1. WE’LL FINALLY DISCOVER WHO THE MONA LISA WAS.
The identity of Mona Lisa has long been a mystery. Some think Leonardo da Vinci modeled his masterpiece on his mother; others, on a secret male lover. In fact, one art historian identified her just a few decades after the painting was completed as Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy cloth merchant who commissioned the piece to a then-broke da Vinci. (The fact that the artist named his work La Gioconda was a big clue.) Now, thanks to radiocarbon dating, this hunch may finally be confirmed. Researchers believe they may have found Gherardini’s remains in a convent in Florence. If the carbon-14 tests confirm that it’s her, scientists will also do DNA tests to determine the color of her eyes, skin, and hair. With that information, they’ll be able to confirm if she is the world’s most famous half-smiler.
Adding complimentary flavors to a chocolate cocktail makes it a bit more more interesting than simply drinking spiked chocolate. Citrus is a wonderful option. The tequila and orange juice are natural compliments to chocolate and by adding just a minute amount of both orange and lime, the drink is taken to another level.
For the chocolate liqueur, I like to indulge with the creamiest, most chocolatey spirit that I can find and usually that is Godiva, though a good dark creme de cacao like Bols is excellent as well. A creamy white chocolate liqueur will work wonders here also because it plays nicely against the lime.
The finishing touch is the rim, of course, and I enjoy making this with a 50/50 cocoa sugar. Place your margarita glass in the freezer for a few minutes, allowing it to get nice and frosty. Take it out and swirl chocolate syrup inside, then place it back in the freezer while you blend the drink. (Your glass will be cold and the swirls will suspend on the sides and slowly melt into the drink.) A last pretty idea is to add just a few shavings of dark chocolate on top of the drink.
Oh, yeah. Dark chocolate and tequila. Be still, my heart.
- 2 ounces blanco tequila
- 1 ounce chocolate liqueur
- 1 ounce cream or half and half
- Splash of fresh orange juice
- Splash of fresh lime juice
- Dash of chocolate bitters
- Sugar and cocoa powder for rimming
- Shaved chocolate for garnish
Rim a chilled margarita glass with a 1:1 mixture of sugar and cocoa powder. Pour the liquors, juices, and bitters into a blender with 1 cup of ice. Blend until smooth. Pour into the prepared glass. Top with chocolate shavings.
We all know the feeling of desperately needing to unwind. But sometimes real relaxation requires a creative approach.
It’s four days into your vacation and you still haven’t been able to let go: You’re fretting about your end-of-month reports, answering e-mails from coworkers, and now your boss wants to know if she can conference you in on a call tomorrow. (You know they do this.)
Not that you really need another thing to worry about, but being unable to unwind can be dangerous. Chronic stress is like having your engine in overdrive all the time. It can even damage DNA. Relaxation is crucial for overall health and longevity.
So how do you get real rest before sliding your feet back under the desk in a week or two? One good way to start is to shut down the laptop and silence your phone. You may want to mix in meditation or yoga—you’ve probably heard of the numerous studies demonstrating how these activities can help you unwind. But if you’re looking for a new approach, the options below may deliver a much-needed break.
1. Indulge your interests. Sometimes the best way to hop off the stress treadmill is to engage your brain fully in something you enjoy. Cooking can occupy your mind and be relaxing at the same time and culinary vacations make a good thing even better. The International Kitchen offers them in Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Portugal, the Caribbean, Mexico and Morocco. You can stay three to seven nights and cook alongside notable local chefs (TheInternationalKitchen.com).
Cooking isn’t your thing? I bet there’s a tequila class somewhere.
Consider courses in massage, dance, art: Artista Creative Safaris for women offers three-day courses in painting and printmaking in Carmel, California. The expert instruction is served up with hors d’oeuvres and beverages. Check it out at ArtistaCreative.com.
2. Step into a different world. You can completely disconnect from life’s demands at any one of the hundreds of monasteries across the country. Whether you sign up for a Zen retreat or visit a Benedictine order, you’re guaranteed a few days of simple living, quiet and solitude. “We open our doors to anyone,” says Benedictine Sister Josie Sanchez, of the Benet Hill Monastery in Colorado Springs (BenetHillMonastery.org). “And if a person can’t afford the $50 per night fee for accommodations and food, they can work around the property,” she says. (OSB.org/Retreats lists Benedictine retreats in North America and Europe.) Zen monasteries and centers offer retreats that can run $300 to $600 a week. Find options around the United States at LivingCompassion.org/Calendar.html.
3. Retrain your brain. If relaxing is seriously difficult for you – have you met my boss? – you might want to try neurofeedback—using readings of brain energy to teach your mind to unwind. (There are neurofeedback practitioners all over the United States. For a directory, go to EEGInfo.com.) You’ll be hooked up to an EEG—a device that measures brain activity through electrodes attached to your scalp. Then, using visual and auditory cues such as a video game, you’ll train yourself to regulate your brain to help you slow down. (For example, when your brain waves start making a race car speed up, it means you’re learning how to move into a more relaxed state.) “Over time a client learns how to achieve the desired state without the visual feedback,” says Martin Batty, who has used the method with success in clinical studies (though he notes that the technique is still being studied and more research is needed to help determine its long-term efficacy).
One company with centers around the world is Brain State Technologies (BrainStateTech.com). A set of 10 sessions could cost $1,200 to $4,000, depending on the level of services and the location. But once you’ve balanced your brain, you’ll achieve the same relaxed state you get after taking a vacation and the effects can last a lifetime.”
I’m thinking about that tequila class.
Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg, published June 2015. A Prohibition bad – girl turned good. This read is historical fiction and is a combination of Joseph Mitchell’s 1940 New Yorker profile, interviews of neighbors and friends, diary excerpts and the author’s signature wit. (Mazie’s diary was discovered by a documentarian 90 years after she started it.)
Mazie Phillips Gordon is a true piece of New York City history, the owner and proprietor of the Venice Theater and self-appointed guardian of the Bowery homeless. She sits in her ticket cage for up to 14 hours a day and she sees it all. After the crash in ’29, she saw a lot more. Mazie dispenses nickels, dimes, soap bars and a lot of lip. She checks on the men sleeping on the sidewalks; many she knows, many she’s loved. Mazie is the beating heart of the Lower East Side. Somebody loved them once and that’s all you need to know.
There are wonderful one liners in Saint Mazie. Attenberg throws her wit around and it’s delightful. Mazie’s sister, Rosie, loves the gypsies and meets with them frequently to hear of her future. Rosie never really likes her home and insists on moving every 6 months. Jeanie, Mazie’s younger sister, is a cabaret dancer. And Mazie? She’s just bawdy and bighearted.
Historical fiction can be a challenge. Many times the subject has been written about repeatedly. What’s the point of trying to fictionalize Virginia Woolf or Zelda Fitzgerald when they’ve already told their own stories in their own distinct voices? Anyway, Attenberg avoids such a label by going into the why. Saint Mazie was a New York Times Book Review’s Editor’s Choice in June. Read it and you’ll know why I give it 5 margaritas in the Cool Mona rating system.
I have always loved Amy Shearn’s photos and the meaning that she applies to them.
In Times Square at Midnight
With all its flash and chaos, Times Square is not where most of us New Yorkers would think to look for a loving affirmation. Artist Tracy Emin changed that in February of 2013, when she created a series of neon hearts and love notes that appeared on 15 digital billboards.
Keep your eyes open.
No surprise on 2 counts. 1) The artist, Peregrine Church, is actually a 21 year old magician, someone who likes to see things come and go, and 2) his art began in Seattle, an area known for the drizzly stuff.
His stenciled messages are only visible when it’s wet outside. Church likes to create novel experiences that will jar people out of their routines. It’s just that it’s hard to get people to even notice; few people glance down.
Church got the idea to create his rain-activated messages from a viral video promoting “super hydrophobic coatings” that can be sprayed on anything. It got him thinking about using the waterproof spray to write or draw something on a sidewalk. The part of the concrete he sprays stays dry and light-colored in the rain, but everything else gets darker as it gets wet. The contrast creates the image. (He makes a point of using non-toxic sprays, biodegradable, and won’t make the sidewalk slippery.)
You can see the phrase “WORRY is a MISUSE of the IMAGINATION” on a sidewalk in Belltown. Another says, “ATTENTION: GROUND IS NOW LAVA.” Dry spots are depicted nearby so you can jump to safety. Church describes one more in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood: “There’s like a lilypad pond with all these lilypads and frogs hopping between them.”
The artist himself doesn’t actually like the rain. But, if you’re trying to cheer people up, you can’t very well do it when they’re already happy.
He’s not so worried about an arrest, rather in getting people to see what he has created for them. He jokes about stenciling a message that says, “Thanks for being observant.”
I walk over this patch of road every day, but it was only on Valentine’s Day (I kid you not) that I noticed this plaintive little declaration.