Category Archives: art, artists,

The Summer of Love and Other Random Thoughts

  1.  The CEO pay ratio is now 271-to-1.

 According to the Economic Policy Institute’s annual report on executive compensation, released on July 20, chief executives of America’s 350 largest companies made an average of $15.6 million in 2016, or 271 times more than what the typical worker made last year.

The number was slightly lower than it was in 2015, when the average pay was $16.3 million, and the ratio was 286-to-1.   And it was even lower than the highest ratio calculated, 376-to-1 in 2000.

But before we pop any champagne corks because of the slightly lower number, let’s recall that in 1989, after eight years of Ronald Reagan in the White House, the ratio was 59-to-1, and in 1965, in the midst of the Vietnam War and civil rights turmoil, it was 20-to-1.

Let’s reflect on those numbers for a moment.  Just think about how distorted these ratios are and what they say about our country.

Did somebody say “income inequality”?

[This report appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 21, 2017.]

 

  1. Smiling

 I’ve written in this blog, at least once before, about the positive results of smiling.  [Please see “If You’re Getting Older, You May Be Getting Nicer,” published on May 30, 2014.]

But I can’t resist adding one more item about smiling.  In a story in The Wall Street Journal in June, a cardiologist named Dr. John Day wrote about a woman, aged 107, whom he met in the small city of Bapan, China.  Bapan is known as “Longevity Village” because so many of its people are centenarians (one for every 100 who live there; the average in the U.S. is one in 5,780).

Day asked the 107-year-old woman how she reached her advanced age.  Noting that she was always smiling, he asked if she smiled even through the hard times in her life.  She replied, “Those are the times in which smiling is most important, don’t you agree?”

Day added the results of a study published in Psychological Science in 2010.  It showed that baseball players who smiled in their playing-card photographs lived seven years longer, on average, than those who looked stern.

So, he wrote, “The next time you’re standing in front of a mirror, grin at yourself.  Then make that a habit.”

[Dr. Day’s article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on June 24-25, 2017.]

 

  1. The Summer of Love

This summer, San Francisco is awash in celebrations of the “Summer of Love,” the name attached to the city’s summer of 1967.   Fifty years later, the SF Symphony, the SF Jazz Center, a bunch of local theaters, even the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, have all presented their own take on it.

Most notably, “The Summer of Love Experience,” an exhibit at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, is a vivid display of the music, artwork, and fashions that popped up in San Francisco that summer.

As a happy denizen of San Francisco for the past 12 years, I showed up at the de Young to see the exhibit for myself.

My favorite part of the exhibit was the sometimes outrageous fashions artfully displayed on an array of mannequins.  Not surprisingly, they included a healthy representation of denim.  Some items were even donated by the Levi’s archives in San Francisco.  [Please see the reference to Levi’s in my post, “They’re My Blue Jeans and I’ll Wear Them If I Want To,” published in May.]

Other fashions featured colorful beads, crochet, appliqué, and embroidery, often on silk, velvet, leather, and suede.  Maybe it was my favorite part of the exhibit because I’ve donated clothing from the same era to the Chicago History Museum, although my own clothing choices back then were considerably different.

Other highlights in the exhibit were perfectly preserved psychedelic posters featuring rock groups like The Grateful Dead, The Doors, and Moby Grape, along with record album covers and many photographs taken in San Francisco during the summer of 1967.  Joan Baez made an appearance as well, notably with her two sisters in a prominently displayed anti-Vietnam War poster.  Rock and roll music of the time is the constant background music for the entire exhibit.

In 1967, I may have been vaguely aware of San Francisco’s Summer of Love, but I was totally removed from it.  I’d just graduated from law school, and back in Chicago, I was immersed in studying for the Illinois bar exam.  I’d also begun to show up in the chambers of Judge Julius J. Hoffman, the federal district judge for whom I’d be a law clerk for the next two years.  [Judge Hoffman will be the subject of a future post or two.]

So although the whole country was hearing news stories about the antics of the thousands of hippies who flocked to Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, my focus was on my life in Chicago, with minimal interest in what was happening 2000 miles away.  For that reason, much of the exhibit at the de Young was brand-new to me.

The curators of the exhibit clearly chose to emphasize the creativity of the art, fashion, and music of the time.  At the same time, the exhibit largely ignores the downside of the Summer of Love—the widespread use of drugs, the unpleasant changes that took place in the quiet neighborhood around Haight-Ashbury, the problems created by the hordes of young people who filled Golden Gate Park.

But I was glad I saw it–twice.

You may decide to come to San Francisco to see this exhibit for yourself.

If you do, please don’t forget:  “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”

 

 

Exploring the Universe with Two Young Muggles

Last week, I happily accompanied two young Muggles as we explored the universe together.

The universe?  Universal Studios in Hollywood, California, plus a few other nearby spots.

The young Muggles?  My astonishing granddaughters, both great fans of the series of Harry Potter (HP) books written by J.K. Rowling and the films based on them.  Eleven-year-old Beth has read all of the books at least twice, and nine-year-old Shannon has seen most of the movies.  Four of us grown-up Muggles came along, all conversant with HP except for me. (I’ve seen only the first film.)  According to Rowling, Muggles are people who lack any magical ability and aren’t born in a magical family.  I.e., people like us.

For me, our trip down the coast of California was an exhilarating escape from the concerns assaulting me at home:  dental issues, efforts to get my third novel published, and—of course—the current political scene.  We landed at the very edge of the continent, staying at a newly renovated hotel on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, where we literally faced the ocean and walked alongside it every day.

Bookending our fun-filled encounter with Universal Studios were visits to two great art museums.  Coming from San Francisco, a city inhabited by our own array of wonderful art museums and galleries, we didn’t expect to be exceedingly impressed by the museums offered in L.A.  But we were.

On Presidents’ Day, we headed to LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where a long, long entry line stretched as far as Wilshire Boulevard.  Because of atypically overcast skies on a school/work holiday?  Not entirely.  Admission was free that day (thanks, Target), so lots of folks showed up in search of fee-less exposure to outstanding works of art.

We viewed a lot of excellent art, but when our feet began to ache, we piled back into our rented minivan and went a little way down the road (Fairfax Avenue) to the Original Farmers’ Market.  Sampling food and drink in a farmers’ market dating back to 1934 was great fun.  We also took a quick look at The Grove, an upscale mall adjacent to the F.M., buying a book at Barnes and Noble before heading back to Santa Monica for the evening.

The next day was devoted to Universal Studios, where our first destination was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Here I would at last explore the universe with two young Muggles.  We walked through other Universal attractions, but they didn’t tempt us…not just yet.  The lure of Harry Potter and friends took precedence.

We’d been advised that a must for first-timers was a ride called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, so we decided to do that first.  As we approached the ride, we saw Muggles like us everywhere, including swarms of young people garbed in Hogwarts robes and other gear (all for sale at the shops, of course).  As we waited in line for the ride, we entered a castle (constructed to look like Hogwarts), where we were greeted by colorful talking portraits of HP characters hanging on the walls.

Warnings about the ride were ubiquitous.  It would be jarring, unsuitable for those prone to dizziness or motion sickness, and so forth and so on, ad nauseum.  As someone who’s worked as a lawyer, I knew precisely why these warnings were posted.  Universal Studios was trying to avoid any and all legal liability for complaints from ride-goers.

I decided to ignore the warnings and hopped on a fast-moving chair built for 3 people.  I was bumped around a bit against the chair’s hard surfaces, and I closed my eyes during some of the most startling 3-D effects, but I emerged from the ride in one piece and none the worse for wear.  Nine-year-old Shannon, however, was sobbing when we all left the ride together.  Even sitting next to her super-comforting dad hadn’t shielded her from the scariest special effects.

After the ride, we strolled around The Wizarding World, sampling sickeningly sweet Butterbeer, listening to the Frog Choir, and checking out the merchandise at shops like Gladrags Wizardwear and Ollivanders.  Olllivanders featured magic wands by “Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C.”  (Prices began at $40 for something that was essentially a wooden stick.)

Overall, we had a splendid time with HP and friends.  But now it was finally time to explore things non-HP.  Our first priority was the Studio Tour.  We piled into trams that set out on a tour of the four-acre backlot of the world’s largest working studio, where movies and TV shows are still filmed every day.  We got a chance to view the Bates Motel (including a live actor portraying creepy Norman Bates), a pretty realistic earthquake, a virtual flood, a plane-crash scene from The War of the Worlds, and two things I could have done without.  One featured King Kong in 3-D (the new Kong movie being heavily promoted at Universal); the other offered 3-D scenes from The Fast and the Furious films—not my cup of tea.  But overall it was a great tour for movie buffs like us.

After the tour, we headed for the fictional town of Springfield, home of the Simpsons family, stars of The Simpsons TV comedy program as well as their own film.  Soon we were surrounded by many of the hilarious Simpsons locations, including the Kwik-E-Mart, Moe’s Tavern, the Duff Brewery Beer Garden, and a sandwich shop featuring the Krusty Burger and the Sideshow Bob Footlong.  Characters like Krusty the Clown, Sideshow Bob, and the Simpsons themselves wandered all around Springfield, providing great fodder for photos.  For anyone who’s ever watched and laughed at The Simpsons, this part of Universal is tons of fun.

The Simpsons ride was terrific, too.  Once again, lots of warnings, lots of getting bumped around, and lots of 3-D effects, but it was worth it.  Maybe because I’ve always liked The Simpsons, even though I’ve hardly watched the TV show in years.

Other notable characters and rides at Universal include the Minions (from the Despicable Me films), Transformers, Jurassic Park, and Shrek.  Some of us sought out a couple of these, but I was happy to take a break, sit on a nearby bench, munch on popcorn, and sip a vanilla milkshake.

When the 6 p.m. closing time loomed, we had to take off.  Once more, we piled into the minivan and headed for an evening together in Santa Monica.  This time we all took in the Lego Batman movie.  I think I missed seeing some of it because, after a long day of exploring the universe, I fell asleep.

On the last day of our trip, we drove to the Getty Center, the lavish art museum located on a hill in Brentwood very close to the place where I got married decades ago.  Thanks to J. Paul Getty, who not only made a fortune in the oil industry but also liked to collect art, the Center features a large permanent collection as well as impressive changing exhibitions.

The six of us wandered through the museum’s five separate buildings, admiring the fabulous art as well as the stunning architecture.  We also lingered outside, relishing the gorgeous views and the brilliant sunshine that had been largely absent since our arrival in LA.  A bite to eat in the crowded café, a short trip to the museum store, and we six Muggles of various ages were off to Santa Monica one last time before driving home to San Francisco.

By the way, at the museum store you can buy a magnet featuring J. Paul Getty’s recipe for success:  “1. Rise early.  2. Work hard.  3. Strike oil.”  It certainly worked for him!

 

The Charm of San Miguel de Allende

 

Light rain was falling when I arrived at the airport in Leon, Mexico, searching for the shuttle that would take me to San Miguel de Allende.  A sign listing all the passengers on my shuttle made clear it would be crowded.

I jumped on board, taking a seat near the door. Not a great choice.  Passengers departing before me carelessly left the door open too long, and raindrops pelted me every time.  Even more annoying was the man behind me who talked incessantly, telling another passenger everything to do and see in San Miguel.  I wished he’d shut up.  I wanted to discover all of it for myself.

The shuttle driver finally located the house on Calle del Castillo belonging to Merrily and Paul, my great friends since college, and they welcomed me warmly, ushering me inside.  The house was a wonderful surprise, modern and comfortable, and I felt very lucky to be in their sheltering arms.

For the next few days, the three of us set out together every day, covering a host of sites in and around this charming city set in Mexico’s central highlands.

Why go to San Miguel?  First, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, an extremely beautiful city filled with historic and architecturally-astounding buildings.  Next, although parts of Mexico have sadly seen a measure of violent crime in recent years, San Miguel is still a peaceful sanctuary where one feels totally safe.  And although it’s perhaps best known in the U.S. as a city inundated with American ex-pats, the overwhelming majority of the population is made up of warm and friendly mexicanos.  Unlike the Mexican resort cities like Puerto Vallarta (my favorite) and Acapulco, San Miguel is a much more authentically Mexican city.  You may want to spend a vacation of a few days there, or linger much, much longer.  Or, like Merrily and Paul, you may even want to move there, joining the five thousand or so ex-pats who have made San Miguel their home.

In case you’re wondering how the lengthy name of the city came about, here’s a brief history lesson:  When the Spaniards arrived in this part of Mexico during the 16th century and established a colony, many of the indigenous inhabitants fled.  A Franciscan friar took advantage of their departure and founded a Spanish settlement that evolved in the 17th century into a beautiful town called San Miguel el Grande.

During the next hundred years, when many people who by now considered themselves Mexicans rose up against Spanish rule, Ignacio Allende was a prominent local leader.  He was executed by the Spanish, but he was not forgotten.  After the Mexican army defeated the Spanish in their War of Independence, the city was renamed San Miguel de Allende to honor him.

Today’s city has the Spanish to thank for many of its striking buildings, constructed during the colonial period.  The most magnificent is the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, a pink-hued Neo-Gothic cathedral dominating the Centro Histórico, the historic center of town, directly across from the leafy park, El Jardin.  Originally built in the 16th century, a local architect did a smashing renovation about 300 years later.  Its pink sandstone towers present a facade unlike that of any other church I’ve ever seen, resembling a set right out of a Disney fairytale, and when it’s illuminated at night, it has a truly magical vibe.

The city contains a host of other remarkable sights.  Instead of listing all of them, I’ll highlight just a few.  One of the must-sees is El Jardin (pronounced har-deen), the leafy green park in the center of the city.  It’s a vibrant gathering place, filled with both locals and tourists.  Groups of mariachi musicians play there every evening, and all around its perimeter are vendors featuring kids’ toys, balloons, and lots of food, including some pretty wild varieties of ice cream (helado), including elote (corn), queso (cheese), and guayaba (guava).

El Jardin is also the place where tours of the city center begin.  These tours, organized by a local children’s charity called Patronato de Ninos, are offered at 9:45 a.m. three times a week.   They’re led by a diverse group of cheerful and knowledgeable guides (mine was an American ex-pat wearing an exquisite locally-embroidered dress).

Another highlight is the Fábrica de Aurora, a former textile factory whose machinery has been preserved and can be viewed through large glass windows.  It’s been totally renovated and now houses a wide range of art galleries, craft studios, and delightful places to eat and drink.  A bit north of the city, it’s well worth the trip.

Farther outside the city (about eight miles from downtown San Miguel) is the town of Atontonilco.  Its centerpiece is another World Heritage Site, an astonishing church called the Santuario de Jesus Nazareno de Atononilco.  The church’s walls and ceilings are covered with paintings of religious stories and figures, a remarkable achievement by an artist who spent 30 years of his life creating this result.

We arrived on a Saturday and encountered not just one but two weddings being held in the church.  While the first wedding was being celebrated, the second wedding party lined up outside, awaiting its turn.  On the city streets outside the church, friendly locals offered items for sale, most notably whips of various sizes.  Whips?  Yes, whips–mainly of the “cat-o’-nine-tails” variety.  Why?  Because the sanctuary has a long history as a Catholic-pilgrimage destination, and that history includes self-flagellation by some of the pilgrims.  For kicks, you might want to buy a souvenir whip while you’re there.

Speaking of shopping:  If that pursuit interests you, San Miguel offers a wide range of possibilities.  Merrily and Paul first guided me to a largely low-rent and authentic option (my choice).  Descending to a small alleyway, we found the Mercado de Artesanía, a distinctly non-posh assortment of stands tended by local artisans and their families.  There I purchased trivets and other items made of pewter, earrings made of silver and abalone shell, and colorful embroidered blouses and pillow covers.  Besides admiring their wares, I relished meeting the artisans and speaking with them in my high-school-level Spanish (Merrily helped).

We then went on to some actual shops, like Martha’s shoe store, where she sells the famous “San Miguel” shoes in many different colors; delightful candy shops; and the highly unusual “oil cloth” store, where the brawny young proprietor makes useful items—like tote bags and luggage tags—out of a variety of bright oil cloth patterns.  (I hadn’t seen so much oil cloth since I was a kid in Mom’s postwar kitchen!)  I later sought out stores offering artisanal products like ceramics and jewelry.  My favorite purchases were the ceramic trees-of-life I bought for both of my daughters.

If the art scene is your thing, be sure to check out Bellas Artes, an art school and cultural center in downtown San Miguel.  Stroll through the arcades surrounding its beautiful courtyard and view exhibits by local artists.  As for art galleries, they’re everywhere you look.  Many of the ex-pats living in San Miguel are part of a well-established artists’ colony, and anyone interested in art will have no problem finding the kind of artwork he or she prefers.

And then there are the fiestas.  Mexico has a huge number of outdoor fiestas and religious celebrations, all observed with great exuberance.  I was extremely lucky to be in San Miguel during one of its notable events, the celebration called the Fiesta del Seňor de la Conquista.  I won’t elaborate on its history and religious connotations.  But I was blown away by what I saw and heard.

When we entered the area surrounding El Jardin, we saw crowds gathered in and around it to watch a multitude of dancers garbed in wild costumes, many with brightly colored feathers, masks, and most notably, shells artfully attached to their legs.  As they danced, the shells vibrated, making a wonderful and raucous noise.  The dancing, accompanied by music, went on all day Friday and continued on Saturday.

Combining indigenous traditions with Catholic ones, this fiesta struck me as extraordinary.  But it’s just one in a long list of festivals like it.  In fact, if you happen to be in San Miguel around Easter, you’ll witness an even more spectacular celebration—two full weeks of processions and pageantry.

Here’s one more thing about San Miguel:  Great food and drink are available everywhere.  (Just avoid local tap water.)  For recommendations, check a recent guidebook or ask locals like Merrily and Paul.  The food is delicious and prices are remarkably low.

And just in case you long for familiar surroundings, there’s a busy Starbucks in the center of town and, believe it or not, a place called the Bagel Café!