Tag Archives: Commentary

Holita Nolita

I was up early today, and had a light breakfast in the hotel. The Cafe serves pastries and bagels from Balthazar and Ess-a-Bagels, both famous institutions in themselves, so I am in breakfast heaven (ironically I ordered steel cut oats!).

I headed down to Le Labo in Nolita for custom mixed fragrances from Grasse (the home of French perfumes) and ordered two scented candles and a musky flavored spray.

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Next I managed to get a seat at Balthazar for a bar lunch of scrambled eggs and mushrooms in a puff pastry and a glass of champagne.

I ripped back up to the Theater District to catch “the Heidi Chronicles”, then returned by subway with relative ease to the Ramen Lab for a quick dinner. After waiting outside in line for over an hour, I finally was able to get a seat at the bar at the Ramen Lab (what’s with these “labs”?). It was worth the wait, since I wasn’t dying to get home or go anywhere else. The noodles were decent but the miso soup and the pork belly were superb. The seat at the bar was moot, as the restaurant is so small. All 10 seats are “at the bar”, with no chairs, no stools, nada.

When the chef heard I was from San Francisco, he asked me if I had heard of the Ramen Shop in Oakland. He had worked there last summer for three weeks. The hostess told me she loves Tartine and Bi-Rite. She goes there every time she’s in SF. I was tempted to ask her if she had imported the idea of long lines from there to create hype for this place.

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People in photo above showing the noodle bar appear to be seated, but in fact they are standing. The bowl of noodles looks innocuous, but was delicious, particularly after waiting in the cold outside for so long. A guaranteed thumbs up no matter what the food tastes like, eh? All of these food and mood shops are within walking distance of the Spring Street Station Number 6 line near NY Chinatown.

My last destination, the Storefront for Art and Architecture, was no where to be found. In its place, I discovered a spanking new building just before hitting Nolita. It looked a little out of place among the old brick warehouses along the Bowery. It turned out to be the new campus of the Cooper Union.

I ventured inside and asked whether anyone knew who the architect was. The guard and a student shrugged their shoulders and one finally out of desperation uttered that they thought it was some blankety blank architect from CALIFORNIA. The style and design looked familiar, but the name danced on the tip of my tongue. When I found out later who it was, it seemed obvious. Anyone willing to guess?!? (Hint: we have a building in San Francisco by this well-known architect).

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Photos above: exterior and interior of the Cooper Union, by___.

Footnote: the Heidi Chronicles started out on a light note, but ended up being emotionally draining for me. In that respect I enjoyed it. It’s a boomer story of a woman who studied art history at Vassar (hmm…). After recounting each decade of her life with familiar friends, the lead character tries to make sense of being a woman in a male-dominated world. Maybe not for all, but I could relate to this story.

On the menu tomorrow: “It’s Only a Play” with Martin Short” and Blue Hill with Rik

Whether the Weather…

image Photo, left: Whimsical thought of softly padded insulation on wire-framed outdoor seating

Mark Twain sarcastically commented that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco, and even San Franciscans reluctantly agree in a rare self-deprecating moment. But being caught in the last snowstorm of the century in New York, I think Mark Twain ought to retract his statement. New York definitely gets the prize for the hassles one has had to endure in the soon-to-be infamous Winter of 2015.

Concerned family members have been asking me how I am faring with the weather. To be honest, it hasn’t really sunk into my path of denial yet. Until today. Fun over. I checked the list of weather stats for my favorite world cities that I track every now and then. How can NYC top the list as the coldest spot of 20? It apparently is doing so, beating out Dunhuang in the middle of Gansu and Tashkent in Uzbekistan. OK, so I cheat and have a string of Bay Area cities, but it’s the being HERE and not there that gives me the shake up call.

So I did the common sense thing and went out in the middle of the storm.

I met my dear friend Lisa, whom I had met in Hong Kong from the 70’s, when she was looking for a job and got in touch with me through a Berkeley connection. It was great to catch up with her after a long absence of 15 years since the last time we met in NYC. It was the first winter after 9/11 and New York at that time felt like a ghost town.

This time, Lisa met me at our designated lunch spot on the Upper East Side near the Metropolitan. Originally we had talked about going to visit a museum together. We abandoned that idea after glancing at the window periodically and realizing that staying in a nice cozy spot was a winner. We ended up chatting for hours. We switched mid-stream to another location for a change of pace but we kept our conversation going full steam. The venues hardly mattered, we had so much to catch up on–kids, family, work, travel, Board volunteering, and everything in between.

Lisa’s warmth and energy haven’t changed at all. It was gratifying to know and see an old friend the same in the best of ways. We have both been very lucky to have shared the same values and enjoyed similar interests throughout life.

Yes, life is short. But don’t let the weather get you down. It will be a sunny day tomorrow.

Holy MOMA!

The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is and was overwhelming, so it required an advanced tactical maneuver (I was trained over twenty years ago during visits to Disneyland with kids). I had been here a few times before so I was prepared for the onslaught. I spent the better part of the day at the museum, from first arrival at 10:30 opening to a German film at 4pm, honoring this high Temple of Art.

As recommended by the museum to visitors, I duly focussed on two exhibitions only. One was the special exhibition entitled “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World”. Pretty vague title, but it basically tackled how artists are pretty eclectic, borrow from various sources such as the Internet and art history, and make art. In the photo below, you can see a pretty amusing pile of canvasses on the floor. The artist invites viewers to touch it and interact with it in ways you aren’t allowed to when it is displayed on the wall. A visitor got pretty creative with it, using the canvasses as a blanket!

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Below is a painting I like by a black artist, Rashid Johnson. He painted a canvas entirely in black, showing his moods as he made strokes on the canvas. The black color also depicted the historical moment in Berlin when Europe decided to colonize Africa.image

The second exhibition and tour at the Design and Architecture Gallery was exhaustive and addressed “Uneven Urbanization” in four major cities: Hong Kong, New York, Istanbul and Rio. Mega cities are defined by having a population over 8 million. HK and NYC are considered one of the smaller cities in the spectrum of mega cities. The exhibit was put together by various consultants who tried to come up with small-scale solutions that people could do themselves. Building urban gardens and small cafes are examples to reduce alienation. Obviously this was a very tall order to try solving, but the exhibition was very thought-provoking. The tour guide, who teaches city planning, was very informative and packed a lot into a one-hour tour.

To recover from the heavy morning’s brain dump, I decided to lunch at the Modern, a Michelin-star rated restaurant at the MOMA. You can see the white glove service in the pictures and the menu below.

1. Main Course: Branzino steamed in spinach with trumpet mushrooms and orange zest
2. Starter: Grilled Fois Gras with quince
3. Starter: lobster and turnip

Starters were prefaced by an acorn squash soup with roasted almonds and sabayon. I chose a nice glass of French Chablis to complement my selections, after the wine steward failed to convince me to try a California Chardonnay or a NZ Riesling!

The finale at the MOMA was punctuated by a film “Left-Handed Woman” by Wim Wenders, a well-known German director (he did Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas). The most amazing part is that HE was actually at the film showing as part of a retrospective on his work and HE presented the film! This is what NYC gets that little specs like SF don’t. Thus my title for today’s posting.

Here’s a fuzzy picture of THE man on the left in front of the podium…

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If this weren’t enough, I dashed over to Bouchon at the Time-Warner Center for a quick dinner of warm olives, broccolini and salmon terrine (all appetizers), then hiked my way over to Lincoln Center for my first opera evening. Despite already seeing a half-dozen opera movies filmed from here this past season, I still felt excited to be at the MET in the skinny, particularly at a sold-out performance of Carmen.

Sadly, however, Jonas Kaufmann, my favorite performer who was scheduled to sing, was sick tonite. He was replaced by Yonghoon Lee, who did a pretty decent job as his understudy. Fortunately, I’ll have another chance to see Jonas, a German version (with a real operatic voice) of Andrea Bocelli in August.

The opera only had limited seating in the rafters (dead top of the stadium, last row). It wasn’t the best experience, but I was able to witness a signature performance at the MET. Below are a couple of shots of the dated lobby interior and the opera house. The chandeliers inside the opera hall move up to the ceiling automatically when the lights dim so they are out of the way–well appreciated for the bleacher seats where I was located.
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Photos above:
1. Lobby of the Metopera
2. Stage from very tippy top (opera glasses are useless from up here– you need a telescope)
3. Curtain Call with Elina Garanca (Carmen) and Yonghoon Lee (Don Jose)

Good Night!!

Up Next: Serafina and the Audience

Resource Tips

You can find more MOMA news on their awesome website at moma.org. When you visit MOMA, you can track your path and send emails of items you like to study further to yourself! The site also allows you to search and copy images of many items in the MOMA collection architectural models. Ordering tickets online in advance is also a timesaver.

You can book Bouchon (the inexpensive cafe related to Thomas Keller from French Laundry) and the Modern (very expensive) on opentable.com.

Day 63: With Gratitude to My Role Models

In an earlier post, I mentioned that wanted to be a role model for my family. I just realized that they have been role models for me. Gee Kin is kind, patient and curious. What more can I expect in a partner? He teaches me to be better in those ways by his own actions. On his departure back to the U.S. and my getting ready to head for Guangzhou from Chengdu, Gee Kin still made sure that I had the address of the hotel in Guangzhou where I am staying by myself in Chinese, that I had a little raggie for my dirty little face first thing in the morning, and that I had enough toilet paper to get me through the all-nighter. You would understand these necessities if you have traveled by train in China. I’m still too rebellious and Western-propagandized to accept that dealing with these inconveniences are a personal responsibility.

Despite my denial of these essentials, I reluctantly agreed to take them at the last minute. Yep, he was right. Being on the train alone helped me to 1. Understand 2. Accept 3. Use all of the above. This public confession is a way for me to thank and acknowledge Gee Kin for his caring, patience, and kindness.

Melissa, for all her dedication and focused perseverance of her craft, has taught me the value of finding a passion and working hard at it. She has shown me that fame and fortune lie in one’s own abilities, and no one else’s. I give her a lot of credit for her achievements and a ton for independent thinking. She has reminded me to think more for myself.

And Julianne for asking why. She’s a milder version of Louis CK’s daughter and the skit Louis did on her asking why about everything. Julianne’s training in philosophy got me curious about what it was all about. The book she tossed to me on Schumann led me to Dresden. Her desire to engage people and ideas makes me want to do more of the same.

Chinese are not about bragging (except for material wealth, cars, how much they earn, degrees, etc., but please! never overtly!) For me, I just want to tell my family and whoever reads this that I love them and appreciate them. They inspire me, move me, and are MY role models. What more could you want in life?

Photos: from top, left to right
1. Gee Kin, on Emei Shan
2. Melissa and me, in Paris
3. Julianne, in a cafe in Berkeley

Day 58: …and the “Diversity in Accommodation” Award goes to….

Back in my old Campus Planning days in the 90’s, I received a dubious distinction for “Most Diverse Clothing”, and no, I wasn’t cross dressing. I could easily transform myself from slob to slick. At that time it meant wearing tee shirts before casual was in and business suits for women that weren’t dark blue imitations of what men wore except for floppy dark blue bow ties.

For this post I decided to show you the range of hotel accommodations, from Emei Shan to the following day in Fraser Suites in Chengdu.  (OK, for Emei Shan camping could be more extreme but this was in a structure–or at least purported to be one. And yes, it was in a rural, remote part of the world, with NO standards. It makes the Marriott attention to detail something you would kill for after this encounter. And there’s no comparison as far as price was concerned because we are talking two ends of the spectrum.

I never claimed to be big on luxury, but I am admittedly a bit eclectic. You can compare the living, dining, and sleeping accommodations at your own leisure. At Fraser Suites, we were able to get a free upgrade to a 1-BR suite, free buffet breakfast, and full kitchen with washer/dryer for the price of a typical chain hotel. I think you will catch the drift. The bathroom in Emei was edited so you wouldn’t see the details of the floor toilet conveniently integrated directly below the shower, but the room did have, as the Brits say “an ensuite bedroom”. We came back to Fraser Suites in Chengdu and I finally got my shower. The difference in 24 hours is what bears consideration, and what a shock it is to my system. I think I deserve a “Diversity in Accommodation Award” at least for yesterday and today.

Day 55: I’m a Travelin’ (Wo)man…

…made a lot of stops..all over the world. Having completed over 80% of my 68-day itinerary, almost 25,000 miles, nearly 20 stops, numerous hotels, flights and train trips, I feel a sense of exhilaration. Top three experiences: the tour of Uzbekistan, the Northern Silk Road in China, and the German Class in Dresden (not necessarily in that order). All exceeded my expectations. Obviously the people I met in each location made each experience unforgettable.

And now…it’s time to move to the fourth and final segment of the itinerary. I’ll be continuing through Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. I lived there for seven years from 1976-1981, and Gee Kin and I met there, so it is a very special place for us. I can’t wait to see old friends who are still there.

In pausing, I’d like to give a lot of credit for this trip to my family for supporting me and giving me the wings to fly. They are each very special people and unique in their own ways. So a big fat smooch each to Melissa, Julianne and Gee Kin. By putting my words into actions, I hope I can be a role model for them and others.

A few quick do’s and don’ts from lessons learned in traveling solo or with friends:

1. Organize your bag according to rooms in your house and how you use things in them: BR, bath, kitchen, etc. I use a lot of kitchen implements like a set of plastic fork, spoon, and knife to do most in-room dining for those unexpected, can’t be bothered moments to avoid eating out. Plus the knife comes in handy and passes security control.
2. Pack a box of tissue flat as a pad for your Ipad or computer.Use it as you go.
3. I use a nail clipper to cut and make my own band aids. They cost pennies if you buy them uncut and in sheets and you can make them any shape you need. The nail clipper also gets you around the scissor-weapon issue at airport security.
4. Be careful when taking trams and trains. Check to make sure that you know the end destination of the line, or you may end up in a completely different part of town!
5. Never be in a hurry when checking the next train or bus schedule.
6. Never, never, never take shortcuts near train tracks.
7. Don’t be without a cell phone.
8. Never have the batteries die or be close to dead before or after you take a train in the wrong direction.
9. Never be too sure you can meet someone even after you have just confirmed that you are meeting them in an hour.
11. Do not be in a remote location where there is no cell phone coverage.
12. Do not travel when it is getting dark.
13. Never trust your own judgment.

Minor point: in having executed 4-13 above in the span of 2 hours (between 7:30 and 9:30pm at an undisclosed location), I can vouch for the necessity to avoid these incidents at any cost, particularly when they are combined. Fortunately, one additional “do”: Do trust that your friend will be patient and wait for you, even if you are a complete flake and end up being over an hour late just because you were stupid enough to think that you knew what you were doing and didn’t.

About Posting Hell: I submit to defeat. Unless you are signed into WordPress.com as a subscriber to my posts, you will probably not see the posted photos. I am having a WordPress moment. If I haven’t exasperated you with these latter day posts, try going to Instagram and checking vifongit posts for the photos from
Day 54: Dunhuang City Museum. This is an experiment.

If it works, I will continue to post photos there. The photo captions, unfortunately, may not jive with the list of captions. This may be the only alternative that will get me to the end of the trip. Let me know if this alternative via Instagram is working for you in the comments. I will really appreciate getting feedback, as I am not able to see what you are seeing for the time being.
Profuse apologies to anyone who has been frustrated by the lack of visual elements. This was unanticipated!

Day 51: Thing for Thina

Today is a travel day, so I am getting ahead of the pack by sharing some information about the Silk Road. I read the book “the Silk Road, a New History” by Valerie Hansen and I want to cite some interesting points from it. The book covers three key chapters of my selected cities: the Turpan, Dunhuang, and Samarkand.
Dunhuang, while known for its Buddhist cave paintings, has a treasure trove of over 35,000 documents that recorded official edicts, announcements, and private letters. These were found in a garrison outside of Dunhuang. The dry desert air helped to preserve these documents from the 1st Century BCE to the 1st Century CE. Agreements were written on bamboo strips and wood before paper, originally used for wrapping, became the material for writing. Paper did not become widely used for writing until the 2nd Century. All envoys passed through this garrison at Xuanquan outside Dunhuang in either direction to control movement.
Turpan, a walled city further west from Dunhuang, was known for its foreign community dating back to the Tang Dynasty. It was only the halfway point between Samarkand and Chang An (current day Xian). One of the most significant groups living in Turfan, believe it or not, was the Sogdians, who originated from Samarkand! They settled in Turfan to farm, run rest stops, take care of animals, and trade.
A chapter of the book is devoted to Samarkand, one of our stops in Uzbekistan. The Sogdians who hailed from this area were originally migrants from Iran and practiced Zoroastrian beliefs such as leaving bones of their dead exposed before burial. Trade between Sogdiana and China peaked between 500 and 800 CE. Many Sogdians from Samarkand may have migrated to Turfan when Sogdiana was conquered by the Muslim genera in 712.
The difference in timeline between these cities can be substantial, so the context between them is important. The book focused on the period between 200 BCE and 1200 CE, with major Islamic developments in the latter half of the time span. This later period coincides with the Tang Dynasty at its peak in Dunhuang.image
In case you were ever wondering, the name “China” is derived from a reference to “Thina”, by a merchant in the 1st C. CE with a description of China as “a great inland city from which silk floss, yarn and cloth are shipped by land…” Since Ancient Greek did not have a letter for “ch”, the letter theta was used. In Sanskrit, where the English word for China is derived, China was pronounced Chee-na. This word came into use around 221-207 BCE during the Qin Dynasty.
As far as the Silk Road is concerned, it is a relatively recent concept from 19th C. explorers. The Silk Road consisted mainly of clusters of cultures that lived and traded among each other. The paths were unmarked and did not provide the big saga event romanticized by the Marco Polo story. Silk was only one among other goods traded that included chemicals, spices, horses, glass and paper.

Day 46: Following the Yellow Silk Road…the Wizard of Uz

 

So Where’s Uzbekistan? First of all, it shares a commonality with Lichtenstein. It’s doubly landlocked with no access to a seaworthy port (the Aral Sea doesn’t count, but more about that later). As mentioned in earlier posts, water was everything in the distant past as it is today.

The Soviets wanted Uz. to produce cotton so they did. They relied on a single crop to supply the former Soviet Union, so after Peristroika, Uz was in trouble, with no diversification. The government seemed to switched to mixed crops as quickly as it could, but it took a lot of water to grow cotton. That sapped the supply of water from the border river they share with Kyrgyzstan, so now they have to buy water for neighboring Tajikistan.

Traveling along the Great Silk Road today (7 hours by car from Bokhara to Kiva, another UNESCO world heritage site), I actually saw camels on the highway! That blew me away, until I saw an accident a few minutes later. There was a dead man in the crossing. His car was tipped over sideways and it looked like he was hauling some gas tanks. He looked scorched.

Otherwise, this could be a typical 90 degree summer day. Here’s the report ala Ruth Reichl Twitter style:

Cloudless sky. No smog. Gentle people. Girls walking home to lunch from school. Boys riding bikes. Huge birds with long tails. Stray oxen, cattle, donkeys, and goats. Dead flat. Power lines on horizon.

The driver has been very careful. After driving two hours with the windows closed, he rolls down window exactly one minute after I wonder why he hasn’t done so. He figured there’s no need to use the AC. (just because they say the car has AC doesn’t mean that it will be used, does it!?) But it suits me fine. There were uneven road surfaces everywhere. It took 8 hours to drive 500 km or 300 miles for what would take only 5 hours on I-5, but we’re not in California, right? On the last drive, he didn’t use the AC until the last half hour of a 4.5 hr ride. Made sense.

Driving along the Silk Road for eight hours can wax you poetic. There were prominent mounds every so often, that served as watering holes. The caravansaries were pitched nearby and served as stopover points along the Silk Road. Being dead flat seemed to make it a no-brainer for travel to progress along the way, in the way that it did. There were markers with strange clipped brushes pushed upside down to mark the way. (See photo above, markers are in mid-ground). We followed that path for half the time, then it disappeared. I pictured Gee Kin and me trekking along the path. Flat, marked path is a piece of cake so no desperate need for Google maps? Oops, no shade.

So back to Uz. There are about 30 million people here, mostly in agricultural communities. (Tashkent holds about 1/10 of the population or 3 million people, but most cities are small). It is run by Karimov, a “benevolent dictator” who has been in power for the last 23 years. Uz. Also has natural gas, uranium and is developing electricity.

Because cotton was grown here and the land absorbed so much water, the river also began to run dry and the Aral Sea that used to collect the water dried up. What used to be a port city is now sitting in the middle of a peninsula! San Francisco or Oakland suddenly becoming Stockton! It didn’t take very long so it’s definitely a word to the wise. Now they are trying to deal with all the salt in land where it used to be a lake. Less than 50% of the water is left; it used to be the fourth largest body of inland water in the world. (See photo above).

Just a few stray thoughts after yesterday’s post: I was told that Armenians were the best craftsmen and were recruited to come work on some of the buildings in Bokhara. Iranians were considered the best architects. It’s no wonder, with their attention to gardens and outdoor spaces, math and geometric skills, and beautiful interpretations of color and lighting.

As for insights on pilgrims visiting these sights: I noticed that a few visitors walked around site three times before entering the mosque or mausoleum. It was considered bad luck if you didn’t. They also rubbed sacred trees so some of the good luck would rub off, and they also practiced leaving money on the crypts. It was a way to wish for good things and have them come true.

In case you ever wondered where the fat French women were…they’re all in Uz. I can’t compare them to any Americans because there aren’t any here.

Day45(b): Bakin’ in Bokhara

So what am I thinking? It’s hard to squeeze it out when (traveling solo) you can keep your thoughts to yourself, private and without judgment. Since we are social animals, we have the need to share and communicate, so here are a few of my thoughts:

1. Looking back, I regret not taking the History of Architecture class on Islamic Architecture. There are so many things to learn–not just the types of buildings (madrasah, mosque, and mausoleums) and their functions, but many of the basic universal design principles come from this part of the world: presence and soothing effect of water, gardens for life, and patterns for texture and interest.
2. On top of that, you get the confluence of all religions here–it’s required an encyclopedic understanding of Islamic, Judaic, Christian, and Buddhist principles, not to mention the sub-religions such as Sufi (Gee Kin, you will remember the Whirling Dervishes), Zorastrian, Baha’i, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sunni, Shi’ite, etc. The Sufis had a major center here and while they professed to not ever promote religion for material gain, they were highly intellectual and sought to purge themselves of all materialism. They strived to reach the point of connection with God analogous to becoming a drop of water sprayed into the ocean, as my guide informed me. At that point of annihilation, they become one with God.
3. All the battles, campaigns and failed attempts are enough to remind you how interconnected the world has been. The winners and losers needed to visit the Dresden Military History Museum to be reminded that everyone loses in war. Keeping track of the huge expanse of time is disorienting, so I am concentrating on three periods to keep myself straight: Alexander the Great, around 300 AD; the Mongol Invasions that swept through and destroyed everything in its path around the 12-13th Centuries, and the Timur Reign around 1400. That is helping me to put events and building design in perspective.
4. I am satisfying my curiosity, and if anything it has raised a huge list of further reading and to-do lists. If anyone is interested or knows something about any of the above, let’s talk!
5. On money changing: no need to count your Soums( the local currency, called that for a reason); the locals will automatically calculate it for you in USD. If you don’t trust them do the math: (1 Soum=0.00043USD). I had to bring a briefcase in the local currency to pay for lunch today.
6. Weather is manageable, but need all of the following before stepping out of the hotel:
A. Sunscreen 50 count, thanks to good German biotechnology. I hate the stuff as Gee Kin will attest on my behalf, but it’s needed for the scorching heat it hit over 100 deg. F. Midday).
B. Shawl for mosque but also needed for Early and late evening Mistral-like breezes)
C. Sunhat for low angle sun in early morning
D. Sunglasses
E. Umbrella for unshaded walks–despite my black umbrella not to be found elsewhere on the street, it was a lifesaver. Needed to contend with gusty winds.
F. Lots of band aids for blisters, again compliments to the German supply system.
G. Map
Once I was prepared, fumbling around with all of this paraphernalia was the next challenge. Had to think hard to avoid a Bridget Jones moment.
oh, and of course I had to take pictures on top of it all!
7. The people of Bokhara are known to be warm and friendly. Best of all, everyone has black hair! No bleached hair in sight. Girls like wearing their hair long, straight, and shiny or tied up in buns. The young women look very svelt and have beautiful dark eyes. Seeing swarms of students in uniform at their first day of school on Tuesday after the National Holiday reminded me what Russians brought to this country: education for all.
8. As for languages, if you speak a second language, it’s probably Russki. English was for the Colomials, remember?
9. Food service: when ordering a pizza, step back. They will roll it out, let the yeast rise, and fire up the oven. It’s fresh, you just gotta wait.
10. My apologies for editorial bloopers. Some of the posts are viewed with IPhone micro text or are experiencing breakdowns and disconnects. I decided it was better to post in a timely way than to hold up another day to make edits. Special apologies to editorial friends or those who may be offended by the deterioration of the English language.

Day 41: Dresden to Frankfurt

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A full luxurious day on the train, on the beautiful Deusche Bahn system. These are to me the best trains in the world: fast, efficient and reliable. All the best in German engineering. As I sit on this five-hour ride, I can’t help but ponder what’s ahead for me in the future.

I am pretty happy. I decided that happiness is relative, and of course a process, not a place. It’s those endorphins you get planning something and thinking about where you WILL be, and not so much about when you are there. I have to say the German class exceeded my expectations. Little did I expect or know whom I would meet or learn from them. But that was just a bonus.

I used to watch the happiness programs on PBS and based on their advice, make the lists of what I was grateful for. Maybe it was needed when you are inundated with stressful days at work to maintain perspective. I definitely have had a full and satisfying life so far. But will that get me through the next third of my life? Who knows?

Part of this trip is about seeking inspiration. And my quest in Germany is fulfilling that. Learning about Goethe gave me a big shot in the arm and a reading list. At the top is going to be Thomas Mann’s Lotte in Weimar. The movie I saw about Goethe helped me to see inside the German culture. Then get an annotated guide for Magic Mountain. (The train just went through Weimar, and I wanted to get off!) Before, during or after that, maybe more on Weimar.

Currently the book given to me from the Krasnos has entertained and consumed me. “the Orientalist” is NY Times best seller and the author, Tom Reiss, won a Pulitzer Prize. It’s the story about a journalist Lev Nussibaum aka Essad Bey. It takes place in pre-war Germany, but traces Bey’s life from Lake Baku, where he was born, to a saga of escape from crumbling regimes through Turkey to France, and then to a private high school on an island in the North Sea. He ends up in Berlin writing books about Germany.

The author casts a lot of historical information as the backdrop for this audacious character, whose true identity was challenged multiple times. He was married to a socialite for a short time and operated in and was followed by high literary circles. I haven’t finished the book yet but am savoring and parceling out every last word as I am running out of something to read on my way to Tashkent.

Without getting into detail, this has been the best book for my trip. I’m really glad I have it and hope to use this as my springboard to learning more about German history, and its complicated relationship to Russia. The book in part tries to tackle the prickly question of how Hitler comes to power.

I decided that you could customize your own academic degree. When you have the time, you don’t need to find a program, apply for it, get credits, take exams and prove yourself with a degree–you just do it!

Targeting Tashkent…lets hope the Internet works there.