Monday, August 29, 2011

Back on the Mainland

When I was a kid, movie travelogues always ended with "...and so as the sun sinks gently in the west, we leave lovely_____."  And so we left Hawaii and moved to Oakland for the last week of our stay in California.

I used to work in Oakland for many years many years ago, and the Oakland Museum used to be one of my favorite places there.  A striking building set in terraced gardens, this oasis in downtown Oakland fell off my radar in recent years.  During that time it was remodeled, the collections re-curated, and recently re-opened to some local acclaim.

Yesterday we had lunch on the terrace and wandered through the gardens, admiring the pollarded trees and the outdoor sculpture.

The collections are divided into history, art and natural science.  On one wall I came across this quote:

Sort of shuts down the ongoing discussion, doesn't it?

Another wall in one of the courtyards has a vast blackboard with hooks on it and lots of chalk around.  You can choose to make art, sit, hang chairs, rearrange the furniture, or just loll in the sun.  We did some of each.

The art galleries are subdivided, with a large collection of Bay Area figurative art as well as landscapes, California Impressionism, and other "categories".

Tucked away in one sub-gallery is an old faded red screen door with this sign above it:

When you pass through the doorway you find yourself looking through a chain link fence at a desert diorama at dollhouse scale, every detail painstakingly finished.  This is the end of the trail for some desert rat who has spent many years collecting the items littering the yard outside the battered old Airstream trailer, the window of which is emitting a lonely light against the last minutes of the blood red sunset.  Amazing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Paradise Recalled

As we spend hours deciding whether to move from the spectacular white sand beach to the blue-tiled pool or vice versa we remember why we loved this place.  What's not to love?

The weather has been perfect, the sun warming without burning (since we're vigilant about reapplying sunscreen), the drinks tropical and delicious and the food costs outrageous, a small price to pay for spending a little time in heaven.

Our stay overlapped one day with our friends D and J and their daughter and it was an unlooked for pleasure to have dinner with them on the terrace overlooking the beach at sunset and a walk and quick dip in the ocean the next morning.

Because Hawaii time is three hours earlier than California we wake at a much earlier hour than we're accustomed to, feeling virtuous, and hit the pool or beach before many others are stirring.  Clean, bright, beautiful and empty...priceless in these days of crowds everywhere.

We're renting a roomy house with bedrooms for us, R & L and their two-year-old, and resort privileges for us all.  Ryan loves the babysitter R and L have engaged to allow us to go out to dinner every other night for adult meals.  The other nights we cook simple meals and hang out being lazy in the big room that encompasses the kitchen, dining and living areas, reading, playing cards, watching TV.  When we get tired of sharing the beach and pool at the resort we can retreat to our own tiny pool and hot tub on the lanai.  I said it was paradise, didn't I?

I noticed today some sailing trophies on a back wall that, in conjunction with some wine-related items, would seem to indicate that the house belongs to one of the Mondavi wine family.  We haven't yet managed to find the wine cellar.  It must be here somewhere, don't you think?

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Different Vacation

Lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii

Our obsession with Paris has grown over the years, and we’ve been visiting that city first once and then twice a year for nearly 20 years.  As our visits grew more frequent, and our time and income failed to grow as enthusiastically as did our obsession, we gave up vacationing elsewhere. 

While we used to go to New York regularly, we haven’t been there since our visit to see the Christo Gates in Central Park in 2005.  And where we used to go to the Big Island of Hawaii every year for nearly a decade, we haven’t been there in over 15 years.  Until today.

Wailea uplands in the distance

One of the ways we manage our bi-continental lifestyle is by renting our house in Berkeley when we’re living in Paris, and since it’s Berkeley our tenants are nearly exclusively visiting professors who are tied to the academic calendar. 

That hasn’t been an issue so far, but our current renters needed to be in the house in mid-August and our flight back to Paris isn’t until the first of September, meaning we had to leave our house and find someplace to lay our heads in the meantime. 

Typical "graffitti" of white stones on black lava background

R and L and their toddler had wanted to visit us in Paris last Thanksgiving but traveling long distances with a small and restless child for 10 days didn’t seem like a good plan, so we decided back then that we would all go to Hawaii together instead after we got back to California.  What better time than our homeless period?


And so we’re on an airplane on our way to Kona at this very minute.  I can almost smell the plumeria already.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Notes from the Other Ground

You may recall that I used to post pictures of wonderful chocolates snapped (and sometimes snapped up) in the windows of Parisian chocolatiers.   After a while I had to stop because they are ubiquitous in Paris.

So this is not Paris  but there are resemblances.  A friend brought me to Chocolatier Blue, on a nondescript block of University Avenue in Berkeley and these gorgeous colorful geometric bites of chocolate were irresistible.  I limited myself to two.

And this is not in Paris either although with a name like this it should be:

In Hayes Valley in San Francisco, this little restaurant could pick itself up and drop itself down in the 11th arrondissement and look perfectly in place, although the soup I had for lunch was better than any I'd had in the City of Light.

Also in Hayes Valley was this macaron shop, which unfortunately didn't inspire the same admiration we feel for Ladurée. 

On the art front however, San Francisco has nothing to be ashamed of this summer.

We've often passed close to the closed-for-renovations Musée Nationale Picasso on rue de Thorigny in the last year or so to find bewildered tourists wondering where the Picassos had gone.  Now we know.  They're at the San Francisco Museum of the Legion of Honor, the one built as a copy of the Paris  Legion of Honor Museum in the 7th arrondissement.  A show worth seeing if you're a Picasso fan, but I've never thought his best work is in the eponymous Paris museum.

Even better Picassos and many other masterpieces including Cezannes and Matisses can be found currently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which is hosting an exhibition of the extraordinary collections (now dispersed and reassembled for this show) of the Stein siblings: Gertrude, Leo, Michael and Michael's wife Sarah.

If you're in SF before September 6th, do everything you can to see it.

But if not, don't despair.  The Steins' collections are going back home.  The exhibition will be mounted at the Grand Palais in Paris in October and in New York in 2012.  Don't miss it.

Some more French resemblances in the countryside on our visit to the Napa Valley.  Outside a boulangerie/patisserie called Bouchon this little bird perches on a French-style chair waiting for crumbs from the delicious croissants and tartes.

And what is more French than a grappe de raisins hanging from the vine?

Maybe an olive tree in the middle of a field of lavender?