Archive | December, 2019


29 Dec


In the 1970s, when we were very young and more adventurous than we are now, we lived in San Antonio, Texas. Driving to California then required a lot of hard-copy maps and hard cash to pay for gas. One summer–operative word here is SUMMER–we drove a VW bug provided by Auto Driveaway–the company that found drivers for people who needed to get their cars from one place to another (does this service still exist?)–taking it from San Antonio to Santa Monica.  We set out across West Texas and the rest of the Southwest, all the way across on Interstate 10, in the middle of July–no air conditioning, no radio (there would be little reception across the desert anyway), and already temperatures into the 90s. I have no recollection of stopping overnight anywhere until we got to Tucson. What I do remember is being more uncomfortably hot than we have ever been since, dripping wet on the back of our seats as the temperatures crawled up past 100 degrees. The huge expanses of the West went on and on, the interstate provided a few rest stops with toilets and vending machines and telephones, and we prayed desperately that we wouldn’t run out of gas before the next service station, usually placed about 150 miles between, and usually consisting of one small building with a less-than-salubrious rest room and some gnarled old attendant who lived god knows where and sold lots of beef jerky. There was some traffic on the road, but in some places you saw no car for miles and miles. If the car broke down out there, you just had to wait until someone drove by who could get you to the nearest phone to call for help. Fortunately, our VW held until Upland, California, where we got a flat tire on the freeway–close enough to civilization that we could limp to the side of the road and change it.

Travelling then meant you were totally isolated in this little metal box, barrelling through these open spaces a la Kerouac’s “On The Road.” No one knew where you were precisely, and concerned family and friends just had to wait patiently until you either wrote a post card to them or called once you arrived somewhere. I remembered that trip so clearly as we once again traversed the same route this month. This time–along with entirely different weather and 40 years of experience that would certainly prevent us from doing anything as foolish as driving in the heat of the day through the scorching desert in the middle of summer–I couldn’t help but be struck by other changes. We had our cell phone, air conditioning, GPS via the Google Lady (although I now ALWAYS also carry hard-copy maps), and reservations at hotels and AirBnb houses made ahead of time via the internet.  Only in  a very few spots along the way were we ever out of touch with anyone!  It’s an entirely altered experience of travelling through the Great American West. Whether it is less stressful, more secure, or just a sign of being older and wiser, I don’t really know.  What I do know is that the distances are still very long and very monotonous if awe-inspiring in the expanse. West Texas still goes on and on and on….

But there is a bright spot, and I recommend that everyone take the small detour–70 miles off of I-10, which is nothing “out there”–to visit Marfa, Texas. Those in the arts have heard about Marfa for years; I had always wanted to visit, so took this opportunity to get there at last. I can honestly say that this cow town-cum-serious artist community is one of the only places in the world that I can consider unique.  The minimalist artist Donald Judd discovered the town in the 1970s, and set up a foundation to exhibit his and fellow artists’ works and to support further artistic thinking and creating. As Wikipedia describes his Chinati Foundation (named for the nearby Chinati mountain range), “[t]he emphasis is on works in which art and the surrounding landscape are inextricably linked.”

We were enchanted with the whole scene in town. As an important rail head for West Texas from the 1880s, Marfa already had enough infrastructure to support a community, but was remote and open enough that artists could find lots of spaces in which to work and exhibit. What is so remarkable is that the place has not been turned into a kitschified tourist trap, but offers serious galleries and extremely high-end artistic products. Even the coffee shops are indicative of its melding of small Western town and contemporary artistic lifestyle: located in old cattle auction buildings, one cafe serves things like turmeric and chai, or almond butter and honey on homemade spelt bread. Not your usual good ol’boy breakfast!  That same cafe had for sale artistic candles for $20, and a divine made-in-town perfume costing $78 for a tiny bottle! Again, not the kind of stuff one usually finds in Western towns.

And finally, there was the Chinati Foundation itself. The collections were not open when we were there, and usually are open by appointment only through the Judd Foundation offices in town. But Robert Irwin’s garden in the middle of the buildings can be experienced every day. Beautifully meditative, I could have sat there for hours, with only the sound of the rustling grasses and the huge sky overhead.

Worth the immense drive to get there, and inspiring a more perceptive appreciation of the stark beauty of these open spaces.

Finally: we even had a wonderful Marfa cat experience: a beautiful little female, either pregnant or just fat, followed us all the way down the town’s main street!

Now we have to make the journey again, going back the other way. This time, we’ll stop in Alpine, a less artsy community about 40 miles from Marfa. And then, it’s full-on desert until home.




2 Dec



Usually I start this Christmas letter on Black Friday, but this year we were then in San Francisco, so am only beginning to write today, December 4. Still, since I send most of these greetings by email, I still have lots of time to wish you all holiday cheer.

The photo above is the best thing about this year: we spent several unexpected weeks with the family in Denver. “Unexpected,” because we were supposed to be travelling to Europe for 2 months, but events intervened. In the end, this was a blessing. The photo was taken in May; Lyle is now nearly 4, Lou is now 15 months old and walking (the treatment for his club feet has been successful!). We loved seeing them and looking after them, but our 70-year-old bodies are not as agile as they used to be–and Baby Lou is a beautiful chunker! We were exhausted but happy! They grow so fast!

As those who received last year’s greetings will know, we rented out our house again September-May and went on the road. We spent November-January  in Oakhurst looking after my sister’s house & cats (thanks Robyn & Mark!) while I did get some writing done on my book and took lots of bird photos; then in February (unexpectedly) a brief while in Santa Barbara, my home town (thanks, Packards!); then off to Denver, driving through several Western states in all kinds of weather to get there. And there we stayed, thanks to several friends who let us camp at their houses (thanks to Don & Cyndy, Kari & Mike!). Our houseguests, recognizing our plight, found other accommodations so we could return in mid-May to our Pasadena bungalow. The summer was occupied with medical stuff: I had a hysterectomy and 6 weeks of recovery. Hooray for modern medicine!


We are both healthy and as well as can be expected! I am finishing up writing the book of my “Three German Women” project, which included a brief but rewarding research trip to Vienna; I am now an Art Muse, giving private tours at local museums; and still taking photos of birds and grandchildren. George says of retirement that he is just beginning to realize that all days are not Saturday, he now has a Facebook account, and he reports that he sent out 156 of his homemade notebooks. We are still clinging to the hope that we won’t have to sell our house, and move–where???? If we could find a place that we could afford, where we could take our aged cats, that was close enough to the kiddos, and that had a cultural (and political!) atmosphere that we would enjoy, we would do it. But where is that place?

All in all, a bizarre political and personally odd year. For Christmas, we will be driving to Austin, Texas, to be with Dottie’s family when the kiddos are there, too. What fun! And since many of you expect pictures of our cats, here are the grumpy old boys:


Erika & George, Zuma & Kolo, 450 N. El Molino Ave., Pasadena CA 91101, tel. 626 644 2389 (mobile),,, Let us hear from you all!