Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A Well Spent Sunday

 Sundays are meant for making very optimistic, extravagant plans and then lying in and lazing the day away. At least that is my routine more often than not. However this Sunday was very different.

To start with I attended a class over the internet (a webinar) that started late Saturday night and ended at 3 am on Sunday. And, after a few hours of sleep we went on a long planned family sketchcrawl. My wife and daughter are very fond of sketching and painting, and this interest is also shared by quite a few in our extended family. We have driven out of Chennai on a few weekend  sketching trips in the past but this was the first time that we were doing this within the city. And this time my niece was also with us.

We had a fun time on Saturday deciding where to go and finally settled on the Marundeeswarar Koil at Thiruvanmiyur, a very old and famous temple very close to our house.We decided to spend around an hour at this venue and then drive down to a cafe for some much needed refreshments and a different type of sketching opportunity.
One of the problems with South Indian temples is that we cannot wear any footwear inside the temple precincts. The paving is usually in granite and this can sometimes be blistering hot. The four of us broke up and quickly went in search of something sketchworthy, and more importantly a convenient location to do the sketching from.

I ended up locating something that would not have been my first choice as a subject, but it had the advantage of a really quiet and shaded spot from which I could view it. In fact this spot was so secluded that many people went by without even realising that I was sitting there under some heavy foliage. 

My niece Ranjani plonked herself right along the main walkway and was soon immersed in her sketching quite oblivious to the passersby who paused and  gathered behind her to watch her at work. You can see Ranjani's sketch here.

My daughter Kalpana found a place with shade and a backrest too. It was also a spot that was rather difficult to approach and certainly not convenient for anyone to peer over her shoulder. I am sure that this must have been high on her criteria for a suitable sketching spot. Kalpana's sketch can be seen here. 

Nithi, my wife, was not to be seen anywhere. But she is a restless soul and we were sure that she would have finished several sketches in the time that the rest of us take to do even one, and that proved to be the case.

After we were done at Marundeeswarar Koil we drove a few miles South from the temple to a small but nice cafe called Tryst on the East coast Road. Unfortunately the view from our table did not offer any great sketching opportunities. But we did have a nice time there comparing sketches and having some nice stuff to eat and drink. Between gulps I managed to do this quick sketch of Nithi.

 I am adding this bit on Friday 9th Dec, a couple of  days after I had posted my sketches and photos. I finally managed to get Nithi's consent to put up her sketches too. One of her sketches is of a mandapam (shelter)  facing the Amman (lady deity) shrine. Her second sketch is of two fruitsellers engaged in conversation. Nithi does these in no time at all and then moves on to other things that catch her attention.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Near The Mysore Palace

As we were walking from Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery towards The Mysore Palace my wife and I noticed that there were very few new buildings along the route that we took. Most of the buildings built in the style to resonate with the Mysore Palace had been retained, though they were not well preserved. One of the buildings that we walked past housed a mutt. A mutt or math is a Hindu monastic religious establishment. The sketch that you see here is of this building.
 Most of the buildings however appeared to have been let out for commercial use. Nithi made the observation that one could see a marked difference in the way buildings occupied by a single entity were much better than those rented out to multiple owners. She was right. the buildings with multiple shops were certainly run down and the common spaces and gardens around them were all shockingly unkempt. Moreover the signages were all put up any which way as each shop owner tried to outdo the others.

In contrast, the buildings occupied by larger organisations looked reasonably well cared for and the gardens surrounding them looked tended. Of course, when the time comes to get a tenant to vacate, it is perhaps easier to persuade a smaller tenant to move. But then, there would be so many of them to deal with. So I guess it cuts both ways.

One of the buildings that we passed by was occupied by a national telecom comany. I found the building attractive and this is a sketch of the cupolas over it.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, Mysore

Recently my wife Nithi and I went on a brief sketching holiday to Mysore, one of the cleanest cities in India. The weather was extremely kind and it was very pleasant to be outside. We had made up our mind not to do the normal tourist circuit and instead confine ourselves to walking around the shady streets, taking in the streetscape, and streetside activities.
Jaganmohan Palace
 However, we were tempted to travel a bit from where we were staying to visit the Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery since we had heard that this gallery had a collection of prized paintings and artefacts that was worth seeing. The art gallery is located in the Jaganmohan Palace which was built in 1861 when the original Mysore Palace was gutted in a fire.The royal Wodeyar family used the Jaganmohan Palace as their home from 1861 to 1912 when the construction of the present Mysore Palace was completed.
Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery
A visit to the Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery is a must for anyone who wishes to learn how not to run a gallery. First of all, the building does not lend itself easily to this usage. The display is spread over three levels (floors) and even on each floor there are level variations where vistors have to negotiate several steps. And, there are no elevators or ramps to negotiate any of these level differences.

The paintings and artefacts are not displayed to advantage. They are badly positioned with no consideration given to the appropriate distance from which paintings of different sizes should be viewed, and the heights at which they should be hung to be viewer friendly. The lighting is absolutely terrible and is in fact by itself a great source of irritation and an impediment to the viewing of the paintings.

Worst of all is the condition of the paintings themselves. Many of the paintings appear to be torn and damaged. Some restoration work appears to have been attempted on a few of the paintings, but this has been done very incompetently. Mysore is a place which receives a lot of rainfall and yet there is no protection for the paintings and art objects in this gallery from dust and humidity.

That morning we had set out from our hotel very eagerly expecting a treat and instead we came away from the gallery feeling very depressed and angry with the gross neglect and inefficency of whoever was in charge of this place.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Pit Stop Gone Wrong

I was watching the start of this year's Singapore Grand Prix (Formula 1 car racing) when I remembered an unusual incident that took place in this race a few years ago. Although Singapore had been part of the international racing circuit from 1961 onwards, it dropped out in 1973. Formula 1 racing returned only in 2008 as the 15th race of the year.

The resumption was spectacular. The 2008 Singapore  Grand Prix was the first night time Formula 1 race ever, that too on a street circuit, and it made for fantastic viewing. The race was won by Fernando Alonso but it was tainted by an incident that came to be known as "Crashgate". Nelson Piquet, the Renault team's second driver alleged a year later that he had been ordered by his team boss to deliberately crash into the barriers during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to bring the safety car out to give his teammate Alonso an advantage.

Incidentally the Singapore Grand Prix holds the dubious distinction of having had to bring out a safety car every single year. This year too Schumacher's spectacular crash has ensured that the safety car was indeed brought out.

The unusual incident that I referred to was Filipe Massa's pitstop during the 2008 race. The crew gave Massa the all clear prematurely and he took off along with part of the rig still attached to his car!!! When he realised what had happened he had to continue driving up to the end of the pit lane and wait there for his crew to come running up where they had to struggle quite a bit to release it. To add insult to injury Massa was slapped with a drive through penalty for unsafe release from the pits.

Filipe Massa had been leading the race when he initially pitted; he eventually finished 13th.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Hotel du Parc, Puducherry (formerly known as Pondicherry)

I enjoy sketching and painting. Generally I use reference pictures and I am quite willing to spend a lot of time over each drawing. But over the last few years I have begun to enjoy sketching on location. However this calls for a different approach. Speed is important, and capturing the essential forms, proportions, perspective, and mood are more important than details.

Although I would love to sketch on location more often, so far I have been able to do this only when I am on a holiday. One such occasion was on a family holiday to Puducherry last year. Puducherry means "new settlement" and this is how this settlement was known before the French occupied it for over two and a half centuries. During this period it was called Pondicherry and much of the French influence is strongly present in Puducherry even now.

On our holiday we stayed at Hotel du Parc. This is a small heritage hotel which is very conveniently located in the French Quarter of the town close to the beach, the park, the ashram, and the museum. It is housed in a restored portion of Villa Aroume which was built in early 17th century and served as the residence of several French Governors including Dupleix.

My first sketch was done sitting at the doorstep of our room looking across the courtyard at the entrance to the room occupied by the other members of our holiday group. I was able to sit in the shade (which is an important consideration in India). And, since this was within the hotel and not in anyone's way, I was left undisturbed for the entire duration of my sketching.

For the second sketch I sat in the courtyard looking out towards the entrance gate. This time I was a bit more exposed, in every sense. I was in the direct path of a lot of the hotel residents and staff, and several of them stopped to look over my shoulder and chat with me. One of them even offered to stand over me with an umbrella and provide me shade.

While I was busy sketching a young man walked up and very apologetically introduced himself as the architect who had helped convert the old building into a hotel. He happened to be visiting the place.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Paris Observatory, Meudon, France

My sketch shows the Paris Observatory, located at Meudon on the outskirts of Paris. This is the last sketch in my Tour de France 2010 series. LIke each of the previous 20 sketches in this series, this one too is 12 cm x 9.5 cm (approx. 4.75" x 3.75").

The observatory was built in the 17th century under King Louis XIV, and was extended several times in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The most recent additions were made in 1951.
The world's first national almanac was published by the Paris Observatory in the 17th century, and in the mid-19th century the observatory published the first weather maps. In 1913 the Paris Observatory collaborated with the US Naval Observatory to establish the exact longitudinal difference between the two observatories. This was done by exchanging radio signals, with the Paris Observatory using the Eiffel Tower as an antenna.

The 2010 Tour de France concluded on 25th July 2010, 23 days after the cyclists started from Rotterdam. In all there were 21 days of racing and 2 rest days. Since 1975 the race has finished in Paris at the Champs Elysees. The route into Paris varies every year, but it now concludes with 8 laps of the Champs Elysees. In the past this used to be 10 laps. 

Traditionally the winner of the overall classification (yellow jersey) is settled before this last stage. The wearer of the yellow jersey at the start of the final stage therefore has the luxury of savouring the ride into Paris and has only to ensure that he does not meet with any mishap on the way. But there have been a couple of exceptions to this.

In 1979 Joop Zoetemelk attacked Bernard Hinault on the last stage, hoping to win enough time to claim the victory. But Hinault chased Zoetemelk down, and beat him for the stage victory and the overall prize.

In 1989 Laurent Fignon led Greg LeMond by 50 seconds coming into the final stage of the Tour. But that stage was a time trial and therefore, without violating any tradition, LeMond was able to overcome the deficit and win by 8 seconds. (Just the end of around 3300 kms of racing only 8 seconds separated the first two riders that year!!!)

This tradition of not attacking the wearer of the yellow jersey does not extend to the other classifications and on several occasions these have been settled on the last day in thrilling fashion.

The final stage starts with the race leader's team serving champagne, and there is a lot of joking and relaxed riding. But as the riders approach Paris the pace quickens, and around Champs Elysees the racing is really very intense for the stage victory and to settle the various classifications other than the yellow jersey.

The final stage of the 2010 Tour de France was won by Mark Cavendish, who became the first winner of consecutive Champs-Élysées stages. The Isle of Man sprinter won five stages in the 2010 Tour, more than any other rider, taking his career tally to 15 stage wins. and this year (i.e. in the 2011 Tour) he once again won 5 stages including the final (Champs Elysees) stage. He certainly deserves his nickname "the Manx Missile".

For Contador this was his third Tour de France victory, and the second time in a row that Andy Schleck had to finish a step lower than Contador on the winners' podium. Alessandro Petacchi won the sprinters classification (green jersey), Anthony Charteau won the king of the mountains classification (polka dot jersey), Andy Schleck won the best young rider classification (white jersey), and  Team RadioShack won the team competition.

To all of you who have been with me on my virtual journey...... thank you for your patience and encouragement.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Fort Medoc, France

My sketch shows Fort Medoc, located about 10 km (6 miles) from Pauillac, where Stage 19 of the 2010 Tour de France finished. It was built in the 17th century on the instructions of King Louis XIV. It has earthen walls and stone buildings and, along with two other forts in the same region, was supposed to guard the region from attackers coming down the River Gironde. However, Fort Medoc has never figured in any military role. Since 1930 it is the property of the local municipality and is used these days to hold concerts.

Stage 19 was Andy Schleck's final chance to overtake Alberto Contador in the overall classification for the yellow jersey and thus to win the 2010 Tour de France. This stage was an individual time trial, and the route was from Bordeaux to Pauillac, a distance of 52 km (about 32.31 miles). The cyclists took off at intervals of around 3 minutes and raced against the clock. But it was widely expected that Contador would increase his lead over Schleck, who in the past had struggled in this discipline.

The initial going surprised all as Schleck set a high pace that Contador, who followed him three minutes later, had difficulty matching. By the first time check Schleck had picked up six seconds, cutting Contador's overall lead to just two seconds on the road. By the second time check Contador had recovered his losses and extended his lead over Schleck by six seconds. Over the final third of the course Contador extended his advantage, gaining an additional twenty-five seconds on his rival for an overall gain of thirty-one seconds for the stage. When added to the lead that he had started the day with, Contador now led Andy Schleck by 39 seconds. Since by tradition the wearer of the yellow jersey would not be challenged on the last day's ride into Paris, this guaranteed Contador victory barring any unfortunnate accident en route.

Fabian Cancellara, the Olympic and World Time Trial Champion, won the time trial and therefore Stage 19. Allesandro Petacchi who had displaced Thor Hushovd in the sprints classification for the green jersey, Anthony Charteau in the king of the mountains category for the polka jersey, and Andy Schleck in the best young rider category for the white jersey, all held on to their respective leads.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Maison Cantonale, Bordeaux, France

My sketch shows the Maison Cantonale (or Canton House), Bordeaux, and is based on a photograph by Maryse33. Built in the early part of the last century, it was completely renovated about five years ago, and presently houses a courtroom, a police station , a library, a conference room and the district council office. Like the rest of my sketches in this series, this one too is approximately 12 cm x 9.5 cm (4.75" x 3.75").

After the physically draining mountain stages the 198 km ride from Salies de Bearn to Bordeaux over a flat stage would have been relatively a jaunt in the park for the survivors of the 2010 Tour de France. This was the 18th Stage of The Tour and to no one's surprise it was won by Mark Cavendish. This was his fourth stage win of the 2010 Tour.

For Andy Schleck time was running out in his quest to pull back time on Contador. He would now have to wait for the next stage, the individual time trial, for his last opportunity. But Alessandro Petacchi was successful in overtaking Thor Hushovd in the sprints category and would therefore wear the green jersey in the 19th stage. There was no change in the other classifications.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Church of St. Mary, Oloron, France

The 19th day of the 2010 Tour de France was a rest day. On the 20th day Pau was the starting point and the destination was Col du Tourmalet featuring one of the toughest climbing sections of the race.

Oloron Sante-Marie is located close to Pau on this route . The original town was destroyed in the 9th century, and re-built across the River Aspe in the 11th century. Later in the same century a new town was built over the ruins of the earlier town and thus there were two rival towns on either side of the river until they were ordered to merge in the 19th century.

My sketch shows the Oloron Cathedral which was built between the 12th and 14th centuries and is a world heritage site. It was the seat of the Bishopric of Oloron until 1801. Now no longer a cathedral, it is instead called the Church of St. Mary, Oloron.

My sketch is approximately 12 cm x 9.5 cm (4.75" x 3.75").

In cycling the term "queen stage" is used to describe the toughest stage of a multi-day road stage, and Stage 17 of the 2010 Tour de France from Pau to Col du Tourmalet was considered the Queen Stage of the year's Tour. This stage covered a distance of 174 km (108 miles) and had two Category 1, and one Category H climb.

The stage turned into a battle between the top two riders of the tour. Schleck and Contador left the rest of the field behind on the day's final climb to the Col du Tourmalet but, despite attacking Contador several times, Schleck could not distance himself from Contador. Ultimately Schleck won the stage but Contador kept the overall lead and the yellow jersey. With only two flat stages and an individual time trial to follow Schleck was running out of time in his bid to wrest the title from Contador.

There was no change in the other classifications with Thor Hushovd leading in the sprints classification (green jersey), Anthony Charteau in the king of the mountains classification (polka jersey) and Andy Schleck in the best young rider classification (white jersey).

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Henry IV Castle, Pau, France

This 12 cm x 9.5 cm (4.75" x 3.75") pen & ink sketch is of the Henry IV Castle, Pau where Stage 16 of the 2010 Tour de France finished. Built on a rocky ridge overlooking a ford on the River Gave, the castle’s foundations date from the early Middle-Ages. But the present form of the castle is thanks to Gaston Febus, viscount of Bearn in the 14th century. Henri IV one of France's most popular kings was born here in 1553 and ruled during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, until he was murdered in 1610 in Paris. He is remembered for the Edict of Nantes by which he gave back the rights and possessions of the Protestants.

Restored by King Louis-Philippe, the castle became a museum in 1926. Alongside the royal apartments, it is home to several collections devoted to King Henri and a great number of tapestries, making it the biggest tapestry museum in France outside Paris.

My sketch is based mainly on reference photographs by Jibi44 and Pierre Ollivier, plus a few uncredited photographs that I found on the internet.

Pau is also associated with the aviation industry in France. It is where the world's first flying school was inaugurated by the Wright brothers in 1909. Roland Garros (after whom the venue of the French Open Tennis tournament is named) was one of the pilots who graduated from this school.

Stage 16 started from Bagneres de Luchon on the 18th day of the Tour de France 2010, and finished at Pau. This represented one of the tougher segments of the year's race. It was a 199.5 km (124 miles) gruelling mountain stage with two Category 1 and two Category H climbs. The Stage was won by Pierrick Fedrigo, while Alberto Contador clung on to the lead that he had so controversially acquired the previous day in the overall (yellow jersey) classification. Thor Hushovd took the lead once again from Alessandro Petacchi in the sprints point classification for the green jersey. Anthony Charteau and Andy Schleck retained their leads in the king of the mountains (polka jersey), and the best young rider (white jersey) classifications.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Village of Audressein, France

The picturesque village of Audressein lies on the route taken by the riders on the 17th day of the Tour de France 2010 from Pamiers to Bagnerese de Luchon. The village has two churches, the 13th century St. Martin's Church and the Notre-Dame de Tramesaygues church which is a World Heritage site.

Audressein has another claim to fame. It took part in the 19th century "War of the Maidens". From the middle ages the people of the region had enjoyed autonomy and depended on the forests for their sustenance and livelihood. But, in 1829 King Charles X introduced new forestry laws and a forestry administation which was very much resented by the local population. The peasants, disguised as women, and wearing long white shirts, head scarves, wigs and blackened faces, attacked the large land owners at night. Though they had few weapons, the "maidens" managed to instill fear amongst the landowners. The conflict was particularly intense from 1829 to 1832, and continued sporadically until 1872, but ultimately the peasants succeded in getting the forestry laws relaxed.

My sketch shows a view of the village of Audressein, and measures 12 cm x 9.5 cm (4.75" x 3.75").

Coming back to the cycling...this was Stage 15 of the 2010 Tour de France and proved to be quite dramatic. The route from Pamiers to Bagnerese de Luchon covered 187.5 km (117 miles) and had several climbs including a Category H climb followed by a steep and winding descent almost upto the finish.

Andy Schleck who had lead the Tour through many of the previous stages was leading while ascending the final climb of the day when his cycle had a mechanical problem. The chain slipped. Contador immediately overtook Schleck and pressed on all the way to the finish. Schleck tried very hard to claw his way back, but since he had been leading at that point, it also meant that he was alone and with none of his teamamates, or for that matter any other cyclist, to help him. Contador finished 39 seconds ahead of Schleck on this stage and this gave him the yellow jersey with a 8 second lead in the overall classification.

The manner in which Contador claimed the yellow jersey came in for a lot of criticism. I was watching the live telecast and was shocked to see Contador taking advantage of such a situation. The incident involving Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich in 2003 was still fresh in my memory. This was during an intense 6 year rivalry between the two. Once again it was during Stage 15 of that year's Tour that Armstrong was knocked to the ground during the final climb of the day because a spectator's bag strap got entangled in his cycle's handlebar. But, although Ullrich was desperate to beat Armstrong and win the Tour, he refused to take advantage of the situation. He waited until Armstrong recovered and caught up with him and then tried to beat him fair and square. But Armstrong won the stage and later the Tour by 61 seconds with Ullrich finishing second.

In 2010, Stage 15 was won by Thomas Voeckler, but more importantly Contador finally displaced Andy Schleck at the head of the overall classification (yellow jersey).

Chateau de Foix, France

Chateau de Foix is located slightly off the route from Revel to Ax 3 Domaines, covered by the Tour de France 2010 on the 16th day. This was the 184.5 km (115 miles) Stage 14 of the race, a severely testing mountain stage with a 15.5 km and 7.9% gradient Category H climb followed immediately by a 7.8 km and 8.2 % gradient Category 1 climb. The stage was won by Christophe Riblon but the rest of the standings stayed as they were.

The castle was built on existing 7th century fortifications and there are documented records of its existence from the 10th century. The round tower is the most recent addition, built in the 15th century, while the square towers were probably built in the 11 th century.They served as a political and civil prison for four centuries until 1862.

In 1626, Cardinal Richelieu abolished the position of Constable of France and ordered all fortified castles to be razed, excepting only those needed to defend against invaders. Thus, he stripped the princes, dukes, and lesser aristocrats of important defences that could have been used against the King's armies during rebellions. As a result, Richelieu was hated by most of the nobility. But, Chateau de Foix alone was exempted from the destruction.

The castle's location high over a rocky projection dominated the region and its impregnable walls ensured that, though it was attacked many times, it was taken only once, and even on that occasion only due to the treachery of a member of the family.

Since 1930 Chateau de Foix has functioned as a museum concentrating on the history of the region Ariege, the history of the castle, and life during the period of the Counts.

My sketch is based on a photograph by Muhammad Ector Prasetyo, and is 12.5 cm x 9.5 cm (4.75" x 3.75").

Monday, 11 July 2011

Rodez Cathedral, France

The 15th day of the Tour de France 2010 saw the cyclists ride in the 13th Stage of the race from Rodez to Revel, a relatively flat stage of 196 km or 122 miles. The stage was won by Alexander Vinokourov. Alessandro Petacchi wrested the green jersey for the sprints classification from Thor Hushovd. There were no changes in the overall classification (yellow jersey), the mountain classification (polka jersey) and the best young rider classification (white jersey). The yellow and white jerseys stayed with Andy Schleck, while Anthony Charteau contined to wear the polka jersey.

As I write this the 2011 Tour de France is in progress and yesterday was a day of carnage. Sadly Vinokourov, who had planned to retire after this Tour, suffered a horrible crash and had to be rushed to the hospital. It is feared that he suffered several fractures including a broken pelvis and a fractured elbow.

Rodez, the starting point of last year's 13th Stage is known to have existed from at least the 5th century B.C. It was founded by the Celts and was later part of the Roman Empire. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire Rodez was captured by the Visigoths, the Franks, the Arabs, and then the English during the 100 years war.

During medieval times there was very strong rivaly between the counts and bishops of Rodez who exercised strong control over different parts of the city. This resulted in Rodez being divided by a wall cutting across the city.

There is mention of Rodez Cathedral in 6th Century A.D. itself. But very little of it remained some centuries later. It was rebuilt in the 11th century but once again very little of it remained by the early 13th century. The reconstruction of the Cathedral began yet again in the 13th century and was completed in the 16th century.

My sketch shows the western face of the church and is based on a photograph by Jean Paul Cronimus. This face of the church is very solid looking, with relatively few openings, since it was part of the city's defence wall. The sketch is 9.5cm x 12cm (3.75" x 4.75").

Sunday, 10 July 2011

St. Barnard de Romans Abbey, France

The cyclists on the Tour de France 2010 started from Bourg de Peage on day 14 of the Tour and raced upto Mende. This was the 12th Stage of the Tour, a distance of 210.5 km or 131 miles, and it had two Category 2 and three Category 3 climbs. The stage was won by Joaquim Rodriguez. Thor Hushovd won the green jersey (the sprint points classification) back from Alessandro Petacchi while Anthony Charteau displaced Jerome Pineau as the leader in the mountain classification (polka jersey). Andy Schleck continued to wear the yellow jersey as the overall leader of the Tour, and also led in the best young rider classification (white jersey).

This was also the stage where Team Radio Shack came to the top of the standings in the Team competition. Entry to the Tour de France is by invitation, and only as a member of an invited team. Twenty-two teams of nine riders each are invited every year, making a field of 198 riders. The team prize is decided by adding up the cumulative times of the three best riders from each team. Members of the leading team wear jersey numbers in black on yellow.

The St. Barnard de Romans Abbey is located close to Bourg de Peage. Barnard was a married man in the court of Charlemagne who suddenly decided to devote himself to the service of God. He entered the monastry at Bresse and became Archbishop of Vienna in 810 AD. The Abbey of Romans was founded by St. Barnard in the 9th century on the banks of river Isere and developed over several centuries into the present beautiful building complex.

Bourg-de-Péage owes its destiny and name to the presence of the bridge over the Isère River built in the Middle Ages for the Abbey. The town acquired a solid reputation in the 19th century thanks to its production of felt hats, made from the fur of pet rabbits. The firm Maison Mossant, the largest factory, employed more than 1,200 workers at its peak and made Bourg-de- Péage the capital of hat-making. But as the use of hats went out of fashion this industry died out and new businesses related to innovative technology have sprung up.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Tour de Crest, France

The 13th day of the 2010 Tour de France witnessed the 11th Stage from Sisteron to Bourg-lès-Valence, a distance of 184.5 km (about 115 miles). This was a flat stage with only one category 3 climb, and Mark Cavendish, once again brilliantly led out by his teammate Mark Renshaw, proved too good for the others at the finish. But this victory, his third on this Tour, came at a steep price because Renshaw was disqualified from the Tour for headbutting another rider as he was leading out Cavendish to the finish.

This stage also saw Alessandro Petacchi take over the green jersey from Thor Hushovd. Andy Schleck retained the yellow jersey as the overall leader of the Tour, and the white jersey as the leader in the best young rider classification. Jerome Pineau continued to lead in the mountain classification and retained the polka jersey.

Crest lies on the route taken by the Tour de France 2010 from Sisteron to Bourg-les-Valence. It straddles ancient trade routes and was therefore an important place even prior to the Roman Empire. It is known that the Crest Castle was in existence in the 12th century itself, since there is a record of Pope Calixte II sending out a letter from Chateau de Crest. Around this time the medieval town of Crest grew around the castle.

The huge square main tower built of dressed stone, the tallest dungeon in France, was built in the late 14th century. But, in the 17th century the castle was destroyed on the orders of King Louis XIII who found it "potentially dangerous". It was Cardinal Richelieu (one of the main characters in Alexander Dumas' "The Three Musketeers") who carried out his king's orders. The tower alone was spared and used as a prison until the late 19th century.

Crest is now a tourist centre with plenty of events like its vocal jazz festival. The Tour de Crest is classified as a historical monument and, since 1988, it belongs to the town. Tourists are allowed to visit it.

My sketch of the tower is approximately 9.5 cm x 12 cm. It is a fairly quick sketch and I probably spent more time drawing the foliage than the main building.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Dukes of Savoy Castle, Chambery, France

The route for the 12th day of the Tour de France 2010 was from Chambery to Gap. This was a 179 km (111 miles) long medium mountain stage with three major climbs. The first of these was a severely testing Category 1 climb, 7 km long with a 9% gradient. After the third climb the descent is very winding and tricky. In 2003 it was here that Joseba Beloki fell and to avoid hitting him Lance Armstrong was forced to make an even steeper off-the-road detour and went on to win the Tour that year for the 5th time.

This time the stage was won by Sergio Paulinho. and the only change in leadership was in the mountain classification in which Jerome Pineau regained the polka jersey. Andy Schleck retained leadership in the overall classification (yellow jersey) and the best young rider classification (white jersey), while Thor Hushovd continued to lead the points classification (green jersey).

Chambery has existed as a town from the middle ages when it used to be called Lemencum. The name underwent several changes over the centuries and in the 17th century it came to be known as Chamberi. Since the town was very strategically located at the crossroads of ancient routes it was politically very active from the 13th century to the 19th century.

The Savoy family moved into an existing castle in Chamberium, as it was then known in the 13th century, and then made many changes and additions to it. Chateau Chambery or the Dukes of Savoy Castle, as it was called, served as the seat of power of the House of Savoy until the 16th century, when it was shifted to Turin because it was felt that this castle was difficult to fortify. However the castle stayed with the Savoy family until the 19th century.

Today the Dukes of Savoy Castle is owned by the state and serves as an administrative centre.

Incidentally Chambery is the French town devoting the most funds to facilitate public reading. The town even hires people to read to blind people and interestingly, a baby reader card is awarded to every child born in Chambery. As a result of such initiatives the number of books borrowed from libraries in Chambery is three times the national average.

My sketch of the Dukes of Savoy Castle is approximately 12 cm x 9.5 cm.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Charterhouse at Melan, France

Day 10 of the Tour de France 2010 was a rest day.

On day 11, Stage 9 of the 2010 Tour de France was a testing 204.5 km (127 miles) mountain stage with a Category 2, two Category 1, and one Category H climbs followed by a steep descent to the finishing point. The stage was won by Sandy Casar and Andy Schleck took over the yellow jersey (the race leadership) from Cadel Evans while simultaneously retaining the white jersey as the best young rider. Thor Hushovd continued to lead the points classification (green jersey) while Anthony Charteau took over the polka jersey for the mountain classification.

The route from Morzine Avariaz to St Jean de Maurienne took the cyclists past the the Melan Charterhouse. This charterhouse was founded in 1285 by Beatrice of Faucigny (later of Savoy) who wanted to be buried in it with her son John the First of Burgundy. But the nuns and priests of the monastery were forced out of it during the French Revolution in 1793. The charterhouse changed hands before becoming an orphanage in 1914. It was partly destroyed by fire in 1967, but is now the Centre of Contemporary Art of the department, hosting concerts and exhibitions.

As usual this sketch is also about 12 cm x 9.5 cm (though a considerable part of the 9.5 cm is just the sky).

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Beaureagard Castle, Saint-Jeoire, France

This is the Beaureagard Castle which nestles on the tree covered slopes of Saint Jeoire, on the route taken by the Tour de France 2010 to get from Station des Rousses to Morzine Avoriaz on the 9th day (Stage 8) of the tour. Around the year 1000, Benedictines settled in the village where they built a chapel dedicated to St George, who gave his name to the village. The castle was built in the 13th century by a family of Scottish origin and remained in the same family until 2004, when its owner gave it to the Annecy diocese. It now hosts a religious community. My drawing is approximately 12 cm x 9.5 cm and is based on a reference photograph by Cyr0z.

The distance covered by the riders was 189 km (around 117 miles) but more importantly this was a mountain stage with two category 1 climbs. Mountain climbs are rated for their difficulty based on steepness, the length of the climb, and their position on the day's route. The easiest climbs are rated 4 and the the category number decreases as the difficulty rating increases. Category 1 climbs are therefore considered very difficult, but there are some climbs which are considered even tougher than category 1 climbs. Such climbs were described as being outside or beyond classification. In 1979 it was decided to call such climbs as hors categorie or Category H climbs. The two category 1 climbs of the day were one of 14.3 km length at 6.8%, and 13.6 km at 6.1% and the difficulty was compounded by the fact that they came towards the end of the day's route when the cyclists were already exhausted.

The stage was won by Andy Schleck. Sylvain Chavanel surrendered the yellow jersey (indicative of the person leading the Tour de France) to Cadel Evans. The green jersey for the points classification stayed with Thor Hushovd, and likewise the polka jersey for the mountain classification, and the white jersey for the best young (under 25 years) rider stayed with Jerome Pineau and Andy Schleck respectively.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Abbey of St. Philibert, Tournus, France

The route for the 8th day of the Tour de France 2010 was from Tournus to Station de Rousses, a distance of 165.5 km or 103 miles. This was the 7th Stage and it was a medium mountain stage. Sylvain Chavanel won the Stage and with it the yellow jersey. Thor Hushovd retained the green jersey, Jerome Pineau went to the top of the mountain classification points table and took over the red polka dot jersey, while Andy Schleck took over the white jersey signifying the best young rider (under 26 years) from Geraint Thomas.

Tournus is a riverside town on the banks of the River Saone. St. Valerian brought christianity to this place in the 2nd century A.D. But he was executed by the Romans and his tomb became a secret place of pilgrimage for the christians of that period. When christianity became legal under Emperor Constantine a monastery was founded on the site in the 6th century A.D. But in the 9th century King Charles the Bald offered the Abbey of St. Valerian to the followers of St. Philibert because their monastery had been captured by the Normans. The Tournus Abbey therefore had the not very common experience of being shared by two different monastic communities devoted to St. Valerian, and St. Philibert.

Today the Tournus Abbey is known as Abbey of St. Philbert and dominates Tournus. It is a fortress like Romanesque church with many interesting features. Amongst other features it has a an impressively tall nave with an unusual vault, carved capitals and floor mosaics depicting the zodiac.

My sketch shows the Abbey as seen from within its courtyard, and is based on a photograph by Jan Sokol. the sketch is about 9.5 cm x 12 cm.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Roman style church at Gueugnon, France

Stage 6 of the Tour de France 2010 saw the longest stage of the year's race - Montargis to Gueugnon a distance of 227.5 km (about 141 miles), which the riders covered in about 5 hours. This was yet another flat stage with a well contested sprint finish at the end. Mark Renshaw led out Mark Cavendish for his second consecutive stage win. But Fabian Cancellara held on to the overall lead, and Thor Hushovd coninued at the top of the Points Classification.

The leader in each of the classifications is awarded a distinctive jersey which they wear while competing the next raceday. The overall leader wears a yellow jersey, the points classification (points are awarded to the riders based on their daily performance, but it is weighted in favour of sprinters, and is therefore sometimes referred to as the sprint classification) leader werars a green jersey, the leader in the mountains classification wears a white jersey with red dots, and the leader in the young rider category wears a white jersey. The riders consider it a great honour to wear these prestigious jerseys for even part of the 21-day Tour de France. Of course winning the coveted jerseys at the end of the race at Paris is everyone's dream

Gueugnon, where Stage 6 finished, is a village/town in southern Burgundy known both for its Charolais cows as well as its forges. Gueugnon got its first forge in the early 18th century, and since then the size of its population has been directly linked to the prosperity of its forges.

The Roman style Church that I have sketched is from a reference photograph by Havang(nl). I particularly liked the simple, but pleasing facade, and the selective use of lighter coloured stone to draw the viewers' attention.

My sketch is approximately 9.5 cm x 12 cm.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

St. Quiriace Church, Provins, France

On 8th July 2010, Stage 5 of the 2010 Tour de France started at Emperney and finished at Montargis, a distance of 187.5 km, after winding its way through Provins. The stage was a flat one and was won by Mark Cavendish, a brilliant sprinter who would cover himself in glory during the 2010 Tour. Fabian Cancellara retained the overall lead.

Provins is located about 77 km south-east of Paris, and was famous in medieval times for its fairs which were held thrice a year and attracted traders from all over Europe and the East. In the 12th century Henri the Liberal, Count of Champagne decided to build a new church on the site of an existing collegiate church of the College of St. Quiriace. But this church was never completed as planned because of the high cost of constructing it to its original design.

In the 16th century it was decided to seal the unfinished nave and accept the truncated design. The upper portion of the church with the large and impressive dome was completed only in the 17th century. Soon the elite families that lived around the church came to be known as "the children of the dome".

The area around Provins is generally flat and the church is built on the highest point. St. Quiriace Church and its dome are beautifully lit up every evening and therefore visible from miles around as one approaches Provins.

As I write and post this, the 2011 Tour de France is due to start today, and yes...we do have tv coverage of the event in India. I am therefore planning to follow the race closely and sketch a memento of each day's route just as I did last year.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Basilica St. Remi, Reims (Rheims)

Day 5 of the 2010 Tour de France saw the 4th Stage being run from Cambrai in Northern France to Reims (formerly known as Rheims), a distance of a little over 150 km. This was once again a flat stage and the day's race was won by Alessandro Petacchi. However Fabian Cancellara retained the overall lead.

Reims is located in the French region called Champagne, and when France was a monarchy, this was where the coronation of the rulers took place in Rheims Cathedral. However I have sketched the Basilica of St. Remi and not the cathedral.

This basilica was originally the abbey church of an abbey founded in the 6th century, and came to be known as the Abbey of St. Remi because it held the relic of St. Remi the Bishop of Reims who converted the King of Franks to Christianity in the 11th century A.D. This was also the abbey where Charlemagne received Pope Leo lll.

The original church was built in the 6th century but rebuilt in the 11th century, and added to in the 12th, 13th, 15th, 17th, and 19th centuries. During the first world war it was very badly damaged (like Rheims Cathedral), but was very carefully restored over a 40 year period.

My sketch of the Basilica St. Remi is approximately 12cm x 10cm and I am grateful to Mattis whose photgraph of the Basilica I have used as reference.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Castle Celles-Veves, near Namur, Belgium

On day 4 of the race the cyclists raced from Wanze (Belgium) to Arenberg, in Porte du Hainaut, thus finally entering France. This was Stage 3 of the 2010 Tour de France and it took the race through Wallonia, a region studded with castles, monuments, and beautiful villages.

Although a flat stage (i.e. a stage without any significant changes in elevation) it was a tough ride for the cyclists since a substantial part of the 213 km route was over cobbled roads.The stage was won by Thor Hushovd, but Fabian Cancellara took over once again as the overall leader, i.e. as the person who had taken the least time so far to ride from Rotterdam to Arenberg.

In the Tour de France, while a handful of super cyclists have their eyes on the main individual prize (for taking the least time to cover the distance from the start at Rotterdam to the finish in Paris), there are a number of other prizes to be won. The main contest is to identify the best all round cyclist and the best all round team. Then there are contests to identify the best sprint cyclist, the best mountain climber, the best young rider (under age 26 years on 1st January of the year of the race), and the most aggressive rider.

By winning Stage 3 Thor Hushovd took a lead in the points standing of the sprint category.

The route was very pictureque and studded with many fine buildings, monuments, and castles. The tv coverage is not limited to the camera following the cyclists. Many cameras are used and several of them from helicopters which criss-cross the country side and show the tv viewer many places of local interest.

I have chosen to draw the Castle of Celles-Veves, located near Namur. There has been a castle here since the 7th or 8th century, but the one that stands now, overlooking the village of Celles, dates back to the early 15th century. It has five lovely towers and continues to be the home of the same family since the 15th century.

My sketch is appoximately 12cm x 9.5cm drawn using a photograph by Jean-Pol Grandmont as reference.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Pouhon Pierre le Grand, Spa, Belgium

The route for the 2nd Stage of the 2010 Tour de France was from Brussels to Spa, a distance of 201 Km entirely within Belgium. This was the third day of racing, on 5th July 2010, since the first day started with only a 9 km prologue within Rotterdam. The 2nd Stage saw a horrible crash in which many cyclists, including Andy Schleck one of the main contenders and Alessandro Petacchi the winner of the previous stage were injured. Sylvain Chavanel took over the overall lead from Fabian Cancellara.

Spa is famous for its Formula1 race track, the oldest casino in Europe that has been in existence since the 18th century, and of course its hot springs. This is the region that gave the word "spa" to the English language. The mineral laden hot springs of the region were famous even in Roman times for their medicinal and rejuvenating properties.

My rough sketch shows Pouhon Pierre le Grand, built in the 19th century around a hot spring. This particular spa takes its name from the fact that the curative powers of its water was endorsed by Tsar Peter the Great in the early 18th century.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

On the second day of the 2010 Tour de France the cyclists started from Rotterdam in Nederlands and raced to Brussels in Belgium. If I recall correctly the field had around 200 cyclists and it was won by Allesandro Petacchi of Italy. But the overall individual lead stayed with Fabio Cancellera who had won the Prologue on the previous day.

The nice thing about the Tour de France is that there are many different contests going on simultaneously. Although the overall prizes are won at the end of 21 days of racing, there are prizes, prize money, points, honour, and bragging rights to be won in many categories on almost every day.

Since the day's race finished at Brussels I sketched the Atomium, erected for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. This is a steel structure made up of 9 interconnected spheres representing an iron crystal cell magnified 165 billion times. It ws designed by Andre Waterkeyn.

The total height of the structure is 102 meters. Each sphere is 18 meters in diameter and the connecting tubes enclose escalators. The vertical tube connecting to the topmost sphere has an elevator.

The Atomium is one of the most visited sites in Brussels.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Tilted Cube Houses of Rotterdam

Road cycling is one of the sports that I have recently fallen in love with. By recent I mean in the last ten years or so. This coincides with the time when we started getting live tv coverage of the Tour de France in India. We get about two to three hours of coverage every day and I make it a point to watch every minute of it. Not only do I find the contest for the many prizes that the tour offers extremely absorbing, I also enjoy the fact that the tv coverage takes me like a tourist through very many different parts of France and its neighbouring countries. I also find the commentary very interesting, for it covers not only the sport but also many interesting facts related to geography, history, architecture and commerce connected with the route followed by the Tour.

The Tour de France is an annual race for individual and team prizes. It was originally conceived as a promotional event to boost the sales of a newspaper. But it has grown in popularity, and stature to become one of the premier annual sporting events of the world.

These days the racing is spread over 21 days, usually in July, with two or three rest days thrown in-between. The distance covered varies from year to year, but on an average it is around 3000 km long. Most of the racing is through France, but the race also visits neighbouring countries briefly every year. The route goes through cities, the countryside, plains and mountains. Some of the mountain climbs are particularly steep and in the plains very strong cross winds become a major factor. The race starts from a different location each year and for the last 35 years or so the last stage has always finished at the Champs Elysees.

The race route also alternates between clockwise and anti-clockwise travel across France every year. Last year's tour started in Rotterdam and took a clockwise route around France to Paris. This year the route will therefore be anticlockwise. It begins this year on Saturday, July 2nd and I have already begun to count the hours to the start.

Last year I decided to something more than merely watch the tv coverage of the race. I decided to sketch something connected with each day's race route. It could be a distinctive landscape, or a natural feature, or a building, or monument, and do it in ink. And I also decided to stick to a fairly small sized format of around 9.5 cm x 12 cm (3.75" x 4.75") because I happened to have some cards in that size lying around. My intent was not to make these sketches very detailed, but to only capture basic forms and a sufficient amount of detail to make the landmarks identifiable. Over the next few posts I shall be sharing these sketches with you. Do let me know what you think of them

The Tour started last year with an individual time trial within Rotterdam. My first sketch is therefore one of a landmark cluster of buildings in Rotterdam - the Tilted Cube Houses designed by architect Piet Blom in 1977.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The House On Pillars

In the 1970s, after having lived as caretaker tenants for a few months in the quiet and unspoilt seaside neighborhood of Thiruvanmiyur, my wife and I made up our minds to put down our roots there. In those days Thiruvanmiyur was a suburb of Madras (as Chennai was then known) and most people thought that we were very daring and unwise to live in such a "remote" place. Although there were very few proper houses around, and an enormous amount of vacant land, it took us almost a year to find somebody willing to sell us a small plot. Land was not expensive then. In fact we paid only around US$ 350 for our plot. But the cost of construction was relatively high.

Although money, or more precisely our lack of it, was an important factor, there were a few other bigger hurdles. There were a number of permits and service connections to be obtained and, even in those relatively less corrupt days, it was a severe ordeal to deal with a very large number of minor and major bureaucrats. To add to our problems, those were the days of cement and steel shortages. In fact the cement scarcity was so severe that its supply was controlled by the Indian Government and rationed to consumers. And this of course brought a whole new set of bureaucrats into play. The shortage of materials and the consequent delays in the delivery of the materials made it very difficult to keep to construction schedules and stay within budgets.

Since steel and cement were the two major "problem" materials we decided to minimise their use in the house construction. We went in for a variety of roofing techniques, such as sloped clay tiled roofing, and hollow clay tile roofing, left our walls unplastered on one side, and went in for clay tile flooring. In addition to this we also decided to use pivot hinges for our doors and do away with door frames, had smaller but strategically placed windows, and reduced the floor to ceiling height, all in a bid to reduce costs. As a result we were able to keep to both the construction schedule and our budget. It also allowed us the luxury of building the entire house on stilts.

Since there were very few built houses around, our house was now visible from quite some distance in every direction. And unlike other houses which rested solidly on the ground the first level of our house was left entirely vacant. As a result our house came to be known in the neighbourhood as the "thoon veedu" or " house on pillars".

Some years later, when we had a few more neighbours, Chennai experienced particularly severe flooding, and the locality where we lived was also flooded. Although we had water in our plot, under the house, and all around us, we were unaffected by it. A number of people thought that we had been very wise to have anticipated this event and planned for it. Actually it had never occurred to us that the area could be flooded since that had never happened within living memory. We had built our house on stilts because it was located a little further away from the sea than what we would have liked, and we wanted to ensure that we had a good view of the water.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Thiruvanmiyur Beach

When we first moved into this part of Chennai we lived in a newly built house right on the seashore, as caretakers for the owners who were living abroad. We had one elderly lady living next door, and a locked up empty house on the other side as our immediate neighbors. There was also a fishing village nearby and much of their daily activity took place on the beach right in front of our home.

The access roads to this area of the city were not well developed, and the entire area used to be desolate at night. Many of my friends and relatives thought that we were mad to leave "civilization" so far behind, but my wife and I loved living here.

Originally the house owners were supposed to come back to India only several years later, but suddenly their plans changed and we had to vacate the house for them. It was then that we decided to build our own home in the same area. We were sort of pushed into taking the plunge a little earlier than we otherwise might have, but in the end it proved to be a good thing for us. Land prices and construction costs suddenly soared, but only after we had bought our land and built our house.

Today, over thirty years later, this part of the city is very much sought after as one of the nicer communities to live in. The high cost of land has resulted in most of the housing being in the form of apartment buildings. As a result, although the beach is relatively unspoiled, it is very crowded in the evenings.

Another big change that I notice is in the type of fishing vessels. In the 1970s the local fishermen went out to sea in catamarans. The word catamaran comes from the Tamil "kattu maram" which means tied wood. The fishermen used to go out to sea on raft-like boats made by tying a bunch of logs together. You can see what these catamarans used to look like in my sketch painting. But now, most fishermen use fiberglass boats, and quite a few of them even use mechanized boats.

The fishing village has grown and therefore there are more boats beached up on the sand these days. And Chennai being a very hot and humid place the beach is an extremely popular open space for the entire community.

Unfortunately this beach is now threatened by an unwanted development. There is a proposal to run an elevated roadway for many kilometers over this beach. The objective is to cut the driving time for people going from the city to the southern suburbs of the city and to a tourist destination to the south of Chennai. The fishing communities, the residents of many of the affected neighborhoods, and environmentalists have all protested but is so far unclear whether these protests will even be heard.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Breaking the silence

Every New Year I make a few resolutions. I write them down on a piece of paper and at the end of the year I check to see how many of them I have actually managed to keep. At the end of 2009, amongst other things I resolved to post to my blog more frequently than I had done in 2009. Although, when I checked at the end of 2010, my success rate with the rest of my resolutions was reasonably high, this was one resolution where I had failed miserably. I had managed to post only twice during the entire year.

Meanwhile my wife, daughter, and a few friends who had been following my posts had all been at me every now and then asking me why I had stopped posting stuff. The point was that through my blog I wish to share not only my thoughts, opinions, information & trivia, but also at least one of my sketches with every post. And unfortunately, during the first half of 2010, as it happens to me during the first half of every calendar year, I had not found the time to do much sketching. By the time I was back at my hobby, it had already been many months since I had posted anything, and inertia had set in.

Re-activating my blog and posting regularly were therefore on my list of resolutions once again, this time for 2011. But again, a third of the year 2011 went by before I have finally got down to it. Hopefully I will be able to sustain it this time.

During my extended period of blogging inactivity my daughter tried to nudge me back on track with a Brahma Book which is the Indian version of a moleskin sketchbook. I started using it promptly and I carry it faithfully with me every single day. The sketch that I am sharing is one of the first that I did in this book. It shows my home, located in a quiet seaside community in Chennai. Unfortunately there is a distinct possibility that it may not remain calm and quiet very much longer. More of that in a subsequent post.