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“Если б я был древним полководцем”… М. А. Кузмин

Если бы я была поэтом
о тебе знал бы весь мир.
И если бы я была скульптором
все восхищались бы твоей красотой.
И если бы я была ученым, открыла бы новый цвет
и назвала его в честь тебя- цвет счастья.
Но я- это я;
А ты- это солнце.

Ravenna

Ravenna is, at first glance, very similar to other Italian towns. There are the houses in every shade of yellow from cream to orange. There are the leaning towers and the churches with scroll-top facades. There are the narrow cobblestone streets, the random gates where walls used to be, the statue of Garibaldi, the stone wells in courtyards, the loggias.

But there are a few nuances. The first, of course, is mosaics. Just as everyone I’ve read on the subject promised they are magnificent and impossible to describe or adequately photograph.

Here are a few photographs of Roman and Medieval mosaics. Note also the stone windows. The colored mosaics are mainly walls and ceilings, while the black-white-red ones are floors, and tend to be older.

And here are a few of the modern ones from the MAR museum

The beige rectangle below is a great example of why it’s pointless to photograph mosaics. It’s called Motion. It looks exactly like a field of dry grass in the wind – very alive and fascinating. One can spend a lot of time standing in front of it, but the photo is just a beige rectangle. I think part of the reason is that our eyes constantly move, and mosaics, especially deep ones like this one, change with the angle of view without the viewer consciously noticing the change except as a suggestion of life and movement.

And, of course, the street signs are also mosaics. And there are mosaic flowers all over to assure me that Ravenna is a friendly city for women.

Besides the mosaics there are less striking differences. Ravenna thinks of itself as a green city, and while it would not be considered particularly (or at all) green in North California it is more green than any other Italian city I saw. There are little “parks” everywhere – just squares with a few trees or bushes, but they do gladden the eye. And lawns, and trees. And there are at least three large parks, one of them in an old Venetian tower.

Another difference is the cult of Dante. Dante lived here after his exile, finished Paradise, and was repeatedly buried here.

There is not one, but two Dante museums and a learning center, and multiple statues of Dante. Note the two statues sharing a lawn, and two portraits of Dante sharing a wall. At first I thought that people wandering the streets wearing laurel wreaths and carrying bouquets were cosplaying Dante or on their way to offer him homage, but no – that’s part of the college graduation here. It was, however, a very natural mistake. Every day, at sunset chosen citizens come to Dante’s tomb to read a canto from the Divine Comedy. This started on the 700th anniversary of his death in 2021, and was supposed to only last one year, but they enjoyed it so much they plan to keep doing it forever.

In fact, Dante was not merely buried here once in 1321, near the cloister of St. Francis’ monastery. Dante burials are like Dante statues – why stop at just one? They do something with his bones every century.

In the 15th century they moved his sarcophagus into the cloister. In the 16th century the Florentines realized how wrong they’d been and started asking for Dante’s bones. This request was supported by the Medici popes (Florentine) and Michelangelo (employed by the Medici popes) and finally succeeded in 1519, but the Franciscan monks hid Dante’s bones in the wall. In 1677 they took the bones out and put them in a box. In 1781 the bones were put back into the sarcophagus and the whole thing moved into a brand new tomb outside of the cloister. To show how sorry they are Florence supplies the olive oil for the ever-burning lamp inside the tomb. In 1810 Napoleon came around and the monks hid Dante’s bones again. Florentines, meanwhile, sneakily bult another tomb for Dante in 1829 and waited. In 1865 the bones were found and put on display in a glass coffin, then re-buried again, disappointing the Florentines. In 1944 they were taken back out and hidden and re-buried in 1945, perhaps forever, but I bet Florentines are still hoping.

Below you can see the tomb, the glass coffin, the box, the place Dante’s bones were buried during WWII and the laurel leaves in jute bags designed by Gabriele d’Annunzio that were brought from Rome and scattered over Dante’s grave by four very brave pilots in 1921 on the 600th anniversary of his death.

But the coolest thing in that neighborhood is actually the crypt of St. Francis, where Dante’s funeral was held. St. Francis is a simple church, almost undecorated except for some fairly typical baroque frescoes, an elaborate animated nativity scene, and a lovely coffered ceiling. But their crypt is beautiful. It’s flooded (Ravenna sits on a marsh), covered with mosaics (of course), and populated by goldfish. Supposedly it contains the remains of bishop Neon who finished the construction of the city’s oldest standing monument, the Neonian baptistery (there’s also an Aryan baptistery built by the Ostrogoths half a century later). I am particularly glad to have seen it, because I’m unlikely to see the Istanbul cisterns and I have long wanted to. Of course, this isn’t the same – but columns, and water, and arches…

Yet another special thing about Ravenna is its history. It was the capital of Western Rome Empire in the 5th century, then the capital Odoacer, and then of the Ostorgothic kingdom (also 5th century) under Theodoric. Theodoric originally agreed to rule jointly with Odoacer, and they even held a banquet to celebrate this, but during the banquet Odoacer was somehow killed. Accidents happen. This is why so much of the architecture here is different – Ravenna’s important period came earlier than those of the surrounding cities.

In the 6th century it was taken over by Byzantines who proceeded to put mosaics everywhere the Ostorgoths missed. Having done that Byzantines were overwhelmed by the Lombars in the 8th century. Lombards were promptly overwhelmed by Franks led by Pepin the Short (first Carolingian king), who handed Ravenna to the popes. The popes showed their gratitude by encouraging Charlemagne (Pepin’s son, the important Carolingian king, first post-Rome emperor in the West) to take anything he liked from Ravenna to his capital in Aachen. He took a lot and Aachen definitely moved much higher on my list of places to visit after I saw what he left.

In the 13th century they had a lot of wars that ended up with the pope on top, but in the 15th century, just like everyone else around here, Ravenna was conquered by Venetians. Venetians built the awesome castle that is now a public park, and then the popes took over again and continued ruling all the way until unification of Italy in 1861, with a brief interruption for Napoleon.

All this means that they were relatively poor at the time when their neighbors were tearing down Romanesque churches and building Renaissance ones and couldn’t afford to destroy all the mosaics. In fact, Ravenna seems relatively poor even now. I haven’t seen churches with peeling ceilings and ivy climbing in through the windows in any other city. It also means that unlike their neighbors they had three kinds of Christianity – Aryan, Byzantine Orthodox, and Catholic, which makes the iconography refreshingly diverse.

The last different thing about Ravenna is that it is so quiet (and I say so despite the one loud restaurant they have that’s right under my window). There are few people on the streets, no lines anywhere, and in the MAR museum I was one of maybe a score people on the first floor (modern mosaics) and the only one on the second (everything else). Having empty museum rooms light up before me was interesting, but at the same time I felt oddly responsible to the artworks and probably looked at each of them more carefully than I would have otherwise.

Btw, did you know that the place where the Goths held on the longest was Crimea? Apparently there were some Gothic villages there as late as the 1940s. The Goth capital was Mangup, near Sevastopol. Their kingdom eventually was overwhelmed by the Huns in 5th century, but they kinda sorta held on as a Byzantine client state until the Khans came around in 15th century. It’s really amazing how much I don’t know about Ukrainian history.

Padua

Padua was the first city on my solo stay and it was even better than I expected. I’m glad I stayed for two nights – was getting burned out on planning and needed down time. Here’s what I did:

  1. Arrived around noon. Because this is the relaxation I picked a Hilton – bed I can sleep across, giant shower and all that. They upgraded me to a terrace room, which, although completely useless, really perked me up.
  2. I decided to walk the 20 minutes to the hotel despite rain and suitcase and am glad I did – the non-touristy part of the city contains some truly awesome towers, frescoes, and canals. It also has narrow one-point-perspective cobblestoned streets. My favorite!

4. The central part of Padua turned out to have not only cobblestoned streets, but also colonnades. Almost every building has a stoa, which a) is beautiful b) allowed me to ignore the rain.

Of course, if they want to honor someone important they also put columns around them. Behold the statue of Dante, and tombs of Antenor and St. Anthony.

In fact, St. Anthony is so important he gets two colonnades, a real one and a trompe l’oeil one. And a church that’s way nicer than the local cathedral.

I really like completion, even in little and unimportant themes, so seeing St. Anthony’s churches both in Lisbon where he was born and in Padua where he died felt very satisfying.

Speaking of tombs, you’re probably curious about Antenor. He’s a fictional character, the only elder of Troy who counseled returning Helen with apologies. His grave belongs to a wealthy Germanic or Hungarian warrior killed in battle around 3rd or 4th century CE, a woman, an animal, or some combination of the above. The grave next to him (without columns) belongs to Lovato dei Lovati who conveniently discovered a bronze plaque on the sarcophagus when it was dug up in 1274 saying that the body inside is definitely that of Antenor, Elder of Troy and Founder of Padua.

Other things I saw that day were

1. The cathedral (poor, but clean)

2. The baptistery (that’s where they keep all the art that didn’t go into the cathedral)

3. The Scrovegni chapel (where Giotto invented Renaissance painting)

4. Palazzo Bo (headquarters of the university thoroughly redecorated in 1930s and 40s)

5. Prato della Valle (largest square in Italy), which is in fact not a square but an ellipse 90,000m2. It’s probably beautiful and impressive, but being entirely covered by the local flea market is a bit hard to see.

6. Cool modern sculpture mainly near the (unfortunately closed) Francis Bacon collection. Even though it’s closed one can still look through the mirror and see the hanging rhinoceros.

7. Lovely stenciled graffiti

8. The thousand-plus-year-old market plazas, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza Della Frutta (because you wouldn’t sell vegetables and fruit on the same giant plaza, right?).

I’ll do separate posts for the baptistery, chapel, and university, but in the meantime here are some photos of the market.

I spent approximately 8.5 hours walking, ate at a really striking restaurant (which is a chain, so I might eat at one again), and generally had a wonderful and relaxing day. Two nights turned out to be just the right amount of time in Padua although if I was doing this with someone I’d probably add at least one more day.

Lucky day

Today was an incredibly lucky day. Below is a partial list of all the things that were lucky:

  • In the morning it turned out there’s even more really interesting stuff to learn about tea ceremony than I thought
  • Ginkakuji turned out almost completely uncrowded, and far more beautiful than I remembered
  • Right outside of it there were chestnut cream puffs, which aren’t sold except in the Fall
  • Our route to Nanzenji happened to go along Philosopher’s Path, which I wanted to see again but didn’t really have time
  • Along the path we met a gentleman named Marita, who taught us to make bamboo flower boats and drop them into the Lake Biwa canal (this trip has waaay more Lake Biwa canal than my first one) for luck. Mine floated 🙂
  • Sanmon gate at Nanzenji was open, unlike the last time, and we got to go to the top.
  • Nanzen-in was open, and I didn’t make it there last time either
  • While everyone else was eating I made it to Konchiin temple, and saw the crane and turtle garden and the shrine to Tokugawa Ieyasu (with his statue and the famous dragon ceiling). The garden was beautiful and completely empty.
  • While there I was exactly on time to also see the tea room designed by Kobori Enshu (see the first bullet point – how timely that my morning reading told me who he was) that contained Hasegawa Tōhaku’s Monkey Reaching for the Moon’s Reflection with it’s heart-stoppingly elegant fingers. On normal days one can’t even see it – it was a special exhibition. On this day one more minute, and I would have missed it. There was also the Wet Crows screen, which I know I’ve seen before, but cannot remember where, and can’t find images of it. It’s hilarious and beautiful.
  • Just as I ran out of time it turned out the Einkando temple was hosting a night-time illumination
  • I had to wait for it, and accidentally walked into the cutest cafe, full of statuettes and old cameras. A very nice old lady with Brezhnev eyebrows waved a coffee cup at me. I didn’t have the energy to refuse, which was lucky, because as it turned out I needed coffee.
  • I took a spot in line and everyone made it to me just as I was about to go in. Given that it was a half-hour line that was miraculous timing. I also got into this line just in time, behind me it became far longer.
  • As we came out there was exactly one taxi waiting and it was waiting for us
  • Right as I was rested, bathed, and becoming human again B. told me that Naked Flowers at Nijo castle were on until 10 pm and there was no line. Naked Flowers turned out to be a combination ikebana exhibit, illumination, and flower-themed cartoon show on castle walls with great music and aromas. This also means I got the leisurely walk through the castle gardens I was missing.
  • Nita Prose’s latest dropped just as I was running out of books

Nanzenji turned out not to have been the temple I thought it was. That is to say, the ineffably peaceful temple I thought was Nanzenji is a completely different temple, and I don’t know which one. But, on the bright side, it gives me a reason to come back and search for it. Thoroughly. Kyoto has less than 2,000 temples – how hard can it be? 🙂

Another wonderful day

Yes, the world is burning and we’re about to enter WWIII. That said, I have enough money to not work for a year without touching my 401K, the weather is perfect, kids are lovely, I have at least two interesting undone crafting projects, my craft table is finally complete (because I also have an amazing spouse, yes), and today was great. In fact, last week was pretty good as well.

Over the course of the last week I tried hard to eat a pandan bun at the SF MOMA cafe. I failed spectacularly and with great enjoyment.

I went to Yerba Buena gardens and through the beautiful passage besides the Jewish museum.

I saw the lanterns in Maiden Lane

I went to Chinatown and counted the Taiwanese flags. Lately there’s far more of those than of the Chinese flags, which makes me happy.

I had a perfect breakfast. It included a beautifully sweet and sticky ginger bun, an ideal selection of chocolates, and milk tea.

I went to up to the Coit tower and down to Levi’s plaza.

I visited the last lodging of the Emperor (long may he reign in our hearts) and saw the SF Historical Society museum (https://www.sfhistory.org )

I went to the Exploratorium and finally explored the Tactile Dome – which was completely unlike what I expected. The experience of having one sense turned almost completely off was similar to hiking the Golden Canyon in Death Valley. I went through it twice. I want a bean-bed badly. It’s incredible.

I learned that the Misalignment Museum is nowhere near where the Apple map thinks it is and that I love coxinhas (a Brazilian chicken pastry shaped like a drumstick) and crepe-on-a-stick. And that crepe-on-a-stick is a thing.

I learned that Bi-Rite ice cream, while lovely, is not really life-changing. And that while balsamic strawberry is nice I’m not really a fan of salted egg and mulberry flavors in ice cream. I bought a wonderful sweater and wandered around to my heart’s content.

And none of it brought me any closer to the pandan bun. In fact, SF MOMA is nowhere near Valencia or the Coit tower. Ah well, I’ll just have to keep on trying :))))

Whales

Today was a beautiful day – unusually sunny and warm. We all stayed home for various reasons, although it’s a Friday. We hugged. I biked. Older Kid made another miniature book and some amazing fairies for their library. Younger Kid made a cool battle shield. We went to the beach together and it was warm enough to really enjoy wave running. And we saw whales! This is the first time, although we’ve been looking for seven years. There were three, and they kept jumping, showing their backs. One jumped half-way out of the water, and another spent a couple of minutes just flipping his tail.

Life is good.

Life, still good

I extraverted for 2 full days (3-9, 8-9, 8-10:30=20.5 hours). I was friendly and interested. I was vulnerable and open about my emotions. I was invested in the outcome and forthcoming with my opinions. I praised, listened supportively, and gave credit. I participated actively in a loud game show and had prolonged conversations with multiple people in loud restaurants. I came home nearly dead, but satisfied.

Everyone was unusually solicitous of me, which, after talking to B, I put down to

1. A combination of feminine dresses (the potential future personalities dressed me for this one. They are way more extraverted than I am, and more body-confident)

2. Hurt feet (I wore something other than Birkenstock sandals for the first time in over two years. It hurt. Got bloody welts before I reached the plane.)

3. General projection of clumsiness that, apparently, sometimes just happens to me, especially when meeting new people. B says it’s not actual clumsiness.

4. The whole open and vulnerable about emotions thing

I came home to a cleaned bathroom, happy kids, an evening watching The Great Dictator with B, and a morning with matcha made exactly to my taste (sheer luck) by Younger Kid and flower eggs by Older Kid. “Somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good” 🙂

Coming next- Il Ducato, the updated Lamplighters take on Mikado, with amazing kids 🙂

Life is very good.

Life is good

I went to a party yesterday.

I extraverted.

I danced salsa and Bollywood, as part of a small group, a large group, and a pair (as usual, I looked around and invited the shyest woman. She liked it.)

I ate the most exciting meal in my life to date (https://www.tastemade.com/shiven)

I woke up dead (extraversion is not my thing), and spent the day doing light crafting, school supply shopping, and random browsing while Awesome Spouse cleaned the room with kids, took them shopping, and brought me flowers and an eclair.

And now, at a strong suggestion from Awesome Spouse I’m going to go take the bath Youngest Kid set up for me.

Life is very good.

Mission Bay

One of my favorite neighborhoods in SF – clean, futuristic, walkable, and full of tasty things.

This is a futureform called Orbital that expresses optimism about the future with diversity, equality, and inclusion. Its makers also describe it as a contemporary folly. I don’t think they thought through the more cynical ways one can interpret this, given that “folly” is not just foolishness, but one that specifically results from lack of foresight or practicality. Arguably, it’s not even a folly, since follies are, by definition, buildings, and this is more of an installation or a sculpture. But it’s lovely and joyful and it made me happy today.

This is Ichiren-Bozu, “a mythic character that implies consciousness by Masako Miki. It also implies growth and prosperity, which I choose to take as a good sign as I enter a period of conscious (get it? get it?) growth.

I love SF 1% art tax almost as much as I love SF’s POPOS.

It paid for this installation, as well as the Mokumokuren at right. The idea of continuous eyes, a demon that leaves in torn shoji until it’s repaired, being actually a protector is pretty awesome. I believe it’s the artist’s own, since in the legends I read the eyes were anything but protective.

The ghosts of the old umbrella and back-scratcher below also seem very friendly and helpful.

Today’s aesthetic experience has been brought to you by taxation, as are so many of the other things I enjoy, which is probably why I’ve never felt bad about paying taxes.

One thing I learned today is that the Bay Trail is already 350 miles long, and projected to be 500. I think this would be a fun walk and should definitely remember it as a future project.

Washington, DC 7

As much as National Children’s Museum was a disappointment Planet Word was an unexpected delight. My expectations of it were low, 3/5 – but Younger Kid put it as a 5 and Older Kid as a 4, besides it was two blocks away from the hotel. I feel very lucky that we went there and will come back again if I can. Planet Word is a museum dedicated to words and language, and it’s absolutely beautiful inside and outside.

One enters through a courtyard with a lit tree and a statue of someone that seems to be trying to pull themselves together out of letters. I’m not sure whether this is what the sculptor intended, but it’s an image that I can really identify with (yes, the dangling participle just here is ironic).

The tree was not lit when we came, but as we were leaving we saw the first few lamps turned on.

Inside there are three floors and one starts at the top. The first room contains a lit globe surrounded by tablets, each containing short videos by language carriers about their language. I must have been very tired, because I became a bit teary-eyed at the explanation of how to say some simple thing in Amharic.

The most interesting things I learned are that Miriwoong (one of the 250ish Native Australian languages) has not words for hello and good bye, but only “How are you”, that Wolof speakers in Senegal do not refer to anything as “mine” if they can plausibly call it “ours”, and that Senegalese in general are so reluctant to talk about their accomplishments that each family has a designated praise giver, whose job it is to bring up the achievements of family members as needed.

Next is an interactive video played against a wall of 1,000 most common English words, talking about where they came from (1/3 each Saxon, Norman, and borrowed apparently, I assume not enough remains of the Celtic languages to count). An interesting factoid from the video is that teenage girls have been the most active new word inventors since the 15th century at least, and are responsible for introducing “you” instead of “thou” and “does” instead of “doth”. It’s a relatively simple video – a disembodied voice talks, audience shouts answers into microphones, the voice either says “yes, the answer is” or “no, the answer is”, visuals are spare (fire, water, animal silhouettes) but the whole is very beautiful. In fact “simple and beautiful” really defines Planet Word.

Another fun fact – apparently there’s no agreement on how many words English has, because there’s no agreement on how to count words like “run”, which has 345ish definitions

The second floor is where I’d stay forever. It starts with a quiet library – color-coordinated books, mirrors in the ceiling, a table for coloring and a center table on which one can place a book from the shelf and see played out on top of it a short video explaining the book or telling some interesting story about how it came to be written. One of the library walls is actually a secret door, leading to a small quiet room with a couch where one can sit and listen to poetry being read out loud and shown on a screen. Here is that door seen from the inside.

Walls of the library are inset with large mirrors in gilded frames. Underneath each one is a quote from a book that, when said out loud by someone without an accent (I drafted Younger Kid) temporarily transforms the mirror into a diorama from the book while another disembodied voice continues the quote. Each diorama is in a different style and range of material (e. g. The Little Prince is an all-white globe with paper cut-outs inside), all are remarkably beautiful, and many quite realistic, but it’s very hard to make a good photograph of a mirror, so, unfortunately, I can only show two.

Besides the beautiful library there is a purple room devoted to karaoke, a yellow room (I want a yellow room. Preferably one where I can drink tea in the morning) all about jokes and how to tell them, and a green room in which kids can dip brushes into adjective pails and alter a virtual landscape on the wall by painting over it. For instance “autumnal” turned the leaves yellow and “crepuscular” introduced twilight.

The bottom floor had a spiral exhibition on ads and the techniques they use, stories of language and a room to record one’s own story, and a gift shop where I was surprised to learn that Older Kid prefers Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter (yes, that same HP that they’ve been reading non-stop for the last 4 years), and the Phantom Tollbooth to both. I read the Phantom Tollbooth in either Odessa or Moscow as a kid, and remember almost nothing except that I liked it and the word “cacophony”. Will have to re-read.

Younger Kid requested and received a manual on writing jokes for kids and a book about the history of punctuation marks. Can’t wait to see whether he’ll read these. Right now he’s reading a biography of Michael Jordan, acquired as part of his search for gifts for Older Kid (they got a cupcake cookbook in that particular store).

Washington, DC 6

Wednesday was a lovely and relaxed day. We strolled Georgetown at random using my favorite process – picked something to look for, in this case a playground. We found three playgrounds, all of which were really cool. One was locked, the other was occupied by a camp, and the third devoted solely to toddlers. We stopped there anyway, because it had fountains. Younger Kid now wants a balance bike and a red Radio Flyer tricycle.

Georgetown is full of very similar houses, all of which have big enticing balconies, towers, and ornate cast-iron front steps. It seems very cohesive and I would’ve enjoyed walking there more.

Strangely, DC seems to have very few homeless people, and passerby seem sober and friendly. The streets overall seem safe, clean, and populated. I’ve yet to smell cannabis anywhere, but that may be because we’re more or less staying in the same small area.

It was really great that Younger Kid was into strolling and discovering a neighborhood with me and seemed to understand why it’s fun. I wish I knew how the day was for him.

Once we got tired of walking I gave Younger Kid a choice of another museum, historical house, or an aquatic park. Once it became clear that the aquatic park is a boardwalk hike in a swamp with lotuses he picked the historical house. Specifically, Tudor House, inhabited by descendants of Martha Washington for six generations. She did not have children with George Washington, but he raised her kids from a prior marriage and this is the house where they lived.

The house is surrounded by a beautiful garden. We kept getting lost at it, because we expected the scale to be similar to Filoli. It’s actually (being a city and not a county house) a lot smaller, so we’d constantly look for paths that we’ve passed awhile ago. Younger Kid was somewhat disappointed at not being allowed to touch those lead dogs, but I really liked it that he came up with the prohibition himself, all I had to do was to confirm it.

The tour is built around the day Marquis de Lafayette came to visit in 1824. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the house and its inhabitants and history, good and bad. It was more the idea of learning things about the past than what those things were – so she was equally enthusiastic about Lafayette, General Lee (who also visited, being a near connection by marriage), the gardener whose name unfortunately I’ve forgotten, and Martha Washington’s punch bowl (very beautiful, Chinese, made for export to Britain).

Younger Kid requested souvenirs, and got a hat (he’s been begging for a natty hat for awhile now) and lemon balm tea, which he said Older Kid will love. I need to figure out how to resist this particular sales approach.

Just outside, on the same street we found (and lightly sampled) a neighborhood herb garden. Younger kid also noted the rainbow and Ukrainian flags and concluded that these must be very good people. I’m inclined to agree.

Next, we went along the Georgetown Heritage Canal. Unfortunately, we were too late to get a boat tour, but we did examine the locks in detail. The next day we missed the same tour because of bad luck with Uber 🙁 It was a beautiful area and I hope Older Kid feels well enough Friday that we can attempt the tour again.

Sunday, and Monday we finished the day at the pool. Tuesday we were very tired and the pool was, according to Younger Kid, too full of people. That is why Wednesday we went to the gym. The gym at this hotel (Hilton Embassy on 10th) is well hidden – it’s on a lower floor accessible by only one of four elevators and unmarked. But it’s big, and well-equipped, and we spent an hour and a half there. Would’ve been more, but we forgot water bottles and there were no cups.

Thursday, unfortunately, was almost a complete loss as far as touristing goes – we went to the National Children’s Museum, which is an indoor playground.

There’s a cool climbing structure with a slide, but the one in San Diego is much more interesting.

There are some exhibits pretending to be scientific, but after Exploratorium they look weak.

Younger Kid enjoyed building a swing from wooden blocks and tackle (we tried to fit in a pulley, but there was no rational place for it), using an air stream to lift balls into a basket, and doing baseball practice hits. I was really impressed at how organized the line for the baseball was – kids intuitively, without discussion, agreed on the length of turns and kept to it politely and without fuss.

Afterward we walked back to the hotel, did another hour and a half of gym, and three hours at the pool. I barely pulled Younger Kid away by telling him the hotel restaurant will close. Fortunately, he really loves this restaurant.

He’s being quite adventurous with food – ordered a quinoa salad for breakfast (ate out pomegranate seeds and raisins and left the rest, but still) and an apple and cheddar salad for dinner (ate all the apples and cheddar and half the arugula, the waitress even commented on how much he ate – it was a very big bowl). Even more strikingly he followed up the salad with an “exotic mushroom” pizza, as opposed to his normal extra cheese. I’m becoming more and more optimistic about foreign travel.

Another awesome day

Woke up to a hot breakfast (two dishes! fancy eggs and sandwich), tea, cleaned counter, unloaded dishwasher, cute notes, and a pom-pom on my spot courtesy of the kids.

Took a nice relaxing bath with a fun book (Disaster Inc, Caimh McDonnell) and bubbles in a cleaned bathroom.

Arranged and hang two more memories frames, in that blank spot over the couch that’s been annoying me ever since last October-ish when the construction stopped and I started doing Zoom meetings on the couch (really Skype and Telegram, but who’s counting).

Put some stickers onto the cat shelf over my head because taking it down and covering it in wall paper is more work than I feel like doing.

Got a light crafting project going – exciting.

Am listening to a fascinating class by Linor Goralik on costume and just heard a great story: Apparently during the Meiji period Japan started electrifying far-off regions. The effect was about the same as it is for cell towers – people got worried in inverse proportion to education levels. There were stories that electrical wires must be painted with the blood of virgins. As a direct response unmarried women all over rural Japan started to blacken their teeth, at great expense, to look married in case an electrician comes by (before electricity only married women blackened their teeth).

Life is good.

Another wonderful day

Today started well – I slept in, and woke up just in time to go to the neighbor’s garage sale. Kids got LEGO and cool crafting stuff. and I got some socialization in. Then we went to see Wizard of Oz at ACT which I picked because of the director, Sam Pinkleton of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.

It turned out to be great fun, if much more traditional than I expected. Disney all the way, with allowances for local SF color. It was also more interactive than I expected, but in a good way – we all got to wave yellow napkins to signify the Yellow Brick Road, and the kids got Oreos and lollipops. I’m going to always buy front row seats for children’s plays now – that was a nice touch.

Having subtitles was a good thing, even though they were not conveniently located to our seats. I only had to use them two or three times, but just knowing they were there felt great.

And then I came back home to ginger and turmeric with marmalade, a clean house, a drawn bath with a good book to read (I’m on part 8ish? I think? of the Dublin Trilogy by Caimh McDonnell), and one of my favorite teas.

Life is definitely very good.

Dear San Francisco

Dear San Francisco is an amazing show. We went to see it today and I’m probably going to go at least once more.

It’s the second 7 Fingers production we’ve seen, the first being the Passengers. I liked this one a bit more, because it is more joyful and about San Francisco (also possibly because we had better seats), but both were just right.

It’s circus (specifically acrobatics and juggling) slightly leavened by theater set to really great music (Colin Gagne). There is some very light audience interaction – we got candy and a couple of words from the performers, which is about the enjoyable level of interactivity for me.

The most impressive act was diabolos juggling by Shengnan Pan and her husband Enmeng Song. They did unbelievable things with diabolos, including catching one thrown across the hall, very touchingly thanked their teacher, Lu Yi, and told the story of meeting and falling in love in San Francisco while she taught him diabolos (apparently a female-only pursuit in China), and introduced one of their children.

On the other hand, Chloe Sommers Walier twirled a number of hula hoops in complicated patterns while holding one upright on her nose, and (not at the same time) while being carried on someone’s shoulders, so perhaps that was the most impressive act.

The “humorous” act was cringy and clashed badly with the rest of the show, but was probably necessary to let everyone rest.

The other acts, trapeze, hoop jumping, pole acrobatics were also impressive and all seemed amazing to me, but the best part was how charming the actors were while doing them. It’s what I really love about circus – the firgun of watching people do impossible things and be happy and proud that they’ve done them.

Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812

I’ve been wanting to see this musical for the longest time, and lucked out – a friend told me it’s on Friday. There were only a few dates left, and only one that I could actually make in this overscheduled month (seriously – it’s more of a social whirl than I’ve had in years, including pre-COVID years).

So, me and Younger Kid went the very next day.

It was awesome. Totally worth the hour drive.

The 3Below theater was new to me – intimate, well laid-out, and located inside a parking lot. There was no parking, due to the FanimeCon, but that’s ok, because we got to see the convention-goers, and they were beautiful. There were also no fancy desserts, despite a really cool ice-cream concoction being listed in the online menu, but we made do with popcorn.

The play itself was everything I wanted – energetic, with light, cheerful, and memorable music and a good-faith approach to War and Peace. The opera scene was particularly good – the opera was exactly the way Tolstoy described it (that is, completely removed from the usual opera experience and seen with deliberately naive eyes.). Natasha was beautiful and innocent. Sonia’s song brought me to tears. Anatole was perfect for his role and looked (per kid) like Elon Musk. Andrey looked like the Best Marriage Party In Russia and was hilarious as Old Bolkonsky.

Everyone moved in and out of multiple parts with graceful ease, rarely even changing costume. They just showed distinct personalities and functions with a slight change in posture and facial expression because that’s just how good they are. Each performer got a main singing role with at least one good song, a part in the ensemble, a part as one of the musicans, and a part as furniture so that Helene also played the violin, while Princess Mary portrayed an opera singer, a dancer, and a maid. Kuragin, Dolohov, and Balaga moved furniture and offered hands as needed. Everyone delivered letters.

Both Bezuhoffs were made up to look too old for their roles, and seemed more contemporaries of Ahrosimova than of Andrey, let alone Natasha, but Helene had a Bosom that fully conformed with my imagination, a wanton red dress, and a beautiful voice.

Quotes were used appropriately and often. Stereotypes were amusing and not mean-spirited. Costumes were period-accurate-enough without being distracting or overdone. Dancing was enthusiastic and good (especially Balaga’s). Scene design was clever – particularly all the staircases, and the way decorations suddenly changed color from light wood to gold when a mood called for it.

Despite the sad subject matter (there’s Lost Love, Attempted Suicide, and Ethical Struggles) Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812 was just sheer exhilarating fun, a pleasure to remember. I wish I had the time to see it again.

Chinese Historical Society of SF

Today was an awesome day. I went with a friend to the Chinese Historical Society Museum on Clay St to see their collection of miniatures by Frank Wong and they happened to be having an exhibit on Bruce Lee.

The miniatures were even better than I expected. Here’s a 3D view of the biggest one. Do check it out, it’s mind-blowing. The whole thing is smaller than a carry-on.

And here’s my favorite one – the Chinese New Year.

Besides the miniatures there were also some really cool and funny murals celebrating Bruce Lee and an adorable collection of miniature models of imaginary statuary by the local students. The statues were LEGO-sized, made of anything from cardboard to 3D printing, and celebrated important figures of progress. I am not quite sure how these are connected to Bruce Lee, but that’s probably because I did not have the time to watch the accompanying videos yet.

The We Are Bruce Lee exhibition in general was very interesting and heavily tilted towards showing his importance as a builder of good inter-racial relationships, his impact on race relationships, and his all-around good-guyness. I think I understand better why he was so beloved during his life time and will probably watch some of the movies. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one and that is obviously an oversight. The exhibition included a short excerpt from Fist of Fury where Bruce Lee kicks a “No Dogs Or Chinese Allowed” sign – it looked awesome, especially the complete indifference of the Japanese woman who is seeing her entire escort smashed up.

What really made the exhibition for me is the digitally-enhanced giant mural. It is a triptych, with the side pieces being entirely digital and showing things like rain, hills, trees, and quotes from Bruce Lee, and the center piece showing Bruce Lee as the Burning Bush.

The underlying mural is awash with motion. The dragon moves. The fire running over his body is occasionally replaced by lightning. There is rain and flood. Neither my words nor the picture below, nor the picture accessible through the 3D view of the exhibition can convey the least part of the mural’s magnificence.

This is Bruce Lee as God. The accompanying text says that he transcends space and time and is worth reading in its entirety.

It was so amazing to be able to share the experience of seeing this worship with a friend. It is impossible to describe, and the moment of stunned amazement is so much better when shared.

Here are more art works by the Macro Waves Collective.

We continued to lunch at the Hang Ah Dim Sum which has been on my list for awhile. It’s over 100 years old, and is the first Dim Sum place in SF. After tasting the shrimp and coriander dumplings I fully understand why they lasted so long. After lunch we dropped by the Fortune Cookie Company to see the cookies being made and get one of the hot crispy discs. It was very hard to resist buying a bag of glazed cookies, but the long line helped.

Overall a perfect outing and now there are two more places on my “love to visit” list.

Yet another good day

Garden at the Black Bird Bookshop and Cafe

Went to see Sargent in Spain. Legion of Honor often shows non-representative works (e. g. gaunt men by Rubens, or full-length mythological males by Greuze), and this Sargent exhibit was not an exception – not a single socialite! (OK, there was one pre-teen boy, but).

Sargent loved flamenco, so much of the exhibit is flamenco dancers, with paintings accompanied by thoughtful and interesting notes by members of a Roma advisory group. Consequently one learns almost as much about the mode of living of Roma in Spain as one does about Sargent’s ditto.

Some of the notes are merely informative, some are amusing (e. g. the facial expression of the Spanish Roma Woman is said to be difficult to understand, or some words to that effect. I think the difficulty in understanding is due to the lack in English of the words “все достало”. Others are poignant, such as when the notes author addresses the Spanish Roma Family to tell them of his worry that his daughter will not grow up to be Roma.

This speaks to me very directly, because, unless something horrible happens, my children will not grow up to be Jews in the visceral way that I am a Jew. They are aware of their Jewish heritage, but I think it’s no more real to them than the (theoretical) Vikings somewhere up the Russian side of my family tree are to me. To my grandchildren it will probably be even less. I feel that this is a loss, but cannot explain why, or what it is precisely being lost. Certainly I myself do not feel the lack of a visceral attachment to my Slavic heritage as a loss.

Getting back to art, it’s really amazing how much better art is in conveying an experience than realistic representation, how much more real it is than reality. Compare this video of La Carmencita dancing with Sargent’s portrait of La Carmencita dancing – the video does not really let (me, now) understand why her dancing ( to contemporary eyewitnesses) felt “wild” and “breath-taking”, but the second at least gives an idea of the wildness and beauty they experienced.

After Legion of Honor I went to the Black Bird Bookshop, which, besides a most beautiful and peaceful garden, has an unusual and lovely selection of books. I got Igbo Mythology for Kids; Forests, Fairies, and Fungi Sticker Anthology, and an amazingly lovely The Eyes And The Impossible. I don’t even know what it’s about, but I couldn’t put it down.

I have the hardest time resisting beautiful books.

Good Things This Week

  • I have a really comfortable reading place on the veranda again
  • Victoria Goddard published yet another novella and it’s NOT about making Cliopher Mdang OR Jemis Greenwing Even More Happy And Victorious (not that I’m not eager to find out what amazing things will happen to Cliopher Mdang next)
  • Saw the Anselm Kiefer retrospective at SF MOMA again, this time without kids, with a good friend, and using their audio guide. It’s really hard to look away from his paintings, I keep coming back to them and seeing them in my mind’s eye.
  • Saw Gerhard Richter again (because it’s the same exhibition, yes) – the way he makes oils look like pastels is uncannily beautiful and absolutely mind-blowing in all of the very diverse ways he painted.
  • Had a really good conversation
  • Got started on the craft station. Turns out it’s a whole-family project, which somehow makes it less stressful and more fun. Also, there’s that warm and fuzzy feeling of being supported 🙂
  • Started watching Fall of Civilizations: Han Dynasty by Older Kid’s request. They took notes! It’s really interesting. Will probably listen to the other episodes on Spotify – the video is nice, but I’m a text person.
  • Have I mentioned SF MOMA? Really amazing exhibit on furniture (mainly chairs, a few lamps, very few peculiar objects).
  • Made a super-quick chicken soup that Older Kid actually ate, which is great, because they were sick and didn’t want to eat. Feeling Parentally Accomplished.
  • Singing teacher claims I have a wide and unexplored range. This is going to be fun. Turns out learning things is my hobby – who knew I even had one?
  • Showed kids Oscar. They laughed.

Richmond

Turns out to be so much lovelier than I thought it would be. It’s weird how many prejudices one has without realizing that one has them.

Today was a perfect day

Saw the Gregangelo museum for the first time (and will definitely come back). It’s an overpoweringly beautiful place, there’s so much color, texture, detail, so many reflections and little surprises, so many hidden meanings and references. We spent 1.5 hours there and saw what Gregangelo Herrera (whom we were super lucky to have as a guide) says is approximately 1/3 of the rooms/installations.

It was infinitely better than I expected, and is now firmly on my list of favorite places in the US.

It’s odd how many things lately turn out to be even better than I expect them to be. Perhaps I need to raise my expectations.

We were additionally lucky to have the kids with us – originally we planned an outing without them, but this is exactly the kind of thing I’d want to share with them.
That being so we followed with games and snacks, and then I got a half-hour to meditate looking at one of my favorite views.