France's Chateau of Versailles has pulled out all the stops for one of its favorite sons, gardener André Le Nôtre, who designed the palace's famous gardens. This year, to mark the 400th anniversary of Le Nôtre's birth, several of the garden's fountains are being restored and the chateau is hosting an exhibit on his life through February 2014.
Experts say Le Nôtre's work was so groundbreaking, it continues to influence contemporary urban architecture.
'The Interlocutor Of Kings'
Andre Le Nôtre was born in 1613 into a family of royal gardeners, but he would take the profession way beyond a trade. That's according to Jacques Moulin, Versailles' current gardener — or architect — the 30th since Le Nôtre.
"Le Nôtre transformed the profession of gardener into a high-level royal service and turned his trade into a grand art," Moulin says. "He became the interlocutor of kings and princes across Europe and built a huge art collection."
Le Nôtre was 25 years old when Louis XIV was born. Despite the generation gap, the two men worked together to transform Versailles and Paris, where Le Nôtre designed the Champs-Élysées and the Tuileries Garden. Architect Georges Farhat helped put together Versailles' Le Nôtre exhibit.
"This was the time when, at an unprecedented scale, planning was addressed in royal and manorial domains," Farhat says. "People were trying to address issues such as how to cope with long distances and extensive surfaces when you want to deliver a coherent spatial composition."
To do that, Le Nôtre developed new solutions, such as anamorphosis and collimation, an optical principal that plays on relationships between levels, heights and distances.
"On a very flat terrain, such as what we have at Versailles, if you want to show something along a 3-km-long axis, you have to find optical solutions in order to compensate for the shortening of all the different elements in the sequence," Farhat says. "So the farther they will be, the larger and longer you will have to make them. But you need a rule for this. Anamorphosis and collimation is a very good device for this."
From Marshland To 'Disneyland'
Fahrat says the roots of modern urban planning can be found in the gardens of Versailles, with its avenues and allies radiating to infinity.
To see Le Nôtre's genius for yourself, you can board a small train at the palace. It makes stops deep within the grounds at the two mini palaces where French kings kept their mistresses. Versailles guide Pamela Grant says this was all marshland until Le Nôtre got hold of it.
"He actually made a name for himself at a very famous chateau called Vaux le Vicomte," she says. "Louis XIV saw the magnificence, the clarity and the perspective there, and he said, 'I'm taking this old hunting lodge,' — Versailles — 'and I want you to beautify it.'"
The last stop is the Grand Canal. Le Nôtre created it by pumping water from the Seine River.
"There was a mini fleet of ships," Grant says. "It was [Louis XIV's] own navy. He wanted to show how powerful he was and it was almost like Disneyland. You could take a little ride."
A Lasting Influence
The final room of the Le Nôtre exhibit has examples of the 17th-century gardener's impact on modern architecture. There's a photo of the Mall in Washington, D.C., and a model of New York's Sept. 11 memorial. Curator Beatrix Saule says the memorial's architect, Peter Walker, was deeply influenced by Le Nôtre.
She says Walker wrote about how haunted he was by the void evoked in Le Nôtre's waterfalls at the far end of the Vaux le Vicomte gardens' grand axis. Saule says that void inspired Walker's waterfall memorial, emphasizing the void that used to be the twin towers.
That wreath on your front door could contain stolen goods.
The tips of fir trees used to make wreaths are collected by "tippers" and attract high prices — as well as poachers, who cut limbs and even whole trees on private land.
The Christmas greens industry is estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars. But like other cottage industries, no one's really counting. Anyone with a desire to make some money can take part — on or under the table. And that's become a problem for some woodlot owners trying to protect their trees.
"Some folks will take the entire limb, and that's what the landowners don't really like, to strip the tree. Just take the tips, and then you'll have two grow back for every one," says Maine tipper Wanda Pinkham. Pinkham breaks about 14 or 15 inches off the limbs.
Pinkham has permission from a landowner to harvest her tips, but countless others don't bother to ask. From late October to mid-December, Maine forest rangers like Courtney Hammond are kept busy each day busting trespassers and confiscating ill-gotten greens.
"Over 1,400 pounds in one seizure," Hammond says. "Many of our seizures run from 400 to 600 to 700 pounds, but at 40 or 45 cents a pound, people can make very good money at it."
And they're damaging forests, he says, plucking limbs bald and even cutting down whole trees so they can sell a lot of tips at once to the area's big wreath makers. A hardworking person can make between $5,000 and $10,000 in a season of tipping. And in some rural areas, there really isn't much else in the way of winter employment.
Whitney Wreath in eastern Maine is one of the biggest mail-order balsam fir wreath companies in the U.S., supplying retailers like L.L. Bean and QVC. It will employ about 600 workers this season. As conveyor belts turn and forklifts zoom past, the smell is surprising for a factory; it's sweet and pristine — like a boreal forest.
Owner David Whitney will ship up to 12 tractor-trailer loads of wreaths each day during the Christmas season, and he'll buy tens of thousands of pounds of fir tips from hundreds of independent harvesters.
"Our tippers have to have a permit in order to sell to us," he says.
Whitney, who started as a tipper himself, says illegal tipping is a problem that plagues the industry. But he says he's known most of his suppliers all his life, and he knows exactly where his fir comes from.
But forest officials like Hammond say not every retailer is likely to be so scrupulous. And for every thousand pounds of poached greens they confiscate, several thousand are probably slipping past and could wind up almost anywhere — possibly even on a door near you.
Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott perform together on Mountain Stage, recorded live on the campus of East Tennessee State University. Recognized as two of roots music's most respected singers, songwriters and instrumentalists, O'Brien and Scott took a break from their busy solo careers in 2000 to record their first album as a duo, titled Real Time. The record included many performances that are now considered classics, including "Long Time Gone," which was covered by The Dixie Chicks.
Thirteen years later, the duo returned to the studio to record Memories and Moments. Here, O'Brien plays fiddle and mandolin, while Scott sticks mostly to the guitar. The set includes songs from their previous stint together, along with material from their new album. "Keep Your Dirty Lights On," which is featured in this set, received a 2013 Grammy nomination for Best American Roots Song.
- "Brother Wind"
- "Long Time Gone"
- "Time To Talk To Joseph"
- "Memories And Moments"
- "It All Comes Down To Love"
- "Keep Your Dirty Lights On"
- "House Of Gold"
Critics of the federal auto bailout will no longer be able to refer derisively to GM as "Government Motors" - on Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced the U.S. government has sold its remaining shares in the car maker.
"With the final sale of GM stock, this important chapter in our nation's history is now closed," Lew said, announcing the sale.
The net? Taxpayers lost $10.7 billion on the deal.
However, as CNN Money writes: "Still, it is estimated that 1.5 million jobs were saved by keeping General Motors and smaller rival Chrysler afloat through bailouts, according to the Center for Automotive Research. That's why many economists argue that the bailout worked, even if taxpayers are not completely repaid."
As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, "thanks to the turnaround, the U.S. auto industry is now profitable and has added some 370,000 jobs in recent years."
In 2009, the government began acquiring shares of General Motors, eventually taking a 60.8 percent stake in the troubled automaker in exchange for $49.5 billion in bailout funds.
"When the latest stock sale, begun Nov. 21, is tallied, that amount will be subtracted from the $10.7 billion that taxpayers have lost on their GM holdings as of Nov. 30.
"The administration emphasizes that however much the final loss is, it will be less than the cost of not saving GM. That would have eliminated tens of thousands of jobs at a time the country already was staggering through the Great Recession."
"GM and Chrysler both went through government-scripted Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations. Treasury put $12.3 billion into Chrysler and recovered $11.13 billion of that. Chrysler no longer is involved in the bailout."
The 85-year-old U.S. veteran who was detained by North Korea for weeks, before being released, says the "confession" that he read and was aired on state television was coerced.
The AP and Reuters obtained a written statement from Merrill Newman in which he says North Korean authorities may have misrepresented his interest in the Korean War.
"'Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me 'confess' to,' Merrill Newman, 85, said in a written statement released to the media.
"The Korean War veteran added that during the tourist trip that led to his detention, he had expressed interest in visiting some of those 'who fought in the war' in the Mount Kuwol area. were. 'The North Koreans seem to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister,' he said."
Newman told the paper that the confession was obviously not written by him.
"Obviously, that's not my English," he told the paper.
Newman also told the paper that he was held by North Korean authorities in a hotel room, not a prison cell, and that he was comfortable during his time there.