Tulip time at Filoli in Woodside, California

When you are craving tulips, there’s no place like Filoli in March.  Filoli is a country home in Woodside, California, situated on 654 delicious acres of the San Francisco peninsula.  The home, designed and built between 1915 and 1917, is lovely, eclectic, very large, and allows for expansive fantasy habitation.  It is the 16-acre Renaissance garden, however, designed between 1917 and 1929, that brings us back season after season for another look.

In March, it is time for the tulips.

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The name Filoli is derived from the credo of the original owner and builder, William Bowers Bourn:   “FIght for a just cause; LOve your fellow man; LIve a good life.  Mr. Bourn made a fortune in the gold-mining business in Grass Valley, California, and also owned the Spring Valley Water Company, the southern tip of which now comprises the Filoli estate.  His home certainly reflects the part about LIving a good life!

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In 1975, Mrs. William P. Roth, the owner at that time, donated the house and 125 acres to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and it is now open for visitors between February and October, Tuesday through Sunday.  No picnics or tripods!

So, let’s stroll through the garden take in the tulips.

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Since it’s March, there are also rhododendrons,wisteria, and the beginnings of peonies.

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There is a garden shop that uses lively merchandizing to sell plants and other odds and ends.

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Another reason to go to Filoli is the classes.   It is possible to get a certificate in botanical art, floral design, or horticulture.  The decorative arts classes offer unusual subjects like embroidery and porcelain painting.  Just for a laugh, here is how my embroidery looked after a six-hour “White Work in Color” embroidery class taught by the charming Lucy Barter, a graduate of the Royal School of Needlework whose certificate was actually signed by Queen Elizabeth II.   (For you Call the Midwife fans, Chummy is also an alumna of this college.)  It wasn’t Lucy’s fault it looked like this.

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This is Miss Ellie’s, who was much more adept.

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Well, back to the tulips.

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Cats in Greece

There are a lot of cats in Greece–domestic, feral, and stone.  Here are a few from the Greek Islands:

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And here’s a dog:

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Baby Luigi at 6 weeks – He wants his mommy

IMG_1989Here is Luigi the blue merle cardigan corgi at six weeks.  He has just been weaned but that doesn’t stop him from trying to follow his mom, Tosca.  You can see her tail as she walks away to the right.  Poor Luigi!  His ears are up (the first of his litter) but the stone steps are a bit of a challenge.

Movie Stars in Mill Valley! MV Film Festival – From a Photographer’s Eye

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It is almost time for the California Film Institute’s 2015 Mill Valley Film Festival (October 8 – 18, 2015) and that got me thinking about last year’s festival when I worked as a photographer.  That was when I decided for sure that I didn’t want to be a movie star.

The opening event is held at the Outdoor Art Club.  It’s a private women’s civics and conservation club dedicating to preserving a beautiful Arts & Crafts building designed by architect Bernard Maybeck and the lovely garden.  IMG_1592It has the added convenience of being located across the street from the Sequoia Theater in Mill Valley, where the opening night film, “The Horsemen,” was shown.

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The Opening Night VIP party is attended by everyone:  filmmakers, producers, locals, people involved in this festival, people from other festivals, even you, if you buy a ticket in time here.

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There are, of course, artists and actors, although Hal and Myrna Tatar were actually across the street in line for the movie.

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Everyone had a camera.

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Meanwhile, the official photographers rushed around shooting pictures, taking names, and trading sightings.

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But the main event is when the star of the show arrives for the opening.  Hilary Swank flew in from Paris and appeared in a gorgeous blue movie star gown.  She was swept into the little garden behind the club, away from the party, and posed with the director of the festival, the president of CFI, and the sponsors. Here is how she looked:

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But this is what it looked like:

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She generously turned her head as photographers called her name (here, with CFI President, Jennifer MacCready).  Here comes my turn:

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And there she goes:

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After this, Hilary went into the club for a private Q&A with the big wigs.  When this was finished, she was hustled into her black SUV, driven around the block, and deposited at the Sequoia after the viewers were already seated inside.  This is what it looks like when a movie star gets out of a car and there is no red carpet “step and repeat”:

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Hilary was very gracious, even when I was setting up my tripod inside the theater and accidentally jabbed her with my elbow as she waited through the introduction before walking down the aisle.

At last, here she is meeting her public at the screening of “The Horsemen” with Mark Fishkin, Director of the Mill Valley Film Festival:

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Another red carpet MVFF event was the screening of “Like Sunday, Like Rain” attended by filmmaker Frank Whaley and stars Leighton Meester and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. This was one held at the Rafael Theater in San Rafael.

Leighton Meester is very, very pretty in person with perfectly symmetrical features and luminous skin.  But on camera?  A knockout!  No such thing as a bad angle.

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And here she is talking with the press:

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Here is filmmaker Frank Whaley speaking with interviewers:

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And here is Billie Joe Armstrong:

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And all three for a final pose:

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It takes a lot of grace to be a movie star, and a lot of stamina to stand up to the demands of the public.   That’s why I’m staying on the shy side of the camera.

Cooking School in Florence, Italy

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There are many great things in Florence, Italy–the architecture, the art, the gardens–but there is no question that one of that best things is the food.  So, while in Florence, why not learn to cook?  Some lucky visitors stay for a week-long cooking course, but even if you have only a free day you can learn to make a decent pasta and tiramisu.

We went to a cooking class at the Food and Wine Academy of Florence.   They offer a variety of cooking classes and tours, including pizza and gelato making, wine and olive tasting, a Tuscan wine trail tour, and our class, the “Chef for a Day” cooking class that included a trip to the Florence Central Market.  We had, quite unusually, not planned in advance and considered ourselves extremely lucky to fit into a class the next day.

Our cooking class met in the morning and we took an easy stroll to the Central Market in Florence.  You begin to understand why Florentine food is so great when you see what they start with.

There’s the funghi and the ham:

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Every kind of delicacy:

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And, of course, a classic Italian butcher:

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We crammed into a little stall for a private tasting of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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We also tried a lot of tasty artisanal treats and came out with our winner, the truffle honey.

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Once we had our supplies, we proceeded by foot to the cooking school.  The kitchen was high-ceiled with smooth plaster and looked the way kitchens aspire to look after a high-end remodel.  We were issued our aprons and found a place at the table.

First, we all ate some bruschetta with perfect tomatoes.  We didn’t make this, but we were given the recipe and instructions to make it at home.

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Next, we made our dessert, the tiramasu.  We did a lot of whisking.

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Then we layered our crema and chocolate in glass bowls.  We all designed our tiramisu with a personal touch so that we could identify our own bowl later after the dessert chilled.

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Then, the main event.  We learned to make pasta and, while we were at it, a couple of different sauces.  First the pappardelle:

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And then the ravioli:

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And the results were startlingly professional!

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After we ate–sorry, too busy eating to take a picture–we all received our certificates.  What a delicious and instructive way to spend a day in Florence!

Penguins on the Falkland Islands

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How unlikely to find oneself on the Falkland Islands.  We decided it was time to round Cape Horn and found the perfect itinerary on Holland America:  Buenos Aires, Uruguay, the Falkland Islands, the Straits of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego, around the Horn, and up through the fjords and volcanoes of Chile to Santiago.  It was all wonderful, but there is no question that the highlight was a visit to the penguins at Volunteer Point on the Falkland Islands.

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Upon arriving in Stanley, four of us boarded an impressive Toyota Landcruiser and joined a convoy through the peat bogs to Volunteer Point.  This part was an adventure in itself as there are no specific roads, just tracts that the convoy leader chooses based on what looks good that day.

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One of the vehicles in our convoy broke down so we squeezed a Russian-speaking woman into our Landcruiser and tied the spare tire to the roof rack.

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On the way, we saw our first penguin, a little Magellan.

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Eventually, we arrived at penguin heaven.

I was totally unprepared for what awaited us.  I had bought a zoom lens for the trip and practiced photographing water birds at a distance in our bay.  In an effort to minimize my equipment, I took only the zoom lens on this excursion.  Well, of course, it turned out that the penguins were utterly underfoot.  I had to back up to try to get pictures in focus.  To the penguins, we were just another animal.   We would bump into each other, bark a bit, and each go on our way.   For an insightful discussion of fear in penguins, read The Thing with Feathers, by Noah Strycker

Talking to penguins

There are about 1,200 penguins and three different species each claiming their own roosting spot at Volunteer Point.  The first we came across was the group of gentoos.  The fledglings are adorable.

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Next, the baby Magellans huddled together.  They seemed to have a preference for mud.

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On the hillside, the nearly yard-tall king penguins roosted.

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But it was the beach that was astonishing.  Hundreds and hundreds of penguins–all types–swimming, marching, preening–enjoying icy, pristine, turquoise waters.

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Sometimes the king penguins stood on their heels.

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Sometimes they marched in a circle.

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The gentoos flapped.

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Or conversed.

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Too soon, our time was up.  We had some sandwiches that were an odd combination of chutney and other random ingredients, and bumped our way back to Stanley.

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What a spectacular day!  If you are ever offered the privilege of visiting Volunteer Point, jump at it!  Or, stay home and consider sponsoring a penguin here.

Guided Tours of Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Argentina

DSC_2726All right, I’m just putting it out there. I’m a huge opera fan.   So when I was in Buenos Aires, I naturally had to see the storied Teatro Colon even though it was summer and the theater was dark. Since I couldn’t see a performance, I settled for a guided tour.

The original Teatro Colon was built in 1857, but was demolished in 1888 to make way for the building of the Banco Nacion.   Work on the new Teatro Colon began in 1889.   Today’s Teatro Colon opened in 1908 with a performance of Verdi’s Aida. The hall immediately became famous for its outstanding acoustics. All the opera greats found their way to Buenos Aires, touring there as readily as to the Met and La Scala. The theater went to seed a bit over the years, but a restoration was started in 2005 and the theater reopened in 2010.  What a restoration! The theater is absolutely beautiful, even without the performers.

A really good description of the architectural history of the theater is here: http://www.en.wikiarquitectura.com/index.php/Colon_Theater   But here’s a thumbnail version: there was a competition that was won by Francisco Tamburini, an Italian architect who had worked in Buenos Aires for many years. Just as the work on the theater commenced, Tamburini died. The project was taken over by Victor Meano, who was murdered in his home.  This theater started to feel like King Tut’s tomb when even an Italian financier, the licensee of the Colon, died suddenly.   Finally, Meano was succeeded by Julio Dormal, a Belgian, and the curse was broken. The final building demonstrates both Italian and French styles, highly ornamental with complicated decorative elements.

The concept of the architecture was to allow the opera-goers to ascend to a higher plane as they entered the theater.  This first approach is the grand staircase topped by a spectacular dome.

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The hall of composers is full of busts of composers guarded by cherubim.

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The most elegant area of the theater is the Salon Dorado, or Golden Hall.  Only ticket holders in certain sections of the theater are allowed access to this salon.

Sorry about the pictures–I always seem to be looking up.

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When we were finally about to enter the house, the sala, full drama kicked in. The group assembled behind a curtain and—voila!–it was whisked aside and there before us was absolutely the most beautiful theater I have ever seen. I am not a crier, but I cried when I saw it.   Even now I get goosebumps when I think about the house. In fact, I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t even take a picture. That’s overwhelmed.

Here are some interesting things about the theater. Along the sides of the orchestra seats there are grates. These enclose boxes that were for the exclusive use of women in mourning who would naturally not want to be seen at the opera but, even more naturally, would of course still want to attend.  These look like the grates in old churches that allowed the cloistered nuns or anchorites to attend mass.

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The top galleries–the cheap seats–are known as the chicken coop.

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There are separate standing room sections for men and women;  these are the “cazuela de pie solo para mujeres,” (standing room for women), behind the cazuela section, and the “tertulia de pie” section, one floor above for men.

Here are some cute Mormon missionaries taking the tour in Spanish.  Hi Mom!:

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While some tours include a guide who likes to sing, alas, our tour did not include a demonstration of the fabulous acoustics.

For more information about performances at the theater, visit the website here.  The opera season runs generally from April to July, and then September, November, December.   The ballet season is interspersed, playing in March, May, August, October, with the inevitable Nutcracker in December. This is bad news for opera fans traveling to South America during the South American summer season, but that’s where the theater tours come in. There are many concerts, theater productions, touring companies, and special performances throughout the year.

The Teatro Colon is at Avenida 9 de Julio.   Guided tours of the theater are given daily, every fifteen minutes, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.   They last about 50 minutes.  Tours are given at different times throughout the day in English, Portuguese, or Spanish.   You can reserve tickets in advance by emailing here. You can also get the tickets at the theater on the day of the tour.   The entrance to the box office is at Tucuman 1171, around the side of the building.  Be sure to go early if you want to get one of the English tours. Once you have your ticket, you can wander around but come back to line up at least fifteen minutes before the tour begins. Only 34 people are allowed per tour.