Sunday, June 18, 2017

Art, Memories and Two Days in Paris, exploring the Seine, the Louve, and Musee D’Orsay

Kids playing and my favorites images from Musee D'Orsay: "L'atelier du peintre" de Courbet décrypté sur tablette numérique and Olympia by Manet.  Coubet's The Artist's Studio, a real allegory summing up seven years of my artistic and moral life.

Postcards from a trip to the Musee D'Orsay

It already had the makings of one of the best summers ever, with dinner parties and lots and lots of trips to Coney Island, the Brooklyn heating shaking out the winter blues, bringing warmth into our souls, after a winter of watching the wrecking ball of the new administration in Washington.

But we had travelling to do.  Moms loved going to Paris for a long time, well since a world tour in 1961 when she first saw the city of light.  She’s been back every year or two since then, collecting a lifetime of memories, favorite restaurants, Cathedrals, and medieval sites.

This was going to be her swansong.  So I met her in Princeton and we took a car together to catch the 915 PM flight from Newark. 

I hate packing, especially for the summer so I panicked and stuffed five paperbacks into the bag.  Mom was equally reticent to pack.  So I encouraged her early.  After my nap, Mom insisted.  I’ll check on you in a half hour, I told her; The cars coming in a few hours, following up every half hour till she was packed and we were on our way.  We met Caroline and the girls for an early meal inside the terminal, three hours before we were officially to leave, enjoying a drink and some adventures running around the terminal, reading trashy magazines, and watching you tube videos before we boarded our plane.  The ac didn’t work.   We had to leave the plane, well everyone but mom and me.  We sat and chatted on the plane as they fixed the system.  And finally we were off by midnight, ready to land by lunchtime, bumping through the night.

It’s a hell of a time flying East, away from sleep or your life for a few days or in this case, the whole summer of hiking East, toward Toulouse, grabbing a train to Budapest, Prague, Krakow, and Holland.
Arriving, we escorted mom in her wheelchair through customs and off for our adventure, stumbling into my brother Will and his kids at baggage claim.

Our hotel was in the Latin Quarter, near our home base of Notre Dame, where we stay every time we come.  I’ve loved the neighborhood since my first visit here in 1985. The bistros and views from the Seine warm my heart.  So we ate our first meal, drank some wine from St Emilion and romped out into the afternoon, as the sun began to set, light shimmering on the water, people sitting everywhere, drinking wine, listening to music, enjoying the night air in the best of public spaces.  A marching band began to play and people danced along the water.

Will was just getting back from dinner when we got home at 11.  He’d eaten with mom; we’d made our way to our favorite trashy bistro for raclette in St Germaine des Pres.  So Will and I wondered for a nightcap, trying to find the Panic Room, fabled to serve porn inspired cocktails.  But it was closed, so we enjoyed a mojito and a beer at Le Kitch, and back home by way of Rue St Dennis, one of the famous cultural relics of Paris.  Part of what I love of Paris is everything it tolerates that New York has shut down; public sexual culture is everywhere.  The streets are pulsing with life, sexy people smoking, chatting, women in cafes with their legs crossed, conversing, listening, conspiring, drinking a glass or wine, school kids dancing, people lurking, cutting deals in the corners, night life tumbling into day.

Walking back past Hotel De Ville, we talked about the revolution.  Will recalled Maximilien Robespierre’s final moments.  He’d been shot in the face and someone tied his jaw back to his face.  Unbandaged before the executioner, his jaw started falling off as they put it into the guillotine.  The revolutionaries had no sympathy and took him out. Off with his head. 

This would be a quieter day.  But as always there is a degree of discomfort getting in the door.  The museum tour guide reminded us mom would not be able to navigate on the tour in a wheelchair. Theres often a feeling of being assaulted in travel.   But we made it just fine.  She walked some, took a few elevators and made her way through Louie’s old palace.

There are ten miles of art in there, explained our amiable tour guide from Lithuania. Louie the 14th didn’t trust the Parisians so he moved out to Versailles in 1678.  There are 800 years of history in these buildings, she continued. Its been a museum since 1793.

So we all made our way through the ruins of history, examining the Sphinx from Ramses’ tomb, past the 2000 year-old Venus de Milo,the goddess fabled to have won the Judgment of Paris, with her tierra, the looted objects from the Parthenon, etc.

Mom joined us to see the Winged Victory of Samothrace.  It is her favorite piece in the museum, for two reasons, the sheer beauty and the pose in harmony in the space where it is now.  Whoever placed it there really was thinking of how was sitting in the island, she explained.

We made our way to the Italian wing of the museum, where we found the old masters and friends, Giotto and Cimabue, not unlike as we’d seen them the summer before in the Uffizi.  But they are not really stars here. Leonardo is the star here.  His paintings of John the Baptist seem to resemble his lover, Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, argued our tour guide.   Or maybe that was the old Mona Lisa.  Some people detest it.  Others are moved to tears.  Most take pictures.  And I for one have no idea why everyone gets so excited about it.  The masterpiece wasstolen in August 1911. And no one noticed for days.  Only afterward did its fame grow. Painted over ten years, its meticulous detail is hard to fathom in this setting.  But the mystery of the painting remains. 

Veronese’s Les Noces de Cana, wedding of Cana resides on the opposite sides of the room. 

That reminds me of the School of Athens, noted number one, recalling our trip to the Vatican museum the summer prior.  She loved the Borghese Gallery more than anything.  I love the Prado.

So we kept making our way through the halls, to the 18th and 19th century French neo-classic and Romantic Paintings.  Delacroix's liberty leading the people and its dreams of victory seemed to leap off the canvas.  Its an image of a hallucination of a dying man looking up and seeing victory. 

There are three of lessons of history here, our amiable tour guide continued.
Don’t try to invade Britain.
Don’t side with the French in a battle.   They will let you down.
And don’t take on the Russian winter, she pointed to the dying soldiers with Napoleon on the walls.

I always take tour guides with a grain of salt, Caroline pointed out.   Their embellishments tend to make the stories better.  And in this case she seemed right. 

So we wandered out into the bustling city for lunch and then a quick of the Musee D’Orsay, where we fell in love with the images from Gustave Courbet, Renoir, Monet’s Olympia.  I’d known and loved this work for years. But Courbet's images of everyday life on grand canvas seemed remarkable. Everyday life requires a vast canvas argued the master.  Monet's depiction of Venus as a prostitute felt profane at the time, a stark modern reality.  But time reminds us how truthful he was.

The sun was shimmering in the afternoon as we hustled back along the Seine, past shops, pubs, restaurants, cafes and street vendors to meet mom for dinner.  She was taking us to La Taillevent, where she first ate with Dad in 1973.

Arriving, they told us we have no reservation, only at the Brasserie. Mom would not have it, telling the owner she had the fish sausages she came in the 1970’s.

I came in 1975, explained the Maitre D. You don’t remember me Madame?

Bring the queen to the best table, he smiled.  Mom smiled.  He brought us champagne. And we ate the best meal ever, chatting about the thrill of the art we’d seen during the day at the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay, the artists we loved, the controversies, the greed of human nature, the good moments, and mom’s memories of those days, coming to Paris with Dad, going to see art, eat, nap, and wonder through her old friend of the city.

Leaving the waiter gave her his card.  Please call me next time you come and I’ll get you the best table in the house. Please come again.  I love seeing you so happy here, he smiled, a lifetime of memories flashing through mom’s head, being charmed one more time by a French man.

I’ll be back mom proclaimed.

So we wandered home. 

We’d make our way our of Paris the next day. But this was a trip for the ages.

Thank you for the memories old friend. 

Images from two days of art and the streets of Paris before making our way our of town. 

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