Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fast life with food on the run

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When day begins at 7am and ends at 7pm …
I’m tired … and famished …
And cooking becomes too much of an effort …
A quick-fix readymade solution … FAST FOOD!!!
You are served fast – you eat fast – you leave fast …
Quick – filling – tasty – cheap – tables are optional - disposable utensils - no mess & no cleaning!!! It can’t go more convenient than that! So we feast on burgers, hot-dogs, chicken-nuggets, onion-rings, fries, pizzas, burritos, tacos and soda!!! Fast food restaurants – the symbol of fast society – are spreading super fast. Now Mc Donald’s, Burger King, KFC, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Jack-in-the-Box, Subway, Taco Bells - adorn every nook and corner of our cities … simply because we get hungry … we need to eat … but don’t have the luxury of spare time … we need “food on run” … we need fast food!!!

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Fast food is a result of “evolutionary” process. Once upon a time; we were hunter-gathers and went outdoors and waited hours to get the prey for dinner. Fast forward few thousand years; we still go out for food; but now we prefer restaurants with “take-away” option or “drive-through” delivery to collect our food. Our lives no longer revolve around cooking … we have much more happening … we thrive on fast-food!

Busy lifestyles ...
The social and economic trends have shaped our food eating habits. People have to work for long hours – they leave home early morning, come back late evening - all tired. Higher proportions of women are working. This shrinks the time available to cook meals. Family structure has changed in favor of nuclear families. This means that there are no relatives or elderly parents to take charge of cooking meal at home. Under these stressed out conditions, cooking elaborate slow-meal on a regular basis is no more fun, its a tiresome chore … An easy alternative to home cooked meals is – Fast Food!
Even during afternoon lunch hours in offices, few can spare 30-40 minutes at a restaurant. They head for vending machines or fast-food!

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A Flash Back ...
Though fast food has existed for a long time; but it’s generally accepted that the birth of McDonalds ushered the popular *culture* of fast food. McDonalds restaurant were started by brothers [Dick & Mac] McDonalds. They initially had a regular restaurant and noticed that their maximum profits came from burgers. So they decided to concentrate on just a few profitable food-items - hamburgers, French fries and milkshake. Inspired by *assembly-line* of Henry Ford; they introduced “Speedee Service System" in 1948 and this established the basic principle of the fast food restaurants. So these brothers are said to be the inventor of fast-food restaurants adapting factory “assembly line method” to commercial kitchens. McDonald brothers got resounding success and then Ray Kroc started the McDonalds Corporation in 1955 … and thus began the great American culture of Fast-Food …

However their most popular food-items: hamburgers - & - fries …are not of American origin. It is believed that hamburgers are Russian delicacy that was brought to the US by German immigrants. Also French Fries are not French; but Belgian. During the World War– I; American soldiers posted in Belgium were offered these fries by French-speaking Belgians and soon became a hot favorite! But McDonalds made burgers-&-fries its very own. Soon its “Golden Arches” mushroomed everywhere … and others like … KFC & Burger King … joined the race. Soon we had Italian, Mexican, Japanese and other food-flavors joining the fray of fast-food!!!

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The growth of fast-food chains has not been all that smooth:
# Everyone knows about the McDonalds coffee burns case ...
# Wendy’s finger case got the fraud couple behind bars ...
# The documentary movie “Supersize Me” shows the ill-health effects of having three McDonalds meal for a month ...
# There has been *unsuccessful* class-action lawsuit against fast food company by one Caesar Barber, who claims that he didn't realize that fast food hamburgers were unhealthy, and blames four companies--McDonald's, Wendy's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Burger King - for selling fatty food and failing to warn consumers ...

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In fact fast-food are been called Junk–food.
Junk Food – as they are usually loaded with calories and fat but lack in essential nutrients. Our bodies need food with carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and fiber to keep us healthy. We can get all these nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Most Fast food restaurants often fry stuff in oil and load food up with extra salt or sugar; not good for our health. The criticism is very valid!
But it's ironic to have food that yummy not good for you.
Reminds me the words of Oscar Wilde that all good things in life are illegal, immoral or fattening :(

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AND fast-food companies are responding … McDonalds is diversifying its menu options and introducing salads and parfaits. Taco Bells implores to “Think outside the bun”. Subway comes with slogan “Eat Fresh”. I’m glad that fast-food chains are moving towards healthy food options.
There is no doubt that our traditional elaborate cooking methods are healthier; but we have to strike a balance between our work-time and cooking-time. We need to supplement our eating rituals with fast-food – not junk-food - but healthy fast-food. Move away from cheese, mayonnaise & deep fried stuff to grilled & broiled lean meat, full-grain breads and leafy vegetables with plenty of olives …

Fortunately though, food on the go doesn’t have to mean unhealthy food .
Like SUBWAY stores are well known for providing low fat and fresher alternatives to burgers, kebabs, pizza, fried chicken and fries.

Long live SUBWAYS!!! Long live *healthy* Fast Food!!!

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*** I thought about writing a series of posts on the topic "food-&-dining" ...
and this is the second post in this series ...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I'm singing in the rain

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“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”
~ Dorthea Lange

Yesterday was a beautiful day – as evident in the photos ...
The rising sun and the waning moon pix taken at around 6am ... yesterday ... ie April 24, 2006!!!

I had wished that today be another crisp spring morning … But as is said; “Man proposes God disposes.” Today the sky is overcast, there are mild scattered showers, it’s freezing cold with temperature dropping to 36 degree F [2 degree C] and to add to this scenario, its extremely windy!!! So sitting inside I'm singing this song ...
I'm singing in the rain ... Just singing in the rain ... What a glorious feelin' ... I'm happy again ...

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But then … I still went for my walks … only to return back in just 15 minutes. Well in this short while I was able to click this birdie … “American Goldfinch” [left pix]. This snapshot is taken from a great distance and the bird was sitting atop a tall tree; so the image not very clear. [ Rule of thumb: If the photo is good it’s because of the camera and if there are snags its my fault. Yeah, I love my camera more than myself !!!]

Anyways; since I’ve saved my walk time today; so I thought about organizing my photos. I’m pleased to know that there are a few who have taken a colorful spring-journey along with me and my photos ...
As someone said … “A good snapshot stops a moment from running away”

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NOTE: This is not a regular post ...
The primary motive of this post is to organize "My Photo Journal".


I started my walks on ... April 10, 2006 ...
Initially flowers got all my attention; as I welcomed the colors & greenery around after prolonged brown-gray winter spell. However for the past 3-4 days I’m concentrating on birds. As any photographer would agree to; many a times I see nature through my lenses … Sparrows and Robins ... are everywhere and I’m lucky that my Canon introduced me to : Red Winged Blackbird ... Northern Cardinal ... Downy Woodpecker [left pix], Bronze Grackle, Brown Cowbird, Starling, Finches … and even Heron! Well; though I’m quite conversant with names of flowers; until now I’ve not been too inquisitive about birds. So I’ve burned quite some mid-night oil trying to figure out their names. I also feel a sense of urgency; in the sense that in just a week’s time or so, leaves will cover up the trees and then spotting birds would be a Herculean task! So it’s about racing against the time … and winning !!!

* There’s also a whole lot of geese photographs though I’m not particularly fond of them.; but they look interesting and are found everywhere … hence the snaps ... Calligraphy ... Flying Geese ... Drying ...

Flowers remain my favorite subject matter ...
Just for the sake of organizing ... I’ll list the posts:
Bulbs: Crocus ... Daffodils ... Daffodils -2 ... Tulips ... Hyacinths …
Perennials: Blue, Pink & Purple flowers ...
Shrubs / hedges: Azaleas /Rhododendrons ... Crabapple ... Rosebud Tree ... Magnolia- White ... Magnolia - Pink ...
Trees: Willow ... Pine ... Sarafrass ...

There’s a whole lot of other photos I’ve taken [like Maple, Cedar … ] but haven’t got time to post …

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I end with a quotation:
“ Instead of just recording reality, photographs have become the norm for the way things appear to us, thereby changing the very idea of reality and of realism.”
~ Susan Sontag

Pix 3: American Goldfinch
Pix 4: Downy Woodpecker
Pix 5: House finches ... Male-Redhead; Female-brown]

Monday, April 17, 2006

Meandering thought trail

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Meandering thought trail ...

“Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”. [movie: Forrest Gump]

This thought struck me as I was taking my morning-walk.
Being born in a small town; now notorious as “Laloo Gaun”; I had never ever imagined that one day I would be ambulating carelessly on the streets of the famous “Windy City” – which as a kid I had heard was notorious for its street-gangster named Al Capone. Moving from one crime-city to another has been an interesting expedition. It reinforces my view that life is a long journey - with many crossroads – and only time will determine our final destination. However carefully an individual plans his lives … one cannot avoid encountering some purely incidental factors – way beyond one's control. The best one can do is, enjoy the journey called life ...

Lemme not take the philosophical highroad; but rather talk about the walks I’ve been taking every morning through the beautiful streets in my neighborhood. Well now it’s been a week since I started my regime of morning walks and without any second thoughts – I proclaim - It has been a good decision.

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There are so many things we *see* everyday but don’t *notice* at all. Our brains are so preoccupied with petty nitty-gritty of everyday survival – that we are unable to take note of small things around that can make us smile. I’m not talking about how every dawn; the fiery orange sunlight banishes away the silvery moonbeams to its temporary exile. I’m not even talking about those handsome health freaks who jog past me … BUT the object of my attention is their pet *canines*. These furry beasts look so happy and so very energetic … as if they were the most acute mute victims of the prolonged winter blues … and now that spring has set-in; they wanna catch every butterfly that comes along the roadway. I’ve noticed that these dogs have as much attitude as us human beings. Some look at me as if wishing a good-morning; some are too engrossed in themselves to even notice my presence and some react as if I’m a guilty intruder, encroaching upon their private space named – The Green Earth!

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Ahh well – not to forget that the walk wouldn’t be as smooth – without my new trainers – with a carefully chosen brandname “New Balance” … yeah!!! It offers me a new balance in life!!! It’s white, black n gray – like the shades of my life; and thoroughly fulfills its promise of good “fit, performance, and comfort”. So my broad foot gets a well-cushioned cover which makes me want to hop-skip-jump like these dogs running past me … but I choose to trot rather than sprint …

However I must admit that the very first day - I had tied my shoe-lace a bit too tight which scraped my skin slightly at the heels … and then I used the old favorite patch – Band-Aid! It was a kid’s patch – with colorful design on it! By-the-way has anyone noticed how *patches* are becoming ubiquitous these days??!!
Wanna quit smoking – try nicotine patch
Wanna reduce weight – try diet patch
I’ve even heard of cardiac patch for broken heart!!!
Well talking about patch-work ... some quilts have nice geometric patch-works. Few days back I had been to an exhibition in the Thompson Center, by people of the Amish community – and on display were beautiful handmade blankets - with patch work! One of my jeans also has a lovely patch-work!

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Reminds me of a wonderful song by Dolly Parton … “Coat of many colors”
My coat of many colors ... That my momma made for me
Made only from rags ... But I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money ... I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors ... My momma made for me


And this song brings me to another song I heard in the most *unexpected* way …
Yesterday I went to see the movie “Inside Man” … and I was wowed right in the beginning of the movie. Well it began with one of my favourite Hindi songs … from film “Dil Se” ...

Jinke sar ho ishq ki chhanv, Paaon ke neeche jaanat hogi
Chal chhaiya chhaiya chhaiya chhaiya
Chhaiya chhaiya chhaiya chhaiya ...


I was ecstatic!!! Felt like dancing like “Golden Daffodils” … as captured in the words of William Wordsworth … Fluttering and dancing in the breeze ...

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And this brings me back to the topic of morning walks … and the reason I don’t sprint is that I wanna observe the spring-bloom!!! Well if hobby is something that we do in our spare time, then clicking snaps is more than hobby – it’s my passion and I carve out time for it. Past few days, my morning walks have been more eventful with my companion – the black camera strap hanging around my neck … AND I’ve been enthusiastically capturing the myriad colors & facets of spring … I find it most amazing to note how flower bulbs – daffodils, tulips, crocus, hyacinths - remain buried underground during the long treacherous winter months and peep out of mother earth’s womb - the moment father sun shower their mellow-yellow sunshine!. Dormant tree buds become active again… and the “observer” in me … tries to take note of the beauty surrounding me though an extra pair lenses – my camera! My photo-blog is being updated almost everyday these days …
"I see trees of green........ red roses too
I see ’em bloom..... for me and for you
And I think to myself.... what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue..... clouds of white
Bright blessed days....dark sacred nights
And I think to myself .....what a wonderful world."


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However I’ve noticed that flowers look good only when fresh …
Awwwwwww so do humans !!!!
Now that reminds me of my advancing age …
Well when I was young-ER … from the beginning of New Year I would look forward to my birthday; when mom would call my friends and cook sumptuous dinner!
How I loved the idea of blowing out candles and everyone clapping and singing the B’day song … Now that soooo many birthdays have passed-by ... this event has become a foot-note in my life … But it’s a great feeling … it always makes me introspective … and I feel that I’ve had a balanced life – with my share of blunders, bloopers and accomplishments .....
The law of averages has surely been on play ...
“The man who views the world at 50, the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of life”
So well ... my world view has changed ... life is no more a rush ... it’s a journey ... not smooth but very bumpy ... not all that hunky-dory but very interesting!

For me - walking and writing - are very similar!!!
The moment … I am ambulating down the streets … OR … am pounding alphabets on my keyboard – my head becomes clear. Recording small little details, allows me to observe the world a bit closer and put things into perspective …

And my thought chain meanders … as I take my morning walks … or I scribble on a note-pad …
So does my life meanders - always moving forward but in a zigzag manner … it’s enjoying the journey that matters ...

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*** The birds photographs may seem out of context – or maybe not …
It’s all about the perspective!!!

Friday, April 14, 2006

For the love of pizza

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"There is no love sincerer than the love of food."
- George Bernard Shaw, in "Man and Superman".

So, for the love of pizza ... I entered the Pizzeria Uno – famous as the “birthplace of deep-dish pizza”. The pizza was finger-licking tasty!!! It was dripping with cheese, in fact it had less of sauce n more of cheese ... and the crust was very flaky – like in a pie!

Citylore has it that a Texan named Ike Sewell created the dish at his bar and grill Pizzeria Uno in 1943. The pizza was so popular that to handle the crowds he had to open another place nearby called Pizzeria Due .
pix 1: Pizzeria Uno
pix 2: Pizzeria Due

What’s so special about Chicago deep dish pizza???
It is not like a classic Italian pizza - with thin crusts and delicate toppings. During the depression of the 1930’s, followed by the war of the 1940’s, Americans ate one-dish meals of "casseroles" -- easily procured ingredients that would satisfy the stomach, stretch the budget and not cost much. Therefore, the more you could load onto a pizza crust, the better it would be. Moreover, the crust would not need the fancy stretching and pushing, even tossing, that the traditional Italian thin pizza would require.
To me it was indicative of the "Melting Pot Theory" ...
... case in point – how Chicagoans adapted an Italian dish as per their needs ...

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I thought writing about food, didn’t know where to begin …
I random pickup Italian cuisine ...

Well not that random because:
- Writing about churches, keeps reminding me of Rome and Italy
- Just had deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno
- Some days back; I had interacted with an Italian-American friend [American of Italian descent] … who explained me the intricacies of Italian food …

My query: Is it true that Italian spaghetti comes from Chinese noodles???
Answer: NOooooooooo!!! [As if I’d inflicted an insult]

Well I researched … Since ancient times inhabitants mastered the art of combining flour with water and boiling in salty water - to make spaghetti.
Conclusion: Italian spaghetti and Chinese noodles evolved separately ...

My query: What special about Italian dishes???
The answer is … spiced up, marinated and grilled … and does not retain its original form … but the flavor is intact:
If French are famous for cheese, Italians are famous for olive oil.
# Olive oil: is the only vegetable oil that can be consumed as it is and is most healthy when it is "extra virgin", ie; from the first pressing of the olives. It contains higher levels of antioxidants, as compared to virgin [double pressed] or refined olive oil.
# Fresh vegetables: Italians consume plenty of *fresh* vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, peas, spinach, mushroom, garlic ...
# Pasta, Risotto & Polenta: Apart from pasta, other popular staples are Risotto [rice dish] and Polenta [made from cornmeal or ground maize]

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As conversation progressed I learnt that a typical Italian meal is consumed in various stages/ courses:
[1] Anti pasti [starter/ entrée]: A sort of "warm up" dish before the real meal begins ... Like : bread based dish: bruschetta (toasted garlic bread, olive oil and tomato), baguette [bread dipped in olive oil or Balsamic vinegar]
or meat based: affettati misti(salami, pancetta),
or fish based starters such as sarde in saor(marinated sardines)

[2] Primi piatti [First courses]: It may be pasta [like spaghetti, fettuccini, ravioli, lasagna, rigatoni, penne…] ... with sauce [alfredo, primavera … ]
Or rice dish “risotto” [rice dish with],
soup or gnocchi [pronounced neo-key].
This is what I [and I’m sure others too] think to be the typical Italian dish.
But; I was told that in Italy, the second course is considered as the “main course”.

[3] Secondi piatti [Second courses]:
It generally consists of meat, fish or poultry of some kind, although it is not uncommon to find vegetarian dishes or cheese plates.

[4] Contorni [Side dishes]: Italian side dishes are typically light complements to the main meal, often dressed simply with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper ...

[5] Dolci [Italian desserts]:
Tiramisu is known as the King of Italian desserts, Coostoli is also polular and then there are many types of cakes, pies and tarts.

[6] Italian wine : Is taken with the meal …
The rule of thumb applies: red wine goes with red meat
And white wine goes with white meat - chicken, sea-food ...
Different types of Italian wine ... HELP!!!!

[7] Expresso : is taken after the meal …

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Though French are famous for cheese and wine, Italians are not far behind ...
SAY CHEESE: While the most famous of Italian cheeses are:
- mozzarella (made from buffalo milk; birthplace Naples)
- parmigiano [made from cow milk; birthplace Parma]
there are countless other cheeses … like … Gorgonzola (blue cheese made from cow milk), Romana [sheep milk], Ricotto [goat milk]...

Italian Wine - I got no idea ... HELP!!!
Grapevine has it that they are nearly as good as French wine; but I dont think I've had Italian wine ...

Now I end with a quotation:
“Bear in mind that you should conduct yourself in life as at a feast."
- Epictetus [Roman slave & philosopher]
I say – Amen!

A day to remember

This post is in two parts:
First part is to record my participation in the “Holy Communion”...
Second part is a reflection of my current fixture with architecture ...
Some readers may find it in-death while some others may find it very elementary ...
However; since in this Blog, I attempt to *record* the small little things I try to learn ...
And more importantly; I wouldn’t like these notes I made to be lost ...
So I post them out here ...
So if the subject-matter interests you – read on, if it doesn’t – quit now ...

PART I:
The day I participated in the “Holy Communion” …
Date: April 11, 2006
Place: St. James Cathedral - Chicago’s oldest Episcopal church
I was part of the feast where each participant eats the bread and drinks the wine – called the “Holy Communion”

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The Holy Communion or Eucharist or Christ’s Last Supper
is the celebration of the Christian sacrament commemorating Christ’s Last Supper. It is to remember “why he died”. Jesus, the Son of God, descended into this world and died as a sacrifice for our sins.
The communion is the rite that Christians perform in fulfillment of Jesus' instruction, recorded in the New Testament, to do in memory of him what he did at his Last Supper. Jesus gave his disciples bread, saying "This is my body," and wine, saying "This is my blood." The word "Eucharist" is also applied to the bread and wine consecrated in the course of the rite.


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For me - It was a surreal experience,
As if I was transposed to a different era and different place ...
And honestly, it felt really good!!!!

Since I’m making record of an event;
I think I should mention here that ...

Today, April 14, 2006 is Good Friday - a day of mourning – it commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus.
April 16, 2006 is Easter Sunday – a day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

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PART II:
The rest of the post is a look from the architectural perspective …

Well, April 11 – was again one of the days I visited three churches:
[1] St. James Cathedral
[2] Holy Name Cathedral
[3] Fourth Presbyterian Church

All the three are built in Gothic style ...
In fact most of the churches in Chicago represent Gothic architecture ...

Interestingly the origin of the term “Gothic” had derogatory overtones ...
The word “Gothic” – attributed to medieval architecture – refers to the barbarian Gothic tribes that destroyed the Roman Empire in 5th century. However scholars have long realized that Gothic architecture and that it has nothing to do with the Goths.

In fact architecturally Gothic style was a major improvement over the Romanesque architectural form.
• Romanesque churches are characterized by heavy stone works, columns, rounded arches [barrel vault or groin vaults] and domes.
• Gothic churches are characterized by pointed arches, spires and many windows. In fact they have much bigger windows, and so they are not dark like Romanesque churches.

The major problem with Romanesque structures were arched barrel vault and the groin vault was that they exerted a tremendous pressure - both downward and outward - that tended to push the walls [upon which the vault rested outward], thus collapsing them. A building's vertical supporting walls thus had to be made extremely thick and heavy in order to contain the barrel vault's outward thrust.

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Gothic architects solved this problem by introducing new techniques of making roofs and supporting walls. Gothic style had three distinct features:
[1] Ribbed Vaults - Medieval masons developed "ribbed" vault, in which arching and intersecting stone ribs supported the vaulted ceiling surface. This greatly reduced the weight (and thus the outward thrust) of the ceiling vault, and since the vault's weight was now carried at discrete points (the ribs) separate widely spaced vertical piers to support the ribs could replace the continuous thick walls.

[2] Pointed Arches - The round arches of the barrel vault were replaced by pointed (Gothic) arches which distributed thrust in more directions downward from the topmost point of the arch.

[3] Flying Buttress - A crucial point was that the outward thrust of the ribbed ceiling vaults was carried across the outside walls of the nave, first to an attached outer buttress and then to a freestanding pier by means of a half arch known as a flying buttress. The flying buttress leaned against the upper exterior of the nave (thus counteracting the vault's outward thrust), crossed over the low side aisles of the nave, and terminated in the freestanding buttress pier, which ultimately absorbed the ceiling vault's thrust.

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These elements enabled Gothic masons to build much larger and taller buildings than their Romanesque predecessors. The skillful use of flying buttresses made it possible to build extremely tall, thin-walled buildings whose interior structural system of columnar piers and ribs reinforced an impression of soaring verticality.

This also made possible bigger windows on the walls and with this, the stained glass art flourished. All Gothic churches have beautiful stained glass works.

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This post is a continuation of my earlier two posts ...
[1] A remarkable day ...
[2] Different dinominations of church ...
One more withh follow in the "reserved slot" area ...