Sunday, November 14, 2010


I really think Ralph Waldo Emerson had it right. "Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience." Unexpectedly, on this busy day, I did just that. After raking and mulching leaves for compost, I was tired and the air was nice. I ignored everything indoors that was calling for me and slumped down in a chair in the backyard and just looked up at the tree tops. The angle of the funky Adirondack-stylie chairs Scott made is perfect for slumping and lounging and gazing upward without any stress on the neck.

So there I sat, for at least 20 leisurely minutes, just looking at the colors and form of the beloved trees and watching their leaves fall, slowly down. Some even landed on me.

Nothing like living your favorite nature quote. Priceless.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Our final ski trip while living in der Schweiz was to Flims-Laax Falera, in the Graubuenden region. That was March, this is October. Clearly you can see where I wish I was and what I wish I was doing as I sit here. I have done a lot of snow blogging. This one will be different. Just one story and just one photo for now. It is about The Longest Descent.

We ended our dwelling in Switzerland by spending a few days skiing, big surprise. One last hurrah before happily heading Back to Real Life. The snow had started to melt and the weather was warm. All very symbolic. We skied long and hard, wined, dined, walked, photographed and saunaed as much as we could before we had to give it all back, just as we had all season, at all the other places. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

On the last day, at lunch, I verbalized it. I had been thinking about it for a while, keeping it to myself. My poor husband was sick and tired and needed bedrest, but was putting up a good front and sticking it out in the snow for me, despite the fever. I knew he was nearing his end for the day. The thought of leaving, Leaving, was just too much for me to bear. So I verbalized it. I was going to ski one final run, which was The Longest Descent. I saw it on the map and it boasted a whopping 17 kilometers in length. And I would do it before I left, alone if need be, because I could.

It was getting late when I verbalized. We were on the gondola, one of several we needed to take to get from the far away Falera back to Flims where we were staying. He looked at me and shook his head in protest. We had already skied so much, it was getting late and dark, I was tired and shouldn't be skiing alone. What if I got lost? He didn't want to lose me, you know. What if I got hurt? It was too far to go to get to the top in time to get to the bottom in time. What if I didn't make it back in time to get the shuttle to the hotel? He would worry about me too much. The list of protests was long. But I could not be swayed. The prospect of skiing one run that was 17 kilometers was enough for me to make it one good last run.

The fact was, I had skied most of the sections that make up The Longest Descent over the course of the past few days, just not all at once. I needed to be able to say I did it. So at the top of the last gondola, I said I was going and would see him back at the hotel, probably in the sauna. But that wasn't good enough. He put up a fight. In the end, it was The Longest Descent in return for me handing over my camera. My precious camera? Nein!!!! It went with me everywhere in the mountains. It was always ready in my coat pocket. I was always stopping or wandering here and there to take photos, sometimes trailing behind. That was like taking away one glove or a ski boot. I would be incomplete without it. And how could I document The Longest Descent then?

But I did it. I gave it up, kissed him goodbye and was off. Basically, I had to make like a bunny clear across the area to get to the top to go back down. It involved going up a lift, then skiing down a portion to another lift that would cross, then repeating this process about 3 times in order to traverse to where I needed to be. I skied hard and fast and skated through the flat spots. I got to the point where I was alone, the only one around. It was so quiet and beautiful. Wish I had my camera.

Finally, I got off the last lift and skated as fast as I could to the final portion. I needed to take the J-bar to the very top of the 17 kilometers, then start The Longest Descent. I crested a small hill, saw the base of the J-bar in the near distance. It was downhill from there. I got into a tuck and cruised over. About 200 feet away, the J-bar stopped moving. Then up went a sign, that I barely even noticed in my rush to get there.

Geschlossen was what the sign read. The little bit of German that I had learned helped me to realize that the J-bar had just closed. What do you mean, Mr. Swiss Lift Man, Geschlossen? How can that be? It was 3:30. Most of the higher up lifts, gondolas and J-bars close at 3:30. NEIN!!!!!!!! My watch said 3:29. But there is no arguing with the Swiss about time or watches. Both of which they seem to have perfected. I was done.

I pouted, huffed, puffed and realized that I missed skiing, in its entirety, The Longest Descent by a matter of minutes. So I just did what I could and skied the rest. I guess I skied 16.5 kilometers all at once. I did it, I had already skied all day, and 2 days before that, and at least every weekend since New Year's. I had logged more ski days this season than I had any other before. I loved it. I was lucky. I had thigh burn, but it was worth it. After all, it was my last ski day in der Schweiz. It was all worth it. I sighed, breathed in the fresh air, unbuckled my helmet and got on the bus to go home, both literally and figuratively.

I look forward to next season, skiing, my friend.....


My perfect threesome? That's simple - the Eiger, Jungfrau and Moench. Three glorious mountains in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland. Another weekend was spent last February skiing and enjoying all the Swiss Alps have to offer.

Grindelwald-Wengen, how do I love thee? With much passion and lust. I miss you. Your skiing is amazing. Your deep valley, dear Lauterbruennen, is beautiful beyond any others I have known. With so many choices, I felt as though I covered the globe on skis, toboggan or zipline when I was with you. You are so good at keeping things fresh and interesting. I love the tiny villages to ski through, the livestock and your architecture. Your people are warm and welcoming. Your lodging is top notch. And you really have perfected the trains. Never before have I had to cross railroad tracks to get to where I was headed to ski, on my skis. You have so much to offer, but selfishly, I wish I didn't have to share you with anyone else. So here are some, not all, of your secrets.

Scott hanging with the locals

May I live here?

This time, we stayed at the luxurious Sunstar Hotel in Wengen ( We parked our car and took the train up to Wengen. At the stop, we were graciously fetched by the staff in a fun little electric cart, gear and all, and whisked away to the hotel. At check in, we were offered warm mulled wine which was a pleasant start to a fabulous stay, even though it was still before noon (scandalous!). Sunstar stays cost a bit more, but are worth it. The service and personal attention is incredible. I felt a little like a rock star. Each property is owned by a family, most of which live on site. They treat you as though you are their personal guests. No detail is overlooked.

the view from our room at the Sunstar

Soon we learned that the hotel ski room has heated boot racks, which pretty much guaranteed toasty dry boots in the morning. I LOVE this feature. We spent our early evenings at the pool or sauna or wandering around town. Dinner and breakfast at the hotel were not to be missed. Especially dessert buffet night. Do it, go nuts and don't feel guilty. You can ski it off the next day.

Getting to the slopes was cake. Just walk across the street and there you are at the gondola. Spend your day exploring the area. The conditions are fantastic and varied. And the place is so vast, that you feel like you are the only one there.

the train runs right through the slopes

gratuitous ski porn

followed by more gratuitous ski porn

truly a ski-in village

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


At this very moment, I am awaiting the departure of the electricians for the day. I am really hungry for lunch and the kitchen was supposed to be done by now. We don't have far to go, but as I sit here, I can't help but think back to beautiful Zermatt and a lunch to remember, actually I am lusting after it as this moment.....

Chez Vrony,, was recommended to us by my husband's colleague. He said if we visited Zermatt, this was a place we must stop at. He was right, it was amazing and I am here to tell you why.

Findeln is a town far above Zermatt. It is accessible by hiking, the Klein Matterhorn gondola and Sunnegga ski lift. It usually requires a combination of both. I love that the map on their website is hand drawn in black and white and involves elevations and ski lifts! The number of buildings in Findeln can probably be counted on both hands. I think the cows and sheep outnumber the humans and that isn't so bad. From whatever super-engineered Swiss mountain transport system you choose to get you up there, still expect at least a 30 minute walk, up, down and all around. But it is so worth the trip.

Chez Vrony is a site furnishings paradise. As a landscape designer, I geeked out a little about it and took tons of photos. Take a look at the first one above. The important thing to remember about this place is that it is remote, at 2100 meters. There is no Swiss Haus Depot to buy stuff. Everything they need, I mean everything, must be carried in, year round. Toboggans come in handy for cargo in the winter, but you are going to be lugging it all yourself in the non-snow times of the year. Whether a result of necessity or not, the design is rustic. Lots of wood, used in unusual ways, such as stumps for table leg bases. In typical Swiss fashion, they have cozy wool blankets and fur seat covers to ensure that you are comfortable while dining outdoors. The lounge-stylie curved seating is oriented to maximize the views of the Matterhorn and the neighboring animals.

And then there are the food and libations. Just like the Alps, the beers are tall. I normally do not indulge in alcohol while hiking as a result of the resulting need for facilities. But it looked way too tasty to resist. And my husband reassured me that we would be there long enough that I wouldn't spend the afternoon cursing the beer for my full bladder. The Swiss like to linger and dine, so service is usually at an accommodating pace.

If you are a meat-eater, this place may provide you with nirvana. They cure their own meats, all different kinds of meats. And make their own Bergkaese, or mountain cheese, too. They even grow their own organic produce up there too.

We started by sharing a bowl of pumpkin curry cream soup. The texture was so light and the drizzle of oil on top was perfect. I had the typical Swiss staple of raclette, served with potatoes, gherkins and onions. Always a satisfying choice. Scott had on e of the dried meat entrees that Chez Vrony is famous for. It really was enough for several people. I helped a little. He enjoyed it a lot.

Then we proceeded from our table in the shade to a sunny spot near the edge of the deck, to take in the amazing views of the Matterhorn and the nice sheep next door. We lingered for a while with our Alp-sized beers and when we were comfortably warmed by the sun, we headed back up, down and all around. We could not have asked for a better way to spend a few hours one afternoon in the mountains.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Alsace and Appliances

my Swiss kitchen at this time last year, lots of the seasonal bounty

my kitchen at home right now, no food in sight yet!

Apparently, I can't stop talking about food. It is because I do not have a functioning kitchen right now. So here is a little bit about my experiences having lived so close to the French/Swiss border. And a sneak peek at the new range hood.

We had only been in Basel for a few weeks when a friend came over for business and stayed with us over the weekend. We went to France to do some wine tasting. Along the way, we stopped in Thann to do some shopping. We all ended up with pastries before making our way over to the farmer's market. Our visiting friend is a foodie, too, so we were looking for options to prepare at home. Let me just say, if you have never had wild asparagus before you need to try it. Yum!

On the way back through the border we were unsure if we needed to claim food. So instead of just driving through, I suggest we stop and ask. We would be doing this frequently, so we should know the rules. So the three of us go in to the office where a nice, young Swiss border patrolman is on duty. We tell him we are new here and have purchased some food and wanted to know if we need to claim it. The funny part is when he asks us how much we had bought. We tell him less than two kilos. He laughs and says we only need to claim if we purchase over 20 kilos. We all got a good laugh and were on our way. I can not imagine an instance ever in my life where I would be purchasing 20 kilos of produce at once and I don't think he could, either.

We used to ride our bikes across the border to go to a grocery store called Geant. They had a much bigger selection than the 3 major Swiss grocers and the prices were better, too. One thing we found that was a very good deal was chicken. Particularly the little, whole ones. I think they are called roasters here in the US. I could never seem to remember the name of this particular chicken product, in any language, English, German or French. So I took to referring to them as "those things, you know those things from France." When Scott wanted one, he would ask if I could go to get one of those things from France for dinner. The tricky part is that when biking to grocery stores, you must only buy what you can comfortably peddle home. Those things get heavy quickly when combined with wine, butter, cheese and other typically French foods.

Two particular memories of eating French stand out. Both involve family. One was a single experience and the other happened multiple times. Flammekueche or tarte flambee in French, is an Alsatian favorite. It is sort of like a pizza, but a lot more french. And it seems as though it was made to go with Alsatian wines and all their variety. Think of a thin, crispy but not greasy crust. Then top it with creme fraiche, lots of onions, nutmeg, a hint of gruyere and ham and bake it in a wood-fired oven. Sometimes, you could opt for more veggies, different meats or no meat. Always super hot and satisfying. The memory of these is when Scott and I would head across the border to Alsace in the colder months to See various things. We always would end up hungry and it was much less expensive to eat in restaurants in France than in Switzerland. So it was like a treat. We would head in to the local bakery or bar, enjoy the warmth of the fire and some flammekueche. Yum!

My teenage niece and nephew came to visit in August 2009. We went to a castle called Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg, On the way back to the car, we were all hot, tired and hungry. Most, if not all restaurants were closed, so we decided to wait until we got back to Basel to eat. Along the side of the road, there was a woman selling tiny plums in big containers from her yard. My niece and nephew looked at the plums like they didn't know what they were and weren't going to eat them, even if they did. We sort of showed them how to eat one, and before we know it, we were all eating them and it was as if they were the tastiest things we had ever had. They were warm from the sun and the container was half finished by the time we made it home.

While in Paris, we visited Luxembourg Gardens on a very rainy day. After, we wanted lunch and wandered over to a new place. It was called Dips, The concept was fun - for whatever course you are ordering, you pick a main and a dip, mix and match style. So your table ends up with a bunch of tiny cups of colorful dips and a few plates of food to dip with. Very tasty, very fun, very conducive to sharing. Worth the trip if you are in the neighborhood.

appetizers at Dip's

shark entree at Dips, chicken entree in background, dips in the middle

Without a kitchen, I am learning to improvise. Time to go eat some plums and apples that I picked up from Highland Orchards last weekend, paired with some cheese. Not too shabby....

Monday, October 11, 2010

Edible Barcelona

Last week was the big 10 year wedding anniversary! Our anniversaries usually involve food and last year we were in Barcelona, so here is the Barcelona food post. I felt like I ate my way through the city. But, why not?

After we arrived, we wanted a quick bite for lunch and found a neighborhood place that was busy with locals. We started with some cold beer on that hot day. They had lots of tapas to offer. We ordered beers and marinated mushrooms to start. Then patatas bravas. This yummy concoction consists of potato cubes slathered in the local version of slightly spicy ketchup and garlic mayonnaise. It comes to the table burning, smoking hot. Amazing. I tried a few versions of patatas bravas while in Barcelona and loved them all.

patatas bravas and marinated mushrooms

One night, we wandered down the beach from our hotel, toward Vila Olimpica. We wandered inland, away from the touristy places by the sea, to look for a place filled with locals, always a promising foodie endeavor. We found one and went in. After ordering a carafe of wine, we decided on a few tapas. I noticed that a phrase was painted on the wall above the kitchen. It translated as, "We don't speak English, but we do have Bombas." So, maybe as tourists, we weren't welcome there. But they, indeed, had seated us and we were hungry. Bombas are a particular type of tapas that have a political history. It is simply a potato croquette, sometimes meat-filled, with red sauce and garlic mayonnaise on top. Politics aside, it looked good to me. I proceeded to order, in Spanish, as best I could.

We had a great tuna, onion and olive oil dish, but the best was a plate full of very, tiny, salt and olive oil covered, grilled peppers. I NEED to try to recreate these at home as they were one of the most memorable things we ate in Barca. Yum!

The English-speaking disdain surfaced later, whether intentional or not. The server went to clear the plates and tipped a dish of tuna and olive oil all over Scott's shirt and pants. Perhaps it was an accident, but he never even offered a napkin or an apology. Hmm. And the two guys to our side, just laughed and laughed as Scott got up to go to the restroom to try to salvage his clothes (which never happened. And let me just say that tuna and oil laden clothes, no matter how well you hand wash them in the hotel tub, don't smell very good when you unpack back home). And oddly, they were speaking English much of the time, clearly the language they had in common, being from different countries. Whatever. I think this place was in a rough, edged neighborhood called Barceloneta. Despite the food, I will not recommend this place. They can keep their politics and their attitudes.

On our anniversary, we went to a place called El All i Oli. The hotel staff recommended it after we pestered them for an authentic Catalan place that was not touristy. It is considered a Restaurante Tipico, which I assume to mean a traditional restaurant.

It was pretty rustic on the inside. In fact, it was designed to look like a cave, with rough stone walls and low ceilings. There were not many people there when we went in. I think we dine too early compared to the Spanish, even though it was after 8 PM. So the servers were very attentive. I speak no Catalan and just what I can remember from high school Spanish. Our server spoke no English, so the whole dinner was pretty entertaining. We determined that we wanted the prix fixe Menu Aniversario, which had nothing to do with our anniversary, but what the heck. I had no idea what we were getting specifically, except sangria, many courses that included lots of meat, bread, veggies, dessert and coffee. Sounded good, except I was a little frightened about the meat courses.

The Sangria was delicious! We had some olives and they brought out this amazing, garlicky mayonnaise in a cute little crock. Apparently, this is the traditional all i oli, a Catalan classic that can be schmeared on everything. Then came the bread and veggies course. Everything was grilled, including the bread. It was huge and thick like Texas-toast. There was grilled eggplant, whole peppers, onions, baked potatoes, carrots... the list goes on. This course, indeed, was enough food for me, but we were just getting started.

Next, the meat course. Again, I was a little frightened. I tried to ask what some of the stuff was, but couldn't figure much out. I am not a big meat-eater, so some of it was just scary, I couldn't try it. Scott did better than I, but even he decided to try but not finish the blood sausage and skipped what we could only assume was the hoof of some barnyard animal, either pig or cow. There was also rabbit, a bird that may have been pigeon, pork, another sausage and ribs.

Despite the scariness factor for me, the meal was amazing. Everything was grilled to perfection, hot and tasty. There was WAY too much food, though. The presentation was beautiful, all on large platters, family style. It made me feel a little like I had traveled back in time to medieval days.

Finally, we were so stuffed that I didn't think I could take any more. Then out came the dessert and coffee. Crema catalana, flan y cafe con leche. Yum. Needless to say, I made room. I wouldn't want to have to do it again - way too much food for 2 people, but it certainly made for an indulgent anniversary.

Another night, we wanted to get a little edgier in the culinary arena. We have always heard that Barcelona is known for molecular gastronomy and all kinds of cutting edge cuisine. So we consulted the Internet and found a place that Gourmet magazine had recently reviewed called Fishhh!!!! We had been relaxing at the beach that afternoon, so I showered and got all dressed up to go to a restaurant that was, believe it or not, in the food court of a shopping mall. I was a little skeptical, but up for the adventure. After an hour of tram, bus and train rides, we made it to the mall, entered, and didn't know what to expect.

It was a pleasant surprise. All stark white and minimalist, we were greeted by a really funky bright red crustacean sculpture on the back wall. They offered several prix fixe menus to choose from. We chose one and the deliciousness began. The server started us with a carrot cava shot. Cava is the local version of sparkling wine. Very crisp, light and refreshing, a nice contrast to the heat and humidity. After a little explanation about the menu we got to the oysters! They came on a huge bed of rock salt with an American flag in the center. The server kindly explained that the salt signified the moon and it was the Chef's take on the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, which had happened a few months before. Very creative presentation.

We enjoyed some other courses which included a potato salad with tiny shrimp, a pipette of lemon juice as palate cleanser, which took us back to high school science class, and the entree. Scott had sardines, which are huge in Barca. Literally huge. He had 3-4 six inch whole fishies on his plate. He said they were delicious, but he worked hard to eat them, trying to separate the meat from the many, many bones. For dessert, I had an amazing cinnamon bread pudding. Then the finale, frozen cubes of cafe con leche on a skewer! A great ending.

At some point, because of the language barrier, the server asked us how we found out about Fishhh. We told her about Gourmet. Later she came back and she asked what the name of the magazine was again, with notebook in hand. Then she said "Yes, I remember some magazine people from NYC were here a few weeks ago. I forgot to tell the Boss!"

While we were enjoying dessert, I noticed a book on the back shelf that said on the spine, A Day at El Bulli. Scott sort of shouted, El Bulli! and jumped up to look at the book. But he was stopped before he opened it. It was still shrink-wrapped and he was told that the owner, who owns a fish market, is friends with the El Bulli owner and he was expected to sign the book for Fishhh. What a dinner! And thanks for the tip, Gourmet, RIP.

In advance of the trip, we did something unusual. We booked two tours, something we normally avoid like the plague. Both were awesome. One was a culinary walking tour and the other was an architecture tour, part of Architecture Week 2009. More to come on that one in later posts.
The culinary tour was great. We got to visit 11 typically-Catalan establishments and sample a few of the specialties. The Mercat de la Boqueria and Mercat de Santa Caterina were both a farmer's market lover's paradise. We sampled some amazing fruits, and purchased some jamon serrano and some tasty cheeses, almonds and saffron.

Mercat de la Boqueria

Mercat de Santa Caterina with its wavy ceramic tile roof

All in all, it has been a year and another anniversary has passed. But I will always remember the beach, the olives and the sangria of beautiful Barcelona.

Friday, October 8, 2010


I love good bread. Scott and I have made bread via a breadmaker since we shacked up together years ago. On a ski trip to Sugarbush, Vermont, a hundred years ago, we ate at an amazing place called The Warren Store,, and I decided that being a baker was a very noble profession. Maybe I can make it my third or fourth, someday.

Our second Williams-Sonoma breadmaker died a few months ago after a long and productive life. Actually, just the pan died. And since WS has changed their once fantastic replacement policy, we can no longer locate, let alone buy, a replacement pan. Boo WS. But, I am inspired to limit the number of appliances in the new kitchen. So I will go forth and attempt to make bread the old-fashioned way.

When the kitchen is finished, that is. In the meantime, I can enjoy this video about some true noble bakers, courtesy of Hope you do too.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Parc de la Villette

plan view

Hello again. Yes, this is another post about Paris, but it should be the last. Until I look at photos and think of another. Barcelona is to come, so hang in there for a new place, next post.

There were soooo many places in Paris to See. We only had a few days and the point of being there was the Tour de France, so I had to pick and choose. Neither of us like tourist stuff so much, particularly because we don't like to wait in lines. So I chose to See some places that I had read about or studied pertaining to landscape architecture.

Parc de la Villette seems to be either loved or hated, most often the latter. So off we went, on a hot, sunny day to See what it was all about. We spent quite a while there, but at 55 hectares (approx 136 acres), it is difficult not to. A large portion of that space is green, according to Wikipedia, but to me, it seemed very centralized around hardscaping. It was built in the 1980's, designed by Bernard Tschumi in a deconstructionist style. There are large, red, metal architectural follies and a series of gardens. Along the borders of the Parc are Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie and Argonaute and La Geode . There is a music museum, visitor center, nightclub, open air theater and bookstore. The Canal de l'Ourcq runs through it. How's that for history in a few sentences? If you want more, Google it.

There were things I loved, things I didn't and things I just didn't get. There was so much going on here that I am struggling at how to present it all. Being that it is deconstructionist, that is odd. I saw it more as too-many-things-going-on-in-one-place at times. So here is a description of what I Saw: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

Circulation was good. The Parc has a main path that meanders along, passing nearby, if not through, the major highlights. So it was pretty easy to see everything in one long, rambling walk. This edited out a lot of the decision making factors, where to go next, which way to turn, that usually are present in parks.

The bicycle sculpture was damn impressive. Basically, it is in parts, scattered over a vast green lawn, as though it had fallen on its side and was buried over time, leaving only key parts visible. The guy in the Speedo is not my husband! Just some guy with bad fashion sense looking for some sun that day. You have no idea how hard it was and how many photos I took to get one without him. I used a berm to hide him, but this photo is still the best.

The dune garden was very cool. Sort of like a playground, sort of not. It is a series of rolling hill-type features covered in different materials. There are cool airplane-shaped wind gadgets above and pillowy things to jump on. Lots of fun was had by children running around this area that day.

Very funky seating. But a little dated now. But still functional and very inviting, very necessary.

Large expanses of lawn being enjoyed by actual people for multiple uses. No one is getting upset that they are playing soccer, picnicking, sunbathing in the same space. Tons of people were there that day, making it work.

The Bad (too harsh) or Not As Good or Was Great Once

The dragon garden was amazing in its day. But its day had passed and there it is sad, abandoned, alone in its geriatric state. Just looking for someone to care about it. I did, but I couldn't help it. If only I could have.

What is it? A very funky, HUGE dragon sculpture thingy made out of wood and paint, with a metal slide in the middle. I am sure it was very well loved in the 80's when it was built. Perfect for kids, except the materials. I bet the ideal, all weather materials that it was meant to be made of were value-engineered out. Or it was designed by an architect, not a landscape architect or play designer. Sorry architects.

Because of its decrepit state, paint chipping, probably broken and deemed unsafe, it was closed off with a metal fence like it had been put out to pasture and forgotten about. Sad, so very, very sad. Dragon, I love you, or at least what you were once. It isn't your fault they let you go.

Very odd ground planes. Difficult to understand visually. Some of these may have worked better by not being there. And what about the differently-abled?

The Ugly

Too much hardscape, plain and simple.
Had to cost a fortune. I understand that it is supposed to support its particular space, but enough is enough. There were patterns against other patterns, varying heights, tripping hazards everywhere. No continuity at all and not in good repair.

Seems as though some areas, like the dragon, had been forgotten. I will spare you the photos. You can use your imagination. There were water and mold stains in the bamboo gardens. Runnels were filled with dirt and leaves, some seemed clogged. Planter boxes in the red follies were empty or garbage-strewn. Some that had plants had badly engineered irrigation that was failing to do the job. Plants looked sun baked or wind scarred.

And why, did someone plant this tree here? Hmm.

I don't want to end this on a Ugly note. Overall, I liked what I Saw. Very cool place. Very well used. Someone just needs to put some love back into it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

La Defense

When I was in landscape architecture school, I did a precedent study on La Grande Arche de la Defense in Paris, France. The assignment was to do a precedent study on memorials in preparation for a redesign (at least a student version of redesign, not a real world project) of the Holocaust Memorial in Philadelphia. I understand why memorials happen, but I don't love them. I think they are overly common in today's world, which causes the whole idea of the memorial to be lost. Not to sound unsympathetic, they have their place, but I think we need to think before we add another to the world. Certain situations, like Maya Lin's Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, they make sense. Anyway, I chose a non-traditional memorial to study. And I had been there before. Bonus!

When I was an exchange student in Denmark during high school, I took a trip around Europe for a month. One stop, of course, was Paris. But it was towards the end of my 363 days abroad and I was low on funds. So I scoffed at the ticket price to go up the elevator in La Grande Arche and instead admired it from below and afar.

But La Defense is more than just the Grande Arche. It is the high-rise office district located several kilometers west of center city Paris. It is home to the tallest buildings in Paris and is a striking part of the skyline. The region was once home to warehouses and factories and was considered the least attractive part of Paris. Redevelopment of this area began in the first half of the 20th century in order to create a business district for the city. This resulted in the extension of the Axe Historique and Voie Triumphale and provided a place for expansion of urban public space.

The district is named for a monument, La Defense de Paris, which is a memorial to the soldiers who fought in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71 ( This older monument has since been relocated to another site near its original location ( La Defense has been very controversial. The architectural style of this area is in stark contrast to that of the rest of Paris. La Defense is modern, consisting of tall buildings constructed of concrete, glass and metal. This is the only region in the Paris vicinity to have such tall buildings. Critics have described La Defense as “a forest of buildings”. The buildings are all lined up in 2 rows, one on either side of the street (

So as a grown-up, I went back, in July, 2009, and spent a rain-filled afternoon wandering around La Defense with my husband. In fact, I think it was the first thing we did after arriving and checking in to the hotel. My husband is a trooper for tolerating and even showing enthusiasm for my crazy landscape architecture-related antics. I took hundreds of photos in just a few hours, so picking which to post was difficult. Here are just a few.

a Miro sculpture and a very funky paving pattern

La Defense's take on vertical growth

a tiny vineyard in La Defense

my photo from the museum,

Here are the specs and more history in a nut shell, please skip if you feel the need. If you want more on the history, contact me and I would be happy to share.

Construction of La Grande Arche de La Defense began in 1982 and was completed in 1989. Inauguration took place in July, 1989. La Grande Arche, also know as Le Grande Arche de la Fraternite and La Toit de la Grande Arche, is situated on axis with many of Paris’ famous skyline sights, 4 km west of center city in La Defense district ( La Grande Arche was designed by Danish architect Johan Otto Von Spreckelsen of Denmark. Spreckelsen died during construction and the monument was completed by French architect Paul Andreu (
  • 100 square meter footprint
  • 110 meters high
  • 108 meter width
  • 112 meter depth
  • Prestressed concrete frame
  • White/gray marble cladding with glass windows on exterior and interior facing walls
  • Fabric canopy under archExterior tube elevators