for the day's expedition.
The quick tour of the palatial hotels on Seven Mile Beach -- which includes such great ones as Britannia Villas  and Morritt's Tortuga Club and Resort -- before heading to the dock at the residential district of the northern peninsula for a day of snorkeling in the gorgeous rich blue waters of the famous North Sound.
Captain Marvin is legendary on Grand Cayman. He's been taking people around since 1951 and claims to be over 90 years old, and there's no one to dispute this.  He was the person who first tamed the wild stingray back in the 1960s. The stingrays are tame in these parts and after a short wander around a shallow reef a serious snorkeler can find anything from the fish, the worms to the urchins in the coral reefs
The urchins are what you really have to look out for, since some species are poisonous. The fish range from the tiny wrasses to the 10 foot long barracudas, the coolest fish in the sea. Zipping around the coral heads are parrot fish, squirrel fish and other species. there are the polychete worms, which look like tiny fur trees, they escape back into their tubes when you put your finger too close. After this short zoological jaunt, it's time to head over to "Stingray City."
Stingray City is a sandbar halfway between the eastern shore of Seven Mile Beach and Rum Point on the opposite shore— about three feet between the sandy bottom and the surface. No swimming necessary, just jump off the boat and wait a couple of minutes until you get attacked.
Getting attacked by a shark is usually a bad thing, but not this time. This is what thousands of people come here for. First a couple, then tens and maybe up to a hundred, come flapping their "wings" around the sand bar and rubbing against various part of your body. Take a dead squid provided by one of the crew, and they will eat out of your hand. They don't have teeth, so you can't get bit, and the sting is at the base of the tail on the top of the body, so it's never near you. The beasties tickle, and the rays are something like a cross between Portobello mushrooms and pussy cats, strange but true.
While tourists frolic with these denizens of the deep, some of the crew has been spear-fishing and collecting conches for the lunch at the Kiebo Yacht Club over at Rum Point, where a skilled chef will quickly convert these denizens of the deep into a delicious meal. Conch fritters are the French fries of the Caribbean, and when done right are heavenly.
While eating off of paper plates on a wooden picnic table may not seem particularly luxurious, the food served on them most certainly is. This is a great place for conversation with both the people from the boat or the club's residents, shooting the breeze with the velvety sand between your toes is just the thing. For what is something you have to decide for yourself.
After half an hour of extreme digestion, it's farewell to Rum Point and another reef. this one is rather deep and near the place where the bay meets the Caribbean Sea. Here there are a greater variety of fish and other sealife than before, and it's just like the stuff you see on Animal Planet. Then it's time to go home to the Mariott and a nice long nap.
Good for the next day is the Atlantis Adventures' submarine. The Caymans are located on the southernmost edge of Cuba's "continental shelf" and while the area in the bay is perfect for snorkeling, the outer coast soon falls off into a miles-long wall, where coral reefs near the surface turn into something entirely different. Unfortunately, you don't  have a PADI certification you can't go scuba diving, so this is actually a rather good alternative. A hundred feet down in a nice dry environment is actually pretty good.

Venice, the Weird City of italy

Among the weirdest cities in the world, Venice, Italy, must rank be up there in the top five. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but the place is so completely unlike anywhere else in the world that it can't be called anything else but very strange.

Other cities have canals. Both Amsterdam and Stockholm are strewn with canals close to the water’s edge, but they have streets, trams and other forms of mass transportation, which make those towns seem relatively normal. Also, while they have museums, they are not, museums themselves. Venice, having lost its independence and its livelihood over two centuries ago, is.

The “serene republic” lasted a thousand years and a century before being actually invaded for the first time by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. The reason for this was because of its intense weirdness. It’s a bunch of islands in the middle of a lagoon, connected by a series of bridges. Here, it developed a unique culture and set for the to build an empire which ruled over the islands of what are now Croatia and Greece, trading with the Byzantine and later, various Moslem empires in the east to become the cultural portal of the western world during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Even as new trade routes made Venice less lucrative, the serene Republic continued to thrive, attracting artists and architects, poets and visionaries. But that’s all gone now…

When the French finally abolished the old Republic, they destroyed its reason for being, stole its art, and chiseled out many of its ancient symbols from the walls. When the Napoleonic wars were over in 1815, it was decided to give the city to the Austrians, After a couple of decades of poverty and the revenge of it’s ancient enemies, the Venetians decided to make the place over into a tourist trap.

Which is what it has been ever since.

If you get off in either the Point de Roma, where there’s a bus station and a few cars, or the train station on the next island over, you will notice a change once you get to the Vaperetto, or waterbus, Station. With a few exceptions, all the buildings are really old. Not that they actually all are, but law protects the weirdness of the place and it’s very strict.

 The Medieval and Renaissance architectural designs are faithfully recreated on the facades of many a new Palazzo. Tourism is all that the city has left, and the glory of this ancient Disneyland must be fossilized. When the great bell tower, which is right in the middle of St. Mark’s square mysteriously and suddenly disintegrated 998 years after it was built, it was replaced by an exact replica (well, not exactly exact, there’s an elevator now) and with a few exceptions like the train station, this dictum of architectural ultra-conservatism has been scrupulously followed.

And that brings us to The Gardens of the Biennale, where a grand art fair has been taking place every other year since 1895 as a way, naturally, to attract tourists. As a park on the eastern edge of town, the various countries that have participated over the years have been allowed to set up permanent pavilions where hundred of temporary exhibitions take place. This goes for the off years as well, why waste valuable space, right? But the big show is in odd years.

The Gardens aren’t the only place for exhibits, there’s a place called the Arsenal, where they have some too, and finally, on the Lido, which is a large island nearby with some pretty nice beaches, is where the film festival takes place every August and September. More on that later…

The Biennale’s theme last time was; “Think With Your Senses, Feel with Your Mind.”  Which is another way of saying “This is all bullshit! Give us your eight euros and get out of my face.” Granted, not all of the works shown last time  sucked. There were some excellent works to seen, particularly Austria’s Herbert Brandl's, who’s an abstract expressionist, or Svetlana Ostopovici's, who’s more realistic, then there’s lots of other stuff both interesting and “interesting.” Then there’s lots of what I like to call “con art” in which some talent-less jerks with sharp tongues con certain curators into putting the most godawful crap up, from anti-Semitic graffiti to give-away posters by California artist Felix Gonzalez Torrez, one of which symbolizes the end of art by having a black rectangular frame of nothing

Much of the work shown is heavily influenced by advertising and comics, which is where, after all most of the money for creativity is coming for nowadays, but for the most part, there’s nothing really new here, just inarticulate recycling of concepts that have been floating around for the better part of half a century. Granted, I didn’t have the time to give everything more than a cursory look. The Biennale, like the city that surrounds it, requires far more than the day or two most people give it.

Due to the big show, the Biennale’s film department has been rather tardy with the printing of the posters and programs for their big film festival, which was supposed to start in only two weeks. The oldest of Europe’s many film festivals, Venice’s dates back to 1935, and, with the natural break for World War II, had been giving out it’s prestigious “Golden Lion” awards ever since. Taking place on the Lido, where there are fewer architectural restrictions and an actual beach for beautiful women to parade around in their bikinis. This year, as in most, there’s an eclectic selection of Hollywood, Independent, and European government sponsored films, which are going to start generating buzz for various awards like the Oscars and the Golden Globes.

If you only have a day or two, just go to St. Mark’s square and hang out for a while, and go left towards the Rialto Bridge in the direction of the train station. Then head west along the Grand Canal, stopping at various churches to look at the art, which, as every good agnostic or atheist knows, is the only saving grace the Catholic Church has ever had. You will also notice that there are no streets, just sidewalks and canals, and a very strange and beautiful landscape.

Image: Venice (Source:


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