Friday, October 29, 2010

Parks – Nashville and New York

On 26 October, last Tuesday night, we came back from Nashville in Tennessee. The Fall colors there were more vibrant than in Georgia. We drove back south on little mountain roads and avoided the freeway around Chattanooga. Fortunately the tornado, which was following us since we left Tennessee, did not catch up with us (well, not until late that evening. We did not have the tornado here in our county, but a county north of us did have a tornado touch down.)

Georgia road near Johns Mountain

While we were in Tennessee we went to a park near my daughter’s house. There is a large children’s playground there where our two grandsons like to play.

This park, called “Crockett Park,” is quite large - more than 170 acres (68.8 hectares) – with tennis courts, 11 multi-purpose fields, an extensive greenway trail system, golf course, amphitheater and other amenities. Two historic homes have been moved to the park. One of them, the Brentvale log cabin, shown below, was built in 1830 with massive logs to last generations. A few years ago, instead of being destroyed, it was moved to the park. The cabin was closed the day we were in the park but we walked around it and took a peek inside.

Brentvale cabin. Click on pictures to enlarge, then click again

I was curious as to why it was called “Crockett Park” and was told that the land used to belong to the Crockett Family. The famous American hero, Davy Crockett, was from Tennessee, and I was very interested to find out if this was his family’s land.

A little bit of French history which we learn in France but is not well known in the US should be added here. Henri IV, King of France between 1589 and 1610 was born a Huguenot (a Calvinist Protestant) but had to become Catholic when crowned King of France. Since he was familiar with these two Christian denominations he wanted religious tolerance in the country. He presided over the “Edict of Nantes” in 1598 which gave substantial rights to the French Huguenots, composed mainly of nobility, professionals and wealthy individuals (about 10% of the population.)

King Henry IV of France, Source Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately in 1685 King Louis XIV of France revoked this edict and approved a new one, the “Edict of Fontainebleau” which forbade any Huguenots to live in France (about 750,000 individuals at that time living in France) or, if they wanted to stay, to convert to Catholicism. Some 200,000 to 250,000 Huguenots immigrated to Protestants countries in Europe, like Switzerland, Germany, Holland, England, Ireland and others. One such French family, from Normandie, was headed by Antoine Desasure Perronette de Croquetagne. Antoine had to flee with his family first to England then to Cork, Ireland because, even though he was a captain, second in command to the household troops of King Louis XIV, he had become a Huguenot.

87 years of religious tolerance ended with this edict

Antoine’s third son, Joseph-Louis immigrated to the USA in 1708. His son William changed the French family name of de Croquetagne, which was a mouthful in English, first to “Croquet”, then anglicized it to “Crockett.” Joseph Louis' great-grandson John fought in the War of American Independence then moved into Tennessee. His fifth child was named Davy Crockett (1786-1836) and grew up in East Tennessee, and the rest of the story is well known. Davy was a folk hero called “King of the Wild Frontier.”

Davy Crockett, Engraving by C. Stuart, circa 1839. Public domain.

I think that Davy Crockett looks a bit French. I found out that the land where Crockett Park is located did belong to a Crockett, but it was Major Andrew Crockett (1745-1821) a veteran from the Revolutionary War who was granted 11,000 acres of land in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. He was from a lineage of the real Crocketts from England whereas Davy Crockett’s lineage came from the de Croquetagne in Normandie, France, and his was an adopted surname.

Crockett Park, middle Tennessee

So what is the connection between the park near Nashville and the park in New York? Nothing. Just that they both have interesting history and, maybe, because the names of their cities starts with the letter N? (lol.) It is also because we visited both parks about a week apart. Now, a third park, this one in Paris, was built on an abandoned 19th century railway viaduct. In 1987 it was converted into a trail and called “La Promenade Plantée” (promenade with plants.) It is a 2.8 mile (4.5 km) elevated garden walkway which goes near modern buildings, boulevards and open sections.

La Promenade Plantée, Paris. Photos Courtesy Titi92 and Wikipedia.

While in New York, we walked on another 1.5 mile elevated walkway called the High Line. The High Line was also a railway, built in 1930. The panel below explains its creation.

This is the way it looked originally and after it was abandoned.

Unknown photographers

In 1999 when the structure was under threat of demolition a non-profit group was formed, Friends of the High Line, to preserve and maintain it as an elevated public park in the model of the Paris Promenade Plantée. We strolled on it on a sunny day. At first we mostly saw tourists on the trail but as we were approaching lunch time many local people appeared.

The High Line elevated public park is not completely finished. Sections 2 and 3 are still under refurbishment and construction.

The High Line goes close to busy streets and it is fun to look at them from above.

Walking the High Line is a great experience. You know you are in the vibrant city of New York but at the same time are walking in an oasis of flowers and plants – a sea of tranquility. You can look at the contemporary landscape of the city but from a cool vantage point surrounded by butterflies and chirping birds. My husband, who has a master’s degree in environmental planning, said that this was the highlight of his trip to New York. He kept marveling at the rail tracks going nowhere between the grass, weeds and flowers.

Most of the industries the High Line used to serve are now gone.

Walking along this thin linear space, bordering the Hudson River, you can see the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

As we weaved our way down the High Line it was like meandering down a stream, made of metal and concrete, but with vegetation on the side and peopled with tourists, local pedestrians, artists and workers having lunch or reading.

Strolling down this concrete deck you can feel the history of the place then look at the strong bare steel walls

or a wildflower

or urban philosophy.

The natural and manmade forces have been carefully cultivated in this urban renewal promenade – it had an impact on me. I could feel the past as I observed the present reality. I delighted in taking pictures as my husband was meditating on the way creative and thoughtful environmental planning ideas can benefit our communities.

We arrived to the end of the High Line too quickly it seemed. We walked down the stairs to the street below, in the Meat Packing District, and I took a last photograph looking up at the dramatic underbelly of the rail.

The High Line elevated public walkway may have been inspired by the Paris Promenade Plantée, but it has a completely different style. It is a very unconventional park binding the old and the new, cityscape and wildscape. It is unique.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New York, New York

This post will be out of sequence again as we just came back from spending several days in New York City. I have more posts to write on Savannah, Norway and many other places and will do so in the future. I have been to New York several times but there is so much to see and do there that I am always happy to return to this city. A couple of months ago the airlines had a special low fare of $150 round trip to NYC so we jumped on it. We landed early afternoon last Tuesday 12 October and returned to Atlanta on Saturday evening 16th October. The weather was good and we had a good view as we landed at La Guardia Airport. After a quick ride in a taxi we were in the heart of Manhattan.

Click on picture to enlarge

Picture from the taxi

Many years ago as I arrived in New York I did not know that decades later I would still visit the city often. At the time I was living in Paris, had been working for a year at a somewhat glamorous job near the Champs Elysées translating lyrics from English into French and seeing many famous singers. I stayed in my parents flat near Montmartre and had a little car. I decided to come to the US to travel, for two years, but asked for a working visa so I could have more money available if needed. I had heard that there were quotas for visas and they took a long time to obtain. I thought I would save my money for two more years then go but I was quite surprised when several weeks after my request I received a letter from the US Embassy telling me that I could come for my visa interview. I asked them if they could delay and they replied they could for 3 months. This is how I had booked a voyage on an ocean liner crossing to America. The French ships were totally booked that August, so I obtained passage on a German ship, the T/S Hanseatic, going from Hamburg to New York with stops in Southampton and Le Havre.

T/S Hanseatic, Hamburg Line

It was an adventure for me, a 21 year old, with no family in the US to decide to come, alone. I already knew I would visit at least 23 different states, and I did. I took many slides of my trip but when we were burglarized years later many boxes of slides were taken. A couple of days ago as I was looking into old boxes I found an old slide box which had been misplaced and not returned to the original boxes (which were stolen.) Below is the very first picture I took from the bridge of the Hanseatic as we approached the New York harbor on 31 August 1961. It is not a good picture but it is the very first picture of the US I now have.

The Statue of Liberté from the T/S Hanseatic, August 1961

My husband bought me a gadget with which I can transfer slides and films onto a digital memory card. This worked quite well but the slide has some damage. These slides are almost 50 years old so it is not so bad. I stayed in New York with a young couple, friends of a friend. They showed me around on the week-end. We went to the Empire State Building and I took some more slides there.

New York Panorama, September 1961

A New Yorker could easily tell that more skyscrapers have been built since then I would think. Last week we took a picture but showing the Empire State Building this time.

New York Panorama, October 2010

While the young couple worked during the week I explored New York alone. I remember taking various city buses from the bottom of Manhattan to Harlem. I would stop, walk around, and then get back on the bus. I walked around Rockefeller Plaza. We went there last week too and they improved the site, adding sculptures, fountains and flowers.

Rockefeller Plaza in 1961

I recall taking the bus to the Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park. I had been told that the Cloisters had been built by using five French cloistered abbeys. They were disassembled, shipped to New York and reassembled on top of a hill between 1934 and 1938. The day I visited in September 1961, I remember, there was hardly anyone around and it was cooler than downtown. I could see a bridge from up there, but I don’t know which one it was. (The pictures below are still my 60s slides.)

The Cloisters, September 1961

The American Embassy had given me a blue card, which is called a “Green Card” so I could work. I was a legal “immigrant” but felt more like a tourist on a wonderful trip. Walking on Fifth Avenue was fun. Notice in the picture below how most men had suits – no jeans – and women dresses. I did not own a pair of blue jeans then either!

Manhattan 1961

The slide below shows where the young couple lived at the time, but I don’t remember where in New York this was.

I have always cherished New York as the first US city I visited. After I was married and had children I usually went to France during my vacations. I also went back to New York several times but lately have been going more often. Once, I had tickets to go to France, with a stop in London, departing Atlanta on 12 September 2001. Of course that day all airports were closed because of the tragedy of the day before, the 11th. Instead I went to New York about a month later, in October 2001. I took pictures, with a better film camera, but I have misplaced the photos at this time. I did purchase a postcard, quite a moving one.

In December 2002 my husband and I went back to New York. It snowed and we walked in Central Park, It looked like a fairyland in the snow under the sun, but by evening, it had a mysterious aura.

Central Park, 2003, Rocky Schenck, Photographer, American, contemporary

At my work here in Georgia we had to schedule our vacations in January – I usually took two weeks in spring and two weeks in the fall, the second and third weeks of September. My mother passed away just before Christmas in 2002, so after that I did not go to Paris twice a year as I had been doing. In New York I had been staying at The Gershwin Hotel on East 27th Street, a hotel near the Flatiron Building. Below is a vintage postcard of the Flatiron building, built in 1902, one of the first skyscrapers built in New York.

Flatiron Building, turn of the century postcard

In 2004 I found a hotel in the Upper West Side, near Riverside Park and liked the area a lot. It felt more like a “neighborhood.” I returned in September 2007. From this hotel room I could see on the night of September 11th 2007 the two memorial columns of white light and listen to Mayor Bloomberg on my little television. I took a picture as you can see below.

Mayor Bloomberg on 9/11/2007

I retired in January 2008 so from then on I did not have to keep a firm schedule for my vacation. We returned to New York in November 2008 and had sun the whole time. The leaves in Central Park had glorious gold and red tones.

Central Park in autumn

Last week we returned to the same hotel on the Upper West Side. Our first stop after checking into the hotel is to walk a couple of blocks and stop at a corner grocery called Zabar’s. Their site says: “Zabar's has to be experienced, in person, to truly be understood. You have to see the crowds, hear the banter of our sales help, smell the croissants baking, admire the rich brown hues of our coffee, sample cheese from every corner of the world, enjoy the beauty of hand sliced nova, walk upstairs and see the largest selection of imported copper cookware anywhere... it really is a one of a kind adventure.” This is very true. It is so difficult to resist buying all the tempting cheese, olives and salads they offer. Zabar was established in 1934 by Lillian and Louis Zabar and has been a food landmark in the city ever since. Read Zabar’s story here.

Below are pictures I took there last week after our arrival in New York.

Click on picture to enlarge, then click again on each picture

After turning a corner we arrived in the coffee area. I selected a mixture of Italian espresso and Kenya coffees. I took a picture of the staff blending the coffee.

From our room we have a good view of the Hudson River. It is not easy to take a picture because of the screen on the window but the view in the morning, when the sun rises, is gorgeous.

We do not stay in the room much though as I usually have a plan for each day. I wait until a couple of days before our departure to New York to finalize our schedule there because of the weather (walking on sunny days and museums when it rains). This time we had rain only for a few hours in 4 days. New York is such a hyperactive place that we managed to do a lot during our short stay. My plan was organized by area but also very open so we could change it if we found out about something unexpected. This time we found a small opera house on the Upper East Side performing La Bohème on Friday night. We were lucky to get tickets – that will be in a future post as well as to what we explored.

New York 1955, William Klein, Photographer, American, contemporary

"As for New York City, it is a place apart.
There is not its match in any other country in the world
-Pearl S. Buck

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Intermission no. 4 (entr’acte) – A Vagabond’s Song

A Vagabond’s Song

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood,
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

The Pool, Tom Thomson, Canadian 1877-1917

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

Autumn in the Northland, Franklin Carmichael, Canadian 1890-1945

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.

– Bliss Carman, Canadian

Lounge Chair, Pierre Giroux, Canadian, contemporary


Bliss Carman was Canadian. Born in New Brunswick in 1861, he died in 1929 and was at the time one of Canada’s most acclaimed poets. His poetry included vivid descriptions of Canada’s natural landscape. He was recognized as a regionalist poet from his home, the Canadian Maritimes. His poems on Canada’s natural areas, wilderness and the sea had a compelling atmosphere. In 1928, one year before his death, he was named poet laureate by the Canadian Parliament. We visited St. John, New Brunswick, last year but did not see much of the countryside. Instead I’ll post below a picture I took on a walk in the North Georgia Mountains last fall.

We visited Victoria, BC, Canada several times. The first time we were at a Bed and Breakfast close to Emily Carr’s house. We toured the house and, as I am known to do, researched her life and work. I purchased several of her books. She was a talented painter and writer (1871-1945.)

Emily Carr’s house in Victoria, BC, photo courtesy David Pickett

While I was studying Emily Carr’s work I found out that she was connected with the celebrated “Group of Seven.” I checked them out and fell in love with their style of painting. They were a group of seven Canadian landscape artists of the early twentieth century, influenced by European Impressionism. Painting no.2 and no.3 are from members of this Group of Seven.

I took the picture at the very top of this page in the gardens of the Georgia Governor’s mansion last fall.

Washington Square New York, Paul Cornoyer, American 1864-1923

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