2019 was an active, hectic, and stressful year. The simmering concerns I had been harboring in recent years about my mother’s living situation came to an abrupt head in the spring. Surprisingly, we managed not to have to cancel any travel plans, despite having to fit in relocating Mama to San Diego from Texas, navigate her through Scripps-MD Anderson for a surprise breast cancer diagnosis and other unplanned life complications. Of course, there never is a convenient time for an unexpected medical diagnosis, so we dealt as best we could and still managed to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary with a solar eclipse, among other highlights. One casualty of these developments was falling hopelessly behind on keeping up with this blog. As a result, this highlights reel will attempt to make up these deficiencies. Since that means this could be long, here’s the short version up front: the bests, the worsts, favorite films and books:
Best polar travel moment:
A mysterious foggy morning in Antarctica in January at Danko. Disembodied glowing icebergs, isolated by fog, a sight so beautiful, I circled the deck repeatedly, shooting with a different rig on each circuit.
Best celestial event witnessed:
The total solar eclipse of July 2, 2019 was made for us, coming as it did one day after our 30th wedding anniversary. We saw it from a vineyard in the Elqui Valley of Chile, a gasp-inducing sight!
Favorite underwater creature (tie):
This was the year of the humpback whale, seeing them fluking while feeding in Antarctica in January, swimming with mothers and calves and vibrating to the song of a male singer in Dominican Republic in March (my solo birthday trip) and snorkeling with mom and calf pairs in September in Rurutu, in the Austral isles of French Polynesia.
Favorite underwater creature (tie):
The delightful dolphins of Rangiroa, in the Tuamotos of French Polynesia.
Best theatre: Hadestown.
I fell hard for Anaïs Mitchell’s haunting off-Broadway cast album in December 2018 and could not stop listening to it. I attended opening night with Clarissa in April and saw it a second time a few weeks later with Steve and want to see it again. And again.
David Byrne’s American Utopia on Broadway was a joyous, life-affirming evening in October.
Parasite, a remarkable tale of two families whose lives become intertwined as the have-not Kims infiltrate the lives of the have-lots Parks. This film launched us on a Bong Joon-Ho trajectory, exploring the Korean director’s filmography and influences.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens wins out for me, over other favorites, including Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat, Julia Alvarez’ In the Time of the Butterflies and Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. Crawdads is an unusual genre-defying melange of a coming of age story, a love story and a mystery, all set in a unique eco-system which is beautifully detailed by a scientific mind.
Worst moment #1:
Learning in Barcelona that Mama’s screening mammogram was highly suspicious and realizing that concurrent with her diagnosis of dementia and imminent move to San Diego, we’d have to treat her for breast cancer.
Worst moment #2:
Learning Mama’s breast cancer was triple negative (aggressive) and so, not eligible for a relatively benign, hormonal treatment strategy.
Least fun trip:
The final one to DFW in early August, to clear our childhood home of sentimental and sensitive items after moving Mama out to California.
Goal for 2019 not achieved, to be recycled in 2020:
Despite having lived in San Diego since 1990, we’ve still never managed to catch a grunion run. We made 2 concerted efforts this year, but the little fish didn’t show up on our appointed shores, so…next year!
2019 started on a hot and humid note, exploring street art in Buenos Aires. We rang in the New Year on a festive note, with our friend Greg, at a much-lauded restaurant (number 19 of the Top 50 restaurants in Latin America) Chila in Puerto Madera, seated at a window table, seeing festive crowds strolling the waterside, with fireworks streaking skyward throughout the evening. We had arrived to Buenos Aires that morning. After an unsuccessful attempt at a recovery nap, we headed out for the afternoon to the famed Recoleta Cementerio, the final resting place of BA’s famous, elite, and notorious, remembered in a collection of lavishly carved and filigreed masoleums.
Our ultimate destination was Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands, the Falklands and South Georgia. This extended Argentine layover was a prelude to the main course. Coming at New Year’s was dicey in terms of sight-seeing, with all museums and stores closed on the holiday, but Steve came up with a 3 hour Buenos Aires street art walking tour.
Matt, an English journalist, founded BA Street Art to highlight and promote a rich urban artistic environment in BA, collaborating with local and international artists in BA and abroad.
Funds raised from the walking tours go toward making artist’s projects a reality, with help provided ranging from identifying suitable walls to negotiating with building owners (and sometimes the city) and even providing paint and materials.
As Greg lamented as the packing for this trip took place in December: “I think we’re heading to 12 of the 13 climate zones.” It was 80 degrees, at least, and humid-we were dripping by the end of the afternoon walk from Colegiales to Palermo Soho, where we were staying.
We had a half-day city tour scheduled for the morning of our final day in BA, with a guide and driver, who zipped us from the Recoleta Cementerio to downtown and La Boca.
We ended back at Puerto Madero, steps from where we had dined 2 nights before at Chila. Greg had mentioned at dinner there was a cool looking bridge which he could see from his window seat. We were opposite him and completely missed that there was a Calatrava bridge a few steps away! Thanks to our city tour, we did get to see Puente de la Mujer after all.
Xavier was also a good source of recommendations for Argentine films we didn’t know, including Bombón: El Perro, Historias Mínimas and The Official Story. On our return home, we were only able to find The Official Story, which won Best Foreign Film Academy award. The 1985 film stars Norma Aleandro as a married history professor, Alicia, who slowly begins to suspect her adopted daughter Gaby may be the daughter of a desaparecido (one of the thousands of political opponents of the Argentine dictatorship who were disappeared and presumably tortured and killed during the years of the last military dictatorship of 1976-83). Her successful husband, played by Hector Alterio, arranged the adoption and discourages his wife from asking too many questions. A reunion with a longtime friend, back from exile in Europe, reveals that her friend (played by Chunchuna Villafañe) had been detained and tortured for her connection to a former lover, who opposed the regime. During her ordeal, she had seen pregnant women leave to deliver but return without their babies. This information opens an inexorable line of questioning for Alicia.
In the movie, Alicia encounters white-scarfed protestors in the Plaza de Mayo, members of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo organization which began weekly marches on Thursdays in 1977, in front of the presidential building, the Casa Rosada. These women, mothers of a desaparecido, banded together to demand answers from the government as to the whereabouts of their children. They wore white head-scarfs, recalling children’s diapers and marched with signs showing their child’s photo and name. We visited the site with Xavier, who told us the women still march on Thursday afternoons. Changes in legislation and DNA testing have produced answers for some, while many still languish in limbo.
The intense humidity culminated in the afternoon in pouring rain. We waited it out eating hamburgers on Avenida de Mayo, down the street from Palacio Barolo, which interested me for its Art Deco architecture, its Divine Comedy symbolism and the panoramic view from the lighthouse tower. It was commissioned by an Italian immigrant, Luis Barolo, who engaged an Italian architect named Mario Palanti. Completed in 1923, Dante’s Divine Comedy provides the organizing principle for the structure, which was the tallest building in South America until 1935.
The 22 floors (reflecting 22 stanzas of the work) are divided into 3 sections, representing hell (basement and ground floor), purgatory (floors 2-14) and heaven (floors 15-22).
The building’s height of 100 meters references the 100 cantos of The Divine Comedy.
One has to work to gain entrance to heaven, at least in Palacio Barolo. The elevator goes only so far, and then there are stairs to mount, higher and higher to heaven, a still-working lighthouse and a panoramic view of Buenos Aires.
After 3 days in BA, we were off to a more pastoral Argentina, an estancia, for a taste of gaucho lifestyle. It was a very stylish and lush polo pony farm 1.5 hours from Buenos Aires called La Bamba de Areco. Our 2-night stay at this Relais et Chateaux property, with 11 rooms named for polo ponies, was a complete contrast to the urbanity of BA. If it hadn’t been for the voracious mosquitoes who had their way with both me and Greg, we might not have wanted to leave the beautifully landscaped and appointed property, which mixed contemporary photographic portraits of gauchos with rustic and elegant decor. Lunches were served al fresco under a covered veranda with cocktail hour and dinner inside. I rather doubt most gauchos enjoy a lifestyle as luxurious as we enjoyed, but we did get feel for the close relationship between a gaucho and his horse at the daily after-lunch demonstration. This was both interesting and unsettling, with the gaucho performing some maneuvers on the horse that resembled Thai massage (having yoga performed on you). Other components of the demonstration bordered on the erotic, with the gaucho spooning with the horse.
It was certainly riveting. We passed on actually riding ourselves, passing the time walking down to the river, photographing the green parrots and a Chimango caracara.
I managed to work in a massage and swim during our stay. Steve and Greg did a little shopping in the nearby hamlet of San Antonio de Areco.
Nancy and Gerry were already in Ushuaia a few days when we arrived the day before embarkation.
We took their suggestion of hiring their cab driver to take us to Tierra del Fuego National Park on our free morning. Calli drove us from trailhead to trailhead, letting us sample the park’s offerings, including the Costera Trail, a shoreline walk which reminded me of Monterrey, with rugged twisted Guindo trees along a jagged coastline.
Short walks took us along forming peatbogs to Laguna Negra and beaver activity (apparently a local scourge) was evident along Del Turbal (Peatbog), and Castorera (Beaver Lodge) trails. Calli deposited us back in town after 5 hours at La Cantina de Freddy where we were finally able to indulge in the local king crab specialty.
Our 3 weeks aboard the all-suite Sea Spirit were a blast, revisiting the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula.
The boat was very comfortable, with all-too-excellent and abundant food to tempt one morning, noon and night.
We lucked out with smooth crossings, good company, wonderful wildlife and splendid scenery.
The antics of penguins and their chicks kept us amused and the fluking of feeding humpback whales kept our motor drives humming.
Getting back in the swing of things at month’s end, Jann hosted a lively book club meeting, serving a delicious Morrocan lamb tagine. The evening’s book selection Educated by Tara Westover stimulated a lively conversation and was well regarded by the group.
San Diego experienced an unusually cold, wet and rainy month. Biking to work in the mornings was curtailed and when we were able to ride, we had to add yamulke helmet liners and additional gloves to combat the 38 degree chill in the mornings. Our extra-long Antarctica trip mandated a 5-straight workweek stretch, further filled in by spending one weekend up in Long Beach at the 2-day LARS (LA Radiologic Society) meeting.
So, when the annual Sedona International Film Festival rolled around at month’s end, we were very ready for a break and change of scenery. It had been an exceptionally busy month at work, complicated for me on nuclear medicine by the PET scanner going down for a full week and us transitioning over to dictating nuclear cardiology studies with Epic.
Arriving late on Friday after working, getting to the house was an adventure. Sedona was just digging out from a record-breaking snowfall, which set a new single day record of 36 inches up in Flagstaff. As we approached the house, the roads became sketchier. Our street wasn’t plowed. A single car trail down the center of the street enabled us to make it almost all the way to the house, finally spinning to a stop just shy of our driveway at the end of the road. Shoveling snow at 2 am and trying to free the car was an inauspicious start, but as usual the snow was largely gone within a few days.
This festival offered a highly curated, generally excellent roster of cinema from around the world. You can read my write-up on the week, including capsule reviews of the many excellent films I caught (including 2 French language films in which protagonists eat non-edible objects and 3 films featuring luminescent performances by children) at this link.
Although far from done processing Antarctica images, we hosted an All Antarctica evening, with Nancy and Gerry, their neighbors Jerry and Melba Kooyman (he is a notable penguin scientist), Ivy and Janey (also just back from a comparable trip) and Susan (a veteran of 4 trips to Antarctica). We screened Gerry’s 40-minute film in 2 sessions, sandwiched in between appetizers (Janey’s garlic shrimp and Ivy’s bruschetta) and dinner (Ottolenghi’s chicken and wild rice salad, accompanied by a green salad Susan made) and dessert (mango tart brought by Nancy and Gerry). The following week was highlighted by book club at Ann’s house, including a delicious eggplant and lentil moussaka. Hisham Matar’s The Return earned abundant praise from our group.
March meant another birthday for me, the last year of my 50s, providing an excuse for signing on for a lone spot for a single female on a trip with Tanya and Kevin back to Silver Bank, between the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos, winter birthing and nursery grounds for migrating Northern Atlantic humpback whales. This delightful adventure is detailed here: https://aperturephotoarts.com/silver-bank-wheres-whaledo-march-2019/
I wrote up my photographic experiences swimming with and photographing the humpbacks in 2 articles for Photofocus (links are here and here), which later spawned an invitation to do a podcast with landscape photographer and workshop leader Kirby Flanagan.
Wanting to learn more about the Dominican Republic and its tumultuous history led me to two of the best books I read this year: La Fiesta del Chivo (The Feast of the Goat) by Mario Vargas Llosa and In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. The Feast of the Goat is a fictionalized account of the final chapter in the decades-long dictatorship of Rapheal Trujillo. Increasingly desperate measures against civilians and activists such as the Mirabal sisters (Las Mariposas or Butterflies) by Trujillo’s henchmen led ultimately to his assassination.
Arriving back late on a Saturday night, I missed the annual La Jolla Playhouse gala, but made it back in time for a day seminar at MOPA with Eddie Soloway, a nature photographer whose name I knew from Santa Fe Workshops. He was an engaging speaker, managing to keep me from flagging, even returning from the Caribbean at the equivalent of 2 am the night before!
I was off again the next weekend, this time to Washington DC, combining a family meet-up with my siblings with a 2-day intensive prostate MRI course. The weather warmed up and the cherry blossoms were in bloom. I enjoyed reconnecting with Javier and Lori, who we dove with in Cuba in 2015, over a Laotian meal at Thip Khao.
Two weeks later, I was flying back East on another red-eye, again solo. This trip was to attend the long-awaited opening of Hadestown, a folk operatic musical reimagining of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Little did I know that I was embarking into my own trip into a medical hell as a guide to my 83-year old mother. It was to be an eventful spring, including trips to NYC, Barcelona and hell, detailed here:
The rest of June after the Tony Awards left just enough time to squeeze in a couple of concerts before packing in earnest for our long-planned and awaited 30th wedding anniversary celebration trip to Chile, organized around the July 2 total solar eclipse, one day after our anniversary. We met Irina and Lev downtown for another offering of the San Diego Jewish Arts Festival, Perla Batalla singing Leonard Cohen songs. The next night, I met up with Barbara at the Belly Up for a performance by another favorite female vocalist, Lucinda Williams. To celebrate the 20 year anniversary of her classic album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, the band performed the entire album, in order. It was another great musical evening.
And then, the packing started in earnest, interrupted only by my taking an hour to be interviewed by Kirby Flanagan for his ongoing podcast series, Photographing the West. Kirby contacted me after reading the articles I had written for Photo Focus about photographing humpback whales in Silver Bank. You can listen here.
I was most ready for a vacation by the time this trip rolled around. It had been in the planning in earnest since April 2018. For the eclipse itself, this was a late start. Hotels were booked solid throughout La Serena, Coquimbo and the Elqui Valley. We found an apartment through booking.com in Coquimbo, only to have them cancel on us a few months before the eclipse, claiming “earthquake damage”. Another apartment had become available in La Serena. It looked adequate if not inviting. Our accommodations before and after made up for it, especially our stay at Awasi in the Atacama Desert.
The eclipse itself was spectacular, a glittering orb in the sky over a picturesque reservoir rimmed by hills. We saw it from a family-owned winery, making a new friend along the way, Jorge. I wrote up the experience for Photofocus in a 2-part article, here and here.
Summer weekends at home in July passed quickly. One started with a catch up dinner with Mel and Gail over Oaxacan food and mezcal influenced cocktails at Tahona Bar in Old Town. I spent an idyllic Saturday at Rancho La Puerta with Vivian, while Steve redeemed my 19 year old Audi S4 from the shop, outfitted it with new tires and washed it. On Sunday, we updated Mama’s look with new glasses at Warby Parker, after an oh-so-satisfying Taiwanese dumpling lunch at Din Tai Fung in UTC. The weekend was capped off at La Jolla Playhouse by a riveting 3-actor play by Melissa Ross, The Luckiest, in which an electrifying Aleque Reid as Lissette receives a life-altering diagnosis and navigates her way with her best friend Pete (Reggie D. White) and caustic mother (Deirdre Lovejoy).
The first weekend of August was a marathon 4 day long melée of sorting, shredding, pitching and packing up Mama’s house in DFW, trying to empty it enough to put the house on the market. Clarissa, Carlton and I were at it until it was time to leave for the airport. The only scheduled fun was a trip into Dallas to the art museum to catch the Dior show, followed by a meal at James Beard honoree Petra and the Beast. Meanwhile, Carlton drove 3 hours over the state line to Louisiana, arriving too tired to play poker, his preferred game, but he cleaned up at the slots. The rest of the time was filled with us taking turns shredding financial statements and property tax bills back to the 1990s. Carlton was tasked with making innumerable trips to the recycling center and the local thrift stores with carload after carload. All this despite Fumie having made a Herculean effort to dispose of clothes, yarn, fabric, kitchenware and the detritus of a lifetime of living in the same house. I took my clothes for the weekend in a Longchamp Plier bag, nestled inside a rolling duffle, stuffed inside a huge rolling suitcase of more rigid construction. I returned with both of the large extra bags full, including more photo albums, old letters and pictures, some books, CDs and DVDs and Mama’s computer, just barely keeping the larger bag below the 70 pound weight limit.
Both of the real estate agents we interviewed had the same idea what price the house (in deplorable condition and needing foundation shoring up and down-to-studs remodeling) might fetch. We called the first name on a list Fumie had accumulated for us of neighbors interested in the house. A nice couple across the street who renovate houses professionally wanted this one. Within a few hours, they made us a solid, all cash “as is” offer which we accepted without even bothering to call the other interested prospects.
I managed to finish a few books while procrastinating about packing for a local dive trip, including preparing my new drysuit by trimming the seals, one painstaking ring at a time. The most therapeutic of these books was a 3rd reading of New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s memoir of caring for her elderly parents, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? I practiced my Spanish with slender volumes of Pablo Neruda poetry brought back from Chile, including a bilingual version of 1924’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada). My selection for the dive trip itself was Isabel Allende’s 1982 debut novel The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus). I found a literary soulmate in Clara, who obsessively journals her life, so her family can later connect the threads of seemingly unrelated events.
We hosted a family and friends dinner when Clarissa and Jason came to San Diego. Jason’s mother Claire, and his brother Alec and Alec’s wife Martha joined us, as well as our Japanese-speaking friend Joe and Mama. To combat Mama’s complaints of being bored at Ohana, I had started engaging Joe to take Mama on occasional outings. While I was in DFW working on Mama’s house, Joe took her with him to the O-bon celebrations in Balboa Park. We put together a Mexican-themed dinner of pork picadillo in tortilla cups, Tony’s Jacal cabbage salad and Mexican rice, supplemented with Joe’s guacamole, Andrea’s watermelon gazpacho and Martha’s apple cobbler.
We made it back into our local waters for a 5-day Channel Islands trip on the Vision. Bob and Debbie joined us from Hawaii, as well as Nancy and Gerry. The year before, I had been determined to return to the kelp forest after a too long absence, but still needed to get up to speed with my new drysuit. Our conditions (green water, surge, poor visibility) weren’t optimal but we did have some good encounters with curious, huge black sea bass, as well as too brief buzzes by sea lions. We were limited where the boat could go by the Navy closing San Clemente that week for diving.
September began with a bang, literally. We were in Sedona for a week beginning with Labor Day weekend. The peace and quiet of Labor Day was shattered in the morning by a deep, echoing BOOM which ricocheted through the forest. Sadly, my first thought was a gunshot. Steve conjectured thunder, then reconsidered. My next idea was a firecracker, since it was a holiday weekend. Steve rejected that notion due to the pitch of the sound. It wasn’t until I tried to flip a light on and Alexa failed to respond that we realized the electricity was out. That made more sense, a blown transformer.
Unable to make coffee, we headed out for a short hike from the house, climbing up Picnic Rocks and heading down Cibola Pass to return. Our phones started chattering with texts and pings, friends (Monica, Susan, our neighbor Don, even our occasional driver Howard) inquiring if we were OK and hopefully not in the Channel Islands. We were horrified to learn the Conception dive boat, sister ship to the Vision, from which we had just disembarked a week before, was on fire near Santa Cruz Island. As the news filled in, it became worse and worse. The passengers were below decks. Crew members, who sleep on an upper deck, had been rescued. By the time we returned from the hike, a fuller account of the devastation was emerging: a mayday call in the wee hours of the night, the boat engulfed in flames and later sunk, with only the bow protruding, with 33 guests and a crew member missing, apparently suffocated. We were reeling from the news, as was the rest of the dive community. We had been on the Vision so many times, we scarcely listened anymore to the safety briefing. I could clearly see the dark, narrow passageways below decks of the sleeping quarters, with one main staircase down and a narrow escape hatch on the opposite end. We vowed to look more critically at escape hatches in the future, lest the unthinkable actually happen again.
Thankfully, we had houseguests to force our minds, at least for a while, off the tragedy. Fellow Mallinckrodt resident Jon, his wife Mayde and their daughter Phoebe joined us. Our days were occupied with red rock hikes from the house to our local landmarks, the Devil’s Kitchen sinkhole and the Seven Sacred Pools, with another day devoted to perennial favorite West Fork of Oak Creek.
We evaded the heat with a trip up to Flagstaff, fortifying ourselves with lunch at Diablo Burger before heading north to Sunset Crater and Wupatki.
Ottmar Liebert, the flamenco guitarist, was the stimulus for this meet-up. Jon had texted me earlier in the summer that Ottmar would be performing in Sedona and I was delighted his concert would be while we were there. From this text emerged a plan in which the Wieners would take their son Morley back to school in LA, then visit friends in Phoenix and then meet us in Sedona. Ottmar’s music has a particular resonance for their family, as Jon and Mayde were at an Ottmar Liebert concert when Mayde first felt fetal Phoebe stirring inside her.
During this same week, our longtime tenant Christina introduced us by text to part-time neighbors Gail and Bob, a delightful couple from Santa Barbara, who share our love of travel (Gail is a travel agent specializing in Africa). Our San Diego friend and glass artist Deanne Sabeck was in town and we caught up over breakfast after seeing the Wieners off in a grand finale of vortex touring, lunch riverside at L’Auberge and a tour of high and low Sedona architecture (Chapel of the Holy Cross and neighbors).
Back in San Diego, there was a flurry of activity before the serious work of packing for French Polynesia began. We had catch up dinners with friends, I made it to ikebana for the first time in a year and we hosted a table at the Australia-themed MOPA gala. The theatrical highlight was The Coast Starlight, by Keith Bunin, set on a train traversing the west coast. The interactions the passengers have or imagine having with each other highlight the importance of connection, a theme resonate with my concurrent re-reading of E.M.Forster’s Howard’s End, stimulated by hoping to see Matthew Lopez’ homage on Broadway, The Inheritance.
The morning of departure day for French Polynesia included meeting with Mama and a traveling notary to sign papers to finalize the sale of the family home. Reconnecting with Internet in Papeete, Tahiti the following morning kicked off the trip right for me, confirming the sale successfully closed.
We were 13, organized by Cindi Laraia of Dive Discovery, including Greg, Barb, Les, Lois and Richard, Linda and Terry, Terrie, Quentin and Kate. We had been so enamored of our prior year’s trip to Rangiroa and Fakarava that we called Cindi on the ride home from LAX to sign up for this trip, which also featured a segment devoted to swimming with humpback whales in Rurutu. We stayed 2 days on Tahiti, one traversing the island in an open-back vehicle and the other diving the White Valley, before heading for 5 nights in Rurutu at a charming family-owned pension (Le Manotel) with lush gardens. We had 4 mornings dedicated to searching out humpbacks, and succeeded on 2 mornings in finding tolerant mother and calf pairs in splendidly clear turquoise water.
Terrie, Cindi, Les and I were the only takers for the physically challenging climbing required to scale a limestone monolith punctuated with craggy limestone caves. A scenic drive around the island another afternoon gave the others a taste of this topography, including a visit to “Mitterrand’s cave”.
The next segment was a return for Steve, Greg and me to Rangiroa, again staying in Le Relais de Josephine. Steve and I were ensconced in the same ocean-front bungalow, which I enjoyed even more this trip, falling asleep to the restless seething sounds of the channel. Dolphins greeted us there the very first afternoon, favorably predicting the regular visitations and encounters we were to have over the next 4 days diving the channel.
The friendly and interactive local dolphins had been a primary motivator for me to return and were an inconstant and unpredictable thrill again.
Our final stay was in north Fakarava at Pearl Havaiki. We had loved the wall of sharks of south Fakarava during the prior year’s trip during the late June grouper spawning, so this was an alternate Fakarava experience. We made one 1+ hour trip by boat to do 2 south Fakarava dives, but the milky visibility was disappointing compared with the clarity we encountered before. The sharks were still present and numerous, just a little more distant and harder to shoot.
That said, we enjoyed our 2 days of diving north Fakarava, with mantas cruising the edge of the drop-off, a huge goatfish school and lots of cleaning activity.
Our stay there was tempered by our sadness at Greg’s departure toward the end of our stay in Rangiroa. His father had become critically ill in the weeks leading up to the trip and for many days, it looked like Greg would not be able to come at all. His father did respond initially to a full court press of medical interventions and was the one who urged him to go. He seemed to be holding his own, his condition waxing and waning. When he decided to pursue palliative care, Greg decided to curtail his trip but to our collective surprise, found he could not fly out for 2 more days. Sadly, his father died the night before Greg’s rescheduled departure.
Mid-October found us in glorious fall weather in NYC for a whirlwind of visiting with friends, theatre and walks in Central Park, which became more colorful day by day during this stay. We had work waiting for us in the apartment, which had been repaired since a leak from upstairs in the spring. Small artworks came with us in suitcases, and larger pieces had been delivered and were waiting to be installed. A new sleeper couch for the living room and new stone tops to dress up the living room tables arrived, as had fabric to recover the dining room chairs. We intersected with Jon and Mayde, back from celebrating his 60th birthday in Europe, dining at Vaucluse Omar and trading UES apartment tours. Another evening, we enjoyed the new David Chang Noodle Bar at Columbus Circle before taking in Sugimoto Bunraku, part of Lincoln Center’s White Lights Festival.
Miles and Tatiana were finishing their Wine Experience week, so we overlapped long enough to meet up and brunch at Jean-George Vongerichten’s eponymous Jojo. When they headed to the airport, we took in Slave Play, a searing, disturbing and fascinating work by Jeremy O. Harris. I had read the script, considering an investment in it and had decided it was compelling enough to see but risky as an investment.
Our favorite entertainment of the week was a joyous David Byrne musical spectacle, American Utopia. Another excellent meal was enjoyed at a mini-reunion with Greg, in from Chicago, and Les, a new friend from our French Polynesian idyll, in the speak-easy swanky setting of Frevo. This same trip had introduced us to Barb, sister of a long-lost medical school friend of Steve’s, Jane, who we lunched with at Korean small plates favorite, Danji, before taking in the affecting drama The Height of the Storm, starring Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins as a long-married couple in the twilight of life. We also visited Chris and Janice for lunch and to meet their adorable new baby girl. Chris came over later with his photographer friend Alex, en route to scout out Central Park for a medium format shoot-out. We also caught up with UWS friends we met in Antarctica, Ted and Yasi, and their 2 lively boys, for pizza one evening. In the midst of all this, I devoted 2 days to attending the NAMT festival (North American Musical Theater), a showcase of musicals in development, seeing 45 minute versions of 8 productions, as well as musical numbers from 4 more. It was a crazily packed but wonderfully good time!
We decided to split up our week off, starting in NY and transferring mid-week to Sedona. An invitation from Sing Out Louise Productions to a reading of their musical in development, Indigo, spurred me to arrange an extra Friday off in order to make it to NY in time. Although the red eye was the usual misery, compounded by not being non-stop (thanks to the grounding of the 737 Max aircraft), I didn’t have any difficulty staying awake, even after only a few hours sleep. Our friend Kathy came in from Pennsylvania for the reading, giving us a chance to have lunch afterwards at Becco. We both found the piece very moving. Indigo is centered on an autistic child who enters a family’s life after her father’s death. The family includes Elaine, a senior in the early throes of Alzheimer’s.
Saturday was even more theatre-intensive. For me, the afternoon was devoted to Part 1 of The Inheritance. I had read the script while considering investing in the 2-part London import, even re-read E.M.Forster’s Howard’s End, which Matthew Lopez riffs on and to which he pays homage in The Inheritance. Organization is provided by a character known as Morgan, based on Forster himself. I was spell-bound by the 3+ hour performance, so much so I was sorry I hadn’t requested house seats for Part 2 the same evening.
But we were already scheduled to see To Kill a Mockingbird in the evening. We missed the original cast by a few weeks, but didn’t feel we suffered seeing this version. Ed Harris was a creditable Atticus Finch. We caught up with Lenny and Arleene, taking in the Salon: Art+Design show at the Park Armory one day and seeing Bong Joon-Ho’s much lauded film, Parasite, the next. Another San Diego/NYer friend, architect John Ike, joined us for an early dinner at Via Carota, before we sprinted off to see The Half-Life of Marie Curie at nearby Minetta Lane Theater. Another visual highlight of the week was catching Edmund de Waal’s porcelain and steel contemporary installations juxtaposed with the Old Masters of the Frick.
The second half of the week was equally delightful. Our friend Dave flew in from Seattle and met us in the Phoenix airport. We spent the next 4 days hiking (Little Horse, West Fork, the Bell Trail and Anthill), eating (Dave’s famous risotto with mushrooms and scallops, Steve’s signature eggplant parmigiana panini with a shaved brussel sprout salad and Butterfly Burger creations) and catching up on movies. Dave joined us to see Adam Driver in The Report, based on the Senate investigation into CIA torture tactics after September 11. He hung out at the house while we took in Grace à Dieu (By the Grace of God), a French film based on real events concerning the search for justice in the aftermath of decades of priestly sexual abuse in the Diocese of Lyon. In the evenings, we dove deeper into Bong Joon-Ho’s filmography, watching on consecutive evenings Snowpiercer, Ojka and Mother, all darkly imaginative, very distinctive works. We continued our streak at home Thanksgiving week, watching The Host and Barking Dogs Don’t Bite on consecutive evenings.
Thanksgiving itself was cold and rainy. We had a cozy homestyle Japanese lunch with Mama and Joe at Okan (appropriately enough, short for okasaan or mother). It was a good weekend for theatre with Asian themes. I went with Vivian to the one man show, Hold These Truths, based on the life of Japanese-American Gordon Hirabayashi. The Japanese-American playwright, Jeanne Sakata, is the daughter of a man interned as a teen. During WW II, Gordon defied the government mandate to evacuate. His case ultimately ended up in front of the Supreme Court. He was superbly played by Korean-American actor Ryun Yu. The following evening was devoted to Lauren Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band, a musical lens through which the fallout from the years of Khmer Rouge terror reverberates. The rest of the weekend was occupied with polishing and uploading images for my upcoming 2-woman show at The Photographer’s Eye Gallery in Escondido, The Tonic of Wildness.
This was a delightfully homebound month, punctuated with very fun holiday parties. The month included birthday parties celebrating Mile’s and Jack’s birthdays, John Ike’s annual harbor-light viewing party and Crabby Christmukkah with the Bryans, in which epic exchanges wrestled ownership of valuable prizes from one potential owner to another, including a sequined mermaid’s tail and a pair of very special aprons. We reconnected with Mike and Margie over dinner at the Wine Vault and caught up with Rick and Sandy at their house, and toasted Dave and Gayle’s acquisition of a fabulous and very well preserved Kendrick Bangs Kellogg house.
Christmas Day featured an outing to The Lot with Mama and Joe to see Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, a beautifully rendered version of one of my all-time childhood favorite books.
We closed out the year with a quick trip north, to Seattle for a weekend to hang out with Dave, Rasa and Gedi. A potential theater investment in Mrs. Doubtfire was the impetus for the timing.
We lucked out with sun on Sunday, as we walked a Ballard circuit, heading across the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, skirting the Carl S. English Botanical Garden, over to the Sunday morning farmer’s market, brunching at Portage Bay Cafe (great chorizo and carnitas green mole burrito!) and checking out the year old National Nordic Museum.
We broke with our tradition of being house-bound mole rats on New Year’s Eve to step out to a fabulous celebration and entrée into the new decade hosted by Ellen and David in their beautiful aerie overlooking Balboa Park. Munching on caviar blinis à la Tatiana, champagne curated by Miles and abundant and delicious sushi, we entered 2020 with wonderful friends, new and old, mindful of our great good fortune to have health, happiness and friends who amplify our enjoyment of all life has to offer.