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Monthly Archives: July 2012

MICRO is probably Michael Crichton’s last book.  It was the second book published after his death in 2008. Richard Preston was selected to complete it. I finished reading it in a weekend plus a few nights. It is a classic techno-thriller.

I have not read his books before but saw movies based on his books – Congo and of course, Jurassic Park.

His plot lines and characters are very directly portable onto the movie screen – like he was being commissioned to write a story for Hollywood. The characters are formed by descriptions which essentially explain how they would behave under certain situations which sure enough happened later in the story. I could more or less guess who will and who will not make it alive to the end as soon as the character is introduced.

As one would expect, there are plenty of actions and many are depicted cinematographically. To create a scene, a film director does not need to interpret the writing – just reproduce what is described. To avoid creating a spoiler, I substituted a character’s name with ___ in the following excerpt.

“__ screamed and went down on knees, cradling his severed wrist, which sprouted blood. A soldier climbed up __’s back, fastened its jaw behind his ear and began tearing off __’s scalp. A soldier got its mandibles fastened under his chin, and his screams ended with a guttural noise as blood spurted from his throat and drenched the ….”

Some time ago, I read some papers about chemical ecology and was fascinated by how plants communicate and what each organism in an ecosystem establishes its niche by chemical signals. Michael Crichton got most of the biology right but the physics in the story is completely fictional. He did his research. Evidence can be found at the back of the book where there was a long list of reference (I spotted only one on physics). He must like Thomas Eisner as he cited three of his publications, e.g., Eisner et al., Secret weapons: Defenses of insects, spiders, scorpions, and other many-legged creatures. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2005.

Th prose is efficient and easy to read. Here is another graphic excerpt from the book:

“His shirt sleeve was finally coming apart. As the sleeve split, it revealed a horrible sight. The skin had become translucent, like oiled parchment. Beneath the skin, fat white ovoids rested, twitching slightly. They had a contented look.”

Like many books of this genre, it was written with a sequel or series in mind. This book is no different in that a new story can be created fairly easily.  MICRO2 next year ?

In summary, it was entertaining and fast-paced, but its plot was predictable and the characters were disposable.

Located about 10 minutes’ walk from the Hundertwasserhaus (see previous post) is the KunstHausWien museum. It was created through the renovation of the 1892 building which housed the Thonet bentwood furniture factory in a style commensurate with Hundertwasser’s art.

Opened in 1991, KunstHausWien houses a permanent exhibition of Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s work on two floors and two additional floors are devoted to changing exhibitions.

Irregular elements of glass, metal, bricks, wood and ceramic tiles in many colors give a unique character to the formerly inconspicuous building.

The shop floor was uneven – while interesting, it can be dangerous especially it is a slope located right at the entrance.

His architectural work is comparable to Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) in its use of organic forms and the use of tile. We read somewhere that most of Hundertwasser’s tiles are symmetrical while Gaudi’s tiles are all irregularly shaped.  Judging by the photo below, the tiles on KunstHausWien are mostly squares of different sizes arranged in patches and oriented at various angles.

Well, I just found in the photos we took in Barcelona last year, a picture of one of Gaudi’s buildings in Park Güell. All the tiles, background and foreground, are irregularly shaped.

Back to the KunstHausWien.

This must be one of the more artful sign for toilets we have seen. Look at what the boy is doing. There is a “puddle” of mirror tiles on the ground by the door.

By the time we got to KunsthHausWien, we were tired and hungry – so we skipped the exhibition, checked the shop and ate lunch at the cafeteria. Now you know our priorities. This is the indoor cafeteria.

We preferred to sit outside in the garden, where we can see how the vegetation merges with or emerges from the building.

As it was way past lunch time, the place was pretty empty.

And because it was after regular lunch time, they served a limited menu – but we were happy with a typical local dish.

Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an eccentric Austrian artist who designed posters, stamps and then started practising architecture in 1950.   He passed away in 2000 and left behind many buildings in his signature style. We visited two of his buildings in the Landstraße district of Vienna.

According to Wikipedia, having been prosecuted by the Nazis, he developed strong anti-totalitarian beliefs which influenced his work – notably. opposing the “geometrization” of people and architecture.

We do not know much about this artist until this trip. The common themes in his work are: bright colors, organic forms, a reconciliation of humans with nature, and rejecting straight lines.

The Hundertwasserhaus is a private residential building that is not open to the public, but it is surrounded by touristy shops.  But one can get the idea even standing outside.

The apartment block has undulating floors (“an uneven floor is a melody to the feet”), a roof covered with earth and grass, and large trees growing from inside the rooms, with limbs extending from windows.

Kids must love to live in this building. There is is a little plaza that separates the main street and the entrance to the building. Look at the bumpy area !

His architectural and graphic work include patches of metallic paint or tiles. Having seen quite a few Gustav Klimt’s paintings on this trip, I wonder if there is any reason why the Austrians like to use this device. I (Chris) once owned a poster with metallic paint and it was the work of by Rosina Wachtmeister, also an Austrian.

While it is the work of an artist, I do wonder about the practicality of living in a room where the floor is not even and the walls are not straight.

More about Hundertwasser’s work in the next post.

Time flies.  Lausanne has been our home for the last two years.  In the summer of 2010, we left our temporary corporate housing in Peseux and moved into this apartment. Here are some links to our past posts documenting the journey from the US:

Moving out of Edgewater in 2010

Temporary housing in Peseux

Moving to Lausanne

Our first impression of Lausanne

When we first moved here, our street was a complete mess. A huge block of modern apartments was under construction down the street. The traffic was choking as our street is the only way for tour buses to access some hotels in a pedestrian-only area. This is what the street looked like two years ago:

Now the apartments are finished and they finally re-paved the sidewalk. At the other end of the street, however, the Lausanne city opera is building an extension which will be finished later this year. Finally, the place will not look like a construction war zone and there will be less dust in the house.

One of the attractive features of this place is a semi-private garden/courtyard where we can do outdoor grilling. Even if it rains, we can retreat into the covered porch and continue cooking.

See the post about Grilling at home.  Yes, our pine tree is slanted we noticed too.

For several weeks a year in early summer, a patch of lavender sends a nice scent into our living room.

Today (July 15) is our second anniversary living in this apartment. We are quite happy calling this place home, the apartment is spacious and its location is convenient. We have a spare bedroom and bathroom, and some of you have already visited. Many of you have an open invitation, so come see us soon.

For those who need some persuasion, my friend YS kindly sent us this link to a very flattering description of Lausanne and nearby sights from the New York Times:
Following Dickens Through Switzerland

Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) constructed in the 12th century but damaged in World War II – this Gothic church is in the center of Vienna’s Innere Stadt (inner city).

We have been to a few churches, like the Duomo in Milan and the Sagrada di familia in Barcelona, – but the Stephansdom is remarkable for its dazzling roof with that crazy zigzag tiling and on the inside, psychedelic lighting !

The light effects gave the entrance to the church a surreal fantastical atmosphere. I would believe it if someone says that the photo above is a screenshot from a video game.

When we visited, a mass had just started. So we did not go further to explore.

It appeared that certain images in primary colors were projected onto the interiors while transparent panes of solid colors were installed in some of the windows in place of traditional stained glass. The projections were static.

The installation reminded me of Limelight – a now-closed nightclub that resided in a disused church in New York, on 6th Av around 20th street.

We assumed that this set up is a temporary exhibition. The colors also reminded me of the 60-70’s tie-dye colors associated with hippies and The Grateful Dead.

In the end, we were so distracted by the colorful patterns that the real sights were forgotten. Well, we will visit Vienna again – while the statutes will always be there, the projections will not.

Summer reading. Just finished Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland. It was a more emotional and engaging read than I expected.

The story is told in the voices of 4 related victims of a Columbine-style high school massacre, each with a different narrative and focus. Covering feelings and beliefs more than 1o years after the tragedy, it deals with God, grief, love, and redemption. Here are a few quotes:

“Sometimes I think God is like weather–you may not like the weather, but it has nothing to do with you. You just happen to be there. Deal with it.”

“I think God is how you deal with everything that’s out of your own control.”

This book is supposedly Coupland’s most critically acclaimed novel. I read the softback version with interview notes and background facts about the book (much like the bonus materials found in a DVD).

The book deals with emotions relating to the question: why bad things happen to good people? and contains prayers. The title of the book presumably came from this rant by one of the narrator:

“Hey Nostradamus! Did you predict that once we found the Promised Land we’d all start offing each other? And if you were such a good clairvoyant, why didn’t you just write things straight out? Thanks for nothing.”

Published in 2003, four years after the Columbine massacre, Coupland began writing in December 2001 after his book tour in the US post 9/11.  It is dark but moving, and completely devoid of nerd culture. This is a quote from the book on Coupland’s own site:

“I am aware that there is a world out there that functions without regard to me. There are wars and budgets and bombings and vast dimensions of wealth and greed and ambition and corruption. And yet I don’t feel a part of that world, and I wouldn’t know how to join if I tried.”

Another quote, this one voiced by a religious and hormonally-charged female teen narrator:

“Math class was x’s and y’s and I felt trapped inside a repeating dream, staring at these two evil little letters who tormented me with their constant need to balance and be equal with each other,” … “They should just get married and form a new letter together and put an end to all the nonsense. And then they should have kids.”

Like what one book reviewer said: “It’s hard to adequately convey the depth of feeling present in this book – you have to read it yourself to experience it.”

I have read a couple of his other books and posted about them here: Generation X (which made Coupland famous), and Eleanor Rigby.

Just across the street from  Café Drechsler (previous post) is Der Naschmarkt – a half-mile long strip of stalls and shops on top of a river – Vienna’s food market since the 16th century.

On every Saturday, there is a flea market at the far end of Naschmarkt – with Vienna being at the center of 19th century European culture – it must be a great place to shop. I left Vienna early but IT and Sue stayed on till the weekend – and according to IT who frequents flea markets, it was not as good as the one in Paris (after she spent three hours surveying the stalls).

Spices galore – there is a strong oriental influence in the market.

Asparagus (Spargel) was in season – so it was on all the menus and in the market – Marchfeld spargel is a fancy local variety.

While we were in Munich, our friend B had them in the most typical way – steamed, served with Hollandaise sauce and a little schnitzel.

A shop in the market – Gegenbauer sells artisan vinegar – marketing it like wine or perfume. While they allow tasting, I was not sure if I wanted to. The brewed products are highly flavored and apparently well-known worldwide.

It was written up in Japanese guide books as several pages were posted on the entrance. You can also buy their products online.  We really did not have time to properly investigate the products.

Ham anyone ? I have never seen a standalone meat slicer before.

The market has many restaurants but I wondered if they are open at night – doubt it  – but if it does, it could be just like the night markets in Asia.

The first time we walked through the market, we spotted some fish restaurants.  IT and Sue returned later in the week and had some oysters and a grilled seafood lunch (there was enough to feed at least 3 people !)

If you are interested in markets, check out our post on Hong Kong’s New Year flower market and  Amsterdam’s floating flower market.

The neighborhood we stayed in Vienna really has a lot of remarkable cafes. After our earlier posts on Café Sperl and Café Phil, we went to Café Drechsler on Linke Wienzeile, which was a 5-minutes walk from our rental on Gumpendorferstrasse. This cafe is located across the street from Naschmarkt (see next post).

Café Drechsler was renovated in 2007 by Conran & partners and billed itself as a modern Viennese kaffehaus. It has two decorative themes, if you can say that, modern and traditional.

The modern side is cool but not cold – neutral grey wooden panels with a narrow strip of mirror and the logo “CD” above the crimson banquets.

The other side is earthy and warmer in tone, has the same tables and Thonet-like chairs, beige banquets, plus a handsome marble coffee bar.

IT and Sue went there (I left Vienna already).

We later read that Café Drechsler is open 23 hours a day (which is not as common in Europe as it is in the US with 24-hour diner) and it serves clubbers and market workers from Naschmarkt in the early hours. I imagine that it would be a bit like the now-closed Florent in New York before the meatpacking district became trendy and then touristy.

Improvised light switch – nice touch.

(This is not a Gerald Richter painting)