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!"


  1. Enjoyed this, John. We still have to get together to share Portuguese reminiscences.


  2. Yes, that's true. Let's see if we can corral Peiting.


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