One of my favorite shows as a child was the Time Tunnel, in which a pop art striped black and white time tunnel was the conduit back to other times and places. Something about this image (actually a detail of a Triton Bay coral from Indonesia) brings that memory to mind, an apt metaphor for a year of teletransportation all over the globe, filled with amazing sights and experiences. It is strange to realize that even as a child I loved to travel, even vicariously through TV. For a vicarious trip back through our 2015, strap up!
2015 started with snow, transforming San Diego’s back country and Sedona into dazzlingly white winter wonderlands. We welcomed the New Year in the Julian getaway of our friends Sandy and Bram, arriving after a work day punctuated with updates on road conditions and snow reports. We awoke on New Year’s day in their guestroom to a gloriously blanketed Julian. After a leisurely and delicious “Bram-wich” of artichokes, capers and eggs on English muffins, we took a short stroll through the snow before heading east to Arizona on a route new to us, via Brawley. Leaving Julian was slowed by San Diegans who poured into the old mining town for New Year’s with a beautiful cloak of snow, but despite this, our rendezvous with Steve’s sister Susan in Phoenix airport worked out perfectly.
Our first day together in Sedona was devoted to photography of favorite sights carpeted with fresh snow, namely West Fork of Oak Creek, and for sunset, granite-boulder ringed Watson Lake near Prescott. It was cold but sunny, and stunningly beautiful.
We made a short road trip with Susan to the Grand Canyon, her first time. Inadvertently, our timing was great, with snow still on the ground, arriving in time for a vivid sunset, followed by early rising of a full moon. We arrived just in time for dinner at the El Tovar, which closed the next morning for renovation. Steve and I arose in the dark to shoot the sunrise, making a car run east to Lipan Point at the far end of the park. We timed it perfectly, arriving at 7 am, as the sky was lightening and the full moon was setting over the canyon. When we returned, a pair of mule deer were in the parking lot. I followed them to the rim, where they hid in plain sight, feeding in a clump of trees , just below the rim and above the Bright Angel Trail, within feet of passersby, most of whom didn’t see them.
From Grand Canyon, we headed southeast to another favorite, the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, arriving in time to shoot in the afternoon, into a fiery orange evening. We couldn’t stay for the moonrise, not wanting to miss dinner at the Turquoise Room in La Posada, the restored Harvey Hotel in Winslow. Dinner was exceptional, starting with Hopi piki bread, sheets of a unique heated stone-cooked paper-thin crispy blue corn batter. This was served with a tepary bean hummus. We finished with a puffy chocolate souffle, perfect for sharing.
Back in Sedona, the snow was barely lingering and it was movie time, and the kick off for the Sedona Chamber Music Winter MusicFest. For me, it started with a screening of “A Late Quartet,” introduced by Nick Canellakis, artistic director of the festival. He is a New York Lincoln Center based cellist, and was Christopher Walken’s coach for the film. Steve and Susan joined me for the evening show, Carlos Saura’s “Flamenco Flamenco,” which was enhanced by a live flamenco performance by Tlaquepaque regular Gaetano.
The first concert of the series was at a private Village of Oak Creek home with beautiful views, hosted by Victoria and Dan. Nan the caterer kept everyone plied with food and Arizona Stronghold wine. The program of Gershwin, Beethoven and Brahms was beautifully presented by pianist Micheal Brown, cellist Nick Canellakis and clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein. Concerts the following 2 nights were in larger venues, and although not as intimate a setting as a living room, they were well played, interesting programs with appreciative audiences for the Klezmer program at the Synagogue and the VOC Hilton.
Cindy and Gerry came up from Phoenix and hiked with us, one morning at Little Horse and the next our big “3 hour loop” from the house, Jordan to Soldier’s Pass to Brin’s Mesa to Cibola Ridge. We enjoyed lunch on the patio at L’Auberge de Sedona after the Little Horse hike, leaving us just an hour to get cleaned up, before Cindy, Gerry and I headed off to see “El Libertador,” an epic film depiction of the life of Simón Bolívar, who led the nascent nations of South America to freedom from Spanish rule in the 1800s.
Our final evening was a grand finale, dinner with Jill, on her first outing in 6 months after a hip fracture, at the home of Gary and Laura, Russel Wright collectors and authors. During the week off, I finished Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki, a non-fiction look at the closed society of Gion’s geisha, by a geiko who was one of sources for the fictional Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.
While in Sedona, we inadvertently embarked on a bathroom remodel of the guesthouse. Our longtime tenant, Christina, was newly engaged and leaving us. Since we had upgraded the toilets at the main house, we thought we would do the same, as well as the usual patching, painting and minor repairs. One thing led to another. While assessing how much room the water heater occupied in the small bathroom and discovering it dated to 1982, we decided to replace it with a smaller, tankless version. But did it have to stay in the same place? Before we knew it, the sauna and walls were out and we were looking at a full-scale bathroom remodel. Steve held out to not replace the fiberglass shower but was eventually overruled.
Back at work, the minimal cold that hadn’t really hampered my fun in Sedona took a nasty turn, including a 24 hour period of complete loss of energy and near continuous sleeping, interrupted only by racking bouts of coughing. Before it really declared itself, my book group met at Steph’s for a discussion of Richard Flanagan’s deeply disturbing fictional account of Australian soldiers in a Japanese POW camp, being starved and brutalized in a frenzied effort to build the impossible railway to Burma, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Sick enough to be off work a couple of days, I managed to read (in 5 minute spurts before falling asleep again) a graphic novel, Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, homework for a play heading for Broadway which interested us.
The prior summer, as our gift to ourselves for our 25th wedding anniversary, we had decided we would return to Antarctica, which we had loved 12 years before.
It was amazing how much voyages to this distant destination had inflated over the years, as well as how long the trips had become (we had managed a few days in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Orkney Islands, as well as a side trip to Easter Island, all in 3 weeks on our first trip). We decided upon the “Fly the Drake, Cruise Antarctica” option being offered by Luminous Landscape and Antarctica XXI. Swapping 2 days at sea for a 2 hour flight sounded good. Our friend Greg decided to come too, enabling us to room together and save thousands of dollars, nearly enough to pay for the subsequent side trip on which we ultimately decided, to Patagonia and Torres del Paine. We were very lucky Greg did decide to travel with us-of the two identical, back-to-back photography intensive trips, only the second in early February had a triple room available. As it turned out, the unlucky first group never got to land in Antarctica, due to persistent fog, day after day, at the landing site. Conversely, our 4 days on the peninsula were idyllic, with nice light, not too cold or windy, even a full moon!
Greg, Steve and I spent an equally memorable following week in Patagonia, in the company of photo guide Claudio Vidal from Far South Expeditions. We experienced unforgettable winds and the magnetic, rapturous pull of the granite peaks of Torres del Paine.
We only worked 4 days in February, returning home from South America on President’s Day weekend to a short workweek in a short month. The last week in February was devoted to the Sedona Film Festival as usual.
In March, I turned 55, a great excuse to say yes to an offer of time in the Paris apartment of our friends, Cindy and Gerry. I had a wonderful time exploring Paris with my American-living-in-Paris friend Pat, on my own, and book-ended my stay dining with 2 Francofilly members of my book club, Chandra and Jann. I extended my culinary education with a cooking class and lunch at L’Atelier des Chefs, and tasting tours with Paris by Mouth, included a lunch of 17 cheeses (with wine!).
In April, Greg joined us for a Navajo Country photography workshop with Jack Graham. This being Greg’s first trip, we rounded out his “Best of Northern Arizona” introduction with a few days in Sedona, and a night and the following morning at the Grand Canyon, before heading to Page to join up with the group. Antelope Canyon had been on my “list” forever, and it was as remarkable and beautiful as could be imagined.
The Four Corners area is full of geological stunners, from Horseshoe Bend to Monument Valley.
Between trips was a work week including my book club, devoted to discussing the much loved and admired World War II drama, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Set in Saint-Malo in the north of occupied France, it was a gripping tale featuring 2 very different and compelling protagonists, a blind Parisian teenage girl, and a German orphan, whose genius with radios saves him from being consigned to laboring in a coal mine.
We had to squeeze in an “extra” trip to NYC later in April, prompted by our decision to take a diversified approach to backing Broadway shows. In a single week, we had openings for “Fun Home” and “Doctor Zhivago,” two shows as different as they could be. The reactions to these shows were also as different as could be. “Fun Home” received rave reviews across the board, and 12 Tony nominations later in the spring. “Zhivago” received disappointing reviews, and was shut out of the Tony nominations. Although audiences responded warmly to “Zhivago,” attendance wasn’t enough to fill the huge theater, prompting the producers to close the show less than a month later. This week in NY also coincided with the Tribeca Film Festival, so we took the opportunity to sample their offerings. We saw 6 movies in all, including a silent classic, Harold Lloyd’s “Speedy,” in a special presentation with live accompaniment by DJ Z-Trip. We also loved Onur Turkel’s “Applesauce,” a neurotic NY comedy with romantic and body part twists. I won a copy of the director’s prior year’s Tribeca entry, S.O.B. (Summer of Blood), which we later watched in Sedona and loved as well. Not everyone can pull off a horror comedy vampire flick, but we thought it was hilarious. One of the highlights of our stay was reconnecting with my French class and bookclub friend Roz, who drove all the way from upstate (Bovina ,where she now lives), to spend the afternoon catching up with us and walking the Highline.
Our May trip to Sedona coincided with the 3rd annual Sedona Photo Festival, which included 2 days of free presentations by luminaries including portraitist Joyce Tenneson and Underwater Dogs sensation Seth Casteel. We enjoyed the seminars so much we signed up for a day-long “head shot” session with LA photographer, Brad Buckman. We spent an afternoon shooting in a studio with lights and outside with natural light, generating much needed updated shots of ourselves. The middle of the week was devoted to meeting with interior designer Jennifer and contractor Chris on the ongoing renovation of the guesthouse, which had by now expanded to redoing the kitchen as well. We managed to turn a hike to Walnut Canyon in Flagstaff into a mini-Outward Bound episode, but with no lasting ill effects. At week’s end, we were joined by San Diego friends Kris and Dayle, who were staying on the following week.
My Japanophile writer friend Joe sent me his first novel for comments while we were in Sedona. I adorned it with stickies with minor corrections, but thoroughly enjoyed the Tokyo setting it evoked so effectively. Memorial Day weekend gave me a chance to scare up a dinner (with Steve’s help rustling up a vegetarian soup) for my book club. Up for discussion were a pair of books, quite complementary to each other, recommended by retired Emory literature professor Frances. Everyone loved Jacqueline Woodson’s book-length poem, Brown Girl Dreaming, while the reaction was more mixed to the more highly charged and dialectical Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Ranken.
These trips caused me to miss a few sessions of my Thursday night Spanish film class with Carmen. She was a delightful instructor, and the films we watched in conjunction with the classes were absorbing, fun and thought-provoking, starting with “Nora’s Will,” called “Cinco Dias Sin Norma” in Spanish, about a family drawn together by the suicide of the depressive matriarch. That doesn’t sound very amusing, but there were moments of mirth, intermixed with an interesting melange of a middle class Mexican family portrait, Jewish vs. Christian burial practices, and family secrets. The excellent film “Maria Full of Grace” generated lots of discussion about opportunity, choices, community and responsibility, in its tale of a pregnant Columbian teenager turned drug mule. An actor I love, Ricardo Darín, was the star of our final film, “Son of the Bride,” in which a hard driving restaurantor is brought up short after having a heart attack.
I made up for my missed sessions by “reading” a Spanish language book in my car, my first venture with a Spanish language audiobook. I had bought Cajas de Cartón at a library friends sale a while back. Housed in a plastic box, I assumed it was on CD. Imagine my surprise to finally open it and find it was on cassette tape! I also was surprised I actually still had access to a cassette player-in my car, a 2000 Audi S4, still going strong at age 15! Cajas de Cartón (Cardboard Boxes) by Francisco Jimenez was wonderful. It is semi auto-biographical, written from the point of view of a young boy, one of the children of illegal immigrant Mexican parents working in California picking grapes and cotton. He attends school, in snatches, moving frequently to follow the harvest seasons.
We spent a week in June in Sedona, continuing our explorations, including 3 hikes new to us. One was 30 minutes north of Flagstaff, Red Mountain Trail, described to me by a young Babbitt’s employee as “a mini-Bryce.” It leads to the inside of a partially collapsed volcanic cinder cone, with fantastic sculptural formations. Our friend Dave from Seattle joined us for a long weekend, a good excuse to hike Devil’s Bridge, a large natural arch, now accessible from a nice trail, Chuck Wagon, a vast improvement over the gnarly road.
Our landscaper friend and new father, Jon, led us, along with baby Spire and Rachel, to a fantastic Indian ruin on the western side of Sedona, called Shaman’s Cave or Robber’s Roost. Landing back at Lindbergh Field on Sunday evening of the Tony Awards, we were greeted on Facebook with most welcome breaking news: In the hour we had been in the air and off-line, “Fun Home” had won 3 Tony awards, for Best Book, Best Score, and Best actor in a leading role in a musical. Once actually at home, I frantically tried to watch the awards show, only to discover we no longer had live TV (discontinued a few years before because we never watched it and not missed until that evening!). Nor could I seem to stream it on the computer. “Fun Home” went on to win 5 total, including the highest prize and validation, Best Musical.
Back in San Diego, we returned to an even busier than usual week, with my sister Clarissa and her husband Jason in town. We all celebrated Jason’s birthday at the home of his brother Alec and his wife Martha, with Jason and Alec’s mother, Claire. The next evening was at MOPA, for the annual selection dinner, one of those vicarious cultural shopping experiences. Clarissa joined our girl’s night out at the end of the week, with Vivian, Symphorosa and Anila, heading downtown to take in the musical “Motown.” June was a very musical month in general, with an Art of Elan concert at Lux the next weekend, followed the next with a trip up to LA to take in “Matilda the Musical.” We had taken a Matilda crash course in the preceding months, watching the Danny Devito directed film, You tube videos of numbers from the New York and London productions and listening to the original book by Roald Dahl, playing catch up while trying to decide whether to venture more money in backing the U.S. tour. Yes, back on the horse, after having been kicked to the ground by the unceremonious reception and early closure of “Zhivago.” Even considering it seemed more than a bit like a gambler going double or nothing to pay off gambling debts. But, this offer seemed as guaranteed as Broadway shows can be. Matilda was already a bonafide hit, running in London and New York. The tour was already booked for 85 weeks, including a 25 week sit down in Toronto, taking it into 2017, and many theaters had not received as many weeks as they requested, raising hope of an even longer tour.
The same weekend, we saw a bright prospect for a future Broadway show at La Jolla Playhouse. Their first offering of this season, “Come From Away,” a world premiere by Canadian husband and wife team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein had the entire audience leaping to their feet afterward faster than I’ve ever seen. The small town of Gandar, Newfoundland, found itself unexpectedly playing host to thousands one fateful day, when 38 planes were diverted there on September 11, 2001. It was a moving and accessible treatment of one of the many stories engendered by that unforgettable day that changed everything, for everyone.
Fourth of July weekend was eventful. We braved the crowds heading downtown to a fireworks viewing party hosted by James and Jill, with the perfect vantage point from a downtown highrise, in easy walking distance from the Santa Fe train station downtown.
The next evening was the kickoff to the annual Gustavo Romero concert series at the Neurosciences Institute, after which we were hosting 40 people who signed up for the dinner option. Getting the house ready and attending the concert at 4 pm was tricky, but we managed to make it there on time, only to learn, along with all of the other concertgoers, why 2 large firetrucks were parked outside the hall. It seems an electrical fire had summoned the fire department, and there apparently is a rule which prohibits entering a building so affected for 24 hours afterwards. So, the concert was abruptly cancelled. Suddenly, we had 40 guests with no concert to hear and plans for dinner chez nous afterwards. Thankfully, Barry and the crew from Coast Catering were able to hustle up their preparations and so the after party started early. The grey day did not cooperate with a grand finale sunset, as had the prior weekend’s dinner party with James, Jill, Barbarella, David, Larry & Debra, and Debby and Larry, but at least it was a comfortable temperature outside.
July was dominated by Cuba and passport preoccupations. We had sent Steve’s off in May for renewal, thinking 3 months was plenty of time, no need to pay for expedition. With 10 days to go until our mid-July departure for Havana (by way of Cancun), contacting the State department for the MIA passport became our major preoccupation. In fact, it didn’t come in time (despite sending in 3 sets of passport photos) for Steve to leave with me as planned for 3 days roaming Havana with our friend Greg before our dive trip in Jardines de la Reina. Steve ended up going without an appointment to the local office and at 4 pm on the last possible day he could leave and make the boat departure, Steve received a new passport.
The diving was fantastic, with healthy reefs, populated with abundant Caribbean reef sharks and jumbo groupers.
Silky sharks met us on our safety stops, and we snorkeled in the afternoons with Tito, a resident crocodile.
Nino, the croc who could be summoned by yelling “Ninoooo!,” was another outstanding feature creature of our trip.
Other than Steve’s delayed departure to join us, all went just as we hoped in Cuba, until our final evening, back in Havana after our dive trip. Walking back from a nearby restaurant in a group of 5, our trip was abruptly prolonged by an untimely purse-snatching. A forceful yank on my cross-body travel purse, and it was gone, with some money, credit cards, driver’s license and BOTH of our passports, Steve’s still with that new passport smell. This happened on a Friday evening, before a 3 day Cuban holiday weekend, celebrating Revolution Day. This closed the newly opened US embassy as well, until Tuesday.
This disruption had many ripple effects. My phone was stolen, so I lost my “books,” in the form of the Kindle app. I was halfway through my book club’s selection, The Sympathizer, and wasn’t able to finish it until the following month, since Steve hadn’t downloaded the book. I did take advantage of the hiatus to read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, which truly deserves its status as a classic. This seemed an appropriate choice, concerning as it does a Cuban fisherman’s epic struggle to subdue the fish of a lifetime. Hemingway lived for 2 decades in Cuba, and he was a presence still in bars and hotels in Havana. Greg and I made a pilgrimage out to Finca La Vigía, his home turned museum, as well as sampled the daiquiris at El Floridita.
La Bodeguito del Medio was always mobbed when we went by, so we never had a chance to sample Hemingway’s favorite mojitos, but we made up for it everywhere else as we liberally sampled the best of Havana cuisine.
Our favorite paladares, meriting return visits, were the classic Paladar La Guarida, in an atmospheric mansion, and Otra Manera, in Miramar. Otra Manera made it into a ranking of Best New Latin American restaurants I later saw back home in September.
Steve and I experienced a mild version of “Trading Places” during our unexpected detention in Cuba. We were momentarily homeless, the hotel at which we had been staying being fully booked and no longer an option, before landing at a casa particular, Hosteria Cartacuba, in Vedado.
After going to 3 police stations on Saturday morning in order to make a police report, we tried to talk our way out of Cuba on Saturday, the day of our planned departure, armed with copies of our passports, Global Entry cards, a police report, one visa, and one driver’s license. Unsuccessful, we resigned ourselves to staying the weekend and finding a place to stay without telephone service and Internet. This was accomplished the old fashioned way, with the aid of a tourist information office in the airport. Talking with the emergency services contact at the embassy twice over the weekend didn’t give us a clue the embassy would be closed on Monday for the Cuban revolution day holiday weekend. Being rebuffed by armed guards at the embassy on Monday made it clear we were there at least until the following day. At least Steve had a chance to see something of Havana, and we made it to another Hemingway haunt, Hotel Ambos Mundos, as well as an Afro-Cuban art installation, Callejon de Hamel.
We would have been able to enjoy ourselves more if we had had some idea when we would be able to leave. We didn’t know until getting into the embassy finally on Tuesday morning whether we would receive new passports that day, the next, 4 days or a week later. Fortunately, we still had a fair amount of cash by Cuban standards, but not knowing how long we had to make it last, how much airline change fees would be, etc, and knowing we could not easily get more (credit cards and ATMs not really being options in Cuba) was stressful. At least I had abundant opportunity to practice my Spanish, talking people in hotels into providing services normally reserved for guests (changing money, selling Internet service cards). I also became quite a hard-nosed cab fare haggler! As it turned out, once we made it into the embassy, we had temporary, one way passports 2 hours later, good only for traveling back to the US, which at that point we were quite ready to do.
Back home, from despairing of maddeningly inefficient processing of Steve’s passport going to Cuba, I was to marvel at bureaucratic efficiency. Arriving in San Diego in the morning with one day to reconstruct our lives before returning to work, I had Howard drop me off at the DMV. Without an appointment, I was resigned to spending hours there to replace my driver’s license. Twenty minutes later, I had a new temporary license! Next stop via Uber was UTC and the Apple Store, for a new phone, an upgrade to 6S. While I was there, I became intrigued with the Apple watch and we both succumbed quickly thereafter.
Our 3 day Cuba detention meant we missed our friend David’s anniversary party (30 years since the founding of Boomerang for Modern) and my bookclub, discussing The Sympathizer. Back home, there were credit cards to cancel and friends to catch up with. We zipped up the coast with Doug and Mini for a local summer tradition of tableaux vivant in which volunteers depict artworks, the annual Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach. Susan and I spent an enjoyable evening downtown taking in my namesake musical “Violet,” well done by San Diego Repertory Theater.
Our summer grand finale was a national park triumvirate, 2 weeks exploring Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Glacier National Parks. For the driving portion, we listened to Daniel Silva’s first Gabriel Allon thriller, The Kill Artist. We enjoyed it so much, we moved directly into the second, The English Assassin. Having enjoyed so much the magnetic pull of Patagonia’s granite peaks, Torres del Paine, in February, it was wonderful to discover for ourselves the equally compelling Grand Tetons much closer to home. While in Big Fork with our friends Monica and Charley, we had a scrumptious dinner over at the gorgeous lake property of another book club friend, Rosanne and Joel.
Back at home, my bookclub had a special out of town session at Sandy’s Julian outpost on Labor Day. I drove out with our newest member, Reader columnist, Diva Barbarella. Under the grape arbor, we discussed a pair of books linked by WW II, Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness and French Nobel prize winner Patrick Modiano’s Dora Bruder. The rest of the first week back was devoted to work in support of the Athenaeum’s annual gala. This year’s Cuban theme, Havan(a) Ball, coincided with our just having been there, so the decorating committee made use of images from our trip as a continuously playing slide show in one of the rooms. Steve went into overdrive, staying up with printer issues one night until 3 am, to ready 5 large prints of my images from Havana, which were featured in the decor as well. The large gallery room was resplendent with an underwater theme, inspired by Jardines de la Reina. The following evening at the Glamping-themed MCASD Monte Carlo benefit, we rocked our animal prints and camouflage wear, at the table of our friends James and Jill, along with art aficionados Ann and David, and Larry and Debra.
For Steve’s birthday in late September, we both took an extra week off to head to Sedona. Our long-time friend Jan and her partner Sandi came mid-week to visit Sedona for the first time. Despite Jan’s arthritic knees and Sandi’s plantar fasciitis, we introduced them to some of Sedona’s scenic splendors, accessible only by foot, including Rustler’s Roost (aka Shaman’s cave), and West Fork of Oak Creek.
On the drive home, we finished Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, and started The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. It was so absorbing, I drove for a record 3 hours!
In early October, we hosted 45 people on a Saturday morning, a benefit for SD Museum of Art, and an excursion for their Contemporary Art Council. This required a 2-evening baking marathon to make enough scones.
Early October was marked by some wonderful local theatre offerings, from a fabulous evening of dance theatre at the Old Globe, “In Your Arms,” to the biennial La Jolla Playhouse WoW (Without Walls) theatre festival.
MOPA’s biennial “Lights, Camera, Auction” benefit was filled with friends and friendly competitive bidding.
I took time out from packing for Indonesia to see Mercedes Ruehl as Diana Vreeland in the Old Globe’s “Full Gallop.” I had to laugh when I met up beforehand with my friend Rosa at the Abyssinian restaurant, Muzita-she was dressed in red pants and red leather jacket, with black accents, while I was dressed in a black dress with red jewelry, shoes and purse. This proved we were channeling the doyen of fashion herself, as the stage was a recreation of her over-the-top all-red living room and a red and black poster of DV herself adorned the lobby.
October merged into November as we slipped easily into the routine of dive-breakfast-dive-lunch-dive-dinner-dive-sleep on board the Pindito, exploring remote stretches of Indonesia for an idyllic 17 days. Of course, this was not without some wrinkles going and returning, with a few man-made and natural disasters thrown in for good measure. It seems our plans for a brief introduction to Hong Kong coming and going were not to be. Going, we arrived to find the transportation system into town completely disrupted by a ship striking the bridge connecting the airport to the city, the first time in history. No worries, we thought, we’ll take a cab. After 90 minutes in an incredibly long queue for a cab, with at least that much of a wait still to go, the night shrinking by the minute, we abandoned our plans to overnight in the city, forfeiting our hotel reservation in favor of staying in the airport. Unfortunately, the lounge closed between 2:30 am and 5:30 am, forcing us out to try sleeping on benches in the terminal. At least we had a restorative day-long stay at the John and Cynthia Hardy boutique hotel, Bambu Indah, in Ubud, awaiting us once we did make it to Bali.
The dive trip itself was fabulous, with the most amazing encounters we’ve ever experience with huge, apparently curious, manta rays, eye-dazzling color in healthy reefs in Raja Amat and Triton Bay, and science-fiction-strange and marvelous creatures in Ambon.
El Nino made the waters colder than normal, with temperatures a cool 77-78 degrees, vs. a normal of 82-84 degrees F. The payoff was a bounty of marvelous critters in Ambon, with frogfishes galore and rhinopius in many color and texture variations.
In my entire diving career, we had only ever seen one rhinopius before.
The downside was the water was greener than usual in Triton Bay.
We had remarkably few camera misfunctions and benefited considerably from Got Muck’s Hergen Spalik’s tutorials on wide-angle lighting. Steve flooded a strobe on the next to last day, but we had a spare, so no dives were lost.
The days passed in a most enjoyable blur, with time between dives spent happily reviewing and processing images, with a little time for reading as well. I worked on my upcoming book club selection, Camus’ The Stranger, simultaneously reading it in French and English, while making a miniature Spanish milestone, making it through (and mostly understanding) a mildewed book of Gabriel Garcia Marquez short stories I picked up in the on board lending library. For this book club, L’Etranger of Camus was paired with its recently published opposite, The Mersault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, which tells this classic tale from the point of view of the family of the nameless Arab who is is killed in The Stranger.
We had another very pleasant layover in Bali on our return. I redeemed expiring Hyatt hotel points for a stay at the Grand Hyatt in Nusa Dua. This large complex was a pleasant surprise and contrast to our intimate boutique property stay inbound. I made up for 3 weeks in salt water with an afternoon at the spa, and in the evening, we had a front row seat at the Balinese dance performance and a delicious street stall buffet dinner.
After checking in for our return home via Hong Kong, comfortably settling in at the lounge, we heard a dreaded announcement. Our flight to Hong Kong was cancelled due to ash from volcanic activity of Barujari. We were hustled off by bus to wait it out until further notice at a nearby Holiday Inn in Kuta (so close we could actually see the runway from the beach). Somehow, these unexpected trip extensions are never very enjoyable. Hours are wasted waiting for updates, and one is never able to actually do any activities or real exploration, being tethered to a hotel or ship, waiting to be rescheduled, winds to shift, a new plan to emerge.
Of course, this particular Friday, November 13th was horribly colored by the tragic reports from Paris which emerged during our stay. Paris is our favorite city and one where we have spent many happy weeks in recent years, including exactly a year ago for the annual Paris Photo show in November. Imagining the chaos and terror requiring border closure and emergency measures put our inconvenience into sharp perspective.
We traveled on Thanksgiving Day to cold and sunny Arizona, with our friend Susan, for a week hiking and photographing Sedona, with a short overnight jaunt up to Page. On our workshop in April, Navajo guide Mylo had told us the colors of sinuous Antelope Canyon were even more intense in winter, without the constant crowds. A 3 hour drive away, we shot up one morning in time for a mid-day 2 hour photography session in Lower Antelope, followed the next day by a photography tour in Upper Antelope Canyon.
In between, we watched the sunset at Lake Powell, and braved 27 degree cold and dark for a sunrise shoot at Horseshoe Bend.
In Sedona, we hiked perennial favorite West Fork of Oak Creek, not at its best between seasons but still lovely, as well as Mystic, loops from the house, and braved the slippery shores and running water shooting the sunset at Red Rock Creek crossing.
The road portion of these travels in northern Arizona gave us a chance to listen to a birthday gift book on CD Steve had received from his sister, Susan, The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humboldt’s New World, a biography of the early 19th century naturalist who would inspire Darwin in his explorations and paradigm shifting views of nature. He was the first European to extensively documented the flora and fauna of South America during a 5 year exploration. Along the way, he befriended Simón Bolívar, who I had learned about earlier in the year through the film “El Libertador.”
We returned to Phoenix in time to spend a weekend in early December in Seattle with our friends Rasa and Dave, and their son Gedi and dog Wags. We all went to see “Come From Away” in Seattle Repertory’s 800+ seat theater. The response equaled the enthusiastic reception the show encountered in La Jolla during the preceding summer: immediate standing ovations, the run extended, record box office, with over 30,000 people seeing the show during it’s Seattle run. On the plane home from Seattle, I finished the Jim DeFede book, The Day the World came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland. November also brought us very welcome theatre-related news: “Fun Home,” recouped on Broadway! Plans for a national tour beginning in Chicago next fall and an international tour beginning in the Philippines next year (with Lea Salonga, now in a lead role in Allegiance on Broadway) were announced as well.
It’s strange to realize how prominently graphic novels figured in our lives this year, from beginning the year reading Fun Home in January, as part of our homework in deciding to back the musical version heading to Broadway, to ending the year with Fun Home recouping on Broadway, at the same time as we were reflecting on aging and its indignities and finding solace through New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Fun Home and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? were also my book club’s selections for January 2016, so an enjoyable part of December was devoted to re/reading these graphic memoir gems, both mining the minefields of parent-child relations in completely different but equally affecting ways. December was the 3rd anniversary of Steve’s mother Mary’s ill-fated knee replacement surgery, leading to complications which led to her death in January, 2013. While in Indonesia, Steve was a writing dervish, working on his own tragicomic memoir devoted to the final months of his parent’s lives. So, part of December was devoted to editing Steve’s manuscript, which he began publishing serially at year’s end.
After logging so many miles and being away so much of fall, it was nice to be home most of December, time to process images from Indonesia, Arizona and Seattle, catch up with friends, partake in a round of holiday parties and dinners, and to reflect on a very satisfying year.
2015 was the second full year of this blog, which has been a wonderful depository of memories, reflections and images. In years past, at an annual neighborhood New Year’s gathering, we would each name the best and the worst of the preceding year. Taking up this tradition, my nominee for the worst event of 2015 was my purse snatching in Havana and being waylaid there for 3 unexpected days before passports could be replaced. The best is curiously linked to the worst, as I would say one of the best things that happened to us in 2015 was the unleashing of Steve’s literary voice, first in writing his comic (but largely accurate) version of the purse-snatching and its aftermath and later, taking up the tragicomic tale of his parent’s final months.