Archive for the ‘Switzerland’ Category


Detail of Chagall’s America Windows

Marc Zakharovich Chagall (born July 1887, Belarus; died March 1985, France), a Russian-French artist of Belarusian Jewish origin, was an early modernist. We’ve come across his work before (in Paris and in Zurich), and love his bold use of colors in glass, and his “pictures within pictures.” For us, probably the most famous is his America Windows in Chicago at the Art Institute.

Marc Chagall’s America Windows is one of the most loved treasures in the Art Institute’s collection—they are one of our favorites too, although it’s hard to pick favorites in this museum so chock-a-block with masterpieces! They made their debut at the Art Institute in May 1977 and were made more famous less than ten years later when they appeared in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Bit of Background:

Chagall’s Windows were not on show for quite a while as they were undergoing


Detail of America Windows

conservation treatment and archival research. But, they returned in 2010 to a new location as the stunning centerpiece of a new presentation on Chicago’s other modern public art at the east end of the museum’s Arthur Rubloff building (as you go down to the café). Here we can see models and maquettes of some of the important large pieces in the story of Chicago’s modern public art.

It’s interesting that the history of America Windows is interwoven with the history of Chicago and its rich tradition of public art, which continues strongly today.

The roots of this can be traced to 1967, the year Pablo Picasso’s monumental sculpture was unveiled. It was Chicago’s first major installation of the new styles of 20th century modern art (see my post on this here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/chicago-creativity-on-the-streets/ ). It initially inspired controversy, but soon started a cultural resurgence fueled by public and private investment in the arts. One of these included Mark Chagall’s mosaic The Four Seasons installed outside Chase Tower in 1974, which in turn inspired America Windows.


Another detail from America Windows

Because the city was so enthusiastic about his work and the Art Institute gave him great support, Chagall offered to create a set of stained-glass windows for the museum. During the next three years plans were clarified, and Chagall decided that the windows would commemorate America’s bicentennial.

The resulting six-panel work, with three main themes, celebrates the country as a place of cultural and religious freedom, giving details of the arts of music, painting, literature, theater, and dance. They paint a romantic picture of the American Dream, the idea that we can achieve anything we want in this country. Because Chagall admired Chicago and its strong commitment to public art during the 1960s and 1970s, he chose to dedicate the work to the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, a great supporter of public art projects (he died December 1976). The windows were presented with great fanfare at a formal unveiling, hosted by the Auxiliary Board of the Art Institute, on May 15, 1977.

The Windows Today:

The Windows are in a superb location now, as they glow softly from the natural light coming in behind them. The colors and the details are beautiful, a story of different religions, arts and parts of American life all intertwined.

The first panel shows the city’s rich history as a hub for rhythm and blues. Note people playing instruments, plus floating guitars and fiddles, all in glowing blue panes. The windows are done cathedral-style, a perfect way to show the spirituality of Blues music.


First panel

The second panel depicts the unity and peace within the city’s many neighborhoods. Note the giant dove, a symbol of peace. This panel is also a prayer for the city. When Mayor Richard J. Daley died in December1976, many people were in mourning. The figure on the left of the pane lights a candle in remembrance of the late, great mayor.


Second panel

Panel three shows the importance of religious freedom in the USA. Note the immigrants of different backgrounds, an angel-like figure, a menorah, and rose window. Chagall was Jewish but worked extensively with cathedral windows and was comfortable referring to Christianity and Judaism. It’s also important, as most American citizens have come from a family of immigrants. Something the current Administration needs to take heed of!!


Panel 3


Opera Garnier is a gorgeous setting for Chagall’s ceiling

Another Chagall masterpiece we’ve seen and photographed is in Paris at the neo-Baroque Opera Garnier; the magnificent ceiling in the main auditorium. It was unveiled in 1964. It looks beautiful there, even though his design is way more modern that the setting it is in. Somehow, we think the older (and very sumptuous and ornate) and the new meld very well and apparently the public love it today. Chagall divided the ceiling into color zones that he filled with landscapes and figures commemorating the composers, actors and dancers of opera and ballet.



Angels on pillars, angels on the ceiling


Chagall ceiling at Opera Garnier


Chagall at Fraumunster Church Zurich–first 4 window-panels of 5

We also saw some of Chagall’s work in the heart of old Zurich at the Fraumunster Church, built on the remains of an abbey built in 853. The choir of the abbey has 5 large stained-glass windows designed by Chagall and installed in 1970. They all depict a Christian story. Stunning.

The first panel in red/orange depicts Elijah’s


Last 4 window-panels

ascent to heaven. The second panel in blue shows Jacob’s combat and dreams of heaven. The middle (third) panel in green depicts various scenes from Christ’s life. The fourth panel in yellow shows Zion with an angel trumpeting the end of the world. The last (fifth) panel in blue depicts Law, with Moses looking down on the suffering of the people.


Middle 3 window-panels

We look forward to tracking down more of Chagall’s work in the future. But, in the meantime, we are happy that Chicago and its history of public art can boast one of his major works.


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Entrance to the museum building , 2011

Entrance to the museum building , 2011






The Showcase of the Olympic Movement

VivsignThe important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well”—Pierre de Coubertin

The Winter Olympics are about to take place in Sochi, Russia, and as we all know, there is much talk about the actual games and the security surrounding them. This gets many people thinking about what the games are, what their main goal is (Build a Better World Through Sport), and how they fit into modern life.

The idea of a museum dedicated to appreciating the Olympic idea goes back to Pierre de Coubertin, who revived the Olympic Games and founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Olympic Museum reflects the spirit of the games, which bring nations and people together.

The museum, which was inaugurated in 1993, was closed for renovation and extension in January 2012. After almost two years, it re-opened with its new look, the tag line: The New Olympic Museum—Keeping the Torch Burning.

We visited this lovely museum in late 2011, before it closed for extensive work, and I’m hoping to get back to it soon. It was a

From the museum, view of part of the gardens and the view over the lake

From the museum, view of part of the gardens and the view over the lake

fascinating place then, so I wonder how they have expanded and improved it. The website tells us that the permanent exhibitions are now on 3 floors and incorporate the museum grounds. The Tom restaurant has been moved to the south side of the museum with a view over the lake and the Alps.

Details may have changed, but the beautiful location has not. The museum has an unusual architectural style on the side of a hill on the edge of Lake Geneva, in pretty gardens with many outdoor sculptures of athletes or related to the Olympics in some way.


Statue of a human foot at the starting line

Statue of a human foot at the starting line


IN a small courtyard is an olive tree---each winner gets an olive branch, symbolizing the link with the ancient Games

IN a small courtyard is an olive tree—each winner gets an olive branch, symbolizing the link with the ancient Games

It is home to interactive exhibitions, documents, films and unique collections of precious Olympic objects dating from Greek antiquity up until modern times. The museum is the largest information center on the subject of the Olympic Games in the world.

Thanks to computer technology, audiovisual media and presentations, and special effects, it’s possible for us to experience the Olympics almost as the athletes did, and to relive the highlights and memorable moments. The permanent and temporary exhibits document the history of the Games from antiquity to modern times, with stories of past Olympic Games and their champions, whether actual medal winners or not. We can also find out what sports there were and are, and the athletes for each; and find out the answers to such questions as, What is the Olympian Legacy? What are the Youth Olympic Games?

Besides the exhibitions, the museum houses an Olympic Studies Centre, a library, a video library, an education section, an auditorium, meeting rooms, a good restaurant and souvenir shop with an array of very tempting items! There’s also a terrace with a stunning view across to the Alps and down to Lake Geneva and the Olympic Park with its works of art. We found the gardens and the view worth a visit in their own right, besides the amazing exhibits inside. When we were there, the special exhibition was entitled “Hope”.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The museum runs a great website that is the official website of the Olympic Movement, covering everything and featuring past and potential champions this year:


For practical information visit the website:


Open daily 9-6 May 1-October 19; 10-6 rest of year, but closed Monday

Admission: CHF18 adults, CHF10 children, CHF16 seniors, other reductions possible.

Statue with a view

Statue with a view

One runner greets another!

One runner greets another!

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Berne, Switzerland: Two men in orange found under an Orange sign on the square in front of the famous Zytglogge (Clock Tower) on our recent trip to Switzerland.

People were fascinated with these two guys, including the Swiss army men walking by. All trying to work out exactly HOW they managed to do this stunt! Any ideas?

An illusion? Must be, but how do they do it?

An illusion? Must be, but how do they do it?

Seemingly suspended in mid-air!

Seemingly suspended in mid-air!

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A local procession and “pumpkin wagon” prepare to leave

Carved pumpkin and turnip (with its feathery top)

Turnip lanterns

What do you get if you combine turnips, Jack-O’-Lanterns, and outdoor carol singing in the frosty night air? The Swiss Räbechilbi, or Turnip Festival, also called Räbeliechtli-Fest (Eine Räbe is a Turnip).

This is a lovely special tradition in the autumn, which has its roots both as a harvest festival, and as lanterns that represent the warmth of home during the cold winter months. It seems an unusual vegetable to honor, but actually, why not, when one considers that it’s one of the oldest and most nutritious root vegetables.

The biggest Räbechilbi is in the town of Richterswil, south of Zurich on the west side of the lake, to celebrate the end of the harvest. The main event is a big parade through town with marching bands and floats decorated with turnip lanterns. The parade is usually the second Saturday in November, with the parade starting at 6:30pm.

Nowadays, they harvest 25-26 tons of turnips and other root vegetables that are carved into lanterns to use for the festival. There are so many turnips that a special machine has been developed to help hollow them out. Once the turnips are hollow, people carve beautiful designs into them but without cutting through the skin as one does with pumpkins, and for a few days before the festival, the whole town is busy making these lanterns.

The tradition of carving out the lanterns came from a legend dating back to the mid-19th century, in which the farmers’ wives living in the hills around the town would make lanterns out of turnips, to light the way home from church at night in the middle of winter. The first known parade dates back to 1884 and regular parades began in 1905. Nowadays church-going women dressed in dark colors lead the parade, but the parade is mainly for the children to walk and carry their twinkling turnip lanterns.

Not only is this the biggest turnip parade in Europe, it is probably also the most spectacular with the carved turnips illuminated by twinkling candles. People estimate that there are over 10,000 carved turnips and 50,000 candles. Besides the floats in the parade, which can be anything from elephants and roses to temples made of turnips, the hanging lanterns cover houses, shops, the local church and even a funicular tramcar. The people in Richterswil also make large group sculptures by placing many lanterns in a pattern. All this effort was rewarded in 1998 when the festival made it into the Guinness Book of Records.

The parade route and food stands get very busy, but the side streets are quieter and lovely with all the flickering candlelight, so many people simply wander through the town.

The best way to get to Richterswil is on the train (S2 or S8), which runs about every 15 mins from the main train station, and takes about 30 mins. (The train will likely be really crowded). As you enter the town, you’ll have to buy a ticket for the festival (about 5CHF/adult, kids free) from one of the many staff wandering the train station—as in Switzerland parades are apparently not free!

Eva with her carved turnip

This turnip festival has spread to other parts of Switzerland, especially in the Zurich area, and most communities and neighborhoods host their own little Räbeliechtli in the week prior to the main one in Richterswil. We were lucky enough to take part in one of these, connected to our grand-daughter’s pre-school in a suburb of Zurich, and we were told this was very typical.

Families made lanterns carved from huge hollowed-out turnips, some of the designs simple, some very elaborate. They placed a small tea candle inside each and replaced the turnip top, often with the greenery still on. The kids carried their turnip suspended from a special short pole, or sometimes in their hands. They gathered at 6pm and formed an informal procession that wound its way through the small local streets, stopping at various points to sing.

At the front of the procession were the parents and teachers who played the guitars and led the singing. The kids, parents (many also pushing baby strollers), and lanterns straggled along behind. There was no hurry, as it was all leisurely fun. But the kids were all very excited. At the back of the procession was a “pumpkin wagon”, pulled by one of the parents or teachers. The wagon carried many carved turnips and pumpkins, and paper lanterns, all lit up with their smiley faces. The 3 songs our procession sang were (in Swiss German): Myni Laterne; Raabeliechtli “wo gosch hy?”; and Kommt wir woll’n Laterne laufen. The theme is lanterns and lighting the way, and my son told me that the words are transcribed very phonetically so the meaning is difficult to actually understand.

Our group singing

We felt very fortunate to be part of this unique experience. We were interested to see how big the turnips can get, and also to make the comparison to Christmas carol singing, where groups go from house to house, and to Halloween. However, here the kids don’t receive anything (candy, treats etc) except for the fun and pleasure of taking part.

…and that’s not the biggest we saw!

So many turnips, we wondered what the people do with the turnip pulp. Apparently, turnips are used in many ways, the most popular being as part of a hearty soup. What about a delicious, Italian-style soup with chicken stock, rice, parsley and parmesan cheese?

http://www.zuerichsee.ch/en/page.cfm/topeventsstartrz/topeventsrz/1009 (2 pics below)

A structure made from lit lanterns

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