Wednesday, 19 February 2014

At large in London.

We are in London at the moment: On a St Valentine's Day/Week holiday.  The weather hasn't been too bad and the flooding in surrounding areas has subsided somewhat.  All is dry in London.  
We lunched with AGA's niece the other day and tomorrow we breakfast with a cousin of mine.  For the rest it is just us two, enjoying life.

The other day we happened across a parade inspection of the guards of the Household Cavalry:
(They are in their winter uniform).

And we visited the Museum of Gardening at Lambeth:
The museum is set up in the old St Mary-at-Lambeth church, on the right of the gatehouse of Lambeth Palace.
In the gardens at the rear of the church, we saw the tomb of Vice Admiral William Bligh; he of the Mutiny on the Bounty fame, as well being a one time Governor of New South Wales:
The famous plant hunters, John Tradescant Senior and Junior are also buried here.

And we also came across this cheery Lambeth robin, busy in nest-building mode:
I do like robins.  They are such cheerful, friendly birds.  This one posed for a long time so I could 'get' my photo...

That's all for the moment as I am writing this 'on the hoof' so to speak.

I hope you enjoyed this post, coming to you from the heart of Hammersmith!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The City of Love

There are many cities that have been have been called the 'City of Love'.  

Paris is one that springs readily to mind.  

But then Rome, Prague, and Vienna have been given that title.  

Now I see that Glasgow wants to reinvent itself and become Scotland's City of Love…

And then there is Venice.

Venice: With it's colourful history, it's masques and gondolas, it's carnival celebrations, and canals both large and small.
Red-haired Antonio Vivaldi called Venice home. So did the composer Albinoni and the artist Tiepolo.

Venice.  A city that seems not quite European and not quite 'Oriental' but something in between.  A child of east and west.  
In his 1767 Gazetteer, the English writer, Dr, Richard Brookes write simply that Venice is 'superb', and I agree. 
I love going to Venice and have been fortunate enough to go there several times with AGA for extended periods.

So, here is my Valentine's Day present to you: Grab your hats and come with me on a tour to this magical and romantic city…

Venice is a city of canals.  

Some large:

And some small:

But all have a certain something about them.  A magic that I don't think could be replicated elsewhere:

And bridges: Everywhere there are little humped back bridges:

Look at this: You could have been transported back 500 years:

In some parts, the city seems to float upon the waters:

And then there is the lagoon which surrounds the islands upon which Venice stands:

Wonderful both in the daylight. . .

. . . and in the evening.

Of course, Venice isn't only canals.  Does the absence of cars add to Venice's air of romance?

Or is it the wonderful St Mark's Square?

I love the domes of St Mark's.  There is a sumptuousness about them that remind me of a Caliph's turban:

And the interior takes one's breath away:
(One isn't permitted to take photos within St Mark's and I took this one not realizing the fact but the guard kindly said that I did not have to delete the one I had taken.)

Standing in St Mark's Square one is surrounded by history.
Here are 'The Four Tetrarchs' (taken from Byzantium and placed here) on the corner of St Mark's Basilica.  I like the fact that they are hugging in friendship with one hand while the other hand firmly grasps a sword.
(You can see that part of the far right foot is missing and has been replaced.  I have seen part of the missing foot in the Archeaological museum in Istanbul)

Here is one of the entrances to the Doges' Palace:
The remains of the evangelist St Mark are buried within the Basilica and his symbol (the winged Lion) is everywhere.

I stood with my back to the portal of St Mark's Basilica to take this photograph:
That tower is the Campanile (the Bell Tower).  it was rebuilt after collapsing in 1902. The flag is the flag of Venice.
Here is another view for you, in the late afternoon sun:

Of course there are other famous landmarks such as the: the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs, the Ca' d'Oro, and the interior of the Doges' Palace itself; but I think that I prefer to end this little tour by showing you some less well known things that make me love this city so much:

The unexpected views one gets while walking through the narrow lane ways:

This painting on the underside of the Rialto Bridge:

Pigeons.  Pigeons are everywhere!

 The shops selling glassware:

And lanterns:

The various devotional statues and small shrines in the streets:

Window grills:


The lions heads on the doors into St Mark's Basilica:

The Churches:

And their sumptuous Interiors:

Marzipan fruits:

The Statue of the Winged Lion of St Mark, in St Mark's Square:

 The pink tinted glass of the street lanterns:

The unexpected treasure to be stumbled upon without knowing they were there:

Watching the gondolas in the narrow canals:

 This impromptu Tango exhibition by the local tango club one summer's evening:

And the fact that I was able to introduce my nephew and niece to this wonderful place!
(W is being a typical teenager.  A is being a typical princess with her fancy straw hat!)

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Venice.  
Have you been there?  
If you did, do you have a special memory?  
If you haven't been there yet, is there something that you would especially like to see?

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Chancellor, his Soul, His Wife, and the Hospital.

Nicolas Rolin was a man of some importance in the 15th Century.
Born at Autun into an upwardly mobile family (his birthplace is now a museum), he became a lawyer in Paris, and from there rose to become the Chancellor of Burgundy, and right-hand man to the reigning Duke (Philip the Good). 
Very much the far-sighted politician, he helped Duke Philip steer Burgundy through the final, particularly dangerous period of the Hundred Years War, remaining allies with England despite the sudden death of Henry V, and then changing sides to join the French after the victories of St. Jeanne d’Arc.

Nicolas was a clever man.

A wily man. 

A cunning and sometimes duplicitous man.

And as time passed, a very wealthy man.

(Here he is in about 1435 when aged about sixty) in a detail from the painting 'The Virgin with the Chancellor Rolin' by Jan van Eyck)

He was at the peak of his career.
He had three sons to carry on the family name. He had plenty of money and property
Twice widowed, he was now married to wife number three and all was right with the world. 
He was content.
Or was he?
Something was wrong. 
Something continually jogged his conscience and it was his wife who made him realise what it was: the state of his Soul.

He began to wonder what would become of him when he died. 
After all, he was in his sixties and thus already an old man.  He could die at any time!
How would God view him and his life?
He did not want, as Jacob Marley did, to look back upon his life when it was too late and realise that:

“Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business!”
(A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

In this belief he was spurred on by his pious wife, Guigone de Salins.  She had been fearful for the state of his soul for some time now.
Yes, they were fabulously wealthy, but Nicolas had thus far done very little in the ways of charity.  Of course he gave alms but was it enough?  Every one did the same.
Could he stand up on Judgement Day and say with all honesty that he had done his best to help those less fortunate?  
He knew that the answer was a resounding ‘NO’!

He thought about the world and the state that Burgundy, and indeed much of France, was now in.  The end of the wars had bought more trouble than peace.
The fabric of social life had been rent asunder.  
Neighbour was suspicious of neighbour.
The ill and destitute were left uncared for.
Villages and even town were in ruins.
People were homeless.
Bands of unwanted and unpaid mercenaries, unable to get home, and angry at having been short changed, roamed the countryside, intent on pillage and rapine. . . and as if that wasn’t enough, plague had broken out. 
Refugees from the countryside were pouring into cities and major towns to seek relief. 

Suddenly Nicolas saw the way forward.  He knew exactly what to do: He would save his soul by feeding the pour, clothing the naked and looking after the sick.

Having made his decision, he discussed it with his wife and together they set to with a good will. 
Nicolas decided to create a permanent base from which his newfound charitable side would operate. 
The town of Beaune was not too far distant (as the crow flies) from his own home town of Autun, and having heard that it was having a very hard time of it in the aftermath of the war, he decided to set up shop there.
Ever the entrepreneurial businessman, he planned everything down to the smallest detail: The interior, the exterior, the furnishings - everything.  If he was going to plough a fair amount of his vast wealth into this project then it had better be done correctly: He was not about to throw his money away.
Having first asked the Pope for permission to begin a charitable organisation, he purchased a large piece of land next to the market place at Beaune.  The beauty of this spot was that a stream ran along side of it. It was Saturday 20 January 1442 and the Hôtel-Dieu (God’s Hospital), a hospice for the sick and the infirm, can be said to have been born.

Meanwhile his wife (with the Pope’s permission) visited various religious communities to see how they operated.  The Rolins were going to found their own religious order to run the operation but they needed to see what worked and what didn’t. 

They soon decided upon a Benedictine model.

Nicolas envisioned his project to be a combination hospital, almshouse, and charity centre.  One that would benefit the many levels of poverty in the area and which, thanks to careful planning and organisation, would be funded by ownership of various profitable businesses.  As a result the Hôtel-Dieu remains in operation to this very day (although houses in more modern buildings nearby.  The old fifteenth century complex is now a museum which anyone can visit.

So let’s go and see it for ourselves!

The outer wall is fairly plain until one reaches the front entrance:

Once you walk into the Courtyard, everything changes:

One enters from the right (where those people are sitting)

The ornate roof is what 'lifts' the building and makes it stand out:

The tiles are glazed and the woodwork is ornately carved.

The plainer stone building is the 'Great Hall of the Poor':

The inside contains the beds that were in use for the sick up until the mid 20th Century:

Each is numbered and had correspondingly numbered equipment, linen, blankets etc - all as per Nicolas' directions so that no bed was without its own things.  Everything was numbered, even the plates the patients used.
Windows were set up high so as to provide good ventilation.
The beds run along both sides of the hall and are set away from the wall so that the intervening space (behind the curtains) between the bed and wall becomes a walkway so that a doctor could examine the patient in private, either before they got in bed or, once the front curtains were drawn, while they were in bed:

This however was the 15th Century and the idea of personal space did not really exist: Thus each bed was made to contain two people.

The roof of the Great Hall is like the inside hull of an upturned boat.  It has been sympathetically restored:

Half of the Hall is a Chapel for the inmates and the nuns who cared for them:

In prior times the tomb of Guigogne  (who died in 1470) stood before the altar, but it was destroyed and her remains also destroyed, during the French Revolution.  A plaque now marks the spot:

The walls of the chapel are decorated and painted with the arms of the Rolin and the Salins families:

Once out in the courtyard again, one can go in through that doorway in the far corner:

This room was set aside for men, on the request of King Louis XIV who visited in 1658.  My photo is unfortunately blurred but you can see how this chamber was laid out 

I think that it was originally a chapel.  Mannequins are dressed in the habits of the nuns that used to tend the patients.  On the table are various pieces of equipment used by the doctors.

A large chambers has been turned into an exhibition hall of sorts that shows the history of the place.  Glazed wooden cabinets are set up with various displays.
Medical equipment:
 Architectural details:

The next set of rooms contains the old Dispensary:
The painting shows Claude Morelot the institution's 18th Century apothecary.

There are some beautiful majolica jars and bottles.  I would love to have some of these:

There are cabinets to store the various ingredients to be used in medicines:

And then there are the kitchens:

Food was prepared here not only for the nuns and the patients, but for those poor people who gathered outside each day for this was a charity centre and while it could not possibly house all those in need it could at least attempt to feed as many as possible.

The final set of rooms on view are those containing institution's treasures: Tapestries and spectacular paintings:

Photography was not permitted in the room with the paintings but you could buy postcards (which I did) as a keepsake.  Thanks however to Wikipedia I can show you the magnificent altar piece that is the star of the collection.  It was painted by Roger van der Weyden during Nicolas' lifetime:

Here is St Michael, weighing the souls of the dead:

Those found wanting go down to Hell:

 Those found to be in good order go up to Heaven!:

The building of the hospital, together with the needs of the patients and sisters provided a huge economic boost to the people of Beaune.  Of course it was going to take time to get everything in order.  The budget blew out (I think we can all relate to this) and various hold ups meant that the completion of the building was behind schedule and not completed until the year 1451 but on the last day of the year (three and a half years later than originally planned for) the Hospital took in its first patient.  Nicolas (now aged seventy-five) and Guigogne were on hand and and the mood was one of great optimism.
The Duke visited and was so amazed at what Nicolas had achieved that he granted the hospital various rights to free firewood.  People began to leave bequests of money to the hospital in their Wills and when Nicolas noticed that the teacher he had employed to teach the nuns was far too strict with them, and with the sick, he fired her and busied himself with writing a Rule for the new order (the Hospital Sisters of Beaune) himself.  In doing this he made compassion his watchword.
Nicolas Rolin died in 1462, aged eighty-six.  There was some unpleasantness for the widowed Giugogne, when her stepson Cardinal Rolin (the local bishop) challenged the Hospital's rights of patronage; but the case was eventually decide in favor of the hospital and Guigogne decided to retire there, dying in 1470.
As I walked around the Hospital and saw and heard all that Nicolas had done I felt that the work had changed him.  He had started out very much the hard-headed businessman, the wily politician, but engaged upon this enormous act of charity, he had become an exceptionally humane person - and that made me happy.

This is what you would see if the alter piece is closed.  Nicolas and Guigogne at prayers:

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of the Hôtel-Dieu.  Perhaps one day you will find yourself in Beaune and then you too can visit and see for yourself this glory of 15th Century Burgundy.

(I got my information from the beautiful guide book we bought there.  I also used a wonderful little book called 'French Architecture' by Pierre Lavedan.  I recommend it for anyone interested in such things)
And if you want to know more and can read French then here is the Hospital's official website.