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. 

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