Category Archives: architecture

Brick and stone and blue skies.

The second half of my week in Wisconsin the weather was blue skies and perfect Autumn. Pearl took me to downtown Milwaukee for a brief tour of a few places. We saw the new skyscrapers and the tall old buildings, which seem to blend well stylistically with each other. They made me want to take a virtual tour of the architecture of Milwaukee, or even better, to come back another day for an on-the-ground tour.

We walked along the Milwaukee River a bit, and bought cheese and sausages.

And saw these sidewalk tiles evoking Paddle-to-the-Sea, perhaps?

Pearl’s husband Nate works at Marquette University now. We walked on campus…

…and headed for the little chapel that Nate had told me about many months ago when he first encountered it; he knew I would want to visit it, too.

It’s the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, dating from 15th century France, which has twice been taken apart stone by stone and reassembled. In the 20th century it was given to the University where it has been a house of worship on the Marquette campus since 1966.

Many years ago I read Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc, which he considered to be his best book. It is completely serious, and fascinating. Joan’s story is so compelling and strange — I would love to read that book again. Just being in this chapel, decorated with some artifacts that are older than the building itself, and are there for the touching, made me feel that I must surely have at least a few drops of French blood in my veins!

My dear daughter and I wrapped up my stay with a hike in the woods. After the rains, the leaves had taken on more color, and many were drifting down through the forest, which would have been deeply quiet had we not been crunching along and chatting. During my stay the weather had been ten degrees warmer than average for this time of year. All in all, it was a happy introduction to Pearl’s new home. The next day I would fly away and be gone.

Last images of D.C….

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I had spent five nights with Kate by the time she needed to return to work,
and I was ready to proceed on the next leg of my trip.
Many images of Washington, D.C. had been imprinted on my mind
and recorded by my camera.

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The Navy Memorial, showing western North America.

It looked like winter down by the Potomac, where in Georgetown
they were building up the ice rink for skating, “Coming Soon!”
A man was spreading the freezing water around with a sort of push broom.

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We had been out for a yummy dinner in that neighborhood,
where I was surprised to see, next to buildings along broad sidewalks,
people bedding down for the night on the red bricks.

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Unidentified building with square theme.

My time was up, I had my ticket in hand already, to depart on Train 86 – Northeast Regional Line, to visit my cousins in Philadelphia. Tom drove me to Union Station where I was immediately transported into a compartment of my mind where emotions linked to other train stations throughout my life seem to be stored all together.

My primary experiences of rail travel, thoroughly positive and exciting, were my childhood trips to see my grandmother. Then there was the year that I rode trains from Munich to Istanbul, and back to Amsterdam, young and alone and meeting strangers who were sometimes like angels. That was also my first experience of a huge railway depot like Victoria Station in London, where the first angels appeared.

Mr. Glad and I had a blissful train ride down the coast of California long ago, the day after becoming engaged…and with Pippin I experienced English railways in modern history. God only knows how to sort out all the train events, and speculate about what rivulets of that stream were running through my heart as I entered Union Station gawking. It was early enough that I could wander around a little and feel the vastness of space and excitement — though I think for most people it was routine, and for me the excitement was probably largely drawn from the well of memory.

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When I went through to my gate, I had some trouble finding the right queue to get into. I think I was just a little early, and after the earlier 8:10 boarded things were easier to figure out, partly because I asked people for help.

I should have put my suitcase in the floor-level storage area at the end of the car, but before thinking very long I just hefted it up, balancing it for a second on my head, and it landed in the overhead bin okay. Then I had two hours to look at the scenery, and to read or pray. I was a little downhearted for the first while – probably because I had left my dear daughter and son-in-law behind. Parting is the uncomfortable side of train-station drama.

Soon I was meeting more family and hugs at the other end of my ride and being taken care of again. And that will be the next happy chapter of my travel story.

The Library of Congress

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Ceiling of the Great Hall

The Library of Congress, the Thomas Jefferson Building, was a joy to visit, primarily for its architecture and design – which is not what I had anticipated. Before I had left home, when Kate suggested that we go there, I had naturally thought first of books, and exhibits about books.

We heard a story about how it ended up so beautiful: The first two construction attempts failed at the level of the foundation, and a third person was called in to complete the project. His son, who had recently graduated from the University of Beaux-Arts in Paris, took over the design and completion of the interior ornamentation. Or so our tour guide told us 🙂

When I was trying to review these facts online for this post, I discovered another version of the story in a book about “German Achievements in America.” That story does not mention any failure on the part of the original (German) architects, but rather emphasizes that they spent twenty years perfecting the design and were never given adequate credit for it.

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Main Reading Room

This page on the LOC site gives broader detail about the drama of these events — involving “the selection of the proper cement for the foundation” — and eventual completion in 1897 of the main building of the library, which was not named for Jefferson until 1980.

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Thomas Jefferson deserved to be honored this way, because he offered to sell his whole personal library to Congress after their collection of books was destroyed by fire in the War of 1812; at that time the library was stored in the Capitol. He said he would accept whatever price they decided upon. Previously they had owned only law books, but Jefferson persuaded them that “…there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer,” and they bought his 6,487 books for $23,950. That amount was based on the number and sizes of the books.

Jefferson’s generosity was not because he no longer needed what he named “unquestionably the choicest collection of books in the U.S.” He used the money gained to pay some of his debts, and began right away in a “frenzy” to assemble a replacement library for himself, saying, “I cannot live without books….”

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(A little part of) Thomas Jefferson’s Library exhibit

Two-thirds of the new Jefferson library was destroyed by another fire in the Capitol, in 1851. In the last decades efforts have been made to restore all the books that were in the original collection bought from Jefferson, and by 2008 replacements had been found for all but 300 of the original books; together with the volumes not destroyed by fire, these all comprise the exhibit of Thomas Jefferson’s Library which has been on display since then. Though we wandered through a couple of other exhibits in the building, this one is where Kate and I spent the most time. I had been to Jefferson’s home at Monticello ten years ago, but through this unhurried perusal of his books I felt more connection to him than ever before.

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Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford, an appointee of Abraham Lincoln, had wanted the Library of Congress to be not just a resource for legislators but a library for the whole nation, and he was responsible for the copyright law of 1870,  which required every author of any copyrighted map, book, piece of music, etc., to deposit two copies in the Library. This method of acquiring materials worked very well, and soon Spofford was pressuring Congress to approve a separate building dedicated to housing the collection, and to do it quickly, because books “were being piled on the floor” and he could see that his job would soon devolve into “presiding over the greatest chaos in America.” Though it took 25 more years before the new building was ready to store the books in a more orderly fashion, Librarian Spofford stayed on all that time, presumably presiding over chaos with hope.

In order to fully appreciate all of the art and architecture of the Library, someone who knows as little as I of fine arts and literature would need days of viewing and background studies. Many short quotes decorate the walls, without reference to the work quoted, and I was curious about these. I did look up this one that I liked (below), and found that it is from a Shakespeare play. Though it is a statement about what we can learn not from books but from nature, I will close with it, as I myself must leave the Library and go now to explore some other good things.

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Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones,
and good in everything.

-William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”

Elegant Surprises

Over the years I’ve had happy surprises in the garden, and disappointing surprises. Today I have a composite. My initial puzzlement began when I saw this view from my kitchen window; back in the corner by the fence I could see two whitish flower stalks:

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I was confused, because they were of a kind I had not planted, so I went out to get a closer look, and it didn’t take many steps in that direction before I saw that yes, thegl P1040708 foxglove behind ribes 6-16y were lovely foxgloves!

I haven’t grown foxgloves for a good while, I did not save any foxgloves plants from my old garden, and in the past when I did grow them it was far from this area of the garden. However, close to this spot I had planted one of the Indigo Woodland Sage plants that I had carefully saved for months in an old watertrough. It was there a couple of months ago, and now it is  nowhere. Did a bit of foxglove come with the mulch, as I assume was the case with my surprise horsetail grass on the other side of the garden?

You may also be confused, seeing a decidedly not-foxglove leaf form here.  That’s because the foxglove is emerging from behind a currant bush and hiding all its own leaves back there.

I’m sadly surprised that the salvia didn’t make it. It was a vigorous grower under what I considered less favorable conditions in the past; perhaps it didn’t like the shade from the snowball bush, nor the pushy calla lilies. But I know where to get another one if I want to try it somewhere else in the garden.

gl P1040717 3 sagesIn the meantime, across the way I have three salvias growing in a sort of triangle: Indigo Spires is huge, the Clary Sage is growing very close to the ground so far, and a little culinary sage plant lives modestly.

Today is windy and cool. I was wearing my flannel nightgown last night and I was still cold. The morning was overcast, though, and not so windy, and that’s perfect for picture-taking. I got a good photo of my acanthus.

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acanthus mollis

 

 

 

“My acanthus” sounds odd, because I haven’t wanted to take ownership of that element of my new landscape that was suggested by the designer. When I had met acanthus in the past I always thought it scraggly and too like a thistle; one I particularly remember by someone’s front door was huge and full of spiderwebs and litter besides. But a year ago I greatly lacked confidence and creativity, so I didn’t know what to suggest otherwise. I let several plants go in and thought without energy about what I might replace them with next fall.

My attitude began to change when a friend told me that acanthus leaves as a decorative form were common in ancient Roman architecture. Before that I was trying think of the plant as a representative of a Scottish thistle, which is also not beautiful to me, but it is meaningful historically, in several ways. Soldier and Joy featured purple thistle flowers as boutineers at their wedding. But honestly, that wasn’t doing it for me.

When the acanthus began to send up its elegant flower stalks, I softened. This morning after I took the picture, I looked on Wikipedia and found that the leaf form is ubiquitous in ancient architecture and popular in more modern art such as William Morris’s wallpaper designs.

And not only the Romans, but Byzantines and Greeks liked to use it.  Here is an example from the Hagia Sophia:

by Gryffindor, on Wikipedia Commons

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So, I am surprised that I have changed my mind about acanthus. I’m glad I wasn’t in too big of a hurry to switch it out. I’m very pleased with my whole garden, actually, and I no longer feel that it belongs to someone else.

It doesn’t seem that most of it is taking three years to “leap,” and it really is full of delights every day. Those Iceland Poppies are certainly a wonder, how they keep blooming here in the middle of June! It’s strange to have the poppies right alongside echinacea; those two normally aren’t normally seen together.

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To my consternation, the bindweed is more prolific than ever. I seem to be constantly pulling it out, but it sneaked past me and climbed to the top of a currant branch before I noticed. Very inelegant behavior, that.

 

 

 

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The hydrangea I was gifted has nothing in common with this succulent except that they are both in pots on the patio.

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There are yarrow fields, a variety of achillea called “terracotta.” Beyond it you can see that I have finally got the olives into their pots, and if one is not level it’s actually the one in the foreground — I guess that means the photo is not level. Anyway, the garden is in pretty good order now, and when you come for a tour you may be surprised to find, no thanks to me, patches of elegance.