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Mission San Juan de Capistrano

If I were the praying kind, I’d say my prayers have been heard with last night’s Alabama election results. Maybe where they would have been uttered would have given them extra clout: at the oldest mission in California, San Juan de Capistrano.

That place has a colorful history, and is actually beautiful to visit, as half a million annual visitors can attest to, coming from everywhere to practically nowhere, a small spot along the Pacific coast. The grounds are beautifully maintained, the exhibits accessible, with quite a bit of attention given to the history of the Acjachemen, the native tribes who were converted in droves.

For the full recoding of the history, you can go here

The short version is one of religious zeal to make it happen (the name is no fluke: it honored an Italian “warrior” priest.) The mission was founded for a short year in 1776 until the missionaries were attacked and killed by the Indian tribes who knew a bad thing when they saw it… so many decimated by European disease in years to come, so many proselytized from the beginning.

But the friars returned, built a stone church, the only and oldest of its kind and tended the first vineyard in California with the Criollo grape. A 7.5 magnitude earthquake during Sunday services that killed everyone in it did not deter them, nor did the 1818 day in which French pirates came to shore and sacked the mission. Flooding came later and destroyed parts of the compound; eventually the Franciscans left and the place declined, only lately restored to some impressive historical monument.

Last weekend they celebrated the upcoming holiday with a creche in the ruins, baby Jesus looking suspiciously like a space alien.

I will perhaps return around my birthday; apparently March 19 is the day the swallows used to return en masse to nest in the eves of the ruins.

The American cliff swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) is a migratory bird that spends its winters in Goya, Argentina but makes the 6,000-mile (10,000 km) trek north to the warmer climes of the American Southwest in springtime. And perhaps they will feed on these bees…. IF they come back.

Climate change, build-up of the surrounding marshes, as well as repairs to the mission church have had an impact. But before we get all gloomy – we have a democratic senator from Alabama. Let’s take the joys when they come!




Orange County

Known for Disneyland and surfing, Orange County south of LA is often mistaken for the stereotype of liberal California. Which turns out to be wrong. It is one of the most conservative places in all of the US according to recent census data (altho it did vote for Clinton last year, the first time a Democrat won since 1936.) The survey  listed three Orange County cities as among America’s 25 most conservative, making it one of two counties in the United States containing more than one such city (Maricopa County, Arizona also had three cities on the list.) 

It is not only extremely white and wealthy but also home to large numbers of Latinos and Vietnamese, who have joined the ranks of the Republicans.

It is filled with gated compounds, some accessible by typing in a code at the entrance box, others only with gate guards who you have to explain yourself to. Some on top of the hills remind me of castles along the river Mosel.

The landscape around here is beautiful, arid,

until you hit one of the frequent golf courses;

the beaches are stunning. I hiked to Dana Point yesterday.

They are good for tree poses,

automatic garbage disposal,


and above all surfing.

They sport  the young.

The fast learners.

The pros.

The ex surfers.

And those advanced to owning a yacht.

Afterwards you can retire to one of the posh hotels, (here the Ritz Carlton) and rejuvenate at their Spa – see price list before you faint when presented the bill… facial, anyone?

And then you can be floored by the beauty of the sunsets.

Orange, indeed.  (This was Laguna Beach, Catalina Island in the background.)



Hard to keep up the cheer after this week’s news, from California to Israel, but I am determined.

For the last installment on cemeteries, then, we’ll look at who they provide sanctuary to beyond the obvious.

Well, they are veritable nature preserves; when you have large green spaces in urban settings the birds will come.

Particularly if you provide appropriate bird houses…

If the birds come, the cats come.

If the cats come, the fleas come – or their cousins, as the case may be, lots of little critters.

And finally, this is where I will photograph the next round of birds and cemeteries, 2 weeks from now:

Now there’s a reason to be cheerful!


Some of the things that are left behind in cemeteries have a heart breaking quality. Others are fan fare. And some just lift your spirits because they demonstrate the strength of human faith and willpower.

In the first category was this little toy I saw in an Italian cemetery.

The next photograph belongs to the second category – there are so many pilgrims to so many graves of famous people, this being a good example of devotion.

The third category is amply visible in New Orleans. St. Roche is not only a beautiful place with elevated crypts to prevent damage from flooding; it also has a chapel where many people leave evidence that they were delivered from their afflictions with the help of the Saint. You wonder about the “Thank you, my leg grew back” but rejoice at the many “Thank you’s, I no longer need crutches.”




And then there are the words that linger (this one from Cambridge,MA) echoing my very thoughts since I had a difficult time finding the grave of the “real,” (behaviorist) B.F. Skinner.

And the plain strange.

I like to reassure myself  that a sense of humor gets us through the gravest situations. I even laugh at cheesy cemetery jokes.


Top 5 Cemetery Jokes

Jewish burials


As far as I know – and correct me if I am wrong – an orthodox Jew cannot be buried in the same cemetery as non-Jewish neighbors. She cannot be cremated, and her intact body needs to lie in the ground with a mound of earth on top. His family can visit during strictly proscribed dates, but is encouraged to avoid cemeteries and turn back to (the) living after a relatively short time. If you are a Cohen, one of the priest class, you are not allowed to enter cemeteries unless it is for the funeral and unveiling of immediate family; the place is deemed unclean. Generally you are not supposed to visit cemeteries on holidays that celebrate something; you can go on holidays that are solemn. The custom of leaving small stones on the grave sites is meant to give voice to the fact that the dead are not forgotten.


There are exclusively Jewish cemeteries in the countries I’ve visited. But I have not found a non-Jewish cemetery in Europe that did not have both Jewish and Christian graves, even in Poland; sometimes they are in specified areas still on the same grounds, but often they simply intermingle.  Sometimes the grave stones are not even written in Hebrew. Often the Jewish graves are much more closely spaced since not much land was sold to them, but sometimes they are just as opulent as the rest, crypts and all.


I have always thought that this was one of the facts, just like going to school together or serving in the military together that made so many Jews in Germany dead certain that they were not endangered until it was too late – they felt no different, really, from those around them, particularly if they did not lead religious lives.


Cemeteries in Germany, particularly in rural areas, remind me of communal gardens. You see flocks of people puttering around, weeding, sweeping, watering, on a regular basis. As in, “It’s Saturday, we need to go rake the leaves…” There are benches to rest and contemplate – and gossip. There is always a flower shop close by that sells season-appropriate plants, and so in fall the place sprouts mums, in spring pansies, and in early summer the planted rhodies bloom. I can just imagine how it comforts you during the process of dying to think of these regular visits by so many of the people you know, bustling around in a place so familiar to you. There is something to be said for these traditions; they, of course, also require that people stay in one place, which has become so rare in our world.

And, of course, if you have to travel by boat to visit the graves, like in Venice, it becomes harder. Cemetery islands were necessary both to prevent graves from drowning and spread of disease from contaminated water.


Hardest of all, though, are for me the battlefields – graveyards of their own kind, as in this photograph from Antietam.


And in case you wondered, yes, Jews fought in the Civil War as in so many others, more than 10.000 of them, on both sides (2:1 for the Union). Anti-semitic forces have always claimed that Jews shirked their patriotic duty in this war – current historical research puts the lie to rest.




Another word you really don’t need to cram into your brain – but it is a term for people like me, who like to visit cemeteries around the world. We are called Taphophiles and defined as “Tombstone tourist (otherwise known as a “cemetery enthusiast”, “cemetery tourist”, “grave hunter”, “graver”, who has a passion for and enjoyment of cemeteries, epitaphs, gravestone rubbing, photography, art, and history of (famous) deaths.”  The term originates in the Greek word taphos, tomb or funeral

My first encounter with graves outside of the cemetery visits for family was when I was maybe 12 years old and shipped off to Cambridge, England during Spring Break to improve my language. I was hosted by an academic family who had a daughter aged 16 or so who was supposed to show me the sights. She dragged me into old cathedrals and churches, supplied me with paper and wax for some serious brass rubbing – and then absconded to see her boyfriend with threats to my life if I would tell.  Hours later, shivering with cold and bony knees covered with black and blues, I would have these brass rubbings of the commemorative plates on the stone floors, showing bishops or whatever, and a sense of tough independence – yes, I could do this, and enjoy the solemn quiet in these places.

These days, it is of course photography that beckons, of a world that lies between our own presence and some unknown state thereafter, satisfyingly crumbling and rusting and decaying – and beautiful –  to serve as a reminder that there is a certain trajectory and we better enjoy and appreciate what we have now. And look forward to peace and quite thereafter.

Yesterday I showed porcelain and terra-cotta flowers; today is devoted to wrought iron and other iron works, all from three different cemeteries in Paris. They are so insanely large that they actually have street signs and maps to guide you around….




Should I have unlimited time and funds per some miracle, I’d take the attached guide and explore other places as well, although I’ve already seen several of the 199 listed….

A Guide to the World’s Most Intriguing Cemeteries

Nature’s Brush

About a hundred years ago a lover used to call me the feuerrote Friderike, the fiery red Friderike. It was never resolved if he alluded to my politics or my emotional temperament. (He ended up in Bruxelles working as an administrative lawyer for the EU and raising five kids, too busy to contemplate past flights of fancy.)

Just as color can describe a person in some ways, color can also define a landscape. In the case of the area in and around San Diego, I feel it’s best labeled a golden ochre. The drought gilds the flora, the mineral composition colors the sandstone and the beaches, and some of the architecture follows suit.

A spectacular example are the sandstone cliffs at Torrey Pine State Park (a 2000 acre natural wonder,) north of La Jolla. The rocks are from the middle Eocene, 48.000.000 years old and continuously crumbling.

(Go there soon, if you are interested; once all the ice melts in Antarctica and Greenland these cliffs will be swallowed by the see rising some 300 ft…… )

Erosion of these cliffs is also a problem; it is caused by running water after storms, and rainwater which is slightly acidic by dissolving carbon dioxide from the air, then dissolving cementing minerals from the rocks.

I photographed the cliffs during overcast evening hours – I can only imagine how they look when lit by a low sun.

Further inland the gold is picked up by the desiccated trees, a kind of wistful beauty and a reminder to conserve water which seems not too high a priority on San Diego’s agenda if you look at the golf course lawns and city parks.

But then who am I to criticize, having watered my own garden continuously throughout this dry summer. Just trying to preserve the vibrant color of my roses while my own fiery red is slowly fading.

And this concludes our excursion to San Diego.

Sailing away

When my father was young and wild, cooped up in a small town in Lower Saxony, sweeping and cleaning the lab of a scientist who eventually spotted his talent for math and chemistry, he dreamt of running away and hiring onto a tall ship sailing the world. Or so the story went. I can fully empathize with that sentiment, particularly while sweeping and cleaning the kitchen not being discovered by anyone at all.

Not that I would realistically survive a sea journey that requires climbing ropes and eating bread with maggots in it. But a woman can dream. Mostly she dreams at the movies, particularly when they are directed by Peter Weir and sport an all male crew headed by Russel Crow. I am of course talking about Masters and Commanders, quite the romp a decade or so ago.

That movie had not just mesmerizing visuals but also one of the best musical scores imaginable.

The score includes an assortment of baroque and classical music, notably the first of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007, played by Yo-Yo Ma; the Strassburg theme in the third movement of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s Violin Concerto No. 3; the third (Adagio) movement of Corelli‘s Christmas Concerto (Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8); and a recurring rendition of Ralph Vaughan Williams‘s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. The music played on cello before the end is Luigi Boccherini‘s String Quintet (Quintettino) for 2 violins, viola & 2 cellos in C major (“Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid“), G. 324 Op. Quite the soundtrack for pretty boys chasing ships across the seven seas with big cannons!

Attached is one of the sea chanties from the 18oo British Navy that they sing in the film – some good scenes at sea there as well; chanties were usually a call and response song that made working in rhythm easier and distracted from the bloodblister- inducing tugging at the ropes. Singing after work was rather the exception.

How is all this connected to San Diego, my topic for this week, you ask? Filming actually took place at sea on board of the Rose (a reproduction of the 18th-century post ship HMS Rose), while other scenes were shot on a full-scale replica mounted on gimbals in a large tank. The Rose is now renamed HMS Surprise in honor of her movie role; she is moored at the San Diego Maritime Museum, serves as a dockside attraction (and in September 2007 was returned to sailing status) and was visited by yours truly this weekend.

The Maritime Museum is a photographer’s dream. You can walk aboard these antique ships and see and record every detail while the wind whips you and the seagulls eye you as a potential target.

Not the most confidence-inspiring life preserver…..

Special place in my heart is reserved for the Russian submarine that incongruously joins all the tall ships. Someone with a sense of humor designed the signs……

How many of the millions of tourist walking through there will recognize товарищ Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov?

The Sights of San Diego

I spent a terrific weekend in San Diego. Will report on several aspects throughout the week, starting today with what I picked up on the street.

I learned that furry foot wear is in.

As are other interesting fashion choices in sunny California

People dress regardless of season

or Century

and headgear is innovative

Some people spend their time doing Selfies ( a lot of them, truth be told,)

some engage in acrobatics

and some just try to chill

They all, however, seem to like plastic on their ships.

Lest the sunny pictures fool you – San Diego is a military town, with over 80.000 military personnel (navy and marines) in the area, and billions of $$ funding through the Department of Defense. The harbor offers museum tours on war ships, but has the real things, ready for action, there as well. I did not photograph them this time around, spent time with antique boats instead, which I will show tomorrow.



In case the Bad Hombres meme still rings in your ears, here is a closer look at our neighbors to the South. Can you spot a difference? I can’t.




They walk the dogs,


they try to decipher the shopping list,

they demonstrate,

they kiss,

they do their work,

they play,

the make careful fashion choices,



They seek help,


they read,

they snack,

they talk to their neighbors,

they do the laundry,


they peddle their wares,


they send their kids to camp,

or take them for a walk,


or do some serious bonding,

They wait for the bus,

or they wait in traffic,

and above all, they, like us, are glued to their phone…..




And that was it for the foto Mexico report. On to new things next week!


To spare you Trumpsky’s pronunciation, here is a musical recap