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(For a Friday, a little change from the usual – a post about traveling, history, and an insufficient command of French … but an appreciation for good food and small country inns. This is included my ebook “Travels With Blondie.”)
I have been flipping over the pages of my battered Hallwag Euro-Guide, attempting to reconstruct my hopscotch itinerary on little back roads across France, at the wheel of the VEV in the early autumn of 1985. I avoided the big cities, before and after Paris, and the major highways. For a foreign driver, Paris was a nerve-wracking, impenetrable urban jungle, a tangle of streets and roundabouts, and the major highways were toll-roads and expensive; much less fraught to follow the little-trafficked country roads from town to town to town. We ghosted along those two-lane country roads as much as a bright orange Volvo sedan can be said to ghost, the trunk and the back seat packed with mine and my daughter’s luggage, a basket of books, a large bottle of Metaxa brandy (a departing gift from Kyria Paniyioti, our Athens landlord) and two boxes of china and kitchen gadgets purchased from that holiest of holies of French kitchenware shops, Dehillerin in the Rue Coquilliere.
From Chartres and the wondrous cathedral, I went more or less south towards the Loire; the most direct way would been a secondary road to Chateaudun, and an even more secondary road directly from there to Blois, through a green countryside lightly touched with autumn gold, where the fields of wheat and silage had been already mown down to stubble. The road wound through gentle ranges of hills, and stands of enormous trees. Here at a turn of the road was a dainty and Disney-perfect chateau, with a wall and a terrace and a steep-sloped blue-slate roof trimmed with pepper-pot turrets, an enchanting dollhouse of a chateau, set among its’ own shady green grove. There was no historic marker, no sign of habitation, nothing to welcome the sightseer, and then the road went around a bend and it was out of sight, as fleeting as a vision.
Blois was set on hills, a charming small town of antique buildings, none more than two or three stories tall, and I seemed to come into it very abruptly late in the afternoon. Suddenly there were buildings replacing the fields on either side. At the first corner, I turned left, followed the signpost pointing to the town center; might as well find a place to spend the night. As soon as I turned the corner and thought this, I spotted the little hotel, fronting right on the narrow sidewalk. It had two Michelin stars, which was good enough for me (plain, clean, comfortable and cheap) and was called the Golden… well, the golden something or other. I didn’t recognise the French word; truth to tell, I didn’t recognize most of them, just the words for foods and cooking, mostly, and could pronounce rather fewer. Read the rest of this entry »
Yes, at the San Antonio Book Festival. The exhibitor tables were across the street – and there were only two homeless that I spotted, from the Watercress Press table. Otherwise a mildly rewarding day, and a grateful return home to a frozen pizza and two episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs on the TV.
After a long absence from his blog, the always-thoughtful Corbusier posts some ruminations about his profession during the current period of economic recession and structural change in many industries. Long but worth reading.
The apparatus above, from page 34, powers both the dial and bells of a tower clock. The opening in the floor is for a pendulum of about 175 lbs. I find the image much more striking (pun quite intended) than those of the exterior, dials and all, of tower clocks. Besides the handsome illustrations, the book offers technical details and a description of the operation of tower clocks. There also is a directory of the companies installed tower clocks in 1911, as well as testimonials by satisfied customers.
If you are interested in historical buildings and / or engineering this book is for you.
London has some great architecture. I particularly like their habit of giving buildings funny nicknames. This one under construction with the bulge out the side is named the “Walkie Talkie” and the adjacent (smaller) building is famously called “The Gherkin“.
The River Thames cuts London into the North and South banks and it is lovely to walk alongside the river when the weather is nice. Here is a view from the North side and you can see “The Razor” off in the distance, with the three windmills at the top looking a bit like an electric razor. Not shown – “The Shard“.
Among the tall stack of books which I read in the matter of research for writing my adventures set on the Texas frontier was one titled Texas Log Buildings; A Folk Architecture – which has actually proved to be a bit more interesting and informative than it looked at first glance. I am a sucker for knowing how things are constructed or put together- which is good, especially when I needed to write a description of building such a thing as a log house; details like how many days it would take so many men to build one, what size it would generally be, and the layout – these little details add convincing detail. Until I read that book, the only description of the process that I could bring readily to mind was in LittleHouse on the Prairie – and it turns out that Pa Ingalls was not building that cabin to much of a standard. He may not even have been all that skilled as a carpenter, but since he was working on it mostly by himself, and in a place where the swiftness of getting a roof of some sort over his family counted for everything – allowances were made. Read the rest of this entry »
We bumptious Americans are always being reminded by everyone from Henry James on, that things in Europe are old, historic, and ancient. We are told that some places are piled thick in layers of events, famous people and great art, like some sort of historical sachertorte - and to a student of history, certain places in Europe are exactly that sort of treat. What they hardly ever mention is that most usually, the most ancient bits of it are pretty sadly battered by the time we come trotting around with our Blue Guide, and what there is left is just the merest small remnant of what there once was. The sanctuary at Delphi once was adorned with statues of gold, silver, bronze - and they were the first to be looted and melted down (all but one, the great bronze Charioteer) leaving us with the least and cheapest stone, sadly chipped, battered and scarred. (My daughter at the age of three and a bit, looking at a pair of archaic nudes in the Delphi museum asked loudly, “Mommy, why are their wieners all broken off?”) The great Athenian Akropolis itself was half-ruined, many of the blocks of which it was constructed scattered across the hillside like gargantuan marble Lego blocks. In Rome, most of the ancient buildings had been stripped long ago of the marble and stone facings, leaving only the battered concrete and tile core to hint at what splendor had once been - and again, only the smallest portion left to us to admire, the smallest, cheapest portion, or that hidden away by chance. Read the rest of this entry »
Wolf Point is a famous piece of land that is a penninsula where the Chicago River is on three sides, right in front of the Holiday Inn and adjacent to the Merchandise Mart. Recently the Kennedys, who own this land, proposed building three giant high rises on the site, as described in this article.
Of all the habitual liars in this world, one of the most odious has to be the “traffic consultant”. One of these firms, hired by the Kennedys, gave a report on the impact of traffic, and per the article:
Residents also suggested the development would further clog already-congested streets and mocked a traffic consultant’s conclusion that the project would not significantly worsen traffic.
To some extent, per the picture above, it is impossible to further “worsen” traffic. This is a photo taken during rush hour that is relatively typical; the bridge going north on Orleans (it is one-way) is completely gridlocked leading towards the Wolf Point site and backed up into Wacker drive, blocking both streets. Thus to some extent the consultant is right, because you can’t get worse than gridlock.
I recently visited the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright house “Fallingwater“. The home is located in rural Pennsylvania and I highly recommend a visit. This “iconic” view was taken from a path after the tour; in most of the photos I’ve seen of Fallingwater on the web this must be the spot for these photos. This spot allows you to capture the two waterfalls and the house which are not visible from other angles.
The Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL) is primarily a collection of American and Canadian, pre-1964 architectural trade catalogs, house plan books and technical building guides. Trade catalogs are an important primary source to document past design and construction practices. These materials can aid in the preservation and conservation of older structures as well as other research goals.
The BTHL contains materials from various private and institutional collections. These materials are rarely available in most architectural and professional libraries. The first major architectural trade catalog collection is that of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, which encompasses more that 4,000 catalogs from the early 19th century through 1963. In addition to the architectural trade catalogs, the initial contributions include a large number of house plan catalogs, which will be of great interest to owners of older homes. The future growth of the Building Technology Heritage Library will also include contemporary materials on building conservation.
On the south side of San Antonio there are the ruins of a turn-of-the-last century spa resort called Hot Wells. Once there was a luxury hotel, and a splendid bathhouse, featuring hot mineral baths. It’s in ruins now … but splendidly evocative ruins. Read the rest of this entry »
The town of Gonzales is about an hour’s drive east and a little way south of San Antonio. In the days when Texas was a Spanish and then a Mexican posession, San Antonio, Goliad and Nacogdoches were the centers of what little population there was. But in the 1820s, the newly-established and independent Mexican nation sought to encourage America and European entrepeneurs to take up generous land grants, and bring in settlers. Stephen F. Austin was the one that everyone knows about: the urban heart – if you could call it that – of his grant was at San Felipe on the Brazos River.
This is the big news in London, not the referendum whose results we shall not know till tomorrow evening: the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, a gorgeous, late Victorian building, between St Pancras Station and the British Library, saved in the sixties through the tireless work of the great Sir John Betjeman, has officially reopened after many years of renovation and reconstruction. More on the Conservative History blog.
I think of how the Mezquita, once a mosque, must have looked when its whole floor was a single, arched space of prayer:
before Moorish Cordoba was conquered, and the conquerors built a cathedral in the very heart of the place:
like the petals of a flower opening inside the sepals, or a cancer sprouting within the body – for so much depends on your understanding of prayer.
And I think how lovely it still looks, cathedral nestled within mosque under the snow, to this photographer’s eye:
And I think of Seymour Hersh, who has drawn flak for comments in a recent speech about the Bush war in Iraq, and Obama’s continuation of Bush policies – and here’s the part that caught my eye:
“In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.’”
“That’s the attitude,” he continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”
And I think then of the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, that was conquered and became a mosque:
and is now a museum. So these things go, in times of war.
As for the Mezquita, its history is more complex than I have suggested: it was first a pagan temple, then a Christian church, then shared between Muslims and Christians, then made into a mosque, then a church again – and the cathedral as we see it today was built during the Renaissance…
And I think at last how much depends on lofty spaces, and on silence, and on prayer:
Recently I went on a River North architecture tour in Chicago. The tour was sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation and cost $15 / each for non-members, which was money well spent. Here is a link to the tour.
The tour started near St. James cathedral at Rush and Huron (upper right, photo). This church was constructed right before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The center, middle photo shows the tower on the right that survived the fire; you can see the damage to the stones. On the lower left you can see the Episcopal center for the St. James cathedral built in a modernist style; this was almost torn down during the great real estate boom but it survived and now is probably safe for a few years since construction has come to a standstill. Driehaus Capital Management helped greatly with the neighborhood, and the top photo shows their headquarters. The bottom center photo is a classic car in their courtyard and the Driehaus museum features a prominent building from an early baron with immense stone walls in an attempt to make it fireproof. Read the rest of this entry »
Any architecture buff can tell you about the historical firsts for the city of Chicago. The “Chicago School” of architecture included famous buildings like the Monadnock building, one of the tallest masonry structures in the country, and the Auditorium Theater.
In the popular imagination the Sears Tower, which reigned as the tallest building in the world, and the John Hancock building, with its “X” style external beams, are iconic to the city. The Aon Building, formerly the Amoco Building, is a 90 plus story white classical tower, and the Smurfit-Stone building, with its angular (not quite matching) slanted glass roof.