Thursday, April 2, 2015

Leaving Berlin

I've just started reading Joseph Kanon's Leaving Berlin and it occurred to me that five years ago yesterday, I left New York City for Berlin, where I spent six months (in Schoneberg and in Prenzlauer Berg), connecting with artists, learning German, writing about art and culture, and traveling throughout the country. (Please see Leipzig, Unter den Linden, Potsdam, In East Berlin, Biking the Berlin Wall, and History Lessons for some of my observations.) Six months isn't that long in the grand scheme of things; I have spent much longer periods of time in other cities/countries, but somehow, Berlin takes up more space on my brain's hard drive. At the risk of sounding too eerie, I think it's because of the ghosts you encounter in unexpected places in every corner of the city. It is this juxtaposition of the past with the present that I experienced in 2010 that Alex, the protagonist of Kanon's novel, experiences when he revisits the city of his birth in 1949.

Thank you to the lovely guys at St. George's New & Second-Hand English Bookstore in Prenzlauer Berg, for all the book recommendations. I read about 50 in all during my stay, many of them set in Berlin - Fatherland, Alone in Berlin, Stasiland, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Berlin Stories, Berlin Diaries, The Weimar Culture, and Berlin - The City and the Court. Being physically and historically immersed in the past and present of a placec makes for a lasting imprint anywhere you go and is undoubtedly why Berlin continues to haunt me. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Travels in 2014 - Poland, London, Copenhagen

It's been over a year since my last post. I spent significant portions of 2014 reading, writing, and traveling. I revisited two places (Poland and London) which I hoped would recall old memories and form new ones for the book I'm writing. Success!

Poland in Spring. Most places seem lovelier in the spring and Poland was no exception. Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, and Opole. People I knew from my two years as a Peace Corps volunteer many years ago, like the Dean of the University of Opole. Deja vu and jamais vu. I changed and the country changed. Former residences and places of work looked smaller because the greenery got bigger in the intervening 20 years. Superficial signs of "The West" like Zara, Sephora, Starbuck's. Comforting signs of the past like my favorite Bar Mleczny (many pierogi were consumed here), "nie ma" (though not as often), concrete, squeaky trams, long train rides with residual Polish cigarette smells (I like this!), gray buildings, beautiful flowers, friendly people. Wonderful art in every city I visited. Strych, an enchanting Slow Food restaurant in Opole's Rynek (Town Square). New friends like the photographer Piotr Klosek. Walks around Wola and the Uprising Museum. Praga. Krakow's Schindler's Factory and MOCAK. A Woody Allen film at Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science and the Jim Jarmusch vampire film in Wroclaw. Successfully locating a number of Kieskowski's Decalogue filming locations. Castles, gardens, churches.

London in the Fall. Every visit here presents things that puzzle, dazzle, and excite. Fallen golden leaves in the parks, but flowers still in bloom. More great art here: Turner at Tate Britain and Malevich at Tate Modern; The Serpentine and Whitechapel Galleries; Dennis Severs' House in Spitalfields. Gordon Ramsey's restaurant on Bread Street. Bermondsey and Brick Lane. A tart fruit tart at Pretty Cuppa. I relished seeing five friends again from various chapters of my past - but now in a new setting -  and viewing the city through their eyes. Indian food with friends in Croydon. A visit to an old friend in Acton. A stay with a friend in the villagey Putney, birthplace of Thomas Cromwell, home of the Putney Canteen, and the site of a theater that hosted one of the premieres of Gone Girl. Notting Hill's Portobello Road, where I fervently wished I could have had a pound or three every time I was asked where the blue door was. I didn't know then and I still don't know now, though I think I walked by the place used as the bookshop in the film. On my last night in London, a friend and I saw the Nick Cave film 20,000 Days on Earth at the ICA. A sad, reluctant departure back to the States the next morning.

Copenhagen in the Fall. First time here to visit a NYC/Berlin friend. A rainy boat tour. The Little Mermaid statue - much-abused, but always restored to daintiness and larger than you think. Midnight fireworks at the frivolous Tivoli Gardens. Grungy Christiania. No Noma for me, but a tuna melt at Cafe Holberg No. 19 in  Nyhaven did the trick. Sleek denizens in gray and black, elegant, tall, blond. The Meatpacking District, where meat is still packed and art is now shown. Avant-garde architecture at DAC. The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, a highlight of the trip for its serene setting alone. Getting lost among the sculptures at the Glyptotek.

Shaking my snow globe often compels me to travel; it refines my outlook on the world so I can sense my place within it and appreciate all I see.

Monday, February 24, 2014

City by the Bay

I was in San Francisco last week to attend the San Francisco Writers' Conference at the Mark Hopkins
Hotel on Nob Hill. It was my fourth visit to one of my favorite cities in the world.

During my week-long visit, I also had the opportunity to enjoy some of the sights of this city that I'd missed on my previous visits - I stayed with friends in Alameda, across the Bay, and found the old part of town charming, particularly the 1932 Alameda Theatre. We had a fantastic dinner at Burma Superstar, the best (and only) Burmese restaurant I've ever eaten at. Initially, I expected the cuisine to be a blend of Indian and Chinese cuisines and it was...kind of...but there was something else, too. My favorite dish was the Tea Leaf Salad, described as "a party in your mouth" and yes, that's accurate.

I took the Alameda Ferry several times, each time feeling dwarfed and not a little scared by the enormous container ships loading up in Oakland. After a handful of minutes sailing into the pea soup fog of the Bay, I would alight at Embarcadero. From there, I'd take a cable car up California Street through Chinatown to the top of Nob Hill.

Embarcadero Plaza was the scene of the largest pillow fight I'd ever seen on Valentine's Day (!), and I got a number of harmless hugs from strangers hanging out near the Ferry Terminal Building. I got caught on the wrong side of the Chinese New Year's Parade on February 15th, but I went against the direction of the parade to its source and then crossed to the other side where I needed to be. The crowds reminded me of negotiating the streets of Shanghai last year.

One gorgeous day, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and headed to Sonoma, the historic museum there, a wine tasting, and a savory lunch at The Girl and the Fig.

I met another friend at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park to see the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition. I have seen a lot of her art in Santa Fe, New York, and Chicago, but had never seen this collection of paintings she did while at Lake George in upstate New York. Many of them were so different from what my artwork memory bank told me was typical O'Keefe and I was jarred into seeing her in another way. There were a number of her more well-known pastel flower paintings, which I learned were done at Lake George and not when she relocated to the Southwest. But the ones I liked most were those with lots of moody blues and browns, and autumn hues of scarlet, orange, and gold.

The Mission was fun to explore, though I didn't get to spend as much time as I wanted to there, and arrived too late to visit Mission Dolores. I stopped at Tartine (a half stick of butter in every croissant, or so I was told) and then walked along Valencia, inhaling alternating whiffs of taquerias and honeysuckle.

I am looking forward to my fifth visit to San Francisco. Maybe it will be more than just a visit this time.