Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 in retrospect

With my friend and former colleague Mark Coleman at Agave Uptown in Oakland. (Photo by Rika Putri.)
The year began inauspiciously. April was the nadir. Every ending is a new beginning, they say, and I've watched as those disrupted put their lives back together. One of them gave birth to a lovely little girl toward the end of the year, speaking of the adage above.


At Elsie's funeral in the old Nesodden Church.
In May, the matriarch of my Norwegian family, Elsie Parmann, died at the age of 94. I went to Nesodden, near Oslo, to attend her funeral. I arrived at the beginning of a long holiday, which gave me extra time with my cousins. I stayed with Bente Parmann and her husband Helge Straumsheim, but also saw Margaretha Parmann, then their next-door neighbor; Henriette and Frank Parmann, and their children; and Gunn and Sigurd Parmann. (At Elsie's funeral, I saw Margaretha's children, Epsen, Jan-Henrik, Marthe, and Marius, and her grandchildren, and Gunn and Sigurd's Amanda and her daughter,and their sons.) 

Helge and Bente on their terrace on 17 May.
Born in 1921, Elsie was a fixture in my life from early on. I used to stay with her and her husband, my father's cousin Øistein, when I visited. After he died, Elsie and I had a conversation at her dining-room table that helped her decide to change houses with Bente. She and Helge have restored that house beautifully. It's a pleasure to stay in a place that I've known since childhood.
 
My great-grandfather's summerhouse.

Bente's daughter, Henriette, who lives nearby, built a house on land once owned by my great-grandfather, Georg Parmann I (the namesake of my grandfather and father, II and III). Helge took me on a walk and I saw the summerhouse I first visited when I was two. I remember its kitchen, with its trapdoor to a root cellar. When Helge showed me the allée of linden trees that leads up to the back of the house, various memories fell in place. The allée is hidden from the road, so I was unaware of it. I'd also conflated the real summer house with one that adjoins it on the same property.  So thanks to Helge for this!


With Jøstein Brøbekk at one of the pavilions of the Oslo harbor walk he planned.
On 17 May, Margaretha and Knut-Ole kindly took me into town to see her brother Kjell-Olav Boren and his family. Here I met their daughter Maria and her fiancé Håkon, who visited Kathy, Michael, and Elizabeth in Berkeley while I was still in Norway. At the 17 May party at their house, I also encountered Jøstein Brøbekk, the Oslo landscape architect and planner, who gave me a second tour of the city's redeveloped eastern waterfront the following Saturday. We also visited the remarkable sculpture park that looks out over it. He planned most of it, including the park and its walkways. (We then memorably raced through town so I could - just barely - catch the ferry and have dinner with Gunn and Sigurd on Nesodden.)

Alison (left) at Glenstone, the Potomac, Maryland, sculpture park.
In June, I went to New York City for an event my firm held there, then took the train down to Washington, DC to meet my son Ross and his wife Alison. We went to another sculpture park and gallery in Potomac, Maryland, marveling at the billowing mansions along the way. 

Kathy, John, and Sally at Chez Panisse Café.
In July, my son John, his partner Sally Wright, and Sally's boys, Loz and Theo, stayed with us in Berkeley. They live in Dudley, a town not far from Birmingham in the English Midlands. In September, my daughter Elizabeth paid a return visit to Dudley, then took a flax-weaving course in Dartmoor. She and I wove together several years ago - she has a real talent for it.
 
My friend and colleague Ngoc Ngo with Elizabeth at Calavera in Oakland.

In the summer, Leslie Taylor rejoined my firm to co-lead our studio with Matt Richardson. This ended an interregnum created by the earlier upheaval. Elizabeth and I have been colleagues on the editorial side for several years. This summer and fall, we worked together with Kendra Mayfield and Vernon Mays to put out an unexpected 2017 edition of the firm's flagship Design Forecast. My longtime friend and colleague, John Bricker, who started with the firm in San Francisco but now lives and works in Manhattan, served as creative director for it, thus closing a circle. When I started, we worked together for the first five years, starting the firm's magazine, Dialogue, with the wonderful Helen Dimoff. John worked closely with the designers, led on the print side by Bryan Burkhart (with Rika Putri, Denisa Trenkle, and Yng Yng Marshall). Lainie Ransom herded the cats. (The online side is led by Jonathan Skolnick and managed by Nick Bryan.) The publication isn't out yet, but it's beautiful. I'm lucky to be part of this talented, tri-coastal team

The kitchen, with newly repainted cabinets.
Kathy and our son Michael bought two properties, which Kathy spent the first half of the year renovating. She then worked with Deborah Durant, a jeweler and designer, on our house. Their collaborative efforts were modest but effective. Laure de la Chapelle, the cousin of our brother-in-law, Michael Opalak, also helped.

The two Michaels, Opalak and Parman, in the latter's kitchen.
Michael, his wife Bojana, and their son - our grandson - Conor live a few blocks from us. They very kindly hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, with Alison and Ross joining us at Christmas. We also celebrated a slew of family birthdays at their house in September, attended by the Opalaks - Kathy's sister Lenore and her husband Michael.
 
The famous Sydney Opera House.

In November, I was invited by the academic impresario Anthony Teo (with an assist from my friend and writing partner Richard Bender) to give a talk at Anthony's Univer-Cities Conference at the University of Newcastle in Australia. I spent nine days "down under," presenting with my friend Emily Marthinsen, the campus architect at UC Berkeley, then headed for Sydney - where I saw Tom Owens, a friend and colleague, the writer and critic Penny Craswell, and the famous Opera House. 

With Rhys and Jana Ryan (and sons) in the Yarra Valley.
And then on to Melbourne, where I spent a gorgeous late-spring day with Jana and Rhys Ryan and their boys in the Yarra Valley. (On the flight from Sydney, I met and had a good conversation with Georgia Innes-Irons, an event planner/manager, who memorably pointed out the window and said, "That's my uncle's quarry," adding, "He has several." That's when I knew i was really in Australia!)

Anne Marie Davies and Ted Hochschwenden in Melbourne's Botanical Garden.
I also met Anne Marie Davies and Ted Hochschwenden, thanks to an introduction from Marjanne Pearson, a friend in Petaluma. This Australian-American couple used to live in San Francisco, and we spent a pleasant morning together in the Botanical Garden. (A collector of Christmas ornaments, Anne Marie kindly gave me one for our tree.)
 
Wine tasting in the Hunter Valley.
Australia is a kind of parallel universe - nothing beats flying into late spring from late fall in my book. If I win the lottery, I'm definitely commuting. In Newcastle, a port city three hours north of Sydney, we were treated to a wine tour in the Hunter Valley. I learned that any wine from there produced in 2014 is splendid. 


The issue of "The Spectator Australia" that I bought at Melbourne Airport.
I flew to Australia two days after the US presidential election, which sparked a flurry of queries as to whether I was fleeing the country. No, although I was surprised by the election. I have a copy of the Australian edition of The Spectator that looked quite happily at the prospect of a new administration - the hope is a revival of coal exports, it seems. Californians are less sanguine. With 2017 upon us, I guess we'll all see how it goes. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Re: 2015

In February, I went east, first to DC and then by train to NYC - into winter. It was memorably cold, and my warmest Berkeley coat proved laughably inadequate. On arrival, I had dinner with my friend Jan Lakin, arriving at the restaurant frozen solid. I eventually remembered that I'd brought a hat - a lifesaver. I went twice to MoMA. I usually cross the park to visit the Met, but it was too cold for my thinned-out, West Coast blood. MoMA's core collection is a touchstone of my youth, like finding my parents' mid-century modern house intact. The galleries aren't the same, of course, but the new ones are now familiar enough to preserve the illusion of "return." MoMA also lends itself to photos mixing art with onlookers. The one above right is an example.

In late March, I went to the wedding of my friends Eva Hagberg and Winston Fisher at Anvil Ranch, west of Healdsburg. This wedding, featured in "Vows" (in the Times) eons later, was a standout. While there, I met her extended family of Hagbergs, Ruegers, and Wilsons - mostly philosophers, which explains a lot about Eva's legendary equanimity. I also met Eva's friends Lauren Hoffman, Martin Petersen, and Julia Pfister. Winston is the oldest son of my friends Margaret and Ben Fisher, so I've known him a long time. I met Eva later, but before she and Winston met. It was Ben, actually, who broke the news to me at lunch, asking, "Do you know Eva Hagberg?" Funny how life works. Seeing them a few weeks ago, in the company of a score of other well-wishers, was a good, even a great thing.

A month later, Kathy and I flew to Lisbon and spent two weeks in Portugal. It was wet and green - it has a climate that our son John compared to Wales. The people were exceptionally nice. They spoke Portuguese slowly enough that I could sort of understand. Thanks to the buoyant dollar, we stayed in some lovely places. Thanks to Michelin, we had some great meals. (After an incident in Bordeaux in 2013, Michelin is my bible.) I'd like to spend more time in Porto and Lisbon, but I don't regret visiting Óbidos (pictured), Coimbra, Lamego in the Duoro Valley, and Guimarães. 

On return, I joined my team in a new location in the Uptown district of Oakland. This splendid office is much better quarters for a group of designers and editors, with layout space, breathing room, and views of a city that is much more interesting than I'd realized. I'd worked in San Francisco for close to 30 years, so I wasn't sure how I'd like it, but it's made a tremendous difference to have a shorter commute and a workplace that really suits the way we work. The environs, too, are pleasant, with cafés, restaurants, and a food hall nearby. Oakland is in the sights of tech companies and developers. Hopefully, the new will fit in without entirely supplanting what's here now.

In June, I made another trip east, to NYC, where I saw MoMA's remarkable show on Latin American architecture and urbanism. It was a revelation to me to realize (to my shame) how little I knew about these architects and their work. It's a tendency of the US design press, I think, to have very much of a "New Yorker map" of what they cover, so kudos to MoMA for a much-needed corrective. That show and another on Henri Labrouste, both curated by Barry Bergdoll, are the best I've ever seen at MoMA on architecture - a subject prone to obfuscation when art museums tackle it.

In late August, I headed east again for a two-week trip that started in NYC, then took me to Fairfield and New Haven, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville. The trip was occasioned by my 50th high-school reunion, which I ended up skipping, and the wedding of our son Ross and Alison Powers. The wedding was the highlight, but I spent some enjoyable time with my friend Christine Van Lenten, who met me at the new Whitney and then went through her extensive comments on "Table Music," a prose-and-poetry piece I wrote earlier this year; with the curator Philip Hu, of the St. Louis Art Museum - we had lunch at the Met; with my brother-in-law Michael Opalak, who very kindly took me to see the Yale Art Center (pictured); and with Vanessa Lew in Philadelphia, a former colleague, who joined me for dinner and also recommended another terrific restaurant, Vedge, where I dined alone. While in Philadelphia, I finally saw the new Barnes. (I never saw the original, but Kathy did and really liked it.) 


It turns out that you can take the train from Philadelphia to Charlottesville - a better way to get there than by car, in my opinion. Met at the station by my son John, I arrived in time for dinner with the Powers, et al, at the splendid house Kathy rented for the senior members of the family. (The junior members had an even larger one, better suited to young families with toddlers.) The rehearsal dinner, at a restaurant in the town center, the ceremony and reception at a farm at the edge of town, the post-wedding brunch at Alison's parents' house, and then drinks with them and the newlyweds later at a country club nearby were a continuous good time. 

This was the third big family wedding in Virginia - our nephews Tom and Charles Opalak were married in Alexandria and Richmond, respectively, and now our son Ross in this historic town. The progeny of the first two marriages - Tom and Emily's Marguerite and John, and Charles and Liz's Aurelia - attended the third, which was good to see. Alison and Ross are pictured at the rehearsal dinner. In the group photo, Kathy and I are with (from left) Elizabeth, Alison, Ross, Michael, and John. My sister Alice flew in from Eugene. Allison Ehri Kreitler and her father, Bill Ehri, came down from Connecticut with Lenore and Michael Opalak, parents of Tom and Charles.


In November, I spent some days in Atlanta. Following a talk I gave, I went to the High Museum, originally designed by Richard Meier with an addition by Renzo Piano. Meier gave his part an elaborate atrium and ramp. Piano attached his part to the other end, now the main entrance, which results in a slightly baffling layout as you move from one part to the other. But the museum's collection is interesting. There was a visiting exhibit of Habsburg art and artifacts from the main art museum in Vienna - work that I'd last seen in the early 1970s, when my parents lived there. Atlanta is an odd city, more parts than whole, but the people are warm and friendly. This was my first visit to Georgia.

Later in the month, I spent an interesting day at a colloquium at Stanford's Center for Design Research in the company of my friends Michael Bell and Yung Ho Chang, and Michael's colleague at Columbia, Laurie Hawkinson. The centerpiece was a talk by Larry Leifer (on the right in the photo), founder of the Center and also of Stanford's D-School, essentially a school for innovators. Also of interest was a talk by Mike Pilliod of Tesla. Michael, whose visits to the West Coast have been more frequent of late, and Yung Ho were students at Berkeley when I lectured there in the mid-1980s. Michael and I have a mutual friend in Richard Bender, my longtime writing partner. Dick and I, along with UC Berkeley Campus Architect Emily Marthinsen, are expanding our paper, "Berkeley: Campus & Community," to include the Richmond Field Station, which is slated to be redeveloped as a "global campus."

Early in December, I finished a weaving piece that I felt was a breakthrough in combining the more formal, patterned style that my four-harness loom makes possible and the freewheeling Saori style that predominates in the studio, Berkeley Saori, where I weave. I made this piece for a colleague in Washington, DC. Now I'm making a new warp. I've lost track of exactly when I started weaving, but it's probably been three years, maybe four. It applies some lessons learned when I studied basic design in the mid-1960s, but lacked an appropriate medium. This is clearly it, given the speed with which I took to it. It's a bit like composing sonnets, in that there's a structure or formal frame within which you riff. I've made some good friends at the studio, including Lyn Harris, who runs it, Kate Charlotte Hodge, who wove there until she moved to Albuquerque, and Mia Narell, an architect in the M.Arch. program at CED.

And then Christmas: Alison and Ross flew in, as did Lenore and Michael Opalak. We had dinner at our house, with a massive rib-rack - is that the right term? - prepared per a recipe conveyed over the phone to Ross by Allison Ehri Kreitler, who writes for Fine Cooking. (Allison, two years older than our son Michael, is an honorary cousin. Her parents, Linnea and Bill Ehri, are old family friends who have known Kathy and her sisters since they were young.) We have a semi-honored family "tradition" to minimize Christmas presents. The local bookstore benefited from the extent to which I postponed shopping. I proposed a smaller tree this year, and - with Kathy's help - we pulled it off.

After Christmas, I read W.G. Sebald's A Place in the Country, which starts off with a quote from an interview he gave in which he speaks of his love of small things. I think I share that bias, which our tree expresses - a sense of scale that tips toward the human. Earlier today, I wrote to a friend, apologizing for a letter full of truisms, but noting the central thought that we make of our lives what we can given what nature and nurture hand us. For many, 2015 was a dreadful year - a marked contrast to my own experience of it. I wish them in particular a better 2016. To quote Dickens' Tiny Tim (admirably played this fall by my great-nephew, Hugh Brinkley), "God bless us all, every one!"


Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 Wrap-up



Another year blazes by. This one was domestic, as opposed to the foreign adventures that marked 2013. One of its highlights happened early: the wedding of my nephew Charles Opalak and the lovely Liz Swilley, in Richmond, VA.


Our grandson Conor, the son of Bojana and MIchael Parman, and Haley Kreitler, the daughter of our Connecticut friends Allison Ehri and Charlie Kreitler (and the older granddaughter of Linnea and Bill Ehri - Allison is our children's honorary cousin), figured in the wedding party, where they were amply supported by Tom Opalak and Ross Parman.


We used the occasion to visit Charlottesville, on a sunny February day that hit 73 degrees, where we saw Monticello and Jefferson's remarkable Lawn at the University of Virginia, with its Stanford White-restored Rotunda.


In Berkeley, we much enjoyed having Rolf Schneider, an archeologist from Munich, as our friend and sometime neighbor, meeting his family when they converged on Berkeley at the end of his visit. Whenever we go to hear concerts in the vicinity, we think of him. 


East coast trips were fairly frequent in 2014. I made two on my own in the summer, to New York, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. In Baltimore, I was lucky enough to get a city tour and have dinner with my friends Jim Camp and John Thompson on Federal Hill. 


One highlight of our summer was a lunch with Madeleine Corson, Thomas Heinser, and George Homsey at Madeleine and Thomas's farmhouse in northwest Marin. This was a meal in the "Babette's Feast" tradition, and it was also great to talk with George at length on the drive back to San Francisco to drop him off. The man is living proof that curiosity and a passion for your work keep you going. Madeleine and Thomas have that, too!


Kathy and I went east in early September to celebrate the birthday of her younger sister Lenore Opalak, mother of the aforementioned Charles and Tom. We spent a wonderful day at the beach house of our friends Linnea and Bill Ehri in Milford, CT, on Long Island Sound. All summer I'd been longing for a beach, and this fulfilled that desire handily.  


In mid-October, I made a brief visit to Cambridge and Boston after an absence of almost 50 years. I had dinner with Ali Brown, a friend from San Francisco who's studying at Harvard GSD. Meeting up with Vernon Mays, we saw the New England Aquarium on a remarkably balmy day. Heading for NYC, I met an economist, Stephany Griffith-Jones, who lives in Brighton, England, but teaches at Columbia. Thanks to her, I finally crossed Central Park, something I'd never done before. (It's a surprisingly short walk - Golden Gate Park must be wider.) We went on to the Met, dodging the guards to take some photographs. Later, incongruously, I was reprimanded by a guard at the Frick for photographing its endangered back garden. At the end of my visit, I had dinner at Cafe Luxembourg with my friends Stacy Mar, Monica Schaffer, and her husband Kevin.


Like many, many others, I braved the crowds to see the Late Matisse show at MoMA. It was good - I went through it twice, taking advantage of my membership - but it's work that's pretty familiar through constant exposure. More exciting, therefore, was the Cubism show at the Met - the private collection of Leonard Lauder, a new bequest. Braque, Picasso, Gris, and Leger - with some remarkable Braque/Picasso pairings - made it truly new, and a revelation. Since I happened on it accidentally, alerted by the woman at the members' desk, I count myself very lucky that I saw it.


Over the summer, I met with a group of like-minded design-and-culture types to form an alliance between TraceSF.com and Yosh Asato and David Baker's StoreFrontLab. This is starting to pay fruit in generating content from real life and helping give TraceSF.com a local focus. Still essentially in soft launch, it gradually ramps up. As for me, I've been a fairly loyal attender of the always-interesting StoreFrontLab events. 


In other news, Kathy won an award, well-deserved, from the Berkeley Property Owners Association, and our third son Ross announced his engagement to Alison Powers, a public defender in Arlington County, VA (and the delight of the family). A late-summer wedding is planned that will take us back to Charlottesville for another family reunion.

Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 Wrap-up

Peter Koch holding one of his gorgeous books at Codex.I
Early in 2013 (like January), I went to Key West for the literary seminar, a three-day affair on literary biography that featured Colm Toibin, Lyndall Gordon, Edmund White, Blake Bailey, and others. Key West is the lovechild of Edgartown, MA, and New Orleans - white clapboard houses and graves that sit on the ground, not under it. In February, continuing this literary theme, I went to Codex, a gathering of art book publishers that took place at the old Ford Plant on the waterfront in Richmond, CA, where I ran into my neighbor, the art book printer and publisher Peter Koch. I hadn't seen him in years, but we quickly revived our friendship.


Ward Schumacher (left) and John Zurier.
Another more recent friendship is with the painter and illustrator Ward Schumacher. Last winter we went for two gallery walks in the best flâneur manner. On one occasion, we started  at the George Larson Gallery off Union Square, went on to StorefrontLab on Shotwell at 18th Street, the admirably creative venture of Yosh Asato and David Baker, and ended up at a new mag launch party at Valencia and 24th Streets, in a gallery featuring tintypes and other avant-garde photography. On another occasion, our walk ended with dinner with Ward and his wife, Vivienne Flesher, at their house on Potrero Hill.

Joni Waka and his dog at Hamada's studio.
In April, I went to Tokyo in the company of my friend and writing partner Richard Bender. I saw many friends, including the planner Kei Minohara, the architect Minoru Takeyama, my UC Berkeley classmate Ken Kawarabayashi and his wife, who hosted me to lunch and the sights of Yokohama, my planner/writer friend Miho Ito, and the estimable Joni Waka, art impresario, who very kindly took me on an excursion to meet a master potter and visit the studio of Shoji Hamada (1894-1978), a renowned potter whose work I also saw at the V&A in London in September. (He collaborated with the English potter Bernard Leach, living and working with him in St. Ives in the early 1920.) Waka lives in the "Dog House" he commissioned, designed with the artist Joseph Kosuth, which I visited. In Tokyo, I also saw the remarkable Nezu Museum and Garden, with two new buildings by Kengo Kuma. (The buildings are great, but the garden is sublime.) I also saw Klein Dytham's Tsutaya bookstore in Daikanyama and, thanks to the Carnegie Museum of Art's Raymund Ryan, met and interviewed the architect Takaharu Tezuka at his office in Todoroki (across from the famous temple and its gorgeous and dramatic grounds).

At MoMA in May.
In late May and early June, I made a trip to NYC and DC, with stops at museums, partly accompanied by my friends Christine Van Lenten and Sally Allen-Williams - old, old family friends from my childhood home of Mountain Lakes, NJ. One thing I realized on this trip is that the expanded MoMA, which I didn't like very much when it opened, has grown on me. Perhaps the museum, too, has figured out how to use it. I was back again in November and found that I really know my way around it now. The big and squarish gallery on the the top floor, the scene of a Munch show that reminded me of the Two Guys from Harrison discount store of my youth, has been tamed and more or less works. (The circulation still has its moments.) 

Elizabeth at the Guggenheim Bilbao.
Late August and the first half of September took us to Europe. I went first, stopping off in Dudley, near Birmingham, to see our son John and meet his family - Sally Wright and her sons Loz and Theo - then heading to London to see my friends Andrew Rabeneck (finally meeting Amy), Julie Bartlett, and two of the three Wigfall siblings, Nina and Tristan. I met up with Kathy in Paris and we headed for Bordeaux, where our daughter Elizabeth joined us. (Great city!) We stayed for a few days near Biarritz, then went into the French Basque country to a hotel-restaurant, Arce, in St. Etienne-de-Baigorry. After two days in Bilbao (the Guggenheim is really good), I flew back to SF and Kathy went on with our friends Sue and Marty Tierney to Lourdes and Saur. She then went on to Paris and to Dudley. Liz also split off in Bilbao, spending another month in Spain before returning to Berkeley.

Singapore view.
In November, I went back to Singapore after an absence of 60 years. This was through the auspices of Professor Bender, who arranged the chapter we wrote together (with Emily Marthinsen of UC Berkeley) for a book, Univer-Cities, edited by Anthony S.C. Teo of Nanyang Technological University, our host and the convener of a conference at which we spoke. It was interesting, this "extreme time lapse," but the feel of the place - the heat and the sounds of crickets and birds - came back to me. I also saw a handful of places that I remembered. Then I flew to Shanghai, which reminded me of LA in the late 1970s, in terms of air quality. It's a big, sprawling city, not like Tokyo or HK. While there, I saw my writer friends Mara Hvistendahl and Clare Jacobson, and met their writer friend Dan Keane. I hope to return soon (and to Singapore, too).

There were other "moments" along the way: getting our kitchen back after a six-month absence; attending a reunion at UC Berkeley CED of the students of Professor Horst Rittel (and running into Tom Thompson, a professor from my undergrad days in St. Louis); a visit from our son Ross and his friend Alison Powers in the summer; and Thanksgiving dinner with our son Michael and his family - Bojana and Conor - at their house a few blocks away. My sister's daughter Rachael Carnes, her husband Ben Brinkley, and their kids Jane and Hugh visited in the spring. I published a couple of book reviews, along with the book chapter. Kathy and her sister Laurie squared up their mother's house across the street - no small feat. I got a four-shaft loom and started weaving more complex patterns with it. I started using my iPhone to take photos, which is why they're sharper this year than last. And our garden, front and back, is taking shape after a big overhaul. Photos to come (next year).



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Looking Back at 2012

The year began with the death, on New Year's Day, of Betty Snowden, shown on the left at Thanksgiving with my wife Kathy, her daughter. Born in 1913, Betty died a few weeks short of her 98th birthday, having willed herself to live through the holidays and see her grandchildren. Betty spent part of WW II in the Congo, broadcasting in French. After the war, she married Jolly Snowden, who she'd met in the Congo. An All-American football player for the Miami Hurricanes, Jolly helped build Ryder Trucks in the East and later in California. They lived across the street from us. Jolly died in 1989, but Betty lived on, active in the North Berkeley Community Center and as a bridge player. She was an exemplary grandmother to her numerous grandchildren. I miss her.

In January, partly as a 65th-birthday present to myself, I went east, spending time in DC, where I visited the National Gallery, a perennial favorite, shown in the photo on the right. I then flew to Miami to see my friend May, her husband Rod, and her daughter Asia. I'd never been to Miami, which proved to be a balmy 74 (as compared to DC's 29). When it went down to 70, they complained about the cold! May kindly showed me the sights, including South Beach and a gorgeous 1920s mansion. The trip made up for a botched one in November, when I couldn't get a flight from Charlotte to Miami, so ended up flying back to SF. This was a more leisurely visit, for which I was grateful. Downtown Miami, where I stayed, is cosmopolitan - good restaurants and a great mix of people. South Beach, where Asia lives and works, is like that, too - a real destination. I've known May since the late 1960s, a long friendship.

In late 2011, my friends Yosh, Yuki, Brad, and I launched a new SF-focused design blog, TraceSF.com. I've written for it several times. One thing I covered was a lecture by the Boston architect Rodolfo Machado at Wurster Hall at Berkeley. Best known in California for renovating the old Getty Museum in Malibu, his master plan for the UCSF research campus at Mission Bay, entirely disregarded by that institution, would have made that unfortunate setting a zillion times better. He told me after the lecture that he'd never gone back. I don't blame him.

At some point in the late winter or early spring, I started weaving, using a Saori two-shaft loom, shown on the right. My teacher is Lynn Harris of Saori Berkeley. I really like it. I began by doing very simple things, just to get the hang of it. Weaving turned out to be a bit like writing - at least, like writing as I do it. The Saori loom is sort of the iMac of looms, too - it lends itself to improvisation and it's very forgiving of error. Over the summer, I bought one and had it converted to four shafts - an added level of complexity that I'll be addressing in January. More on weaving later - it's been a big theme for me in 2012. My daughter Elizabeth, who suggested the studio to me, joined in and took to it. Soon she was making her own warps and producing the raw material for several items of clothing. Sewing those clothes is her next project. The weaving in the photo is the simplest kind: back and forth with a shuttle, making bands of color. I did several like that until I felt comfortable enough with the loom to experiment. 

In May, we went east for a family reunion of sorts occasioned by the graduation of our niece Roz from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. (She's shown seated on the left; our third son Ross, a political strategist in DC, is towering over me on my left.) It's a really nice college town. We stayed in Danville, 15 minutes away, at The Doctor's Inn, a bed and breakfast was a former doctor's residence and clinic. It's a big old house and the family that owns it, including "three little doorstep girls," as Kathy memorably called them, made us feel welcome. I also visited with my high-school classmate Chris, who I hadn't seen since he attended our wedding in 1974. Another Bucknell graduate, he now lives across the river from Lewisburg, in a house on five acres. This captures one truth about central Pennsylvania - it's about half the price of Berkeley. Chris, who worked as a postman, noted that he could afford to retire there on a postman's pension. In the photo above, I'm wearing the hat that I bought earlier that day for $8 in a store on the Lewisburg main drag. Needed it, sitting in the sun at Roz's ceremony. Then Kathy, her sister Laurie (second from left), and I drove to Connecticut to stay with their sister Lynn (sitting below me) and visit their cousin Shirley in New York City and our friends Linnea and Bill, their daughter Allison, and their granddaughters at the beach house in Milford on Long Island Sound. (Yes, it survived Hurrican Sandy, but only just.)

In June, I went back east, this time to New York City, where I saw the Keith Haring show at the Brooklyn Art Museum - a revelation, in fact, as Haring is really strong graphically, with a much greater range than I thought. I was impressed. I took a Sunday to go visit my cousin Robert in Red Hook, NY (not Red Hook, Brooklyn), getting a ride in his XK-E, meeting his family, and visiting Olanna, a 19th-century artist's house with beautiful views of the Hudson Valley. I took the train to Rhinecliff and my cousin picked me up. That's one thing I love about the East - you can mostly ditch the car. Miraculously, New York City was really pleasant, not oppressive, as I'd feared it would be. The BAM visit, which included a stop to see my friends Andrew and Davina, and their growing family, was my first trip to Brooklyn since I went to the Coney Island Aquarium with my dad when I was 13. It was thanks to Andrew's good directions that I made it to BAM from Brooklyn Tech, where I heard him give a short talk on his new book, Tubes. (We're talking Andrew Blum here.) BAM is definitely the most transit-friendly museum in New York City.

In July, I started weaving using what my teacher called a tapestry technique. This was my opening move, which reminded me of Mark Rothko, in a way. It was slow going, but I really liked it. This piece, which we'll revisit at the end, grew to be about 10 feet long. July is famous in the Bay Area for bad weather, but it's become our "new normal" for the once-balmier period from late spring to early fall: long expanses of fog-shrouded cold are now briefly punctuated by a few days of sun and warmth. This is not how I define "summer," but I guess I'll have to get used to it. In this period, I was working on an essay on Berkeley, campus and city, with my friends Dick and Emily, commissioned by Dick's friend - now mine, too - Anthony, in Singapore. This was undoubtedly the slowest paper I ever wrote, so I owe thanks to Anthony for putting up with us. (I also wrote reviews in 2012 of Jennifer Fletcher's SFMOMA show on Bucky Fuller's influence on Bay Area design and designers, published in May in Architect's Newspaper, and of Jill Stoner's Toward a Minor Architecture.)

The Jill Stoner book review appeared in September in Arcade, the Seattle design magazine edited by Kelly Rodriguez. Here it is on the right, hot off the press. I really like Arcade - admire its backers for keeping it going at a very high editorial standard. It's one my several causes. Another is the 2430 Arts Alliance, which supports University Press Books and Musical Offering in Berkeley - I'm on the board. The Alliance sponsors concerts, readings, and other public outreach programs that draw people to the bookstore and the CD shop, both located at 2430 Bancroft Ave. in Berkeley, across from Zellerbach Hall. Well worth a visit.

Speaking of UPB, my daughter and I went there in October to see a remarkable short film, La jetée, by the late Chris Marker. It's the film on which every time-travel epic ever since is based. It's only 26 minutes, but it's great. His other films are supposed to be really good, too, but I haven't seen them yet. (I skipped early August, when I went to San Diego for a few days to thaw out and got a really interesting work assignment that will come out in January. More on that next year!)

In November, my second son John visited us for two weeks, including Thanksgiving. It was good to see him - I hadn't laid eyes on him, other than via Skype video, for 18 months. (In May 2011, I saw him in Birmingham, England, where he did his M.A. He now lives in Dudley, a town of 300,000 people in the Black Country - coal country - nearby.) My oldest son Michael and his family had meanwhile moved into their newly renovated house a few blocks away. They were living in a rental, so this is a good move. My grandson is now at Black Pine Circle, which John and his brother Ross attended a generation before. Full circle, as they say. John did his M.A. thesis on social enterprises and now works as a fundraising and communications consultant.

In December, I went back to New York City, where I met up with Christine and Sally, old family friends, and went to the O.K. Harris Gallery in SoHo to see a show of the summer work of San Francisco artist Ward Schumaker. I met the owner, Ethan Karp, and bought two of Schumaker's paintings, including "Ship of State," shown left. In between purchases, I heard from the artist and ended up having dinner with him and his wife, the artist Vivienne Flesher. That was fun! I also saw the moving Ferdinand Hodler show at the Neue Galerie, along with Picasso at the Guggenheim and old favorites at MoMA. (The early modern show hadn't opened yet, unfortunately.) I then returned to SF to labor on my work project, a complicated piece with a lot of moving parts and a very compressed schedule. I'm always in awe of how these come together, thanks to the award-winning team I work with at Gensler's publications group in San Francisco.

In December, I also finished my 10-foot-long tapestry weaving project, worked on  for two hours a session over successive Saturday mornings. This section is about two-thirds of the way along, where it transitions from red to blue. I also began experimenting with more complex forms. I wrote earlier that weaving is like writing. It reminds me of writing poetry, especially sonnets, in that each line of a poem anticipates the next as much as it relates to what came before. The poet Frederick Seidel noted in a Paris Review interview that he might start off a poem wanting to depict someone with grey eyes, but the poem doesn't want the grey and it may not even want the eyes. Weaving in this manner is a bit like that. Four-shaft weaving is more like my work project: a specific form and a lot of moving parts. Story of my life. Meanwhile, best wishes for the New Year.