A place after my heart, Balboa Park spreads across 1200 acres, and is the largest urban cultural park in the country, home to museums, gardens, theaters as also to the world famous San Diego Zoo. Never do I tire of visiting the park. Today is a perfect summer day, sunny yet cool, an ideal one to be roaming Balboa Park and discovering it anew. Walking along old Spanish Colonial buildings that date back to the pre World War I era, I can’t help thinking of how great a power Spain once was and of the colossal Spanish Armada. The many statues of Spanish generals and heroes on horseback in the park evoke images of Spain’s glorious political past. The Spanish Armada comprising 130 ships may have fallen in 1588, there by altering forever the course of history, but timeless art from Renaissance Spain continues to live and shine inside Balboa Park’s San Diego Museum of Art which houses many Spanish treasures from 16th and 17th century Spain, where dismissive of the winds of reformation, art flourished under the patronizing umbrella of both the monarchy and the church. Having made their way to the new world, many great artifacts of that time are now the pride of the San Diego Museum of Art, where art lovers can savor Spanish masters like El Greco, Juan Sanchez Cotan, Ribera, Zubaran and Murillo all in one go. My favorite Spanish still life at the museum is Juan Sanchez Cotan’s 1602 masterpiece, “Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber,” which made it across the waters to the United States when the dethroned Emperor of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte, fled here with his loot soon after the defeat of his brother Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo. Joseph Bonaparte’s loot comprised among other things, this great painting which is one of San Diego’s most precious collectables. Instead of painting kings or angels, Juan Sanchez Cotan chose to paint a quince, a cabbage, a melon and a cucumber, the first two dangling and the last two sitting in a dark square windowsill. The painting speaks of a simple life, upholding humble produce as being sacred to creation, worthy of our highest reverence. The painting has been variously interpreted by experts. To me, it is a permanent reminder of the transience of all things, be it a perfect looking quince, the most luscious cabbage, the sweetest of melons, the freshest cucumber or the might of a king and his presumably invincible fleet of ships. I am not going to let that hold me back, however, from taking in the wonder of now. Life is a painting steeped in meaning.
Happy Birthday Amelia Earhart!
On May 20th, 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, flying from Newfoundland to Ireland in less than 16 hours, creating a media riot. Thank you Amelia for being a trail blazer, for inspiring legions of women with your determination and for proving that intelligence, strategy, organization and foresight are not confined to one gender alone.
(This oil on canvas portrait of Amelia Earhart by Alexi Torres, which hangs at the San Francisco International Terminal 1, beautifully captures her iconic smile and grit.)
Sitting in the heart of the magnificent San Bernardino forest and nestled by tall mountains, Lake Arrowhead is the largest alpine lake in the United States, attracting nearly 4 million visitors each year. Home to gorgeous pines, breathtaking cabins, amazing flora and fauna, the village by the lake is at once reminiscent of a Swiss hamlet. Offering a contrast to the bustling Pacific beaches of Southern California, Lake Arrowhead presents a picture of calm, private boats dotting its shiny expanse as fishermen sail its lucid waters late into the evening gathering trout and some really big bass. By a lucky chance, I was able to spend an entire week on Lake Arrowhead this summer making wonderful memories, boating, jet skiing and swimming in the bay. Most of all, I will always remember the wild flowers growing along the trails by the lake. Twinkling bright, the fairy lanterns, shooting stars, baby blue eyes, Indian pinks and fiesta flowers all cried out, “Happy!” How wonderful it would be meet those flowers again next summer, to be knocked out by their astonishing splendor, to let the riot take over my mind!
The Baltic city of Helsinki tells its history vividly with a lucid calm. Several hundred years of Swedish rule followed by long intense Russian control give the city its most distinct characteristics – survival and a quest for identity. Though the older buildings in the city are profoundly reminiscent of those in St. Petersburg and even Moscow, the Finnish ethos is quick to dismiss its subjugate past, emphasizing instead on its unique standing or attempt thereto. Many of the newer buildings, cafes, boutiques and bars are in keeping with an architectural style referred to as National Romanticism where designers turn to prehistoric and medieval architecture to create spaces that reflect the inherent character of the nation and its need to move beyond its years of subservience to its aggressive neighbor on the east. Interestingly, Finnish writing and poetry, too, seek systematically to break away from any Russian literary influences. I must mention the city’s famous artist and architect Alvar Aalto who has wonderfully used design to improve social, cultural and economic life, addressing issues ranging from sustainability to education through his art. What is truly heart warming is that the city streets are made for walking and that the compact metropolis of 1.2 million people has no building taller that eight stories. The streets of Helsinki tell the saga of a city at crossroads, seeking technological advances, cherishing its EU membership for the solidarity that it offers while all along being alarmingly vigilant of Russia’s reemerging influence in the world. Most of all, I think everything in the city from its magnificent buildings and exceptionally stylish and good looking people sparkles as though in the brilliant colors of the Aurora Borealis, those dazzling northern lights that magically transform the ordinary into mythical. The trip is over, but I will be dreaming of Helsinki!
The City of Palaces is the oldest in the Americas, home to ancient pyramids, intriguing museums, glorious cathedrals as also to yesteryear artists extraordinaire, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Fascinating as it is, some of the city streets are named after famous poets from all over the world – Lord Byron, Tennyson, Edgar Allen Poe. A beautiful street lined with avocado and orchid trees is named Ruben Dario after the great Latin American poet. Walking along tall, old acacia trees as bikers on eco-friendly red bikes zoom past, I spot statues of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. High-end restaurants located inside old haciendas evoke images of an era gone by. A hundred years after the Mexican Revolution, the class divide continues to be painfully prevalent even as trinket sellers in the zocalo proudly wear T-shirts with pictures of Latin American leftist leaders, the most conspicuous of which is of course, the legendary Che Guevara. Interestingly, the Cuban Revolution had been planned by Castro and Guevara in Mexico City, adding yet another dimension to the place. Though Mexico’s capital has a character all of its own, parts of the city can be likened to Paris and Madrid and even Delhi because of the riveting blend of the old and the new that manifests itself in the historic monuments and the burgeoning corporate skyscrapers.
Every time Coldplay’s Viva la Vida begins to play, it feels as though a revolution is underway. A riveting blend of intelligent lyrics and sweeping orchestration, much like Frida Kahlo’s painting of the same title, the song shouts out to new awakenings. There has been much speculation about the theme of the song. I think it really is about perception. The song could be talking of the French or Russian Revolutions and due to the title, Mexican Revolution as well. However, given that the band is British, from a purely British perspective, it is Anne Boleyn who comes to mind. The most famous queen consort, a well read, far travelled person, the heroine of the English Reformation and mother of a trail blazing monarch, Anne Boleyn makes for the quintessential fallen yet glorified royal. The line, “For some reason I can’t explain …” is especially evocative of her plight before she was executed.
The Ikea ad always has me smiling and thinking. Of course, the dream lives on. It, however, has taken on new meanings and people are living it in diverse ways. Somehow, now in the wake of the changing social and political climate, the ad seems to resonate deeper than before, a reminder perhaps to value people and experiences over things and materials.
The Panama-California Exposition was held in San Diego in 1915 to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, which unfurled astounding vistas for San Diego as it was the first port for ships sailing north-west through the canal. It put San Diego on the map as a major naval base and a center of Spanish-Colonial architecture, which was the highlight of the exposition. Thereafter, the architectural style caught the fancy of Hollywood stars and moguls who build Spanish-Colonial villas across southern California. Today, a misty day turned sunny as I strolled around the sites of the exposition, which tell tales that no historical records can. Marveling at the heavily-textured buildings, I could sense the pride and fulfilment of the San Diegans who hosted the exposition a hundred years ago with the hope to offer a more vibrant and richer San Diego to future generations. The baroque ornamentation on the buildings is caught and held in my mind, an inspiration to pursue new hopes and dreams.
March skies are a peculiar frothy blue as if painted by an inspired artist with quick, coarse strokes. Birds fly briskly under the mellow sun and despite the soft breeze, the pines are still, as though caught in thought. Everything around is young, learning the robes at a happy pace. Outside of the Griffith Observatory on Mount Hollywood, they all seem to draw near – the sky, the sun, the birds, and also a few dimmed out-by-the-sun constellations, and one hopes that they’d always stay that way- remarkable, resplendent but close, waltzing ecstatically to a subliminal celestial tune.
I have been growing purple geraniums in my front and back yards for over a decade. Formally named Martha Washington after their famous planter, the flowers are commonly referred to as Regal Geraniums due to their color and velvet texture. Every spring, they light up my outdoors, splashing the air with cheer. Ideally suited to the arid southern California soil, they form resplendent symbols of beauty and fortitude, tenaciously spreading across the garden every spring, in rain as well as in shine, each plant overflowing with charming, big blooms all the way through fall. Interestingly, on my trip to Florence, an engaging cafe owner told me an anecdote about geraniums, that dates back to World War II. The story goes that when the Nazis bombed Florence in 1944, human life, historic buildings, valuable artifacts, rare fauna and lush foliage were destroyed. As the city of Michelangelo and Leonardo-da-Vinci sat steeped in gloom for months afterwards, residents couldn’t help noticing that tiny geranium samplings had begun to creep up again from the mud, the rubble and the many forgotten nooks, gradually restoring color and vibrance to war- stripped Florence. The story is one of my favorites to tell, testifying to the spirit of survival. Each time, I share it, it makes me fall in love with my resilient purple geraniums all over again. The fact that plants so pretty and delicate have the power to surmount the worst possible calamity makes them unforgettably inspirational, impelling us to rise and shine despite the odds. In these singularly uncertain times, there are so few things that one can be certain of, one of which is knowing that nothing can keep my purple geraniums from returning every spring – neither the winter and El Niño nor drought and water shortage. Even as I cut back the geranium stems every November, I smile big knowing that my spunky little plants will bounce again in color and glory soon after the new year sets in. Thank God for small wonders. Thank God for my purple geraniums and their abiding promise of hope and happiness.