Friday, December 31, 2010

White Christmas in a winter wonderland

Christmas Day 
Albert Lea, Minn.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white.
~ From "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin

Like the Irving Berlin classic song "White Christmas," there's something special about being able to spend Christmas Day in a winter climate, enjoying the snow on the ground and the nip in the air.  It was a moment in time captured during a nice walk to a nearby park following a hearty holiday breakfast.

A walk in Lakeview Park / Christmas Day scene in Albert Lea, Minn.

Last week, my wife and I spent our first Christmas Day in Minnesota ~ our home state ~ since 2000.  This year, our schedules permitted holiday travel, and we took full advantage of the opportunity.

Winter on Fountain Lake / One of Minnesota's 10,000 frozen lakes.

It was a very enjoyable wintry experience for us in Albert Lea, Minn., about 90 miles south of the Twin Cities.  We came prepared for winter and properly attired for our cold weather escapade, complete with our Lands End winter-weight parkas and boots, cable-knit scarves and colorful knitted mittens we bought years ago at a market bazaar during a visit to Estonia.

A winter wonderland / Fresh snow glistens on the trees.

And, of course, there was the warmth of Christmas Day spent indoors with family, opening presents, sharing good conversation around the fireplace, and enjoying delicious food. There was plenty of delicious food.

A white Christmas in a winter wonderland ... priceless.

Safe travels.  Happy 2011.  Cheers!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

With Christ as my Hope

Rain or sunshine, my day is always brightened when I have a chance to attend Sunday Eucharist at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.  I always enjoy attending church this time of the year.  'Tis the season.

The Fourth Sunday in Advent / Grace Cathedral

Last Sunday, my wife and I took the opportunity to attend the Fourth Sunday in Advent service.  The hymns were inspiring ~ it felt good to sing along even though I was starting to feel the effects of a winter cold ~ and the homily delivered by the Very Rev. Rowan Smith, Dean Emeritus of St. George's Cathedral, Cape Town, South Africa was meaningful.

A chance for self reflection / Inside Grace Cathedral

Advent provides us with an opportunity for self reflection, a chance for reconnecting with distant family and friends, a time for hope and prayer.  It's a challenge to balance secular with sacred.  

While I try not to be all consumed by the commercialization of the holiday season, sometimes, there are rewards.  OK, I'll admit that our gifts to each other this year were iPhones, something we had been thinking about purchasing for a long time.  The iPhone is a modern wonder of technology that will forever change the way we communicate with family and friends and connect with the world.  So, I look at this in a positive manner, a self-reward, and maybe ~ just maybe ~ a necessity.

With family and friends / Enjoying the season

Soon, we will be getting together with family to celebrate Christmas and to enjoy the holiday season with friends, too. There will be singing and worshiping, and food ~ lots of food to nourish our body and soul.  Hopefully, the Christmas holiday will provide everyone with a chance to unwind, relax and be free of stress.

In the days ahead, we look forward to visiting a couple of Bay Area museums, treating ourselves to a few of our favorite things.  Before we know it, 2011 will arrive.

Merry Christmas / Happy New Year

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to send best wishes to you and your family for a safe and happy holiday, and may the New Year bring you much peace, joy and happiness.

Photos of Grace Cathedral and Palace Hotel Christmas tree by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

An evening with MTT and the Symphony

The city is built,
To music, therefore never built at all,
And therefore built forever.
~ Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King

San Francisco's symphony space / Davies Symphony Hall.

In both sight and sound, music moves us toward beauty ~ and, in a city full of beautiful imagery, we are blessed with a lovely symphony space to enjoy classical music. And, in Michael Tilson Thomas, we have a dynamic and visionary music director to conduct our San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

The maestro / Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFSO.

My wife and I spent part of our holiday season last Friday at Davies Symphony Hall in the San Francisco civic center, enjoying an evening of fine classical music performed by the SFSO.  It's something culturally we like to treat ourselves to every so often, just like we enjoy the culture and atmosphere of seeing a Giants baseball game in person.

Holiday color / Christmas trees added to the decor.

On this December evening, Davies was decked out in splendid holiday colors ~ a pastiche of greens and reds ~ and the Christmas trees in the lobby, donated and decorated by businesses and organizations from across the city, added to the festive atmosphere.

Lots of greens and reds, and Cal Bears, too! /
Each Christmas tree had a different theme.

Our seats in Section L of the First Tier afforded us a good sight line of the Symphony, and especially of Maestro Thomas and the concert's featured soloist, violinist Gil Shaham.  We've seen the young and artistic Shaham (age 39) perform a couple of times over the years with the Symphony ~ the last time in 2009 when he masterfully performed the Berg Violin Concerto ~ and he and Thomas (age 65) always strike a nice rapport.  They are like a couple of happy, old friends when they're on stage together.  A wink and a nod go a long way between these two.

The featured soloist and the Stradivarius / Gil Shaham and MTT.

After the Symphony performed Henry Cowell's Synchrony from 1930 to open the concert, Shaham arrived on stage with his 1699 Countess Polignac Stradivarius violin in tow to perform Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major K. 219.  Composed in 1775, its performance provided an occasion for a bit of wit and ingenuity as well as for an open tempo.  Shaham's virtuosity showed throughout the piece and his playing evoked many emotions: feelings of hope, joy, love and happiness.

The composer and the conductor / John Adams and MTT.

Following intermission, the Symphony concluded the concert with the dynamic and percussive Harmonielehre, a three-movement, contemporary classical piece for large orchestra written in 1985 by the American composer John Adams, whom MTT invited out on stage for a bow following its conclusion. The two, along with the Symphony, received multiple standing ovations. 

The City comes alive at night / Holiday-hued San Francisco City Hall. 

Like an enjoyable buffet, there was a little something for every one's aural pallette on this holiday night at the symphony and we left feeling nourished and satisfied.  The sights and sounds of the City always come alive at night.

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Guilty pleasures for a rainy, December evening

A steady rain has pounded the Bay Area all day long. We get rain this time of year while our friends and family in Minnesota get to deal with shoveling snow and enduring bitter-cold, freezing temperatures. Our favorite TV meteorologist predicted today's miserable, late autumn Bay Area forecast during last night's broadcast. So, it's not a big surprise. At least the weekend will be nice.

Misery loves company and until the rain lets up and the weather improves, I'm thinking: "What better way to pass a dreary evening than by staying home and enjoying the company of a few guilty pleasures ..."


a good glass of wine ...

2005 Vintage Layer Cake Shiraz

great comfort food ...

Homeroom Mac + Cheese

and a delicious chocolate bar for dessert.

B.T. McElrath Chocolatier milk chocolate bar

Throw in an interesting book ~ I'm currently reading A.J. Liebling's Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris ~ or, perhaps, play your iPod on shuffle mode, and you've got the perfect solution to turning a negative evening into a positive one.  It's all about attitude and atmosphere, right?

I'm sure everyone has their own way of coping with dreary weather.  What's yours?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

CNN International: Connecting the world

Have you ever wanted to see what's possible when you seek a world beyond your own?  Take the world of international news, for instance.  Sometimes, you just need to know where to look.

Becky Anderson, host of CNN International's Connect the World. 

"News isn't just about what you see on TV," says Becky Anderson, host of Connect the World, a nightly prime-time program originating from CNN's London bureau.  In an advertisement for the world-wide TV network, CNN International, she adds: "It's about connecting the world with different views and new discoveries."

Whether reporting from bureaux in London, Abu Dhabi or Hong Kong, CNN International's on-going mission ~ its raison d'etre ~ is all about going beyond borders to report the day's biggest stories. "Go beyond the impossible," is one of CNN International's current slogans.

I'm happy to report that CNN International delivers its news and information brand in an intelligent ~ albeit sometimes irreverent ~ manner and, unlike their American cousin, CNN (based in Atlanta), the international version keeps their opinions in check.

I recently discovered a reliable Internet link to watch CNN International.  I invite you to check it out and see for yourself.  You just might come away with a fresh and different perspective about the news.

Last week, while the U.S. awaited Bristol Palin's fate in Dancing With the Stars, some of the biggest stories CNN International covered in depth included:
* the NATO Summit in Lisbon;
* the saga and tragedy of the New Zealand coal mining disaster;
* the unfolding of Ireland's economic crisis.

CNN International recently featured an exclusive interview
with Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. 

The international network also trumpeted an exclusive, 23-minute interview with recently released Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.  Highlights of the interview (which first aired on Nov. 19) were packaged and shown throughout the day on several of CNN International's news programs, including: International Desk, Prism and News One.

This week, there's been plenty of ongoing coverage on CNN International about:
* the WikiLeaks disclosure of secret U.S. diplomatic documents;
* the winter weather blast hitting the United Kingdom and western Europe;
* World AIDS Day activities.

Hala Gorani hosts International Desk on CNN International.

Whether focusing on politics, technology, infrastructure, architecture, or the arts, CNN International covers many different but important bases very well.  Call it an exercise in expanding one's horizons.  Among its many monthly, featured programs which "go beyond borders" are:  Talk Asia, Urban Planet, I-List, Icons, Inside the Middle East, Business Traveller, Going Green and Earth's Frontiers.  On the current, 30-minute episode of Earth's Frontiers, one of the program's segments focused on how to balance commerce and conservation in Australian wilderness tourism areas.

While CNN International enjoys a great amount of autonomy from CNN Center headquarters in Atlanta, it's programming also includes American favorites such as Larry King Live and Anderson Cooper 360, as well as Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room, some of them airing live others pre-recorded. Also, its news programs air some of the same news stories and utilize some of the same field reporters that appear on the U.S. version of CNN.

Richard Quest hosts the lively business program Quest Means Business.

One of CNN International's signature programs is Quest Means Business, a nightly one-hour business news program that originates in London and is hosted by Richard Quest.  On Quest Means Business, the lively and talkative host gets to the right people, asks the right questions, and ~ not surprisingly ~ all at the right time.  Quest Means Business airs at 19:00 in London (2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT).  Over the course of an hour, it's not uncommon for the bespoke-attired Quest to weave together interviews and stories that combine elements of business, politics, lifestyle and sport.  Unfortunately, it's a program you won't see on CNN in the U.S., which is too bad.  I think Quest would play well for an American audience.  Who doesn't like an English accent?  Still, you've got to admire a host whose regular sign-off each weekday evening is catchy, if not memorable: "Whatever you're up to in the coming hours, I hope it's profitable."

At CNN International, even the weather has a world perspective.

After watching several hours of CNN International programming over the past couple of weeks, it's easy to get hooked on it, not only for its quality and its voice, but also its cultural perspective.  And, there's something pretty amazing about seeing an international weather forecast that includes Iceland, Turkey and Vietnam, too.  Plus, the commercials it airs are much more interesting and informative, from advertisers such as the Qatar Foundation, Turkish Airlines, Unido and South Korea's 2022 World Cup bid.

The differences between CNN International and CNN U.S. are clear and evident.  For one, CNN International isn't driven by ratings and, for the most part, its programs are the stars not its presenters ~ except, maybe, for Richard Quest.  Also, CNN International is not a politically slanted brand, like Fox News or MSNBC, because it's not in the business of covering all things U.S.A. or acting as a political mouthpiece or operative. Instead, it's a world-wide network watched by English-speaking citizens and travelers of the world, who happen to be in or reside in places such as Sydney, Doha, Helsinki and Paris.

CNN International wants us to Go Beyond Borders.

CNN International is a risk-taker, willing and able to air longer, in-depth, relevant pieces that deliver a different angle on the news.  It's news for the thinking-person, English-speaking world that's beamed around the planet 24/7/365.  Always there.

Yes, understanding the world is within our grasp.  Sometimes, you just have to go beyond borders.