The Glass House

Last fall a friend and I took a tour of The Glass House in Connecticut. It was a great suggestion on her part because it was located equidistantly between us, about an hour’s drive northeast for me and southwest for her. She booked us tours ahead of time. Designed by architect Philip Johnson and located on what was his private property until he died in 2005, The Glass House can only be accessed through guided tours.

We met up for lunch at a cute café, opting to sit at a table outside. It was a short walk to the building where the tour began. The guide started by showing our group a wall of photos from Johnson’s life and talking about his beginnings and influences. We then hopped on a shuttle to take us to the actual property.

The entrance was imposing. The guide discussed Johnson’s sense of humor; the gates resembled a guillotine or tombstones and rose far above us in a manner that could be considered menacing, yet they didn’t really block access to the grounds. One could in theory just walk around them, as they weren’t connected to a fence.

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The two-hour walking tour was much more than The Glass House itself. On our walk to the house, the guide showed us other buildings on the property, all designed by Johnson—Da Monsta, his studio, the Ghost House, the Sculpture Gallery (yes, there was a gallery on the grounds—he had money to spend)– and spoke about his design choices, not only for the buildings, but also for the placement of paths and trees and walls. The property was created with its relation to nature and visitors’ experiences in mind.

The studio101_1270

A path on the grounds101_1272

Do you see the Ghost House below?101_1273

The Sculpture Gallery, sculptures temporarily hidden away in boxes101_1304

It so happened that we were there in the year of two anniversaries—the tenth year since The Glass House opened to the public and 110 years since Johnson’s birth. To celebrate these milestones, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama had been commissioned to create several works on the property. She plastered red dots all over the transparent house, placed 1,300 silver spheres to float on the lake below, and created a large steel pumpkin that sat a short distance from the house. She likes circles and pumpkins. The tour guide told us that Kusama is the most popular female artist in the world (determined by number of visitors to her exhibitions).

At first I was a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t see the house in its standard state, all glass and striking to the eye. After hearing about Kusama and actually seeing and standing inside the house, however, I appreciated the dots, which I found joyful and whimsical. The structure was as striking and fascinating as ever.

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Johnson used The Glass House as his summer home and for entertaining. It would have been too cold in the winter.

What it must have been like to attend a party there.

It was a perfect day. My friend and I both have an art history background, and one of my favorite classes in college was Intro to Architecture. (I also took an Architectural Design class that kicked my a**, but that’s a story for another day. It was enjoyable but kept me up all night bent over foam boards while gripping a box cutter.) The tour was like being in school again, learning with visual aids and asking questions of someone who could answer them. Not to mention that in this case most of our “class” was outside on a beautiful fall day with the most moderate of temperatures.

The Glass House is closed for the winter and will reopen on May 1.

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Side by Side

In New York recently, I looked skyward before crossing the street, and I saw an old and new building side by side that reminded me of two buildings I snapped a photo of years ago in Paris.

I love the long boulevards of Haussmanian buildings in Paris. I find them intricate and beautiful and harmonious. I am struck by the towering skyscrapers in New York that seem part of the same animal when night falls. People, places, and things have a large impact when they are uniform and numerous, as demonstrated by the Santa Clauses I saw near the Eiffel Tower and the Rockettes, known for their Christmas spectacular where a long line of identically dressed female dancers kick their legs in unison.

And yet diversity draws the eye as well. It’s why we may look a little longer at couples who seem mismatched to our perspective, at a tall man riding a small bicycle, or at a woman wearing clashing prints. I find it fascinating to observe older and newer buildings that exist next to each other on the same city block. A common sight in New York is a small church smack up against a soaring office building that was obviously built years after the church, which must have once been surrounded by structures that resembled its proportions more closely.

Diversity makes the world go round, I say.

Like A Picture in a Frame

Sometimes the windows in museums are just as picturesque as the paintings on the walls.

The top floor of the Picasso museum in Paris offers up the city past its curly metal railings.117.windows.2015aIf you pause on the checkered marble landing before descending one of the side staircases at the Louvre, these lines await you.
117.windows.2015b 117.windows.2015cOh, those Haussmannian buildings.

Siena

When my friend and I were planning our trip to Florence, Pisa, and Milan, I asked everyone I knew for recommendations on where to go. Many people suggested taking the train to other Tuscan cities that neighbored Florence. After hearing about San Gimignano and Lucca, I began to wish that we had two weeks instead of one to visit all these places. I couldn’t decide which day trip to suggest to my friend, seeing as only one would be feasible. Then I mentioned to a girl I work with that I was going to Italy, and she said, “Go to Siena.”

And so I did.

The train ride to Siena took only an hour and a half from Florence. It left once every hour from Santa Maria Novella. We left in the morning and came back in the evening.

Every single little medieval street in Siena was charming. We arrived without an agenda, and we didn’t need one. The city was made for walking and oohing and aahing.80.siena.2014a 80.siena.2014b80.siena.2014e80.siena.2014g Flags everywhere signaled the annual horse race that took place about two weeks prior and would occur again on August 16, the Catholic feast of the Assumption.

This red, green, and gold flag with a dragon in the center represents one of the seventeen contrade, or districts, of Siena.80.siena.2014kMy friend and I napped on the Piazza del Campo. Not bad to open one’s eyes to the Torre del Mangai.80.siena.2014cI like roofs.

80.siena.2014fNotice anything about this restaurant furniture?80.siena.2014iI think I glimpsed a princess behind these billowing curtains.80.siena.2014hIt was funny to walk around town and look up to notice St. Peter looking down at me. These kinds of religious reliefs are common in Italy.80.siena.2014jI would definitely recommend visiting Siena if you have the chance to go to Toscana.80.siena.2014d

Firenze

Everyone told me, “You will love Florence!”

I did.

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore enchanted me from the moment I saw it. Topped by Brunelleschi’s dome, the duomo is remarkable to see in person. Its construction spanned from the late 1200s to early 1400s. Aren’t we lucky to be able to see it completed?79.florence.2014a 79.florence.2014b 79.florence.2014cThe line to climb to the top was about one hour. My friend suggested that we take turns waiting and wandering about. He used his time to have coffee in a café where a local man started talking to him about the declining economy of the city. I found a side street where I bought a dozen postcards from a shop. I chose nine to send to friends, family, and colleagues, one for the collection on my wall, and a couple extra for good measure.

About ten minutes before we arrived at the entrance, my friend double-checked the sign in front of the door. He ran back and told me that they didn’t sell tickets there. We asked the people behind us where to buy tickets, and they directed us to the office down the street. My friend sprinted off and came back panting and bearing two tickets. I picked a good travel companion.

The ascent to the dome included narrow winding spiral stone staircases. Usually staircases were one way, but several of them, invariably the steep ones, were shared by people climbing up and people going down so that one side had to wait for the other to carefully make their way before continuing.

Prior to entering into the open air, we were treated to an expected interior view under the dome, which is covered with a fresco of “The Last Judgement” by Vasari and Federico Zuccari. I had never been so high up inside a church before.79.florence.2014eOutside, the view of the city was… well, look at it.79.florence.2014fWe circled the dome and soaked in each viewpoint. We must have been there for an hour.79.florence.2014g79.florence.2014hAfter lunch that day, we took a very roundabout way to another vantage point of the city. I don’t want to talk about it. By the time we arrived, I was so hot and pooped that I immediately plopped down on the ground in the tiny piece of shade of a snack stand. My friend eventually asked if I wanted to go, and I said okay, but I’d better go look at the view for a bit first. I had to admit that it was striking. 79.florence.2014i79.florence.2014jThe best cure for long walks in the heat was gelato. My favorite flavor definitely became melone. Every time we went to a gelateria, I would stuff a napkin in my purse but not always use it. Days later, I would dig for something in my bag and find another papery gelato napkin.

In terms of food, we ate pizza and pasta and it was good but made me feel like I just wanted to eat fruit salad for a week when I got back.

On our last day in Florence, after seeing Michaelangelo’s David at the Renaissance-filled Accademia Gallery, we feasted on spinach pizza, artichoke calzones, cold eggplant, sundried tomatoes, and spremuta (freshly squeezed orange juice). Also, can I just say that Florence is cheaper than Paris? This lunch for two was 13.50 euros. Not dirt cheap but certainly less expensive than my city of residence. 79.florence.2014kOur budget hotel room overlooked a quiet street walking distance from the action.79.florence.2014dFlorence felt alive, with many different neighborhoods easily traversed on foot. As a friend had warned me, the city is filled with tourists, and lines to enter monuments and museums can be one to two hours. My mindset was that I wanted to choose one or two sites where we’d be willing to wait, and the rest of the time I wanted to explore the city and enjoy being outside. That’s exactly what we did. We didn’t go in the Uffizi Gallery or pay to see the Boboli Gardens, but we did nap on the bank of the Arno River, walk across the charming Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), and have a laugh on a warm evening while sitting on a bench outside a lit shop as gelato melted in our mouths.79.florence.2014l

 

Charming Bridges and Soaring Vaulted Ceilings

I didn’t look up pictures of Amiens before my day trip, so I was surprised and charmed to discover dozens of bridges connecting a long public path with private properties. Flanking the path was a river and a stream.

Each bridge had its own personality.57.amiens.2014a 57.amiens.2014bFrom this angle this red door seems to be a door to nowhere. 57.amiens.2014c 57.amiens.2014d 57.amiens.2014e 57.amiens.2014f 57.amiens.2014g 57.amiens.2014hOn my way from the park to the Amiens Cathedral, I stopped in the bookstore over this bridge.57.amiens.2014iImagine living in one of these houses?57.amiens.2014jMy last main stop was the cathedral, which was built in the 1200s in only a span of fifty years, which is lightning speed compared to many other medieval cathedrals (and even by today’s standards—think about how long the last construction project took at your home or workplace). 57.amiens.2014k 57.amiens.2014lIt’s amazing how the structure looks completely different depending on whether you are looking at the façade or the back.57.amiens.2014mIs this not a dramatic scene?57.amiens.2014nThe interior was awe-inspiring. I sat down and looked up for a long time.57.amiens.2014o57.amiens.2014p 57.amiens.2014qOutside, spring tulips were in bloom. 57.amiens.2014r 57.amiens.2014sThe town of Amiens was more than I expected and became more enchanting with every step.57.amiens.2014t

Amiable Amiens

If anyone ever tells you that the only thing in Amiens is the cathedral, don’t believe them. The cathedral would have been enough, as I love Gothic architecture, but the town had more delightful surprises in store.

Amiens is about an hour and fifteen minutes north of Paris by train. I made it a day trip last Sunday.

I started by strolling through the bi-annual flea market, which is the second largest in France. Street after street was closed to traffic and bustled with people selling their wares.

Here are a few of the gems that were on sale.

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Need a head? A robot? A pair of hairy yellow chairs? Here’s where to find it.

Why these classics were above and away from the crowd, I do not know.

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I came across a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of the deportation camps.

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Government officials wearing red, white, and blue sashes placesd wreaths in front of the memorial to martyrs of the resistance who came from the Picardy region.

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A walk through the town yielded some interesting buildings.

Can you believe this is a library?

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The circus is another attraction of the town.

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I noticed a lot of brick buildings. They were adorable.

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More to come!

An Arcadian Amble

While walking in Central Park, my friends and I came upon the Bethesda Terrace underpass, which was built in the 1860s. It’s a bit di Chirico-esque, no? Especially on a cold winter’s day when hardly anyone else is around.ImageFive musicians were singing “You Raise Me Up.” The man in the center had a deep, rich voice that echoed across the Minton tiles. According to Central Park’s web site, these types of tiles usually cover European cathedral floors. This arcade is the only place where they make up the ceiling.ImageJust up the ways from that magical scene, we saw a man making serious bubbles.ImageSo that’s Central Park on a crisp January day: whimsical, musical, cold, and all yours to play in.

A Trip Down South

This past weekend I visited a friend in Marseilles in the south of France.  I slept very late the night before, figuring the three hour and fifteen minute train ride would give me plenty of time to nap, but an hour and a half out of Paris, I saw this.ImageAnd so I gazed at the snow-covered landscapes instead.  I realized that I had it perfect.  It wasn’t snowing in Paris, and it wouldn’t be snowing in Marseilles.  The beautiful scenery was mine to enjoy without getting my boots wet.

Since my train arrived at the Marseille St-Charles train station midday on Friday and my friend didn’t get out of work until the early evening, I had a few hours to wander around by myself.  On my walk from the station to the Vieux Port (which means “Old Port”), I saw some building art.ImageImage

On Saturday, my friend drove us to Aix-en-Provence.  Every time I am driven in a car, it feels so luxurious.  I’ve gotten used to taking public transportation everywhere, and I even like it, but to be driven somewhere without having to worry about anything—I think it’s one of the my great pleasures in life, along with hot showers after a day out and a warm bed when you’re in between asleep and awake.  It was Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz (via Charlie Brown) that first made me aware of how very secure you are when you’re child sitting in the backseat while your parents drive and worry about things for you.  Ever since I read that comic strip some years ago, I think of it when I’m lucky enough to be in the passenger or backseat of a car with a person I trust taking me somewhere.ImageAs in Paris and Marseilles, Christmas lights were up in Aix.  There seemed to be a ladyfinger theme going on.ImageImageThis was my third trip to Aix, and I have to say that it is charming every time.

The next day was a Marseilles day.  Marseilles is the “European Capital of Culture” this year.  Nativity sets, or crèches, are a specialty of the region.  My friend and I walked through an outdoor market that showcased stand after stand of nativity figures.  I’ve never seen so many different kinds of sheep figurines in one place. My friend’s cousins are both in the crèche business, but they weren’t present that afternoon.

After lunch, we walked around the MuCEM (Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Mediterranée), a new museum that just opened a few months ago.ImageThat partial cage outside the nested structure is full of holes so that when you walk the paths between the core building and the web, you are both inside and outside the museum. The layout is not conducive to finding your way easily.  However, the contemporary structure offers the rare opportunity to have a heightened awareness of how architecture shapes your experience.  It impels visitors to look out, up, and around as they circulate.  The concrete shapes and hard tree-like beams combined with the city and sea visible through the gaps make for a unique experience.ImageOn the rooftop of the museum are a variety of chairs that visitors can lounge in with a view of the Mediterranean Sea.  My friend and I agreed that if the weather had been warmer, a little siesta with the sun on our faces would have been delicious.

Here you can see Notre-Dame de la Garde framed from the inside of the web.  This Catholic basilica tops a hill and is visible from all over the city.ImageSee it?  This is a view overlooking the Vieux Port. Image

While driving through Marseilles, I saw this sign that made me laugh.  The sheets of paper are perfectly lined up but with a disjointed result.ImageThis picture of a pedestrian bridge connecting the ancient stone Fort St-Jean and the new concrete and glass museum needs no adjectives from me.ImageI can’t helpful myself, though.  The word that first came to mind when I saw this scene was ‘storybook.’  Do you know what I mean?

Marseilles is one of those cities that either elicits a positive or negative reaction from people in France when you mention it.  It does have its share of problems: violence, poverty, and racial tension. It’s an interesting city.  I struggle to find a word to describe it.  I wouldn’t call it beautiful, yet it has its beautiful points.  And driving along a winding road next to the sea during sunset—nothing like it.

What do you know of Marseilles?  Have you been there?