Tag Archives: Architecture

Zaha has Deeds

It may have been a shock back in 1975 when Zaha Hadid, a world famous Iraqi architect who died recently, won her first international competition in Hong Kong. Hadid proposed to place a hotel on the top of Victoria Peak by polishing the hilltop granite down to bedrock. Appalled as I was at the idea of this self-inflicted environmental disaster, Hadid managed to convince the jury that her bold move would, as it was, be a world-wide attention-getter. Fortunately the project was never built. Needless to say, nor was the project I entered with two other architectural students a winning entry.

Despite a spate of unbuilt designs from crazy-rich ideas, Zaha Hadid eventually settled down and managed to complete some sizable design projects. Among them are the Guangzhou Opera House, the BMW Factory in Leipzig, a museum complex in Baku, and the Maxxi Museum in Rome. Below are photos of the Maxxi Museum we visited last month.

Her wavy gravies were never among my favorite buildings and trended toward the Gehry-esque camp. But I have to admit that the staircase in the Maxxi Museum was impressive and much more successful that Snohetta’s version at the SFMOMA. The overall design seemed well suited for the video installations displayed in the museum. I missed posting these last time, so I hope you enjoy seeing the interiors. Make a plan to go there next tine you are in Rome. It’s a refreshing antidote to the Renaissance and ancient architecture.

Matera and Plovdiv starring as EU Capitals of Culture

The cultural heritage cities designated by the EU for 2019 are Matera and Plovdiv. Each year, they highlight undiscovered gems. Do you know where these cities are in Europe?

Panorama of Matera, January, 2019

Daughter Melissa learned about Matera just before we flew to Rome, so we carved a day from our itinerary and flew to Bari. After that, it’s only an hour away by car. We covered most of the main hill town by walking. Locals are intent on managing tourism responsibly to preserve the natural beauty of the area developed over many centuries. You can see more photos of Matera in the previous post.

Both Plovdiv and Matera will feature open-air operas this summer. One of my favorites, Cavallera Rusticana will be presented in Matera in August, and in July the Roman Amphitheater in Plovdiv will present Aida and Rigoletto. This is a good chance to visit either city or both as they are filled with fascinating history and architecture. Here’s a good resource to learn more about both cities: https://europediplomatic.com/2019/01/04/matera-and-plovdiv-starring-as-eu-capitals-of-culture/

Ralph Steadman Restrospective–San Francisco

Back in San Francisco and thanks to SF Sketchers, I found my way to the Ralph Steadman retrospective presented by the Haight Street Art Gallery. Although primarily a political cartoonist, Ralph was highly appreciated for both his skill and wit. Although I had never heard of this artist before, I loved learning about his life’s work. I particularly liked the typically dry humor in the sketch about the Pastry Chef!

Steadman was fascinated by famous artists or political characters and traced their footsteps meticulously. He became the characters as he absorbed their psyche. Each scene he depicted seemed to represent a play he had written in his mind. He imagined Michelangelo throwing a fit in the Sistine Chapel, Nixon “discharging” Spiro Agnew, and one of Freud’s clients receiving therapy on the couch in the stuffy office where the psychoanalyst practiced. He even lampooned Trump.

And to record a few sketches made in the past week:

Be sure to catch a summary of travels for this year in the 2019 tab in the header at the top of the page!

Chef’s Personal Tour of Italy

Food in Rome, Naples and Matera

In a frenzied week of food, history of art and architecture, and archaeological sites, it was easy to be overwhelmed by Italy’s riches. The time was afforded and determined by a rare winter hiatus at the restaurant where pastry chef/daughter Melissa works. Between two of us, we tag-teamed on where to go, how to get there, and making sure that we maximized resources.

Speed traveling in a slow country by two generations of sturdy travelers was achievable, satisfying, and forever memorable. With Rome as our base in Testaccio, we took a full day trip to Naples by train. An inexpensive flight to Bari at the heel of Italy enabled us to visit Matera in a second, dawn-to-dusk trip. A one-hour drive from Bari allowed us to reach Sassi, two ancient hill towns straddling a deep valley. This UNESCO area is designated to become a major destination in 2019, to showcase sustainable tourism and environmental protection of treasured and not-to-be forgotten settlements.

Matera Hill Town

Elena Ferrante in Napoli

Famous Pizza and the Opera House drove us to Naples, but we couldn’t help but think about the stories written by Elena Ferrante in her four book series about scrappy Neapolitan life. We stopped at the Archaeological Museum, one of the country’s top sites holding treasures from Ercolano and Pompeii. Porn was thriving in Pompeii, as witnessed in this museum, along with all the other artifacts that are no longer available at the sites. In between glutting out on pizza (shown above and in video on next post) and a lackluster Nutcracker at the historic Teatro di San Carlo, the food won hands down.

Reminder: Click on any area of the galleries above for a full-fledged slide show.

WRING OUT THE OLD

Before the year closes out, I wanted to combine a number of videos and photos that I collected during this year’s travels. The selection includes a life-changing trip to Iran, first-timers to Korea and Hungary, and regular mainstays in Germany, Austria and China.

These travels entailed detailed planning and visits to friends and family. While most of the visits were with those who follow or are aware of my intrepid travels, fresh new friends taught me bout the hardships and endurance needed to survive the complicated political and economic world we live in. Shared laughter helped to offset an arduous year and to renew hope for the future.

I hope you will enjoy this quirky video. I’ve culled material from travels this past year, based on Barbara Streisand’s moving song, “Imagine/What a Wonderful World”, from her album “Walls”. Let’s hope that we can resist building walls and find ways to build trust and friendship instead.

Here’s the video:

The video includes clips from Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Yasd, and Tehran in Iran, as well as a few from Seoul, Korea. There are clips from my month-long sojourn at the Goethe Institute in Munich, Germany. Featured friends include Lisa from New York City, Alberto and Miki from Crema/Elba/San Diego (our fellow travelers to Hungary and Austria), Helena from Lucerne/Wallins in Switzerland, and former student Xiao Lin and his wife Susan, who live in Guangzhou.

If you are interested in reading more about Iran, you can find the blog posts from April 2018.

I’m still debating about whether I will extend the blog into 2019. Traveling to Italy with daughter Melissa starting on New Year’s Day may help to inspire me to continue, so stay tuned if you are interested. We are also planning to go to the Caucasus in April (can you guess which three countries?)

Have an overwhelmingly, delightfully unexpected, fruitful, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Smell the Roses and Imagine

This month’s Fall colors on the North Side of Page Street in San Francisco are not the usual East Coast array of autumn leaves, but of late blooming vine flowers. You can still detect a floral scent as you meander down the street. I was traversing the city during my usual 5-mile jaunt from home to the CBD (central business district), but was surprised by the concentration of flowering vines framing beautiful Victorians along the way. They were lovingly nurtured by early morning light.

I also caught the aftermath of Halloween decorations that were clever and irresistible. How does anyone have the time and ingenuity to devote to such eccentricity? They were definitely enjoyable from an audience perspective.

These settings seemed to carry over to the Dia de las Meurtes, or Day of the Dead celebrated in the Latin-X World. It reminded me of the animated movie, “Coco” that introduced the positive significance of this holiday. The San Francisco symphony paid tribute to its members with puppet-sized effigies above the staircase (see featured photo above), when we heard Ray Chen, the violinist,  perform “Lalo” in a tribute to Hispanic culture.

The Crissy Field area on the north shore of San Francisco provides leisurely strolls along the Marina. It has been upgraded to include better landscaping, defined paths and killer views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline. This walk easily gives the Hi-line in New York City a run for its money!

A few student sketches from my figure-drawing class show examples of foreshortening, gestures, and use of pencil, ink and charcoal:

If you are stressed about recent events or the upcoming election, here’s a great inspirational song from Barbara Streisand:

Apologies for my month-long absence. While due in part to technical difficulties (upgrading software, offloading movie files, and conversions for posting photos), I am debating about terminating my blog at the end of this year.

In 2019,  I will continue traveling and plan to return to Germany to study German. We may visit Armenia, Azerbaijian, and Georgia, in the same style as our travel to Iran earlier this year (See April 2018), and I may do another week of sketching in Portugal with Diane Olivier in June. Stay tuned, and as always, let me know your thoughts!

Day 45-46: Seoul Food and Not so So-So Seoul

Korean Cooking School

Our cooking class surpassed all other activities in Seoul.  I heartily recommend the experience of learning how to cook Seoul food. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. We met our guides at the metro station, then headed to the local market. It was a lively, tidy, well-managed environment, with plenty of new discoveries.

The abundance of root vegetables told us that Koreans were kept alive in a harsh, cold environment by these necessities. The chile for spice, garlic for health, freshly made 100% sesame oil for lubrication, and full sides of pork for protein were readily available. And of course, fish from the sea, a few dried lizards, and agave were among the specialties for variety and comic relief.

Our cooking class, taught by a capable local Korean chefin (as they would say in Germany), introduced glass noodles, bulgogi meat, Korean pancake, kimchee vegetable soup, and stir fried vegetable flavored with kimchee to our Asian group hailing from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hawaii, San Jose, and San Francisco. We bonded by working in two teams to dice, slice, and prepare the food per our capable guide’s instructions.

And the final result:

The Royal Shrine, National Museum and  Bukchon Hanok Ancient Village

In the blazing saddles heat the day before, we visited the Royal Shrine and the National Museum in the historic center of Seoul. The crowds were decked out in their rented Korean costumes, to take selfies of themselves and each other. I tried my best to avoid the indulgent ones, so here are a few that were caught off-guard before taking photos of themselves or causing selfie-blight.

The UNESCO world sites surprised us, as many of the Chinese characters were recognizable. Korean culture borrowed from the Chinese language, Confucian education and ancient Chinese customs, like Buddhist rites and feng shui.

Many of the cultural elements of combining nature, architecture, and design are similar to those in Chinese culture. Calligraphy, scroll painting, and ancestral worship are also borrowed from the Chinese.

The ancient Bukchon Hanok village reflected the Japanese hill towns, with well-made wood frame gentry housing, wood details, heavy ceramic tile roofs, and integrated landscaping.

Our highlight was the Korean version of the Changing of the Guard. The bottom line of the spirit of Seoul: borrowing from ancient Chinese culture wasn’t such a bad idea, blaring horns included. Koreans added alot of color and style that the Chinese missed.

Day 41-42: The GF Line

Chinese Opera Museum, Foshan

Among the hidden treasures in Foshan where we are staying in China, is the Chinese Opera Museum. I was coming to Guangzhou to do some research on Chinese opera, so I was delighted to find an entire complex devoted to my research! Below are only a few of the highlights that I poured over.

On an evening walk to dinner, we found another treasure. A huge temple complex was on the other side of our development.

Zumiao Temple, Foshan (1796)

Outside, the temple was teeming with retirees playing cards, mahjong and go under the lush green trees that provide shade and shelter for the day’s activities. A large stone turtle with a snake on its back was accompanied by a host of live turtles stacked back to back on the wooden dock of the pond.

The GF Line stands for Guangzhou-Foshan, one of the new mass transit extensions within the massive Guangzhou Pearl River Delta. Guangzhou is now a city of 13 million. Including Foshan to the west and Zhongshan to the South, Guangzhou is one of the largest conurbations on the planet.

Ling Nan Tian Di District

We are staying in Ling Nan Tian Di, a brand new development in Foshan. Our good friend, professional musician and Chinese opera performer Sherlyn Chew invited us to stay at her apartment in this burgeoning new area. Foshan is known for its Shiwan pottery, but the new development is as sophisticated as Xin Tian Di in Shanghai. High rise residential development, office towers, and a major shopping district are combined into a lively mixed use development.

Here’s a gallery of the renovated traditional village development for tourists:

The Tian Di district in Foshan is developed by Shui On, a single, large Hong Kong developer. In comparison, the San Kai village development in Zhongshan (shown in previous post) is a much more small scale, ad-hoc enterprise. Renovations are left up to each business owner-developer. The area feels more like an artsy live-work district with cafes and bars like what you would find in Oakland or Berlin’s industrial districts.

Food

Below, a somewhat repeat-performance of the dishes from Zhongshan (by choice): Steamed crystal prawns, shaved bitter melon with pork slices and gingko nuts, and roasted goose. The bowed tofu strips topped the braised pork belly underneath. I love the delicate Cantonese style of flavors, that are clean and unadulterated. If it is too salty,  it isn’t true Cantonese cooking.

Day 38-40: Village Development, Zhongshan, China

An exciting San Kai Village development in the outskirts of Shiqi caught me by surprise. The village with unknown entitlements is being developed by private investors as a restaurant and nightlife district. Old vs. new are blended together effectively, with integrated interiors and architectural detail. Lush landscaped courtyards and paths complete the environmental experience. Like most of Southern China, if you put a stick in the ground, it will sprout roots and grow. It’s the tropical world of orchids and passion fruit.

I’ll keep my comments short so you can enjoy the visual beauty of this excellent synthesis of planning, architecture, and interior design.

 

Here’s a bonus gallery of dinner specialties last night, and the roadside fruit stand:

 

Day 33-34: Sounds of Silence

Staying in a monastery can be a spiritual experience. The environment, weather and organ music contributed to a peaceful feeling. The lack of internet access, restrained furnishings but generously proportioned rooms, and humble yet friendly food service all remind you that you are in God’s country. The antique library shown above also spoke of the grandeur and solitude associated with knowledge and learning.

Our party of four traveled west by car for four hours from Budapest to reach Sankt Florian. An Augustinian monastery in the middle of Austria with 30 priests and 40 personnel, it gave you a sense of the world of Maria from the Sound of Music.

We arrived just in time to have lunch in the stiftskeller on the premises and attend the afternoon organ concert. The short, 30 minute program included Bach, Wagner and Bruckner with quiet tinkly stardust music to reverberations that rocked your anatomy.

A tour of the early Italian, Hapsburg rococo and coffers spanned the history of the monastery. We timed everything perfectly to gain full enjoyment of the monastic world.

To top it off, one of Austria’s famous composers, Anton Bruckner, is buried under the organ named after him. He was a choir boy here and performed in the cathedral. I never expected to visit here again, after coming three years before on my own. But everyone was thrilled to visit this hidden gem and enjoyed the music and ambience immensely.

After device detox and plenty of peaceful sleep, we were awakened at six and seven to delightful church bells appealingly pealing. We took a short walk after breakfast and explored the Hohenbrunn Hunting Lodge, a mini-castle down the road from the monastery. The animals were impressively preserved and presented en plain air.

I never expected to be able to return to both St. Florian and Hohenbrunn. My Days 31-34 in 2015 posts document in greater detail the history of the Augustinians. You can find them here:

https://travelswithmyselfandothers.com/2015/08/27/day-31-33-st-florian/

https://travelswithmyselfandothers.com/2015/08/28/day-34-st-florian-a-closer-look/

Day 21-22: Nymphs and Nymphenburg

Another good friend Vladimir, whom I met the first summer at the Dresden Goethe Institute, came to visit me in Munich. His friend recommended Nymphenburg Palace, so we checked it out on Google Maps. Unlike Neuschwanstein, it was 20 minutes and only a few stops away from the center of town.

As the summer home of Bavarian royalty, the palace was on the usual grand scale with gardens so extensive that we could only cover half of it in a morning. King Ludwig II was born there in 1845, and his great-grandfather Max I Joseph died there in 1825. The palace was developed over time since the late 17th Century. You can read more about it here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nymphenburg_Palace

The rococo palace contained many restrained elements of grandeur (as restrained as palaces designed with pomp and circumstance could restrain themselves) with well proportioned rooms and plenty of decorated memorabilia. A miniature Petit Trianon was tucked on the side just for the fun of it. I was a little disappointed to not find any deer heads like the ones on display at Moritzburg, though.

The carriage house, or Marstall Museum, contained an unusual collection of horse-down carriages and sleighs. You could see how automobiles were just around the corner by the level of detail implemented for lighting, wind protection, speed, efficiency, and overall human comfort.

On the afternoon of the same day, a leisurely stroll from Rosenheimer Platz along the Isar River to the English Gardens took about an hour. We were in search of the surfers on the river, and finally found them near the Chinese Pagoda. The Garden is one of the largest urban parks in the world (bigger than Hyde Park or Central Park) and provides plenty of leisurely activities and bathing on hot summer days along the rivers.

img_4224.jpg

The surfers who surfed along the part of the river were amazingly talented and mesmerizing. You can see how calm they are despite what seems impossible to handle. There was plenty of free entertainment where surfers could show off their calisthenic skills and daring. This is probably something you will never forget once you’ve seen it.

Day 20 (b): Maxvorstadt, Munich

Enough opera for everyone?!? Well, here’s a bit of welcome relief.

The Goethe Institute gave a tour of the Ludwig-Maximilians University Quarter that started with some historical elements of WWII. This is the university attended by Sophie Scholl, who protested the dealings of the Nazi Party. She attended the university (known as the University of Munich at the time) and was a Philosophy major there.

In 1943, she, her brother, and their friend Christoph Probst were found guilty of treason and beheaded in February 1943. The White Rose represented their movement and live roses are still posted in memoriam at sites at the entrance to the University and inside the main lobby. It gave me goose bumps after walking through the spaces she inhabited. You can read more about her here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_Scholl

Shops around the University area provided delightful finds, that included antiquarian bookshops; quirky gourmet ice cream cafes like Verruckt, which means Crazy in German, features beer flavored ice cream and breakfast ice cream; a storefront cooking school allows you to peek in and see all the action and after-effects of food being consumed; and a specialty bike shop that has custom colors for hand made bike frames.

Many of the Altbaus, or old buildings, were built during the 18th and 19th Centuries.  Inner courtyards or “hofs” hide renovated or jazzy new buildings and green areas with retail spaces are tucked into the ground floor. Craftsman-quality cabinet shops and made-to-order items are plentiful and enough to delight the eye and microwave the credit card.

And from the poetry shop:

There’s more of Munich to come…