Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Walk Through the Tuileries

I love fall and I love Paris, so arriving when the trees were in their autumnal glory was about as perfect as our vacation could get. Unfortunately, the weather was crazy and the sun disappeared faster than a chocolate croissant. That was ok, Paris always looks great, even on a cloudy day.

We had caught an early train to the city and since our hotel room wasn't ready, we opted for a stroll through the nearby Jardin des Tuileries. To be honest, I never gave it much thought. It's a nice way to get across Paris without having to walk alongside six lanes of heavy traffic. However, since putting this post together, I've learned it has quite a history of it's own - for a garden.

In 1559 Catherine de' Medici, a widowed queen, built herself a royal palace with a big fancy garden. She sold the palace she was living in and picked a spot next to the Louvre that had once been home to factories that made roofing tiles called tuileries. Apparently, she wasn't bothered by the working class connection or maybe it means something else in Italian? It sounds pretty anyway.

Hmmmm, Chanel or Dior?

It was a popular spot with the next four generations of kings until Louis XIV came along. He hired André Le Notre, a famous landscape architect to redesign the 63 acre space into what it looks like today. Unfortunately, Louis didn't hang around long enough to enjoy the transformation. He had built Versailles and moved there permanently in 1682 when he got tired of dealing with the Parisians. 

Marble statutes are everywhere, they line the main paths, surround the ponds and seem to pop up where ever there's space. The bust at the top of this pedestal is Charles Perrault, a Parisian author who is credited as being the founder of the modern fairy tale genre. In 1667 King Louis XIV granted his request to open the Tuileries to the everyone, making it the first royal garden to be open to the public. After the Revolution it became a permanent public park. 

In 1697 Perrault published a book subtitled, Tales of Mother Goose, for the amusement of his children. It included his re-telling of the folk tales of Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood, among other stories. One hundred years later his writings influenced the Brother's Grimm to produce their versions in German. Would we have Disneyland without this guy? It took another hundred plus years after that to honor him with this statue. Better late than never. 

Then there are the Moat Goats, always busy keeping the grass tidy. The Chévres des Fossés (yes, even the French word for goat sounds nice) is an endangered breed, there were only about a hundred of them left a decade ago. A non-profit group brings them to the garden to keep the grass in the moats (again, a nicer word than ditch) that surround the grand pond under control because the area is too steep for conventional lawn mowers. Undoubtedly, they're less noise, too.

Until the 1960's most of the sculpture in the garden was from previous centuries. Since then modern and contemporary works have been continually added. Actually, we watched one being installed and it looks like they keep a sort of changing exhibition going on all of the time. 

As we got closer to the Louvre the clouds began to gather . . .

. . . and so did the crowds.

After Napoleon I became emperor in 1804 he moved into the Tuileries Palace and had the Arc de Triomphe du Carousel built to serve as it's gateway and to congratulate himself on his military victories. In 1871 members of the Paris Commune, a revolutionary government that lasted only two months, burned the palace down after France lost the war with Prussia. Honestly, the Europeans fought among themselves so much it's hard to believe there was anyone left to carry on. Over the years the garden was occupied by Austrian, Russian and Prussian soldiers, hit with German artillery shells and saw fighting during the liberation of the city from the Nazis in 1944. After being around for over 450 years I guess it can handle a few million tourists each year. 

Another thing I had never noticed before was that through the Arc de Triomphe du Carousel you can see the obelisk at the Place de la Concorde and all the way to the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs-Élysées. How could I miss something 75 feet tall? At this point it was looking like we wouldn't make it that far without getting drenched, what a time to forget to bring the umbrella.

Getting to the end of the gardens and crossing the street to the Place de la Concorde is something I usually try to avoid, especially when it's about to rain. However, HM wanted to take some photos so we risked becoming road-kill and joined the tourist hoard. The monument is quite an interesting combination of ancient Egyptian art and 19th century French geekyness. This 3,300 year obelisk once stood at the entrance to the Temple at Luxor. It was a gift from the Egyptian government and in 1836 was placed in the center, where the guillotine stood half an century earlier. The gold leaf markings on the it's pedestal are diagrams explaining the special machinery used to transport it. Sometime in the 6th century BCE the cap was lost but replaced it with a gold leafed version in 1998.   

 It's a little less than a mile from the Louvre to the Place de Concorde and we got there just before the sky opened up. We ducked into the L'Église de la Madeleine (the building on the left, another bit of Napoleon's work) where as luck would have it, there was a free concert that lasted until the rain stopped! Gardens are always beautiful and thanks to his two new knees, HM and I were able to walk through the Tuileries on what turned out to be a very educational day. So, are you ready for the quiz?

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ivy & Burt and the Mummy's Curse

Waves of cold rain swept across the cobblestone courtyard as Ivy hurried to Vienna's Kunst Historisches Museum. There was a special project waiting for her and she was late. Rounding the corner she was greeted with an endless line of visitors at a dead standstill but there was no time to stop and help the ticket vendors today. Weaving through dripping tourists she made her way up the staircase leading to the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection and through the doors. 

 Passing a pair of massive statues of Sekhmet, the fierce goddess of vengeance who traditionally led the pharaoh into battle, Ivy made her way through the exhibition halls.  

As an archaeologist and scholar of hieroglyphics, Ivy had toiled away for many years at excavation sites from the rocky plateau at Giza to the Valley of the Kings. She unearthed hundreds of artefacts and her many discoveries have contributed to our knowledge of the ancient people of the Nile.

Suddenly, all the other visitors seem to vanish and Ivy found herself all alone among the mummy cases and sarcophagi. She wasn't sure if it was the ghosts of the previous occupants or the thought of her new project - but she definitely felt a cold shiver go down her spine.

The museum's collection of ancient Egyptian art began in 1560 when an emissary of the Austrian imperial family purchased a sculpture in Constantinople. (Just for reference, this was sixty years before the pilgrims set foot on Plymouth rock.) Though it wasn't until about 1820 that it became the thing to acquire and then it was mostly due to Napoleon's invasion of Egypt at the turn of the century and the discovery of the Rosetta stone. What really got everyone interested was a false claim that buried somewhere in those ancient tombs was the secret for turning silver into gold!

Of course the ancient artists had no such skill but they did possess the ability to make things look like gold. Even though she would be late getting to her new project, Ivy couldn't resist taking a few moments to gaze up at the pillars. They were over twenty feet tall and had come from an excavation site near Alexandria. The Emperor Franz Josef had received them as a gift in 1869 and had his architects design the room around them. She often wondered if the visitors were aware they were once part of a huge temple or maybe they just assumed they were fakes made to look old. 

Finally, Ivy got to her project and as you might have guessed, it's a mummy! She really didn't need to be concerned about being late. The inscription on the tomb had read Bur-ton-heptet and it had been recently discovered near the ancient site of Shopkko.

After a careful examination, Ivy decided to take a look at what shabti or amulets may have been added during the mummification process. They were often added to ease the person's journey to the afterlife. His Madness showed up to help and in no time at all they had unwrapped quite a few trinkets. Then they came to a small figure of a cat. It was Bastet, the kitty god who is the protector of the home.  (Don't tell your kitties they were once worshiped as gods, it will give them ideas.)      

Suddenly the mummy began to scream and tear at the bandages!

Ivy and HM were paralysed in horror!

Until they realised it was Burt! He thought scaring them would be a fun Halloween prank and then he decided to make himself into a mummy piñata as well. Obviously, Burt like to party.

Candy, anyone?

Eventually all was forgiven and they settled down for a nice bedtime story . . .


. . . and Burt got a really good night's sleep, all by himself.

Hey! Wait a minute! It's still Halloween!

Burt doesn't get to have all the fun.

It's time to get out another roll of toilet paper and hit the town . . .

. . . because Ivy's traded in her old pith helmet for something she wants to be seen in.

Happy Halloween!

Stay safe and thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Haunted Humpday - Costume Drama

Happy Haunted Humpday!

The skeleton crew is joining Marfi at Incipient Wings for some spooky fun leading up to Halloween.  

This week Ivy and Burt are frantically searching for the perfect costumes for this year's festivities while I look back at some of my past attempts to follow a pattern and operate a sewing machine.  

With All Hallow's Eve less than a week away, it's time to get serious about what to wear for this year's hauntings and Ivy has been looking everywhere for ideas. Little bits and pieces of ephemera that are too interesting to toss or recycle usually end up on the "inspiration" board. Originally the plan was to change it monthly with pictures and quotes that would magically motivate us to improve ourselves. Ha! Failing at that, a few attempts were made to switch it out seasonally but finally it was just easier to give up and leave it permanently dedicated to Halloween. It looks best that way.  

Now here is some inspiration for a Halloween costume! Isn't that a cute little handbag and how about the peplum detail of her jacket, who knew the Wicked Witch of the West was so stylish? 

Awhile ago an exhibition came to town of costumes from famous movies and one of the original hats from the Wicked Witch of the West's costume was on display. It was stunning in it's simplicity. There is a whisper of black chiffon hugging the elegant curves of the brim. It's probably too subtle to be even noticeable in the photo above much less in the movie itself but it is a beautiful detail. That exhibit is definitely worth checking out if it happens to show up near you.

Ok, so that's an option. Burt doesn't look very scared though.

Today Burt likes zombies. Tomorrow it will be something else.
Finding just the right fancy outfit isn't easy and for a few years it was quite an issue in our household, but then what would Halloween be without a little costume drama?

For three years, when my son Andy was in grade school, I was desperate to gain the approval of the elite members of the PTO crowd. They were a group of moms who seemed to have everything going for them. Not only were their children brilliant and well behaved but the teachers treated them with a respect that bordered on fawning. I would run into them (as they were getting out of their squeaky clean cars, spotlessly dressed with a plate of homemade cookies for the teacher's lounge) when I was on my way to the principal's office to discuss Andy's latest transgression. At that time it appeared that these so-called, "good moms" sewed elaborate Halloween costumes for their little monsters. Now this was something I thought I could handle, plus it would be fun to do! So I dove in thinking it was a win-win situation all around. Andy was going to love having a great costume and in turn it would show his teachers that I really wasn't such a bad mom after all.

One day while I was frantically searching for some fake fur on my lunch break - for my third attempt at impressing the teachers - I found myself standing in line at the fabric store with several of the grandmothers of Andy's classmates. We had a nice chat about which Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume each of us was making and who was baking what kind of treats for the classroom and teachers lounge. That was a real eye opener. So that was how those "good moms" got so much done! Back at work I decided that if I could be so mistaken about them, maybe the teachers would come to realise they had formed the wrong impression of me. Ha, ha, ha! Like that was ever going to happen!

At least it proved I could follow directions, not that it helped our relationship with the school. As with most unpleasant experiences, time healed the wounds and both of us survived the horrors of grade school. In his defense, I have to say that Andy never got into trouble for fighting or being mean, he was just very opinionated about a certain temporary principal. Unfortunately, he chose to write his views on the washroom wall, using four-letter words. Without any spelling errors though. 

He obviously wasn't traumatised for life since he and Kristin clearly enjoy Halloween. So which Scottish wrestler is he supposed to be? I also keep meaning to ask him what his issues were with the principal. Maybe, if he can remember, he could let us know what it was in the comments?

Ok, so what's this? Has Ivy come up with an new plan? Guess we will find out soon enough.
I wonder what Andy and Kristin will be wearing this year.

A belated Happy Haunted Humpday!
Thanks for stopping by. Do your have your costumes picked out yet?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Haunted Humpday - Strasbourg

Happy Haunted Humpday!

The skeleton crew is joining Marfi at Incipient Wings for some spooky fun leading up to Halloween.  
Ivy and Burt are taking a break this week while I indulge photos of one of my new favourite cities.

You never know who you will meet when you're traveling.
HM and his new friend are gazing up at the awesome Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg. Actually, we visited Vienna and Munich before Strasbourg but I'm skipping over them for now because their big important buildings with the parterre gardens and tons of gilding are primarily Baroque, and all that frilly, light cheerfulness just doesn't go with Halloween. On the other hand, the rest of the city of Strasbourg is so unbelievably cute it puts Disney to shame. 

Construction of the cathedral began in 1015 and was completed in 1439. The spire towers 466 feet over the city making it the tallest fifteenth century structure in the world and it is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Late Gothic architecture. I find it absolute astounding that these huge cathedrals were built entirely by hand - no electricity, no hydraulics - stone by stone, just mallets and chisels and scaffolding. Amazing.  

The interior is almost a textbook example of the cutting edge architectural innovations of 1120. The intersecting ribs of the vaulted ceiling made it possible to reduce the weight bearing down on the walls. This in turn freed up open spaces for windows. During World War II the Nazi's stole all the stained glass and hid it in a salt mine in Germany. Their act of vandalism worked in the cathedral's favor because of the damage done by bombing raids carried out by the U.S. and Great Britain. In all likelihood if the windows had still been intact some would have been destroyed. After the war the windows were discovered and returned by the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the U.S. military. Restorations and repairs of the war damage were completed in 1990.

Like most Gothic cathedrals there is a wealth of saints, gargoyles and grotesques embellishing the pink sandstone exterior. Most of the original statuary that survived the centuries has been removed and is on display in the adjacent museum. Modern replicas replace the originals,


The small rodent-like animal (for lack of a better description) on the left can be seen in the upper left hand corner of the photo above, sneaking down the tracery probably to annoy those two saints. The two testy dogs are located about in the middle, possibly to keep an eye on the unattractive unicorn. 

Before things get too cute, here's one more mad dog. Or is it a bat?

We had decided to visit Strasbourg mainly for the famous Alsatian food and wine. Obviously, we couldn't spend ALL of our time there eating and drinking, no matter how much we would've liked to. Luckily there was plenty to see and do so it was pretty easy to work up a good appetite.

Talk about being spoiled for choice. This is not a place for dieting. 

 The only hint of Halloween we came across was in this window of a candy shop. It appears the Europeans may be starting to warm up to the holiday's sweet side. It's a good place to start.  

Pumpkin soup was a staple at most of the restaurants and there was no shortage of pumpkins at the tiny markets that spill out onto the sidewalks either. Check out that "holy" Coke bottle, ha!

Strasbourg is a beautiful and interesting city to explore . . .

with endless streets to wander down . . . 

. . . pretty flowers to admire

. . . picturesque bridges to cross

 . . . and plenty of places to take a break from it all.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

A very Happy Haunted Humpday to everyone!