Happy Holidays to everyone! Check out this new video from my world travels this year to see if you are included!
Happy Holidays to everyone! Check out this new video from my world travels this year to see if you are included!
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:
Birthday wishes this month go to Eric, Melissa, Ruth, Jeff and Sherry!
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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.
A return visit to the Chicago Cultural Center, just down the street from State, gave us additional time to devote and absorb the energetic and inspirational Chicago Architectural Biennial submittals from architects around the world.
Here are a few of the three-dimensional models and miniaturization of the world on display:
Here’s a link to the Bamboo House (my favorite model above) if you are interested:
And the “Supermodels”, 16′ high models of the 1922 Chicago Tribune competition reinterpreted:
An endless array of aesthetic and architectural textures, patterns and rhythms to explore and adore:
Real World great rooms with views inside and from the Chicago Cultural Center (formerly the Chicago Public Library):
Earlier in the morning, a six hour tour of the S.C. Johnson Wax Research Building and Laboratories in Racine, Wisconsin gave us a glimpse of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s major clients. Johnson produced some of the most prolific household products, including Raid, Deet, Kiwi Shoe Polish, and Pride Furniture Polish. Wingspread, the 14,000 sf private home of S.C. Johnson and the last major residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was also a featured stop on the tour.
Here are a few of the highlights of the company facilities. We were only allowed to take photos of exteriors of buildings and grounds:
The alien landing of the Company Reception Center was designed by Lord Norman Foster:
Needless to say, everything in the original buildings was meticulously designed by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, including all details and finishes for flooring, ceiling, walls, and furniture.
At Wingspread, the interior of the private home was also highly controlled by Wright.
He had many disagreements with his client H.C. Johnson and his third wife Irene Purcell, a former Hollywood actress. Although he often tripled the cost of construction, Wright designed and built many quality homes applying his innovative concepts of horizontal lines that blended in with the landscape, use of natural materials, and attention to detail.
The dining table was designed to move on wheels into the servant’s area so staff did not have to be seen by guests. Whenever the roof leaked, the clients and staff often had to bring buckets out to catch the rain.
At an important state dinner held at the Johnson residence on a rainy evening the roof leaked again, but this time directly on the owner’s bald head at the table. He immediately summoned Wright in Arizona and asked what should be done. Wright simply retorted: “You should move your chair!” Wright’s ego was seldom matched by his clients’.
In the final analysis, Chicago is a must see if: (1) you are contemplating a career in architecture; (2) need to be reminded of why you became one in the first place; and (3) need another fix for the architectural addiction you always had.
Fong & Daughter’s 72-hours in Chicago achieved our desire for at least two of the three. We also succeeded in pursuing and understanding architecture as craft. I hope you enjoyed traveling here with us on this whirlwindy weekend. Chicago has great streets with great people in a great city.
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
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.
Arriving in Chicago in the rain did not daunt our spirits in this wholesome, energetic and magnificent city. I continue to marvel at the clean lines of the high-rises, the prominence and respect for each building as they stand proudly on each piece of property, and the intriguing entryways and lobbies at the ground floor as they beckon you. As soon as we were able to check into the hotel, we hit the pavement and powered our way down past Millennium Park to the Chicago Cultural Center to orient ourselves to the host of activities connected to the Architectural Biennale.
Following the tracks of the Venice Biennale, this bi-annual event in Chicago showcases exhibitions from architectural firms around the world. Sadly, San Francisco is not only poorly represented, but not represented at all! Many of the exhibitions are from firms that seek international recognition. More about the presentations and activities will follow in the next few days.
We bypassed Happy Hour at Joy District, free pizza at 10 Pin Bowling Lounge, and chicken wings at Hooters and decided to take advantage of the late hours on Thursdays at the Art Institute of Chicago. What a decision! The museum is only a short walk from the Cultural Center past the Bean to the new Piano and Rogers’ wing.
These representative paintings somehow made me think about our presence in Chicago. Can you recognize the work of one of my favorite artists (shown in an entire room dedicated to him)?
Or these ridiculously signature paintings sitting modestly in galleries waiting to be identified?
And these works that are a joy to see?
Finally, a few miscellaneous shots (see captions by clicking on photos)
After an inspiring and entertaining evening in the contemporary, modern, impressionist and architectural galleries to satiate our minds, we hoofed it over to Eataly for big pasta paparadelle and linguine mit vino to fill our bellies.
*Works shown: Gerhard Richter (series); Rainy Day in Paris by Caillebote (1877); Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte by Seurat (1884-86); Giacometti sculptures, Portraits/Painting by Miro, Renoir, and Picasso.
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!!
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!
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:
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:
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: