On the way

Last week, for the first time in a long time, my son and I met for morning tea in a café, and on our way back to the car I caught sight of some writing engraved into the concrete as we stepped up on a kerb. I stooped to take a photo, and at that moment a bus turned the corner.  My son thought I was crazy, crouching down on the road, focused on photographing a bit of concrete graffiti while a passing bus was leaning into the corner.  But he was missing the magic of the moment.

Here’s what captured my attention:  a grey concrete kerb, utilitarian and ugly, made ‘beautiful’ with a few words and autumn leaves collected in the hollow of the gutter.

You are beautiful 2

Thanks WordPress for the challenge to photograph something on the way to somewhere.

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Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo

In the 1800s, the town of Helwan was Egypt’s winter resort for the wealthy.  During the Second World War, British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers were resident in the area and visited these gardens constructed in 1917 by the architect Zulfiqar Pasha, who gave them a Japanese theme with about forty Buddha statues, elephants, a Japanese-style bridge and pagodas.

Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, c1941

After the 1952 revolution the gardens were neglected and Helwan became an industrial area.  However, about a decade ago, with help from the Japanese Embassy, they were restored as a Japanese Garden.  Once more it has become a desirable escape from the crowds of Cairo.  It’s not just tourists who enjoy the space;  most Muslim locals also love it as a green oasis amid decrepit concrete buildings, even accepting the novelty of Buddha statues in a Japanese garden, the only one in the Middle East.

Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, 1941
Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, c1941

In an earlier blog post, I had previously posted the photo of the seated Buddha on a lotus flower and the three elephants, but I deleted it.  However, I’m posting it again, because today I was reminded of the value of photos.

When I went searching online for current images of these statues, I found that my photo had been copied before I deleted it, and then it was used to illustrate a couple of stories about the demise of the statues. The Buddha has been beheaded and the elephants de-trunked.  What a horrifying discovery!  A couple of web sites have stories or brief notes about the destruction, and the authors of these sites have used my photo to show the statues as they were in the 1940s.

My father’s collection of wartime photos is a valuable historical resource, and I’m pleased to be able to share them through this blog.  However, it’s disappointing that I received no credit as owner of the photo.  Take a look at this Twitter post, for example, and a news site, here, which has put its own name across the bottom of the photo.  Please, if you wish to use my photos in your stories, ask me before copying them, and give me credit.  Thanks.

*****

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Eltville, Germany

In recent months I discovered that my husband and sons are descended from a German couple who came to Australia in 1856 from Eltville, Germany.  Now, I’ve just been to Eltville, and found it a lovely restored town along the German Timber-Frame Road (Deutsche Fachwerkstrasse), a tourist route passing through towns where houses are half-timbered.  It was very pleasant to stroll through the winding mediaeval streets and see houses with centuries-old dates marked on the front, including one from 1365.  This date might not blow your mind if you grew up in Europe, but for me, having lived my life in a young country where nothing is much more than 200 years old, it’s precious.  I had to photograph it so I wouldn’t forget how old it all is.

Eltville on the Rhine is known for roses and wine, in particular the sparkling wine, Sekt.  I bought a small bottle of Sekt and it came in a rose-printed bag.  Our family ancestors would have seen the Electors Castle every day, a former residence of the archbishops and electors of Mainz.  But the rose-growing began after they left, so they wouldn’t have seen this rose-filled maze beside the  Castle.  When I was there the rose bushes were in new leaf.

Along the Rhine there’s a pleasant promenade beneath an arbour of pollarded trees.  In their early spring nakedness I found them amusing.  I’ve seen pollarded trees before, but not as bulbous as these here in Eltville, which have been cut back quite severely.  The amputated branch stumps are nobbly in the dormant season, but I’m assured that the compact, leafy canopy that grows in spring and summer creates a spot for romantic rendezvous beside the Rhine.

Pollarded trees on the Rheinpromenade, Eltville
Pollarded trees on the Rhine promenade, Eltville

Eltville.  In the mid-nineteenth century some of its winegrowers left this lovely village to make the long journey across land to Hamburg, then to make the long journey across the seas to Australia, where they would plant vines and make wine in their new homeland.  But the descendants of those who stayed in Eltville have kept their town beautiful and inviting.  I doubt anyone would want to leave this lovely place now.  Unless they’re a tourist, like me.

*****

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Weekly photo challenge: Intricate

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is for something ‘intricate’.  The Oxford Dictionary defines intricate as ‘very complicated or detailed’, from the Latin intricat- ‘entangled’, and from in- ‘into’ plus tricae ‘tricks, perplexities’.

Tricks and perplexities.

When I read about the challenge, I was in Barcelona looking at intricate architectural details on buildings all around me.  Barcelona does intricate very well. There’s Barcelona Cathedral with its decorative west facade constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries:

Barcelona Cathedral facade, top detail
Barcelona Cathedral facade, top detail

There are the individual architect-designed houses in the Passeig del Gràcia, including one of Gaudi’s, which had hundreds of people outside and inside and which I therefore passed by, and there was this one, the Casa Lleó Morera a few doors away, which I prefer.  It was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner for Lleó’s mother in the early 1900s.

Casa Lleó Morera, Barcelona

But, for me, what was most tricky and perplexing were the bench-lamp-posts designed in 1906 by Pere Falqués et Urpí, a Catalan Modernist architect.  There are 32 of them along the passeig.  The benches are covered in ceramic mosaics, a  technique typical of Catalan modernism (think Gaudi), and the lamp posts are of wrought iron rising up from the bench in a whiplash form, a characteristic of Art Nouveau generally (known as Modernism in the Catalonia region of Spain, which includes Barcelona.)

I sat on this bench to read a city map, looking for famous Barcelona art and architecture.  But I was sitting on something more interesting than all the tricky buildings and their perplexed spectators.  For, when I stood up, I saw the shadows cast by the twisting entanglements of the ironwork and the complexity of the mosaic tiles over the curved edges of the seat, and realised this was an excellent way to make art publicly useable and inclusive rather than exclusive.  When you sit on the bench, you are part of the art.

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Frescoes and keyhole arches: Saint-Martin de Fenollar, France

On the road from Ceret in the Pyrénées-Orientales, France, heading towards the Mediterranean, a short detour takes you to Maureillas-las-Illas and on to a chapel which you would never find if you were simply driving around.  It’s not only off the road a short way, but it has a house built in front of it, indeed, attached to it and concealing the chapel from view.  Pity.

Saint-Martin de Fenollar, Maureillas-las-Illas, Pyrénées-Orientales, France
Saint-Martin de Fenollar, Maureillas-las-Illas, Pyrénées-Orientales, France

It’s the chapel of Saint-Martin de Fenollar.  In the 1960s it was restored and is now one of France’s ‘monuments historiques’.  The earliest record of the chapel dates it at 844 AD which makes it an example of pre-Romanesque architecture.  Its exterior is simple and small, but the interior is much more interesting.  There are pre-Romanesque arches, which were shaped like keyholes or horseshoes, and are sometimes called Moorish arches.  In my header photo above, you can see that the external doorway was once keyhole shaped. Signs in the chapel say that all photography, with or without flash, is strictly forbidden.  So I took no photos of the interior.  I was good.  There are, however, a few on Creative Commons which I can use to give you a reason to visit this little ‘gallery’ of 900-year-old paintings.  Indeed, these photos reveal more colour than can actually be seen inside the dark little chapel where only a few slits let the daylight in.  Here’s a photo from Wikimedia Commons of a keyhole arch leading to the apse inside the chapel:

« Fenollar arc triomphal outrepassé » par EmDee — Travail personnel. Sous licence CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This form of arch was used in Visigothic architecture in Spain until the Muslim invasion in the eighth century AD, following which Spanish Muslim architects adopted its form for their mosques.  In Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, an abbey of the same region, there’s some information on the wall of the church to explain the different arches:

Arch comparison St Michel de Cuxa
Arch comparison, Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, France

However, Saint-Martin-de-Fenollar is a treasure for its remnants of 12th-century frescoes, which probably would have covered every wall top to bottom. What’s really amazing is that, before the restoration, a farmer had used the chapel for agricultural purposes and had knocked a huge hole in the eastern wall of the choir to make a door.  The wall was covered in frescoes, which with his help became little more than rubble.  The hole has since been filled and the remaining frescoes brought back to life.  In the photo of the apse, above, the infill is clear around and under the window.  We can only imagine what images had been there before. I have no photos of the interior but I have memories.  I looked at this ‘Christ in Majesty’ on the ceiling until my neck ached.  In the image below the colours are brilliant, but in the poor light creeping through the arrow slits and narrow windows, combined with dim electric lights illuminating the apse, the frescoes are quite dull.  I imagine that in Romanesque times candles would have lit the images, flickering over the Biblical faces and animating them mysteriously.  The photo below would not have looked so bright in candlelight or in minimal daylight, so we are seeing the image differently.  It’s a Christ in Majesty, encircled by a tetramorph, from the Greek tetra, meaning four, and morph, shape. Around the image of Christ are the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

File:Chapelle Saint Martin de Fenollar - Commune de Maureillas (66).jpg
Christ in Majesty, in a tetramorph surrounded by the four physically flexible evangelists, Saint-Martin-de-Fenollar, France. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What a precious jewel we found by leaving the beaten track and venturing inside an otherwise unremarkable structure.

My thanks to Dennis Aubrey at Via Lucis for introducing me to this chapel.

*****

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Saint-Julien, Estavar, France

Estavar is a tiny, isolated but very pretty village in the south of France, close to Spain, situated at 1225m above sea level, and known as the community that receives the most sun each year in the Cerdagne region.  I went there recently to see l’Eglise Saint-Julien, a small Romanesque church.  It was closed when I visited, and seems to be open only for guided visits.  Inside there are remnants of 12th-century frescoes, which I didn’t get to see, but the outside is charming and worth a visit.  It was encouraging to see some work being done to restore it.

Bell gable, Eglise Saint-Julien, Estavar, Pyrénées-Orientales, France
Bell gable, Eglise Saint-Julien, Estavar, Pyrénées-Orientales, France
Chevet, Eglise Saint-Julien, Estavar, France
Chevet, Eglise Saint-Julien, Estavar, France

See the sculpted heads around the top of the chevet?  Each one is an individual.  Zoom in!

Heads around the chevet, Eglise Saint-Julien, Estavar, France
Heads around the chevet, Eglise Saint-Julien, Estavar, France

Estavar is on the border of Llivia, a Spanish enclave which has existed within France like an island since the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, in which the mountain range of the Pyrenees became the border.  Some Spanish villages north of the mountains became French, but the Spanish influence is everywhere evident in the Catalan culture north and south of the border.  Since the treaty demanded that only villages would be ceded to France, Llivia remained Spanish, since it had once been the capital of Cerdanya (Cerdagne in French) and was considered a city.

Thanks to Dennis Aubrey and his blog Via Lucis, I’ve seen many parts of France that I would have, in the past, ignored.  My friend who drives me around when I’m here, and who has lived in the Pyrénees for decades, has also discovered some sites she didn’t know existed, and is thankful to me for introducing her to them!  She should really be thanking Dennis…

*****

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