Thursday, April 29, 2010

Visiting Pompeii Before Dinner

Need a little archaeology fix today? Take a stroll on Google's Street View of Pompeii and don't worry about the crowds of tourists, your passport or the exchange rate. The 360 degree panoramic street-level service of Pompeii is so fascinating to visit, you'll probably want to make several excursions.

Life in the ancient Roman city was wiped out by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The volcano deposited 20 feet of ash, killing everyone in Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum. The disaster preserved the remains of the city until it was rediscovered in the 18th century. Archaeologists of the last 250 years have been studying the ruins to better understand Roman life in the first century.

These are the actual buildings and ruins that survive today. No need to rely on sterile looking reconstructions or sharp, linear computer generated images to imagine for yourself the texture and scale of the houses, storefronts and civic structures. One perk of virtually visiting Pompeii, is seeing the real thing.

Bon voyage and don't miss the wall paintings!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

There has been a lot of talk about the last 40 years of Earth Day and the progress we have made. What started as a grass roots project to bring attention and clean-up efforts to the horrible pollution of our air, water and land has made the Earth a better and cleaner place.

Sure, there are new concerns and challenges, but we are better equipped to deal with them, not only as a concerned nation, but a global community.

Here are two interesting short videos on the history of Earth Day and our progress:

Click here for an animated tribute, Earth Day turns 40, from the Mother Nature Network

Click here for a Washington Post video, Unfinished Business: Earth Day at 40

We believe in celebrating Earth Day every day at 973 Third.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Strawberry Hill - A Gothic Confection

Strawberry Hill, the 18th century summer house of Horace Walpole was undoubtedly an exuberant experiment in Gothic revival. In 1748 Walpole purchased the house built in 1698, and set out to make "a little Gothic castle" with the help of 2 talented friends, referring to themselves as a Committee of Taste. In several phases of improvements over 30 years the house grew and changed. There did not seem to be a fixed plan and additions were made based on loose interpretations of earlier baronial architecture he admired, as the chapel at Westminster Abbey and engravings of chimney pieces from early churches.

The house, just outside London, was widely visited although not entirely appreciated. Some thought it a folly and a disgrace. In addition to his mixing styles and periods, he used details from the exteriors of churches on the interiors of his house. It was, at the time, greatly discussed. And now, not surprisingly, it's recognized as one of the most influential houses of Georgian Gothic style.

Gothic became a popular architectural theme in the nineteenth century, perhaps in part because of Walpole's Strawberry Hill. What was unheard of in his choice of blending and recreating ancient styles and details of various periods has now become common for draftsmen and builders of new suburban construction and developments of mini mansions marketing grand traditional homes.

Fortunately, Walpole's writing, many of his collections (over 4,000 were displayed in his home for tours during his lifetime), architectural drawings, engravings and the house itself survive to visit and enjoy.

The house is under restoration and shall reopen to the public in the fall of 2010. The V & A is presently hosting an exhibit on Walpole, the collector through July 4.

Images of Strawberry Hill courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library collection at Yale University, top to bottom: The Tribune, 1789; View of the Great North Bed Chamber, n.d.; The Great Cloister; Sketch of the Gallery, 1759; The Round Drawing Room, n.d.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Carpet of Flowers

Begonias aren't getting the attention they deserve. Every once in awhile I'm struck by a beautiful flower and am pleasantly surprised to find it's a begonia variety. In Brussels, every other year, for one weekend in August, the cobblestone paved Grand Palace market square is transformed into a flower carpet spectacular. What do they use? Why begonias, of course.

Click here for more details on the 2010 event.