Sunday, January 18, 2009

Trip to San Jose

My youngest son was recommended by his band teacher for an honor band at a conference for music educators. So off we went to San Jose for a day and a half. He played music for seven hours on Friday, while I wandered around the city and brought him food at intervals. I made two trips to Bijan bakery, which I had read about online, and savored every buttery crumb of my pastry and foamy drop of my cappuccino each time. The photo above is the new San Jose city hall. There are a lot of new buildings, pedestrian walkways, and public art in San Jose. I never knew the two 1968 Olympic athletes below were from SJ State.
On Saturday my son rehearsed some more, and then played a concert Saturday afternoon. The concert was stunning and the parents and the gathered music teachers gave the student musicians a standing ovation. When my son came back to our hotel on Friday night, he was humming the themes from the pieces they played, and kept describing his favorite moments in the Mahler excerpt. He told me he had never played in an ensemble where everyone was that good. The day after we came home, he had downloaded the entire Mahler symphony that the excerpt was from onto his mp3 player. I think the best thing about the whole experience for my son was that he discovered Mahler.
For me the best part was planning what I was going to do in San Jose for a whole day by myself. I had no one else to accommodate (except meeting my son for lunch). There's not a lot to see in San Jose, but after researching the options, I chose the Hakone Gardens and the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, both places devoted to aesthetic and spiritual contemplation.
The Hakone Gardens were completely empty at 10 am on a Friday, nothing was in bloom except one tiny pink blossom on a plum tree. The scene was wintry and austere; there's a word in Japanese to describe this quality but I don't remember what it is. It's not a big garden, but it exerts a powerful effect. It is a place that demands slowing down, looking closely, listening, smelling.
The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum took me back thousands of years in the planetarium show about the links between astrology, astronomy, and the Mithraic religion. The collection of Egyptian artifacts in the museum is surprisingly rich, presented with a slightly more spiritual focus than a traditional museum: how people worshiped, what they believed, how the concept of the divine and of beauty evolved through different periods. I loved the items from the Amarna period of Ahknaten.
At night my son and I went to the outdoor spa at the hotel. As I leaned back into the heated water, I looked up and saw the constellations I had just seen on the planetarium ceiling: Orion, Taurus, Perseus. They are no longer central to our lives; we hardly notice them now. But I was glad to look up and be able to see them that night. And after he read the info about San Jose that our hotel room provided, my son told me why I was able to see those constellations: the city of San Jose is one of the first cities to use yellow sodium street lights to cut down on light pollution (in part because of the nearby Lick Observatory).
By the time we left on Saturday, I was beginning to get a little fond of San Jose.

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