The original plan for yesterday (Friday) was to go to the Musee D'Orsay in the morning and then spend the afternoon at the Catacombs. What we realized when we rose was that we were pretty much out of groceries (we've been eating breakfast in the apartment each day to save a little cash), and had to do something about that. We also decided that we really wanted to attend a concert at Notre Dame the night before we depart Paris. All that being the case, we reorganized our plans a little bit, and I headed out early to Notre Dame to beat the crowds and take care of our business.
In the early hours, Notre Dame is quiet and feels more like a church than a tourist destination, which pleased me. I arrived at about 8:30, purchased a couple of tokens from machines in the chapel, and then settled down in a pew in the back to journal while I waited for the gift shop to open so I could buy the concert tickets. Sitting there in the twilight of the church, I got to watch as the place slowly came to life, with early mass and the rising tide of tourists who began to first trickle and then stream in. Elizabeth arrived shortly before 10 AM, and then at 10, when the gift shop opened, I purchased tickets for the concert. We then headed out for the day.
Breakfast was at a local cafe; acceptable food, nothing special. And then we went shopping. We acquired some of our needs at the local Carrefour, a small chain grocery for basics. We then went back to that series of shops I patronized a couple of days back for bread, meat, wine, and cheese. It was E's first visit to these places, and I could see she got a kick out of the experience. It makes us both feel pretty competent, completing transactions like this mostly in French and coming away with delicious things to eat. We acquired a loaf of rustic bread filled with hazelnuts, some ham that E particularly wanted to try, some chevre with basil, and a bottle of wine. We took everything back to the house and then got a start on the day,Musee D'Orsay
By the time we finally headed toward the Musee D'Orsay, it was around 11 AM, a slower start than we originally planned, but it was very much needed. We're within walking distance of D'Orsay, as we are to the Cluny, so we marched over, taking in the city as we did so. The weather was lovely, a vast improvement over the rains we had the previous two days, so the walking was a pleasure even with our travel-sore feet.
Once inside, we took a moment to orient ourselves with a map and to prioritize what we wanted to see. The building is beautiful, a renovated train station, with all the lovely architectural features preserved in amongst the museum's more recent renovation for modernization. An enormous, elaborately decorated clock presides over the central alley of the museum from above the front door. The arched ceiling is checkerboarded with floral rosettes, and the arching lines are echoed across the whole building. The floor plan is really smart, offering galleries that are of limited size, with ample seating outside of each for patrons to rest their feet before moving on to other exhibits.
We chose to visit the Impressionists first. The introductory description to the hall where the history of Impressionism is presented in its glory quotes Gaugin as talking about "the right to dare to do anything." It's such a powerful idea--the right
to do anything, especially from a man in an era in which such an idea was revolutionary, an era when each person had his role and was expected never to veer from it. And it was with that idea, the idea of breaking free, that the visitor is sent in to trace the origins of Impressionism, its full flowering, and its evolution into post-Impressionism and beyond.
Of course, I was nearly inarticulate with excitement at the prospect of being in the same room with the works of Vincent Van Gogh. I've loved his work since I was young, and so getting to see "La Meridienne," "La Nuit etoile" (not the Starry Night that appears on mugs and calendars the world over), and his self portraits among other works was just magical. What I wasn't prepared for was how the light just shines out of these works. Also--the thing you can't get from photographs--is how Van Gogh used texture not just to express the texture of what he was illustrating but as a way to capture the light in a room to augment the light and color in the work itself. These works are a little like shallow sculptures, like reliefs, using the ambient light to augment the illustrated light. It was also striking to see the difference between the two self portraits: one from 1887 and one from 1889. The earlier one shows him more robust, but with dark circles under his eyes; the latter one, a better-known work and more familiar to me, shows him older, thinner, with harder lines in his face, washed out from the more vivid portrait when he was younger.
I was taken with George Seurat's piece, "Cirque." It portrays a circus scene: a woman in a yellow dress standing on the back of a white horse in the ring, with a man in a brown suit looking on, a clown with fiery red hair in the foreground, and an acrobat flinging himself into the air in the background. Ever since I discovered my family's connection to the circus I've been fascinated with portrayals of same, and this was no exception. I was put in mind of some of ladyjestocost
's portrayals of jesters. The motion here, the elongation of the figures, the stylized portrayal of the audience was all so striking.
The many Renoirs I saw were beautiful, but I was struck as I never have been before by the deadness of the eyes of the people in his art. The Manets and Monets were uniformly lovely. And every time I see something by Camille Pissarro, I'm drawn into the work. He's one of my quiet favorites. I've seen enough Gaugin, pretty much for a lifetime.
I discovered the works of an artist called Maximillien Luce about whom I want to learn more, as well as someone named Pierre Bonnard, whose portrait "Le Chat blanc" pleased me with its portrayal of a white cat with tabby markings rubbing up against a tree. Its elongated legs and sly glance toward the viewer made me smile. I was also fond of a picture called "Degas et son modele," a portrait of the artist working with a veiled young woman.
From the Impressionists, we went on to view some Symbolist and Orientalist work, about all of which I want to learn more. I was particularly taken with "Elephants of Africa" by Charles Emile de Tournemine. I was delighted by one painting that included a portrait of a woman who looked like one of my officemates.
Other works of note for me included Manet's "Olympia," the painting of a nude woman reclining and looking directly at the viewer that caused riots in Paris when it was first shown; Whistler's "Study in Gray and White" (known more widely as "Whistler's Mother"), a painting much, much
larger than I expected it to be, and far more dynamic visually as well; and "Repasseuses" by Degas, two women at work, one of whom holds a bottle while yawning extravagantly, unaware of her viewers.
Of all the places we've been so far, marvelous as they have been, I've loved the D'Orsay best of all. It includes work from a period of time (1848 - 1915) that I find endlessly compelling. (It also made me want to visit the Frye Museum in Seattle again, full of works from a similar period of time.) If there's any opportunity to spend more time there, I hope I can. It's an amazing place.A country-style dinner
We met mistymarshall
at the museum. As stated earlier, our original plan had been to hit the catacombs in the afternoon, but our whole schedule got shifted. We stayed at the museum until it closed, completely entranced by the exhibits, by which time we were all hungry and ready to sit. Misty recommended a restaurant called Au Vieux Paris d'Arcole, a place that specialized in French country cuisine that she's been to many times. Over on Ile de la Cite just around the corner from Notre Dame, it's a small place with rich decor--and every single thing we ordered was delicious. We shared a dish called Odette's terrine
with pate as an appetizer. Dinner for me was a steak with mushroom sauce with "many vegetables" (two broccoli florets, two kinds of potatoes, and a tablespoon of sauteed peppers--oh well. I continue to live in hope). I decided to forego dessert, but my tea came with a square of chocolate that was enough for me.
In a strange turn, at the end of dinner, after I put sugar into my tea and tasted it--simple Earl Grey--it tasted salty
. Naturally, I returned it to the the waiter. Turns out that the restaurant cubes its own sugar
, and had just cleaned the cubing machine with salt. They provided a fresh cup and fresh sugar cubes. We all had a moment: they cube their own sugar!
Where in the US do they do that? It was a strange, entertaining moment.
We ended the day with another trip to Shakespeare & Company, where Misty and I got into a . . . passionate discussion about when Paranormal Romance became a marketing category in the US with one of the booksellers, and where Elizabeth picked up a number of books. The trick, or perhaps I should say the treat, with Shakespeare & Co--a tightly-packed warren of books on a huge variety of subjects--is finding books that you can't find in the US. For me, this wasn't a huge attraction, because I'm not looking for anything in particular. I feel a little disappointed in myself that this place isn't more of a thrill for me somehow, but its closeness and constant crowding make it a little too much for me. And while there is a certain treasure-hunt attraction in poking through the shelves, for some reason it just feels exhausting to me right now. I left without purchasing anything. We parted company from Misty and headed back to the apartment.General notes and observations
--The front door of our building is very heavy and scrapes the floor as we open and close it. It makes sounds like you'd expect to hear from the heavy, ancient door on a crypt in an old movie: scraping, clanking, and crunching when it shuts, with a crash and clasp when the lock engages.
--The steps in the building stairwell are wooden and narrow. Each time they turn, they are shaped like segments of a fan, even smaller than the usual steps. Their depth is also kind of uneven. All of this combines to make the trip up and down an exercise in balance, vertigo, and coordination.
--Turns out that we're within walking distance of the Monnaie de Paris--the French national mint--but its museum is closed for renovation through 2013. It does
have a shop, but--and this may come as a surprise, it being me--visiting the shop isn't a huge priority. I'd like to go, but we have other things to do and see here that are more important. If there's time, I may still try to go, but I'm prepared for not being able to do everything I want to do; our time is limited. Still, we'll see.