Originally posted on Picnic at the Cathedral:
In the foreground, a mosque.  In the background, the spire of a Catholic church. This is Sarajevo. Sarajevo is my favorite sort of town: buzzing with dynamic street life, culturally rich and simultaneously traditional and forward-thinking. Trams are gliding by, the traffic is not that crazy and the architecture ranges…

When HOB and I got on a bus in Xi’an we were unclear about when we should get off.  “Just look for a big pagoda” I said—this seemed logical since we were on our way to see something called the Big Goose Pagoda. And that turned out to be a good idea—-we saw this out […]

Before visiting someplace I’ve never been, I need to first project myself there in my imagination.  I do this by picturing one essential cultural experience.  It could be seeing an artwork, walking through a cathedral or listening to a particular sort of music.  Without this initial mind-travel, I can’t conceptualize doing something so strange as, […]

Pingyao, in the Shanxi province of Northern China, combines two of my favorite things: a walled city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Normally we don’t go walking around on city walls because HOB has a fear of heights.  However, Pingyao’s wall, which was built in 1370 during the Ming Dynasty, is low with a […]

It was in Xi’an that I finally realized that calligraphy is an art of motion. I’d been struggling with calligraphy, trying to recognize it as an art form.  Last year HOB and I intensely scrutinized the world’s most famous collection of calligraphy in the National Palace Museum of Taipei.  I certainly made progress, recognizing the […]

Any of you have a work spouse?  I’ve had one for 20 years; I call him the International Man of Mystery.  Now you’d think after 20 years I’d know a lot about IMOM, but he is one seriously cagey dude.  Try asking IMOM a question like “How was your weekend?” and you’re going to get […]

1000 years ago, back when Europe was clawing its way out of the dark ages, China already had a well established system of building standards.  The Chinese consulted manuals to standardize the building process and did so with remarkable success considering the enormous size of the country.  The basis of their traditional architecture was modular:  […]

What I imagined I’d see in a Taoist temple was robed monks and maybe some other really spiritual-looking people, the kind of people who sit around contemplating the mystery of the The Way.  And probably a lot of art with yin-yang signs on it.  This sort of temple would not be a place for a […]

It’s the artists I keep thinking about. There at least 6000 terracotta warrior sculptures, perhaps many more (their burial site hasn’t been fully excavated.)  These warriors were created during the Qin dynasty, 2200 years ago, when China was sparsely populated.  So how did the emperor Qin Shi Huang find and mobilize so many artists in […]

Oh look, a cute little pagoda: Yeah, cute alright, but it’s a minaret, not a pagoda. And this pretty Chinese arch inside a garden. This isn’t a garden, it’s a mosque.  Or maybe it’s better to call it a mosque complex. Anyway, the Great Mosque of Xi’an has been around almost since the beginning of […]