Wednesday, October 29, 2008

 
Halloween meme, from Michael at Ur-Spo via City Woof

Are you scared of bats?
Only if they're acting in a manner that suggests they're rabid. I had three bats in my house in Boston and one in this new house in southern New Hampshire, so I’m something of an old hand.

When you were a kid, did you go out on Mischief Night?
Is this something like Devil Night in Detroit? Since I’ve never heard of Mischief Night, I don’t think I’ve been out in it.

What is your favorite trick-or-treat candy?
Almond Joy. Now if I had my way, it would be Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Bittersweet Chocolate Bar with Almonds (you see a pattern of chocolate and almonds here?)

Have you ever seen a ghost?
Yes. At least I truly think so. A wonderful man, a great director and acting coach for whom I designed productions for seven years at MIT. It was along the Memorial Drive in Cambridge and it was definitely his walk, his face, his Greek Fisherman’s cap. And it was one week after his funeral.

The most memorable costume you ever wore?
Age five, a red Devil costume, the suit and mask of which were made out of vegetable dyed red cotton. It had a long red tail that dragged on the ground behind me (tell me THAT wasn’t gay!). It was an unusually warm day for Halloween in New York City and I perspired rather heavily in the suit and mask. When I got home with my treats, I took off the mask and my mother screamed. The unfixed vegetable dye had run into my perspiration and was streaming down my face. She thought I’d been slashed and was bleeding to death. I got a real kick out of that.

Do you carve a happy or a scary face on the pumpkin? I’ve done both and I’ve also done abstract, non-representational pumpkins. I mean, I’m a designer . . .

Will anyone wear a costume to work on October 31st?
I’m sure they will—I just won’t be there.

Any cooking or baking you do for Halloween?
Not really, no.

Have you ever been to The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland or
Disneyworld?
No.

Any element of the season you don’t like?
The fact of holiday-creep: I hear that it’s not a single day now but Halloween Month, and by the time Halloween comes the artificial Christmas trees have already b een on sale for six weeks.

What is your favorite scary movie?
The Turn of the Screw, followed by Psycho.

Do you cook the pumpkin seeds from your carved jack-o-lanterns?
I have done regularly in the past. Not sure we’ll have one this year.

Are you intrigued with vampires?
Not really. Maybe sexy male ones in costumes that can be gotten off easily.

*******

Scott of Bill in Exile published these items late last week and I thought they deserved wider circulation. Also, word is out that the Palin campaign is no longer answering to the Republican hierarchy and that she's now essentially a rogue candidate. She could probably get into all kinds of interesting mischief! Anyway, thanks Scott for these:

"One well-connected Republican in the private sector was shocked to get calls and resumes in the past few days from what he said were senior McCain aides — a breach of custom for even the worst-off campaigns."

And then there's this:

With despair rising even among many of John McCain's own advisers, influential Republicans inside and outside his campaign are engaged in an intense round of blame-casting and rear-covering - much of it virtually conceding that an Election Day rout is likely.

"….If you really want to see what ‘going negative' is in politics, just watch the back-stabbing and blame game that we're starting to see," said Mark McKinnon, the ad man who left the campaign after McCain wrapped up the GOP primary. "And there's one common theme: Everyone who wasn't part of the campaign could have done better."

"The cake is baked," agreed a former McCain strategist. "We're entering the finger-pointing and positioning-for-history part of the campaign. It's every man for himself now."

*******

Second half of the pictures from Lyon:


The Beaux-Arts Opera de Lyon, with the striking contemporary new "wing" rising from the original building. It contains rehearsal halls and production shops.

My first time in Lyon was in the late 1980s during a wonderful period when a colleague of mine and I were leading three week summer study/travel trips to Europe for high schoolers. When we got to Lyon, the students, who were all girls that year, asked if we'd take them to a disco. We consulted with our hotel about a respectable place for a group of American students, and were given the name of a club right behind the opera house which they assured us was fun, safe, just the thing we were looking for-- and at midnight there would be "a spectacle!"

We got there around eleven as the place was just beginning get going. We clued the bartender into the fact that our kids were not to be served hard liquor but could have a glass of wine each, as their parents had signed consent forms. Somewhere in all this, we noticed that at the tables and in the booths surrounding the dance floor it was either all male or all female but the penny didn't drop until my very attractive straight female colleague went to the ladies room and a woman from one of the tables immediately got up and followed her in.

While this was happening, the girls were getting frustrated that none of the guys were asking them to dance but--OMG! some of them were out on the floor dancing with each other. We all got together for a little conference, and everybody decided everything was cool because it really was a very nice place. The girls decided not to be wallflowers, got up and approached the gay boys to dance--and they were very happy to do so.

At 11:45, a procession of beautifully made up tall, slender men carrying hat boxes and garment bags paraded through the club into the backstage area, and promptly at midnight, the "spectacle" began--a big, brassy mostly lipsync drag show that was a knockout. We had a great time and got them back to the hotel by 2am. The students, not the drag queens.

When we came out of Customs at Logan Airport in Boston, masses of parents were waiting and before most of them were even in their parents' arms, the kids started calling out, "Mr_____ and Ms_____ took us to a transvestite bar!!" The parents loved it.

Interior courtyard of a 17th century apartment building. These interior courtyards have passageways that link them to the streets in front of and behind their buildings. During the Second World War, French Resistance members could melt into and out of the buildings and slip easily through the city with minimal time in the actual streets, the better to evade Nazi patrols.

Astronomical clock standing on the floor of the St. Nizier Church. It's highly mechanized with moving figures.

The oldest part of Lyon looking from the peninsula across the Saône.

Unfortunately the water was turned off in this fountain. My first time in Lyon I spent much of an afternoon at a cafe opposite it. With water tumbling down between the horses, the effect was as if they were leaping and plunging through the ocean. The sculptor was Bartholdy, whose Statue of Liberty dominates New York City's harbor.

The 17th century City Hall or Hôtel de Ville of Lyon. It dates from the reign of Louis XIV, who is still present in the form of an impressive equestrian statue in the large park opposite. Unless it's a recreation, I have no idea how the statue of a relatively tyrannical king survived the French Revolution.

And last but hardly least, the same team of artists who devised the trompe l'oeil painting on the windowless building wall in Vienne, painted the two blank walls of this building in Lyon. The characters are all connected with the city's history from many eras.





Monday, October 27, 2008

 
There were two extremely interesting musical events in Boston last week involving first-rate performers and excellent, rarely-encountered material. Both had the potential to be significant successes, but in the event, one soared while the other remained stubbornly earthbound.

Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischutz (The Freeshooter or The Marksman) has never done well in America despite a gorgeous score. Its form is German singspiel, with musical numbers set off by spoken dialog like Mozart’s The Magic Flute, but with a very lengthy text. The folklore-derived plot is a variant on the Faust story and requires belief in making pacts with the Devil, and encounters with spirits and goblins in the forest. Particularly for the latter, Weber provides vividly descriptive music and any production that hopes to succeed has to come to grips with that imagery on stage or risk looking irrelevant.


Opera Boston created a lot of excitement by announcing the opera and by engaging director Sam Helfrich, who has an excellent track record for moving, intelligent productions in the last several years. Alas, Helfrich is one of those modern directors who’s unwilling to bring the supernatural onto the stage. His staging of the demonic Wolfglen scene in which magic bullets are forged under the supervision of the Devil’s agent ignored both the plot line and the music to present our hero, Max, as having a psychological crisis.

Helfrich got it right in a program note, when he stated that in literature and myth, whenever people retreat to the forest they’re actually going within themselves to search for knowledge. But Max doesn’t go for knowledge, he goes to defy society by making a deal with the Devil, in desperation to “get the girl”. As all hell (literally) broke out in the orchestra, the production remained stolidly in the village (updated as a kind of Levittown with lederhosen). The villagers, now zombie-like, played high school-like humiliation pranks on Max. There was no forging of magic bullets going on. Placed smack in the middle of the opera, the scene to which everything builds, this Wolfglen just died and, despite some solid singing and superb orchestral playing, took the rest of the evening down with it.

Production considerations aside, the big question for me was the decision to perform Der Freischutz in the original German. Given the unfamiliarity of the opera and the huge amount of spoken dialog, would it not have made more sense to have used a good English translation? As the entire cast are native English speakers and the vast majority of them were probably learning the opera for the first time, English would seem to have been a more logical choice.

*******

On the other hand, Canadian Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, her pianist/orchestrator husband and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra under conductor Anne Manson presented an unusually programmed theme recital as part of their Remembrance Tour to memorialize genocide victims worldwide, focusing on the Armenian and Jewish Holocausts. Far from being grim or didactic, the superbly performed program celebrated the survival of vital, living cultures through their music and poetry.

Centerpiece of the program were the songs of ethnomusicologist Gomitas Vardapet who had gathered and transcribed a vast amount of Armenian folk and traditional music only to see much of his work destroyed in the Turkish attempt to wipe out the Armenian people and their culture. His spirit broken, he died soon after. By beginning the program with the Rumanian Dances of Bela Bartok, Bayrakdarian placed Gomitas on a plane with that famed composer/preservationist of the Hungarian musical tradition. She then nearly blew the roof off Jordan Hall with an intense, absorbing performance of Ravel’s Hebraic Melodies beginning with Kaddish as an elegy for those who were lost.

Gomitas dominated the rest of the recital, including the three encores. Ms Bayrakdarian is a bewitching performer, blessed with a pungently colored lyric soprano of great expressivity. She inhabits her material without mannerism or pretense, communicating directly to the audience which gave her a huge reception.

*******

Not too far north of Vienne is Lyon, France's third largest city in population, second largest in land area. A handsome city filled with superb architecture from the Carolingian (circa AD 800) to the Modern, Lyon is centered on a peninsula between the Rh
Ône and SaÔne rivers, spreading east and west through countryside marking the transition from Mediterranean Provence to sub-Alpine Burgundy.

In look and feeling very much a southern Paris, Lyon has been the great center of the French textile industry for hundreds of years, of the French Revolution in the south in the 18th century, of Resistance against the Nazis in the 20th century, and of haute cuisine at all times.

The first of two sets of Lyon pictures:

View of the city at University Bridge from our docked boat. The basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere, which sits on a height that once held the Roman Forum of the imperial city of Lugdunam. To the right is the city's mini-"Eiffel Tower" which handles television transmission and all other kinds of communication.

Panorama of the northern part of the peninsula with the Sa
Ône in the foreground and the RhÔne marked by the row of trees in the background. The great glass barrel vault on the left is the newish addition to the otherwise Beaux-Arts Opera House, containing rehearsal halls and expanded production shops.

The great mass of Notre Dame de Fourviere (which smartasses of the late 19th century called "the upside-down elephant"). Built between 1874 and 1887, with interior finishing details going on for another 60 years, this church is the symbol of the city, particularly as no municipal or church funds were used in its construction. Contributions from the public in gratitude that the Germans had not come to destroy Lyon in the Franco-Prussian War funded the entire enterprise. Locally born architect Pierre Bossan, a specialist in ecclesiastical structures, was commissioned to design the basilica at age 30 and he worked on it until his death the year f
ollowing the structure's completion.


As its name suggests, this church is devoted wholly and intensively to the Virgin Mary. The exterior ornamentation is extraordinary for the 1870s, being highly stylized, not at all in line with the sentimental, ornate decoration of the Beaux-Arts school of design, and prefiguring Art Deco of the 1930s.

The stylized pelicans that act as capitals for the slender columns are a symbol of the maternal care of Mary as, in hard times, female pelicans will pierce their own breasts with their beaks and allow their young to drink their blood to survive.

Highly stylized doves with halos around their heads topping the square pilasters represent the Holy Spirit that played a major part in Mary's becoming pregnant while maintaining her virginity. This is a major part of Catholic belief, one of many "mysteries" that must be taken wholly on faith. The Holy Spirit is pure concept and always represented by a dove.

A very "1930s" Angel on the church's facade. Mike from the blog guttermorality, an architect in Los Angeles, and I have been corresponding a bit on the highly individual approach Bossan took to his church architecture. In one of his comments he said: "it's almost like the architect adapted classical and gothic elements to create his own vernacular. The result is very fresh (and yeah, somehow redolent of art deco before there was such a thing)--some of the details (such as those amazing stylized angels, and those incredible figures--what are they, birds? angels?--springing from the capitals of the slender columns are uncannily contemporary."

The interior is heavily covered in mosaic. The pieces are all glass, many of them covered in gold. The walls and arches shimmer in the light.

Th lower wall mosaics are huge theatrical compositions telling stories like the life and death of Joan of Arc, or the naval battle of Lepanto at which the Venetian navy succesfully destroyed a Turkish fleet, putting a stop to Muslim efforts to invade central Europe.

It is estimated that each square meter of mosaic contains up to 10,000 separate pieces. Mosaic work continued inside the church until 1947.

Friday, October 24, 2008

 
We finally got the hot tub set up today. It came up the hill in September on a Sweat Lodge day when we had a lot of guys here. It wasn’t an easy move, even with all the help. It’s big, heavy and the outer shell is pretty flimsy, all things considered, particularly because the attachment between the shell and the ¾ inch plywood base was weak; on the way up, it ruptured.

We got the cover off and Fritz went in to bail out rainwater that had gotten in during the last two months. Then he wiped down the inside. Meanwhile, I was filling the gaps between the outer shell and the base with spray foam to boost the insulation and keep out rodents that might crawl in through the gaps to keep warm. Then I got the hose hooked up, filled the tub and the big moment arrived to test it out.

In spite of all the whacking around it suffered along the way, the tub’s plumbing is solid and everything worked. It’s spending the night gradually heating up to 85 degrees, which is where we keep it between uses—its back in business.

*******

Vienne occupies a strategic position at a prominent curve on the Rhône, at the foot of a high promontory from which the river can easily be surveyed for long distances north and south. The Roman theater was built into the steep slope of this hill and is still in use for concerts and other events. Julius Caesar made a headquarters here while leading his famous campaign against the Gauls.

Modern Vienne is a prosperous, stylish city that attracts visitors particularly for its Roman remains, which are extensive.


Vienne seen from the heights, the Rhône in the background and the mass of the Cathedral seen from the rear, just left of center


The city's great gem, a first century B.C. temple to Augustus and Livia, the imperial couple who were Rome's first emperor and empress. It survived so largely intact due to its having been in constant use over the centuries. This is a tall, very impressive building that eventually became a French court of justice


A considerable section of the Forum still stands.


Corner of a modern building made of random stones from the Forum


A 14th century house with a take-out food window on the ground floor. In the medieval period, the ground floor would also have been a shop or small business of some kind.


A huge trompe l'oeil mural on the blank wall of a building near the Forum memorializes the city's history using the Roman theater, slyly updated, as a metaphor for Vienne's vibrant life.


Part of a Forum building incorporated into a modern structure


6th century church with a 10th century bell tower, St. Pierre serves as the city's lapidary museum, exhibiting everything that is rock from tiny semi-precious stones used in jewelry, to . . . . .

. . . blocks from Roman buildings--here a section of a very formal cornice. At least a dozen more pieces of this exquisitely carved cornice lay up against the church's flank.

Vienne was a long morning visit for us, after which we had lunch on board as the boat sailed north to the great city of Lyon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

 
*******

Somewhere in the middle of our trip, Fritz commented on what a windfall for tourism churches are. It’s true—all along our route, the most major and significant buildings to visit and analyze often were churches. I am blessed that my traveling companion in tourism, as in life, is a man who can get as enthusiastic about a strikingly original squinch in an 11th century Romanesque transcept as I can (yeah, I get excited by weird stuff—I had problems from other boys in school).

I’m a great architecture groupie. My colleagues in the design operation at MIT always used to gather with our students when I gave my talk on the great Hagia Sophia In Constantinople/Istanbul. I’m happily atheistic but in any new town we visit, I head for the old churches which are of interest, both culturally and as landmarks in the ancient quest to cover as much space as possible without introducing a large number of vertical supports. The struggle of span versus height.

All of which is prelude to saying that you’re going to see a fair number of churches as we go through these vacation pictures, although NOT, interestingly, today. Today’s pictures are from the towns of Viviers, Tournon-sur-Rh
Ône, and Tain-l’Hermitage.

Sailing upstream from Avignon past many castles and watch towers.

We visited the town of Viviers at night. The majority of Viviers isn't down there with the buildings and the cars, it's up on top of that rock, a vast mesa rising with sheer cliffs from the Rh
Ône valley. Upper Viviers is a completely medieval town. At night the streets are deserted with only a few lanterns on iron brackets providing any light. There was a spooky feeling of the 11th century, when the population barricaded itself in their homes and prayed they'd make it through the night without some disaster smiting them. It was 9:30 and there was NOBODY to be seen anywhere.

Our guide, aside from being extremely knowledgable, had a wonderful sense of humor. As we walked through the upwardly sloping streets, our only sense that the population actually existed was a stray glow of light from the edge of a shutter. "Don't worry," our guide said, "they KNOW you're here."

One citizen not only knew but made himself known to us. As we stopped in a small square, a pair of shutters flew open and a very good looking young man wearing only the briefest of briefs leaned out of a ground floor window, calling softly to his cat. When it didn't appear immediately, he left the shutters open, light from his apartment pouring in a dazzling flood into the square, as he went about his business in full view through the open window.

We walked higher and higher on the rock of Viviers until we reached the very top of the mesa, the Cathedral behind us, and looked back down onto the square where the young man had appeared so dramatically. The house on the right of the square, seeming very blue here is this one,

once the wealthiest and most powerful residence in town. Its owner had managed to corner the markets and eventually not only deposed the bishop but appropriated all of his and the church's wealth. When the political situation reversed and bishop was restored to both civil and religious control of Viviers, the owner of this splendid residence was tortured and publicly executed.

The night-time tour of Viviers was an unexpected delight. When we got back to the boat, it cast off and moved into the middle of the river to sail all night to the beginning of serious wine country. Our next stop was the twin towns of Tournon-sur-Rh
Ône (west bank) and Tain-l'Hermitage (right bank) of the river. We went out into the countryside where the grape harvest was just beginning, having been delayed by heavy summer rains.

The winery we visited occupied this old convent. There was a tour of the facility and a wine tasting. All the grapes in the Côtes du Rhône are shiraz and 90% of the wine produced is red.

Wine in the region is stored and aged in oak, both American and European, and also in fiberglas and, surprisingly, concrete. This winery turns out 70,000 bottles a year which classifies it as a small operation.

After lunch back at the boat, we visited the Musée de Tain-l'Hermitage, located in the oldest house in town. It was founded by the daughter of 20th century artist Pierre Palué, a member of the New Parisian school. She eventually made the house into a museum to showcase his work, the work of other New Parisian painters, and young artists of whatever style.

When we gathered in this room which had been the kitchen of the medieval house (the two women are standing in what had been the fireplace) I commented to Fritz that the woman on the left looked like she was portrayed in the portrait on the right and indeed it was she, Palué's daughter. She spoke of her father's career, exhibits worlwide, his early influences and final, mature style.

Madamoiselle Palué's portrait

and an excellent example of his late style, refined to an elegant simplicity with a superb depiction of light.

We ended the afternoon with a visit to a chocolatier, and a brief walk into Tournon before getting back on board for an early evening sailing upriver to Vienne.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

 
Last July, Fritz found a potato in the fridge that had started to sprout. He cut it up and planted the pieces in what passed for a garden this year. It was late to plant potatoes and the soil is poor, but he thought it would be fun to see if anything grew. A couple of days ago we went out to look and, voila!


Our entire harvest was just delicious tonight.

*******

For some reason we haven’t been able to completely turn our time around after the trip back from Europe. Reputedly, traveling west is easier on the system than traveling east, but it’s not working out in this case.

We had landed in France with few if any effects of jet lag, thanks to the NoJetLag pills. On the trip home, we also took the pills but we’re having problems realigning. Last Friday we just gave in and got up at 4:30am--which has to stop. A couple of these mornings, wakefulness has led to early morning sex--which doesn’t!

Other routines are back to normal. I spent most of Friday hauling and stacking rocks for various projects, and hauling earth to finish building up shoulders next to all the recently paved areas. I had maybe 60% of the work done before we left on vacation; after being away from it for three weeks, I felt the strain but it’s the best possible workout for me.


While I was away in NYC on Wednesday, Fritz planted almost two hundred bulbs, mostly in a nice patch of land in the front of the house that was never dug up or changed in any way by the excavators. There are maybe another hundred bulbs left to plant.

In addition to the eight flowering bushes we planted earlier in the summer, we covered the area over the septic system’s leach field with day lilies, lots and lots of day lilies. It should look gorgeous out there starting next spring, particularly as they’ve all survived the transplant from elsewhere on Fritz’s property where they were overcrowded and needed thinning anyway. One of the best things about them is that it’s almost impossible to kill a day lily once you have one, and they spread all by themselves to make great masses of blooms in the early and mid-summer.

The color here is at peak now, the weather being perfect for outdoor work. On one of the flights we took, I worked on a list of all the things we still have left to do. If you read it all at once, it’s a bit daunting. When some of the outdoor plants got potted and brought inside for the winter, we realized that the wide painted plaster window sills in the great room and master bedroom really need to be tiled. I like tiling. It’s very satisfying work, and we’ve picked handsome colors and textures for each room. The great room sills will have tiles identical to those on the kitchen backsplashes, further uniting the two rooms.

*******

I’ve always loved archaeology and seriously considered going into it as a career at one point in my childhood. Here’s an interesting story about recent finds in Rome:

'Gladiator' tomb is found in Rome


The tomb of a general thought to have been an inspiration for the main character in the Oscar-winning film Gladiator has been unearthed in Rome. The tomb of Marcus Nonius Macrinus is one of a number of recent archaeological discoveries in the city.

Marcus Nonius Macrinus was a favourite of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, helping him achieve major victories in Europe. He is believed to have in part inspired the character Maximus Decimus Meridius, played by Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

But although the film character is also a favourite of Marcus Aurelius and goes into battles with him in the late 2nd century AD, that is where the similarities end. The real Roman general is not believed to have been sold into slavery only to return to Rome as a vengeful gladiator.

The tomb was discovered along the northbound Via Flaminia where construction work has been taking place. Many marble columns, inscriptions and decorations have been beautifully preserved thanks to the mud caused by a centuries-old flood of the River Tiber.

It is "the most important ancient Roman monument to come to light for 20 or 30 years", said senior archaeologist Daniela Rossi.

More than 10 inscriptions on the tomb detail the life of Marcus Nonius Macrinus. They show he came from Brescia in northern Italy, was a police commissioner, magistrate, pro-consul of Asia and close confidante of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who wanted him to fight in the wars against Germanic tribes in northern Europe.

Much of the tomb remains buried in mud, and Professor Rossi said archaeologists were working around the clock to unearth the rest of it. "Perhaps we will also find the sarcophagus. It's also too early to say how big it is, but it appears there was a row of columns at least 15m long, so it was quite huge," he said.

The tomb is one of a number of recent archaeological discoveries in Rome. Workers renovating a rugby stadium have uncovered a vast complex of tombs that mimic the houses, blocks and streets of a real city, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Meanwhile, archaeologists restoring imperial residences in the heart of ancient Rome are also reported to have found what they believe to be the underground passageway where the Emperor Caligula was murdered by his guards.
Story from BBC NEWS

I remember when I was in Rome walking on sidewalks inlaid with panels of glass so you could see parts of ancient buildings under the pavement. The government of the city of Rome has given up the thought of any more subway lines in a city that needs them desperately, because the moment an earth mover’s scoop breaks the soil anywhere, some classical remains come to light. Everything stops while the archaeologists are called in for yet another major dig that can take months if not years.

*******

Today’s picture display is devoted to Avignon, a gem of a city with it’s medieval walls intact, that hosts a major festival of the arts every year. It’s crammed with history, great architecture, good food, and wonderful exploring.


Our hotel, the Hotel Cloitre Saint Louis was made from an early 17th century monastery.


Our room was in a round tower.


Our bathroom featured the narcissist's shower--completely mirrored. The room was quite bizarre, with reflections bouncing everywhere.


The Papal Palace with the Cathedral in the background. For some eight decades in the 14th century, the Papacy was in residence at Avignon for complex political reasons having to do with French/Italian relations. The Pope and various Cardinals built elaborate palaces for themselves while everybody else lived pretty much in squalor.

The gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on the Cathedral tower is identical to the one on the big church overlooking Marseille seen in the previous blog entry. In the 19th century the Catholic Church placed them on many of the major churches.


The famous Bridge of Avignon that used to span both channels of the Rhône River and the island between them. The lynch pin of Avignon's economic lifeline, the bridge originally consisted of 22 arches until a catastrophic flood in the early seventeenth century undermined several arches on the western end. Later floods took down many others. These four remaining arches have been reinforced and, in any event, dams situated upriver along the Rhône now control the flood waters.


Avignon's city walls are complete except for one or two places where small sections were removed to let trucks pass through. You can't walk on them, which would have been fun to do. In the late 19th century when several European cities were tearing down their medieval walls (Vienna, Paris) Napoleon III had Avignon's repaired and buttressed to preserve them.


Les Halles, Avignon's big central market, home to forty vendors of everything culinary from wines and cheeses to pastries, fresh meats, fish, and prepared foods. The facade was engineered by the architect to be a vertical garden, heavily planted, with built-in irrigation. It conceals the building's parking garage.


All Provence is influenced now by immigration from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as well as sub-Saharan Africa (
In Marseille, we had encountered a full scale Arab/Berber market in one of the city's squares). This is a small part of the spice market at Les Halles.


A window at the Avignon shop of designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. Many designers were showing fashion based on the Goth look and we saw some mainstreamed Goth fashion in the streets.


A medieval bell tower with automated clock that is now incorporated into the city's 19th century Hotel de Ville (city hall). Look carefully in the arch on the left and you'll see part of an animated figure that begins to move around when the hour strikes.


An early evening wedding party moving down the Rue de la Republique, which is the main--and only--boulevard in Avignon. As with Baron Hausmann's redesign of Paris in the second half of the 19th century, the Republique was driven through Avignon's medieval tangle of streets, eliminating everything in its path to provide a straight road of significant width from the train station to the main square down by the Papal Palace.

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