Jan 082012

Jutta Engelhardt playing the Theramin at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

Mom and daughter time makes way for me time. Dropped the girls at The Musical Instrument Museum at 10:00, wished them well and encouraged Caroline and Jutta to take their time, enjoy a nice lunch at the cafe, before calling me to pick them up. While they walked the halls of the museum and listened to just a fraction of the instruments on display, I took off to celebrate that the next hours would be all-about-me! I would need that time, as tomorrow Caroline will go to work and Jutta and I will have the entire day to spend together. From the smile Jutta wore while playing the Theramin, I can only guess these two were enjoying themselves. Sorry, but there are no photos of me having an equal day of fun. Hmmm, as I now write this, I do not have the faintest idea what I did to spend my time productively, if in fact it was in any way put to good use.

Jutta Engelhardt playing the drum at The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

An obvious trend is developing as a potential hobby for Jutta – drumming. On a previous visit, Caroline suggested we take her mom to a drum class with an old friend of ours, Frank Thompson. Reluctant at first, Jutta fell into the rhythm and thoroughly enjoyed herself as Frank taught us some basics. Now here at The Mim, Jutta is again, getting her groove on. Maybe we should pick her up a set of bongo’s to take back to Germany?

Caroline Wise and Jutta Engelhardt in a self-portrait at The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

A picture worth a thousand memories. After more than seven hours the call came in, “We are ready to go.” If there is one regret during these visits between Caroline and her mom, it would be that there aren’t more days like this with such happy photos and big smiles.

May 292011

Caroline Wise enjoying breakfast at Zabies Cafe in Santa Monica, California

Los Angeles is one of those places where you can feel like you have a purposeful life as a part of the city, that your existence is intertwined with the culture that surrounds you – as opposed to a city where you simply exist as an element within the hive. This was our first visit to Zabie’s Neighborhood Cafe in Santa Monica and the owners welcomed us as though we were familiar regulars coming in as we would on any other Sunday, you won’t find that in Phoenix very often. Caroline and I both ordered the Whole Grain Pancakes but couldn’t choose if we wanted blueberry, strawberry, or banana, so we asked for all three and that is what we got. Breakfast at Zabie’s was perfect, starting us off on the right track to enjoy our Sunday.

On the south side of the pier at Santa Monica beach

It was still too early to do much in L.A. – even in go-go Los Angeles. So there was but one thing to do, head on over to the beach for an early morning walk in the sand and surf. In a few hours as the day warms up, this beach like most others along the southern California coast, will fill up with worshippers of the sun. My preference is for a quiet walk on an uncongested strand where for a moment, the beach is an idyllic island setting, and it is all mine to enjoy.

A stop sign with a sticker attached below the word stop, it reads, "Eating Animals"

Free parking is not always easy to find in L.A., as a matter of fact, just around the corner from this stop sign that asks us to "Stop Eating Animals" , we saw our first parking meter that allows the use of a debit or credit card in addition to coins. We kept on driving into the neighborhood and found an empty parking spot free of charge. Approaching this stop sign we saw a placard outside a small duplex advertising a two bedroom unit for rent. I called the number to see what they were asking for, $2,400 a month; I choked. We pay less than a third of that in Phoenix – one of the main reasons we put up with our desert town.

Inside the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles, California to see an exhibit by Jennifer Angus titled: All Creatures Great and Small

Years, it took years for Caroline and I to finally make the time to visit the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Blvd across the street from the La Brea Tarpits. Every time we drove past this small museum, one or the other of us would sound off the reminder that one of these days, we need to stop in. Today was that day. On the second floor is where the exhibits begin, the museum typically hosts two artists or themes. For three and a half months, the second floor would be dedicated a bug art exhibit by Jennifer Angus, titled: All Creatures Great and Small. When you walk in to the main space, you don’t immediately recognize what you are looking at, it doesn’t even look all that striking from a distance. Then as you approach and start to see the detail of what makes up the exhibit, you are struck. You are looking at insects. Brightly colored and arranged in patterns or made up in scenes within the cases, filling in for what might  normally be figures in a dollhouse. Extraordinary and fun.

The artist occupying the third floor was Ann Weber, her exhibit was titled: Love and Other Audacities. Ann weaves together large sculptures created from found cardboard. We should have started up here as her work is really nice, but being overwhelmed from the exhibit a floor below, it was hard to change channels from shock and amazement to interest and subtlety.

Wurstkuche in downtown Los Angeles, California - a hot place for an exotic sausage

Time for lunch on our unfolding perfect day. I had read about Wurstküche on some blog some time ago. They have become somewhat famous and very busy. The line was longer before I snapped the photo, then it snakes through the lobby before you arrive at the cash register and place your order. We split three sausages, the Mango Jalapeno with chicken and turkey, the Rattlesnake & Rabbit with jalapeno – this is one of their signature sausages and it was yummy. The one sausage we didn’t really enjoy was the Vegetarian Mexican Chipotle, it was too spicy, and we love spicy, but there has to be other outstanding characteristic flavors besides just hot – this sausage didn’t cut the mustard. We also split an order of Belgian fries glazed in white truffle oil with two dipping sauces, the first was Bleu Cheese Walnut and Bacon, the other was Chipotle Aioli. Caroline topped off her lunch with a rare find, a bottle of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg, Germany – a smoked beer.

The 2nd Street Tunnel in downtown Los Angeles, California - made famous by a scene in Blade Runner

Over to 2nd street for a drive through one of our favorite landmarks in L.A. – the 2nd Street Tunnel. If you don’t remember this sight, think Blade Runner, Terminator, and recently the movie Transformers. We have on previous visits taken a moment to go over to Union Station, another location used in Blade Runner. One of these days we’ll visit the Bradbury Building where many of Blade Runner’s interior shots featuring J.F. Sebastian’s apartment were filmed.

A Royal Paulownia in bloom street side in Los Angeles, California

When you live in a desert, splashes of unexpected colors can be startling. We were meandering through the downtown area as we were not in a hurry to get to our next location. Along the way, we came across a bunch of Royal Paulownia trees in bloom – WOW. Our destination was Mitsuwa Marketplace at the corners of Centinela Ave and Venice Blvd. There is a Japanese grocery that also features four or five small restaurants around an open court, a Japanese bookstore is near the entrance. We stopped here Saturday night with the hope of eating at Santouka Ramen, a highly rated and super popular ramen shop, but we arrived shortly before they were closing. As we just had lunch and weren’t hungry, we wouldn’t be eating at Santouka today either, we were going back for Caroline to check the bookstore for their collection of Japanese craft books.

We had come back out towards Santa Monica and West L.A. because we had reservations for eighth row center at 4:00 p.m. at The Landmark Theatre on Pico Blvd for a showing of The Tree of Life. This and the Burmese food were the main reasons for our weekend trip to southern California. I was nearly certain that The Tree of Life would not play in Phoenix, or if it did, it might play to near empty theatres for a week and be gone. As it turned out, The Tree of Life would end up playing in Phoenix for almost two months – who knew? Yes, it was worth it, driving to L.A. for a movie – we loved it.

Green Leaves Vegan Vegetarian Restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood, California

After the movie we took a drive through Hollywood. By 8:30 p.m. we were getting hungry again but with so many choices of small funky little restaurants, it is hard to choose one. We had considered Korean in the Koreatown district but kept on driving looking for something really different. Then at 8:58 p.m. on a Sunday night we spot this place called Green Leaves Vegan Vegetarian Restaurant

on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood. Drats, it’s 8:58, they’ll never seat us, but we’ll try anyway. Hey, no problem, come on in have a seat – we are open until 12:00 a.m. Big frowns ensue for the city we live in, is anything open past 9:00 p.m. on nearly any day of the week in Phoenix? I’ve stated this before on my blog, I am not vegetarian, Caroline is, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying something different, and for most of the country, vegan and vegetarian is as exotic as finding cuisine of central Africa. This place rocks, we split the Cha Cha Pumpkin – worth coming back for. The other dish is lost to forgotten memories, but it must have been good too, because we both want to go back.

Now this was a perfect day.

Apr 042011

John Wise in front of the Ensor House and Museum in Oostende, Belgium

One of Caroline and my first trips together was to the Belgian coast, a place I often thought I would like to live. In the small town of Oostende I brought Caroline to the James Ensor House and Museum. I had been here once before and now wish I might once more have the opportunity to visit again someday. The dearth of interesting museums dedicated to the work of evocative artists here in America leaves alot to be desired. For example, we visited the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and it’s just a big old office building commandeered as a drab resting place for some of his work.

Caroline at the enterance of the Paul Delvaux Museum in Koksijde, Belgium

Next stop on this trip was my third visit to the Paul Delvaux Museum. Along with Otto Dix and Francis Bacon, Delvaux was one of my favorite artists. On my first visit, a visitor who was also enamored with the work of one of Belgium’s greatest artists, told me that the man himself had been at the museum just the day before. He described the most piercing blue eyes and fragile lithe fingers that impressed this visitor with the idea that those hands had created such beautiful works of art. This stranger was back for a second visit with the hopes that Delvaux might make a another appearance. Delvaux was already 90 back then on my first visit, he would live another 7 years before passing on in 1994.

Jun 062010

Musical instrument display from Bolivia featured at The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

Two days after our first concert at The Musical Instrument Museum we took the better part of a Sunday afternoon to explore the museum itself. For $15 each we were soon outfitted with a headset, encouraged to take photos (without flash, of course), and to enjoy our visit. Your visit starts in a special exhibit before riding the escalator to the second floor where the grand self-guided tour begins. On our right an entryway takes us to the musical heritage of Africa and the Middle East. It is up here that the headset becomes indispensable. As one moves toward the displays of regional instruments and video screens playing films of local musicians, the headset picks up the sounds. This is obviously going to take some time.

Boat Lutes on display at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

Next up Asia, across the hall Europe, next door to that, the Americas. Not all of the displays are finished, some are yet to begin. There is obviously some video still being prepared. The museum is a work in progress. A staff member tells us that the displays will change from time to time as they are in possession of more instruments than can be displayed. We try to go slow and look at each region, each country, each instrument, but it is soon apparent that we will not be able to take this all in over the course of one visit. The openness of the displays is amazing, nothing is behind glass; we are offered the chance to closely inspect what in some instances are quite well worn and old musical instruments. Stopping at the Burmese display to learn about the instruments whose music has become familiar to us is fascinating. The size of the Gamelan instruments from Indonesia is unbelievable; we look forward to the return visit when the displays from India are more complete.

Costume on display at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

The videos help round out and explain musically what we are seeing. In some instances clothing or tools are featured to lend atmosphere and a better sense of the context in which this instrument is used or how it came about. I especially enjoyed the exotic nature of the many instruments that are foreign to my eyes although not always a stranger to my ears.

Caroline holding a Burmese Harp at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona

The Musical Instrument Museum features a cafe with a nice selection of world-inspired dishes as you rest your feet between exhibit halls. Also on the ground floor is a hands-on try it, bang it, pluck it, yourself room where Caroline picked up this Burmese harp to sample what sounds eminated from its workings. I waited patiently for the kids to finish with the giant gong so I could have a whack and with a tap moved my ear close to enjoy the resonating sound. The MIM is open seven days a week  and from what we understood, the displays should be complete within the next couple of months. Highly recommended.

Feb 102008

At the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona during the annual Hoop Dance competition

For years Caroline and I have wanted to attend the annual hoop dance competition held at the Heard Museum but time and again it seems we had scheduled travels taking us away from Phoenix. Not this time, with Jutta visiting we thought this should be the year we would make time to see the hoop dance performed in person. All three of us were thrilled to be here; Caroline and her mom both left with black hooded sweaters emblazened with information about the contest. Hopefully we will pen this into our itinerary for a return visit and arrive a lot earlier to get better seats.