Despite a longish four weeks in Paris, its hard to shed the feeling of being a tourist. For there is truly so much to do in this city and so little time to do it in if you put in regular work hours. So I woke up on Saturday morning with determination. And my destination was the Centre Pompidou, which celebrates its 40th year in 2017.
Armed with a online ticket, I set off on a meandering path, certain that I had plenty of time. I got in a couple of quick sketches and a detour through Saint Chapelle and the Conciergerie, which are within a massive Gothic complex that once was a palace but is now the Palace of Justice, housing judiciary functions. I even grabbed a delightful lunch, sitting solo on the sidewalk, enjoying the rare autumnal sun.
The online ticket was to be on no use whatsoever, but the long wait in the line that snaked across the massive square in front of Centre Pompidou offered me a chance to take in the mind boggling structure before me. All steel tubes and pipes, it is a geometrical and structural orgasm created by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini in the spirit of an “evolving spatial diagram”. The project was part of a larger renewal plan for the area which included the controversial relocation of the giant meat market that was inside Les Halles, which now houses a transport interchange and shopping centre. This facility was to house a museum and a public library that extended the dream of Andre Malraux (author and France’s first Minister of Culture Affairs) to decentralize art and culture. I can imagine the design being met with utter horror by the conservative Parisians, because it sticks out like a sore thumb like a disruption, offering no continuity whatsoever with the surrounding urban form nor showing the remotest respect to the heritage around. Instead it soars up, in white, blue, red and yellow, unapologetic and grand. I was to realize its true impact only a day later when I traveled to Belleville in the northwestern part of the city and saw it glisten from the top of Boulevard de Menilmontant! I read later that the architects saw their chance to bring in new ideas to capture the mood of Paris post the massive political unrest in 1968 that nearly destabilized the country. For them, the bold design signified a changed thinking.
[Click here for some delightful pics and thoughts shared by the architects on the Centre’s 40th anniversary]
Once inside, I felt like a child in a candy store! My first stop was the massive and impressive retrospective of David Hockney. The British artist is 80 this year and the show had works on display since he was about 17 years old. The span of styles and the bold statement his art is left me overwhelmed. I was in that strange state of feeling filled to the brim and drained out at the same time! And this is when the gorgeous views offered by the building rescued me. I wandered the terraces for a while taking in the city sprawling below me, recognizing the monuments on the skyline and appreciating the strange zig zag roofs of Paris.
And then, I delved into the museum’s permanent collection of modern art. I had already soaked myself into the works of the avant garde artists at the Musee d’Orsay in my first week here and later at the Musee l’Orangerie. Now I felt like I was taking that journey forward, moving through the Dada, Cubist, Fauvist, Expressionist, Surrealist, de Stijl and ‘Return to Order’ phases of modern art. An impressive collection, the vast and modern spaces of the museum have much to add to the experience, and its frequent terraces offered timely relief. Unlike the other museums, there was something informal and easy going about the Centre Pompidou. Even the staff was not in uniform and sat around casually, unlike the alert and stern security that is standard at museums across the world.
Walking away from the museum, I just did not feel like heading home. There was too much inside my head, swirling shapes and blocks of colour, too much energy! So I wandered through the lanes in the Marais and treated myself to a glass of Chardonnay, as is fitting at the end of a glorious museum-filled day in Paris.
All content and photographs © Mukta Naik
No, it wasn’t just the dinosaurs. Yes, they were the major attraction, but once we got there the Museum fur Naturkund (Natural History Museum) turned out to be so much more. It was as if a physical force took hold of the children and we were barely able to keep up, chasing after them as they ran from one exhibit to the other, fascinated by creatures preserved inside bottles, by the science of taxonomy, by the preservation techniques on display and all the stuffed birds and animals, by the sheer biodiversity on our planet that hit us when we were in there. It was like an ocean of information, so well presented and it was an absolute pleasure to be here. To quote from their website, this is “one of the most significant research institutions worldwide in biological and geo-scientific evolution research and biodiversity.”
But let’s start with the dinosaurs!
This gallery, the very first one in the Museum, is a result of a highly successful early 20th century German expedition to Tanzania to collect dinosaur fossils. The Germans were prolific discoverers, very strong on scientific rigour and Berlin is a city full of museums because of this. In this one hall, we saw the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world, the Brachiosaurus, which stands 13.27 metres and whose bones were found during the Tendaguru expedition that took place in 1909-1911. The Tendaguru Beds, as they came to be known, yielded many significant dinosaur skeletons and added hugely to our knowledge of this fascinating species that once inhabited the Earth. A skeleton of the herbivore Kentrosaurus or ‘spiky lizard’ that lived in the Upper Jurassic Period and a reproduction of thos period’s largest carnivore, the Allosaurus with its short front legs and enormous jaws with blade-like teeth are some of the other Dino friends we met in Berlin. Take a look…
I’ve noticed time and again Aadyaa is deeply interested in nature while Udai is on a mission for gleaning facts and will read every written word inside a museum (we call him the paisa-vasool tourist, meaning he will eke out the full value from whatever he spends!). And so, the two kids were comrades-in-arms at this museum, Udai reading things out and explaining to Aadyaa, she running ahead to identify the most interesting exhibits. The visual variety in the museum had a lot to do with keeping the kids engaged I feel.
I have to tell you about this incident inside the museum that really tickled me. Udai and Aadyaa were trying to build a 3D model that shows the different types of outer coverings that Dinos might have had, scaly or feathery. But a piece was missing. Off they marched off looking for it, managing to find the thief and communicate with his German grandpa, finally getting their missing piece back. They went on to toil at the model and posed when it was done, pleased as punch! See the tale in pics!
At the tail end of the Museum, I saw all these people lying on a round couch. It was only when the screen overhead began to flash images that I realised this is some sort of planetarium equivalent. The voice over was in German so we didn’t really understand much. But I captured here that aha! moment for which the crowds had been waiting. At one point of the film, the Google Earth image on the screen zooms in to show an image of the people down there on the couch. At the instant I clicked this image, the camera was already zooming out on the screen, but you can see that people spontaneously started pointing to their own faces when that image was shown! Such excitement! Such a simple way to get people to come back again and again!
When you are in Holland, you always run the risk of rain! It’s the place that people always complain about the weather and the No. 1 nemesis for outdoors fun is the rain. And so, we thought it imperative to have other tricks up our sleeve the day we decided to wander around the streets of Amsterdam.
Plan B had to be put into action the minute we stepped out of the Central Station. Through the drizzle, we walked to the building I’ve always been curious about, but never been to- the strange maritime structure designed by Renzo Piano that houses the Science Center Nemo.
The children probably didn’t know what to expect, but they were delighted the second they stepped into a hall full of light, friendly volunteers helping them out with all sorts of simple science experiments and the promise of endless discoveries beyond.
Started way back in 1923, the museum took its present avatar, moving into the new building, in 1997 and has since become the 5th most visited museum in The Netherlands (the country has a plethora of museums and many world-renowned ones!). The interior is gigantic, with several levels that can engage children starting with toddlers going all the way up to teenagers. Udai and Aadyaa, who have become avid museum goers, tried most things out despite the crowd. It seemed like everyone had the same idea as us to shelter from the rain, plus it was a weekend. We were in there for hours, but I was the only one who got slightly bored out there. For Rahul and the kids, pressing buttons and making stuff, reading things and playing little games, taking on challenges and giggling, all of it was endlessly fascinating. It was a tough place for a photographer, the light being very strange, but I tried and here are some clicks that hopefully show how amazing the experience was.
We left the museum only to realise the sun was out! As we walked away, I looked back to click one last picture of Renzo Piano’s creation. Here you can see the crowning glory of the structure, the large terraced roof that offers stunning views of Amsterdam and is, in itself, quite a sight!
Ever since Aadyaa got invited there for a birthday party last month, she has been raring to go back to the Stellar Children’s Museum. This is located on the 2nd floor of Ambience Mall, Gurgaon right under Haldiram’s and works really well to keep kids between 3 and say 7 well occupied for a few hours.
I think it is overpriced, though, at Rs 500 per child for unlimited time, which does not mean much considering kids get tired after a few hours anyway. The extra Rs 200 per accompanying adult is really overkill, considering the adults will end up buying themselves eats and drinks inside anyway, which are priced high as well for rather passable offerings.
But that being the downside, the museum itself is a fantastic place for children to immerse themselves in many fun activities while getting exposure to many principles of physics. Basic installations and do-it-yourself tasks based on gravity and magnetism, gear movements, the power of moving air, etc allow children to repetitively perform simple experiments that offer huge amounts of excitement for little children.
Another space offers opportunities for unbridled creativity in the form of art, including glass walls that kids can paint. Watching wet paint dribble down a vertical facade, creating its own interesting formations is a lot of fun indeed! I also found interesting a pin board that allowed kids (and adults) to push in their hands or faces on one side and see the impression emerge out on the other. Simple magnetic jigsaw puzzles, overlapping perspex sheets that slide over one another to explore the mixing of colour and pattern were also a great set of activities, perhaps more suited to the kids.
Other fun features were a water play area, a found object wall where you can tap all the objects to create different sounds, a travel room where you could explore a series of tunnels that took from one ‘continent’ to another, explaining interesting facts of geography (perhaps for older kids who can read) and a cute pretend play zone replete with a down-sized supermarket (amazing detail), medical room, house and the like.
Aadyaa and her friend Maayra, after exploring a little bit of everything else, zoomed in on these gigantic interconnecting blue blocks. They created one ‘skull-ture’ after another and it was really funny to watch as the installations were larger than them most of the time!
If you have young kids and live in the NCR, do spend a day at Stellar. Despite the steep price, it is precious to see children so excited and engaged in such healthy fun. Watching the children, I was reminded once again that it is not fancy toys, but simple things that children love most. The helper didis at the Museum are well trained and patient. Aadyaa bonded with them immediately and hardly needed me to be there with her. For mommies or daddies who want to relax in the cafe and read a book or catch up on work or a phone call, this is entirely doable!
Aside from having a good time with my girl friends, some new some old, the focus of my outing to the Doab region of Punjab was the chance to see the Virasat-e-Khalsa museum that opened in Anandpur Sahib only in November last year.
Moshe Safdie, an Israeli architect won the international competition to design the museum, then called the Khalsa Heritage Memorial Complex way back in the early 90s. We must have been first or second year students at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) when he came to speak to us about the design, the concepts behind it and his vision for this monument. I remember thinking it was rather outlandish (scroll down this page to see the sketches he must have shown us), but I was impressed by Safdie’s self-assured demeanor and exotic accent!
The museum was our first destination and we went there just as soon as we had dumped our luggage at the Bharatgarh Fort (will blog about that quaint place tomorrow!) and gulped our evening tea! It was a Sunday and the crowds were overwhelming. For a museum in rural Punjab, I was pretty surprised.
We were ushered in by a smart police officer of few words who our hosts, the local royal family had requested to assist us. Our cameras and bags were kept in lockers by a smart young man who spoke good English, besides Hindi and Punjabi. In a few moments, we found ourselves in the middle of an audio-visual treat. Orijit Sen and his 13 collaborators have created this 3D panorama of life in the Punjab- a three floor high mural full of color, depicting daily activity, people and cultures, rural-urban transitions, rituals, celebrations, street scenes, architectural sections of traditional typologies like havelis and caravan sarais…..all accompanied to sounds depicting seasons, local music. It’s hard to explain. All I can say is that you start the experience here on a most unusual note; it’s not what you expect from a museum that claims it is about Sikh history and heritage!
The rest of the galleries- and there are 14 open at present out of a planned 28- did depict that history, but it was far from boring. Fabric, texture, other unusual materials, light and an array of crafts have been used to stunning effect to depict the evolution of Sikhism and the life of the main Sikh gurus. At no point does the content get preachy or overtly religious. Audio visual displays puncture the visuals and text to make it easier on the senses. Hordes of villagers from surrounding areas pass through,awestruck and absorbed. This is a world class museum that isn’t just for the elite and the lovers of history and art. It’s for the people who live the heritage it depicts.
It was dark when we stepped outside again and the magic of Moshe Safdie’s architecture hit us like a punch in the stomach. The lighting highlighted the bold form, the water body created an added dimension of playful reflections. Serene and monumental, the walk around the museum transported me into another world. A full moon added the poetic touch. After a long long time, was I affected this way by the sheer power of architectural design. For all those of you who are architects, or think they have it in them to appreciate architecture, the Virasat-e-Khalsa is a must-visit. Bundled with the peacefulness of the Gurudwara next to it, it’s a pilgrimage for the eyes and for the spirit!
To visit the museum, drive to Anandpur Sahib near Ropar. It is about an hour and a half from Chandigarh and the roads are excellent. The museum is closed on Monday and Sundays are usually crowded. The audio guide is available in English, Hindi and Punjabi and is excellent, we were told by our hosts.
For a long time, I’ve had this idea of having bi-monthly outings for family and friends. And the past few years, I’ve steadily worked to bring the idea to fruition, though the frequency has been far lower than desired! These outings are meant to be opportunities to experience our city and what it has to offer from the point of view of culture, open spaces and architecture, especially heritage.
Today, we trekked to the National Gallery of Modern Art to see ‘Project Cinema City’. Of course, going to Jaipur House, where NGMA resides, is a wonderful roller coaster through the best landmarks of Lutyens Delhi. The Rashtrapati Bhavan and the North and South Blocks, then India Gate are always a treat. Bathed the special light of monsoon, they looked particularly inviting.
The exhibition itself was a wonderful kaleidoscope of experiences. My kids have been dragged to exhibitions before and while Udai is a patient child and truly enjoys art, Aadyaa is much more restless and needs a bit more engagement. This time, I needn’t have worried. The display was wonderfully interactive and innovatively done. Sound, light, movement, color were all used to create a wonderful correlation between all the visual arts- cinema, fine art, architecture, sculpture, photography- against the backdrop of the theme, which intended to study the effects of cinema on the city and how we experience it. The children particularly enjoyed being able to turn a wheel and make a film reel of images move, thereby being able to enlarge specific images at will. They also enjoyed the bit where they could sit atop an exer-cycle and view their self-image on a screen in front, with an exciting backdrop that kept transforming as they pedaled! What’s more, they could change camera angles using a switch and it gave them a wonderful feel of how a cinematic projection can be created and how exciting that process can be! Old telephone instruments on which you could hear recordings of dialogue and song specially put together for this project, recordings that conjured specific themes or eras in Indian cinema. Posters that can make you roll with laughter, though a few were too debauched for the kids to grasp, thank God!
The icing on the cake, as usual, is the wonderful green space outside which doubles up as a sculpture garden. While Nupur and Amma did a quick round of the museum’s permanent collection, Rahul and me watched the kids chase birds, watch ants and centipedes and run around the lawns, every now and then stopping to peer at one or the other metal or stone sculpture. Expressions ranged from puzzled to amused, indifferent to amazed.
A wonderful trip and one that the kids will remember and cherish, I am sure. I hope to do many more such trips with more people joining in. I believe the Delhi NCR region has so much to offer, we should sieze that opportunity and enjoy the explorations with our children so that they grow to be culturally sensitized, with a strong sense of identity. To me, that is a critical attribute that really sets a person apart!
Here are some pics I took today. You can see we had fun!
Very small things can endear you to a city. Istanbul is very much a tourism-oriented city. At every corner, you get accosted by a smiling man asking you to come and eat in his little streetside/rooftop cafe. “Biradar (brother),” he calls. And if you refuse, he says, “Maybe tomorrow?”. Don’t break his heart by refusing him, be polite and say, another time! To me, this ritual captures the essence of this genteel culture, this fascinating mix of East and West, this city that was the seat of Christianity for a thousand years, then the seat of Islam for another several centuries. With a predominantly Muslim population, today Turkey holds forth as a beacon of tolerance and modernity in a world that is increasingly suspicious, divided and myopic in the way it views other cultures.
Today was our best day here so far. We had no game plan in mind and the entire day unfolded beautifully and effortlessly, starting with a long walk by the Sea of Marmara (marble) along the Golden Horn and right next to the old city walls. We saw the locals enjoy their Sunday in the most simple and delightful ways, fishing, sunbathing, strolling.
We ambled through Gulhane Park and into the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, which has an impressive collection of Antiquities art, especially of the necrophiliac kind!
We visited the Topkapi Palace next, which was the seat of the Ottoman Empire in its hey days. In terms of scale, it was larger than Fatehpur Sikri perhaps, and much more ornate. Items from the royal treasury and armory were in display and despite the tourist hordes, it was fascinating. The palace is located at the highest point in the city, so the views were rewarding by themselves.
We took in a show of whirling dervishes in the evening at a charming theater called the Hodja Pasha. It used to be a Turkish hammam, and now the ladies and gents bathing chambers have been converted into performing spaces. The dervishes whirled beautifully in their pristine white flowing robes, just as I had imagined them. I don’t quite think this is supposed to be a performing art form though, considering about 40% of the audience was dozing off!
As we got off the tram to head back to the hotel, we were captivated by the lighting on the two jewels of this city- the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, the latter we hadn’t seen yet. To our delight, it was still open and we had a peaceful viewing and opportunities for some night time photography.
Before I sign off, I have to say I love how the public spaces are used by residents in Istanbul. We’ve seen birthday celebrations replete with confetti happening on the streets. Lovers cuddle and families picnic in the gardens everywhere. Well-maintained infrastructure and efficient and low-key policing facilitate this, but it is also about a culture of using the city as a canvas for your life. How I wish we did this more in Delhi, which in my opinion rivals Istanbul in its legacy and character!
Way back in SPA when I was an undergrad architecture student, I remember clearly marking out the Hagia Sophia (or the Aya Sofya as the locals here call it) as an architectural building I had to visit within this lifetime. It featured among more obvious ones like the Parthenon and Stonehenge, which I haven’t got to yet! What impressed me even then was its history. It’s been a church and a mosque and way back in 1935, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk (yes him, the guy who established Turkey as a republic) ensured it became a museum, in the spirit of bequeathing a monument with such a tremendous history to the public at large.
We spent an entire morning here today, mesmerized. A massive structure that has seen fires, additions, demolitions, modifications, excavations and restorations from 360 AD till the present, the Aya Sofya is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It has one of the most massive domes in the world and was the largest cathedral in the world for some 1000 years!
I will not bore you with facts. Here are some images that might give some idea of what it felt like being in here. The dark inside of the museum contrasted hugely with the bright summer sunlight out there in Sultanahmet Square. But it was the inside that blinded you with its beauty, its perfect proportions and intricate details.