Caving In To Champagne

Near Epernay – Photo (c)Russell Johnson

The night they invented champagne
It’s plain as it can be
They thought of you and me
The night they invented champagne
They absolutely knew that all we’d want to do
Is fly to the sky on champagne

Lyrics from”Gigi” (1958) (Lyrics : Alan Jay Lerner / Music : Frederick Loewe)

Champagne has always been about celebration, like greeting the new year.

I had always enjoyed it, regarded it as a fizzy beverage, but never appreciated its subtleties. I had a binary rating system : zero to one…maybe a “meh” in between. I was long overdue for an attitude change.

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Berlin Walls: Photo Gallery

Wall Art, Berlin: “The Kiss” Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing East Germany President Erich Honecker

Photo: Russell Johnson

Tear down those walls. On this anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we might also be celebrating the elections in Myanmar which, if they hold, further chip away the wall that has divided that nation from the rest of the world.

But walls come down, walls go up: In Europe, blocking immigrants. In Israel, further dividing that nation. Along the US border, red meat for opportunistic politicians.

Thankfully, I think it is safe to say that the Berlin Wall is down for good. We photographed some of the art painted on what is left of it.

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Photo Gallery: Burmese Days: Sunrise on a New Myanmar

Temples of Bagan – Photo (c) Russell Johnson

I read George Orwell’s “Burmese Days “while traveling through Burma aka Myanmar on a filming assignment in the 1990s  The country looked then as if it hadn’t changed much since Orwell’s 1930s. Burma was oppressed, frozen in time, isolated from the rest of the world. That has gradually changed, largely due to social media, militant monks and the presence of Aung San Suu Kyi the country’s face of freedom.

Today, after a free election, the jackboots of the ruling generals (depicted on their currency as men with small heads and large hats) may have finally been lifted.

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Grove of the Old Trees

Photos (c) Russell Johnson

Occidental, California, a railroad stop in earlier times, is known for its family-style Italian restaurants. Negri’s has been a popular spot since 1943 and The Union Hotel claims to have been dishing lasagna since 1879. In nearby Bohemian Grove, the fat cats of industry and politics (mostly Republican men) frolic – sometimes naked – in the summer. In the 1940s, the Manhattan Project, which gave birth to the atomic bomb, was planned there.

But high above the clanking of forks and the clicking of tongues, is a verdant, meditative stand of old-growth redwoods called Grove of the Old Trees.

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Floating Through the Canyons of Chicago (Video)

The Chicago “Bean”

Chicago is no longer Carl Sandberg’s “Hog Butcher for the World, Stacker of Wheat” but is still, self-assuredly, “City of the Big Shoulders.” Forget Hong Kong, New York, London…Chicago rules in weight and substance. Its architects — Burnham, Sullivan, Wright, Gehry, dozens of others — gave birth to monuments: to chewing gum (Wrigley), merchants (Sears, Montgomery Wards) who shipped tractors and brassieres to little houses on the prairie, to massive egos (Trump) and architectural movements that swept the world. The skyscraper was invented here.

We are here on opening day of the very first Chicago Architectural Biennial, celebrating ideas from some 100 world architects from Chicago, itself, to Africa and Bali.

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