Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ai Weiwei @Large

You can see from the poster above that the Ai Weiwei exhibit was held on Alcatraz island from Sept. 27th to April 26th. Having seen the publicity and having heard fans like artist Anna Conti enthuse about it, I knew it opened in September. I planned to go sooner rather than later. So....when did I finally make arrangements to attend the show?  Thursday April 23rd, three days before it closed.

It wasn't easy to attend. Since the show was displayed on Alcatraz, art lovers had to reserve space on the Alcatraz Cruise line with all the other tourists planning to visit the prison, and it was necessary to book in advance since the ferries fill up, especially on weekends. I started to check the cruise schedule early in the exhibit's last week and found tickets were unavailable on the weekend and were scarce  during the week. Watching Friday's reservations disappear, I quickly booked for Thursday morning.

We launched from San Francisco's Pier 33 with a full boatload of tourists and a few last-minute art lovers.

Alcatraz Ferry Terminal at Pier 33 with Telegraph Hill in the background

The only way to get there

                               I got goosebumps approaching The Rock---my first visit to Alcatraz


A grim world awaited us as we walked up the flower-lined path and entered the first building. Ai Weiwei had designed ceramic flowers to fill the toilets and sinks in some ancient hospital-ward cells. There were touches like this throughout the prison buildings.

I originally thought that works for @large Ai Weiwei would be exhibited in one isolated "museum" building which one could view and then look around Alcatraz or return home. In reality, Ai's works were installed throughout all the prison buildings, forcing the viewer to experience the artist's vision in an actual prison setting, so his message and protest could resonate clearly in insightful and beautiful ways...

"Every one of us is a potential convict"
Ai Weiwei himself is detained in China for speaking out against the government. He can't leave the country, so of course he never saw this exhibition. He and his assistants constructed the seven pieces in his studio. He then sent three teams to erect the installations in seven rooms on Alcatraz. The National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy and the Fore-Site Foundation hosted the show and volunteers helped install it and take it down. Read about it here.

Cheryl Haines, exhibition curator, consults with the artist in his Beijing studio ( Photo from Fore-Site Foundation)

"With Wind"

The entire floor of the New Industries Building (designed as a laundry and work-space where prisoners could work for money) was covered with portraits of men and women from all over the world who made sacrifices in the struggle for individual freedoms. Viewers could wander around the portraits created with colorful Leggos, assembled to depict faces with remarkable likenesses to the subjects. We only recognized a few...

Martin Luther King

Edward Snowden

We wandered around the various buildings discovering new installations and soaking up the atmosphere of the old, deserted prison. The scope of the exhibit was vast, and the logistics of putting it together must have been monumental. The employees were well-informed and happy to answer  our questions.

View of the Leggo exhibit from an upper corridor

An old prison electrical junction box

View from the Gun Gallery of a massive Ai Weiwei construction entitled "Refraction"

A prison path with a view of the Bay Bridge in the hazy distance

When we'd had enough of prison life, we wandered down to the dock, took the ferry to San Francisco and, at Dean's suggestion, hailed a pedicab back to Bart. We did it! We can cross Alcatraz off our bucket list. We're home FREE!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Palm Springs Jaunt

Hello to Palm Springs---capital of mid-century modern architecture

Last week we took a four day mini-vacation to Palm Springs. After a three hour delay at SFO due to fog and an hour and thirty five minute flight, we landed in the desert, greeted by temperatures in the mid-nineties. After securing a list of must-do activities from the friendly car rental staff, we drove toward town in search of Sparrows Lodge.

Unmarked sign for Sparrows Lodge

Dean having breakfast in the "barn"
Formerly called the Red Barn, a '50s hangout for Hollywood celebrities, this stylish lodge has been remodeled into a 20 room rustic hideaway renamed Sparrows Lodge. We entered through the beautiful pool area, flanked by guest rooms, and registered in the open "barn" which serves as office/bar/breakfast area. Though many guests are from the L.A. area, we befriended couples from Brooklyn and Rhinebeck. They convinced us that the Hudson River Valley would be a super vacation spot.
PS: No one under 21 is allowed at Sparrows, but dogs are welcome!

The rooms are rustic-chic with exposed wood-and-stone interiors and exotic Bali bathrooms with open showers. There are no TVs on the property, so the atmosphere is quiet and relaxing. And fortunately for Dean the pro basketball playoffs didn't start until the following week. With the San Jacinto mountains as a backdrop, we spent lazy afternoons reading on our lounge chairs. When temperatures soared into the hundreds, the staff turned on misters installed around the pool to cool the outside air, and handed out icy fruit popsicles. Swimming in the crystal-clear pool was delightful.

Bali bath with open shower

Between swimming and lounging, we saw a few of the recommended mid-century desert marvels which make Palm Springs so interesting, and differentiate it from the endless sprawl of condos from Palm Desert to Rancho Mirage.

We passed the classic Palm Springs Visitors center, originally Frey's Tramway Gas Station, here  on our way to Palm Springs aerial tramway. When it was built in 1965 it was the first landmark for tourists driving in from Los Angeles on Highway 111.

A view through the vines of the restaurant at the Parker Meridian Hotel

We snuck a peek at the Parker Meridien. The hotel was originally established in 1959 as a Holiday Inn. In fact, it was California’s first. In 1961, the non-descript concrete and cinderblock property was purchased by singing cowboy Gene Autry for the main purpose of lodging his newly acquired baseball team, the California Angels, during Spring Training.  He changed the name of the site to Melody Ranch (it was also often called The Autry Hotel) and added a few luxury touches, like a second pool, tennis courts, a bar, and a couple of restaurants. We loved the mid-century, eye-popping decor.

Then we traveled on streets named Bob Hope or Dinah Shore Drive to the Coachella Valley Preserve for a desert hike under a scorching sun. Here the San Andreas fault can be viewed at close range. This is definitely earthquake country!

100+ degrees and still smiling!

And on our last day we took the aerial tram straight up the mountain to view Palm Springs from about 8,000 feet. At that altitude it was cold and windy.

Late Friday afternoon as plane-loads of tourists were arriving, we flew out of scenic Palm Springs airport with the majestic San Jacinto mountains in the background

Palm Springs Airport with San Jacinto mountains in the background

Oh, and I almost forgot, the culinary highlight of the trip was a DATE SHAKE! We drove to Indio to find a roadside stand selling the date shakes I remembered from a long-ago trip to the Coachella Valley, but Indio was quite desolate and there were no date stands or shakes to be found. Finally I checked online and we struck gold at a chocolate shop called Palm Springs Chocolate and Fudge, on Palm Canyon Drive. The shake was made from date paste, milk and ice cream and it was delicious. We were told that some shakes are made from date crystals in place of real dates—they're inferior. And the best date variety is medjool. Since they sell dates at the Berkeley Farmers' markets, I'm going to experiment with making my own shakes soon.

Date Shake

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tangerine Dreams

Tangerines, also called mandarins, are flooding the market this winter and in my part of the country they are being advertised by their variety. Here's what I saw brightening the Monterey Market one bleak February day.




Gold Nugget

Clementine mandarins

Page Mandarins
Minneola tangello is a cross between Dancy and a Duncan grapefruit               

Dancy tangerine

Tahoe Gold

Honey Tangerine

Kishu mandarins

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Elena Ferrante Books Get Wet...then Dry

Wednesday night I mistakenly left three windows open in my car parked outside on the street, so when gusty winds and torrents of rain blew into the Berkeley hills early Thursday morning, they soaked my Toyota's upholstery and floors and all the belongings left on the seats. Luckily, there was a puffy vest and swim towels which soaked up some moisture, but by the time I went out to the car Thursday morning the interior was pretty damp. While furiously mopping up the water, I noticed four books by the Italian author Elena Ferrante on the back seat. The two I had just finished were completely dry but the other pair, which I had just started, seemed at first glance to be rain-spattered only on the covers. The dry pair were the first volumes of Ferrante's Neapolitan trilogy, My Brilliant Friend, and it's Italian original titled  L'Amica Geniale.  The second pair, closer to the window, were the ones I am eagerly devouring at present, Storia del Nuovo Cognome and the English translation, Story of a New Name. As with the first two volumes, I am  reading the Italian original with the help of the English translation. It takes me a long time to read Ferrrante's dense, passionate prose in Italian, even with help, but it's so rewarding to read these brilliant novels in Italian and it's lots of fun.

Anyway, back to the stormy day cleanup:  On closer inspection I realized that most of the pages in the midsection of Story of a New Name were saturated, and its Italian counterpart was also wet and damaged. My first attempts at blotting and wiping did nothing but reveal more soaked pages all stuck together and ruined. I felt sick. I'm totally immersed in the stories of these vivid characters in their poor Neapolitan neighborhood, and the precious books I had recently bought were soaked and unreadable. Calming down slightly, I decided to check the Internet for instructions for drying books. I knew "the angels" had saved whole libraries after the disastrous 1966 flood in Florence, so why couldn't I save two books?  As hoped, there were numerous websites devoted to air drying wet books, so I chose the Cornell University Library site  with bright illustrations and clear directions for drying "thoroughly wet, partially wet or damp" pages. I was encouraged, and I abandoned immediate plans for a trip to the bookstore. Why not make this a rainy day DIY project?  I unearthed my Vornado, fanned out the pages as Cornell suggested, stood the books on edge and turned the fan on high. The pages fluttered in the breeze, separating and drying as predicted.

After air-drying for hours, many pages were still damp to the touch, especially interior portions near the spine, so I decided to use my Baby Pro hair dryer. For some reason, the websites did not suggest this option. Drying the sections page by page was tedious, but the warm air directed at each damp area really worked. The downside of the page by page process was that it was all too tempting to read the pages as I dried them. I couldn't resist skipping ahead and discovering what the two main characters, Lina Cerullo and Elena Greco, were up to later in the story. The intense relationship of the two girls, their families, friends and enemies came alive in their poor Neapolitan neighborhood, as they grew from young girls in the 50's to adolescents and beyond in the recently published third volume, Those who Leave and those Who Stay, which I will read when I finish Story of a New Name.

My hair dryer completed the final drying process

Blow drying yielded two books with stiff, wavy pages, totally readable, but not very aesthetically pleasing. I may try pressing the books between boards, as The Cornell Library site suggests, or I may visit my local bookstore for a fresh copy. However, to buy the Italian version I have to order from the wonderful San Francisco online bookstore Libreria Pino, Here, which carries a large selection of Italian books and ships promptly. Unfortunately, prices are high so I may read my disfigured Italian copy after all.

Flattening air-dried books between boards
My car has also recovered, though friends are still discovering puddles in the most unlikely places.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Rain At Last

Today, December 3rd, after a night of heavy rain, my handy rain gauge registered five inches. To be truthful, this measurement was the result of the last three storms. I just couldn't empty it and start from scratch after each small accumulation. Finally, yesterday's rainy weather brought the total to three inches. Then when I went out this morning I was overjoyed to see it had topped out at 5!  Now I'll empty the rainwater and look forward to starting over.

Thank you rain gods! The plants are happy, the fire danger is nil and the hills will soon be green.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Latte Surprise

The following article appeared in the Health section of the SF Chronicle on Sept. 17th

A Great Pumpkin Surprise

"This time of year there's little question Americans are pumped about pumpkin. We gobble up about $300 million worth of pumpkin-flavored products annually, mostly from September through November. Although few vegetables boast the same level of fandom, the craze doesn't always have nutrition experts smiling.
Starbucks recently was criticized because its famed Pumpkin Spice Latte doesn't contain actual pumpkin. Nor do many of the other pumpkin-flavored products, including Nabisco's new Pumpkin Spice Oreos, set to hit shelves next week. But, in most cases, the lack of pumpkin isn't the biggest health concern. It's the sugar.
Nutrition expert Joyce Hanna, associate director of the Health Improvement Program at Stanford, points out that a 12-oz. Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte with nonfat milk and no whipped cream contains 37 grams of sugar. That's a tad more than seven teaspoons.
The World Health Organization says adults shouldn't consume more than 25 grams of sugar per day, so just one latte puts you over the limit. Adding whipped cream or other types of milk raises the fat and calorie content. Pumpkin-flavored baked goods and ice cream often present the same problems, whether they contain pumpkin or not.
But Hanna says real pumpkin is a super food. A cup of it has as much potassium as a banana and more fiber than a bowl of high-fiber cereal. It's rich in calcium, iron, and other vitamins, and it's a top source of beta carotene. Hanna suggests including baked or steamed pumpkin in savory dishes like soup, and keeping an eye on sugar, fat and salt when you make pumpkin desserts."
By Kathryn Roethel

"Everything nice" means loads of sugar

During the next few days there was a flurry of letters to the editor commenting on the Sept. 17th article. 
                                                             Two readers agreed

Making healthy choices

"Regarding “'Pumpkin-flavored’ may be full of sugar” (Health, Sept. 17), companies use healthy food titles as a marketing strategy to appeal consumers to purchase their products without the feeling of guilt. If a consumer picks pumpkin spiced latte versus a caramel macchiato, they believe to have chosen a healthier choice, but realistically, the sugar levels in both are beyond the daily recommendation. In this generation, Americans are mindful of what they are eating, although unhealthy foods are not eliminated, the healthier sounding food is the next preferred choice.

The naming of foods can play an important role in increasing consumer purchases, although the ingredients aren’t 100 percent true to what the title advertises. For example, Jamba Juice sells fruit and vegetable smoothies. However, in a regular size strawberry wild smoothie there are 93 grams of sugar, which is more than three times the recommended amount by the World Health Organization. It is important for consumers to make distinction between natural sugars and added sugars. Consumers should eat more fruits and vegetables that contain natural sugars and are high in fiber, potassium and antioxidant to optimize their health."

Kathy Deng, San Jose

'Tis the season for the pumpkin craze “'Pumpkin-flavored’ may be full of sugar” (Health, Sept. 17). It is not uncommon to see someone sipping a pumpkin spiced latte on a chilly day. However, many consumers do not realize the immense amount of sugar “pumpkin flavored” foods have. On Starbucks’ website, they claim to use real pumpkin, however, this is not the case. One cannot assume that if a food or beverage claims to contain a healthy vegetable, that it always be the case.

The fact that there is more sugar in the pumpkin spiced latte than the average adult needs on a daily basis is quite unsettling, and the 37 grams of sugar doesn’t include whipped cream. There needs to be more awareness available to consumers in terms of how much of sugar is contained in these drinks. It is misleading to advertise real pumpkin in their beverages because many people will assume it is healthier than other options.
There needs to be more regulations in place to prevent false mislabeling of food items in regards to their actual contents. In the meantime, you will not find me drinking a pumpkin spiced latte. Instead I will go for a real baked pumpkin.
Monica Villegas, San Jose

But on Sept. 24th there was one reader who contradicted the other comments and thought the latte's sugar level was just fine:

"Regarding a comments made by a reader regarding the labeling of pumpkin spice flavor, I strongly disagree with her statement that a pumpkin spice latte has too much sugar (“A great pumpkin surprise,” Letters, Sept. 22).
It is quite unrealistic, noting that dairy like whipped cream adds more sugar and fat to the pumpkin spice latte. Baked pumpkin goods like cookies and other pastries sold by most coffee shops and bakeries are loaded with more sugar and fat than a typical spiced latte. It is as simple as that."
Anne Cohen, San Francisco

I'm  following The Stanford nutritionist Joyce Hanna's advice and using this super food in a healthy  recipe for Scapece di Zucca or Marinated Sugar-Pumpkin from Mario Batali's cookbook Holiday Food. Batali uses butternut squash in place of the pumpkin, but I was happy to find  some "sugar pie" pumpkins at the Riverdog stand in the Berkeley Farmers' Market. You can cook them just as directed for the squash, or pre-bake them for 20 minutes for easier handling

                                                        SCAPECE DI ZUCCA
                                                 marinated butternut squash

2 medium butternut squash, skin-on, seeded and cut crosswise into 1 inch pieces
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper                             1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 cup extra -virgin olive oil                                             1 garlic clove, sliced paper-thin
1/4 cup red wine vinegar                                                     1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 medium red onion, sliced paper-thin

preheat oven to 450 degrees 
Season the squash with salt and pepper, drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, and arrange on a cookie sheet. Roast until just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together the remaining 1/4 cup oil, the vinegar, onion, oregano, ad garlic and season with salt and pepper.

When the squash is cooled, immediately transfer to a dish and pour the marinade over them. Allow to cool in the marinade for at least 20 minutes. This dish can be made up to 6 hours in advance but should not be refrigerated. Sprinkle with mint leaves just before serving at room temperature.         Serves 8 to 12, but quantities can  be adjusted easily.

Scapece di Zucca