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Day 4-8: Unique Munich

For the past three years, Very Good Friend Helena from Brunnen (near Lucerne) Switzerland has graced me with an annual visit in Germany. This year, in Munich, our first adventure was tackling the Museums of the Alte and Neue Pinotheks together. The Masters and Impressionists of European art, respectively, reside at these museums.

We concentrated only on the Vermeer Woman in Blue special exhibition at the Alte Pinothek, and the French Impressionists at the Neue.

It was delightful to hear the German guide’s commentary on the Vermeer painting. Her clear and inspiring comments reminded me why I’m in Germany. The clarity and forthrightness of her explanation about the form, structure, color, and subject of the painting made it engaging and easy to understand.

I learned that many of these genre paintings with exquisite light were symbolic connections to the Dutch military and its world explorations, that included Asia and the Dutch East Indies.

I had never connected these dots before. The guide even raised the symbolism of women’s place in society. They represented the Republic and their noble public image vs. that of men, who represented soldiers and their bad behavior away from home. Men often were sailing or serving as soldiers. When they arrived at port, they often headed to the brothels and engaged in bad or uncomely behavior.

This was certainly a new spin on art history and the exquisite Dutch, light-filled genre paintings that I came to admire. I couldn’t help but to connect the home-bound intimate interiors with the fanciful red light district in Amsterdam.

A few other notable artists’ works in the Neue Pinothek included these impressionists from the 19th Century:

On Sunday we rolled down the hill and across the swift flowing river to the Deutsches Museum. The Isar River not only has a surfing spot, but also a decent sandy beach down down the street from where I live in the middle of town!!

The Museum is one of the foremost science museums in the world. It’s a full scale playout of The Way Things Work and more. We focussed on the Planetarium and Astronomy sections of the museum. The English translations are excellent. The featured image above is from a diorama replica of the Challenger Expedition in 1872.

On Thursday night, I attended the Goethe Institute’s International Dinner and taught my Turkish classmate how to use chopsticks. She was a natural.

Her boyfriend and another Turkish classmate helped her prepare a ready-made Turkish dish of mini-ravioli pasta that was delicious with a mild sauce!

And as a parting bonus video: a clip of the evening performance of the organ concert at the Asam Kirche is below. You can read about the church in the previous post.

Here’s VGF Helena at lunch next to the museum and an irresistible baby at the next table:

Day 2-3: Munchin’ in München

Alumni Tom from my Year Three of the Goethe Institute (Schwäbisch Hall) asked for more…which I interpret as juicy details of days in Deutschland…so here it comes!

Food! Food! Glorious Food! You can’t help but feel a little bit like Oliver Twist trolling the markets and streets of Munich. You are scheming to steal a taste of everything you see. Forget the South Beach diets, guys. this is serious business. I wrote about the 3B’s in past landings, that include Beer, Bratwurst and Brot.

Sadly, I have indulged in only the last one so far. I couldn’t resist the fresh, crusty rolls that are so attractively swirled into sections that fit your hand and mouth in perfect unison. They even douse them with seeds to make them appear healthy. (See captions in photos for specifics.)

Arrival at the Goethe Institute for another German course (I’m up to B2!) is serious business, so I had to get my head in gear for some intellectual challenge. Things are looking promising for the location, teacher, and fellow students. We’ll see. I just signed up to give a presentation about the opera, in German! Fortunately it is on the last day of classes so I can prepare and have plenty of time to sweat and fret.

City Tour

Our first class intro to Munich was a city tour. We visited a few of the highlights in Marienplatz, the city’s historic center. I was pleased that the professional guide who led us didn’t hit the same spots that I stumbled into on the first day. The highlight for me was the Catholic rococo church by the Asam Brothers. It was very unsuspecting from the outside like many urban Italian Mannerist churches, but the interior was a dramatic spectacle.

I hadn’t planned on seeing such ornateness in Germany. The goals were to present holy theater, light, and drama. They seemed to want to outdo every Italian master that ever existed, and their own to boot. Portions of the church were disassembled during WWII so the artifacts and sculpture were preserved. This church was one of the goopiest I had seen anywhere, but it somehow was disgustingly elegant. Maybe I’m just getting old and decrepit and starting to ignore restraint.

The Opera House

Tonite I attended a performance at the Bayerishes Staatsopera House. I am preparing for next week’s 17-hour Ring, that will be held over four days. This performance was a decent Lieder, or Song Recital by German opera star Anja Harteros. I was happily reading the words to the songs in German when the women next to me asked me if I liked the concert. I told them that I was enraptured by it. I didn’t confess to her, that I was only excited that I could read and understand the German and that I had hardly paid attention to the singer.


They proceeded to tell me how bad the performance was. They were opera singers and had studied in Munich themselves. They seemed very distraught that the singer was incomprehensible and the music very stiff with no interpretation. I quickly excused myself from the conversation, as clearly a novice like me has no right to evaluate operatic performance standards. As I slinked out of the opera house, I fondled my Brahms and Schubert program and disappeared into the S-Bahn.

48 Hours Deep in the Heart of Texas

I never imagined coming to Austin, Texas, but so far it has been refreshingly inspirational. Whiffs of religious fervor permeate the air. A Peace, Love, & God concrete block chapel lies around the corner from us. There are plenty of cutesy cool/hot bars, ice cream takeouts, and even a made-to-order Texas boot outlet down the street.

Pastry chef & daughter Melissa invited me to join her here for a couple of days. I learned alot about Texas in 48 hours. Texas fought and won over Mexico, after Spain had a shot at owning it. It was once its own Republic, became part of the U.S., and even was a Confederate state.

Texas is so vast that no one within ever contemplates traveling across it. We thought our flight was just a hop across borders like going to Idaho or Colorado, only to discover that we landed literally halfway across the country!

Food was on our minds as soon as we touched the tarmac. Thankfully we had eaten a scantilly clad salad for lunch, only to blast our bellies with an array of Tex-Mex BBQ at dinner.

Valentina’s roadway smokers are considered among the best in the country for smoked meat and we found out why. I seldom indulge words on food, but this one deserves mention. See the huge beef brisket “sandwich” (where does the bread go when you hold it up to eat it?!?). The meat was the moistest, most succulent reward that carnivores could ever want to hunt and kill animals for.

The taco version got rid of the skimpy bun-to-meat ratio but nevertheless left the slow-cooked juices and barbeque sauce dripping down bare arms to elbows (no sleeves needed in this part of the country–it’s too hot!) After seeking and finding a second paradise in the ribs, we didn’t even finish the spicy sausages that would make currywurst in Germany look pathetic. We decided to wrap and take them home (self-service foil on tap) for breakfast. Wow. My prayers were answered.

The permanent pop-up “restaurant” has all the facilities one needs for deluxe dining (see captions).

A walk up Congress Avenue after dinner earned us a few digestive stars and a sighting of bats–millions of em. Everyone waits for dusk to strike (first video below), when the bats take off from their dorms under the bridge (second video below) and get their version of exercise in the evening sky (third video). Whoa. A bit too creepy for my wimpy soul, especially since we are staying in a signature accommodation called the “Bathouse”.

Last but not least, here are a few musings of music and food along the strip. You can finish off the sticky arms from the BBQ with instant melt ice cream before jumping into the shower for a tasty rinse.

 

24 Hours in Chicago

With occasion to be with a friend in the Chicago area, I dedicated one day to an urban walk on my own. I set a five-mile goal from my hotel through Lincoln Park, that could easily be accomplished over flat terrain.

I started off by studying the hotel map, then stripping off all the adds around the border to a basic 6×8″ image of the streets. My origami skills taught me how to develop this minimalist map. And yes, I find this low-tech method sometimes useful in lieu of fumbling for my Iphone, getting wifi access, and googling the destination. It depends on the circumstances and where the answer to the question is the most reliable.

Beginning from the south end of Lincoln Park, I first headed north through the park past the zoo and Botanical Garden. I smiled as I recognized Schiller and Shakespeare in the Park. I searched for Schiller’s pal Goethe, but he was no where in my line of vision to be found. I noted that the streets named after these venerable German writers show that they are appreciated in this part of the country. (Maybe the admired Midwest American work ethic and unpretentiousness come from the German heritage too?)

It didn’t take long to reach the conservatory near the north end, but only after I stopped to stare at the trees above me for quite some time. I heard some unfamiliar squawking above me, and then a flustered crow flew away. It was being chased by other similar sized, but different birds. I noticed a flock of nests above, housing a colony of fluffy white and grey-topped birds. They were protecting their young from the crow’s home invasion.

I discovered soon after my arrival at the Nature Museum that these birds are black Night Herons, and they are on the endangered species list. My discovery of the birds in the trees peaked my interest and curiosity. Timing for the teachable moment was perfect, so I immediately soaked up the wealth of information about birds in the museum. Like me, these birds like living in the city.

Jared Diamond, one of my favorite authors, studied the Birds of Paradise in New Guinea. These birds were featured in another display at the museum. They developed fancy plumes over millions of years to attract females. Here’s a cute, short, minute-long  cartoon clip explaining how the females were the determinants in the evolutionary process (You can turn the volume off and just read the subtitles to avoid background noise from the gallery):

The display of birds of paradise kept me spellbound. Here are a few explanations and examples:

And there was a mechanical version that demonstrated how the plumes are spread:

The flowers in the Botanical Garden were not quite as impressive as the ones I had just seen in San Diego a week ago, but they were in full bloom and nevertheless a feast for the eyes.
A quick bus ride took me back to the south end where the Chicago History Museum is located. I could barely get out of there alive, after getting mesmerized by the numerous exhibits that not only told the story about Chicago, but about America. I started to appreciate the uniquely good Midwestern values, creativity and ideals that advanced and developed our country. And a pinch of German forthrightness and earnestness didn’t hurt.

The many phases of Chicago history were represented, but for me I had to stop and study the Pritzker family tree. (Pritzker developed the Hyatt Hotels).  I traced the lineage of the Chicago merchant, real estate mogul, and philanthropist and identified a few Bay Area illuminaries. Can you find them?

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Next I learned about the Great Chicago fire of 1871, that killed 300 people and left 100,000 homeless at the edge of Lake Michigan in this stirring panorama:

The Native American Checagoans, the Stockyard and the Stock Exchange, the Railroad, the Automobile, and American Innovation and Creativity were informative and fascinating sections of the museum. Here are a couple of the text panels that include the Chicago Fire of 1871:

An elegant function space showcased stain glassed masterpieces that included those by Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright. And a room for Lincoln was beautifully decorated in period style. (see below).

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few of the immensely beautiful, elegant modernist buildings that speak for Chicago:

Even the low rise ones are good. What distinguishes these from those in American cities like New York and San Francisco? As an architect, I find the classic proportions, clean lines and simplicity of intent so soothing to the eye. The high quality of craftsmanship, appreciation of detail in material, and RESTRAINT all add up. Coming to Chicago is like Mecca to an architect. Buildings are meant to be seen from all sides (thanks to alot of land and $$$) and we have the luxury of time and space to ponder each building’s magnificent presence.

And for those dying to know, I managed to eat some delicious, unadulterated, well-prepared food at Quartino, an Italian classic with an extensive, full page 1/4, half, and full bottle wine selection; and Tanta, a Peruvian ceviche bar (attached photo of tombo/quinoa/avocado salad, Pisco bloody Mary, and essential plantain chips, shown below.) Perfect for a Saturday brunch before heading to the airport!
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San Diego: Anatomy of a Paella and More than a Walk in the Park

After our return home from Iran, we slowly adapted back to California living. To help us do this, we took a quick weekend trip to San Diego to spend a day with friends in the countryside. The highlight was a huge “paella cookout”, that became a super-sized version of a cooking demonstration.

ANATOMY OF A PAELLA

 

 

In a nutshell, you follow these steps (as shown in photos above):

1. Heat lots of olive oil in a large shallow pan.
2. Add and cook marinated boneless chicken thighs.
3. Add onions and garlic.
4. Add water, saffron and rice.
5. Add mussels.
6. Add shelled prawns, clams and frozen peas.

Here are a couple of tantalizing videos for you, about the chorizo sausage used (you might need to step up the volume):

 

 

And the fait accompli!

 

 

Try this at home, on the stovetop!

MORE THAN A WALK IN THE PARK

The next day, we took a leisurely, 5 mile walk to and from Balboa Park. It was filled with museums, outdoor sculpture, a huge plaza for people watching, yoga, and even a botanical garden!

 

The walk to and from included a couple of pedestrian bridges. I didn’t realize that the San Diego terrain, in true California coast style, not only consisted of water and mountains, but deep craggy canyons in the middle of the city. Creative connections between hills and over valleys provide pedestrians with interesting and sometimes challenging routes. As in San Francisco, the gridded streets from the map are deceptive and can often put walkers in a dead end or facing a steep, but fitful incline.

 

The Botanical Garden provided a calming respite from the city’s bountiful activities within Balboa Park. The families enjoying the beauty of the late Spring bloom reminded me of the parks we enjoyed in Iran.

 

And there were even a couple of interesting developer-architect buildings to ponder and appreciate through the streets of San Diego:

 

Shimmering Shiraz and Perceptions of Persepolis

Tehran

After a few days of jet lag, weather changes, and internet hell, we resparked our curiosity and thirst for the unknown. We visited museums, mosques, and even a madrassah, but no mausoleums yet. The last three m’s were the order of the day for Islamic architecture during my visit to Uzbekistan, but there no indications of that being the same here.

At the Golestan Palace in Tehran, a World Heritage Site, the pre-Pahlavi royalty (within the last 150 years) displayed their wealth and were over-the-top ornate. Most of the public rooms including the ceilings were covered with intricate mirror mosaics and made you feel like you were inside the Hope Diamond.

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Interior with Mirrored Ceilings

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The exteriors demonstrated the integration of gardens and fountains that are
famous in Iranian architecture and design, as well as the intricate mosaic work and marble carving on doors and walls.

The National Museum of Iran contained some of the most precious relics of the ancient world. The statue of Darius I (Xerxes I, from which an opera is based!)  and a panel from the Achaemenid Period in Persepolis are shown below. For those interested, you can scale up the text included in the adjacent photos.

The bazaars in both Tehran and Shiraz contained endless boutiques in a Walmart-sized atmosphere with limited and inexpensive goods from copperware to aromatic spices.

Shiraz

We bonded with our local guide from Shiraz after he passionately described Iran’s native son and poet, Hafez. His elegant poems are beloved by all Iranians and transcend cultures. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Goethe were known to quote his poetry. It was enough for me to determine to read some when I get home.

As we stood in the garden of the tomb of Hafez, Abdullah, our guide, explained that Shiraz is known for its wine, women, and roses. Many of us will recognize the famous wine namesake that comes from this region.

In the evening light, Abdullah pointed out the abundance of young couples strolling in the park, with flowers intoxicating the warm breezes. Knowing a little or a lot about the poetry of Hafez is enough to start amiable conversations and the start of a promising relationship, Abdullah surmises (maybe from experience?)

While Abdullah waxed poetic, we observed that families were out selfying just like any other society, enjoying a delicious evening, and lingering among crowds of friendly visitors.

There seems to be tremendous respect for fellow humans in Iran. So far, we have found the urban environment remarkably quiet. We stayed on busy streets in two cities and found the traffic unusually quiet. Being highly sensitive to noise, I am finding the calm, lack of noise shattering to my ears.

People glide about the streets, smiling at one another with eyes and lips, and salaam each other without exception. I’m not sure our guide has coopted us, but we sense the immense pride and confidence in the people.

Persepolis:

Just outside of Shiraz, on a wide open plain, lies the ceremonial center of Darius. Before him, Cyrus the Great created and led an impressive empire. The wooden ceilings of buildings and both palaces of Darius and his son built around 518 BC were later razed to the ground by Alexander the Great (around 330 BC), but the massive stone structures with priceless carvings remain.

After just having seen the great empires of Rome, Greece, Inca at Macchu Picchu and Aztec in Teotihuacan, it’s hard not to be impressed by the volume and quality of artwork in situ at Persepolis. We could not believe how much of its splendor is still present for the whole world to appreciate.

Were it not from my earliest art history lessons on ancient civilizations and curiosity on its context and meaning, I would not have made this trip.

Everything begins to fall into place, as the pieces of the puzzle assemble. My scant preparation for this trip, thanks to Francopan’s Silk Roads, a New History of the World, captures the whirlwind tour through the rise and fall of Eurasian civilizations. Iran, and more fondly, Persia by the same name, stands prominently at the helm of the Silk Road.

The artwork at Persepolis chronicles the peaceful arrival and acceptance of the local inhabitants to the new ruler. Darius followed shortly after Cyrus (within 40 years), and while not a direct descendant, they were related. Although the local Medians were conquered by Cyrus and the Archimineads, he managed a peaceful settlement and was respected for his accomplishments as a capable ruler. Darius culminated the dynastic rule with his grandiose and impressive complex at Persepolis.

Within the ceremonial entrance and grand reception areas are magnificent stone reliefs of warriors supporting the king on his throne. Rows of roundheaded conquerees alternating with the conquerors proceed to meet the king, hand in hand. Offerings from 23 nations include food, treasures and animals from surrounding areas and those as far as India.

Other friezes demonstrate the high quality of craftsmanship that preceded the Greek and Roman periods revered in history. In a splendid exemplary frieze, a bull and cow signify the end and beginning of the new year.

The symbolic meanings of birds, rings and flowers stem from the ancient monotheistic Zoroastrian and Mithras religions. They did not have a concept of God as a human, but that he lies within each of us.

Individually the symbolism of the characters presented are less significant than the collective splendor of the human mind that is left behind for all of us living creatures today to ponder.

(This post is now formatted as intended. It was created on April 17, 2018 and edited April 22, 2018).

Carry on in Tehran

With all my worldly possessions-and a precious visa to visit in tow, husband Gee Kin and I have just arrived in Tehran, the capital of Iran. We left behind the globalized world of Starbucks, KFC and Macdonalds, to one with brewed tea, fast food chicken legs roasting on an open fire, and lamb kebabs with bread made with pebbles for dimples. We passed tantalizing corner stores filled with pistachios and dry fruits that you buy to take to a friend’s house. Hospitality means alot here, and we can already feel it in the air.

Having just completed a marathon flight in 19 hours (San Francisco-Washington DC-Vienna-Tehran, I was glad to hit the end of the day with a hearty meal of lamb stew mascerated at the table and mixed into a tomato based soup, chicken and lab kebobs, saffron rice, yoghurt dressing, a vinegar-based eggplant sauce on the side, and bread.

Everything is not so different at first blush. Getting through immigration was a breeze and easier than stateside! Tehran has about 9 million people living here, with the active daily working population at around 14 million. Iran is a country of 80 million, about the population of Germany. The mountains just outside of Tehran are over 5,000 m, so skiing is a big attraction for tourists, who normally come from Germany, France, and Italy, but more recently even from China.

Stay tuned for more to come in art and architecture in Tehran and Shiraz, our next stop.

(This post is now formatted as intended and was created on April 15, 2018)

…seems it sometimes rains in Southern California…

Coming from Northern California to Southern California and finding drippy rain is a real downer. We Northerners never dispute the better weather LA gets…but what happens when it rains an entire day, causing plans to change and the wet weather gear to be pulled out…when it’s supposed to be an endless summer kind of town!?!

San Francisco rises to the ratings meteorically as a result. Better public transit, food, art, museums. Hands down. We don’t even have to make apologies for the fog this way.

Nevertheless, I continued my independent sketching exercises at the LA County Museum today. A painting of sketchers in an art studio gave me inspiration:

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Despite a host of Chagalls, Monets and other famous artists, we focused this time instead on a fine collection of German Expressionists.

Each time I explore this period of modern German art, I learn new means and methods for this group. I am drawn to them, not only because I am learning the German language, but because the techniques and emotional content speak to me.

They may even  seem a bit primitive (as in the large wooden sculpture in the featured image above), but apparently this particular artist studied the people and art in Palau, an island in the S. Pacific. Many of the artists have been displayed in museums I have visited in Germany, Chicago, and New York. Particularly those derived from the Bauhaus movement in Weimar and Dessau are represented(Feinnger), but also artists from Die Brücke movement or the Dresden artists were included.

Our antidote to wet days in LA was dining in two restaurants: a new one in the Arts District called Manuela, and an old favorite, Carlitos Gardel.

Manuela displays original artwork, including this mural by Raymond Pettibon.

 

 

Pick Your Poison

The Mushroom Madness event last week at the San Francisco Arboretum showcased not only the infinite variety of fungi, lichen, and spores that surround us, but it also surfaced many mycological fanatics. Not mythological, but close. In case you ever wondered whether the ones growing in your backyard were edible, this was the place to rub noses with those in the know.

The society reminded me of a similar group of astronomical buffs. When we stayed overnight at Fremont Peak years ago to stargaze, the featured delicacy of the evening, aside from Saturn and Jupiter,  was blue jello hidden below a frothy cloud of white meringue.

We couldn’t resist the Mushroom Soup this time either. Nothing too exotic, but we slurped and savored the mushy mess despite a few lingering trails of what looked like earthy seaweed in the broth.

December is wrap-up time for the academic fall semester. The student art show at City College of San Francisco’s Fort Mason campus brought together many new and old faces. Paper versions were displayed, while friends and family proudly gathered to admire the visual works. Below is a quick scan of a part of the Figure Drawing class exhibition’s earnest efforts.

And last night’s presentation of the SF Opera’s new and upcoming young singers from the Adler Program:

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Birthday wishes this month go to Eric, Melissa, Ruth, Jeff and Sherry!
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