The short version
I didn’t really try to set a new record for longest year’s end summary EVER, it was an EXCEPTIONALLY eventful year. 2017 saw Steve turn 60, for which I arranged not one, but two, stellar celestial celebrations (OK, it would be more accurate to say I arranged for us to be where we COULD see these events.) It was a year in which we finally made it to Scandinavia and the Arctic, and our life-long love affair with New York City was unexpectedly consummated. For those with short attention spans, the bests and worsts are summarized first. If you love detail, read on!
High point(s) of the year (a 5-way tie!):
- Diving the thickest, most dense baitball covering a reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, parting as hunting mobulas darted in and out.
- Snorkeling with stingless jellyfish in Raja Ampat.
- Swimming with feeding whale sharks in West Papua, as rivers of water, fish and plankton poured into their giant mouths.
- The gasp-inducing moment the moon blotted all but the sun’s gleaming corona in total eclipse in Grand Teton, Wyoming in August.
- A hallucinatory night on a bouldery beach in Lofoten, Norway, with the sky alight with dancing ribbons of aurora borealis.
Low point of the year:
Just as I regained my voice and strength after a miserable weeks-long cold in November, thinking it a miracle Steve had evaded it, he came down with the same exact symptoms, 3 weeks later.
Best film(s) of the year (a 4-way tie):
The Brand New Testament, a very black comedy from Belgium, at Mary Fisher Theater in Sedona–vs–Iranian best foreign film winner, The Salesman, seen at Sedona Film Festival–vs–Get Out, with Greg, on his Ipad on the Ambar III in the Sea of Cortez–vs–The Florida Project, seen in the waning days of the year at the Mary Fisher Theater in Sedona.
Most memorable book:
A Woman in Berlin is a wartime testament to the value and life-scrambling effects of war on civilians, as documented by a young, anonymous, female journalist living in Berlin during its capture and occupation by the Russians in the waning months of WW II. My sister Clarissa had recommended this the prior year, as relevant to 2016’s sister trip to Germany and this year’s to Russia, and I would say it is one of the most powerful pieces of writing I have ever read-it should be mandatory reading for all adults. In a year of dialogue about sexual politics and systemic gender inequity, it has a current resonance undimmed by the passage of time.
Most satisfying investment:
Come From Away, recouping in record time, even disbursing a profit, 8 months after opening on Broadway.
Most unexpected purchase and most time consuming transaction:
Buying a New York co-op apartment (4 months, 1 week and a few extra days). Hurricane Maria added a few extra weeks to our purchase-our seller was an architect from Puerto Rico and the hurricane struck just after we passed our co-op board interview. Not so easy to have documents notarized for the closing when there is no power, a still unresolved issue on the island at year’s end.
Our best collaboration:
The quiet before the storm of the take-over of Stump and crew. At home, between winter storms delivering much-needed rain, we took advantage of sunny afternoons over the holiday weekends to head to local beaches to fly the drone, capturing the coast from a bird’s eye view. Our friends Gerry and Nancy had recently acquired an even more capable drone, giving us a good excuse to get together after too long. Surprisingly, this was their first time on Swami’s Beach, despite living in the area for nearly 40 years!
As the year opened, I was reading Nieve en La Habana (after finishing this Cuban boyhood during the Batista-to-Castro change-over memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana in English at the end of 2016, I was now trying to expand my muy pequeño vocabulario by reading it in Spanish), at the same time as Susan Faludi’s memoir of her difficult Hungarian, Holocaust survivor father, who reenters her life after undergoing a sex change operation at the age of 76, In the Darkroom. On my Kindle, I was reading Trevor Noah’s autobiography of his childhood in South Africa under and after the dismantling of apartheid, Born a Crime. The tone the comedian achieves is remarkable, as he frankly relates his take on racism and race relations from his unique perspective as a child of a black mother and white father during an era in which sexual relations between races was a crime. Despite the serious topics being discussed, he is amazingly funny at the same time. In the car, I was listening to Gail Tsukiyama’s Street of a Thousand Blossoms, set in Tokyo before, during and after WW II, a fictional tale of 2 families whose lives become intertwined through sumo wrestling.
Our trip to Japan in November 2016 marked some discernible progress in my Japanese, but with a long way to go, January also was my month to re-enroll at UCSD extension. Japanese 2 was being offered on Monday nights, and I was able to make a surprisingly high percentage of classes (80%), so I took that as a sign I should get more serious about studying.
A very pleasant mid-January Sunday afternoon was spent cruising San Diego Bay on the boat of our friends Dana and Denise. Although it was too windy to venture out of the Bay in search of migrating grey whales, it was enjoyable visiting sea lions flopped on buoys, seeing the wooden sailing ship San Salvador up close (a replica of the wooden ship in which Juan Cabrillo first ventured into San Diego Bay) , and photographing Western grebes and surf scoters.
As January progressed, the nation inched closer to the changing of the guard, and momentum built for the following day’s Women’s Marches, taking place in cities across the country. Deciding to buy an extra week off, to first join Steve in Sedona and later travel with MOPA to San Francisco, meant I wouldn’t be in San Diego to march with many participating friends. It looked like San Diegans would be marching under umbrellas, as San Diego was drenched in the preceding days, while I would be in Sedona’s smaller version in snow. The weather seemed to smile on the proceedings in both locales, with San Diego bathed in sun and Sedona’s rain and snow stopping for the afternoon hours of the peaceful demonstration.
It was so gratifying to find ourselves in a larger and more diverse gathering than we’d anticipated. Both of us felt proud to be part-timers in the community we found that day, with people from babies to seniors, able-bodied and in wheelchairs, men and women, girls and boys, New Agers and not, filling the route along Highway 89A, from the start near Whole Foods to Uptown, an impressive showing for a small town. There was a festive atmosphere, with headgear ranging from Dr. Seuss green and white Cat in the Hat towers to specially knit pink pussy caps.
The signs people had concocted for the event were creative and pithy. One favorite: It Takes a Village, Not a Village Idiot. And another: Sociopath in Chief, Good Grief! Even how they were held aloft evinced creativity, one woman having affixed her sign to a tennis racket. There were musical accompaniments, with one young man marching with his trumpet and a woman emitting blasts from a conch shell:
Heading back to the start, Steve encouraged me to peel off and hike home, giving me a chance to explore a new-ish network of trails which connects our section of Uptown with West Sedona and 89-A, along the Adobe Jack and other trails. After this well-timed peaceful and sunny weather interlude, just in time for the march, the rest of our stay alternated between pouring rain and snow. This gave us some home time to read, write and catch a couple of movies at the Mary Fisher Theater, including a very funny black comedy, The Brand New Testament, depicting God as a petty man in Belgium who delights in tormenting mankind. His daughter shuts him down by globally releasing to all, by individual texts, the one piece of information which maintains God’s hold over humanity: the date of their eventual deaths. How individuals react to this news made for an extremely clever and darkly funny film.
Halfway through the week, we headed to San Francisco with MOPA. This left the house open for the arrival of Nadja, a therapist and coach from Berlin, and two of her friends, in Sedona to attend a conference. I had enjoyed Berlin so much in August 2016 on an exchange with my sister that I was eager to return with Steve, and receiving the exchange request from Nadja seemed a sign that we were meant to go to San Francisco instead of being in Sedona. It certainly had been a very long time, maybe 10 years?! We made up for it, in a head-turning, sensory overload of gallery, museum, fair and studio visits. Even before the official start of the trip, Steve and I worked in 2 gallery visits, first to Fraenkle Gallery to see more of those enticing Lighting Field works of Hiroshi Sugimoto, who we had met at his TOP show in Tokyo in November. While there, I was introduced by Frish to the elegant ease of German designer Elke Wolter. The second was to a relatively new gallery, Euqinom Projects (Euqinom=Monique backwards, from the owner’s name), to see our friend Scott Davis’ solo show. Scott’s minimalist landscapes, working in the extremes of the blackest blacks and the purest whites, looked wonderful in the spare space. While we were there, we also fell under the spell of 2 of the other artists represented by the gallery, Meghann Riepenhoff and Klea McKenna. Meghann uses cyanotype papers, often in a large scale, to create photograms of the action of water and waves. Her working method brought Susan Derges, who we met at Paris Photo 2 years ago, to mind, but her results were beautifully unique. We were also enthralled by Klea McKenna’s work. She also works without a camera. We saw 2 entirely different series, one essentially photograms created by raindrops striking photographic paper, and the other rubbings of tree sections. Both resulted in wonderfully abstract, intriguing images.
Once the MOPA trip was fully underway, the rush of visual stimulation continued unabated. One visit was impromptu-while at Themes + Projects Gallery in the Minnesota Street Projects warehouses, viewing artist Brigitte Carnochan’s ethereal, digitally layered platinum works inspired by a cache of 1930s love letters , the owners suggested we pop across the street to the studio of Erica Deeman. Erica is British, a lovely young woman of mixed parentage (half-black, half-white) and we were quite enthralled with samples of her 2 portraiture series. Deborah was too, offering her a museum show on the spot for next year, coincidentally during Black History month. Erica described how these works were an outgrowth of her increasing awareness of race and identity since coming to study and live in the US. We were to see a nice selection of Erica’s Silhouettes series the following morning, touring Pier 24 Photography, the fantastic restored warehouse home of the Pilara Foundation collection. By that time, we had already decided we had to own one, the first one we laid eyes on in Erica’s studio. We also had a preview of her upcoming gallery show, entitled Brown, showing dignified black men against a coffee colored backdrop, keyed to Erica’s own skin tone.
This was the inaugural year of San Francisco Photo Fairs, held at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture. After attending the VIP opening, we were delighted to revisit a near-by old favorite, vegetarian institution Greens, still going strong over decades, and as good as we remembered it from 20-something years before. We managed to work in lunch-time visits to another long-time favorite, dim sum institution, Yank Sing, now in 2 locations, both of which we liberally enjoyed. In addition to studio visits with aerial photographer Micheal Light and large format camera obscura artist John Chiara, we met with travel and view camera photographer Linda Connor at her gallery, Haines. We also viewed Paul Sack’s comprehensive private collection of photography, as well as toured the expanded SF MOMA’s shows on the early (pre-medium format) work of Diane Arbus, entitled ‘in the beginning’, and contemporary Japanese photography From Postwar to Now (including several works by daguerreotype artist Arai who we met in November in Tokyo).
Back home, we had a chance to hear the wonderful music of the Broadway-bound and much loved La Jolla Playhouse co-production “Come From Away”. The concert version, which had been presented in Gandar, Newfoundland in the fall in 2 benefit concerts, was the highlight of the La Jolla Playhouse Gala in late January. We had a special guest at our table for the concert, Beverley Bass , the 3rd female pilot hired by American Airlines (first to make captain) and the pilot of one of the planes diverted to Gandar when American airspace was closed in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. She is a central figure in the play, which tells the story of how the small community of Gandar and surrounding towns (population 10,000) hosted 38 planeloads of crew, passengers and animals for 5 days. We also had a chance to meet the charming Canadian playwrights, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who spent a month interviewing “plane people” who returned to Gandar on the 10th anniversary of 9-11.
We indulged our independent film fetish the last week of February at the 23rd annual Sedona International Film Festival. John and Joan Kroener, veterans of both Sundance and Palm Springs Film festivals, accompanied us this year and outdid us in making good use of their gold passes. We struck a good balance, hiking most days and seeing 2-3 films most days. Film highlights included the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro”, a lyrical Franco-German post-WW I story “Frantz”, and two very different South African features, “Blood and Glory” and “Sink”. We all loved the Iranian drama “The Salesman”, which went on to win Best Foreign Film at the Oscars at the end of the week. For more movie reviews, here’s the scoop:
Back in San Diego, my book club was gearing up to convene at Mary’s house for a discussion of Trevor Noah’s autobiography of his childhood in South Africa, Born a Crime, when we received the cruelly unexpected news that David, Ann’s husband, had died the day before of a heart attack. Both Steve and I were surprised to learn he was 80; although he had been retired from his career as a political science professor for as long as we had known him, he always seemed very vigorous and engaged and much younger than his actual age. Most of the book group elected to proceed and it was comforting to be in the company of such a supportive group.
It was back to Borrego Springs for my birthday in early March. The hills throughout San Diego County and in our back country desert were an unusually luxuriant verdant carpet of green, and the wildflowers were profuse, varied and colorful, a testament to the surprisingly consistent winter rains which finally reversed our multi-year drought. Nancy and Gerry came out with us, which was wonderful. They had had a trying year and were on the cusp of selling their veterinary business and retiring, a prolonged transaction consummated days after our weekend together. Gerry had a brand new Toy(ota) for us to break in, a fully loaded and customized Forerunner Pro. We gladly urged him on, taking full advantage of the vehicle’s capabilities, seeking out the Pumpkin Patch, a field of concretions reached by Tule Wash, and fording streams to ascend lower Coyote Canyon. Although it was a busy weekend for Borrego, we didn’t have much difficulty finding scenic spots to fly the drones, including Vista de Malpais overlooking the badlands, and the Salton Sea.
We may have encouraged Gerry too much. When we returned to San Diego, Nancy and Gerry proceeded east to visit friends in Phoenix. We received a colorful account of “crazy off roading” on our return, which you can read about here:
A week later, we were off to NYC for a week, kicked off by the Broadway opening of “Come From Away”! We joined this journey back in summer of 2015, when Come From Away had a triumphant production at La Jolla Playhouse. We loved the show, and knew this was one we wanted to support. I saw it a second time towards the end of the run, and Steve and I saw it at Seattle Repertory Theater in December, just to see it in a different setting, with a different and larger audience. Both productions met with tremendous critical and box office success, as did 2016 pre-Broadway productions in Washington, D.C. and Toronto. Thankfully, any apprehensions about the reception of New Yorkers to a story engendered by September 11 proved to be overblown, with excellent reviews (even from the NY Times, as well as “Critic’s Pick” designation) and packed houses. The Canadian connection proved to be a magnet for generating press coverage, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attending a performance mid-week, along with his wife, Ivanka Trump, U.N. Ambassador Nicki Haley and a raft of Canadian officials.
The rest of our week was devoted to checking out the Tony award competition, including 2 excellent contenders, “Dear Evan Hansen”, another original musical, and “Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet”, based on a 70 page slice of Part 2 of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. “The Great Comet” also played into a Russian theme which wove through this trip, including a trip to the Financial District to apply for my visa to visit Russia in the summer, as well as another Russian literary theatrical offering, Sydney Theater Company’s production of “The Present”, a version of Chekhov’s first, unpublished play, Platonov, starring Cate Blanchette.
This particular week in NY was an exceptionally cold one, featuring a nor’easter snow storm which didn’t prove to be as crippling as feared. It didn’t slow us down much. Our preparation consisted of buying knee-high neoprene and rubber Muck boots the day before, which enabled me to log 9 miles the first day, despite the snow. There was enough snow the first day to markedly reduce the car and pedestrian traffic, but not enough to shut down the theater district. Our homebase for the week, the Ludlow in LOHO (just south of Houston and the East Village), was perfectly situated for me to stage my own private mini-film festival, being easy walking distance to IFC, the Sunshine and Angelika movie houses, where I caught up on some of the films I’d been wanting to see in recent months, including “Elle”, “Paterson” and “Neruda”. We also caught a taut French supernatural thriller, “Personal Shopper” with Kristen Stewart. And, of course, we enjoyed some delicious meals while catching up with family and friends, including Samui (Thai, with Sarah), TsuruTonTan (Japanese udon, with Jason), brunches at the Dutch and Tanner Smith’s with Sarah and Aaron, Cosme with Sally, and Le Coq Rico with Mel and Gail.
We even managed a little museum time, hitting the Rubin Museum, MAD and ICP, as well as the Noguchi Museum on the way to the airport home. We both wanted to revisit it after our journey to Noguchi’s Japanese studio in November, since it had been many years since our only visit to the NY studio. One of the highlights of MAD this trip was a floor devoted to Peter Voulkos, the paradigm shifting ceramic artist, highlighting his “Breakthrough Years”. The full write-up of this New York sojourn is here:
Although I didn’t see my sister Clarissa while in New York (she was sick), we did have a chance to see each other, as well as Jason, Jason’s mother Claire, Alec and Martha back in San Diego the very next week, coincidentally in time for the San Diego Latino Film Festival. I enjoyed both films I joined them for, part of a mini-tribute to Mexican director Manolo Cano. Both were billed as dramedies, a hybrid term well describing these apartment based dramas with black comic elements. In “Elvira, te daria mi vida pero la estoy usando” (“Elvira, I’d give you my life but I’m using it”), luminous Cecilia Suarez pieces together scraps of clues when her husband disappears in the middle of the night. Disparate neighbors are brought together with hilarious results when their lives are disrupted by a handsome injured, former soccer star moving into the building in “No sé si cortarme las venas o dejármelas largas” (I don’t know if I’ll slit my wrists, or Leave me the big ones).
We managed to work in a several-times postponed but worth-the-wait dinner with Barbarella and David, a multi-talented writer and artist and film-making couple, featuring David’s Hungarian specialties (only my pride and the lack of a second stomach prevented me from having thirds of the main course!), before succumbing to an all-out end-of-March-going-to-Indonesia packing frenzy. This coincided with the April 1st (I kid you not) launch of our new electronic medical record system at work, Epic, which heightened tensions, to say the least. We only had to deal with it for 3 days before leaving for the rest of the month for a long-planned Got Muck trip combining a live-aboard stay on the Wellenreng in Raja Ampat, followed by a week stay at tiny (recently expanded to 6 bungalows) Triton Bay Divers in even more remote Triton Bay. Hergen and Kerri were with us on both segments, as well as our perennial dive buddy and butler, Greg, and Reidar, a Norwegian IT consultant we met on Pindito with Herg and Kerri in November, 2015. New to us was Alex Kirkbride, newly arrived from a harrowing-sounding month long trip to Antarctica on a sailboat. Owner Roland was on board as well, and our dive guide was Jarrod. Raja Ampat never disappoints and this trip’s highlights included an amazing baitball with hunting mobulas.
I was personally thrilled by an excursion to swim with stingless jellies, an experience I’ve wanted to repeat since visiting Jellyfish Lake in Palau in 1996!
After a fantastic 12 days on board, we all transferred (via 2 short plane flights) to Kaimana and Triton Bay Divers, where we were joined by “Go Ask Erin” Quigley, Lightroom guru extraordinaire, as well as Margot and Linda from Australia and Penny, in transition between Colorado and Cozumel. We had sampled Triton Bay’s extraordinary color and soft coral combinations and abundant fish life on that same Pindito voyage back in 2015, enough to know we wanted to return.
What was a surprise was our final outing, just Steve, Greg and me, to a fishing bagan about an hour by boat away, where we had clear still water, sunshine and sunrays, and 4-6 whalesharks continuously circling for 3 hours!
Back home in early May, it was time to mobilize to throw a dinner party, with Ralph and Gail, Janet and John and Gad and Suzan. It being the 6th of May, I decided on a Mexican menu of pork picadillo in tortilla cups, Tony’s Jacal cabbage salad and a corn and tomato Mexican rice dish from the Elote cookbook. Steve coordinated, with Ralph’s help, smoked sage magaritas. We managed to make the last 2 films in the Coming of Age film festival, including an unforgettable Russian film called “Zoology”, in which a non-descript, middle-aged woman’s life is radically altered when she grows a tail. We also attended the annual gala for Lux Art Institute down the street, Lux After Dark. Somehow, we ended up bidding on a dinner for 24 at Pamplemousse Grill. Although Steve has never let me throw him a birthday party, this was timely, as this was the year he turned 60.
Some months before, we received a “save the date” notice of our friend Gail’s 50th birthday party, planned for May. This threw me into a quandry, as the date was a Saturday, the day before we had tickets to see Hamilton again in New York. Unfortunately, the tickets, procured through an Amex offering a full year before, were for the Sunday matinee, meaning if I attended the party, I couldn’t make it to NY in time. Attend the party vs. Hamilton, a tough choice. It was through Gail and her husband Ralph’s generosity that we had been able to see Hamilton with the original cast the year before. I had the week off, but Steve did not. Back in March, I had offered Steve’s ticket as a birthday present to his older sister, Susan, an English professor. When I decided to delay my departure and stay in San Diego for Gail’s party, I offered the second ticket to Steve’s younger sister, Sarah. In the end, Susan didn’t finish grading papers and her other end of school year tasks in time to make it to NY, and so ultimately, Sarah and her husband Aaron, a firefighter in the theater district, went, meeting up with my sister Clarissa and her husband Jason at intermission.
The party was preceded by a spa day and lunch at Rancho Valencia, a relaxing prelude to a very fun evening. The same evening, our Phoenix friends, Cindy and Gerry were in town attending Gerry’s son’s wedding in Del Mar. This gave us a chance to catch up the next night over dinner at our house, where Steve recreated a Blue Apron dish of spiced beef pitas and garlic labneh, while I created a salad from raddichio, water eggplant, and fava beans procured from Chino’s that morning.
The next morning, I left for the week for NY. Although I pushed my departure back by a weekend, I made up for it once there. As part of my Tony Award show prep, I saw 3 of the 4 nominees for best play, “Sweat”, “Oslo” and “A Doll’s House, Part 2”. Clarissa had recommended an off-Broadway offering, “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Steet”, in an innovative staging in a recreated pie show at the Barrow Street Theater, gritty great fun. Rounding out my cultural week was seeing American Ballet Theater’s Misty Copeland as “Giselle”. I also caught up with friends, having breakfast with Cliff, lunch at Cosme with Sally and spending the day at NY Botanical Garden with Sarah and Aaron.
The verdant splendor of the garden, with its soaring mature trees, was set off by the colorful creations of Dale Chihuly. I had a chance to meet up with Jim, director of “Coming Through the Rye”, a film we loved at the 2016 Sedona Film Festival, in town with his wife Nerissa and son Austin, also seeing “A Doll’s House, Part 2”. (Tony nominee Chris Cooper played JD Salinger in Jim’s autobiographical tale of his adolescent obsession with and pursuit of the reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye).
Back at home in June, it was time for the big annual house clean-up, namely preparing to host a concert, a benefit for Art of Élan, celebrating their 10 year anniversary. This was a triple celebration, with the other milestones being our 20 year anniversary this spring of living in Aperture, and 30 years since Steve and I met. The guests included friends from through the years, new and old, including Aperture architect Wally Cunningham and friends from training at UCSD (Vivian, Barbara and Tere) and Washington University (Jan), friends from work (Rick, Steph, Doug), diving friends and travel companions Gerry and Nancy, as well as new friends and home exchange partners Elena and John. Artistic director Kate Hatmaker put together a wonderful program of new and old pieces. Julie, harpist at San Diego Symphony, performed 2 movements of a commissioned solo harp composition, written in honor of her teacher, by the teacher’s niece, a composition professor. Kate and cellist husband Alex played a David Bruce composition commissioned in their honor and first performed (not by them) at their wedding almost 3 years ago.
These preparations laid the groundwork for a follow-up event two weekends later, hosting 30 people for a happy hour meet and greet with new Oceanside Museum of Art Director, Maria Mingalone. This was also ably catered by Coast Catering, led by Barry Layne, formerly head chef at Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe. In between was bookclub at Steph’s. This evening had a Turkish theme, with special guest Angie Brenner, expert on Turkish cooking and author of Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking, providing a vegetarian moussaka to anchor a festive and scrumptious meal. The feast was paired with a book by Nobel prize winning Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk, Snow, in which a poet returns from political exile in Germany to a small, impoverished community, ostensibly to investigate a series of suicides of girls forbidden from wearing head scarves to school. Later the same week, we ventured down to Old Town to the Cygnet Theater for a rollicking and highly entertaining version of “Shock Headed Peter”, a musical retelling of cautionary children’s fables written by a Frankfurt doctor for his young son in 1845.
Between the two events, I made a solo trip back to NY, this time to attend the Tony awards. Come From Away was nominated for 7 awards, and the New York Times said the contest for Best New Musical was too close to call. The San Diego contingent was delighted by Chris Ashley’s win for Best Director of a Musical, but most of the rest of the evening belonged to Evan Hansen, which took home the prize we so coveted. It was an interesting experience being in the splendidly-attired audience. For the event, I selected a narrow-shouldered column of a pale blue-grey beaded velvet Badgley Mischka dress, with silver satin low-heeled Manolo Blahnik pumps. For Canadian luck, I toted a silvery grey shrug by Sympli.
Kevin Spacey was the host for the evening, the first of two “dates” with him that week, the second being his one-man show bringing Clarence Darrow to life in Arthur Ashe stadium. Who could have guessed his career would implode so dramatically later in the year, right after I finally caught up on House of Cards? The after-party at Redeye Grill was still festive.
Thursday before leaving for NY, I was working at the breast center with Vivian. While catching up, I asked after the progress of her NY construction project, combining 2 adjacent studio apartments into a larger unit. While talking, I typed the building’s address into Google. Up popped Street Easy, where there were 2 apartments for sale in the building, one of which spoke to me across the electronic ether. It was a light and bright corner unit, with a view of treetops in Riverside Park and across the river to New Jersey!
From prior conversations, I knew some of the intriguing history of this Art Deco tower. I liked what I saw enough to send an email to a NY realtor friend, John. As it happened, John was in Japan and I was actually staying in his Upper East Side apartment during this trip. John connected me with his realty partner, Leslie, who arranged a showing of the apartment for Monday after the Tonys. Although it was a warm day, I met up with my brother-in-law Jason for a bike ride along the West side of Manhattan, from Battery Park all the way north to the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse. Our ride was timed to coincide with the appointment for a 5 pm showing of the apartment. I liked the apartment enough to seriously consider making an offer. It had been architect renovated and was in turn-key condition. I liked the building a lot, with original Art Deco fixtures, and a spacious laundry room and bike storage in the basement. But I couldn’t make an offer on the very first apartment I saw…at least not without seeing the competition. So, I asked to see comps. Although I hadn’t set out to hunt for an apartment on this trip, the week quickly became dominated by poring over listings and seeing apartments. In short order, I became addicted to the Street Easy app on my phone. Over the next several days, I saw 2-3 apartments per day, conferencing with Steve in the evenings via WhatsApp. One evening, he sent me a listing whose look he liked. I was equally intrigued. I sent it off to Leslie and an appointment was fixed for Thursday morning.
On Thursday morning at 10:30 am, I was on the steps of a 6 story neo-Georgian building on a tree-lined stretch of E. 91st St, with Leslie. The listing agent, Marilyn, met us on the steps. As we turned to enter the building, another woman rushed up. She was late, although she reputedly was “never late”. She had an earlier appointment to see the apartment. I had the distinct impression the idea was that she was supposed to have come and gone by the time of our appointment. So, we saw the apartment together. She was full of pointed questions, which saved me from having to ask very many.
I loved the apartment, with an open floor plan, multiple windows at the level of the trees, with landmarked brownstones across the street, a half block to the 92cd St Y. I also loved the furnishings, including a lipstick red Womb chair, even the window treatments! There was a window in the bathroom, which was accessed from a hall instead of the bedroom, two features I had wished for in the Riverside Dr. apartment. I sensed we had to move quickly…in fact, by the end of that day, a “good” (presumably full price) offer was made on the apartment. The same day, Street Easy notified me that the Riverside Dr. apartment price had been lowered…by $55 thousand! Even with that substantial decrease, the UES apartment was less expensive and was also architect renovated and turn-key. I asked to see both again the following morning.
I was leaving to return to San Diego on Friday night. After seeing both apartments with Leslie that morning, we returned to her Lincoln Center area office and wrote up an offer on the 91st St apartment. My utmost concern was to avoid a bidding war, offering enough to secure the seller’s attention, and to get the apartment taken off the market. There was an open house the following Sunday, which we asked in our offer to have cancelled. I headed to JFK via the subway and train, and hoped for the best. When I landed in San Diego and turned my phone back on, there was a “Congratulations!! We have a deal!” text from Leslie greeting me, the ultimate culmination to an eventful week. Steve had learned hours earlier, while I was in transit.
I had a week at home working between trips, during which Steve and I were guest speakers at the June meeting of the San Diego Underwater Photographic Society. We had a mini-reunion with diving friends who turned up, including Phil Colla, Garry McCarthy and to our great pleasure and surprise, our friend Denise Lew, who had moved up to the Bay area in the spring to head up Stanford’s technology transfer office.
At the end of that week, I was off to Russia and Helsinki to meet up with my sister, a long-planned sister trip. The planning for this trip had been ongoing all spring, with texts and emails flying back and forth, as we plotted how and when to score tickets to attend the opera and ballet in both St. Petersburg and Moscow, and debated which restaurants we should reserve in advance, etc. This trip started out in the fall of 2016 as a trip for 4 couples, led by our Russian friend, Tatiana. We had agreed on a time frame and our 2 destinations, and Tatiana and Miles, and Ralph and Gail, had made air reservations. I booked through Finn Air, incorporating a 3 day stay in Helsinki and made hotel reservations as well. This nascent trip fell apart shortly after the election. While we were all upset at the ascenduncy (intentional mispelling) of Stump, Tatiana was heart-broken. She had spent weeks volunteering for Hillary’s campaign in Ohio. While in Japan, we received an email from her, saying she was so outraged by Russian interference in the election that she couldn’t bring herself to go, and didn’t want to support Putin or the Russian economy in any way. Having booked $3700/per person business class flights, they were able to extricate themselves for a relatively nominal $400/person cancellation penalty. I had been seduced by the lure of a completely non-refundable $1250 coach fare. Leave $2500 on the table?! Not the Tartar way, no way! Steve didn’t really want to go anymore either. We had been nominally interested in visiting Russia, but the opportunity to go with a native Russian speaker and with friends had spurred our interest. I decided I still wanted to go, but knew I would enjoy it more with company. Who could I recruit with whom I could share a room? My inveterate traveler sister, Clarissa, signed up within 24 hours of broaching the idea.
She proved to be a valuable aid in helping to plan many trip details, making restaurant reservations, and booking tickets for the Bolshoi and Mariinsky ballet and opera. She also took a 12 week Russian course in the months leading up to the trip and learned the Cyrillic alphabet. This proved invaluable in Moscow, where the subway was the only practical way to reach destinations beyond walking distance. The traffic was perpetually snarled. My friend Mikhail, the only Russian friend I have living in Russia, warned me about the traffic a few days before departure. He called up and offered the use of his car and driver during our stay. This sounded tempting, until he mentioned he lives outside Moscow and that the incessant traffic meant his trips into Moscow usually burned 3-4 hours EACH way. Once we were there, we could see it was non-stop.
We started our trip in Helsinki, where we put many of my friend Catherine’s suggestions to work, following the trail of modernist design giant Aalvar Alto, including his home and studio, shows at the Atheneum and the Design Museum and drinks at the Savoy.
In Moscow, we stayed at a stylish 9 room boutique hotel, the Brick Design Hotel, a 10 or so minute walk from Red Square and the Bolshoi theaters.
By this time, we were in contract on the NY apartment, so I had to put modern technology to work to sign it. The young women at reception printed out the contract for me, which I “scanned” with my phone and sent back after signing. Cultural highlights of our Moscow stay were nights at the Bolshoi, one the classic opera Carmen (probably the only one we both know well enough to risk with supratitles in Russian) and a comedic ballet set on a collective farm, The Bright Stream. We enjoyed meals at both of Moscow’s restaurants in the “Top 100 in the World”, The White Rabbit and Twins, the latter with Mikhail and his wife Natasha.
We found a lot to like in St. Petersburg, a very enjoyable city to explore on foot, with canals and the Neva riverfront lined with gorgeous buildings and gardens. I was personally blown away by the lavishness of the Winter Palace, but found the crowds in the Hermitage to make for a generally marginal art-viewing experience. My friend Pat in Paris had recommended St. Petersburg Essential Guide for excursions further afield, and our 2 days with Veronika were informative and visually stunning. We wished for another half hour wandering the fountains and plantings of Peter the Great’s spectacular palace, Peterhof, but otherwise were well pleased with the value added of Veronika’s commentary and perspective, not to mention her steering us efficiently to the correct entrances and navigating the entry hurdles. The following day, she squired us around by car to the Catherine Palace and to Catherine’s son Paul’s comparatively modest (but still amazingly sumptous) palace, Pavlosk.
I had a few days off after returning from Russia before returning to work. Gathering up the many documents required to support our application to the co-op board, calling friends to ask for letters of recommendation and going to the bank for cashiers checks filled these few days, as well as occupying my attention in the following weeks leading up to August. While I was still jetlagged enough to schedule a 6 am call with East coast-based Photo Focus editor Kevin Ames, we signed on to trial runs as contributing authors to the on-line photography website. Our friend and fellow photographer Susan Kanfer had been writing for Photo Focus for a year and recommended us to Kevin. Learning we were headed soon to Grand Teton for the eclipse, Kevin assigned me the task of breaking down for readers our eclipse preparations, while Steve tackled getting started in drone photography. Having to assimilate multiple sources of information on the eclipse quickly was very timely, as it was time for us to be making our own preparations and practicing.
In the weeks leading up to our mid-August departure, we geared up for shooting the eclipse. There were e-books to read and new items of equipment to research, order and with which to practice . All of my reading was focused on the upcoming eclipse trip, including Aaron Linsdau’s Jackson Hole Total Eclipse Guide, Alan Dyer’s How to Photograph the Solar Eclipse, and Daryl Hunter’s Grand Teton Photography and Field Guide. All of this obsession paid off, with the total eclipse of August 21, 2017 a veritable grand finale, topping off in spectacular style a most enjoyable week of photographically chasing the light and spotting wildlife. Greg and Sarah joined us from Chicago. Greg, Steve and I headed out most mornings at 5:50 am. Schwabacher’s Landing, which we learned about first from Daryl’s book and later visited with him, became our new favorite Grand Teton shooting site, although our former favorite, Oxbow Bend, had one spectacular cloud show and sunset surprise for us this trip.
We had some incredible wildlife sightings this trip, including a young black bear foraging for berries along a stream on the hike to Taggart Lake, a female moose feeding in the morning at Schwabacher’s Landing, and pronghorn sheep in glorious late afternoon golden light.
We made a series of enjoyable hikes during the week before the eclipse, scouting for a location from which to shoot the celestial spectacle. A small beach on the western shore of Phelps Lake offered the right combination of enough space, a level and comfortable platform, a fringe of trees to shelter us from the sun, remote enough to discourage crowds, (but not so far that we couldn’t easily get there in time with our gear and make it out to the airport in time), and a beautiful foreground scene of lake and forest. The one wrinkle in all of this planning was Steve spraining his ankle hurrying down the stairs early one morning in the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, after we had decided this was our spot. Steve was also convinced that traffic would keep us from making it to the airport in time for our 4:10 pm departure, 3 hours after the end of the second partial eclipse. That’s how it happened that Greg, Sarah and I shot the eclipse as planned from Phelps Lake, which did turn out to be a perfect choice, while Steve camped out at the Jackson Hole Airport (also on the centerline of totality). Ironically, it was Steve who was stuck in standstill traffic for 1.5 hours returning the rental car in Jackson, while the 3 of us breezed down Teton Park Road to a parking space at Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve (admittedly before 6 am). The eclipse itself was a marvelous experience, complete with mysterious shadow bands dancing on the beach before and after totality. The drop in ambient temperature was remarkable, prompting Greg to replace his jacket. The sun at totality was a glittering jewel in the sky, a beautiful, mystical, miraculous sight. All too soon, it was time to break down the gear, muscle it back into the backpacks and hike the 3 miles back to the car. Most of our company at the lake seemed to be picnicking for the day, so we had surprisingly little company on the trail and ran into no significant traffic going to the airport (one of the reasons we selected Phelps Lake was its proximity to the airport, as well as to the centerline of totality). Not only did I make it back in time, I was early, and the airport itself was dead. More detail on the eclipse is available here:
Our turnaround from the eclipse trip to Steve’s 60th birthday Norway trip was unusually tight, just one work week. At least the packing was simplified, as we basically had only to do laundry between trips, both requiring a lot of cold weather clothing, tripods and photography gear.
Our 3 week introduction to Norway had been planned for over a year. Multiple diving friends joined us for this Arctic non-diving safari, including Bob and Debbie, Nancy and Gerry, Lauren and Brad, and Greg and Sarah. Bob and Debbie and Nancy and Gerry preceded our Svalbard trip with a driving circumnavigation of Iceland, while the rest of us spent a few days exploring Oslo prior to heading to the Arctic Circle archipelago. Greg and Sarah and Steve and I added to our collection of Michelin stars with a multi-course molecular extravaganza at Maaemo. The full Oslo write-up is here:
Our voyage on the sailing ship Antigua was organized by NozoMojo (short for Nozomi Takeyabu and Morten Jorgenson), whom we had met in Antarctica in 2015. Ever since our first trip to Antarctica 15 years ago, I had wanted to see its Arctic inverse. It was a most enjoyable 10 day expedition, other than recurrent bouts of seasickness as the ship skirted sketchy weather between ducking into scenic fjords. In the land of eternal light, there was much to like, from dramatic mountain and glacier scenery, to floating icebergs, to sherbet colored, prolonged sunrises.
We had satisfying sessions shooting Arctic foxes, walruses, and reindeer. Our polar bear encounters were more distant than I had hoped for and more terrestrial, but it was wonderful to see these creatures in the landscape. By the cruise’s end, only Northern Lights and polar bears on ice floes were still on my wish list.
Steve, Greg and I followed up the Svalbard segment with a 5 day jaunt to Lofoten, where we were joined by Ilya and Vera, led by Christian and driven by Odd. There we had the mind-blowing aurora borealis experience of our dreams, one clear and windless night on a rock-studded beach.
Lofoten is a cluster of islands joined by bridges and tunnels in an amazing conflagration of granite peaks, plunging down to the waterfront, forming an endless succession of picturesque coves, beaches and fishing villages.
In the lead-up to Norway, we had asked to schedule our New York co-op board interview for Monday, September 18, but when we went off the grid in Svalbard, we still didn’t know for sure if it was going to happen . Hoping to save ourselves a trip across the country just for a one hour interview, I had reworked our return from Oslo, trading in our non-stop 10 hour flight to LA for an 8 hour trip to JFK (90 Euro change fee each), and arranged time off and one way tickets back to San Diego. Thankfully, while in Svalbard, we received confirmation that we hadn’t lugged a set of respectable looking clothes all the way to Norway for nothing.
Stopping in NY on the way back from Norway, we holed up for our short stay with Chris Comstock, a fellow breast imager and co-author on our 2008 Breast Cancer Imaging book back when he still lived in San Diego. It was great to catch up and fun getting to know his new wife, Janice Sung, another Memorial Sloan Kettering breast imager and soon to be mother. We had fun gawking at the panoramic views from their temporary penthouse digs, while talking photo gear with Chris. Steve had his first look at our apartment on Monday morning, while I measured walls to figure out which art pieces might work. That night, after a humid and rainy day, we were back in the apartment for our board interview. Thankfully, it was a pleasure meeting neighbors Pascale, Boris and Peter, not a grilling or painful at all. Later the same evening, we had a “congratulations” text from our realtor Leslie, another hurdle in the NY real estate race overcome!
While in Norway, I finished Curtis Dawkins The Graybar Hotel: Stories, a selection for my bookclub. I had missed the discussion at Sandy’s (the author’s agent) in Julian the afternoon of our evening departure for Norway, but found the writing and backstory compelling.
Back at home, we met Where the Wind Leads author Vinh Chung at a reception hosted by our partner, Amy, whose friendship with the author dates back to their undergraduate days at Harvard. Amy had given me this gripping autobiographical account of Vinh’s family’s story of being ethnic Chinese in Vietnam, transformed by the rise of the Vietcong from being wealthy factory owners into members of a persecuted underclass, who cast their lot on the South China Sea as “boat people”, set upon by Thai pirates, dehydration and near-certain death before being rescued at sea by a World Vision ship.
Around this time, I finished Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, a birthday gift book on CD from Steve’s sister Susan.
We made a return speaking appearance as the guest speakers at the North County Photographic Society, showing underwater images, as well as eclipse and Northern Lights images from our recent trips. Lauren and Brad, and Elena and John turned up, as did Mike and Mariana, who we hadn’t seen in ages, prompting us to head afterwards to Kaito for a sushi catch-up meal.
Our friend Gail, foodie and cook extraordinaire, gave us and mutual friends Janet and John a sous vide cooking demonstration. Greg had been extolling the virtues of sous vide cooking for years, but Gail succeeded in demystifying it for us. Joule joined us in the kitchen in time to cook with Greg, and Dave and Rasa, who came in the following weekend for Steve’s 60th birthday. Dave and Rasa masterminded shitake risotto and brussel sprout side dishes, while Steve commandeered the duck breasts to further explore Joule’s capabilities. It was a feast!
The big birthday celebration was a historic event, the first time attention-averse Steve has ever let me throw him a birthday celebration. This resulted from our getting carried away bidding at a benefit auction for Lux Art Institute earlier in the year. We bid up a dinner in a private room at Pamplemousse. On the cusp of dropping out, the auctioneer asked chef Jeff Strauss if he wouldn’t give away two such dinners, if we matched the winning bid. It was a fun evening, with a mix of friends from all different facets of our lives.
We caught some excellent and interesting theatre in the fall. At La Jolla Playhouse, “Wild Goose Dreams” brought the divide between North and South Korea into focus, against a real-life backdrop of Stump’s disturbing rhetoric, seemingly egging on North Korea in a frightening escalation of military threats. Two lonely people, one a “goose father” (who works in Korea while his wife and daughter live in US in order for his daughter to be educated there) played by James Kyson, and the other, a North Korean defector played by Yunjin Kim, meet through an Internet dating site, trying to assuage their isolation. An interesting feature of this play by South Korean playwright Hansol Jung was the use of a Greek chorus-like a cappella choir to bring to life the Internet itself.
Consecutive early October weekends saw us down at the Old Globe, catching a new musical, “Benny & Joon” and a one man show, “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey”. ‘Benny & Joon” was an appealing tale of young adult brother and sister, bound together by being orphaned and by Benny’s overprotectiveness as his schizophrenic sister’s caretaker. Their lives are upended by Sam, a withdrawn movie buff oddball. Sam was brilliantly played by Bryce Pinkham, in a role in which he acts out scenes from favorite films, with flawless accents and impersonations, as well as dances and sings with astounding grace.
“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” resulted from the absolute brilliance of James Lecense, as both writer and actor, enacting characters from a New Jersey shore town drawn together as a detective pieces together an investigation into the mysterious disappearance of a flamboyantly gay teenage boy. He plays characters ranging from teenagers, an elderly German clockmaker, a hard-boiled Jersey detective, Leonard’s beauty salon proprietress “aunt”, her daughter, to a mobster’s widow with astonishing comic timing and verisimilitude, with a minimum of props.
In October, we headed south to Baja, for a long-planned dive trip on the Ambar III, maritime home of Sea Watch’s Mike McGettigan and Sherry Shaffer.
It was a wonderful idyll in the sun, with clear and warm (up to 86 degrees) blue water, combining patches of stonily lush, rarely dived reefs, cunning macro subjects and playful sea lions.
Being in the Sea of Cortez again was something of a homecoming in many ways for us. We first met Greg there, back (we think) in 1993, on Baja Expeditions live-aboard boat, the Don Jose. He was there with a group from Shedd Aquarium. Their leader, Dick Jacoby, had brought a collection of Nikonos Vs and slide film developing chemicals, in multiple styrofoam coolers. At night, we oohed and ah’d over the sea lion images being projected in the daily image review. That experience set the stage for us to eventually (in 1996) take up underwater photography ourselves. It also had been many years since we had seen Mike and Sherry. Our one prior voyage with them was in 2004, our first trip to Socorro. This trip was again organized by our mutual friend Skip, who sadly had to bail at the very last minute, thanks to the wildfires raging in Northern California. We hadn’t been in the water with Phil since all of us were in Galapagos around 2006. Although access to Los Islotes was now more regulated and uncertain until near the end of the trip, its beauty and the grace of the sea lions seemed not to have dimmed through the years.
More underwater images from Baja can be seen here:
Since we generally did 3 dives/day, I managed to finish a couple of books on the boat, namely the play “Angels in America” and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Reading “Angels in America” was prompted by recently considering an investment in the upcoming Broadway revival of “Angels in America” with our friend Gail M. We didn’t get a piece of this action, as it was way oversubscribed, but considering it prompted me to watch the excellent HBO film version and to read the play, which I had missed the first time around. My sister Clarissa had recommended A Gentleman in Moscow as the perfect follow-up-a trip-to-Russia book, and right she was. I loved the wit of the lead character, Count Rostov, whose life as a gentleman in pre-Revolutionary Russia is curtailed by being sentenced to house arrest in reduced circumstances in Moscow’s Metropole Hotel. A miniature history of the passing decades of the evolving Soviet Union is told through this fictional lens in charming fashion. Leading up to our trip to Russia, I read Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich, 2015 Nobel Prize winning journalistic writer, who amasses oral histories, in this case from the generation whose lives were upended by the advent of perestroika. Clarissa was also the source of a searing and fascinating diaristic account of survival in wartime Berlin, A Woman in Berlin. An anonymous 34 year old journalist with some knowledge of Russian recounts in graphic detail the horrors and humiliations suffered by her, her friends and neighbors in the days leading up to and after Berlin fell to the Russians. Most difficult to read was the subjugation of the populace to the victors, including systemic rape, prompting many women (including the author) to ally themselves with higher ranking officers in the Russian army to keep other would-be attackers at bay and to stave off famine.
Two days after returning from Baja, our prolonged New York real estate saga, which began unexpectedly in June, finally came to an end and we successfully closed! Steve began abusing our Amazon Prime account bigtime, sending an avalanche of setting-up-a-household items to his sister Sarah’s in Staten Island in anticipation of our first trip out to organize the apartment. Later that week, I participated as an artist in the Medium Festival of Photography, started 6 years ago by our photographic artist friend, scott b. davis. Steve printed 2 small portfolios for me, one of Havana street scenes, and the other, minimalist landscapes. It was certainly an instructive experience, interacting with editors of photography focused publications and museum curators, evaluating the artistic merits of images and cohesiveness of bodies of work. I ended up with thought-provoking ideas for expanding my photographic repertoire.
This same weekend, Steve had a record second birthday party, this one smaller but equally enjoyable, at Nine-Ten. This party was hosted by dear friends Gail and Ralph, and Miles and Tatiana, as a “make-up” party. Ralph and Gail had been in Europe for our Pamplemousse party, embarking on a Bordeaux bottling project for their 25th wedding anniversary, while Miles and Tatiana had been occupied with the wedding of Tatiana’s son.
Halloween was genuinely scary this year, marked by the terror-motivated truck attack on bikers and pedestrians on the west side of Manhattan. This occurred just blocks from the school where Steve’s sister Sarah works as a nurse, the same bike path I enjoyed with our brother-in-law Jason back in June, on the fateful trip that launched our NY real estate odyssey. Sarah’s school was on lock-down for several hours.
At work, an ongoing debate ensued: to merge, or not to merge with La Jolla Radiology. The most pressing issue on the home front was in Texas. Mama was still living alone, now 81 years old and showing clear issues with short-term memory and increased difficulty mastering new tasks. Where once she taught herself the rudiments of computer literacy, now she seemed befuddled by a dumbed-down, old person simplified smart phone. It was difficult to sort out how much of her resistance to using the cell phone was due to her difficulty with hearing. What was clear was that keeping up the house was increasingly beyond her. Her hoarding tendencies made the house difficult to maneuver through and to keep clean. The night before my arrival, Clarissa stayed at Mama’s and was awakened in the middle of the night by the unmistakable sounds of squeaking. Rodent droppings blended into the floor’s pattern, but the more we looked, the more we found. Mama seemed to think this was a recent development. The clinking sound the droppings made as I vacumned them up suggested otherwise. Ironically, Mama has two cats she adopted, tri-colored Mika (Japanese for 3) and Goldy, also named for his color. We suggested she let them have more free run of the house, although the obstacles in their way would probably limit their effectiveness. Within minutes of my arrival, I found myself taking apart Mama’s Miele vacumn cleaner, which she thought didn’t work well, to find the diagnosis was a full bag.
Talking to her was frustrating.
“Mama, you can’t live like this.”
“What does it matter?-I’m probably only going to live another 5 years.” (She is 81 and her mother died in her 80s.)
We talked, at length, about options, mostly variants on her living closer to one of us, so we could keep a more day-in, day-out eye on her. The only concrete task accomplished during the weekend was taking 2 full carloads of recyclables to the center, complete with magazines from 1999 and junk mail carefully labelled October 2016. We did manage a Tex-Mex fix at Ft. Worth standard Joe T. Garcia’s with my recently widowed friend Margaret. Margaret, her husband Tom and I met in Kenya on Steve’s 50th birthday trip in 2007, and bonded on our final day, touring Isak Dineson’s house and being licked by foot-long tongues at a giraffe reserve in Nairobi. The nearby Kimball Art Museum was hosting a show entitled “Casanova: The Seduction of Europe”, tying together paintings, artifacts and fashions of the 1700s into a compelling tapestry. My bookclub friend Anna Sue and her art historian husband John had traveled to see this show earlier in the year, so I was glad to have a chance to see it and the beautifully proportioned and light-filled spaces of the Louis Kahn building, a perennial favorite.
Clarissa and I also ventured to Fair Park on Saturday night for the Diwali festival, where Clarissa braved a confusing maze of a line in order to procure us masala dosas. On Sunday afternoon, we escaped the pressing concerns of the weekend for a few hours at the Dallas Opera, losing ourselves in the Biblical tale of “Samson and Delilah”, sung by Olga Borodina and Clifton Forbis.
Clarissa and I flew back together to NYC on Monday night. Steve was already there, setting up our cable service, hooking up our Roku box and lining up and knocking down the thousand and one small, but necessary, setting-up-a new-household tasks. For a move-in week that was shockingly cold, we really enjoyed ourselves. We made the rounds of the neighborhood hardware stores. Since we bought the furniture with the apartment, our getting settled work was much accelerated, but there was still paint to touch up and storage to organize, as well as a new refrigerator to research and have installed. In true New York fashion, we researched the fridge options on line, ordered it on a Friday morning and had it delivered and installed on the following morning! We did manage to see a couple of plays during the week, including the luminous “The Band’s Visit” and the sultry “M. Butterfly”, and to meet Chris and Janice’s new baby, Sophie. We even had a mini-apero in the apartment, with San Diego friends Gail and Mel (who wrote one of our 6 letters of recommendation to the co-op board) and Cliff and John (in whose UES apartment I was staying when the apartment search began; our realtor was John’s professional partner, Leslie). Afterwords, we headed nearby to Eli’s Wine Bar, which apparently is a favorite haunt of Met staff (former director Philippe de Montebello was at an adjacent table, with a curator friend of Mel and Gail’s, formerly at the Getty and now at the Met, at another table).
Back home, we finally sampled a few films showing as part of the 18th annual San Diego Asian Film Festival. We had to work during the screening of Clarissa’s friend, Robin Lung’s documentary, “Finding Kukan”, but Jason’s family turned out in force. Charley and Monica met us for a Taiwanese film “The Great Buddha” at UCSD, and we enjoyed catching up with them at Piatti’s afterwards. “The Great Buddha” was a dark tale of corruption with some comic moments, as 2 friends of lowly social stature, a security guard and a recycling collector, entertain themselves watching videos of the sexual exploits of the security guard’s powerful employer. When they stumble on incriminatory video, things heat up. The following weekend, we caught the very funny “The Feels” at MOPA, which was co-written and directed by Jenée Lamarque, who also appears as the sister of one half of a lesbian couple (Constance Wu and Angela Trimbur) celebrating their bacherlorette weekend. The weekend goes off the skids when the group learns one of the brides to be has never had an orgasm. Afterwards, we met Margie and Mike for a culinary-orgasm-inducing meal at The Smoking Goat in Northpark.
In between, I struggled with a miserable head cold, which left me virtually voiceless for nearly a week. Thankfully, I happened to be scheduled to work in mammography most of those days, where we do 2/3 of our work using check-off sheets instead of voice-recognition dictation. By the time Thanksgiving at Doug and Mini’s house rolled around on an unusually warm day, I could actually speak. Three weeks later, just when we thought Steve had evaded my misery, he came down with a nearly identical illness, so we both had to relive it again.
Steve had a 4 day weekend off in early December, so he decamped to Sedona, where he burned out his quads hiking Bear Mountain and skirted authorities doing aerial photography of Sunset Crater. I stayed home, catching up on writing and attending back-to-back 65th birthday parties of our friend, Miles, at Juniper & Ivy one night and his house the next.
Clarissa and Jason came out west from New York the following week. Clarissa came to our book club meeting, hosted by Chandra, newly returned from Peru, who applied Peruvian cooking school techniques in serving us a meal designed around a delicious quinoa dish. The subject of our discussion, Rosemary Ashton’s One Hot Summer (Dickens, Darwin and Disreali and the Great Stink of 1858), came in for criticisms of excessive verbiage, too exhaustive use of archival material and a need for more distillation, but offered fascinating insights into life in Victorian times. Most interesting were to me was the lack of protections from predatory doctors who could be enlisted to put away inconvenient spouses in insane asylums, as well as the limited access to divorce before much needed reforms were made during this period. After a delightful lunch of lobster rolls at Martha and Alec’s, Clarissa, Jason and Jason’s mother Claire joined me at our friend John Ike’s annual holiday fete.
While our own New Yorkers were in transit back east, New York was again struck by a terrorist attack, this one on the passageway connecting Port Authority Bus Terminal with Times Square subway station.
An exceptionally long group meeting in early December, wrestling again with the “to merge or not to merge” question, was the same night as a rare spot of good national news, the election of a Democrat as senator from Arkansas!
We closed out the year in Sedona, stringing together a long weekend before Christmas, a much needed respite from increasingly stressful days at work and despair over the discouraging actions of the national “leadership”, including tax reforms which seem to benefit most those who least need it. Although we were sad to miss Crabby Christmas this year, the chance to get away for some time for reflection, hiking and writing was irresistible. On TV, we marveled at the depiction of seedy Times Square and a rougher New York of the 1970s in The Deuce.
At year’s end, I was still reading Nieve en La Habana (Waiting for Snow in Havana) by Carlos Eire but had made it past page 400 (of 508), reading 2-3 pages/night, when I was in town. Evidently, Cuba was still playing on my mind, as I was watching a Netflix series, The Cuba Libre Story, while exercising. I also was working my way through a young French reader version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Steve and I laughed buying Cinepolis tickets on line for The Last Jedi as he qualified for his first senior discount.
Reviewing this year reminds me how fortunate we are for continued good health, enough to travel widely and experience amazement overhead and underwater, in the company of a coterie of wonderful friends and family. Wishing all a wonderful 2018, at home or abroad, in the company of those you cherish!