The Pitzer Center, which is the new Music Recital Hall, still under construction on the UC Davis campus. I wanted to sketch from this angle, on the corner of Hutchison and Cushing; you may remember that I recently sketched the initial stages of construction. To be continued…
Last month I decided to get out one evening to downtown Davis and sketch. I haven’t sketched in the G St Wunderbar for a few years so I wanted to give it another go. It wasn’t very busy (because it was early), and I sipped a beer at the back of the bar and ran down the black Pitt pen I’d bought in Aix (I don’t use them very often, the nibs wear down too much after like one or two drawings), but I wanted to do some crosshatching, and play with sketching light in dark interiors. I’d thought about sketching the room at the other side of the bar, full of pool tables, but there’s never a good vantage point for an urban bar sketcher, so I stuck to the main bar which had plenty of table space. “G St Wunderbar”… I first sketched this view when it was the plain old G St Pub. There it is on the right, a sketch from six years ago; I even sat in the same seat.
As I drew, it got later (funny how that happens) and more people started coming in. The music started getting louder and more dancier, and the people younger (funny how that happens), and so rather than stretch this to a panorama, I called it an evening and went home for a cup of tea. Another one for the ‘then-and-now’ section of the bar sketch series.
France was fun, but you have to come home. I do actually have a few more sketches from London but they were kind of shoehorned in to the end of the trip, I’ll post those soon. So aftre all those lovely picturesque canals and timber-framed buildings, you get the interior of the UC Davis Silo, where I often eat lunch. this was sketched while waiting for (and subsequently eating) my Carl’s Jr. It was typically tasty, but incredibly greasy. Outside the mercury was rising fast to those unbearable Davis Summer levels. Welcome back to America! When’s my next trip to France?
And after all those Strasbourg sketches, here is the map. Took me a while to draw, then put together, and there are like no street names, you just kind of have to know. If you click on it you can see it in larger detail. I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I’ve certainly gotten the ‘Must-Sketch-Strasbourg-Now!” thing out of my system now, but I cannot wait to go back someday.
I just blogged a summary-style post on the main Urban Sketchers website: http://www.urbansketchers.org/2015/07/rencontre-strasbourg.html. I say ‘summary’, I do go into great detail about the 842 ‘Oaths of Strasbourg’ and their significance to the written French and German languages, and Europe as a whole. You know, briefly.
And finally, because this has basically been one long trip down several memory lanes, here are a couple more I wanted to share. First, this is my bus pass student card from my trip to Strasbourg in 1995. Good sensible looking young chap.
And finally in 2015, the same hairstyle, a bit more portly perhaps. A la prochaine fois, Strasbourg…
Here is the final post with my sketches from Strasbourg, though there will be one epilogue with a map. This might end up being quite a long post, so if you like long posts with a few sketches and a lot of talk about things from previous trips that I can barely really remember properly, then this is for you. Or if you prefer just looking at the pictures, you can do that by scrolling past the text, looking at the sketch without all of the barely related context, and you get the same effect. I do like to offer an insight into what might have been going through my mind when I sketch though, which is basically the side of the drawing that I see when I look at it, but you as the non-Pete can’t see. To be sure, you have the undoubted advantage of seeing a sketch just for what it is, while if I post a sketch of, for example, a bike shop in Davis, I can say that it reminds me of a podcast about the Peasant’s Revolt that I was listening to at the time, or the music that was playing in the bar down the street, or the smell of the food someone was eating as they walked past, or it reminded me of the time when my bike broke down and I had it fixed, or the time when and so on and so on.
Take the sketch above, which is of a winstub/bierstub (it’s what they call cute little places where you can drink beer or wine in Alsace), “Au Vieux Strasbourg“. This is just down the street from the Cathedral on what is very much one of the main tourist runs. I stood against a wall and sketched as all nationalities walked by. To my right was a man selling little paper puppets in the street. These puppets would dance, all by themselves, making people (mostly kids) laugh and give money to buy one. At one point, the vendor sat at a table and had a drink at Au Vieux Strasbourg, and another man came long, and tried his best to figure out how the puppet was dancing. He looked at me, a glint of excitement in his eye and said “it’s on a line! I can see it, it’s on a line!” Obviously this was in French. “No,” I replied, “it’s magic. See?” “No, no, no,” he said, “it’s on a line. It’s hard to see, but it’s there.” “It’s hard to see because it’s magic,” I insisted. I don’t know how I became the spokesperson for dancing paper puppets but if there’s a cause I’m willing to stand up for, then well. He scratched his head as if he had made some revolutionary discovery but still didn’t quite believe it. ‘Sacre bleu’ I thought, and just carried on drawing, while the puppet master, still sitting with his cold drink, just shrugged. I actually couldn’t see the line, so it might have been magic. Further down the street, two musicians who had been playing an accordion and, I don’t know, something else, were joined by a middle aged American who decided it would be brilliant if he whistled loudly and in great tune along to their music. It reminded me of the guy Walter from the Muppets movie a few years ago. More puppets. When I was done, I had a cold beer at Au Vieux Strasbourg, and watched the world go by, and the little puppets kept on dancing.
This is the interior of “Les Aviateurs“, an American-themed bar I had heard of years ago but I don’t think I ever visited. There are model airplanes on the ceiling. As I was walking back to my hotel from the Cafe Atlantico on the Sunday evening, thinking about dinner, I happened across it. So after dinner I made a point of coming here to do a sketch. I was pretty exhausted, so I just had one drink and sketched furiously until my purple pen expired. There was only one other person in there for the most part, other than the barman, who chatted to me in English because, as he said, one needs to practice a foreign language otherwise you really do lose it, it”s not like riding a bike. Amen to that my friend, that’s exactly how I felt with my French on that trip. This bar is cool, and has been here since 1984, so I am glad I was able to find it and sketch it (here is their website). The music was all British indie music from the mid 1990s which was very appropriate.
There are a lot of municipal flags of towns from all over Alsace hung above the streets of Strasbourg. At least that is what I presume they are, and I think it’s a fairly good guess.I like that green one that looks a bit like a pair of y-fronts. This was on the rue des Orfevres, also known as Goldschmittgass, and this Foies Gras vendor that I stood next to had a golden goose as its shop sign. Strasbourg however loves its storks, they are the symbol of Alsace and the mascot of tourist shops everywhere in the city. I never sketched those.
The Place de l’Homme de Fer (above) is the central downtown hub for the Strasbourg tram. It literally translates as Iron Man Place, and the large circular structure above the tram station reminds me a bit of an arc reactor. Twenty years ago when I first saw it, I had no idea what an arc reactor was (and barely remembered anything about Iron Man) so I never made that connection then. This was however, with the exception of the cathedral, the thing I was most impressed with about Strasbourg. Coming from London which at the time had the very old rolling stock of London Underground trains (the old grimy greying trains with the ghostly front face and the partially wooden interior, not the shinier more colourful ones you get now, with their LED screens and automated “the next station with this train is Colindale” announcements), the Strasbourg trams and their futuristic downtown station were a glimpse into the space age. This is what life could be like. I enjoyed riding the tram so much, arriving at ‘Langstross’ and other exciting locations. I’m a bit less easy to impress with futuristic technology now, in this age of smartphones and holograms and teleporters, but on my last day I did take a ride on the tram again just for old time’s sake. I went down to Neuhof, which was where, in 1995, I had been on that exchange trip to the Lycee Jean Monnet. I walked about the neighbourhood for a little while, remembering all the old fun of that trip, all the people that I met. It hadn’t changed very much, though to be honest I could not remember enough to say what would have been different. There was a lot of that in Strasbourg, turning a corner and another distant memory popping up, much in the same way that you remember last night’s forgotten dream the moment you hit the pillow, and then it’s gone again. I passed by the street where my old friend Roland used to live, who I last saw when we watched the 1998 World Cup semi-final on TV, France beating Croatia. There were lots of celebrating fans on the streets that night.
I was hungry, so I didn’t sketch around Neuhof, and just jumped back onto a tram and headed to Les Halles for a Quick and some more shopping (or rather, leche-vitrine, window shopping – my backpack was too small to buy all the cool things I wanted to buy, such as big new Ninjago and Marvel Lego sets at the toystore which even now are not yet available in the US, much to my son’s annoyance).
And then it was time to go home. my flight back to London was late on a Monday evening (and very cheap too, about $15, plus it took just a few minutes to get to the airport from Strasbourg train station). The Monday was my day of exploration, so I spent time in bookshops such as Librairie Kleber (I love the smell and feel of French bookstores, even if the spines are all upside down), and of course the big store FNAC. The FNAC in Strasbourg was the first ever FNAC I had been to and it hasn’t changed much. I spent ages in their BD section – that’s Bande Dessinee, or comic books. French (and Belgian) BD is amazing, especially the artwork, and often comes in large hardbound volumes. There were a good number I would probably have bought, had I not brought such a small backpack with me (Ryanair carry-on friendly). I did buy one small-ish new piece of Ninjago Lego for my son though, so clawed back a few Daddy Points for all the other Lego and Playmobil I didn’t get (I did buy him some French ‘Pokemon’ cards in Monoprix though, his friend apparently had some German ones from his dad and he wanted to go one better). I bought biscuits in nice little Alsace tins, had a take-out curry dinner which I ate on a bench on the Rue du 22 Novembre, before finishing off with one last sketch of the large Place Kleber, Strasbourg’s big central plaza. The cathedral poked above the rooftops, looking towards Rue des Grandes Arcades. The Marks and Spencer that used to be here is gone, but the McDonald’s is still here. Why mention the McDonald’s? Back in 1997 they gave me a Big Mac instead of a Chicken Sandwich. I didn’t realize until I was already on the coach back to London, so I couldn’t change it (me not being an eater of the hamburgers). My friend Terry ate it instead, and we’ve basically joked about this ever since. We agreed that if ever I went back there, I would go to that McDonald’s, slowly walk up to the counter like a bounty hunter in an Old West saloon and say, “1997, September. You gave me a Big Mac. I asked for a McChicken sandwich. That was one long, hungry bus journey. I’m here to claim my debt.” I didn’t, but it would have made a brilliant BD.
More sketches from Petite France, the old picturesque part of Strasbourg, famous for being where they put diseased soldiers centuries ago. The scene above is one of the most beautiful views in the city, where one of the canals of the river Ill twists past the narrow medieval lanes surrounding the Place Benjamin Zix (“Zixplätzel” in Alsacien). Benjamin Zix was a painter and sculptor in the Napoleonic era, born here (well, on rue des Moulins) in 1772. The building in the middle is the Maison des Tanneurs, dating from 1572, which is now a restaurant. I sat here by the narrow lock for a couple of hours, as tourists walked by, and other tourists in groups whirred by on those Segway things. I don’t know how you can go around Petite France on those Segways (which remind me of the STAP flying platforms ridden by battle droids in the Phantom Menace while attacking Gungans on Naboo), but a lot of people did manage it.
Below is the rue des Dentelles (Spitzegass), which I sketched on the first day. There is a really interesting shop there called ‘Un Noel en Alsace’, which sells Christmas ornaments, mostly Alsatian. The most recent visit to Strasbourg I had made was in December 2004 with my wife, when we came to visit the Christmas market, or “Christkindelsmärik”. Strasbourg, if you don’t know, is the home of the traditional Christmas market. It is the oldest one in Europe, dating back to 1570, and is a lovely experience (albeit rather crowded). Strasbourg calls itself the ‘Capital of Christmas‘. It seemed to cover most of the centre-ville, and there was mulled wine (or maybe gluhwein, both of which I’m not keen on) being passed around. I do love Christmas time though, and Alsace does it pretty well.
On the final day in Strasbourg I decided I would do more exploring than sketching (I spent a lot of time in bookshops), but I just had to go back and sketch more Petite France. I wasn’t done with Petite France yet. There was one scene which again is picturesque, tourist-photogenic, detail-heavy timber-framedness. The view from the Pont St. Martin towards the back end of the rue des Moulins (below). I spent an hour and a half sketching all the ink, and added most of the colour later. Below me, the water was gushing down from the locks. Behind me, the sound of children playing at a nearby school. Around me, tourists from all over the world lining up to take pictures of each other. I did consider making this a two-page panorama (and even plotted out the left hand page) but knew I wouldn’t have the time to draw it. Still, I’m well happy I took the time to come and draw this.
Still more to come!
The day I got back to London last month, I was looking for some drawing pins at my mum’s house when I happened upon an old badge that was mixed in with them. It was a small metal badge of Strasbourg Cathedral, which I must have bought on my first trip there, and has been sitting in a drawer at my mum’s for years and years. What a coincidence, as I was shortly going to go back there. Strasbourg might have a European parliament building, and lots of pretty timber-framed buildings, but it is a city dominated by its massive cathedral. It sits in the centre of the Grand-Ile with its single solitary spire pointing high into the heavens. It can be seen for miles around. Locals told me that if ever I were lost, I should just look up and find the cathedral. Of course that only really helped if I were going toward the cathedral, so on this trip I booked a hotel right next to the thing (the Hotel Cathedrale, I recommend it). It was the scene above, the view down the tourist-trail of Rue Merciere, that I longed to sketch. I was stood almost in Place Gutenberg, where stands the statue of Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press right here in Strasbourg. I stood there mid-afternoon, and because my hotel was just around the corner I took a break halfway through, and went back to do the rest. I had promised myself that I would sketch the cathedral at least three times, from three different angles, and so I did. I love this building.
In 1997 I came to Strasbourg with my oldest friend Terry. We came on an overnight Eurolines coach (remember taking those, in the days before budget airlines? Yeah those days are thankfully gone). I remember that it was the day after Princess Diana died (it was funny, French people kept asking us how we were doing, all concerned like, and we were both like, um, we’re fine, thanks, not realizing all the national weeping nonsense going on back in England). As we approached Strasbourg, I could see the huge spire in the yellow dawn mist towering over the city, and it was an image that stuck with me, like an illustration from a fantasy novel. Its shape is so distinct. It looks like it is missing a spire, and in fact it is – the second steeple was supposed to be built, but was never constructed. I was told many stories about this cathedral, how for several centuries it was the tallest building in the world, how during the French Revolution the cathedral was covered up with a giant cap to save it from those revolutionaries who wished to tear it down. In the sketch above, you can see how the rear is also covered over, but this is just renovation, not revolution. I had a nice time sketching this one. Several of the Belgian sketching group were there too; Gerard Michel (the cathedral expert, my inspiration) was gathering a crowd of onlookers. As I sketched, a group of young schoolchildren were gathered in the plaza (which was not as nice and open as this the last time I was here), and several times they sang La Marseillaise, which echoed off the grand building beautifully. As well it should – for as much as Strasbourg has been swapped between the French and German realms, that national anthem of France was actually composed not in Marseille, not in Paris, but right here in Strasbourg.
The sketch above is the pre-breakfast early-morning drawing. My hotel being where it was, I just had to roll out of bed, grab the large sketchbook, and stand out in the Place de la Cathedrale before all the tourist shops opened. I said ‘bonjour’ to a few people holding machine guns, as you do. The cathedral is being well guarded by soldiers, walking about the building at all hours. It’s not a scene that I’m used to, but I’m not unfamiliar with in France (I remember years ago walking past a large cadre of soldiers on the Paris Metro, their fingers on the triggers of their automatic weapons), and it’s a reminder of the terrorist dangers that France has had to deal with this year. I stood next to the 15th century Maison Kammerzell, which I drew in the foreground in black ink, and drew the cathedral in brown-black ink. This is a famous shot. I started this at about 7:30am, but by 9:00am I was getting hungry so I stopped there, and went for a pain au chocolat at a boulangerie around the corner. It was such a delicious pain au chocolat that five minutes later I was back there asking for another. The woman in the bakery gave me such a dirty look when I came back and for a second one, as if to say “why didn’t you just buy two the first time?”. At least I got that much. On two other occasions that day (in FNAC and in Librairie Kleber), the shop assistant serving me barely acknowledged my existence other than holding out a hand for my money, looking away in another direction. But then I also had many occasions where I was helped by super friendly (and above all patient) people in shops and cafes.
And so, the Cathedral celebrates its millennium this year. I didn’t realize this before I came to Strasbourg, so it was very good timing. Later this year they are having lots of celebrations and events. The picture below, taken from a display outside the cathedral, shows the history of its construction. As with most massive building projects in the middle ages, this took several centuries to complete. It stands at 142 metres tall (that’s 466 feet). It doesn’t sound like much when you put it like that. The first stone was laid by Bishop Werner von Habsburg in 1015. One of the most prominent architects involved was Erwin von Steinbach, who died in 1318, and the cathedral is one of the best examples of high Gothic architecture.