Tag Archives: Performances

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.

Day 1: Folk and Opera Festivals, München and World Cup 2018

Munich turned out in flying colors for the launch of my World Trip 2018! I’m here for a month to study German, and then travel with hubby and friends at the end of the month before heading to Asia in August.

A quick subway ride two stops from where I am staying brought me to the city’s center. Nearby Marienhof provided locals and tourists with musical accompaniment for Germany’s national pride and specialties—beer and a donor kebab.

The main attraction was a Greek Cultural Day, featuring a dance group:

There was literally “Dancing in the Streets” among the crowds:

A more staid but dedicated group around the corner at Maximilianplatz in front of the National Theater waited patiently for the five-hour free, outdoor live screen production of Wagner’s last opera, Parsifal:

This opera, about the search for the Holy Grail,  featured top international opera stars Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal, Nina Stemme (from recent NY Metopera Tristan and Isolde); Rene Pape (also from Wagnerian opera fame and many others); and Wolfgang Koch (from Bayreuth fame). You will be hearing more about these stars when I see my second Ring cycle later this month in Munich. This was a great introduction to the operatic skills of these artists in what was touted as the “Opera of the Century” for its blindingly glitzy star lineup.

News Flash: for those interested, you can see the full 5 hour opera live stream for 24 hours from 12:00 pm Monday 7/9 til 12:00 pm Tuesday 7/10 (Munich time, less 9 hours) at:

http://www.operlive.de

Despite my excitement in making it here for this major public event, my jet lag started to take effect by the early evening.  I returned home to slog through the rest of the opera by live stream.

At the airport earlier, the quarter final soccer game was televised at the United Lounge. Croatia won in a shootout after a nail-biter with Russia. A Bosnian woman and I became instant friends by watching together. She lived in New Mexico and was flying to meet her family in Frankfurt. I am officially a World Cup soccer fan now after binging this year on nearly every game that was aired on Fox TV.  Here’s one of the exciting moments when Croatia succeeded during one of their kicks:

Hopefully you have become World Cup soccer fans by now too. You only have to invest your time once very four years, so it’s a very efficient and effective form of addiction. Long-time friends Larry and Corene, who were visiting the Bay Area earlier this week, are also avid World Cup soccer fans. I was impressed that Larry could name all the star players and knew the back stories to the coaches in the various leagues.

A few screen shots capture the emotional roller coaster for fans and players, and the elation at the bitter end:

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.

 

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.

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.

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!
Continue reading Pick Your Poison

A Thanksgiving Sketch 2017

Visiting Chicago earlier this month already seems like lightyears away, especially with the advent of the annual year-end Holiday Season. Eleven of the mostly Fong clan gathered around our dining table for a home-made traditional feast with basic turkey and trimmings, Chinese sticky rice “stuffing”, yams, vegetables, apple pie and pumpkin custard.

To throw in a few world influences from traveling this year, I kicked off the event with Peruvian pisco sours and yucca fries followed by Moroccan zaalouk. A bit eclectic, but I couldn’t resist the yummy new recipes I learned by being in these fascinating countries with deep food cultures.

Naturally, it was fun to see everyone. We are all older and wiser, and the lone child under thirty was the highlight of the evening. Our conversations shift from children’s activities to adult careers, friends, and travels. It was a leisurely, enjoyable evening, and indeed, a very satisfying and thankful one.

I noticed this year a focus on food preparation. Ladies in my classes, on the street, and in between were into some serious food therapy. Everyone delved into and savored the minutest details beyond what was described above.  They seemed to taste and smack their lips at each morsel being described.

A professional therapist would probably diagnose that these women (I did not notice if there were men engaged in the same conversations, but there could have been) are finding comfort in what little can be controlled in an uncontrollable world. It gave me a smile to think of these small pleasures, and to appreciate these heartwarming conversations.

The day after Thanksgiving was highly anticipated with the opera world premiere of the “Girls of the Golden West”. Unlike Puccini’s opera by the same name (except singular instead of plural), it is a factual account of the events during the California Gold Rush of 1849. It reveals many of the dirty little secrets of that golden era, now mystified and synthesized into a romantic vision of California’s genesis.

The opera features characters who suffered incredible brutality during that era: fugitive Black slaves, Hispanic workers, Chinese prostitutes being chased out of town, murdered, or lynched. Even the environment was not unscathed: a 24-foot wide redwood was cut to a stump and used as a stage. This formed part of the backdrop for what was a fascinating historical event in American history.

Unfortunately, converting a Ken Burns-style docudrama to opera did not translate. Librettist Peter Sellars and composer John Adams (Nixon in China fame) made a noble effort, but somehow the decent singing, decent music, and decent story–all necessary ingredients for a decent opera–did not come together. Even our upgraded Center Box Seats where you can sip sparkling wine during the performance could not salvage the evening. Hopefully time will mellow this opera like all others.

Above: Pre-Opera chat with Librettist Peter Sellars, and the curtain call with dancers. Note the reproduced tree stump and felled tree in the background.

Below: the final curtain call with both Peter Sellars and John Adams, and young cast

As the Fall Semester winds down, I am still busily preparing for final exams and projects. I continue to practice sketching at Meet-ups. The last one I attended at the Apple Store in Union Square produced an encounter with none other than Emperor Norton. Another character from the Gold Rush days, this impersonated, once-real character gives tours of historic San Francisco. I cartooned him while he anachronistically used his cell phone to schedule tours and take care of business of the day.

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Sunset over the Southwest

I’ve heard that foreign visitors to the U.S. often yearn to see the wide open spaces that are unique to America, like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone. As Americans, we often overlook those magnificent expanses of space that we take for granted in our own back yard.

On a weekend visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico, we caught some of the excitement over such vistas that seem to go on forever. We spent the first day exploring the mesas and pueblos of the Southwest. Located about an hour northeast of Santa Fe, the Puye Cliffs and area inhabited by the Santa Clara Tribe thrived here between 800 AD until the 16th Century.

The mesas were formed by tuff, or volcanic ash that covered this area (and made fossils out of alot of plants and animals), then eroded over time to form dramatic cliffs. The pueblos are Native American villages dotted throughout numerous reservations in New Mexico. The Santa Clara originally lived in these cliff dwellings and then later, in pueblos. (Click on Photos to see captions).

The kivas, or ceremonial roundhouses in each village, were used for male rites of passage, important decisions, and festivals. When the Spaniards arrived, they burned the kivas and built Catholic cathedrals over the sites.

The cliff dwellers protected themselves from invaders in the caves. Later, they created pueblo dwellings that were two-story structures on open land. The dwellings had no doors, but they used ladders to lower levels of the dwellings from the rooftops. These entries protected residents from invaders.

At our neighbors’ recommendation, we made a special day trip the following day to Ghost Ranch. An hour’s drive north of Santa Fe just beyond the Puye cliff dwellings, Ghost Ranch is a retreat cum camp for writers and artists. The ranch offers weekly programs, seminars and workshops in the high desert.

Georgia O’Keefe’s home is near here, so there’s plenty of creative inspiration and history in this area. The landscape alone is breathtaking, with wide open views of mesas in the distance as far as the eye can see. The ranch is nestled in an oasis with a precious lake nearby.

There are archaeological excavations that date back to the Triassic Period on the ranch. You can even participate in digs. From having taken three Anthro classes in college, I became interested in Anthropology and even contemplated majoring in it.

I immediately fantasized about joining a dig until I saw real-time photos of volunteers in the program, posing on their shovels during a break. The exposed skin on their faces and arms looked as parched as old shoes and as cracked as the pottery shards they were digging up! I decided to relinquish the idea as I was reminded not to forget my nightly skin regimen.

The main purpose of our excursion to Santa Fe, however, was to attend a premiere performance of the opera, the (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. It’s the complicated, contemporary, and tragic story of Steve Jobs. While the place names were immediately discernible to those of us living in the Bay Area (Stanford, Cupertino, Los Altos), the story of this one-of-a-kind genius gives everyone a perspective on where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.

The Santa Fe Opera was an ideal venue for this premiere, with its dramatic open-air stage, setting, and architecture. Everything was perfect, including the weather, production, and food!

Here’s the final curtain call, with Edward Parks (an international Operalia Competition winner), who played Steve Jobs, the librettist Mark Campbell, and composer Mason Bates. (apologies for the overlighting).

This production was sponsored by the San Francisco, Seattle, and Santa Fe Operas. When you get a chance, see it, or check it out here:

https://www.santafeopera.org/operas-and-ticketing/the-revolution-of-steve-jobs

Back in Santa Fe, art is ubiquitous and a reminder that beauty can, and should be everywhere. There are art galleries galore and tourist shops selling turquoise, carpets and pottery to numb the mind, but if you look beyond those, there are many treasures outdoors to be found. Here are a few examples of fanciful sculpture and mindful landscaping that you will encounter on a walk through town. (BTW, you can see more artwork from the Day 77-78 stop in Santa Fe from my October 2015 Amtrak trip).

Turquoise and terra cotta are the trademarks that define the American Southwest. They even use this palette to paint the overpasses along freeways so you always know where you are. As our weekend wound down, I managed to capture the mood, signature colors, and the remains of the day at the Albuquerque Airport.

Happy Celebrations to Pam C., Pam C., Karen M., and Jens U-B!!