Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A local treasure has been spiffed up for an important birthday, and what a celebration it has been.

The Japanese Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens has undergone a $6.8 million renovation over the past year and has just reopened this past week in time for its centennial.

Railroad magnate and real estate developer Henry E. Huntington created this 9-acre garden as part of his San Marino estate from 1911 to 1912.  James Folsom, director of the botanical gardens, says this garden has been an enduring favorite of visitors to the estate since the public gained access to the estate grounds in 1928.  I heard a fascinating talk by Folsom at a Huntington event co-sponsored by USC, one of “about 30” talks Folsom said he has given this past year about the garden and its renovation as the Huntington has ramped up to last week’s unveiling.

There’s so much to tell.  There’s the garden as an example of the interest in “exotic environments,” in vogue in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  There’s the question of what is “authentic” and “traditional” about gardens evoking landscapes from other places and how that has influenced additions and evolutions in the garden’s design.  That part of the discussion resonated, as I don’t love what has seemed “touristy” about it.

There’s the toll which time, economics, and politics have taken on this and other Huntington gardens through the Depression and World War II.  During and after the war, the garden lost the moniker “Japanese” and became the “Oriental garden.”  A push in the late 1950s led to its restoration and re-opening in the 1960s, when we were in the “It’s a Small World” mindset. 

The part that interests me the most, though, is the garden’s connection to the local Japanese American community.  For many years, I have known from my dear friend Veda that her grandfather, Toichiro Kawai, was the master carpenter responsible for dissembling what is now known as “the Japanese house” in Japan and reassembling it on the estate after it was shipped from Japan.  He also built the bell tower and famous moon bridge.  In his talk, Folsom explained as part of this renovation, he had the red paint removed from the moon bridge in order for it to blend in better, to prevent it from “eating up your eye” in the garden.  I’m with Folsom on this one.

Another JA connection I’ve been following in the local media over the past couple of years contributes to what Folsom calls the “destiny” of the garden.  For more than 40 years, the Pasadena Buddhist Temple has had on its grounds the Uransenke teahouse, used by temple members to conduct and teach tea ceremony.  I was vaguely aware of its presence the times we were there for their obon festival, but didn’t know anything about it.  To develop ideas and prepare plans for the Huntington Japanese garden renovation, Folsom and a team of consultants, including Kyoto-based architect and craftsman Yoshiaki Nakamura, visited the temple and its teahouse four years ago.  The moment Nakamura saw the teahouse, he knew that it was his father who had built it.  His father constructed it in Kyoto in 1964 and reassembled here is Pasadena.

In 2010, the temple membership decided that donating the teahouse to the Huntington was the best way to preserve it and keep it in use as it was intended for posterity.  Once again, the teahouse was dissembled, but this time to be shipped back to Kyoto, restored, shipped back here, and reassembled.  Nakamura led the team, guided by his father’s original plans for the teahouse. 

The teahouse now resides in a new ¾-acre tea garden, part of what Folsom calls “the new vision” for the Japanese Garden.  Already I like this part of the garden better, although the plantings are all so new.  I will return to see this part of the garden mature and settle in.  I was glad to see so much interest in the garden and its history.  O tanjobi omedeto gozaimasu

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

When is a toothache not a tooth problem?  When it is a harbinger of a cold and sinus infection.

I awoke last Saturday morning, aware of a disturbing sensitivity in my upper right molar.  Tooth #2, as it is known on my dental chart, has gotten a lot of attention throughout my life.  You could say we have a love/no-love relationship.  

A cavity in #2 ran too deep for my own good in high school, and that tooth and I endured a root canal and installation of a three-quarter crown.  That’s the no-love part.  While eating a piece of cheddar cheese studying for commercial law, that crown became unseated.  To make a long story short, I met Bing when I went in to the Georgetown dental school clinic have it re-cemented.  That’s the love part.  After we were married, that crown kept coming loose, and Bing eventually remade it.  He specialized in restorative work and Georgetown was renowned for its training in gold work, so if you have to have a crown, I’m told this is a nice one to have.

But since that tooth no longer has a live nerve, I started worrying about the reasons why it would be sensitive.  By Monday morning, the pain was much worse, and I was having trouble biting down even on my left side (a Sherlock Holmes-like clue, once you know the ending).  I did the good patient thing and called the office of our friend and dentist.  They got me in right away.

To our relief but bafflement, the x-rays were clean as a whistle and Dr. Bruce couldn’t find anything else amiss as he probed and tapped around.  The only way to eliminate a sinus infection, he said, was to put me on antibiotics and see if that helped.  Within hours, it did, and by the next morning, I was amazed that I was breathing much better, the pain subsiding.  I didn’t even realize I was walking around so stuffy.  

I also didn’t realize that when I felt so dragged out over the weekend, I was coming down with a cold.  As this week has progressed, my cold has gotten worse, but each day my upper molars have become less sensitive. Constant hot herb tea and clear soups have kept me going at the office.  

At my Thanksgiving time visit, the Dana-Farber folks alerted me to the increasing prospect of sinus and other respiratory infections as my IgG and IgA levels continue to fall, and I’ve read about exactly this phenomenon on the WM talk-list from other patients.  Unfortunately for some patients, they undergo major dental work, only to find nothing was dentally wrong while they battled other complications of living with a constant state of infection.  

Is it possible to be glad to have a cold and sinus infection?  Actually, yes.  I’m relieved Bing’s #2 crown is soldiering on, grateful for modern medicine, and TGIF.

P.S.  At least my "Bright Lights" Swiss chard is happy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

In December when every muscle in my body ached even while lying perfectly still, the return to ballet class seemed a pipe dream. As the achiness persisted, I feared the possibility that dancing had been relegated once and for all to the back closet of my life, along with playing the Chopin Barcarolle and using the Russian genitive plural case. I threw out my Colburn dance card, even with a few classes left on it, rather than be frustrated by the reminder each time I opened my wallet.

After the beginning of the year, I willed myself into movement. Going back to the gym was the hardest, but best thing, for me, and I gradually ramped back up to my normal routine. In February I did try a tai chi class, which curiously turned out to be more a form of Korean meditation and isometrics. I wondered what was going to happen after the March treatment, but I skated through it. My doctor thinks maybe I had some weird virus in December, holding the Rituxan innocent.

None the worse for wear last week after one hour and 15 minutes of a Zumba class with women literally half my age, I dared to think I might be sufficiently rehabilitated to tackle ballet class again. Driving the familiar road to Colburn, I remembered how I couldn’t finish the last class I went to there several months ago. Stamina to get through the 90 minutes, alertness to follow the combinations, core strength to remain upright, muscle control for the grace – was I kidding myself?

For all of the stretching I have been doing, it takes looking in the mirror alongside real dancers to see how much range of motion I still need to regain. But I was not embarrassingly bad, and I made it through the entire class.

If I have achy muscles tomorrow, I needn’t fear the reason. In fact, I’ll consider them badges of honor. And I’ve got a new dance card in my wallet as motivation to be back on a regular basis.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Every now and then, the little squirrel gets let out of her cage at work. This past week, I got to participate in a two-day faculty retreat which was held at USC's research and teaching facility on Catalina Island.

This facility is on the opposite side of the island from Avalon, where most visitors go, and I'm told it is a rugged ride to get from Avalon to there by car. USC runs its own Coast Guard cutter-equivalent back and forth from San Pedro each day, weather permitting, to the dock of this marine institute to shuttle faculty, students, staff, visitors, and supplies. The time-pressed, wave-adverse, or well-heeled can get there by helicopter.

I had visited once before just for the day, so I knew that this was no mere field station. In addition to the labs, classrooms, dorms, and faculty apartments, the college of letters, arts and sciences (of which I am a part) installed a cluster of executive-quality "houses" a few years back, ideal for retreats such as the one I attended. I was going to show you a photo of those houses, but it would have looked like a Tuscan village and you would have never known we were on Catalina Island. Instead, here is the view I had on an early-morning walk, five minutes outside of the institute.

In a bald ploy to ensure I am invited back for future retreats, I brought along two large containers of my super-duper chocolate chip walnut cookies and peanut butter blossom cookies, the favorite of many Colburn recital receptions. The ploy worked. In fact, the faculty and staff said if ever I wanted to bring a batch of any cookie of my choosing by on Friday afternoons, I should feel free.

We got a lot accomplished during those two days, and we participants are returning to our respective squirrel cages with long to-do lists and renewed commitment.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Our University of Dortmund professor host seemed more than impressed. Klaus had not anticipated that as an American, I would have ever heard of the local dance troupe considered a cultural treasure in nearby Wuppertal. Not only had I heard of Pina Bausch, I attended her company’s U.S. debut as the opening act of the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Arts Festival. I refrained from telling him I walked out of that performance.

Well, I didn’t exactly walk out, but my party didn’t exactly stay to the end, either. Bing and I were at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium that Olympics summer night, with three Paul, Hastings summer associates in tow, guests of the firm’s largesse. My main role on the firm’s summer associate committee was to host the law students at various events for which the firm bought tickets to show everyone a good time. As a partner handed me a passel of these Pina Bausch tickets in the hallway, he told me we were in for a mind-blowing experience.

In the days before Google, we had no idea what we were in for. In one number, the dancers flung themselves into walls and crashed around tables and chairs. In another number, almost-naked dancers rolled around the floor in leaves. But what really did it for the three earnest young men with us was her company’s presentation of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” On the stage covered – and pungent – with peat moss, the dancers ground themselves into brown messes, tossing handfuls of the fertilizer into the air and out over the audience. As the first act wore on, Bing cast me more frequent worried looks.

At intermission, I called the audible, saying, “Gee, I’m awfully hungry. Would anyone object to skipping the second half if we just went to dinner?” Such relief I have never seen. Later over dessert, the summer associates got past their politeness to get into how weird they thought all that was.

From the reviews afterwards, we apparently were not alone in having had a hard time with finding the art in what we saw. I remember some critics considered it controversial, brutal, bizarre. But others considered her “Tanztheater” to be groundbreaking, influential, brave. At the time I was willing to concede that I didn’t know enough to appreciate her work, but I didn’t give it another thought for 15 years, until I was in Germany taking in the cultural, political, and environmental landscape of Pina Bausch.

Fast forward another 13 years, and Meiling was calling. Would I like to see this film which had just come out called “Pina?” Yes, I’d really like to, I said. I wanted another crack at her dance concept.

No walking out at intermission this time. The film, a testimonial documentary of Pina Bausch’s oeuvre, was riveting. In some part, it was incredible because of how 3-D filming was employed. We felt we were standing among the dancers on stage; I was afraid to breathe, as it felt as if I could feel them breathe.

I started to recognize works in the film which I had seen performed that Summer Olympics night, including “The Rite of Spring,” and I started to see things I didn’t see that night. I could see more of the mime and other theatrical techniques, more of the symbolism, more of the repetition of motion and themes. Watching the entire Achim Freyer production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle and picking up some Bertolt Brecht in the intervening years certainly helped. And I could certainly better appreciate the strength and technical expertise of the dancers now having attempted ballet myself in the meantime. But I got the biggest thrill from seeing her dancers perform outdoors in places I remember from our Ruhrgebeit trip.

They were out and about the abandoned strip mines, in the reclaimed river bed, inside the steel factories-cum-community centers. They were in the aerial tramway and by the transit stations. What had felt so strange and foreign in 1984 now felt oddly familiar. I started to get it.

Sometimes life gives you a second, and even third, chance. And that’s a good thing.

P.S. Here is an example of the extreme industrial adaptative reuse we studied in Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord.