Letter from Ithaca: A Year End Review of Sorts

Table of contents:

I. The year horizontally: the view from the Temple of Zeus, Goldwin Smith Hall
II. Extracts from my two books-in-progress, Coach, and What Free Men Can Do: The Untold Story of the Winter War
III. My expanding world: notes from my first forays to the French Alps and Northwestern Russia
IV. The year vertically: a more or less random list of the most, least, best, worst, most frightening, funniest, weirdest, and otherwise most memorable moments, moves, meals, and people of 2008
V. Summer diptych: “Newport ’68″ and “My Summer of Finland”


(From the essay I wrote for the illustrated catalog for my most recent U.S. photo exhibit, The Cornell Zone: 1968-2008/ A photographic meditation, Fine Arts Library, Cornell University, May 19-September 29–)

Most American colleges and universities exist in separate spaces of their own. Cornell, as a result of an anomalous combination of such factors as its private/public mix, land grant status, quixotic history, relatively large size, and, not least, ability to manufacture its own line of dairy products–including its own ever-scrumptious chocolate milk (also known as chocolate moo)–exists, hovers (floats?), in its own discrete zone or radiation belt, at once bucolic, romantic, terrifying (is there anything more terrifying than walking across the gorges that criss-cross this star-crossed campus on a dark, lonely, mid-winter’s night?, mind-expanding, desolating. And, of course, photogenic.

The Cornell I found when this prodigal son returned to its bosom, in 2002–was vastly different than the one I had left over a quarter of a century before–In some ways it was better–in some ways worse…However the things that I had loved about Big Red were still there: the couples sitting on Libe Slope gazing dreamily into the distance; the miraculousness of Beebe Lake on a perfect autumn day. The sense of separateness, and yes, of wonderment–of far aboveness, you might say.

Greetings, once again, from my creative aerie here far above Cayuga’s waters, where I have just returned from my most recent sortie to the Wild North, more about which to follow–specifically from the Temple of Zeus, the coffee house in Goldwin Smith Hall, home of Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, from whence this writer graduated sometime in the late 20th century; and the same place–well, not exactly the same place: the original, much larger Zeus, located across the hall was, to the consternation of all Artsies [as they are known hereabouts] of a certain age, replaced by an auditorium, but that’s another story)–where he, or rather, I, began dreaming of making my mark in the Real World, as we used to call it, which putatively existed somewhere out there, beyond the becalmed, elm-lined, heavily squirrel-populated Arts quad and Cayuga’s waters. It was only a notion, really, something to be stirred and sipped while leafing through the latest New Yorker and gazing over one’s coffee at the cute co-ed (as we called them) at the next table.

Long ago, and far away, as Frank Sinatra used to sing, back in the day when Cornell had mandatory ROTC (officer training) and the sexes were separated, with the co-eds, who were then outnumbered by men by a three to one ratio, as they were when I arrived on The Hill–as this remote, Bavarian-like mount of learning in central upstate New York (I think it’s central, or is it western) is also known–wore bobby sox and were restricted to their own compound on the north side of campus on the far side of Cascadilla Gorge, and could only entertain men in their rooms on certain hours of certain nights of the week–parietal hours they were called–and only if said co-eds left their doors ajar. Ah yes, long ago and far away–

Of course, that was slightly before yours truly first trooped up The Hill back in the long ago, fall of 1968, just in time to witness and participate (after a fashion) in Cornell’s last panty raid, that time-honored campus ritual that took place after a large horde of concupiscent male undergraduates, who were then concentrated in a hideous group of large concrete Quonset-like huts at the bottom of the hill, who had gathered on Libe Slope to gaze up en masse at the Northern Lights, followed by someone crying out “Panty Raid!,” whereupon the whole, unruly, frothing mass of frosh charged up the hill towards Cascadilla Bridge and the women’s dormitories in the hope of seizing, yes, women’s panties. Which they did, with the aid of the bemused co-eds themselves, who were wont to dropped one or two pairs out the window to appease the baying frosh below. Whereupon they dispersed in more or less orderly fashion. Of course, this being 1968, what with the War, i.e., the Vietnam War going on, and the country and the culture going through a heavy transitional thing (to paraphrase Samuel Jackson in “Pulp Fiction), and Cornell’s students’ desire to be at least somewhat with it, the notion of a panty raid seemed a little bit too 1946. So out went panty raids, and soon enough, parietal hours, as well. And by the next spring, some of those same suped-up panty raiders were seizing buildings for other, somewhat more serious reasons. And well, as they say, the rest is history.

Ah yes, long ago and far away. And yet here I am again back at the Zeus. At the next table three shaggy-haired undergraduates are engrossed in an intense discussion of something or another. At another, a couple of English grad student types are sitting across from each other, holding each other’s hands while poring over their respective assigned tomes. At the next, another dreamy-eyed humanities looking type is staring into the middle distance dwelling on the eternal verities. Or maybe at that cute co-ed–sorry, undergrad–over there. Hmmm that could be me. Wait–that is me!

Scared me there for a second, Rod.

Ah yes, what would I do without Cornell? To paraphrase Robert Penn Warren, all roads, for me, lead back to Ithaca. Who would have thought?


Anyway, as usual, it’s been an interesting year here at Sander Media–if at times, too interesting, if that is possible. Productive too. And, of course, I am still alive, which is the key thing–not something one would normally take for granted, especially given some of the hair-raising moments we had this year, as noted in my “horizontal” review of this year in section IV of this epic, record-breaking (“all singing! all dancing”!), 12,000 word omelet of a letter about this record-breaking year.

Amongst other things, over the last seven months along I have:

– Made two more trips to Europe, including a six week summertime circumnavigation of the Continent which saw me visit six countries, a record for one journey–Finland, Estonia, Poland, France, Holland, England–and another one in the late fall to Finland, which included my second (yes, second) visit to Suomussalmi, the site of the most famous battle of the Winter War, the subject of my next book about the “forgotten” men and women of the winter of 1939, What Free Men Can Do: The Untold History of the Winter War–(and the closest to the middle of nowhere you will ever find [trust me: you don't know the meaning of lonely until you've spent a Saturday night in March in Suomussalmi]–” And my first eye-opening, only slightly transmogrifying foray into Russia!

– Received a contract for What Free Can Do from WSOY, Finland’s most eminent publisher, assuring that its publication next October–just in time for the 70th anniversary of the war–will be an event–(the US edition, to be published by Cornell University Press, is scheduled to be published later that winter..), as well as a wonderful personal milestone. And to think that it all began with a book about Finland written by the great Finnish historian Max Jakobson way back in 1977. And guess who is slated to write the foreword? That’s right–Max– Talk about closing circles–

NOTE FROM OUR PHOTOGRAPHY DIVISION: While you’re still in the Sander Zone don’t forget to check out the two new galleries of photos illustrating Gordon’s adventures in Finland and Russia on the Winter War trail we’ve mounted by clicking “Photography” and skiing down to “The Winter War Trail: Finland “The Winter War Trail: Russia–” (And don’t forget to take your gloves! Cold down there! [And please ask Gordon to pay us more!])

– Made my return to the pages of Hudson Valley Magazine, where I published one of my best journalistic works, the “Ivy Valley” (colleges of the Hudson Valley) series in the mid-90s, with “The Comeback Kid,” an article about Jesse’s Braverman’s amazing renaissance and “redemption” as coach of the LaSalle Cadets

– Mounted photo shows on both sides of the Atlantic, including a monster 5 site show about Cornell, “The Cornell Zone,” commemorating my 40 year relationship with my alma mater, as well as another show of female portraits, “Portraits de la Femme,” in Helsinki, another first.

ANOTHER NOTE FROM OUR PHOTOGRAPHY DIVISION: See many of the images from “The Cornell Zone” and other images of Cornell and Ithaca by clicking “Photography” and trucking on over to “Cornell/Ithaca.” And while you’re at it also see many of the images of from “Portraits de la Femme” in the “Helsinki 2008″.
(And please ask Gordon to pay us more!)

– Acquired my first cellphone, so you can now text me, gang. (And was I the last man on earth not to have a cell or what?..and incidentally, I keep it off most of the time–I may be connected now, but I like my disconnected moments–which also happen to be the moments when I am creative–but you know this–.)

– Held another mind-blowing all night session of my famed experiential “course” “Hanging Out: Ithaca” (the same one that was inspired by the all night course in hanging out I “taught” under the auspices of Network for Learning long ago and far away) for my senior munchkins at Risley College for Creative and Performing Arts. Didn’t make it to the Sculpture Gardens this year for that poetry reading at dawn, but my followers and I did manage to squeeze in a dance at the Haunt, followed by the traditional walk across Ithaca, culminating with obligatory brunch-cum-crayon drawing session at the State Diner.

– Hired four new staffers, including chief aide-de-camp Tal Gluck, Cornell ’11 to replace my outgoing, already sorely missed senior munchkin, Carolyn Bonilha, as well as three staffers or temporary staffers from Finland and Poland.

– Ended my sabbatical from the blues harp by blowing away two successive groups of
friends at my uber-cool apartment in Helsinki during my latest–and longest–five week sojourn in the Finnish capital, which is rapidly morphing into my third home, after Ithaca and New York. (This is how it breaks down: over the past year, I spent roughly six months or 50% the year in Ithaca, eleven weeks–or 19%–in Helsinki, nine weeks, or 18% in New York, and the remaining 11% on individual or successive sorties to Albany, Grenoble, The Hague, London, Wiltshire, Warsaw, Tallinn, Kolga (Estonia), Viborg (Russia), St. Petersburg, Petrozavodsk, and in transit

– Brushed up on my knowledge of the suicide squeeze, the pickoff and other vital baseball esoterica while cheering on the La Salle Cadets from behind home plate at the Cadets’ Norman Rockwell-like home field in Troy, New York–while also seeing at close hand such new, un-Rockwellesque phenomena as parents from hell! More about which below!


Yes, it’s been an interesting year. To a great extent, the contours of the year were shaped by my two major works-in-progress. One moment, it seemed, I was watching the Cadets run out base hits on their movable field of dreams in the endless spring of 2008 in the figurative wilds of upstate New York, the next I was driving down Raate Road, in the true wilds of north central Finland, the same road where Finnish ski troopers, Suomi machine pistols and Molotov cocktails in hand, methodically blocked and destroyed the Red Army’s 44th Division at the Battle of Suomussalmi, in January, 1940,

That’s kind of a big range there. Sure kept things interesting. Maybe a glimpse of the first few pages from the leads to two works-in-progress, of which I am unabashedly proud, will give you a better idea. If you read closely, you will note a stylistic symmetry between these the two works, which both start in the present tense. Just like my first book, Serling. (Ah yes, at Sander Media all literary roads lead back to “The Twilight Zone,” don’t they–)


(from “The Game,” the prologue to Coach)


A moment to remember from a coach’s life–

Time: a few minutes before one in the morning.

Date: June 12, 2008.

Place: Joe Bruno Stadium, just outside of Troy, New York.

The game: The New York State sectional championship game between the Cadets of LaSalle Institute, a Catholic military school near Troy, and the Columbia Blue Devils.

The inning: the top of the seventh.

The score: tied, 2 to 2.

Attendance: 4,264 rabid LaSalle and Columbia fans.

That’s the scene. Now let’s zoom in on the LaSalle dugout, where the Cadets, in their now well-soiled blue uniforms, are gathered together on the top step, anxiously watching the action, along with their coach, Jesse Braverman, a tightly coiled man of 57. At the moment, the Blue Devils have two runners on base, including the potential go-ahead run, on first and second.

This is by far the latest game the Cadets have played this season–or any other recent season, for that matter. The Cadets’ star pitcher, a lanky fifteen year old sophomore by the name of Dave Rosenboom, has pitched a magnificent game thus far.

Now, however, he is clearly tiring. Rosenboom has given up back to back walks to Devils. With one of the Devils’ most dangerous hitters, centerfielder Pat Fuentes due up, the momentum of the game–that crucial, elusive thing–seems to be tilting towards the Blue Devils. The eyes of hundreds of LaSalle fans are fixed on Rosenboom, trying to will the flagging pitcher the strength to power through the crisis and keep the game even–as those of the hundreds of LaSalle fans in the stands–as the lanky Fuentes steps up to the plate.

Braverman’s eyes, however, are fixed instead on the lead runner, Matt Montross, on second base and Chris Dedrik, the Devils’ coach, standing on the third base coach. Further zooming in, Braverman, who has perfect eyesight–and even better baseball antenna–notes what he later calls “unusual eye activity” between Montross, now leading off second base, and his coach, who is trying to look as casual as possible, ninety feet away. But Montross’s darting eyes give him away.

Time to bushwack the bushwacker. Quickly, Braverman gives his ace the pick-off signal. Successfully picking off a runner from second base is a tricky maneuver for any pitcher, no less a fifteen year old high school hurler, but Braverman has put Rosenboom through his paces well. A one-time high school star pitcher himself, Braverman has spent myriad hours in practice with Rosenboom and the other LaSalle pitchers demonstrating how, in order to take advantage of a potential pick-off situation, a pitcher needs to raise his front leg with his head looking directly at the batter and exhibiting no change in his normal posture when he delivers the pitch, in order not to telegraph his intentions, then when his front knee is at its apex, quickly pirouette around and throw a strike at the covering second baseman as the prospective thief makes a vain dive back to the base.

It’s a beautiful move when executed properly, something out of modern dance, and tonight it is indeed executed beautifully: just as his coach has taught him, Rosenboom wheels, LaSalle second baseman Brian Beaury covers, Montross is tagged out. As the LaSalle bench–along with their charged fans–erupt into startled cheers, Braverman allows himself a small private smile. The game isn’t over; not by a long shot. But something has changed; the players, as well as the fans, sense this too, a subtle, almost subliminal yet palpable feeling that the balance of the contest has altered, that the gods of baseball have crossed the field and lined up on LaSalle’s side. This feeling is confirmed when, on his next pitch, the fired-up Rosenboom strikes out Puentes, the Blue Devils’ star hitter. Puentes, who happens to be the cousin of the LaSalle catcher, Lukas Bridenbeck, had been looking for a curveball; Bridenbeck, guessing this, had instead called for a fastball. And down cousin Pat went, swinging. Greatness, as they say, is in the details. More cheers.

THE game continues.

It is the bottom of the seventh now. The score is still tied, 2-2. Momentum is still with LaSalle, but as Braverman knows–as everyone who is watching knows–that can change in an instant. Time to score; time to close the deal. Next up: LaSalle’s hard-charging second baseman, Brian Beaury. Braverman feels good about Beaury leading off because he is a patient hitter with a good eye who led the team in walks over the past season. On the other hand, Columbia’s fireballer, Gaige, gives no indication of tiring. The duel is on. The clock in left field shows that it is now one thirty, an unusual, almost unheard of time for a high school baseball game, but none of the four thousand fans watching the epic contest is leaving, and despite the late hour, there is no a yawn to be seen. They know that they are watching one of the greatest games they have ever seen.

Three pitches: one ball, two strikes. Looks like Beaury is going to be out of there pretty soon. But no, wait. Gaige calmly fires another fastball right down the middle, and Beaury just as calmly fires it up the middle for a single. LaSalle has had its lead off man on–.

The game continues–


(From “Dateline: Somewhere in Lapland (January 18, 1940,” the prologue to What Free Men Can Do: The Untold Story of the Winter War)


‘Tis on earth my cohorts contend.
Whosoever layeth down his arms.
Him shall I disown

–The Weary Soldiers, Yrjo Jylha

Out of the swirling blizzard poured the Finns, almost invisible with white capes covering their grey-green uniforms and white fur caps on their heads. Their machine guns barked and their knives were loose in their sheaths and they did not take many prisoners.

–from a mid-December report in Time, after the first major Finnish victory at Tolvajarvi

Only Finland, superb nay sublime, in the jaws of peril, Finland shows what free men can do. There, exposed for all the world to see is the incapacity of the Red Army and
the Red Air Force–

–from a BBC broadcast by Winston Churchill,
Lord of the Admiralty, January 19, 1940

Day by day, from Stockholm to Tokyo, an avid readership followed the fortunes of the Finns, much as they would have done a hotly contested tennis doubles–

–Richard Collier, The Warcos

The date: January 18, 1940. The place: somewhere in eastern Lapland, near the Fenno-Soviet border. The temperature: 36 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. The time: approximately 3 a.m.

The war between Finland and Russia has been raging for fifty days now–or roughly forty seven days longer than virtually all foreign observers, including the Soviets themselves–believed possible after the latter shocked the Finns, as well as the rest of the world, including their nominal German allies, with a massive, apparently well-coordinated land, sea, and air invasion of their western neighbour on November 30, 1939.

Some foreign observers, like English parliamentarian Harold Nicholson, professed to be surprised that the vastly outnumbered Finns had managed to put up any kind of resistance at all. On December 3rd, Nicholson smugly recorded in his journal that “the Finns are putting on a pretty good show.” However, he added, “they will collapse in a day or two. All they have to do,” he continued, “is to demonstrate a few hours of heroism [and] they are doing that.”

Russian generalissimo Joseph Stalin, a.k.a. as the Great Leader and his long-time crony and defence minister, Klementi Voroshilov, with whom he had once again stood shoulder to shoulder atop Lenin’s Tomb in Red Square at the most recent march-past of the Red Army at the 22nd revolutionary anniversary celebration on November 7th, evidently had roughly the same respect for Finland’s fighting ability. A day or two, a week at the most, and then, Stalin and Voroshilov were confident, the Finns would see the futility of resistance, sue for peace, and allow themselves to be reunited with Mother Russia, more or less as the former czarist provinces and erstwhile republics of Estonia and Latvia were in the process of doing (in September, having little alternative, Estonia and Latvia acquiesced to the Kremlin’s demand for sizable Soviet forces to be stationed in their territory; Lithuania followed suit thereafter).

The only thing that was remarkable to Stalin was that the stubborn Finns had not acceded to Moscow’s eminently reasonable (at least to his mind) territorial demands. The outcome was not in question. The only question was how long it would take.

But the Finns, to the astonishment of nearly everyone, themselves excepted, had refused to roll over. Instead, under the skillful generalship of their idiosyncratic septuagenarian commandant, Marshal Baron Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim, the former tsarist general and commander of the victorious White forces in the Civil War, a man who genuinely feared a war with Moscow, had done all he could do to prevent it–his lightly-equipped army of three hundred thousand had fought the ill-trained, ill-clad ill-led, four-times-as-large Russian force to a standstill.

Finnish tactics were improvised. Encountering a Soviet armoured column, Mannerheim’s men would quickly lob a jerry-built fuel bomb or “Molotov cocktail,” at the T-26 tank at the point of the column–or, even more daringly, ski up and insert a satchel charge into the tank’s treads, immobilizing it–then do the same with the rear one. Motti, the Finns called the result– “cordwood.” Then the white-hooded guerillas would break cover en masse, more lethal “cocktails” in hand, and proceed to methodically incinerate the remaining “wood.” Already, in this manner, as the three hundred correspondents who had converged on Helsinki to report on the lopsided conflict had enthusiastically wired, telephoned and broadcast around the world–several Soviet divisions had been eliminated, one at Tolvajarvi, near Lake Ladoga, in the south, in early February–flanks harried, communications severed–before being methodically cut up into motti; then, even more recently, another two, in even more spectacular fashion, at Suomussalmi in central Finland, where the Soviets had originally had hoped to sever Finland in two..

NOTE TO FINNISH READERS: What Free Men Can Do: The Untold Story of the Winter War will be published by WSOY in October, 2009.

NOTE TO HELSINKIANS: I will be giving a reading from the work-in-progress at Arkipelag Bookstore on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009. Seating is limited, so be sure to get there early or else Ian the owner, aka “Ian the Gatekeeper” will bar you from entering with a friendly but firm Gallic shrug, smile, and locked door. I know of which I speak: the last time I tried to attend an event at Ian’s tres chic bookstore-cum-salon, I was barred admission and enjoined to watch the evening’s performance from the sidewalk (more about this memorable incident in section IV below). Fortunately, I was able to glean a particle of the proceedings because of my advanced lip-reading skills–at least I was until it got too cold to watch. So, unless you wish to incur the otherwise eminently amiable Mon. Bourgeot’s wrath, and/or you possess advanced lip-reading skills, I strongly suggest you arrive early! Thank you! Kiitos! Tack! (And merci beaucoup Ian!)


One of the things that keeps my life interesting is that every year my world–both in the topographical and psychological sense–is that every year it seems to expand to embrace a new place. In 2005, it was Greece and the Greek Islands. In 2006, it was coastal Norway and the Lofoten Islands. Last year, I added two new cities to “my world”–Warsaw and Rio. I mean, I didn’t just visit these places. These places are still indelibly lodged in my imagination: I sortie to them at 3 A.M. in the morning, when I am trying to will myself to sleep after a long day of creative combat. (Actually I “go” to Rio if I am trying to go to sleep, then keep swimming if I am still awake, or semi-comatose. Whatever.)

This year, I added two new points to my compass: the French Alps and Northwestern Russia, which I visited for “Financial Times” and Karelia and St. Petersburg, as part of my field research for What Free Men Can Do.

Herewith, excerpts from the final draft of the former, and my notes from the latter. Mind, the former was written for a very specific readership, i.e., the luxe loving readers of FT’s “How to Spend It” Magazine. As you will readily glean, I enjoyed myself immensely–so much so that I am already planning on returning to Grenoble, surely one of France’s best-kept secrets (the head of press of the New York office of the French national tourist board questioned why I even wanted to go there!). And Russia, well Russia, as you will see, was, as we used to say back in the day a trip!



(From “Long Luxurious Weekend in Grenoble,” for Financial Times How To Spend It)

Question: which European restaurant has the ultimate view to die for? My vote is with Chez Le ‘Per’ Gras, the four generation old dinery located high atop Grenoble, the elegant capital of the French Alps. Seated by the floor to ceiling window at sunset, with the cake frosting of the Alps in the distance and the lights of the city brewing up one by one is sufficient to put you in mind of a symphony by Berlioz. Who, as it happens, hails from Grenoble. The food is pretty out-of-this world, as well. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Question: what is France’s best-kept secret? Right again: Grenoble. Fine restaurants, suave hostelries, dazzling musea, tree-lined boulevards, top shopping, this compact city of 150,000 has all the requisite ingredients for the quintessential long, luxurious weekend. And then, of course, there are those views. Or as Grenoble’s most famous native son, Stendhal, put it: Au bout de chaque rue, une montagne. “At the end of every street, a mountain.” He wasn’t kidding. You’ll spend half of your time here looking up.

One of the reasons why Grenoble is relatively unknown is that non-Grenoblois think of it as far away. It really isn’t. It’s possible to fly direct to Grenoble–the city airport is only 20 kilometers out of town–but the train is really the only way to go. A short one hour’s hop from Lyons through the mountains and you’re there. And what a hop! David Lean couldn’t have scripted a more magnificent entrance.

Begin your culinary conquest of Grenoble as Napolean did back in 1813 with a royal repast at L’Auberge Napolean. Unfortunately it isn’t known what Bonaparte had to eat himself during his still celebrated two day visit, but I swore I heard the ghost of the Corsican suggest the raviolis du Dauphine aux champignone (ravioli stuffed with seafood), a local speciality, as the first entrée, followed by scallops with hot foie gras. Magnifique!

In the event, the Auberge no longer houses guests, however Grenoble lacks not for excellent places to stay. The swankiest address in the city proper is the luxe, seven story, Park Hotel, overlooking the lush, felt-like Park Mistral. Each of the 52 rooms at the hotel, a grande hotel with a distinct eccentric streak, is decorated in a different style. And dig that old telephone in the elevator. Be sure to book a room with a balcony. There’s no better place to enjoy the fireworks display on Bastille Day.

The swankiest address in Grenoble proper is the luxe Park Hotel overlooking the Park Mistral, the lushest of the immaculately manicured parks which ornament the town. A great hotel with a distinct eccentric streak, each of the Park’s 52 rooms is decorated in a different style; the bathroom in my seventh suite was big enough to live in. Be sure to book a room with a balcony. There’s no better place to enjoy the fireworks display on Bastille Day. And dig that old telephone in the elevator. Rumor has it that Stendhal himself answers it.

More in the mood for a chateau? Located ten minutes from the city center, the historic hostelry of the Chateau de la Commanderie offers lodgings fit for a king–or at least a dauphine. The castle, which dates to the 12th century and the days of the Viennes, comes with all the amenities, including a swimming pool, an ancient billiards room straight out of Cezanne, and a vast dining hall lined with portraits lined with portraits of some of the distinguished ancestors of the gracious owner, Marc de Beaumont, who’ll only be too happy to give you a tour–before introducing you to his beaming parents, who also live on the grounds.

Now that you are properly sited, make a beeline for the extraordinary Musee de Grenoble. Founded in 1798, the museum, perhaps the least-known of France’s truly great musea, is arranged so as to enable the visitor to trace the history of Western painting from Carolingian days to the modern day without interruption. A kind of Noah’s Ark of art, the museum boasts no less than 1500 works of art on its walls, including of many if not most of the recognized masters, from Rubens to Monet right up to Warhol. Watch out for the room devoted to the towering works of the great 19th dauphinois landscape painter, Guetal, and his peers. There is no more peaceful spot in France, I aver.

As long as you’re in a painterly mood, treat yourself to lunch at Fantin-Latour, the out-of-this-world restaurant named after Grenoble’s most famous artist son. Located in an ancient hotel particulier in the center of town, this very French affair is the creation of Michelin-starred “espoir chef” Stephane Froidevaux–

Continue walking into the center of town until you come to Grenoble’s main square, the charming Place Victor Hugo–which also happens to be the best place to people watch. Relax. Close your eyes. Listen to the fountains play. You’re having a Grenoblois moment.

Time to shift into shopping mode. Check out the “Rue de la Deco,” a tiny street adjoining the square where home interior shops neighbor each other. Local clothes designers Lola and Catherine Vitella also have sparkling outposts near by. Shop for avant-garde home design at Kartell. Galeries Lafayette, the town’s airy main department store, located near by, is also a great place to splash out away from the madding crowd.

Rest from your acq