2013: The List
Best hotel: The Hotel-Restaurant Arce in St. Etienne-de-Baigorry, a small town in the French Basque country. It faces a trout-stocked river, is located at the edge of a picturesque village, and is owned and run by a chef and his family, so the food is excellent.
Best building: For me, that would be Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao. I was skeptical, but it won me over immediately. It's well scaled and wonderfully located. The Serra gallery is remarkable (as is the work itself). Gehry saves the design moves for the public space and lets the galleries be galleries.
Best city: Bordeaux, much to my surprise. It's walkable, beautiful, and calmer than Paris (where I stayed in the Latin Quarter, possibly an error). I want to go back. One night, we ate at a restaurant called La Tupina that features old-style regional cuisine and was really good in all respects.
Best museum (and/or exhibit): Not the Guggenheim Bilbao, the Serra wing notwithstanding. There was a Tapies show in the making, which might have swayed my opinion, but the show on offer wasn't very good. I loved the Drawing Center in Manhattan's Soho, a very good place to look at drawings closely. I went there last winter. But the highlight of the year was the Diebenkorn show at the de Young in SF. Not one bad painting and more than a few that were breathtaking.
Best book(s): My reading is so slow and sporadic, but I've enjoyed two collections of literary reviews by J.M. Coetzee. I guess that "literary review" is the right term - he's writing about writers, and he does it very well. Last year, I read most of his autobiographical "Scenes from Provincial Life," also terrific.
Best live music: The Musicians of Marlboro, a string quartet that played in Berkeley in September - a traveling circus of a group, organized to give young musicians opportunities to perform. They were amazing. If they tour near you, hear them! A perennial runner-up is Davitt Moroney, whose annotated concerts are not-to-be-missed occasions (although I sat one out last spring because I was in a bad mood).
Best recorded music: I've become a huge fan of Angela Hewitt. I listen to her "Well-Tempered Clavier" constantly, and have been slowly acquiring her other work, including Bach, Beethoven, Handel, and Haydn.
Best magazine or journal: It's still "The London Review of Books." (I like "The Paris Review" less since the new editor took non-fiction off the table.) In (on?) design, I like "Arcade," "Architectural Review," "Architect's Journal," and "Architect's Newspaper." Special points to Christine Murray of "AJ" for her support of women in architecture. (Not great here, much worse in England.) Regarding the principal US design mags, "Architectural Record" and "Contract" are both better than they were, and "Architect" is less hobbled by its AIA connection than I expected. The English ones still have the edge (by a substantial margin) and "Architect's Newspaper," especially under Sam Lubell's West Coast editorship, is almost the only US design mag running real criticism. Much credit! (I also read "Abitare" and "Domus," both consistently very good. I'm glad to see "L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui" is still in print. Recently, I started reading "Axis" again. When I can find it, I like "A+U." There are many others that I admire but don't encounter very often.)
Best criticism: On the daily newspaper front, Michael Kimmelman is excellent and Christopher Hawthorne is often very good. There are a ton of good people writing mostly online (or that's where I read them): Alexandra Lange, Allison Arieff, Alissa Walker, Mimi Zeiger, and Fred Bernstein, for instance. On other fronts, I really miss Frank Rich's weekly political critiques. His "New York" pieces aren't as venomous and lack the excitment of the moment that makes political writing worth reading.
Best bookstore: Three-way tie: City Lights (SF), and University Press Books and William Stout Solano (Berkeley). I appreciate Pegasus, Pendragon, and Moe's (Berkeley) for being here. Others have recommended Turtle Island (Berkeley), but I still haven't been there. (The remnant sale at Serendipity was the single most depressing event I attended this year. The bookseller Peter Miller remarked that digital books may finally separate the wheat from the chaff. I hope so.)
Best object: Probably the iPad Air, because picking it up made me want to buy it. I still haven't, but not for lack of thinking about it. I used my iPhone 5 to navigate through France (with my daughter's help) and was amused by Siri's consistently midwestern pronunciation of French street names. That's a sweet object, too, the iPhone, with a good camera. (And this from a company that plans to build The Ring, another object, gargantuan, and more of a Victorian folly than a good decision.)
Best software: Procreate, a photo-collage app for the iPad. Much like the camera on my iPhone, it has liberated my artistic sense, leading to a slew of photo-collages, most of which are on my tumblr site. Runner-up: Pages, another iPad app, which is like writing on my old Olivetti Lettera.
Best pen: I'm addicted to Pilot Precise V5 extra fines. (Sounds like a Havana cigar.) When you write with them in a notebook, they don't smudge or run. For someone with my tiny, crablike handwriting, the fineness of the line is a necessity.
Best flight: I took United from SFO to JFK in the summer and was amazed to find a new plane and good and pleasant service. I wrote United, because it was so different than it had been with them. Was it a fluke? I don't fly often enough to know for sure. The new JAL service between SFO and Haneda (Tokyo) , while not really wonderful, is well-timed, back-and-forth, and Haneda is much closer to the city than the dreaded Narita. Subsequent to my visit to Tokyo in April, the Japanese government gave ANA the bulk of the Haneda slots, so I'm not sure if the JAL service is still being offered.
Best newspaper: A perennial tie between the "Financial Times" and "The Guardian." This year, G gets the edge for its courageous handling of the Snowden affair in the face of UK government insolence.
Best hero: Edward Snowden. Even Putin acknowledged that he did the world a favor. Obama should get with the program. Departed: Nelson Mandela, farewell. On deck: Pope Francis. Say what you will, he's a big change. Late, late, late in the game, but you have to start somewhere.
Best heroines: Pussy Riot. The Virgin will deal with Putin soon enough. He may even realize this.
Best meal: La Tupina in Bordeaux. I had the lamb. The sight of meat roasting on the fire when you walk in seals the deal. Plus (naturally enough, since it's Bordeaux) a great wine list.
Best dressed: Kenny Caldwell. He's become my role model. Not that I've actually followed through, but it will eventually happen. I like the clothes the men wear in publications like "Monocle" and "Port," but those men are either decades younger than me or, if closer to my age, evidently mountaineering or otherwise caught up in some strenuous activity that ain't gonna happen. Kenny is closer to my reality and he generally looks great. (I don't think that bow ties will work for me, however.)
Best world news: Pussy Riot and Khodorkovsky sprung. Sochi, The Virgin, whatever - glad to see it!
Best personal news: A PSA score of 0.4, after an all-time high of 8.8 or something like that - evidence that my "summer course" of radiation in 2010, designed by my friend Patrick Swift, M.D., worked as predicted. One never knows with cancer, so I think to myself that I've been treated, not cured, but - as he explained - the odds against a recurrence are as good as they can be. I'll take it.
Best film: I don't think I saw any this year, but I may see "American Hustle," based on the reviews.
Best thing about 2013: Going back to Singapore after an absence of 60 years was a good thing, so a bow to Anthony S.C. Teo and Richard Bender. There are so many other "best things" - new people met and wonderful times spent with friends and family across the planet. Thank you!