Tag Archives: Design

WRING OUT THE OLD

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

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

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

Here’s the video:

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

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

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

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

Whys and Z’s in Yasd, Iran

Tower of Silence and Fire

At the Temple of Silence, members of the Zorastrian religion placed their dead at the top of a mound and left them to the elements and vultures to decompose. After that, they treated the bones with alcohol and burned the remains.

The Temple of Fire was built to commemorate the Prophet Zarathustra. As head of the Zorastrian religion, he professed kindness and goodness to all. What was more interesting and an “Aha!” moment for us, was that “Thus Spake Zarathustra“, written by Richard Strauss  and the theme song from “2001, the Space Odyssey”, originates from this prophet’s words and teachings. Zorastrianism was one of the first monotheistic religions in the world.

Zorastrians were also present in Hong Kong. I used to pass the Temple on my way to work and wondered who the members were. There are only about 200,000 members of the religious group world-wide, among which 80,000 or so are South Indians. Their presence in Hong Kong stems from the Indian population that lived there since colonial times. I can finally rest my curiosity  over who this group was and where they came from.

The Friday Mosque

As in all mosques, the mullah, or head of the temple, conducts the ceremony facing Mecca, while the worshippers are aligned in rows behind him. They are encouraged to attend the mosque five times a day in groups, but more importantly on Friday, the holy day of the week. The worshippers are called to prayer every day, including before sunrise and at sunset.

The twin minarets or towers of Shiite mosques come in pairs, like this one, or in fours on the corners of a square. These are over 70 feet high and the among the tallest in Iran. Sunni minarets have one, two or even three asymmetrical towers, so you can easily differentiate which sect of Islamic religion each mosque represents. The architect of this mosque built the first minaret, and commanded his top student to build the second one. The precocious student followed his master’s design, but built two double-helix staircases to the top inside instead of the single staircase in the first tower.

Ice House and Caravansery

The ice house was a clever way to provide refrigeration in the blaring desert heat. The dome over the pool where the ice was kept allowed heat to escape through the opening at the top. The space below where the water was originally kept is now empty, but it creates an acoustically perfect space. Our guide was barely whispering in the video below, but you could easily hear his song from wherever you were standing. (Please turn up the volume to full blast if you want to hear the song more clearly)

Heading towards Isfahan, we stopped at an authentic Silk Road Caravansery. The traders and their camels rested and recuperated here, and rest stops like this are considered one of the first hotels ever established! The camels were parked in the courtyard, traders used the rooms facing the courtyard, and the hired help hung out in the dormitory space on the outer ring of the courtyard.

Water was transported here from underground canals or wells. The pools provided cool spaces (literally)  to escape the heat. Washing and drinking water was stored separately from these submerged and naturally lit chambers. In this part of the world where drought is a daily worry, water was carefully stored and managed. Shops and local handicrafts are sold now in the courtyard. Our guide Abdullah, showed us his newly purchased solidarity scarf.

(This post was created on April 18,  2018)

Nippy in NewYork

Coming to New York in the middle of the winter sounds like a crazy thing to do, but we did. It started as a nippy 18 degrees in New York, but so far it didn’t deter any plans or ability to walk outdoors. In fact, the noticeably fewer tourists, being able to get into restaurants and museums easily, and bargain hotel rates were all incentives for risking unpredictable weather. I came with my sister to show her all my favorite sights that include the Highline, the Mighty Mets (Metopera and the Metropolitan Museum) and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

We power-walked the first morning from Midtown Manhattan and bee-lined down Third Avenue to Balthazar (shown on previous posts) for a brisk three-mile stretch, then made a quick stop to see the 911 Memorial. The fountain, a bottomless pit, was a sobering reminder of that fateful day that changed America and the world forever.

The new highrise developments in the area are stunningly beautiful, including Calatrava’s Transportation Center (also in header above). We headed over to the Highline afterwards for another short walk from 23rd to 34th Streets. Being able to walk everywhere is heaven, and staying in Midtown Manhattan makes everything all the more accessible. We clocked an average of 5-7 miles per day, so felt alert and energized.

My dear friends Lisa and Dick, who have been residents of NYC for over 35 years were ready to assist with event planning.  We started with dinner at Le Bateau Ivre downstairs from the Pod Hotel, tasted wine from the Chef & Sommelier glassware they brought to show us, then met the next evening for opera. Lisa was a bit skeptical of long, drawn-out operas that last well into the night, but the two short, hour-long verismo operas Cavallera Rusticana and Pagliacci were perfect to convince her that opera is a worthy investment.  The music is among some of the most beautiful in opera, so there wasn’t much convincing to do.

Starring Roberto Alagna in both operas, they were emotionally satisfying and the music was glorious. His performance was bright and powerful.  The story about a vaudeville troupe is a play within a play. Canio, the clown, whose wife is in love with another man, must perform his comedy act for the audience even though he is heartbroken inside. In an interview with Roberto Alagna, he commented on how relevant the story is to opera performers, but how unique it was to be sharing the lead roles with his real-life wife, Aleksandra Kurdak. (She played Nedda, Canio’s wife).

Later in the short week, we were also treated to a performance by the New York City Ballet. This time it was my turn to experience and appreciate dance through the joy of physicality combined with artistic talent.IMG_1537

In addition to Balthazar and Ess-a-Bagel, our dining events include Bar Boulud and the Smith (both conveniently next to Lincoln Center), and Pastrami Queen at 1125 Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side. Some creative soups at the MOMA cafe filled both our eyes and appetites.

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When you can park yourself at one of New York’s best kept secrets–the Pod Hotel (at 230 E. 51st Street, between 2nd and Third Avenues) for $75 a night for two in bunk beds with a shared bath down the hall, mingle with international visitors of all ages, and spare the rest for all the food and entertainment in the Big Apple–what’s not to like? I normally do not mention hotels in my posts, but for variety and voracious urban consumers like me, this is it. Originally called the Pickwick Arms, we’ve stayed in this location in NYC off and on for over 30 years. To top it off, the Pod serves Ess-a-Bagels and Balthazar almond croissants in their cafe!!

The extensive Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition of Michelangelo’s Drawings, culled from over 23 sources throughout the world, was my primary purpose in coming to New York City. The private tour I took will follow in a separate post.

My Kind of Town, Obama Town

A few days before coming to Chicago, I listened to a few of the Obama Foundation Summit live stream broadcasts by young upcoming community activists. As a reminder, Obama began his career here in this city. His legacy is present and inspires a whole new generation of future leaders, not only in Chicago, but throughout the world. He is committed to helping communities lift themselves through positive shared efforts.

One of the great achievements is the community created by sculptor, artist, and entrepreneur Theaster Gates. He purchased a neglected bank building in South Chicago from the city for $1. He raised money and developed the Stony Island Arts Bank, a library, media archive and community center for Rebuild’s archives and collections. He used recycled materials from other sites as well as those in the building. Members of the community come to this center to preserve, access, reimagine, and share their heritage. See photos of the center below.

An early morning visit to the University of Chicago campus enabled us to get a bonus tour of the Robie House on campus. Originally for a wealthy patron, this residence was also used by UIC students. It has finally been restored to its residential charm and glory (see captions).

Sandwiched in between Downtown Chicago and UIC is the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus. Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the strictly Modernist approach for the campus buildings was stiflingly evident.

Little seemed out of place in Crown Hall, the Architectural Building (see the lobby chairs), except for the people and the architectural work underway. The huge open space predates current “collaboration space”. The vacuous interior without walls masked unwanted noise brilliantly. Julianne and I wondered how we would have survived an architectural training in what seemed like such a limiting environment.

The Student Services Center was the counterpoint to the collection of Miesian buildings on the IIT campus. Designed by OMA in Rotterdam, the firm broke all the International-style rules (thanks to recommendations and commentary support from architect/daughter).

And finally, we made it back to the Chicago Cultural Center to see displays of models, drawings, and photographs of numerous architectural projects throughout the world. A few that caught my attention were:

“A Room of One’s Own”–Sketches of Rooms of Famous People

Models of Architectural Houses

And Miscellany:

Whimsical Plays on Skyscrapers by a Belgian Photographer cum Architect

Random shots of Millenium Park, the Bean, and City skyline

I can safely say that I satisfied my architectural curiosity today. I even paid attention to what I saw this time.

Day 9-10: Easter Island Moai

A full day of sightseeing led me to the various Moai on the Eastern side of the island. The Akahanga Quarry where the stone for the Moai were carved and extracted was a graveyard of sorts for the stones themselves. They were in various stages of completion: some were still in situ, some were being transported, and some were never to reach their intended sacred sites. The characteristic topknots for hair were gathered in one spot, as the red stone was normally placed separately from the body on top of the basalt.

I loved pondering how each sculptor decided on the eyes, nose, and mouth for each piece. Most of the bodies included full torsos, but no legs. Their hands were placed below their bellies, with long fingernails indicating royalty. The long ears of the royalty were evident, as there were no short-eared Moai (see previous post).

Behind the quarry are caves where people hid during wars and invasions. Next, we reached the highlight of the 15 Moai at Ahu Tongariki.  The guide explained in detail how the moai were carved out of bedrock, transported to a site where the dead were buried, and then erected with great teamwork and collaboration.

The Easter Islanders had a long term vision of creating these images to protect successive generations. It took incredible energy, creativity, and determination to plan, design and execute such monumental exercises. The photos above do not convey the extensive area where they were situated. See video below (apologies for the wind–you may need to turn your volume down to reduce the noise)

A Japanese construction company helped to sponsor the UNESCO world heritage site, after it exhibited one of the Moai in Japan. Many of the Moai that were toppled were turnd upright and restored so they can be appreciated in their orignal splendor.

I returned to the Te Moana Restaurant in town for an another adventurous dining experience. This time I ordered whole fish, and was delighted with this pair on a bed of mashed tuber:

My sunset view at dinner gave me time to reflect on all the amazing human achievements from the past. Even better, I caught the last rays behind the Moai at the harbor just a block away from my hotel.  It symbolized another successful completion of travels with myself and others to two of the most magnificent places in the world. I hope you enjoyed traveling with me!

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Days 59-61: Magic Carpet from Menara to Chek Lap Kok

Arrival in the big Kahuna was a bit anticlimactic, after five flights and stopping over in five cities. A bit crazy, but that’s the routing life of free travel. From Marrakesh Airport, a lovely new facility, I flew back to Frankfurt via Geneva and Zurich. I managed to buy a stock of Sprungli Truffes du Jour for Gee Kin. Unfortunately, in a moment of weakness, I bought a gigantic bottle of Argan Oil before leaving Marrakesh that was confiscated because it exceeded the 2 oz. liquid limitation.

Marrakesh Airport:

After an overnight stay at the Frankfurt Airport, I flew to Hong Kong via Beijing. A combination of mishaps made the journey less than ideal. My tax-free refund was denied at the Frankfurt Airport due to insufficient documentation. Then Beijing Security delayed me due to the same stupid portable charger that got me into trouble at the US Embassy last month. I ran like the dickens to catch the flight to Hong Kong with only an hour between flights. That included going through Security in Beijing twice–once out, once in again. It was enough drama to remind me that my heart beats within me.

Give Me Your Tired Passengers, Your Bored, Your Hungry

Aside from my luggage being delayed due to Customs inspection scheduled in Beijing rather than in Hong Kong (how was all that supposed to happen in an hour!?!) and a Typhoon Signal #8 in Hong Kong, everything here has been great! After husband Gee Kin joined me on the back end of my travels, we decided to slow live and let the weather dictate our actions. Not all goes smoothly all of the time, so this has been the R&R (Revise and Resubmit) weekend for me. OK, not exactly a MAGIC carpet, but it was a carpet.

Man Mo Temple

Despite the stiflingly oppressive heat and the onset of Tropical Storm Merbok, I did manage to keep up my daily drawing activity. Living in an Air BNB near the Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan, I drew the temple from a couple of different angles and Ladder Street. Like San Francisco, Hong Kong uses staircases up and down its hilly slopes, only more so.

This area is also part of a burgeoning art scene. The gallery downstairs offers drawing classes at $300HK for two hours, and I was tempted to participate.  Huge murals throughout Sheung Wan and on the side of the building where we are staying add to the street art in Hong Kong.

Sheung Wan

The ex-pat community is alive and well, and it looks like Lan Kwai Fong has spilled over into the Hollywood Road Antique area with a rash of foreign culture and food spots like Fusion Supermarkets, Classified Wine and Cheese, and Congee and Milk Tea sets.

It’s been a bit overwhelming to see the huge cultural shift to update the dining experiences in Hong Kong. In addition to infinite choices for traditional Chinese food that offer every Chinese provincial and regional cooking, you can frustrate yourself by deciding whether to sink into the bowels of Western food and desires. Life has always been a multitude of contradictions in Hong Kong, and food is no exception.

After coming down the hill from the Sun Yet Sen Museum, we re-discovered the series of free escalators half-way up a steep incline of Hong Kong Island. It serves as a clever conveyor belt and painless way to scale a mountain. It bustles at lunchtime, when we used it, to navigate a hillside with virtually zero calorie bust. It was even more impressive as we lived in the area it serves. It was more than just a superficial touristic attraction but a necessity. This system preceded the High Line in New York City, but certainly it has the same innovative spark and delight for residents and tourists alike.

To Build or Not to Build?

I’m reminded, after living in this city for seven years out of graduate school, that only 15% of the land is buildable. If you compare the high density living for 6-7 million people as positive space next to the negative or open space, the relative value of open area is immense. That creates some of the awe and beauty of Hong Kong that make a spectacular setting for human existence.

There are hiking trails that one would never expect from such a highly urban environment. Our daughter Melissa was pleasantly surprised when she visited here earlier this year. You can take excursions to the multitude of outlying islands, go to the Beach at Shek-o, or hike to the Peak. The New Territories offer even more camping and backpacking opportunities. Hong Kong is not just about shopping. However, foodwise, it’s just about FOOD…and rightly so. There ain’t nothing like it anywhere but here.

Fallout of Typhoon Merbok

A Camel_s Eyes Saved the World—a short fairy tale by Victoria Fong

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More adventures later about Hong Kong and after the typhoon signal is removed…and Guangzhou to come.

Addendum: speaking of magic carpets, here’s one of the two Berber carpets I bought in Essaouira:

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Day 50-53 Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira, formerly known as Mogadur, is a fishing town on the northwestern coast of Morocco. As a historic fishing village, it is another UNESCO world heritage site. A group of artists and students, including myself and others, are here with teacher Diane Olivier to sketch for a week.

The network of narrow alleys formed by thick walls and tunnels keeps the areas incredibly cool. The courtyards in the houses and riads (small hotels with courtyards originally private houses) are also provide light and ventilation to deep dark, and cool rooms surrounded by thick  walls.

Above: Views of the local Medina, or walled village with shops inside. At one point there were more Jewish people living here than Moroccans, but now there is only one. Shops sell carpets, argan oil, wood products, and artwork to tourists. Every shot represents a drawing opportunity!

Speaking of Drawing, here are a few sketches below. We are encouraged to draw during free time and share our work at the end of the day. Diane, the instructor, has done this workshop for six years in Essaouira. She knows her way around the town and all the nooks and crannies. We officially started with gesture drawings (on the left) of people walking through the plaza. We also drew each other, and a twenty-minute “blind” gesture drawing of a classmate, without looking at our paper. The goal was to draw what your eye sees, not what your brain tells you to do.

Views from and of rooms were good material, as well as views from rooftop terraces.

Below: details to discover throughout walks inside the walls. The port and beach (apparently laden with camel poop) lie outside the walls.

My lovely room assigment: a suite with a sitting room:

There are plenty of restaurants in the local area, with fresh whole fish for $10.

Day 64-66: Nakasendo Highway and Matsumoto Castle

After traveling for over two months in Europe and Asia, the culminating event was walking along the Nakasendo Highway in Japan. An ancient highway for over 400 years to provide communication between Kyoto and Edo (present-day Tokyo), this route was used by messengers, tradesmen, and government officials.

Between postal stations and forest paths, much of the route is annotated with historical features. Literary references to famous Japanese writers and haiku poems about the physical environment were identified along the path, as well as religious shrines, military battles and scenic spots.

After scant Japanese and English translations at railway stations, the information transfer magically yielded maps and schedules. We were handsomely rewarded with instructions for a 500-meter change in elevation, three-hour walk through Magome Pass from Tsumago to Magome. We traverse gorgeous lush pine, maple and bamboo forests, deep glades and gushing river streams, and gently seductive waterfalls for an exhilarating experience.

We fell in love with this area surrounding Matsumoto. Although we had never heard about it before, it is famous for trekking, skiing, soba and sake. They all seem to fit well together.

I have been in such awe of the natural beauty of this area that it tempers my entire voyage to date. While my travels have been unabashedly Euro-centric to date, I am being severely challenged by this newly rediscovered Asian culture.

The Japanese have a deep, rich history and its status as an advanced industrialized country is impressive. Together, Japan has a lot going for it.

See the gallery below for a random assortment of shots in Magome and Tsumago, both prosperous villages at the time of their development and renovated, and the delightful walk between.

At the end of a day of hiking, we stayed at a ryokan in the lovely hilltop village of Magome.

Matsumoto

Our day was packed with three hours of  travel and three trains between Kusatsu Hot Springs to Matsumoto Castle.

Not being a Japanese speaker, I find that traveling in Japan is challenging. However, with a wealth of information available on line and at tourist information counters at stations, one can manage. Good travel skills like speaking slowly, waiting for stilted English to emerge, and a lot of body language and gestures definitely help.

The castle was built over 400 years ago in the Bunraku Period (1593-1594) and is Japan’s oldest existing castle tower. It is designated as a national Treasure. Take a look at the impressive stone foundations.

There were three moats surrounding the castle to slow down invaders. Shelves were constructed to release stones against soldiers attacking the castle. Guns eventually replaced bows and arrows used as weapons from the towers.

You can climb up steep steps to the top of the sixth level for a view of the Japanese Alps.  The castle and grounds  are impeccably preserved.

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The sleek and elegant Bullet trains have transported us seamlessly between points, making it a pleasure to travel in Japan. Little English is (admittedly) spoken outside of Tokyo, but there are enough minimal signs to direct you to the right trains. Patience and fortitude pay off in one of the safest, most courteous countries in the world.

Day 39: Bauhaus in Dessau, A UNESCO World Heritage Site

The trip to the Bauhaus in Dessau was one of my all-time favorites. This is what brought me to architecture and design! The words and pictures may not express what led me to lifelong learning about these topics, but I hope you will be able to decipher what has been my passion developed from the Bauhaus approach.

The Bauhaus began in 1926, when Walter Gropius started a school for integration of art, design, craftsmanship, and industrial production. He hired faculty such as Moholy-Nagy, Klee, and Feininger to teach students design principles that brought all of these components together. As artists and craftsmen themselves, they attempted to synthesize form and function. They even taught students how to breathe deeply, and to eat healthy! Unfortunately, the Bauhaus was short lived. It was terminated in 1933 after having been moved from Weimar to Dessau in 1926.

There is too much to talk about here, so I will allow the photos to speak for themselves. I also want to get these fresh impressions to you right away. Architects will recognize the precedents established by this workshop from nearly 100 years ago. The designs are still alive and timeless. All the details, down to the mechanisms for operating windows, the insets of door knobs to receive the rounded handles, storage units, and the perfectly cast concrete floors are exquisite.

The various wings of the building group work areas, school, common areas, dorm rooms, and faculty offices. Rooms were very generously proportioned, but devoid of details. That doesn’t mean that details weren’t taken into consideration. Every visual element was carefully controlled, down to the furniture design, lighting, and hardware. All the modern examples you see today stem from this seminal group’s design teachings. I loved the performing arts center Marcel Breuer prototype chairs. They were functional, with flip seats, beautiful, and very comfortable!!

On a separate tour, the faculty houses were presented. They have been renovated after destruction during WWII and in phases during the Sixties and Nineties. Houses viewed included the Walter Gropius House, the Moholy-Nagy house, the Schlemmer House, and the Kandinsky/Klee house.

See more of the faculty houses below. In the Klee house, he added his own personality and colors on different walls of each room, and also added gold trim to doors and window frames.

You can read more about the Bauhaus here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bauhaus. There are some slight variations with dates. I have based mine on the information provided by the German guide (that’s not to say I got them right!) There are a triplicate of sites for the Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau and Berlin. You can read about the other museum visits in earlier posts for Weimar (in May this year) and in Berlin. If you have questions about the information provided in my blog, please check on line sources for further information.

Day 9: Goethe’s House and Garden House

Goethe’s House in Weimar is one of the two major attractions in this historic city (the other being Schiller’s House). Goethe’s holistic approach to philosophy, art, nature, and writing may have influenced the Bauhaus movement a hundred years later. (See yesterday’s post on the Bauhaus).

Goethe’s famous novel, “The Sorrows of Werther”, is a story about his affection for Charlotte Ernster (nee Buff). It sparked a viral interest in love stories in his day and may have caused a string of suicides mimicking the author’s drastic solution to a spurned love affair. Goethe was known to have had affairs with Charlotte von Stein among others. He eventually married a commoner Christiane after having a child out of wedlock with her.

Love is a featured topic of the Goethe Museum. Idealized, romantic love and even forbidden and erotic love were themes in Goethe’s writings. Goethe captured and explored human emotions that previously were suppressed or seldom expressed. Read some of the written explanations below.

Goethe was quite the Renaissance man. In addition to writing plays, poems, and about philosophy, Goethe was also an artist. He had a curiosity about the natural world, and became an anatomist, geologist, and horticulturalist.

Goethe’s home gives a glimpse into his personal life and work environment. Goethe paid particular attention to storage of artifacts and documents.  The custom-designed cases kept collections organized and accessible.  Books, coins, geological samples, and artwork were stored so they could be quickly presented and shared with visitors.

I could imagine being very satisfied and happy working there. Following Goethe’s perfect schedule, I would power through emails and blog posts in the morning, tinker a bit in the garden, have the main meal around 2pm, and cap each day with a nap in the afternoon!  Below are some of the enticing rooms and garden perspectives.

In the Park along the Ilm River, the Garden House served as Goethe’s getaway where the writer could escape his social and administrative responsibilities and focus on writing. Not too shabby either.

The “high horse” chair was custom designed so he could sit and write for long hours. The tall yoke rested his ample belly, and could easily support other elephants in the room. As a craftsman cum designer, he would have been an ace at the Bauhaus.