Wine Country

Yesterday, my company altogether went to Wine Country (Sonoma to be exact) for wine tastings–probably the nicest thing I’ve ever done with a company. We went to three wineries on an absolutely gorgeous day, on what would be my first trip to wine country, and hopefully not my last. =)

The first place we went to as Viansa, where we started off with a small tour with our guide explaining the wine making process, particularly how grapes grew and how they were harvested and developed, and a little of how affective weather is on the grapes. Afterwards we had our first wine tasting, where we learned “how to taste wine”, doing first a tipping of the glass to inspect the body and color of the wine, next the swirling of the wine to release its bouquet, then the smelling of the wine, an initial rinse of the mouth of the wine, and finally a finish of the wine to get the full taste of it. Since it was my first time at a tasting, I found it fascinating, but my colleagues seemed to have it all already down pretty well. =)

After a nice meal there, we went on to another winery owned by the same company as the first. The tasting there went fairly quickly and I didn’t find I liked the wine as much as the first place, but they did have a very interesting display of gigantic wine barrels (one of which held something like 59,000 gallons of wine and was almost two stories high!). A short stop there altogether before moving on to our last stop: Gloria Ferrer.

At our last stop, we sat outside, the company altogether, and we ordered a couple rounds of champagnes of various kinds. With a toast to the company to start, we enjoyed our time there with good champagne, a beautiful view, and pleasant conversation.

All in all, a wonderful outing and an absolutely beautiful day. I’ve never been very much into alcoholic drinks, but I got to enjoying an occasional beer in Poland and in Sonoma I feel I rather much enjoyed the occasion for wine drinking. I think I’ll stick to my passion for teas on the whole, but I have to say I enjoyed the day very much. I’m looking forward to someday sharing this experience with my friends who come to visit me in San Francisco, as I think it makes for a great occasion for getting together and simply enjoying being.

^_^

The Water, The Trees

When I first went to Europe I went to Paris for a summer program at CCMIX. I think though that some of the most important experiences of that summer were those of the time I spent with the rivers: the Seine in Paris, the Thames in London, and the Rhône and the Arve in Geneva. It was during these long walks by these rivers (and in Geneva, swimming in them after a coin toss, still one of my favorite stories and memories) that I think I first truly ever felt a real connection to the Earth and my environment.

In my first trip to Krakow a few years ago, again I had come in contact with the water in my daily walks along the Vistula, to and from town. In the colder temperatures with the air so crisp and clear, the image of the river and Wawel Castle would be absolutely stunning…

At that time though, I found myself also begining to observe the trees as well, especially against those amazing gray skies which seem to glow, leaving only a sillhouette showing, the negative of the tree against light. I remember starting to look up at the trees, through the leaves and branches against the sky, mesmerized by how the drifted in the wind… thinking about it now, I think this fascination started when I was back in Brooklyn, in the backyard, as I seem to remember an image of a full moon and a tree swaying against it…

I remember one day in my first trip to Krakow, while walking back to the hotel I was staying at after an orchestra concert I had seen, thinking about the orchestra and orchestral composition (those thoughts lead up to the development of the orchestral composition library I wrote in Python, which I very much use today in my compositional work), my mind was racing with abstractions and ideas. I remember walking by a number of trees some time after, with these thoughts on my mind, and thinking that the branches of the trees were all performers, playing from the same score (the wind), all just a little differently…

This past trip to Krakow, where I stayed did not really have the river to go by in walking to and from the city, and so that connection seemed less present. I did spend many hours though in the Planty–the park which surrounds the Old Town in Krakow. Often I’d just sit there to read books, write down thoughts, or simply listen to MP3’s of drafts of pieces, of music, or of interviews with Feldman. After sitting a while, I’d usually take a nice long walk around some part of the Planty, listening to my latest draft, and really just enjoying the trees and observing curiously.

I find that back here in SF, where I work by the water and have an amazing view of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin, Berkeley, etc., the water is truly something I find myself connected to, but I miss the trees and the park very much. Perhaps I’ve just grown closer to them lately.

San Francisco Once Again

Yesterday was a very long day of flying, first a 10-hour flight from Krakow to Newark, then a 2-hour layover before a 5.5-hour flight from Newark to San Francisco. The flight over actually was very nice, as Lisa and I were incredibly seated together with one of our friends we had met at Lisa’s program.

Newark itself though was a bit of a rude awakening to American life I think, though maybe it’s just Newark. Granted, it’s a very large airport, but it seemed like the voices of people were incredibly loud, if not in a pure sense in terms of volume then perhaps it was loud in mood and character. Airports are very stressful places, but still, it seemed out of character, or maybe perhaps I had just gotten used to the amazing politeness of Polish people. We discussed if maybe it was simply the fact that we could understand every word being said by everyone as it was all in English, and that might be a big part of it, but I think there’s more to it than that. Just no “please” and “thank you’s”…

It was nice to sleep at home in our comfy bed, and this morning was great to wake up and to have space to warm-up and do a round of tai-chi and to have a cup of green tea. Looking out into the park in front of our apartment, there were a lot of older Chinese people doing their morning chi-kung and tai-chi exercises, which made me smile. Something about the way they were awake and alive, moving around and exercising, the expressions on their face seem so vital and excited. I think that earlier this spring there started to be more and more people in the park in the mornings and I’ve enjoyed spending time there doing tai-chi, and I’m looking forward to getting to spend time there in the mornings to come.

Lisa and I got out of the apartment and walked down Polk St., the same path I normally take when walking to work, and we stopped by Cafe Biologique for breakfast. This cafe is one which my friend and former co-worker would often stop by in the mornings and occasionally pick up cookies from. I had only stopped by once in a while in the afternoons on the way home from work but had never really sat down there in the mornings, though I passed by every day. It was really nice to spend the morning with Lisa there, a croissant and cafe au lait for her, a small salmon quiche and coffee for me, and pleasant conversation. =)

Now, back at work, returning to life here, as if some kind of pause button was pressed and now resuming, I’m feeling good about things here. It’s been nice to catch up this morning with everyone and interesting to get back into the swing of things. I already miss Krakow and am thinking of all the wonderful memories from this past time there, but I’m also sitting here smiling, the morning fog having lifted, looking forward to the rest of the day.

^_^

Computers, Pen and Paper

I’ve been using computers for a very long time. I remember being in New Jersey as a young kid and my parents purchasing for my brother and me a Commodore 64 computer. We primarily used it for video games when we first got it, but later after we moved from Livingston to Montgomery Township, I remember one day my parents purchasing a monitor and dot matrix printer, as my brother was starting to use the computer for word processing to do papers for his class. We still used it for games, but we also started to both do a bit of word processing then. (Whenever I think of those times, I think of my parents and how amazing they were to purchase such a thing for us, as they came to America with not much and really did just establish a whole life here.)

Before we moved to Georgia, I remember starting to get into the idea of wanting a new computer. First it was an Amiga, then a friend planted the idea of a Macintosh. When we got to Georgia (this was around the 7th grade I think) a friend there recommended to purchase an IBM (not the IBM brand, just that we all called it IBM then and not “a Windows computer”). Well, after asking my parents (well, asking to put it nicely, I was rather young after all), my father and I went to a computer store and purchased the first computer for me, a 386SX-16.

So, from that point on I was in the world of DOS, Windows 3.1 to 95 to 98, and so on. I remember sometime in later high school trading in my computer and with some money I earned at a job moving up to a homebrewed 486 system. The last computer my parents purchased for me was when I was going to college, my father purchased an HP pentium 150 computer, which I used all throughout college.

I remember thinking near the end of college how nice it would be to get a faster computer, as back then the differences in computers from one year to the next were really much more noticable than they have been the past few years. One thing that always got me was seeing friends who had much faster computers using them for gaming, while here I was working hard to put together computer music pieces on my old computer, waiting for sounds to render, and feeling somehow strange that so much computing power was being used not for something productive.

That computer lasted me until after college and when I got to New York, when I started to work and make a living for myself. From that point on I purchased my own computers and parts whenever I felt the advantage of more processing power was worth it. I never really had the greatest computer in the world, but always enough for my needs.

When I left New York, I also stopped using desktops and got into laptops, being on my second one now. I find them fantastic as I always have my work on me, which for someone living two lives–a day job as programmer, and my life as a composer–any time available to be working on music is always precious. I’ve often gotten some of my best work done while travelling, in airports and whereever I end up travelling to, and it’s great to be able to take work to a cafe on occasion.

What I wanted to discuss in all of the long history above is that I’ve been using computers for a long while, doing a lot of my work on them (for my day job and personal music and writing work). Yet, some experiences here in Krakow have been incredibly enlightening, and that is how much I enjoy pen and paper.

While using computers for most of my life, I often used pen and paper in school for note taking and for school at home while studying. In college, I would often use paper for taking notes in class and while reading books in cafes for drafting musical ideas. There something to the experience of using pen an paper that makes ideas so much easier to work out, as if somehow they are more tangible that way. They also seem to stick much better in my mind, as if by writing it somehow it locks it into memory.

When I got to New York, I got my first PDA (a Palm IIIxe) which I used off and on for four years, primarily for keeping todo lists. This replaced the paper and pencil todo lists I used to keep anyways, and was incredibly useful. It wasn’t until this past year I switch to my current PDA (a Sharp Zaurus 5600), and now besides todo lists I’ve started to organize my calendars using the wonderful KO/PI software. This PDA too has been very good for writing down notes to myself and planning my time, as well as having drafts of pieces I’m working on to listen to, amongst many other things. Overall, I’ve gotten to enjoy using PDA’s very much and find them a very useful part of organizing myself.

However, as time passed while living in New York and then in San Francisco, I noticed I also used pen and paper much less. When I first started to program I would take notes on texts I read, and later when I was architecting software I would use pen and paper to draw out ideas. As I got better with programming though, it became much less necessary for this, so even here my use of pen and paper waned with time.

Comparing myself to times in college and before, I find now (at least, when I am back in my work life at home) that often I have a hard time focusing when I do have spare time for music. Just takes longer to clear the mind than it used to and to get into that world of focused attention. Life is also very different now then when in college, so there’s many reasons for all of this I’m sure.

However, one of the really great experiences I had here in Krakow was that on a few occasions I spent time with just a pen and a notebook and simply spent time thinking out ideas and writing about them, illustrating them. And although only a few times, and really not that much time spent while doing so, each time was incredibly helpful. The ideas I had thought about and wrote down were very helpful in getting me further along in both general music thought as well as helping me to understand the piece I’ve been working.

It was incredibly enlightening to me this experience, and really revealed to me how little time I spent with pen and paper, and how much I really do enjoy doing so. Not that all of the other tools I use (computers, PDA) are not incredibly powerful and useful tools, but rather that this simple tool is something I have not been taking advantage of, and it is something that complements the others very much and brings something the others can not. Only a few days now left in Krakow, but I think if I could take any one lesson back with me to my daily life in San Francisco, I think it would be the usefulness of pen and paper to my personal work. I think that spending time contemplating with these tools will very much become a part of my daily life.

p.s. – Mom and Dad, if you ever stumble upon my website and read this, I just wanted to say I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the sacrifices you made for me in terms of spending money on computers and of course more importantly all the other intangible things. I know that it wasn’t easy to make purchases like that, and so just want to let you know that it was and is very much appreciated. ^_^

Remembering Cathy

I was sad to hear that one of our friends, Cathy Hedgecock, passed away, finally succumbing to the cancer she lived with for the past five years. Although I didn’t know her very well–she was a fellow student at my Tai-Chi school–I have incredibly fond memories of times in conversation, standing in class next to her, and pushing hands with her (she was fantastic!). A beautifully warm person and an absolute inspiration, I’ll look at the bookmarks she made for Lisa and me and always smile. What a privelege to have known her, even the little I did: to have such a person touch your life is a true blessing.

To Live Beautifully…

Today I was reading Rothko’s “The Artist’s Reality”, and in the chapter “Subject and Subject Matter”, he discusses an idea of a still life and a portrait, how one painter’s still life is more like his or her portrait than say one still life by one artist is to the other artist’s still life and one artist’s portait is to the other’s portrait, even if they are of the same still life and of the same figure. This thought was very powerful to me, how different people could see things differently, and really helped me to get to understanding what Rothko has been saying in his book so far. (I had at times gotten a little lost, but this seemed to really bring many threads together for me.)

It’s a bit of a challenge then, if we all live in the same world and see the same things, how is it some saw it so beautifully and others not?

I was reminded of an old question that I once contemplated many times and now contemplate again: what does it mean to live beautifully? I thought back to all those times I meditated on this subject, back to times when I could let time flow freely and move about with ease, a quieter, more observant time…

To live beautifully, to imagine a daily life filled with curiosity and appreciation, a life where one’s senses are fresh, where one moves freely in this existence full with a joy in simple pleasures, a satisfaction with every breathe…

National Geographic

This past weekend here in Krakow I was feeling a little drained from all the personal work I had been putting in as well as heavy reading, so I had stopped by Empik to purchase with Lisa and friends and while there I decied to purchase an issue of National Geographic magazine. I had never really read National Geographic, though I have had many friends who were very much fans of the magazine. While in the store I took a look and saw that this month’s issue had some articles I thought would be very interesting (one on future power sources a.k.a. alternative energy, and one on the history of and current state of nuclear countries and “the bomb”). I found myself completely engrossed, both with the writing and the photography. In the times I’ve perused National Geographic I’ve always found the photos very beautiful, but I have to say, the experience of the magazine as a whole was completely stunning. Something about this time reading the magazine, I was very much deep into the articles and just blown away by each and every photo. Perhaps the topics which National Geographic generally cover have become more important for me lately, or perhaps it is that I have enjoyed photography and taking photos very much here in Krakow. Either way, I very much enjoyed the magazine, and am looking forward to subscribing to this wonderful treasure when I return home next week. =)

Cafes and Krakow

Ever since college I’ve always been one for cafes, having spent many an hour in them, reading books, working away on ideas and what not. In college in Athens, Georgia, I spent a great deal of my time at Joe’s by the 40 Watt until that closed, and after that until I left Athens I spent many hours daily at Blue Sky Coffee (which I was very sad to see was closed the last time I stopped by Athens.). Many of my thoughts on life and music were produced at these two cafes…

In New York and San Francisco both, I have long sought to find a cafe setting which I could really find myself comfortable enough to work away. In New York, the only cafe I really found myself enjoying very much was The Pink Pony, which I seemed to have discovered all too late, only a week before it had switched owners to become a sort of restaurant/cafe. I still enjoy the Pink Pony very much and find myself there usually at least once every time I go to visit New York, but still, it lacked a quality which I have long wanted to find. In San Francisco, Lisa and I will go to a few cafes, the Blue Danube on Clement St and Central Coffee come to mind, but I still find myself not quite comfortable.

Maybe it’s not the cafes though and that I am simply in need of a different setting now for my work…

Exploring Krakow’s cafes has been quite an enjoyable experience, as they truly have some of the finest I’ve been too. Not that the ones which I so enjoy are extremely fancy (though there are certainly those that are), but perhaps it’s that they simply have character, a degree of ambiance to them that’s very inviting.

The Dym Cafe Bar on Tomasza Street is a neat place where one can pick up a coffee and sit for a while uninterrupted. The place has a feeling of being well worn by people, the furniture aged by use, the room a bit smoky. The crowd seems to be very artsy, hipster-ish, but that’s okay. This was the first cafe I really found myself coming to and it reminded me a lot of the coffee shops in Athens.

Lisa and I found Cafe Migrena on Gołębia Street the other day somewhat by accident, looking first for a teahouse which ended up being closed that day. Lucky for us that this place was not a few stores down and that we should have ventured it. The interior had lovely and warm orange walls, some fantastic black and white photography of people at the cafe, and very good music at a nice quiet volume, very comforting. The clerk there was incredibly nice, and the house tea (Herbata Migrena) which I had was an absolutely delicious and smooth fruity tea. A very comfortable little cafe (only four small tables), I found myself wishing very much for such a place in San Francisco.

The last cafe I’d like to mention is Cafe Larousse, also on Tomasza Street. This small cafe (also only four small tables) is very dark inside, the walls are covered with pages from the classic French Larousse Dictionary. The cafe worker there was incredibly nice, the music again very good and also quiet, we found it to be a very nice place to sit and read, having an espresso and slices of very good cheesecake (sernik). We were both amazed at how fluidly the worker there was able to switch between Polish, English, and German, and of course her very warm demeanor.

There are just so many wonderful cafes here. It amazes me that the ones I mentioned above are all within a block’s radius from the main square, all just so fantastic for working. Perhaps I’ll find myself trying to search for a cafe like these in San Francisco, but I have my reservations that I’ll find such a place. If only I had a cafe in San Francisco that I could go and sit at to work away…

Breakfast in the Rynek Główny

This past weekend, Lisa’s very close friend and colleague from school came to visit us in Krakow (she is studying and researching in the Czech Republic). We had a lovely time going around the old town in the sweltering heat, shopping, site seeing, and pleasant eating and conversation. Saturday we had an absolutely wonderful French meal at Cyrano de Bergerac in certainly one of the more beautiful cellars in the city. (That meal was outstanding!)

Sunday morning, before going to the train station, we all enjoyed an incredibly delightful breakfast in the Rynek Główny (the main square). We sat outside at the Cafe Europejska and enjoyed one of the best breakfasts I can remember.

The food was incredibly delicious, with all of the details of every small thing we ate just perfect. Jen and Lisa had the Polish Breakfast and I the Viennese, accompanied with very good coffee. The service was great: we had actually discussed how much we enjoyed the service there, how little they interacted, simply doing their job, but always kept aware if you needed anything. Really as if they wanted to just be off to the side to let you enjoy your meal and conversation, and that was exactly how it was. Our meal was fantastic, our conversations were long and enjoyable.

Sitting outside without any music on, it was delightful how quiet the morning was, with only the occasional sound of horses hooves clicking on the cobblestone and the carriage following behind. I tried to think of breakfasts and brunches out in San Francisco and New York, how rushed meals feel in comparison, how noisy they are, no sense of peacefulness and leisure. It’s a very important thing, I think, to experience this kind of meal experience. It is so incredibly satisfying.