Sunday, January 12, 2020

Books and a Movie



As I have done over the past couple years I take a look back at the books I read in 2019. Most of the books I read on my Kindle, but every now and then I sit down with a "real" book. Some books are very impractical for the Kindle, like art and photography books, cookbooks etc.


In 2019 I read 60 books including two audiobooks that we listened to while traveling to Arizona. I always write the titles down in a big notebook, noting the author and when I have finished it. I also scribble a little star next to the title if I really liked the book. When I look at that list now I see that I was far less generous with those stars in 2019, but I also introduced the two-stars for excellent reads. And I'm happy to see that there are three of them.


These three novels are "The Summer Guest" by Justin Cronin - a story about a family and their summer guest set in a remote area in Maine that pulls you in right from the beginning with well developed characters and written in a beautiful language -, "When we Believed in Mermaids" by Barbara O'Neal - the story of two sisters who had lived apart for many years, believing that one of them was dead; set in Santa Cruz and New Zealand I was drawn in by the unusual story line and the many questions that came up about my own life while reading this novel - and "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin - a very slow, beautiful story about a book seller whose life gets shaken up and takes an interesting and wonderful turn when he finds a mysterious package at his store. Other books I liked are "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" by Gail Honeyman, "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens, "To See and See Again" by Tara Bahrampour and "The Trouble with Goats and Sheep" by Joanna Cannon. There were also books I truly disliked, eventually only scanned or didn't finish at all, like "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood. I also read Margaret Craven's "I Heard the Owl Call my Name" again, my all-time favorite.

Over the summer break I took home a few books from the high school library because I thought it's a good idea if I knew what the students are reading in English class, and there were quite some books I hadn't read before.


My favorite among these books is "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie which is hilariously funny and sad at the same time. Great read for high school students!

But there were also other books in 2019 - like this wonderful cookbook. I had read about it in our local paper's "Home" section and was intrigued. It's full of recipes of immigrant women, who were trying to bring some of their home countries to their new home by cooking the familiar food. But it's not only recipes you can find in this gem of a cookbook. It's the stories of the immigrant women that makes this book so precious to me since I am an immigrant myself. I still have to try any of the recipes, but I'm determined that 2020 is the year for that.


Of course there were books about photography, some of them I pull out again and again.




David DuChemin is one of my favorite photographers, but as a humanitarian he is also a tremendously inspiring personality. I love to listen to his podcasts, he has a very open mind and what I love about him so much is that he has a lot of advice and inspiring ideas, but he never uses the words "you should". In contrast to that, "Shooting with Soul" was a bit disappointing - some nice ideas, but it certainly didn't inspire me in the way "The Soul of the Camera" did. I'm working my way through "Zen Camera" bit by bit and can't say very much about it at this time.

Just like last year I couldn't resist some "drool" books. "Chasing Light" had been on my mind for quite some time. I had first seen it in one of the visitor centers in Yellowstone National Park in 2017, but had opted for a different book back then. When I saw it again in the visitor center of Saguaro National Park last spring I saw that as a "sign" and bought it. I did not regret it.




There are two more "difficult" books I want to talk about here, books about local matters. About the October 2017 firestorm, to be precise, the one that wiped out several neighborhoods in my town. "Pointe Patrol" is the very personal story of one home owner who along with some neighbors and his dog patrolled their neighborhood after that fateful night on the one hand to prevent further fires since there were still some smoldering and on the other hand to deter people from looting. I was only able to read it in bits and pieces since it brings back so many painful memories. Brian Fies' "A Fire Story" is a graphic novel that he started right after the first night when he had lost his home and tells his own personal story. The first "chapters" of his book appeared within the first week of the fire if I recall correctly. It is raw and very emotional.



Before I leave I want to mention a very special movie I watched (again) this year. I had shown it to my German students at the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It describes the events before November 9th, 1989, particularly what happened in the West German embassy in Prague. "Zug in die Freiheit" (Train to Freedom) is a documentary with time witnesses, original footage and played scenes. I have seen it several times, but every time I feel the same emotions, the tight knot in my stomach, the utter relief at the end. Even though I know how these events ended, it keeps the moment of that autumn 30 years ago very real and alive for me. You can find a preview of the movie here: https://vimeo.com/107603939 and it is possible to rent it on Vimeo. Luckily the violent scenes you see in the preview are only rare ones in the movie, but they are heartbreaking nevertheless.


What were you reading in 2019? Tell me in the comments.



Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Climbing Workout - the Vessel



One of the structures I was very curious to see in New York was the Vessel. At the end (or the start) of the High Line, both were features that weren't there during our first visit to the Big Apple. The Vessel - which still hasn't got its permanent name - was only opened in March 2019 and hadn't even made it into my travel guide. I only knew about it because I had seen pictures of it on Instagram and I was intrigued.


I'm not even sure how to describe it. Wikipedia describes it as a "elaborate honeycomb-like structure [that] rises 16 stories and consists of 154 flights of stairs, 2,500 steps, and 80 landings for visitors to climb". That pretty much sums it up.

The Vessel was built as part of the Hudson Yard Redevelopment Project in Manhattan to plans by British designer Thomas Heatherwick. The steps are arranged like a jungle gym and modeled after Indian stepwells.

Well, I sure felt like being in a gym - there was a lot of climbing involved. I was determined to reach the top, and I did. It was actually quite fun to take the different stairs. I chose to climb the stairs in a circular way and thus rounded the entire structure more than once.





I liked the view of this hotel's outdoor space with cozy sofas, swimming pool and saunas.


The reflections in the copper were fantastic and, of course, upside down.


Back down on the ground I looked up - it looks so different from down there and truly interesting. You can see the elevator in this picture which, as far as I understand, was put in a bit later after the structure had received a lot of criticism because of its lack of accessibility for disabled people.


The look upwards from outside the structure:


We came back in the evening after dark because we were wondering whether there was some special light installed. There wasn't, but the decorated trees in front of it lit everything up beautifully.




Sunday, January 5, 2020

An Image and Its Story - December 2019



Before we left for New York I was thinking about what kind of photos I wanted to take. I was pretty sure that I could easily skip images of buildings - firstly, I had taken tons of those back in 1997, but more so that there are so many much more interesting photos of New York's buildings that the world really doesn't need mine as well. However, what DID I want to photograph? I found myself looking for street lights, bridges, fences, stairs, interesting architecture like the Vessel. I also knew from my earlier visit that I liked the benches in Central Park and I wanted to take pictures of them - and one of those turned out to be the image of the month.

I'm often drawn to curved and round shapes, which is probably the reason why I like these benches. I knew that I wanted to take photos of them with the focus on the circular armrest. Isn't it wonderful how you can see through them like through a - very light - tunnel? How the eye is drawn further into the image? It gives subtle direction while your eyes can rest at the same time. It's a bench after all - for rest.

This is my last "An Image and Its Story" - after two years I think it is time to put it to rest (I guess I have a "rest" theme going on here). It was always enjoyable to look for the monthly photo that would make the cut and tell the story behind it. Thank you for following along.


Sunday, December 29, 2019

Christmas in New York



A few years ago the Geek and I decided to stop giving Christmas and birthday presents to each other and travel instead. This year our daughter chimed in - no presents, but a trip. While discussing where to go in the winter she mentioned that she had never been to New York (except for driving through during our cross country trip in 2007). After some research we had booked our flights and a hotel just two blocks north of the Empire State Building between Fifth and Sixth Avenue - a perfect place for exploring the Big Apple.

The Geek and I had spent ten very happy days in New York in 1997 and were wondering how much the city has changed since then (apart from the World Trade Center). I have to mention here that we were madly in love at that time and probably saw everything with rose-colored glasses. It was quite different this time.

There is no doubt that New York is magical during the holiday season. Everywhere there are lights, Christmas music is playing (the most played song was "All I want for Christmas is you"), it's glittering and sparkling, magic.


And there are crowds. And more crowds. And... even more crowds.

People are pushing and shoving, kids are crying, adults are cursing - suddenly the magic just disappears and all you see is the consumerism behind the magic.

The front facade of Saks Fifth Avenue had a huge display of the "Frozen" theme that would lit up every ten minutes with a light show that was fantastic, I have to admit. The music could be heard over several blocks. A lane of Fifth Avenue was completely closed off to traffic so that people could stand and watch the light show. Both the sidewalk and the lane was completely blocked and if you were trapped in there you were stuck for the next ten minutes. It happened to us and it wasn't exactly fun (I don't particularly like crowds).


Of course, we also took our own "magical" photos - the magic being that the Empire State Building grows out of the Geek's head! However, I do like the photo of Kaefer and myself in front of the huge Christmas baubles behind the Rockefeller Center.



I can't tell you enough how glad I was about my knitted hat and scarf! It was flippin' cold in New York (17 F, fortunately it warmed up considerably after that), with the chilly wind blowing along the streets. Even New Yorkers were complaining about the freezing weather. No wonder I came home with a serious cold (just like back in 1997...).

I had brought my DSLR to New York, but from the very beginning I mainly used the phone to take photos. It was just too crowded to always stop, strip off the backpack and get out the camera. It always involved taking off my gloves, too, which wasn't pleasant especially during those first few days. I pretty much used the big camera only to take pictures of Brooklyn Bridge (which compared to 1997 had turned into a zoo) and a beautiful sunset behind the Statue of Liberty. After the third day I left the camera in the safe in our room and only took pictures with my phone. It was much more convenient and I actually took way more pictures in places I wouldn't have pulled out the camera (like in the subway).

Experiencing New York City in the holiday season was certainly exciting. I enjoyed many parts of it. We visited coffee shops to warm up and had cocktails in the evening. There was a wide range of food to choose from and we were extremely lucky to find a German restaurant with excellent food and delicious beer just five walking minutes from our hotel. We ate our fair share of bagels with all kinds of cream cheese (avocado and herbs, anyone?). We strolled along Christmas markets and ate honey roasted almonds. There were wonderful museums to discover like the National Museum of the American Indian and the Met Cloisters as well as the very moving 9/11 Memorial with its reflecting pools. Most of the people we met were very nice, ready to chat and answer questions. They put a friendly face onto this hectic monster of a city. We had some really nice and interesting conversations with people, both visitors and New Yorkers.

But I was glad when we finally returned home. I'm simply not a city person anymore. I didn't like the crowds at all, the consistent noise, the honking of the cars, the impatience, the rush. Every day we walked between 7 and 11 miles, and it was all on pavement. It's hard, and it hurts - my feet hurt, my legs hurt, my hips hurt. I was bone tired every evening and still I couldn't sleep because there was no way that we could open a window in our room and I simply can't sleep without fresh air (as much "fresh" air as you might even get in NYC). But what got me the most was the wastefulness, the mountains of trash, the plastic bags, the "to go and throw away" mindset. The streets were littered, the subway was littered and every night bags of trash piled up in the streets. It was disgusting. I learned to truly appreciate what I have in California. We might be seen as "wacko" by the rest of the country, but boy am I proud to be this kind of wacko.


There certainly will be more posts about our trip to New York in the future. For now let me wish you happiness, health and joy of living for 2020.



Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Trail



Over Thanksgiving I had the week off from both my jobs and since the weather was nice I took the opportunity to hike up into Annadel again. This is one of my favorite places in our county. In the summer it is very hot, but as soon as it cools down a bit it is a wonderful wild place to spend time in.

For quite some time I had this idea in my head that I wanted to take pictures of Rough Go Trail by just using my phone. Now finally the time had come to turn this idea into reality (I'm afraid this is a photo-heavy post).

The trail that leads to Rough Go starts near the lake and is nice and mellow with relatively smooth going, the only obstacle in your way being a coyote brush.




Looking back already offers a beautiful view of the Mayacamas Mountains.


Then we hit the Rough Go Trail and the going gets... well, rough. There is a reason why the trail has its name. The first part is still in the shade which is the only shady section of the trail.


Then the trail gets rougher while climbing up.



Turning back you can see the scars of the October 2017 fires - those are some of the mountains where the fire roared over in the night of October 8th, 2017.


The trail climbs steadily among the boulders and rocks - another reason why I avoid this trail in the heat of the summer since the rattlers love to hang out here. While I think they're still more afraid of me than vice versa I do prefer to see them from a safe distance.




The views across my town toward the Coastal Range are stunning. I'm always amazed how many trees there are. Hard to believe that this is a city of 160,000.



But we still have a bit of a climb to do, so let's move on.


 

This is the end of the first climb - this lovely bench on the ridge.


I love to sit here under the old trees, watching the turkey vultures circling above me. Sometimes deer walk by. About ten to fifteen years ago or so while I was sitting on this bench enjoying the view a woman had climbed up the same trail and was approaching the bench a bit hesitantly. After I had told her that there is certainly space for both of us she sat beside me and we started a conversation. I immediately loved her English accent, and we talked for a long time. At the end we exchanged phone numbers and we became hiking buddies for many years.


It's also a great place for contemplating and writing in my journal.


From here you can still hike much further, there are many trails in Annadel. But I chose to go back, walk down Rough Go. It looks different on the way back.






After all these years I still love this trail. It never gets boring, there is always something new to see. One time I saw a bobcat, another day a coyote further up the mountain. Once a jackrabbit was hopping on the trail and even posing for the camera! I often saw mountain lion scat and once I even turned around on a more remote trail because I suddenly felt my hair standing up. I was pretty sure there was a cougar nearby and I didn't want to take any chances. That never happened on Rough Go, but I'm always vigilant. This is the wilderness after all.