Sunday, April 28, 2013

It is Surpassingly, Beautifully Spring today. At Last.

i thank You God for most this amazing
by e. e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New York Times Haikus

The New York Times has a haiku generator. It scans the newspaper and finds haiku of the kind you were taught to write in grade school - 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables.  Many of them aren't that great, but the best ones of the day are selected by human journalists and printed in a tumblr blog.

If you like,  Click here,
you'll be whooshed like magic to
The Times Haiku Blog

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Great Cartoon

I just had to post this cartoon, which others who spend too much time on the internet will appreciate.

It's from this site

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Church of St. Trophime in St. Paul?

How on earth did the chapel of St. Kate's college in St. Paul come to have a copy of the Church of St. Trophime?  I googled, pausing for a just moment to give thanks on this Sunday morning,  for the amazing miracle that is the internet.

St. Kate's was founded in 1905 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet,  who, although French, were not from Arles.  After the end of WWI, the president of the college, Mother Antonia McHugh-  a nun from North Dakota - decided that the college needed a chapel that was large, Romanesque and based on the beautiful cathedrals of France.  This was at a time when the college only had 3 buildings and 300 students, so she was dreaming big.

She travelled to Europe in 1922 and, although there is no record on her official itinerary of a trip to Arles, she must at least have heard of it and may have visited it.  The church is famous for its beautiful Tympanum (the carved, arched porch) even though it is no longer a cathedral.   It's even mentioned as an example of beauty in Pound's Canto XLV.   Apparently the architect also visited St. Trophime, as well as other churches in France and Spain.

Among the many differences between the two churches is the absence of some of the most obvious Catholic symbols - the religious paintings and large crucifix -at St.Kates.  It's a college chapel, after all,  so it's important that students of all religions will feel comfortable there. Also, the carvings of the saints and the stories featured in the stained glass are of female saints mostly.  Others allude to people who were involved in the creation of the chapel (A statue of St. Anthony is for Mother Antonia, a statue of St. Augustine for the Bishop of St. Paul, Austin Dowling etc.).

The chapel, Our Lady of Victory, was completed in two years, and dedicated on an unseasonably warm day in October, 1924.  According to the fastest construction of a cathedral in the middle ages was 25 years.  The longest was 600 years.  So, yes, two years from Mother Antonia's trip to the completion of the building.

The AIA guide to the Twin Cities says that although the front of the chapel is a pretty direct copy from St. Trophime, the rest of the church draws on influences from all over - the bell tower is Italianate, the brick pattern of the interior, modern,  the Batchelder Arts and Crafts tiles are from California and have a Moorish feel.  But everyone seems to agree that despite being a patchwork of styles and influences, the finished product is beautiful.

For most of this information, I relied heavily on an article in the St. Catherine's magazine by John Spayde.  Click Here to see the whole article.

Also, for the Heathens among you, a Cathedral is the church attached to a bishopric.  The word 'cathedral' comes from the Greek word for 'chair' (kathedra). Originally, the Cathedral was where the Bishop's seat was.  Literally, there was a seat - a chair or throne which the bishop sat in to pontificate.  I looked up that word to see if only popes could properly pontificate, but, no, bishops do it too.  Arles had a bishopric from the second century or so - St.Trophime being the first bishop - but in 1801, the bishop moved his chair from Arles to Aix, where it now resides.  Did you notice that I had the good taste to not make jokes about the word bishopric?  Though, obviously, not enough good taste to not think them or to eschew mentioning  them.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Roman Cities - a rumination which might be pretty boring but it's my blog. You can skip if you want.

Arles felt very familiar to me, and I quickly figured out the layout.  It reminded me of Toulouse and I thought a lot about that.  I think it's because they were Roman cities and had similar layouts that dated way back to the Romans.  Of course, Toulouse no longer has the big Roman structures it once had, but the pattern of the town is similar.  The Town Square - Le Capitole - dominated by the Hôtel de Ville -  is a remnant in spirit, at least,  of the Roman Forum, as in Arles.  In both places here are big straight wide streets leading through the town- many of them now pedestrianized, and with small warrens of medieval streets filling in between them.  These bigger streets are pretty much where they were in Roman times, leading to and from the gates of the town in the cardinal directions.  Both places have a major river running through them, with the older part of town on one side of the river.  And then seeing the necropolis - I'd never seen them, only read about them - followed by the cemetery and realizing how similar they are really, made me think again of the Romans.   (Also the Monty Python sketch - what did the Romans ever do for us)(but that's beside the point).

Sister Rose says a Classics professor she once had said that the best time to be alive in the world was to be in Roman France in the 2 or 3 century.  It was peaceful, prosperous, and full of activity.  The French  really took to Roman occupation.  When the Roman Empire died out,  France continued growing in the same directions the Roman's had started.   Many of the things we think of as typically French came from the Romans - wine and cheese and olive oil and maybe cemeteries and town plans. And, in the South of France, at least, there is a sense that the spirit of Roman life somehow survives.

Britain was different. The Britons had never really adopted the Roman way of life.  Britons continued to fight throughout the Roman occupation.  When the Romans withdrew quite abruptly at the end of the 4th century, leaving chaos and tribal warfare behind them, the 'Spirit of Rome' did not linger.   While Britain once had amphitheatres and theatres and beautiful Roman villas and baths and necropoli etc., basically only Hadrian's wall survives intact.  The stones were 'quarried' for other uses.  There are still some Roman roads that are part of the highway system.  There are some place names - Leicester, London, Colchester etc.  - the bottoms of some fortified walls, like the ones at Pevensey Castle (iirc).  And in Bath, at least some part of the baths are or were Roman.  But not like France.

After the Romans, until the Norman conquest, Britain was basically a series of tribal wars.  That 600 years is pretty interesting and contributed more to the present life of Britain than, I think, the Romans did. But that's a discussion for another day.

Modern Necropoli - French Cemeteries

Because it was a beautiful day, we walked from Les Alyscamps along the old city wall.  We encountered this typical French cemetery.  I'm showing it because of its similarity to Les Alyscamps, especially during the days when the sarcophagi were piled 3 high.

Necropolis, of course, means 'city of the dead'. I think you get that 'city' feeling in this kind of cemetery.    We wandered for a while, looking at the tombstones and the floral displays that families had left. It's kind of a comforting place really.

In New Orleans some years ago, we were told the cemeteries were built above ground because the water table was so  high.  But I've seen cemeteries like this all over the French Caribbean as well as France, so I wonder if it wasn't just tradition after all. And if that tradition dates back to the Romans, at least.

Arles - The Necropolis

Among the many Roman remnants that makes Arles a Unesco World Heritage Site, are the remnants of a Roman necropolis, Les Alyscamps.  Les Alyscamps, by the way, means 'Elysian Fields' in Occitan, the old Provençal language. In modern French it's Champs Élysées.  Signs we read there said it had continued to be used for a thousand or more years after the Romans left.  It was famous (according to the signs) in the middle ages and rich people used to send their bodies from a long way off, down the Rhone, to be buried there. There are still some family chapels from that period.  It was so famous that it's mentioned in Dante's Inferno. If I read the French correctly, it was so full at one time, that the sarcophagi were stacked three or four high.

Today, it's smaller. Just a few blocks walk from the central square, along a canal, in dappled shade with birds, bees and flowers  doing their Spring things all around. Not unpleasant.  In structure, it's a long avenue lined with carved stone sarcophagi (now empty). There is a somewhat ruined medieval church at the end which is the beginning of the Arlesian pilgrimage route to Santiago in Spain, so there are clamshells along the way.

Right now you are probably asking yourself  - why does the Arlesian route of  Compostelle de St. Jacques start here?  Well, I have the answer -- Saints.  Toward the end of the Roman era Genesius, an accountant or notary or legal civil servant of some kind, refused to write down the names of Christians who were to be persecuted. For this, he was beheaded and, thus, became a saint. Even though he wasn't even a Christian. And he was buried in Les Alyscamps.  So was St. Trophime before his church was built and he was relocated.

{I'm pausing here in my own world, to reflect on what the French labor unions of today would do if one of their members were beheaded for refusing to make a list.  Pretty amusing to speculate}

I somehow didn't take any pictures there, though the COG took plenty.  Here are some from the internet.

And a closer view of sarcophagi.

and the church.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Arles Theater again

I found a panorama I made of the theatre in Arles, showing a more complete view. Here it is, click to make it larger.

Arles, Day 2 continued again

Is it wrong that the only picture I took of St. Trophime is of a chandelier?  And is it wrong to covet a chandelier that hangs in a beautiful Romanesque church?

The picture of the chandelier, also shows some lovely Romanesque arches and, oh look some gothic ones, too, I guess.

Arles, Day 2 continued.

After the Cryptoportico, we went to the 13th century Romanesque church of St. Trophime across the square from the Town Hall.  There's a long kind of gory story blahbbity blah about how St. Trophime became a saint, which I will spare you, mostly because I can't remember it.  He was the first Bishop of Arles, in the third century, so 1,000 years before the church was built.  The facade of the church is quite beautiful because of the carvings. I've taken these pictures from the internet:

Here's a close up of Daniel and the lions from the front. Rather fetching, I think.

There are two or three things that stand out for me.  First, the church has a small chapel filled with relics, mostly bone fragments, of the saints and bishops of Arles.   These relics are in elaborate gold and silver boxes and they are definitely weird.   Secondly, for obscure and mysterious reasons, the Chapel of Our Lady of Victory at Saint Catherine's in St. Paul, is modelled on St. Trophime in Arles.  It's the same general shape, but without the gorgeous Romanesque carvings.  See Below. 

Arles - Another Day, Another Roman Ruin or two.

The second full day in Arles was Glorious.  Sunshine all day, in the 60s, birdsong, bees, cats lying in the sun, flowers everywhere and the blossoming trees really blossomed.

We started the day at the Cryptoporticus, which is a little difficult to explain.  The Forum was built into a hill and underneath there were lots of shops in a double arcade.  Like a walk-out basement - the shops  were underground at the back, but at ground level in the front.  All of it is below ground level now.

You enter from the main square, through the Hôtel de Ville (the Town Hall), and go down down down some metal stairs and you find this wonderful underground arcade stretching a long way. The COG and I were the only people there, which was awesome.  It's a three sided, U-shaped arcade, but there are some areas where it is deeper than just one shop on either side of the walk, so it's a little more complicated than that and a little more fun to wander around in.

Think for a moment about the continuity of this, what it means - today's central square is built where the Roman forum was, right over part of it.  That just boggles my mind.   So here's a couple of pictures:

Looking in one direction

And in another direction.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Breaking News....

According to the British newspapers, March wasn't the coldest March in half a century.  It was the coldest in over 100 years.

It's kind of ironic, actually.  Britain is on about the same latitude as Calgary and Moscow,  but the jet stream warms it to its usual temperate climate.  Now the oceans are warming  up, which is melting the polar ice cap. This pushes the jet stream farther south, making Britain colder.

Arles, First Day

What I didn't realize about Arles, before we came, was just how much Roman stuff there is.  I knew there was some, of course, but for a small town, Arles has a huge amount of Roman stuff still there.

Having said that, this first picture isn't Roman, but probably medieval.  Looking at this wall near our hotel, you can see the many changes to the structure that happen as a building changes through the 500 or 1,000 years of its existence.  This is a common sight in France and Italy, but you can see it even in Brighton, which seems young, but was mentioned in the Domesday book (18 inhabitants, 1 slave, 3 ploughshares and a tax levy of 4,000 herrings).  Just look at those blocked in doors and windows. 

 We visited the Roman Theatre the first full morning we were there, as it was just a block from our hotel. Off to one side of the theatre is a kind of holding station for the jigsaw puzzle of bits and pieces they've found.  It's intriguing to walk through and find pieces that seem to go together - a relief of a horses legs on one, the head on another.  a capitol and a piece of column. 

The theatre is still used, by virtue of a modern stage put over the Roman understage area, and is being restored as an ongoing project.  The pavements between the seats and the stage are wonderfully colored stone and that's what they are working on now. There was once a wall, full of niches and doorways and columns all along the front, facing the audience. Those two pillars give some sense of the size - there were once many pillars. 

You can see some of the puddles left by the rain the day we arrived and the sun didn't appear until afternoon.  Here's some seating, taken from the same position as the above.  

The theatre was kind of incorporated into a convent in the middle ages, but that's gone, now. 

After lunch, we went to the Amphitheatre, just round the corner from the theatre.  I didn't take any pictures from the outside, alas, but here are a couple from the inside. 

The first, is from the ground floor, looking up to the arches on the second floor, through the missing floor. You wouldn't have seen this back in the day.  Isn't it amazing that those arches are still there 2000 years later.

During the upheavals of the middle ages, the Amphitheatre was converted to a fortress. The exterior walls were fortified like a walled city. The arches were filled in and 4 lookout towers were built forming 4 gates. Then, the whole place was backfilled with living space.  Very clever of the Arlesians, I think.  If you look at the picture below (which is on the second floor, where the flooring remains or has been replaced) you can see the square holes made to hold beams for the building in of homes in that period.

That was our first day, more tomorrow.