Sunday, November 23, 2014

My London, November, 2014

Exactly one day after I turned 68, I fled home for a few days in London visiting my son and his new wife. Working there for most of a three month jaunt, I could see that they were both nearly ready to come home to the sun and great weather of San Diego county - not to mention their great house.  But over the next two days, I clocked in 61,382 steps (fitbit) which equates to just under 29 miles of walking on a private tour (daughter-in-law and son) of London that was unforgettable. Indeed, I had forgotten what a charming, diverse, friendly, warm and exciting city London was.  What I didn't forget from my previous trips was the wet and chilly London weather. Nevertheless, on this trip, the cool air was a plus, pumping energy into the day's activity, making the long knee-swelling journey more than just tolerable.  Thank God for celebrex! 
  • The New: Some amazingly beautiful and eclectic buildings reach for the heavens.....
  • The Old: Minus the usual sites like Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street, etc which I avoided shooting pics of
  • The very old: the wall (2.5 meters thick) built by the Romans to enclose the city then called Londinium
  • And a bit of family.....

Named the Shard, this building was very close to the flat
that my son was assigned for his job in London
The top of the Shard to show you that it really resembles
a shard of glass.  It truly looks painful up there, glad I'm 
afraid of heights.
The Lloyds of London Building - it looks like a 
set for a science fiction movie, not a world renowned
insurance company.
This building is affectionately referred to as the "Walkie Talkie".
God only knows how the architects made this oddly shapen 
building happen
The Old Globe Theatre - Shakespeare.
the happily married couple
Proof for the value of Just for Men
Yes, they thankfully have Greek Restaurants in London, and Bouzouki players 
to boot!
The famous Tower of London
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge in full
The London Eye lit up at night riding the River Thames
with a faint view of Big Ben to the far right courtesy of the
inferior camera in my iphone 6.
St Paul's Cathedral in the background

St Paul's Cathedral in the background.  Picture taken on the Millennium Bridge
crossing the river Thames  
The wall referred to above
The Romans made things to last

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Divino Ritmo Dance 6th Annual Grand Ball – Prelude – A Professional Show You Won’t Want to Miss!

Sitting indoors on a cold and wet day in London, far away from home, the last thing on my mind was the Divino Ritmo 6th Annual Ball scheduled for December 6th…..except for the fact that, on my return to paradise, I will only have a few days to recover from my complicated travel itinerary, adjust to 10 time zone changes, refresh and practice my showcase dance routine with Yanna, and get my body in gear to perform to the best of my ability without faltering. 

Looking forward to this year’s event because of the professional dance show and the coaching session with our guest professional dancers, Artem Plakhotnyi & Inna Berlizyeva.

Having done my share of travelling this year including several dance competitions, I have probably had more opportunity to observe the professional dance competitions evening sessions than most Hawaii dancers.  It is for this reason that I highly recommend that anyone in Hawaii that is truly interested in experiencing a wonderful performance in International Standard come to this year’s showcase.  It’s not too late!

Artem and Inna dance with a special flair that is fluid and confident.  Already a beautiful couple by any standard, their poise and acrobatic extension of their frames distinguish them from many others not so flexible or gifted.  Like other professionals, they flow effortlessly in unison on the dance floor, but in addition, they possess a unique captivating charm and grace that is instantly appealing, unmistakable and captivating, forcing ones eyes to follow their every movement. 

The Honolulu dance community has invited numerous professional dancers over the years to showcase their talents.  Notwithstanding past performances, which were excellent and rewarding, I believe that this couple has exceptional skills that must be witnessed.  Unlike past performances where the memory of the performance will wax and wane with time, this one will be instantly and permanently imprinted into your cerebral circuitry.  Don't miss out on this opportunity.  You won't regret it!  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

People Eat’in or Eat’in People

Maybe its because I was flying to the West Coast the other night on a red-eye after being upgraded from an economy fare, when I could not turn down the “snack” that was offered at close to 11pm.  It was a ham sandwich with melted cheese that immediately brought back the smell, taste and memory of the hundreds of hoagie subs that I have consumed in my former years of youthful gluttonous abandon.   It truly was delicious but my stomach was unaccustomed to eating that late.  It immediately resulted in gastric distention, and a feeling of intense guilt for having been too weak to turn down the offer of food at so late in the evening, in favor of the obvious healthier choice.  I pictured myself gaining another two pounds that night while adding another glob of fat around my waste that would be difficult to remove.  I rubbed my tummy with my hand searching for evidence to disprove my worst fears.

I arrived in LA early in the morning, after an unsettling attempt to catch a few hours of sleep, struggling to find a comfortable position in the typically uncomfortable trans pacific Delta aircraft.   I hobbled off of the plane in search of the next leg of my travel.  It was just after 5AM and there was an hour to spare before my next flight.  The Delta terminal in the LAX airport is not my favorite but this morning it was particularly lively, bustling with youth and young families, coming and going from all directions like an ant colony.  While it no longer surprises me that virtually everyone….including myself….was “wearing” their iPhone, it was indeed surprising to see……soooo many folks eating.  They were eating at the overpriced cafes and unfriendly food stands, they were eating seated at the gate and they were eating walking to the gate.  I took a rough estimate and figured about a third of those there were eating something.  My God, this was 5:30AM!

Wasting more time in the terminal, my eyes were drawn to a large new food shop, euphemistically called the Farmers Market.  Ostensibly situated there to appeal to those healthier-minded travelers, I figured it was worth a few minutes of my time to check it out.  That’s when I found it!

The $18 sandwich!  Airport concessions are no longer robbing you, they are raping you!  This sandwich or more accurately a croissant enclosing some unknown buried treasure, the contents of which were invisible despite the clear cellophane packaging.  It was sitting there, shameless, stacked neatly, brother to brother in the refrigerated display.  Indeed, the mark up must be astonishing – the contents of the sandwich could not be worth more than a $1 by any imagination. 

Anyway, the above comments are only the stimulus to what I really want to say.  It is not about my guilty hoagie, it’s not about the airport, or the cost of food at the airport, it’s about food in general and the ubiquitous preoccupation and obsession with eating in the Americas.  

Truly, too much time is spent eating too much food in too many places. The center of life’s focus for so many of us, is what next to put in our mouths.  And there are too many food places…. in too many places (cities) to make this preoccupation a reality. 

And it makes me wonder whether what I observed at the airport that inauspicious morning was people eating or was it eating people……meaning the overarching nature of man is his insatiable drive to consume food.  

I didn’t mean for eating people to mean literally eating people where “eating” is intended as an action (verb), but rather to describe the nature of many as “eating” (adjective). In any case, I’ll let the ambiguity stand. Bon appetit! 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Kiwi Classic Dance Competition - 2015

Hey, come one come all to the Capezio Kiwi Classic Dance Competition in Auckland, New Zealand!   It will be held on April 18-19, 2015 so you have time a plenty to buy your airline ticket…..non stop from Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines.  And guess what, for a 9-hour flight it only takes a one-hour adjustment on your watch to reach Auckland time – of course you lose a day since you pass the international dateline flying from Honolulu to Auckland.  But its only on loan, since you get paid back when you return home to Honolulu.

Why come to the Kiwi Classic? 

Reason Number 1:  Auckland is a real cool city and New Zealand is a beautiful country with lots to see….people nice, safe, weather decent, air clean and water is pristine.

Reason Number 2: The competition hotel and ballroom are cozy and warm, and a manageable walk to downtown and the harbor.

Reason Number 3:  You will meet new international competitors and share your flair with American Smooth and Rhythm and witness their New Vogue style, which is a bucket of fun!

Reason Number 4: You will meet one of the organizers, Wendy Johnson who will great you with enthusiasm.

Reason Number 5: You will have lots of fun competing in the Kiwi Classic and visiting New Zealand.

So, I found my way from the medical conference hotel (that I came to Auckland to attend) to the one holding the Kiwi classic…only a few blocks away.  Then I boldly found and entered the ballroom without asking anyone permission. Then I  took the not so good pics displayed below.  The hotel is really cute and charming.  I was getting excited just standing there in the dimly lit ballroom carpeted and utterly stripped of its dance ballroom face.  I immediately visualized how the dance floor would fit and the seating areas of the participants. 

Think about it – just competing in the US is predictable and a little boring.  Expand your horizon.  With the US dollar being stronger than the NZ dollar, the cost should not be that bad. Come and join Yanna and me next year!  As usual, I already have my Hawaiian Airlines ticket. Don’t wait too long before making a decision.

Downtown Auckland seen from a ferry.  Hilton Hotel dressed up like
a cruise ship intersecting the Sky Tower a half a mile up the road.

Auckland is lovely city!
I was in Auckland to attend a Health Disparities Research meeting but found
hula dancers starting off the meeting.  What a surprise!
And I had time to venture off from the Rendezvous Hotel to the Langham
where the Kiwi was held in 2014 and I assume will be held in 2015 
The ballroom is a great room and in fact is called the Great Room!
I should have used my flash but this is the ballroom where the comp will
be held.  Very nice and cozy.
Lost of desert breaks at my research conference as we got first hand
experience with the problem of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dance Aloha Ball - A Flooring Experience

pictures courtesy of Sandy K:  riding on the coat tails of my teacher Yanna 

A little off center but good enough!

you take the baton, no you take it!

 Some days start off with the sun shinning and the birds chirping only to redirect slowly and painfully into a dreadful denouement.  Other days start rottenly foreshadowing the course of the day riding one wave after another of a progressive panic of despair, helplessness and chaos.  Only two other possibilities exist.  The day is good at the beginning and at the end.  But on October 25th, 2014, I experienced the last possibility, as the day began in frightful disarray only to end happily, almost magically.  Ostensibly, this “happy ending” was expected by just about everyone else attending the Aloha Dance Competition in Kona other than me.

A one-day competition, the first year of its existence, follows at the coattails of the traditional Hawaii Star Ball (HSB) competed in September, representing the future of ballroom dance competition in Hawaii.  Parenthetically, while the HSB has survived more than a few decades, the recent transfer of ownership to David Alvarez projects a sense of renewal and rebirth.  Indeed, it seems like the Hawaii ballroom dance scene has two new dance competitions to consider and enjoy, not just one.

The Sheraton Kona is the new name for the previous Kona Surf Hotel that I loved in the 80’s when I travelled frequently to Kona to teach the local medical providers basic skills of newborn resuscitation (all in my former adult career as a neonatologist and medical leader in Pediatrics representing the regional pediatric center, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children).  It is set on a glorious stretch of beach; the ocean spreads endlessly as it surrounds the resort truly providing the sense of paradise.  However, from what I can remember, the improvements to the hotel from 30 years past seem more cosmetic than substantial or purposeful.  There is a musty smell that permeates some of the hallways, perhaps from the proximity of the ocean, perhaps from decades of use and abuse, perhaps from the blood and sweat of the hotel staff as they dutifully scrub their way across the campus of the resort with their brooms and mops.  My safe did not work, my phone did not work, and it was so dark in the hallway that I had to squint each time I attempted to insert the key card into my door slot.   Nothing was wrong with the room, it was spacious enough and the TV worked miraculously, but overall, it was not as upscale as I had expected.

All of these defects were offset by the prime location of my room…. literally a stones throw away from the ballroom in the Convention Center adjacent to the wing of the hotel that I was luckily assigned to.  This facilitated the five changes of clothes that I would need to accomplish to get through the marathon day that I had agreed to when I signed up for this burgeoning dance competition.

Arriving the afternoon before, with little time to spare to clean up for the opening reception; then later in between schmoozing with the participants and organizers – Ron Montez and Tony Meredith at the ocean front reception, I ventured a detour from my programmed evening activity to conduct a pre-competition inspection of the ballroom. 

What I saw there was less than comforting.  First, the ballroom seemed large enough for the smallish competition and at one end there was a decent sized practice floor of decent quality.  But, at the same time, the hotel staff was laying down a competition dance floor or what they imagined was a dance floor.  In fact, it was a palate of 8x4 unfinished plywood sheets that was painted with mahogany to disguise the rough, uneven and splintered surface.  These sheets were aligned dreamily to remain contiguous by snugly placing them adjacent to one another over a wooden lattice frame to provide a cushion over the ballroom carpet. 

BUT, what I saw in that floor was unacceptable – there was NO way I could dance on that floor, no way anyone could dance on that floor!  I returned back to the reception, keeping my secret intact until I could corner Yanna – and then I vented in frustration.  I don’t think she believed me until we found our way to the ballroom apr├Ęs the reception.  But behold a miracle of miracles; the plywood dance floor was being disassembled in favor of the practice dance floor, which was in the process of changing places such that the plywood was being relegated to the practice location.  Thank God someone had sense enough to figure it out!

It was clear that the practice dance floor transformation to the real deal was not going to an be an easy task, nor was it large enough to fill the requisite area, even if the hotel staff was willing to pull an all nighter to get the job done.  But before we signed off for the night, we were promised that more of the same semi quality dance floor was on its way and we would be ready to go on schedule at 8AM.

But this is Kona, not Chicago, not Los Angeles, and not Miami.  Things are much more complicated in Honolulu, but they are pure chaos on the neighbor islands when it comes to deadlines and task completion.  Nevertheless with fatigue setting in as the night begged for closure, so did my eyelids converge on the day before the historic monster one-day dance competition in Kona, Hawaii.

The next morning revealed only that the competition dance floor was not completed, and the competition would be delayed by around 2 hours (actually it was 2 hours/ 15 minutes).  In all, there were 5 iterations as the hotel staff tried to complete the ballroom dance floor, three separate floors, and in the final iteration the two closest looking floors were pieced together and sometimes even taped together to complete the job.  Floors being secured, then unsecured, moved here, moved there…thank God there was an abundance of husky young men to labor nonstop to finally find a solution that would work.  And in the end, it did work and the competition finally started, promising a long day for some of us, including myself with multidance events scheduled for nearly 11pm.  And the floor was fine to dance on, after all the toil and needless worry and the unnecessary expenditure of energy……..

But it seemed like I was the only one who was freaking out.  The dancers were unimpressed and seemed unconcerned; I was the loner, fretting and anxious, my stomach churning with dyspepsia as the hotel staff buzzed around doing and undoing floors, and redoing floors. The scene in the ballroom was flooring! …and comical.  In truth if playback were possible and the speed turned up a notch faster, it would closely resemble the humor filled chaos of the 1020’s silent movie legends, the Keystone Cops (Kops).

From there, everything fell into place and students and professionals and amateur couples got in the groove and to the business of the competition.  Despite the quality of the floor being less than optimal, there was truly no difficulty that I encountered with my feet getting blocked by floor corners or seams.  Indeed, the size of the competition matched the size of the dance floor very comfortably.  I am particularly crazed with fear of collisions with other couples on the dance floor. It only happened once for me at the Aloha Ball, which of course is never acceptable or optimal but I’ll take that statistic anytime. 

Divino Ritmo had a huge following of students, and others from Honolulu and other neighbor islands communities had solid representation in the crowd.  Many just there as spectators, nevertheless, a happy and friendly crowd of supporters all rooting us on, saying nice things to us about our dancing and overall having a good time.  It was also nice to see our best Honolulu amateur couples competing against one another; the quality of the dancing was indeed quite excellent. And there were several spectators who attended both Hawaii competitions who commented that the quality of the dancing was at a higher level in Kona.

As one who has experienced an endless stream of health issues this year including this last month or two…. accounting for a silence streak of non blogging, I was truly worried that I would not last the day, worried that my feet or knee or brain would give out or my will would deflate like a burst balloon.  But it didn’t happen.  A little caffeine brought the brain back to life, and my feet and knee never betrayed my desire to do my best, and to last to the end.  As it turns out the comp turned up the speed and an hour was saved from the revised estimation of time.  My last heat ended at about 10:00pm.  This allowed me to rush to the bar far across the hotel campus to secure a few glasses of wine…my favorite sauvignon blanc….Kim Crawford…. before it closed at 10:30pm.

For such an auspicious start, the competition worked remarkably well, and I believe that everyone enjoyed it very much.  I can be included in this group.  There are many lessons to be learned for the organizers, and we all expect that next year’s comp will avoid the mistakes of the past.  It was a shame that so few could enjoy the dinner set on the ocean front hotel lawn adorned with beautiful tables and white tablecloths and a full buffet (second hand information). There to enjoy the food, the sunset, and dining against a backdrop of the majestic Pacific Ocean, its powerful but soothing music; humming its waves toward shore, while beating its drums at shore break and when colliding with the hotel’s barrier embankments.  But alas, with the given time constraints of the competition timeline, the best that competitors could do is quickly fill up their take out boxes and return to the competition ballroom to get ready for the next heats or simply to continue to spectate. 

The competition finally over, student awards were announced and top teacher and studio awards followed.  Lucas received the number one top teacher award and Yanna was 4th.  Of course, Divino Ritmo was number 1 studio.  Wow, that was a lot of work in one day!  And I just want to mention once again how much of an opportunity this was for students who generally could not afford the luxury of participation in mainland competitions including a bunch of young keikis competing for the first time.  The age span of the dozen or more students competing with the Divino Ritmo professionals spanned almost 60 years!  My body belongs to the older group (second oldest) but my heart resides in the younger one. 

The professional show included a youthful complex formation exhibition.  This was such a complex presentation, done with precision and originality that it was arguably the most interesting formation choreography that I have ever seen.  The other part I remember was a cute cha cha done by a group of male professionals including the event organizers……  I could have missed other parts of the show running back and forth to the bar and generally being elated that the comp was over and that I survived it without a meltdown.  Not only me, everyone I talked to, Divino Ritmo students, students from other studios, bystanders and visitors from the neighbor islands and elsewhere were all positive about their experience.  And most were delighted by their performance during the competition.

Finally, I even survived long enough to attend the after competition VIP party ostensibly held in one of the organizer’s suite.  This was a first!  There I drank a glass of champagne and ended the evening chatting with a youthful, lovely lady who also attended the competition.