Over Memorial Day Weekend I visited Windhover, the new spiritual and contemplation center on Stanford University’s campus, a minimalist architectural style suggesting Zen and personal renewal. Windhover takes its name from the series of five giant paintings by the internationally renowned Bay Area figurative artist Nathan Oliveira (1928-2010) who, in turn, named this series after Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poem (1877).
Windhover provides an extraordinarily beautiful and serene venue for quiet reflection exclusively for use by Stanford students, faculty, and staff. If you know someone at Stanford, you can walk into Windhover, a calmly powerful testimony to the necessity for meditation and reflection in daily life. [For the general public, there are docent-led tours every Tuesday at 10:00 am.]
As I approached the landscaped grounds I saw a granite labyrinth, a small Zen stone garden, a small grove of ginkgo trees, and a reflecting pool. Floor-to-ceiling windows suggest a sense of a museum, brilliantly combining art, spirituality, and nature. To the right as I stepped through the front doors, was a room for borrowing a zafu (Zen meditation pillow). The first painting one sees is Big Red, a large abstract oil painting of a kestrel (aka “windhover”) flying in a red sky. Oliveira’s other paintings include the magnificent Diptych, White Wing and Sun Radiating in either earth tones or sunshine yellow.
Windhover is an elegant and understated refuge in nature, its simple lines an eloquent design for meditative thought.
If you’re visiting campus, you could spend a wonderful day taking the Tuesday morning tour, followed by a walk around the Rodin Sculpture Garden, and then a hike up to the Dish in the Stanford Foothills. If weather proved uncooperative, the Cantor Center for Visual Arts and the Stanford Museum would be time well spent.
We ate at the fabulous Aldea, a Michelin star restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood, and for those of you who are going to be in New York City, this is our new gourmet discovery. Aldea means “village” or “hamlet” in Spanish and is a blend of Portuguese and Spanish small plates. Chef Mendes’s menu is eclectic, highly original, and mixes a smattering of popular Asian ingredients with his Iberian-influenced dishes.
The Aldea restaurant menu includes a variety of shellfish, various preparations of salt-cod, or bacalao, rice dishes and Iberian-cured hams and suckling pig. One of the knockout appetizers is a sea urchin toast with cauliflower puree and shiso leaves. It seems like a strange combination to anyone who is used to uni and shiso as sushi items only. But the combination of the salty creaminess of the sea urchin with the starchy vegetable cream of the cauliflower is sublime, with a splash of lime and sprinkle of mustard seed. Definitely one of our favorites! We followed it with deliciously fresh Irish point oysters mignonette. The next small plate, a citrus and radish salad, looked quite beautiful with multicolored radishes, marcona almonds, goat cheese, and trout caviar. But the textures were missing something—maybe a bit of frisée and more zest, perhaps a bit of kumquat? Next we shared a plate of charred sardines with hazelnut, benne seed, orange zest before the main entrée of Suckling pig and Manila clams, with pea sprouts, preserved lemons, burnt bread (crisped up with butter and garlic)– savory and cooked to perfection. Because we could not think of ending with a rich dessert, however tempting, we ordered the artisanal cheese plate (rather expensive at $19 for a small plate): Valdeon (Cow and Goat, Asturias, Spain), Zimbro (raw sheep, Portugal), served with quince marmalade &cranberry-walnut toast. The cranberry-walnut toast was to delicious we asked for some more take back to our hotel. Dark chocolate truffles were complimentary! The bottle of 2012 Barranco Oscuro Brut from Andalucia, Spain was dry and wonderful, and reasonably priced.
Aldea is a keeper—beautifully prepared food that would be difficult to find anywhere else. The surroundings and décor are as aesthetically pleasing as the food is. The double-height ceiling invites you in, with a freestanding bar framed in concrete and illuminated wood paneling. We sat at the chef’s bar so we could observe the culinary theater in the small kitchen and watch the preparation of the secret ingredients of each dish by a staff of at least ten. We will be back to this restaurant and hope that many of you will also have a chance to experience this delightful foodie’s paradise.
Two weeks ago we saw “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, the theatrical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s 2003 young adult novel on Broadway, after it had become a record-breaking sensation in London, and now has been nominated for six Tony awards, including Best Play, Best Leading Actor in a Play (the phenomenal Alexander Sharp in his first Broadway play after graduating from Juilliard) and Best Direction (Marianne Elliot).
The main character is fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone, who has an extraordinary mathematical brain but has difficulties with every day life, probably due to Asperger syndrome or another form of autism. When he discovers his neighbor’s dog dead, pitchfork standing straight up in his body, he sets out to solve the mystery but begins a journey that will change his life forever. “Math wasn’t like life because in life there are no straightforward answers at the end,” he observes.
Christopher’s brain is wired for abstract numbers in a way that allows him to see the solar system — indeed, the whole universe — with great clarity. What he can’t relate to is the world of human beings. He attends a school for children with special needs, and is absorbed in thoughts about prime numbers, beautifully rendered on stage as an electronic grid with unnerving convulsions of light and sound and visual projectiles signaling Christopher’s off-kilter state of mind in numerical forms.
The only way Christopher manages to survive in this world is by drawing on his mathematical skills. He is never more endearing than when he’s applying these skills to a problem, or explaining to the vicar why there is no heaven and no God. The fifteen-year-old’s efforts to overcome his fears and function in the world outside his own mind puts him in terrifying situations. The stage design pulls out all stops and has him navigating an escalator in mid-air, or striding sideways halfway up a wall. We, the audience, live for such moments. Called “one of the most fully immersive shows ever to wallop Broadway” by The New York Times, “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” is a theatrical phenomenon that simply must not be missed. If this play does not come to a theater near you, read the book—a classic everyone should enjoy!
Calling all cat-lovers! Recently we had the delightful experience of seeing the “Life of Cats” exhibit at the New York branch of the Japan Society. It’s a beautiful show, greeting us with a custom-made wooden gateway as a portal into the world of cats and the almost irrational, inordinate affection some of us bestow on these sentient beings. The “beckoning cat for good luck” (maneki neko) with its raised right paw is suggested by this amazing gate. The legend is that Japanese merchants carrying Buddhist sutras across the seas from China also brought a few cats who purred their way into the hearts of Japanese and their culture. Ninety prints on loan from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation together with other works borrowed from U.S. collections total 120 artworks of Japan’s love affair with our feline furry friends. “Hello Kitty” is just a recent reincarnation.
The ukiyo-e and paintings range from realistic — a beautiful white kitty gazing out a window at rice paddies and Mr. Fuji (created by Utagawa Hiroshige in 1857) — to the fantastic — an entire village of cats jumping rope, playing taiko drums, and walking on stilts. The fine-gauge carving of the fur almost looks fuzzy.
The strangeness and aloof nature of cats are also accentuated in this artform: elegant, but also Buddhist in equanimity and enlightenment, sometimes even depicted as humans with cat faces for a humorous, rather clown-like interpretation.
There are also cats who bring bad karma to those who are not solicitous of the correct behavior towards others. The majority of times, however, cats are believed to detect evil spirits or be mischievous like the fox.
It’s a beautiful show, greeting us with a custom-made wooden gateway as a portal into the world of cats and the almost irrational, inordinate affection some of us bestow on these sentient beings. If you have a chance, go visit “The Life of Cats” at the Japan Society in New York before June 7, or visit the website for a sampling of the artwork.