history


16
Jun 22

Luzern, Mt. Pilatus

For this Thursday post we’re looking back at our trip two weeks ago today. We’re catching up, you see, so sit back, enjoy the many photos (and the two charming videos!) that tell the tale of this recent, amazing, adventure …

We took what they call the Golden Round Trip, in this part of the world. This part being central Switzerland. We caught a bus tour out of Zurich to Luzern. It’s the most populous city in this part of the country, there are 82,000 people in the city, and 220,000 in the metro. We had a great lunch sandwich there, but it was just a quick stop in the round trip. The first feature being the Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, which is a covered wooden footbridge spanning the Reuss River. The bridge is named for the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel.

The tower is a few decades older than the bridge, and has been used as a prison, torture chamber, and later a municipal archive as well as a local treasury. Today, it’s a gift shop. The bridge was a city fortification. But, hey, you say, what’s that white building in the background?

That’s the Château Gütsch, built in 1879 and turned into a hotel, before being destroyed by fire in 1888. Rebuilt in 1901, the current version is inspired by a Bavarian castle. Today, it is owned by a Russian oligarch.

Back to the bridge, which contains a number of paintings that reach back to the 17th century. It felt odd that they were just … there … semi-exposed to the elements. The paintings depicted the local history. Many of the surviving 147 existed were lost in a fire in the 1990s, but 30 were restored and displayed once again for foot traffic. The Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe, and the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.

Like I said, we just stopped here briefly. We got a sandwich at a deli, where I had the world’s best panini, and where we saw these incredible treats.

It’s called erdbeertörtli here.

We took the first of two lifts. This first one was a 20-minute ride in a private car up and away from Luzern.

We met this guy at the stop waiting for the second lift.

The second lift took everyone in our little tour group, a thoroughly crowded affair, but everyone had an opportunity for a great view.

Then we moved through the lower level of clouds. That’s how high we were going. We were looking down on clouds.

And as we climbed higher the views got more impressive.

At the top we had a few choices. There are three peaks here, and two of them were open. We opted for the slightly more challenging, slightly higher one. Which meant that, despite taking two lifts, we still had to do a bit of walking.

The stairs wrapped all the way around the back of that little outcropping and beyond the photo’s margin. But at least they were sturdy and sensibly safe.

Up there, on Esel, we were rewarded for the effort. And, for a few brief moments, we had the whole thing to ourselves. Because people decided they’d seen enough and went elsewhere. I do not understand that decision. Anyway, here’s a bit of video giving you a quick tour.

These are the Swiss Alps.

It’s a splendid, glorious place.

This is another day trip that The Yankee found. Give her all the credit for bringing us to places like that.

If dragons live up here, like one of the legends says, I think they’re right down there.

Maybe the switchbacks on that path over there were carved into place by the dragon’s wings!

Anyway, get to the top of a mountain when you can, however you can. The time you have at the top is worth the planning and the burning leg muscles.

And here’s a time lapse video showing the clouds moving across the top of Mt. Pilatus.

Finally, this is the Golden Round Trip. There are two more parts of that experience, but I’m breaking this into two posts. The mountaintop experience deserved it’s own treatment, but so does what comes next!


11
Jun 22

Notre Dame, the Pantheon, the Sainte-Chappelle chapel

This was written for a Saturday, two weeks ago, as we continue to document and re-live our amazing travels. So, if you’d be so kind as to cast your mind back two weeks …

I broke two style standards of the site in this post. It’s terrifying and liberating, all at the same time. Also, this is a photo-heavy post. There are 23 images below, so let’s dive in.

We visited Notre-Dame de Paris, the medieval Catholic cathedral is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. You might have seen it on fire in April of 2019. We had a tour of the cathedral, exterior of course. So it turned into a mini tour of the Île de la Cité, which is the island in the Siene that is heart of Paris. We saw the flying buttresses, but not the rose windows or the sculptures the giant bells (not especially old, but bell ringing goes back to at least the end of the 12th century there) or three pipe organs (similarly, there’s a long history of organs at the cathedral, but what was in the cathedral before the fire wasn’t an ancient instrument — apparently the organs did well in the fire).

Reconstruction is well underway, and the French hopes the reconstruction can be completed in time for the opening of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Presently, April 15th is the big projected day. It seems a tall order, but viva France!

We left the 4th arrondissement for the much, much less crowded 5th arrondissement. Specifically, the Latin Quarter, to visit the Pantheon. We saw the one in Rome, we figured, we should see the one here. This started as a church that King Louis XV had dedicated to Saint Genevieve after he recovered from a bad illness. The revolution was underway when it was completed, and the governing body at that time decided it should be a mausoleum modeled on the ancient building in Rome. Twice this Pantheon was re-converted to a church. Today, the neoclassical beauty is at turns liturgical, a burial place and a civic showpiece. Among the notable people interred there: philosophers, politicians, soldiers, scientists, the writer Victor Hugo, Nobel Prize winners the Curries and Rene Cassin, the entertainer and spy Josephine Baker and many more.

All those changes to the purpose of the building meant the pediment changed a few times, and unfortunately I didn’t have a giant ladder for a good photo. But if you know who you’re looking at here, you’ll find key figures of country and liberty. The statesmen and scholars are represented on the left, soldiers on the right.

But let’s go inside, shall we?

There are four great pieces in the pillars below the dome. This first one is Laurent Marqueste’s sculptural homage to “the creators and publicists of the restoration.”

The paintings on the four pendentives, one of which you see above, are by François Gerard, one of the most prominent, and wealthiest, painters of his generation. Primarily he’s remembered for his portraits, but his archway paintings depict glory, the nation, justice and, above, death. These are all recurring themes in this place.

Anyway, the sculptor Marquest was an absolute master in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is probably one of his lesser known works, but he left many grand pieces to be admired.

The obelisk shows the figure of Victory holding a torch above the coat of arms of France, surmounted by the royal crown. Below is Pierre de Serre, the soldier and lawyer, Casimir Perier, the banker, mine owner and statesman, Armand Carrel who was an early 18th century journalist, General Maximilien Foy who was one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s artillery generals, Jacques-Antoine Manuel a solider turned lawyer, and Viscount Francous-Rene de Chateaubriand, who saw himself as the greatest lover, the greatest writer, and the greatest philosopher of his age. Pretty humble, really. He could have said any age.

This is Albert Bartholome’s monument to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Bartholome was a painter of serious renown, before deciding to put away his brushes and becoming a globally recognized sculptor. He did that after he made the stunning marker for his wife’s grave. The three women seated here are allegories for philosophy, nature and truth. To the left is a representation of music, and on the right, glory.

The medallion in the low foreground is meant to be Jean-Jacques Rousseau who was a philosopher that influenced the Enlightenment and some elements of the French Revolution. You basically don’t have modern thought without Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract. (He’s also interred at the Pantheon.)

Here’s the thing about sculptors. You spend the time and skill and resources required to make this piece. It’s perfect. And then you make it again. That’s discipline. There’s a copy of this on display at Musée d’Orsay, as well.

Opposite that installation is Paul Gasq’s “To the Glory of Generals of the Revolution.”

On the obelisk is a figure representing the French Republic. Bonaparte is on horseback alongside four of his generals. Gasq was the son of a railroad man, and won two of the biggest prizes in his field. He was also a prominent museum curator. And if you’ve ever been to Paris, the odds are pretty good you’ve seen some of his work without realizing it.

Which brings us to Alphonse Camille Terroir, who was born in 1875 France and died in 1955, becoming, of course, a sculptor, but also a professor along the way. If there was ever a stranger time to be an artisan in France, aside from the Revolution, I can’t think of it.

This piece is devoted to Denis Diderot, an 18th century writer, philosopher and encyclopedist. If it had words, he wrote it. The two standing figures are above a rather important inscription which I clumsily left out of the shot. It says the encyclopedia prepares the revolution, which is a powerful bit of carving when you unpack it. The other figures represent truth and the force. Yes, Luke Skywalker carved this with his lightsaber.

Diderot’s was the first encyclopedia of its kind, discussing topics in a secular tone. The book, banned by the Catholic Church, featured articles that were skeptical about Biblical miracles. The revolutionaries were highly influenced by the Encyclopedie.

This dominates one end of the Pantheon.

That’s Marianne, the symbol of France, surrounded by deputies, their arms raised toward the constitution, taking the oath, and soldiers on the right, symbolizing the army of the French Republic. The inscription is Vivre libre ou mourir, “Live free or die.”

Above it …

The title of that mosaic is “Christ Showing the Angel of France the Destiny of Her People.” by Antoine-Auguste-Ernest Hébert

I’m not telling you anything new here, but whenever you find yourself in a building with a dome, you need to make it a habit to look up.

Yes, I cropped the sides, and it is that rarest of things, a circular photograph, but, also, it is larger than most of the pictures I put here. I told you. (We’re breaking all sorts of style standards around here today!)

Downstairs, before you make it to the crypt, you’ll see this shadow. And it’s a certainty that some portion of the people that this will be the first impression they ever make of François-Marie Arouet, and that’s a shame.

That shadow belongs to a sculpture of Voltaire, who told you, in Candide, “L’il faut cultiver notre jardin.”

But, then, everything in Candide stands like a wise quote on it’s own. Voltaire made fun of that in the story, as well.

If you haven’t read Voltaire, you should. If you haven’t in a while, it’s probably time again. I know it is for me.

This is an almost-tucked away memorial on the main floor. Flanked by two dominant columns and backed by impressive paintings, it would be easy to overlook Louis-Henri Bouchard’s work. The inscription reads “Aux heros inconnus aux martyrs ignores morts pour la France,” or “To the unknown heroes, to the ignored martyrs who died for France.

It is a World War I memorial. After World War II, the French viewed him as a German collaborator, but you can still see his work. His Paris studio is now a museum.

Look up. Up there is “The Apotheosis of Saint Genevieve,” by Antoine-Jean Gros. It apparently took several decades to get just right. Gros was a portraitist and a historical painter. Bonaparte was his patron.

This is a painting depicting St. Genevieve — for whom this place was originally commissioned, remember — calming Parisians as Atilla the Hun approached.

It was 451. Attila, calling himself the Scourge of God, was wiping out every settlement and village he crossed. The story goes that he drew within miles of Paris, the news of his vengeance coming on the frightened lips of people who were desperate to escape the deadly menace rushing toward them from central Asia and Eastern Europe. The people of Paris wanted to run, too. Genevieve was joined by many of the women of Paris for days of pious prayer. The men wanted to scatter to the winds, but she said, in the name of God, that the cities where they headed would be destroyed and Paris would be spared. Attila continued marching on, until he learned that the Romans and the Visigoths and some of the Franks were headed to confront him, so he turned toward Orleans, where he was routed. Paris was, in fact, saved from his wrath.

I don’t know what was going on with my phone and eye this day, but here’s a much better image of that painting, which was produced by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, who became known in his lifetime as “the painter for France.”

Back outside the Pantheon, and a slightly better look at that pediment which, again, has been changed seemingly each time the purpose of the building itself has changed.

And, after a quick subway ride, back over to Notre Dame. We walked around part of the property again to read about the restoration and reconstruction work.

This is a crowded area, so we read the interesting parts and then headed to Sainte-Chappelle. And if you’re still here 17 photos and 1,700 words into this, stick with me through the last little bit.

The Sainte-Chapelle is a royal chapel. King Louis IX had the Gothic style church built in the mid-13th century. Consecrated in 1248, it is an incredible important architectural achievement of its period, highlighting spatial unity, larger and more windows, including a large rose window and a lot of light. It was part of an altogether new moment in architecture, and it housed Louis’ collection of Passion relics, which he paid handsomely for. Included in that collection are what were believed to be part of the cross, and the crown of thorns. (The crown had been housed at nearby Notre-Dame cathedral, and survived the fire.)

Even in a darkened, large clerestory, you can see the attention to details in the decor and the windows and light that helped define the Rayonnant architectural style they were helping to spearhead. Indeed, because of other political realities, Louis IX had a big claim to making Paris the spirital center of Christendom, which is part of the reason for this place, and for his acquisition of the Passion artifacts.

This all takes place on the palace grounds, and over the next 800 years various restoration and repurposing was done. Additional buildings were built right next to Sainte-Chappelle, used, razed and rebuilt again, which impacts the light flowing through these windows. It, too, was impacted by the French revolution.

A decades-long restoration was undertaken in the 19th century. Not all of what you see here is original — some went on the marketplace, some were lost to time, others are on display in museums — the scholars and archeologists and restorers got serious about former glory.

And, indeed, they should. Because, as you gaze in awe and wonder at the royal chapel, a clerestory without peer …

It’s a relatively small room, 108 by 35 feet, highlighted by four traverses, an apse and seven bays of windows. The glass, 7,200 square feet of it, are supported in ingenious ways that you can read about, but never notice in your viewing. And there’s a six-foot shift in size of the glass from one end of the other, making the chapel feel larger. Here is were the King and Queen worshipped.

The thousands of glass pieces seem to shift as the day changes, blues and reds alter their intensity. Experts have noticed three different styles on display, but the artists are unknown, even as the story they were telling is the best known story. Three windows illustrate the New Testament, featuring scenes of The Passion, with the Infancy of Christ and the Life of John the Evangelist. The nave is filled with images representing the Old Testament. You can start at one window and see (restored) illustrations of the Book of Genesis and go, in order, to the final window, to see scenes showing the rediscovery of Christ’s relics, the miracles they performed, and their relocation to Paris in the hands of King Louis.

You can’t see it all in one photo. I’ve seen better photos than mine try, and fail, to express the impressive character of the room. Sainte-Chappelle’s is one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collections in the world. It’s something you need to see in person.

Which brings us, finally, to the rose window.

It is over 29-feet in diameter, its 89 separate panels representing scenes of the Apocalypse. It uses a new technique, being 15th-century craftmanship, which allowed the artists to paint on the glass with enamel paints, using fire to fuse the paint onto the glass. That allows for finer details in the finished product. It was restored and cleaned recently, just in time to mark, in 2015, the 800th anniversary of the birth of King Louis IX.

Which makes for a massive, and impressive, weekend post. One more for tomorrow, when we do conference things, and a few casual Parisian things to say goodbye to France.


10
Jun 22

Point du Hoc, Omaha Beach, Normandy American Cemetery

This was written for a Friday, two weeks ago. That’s the way of it around here for a bit as we go over our amazing travels. So, if you’d be so kind as to cast your mind back two weeks (and also 78 years ago) …

Like many panoramas, this one lives at the intersection between beautiful and enlightening and distorting. Like all panoramas on this site, if you click it, you can see the larger version. We were there two weeks ago.

We caught a morning train out of Paris to head west to Bayeux.

And in Bayeux we rented e-bikes to ride all over the beautiful countryside of Normandy. It is beautiful. We rode all over the countryside. And not all of it on roads. The Yankee suggested Normandy, and I said I wanted to go here, if we could, and after a lot of pedaling, this was our first stop for the day. (Note that upright stone just on the left margin.

If you stood at that stone and look left, you would see Utah Beach just beyond that point.

And if you stood at that sone and looked to your right, beyond the other point, you would see Omaha Beach.

And if you stood at that stone memorial, you’d be wear Ronald Reagan delivered one of the truly great speeches of his presidency.

Peggy Noonan had found his voice by then, and it didn’t hurt that the topic was such a dramatic moment, and the audience included some of the heroes he was talking about.

I remember reading about this anniversary, the 40th, in the second grade, before any of this made any sense to me. I remember a quote from one of the Rangers who was at that event. They’d taken them to the shore line and they looked up the cliff face in wonder. How in the world did we do that? That quote is now 38 years old, and as much as anything, I owe my awe to the moment to that awe of the men who did it.

The guns were located so that they could cover both Utah and Omaha. They could do terrible damage to the troops coming ashore, or to the vessels waiting off the coast. So they sent in the Army Rangers.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his staff planning Operation OVERLORD assigned the Rangers of the 2d and 5th Ranger Battalions, under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder and organized into the Provisional Ranger Group, the mission of destroying the enemy positions on the cliff top. Unbeknownst to Allied planners, the Germans failed to believe that U.S. military command would consider the cliff top accessible by sea. The Americans, however, considered it an accessible assault point and reasoned that with a well-trained force, soldiers could land on the narrow beaches below at low tide and ascend the cliffs with the assistance of ropes and ladders. When Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley told Rudder of the assignment, the Ranger officer could not believe what he had heard, but he understood the importance of the mission at hand. In his memoir, A Soldier’s Story, Bradley wrote, “No soldier in my command has ever been wished a more difficult task than that which befell the thirty-four-year-old Commander of this Provisional Ranger Force.”

The original ornate plans were ruined by rough seas, which put the entire Pointe du Hoc timetable well behind schedule. They were forced to improvise.

The delay gave the Germans enough time to recuperate, reposition their defenses, and lay heavy gunfire on the incoming Rangers from companies D, E, and F. The Rangers, no longer able to follow Rudder’s original plan, were now instructed to land all companies to the east of Pointe du Hoc on a strip of beach about 500 yards long and thirty yards wide. They came under heavy fire from the Germans while coming ashore. As the soldiers at the front exited the landing craft, the Rangers toward the rear laid down covering fire as their comrades ran to shore and took shelter in a small cave at the base of the cliff or in craters along the narrow beach.

[…]

The Rangers experienced much difficulty climbing up the cliffs that day. Many of the ropes that caught hold of the cliffs that morning were completely covered by enemy fire, making the number available for climbing severely limited. The wet ropes were slippery and soldiers were weighed down by damp uniforms and mud clinging to their clothes, boots and equipment. German bullets and “potato masher” grenades rained down from above. Nevertheless, the Rangers climbed to the top of Pointe du Hoc while under enemy fire. Several German soldiers were killed and others driven off from the cliff edges when Rangers opened fire on them with Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs).

The guns they were sent to capture, their primary objective, weren’t there. The Germans had moved them back from what they’d thought was an impregnable position. A two-man Ranger patrol later found five of the six pieces of heavy artillery and they were subsequently.

After scaling the 110-foot cliff face against brutal German fire, gaining the top and then fighting the enemy for two dys fewer than 75 of the original 225 who came ashore at Pointe du Hoc on D-Day were fit for duty. It’s a testament to bravery and grit, and courage and honor. We were fortunate to have been able to visit it for a brief time.

From there we rode our rental bikes to the Normandy American Cemetery. We weaved through traffic, passing gobs of cars (it was oh so satisfying) stuck in traffic in time to see the evening’s flag lowering.

The World War II cemetery in Colleville-sur-Met, Normandy, France covers 172.5 acres and contains 9,388 burials. In the gardens are the engraved names of 1,557 servicemen declared missing in action in Normandy.

In that building you’ll see massive maps describing the planning and the D-Day assault itself, and also the push all the way to the Elbe River.

None of this was a certainty when D-Day began. And it took about two months of hard, deadly fighting, before the Allies could claim Normandy as under their control. Great losses were absorbed and delivered to get off that beachhead.

On the cemetery’s chapel there is a carving in the marble of part of John 10:28, “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish.”

The cemetery looks over a bluff onto Omaha Beach. There are 304 unknown soldiers at rest in the grounds of the cemetery.

It also contains the graves of 45 pairs of brothers (30 are side-by-side), a father and son, an uncle and nephew, two pairs of cousins, four chaplains, four civilians, three generals and three Medal of Honor recipients.

We were about 30 miles into our lovely afternoon bike ride, and we were starting to eye the clock. The bike shop we rented from closed at 7, and our train was coming at about 8:30. So we had to race back. (Nice bikes, would rent again. Would check to make sure my back brake worked before I set out next time, though. I had to feather off the front brake for the entire day!) We made it just in time, which was the shocking theme for the whole day. Just caught the morning train. Arrived with our bikes ready, got lost twice and still made it to the cemetery just in time to see the flags lowered. Lingered around that hallowed place a while, giving us just enough time to get back to the bike shop, which left us enough time to get a bite to eat at a place next to the train station. Which put us safely on the train.

It was an important day in important places. I’m glad we did it, and that it all worked out as it did, which was to say, perfectly.

She planned another great trip, and we’re just getting started.

We still have two days in Paris, where our adventures will continue.


9
Jun 22

A place about love, and light

This was written for a Thursday, but it is about the Thursday from two weeks ago. That’s the way of it around here for a bit as we go over our amazing travels. So cast your mind back two weeks …

Here’s one more hint about where we were. If you’re still trying to work it out, stay on this picture while your mind wanders over the globe. Soon below this photo it will be pretty apparent where we were.

So you’re ready, then?

Yeah?

Got your answer?

We’re here.

Paris, that is. France, not the one in Tennessee or Texas. (Though Paris, Tennessee is lovely this time of year…)

This is objectively better, however. And, no, I was in no danger on Pl. Charles de Gaulle taking the emptiest photograph possible.

The Avenue de la Grand Armee is in the background, and the Avenue des Champs-Elysees is behind me, and that’s probably as empty as I’ll ever see the road surrounding the Arc. More than our last visit, in 2015, when we spent a day in Paris. I wrote about that in three parts, and you can see those photos here. ( Part One, Part Two and Part Three.)

We’d taken students on an international trip to London and points beyond that year, and one of the points was Paris for the better part of a day. In doing that we walked 10 miles that day. We only covered 6.6 miles by foot on the day we’re talking about here, and that’s because we did more of the subway and the hop-on/hop-off tour bus, which is a grand way to get a basic understanding of any big city. And since it was a shorter walk this time, this day will just get one post instead of three. But there’s still a lot more here, so allez, allez, allez.

Let’s look at the primary sculptures on the Arc. It’s just a beautiful monument all the way around, and I feel like you could stare at it for days and constantly learn new things from it.

This is Le Triomphe de 1810, by the neoclassical sculptor Jean-Pierre Cortot. This sculpture features Napoleon Bonaparte, crowned by the goddess of Victory and celebrates the Treaty of Schönbrunn.

The Arc de Triomphe was intended to honor the victory of Bonaparte’s army at Austerlitz, before becoming a monument to all of his achievements and, today, I can show you a nice shot of two more of the main hauts-reliefs from the four pillars. One was obscured by some construction and rehab work. (All of Paris is perpetually being worked on, you see.)

Above these hauts-reliefs are six bas-reliefs recalling the battle of Austerlitz, the funeral of Marceau, the taking of Alexandria, the battle of Jemmapes, the passage of the pont d’Arcole and the battle of Aboukir.

This next one is Le Départ de 1792 (or La Marseillaise) by François Rude, and this is his most notable work, but if you hunt around Paris, you’ll find many of his other efforts. This famous work, though, celebrates the cause of the French First Republic during the uprising. Above the volunteers is the winged personification of Liberty. This imagery is a big rallying cry for the proud French. It has been a recruitment tool and a part of their military fund raising during World War I.

And this is La Paix de 1815, commemorating the Treaty of Paris of 1815, or the Second Treaty of Paris. See, once he escaped exile and returned to power, Bonaparte did his thing for a while again, until he had to abdicate again, and that ultimately brought about this treaty. And … well, look at some maps, and it is clear that Bonaparte is at the heart of things we see before us even now.

France lost the territorial gains of the Revolutionary armies in 1790–92, and was essentially reduced to little more than its 1790 boundaries, ordered to pay 700 million francs, and pay for an occupation army of 150,000 for five years. This got knocked down to three years. Also, it solidified Switzerland’s neutrality and excellent cough drop industry. So, while not exactly one of Bonaparte’s triumphs, he’s at the center of that, and so many other things. Antoine Étex created the peace sculpture. Opposite is another Étex piece, La Résistance de 1814, but we can’t see it here.

Also on the Arc you’ll find the names of the old French victories and generals. Beneath it is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

Napoleon died in the South Atlantic, on British soil, having never seen this amazing monument. But when the French finally got his remains back almost 20 years later, and part of the state funeral he received on that cold December Tuesday in 1841 involved a horse-drawn hearse moving the body from the Arc de Triomphe to Les Invalides.

See? You learn all sorts of things on those hop-on/hop-off buses. The English narration was recorded by a young guy using the name Jean Claude. His English was very good. He taught us a lot.

From Jean Claude I learned that this is The Petit Palais, an art museum. It was built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, and today it is home to the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts.

A few paragraphs ago I mentioned Les Invalides. Here it is, ordered up by Louis XIV in 1670 as a hospital and home for old and disabled soldiers. It was completed in 1676.

I mentioned Bonaparte being laid to rest there, dozens of other prominent historical figures are there, as well. And The Invalides has seen a lot of other French history, including, in 1879, when Parisian rioters went inside and took control of cannons and muskets stored in the cellars. They turned them on the Bastille during the revolution.

It continued on as a retirement home and hospital for military veterans (invalides) until the early 20th century.

Today the sprawling complex is home to the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, a museum of military models, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, a 20th century research museum. The former hospital chapel is now national cathedral of the French military. The Royal Chapel is now known as the Dôme des Invalides. This is the tallest church building in Paris at 351 feet.

All that gold on the dome and on the sculptures leading up to it? That’s just under 30 pounds, Jean Claude told us. It was applied in 1989 or so and was worth something like $3.5 million dollars when the narration was recorded, which took place some time before Notre Dame burned.

I know that, because nothing of the April 2019 fire was on the recording, even though the bus goes right by it.

We’ll get a bit closer to Notre Dame this weekend, but first, enjoy the Académie Royale de Musique. The Paris Opera.

Prior to Covid, The Paris Opera was presenting about 380 performances of opera, ballet and other concerts, to a total audience of about 800,000 people a year. Given the foot traffic we saw, those numbers have surely bounced right back. Paris is once again a bustling city. Il n’y a pas de pandémie ici!

Which brings us back to that big stick pointing to the sky.

Did you know that it was an expo piece? Perhaps you’ve learned that it was supposed to have a limited lifespan? The locals weren’t especially fond of it in the early days, did you know that? Costly, ugly, potentially dangerous. (But what did they know?) The explosion of popularity around radio saved the Eiffel Tower. Score one for mass media.

I’m more and more Parisian by the day, I guess. Aside from when we were deliberately around the Eiffel Tower I didn’t even notice the Eiffel Tower.

Sorta like a good photobomb.

We went inside and up onto the Eiffel Tower. This is a steel mill.

Right now, the Eiffel Tower is undergoing a huge renovation. (All of Paris is perpetually being worked on, you see.) This, the signage says, is their most significant renovation in 40 years. The biggest part of the process includes repainting the tower. This is the 20th paint job in the tower’s history.

They scrape away the old paint, and literally slap on the new, same as any other project. (It isn’t as neat as paint jobs you’ve done around your house though. They’re painting by hand, but not for those staring from up close. They’re painting for speed. It’ll take six months.) We saw signs of all of this on our walk. We went up to the second level. These are the first steps.

That’s 704 steps, which didn’t seem like a lot before, or a lot after, but it was a fair amount during the actual walk.

It affords you lovely views, though. The photos I just showed you of the Eiffel Tower were from right over hhere.

We did not get to go to the top. It was closed. There were too many people.

It would have been fun to go up there.

The following photo is from the second floor. You can see the paint of 1961 coming through.

How do I know the year of that color? There’s a nice little graphic on the ground that shares the history of Eiffel Tower paints.

Turns out that, before they started painting it this time they asked the people of Paris what color they’d like to see on the Eiffel Tower. The answer was overwhelmingly “Pink.”

The people that do the actual deciding said “How about yellow brown, instead?”

And that’s what you’ll see, if you visit Paris, at least for the next seven years. And, then, the painters will be back to do it all again.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back, but from a different part of France. It’ll be amazing, so do stop by.


8
Jun 22

Visiting with Vincent

This was written for a Tuesday. Not today, but two weeks ago. And that’s going to be the way of it around here for the next few weeks. But it’ll be worth it. All of this covers two weeks of travels and, hopefully, makes up for the two-week break I took on the site. So cast your mind back two weeks …

We stopped to pick up a quick sandwich after a morning of finalizing packing, and running an errand and before the day’s treat, and this was the art next door.

Everything can’t be art, because if everything is art then nothing is, really, art. Art, in a simple form for a simple way of thinking about it, like mine, should be transportive. That could take you to another place, to the artist’s way of thinking, or just at a slight remove from your own place. Everything can’t be art, but art can be … distractive.

But not everything that distracts is art. Just because you used something evocative of modern art techniques on the side of an oil change place doesn’t make it art. That you put eyes on it probably does. That it was commissioned seals the deal.

Anyway, that was at lunch, a hasty chicken sandwich on the go in Indianapolis, as we were actually on our way to see some post-impressionism from Vincent van Gogh:

Step into a digital world of art at THE LUME Indianapolis and explore the combination of great art and cutting-edge technology at its finest with floor to ceiling projections of some of the most famous paintings in the world. A must-see cultural experience created by Australian-based Grande Experiences; the first year’s show features the paintings of Vincent van Gogh as well as featurettes inspired by the work of Van Gogh.

Nearly 150 state-of-the-art digital projectors transform two-dimensional paintings into a three-dimensional world that guests can explore while walking through 30,000 square feet of immersive galleries. THE LUME Indianapolis has 60 minutes of digital content that runs continuously and simultaneously in all the digital galleries.

This is not a movie with a start and end, or something you would sit to watch from one viewpoint, but rather a constant loop of beauty that is designed to be a walking experience, seeing the art up close and all around you. Guests should wander throughout the space, taking in the experience from every angle.

We’d put this off, because of Covid, but we had time on this particular Tuesday before we had to get to the airport and the exhibition was closing at the end of the month, so this timing worked out just right. And seeing this was absolutely worth the experience.

The music there is Le Carnaval des Animaux (or The Carnival of the Animals) by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. It’s a 14-movement composition, and he wrote it as a joke, forbidding public performances during his lifetime out of fear that it would harm his reputation as a serious composer. Here, it got used for its whimsy.

So while you contemplate the adaptation of van Gogh’s famous oil-on-canvas The Starry Night, I must tell you I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the exhibit. I’d seen one little bit of text and maybe one image and thought we were just going to walk through Starry Night for a while, which would have been perfectly fine. He painted that in June 1889, inspired by the pre-dawn view from his window at the the asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. (The village in the painting’s foreground is imaginary.)

I have an original, one-of-a-kind, reproduction of Starry Night in my home office. I just have to turn my head a bit to the right to see it. At once evocative of the van Gogh masterpiece, and altogether different. It really is lovely.

He’d admitted himself into the asylum the month before, after his December 1888 breakdown and the whole ear thing that people want to remember. That part of his life comes up a fair amount from the exhibit, but that’s not the whole man, nor the whole of what we saw.

Wheatfield with Crows is often thought to be van Gogh’s last painting, but the museum named after him in the Netherlands says that’s a myth. Nevertheless, you get a sense of more of van Gogh’s unsteadiness in the final year of his life — and the music here helps convey that. He said the fields below the stormy skies expressed “sadness, extreme loneliness,” but the countryside was meant to be “healthy and fortifying.”

It is dark in the exhibit. There’s a gunshot, or some such loud sound, and the frozen oil on canvas crows fly away and disappear, because they are digital. And Chloe Hanslip, meanwhile, is sawing away at Benjamin Godard’s Violin Concerto No. 2. It gives it a certain edge. But when those crows jumped, that was startling.

This isn’t just a light show projected on the walls. There’s stuff happening on the floors, too. At times you’re walking in, and on, van Gogh’s paintings and sketches.

Many of van Gogh’s early works showed Dutch landscapes and his native culture. Windmills show up a fair amount in all of that, and also in much of his work from Paris. He could see windmills from his apartment there.

Most of his windmills are displayed in museums around the world today. (An important one was lost in a fire in the 1960s.) Who doesn’t like windmills?

And who doesn’t love Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major?

We had that in our wedding. My lovely bride has it as one of her ringtones.

There is also an interactive component to the exhibit. You can zoom in to study brushstrokes using a frustrating technology that tracks your hand motions, and you can take pictures and apply a postimpressionist filter. (This concept would have been a wonderfully novel trick before Instagram, of course. It just feels normal, now, though.) We’re all painters! And subjects …

Interspersed with the recreations of van Gogh’s art there were plenty of other digital elements, including some context about his time in various other parts of Europe, and things he’d written. I don’t know if I’ve ever identified with a quote as readily as this one. It is the English translation of a passage from a letter van Gogh wrote, in 1885, to Anthon van Rappard who was a friend and mentor. They were critiquing each other’s work, discussing their progress, and their contemporaries, and the regular stuff of living a life. And then, eventually …

That’s my process for … most everything … in that one sentence. Anyone who has spent more than 90 seconds on this site, or probably just around me, could recognize it.

The work in question, painting the peasants, is such laborious work that the extremely weak would never even embark on it. And I have at least embarked on it and have laid certain foundations, which isn’t exactly the easiest part of the job! And I’ve grasped some solid and useful things in drawing and in painting, more firmly than you think, my dear friend. But I keep on making what I can’t do yet in order to learn to be able to do it.

The artists who worked on the creation of this traveling installation were obviously having a great time. You didn’t have to bring interpretive weather into a master’s work to see that, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt, either. And here’s more of Hanslip playing Godard.

For whatever reason, I’ve never thought much of still life. Kitchen table art just seems like, well, those plastic tablecloths on so many of the kitchen tables of your youth. But this, perhaps because it was on more than one plane, and oversized, is really captivating. I stood there staring at the white in the apples at my feet, but I was transfixed by the reproductions of the cracks in the oil.

That was late in the afternoon. The exhibit seemed to close a bit early. Everyone knew it but us, and so they all left. We had maybe 20 minutes alone with the whole thing. In a way that’s easy to feel and difficult to describe, it seemed like a big gift: a private moment looking at the brilliant work of people inspired by a master.

It wasn’t all digital. They also had an actual van Gogh on display, this is Landscape at Saint-Rémy, and I hope this does it a bit of justice.

As of this writing, it is in 13 U.S. cities and seven more in Europe and a few other places besides. If you can see this immersive exhibit, you should definitely make the effort.

After that wonderful experience, we had another one, at the airport. Two airports, in fact!

But more on that tomorrow.