Posts Tagged ‘ Canada ’

To Catch a Thief

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On Thursday, our Canadian friends Alison and Jeremy drove from Yosemite to San Francisco for dinner with us at the Ferry Building’s MarketBar.  They are repatriating to Canada after living in Santiago, Chile for seven years.  To ease the transition, they are currently taking a 12 week road trip through the Americas with their sons William (almost 11), Jackson (newly nine), and Lucas (four).

Dinner was messy and fun.  We bonded over our respective experiences as ex-pats and squeezed nine years of stories into the time it took to share cocktails, oysters, pizza, and Pork Pork Pork.  During the meal, Jackson drew the animal kingdom on a dry-erase board and the paper tablecloth.  I really liked his dry-erase doodle of a blue dinosaur.  The boys made countless trips to the washroom.  They had appointed me to be their pee buddy, so I raced with them to and from the toilets.  The boys were full of energy and seemed eager to test the plumbing and hand dryers.  As they had started their day at a campsite, their fascination with creature comforts was understandable.

After dinner, we decided to go outside for the golden hour.  As we left our table, I reminded Scott to pick up his bag, which he did.  Once outside, we walked toward the water.  I set up my tripod and we posed for this group shot in front of the Bay Bridge.  Robertson Davies wrote that “a portrait is among other things, a statement of opinion by the artist, as well as a likeness”.  I love how this photo captures essential qualities I see in William, Jackson, and Lucas.  William is good-natured and has Alison’s confidence.  Jackson has Jeremy’s calm and happy-go-lucky spirit.  Lucas is a lover and a fighter in a charming pint-sized package.  As we took the photo, several people milled about nearby – including a shabby-looking man on a bicycle.  Scott, an avid cyclist, noticed that the man’s black Surly bicycle had a “Read a Fucking Book” sticker on it.  Rather than linger among shady characters, we wandered across the pavement to the Ferry Building in search of ice cream.  Along the way, Scott and the boys climbed all over Mohandas K. Gandhi, the statue of Mahatma Gandhi that greets people as they walk from the pier to the Ferry Building.

As we entered the Ferry Building, Scott realized that he no longer had his bag with him.  He ran back to the pier and returned empty handed.  Fortunately, Scott had his personal phone in his pocket.  He used the “Find My iPhone” app to track the location of his work phone, which had been inside his bag.  His work phone was already half a mile away.  The thief was likely the man on the bicycle!  Scott was afraid that the thief would soon disable location tracking on his work phone.  He decided to run after the thief.  Jeremy, who runs marathons for fun, was up for the chase.  They sprinted away before Alison or I could reason with them.  William wondered if Scott would get in trouble for losing his work phone.  Alison assured him that Scott would likely be given another work phone without too much fuss.  William asked me if I thought the thief would hand over the bag to Scott.  I told him I didn’t know.  As Scott and Jeremy unleashed their inner vigilantes, Alison and I took the boys to Humphry Slocombe for ice cream.  To the boys’ delight, we had candid discussions about the effects of lactose intolerance and food poisoning.  As I ate my flower power sorbet, I had visions of Scott and Jeremy getting shanked in the Tenderloin.  I hoped our evening would end without a trip to the ER.  I kept my morbid thoughts to myself.  To her credit, Alison did not betray any anxiety until we finished our desserts – when I couldn’t reach Scott on his personal phone.  I quickly dialed his missing work phone.  Alison and I were both amazed and relieved when Scott answered right away.

Scott and Jeremy had caught up to the thief at an intersection.  Scott recognized the bike and noticed his bag sitting on the bike’s handlebars, so he asked the thief for his bag.  Jeremy wedged his foot behind the bike’s rear tire to prevent the thief from escaping as Scott reclaimed his bag.  It was empty.  Scott then asked the thief for each item that was in the bag before it was stolen:  work phone; wallet; $100 cash; credit cards; government lab ID; earbuds; phone charger; FedEx receipt; gum…  For each item, the thief rummaged through his pockets anew.  Scott asked the thief repeatedly why he had stolen the bag.  The thief denied stealing the bag.  He claimed that he had found the bag with its contents strewn about a curb, and that he was planning on putting the bag in a mailbox.  Scott considered calling the police and decided against it.  He thanked the thief (!) and then walked away with Jeremy.

When Scott and Jeremy returned to the Ferry Building, they were all smiles and fist bumps.  To catch the thief, they had sprinted 10 city blocks – stopping only to call the police (who claimed they couldn’t help without a suspect to identify) and to summon (then cancel) an Uber.  To their dismay, the missing phone’s location disappeared and then reappeared on the app map as they ran.  I asked Jeremy if he felt “young and alive” after the chase.  He grinned, likened the caper to a sightseeing tour, and proposed that he and Scott run a marathon together.  William exclaimed that he knew the man on the bicycle was trouble – he had noticed him while we were taking our group shot.  I laughed when Alison voluntold Jeremy to pick up Lucas from the floor since Jeremy was feeling so young and alive; Lucas was having a meltdown between Alison’s ankles.  Jeremy called an Uber.  Within minutes, it was time for everyone to hug good-bye.  Scott and I took BART home.  I washed Scott’s bag in hot soapy water.  He resolved to stop carrying a bag.

 

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Peacock

At the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden this afternoon, my Canadian friend Lynne gave me a heads up.  There was a large peacock perched in a pink trumpet tree directly above us!

Golden Gate Bridge

In the past two months, Scott and I have seen the Golden Gate Bridge from afar and up close during our weekend staycations.

I took this photo of the bridge’s north tower when Scott and I went flying in December with Scott’s former colleague Jim, who is an amateur pilot.  Instead of exchanging Christmas presents, Scott and I pooled our fun money and asked Jim to take us flying.  Jim is a member of the Alameda Aero Club, so we took off from the Oakland Airport‘s North Field in a Cessna Skyhawk which we had rented from the club.  It was a calm and sunny day.  We had a clear view of San Francisco, and of landmarks such as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory above UC Berkeley, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Point Reyes National Seashore.  At one point, Jim let Scott take control of the plane – I held my breath and focused on taking photos of the scenery below!  We landed at the Petaluma Municipal Airport where there were several small planes parked on the airport apron, including a shiny old Royal Canadian Air Force Beechcraft Model 18.  We ate lunch at the Two-Niner Diner.  The diner’s name refers to runway 29, which is nearby.  Despite our ideal flying conditions, I felt a wee bit nauseated so I was happy to settle my stomach with a delicious lunch of salad, chicken-fried steak, and blueberry coffee cake.  After lunch, we flew back to the East Bay.

In January, Scott and I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge on a Saturday afternoon.  First, we took BART into San Francisco and had fancy dim sum at Hakkasan to carbo-load before our seven-mile (11 km) hike.  I’m not sure how many carbs are in Hakkasan’s famous crispy duck salad; I needed exercise after eating it!  After lunch, we took UBER to the Presidio, a park and former military base that is part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.   We walked through a beautiful eucalyptus grove called Lovers’ Lane, snacked on macarons and Bavarian cream at the Walt Disney Family Museum, watched the sunlight and shadows of trees dance across the tombstones at the San Francisco National Cemetery, and took some selfies when we arrived at the bridge before sunset.  Heavy traffic made the walk across the bridge noisy and somewhat chaotic, but crossing the bridge on foot enabled us to touch the International Orange paint that protects the bridge from corrosion.  The bridge’s architect Irving Morrow chose the paint color to complement the landscape and enhance the bridge’s visibility in fog.  The Sisyphean task of maintaining the bridge’s paint job is the work of 38 painters.  Once we crossed the bridge, we put on our headlamps and power-walked in the dark to Sausalito so that we wouldn’t miss the ferry back to San Francisco.  At the Ferry Building, we had a wonderful Vietnamese dinner at The Slanted Door before we went home on BART.

Unsafe Safety Pin

Corridor Pin, Blue” is an enormous sculpture of a safety pin by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. There are several of these sculptures on display in America: one is in New Orleans; the artists’ proof is in Dallas; and the one I saw stands in the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden at the de Young Museum in San Francisco‘s Golden Gate Park. The sculpture is 21 feet (6.4 meters) tall and it is made of stainless steel and painted aluminum. The pointy end of the pin looks sharp enough to poke out a dinosaur’s eye. Good thing there are no dinosaurs roaming around Golden Gate Park. Or are there? The Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton on display at the California Academy of Sciences next door wasn’t always a skeleton. Perhaps T-Rex had impaled himself on a safety pin sculpture and that’s why his skeleton is now on permanent display!

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen were not only artistic collaborators but also husband and wife. They must have had so much fun deciding together what to make: “Let’s make a huge clothespin!”…”No, let’s make a big shuttlecock!”…”Why don’t we make a giant trowel today?”…”I feel the urge to make a flashlight for King Kong.”…”You know what the world needs? A massive pair of binoculars!” Their “Binoculars” sculpture anchors the Chiat/Day Building in Los Angeles designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Coosje van Bruggen met Frank Gehry when they both served as adjudicators at Documenta, a contemporary art show in Kassel, Germany. Arne, my first friend in L.A., is from Kassel. In May, Arne gave me and Scott a grand tour of Kassel after we rendezvoused in Helsa. Yes, I share my name with a suburb of Kassel!

I took this photo of “Corridor Pin, Blue” last Sunday, just after a kind stranger had taken a group shot of me, Scott, Mama Chow, my Uncle Jeff, and my Auntie Lynne. We were in S.F. for a short but sweet family reunion: Jeff and Lynne live in Australia; Mama Chow lives in Canada; Scott now lives near Berkeley; and I live in L.A. Earlier that day, I had run 10 miles along the trails of Golden Gate Park while my family had wandered through the park’s Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers. It was a perfect day, really.

Dance On

I recently lent a Sarah Harmer CD to an Austrian colleague named Harmer.  My colleague claims his last name isn’t very common, so I think it would be neat if he and Sarah Harmer were related to each other.

Sarah Harmer’s music is delicious, like a slice of Canadiana served warm with maple syrup.

Her songs have become a soundtrack to my life. My favourites are stored in my iCloud, so she occasionally rides shotgun on my daily commute. Her voice rises over the hum of the dishwasher when I want to pair some good tunes with my good housekeeping; and I dance with Scott in the kitchen whenever we hear her streaming on CBC Radio.

Two years ago tonight, I took this photo of Sarah Harmer performing at Spaceland in Silver Lake. After Sarah’s set, we lingered by the stage door until she came over to greet us. Scott took a photo of me and Sarah as we chatted. When I told her that her music inspires impromptu dance parties chez nous, she wrote “Helsa & Scott – Dance On ♥ Sarah Harmer” as she autographed our copy of Oh Little Fire. We will, thanks to her!

Schlumpfdorf

Yesterday, I had lunch with two German colleagues and the conversation shifted to the topic of fungus as Christopher described his brother’s research to me and Eva.  At one point, Christopher couldn’t find the word he wanted to say in English, so Eva prompted him in German and he responded in kind.  All I heard was “German German German FUNGUS German German”.  This happens to me quite often, and not only at work.  Earlier this week, I accepted an invitation to Skype with my German friends Julia and Eberhard tomorrow morning.  They seem to forget sometimes that I’m not German as I had to run part of their email through Google Translate to understand it.

I took this photo of fungus growing along the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail in Topanga State Park a week before last Christmas.  My Canadian friend Lisa inspired the shot as she had once told me that she wanted to capture a wild mushroom’s point of view in a photo.  To me, this juicy cluster of Armillaria solidipes resembles a Smurf village, or Schlumpfdorf as my German friends would say!

Mentors

In bookstores, I pick up books at random and flip them open to see what phrases move me.  A copy of Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!):  How To Unleash Your Creative Potential by George Lois recently caught my eye.  Lois bills himself as “America’s Master Communicator”.  I was curious yet skeptical.  However, he had me at bon mot 113.  “Extoll your Mentors.”  This post is dedicated to three of my mentors:  Bob Lank, Sandy Thornton-Trump, and Ron Vermette.

In the past four months, I have:  quit a job; traveled with Scott to Italy, Germany, and France; renewed many friendships; visited Mama Chow in Canada; started a new job; and helped Scott move to Berkeley, where he will be working for the coming year.  A major catalyst for this frenetic cycle of good fortune is my mentor, Bob Lank.  When I lacked the confidence to leave my job for the unknown, Bob advised me to take a leap of faith.  He declared, “Helsa, this year is going to be about betting on yourself.”  I heeded his counsel and traveled to Venice, where Scott was attending a conference; I took this photo of the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco as Scott and I walked to Harry’s Bar for dinner one evening.  Bob was assigned to be my mentor during my second year of business school.  Over the years, Bob has coached me through several professional and personal transitions.  He has become my confidante and my friend.  He and his wife were guests at our Chinese wedding banquet; Scott and I have been guests at their Sunday dinners.  Now that we live 2,200 miles (3,500 km) apart, it’s difficult for us to meet for dinner but Bob always has a few words of wisdom for me each time I contemplate a job offer or move to a new city.

Sandy Thornton-Trump was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at my alma mater.  I don’t remember how we met.  I do remember the hours we spent talking in his office as I transcribed his lectures on Automotive Design, typed his correspondence, and tidied his desk.  He was visually impaired, so he needed an extra set of eyes to stay organized at work.  Even though he was blind, he could see that I felt a bit lost at the time.  He was generous with his sympathy.  Before and after I graduated from engineering school, we would meet for lunch at the Faculty Club to gossip and puzzle over the small intrigues of our lives.  We shared sorrow and joy:  he and his wife helped me to cope with my father’s death; I had the pleasure of meeting their little grandson; they vetted and approved of Scott.  The final time I saw Sandy was soon after my honeymoon.  Scott’s parents had hosted a reception on their farm to celebrate our marriage but Sandy and his wife had declined to attend.  I paid Sandy a visit and sadly found him in ill-health.  He passed away three months after our visit.

Ron Vermette was my teacher in Grade 3.  Mr. V made learning fun for me.  More importantly, he proved that it’s possible to do great work and remain true to oneself:  his long hair, Chuck Taylors, Winnipeg Jets jersey, convertible, and proficiency at air guitar were incidental to his talent for opening minds to new ideas.  He shook up my eight-year-old reverence for orthodoxy and for that I remain grateful.  He taught me how to tie-dye fabric, tool copper, and mold plaster of Paris.  I still enjoy getting my hands dirty to learn something new.  He used to print math exercises on top of cartoon characters, so that his students could colour in the cartoons as they learned to add and subtract.  I still have a collection of booklets that I wrote and illustrated in his class – he had taught me how to sew the pages together.  A couple of years ago, I wrote Mr. V and asked him if he had continued to play floor hockey, build reading caves, and make art with his students.  He responded to my note and I was happy to learn that after 33 years of teaching, he was still having fun.  He still plays floor hockey once a week and he still has a reading cave in his classroom.  He still has long hair but has “traded in the hot car for a Jeep“.  Mr. V plans to retire next year.  Before he retires, I will send him another note.

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