Monday, September 25, 2017

At the Conservatory

Question Mark 

Spicebush Swallowtale 


This is just a small sample of the beauty that was fluttering about the exhibit today. I was particularly thrilled to see the Viceroy as we haven't had any in for months. The above picture makes the Viceroy look like a piece of stained glass. Probably the coolest thing about the Viceroy is that its wing pattern has evolved to resemble the Monarch's wing pattern. In this way, the Viceroy is tricking would-be predators into thinking that it, like the Monarch, is toxic and, as a result, not good to eat. -pretty sneaky, Viceroy!

We have about four different types of Swallowtale at the exhibit currently. All are large, all are mostly black in color. One resembling our Spicebush in the middle photo above came to an unhappy end after it landed upsidedown on the surface of the koi pond. Our winged friend was lunch before you could say, 'I think that butterfly needs help'. -too bad as it was a particularly lovely specimen. 

The Question Mark, upon first glance, might be better called Rorschach Wing, but once it closes its wings a wee sort of reverse question mark 'tattoo' is visible. The mark looks more like the Turkish flag than it does a question mark. Maybe a re-naming is in order? 

Entrance to the Conservatory...the butterfly enclosure is in background, left. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Honshu, Japan Pt. 3

The Japanese have turned fireworks into an art form. Summer is the season of multiple fireworks displays across the country. At the beginning of this month, I was fortunate enough to have attended a fireworks competition at Suwa Lake near Matsumoto City, Nagano.

There were approximately 24 entrants, the event lasted two hours long, and each selection was introduced by a moderator. The event was flanked by impressive displays of eye-popping fireworks. The whole thing was a bit mind-blowing. We have nothing like this, as far as I know, here in the states.

My Japanese friend has a friend who is a huge fireworks enthusiast. He attends multiple fireworks events each year in Japan. The below picture is one of hundreds he took that night at the show. The picture below his is mine, taken with a mobile phone. 

Not only did I see the most amazing display of fireworks at Suwa Lake, but I also enjoyed a lovely dinner to boot. The bento box picture below shows a rather decadent meal, don't you think?

Proper photo.

Taken on my android.

Bento box included in ticket price.

Waiting for the sun to go down, Suwa Lake.

Day trip to Nagano City to visit the Zenkoji Buddhist Temple--

The temple dates back to the 7th century, but, from what I understood, this latest structure was built in the early 18th century. We walked from the rather modern & user-friendly Nagano main train station to the temple. It was a pleasant 30 minute stroll along a nice-looking boulevard. The closer we walked to the temple, the posher the shops and buildings became. The below shot is just at the entrance to the temple grounds.

Walk up the main drag to the temple.

Muscled foot of one of the guardians of the temple. He stood about 20' tall & was entirely made of cypress.

Tour group just in front of the Niomon Gate. 

Temple shot.

Advert from a local dairy on temple grounds.

Back side of temple. 
If I can find any more decent shots of the trip, then I shall post a Pt. 4!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Honshu, Japan Pt. 2

On one sunny day, my friend drove us (through multiple tunnels and over narrow mountain passes) to Takayama & Hida. My friend told me that Takayama is renowned for its morning market. It was lovely, but more intriguing for me was the stretch of well-preserved merchants' residences dating from between the 17th and 19th centuries found off the main drag through town. I didn't get the best shots of the merchant streets, but here are some of 'em anyway.

Entrance to merchants' area; the smaller sign reads: no smoking.

Sake and rice shop. Giant orb over door signifies sake, but I don't know why.

Wood/bamboo siding on one of the merchant buildings

We strolled through the market just before it closed at noon. We certainly aren't the only tourists to visit; many of the shopkeepers use English, both in speaking & on signage, to entice folk to their stalls. I needed no barker to help get me to the espresso stall. The proprietor roasts his own in beans, and takes great care to make a balanced, flavorful espresso. His sort of fun gimmick was serving macchiato in edible cups. I opted for paper, but my friend had the 'cookie' cup. I think she said it tasted of ice-cream cone.

Espresso in an edible cup.

Peaches that would have made Roald Dahl proud.

At the market: cukes and one lone tomato for 50 yen a piece.
Morning market welcome sign.

Red bridge, Takayama

The Hida folk village was about a 30 minute drive from Takayama. We parked well above the village & were rewarded with this view--

Hida Folk Village 

I should have put up a pencil for scale. Massive Hibiscus.

Hida Folk Village manhole cover. 

Koi in a small brook, Hida 
--more to come!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Honshu, Japan Pt. 1

So much happened on my trip to Japan not least of which was No. Korea sending a test missile across Hokkaido & a typhoon blowing up the eastern coast of the country. 

The test missile landed in the ocean without much fuss & the typhoon sent cool temperatures and strong winds our way, but not much else, fortunately. 

I flew into Tokyo & spent a couple of days there before taking the bus to Nagano. Once out of the city, the landscape became hilly & green. I guess I've not watched enough Japanese films because I hadn't realised that Japan was so lush. I think the country 2/3 forest. -pretty impressive when you think how densely populated Japan is.

Speaking of forest, my friend and I took a day trip to Mt. Fuji & on the way we visited Aokigahara aka the Suicide Forest. We pulled over and parked. Aokigahara didn't seem so scary, and besides there were scads of other visitors around to make the place seem very lively, indeed. As you can read, we made it out from our forest walk alive. :)

After visiting the forest, we drove to a nearby lake in order to get a gander at Mt. Fuji. The weather was a bit overcast, but the clouds kept shifting around Mt. Fuji while we stood & admired the view. I was told that the clearest views of Fuji are very early in the morning. Regardless, we were able to take a few decent shots from the side of the road (like everyone else). 

During my stay, we also visited my friend's friend's rice paddy. The paddy has long been in his family--get this--for 20 generations. I don't how one could keep intact family records so long, but that's what he said. -1,200 years of rice harvesting on this one spot. You could have knocked me over with a feather, I was a bit flabbergasted. 

Friend's friend's wee work truck.

Paddy shot w/ neighbor's house in background. And, yes, she regularly receives rice from the harvest!

The rice was to be harvested this week, actually. It would then be dried in the open air for approx. 2 weeks. A machine, I was told, would then remove the rice from its stalks. And then, I think, the rice will be ready to eat. As I understand it, drying the rice by hand results in a much sweeter product. I'd be keen to try some & find out for myself! 

Manhole cover art in Inashi, Nagano

Nagano produces many fruits and vegetables. Walking in the vicinity of my friend's flat, I saw eggplant, perilla (Japanese basil), kiwi, asparagus, grapes, parsley, and tomatoes. Directly behind my friend's place were both rice and buckwheat fields. Nagano, I found out, is famous for its buckwheat.
Soba noodle joints, unlike here in California where ramen is still the noodle du jour, prevail. I was not disappointed with the fare, to be sure! 

The below picture shows a cold soba dish with rice ball, a dish of green onion/daikon/wasabi & picked cucumber (and out of shot was a small green salad & a dish of dipping sauce for the soba, tsuyu). This soba lunch was probably the best meal I had during my stay. 

Hot soba dish with sweet soya product called Yuba aka tofu skin.

A trip to Nikko to visit the temples and shrines of the area led us to eat Yuba, a dish made of the 'skins' of cooked tofu. The above picture shows a soba soup with Yuba as its centerpiece. All of it was delicious. 

On the grounds of the Nikko shrine site.

One of many temples on site. 

We spied a bridge on the walk back to the Nikko train station.

Once I upload more pictures to the computer, I'll post a bit more about the trip! 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

NYC trip

Room with a view.

I recently returned from a week in Manhattan. Aside from the heat and humidity, I really enjoyed my stay. One of the highlights from the week was seeing a gaggle of Vegas-era, chubby Elvises singing on 2nd at 92nd on the 40th anniversary of The King's death.

Through the throng of on-lookers I was able to snap a quick pic of this charming-looking fellow--

Elvis is everywhere.

I also visited the Neue Gallerie, a gallery primarily dedicated to showcasing works by Austrian artists, and saw an interesting exhibit featuring the work of a man called Richard Gerstl. I hadn't heard of Gerstl before my visit and with good reason. The family of the painter had initially kept his works away from the public for a couple of decades after Gerstl's suicide in 1908. After WWII, Gerstl became known in the US, but not as known as, say, Schiele or (especially) Klimt. Gerstl's work is very well known in Austria, from what I gather, but his art had not been exhibited in the USA until now. We visited the gallery on a weekday; the exhibit was not crowded.

During his life, Gerstl had hung out with composers, less so with other painters. Not a successful artist in life, he'd made money by teaching his composer friends to paint. Based on the exhibit, it would seem his affair with a certain composer's wife led to his ostracization from Viennese society culminating in Gerstl's suicide at the age of 25.

At 25, I could barely draw a flower with pencil and paper. By the age of 25, Gerstl had already produced numerous incredible works of art.

Self-portrait, 1907
Landscape study, Traunsee, 1907.
Artist's father, 1906.

We also visited the Cloisters in Upper Manhattan. A long-ish trip on the A train to 190th and a half mile walk led us to what is currently a museum featuring religious artifacts from medieval Europe. I think I enjoyed the grounds more than the museum itself, to be honest.

If one hasn't visited the cathedrals of Europe, then this museum is a must-see while in New York.

Garden grounds.

View from Cloister grounds. 

I didn't catch who they were, but I liked their look.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Dahlia Garden & other things

The dahlias area back at the garden plot adjacent the Conservatory of Flowers. When I think of dahlias, I tend to think of a big bloom with many, long, thing petals. -sort of the plant version of a sea anemone. This garden reminds me that dahlias come in many shapes and sizes.

Here's a selection of what I saw yesterday--

A highlight of last week was getting to cruise in my buddy's '67 convertible Corvette Stingray. Man, what a beautiful car! And fifty years later, the clock still works. I was impressed with the whole affair.

Anyone digging attention from strangers needs a vintage automobile. So many people waved, smiled, honked & flashed the peace sign (go figure) at my friend while we were out and about sans top. Of course, I wore sunblock for our jaunt.

Cleaning windows last week temporarily transported me back to CH. 1 August is Swiss National Day & these folk down in Belmont were representing! I wonder if they had a huge (unattended) bonfire in their back garden in celebration? ;)

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