Tag Archives: street scenes

Austin, State Capitol of Texas

Originally part of Mexico and known as “Tejas”, Texas had a colorful and complicated history. A fourth-grader on my hour-long tour of the state capitol could answer nearly every question posed by the guide about Texas perfectly.

Texas was part of Spain, France and Mexico. The territories were disputed for some time, then Texas broke free and was its own republic for a short time. In 1845, it became a state. (That’s only six years before California, so the US was busy building statehoods!) There was a temporary lapse of judgment when Texas joined the Confederate States.

The State Capitol was not too different from ours in Sacramento, but it did feel like Austin was a much more accessible city in which to conduct state business. The color of the building comes from the red granite quarried nearby. The Senate and Assembly chambers and architectural elements were more impressive compared with California’s, perhaps due to the state’s size and slightly longer history.

Obviously there are many more details on the colorful history of Texas beyond the student’s recollection and the perspective offered by the official guide. You can read more about the history of the state of Texas here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas

The LBJ Library was just a short ride on the bus from the center of town, where the University of Texas is located.

I discovered that LBJ’s goals, while lofty and lengthy, were noble and reassuring (see video below). His achievements for education, civil rights, health care, the environment, and space exploration were also promoted.

I was impressed with how important civil rights meant to the library. It not only devoted a large amount of space to immigrants and their contribution to the country, but also showed a “Know Your Rights” T-shirt from Colin Kaepernick as an expression of civil rights championed by LBJ.

Despite his big disaster in Vietnam, LBJ was just one man, who had alot of dreams to be fulfilled or crushed. In the end, he knew he couldn’t win anymore and decided not to seek reelection. He felt that he had cajoled and asked favors from every Senator and Representative in Congress, and he could no longer squeeze another favor from anyone.

All of LBJ’s papers, photographs of all the presidents and their wives who preceded him and Lady Bird, copies of his oval office and the First Lady’s, and displays documenting his life were housed in a monumental Seventies-style modernist, travertine-clad building.

I didn’t expect to like this president’s history, but the presentation was very informative regardless of one’s opinions about his policies. In addition to the more well-known JFK Library in Boston, MA, there are many other presidential libraries throughout the country including one underway for Obama. Interestingly, Texas has the most: one in Dallas, one in College Station, and the LBJ Library here. You can find the others here:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_library

To wrap up our 48 hours in Austin, we couldn’t resist one more permanent “pop-up” that specializes in Tex-Mex BBQ, along with dessert at a “real” restaurant:

And a loving look at the trendy So-Co neighborhood where we stayed. New houses amidst existing and converted cottages are still (compared to San Francisco) affordable, friendly, and intimate, with easy walking access to shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars:

Reminder: Watch for my posts from Munich Germany during the month of July–coming up!

48 Hours Deep in the Heart of Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

24 Hours in Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have been a captive audience. My reports on a short but intense nine-day visit to Iran may have solely influenced your thoughts and perceptions about present-day Iran, through my personal lens. To give you another perspective, and thus a 100% increase in view, here are various impressions in a guest post from Gee Kin (related travel partner):

My Iranian Visit, Four Takeaways

It’s OK to Go on the Go

This should not have been surprising. Both Zoroastrianism and Islam place a heavy emphasis on personal hygiene. In Iran, you benefit from the influence of both. Happily, in contrast to many other countries, public restrooms are not hazardous waste dumps.

Traffic Calming

You can walk out in front of a bus and live to write about the experience. At first glance, the traffic appears chaotic, with cars weaving around each other and jaywalking pedestrians. But after a while you realize it is chaos with rules and etiquette.  More importantly, the chaos is infused with concern for each other. This nurturing care is an Iranian quality we witnessed in many other settings. Everyone violates normal traffic codes, but no-one blames or hurts anyone. No honking, no road rage, no self-righteous indignation. Everyone participates in a harmonious dance of missing each other by inches. I was initially terrified to cross the roads. I quickly became comfortable walking out into oncoming traffic confident that drivers would not hit me. Not something I would try in the US, China, or anywhere else!

Cash in the Hand is Cash in the Hand

It’s not foolish to carry a large amount of cash in your wallet. Due to economic sanctions, foreign tourists cannot use traveler’s checks or plastic. Everything must be paid in cash. Every tourist is a cash cow, so to speak. I imagined herds of tourists with bulls-eyes on their backs and thieves waiting to pounce. In actuality, you are less likely to be a victim of theft or assault in Iran than in most other parts of the world. There was no obvious police presence in the streets. With assurances from our guide and other Iranians, we quickly became comfortable in the streets, even in predominantly male crowds.

Healthy Living

Stay calm, it’s good for healthThe sanctions and a drought that has lasted more than ten years have caused tremendous hardship for most Iranians. For the most part everyone is staying calm. Life centers on social gatherings with friends and family at each other’s homes.

There is less visible anger and stress than in the US. Iranians speak softer than Americans. You don’t have to shout in restaurants. Even their emergency vehicles weave through traffic silently! No sirens blaring –just flashing lights. Our hotel room in Tehran looked out on to a freeway, yet we could sleep soundly with the window open.

Victoria and I were jolted back to reality as soon as we arrived at JFK airport. We followed a sign directing us to where we needed to go at Immigration, and then an official was shouting at us from across the hall. He came running over, flapping his arms over his head, and turned the sign 180 degrees and told us we were in a prohibited area! Welcome to America.

BONUS VIDEO

Here’s an outtake of one of our favorite moments. It was taken late at night, around 10pm, outside one of the shops in Yasd. It sums up our experience in Iran.

Where We Haven’t Been

Our itinerary, in case you missed it on the map and on the World Travels 2018 page of https://travelswithmyselfandothers.com, started in Tehran, then south to Shiraz. We are plying our way north to Yasd, Isfahan, and back to Tehran.

Apparently the hottest place on earth is in Iran. Fortunately, it wasn’t on the menu. We got the details from our guide as he drove us from Yasd to Isfahan. A year ago, he took a couple of people out to see sand towers that appear like high rises. He reported to the police before entering the desert and notified them that he and a tourist couple were entering the zone. If you go missing after an hour, they come to get you.

They each brought a bottle of water to drink. On arrival he began to feel faint and told the travelers that he had to leave right away. He found out afterwards that you need to drink water every few minutes in order to stay hydrated. Food shrivels once it hits high temperatures of 76 degrees C. (equivalent to 167 degrees!!)

Driving through in the car reduces some of the effect until you get out. Abdullah had the AC on but the wife insisted on having full effect of windows open. He tried not to think what would happen if his car broke down as he seldom saw anyone on the road returning.

The second time, he accompanied two male travelers who wanted to get their thrills as extreme sportsmen. Once they got in, they encountered a sandstorm, that can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Fortunately, they were on the edge of it and after it blew past they were able to see what they wanted. They tried dripping water on the stones to watch how fast the water would be sucked dry. Others were frying eggs.

He has returned the second time to be ready to escort any of you for his third foray to a place that’s hot (literally) on the adventure trail. Sorry that this is only a second-hand story, but if you are interested in more, you can go to https://www.livescience.com/19700-hottest-place-earth.html for another great story about the Lut Desert in Iran.

Speaking of water and lack thereof, here’s a picture of the water bottle we recently purchased. Being a Muslim country, Iran does not allow liquor to be drunk or sold. This plastic bottle is shaped like a flask of liquor, or even worse, it makes me think of some toxic lighter fluid or cleaning alcohol. Its shape can’t be understood, but it seems to make sense for grasping (or gasping) purposes. Maybe drinking from cases of these will be part of the desert ritual as the Rime of the Ancient Mariner searches for those precious drops.

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Only 2 days left of blissful travel in a clean country with exceptionally kind and handsome people with a deep sense of their history and humanity.

Here’s a bonus video of delightful young, uninhibited girls playing in the evening. They capture the spirit of a safe and secure life. This was taken in a shopping area around 10pm at night. I feel far safer here than any country I have ever visited.

(This post was created on April 18, 2018 and edited April 22,2018.

Drawing Marathon

Last week’s challenge to draw 100 people in five days was exhausting but satisfying! It took a bit of planning, but I managed to stalk strangers at the following locations:

1. City College of San Francisco students;
2. UCSF Osher Mini-Medical School evening class;
3. Hollow Cafe on Irving Street, San Francisco with fellow artists Karen and Lorna (in sketches), and Farley’s Cafe on Potrero Hill, San Francisco
4. Sunset Library, Adult and Juvenile Divisions
5. BART late-nite transit passengers and SFO International Airport

100 People 1 Week Drawing Challenge

Budding sketch artists will tell you that stationary models are the best for sketching purposes. Subjects who move around are at free will to ruin your intentions! The worst were those at the airport, who were already crazed and erratic in behavior. The ones in classes were probably the easiest to draw. If you haven’t ever tried it, give it a shot! It keeps you focused and out of trouble.

In order to learn more about developing sketching techniques, I joined the San Francisco Sketchers. There are normally two to three meet-ups a week. The last three included drawing during the preparations for the Chinese New Year Parade, the Annual History Day at the U.S. Mint in San Francisco, and a portrait party.

Last week’s portrait party hosted by author Julia Kay required us to draw each other in small groups of 4-6 sketchers. We started with a 30 second blind gesture using our non-dominant hand, then with the dominant hand. Portrait sketches, as the one you see in the header, were 10-minute sketches. Totally fun, especially getting to see other interpretations of you, as well as of others in the group.

I will continue to draw, especially during future trips. It gives you an entirely different memory experience and way of looking at things.

By the way, take a look at my newly posted world trip 2018 page (on the menu at the top) for details of my upcoming travels!

My Kind of Town, Obama Town

A few days before coming to Chicago, I listened to a few of the Obama Foundation Summit live stream broadcasts by young upcoming community activists. As a reminder, Obama began his career here in this city. His legacy is present and inspires a whole new generation of future leaders, not only in Chicago, but throughout the world. He is committed to helping communities lift themselves through positive shared efforts.

One of the great achievements is the community created by sculptor, artist, and entrepreneur Theaster Gates. He purchased a neglected bank building in South Chicago from the city for $1. He raised money and developed the Stony Island Arts Bank, a library, media archive and community center for Rebuild’s archives and collections. He used recycled materials from other sites as well as those in the building. Members of the community come to this center to preserve, access, reimagine, and share their heritage. See photos of the center below.

An early morning visit to the University of Chicago campus enabled us to get a bonus tour of the Robie House on campus. Originally for a wealthy patron, this residence was also used by UIC students. It has finally been restored to its residential charm and glory (see captions).

Sandwiched in between Downtown Chicago and UIC is the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus. Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the strictly Modernist approach for the campus buildings was stiflingly evident.

Little seemed out of place in Crown Hall, the Architectural Building (see the lobby chairs), except for the people and the architectural work underway. The huge open space predates current “collaboration space”. The vacuous interior without walls masked unwanted noise brilliantly. Julianne and I wondered how we would have survived an architectural training in what seemed like such a limiting environment.

The Student Services Center was the counterpoint to the collection of Miesian buildings on the IIT campus. Designed by OMA in Rotterdam, the firm broke all the International-style rules (thanks to recommendations and commentary support from architect/daughter).

And finally, we made it back to the Chicago Cultural Center to see displays of models, drawings, and photographs of numerous architectural projects throughout the world. A few that caught my attention were:

“A Room of One’s Own”–Sketches of Rooms of Famous People

Models of Architectural Houses

And Miscellany:

Whimsical Plays on Skyscrapers by a Belgian Photographer cum Architect

Random shots of Millenium Park, the Bean, and City skyline

I can safely say that I satisfied my architectural curiosity today. I even paid attention to what I saw this time.

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 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!