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Milan to Verona by autostrada

E-64 autostrada, eastbound from Milano, Italy

E-64 autostrada, eastbound from Milano, Italy

My one earlier visit to Italy was on a cruise that left only cravings for more of what was still unseen in the heartland of Northern Italy.

 

The plan for this trip is to drive the countryside within a triangle loosely anchored by Milan, Venice, and Florence, that includes Verona, Padua, Venice, and Parma.

 

Milan has been left for the end of the itinerary, which turns out to be fortuitous.

 

Alps seen from near Bergamo, Italy

Alps obscured by clouds near Bergamo, Italy

 

 

Verona, the first night’s destination, should be a leisurely drive of under three hours, but that plan is derailed the moment the plane touches down.

 

A light rain soaking the runway becomes a deluge in the time it takes to clear Immigration and Customs and point the rental car east on the autostrada.

 

 

 

Street in the Citta' Alta, Bergamo, Italy

Street in the Citta’ Alta, Bergamo, Italy

Rain and fog have throttled visibility down to a few car lengths, but heavy traffic includes plenty of trucks.

In the no-speed-limit left lane, fast-approaching headlights loom in the rear view until they blow past, undeterred by the weather.

It takes nearly two hours to cover the first 60 miles.  By midday, though, there’s a break in the weather and the Italian Alps, ever-present on the right side of the autostrada, begin to appear out of the fog and clouds.

 

Entrance to the Citta' Alta, Bergamo, Italy

Entrance to the Citta’ Alta, Bergamo, Italy

 

With a room guaranteed for the evening in Verona, an unscheduled stop for lunch has become suddenly appealing, and an exit labeled “Bergamo” is well-placed.

 

 

It turns out that there are actually two Bergamos.  The old city, the Citta’ Alta, sits high on a bluff at the edge of the Alps, and the new city is spread out on the plain below.

 

View from above the Citta' Alta, Bergamo, Italy

View from above the Citta’ Alta, Bergamo, Italy

Even by European standards, this place is old, for the Celts were here before the Romans.

 

The daunting climb to the Citta’ Alta was not deterrent enough for Attila the Hun, who destroyed it the 5th century.

 

The city, though, rebounded to become the seat of a Lombard duchy, and after its conquest by Charlemagne, a county seat.

 

Bergamo-style polenta and sweets

Bergamo-style polenta and sweets

 

In the early Middle Ages it was an independent commune, but later became part of the Venetian Republic until both were conquered by Napoleon.

 

After Napoleon’s exile, it became part of the Austrian Empire until it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy in 1859 .

 

 

 

Bergamo 008

Footpath in the Citta Alta, Bergamo, Italy

 

 

 

This city has lent its name to a regional folk dance style known as bergamask. Shakespeare refers to it in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream as a “Bergomask dance”.

 

The music is characterized by dissonances and irregular intervals that later inspired Debussy’s “Suite Bergamasque”.

 

 

 

Trattoria, Bergamo, Italy

Trattoria, Bergamo, Italy

 

The Città Alta is surrounded by 17th-century defensive walls.

 

It is connected to the lower city by a cable car.  With parking spaces very limited in the upper city, the funicular is the recommended approach.

 

 

 

 

More Alps seen from near Bergamo, Italy

Alps in cleared skies as seen near Bergamo, Italy

 

 

 

Lunch at a trattoria in the Citta’ Alta ends with cleared skies.

 

A hotel room awaits in Verona, but with weather delays and the stop in Bergamo, it’s dusk by arrival.

 

 

 

 

Night life on the streets of Verona, Italy

Night life on the streets of Verona, Italy

 

Verona’s strategic location between Milan and Venice, astride the route through the Alps to Innsbruck, has made it much contested for centuris.

 

Incredibly, though, it is one of a handful of Italian cities that did not suffer major destruction during World War II.

 

 

Castelvechio bridge,  Verona, Italy

Castelvecchio bridge, Verona, Italy

 

 

The city’s history is foggy before it became a Roman  town around 300 BC, but the value and importance of its many historical buildings have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 

 

 

Night life on the streets of Verona, Italy

Night life on the streets of Verona, Italy

 

 

 

At the time of its the completion in 1356, Verona’s Ponte Scaligero boasted the world’s largest bridge arch.

 

 

 

Piazza Bra (Arena at left), Verona, Italy

Piazza Bra (Arena at left), Verona, Italy

 

 

 

A Roman amphitheater, The Arena, still survives in the Piazza Bra, and only the theaters in Rome and Capua seat more than it 25,000.

 

 

 

Piazza Bra (Arena at right), Verona, Italy

Piazza Bra (Arena at right), Verona, Italy

 

 

While little of the original perimeter wall remains, the interior is virtually intact, and it is still used today for theatre and summer opera, fairs, and other public events.

 

 

 

Castelvechio bridge,  Verona, Italy

Castelvechio bridge, Verona, Italy

 

As in Bergamo, there are enough sights to keep visitors occupied for a couple of days, but Venice calls, and with the weather now clear, tomorrow’s arrival should be well before lunch.

 

Château de Cheverny

Château de Cheverny front facade

Château de Cheverny front facade

The Loire Valley’s Château de Cheverny has stood as a testament to the conspicuous consumption of French royalty for nearly 400 years.

Ramparts, Château de Cheverny

Ramparts, Château de Cheverny

One of the first châteaux to open its doors to the public early in the 1900’s, it’s known for its magnificent interiors and remarkably well-preserved collection of furniture, tapestries, and objets d’art.

Because it was built and decorated in a relatively short period, its architecture is unusually harmonious.

Gardens, Château de Cheverny

Gardens, Château de Cheverny

 

Like most châteaux, Cheverny was the property of a family who represented royal authority locally.

 

While many were built or renovated as elaborate country houses, the earliest were fortified castles, and some – including Cheverny – still retain vestiges of fortifications.

 

 

Salon, Château de Cheverny

Salon, Château de Cheverny

 

The original château at Cheverny was purchased by Count Henri Hurault, Louis XIII’s military treasurer, around 1610.

 

Although the property has since passed through many hands, Hurault’s descendants have twice recovered it, and still own it today.

 

Ceiling detail, Château de Cheverny

Ceiling detail, Château de Cheverny

 

When it was forfeited to the Crown as a penalty for fraud, Henri II offered it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.

 

Preferring the nearby Château de Chenonceau, she sold it back to the former owner’s son, who completed construction of the current structure in 1630.

 

 

Salon, Château de Cheverny

Salon, Château de Cheverny

 

The Hurault family was forced to forfeit much of its wealth during the French Revolution, and sold the property in 1802.

 

They bought it back for the second time during the Restoration in 1824, and today Hurault’s descendants live on its private third floor

 

 

 

Dining room, Château de Cheverny

Dining room, Château de Cheverny

 

My visit to Cheverny comes at the end of a long day in the Loire Valley.

 

The round trip by car runs around five hours, making it difficult for the visitor to do justice to more than two or three châteaux in a day.  Visitors should consider spending a night or two in Amboise or Blois to allow time to browse them at leisure.

 

 

Bedchamber, Château de Cheverny

Bedchamber, Château de Cheverny

As sunset approaches and the drive back begins, there’s time for no more than a drive-by of the storybook Château de Chambord.

On the ride back, I reflect upon how difficult it is to walk through the opulence of Cheverny and other magnificent châteaux without thinking of the peasants whose hard labor funded such largesse.

Salon, Château de Cheverny

Salon, Château de Cheverny

 

 

It was only the agricultural output of lands surrounding each château that enabled it to be self-sufficient.

 

French peasants tethered to the land they worked, and through it to the château which it supported, were for generations trapped in subsistence with little hope that their lives would change.

 

 

Nursery, Château de Cheverny

Nursery, Château de Cheverny

 

 

 

It’s no surprise, then, that while the story of the French Revolution is often  retold as the uprising of urban Paris, it was prosecuted with equal fervor in the countryside.

 

 

 

 

 

Hallway, Château de Cheverny

Hallway, Château de Cheverny

 

Rural unrest began with when a drought that threatened the harvest of 1788 was followed by storms and floods which destroyed much of what remained.  In the following winter, frosts and snow damaged vines and orchards.

 

The poor harvest sparked demands for cancellation of harvest payments to château owners and restoration of grazing rights.

 

Angelic sculpture, Château de Cheverny

Angelic sculpture, Château de Cheverny

In the face of massive bread shortages in the spring of 1789, many peasants and villagers armed themselves, attacking symbols of the regime, and reclaimed tithes and grain.

The unrest prompted the revolutionary National Assembly to formally abolished feudalism.

Château de Chambord

Château de Chambord

Château de Cheverny is the final post of from my 10 Days In Paris, and while the pace of the trip has been tireless, I still leave with a long list of sights yet unseen for my next visit.

See earlier posts from my 10 Days in Paris:

 

 

 

Châteaux du Clos Lucé & Chenonceau

Leonardo's helicopter model at Château du Clos Lucé

Leonardo’s helicopter model at Château du Clos Lucé

Château du Clos Lucé.   If you thought that Leonardo da Vinci is buried in his native Italy, or that his famous Mona Lisa arrived at the Louvre as a spoil of war, you’d be wrong on both counts.

 

It was the artist himself who, in 1516, brought his paintings Mona Lisa, Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, and St. John the Baptist with him to France.

 

 

Leonardo's mechanical models at Château du Clos Lucé

Leonardo’s mechanical models at Château du Clos Lucé

 

The Château du Clos Lucé, where he lived until his death three years later, is now  a museum that displays over forty models of his machines.

 

The king of France bought the now-famous paintings from Leonardo’s estate, and the Mona Lisa hung in the royal palaces at Fontainebleau and Versailles before it was moved to the Louvre after the French Revolution.

 

 

Leonardo bust at Château du Clos Lucé

Leonardo bust at Château du Clos Lucé

That these paintings today sit in The Louvre is remarkable, because Leonardo almost never made it toFrance.

While Da Vinci had long-standing invitations from French kings to move to France, he accepted only when his patron Giuliano de Medici died in 1516.

Model of Leonardo's airplane at Château du Clos Lucé

Model of Leonardo’s airplane at Château du Clos Lucé

Although paralysis in one arm had rendered da Vinci unable to paint, King Francis I welcomed him warmly and installed him in the Chateau Clos Lucé, adjacent to the king’s own Château d’Amboise.

 

Leonardo's grave at Château du Clos Lucé

Leonardo’s grave at Château du Clos Lucé

Their friendship was so close that Leonardo’s chateau was connected to the king’s by an underground passage.

Leonardo repaid Francis’s hospitality by designing and constructing grand engineering projects.

He also brought with him his mechanical lion, which was able to walk a few steps and open its chest to present the king with a cluster of lilies.

Legend has it that a 67-year-old Leonardo died in King Francis’s arms.

 

 

 

Gallery bridge at Château Chenonceau.

Gallery bridge at Château Chenonceau.

 

 

Château Chenonceau.  This Loire Valley château has an incredible history marked by historical notables, a long succession of owners, and ongoing threat of destruction by revolution and war.

 

The best -known of the Loire valley châteaux, the current version was completed in 1522, and is an architectural mix of Gothic and Renaissance.

 

 

Sculpture detail, Château Chenonceau

Sculpture detail, Château Chenonceau

 

 

Henry II gave it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, after seizing the property for unpaid debts in 1535.

 

It was Diane who commissioned construction of the signature bridge which joins the château to the opposite river bank.

 

Bedchamber, Château Chenonceau.

Bedchamber, Château Chenonceau.

 

She also ordered the planting of gardens laid out in four triangles.

 

Henry II’s widow and regent Catherine de Medici appropriated the chateau as  her residence upon her husband’s death.

 

She added a new series of gardens, and enclosed and dedicated the river bridge as a gallery.

Staircase, Château Chenonceau.

Staircase, Château Chenonceau.

Upon Catherine’s death, the château, again encumbered by debt,  passed to her daughter-in-law Louise, wife of King Henry III.

Henri IV, France’s first Boubon king, paid off Catherine’s debts in order to acquire Chenonceau for his mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées.

Chapel, Château Chenonceau.

Chapel, Château Chenonceau.

The Bourbons, however, used Chenonceau only as a hunting lodge until the Duke of Bourbon sold the castle’s contents in 1720.  Much of its collection can still be seen today at Versailles.

Ballery bridge at Château Chenonceau

Gallery bridge at Château Chenonceau

 

In 1733, the estate was bought by a wealthy squire whose wife, Louise, hosted literary salons which attracted notables including Voltaire and Montesquieu.

 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for a time the owner’s secretary and his son’s tutor, wrote part of his book Émil at Chenonceau.

 

 

 

River view from gallery bridge, Château Chenonceau.

River view from gallery bridge, Château Chenonceau.

 

The widowed Louise saved the château from destruction by the French Revolutionary Guard that “it was essential to travel and commerce, being the only bridge across the river for many miles.”

 

In 1864, heiress Marguerite Pelouze acquired the château and commissioned its complete restoration.

 

The cost of the renovation drove her into debt, and the château was bought by a Cuban millionaire who sold it in 1913 to renowned chocolatier Henri Menier.

Kitchen, Château Chenonceau.

Kitchen, Château Chenonceau.

 

 

During World War I, the chateau’s bridge gallery was used as a hospital ward.

 

Bombed by the Germans in 1940, it later served as an escape route across the river from Nazi-occupied France to Vichy France.

 

The original windows in its chapel were destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944.

 

The Menier family restored the chateau in 1951, and owns it to this day.

 

Next week’s post:  The Loire Valley’s Châteaux de Cheverny and Chambord.

See earlier posts from 10 Days in Paris:

 

Reims and champagne

Interior, Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

Interior, Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

A celebrated cathedral dating from the High Middle Ages… caves in which acres of champagne bottles ripen…  and miles of French countryside laced with vineyards make a day trip to Reims a great change of pace and a feast for the senses.

 

 

Ninety miles northeast of Paris, it’s readily accessible by train, and the scenery along the route is so bucolic that it’s hard to believe that by the end of World War I it had become a pockmarked no man’s land of trenches and shell craters.

Front facade, Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

Front facade, Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

 

 

The cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims dominates the city skyline.

The bells in its twin, 250-foot bell towers weigh up to eleven tons, and its weathered walls are covered in medieval sculptures and bas-reliefs.

While Gothic cathedrals like the one at Reims still deliver stunning impact more than eight centuries after they were built, they represented at the time of their construction the greatest advance in architecture since the Roman arch.

Bell tower, Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

Bell tower, Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

Through the early Middle Ages, tall buildings required the support of thick and windowless walls, and their interiors were predictably dark and dank.

Just after the end of the first millennium, French architects innovated the pointed arch, the flying buttress, and the ribbed vault to create cathedrals which captured vast, soaring spaces flooded with light streaming through towering stained glass windows.

Bas-reliefs, Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims facade

Bas-reliefs, Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims facade

Competition among Europe’s cities to outdo each other’s cathedrals followed, and most of the Gothic Cathedrals were built in the first 200 years of the second millennium.

The work often demanded a century or more of effort by hundreds of workers and artisans.

These structures remained feats of engineering largely unsurpassed until the arrival of structural cast iron and steel beam buildings nearly a millennium later.

 

 

Chagall windows, Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

Chagall windows, Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

Few if any of  these cathedrals, though, have borne witness to so much history as the one at Reims, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Clovis, first king of the Franks, was baptized in a church on this site in AD 496, and kings of France were crowned here for nearly 1500 years.

When the English army occupied the city during the Hundred Years’ War, the coronation of King Charles VII was delayed until the city could be retaken in 1429 by an army under Joan of Arc.

During World War I, German shellfire damaged or destroyed important parts of the cathedral, and restoration work was not fully completed until 1938.

In 1974, Marc Chagall completed a six-year collaboration on three stained glass windows for one of the cathedral’s chapels that replace windows dating from the nineteenth century.

No photographs can capture the sensation of standing in this ancient and awe-inspiring space.  It’s hard not to pause for a moment of quiet reflection before going on to more secular pursuits…

Chateau Pommery, Reims

Chateau Pommery, Reims

 

 

 

 

Reims sits in the heart of the champagne district, and the Chateau Pommery is arguably the most interesting of the many producers nearby.

 

 

 

 

Chateau Pommery, Reims

Chateau Pommery, Reims

 

 

 

Its buildings are an eclectic mix of fairytale architecture that reflects the highly original mind of Madame Louise Pommery, the widow of founder Alexandre Pommery.

 

 

 

 

Cellar entrance, Chateau Pommery, Reims

Cellar entrance, Chateau Pommery, Reims

 

 

 

It was Madame Pommery’s vision to purchase chalk and limestone pits that dated back to the Romans, and created from them cellars expansive enough to store and age over twenty million temperature-controlled bottles.

 

Bas-relief, Chateau Pommery cellar, Reims

Bas-relief, Chateau Pommery cellar, Reims

It was also Madame Pommery who commissioned artful bas-reliefs for the cave walls that are now a signature feature of this subterranean fantasy.

Bas-relief, Chateau Pommery cellar, Reims

Bas-relief, Chateau Pommery cellar, Reims

 

 

While there have been vineyards in this part of France since the time of the Romans, sparkling wines did not come of age until centuries later.

 

 

 

Bas-relief of Louise Pommery, Chateau Pommery cellar, Reims

Bas-relief of Louise Pommery, Chateau Pommery cellar, Reims

Winemakers in Champagne had long considered the bubbles in their wine to be a fault, but when sparkling wines became popular in British high society, the fashion jumped the channel to become the drink of choice for French royalty.

Champagne in the making, Chateau Pommery, Reims

Champagne in the making, Chateau Pommery, Reims

It was not until the 1800’s that winemakers finally learned to control the fermentation process, and technology allowed the production of bottles which could withstand the pressure of carbonation.

Chateau Pommery tasting room, Reims

Chateau Pommery tasting room, Reims

In the early part of the twentieth century, the champagne industry was threatened by setbacks including vineyard blight, rioting growers, and the loss of the Russian market to the revolution and the American market to Prohibition.  Production was also stifled by two World Wars.

The all of it, French champagne managed to survive, and the proof is, of course, in the tasting!

 

The cathedral is about six miles from the train station, and Chateau Pommery is less than two miles from the cathedral.

See earlier posts from my 10 Days in Paris:

Museum pieces

There are so many great museums in Paris that the challenge is to decide which are the must-see’s, and the larger museums are so expansive that a savvy tourist will have a game plan for each.

The Louvre, Paris

The Louvre, Paris

Between them, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and Les Invalides are home to historic art dating from the ancient Greeks into the early twentieth century.

These monumental buildings and the artifacts that they contain also document nearly 500 years of French history.

 

The Louvre is a jaw-dropper even without its world-class art collection.

Built as a palace fortress late in the 12th century, it has since been extended many times.

Its life as an art museum began when Louis XIV moved his court from Paris to Versailles and left much of his collection at The Louvre, which was designated a national art museum as an outcome of the French Revolution.

Only a few hundred works – including the Mona Lisa – were on display for the  1793 opening.  The collection was subsequently expanded with pieces brought back from Northern Europe and the Vatican back by France’s revolutionary armies, including Veronese’s Wedding at Cana.

Additions made to the collection throughout the 1800’s by France’s emperors and kings included the Venus de Milo, Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, the Pietà of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and a department of Egyptian antiquities.

The Louvre, Paris

The Louvre, Paris

During World War II, most of the collection was hidden outside Paris, much of it at the Château de Chambord.  In 1983, architect I. M. Pei was commissioned to renovate the building.  He conceived the now-iconic glass pyramid and underground lobby on which work was completed in 1993.

The Mona Lisa and other works of the Italian Renaissance are the big draw here, but the crush of tourists makes the experience far from intimate.  Anyone who’s previously seen works by the Italian masters in Rome’s Vatican Museum should consider browsing them quickly before opting for less-congested galleries.  The collection of Dutch and Flemish masters is outstanding, and the apartments once occupied by Napoleon III are worth seeing.

Musée d'Orsay , Paris

Musée d’Orsay , Paris

 

 

 

 

 

The Musée d’Orsay houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world.

 

 

 

Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

 

 

On exhibit here are works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

 

Constructed as the Gare d’Orsay rail station, it opened – along with the Eiffel Tower – at Paris’s 1900 Exposition, but by 1970 it had fallen into decline.

 

 

 

Degas ballerina, Musée d'Orsay , Paris

Degas ballerina, Musée d’Orsay , Paris

 

 

 

 

Slated for demolition, it was rescued by a proposal to convert it into an art museum that would bridge the gap between the Louvre and the Museum of Modern Art – the Pompidou Centre.

 

Renovations began in 1978, and were completed in 1986.  The installation of more than 2,000 paintings, 600 sculptures and other works took more than six months.

 

 

 

 

 

Les Invalides is a complex of museums and monuments first conceived by Louis XIV as a hospital and retirement home for war veterans.

Les Invalides, Paris

Les Invalides, Paris

Dome of Les Invalides, Paris

Dome of Les Invalides, Paris

Amory at Les Invalides, Paris

Amory at Les Invalides, Paris

The armory of Les Invalides is where, on July 14, 1789, Parisian rioters on their way to the Bastille seized the cannons and muskets from its armory.

Statue of Napoleon, Les Invalides, Paris

Statue of Napoleon, Les Invalides, Paris

 

It now commemorates the military history of France, and although it’s most famously known as Napoleon’s tomb, other French war heroes are also buried within its walls.

 

 

 

Napoleon's tomb, Les Invalides, Paris

Napoleon’s tomb, Les Invalides, Paris

The body of Napoleon I was returned to France from Saint Helena and interred here in 1861.  His only son, dead of tuberculosis at age 21, and his brothers Joseph and Jérôme are also buried here.

Marshal Foch's tomb, Les Invalides, Paris

Marshal Foch’s tomb, Les Invalides, Paris

In the twentieth century World War I’s Allied Supreme Commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch and World War II’s General Philippe Leclerc, commander of the celebrated 2nd Armored Division, were also buried here.

Statue of Napoleon, Les Invalides, Paris

Statue of Napoleon, Les Invalides, Paris

There’s also an extensive collection of medieval armor and weapons on display here.

Next up for 10 Days In Paris:  Reims and the Champagne country.

See earlier posts from 10 Days in Paris:

Altared states

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 01In Mexico, altars are not found just in churches.  Makeshift and highly original altars appear on highways throughout Mexico as poignant reminders of traffic fatalities, and they’re a signature facet of the Dia de Los Muertos.

On each December 12, they honor the Virgin of Guadalupe, Catholic Mexico’s patron.

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 03

In many towns, several days of public observances lead up to the holiday, but on the afternoon of this December 12 in the village of Ajijic, families are still putting the finished touches on freshly constructed altars.

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 05I walk the cobblestones streets capturing their images as I reflect on the tradition.

Catholicism has a long history of incorporating and reshaping local religious deities into its observances to ease the path to conversion, but perhaps nowhere has the practice taken a more remarkable turn than in Mexico.

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 06The legend has it that ten years after the Spanish Conquest, a Mexican native named Juan Diego saw a vision of a brown-skinned maiden on a hill near Mexico City which had once been the site Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 07of a temple to a female Aztec deity.

Speaking to him in his native tongue, she asked that a church be built at that site in her honor.   He was instructed by the city’s archbishop to return to the hill and ask for a sign to prove the lady’s identity, and in she healed Juan’s sick uncle.  She also told him to gather flowers from the normally barren hill, where Spanish Castilian roses now miraculously bloomed.

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 10She arranged the flowers in his cloak, and when he opened it before the archbishop on December 12, they fell to the floor to reveal the image of the Virgin on the fabric.

To the indigenous peoples, the vision was interpreted as a legitimization of their own Mexican origin.

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 12

As the common denominator among the varied which make up Mexico, so it’s no surprise that the Virgin is sometimes referred to as “the first mestiza”, or “the first Mexican”.

Part of the power of this image for indigenous Mexicans was the pre-Colombian symbolism with which it is imbued.

 

 

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 13

 

The blue-green color of her mantle was once reserved for the divine couple Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl.

Her belt symbolizes pregnancy and a cross-shaped image symbolizing the cosmos and called nahui-ollin, is inscribed beneath the image’s sash.

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 14She was also called “mother of maguey,” the source of the sacred beverage pulque, which was also known as “the milk of the Virgin.” The rays of light surrounding her are interpreted to represent maguey spines.

 

 

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 08

 

Although the Virgin is the recognized religious symbol of Catholic Mexicans, she is also closely intertwined with the spirit of Mexican nationalism.

Mexico’s first president changed his name to Guadalupe Victoria in her honor, and patriot armies carried flags emblazoned with her image during Mexico’s War of Independence and the Mexican Revolution.

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 15When the army led by Padre Miguel Hidalgo, the father of Mexican independence, attacked Spanish Royalists, they placed her image on brightly colored reeds and wore the same image on their hats.

Hidalgo’s grito, the hallmark cry of the battle for Mexican independence, ends with the words…”long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!”

 

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 20

Following Hidalgo’s capture and execution, his successor José Morelos declared that the Virgin was the power behind his victories, and her image was incorporated into the seal of the Congress of Chilpancingo,

Her feast day was also written into the constitution.  In this century, Mexico’s revolutionary Zapatista National Liberation Army  named their “floating capital city” Guadalupe Tepeyac honor of the Virgin.

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 24

Nuestra Senora Ajijic 2014 25

 

 

Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar wrote, “… the veneration for this image in Mexico far exceeds the greatest reverence that the shrewdest prophet might inspire.”

Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes once said that “you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.”

Nobel Literature laureate Octavio Paz wrote that “the Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery”.

 

See my other related posts on Mexico’s religious festivals and traditions:

 

 

 

Lush Luxembourg Garden

There is something in most city dwellers which demands occasional respite from urban life, as if something in our genes reminds us that we are all descended from hunter-gatherers and farmers, and that cities are not our natural habitat.

The Jardin du Luxembourg – the Luxembourg Garden - is where Parisians turn for such a respite.  It’s a serenely pastoral urban space, and a national treasure that’s among the world’s finest urban parks.

Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Luxembourg Palace and garden pool

Luxembourg Palace and garden pool

 

A cross between a botanical garden, a sculpture and art gallery, and a venue for performing arts and cultural events, the Garden always has plenty going on.

 

Now over 400 years old, it was created by Queen Marie de Medici to showcase her adjoining Luxembourg Palace, and both were designed to evoke the atmosphere of the Pitti Palace in the queen’s native Florence.

 

 

Scheurer-Kestner obelisk, Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

Scheurer-Kestner obelisk, Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

 

 

Today the French Senate meets in the former palace, and the 60-acre park is the property of the people of Paris, as it has been since the French Revolution.

Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that there’s an egalitarian feel to this place.

It’s a destination for young and old, for the well-to-do and the rest, and for singles and couples and families.

 

 

 

All sit side-by-side on park chairs and benches along gravel paths that pass among manicured lawns, tree-lined promenades, elegant flowerbeds, and stunning fountains.

Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Luxembourg Garden, Paris

There are also walkers, joggers, and plenty of people just reading newspapers or books in the great outdoors.

Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Observatory Fountain, Luxembourg Garden

Observatory Fountain, Luxembourg Garden

 

 

 

The centerpiece basin runs along a line from the Palace to the Paris Observatory, which lies a mile away beyond the park boundaries.

The basin ends in the spectacular Observatory Fountain, the collaborative work of four different artists.

 

 

 

Luxembourg Garden pool, Sunday afternoon

Luxembourg Garden pool, Sunday afternoon

 

 

On a Sunday afternoons, children float miniature sailboats in the Garden’s centerpiece basin.

The foliage screens out the city, and the garden is a tranquil place in which everyone seems to respect everyone else’s space.

 

 

Promenade, Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Promenade, Luxembourg Garden, Paris

 

 

The Garden’s boundaries have grown and shrunk over four centuries, and it fell into disrepair in the years leading up to the French Revolution.

It was not until the last half of the 1800’s that it was fully restored and expanded to its present footprint.

 

 

 

Medici Fountain, Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Medici Fountain, Luxembourg Garden, Paris

 

 

 

Later additions include a new and more formal garden à la française, and a pond and statuary at the famous Medici Fountain.

A diagonal alley from the Fountain reveals a view of the Pantheon, located less than mile to the east.

Late in the nineteenth century, the park became the home to a large population of statues that include the queens and other famous women of France.

 

 

 

 

 

Statue of Liberty, Luxembourg Garden

Statue of Liberty, Luxembourg Garden

 

 

Other sculptures are monuments to French writers and artists, and there’s also a small-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty.

In the southwest corner of the Garden is an orchard of apple and pear trees, and a large fenced-in playground for young children.

Nearby is the théâtre des marionnettes – the puppet theater- and a vintage carousel.

Art, photography and sculptures are displayed in the park’s Orangerie.

Free musical performances  are often presented in the gazebo and there is a small cafe restaurant on the grounds nearby…

 

 

…or instead sit over coffee or an aperitif facing the Boulevard Saint-Michel sidewalk at the Cafe Le Luxembourg, just outside the park.

 

Café Le Luxembourg, Paris

Café Le Luxembourg, Paris

Hours for the Luxembourg Garden vary seasonally.  In summer is opens at 7:30AM and closes at 9:45PM, and in winter it opens at 8:15AM, and closes at 4:45PM… dawn to dusk.

Next up for 10 Days In Paris are highlights from select museums.

See more posts from 10 Days in Paris:

 

Paris’s Grand Mosque

Paris Grand Mosque 001

Street view

Arabs have been emigrating to France since some returned from Egypt with the remnants of Napoleon’s Grande Armée in 1801, but most first generation émigrés arrived in the ’60’s and ’70’s as an outcome of the Algerian conflict.

 

 

 

 

Decorative tile detail, courtyard wall

Decorative tile detail, courtyard wall

 

 

 

 

Today,  Arabs are now France’s largest non-European immigrant group, and nearly half of the nation’s Arab population lives in and around Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fountains evoke the Alhambra

Fountains evoke the Alhambra

The Grande Mosquée de Paris – the Paris Grand Mosque – was completed and dedicated in 1926 as a token of gratitude to Muslim tirailleurs from French Africa, among whom more than 100,000 died fighting against Germany during World War I.

Paris Grand Mosque 004

Intricate stonework and woodwork

 

The mosque’s earliest worshippers were Berbers from Algeria, but  its construction was first promoted by the king of Morocco, and its design in the mudéjar style mimics that of mosques from Marrakesh to Seville.

The mosque serves not only as a place where Muslims can come together for salat – prayer –  but also as a center for information, education, and conflict mediation.

 

Paris Grand Mosque 005

Outer courtyard

 

 

 

The compound covers more than two acres, and at one end is a courtyard decorated with mosaics, wood carvings and wrought iron brought from Morocco.  The minaret towers more than 100 feet above the complex.

 

 

 

 

Detail, outer courtyard wall

Detail, outer courtyard wall

 

The Mosque has a surprising and little known history.

 

During the German occupation in World War II, the mosque’s imam operated it as a secret refuge and way station for Algerian and European Jews.

 

He provided them with forged Muslim birth certificates and arranged for safe passage, and even had  stonecutters carve false gravestone for Jews who had been given new identities.

 

 

Minaret from the inner courtyard

Minaret from the inner courtyard

Many Jewish children were given refuge in Muslim clinics outside Paris which also hid downed Allied airmen and paratroopers.  The Nazis, unwilling to risk an insurrection among Muslims in North Africa, never challenged the imam.

 

At one end of the Grand Mosque compound are fountains and gardens that recall Granada’s Alhambra.

Detail, carved wooden door

Detail, carved wooden door

 

At the opposite end, the walls of a courtyard are covered in intricate Andalusian mosaics, and  trimmed in dark eucalyptus and cedar.

 

Elaborately carved ceilings and arches soar above walls inscribed with Quranic verses in delicate calligraphy that both supports worship and serves as a decorative element.

 

Inner courtyard

Inner courtyard

 

 

There are no angelic statues or stained glass saints here; Islam considers such human images to be idolatrous.

 

The entire place is wrapped in striking serenity.

 

 

 

 

Paris Grand Mosque 012

Cloistered hallway

 

 

 

 

Five times daily, the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer from the minaret, and five times daily the imam leads the congregation in prayer.

 

Muslims precede all prayers with a ritual purification, which is why an ablution fountain is provided.

Decorative tile detail, inner courtyard

Decorative tile detail, inner courtyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shoes are disallowed in the musallah – the prayer hall –  and racks at the entryways are stacked with shoes.

The great dome above the hall signifies the vault of heaven.  The hall has no pews or other furniture; worshippers alternately stand and kneel.

The Paris mosque features a marble Turkish bath that’s open to women two days weekly.  In winter it attracts many neighborhood residents.

 

 

There’s a restaurant in the mosque adjoining the courtyard, where it’s not unusual to see students from nearby universities gather for couscous and sweet mint tea.

Le Mechoui du Prince, Moroccan restaurant

Le Mechoui du Prince, Moroccan restaurant

After an afternoon of immersion in the mosque, a meal at a Moroccan restaurant seems like a fitting end to the day, and Restaurant Le Méchoui du Prince – located a block from the Odeon – fits the bill admirably.

Visitors are welcome to the mosque and guided tours are available.

To reach it, take the Metro to the Place Monge stop and walk about four blocks, or walk less than two kilometers from Notre Dame and take in more of the city along the way.  Consider an along-the-way stop at the Pantheon or a visit to the botanical gardens just across the Rue Linne.

Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery

Classic monument, Père Lachaise cemetery

Classic monument, Père Lachaise cemetery

Covering more than 100 acres, Père Lachaise Cemetery is the largest within the city limits of Paris, and indisputably the city’s most famous.

It takes its name from King Louis XIV’s confessor, Père François de la Chaise, who lived in a house on the site.

Père Lachaise cemetery

Père Lachaise cemetery

 

The cemetery was established by Napoleon in 1804 with the declaration that “Every citizen has the right to be buried regardless of race or religion”.

 

Notwithstanding Napoleon’s pronouncement, the cemetery was at first considered too far from the city to attract many burials.

 

Contemporary tombstone, Père Lachaise cemetery

Contemporary tombstone, Père Lachaise cemetery

Not until the remains of poet Jean de La Fontaine, Molière, and those of fabled lovers Abélard and Héloïse were transferred to the cemetery did the population begin clamoring for burial among the famous.

Among the notables who have since been interred there are French novelists Honore de Balzac and Marcel Proust, and American authors Richard Wright and Gertrude Stein.  (The name of Stein’s partner Alice B. Toklas is etched on the reverse side of Stein’s gravestone.)

Grave of Jim Morrison, Père Lachaise cemetery

Grave of Jim Morrison, Père Lachaise cemetery

 

Until Jim Morrison was buried in Père Lachaise in 1971, Oscar Wilde was arguably the cemetery’s reigning pop star.

Oscar Wilde's grave, Père Lachaise cemetery

Oscar Wilde’s grave, Père Lachaise cemetery

It was once the custom for Wilde’s admirers to kiss the monument while wearing red lipstick, but the damaging effects of the practice have required that the memorial be encased in glass.

Others musicians buried here include singers Édith Piaf and  Maria Callas, composers Bizet, Chopin, and Rossini, and French jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli.

Grave of Amedeo Modigliani, Père Lachaise cemetery

Grave of Amedeo Modigliani, Père Lachaise cemetery

 

Père Lachaise painters include Eugène Delacroix, Max Ernst, Amedeo Modigliani, Camille Pissarro, and Georges Seurat.

Grave of Yves Montand and Simone Signoret

Grave of Yves Montand and Simone Signoret

 

 

French mime Marcel Marceau‘s grave is here.

 

So are those of actors and actresses Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Yves Montand, and Simone Signoret.  (Montand and Signoret are buried together.)

 

The Rothchilds also have a family vault here.

 

Père Lachaise has been expanded five times.

Pyramid vault, Père Lachaise cemetery

Pyramid vault, Père Lachaise cemetery

 

Including the ashes of those cremated and the remains in the ossuary, the number of those who have been interred here is estimated to run as high as 3 million.

 

The cemetery is still accepting new burials from among those who either die in Paris or who have previously lived there, but so few vacant plots remain that today there is a waiting list.

 

Plots are now typically leased for 10 to 30 years, and abandoned remains from unrenewed leases are removed to make space made for new graves.  Those exhumed are boxed, tagged and moved to the cemetery’s ossuary.

 

 

Grave of Belgian poet Georges Rodenbach

Grave of Belgian poet Georges Rodenbach

 

 

Graveside monuments run from the mundane to the extravagant, and styles range from classic to contemporary.  The best among these make of Père Lachaise a giant sculpture museum.

 

An eerie sculpture on the grave of Belgian poet Georges Rodenbach is positively unnerving.

Communards' wall, Père Lachaise cemetery

Communards’ wall, Père Lachaise cemetery

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the gravesites of notable individuals, there are some stirring monuments to victims of genocide and mass murder.

 

 

 

 

 

The Communards’ Wall marks the site where the last of the insurgents was executed in 1871 during the “Bloody Week” in which the Paris Commune was crushed.

Holocaust memorial, Père Lachaise cemetery

Holocaust memorial, Père Lachaise cemetery

Dachau memorial, Père Lachaise cemetery

Dachau memorial, Père Lachaise cemetery

Among the Holocaust memorials here are those dedicated to victims of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Dachau.

 

Auschwitz memorial, Père Lachaise cemetery

Auschwitz memorial, Père Lachaise cemetery

Bergen-Belsen memorial, Père Lachaise cemetery

Bergen-Belsen memorial, Père Lachaise cemetery

 

Père Lachaise cemetery is located on Boulevard de Ménilmontant, and served by the Metro:  Philippe Auguste on Line 2 is near the main entrance), Père Lachaise, on Lines 2 and 3, is near a side entrance, and Line 3 Gambetta station on line 3, affords entry near the tomb of Oscar Wilde with  downhill walk through the rest of the cemetery.

See my related posts on visits to these other historic cemeteries:

Read additional posts from my  10 Days In Paris here:

2014-11-19 Fiesta de San Andres 018

Ticket booth, Calla Colón, Ajijic, Jalisco

The Jesuits who arrived on the heels of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500’s assigned a Catholic patron saint to each Mexican village.

In many towns, the name of the patron saint has been tacked onto the native city name.

In the village of Ajijic along the shores of Mexico’s Lake Chapala, the saint is San Andrés (St. Andrew) the patron of fishermen.

Amusement rides lined up on Calle Colón, Ajijic, Jalisco

Amusement rides lined up on Calle Colón, Ajijic, Jalisco

The historic name of this village is San Andrés de Axixic, but most everyone here knows it simply as Ajijic.

This year, the ten-day fiesta patronal – the patron saint festival – begins on Friday, November 21.

Metal sculpture on Plaza gazebo railing, Ajijic, Jalisco.

Metal sculpture on Plaza gazebo railing, Ajijic, Jalisco.

It arrives on the heels of the Dia de la Revolucion holiday, and anticipates holiday observances that begin two weeks after the fiesta with the Christmas posadas, and do not end until early in February with the Fiesta de la Candelaria (Candlemas).

Metal sculpture on Plaza gazebo railing, Ajijic, Jalisco

Metal sculpture on Plaza gazebo railing, Ajijic, Jalisco

As I walk to the village plaza to see how the preparations are proceeding, only forty-eight hours remain until the start of the fiesta.

Metal sculptures of water fowl that adorn the plaza gazebo railing seem also to be looking  out over the preparations.

Metal sculpture on Plaza gazebo railing, Ajijic, Jalisco

Metal sculpture on Plaza gazebo railing, Ajijic, Jalisco

 

 

Street renovation, Ajijic, Jalisco

Street renovation, Ajijic, Jalisco

The run-up to this year’s event is marked by no small amount of suspense, because street renovations around the fiesta site, begun only weeks ago at the rainy season’s end, are still incomplete.

Street renovation, Ajijic, Jalisco

Street renovation, Ajijic, Jalisco

The road construction crew is working at a frenetic pace rarely seen in this part of the world.

Street renovation, Ajijic, Jalisco

Street renovation, Ajijic, Jalisco

The workers setting up for the fiesta seem undeterred by the chaos.

Plaza canopy raising, Ajijic, Jalisco

Plaza canopy raising, Ajijic, Jalisco

Around the plaza men are setting up canopies for booths that will sell food, beverages, and souvenirs.

Video game parlor is the first amusement up and running

Video game parlor is the first amusement up and running

 

 

Under one of the canopies, a group of boys is already putting just-powered-up video games to the test.

 

The electronic games sit side by side with an air hockey game and a foosball table!

 

 

 

 

Kiddie ride on Calle Colón, Ajijic, Jalisco

Kiddie ride on Calle Colón, Ajijic, Jalisco

 

 

 

 

The carnival ride operators have just begun to arrive, but one ride has already been set up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ferris wheel assemble, Calle Colón, Ajijic, Jalisco

Ferris wheel assemble, Calle Colón, Ajijic, Jalisco

 

 

 

 

 

Nearby, a crew labors to erect the scaffolding of a Ferris wheel.

 

Occupational safety is left to the workers, who seem to be largely unconcerned about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ducky seats awaiting assembly, Calle Colón, Ajijic, Jalisco

Ducky seats awaiting assembly, Calle Colón, Ajijic, Jalisco

 

 

 

 

 

Other rides in various states of assembly now fill the Calle Colón adjacent to the Plaza.

 

Seats decorated as fancifully painted animals are strewn around waiting to be dropped into place.

 

 

 

 

Newly arrived ride, Calle Colón, Ajijic, Jalisco

Newly arrived ride, Calle Colón, Ajijic, Jalisco

The ‘carneys’ hit the fiesta circuit at the rainy season’s end with their wives and  children, often sleeping in the vehicles with which they haul their amusements from event to event.

During the fiesta, it’s not unusual to see them keep their equipment secure by sleeping in the seats of their rides.

Power grid, Fiesta de San Andres, Ajijic, Jalisco

Power grid, Fiesta de San Andres, Ajijic, Jalisco

 

The ride operators, as always, tap directly into power lines, and a tangle of wires has already begun to form on the cobblestones.  There’s not a electric meter in sight.

Any fire marshal would close this party down in a heartbeat, but here the set-up has gone unchallenged year in and year out.

The fiesta may be a work in progress as I walk the site, but atmosphere already feels like a nostalgic throwback to days long gone north of the border.

Bumper car parking lot,  Ajijic Plaza, Jalisco

Bumper car parking lot, Ajijic Plaza, Jalisco

There is no exotic, high-tech equipment here, and most of these rides would look completely at home in a 1940’s amusement park.

This event, though, is far less about the carnival amusements, and much more about an opportunity for the people of the village to reaffirm their sense of community.

In forty-eight hours, as dusk fades, the rides will crank up and fluorescent lights in dayglo colors will begin spinning.

Children, their parents, and their grandparents will make their way to the Plaza to  mark the passage of another year.

Elaborately costumed bands will pump out ear-splitting tunes until the wee hours of the morning, street vendors will hawk roasted ears of corn and other delectable curbside noshes, and ice cream sales will be brisk.

If you’re unable to experience this event in person, drop by these pages in the next few days for more on the festivities.

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