Changing seasons: June (London)

I’ve not only changed seasons from winter to summer, I’ve changed countries, again. In this present country, England, in this city, London, each day changes weatherwise. When the temperature’s up and the sky is clear, the ideal summer day, jets leave condensation trails in white exes against the blue, visitors to Hyde Park buy ice creams and let their children play in the ‘Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain’, and the park gardeners busily pull out unwanted pond-side plants. Tourists sail on the lake, attracting swans in flocks looking for crumbs. And the ugly duckling born in spring is left to fend for himself, wondering why.

Hyde Park pond with swansThe next day the sky is grey, rain falls on and off for hours, the ground is puddly in the least expected places, and canvas shoes let in water. The old dark brick 18th-century buildings of the former silk manufacturing area, Spitalfields, look worse without sunshine. But I’m sure they’re beauties inside now that the price tags are in the millions.

Wilkes Street, rainy day.jpgThanks to Cardinal Guzman for his seasonal inspiration.

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Weekly photo challenge: Transient

The soaring Gothic cathedral in Amiens is a medieval beauty by day with an abundance of statuary and stone lace, but at nightfall in summer it becomes a giant canvas for a light show of high-definition coloured images. Nightfall means 11 pm. At 10.45 when I took the first photo, the sky was still deep blue. The days are very long in a northern French summer, but this one just happened to be the summer solstice. The longest day.

La cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens, 10.45 pm, 21st June

The projections are modern for the most part, following the lines of the facade, highlighting them and even appearing to move parts of the cathedral about.

11:08 pm, the solid cathedral resembling a line engraving
11:13 pm, making smaller details the main attraction
11:22 pm, drawing with light

The best is left till last. In the beginning of their existence (approx. 1220 – 1270) the statues were polychrome, a feature revealed during the laser cleaning of the facade in the 1990s. Time has stripped them back mostly to bare stone; only a few small areas of colour can be detected here and there, and if you didn’t know they were once painted, you wouldn’t notice even these patches. But, for one transient moment, our brilliant 21st-century lighting people can restore the medieval colours for us.

11:29 pm, just when we thought it was all over, the colours of the tympana appeared for the pleasure of those who hadn’t walked away.

The statuary is mostly far above my head, so photography is a good way to look closer at the details. I particularly like the central tympanum depicting the last judgment. In the middle register, the naked damned are led to hell, while the saved are clothed and led to heaven. I’m hoping to be among the clothed.

Each image projected onto the cathedral facade lasts but a moment, the spectacle itself lasts half an hour, and even the lighting patterns change from time to time. But the cathedral itself has stood solid and unchanging since the 13th century, a survivor of wars and revolutions. It reminds me that if I leave something behind, it had better be good; it may be around for centuries.

Thanks to WordPress for the transient challenge.

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Changing Seasons: June (Singapore)

First thing on a Singaporean June morning, steamy air fogs the lens and veils the purple bougainvillea in mist.

By 6.30 on a Saturday morning the revellers have all gone home and a man sits alone in peace beneath colourful colonial architecture, a combination of Chinese, Muslim and British influences. He watches a video on his phone, oblivious to the loud repetitive soundtrack, a version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

At midday, amid a mass of visitors to the Botanic Gardens, amid the lush vegetation found here and throughout the island, a bride in red and her less spectacular husband pose beside an old fig, its roots resembling two human legs and perhaps a tail.

When Cardinal Guzman posed this prompt to photograph the changing seasons, he wanted a photo of the same place each month. I’ve already covered Canberra for June, but have ended up in Singapore, a country with no winter. Just heat and humidity and eternal summer.

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Weekly photo challenge: Anticipation

In anticipation of a 2.6 metre fence to be built in front of Parliament House in Canberra, Lester Yao, a young architect, came up with a plan during the week to invite everyone to roll en masse down one of the grassy roof slopes.

Since the building opened in 1988, adults and children have enjoyed rolling down the slope or even jogging or training on it, and indeed this was part of the inbuilt anticipated pleasure designed by the architect Romaldo Giurgola (who died in May this year). When the security fence goes up in the new year, the public will no longer have such free access as we do today.

Lester Yao put out a call on social media last Monday, and in response hundreds of people turned up for the peaceful rolling protest. We drove towards Parliament House and saw all the people on the grass from the approach road, so we parked, went to have a look and discovered that a few minutes earlier, on a signal, they had all rolled down from the top. Even though it rained yesterday, all day, as well as the day before, this morning was dry and the temperature was up and no one was complaining about their damp grass-stained clothes. As the rollers began to disperse, much of the space was cleared, which suited individuals who wanted to do their own thing without getting crushed.

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There are many ways to roll down a hill. Most lay across the slope and propelled themselves over and over like a log. But a few creative ones did somersaults  until they were giddy. The woman below did headstand rolls.

Parents rolled holding a child, dog-owners rolled with their dogs, and people rolled with rolling cameras. Quite a few adults simply played by themselves like children, rolling on their own for the sheer silliness of it.

In the photo below, there’s a guy laughing at the two rollers in front of him. It looked like such fun…

…that he couldn’t resist. He just had to see what it felt like.

(Just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t roll down the hill.)

Romaldo Giurgola had designed the building with a roof that could be accessed by the public in a spirit of democracy. He liked the idea that we could walk over the top of those in charge of us. But that is all about to change.

Thanks to the WordPress photo challenge for the Anticipation prompt.

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Weekly photo challenge: Curve

This week’s photo prompt, Curve, immediately made me think of the semicircular arches on the Catholic Basilica in Heliopolis, Cairo, or Basilica of the Virgin Mary. I’ve written about it and posted a few photos in other posts, for example here and here and here, but I have a fourth one from a different angle. It’s a church that’s not particularly Roman Catholic in a western European sense, but rather more like the Byzantine basilica, Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, which also has large semicircular arches on its sides, and multiple domes. The Heliopolis basilica is deceptively cake-like in this photo and doesn’t look too monumental, that is, until you look at the little man walking down the road!

Roman Catholic Basilica, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
Roman Catholic Basilica, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941

I post these images for those who are interested in not-so-ancient Egyptian history; they are from my father’s war album, a collection of photos he took in 1941/42 as well as photos from his mates.

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Weekly photo challenge: Spare

A few years ago, some friends of ours let us stay in their beach house at South Durras on the south coast of New South Wales. We headed up along the Princes Highway looking for Durras Drive, and as we turned the corner, there was this remnant of a barn. We’ve passed it many times since then, and each time I’ve had an internal debate about its appeal. Why do I look at it for as long as I can, until the car has gone too far? Is it beauty I’m seeing? My gut reaction is yes, but I can’t explain why. A few weeks ago I decided to snap a few photos and go home and think about it.

We pulled off to the side of the road where the bare tyre-marked patch made it clear that numbers of cars had done exactly the same over the years. What is it about the old barn that makes drivers suddenly stop on their way to South Durras beach, and gaze in awe at a structure that has lost its original potential?

Looking at the images today, I can see that the beauty in the ruin is the remains of its frame, the grey of its weathered wood, the rust on the old sheets of corrugated iron. And its size, impressive and significant, suggests strength and persistence, a refusal to lie down and die; it’s a paradox, its life is ending yet it’s not.

There’s not a lot that the barn could be used for now. Perhaps it would keep light rain off our heads, perhaps it casts a large shadow where cattle and horses can retreat from the heat. But thanks to its slow deterioration, the ruin gives travellers who turn the corner off the highway for the first time, as we did, this brilliant wow moment when they gaze on the spare interior and crumbling exterior. Thanks Daily Post for the prompt.

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Weekly photo challenge: Weight(less)

Today when I was out and about I stopped by the Mount Stromlo Observatory. In January thirteen years ago the Observatory’s large telescopes were destroyed or rendered useless by a massive bushfire, and now the buildings have become much-visited ruins. Here are some photos of one that feels strangely weighty and weightless when you know that heavy equipment used to occupy this cylindrical little structure, but exists no more. Now there is only air and echoes and imagination.

When I was in the shell of the former Yale Colombia Refractor telescope, I thought of the dome that burned and the heavy supports for the telescope that survived the fire and that now make dramatic photo props. It’s a special experience to enter the round space, which looks like nothing but a sad burnt-out shell; but there is always something good to be found in something ugly, you just have to look and think hard enough. Here it’s the echoes that come back at you when you open your mouth to exclaim amazement, and it’s the surprise view when you look up and see the rusted wheels that enabled the dome to turn, still sitting on top of the wall, silhouetted against a blue Australian sky.

Yale Colombia telescope ruin1

A few days after the fire, it looked like this:

Yale Colombia telescope, 19 January 2003, Image courtesy of National Library of Australia
Yale Colombia Refractor telescope, 19 January 2003, Image courtesy of National Library of Australia

The year before the fire, it looked like this:

Fisheye image of Yale Columbia refractor at Mount Stromlo
Fisheye image of Yale Columbia Refractor at Mount Stromlo, 2002, Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Since the 2003 fires, there have been no working research telescopes at Mount Stromlo. However, offices and workshops for astronomers and astronomy students from the Australian National University are still situated here.

Thanks WordPress for the photo challenge, and for suggesting that a collapsed ruin evokes weight(lessness)…

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Land meets water

Where land meets water in a large city, we build homes and offices for the short walk to the beach and the long view of the open sea.  It’s a place to turn our backs on all that disturbs us in society.

For Ailsa’s Land Meets Water photo challenge, here’s a photo of Stanley Bay, Alexandria, Egypt in about 1941.  The corniche, the road running round the coastline, was constructed in 1935.  The descending levels of concrete bathing cabins added on the shoreline form an amphitheatre that looks onto the Mediterranean.  Here in 1941 people are bathing in the sun and sea, and, by all appearances, are unafraid.  Yet in May, June and December of that year there had been fierce enemy air and sea attacks on Alexandria with hundreds of people killed and injured.  In this scene there are bathers on the sand, in the water and on the rocks, as though all is well.

Today Alexandria is not facing the same threats, but the population has multiplied.  Modern photos show the corniche lined with high-rise apartment blocks, not as picturesque as those in the 1940s, and with not nearly as much space to roam between buildings.  And town planners seem to have had second thoughts about the bathing boxes, which have disappeared.  Only the sea remains the same.

The photo is from my father’s WWII album.

Stanley_Bay_Alexandria
Stanley Bay, Alexandria, Egypt, c1941

 

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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.

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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