Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Paris: Museé de L'Orangerie


Inside the L'Orangerie Museum

Water Lilies (Les Nymphéas)
Both monumental and intimate, Water Lilies (Les Nymphéas) are the ultimate expression of Claude Monet's artistic ideas, an incredible project by a painter who wanted to explore all the variations of light in his garden at Giverny. The paintings are housed in two elliptical rooms, and encourage the visitor to gaze in endless contemplation. After the horror of the First World War, Monet wanted his work to take on this aesthetic and poetic dimension, and provide a haven for peaceful meditation. 


On the Museé de l’Orangerie website, the above description of Monet’s intention sounds inviting. The reality however is not quite what he had in mind. Around 1900, he conceived the idea that his largest and most magnificent water lily paintings might find a home, in a uniquely designed building for all to enjoy. The building already existed as a greenhouse for citrus trees. It was ultimately remodeled into two oval rooms, with a high skylight, perfectly suited to the four paintings in each. And in the center, a comfortable long double wide bench for people to sit upon and gaze. All that came to pass, but the sheer numbers of people who come to see them, make the room somewhat less contemplative than one might like. Surely, for Parisians, there must be times when fewer people would permit a visit more in line with Monet’s vision, but as a fly-by tourist, I could only sit, ponder, and then lean dramatically to look around people who stepped into view.

The eight paintings are magnificent, about eight feet wide and varying in length, each representing the light on a pond of water lilies at different times; dawn, noon, later afternoon, sunset, and reflecting cumulus clouds in the sky. It is very much like looking out a large window on a slightly foggy day, when everything is out of focus, yet discernable. The trunks of willow trees come into the picture without roots and scale upward into the sky without branching out. Only their weeping leaves rain from the sky to the water that reflects them and adds tremendous depth to the composition. The lilies themselves are mere hints of paint, applied on top of layers and layers of other colors.

After seeing so many paintings by varied artists on this trip through France, I was a bit astonished at the amount of paint, the layering, the thickness of Monet’s paintings, whereas other painters like Henri Martin let gesso covered canvas show through from time to time, without worry. It all worked the way each artist wanted, conveyed exactly what they had in mind, and the paintings never cease to astonish, a century after their deaths.

On the floor below the Water Lily exhibition there is a whole other museum. It is the Walter-Guillaume collection. Paul Guillaume was an art dealer who died prematurely. His widow, Dominica, lived more than 40 more years. She married another wealthy man, Jean Walter, and continued to purchase paintings. She sold many of Guillaume’s Picassos, and kept only the paintings done during the blue period. Guillaume loved the impressionists and post-impressionists. He was open to many new experiments like cubism, so the collection is widely varied and interesting.  We got the audio guide in English. It was well worth the money as each painting was explained in detail, whereas the label next to each work had nothing more than the name of the painting and the artist.

Next to the museum is the enormous Tuileries Garden. It is filled with sculptures, collected by kings and the government of France, over the last 500 years. A picnic in the park with a longish visit to the L’Orangerie would make a wonderful day in Paris for anyone wanting to drop out of the usual tourist whirlwind.



The Big Tree by Andre Durain


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Prehistoric Man in France, Part II

Prehistoric female figure

If we’d been smarter, we might have opted to stay in Sarlat, the only decent sized town (with a train station) that is close to all the decorated caves.  Most businesses, and certainly all government offices and museums close from noon to 2:00 during the off-season. On Wednesday, we had two hours to kill and so drove down to Sarlat over a two lane curvy road through a hardwood forest. It’s a medieval town with some Italianate ornamentation from the Renaissance. The streets are stone and narrow with three and four-story buildings rising above open squares. We quickly found a parking spot and wandered around while reading about the town in Joyce’s digital version of Rick Steve’s guidebook to France.

From Sarlat, it’s possible to get on bus tours to all the larger Paleolithic sites, but not in the fall.

With limited time for both our trip and the car, our second day would be only a tour at Campanelles and then on to Lascaux.

The guide at Campanelles was the same man we’d had on our tour at Cap Blanc! His English had improved slightly with all that practice

Cave at Campanelles and
visitor center
the day before and he did a decent job explaining the inscribed drawings in the narrow snake-like cave. Many artists over a very long time, had carefully observed the shape of various spots on the rocks and incorporated the natural marks and formations into drawings of animals and a few female figures. Most drawings were a single scratch and in softer rock, a single swipe with a finger.

In that cave too, were the stirrings of a written language. Symbols, most of them with unknown meanings, were everywhere, especially triangles, Vs and Xs. The guide, in a very stilted way, indicated that the V or triangle represented female anatomy, and the upside down V was the male’s. So an X was, of course, the two mated.

The archeological data indicates reindeer as the principle meat animal of the Cro-Magnon and later the Magdalenian people. Yet few reindeer are drawn or carved in the area’s overhangs and caves. I guess if you ate the same thing all the time and only occasionally got something tastier……the cow, horse, or mammoth might be the preferred choice for reverence.

This is the case in Lascaux where, 17,000 years ago, a group of people, using scaffolding (you can see the holes in the rocks to hold the poles) painted the high walls and the ceiling. What dominates the cave are enormous bulls, some in ¾ view, some with animals superimposed on them, and some with other animals roughly indicated behind, as they would be seen in a herd.

What we are permitted to see today is an amazing facsimile. People descend stairs into a darkened room with displays and explanations from a guide. Then the doors open and the cave is just beyond. Every square millimeter of the most decorated section of the original cave has been duplicated and painted with the same minerals the original artists used. The space is cool with a slight draft just like in a real cave, made more realistic because the room is actually underground. This is Lascaux II.

The real cave has been closed, and will remain closed forever. In the 1960s, after twenty years of humans traipsing through, the paintings suffered terrible degradation from mold and bacteria brought in by people. The decision was made to duplicate it as perfectly as technology would permit, and on November 19, 1984, Laxcaux II opened. The 30th anniversary celebration will take place this month.

An identical copy, Lascaux III, is a portable facsimile that is traveling the globe, bringing the amazing art and artistic sensitivity of prehistoric people to modern people around the world. And a new project is underway, Lascaux IV, another underground model, that will be the entire cave system, replicated with every painting, drawing, and carving. It will open in 2016 about a mile from the current site.

Lascaux IV was designed by laser-scanning the original cave to create the perfect model on a computer. This technology was perfected on the Chauvet Cave, discovered in 1994.  The decision was made not to allow public access at all, so that no foreign organisms would be introduced. Chauvet Cave has paintings and sculptures much older than Lascaux, dating back 30,000 years. The scientists dress in protective gear and are only allowed inside for short periods of time. That cave and its facsimile are documented in the movie, The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams.

Being in Lascaux II, one quickly forgets that it is a model. The paintings are enormous.  A giant bull dominates the ceiling on one side with a smaller one opposing. While the paintings are everywhere they do not cover every square inch of space. Clearly it was not some sort of long term grafitti project painted over centuries by random people scrawling over the work of previous artists. Certain animals are given space, perhaps a reverence, apart from other drawings. The colors are vivid and varied.

Painting the cave was a tremendous amount of work, and clearly done with a sense of space, drama, and emotional impact. Human beings don’t undertake such projects simply for fun, there must certainly have been deep religious, or at least social, reasons to do that amount of work.  The painted ceiling, the magnificence of the art, and its probable use in an animist religion, caused it to be called the Sistine Chapel of the prehistoric era.

Photography was not allowed inside, but the art can be seen at this link:



Typical limestone block house in Sarlat

Narrow stone streets of Sarlat

Italianate mansion on
the main plaza

Ancient structure, over 1000
years old, a lantern for the dead
above a cemetery, Sarlat

Friday, November 14, 2014

Human Prehistory in France (Part 1)


We arrived in Perigueux on a Saturday afternoon. By the time we’d found our rented apartment and settled in, gone to the grocery and purchased enough food for three or four days, it was getting dark.

Sunday was dead, like being in a Zombie movie. Nobody was out and about. Then about dusk a few restaurants opened, and suddenly there was traffic and people walking the streets.

Neanderthal
Monday is the day of rest for most attractions and museums, so there wasn’t much to do, and Tuesday was Armistice Day, a national holiday. It was as dead as Sunday plus it rained.

So, we had a vacation from our vacation. It was well deserved and appreciated. Especially since our rented apartment was elegant, a step-back into the 1850s with its marble fireplaces, chandeliers, wood floors and rich dark antiques. We were extremely comfortable and well fed.

When it wasn’t raining, we did walk about, hiking all over the city, photographing the river, the cathedral, the Roman ruins, and, luckily for me, memorizing the layout of the city. This knowledge came in handy days later when we drove back into town from Les Eyzies, in the dark without a map.

Modern Human
The area, known as both the Perigord and the Dordogne, has a history longer than any other in France. Human beings, assuming Neanderthals were human beings, have occupied this region for over 400,000 years. No that’s not a typo. Four hundred thousand years.

To give us Americans a bit of perspective, the earliest finds of prehistoric man in the US date back 15,000 years, tops.  

Two thousand years before that, Paleolithic people painted the Lascaux cave.

On Monday we hiked over to the train station to talk to the car rental places, settled on a Citroen from EuropeCar, and made plans to pick it up on Wednesday. I was terrified. Although I had driven some in Belize, that beat-up van had come with the house and the road signs were in English. Plus roads in Belize are so bad it’s more like weaving through an obstacle course, not exactly “driving”. 

This was a new spotless car. The woman who gave us the keys pointed to the tiniest little black mark on the wheel rim and said this was the only damage, if it came back with more than that, I’d be responsible!

Joyce was the navigator. She read through the instructions on her computer that we’d gotten from Google maps in English, and we got out of town, through many round-abouts. The two-lane highway went through scenery that reminded her of Wisconsin and Michigan in the autumn, little low-lying farms nestled between forested hills, flat streams reflecting white clouds in an azure sky.
 
Les Eyzies
Our destination was Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil (lez a zees). It was the place where Cro-Magnon man was discovered, “Cro” meaning hole or cave, and Magnon was the landowner’s last name. 

From a film showing
how flint tools were used
to create the Cro-Magnon Venus
A large museum, welcome center, and dozens of small hotels and restaurants make up the town, which pretty much closes down after Armistice Day. The one painted cave site, La Font de Gaume, was closed for November so scientists could study it. The closest cave with engravings ran tours for six people at a time, all day, and they were booked. So we purchased the last tour for Cap Blanc, another nearby site, and tickets for the next day at Campanelles.

We had plenty of time to explore the museum that catered equally to adults and children. In small booths were films showing how various objects were made and used by the Paleolithic peoples. Full skeletons of bison, Megalaceros – an enormous moose-like deer, reindeer, and other animals were on display. Beautiful figurines, arrowheads, spear points, scrapers, animal-fat lamps, and other everyday objects filled glass cases. Several full sized figures of men, women and children, both human and Neanderthal were shown in sewn skin clothing with spears, flint knives, and even fitted boots.

Quite a few burials have been found. Neanderthals were the first to perform ritual burials, as indicated by the presence of grave goods and flower pollen. One display had the skeletons of a woman and her young child (maybe three or four years old) that had been found buried together.

We drove up a winding road over the Vezere river and up into the hills to Cap Blanc, named after the white limestone “cap” of the region. Cap Blanc is the site of a rock shelter, a deep overhang, that was carved by someone about 12,000 years ago. We were the only people on the tour so we spent at least an hour with the sculptures.

Our guide was a small man, thin and wiry, who did not speak much English. He managed with gestures, a laser pointer, and enormous enthusiasm, to tell us the story of this frieze of sculptures.

A building protects this incredible site, and only a few people are allowed inside at a time. In the center of a long wall of bas-relief carvings is a horse. A full sized carved figure that is mostly still intact. The belly bulges out and is part of the natural rock formation. One of the horses on the side has its face turned slightly towards the viewer, you can see the shape of the eyebrows and the front of the muzzle. This position is difficult to draw well, and very hard to sculpt. 

Directly below the horse is the burial of a woman, estimated to have died about 10,000 years ago. The bones are replicas, the original pieces are in the Chicago Field museum.

The frieze is thought to have been carved by a single artist. Clearly there is an overall symmetry to the group with bison and horses on either side arranged in the same way. And the style is consistent with one person’s vision.

The guide said experts have determined that with the stone tools available, and the softness of the stone, the entire grouping could have been carved in three months. That’s assuming of course that the artist didn’t have any other work to do, like go hunting. So it may have been executed over several years during lull times, or the man’s community may have supported him while he worked.

Our guide couldn’t hide his romantic nature. He pointed to the fact that only one person was buried there. The woman was about 35 years old when she died, and there were grave goods with her body. She is buried directly below the center horse, and if you stand back, it does appear to be a symmetrical monument, perhaps dedicated to her. It’s not hard to imagine a grief struck sculptor carving his heart out over three or four months, unable to do anything else to ease the pain.


Facial reconstruction of the woman found at Cap Blanc
based on the actual skull in the Field Museum

Albi & Toulouse-Lautrec

Taken from the bus to Albi, one of the few remaining roads in
France, intentionally planted with "plane" trees to provide shade for drivers.

Our second day in Toulouse, we decided to take a bus to Albi, a small city about an hour north, where Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was born. His best friend, art dealer Maurice Joyant, and mother, the Comtesse Adele Toulouse-Lautrec, created a museum in Albi that houses the largest collection of his work in the world.

The Toulouse-Lautrec
museum and gardens
The museum is housed in an estate that belonged to his family, the Palais de la Berbie, next door to the cathedral of Sainte-Cecile, on the banks of the Tarn river. It was a true fortress with thick walls, lovely gardens, and classic medieval architecture.

Henri was born to wealthy parents and had an excellent education. But because his parents were first cousins, he had some genetic problems which resulted in easily broken bones. After both legs were broken in his childhood, they didn't heal properly and quit growing. He never reached an adult height.

Also, and maybe due to his deformities, he had an emotional affiliation with people on the fringes of society, like prostitutes and cabaret performers. Much of what he is known for are the portraits of dancers and brothel workers in their off-hours, when they spent time together, eating, talking, or just waiting for customers.

But in the museum there are numerous other portraits, drawings, and lithographic stones of famous aristocrats, advertising posters, flyers, and menus for restaurants. What impressed us so much was that his style borders on the cartoonish, but the faces of his subjects, the only thing that really mattered, were executed with sensitivity and skill. He had a true love of horses and painted many in various attributes, alone, ridden, harnessed, in circuses. Although he only lived to be 36, he was prolific in his output.

Some overhanging buildings!
We were not allowed to photograph inside the museum, but the collections are online at this website:  Toulouse-Lautrec

This time of year, many museums close between noon and 2:00. So we had lunch, wandered the gardens, and did the river walk. It's a beautiful little town with ancient bridges and medieval buildings. Some of the oldest buildings have upper stories that overhang the first because in medieval times, you paid taxes only on the square footage of the ground floor! In the center of old town, a new market has been built with a full service grocery on the ground floor and many independent butcher, chocolate, and bread shops on the upper floor. Modern as it looks, it fits with the character of the town, and boy are the pain de chocolats at the bakery good!!



The Tarn River and Albi 
Beautiful old bridge, still in use.
Inside the new market


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Toulouse


Toulouse

Toulouse river walk
My friend Tom lived in France for over a year and often raved about a baked bean dish called cassoulet. Toulouse and a couple of nearby cities are the Mecca for cassoulet lovers, though according to writer Ann Mah, they are all virtually made the same way with the same ingredients these days. Long ago, various wild game birds and animals had been incorporated to give different flavors, but now those animals are scarce. 

It is a famous dish in a dish, a special crockery bowl, narrow at the bottom and sloping up to a wide mouth at the top. The key to a great cassoulet is to assemble the ingredients, and then without ever stirring, bake it again and again until it’s done, preferably over a two or three day time frame. The beans should be creamy and firm, not mushy, and the meats should be soft. It is made from haricot beans, actually a legume brought to Europe by Columbus from the New World. Prior to his discoveries, cassoulet was made with lima beans (yuk!) The haricots were so superior that societies sprang up to protect the strains of beans to keep them pure, and then other societies evolved to bestow medallions and awards upon chefs and restaurants that made the best.


The name Restaurant Emile kept coming up when we were looking for the best cassoulet in Toulouse. So we went there at 10am to get a reservation. They were closed. Posted in the windows was a Michelin emblem, and about a dozen awards over a number of years from several different Cassoulet Societies.  We returned at one minute till noon and entered the tiny restaurant (an illusion, as the restaurant occupied two floors of the building!)

There were several formula options, where you pick from a selection of starters, then main courses, and desserts for a fixed price. We asked if we could go ala carte and just share a cassoulet. We started with a small carafe of good Bordeaux and shared a plate of ravioli stuffed with foie gras du canard in a sauce of boletus mushrooms and cream. Every bite was incredibly good, and we mopped up the sauce with hunks of baguette.

Then the cassoulet, in a traditional casserole bowl, was brought to the table. Normally just one person eats the whole thing, but it would have been impossible for either of us to be that person. As Tom said, it’s hard to imagine beans being so good or so expensive! He was right, they were perfectly done, and the flavors were bits of goose, sausage, bacon, garlic, onion, and any number of other flavors I couldn’t put my finger on. But they were truly the best “beans” I’d ever eaten.

Dessert was a beautiful little chocolate cake called a moulleux, with nuts on top, sitting on a swath of chocolate fudge, and at the other end of the swath was a scoop of blood orange glacee topped with a curl of lacy caramel. The cake had a warm molten center that was nothing like the pudding so many lava cakes are made with. It was more like a melted semi-sweet chocolate bar.

Joyce and I have gone native. We took two full hours to savor every bite of that incredibly good and very expensive lunch, just like most of the diners around us.

Afterwards, full but not stuffed, we hiked around in the beautiful sunny day. There are several bridges, and some remnants of an old one, similar to the Pont du Avignon. Walks along the river are shaded by tall “plane” trees with white trunks and fluffy little seedpods.

The Augustine Museum of Fine Art, housed in an old monastery, has a wide range of paintings and sculptures. We only saw half of it, as it was closing just about when our feet gave out. Many of the sculptures were exquisite and it had a good collection of both older religious paintings and more modern impressionists. We appreciated the large plasticized cards for each section, written in several different languages, that explained the paintings and lives of the painters.
 
Augustine Museum
Earlier in the morning, while waiting for the restaurant to open, we were directed to a palace, the Capitole du Toulouse. While most of it has been remodeled into offices, some of the more exquisite rooms are open to the public. An entire room is devoted to the post-impressionist Henri Martin, whose monumental paintings fill a large hall. Another beautifully painted room is rented for weddings and ceremonies. A third, the most elaborate of all, is used for official gatherings. It is filled with sculptures in every niche between the tall windows that overlook the large plaza. The high ceilings are plaster friezes with paintings of angels and people reaching up to them, and every square inch of wall is decorated in some fashion. 

Henri Martin Hall in the Capitole, Huge paintings!
That tiny person is Joyce.


While we only spent one full day in Toulouse, it was one of the more memorable days in France. It deserved a longer visit. We barely scratched the surface.



Mirrors behind allow appreciation
of the full range of the sculptures
in the Capitole.

Hall where the city fathers meet weekly

Interesting architecture, this
is an apartment building and under
the plaza is a major shopping center.

The neighborhood of Restaurant Emile


Avignon and the Palais du Papes

Pont du Avignon & Palais du Papes

We purchased four sets of train tickets to finish out our trip around France, once we settled on the dates and where we'd like to go. At the Gare Part Dieu in Lyon, a young man whose English was good, with a very American accent, helped the ticket seller figure out the best routes for our plan. He had never been to America, he learned English from watching US movies all his life!

We decided on a week in Avignon, a small city on the banks of the Rhone, almost at its mouth on the Mediterranean. In the 1300s, it had been the Holy See, the seat of the Catholic Church, and the move caused huge rifts within the Church. Apparently the first French Pope hadn't felt very safe in Rome so he purchased the entire city of Avignon, remodeled it in less than ten years and moved in. Eight other popes, all French I believe, followed after him over the next 100 years.

The story behind the purchase is fascinating. Joanna (Joan) Queen of Naples had been accused of conspiring to murder her husband. She was also the ruler of large swaths of land in what is now France. In order to purchase a sufficiently large indulgence (and protection) from the Pope, she agreed to sell her rights to Avignon for a relatively cheap price. She was later found innocent and cleared of all charges.  

Pope Clement V built a thick wall around the city, a palace on the hillside, and enlarged the existing church, where two popes are buried today. In addition to the Palais du Papes, there is the Petite Palais, a massive building, but smaller than the castle, which was originally home to cardinals, and later became an administrative center. It is now a museum that houses many religious works, some by famous artists like Sandro Boticelli.



Guard tower of the Palace & the church
topped with a golden statue of the Virgin Mary

The gardens overlook the Rhone valley in that part of Provence. In the distance on a clear day you can see the tall foothills of the Alps. On the other side of the river is a fort & castle belonging, back in the 1300s, to the King of France, who afforded some protection to the Papal See. A long bridge connected the two castles, called Pont Bénézet. It was named for the sheepherder who had a vision where an angel told him to go down from his home in the hills and convince the people to build a bridge. According to the legend, he was a scrawny little fellow who (with the help of angels) picked up a huge block of stone that had been too heavy to move when the Palais was built, and placed it right where the bridge should begin. That was miracle enough to convince the Pope and the people in the area to build the bridge. Now it is the Pont du Avignon, and all that is left of the huge bridge are four arches and a small chapel, dedicated to mariners, built on the side of one of the support piers. The tower that anchors it to the river’s edge is a museum with an ongoing video describing the legend, efforts to stabilize what is left, and a project to digitally rebuild it in its entirety for future visitors to enjoy.

The city has many lovely attractions: a huge indoor market with plants growing up the outside walls (called Les Halles); a free ferry across the Rhone to an enormous park with paths all round for pedestrians, bicycles, skateboarders and picnicking families; excellent restaurants featuring local produce and recipes; and a large shopping area in the center of town on closed streets where our favorite store, Jeff de Bruges, was located (an out of this world chocolate shop!)

We stayed a week, could have stayed a month. Avignon is a perfect location to explore nearby towns. The train station is right across from the walled city gates, and trains leave constantly for other parts of France. 

Model of the Palais 
Sandro Boticelli's painting of
Mary and baby Jesus

Jesus' bris, the only painting of that event
I've ever seen 

St. Michael slaying a demon

View from the Palais gardens across the river to Fort St. André

Inside Les Halles market, piles of flavored salt!


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Arles, Still Roman After All These Years

Details of the amphitheater

Arles is an old Roman town almost at the mouth of the Rhone River. It was an important settlement, outpost, and trading center. Now, it’s still a Roman town, with the Colosseum in use for sporting events and concerts. The old amphitheater is an outdoor museum and though the Forum buildings are
gone, its large open courtyard is the center plaza of the town.

The horse race track has been paved over by a road, but the center parts of it are still visible in the open field in front of the archaeological museum. The small inner city is surrounded for the most part by the original Roman walls. You must pass through gates to enter, and some are just barely wide enough for the small European cars. There’s a lot of car paint on the walls and corners of the gates.

We stayed in Avignon for a week, and on Sunday decided to take the local regional train to Arles. With a late start we didn’t see as much of the old city as we’d like. However, since it was the first Sunday of the month, all the museums were free! It was such a small city that we crossed it, from museum to train station, in less than 25 minutes, hoofing it to catch the last train.

The courtyard of the mental hospital
Arles is also known as the last place where Vincent Van Gogh lived and painted. He worked prolifically, creating over 200 paintings. Today there is an entire society devoted to him. The members have placed a copy of each painting at the spot where he probably stood to paint it. There are dozens of easels all over the town and out in the countryside, but unfortunately, there is not even one Van Gogh original in the city.

We happened to pass the hospital where he spent his last two years in a mental asylum, now converted to apartments and shops. The garden and the portal are essentially the same. I suspect they keep it that way so the easel with the painting still matches the scene.

During his stay, Van Gogh’s doctor allowed him to go out daily to paint in the areas around Arles. The locals objected to a loose mental patient, but after a while, when all Vincent did was paint or perhaps act strangely from time to time, they got used to it. His paintings never were popular until many years after his suicide.

The archaeological museum is extensive. The emphasis is on the Roman settlement, and the best displays are the models. In plexi-glass cases are detailed and large models of the city, the Colosseum, the river, and that unique Roman invention, the floating bridge. The public bathhouse which was several stories tall, looked like an emperor’s villa.
Model of the floating bridge, ingenious!!


In a long deep recess, there is a complete Roman barge that sank in 53AD into the Rhone. It was discovered by divers and exhumed only a few years ago at great expense. All of the cargo was intact and much of it is on display: dozens of tall ceramic amphora that once held wine or olive oil, heavy ingots of lead and copper, large chunks of pearly white limestone for facing buildings, and the personal effects of the crew. The rudder, the wooden-metal anchor, and the body of the boat are in amazing condition.

The museum also houses a number of funerary objects, carved marble sarcophagi, busts, sculptures, and beautiful swaths of tile inlay scenes that once graced the floors of elegant homes.

If we’d had more time we would have searched for the Van Gogh easels, and explored more of the Roman buildings that are still in use. Arles was a step back into several points of time, a real treat for someone who travels to learn.

Model of Arles in 50 AD

Brilliant solution to the need for shade at the Colosseum

The well preserved Roman barge in the museum





Saturday, November 1, 2014

Around Lyon

My friend Joyce and I spent five days exploring Lyon. It's easy to do with its good metro and bus system. We stayed in a hotel near the Gare Part Dieu, the main TGV train station. From there, a number of buses and trolleys run in all directions.

Vieux Lyon, or Old Lyon is west of the two rivers, the Saone and the Rhone. Dominating the area is the beautiful Notre Dame Basilica. Just down the hill a short distance are two Roman amphitheaters, now restored and used in summers for concerts. The subway goes beneath both rivers and quickly takes people from one side of the city to the other.

Roman fountain, Hotel de Ville in background
In Old Lyon, the buildings are ancient stone edifices with narrow streets, mostly closed to traffic now, crammed with shops and restaurants with apartments above. Across the Saone, the town is newer, only several hundred years old. The city, with the Hotel de Ville as it's center, is "downtown." Here, in an old convent, is an impressive art museum that took five hours to explore. The opera house and many wide spacious plaza's overlook the Rhone.

And going east across the Rhone, the city is newer still, extending for miles with modern skyscrapers and industrial zones. It is the third largest city in France.

At a curve in the Rhone, the city has built a beautiful park, Tete d'Or. Many acres of forest, fields and lake are bordered by the river to the west and north, and a large university on the east. It was a beautiful place to spend the day wandering the many paved and unpaved trails.

Elaborate ornamentation of the Hotel de Ville

The Lyon Opera House

Saone River between Old Lyon and the City Center

Looking up at the Notre Dame
Basilica from trails in the park below

Parc de la Tete d'Or
Parc de la Tete d'Or

War monument on the island: Ile de Souvenir
Sculpture at the entrance to the park