Further to the Nature that left you feeling awed thread, I’m starting one for the city mice, because I often get the sensation by looking at a beautiful cityscape what other people seem to get from nature. I find cities and the buildings in them often of exceptional beauty.
Here are some:
Mom and I are in Paris. We’ve gone out to watch a concert at the Institut Polonaise, which we unfortunately missed, so we went wandering for awhile along the Champs Élysées. It’s after dark, and by and by we decide to make our way back to the hotel. That involves taking line 6 of the metro towards Nation from where we are. Anyway, we’re riding along, and just as we leave Passy metro going towards Bir-Hakeim, the train shoots out of the tunnel onto an elevated bridge over the Seine. All of a sudden, the Eiffel Tower heaves into sight, blazing in the night and reflecting on the waters of the fleuve as we speed westward. An image of tremendous power and serenity. Awestruck, we keep watching the Tower until it disappears from view as the train moves away from it.
The other day, I was at McGill University where I study, and I was walking towards the Arts Building. I was struck by the grace and stateliness of that building’s classical lines. Here’s a picture from the McGill website.
My metro fetish is already well known around here. What’s especially wonderful is when I catch a glimpse of a particularly beautiful point of view I haven’t seen before. I’m fortunate in that my daily commute takes me through two particularly attractive and complex stations, Place-Saint-Henri (my home station) and Lionel-Groulx (where I have to change lines), so I see new views fairly frequently as I wait for my trains. I find the sight of a train speeding away from the platform at Lionel-Groulx, a sheer wall above it and a tremendously high ceiling above, a sight of indescribable beauty.
The Mother Of All Cityscapes, to me, is this one. Few people know of it.
There’s an island in the Saint Lawrence River just south of downtown Montreal, called Île Sainte-Hélène, where Expo 67 was held. You get to the island (there’s a metro stop on the island, but for these purposes, it’s better to go to Papineau metro and walk across the Jacques-Cartier Bridge - a beautiful sight in its own right). Anyway, when you get to the island on the bridge, you walk down the footpath, veering to the right. This eventually brings you down to a pond. Just across the pond is a steep slope that leads up to a ridge, and above the ridge to a hill. On the hill is the Tour de Lévis, a guard tower, and on the ridge below it is the Blockhaus, a burned-out wooden structure. Both of these were built to guard the city from the Americans in the War of 1812.
At any rate, find the path to go around the slope and up to the blockhaus. When you get up to the blockhaus, you’ll see it’s surrounded by a stone parapet above a sheer drop back down to the lake. You sit on this parapet, and look out back across the St. Lawrence - and there is the most beautiful view of the city. You can see City Hall, the silver domes of Bonsecours Market and the Palais de Justice; the office towers, 1000 de la Gauchetière, Place de la Cathédrale, Place Ville-Marie, the IBM tower, and the CBC building; the mountain and its cross; and possibly even Saint Joseph’s Oratory on the other side of the mountain.
If you get there just at sunset, the colours of the light change the colours of all the buildings; the coloured glass of the office towers changes colour prismatically, and the silver domes in the Old City change to blazing gold.
It’s the most spectacularly beautiful scene I can conceive of. It feels holy to me.