Friday, December 31, 2010

Chartres, France

Good-bye, 2010. Au revoir, from the most magnificent of all Gothic Cathedrals. This is the central portal of Chartres' west facade. Its theme? The End of Time. The guardians of the jamb? Old Testament royalty. What an honor to be carried through an 800-year-old gateway to the great beyond.  [2005]

Thursday, December 30, 2010

London, England, UK

The ordinary of today becomes the memory of tomorrow. Don't go to London hoping to replicate this picture. This was one of the last deliveries of newsprint to The Daily Mail on Fleet Street, home of the British Press since the age of William Caxton and Richard Pynson. How could you possibly modernize a printing operation in a physical plant like this? [1984]

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Castle, Delaware, USA

Meet St. Peter, the most divine,
At the house of Immanuel.
Mortal remains you may leave behind
At a churchyard in the Del.
Aware he is of all you do
To keep from going to hell.
Cross the divide, go inside
And sanctify USAlf.
You'll know you're there when you do hear
The brand-New Castle bell.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rotarua, New Zealand

You didn't want to be here 240,000 years ago. That's when the volcano erupted, collapsed into itself, and gave birth to the Rotarua caldera, which is today occupied by a geothermal lake. That's steam, not ground fog. Anything surprising about the Maori village of Ohinemutu? Perhaps the English Tudor architecture. [2006]

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia

Fishing Boat Harbor has become the heart of Fremantle's tourist precinct, especially during yachting season and when cruise boats call. In our mind's eye, this is what we want to see when we stroll the waterfront. The arts make it possible. [2006]

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Faro, Portugal

Portugal sent Lusophonia to Brazil, and Brazil sent Bougainvillea to Portugal (albeit via the French, and not until the 18th century). Bougainvillea enjoys the sun and doesn't mind a little dryness. It seems perfectly suited to the Mediterranean climate of the Algarve and its climatic companion in North America, California. [2009]

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Frederick, Maryland, USA

Healthy main streets in the hearts of homey downtowns are always a pleasure to find. Frederick has one of the best. And, it's even better at Christmas when public sculptures hail the season to be jolly. I guess this must be an earthbound reindeer since the sculpture was called "Earthbound Christmas." [2006]

Friday, December 24, 2010

Mexico City, DF, Mexico

Aztec (more precisely, Mexica) purification ceremonies take place on Mexico City's Zócalo, and they take place right in front of the Cathedral! The Zócalo is one of the great public squares of the world, a place of place-making rituals both traditional and modern. [2008]

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hanover County, Virginia, USA

America's first Thoroughbreds came to Hanover County in 1730, and here they are today. The county was named to honor the British royal family; in turn, Virginia's Thoroughbreds became the royal family of the racing industry, with colonies of their own in Kentucky. Anyone for overthrowing the British royals and renaming the county Thoroughbred County? [2005]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

She's everywhere; she's everywhere. In Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe is everywhere, even sunning herself on the beach. Check out the neighbors, however; some of them look absolutely pagan. As 'Queen of Mexico,' the Blessed Virgin has been part of the nation-building apparatus, and those others haven't. [2007]

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

'Welcome to winter,' says the Bonhomme. Specifically, welcome to the Quebec Winter Carnival, with Le Bonhomme as the guest of honor. He personifies the merriment of the low-sun season, the folk culture of the Quebecois (regardez la ceinture fléchée), and the American appetite for hamburgers. Start getting ready for the February celebration now. [2005]

Monday, December 20, 2010

Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK

Built on the profits of linen and shipbuilding, Belfast City Hall looks more like a national parliament than a municipal building. Queen Victoria brought to the city a Golden Age. To say 'thank you,' the city kept her around, complete with her scepter (symbol of royal authority) and the globus cruciger (symbol of a higher, and global, authority). [2009]

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Riga, Latvia

Lett's [sic] look at Latvia: not the modern landscape of Riga, but the ancient landscape of the Baltic littoral. Here's a glimpse of the pre-Christian world of folk creatures and forest spirits. Big head, no body, fat feet: What does it tell you about the Letts? And, what do you make of the living wreath on top and the sacrificial flowers below? [2003]

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Toledo, Castile-La Mancha, Spain

The Feast of the Assumption falls on August 15, and it seems like all of Toledo descends on the cathedral. After the mass is celebrated by the 'Primate of All Spain,' parishoners partake of the 'miracle water' from the cathedral's spring. Jugs are filled and refilled, passed from one to another, and never a lip do they touch. Actually, it's harder than you think. [2009]

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

It's often likened to 'drowning nuns,' but the official name is the Sydney Opera House. It rises like an island from the city's harbor, just as the island continent rises from the world ocean. Perhaps that is why this urban inselberg has become the most popular symbol of Australia. Here, aesthetes gather nightly to enjoy the world city's best symphonic art. [2006]

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia

It's often called Ayers Rock, but the Aboriginal name is Uluru. It rises like an island from the desert plain, just as the island continent rises from the world ocean. Perhaps that is why Uluru has become the most popular symbol of Australia. Aesthetes gather nightly to watch the symphony of changing colors until darkness descends on the desert. [1988]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Canberra, ACT, Australia

Canberra is the federal capital, so it is also the place where foreign embassies locate. What is going on here in front of the Chinese Embassy could not go on in China itself. The Falun Gong, an 'evil sect' according to Chinese authorities, is protesting its demonization and persecution in the PRC. Their methods, of course, are peaceful. [2006]

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Castle Rock, Colorado, USA

A beaut of a butte, isn't it?  Only a pod of condos on top would make it more beautiful. Just think what potential buyers would pay for a view of the Front Range of the Rockies. And they would have easy access to the six Starbucks in the nearby county seat (which goes by the same name, Castle Rock). [2005]

Monday, December 13, 2010

Zitácuaro, Michoacán, Mexico

It's a market along Zitácuaro's main shopping street. Here, people peddle poultry and pedestrians purchase something to make for dinner. But what's with the color of those chickens? The street says 'marigolds.' The skeptic says 'rubbed with yellow dye.' And what do the feet say? 'Make me into delicious chicken soup.' [2008]

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ordino, Andorra

There's a patina of prosperity that pervades Andorra. Ordino is no exception. Skiers come in the winter; hikers come in the summer; shoppers come year around. They all leave a few euros behind. The Andorrans use those euros to turn their landscape into a visual delight. It keeps their clients coming back. [2005]

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

What's an art lesson look like? Like this. The body language invites interaction and the public poses for a picture. "Tell me a secret," says he. Go ahead, and know that it will go no further. Public art imbues places with a joie de vivre: seize it while young, and it will last a lifetime. [2010]

Friday, December 10, 2010

Athens, Greece

In Greece, March 25 is July 4. It's the day the Greeks declared their independence from Ottoman rule, beginning a revolution that lasted nine years starting in 1821. The holiday provides the perfect opportunity for a military parade and for children to dress up like their forefathers. [2006]

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Aleppo, Syria

If I were a Christian in the Middle East, I would prefer to live in Syria, a country that has spent decades building bridges between religions.  Among Syria's Christians are the Armenians.  You can tell this church is Armenian by observing (1) the unique khatchcar cross with its double-tipped arms, and (2) the pointed domes reposing on octagonal drums.  [1996]

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jaffa, Israel

No matter what you read, there's not much of a natural harbor here. The site advantage was provided by the elevation; height made it possible to invigilate the coast. The situational advantage was the result of Jaffa's straight-line trajectory to Jerusalem. It was the port both Solomon and Herod used to acquire cedar wood from Lebanon for the temple. [2010]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

"Imitation is the highest form of flattery": thus sayeth the nabobs of Nevada with no apologies for their lack of originality. The message is clear, though: you, too, could be as rich as a pharaoh if you hit the jackpot here at the Luxor Casino. Too bad the geography's mixed up. Egypt's Luxor is 300 miles away from the Great Sphinx and Khafre's pyramid. [1995]

Monday, December 6, 2010

Giza, Egypt

What has the body of a lion and the head of a pharaoh? The 4500-year-old Great Sphinx on Egypt's Giza Plateau. The Sphinx was probably built as chief guardian of Khafre's tomb, the pyramid in the background. The problem? He doesn't look very ferocious. The body language and facial expressions suggest a creature at peace with world. [2001]

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Petra, Jordan

Petra means rock. And out of the rock, the ancient city was cut. Today, it is Jordan's pride and joy, the linchpin of international tourism, made known to the world by Indiana Jones. There is no reason to believe this 'building' was a treasury, but that is what it's called. It's the first thing you see when you emerge from the rock-walled siq. [1995]

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Istanbul, Turkey

"Happy is he who calls himself a Turk."  That's one of Atatürk's most famous quotes, and that's Atatürk lording it over a neighborhood square in Istanbul.  In the center is modern Turkey's father, gathered around him are his sons, and in the distance (see them?) are his daughters.  [2007]

Friday, December 3, 2010

Kalaat Samaan, Syria

Byzantine Christianity had its ascetics. One lived here in western Syria. On a pillar. For almost 40 years. Day and night. His name was Simeon, and he begat a generation of fellow 'stylites.' Each of them lived on a pillar. Now around St. Simeon's pillar are the bones of the Byzantine church built after his death. Can you see what's left of his pillar? [1993] 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jerusalem, Israel

Which one of the following statements is correct? (a) The Golden Gate leads into Jerusalem and onto the Temple Mount. (b) The Gate of Eternal Life leads into Al Quds and onto the Haram al-Sharif. It depends on your leanings. Jews prefer the first, Muslims the second. Actually, since 1541 it has led nowhere. [2010]

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Marrakech, Morocco

Green and brown. Blue and bisque.
These are the colors of Marrakech.
Shadows deep. Two palms peek
over the wall, one oblique.