It’s tough to pick a single image to represent a whole year! In the end, this image, taken in Ponto-cho, an atmospheric geisha district in Kyoto, stands in both for the colorful kaleidoscope of images and experiences that 2016 was for us, as well as the uncertain future into which we are heading in 2017, as the Obama era ends and Stump exerts his distinktive stamp on the country.
2016 got off to a gorgeous sunny and warm start, relief after the preceding unseasonably cold holidays, when San Diego was colder than New York! New Year’s Day itself did not begin auspiciously for me. Towards the end of 2015, coincident with Steve serially publishing his novella about his parent’s final years, I Ran Over my iPad, I was moved to see my mother for the holidays, and arranged to fly her out from Dallas to California on New Year’s Day.
Speaking to her on the phone the night before was not encouraging.
Mama: “I hope everything goes OK.”
Her friend was picking her up to take her to the airport. Hearing the time of the planned pick up, I recommended an earlier departure.
The next morning, her flight arrived, passengers showed up and retrieved their bags, but Mama did not materialize. This had happened before. One time, I found her bag making lonely rounds on the luggage carousel, but no Mama. This time, I checked the names on all of the forlorn, unclaimed bags still remaining, circling around and around, until it ground to a halt. Now what? I called her house. No answer. I had cancelled her cell service, because she never used the phone. Ever.
I finally prevailed on an employee in the lost baggage room to look her up, and found her listed, not on the flight for which I had bought a ticket, but for a later flight, arriving a little over an hour later. I surmised that she had missed her flight, and settled in to wait, calling my sister Clarissa to commiserate in the meantime.
When her new flight disgorged its passengers, leaving another round of wan unclaimed suitcases circling with no Mama to be found, I started to despair. While on the phone with Steve, strategizing my next step, she suddenly materialized in front of me, her suitcase at her side.
She had, indeed, arrived at the boarding gate too late. She said something about how big DFW airport is. I reminded myself that she was nearing 80, and that I have had to hustle myself, on occasion, through DFW’s long corridors to narrowly make a flight. Not wanting to start the visit off on a bad note, I (mostly) let it go, but a small seed of worry was planted. I contended myself with chiding her that she should have called me after she missed her original flight to let me know.
The rest of the visit went better. Steve and I had a 4 day weekend off, and there was wonton making and catching up with friends at Barbara and Bay’s, an afternoon at La Jolla Playhouse with Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin with our friend Claire (my sister’s mother-in-law), seeing our friend David’s newly renovated mid-century Henry Hester house and other amusements with which to occupy ourselves. We even threw a dinner party ourselves, for a group of mid-century design enthusiasts, shingle style home architect John, his nursing student daughter Sally, her friend Leah, architectural photographer Darren and his chemist wife Elise, and Marty and Cheryl.
The final days of Mama’s stay were marked by unusually cold and rainy weather, with tornado warnings, traffic jams, and flash flood warnings attempting to impede our comings and goings. Claire hosted all of us, along with Alec and Martha, on the final night of Mama’s visit, giving us a chance to see her Ocean Beach residence embellished with artwork shipped out from Syracuse, the scene of her artistic career before relocating in recent years to OB.
My book club’s mid-January meeting was at Ann’s, who warmed us with a delicious Senelegalese stew. Francis had lobbied for graphic novels (with me seconding), and two contemporary examples dealing with family issues were on the agenda for this month: Fun Home by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel and Can’t We Talk about Something more Pleasant? by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. Reading Fun Home a year before had persuaded us to back the Broadway musical version, which after 8 months, packed houses and stellar reviews, had just the month before recouped our initial investment. Can’t We Talk about Something more Pleasant? and the issues it raises of aging, decrepitude, hoarding, preparedness, and advanced directives was very much on our minds, as January saw Steve publish the second half of his 10-part novella I Ran over my iPad, dealing with his parent’s final months.
In late January, our focus turned south, to Mexico, to the Revillagigedo Islands (better known as Socorro), 24 hours south of Cabo san Lucas, a cluster of 4 isolated volcanic islands in the Eastern Pacific. We had been going back and forth as to whether to go or bail on this trip, and had been considering going to Paris instead. After reading a not entirely favorable review in Undercurrent, we had reservations about the operation, which we eventually overcame. The trip itself was a semi-reunion of most of a group of “Mr. Fred” divers we had met in Indonesia in April, 2014, including Donnie, Joanna, Louie, Kevin, Joel, Tim, Erin and Jake, and we made some wonderful new friends on this trip who we hope to dive with in the future, including Jeremy, a dive guide from Cozumel, Ethan, formerly owner/editor of Fathoms magazine, and Francisco, a drone pilot and turkey hunter from Mexico City. Although we had been dragging our feet about committing to the trip during the fall, we ended up having a wonderful time, enjoying both the company and the close encounters with huge and curious manta rays and abundant white tip sharks.
What wasn’t so wonderful was the boat ride to and from the islands, especially the return, 24 hours of sea-sick hell.
We returned from Socorros to Phoenix, meeting up with our friends Monica and Charley at the car rental agency, heading from there north to Sedona for a long weekend. We had stayed with them before in Florence during one of their yearly sojourns, and the prior summer at their house in Big Fork, Montana, so we were happy to have a chance to repay their hospitality and show them Sedona with a dusting of snow. Our Sedona sampler included hiking Little Horse Trail, from the house to Devil’s Kitchen and snow-decked West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon.
We saw a gripping film with Benicio del Torro and Tim Robbins, “A Perfect Day,” about aid workers “somewhere in the (war-torn) Balkans.”
In December, we had received an unexpected invitation, prompting an unusually quick return to Seattle. While there to assess the Broadway prospects of “Come From Away”‘ as presented by Seattle Repertory Theater, we spent an enjoyable early evening with our friend Dave at Chihuly’s Gardens and Glass at the foot of the Space Needle.
Exiting the gift shop, I walked straight under the eye-dazzling and beguiling influence of the most beautiful blanket I had ever seen, a limited edition Chihuly collaboration with Pendleton.
I fell for it, and could hardly believe my ears when, as it was being rung up and shipping arrangements were being made, I was told the purchase also came with an invitation for 2 for brunch at Chihuly’s Boathouse, which I had always wanted to see. This would be in February, but the date was not yet known. Knowing we already had 3 of the 4 weekends spoken for with our Socorros/Sedona trip and Sedona Film Festival the last week, I fervently hoped it would be the only weekend that would possibly work for us, which also happened to be a 3 day weekend, and Valentine’s Day!
It must have been meant to be, as the Boathouse brunch did end up being scheduled for Valentine’s Day weekend, so north to Seattle we headed. We made a new friend at the Boathouse, architect Wyn, while being able to commune with a too soon departed old friend, artist Italo Scanga. A door with a “Staff only” sign was closed. Overhead in huge letters was the name “Italo.” Wyn was kind enough to show the guest quarters to us. Our artist friend Italo was a virtual brother to Dale Chihuly, and this was his room when in residence, now preserved essentially untouched. Inside were watercolors of Italo in his studio, as well as multiple examples of his work. It was wonderful “visiting” an old and cherished friend, and by the end of the morning, we were fast friends with Wyn, who shares our penchant for architecture, art, travel and photography.
Spending so much time on planes enabled me to finish several good books in February. Coinciding with the Broadway run of Old Globe-developed “Allegiance,” which brought to musical life the conflicting emotions of Japanese Americans in the wake of internment by the US government in WW II, was an important but too little known early book of Asian American fiction, John Okada’s 1957 novel No-No Boy. This was recommended by our Japanophile friend Joe. The story behind the book is interesting as well. Okada was Japanese-American, raised in Seattle, and interned with his family during WW II. He served in the army as well. His book was published in 1957 by a Tokyo publisher, and promptly vanished. It seems the questions it raised were too painful and too early for even Japanese Americans to support. The book brings to fictional life the conflicted emotions of a “No no boy,” the derisive term given to interned Japanese-Americans who answered “No” and “No” to 2 questions on a loyalty oath given internees by the government as to their willingness to forsake allegiance to the Japanese government and to serve in the US Armed Forces. While many were eager to do so, others were unwilling to serve, while they and their families were detained. Those who answered “No” were sent to prison for the remainder of the war. Afterwards, many were ostracized by those who served. Both this book and “Allegiance” bring the many conflicting emotions engendered by the internment to startling life.
Okada’s novel was brought back to light by an unusual path. After falling into obscurity after publication, it was found in a San Francisco used book store 12 years later by Jeff Chan, who passed it on to his Asian-American literary friends. This led to the formation of a group called CARP (Combined Asian-American Resources Project), which reissued the book in 1976. It is now regarded as an important early work of Asian-American literature. Sadly, the author never realized these accolades, having died in 1971 of a heart attack at age 47.
The other book I read in February was for my March book club, the basis for a Swedish film we had seen in Sedona the prior year, and loved: The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed out a Window and Disappeared. Allan Karlsson decides he prefers a drink to a birthday celebration planned in his honor at the Old Folk’s home, and embarks on a series of adventures involving a mysterious suitcase filled with cash, a series of unfortunate deaths, an elephant and a new group of unlikely friends. Allan’s long and colorful life as an explosives expert, involving brushes with world leaders of every political persuasion, summons comparisons to Being There‘s Chauncey Gardiner and Woody Allen’s chameleon character, Zelig.
The day before our departure for the Sedona International Film Festival, the death of literary icon Harper Lee was in the news. At the time, I was nearing finishing her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, and was planning to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. This news propelled us to download it and begin listening to it together on the drive out to Sedona. But first there was the last CD to finish of Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, which we had started while driving to Sedona in November.
Film festival week was exceptionally warm and sunny. Always a wonderful week filled with visual stimulation from around the world, this year’s festival was furthered enhanced for us by friends, both new and old. Long-time friends Rick and Sandy came out from San Diego to join us mid-week. Rick joined us for morning walks, and the evenings were spent catching up in front of the fire, over dinner, at the movies and being massaged. We met a new friend thanks to the crush of film festival goers filling up all the tables at Java Love between films. “Coming Through the Rye” filmmaker Jim Sadwith had extra chairs at his table on the patio. Chatting with him, we heard the backstory of his adolescent identification and eventual pursuit of reclusive Catcher in the Rye author JD Salinger, which prompted us to swap tickets to catch his showing. We loved the film and enjoyed hearing about the travails of independent film-making when Jim joined us later in the week for hikes from the house. Another favorite from the festival was a recommendation of Jim’s : “Reparation”, a gripping psychological thriller involving a former Air Force military policeman with a 3-year gap in his memory. The appearance of a buddy from his past life starts to prod his memory, even as his presence seems to menace his family life.
Early March meant another birthday for me. This was a really fun one, spent in Anza Borrego Desert State Park with Steve and our friend Dave from Seattle. We had a lovely slump block California hacienda style house to stay in, with only mountains and orange groves as neighbors, an exchange with Leucadia realtors Elena and John, who were out in Sedona at the same time for the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival. I had a new, never shot, 100-400 mm wildlife lens with me, hoping for a good opportunity for shots of the resident namesake bighorn sheep. My hopes were wildly exceeded, with groups of bighorn sheep in close range in Borrego Palm Canyon.
Wildflowers were also putting on a good spring show. New since my last stay out there were dinosaur and serpent sculptures dotting the desert floor, fun subjects for light painting at night.
The next weekend, my sister Clarissa and her husband Jason flew in from NY and their friend Ned from LA came down for the weekend, which also coincided with the San Diego Latino Film Festival. Jason’s brother Alec and his wife Martha hosted all of us, as well as the brothers’ mother Claire, for a scrumptious dinner of lamb kebobs, pilaf, taboulie, roasted beets and homemade carrot cake. Clarissa and I met at the Old Globe the next afternoon for a fabulously fast-paced psychological drama set in the world of professional tennis, “The Last Match”. The creepy story of the travails of the corpse of Eva Peron was the subject of the Argentine film “Eva no Duerme.” The highlight for me of the film festival was “Hablar,” a film consisting of a single take set near a subway stop in Madrid. Twenty actors come in and out of the free-flowing storyline in a series of overlapping vignettes.
Another March weekend we had the pleasure of visiting with Steve’s cousin, Monique, in Southern California for spring break with her two teenage daughters, Chrissy and Adriana. We hadn’t seen Monique since her sister’s wedding in the Washington, D.C. area, and had never met her daughters. We had a good time showing them slices of surf life, San Diego style, from Oceanside to La Jolla, taking in Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside Pier, the Glider Port and La Jolla Cove. This proved to be a productive weekend photographically, as a pair of images of hang gliders in the air over the Glider Port cliffs was chosen later in the year for one of the family lounges in the under construction Jacobs Medical Center.
During the spring, my friend Denise introduced me to a Sunday afternoon concert series at Salk, their Science and Music Series. I particularly enjoyed the lush vocals of soprano Julia Bullock, especially arrangements of traditional, gospel-inflected songs (City Called Heaven arranged by Hall Johnson and Deep River, arranged by Harry T. Burleigh). The half-time scientific presentations were also quite fascinating, including the use of a worm model, C. elegans, with a simple nervous system, to study human emotional responses, such as fear.
Another March evening saw us dolling up in “creative cocktail” wear for La Jolla Playhouse’s annual gala. Our friends Ralph and Gail, and Tatiana and Miles, were sponsoring premium wine tables, so there were delicious wines from their collections to accompany the dinner catered by Jeffrey Strauss from Pamplemousse. Another pleasant Sunday dinner, we caught up with Pam and Gil, and Katherine and Greg, over dinner at the Lodge at Torrey Pines.
All of these March activities were pleasant distractions from packing for an April underwater photography workshop trip, our first time to the Philippines. The destination, Anilao, is famed for muck and macro diving, that is, strange and fantastical, often well camouflaged, critters, found in volcanic sand and rubble.
We had considered trying another Philippines dive destination in conjunction with this trip, but it being cherry blossom season in early April, decided instead to route ourselves through Japan for a several day stopover. Which is a bit ironic, considering one of the reasons we were interested in trying the Philippines as a diving destination is that there is non-stop service to Manila from LA.
Taking advantage of the non-stop JAL flight from San Diego to Tokyo, I entertained myself with a movie marathon and read Stanford neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi’s affecting autobiography, When Breath Becomes Air. Leaving our dive gear in storage at Narita, we overnighted at the historic Tokyo Station Hotel prior to heading to Kyoto, leaving us just enough time to revisit Tsukiji fish market (scheduled to be moved later this year) prior to meeting Mari and Hideo (a couple I met breakfasting at Relais Saint Germain in Paris a few years ago) for lunch in Ginza at a longtime favorite of theirs, Asami. Believe it or not, I actually found the restaurant by reading the name of it (very slowly!) in Japanese characters (hiragana).
In Kyoto, we settled into our restored Aoi-Takasegawa machiya townhouse on wonderfully located Kiyamachi-dori, on the Takase River, a quiet street lined with cherry trees and lantern lit at night. Conveniently located to Gion, downtown shopping (minutes on foot from Nishiki Market and Takashimaya) and the subway, after staying in another Aoi property on our last stay in Kyoto, I never want to stay anywhere else. As I had imaged, it was even more beautiful at the height of cherry blossom season.
Awakening in our second floor tatami bedroom at the height of the sakura blooms was a delight. Downstairs, we had only to slid open the window to hear the stream flowing past, just feet below. Cherry blossom viewing events were in full swing, with “night time illumination” of Kiyomizudera and Nijo-jo.
Catching a performance of the spectacular annual geiko dance recital, Miyako Odori, was a highlight as well.
Our introduction to Philippines diving didn’t disappoint either! Anilao is famed as a muck diving destination and it rivaled the best we’ve experienced in Indonesia. We were based at the comfortable Aiyanar Resort for an underwater photography workshop organized by Reef Photo from Florida. The dive operation was well organized and the guides very knowledgeable and accommodating.
A highlight for me was finding my own blue-ringed octopus! Most of the ones I’ve seen before look like little brown blobs of fluff.
Frogfish, nudibranchs, crinoid and all other manner of shrimp were abundant.
Our recovery week back at work was a challenging one-in addition to the usual jet lag drag, we both had annoying head colds as souvenirs of our trip. We had to rally, as I had my book club (the Nabokov classic Lolita, which not surprisingly provoked a spirited discussion) on Tuesday, and we together were the presenters later the same week at the San Diego Photo Club’s monthly meeting. We incorporated many images from Anilao in coming up with a new talk: “Hiding in Plain Sight: Life and Death on the Reef.” The same week ended with catching, thanks to my friend Denise, a west coast premiere by the North County Repertory Theater of “Way Downriver: William Faulkner’s Old Man,” a gripping drama set in the throes of a catastrophic flood of the Mississippi in 1927. Later the same weekend, Steve and I were enthralled by the Old Globe’s version of Nick Payne’s 2 person metaphysical play, “Constellations,” superbly played by Christian Coulson and Victoria Frings. We had seen Seattle Repertory’s very creditable version just 2 months before, but the Globe’s was literally stellar! The in-the-round staging and celestial lighting scheme really highlighted the reverberative quality of stop and start action of “Constellations.”
That same long weekend saw us cleaning house, preparing to host MCASD’s Art and Architecture series the following Tuesday. Coast Catering did a wonderful spread as usual, and no one ended up in the reflecting pool, so from our point of view, it was a resounding success. The 40 or so contemporary art and architecture enthusiasts seemed to enjoy themselves as well, and house architect Wally Cunningham was the guest of honor. The rest of the week was rounded out by another Old Globe production, a new, lush, intense musical version of “Rain,” based on the Somerset Maugham short story. On Saturday, we made a quick trip up to Orange County to a venue new to us, South Coast Repertory, to see Sandra Oh as a professor confronting a disturbed student in “Office Hour.” We had met Sandra and her boyfriend, photographic artist Lev, at Ralph and Gail’s, and the premise of the play by Korean-American Julia Cho was intriguing. The production was very well done, all too realistic, intense and timely. We made it back for dinner with new friends Mychelle and Gene at Top of the Market, walking distance from their downtown aerie, where we saw kelp forest artwork we liked which proved to be by none other than Dana Montlack, an artist represented in our collection and a friend as well.
The following week at work was furthered intensified by preparing for a miniature family reunion at our house in Sedona, organized around my mother’s 80th birthday 2 days after Mother’s Day.
Our small family is scattered to both coasts, with my brother Carlton working at the SEC in Washington, D.C., and my sister living in Manhattan with her husband Jason. My mother still lives in the DFW area where we grew up. Everyone was traveling on Saturday, including us. The idea of readying the house with so little advance time began to weigh heavily on me as the trip approached, so on Monday, I proposed that we take Friday off to give us a little time to ourselves in Sedona. Thankfully, coverage was arranged and so we drove out on Friday. This gave us a chance to catch up over a late lunch at The Mission with Cindy and Gerry, newly returned from the northern Argentina bike trip we had backed out of in favor of diving in the Philippines. They loved it so much they were already making plans to return the same time the following year. We also had a chance to catch the Bruce Munro light installation at the Desert Botanical Garden, which was so popular we had been turned away earlier in the year.
It was a great relief to receive a call from my brother on Saturday, that he had successfully intersected with Mama in DFW and they were en route. Her phone line and sketchy memory had me on tenderhooks in the days leading up to the planned trip. Clarissa and Jason arrived later the same day and joined us in Sedona for a great week together, the first time in perhaps decades that all of us had been together at once. Clarissa suggested one group activity, a scenic train ride up otherwise inaccessible Verde Canyon, which turned out to be Mama’s favorite memory of the trip. For the birthday dinner, we headed up to Garland’s in Oak Creek Canyon, where earlier the same day, Clarissa, Jason, Steve and I had a private yoga session in their open air gazebo facing the aspens and overlooking the rushing water. Clarissa and Jason took Mama with them for a side trip to Flagstaff, Winslow, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, staying at wonderful La Posada. Meals at the inn’s Turquoise Room even elicited a for Mama unbelievably effusive rating of “pretty good,” considerably higher than her usual “OK” response. While they were away, Steve and I took the opportunity to explore a new-to-us trail, Bell Trail, which proved to hide several lush creekside watering holes. My brother Carlton was less enthusiastic, but he bailed before reaching the best part of the hike, alongside sinuous red rock formations and a grand finale of an amazing red sandstone surrounded swimming hole know locally as “The Crack.”
Carlton pursued his personal interest in poker up in Laughlin and locally, which was to pay off in the money later in the year at the World Series of Poker. Overall, it was a perfect mix of together and apart time, and came off as well as I could have hoped.
The following week was unusual in several ways. We didn’t prevail on any work of art at the biennial MCASD benefit auction. I missed my book club meeting, discussing Emily Bronte’s Villette, thanks to a long group meeting at a critical time, and then there was our upcoming dinner party to plan, with guests including our foodie friends Gail and Ralph, Janet and John, Miles and Tatiana, and James and Jill. We decided to go with an all Ottolenghi meal, inspired or perhaps misled by a feature in the New York Times. It was my first time cooking lamb, and I didn’t realize until I was home from the store that I had brought home boneless leg of lamb, while the recipe was built around bone-in leg of lamb. It did introduce me to Savory Spice Store in Encinitas, driven by the need for multiple new spices, some of which were completely new to me. Even if I overcooked the lamb, the side dishes came out well, and the evening was enhanced by contributions from the seriously oenophilic Miles and Ralph.
We spent the week of Memorial Day in NYC, coinciding with a marathon show-seeing session of our friends, Tony voters Ralph and Gail. We were the incredibly fortunate beneficiaries of their Tony voter responsibilities, seeing both hard-to-come-by-a-ticket-at-any-price Hamilton and Blackbird on consecutive days as their + 1s. I could hardly sleep the night before Hamilton, which “blew us all away.” We had read the Ron Chernow biography of the “10-dollar Founding Father” a few years back, and I had virtually memorized the music listening to the cast album in the months leading up to our trip. Hamilton really was all that the hype had projected, an unforgettable night at the theater, and on a trajectory to sweep the upcoming Tony Awards. Blackbird was also a contender, with both Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams nominated for best leading actor/actress in a play, as well as for best play. It was an intense psychological drama, a traumatic confrontation between a pair of seriously mismatched in age former lovers.
We rounded out our theatre-filled week with alternative and off-Broadway productions as well. We met up with Clarissa and Jason, and their friends Jeanne and Trent, for a Brits on Broadway presentation at 59 E 59th Theater of Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions, 5 short and hilarious plays, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. The opening piece presented a frazzled Mother Figure, so out of practice in the adult world that she can only interact with her neighbors as if they were children as well, leading to hilarious interactions. Disaster erupts at a community fair in Gosforth’s Fete, as rain threatens, and intimate revelations are inadvertently revealed to the entire community when a PA system on the fritz suddenly springs to untimely life. The comedic pieces did have some serious subtext, as in the final skit, in which musical chairs is played out on park benches, as strangers reveal too much to unreceptive bench-warmers. Dinner afterwards at nearby The East Pole enabled us to interact with our waiter in a manner inspired by another of Ayckbourn’s sketches, Between Mouthfuls, in which two couples whose lives are enmeshed dine in close proximity in a restaurant, as the hapless waiter dodges revelations, searing looks and emotional calamity.
Later in the week, we headed to the Time Warner Center with Steve’s sister Susan, down from Buffalo, for dinner at Bouchon Bakery before a comic opera production from London of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. We finished the week off heading to Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, meeting up with Steve’s younger sister Sarah and her husband Aaron for a Bread Arts Collective production of The Great American Casket, an interactive comic jaunt through the afterlife, with stops to confront your fears along the way. Led by Director Toni Ann DeNoble, the energetic crew was highly entertaining, as we were led around the pastoral, verdant and peaceful monument-filled cemetery, ending in a beautifully ornate chapel.
We also made it to two new museums, the New Whitney and the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Aaron and Susan accompanied us to the 9/11 museum. Aaron is a firefighter in Midtown, at the house with more than 100% loss of firefighters on duty that day (many who were not working responded to the disaster and were lost). A severely damaged fire truck is just one of the many artifacts bearing mute witness to the enormity of the tragedy and he described for us how the many components of a fire truck are employed in responding to an emergency.
There were 2 dining highlights of our week in New York, both multi-course menus. One was in the nick of time, as we learned the following week that Bouley would close for retooling later in the year. Vivian had told me that their lunch special, 5 courses for $55, was a great value, and she did not exaggerate. Our other favorite meal was a Korean small plates joint near the theater district called Danji. Their beverage pairing was most imaginative, including an unfiltered Korean beer slushie accompanying their version of KFC-Korean fiery wings, that is.
We returned home in time to catch the humorous and touching Old Globe production of “Camp David,” based on the events of the historic meeting of the Carters with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Isreal’s Menachem Began which led to the 1978 peace accord. Later that week, I attended the MOPA acquisitions dinner, while Steve was on call in the hospital.
The weekend of June 11 was an emotional roller coaster. On the home front, we were very happy. I started the weekend with an ikebana session with Inge, who I met at the MCASD event we hosted. The highlight of the weekend was the wedding of Miles and Tatiana on the terrace at MCASD, whose love for each other was so evident in the ceremony that it was infectious. The wedding feast was, of course, accompanied by an exemplary succession of superb wines, personally selected by Miles. It was waking up the following morning to the horrific news of the massacre in Orlando which was so difficult to process.
We were lucky to have the following week off, which we spent in Sedona. Landing in Phoenix, we reconnected with radiologist friends Threasa and Chris, enjoying a late lunch at Barrio Cafe (including a creditable version of chile en nogadas) before heading up to Sedona. Clarissa and Jason had recommended this Phoenix institution so long ago that I had completely forgotten about it! We were joined during the week by another Phoenix friend, Doug, who is a mid-century design enthusiast, collector and dealer, who also is an excellent baker (great ginger snaps!) and former wine professional. We had a great time catching up, while indulging ourselves at Diablo Burger and Brix in Flagstaff, lunch creekside at L’Auberge de Sedona and at home, while managing to work in jaunts to Red Mountain north of Flagstaff and a spin around Anthill from home. We introduced Doug to Sherlock, while we followed up on a tip for an alternate approach to shoot iconic Cathedral Rock, without the treacherously slippery creek crossing.
We returned home in time to catch the Old Globe’s wonderful production of “tokyo fish story”, set in a tiny sushi bar in Tokyo, as well as in Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market.
I had to squeeze in a short Fourth of July rendezvous with my sister Clarissa and her husband Jason in DFW, with the intention of helping Mama iron out computer and other communication issues, which had seemed very pressing when the family was together in May. Although conceived as a working trip, with specific goals to accomplish, we ended up still having some time for museum excursions and sampling ethnic food. After East coast storms derailed Clarissa and Jason’s original travel plans, I became the group chauffeur. Mama and I went to downtown Dallas for lunch and an afternoon at the museums, including the Nasher Sculpture Center. Clarissa and Jason managed to make it by the end of Saturday, sampling San Diego Tacos on the way home, as we attempted to work our way through the best of the ‘burbs list of ethnic eateries in Irving from the Dallas Eater. By the end of the evening, we had programmed Mama’s new cell phone with our phone numbers, ticking off one item on our “to do” list. On Sunday, we all headed out to lunch at the cafe at the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a Tadao Ando masterpiece. The Frank Stella retrospective Clarissa and Jason had missed at the Whitney in NY was waiting for them in Fort Worth, a worthy foil for his large and colorful works. A surprise awaited us at the Kimball Art Museum, the much beloved Louis Kahn masterpiece across the street-it now had company across the lawn, a new Piano Pavilion, designed by the eponymous Renzo Piano.
Our final museum outing was new both to Mama and me, despite my growing up in Dallas and her having lived in the area for 50 years, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. The museum occupies the 6th floor of the former Texas State School Book Repository, overlooking the site of President Kennedy’s assassination. The exhibits vividly evoked that fateful day, the 9/11 equivalent event for an earlier generation. I was 3 years old in 1963, so don’t remember it personally, but the dark legacy Dallas bore in the wake of this event is vivid to me, even today. Days later, back home in San Diego, it was horrible to hear that unexpected violence again tore into the heart of Dallas, just a few blocks away, this time the vicious shooting of police officers at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
At home, I finally (after over a year, reading at a rate of 2 pages/night, when I was home), finally finished Cuban writer Reinaldo Arena’s autobiography in Spanish, Antes que Anochezca: autobiografía (Before Night Falls). Meanwhile, I relived Hamilton through the Hamiltome, or Hamilton: The Revolution.
Tuesday, July 12 was an unusually art-centric day. I was just realizing that if my submissions to the Athenaeum’s juried show were accepted, I was out of time to produce them before leaving for 2 weeks in Québec. So, I was actually happy to learn none of my submissions were accepted. I’m sure I was in good company, as there were more than 1600 submissions and only 52 accepted! At virtually the same time, 2 of Steve’s submissions for artwork at the new Jacobs Medical Building were accepted, and a request for artwork for Scripp’s new AMP building came in. Later the same week was book club at Steph’s, discussing the timely The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan.
The second half of the July was spent in France, Nouvelle France, that is, France in North America, Québec! This was our first trip, long overdue, and did not disappoint! A request for an exchange in Québec City was the impetus to finally make it happen.
We stayed in a lovely apartment on tree-lined Avenue du Parc, wonderfully located near the aforementioned park (Plains of Abraham, the site of a decisive, history-making battle between the French and English) and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, and restaurant-lined avenue Cartier. Clarissa joined us for the week, and Jason mid-week. We managed on foot for a few days, before picking up a car for a week in the middle of our 2 week stay, freeing us up to explore the surrounding area, including Montmorency Falls, St. Anne de Beaupres Basilica and Ile d’Orleans.
The car also conveyed Steve and me to Montreal for our second week. We logged many steps on foot in Montréal, including 2 food tours. One introduced us to treasures in Old Montréal where we were staying, and the other gave us insight into Mile End. Returning to a depaunneur we learned about on the Old Montréal Food Tour led us to a fantastic, multi-site art installation scattered throughout the neighborhood, called Cité Memoire. Each night, after dark, large video projections would play on parking lot walls and in narrow alleys. After downloading the free app onto our phones, we could learn about facets of Montréal history, through filmed dance and theatrical reenactments of the burning of the Parliament building, a memorable game of hockey legend Maurice Richard, the role of the Grey Sisters (Les Soeurs Grises) in establishing the first orphanage.
In August, I met up with my sister in Berlin. She had mentioned wanting to go there the year before, and we had an exchange coming to us, in the lovely apartment near Zionskirchplatz of Andreas and Lydia, a young journalist couple with a baby, who did a sabbatical in the US a few years before, thanks to the generous parental leave policies in Germany. We had a great time exploring mostly the former East Berlin, daytripping to Potsdam and did a 3 day music-filled interlude to Leipzig and Dresden. Highlights were touring the amazing glass dome of the Reichstag, Daniel Libeskind’s searing Jewish Museum, hearing Rodolfo Villadón in the Gewandhaus in Leipzig and for me, a fabulous food tour with Berlin Secret Food Tours, led by Karl Wilder.
While I was in Germany, Steve went to the house in Sedona, and used it as a launching point for an exploratory scouting trip, first to Valley of the Gods and then to Ship Rock, New Mexico. A few weeks before, he had announced that he knew what he wanted for his birthday the following month and proceeded to order it-a drone. Soon, after watching You Tube tutorials, he was doing practice shoots over the house, Ship Rock, the lagoon and just about any place he thought it wouldn’t be too disturbing, with me looking on eagerly.
At the end of August, it was my turn to host my book club. I prepared cumin-flavored eggplant Moroccan lasagna, a recipe from our friend Sandy. Coincidentally, the same day as I prepared it, we went to the Old Globe to see Steve Martin’s new comedy, “Meteor Shower”, which featured a reference to, yes, eggplant lasagna. Supplemented by Steph’s famous olive bread, salads concocted by Ann and Sheila, and shockingly delectable vegan brownies made by Catherine, we had an enjoyable evening eating and dissecting Elena Ferrante’s 2cd Neapolitan novel, The Story of a New Name. We read the first in the series, My Brilliant Friend, a year or so back. I really identified with the narrator, who must navigate through uncharted social waters as she meets new friends and their families, away for the first time from home at college.
Early September brought the annual back-to-back galas for the Athenaeum on Friday and MCASD on Saturday. For the Athenaeum’s Hula La La theme, I settled for a floral dress as a stand in for Hawaiiana, while Steve sported a pendant and a Tommy Bahama shirt. We went to greater lengths to dress in theme for the contemporary art museum’s Bollywood fete, borrowing a sequined purple sari and a golden tunic and pants from our friends Rob and Janice. The weekend before, I practiced donning and folding the sari, with the aid of YouTube and safety pins, and thought I had it down. That is, until I found myself the following weekend at 6 pm, with our driver Howard in the driveway, with my hair still wet and several untucked feet of sari, with the sparkly stuff facing the inside. Oops! Eventually, I wrestled it into a semblance of respectability and hoped I wouldn’t be committing an inadvertent international offense by having it tucked not quite right. We had a good time as always, defending our self-dubbed “best looking table” tradition, hosted by our friends James and Jill, with stalwarts Ann and David (who came straight from flying in from Amsterdam, adorned in a shimmering outfit), and James’ friend and former neighbor Barb and her cousin.
My new camera , the Fuji X-T2, arrived the week before our departure for Fiji, our second experiment in diving an Indo-Pacific destination reachable by a non-stop flight from LAX. Its predecessor, the X-T1, was the first camera I ever selected and bought for myself. Our friend Susan introduced me to the camera, after which I only had eyes for Fuji (except underwater, where I still use a now old Nikon D7000).
Fiji was part 2 of our experiment in trying to find an Indo-Pacific dive destination we like as well as Indonesia, without the torturously long trek required to get there. We found a lot to like in Fiji. Our trip started with a major adrenaline rush, shark diving with the big boys, namely bull sharks (as well as silvertips, nursesharks, grey reef sharks, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks, and lemon sharks). Aqua-Trek, with whom we dove 2 mornings, has a high voltage style, producing a tornado cloud of fish and sharks-basically, splendid underwater mayhem. Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD) has a more regimented organization, but also produced a high quality experience.
After 3 days in southern Viti Levu with the bulls in Pacific Harbour, we spent the following week on a boat we’d heard about for ages-the Nai’a (Hawaiian for dolphin).
With Amanda and Joshua on the Isa Lei, final charter of their 3-year tour with Nai’a, showing incoming cruise directors Vanessa and Chad the ropes, we covered the major highlights of the Bligh Waters north of Viti Levu and the Somosomo Strait between Vanua Levu and Taveuni, hitting such famed dive spots as the Great White Wall and Nigali Passage.
Steve and I decompressed for a few days more after disembarking from the Nai’a at well named Wananavu, at the northernmost point of Viti Levu. This gave me a chance to progress in my drone piloting, which was great fun.
Wananavu means both beautiful and wonderful in Fijian, and it was just that. From this idyllic resort, we had a chance to revisit dive sites on Vatu-i-Ra Reef we had enjoyed on the Nai’a, including Mellow Yellow.
I had almost finished October’s book club selection, The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead, by the time we met at Ann’s house. I found the writing and narrative very compelling. Although fictional, its story of Cora, on the run from a monstrous Georgia plantation owner, weaves together skillfully events depicted collectively in slave literature accounts of life as a slave and on the run.
In November, we returned to Japan, hoping for fall color to rival the riotous cherry blossom season we had experienced in April.
Although the first 2 weeks proved still to be too early for the peak of the foliage, it was still wonderful. This trip was organized around MOPA’s Collectors Salon annual trip. Steve and I went a few days early and headed up north to Kanazawa, where we dodged rain strolling the famous garden, Kenroku-en, and visited contemporary architectural icons, the 21st Century Museum by SANAA and the D.T. Suzuki Museum by Taniguchi.
We enjoyed several excellent meals, including a 2 star Michelin family favorite of my Japanese teacher (and Kanazawa native) Yoko, Rocca, and a restaurant highlighted by a NY Times article earlier this year, Yamashita .
We met the MOPA group in Tokyo. One highlight was spending time with Japanese friends, established and new. Two years before, on a MOPA trip to Paris, we met Mari and Hideo, a Francophile couple from Tokyo, who also favor our favorite Left Bank hotel. We had a wonderful sushi meal at their favorite Ginza sushi bar, the tiny husband and wife run Tobikiri Sushi, which they have enjoying for 30 years. We met up with Mari the following morning to partake in an invitation-only cultural fashion event: the Issey Miyake sample sale! This went some way to amortizing our overall Issey Miyake souvenir expenses. We made new friends in Yukiko and Takeshi Shikama. We had met them briefly once years before at MOPA director Deborah’s place, but became better acquainted this trip, including a wonderful tonkatsu meal at Tokyo institution Tonki, near where we were staying in Meguro. We also fell for a lotus image of Takeshi’s lovely platinum-palladium work.
This Tokyo stay, we managed to make it to several destinations for which we ran out of time on our prior stay, including the Meiji shrine and the Nezu Museum. We entered the gorgeous Nezu just as a group from MCASD was mobilizing to leave, including our friends Bob and Catherine, James and Jill, and Hugh and Faye. We met up with James, Jill, Hugh and Faye a few nights later at another Tokyo institution, tempura temple, Ten-Ichi, in Ginza. After hearing so many references to “let’s go to Ten-Ichi” while listening to my Pimsleur Japanese course in the car, it was great to have piping hot tempura in the company of fun and like-minded friends, two nights before election day in the US.
An artistic highlight in Tokyo was meeting an artist we’ve admired forever, Hiroshi Sugimoto, at TOP (Tokyo Photographic Art Museum), newly renovated and with a new name (formerly Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography) and moniker (TOP). His exhibition spanning 2 floors was gorgeous, especially the installation “Lost Human Genetic Archive”, a mind-blowing series of post-apocalyptic tableaux juxtaposing Sugimoto’s photo-based works and collected artifacts. We were sorely tempted by a “Lightning Fields” piece of his we saw a day later at Gallery Koyanagi, but were too depressed about the election outcome a few days later to commit.
In Kyoto, the MOPA trip diversified, with one day devoted to a day trip with contemporary Japanese ceramics expert Robert Yellin, first to I.M.Pei designed Miho Museum and then an afternoon in Shigaraki in “Potter’s Valley”, visiting 3 elderly but vital master potters, Kohyama Yasuhisa, Kansazi Shiho and Koyama Kiyoko. We finished up at Robert’s Yakimono Gallery, which we visit each time we’re in Kyoto, invariably finding some ceramic treasure without which we can’t live (as well, anyway).
A distinct pall was cast by the emerging US Presidential results over another day touring Kyoto’s stunning western World Heritage gardens, including Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), Ryoan-ji of the famous Zen rock garden, Tenryu-ji, the bamboo forest of Arashiyama and the Ocochi Sanso villa.
Steve and I left the MOPA trip a little early, thanks to the improbable good fortune of being able to book 2 nights in a row at Naoshima Island…in Oval! Two years before, a typhoon had shut down Tokyo Station the very day we were to have traveled to the “Art Island”, rendering us unable to stay as planned in Oval. We had so enjoyed our too short stay there 2 years before that we had vowed to return.
A month before leaving for Japan, a 3rd night opened up at Naoshima, in Park, solving the problem of where we were going to stay on our last night in Japan. This stay enabled to us to make it to the adjacent islands which have burgeoning and fantastic art installations, including Teshima and Inujima. We also made it to Takamatsu to the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum-our reservation to see it before being another casualty of that inconvenient typhoon.
After emerging from the fog of jetlag, we met up with Phoenix friends Jim and Jeanette for dinner at James’ before catching La Jolla Playhouse’s “Miss You Like Hell”, a new musical. We met Jim and Jeanette at the Sedona Film Festival, where we’d bump into them, show after show, or in line. They are hard-core compared to us, seeing 5 films/day!
Steve and I finished listening to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which I had loved reading for book club the year before. I finished a slew of books, including a longer term project, Pourquoi Ceci N’est Pas Une Photo Ratée (La Photographie Contemporaine Expliquée) by Jacquie Higgins (one 2 page artist entry/night, in French). Cuba obviously was still playing on my mind, as I also read a novel Clarissa sent me, set in Cuba, Sofrito, and an amazing autobiography, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire, recalling his youth in privileged pre-Castro Cuba and how his world was upended at age 11 when he and his brother were sent ALONE to live in the U.S. during Operation Pedro Pan in 1962. Weeks later, the world learned on Thanksgiving weekend the news that Cuba’s “maximo lider”, Fidel, finally was dead at age 90, hopefully setting the stage for further autonomy for the Cuban people. Cuba continued to play on my mind through TV as well, through the atmospheric series “Four Seasons in Havana”, based on four Leonardo Padura detective novels featuring the disillusioned, hard-drinking detective Mario Conde.
Thanksgiving was a gorgeous sunny and warm day, even by San Diego standards. We basked in the warmth of the hospitality of our friends Doug and Mini, before heading for the weekend to Borrego Springs, for a long weekend spent in the comfort of Elena and John’s ranchita.
The drone came along, and to our surprise, one early morning we had Font’s Point completely to ourselves and were able to take it for a spin over the badlands.
Strangely, we encountered a larger group (one big extended Mexican family, I think) at the Wind Caves (requiring a 4 wheel drive on sandy roads) than at Borrego Palm Canyon. We broke up the drive home on Sunday, having lunch at the art-filled mountain home of Sandy and Bram, a warm refuge from an unusually cold, rainy and foggy day. We made it home with just enough time to put together a light meal with Marc and Christy from Sedona, in San Diego for Thanksgiving with Marc’s family.
The following weekend we hosted Howard and Michelle Hall for dinner, featuring Ottolenghi’s chicken and rice salad, winter salad and Catherine’s recipe for gluten-free and amazingly delicious brownies. It seemed like destiny to finally get to know them better, as Howard’s book Howard Hall’s guide to Successful Underwater Photography was one of the very first books I ever read on this subject that has dominated so many hours and vacations since 1996, when we finally succumbed to its lure. Later the same week, Catherine hosted our book club for the first time. The book being discussed was Nell Zinc’s Nicotine, which mildly satirized millennial activists living in group squats in Jersey City . As is often the case, I wasn’t quite finished, but found the writing, particularly the opening hospice scenes, most compelling. To blame for not being finished was a book given me by my friend from work, Amy, a college classmate of the author Vinh Chung. His autobiographical story of his large family’s exodus as boat people from Vietnam in 1979, Where the Wind Leads, was a fascinating account, weaving Vietnam’s torturous history with a compelling familial rags-to-riches-to-rags to Harvard medical school story.
The rest of December was rounded out by holiday parties. We caught up with our mid-century design freak friends at architect John Ike’s Pt. Loma pad with a panoramic view and celebrated Crabby Christmas with a highly entertaining group of theatre-enthusiast and white elephant-toting guests at Ralph and Gail’s, including Janet and John, Tatiana and Miles, Ellen and David, Chris and Ranjit, and Lisa. Steve again performed well in the white elephant selection department, riffing on a prior year’s gift, producing an intimate and Christmas colored original artwork. Another hotly contested item was a white unicorn wine bottle holder, which probably would have been stolen again, had not a cap been placed at 2X at the outset. We took advantage of good weather and golden afternoon light between winter storms on Christmas and New Years holiday weekends to fly the drone over the coast, at Swami’s in Encinitas and down in La Jolla.
The end of a year always make one reflect on the good, the bad, the regrets, the triumphs of the past year and aspirations for the next. Although the election results left us horrified and actually fearful for the future, we can only hope to be proven wrong. In the meantime, we carry on, and cherish good times with family and friends from around the world, and that we are healthy enough to continue our exploration of Earth’s marvels.
Highlights and low lights of 2016 for us:
Least satisfying expenditure: A ticket for $198 for rolling through a stop sign on a BICYCLE in Del Mar, courtesy of a policeman on a motorcycle, lying in wait on a side street.
New, talented and inspiring friends, including architect and photographer Wyn from Seattle, filmmaker Jim from Vermont, street photographer extraordinaire Lev and underwater filmmaking legends, Howard and Michele
Family milestones: Mama’s 80th birthday, my brother Carlton’s finishing in the money at the World Series of Poker (36 out of 6737 entrants!) and seeing my sister Clarissa a record 6 times, including 2 coasts, 3 countries, and 7 cities!
Theatrical highlight: Without question, Hamilton, in house seats, thanks to our incomparably generous friends, Gail and Ralph
Terrestrial travel high points: cherry blossoms in Kyoto and staying in Oval in Naoshima Island in the fall
Terrestrial wildlife encounter: Bighorn sheep in Palm Canyon, on my birthday, the perfect subject for my new 100-400 mm wildlife lens
Best new photographic tool: Steve’s birthday drone, providing a whole perspective on the world!
Personal milestones: 27 years of marriage, 30 years together! Even if we’re toting a bit more baggage along the way, including some not so glamorous accessories (CPAP machine and hearing aids for Steve), we’re logging many, mostly pain-free miles, with work at a cancer center providing near-daily reminders not to squander good health and a zest for life! This year also marks 25 years in practice for me, 26 for Steve. Friends are starting to retire (both younger and older), leading us to look down that road curiously ourselves. For now, we continue working near full-time (90%), but hope to step down a little more as group constraints allow.
Wishing our friends and family all the best for 2017 and beyond!