New Year’s Resolution

With the beginning of 2017, of course I also thought about New Year’s resolutions as so many others do, and getting fit is always pretty high on any list of resolutions. But I know myself well enough to know that these resolutions have a a tendency to fizzle out before too long, so I see no sense in getting stuck with a long-term, pricey membership contract with a gym. Indeed, plenty of memes and articles have made the rounds on social media based on the same idea in the last few days; one that in particular spoke to me was a fake offer for one to two training sessions and four photos of the new member working out on social media. Here is another meme that entertained me:

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Meme found on Tumbler

I have avoided the temptation to sign up for a gym so far, but I could not resist an original vinyl record of Jane Fonda’s 1981 workout record in a local thrift-store ( and with a two-dollar price tag also much cheaper than a gym membership). I mean – it is Jane Fonda, THE original workout maven! The VHS tape that followed and was based on her book and this record is the top selling VHS tape of all time according to several online sites. The record has a cheesy 8os sound track so that alone makes it entertaining; and the cover design is hilarious. I do not think even the thrift-store sold a pair of those 80s legwarmers and the high-cut leotard with matching belt.

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Album Cover of Jane Fonda’s 1981 Workout Record

Even if I stop the workout regime based on the record in a few weeks (which is very likely based on previous new year’s resolutions), I still have the entertainment factor, so I call this a good buy. If you are interested in the original video workout, browse YouTube (see example here).

The record is also an important piece of Americana, artifacts related to the cultural heritage of the U.S. It might not seem worthy of this label to some, but when I think 80s and U.S., Jane Fonda and aerobics always come to mind.

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Christmas Decorations and Workout Record

So here is to a great year ahead; may you stick to you resolutions or at least be entertained by your pursuit of your goals.

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When the Travel Gods Smile upon You…

When the Travel Gods Smile Upon You, …

 

You make it to the airport without traffic jams even during rush hour;

Actually, you arrive at the airport so early that the check-in counters are not even open yet, but the staff at the business class counter offers to check you in, so of course there is no line;

Your suitcases are below the weight limit even though you packed everything you wanted and never checked the weight at home;

You have time to wander the airport to look at art installations;

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Display about Pixar’s Toy Story at San Francisco International Airport

There is only one person in the security check line in front of you, so you are not rushed to unpack your laptop and take off your shoes (but a smile from the TSA staff is still unrealistic even in this scenario);

The whole terminal seems empty and you find a recliner next to an outlet to relax and charge your electronics;

Boarding is completed in an orderly fashion and no one tries to cut in line;

You are seated in an exit row with extra legroom and no seat that can recline into your space in front of you;

The seat next to you stays empty and you have room to spread out;

The plane is half empty and fellow passengers seem to be in a better mood because of it;

The in-flight program includes several “newish” movies you have not had time to see in the movie theater but wanted to;

The flight arrives a little early and thus a rather tight schedule to meet the connecting flight is now much more relaxed;

Only two people are in line when you get to the passport checkpoint;

You find another cozy recliner and as promised (but never tested before you left the country), your cell phone works in the foreign country;

The connecting flight is also half empty and once again you have a row all by yourself;

Your luggage arrives at the final destination, intact and complete;

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Display/Art at the Sacramento Airport Showing what I Am Convinced Will Happen to my Luggage

You can walk right up to the taxi stand to get into the first vehicle;

There is no traffic to slow your taxi down into downtown.

For someone who does not like flying (especially on those long cross-Atlantic flights) and is too impatient to not be affected by large crowds and odd procedures, such as I, smooth travels cannot be appreciated too much.

Inspired by my recent trip to Florence.

Truly American Experience: The Rose Bowl

I will be spending four months in Europe this spring for work with the majority of the time in Florence, Italy but also nearly a month in Austria. So the blog will include a lot more photos and stories about Italy than fits the name of the blog. But before I left the U.S., I made sure to “pile on” truly American experiences and that included in addition to the Rose Parade (see previous post) the Rose Bowl itself – because what is more American than football at the oldest bowl game in the U.S.?!?

The Rose Bowl – also called the “Granddaddy of them all” – is the oldest of all college football bowl games (playoffs). In 1902, the first post-season game in the nation took place here between Stanford and Michigan (Michigan won 49-0). The Rose Bowl included many firsts –  for example, the first transcontinental radio broadcast of a sporting event in 1927 as well as the first national telecast of a college football game in 1952.

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Iowa Hawkeyes Fans – Love the Hat!

The current Rose Bowl Stadium was built in 1922 and is listed as a National Historic Landmark because of its importance in American culture and history.

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Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA – 2016

Even though the team we rooted for (Iowa) was beaten badly in this year’s game against Stanford (45-16), the Iowa fans kept up the good mood and atmosphere in the stands and made this a great experience as my last big event to visit before I go to Europe (there were some grumblings and complaints about the Stanford band making fun of Iowa and sticking to stereotypes that showed very little knowledge of Iowa and made me question the maturity and creativity of Standford students, but that is a different story – read more here if you are interested: Article on Stanford Band). Although I am excited and curious about Italy and look forward to spending some time in Austria, I am a little sad that I have to miss the Super Bowl experience in San Francisco this year (it is not that often that the event is that close to where I live). Next time, I will be posting from Florence. Ci vediamo!

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Shirts for the Super Bowl for Sale at the San Francisco Airport

The Huntington Near Pasadena, California: Worth a Visit

A trip to Pasadena, CA should also include a visit to the fantastic Huntington, which easily overwhelms with its seize. The Huntington in San Marino, CA offers a library with a collection of rare books, four different art galleries, a 120-acre botanical garden, a large greenhouse, a tea room and much more. We tried to squeeze everything into a one-day visit but had to skip some of the gardens just because there is too much to do and see.

The Library collection of rare books was exciting since it showed books that I have heard so much about during my studies as an English major: the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a Gutenberg Bible on vellum, early editions of Shakespeare’s work and much more. The Gutenberg Bible (ca. 1450-1500) sparked a revolution throughout Europe in the way knowledge was presented and shared as previously nearly all texts were written and copied by hand. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and movable type changed the way books were created.

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Gutenberg Bible at the Huntington Library

The four art galleries on the grounds include a range of older to newer pieces with highlights such as Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Edward Hopper’s The Long Leg.

A personal favorite that is not one of the most famous pieces of the collection was A Foothill Trail (ca. 1919) by Granville Redmond:

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The Huntington is actually the former estate of railroad and real estate magnate Henry Huntington (1850-1927), who at one point was on as many as 60 corporate boards at the same time throughout the U.S. I am always fascinated by how many ultra-rich people on the West Coast during and after the Gold Rush got rich because of the railroad (Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University, comes to mind as another example). The estate is so large that we had to skip some of the over a dozen specialized gardens that add up to 120 acres. Even though there are plenty of palm trees around California, I enjoyed the Palm Gardens the most:

After hours of walking through the grounds and standing in front of pieces of art, afternoon tea with scones and finger sandwiches was exactly what we needed (reservations are recommended for the Rose Garden Tea Room):

If you are in the LA area and especially if you are in neighboring Pasadena, I recommend a visit to the Huntington. For more information on opening hours and entrance fees, see: http://www.huntington.org/ . For more details about the Rose Garden Tea Room and to make online reservations for it, see: Tea Room.

Rose Parade

The Rose Parade in Pasadena, California on New Year’s Day is over a century old and is usually shown on American TV. 2016 marked the 127th year of the parade. All floats have to include only natural materials such as flowers, seeds, and grasses and most floats take a year to construct by mostly professional float-building companies. Seeing the parade live though provides a lot more behind-the-scene details and close-ups than ever shown on TV, and this year I had a chance to see the parade live.

What I did not realize was that people actually reserve spaces on the sidewalks along the over five-mile long parade route 24 hours before the parade starts at 8 in the morning on New Year’s Day. Plenty of people camp out over night just to ensure the best spots to view the parade.

 

Some people were really settling in for the night:

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We went the more traditional route and put chairs out the day before but hoped they would still be there in the morning even if we did not spend the night. Another option was to spend money on grandstand tickets.

 

And it worked! Our chairs were right there in the front row waiting for us. Someone actually moved them even closer to the line during the night, so we sat so close that I was worried some of the members of the larger bands would actually trip over our feet.

There were so many large bands:

The floats were even more impressive close up than on TV since it was really obvious how many flowers were on these large constructions:

My favorite floats were the the ones with strong colors that popped against the bright blue sky and seemed to vibrate in the sun:

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Downton Abbey Float – Public Broadcasting Company

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“Treasure Life’s Journey” from Donate Life – all people on the flat actually received donated organs

Other details that the TV broadcast usually does not show is that many floats that are very high actually have to lower some of their parts to fit under the freeway and some of the floats break down and have to be pulled by a tow truck, which also leads to some delays towards the end of the long route:

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The large tower in the back had to be lowered to fit under a freeway.

Another detail is that the poop-scoopers walking behind the groups of horses in the parade actually get more applause than the bands and floats (I forgot to take a picture of them though – they are dressed in white and push a garbage can for the over five-mile walk). The parade is unique and more exciting in person than on TV even though it does take hours; this year’s parade featured 95 different participants: floats, marching bands, and horse groups. It is a New Year’s tradition just as the New Year’s Concert of Strauss waltzes in Vienna is an Austrian New Year’s tradition.

And there was even room for some political comments during the parade:

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Sky writing during the parade

Hindu Temple on Kaua’i

Hawai’i is more than just tropical beaches and crystal-clear water. It also provides plenty of examples of globalization whether  in the case of plant life (see my previous post) or religion. During my last visit to Kaua’i, I had the opportunity to visit what has been called one of the most important Hindu holy sites in the world (see article). I have no experience to judge whether this statement is true, but plenty of visitors were nearly packed into the grounds of the Aadheenam Hindu Monastery near Kapa’a and that in the middle of the week at a time when the typical holiday visitors from the mainland usually have already left the island.

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View from the Monastery over the Wailua River

It was so busy that we could not join the free tour of the grounds, but the gardens are beautiful and the view over the Wailua River is spectacular.

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Another View of the Garden and the River Valley

We were visiting in the morning when resident monks and devotees of Hinduism were in the middle of their morning worship, so I did not take any photos of the temple since I thought it would be inappropriate to take pictures of worshipers. But we watched as the group poured out of the Kadavul Temple and looked for shoes left outside the temple. The monastery was founded in 1970. In addition to the stone and wood Kadavul Temple with its many gold-leaf statues of Siva in his many dance poses, a second, hand-carved stone temple is in the process of being built.

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Offerings

The most memorable part of the ground was the large banyan tree close to the entrance of the monastery.

To learn more about the monastery, see this website. Visitors for the worship at the  9:00 AM temple ceremony may enter the inner gate leading to the temple before 10:45 AM. Visitors who do not wish to participate in the worship may enter this area from 10:45 AM – noon. The monastery is at 107 Kaholalele Road on Kaua’i.

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Entrance Gate to the Aadheenam Monastery

Stockings

Stockings are another Christmas tradition that I am not used to from Austria. The gifts from Santa supposedly arrive overnight and will be in the stockings while gifts given by people have actually been under the tree potentially for weeks by the time Christmas morning arrives. Even though it sounds like there would be more gifts overall in comparison to the Austrian way where all gifts are brought by the Christkind and appear under the tree, I have never really adopted the stocking idea/tradition. But it is cute to see in other homes all the stockings hanging over the fireplace for weeks before Christmas and ready to be filled by Santa. And every family member gets his/her own stocking:

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Everyone in the family – including the dogs – gets a stocking.