Tag Archives: Sights

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

As previously mentioned, the teeny weeny survey attached would greatly help me to improve future posts. If you have read Travels with Myself and Others, I would appreciate your feedback. Please let me know if you have any additional thoughts or suggestions!

A note about the poll: the format may appear differently if you are reading from a smart phone or from a computer. If you are having trouble responding on a phone, please use the survey on your computer. Thank you!

Days 65-68 Lives of Others in Guangzhou, China

Like in Hong Kong, searching for old remains in Guangzhou has been puzzling. Many of the vestiges of the arcaded colonial city have been erased and replaced by newer, taller buildings. We headed to the area where Gee Kin’s relatives live, and what used to be the West Gate. It has been subsumed by modern development and is now considered part of the inner city.

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Yet activity in the area carries on like it did a hundred years ago or before. You see both men and women pushing or pulling hand carts along the road, scurrying and balancing the goods adeptly and efficiently at a pace more like a gallop than a prance. I watched for awhile in fascination, as social consciousness doesn’t seem to inhibit delivering goods this way and better, faster, cheaper.

The neighborhood shops may seem mundane to tourists, but the local market economy appeared to fully support the array (mixed used at its fullest: nuts and bolts fabricators next door to pastry shops, electrical repair next to fast food–you get the drift) of products and services offered.

Each shop relies on street for light and ventilation. That gave me plenty opportunity to poke my curious and annoying head inside. For some reason this reminded me of  Amsterdam’s red light district. The curtainless windows of the Dutch tidy “shops” openly invited customers to have a peak just like these shops in West Gate (Ximen Kou) did.

Shop assistants check their WeChat accounts frequently in between serving customers. You get a distinct impression that it’s not a bad system for the full employment act, even if the shopkeepers are bored and inattentive at times. The use of cell phones to combat boredom is nothing new throughout the world, but it’s remarkable if you look at the regularity and density of shopkeepers with cell phones staked in this area.

Earlier in the week, we visited one of my star architecture students who now lives and works in his home town of Guangzhou. Lam is a talented designer who is a partner in his own firm. It has been furiously designing shopping malls and theme parks all over China.

Lam’s “industrial chic” office could outdo any firm in the States as a showcase for innovative design. The office contains an experimental kitchen and full pig roaster. Rest and eating areas, conference rooms, and a library are all available to staff. The work areas are divided into manageable rooms or suites and therefore do not follow the pattern of open office design of most architectural firms. Large murals depicting the rebellion against the Qing Dynasty is provided by one of the partners.

As part of continuing research on my family’s history, I asked our friend Susan to accompany us to various institutions throughout the city. The new Guangzhou Book Store is one of the largest in the country. It was filled with floors of books and periodicals scattered between boutiques for Chinese calligraphy brushes and inkstands, tea ware, and books for sale.

Our second stop at the also new Guangzhou Library was another fascinating glimpse into the future of Guangzhou. With such excellent facilities, the hearts and minds of the students and researchers are captured. The north west reference room at the top where we were directed contained scholar’s rosewood furniture and fretwork screens. It was a noble nod to China’s classical examination system and its history and dedication to education.

Everywhere throughout China, you feel that it is a country on the move. There isn’t much time to stop and reflect on the speed and delivery of everything, from data to food to train tickets (they arrived at our hotel as promised). It’s exciting to witness, explore, and engage in the collective spirit.

Day 62-64: Hunkering Down in Hong Kong

Returning to Hong Kong has a romantic flair to it, as this is the city where Gee Kin and I met. I was a young architect starting in the profession, and Gee Kin was reinitiating his career as a structural engineer. There’s no doubt we were impressed with each other, particularly with our mutual sense of humor. While our relationship developed slowly by today’s standards, it gave us sufficient time to think about who we were and whether we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together or not. It must have worked, because we are still together over 35 years later.

Shortly after arrival in Hong Kong we encountered a typhoon. Known as Merbok, it was the first of the year. Everyone scurried to get groceries and head home at the end of the day. It was quiet and the streets were dead empty by early evening. It felt like Chinese New Year’s but without the festive atmosphere where shops are closed and everyone is at home with family celebrating.

After a couple of days of torrential rain, I was able to head outdoors. My first exploration was to the art studio downstairs, where I learned how to copy a Chinese flower pattern and paint with watercolors for the first time ever. It reminded me of second daughter Julianne’s brush painting from her high school days. I felt a bit awkward at painting in water colors, but the instructor was very kind and explained everything very clearly in Cantonese. It gave me a chance to reuse the lively language I learned while living in Hong Kong.

We decided to visit Fulham Garden in Pokfulam, where I lived when I worked for Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway. It wasn’t far from Central, but I had trouble remembering where the bus stop was located. The buildings are taller and there are more of them. Fortunately, there are still pockets that reflect and preserve old Hong Kong. After a quick look, we walked back to Central.

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There are public parks such as Blake Garden tucked into the hillside, as well as many of Hong Kong’s prestigious private and parochial schools. The narrow roads provide relief for old banyan trees that have lived there for centuries. They cling to sides of walls like stubborn old centurions and continue to gasp for air and suck water.

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Many new trendy boutiques and cafes line the pockets above Sai Ying Pun and Sheung Wan. These shops are dotted throughout the area where we are staying and are immersed between many staircases such as Ladder Street and the escalators that ascend from Central to Midlevels. The manual stairs are not as nice as our tiled steps in Golden Gate Heights, but purposeful. Finally, we scaled our Air BNB in the five-level walk-up after plenty of exercise on the hilly side streets.

Day 58: Moroccan Magic

As our last night in Essaouira drew to a close, we didn’t have much time for nostalgia or glee. Between crazy over the top activities immersed with deep dives into the culture and grabbing tips and tools for sketching, each day was exhaustingly satisfying.

Diane, our instructor extraordinaire, exuded penultimate confidence in her craft. We agreed she was, indeed, a wonder woman. I would never admit that soneone knew more than me about traveling, but Diane is over the top savvy and knowledgeable.

She’s the only person I know who can smoke a cigar sitting on the ground in the middle of a major thoroughfare sketching locals who love it, AND manage a herd of cats who continually ask the same question after it’s just been answered.

Here’s the link to the video I made and shared with everyone on the last night of our sketching expedition in Essaouira, Morocco.

And, for Customer Service: a few final quickies before leaving to head back to Marrakesh:

(Note: I’m en route via Geneva, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Beijing to Hong Kong. The internet may be a bit spotty, so don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me for a few days!)

Day 56-57 Dromedary Dates

I’m not sure whether dromedaries or dates came first, but we had both in the same day. The one-humped camels, by the way, are called dromedaries.  Our group  of a dozen or so artists and students launched the camel ride at the surf shop in Essaouira. After being well-clad in Berber style scarves, we braved the mini-sandstorm and headed south along the beach.

Our guide made sure that the camels stayed in one line. They were amazingly docile and sweet, and only pooped occasional olive-sized pellets that acrobatically cartwheeled in the sand.

After about an hour, we headed to a sheltered area of trees for a grilled sardine and watermelon lunch prepared by our camel guide.

In the evening, we feasted at the home of Diane’s friend and guide, Hassan. During Ramadan, this was a particularly festive and meaningful occasion. The table was laid out with fat juicy dried dates. Next, a huge dune of toasted almond paste flattered by bread, followed by pizza, then chicken tagine with olives and fries, custard dessert, and mint tea. My stomach hurts from the memory of how much delicious food I couldn’t consume.

The next day, we buckled down with a perspective, sighting, and measuring session first thing in the morning. Here are a few before and after sketches:

Day 50-53 Essaouira, Morocco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 48-49: …They’re Taking Me to Marrakech…

When we were ferried out in a bus to the flight to Marrakesh at the Frankfurt Airport, I already sensed that the trip was not going to be a run-of-the-mill commuter. Instead, we ended up outside a hangar where planes were being repaired, and the lone plane outside looked as if it had been grounded for bad behavior.  The airport stretched for miles as far as the eye could see, between the Baltic and the Alps. I never realized that an airport could be THAT big, but Frankfurt was, like all German things, serious business.

We took off and landed three hours later to an another immense airport. The new Menara Airport, next to its old one, was so vast and empty that you wondered if they hadn’t put several square miles of the three largest airports in the world together and renamed it Menara. It was indeed a beautiful architectural masterpiece. Hopefully by a local architect. Regardless, it was impressive and ready to compete with Hong Kong, Paris or New York for tourists.

If you are in interesting places, it won’t be surprising to find that you are in a UNESCO world site without knowing it. That’s what happened here. Without trying, I discovered that the Medina of Marrakesh is indeed on the list. The history, the Islamic significant buildings (madrassas, mausoleums and mosques) and souks, or markets, all contribute to its status.

On an initial walk around the neighborhood of the hotel where we stayed, here were a few of the sights and sounds:

The Madrassah Ben Yousef was one of the earliest institutions of higher learning established in Marrakesh, where the doctors, lawyers and mullahs were trained.

The guilds within the market area preserve traditional crafts such as tanning, carpet weaving, metalwork, woodwork, and making argan oil and other pharmaceuticals for remedies.

The doorways are significant entry points through walls and into private spaces. Beautiful courtyards lie beyond reach for the public pedestrian. My guide explained, that after you arrive at someone’s home, you announce your presence. If they do not answer, you are never allowed to enter beyond the doorway, even if the place is accessible. That would be considered a breach of trust.

After a walk around the neighborhood on my own and a guided tour of the souk (market area later in the morning, I participated in a hands-on cooking class at the Clock Restaurant all afternoon. Its famous camel burger was on the menu, but we learned how to make tame versions of traditional dishes that included harisa soup, chicken tagine, eggplant caviar, and biscuits with dates.

And the Chef de Cuisine:

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At the end of a very busy day, I could escape to my suite in the historic Riad Dar Mouassine (also photo featured above)

Tomorrow: On to the Drawing Boards!!!

Day 44-45: Lost Schlosses of Barbarossa and Benrath

Kaiserwerth, just north of Dusseldorf on the Rhine, is the site of the legendary medieval Barbarossa castle. As Emperor, he built these fortifications to control the Rhine River. The town is just a small suburb of Dusseldorf. It’s easy enough for weekend party goers to get to (by public transportation, no less!) and an excuse for drunken brawls at the outdoor beer garden. It was already in full swing by Friday afternoon at 3pm.

The beach and feeder to the Rhine were fun and idyllic spots for local visitors and the historic town of Kaiserwerth made it a refreshing and worthwhile escape from the city.

Schloss Benrath (former residence of Elector Carl Theodor (1724-1799)

On my way out of the city headed south to Schloss Benrath, I continued to be impressed by the public transportation in Germany and how easy it is to get around. I am injecting photos of Schloss Benrath along with my commentary. They don’t have anything to do with each other, but maybe the pictures will help make my thoughts more interesting to read!

Having worked for the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway System in my first job out of graduate school, I became an incorrigible train junkie. I got my “first training wheels” from former British Rail or London Tube engineers. They were making use of their ex-pat junkets in Hong Kong, living a colonial life of luxury at a time that was soon to eclipse. The looming year 1997 was just around the corner, signaling the end of the empire after more than 150 years of dominance.

(note: The Palace was decorated with fabric sculptures as part of a special exhibition.)

Nevertheless, I used the skills the Brits taught me about station design, vent shafts, headways and trip generations. This led to a lifetime pursuit. I enjoy and marvel at all of the planning and logistics needed to run a public transportation system. Transit system design integrated with high density development worked wonders, particularly in Hong Kong, but the concept is no exception in major European cities.

When I get on a local transit system in Germany, I get excited by its sheer beauty and efficiency. Its citizens appreciate and  respect the system so it stays clean. The users, the workers, the managers, the leadership all work for a common goal. There are places for luggage in lieu of seats (see photo) so the upholstery isn’t damaged.  Someone can still sit there if needed. Smart signage says it’s ok to have coffee but you need a cover for it.  (See sticker in the middle of the window).

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Yes, some design forethought can go a bit far. At the Schloss Benrath, I noticed all the “mother” hardware that could probably last 1000 years in place. Forged of hand wrought brass, the hinges are twice the size of the door handle.  It must have been decided that the weight of the door on the hinge produces greater stress than a door handle holding a door in place. Any ideas, engineers in the audience? In any event, it’s different from common practice today. We just replace hinges when they wear out.

On the German speaking tour. I heard a big gasp from the crowd about the size of a corset in the early 18th Century–a mere 46 cm! I’ll let you calculate the conversion.(:))

And at the Schloss outside:  a pretty picture who looked good enough to be a model to me…

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Day 39-43: Dwarfed in Düsseldorf

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Frank Gehry’s Media Hafen along the Rhine

After learning about all the fairy tales in class to conjugate the past tense in German, I was wondering if I hadn’t shrunk myself. At the place where I am staying, the owner trains horses and is about 6′ tall. She fitted out the apartment to suit her height. The kitchen table is at my chest height. Standing up (because there are no chairs this high, not even bar stools), I can slurp soup directly from the bowl on the table top without having to lift it.

I also need a stool to get to the bottom shelf of the overhead kitchen cabinets. I wonder if I’m not going to face an avalanche of dishes stored over my head every time I reach for one. It’s a pretty funny scene after the third or fourth time around when I try to cut corners. I really feel like a dwarf.

Speaking of dwarves, we learned all about Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Little Red Riding Hood in my German class. Don’t forget that these stories all come from Germany. The Schwarzwald, or Black Forest, isn’t far from here either. I always thought that the stories had a dark and ominous tone to them. I never understood why little kids were always getting lost in the forest. But not to worry. Walt Disney borrowed them, sanitized them, and made them safe harbors for the Disney Empire.

S-L-O-W Living

We talk a lot about slow food but not slow living. I have spent a lot of time meandering through parks here, partly because you run into one in any direction before you know it. The city parks are incredibly accessible, well-maintained, and beautiful here. Because Dusseldorf is along the banks of the Rhine River, it is relatively flat. A lot of bikes travel at a reasonable pace and share the footpath with pedestrians. It reminds everyone to slow down. Maybe it’s time to think about slow living.

Here are some views of one of the beautiful parks in the heart of the city.

I’m blasting a series of shots of buildings, sights, and details here:

Below: Daniel Liebskind’s masterpiece of the Ko and Shadow-Arkaden, a mixed use office and retail complex. The exterior on the Nordliche Dussel (a small lake) side is mesmerizing. The rear wavy-gravy houses Apple and Tesla, and has a great plaza for people-watching. I even managed to break out pen and paper to do some sketching.

Now I know and agree why Düsseldorf is deemed one of the ten most livable cities in the world.

PS. For those of you in San Francisco, you can see “Young Goethe in Love”, a great movie classic, at the Goethe Institute Thursday, May 25! It’s not too late! Check it out!