Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Etched on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty are the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  Emma Lazarus was the author of a sonnet for which this quote was taken.  Lazarus’ family background stems from Sephardic Jews originally from Portugal.   Let’s face it, unless you are a Native American some member of your ancestry immigrated from another country.  On November 9, the Times Ledger celebrated 25 of the nominated immigrants with an Ambassador Award.  

New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim, the first Korean-American ever to be elected to the NY State legislature, was the keynote speaker.  Among the honorees were: Tahl Leibovitz, born in Haifa Israel; Yeou-Cheng Ma, of Chinese descent born in France; and Marlene Tseng Yu who arrived in the United States from Taiwan.  

Forty one years ago Tahl moved to New York with his family, including his twin and older sister.  His maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors.   As a young teenager he and his friends spent time at a Boys and Girls Club in Richmond Hill where he began competing in table tennis.  Despite suffering from a condition known as osteochondroma, which limits his range of movement, Tahl excelled in “ping pong” taking him to winning world-wide championship games that include the Paralympics.  With long years of schooling, Tahl earned two undergraduate (Philosophy and Sociology) and two master degrees in Social Work. Thanks to the support of his wife, Dawn, he is able to continue his table tennis coaching, competitions and social work.  

Violinist Yeou-Cheng Ma and her brother Yo-Yo started music lessons at a young age in France.  Her mother Marina Lu was a singer, while her father Hiao-Tsiun Ma was an established violinist, composer and professor of music. It was after a concert in 1961, during a visit to the US that their father Dr. H.T. Ma was recruited to teach in America, where it soon became their home. 

Yeou-Cheng now teaches violin at the Children’s Orchestra Society that her father founded. “Upon his retirement my brother was his first request,” Ma said. “However, at that time Yo-Yo was busy touring. He then asked me, to which I replied, ‘Yes, but not this year since I’m interning pediatrics and working 120 hours out of 168.’”

“I spoke very little English and was most proficient in math and science. Entering college I decided to major in chemistry,” Ma said. “I then applied to both graduate and medical school. Accepted in both at Harvard University, I chose medical school first. It was through the advice of a mentor along with my love for children that I opted to be in the field of pediatrics.”

Ma finally took on the role of the executive director of the Children’s Orchestra Society after getting married and having a child. Her musician husband, Michael Dadap, said he dreamed about having his own music school. It was then that Michael became the artistic and music director.

World renowned artist Marlene Tseng Yu departed Taiwan at the age of 26 to pursue her talents here in America first heading to Colorado to earn her masters in Fine Arts.  Before coming to the US her father said, “Don’t stand on the shore to go fishing.  Just go into the water and catch the fish.”  Marlene met James Yu and moved to Jackson Heights.  Her love of nature inspired her paintings and at the age of 80 continues to create murals.  Inspired by nature’s beauty she became concerned about Global Warming and the importance of the rainforests being cut down.

In 2008, she and James founded the Rainforest Art Foundation to support her and other like-minded artists.  One of the locations is at her studio in Long Island City.  The other is the Marlene Yu Museum in Shreveport run by her daughter, Stephanie. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Art Historian and Art Critic Donald Kuspit presented the latest art display at the Rainforest Art Foundation, one of which is located in Long Island City.  Entitled 50 Years Creations On her eighty’s birthday 1937-2017, Marjorie Grigonis is the artist whose works fill the walls.   “This is a memorial exhibition for her,” said Kuspit. “She is known for works of painting on paper and various forms of art.  Along with Marlene Yu and one other artist there was supposed to be an exhibition of three women artists who turned 80.  However, Marjorie died just before her 80th birthday and I wanted to have a separate exhibition dedicated to her. I want to show the range of her works that we were able to get a hold of as there are many others in private collections which were not accessible to me.” 
Kuspit had known Grigonis since the 1980’s as well as having met both Marlene Tseng Yu and her husband James.  Marlene curated this exhibition.  Kuspit is responsible for the catalogue, which includes his introductory and comments on the art.  “Marjorie was very much influenced by a famous artist Anton Ehrenzweig who wrote The Hidden Order of Art.” In the book Ehrenzweig had written, “Grigonis’s spontaneously applied form elements are fragile and subject to unpredictable changes of mood” and viewing her as a “creative thinker.”

Grigonis had spent part of every year the last three decades on the rocky coast of Maine and has visited other countries whenever it was possible.  This show in her works of repetition having visited Japan, France, Germany, Mexico, China and Italy along with  group of paintings inspired by her trip to Morocco and the Sahara.

Grigonis  writes, “My abstract drawings and paintings are the visual record of exploration, criticism, trial and err, and discovery. The process is both determined and spontaneous; it includes critical reworking and accident as I look for something I haven’t seen before.  There is pre-planning so the characteristics of the media are in large part responsible for the look of each piece.”  Grigonis tends to find unusual combinations and humor with her abstracts.  Collages are another style to view that she includes “material gathered from travels and at home” that refer to a culture “and may have more of the feel of a narrative.”

The catalogue divides the art work into the categories of: Unconscious color paintings; Linear tendency drawings; Prints and etchings, Collage, Portraits of artist; along with Poems by Donald Kuspit. 

Exhibition dates are from October 14 through November 30, 2017.  Rainforest Art Foundation is located at 36-48 37th Street. Hours are: Tue-Fri 1:00pm – 5:00 pm. Phone: 347-242-2769.

Monday, October 9, 2017


There’s a new café on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills with a French name of Poesie where the style of cooking is not about the cream sauces.  Owner, Alexandra Rodionova, an entrepreneur from Russia is offering “healthy food.”

Alexandra earned her degree as a "Specialist of Restaurant Business" in Russia, and was managing a similar place like this café, which led to her to dreaming of having her own here in the US.  Her dream became reality in March of 2017 as POESIE CAFE, a local and affordable place with great coffee based drinks, delicious desserts and fresh squeezed juices. “Lately, we came up with a full breakfast menu, including poached eggs, omelets, oatmeal and Greek yogurt with fresh fruits and berries; along with some lunch items, like salads and healthy French sandwiches called ‘Tartines.’”

Alexandra saw the food industry moving forward where customers are health conscious and value good quality food.  “We brought up SOUS VIDE, a French method of slow cooking on a low temperature, storing the food in an air tightened vacuumed bag with spices and oil/butter into the water bath, which is similar to steaming, but different because of its elevation in rich flavor. The food comes out extremely juicy, tender and healthy, conserving all vitamins.”

She and her husband are mixing their Russian and Indian cultures into cooking, experimenting with flavors. “It is difficult to stick to a specific type of cuisine. We just cook what we like, what is tasty and definitely healthy; that is the main criteria. Unfortunately, many food industries are concentrated on serving cheap and often unhealthy food with the purpose of getting maximum profit. We try to think about a healthy and beneficial side of nutrition and provide it with an affordable price.” 

Alexandra tell us that customers love their fresh juices and protein shakes, due to the area being concentrated with different gyms, dance/yoga studios and various sport centers. “In the morning, fresh croissants and Danishes from famous ‘Balthazar are desirable favorites.”

Bistro tables and chairs line the outside along with two “Adirondack” lounge chairs facing the street.  I couldn’t resist having an iced cappuccino. Barista Nash prepared it using their signature coffee that comes from Austria.  Once inside the café, the pastries are the obvious “greeting.” That is where I saw the macarons, not to be mistaken for “macaroons.”  I chose the “wedding almond” for the time being. Nutella, Espresso, and Matcha Tea (made from a strong green tea powder), later went “to go.” 

Sous Vide platter of herbed chicken breast, broccoli and roasted garlic potatoes was first sampled.  Although the style of cuisine is French…do not expect to order French Fries.   Continuing with Sous Vide, I ordered a warm salad.  Veggies such as carrots, buttered corn on the cob, and ginger beets are prepared with this slow cooking method while raw spinach, raw arugula, feta cheese and dressing are the toppers.  Veggies came out perfectly tender without being overcooked. 

One of their best Sous Vide all day sellers is a breakfast item of 2 poached eggs, toast and butter, asparagus spears,  and avocado topped with hummus.  
“SOUS VIDE is getting popular by its variety of seasonal veggies, soft meatloaf style cheeseburgers, and creamy poached eggs”, says Alexandra. “We are planning to work on more SOUS VIDE items menu and provide rich nutrition lunches and dinners that our sports enthusiasts and families with kids – who are focused on rich nutritional diet - will enjoy to their optimal satisfaction. “
French Tartines are quite popular as they use whole wheat organic Batard, similar to a baguette.  Rather than lox on a bagel with cream cheese the cold smoked salmon had “shmears” of ricotta cheese and topped with arugula.  Next time I plan to sample a Moroccan Tartine with chicken, hummus, sunflower seeds, arugula and feta cheese.  Sounds yummy!

Certainly no room for a Flatbread Pizza, but quite curious about the La Reine with ricotta, blueberries, blackberries, parmesan, balsamic, and arugula.   How about a plain old-fashioned cheeseburger?  With the meatloaf style burger done Sous Vide, it came out well done, very tender and not the least bit “chewy.”  Don’t expect it to be served on a store- bought hamburger bun. 
As for liquids, the present menu has 11 different energy drinks, 10 combos of fresh juices, 5 Tropical juices, and 5 smoothies made with whole milk.  Not satisfied? Create your own.

Poesie Café is located at 102-10 Metropolitan Avenue, Forest Hills. Phone 718-575-8500.

Monday, October 2, 2017


I am so glad that it wasn’t just me that was screaming with laughter last week at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre.  I was sure that I would end up with a huge headache and no air left in my lungs.   The secret was in not holding anything back.  The Play That Goes Wrong has got to be the most hilarious play that I have ever experienced. 
Originally from London The Play That Goes Wrong is ingeniously written by three of its cast members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields.  It is both brilliantly and painstakingly directed by Mark Bell.  First, let me explain the whole setup. 
This is a play within a play where the members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are seriously attempting to perform, The Murder at Haversham Manor, by Susie H.K. Brideswell.   The action takes place the evening of Charles and Florence’s engagement party in the year 1922.  As far as the murder mystery it is opening night when every possible thing will go wrong.
Aside from the main stage, there is a Tech Box where Trevor sits. Situated in an actual box seat area, this is in view of the audience. Littered with empty drink cans and other garbage, it is complete with computer and faders for lighting and sound. 

There are two floors to the manor of which has an elevator.  A pillar extending down to the ground is used as a support beam.  

What you have is a theatre group bent on doing the play no matter what happens or how they have to adlib the faults and still stick to the script. We are talking errors such as incorrect props, this live dog that they cannot find (and will substitute a chain) and parts of the sets falling down throughout their play.  With all plays, those that are not part of the cast or on stage at the moment are trying their utmost to not make it obvious that they are present. 

One running gag is about a bottle of scotch that gets switched for a full plastic bottle labeled White Spirit with a large Flammable symbol on it.   This gets poured many times, drunk, reacted to and spit out…even when the characters already know that it will happen, they continue to follow the script. In fact one person does this following with the line, “That’s the best whiskey I’ve ever tasted.” 

I think I’ve given you enough of an idea on how this play goes wrong.  I certainly don’t want to write about all of the errors that will have you bursting in laughing, chuckling, cackling, giggling and certainly roaring.  The entire cast needs to be applauded not just for their acting but for the physical endurance they go through.  As for me, seeing The Play That Goes Wrong has kept me awake some nights.  I think about the play and burst into laughter.  A few times more, I have to get up to pee.