First of all, I want to wish all readers a happy new year with this first post of 2011.
This entry is not so much about Shanghai, but about sight, locations and feelings that reminded me of Old Shanghai during my recent trip to Europe. Navigating old Shanghai is often about trying to find in Shanghai, buildings and artifacts that are similar to the ones from Europe and other parts of the world. Coming from Shanghai, a trip to Europe becomes the opportunity to look at European cities, looking for Shanghai flashbacks. Such trips are also often opportunities to go back to places I have lived in, as well as to re-connect with friends and family. This one was no exception.
First step of the trip was in Budapest where I have lived many years. Most buildings there are either no-classical, or art Nouveau as most of the city was built in the late XIXth century and early XXth century. Post WWI was not a great time for Hungary, so the city has very few art deco building, though I managed to spot one near Moskva Ter, one of the more recent part of the city. Art Deco there is very recognizable, with the lack of ornaments compared to the neighboring earlier buildings, as well as the use of geometrical lines. It could argue that this building is also Bauhaus style, which sometimes looks very similar to art deco. Funny enough, Art Deco in Shanghai was mostly developed by a Hungarian architect in the same period, Laszlo Hudec.
My time in Budapest was mostly about spending time in cafes, enjoying friend company. When I came to Shanghai from Budapest in 2004, one of the things I missed the most were cafes, the right places to meet friends and spend a few hours in the afternoon. At that time, the only approximation was Xin Tian Di’s Starbucks, and later Vienna Cafe (that I like so much because it reminds me of Budapest). 7 years later, Shanghai has a large choice of bars and cafes, often located in the old houses of the French Concession. Cafe culture has come back to Shanghai, and I love it… this is what I think sitting on some of the Budapest Cafes.
The trip continued to Dijon with Christmas and family reunion, and a short trip to Lyon. Once again, Lyon was built much earlier than art deco time but a few art deco building can be found. The best example is surely the “hotel college” in Saint-Jean. Located in the medieval district, the 30’s building is just out of place in the decor, probably as much Broadway Mansions was when it was built. The first element to be seen is the incredible art Deco door, a wonderful work of iron, similar to some found in Shanghai. The building itself is art deco, somewhat similar to the Savoy apartment on Chang Shu lu. It is also very similar to some of the long gone buildings on avenue Dubail (today the North South elevated highway), that were destroyed in the 90’s. Just like seeing European architecture is Shanghai reminds me of Europe, seeing similar architecture in Europe…. reminds me of Shanghai, bringing one of those Shanghai flashbacks.