Tag Archives: Sights

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:

 

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)

Post Cards from Macchu Picchu, Peru and Easter Island, Chile

As many of you know, I have been learning how to extract a latent energy in my brain to draw. Here are a few of the sketches I made during my trip to Macchu Picchu and Easter Island.

I’m including a video I edited for a film editing class project on Peru that will give those of you interested in the life and challenges there:

Join me and fellow architect and daughter next week when we will be visiting Chicago for a long weekend. See you then!!

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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Day 7-8: from the Mountain to the Sea…Macchu Picchu to Isla de Pascua

You may have heard of French Polynesia, but Spanish Polynesia?!? Combining Polynesia with Chilean culture is wild! Coming from the mountains of Macchu Picchu to the Moai at Easter Island is even more extreme and precious. These two UNESCO world sites are different but so spectacular in their own ways. The only two flights per day to Easter Island come from either Tahiti or Santiago, Chile.

Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, inspired me to visit Easter Island. The Polynesians came here by following birds on catamaran-type boats. Initially, they found the land unoccupied and fish plentiful. Easy fishing along the shoreline didn’t last as the population burgeoned. As they needed longer boats to go further offshore to catch fish, they cut down more of the trees on the island to make the boats.  An entire tree was needed to make longboats.

Within a short time the wood was depleted, and they no longer had the resources to sustain fishing. It is a sad but true chain of events. It is also a reminder of our vulnerability as humans. Combined with tribal wars resulting from too little to go around, the Polynesian society on Easter Island thrived and then disintegrated in less than 500 years (between 800-1200AD).

The Moai are the main feature on the Isla de Pascua. The huge basalt and tufa sculptures look amazingly modern and timeless. After they were carved directly out of bedrock, they were transported to a sacred site and placed on platforms (ahu). They faced away from the ocean to protect their descendants from the ocean. Only ruling families were allowed to have moai (nearly 400 of them in existence today). They were not officially blessed until the obsidian and coral eyes were place on the heads.

Most of the “long-eared” early arrivals ran the show. They ruled the latecomers, who were short-eared. The Longears had status in society because they got to Easter Island first (sound familiar?). They made slaves of the Shortears. The Shortears weren’t allowed to build moai to protect their families but probably did all the work for the Longears to haul and erect the finished stone.

The Anthropology Museum on the island provided an excellent explanations on the history and construction of the Moai. There are wooden sculptures made of makoi wood that remind me of the Mayan figures that are highly individualized and animated.

Throughout the island, there are many artistic interpretations of moai by local contemporary artists. Some were more successful than others, but the spirit and pride in the culture lives on.

A sample of the island’s incredible flora are shown below.

And I have to post a full size photo of my dinner with myself and an outstanding plate of tuna ceviche, roasted tuber, and fried banana, assisted by a glass of famous Pisco Sour at Te Moana Restaurant:

Day 5-6(b) Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru

Peru’s lack of distinguishable modern architecture is more than made up by its warm and friendly people, their genuine desire to help others, and a long history that does a country proud. Everything seems harder to accomplish here, yet the people are undaunted by physical hardships and challenges.

Cusco lies on a plateau in the highlands, so everything is downhill from there. After adapting to the 11k high altitude in Cusco, each 1K descent towards the 9K Sacred Valley and 8k level at Macchu Picchu feels noticeably easier. I can breathe normally. Not being a mountaineer, I have never focused so much on elevation before. I paid more attention to these stats than to rainfall or temperature in the area!!

We made stops along the way to visit an alpaca/llama (pronounced yama) farm, a weaving group, and a market in Pisac. (See photos above). Our foodies will note the wide array of fruits and vegetables as well as colors–a good sign of healthy eating.

Speaking of colors, Peruvians love bright colors. As demonstrated by the rainbow flag, it represents the people of the highlands. The familiar stripes and ribbons of color seem to aptly reflect the nature and personality of the Peruvian people.

The coca plant is used extensively as a tea to ward off high altitude sickness and one can survive on it alone for five days by chewing the leaf. You drink coca tea here to overcome altitude sickness.

There are over 2500 types of potato grown in Peru of the 3500 varieties known throughout the world. One type has alot of eyes, and as the story goes, if a young girl falls in love with someone, she will tell whether she will marry him by how well she peels one of these potatoes. If she peels it flawlessly, she’ll win her guy, but if she doesn’t….well the eyes will cry the tears for her!

Many of the ruins throughout the Sacred Valley, particularly the fortress at Ollantaytambo, are dress rehearsals for the big Kahuna, Macchu Picchu.The massive sandstones were hewn along the edges to perfection and carved to fit the next/last one as if the stone were extruded from some supersize tube of frosting, only to dry perfectly, without gaps or mortar in place. Hard to believe how these stones were cut, and the ability seem beyond human skills.

A word about the Macchu Picchu buildings from yesterday’s post. There were various ceremonial buildings for offerings to the sun god and others, but an area also served as the King’s residence. Grain was stored in one area, and the extensive terraces were used to grow food.

For more about Macchu Picchu, Hiram Bingham, the man who discovered it, and its origins, go here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machu_Picchu

The other important uses for terracing the mountains was to serve as a system to prevent soil erosion and to collect water from the top to the bottom of the mountain. It’s tempting to compare these to the terraces used in China to grow food, but I’m not sure which came first. In any event, the Peruvian terraces are spectacular just in sheer height and they demonstrate the ingenuity of the Incas and their predecessors.

As I leave Peru after such a short sojourn here, I realize that I may be naive and easily impressed. Nevertheless, the hardships of living in mountainous zones like this make the people sturdy. They live close to and respect nature.

Just a few random snippits about Peru:

Although Spanish is the national language, the second language spoken by people in Cusco is known as Quechua, an ancient and indigenous highland language.

The jungle covers 60 per cent of the country, and the balance is 30% highland and 10% is coastal.

The Inca based in Peru conquered and occupied parts of Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador, incl. Santiago, Chile.

Trees do not grow above the alpine level in the highlands, except for the imported eucalyptus from Australia, an invasive but fast growing species. The Macchu Picchu climate is at a lower elevation and has a microclimate more similar to the tropical forest (with orchids, bromeliads and coca plants.

Both Cusco and Macchu Picchu are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and highly recommended.

And for the bus and rail fans out there…here was the interior of the Vistadome Perurail car and a couple of the many spectacular views:

Day 3-4: Cusco, Peru

Cusco is over 11,000 feet (3,399m) so it literally takes your breath away. It takes a couple of days to get used to the high altitude, so I hope you will excuse my temporary silence. It still took a bit of huffing and puffing to walk just a few steps at a shallow incline. I finally got acclimated enough for a full day of visiting Saqsayhuaman and Tambomachay, two Incan ruins outside Cusco. The first showed the extensive construction of terraced walls of sandstone, and the latter showed how the Inca developed and conserved water through irrigation and waterways. The Inca were very concerned about the predominant dryness of the area, and they developed ingenious ways to combat the forces of nature.

The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting Qorikancha, or the Convent of Santa Domingo in town. The Incan priests that preceded the Spanish Catholics constructed thick limestone-surrounded storehouses to stockpile dried potato, quinoa, and other foodstuffs to combat the warm periods caused by El Nino at this site. The priests and nobles shared the food with the peasants when they were unable to produce food.

Before the rain hit in the afternoon, I took a walk around Cusco in the morning. It turned out to be a good idea. It didn’t rain on my parade! Apparently parades with a cast of thousands are held every Sunday to commemorate a school or celebration. Great for tourists like me, who stumbled into colorful event by accident.



Braided Ladies in town were preparing to sell or selling their wares in the Plaza de Armas:

Glimpses of my delightful hotel in the early morning sun reminded me of similar intimate hotel stays in Cappodoccia, Turkey, and in Essaouira, Morocco:

Treated to a room with a view, I made time to sketch!

Last, but not least, the end to a satisfying day was topped by a delicious and adventurous meal of alpaca brochettes at Pachapapa Restaurant. It was lean, well-prepared, and tasted far less gamey than venison. Unfortunately, Jusannah (my new Brazilian friend in Lima) and I ordered the specialty dish of guinea pig the other night but it was cancelled. This restaurant had the dish on the menu, but it would have taken an hour, to prepare and not worth the wait.

The next couple of days will be heavy traveling to Macchu Picchu, so I probably won’t be posting until after I return to Cusco. Keep sending those comments!

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!!

Day 72+3: Return to Sender

Two packages were waiting for my return to San Francisco: one from Germany and one from Morocco. I cracked the system in two countries and successfully received goods that I sent from each. They were not that expensive and well worth the effort.  After organizing my personal effects, German books and class notes, I sent them via DHL from Dusseldorf. It turned out to be the same as paying the additional baggage charge or less without having to carry them through the rest of the trip.

The second package contained the coveted carpets I purchased in Marrakesh. Normally one would be hesitant to send large items in value and size. Having sent carpets once before from Cappodoccia, Turkey, I knew that I could save a lot of trouble. From both experiences, the mail systems in both countries, as expected, were very practical and reliable.

What’s it like to be back in San Francisco after two and a half months of travel? My first impression coming out of the BART station at Glen Park from the airport, was CLEAN AND SMOOTH. The air was fresh, the sky was an identifiable color, and everything worked. People spoke slower, and were friendlier. Perception is reality.

That doesn’t diminish the incredible learning experiences I encountered. I would not trade my memories of New York, DC, London, Germany, Hong Kong, or China for the ease of life. The differences in lives makes life interesting and worth living.

On the heels of my travels, two events led me back to San Francisco: a fun evening at La Boheme with two grand-nieces at the San Francisco Opera, and a tour of Angel Island.

Normally, I refrain from pictures of friends and family and the “social page”. Because we made a point to reconnect with so many this year, I couldn’t resist posting a gallery for those who might recognize each other. Hopefully I haven’t missed anyone we visited (I may have failed to take photos of you in our excitement over seeing each other!). I am still glowing from the many warm encounters, so check to see if you are among them!

London, Bath and Dusseldorf:

Morocco:

China, HK, and SF:

I’ll keep you posted about any upcoming travels, but until then will be reducing posts to a monthly basis. Don’t forget to stay in touch, even if I’m not traveling! You can always reach me on this website or by email.

Thanks again for all the comments and for following along! I have enjoyed my travels and sharing them with you.

Featured Photo: my first watercolor imitation of a Chinese Camellia, HK Art Studio

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