The Voice: The First Instrument

From the grunts and groans of ancient man, to the highly trained and remarkable vocalizations of modern day opera singers, we can trace the development of vocal music through the ages.
The human voice sets us aside from all other creatures on earth. It is certainly one of the defining aspects of being human. The voice’s ability to change pitch or sing, is the first, oldest and most highly developed and sophisticated of all musical instruments.165493049-1

People in the oldest civilized cultures of Greek and Roman societies sang in religious settings and theatrical events. The ancient Jewish tradition of chanting phased into the beginning of Christianity. The chanting evolved into vocal music during the early development of Christianity.

European Background
The Medieval or Middle Ages (500-1450) was known as the “Golden Age of Melody” or Monophony: meaning one voice, or one part. This was the music designated as Plain Song, Plain Chant or Gregorian Chant. This music was not written until the monks of the Middle Ages wrote music down in an early form of notation. This music was sacred and liturgical in nature. Secular music was sung by Troubadours and Trouveres in France and Minnesingers and Meistersingers in Germany. They were itinerant musicians that went from town to town performing for, hopefully, money.

The Rennaissance (1450-1600) was the “Golden Age of Polyphony.” Meaning “more than one voice or part,” this is music written for two, three, four or more parts. This was a huge step up from Monophony. Before the Rennaissance, vocal music was by far the predominating form of music. Instrumental music became more important and prominent during this period of music history. During the Baroque period (1600-1750) vocal and instrumental music shared prominence. In the classic period (1750-1827) instrumental music was the leading force in musical composition and has remained so to the present day. Vocal music lost its leading role in the musical world to a plethora of instrumental musical forms and styles.

Voice Classifications
Human vocal ranges are usually divided into six ranges: Three female voices: soprano, mezzo-soprano and contralto and three male voices: tenor, baritone and bass. If the singer is an opera singer, a further classification is used: dramatic, lyric and coloratura soprano and dramatic contralto. Male opera singers include: robust, lyric and heroic tenors and basso profondo, basso buffo and agile bass.

High vocal parts presented a problem for the Roman Catholic Church. Females were not permitted to sing in acts of worship, so they used pre-pubescent boys to sing the high parts. Another solution, although controversial, was the castrato, a young male singer castrated before puberty to preserve his high voice. This option became an important aspect of Catholic choirs all over Europe for the next two centuries. In 1599 a castrato was on the payroll of the Sistine Choir in Rome.

In John Stanley’s book, Classical Music, he writes, “Castrati were also used extensively in opera, primarily singing women’s roles. The castrati provided a new and more powerful voice to sing the high parts with support, volume, intensity and control.” Stanley writes, “Music of the Roman Catholic Church, with a few notable exceptions, is a mere shadow of its former glory, while the Anglican choral tradition (a choir of men and boys) continues to flourish.”

Vocal Music in the United States
The early colonist brought with them the musical training they learned in Europe. Many came to our shores for religious freedom and quickly set up church services. Hymn singing was an integral part of their services. The first book printed in British North America was The Bay Psalm Book (The Bay Song Book) in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As singing took on greater importance, especially in churches, the Reverend John Tufts of Newbury, Massachusetts published the first practical book in singing in 1712. The better singers in church services tended to sit together and gradually became choir groups. The so-called “singing schools” were formed to improve and develop the church choirs. They first appeared in the colonies in 1720 and they quickly spread throughout New England. The directors of these singing schools were concerned with the ability to read music and interpret a variety of choral works. The rudiments of music and sight singing were paramount in the instruction.

It wasn’t long before music was introduced into the classroom of public schools. The first formal inclusion of music in schools occurred in Boston in 1838. The aim was to have a citizenry exposed to music as part of the common cultural heritage. Some schools followed the pestalozzian principles of music instruction, namely to teach sounds before signs and make children sing before they learn the written notes. Principles and theory came after the practice and not before.

As a result of these early practices, music instruction today is present in virtually all public school systems. In some school districts it is considered an indispensable and essential part of a student’s education. Let’s hope music education will continue in our schools for many years into the future, preserving this precious cultural heritage for generations to come.

Don’t miss the Danville Community Band’s annual concert at the Blackhawk Automotive Museum, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville, Sunday, March 29, 2015, 2:00 p.m.

The Danville Community Band was founded by Dr. Lawrence Anderson and his wife, Jan in 2001 and quickly became the largest community band in the Bay Area. The band is currently directed by Professor, Robert Calonico, director of bands, at the University of California, Berkeley. The band currently has openings for percussion players. Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.

Mona Lisa—Over 500 Years of Face Time

The Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci’s iconic painting wasn’t always as famous as she is now. Prior to Vincenzo Peruggia ripping her off the wall in the Louvre in August 1911, she was just another pretty face.
My longtime affinity for Mona Lisa goes back to childhood; my mother always displayed her image, and my girlish heart soared when Nat King Cole crooned the Mona Lisa song from cafe jukeboxes. Imagine the thrill when I met Ray Evans who wrote the “Mona Lisa” song. Giddy as a schoolgirl, I asked about his 1950s megahit. “It’s my best money-maker; I still get royalties in my mailbox.” Evans told me and sang the first line. “Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa men have named you…”Mona_Lisa

When I further researched “the lady with the mystic smile” I learned how she had become the most famous painting on earth. According to my Facebook friend, art historian Professor Noah Charney, he writes about her mysterious back story in his book, The Thefts of Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Famous Painting. Professor Charney founded ARCA— Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, a non-profit Rome-based think tank.

The 1911 heist of the Mona Lisa first appeared to have all the marks of an international theft ring, but the artwork was stolen by a nondescript disgruntled museum contractor, Vincenzo Peruggia, who co-workers nicknamed ‘macaroni’.

Peruggia, the unassuming thief from Dumenza in Northern Italy, went to Paris to find work, and was ironically contracted to the Louvre Museum to build a protective glass case for the Mona Lisa. The Louvre, without sufficient alarm systems, was finally beefing up security after Iberian head sculptures had been stolen in 1907 and sold to Picasso. The staff did maintenance on Mondays when the museum was closed.

The Salon Carre, where Mona Lisa was exhibited, also featured Titian, Raphael, Giorgione, Veronese, Tintoretto, Velasquez, Rubens, and Rembrandt masterworks. Peruggia targeted the Mona Lisa, (known as La Giaconda in Italy and La Jocunde in France) because he mistakenly perceived that Napoleon had plundered it along with other Italian treasures during his late 18th century Italian Campaign. Burning with patriotism and a dash of larceny, he believed Da Vinci’s painting should be returned to Italy. Though other Italian paintings were then more valuable, the Mona Lisa was accessible and portable.149139656

Peruggia had spent the previous Sunday night hiding in an airless closet off the staircase while scheming to steal the masterpiece at daybreak. His intention was to return it to the Uffizi in Florence, perhaps with a reward, and hence be acclaimed a national hero.

About 7:30 the morning of 21st August 1911, the white-smocked worker calmly lifted the masterpiece from the protective wall cradle and carried the unwieldy frame to the staircase. There he removed the painted wood panel from the frame, wrapped it in his smock and pried the doorknob off an exit door. It did not open. By chance a worker arrived and unwittingly opened the door. Peruggia nonchalantly carried the treasure under his arm to a museum courtyard and out to the street where he discarded the incriminating doorknob.

Meanwhile, back at the museum, with only a skeleton crew in the low-security 50-acre museum, no one noticed the blank space on the wall until replicator artist Louis Beroud arrived to finish his own copy of La Jocunde. The place where once hung the masterpiece had four pegs in the wall; the painting was missing!

Monsieur Picquet, maintenance director, coolly replied that the painting may have been removed to photograph in better light as was the custom. The earthshattering impact of the daring theft would not be discovered until Tuesday when viewers arrived. Gendarmes rushed in, launched a dragnet around Paris, trains, trolleys and trawlers were stopped. Mon Dieu!

That fateful Monday morning when Vincenzo Peruggia had exited the Louvre unnoticed he hopped a trolley to his flat at 5 Rue de l’Hopital Saint Louis. Carrying the precious loot to his fourth storey room, he placed the Mona Lisa in a firewood cabinet behind his bed, and gloated.

The thief could never have imagined in his wildest dreams that he had succeeded in pulling off the biggest art heist in history, and singlehandedly made the Mona Lisa the world’s most recognizable work of art. Peruggia’s single act of valor, or skullduggery, was to bring fame to the once-incognito Mona Lisa and the then-estimated worth skyrocketed way beyond $5 million.

French detectives jumped on the case, interviewed museum staff, staged roadblocks, newspapers screamed banner headlines, and the frantic hoopla seemed over the top to many. Even though once acclaimed as the “embodiment of the eternal feminine” she was still so obscure that the Washington Post showed an incorrect image with the headline, “Priceless art treasure gone.” Mona who?

So Mona Lisa, once a 16th century nobody, suddenly became an overnight sensation leading to the now-iconic priceless masterpiece drawing over eight million viewers annually to the Louvre.

When news broke that the Louvre’s favourite girl had disappeared gendarmes searched the premises, interrogated workers, fingerprinted everyone. One un-smudged fingerprint was found on the glass cradle, but in 1911 there was an inadequate database. If Peruggia’s print was found he had worked on the display case anyway. The investigation hit a wall, reached a dead end, then the Titanic sank, the Great  War loomed, news cycles switched, and the case turned cold.
Rumour has it that a police inspector interviewed Peruggia in his flat. During questioning he filled out forms pressing on the actual Mona Lisa panel sitting upside down on the very table where he sat. At least that’s what Peruggia’s daughter Celestina claimed.

The 20-pound painting is small, at only 30” x 21”x 1.5” it was easy to hide. It was not painted on canvas but on a white poplar panel. Peruggia built a wooden crate, placed the cloth-wrapped panel under the false bottom, filled it with clothes, shoes, tools and a mandolin, and secreted the coffin-like box under his bed safe as an unlaid egg.

So Leonardo Da Vinci’s celebrated Mona Lisa, who had already enjoyed over four centuries of public face time, was now demoted to languish in the dark box perhaps alongside a chamber pot under the handyman’s iron bed.

Two years later Peruggia carried the trunk on the train and returned to Italy. He had contacted a Florentine art dealer and offered to sell the precious La Giaconda to the Uffizi Gallery for a piddling 500,000 Lire. The handyman met the potential Uffizi buyers in his modest Tripoli-Italia Hotel room.

They watched as Peruggia removed clothes, shoes, mandolin, and then unceremoniously freed the beloved Mona Lisa from her sarcophagus. Close inspection convinced them the panel was truly Da Vinci’s masterpiece. They carried her to the Uffizi, hearts racing.

Later when the Carabinieri jailed him for grand larceny he was startled. Surely Italy would glorify his patriotism! Lawyers and psychiatrists worked for leniency for the man who claimed to be a patriot. Many Italians, perceiving Peruggia had rightfully returned their beloved Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece, showered him with praise. Women sent sweet cakes to his cell. “Not so fast,” the law warned.

The Mona Lisa ‘capolavoro’ had never belonged to Italy; Da Vinci had sold it to Francis I, king of France in 1517 when he was court painter. La Giaconda had hung in Fontainebleau, Versailles, and on Emperor Napoleon’s bedroom wall before it went to the Louvre. Italy benefitted from the masterpiece’s brief sojourn, the first in four centuries. When La Giaconda appeared at the Uffizi in Florence it was viewed by over 30,000 people on the first day. Then the kidnapped Mona Lisa caught her last express train from Milano back to Paris.

Vincenzo Peruggia stood trial for the high-profile theft, was diagnosed as mentally deficient owing to the high lead content in paint that he mixed and breathed. Court records showed how his brain was affected by lead poisoning. The verdict was lenient for the ‘patriotic’ thief.

Peruggia served seven months in prison then joined the Italian army during the Great War. After the war he returned to Paris with his wife. Renowned for committing the most celebrated crime of all time, he died in Paris in obscurity on his 44th birthday 8th October 1925.

So the man who had brought recognition to La Giaconda was buried without fanfare, without a gravestone. His notoriety had dissipated, no one cared anymore. But Mona Lisa’s haunting mystique abounded, and the once-unknown Florentine girl with no eyebrows and enigmatic smile, had songs and numerous books written about her.

Her name was Lisa Gherardini. born on June 15th 1479. The Florentine girl married merchant Francesco de Giacondo at age 16. Between 1503 and 1507 Lisa sat for a commissioned portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Da Vinci was born April 15th 1452 near the village of Vinci and was schooled in Florence. In 1481 he worked for the Duchy of Sforza as military engineer in Milano where he painted the Last Supper in 1495.

In 1507 King Louis XII named him court painter and he moved to France. King Francois I bought the Mona Lisa in 1516, and when Leonardo died in 1519 the he purchased his entire estate.

Leonardo Da Vinci is celebrated for his body of works; paintings and codex writings made him a Renaissance rock star. Had he not left such detailed legacies he may have just blended in with other great 16th century artists, but his innovations forced him to the top of the artistic pile. The southpaw was not only painter, but engineer, inventor, sculptor, philosopher and all-round genius. Some theorize he invented the helicopter, Scuba gear, perfected siege projectiles and river fording machinery. Scholars theorize that if IQ tests existed Da Vinci would score higher than any other genius.

The introduction of Da Vinci’s sfumato technique gave his art a smoky quality not achieved by others including Michelangelo Buonorotti. He took years to finish a painting because he laid thinned paint with the finest hair brushes, layering in thin coats that toned to monochromatic colours. Lines, borders or heavy strokes evaporated, vanished to subtle graduations of transparency. Every work was a masterpiece.

So to steal one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterworks was the coups of all coups. Vincenzo Peruggia was the most daring rogue of the hour, more than just a common thief who courageously succeeded in the heist of a renowned painting from the world’s most prestigious art museum.

Two decades after the infamous heist the red-hot story still hadn’t died. A bizarre account in the Saturday Evening Post in 1932 has never been proven as either fact or fantasy. Writer Karl Dekker stated he met Argentine aristocrat Valfierno in a bar in Casablanca. Where else? The aristocrat confessed that he had hired master forger Yves Chaudron to paint six fakes of the Mona Lisa that he offered to six different American millionaires for $300,000 each.

Years after the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, supposedly by Valfierno’s own gang, he contacted the six unwary potential buyers offering them each the ‘original masterpiece’. The con man said a fake was returned to the Louvre in January 1914, and even if the museum experts had doubted its authenticity, they would not advertise their gross ineptitude. Each rogue connoisseur bought the story, aware of the mother of all heists, and champed at the bit to possess the forbidden work of art for their eyes only.

Though the magazine story purported the ruse to be fact, it was implausible that the simple-minded mastermind Vincenzo Peruggia was ever part of a crime ring.

The Mona Lisa was on the move again during World War II. Fearing the Nazis would plunder the high-value masterpiece; they sequestered it away from Paris by ambulance. Then in 1974, like a wandering Gypsy girl, Mona Lisa went on tour to Tokyo and Moscow.

Time has dulled memories; the incident has faded like the sfumato of a Da Vinci painting, but Peruggia’s family in Dumenza still believe he was a hero. His daughter Celestina and grandchildren Graziella and Silvio Peruggia speak of the daring Mona Lisa snatch with amazement, smile at his audacity. In-depth research has revealed that Vincenzo Peruggia was truly patriotic, albeit he also anticipated a large reward.

Yes, the lady with the mystic smile, and over five centuries of face time has definitely earned her fame. Over the years unstable viewers have thrown coffee cups and red paint at her protective bullet-proof case, but her smile endures. And now you know the rest of Mona Lisa’s story.

The New Year’s Signs

I love the New Year! It’s a fresh start, a blank canvas, a clean slate, a “Do Over,” if you will. The question on everyone’s mind undoubtedly is: Will it be a good new year or a bad new year? There is obviously an equal chance it could go either way, but 50/50 really isn’t bad odds. What I’ve come to realize is the direction our year will take usually depends on the subtle signs we’re getting just as the year is starting out. Once “the signs” start coming your way, you first have to recognize them and then, once it’s determined if it will be a Good year or Bad year, start making preparations.459881979

These “signs” aren’t anything as obvious as a street sign or your daily horoscope based on an astrological sign. They are tenuous signs coming at you from different universal directions. If you were thinking there was a movie entitled Signs released in 2002, written and directed by M. NightShyamalan, you would be correct. However, the plot of that popular movie involved crop circles and extraterrestrial life, so there’s almost no correlation to this piece at all. My reference to signs is more like the 1971 song, Signs, by the group Five Man Electric Band. Everyone (who’s super-old) remembers that song right? Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs. Do this! Don’t do that? Can’t you read the signs? But I digress.There is a very strong chance that the New Year will is either going to be a Good one or Bad one, depending on what signs are coming your way.

25 Signs that it will be a Good New Year

1. Despite your over exposure to everything i (iPad, iTouch, iPod, iMac) you have not yet shown any symptoms of contracting “iBola.”
2. No one in your family is dating a Kardashian.
3. Mama June and Sugar Bear get back together for the sake of Honey Boo Boo.
4. A scientist in the Ukraine has finally developed a fat free donut that tastes just as good as a real one.
5. You used all your bitcoins in 2014.
6. Since the creepy neighbor moved away, none of the family pets have had unexplained absences.
7. Words with Friends recently accepted you back after the mandatory thirty-day suspension for habitually playing porn slang.
8. You sold your Cosby Show DVD box set to someone who just came out of a coma.
9. You gave your teen daughter a $20.00 to get a Starbuck’s drink and she actually gave you change.
10. The Witness Protection Program finally accepted you, a week before your scheduled visit with the in-laws.
11. Due to your more than normal consumption of candy canes during the holidays, your classic “Pull my finger” joke now features a subtle waft of peppermint.
12. Your savings account balance is sporting its first comma in months.
13. Your wife says she’s feeling frisky and it’s not even your birthday.
14. Thanks to the frequency of your holiday work orders, Roto-Rooter sent you a “Customer of the Quarter” plaque.
15. The water bill arrived and for the first time in the past year it was less than your mortgage.
16. The FX network announced they’ve decided to run one more season of your favorite show, Sons of Anarchy.
17. Your 17 year old son tells you he’s having second thoughts about getting those cool gauges in his ears for his 18th birthday.
18. Your boss, who you don’t like, just got transferred to the company’s Ferguson, Missouri branch. What…too soon?
19. Your HOA approved your plans to add a moat in your front yard.
20. Your kid’s doctor says the itchy scalp is simple dandruff and not head lice.
21. Due to your recent weight loss, people can finally make out the Def Leppard tattoo you got in ’84 during their Pour Some Sugar on Me tour.
22. You just met your ex-wife’s new husband and he looks miserable.
23. You bought an expensive electronics device at Best Buy and 14 days later it’s still NOT obsolete.
24. Your ISIS application was rejected for lack of anger and meanness.
25. You submit your New Year’s article two days before the ALIVE deadline instead of the standard ten days late. You’re thinking Pulitzer.

25 Signs that it will be a Bad New Year.

1. There’s police crime scene tape surrounding your house following your raging New Year’s Eve Party.
2. You’re considering leaving your outdoor holiday lights up all year to class up the neighborhood.
3. Your physician says that the lab results indicate you have two weeks to live and then he apologizes he couldn’t reach you during the holidays.
4. Your credit score is a single digit number.
5. 2015 is the newest calendar year and also your blood pressure reading.
6. Your New Year’s kiss was with your cellmate Rocco.
7. The Salvation Army called to say they want their red kettle back.
8. At the start of the NFL season, you bet it all on either the Raiders or 49ers winning the Super Bowl in 2015.
9. Your wife gives you a gift card to Forever 61 and you’re only 50.
10. The World’s Fattest Man sends you an email telling you to “Back Off!”
11. Your revised financial plan focuses heavily on Lottery tickets.
12. Your teenage daughter went on Craig’s List offering to trade both of your kidneys for Miley Cyrus tickets.
13. During a recent physical, your physician asks if you’re allergic to embalming fluid.
14. The kid’s college fund depends on you selling your gold crowns on ebay.
15. You’re thinking of filing a work place sexual harassment complaint and you’re self-employed.
16. After six months of intense cross fit training you’re wife says she finds you slightly less disgusting.
17. Your high school reunion now looks like a cast party from Cocoon.
18. Your current “To Do” list reads like a suicide note.
19. Your wife’s cooking has gotten so bad you appear to be a prisoner of war.
20. The cologne your kids bought your for Christmas makes you smell like an ATM machine.
21. Your wife tells you she’s into something kinky, so she handcuffs you to the bed and goes shopping.
22. You’re on a first name basis with the staff at Applebee’s.
23. The balance in your family vacation account would currently only get you a one-night stay at the Motel 6 in Pleasanton.
24. The dog refuses to take a walk with you until you lose some weight.
25. Your wife insists that you learn to write with your left hand so you can keep paying the bills if you have a stroke.

The signs have spoken, although it’s probably safe to say the signs above might be slightly different that the ones you’re receiving. Let’s hope the signs coming your way point to a good new year. Signing off…………

Stamps In My Passport: Bruges

I’ve never managed to get around to putting together a bucket list. Done lots of exciting and different things over the years, so never felt the need. Had I ever assembled one, it would have been divided into two distinct categories – one being things to do and the second would be places to visit. To fill the latter category I would have used the UNESCO World Heritage list. It’s a huge register of just over one thousand sites divided into cultural, natural, and mixed locations. I’ve blundered into a number of them during my travels, and I really have to give the twenty one members on the selection committee a “thumbs-up” for picking great places.

It isn’t easy to get on the list. An applicant must meet at least one of ten criteria established by UNESCO. The next step is to become part of the Tentative List, meet their approval, and finally be selected by the UNESCO Council. The last stage is to receive final approval from the UNESCO World Consent Committee. Takes effort, time, and patience to be selected.

Perhaps my all-time favorite is Luang Prabangin Laos far up the Mekong River. But last year I found a great number two. May I tell you about it?

Our experience with Belgium has been quite limited. We spent a couple of days in Brussels some years ago while on an “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” tour. A few years later we visited with friends who were living in Brussels. Our modus operandi has changed considerably since those days. As we age we are now spending weeks instead of days at each spot. This gives us an opportunity to feel the life of a location, rather than just a brief run-by.

We realized we knew very little about Belgium, so this country worked its way to the top of our “to visit list.” When one thinks of Belgium, Brussels is the first city that pops to mind. But as I said in my introduction, World Heritage sites usually prove more interesting, so our focus turned from Brussels to the near-by city of Bruges.174102041 44444

Bruges is a rabbit warren. Its history goes back about two thousand years. In the fourteenth century it was well established as one of the most prosperous and cosmopolitan cities of Europe. Its easy access to the North Sea made it a central operating city of major importance. Several major waterways allowed goods to flow into and out of Europe. The historic city center is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. This area is not only surrounded by canals, but they are also found in every corner of the town. Inside this tight little conclave a city of remarkable architectural and cultural interest developed.

The Industrial Revolution was not kind to Bruges. Other ports along the North Sea in France, Netherlands, and Germany drained much of the lifeblood from this thriving metropolis. The canals from Bruges to the sea began to fill with silt, and the deep draught ships found more appropriate ports.

World War I proved an important event for Burges, as it occupied the northern tip of the German defenses. The poem “In Flanders Field, the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row,” speaks of the land surrounding Bruges. WWII had only a minor influence. The town was occupied by the Germans, of course, but was ignored by the advancing Allied armies. For all practical considerations, the occupying Germans just got up and left.

This light treatment was exceptionally beneficial for the town. There was very little damage done to the multitude of magnificent buildings, and Bruges became the stereotypical picture of historic houses. It achieved the coveted prize of being named a “UNESCO World Heritage Site” in 2008.

Now, let me slip from the broad overview to my own little Bruges story. Near the center of the town sits an old hospital, St. John’s, which was later expanded with the addition of a monastery and convent. The building was first built in the eleventh century and is located just across from the Church of our Lady. This complex served its purpose for many centuries, and then evolved into one of the leading hospitals in the city. It served in this capacity for many years and continues to have elements of its mission left behind, such as an herb garden which was used to grow healing plants. Alas, modern medicine made this beautiful sanctuary obsolete, and it now has been resurrected as a museum.

Just outside the west wall sits a white block and stone building. The wall itself contains a number of tombs – each of which holds the remains of local church leaders who were influential throughout the centuries.

The little building next door to the wall began as a nunnery. Early pictures show it standing stately by itself. The windows were heavily barred, and a local joker told me the bars were to keep the nuns in and not to keep the riffraff out. The construct of stone is strong and stately and shows no signs of its age. This building now is in its third resurrection. It currently houses a small apartment hotel with just eleven rooms, each about 600 square feet. It was here, within these four walls of ancient history, that we spent two plus weeks studying this fantastic town of Bruges.

My first observation found Bruges to have more chocolate factories and confectionary stores than it has churches. The chocolate shops are loaded with tourists stocking up on the well-known confections. Chocolate is resplendent in a variety of molds, not just proper-sized pieces. These molds can be of tools, such as pliers and wrenches, or as various body parts. (Use your own imagination here.) The chocolate shops are challenged for supremacy by the locally-brewed beers. Beside each chocolate shop lurks a store selling Bruges-brewed beer.

We spent days wandering the streets of this picturesque city. The canals offered slow and easy boat rides through the multitudes of canals. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped along the narrow cobblestone streets. Tea houses with Belgian waffles were mixed in between the chocolate shops and the beer retailers. The mixture of architectural design delighted the eye. The dates on most of the building went back three hundred, four hundred, even five hundred years.

We sat in parks, ate in street cafes, and allowed the tranquil atmosphere to sink in. Then, of course, we could return to our ex-nunnery for the night.

Once again I tip my hat to the UNESCO people. They did it right by putting Bruges on that very select list.

Top Ten of 2014

Before we gaze into the crystal ball of films-recently-past and honor the best of 2014, I want to admit that one of the best times I had at the movies all year was watching It’s a Wonderful Life on television the other night. It had been at least 20 years since I last saw it, and I spent the entire three hours (including commercials) blubbering away, completely immersed in the plight of George Bailey, as I was once again reminded just how precious and important and, well, deeply moving our simple lives—and the films about them—can be.

To say they don’t make ‘em like that anymore is a worn cliché, but it’s true—and that is just how it should be. The art of film, like life itself, is a constant-flux proposition, an always-evolving, wither-if-not-watered kinda deal. The classic films of the golden age were in the business of defining genres—they created the grand structures of cinematic narrative. The auteurs of today understand this language implicitly, and see genre as yet another element to be stretched, manipulated, mashed, and often left behind completely in their quest to create unique and timely art. The best films of this past year really moved the dial forward, most by fundamentally redefining their approach to genre.

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, my number one film of 2014, took the coming-of-age genre to its perhaps ultimate—but nearly impossible to manifest—conclusion: showing the actual aging process, for real, over years and years, of a cast of characters in a fictional story. Linklater’s achievement, and that of his stellar cast (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and newcomer Ellar Coltrane), is nothing short of a cinematic miracle. The fact that the film itself is so sublime, intuitive, honest, and truthful transformed the already successful genre experiment into high art of the first order.boyhood_xxlg

Likewise, Birdman, Under the Skin, Whiplash, Nightcrawler, and Foxcatcher all bent their core genres to the point where they were nearly unrecognizable forms. Birdman is a collision of black comedy and stark magical realism sucked into the existential abyss; the end result a film that is as indescribable as it is exhilarating. Under the Skin brought a terrifying realism to its science fiction underpinnings, creating an otherworldly dimension that hasn’t felt this new, or inexplicable, since Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Whiplash whipped the “teacher/student,” “cat & mouse,” and “music as metaphor” sub-genres into a frenzied wail of percussive pain, while Nightcrawler infused the media satire with true crime thriller tensions, exploring ethical dilemmas we are still discovering in the digital age. And, perhaps the slyest of the bunch, Foxcatcher (being true to its title) presented a frightening gothic horror story that looked nothing of the sort; with a monster we’ve never seen before—the massive inequality of wealth and privilege in modern day America—that drives men to insanity and murder.

This year also gave us a healthy dose of blue-chip historical drama: Selma, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything (which just barely missed my list) told impeccable and heartrending stories of massively influential figures whose bravery and brains truly changed the world for the better.

There were many stellar documentaries in 2014, and three are on my list: The Battered Bastards of Baseball, I’ll Be Me, and Life Itself explore the transcendent qualities of baseball, music, and film, respectively, against a backdrop of struggle, tragedy, and, ultimately, the life-affirming personal philosophies of their subjects.

And then there is Wild Tales, which you just have to see for yourself. Prepare for a very bumpy ride!

In short, there will always be ever-emergent celluloid waves to surf, and 2014 was a maverick. Let’s hang ten:

1) Boyhood

2) Birdman

3) The Imitation Game

4) Under the Skin

5) Selma

6) The Battered Bastards of Baseball

7) Whiplash

8) Nightcrawler

9) Wild Tales

10) Foxcatcher

Honorable Mention: Tie between “I’ll Be Me” and “Life Itself.”

And, as we look forward to the cinematic adventures of 2015, I want to begin with a recommendation that is pretty close to home for all of us in the Bay Area, and for me in particular. My long-time Flick Nation colleague Dennis Willis is co-writer and editor (excellent work, my man!) of Changing Boundaries: The History of San Jose, an expansive documentary that tells the stories of the working people, political leaders, and dreamers who built the city of San Jose. The film is narrated by well known actor/storyteller Peter Coyote and features interviews with key historical figures, revealing the dramatic—and often absurd—journey from San Jose’s humble, and often rowdy, beginnings to its current status as the multi-cultural heart of Silicon Valley.

Changing Boundaries premieres at the California Theater in San Jose on January 22nd. This film is a must for all Northern Californians—I hope to see you at the premier!

New Year’s 2015 Beauty Resolution

Smooth and Youthful Skin Starts With Good Skin Care

The New Year brings us a new beginning and a fresh start. When the New Year approaches, people promise themselves that this is the year they’re going to take charge and replace bad habits with good routines. This year you may want to think about starting a new skin care program; or if you’ve never had one, now is a good time to start. A good routine will improve your skin, giving you years of youthful complexion in the future. Discover new scientific methods that can make a difference to your skin, treating your complexion with new technologies in skin care, such as antioxidant serums and scrubs.

The first step to future skin health is finding a licensed Aesthetician. An Aesthetician is highly trained in the care of the skin and is state board certified in analyzing all different types of skin to advise you on what to use for your specific needs. Many Aestheticians work with Dermatologists, offering facials and specialized skin treatments in their offices. Most Dermatologists do not provide skin care programs; they supply skin treatments and medications. Below are some skin care options for you to consider adding to your daily routine.

Facial Cleansers
You want to avoid the “one-size-fits-all” skin cleansers. If you have dry skin, use a cleanser that will help nourish, protect, and re-moisturize the skin. If you have an oily complexion, use a cleanser that will help balance the oil production and reduce acne. For sensitive skin, use a cleanser that does not have herbs or a scent, as this can prove to be an irritant, causing breakouts and dryness. Instead, use a cleanser that deep cleans the surface and eliminates skin irritations.

Facial Toners
Face toners are essential for beautiful skin. They help to moisturize, while bringing the skin back to its natural PH balance. It also removes hard-to-cleanse residue left over from make-up. A good toner will also help exfoliate the skin and retexture the surface of the skin so the complexion will be firm and smooth.

Eye Creams
Eye creams are essential to avoid pre-mature aging and wrinkles. It is important to get one that is specifically made for the eye area. The skin around the eye is very thin and delicate and must be treated differently than the rest of the face. You cannot use face moisturizers around the eye area because they are too thick and will not moisturize or hydrate. A good eye cream will instantly firm and tighten eye contour, minimizing the appearance of puffy eyes and dark circles.

Face Creams
While everyone is different, a face cream should be used every day to avoid dehydration. Using a face cream for your specific skin needs is not only beneficial, but essential. Look for creams that have been scientifically improved with enriched vitamins, antioxidants and peptides. It will keep the skin supple and hydrated. Research has shown that applying peptides with anti-oxidants and vitamins reduces fine lines, healing the skin from the inside out, thus reducing the formation of wrinkles.

Protect your skin’s future
We invite you to come in this year and sample our skin care products and treatments by Ongrien Technologies. We would like to educate you on a proper skin care program and help you achieve your skin health goals. Let this year be the year you love your skin. It’s Easy, simple, and a snap to get the skin you want.

Crabgrass & Roses

Q. Please tell me the best time to control Crabgrass. I treat it every year and it always comes back. Is there anything I can do without replacing my lawn?100303766

A. Now is the time of the year to control the dormant seeds of Crabgrass. It is also the time of the year to make your first application of a lawn food. There are several combination turf products available. They include a fertilizer along with a pre-emergent herbicide for Crabgrass and other weeds such as Scott’s Super Turf Builder plus Halts. It’s the pre-emergent herbicide that prevents the dormant seeds on the ground from germinating. For the actively growing Crabgrass, you would apply a different herbicide later in the year. I’m going to assume that you are applying the right product at the right time. Your lack of success can only be from one other thing. You have some other weed other than Crabgrass. Today,

“Crabgrass” is used as the universal label for all the unwanted vegetation that shows up in a grass lawn. My primary suspect that isn’t controlled by a Crabgrass herbicide is a perennial weed called Bermuda Grass. Bermuda Grass is a mass of wiry stems that goes dormant or turns brown in mid-November through mid-March. It spreads rapidly with warm temperatures. The brown stems are very visible today. On the other hand, Crabgrass is an annual that dies out in cool temperatures. It disappears during the winter leaving behind bare ground or spots where it was. This is a distinguishing characteristic that separates it from all the other suspects. Your first step is to determine what the problem is. The nursery professional at your favorite garden center is an excellent resource in sorting through possible solutions. There is more than one right answer.

Q. My roses are still blooming should I prune them now or wait? Also, after pruning which of the following dormant sprays should I use; Volck Oil Spray, Sun Spray Ultra Fine Oil, or the Lime Sulfur fungicide? Is there anything else, I should be doing?

A. I wouldn’t delay pruning my roses just because they’re in bloom. However, it is early enough in the pruning season not to be in any great rush, so you can wait if you so choose. You could apply any one of the three products but my preference of dormant spray would be the Lime Sulfur fungicide. I’d save the Volck and Sun Spray Oil for use during the spring and summer months. They are excellent organic controls for the pests and diseases of roses. Before spraying, clean up all the debris around and under the bushes and be sure to strip off any of the foliage on the canes that remain from the previous year. Finally, loosen or relocate the metal name tag. All too often the wire griddles the stem causing it to die. I’d attach it to a nail at the top of a wooden stake placed in front of the plant(s).

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. His web address is and you can send questions by email at or to 360 Civic Drive Ste. ‘D’, Pleasant Hill, California 94523.

Natural Healing for Pinched Nerves and Bulging Discs

If you are suffering from a pinched nerve or herniated disc, you know how debilitating it is and how the pain slowly leaks the vitality from your life. Since 1999, when Align Healing Center opened its doors, we have been specialists in treating pain naturally; whether it’s back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain or any other pain, we have been there to awaken the healing potential in the body and relieve the pain. That being said, we are always in search of miraculous new ways to relieve pain without the use of drugs, invasive procedures and certainly without inducing more pain! If you or someone you care about suffers from a pinched nerve or disc-related pain, it is worthwhile to explore the exceptional, non-invasive, natural therapies that are available today. emotional-wellness-dimension-of-wellness

Can I heal my pain without drugs or surgery? Yes, here’s how…

1. Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression Therapy
Non-surgical spinal decompression is a state of the art treatment that has been helping thousands of patients with chronic neck or low back pain, sciatica, and herniated, bulging or degenerated discs. This is an entirely different treatment from traditional chiropractic adjustments. Many of the patients who are candidates for this procedure have already tried chiropractic, physical therapy, injections, and/or were told they would need surgery.
This breakthrough treatment works by gently separating the vertebra which decompresses the disc, thus causing the bulging material to be drawn back into the disc. It does this by reversing the internal disc pressure, thus creating a vacuum effect. According to the Journal of Neurosurgery (vol. 81, 1994), decompression was found to substantially reduce the pressure inside disc, therefore allowing water and nutrients to be absorbed and initiate the healing process within the disc itself. Non-surgical spinal decompression is very effective, has a high success rate, and can be utilized for both cervical and lumbar disc injuries.

2. Class IV Laser Therapy
Laser treatments at Align Healing Center are done with the K-laser 1200 Class IV Laser. Class IV Laser therapy gets to the root of the injury and treats it at the cellular level, providing energy to the cells so they can heal. This laser does not cut or burn but is gently absorbed by the tissue. During each painless treatment, laser energy increases circulation, drawing water, oxygen and nutrients to the damaged area. This creates an optimal healing environment that reduces inflammation, swelling, muscle spasms, stiffness and pain. As the injured area returns to normal, function is restored and pain is relieved.

There is hope!
We have found that a combination of Class IV laser therapy and spinal decompression offers outstanding results in healing stubborn pain due to a pinched nerve, bulging disc or spinal degeneration.
As a general rule, most patients experience significant changes in symptoms within one to three sessions. Occasionally, a more advanced degenerative condition or multiple level herniated discs may take 8-10 sessions before realizing a major decline in symptoms. Relief response varies according to age, body morphology and the degree of severity.

This unique combination of non-invasive therapy offers a chance for realizing a permanent cure for neck or back pain. This eliminates the long-term care commitment forced upon patients by other symptomatic low-back pain treatments, such as drugs, injections or surgery. With proper care and rehabilitation of your spine you can be back to your healthy self quickly!

For more information about Dr. Niele Maimone, DC or to set up a complimentary consult call 925.362.8283 or visit


Many of us are unaware that we might suffer from OSA (obstructive sleep apnea). Many know they have OSA and have sought help only to be given a CPAP that they can’t tolerate. Until recent years, physicians believed that the only standard of care for OSA was the CPAP. Extensive research has concluded that an oral appliance can be just as effective. Just think, no more mask and forced air and you don’t have to take an extra bag for the CPAP when you travel, just something the size of a can of tuna.

To emphasize how absolutely vital the situation is, here are just a few of the dangers untreated OSA can cause: Almost a 500% increase in developing cancer, a 600% increase in heart disease, a 300% increase in auto accidents as well as a 500% increase in the accident being very serious. In my practice I am beginning to see the loss of one’s driver’s license as a result of non-treatment. Although these are scary facts, we should not lose sight of how much better the quality of our life can be—from a healthier body and brain, to the elimination of a major source of chronic inflammation—when OSA is properly treated. The body must have deep sleep in order to restore the immune system and to prevent inflammation.

Unfortunately there are many dentists that offer oral appliances for OSA as a small part of a complex dental practice. Many do not have the training and experience necessary to supply the patient the most comprehensive service. Proper design and adjustment of the appliance can be quite time consuming which can be difficult to fit into a busy schedule, not to mention the extensive training necessary to be a qualified provider, providing adequate care.

At Advanced Oral Diagnoses and Treatment Center, located in Danville, we specialize in Dental Sleep Medicine and TMJ dysfunction only. These two conditions are many times associated with each other and it can benefit the patient greatly to be treated by an expert in both fields.

A properly designed and adjusted oral appliance has made a huge difference for me and for hundreds of my patients. Our office uses a very specialized computer called an acoustic pharyngometer. With this device, both the patient and I can see the location of the obstruction and watch it altered as the lower jaw is repositioned both forward and vertically. The increased air flow is right there for the patient to see. The appliance is then made to these exact specifications.

Once delivered, the oral device may require some adjustment to insure ultimate comfort and function. Once the patient is happy with the results, I highly recommend a follow up sleep study, which can be done at home, to verify that the OSA is being effectively treated and the user is getting proper sleep.

Your initial appointment is complimentary, allowing you to get all the answers you need to choose the best treatment option for your condition. Advanced Oral Diagnosis and Treatment Center is located in Danville. Dental Sleep Medicine and TMJ treatment are our specialties. Please feel free to contact us at 925-837-8408 and visit our website at for more information.

Sitting is the new SMOKING!

I don’t know how you feel about it, but from what I can tell, sitting is getting way too popular. We sit to work, sit to eat, sit to think, and sit when we get home to relax from all of that….sitting. Clearly, sitting has crept into our daily lives, disguised as a work requirement, or a relaxing moment or as an actual goal – “sitting in the lap of luxury.” In fact I’m sitting as I write this, but a treadmill desk is in my very near future!

Although sitting can be relaxing, there is strong evidence showing that sitting is an aggressive, unhealthy activity. Our bodies were designed to move, but sitting has been making inroads into our lives for generations, first as a show of wealth (kings, queens and my Uncle Ned), and then with the invention of the chair, the Barco Lounger, the corner office and the dreaded cubicle. But in the last 10 years, sitting has really grabbed us by the rear. In America today, 60% of people spend six or more hours of the day sitting. This can’t be too surprising–after all, television, computers and commuting require people to spend hours sitting down. But how bad is that? Well, it’s a big deal—bigger than the derrière you’ll get from all that inactivity.

Before you think that this doesn’t apply to you, take an honest look at your average day. Most people wake up and sit at the table or the computer with a cup of coffee for 30 minutes, then commute for 30-40 minutes, then sit for most of the workday, another six hours. When the work is done, it’s time to sit to eat, and finally, a chance to relax in front of the TV or read or knit or play the guitar—another four hours. That adds up to almost 12 hours of sitting!

Recent research from Australia’s Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute shows that prolonged sitting is responsible for increased colon, breast, lung and prostate cancers. It also doubles your chance of getting Type II diabetes. But the news gets worse. Exercise doesn’t compensate for this. That’s right, sitting is its own risk factor that can’t be tamed by a run in the afternoon. In fact, the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center has developed a formula showing that if you do one hour of moderate exercise, the health gained, will be totally reversed if you sit for six hours. That would make you an “active couch potato.”


Adding even more evidence that sitting is bad news is the discovery that it suppresses a key gene (lipid phosphate phospatase-1) that helps prevent inflammation and blood clotting. This puts sitting squarely in the “scary” category. Sounds a lot like smoking, and that is exactly what many scientists are implying.


1. Your metabolism shuts down when sitting and the enzymes that breakdown fat decrease 90%.
2. Sitting over 5 hours a day will shave 3.5 years off your life even if you exercise regularly.
4. A sedentary job results in twice the chance of getting colon and rectal cancer.
5. Obese people sit 2.5 hours more per day then normal weight people.
6. Within 5 days of shifting to a sedentary lifestyle triglycerides,cholesterol and insulin levels increase This increases weight and inflammation.
7. Heavy exercisers tend to sit more than average people on their exercise days.
8. Prolonged sitting decreases the “feel good” hormones and increases depression.
9. Increased pressure from sitting generates increased fat in the buttocks.

There are things you can do to decrease sitting time and I’m sure you don’t need me tell you to stand more at work or home, but even so, try standing during phone calls, practice your balance when watching TV or just fidget at your desk. Standing breaks as short as one minute can be a game changer.

If you sit a lot and are beginning to feel effects like back pain, headaches, fatigue and difficulty sleeping, take the first step at regaining your health and schedule a consultation at our office.

Dr. Davis is a BOARD CERTIFIED CHIROPRACTIC NEUROLOGIST in Walnut Creek. He has been serving individuals with chronic pain for 30 years. For information about how you can get a free consultation with Dr. Davis, call (925) 279-4324 (HEAL). Visit us at

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