Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Photography: Under African Skies!

©2005 Am Ang Zhang

This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein
After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the roots of rhythm
And the roots of rhythm remain
Under African Skies 

NYTimes: Paul Simon Takes Us Back
Simon.... was appalled by apartheid, but he bristled at the notion that, in collaborating with black South African artists on a synthesis that elevated their music and talents onto a world stage, he was hurting their national cause.
“When the artist gets into some sort of disagreement with politics,” Simon asks in the film, “why are the politicians designated to be the ones to tell us, the artists, what to do and we’re supposed to follow — otherwise we’re not good citizens or we’re not good?”
In the end, Simon and Tambo work through it all in the film and affirm that neither meant to hurt the other’s cause. Indeed, the A.N.C. has invited Simon and the Graceland band to perform for its centenary. But the just-released film (which will be shown at New York’s Ziegfeld Theater on Tuesday) leaves no doubt where the South African musicians stood.
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Monday, May 28, 2012

Jacqueline Du Pré: Multiple Sclerosis & Elgar

“Would you like to come and try the Davydov Stradivarius? If you like it, you can have it.”

It is not everyday that a young musician gets a call like that, and it is not often that some generous person would part with a few million pounds to give a cello to a young artist. As it happened, it was not this young cellist’s first Stradivarius, as she already had another previously given to her anonymously.

That of course was Jacqueline Du Pré. She went and played the Davydov and loved it. It became her instrument.

Anonymous philanthropy.

It is unusual nowadays to attend a concert (including the BBC Proms) with an all familiar programme. The Cockroach Catcher was happy to have been at the Royal Festival Hall on the 5th of June for the London Philharmonic Orchestra concert. This was his wife’s choice, and a relief after Lulu of the previous night.

I have in previous posts maintained that there is something “re-vitalising” listening to familiar music. La Mer and Beethoven 5th did the trick nicely helping the brain to re-generate some memory proteins.

The Elgar Cello Concerto was a totally different proposition.

One of my earlier collections of black vinyl disc is of course the Du Pré / Barbirolli recording of
The Elgar Cello Concerto.

It was in the old analogue days of recordings and on the whole the engineers just made sure the system was not overburdened by the very loud passages. To this day I still prefer listening to old black vinyls.

It was a record and a piece of playing I treasure. Every time I listen, the music brings new insight into the young talent that was to be knocked down in her prime by Multiple Sclerosis.

In some way, the associated emotional memory has become a hindrance to listening to other performers, as one just feels that there is something not quite the same. The brain does not react in the same way as with other familiar pieces of music in your repertoire.

Just watch the vitality in the final bars of Du Pré’s performance of the Elgar.

Classical Archives

Torleif Thedeen, the cellist in the RFH programme, is not a name I know, but I was prepared to be open-minded. There was something different about his playing. I closed my eyes. Yes, it was a very gentle sort of interpretation and unfortunately at times he seemed overwhelmed by the orchestra.

No, he was no Du Pré, but perhaps I should be thankful as I am now more prepared to go to another Elgar Cello Concerto concert.

Barenboim first met Du Pré in 1964 at Fou Chong’s home, Fou Chong being the famous Chinese pianist and great interpreter of Chopin. Barenboim remembered it was not so much love at first sight as “Glandular Fever” at first sight, both of them being sufferers. Du Pré had it much worse, Barenboim remembered.

In 1971 when Du Pré complained to her doctor that her fingers were numb, she was told it was “stress”. She was on tour giving many concerts.

Then in February of 1973 she flew to New York for four performances of the Brahms Double Concerto with Pinchas Zukerman and Leonard Bernstein. At rehearsal she needed help to open her cello case and could not feel the strings with her fingers. She told Bernstein that she was unable to play.

"Don't be such a goose", he told her. "You're just nervous."

She only managed three of the concerts and was diagnosed as suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. It was not “stress” or “nervousness”. She never gave another cello concert again.

What fate! What a blow to the musical world! Could there be some connection between the Multiple Sclerosis and Glandular Fever? Multiple Sclerosis is something with which Medicine is still struggling. Whether a cure can be found, only time will tell. In the mean time Elgar’s Cello Concerto will always bring up images of the young and vibrant Du Pré: struck down in her prime. At least I still have the black vinyl record of old.

New advances in medicine and technology are always welcome. However, new is not always better. Think Stradivarius. Think Davydov. And Elgar.

Concert review: musicOHM Review
Barenboim and Du Pré on the internet:
Elgar 1, Elgar 2, Elgar 3, Elgar 4a, Elgar 4b

Cello Post:
Anorexia Nervosa: Bach

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Walnuts & Music: Medical Students & Mahjong

© 2005 Am Ang Zhang

As the cock crowed, the grandfather left the house on his half mile walk to the little park by the river for his morning Tai Chi with a group of seniors. He was in fact the leader of the group and it fell upon him, a young looking 83 year old to go through the sequence of Tai Chi moves that had been passed down by his grandfather and others before him. His wife sometimes accompanied him but today she had to baby sit the grand-children as their parents were on an early shift. When they finished they sat around for some social chat and drank green tea from their thermal flasks. He walked home refreshed from the morning’s exercise and social gossips. As he neared home he could hear his grand-daughter practicing the piano. What lovely Mozart! He stepped into the house to find his grandson busy at a Nintendo game.

“Why aren’t you practicing your violin? If you just play computer games, your brain will turn into water.”

His grandson shut down the Nintendo, “Grandma, you should try it some time. It will be good for your brain.”

 “I am too old for it. My brain is all water anyway, according to grandpa!” She just remembered that she had to take her Ginkgo capsules.

The grandson played some scales on the violin and then the Vivaldi A minor. From memory, as that was how he was trained.

At breakfast, the young children listened to Grandpa reciting ancient classical Chinese poems - a long standing family tradition. Soon the grand-children left for school.
Grandma now cracked some walnuts while grandpa got ready to go to the market to see what fresh fish he could buy that day. The walnut was to go with their home reared free range chicken. They grew their own vegetables too.

Later that day they would be having a good game of Mahjong with a retired couple.

Much of what they did would help to maintain their brain fitness.

Ginkgo biloba with its romantic botanical history is no longer the Dementia buster it promised to be. (Those who know of the village in Japan where there are loads of Ginkgo trees could have told you that. The village has the highest Alzheimer rates in Japan.)

I was reminded of Woody Allen’s film, Radio Days, where the young Allen (who else) was brought before the Rabbi by his mother for his advice because Allen was hooked onto the radio. The Rabbi’s skepticism was perhaps not that dissimilar to ours nowadays about iPhones, computer games and brain exercises. Indeed the young Allen should be concentrating on his upcoming Bar Mitzvah and the Torah memorizing.

The Old views on Brain.

When I was training in London in the 70s, I spent some time at Queen Square. Those in the know will recognize it as the place for neurology this side of the Atlantic. It was drilled into us then that sadly we were given a number of brain cells when we were born and it was all downhill from then on or something to that effect. It was well known that neurologists were great diagnosticians but for most neurological conditions, not much could be done. How depressing indeed. Even as recently as four weeks ago, I heard a young doctor told his father that there was nothing he could do with his brain cells. One is given so many at birth and no more can be expected. Lord Brain (1895-1966) would have been so proud.

Yet it was also London that shook the world with new discoveries about the brain, and the study was on the most unlikely group of people: Taxi drivers. Their “KNOWLEDGE” was the basis of our knowledge on brain plasticity today. The “KNOWLEDGE” is a term officially used to describe the test the Taxi Drivers had to take to get the licence to drive Taxis in London. Streets in Londonhave evolved over time and are not on any grid system at all. Early postmortem examinations led some pathologists to note the small size of the Taxi drivers’ frontal lobes. Yet actual weight measurement showed that size was all relative. It was the enlarged hippocampal region that created that impression. Later work using modern scanning techniques confirmed the early impressions.

If two to four years of “KNOWLEDGE” acquisition can change the size of the brain in a grown adult, what else could we do?

The rest, as they say, is history.

The book covers the changes to the brains of musicians and medical students. It tells us that just three months of memory work can have noticeable effect on the brain of medical students, and music memory work has similar impact on musicians. I was pleased to learn that Bilingualism helps too. From infancy, I and my siblings were brought up with speaking two Chinese dialects at home.

Will medical schools that have abandoned traditional teachings please bring back Anatomy-the old way?

Did the 300,000 or so that took up piano this year in China know a thing or two about brain plasticity? Currently 30 million children are reported to be learning the piano in China.

As a child psychiatrist, I find the ones on ADHD showed great promise but I doubt if we are ever going to see the end of the stimulants’ hold on the condition in the West. It is interesting to note that Stimulants never took off in China, a country with a fifth of the world’s population. Computer games, on the other hand, have really taken off there.

Bridge and Sudoku were mentioned in passing, along with other favourites like crosswords. There is no mention of Mahjong although in the East it is all the rage, nor the memory work required in some religions. Their gods might know a thing or two about the brain.

Other Posts:

Nobel: Kandel and Lohengrin

Lohengrin: Speech Disability, Design & Hypertension

Autism, the Brain and Tiger Woods

'The Knowledge' and the Brain

Photography: Cold!

©2010 Am Ang Zhang

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Billingsgate & Crabs: Vanishing Act?

Looks like the Cockroach Catcher’s favourite food may be disappearing from his favourite market: Billingsgate!!!

The Telegraph:
Through spending time in the company of these engaging East End characters, the film simply but powerfully showed the sadness of the porters’ way of life disappearing. Although, as we watched Sri Lankan fish airfreighted in via Heathrow and Cornish crabs packed for export to China, it was clear that no ancient statutes could hold back the tide of change.

Billingsgate ©2010 Am Ang Zhang
Having the advantage of living near Billingsgate Fish Market in London,  the Cockroach Catcher always finds great pleasure in getting the freshest seafood and cooking it in the simplest possible way.

Last Saturday, we managed to get a dozen fresh scallops, three live crabs (brown crabs) and a two-pound Dover Sole.

At Billingsgate, one is allowed to pick one’s own scallops and crabs. The trick with scallop is you want those with tightly shut shells.  In cold weather, freshness is not a problem.

Brown crabs are one of the best value seafood in the world. The shells are hard and the flesh sweet and very firm.  Some like males (with their narrow underbelly flap) and others prefer females (with a much rounder flap). Right now the males are good, while the females are better just before Christmas.

The Dover Sole I got from my trusted fishmonger from Selsey, near where I used to live.  Dovers with their nice firm flesh are amongst the best tasting fish around - truly a winner amongst small flat fish.

All good cooks know that if you get the best ingredients, there is not much you need to do.

Scallops ©2010 Am Ang Zhang
Throughout the years, I have somehow picked up the know how of cleaning fish and shell fish and so it was not much of a problem.

Our favourite way of preparing scallops is to steam them in their open shells and serve them in their delicate natural juice.  First, you need to take out the guts and the protective lips. The lips you can fry separately with garlic and olive oil. With very fresh scallops, all the seasoning you need is a few grains of good sea salt crystal on serving. Steaming time is around two minutes and 45 seconds.

We had the scallops as starters and the Dover Sole as the main course.  As the fish was quite big, we decided not to have the crabs on the same day.   In true Teochiu style, we steamed the crabs and then left them untouched in the fridge for the next day.  Cold Teochiu crab is a delicacy from my home village.

The Dover Soles as sold in Billingsgate are already cleaned, so there is generally not much you need to do. You can try to scale it before cooking, but the scales are tiny and not easy to remove.  As the skin is not normally consumed, it can be peeled on serving.

The Chinese like their fresh fish steamed.  Steaming can be done in a fish kettle.  If you do not have one, wrap the fish in foil and put it in a pre-heated oven at 200 C for 25 minutes for a 2-pound fish. Steaming in a kettle takes about the same time.

Dover Soles can be steamed without any seasoning or with a few slivers of fresh ginger.  Some like to serve the steamed fish with a good quality soya sauce, mixed with a little bit of oil.

The following day we had the cold crabs: delightfully fresh and sweet tasting.  Any seasoning? None was required.

There was a good bit of roe.  We often make crab roe cakes by beating a couple of eggs in with the roe and pan frying the mixture with olive oil and minced fresh garlic.  If you like, you can add some cooked rice as filler.

The paired wine: Puligny Montrachet 1er Les Referts (2004).  This has a delightful apricot and almond nose, and in taste a herbal fruitiness and subtle buttery character typical of Puligny Montrachet.  A good match for the freshest seafood simply prepared.

So ended two days of delicious Billingsgate fun!


Billingsgate: The Cockroach Catcher’s Guide

Billingsgate Market 1876/Illustrated London News/Honbicot at en.wikipedia

I remember the first time I went to Billingsgate Market was when it was still in the old location (now an event venue). A couple of friends came with us. We drove and parked outside there at around five in the morning when it officially opened. In those days, individual retail customers like us were seen as a nuisance and we had to follow certain rules so as not to be in the way of the wholesale business. We were not allowed to venture beyond lines clearly marked on the floor, and we had to watch out for fast moving trolley loads of fish that were hell bent on breaking your ankles. Once you were aware of these minor rules you were treated to the delight of being in somewhere special: arguably the best fish market in the world.

In those days, even as retail individuals you had to buy like wholesale. A box of anything was literally the minimum quantity one had to buy. We could end up with 14 crabs, 5 lbs of shrimps and a whole boxful of sea bass. And oysters by the basket too!  But in those days, fish were wild and you did not have to know how to distinguish between farmed salmon and wild ones. Nowadays even sea bass can be farmed, although it is not difficult to tell the difference: the price.

In the old days, a trip to Billingsgate was always followed by a big seafood party!

Now the new market is in Canary Wharf and the easiest way to get there is by No. 277 bus. It is so popular that parking can be a major problem. There must be a realisation that retail customers are important too.  By and large the first hour of trading was done by the big boys; so the best time to be there is just after six and before six thirty, before it begins to get too crowded.

The question is often asked as to how one can tell if a fish is fresh. At Billingsgate, the fish generally are, although some are better than others. The usual rules of good sheen, firmness and bright red gills apply.  If it looks good, it is generally good.  If in doubt smell it: fresh fish is not fishy!

In a wholesale market you expect the seafood to be fresh and normally they are.  Shell fish can go off pretty quickly in warm weather, but in the winter months they are usually fine. The Cockroach Catcher applies the rule of R for most shell fish and not just oysters. (Rule of R: Avoid the months without an R)
The best fish to watch out for in the summer is the wild sea trout: one of the most delightful fish to have but it has a rather short season.

The truth is that if you are prepared to get up early, you are going to be treated to the freshest seafood you can get on this island, and at a better price than you find at local fishmongers and supermarkets.

The alternative: you can get even fresher fish by the sea in Panama.

San Carlos Panama/ ©2010 Am Ang Zhang

About Billingsgate Market

Billingsgate is the United Kingdom's largest inland fish market. An average of 25,000 tonnes of fish and fish products are sold through its merchants each year. Approximately 40% of that tonnage comprises fish imported from abroad. The annual turnover of the Market is estimated to be in the region of £200m. The Market complex covers an area of 13 acres and is entirely self-contained. The ground floor of the building comprises a large trading hall with 98 stands and 30 shops, including two cafes; a shellfish boiling room; a number of individual cold rooms; an 800 tonne freezer store (maintained at a temperature of -26°C), an ice making plant and 14 lock-up shops used by processors, catering suppliers and merchants dealing primarily in trade sundries, non-perishables, poultry and potatoes.              Visit London

Food Posts:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dragon Tattoo & Millennium Trilogy: Fiction & Real life

The fiction: I was not going to read it as I was not really into Tattoos, piercings and all that stuff.

Real life: The author in true fictional drama, climbed 7 flights of stairs and died of a heart attack. Did some dark force created the power outage? Sound more interesting!!!

Friend on a cruise: great reads, but read them slowly as you need to get use to the names.

Fiction: The state was involved in the systemic abuse of its own citizen, as young as 12 by using psychiatric diagnosis and inhumane methods such as total passive restraint, sensory deprivation and illegal antipsychotic drugs. There were corrupt businessmen and politicians, sex traffickers, bent cops, spineless journalists, biker gangs and meth heads.

Real life: are we talking about former USSR? No but the country is considered a broken machine.

The country: very much like your own!!! With McDonalds, Tattoo bars and S & M clubs.

Yes: Sweden

Real Life: February 1986, Sweden’s Prime Minister Olof Palme was gunned down on a street in central Stockholm after an evening at the cinema with his wife and son. The killer has never been found.               Reuters

The fiction: Millenium Trillogy or “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (in Swedish, “Men Who Hate Women”) was published in 2005, a year after Larsson’s death. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” was released in 2006 and “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest” in 2007.

Real life: an immediate best seller by Stieg Larsson in Sweden and abroad and three films were made in Sweden and one in Hollywood.

The fiction: what fiction would start life with a 6 page detailed botanical description of Leptospermum Rubinette.

Real life: book/s sold 23 million and rising.

The Fiction: a true cowboy story of old. The good guys won, some nearly killed. All the bad guys either died or were caught. 
The modern day gun: computer hacking.
The cowgirl: Lisbeth Salander. Abused by father. Locked in Psychiatric Hosp. from age 12. Raped by State Legal Guardian. Had Dragon Tattoo and other piercings including labia. Had breast implants. Expert computer hacker.

The fantasy: when I am old I will write a couple of books and become a millionaire! Stieg Larsson

Real life: he wrote three and died and his brother and father became multi-millionaires.

The writing:

A colleague:

 “It was not good; it was impossible,” Hellberg, now a journalist at Dagens Nyheter, the largest and best of Sweden’s several morning papers, told me. “Every professional writer knows these things: you look at a text, and you can see this is terrible. Some texts are a little messy, but you can work them out; but here nothing was good — not the syntax, the way of putting things, nothing.”     

The editior:     

Eva Gedin, the Norstedts editor, says she has no doubts whatsoever that Larsson wrote the books. “When you’re an editor, you get a feel for these things,” she told me. “It wasn’t one of those cases where a book is sort of half-written and you have to finish every other sentence. Stieg’s prose is really quite efficient. He was a tremendous storyteller.” The editing of the books went smoothly, she went on to say, and consisted mostly of cutting some of Larsson’s encyclopedic detail. The only thing Larsson wouldn’t budge on was the unsexy title, “Men Who Hate Women.”

Real Life:

From beyond the grave, Larsson names his suspect in murder of Swedish PM

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Torrontes: IMF, Tango & Sovereign Currency

Well, regular readers will recognise this wine as I have blogged about it before. That was when I was chatting with my friend on the state of our NHS.

We may indeed be thankful that Argentina defied the might of the IMF, unpegged its currency which initially devalued to 25% of its original US$ value and even today it is still hovering around the 33% mark, thereby averting major internal unrest. It may indeed be a good object lesson for Greece and perhaps soon enough, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

I won’t even go into Iceland.

For wine drinkers, that we can be enjoying such a wonderful white wine at a mere $8 in Central America or $12 in the US and £8 in the UK must be an object lesson in the need to keep your own sovereign currency. Do you think I would be writing this if it is £32: the white burgundy territory!

By all accounts, Argentina is doing very nicely, Mr IMF or is it Ms IMF now. Thank, but no thanks.

We have our Tango, our Malbec and now Torrontes.
 © 2010 Am Ang Zhang

Well, if you come across Crios, give it a go.

Peach, melon, citrus and full body for a wine with such fragrance and still dry and goes well with crab, shrimp and most Chinese dishes.

Last year alone over a quarter million cases were exported to the US alone.

I have tasted a few and Crios is by far the best.

NHS Doctors: You had it good!

The Cockroach Catcher has been away to some very varied parts of the world: Chile, Argentina and even Cambodia.

I read in Jobbing Doctor about something that should be very disturbing: You will obey orders

I followed the link to PULSE:

GPs told to ignore choice and refer to Care UK services
16 Feb 10
By Ian Quinn
Exclusive: GPs are being told to refer thousands of patients to the private sector to bail out a Government scheme to outsource services from hospitals, Pulse can reveal.
A group of 10 PCTs is insisting practices send patients to services run by the company Care UK, after it emerged they were currently seeing fewer than a third of the projected number of referrals.
GPs have been warned they could even face action from the GMC if they refuse to refer patients en masse to the company.
Trusts who will foot the bill from the Department of Health’s contract, which pays Care UK a block sum even if services are under-used, are warning they face dire financial consequences if they cannot ensure GPs refer to the private facilities rather than local services.
It comes after Derby City PCT admitted offering payments to GPs to send patients to an independent sector treatment centre in its area.

“Face action from the GMC!!!”
For doing what all doctors have been trained to do: the right thing!!!

Angor Wat, Cambodia © 2009 Am Ang Zhang

 Then I remembered what I heard and saw in Cambodia: that all the doctors were slaughtered during the Khmer Rouge era together with other intellectuals. It was not easy to determine the number of people killed.  Most put it at 2 million and right now there are very few over 65s and even fewer people wear glasses in the country.

In the NHS, you are only going to face action from the GMC!!!

Count your blessings!!!