Day 18, London

Yesterday was spent in transit from Amsterdam to London via Brussels. We took the Eurostar through the chunnel. Today we set out to visit the major sites that Calvin and Octavia visited, starting with Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square. From there we walked through St. James Park (where Octavia collected a flower for her book of relics), to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament and the river. 

Here is an excerpt of Calvin's letter to his wife Temperance:

"The first objects I saw were the Tower and the London bridge, and the shipping that nearly choked up the river, and the huge warehouses of St. Katherine's dock, where we landed and had our baggage for the 4th or 5th time overhauled by the custom house officers— nice chaps these, very expert in rummaging a trunk, but not very particular good hands in repacking it. Of course they were no great favorites of Sis, who values herself on the order of her arrangements. But here they pounced upon some gew gaws she had purchased at Paris— they pronounced them French goods and made her pay half a guinea, which she did not like at all. We took a cab and drove 4 miles up the city by the Tower, St. Paul's, the Bank, etc. and through Temple bar to Charing Cross, where we took lodgings at the Albion Hotel. We are now I think just in the middle of the world— at least just in the center of all the noise and bustle of it, but just where strangers ought to be. We have full before us the Nelson monument 150 feet high. The Duke of Northumberlands palace. The National gallery, King Charles statue (where new kings are proclaimed etc.). Charing Cross, a large open square is the terminus of the Strand, Whitehall street, Pall Mall and the Haymarket, the greatest thoroughfares of the city and through which it would seem all the world was pouring into this great Babylon...

We have seen a few lions, spent some hours among the monuments of Westminster Abbey, rode over the city and through the parks and I attended the galleries of the two houses of parliament. In the Lords I heard speeches by the Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst and the Lords Dalhousie Whaincliff and Campbell— and in the Commons Sir Robert Peel, Lord John Russell, Mr. Villiers, Col. Libthorp & Lord Stanley. They would not admit Sis (women are not admitted for the most extraordinary and unfounded reason, that it is suspected they would talk! O, these Englishmen) but she consoles herself by saying she got a salute from the Duke of Wellington whom we met going into the parliament house as we were coming away, and that in Westminster abbey she sat in the chair in which Victoria and all the kings of England have been crowned! So now!"

And more from Calvin:

"This morning I went early into St. James Park which is very near Charing Cross. A long row of cows are tied up there; a girl asked me if I wanted a glass of milk. She milked a tumbler full for which I gave her a penny... St. James Park, I will add a word to say, is perhaps 3/4 of a mile long and 1/2 wide with a lake of irregular shape more than half its length— two Islands in it— and it is full of all sorts of aquatic fowls. You will see them at the shores eating crumbs out of the childrens' hands. Then one walks around the lake and to see crowds of men women and children walking on one side of the lake while you are on the other is delightful. Sometimes the walk is fenced off from the Lake by iron railing and the space planted with trees and shrubbery, which increases much the fine appearance of the living moving masses on the opposite shore. St. James Palace a jumbled mass of old buildings is on this Park. The Queens great palace of Buckingham is on the rising ground at the head of this Lake, 2 or 3 hundred yards from it...The River here presents a striking contrast to the Seine at Paris. There the broad quay on both sides was a most pleasant promenade— no banks or boxes— no shipping— here you cannot but at places get a view of the river— all the way blocked up with warehouses, goods, shipping and all the streets near it choked up with wagons, horses, drays, goods and human beings— dog carts would do a bad business here."

Day 16, Amersfoort

Today was a day to regroup, relax a bit and further explore Amersfoort. It's a beautiful town, and happens to be the birthplace of Piet Mondrian, so there was also lots of activity relating to the 100-year anniversary of de Stijl. 

Day 15, Amsterdam and Amersfoort

The plan was to get up early and go into Amsterdam with Rory to see the Rijks Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. That plan was thwarted by my daughter's jet lag. She was up half the night, so our early departure was delayed until midday. We still managed to see a lot and enjoy a leisurely walk through town back to the train station. We saw the masters (Rembrandt, Vermeer, et al) at the Rijks Museum and then a really interesting de Stijl exhibition at the Stedelijk. This year is the 100-year anniversary of de Stijl, so many museums are participating in big retrospective exhibitions. From the Stedelijk's description:

"The Stedelijk presents the breadth of its collection of De Stijl, and explores relationships between the movement and the work of other artists in the museum’s holdings. Part of the 100 years of De Stijl program. The presentation examines different facets such as use of colour, the diagonal, purity, architecture and the dissemination of the movement. Works of De Stijl that powerfully convey this ideology are juxtaposed with work by post-war artists. De Stijl was clearly an inexorable certainty for successive generations. Some artists offer an inspired ode; others explore what De Stijl means today."

We also saw a Rineke Dijkstra exhibition of which we realized we had already seen a lot of the work in New York, but it's always good to see her work. In the evening when we got back to Amersfoort, we went out to dinner and had a walk through town. 


Day 14, Amsterdam

Sunday, June 11 (day 13 of my trip) was a much-needed day of rest for me. My family arrived from the U.S., and it was so wonderful to be reunited! We are staying with family friends in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, which is about 35 minutes outside of Amsterdam by train. Today we took the train into Amsterdam in the afternoon in order to have a look around. Here are some photos from today.

Day 12, Amsterdam

I spent the day wandering through Amsterdam, even though Calvin and Octavia didn't make it here. I first went to the Rembrandt House and Museum. In addition to seeing the house and museum as it would have been, there was an interesting exhibition of his etchings, in particular the famous portrait he made of his friend Jan Six. 

After the museum, I spent the afternoon wandering along the canals and through the various neighborhoods. There were so many tourists everywhere—definitely more than I noticed in Paris, and more than I am used to seeing in New York, as well. It was hard to escape them and find a quiet moment. 

Day 11, Rotterdam

It was absolutely pouring when I left my hotel in Brussels this morning, and I was soaked by the time I reached the train station. Luckily, it cleared up as the day progressed, and I had good walking-around weather once I reached Rotterdam. Rotterdam was actually the last continental stop that Calvin and Octavia made before heading to London on the steamer Baatavia. However, since I haven't spent much time in the Netherlands, I am going off track for a few days to explore further. (Plus, my family is joining me here this weekend, and I couldn't be more excited to be reunited with them!)

The city center of Rotterdam was pretty much destroyed in World War II, so there is very little old architecture left in that part of town. It has been completely rebuilt, with many well-known architects having contributed buildings to its current landscape. 

Here is Octavia's description of Rotterdam from her journal:

"Arrived about 7 o’clock. Followed the porter through streets, across canal crowded with shipping, and after a long walk come to Hotel Pays Bas. Buildings tall, mostly red, and so clean. [. . .] pavements of small bricks. Mirrors at the windows — smoke. The impression is different from that I had of any other European city. No noise of heavily laden wagons lumbering over the town — boats gliding through [. . .], cool, shady yet [. . .]. The most relieving, if not the most pleasant day I’ve passed on the eastern Continent. Everybody so happy, and again I’ll repeat, so purely clean. What a contrast to the German villages — where a heap of manure is the only attracting object [. . .] that meets the senses. On the other hand these hamlets had the loveliest little gardens, parks, and everything pleasing. Great deal of shipping. The poet says that Holland “scarce deserves the name of land.” I think praises on the other hand should be lavished on the industry of its [. . .]. Determined to give a short examination to the streets of Rotterdam, drove through the town — Mr. Groot, chinese specimens — Great church of St. Lawrence, built in 1472, of brick; contains monuments of admirals De Witt and Cortnaer, and vice Admiral (Schondtbijnacht) van Brahel. Organ — the largest metal pipe is 17 inches in diameter — number of stops 5085. Six pair of bellows (windmill)."

Day 10, Brussels and Waterloo

I paid a quick visit to the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in the morning. According to Wikipedia, Henry II, Duke of Brabant instructed the building of a Gothic collegiate church in 1226. The choir was constructed between 1226 and 1276. It took about 300 years to complete the entire church. It was completed just before the reign of the emperor Charles V commenced in 1519.

After the visit, I bought a sandwich and boarded a bus to Waterloo, which is a 45 minute ride outside of Brussels. I went to memorial site, which also includes a museum and monument, and views of the battlefields. The exhibition was very thorough, and even included a 3D IMAX recreation of the battle, which as cheesy as it was, also gave a really good window in to how such a battle would have been fought in 1815. 

Visiting Waterloo also made a strong impression on Calvin and Octavia. Here's an excerpt from a letter that Calvin wrote to his wife:

"Here we took a carriage and went to the field of Waterloo 10 miles. Waterloo is more than 2 miles from the field of battle, but it was from here that the Duke of Wellington wrote and dated his dispatches— the town of Mount St. Jean, 2 miles further, lies between. We went to the edge of the hill beyond the town along which the British line was extended, to the opposite ridge three quarters of a mile beyond where the French force was displayed, went into the little beer house called la Belle Alliance, where Napoleon was during a considerable part of the battle, and drank a litre of bad Louvain ale in the room where the Walloon who kept the house said Boney had done the same, and where his picture hangs. (The front of the house has a flaring inscription importing that Wellington met there after the battle). We went also to the spot to which Napoleon led his life guards when he found the chances of the battle were desperate— and where he told them “onward— that is the road to Brussels— we will soon be there.” Poor fellow, he stood there till he saw his guards cut to pieces, and knew that all was lost, when he turned his head and fled with his routed army. This spot is not a ravine or a gully which some of the British say he got into— there is no such spot on the whole battle field— it is about midway between the position of the two armies, lower than either but higher than the ground between that and the British line. Here Sis [nickname for Octavia] stood some time— you must know she is a great Bonapartist and from this spot she gathered some flowers which I dare say she will bring home."

From the exhibition:

Day 9, Brussels

I arrived to Brussels later than planned again due to train delays, but it allowed me to immediately check into my hotel and drop my stuff before heading out to explore. My hotel is centrally located, so it was a short walk to the Grand Place and the center of town. I thoroughly explored the narrow old streets around the Grand Place, and then walked up through all of the museums on the hill to the Royal Palace and the Parc de Bruxelles. As I was crossing the street, an Iraqi envoy zoomed passed in black cars with police escort. I've definitely noticed the presence of lots of black dignitary vehicles, as well as many soldiers on the streets wandering about.

After a stroll through the park, I wound my way back towards the center of town and stumbled across one of the grand gallery arcades and the Bourse. I didn't quite make it to the cathedral today, but I will try to see that tomorrow when I return from Waterloo.

Here are some impressions of Brussels from Calvin and Octavia:

Calvin (in a letter home to his wife, Temperance):

"Brussels is a beautiful city, and we had our lodgings in a house most aptly called, what it most emphatically is, Bellevue, which looked down Rue Royal and overlooked the Park (a little Tuileries) and the Place Royal, in which from our balcony we saw a review of some 2 or 3 thousand of the troops and they made a very martial & splendid display— we went to the lace manufactory (one that employed 1500 hands)..."


"Arrived in Brussels 5 o’clock — Hotel Bellevue. Brussels, miniature of Paris, as is said to be. Certainly a very elegant city; capital of the kingdom of Belgium; on the river Senne; 145,000 inhabitants.

Wet day. Rose with a view of going to Waterloo, but the day has proved too bad; however, we entertained ourselves in looking out from the balcony and viewing 2000 fine looking soldiers parade round about. Place Royal, and the tree of liberty planted in the Revolution.

Walked about the Park — saw the Chamber of Representatives, Palace of the Prince of Orange, Royal Palace, nice shops, cafe, restaurants . . . . Walked down to the cathedral, which is being repaired, a magnificent old building. Very tired — stopped in a cigar shop, while pa went to the bankers, and amused myself in partly comprehending their french remarks. Dined, wrote and went to see the manufactory of the far famed Brussels lace. 5 or 6,000 employees. Went to the Hotel de Ville (opposite the house where the Brussels bell was given the . . . Waterloo). Room where Charles V was abdicated (Alva) — Old tapestry, 300, Baptism of Clovis — his presenting a ring to Clotilda — their marriage feast — and his death. Also Gobelins, 200 old, relative to Charles 5. Napoleon here, too, had a finger in the pie. Brussels is a beautiful, clean, well behaved city — if the shop keepers do cheat strangers.
Received a small note from Mont.
The name of the proprietor or master (lace manufactory) Martin Van Beckhoot, a tall, fine looking Frenchman. His wife — oh, how corpulent.
Returned to the Hotel Bellevue."

Day 8, Aachen

My train from Frankfurt was delayed by over an hour, so I didn’t get to Aachen until after 2. This turned out to be fine, as it’s a small city and everything is easily walkable.  Aachen has a long history, dating to Neolithic times and later settled by the Celts and the Romans because of its thermal springs. It later became the political center of Charlemagne’s empire, and he was buried here in 814. This history was very interesting and important to Calvin and Octavia, so I went on a quest to find Charlemagne (whom I found…or at least his arm bone.) I was able to visit the treasures of the sacristy of the cathedral, so I saw many of the same relics that Octavia mentions below. I also made a stop at the sulfurous-smelling Elisenbrunnen and the medieval city hall, and as I walked around I became very aware of all of the empty storefronts.

Some excerpts from Calvin and Octavia:

Calvin (in a letter to his wife, Temperance):

"I went from Cologne (where my letter to Tom was written) to Aix la Chapelle [French name of Aachen] over an interesting country than I expected [sic] and far more hilly, for we passed through one Tunnel of a mile. In this city rendered famous by Charlemagne and many great events since his time we staid a day, rode over it, visited the baths, the Churches etc. (we are a mighty going people) and next day by Liege, Louvain, etc. to the beautiful city of Brussels."


"…Charlemagne here had a castle, and his beloved Fastrada died. He grieved over body until Turpin the wise came while he was asleep and removed the ring from her finger, and that broke the spell of melancholy.

Aix contains 40,000 — Roman Aquis Grani; they had baths here. Charlemagne was born and died here 814; he made it a place of eminence. Napoleon united it to France, but after the Peace of Paris, it was restored again to Prussia.

Manufactories of cloth and needles. Hotel de Ville (Rathaus — in the market place, erected 1353, in the same spot where stood the palace of Frankish kings, where Charlemagne was born. Tower of Granus — east — Congresses met here in 1758 and 1818 — artists of the Düsseldorf school — Lord Sandwich, the English minister — Napoleon’s in the center of the square — bronze statue of Charlemagne — Don Karl — Ch.’s Chapel — he designed it for his burial — form of the holy Sepulcher, consecrated by Leo III. 365 archbishops and bishops were to have been present but 2 were missing. Church destroyed by the Germans and rebuilt by Otho III of the old materials; one of the oldest buildings in Germany. “Carlo Magno” on the slab under the dome. The place built after the manner of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Aix La Chapelle July 30
The treasury or sacristy — skull of Charlemagne — arm bone — his hunting horn formed of elephant’s tusk — virgin’s hair [?] — Leather girdle of Christ (seal of Constantine on it, as the priest tells me) and the cord that bound the rod which smote him — nail of the cross — sponge — the arm of Simeon, which bore the infant Jesus — blood and bones of St. Stephen — [. . .] of St. Thomas and tooth — manna from the wilderness and some bits of Aron’s rod are still preserved here. Upon the relics, the Emperor swore at his coronation. The choir image presented by Mary Queen of Scots. Charlemagne’s throne, precious stones; great many jewels presented to Charlemagne by Sovereigns. Frederic Barbarossa —Eastern Gems — Models [?], diamonds, pearls, jasper — all the precious st[ones]…Fountain of Elise — a very handsome place — [. . .] etc. Boulevards — Music — nothing from 12 till night but music. Went to the opera accompanied by Mr. Lewis, the performance was truly excellent; music also, of course. “One night in Grenada.” Cafés brilliantly illuminated; promenade at the Font Elise; very much crowded; all gay, all enjoying themselves. I wrote a few lines and now in time to fall beneath the leaden scepter of the sable goddess."

Day 7, Frankfurt

Calvin and Octavia didn't write a lot of description about Frankfurt, but there was a list of places with an "X" marked next to some. I took that to mean that they visited the places that had the "X." It wasn't too much to go on, but it was something. The issue (or the interesting thing) is that Frankfurt would hardly be recognizable as the same city today. It was significantly damaged in the war, as well as now being a a fairly huge city with skyscrapers and lots of new construction. I decided to do my best with their list, and otherwise just wander and see where the day took me. I ended up spending a fair amount of time in the Städel Museum, which had a great photo exhibit up called "Fotographien Werden Bilder" (Photographs Become Pictures), about Ernst and Hilla Becher and the students they taught who went on to become well-respected photographers in their own right: Volker Döhne, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Tata Ronkholz, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich. I also spent a good amount of time with their contemporary collection, which is housed in an amazing underground gallery that is lit via skylights that are embedded in the courtyard behind the museum. 

Here is the list from Calvin and Octavia:

X Mr. Jugel, Bookseller
X [. . .] Bethmann, Banker
Pipes, Toys, Caps, Stock
Opera — Theatre
Shoe Store — soles
X Madame Rothschild
X Baron Rothschild
X Jews Quarter
X New Streets: Zeil, Mainzer Straße
X Dom [cathedral] X town House or Römer
X St. Les
X Museum of Pictures
X Library open Tuesday 11 to 12
X Where are Luthers shoes
X Goethe “House F” No. 74 Hirsch Graben
X [. . .] Gate — Synagogue
X [. . .]’s shop on Dom Platz — maps
X Tacchi glass shop in the Zeil
Paper at Jugels in the Hotel

And here are the places I managed to see. (I also saw the Zeil, which is a big shopping district, but didn't take any photos, and I saw Bethmannstrasse, which is named after Bethmann, and his bank still exists today, as well.)

...and some of what I saw in the museum.

Day 6, Baden-Baden

I left Basel today and traveled to Baden-Baden via train. The weather was much better than forecast (68 and sunny), so I knew that I wanted to hike up to the Altes Schloss (old castle), which was one of the few stops Calvin and Octavia made here. The original name of the castle was Schloss Hohenbaden, and was built in 1102 as a home to the Margraves of Baden. 

Octavia was quite taken with the landscape:

"Went this morning to Episcopal C[hurch] and to the old Castle (feudal). Winding up the mountain, at each angle a changing picture. The immense ruins, old trees stretching their broad arms through the broken wall, moss covered towers (watch), banquet hall, wine cellar, balcony, view,  . . . climbed the mountain, grand, romantic, each turn increased in sublimity.
Byron, “Here thy soul might love to linger.”

Calvin writes in a letter to his son Mont:

"We returned to Strasburg and immediately came to Baden in Baden, the occasional residence of the grand Duke. It is a curious place. Yesterday we went to the Altes Schloss (Old Castle) now in ruins, that seems just over our heads and yet by the carriage road is 2 eng. miles. Today we shall see the new palace— not quite over our heads, but nearly; … The Springs here [Baden] are about 150 degrees of Temperature, and the water is always hot enough to scald hogs, chickens and boil eggs. It is usually drunk tolerably warm. At the “Trink Hall” (pump room) a superb place where there is band of music every morning) it is furnished at the proper temperature. It is conveyed by pipes— piping hot, into almost every house where there are baths (There are many Germans, French, and English here (and 2 Americans)...

The promenade along the Oos (a beautiful swift stream that turns a good many curious corn mills) and those winding in the hills among the thick white pines & hemlocks are very fine. Why need I repeat any thing of this— the whole country and all that belongs to it is highly ornamented, even the mill house that I have just come out of would surprise Mr. Miller and parson somebody with a bishops name. But promenades cannot be mentioned after the Gardens of the Tuileries."

After my hike up and down the mountain to the castle (2 hours round trip), I walked into town to look at the baths, the Roman bath ruins, and the promenade by the Oos river. Baden Baden is known for its thermal baths, and the entire town is built around them, functioning mainly as a spa and healing resort. 

Day 5, Basel

Since I checked off all the relevant sites in Basel yesterday, I decided to take an art interlude today. The main art museum here has a special exhibition of paintings on loan from the Prado in Madrid in dialogue with paintings from its collection. My uncle and I went to see it and then toured the 20th century collection, as well. 

Rembrandt, David presenting King Saul with the head of Goliath, 1627

Rembrandt, David presenting King Saul with the head of Goliath, 1627

Unknown French, The Christian soul accepts the cross, 1630

Unknown French, The Christian soul accepts the cross, 1630

Francisco de Zurbaran, Agnus Dei, 1635

Francisco de Zurbaran, Agnus Dei, 1635

Pablo Picasso, Seated Harlequin, 1923

Pablo Picasso, Seated Harlequin, 1923

Pablo Picasso, Woman with a guitar, 1911-14

Pablo Picasso, Woman with a guitar, 1911-14

Georges Braque, The Musician, 1917-18

Georges Braque, The Musician, 1917-18

Le Corbusier, Vertical Still Life, 1922

Le Corbusier, Vertical Still Life, 1922

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self portrait semi-nude with amber necklace, 1906

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self portrait semi-nude with amber necklace, 1906

Emil Nolde, Twilight (Marsh Landscape), 1916

Emil Nolde, Twilight (Marsh Landscape), 1916

Franz Marc, Animal Destinies (The trees showed their rings, the animals their veins), 1913 This painting was supposed to be in a commemorative exhibition after Franz Marc fell at the Battle of Verdun in 1916, but there was a fire in the exhibition storage facility, and a third of the painting burned. Paul Klee then took it upon himself to restore the work in 1919, intentionally leaving the burned edge visible and slightly discoloring the new part. 

Franz Marc, Animal Destinies (The trees showed their rings, the animals their veins), 1913

This painting was supposed to be in a commemorative exhibition after Franz Marc fell at the Battle of Verdun in 1916, but there was a fire in the exhibition storage facility, and a third of the painting burned. Paul Klee then took it upon himself to restore the work in 1919, intentionally leaving the burned edge visible and slightly discoloring the new part. 

Ferdinand Léger, Printemps

Ferdinand Léger, Printemps

Adya van Rees, Embroidery, 1914

Adya van Rees, Embroidery, 1914

Hans Arp, Sophie Taueber-Arp, Untitled, 1916-17

Hans Arp, Sophie Taueber-Arp, Untitled, 1916-17

Meret Oppenheim, White head, blue garment, 1935

Meret Oppenheim, White head, blue garment, 1935

Alberto Giacometti, Portrait of Annette with a yellow blouse, 1964

Alberto Giacometti, Portrait of Annette with a yellow blouse, 1964

Theo van Doesburg, Composition XII in black and white, 1918

Theo van Doesburg, Composition XII in black and white, 1918

And apparently, FC Basel has done really well in soccer this year, and there's a big parade in town tonight. I'm not planning to go, but I think this guy is:

Day 4, Basel via Strasbourg

Today I traveled to Basel via Strasbourg. Unfortunately I only had a short layover in Strasbourg and wasn't able to do a lot of sightseeing, but I left the train station for a little while to look around. 

Here are Octavia's words from their journey from Paris to Strasbourg:

"We left Paris on the 8th July in sadness. What indescribable feeling did I have. “Paradise lost.” Came through a beautiful country, smiling with peace and plenty — and at the same time swarming with beggars.

Strasbourg. Like all other french towns, is filled with embellishments; characteristic statues of Kleber — assas. Egypt — St. Mad[. . ..] Went to the top of the Cathedral with two military men and valet who knew only one English word. “Yes” Satisfactory."

[Jean Baptiste Kléber (1753–1800), Napoleon’s general in the Egyptian campaign, was soon after his victory there assassinated by a Syrian student in Cairo. His statue stands in Place Kléber in Strasbourg. At the time Octavia climbed its tower, the Strasbourg Cathedral was the tallest structure in the world (474 ft.) and remained so until 1874.]

And here are the words of her father in a letter to his son Mont:

"We took the diligence to come through in 48 hours to Strasburg— 366 miles— we had 24 or 25 persons on board (24 full complement). We travelled over a finely cultivated country full of towns, some of them elegant, and I think strongly fortified. Bar le Duc, Luneville, Toul, Nancy, Phalsburg the most important that I recollect. In the morning of the 3rd day in descending the Vosges mountains (once the boundary of France and Germany) we saw the spire of the cathedral of Strasburg— which is the highest human structure in the world, 474 or 590 French feet high— 12 feet higher than the great Pyramid and 135 feet higher than St. Paul's.

Our approach to Strasburg is over a dead level plain of Great fertility. Well, we arrived at Strasburg— and what then? Why, you will say that like exhausted night travellers we went to bed and to sleep. No such thing! In two hours I was on the floor of the Cathedral examining its wonderful old clock (which stood still 50 years until repaired 4 years ago) and Sis was on the top of the tower where she saw a long stretch of the Rhine and more cities than she could count or remembered the names of. We went to the cannon foundery— saw them bored and finished— but no casting etc. etc. Then took the rail train and went to Basle in Switzerland."

A trip that took them 48 hours took me fewer than 2 on the TGV. 

the river in Strasbourg

the river in Strasbourg

The train ride from Strasbourg to Basel is an hour and 20 minutes. I arrived around 12:30, and my uncle picked me up from the train station. We drove to Therwil, which is a small village outside of Basel where he and my aunt live. We ate on the terrace, and then all took a trip into the city together. We did a loop of all the sites that Calvin and Octavia visited, beginning with the former residence of Mr. Vischer (who was a scion of the silk industry in Basel). Octavia had mentioned visiting his gardens. We then walked to the Münster (the cathedral) and the Hotel Trois Rois, which is one of the (or perhaps the) oldest hotel in the world. Calvin and Octavia stayed there in 1844, and we decided to have a drink on the terrace. Afterwards, we walked across the Rhein and then took the ferry across so that we could get a view of Mr. Vischer's garden.

From Octavia's journal:

Took cars [i.e., railroad] for Basle; arrived in 4ó hours from Strasbourg. Hotel of the Drei Könige, whose walls are washed by the beautiful Rhine — a most excellent house—splendid—most charm . . . . After 5 o.c. dinner went to the old Cathedral, commenced by the Emperor Henry 2 in 1010 and was finished in 1119. There saw tomb of Anne with Rudolph of Hapsburg, mother of the line of Austrian princes. The room of Luther in which the council was held and a most excellent bust of Erasmus in brass. Grave of Barnuelly [i.e. Jacob Bernoulli], the mathematician, bosom friend of Sir Isaac Newton. To the garden of Mr. Vischer, lovely spot where we saw in our view the Jura alps, Black Forest — Germany — Switzerland."

Paris, Day 3

Today is my last day in Paris. I decided to take a trip to Domaines de Saint-Cloud, which is a large park on the outskirts of the city, and a place I had never heard of until reading these historical letters. It turns out that the park is located on the site of the former Château de Saint-Cloud, which was built on a site overlooking the Seine at Saint-Cloud, 5 km west of Paris. According to Wikipedia, the château was expanded by Phillipe of France, Duke of Orléans in the 17th century, and finally enlarged by Marie Antoinette in the 1780s. After occupation by Napoleon I and Napoleon III, the château was destroyed in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. So the Château is no longer there, but the gardens and fountains are, and I was curious to see them.

Here is an excerpt from Calvin Jones in a letter he wrote home to his son, Paul Tudor:

"We have also been to St. Cloud, Bonaparts (sic) favorite residence, and a glorious place it is. Here it was he drove the council of 500 out of the windows. We went through all the private apartments of the palace, but we were ushered through in haste as the King was to dine there. Sis took time to examine the Queens bed, drew the curtains and lifted up the bedding. The gardens and everything here is delightful, certainly the most pleasant of any of the Royal palaces." 

The park and gardens didn't disappoint. It was a surreal, magical and quiet place. There were absolutely no tourists, only an occasional jogger or dog walker. The fountains were amazing, and they work on the same principle as the ones at Versailles: all the water gets pumped via gravity. Apparently, they turn the fountains on on Sundays during the summer. I wish I could have seen them in action. 



Paris, Day 2

Today I covered much less ground, deciding to spend some time exploring my neighborhood around the Canal St. Martin, and then heading to Père Lachaise Cemetery and the Place de la Bastille, two locations that made an impression on Calvin. 

 In his words, from a letter to his son, Paul Tudor:

"Octavia and I have spent our time in sight-seeing, principally, and such sights— each day has been worth a voyage across the Atlantic. Today we have been to Pierre la Chase [sic], the city of the dead, 100 acres filled with monuments of distinguished men and of the rich who could afford a splendid tomb— from this place is a fine view of Paris…"

And some notes from his journal:

"Gate of the Bastil[l]e — High monument in Bronze surmounted by a figure holding an [. . .] Elephant in Gypsum — Canal — Boulevards — 150 and in some places 250 wide — trees— houses 6 to 7 stories — Courts and shops elegant — Bastile was an oblong square — gates and vaults remain, opening on the Canal and are wine and wood cellars. The Houses on each side [. . .] to the walls of the Bastile — nearer than before its destruction."





An Introduction to Calvin and Octavia Jones

Before I head out today, I want to introduce these two, and explain a little about why I am on this journey. Many years ago, when I was still a young girl, my grandfather embarked on a mission to research and document our family's history. He spent many, many years gathering materials, visiting archives, traveling, and meeting with other family members to finally organize and transcribe several volumes of correspondence and ephemera. It was a huge undertaking, but one that he found endlessly rewarding. He would regale us with stories about these people, and his enthusiasm was contagious. When he passed away, my father took it upon himself to finish transcribing, to edit, and finally compile these manuscripts into both digital and printed copies. From this meticulously documented and organized manuscript, I was able to easily alight on the the part that was immediately fascinating to me. Namely, how is it that a man in his sixties, along with his 18-year-old daughter, embark on a 4-month voyage to Europe? What did they discover? What was going on in Europe at that time? And the question that is actually the most interesting, knowing what I know of U.S. history: how were they able to take such a journey? The short answer: They were wealthy southern landowners. The long answer (and the part that will take more reckoning, as well as accountability, on my part) is one that will involve much more reading and research into the family history that occurred before this trip in 1844. I have a feeling that this project is just beginning, and that this will be something that occupies me for many years. My next journey will inevitably be to North Carolina and Tennessee. 

Calvin Jones

Calvin Jones

But before I go there, here is a brief bio of Calvin Jones (a quick history written by my grandfather, Jameson M. Jones, in a letter when he was attempting to track down family papers.)

Calvin Jones as a fledgling physician of 20 years emigrated from his birthplace in Sheffield, MA, to Smithfield, a village quite near Raleigh, NC, about 1795. He quickly established himself as an interesting and respected member of his profession, a member of the NC militia (ultimately a Major General and Quartermaster General in the War of 1812), and a proponent of education. He became a member of the Board of Trustees of UNC about the time he moved into Raleigh shortly after the turn of the century. Very soon he became partners with Thomas Henderson in publishing a newspaper in Raleigh, The Star. He was one of the founders of a professional medical society in NC and corresponded with leading physicians across the state. He was a elected for a term to the NC Assembly (legislature) and to the office of Intendant (mayor) of Raleigh.

He became acquainted with the Williams family in Franklin and Warren counties (north of Raleigh) and became engaged to Ruina Williams, who died of consumption in 1809, before they could marry. Ten years later (April 15, 1819) he married Ruina’s older sister, Temperance Boddie Williams Jones, a widow with a 9 year old boy.

He and his wife moved in 1821 from Raleigh to Wake Forest. Before and after his marriage, he became engrossed in exploring and buying lands in Tennessee, an idea finally carried out  in the fall of 1832, when he settled in Hardeman County, near Bolivar, TN.

Octavia Rowena Jones

Octavia Rowena Jones

His daughter, Octavia Rowena Jones, was 18 at the time of the trip. Her journal was actually more complete than that of her father, and she proved to be an indispensable traveling companion, taking care of all the bills and currency conversions, as well as practicing her languages, communicating with the Europeans on behalf of her father. 

The introduction to the transcribed journals reads as follows:

CALVIN JONES (1775–1846)  AND HIS DAUGHTER OCTAVIA (1826–1917), 18 years of age, left their home in Bolivar, Tennessee, on 8 April 1844. They boarded a steamboat in Memphis three days later and proceeded up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Pittsburgh and then took another boat to Brownsville, PA, on the Monongahela. They traveled by stage coach to Cumberland, MD, and from there they went by railroad to Washington, DC. After a stay in Washington and Baltimore, where CJ attended the national Whig convention that nominated Henry Clay for President, they went to New York, where they boarded the American packet Sylvie de Grasse on 16 May. They landed at Le Havre in France on 7 June.

So now I am in Europe, and as I immerse myself in current-day experiences, being mindful of current events and the political and social aspects of contemporary society, I am simultaneously engaging with history. I am currently reading a history of Europe from 1815-1914 in order to better understand the circumstances in which they traveled. As mentioned earlier, Calvin Jones was a Whig and had some progressive thoughts on education and other things (more on that later). In Europe, he met with various political figures, most notably visiting Daniel O'Connell (known as the great Irish liberator) in prison in Dublin. These facts intrigue me and confound other aspects of the family history, so I am trying to read and inform myself as much as possible. As I move forward with the project, there are several specific points of interest that are beginning to take shape:

Boundaries: Political, geographical, personal, cultural

Memory: specifically as it relates to the idea of collective memory and writing/recording history

Archive: need to unpack this as a concept, container, and vehicle for thought, documentation, and history

Gesture of Re-enactment (this is a term borrowed from the artist Doug Ashford): using the passing of time as a part of the structure, part of the reason for the work being made.

Some other keywords that might frame or shape the direction of my thinking:

  • Psychogeography
  • Mapping/mental maps
  • Mediated space
  • Perspective
  • Relics
  • The Grid (potentially as a metaphor for rigidity, architecture, edifice)

Paris, Day 1

I arrived yesterday afternoon, but I am counting today as Day 1, since I was too exhausted to do anything yesterday. In upcoming posts, I will share additional information and backstory about my project and who these ancestors are and why I have their journals, but for now, I am going to dive into sharing my day and experiences.

The plan for today was to be aware of landmarks and sites that Calvin and Octavia had visited in 1844, and to have a rough walking itinerary for hitting many of them. I can say that I succeeded—I must have walked 15 miles today. I am staying in the 10th arrondissement near the Canal St. Martin, and from here walked through the Marais towards the Seine. The first landmark of note was the Hotel de Ville (City Hall). Conspicious was the "Je suis Charlie" sign in a window and the Marine Le Pen "Fear" poster that was plastered in various spots on the plaza in front. 

From there I wandered across to the Île de la Cité, and past Notre Dame. I walked past all the tourists on the plaza in front to the back of the church, which was always my favorite vantage point. The garden was relatively quiet. From there, I walked across to Île St. Louis, and decided I might as well keep walking to the Jardin des Plantes, since that had made such an impression on Octavia in 1844. 

From there, I walked back along the Seine and found some amazing antique postcards of Paris at a bouquiniste. They are from the late nineteenth/early 20th century, but close enough... 

After lunch, I wandered down to the Jardin de Luxembourg.

After sitting for a while sketching and people-watching, I headed north again. This time I crossed the Pont des Artistes to the Louvre and the Tuilleries. 

I randomly happened upon the Galignani Bookstore on the Rue du Rivoli, which is the same bookstore (albeit in a different location) that Calvin and Octavia visited several times when they were in Paris. As the sign out front proclaims, it's the first English bookshop established on the continent. After that, I meandered back through the 1st, 2nd, and 10th arrondissement towards my Air BnB. 

Project Description

I was granted a travelling fellowship in 2017 to support an ongoing project exploring the intersection of personal and historical memory within physical, social and archival spaces, which will culminate in the re-creation of the journey that two of my ancestors took through Europe in 1844. For five weeks, I will travel across seven countries to gather historical data, images, natural materials and cultural artifacts. 

In 1844, my ancestor Calvin Jones traveled from Tennessee to Europe with his daughter Octavia. Each kept a journal, and Octavia also kept a “book of relics,” in which she pressed plant specimens from each of the locales visited. My project takes these artifacts as the beginning of an investigation into place, memory, and the ways that souvenirs shape the experience of both. My work has enduringly pursued these themes, specifically through the places we inhabit, often using personal family history, homes, and artifacts as inspiration. My work demands an intense immersion in spaces and places, and this process spurs a fascination with the myriad ways of remembering—journals, photographs, souvenirs, relics—and how these cues inflect and affect our memories.

Drawing upon the research I’ve performed for this project, both into my own family history, and the history of the United States and Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, this project will be framed through the questions examining individual versus collective memory as well as the potential violence and erasures enacted through the writing and recording of history. I will also investigate the idea of the “boundary”— geographical, political, cultural and personal—as well as questions of economics and privilege. What conspired to allow for such a journey in 1844, and what are the correspondences between those historical circumstances and my own privilege as a white American moving freely through Europe in this charged political moment?  Building upon these formative questions, my project will generate a dialectic between the historical past and my own engagement with it in the present, with meaning emerging from the amorphous space between the two.

Translating the research materials gleaned over the course of my journey—a written journal, material artifacts, and a series of photographs and videos—the ensuing project will stage a dialogue between my family’s history and the environmental, political and social changes that have occurred in the interim 173 years, resulting in the creation of a new and updated archive of a journey.