The extraordinary story of India’s 1,500 year mastery of the global trade in printed fabrics

For a millenium or two, India was the only country that had figured out how to dye or print in color in cotton, because it was technically extremely difficult before the modern era. So they were more or less the sole supplier of printed cottons, or chintz – a Hindi word – to places such as Japan, Europe, southeast Asia, and the middle East, in patterns following the local traditions. An exhibition at the St. Louis Art Museum entitled Global Threads: The Art and Fashion of Indian Chintz.

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These stone bridges for the world’s longest and highest railroad in 1840 are still used by trains. They were designed by Whistler’s father (yes that Whistler) and run through the largest roadless tract in western Massachusetts.

There’s about four arches deep in the woods an hour or so from Springfield and you can’t seem them from any road; you have walk on a trail which is a popular local sight. There’s also a few assorted disused bridges, a quarry and a tower remaining from some sort of artists colony or commune from the 1960s or 70s. Amtrak and freight trains still use the bridges and I saw an Amtrak train go by just a few feet from the trail.

The bridges were built in in 1840 as “dry” masonry, that is, stones just piled up without cement or mortar. The rail line was the world’s longest, highest and steepest, and the world’s first to go up a mountain. The lead engineer for the construction was Whistler’s father, that is, the husband of Whistler’s Mother, as in the famous painting by James MacNeill Whistler.

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Global Market!

Colossal world supermarket – Poland, Germany, Czechia, Italy Russia, Turkey, UK, India, Korea, Japan, China, Arabic countries

This is just a part of the German department with as much Christmas stuff as in a German supermarket: spice cookies, stollen, marzipan, chocolates with liqueur, Ritter brand chocolate bars including limited-edition Christmas flavor (Lebkuchen, Zimtsterne, Stollen, Marzipan, Pralinen mit Weinbrände und Liköre, Ritter Sport Weihnachtssorte). Even a special tongs for melting rum-soaked sugar into a mulled Christmas wine punch (Zuckerzange für Feuerzangenbowle). Nonchristmas German food includes Leberkäse (similar to bologna), Rollmops, Matjes (both are herring), Spätzle (noodles).

 

The brands of Italian tomatoes you see in every German supermarket and various Russian specialities

This is the exotic produce aisle where more less nothing you see can be found in an ordinary supermarket, such as the sweet potato leaf, drumstick leaves, amaranth leaves, fresh chick peas and jackfruit in the last two photos.

St. Louis Art Museum 2022

Just two photos. More to follow.

Inside the St. Louis Art Museum looking out from the new wing onto the original building. Black and orange rectangles are a Frank Stella and a Barnett Newman reflected in the window. White ramp is outdoors in front of the old building.

Japanese print from 1873 depicting the moment when the Frenchman Josué Heilmann, inventor of he cotton-combing machine, was inspired by watching his daughter’s hair being combed, from the series “Biographies of Great People of the Occident”.

Nice and the Côte d’Azur

Nice and the Côte d’Azur are the Miami, and Florida, of France, and much of the rest of Europe and especially the UK and Russia. The fifth largest city in France, Nice is a huge vacation draw in itself and its airport is the arrival point for those traveling to fabled Côte d’Azur destinations such as Monaco, Cannes, St. Tropez and Antibes. Nice looks like Paris painted in pastel sherbet tones, due to the Italian influence that comes from being just a half-hour by car or train from the Italian border, and in fact the region was a part of Italy until 1860 when they voted to join France.

Index (click on photos to enlarge)
Nice
St-Paul-de-Vence
Monaco
Towns on the Côte d’Azur
The Marc Chagall Museum
Quirky special favorites – Les insolites coups de cœur

Nice waterfront

The wide, glorious Promenade des Anglais (“English Promenade”, 2-6), was first built by the English in the 1820s, when Nice was already a popular vacation destination for the English – less so for the French, who weren’t especially interested in seaside leisure – but there was no paved road or sidewalk along the water, so strolling was a messy affair. Queen Victoria was fond of the Côte d’Azur and her eight visits triggered a flood of British vacationers and homebuyers which hasn’t diminished since. Nice’s port (8) is not where the cream of the global tax-evading elite park their yachts – they prefer Cannes.

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Florence

The most surprising and unexpected thing I saw on my trip to Florence wasn’t the Michelangelos, Botticellis and Da Vincis (photos at the end) but the train station, built in 1934 in a streamlined modern style with similarities to Frank Lloyd Wright and a bit of Flash Gordon futurism. It’s breathtaking, not least because it’s almost entirely intact and free of disfiguring renovations. There’s an uncanny feel of traveling backwards in time.

I’m pretty sure there are no major intact buildings in this style remaining in the US – if there ever were any to begin with, regardless of size -, nor in Germany. There could be a few in the Netherlands or Russia or eastern Europe. It’s too early-space-age to be glamorous Art Deco (such as Rockefeller Center, or hotels in Miami) or minimalist Bauhaus (which is much more austere and spartan; nothing here is painted white). But I believe Italy has quite a few, as they were among the earliest and most active adopters of modern architecture, a fact which has never really gotten much recognition. I wonder if it’s because the most prominent German Bauhaus architects fled to the US in the 1930s to escape the Nazis, who despised them and their modern architecture, and had long, flourishing, and widely influential careers in America; whereas in Italy the futurists stayed put. This could be why they made few  significant inroads into the mainstream of the Euro-American architecture world in the postwar era.

The original signage and many bronze fixtures are still there, which is extraordinarily uncommon even in the best-preserved buildings. Everything is marble, travertine, bronze and wood. Dramatic glass roofs seem to have no support.

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Paris odds and ends and coups de cœur

Coup de cœur means “a delightful special thing you’ll fall in love with” or “personal favorite” as I’ve mentioned elsewhere and I’m using the term half-ironically because the French  use it so much. They’re crazy about it. You can’t go five minutes in France without seeing it, at least in print; I think not really in everyday speech. But these really are some of my coups de cœur.

Subway poster for exhibition “Baudelaire: Melancholic Modernity”

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The Relief Map Museum in Paris

The Relief Map Museum (Musée des Plans-Reliefs) in Paris is one of my favorite sights anywhere. It has about 30 big, meticulously detailed scale models of towns, ports and forts and their surrounding landscapes. The models were built for military planning purposes from the 1670s to the 1870s.

In another room they show how they made the models, for example, grass and foliage were made of silk fibers trimmed into tiny bits using this device.

Protestors in St. Louis, 1920-30

These are photos of protests  in St. Louis for racial equality (1930) and voting rights for women (1920) from a spectacular exhibition of panoramas at the Missouri History Museum.

Incredibly, the roughly 5-by-30 foot photos are enlargments of the originals which are only about 8 by 50 inches and were also on display – yet they’re sharp enough that you can see individual hairs and the texture of the clothing fabrics. I believe they don’t make cameras any more that can obtain such high resolution except for the most sophisticated professional equipment used in science, the military or aerial photos on Google Maps.

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Magdeburg – modern architectural masterpieces in the Kansas of Germany

The city of Magdeburg, deep in Germany’s equivalent of fly-over states in the U.S. is an odd mixture: a few showstopper architectural highlights of truly global signficance, a few pockets of liveliness, a great deal of ugliness, and next to no charm. Here I will show the bucket-list essentials that every architecture fan needs to know about, plus a few fascinating odds and ends

Magdeburg was 90% destroyed in World War II which of course means only 10% of the buildings are from before 1950 or so. Walking around you would hardly know Magdeburg is over 1,200 years old and was gloriously, opulently beautiful and prosperous before the war. The oldest documentation of the city is from 805 (805, not 1805) and a few decades later it was a center of power of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, the Neonazi party has 14% of the seats on the city council and 25% in the parliament of the state of which Magdeburg is the capital, Saxony-Anhalt.

Nowadays most of it looks like this…

Whereas it looked like this before the war…

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