Monday, June 27, 2022

Doorways to the Imagination...

At the beginning of the month I went to Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon, to immerse myself in golden light and elegance just before catching my train for La Provence - for a break in Aix-en-Provence, passing via Marseille. This illustrious station is indeed "comme un port sur la Méditerranée dans Paris, et les trains sur les quais d’embarquement sont comme des navires en partance vers des stations rêvées." (Jean-Marie Duthilleul, Architect)
After the beautiful Belle Epoque bas-reliefs that frame and highlight the vast frescos and chandeliers in the restaurant, I came across some of their Southern counterparts on the façades of the grand buildings around le vieux port district of Marseilles.
The dazzling sun illuminating old architecture was offset by the intense blue skies overhead in the most stunning fashion, whilst the shade and shadows lent an enigmatic air to the figures of the façades.
Many of these are in reference to the city's nautical role and its religious beliefs... yet the average 21st century passer-by (myself included) is no longer able to read the full meaning of these, of course, assuming that they manage to lift their eyes up from a screen long enough to actually notice them!
The nobility of the 19th century Neo-Classicist busts, gazing out across the elegant boulevards with a mysterious air is then countered by the sculpture of other periods, styles and moods.
Yet the same elegance permeates the grandiose buildings that tower over the streets, punctuated by their ornate balconies with intricate wrought-iron features.
Each set of tall windows, style fenêtre Haussmanniene, is flanked by shutters, essential in a region where the degree of heat and luminosity soars in the extended summer months.
In Aix-en-Provence, elegance and a charm provençal are apparent everywhere, and majestic doorways lead you to imagine what lies behind and beyond in the present day, and more interestingly, in the past.
Who inhabited these incredible buildings and what kind of life did they live?
The sculpted forms that decorate the doorways, along with the Caryatids and Atlantes that bear imposing architectural features, all create an effect that finds no equivalent in any modern building that I know of.
I wonder what the strange, often grotesque, mascarons could tell us of their history, as they look down from their vantage point, warding off evil for those passing the doorway they guard over, just as they surely have for centuries.
And what or who looks out for us today, who can tell us our stories in an age when we invest ourselves wholly in a digital world?
This seems to be a barely chartered universe that draws us into a complex game of mirrors, offering tantalizing images of self, which we are encouraged to then present to a vast virtual public in order to continue the process of image, illusion, delusion.
The unique quality that these beautiful architectural features possess, allows us to see ourselves as just another piece in ongoing history - our own history in the making - in a strangely reassuring manner.
And I would far rather gaze on these, and open the door to my imagination than mindlessly stare at staged selfies, which would surely slam that shut!

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