Saturday, April 25, 2009

Un beau samedi

Aujourd’hui, les étudiants de mon cours de français et moi, nous nous sommes bien amusés chez notre amie Lois. Nous avons rencontré pour faire un dîner breton. Nous avons mangé des moules, une salade, du pain, des pommes de terre frites et un far breton. Nous parlions français tout le temps !! Notre chef était Isabelle Tran qui vient de Bretagne comme mon amie Marie-France.

Of course, not all my friends who are reading this blog speak French so I'm going to revert to English! Lois and her husband bought their house less than a year ago and are remodeling it. Her husband makes furniture and has made everything in the house that's wood - all the furniture, kitchen cabinets, bookcases, tables, chairs - everything!! It was absolutely lovely. I can't wait to go to one of their stores - Hardwood Artisans, in case you're interested.

The first picture is of Lois' abode. The next picture is of the class, along with Isabelle (in the pink sweater), cooking the wonderful Breton dinner. We had mussels, a salad with homemade vinaigrette, French fries (naturally), French bread, and a special Breton cake called "far breton." The next two pictures are of the group (couldn't get everyone in one picture) getting ready to sit down and enjoy our lovely dinner. Our professor is in the picture at the left in a blue top.

Thanks to our professor Mme. Bull for arranging this outing. Thanks to Lois for sharing her house, and a special thanks to Isabelle for sharing her expertise. Merci beaucoup pour un bon samedi!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The National Cathedral

The National Cathedral in Washington, DC, is the sixth largest cathedral in the world and one of the most famous. The land of Mt. St. Alban was purchased by the first Bishop of Washington Henry Yates Satterlee. The construction started on September 29, 1907, when the cornerstone was laid using the same shovel George Washington used when laying the cornerstone of the Capitol. President Theodore Roosevelt was in attendance. The Cathedral was completed 83 years later on September 29, 1990, with President George H.W. Bush in attendance.

In Pierre Charles L'Enfant's original plan for the city, he had indicated there should be a house of prayer. The National Cathedral has become that - a house of prayer for all people of faith and no faith. The actual name of the church is the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. It is an Episcopal church and follows the Anglican liturgy during its services. However, many important national events have taken place in this building. Ministers from other religions have preached from its pulpit, funeral services for US Presidents have been held here, and Inaugural Prayer Services are held here every four years.

The Cathedral is a beautiful piece of 14th century Gothic architecture. The masonry is stone upon stone with no steel reinforcements. The Cathedral is not a replica of any other church or cathedral. The iconography inside and outside the building follows the story of creation (west front) to Christ's second coming at the High Altar in the east end of the building. You can see from these pictures the sculpture of man being formed, the creation over the middle doors, and the sculpture of St. Peter, the fisherman, at the left door of the west front.

As you approach the Cathedral, you see many of the characteristics of Gothic architecture - the flying buttresses and the great height of the bell tower. As you enter the Cathedral, you can see other characteristics - pointed arches, ribbed vaulting, and stained glass windows. In front of you is the High Altar at the far east end. Turning around you can see the beautiful west rose window made of thousands of pieces of glass - some prisms - that reflect light because in the beginning God said, "Let there be light!"

The interior of the Cathedral not only has artwork reflecting stories from the Bible; but there are statues, stained glass, and other artwork reflecting the history of the United States. There are statues of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and others.

As all Gothic cathedrals, this one is built in the shape of a cross - cruciform. On a sunny day such as the one when I went to the Cathedral, the morning sun radiates through the windows on the south side of the nave, and you can see the beautiful reflection of the colors from the stained glass windows on the Indiana limestone on the north side - just under the other set of beautiful stained glass windows on the north side of the nave. One of the stained glass windows on your level as you're walking is called the "Space Window." A piece of moon rock is embedded in the window and the artwork reflects space.

On the right side just past the space window is the tomb of President Woodrow Wilson, the only US president buried in Washington, DC. The picture I took again shows the light shining through the stained glass and reflecting on the tomb and the floor.

As you continue walking forward into the church, you reach the crossing transept which is where the transept (short arm of the cross) and nave (long arm of the cross) meet. To the right is the Canterbury Pulpit which was carved from stone from the bell tower of the Canterbury Cathedral. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his last public sermon from this pulpit the Sunday before he was assasinated.

In many cathedrals on either side of the High Altar are chapels - to the right for St. John and to the left for St. Mary. In both these chapels in National Cathedral are reredos of Christ on the cross with Mary and John the Beloved below. I have included pictures of the altars in these two chapels. St. John's Chapel has handmade needlepoint kneeling cushions depicting famous people in US history. The color in St. Mary's Chapel is blue because that is the color associated with the mother of Christ. The chapel was constructed using donations from Larz Anderson III whose house on Massachussets Avenue is now home to the Society of the Cincinnati. The walls are covered with tapestries from his estate which he purchased during his world travels as an ambassador. He and his wife are buried in this chapel.

At the High Altar, you can see the beautiful reredos of "Christ in Majesty" surrounded by sculptures of people of faith who lived during the past 20 centuries. Also to the left of the High Altar is the cathedra or bishop's chair. A church must have a bishop and a cathedra to be a cathedral. By the way, the cross on the altar is 6 feet tall. Turning around from the altar, you can see where the choir sits on either side of the aisle. Above that are the 10,650 pipes for the magnificent organ. It is one of the largest organs in the world, but it isn't bigger than the pipe organ in the Mormon Tabernacle which has 11,000! Again you can see the colors reflected on the pipes as the morning sun shines through stained glass windows.

The National Cathedral has so much to see and the regular 30-minute tour only covers the main level of the church. Visitors can go to the crypt level and see the Bethlehem Chapel - theme is the birth of Christ shown on the reredos over the altar - at the east end. The Bethlehem Chapel was the first part of the Cathedral that was completed and is used for services and weddings. It is also the burial place of Bishop Satterlee - behind the altar and directly above the foundation stone laid in 1907.

At the west end of the crypt is the St. Joseph Chapel - theme is the burial of Jesus in the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea. The architecture of the chapel is more Romanesque - the precursor architecture to Gothic - with its curved features and lack of light. The ashes of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan are buried in this chapel, and there is a plaque in Braille indicating that. The reredos shows Christ being taken to the tomb and is painted with gold.

Most of these pictures were taken in February 2009 when I went to the Cathedral to take the test to become a certified guide there. I passed!! The first picture was taken last summer - duh! from the green leaves on the trees. The last two pictures were taken in January when I went to the Guild class to learn about becoming a certified guide. The hall is on the seventh floor of the Cathedral where you can see the whole city by walking around the various outside hallways. The other picture is a closeup of the bell tower which is supported by four pillars set deep into the ground.

Although my Christian religious beliefs are not exactly what is taught at this cathedral, it is definitely an important site to see in Washington, DC. People of all faiths are welcome, and people of all faiths should take a tour!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More Arboretum - A Bonsai Experience

While my friend and I were at the National Arboretum, we decided to go to the bonsai exhibit. The Arboretum has one of the best bonsai displays in the US. One of the trees dated back to 1795. Unfortunately, I didn't write down the dates with the photos, but I wanted to share some pictures of these amazing trees. In the level above the bonsai exhibits was a pool with these colorful fish. It was fun watching people try to feed them. You can see they were all together very interested in getting some food!
The exhibit is actually divided into Japaneses bonsai and Chinese bonsai. The buildings reflect an Asian decor as you can see in the first pictures above. Not only are there bonsai, but there are also other beautiful vegetation.

Here are some of the bonsai that are shaped differently and appear to have different colors. The trunks of the trees are very interesting. Inside some one may actually see a large stone around which the trunk is growing. Some are designed to make the scene like a minature forest, island, or whatever. Some have leaves that look like a maple or oak where others look like small evergreens. There are so many pictures that it's hard to decide which to put in the blog.

I hope you don't find this too busy with photos, but I wanted to show the different types of trees, the interesting trunks and types of leaves as well as the beautiful flowers that were interspersed within the display of bonsai. Personally, I couldn't tell the difference between the ones in the Japanese pavilion or in the Chinese pavillion (the one with the red flowers).

I like the photo of the red flowers because you can see water dripping off one of the petals. The other picture at the right shows more of the area within the pavilion with other types of greenery.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cherry Blossoms at the National Arboretum

On March 30, 2009, my friend Shauna and I went to the National Arboretum to see the cherry blossoms. I hadn't been there in ages and actually don't think I was ever on the grounds - only passing by to go to my grandmother's house. So, I wanted to go there - not as busy as the Tidal Basin which I photographed last year.

It was supposed to be a sunny day; but as we approached, the gray and white clouds were covering the sky. I wanted to take great photos and there was no sun!! First, we went to the Capitol Columns. These were taken from the east side of the Capitol in 1958 when that side was enlarged. Finally, they were placed on a hill in the Arboretum some 20+ years later. You can see the ornate detail of the Corinthian columns in one of the pictures. The first picture shows the clouds which finally went away. I had to go back to take pictures again with the blue sky!!

There are about 18 different variety of cherry blossoms in the park. We drove around the various roads so we could make sure we got pictures of all the different types of trees. There were even magnolia trees in blossom - white and pink. There were other areas of the park dedicated to conifers (evergreens), areas with daffodils on the hills, and areas with small lakes and bridges with forsythia blooming. Shauna and I can't wait to go back to see the dogwoods and azaleas in late April or early May.

In one picture you can see the sun finally peaking through the clouds to make its appearance and to enhance my photos. From the other pictures I've posted, you can see the deep yellow of the daffodils and forsythia and the beautiful pinks of the cherry blossoms.

If you're in Washington now, you should go before the blossoms are blown off or washed away by the rain. If you are planning a trip for next year, this is a good time to visit. The cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin are gorgeous, but there were no crowds at the Arboretum. We could park just about anywhere which is what I like when I want to take pictures. The grounds of the Arboretum are so well kept and it's surprising the amount of color even though spring as just sprung! If you're wondering about the picture with the lake and the spikes coming out of the ground - well, that's a cypress tree. Shauna and I assumed that the roots must spike up like stalagmites in the Luray Caverns. Fortunately, I was able to capture the image of the trees in the lake.