70 years ago...

August 25, 1944, at the City Hall, Charles de Gaulle could declare that Paris had been liberated. 

70 years later, August 25, 2014, a celebration took place – under rain.

If you were not among the officially invited, even arriving well in advance, you had to remain quite far away. First listening to military music, while it was getting darker, getting wetter and wetter, we could then listen to speeches by the City Mayor and by the President of the Republic.

Then followed a spectacular son-et-lumière show.

I somehow managed to get through the barriers and could watch how the place in front of the City Hall was made ready for the “bal populaire”.

The crowd was unfortunately not as important as expected… the rain tempered the wish to dance.  I left, quite wet, walking along the now empty space where we had been standing watching the show. Well, after all it was a great show – just bad luck with the weather – and the liberation of Paris was definitely worth to be celebrated!  



A short trip to London

Some photos from a short visit to London, more for reasons of friendship than for tourism, however I could of course not resist from taking a few photos from some walks.

A little bit of gepgraphy before starting the small different tours.

Here at first some from the Primrose Hill, just north of Regent’s park. It offers a fantastic view over central London (and if you turn around of Belsize Park, Hampstead…).

A walk through Regent’s Park (the green dotted line).

Another walk along part of the 19th century Regent’s Canal, maybe a third (yellow dotted line) of its total length. Once of great industrial importance, today the canal offers especially wonderful walks, but also old or newly built places to live in…  unless you have opted to live in one of the many barges still around. 

Adjacent to the Camden Lock you find an amazing market, formerly occupied by warehouses and small industries, today extremely popular. Full of shops, stands… offering crafts, food, bric-a-brac…

I had of course to make a walk along the Thames, on the South Bank (the other dotted yellow line). Here are some shots. Please notice that the Big Ben clock face was cleaned (last time was four years ago). The present Globe Theatre from 1997 stands close to where the original (from 1599) stood.

The highlight of my three-day visit was however the concert at the Royal Albert Hall – Daniel Barenboim directing the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. To attend a concert with Barenboim, co-founder of this orchestra, consisting of musicians from Middle East countries, including Israel and Palestine, especially in today’s severe conflict situation, is already an event. To be allowed do so in this legendary concert hall, overbooked with an audience of some five or six thousands, with some five or six “encores”, was of course something you will never forget! This concert was part of the famous annual “BBC Proms”. Here are two "Proms" videos, one with Barenboim and the Divan Orchestra and one of the “Last Night of the Proms” – second September Saturday.


Les Halles - new version

The first market on this spot was established during the 12th century. What would be known as “Les Halles” was probably mainly linked to the Baltard pavillons, built around 1850-70 … and demolished 1971-73. This was until then the centre for all commerce with food of all kinds. The place became for a while known as “Le Trou des Halles” (the hole…). New metro stations were created, a “forum” was built on top in 1979, replaced in 1985 and completed with gardens in 1986. The underground became an important shopping centre with cinemas and a lot of other activities. However, the place did not give satisfaction for many reasons – security, unsatisfactory access and circulation… The disappointment with what was created in the 1970’s and 80’s means that a new project is now on its way. It will open partially next year and be completely ready in some two or three years.

I was not there for the earlier versions, but I made a post about what the place looked like until about three years ago (see here) and also about the neighbourhood, including the “Bourse de Commerce” (see here).

The picture of the Saint Eustache church (see previous post) you see on the top of the post was taken from the building site. I had the opportunity to put a helmet on and visit the ongoing construction work.

What is almost finished is “The Canopy”. The underground part of “Les Halles” will of course be covered, but now by a glass construction which protects from wind and rain, but anyhow opens to the exterior, to air. This part with new installations (shops, library, conservatory, cultural centre, restaurants…) will open next year (2015).  

Care has of course been given to capture solar energy, use of rain water…

A little space can already be seen with a bit of the aspect that will be offered. You can find a lot of information of what the future installations will look like. .

What has been especially important is to improve the access, including for the 750.000 people who daily use the six metro and three RER lines, which meet at the station “Châtelet-Les Halles”.  New accesses are created, the old ones remodelled. One of the major difficulties has been to keep everything open during ongoing construction works.

Part of the new garden is already open. As the whole area will be adapted exclusively for pedestrians, the underground tunnels and parking spaces are also rebuilt.

One already open part of the new garden, baptised “Jardin Nelson Mandela”, offers some remarkable space for kids.

I think that many of us would have preferred that at least some of the Baltard pavillons could have remained. Of course the food commerce could not remain (it moved to Rungis in the suburbs), but the architecture could have offered a lot of creativity, possibilities… However, this is how things were handled in the 60’s and the 70’s. Let’s give the new “Les Halles” a fair chance!   

If you wish to get more detailed information you can go here and perhaps more particularly here and here


Figueras - Dali

A last report from the Spanish vacations will be about the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueras.

Figueras was the place where Salvador Dali was born (1904) and where he died (1989). He was himself initiator and creator of this site, which occupies partly the old municipal theatre, seriously damaged by fire during the Spanish civil war, partly some added buildings. The opening took place in 1974. Dali was born just round the corner, was baptised and buried in the nearby church. His first exhibition took place in the theatre. He spent his last years in the building and his tomb is here.

One is just stupefied by the beauty of the facility, starting with what now is an open courtyard and what used to be the place for the theatre audience. 

This is the world’s largest collection of Dali’s works. A lot of effort has been made to make the works appear in their extravagance, like the “Mae West” presentation.

A specific part of the museum is dedicated to jewellery, difficult to wear, but beautiful to look at. 


Barcelona (2) - Gaudi

One major reason to visit Barcelona is of course the “modernism(e)”, visible in architecture, but also in all kinds of design and decorative arts. There is probably no other city where this movement – which elsewhere may be referred to as Art Nouveau, Jugendstil - is so striking and present. We owe this if course especially to Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926).

Maybe a few words about Gaudi. Often suffering from bad health, a vegetarian, devoted to his profession, nature and religion, he never married (some experience of non-responded love). He died accidentally at the age of 73, struck by a tram.

I took the time to visit some of his most well-known buildings, all part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can follow these little circles on the ground. Even the paving stones on the most prestigious avenue – Passeig de Gràcia -, where you find some of the Gaudi buildings, are designed by him as well as many of the street lamps...

Palau Güell was built 1886-88 as a private home for a wealthy entrepreneur, Eusebi Güell, who became and remained a leading sponsor for Gaudi. It’s a fairly early Gaudi production in what can be described as an orientalist period. Situated on a narrow street in the old quarters, it’s difficult to get an outside perspective of the building. The interior is just overwhelming. (You may recognise Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider in Antonioni’s “The Passenger” from 1975, in a scene shot here.) 

Casa Battlo was redesigned by Gaudi in 1904-06 on an existing building from 1877, also designed by him. There are hardly any straight lines left. We can now refer to Gaudi’s naturalist period. The Balto family occupied the major apartment until the middle of the 1950’s.

Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera, is from the same period, 1905-10. Good in one way, but bad for photos, is that the exterior is refurbished. We have to satisfy ourselves with a model, exposed inside.

This is the last of Gaudi’s civil works – he was then close to 60. It was commissioned by businessman Pere Milà and his wife Roser Segimon I Artells. The building has suffered a lot over the decades, but is now again looking close to the original plans. The structure allows interior walls to be moved according to individual wishes. One of the floors is now open to public and is decorated in the style of an upper middle class family around 1910. The stairs are for the “personnel”, the owners entered by lifts. You have some splendid views from the top, where once again Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider were filmed, as well as Scarlett Johansson in the Woody Allen movie ”Vicky Cristina Barcelona” from 2008. 

I did not have the time to visit some other Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, like the Casa Vicens, Collegio Teresiano in a neo-gothic style or the Casa Calvet, but “stole” some pictures from Google Earth.

Another place linked to the name of Güell is the Park Güell. This is part of an unsuccessful housing site, up on a northern hill. Some 60 luxury houses were planned, two exist, one of which, designed by an architect friend, was inhabited by Gaudi 1906-25. The mosaic salamander, known as the dragon, has become something like a Gaudi symbol.

At last, the Sagrada Familia. Gaudi took in 1883 over a project which had been planned a year earlier. The church has since been under construction and still is. There is a hope to see it finished in 2026, more than 140 years later, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Less than one fourth was completed at his death. Today remains a lot to be made, including the top towers – especially the central “Jesus Christ” one which will make it the world’s tallest church (170 m = 560 ft)  - and the main entrance, the “Glory Facade” which will necessitate the demolition of a block of houses.

Not easy to take good pictures from the ground level. Here are some views from far.

The Nativity facade (see also top picture) which was ready in 1930, devoted to the birth of Jesus, faces the rising sun to the north-east.  Gaudi’s intention was to have it poly-chromed like gothic churches used to be.

The other more or less finished facade is the Passion one, much more austere, facing the sunset, symbolic of the death of Christ.

The interior is now rather complete. The church is open for services and was consecrated by the Pope Benedict in 2010.

The doors on the Passion Facade reproduce the “Pater Noster” in Catalan in sharp relief (and with many other languages “behind”). A “magic square” gives the age of Jesus, read in all senses.

A visit to the top of one of the towers allows a splendid view of the surroundings…

… and to have a closer look on all ongoing works.

Too bad that so many of us, like Gaudi, will hardly have a fair chance to see the completion of the church! 

To finish about the Barcelona “modernism”, here are some other remarkable buildings. Gaudi was not alone.