During this Winter lull I thought I would share a few of my favorite old and new resources for interesting cultural sites. It takes a bit of wandering around the Internet, but here are a few that I found to be helpful in my development and pursuit of an “arts and cultural” education.
One of the first places I started is the local community college website. For life-long learning at any age and an opportunity to interact with motivated students of all ages, you can find plenty of courses to inspire you and to keep your brain fit! If you are in the Bay Area, try https://www.ccsf.edu or https://laney.edu or any other local community college website. I have immersed myself in Art, Music, German, and Film classes and am very impressed with the quality of the teaching staff. You might find that it’s a cost-effective way to try out new topics. You won’t be disappointed by the City’s free system, still effective for the time being. So, San Franciscans, take advantage of it now! College fees in other cities are nominal.
SF Sketchers is an active group of sketchers in San Francisco who connect at interesting locations such as going to the Embarcadero to sketch king tides, the Beach to sketch nude bathers, and the Global Climate Summit at the Civic Center. As an active participant, I look forward to Lauri Wigham’s creative ideas for a healthy morning or afternoon of sketching, both outdoors and in. An upcoming “Portrait Party” at Arch Supplies is a repeat from last year’s successful event, where small groups sit and sketch each other for five-minute poses. You can find out more about SF Sketchers at https://www.meetup.com.
A smaller, neighborhood local sketch group meets regularly on Saturday mornings to sketch at cafes throughout the Sunset District. It’s a convenient time to roll down the hill or take a brisk morning walk towards the Beach, catch a cappuccino, and do a non-verbal brain dump on paper. The group is very active and you can find their future meetings at the same site above.
The Parks and Recreation Dept of San Francisco has a healthy list of activities and programs for all ages. I realized that these are some of my tax dollars being put to good use, for the benefit of everyone. Not everyone knows what they do, or the benefit they bring to the community, until you decide to get involved. Many of the arts are supported here, such as welding, pottery, photography, jewelry making, and other general art classes in addition to sports programs. See https://sfrecpark.org.
Music for the Mind
For both American and international friends, my absolute recommendation for opera and music festivals is www.https://operabase.com. It’s a complete database for opera singers, composers, performances and opera houses throughout the world. It’s a great way to maximize your time in Europe by joining a music festival the same time you plan to visit a European city. You will be pleasantly surprised! It will support and maximize your travels.
I also follow a classical music website called bachtrack.com, a UK based organization. It covers both opera and musical concerts. You can find it at https://bachtrack.com
My favorite opera house, the Bayerisches Staatsoper in Munich, Germany at https://www.staatsoper.de offers awesome opera productions. They just presented a thrilling livestream broadcast of Karl V. That may sound a bit obscure, until you realize that it’s Charles V, a descendant of Charlemagne. It gives you a chance to catch up on European history at the same time you hear the music. A drier, but nevertheless entertaining, version of Hamilton.
Speaking of Hamilton, I managed to get the last two tickets for a performance in San Francisco last week. It was only my second time seeing the musical, but it was a profound experience–hearing rap music condensing the founding history of the US into a mesmerizing array of song, dance and poetry in less than three hours. Lin-Manuel Miranda is brilliant.
And of course the Metropolitan Opera in New York is the grand dame in the US at https://www.metopera.org. for combining music, art, costumes and drama. You can catch Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment next Saturday, March 3, and a followup Wednesday, March 6 in theaters near you. Pretty Yende is the star. The METOPERA’s new season is already posted, so plan an opera visit the next time you are in NYC!
Hopefully some of the resources and websites above will be useful to you. Let me know if you have trouble locating any of them or have comments.
In a quick trip to Los Angeles a couple of weekends ago, we saw “Buddha Passion”, a stimulating premiere of Tan Dun’s opera concert featuring six Chinese performers. The choir and children’s chorus sang in Mandarin, and the music was beautifully reflective of the Dunhuang Cave environment in Northwest China. It was one of my first visits along the Silk Road a few years ago, so I had a particular fondness for the subject matter. I was surprised and delighted that Gustavo Dudamel led the orchestra for this new work by a Chinese composer.
We had just enough time to slip into the Broad Museum the next morning to oogle at the wealth of big-name artists such as Beuys, Koons, and Roy Lichtenstein, and to admire the new museum. After all, what’s the point of doing art without seeing art?!?
Addendum: Check out these two food websites: https://www.chefsfeed.com and https://www.exploretock.com if you are looking for alternatives to opentable.com. They are more discriminating and provide a more professional approach to restaurant dining experiences from award-winning and innovative restauranteurs.
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?
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!
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.
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!!!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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: