My Books

Monday, May 22, 2017

California, here we come! Part Two

The next part of our trip was a visit to San Francisco and then a drive south to the Paso Robles wine country.

For my nephew, Rico, and great-nephew, Muriel, this was the first time they experienced the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Most people probably don't know this, but one of the builders of the bridge was the Swiss-American structural engineer, Othmar Amman, who was also responsible for the design of the George Washington Bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, and the construction of the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City.

A different Swiss is responsible for the design of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in downtown San Francisco. Mario Botta, from the south of Switzerland, is known for his  fascinating public and private buildings all over the world.

In fact, quite a few Swiss people made their mark in California, one of them being John Sutter (original name Johann August Suter), 19th century settler and colonizer of California. He fled from bankruptcy and financial collapse, leaving his wife and children in Switzerland, and tried to start a new life in California. After gold was discovered on his land, a turbulent personal and public history developed, which ultimately led to his ruin. More about him here:

I love the mixture of modern and old architecture in San Francisco, a Romanesque church in front of a ultra-modern building. Somehow, the old and the new coexist in peace here.

Onward: After letting the impressions of this magnificent city sink in, we drove south toward Paso Robles, the wine country, and the James Dean crash site memorial (the latter, a first for me too!). Stay tuned!

Monday, May 15, 2017

California, here we come! Part One

I've had two intense, exciting, and joyful weeks with my relatives from Switzerland who visited California. They were my nephew, Rico, my niece, Claudia, and her husband Alberto as well as their two children, Risayra and Muriel. For three of them it was the second visit to the United States, but two of them came here for the first time.

The week before their arrival, I was a nervous wreck, afraid they might have problems with the U.S. customs. I read and heard of people, even US citizens, being held back at the border for no valid reason at all. Luckily, they had no problems and arrived after a long flight from Zürich via Düsseldorf to Los Angeles. Here they are, and Auntie Christa is very relieved!

From left to right: Rico, Risayra, Muriel, Alberto, Claudia

The first few days we spent in Santa Monica, then drove up the coast past Malibu, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo to Cambria, one of my favorite spots along the coast.

In the small town of Cambria we stayed at the Cambria Pines Lodge on the hill above the actual town. I love this rustic place with the gorgeous gardens.

A "Place to Dream" indeed!

During our stay in Cambria, we explored the rugged coast, in particular Piedras Blancas in San Simeon, the place where the elephant seals come to rest, molt, give birth, raise their young and go back out to sea to gather food. It's a fascinating stretch of coast where you can watch the development of these amazing animals all through the seasons.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to visit Big Sur, another one of my favorite spots along the Californian coast, because of the damaged bridge and other obstacles. We did make it to Ragged Point though, the beginning of the mountain road to Big Sur. I've driven past this place many times when heading to Big Sur but never stopped and consequently missed a gorgeous area. This time, however, we took a break and admired the landscape, the cliffs, and the breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean.

Risayra was so inspired that she greeted the location with a yoga pose.

Relaxing after sightseeing!

The next day, we went to San Francisco. Stay tuned, more to follow!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The miraculous journey of a street sweeper turned author

Michel Simonet, a citizen of the town of Fribourg in the French part of Switzerland, went to college, studied theology ... and became a street sweeper--yes a street sweeper or street cleaner--in his hometown. Today, he is the most famous street sweeper in Fribourg as well as in whole Switzerland and beyond. Michel Simonet loves his job and wouldn't want any other kind of work. And this, in spite of the fact, that he published a book, which became a bestseller.

You see, the book is about his thirty years sweeping the streets of Fribourg, meeting and getting to know all kinds of people, from CEOs, CFOs to blue collar workers, mothers and fathers with their children, everyday people with their struggles and joys. All these experiences he collected and wrote about in his book, Une rose et un ballai, in English With a Broom and a Rose.

The book is a lyrical tribute to his profession, a profession he is proud of. The title of the book shows his "trademark"--a rose he gets every morning before starting his work from a flower store and attaches to his wheelbarrow. It symbolizes his work: beauty within ugliness.

And anybody who ever looked down on blue collar worker or minimum wage earners, should take note. Every job, when done well and with pride, deserves our respect.

I'm proud of you, Michel Simonet, not just because you wrote a book but because you contribute to society by making part of our cities more beautiful.

Here is a short article in English and a picture of him: Musings of a Street Cleaner.

Here is a video in French about Michel Simonet: YouTube Video

Article in German: Freiburgs berühmtester Straßenwischer hat ein Buch geschrieben.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Los Angeles Central Library - a research repository and a gem of art and architecture

The city of  Los Angeles has many faces. Some people see it as a cancerous urban sprawl, with awful
rush hour traffic, bad air, and crime. For others it's the glitz of Hollywood, the metropolis of business. It is all these things, but the city, including its neighboring areas, is also one of the most important cultural centers of the world. What?! I hear some people call. Yes, and I repeat it: Los Angeles is one of the most important centers of art, architecture, music, and literature. It has some of the most interesting and amazing museums, theaters, and art galleries. If you do just a little of research, you'll find out that many of the world's most famous writers, musicians, singers, sculptors, painters, and other artists have at one time or the other called Los Angeles their home. So, move aside San Francisco and New York! Just kidding.

Of course, the negative sides of Los Angeles do exist. It is a sometimes ugly urban sprawl and anybody who is forced to drive on the freeways during rush hours knows the challenge. And let me tell you, when I first came to Los Angeles over thirty years ago, I told myself that the one city I never wanted to live in was Los Angeles. Well, famous last words. I changed my mind and here I am.

There is a secret about Los Angeles. Well, it's actually no longer a secret. In the midst of cars, gasoline fumes, skyscrapers (some of the world's most beautiful, by the way), and clogged freeways, you find amazing treasures. In two of my last posts, I wrote about the beautiful Huntington Library and gardens in Pasadena.

Today, I want to show you another treasure--the Los Angeles Central Library downtown with one of the most extensive collections of books, maps, and works of art. It's not only a repository of literature, art, and culture, but an architectural landmark. It has been designated a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument. And I have to admit (and hang my head in shame) that after living here for over two decades, this is the first time I have visited the main library. I've never been without a library card but I have always frequented my local library in Santa Monica. The main reason was that driving downtown and parking there can be such a hassle. But now, that we have a new train line that connects Santa Monica with downtown L.A., the journey is a breeze. And the last station of the newly opened Expo line is just a couple of blocks away from the library.

So yesterday, I embarked on the adventure and here are some pictures.

The new train! Expo Line Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles

Left: View from the train

Most of the descriptions below are from the walk-in tours you can either to take on your own or with a docent.

And here it is: Main Entrance from Hope Street

The main building, called Goodhue Building, designed by the architect Bertram Goodhue

The main lobby with the rotunda, wall paintings, and chandelier
The chandelier is made of cast bronze and weighs one ton. The murals above were painted by the magazine illustrator Dean Cornwell.

There are three sculptures by artist Lee Lawrie. This marble figure symbolizes what the Library represents. In her right hand is a book with quotations in five languages. In her left hand is a torch which represents civilization's power over land and sea. The crown contains a miniature model of the Library--two angels for the City of Los Angeles and the bear and star for the State of California.

The two pictures above are from the Tom Bradley Wing. In 1986 two arson fires destroyed 400.000 books and damaged 800.000. 95 percent were saved. After the fire, the library was restored and underwent a major renovation and improvement. One of the additions was the Tom Bradley wing (named after the former mayor of Los Angeles). The three chandeliers above are made of aluminum and fiberglass and weigh 2.000 pounds each. They represent the three themes: the natural world, the man-made world and the spiritual world. (I wouldn't want to stand under them during an earthquake!)

And here is one of the library's reading rooms

How many of you remember this? I do! When I did research in my early college years, that's how we found the books, by going through the card catalog, often very tedious and painstaking work. Nowadays, this is merely a nice memory as we breeze through the search engine on our computers!

Above an early map of Santa Monica

The three pictures below show just how carefully crafted and artistic every room is. So much care went into the building and the renovation. 

 One of the many beautiful ceilings

Right next to the library are the majestic skyscrapers that make out the Los Angeles skyline

I hope you enjoyed the short tour through one of the pearls of Los Angeles. If you want to know more about the library and its history:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Poem that Rhymes!

Poets are not academics (though some are) or highly educated men and women (though they may be), but most of them are ordinary everyday people with the desire to express something fun or meaningful or turbulent or painful or joyful and so on and so on (you choose).

Many are computer nerds, taxi drivers, hamburger flippers at McDonald's, cleaning men and women, students, drug addicts, police officers, shoe sales people, firemen, some doctors (yes it happens), teachers (okay, that may be obvious), presidents (you never know). Anyway, my point is--is there a point? Not sure. There is no rule or regulation as to who can and should write poetry--or anything else for that matter.

That brings me to a poem of my own. Nothing serious, just a fun play with words. So, please don't take it seriously. It really isn't meant to be taken seriously.

Here we go, a silly poem that rhymes--well somewhat:

A Poem that Rhymes 

On the deck in front of my room
at Cambria Pines Lodge
a little after noon
I’m tempted to snooze
but my undone work
wraps around my neck like a noose.

It is so tight
I want to fight
but then I see the light
and throw pen and paper out of sight.

I’d rather go for a walk
I don’t need to talk
or sing like a lark.

I sigh and admit
that this sounds like shit
but write I must
even if nothing
comes out of it.

There’s nothing to say
that hasn’t already been said
I’ve nothing to say
at the end of the day.

Oh, the freedom of silence
around me and in my mind
so I gaze at the highland
in the distance and pray
and so it’s okay
that I’ve nothing to say.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Dreaming and Research - Central Coast of California

One of my favorite types of research for my novels is traveling to different places where my characters live and work. This time, I spent a few days in one of my favorite spots in California, namely in Cambria at the Cambria Pines Lodge. Since the fictitious Segantino family lives in the wine region of the Central Coast in California, the Paso Robles area was on my itinerary as well. And last but not least, I checked out the California Polytechnic State University or Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. This is the place where Julietta Santucci, a major character in The Wine Lover's Daughter series, studies architecture and environmental design.

Here are a few pictures of my vacation/research in beautiful San Luis Obispo county.

Cambria Pines Lodge, Cambria

Cambria Pines Lodge is situated on a hill above the town of Cambria and is a charming lodge with beautiful gardens, the perfect place to dream and write.
A very special kind of flower bed

 A garden with organically grown herbs and vegetables they use for cooking is also part of the landscape.

View from my room

A couple of miles north of Cambria is a famous elephant seal spot. These amazing animals come here year after year to breed, raise their young, and relax between their long and arduous migrations in the Pacific Ocean. Every season has its own kind of spectacle. In September, the young males are jousting playfully, preparing for the serious and often bloody fights for dominance and their chosen females.

Of course, a visit to the famous wine region around Paso Robles, the imaginary home of the Segantino family, is mandatory!

Next stop is San Luis Obispo, where I took a brief walk through the Cal Poly campus, a well-known technical and agricultural university.

Another important spot that plays a role in my next novel is the Benedictine monastery in San Luis Obispo, but time ran out and I had to postpone this for another visit. There is always a reason to come back to this beautiful area of California.