Friday, March 14, 2014

Thursday the 13th and sunshine

A stormy sky
A plain in nature
it will be forever impossible not to refer to Van Gogh.

I start with a quote (from Antonin Artaud) that gave me pause today. When do we see in art something that will forever come back to haunt us in the future? It's rare. But it happens.

Now, let me backtrack to the beginning. Breakfast was late. 11 is late. But it was in the Jardin de Luxembourg. Face turned toward the sun.


It will not be the only time where the sun determines where I eat, but this interlude was certainly a good set of minutes. And as a bonus, the croissant was good.


And now let me tell you the contours of the day and then you can tune out if you want, without losing the gist of the ongoing Ocean story. Or you can read on. For the details. Those wonderful for me details that give me hope in what it means to face happiness.

So, the eight sentence summary: I walked Paris for many many many hours. I visited two museums and one gallery and I loved just one of the three. I ate a mediocre lunch because of that darn sun. My walk took me to good places, but also areas of Paris that I don't especially like which does give me balance. Dinner was very very good, but I wont remember it tomorrow. The price was excellent because I make reservations through and if you speak any French whatsoever, I so strongly recommend this site - it's somewhere between Zagat and Tripadvisor, but in French, but more importantly, restaurants often offer huge promotions to fill a night. My dinner was 20% cheaper than anyone ordering just as a walk-in. I sat next to a Russian couple and I was really tempted to ask them what's with their leader at the moment, but I refrained.

Okay, now for those who don't mind detail. Or who like photos from Paris.

Remember -- my starting point is the Luxembourg Gardens. And it's 11:30 when I get up and get moving.

(note the other tower in the distance)

I turn toward the Right Bank. I have in mind a couple of photo galleries and possibly a museum, but I'm not firm on anything. Like my friends who walked Paris for a month just a while back, I do not feel compelled to see or do anything anywhere.

And very quickly, before I even leave the Sorbonne area,  I come across a surprise. I have passed this spot so many times and I never looked closer. True, most often I am in Paris in the dormant season, but still, it is with tremendous delight that I find the Medieval Gardens, just off of the Boulevards St Michel and St Germain. They're not in full bloom yet, but look what is flowering in Paris right now! On the 13th of March!


I love irises so much and if nothing else happens today, I will still be happy to have seen this set of deep blue petals on a firm green stalk. Van Gogh painted them when he was institutionalized in Saint Remy de Provence. If you are ever at the Getty Museum in LA, you will find his irises there.

And to the edge of the gardens, I come across this:


Breathe deeply -- spring is definitely here!

I continue. I ignore Notre Dame and the Isle St Louis. You've seen them here most every time Ocean takes you to Paris. But I do like the tall trees that line the northern edge of the island so I'll give you this much:


And now I am on the right bank, at the edge of the Marais district (my hands down favorite on this side of the river: it's quiet and offers not a few surprises)...



....and I am in search of a gallery -- La Maison Europeenne de la Photographie. This one is no small deal. You have to be somebody really up there to be included in an exhibit. This is the last week of the work of David Lynch (yes, the film director, known for The Elephant Man; not memorable as a photographer in my book -- in fact, enough disconcerting in a violent sort of way that I would love to forget all of it) and Joan Fontcuberta. Let's concentrate on Joan (which you may remember is "John" in Catalan).

Fontcuberta's grouping of photos (and accompanying art) allows you to see the manipulative possibilities of art. It's a powerful exhibition, even as after one room (for example this one, on the presentation of Sputnik successes to the people)...


Paris-33.jpg're already disturbed and so you're ready to move on. Or at least I am. Others are slightly more reflective about it all.


Now I'm in the sun again. And I walk a little toward the Place des Voges and it is 1:30 and I am hungry. Now, I'm standing at an intersection. On one side of the street there is a cafe where I once ate an excellent omelet. On the other side there is a bustling place that I know not at all. But it is bathed in sunshine!

It very much reminds me of being on St Marks Square in Venice: there are two cafes, on the two opposite sides of the Square. In the summer, people fill the tables in the shade and the sunny ones stand empty. Business depends entirely on the position of the sun. (In the colder season, the positioning is, of course, the opposite.)

Would you pick quality food or an unknown sunny spot? I chose the latter.


And the omelet was just okay and their idea of a glass of rose wine was such that for the first time probably in my life, I found myself not finishing a glass of good rose (too big!).

And now comes the tedious part of the walk. One last pause in the quiet oasis of the National Archives, where maybe some come for the Archives...


...but I don't. The gardens are lovely here!


Okay. Onwards with the rough part of the walk. It's my fault. I wanted to avoid the blocks around the Pompidou and les Halles. I've complained about the streets surrounding these two mammoth projects in Paris, especially now, during the years of construction here. It's chaotic and noisy and it leaves a person with farmette sensibilities reeling and tired. So I go further north (because I have a goal -- a Right Bank museum, all the way on the other side of the city).

And as I walk further from the center, I am reminded how Paris changes so quickly once you leave districts 1, 4, or 8 on the Right Bank, or 5, 6, or 7 on the Left. Walk a little beyond and it becomes harsh. People are stoic rather than content. Of course, our own cities are like that. All of them -- Chicago, L.A., Miami -- walk away from the well heeled neighborhoods and you're in troubled land. But then, we're known for being top of the top in terms of inequality! It's America! You expect this in our country. France is supposed to be more compressed toward the middle. Yes, we read about the harsh reality for immigrant populations living in the suburbs, but Parisian stratification is evident right here, in the swing of things. And so when I walk the wider circle of her arondissiments, I always feel a little let down.

It's a good reminder to keep things in perspective here. I love Paris more than any other city, but I don't think it is without its issues.

And now I hit the real tumult -- the row of department stores in back of the Opera. I truly dislike this area and never ever come here, but so long as I am passing through I take a deep breath and plunge inside because let's face it, the stores are excellent and I do have a short birthday list in hand. At least I am successful. It would be miserable to spin through and come up with nothing at all.

And now I am on the final stretch, walking along the Haussmann Boulevard all the way to the Musee Jacquemart-Andre. Some of you will say -- oh! you made it there! I love that place! I can see why people like it. But it's so not my thing. It's a beautiful display of a private collection and it has some Boticellis and a Rembrandt, though I seemed to have missed that one. Had I come tomorrow, I could have seen a whole display of Watteau. But I didn't come tomorrow, I came on the 13th -- the day before, and frankly, it doesn't matter. I'm not a huge fan of these sumptuously decorated palatial rooms. I may be the only one on the planet who can run through Versailles in five minutes and feel I have had enough.

I offer you views of a younger set of visitors who seem to be enjoying themselves here:



And now my goal is just to cross the river and be done with the Right Bank. Not so soon. I still have to cut through the affluent blocks...

(she's feeding her poochie)

...and cross the Champs Elysees...


...not too far now. I can see the Tower and it gives me hope.


And now I am on the bridge and along the Left Bank, where the promenade is wide and the colors in the evening light -- quite lovely.

(the moon shines brightly...)

(another bicycle)

(the bridges of Paris)

(French? don't know.)

But there is one more stop. I had thought that I was done with museums. But I came across an ad for a special exhibition that just began yesterday (yes, mid March is the time of changing exhibitions!). And I am passing right by it -- it's at the Musee d'Orsay and it happens to be Thursday so that even though it's evening, the museum will be open still.


And so I go inside.

(No photos allowed inside these days, but here's one looking out of that clock you see above. Do you detect the Sacre Coeur?)


Let me tell you the name of the special exhibition: VanGogh - Artaud: Le Suicide de la Societe. They translate it as "Suicided by Society."

Dozens of paintings by Van Gogh have been brought together and they are organized around the idea of his madness, as reflected upon by Antonin Artaud -- an author, an artist, himself subjected to electroconvulsive therapies in the mid twentieth century, and, too, institutionalized for madness.

The paintings are along themes -- of self portraiture, of tranquility, of stormy light.

It is so well done, so disquieting, so beautiful that despite my tiredness (I have been walking since morning), despite my fill of galleries and museums, I am moved to tears.

It could be that a stormy sky threatening a bucolic field will never look the same to me again.

I'm spent, but in a good way, I think. Not just rosy colors today. But the sun stayed with me until the end.


And dinner at the Petits Medicis was, as I told you, fine: duck breast, very nicely sauced.


Walking back to my hotel, I came across this:


I remember you! It was Friday the 13th, in December! So, you're a frequent player here, at a Luxembourg cafe? Well alright then! I'll see you around, pal.