Tag Archives: People

Day 19: Baku, Azerbaijan

City Sights

We headed to the high point of the city for an overview of the city skyline. At -28m below sea level, it is inperceptible that the area was covered by water, then receded multiple times in the past. The Caspian is called a sea for this reason–that the salt water from what was once part of the ocean differentiates it from from a fresh-water lake.

The Martyr’s shrine commemorates the 200 fallen rebels who led the second revolution in 1990. While being freed from Soviet rule and becoming independent, this was not the first attempt. Azerbaijan was established as a nation in 1920 as told by the Ali and Nino story I mentioned in the last post. Its success was short-lived however. The Russians came back and dominated the country for another 70 years before they relinquished power.

The Flaming Towers are Baku’s latest hotel, office, and condominium high rises that proudly display the city’s oil wealth and future. The capital of Azerbaijan was moved to Baku in the 12th century to this prominent peninsula on the west side of the Caspian Sea.

Shirvan Shah’s Palace and Museum

Architecture Inside Baku’s Old City Walls

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the old City in Baku has renovated its historic buildings for public view.

Miniature Book Museum

Founded by an Azerbaijani woman, this museum contains over 8,000 volumes of miniature reproductions from books collected throughout the world, including Western, eastern, and local literature. This museum is cited in the Guiness Book of Records!

Baku’s Friendly People

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid

This new building designed by Zaha Hadid, the world-famous Iraqi architect, has won numerous international accolades for its sweeping bold design. The museum displays Azeri culture and commemorates Azerbaijan’s former president, Heydar Aliyev.

Hadid created a vision and inspiration for the next generation of architects. Its womby curves and vast proportions offers a three-dimensional fly-through in real time. From the exterior, the building looks like a huge beached whale.

Museum Collection and Interior Details

Art Doll Collection

I couldn’t help but become fixated not only by the historic costumes and expressive faces of the dolls in this collection, but also by the exquisite, life-like hand gestures.

Day 15-16: Buntes Republik Neustadt

The hugest annual block party, known as the Neustadt United Republic, is happening this weekend in Dresden. I live in the midst of Neustadt’s six block radius, where three days of music, food, amusement, and dancing are rocking ’round the clock.

Families, old and young, sprinkle the age span of the predominantly young crowds. There are plenty of Goths and tattoed skins everywhere to offer endless studies of humankind. Cops discretely surrounded all street entryways and checked big bags, but you hardly noticed their presence once you passed the gauntlet from the edges.

Fortunately, my apartment is tucked behind a group of buildings in a cool, quiet courtyard that offers a quick and easy respite from the street action. I felt entirely safe and comfortable in “my hood.” The Neustadt “Buntes Republic” has been an amazing celebration of youth and a testament to good event planning.

Classicism and Romanticism in Dresden

A free access museum ticket, with compliments of the Goethe Institute, gave me incentive to revisit all the Old Masters Galleries and beautiful collections of regental splendor in the Residence and Zwinger Museums. I found two masterpieces that I remembered from my art history class at UC Berkeley! I almost gasped when I actually saw the Raphael and Vermeer works. They were totally overlooked by other visitors. Cranach also made his way onto my radar, especially after seeing dedicated works in Weimar.

The Turkish Kammer, or Chamber, contains some of my favorite museum pieces. The horses with armor and saddles, the swords, and the huge tapistried tent gives you a flavor of the power of the Ottoman Empire in its heyday.

The porcelain gallery would have been a chore had it not been for a few of the early Qing dynasty pieces from around 1700-1730 that paralleled Augustus the Strong’s reign as King of Poland and as Elector in Saxony. Meissen porcelain was developed after studying highly admired and coveted Chinese porcelain techniques. The figurines reminded me of the early Han pieces from Dunhuang and Chengdu. These galleries, made to emulate Versailles, were fun to rip through, in perfect condition and with no visitors!

After seeing the Michelangelo drawing exhibition at the Met in New York City, I was drawn to the Rembrandt drawing exhibit in Dresden. The fine sketches and studies by Rembrandt were not only awe-inspiring to me, but a number of famous painters such as Goya and Max Beckmann took to imitating Rembrandt’s style.

Dresden beats “Florence on the Arno”

The image often used in referring to Dresden is “Florence on the Elbe”, especially after Italian master Canaletto painted the famous river that snakes artistically through the town. After gliding over the river on gleaming tram rails numerous times this week, I have grown fond of the impressive Baroque skyline, the dominating Frauenkircke and the serene Elbe backdrop.

My memory of the Arno was that it was hectic. We stayed as a family in a pensione with a room directly exposed to the river with the roadway alongside it. The scooters beeped and honked all night long. After leaving the windows open to catch the breeze, the residual night noise drove us into a daytime stupor.

Another time, another view painted by a follower of Canaletto

Dresden first hit my radar in an Art History class. Many of the Romantic era classical paintings were located in Dresden. The city stuck in my curiosity bucket until I matched intuition with knowledge.

Weekend Wrap

In the sleepy daytime I had a chance to catch up with German friends for a “Grill Party” in their garden. Germans are intimately tied to nature and passionate about their gardens. It was a relaxing afternoon closing out a busy week of German classes, museum visits and evening musical performances.

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!!!

“A Kiss for the Whole World”

A delightful concert with the San Francisco Symphony playing Beethoven’s Ninth was a moving and timely experience. The full chorus sang the final Fourth Movement blasting the message from Schiller’s Ode to Joy in English: “Give a Kiss to the Whole World!” It was a much needed reminder of our dependency on each other.

During Intermission, the highlighted dome of the City Hall was gracefully poised behind and traffic crawling outside the Symphony Hall. Symphony goers were reflected in the windows as the two scenes melded into one.

KCET, a broadcast television station from Los Angeles, featured Mr. Jiu’s Restaurant on the Migrant Kitchen. Daughter Melissa works there as pastry chef in San Francisco’s Chinatown and was featured in it along with Brandon Jiu, the owner of the restaurant.  This was a pretty decent coverage explaining what drives young chefs into what they do, why they do it, where they go, and where they come from. I hope you will have time to watch the entire show posted here:

https://www.kcet.org/shows/the-migrant-kitchen/episodes/mister-jius-chinatown?utm_source=twitter

You can also watch it on KCET at the following times this weekend and after:

SundayDec2 9:00 AM PT
KCETLINK
SundayDec2 4:00 PM PT
KCET-HD
TuesdayDec4 10:00 PM PT
KCET-HD

I have been sketching and drawing around the city, at various cafes and venues. Sometimes I join SF Sketchers, other times alone, wherever I happen to be catching some java. It’s great art therapy and a way to engage with humanity.

Although I was considering throwing in the towel at the end of this year, I may continue for a bit into 2019. I am planning a trip to Rome for a quickie in early January, so look for a post coming from there soon!

Global Climate Action Summit and Opera in the Park

The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) 2018 was launched this weekend in San Francisco. The urban sketching group I belong to, San Francisco Urban Sketchers, is actively participating by sketching attendees and interviewing them for personal statements about their thoughts on climate change.

As co-chair of the GCAS, Governor Jerry Brown helped to launch California’s commitment and up to 90 cities throughout the world are joining hands to bring greater awareness to global climate change. Michael Bloomberg from New York City is also bringing attention to the cause and John Kerry has been invited to speak this week. Numerous events are planned throughout the week in San Francisco and other cities throughout the world.

For those interested in reading about this further, here’s the link to GSAC: https://globalclimateactionsummit.org

I had not realized the intensity of the effort by organizers and participants. First it started with a march from the Ferry Building to Civic Center. The afternoon was filled with information booths, spontaneous conversations, and networking. I saw Sierra Club, Grandmothers for Future Generations, and Native American groups joining in a peaceful demonstration. The day was friendly, inspiring, and perfect for getting out and getting active.

Fellow sketcher Karen made an eye-catching sign about the Emperor’s New Clothes, while other marchers dressed up and dressed down. Thanks to my figure drawing class, nothing was startling to me.

Our job as sketchers was to tell each individual’s story. We asked them why they came, what types of global warming they experienced, and what they were doing personally to help reduce global warming. We worked in pairs, taking turns interviewing and sketching. Our preparations and training the week before paid off, thanks to SF Sketchers organizer Laurie Wigham.

It was especially nerve-wracking for me as a new sketcher to sketch and color quickly (5-10 minutes all-in), nail the contours and features of the individual accurately, and stay calm while friends of the model watched intently! It was not unlike being a portrait artist in a tourist area. If you ever wondered what it was like, try it some time. I now know how difficult it is, but it was still fun pretending to be a professional for an afternoon!

Opera in the Park, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Our Sunday was graced with the San Francisco’s Opera In the Park. It is a free annual event to kick off the new opera season. Sketch buddy Karen was already staking out a couple of picnic blankets early in the day for the free event, so I was lucky enough to join her and company for the afternoon.

It was an unusually windless, warm but not hot, rare perfect day in San Francisco. We lolled to my favorite music from Cavallera Rusticana, the Drinking Song from La Traviata, and O Sole Mio by three soon-to-be famous operatic tenors. I even managed to sketch in between (See header above).

If you’ve been following me during my sojourn in Munich this summer, do you detect any difference in style and culture between the SF Opera audience and the one in Munich?!?

Day 45-46: Seoul Food and Not so So-So Seoul

Korean Cooking School

Our cooking class surpassed all other activities in Seoul.  I heartily recommend the experience of learning how to cook Seoul food. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. We met our guides at the metro station, then headed to the local market. It was a lively, tidy, well-managed environment, with plenty of new discoveries.

The abundance of root vegetables told us that Koreans were kept alive in a harsh, cold environment by these necessities. The chile for spice, garlic for health, freshly made 100% sesame oil for lubrication, and full sides of pork for protein were readily available. And of course, fish from the sea, a few dried lizards, and agave were among the specialties for variety and comic relief.

Our cooking class, taught by a capable local Korean chefin (as they would say in Germany), introduced glass noodles, bulgogi meat, Korean pancake, kimchee vegetable soup, and stir fried vegetable flavored with kimchee to our Asian group hailing from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hawaii, San Jose, and San Francisco. We bonded by working in two teams to dice, slice, and prepare the food per our capable guide’s instructions.

And the final result:

The Royal Shrine, National Museum and  Bukchon Hanok Ancient Village

In the blazing saddles heat the day before, we visited the Royal Shrine and the National Museum in the historic center of Seoul. The crowds were decked out in their rented Korean costumes, to take selfies of themselves and each other. I tried my best to avoid the indulgent ones, so here are a few that were caught off-guard before taking photos of themselves or causing selfie-blight.

The UNESCO world sites surprised us, as many of the Chinese characters were recognizable. Korean culture borrowed from the Chinese language, Confucian education and ancient Chinese customs, like Buddhist rites and feng shui.

Many of the cultural elements of combining nature, architecture, and design are similar to those in Chinese culture. Calligraphy, scroll painting, and ancestral worship are also borrowed from the Chinese.

The ancient Bukchon Hanok village reflected the Japanese hill towns, with well-made wood frame gentry housing, wood details, heavy ceramic tile roofs, and integrated landscaping.

Our highlight was the Korean version of the Changing of the Guard. The bottom line of the spirit of Seoul: borrowing from ancient Chinese culture wasn’t such a bad idea, blaring horns included. Koreans added alot of color and style that the Chinese missed.

Day 29-32: Buda or Pest?

Budapest is a city split in two by the Danube. The river is the longest in Europe, discharging not into any ocean but the Black Sea. The St. Gellert’s Thermal Baths and dinner at the New York Cafe were among the highlights of our visit with friends Alberto and Miki in Budapest.

Budapest conveys a by-gone era, with once-grand buildings deteriorated, unkempt and unkept. You struggle to look for meaning and points of reference: When was it? Who did it? How did it happen? Why? Many of these questions are left unanswered. Without a local guide and more substantive conversation with locals, the history is hard to decipher.

The grand market presented some interesting finds for goose liver, paprika, and lavender. A commotion drew us to a crowd apprehending a man who had just knocked down a female tourist.

Last but not least are the finale to our 72 hours in Budapest: dinner and delightful jazz.

FIFA Frenzy+Opera Obsession–Russia 2018

You may think it odd for an opera fanatic to get obsessed with the opposite end of the world–football. But the stars align when Russia hosts the FIFA 2018 World Cup and kicked off the event with a gala laced with opera divas!

Traveling around the world last year to Morocco, Peru and Iran has certainly opened up my perspective of the world. The 2018 FIFA World Cup matches allow me to see the faces of the fans and players that I yearn to see again. I researched the games that these countries play against others, but the most exciting one for me was a direct match between Morocco and Iran. Iran won, but it struggles to stay in the running.

 

Following the first two weeks of matches, the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals will complete five weeks of football frenzy. Not having paid much attention in the past, I am indulging this year in learning about the sport and why the rest of the world outside America goes so fanatical over the WC. I love the international spirit, but do see alot of aggressive, brutal brawls on the field.

No one appreciates a female version of commentary on sports, but if you are like me–it’s a chance to curb curiosity and to digest a new topic. What better way than to experience the best, in all its gore and glory? I am not sure that after American NFL football concussions and brain injuries whether soccer will be the next culprit, but injuries do seem to come with the territory and are suppressed.

Here are a few screen shots I took from instagram and TV during the first match between Iran and Morocco.

 

There’s still time to see three more weeks of five, so don’t be discouraged if you missed the first couple of weeks. You can see some of the matches in the U.S. on Telemundo, Fox 2 or on Fox Sports 1 (FS-1) if you order live-streaming from Sling, Hulu, or other streaming service. Here’s a link to the TV schedule and matches:

https://b.fssta.com/uploads/2018/06/WC18_CALENDAR_V01.pdf

As an interesting contrast, the Russia 2018 Gala concert was telecast in Red Square at the beginning of the event. My two favorites, Anna Netrebko (with hubby Yusef Eyvasof) and Russia’s new ingenue Aida Garafulina, highlighted the Red Square broadcast, along with none other than Placido Domingo and Juan Diego Flores. Denis Matsuev, a concert pianist, hosted the event and Valery Gergiev, the conductor who discovered Anna Netrebko, were also primary performers at the event.

In order to access the full video for the gala, go to

The event was sponsored by the Russian government so you should be able to enjoy it free of charge, thanks to Russia’s devotion to opera and football!

Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras also promoted opera during several past World Cups, so the concept of combining opera and football is not new. Only in the U.S. are we so out of touch with what the world prefers. Maybe it’s because we aren’t in the picture, being as brat-dominant as we often are.

This was Russia featuring its best, and opera was the answer. While opera is not as wildly popular elsewhere, Russian opera has some of the highest number of performances in the world. I did a bit of research and was not surprised to find that Germany has the highest number, with Austria at the top of number of performances per capita population.

The website operabase.com has a great resource for statistics like this. You can find it at:
http://operabase.com/top.cgi?lang=en&splash=t

By the way, this is a great website for finding all the artists, performances, and upcoming festivals throughout the world. I use this website on a regular basis to research my travel plans around opera performances.

Of course I am still saving my support for Germany! I’ll be in Munich during the finals, so secretly hope that they will make it again this time after winning the World Cup in 2014. It will go crazy in Germany while I am there if they win. If not, I’ll be able to settle down and learn some German!

Don’t forget to tune in starting on July 8, when I arrive in Munich for a month there. After that friends from Italy will meet Gee Kin and me for a week in Hungary and Austria. We fly direct from Salzburg to Guangzhou (yes!) for a week after that, then to Korea for a few days before returning back to SFO at the end of August. This itinerary is a slight deviation from the World Trip2018 posted, as we decided to forego a hot week in Italy for a hotter drippy week in Guangzhou to do some family research.

 

Kool in Kashan

Midway between Tehran and Isfahan lies Kashan. One of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Fin Garden highlights traditional Persian landscape design with fountains, channels and reflecting pools. These design principles trace back to the 6th Century and Cyrus the Great.

Local tourists love to visit these parks. On a particularly busy “weekend” Friday, the sites were crowded but the feeling was festive. Persians are courteous and never pushy, so it always seems like you are part of the public experience, not against it. Each person, including you, is entertainment material.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where large divans or platforms shaped like a huge sofa surrounded by a low back/barricade offered guests an alternative to traditional tables. The design defined a semi-private space, where groups or families could sit cross legged, enjoy the food, but not miss out on the activity outside their spaces.

The nearby town housed merchants who became wealthy from the textiles, carpets and tile produced in the area. Door knockers on a pair of entry doors differentiated men from women arriving by the sound of the knock. That was a pretty ingenious communication device!

The local bath house was an important community space and lavish design details encouraged members to use the club’s facilities!

I couldn’t help but to continue a few of my forays into people pictures. I was starting to get really comfortable doing this, again because the faces of the individuals are so engaging and CALM. Young girls may be a bit giddy, but overall everyone whose pictures I took were inviting, elegant and never intimidated or negative.

Below, here’s a video of the adorable little girl shown above:

(This post was created on April 20, 2018)

Isfahani Style?

Isfahan represents one of the great architectural cities of the world, and now I know why. The magnificent scale of site planning, building design and decoration are fully integrated. Many of the civic buildings surround what used to be a polo field and display the pride and beauty of Persia. (Yes, Persia and Iran is used interchangeably).

In the 16th Century, the Safavids defeated the Ottomans. During this triumphant period, Shah Abbas developed this square, which is the largest in the world. Islamic art and architecture flourished with distinctive elements. The public Mosque with twin towers dominates one end of the square. The architect’s signature is written on a tile discreetly placed to the side of the building. It avoids the front face and competing with the orientation towards Mecca. If only all architects were as humble!

After designing and building the Mosque, which is now a UNESCO World heritage site, the architect went away and returned after six months. He managed to convince the king that he was waiting to see whether the massive structure, with all its solid stone, brick and tilework, would cause settlement. (Yeah, right!!)

Everyone was relieved that it hadn’t, and the architect could still get his tea in Isfahan. Maybe the architect and structural engineer for the Millennium Tower in San Francisco were taking their sabbaticals before they got the bad news.

To the side is the private mosque, known as the Shah’s mosque. Daylighting illuminates verses on walls. As the sun rotates and casts light on various exposures, appropriate poetry is spotlighted naturally. The inside of the dome is also decorated with flecks of gold to cleverly simulate a spotlit tromp l’oeil effect.

This is only a glimpse of the many beautiful buildings with intricate floral tilework and awe-inspiring domes that are signatory to Isfahani architecture. The Shah’s Palace contained a music room with deep cutouts that made you feel as if you were inside a gigantic violin. And the Entertainment Center for the Shah displayed beautiful period paintings. While depiction of human figures was not allowed, these paintings represented non-Muslims such as Georgians or Indians. Some faces on the paintings were later marred or removed.

Persians enjoy strolling in the world-famous gardens built on the desert oasis and along the Zayandeh River. Sadly, the river is dammed to provide water to Yasd and farmers in the desert and as a result it runs dry. The Khaju Bridge that originally spanned the river is used as a leisurely stroll for Isfahanians. Local singers gather under the bridge to spar with other talented folk opera afficinados.  Here’s a short video of one of the talented regulars:

While I normally focus on historic architecture and museum artwork, this trip has engaged me in taking more photos of people in the streets. I have not been shy about asking for posed photos of strangers, because they are universally handsome and graceful in their poses and demeanor. You can’t help but want to capture some of this spirit that delights visitors to Iran and endears you to the people.