2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the SXSW Music Conference and Festival in Austin, TX. I am going. I am SO FLIPPIN’ EXCITED! Ezra seems slightly confused as to why I’m so excited, but he is on board because 1) Houston–home to Simon, Frances, Eva, and Gia–is a mere two hours away, 2) Austin is supposed to be a pretty cool town, 3) March is the perfect time to get the heck out of Boston, and 4) some of his old college pals live in Austin and San Antonio. When all of this dawned on me–that all of those things come together with SXSW and that we could do it… Did I mention that I am SO EXCITED? The fest is 3/16-3/20. More on that later…
It’s been a long and very good weekend. Ez and I spent Friday and Saturday in New York. On Friday Ez worked and I wandered around, checking out Tinsel Trading Company and spending a couple of happy hours browsing (and eventually buying) at The Strand.
On Saturday Ez was kind enough to walk with me to the vegetarian cafe S’Nice in the West Village, where I know they have delicious steel-cut oatmeal with all the trimmings. There I ate said oatmeal with dried fruit and honey and enjoyed one of the tastiest glasses of apricot-orange tea ever. We went to The Strand again because Ez needed to get his fix (he didn’t really have to twist my arm to get me to spend more time there), and then Ez took me to the Chelsea Market, where the New York Lux office will soon be moving. It’s quite a nifty building. I’ll have to upload a picture or two.
Then we met up with Ezra’s old friend Jen Williams in the Cooper Union area (Jen went to Cooper Union and now teaches there). I’d never met her before, though I’d heard a lot about her. She seems pretty great, and we had a really nice time chatting with her, wandering around the Lower East Side, popping into a small gallery to check out her friend’s show, and just basically hanging out. For dinner, the three of us went to the tasty Pan-Asian vegetarian (and largely vegan) restaurant Wild Ginger (it’s just as good as Ez and I remember). We’re hoping it won’t be another 10+ years before we see Jen again.
And oh, hey, the Steelers won their NFL record sixth Super Bowl (that’s about 14% of all Super Bowl games that have been played). And the game was actually exciting. I am not a big NFL person, but we’re Steelers people in this house. (And, incidentally, it was a day of more pleasant sports news, as PSU men’s basketball upset ninth-ranked Michigan State, the Celtics won again, and Rafael Nadal beat Federer to win his first Australian Open title.)
Every time I go to New York I want to spend more time there. I like its energy and pervading spirit of creating new things. I think it improves my health to be around that vibe more often!
I owe you all four pictures–I promised one a day!
I mentioned that I had more pictures of the Rose Kennedy Greenway at twilight to share. Here they are.
These are coming to you all in one batch because we were away for the 4th of July weekend. We visited Simon, Frances, and Eva in Saratoga Springs. Simon and Frances teach at a summer dance program there, and as it’s only about four hours from here and as I lived there during college, it’s always a good place for us to get together. They are staying in a nicely fixed-up old house this year with some other dancers who are teaching in the program. We stayed with them and just had a good time relaxing and catching up.
On the way home from Saratoga Springs we made two previously unplanned stops. For lunch we decided to find somewhere to eat in Western Mass. We ended up in Great Barrington where we had very tasty organic-sourdough-wood-fired-gourmet pizza. Yeah, it was good. Then as we neared 495, inspired by the cool way the place we’d stayed in Saratoga Springs had been fixed up, I asked Ez if he wanted to stop at IKEA for some organizational goodies. He agreed, and we hit the joint around 6:30-ish, so it wasn’t too crowded (though it was ridiculously messy–IKEA has such a tidy aesthetic that it just kinda seems completely incongruous that their shoppers would leave potato chip packages and empty soda cans on displays). We found many practical and relatively inexpensive items for our little home improvement project–which is basically a home organization project. It was a successful tangent!
Yesterday the darkroom at MassArt was closed, but today I spent several hours there. The prints from today are still drying, but here’s one from last week.
Our visit to Savannah was great–very relaxing. We even went to the beach! I don’t have much time to write about it here as we’re off to see the Flemings in Virginia later on today, but I can share a few pictures to give you a feel for the trip.
Adorable baby birdie sitting on the wheel of a baby buggy
Monday morning in Savannah
The Jepson Art Museum
Nora and Jim at the Jepson on Mother’s Day. Note Nora’s sunburn from the previous day’s beach outing. She’s on the phone with her mom here.
Nora and Ezra on the path to the water at Tybee Beach (Jim had to work that day)
Scrumpy dinner courtesy of chef Jim Lewis
I finally got my two rolls of film developed. Both are full of pictures from leisure time during our January trip to France.
Some are black and white…
…and some are color.
I’ve posted more on flickr.
So I don’t think I’ll write out our France trip day-by-day because it was more of a family thing and less oriented around sight-seeing… and thus I can’t always remember what happened which days! This post will be long but photo-filled! So, sit back with a beverage of your choice and read on.
The first day we met up with Ezra’s family, who were also in town for the wedding, and wandered around Monaco in the pouring rain. It was windy and awful–unfortunately, really the worst way to see the place. Ez and I had been there before, so honestly it was pretty unpleasant for me. Poor Estee (Ezra’s younger sister) had a cold and I think I picked it up. Having just recovered from a sinus thing, that kinda sucked.
In the pouring rain in Monte Carlo. Note Estee’s pink nose.
BUT, we did get to go to the ballet that night and see a performance of… Faust–which couldn’t have been more appropriate after our visit to Leipzig mere days earlier. It was quite good–very passionate and artistically free. I feel like the more creative ballets I’ve seen in Boston have always gone over like a lead balloon with everyone except for me and Ez and a few others, but Les Ballets de Monte Carlo is a much different animal (as is their audience). April’s good friend Asier danced the lead and he was very good.
At the ballet (Ezra was retrieving his things from the coat check)
While in France we also trekked up into the winding pathways of Eze. Again, Ezra and I had been there before, but it’s a cute place and worth multiple visits. Plus it’s decent exercise climbing around up there. I took a lot of pictures on my film camera there, in black and white, and I keep forgetting to get them developed!! Argh. Need to do that.
Ez and I also wandered around Old Nice (Vieux Nice) a few times. It’s a pretty little area with little shops and cafes… it feels very old world compared to what you find in the U.S. The first day we wandered there it was still rather rainy and blah, unfortunately. Some places you go and the weather doesn’t matter, but in Nice I felt like it really did. We went back on the morning of April and Manu’s civil ceremony, and it was MUCH nicer. I found the soap shop I’d fallen in love with when we visited April in 2004 and bought them out of the Eucalyptus soap I love. It was sunny that day, and there was a fabulous antiques market going on. If there hadn’t been a wedding that day, I could have wandered the antiques market for hours. There were so many amazing things!! Simon found a train car for a friend of his who collects them and I bought an old advertisement from a man who was selling boxes and boxes of them. They were really wonderful.
The antiques market in Vieux Nice.
The vintage advertisement I bought at the antiques market in Old Nice.
One of the best parts of the trip was seeing April and Manu, meeting Manu’s family, and doing wedding-related things. I don’t think I’ve ever seen April happier than she was at the wedding, or more nervous than she was the night before. She was very kind to me and honored me by asking me to photograph the wedding (which I think I’ve mentioned before). Their kitty, Gus, made everyone feel more at home, I think.
Manu and Gus
We spent time with them in their apartment in Nice eating and drinking (too much eating, of course!) and chatting. On the eve of Three Kings Day we all got together there with Manu’s wonderful sisters Julie and Marianne and had delicious king cakes. The one I sampled was made with almond paste–so lush!! And I think the other was made with pecans. Ezra’s mom and Manu found the little tiles in their cakes, so they were the king and queen the next day.
The night before the civil ceremony the family got together at their apartment and had a sort of mini-bachelorette party. Simon, I think (or was it Abby), had brought a silly little bachelorette party kit with stickers and temporary tatoos. I forget now what my tatoo said!! But it had a strawberry on it and I got it in the middle of my upper back. Simon thought that looked pretty good and suggested that I consider getting a real tatoo there (ha ha, wink wink). Ez got his on his ankle and it took forever to wash off. We all got them–Ezra’s parents and everybody. So that was fun. I think April had a tiara as well. She gave me the bride’s VIP sticker, which I have affixed to my Sudoku book.
The day of the civil ceremony was, as mentioned, really pretty. All the rain clouds were gone and it was sunny and bright, with a high blue sky. After enjoying the antiques market a bit (and briefly losing Ezra’s dad), we headed back to our hotel to primp. Once we were all ready, we formed a little sort of parade heading off to city hall. April wore a gorgeous Chanel suit and some nifty stockings. Everyone looked quite sharp.
Before the Civil Ceremony. Jeroen, Manu, April, Christian, Asier, Simon, and Julie.
Outside City Hall. Marianne, Estee, and Julie
The city hall was a nice little old building. We all went into the wood-paneled room and were able to witness the ceremony. The mayor did a bit of talking, mostly in French, and I think he made some sort of sly remarks about Manu being a DJ… but mostly he was fun. There was a lot of signing of papers and grinning. I took a bunch of pictures and tried not to make too much noise with my heels on the wood floor.
April and Manu with the mayor of Nice
After the ceremony we all walked over to Le Meridien Hotel were we had a couple drinks in their lounge. April gave Manu a special gift and we generally basked in the sunlight pouring in the windows and the overall happiness of the occasion.
The happy couple at Le Meridien
Then I think we took a quick pit stop at the hotel to change our shoes and then crossed over to the church for the rehearsal. The church ceremony was in an Anglican church, and the priest was British. He told us a bit of history of the church and his role in it. The rehearsal went pretty quickly. I guess dancers are used to learning these sorts of things fast! I tested out my camera and lenses and tripod to make sure I’d be able to get some shots the next day.
After the rehearsal, we paraded once again to dinner at an Italian restaurant not far from our hotel in one of the shopping areas. I was starting to feel my cold at this point, unfortunately. We all commented on how huge the portions were (so much for American restaurants having huge portions!!). I ended up having to leave a little early, especially knowing I had to be up for photographing the next day.
Abby doing the chocolate dance with her dessert. That’s what I call a large portion. Needless to say we shared–and yes, it was good.
Happily, I felt fine the next morning. I got ready early so I could take pictures of the others getting ready. We all had breakfast together at the hotel that day, which was nice. I had a few minutes while everyone was getting ready and before they wanted me to take pictures, so I went out into the little hotel courtyard and took some photos with my film camera. Then it was back inside to take some photos of the ladies dressing. It’s a wonder they got ready so quickly considering how often people kept knocking at the door, but again–I guess dancers are used to fast changes!! And with the church right across the street we weren’t too worried.
Putting on the veil
The church ceremony was pretty. The church has some lovely colors–reds and blues. I managed to get some shots in the church, but the light at the church entrance and at the little reception afterwards was much nicer and I think I got my best photos in those places. I was especially nervous about taking group portraits, but I think they came out OK. It was a little bit of a learning experience to have multiple lenses at my disposal. Ezra was a wonderful assistant.
April gets a kiss from Asier
Even with group shots, the candids are sometimes the best. Here we have April and Manu with a bunch of friends from the ballet. It probably looks better bigger (see my flickr site).
The reception was at a nice little restaurant in Old Nice. The food was good but I was so full and I think a bit affected by the cold (without realizing it)… I couldn’t eat much. We had really nice chats with Abby, Dan, and Simon (we were all seated together) and just a really good time.
Manu’s sister Marianne at the reception.
Some brotherly conversation.
(Let’s hear it for the new portrait lens!)
After all of that, we changed and ended up back at April and Manu’s. I was starting to feel quite ill by this point, but I held out for the fabulous wedding cake. I remember I was quite proud of myself when I understood a conversation that Manu’s mother and stepmother were having–all in French! Of course, my French is not so good that I could chime in.
The traditional cake
The next day we had to be on our way back to the U.S. We’d had a great trip and had lots of fun mementos and pictures to bring home, but we were wiped out and missed the kitties. We flew back through Heathrow, where we had a bit of a layover. I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go while we were vacationing–mostly while we were in France and especially on the plane trip from Berlin to Nice–and I wanted another book for the flight home. Well, it was crazy! I went to two different bookstores, I think, and looked through all of their books twice and couldn’t find anything. Finally I went to a WH Smith and that’s where I hit the jackpot. I got The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I loved. I recommend it!
If you want to see even more of the photos I took during our time in France (mostly wedding-related), go here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tercat/sets/72157603695146753/
For our last morning in Berlin Ez and I had one main goal–to see the Bauhaus Archive. The building in which it’s housed is rather small, and they were seeking donations so that they can expand. There was an installation replicating parts of a 1930 Paris exhibit with designs for high-rise living. We watched a good bit of the films they were looping in their little viewing area. I was struck by the sort of theory behind the Bauhaus–the ways of looking at things and approaching art. I hadn’t thought about it in a while, but I think that sort of art and design influenced me when I started drawing and messing around with art in high school. One of the first artists who caught my eye the first time I went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York was Paul Klee. I remember some of the exercises we did in my first painting class seemed to be inspired by the Bauhaus. There was one where the instructor shined different colored lights on a variety of white geometric shapes and we had to paint them. It seemed so simple, but for me at least it was a challenge at the time, and I’m sure it pushed me to look in a more basic way.
Paul Klee, The bright side, Postcard for the Bauhaus exhibition in summer 1923, Color lithograph
A few pieces in the museum that particularly stood out to me were a couple of brightly colored geometric weavings and a series of exhibition postcards done by artists and students at the Bauhaus. We wandered through the shop and I giggled when I saw these:
Remember them? They were such a big deal in the 80s for a while. I had a white one that I used to keep old notes Nora and I had written in Jr. High. I’ve no idea what happened to it. It is a clever design. There were quite a few things in the Bauhaus exhibit that have just become a part of our everyday lives–certain chair designs, for example, were just so ubiquitous in the 70s and 80s in offices and public spaces. We found a couple of posters and a number of postcards in the shop and then went on our way.
We gathered our things at the hotel and waited for our cab to the Tempelhof airport. Our cab driver turned out to be pretty entertaining. He was working on his English (which was really pretty good) and talked to us about music (he likes country music) and his sister–who lives in Pennsylvania!
The Tempelhof airport is one of three airports in Berlin. We had arrived at the Tegel airport, which is definitely one of the bigger ones. Tempelhof is a regional airport and it must be one of Berlin’s smallest. It was very nice and clean, but it almost didn’t look like an airport. It was right in town, in a nice old building that, from the outside, didn’t look anything like what I expect when I go to an airport. It was fairly empty and quiet inside. It seemed more like a quiet train station than an airport. I found an interesting British article about the airport’s past here.
Tempelhof airport, outside (photo found on the web)
Tempelhof airport, inside (photo found on the web)
We checked our bags and sat in the little cafe where we sipped on a few drinks and gazed at the German TV. When I went to use the restroom I got this strong feeling that I was in a very old-style East German place. Everything was rather cold (in several senses of the word) and hard. The waiting area for our flight was small and busy. There must be a few main flights out of the airport everyday, and ours was one of them.
We flew to Brussels, where we had a short layover. I’d never been to Belgium before. I was struck by how quiet the airport was. Unlike Templehof, there were lots of people there. They just weren’t making tons of noise. It was wonderful! Unless I’m drunk or in a particularly crazy mood, I’m not an especially loud sort of person, and I always hate airports and big shopping malls and places like that in the U.S. that are full of crass, noisy people. Anyway, it made the whole experience very pleasant and easy.
We arrived in Nice in the evening and were greeted by Ezra’s sister April’s then-fiance, Manu (short for Emmanuel) and Ezra’s brother Simon. We’d never met Manu before, so there were lots of hugs and smiles. They carted us off to our little hotel, The Nice Garden Hotel, which was practically right next to the church where the wedding was held several days later. Our room was a lot smaller than our suite in Berlin, but it was charming and comfortable.
We were wiped out after all that travel, so we did a bit of unpacking and decided to just do a little wandering around before turning in. I can’t remember now what we were looking for–just some water to drink, I think. We passed a strange looking person on a street corner who gave us a funny look. It took me a few seconds to process the whole thing: broad-shouldered person wearing a lot of lipstick, sort of eyed us up and down and made unwanted eye contact, I felt involuntarily repulsed… yes, I’m pretty sure we’d encountered a transvestite prostitute who’d told us in those few seconds that yes, he/she would do us together, no problem. (!) Now, Berlin DEFINITELY has a seedy side, and I’m sure you can find yourself in a similar encounter there if you’re in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time. I mean… mostly it was just funny and we chuckled about it. But Nice is a vacation town for sure, and there’s a bit of a “what happens in Nice stays in Nice” feel to it sometimes. Anyway, that little encounter was sort of our “Hello, welcome to Nice!” moment.
Knowing that our remaining time in Germany was limited and that there were still several things we wanted to see, we decided to take an early train back to Berlin.
A tile on the sidewalk, on or around Sophienstrasse
We went straight from the train station back to Sophienstrasse, where we stepped into an adorable little toy shop. I looked for goodies for our nieces, but though everything was really wonderful, nothing seemed quite right for them. Of course, I did end up finding something for myself.
Next stop was a shop filled with delicately hand-crafted wood toys of all kinds. The shop was totally packed and felt almost like a museum. I couldn’t help thinking it was distinctly German. We spent a bit more time wandering in that general area, popping into shops and taking everything in. As is my habit when we travel abroad, I ended up buying a pair of boots. I saw loads of nice ones all over the place and the German weather and sensibility means that lots are available that are warm and have excellent treads as well as being fashionable.
By that time, we needed some lunch. We decided to stop at an Italian place that looked especially cozy (it was). I polished up my shoes (the old pair I’d been wearing around all day) with some new polish I’d purchased at the shoe store (like seemingly everything else in Germany, it works really well), while Ez examined the guidebook to confirm our plans for the rest of the day.
We then headed southward for Kreuzberg, where we hoped to encounter a more local sort of neighborhood. We wandered through neat little book shops and cafes. The area seemed to have a significant Turkish population, and it felt considerably less posh and touristed than some of the other places we’d been. Proof of my cosmic connection to Berlin came in the form of a wool shop that sells… wait for it… wool yarn and a fabulous array of socks and stockings. I bought five skeins of yummy plush blue yarn on sale for 10 euros (about 15 bucks).
After quite a bit of wandering in the chill and damp we decided to stop at a coffee shop. It was a really pleasant place with high ceilings–not too fancy or crowded. My coffee was divine and was served with a yummy ginger cookie.
We attempted to write out some postcards (some of which still haven’t been sent for one reason or another.)
One thing I somehow haven’t mentioned is how early it gets dark in that part of Germany. When we arrived in Leipzig in the early afternoon we only had a couple of hours before it started to get dark. As we were having our coffee at the coffee shop in Kreuzberg around 4PM, the skies were already darkening up.
We explored the streets some more and went in search of a vegetarian restaurant that was supposed to be quite good. That hunt took us well off the beaten path, and we found that the restaurant was no longer in business. After that little detour, we decided to head back to the Oranienstraße, the sort of main drag which was full of cute shops, restaurants, and bars. We ended up at an Indian place–I think I’d been craving Indian food. It was really good, and I think between the character of the street and the style of the food I was strongly reminded of London. I can still remember the flavor of the sauce in the dish I had–nummy!
It’s always a little strange to be vacationing somewhere on a holiday when everything is closed. But it’s sort of like the firecracker thing–it’s a unique experience. I suppose it’s a bit easier to do the natural thing when everything is closed and just wander and explore when it’s 60 or 70 degrees rather than 20 or 30. But I’m not complaining. And besides, it snowed a little!
The remains of the New Year’s revelry were everywhere–on every street and in every neighborhood.
You have to understand that Berlin’s streets–at least most of what we saw–are normally very clean and free of random litter. Usually the streets bear the stamp of human-imposed order. The shells of firecrackers and empty champagne bottles showed a different side of Berlin.
This was the day we planned to spend in Leipzig. We decided to wander around Sophienstrasse in Mitte a little before getting our train. Travel guides make a big deal about the Hackescher Hofe near there, which is supposed to be this cute little series of Jugendstil courtyards, but I found it to be a somewhat soul-less series of shops, with just a little of the promised charm. I really feel like I missed something. It must be totally different on a normal day when everything is open. Sophienstrasse was quite cute, though. It’s just a little street, but there were a few cute little bars and restaurants and some adorable toy shops. We decided to return on Wednesday, once we were back in Berlin.
New Year’s Day on Sophienstrasse in Mitte
Puppets on Sophienstrasse
Trains for Leipzig leave from the big central train station, the Hauptbahnhof. Like some of the other big stations in Berlin, it’s vast and shiny and new, with several open (and therefore chilly) levels of shops and cafes. We cut it a bit close and ended up missing the train we’d hoped to take, so we had to wait an hour for the next one. That gave us time to grab a sandwich (baguette mit kase was like my mantra) and look around a little.
The train to Leipzig was another example of German efficiency and smart engineering. Little LCD panels above each row of seats indicated seat number and the duration of the booked passenger’s trip (Berlin to Munich, for example). Since we didn’t have reserved seats for our journey as we’d missed the first train, those little signs helped to indicate to us which seats we could grab. For the start of our journey we watched the snow go by. Once we got just a little further South the snow thinned and disappeared. The ride only took about an hour.
Leipzig is considerably smaller than Berlin, and it feels a bit less vibrant. I’m sure some of our impression of the place was due to the fact that it was New Year’s Day and a lot of places weren’t open. Our hotel was just down the street from the train station. Because we were visiting off-season, we ended up in possibly the nicest hotel in town (and our reservation was upgraded to boot). It was odd, though. The hotel was right next to a big abandoned building that must have once been a pretty grand place, but which is now covered in graffiti. That has its own sort of charm, I guess, but it makes for a weird juxtaposition. I suppose it’s one of the best examples of what Leipzig is like–fallen, degraded grandeur next to restored and somewhat modernized grandeur.
Abandoned building (left) next to our hotel (right) [Photo borrowed from Ezra]
After settling into our room we wandered the streets, taking everything in. We landed at an old coffee house called Riquet. Had we had a little more preparation time for this trip, we might have realized in advance how cool this place was, but we ended up there regardless. It has a little bit of a Viennese flavor, with dark wood interior and rich little coffees and cakes. It was a bit smoky, too (and the cafes in Vienna were always smoky!). I loved the old clock behind the counter, which chimed like a clock you’d expect to find in some stately old manor.
Riquet in Leipzig
We had coffees and shared a delicious slice of raspberry chocolate cake. Then it was off for more wandering.
Lights in Leipzig
Pretty much the only places open were cafes, bars, and restaurants. What little prep I did for this part of our journey led us to seek out the Madlerpassage, for the Faust-themed Mephisto Bar and Auerbach’s Keller. The story goes that Goethe refers to Auerbach’s Keller, an old (we’re talking 1500s here) underground beer hall/restaurant, in Faust. Mephisto is Auerbach’s Keller’s campy companion bar. Now, I know these places are touristy and Mephisto is certainly a little goofy, but it does its thing awfully well. Everything is in deep tones–red leather, dark wood. The walls are lined with books and devilish little items. We sat near a little statue of a female demon who was, er, displaying her posterior in our direction (very cheeky). At random intervals, a loud cackling erupts and a demonic face appears in the mirror on the wall. A thunderous noise and a puff of smoke seep out from the ceiling and a framed picture on the wall begins to sway. (Ezra theorized that the bartender controlled it all via some button behind the bar.)
We had our dinner at Auerbach’s Keller, where I was pleased to be able to eat more or less authentic German food that was also vegetarian (I had noodles with a tomato gratin, served with a nice big helping of spinach). It was really very good.
After dinner we did a bit of walking. I can’t remember where I read it, but apparently Leipzig is the site for a big gothic fest. I can totally see why. Besides all the Faustian goodies, it’s wonderfully dark and old. There are winding streets and craggy old buildings. It’s very shadowy and the streetlamps at night are not particularly bright. You half expect some ghoul to pop out at you from behind a building–but it’s not really at all scary.
We passed a few antiquarian booksellers with some really impressive things in their windows. Maybe someday we’ll go back when those shops are open.
We finished off our day with a drink in the hotel wine bar. The walls of the wine bar were lined with what appeared to be panels from champagne crates, signed by famous guests including the members of REM, Pink, Van Morrison, and (Ezra requires me to mention this) Roger Whitaker. It was another reminder of the sweet digs in which we found ourselves.