Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Life List and Le Mont St. Michel

Le Mont St. Michel

The Smithsonian released a life list of places to visit before you take the ultimate trip to the great beyond. Some of the places are portals into the past where you walk the timeless streets and byways of ancient cities such as Mesa Verde in Colorado, Pompeii in Italy, Tikal in Guatemala and Petra in Jordan. Others are feats of human ingenuity in engineering such as the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Mo'ai in Easter Island and the Great Wall of China.

There are sites listed where you have to be there at the right time -  the year, month and even moment can make a difference in maximizing your experience when you go to Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis.  the Serengeti to witness the mass migration of thousands of animals, Iguazu Falls in the light of a full moon or Machu Picchu in the rising sun.

Then,  there is the opportunity to come face to face with history's finest works of art and design - at the Lourve in Paris, the Zen Garden in Kyoto, the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence and Fallingwater in Pennsylvania,

Listed also are spectacular sites that you not only have to see but do such as cruising the Yangtze River, exploring Antartica, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and hiking and camping the Grand Canyon.

My favorites are the places where you encounter temples so magnificent they could only have been built by divine inspiration - Pagan in Myanmar, the Parthenon in Greece, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Ephesus in Turkey.

The Smithsonian also included in their list places which may be here today and gone tomorrow because of deterioration and threat of pollution - Venice in Italy, the Great Barrier reef in Australia, the Amazon Rain Forest and Galapagos Islands.

Yet even if my husband and I have been to all continents except for South America and Antarctica and hundreds of cities and towns all over the world, we have only visited 12 places out of the 28 listed by the Smithsonian -

  • Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
  • Venice, Italy
  • Ufizzi Gallery, Florence, Italy
  • Ephesus, Turkey
  • Parthenon, Athens, Greece
  • Angkor Wat, Cambodia
  • Grand Canyon, USA
  • Mesa Verde, Colorado, USA
  • Pompeii, Italy
  • Great Wall of China
  • The Louvre, Paris, France
  • Tikal, Guatemala

We realize that we will not see all 28 in our lifetime because there will always be other places that beckon us more due to familial attachments, opportunity or preference. So we may just forgo going to Myanmar to visit the Philippines to spend time with friends and relatives and reunion with high school classmates for the umpteenth time. We've returned to Italy, France  and Hawaii a number of times because somehow, we just can't get enough of these places.  There are destinations on the list that we know we just can't get to or do anymore due to the toll on our bodies with the passage of time such as a  trek on Mount Kilimanjaro. Nevertheless , whether we get to all these destinations, our lives have been enriched by the experience of seeing and experiencing what we have so far.

To the Smithsonian list, we've added a few of the places that are on our personal life list that we have not visited yet:
  • Jerusalem
  • St. Petersburg and Moscow
  • Lourdes
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Aurora Borealis in the North Pole
  • South America
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride 
  • Bali, Indonesia
  • Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, Turkey
  • Stay in a Castle

Our personal life list is short now and as I look back, it is amazing recalling the places we have visited so far.

One of the latest destinations we had on our life list we had the opportunity to visit lately was the Abbey at Mont St Michel in France. This place is a popular one on people's bucket list. The rocky tidal island of Mont St. Michel is located in the Normandy Region of France and has held strategic fortifications since ancient times. It has been the seat of a Benedictine monastery since it was built because in 8AD the Archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert and instructed him to build a church there.
View of Le Mont St. Michel as we approached.

As my husband and I and a best friend from Prep school were driving towards Mont St. Michel on narrow roads dotted with tiny villages, our first sight of the Mont was way off in the horizon, a mirage almost. surrounded by mud flats (it was low tide) and salt marsh fields with hundreds of sheep grazing. This must be the same vision that ancient pilgrims saw and even with my 21st century sensibilities I am in awe.

Walking towards Le Mont St. Michel on the causeway

We parked in a newly built parking center for visitors to the Mont. It is situated farther from the Mont than the original parking area in order to keep the cars and people safer from the rising tide. We began walking, with our baggage on our shoulders and back, on the newly built causeway towards the island. We walked about a little more than a half a mile    before deciding to board a shuttle* that will take us closer to the Mont.  I almost felt like the medieval pilgrims, 'Almost' is the key word here, since our crossing hardly compared to that of the pilgrims who had to walk across the tidal flats and contend with the tide that rise "as swiftly as a galloping horse", as described by Victor Hugo. Approaching closer, we all  marveled at the sheer magnitude of the site. No wonder it is dubbed the "Wonder of the West" and was made a UNESCO world heritage landmark.

*Additional info on shuttles:There are two free shuttle systems to Mont St Michel. One called the Montoise which services persons with disabilities and their companions and those living or staying and working inside the Mont. This picks up at  the end of the parking area towards the new visitors center. The Passeur can be picked up at the village of Le Mont St. Michel about a mile outside of the walls and a half a mile walk away from the new Visitor's Center.

Porte de L'Avancee

We entered the walls of Le Mont St. Michel through the Porte de l'Avancee at the end of the causeway. This leads straight to the Grande Rue which was filled with souvenir shops and tourists. Instead in my mind's eye  I pictured medieval hawkers of goods, souvenirs, medals, candles and food  offered to the hungry and tired pilgrims.

View from our room

We were meeting up with another friend from school who was coming from Paris. We were all staying inside the walls. and had to get rooms at three separate hotels since accommodations inside Le Mont St. Michel is limited and get booked up months in advance. The other hotel rooms were not yet ready but our room at  La Vielle Auberge was and we were told to check in at a restaurant with the same name. We followed the lady who took us to our room through the Grand Rue, up some step towards the abbey, turn left, turn right, through a door, up some stairs and finally, our room. It was a very nice clean  room with a view. I think that the hotels mainly tucked rooms here and there around the Mont.

Some of the many steps along the Lace Staircase to the Abbey
After depositing our gear in our room, we followed the steps up to the Abbey. A third of the way up is the Abbey's visitor's center where we paid our entrance fees. Then hundreds more steps later, we had a view of the entrance to the Abbey. There is about 900 steps to the top of the Abbey. I will not kid you, it was a hard climb, I was breathless and within seconds of passing out . And I was only about 30 more steps before the landing of the Abbey. I thought it was the end.  I sat on the stairs afraid that I would faint and fall onto the oncoming throng of people and take them with me like bowling pins.

It took me a while to get enough strenght to brave the rest of the steps to the landing where I continued to rest on one of the benches. We had a laugh when we saw a defibrillator hanging on the wall., incongruous in a medieval setting such as this. I have to say, the climb was all worth it and more.  In the church, I said a prayer of thanksgiving that I made it there, probably the same prayer the millions of pilgrims have said before me.

The landing and door to the Abbey
Inside the Church

The Abbey Tower
Again, one has to marvel at this as a great achievement of medieval architecture and engineering. Building this Abbey and Church on on top of a mountain on an island, following St. Michael's order of "Build here, Build high.", was definitely a challenge for the monks from bringing the granite to the island from across the bay and building on a craggy, unleveled ground. The cloisters, where I imagine the monks meditated in silence, had dizzying views of the surrounding area.The view was spectacular. You can actually see how this island and Abbey was fortified. From the cloisters. you can get lost in the abbey itself, filled with a maze of chambers and vaulted halls.

View from the cloisters

The Grand Rue
After the climb to the Abbey, we treated ourselves to a snack of salads, omelets and galettes, bought the ever present and popular Le Mere Pollard butter cookies, checked into the other hotels, shopped for souvenirs and then, hungry again, had dinner of the sweetest Moules - frites (mussels and fries) I've ever tasted (and I don't even like mussels). At night, when the tourists buses and day trippers have departed, we felt like we had the whole island to ourselves. After dinner, we planned to go back to the causeway to view Le Mont St. Michel all lit up and then explore the island in the dark but it started raining. A little disappointed,  we just decided to go back to our respective rooms, I must tell you, when it was time to return to our room,  we had a hard time remembering where it was. There were probably a few tourist who we scared as we tried to open their doors,

The next morning, we had breakfast at Auberge St. Pierre. When we were paying for our breakfast, they asked if we'd like to pay for our hotel bill also. It was a curious practice but I guess everything, businesses and all,  at the Mont are pretty much interrelated. We paid the bill, hotel included, and had no problems.

To have visited and stayed inside the wall of Le Mont Saint Michel is a priceless experience especially shared with best friends. The Mont St. Michel Abbey, built more than 10 centuries ago, is a technical and artistic phenomenon in art and architecture.  I can see why it is the second most visited sight in France and why it is on the life list of many. It is unforgettable.

Au revoir, Le Mont St. Michel. I hope you are still there another 10 centuries from now.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Searching for Vermeer In Delft

The Girl with Pearl Earrings
ArtistJohannes Vermeer
Yearcirca 1665
TypeOil on canvas
Dimensions44.5 cm × 39 cm (17.5 in × 15 in)
LocationMauritshuisThe Hague

The Girl with Pearl Earrings is not one of my favorite works by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer but it entered my consciousness and remained in my heart after I read Tracy Chevalier's novel based on the painting. This book truly sparked my imagination and transported me with her depiction of the life and times surrounding Vermeer in Delft while he was working on his various paintings. On a recent trip to Netherlands, Delft, therefore, became a must-see place for me. Arriving in Delft from The Hague, we crossed the street from the Tram stop which led  us to the Oude Delft. Several columns made from the famous Delftware greeted us in a courtyard by a former convent and Prinsenhof where William of Orange resided and is now a museum.

One of the Delft blue columns found in the courtyard

Delftware columns detail

A small passageway opens up to the Oude Kerk (Old Church) with its beautiful spire, one of the towers that dominate Delft.

This passageway leads to Oude Delft

The beautiful steeple of the Oude Kerk (Old Church)

The Oude Kerk is where the great Johannes Vermeer is buried when he died in 1675. Johannes Vermeer is one of the best known artists from the Dutch Golden Age. Vermeer seems to have exclusively devoted his life to his art in his birthplace, Delft, and for that reason, relatively little was known about him. He was rediscovered in the 19th century when his body of work was catalogued and 66 paintings were attributed to him but only 34 authenticated as his work, the smallest collection of paintings for a major force in art.

We continued walking along the side of Oude Kerk, we came across a small canal, one of the many transecting Delft. The canals were the arteries of the town then and carried all the means of transports and all imported and exported goods. Just like today, flanking the canals are homes, sheds, warehouses, public buildings and religious, schools and other institutions.. It is easily imagined that Vermeer walked around in the same streets, although much of buildings in his time would have been destroyed by the Great Explosion in a gunpowder storehouse in 1654.

View of Delft by Johannes Vermeer

Egbert Van de Poel - View of Delft after the 1654 explosion

We continued south along the canal, crossed the bridge by the fish market. Kitty corner from it, I spotted an antiques store selling old Delft tiles, wooden shoes and kitchenalia. I could not help taking a peak inside the store, imagining that some of the items there might have graced Vermeer's home. I was specially intrigued by the antique hand painted blue and white tiles depicting people in the process of conducting their everyday lives. Did Vermeer paint tiles like these in his youth?

Inside the Antique Shop in Delft
Some of the items on sale look very similar to items featured in Vermeer's paintings. 

Old Delft Blue Tiles. depicting people in various stages of conducting their everyday life

Delftware are the tin-glazed blue and white pottery of all descriptions including plates, ornaments and tiles made in and around Delft in the Netherlands from the 16th century. Back then, there were hundreds of factories doing brisk trade all over the world especially when they started making pieces inspired by the popular and expensive Chinese originals. .Now only one factory remains, Royal Delft.

We followed the Voldersgracht street to the left of the antique store. If you were a Vermeer fan when he was alive, this is the street where you will most likely spot him going about his normal business. On this street is the building of the St. Lucas Guild of painters, weavers, decorators, sculptors, potters and art dealers. Vermeer  headed the guild for many years and it is fitting that the building has now been converted to Vermeer Centrum, a place for all things Vermeer. On exhibit are all paintings attributed to Vermeer. Although, there are no originals here. Those are now scattered across the globe but 7 still remain in the Netherlands, in The Hague and Amsterdam. There is a lovely gift shop where you can buy all sort of items related to Vermeer and a great coffee shop where you can have some snacks and rest a bit.

Saint Lucas Guild, now Vermeer Centrum

A detail of Saint Luke's Guild  register with 
Vermeer's name at number 78 and Pieter 
de Hooch's name at 80 and Carel Fabritius at 75, 
 also well-known Dutch artists.
Essential Vermeer 2.0

Close by the guild house, as you walked towards the great market square is Mechelen,  the house and inn owned by his father and is where Vermeer lived when he was young,  It is in a very centralized location on the Markvelt which gave Vermeer the opportunity to observe life in Delft and meet the artists of the time, given that his father is an art dealer. Unfortunately, the building has been completely demolished .

As we turned the corner, walking right where Mechelen  would have been, we reached Grote Markt and where Vermeer would have been seen in and around, being the heart  and center of the 25,000 inhabitants in Delft at that time. This large medieval square with the secular authority (Town Hall) on the one side and the spiritual authority (the church) on the other is still a major gathering area in Delft with centuries old tradition of a Thursday general weekly market.  The Nieuwe Kerk's tower dominates the skyline of Delft. This is where Vermeer was baptized as a Catholic and many members of his family are buried here. Just like in Vermeer's time, stores and restaurants ring the Marktveld between the Town Hall and Nieuwe Kerk,  Here is where you can get your authentic hand-painted Delftware souvenirs today.


Nieuw Kerk (New Church)

Town Hall

Across  the main square, on Oude Langedijk,  was the house of Vermeer's mother-in-law, Maria Thins, where he and his wife and children lived. This is believed to be the house where, in the front room of the second floor, he did most of his glorious interior paintings , With his characteristic serene intimate scenes showing the subject(s) busy with their everyday work, The Milkmaid and The Lacemaker  below,  are my favorite Vermeer paintings. In these paintings, I like his use of pure natural pigments, particularly ultramarine, vermilion and yellow ochre.  Looking at the paintings, I feel I have entered into a scene that embodies light, stillness, harmony and concentration, at the same time real but one you can not really enter for fear of breaking the magic.

The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer

The Lacemaker by Johannes Vermeer

So more than 350 years after the death of Johannes Vermeer, he still exists in the fabric of Delft life and remains a beloved son, not only in Delft and the Netherlands but all over the world. I am sure that in his lifetime, having hardly left the protective walls of Delft, he would not have dreamt that he would be this famous and loved. 

For extensive information about Vermeer and Delft, please visit:  http://www.essentialvermeer.com