Sculpture in the garden, 2018

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Stargazer, by Eileen Fitz-Faulkner

It’s Fathers Day weekend, and that means the Ruth Bancroft Garden is again bursting with new growth and new art–the annual Sculpture Show opened last night.

The big opening party was a smash–there has been much change in the garden this year, the nursery has been completely remodeled and there is a new building being erected to house the offices and a rental space for weddings, parties and meetings.  If  you haven’t made a visit recently you need to see it.

The weather didn’t cooperate very well–last year Gail stayed home because it was so unbearably hot, this year the winds blew and the temperature was in the low 60’s.  I liked this photo of Stargazer and the artist’s husband, huddled against the chill.

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Gail thought the piece needed a hat:

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Now she’s warmer.

Here’s a selection of things that appealed to me:

 

One more

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Walls of Eden, by Joyce Steinfeld

And here’s Joyce:

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Most of the artists attend the opening night and you get to talk to them about the work. You also get to purchase the piece you like before someone else snaps it up.

The garden is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 to 4.  1552 Bancroft Avenue, Walnut Creek.  If you want to see a world class succulent garden chock full of great art, this is the place.  The sculpture will be there for a month.

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Is this really my country?

 

There are people who defend trump’s position on separating children.  Not trump, of course.  He blames the Dems for his own policy, and says he will fix it if they just give him his wall.  That’s just terrorism.  From the US President.

I never meant for this to be a political blog.  I’d rather write about restaurants, plays and travel.  But the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  This must not continue.

This I will not accept

There are any number of things wrong in our country these days, from the venality and general incompetence of trump to the stench of corruption from Scott Pruitt to the racism of Jeff Sessions.  I am forced to accept that the election is over, and somehow the guy with fewer votes won.   I abhor all of these, but they are not the worst issue.  What is happening to children at our borders is beyond detestable, and must be the place to draw the line.  This I (and I hope we) will not accept.

To tear a child from its mother’s breast is heinous and unconscionable.  There is no possible excuse.  This is the action of a police state, and I don’t want to live in Nazi Germany.  Or North Korea.

Equally bad, in my view, are the people who accept and approve of our government treating anyone like this.  Ordinary people, people you might meet at your local bridge club.  People like the Big Kook, the player I showed this tweet to this afternoon.

He laughed.  Not a titter or chuckle or tee hee, he laughed right out loud. He thought it was funny.

Shocked, stunned, aghast, I asked him if he really thought it amusing.  He said “the guard probably just wanted to see her nipple”, as though that was an acceptable reason.  Then he laughed some more.

I don’t like this Bozo Klown anymore.  And when people want to tell me what a great job trump is doing, I think they will have to explain how it is right and good and moral to pull a baby off her mother’s breast and then handcuff the mother for “resisting”.

The Blackguard Knave has earned himself a lifetime of no respect, not that his smug sanctimony will even notice.  I wish he was alone in this, but millions of trumpistas are willing to suck up the Kool Aid while shouting MAGA and “lock her up”.

 

That’s a wrap

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Joe McNally, the star of every show

Photoshop World 2018 is over, and we’re home.  I learned a bunch and had a good time doing it–which high school had worked the same way.

There were many classes, on subjects from Photoshop to graphic design, videography,  portrait photography, landscape photography, dog photography,  Lightroom and personal motivation.  Every hour, it seemed like there were at least two classes I wanted to take at the same time, and the decisions were hard.

Except for the hour when Joe McNally gave his talk on A Year in the Life of a Photographer. That was an easy choice.  Joe is the rock star of this event, as far as I’m concerned.  He has the magic life, travelling around the world constantly taking fabulous photos and teaching.  I asked how many countries he’d visited, and he says “north of 70”. I’ve taken two of his all day seminars and other Photoshop World classes, and enjoyed  all of them.  i own his books.  Joe’s the best.

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Not that he’s the only star of the show.  Scott Kelby, the big cheese of this production, is easy and approachable.  I’ve flown across the country to take a one day course from Rick Sammon, travel photographer genius.  Julianne Kost, the Photoshop and Lightroom evangelist from Adobe, is always delightful.  Kaylee Greer, with her bright red hair, teaches how to get the most imaginative dog pictures. Peter Hurley, a headshot shooter from New York gives a program full of energy and optimism along with great advice.  The list goes on, but Joe is always at the top.

KelbyOne does a magnificent job on these shows–everything is smooth and professional.  Everything starts on time.  The materials are first rate; you never need to take notes because it’s all in the workbook you get.  The rooms are well marked, and there are plenty of staff to direct you.  Even I can’t find anything to gripe about.

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Photoshop World has gone from once a year to twice, back to once and now back to twice, following the economy and the general business climate.  Next year the second show will be at the Mirage in Vegas in August–great as long as you don’t plan on going outside.

Photoshop World

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A magnificent double rainbow. Too huge to get the whole thing with my camera

We’re in Orlando again, Gail to see Susan and me to go to Photoshop World, the annual gathering of the photographic tribe put on by Kelby Media.  I’ve done this once before, and learned so much that I’m doing it again–they keep upgrading Photoshop all the time, and you have to keep learning and studying to keep up.  My brother David is here with me, and we’re having a ball.

This event is quite large, with perhaps 2,500 attendees.  Yet, I think it’s considerably smaller than it was a few years ago, when there were more like 4,000 people.  Definitely, there are fewer corporations exhibiting in the trade show area–I was hoping to see Wacom here, and there isn’t the large Adobe presence I saw last time.

Nonetheless, there are many, many classes available–I am booked from 8:00 am til 6:30 pm tomorrow, and still can’t take every class I want to because sometimes there are two attractive options at the same time.

There are things I don’t understand.  In the trade show are there is a set which is lit by one of the lighting companies, and a model working.  People are splayed out all around the area taking advantage of the situation to take pictures.  I don’t know why.  What do they think they can do with a photo of a model on a set?

Here are the people:

And here is the model and the set:

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She’s beautiful, the set is interesting, and I don’t think I’ll show this photo to anyone to prove what a great photographer I am.

This evening there was a party, and Scott Kelby, the big mooha of this organization got to perform with his band.  Scott started out in life as a drummer and guitar player, then took up photography, then started teaching Photoshop and now seems to do everything all at once, and do them all well.  His band, Big Electric Cat, may only perform once or twice a year but they sure sounded great tonight.

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That’s Scott to the far right on keyboards.

Naturally, in a room full of camera nerds there were thousands of pictures taken–at a normal concert you can’t get close to the band, you can’t bring a big camera in, you just use your phone for low quality videos.  Here, lots of middle aged dentists with high end photo gear got to be concert photogs for a night, with no restrictions like “three songs only”.

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Apparently there was one pizza store executive who had some fun in the same vein.

 

After Big Electric Cat, some of the Photoshop World instructors who are also musicians got on stage to jam a bit, and I took these photos of my favorite instructor, Rick Sammon.  I once came to Orlando for a weekend just to take a day-long class from him, and will take two of his classes here

This event is great–lots of fun, professionally executed and so much to learn.  I’m glad David and I are here, and I hope to be a better photographer when we get finished.

Peet’s at half the price

Claudia took me for a walk in downtown Walnut Creek Sunday because there might be somebody who hasn’t petted her yet.

Along the way we stumbled into the Capitol One cafe, which seems to be a Peet’s coffee, except that if you pay with a Capitol One credit card everything is half price.   Since I have one of those cards, this seemed like a good idea.

Getting my extra large Iced Chai latte and a muffin, I sat down to survey the place.  There are plenty of normal tables, one large high table with outlets for computers and chargers, and 3 guys in Capitol One t-shirts running around.  Since they weren’t serving coffee or cleaning up, I had to figure out what they are doing.  So I asked one.

His name was Bud.  He says he’s a banker, although I’ve never met a banker working in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Apparently, and you would never know this from the outside, they consider this location a bank, albeit one with no tellers, no cash and no security.  The Peet’s is just a come on, or an amenity, or something, to get you to lend them money (because that’s what banks do, borrow your money at low interest in a checking account and then lend it back to you at high interest on a mortgage or credit card).

They don’t deal in cash, that’s passé. You can make deposits from your phone, shifting money from your current checking account to a money market or CD with Capital Bank.  They promise higher interest, but that’s reasonable because they charge the hell out of you if you have one of their credit cards and are 20 seconds late with a payment.

I can’t say I was persuaded, but I guess they get enough people to make it worth their time to subsidize Peet’s. At least I liked the Chai and everyone liked Claudia.  The couple of bucks I saved will help fund the fees for the last time I forgot to get my payment in on time..

An Improbable Hero

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If you’re a woman, or if you know someone who is, then you need to see the movie RBG,  This magnificent documentary follows the life and career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court and a feminist hero for all time.

A brilliant girl from Brooklyn, RBG graduated Cornell and entered Harvard Law at a time when there were only 9 women out of a class of 525.  Her talents got her on the law review as a sophomore, but when she graduated, (from Columbia, after following her husband to New York), she could not get a job because of her gender.

There followed a lifetime achievement, with a strong emphasis on sexual discrimination law.  RBG argued successfully in front of the Supreme Court at a young age, and continued to push the boundaries of the law.

Appointed to the Federal Bench, and then to the Supreme Court, approved 96-3 in the Senate, RBG has been a strong force on the Court, striving to achieve consensus with a soft voice and a strong mind.  Although she and Antonin Scalia were polar opposites in political thought, they were strong friends away from work.

This movie is a quiet documentary, certain to be in the running for an Academy Award.  We see RBG as this tiny woman in a huge chair without knowing the enormous power of her mind and her abilities to reason and resolve issues.  Go see this movie and be prepared to be amazed at the powerhouse that is Notorious RGB.

If this is modern, I want old fashioned

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for over a week, every night thinking this is the day I write about the Modern China Cafe, and then putting it off.

I think that’s because I don’t really like to write about places that disappoint me.  I’d much rather laud a new restaurant than pan it, yet pan I must.

It looked like this would be a winner.  A Chinese restaurant on North Main street in Walnut Creek, big patio in front where we could bring Claudia (a major consideration these days), open until midnight so we could have a late supper, a promise of a fresh take on the standard Chinese menu.

What we go was a good location, nice tables, poor food and sad service.

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Tessa and Gail at the outdoor table with built in fire pit

The tables have fire pits built in–there is flame coming out of the glass beads in the center.  I don’t know how they get around the insurance or liability issues, but they sure are interesting and fun.

The menu has both the standard dishes you would expect and individual orders of dim sum, which don’t come around on a cart.  The Modern China is as much a bar as a restaurant, and the dim sum serves as perfect small plate bar food.

We began with two orders of pot stickers–there are only 4 pieces in an order.

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Here it is–a plate with the pot stickers just thrown on, the dipping sauce perched atop the food, no presentation or care.  That matched the taste–which was non-existent.  These were the most boring, insipid potstickers I’ve had in a lifetime of smacking the tasty dumplings down.

I had the Mongolian beef.

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Bland.  Pedestrian.  Again, no presentation, no care, no desire to be better than anyone else.  Just some food thrown on a plate.

The accompanying bowl of rice was hard and crusty–I suspect someone in the back makes dozens of bowls at a time, and nobody cares if they get cold or hard.  Well, I care.  And I damn sure don’t like it.

Gail had the barbecue pork chow mein Hong Kong style, with pan fried noodles.

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You know the drill–no care, food just thrown on plate, not very good.  This place is nothing if not consistent.

We had a strange moment when a hostess, who had been admiring Claudia, asked what Gail’s dish was–apparently even the staff can’t recognize this food.

You would think you would at least get good tea in a Chinese restaurant, but my usual glass of iced tea, lime not lemon, was room temperature, not enough ice, and clearly made from syrup or powder or some other commercial method that produces cheap product quickly.  It sure as hell wasn’t a decently brewed beverage.

I wanted to like this place.  I’d love to have a somewhere to eat late at night, right here in the Creek.  Chinese cuisine is old home comfort food to me, and it pains me that this the Modern China Cafe misses the mark so badly.

The only constant is change

untitled-2First, there was Kaffee Barbara, a breakfast and lunch place in a tiny building in Lafayette, on Brown Avenue. My friends Jamie and Collette had breakfast there every Friday before the bridge game, but it eventually closed.

Then came Artisan Bistro, an upscale restaurant with a first rate chef.  Or a succession of them.  Although the food and service were always excellent, somehow the place never clicked with me.  It just had no soul.

Now there is a new eatery there, Locanda Positano.  It has more soul than James Brown on a hot night, great food and a re-done patio where we can eat al fresco with the dog rain or shine.  I think I’m in love.

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Granddaughter Tessa, Gail and Reed in the patio.  Or maybe it’s a loggia.

The outdoor eating is in an area covered, heated and protected from the wind on 3 sides.  The mosaic tile tables and wire chairs are just what you would find in Positano itself, and you don’t have to walk any steep streets to get there.

As you would guess from the name, the food here is from the Amalfi Coast, with lots of fresh veggies and seafood along with the pasta.  What more could a nice Italian boy like me want?

We had a waiter named Rafael, who is from Napoli.  His wife and son still live in Italy, and he is here to make more money than he can at home. He was cheerful, helpful, interesting, exciting and pleasant, making our meal an experience to be relished and savored.

Our first dish was an antipasto for 2, which easily satisfied the four of us:

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Salami, mortadella, copicolla, brushcetta, pesto, burrata, tomatoes and olives.  A first rate way to begin the meal and whet your appetite.

Presentation is such a big part of the dining experience, and Locanda Positano certainly has some beautiful ways to get your meal on the plate.

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I started with the burrata, and was impressed with this large glass, filled with cherry tomatoes, burrata and a drizzle of oil. The arugula didn’t thrill me, but I’ll order it the next time we go.

Reed had the beet salad:

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More arugula, golden beets and a scoop of burrata.  Beautiful, tasty and healthy.  You can’t ask for more than that.

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Tessa and I each had the Branzino, a Mediterranean sea bass.  It came with white wine sauce, clams, carrots and asparagus.  This is the sort of meal at the heart of the Mediterranean diet–low in fat, olive oil rather than butter, fresh fish and veggies.  Eat like this and you’ll live darn near forever.

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Reed, who is rail thin and runs even when nobody is chasing her, had the heart attack on a plate.   Gnocchi della mamma, mother’s recipe.  Gnocchi, fresh mozzarella and gorgonzola sauce.  I had a few bites, and it was fabulous.

The meal is finished with a complimentary glass of house made limoncello to cut the richness of the meal.  It’s too tart for me, but I’m a sissy with a sweet tooth.

In any event, we loved Locanda Positano, and intend to return soon and often.  I suggest you do, too.

 

Dinner at the Duke’s house

Cruise lines all sail up and down the same waterways, so they compete to have the most interesting tours and excursions.  Tauck hit the jackpot last night, when we went to dinner in the private garden of the Jacques de Crussol, 17th Duke of Uzès. For an added bonus, the Duke himself was in attendance early in the evening.

Beth the Travel Goddess got a selfie with the Duke.  Naturally.

We knew the Duke was home (instead of Paris) because his flag was flying over the building:

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Uzès is a small city south of Avingnon, where we are docked.  The castle we visited has been there since the 11th century, and the Duchy of Uzès is France’s oldest ducal peerage, since 1572.

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A very grand entrance

The courtyard is somewhat more modern, with a new-ish facade on the old walls.  Notice that the columns are Doric on the first floor, Ionic on the second and Corinthian on the third.

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The adjoining wing

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I think the Duke and his family live in this part.

We got to tour some rooms, full of period furniture and art, but not exciting.  When the Duke himself showed up, he took people up to his favorite room, where he has a large, elaborate model train system.

This is the garden where we would enjoy our supper:

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The gas heaters were out, but not needed on a balmy spring evening.

We had enjoyed champagne and some excellent canapes in the front courtyard, now we settled in for a gourmet feast.  The Duke is a graduate of MIT and has an MBA from Columbia–which explains the professional way this operation  is run.  Owning a castle is exceedingly expensive, and there is constant need of cash for repairs and remodeling.

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We began with salad and mille feuille,  sort of a cold eggplant lasagna.

The second course was either a tender cut of veal:
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Or a bouillabaisse of John Dory, served in a pot.

The entree was followed by a brief concert.  Two violins and a guitar provided modern and classical music in the warm evening air. As the shadows lengthened:

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The music played:

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Following the concert, a dessert of Lavender creme bruleé was served.

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With the sun setting over the fallen ramparts of the building, we shuffled back to the buses and headed home.  At least I’ve lived like nobility for an evening.

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