Jan Johnson's Panama Hotel

  — Ideas I follow

Wall art, original to the hotel, from back when the location was Japan town, before the war. The faucets are also original.

I stumbled across a talk given by Jan Johnson, the owner of the Panama Hotel in Seattle. She shares stories about the hotel, built in 1910. From listening, I felt several themes come through, particularly the idea that technological progress comes at a cost. Along with the elegant and simple interiors, there were four main ideas I enjoyed learning and hearing about.

I. Architecture back in the day was designed to bring in natural light. Although revolutionary today, it was practical back then, the whole point of building design.

"this is all natural daylight... there were two lightbulbs in the building. Everything has natural daylight from outside, constantly."

I love the simplicity, a wooden framed mirror with no decor, what else do you need? All the bedding is made from cotton--another reason I can't get enough of this hotel.

Jan gives a virtual tour of the building through images. So many rooms were well lit from the windows.

Theere are many houses built in the past half century that are dark, designed with electric light in mind. After decades of living in dark homes, we finally recognize how artificial lighting can never replace natural light.

II. Minimal living was the standard mode of living back in the day.

"back to those wheels on the suitcases. People didn't travel with those clothes. They had their dress clothes, their day clothes, their work clothes, you know you can pretty much carry it easily."

It's funny how much there's this minimal lifestyle movement today. Back then, there wasn't such a movement, everyone just had less.

I didn't know by how much, though.

"No closets in the whole building."

No one needed them, despite carrying work, day and dress clothing. When I go to flea markets, I'm always amazed at the luggage. How did people carry such clunky suitcases?

I've even purchased vintage luggage and tried to travel with it. Total nightmare. But it was because I carried things that were much heavier. Most of my items would never have been carried back in the day. (Electric toothbrush, camera, batteries...) The contents had to have been lighter.

The hotel started seeing wear on the rugs once rolling luggage cases were introduced. With wheels, you could carry more than what you could by hand. The weight and the wheels wore down the rugs. The rugs never wore down during the decades prior to wheely luggage.

Isn't technology about accomplishing more with less? In this case, it seems technology enabled us to carry more, but then we needed even more to travel.

I wonder why bath houses aren't popular today? Maybe because we all have our own baths?

III. The location of a place gives a place its historical significance, not the items or parts inside.

"He wants everything"

"Well I thought, oh no. When I was young, I took a little holiday from Rome and I went over to Athens to see the Greek ruins only to find out they were in London. And I thought, how did that happen? That doesn't make any sense at all. So this wasn't going to happen to the Panama hotel in Seattle. Because this was its history. This is where you go and you feel it."

A Los Angeles museum became interested in the bath house in the basement of the Panama Hotel. Like most museums, they wanted to transport the entire room away from the original location.

Sublime Japanese aesthetic in this bath house.

It's funny how the essence of a historical treasure is isolated to the objects within the space: the tiles, lockers, signage...but not the place--the building, the street and neighborhood, the details that make the place historically significant. There's this non-holistic method of 'preserving' history that seems so out of context.

IV. Harmonious work provides well-being. It may keep you fit while allowing you to pay the bills.

"I'm going up and down these stairs all day long. I don't go to the gym anymore."

"People pay me, right, and I get my work done. Some of you probably pay to go to the gym...I get my work done and get paid."

I wrote about sustainable fitness recently when I thought perhaps there are chores that help you stay fit while getting things done. Jan talks about how often she runs up and down the stairs in a given day. In a similar way, finding work that provides in both health and wealth is also a form of doing more with less.

One of the most fascinating videos I've seen in a while.

All photos from Olson Kundig's Monday Morning Speaker Series.


Hiking to a Castle

  — European country

Rolling fields from a trip I made a couple summers ago

All the good spots have been taken. When you hike in Europe, if there's a scenic view, a king or two has already made a home there.

Of course, I was wondering where the princess lived. Contrary to popular belief, not all castles have princesses.

Returning to Europe, I realized how different the European country looked. There was less structure and so many villages clustered around churches.

US farmland is rigidly cut, the landscape looks like a perfectly flat grid. Very 2D.

The geology of the Czech region I explored

What a great place to set your home...

The European countryside, however, is multidimensional. Feudalism didn't have the technology to mold the lands perfectly flat. Perhaps farmers figured out how to grow efficiently without flattening out the land completely. There are so many rolling fields and charming farm houses.

Pretty fortified. I really admired the stone walls.

Hiking in the Czech Republic, I got a sense of what it was like back in the feudal era. From the castle I visited, I could see the farmlands past the forests. Evidence of fiefdoms, Europe is unlike anything back home.


Creature Non-conforming

  — I'm trapped in a woman's body

How do I fit all of myself into this body?

'You'd let a stranger like me into your house?'

I was stopping by late at an estate sale. I came across it on a walk in the neighborhood and decided to pop in right before closing time.

'Why aren't they keeping their eyes on me as I wander their home?'

I was uncomfortable with them not being suspicious of me. 'I shouldn't have access like this. Why are they being nice to me? Why are they talking to me like I'm a nice human being?'

I am an ogre trapped in a woman's body.

When I look out from my eyes, I identify as a creature with greenish gray skin, yellow eyes and horns, who has at least 7 folds of fat, all dripping in sweat, hot from overlapping each other.

I don't feel bad about being such a creature. That's simply who I am. But then I look at a mirror or a photo--who is that?! Seeing a woman is disorienting.

There might be some settling feeling in having your body look exactly how you feel.

But never had I thought, perhaps people may be nice to ogresses.


Remember to Lose

  — A weekly 'to-do'

I have a huge collection of random photos

I told myself that I have to start losing things. Since I'm going to lose everything, I'd like to start getting used to it.

Yesterday, I got rid of some books. I don't have much else to lose, maybe some clothes? But those are easy to lose. What I tend to cling to are my photos.

So, I'm going to start deleting them.

I have photos from ten years ago. Many of them captured moments that didn't mean much. I'm sure they'll mean a lot more later in life, but I don't want my memories to be confined to when the camera was there.

Memories morph with or without proof. I'm just afraid that with the aid of photo, I might have an inclination to think things were a particular way through 'evidence'.

I was eating a donut while taking photos of this building. On a sugar high, I thought the weathered walls and the concrete home was interesting, but I wasn't patient enough to find a way to capture the dimensions of the entire building. Why could I not have been more patient?

My photos don't necessarily represent events in front of the camera. I often see the person looking through the lens.

And I don't want to remember being her.

This past version I recall doesn't do me justice. Most often, I think of her as silly, unpractical, lost... But she also had virtues that weren't so bad. She was far more open to different possibilities and she had the energy to do a lot more in a day.

Every time I look at my old photos, I'm relieved that period of my life is over. More and more, I don't want an option to look back.


Spring Cleaning

  — Health advice that might have backfired

Velvety buds I spotted yesterday

Today, I cleaned my bedroom for the first time in a long while.

I'm allergic to my home. I can't figure out what I'm allergic to, but since October, my eyes have been itchy. When we left for the states, I stopped having allergies. Now we're back and every morning I wake up with itchy eyes.

While cleaning, I pulled out some old books that I picked up from the street. Maybe there's something dirty, although I've had them for a while. They should be harmless but I put them in the hall to give away.

While wiping all the surfaces, I started thinking: maybe it's the detergent?

In October, I decided to switch our detergent. We were using one of the most well known brands, a brand that seems like it'd be owned by a multi-national conglomerate. We switched to using a smaller brand that sells itself as ecologically conscious, more hypo allergenic. It's even got a frog for a logo.

I thought the switch would lessen potentially harmful chemicals at home, but that's exactly when my allergies started.

Last moment to catch wintery plants

This afternoon, I got some of that global conglomerate detergent and I washed my sheets. They even smell better.

Maybe the global conglomerate has more money to spend on animal testing so their consumers don't end up allergic?

I hope that's the answer.


Mansion Party

  — A different style of 'going out'

No paint! Beautiful wood and brick everywhere.

I first heard of 'mansion parties' back in 2012, right before I first arrived in Berlin. Imagine a run down building converted into a club--but there are no crowds, no waiting at the bar, no waiting for the bathrooms, plenty of space to sit, talk, sleep and eat...and excellent music.

Finally, after 5 years, I got to go to one. I'm the last person in the world who'd get invited to something like this. It was a total treat.

The mansion is located in rural Poland. There's a wall in front, along with a few barns and in the back, a pond, formerly a '60's swimming pool.

The video takes you inside

Inside, the walls are exposed brick and there were plenty of raw wood surfaces. The owners are behind some of the most legendary Berlin clubs. Perhaps the style that they're so good at is really theirs--it just got popularized to the point that it's considered 'Berlin' style. Today, you can find cafes and bars attempting to emulate the same aesthetic.

My husband and I spent some time on the front porch and examined the door. There were at least 7 different colors, so many layers of chipping revealed previous layers of paint. The foyer had many worn architectural details--it seemed whatever could be kept remained, specifically for the worn and weathered beauty. It can't be replicated.

In the video, I share the thoughts I had whilst there. They're not related to the party. The music was great and I enjoyed dancing. However, I was deeply moved by the interior and exterior spaces.


The Nonsense of Sense

  — Being okay with not knowing

A few ideas that bubbled up today...

My dad is into Chinese astrology so earlier this year, he was told that he'd have a terrible year with lots of problems. As long as he overcame the problems, everything would go well.

That seems to make sense, solve your problems and things go well. Except, the same sort of prophecy has happened before multiple times in years past. Solving problems never got him 'life changingly' far. It seems to get him in line for more problems.

If I ask him, he'd describe the situation like climbing up the mountain. Each time, he faces new challenges, everything is headed upwards towards the pinnacle rather than a cyclical rat race. If I did really ask him, he'd turn the whole thing on me saying how I benefited even if the strategy may not have been optimal.

I used to be bothered when people didn't make sense. 'Don't you see! What you're feeling or thinking is not right!' I have no clue why I had so much interest in 'correcting' people. Wouldn't I have benefited more from looking at my own inconsistencies?

How far I've come in being able to let something that 'didn't make sense' go! It's worthy of an anniversary. Around 2012, I started to realize for the first time: no one is suppose to make any sense. And suddenly, my life became significantly better.

The mind can go all sorts of ways in justifying something. It's easy to make sense of anything. But I wish they had told me no one made sense back in kindergarten.

Things that make sense had control over me. As a five year old, when my skin near my nails peeled and started to bleed, my mom explained it was because I didn't eat enough broccoli. That made sense, because broccoli is 'healthy'. I settled with these facts and ate more broccoli. When I didn't know what to study in college, I chose economics. That made sense because the school I went to was known for economics. Using ideas that make sense works well: I'll believe you, trust you, do whatever you say--even stop asking questions--as long as you make sense.

Things that don't make sense require a leap of faith, but it's possible something that makes no sense has the same chances for a good outcome as the things that make sense.


Decorative Art

  — Are you my passion?

A drawing I've been working on for a few days, finally done.

When I went to Austin, I couldn't get enough of the architectural details. I don't frequent the South, so front porches were exciting to see. Many of the old homes in the city had iron fences with decorative ironwork. Each gate had an emblem, often a lone star, displayed in the center.

While traveling in Texas, I looked up many websites on what to do. No one mentioned how cool the design was. From my point of view, the motifs on residential buildings were the main attraction.

I'm always amazed by details I find on buildings all across Europe. So many different shapes and motifs show up on windows and doors. No one pays much attention to them. They're too 'everyday' for locals to take notice. However, the designs are extraordinary for someone who grew up in the suburbs of the US.

Decorative details: Austin versus Berlin

I started drawing because I wanted to replicate some of the details I come across. It's a way to get intimate with designs I admire.

Despite not knowing how to draw, I am happy spending hours understanding angles and proportions, like I did with the door above. 'Drawing' this picture was more like putting together a puzzle. It's not the same activity as when an artist sketches. My process involves sketching, erasing and re-sketching small portions multiple times. I try and fail again and again until I'm able to form the details I'm inspired by.

I don't have patience for much, but surprisingly, when it comes to sketching details by hand, I have plenty.

Maybe it's a sign? When work doesn't feel like work but it's clearly work? There's also nothing else that gets me as excited. Perhaps that's why I can spend hours at a thrift store, looking at vintage patterns or bizarre arrangements.

I just assumed everyone else was as much into it. Why wouldn't they be?


Food for Thought

  — My new vlog series

A scene from Lunch at an Italian Grocer

I published three videos recently. Having a sense that my days in Berlin are numbered, I feel an urgency to capture the 'everyday'.

While The Art of Cooking While Jet-lagged is mostly about lasagna making at 3 am, there are clips from a visit to my grocery store to pick up remaining ingredients.

Welcome to my kitchen...

Pseudo Buttermilk Pancakes is entirely shot at home. It captures what weekend mornings are like, when I'm antsy to get the day started but I'm alone in being awake since my husband is usually sleeping in.

In Lunch at an Italian Grocer, my husband and I walk five minutes to a specialty Italian shop, where they serve lunch in the back. It's a very cozy space and you can get a sense of the ambiance from the background conversations in German and Italian.

Since I'm still new to the video format, there's a lot I'm picking up in putting these videos together. The main thing I'm working on is being more natural in front of the camera. I'm actually putting a lot of energy into relaxing.


Contingent Happiness

  — Not even close to the real thing

A morsel of wisdom I picked up from the beach...

Yesterday I realized how much happiness is free from contingencies.

I watched the first four episodes of Big Little Lies where there are several million dollar beach front homes. Many scenes involve someone looking out at the water--exactly what you'd imagine if you were 'lucky' enough to have a million dollar mansion.

Looking onto the water is a specific activity... If I were to feel happy in these homes, I'd have to spend time staring at the water. There's work involved--is it really happiness if I have to live out the details in a specific way? The characters themselves were having a hard time enjoying their lives because they were spending energy living out specifics: appearing as a good mother, appearing as if in a perfect relationship or appearing as a successful career woman. 'Enjoying' a preferred lifestyle seems to require some sort of enslavement.

I was reminded of my trip to the beach last month. I wanted to see the ocean so badly because I hadn't seen it in a while. On our four hour drive over, I imagined a nice stroll on the beach with my husband.

When we got there, it wasn't anything outside what I expected. It was a nice beach, but I felt obligated to enjoy it in the way I anticipated. 'Let's walk on the beach and ENJOY!'

After sometime, I realized how hard I was working and decided to turn around. We drove to a trail more inland. I didn't know what the hike was going to look like. There were no ideas on how it should be enjoyed so I ended up enjoying it a lot more.

It's funny because with desire, there's this idea that I know what it's like. I know enough of the specifics that I can desire something. When I'm on my way towards it, during my anticipation, I'm living through the good parts in my mind. When I get there, I've already been there. Do I have to relive it in physical form? Such a chore.