Out Takes

So this is  Paris and there are a lot of quirky moments when something amusing pops into view and  ends up on my camera roll.  But often they just  don’t fit into the themes I am writing about this time.  I  now have enough of these images  to make a little farewell post as Alan and I will be winging back to winter on Saturday. Turn  on the sound track to Amelie and read on.

photo  I love this turn of the century Sephardic girl (from the   Musee Juif) with her pointy hat, mono-brow and hopeful expression. Zoom in.

photo 2  Watch out Alan! Giant sculpture fragment fro the Musee des Arts Decoratifs is coming after you.

photo 4  This impossibly cute little chest of drawers  at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs looks like it is going to jump up and run into a Disney animation any minute. Lumiere where are you?

photo 6  In January, bakeries feature galette du roi, a delish almond and puff pastry dessert which honours the three kings of the Christmas story. A”bean” is tucked in and whoever gets the bean  wears the golden crown that comes with the cake. Pictured is the bean, a little ceramic baker. Very cute. If you’re me, you not only get to wear the crown, you also get to call your dentist when you get back, because after  biting down on the bean you require a crown of a different kind.

photo 5 Worth peering at this poor image to see the cavorting doggies on the lawn of the Tuilleries. Used to be NO ONE got on this grass, now they have a dog run. Dogs, sculpture, the Louvre…. heaven. Speaking of which.photo 10  Around the corner is Heaven. And Heaven is on the Allee des Justes, named for those who helped the Jews during World War II. Some things just make sense.

photo 8  Here is Bacchus at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Note the cleverly placed draperies. He is peering into his cup as if to say, “This stuff may have a future…”

photo 3 I couldn’t agree more.

photo 7 It’s chilly just hanging out on the side of the Louvre. Can you tell?

photo 9  Time to fade out. See you in Winter.

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The Matter of Size

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My husband is not a tall man. In fact, one of his early romantic gambits was, “You should let me move in….I don’t take up too much space.” Pictured here, at the beautiful Musée Bourdelle, you see him further diminished by the monumental sculpture typical of 19th century Paris. But for the most part, Alan is right at home in Paris where he is not short, but of medium height. We buy his pants here, which suit his slim frame and they don’t need to be altered.

IMG_1049 Here, the Smart Car doesn’t seem so tiny.

 

We have been amazed at how easy it has been to live in 400 square feet. Except in the closet/kitchen, the apartment doesn’t seem cramped at all. When I paint, it is like Jackson Pollock, on the floor. Not ideal for me, but workable.

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So, while in Paris, small may be beautiful in so many contexts. But it is also true that here, the French are also masters of BIG. La grandeur as a vehicle of power is practically a French invention, and they have perfected what my friend historian Pierre L’heureux would call the architecture of absolutism.

IMG_0660 Louis XIV, Mister Big.

IMG_1624 Versailles. You have to respect a guy whose home is big enough to accommodate 20,000 guests.

IMG_1625 The garden comes with a pool.

IMG_1634Or two. The point is inescapable. The owner of Versailles is the Big Kahuna and you better mind your P’s and Q’s. Sorry – wildly mixed metaphor.

Back in Paris, the same point is clear every time you open your eyes.

 

IMG_1189 Paris Town Hall. Huge Square in front. More statuary than you can shake a stick at.

Then there’s the Louvre which obviously supports my case. There is that breathtaking moment when you walk into the central square. It’s magnificent and imposing. It imposes its owner’s power on you.

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IMG_1606  This makes you feel pretty darn good when you are on the inside, as Alan is here, having birthday lunch at the Louvre. Dining in its vast arcade he felt like Cardinal Richelieu. Only jewish. And married.

IMG_1376 Then there are all those vast cathedrals such as Notre Dame, shown here. Towns outdid each other to produce the biggest, tallest ones. It took ages to build them and all kinds of tricky engineering such as flying buttresses but it was worth it to make the point that God is great. Pilgrims – after the Vikings, the original medieval tourists – added considerably to local economies. In this rush to impress, everyone forgot that blessed are the meek. Oh, well.

In Paris, going west is going to bigness. Below, the Grand Palais is aptly named.

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Across the road, the Petit Palais is not petit at all.

IMG_1192  It does have some very nice stuff, however.

IMG_1193 Aren’t those hooves killer?

IMG_1198 Alan coordinates with the statuary.

Come to think of it, the Greeks knew quite a lot about impressing people and the Romans even more. Or maybe they just cared about it more.  So, while the impulse to create grandeur may arrive from tyranny, greed and other nasty human traits, we,  the lucky inheritors of the architecture of absolutism, its buildings,   statues, bridges, roads and towns, get to enjoy it all and not care a whit if Louis XIV was powerful or not. In fact, if we don’t feel like cooking in a closet one night, we can even go dine on his porch.

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Drawing France

I am always happy to see other artists out there working. I often try to slip behind them and see what they’re up to. The “copyists” at the Louvre are joining a grand tradition, as  just about every French artist you can think of cut his teeth viewing, sketching and painting at the Louvre. The painters you see working at the Louvre today are members of an elite club. I asked at the Information Desk how to get permission to paint at the Louvre  and was handed a thick package detailing the policies, rules, and  regulations of copying. It also contained a number of forms to be completed by the applicant. The whole onerous process culminates in the necessity of getting a letter of introduction from your country’s ambassador if you are not a French national.

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They’re impressive, no?                      01144f0aafffa302d9f813fcb41d09a8df3ca87319

But artists willing to work on a smaller scale are also seen everywhere at the museum.

0185041d928dda6f06641e62e606fb4e0e82fdd9ddLook at how intense  this young artist is. He is working on  a Greek stone head of a horse.

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Formal, or informal, young or old, together or alone, drawing what they are seeing gives them a focus that nothing else can.

01568d3c5d0e40f20a93a0559fefa9cd1feff4bb84   I fell in love with this little boy, a serious photographer documenting the extinct great Scottish moose.

Art is Everywhere

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On my way to the Louvre yesterday, I saw this stunning work of modern abstract art. It reminds me of something second generation  abstract expressionist. Like Pierre Soulages. Big and gestural. My incompetent cropping probably gave it away, long ago.

016050d1491ce47316edeffc6f704eba9f906ec81e Yes, they’re changing the advertizing at our metro stop. I still think it’s fabulous. The more I look at it, the more I like it. The limited colour palette, The strong black forms that radiate out from the centre. The green slashes that create a strong diagonal from the bottom left. The five bright yellow ovals of metro seating also contribute to  the effect of the whole. Did the workman – who I saw on my way into the station, rolling up his torn paper and stuffing it into a garbage bag – did he see what he had done? Does he know how visually pleasing it is? Does it matter if it has no meaning to him, as long as it does to me, or someone?

I continued on my journey, and on the way out of the Metro, saw this pleasing thing. Much like a Jean Cocteau.

013082c71c4745b2b6b3042a1bd6b4d0aaba55d1ad An arabesque of lines on the wall. A kiss. Sweet! What is that written there – grogue? Drogue?

I wanted to visit the European Painting wing in the Richelieu Pavillion. You go straight up two long banks of elevators and you enter galleries where there is much inspiration but moins de monde, particularly once you get to the paintings of Netherlands/Holland. Here are some things I particularly liked:01472e9f906c0206b01ed03cb4da9f00cf65858c5d I’m just discovering this French painter from the Baroque period. I particularly liked a roomful of works by him,  Simon Vouet, who was painting in Paris in the first half of the 17th century. His clear, bright colours and particularly his use of gold and pink stood out. Here’s a closeup of that gold foulard.

01646df6b4c654037b79584f9ba5f9de62166e59b6 Beautiful. This is the sort of work that

those clustered around the Mona Lisa miss out on. Vouet’s Saint Guillaume of Aquitaine is very compelling and very much deserves the attention lavished on works that  folks have been told they should appreciate.

019a806eb2d44df53fca2804a71949edc4e0562377 Anthonis Mor van Dashort. Who has  heard of him? And yet, here is the work of  a master. It is entitled Portriat of a Widow of Forty Years and a Child. Here is a close up:01d7ce6ac9812b13ee33ddfd999fc28617814e6914 She is a widow. No longer beautiful, she has the tired look of middle age.  There is a thin shell of reserve that covers her grief like a carapace. She encounters our gaze without wishing to know us. Her gently resting hand tells us that her daughter is her one joy.

016c77da6d4826d4a8bc510bbd0f6e1697f431accb So deftly rendered, the daughter resembles the mother, except that she has the freshness of childhood. Everything about her is touching: her ear , the fold of her eye, the little details of her cap and collar. It is so beautiful that the artist has given the rosiness of her cheek to the lower portion of her face, at mouth level, as we sometimes see on childish faces, particularly in Winter.

This next work is really killer. We should go out and shout from the rooftops about this work, it is so masterly.            01db141bef3f77c55f0bb4f0db1a84117a4d59fd65

Dwarf of Cardinal Gravel Holding a Large Dog by Antonis Mor Van Dashort, 1575.

He’s a dwarf, one who, like many others at this time, has been picked up to add fun and interest to a court, in this case that of a French Cardinal. The subject seems to say, “Hey, here are a couple of the cardinal’s pets. Check it out: the dog’s as big as the man! lol.” But look more closely at the man.

01c4aca675cd651b83125c8c20310e2eabde968631 What dignity he has. He meets our gaze with a direct seriousness that insists on his humanity, that shows his resentment, that dares us to laugh. And we do not want to.

And the dog. This may be the most beautiful dog in Western art.016bf7ee3851880ed79cd50b68203f1f80254c16a1

The old master painters can create a hyper-real effect that is not dead-looking like the super-real portraits of today. Is it because they weren’t painting from photographs?

Let’s resolve to look with fresh eyes (finding art that is unintentional, like the ripped subway poster, for example). Let’s discover those forgotten masterworks, not letting received wisdom or convention be our guide in what we should consider best in art. Do you know of any forgotten masterworks out there? Share!

After my morning in the galleries, I went outside to picnic in the Tuilleries. There I saw a Jackson Pollock.

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Mother and Child Reunion

0159d20d7ffadc0bbc42513bbd55b0283de3f8d0d9 I awoke with a sense of unease on Sunday morning. Just out of sorts and cranky without knowing why. What is this vague longing? Is it home sickness? No… I thought, shivering as I considered  once again the polar vortex. No, it’s just that I… miss the children. That’s it. I miss the children and the dog. Terribly.

We hear a lot about declining birth rates in Northern Europe, but this is a lie given the evidence of the Paris neighbourhoods we frequent, which is everywhere central. There are schools partout. At least four in a  two block radius from us. Boisterous crowds of children, just bursting with energy, blast down the streets. Get out of the way! School’s out. In every museum, every age group from toddlers to teens, is being led about, lectured to and shown the finest in art, technology and even instruments of war.

0129b95eb5d39207e371ba584b0ba559bc2bd85d85 A school group in the sculpture court of the Louvre.

The point is that there is no getting away from the large crowds of extremely cute and well-dressed children everywhere we go. On top of school groups there are the crowds of little charmers in the parks on weekends, and the packs of stylish and amusing children’s clothing stores which almost outnumber womens’ boutiques. You can never get away from the longing.

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As I said in my first post, on the last trip to France, when we rented a house and stayed for six months, the children and dogs came too. Since then, one dog has died, another is too old to come and the children have their own commitments to attend to: college, work and graduate school. And I thought it would be 100% great to go away and leave my commitments behind.  It would seem that the ties that bind do not loosen so easily. And life once again, shows us how little we know ourselves. Having spent so many decades loving and caring for people and creatures large and small  it’s just not possible for me to drop that role without a bit of disorientation. Well, what to do?

One possibility is to steal a dog. I have been thinking about this with increasing frequency. Many, even most,  street beggars here have dogs. These dogs are cute. Really cute. Would it be so wrong for me to grab a dog, stuff it in my purse and run like hell? I could surely give it a better life than it has  living on the street.

This one is in Lisbon, but never mind, you get the idea. (photo:lisbonconnection.com)

  This one is in Lisbon, but never mind, you get the idea. (photo:lisbonconnection.com)

I try to put this thought out of my mind, even though dogs like the one above are very adorable and conveniently purse-sized. I’m sure he’s very tired of listening to all that accordian music. Really. Someone needs to save him.

Obviously, a distraction is in order so, again,  what should I do? It’s obvious: the Louvre. It’s the weekend, so no school groups, no beggars with dogs, and once inside I know where to go to escape the crowds.Tip:  If you are overwhelmed by crowds at the Louvre head down. Just keep going down to the lowest levels where there  is really interesting art and very few tourists. Thus Alan and I found ourselves in the International Gothic Sculpture galleries in the basement of the Denon pavillion. I don’t think I’ve been there before. Here is the kind of thing:

Vierge_a_l'Enfant_debout0701vierge389px-Vierge_à_l'Enfant_assise. Right. I was beginning to feel like this:

01e7982ac64dbfe5e63b92d8ee4f52546a239db0d3_00001 So I went to the African, Polynesian and Asian galleries where I saw a number of p[ieces like this:

013425d91ca061bc7ef2b28cd7053304717f755636_00001 Zoom to see what she’s up to. Oh dear. We cannot, dear reader, escape our feelings, can we? Here I am in Paris, missing my children and it cannot be avoided. Lesson learned. I have to go now and see if that accordian doggy is still around. Just looking. Maybe if I adopt the master too, it will all be fine and we can amuse ourseves with accordian music by the hour.

 

 

 

My Funny Valentine

On my first trip to Paris I was twenty and in the company of my mother. I had just enough education and maturity to appreciate what I was seeing and in our whirlwind three days I resolved repeatedly to come back. Vividly, I remember standing on Pont Alexandre III and vowing that some day I would come back with the love of my life.

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It only took twenty or so years, and a lot of living: a marriage, a career, years of schooling, children, a divorce, and then finding Alan. We came for a week that first time all the while hungry for more. A few years later, we did,  for a six month sabbatical.  Kids, dogs and many friends and family members came along for the ride. . Again, we knew we would be back and now it’s just the two of us. Time for a leetle romance, no (use your best PePe le Pieu accent)?

We decided to have an early Valentine’s and what is the best thing to do for a romantic sortie in the City of Love? For starters, walk along the Seine holding hands, then go to the Louvre and share wonderful art.

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Did you notice how I snuck another boar into this? I’m going to go back and draw that boar.  He is so wonderful under the vast skylight. I love a sculpture court since they create a whole alternative world of stone, and they remind me of Narnia. The French Sculpture court is non-pareil, and what a marvel indeed, were these creatures to come to life.

Continuing on the Valentine’s agenda, we left the Louvre and strolled across the rue de Rivoli to the Jardin du Place Royale, where a perfect heaven of gustatory delight is tucked into the corner off the arcade.

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Here, cordial waiters bring you your hearts’ desire.

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Perhaps a Kir, while we consider the menu?

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Maybe an amuse-bouche of cold essence of lobster with creme chantilly. My mouth is very amused indeed.

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We enjoy the special quality of the light in the arcade while we dine on oysters, risotto and lamb.

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An odd little piece of sculpture for dessert. Under that warm banana is something crispy with chocolate ganache. The dots are caramel and cream. Sigh. Time for coffee.

We stroll home in the rain, sharing an umbrella. No longer young, not as acute or good-looking as we once were, having been through a lot, and maybe showing the wear and tear, a simple reality comes through. C’est l’amour. C’est tout.