Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hieronymus Bosch "Garden of Earthly Delights" Interpretation

Hieronymus Bosch, a Dutch painter from the Middle Ages, had painted the "Garden of Earthly Delights". I came across this interactive exhibit of the painting and am obsessed. Why couldn't every painting of significance have an interactive narration like this? They have two options - a narrated tour through 15 key sections, or Freely Explore numerous hot spots on the painting where audio notes are presented. Zoom in. Listen to the audio. Click on other links. The experience is absolutely lovely. It's like being in a museum and listening to the curators on the headsets, except you don't have to fuss with the back and forth buttons on the device.

This is a perfect mix of art history and technology. This is what online galleries need to do.

Also, I'm personally blown away by the details in this painting. We zoom into the details and everything is perfectly shaded or positioned, and has significance. When you zoom into the details, you see the mermaid and the mer-knight in the middle of the water. There are the birds in different sizes and performing different activities. Who..How.. Why? I can imagine this becoming full time mission for historians to dissect these components, all the while enjoying the beauty of the painting.

Yes, I'm obsessed.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Portland Visit Reviews

I'm returning from a week in Portland, OR for a business trip and did get to explore around a bit. Here's a recap for future reference.

Where we ate: 


The first night, we hit Indian food. I was excited since I had been traveling the whole day and just arrived to a rainy and chilly Portland. For me, Indian food is comfort food. Get me some naan and dal, and I'm good to go!

We went to the one in Hillsboro and I loved the rich ambiance. There was a painting of an elephant that I wanted to steal because it was so amazing. The chairs are heavy wooden antique style, that require 2 hands to move due to the weight. Copper tins abound. Definitely an impressive place.

For the menu, it had pretty traditional options. I liked that they did have a section where you pick your chicken/lamb/shrimp, and then select the style of cooking (karai, tikka masala, etc). The samosas were freshly made. We requested varying degrees of spiciness so that could be adjusted.

I skipped the gulab jamun because I only eat my mother's recipe. However, the masala chai was warm and creamy. The lassi is served in a tall milkshake glass, so that's a good sized portion.

Jake's Crawfish
The next night we wanted something more traditional to Portland. Jake's has been there for 110 years and right in the heart of the city.

The menu is predominantly seafood so I'm assuming vegetarian requests would be off-menu. The selection of seafood is varied and they identify the region that sources the product. I had a blackened salmon (swordfish was out) and the dish was enjoyable. Personally, I wasn't blown away, but it was a good solid dish. My colleagues did enjoy their selections.  We were looking to get regional specialties for Northwest, which we did.

Red Star Tavern
Now we've ventured toward Pioneer Plaza area. Streets are lined with high-end and low-end shopping, movie theaters, hotels and restaurants. It was raining that evening (surprise, surprise). We couldn't really walk around so we ducked into a Hilton and asked the concierge for restaurant recommendations. He suggested we check out Red Star Tavern for the Northwest regional cuisine. Umbrellas out!

Their website says: "Farm-to-fabulous, organic, local, and meticulous preparation with West Coast cachet -- it’s all here."

Definitely a beautiful chic place that has a male vibe to it. Dark furniture, secret bookcase to a private room/speak easy. I ordered a Saint 75 cocktail (Aviation gin, elderflower, lemon, sparkling wine) and it was delightful (Isn't that the only word you can use when you have sparkling wine?).

Their dinner menu is pretty tight. Barely one page of content. They have small plates, sides, entrees. There are nods to vegetarians. The Oregon rock fish was very good and flavorful. Two colleagues chose the Chef's dinner, which included starter and desserts.

This would be a good place to experience those dishes you see on "Top Chef" (now, what exactly is a Hamachi Crudo with apple, fresno chile, carrot, salmon roe?)

Paley's Place
For our last proper meal in Portland, we stumbled upon the northwest area of Portland with rows of restaurants and bars. We had lots to choose and randomly picked French cuisine at Paley's. This restaurant is inside a house, so it has a cozy atmosphere. Of course, when it's cozy, you need to wait for a table. Fortunately there was a spot at the bar and we could try out some wines and their cocktails. Their Bermuda Triangle was warmed rum and cider, nicely mixed with cinnamon and lime. On a cool evening, this was good way to warm up.

The menu doesn't have any vegetarian options, so I'm sure one would need to request off-menu. There's creative meat options for sure including sweatbreads, escargots, rabbit and marrow. For the sides, the roasted beets were fabulous and I need to know the recipe so I can make it every day. Colleagues loved the lamb special.

The one odd thing for the group was the vegetables were served as a 2nd course, while we thought of them as a side with the entree. It threw some people off, but the staff was understanding to our expectations. By the way, the staff was uber-attentive and the bartender was charming and knowledgeable. They work hard to make it a good experience.

Voodoo Doughnuts
We're not just doing fancy schmancy restaurants. We're doing doughnuts, baby!

I had a running corny joke with my Portland colleague for so many years. Whenever we had a conference call, I'd say "I'll bring the coffee, you bring the donuts." So he had told us they had a famous place in Portland and they did maple bacon donuts, were on the Food Channel, etc.

When I learned I was going out there, I told everyone I must go to Voodoo Doughnuts. So, we had that on the agenda every day and finally made a stop Wednesday evening. We all chose different ones - Rice Krispies and peanut butter atop chocolate frosting, a mango tango cream, a maple bacon and one covered in mini M&Ms.

 I was excited by the ambiance too - the large doughnut  on the ceiling is outrageous. If you visit their site and click on their Doughnut list, they have all their crazy flavors noted.

By the way, the next day a colleague grabbed a tray of doughnuts from another bakery. Those were spectacular too! Portland takes it's doughnuts seriously.

What We Did

Powell's Books
So, it's not just about eating. The next essential element for life - at least for me - are bookstores. Someone directed me to Powell's and we are grateful.

I don't want to describe the store because I won't do it justice. It's not slick and shiny. It's laid out in a fashion that must be learned by experience of walking through the shelves. Yes, as first time visitors, we were lost and weren't sure which level was coming and going, and where exactly are adult fiction. They tried to color code sections, but we were still not sure.

Because of the labyrinth-like layout, there's more discovery allowed. Turning a corner, you don't know what it means by Film Books until you land there and see books about so many movies and filmmakers. Being a used and new bookstore, the collections are vast and you're more likely to find an out of date book here than on Amazon.

I was tickled to see books I had heard about recently online or on the radio. Now, I could finally hold them. Because I'm traveling and my bags were quite full, I had to restrain myself from buying any excess books.

My greatest find was poster book of Sanjay Patel's deities. As I was telling my colleagues about it, I just embraced this book and said "It's mine." Fortunately it lay flat in my bag so the packing wasn't an issue.

As I browsed around, I was floored to see a huge book case of books by journalists. Then, I made a bee line for the poetry books. To see so many Pablo Neruda books on the shelf was amazing. I sat down on the concrete floor and almost cried touching all these books. I snagged "The Captain's Verses."

My colleagues also found books that they were looking for and more than they expected. I know we didn't finish the store as we had run over after dinner and they were closing at 11. 

Until next time, Portland! 

Bowie - Being a Hero Forever and Ever

Oh not, not Bowie!

The news on Jan 10th of David Bowie’s death shook the world. Obviously, other artists have passed away, and you feel a bit of nostalgia and sorrow and commemorate with a quiet “RIP So and So” in your Facebook status as a salute. With David Bowie, that would not do. 

This loss permeated through so many people. I have been deeply moved and burying myself in David Bowie videos and songs for the past weeks. I wiped away tears watching a tribute on TV at the gym. This was no ordinary celebrity. This was someone so integrated into our fibers we had to feel his loss.

If you’re not an out and out David Bowie fan, that’s ok. His music is not for everyone. However, you must give him credit for the influence and inspiration he gave so many people in music, fashion, literature, and any part of life that needs permission to have freedom of expression and self-identification. Without Ziggy Stardust kicking off glam-rock movement, we would’ve missed the 80’s New Wave to Lady Gaga. There wouldn’t be the edge in pop and rock theater. We would've perpetuated a cycle of straight forward Beatles and Rolling Stones. The world wanted and needed over the top performance artists to provoke the norm.

I believe one of the reasons everyone was so shaken is because Bowie had always been there, and we just assumed he would always be there. His music has been playing in the background of our lives. I missed the whole 60-70’s Ziggy Stardust phenomenon, so I knew him as the blond and elegant 80’s David with the baggy suits with shoulder pads. To be honest, I thought “Let’s Dance” was overplayed and “China Girl” was too silly. Then there was the Mick Jagger duet on "Dancing in the Streets," which seemed like the craziest combination.

Since it was the 80's artists that were influenced by him, I stepped away from the new stuff and went backwards. Duran Duran had remade his "Fame," which I enjoyed. However for a remake, it was too close to the original.

I learned of “Space Oddity” through Peter Schilling's song "Major Tom." I remember Kasey Kasem on American Top 40 radio show telling the story of how David Bowie sent Major Tom into space, and Peter Schilling brought him back years later. I am always intrigued by the concept of artists playing off each other. In college in the late 80’s, I had to seek out the original recording of “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, since Vanilla Ice had captured the riff.

One of my favorite movie soundtracks is for the musical “Moulin Rouge.” I listen to the songs all the time because I love how modern pop songs are diced, spliced, and glued together for a vintage story. A favorite song is the Elephant Love Medley (sung by Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman). The main chorus is “we can be Heroes, forever and ever,” as he tries to convince her character to give love a chance. I pulled it up the other day and realized how many lyrics from Bowie’s “Heroes” are actually integrated into the Moulin Rouge version. After further research, I learn David Bowie is on credits for “Nature Boy.” This is a perfect example of those moments you love him without knowing it. 

 There’s also an elusiveness to David Bowie that also makes him fascinating. He’s not out and about seeking attention for the sake of attention. He knew when to show up for fabulous parties and events. He seemed like the guy that only needed to wave his hands to bewitch and enchant.

There’s a quote from circulating online that the world is 4 billion years old, and we existed at the same time as David Bowie. It’s interesting because I thought of something similar when Princess Diana died. She will become a legend and won’t be remembered as a real person. It's these larger than life individuals that need to be remembered as humans.

Now we will have to tell stories about David Bowie not as a person, but this Starman wandered to our planet, lived among us and sprinkling his magic. This is our last dance.. under pressure.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Impressions of Barcelona (Memories, Travel Tips and Links!)

So life brought us back to Spain two years after our trip to Madrid. I had written about my experiences with Madrid and recommendations for Madrid. We were actually considering a number of vacation destinations such as Caribbean islands and alternately Germany and Czech Republic since it matched work obligations. However, we really wanted to go back to Spain and see Barcelona, which we always felt we missed.

My relationship with Barcelona started with the 1992 Olympics, and then a conversation with my manager in 1995 who studied there. She told me about Gaudi architecture and all the beautiful art around the city, and I was hooked. I was reading about it, watching every travel channel show about Barcelona. It's ironic that I ended up in Madrid first because I did not care to go to Madrid. Of course, I fell in love with Madrid too.

By the way, there's been a bit of rivalry in my family about Barcelona versus Madrid. I actually feel like choosing between Madrid and Barcelona is like choosing between New York and San Francisco - amazing cities in their own right. Each city has its own vibe.

We spent 6 days in Barcelona and it was not enough since we did not go to all the museums and every Gaudi building tours. We actually planned our week because we know that time slips away when you're on vacation. With Barcelona, there's advantages to planning ahead because there are museum cards and online ticketing. So if you know what you'd like to see, you can actually save money. We're there for too short a time to just "wing it" and waste hours in line.

What We Did

Segrada Familia
This is once in a lifetime experience. And, even if you do come again in this lifetime, it's going to be a different building since it's still under construction.You could spend hours just looking at the architecture, the carvings, the stained glass. It's definitely a magical experience to stand inside the church and feel the colored light and the eminence presence of spirit, of the artists and worshipers.

1. When you order tickets online, you will be asked to pick a time slot. You need to be there at that time. They won't let you in 10 minutes early. Once you're in, you're in and can take your time inside the church.

2. Do not do the Towers if you are not comfortable with heights or the idea of being in a 5x5 room with 8 people who speak different languages and have no clue, and only a narrow staircase with room for one person to descend. There's an elevator that takes you up and we had the option to take it down. My sister had gone 2 years ago and said elevator up was the only option and she descended the stairs, which was claustrophobic.

Frankly, I don't see the point of the Tower tour because the design of the Towers is for a priest or a monk to climb the stairs. Not a bunch of tourists. They ask you not to take any bags and provide lockers.

It's better to go to MontJuic and see the most stunning views of the city. Gaudi said he did not want the towers to exceed the height of MontJuic to be respectful of nature's dominance. 

Parc Guell
It was my dream to come to Parc Guell and I unfortunately did not have the experience I wanted. My plan was to take a picture on the benches for my Facebook profile. I thought the benches were part of the 'free' area, but it's actually not.

First note is that our tour guide said that the metro stop Vallacare was closer. What he forgot to tell us that it's steeper. There was an intense, San Francisco 45 degree climb to the top. Fortunately, there are escalators, but it is quite steep if you're not in physical shape. As it turns out,there is the Lesseps which is slightly further, but flatter!

We arrived at 5 pm, and were in line for tickets. Someone told us at 6:15 there is free entry. Wow, if we can save almost 30 Euros for 3 of us by waiting 1 hour, why not? We walked around, enjoyed the cafe and returned at 6:15. However, we did not realize the sun would be set and there would be a full moon! There was no lighting and actually quite dangerous. I could not find my family and we were walking down unlit steps with strangers. The Park should actually NOT let people come in after dark.

We would've paid our fees and enjoyed the architecture. It's much too dangerous if there is no lighting. The Parc should actually consider adding lighting and offering a reduced night fee because it would be quite beautiful. (I've duly sent my note to the Parc Guell admin, but they said it's a UNESCO site and cannot be altered with lighting)

Gaudi Tours
We took a walking tour of Gaudi architecture with Running Bean Tours. We started in Placa Reill and covered Palau Guell. We took the metro to Casa Guell and Casa Mila (La Pedrera), and another to Segrada Familia.Our guide Miguel was knowledgeable and patient enough to give lessons on getting around with the metro. The purpose of the tour is to become familiarized with the history and the buildings, and having a local as a guide, we picked up other tips about the city.

Unfortunately, we did not tour the interiors and rooftops of the buildings on this trip. Next time!

Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic)
We stayed in this area, so we became comfortable here. I wanted to note we took a walking tour with Orange Donut and our guide Aleksandra was very good. She was passionate about history and pointed out different aspects of the city's background and Roman roots. The tour was about 2 hours and as Barcelona resident, she had lots of suggestions for where to eat.

Getting to Museums
There were two options - Barcelona Card and the Museum Card. There were 3 of us with different tastes in museums. However, we decided the 'must see' for us were the Miro and the Picasso. Therefore, the Museum Card would not have been useful as you should see at least 3 to make it worth the cost.

The Barcelona card includes train tickets as well as museums, and a discount only on the Gaudi buildings. So if we got a 2 day pass, it may be cost effective, but we're forcing ourselves to see a lot of museums in 2 days. We actually got the T10 metro card and shared it between ourselves (one person passes through and hands over the ticket to the next person). For us, we stayed in the Gothic Quarter the first 2 days and we did not need the metro since we walked everywhere.

Fundacio Joan Miro
This is located in MontJuic and we ended up walking uphill from Plaça d'Espanya. That was quite an intense walk, and they do have escalators. I read later someone said to take a cab. That's an option too.

This is a beautiful building designed by Miro to blend into nature, and the views of the city are amazing. The collection is vast and the audio/video guide is a must. Frankly, his work needs the explanation and there's a deeper understanding of the work, once his inspiration and intentions are understood. In addition to audio, it's also a screen on the device so they display other art and photographs not necessarily on display. There's also a short film about Miro that is worth watching. The museum ends with an embrace from other artists who were friends of Miro and/or influenced by his creativity.

For me, to gain freedom is to gain simplicity. So, in the end, a line, a color is all that’s needed to create a painting. - Joan Miro

Museu Picasso 
Remember the scene in "National Lampoon's European Vacation" when they had only 15 minutes to see the Louvre? After getting lost through the gothic alleyways (thank goodness for GPS!) we managed to find the museum. However it was closing in 45 minutes. We decided to let it go and come back in the morning.

I'm a Picasso fan, so I was eager to see this. I've seen a lot of exhibits in the US, and have been to the Picasso Museum in Paris. The first part about this museum is the building itself. There's a beautiful staircased courtyard, and just beautiful architecture. Wait, I forgot. This is Barcelona, could we expect any less?

What was exciting to me about this collection was Las Meninas. This is Picasso's attempts at recreating Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez. When we were at The Prado in Madrid, we had seen this painting; the audioguide had been in depth about the analysis. So, it was fantastic to see Picasso's artistic process and the progression to achieve this parallel classic.

Side note: Picasso's "Guernica" is at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. Again, powerful masterpiece and worth seeing. 


So, when the Picasso museum was closing, we were disappointed and bit grumpy about trying to figure out our next plan. Let's just walk around the old neighborhoods. A gentleman beckoned us from a doorway. There was a flamenco show starting now. Not later, now. At 6.

This was Palau Dalmases, a beautiful old palace with a courtyard as you enter. The decor was beyond eclectic and like a museum. (Check the site's gallery for pictures)
For the entry fee, we got one drink (sangria, anyone?) and front row seats to a fabulous performance. The artists were wonderful, and captivating. The only issue we had was that it was 1 hour performance and artists took a 10 minute break. It was small and intimate and just amazing.

So, it lifted our mood immediately.

I can't figure out the food in Spain. It's simple. There isn't a lot of spices and there isn't a lot of fancy treatment to the ingredients. So, why does it taste so wonderful? Slice of manchego and bread is wonderful. Sangria is always plentiful - tart and delicious!

Our favorite restaurant was Les Quinze Nits in Plaza Real. We found this place randomly, and tried it on our first night. Since we stayed in the area, we came back 2 more nights for dinner. Actually the last night in Barcelona, we walked from the waterfront to this restaurant because we knew it would be perfect.

The food was delicious, and the prices were quite unbelievable. I've never see lamb or swordfish on a menu for less than 13 Euros. The focaccia is insane, or you can have some Spanish olive oil and bread.

Sit outside, have the sangria by the pitcher and just enjoy Barcelona moments.

Spain is all about the tapas. If you don't walk carefully, you might trip over a tapas bar and you'll end up with a cerveza or glass of vino in your hand. I wish Americans had the tapas culture instead of the happy-hour-with-fried-appetizers. The beer is just lighter and easy to drink. I'm actually a white wine drinker, but I practically downed a bottle of Rioja in Barcelona. The sangria is just heaven.

The tension in the family was that beer and wine is 1.50 Euro. My daughter's Fanta is about 2.50 Euro. So, we had to tell her that we couldn't buy her soda all the time, and she fought back with us being 'alcoholics' for having wine every meal.

So one of our tour guides had pointed us a street between the metro stops Paral-el and Poble Sec.It's a great street of tapas bars, which have tapas for 1 Euro. And, these are pretty healthy portions! It was a lot of fun to pick out which ever we wanted and then pay by the toothpick. Our guide had told us that the key was to move between bars. We only went to 2 spots and were quite full!

Montserrat is absolutely beautiful and worth the effort to see. The climb to the top is via cable car or railway.

We took the cable car at the request of my daughter and husband; I had to suck up the fear of heights on this!It takes only 5 minutes to shoot to the top. We had 20 people with us on the journey up, and only the 3 of us on the journey down.

The views are incredible and the monastery is beautiful. We went inside the basilica, which houses the a "black Madonna". We didn't realize that there was a line that allowed visitors to see the Madonna up close. Our line was lengthy and there were worshipers who had come especially to see her. It was actually quite moving experience for us. Just as we reached the alter, a school choir concert began. Their voices sounded heavenly in the vast basilica!

Alongside the "main street", there were local farmers in a line giving out samples of fresh cheeses, jams, honey, and nuts. We had a lot of fun trying different samples and were tempted to buy some cheeses. However, we weren't sure of restrictions taking it back to the US. After I came home, I saw similar cheeses for $50, while these were 10 Euros for a wheel.

Travel Tip: 
We took a train from Plaça d'Espanya to Monserrat. We actually had printed notes from these 2 sites:
Barcelona Tourist Guide
Montserrat Tourist Guide  

And, yes, it was quite confusing! Check the train schedule and give yourself extra time to navigate through the train station. There are assistants for helping you buy the tickets from the kiosk.

It is generally cooler in the mountain so prepare accordingly.

The restaurant at top is a cafeteria style. We had picked up sandwiches in Barcelona, and just had some hot coffee and other extras.

Make the Most of Your Visit to Barcelona
  • Stay local. We stayed 3 areas: Barri Gotic, Avinguda Diagonal near shops and restaurants and last one by the water, near large mall. Switching hotels is not always fun, but we were happy we got to explore 3 different vibes. 
  • With the Barri Gotic, it was great having a hotel nearby where we could crash for a bit, get recharged and then back to exploring the neighborhoods.
  • Be ready to walk. Have your lotions and powders, and a little soap to wash your socks in the hotel room. Bring knee braces and insoles as you will be walking on cobblestones for hours. Being overly prepared, I grabbed an Ace bandage just in case of sprains. 
  • While we loved the Barri Gotic, it does get a little 'creepy' at night. Some nights are hopping and people are everywhere. And, then other nights it all shuts down fairly early. Also, if you have GPS on your phone, it is quite helpful as you're navigating through the medieval labyrinths of streets. Even if you ask for directions, it's quite confusing! Else, try to stick to main streets and save adventures for day time.
  • We followed a walking tour in a guidebook through Poble Nou neighborhood. We weren't too impressed until we stumbled upon cool sculptures at Parc de Diagonal Mar and also saw a small statue of Mahatma Gandhi. 

I studied French for years into college. I lived in NJ, so I've got a little Spanish under my belt. In Madrid, I felt confident that if I stayed on for another month, I'd be golden (rather dorado)! Welcome to Catalyuna! You can try to speak Spanish, you can may be speak French to get by. "Good Morning" is "Bon Dia". Or just skip it and hope for English.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Postcards from San Francisco 2013

I had last gone and wrote about my trip to San Francisco in 2006. Even though I’ve been to San Francisco two other times, this visit was much different because my daughter came along. We did more of the touristy things this time. But, that's ok – we’re tourists and this is fun!

What We Saw

  • Alcatraz – ok, we did not get tickets. You need to book 3 weeks out at least. I know on 7/7 the first available date was 7/29. I tried Craig’s List and almost had one but it didn’t work out. That's fine - need to leave something undone for the next trip.
  • Walking ToursCityGuides is a program offered through the San Francisco Library and native San Franciscans volunteer as guides for walking tours. Just a heads up that since this is a free tour, the group can get a little large. For our Chinatown tour, we showed up 15 minutes early and were the first ones there (not sure if we were in the right place). By the time the tour was ready to move, there were at least 50 people, but fortunately they had 2 guides.  Our guide Bob was knowledgeable about history of the area, as well as the culture. The walking tour had frequent stops, which included the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory for a snack. We also walked past the fish markets and into a Shinto Temple. It wouldn't have occurred to us to explore those.
  • Our second walking tour was to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. I’ve been there before and just strolled around and admired everything. With a guide, it was wonderful to hear the stories around the gardens and the families. The imprisonment of the Japanese citizens during WWII impacted the history of the gardens, down to specific plants that were saved by friends. 
  • Cable Car Ride – we considered taking the California line because Fodor’s said it was less crowded and offered good views. However, we went for the Powell/Hyde line since that had more dramatic inclines. This meant we had 1 hour wait in line at 11 am on a weekday. My daughter had her heart set on hanging off the side, but we forced her 67 lb frame into a front row seat. We had some other tourists come and hang off so that made picture taking more challenging.
  • Bookstores - we stumbled upon City Lights bookstore, which is a poet's holy ground.The poetry and world literature section is so exciting - books and journals I've only seen online are right there. Another bookstore that I liked was Chronicle Books. I wasn't sure at first because it smelled and looked too posh to be a good bookstore (thinking of the crickety wood floors at City Lights). However, this was the opposite. It's not just books I had seen online that were here, but online jokes or meme were their own books. They had lots of journals and artistic notebooks. I did buy a children's book there for a gift.
  • Children's Creativity Museum Yerba Buena - we just poked our heads in here as we were walking by. Annika's 12 now and this looked like it was geared towards younger children. However, they said they had claymation movie making. So, Annika and I spent 2.5 hours making a 10 second video! She came up with the plot, we made our figurines from clay, filmed it using iStopMotion with camera/backdrops. Then we took it to their sound editing room where Annika worked with someone to add voice and sound effects to her video. It's not that great because we didn't know what we were doing. However, it was a great experience!

 What We Ate

  • Viva Goa - the owner and staff are from Goa, India and it's refreshing change from the standard north Indian food you find at Indian restaurants. My husband's family is originally from Goa so he was excited about "home food." I had tried their Xacutti curry and was surprised. It tasted just like my husband's egg curry that he makes -- blending onions and coconut with key spices. I wanted to tell the non-Indians behind me "Skip the chicken tikka masala! get a fish fry masala because you won't find that anywhere else!" I wasn't thrilled with the ambot-tik sauce (sour-spicy), so there is a new flavor palette with this.
  • Kasa Indian - found this online as recommended for kati rolls, which we love. We liked the rolls and they offered different varieties. However, we still love Kati Roll Company in NYC the best.
  • Vik's Chaat Corner - this is in Berkely and again was rated highly online. We had trouble finding this one, but it's very open and clean layout. I was impressed with the way they had the ordering/food pick up organized. We had dahi bhata puri, which is one of my favorite chaat items (FYI - I could just subsist on chaat foods. I don't need real food. Elko Arcade in Mumbai is heaven for me.)
  • Tacubaya Mexican - this is in Berkeley and I wasn't going to leave CA without eating fish tacos. It was good, but Annika devoured 2 chicken tacos and still talks about it. Do wish I had one of these nearby. There was a woman reading a book with a bowl of tortillas and guac. That's perfect.
We had Chinese and Thai as well, but those were forgettable. The Thai was recommended to us, but it was quite ordinary and a little odd, in fact.

What We Drank

We had to hit Sonoma. So here are the wineries we explored:
  • Viansa - Enjoy the scenery. After a week of foggy and cold July weather in San Francisco, we were ecstatic to see the sun. Loved the view of the fields, mountains and trees from here. There was a wedding happening later and we were all jealous. We enjoyed the wine tasting experience here. If you become a member, their wines are quite reasonable.
  • Ledson - look for the castle! We slid in here right before closing and were happy the hostess spent a lot of time with us. She was great because she took it as a challenge to find wine that would suit or push our palettes.
  • Gloria Ferrer - we stopped here because we liked it so much last time. However, we didnt stay too long. Just felt more crowded there and not as easy-going as Viansa.
  • Chateau St. Jean - we stopped here, but didn't get to stay since they were closing for a private event. (Darn you people and your fancy events!)
In town, there were some other wine tasting rooms and the staff seemed quite appealing. However, we were seeking more of the vineyard experience.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2013 Transforms

Looking back at 2013, it's a year of transformations.
For myself, I started in one place with a specific mindset, but somewhere tracks changed and I ended up in a different place. It's definitely better, but not what I imagined in January.

It hasn't been easy since there were lots of dark moments during the year, and one was especially painful as it was related to a young person close to us. However, that traumatic experience too led us to a place of transformation and hope.

Lesson 1 - Believe in the Positive

I attribute a lot of the transformations this year to the power of positive visualization. I finally read "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne, after seeing it lying next to me at the library. I had avoided the hype years ago and decided to pick it up.

The biggest message is to believe the desired state exists now. I'm a pretty positive person, but the difference was believing in the change. I was writing down the things I wanted, but the Secret is to believe you already have them. That was something different for me, and felt it was effective.

I learned to dream big too. I remember 20 years ago, I couldn't dream big at all. I was in such a tunnel and couldn't look beyond forwards and backwards. Now, I'm in a place where I could see left and right, but I didn't know there was an up. So, it's a matter of lifting the ceiling and seeing new possiblities.

Lesson 2 - Expect Change

The only thing consistent is life is change. We can't rely on consistency as much as we think we can. Life changing events can occur and we should not assume our lives can't change instantly. We use building blocks to stack pieces of our lives together and it doesn't take much to knock over the tower. However, we pick up the blocks and build a tower again. When that tower does topple, we have to look at which pieces will build the strongest foundation for us. It's not always the ones we think.

Lesson 3 - Look Beyond Your Belly Button
Stop the navel gazing and bemoaning your life. See what you have in your life. There were days when I was stessed, and I was grateful for a colleague who made a funny joke and made me laugh. It's not all bad. Really.

I'm full of hope and optimism for 2014 and know the lessons of the previous year will help ground us.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Echoes from The Sound of Music

There’s been a bit of an uproar lately with country/pop/American Idol star Carrie Underwood tackling the role of Maria in a televised stage version of “Sound of Music” This has generated such a dialogue among fans, and unfortunately hate tweets for Carrie.

“The Sound of Music” is such a culturally iconic movie and it has a sense of sacredness about it. It’s not just in the US, but globally.

  • If at any time someone needs to depict the most uplifting and positive portrayal of Hollywood, flash to Maria spinning her skirts to the “Hills are Alive” with that amazing pan of the open space.  
  • In Arundhati Roy’s “God of Small Things,” the main characters are at a viewing of the movie when a critical event occurs. I always remember how Maria and the children were described having “peppermint voices” in contrast to the harsh realities for the characters in the book.
  • We sang the songs in school, learned about Rogers & Hammerstein in music classes. Now that I’m thinking about it, I had done a report in elementary school on Rogers & Hammerstein and sketched the scenes from the movie.  My father had the double record album and there were movie stills and as a child, I gazed at this forever wondering about the Von Trapp children. I wonder how many future puppeteers were inspired by this movie.

We visited Austria years ago by car from Germany. We drove through beautiful landscapes and we gasped at the breathtaking mountains. I kept gushing “Wow, I feel like I’m in the Sound of Music.” When we arrived in Salzburg, Austria, we hit the Sound of Music mecca. I had forgotten that Salzburg is where the story took place and the movie captured all of the local elements. There was church, the gardens, the mountains.. and Salzburg knows this. They offer full and half day tours to see all the sites where the movie was filmed. 

While walking around the town, I came across small beautiful flowers along a hedge. I realized they were Edelweiss, clean and white. I took few steps further and entered the garden of the Dwarves. I started telling my husband, “This is it! this is it! This is where the kids marched and stepped to the top of the staircase!” It was like I had been there in a previous life.

When my daughter was 3 years old, I thought it’d be fun to play this movie for her alongside the TeleTubbies and Disney movies. She loved it so much that she wanted to watch it every day for 3 weeks. Every. Day. For three weeks. Let that sink in.

The first few times, we would sit  to watch, and friends would walk in and sit down too. When we got tired, she threw tantrums. She wanted specific scenes.  She kept crying “when he has a haircut!” and I replied no one gets haircuts.  We realized that when Maria first enters the house to meet the children, my daughter thought it was the father (with a haircut) who opened the door, not realizing it was the butler. Once we drove by an old cathedral in NY and she asked if Maria was there. When she was about 6 or so, we went to see a local stage production. During the show, when Maria and Captain came back from their honeymoon, she asked if Maria had “a baby in her tummy now.” Yes, SOM raises other family issues we never thought about.

One thing I noticed during our 3 week SOM marathon, the children in the movie acted extremely well. They were crisp in their delivery, and even when there was no dialogue, their expressions were on target. The story is very tight, and the music is absolutely creative, which make this film so durable.

Question on the Plot

I do have one qualm with the overall storyline. The youngest child is 5 years old, which means the mother had died at the most 5 years prior. We understand the father has issues resolving his grief and opted for repression and denial as coping mechanism. Other than the 2 younger children (aged 5 and 7), everyone should have reasonable memories of mother and the happier times when the house was full of music. It seems they all just erased the mother. Of course it's cleaner to remove the references to mother, and let Maria step forward without handling baggage of the previous relationship. Otherwise, this turns into an issue of “Nannies Gone Wild.”