Friday, December 23, 2011

Year's End

My friend Kenny's year-end summation leads me to tote a few things up.

Best book: Alexander Nehamas, The Art of Living. Runners-up: The Care of the Self by Michel Foucault; The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder.

Best restaurant: Flora in Oakland. (I didn't go very far afield). Runners-up: Rivoli in Berkeley, Fringale and Hayes Street Grill in SF. (Tradition runs rampant.)

Best wine shop: Kermit Lynch, Berkeley. Runner-up: North Berkeley Wine Company.

Best play: "School for Scandal" by Richard Sheridan (at the Barbican, London).

Best film: The one by Tacita Dean on Merce Cunningham rehearsing at the Ford Plant in Richmond. Although a friend compared it to watching paint dry, I found it remarkable, both for the play of light and view in that huge, open space and for the way the piece came together with MC's ever-so-polite direction of his thoroughly professional company.

Best live event: The 17 May parade in Bergen, Norway, for which neighborhoods, schools, and university faculties fielded small bands, all of which played well, and everyone dressed in gorgeous handmade, colorful, traditional clothes with silver buttons. Runners-up: Davitt Moroney; Scandinavian Festival in Junction City, Oregon; UC Berkeley MFA presentation at Richmond Field Station.

Best bookstore: University Press Books in Berkeley. Runners-up: Daunts in London, noted by my friend Andrew; Stout's on Solano Avenue in Berkeley (best used architecture books on the planet); City Lights in SF (better even than the London Review of Books bookstore in London); Analog on Euclid Avenue in Berkeley (tiny, but excellent selection).

Best (and possibly last) classical CD store: Musical Offering, Berkeley. Worth preserving.

Best newspaper: The Guardian, which I read now on my iPad; runner-up: weekend FT.

Best place for architecture criticism: Sam Lubell's CA edition, Architect's Newspaper.

Best architecture mag: The redesigned, Catherine Slessor-edited Architectural Review. Runner-up: sister publication Architect's Journal.

Best music video: The wedding Bollywood riff made by my cousin Jonas in honor of his cousin Marius's marriage to Nina. (I'll find a link for this one.)

Best musical discovery: Sviatoslav Richter, noted by my friend Stefan. A lot of Russian classical music recordings from the Soviet era are coming out of the woodwork.

Best company: At this point, the most occasional. Runners-up: lunch division: Kenny; family division: my daughter Elizabeth.

Best news: Nephew Tom on the mend. (He was hit by a truck while walking on a sidewalk in Austin, TX.) Runner-up: Kim Jong-Il joins his dad.

Best reason to be appalled: The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Best reason to fight nascent fascism: Andres Breivik.

Best reason to riot: David Cameron.

Best signs of better times: Women marching against army ugliness in Cairo; SF designers having babies; Pirate Party doing well in Germany; Blue Labour.

Best opportunity for innovation: Higher education.

Best financial quote: "I have no idea what happened to the $1.2 billion."

Best Chinese saying to apply to high finance: "Kill some chickens to scare the monkeys."

Best election to do over: Russia's.

Best single example of blatant hypocrisy: Congress refusing to outlaw its members' insider trading.

Best religious epiphany: The public denunciation by the Irish PM of continued Vatican foot-dragging over turning predatory priests over to the police in Ireland. Runner-up: Theocracy in Iran, the best example of why to separate religion from the state (in case Rick Perry wasn't registering on that front).

Best projects to abandon: Apple's glass ring; Saltworks; California high-speed rail.

Best proof of karma: So many choices this year. Let's hope Berlusconi sticks.

Best candidates for apotheosis: Steve Jobs and Christopher Hitchens. (Both were deeply flawed, but then so are most of the gods.)

Best rich guys not taking it with them: Warren Hellman and Don Fisher.

Best mag: The Jean Nouvel issue of Abitare.

Best running gag: The Republican candidates. (That's "gag" in two senses.)

Best reason to support Obama: The Republican candidates.

Best art exhibit: Kurt Schwitters at Berkeley Art Museum. Runner-up: Francesca Woodman at SFMOMA. (Both obsessive; both unlucky, but in different ways.)

Best cultural organization: Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Artists (SECA) at SFMOMA. Runners-up: Art + Design Forum at SFMOMA; BAM/PFA; Cal Performances (but I miss Robert Cole).

Best moment at SPUR: David Lewis vs. Peter Calthorpe re: Saltworks. (Hate that project.)

Best beach: Stinson. (My Ostia Lido.)

Best cathedral: York.

Best career move: Cathy Ho heads up the US section of the Venice Architecture Biennale. Runner-up, M&A division: Bob Ivy heads up the AIA.

Best proof of sheer ability (and probable exploitation): Julie Kim is replaced at SPUR by three people.

Best living poet: John Burnside. Runner-up: Frederick Seidel.

Best dead poet: Byron ("Don Juan").

Best blog: "Design Faith," my fave, is one of four that I read closely. Each is written by one person.

Best lit review: London Review of Books. Runner-up: BookForum.

Best serious journal: New Left Review.

Best writer on architecture: Catherine Slessor. Many contenders, but she's the best writer.

Best deserving of a national honor received: Mara Hvistendahl, whose book on China's boy bias made top 10 lists of several national publications, including the WSJ.

Best deserving of a local honor received: David Baker. Does what he does really well. Runner-up: Yukiko Bowman.

Best local lecture by a designer: Jeanne Gang at Wurster Hall. More like her, please. Runners-up: Katherine Gustafson and Craig Dykers.

Best live event reporting: Eva Hagberg on Occupy Berkeley (on Facebook). Runner-up (with photos): Sabrina Brennan on Occupy Oakland, Port of Oakland, and Half Moon Bay.

Best coffee: Indoor: Blue Bottle; outdoor: Curbside Coffee - both SF. Beans: Espresso Forte, Peet's; machine: Pavoni (despite everything).

Best cab ride: Oslo (caught the ferry); runner-up: London ("Your president has made an unholy mess of this city").

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas 2011

A look back at some highlights of an interesting year.

In January, I stopped off in Manhattan, where I spent time with friends. Christine Van Lenten and I spent a day at museums. On separate evenings, I had dinner with Jan Lakin and Helen Dimoff. It was great to see all three. Motivated by the cold and a hotel on the west side of the park, I finally cracked the Manhattan buses. In DC, I had dinner with my son Ross, his friends Tamara and Alden, and my nephew Charles. It started snowing that evening, but I dodged the more consequential snowfall that paralyzed NYC.

In May, I went to Europe. My first stop was Bergen, where I watched the Norwegian national day parade on 17 May and spent time with my cousin Turid, her sister Marthe-Katrina, and Turid's sons, daughters-in-law, and numerous grandchildren. Introduced by Turid's son Henning, an alumnus, I visited Bergen's architecture school, meeting its director. I also went to the house of Edvard Grieg and to Galerie Oz, the arts-and-crafts gallery that Turid and Marthe-Katrina own and run. Then, at Turid's suggestion, I took the train to Oslo, barely making it to Nesodden in time to meet my cousins Bente and Helge at the ferry. They drove me home - to a house I first visited in 1953, which they have wonderfully restored - in Bente's swanky new Audi convertible. That night I had dinner with my cousin Margaretha, her friend Knut-Ole, and her sons Espen and Jan-Hendrik. The next day, I saw Elsie, the family matriarch; Bente's daughter Maria and her granddaughter Philippa (the daughter of Maria's sister Henriette, who was away); and my cousins Gunn and Sigurd, having lunch on their sailboat. I had dinner with Bente and Helge. The next morning, I took the ferry back to Oslo and spent an amazing day with Margaretha's brother, Kjell-Olav, his wife Kirsten, their daughters Maria and Sarah, and their landscape architect friend and neighbor, Jostein Bjørbekk, who kindly took me on a planner's tour of downtown Oslo, including stops at the new Opera House and Oslo's architecture museum. Lunch was at Oslo's iconic ski jump and dinner was at Kirsten and Kjell-Olav's house. The guests included Margaretha's younger kids, Marthe and Marius, and Nina, the soon-to-be wife of Marius. On Monday, Maria very kindly drove me to the train station after I missed the airport bus, so I didn't miss my midday plane to England.

I spent 24 hours in Birmingham, visiting my son John. (He went on to get his masters at Birmingham City University in September and is now working in London.) England's second-largest city, Birmingham is an impressive place, much influenced by the Victorian era. This is true, as well, of Leeds, my next destination, where I spent two days with my friends Joan and Vivian Wyatt. They took me into town and then to York, a medieval cathedral town - birthplace of W.H. Auden, I just read. Then I took the train to London, meeting up with three generations of the Wigfall family, converging on Saatchi & Saatchi for an art event in which Clare Wigfall participated. The next day, I had lunch with my friend Andrew Rabeneck (who visited us in the fall in Berkeley), then met the Wigfalls at the Barbican to see Sheridan's "School for Scandal." What better way to end a trip!

Meanwhile, Kathy went with friends to Bulgaria and Romania in late May and early June. She had a really good time. Closer to home, she's become a fan of opera, mostly through the rebroadcasting of Met productions at a local movie theater.

In mid-August, I visited my family in Eugene: my sister Alice, her husband John, my niece Rachael, her husband Ben, and their kids, Jane and Hugh. We went to the Scandinavian Festival, where I met Rachael and Ben's friends the Hagens and their kids. Ben, Jane, and I went fishing on the McKenzie River. At my family's archive at the University of Oregon, I read a small sampling of the correspondence of my parents and grandparents. For a writer, having a family archive is just about heaven!

The real family news this year was all from Norway. My cousin Marius married Nina, who we met a few years ago when they spent a very crowded few days at our house between Christmas and New Year's. (Proof that there's always room for family and friends chez nous.). Then my cousins Una and Espen had a baby boy, Theodor. These joyful events helped take the edge off the sadness of the tragic Oslo bombing and island massacre. 

On our end, in Berkeley, I served on the board of the 2430 Arts Alliance, which benefits University Press Books and the Musical Offering. At the house of Sue and Richard Bender, I saw Yu Serizawa, visiting from Tokyo. We made a lunch together with ingredients Yu brought from the Ferry Building, which was really fun. On Easter, I saw my LA friend Linda Hart and her daughter Rian. On the family front, our son Michael, his wife Bojana, and our grandson Conor moved from SF to the next block. Conor now goes to Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley. Our daughter Liz is living across the street. I really enjoy her presence, which gives rise to interesting conversations and excursions. She's working in SF on art books: Picasso and Gris. Her grandmother Betty is ailing, but rallied to attend Thanksgiving dinner. We expect to see her at Christmas, when Ross will be back. (He and Tamara visited in the summer, then Ross took a new job with the Alliance to Save Energy in DC.) Kathy's sister Laurie, her husband Chuck, and their kids Liam and Roz will be here, along with her sister Lyn, Lyn's husband Michael, and their son Charles. Will their son Tom and his wife Emily make it? I hope so. We saw them in the late summer in Berkeley. A few weeks ago, Tom was plowed into by a drunk driver while walking on the sidewalk in Austin, Texas. Luckily, he's on the mend. Have to watch those sidewalks!

It was fun to see Cathy Ho and her growing family in San Francisco at the gorgeous penthouse of our mutual friend Rob Forbes. That led to a dinner with Jay Powell, Peony Quan, and Canan Tolon at Flora in Oakland. (It was good to have Cathy's sister Betty as my colleague again.) My BART-riding friend Thu Phan gave me a insider's tour of Thom Mayne's SF Federal Building. At Yosh Asato and David Baker's Storefront Lab open house, I met Amy Trachtenberg and her husband, and ran into David Hurley, Kenny Caldwell, and Paul Crabtree. I enjoyed seeing Kenny's art pieces - and running into Amanda Walter - at the SF Art Institute earlier this year. I'm looking forward to hearing Paul's "Ghost Train," a crowd-sourced musical commission. On the work front, my group - led by Mark Coleman - won a Graphis Gold Award for the Gensler 2009 Annual Report. A new design blog, TraceSF, that Yosh and I have worked on with Yuki Bowman and Brad Leibin, will launch soon. I met young artists, including Kari Marboe and Jennie Smith, at Berkeley Art Museum's UCB MFA presentation at Richmond Field Station, and two art patrons, Rimma Boshernitsan and Cynthia Kagay, at events sponsored by SECA at SFMOMA, which they help run. (At some point, just before it turned cold, I squeezed in a short trip to Stinson Beach.) I was glad to meet SFMOMA curator Joseph Becker, who lectured on Dieter Rams; "Mexican Suitcase" designer Martin Venesky (with whom I'm discussing digitizing the Design Book Review archive); and family-law specialist and early-music fan Stefan Spielman. I was impressed by Randolph Langenbach and Chris Andrews' research work on indigenous housing in urban Haiti. I was glad to see that Julie Kim has a worthy successor at SPUR Urbanist in Allison Arieff. I appreciated John King's soiree at House of Shields, where I ran into all of the usual suspects but one.

On my last trip east, in early December, I saw Ross and Tamara again in DC. A business meeting in Charlotte ended early, so I saw the remarkable work of Romare Bearden and Sheila Hicks at the Mint Museum. I was supposed to visit my friend May Ho Hebert and her family in Miami (and glimpse Art Basel), but it didn't work. I'll get there yet!

So this, in a nutshell, is my Christmas news. If you're mentioned above, thank you for your part in making 2011 a good year. It was so good to see you or to have you visit. Facebook is useful to keep ties going, but nothing beats a real conversation! If you're not mentioned, don't think you aren't in my thoughts! I hope to see you in 2012!