Category Archives: Art and Architecture

Back on the Cape, One Constant in an Ever-Shifting View

Last summer, the pandemic interfered with our annual trip to Cape Cod.  For the first time in twenty years, our family failed to spend part of August at the modest little cottage complex in Truro that we love so well. My husband began going there with his parents and siblings when he was a little boy.  Our journey to the Cape is not just a vacation; it’s more like a pilgrimage.  That narrow ribbon of land, curved like a hook into the bay, is, to us, if not quite the promised land, then something quite close to it.  Certainly it’s a second home.  We have no financial claim to any bit of real estate there, but we’re loyal renters.  More importantly, as pilgrimage sites do, the place has claimed us as its own. 

When we return, we go back to the same waterfront cottage, at the same time every year. We reconnect with many of the same families. We look out to a vast expanse of sand that leads to Cape Cod Bay, framed on each side by islands of sea grass and wild roses. The spare, simple skyline of Provincetown, about a mile away, appears to float atop the water. Its most distinctive feature, appropriately, is the tall, granite bell tower that commemorates the arrival of the original Pilgrims to the area, in 1620. Five weeks before landing at Plymouth, the Mayflower docked at what is now Provincetown Harbor. Due to rough weather, the ship had missed its mark in Northern Virginia. Anchored far north in Massachusetts, where the contract the Pilgrims had signed with the Virginia Company was deemed void, the group determined “to covenant and combine . . .together into a civil body politic,” to maintain order and the common good. So it was in Provincetown that the Mayflower Compact, an early and largely successful attempt at democracy, was written and signed. The Pilgrim Monument, now the symbol of the town’s warm, accepting and all-inclusive spirit, reminds us that great things are possible when we work together. For residents and returning pilgrims like our family, it’s a welcoming beacon. I love it that the tower is the anchoring feature in the ever-changing view from our little cottage.

The Pilgrim Monument was completed in 1910. Its design was based on the civic symbol of Siena, the 14h century Torre del Mangia in the Piazzo del Campo, the town’s main square. Other features of Provincetown’s narrow silhouette are two water towers, several church steeples, and the Town Hall tower.

Our view toward the bay varies minute by minute with the shifting of the light, the play of the clouds and the passage of the hours.  The ethereal, transformative quality of Cape light has long made this area a favorite destination for artists. Above, around noontime, the sun glints off sparkling blue water, and a line of clouds hugs the horizon, in an otherwise clear sky.   

On partially overcast afternoons, the water tends to turn silvery, like a sea of mercury. It’s often on days like this that the wind picks up, and my husband, and also now our daughter, may be out windsurfing.

One evening toward sunset, a sky resembling orange sherbet settled above the town’s dark silhouette and a bay of molten lead.

The color of the sand is changeable, as well. In early mornings and late afternoons, it may take on a peachy pink cast, as in the photos above and below. The dark patches of seaweed that litter the beach no doubt seem unsightly to some. But we’ve grown so used to it that it’s no longer remarkable. It’s just more evidence of the abundant life that thrives in and around the bay.

Windsurfing boards await my husband and daughter.

Occasionally, as a storm or dense fog moves in, all the towers of Provincetown are rendered completely invisible. 

To me, the loveliest time of the day is just before sunset, when the shadows in the sand turn a magical, brilliant blue.

Sunset itself, on every clear day, is an event that brings our small, enduring community outside in admiration and awe. The sky often glows with streaks of increasingly fiery red, orange and yellow. And then, as the brilliant colors gradually dissipate, and Cape light fades into Cape night, the Pilgrim Monument is illuminated. Its white granite glows clean and bright against the dark sky. The tower is typically the last thing I see before I close my eyes at night. How comforting to know it is there, a reassuring beacon at all hours, in all weathers and seasons.

On The Road Again, and Back into the World

We did something highly unusual recently. Something we hadn’t done for close to two years. We packed the car and drove across several state lines to visit relatives for the long Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to the Covid vaccines, we could do so without fearing dire consequences. We had taken another major step the week before, when we attended our daughter’s graduation from the University of Virginia. We were there, in person, on-site! And when D returned home a few days later, we didn’t require her to go into a period of quarantine in our home office. We’re gradually easing back into something akin to pre-Covid “normal.”

My husband’s intentions to visit his parents more regularly had been foiled by the pandemic. He and my daughter had also been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to get some ice time with our young hockey-playing nephews. So H’s hometown of Rochester, New York was our first out-of-state family destination. At Bill Gray’s Iceplex in Brighton, H and D matched skills with the boys for an hour of non-stop action. My sister-in-law and I, in our figure skates, passed the occasional errant puck around and served as videographers.

The Eerie canal village of Spencerport, where H’s sister and her family live, was as charming as I remembered it from our last visit over the Memorial weekend in 2019. The lift bridge, which raises to allow the passage of larger boats, had been freshly painted. Bright flowering baskets hung from shop windows. Our nephews have become enthusiastic fishermen during the pandemic. They breathlessly described to us the many fish that inhabit the canal. On a cold Saturday morning, undeterred by the icy wind blowing over the water, they proceeded to catch a wide range of examples. “A pumpkinseed? Really? That’s a fish?,” I asked the boys, thinking I’d heard wrong. Yes, indeed. A small and colorful speckled sunfish. Kids are such fountains of knowledge.

As much as my husband enjoys speeding across the ice in pursuit of a hockey puck, I like a brisk stroll through picturesque neighborhoods. I had been looking forward to walking again along Spencerport’s tree-shaded streets lined with beautifully tended old homes and historic churches. I kept falling behind my daughter and sister-in-law as I paused to take photos. So many captivating architectural details, so little time.

Spencerport’s First Congregational Church
Spencerport’s United Methodist Church

The lamp posts on the main streets of the village were again decorated with flags and Hometown Heroes banners. Photos of our military men and women currently serving in various branches of the armed forces gazed down on us. Although the images were different, the group was just as youthful-looking as those of a previous year. Some were smiling. Others had adopted more serious expressions. All, I expect, must have been feeling a sharp mixture of anxiety and optimism during those photo sessions.

Their faces look down on the quiet, peaceful streets of home. Yet the real young men and women are far away, in places where turmoil reigns and peace is elusive. Every time I think of pretty little Spencerport, with its inviting sense of homeyness, I think of these hometown heroes. I pray that they return whole and healthy to their families.

I pray also that we civilians do our part to earn that name. May we not forsake our civic duty. May we pursue truth and learn from it, especially when it is painful. Especially when it reveals shortcomings that need to be addressed. May we actively work toward justice and peace for all people. May our country, our democracy, remain worthy of our pride and of the service and sacrifice of our military men and women.

Fairfield Cemetery, Spencerport

Springtime in Charlottesville

Charlottesville is about a hundred miles south of our home in the DC suburbs.  The weather there is consistently warmer and sunnier than here in Northern Virginia, and spring tends to arrive earlier.  My daughter thoroughly appreciates the beauty of her temporary home.  She knows I do, as well.  I’ve been wanting someone in our family to attend the University of Virginia for the last thirty years, but that’s another story.  Here now, thanks to my daughter, some photos of Charlottesville in its spring glory. 

Snow Day at The University of Virginia

This February here in Northern Virginia has conformed to its traditional designation as the month of snow.  Unfortunately, if appropriately, the full February super Snow Moon on the 19th was just a lighter smudge in the snow-making clouds.  On Wednesday, as predicted, the white stuff began falling steadily in the pre-dawn hours and continued throughout the day. 

The snow was beautiful, of course.  I loved seeing how my elderly Kiko, energized by the fluffy cleanness that blanketed the grass, gave in to periodic bursts of joyous puppy play during our morning walk.  But I’ve written about our local February snows for years now.  See  Blasts from a Past February: The Blizzard of 2003,  and Sick of February Yet ?, both from 2015.  And from 2014,  My Favorite View: At Home, with Moonlight on the Snow, as well as This Snow Won’t Go, and Real Snow. Enough Now.  And still another from that year: Early Morning Irritability.  What else is there to say?

However, it also snowed in Charlottesville.  Snowfall rarely prompts The University of Virginia to cancel classes, but it happened this week.  Wild Trumpet Vine has never before featured photos of the gracious old UVA grounds covered in snow.  That’s now possible thanks to my student contact.  So, from my daughter, who assured me that she wouldn’t miss a moment of study time for her thermodynamics test, here are some images of the Rotunda and the Lawn.

Coney Island, June 1993

According to the Farmer’s Almanac and calendar no-it-alls, it’s still summer, for one more day.  The autumnal equinox occurs tomorrow, September 23, bringing with it the first day of fall.  I’d thought the summer had slipped away, but it hasn’t quite.  A couple of months ago, I’d intended to write several posts on summer places.  But the days passed, filled with other preoccupations.  On this very last day of summer, I’ll try to make up for lost time.  First up, Coney Island.

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I was about five years old the first time I heard of Coney Island.   It sounded magical and exotic, an ideal, seaside summer place.   Neighbors of my grandmother in Kentucky had just returned from there, and they spoke of it in glowing terms.  It was way up north near New York City.  There were roller coasters, carousels, and a huge Ferris wheel right on the beach.  I’d never seen any ocean then.  I’d been no farther north than Ashland, Kentucky, and no farther south than Waycross, Georgia.  (Daddy’s job in public health occasionally took him to Waycross, and Mama and I went with him a few times.  While it sounds like small peanuts, I remember it as a very cool place, home of the Okefenokee Swamp, a great Holiday Inn pool, and crumbling antebellum mansions.) Anyway, that family’s Coney Island experience made quite an impression. I vowed someday I’d see it for myself.   

By the time I was living in New Jersey, twenty-something years later, Coney Island sounded decidedly less magical.  But I was still intrigued.  One Saturday in June before I moved back to Atlanta, H and I drove up for the day.   013

We were in H’s enormous 1968 Chevy Impala SS (last car on the right, above).  I’d gone with him to Trenton in the spring to buy it for $450.  Battered and well past its prime, it was the perfect car for Coney Island in 1993.  Like the faded amusement park, it could be seen to possess an inimitable air of tough deadbeat cool.  We parked right next to the old Thunderbolt roller coaster; there were no vast, well-maintained parking lots as at a typical Six Flags.  The Thunderbolt, opened in 1925 and out of use since 1982, sat decaying behind a rusted chain link fence.  At first I thought it was the famous Coney Island Cyclone.  It didn’t look safe at all.  But, on the bright side, there was no crowd. 

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Then I spotted the Cyclone, across the way.  In comparison to the decrepit Thunderbolt, it looked positively spiffy.

007The above photo shows the Cyclone from the top of the Wonder Wheel.  The classic white wooden coaster dates from 1927It’s not especially tall.  It doesn’t look particularly impressive if compared to sky-high roller coasters of the twenty-first century. There are no full loops.  The cars don’t hang upside down.  It doesn’t go backwards.  It’s associated with no blockbuster movie franchise.  But it is one memorable, absolutely thrilling ride. 

On that sunny summer Saturday, the queue for the Cyclone was  surprisingly short, almost nonexistent.  At H’s insistence, we waited out one run so we could get the front car on the next one.  As a little boy at Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester, his grandfather taught him that for the complete coaster experience, one must ride in the first car.  We got in.  When the safety bar came down, I thought there must be some mistake.  There was way too much room between the bar and my lap.  In fact there was space for someone several times my size, or for me and a couple of friends on my lap.  I was afraid I’d fly out on the first dip.  I anchored my elbows forcefully into the worn vinyl padding of the bar. 

The cars lurched, and we were off, chugging slowly up the first hill.  At the top, there was that suspense-filled pause, and suddenly we were hurtling downward.  Thrillingly, alarmingly.  The first descent is banked precipitously, and I hunkered lower, dug my elbows in harder. We were back up, rounded a turn, and then we were headed down again, screaming, laughing.  It was exhilarating. 

At the end of the ride, when the little train arrived at the platform, we were laughing and wind-blown, like all the other riders.  H’s shirt had become completely unbuttoned.  My bra had come unhooked.  We had been warned to secure all valuables.  According to the attendant, false teeth, glasses, jewelry, wigs and even underwear had been found on the tracks.  I can see why. 

Back then, you could stay on for another ride at no cost if you chose.  We both wanted a repeat, but we needed some time to collect ourselves, to button up, to recover from the thrill.  To prepare to be thrilled again.

Reliving the memory, I think, as I have many times over the years:  we’ve got to go to Coney Island with our daughter.  Not surprisingly, she’s a roller coaster fan. 

Next: More Coney Island

London, Revisited, Part IV: Saint Paul’s

I was looking forward to showing my daughter Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which I’d studied repeatedly in various art history courses.  D was familiar with it from her preschool years when Mary Poppins was a revered staple in our video library.   In those days, I tended to remind her, too often, that the “Feed the Birds Church” was a real, famous, enormous church in London.  Sometimes I’d show her pictures of it in my architecture books.  And if my husband were in on the viewing, he’d explain how young Michael’s tuppence, used for bread crumbs for the birds, instead of deposited into Mr. Banks’ bank could, in theory, have caused a run on the bank.  No doubt D would have preferred fewer teachable moments while she watched her movie, but that’s a burden some only children must bear. 

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St. Paul’s stands atop Ludgate Hill, the highest point in London.  A church dedicated to St. Paul the Apostle and prolific New Testament author had existed on the spot since the sixth century.  The current church replaced a large medieval basilica built in the Romanesque and Gothic styles.  Like much of the City of London, it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.  At the time of the fire, a young Christopher Wren had been involved in updating Old St. Paul’s.  A network of wooden scaffolding was in place as the stone walls were being repaired.  Had the scaffolding not caught fire and ignited the wooden roof beams, portions of the medieval church might have been salvageable.  After the destruction, Wren was hired to design a grand new cathedral.  Wren rebuilt over fifty London churches, but St. Paul’s is his crowning glory, a masterpiece of the English Baroque style.   

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The highly sculptural west front of St. Paul’s, with its double temple front and twin towers. 

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Feed the birds, tuppence a bag. 

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Wren’s monumental dome drew on Italian Renaissance forerunners by Michelangelo, Brunelleschi and Bramante.

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From its earliest days, St. Paul’s has been a distinctly urban church.  Considering its location in the densely crowded City, the heart of London’s commercial district since ancient times, it could hardly be otherwise.  Seventeenth-century images of Old St Paul’s show the hilltop basilica closely surrounded by haphazardly constructed smaller buildings.  The warren of wooden homes and shops that encroached upon one another made suppressing the four-day Great Fire particularly difficult. 

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That St. Paul’s continues to be hemmed in on all sides by ordinary office buildings is therefore not surprising.  But, I wonder, do they have to be so emphatically ugly and insinuatingly pushy?  A wave of fresh disappointment hits me every time I approach the great church from a street like the one pictured above. 

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The British flair for the sweeping, spectacular vista is nowhere in evidence around St. Paul’s.  Above, a view from the Millennium bridge. 

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The Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s from across the Thames. 

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St. Paul’s looks down on the life of the city, as it has since its completion in 1708.  Above, in Bankside near the Tate Modern, a Shrek in a silver track suit amuses pedestrians by hovering in mid-air.  Despite the labyrinth of buildings that crowd the base of the Cathedral, the dome still towers well above newer, less distinguished neighbors.  Let futuristic skyscrapers such as “The Shard” and “The Gherkin” continue to pop up, as long as they don’t blot out the vision of that iconic dome.   

London, Revisited, Part III

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As we proceeded with our walk through the heart of London, I maintained my role as a somewhat muddled and conflicted tour guide.  It was with relief that I found the lacy, Gothic-style towers of Parliament and all the buildings of Westminster Palace in their expected spots, keeping watch over the Thames.  Their honey-colored stone gleamed warmly in the sunlight; I had never seen them looking so pristine.  The last traces of Industrial Revolution coal-dust grime were blasted away in 1994.  

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Although reduced in number and usage, classic examples of the red telephone box still punctuate the streets of London.  That they tend to be surrounded by international tourists snapping photos with their phones strikes me as an interesting irony,  further proof that our twenty-first century world is nothing if not meta.   

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The ever-present London Eye grew larger as we made our way down the Victoria Embankment alongside the river.  Perhaps because I was distracted by the giant Ferris wheel, I completely missed one of my favorite London statues, that of the formidable Boadicea driving her chariot into battle against the Romans.  Back home, when I looked for her on Google maps, I found her exactly where she should have been, on the Embankment near Westminster Pier.  It was dismaying to realize I had walked blindly past the Warrior Queen. 

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When we paused to rest on one of the Embankment’s sphinx-armed benches, our daughter noticed that our sunglasses reflected double rings of the London Eye.  

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When in London, one is gifted (or afflicted), with London eyes. 

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From the Embankment, we approached Trafalgar Square.  Since its completion in 1724, the neoclassical Church of Saint Martin-in-the Fields has anchored a corner of  the square.  James Gibbs’ design, with a tall, graceful steeple resembling a multi-layer wedding cake, continues to influence the building of Protestant churches throughout the U.S.  I regret that we didn’t squeeze in a visit to the café in the church’s roomy, atmospheric crypt.  It’s a great place to refuel and revive after wandering the halls of the National Gallery across the square. 

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This photo from 1982 shows the church from the steps of the National Gallery. 

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On the day of our visit, Trafalgar Square and the steps leading to the Gallery were awash in a teeming tide of humanity.  I had hoped to show my daughter some of my favorite paintings, but the crowds made me lose heart.  Spring break in London, as in Paris, has its drawbacks.  It seemed futile even to try to elbow our way over to one of the grand lions that guard Lord Nelson’s column.  Somewhat appropriately, in the waning afternoon light, the National Gallery takes on a grim, fortress-like aspect in the photo above. 

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On a less hectic day in the summer of 1982, Lord Nelson’s lions, and the Gallery itself, were more accessible. 

We decided to flee the area.  But a quick departure was impossible  due to the press of the crowd.  Had I never been in London during the week before Easter?   Maybe not.  During my year in the U.K., I returned home once, and that was for Easter.  Maybe the city’s always as congested at this time of the season.  Better to assume that’s the case than to think it’s been spoiled recently. 

I know I’m not alone in occasionally wishing myself nearly alone (with a hand-picked group of family and friends) to experience the marvels of the world’s great cities.  As we made our way back, slowly, toward Grosvenor Square and our hotel, I considered the advantages of conducting future British travel from the serenity of the sofa via PBS and Netflix.  Under the expert guidance of, say, earnest young Endeavor Morse, or Benedict Cumberbatch’s otherworldly Sherlock, or the bright-eyed, sensibly shoed Miss Marple, one may witness matters of life and death set amidst notable U. K. monuments, without ever battling a crowd.  The older I get, the more tempting that sounds. 

London, Revisited, Part II

No doubt about it: I was a tourist in the city that had once been home. The experience was as unsettling as I had anticipated.  Familiar buildings turned up in unexpected places.  My identifications were often completely wrong.  That building there–I think it’s the Horse Guards. . .  What does that even mean?   I used to know.  Oh, it doesn’t matter–it’s not the Horse Guards at all.  Too many landmarks looked different, not because of any real changes, but because of the frayed edges of memory.  This is what I had feared.

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Reassuringly, some sights, such as Buckingham Palace, were much as I remembered them.  Its gardens of red and yellow tulips were spectacular on this bright spring day.

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A major change, though, is the fact that the London Eye is visible from nearly every point in the city.  I hadn’t expected it to be such a background constant.

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The Victoria Memorial and the Palace Gates were as grand as ever. 

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St. James’s Park was dressed up in the Easter-basket colors of early spring.

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Westminster Abbey hadn’t picked up and walked away.  It was whiter and cleaner than I’d ever seen it before.  During my first visit, in 1975, it was still blackened with nineteenth-century soot.

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The lawn of the Cloister was perfectly manicured in that oh-so-British style.

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During a visit in July 1982, my friends and I posed with a group of jolly actors in period costume outside the Abbey.  I tried to recreate the photo with H on this trip, but the results only highlighted time’s passage, and not in a good way.

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Some prominent landmarks kindled no spark of recognition.  One example is this monumental building facing Westminster Abbey.  It’s Methodist Central Hall, dating from 1911.  As a lifelong Methodist, I’m disappointed in myself that I have no recollection of it.  The headquarters of the United Methodist Church in the U.K., it serves as a conference center, concert venue and home to a large congregation with a vital and active mission. The expansive auditorium topped by its enormous dome was meant to evoke  open-air camp meeting pavilions, such as that in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.  Next visit, I’ll remember.  Also, I’m going inside.

 

Rue Mouffetard-Area Street Art by Seth

As we wandered the Latin Quarter behind the Pantheon along the narrow streets of the rue Mouffetard area this past April, we were stopped by several delicately painted street art murals.  The three paintings include the same figure of a young boy wearing a pale blue and white striped hoodie, jeans and Converse sneakers.  This is street art at its playful, charming, arresting best.  Not only does it improve the blank walls it adorns, it prompts passers-by to pause, think, and look more closely. 
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An internet search after I returned home revealed these three murals to be the work of Julien Malland, who paints under the name “Seth.”  Also known as the “Globe Painter,” he has created many other works throughout Paris and all over the world.  The figure of the boy appears repeatedly, as does the pony-tail-wearing girl in the example below.  The artist often uses the wall surface as a unique element in the design.  In the painting above, the boy appears to be in the process of disappearing into the wall.  In another Paris mural, entitled “Painting the Rainbow,” the boy seems to lift up the wall like a canvas curtain in order to paint a circular rainbow on the floor below.  In other works, the wall surface plays the role of water, from which the boy and girl emerge as they prepare to launch a paper boat.

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Above, secrets are shared under cover of the roomy striped hoodie. 

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In this work, the boy appears to float in the water of the wall, holding his paper boat aloft. Some of Seth’s Paris works occupy entire sides of multiple-story buildings.

This artist’s appealing, whimsical creations remind us that Paris is, indeed, one rambling, open-air gallery in which art of every genre is free for those willing to take the time to look.   

Paris Grab Bag

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In the Tuileries, with the Louvre behind.

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Like so many tourists, our daughter finds she can walk on water
near I.M. Pei’s Louvre pyramid.

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The Grand Palais, an enormous exhibition hall on the Champs-Élysées,
was built for the World’s Fair, held in Paris in 1900.

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The interior of the glass-domed Grand Palais abounds with sinuous Art Nouveau ironwork.

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More Grand Palais elegance in iron and glass.

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The Grand Mosque of Paris, which dates from 1926.


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The Odeon Theatre, near the Luxembourg Gardens.
The present building dates from 1819.

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A typically grand Paris doorway.

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Interior view of the Pantheon.
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The Sorbonne.

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Produce vendors along the rue Mouffetard.
On weekday mornings, the long, narrow street is the ideal setting for a moveable feast.

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A pedestrian-only street, the rue du Pot-de-Fer, or Street of the Iron Pot.
Like rue Mouffetard, which it intersects, and several in the area, it
escaped demolition during Haussmann’s revisioning of Paris.  

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The staircase in our hotel.