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)
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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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.

Click on photos to enlarge

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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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Jewish Cemetery Berlin Weissensee

This is the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery in Berlin, the second-largest in Europe with 115,000 graves on 100 acres. There aren’t any graves of people who are at all well-known in the U.S. but quite a few names are well-known in Germany such as founders of major department stores and publishing companies, writers, artists and musicians. It is still in use. Weissensee is the name of the neighborhood in Berlin and means White Lake. I uploaded a short video here.

“Unorthodox” miniseries, also, very bad architecture

Some parts of the miniseries “Unorthodox” about the woman who escaped from a Hassidic sect in Brookyln was filmed a block away from me, namely, the apartment where her mother lives. Incidentally it was designed by a really, really horrible architect  who also was one of Berlin’s most popular from the 80s to 2000s. He specializes in sharp pointy angles, awkward geometric shapes forced into screeching juxtapositions, an aggressive rejection of proportion and harmony, and railings made of thin metal rods bent into ugly forms with lots of gaps and protrusions for entangling limbs, purses, shoulder bags, and children’s heads.

Next to the apartment building is a school he designed which a newspaper called a “chronicle of scandals”: construction took eight years, leaving a trail of bankrupt  companies and water leaks and a bill almost twice what was budgeted. However this is normal for Berlin so it wouldn’t be fair to blame him alone. All that was years before they had any idea a wing would have to be completely shut down and barricaded in 2017 after less than 20 years of use, due to deterioration, holes in the walkways big enough for a child to fall into, lack of fire exits, and still more leaks, forcing the students to eat lunch in their classrooms and the cancellation of German-language classes for immigrants which were held there. The school is in one of the city’s most desirable and prosperous neighborhoods,  by the way, but it has armed guards due to intractable ongoing problems with violence.

Anyway… that all has nothing to do with the Unorthodox show. Here are photos showing the parts that were filmed just down the street from me. Click on the photos to enlarge. In each pair, the one on the left is a screenshot from the show and the one on the right is a photo I took myself.  These are all scenes from when she goes to visit her mother; it’s literally about one minute’s walk from my door. In the last one it’s a little less clear but you can tell by the awnings.

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Paper cuts in the Netherlands

I just learned that the Netherlands has a long history of paper cuts, the artworks made by cuttiing a single sheet of paper. Hardly information about the Dutch tradition is available in English so I gathered together a few highlights. (Incidentally I also just found out there is a Jewish paper cut tradition going back 500 years. You may have seen Chinese paper cuts around; they’re much better known.) One Dutch paper cut artist I like a lot is Hil Bottema (1913-1968). Much of her work is printed matter based on paper cuts. I don’t know whether she did them originally as paper cuts or just drew them in that style.

My favorites are her New Year’s cards.. Click images to enlarge.

Postage stamps and pages from an informational booklet that accompanied them. The stamps are for Christmas and other holidays and have a surcharge that benefits children’s charities.

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New England, March 2020

We were in New Haven and rural New England just before the Coronavirus started getting bad in the U.S.. Everything was gorgeous, the food was great – I was nearly weeping at all the agrodiversity and local produce and small producers even in the smallest towns, which Berlin doesn’t have – and the people were without exception friendly. The pictures look a little gloomy because this was “mud season”, the time in March that locals as well as guidebooks agree is the only bad time to visit. The beautiful snow has melted, the trees are bare, spring hasn’t started, mud is everywhere, and most sights and many shops and restaurants are closed or have very reduced hours – only in March. On the other hand there are no crowds.

Pictures of the excellent Yiddish Book Center in Amherst are here.

New Haven

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