Monday, October 28, 2013

Paris in the Fall

Alex and Meike at the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysee

I don’t really like cities, but Paris is an exception. I don’t like how dirty it is. One feels grimy just walking around. The streets are littered. The buildings are turning black. But there’s a je sais quoi about the place that is unlike any place else.

Alex and Meike arrived Wednesday late. Thursday morning we went to the Orangerie to see the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibit. I was glad to see Frida had top billing.  We could not get in. The cue was at least 5 hours long to get tickets. But I discovered there was a shorter cue for people with tickets…less than an hour long. So we went to the Musee d’Orsay instead, bought tickets good for both exhibits and vowed to go back the next morning bright and early. Paris museum strategy. Very important. 

The Orsay was fine but a bit disappointing. So many impressionist works that were displayed in a rather crowded arena. Masses of people passing through. It was hard to see what was what, and after a while, everything seemed the same. Few of the works stood out. And few of the works were major works by the artists. But it’s been ticked off the list.

Near the Place de la Concorde
That evening, we went to the Outsider Art Fair vernissage expecting something akin to what we were used to in New York. It was in the Hotel A and the exhibitors were in the bedrooms throughout the hotel.  Tiny rooms, with beds, some of which were slept in. Bizarre. And the show was nothing like what we expected – not even close to the breadth and depth of NY. The admission was €35 for wine and food. The food was crappy sandwich wedges on white bread. The wine was okay. The elevator broke down with us in it and Alex had to force open the door. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been sad. At least there were a few things that managed to inspire Meike, which was the objective of this entire trip. If it hadn’t been for three or four exhibits, it would have been a bust.

The next morning we got up early and headed for the Orangerie for try number 2. This time our strategy worked. By the time we got there before it even opened, the line for tickets was about 3 hours long. Our cue  with tickets bought at the Orsay was only about 30 minutes long. And it was worth it. Brilliant.

Boat traffic on the Seine.
Note the amphibious car on the barge.
I never knew that Frida Kahlo suffered so much. She had polio as a child which left one foot deformed. Then she had a terrible bus accident that left her body broken for life. She spent years in body braces and pain.She started painting, met and married Diego Rivera, then they both had florid affairs. She had multiple miscarriages, got divorced from then remarried to Diego, and created the most amazing paintings to portray all her suffering. Her leg was amputated due to gangrene. What a life!  

She painted many self-portraits which show how she matured over time. One was a self-portrait with straps holding her body hostage while nails bore into her from outside. Another depicts a violent and bloody miscarriage at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Several show her in mental anguish over Diego’s indiscretions, yet she herself took multiple lovers. Their absolute devotion to one another despite their need for affairs is curious. The dove and the elephant. Sharing their passions for art, politics esp. communism, and love. What a powerful exhibit. It left an impression that won’t soon fade.

To top it off, we also visited the permanent exhibit of Monet's water lilies. OMG. Amazing. Two oval rooms of four enormous panels fitted into each room with seating in the middle. I had seen a major exhibit in NY of his water lilies from his years in Giverny but I was not prepared for this. It took him years to paint these, all in different times of day and times of the year. Fantastic. Humbling. Enlightening. Inspiring. All of the above.

After that, we walked all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, saw Buddhists celebrating the student uprising during WWII, then had lunch at a Danish Restaurant, followed by an early light dinner. The reason was a concert (Mozart and a contemporary Parisienne composer) at St. Chappelle. That’s the church built to house the crusader’s spoils including the Crown of Thorns and a relic of the Cross. It has the most beautiful stained glass windows – not that we could see them at night. But it also has the most elaborately guilded and painted interior. I’d wanted to go to St. Chappelle anyway and here was a concert by a string quartet in one of the most elaborate and beautiful churches in the city. It was heaven. The acoustics were really good, but the chapel is in need of restoration – which it appears to be undergoing. All in all it was a delightful experience, despite Alex and I both nodding off during the second piece which seemed to go on forever. After the concert, we walked across the bridge from Ile de la Cite and grabbed a cab back to the hotel.  

The Asthotel Lorette d'Opera
We’re staying at the Asthotel Lorette d'Opera in a residential neighbourhood just below Montmartre and above the Opera. It’s a good location as the Metro station is steps away, there are restaurants and cafes nearby and yet, it’s not too overwhelming and touristy. It’s a nice boutique hotel, with bed and breakfast for a reasonable price, afternoon tea and coffee and juices in the lobby, free wifi and friendly efficient staff. What more could we want?

We stopped for an after-concert libation at the café across the street. We watched the theatre goers emerge from the St. George then noticed a dragon emerging from a circular window in the wall. There’s always something to notice in this city. We were fortunate with the weather. About 20 degrees C every day, windy and changeable, but light drizzle alternating with sunshine is the pattern. We’ll take it.

Today, we decided to sleep in, but I could not sleep at all last night despite total exhaustion. We were going to take a Batobus trip along the Seine but Meike decided she’d rather visit Montmartre. Lucky for us the weather was great. We stopped en route to visit the church St. Jean which was very interesting.  It’s a brick building decorated in what appeared to be more recent style. Sure enough it was built in this century. But as we walked in, we saw a group sitting to the side of the alter. It was choir practicing and they were great. What a chance encounter. We sat and listened as they practiced verses over and over. Then it was time to move on.

We walked up to the funicular and took a ride up to Sacre Coeur, which was jammed with tourist masses. It’s not a very impressive church to our minds but the view is spectacular from up there. As we came out, we noticed a tiny church just to the right labelled Eglise de St. Pierre, a 12th C church. We walked over and fell in love. The doors were magnificent, cast in bronze. The interior had the most brilliant stained glass windows, with lots of golden, red and blue tones, distinctive faces, and intricate scenes. The Stations of the Cross were so simple they were inspiring. We spent a lot of time studying the interior and appreciating its simple beauty. The church was completely spared in the bombings of 1944.

Next we wandered into the square Place du Tetre, the center of life in Montmartre. Here it is full of restaurants, surrounded by artists painting on the spot and cafes where celebrities have gathered for decades. It is full of life and crowded with tourists. After a simple lunch of crepes, onion soup, sausages and fries, we wandered off toward the hotel and quickly stumbled upon yet another amazing find – the Dali museum. Oh my, many of his most famous works on display and some for sale. It was a perfect last thing to do in Paris before meeting up with family for dinner.

Dinner was at Sylvan's restaurant Al Dente and pseudo cousins Carol and Eric Dufaure. Great gas. Meike hadn't seen them since they were children. People change but parts of them stay the same.  

We head off for home tomorrow morning first thing. Our flight is at 0950 which means a very early start. Although it’s not as bad because the clocks change in the morning. We hear the weather in Ireland is promising to be abysmal in the next week. That’s fine with us. We’ll get work done while pondering all the inspiration of the week. Viva la France.

Buddhists chanting at the plaque commemorating the student uprising in 1944.

Inside of St. Chapelle

Choir practice at St. Jean

View from Sacre Coeur

Crowds at Sacre Coeur


Walking the Place du Tetre

Artists on the square

Restaurants and cafes galore

Artists and restaurants 

Dali exhibition

Dali's The Persistence of Memory

Dali's elephant 

This was funny. Originally made with real corn and bread,
the bread was stolen and eaten by Picasso's dog during the opening exhibition. 

Romeo and Juliet

Dali's minotaur man with lobster


Street vendors

Interesting homes

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