In May 1996 I went to France for a holiday. My first time in Europe! I have put just two of my snapshots here for your edification and entertainment.
This is the Oeuvre de Notre-Dame du Haut at Ronchamp. You might not realise if you haven't heard of it before but it's a church, built in the '50s by Le Courbusier.
We went from Strasbourg down to Colmar, skipped Mulhouse and headed to Ronchamp to see the Le Corbusier church Oeuvre de Notre-Dame du Haut. Familiar with it from pictures since schooldays, we were intrigued and wanted to see it.
The car park has been built for tourist traffic and not parishioners. Certainly, the shop/restaurant/ticket office didn't quite seem part of the vision of a great spiritual building. But as we walked up the hill past a beautiful wild flower meadow, the bells of the church started ringing. These three bells are not in a tower but on a campanile on the ground. And they are still big bells. They are also very loud, almost so loud it hurt, and the echo from the small valley seemed to harmonise the peal. It was very cold and the cold and the sound were overwhelming.
We went into the church by a small side entrance. It is very simple inside - designed simple rather than materially bare - with fixed pews taking up only a sixth of the floor space. The wall to the east has lots of small windows in the deep concrete wall so that the light that comes through arrives in shafts rather than a glow. The windows are not stained glass - Le Corbusier painted onto plain glass himself, simple flowers, birds, fish and words. Just little words not biblical quotes. There are also three chapels, part of the church but to the sides. The altars of the chapels - more tables than altars - are beneath tall light wells, again creating shafts of light.
As we walked through the door, the guide or guardian, an old chap on two walking sticks, began singing, and the song filled the church as the bells had seemed to do outside.
The main door to the church is also on the eastern side, a great square which outside is tiled or enamelled in bright colours and on the inside in very muted colours. It isn't hinged but on a pivot in the middle, so when the guide opened it even more light poured in and it looked out onto the trees and the meadow which we had walked past.
A little way across the hill top is pile of old stone, stacked like a ziggurat. These were the stones that had been the church that was destroyed in the War and there is a little sign by Corbusier that tells you that it was this site where people has died for France.
We found it very deeply moving, a real sense of the determination and indominatability of the human spirit as well as the extraordinary design and creativity of Le Corbusier. I secretly suspect that they have more visitors than parishioners and the bells are probably ring a lot on a weekend and all that, but I don't care.
It took me right out of myself. It was the most extraordinary experience of the trip.
It might not seem like it, but this is the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris. Can you see her? Of course you can't! she's in that brown case with the window on the right of the picture. And the crowd on the left have come to gape in amazement, and perhaps take photographs, flash photographs (which you should never do in a gallery). I'm sure they will get home and discover a picture of their own flash reflected off the glass. And you can buy a far better reproduction in the museum shop.
I had been warned that it is quite a small picture, so I was surprised how big it is. But yes, for that era it is small picture. But it would fit on my living room wall quite nicely, any time the Louvre is sick of it. (It's 0.77m x 0.53m by the way. It's also painted on a lump of wood I'm told, but how you could ever tell that by peering in the glass case I don't know.)
I have always heard that it was her smile, that was what was special, and I had been making the mistake of looking at her mouth, but I think it's her eyes. It's not something that comes through in a reproduction. I know the Mona Lisa is a cliche but it's a cliche for a reason: it's a special picture.
I didn't take a picture of La Gioconda, I did the post-modern thing and took a photo of them taking photo's of it.
That picture at the back of the picture is The wedding feast at Cana, painted by Veronese. Now, that one is almost 7 metres high and 10 metres wide (it would not fit on my living room wall).
At the Louvre I also achieved a small ambition: I went to the loo in the Louvre.
Mona, Baby, What did they DO to you??
There's a bit more of my trip on my disabled travel page.
Thanks for help scanning the pictures to Brian (The Ridgway Family Homepage) and Andy (his page is called the Konstructavist Weekly).
Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | MS | TV | Critics | Disabled Travel | My Trip | My Home
© Australian Philosophical Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge 1996
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