Thursday, December 23, 2010

Anika in the Krippen Spiel

Anika is growing into a big girl. We are very proud of her. This 4th Advent she played a role in the school's Krippen Spiel. She had memorized four stanzas of poetry beforehand and we helped her practice them at home. Walking to the church for the Krippen Spiel Anika said she had forgotten a line. I told her don't worry it will come back to your memory, or if not a teacher will help you, etc. I thought Ani would recite her lines as one of many kids all in a row sharing lines from the poem. The Krippen Spiel began with a violin perfomance, and then the smaller kids took the stage/alter. Midway through their song they stop and I see Anika get up by herself, take the microphone and clearly and loudly and with rolling 'R's recite the first stanza of her poem. After she finishes the little kids sing some more, pause again and Anika reads her next stanza. Ani did it perfect!!! and with flourish sogar!!! I was amazed, Anika did so well.... (this was all or course done in German). She has come a long way. We are very proud of her, and amazed by her talent and courage. I think Ani's performance will be my best Christmas present for sure.

P.S. in the lefthand corner of the drawing is one of the poem's stanzas that Ani performed. It's also in Anika's handwriting. And yes it was an unheated church, so jackets, scarfs and some hats were kept on in the church.

And the text: "Ich immer nur ich! Wann wird daraus ein du, ein bedingungslose du. Wann kehrt Licht in unsere Herzen ein." In english: "Me always only me! When will will it be a you, a conditionless you. When will light shine in our hearts."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Alright, since I brought up Michelangelo (see Greek entry below). The Albertina was showing a number of his drawings, and I copied one. Typical muscular definition - I had no idea there are so many muscles in the neck that needed to be recorded with a pen. But.... great dynamic stuff from Michelangelo, twisting bodies pushing against unseen forces, muscles tense. The drawing I picked was one of the easier drawings to copy. Michelangelo drew in chalk (which is easy to smudge). He built his drawings up with fine hatching work (and good lines!), which however are often smudged out in the final drawing. There were some interesting extremely smudgy drawings of christ on the cross. They seemed a typical for Michelangelo and reminded me almost of Seurat's delicate and extreme tonal drawings. The Michelangelo drawing I copied showed more clearly how the masses are built with his hatch work. My copy, I think, came out nice. It was a little hard to draw though as the light is really low in the museum, and there were hundreds of school kids viewing the exhibit.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Harlem Gospel Choir

For my birthday we saw the Harlem Gospel Choir perform. They played in the Minoriten Kirche (built 1300). We sat just below the side pulpit hanging from the wall to the left. The Choir sang at the main alter.

The choir was great, and the lead singer even took an opportunity to sing unamplified in the huge hall of the church. A big old church like this has an almost natural reverb, and you could tell that as he was singing he was kind of playing with that effect. We sat real close to the singers performing on the main alter. There were maybe 500 people in the audience. Below is an albeit weak recording of one of there songs (there is no picture, just sound). Despite the poor recording the songs were strong and come through.

I remember one lyric, "I am a Vessel, filled with Power, with a Treasure, from the Lord." Kind of simple, even corny, but they sang it over and over and really brought the phrase to life. It was more than just singing..... it was singing trying to SAY something. Cool.


My rocks "chillin" inside, taking in the view of a fresh blanket of snow outside.

The Greeks Invented Everything

Some careful drawings from the sister natural history and art museums in Wien. The bird is a paradisevogel, which if you remember your Dr. Suess is the kind of bird with a ridiculously elaborately long tail feather. The bird, or course is from the Naturhistorische Museum. From the Kunsthistorische Museum is a torso of a winged Eros, Aphrodite's son. It's a Roman copy of a Greek original (most of the statues in the Kunsthistorische collection are Roman copies of Greek originals - I don't know where the Greek originals are or if they are still existant). Those Greeks sure knew physical beauty and had a refined sensitive sense of the body. You should see the bodies of the Aphrodite statues with their transparent clinging dress - all done in the, of course, completely contradictory medium of stone. I didn't choose the Aphrodites to draw because I didn't want to spend too much time on all the folds of the drapery. I picked her son Eros to draw because it was a little more simple to draw.

It's interesting to compare say, Michelangelo's work where everyone is all pumped up with muscles - even the women are drawn with every bicep and shoulder muscle pumped up. I wouldn't mess with Eve in the picture above, that's a seriously impressive arm! Compare that with how the Greeks sculpted the figure of Eros (presumably a late teenager or so) with a soft and sensitive hand. Remarkable.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Erste Schnee!

First snow of the year! It snowed late Friday, as predicted by the weather guy - remarkable, cause she/he is usually wrong. Not much snow, just enough to coat the cars, and not the street. From our window you can see the snow flakes in the dark as they fall under the street light, and that is the picture above. Really simple, but actually kind of accurate in so far as that's how it pretty much looks to watch the snow fall under the light. Dark, but peaceful.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


We got some baby Guinea Pigs today (a promise from Ani's April Bday finally fulfilled!). You'll be seeing more of these guys for sure. The two of them (you have to buy them as pairs) are getting used to their new home, and are as of yet a wee bit shy. But, as you can see, we were able to hold them. That's Felix Ani is holding. He has short slightly curled hair (the breed is called U.S. Teddy). The other little piggy is Rufus, he has long hair (which we will have to cut). Rufus' hair flops over his head and body from a single part, kind of like some bad emo haircut (if Rufus had hands, he'd be constantly brushing away the flop of hair hanging over his eyes).

Felix is the name of a boy in Anika's class, who happens to like her. Rufus is named after the blind molerat from the TV show "Kim Possible," a current favorite of the kids.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Reims Rocks!

the smiling angel

The front entrance is studded with figures. Life size figures flanking the entrances, and little tiny figures all along each segment of the entry arches. A lot of restoration work ahead.

Look at the graceful poses, and you know right away the woman to the right is the older one.

These are a little more stiff but cool in their quirkiness. I like the little landscapes they stand on.

I guess this is Abraham getting ready to sacrifice his son?

Wow. All I can say is wow. The sculptures covering the cathedral are very expressive. This is unusual as far as cathedrals go. The smiling angel is down right famous for the very fact that there on a cathedral is a smile. How unserious, how not all about the martyrdom of christ the bravery of christian soldiers, the heavy wisdom and absolute power of Moses handing down the laws of God. All that real human emotion I guess doesn't fit into the narrative of a absolute all knowing God, and right behind him the absolute all powerful king and church. Anyways the sculptures are really stunning in their expressiveness and naturalism. Very beautiful. Time however is eating away at the stone, and at this level of expression every detail counts. There were displays inside the church about how they are restoring the sculptures using the latest laser reconstruction technologies. The process looks time consuming, but is well worth it. It was also a little sobering to see that even stone is not permanent, and over hundreds of years it too will literally melt away. The cathedral in Reims is well worth the visit, it truly is a wonder.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Spain Rocks!

So, my first non-californian rocks! See here the CA rocks. Spain Rocks!

Wasn't too inspired by the rocks around Wien, but in Spain there were all kinds of cool rocks along the beach. I suspect beach rocks are more varied then river rocks. Must be some geological reason for this?

The drawing are done with felt-tip markers. I have a limited set of colors, maybe 16 including black. I actually like the limitation, it forces you to 'bend' a color to your will so to speak. It also shows that you don't have to duplicate the colors around you, but instead it's the balance of colors that counts. Isn't that what impressionism started? Isn't that what Matisse tells us?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Goodbye Spain

Goodbye ocean!

We're driving home.

We loved your beaches.

The Ride to our House

See the video below, it is really a one lane road. The song we are singing comes from a audiobook about a dragon Kokusnus and his friends and their adventures. We listened to the stories on our long drives. Pascal liked the stories the most, whereas we kind of got tired of it after the third time. Anyways we all learned the theme song.

The Rivers of Cantabaria

Don't forget the rivers of spain. Water comes all the way from the snow covered rocky Picos du Europa, and cascades down smooth river rocked beds. In one town after lunch, we climbed down the river bank and soaked our feet in the refreshing water. Tessa and Anika discovered how to paint on rocks (with a wet twig) and made some art. Pascal had an infinite supply of rocks to throw. I almost fell asleep sitting on a rock, legs dangling in the cool water, the gentle sound of the river filling my ears.

Panoramic Beach View (Click it!)

A panoramic view of a typical coved beach. Click picture for nice big view. Those are caves to the left. There were also the remnants of some sort of building built into the cliff wall and cave entrance. It was obviously destroyed by the river mouth pointing directly at it. When the tide went out rock climbers started to scale the cliffs. See post below about Caves, Paleolithic art, and Churches.

Anika and Pascal are above just past the white water to the right.

Caves and Churches

On our drive to Spain we passed through the "Valley of Humans" in southwestern France. Here are the famous paleolithic caves paintings of Lascaux. We didn't have a chance to visit any caves here, but there were paleolithic caves in northern Spain. We went to one hidden in a cliff right next to the beach in Ribadisella. The original opening to the cave was closed by a landslide god knows when, so the cave wasn't discovered until the early sixties by amatuer cave climbers.

There are many paleolithic cave paintings strewn threw the labyrinth of caves. We could only see one set of paintings. There were three main paintings one almost 40,000 years old and the newest maybe 20,000 years old. The paintings were charcoal drawings of reindeer and horses, very beautifully done and they all used the natural rock itself as part of the drawing (i.e. a crack in the rock could be used as an outline of a horse limb). There were small more schematic animal drawings, a proportionally correct detailed drawing of a horse head, and a "impressionistic" purple colored drawing of a horse. The guide said that Picasso when seeing the cave paintings said something like: "it's all been done before, the symbolic, the realistic, the impressionistic, and the abstract." We humans haven't really changed that much, it's only our technology that has really advanced.

You have to walk in these caves to understand this, but I'll try here. These are large caves with water sculpted walls (the caves were originally carved out by an underground river), the ceilings can be 20 meters high or more. The stalactites hanging from the ceiling are grotesque and come in many shapes and forms. Their design is elaborate. These caves and the drawings were, I think, like churches to paleolithic humans. Walk into any gothic church and you can feel the cave-like atmosphere, the almost grotesque ornamentation, the darkness punctuated by light streaming down from above, the carved and painted figures all around. Really the church is but an elaboration of the cave!

Now consider this: the stone in the caves is a kind of sandstone usually, which is soft enough that water can carve out the cave in the first place. The churches are often of the very same stone! And then in the mountains of Spain we saw an alter of sorts set in an actual cave! It is shown in the topmost picture above. The religious alter was built into the cave wall. The stream below the natural waterfall was damed off to make a reflective little lake. And haven't I seen these little fake "grottos" with, I think, a figure of Mary, in the vestibules of various catholic churches. I don't know, the parallels between cave and church are astonishingly many. And aren't these fake "caves" built into numerous public fountains around Europe. Think of King Ludwig's fantasy grotto he built for Wagner, with the swan shaped boats. Caves have been particularly special to humans for some time, and still are.

Sideria Pouring

All over the region of Spain we were in (Austurias, Cantabaria) they drink Sidra, a hard apple cider. The pouring of the drink is the thing.

The first restaurant we visited in Austurias was really a nothing special, a practical hole in the wall type of place. But we were hungry. The food turned out great, even though we didn't really have a clue what we were ordering. All the dishes were tapas, which is kind of like ordering food Chinese style. I love to eat this way. One tapas was largish mushrooms fried in a tempura like batter, topped off with a sweat cream with black small fish roe laying in the cream. It was delicious. Another tapas was tomatoes, stuffed with cheese and drizzled with a honey sauce. Also very good.

Our waiter was a funny guy. In between serving our dishes he hung around the bar eating Pringles chips from the can. His other trick was pouring the spanish cider, Sidra. Basically he assumes the stance of a matador, head up, legs straight, chest out. He takes the Sidra bottle in one hand and raises his arm straight in the air as high as he can reach. The other hand holds the drinking glass, and he holds the glass slightly tilted and as low as he can. Then he looks away toward the wall and begins to pour from the bottle held high above his head, and attempts to hit the glass held down by his knees. Of course, it's practically impossible to do this without splattering Cider all out the glass, and pouring a fair amount directly onto the ground. The whole time the Cider is spraying all around the waiter doesn't move hardly an inch, just a little with his bottom hand to better catch the Cider. Second thing: you don't pour your own glass of Cider, the waiter is constantly hovering about and will fill your glass before it is empty always by the matador method. There are Sideria or "cider bars" everywhere in Austurias. To handle the cider pouring business in the busier bars they have little "machines" on the tables that will pour your cider for you. So.... when in northern Spain, don't pour your own cider - either your matador-waiter will do it, or the machine will.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Beach Terrariums and Cannons

We had a certain routine at the beach. Show up around 10am - the beaches are deserted because the Spainish like to stay up late in the night. Anika starts collecting snails, little to medium sized crabs and hermit crabs. She digs a hole in the sand, fills it with water, either by the tide or a bucket, decorates the premises and places here animals in their new pen. Pascal helps a little, and when there is a bit of surf he gladly plays for hours jumping over the incoming whitewash, karate kicking the foam, etc. He was in the water so long he needed to take a rest more than once because of blue lips.

A typical beach. Mountains in the background, little coves and wading pools. Fine sand all around. Not many people out before noon.

Anika digging a pen for her creature collection.

Anika's dugout pen with a bunch of hermit crabs.

Nice wading pools, and we weren't the only ones poking about for crabs and the like. I think these folks were collecting crabs to eat later. By the way Spanish food is really good. I'm sure they have a delicious preparation for the little rock crabs found all around.

Pascal's penguin ready to be shot out the barrel of a rusty cannon.

A Stickbug!

It didn't move a millimeter, looks like it is missing a leg, and there it was on the stone wall to our vacation house. I thought these bugs were only tropical. Guess not.

Wild Horses

In the mountains, in addition to cows and horses are free ranging "wild" horses. We found some grazing alongside a lookout stop, and in the mossy forest below. They look a little smaller than your average horse, and behaved more like cows I guess than what I might think is gallopy horse behavior. I'm not even sure they are truly wild, but there was no fence, and the horses were roaming about freely.