Tag Archives: Commentary

Antang Village Notes

Antang Village is being preserved by local authorities to capture the history and experience of village life in China. It is one of four classified villages in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, to be preserved.

The bronze sculptures told the stories of daily life and are set in intimate courtyards near my mother’s original house. Murals are similar to those in other neighborhoods of Antang shown earlier.

Finding the house location was a challenge as the original house no longer exists. But in classic form, we found an old fellow at the ancestral hall who knew where the house was located.

He agreed to lead us to the site based on the only picture of a wall of the house that I had. The walls of houses and granite paved alleyways provided a sharp contrast to the new artwork installations. These new additions were well integrated with the original village character.

I couldn’t help but think about the Italian village of Matera that Melissa and I had visited in January this year. Its preservation of twin hill towns was inspiring. The planners intend to preserve the environment for 0 impact from tourism while offering commercial opportunities to local villagers. I hope that the Antang planning authority will have the courage, wisdom, and funding to preserve this village in the same meaningful way.

In another moving experience during this trip, my cousin took me to find the gravesite of our ancestors. He goes every year during Ching Ming to clean the site of brush and leaves. For me, it captured the experience of many Chinese throughout time. They made the effort to respect and remember the shoulders of those upon which we stand.

Templemania in Guangdong

For many foreigners who do not share buildings dedicated to one’s lineage, going to a Chinese family temple would be a dull experience. On this trip, we discovered a repository of family history that not only answered many questions, but we developed a quest for more knowledge of one’s origins.

In China, ancestral family temples provided the heart and soul of each community. They gave special significance to family members with a common last name. Family histories and genealogy were stored in these cultural institutions and offered missing information.

We visited the Chou, Lum and Fong Family Ancestral Temples in Guangdong and Zhongshan, where our parents’ native villages were located.

Chou Family Temple

Chou Family Ancestral Temple

The Chou Family Temple, originally in Punyu outside of Guangzhou, was a spiffy display of the achievements of its clan members. It was well-endowed, orderly and refined. Judging by its size, educational content, and tidiness, there was plenty of support from both local and overseas sources.

Here are more slides of the temple gardens and architecture (click to the right to advance): A poster room showed the first Overseas Chinese who migrated to New Zealand among other illustrious clan members.

Lum Family Temple

The Lum Family Temple in Antang was simple, modest, and a bit neglected. There seemed to be little interest in reviving its religious function. Perhaps due to generations of scholars and civil examination administrators, there was less outward display of wealth.

Lum Family Ancestral Temple

See previous post for additional photos of the Lum Family temple.

We also collected big manuals of family history. The “juk po” contains the genealogy beyond 24 generations. Most of these histories recorded began with the earliest patriarch who settled in a locality.

Many Northern Chinese migrated south prior to, during, and after the Mongol Invasions of Genghis Khan. We discovered some awesome dates as early as 1017!!

Newly Renovated Fong Family Ancestral Temple

Unlike the solemn and serious nature of the Chou and Lum Ancestral visits, we had a completely unique experience visiting the The Fong Family Ancestral Temple. The Fong clan pulled out all the stops for a lively inauguration of its newly renovated complex..

We were invited to join a sit-down dinner banquet serving over 1200 guests. Acrobats, dancers and a pop singer provided home-grown entertainment in the large playground outside the temple. Activities throughout the day included a lion dance commemorating the inauguration and honoring the ancestors.

The traditional nine-course menu included duck, chicken, fish, prawns, and abalone in the shell. The string of roast pigs first served to the gods were later carved and served to we lowly mortals in attendance.

It was a raw and bawdy but authentic affair. We were able to witness history with the entire community, and gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of our family roots.

Visiting three ancestral temples simultaneously may seem like cultural overload. But by visiting these ancestral shrines in a row, I could fully appreciate the importance of these facilities that served past generations of Chinese and will serve future ones as well.

Inauguration of Fong Family Ancestral Temple Complex Renovation

Note: I apologize if videos are not viewable on your device. Posting graphic material in WordPress from China has been a challenge! I will try updating them after I return to the U.S. next week. Check back then if you are interested.

Day 57-60: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu…from Salzburg

Apologies for the premature post a couple of days ago, to those of you signed up for notifications. I pressed “Publish” by mistake! THIS is my final post to everyone, with love, from Salzburg. After sixty days of travel, ten cities, and 11 flights (not environmentally correct, admittedly), I successfully completed my complicated travel plans!

The past six years have been amazing travels, from UNESCO World Heritage sites in Uzbekistan; two trips on the Trans-Siberian Express East and West from Beijing including Mongolia; Morocco, Iran, and this year, to the Caucasian countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Each year, they were anchored in German language study programs followed by trips to various countries in Asia.

We often think of Europeans cities such as Paris, Rome or Berlin as destinations, and not countries to which they belong. This year, I learned more about Portugal and Austria than about the major cities that lie in them.

As for differences between Europeans with Americans, the environment comes to mind. Europeans are more aware and definitely ahead in terms of public transportation. They seem to live modestly within their means, and are less about themselves. I can still overhear conversations between bratty entitled Americans that make me grateful for my Asian face.

On the other hand, the food quality and waste seem to be lacking here. An article last year in the NY Times reported on the food waste. It was evident in the food markets (shown here, albeit pristine and among the most beautiful) and even in the run of the mill supermarkets. Perhaps their denial of GMO’s has to do with the selected supply and demand.

The ethnic food is institutionalized here. Just as we did in the States in the Sixties, fast food became the alternative to hot prepared restaurant food.

The Currywurst in Germany was among the first, so now it represents what every immigrant dreams about: its own take-away. Yesterday I bought my Japanese-style chicken teriyaki and rice from a hawker, who spoke in broken English but actually was Chinese. The fast food with a mixed message he was selling is a sign of the times—processed ethnic food that is predictable and a reasonable facsimile of food remembered from 50 years ago.

It wasn’t cheap—10 Euros. I can rationalize the cost for the overhead needed by families to make up for all their sacrifices in education, income and risk to reestablish in a new country. Hopefully in the future authentic ethnic food will be in greater demand as food origins are better appreciated and customers are more sophisticated.

Kunst Historisches Museum

This huge repository for the Italian and Flemish masters keeps an incredible collection of European art. The slide show includes the following in order of appearance below (but not chronicalogically): Breughel, Vermeer, Durer, Raphael, and Rembrandt

If you were wondering where all the artifacts from early Mediterranean civilizations had gone, you could probably find many of them here, like those in the “mummy” room:

Leopold Museum

My last-minute museum fix was to the Leopold Museum. Leopold was a private philanthropist who decided to collect art after he saw the collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum and became a patrin of the arts.

I was swept away by the entire collection. The “Modern” section told the story of the Vienna Werkstatt. Architects, artists, literary figures, and designers all gathered together to form the “Vienna Werkstatt”, that preceded the Bauhaus. Here are some of the exquisite design pieces from the period around 1900, in the Jugendstil:

Primarily led by Klimt, the group seceeded from the conservative Vienna Kunsthaus. The group then later became fragmented and Klimt and others left the Secessionists. He was also embroiled with the University of Vienna’s administration over the paintings, “Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence“.

We read and discussed this argument in our German class. Klimt was criticizing his benefactors. The faculty considered the nude figures pornographic and removed them from the ceiling where they were located.

This would not be so earth-shaking today, as many artists push their boundaries. Names like Ai-Wei-Wei came up. It was interesting to note, that while most of the European students were familiar with his name, none of the Chinese students knew of him.

You can read more about the Leopold Museum collection here: https://www.leopoldmuseum.org/en/museum/museum-history.

Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele was an artist unbeknownst to me. He donated his collection to the Museum, so it may explain his prominence there.

I was drawn to the graphic nature of his work, powerful compositions, and emotional content. Being an aspiring artist, I studied his choice of color, figure drawing skill, and architectural themes intently. If you are interested you can read more about him here: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egon_Schiele

Miscellaneous Pieces

You may remember the Salzburg Music Festival from the film, “the Sound of Music”, where the Von Trapp Family made their debut. This weekend escape served as a finale of sorts for my travels. The ultimate purpose was to see “Adriana Lecouvreur” starring Anna Netrebko, Yuri Eyvazov (her husband), and Anita Rachvelishvili.

These are superstars in their prime in the opera world. I don’t know if there ever will be such a dynamic combination of singers performing such a highly dramatic opera.

The story takes place in 1730 and is about a theater actress, who became involved in a three-way triangle. There are many twists and turns about actresses playing their roles so well that they forget about their own lives and vulnerabilities.

This was Anna Netrebko’s greatest artistic challenge, not only as a singer but as an actress. You could only imagine what she is feeling after her own marital tribulations, on top of singing to her current spouse!!

Anna Netrebko, who did not respond to immediate audience approval at the end, was just recovering from her own performance. She was so immersed in the role, that she had forgotten that she was only performing! I could see how audience applause nearly destroyed the moment she was feeling. To jolt her out of one intense emotion of dying over spurned love (she won the battle but lost the war), the instant accolades were at first irrelevant. I could only imagine that feeling as it took some time for me to recover myself (from the performance, not spurned love!)

Earlier in the morning. I attended a Mozart concert. It was the usual Mozart fare offered by the Mozarteum Orchestra (who coincidentally played “Adriana Lecouvreur” at the Salzburg Festival.

I flashed back to one of my favorite movies, “Amadeus”. This came up in our class and was dismissed as “Hollywood”, implying that it wasn’t an authentic interpretation of Mozart. I defended the industry by indicating that the film launched the career of Milos Forman, a Czech.

Not being satisfied with my own answer. I googled “Amadeus”. You can read more about the film here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadeus_(film)

It led to further searches about the producer, Saul Zaentz, who turned out to be from the Bay Area and a former agent for Credence Clearwater Revival.

The fascinating life story of the producer was interwoven with a legal case with John Fogerty of the CCR. It even went to the Supreme Court! You can read about it here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Zaentz

Since this is my last post, I want to thank everyone for joining me. Your words of encouragement and comments were sincerely appreciated. I hope we will have an opportunity in the future to travel with each other!

If you haven’t already commented online, feel free to write to me at vifongit@gmail.com!!

PS. Further apologies for any mistakes in this post. I am rushing to catch my flight!!

Day 49-52: Ba-Da Boom

Thanks to the Alps, there are plenty of resorts in Europe endowed with natural spring waters. The Europeans love to indulge in the purported therapeutic value. The Austrians are no less dedicated to magical wonders. Just one hour outside of Vienna lies a hidden gem known as Baden bei Wien (Bad is not bad, but good, for “Bath”).

That is, if you count having a casino as a gem. It’s a package deal, with a free music performance nearly every day in the summer in a toned-down version of Las Vegas or in a Riviera Wanna-Be. There are also miles of garden paths for “wandering” (a German-speaking country’s favorite past time), pedestrian-free shopping streets, and Baroque-era historical buildings. I even discovered one advertised as: “Beethoven slept here”.

Aside from the cutesiness, this little town is an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. Vienna is alot like Paris–overwhelmingly huge boulevards, huge art collections, and huge burning heat waves.

After a week communicating exclusively in German and starved by little or no English, my brain has had trouble with the cultural shift. Scrambling for a translation within whatever comes closest, glue exuding from my eyelids when I didn’t comprehend answers to questions, and the flippant responses emitting from my ignorance definitely caused Angst (a German word). Try a week of this and you will understand how I felt.

The planned mini-getaway with and from myself helped me to recover. Since there were no performances at the Vienna Opera House during the month of July, I searched my trusted opera.com website and learned that the nearest opera performances were listed in Baden bei Wien.

The “operas” were more like musicals, but the underemployed opera performers were very highly skilled and talented. This was a performance of “The Vogelhandler”, or the “Bird Trader”.

Beethoven Museum

The small town, not unlike Bath, England, yielded an unexpected find. Beethoven had spent many holidays in Bad bei Wien during his residency in Vienna. The museum provided interesting facts about Beethoven’s life, health, and companions.

Beethoven’s deafness was well-known, but he also suffered from various ailments. (See the diagram showing his various sicknesses.) His moving journal notes, posted on music stands, indicated how much pain he endured and how he tried to find doctors and remedies, to little or no avail.

Despite these illnesses while he was in Baden bei Wien during the latter part of his life, Beethoven managed to write some of his best work. The Ninth Symphony, the Eroica Symphony, and Missa Solemnis were among some of the pieces written while he lived here. A summary of his arrival in Baden and a sample of the various voices and instruments he wrote in his music are shown below. (Click on images to increase for easier viewing).

A video showed the individual instruments or voices presented during a performance of the NInth Symphony, with Daniel Barenboim conducting at the BBC Prom. The complicated nature and integration of pieces are demonstrated. Watch the colors on the left screen as they coordinate to the music graphically, while the voices and instruments are shown on the right screen below.

Although I didn’t expect to be coming to Baden bei Wien to learn about Beethoven, I found this tiny museum packed with moving and compassionate information about purportedly the world’s best classical composer. It made up for the operas that I had come to see.

I also managed to get a few sketches in!

Day 17-18: Diffi-Culture

I am on my way to Baku today, so there’s not much activity. The flight this afternoon will take about four hours, with a time change.

While waiting at the Neustadt Train Station for my Flixbus to Berlin Airport, I came upon this memorial. I wouldn’t trust my own translation, but it commemorates the Jews in Dresden who were sent to Poland through this train station. It was a sad reminder of the German history and legacy that is yet to be reconciled.

Like anyone born with wanderlust flowing in the blood stream, I was ready to move on to the next destination. At the same time, I felt melancholy, realizing the fond memories about to be left behind. You grow accustomed to these contrary thoughts and expect the addictive emotions.

Our instructor hauled two big bags of books and magazines to class and asked us to pick something and read it for an hour. I chose a book by Wolfgang Hübscher, a well-known journalist.

This book recalled his tales of traveling along the entire border of Germany. He skipped along both sides by whatever means of transport was convenient. Naturally he wrote vignettes of the people he encountered and his experiences with hotels, history and loneliness.

My hour didn’t get me through the book, but encouraged me to read more German. I recommend reading in a primary language other than English to sharpen your synapses.

The author became wildly popular after walking to Moscow and writing about it. It sounded like another book worth investigating, and like the instructor told us, you’ll be more likely to read when you find something you’re interested in! In other words, it’s just what the doctor ordered!

In preparation for the Trans Caucasus Travel, we read “Ali and Nino”, a love story lent to us by our neighbors Jim and Leena.

Penned by Kurban Said, it’s a simple story about a mixed marriage, between an Azerbaijani Muslim and a Christian Georgian. That probably tells it all–except that Ali could only relate to the desert and its openness. The wooded forests always seemed dark and mysteriously threatening to him. That started the story that helps the reader understand that there are always more than one point of view. The movie is available on Netflix and was wildly popular when it was produced. I heartily recommend both.

Speaking of a popular series, I did binge on the Elena Ferrante of “My Brilliant Friend” that was shown on Italian TV. The eight-episode saga covered only the early years, so I imagine there will be subsequent seasons.

Addendum: Concert in Kulturpast, Dresden

Perfect sound in this newly renovated “Culture Palace” in the heart of Dresden’s Altstadt. This concert combined pros from the Hamburg and Dresden Symphonies. I heard that the Kultur Palast acoustically surpasses the Herzog and DeMeuron architectural masterpiece in Hamburg. I was sorry I missed an experimental organ concert, because the huge instrument made in Switzerland surely must sound magnificent.

C U in Baku

About to take off for Baku to meet hubby Gee Kin. He’s about the only other person I know who is interested to see the Caucasus and learn more about what was once the Persian culture. It has now been melded with Russian and Turkish influences and 2000 years of complicated history. The adventure us about to begin…

Above are quick shots before landing of the peninsula on the West side of the Caspian Sea where Baku is located; ladies at Immigration showing their images to female immigration officers; shots of the fanciful Baku Airport, and first dinner with local Kutun fish.

Sketch Prep

I’m getting ready for my annual European travels with myself and others in less than two months, so I hope you will join me! In preparation for the Portugal sketching segment in the Algarve (near Faro on the southern tip of Portugal), I have been sketching daily. Before then, I was following a number of Instagram sites and became overwhelmed by the incredible skill and agility of those who post their beautiful, lithe, watercolors. I decided not to be too discouraged by their talents. Everyone starts somewhere! So I got back in the saddle after a brief hiatus.

Portrait Party

Thanks to a “portrait party” sponsored by Arch Supplies in San Francisco, my interest in being the perpetual sketch artist was renewed. This second annual event was as delightful and entertaining as the first. Sketchers in groups of six warmed up with one-minutes gestures using the non-dominant hand, followed by sketches using the dominant one. Here were my results:

Hmm…maybe the non-dominant hand controls a sharper part of my brain…?? Each group then progressed to 10-minute sketches of each other in the group, with each person taking turns “posing”:

100 People in Five Days

The Portrait Party helped to launch the start of a frenzied affair to draw 100 people in five days. This is a challenge to stake out unsuspecting individuals in cafes, public transit, or hotels lounges while keeping yourself from being suspect. Unless you take a “stealth bomber” approach, you will end up with many unfinished sketches of people disappearing from your cone of vision. The panel above shows the entire string of sketches I completed in five days! Here is a slide show of the best of the ten sets and where they occurred:

The process was a bit unwieldy, but it forced me to be better, faster, cheaper (on my time). My favorites were the construction crew at Seventh and Irving and the sleeping “shoppers” at San Francisco Center!

As a novice sketcher, I hope you will bear with me as you mark my progress. In case you are still foggy about the subject matter of my blog posts, they normally focus on my current interests of cultural and historical travel; art, architecture and design; German as a learner of the language, and about food. Let me know if you have particular interests in any of these!

Beginning in June, my travels this year will include a special focus on UNESCO world sites in the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia), Goethe Institute stints in Dresden and Vienna for a couple of weeks each, and sketching in Portugal. There will be a bonus stop in Italy too! This could be the last year I will be sharing my travels via blog posts, so please share your thoughts and comments. I love hearing from you particularly during my real-time travel posts.

If you want to get email notifications about postings, please join the blog. Conversely, if you feel inundated by frequent posts (2-3 times a week) during my active traveling, you can always opt out of the notifications. Whichever way you choose, stay in touch and let me know what you are doing!

Featured Image Above: Sketching at the weekend San Francisco Ortega Library Tai Chi Group

Frappucino Trappizzino

It’s too chilly in Rome for iced coffee but the antidote was a toasted pocket pizza with tantalizing and meaty fillers for a quickie dinner.


On arrival at the exquisitely appointed Air BNB in Testaccio, daughter and discoverer of discriminating accommodations took our host’s recommendation for dinner and led us to Trappizzino.

It’s a short, safe walk from the Marmorata Building and past numerous inviting cafes and restaurants still open to business after 9pm on a weeknight.

After entering the first door to Trappizino, we are told that we are in a wine bar. If we want food we should go next door. We follow instructions and U-turn. We go next door and order what appear to be pocket pizzas.

While that may not sound so appealing, we quickly realize that we are in a gourmet ghetto. Choices of octopus, tongue or a variety of other meats are delicately flavored with pesto or marinara sauce and inserted into lightly toasted focaccia envelopes.

As we wait for our orders to be processed, we peruse the joint and the scant table layout. Sides appear to be non-existent, so we focus on the drink case. Hmm, I thought. Was that price of 9.80€, written in scrolly cursive the way Europeans write, the price of a glass, or a bottle?

Couldn’t break my reticence to ask. It didn’t matter, the counter server advised, go next door for wine, where there are more tables and a better environment for dining. We pay a whopping price of 8€ for food and collect our prizes.

Clad with our pizzas fully exposed and mounted in a custom-designed wire toast holder, we traipse back over next door. Business looked like it had picked up, with a couple hovered at the prime window spot showcasing the presence of customers.

We settle on a hightop and pursue the wine mystery. This side of the establishment is serious about drinks. A number of specialty beers are displayed in the refrigerated cases and stare longingly at our religiously unfulfilled table. One beer displays printed labels for Trappizzino, with each of the letters T-R-A-P-P-I-Z-Z-I-N-O on 11 bottles in a row.

Further down the cases are bottles of local wine, in competition with the beers.

I quickly choose a bottle of Roman wine slightly above 9.80€ and pay for it. The hostess brings my selection over to our table and in Italian words, animated gestures, and truth-telling facial expressions communicate that she is unable to open the wine for us.

After some confusion about why she was unable to perform this task (out of plastic cups? was wine drinking prohibited in a wine bar on a Tuesday night after 9pm? Did we really look that young, just because we were Asian?!? Had we triggered some violation of Italian protocol by purchasing a bottle of weed-laced wine, that could not be served in a public establishment?!?)

We soon deduct that she is telling us that she must go next door to get someone to open the bottle for her.

Apparently she is afflicted with a wine shop worker-related injury. She has developed carpal tunnel wine bottle opener syndrome!

Melissa quickly steps up and offers to uncork the wine. The hostess smiles, gratefully relieved. Business is now standing room only, and it’s one less trip next door, into the 4 degrees of separation.

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Day 35-37: Salzburg and Paprika

Salzburg Museum

See photos, above, from left:

  1. A video of a musical created by Mozart when he attended the gymnasium, or high school, in Salzburg. This production provides insight to his early operatic talents
  2. Stone sculpture from ca. 300AD, found in Salzburg
  3. Mosaic tile from Roman excavation, ca. 300AD in Salzburg
  4. An intriguing painting, “the Last Cavalier” by Albert Birkle, 1925
  5. One of the first architectural designs for a festival theater proposed in Burglstein to honor Mozart (1918)
  6. Not a painting, but a drizzly view from inside the museum of the courtyard outside
  7. An excellent presentation of the National Socialist period in Salzburg and puts the city in perspective with Austrian modern history.

Salzburg International Music Festival

From the Sound of Music fame and since 1920, the Salzburg International Music Festival includes classical concerts, opera, and drama. This year we saw a modern interpretation of “Salome”  by Richard Strauss and “Pique Dame”, or “Queen of Spades” by Tchaikovsky. The photo below shows the massive open stage used for Salome. The video below that is the conductor’s curtain call for “Pique Dame” and the cast of thousands, including American star Brandon Jovanovich, in red. (Apologies for flooded out light quality).

Reflections on Budapest and Salzburg

After spending a few days back in “Western” Europe, we had  a chance to reflect on our short foray into “Eastern” Europe.

We learned from our trip to the Salzburg Museum how tourism developed in the city. Salzburg has been a tourist city ever since an English couple in the  early 18th century sought the living relatives of Mozart. They made a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the already famous musical genius. For over four hundred years, Salzburg has managed to hone its skills in receiving, processing, and satisfying tourists from around the world.

Accommodations, food, activities and access are all handled with utmost skill. Despite the crowds you can’t help but feel happy to be rubbing shoulders with other tourists in this picture perfect environment. That having been said, Budapest and other cities with rich histories and natural wonders can and should follow Salzburg’s model. Why wouldn’t a city promote and encourage tourists to visit its treasures?

Budapest has thermal baths, music, and a diverse cultural history, yet is appears to be uninviting and grumpy. The recent no migration policy reinforces this view. The economy is down and they seem to be stuck. There is little warmth and few smiles on the street. Granted, people have their problems to overcome.

I think about recent travels in Iran where its people rise in the face of adversity. Everyone smiles at you and they smile at each other. It’s the greatest restoration of humanity that we have witnessed anywhere. You get the feeling that they care about you, and each other. It left a profound footprint in our minds.

Even though they were once joined politically and are no longer, today there’s an even greater difference culturally between Hungary and Austria, and the cities of Budapest and Salzburg.

Onward and Out…

After a week traveling by car with friends from San Diego, California from Munich to Budapest, and back through St. Florian and Salzburg, Austria, we have sealed the Italian-American-Chinese diplomatic relations forever. We learned alot about these fascinating cities, and even more from and about each other.  Our thanks to Miki and Alberto for all their caring, love, and laughter.

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Gee Kin and I are on our way east to Guangzhou and Korea.  We are preparing for the culture shock…stay tuned.

Day 23-25: Last Days at Marienplatz

Sadly, as my month in Munich draws to an end, I feel that I barely scratched the surface of this vibrant city. The Munchers love their city, its efficiency, and justifiably, its character. It certainly feels more unique and stands out above the other German cities. The Bavarian charm, cheeriness or cheesiness, whichever end of the spectrum you pick, is definitely present.

Unfortunately a heat wave has struck my ability and everyone else’s to move about the city. No AC in the place where I am staying reminds me of my first summer in NYC. Pregnant and jobless, I had to strategize how to get through an entire day of heat. The setting sun was always a welcome relief as the temperature subsided accordingly.

My NYC jungle skills were put to use. Despite my first free day from German classes, I devote my afternoon to the Kaufhof, one of Munich’s foremost department stores. It was a good choice, as I ended up spending six hours there. I probably haven’t spent six hours in any dept store in the States in the last six years put together, so you may be wondering: what makes a department store in Munich so special?

The answer: not much. It has air conditioning.

I entertained myself in the afternoon by starting out in the food hall with a mineral water, cherry torte and expresso. Then I shopped slowly for an all-weather jacket, remembering how good German outdoorwear products are. Then I bought two coveted goose down duvets and the “bedwash” as they call sheets. A couple of trips to the global services claim center, a conversation with my German partner via Facetime, and dinner at the Hofbrauhaus again (this time, fries, roast pork and Pro Secco), and there goes the neighborhood and six hours! Whew!

While being house-bound in the Kaufhof, I decided to take a few shots of the local environment and what’s different (and for those of you, like me, who no longer shop in department stores) (photos are below, left to right):

1. Kids playing with real toys, not computers!

2. A fond reminder of having kids, and buying coveted Playmobil toys;

3. Titanium poles for “Wandering”;

4. Scooters hit the mainstream;

5. Food Court, German style;

6. Escalators, up-down on both sides!!

*shown above: Entrance to the Kaufhof from the Subway Station, a sports car made of Legos

AUSTIN CITY FOLLOW-UP: In case you were wondering what daughter Melissa was doing in Austin (when I tagged along): go to the following link from Instagram on Chef’s Feed:

https://www.chefsfeed.com/videos/1409-one-day-in-austin-ep-3

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Day 14-15 Lost Worlds, Lost Messages, Lost Glasses

Okay, so most of you haven’t been to the Ring, Right?!? The only person I know who has been to one is my German classmate Royee, who attended the Bayreuth Ring last year. It’s not for all, as you have to either book a hundred years before you were born (similar to applying to pre-schools in San Francisco), or know the scene director personally before he was fired, to get tickets.

Germany decided to spread the wealth around and stage this year’s Ring in Munich instead of at Bayreuth. This was much more palatable, so you can enjoy a major city and still get a double dose of music and culture at the same time. I booked my tickets in November the year before so I could take German classes and see the Ring, a series of four operas, over one week. The saga searches for meaning in life, love, and happiness.

So here’s the typical setup for each opera. They start you off with the 2.5 hour version, no bathroom breaks (Das Rheingold). (see previous post). Then it progresses to 3.5 hours (Die Walküre), then 5.5 each of the last two. (Sigfried and Götterdämmerung, in the following week). You progress up to 2-40 minute breaks for good behavior.

You go in. Check out your neighbors. Decent looking, well-dressed bunch, but not too stiff. They’re not going to snore (nor are you), and each person will fit compactly into the seat they are assigned. Otherwise, it’s like getting on a 17-hour flight with you in the middle seat. The music begins and unfolds exquisitely. You are enraptured by Wagner’s ability to transcend sounds into music, words into poetry.

And then WHAT!!!???!!! A stage full of bodies and maidens prancing around the stage, as a backdrop to the principal singers’ prologues, arias, and dying laments?!? A gaggle were nude or nearly-nude, with exposed wire-strapped bras and saggy body suits. Uh-oh, it’s that German Freiheit thing again. But now they are stomping in Gothic River Dance Doc-Martin boots and shimmery, raggedy tunics as angry sisters of Brunhilde protecting their heroine (with an e)?!? Whatsup!!??!! Someone was unveiling a supposedly dead body in the background on a gurney as the singers in the foreground sang fervently to each other.

My point: Hollywood has done alot for entertainment. Granted, it’s very showmanistic, but it has simple logic. The absence of it makes you homesick even for the glitz. The Germans are intellectual, stark, and blunt. They want to make sure you get the message about the suffering. They prefer to use resources on paying personnel to be the stage props, rather than to design, plan, and build stage sets. Sorry, but the interpretation didn’t work for me.

The singers would have done better on a bare stage. It was clear the audience felt the same. It was so bad in some parts that the audience literally booed!! Despite the stellar principal singers consisting of Jonas Kaufmann (one of my favorites), Nina Stemme (from Tristan and Isolde fame at the NY Met), and Wolfgang Koch (from the Bayreuth Festival), being the primary focus, the staging distracted the audience, and nearly destroyed the beautiful music and singing. Several times I closed my eyes to block out the visuals, and wished that the message had been better delivered.

I’m not saying that I would rate the SF Opera production higher than this one, because the music and the singing was not strong. I would love to see the two companies collaborating together one day to make the most of each company’s talents, and to give the audience a performance that Wagner would be proud to see.

Here are the staid curtain calls, that don’t reflect anything expressed above, with (1) Kiril Petrenko, the highly regarded conductor of the Bayern Staatsoper:

and (2) my favorite tenor Jonas Kaufmann taking his well deserved curtain call as Sigmund:

As for more mundane activities this week, I lost my glasses and left my keys in the apartment where I was staying. I went to two “found” bureaus and discovered a treasure trove of “found” items, all neatly classified and categorized. I didn’t find my glasses, but it was a pleasure to see German efficiency at its best.