Our tour guide informs us about the Ylang-Ylang tree (Photos by Gerry)
Pam and I love to travel -- pretty obvious by taking one look at this website -- and besides the allure of new places and experiences, it truly is educational. Every time we venture forth, we always learn something we didn't know.
Take the Ylang-Ylang tree, for example.
Deep in the rainforests of northeastern Puerto Rico, our tour guide stopped to grab a few buds from one of the tropical trees around us.
"This is a Ylang-Ylang tree," he said, holding the buds in the palm of his hand. "Have you heard of Chanel perfume?" he asked. Of course. "This is used in making it."
To demonstrate, he rubbed the buds between his fingertips and invited us to smell. We could tell right away it had that floral scent you find in many perfumes. And just like that, we learned something we didn't know.
Ever-curious, I had to find out more at the source of all knowledge these days: Wikipedia. The latter informed, "the fragrance of ylang-ylang is rich and deep with notes of rubber and custard, and bright with hints of jasmine and neroli, thus it is sometimes described as heavy, sweet, and carries a slightly fruity floral scent."
Further, it has other uses as well as perfume:
-- "The essential oil is used in aromatherapy" for high blood pressure, skin problems and is even considered an aphrodisiac (buying your significant other Chanel No. 5 might bolster that claim).
-- In Indonesia, "ylang-ylang flowers are spread on the bed of newlywed couples."
--In the Philippines, its flowers are made into necklaces that also "adorn religious images."
Wanting to smell better as we trekked into the rainforest, I grabbed a few buds myself and rubbed them on my neck. "No," Pam said, laughing, "it doesn't work that way."
I think I better stick to buying the finished product.
Self-driving cars continue to be a hotly-debated topic as governments grapple with safety and logistical issues. The general public is pretty divided as well.
But did you read about what could be the next step in self-driving ideas?
It's reported that Ford wants to patent an application that would permit a car to repossess itself when the owner doesn't make payments. In such situations, the car could be commanded to lock its doors and drive itself to the lender or an impound lot.
But, according to the story on Business Insider, it would have other options at its disposal for delinquent borrowers, such as:
-- Turn off the air conditioning or radio
-- Limit the driving range by day of the week
-- Disable cruise control, the radio or GPS
Then there's this: "The computer could also prompt the car to start emitting an 'incessant and unpleasant sound' whenever the driver is there."
Shades of the HAL 9000 from "2001: A Space Odyssey."
But why stop at cars? Slow to pay on that new refrigerator? Watch as the temperature starts to rise. Funny, my TV now only gets three channels. And try washing clothes with the rinse cycle turned off. Not fun.
Can anything stop technology from taking over our lives, determining our future and ruling supreme over everything we do? Only one thing: Pay your bills on time.
AI and the Meaning of Life
Artificial Intelligence. Or simply, AI.
The darling of science fiction writers for many years, it has now firmly moved into the mainstream with the meteoric rise of ChatGPT, the chatbot app that many users tout means the end of Google.
Ask it anything. It "allows you to chat and converse with a mind-blowing assistant using state-of-the-art language processing AI BOT," so says its developers. By the way, in case you were wondering, "GPT" stands for "generative pre-trained transformer." Better to stick with the initials.
There are wildly divergent opinions on AI. Super-techie Elon Musk has said artificial intelligence is more dangerous than nukes and will doom Mankind. He is quoted in one story that it poses “a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” Come on, Elon, don't sugarcoat it. The late Stephen Hawking agreed with Musk, while Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg reportedly sees those views as an overreaction.
The worry, of course, is that AI will become so powerful, it will grow beyond man's ability to control it. Humans will, in effect, become irrelevant as machines evolve to pursue their own destinies.
As mentioned, this has been fodder for Hollywood for some time. Go back and watch the 1964 film, "Fail Safe," when the President, played by Henry Fonda, has to make an impossible decision when a computer malfunction sends one of our bombers to nuke Moscow and can't be recalled. Or more recently, the AI-empowered robots of "Ex Machina," who turn on their human creators.
Good or bad, there's no question it's a fascinating topic. I was especially intrigued with this recent story, published in Fast Company, entitled: "AI can explain the meaning of life and the answer will surprise you."
It focuses on a new book, "What Makes Us Human: An Artificial Intelligence Answers Life’s Biggest Questions," written by Iain Thomas, poet and novelist, and Jasmine Wang, technologist and philosopher.
When asked that really big question humans have asked themselves for millennia, AI came back with three answers. The first of those is love. Quoting from the authors: "Love is the meaning of everything. Love is the purpose behind our lives; the reason why we’re here. The AI came back to it again and again in many different ways."
Second, "the idea that we should return to the present moment—that Heaven, Paradise, is found within this present moment. As soon as we start to leave it, and we start to dwell on the past or become anxious about the future, we begin to suffer."
And third -- which "AI returned to again and again in a way that was perhaps much more prevalent than the other two" -- was connection, "that we are fundamentally connected to each other and to the universe around us."
Three simple truths that great thinkers, poets, artists and religious leaders have espoused and recognized almost since we first asked that question of ourselves.
The Beatles knew it: "All You Need is Love." Romeo and Juliet knew it. Love is the one emotion that gives us comfort in the face of a cold and indifferent universe. As musician Steve Winwood sings in "Higher Love:"
"Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I'll look inside mine"
Then the idea of living in the present. Carpe Diem. Make the most of every moment of your life. With time our most precious commodity, that one is hard to argue. Of course, physicists have a hard time of pinning down just what "present" means in the vast scheme of time. What exactly is that moment, sandwiched between what is past and what is future. Maybe that's another question for AI to answer.
Lastly, the idea everything is connected. On small scales, it could be Kevin Bacon's six degrees of separation; on cosmic scales, it means we are truly one with the universe. Buddhists have known that for thousands of years. Dust off your copy of "Siddhartha" and give it another read.
Just as we send robot spacecraft to report on hostile environments, maybe it's a good idea to dispatch AI down intellectual rabbit holes, even if, in the end, it validates what we already knew.
As to whether AI will eventually rule supreme and end the world as we know it, only time will tell. Many would say Mankind is speeding us toward that already.
About North Palm Beach Life
In 2015, after long careers in the newspaper business, Pam and I established North Palm Beach Life. The name comes from the community we call home, but our focus extends to South Florida and through our travels and podcasts, worldwide.
Part of our mission continues to be publicizing events and news from organizations and nonprofits that deserve your attention. At the same time, Pam shares her views and commentary in her podcast, Gigi in the 561, which just started its third year and is available on over 20 platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify and Google.
Here you'll also discover the latest news from the cruise industry in our Cruise News blog, and reviews of over 60 cruises (and counting) we have taken, as well as travel by rail and car throughout the USA. North Palm Beach Life also proudly features travel contributors, as well as humor writer Susan Goldfein.
I also cover reviews and random topics in my personal blog, Gerry Pronounced Gary, and have reposted concert reviews from my days in the Seventies as a rock music writer in Rock and Roll Rewind. If you have an interest in digital history and online prior to the Internet, you might want to check out The Story of StarText.
One decision we made early on is to not accept advertising. We want our website to be a place with no strings or obligations attached. It's worked so far.
We welcome your comments and suggestions -- email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us on Facebook and instagram, where Pam posts the latest goings-on. In the meantime, thanks for stopping by and please invite your friends. --Gerry and Pam Barker
By GERRY BARKER
The inaugural Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Film Festival, presented by MorseLife, kicked off in grand style Thursday night at the Kravis Center's Cohen Pavilion. On hand to welcome moviegoers were Ephraim, Festival Director Ellen Wedner and the director of the opening night film, "Two Tickets to Greece," Marc Fitoussi.
Now through Feb. 16, the festival will feature 37 films from 20 countries, screened at various cinema locations throughout the area, including CMX at the Gardens, CMX Wellington, Movies of Lake Worth, Paragon at Delray Marketplace and the Regal Royal Palm Beach. You can get more information about tickets and times HERE.
As part of the screening, opening night guests sipped cocktails and were given specially-prepared snack boxes, filled with Greek food, apropos for the movie we were about to see, which Fitoussi said was the first time shown outside France.
"Two Tickets to Greece" (also titled "Les Cyclades" -- the Greek islands that are holiday destinations) is a funny, engaging and sometimes bittersweet look at friendship and life. Even with subtitles, there are laugh-out-loud moments as stars Laure Calamy and Olivia Côte rediscover their best friend relationship from school on a vacation to Greece. The film also stars the incomparable Kristin Scott Thomas, who steps in when their best laid plans go awry.
The festival's slogan is "Experience the Magic of Cinema." Judging by the opening night movie, the magic has started.
Botti and Company Wow at the Kravis
By GERRY BARKER
Trumpet player extraordinaire Chris Botti's world tour made a stop Jan. 25 in West Palm Beach at the Kravis Center, which Botti praised as "Carnegie Hall South" before a near sellout audience.
The Grammy Award-winning musician (who told us he just turned 60), promised "an old-fashioned variety show," and for the next two hours, he, his band and special guests delivered just that.
Botti, as he always does, created musical magic on standards like "My Funny Valentine" and "I've Got You Under My Skin," as well as a selection of songs from an upcoming album. At the same time, you could tell he takes immense pleasure and pride showcasing the talents of the other musicians sharing the stage.
Band members Lee Pearson (drums), Reggie Hamilton (bass), Leonardo Amuedo (guitar) and Holger Marjamaa (piano) were able to spotlight their considerable expertise, including an extending jam session that had Marjamaa attacking the keys remindful of an early Elton John or Jerry Lee Lewis. At the conclusion, it was heartening to see the sometimes conservative Kravis crowd on their feet and clapping, as they did on several occasions.
Other highlights, and surprises, included:
-- Violinist Anastasiia Mazurok, with a pop and rock medley that included an electrifying version of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." We didn't see that coming.
-- Smooth jazz great Andy Snitzer, who joined Botti onstage with his saxophone.
-- Want variety? How about an appearance by tenor Rafael Moras, who mesmerized with a soul-stirring version of "Nessun dorma," from Puccini's opera "Turandot ."
-- Botti was also joined by fellow trumpet player and vocalist Benny Benack III, in town to perform at The Society for the Four Arts on Palm Beach Feb. 1. Botti noted it was the first time he's shared the stage with another trumpet player.
-- Vocalist Veronica Swift, described by Botti as an up and coming superstar, delivered an energetic set of songs that made us feel like we were in a posh, New York supper club.
Overall, it was two hours of incredible energy and fun, experiencing musicians performing at the top of their craft. Next year, Botti is headlining "Chris Botti at Sea." Feb. 8-15, he and a group of all-star performers will sail out of Miami on Celebrity Summit. Cocktails and smooth jazz? Count us in!
"To infinity and beyond!" -- Buzz Lightyear
Do you think Buzz ever wondered what he might find beyond infinity? Is that even possible?
Before he sets off on that journey, he might want to watch "A Trip to Infinity," a new documentary available on Netflix. It's trippy in every sense of the word.
In a nutshell, it gathers some of the top names in the fields of physics, philosophy and math to ponder "the problem of infinity." To try and make sense of something that has no beginning and no end. And is such a thing actually possible in the real world?
If you decide to take this mind-blowing, or mind-numbing, trip down the rabbit hole, you'll definitely want to fasten your mental seat belt.
Full disclosure: Math has never been my strong suit. I got by algebra, did OK with elementary analysis and even become pretty proficient with a slide rule. But the math world these brainiacs inhabit is one place I'll never visit. Still, the subject is presented in layman-friendly language, and makes liberal use of cartoons and graphics to drive their points home.
We learn infinity is unimaginably big, and likewise, unimaginably small, as you would expect in something that goes on forever. And is there a "forever"? Scientists tell us our universe has a beginning -- almost 14 billion years ago -- and at some point, will end, billions of years in the future. But does "space" go on without an end? Or is there a wall where it all stops? And if there is, what's beyond the wall?
Sadly, the documentary provides no answers -- because there aren't any. At least, not for our puny human brains. The experts conclude the questions that infinity raises have unknowable answers. Sort of like another Netflix series, "Unsolved Mysteries."
I think I'll let the child version of Woody Allen have the last word, from "Annie Hall":
It's a Self-Serve World
Related: 'Gigi in the 561" Podcast
We like to try new restaurants. You never know when you might find another "go-to" place when you want to let someone else do the cooking.
Recently, Pam and I heard about a new place, at least new to us, in West Palm Beach on South Dixie -- Pig Beach BBQ. While we shun red meat, we do enjoy chicken and pork, and since we were in the neighborhood, we dropped by. By the way, we found out Pig Beach BBQ has two locations in New York, and this is their first here.
It was a Wednesday, and the parking lot was full, always a good sign. The friendly hostess saw us coming, opened the door and greeted us warmly. Another good sign. We said we were first-timers and she showed us to a table.
Then our waitperson appeared, greeted us, and promptly asked for my credit card so she could run a tab. It was a little jarring since we hadn't even seen a menu. Hmmm.
That was another thing. There was one menu on the table, but the preferred method of ordering was using your smartphone to scan their app. As I tried to maneuver my phone to capture the QR code, she took it from me and gave an assist. She explained after we place the order, it should arrive in minutes at our table.
Okay, I know it's the new, techie-way to do business, and yes, contact-less ordering is another result of the pandemic, but there are limits to how much self-serve I want to do when it comes to enjoying dining out. While Pam hates self-serve pretty much everywhere ("'I'm not getting paid to do their job"), I don't mind it at gas stations, fast food or stores -- it's my hurry-up nature. But at a sit-down dinner? Not so much.
As for the food, everything is a la carte. We both got the chicken sandwich ($11) and added a small order of fries, which at $7 seemed pretty steep. And while it appeared I had placed the order, our waitperson came back to check and no, it didn't go in. So more time on the iPhone trying to get that right.
I should add that after we were seated, another person brought a pitcher of water, sat it down and left. It was not until later we saw two upturned plastic cups by the condiments, which we assumed were for water. More self-service.
Our food arrived, both meals on one tray that was placed in the middle of the table. The sandwiches were too big for the baskets they were in, so it was a little awkward to share the tray while we both tried to figure out the best way to eat them. And while this is by no means any kind of food review, we did find our the chicken overdone and way too crunchy for our taste.
Needless to say, we left disappointed, and still hungry. And while many may like taking charge of their dining experience, it just isn't our cup of tea. It also begs the question, with so much self-serve involved, you do you tip? Yourself?
COVID and Cruising: To Test or Not Test?
Raise your hand if you enjoy taking a COVID test.
While I can't see what's beyond my computer screen, I seriously doubt many hands went up. But if you want to travel, or have to travel, taking a COVID test has been the price of admission, especially for taking a cruise.
We know first hand about the latter. In the last year alone, Pam and I have had to take almost a dozen tests before boarding ships or staying on a ship longer than a week. While not particularly painful, having a piece of cotton on a stick pushed into your nostrils isn't anybody's idea of fun. Not to mention the anxiety of "what if it's positive?" The fear you may have it is almost as bad as having it.
But that's changing. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is now leaving it up to the cruise lines to implement their own health policies and procedures. Last week, Virgin Voyages announced it was dropping pre-cruise testing, and allowing some unvaccinated guests onboard as well. Small cruise lines Azamara and Palm Beach based-Margaritaville have done the same, as well as Norwegian for some of its sailings.
In the months ahead, it's expected many if not most of the major cruise lines will follow suit. And while we certainly won't miss getting tested, COVID is still with us and not going away any time soon, if ever.
Reactions, as you might expect, have been varied. Many are happy and relieved; others are more fearful that suddenly what seemed to be the safest way to travel isn't anymore.
While you can make the case either way, here are a few points to ponder:
-- A negative test result reflects just a moment in time. Once onboard, you are mixing and mingling with hundreds of strangers, not to mention all the interactions when you leave the ship at a port of call. And just how reliable are test results, anyway?
-- Cruise lines have done a yeoman job of dealing the pandemic, providing extra sanitation procedures, mask mandates, 100 percent crew vaccinations, eliminating self-serve buffets and other measures. When's the last time you read about a norovirus outbreak on a ship? The extra precautions have seemed to stem that tide as well.
-- Testing aside, the best thing any of us can do is get vaccinated and boosted as necessary. I would be a thousand percent okay if that remained a requirement.
Health professionals say everyone at one time or another will have COVID. Like the common cold, it's here to stay. But unlike a cold, getting it on a cruise means your vacation is effectively over, as you are forced into quarantine. That's the new reality travelers have to deal with, and the thought of being stranded in a foreign country or anywhere for an extended period is unsettling to say the least.
What's a person to do? Pretty much what we've been doing for the past two years: Avoid crowds when you can, sanitize and wash your hands often, mask up if the situation calls for it and keep your vaccination current. In short, be accountable for your own health regimens.
Yet even as we try to get comfortable living with COVID, the new virus making headlines is Monkeypox. When does it end?
Culinary Nirvana on Lola 41's Patio
PALM BEACH_The last time Pam and I were at Lola 41 in Palm Beach, we weren't able to take advantage of the restaurant's inviting outdoor patio, which was closed as workers completed the adjacent White Elephant Hotel (you can read about it HERE) .
On a return trip this week, it was available, and the ideal place to enjoy the end of another perfect Florida day amid lush landscaping and striped umbrellas. Since that first visit, Lola 41 has established itself as the place to go for globally-inspired cuisine, sushi and friendly service in a setting that is both glamorous and casual.
As the summer "off season" settles in, Lola 41 has brought back "Sushi Sundays," where from 5-10 pm diners can get "buy-one-get-one free" sushi rolls (equal or lesser value), including classic, traditional and specialty rolls.
Also new, they have added a daily Happy Hour, and who doesn't like that? It's from 4-6 pm, and features 50 per cent off house liquor, beer, wines by the glass and signature cocktails, along with $10 sushi rolls and small plate selections -- such as Spicy Edamame, Skirt Steak Tacos, Duck Buns and Cantonese Style Pork Pot Sticks.
Yes, I know it's spelled like "Jerry." No, I don't know why it's pronounced "Gary."