Châteauroux

The street Jim lived on as taken in 2014. Jim is standing in front of his old house.

The street Jim lived on as taken in 2014. Jim is standing in front of his old house.

The street Jim lived on as taken in 1952. The man walking is in front of his house.

While in France, we took a train south to Châteauroux and spent a couple days. This is the small town where Jim lived for four years as a child. His father was stationed there 1952-1956 to help build a United States Air Force Base at Déols Airfield. The Germans used Déols in WWII and the Allied forces bombed the area heavily. Damage was concentrated on the airfield, 7km north of Châteauroux, and the train station in town. Looking at the old (unbombed) portion of Châteauroux and the post-WWII rebuilt area offers a distinct reminder of that bombing.

Jim’s family lived in the middle of town. Using a couple photographs of the house and the street name, we were able to find the exact house he lived in. Amazingly, it was still standing and largely unchanged. When we knocked on the door, the sweet family living there welcomed us in. They were excited to see pictures from the past and gave us a complete tour.

The front door and windows to Jim's old house, in 2014.

The front door and windows to Jim’s old house, in 2014.

Jim and his brothers standing in the front door of their French house. Jim's in the middle.

Jim and his brothers standing in the front door of their French house. Jim’s in the middle.

Several features of the house provoked Jim’s memories: interior glass transoms above bedroom doors, a round window looking onto the street, steep stairs to the attic with narrow treads, a large walled-in backyard with a few small nooks in the stone walls, the doorway to the basement, and the kitchen. Next to the house is a shed wall that lives on in the family memory. When Jim lived there, the local Communist Party came over after weekly meetings and painted “Yanqui go home” in whitewash. On the weekend, Jim’s dad washed the wall clean, leaving a blank canvas until their next meeting.

Châteauroux is full of charming old streets.

Châteauroux is full of charming old streets.

Châteauroux is a beautiful small town, full of medieval buildings, art, large parks, walking paths, and a couple museums. Its charm made us wish we had longer to explore the area. Although few Americans visit, we found some information in English and took a self-guided walking tour. As we explored, Jim remembered one of the large churches, the preserved lavoirs (public laundry areas), and the large park with ponds full of waterfowl. This was an area his mom took the kids on walks every day. We even found the bridge that can be seen in the background of a photograph Jim’s mom took of a temporary Roma camp. On the street where his house was, we were able to find what used to be a tire shop that he played in as a child.

The blank shed wall next to Jim's old house which the communist party used to whitewash with "Yanqui go home." 2014

The blank shed wall next to Jim’s old house which the communist party used to whitewash with “Yanqui go home.” 2014

In 1966, Charles de Gaulle ordered the withdrawal of American forces from France. In March 1967, 6000 Americans left Châteauroux. When the order came from de Gaulle to leave France, President Johnson prompted his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, to ask for further clarification. Rusk recalls that de Gaulle did not respond when he asked “Does your order include the bodies of American soldiers in France’s cemeteries?” (There are about 66,000 American soldiers buried in France between the two world wars. A fraction of those who died in France are buried there. France has 11 American cemeteries, the largest number of any country outside USA.) It seems the departure was a major economic setback for Châteauroux and Americans are spoken of well in the community to this day. If you want to learn more, check out this article in the New York Times.

You can see all our pictures of Châteauroux here.

A picture taken by Jim's mom in 1952 of a Roma camp in front of a bridge.

A picture taken by Jim’s mom in 1952 of a Roma camp in front of a bridge.

The same bridge across the Indre River that Jim's mom captured in a photo. Château Raoul in the background, from which Châteauroux gets its name. 2014

The same bridge across the Indre River that Jim’s mom captured in a photo. Château Raoul in the background, from which Châteauroux gets its name. 2014

Couvent des Cordeliers, an old large church on the edge of Belle Isle park.

Couvent des Cordeliers, an old large church on the edge of Belle Isle park.

Église Saint-André with more modern buildings on either side of the street.

Église Saint-André with more modern buildings on either side of the street.

Memorial to those who died in the French Revolution.

Memorial to those who died in the French Revolution.

Parc Belle Isle has multiple lakes and a meandering river. We saw ducks, geese, and swans.

Parc Belle Isle has multiple lakes and a meandering river. We saw ducks, geese, and swans.

Ducks at Belle Isle park.

Ducks at Belle Isle park.

A medieval "lavoir" or public area people could come to do their laundry.

A medieval “lavoir” or public area people could come to do their laundry.

Saint-Martin gate into Château Raoul.

Saint-Martin gate into Château Raoul.

The train station at Châteauroux.

The train station at Châteauroux.

A modern square in the rebuilt part of Châteauroux.

A modern square in the rebuilt part of Châteauroux.

Fountain in a traffic circle near Jim's old house.

Fountain in a traffic circle near Jim’s old house.

Jim's old house. The vines all over Châteauroux were turning red. 2014

Jim’s old house. The vines all over Châteauroux were turning red. 2014

A vine-covered house in Châteauroux.

A vine-covered house in Châteauroux.

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Au revoir, Paris!

The street we lived on.

The street we lived on.

A month in Paris goes by quickly. In a city with so much history, so much art, and so many people, it would be impossible to see “all” of it, so we saw much of what we wanted to and didn’t even try to see many of the tourist classics.

The Promenade Plantée. 4.5km of a metro line have been converted to a bike and pedestrian walkway through the heart of Paris.

The Promenade Plantée. 4.5km of a metro line have been converted to a bike and pedestrian walkway through the heart of Paris.

A common highlight was walking through neighborhoods. Paris is made for walkers. We never tired of the beautiful buildings, colorful planter boxes, busy cafes, and meandering lanes. Many of our wanders included trying a new bakery or chocolate shop and stumbling upon a green market or buskers. Particularly fun neighborhoods were Montmartre and the Left Bank, but every neighborhood has gems.

Another park packed with quiet locals enjoying a sunny afternoon.

Another park packed with quiet locals enjoying a sunny afternoon.

Another repeated highlight was the parks, commonly full of people. There are benches for readers and moveable chairs that migrate with the crowds, some set up for leaning back in a nap or sun-bask. Landscaping is mixed and beautiful so something was always blooming. Permanent pingpong tables at times host fierce competitions. Sculptures are mixed in with the trees. Most parks have play areas for children, from a simple structure to elaborate rope courses, games, and climbing gyms. Parisians clearly love their children and visiting the park is a daily activity. The largest parks on the border of Paris proper have miles of walking and biking trails, acres of fields, attractions like a zoo or botanic garden, a medieval castle. One warm afternoon we joined the hoards and found a lake where we were able to rent a rowboat and paddle around.

Cimetiere du Père Lachaise has over one million interred. It is a couple blocks from our apartment.

Cimetiere du Père Lachaise has over one million interred. It is a couple blocks from our apartment.

Père Lachaise Cemetery was just a couple blocks away. We visited this odd beautiful place often. It is a good place to stroll quiet cobbled lanes, to see leaves turning colors, to watch people, and to get lost in the simple crumbling old stones and large family pavilions. People have been memorialized and chose to memorialize themselves in fantastic ways. The cemetery today has one million people interred and many more in the columbarium but it was not always so popular. Père Lachaise was opened in 1804 because the cemeteries in the middle of town were all full, however no one was dying to get in this new cemetery that seemed so far away. The administrators created a marketing strategy that involved moving the graves of famous people, like Molière and lovers Abélard and HéloÏse. Multiple moves and ten years later, it worked. Today there is a waiting list and high price tag to get one of the few remaining plots. An additional bit of history is that the cemetery was the site of the end of La Commune (a revolutionist socialist group that ruled Paris briefly in 1871). The final 200 Communards retreated to the cemetery in their last battle. Those who survived the battle were caught, lined up inside the cemetery, and shot.

Napoleon's tomb

Napoleon’s tomb

Three of the museums we visited stand out. The stunning Petit Palais was constructed for the same World’s Fair that brought about the Eiffel Tower. Today it is one of the free city museums with a fantastic collection of art. Even on a cold wet Sunday, we shared it with only a small handful of people.

The Musée de l’Armée showed us the French perspective on WWII with engaging exhibits including maps, uniforms, propaganda, and video footage. We also walked through Napoleon’s tomb, which depicts him as more divine than mortal.

A room of Greek sculptures in the Louvre.

A room of Greek sculptures in the Louvre.

We had a marvelous time in the Louvre. Our tourist info said if you spent 30 seconds looking at each piece and kept it up 24/7, it would take seven and a half months to see the entire museum! We carefully picked a couple areas to explore and let the rest go for next time. Despite the large crowds and multiple tour groups we saw, the museum is so well laid out, it was easy to look at art and walk around. An unexpected gem was the ancient art of the Near East.

View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Champs Elysees on the right.

View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Champs Elysees on the right.

One morning, we climbed the Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon had it built as a monument to his success and greatness. He never saw it but his ashes passed through it on their eventual return from St. Helena. It is a great place to take in the city planning imposed by Baron Haussmann. Streets leave the Arc in a radiating star, many ending with a famous landmark or important site. Hoards of people walk along Champs Elysees. Rooftop gardens and patios, hidden from street view, top buildings. The Eiffel Tower rises above it all. The views were stunning!

The sunset view from our balcony, last day in Paris. Au revoir!

The sunset view from our balcony, last day in Paris. Au revoir!

We’re ready to say adieu to the dog poo on our street (this wasn’t true in most of Paris but our neighborhood was terrible), the incessant smoking, and the bustle of a large city. There are multiple things that we will miss: the phenomenally beautiful presence of the city, the bakeries, the ease of getting around between pedestrian-friendly streets and the subway, the cheese, our generous fruit stand man, and the way a crowd can be so quiet. Au revoir, Paris!

See more photos from Paris here.

One of many the moving monuments at Cimetiere du Père Lachaise. This is one of several for the Holocaust.

One of many the moving monuments at Cimetiere du Père Lachaise. This is one of several for the Holocaust.

A revolutionist socialist group ruled Paris briefly in 1871, until they were defeated by the government. The final 200 retreated to the cemetery and lost a battle there. Those who survived the battle were executed at this site.

A revolutionist socialist group ruled Paris briefly in 1871, until they were defeated by the government. The final 200 retreated to the cemetery and lost a battle there. Those who survived the battle were executed at this site.

A modern grave at Cimetiere du Père Lachaise

A modern grave at Cimetiere du Père Lachaise

Fantastic macabre detailing at Cimetiere du Père Lachaise

Fantastic macabre detailing at Cimetiere du Père Lachaise

Inside the sarcophagus are four other sarcophagi and then Napoleon Bonaparte's ashes.

Inside the sarcophagus are four other sarcophagi and then Napoleon Bonaparte’s ashes.

At the French Military Museum, we saw this in the WWII exhibit. It is a 'Welbike' folding motorcycle in its parachute-drop container. Stamped on the engine cover was 'Villiers Junior.'

At the French Military Museum, we saw this in the WWII exhibit. It is a ‘Welbike’ folding motorcycle in its parachute-drop container. Stamped on the engine cover was ‘Villiers Junior.’

Basement at the Petit Palais

Basement at the Petit Palais

Venus de Milo, the original boobelisk, as seen at the Louvre.

Venus de Milo, the original boobelisk, as seen at the Louvre.

With her dark hair and enigmatic smile, this woman moves through a crowd focused on some famous painting.

With her dark hair and enigmatic smile, this woman moves through a crowd focused on some famous painting.

Louvre. Despite all the people and many pieces of art, the galleries were easy to get around in.

Louvre. Despite all the people and many pieces of art, the galleries were easy to get around in.

Louvre. Striking tile work from the ancient Near East, in the area of modern day Iran.

Louvre. Striking tile work from the ancient Near East, in the area of modern day Iran.

France's unknown soldier memorial at the Arc de Triomphe.

France’s unknown soldier memorial at the Arc de Triomphe.

Sculptural detail at the Arc de Triomphe.

Sculptural detail at the Arc de Triomphe.

Behavior guidelines posted on top of the Arc de Triomphe. The French really love their speedos!

Behavior guidelines posted on top of the Arc de Triomphe. The French really love their speedos!

Water canons and a large fountain at the Jardin Trocadero.

Water canons and a large fountain at the Jardin Trocadero.

Fountain at Jardin Trocadero.

Fountain at Jardin Trocadero.

Jim rowing at Bois Vincennes

Jim rowing at Bois Vincennes

Megan rowing at Bois Vincennes

Megan rowing at Bois Vincennes

This subway stop is modeled after a Jules Verne submarine. Note the wedding photo shoot on the opposite platform.

This subway stop is modeled after a Jules Verne submarine. Note the wedding photo shoot on the opposite platform.

Lion outside Hôtel de Ville, City Hall.

Lion outside Hôtel de Ville, City Hall.

Why we love French bakeries.

Why we love French bakeries.

Painted walls inside Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church.

Painted walls inside Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church.

Fantastic architectural details are everywhere you look, even straight up.

Fantastic architectural details are everywhere you look, even straight up.

For centuries, children have pushed sailboats around in this fountain.

For centuries, children have pushed sailboats around in this fountain.

Arrival in Paris

Us outside Notre Dame

Us outside Notre Dame

We are currently in Paris and plan to stay here for one month. The logistics of getting a place have not been easy. Unlike elsewhere, many of the apartments available are primary residences of young people who will move out (i.e. stay with family or a friend) if you want to rent their place. However, they only move themselves out and not all their stuff, so that leaves us living in a small apartment with limited storage space and someone else’s decorations. To complicate the issue, it took us contacting about a dozen people who showed availability on their calendars before finding one who actually had availability. Once we secured an apartment, life didn’t get any easier!

The corner building was our first rental. Our apartment had the fourth balcony up. One the street below, you can see the black market crowd congregating.

The corner building was our first rental. Our apartment had the fourth balcony up. One the street below, you can see the black market crowd congregating.

Our arrival in Paris was rough and one of the more challenging travel experiences we’ve encountered. The first day, there were some small things, like miscommunication with our Airbnb host so we waited in a stairwell for her for close to an hour. The bigger issue was that the place we rented didn’t feel safe or comfortable. It was dirty. I mean dirty like nothing in it had been properly cleaned for a long time. The walls were covered with splashes of spills, grimy hand prints, dust, and scrapes. You couldn’t really see out the windows. But, we know how to clean and worked to make ourselves comfortable. What we didn’t know how to deal with was the street scene. Directly outside the building, a large group of young men (300 at most) gathered every afternoon and evening. They were engaged in an active black market and the trade often came with shouting and very loud amplified music. On top of that, we twice saw guys from the black market kick in the front door to our building hard enough to break the magnetic lock! Our last evening police, raided the black market with dogs, dispersing the crowd and detaining many people. The straw that broke the camel’s back was that there were mice in the apartment. The mice got into our food and left droppings on the kitchen counter. When we contacted our host, she asked us to not kill them. She said the mouse is very intelligent, is like a pet for the whole building, and is nicknamed ‘Brain.’ Thank goodness she loved the mouse enough to offer us a refund and a way out. As soon as we could find another place, we moved out and our experience here has been much better since.

Paris chimneys are famous.

Paris chimneys are famous. This is the view from our balcony.

We are now staying on a quiet street in the 20th arrondissement (officially defined neighborhood). There are few tourists in this area. Our west facing balcony has a view over the city including the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur. Sun streams in during the afternoon. We have three delicious bakeries in a two block radius, and many more bars, cafes, and restaurants. There are parks in all directions. It feels like a safe, classic mixed-use area; mostly residential buildings with the ground floors dedicated to commercial purposes. Our host is a sound engineer who is really into tea (there are about 15 tins on the 3 kitchen shelves) and eclectic music. One of his band/DJ posters says “deep cerebral and inventive, the future of UK hiphop.”

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Paris is a city whose reputation precedes it so you won’t get our typical introduction to it here. It is the most visited place in the world, hosting 30 million tourists each year. The metro area includes 12 million Parisians. It is full of beautiful buildings, parks, bridges, streets, and public art. The city benefits from past generations; it has been a settlement for at least 8000 years! The earliest known inhabitants were a Celtic tribe. If you look you can finds signs of the Romans, of Napoleon Bonaparte, and Baron Haussmann of course. Paris has seen war and revolution firsthand many times. Informational plaques are posted on walls or posts regarding important events, lives of historic figures, and buildings that once stood. You could probably find one on every block in the city! It feels like a modern metropolis while balancing being an old city with a strong sense of culture and tradition.

On a sunny day, this is a common scene. People pack the parks.

On a sunny day, this is a common scene. People pack the parks.

Lovingly planted window boxes add a splash of color to the stone buildings. Some of our favorite signs of modernity and urban planning are the comprehensive city-wide bike-rental program that discourages using cars, and a clean safe subway system where trains run every five minutes or less and the nearest stop is never more than a 5 minute walk. People love to eat outdoors and if a neighborhood restaurant is open, it will have customers. To keep the food culture strong, employees get a government-subsidized voucher from their employer that covers the cost of a cheap lunch. There are other food protection laws such as a business cannot use the word boulangerie unless they bake bread onsite daily. The city is cleaner than any US city we’ve been to and everyday we see public employees cleaning public spaces. Parks are everywhere, from a small piece of land between streets to planned acres of green. Pets are excluded from most parks, keeping these spaces focused on people.

A lovely square in the heart of old Paris.

A lovely square in the heart of old Paris.

We’ve noticed some distinct cultural differences between Paris and the States. People here appear to spend a lot less time and energy face-down on their phones. Instead, parks are filled with people reading paper books or engaged in conversation. Food is always fresh and preservatives are often not allowed to be added to products. To support this, large green markets happen every day of the week. Our neighborhood has three, the closest one takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Additionally, grocery stores with real produce and basic ingredients are practically on every block. There is no such thing as a food desert in this city. On the other hand, Parisians smoke a lot. Thank goodness the city is breezy or we’d be choked to death by now! There is a high value in polite, clear, and quiet communication. We first learned this from a guide book and have seen it to be true. On a packed subway train, there is only a low hum of conversation, even during rush hour when there is a crush to get in or out. Voices are rarely raised. Shopkeepers always call us madame and monsieur. Walking down the street, you rarely hear cell phones ringing or music from passing cars.

La Géode at Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie.

La Géode at Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie.

Tales from our sightseeing and adventures will come in the next post. In the meantime, you can look at more pictures by clicking here.

A typical clean, well-lit subway stop. The stations are so close together in some places, you can see down the tracks to the light of the next station.

A typical clean, well-lit subway stop. The stations are so close together in some places, you can see down the tracks to the light of the next station.

Canal Saint-Martin

Canal Saint-Martin

Beautiful public art work like this is everywhere you go.

Beautiful public art work like this is everywhere you go.

Place de la République

Place de la République

Black market view from our balcony

Black market view from our balcony

Beautiful inside stairwell at our first apartment.

Beautiful inside stairwell at our first apartment.

As the plaque on this wall says, Vincent Van Gogh lived in this building with his brother.

As the plaque on this wall says, Vincent Van Gogh lived in this building with his brother.

Montmartre, looking to Sacre Coeur.

Montmartre, looking to Sacre Coeur.

Very fun buskers outside Sacre Coeur. They were singing harmony and hamming it up.

Very fun buskers outside Sacre Coeur. They were singing harmony and hamming it up.

"Love" locks have taken over bridges in Paris. The weight of all these locks is causing structural problems and the city has to cut them down and is replacing the wire with glass panels.

“Love” locks have taken over bridges in Paris. The weight of all these locks is causing structural problems and the city has to cut them down and is replacing the wire with glass panels.

Looking up the center of the Eiffel Tower from underneath.

Looking up the center of the Eiffel Tower from underneath.

Eiffel Tower. Up close, Megan thought it was surprisingly ugly, except for this arched filigree.

Eiffel Tower. Up close, Megan thought it was surprisingly ugly, except for this arched filigree.

Police raiding the black market. Note the officer with the dog and the line of men detained up against the wall on the right. Also notice how the large crowd is gone!

Police raiding the black market. Note the officer with the dog and the line of men detained up against the wall on the right. Also notice how the large crowd is gone!

Officers with dogs raiding the black market

Officers with dogs raiding the black market

Sculpture on Arc de Triomphe

Sculpture on Arc de Triomphe

Many small streets are blocked from traffic, forming pedestrian malls.

Many small streets are blocked from traffic, forming pedestrian malls.

Gargoyles on Notre Dame

Gargoyles on Notre Dame

St Denis is the headless guy. The legend says he was decapitated, picked up his head, and walked 10k while preaching before he died.

St Denis is the headless guy. The legend says he was decapitated, picked up his head, and walked 10k while preaching before he died.

Tour guide Megan. Our Kindle has been very useful as we've downloaded travel books and done several self-guided walking tours.

Tour guide Megan. Our Kindle has been very useful as we’ve downloaded travel books and done several self-guided walking tours.

This street performer challenges Newtonian physics.

This street performer challenges Newtonian physics.

Notre Dame.

Notre Dame.

A busy street in the Latin Quarter. By "Latin," they don't mean Hispanic but actually the dead language Latin because the area was full of academic nerds back in the day, speaking Latin!

A busy street in the Latin Quarter. By “Latin,” they don’t mean Hispanic but actually the dead language Latin because the area was full of academic nerds back in the day, speaking Latin!

Over the top Gothic architecture in Église Saint-Séverin.

Over the top Gothic architecture in Église Saint-Séverin.

Gargoyle face on Église Saint-Séverin

Gargoyle face on Église Saint-Séverin

Wall O' Gargoyles. Église Saint-Séverin.

Wall O’ Gargoyles. Église Saint-Séverin.

The "shadows" on this wall are a mural; another great example of public art in Paris.

The “shadows” on this wall are a mural; another great example of public art in Paris.

Look for the woman doing two things Parisians do well: reading and smoking.

Look for the woman doing two things Parisians do well: reading and smoking.

Eiffel Tower at night. At the top of the hour, it glitters.

Eiffel Tower at night. At the top of the hour, it glitters.

Megan's favorite public art: La Géode. Can you see us waving at you?

Megan’s favorite public art: La Géode. Can you see us waving at you?

Sunset view from our balcony.

Sunset view from our balcony.

A manicured garden in the Carnavalet Museum.

A manicured garden in the Carnavalet Museum.

Jim picking up some pastries at a local patisserie. Does that really say 'Saint James' in the upper right?

Jim picking up some pastries at a local patisserie. Does that really say ‘Saint James’ in the upper right?

Parisians love to eat outside. Sidewalk seating is often full with people enjoying a leisurely meal or cup of coffee. Note the graffiti on the do-not-enter sign.

Parisians love to eat outside. Sidewalk seating is often full with people enjoying a leisurely meal or cup of coffee. Note the graffiti on the do-not-enter sign.

La Défense is a planned high-rise center on the edge of Paris. This enormous arch houses office space for 30,000 workers and caps the other end of a road from the Arc de Triomphe.

La Défense is a planned high-rise center on the edge of Paris. This enormous arch houses office space for 30,000 workers and caps the other end of a road from the Arc de Triomphe.

Business lunch crowd on the steps of La Défense arch. The parabolic object in the center is a wind deflector.

Business lunch crowd on the steps of La Défense arch. The parabolic object in the center is a wind deflector.

Public art giving itself a thumbs up.

Public art giving itself a thumbs up.

At La Défense.

At La Défense.

One of the many park attractions for children, this one in the large Jardin Tuileries, near the Louvre.

One of the many park attractions for children, this one in the large Jardin Tuileries, near the Louvre.

When Haussmann was tasked with cleaning up Paris, he constructed many large straight avenues and determined buildings should have continuity across blocks with external balconies on the same floors.

When Haussmann was tasked with cleaning up Paris, he constructed many large straight avenues and determined buildings should have continuity across blocks with external balconies on the same floors.

We saw many insect habitats scattered around the city, mostly in parks.

We saw many insect habitats scattered around the city, mostly in parks.

Megan will gladly tell you about the time she spent at the Sorbonne..........

Megan will gladly tell you about the time she spent at the Sorbonne……….

This traffic circle and statue stands at the location of the Bastille Fortress/Prison, that was torn down at the end of the French Revolution by the revolutionaries.

This traffic circle and statue stands at the location of the Bastille Fortress/Prison, that was torn down at the end of the French Revolution by the revolutionaries.

This newer building is successful in fitting in with the general aesthetic of the neighborhood. We saw some ugly 1960-1970 construction, but more buildings like this that are beautiful while being modern.

This newer building is successful in fitting in with the general aesthetic of the neighborhood. We saw some ugly 1960-1970 construction, but more buildings like this that are beautiful while being modern.