Friday, April 24, 2020

Bayeux, France: From William the Conqueror to D-Day

Evening shrouds the twin-spired Bayeux Cathedral 
(Courtesy: pxhere)
BAYEUX, FRANCE – One of the best things about Bayeux, France is that it has something for just about anyone. Though it traces its history as far back as the 1st century BC, Bayeux becomes most interesting about a thousand years later during the time of William the Conqueror.

William the Conqueror
(Courtesy: bayeux tourism)

Situated slightly more than four miles from the shores of the English Channel, Bayeux has the distinction of being one of the first cities to be liberated during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

With the Germans defending Caen, about 19 miles to the southeast, Bayeux was relatively untouched during the D-Day invasion while Caen was completely demolished.

Ten days after the D-Day assault, Charles DeGaulle made the first of two major speeches in Bayeux in which France declared its allegiance to the allies.

Battle of Hastings (1066) re-enactment
(Courtesy: Poliphilo --Public Domain) )
It was during the 11th century that Bayeux came into its own with five villages arising beyond the walls of the city.

William the Conqueror, who was known as William the Bastard until winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066, became king of England on Christmas Day at Westminster Abbey in the same year.

Slightly more than a decade later, in 1077, William's half brother Odo, Earl of Kent, completed the Romanesque Bayeux Cathedral, an event which King William attended.

Bayeux Tapestry
(Courtesy: Bayeux Tapestry)
Soon however, Bayeux began to lose its prominence after William made his capital in Caen.

Among the artifacts in Bayeux is an embroidery depicting the Battle of Hastings featuring over 50 scenes in a single piece of cloth that is roughly 230 feet long and 20 inches high. Only a couple of scenes at the far end have been lost over the centuries.

The "Bayeux Tapetry", as it is called, is believed to have been woven in England as a display around the interior perimeter of Odo's cathedral.

The "tapestry" offers a wealth of information about
life in the 11th century
(Courtesy: Bayeux Tapestry)
Though somewhat cartoonish in its appearance, the fact that so much of the tapestry has remained intact for a thousand years is nothing short of a miracle. The details of the story offer a priceless depiction of the life and times of medieval England and France including elements of battle, strategy, clothing and weaponry among others.

Though William was French, many analysts believe the tapestry was created by English artisans. Nevertheless, the storyline is clearly from the perspective of  the French.

Today, the tapestry is housed in the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux just down the street from the cathedral.

German artillery still faces
(Photo: peabod)
Day trips to the D-Day landing beaches are easily done from Bayeux. On clear days, the cathedral spires of Bayeux can be seen from the rolling countryside of Longues sur Mer. For visitors, Longues sur Mer is one of the best places along the Normandy coast to view the massive German bunker emplacements that still face the English Channel and, of course, England.

Strolling through the area, it is difficult to imagine that this now peacefully serene landscape has been the site of so much turmoil over the past millennium.

Entering Bayeux from Caen at the first roundabout in the city, travelers pass a statue of Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower, commander of the allied forces on D-Day.

Gen. Eisenhower is the first to greet visitors to Bayeux
(Courtesy: normandy war guide)
The statue is cast in bronze and is the creation of sculptor Robert Dean. The site was dedicated on June 5, 1994, during the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

As a side note, an identical statue also stands outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square in London.

Today the city of Bayeux proudly pays for the upkeep of the statue that was initially commissioned by the Battle of Normandy Foundation.

Filled with dozens of narrow streets and pleasant outdoor cafes, Bayeux is an ideal place for a day trip in Normandy or to use as a base thanks to its proximity to so many other historic sites.

The Old Mill
(Courtesy: peabod)
Best of all for shoppers, Bayeux is filled with quaint boutiques featuring fashions, souvenirs and antiques that rival almost anything in Paris.

Bayeux, France is more than a place to merely drive through en route to another destination. Take time to discovery its half-timbered architecture and delightful restaurants. Stop in and try a croque monsieur, a specialty of the region consisting of baked or fried ham and cheese on toasted French bread.

Bayeux is an undiscovered medieval gem
(Courtesy: Anton Bielousov --licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
Unported license )
In French, croque monsieur means "gentleman crunch" but it's a sure thing that the ladies will enjoy it as well.

And while you're at it, sip a glass of Calvados, the lethal regional drink made from apples. The operative word being "sip."

Bayeux, France may not be on the tip of your tongue right now, but once you visit, you won't soon forget it.

Friday, April 17, 2020

A love affair with Pablo Picasso

Angela Rosengart beside two etchings Picasso did
of her when she was 19 
(Courtesy: rosengart collection)
LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND – Angela Rosengart was only a teenager when she met Pablo Picasso for the first time. Today, at the ripe young age of 90, the Swiss art collector from Lucerne fondly recalls more than 50 encounters with the charismatic Spanish artist, most notably the five occasions when she posed for him.

The museum is a two minute walk from the Chapel Bridge 

For years Rosengart displayed her collection of Picassos in a historic but unobtrusive gallery on a side street in the Old Town of Lucerne. In 2002 however, the exhibition expanded and moved to a neoclassical building across the River Reuss in New Town. Situated on Pilatustrasse, across the street from the railway station and in the shadow of the famed Chapel Bridge, the new display actually represents three Rosengart collections, each with its own floor.

Rosengart Museum, Lucerne
Over the years Rosengart also met Miro, Matisse, Braque and Chagall, but none of them could match the aura of Picasso. “It was those deep, piercing Spanish eyes,” she says, “They felt like arrows, and I very much felt that.”

After sessions ranging from 20 minutes to three hours, Frau Rosengart says she was exhausted each time because her soul felt “burned” by the experience.

Following the footsteps of her father Siegried who developed her interest in art and collecting, Frau Rosengart’s exhibition includes about 60 Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, over 125 water colors and drawings by native son artist Paul Klee and 32 oils plus more than 50 drawings by Picasso.

Siegfried Rosengart became Picasso’s principal dealer in Switzerland and held eight exhibitions of the artist’s work between 1956 and 1971. Each catalogue cover was designed by the artist himself.

For years the Rosengarts frequently visited Picasso in the south of France, and it was this unique life-long friendship that has a subliminal effect on visitors to her gallery today.

David Douglas Duncan met Picasso for the first time when
the artist was taking a bath
(Courtesy: rosengart collection)
Part of the magic lies in a collection of black and white photographs by American photojournalist David Douglas Duncan that chronicle the artist’s life. Duncan and Picasso became close friends, and he was the only person who was allowed to photograph many of Picasso’s private paintings.

Duncan made a name for himself as a combat photographer. Duncan, who died at 102 in 2018, first met Picasso while on assignment for Life magazine. The artist invited him to enter as he was taking a bath. Unable to resist the opportunity, Duncan’s photographic instincts took over and the friendship grew from there.

One of five portraits
by Picasso
(Courtesy: rosengart
Later, Angela purchased Duncan’s entire collection of Picasso images. When combined with her personal collection of Picasso’s work, the artist comes to life in ways that are difficult to describe without a personal viewing.

The five portraits of Angela, which Picasso gave to her, are the centerpiece of her exhibition. Though Picasso was passionate in his love for women, his sketches of Angela are “compassionate” in a manner that presents his subject as the chaste, innocent teenager she was. In that sense, the etchings are uniquely different from most of Picasso’s other portraits.

Rosengart believes that perhaps the reason for the lovingly platonic representations of her was due to the fact that Picasso’s childhood sweetheart’s name was Angela.

Says Rosengart of Picasso’s portraits, “He only wanted to know whether my mother liked them.”

The haunting, penetrating eyes of genius 
(Photo: peabod)
Angela Rosengart never married. If she had, she says she would have never been able to amass her collections.

Despite that, when one of Siegfried’s clients became frustrated that Angela’s father would not sell one of his prized Picassos because he had promised it to his daughter on her wedding day, the bemused Picasso pragmatically asked, “Then why didn’t he marry Angela?”

Thanks to their close association with the artist, the Rosengarts were able to watch Picasso at work on several occasions. That relationship allowed them to reserve some of the renderings while the paint was still wet.

So intimate and personal are Angela Rosengart’s collections that she never lends to other galleries. For her, a stroll through her museum is like visiting with old friends.

Other artists are featured 
as well, like Renoir
(Courtesy: oskar reinhart foundation)
The Rosengart collection features the works of Monet, Renoir, Pissaro and Chagall as well as those of Paul Klee, who also holds a place deep in Angela’s heart. But it is the works of Pablo Picasso she holds most dear.

You see this is a love story about a triangle between a photographer, an artist and a collector. It is a story about life, living and friendship and though it was not sexual, it was every bit as passionate and intimate.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Irish legends are a good way to tour the country

The dramatic Cliffs of Moher are a favorite site

IRELAND -- Every country has its own unique legends and folklore; Norway has its trolls, Scotland the unicorn, Germany the fairy tales of the brothers Grimm and the Lorelei.

So, too, does Ireland with its leprechauns and their pot full of gold at the end of a rainbow.  In Ireland, it sometimes feels as if there’s a myth on every mountain, a story in every field and a legend wrapped around every lake, river and stream.

Celtic crosses are
(Courtesy: pixabay)
There's a cornucopia of Celtic myths that can be brought to life by talented locals and storytellers who use the time honored oral tradition of telling their tales. At the drop of a hat they paint glorious word pictures of epic tales, magical feats and characters full of courage and passion. 

Among the standout places where it all comes together is the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, with its very name deriving from ancient stories of a conflict between the Irish hero Finn McCool and his Scottish rival Benandonner.

According to legend Finn McCool built the
Giant's Causeway to connect Ireland with Scotland
(Courtesy: pxhere)
Some say the astonishing 40,000 hexagon rocks at the Causeway were carved as stepping stones to Scotland by the mighty McCool so the rivals could set up a fight.

Certainly, clues as to Finn’s existence are left behind in rock formations such as the Giant’s Boot, the Wishing Chair and the Giant’s Granny, not to mention the iconic stones themselves.

Kinnagoe Bay,
County Donegal
In Irish mythology, the Tuatha De Danann (People of the Goddess Danu) were a race of deities and heroes skilled in art, science, poetry and magic. One of the places they are associated with is the ancient Grianán of Aileach, a stone fort that still stands on a hilltop in Inishowen, County Donegal.

The fortress was built on the site of a former Tuatha de Danann palace, which legend says was called the Palace of the Northern Princes. The views from Aileach are stunning at this particular site. 
Dingle Peninsula

Much of the appeal of this attraction however, lies in the belief that St Patrick once visited the site in the fifth century to baptize the local chieftain, Eoghan, from whom Inishowen gets its name.

Many Irish legends also find their origins in the country's Ancient East where long ago mythical beings lived and where the landscape remains imbued with their legacy.

At the Rock of Cashel, visitors will discover a spectacular collection of medieval ecclesiastical buildings in County Tipperary.  According to legend, the devil took a bite from a mountain known as the Devil's Bit and spat it back out. It landed in the middle of Tipperary's countryside and remains there today as the Rock of Cashel.

The Rock of Cashel in Tipperary
(Courtesy: pixabay)
Another popular myth centers around the River Boyne, which holds the secret to the legend of the Salmon of Knowledge and the mystical Hill of Tara. The Hill of Tara is the inauguration place and seat of the High Kings of Ireland in County Meath.

This special place serves as a port to the fairy world in the best-selling Artemis Fowl books for young adults, and in the upcoming Artemis Fowl movie that mixes Irish mythology with James Bond adventure.

The scenic wonder of County Antrim's dark hedges
Moving south, you will discover the origins of the legend of the Tir na nÓg (Land of Youth), as well as the final resting place of The Children of Lir. The four offspring of King Lir were turned into swans and banished by their evil stepmother to live on the lakes of Ireland for 900 years.

When restored to human form by a local monk, they died instantly, and it is said they are buried at a beauty spot in the picture-perfect village of Allihies in County Cork’s Beara Peninsula. All that remains today are some large white boulders.
Irish scenery is breathtaking
Finally,  there's the tale of the Irish  baker who invented a time-saving machine that allowed him to slice four loaves of bread at one time instead of the traditional single loaf.

In so doing,  the baker, without realizing it, had invented the world's first "four-loaf" cleaver!

Naaahh...That's not even a real legend, but if you believe it, join us after the next rain storm and help us find that pot of gold at the rainbow's end.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Basel: Switzerland ’s secret cultural gem on the Rhine

The colorful clock and facade of Basel's Town Hall
(Courtesy: pxhere)

BASEL, SWITZERLAND – When you think of the great cultural centers of Europe, the cities that first come to mind are likely to be Paris, Rome, Madrid or London.  Most Americans probably wouldn’t even consider Basel, Switzerland, but they should.

Basel has long thrived as an artistic hub and one of the finest cultural destinations in Europe. Now American travelers are beginning to discover what Europeans have known for centuries.

The cathedral overlooks
the Rhine
(Courtesy: pxhere)
Situated at the confluence of Switzerland, Germany and France along the banks of the Rhine River, Basel is the gateway to the Upper Rhine Valley, a region that is rapidly growing in popularity.

Basel’s cultural heritage is deep and rich. Swiss democracy traces its roots more than seven hundred years to the 13th century when three cantons unified to become the Confœderatio Helvetica (Latin) or Swiss Confederation.

This strong democratic heritage eventually led Basel to open the first public art museum in the world and later become the first city in the world ever to hold a public referendum for the purchase of art.

Today, with more than forty first-rate museums, there are statistically more high quality museums in Basel than any other city its size in the world.

Basel's Fine Arts Museum is one of the best in the world

The Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the Prado in Madrid or the Louvre may be better known but, Basel’s Kunstmuseum (Fine Arts Museum) often surprises visitors with the depth of its collections including Holbein, Hodler, Picasso, Giacometti, Monet and Klee to mention a few of its artistic masters.

Among other exhibitions throughout the city visitors will find a doll museum, a toy museum, a printing museum, a contemporary art museum, the Jean Tinguely Museum and the ErnstBeyeler Foundation

Beyeler Foundation, Basel
(Courtesy: my

Native son Ernst Beyeler, who died in 2010, became world famous as a collector and was instrumental in beginning an International Arts Fair in Basel over half a century ago. The art fair is now acclaimed as being one of the best in Europe.

Beyeler’s own museum, which took years for him to find the ideal location, features 20th century art containing works from his private collection plus traveling exhibitions as well.

Jean Tinguely’s Museum filled with all manner of whimsical gadgets and contraptions made from scrap metal is a delight. Tinguely was also a Baseler and his museum was designed by world-renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta.

Jean Tinguely's whimsical fountain is a favorite
You can view Tinguely’s work at his fountain in the center of Basel. The nonsensical machines are captivating and, in winter when the water freezes they become amusing little ice sculptures.

If you visit Basel in winter for the Christmas
Market, the local tourist office can arrange a fondu dinner on a boat on the Rhine for up to twelve participants.

Johann Wanner,
proprietor Christmashaus
(Photo: peabod)
Don’t miss Johann Wanner’s Christmashouse shops featuring every sort of Christmas decoration imaginable. Wanner is the world’s largest manufacturer of handmade Christmas decorations and his year-round collection includes Faberge eggs, cuckoo clocks, miniature figurines, ceramic and wreaths.
Christmas year-round
(Photo: peabod)

The larger collection, Weihnachtshaus, is located at Spalenberg 14, while a second shop featuring a lovely café, Weihnachtsstuben and Weihnachtkaffee, is just down the street about two minutes away at Schneidergasse 7) (*Note: The website is written in German)
Stay at the Art Hotel Teufelhof which means Devil’s House when translated. This delightful three-star gem was the fulfillment of a dream in 1989 by Monica and Dominique Thommy-Kneschaurek. Hotel Teufelhof even has its own theater for the performing arts.

Der Teufelhof, Art Hotel Devil's is funky and unigue
(Photo: peabod)
Each room in this quaint nine-room hideaway is created by a different artist who is allowed a maximum of one month to complete his or her room design. Rooms are redone roughly every two years.

Rates range from $195 to $705 for a double or from $165 to $630 for a single. All rooms are non-smoking rooms andinclude breakfast buffet, VAT, taxes and service charge. 

Augusta Raurica has Roman ruins just outside of Basel
(Photo: peabod)
Basel is easily reached in an hour by train from Zurich, and if you don’t believe Baselers are passionate about their cultural heritage, just wait five minutes and you'll have no doubt.