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One year ago this month, I was making plans to attend the annual Tucson Gem Show but instead purchased an airplane ticket to fly to Denver, Colorado in the dead of winter to visit an uncle I’d only met twice in my life.
He was in the ICU, riddled with cancer/COPD. My mom had called to say he was in bad shape. She’d flown there not long before but wasn’t planning to return just yet. So, it was daunting to imagine just showing up there myself, basically a stranger, barging in at the hospital at such a stressful moment.
Financially it was a tough time too. My husband’s company had just quasi-imploded and buying a plane ticket to fly to Denver for the wknd wasn’t ideal. But a friend (lifesaver, goddess) who’d grown up not far fr my uncle had moved back not long before and offered to let me stay with her.
So I got on the plane and went.
My uncle lived his whole life in the Denver area, originally with a first wife and their two kids, then with his second wife who I’d met – along with my first cousins – for the first time 10 years earlier. I was so nervous I sent my aunt a text, too hesitant to actually make the call.
In thinking back, I realized that, as an adult, I’d never reached out to build relationships of my own with these relatives. Since I’d only met them once or twice in my life our connection was tenuous – the occasional email, holiday or birthday – really, I wasn’t even aware of missing it because it hardly felt there.
I flew out on a sunny, gorgeous, 80 degree day (rare) into cloudy, freezing, 30 degree Denver – caught the last shuttle to my downtown rental car and drove straight to the hospital. My aunt, who’d only met me once for a couple of hours 10 years earlier, somehow managed to bee-line down the quiet halls to welcome me giving me a big hug. She led me to the ICU where – although I’d been warned of his condition – the shocking multitude of tubes, masks, machines with my uncle at the center, a giant oxygen mask in lieu of a face.
I froze, feeling like an intruder. (Sidenote: this, oddly, reminded me of the time we bought our newborn home fr the hospital. Lying there, vulnerable, waiting for her first bath, she looked at me and I felt like I should ask permission.) But he roused himself, slowly pushing the oxygen mask to one side and, with a small smile said ‘well, hello!’ And just like that the process of slowly getting to know each other began.
He asked details about my life, how my husband and daughter were, what was I doing at work. We realized we had interests in common we hadn’t been aware of. He told me about himself, about what he and his wife both enjoyed doing, about being a hellraiser in his earlier days, race cars, salt flats, backyard BBQs.. He talked about his love for his children & grandchildren, what they were all like. He talked about his best friend, Larry, who he said was the best most loyal friend a guy could have. Saying this actually told me more about him, how he was the kind of person who inspired fierce loyalty and love. He was funny, wry, kind, thoughtful, REAL. Even in his incredibly compromised state, a mischievous sparkle shone in those eyes.
I noticed that his wife seemed to anticipate his needs before being asked and would simply attend to them. The two of them seemed completely in synch –their habit of finishing each other’s thoughts, comfortable in each other’s company – and yet entirely welcoming. I recognized in him something I remembered my mom saying when I was a teenager. I’d asked her “if you could name just one rule people should live by, which would it be?” and she said “try to never intentionally make people feel bad“.
My folks decided to fly out after all, so we all visited together – talking, laughing, sharing stories, (sneaking in some contraband diet 7ups) – and by the end of the weekend, miraculously, he seemed much improved. When it was time to go we all talked about making future plans once he got out of the ICU.
I went home and wrote him a long letter telling him how much I enjoyed visiting with him, his wife, daughter, and grandchild, and how sad it was that we were only just starting to get to know each other, but hey! better late than never. He wrote back a beautiful and generous note, agreeing how great it would be to stay in touch, and how glad he was too to have reconnected.
A month later my mom called to tell me he had had a sudden relapse and, subsequently died. He was 59.
One year later, I’m thinking how incredibly lucky we were to have shared those few final beautiful moments together at the hospital, swapping stories, laughter, and tears, and how happy I am that I decided to reach outside my comfort zone to try to connect. Don’t hesitate – just do it. You’ll be glad you did.
Happy New Year & Happy Epiphany!
Once again I offer my list of 10 or so favorite things from 2016* which I hope bring you as much pleasure as they brought me.
May these suggestions lead you & your loved ones to more wonderful opportunities to live ever better ~
A word about this list: COMMUNITY
This is not meant to be ‘pro-consumerism’, rather it is meant to introduce wonderful high quality – predominantly local – resources you may have yet to come across. So.. have at it, folks!
*Caveat emptor As always, advance apologies for any incompatibility or disagreement you may experience in accepting one/any/all of the following suggestions.
With that said, let’s begin…
- Boonville Hotel & Table 128– Nirvana. Shangri La. HEAVEN. Casual, cozy, luxe. Summer Sundays’ Oyster Bar & Paella fest is the place to be. Minutes fr a bevy of wine tasting options. Don’t miss Navarro and Philo Apple Farm ‘s stay & cook getaways.
- Carmel-By-The-Sea’s fantastic new-ish Italian Restaurant Il Tegamino– sigh. Don’t miss the polpette bar. Sitting outside in the tiny charming courtyard = quite lovely (just say YES to heat lamps). Walk-in only, but well worth the drive.
- Bulletproof coffee @ Mission Heirloom. mold-free coffee beans + grass fed Straus butter + brain octane = your perfect day’s start. Say no more.
- Sure, we all Can’t Feel Our Face When I’m With You, but have you ever stopped to wonder exactly what other The Weekend lyrics you or the impressionable young mind sitting in the passenger seat is hummingflubbing along with? Clyfford Stumme, The Popstar Professor, to the rescue! In this new post-fact era, I appreciate his desire to seek out meaning and understanding in the sounds that surround us every day.
- KALW The Spot – Sunday @ 2PM Ashleyanne Krigbaum’s fabulous weekly storytelling – not to be missed.
- The best most deliciously fabulous therapeutic face serum oil you can possibly find Vintner’s Daughter. Bar none.
- The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) – what better way to take a weeklong vacation (of the mind) – a mere bridge away, without jet lag? Enjoy this glorious far-ranging exploration of independent filmsfr around the world before they hit the big screen (some can only be seen here). Meet & interact with actors, directors, writers from the films and get a deeper understanding of the process. Highlights I recommend:
LaLaLand – sweetly melancholy Emma Stone/Ryan Gosling musical in modern day LA.
Girl Flu – tour-de-force storytelling about one girl’s awkward transition into womanhood. (Juno for middle-schoolers.)
Lion – heartbreaking epic journey, one boy’s search to find his way home after being abandoned 25 years earlier. Dev Patel amazes, Nicole Kidman’s quiet performance shines.
Neruda – a slightly hallucinatory dreamlike meandering exploration of Chilean poet and political activist, Pablo Neruda. In person, Gael Garcia Bernal – utterly charismatic.
Loving – (how did I not know about this case?) Everyone should see this drama about the real life couple living in 1967 Virginia, whose fight to stay together led to the seminal Supreme Court decision invalidating the prohibition of interracial marriage. With rising MAJOR STAR Ruth Negga and a surprisingly nuanced performance fr Joel Edgerton.
…and in case you missed them, go back and watch The Danish Girl (with the sublime Alicia Vikander); Nerve – surprisingly entertaining guilty-pleasure joy ride w sly ++ messaging for teens, and Dope – a super smart sleeper you shouldn’t miss. Unexpected but completely worthwhile and thought provoking.
- Two of my absolute favorite reads this year were connected via the same book reading event in Richmond Point. Frances Dinkelspiel’s Tangled Vines– a riveting account of the origins of California’s winemaking history as told through the lens of the notorious 2005 arson case that destroyed 4.5M bottles of wine; and Elizabeth Roesner’s Electric City– an upstate New York story of the origins of electricity and the convergence of three different elements within that society, and their effects on subsequent generations.
(also a shout out for the lovely French boucherie Olivier’s Butchery in Dogpatch, SF)
- ART: What a year! The Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) – Larry Rinder’s stellar inaugural year re-opened in the Center St. location. Check out the free weekly Wed @ noon lecture series coming up Big Ideas: with Natasha Boas and be sure to grab a bite upstairs at the always stellar & delicious Babette.
Also don’t miss FOGFAIR next weekend 1/12-15 – a top tier design + art fair @ Fort Mason, it will blow your socks off.
A final thought, in memorium.
“During the twelve days, between Christmas and Epiphany, God permits the dead to walk. This is well known.” King Henry VIII to Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
As fortune had it, I came to this page just yesterday and took pause to remember all the greats we lost this past year – David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, Zaha Hadid, Gene Wilder, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, Bill Cunningham, Muhammed Ali…to name just a few. The list felt heavier than usual this past year. If only we could have had them a little bit longer. Hug your loved ones close.
*Deb (Matt & Sadie)
Reciprocity welcomed & encouraged! ~ let’s spread some good news, people!
~ wishing for you in 2017: LOVE in abundance, kindness, vision, happiness, JOY ~
FEEL FREE TO FWD THIS if you know someone who might appreciate it. You can also find me firstname.lastname@example.org
(And if you’re receiving this but wish not to – just drop me a note so I can take you off of the list. No judgment, just my apology!)
Along with Lunar New Year and the coming of spring, tomorrow is Chinese New Year (Gong Xi Fa Cai, Gong Hey Fat Choy!) ushering in the Year of the Goat. Here in the US, this celebration represents a union of East and West, a crossing of cultural lines for those who choose to honor the traditions and rituals (e.g. cleaning, ‘sweeping away the bad luck’ for the year, sharing special meals with family and friends, remembering those no longer with us…) Traditionally, on the night before, people also lit firecrackers to scare away evil spirits, keeping their household doors sealed – not to be reopened until the new morning – in a ritual called “opening the door of fortune” … May you take this opportunity to reach into another culture to find deeper connections and import its richness into your own life.
This week also marks the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition or World’s Fair. Held in San Francisco from February 20th to December 4th, 1915, it was another celebration of union, between the Atlantic and the Pacific, via the Panama Canal, which had just been completed the summer before. The importance of this feat was immeasurable, with its potential to significantly affect trade routes (historically a predictor of mankind’s ability to raise empires or doom civilizations, as I was recently reminded by my Ancient Civ studying 6th grader) in a time prior to the development of commercial aviation (and small commercial drones, natch Amazon). The great city of San Francisco’s civic celebration – rising again after the devastating 1906 earthquake – was also an international celebration, symbolizing world progress.
The exposition showcased a wide range of magnificent architectural and artistic feats (palaces, courts, sculptures, paintings, murals) but the architectural centerpiece (and tallest building by far at 43 stories) was the Tower of Jewels, covered in upwards of 100,000 faceted cut glass jewels. These jewels were known as ‘Novagems’, mirror-backed beauties in 8 different colors, suspended from individual brass hooks, which covered the entire building.
As described in www.SanFranciscoMemories.com: On a few special occasions, they put on an event known as “Burning the Tower” where (according to Todd’s, The Story of the Exposition), “Concealed ruby lights, and pans of red fire behind the colonnades on the different galleries, seemed to turn the whole gigantic structure into a pyramid of incandescent metal, glowing toward white heat and about to melt. From the great vaulted base to the top of the sphere, it had the unstable effulgence of a charge in a furnace, and yet it did not melt, however much you expected it to, but stood and burned like some sentient thing doomed to eternal torment.”
This particular ‘gem’ detail struck a chord, as the company that created Novagems was located in the Phelan Building – a wonderful old SF Flatiron-style building on Market Street, built by a former mayor of San Francisco who was a passionate supporter of the arts. He rebuilt the Phelan Building – housing numerous jewelers and artisans – immediately following the earthquake disaster of 1906, which had badly damaged the original Phelan Building. Over the past century, it’s remained the home of hundreds of jewelers and a prominent jewelry-making school, Revere Academy.
(The purchase by new owners in 2008 eventually led to the evacuation of the jewelers and the school, so the building is no longer the place of creativity long ago imagined for San Franciscans. You can read more about this unfortunate history in a Ganoksin article by Christine Dhein here.)
Wishing you a peaceful, happy and successful New Year ~
Sometimes when listening to music you feel like it’s being hardwired into your system.
Sometimes you hear a voice that’s so pure and beautiful, tears spring to your eyes before you realize – separate fr reason or thought – it’s just your body’s natural emotional response.
Get up early London Sunday morning last November, ready for Paris en route from Heathrow. Grab quick bite, bid farewell to friends, head to airport via Tube (having cleverly bought ticket night before with last 5 Euros).
Safely land @ Charles de Gaulle, figure out quickest Metro to hotel, set out on last 36 hours of journey to City of Light.
Now 4pm, dark and chilly winter Sunday evening, everything about to close. Streets surprisingly barren of people. What to do, what to do…
Architects Carrie and Kevin Burke designed their home to be a time-telling observatory. Sunlight [shown above center] is corseted through a 24-inch glass eye suspended just beneath a skylight, making the living room double as a sundial.
It turns out that this incredible house – designed to be a functional time-telling instrument as dictated by patterns of light – was built by friends of ours, both architects, living in Charlottesville, VA. Their home, featured in Dwell magazine back in 2009, is a living laboratory, slowly but steadily marking the passage of time. The italicized excerpts are from the talented writer of the article, Shonquis Moreno.
In Galileo’s day, men counted their pulses to tell time. In 2 A.D., Ptolemy, who understood more about the movements of the sun and the earth than most of us do today, designed a tool called the quadrant that, by measuring heaven and earth, brought the infinite scale of the universe into the palm of the hand.
The house’s primary mechanism for telling time, however, is an oculus embedded in one side of the roof through which a light beam tracks through the observatory. Forming an indoor sundial, it indicates both the hours of the day and the cycles of the season by alighting on crosshairs and lines marked on the floor with auto detailing tape. Later, the Burkes will fill incisions in the floor with powdered metal to make certain dates permanent: solstices and equinoxes; Carrie and daughter Ava’s August birthdays, when the light licks the edge of the banister; and Kevin’s birthday in January, when the beam rests directly beneath the skylight.
The fascinating article goes on to describe how the layout of the house evolved from them synchronizing their daily cycles with the cycles of the sun, identifying where light would and would not fall, and then situating the building to suit their preferences, depending on the function vs the time of day.
Thinking about the disconnect we feel when the natural cycles of life and light are obstructed and obscured randomly – living in busy cities where an abundance of artificial light glares out on unnatural schedules – it’s no wonder we try to seek relief by ‘getting out of town’ and ‘away from it all’ in order to allow our bodies to regain some sense of their natural rhythms.
I’m incredibly inspired by these folks’ efforts to reclaim a connection to the natural cycles that most of us remain largely unaware of and unattuned to. It’s a wonderful reminder of the importance of connecting deeply to the world around you as often as possible in the course of your daily activities, despite the temptations of ever-expanding technologies which, largely, succeed in merely thwarting our peace of mind.
One of my absolute favorite projects that I’ve been working on for the upcoming show is called “The Candle” – an encaustic piece over a photograph, inspired by a meal I had in London last November on my ‘speed dating Europe’ trip. I found myself with 100,000 soon-to-expire frequent flyer miles and a raging case of wanderlust, so I booked my itinerary for a whirlwind 5 day tour of Chicago, London, and Paris. My plan was to sprint through London for just 1 full day, and I’d hoped to include the most spectacular meal I could get my hands on while there. I figured if I planned a lunch instead of dinner I could probably maximize my budget to be able to afford somewhere a bit nicer. So I google’d ‘Most amazing lunch in London’ and up popped Restaurant Story.
My lunch at Restaurant Story was a life altering meal, one of the most amazing culinary experiences I’ve ever had.
OK, I know – ‘food’s food, and even really fantastic food is still just food’ – but for anyone who proudly identifies with ‘lives to eat’ vs ‘eats to live’, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Food is not just food. Throughout the history of mankind, common to all cultures around the world, food is the glue that holds society together. It’s the fabric our social lives get pieced together from, the basis for how we come together when we come together to celebrate, mourn, discuss, debate, commiserate, nourish, or simply to meet our daily needs. It can be utterly simple or incredibly complex, both can be good; truly, both can be amazing… But as I tell my young daughter, the most important lesson in life (after be kind) is You are what you eat, and while when I say that I’m speaking in a more metaphorical sense, its truth begins in the literal sense.
Over the past year I’ve told anyone and everyone who would listen about my incredible meal (seriously, I’ve spent innumerable hours extolling the endless virtues of Restaurant Story), and so it was with overwhelming joy that I happened to catch this closing sentence the other day on PRI, “English chef Tom Sellers told his story to producer Alex Gallafent…” (quickly followed by my silently screamed nooooooooo…!) Whew, thank god for podcasts. Don’t you dare not listen!
As it turns out, Restaurant Story is the brainchild of 26 yr. old wunderkind chef Tom Sellers (acolyte of Thomas Keller at French Laundry & Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen, to name two). In reading up on the place, it had mentioned bringing a book to leave for their collection. In my mind’s eye, I imagined a thumb-worn, dusty space with books everywhere. I was surprised to arrive and find the place a study in clean modernity, clever touches of the interesting & peculiar dotted about, but barely a book in sight. An old-fashioned candle was placed on the table upon arrival, before the procession of delectables began arriving. The 6 course lunch that followed (which in truth turned out to be more like 12) was an unbelievable 3 hour succession of the most ingenious culinary feats I’ve ever experienced. Not the least of which was the bread offering. It turns out the meal’s focal point evolved around a sleight of hand of sorts. Midway through the meal, the waiter placed a lovely wooden board with warm bread and a small bowl of relish on it. He explained that the seemingly innocuous candle that had been burning for the past half hour was in fact a candle made from rendered animal fat, meant to dip your bread into.
It’s difficult to describe the peculiar pleasure of being surprised by something that has been sitting right there in front of you, staring you in the face. When an ordinary object all of a sudden appears to transform into the extraordinary. Being able to achieve this using the most humble course in the meal makes it that much more effective.
I could happily go on for hours describing each surprising course; an airy cloud of riced potato floating atop a pool of coal (yes, edible coal oil); whole flash-crisped tiny shrimps; a savory Oreo with smoked eel mousse; grilled onions in gin; wrapped leeks & candied lovage twigs; almond ice cream with dill snow, which tasted like eating Winter itself… Sigh. And the stories, remarkable stories that they only told you if you happened to ask, ‘why are the forks upside down?’ which led to the tale of a cultivated Spanish princess marrying a brutish prince whose boorish table manners – even with the addition of utensils – still necessitated the tines only touch the table in order to mitigate the filth… the fabulous bee insignia on the knives… on & on.
I hope to capture the eternal appeal of an artist transforming the mundane into the sublime.
Bioluminescence is simply light produced by a chemical reaction within a living organism. These chemicals (called luciferin and luciferase) react with oxygen, causing light. Primarily it’s a marine phenomena, and is the main source of light in the ocean. (Because it occurs in so many different species, we assume it must serve many functions – like luring prey or mating – but we do know it can serve as both defensive and offensive tactics within the same organism.)
It can also occur on land, namely in fungi and bacteria, but also in fireflies.
It has been speculated that the 16th century Baroque painter Caravaggio used modern darkroom techniques to create his masterpieces more than 200 years before the invention of the camera. He may have prepared his canvases with a luminescent powder of dried fireflies to create a photosensitive surface on which he projected the image to be painted. He would then use white lead, mixed with chemicals such as mercury, to outline the image in greater clarity.
This hypothesis, by art teacher Roberta Lapucci who teaches at the Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy, was made in collaboration with research by British artist David Hockney, who wrote in his 2001 book “Secret Knowledge” that many old masters used optical instruments to compose their paintings.
In the spring of 1985, while a sophomore in college, I saw the Caravaggio show at the Met in NYC. It left an indelible impression on me, what with his incredibly effective combination of boldly intense subject matter and dramatic chiaroscuro contrasting light.
I look forward to sharing works of art in the upcoming 5050LIGHT show that are based on bioluminescence and also on artist David Hockney’s work.