Seeing the reverse

I could show more images from Switzerland but the fact of the matter is, this blog is supposed to be about life in rural Pennsylvania. That being the case, I will end the travel series but could not do so without offering this image taken in the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Lausanne. Upon entering, the vaulted ceiling was the first thing to capture my eye, my attention, and my fascination. It was magnificent. If I knew anything about either engineering or architecture I could wax eloquent about domes, barrels, fans, buttresses, and even ribs, groins, and hyperbolic paraboloids. But, alas, I am not and therefore, cannot. As a biologist I am, likewise, speechless. As someone who beheld the structure I can observe that whatever the motivation on the part of those who designed the space, its effect on me was to evoke a sense of awe. I was impressed by its beauty, symmetry, grace, and its overwhelming sense of volume. Although made of hundreds, perhaps thousands of tons of stone, brick, and mortar, the thing seemed to float. I saw and appreciated the place in reverse such that I was captivated less by the physical nature of the thing than I was by the space it created. I thought about how masons, sculptors, wood workers, and glaziers labored for more than a century (1170 – 1275) to create the beauty I beheld. I happened to be watching Michael Palin’s most recent travel documentary, Brazil, the other day. Toward the end he visited the renown statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Jeneiro. Palin interviewed a woman who, if I remember correctly, was the granddaughter of the man who engineered that project, Heitor da Silva Costa. The woman observed (in all seriousness) that her grandfather had been an atheist all of his life but by the time the statue had been completed he had accepted Christ and became a member of the Catholic Church. I don’t know anything more about Costa or his work but, for him, creation of such a magnificent structure was clearly transformational. I wonder about the engineers and trades-people who constructed the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Lausanne. Did the masons and sculptors wake each day and trundle off to work, like so many of us who punch-the-clock and put-in-the-hours? Or, like Costa, did they view their work as service to some higher calling? Those who lived to see that thirteen-century consecration of the structure must certainly have taken great pride in their contributions, however small. But I wonder whether they considered their work divine or divinely inspired? Anyway, I digress. They certainly must have had great satisfaction in what they had wrought. And it must have been the fulfillment of many a life’s dream to participate in such a project. A testament to whatever power you name and to the power of humans to contemplate and to create order from disorder.


16 thoughts on “Seeing the reverse

  1. I can certainly relate to those thoughts. Any time I’ve found myself in places such as that the greatest sense of awe comes whenever I try and put myself in the head space occupied by those who toiled on or in the space. Of course I likely never come even close (and have no way of determining so anyway) but still the exercise itself is an enlightenment. Now the thing that really got me going was the assertion that this blog is suppose to be about … hmmm. Now that one really gave me pause. Seriously. Yes, you are a disciplined practitioner. How else would you get where you have, either in academics or at Pairodox. But still there’s the notion that those who do succeed know when to follow the rules and when you rely on other data and colour outside the lines, as needed. You strike me as that person. And for at least some of my supporting data I shall remind you of your penchant for making your own path – especially the ones that take you through water. So, then, what if you do insert posts outside Rural PA? My sentiments: you blog; your rules! Oh, and I happen to like these forays outside the border.

    • Leave it to you Maurice to bring me to my senses. I don’t know why I have been self-limiting in the sort of material I felt I could post here. Perhaps I have felt this way because I thought I knew what I had promised to write about when I first began this adventure. There have been times that I’ve just wanted to write about how I thought about ‘things’ and about the processes that might have lead me to those places. And when I’ve thought about such projects I’ve stopped for fear of somehow putting off my audience. People have, I think, come to expect pretty pictures and a few thoughtful words from me. To venture off into the great unknown of my own thoughts would, I think, be dishonest, somehow. But, I will take you at your word and consider writing more deeply … at some point. Thanks for the encouragement. How have you been? And how is this ghastly winter weather been for you? We are currently really cold, with some snow and lots of ice. The animals are doing well but the stress of making sure that the animals do well is a bit wearing for both Joanna and me. Suffice it to say that this blog continues to be one of my favored preoccupations. D

  2. What I like about this picture is that by removing color you put more emphasis on the supporting structures. This is also what I find most impressing about these cathedrals (I could do without images of biblical scenes and statues of human beings, both of which I had always found eerie). I would also like to know how the creators felt about their work, especially since it took *centuries* to complete some of them! So they must have had a very different mindset than today’s professionals whose work is often dependent on quarterly forecasts and reports.

    • Yup … that’s called ‘the long view.’ I wonder if anyone today takes that approach to their work? I wouldn’t think so. Thanks for the observation Elke.

  3. I love your contemplations. Our ‘consume as you go’ society of the past 65 to 70 years certainly dictates that unless it is all useful it is a misallocation of resources, but I think you hit on a very important question about what that mindset does to our spirit and psyche. The other day I was thinking about how, as a kid, I learned that the ancient Greeks invested heavily in public works and art, believing craftsmanship was to remain in communal collection, rather than be privately owned. The idea was so novel to me, growing up in a place and time where such builds would be considered so great a waste of public resources as to be called immoral. Yet, even as such judgement was passed on public works, the huge private hoarding of wealth was something to aspire to as a means of achievement. The idea of success, demonstrated through financial gain, seemed to be the focus of everyone. I’ve never lost the power of that contrast, it still reverberates with me.

    • Thanks for taking the time to describe this contrast for me. I don’t suppose I’ve thought about the ownership of art as anything more than privately-owned. The Greeks had a good idea. Public ownership of beautiful things sounds like a good idea. But, as you pointed out, one of another time. Our society has gone so beyond that ideal. It was fascinating to watch the Palin documentary that I mentioned. I always enjoy learning about folks from other cultures. I especially appreciate learning about what they appreciate, what they value. Palin visited two indigenous groups and it was clear that, even in the face of the encroachment of twenty-first century convenience, it was their environment which they valued most. The prime ‘modern technology’ they valued were those associated with medicine. Anyway … always lots to think about. Thanks for checking in.

  4. Wonderful study of that cathedral interior – it looks like a fine pencil drawing. And for what it’s worth, I agree with Steve’s first point above – you really shouldn’t keep these images to yourself!

  5. Firstly, the title welcomes us to Pairodox Farm which I take as a neighborly invitation for a visit. Visits can encompass most anything two neighbors wish to share and I, and I am sure most of the others who stop by, are enjoying your trip images and would be happy for more. Secondly, this really does a nice job of creating a sense of the magnitude of the place. It’s less likely that this sort of project would be undertaken today – both for the time and expense. I like your expression of the creation of space by this magnificent enclosure. I am sure that the architects who designed the church were very mindful of that aspect and all the features you mention were part of the plan to inspire wonder and piety in the assemblages of worshippers. It’s similar to the concept of negative space in the arts. When viewing buildings such as this, I am saddened to think of the bland coldness of the majority of today’s architecture.

  6. Majestic and amazing are two adjectives that come to mind. This image looks like a pen and ink drawing in the black and white! Particularly good timing as I just finished watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This cathedral reminds me a bit of Hogwarts! Gotta say, I enjoyed the “travel series”!

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