Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hitting the road ... eh sky ... again

There is no frigate like a book  
  To take us lands away,  
Nor any coursers like a page  
  Of prancing poetry.  
This traverse may the poorest take         
  Without oppress of toll;  
How frugal is the chariot  
  That bears a human soul! 

Emily Dickinson

Tomorrow early in the  morning I will pack my recent book (more in my book post in September) and my Kindle to enter a plane again. This time it's only a short flight over to my sister's place, while the books will take me more far away at the same time. 

I'll be back in a week with new stories to tell. Take care for so long!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

NoCa & San Francisco Day 10 - Good bye San Francisco

I ♥ San Francisco

It feels a little awkward to write this being already home in Germany for almost a week, but lots of work and a horrible jetlag (still not gone - I am always sick forever coming back from the US) sadly kept me away from my blog. 
Nevertheless  ... there was a lovely final day and I made some nice pictures I do not want to keep away from you and so here we go with the final blog post about a remarkable trip to Northern California & San Francisco.

How do you know that you kind of adjusted to a city? 

When you pack your suitcase on the last morning and start searching the hotel room for your Streetwise Citymap San Francisco and realize ... that you forgot it at home in the first place. Wow ... I did not miss it for a second. Well - that does not mean of course I know every street and every corner in San Francisco (sure not), but for the usual spots I visit (and I did not have time for much more) my orientation is after 4 trips obviously good enough. Lovely. 
Other than that I have to note that I hate packing. I love traveling, but if I will ever be reborn as a rich and spoiled kid the first thing I want is some staff to pack and carry my luggage, please *sigh*.

When I was done praising the travel gods for my British Airways ticket because BA allows 3 kg more luggage than Lufthansa, I left the hotel for a final short shopping tour. I had to exchange one thing and get the gift for my godson from Hollister. Can somebody please explain to me the magic of Hollister? Every time I fly back to Europe from the US everybody at the gate is dressed from head to toe in as much Hollister stuff as they can wrap around their bodies - like this is the coolest clothing on the planet. Why? I think it is (depends on the item) plain ugly or ... just pretty normal stuff. Actually the shirt I bought for my godson looks good and I hope he likes it :)

Done with shopping I crossed Market to walk to Union Square because leaving San Francisco without a Union Square stop is kind of a crazy thing to do .....

At the corner of Market and Powell is one of the famous cable car turnarounds. Big bummer for me this time: no time to ride the cable car *boooo*. I love riding the cable car and especially the line from Powell to Hyde, but I did not have enough time  :(

Powell Cable Car Turnaround

So I walked up Powell to Union Square ....

Powell Street

Union Square

Then I had this very healthy *cough* 2nd breakfast at the Cheesecake Factory
Did I eat the cream? No. 
Did I eat all the cake? No. 
Did I take my Lactase pill? Yes.
Did it horrible things to my tummy anyway? Yes.
Was it worth the pain because it was so yummy?  No, to be honest it was too sweet, creamy and fat.

Oero Cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory

So if you are out to eat some great cake ... check out the small, local bakeries run by wonderful, motivated and talented bakers and pastry chefs. I bet ... there is one around your corner ... For me it wasn't that bad - I wasn't there for the cake anyway - I was there for the sight ;)

Union Square from the Cheesecake Factory @ Macy's

After not finishing my cake I went back to my hotel to check out. I had then still some time left until I had to get to the airport shuttle. I was considering to visit the awesome SFMOMA to see the Getrude Stein exhibition, but the place was busy as usual especially on Sundays, I had only 90 minutes left, the sun was shining bright and I had about 15 hours in planes and airports ahead of me ... and so I decided with a heavy heart to go for another walk instead.  I wish I would have had more time - I am really sad to miss the exhibition :(

I finally just went down Folsom to the bay and walked up and down Embarcadero, sat down at the waterfront and starred on The City behind me, the Ferry Building, the Bay Bridge and the bay in front of me and tried hard not to cry. It was such a gorgeous day - bright blue sky, sunshine, happy people enjoying their Sunday and around me one of the most beautiful cities of the world - seriously. Damn ... it was so hard to leave.

Claes Oldenburg - "Cupid's Span"
The Oakland Bay Bridge
The Oakland Bay Bridge & Yerba Buena Island

The trip back was endless but went smoothly without any problems or delays. This time even the entertainment thingy at my seat worked. I watched:

Source Code - Pretty cool and I love Jake Gyllenhaal ;)
Control - Sad, but I had seen the movie before and I felt like enjoying some sadness being heavy-hearted myself for many reasons and I wanted some good music.

Limitless - Not bad, but although Bradley Cooper is for sure an attractive guy he doesn't do anything to me. I'd prefer Robert Downey Jr. sitting on a chair reading the phone directory of Manhattan for me instead ;)

And now ... I am back home but not really back home. My heart is still transatlantic and sadly my inner watch as well *yawn*. 

Pittsburgh, CA - Part 5

I may not have had enough time to go SFMOMA, but I had some time left to go to the SFMOMA Shop at the airport and LOOK what I found :)!
I wanted this book for a long time, but when I was in New York and Pittsburgh I could not handle the additional weight because I had already bought lots of books and it was painfully expensive.
Now I found the book in the airport shop for a slightly reduced price and finally ... it's mine :) and I can prepare myself for my Fallingwater visit next time I am in Pittsburgh!
Oh ... and my hands were not trembling when I took this picture. My camera just got very confused by all the falling water on the title picture.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

NoCa & San Francisco Day 9 - I'm sailing

I'm sailing ....

Saturday - day 9 of my trip to Northern California and San Francisco could be renamed as "The Day of Joy" because it was amazing from the start to the end.

First of all ... I slept in a bit. Sleep can be such a nice treat after a long week. In the morning I did some writing for this blog in my bed with my fantastic view over the downtown skyline. After a while I started missing my Vanilla Latte and food, but I did not feel like getting up and dressed. Then I thought "Wait this is America, but ... no I cannot do that. Or can I? No, I can't. But maybe if .... ah screw it. This is America."  And so I got up and - the very first time in my life - I left my hotel room in my pajamas (!) to go to the Starbucks right in the hotel lobby. It felt weird, but I loved it and I even more loved to go back to bed with my breakfast. For the Americans of you it might be the most normal thing on the planet to do so - it very likely is since absolutely NOBODY did even look at me twice or took any attention on my dress-, but for an European it's such a NOGO. To my defense I have to say that my pajamas consist of long dark blue pants, a blue GAP Pittsburgh T-Shirt and I was wearing a long cardigan above all this.

After this wonderful start of the day, when the sunshine outside got really bright (YAY!) I started for a walk along the Embarcadero towards Pier 39. It's one of my absolutely favorite San Francisco walks and enjoyed it a lot again this time.


Downtown San Francisco

Lombard Mansion

Pier 39 & Fisherman's Wharf

And then ... starting from Pier 39 West I did something I wanted to do since I was in San Francisco for the very first time a couple of years ago:  SAILING THE BAY.

I already made a motorboat trip out the Golden Gate Bridge with some of  the bigger ships and a boat trip over to Alcatraz, but no sailing adventure yet.  I love the ocean, I am blessed with a stable stomach and I love boat trips since I was a kid ... the smaller the boat, the wilder the ride the better it was and is.
As you can imagine I was super happy and excited when Captain Hans (who looks EXACTLY like you would expect a guy to look like that makes his life sailing the bay) invited us to enter the catamaran "Adventurecat 2".

And WOW ... what a  trip it was. Blue sky, sunshine, nice winds ... a few moments after we had left Pier 39 we were flying towards Alcatraz, then over to Sausalito and right into the fog and bad weather below the Golden Gate Bridge and back again to San Francisco.
When we were out at the bridge even a couple of dolphins followed the boat in some distance jumping in and out of the water - AMAZING!  I did not make pictures, because they were hard to catch and I had my camera in my pocket to protect it from the spray water, but they were there and I loved it. 

I took LOTS of photos and I can only post very few highlights here, but you can go to my Facebook album to see them all.

The tour with the Adventurecat 2 can be booked with Extranomical Tours, San Francisco. I went with Extranomical to Muir Woods last year and on the sailing adventure this year - both tours were fantastic. 

Captain Hans & The Adventurecat 2

Sailing the bay ...

Bad weather at the Golden Gate

A cloud creeping over the hill to Sausalito

Certainly not the best pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge I ever made (last year was much better), but the most mystical ones.

Coming back the warm sunshine was much appreciated:

Back at Pier 39 to visit the sea lions.

Right after the sailing adventure I went back all the way to Embarcadero BART station and took a train to the East Bay to meet some lovely friends for tapas and drinks at Bar César in Berkeley (great fried potatoes, delicious ribs, nice drinks - only the bread pudding was a little too massive).  We had so much fun :)

And then we got  .....

Pittsburgh, CA - Part 4

When I was waiting for my train to the East Bay down at the BART Station a voice suddenly announced:

"Next train to Pittsburg[h] in 7 minutes. 7 minutes for Pittsburg[h]."

Ahhhh - WHAT?
Not that I would not jump on a train to Pittsburgh any time, but from Embarcadero BART Station????
To my excuse I have to say that being blessed with a downtown office I did not use BART in about 4 years and so I was not aware of this:

Pittsburg, CA

So there is actually a Pittsburg in California. It's right by San Francisco, but it has to live without the fancy h at the end. Poor guys ;)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Secret Agent L - MISSION: Save a Life. Please read!

Let me interrupt the stream of happy, sunny postings about the great time I had in California for this important note:

If you remember my travel blog posts from February this year, then you might remember how I told you that one of the things I love most about Pittsburgh is the surprisingly high concentration of fantastic people. And one of the loveliest people I met during my pretty amazing days in Western Pennsylvania is for sure Laura - better known in the world outside as Secret Agent L.

This girl spread so much love and happiness and hope and kindness over this crazy planet with her Secret Agent L Project that it is incredible and almost too good to be true.
 And Laura herself was, when I met her finally in person, a pure source of light. We had a fantastic evening together, which ranks within my favorite Pittsburgh memories.

But where is light, there is shadow - and in this case even a very serious amount of darkness. So please READ NOW the incredibly intense and brave blog post this fantastic girl posted today to raise awareness for mental illness by revealing her own difficult struggle with severe depressions.

I was never close to such a deep point in my life, but after my mom's struggle with cancer, her death and the horrible time of giving up our family apartment I had to face a post traumatic depression, which was serious enough to make me seek for help. Luckily I found it, got the right therapy and the right medication that helped me to stabilize myself again. Today - some years later - I am totally fine and off any medication for a long time already. I got help. I got cure.

We all deserve happiness. If you have trouble finding it because your soul lets you down seriously, please go and get help. Don't be afraid or ashamed. There is no reason for it.

Read the Secret Agend L blog post HERE!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

NoCa & San Francisco Day 6-8 - Work & Fun

Good morning San Francisco

I decided to summarize the next couple of days in one posting because they were very busy with meetings and work and not so much stuff that is exciting for you - my blog readers. It was fantastic to spend so much time with our US team and I learned a lot. I am really looking forward to come home and make all the things happen we talked about in the last week.


On Wednesday night we went out for our team dinner to a restaurant called SALT HOUSE. It is just a short walk away from our office and a favorite of some of my local colleagues. It is a nice and obviously popular place with an open kitchen, where you can watch the chefs working on your food.

We started with sharing a whole set of different starters. I tried the oysters (the one I had was good, but the ones I had a couple of years ago in Berkeley were a tiny bit better), crisp shrimps (very nice), some more mussels, salad and veggies, delicious nuts roasted in honey and olive oil and ... poutine. Believe it or not ... that was my very first poutine ever and I am glad that we do not have it in Germany. It would be such a threat for my weight loss program.

As my main dish I chose cod, because I really felt like having some fish that day and it was very good, but when I saw the fantastic steak some people around me had ordered I regretted my choice a tiny little bit. This steak looked SO GOOD!
The dessert was a layered chocolate cake, which was super delicious but there is in general not much that can go wrong once Valrhona chocolate is involved.

545 Mission Street
San Francisco 94105
415 543 8900


Thursday after work I was simply exhausted. Already over the day I heard my bed calling my name from across Folsom Street and I was ready to follow the call.

So the only thing I did was going to Chipotle Mexican Grill (the fast food restaurant chain that had already fed me a couple of times in New York) picking up dinner (burrito bowl with carnitas, veggies and guacamole) and something to drink. It's still fast food, but fresh and in a good quality and I really like it from time to time. It's something that we do not really have in Germany. We do have Mexican restaurants, but not for take away for a quick fast food stop.

The rest of the evening I spent home, in my bed writing this blog and falling asleep early.


That was the final day at work and I had bit of time in the afternoon to finally, finally walk up Market Street. Call me boring, but I like it, when I know the place where I am already and just can buzz around exactly the places I want to go without looking for something. And I especially like it when I have a huge shopping list in my hand being on a mission to make some people at home as happy as possible.

A few hours later my credit card started sending emergency signals along with my feet and back and I stumbled down 2nd Street again exhausted and starving.
The credits for practically saving my life go to Kate O'Brien's Irish Bar & Restaurant. There are days - like this one - where there is no better thing than a huge portion of fish & chips and a pint of cold cider. 

Look ... if the US economy falls apart I can at least say that it was not my fault:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

NoCa & San Francisco Day 5 - Giants vs Pirates

Pittsburgh, CA - Part 3
.... or how I found a lot more Pittsburgh in Northern California.

Let's start with some serious  ..... ANGER MANAGEMENT: 

ArrrrrrrrrrghhlwerhelreökFNHökEFNHEdFHöedHWKcnaskcnWHAThasiHFIHIHFqkefhehfTHEasfhCalcbnscsdjfbF**CKiowroejwrjoeWAShfheiFHIHsfnkfnhihfkTHIScnölaLCBNsnknkhARFGHdjJJJDSD !!!!!!!!!

Let's  get it straight ... this was my first ballgame live in the ballpark EVER! The timing of the business trip was just PERFCT because we exactly hit the week the Bucs were in town. We had fantastic seats and I had fantastic people with me. The beer was cold, the food delicious and even the weather could not have been more perfect. And then THIS:

The Pittsburgh Pirates WON the game against the World Series Champions - The San Francisco Giants on MONDAY!

The Pittsburgh Pirates WON the game against the World Series Champions - The San Francisco Giants on WEDNESDAY!


On TUESDAY when I was at the ballpark the Pittsburgh Pirates LOST the game against the San Francisco Giants with .... 6 : 0 ..... zero,null, nada, ništa


Seriously - it was not sooo  bad. I mean, when I bought the tickets quite a while ago the Bucs had just very slowly started winning the one or the other game and at that time I was not even thinking about a seeing a winning game. And additionally I love the Giants. Usually I would have gone in orange like a pumpkin - just not in this exact week, because all Pittsbugh teams have priority by default and especially this season with the Bucs not even playing bad most of  the time :( I saved myself a seat on the bandwagon. But really ... losing is one thing, but winning the other two games but just forgetting to score when I am around is .... not fair
*crying big children's tears*

On a positive note: The Giants fans are wonderful. I did not get a single stupid comment about showing up in full Pirates gear. And it was lovely to meet other Pirates fans ... I think I did HI5 with a dozen or more total strangers just based on sharing a yellow P on the hats. Oh ... and my official batting practice hat given to me as a welcome gift to Pittsburgh by a friend was a big success. Some Buccos fans even stopped me when I was wondering around the ballpark to tell me that this was a "damn cool hat"
. Loved it!

Okay - done with the anger management. Let's show off some pictures. All photos can be enlarged by clicking on the pictures here in the blog post. And you should click ... they are huge and very detailed.

For the ones with technical interest: The pictures were taken with a Panasonic DMC-TZ10 that sports a 12x optical zoom. Most player close ups were shot at my seat in lower box 106 / row 41.

James McDonald (53) and Brandon Wood (2)

Derek Lee (25) and Ryan Ludwick (36)

Mission for the day accomplished - staring on Garrett Jones' .... butt ;)

Garrett Jones (46)

And my favorite double shot ...

Andrew McCutchen (22) and Garrett Jones (46)

I  also went for a walk around the ballpark. It's impressing - AT&T Park is certainly one of the most beautiful sports arenas I have ever seen.
You can be proud, San Francisco!
Please note:
For none of  the following pictures I left the ballpark. All of them were shot from inside - even the ones that will make you think "What does that picture has to do with a night at the ballpark?"

And back to our seats to watch the disaster in peace and eat some garlic fries:

NoCa & San Francisco Day 4 - Incanto

Monday was a long day at work with lots and lots of meetings and with the jetlag in my bones I felt really exhausted after work, but we had a real highlight planned for the evening:

Dinner at INCANTO

I had tried to plan our team dinner there, but it is incredibly complicated to accommodate about 15 people in San Francisco out of a Munich office and so I had  to cancel this project. Instead I went with my manager and my colleague who came over with me from Europe and we had a great night with fantastic food.

Chef Chris Consentino sadly was in Canada that day. So I could not say hello and do my "famous-chef-stalking" ;) but the staff in service and kitchen took care for us perfectly although we had a bit of a rough start. When we arrived in time for our reservation the place was buzzing and all tables occupied. We were asked to wait a little (30 min in the end). Usually the lovely glass of Prosecco and the fun of people watching would have cut time short, but we were tired and hungry and so it got a little long, but once we settled down at our table all was good and we threw ourselves into the dining adventure.

Before I get to the details of the menu I have to apologize to food blog fans who might come around here. I tried to make some pictures, but it is relatively dark at Incanto and using the flash was not an option. First of all I hate flash pictures and additionally it would have been extremely rude towards the other guests to ruin the relaxed atmosphere with acting like a food paparazzi and making pictures with a bright flash. So use your fantasy imagine the great dishes.

One of the big pros of Incanto is definitely the laid back atmosphere. Although you are sitting in one of the best restaurants in California, you can talk, laugh, share your food family style and have fun as much as you want.

Our dinner kicked of with an incredibly tasty duck liver pâté that came as amuse gueule. We all loved it and it made us really excited about the next courses to come.

The three of us went for two starters. We felt like having something fresh and light and went for:

- Charred padrones, cherry tomatoes & aioli
- Tomatoes, melon, purslane & chilli

That sounds like two easy dishes, but the aromas were wonderful and incredibly intense. Padrones are tiny little peppers. We got ours warm and the tasted was slightly sweet and slightly bitter at the same time. They are pretty addictive and you could easily just keep eating these cool little things.

The second starter was very refreshing and summery - exactly what we needed to wake up again. The tomatoes were the best I had ever outside of Croatia.

As entrees we ordered:

- Handkerchief pasta & rustic pork ragù
- Tomato leaf bucatini, cherry tomatoes & garlic scapes
- Pork chop with corn and onions

I chose the pork chop, because Incanto is famous for its high quality meat dishes and mine met my expectations. I loved the balance between the rustic and savory pork and the sweetness of the corn. On top of the meat was a light little, creamy sauce and ... popcorn. Yes popcorn. That sounds like a gag, but actually it was exactly this little details that upgraded a good dish to a fantastic one. I loved the combination of different textures with the structures of the meat, which was tender as butter, the soft-light creaminess of the sauce and the crispiness of the popcorn. Absolutely delicious.

I also tried a little bite of the bucatini. The pasta had itself an intense and surprising taste of its own. A bit strange, but very nice.

I did not try the handkerchief pasta, but I think that is next time my choice I go to Incanto. It looked so delicious. My colleague, who had ordered it, was a surprised how rustic the pork ragout really was. It is nothing for bad eaters - you better come hungry for this extraordinary pasta dish.

After finishing the entrees none of us was really hungry anymore and we thought twice if we would like to order desserts. Finally we decided to do the same like we did with the starters and shared two of pastry chef Julie Antone's deserts between the three of us.

- Blueberry-peach upside-down cake & Douglas Fir ice cream

- Melon sorbet, Benton’s ham & basil

The cake
was our safe choice. It was very good, but not so extraordinary.  About the 2nd one we had thought a long time. Sorbet and ham? Exciting, but are we brave enough for this?

Our waiter saw our faces and ensured us that it was definitely the right thing to try.

And what should I say?  The melon sorbet with crisp ham bits and a little breeze of basil ended up being our favorite dish of the night. The one that makes your eyes become wide and marveling. The one that makes the tastes clash in your brain. Sweet and salty. Soft and crispy. Very unusual on one hand and not so much on the other hand. Think about it ... how often you already had melon and prosciutto di Parma? A couple of times? There you go ...

Along with our dinner we shared a fresh, aromatic Italian (all wines at Incanto are Italian) white wine from Friûl.

All together we had a fantastic night out and enjoyed our dinner a lot. The food was delicious and we liked the "adventure level" ... not too much that you feel insecure if you might end up liking what you ordered but on the other hand extraordinary enough to provide a very special dining experience.

The final thank you goes to our waiter who patiently answered all of our curious questions and helped us with recommendations and encouragement to try some new stuff to make the right choices.

Next time in San Francisco I definitely want to go again and I even have already an idea of who to take with me since I already found some Incanto fans in our local US team.


1550 Church Street
San Francisco CA 94131
415 641 4500

I would strongly recommend to make a reservation if plan to go there.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Epilog - 31st Annual Steinbeck Festival

Alternative title:

The Red Pony or My Cluttered Memory

During his solo session David Conrad told the story how he was reading "The Red Pony" when he was a kid, but threw the book away because he - who loves all kind of animals - could not stand the story.

I just sat listening when I felt a little sting of pain in a long hidden place and was wondering myself "Ouch. What is that about?" while I slowly dived into my obviously not very organized mind. After a few moments of sorting out flashing memories I found a very clear picture:

My dad (who died when I was 17) sitting on my bed with a book slightly annoyed because his reading which was supposed to make me sleepy had the opposite effect:
I was awake and hysterically crying over dying horses. I must have been 6 or 7 years old, because I read myself once I had learned it at school only a little later. I have no idea what my dad was thinking when he chose the book because my reaction was absolutely predictable. I guess it was me who begged him to read it for me because I had seen the pony on the cover and talked him into it (I could be very convincing aka annoying and stubborn).

Why this memory was hidden at a so far away place that I stated here on this blog only a few weeks ago very sure about myself that "The Pearl" was the first Steinbeck I ever read?

1) My dad ... I still kind of measure out carefully the dose of memory I can stand at once. Losing him was absolutely horrible and it still hurts.

2) Horses ... wow ... that is some painful childhood memory. I loved horses as long as my memory goes back (the first thing I can recall is my mom being pregnant with my sister, when I was 3). And I was still very little (about 5) when I started telling my parents that I wanted to do horseback riding. I remember that my wonderful grandma supported me with buying me riding boots and helmet. So equipped my dad finally drove with me to a pony farm just outside our small city. These little excursions became very fast our Sunday ritual and the happiest hour of the week. Usually I started being excited about it already on Wednesday.

That pony farm was kind of a wild place. We did not use saddles and only sometimes the round sand course but often also the meadows around the farm for the riding fun. My brown pony was called Alex, the beautiful bigger dapple gray I only got a couple of times Windy.

Once I overheard the old gentleman running the place how he told my dad that I had "a thing with the horses - a special talent and feeling", but my parents should be careful with choosing the riding school later for me because the standard English style would not suit me and I should better go for Western style
. I remember this still, because I was soooo proud to hear it. He was right btw - I had a little later one single standard riding lesson and it did not work at all.

A couple of months later my world collapsed. One sunny afternoon I fell off my pony. It was not dramatic I fell slowly and laughed about myself, stood and climbed up again. I was not afraid of the pony or riding for a single second, but a little later my arm was swollen. When we got the x-rays done it turned out that it was broken. Not much of a problem for me ... a couple of weeks with a cast and I would be ready to go back, but I hadn't reckoned with my mom. She hated the whole horse thing anyway. She thought it was too dangerous and now she had her proof.

Up from this day I was strongly forbidden to mount a horse. I was 6.5 years old and had no chance to fight back. I know that is a harsh thing to say and today I understand her fears much better, but ... I hated my mom for doing this to me. She simply broke my heart and it kept being broken for about 10 years. Only when I became a teenager / young adult my interests shifted and I was not so keen on going back to riding anymore, but my whole childhood I stroke every horse I could come close enough to and hung around the riding ring near my home watching always close to crying. And I read every single book (and before I could read myself my poor dad had to read "My friend Flicka" to me ca. 10 times) and every magazine that had horse on the cover.

I still love horses - very much. Last year I spent hours at the traditional part of the Oktoberfest visiting the agricultural fair admiring some beautiful Haflinger horses (some mixed blood with Arabian thoroughbred). And I still consider starting riding again. Maybe I'll do that one day.

And so I learned that my first Steinbeck was not "The Pearl" but "The Red Pony" - and I had just kind of forgot about it before. I bought a copy of "The Red Pony" in the museum store as my souvenir from the festival
- it just fit.

To end this blog post on a light note:
Doing an image search on google I found a picture of the Reader's Digest book I used when I first read "The Pearl".  Here it is:

NoCa & San Francisco Day 3 - 31st Annual Steinbeck Festival

Giant Rabbit by Pierre-Alain Bertola

"Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans"
said John Lennon and was right. This day is a perfect example - it went completely different than planned.

The initial idea was to go back to the National Steinbeck Center, do the tour to the archives and then drive around the Monterey Peninsula to explore the Steinbeck Country and visit the Monterey Aquarium on Cannery Row, but when I got up I felt quite exhausted (no miracle ... jetlag plus very long day on Saturday) and the weather - sorry my French - sucked big time. Ironically it cleared up to a sunny, cloudless afternoon full of the strange dreamlike colors of Northern California right when I had to drive back to San Francisco ... stop & go on 101.

But back to the morning. When I arrived, I still had a little more than half an hour left and went for the museum part of the center. I was there already the day before, but had not enough time to closely look at some items in the exhibition that had caught my attention and interest. The Steinbeck Museum showing the most important stages of John Steinbeck's life as well as the characters, locations and stories from his books is a very visual and vivid experience. I especially loved to see Steinbeck's Rocinante - the camper he traveled with for "Travels with Charley"
. The old lady is really small - definitely smaller than I thought.

At 10 am I finally went down the stairs for one of my personal highlights of the weekend - the "Archive Tour with Herb Behrens". Herb had the holy halls prepared for us with pieces from the collection related to the festival theme "Friends & Foes". He started the tour with photos, books and letters of Steinbeck's friends like photographer Robert Capa, politician Adlai Stevenson and of course Ed Ricketts as well as some of Steinbeck critics - and he had quite a few from some literature experts who were not so excited about his work to several people in Salinas, who found themselves portrayed in Steinbeck's
books and not always in a pleasant way.

In the 2nd room we got a little introduction to the structure of the archives and the amazing collection of books stored there. My two favorite pieces were both handwritten paper sheets. One was the original logbook of the "Western Flyer" written by captain Tony Berry (The one with the Dalmatian face. I would die to know if he was really of Dalmatian descent  ... could easily be.).  The other piece was written by Steinbeck himself. His handwriting was TINY and obviously set to not waste any paper. But what fascinated me most is that there was not single word corrected, nothing crossed out or added at the edge of the paper. This man obviously knew EXACTLY
what he wanted to write down before he even raised the fountain pen. Amazing.

Everybody who knows me a little longer and better also knows that this kind of adventure is exactly my thing. Not for nothing I studied history at university. I love traveling back in time and see and touch things of people who lived before me and who's life is still impacting me in some ways. It adds a certain dimension of reality
and that is a great experience.

I also used the chance to ask Herb all kind of questions about things that were spinning in my head after reading the books and he answered them all with patience, passion, incredible knowledge and a good portion of humor. It was so much fun - thank you, Herb!!  If I get the chance to come back to the National Steinbeck Center, I will definitely go back down, schedule another visit of archives and explore some new sites of Steinbeck's work and life

After the tour for maybe 10 seconds I was wondering if I should go now to drive around like planned, but I already did not feel like leaving when I ran into George Wallace, poet from New York City and 2011's Walt Whitman Birthplace Writer in Residence. Staying at the same hotel we had already talked a couple of times during the weekend and when he invited me to his show starting in the next 5 minutes back at the exhibition hall of the center, the last piece of resistance was gone and I decided to stay in Salinas for the day.

I would have loved to provide you with a picture of George Wallace in action, but - just in case you will read this, dear George: You do not only talk in a Manhattan speed - you also move that quickly while talking ;) and with the low light in the museum and without flash it did not work out.
The session itself was fantastic. With lots of passion and great expertise George took us on a wild ride along the themes of Steinbeck's work and through some highlights of American poetry from Walt Whitman to Toni Morrison and Woody Guthrie.

After this whirlwind of poetry I did not even think about leaving anymore. I felt much more like finding myself a place with a power plug and .... writing. So I just went to extend my parking ticket and pick up my notebook, got myself a brownie and a coffee (yes ... I am suprsingly drinking a lot of coffee here - however that could happen) and comfortably settled down in a corner of the main hall and started preparing the first blog post
about the festival. Funny enough lots of people stopped by - staff from the festival checking if I would need anything (sadly the WiFi was too weak at least near the power plug) or festival visitors I had chatted with before in the past 1.5 days. It was totally relaxing.

At 3.15 pm I packed my stuff together to join the audience for the performance of the theater group "Poetic Justice". Like I told you I never had the chance before to see a Steinbeck play on stage and so I was excited to see "Of Mice & Men" or better ... at least the bit of it I could only watch, because I had  to leave for San Francisco half way through the play.

"Poetic Justice" is a "through collaboration of formerly incarcerated writers, artists, musicians and actors" and the artists might not act as elegantly as their professional colleagues on bigger theater stages, but we are also not talking about "A Midsummer Night's Dream" here, but about "Of Mice and Men" - the story of two farmhands during the Great Depression.
For me it was exactly how it should be. I especially loved the performance of Nick Homick as Lennie
, who brought the combination of Lennie's physical strength and his mental deficiency and vulnerability perfectly on stage.

Before the drama around poor Lennie could run its inevitable final course, I had sadly to sneak out to say good bye to the 31st Annual Steinbeck Festival, The National Steinbeck Center and Salinas.

This year it was such a giant case of good luck that my business trip to San Francisco fell on the same week like the festival, that the chance that this will happen again next year in May for the 32nd Annual Steinbeck Festival is very small, but who knows in the end? I would definitely love to come back!
I had an amazing weekend and I enjoyed so much to be surrounded by so many great artists, to be able to leave everything behind and just focus on fantastic literature for two full days.

Back in San Francisco it was not easy to fight myself back into my worklife reality although it was great to see my colleagues. It also helps that when I look out of my window I do not see my terrace at home in Munich or even worse - the other wing of the office building in Dornach but THIS:

My "Room With a View"

Stay tuned - more fun to come :)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

NoCa & San Francisco Day 2 - 31st Annual Steinbeck Festival

Let me start this posting with a big THANK YOU and lots of compliments to the team of the National Steinbeck Center - executive director Colleen Finegan Bailey, festival co-director Erika Koss, officials and volunteers. I have some experience with organizing cultural events and an idea how much work it is. All sessions I went to were in time, all rooms and locations easy to find and set up, everybody around very friendly and helpful - just perfect.

I went to lots of sessions all day from 9.30 am to 9.30 pm (with breaks of course). I did it without falling off my chair sleeping (jetlag) and that tells you already how amazing it was.

Kim Moreland
My first session was with Kim Moreland about "An Organization Beautiful and Wise": Male Community in Reality and Legend in John Steinbeck's Monterey Trilogy" focusing mostly on "Tortilla Flat".

I had thought that I might like the book better when I learn more about it, but honestly that did not really work. Kim Moreland told us about Steinbeck's unhappy childhood and how he escaped into the world of books and legends - especially Thomas Malory's version of King Arthur's tale and how much Danny, the main character in "Tortilla Flat" resembles legendary heroes like King Arthur or Robin Hood. Makes sense ... but did not make me much happier.

She also pointed out how Steinbeck used very strong metaphors and symbols especially to tell the story of Danny getting mad and losing his mind.  Hm - yes. True. But for me it still feels like symbolism with a sledgehammer. Like the work of a young writer who did not yet found his real voice and the right balance in his stories.
I guess - this book and I  - in this life we won't become friends anymore, but before you get the wrong picture ... the session was great, very interesting and a good start of the day.

K. Rodgers, D. Conrad, T. Hernandez
The next stop was "Brothers and Rogues: A Panel on Steinbeck's Monterey Trilogy with actor David Conrad, poet Tim Hernandez and scholar Katharine Rodger". And since most of the audience had heard the "Tortilla Flat" session before, this one was focused on "Cannery Row" and "Sweet Thursday".

The picture of the speakers is hilarious. I have no idea how I managed with the one panel picture I took to catch everybody looking like the end of the world was scheduled for noon the same day. In fact this panel session was really fun and we all - panelists and audience - laughed a lot.

It started off with the first pages of "Cannery Row" and I could see immediately: I am not alone. I mean, these two books have some really serious, tragic storylines as well and are far from being all happy, but still - they make people smile
. You could watch that effect in the faces of the audience. 

The panelists in close interaction with the audience discussed some of the main storylines and characters of  "Cannery Row" and the follow up "Sweet Thursday"and David Conrad
read a selection of the best scenes - some even on audience request.

One of my favorite parts was the discussion about the frog hunt in "Cannery Row" and the generations of literary scholars who had tried hard to interpret some strong symbolism in the frogs while panelist Katharine Rodgers, who works a lot about Steinbeck's friend Ed Ricketts, revealed that there was unpaid bill for hundreds of frogs found in Ed's papers after his death. So Steinbeck very likely just wrote it like it was  ... it has been frogs because it has been frogs.
Sometimes it's that simple.

I also have to make a note to myself, that I need to check out the work of Tim Hernandez. He was great and I loved his sense of humor.

W. Green, D. Milch, D. & J. Peoples
As you can imagine I was already terribly tired in the evening, but I kept myself moving to go to the evening panel in collaboration with the Moneterey County Film Commission.

The titel was "The Villains Panel: Bad Guys and Why We Need Them" with Walon Green, David Milch, David and Janet Peoples and was moderated by Susan B. Landau. Please click on the links behind the names and you will see what kind of huuuuge TV and movie projects this group of writers / producers was and is involved in. It's really amazing. If you always wanted to see how the "powers to be"
look like ... here you go.

I had the joy to talk to Walon Green and David Milch before the session (of course - shame on me - not knowing who exactly they were). It was a great chat about literature and story telling. I am still stunned that I had the chance to exchange some thoughts with such people, but that was definitely a big part of the special festival magic: All speakers were very accessible. There was no "backstage" or VIP area and lots of the speakers used the chance to also join additional sessions as participants. It was very easy to talk to everybody, to ask questions or just exchange some thoughts. 

During the session all panelists told some stories about how to develop characters for movie or TV and it seems that the myth, that is so much more fun to write the bad guy than the hero, is actually true. The panelists also pointed out that in the end there are no real bad guys - just antagonists and characters the audience does not get the chance to learn about enough to understand and sympathize with.

Steinbeck was not really in the focus of the talk but the audience loved to get a little side tracked hearing about the opportunities and restraints of writing stories for movie and TV ... and get them produced. All together i
t was a very entertaining behind the scene view of the movie industry with great people sporting an amazing dry sense of humor. 

It was definitely worth to stay awake, although I was so tired in the end that I could not remember where in the lot I had parked my car and had to stumble around in the cold rainy night until I found it.

Pittsburgh, CA - Part 2

Remember ... we were out on a mission to find out how much Pittsburgh fits into a week in Northern California ;). And here comes the next episode:

Susan Shillinglaw
Back to the afternoon. After lunch I attended one of the sessions I was looking forward to most: "Our Year of Magical Beginning: Steinbeck, Campbell and Ricketts read Jeffers, 1932" with Susan Shillinglaw.

Why is that one in the Pittsburgh category? Because Robinson Jeffers, one of Americas greatest poets who is strongly associated with Carmel, where he lived in his legendary Tor House, and Northern California is actually not a native Californian, but from Pittsburgh - a Northside boy.

And John Steinbeck said about this in a letter written in 1932

"Jeffers came into my country and felt the thing, but he translated it into the symbols of Pittsburg[h]. I cannot write the poetry of Jeffers but I know the god better than he does for I was born to it and my father was."

Steinbeck, who lived only a few miles away from Carmel in Pacific Grove at that time, and his circle of friends definitely valued Jeffers' poetry, read and discussed it, but it obviously it bothered him (the same Steinbeck who later did not seem to see any problem in writing about New York, Long Island and other places) to have a guy from Western Pennsylvania being famous for his poems about Northern California.

This quote really hit me hard at my vulnerable spot because it is something I also often have defend myself for. As you know it happens that I REALLY fall in love with places. My passions for Dalmatia and Pittsburgh (THAT is a combination, isn't it?) are legendary and if San Francisco would be a person I would hug The City every day and declare my love ;).

With Pittsburgh it's not such a problem. Most people there really appreciate when a stranger is attracted by their weird but wonderful little city. And in San Francisco they are quite used to strangers falling in love with the bay. 
With Dalmatia it's a bit more complicated. Love for its beauty is accepted (and the money spent there as a tourist even more), but if it comes to culture and history some people tend to react the Steinbeck way and claim that I can't be the expert because I am not native Dalmatian, I am not born there and I cannot feel the way they do.
What these people -just like John Steinbeck at this point - doesn't seem to understand is, that this is not a competition. I do not even want to be the bigger expert than somebodyelse, but at the same time I see no reason to shut up. Yes, it may be the outside view, but isn't that an as valuable view than the one from inside? I also have an opinion, feelings and ideas. I will always talk and write about places, things and people I love and I cannot see any fault in it. 

But back to Jeffers and California: As a person that absolutely loves the ocean without being born and raised on the coast I think that we countryside-ocean-people will always feel differently about it than somebody who grew up with it. For us it always stays a little more the mystic wonder of nature like you find it in Jeffers' poems. But again - there might be differences in seeing and feeling about certain things, but there is no right or wrong here. 

Another highlight of that session was that we learned more about Steibeck's inner circle of that time and especially my favorite Ed "Doc" Ricketts and thankfully Susan Shillinglaw brought some more pictures to her presentation to put faces to names and stories. 

It was a great session and I enjoyed it a lot.

And then we got some more Pittsburgh in Salinas, a lot more .... as you can see:

David Conrad

David  Conrad's solo session was scheduled for Saturday afternoon and called "The Eye against The Ear: Actor David Conrad on Why Reading Steinbeck Aloud", but some short words ahead:
David Conrad is not only from Pittsburgh and still lives there - to be exact - near by in Braddock, PA, but is also one of the biggest ambassadors for his hometown. So just in case that you are one of these nasty Steinbeck like people (I am kidding .. a bit), who believe a native more who talks about his place than the enthusiastic out-of-towner like me, you should go and read his text about Pittsburgh. If you are not such a snob ;) and would believe me - read it anyway. Oh ... and for beginners also go to youtube, search for "Fort Pitt Tunnel" and just - watch.

But back to the session, which was great to listen to.
And tadaaa -  finally, finally even I got my positive "Tortilla Flat" moment when David Conrad unerringly picked my favorite scene from the book with Big Joe Portagee falling in love in a totally hysterical situation. The other chosen text passages were fortunately also almost all faves of mine and listening to a stage actor reading them was definitely a lot of fun. It's not a surprise that in the follow up Q&A one of the participants asked if he is doing audiobooks (no - at least not yet), because most of audience definitely would have bought one right away.

Additionally to reading some great text passages David Conrad shared some stories, anecdotes and insights about his personal lifelong passion for literature in general, Steinbeck in particular and about how reading aloud is enhancing the experience by adding the tone of the words and the rhythm of the language.

The session was definitely one of the festival highlights.

Personal side notes:

- I am honestly not a big fan of listening to my own voice and usually the only bits I read aloud from time to times are pieces for this blog. I write in my 2nd language and sometimes feel insecure about some phrases. In these cases it definitely helps to check if it sounds right in the ears.
But ... I'll give the reading aloud a chance considering to start with a short story by Aleksandar Hemon. I am really curious to find out how his special way to work with the English language actually sounds spoken out loud. I just will skip the part about doing it in public since the excuse of being an actress is not working for me ;)

- I later talked with two teachers, who were at the session and fascinated about how convincing it was. They pointed out that a speaker like David would be perfect to motivate kids to pick up books and that they would definitely take home some ideas about how to work with their students. I think this is awesome and good teachers are key personalities when it comes to guiding kids to world of literature, but I think it has to start even earlier with the parents.
My love for books was planted in my heart when I was little and my parents would read to me every evening at bedtime. See ... reading aloud can have a huge impact! I can see it already happen again when I look at my niece. She is not even 2 years old yet, but my sister started very early with reading and showing her the first little books and the baby LOVES it. She will climb in your lap with one of her books, give it to you and tell you to "READ". And you better do if you do not to dissapoint her badly ;). I think the next generation of book lovers is set in our family.