On a Binge in Paris

You know what happens. After the first one, you’re feeling good. Loose, stimulated, happy.     But then you want another. Finding one is no problem, so you go ahead and indulge. The pleasure is intense. You can’t stop talking and thinking, your mind is darting everywhere, from what you know to what you wish you did. You tell yourself, no harm done.  Next thing you know you’re doing two a day. Exhaustion sets in but something is driving you. You just…have to…. keep going… to museums.

It’s true, we did two yesterday and one today. It’s too much but we can’t help it. It’s our last weekend in Paris and, il faut profiter. Yesterday we woke up to a morning that looked like this:

photo 4  Yes, that is greenery. Sunshine. Perfect day to journey across Paris and see this:

photo 14Eiffel Tower – seen from Trocadero (a plaza across the river)

At Trocadero, is another museum that we have not seen before: the Palais de Chaillot, a museum of architecture  and “patrimoine”. Like so much we have been to, it was blessedly empty (take a note, last two weeks of January are prime time for museum-going in Paris).

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photo 7  Impressive, no? Especially for fans of medieval art. I kept saying to Alan, “Why couldn’t these churches be saved?

photo 6 Dummy. These are moldings taken of the original works. I cannot imagine what it must be like to put the whole east facade Rheims cathedral in a mold. But these French are awfully clever.

photo 13  Isn’t he lovely?

And this?     photo

 

An enjoyable aspect of all this is that these architectural elements are often high up in gloomy cathedrals and here you could really see the beautiful carvings of so many anonymous master sculptors.photo 10

I got into depictions of Eve (I”m always into that).

photo 9photo 8photo 3 Upstairs at the Palais Chaillot an enormous room full of architectural models.

photo 27photo 20 But having traversed hundreds of meters of culture, Eve was ready to bite the apple. We went in search of food and found it down the hill at…. The Musee d’Art Moderne. After quiche and a salad…. are you thinking what I’m thinking?

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That’s Sonia Delauney on the left (the painting, I mean) and a gorgeous Dufy on the right. I won’t tire you with more, but it was lovely and not too much. Not really.

Today…. hmm what shall we do?

photo 17  If the army of the French Republic is going to spend so much time and money guarding the Jewish Museum, the least we can do is go, right? We waved to the two machine-gun -toting soldiers, cleared the airport-level security check, and entered this:

photo 29  Yes, a seventeenth century hotel particular, where else but in the Marais.

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photo 18 Just a taste of what we saw. Speaking of tasting, this museum-going is hungry work. What would be the right meal after getting in touch with our Jewish heritage?

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Fallafel! Another heritage item guarded by machine gun. I kid you not.

And what are we reading?

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Good People and Bad

Looking out my window recently, I saw two young boys of perhaps seven or  eight years whizzing around the corner on their scooters. I was glad to see that young kids are allowed out to play in our part of town, unsupervised. You just don’t see overweight children here.  Just seconds before one of the boys entered his code outside his door and leapt inside, it struck me that he was wearing a yarmulke. He pulled his friend after him and disappeared…This glimpse  was one of those  small moments that mean a lot to me. I get a feeling of triumph every time I see visible the survival of the French Jews.  011ffcb62e1b6f039f64ff66852d885c2167884659

These plaques are everywhere in Paris. They attest to the number of dead children, given up by the French and seized from their schools and homes by the Nazis, then deported and murdered because they were Jewish. I admire the French willingness to own up to this shame. These constant reminders distress me, but we owe those children our distress even so many years later.  Five years ago, sending my own half-Jewish child to attend a French school, she went past one such plaque and the big blue doors of the ecole shut behind her. I gulped hard, imagining her fate had we lived here at the wrong time.

But today, bright and sunny and perfect these thoughts were not on my mind. We were off to visit the Maison Victor Hugo, one of Paris’ many small museums. We went through the beautiful courtyard of the Hotel Sully and into the gorgeous Place des Vosges. Children were playing, their mothers’ laughter ringing out.

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And unbidden, as these things often are, I noticed a green door in the arcade of the Place des Vosges. Peering more closely I realized with a start, it’s a synagogue.

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Wow. A congregation of Jews, thriving in the heart of the former Jewish district (as the Marais was) and in a highly significant Marais location, too. This miracle survival, despite the very best efforts of some very bad people was heartening.  Bravo.

On to Victor Hugo, what a delight. 01ba425b0db70b5beb6b5c59579c8eb030b7b0bb15

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I am a big fan of nineteenth century novels and admire  French ones  as much as English and  Russian. In the museum, I learned about Hugo’s life and experienced his surroundings,  the apartment he lived in through some of his most successful years. No starving artist, Hugo gave his  apartment on the Place des Vosges a sumptuous appeal.0153605ba96b3955ed9e14aaf255f88c414dc52095_0000101080d9175dbafd5f9f4cb54f764d816b64455599b_00001015ed5aaa9c45277b8fd24cbe1d53be737068119c5_0000101f724aee7b156a4d59446e46a61323404fa7fe1db_00001

Bright rooms, en enfilade, are filled with the paintings and furnishings selected by Hugo, who clearly enjoyed decor and was a fan of Chinoiserie. As with his prose style, in Hugo’s view, more is more.

Despite his evident success, Hugo’s interesting life had many difficult moments. His beautiful daughter Leopoldine drowned together with her husband, at the age of 19, shortly after her marriage. Hugo could not recover.

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This is Leopoldine.

As well, Hugo’s outspoken support of Republican causes put his life in danger when Napoleon III seized power. He fled and remained in exile for 15 years, unable and unwilling to return to a homeland that was not free.

014ffee776852f81b3904044b7e8b6de25f98c669dHow many successful artists today would risk it all for a principle? Hugo could have returned in a general amnesty to join the cultural life of his homeland, but he refused. He must have been tempted to see family and friends, talk to his publishers, get theatre projects going, be in his beloved Paris, but he chose to use his fame to promote freedom.  Despite all the disturbing plaques, the reminders throughout Paris of horror and terror, of human criminality, Hugo’s life shows us how a good man can behave and what it is to be moral.