Thursday, June 10, 2010
Art, Food, and Sweaty Pits
Salut, tout le monde!
Our museum passes have been activated, and we're off! Yesterday, we began at the Rodin Museum, located on the grounds of a former hotel. The building that houses the works is old and fragrant, with creaky wooden floors, grand staircases, and elegant decor. Surrounding the depository are beautiful, well-kept gardens -- roses, lilacs, artistically pruned shrubbery, and, of course, notable bronze works by Auguste Rodin. You'll know him as the guy who made The Thinker. Some of his other famous ones include The Kiss, The Burghurs of Calais, and The Gates of Hell. Rodin's work is very interesting because of the vague eroticism present in each work, regardless of subject matter. His technique echoes that of Bernini, who was a master when it came to transforming cold, hard marble into forms that appear to give and undulate like flesh.Rodin 's obsession with the human form is apparent inside this museum where rooms lead to more rooms and still more rooms filled only with figurative sculpture. Rodin was unbelievably prolific as an artist, and the hundreds upon hundreds of objects that he left behind poignantly narrate his evolution. A trip to the Rodin museum is truly an artful and meaningful experience because of the beauty inherent to the space itself, as well as the overwhelming sense of humility one feels in the presence of such a vast catalogue of work.
A side note: While strolling the gardens at Rodin, I asked a lady to take our picture. We soon realized that she was wearing a Bob Dylan t-shirt, and that she spoke English. John, of course, felt compelled to strike up a conversation with this woman who referred to her t-shirt as "Psycho Bob." She was quite the globetrotter, traveling country to country to see Dylan concerts. Very hard core. She'll be seeing him in Prague next week. Of course, John is a little bummed about the timing.
After Rodin, we walked over to Les Invalides, a famous former military hospital and site of Napoleon's tomb. There was also a war museum in the compound that we just had to go to because it was included in our museum pass. Guns, military uniforms, miniature battle models, armor, etc... Yipee. Wow. How interesting. (insert sarcasm here, or, as the French would say, "Boff.") John didn't make me stay in there too long. Moving on, if you aren't familiar with Napoleon's tomb then trust me, it's worse than you could possibly imagine. The whole thing is a monument to the most severe case of Little Man Syndrome ever to occur on this earth. He had a giant gilded dome constructed, beneath which rests his sarcophagus, carved from some variety of very rare red stone. Above his resting place is a fancy altar, complete with a gaudy, bejeweled crucifix. Apparently, Mr. Bonaparte though Jesus had nothing on him. The human ego can be frightening.
After making lots of off-color jokes about Napoleon, we proceeded to the Musee d'Orsay. Here, vast, sprawling collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings are on display inside of what used to be a train station. In case you don't know already, people love them some Impressionism. This place was busier than the Louvre (which we braved today). I don't mean to be snobby, here, but how many water lilies can you look at before you go crazy? I've seen more than my fair share of this era in art, as has John, so we tried to seek out some of the more unique works that we're familiar with. We saw some lovely paintings from Gauguin's Tahiti period -- very cool. The museum also has a great collection of Degas -- the guy who paints ballerinas. He's one of my favorites. We saw some good ones from Toulouse-Lautrec, too. Olympia and Dejeuner sur l'Herbe were two highlights for me. Both were painted by Edouard Manet and mark the beginning of something different for the French Academy, sparking the movement that would eventually be named Impressionism. Oblivious tourists reigned supreme in this museum. Despite the chaos, we really enjoyed ourselves.
The best part of our visit to d'Orsay was a special exhibit called "Crime and Punishment." This collection featured paintings dealing with the gamut of offenses against humanity. Some of the works re-imagined Biblical and literary murders. Others represented important, if violent, moments in the French revolution. There were a few rooms devoted to the criminal mind and degenerate art. Also on display were newspaper articles across the centuries publicizing heinous crimes. We saw some of the first crime scene photography and a real live gullotine (that one made my skin crawl a little bit). The most interesting part of this exhibit was the collection of works devoted to Jean-Paul Marat, a radical, muckraking journalist of the French Revolution who was murdered in his bathtub by loyalist Charlotte Corday. Neo-classical artist Jacques-Louis David created an eerie, iconic painting depicting his murder that is rarely on display in major cities. This elusive treasure was part of the "Crime and Punishment" exhibit, and a definite highlight of our trip so far. The whole exhibition was sobering and shocking. The unabashed brutality and grotesqueness of the works on display made this a truly unique and affective experience. Also included were two William Blake etchings, a real prize since we were sad to miss them at the Tate in London.
After d'Orsay, and a long day of getting rained on and sweating through our clothes in the muggy, humid Parisian air, we freshened up and walked over to Randy and Diana's place for dinner. They are the owners of this fabulous apartment and friends of Margie and David. Diana prepared a superlative, traditional French meal including duck confit. It was absolutely delicious -- like rich, salty, intensely flavorful dark meat chicken. On the side, she served a nice salad and roasted potatoes. Here's something to love about this country -- all taters get dipped in mayonnaise. That's my kind of eating. We had lots of great wine, sampled some stinky cheese, and had pastisse, a traditional anise-flavored spirit from Provence typically served after a meal. We had a wonderful time, great conversation, and excellent food. We truly appreciated the hospitality.
Today, we awoke to yet another rainy, sticky day in Paris. All this dampness really brings out that special bouquet of city aromas -- cigarettes, dog turds, garbage, etc... John and I walk very fast, which often causes me to perspire profusely (I think I've had a sweat moustache this entire trip, actually). However, all these French people are running around in pants and jackets and scarves looking cool and dry. I just don't get it. Are Americans just a sweatier people? It's quite embarrassing. Anyway, before we ran around the city working up some impressive pit-stains, we stopped in for lunch at the brasserie adjacent to Boulangerie Poilaine. This is a food nerd moment, so brace yourself. Mom, get ready. You're gonna love this! Ina Garten, of The Barefoot Contessa on Food Network loves this bakery, which is one of the best in Paris. They bake huge rounds of rustic, artisan bread with a big cursive "P" scored into the dough. Next door to the bakery, there is a restaurant (that Ina goes to when she's is Paris with Jeffrey!) where they use the delicious bread to make "tartines," which are basically like bruschetta. There are all sorts of toppings from tapenade to smoked salmon to mozzarella and tomato. John went for the jambon et buerre (ham & butter) and I had the jambon et fromage Saint-Michel. I can't even talk about that cheese. It was ridiculous. The waiter was cracking up because every time I took a bite, my eyes rolled back into my head. He came over to ask how the food was, saw my face, then just laughed and walked away. You guys all know how excited I get about finding the PERFECT place to eat. This was one of those places. Quelle dejeuner!
After a rejuvenating post-meal espresso at Brasserie Poulaine, we forged on to the Louvre. This place can be daunting. You really have to mentally prepare yourself before you go in. It's huge and there is so much to see, too much if you don't know your shit. Luckily, John and I do. We were incredibly efficient in that place and I am really proud of us. We saw some great Egyptian antiquities, some more Assyrian stuff, upped our Caravaggio count by three (score!), and took in a lot of great paintings that we've studied and admired over the years (the Marie de Medici cycle by Rubens, several works by David, etc...) Of course, we saw La Joconde (Mona Lisa) and Venus de Milo. All your standard Louvre stuff. We had a great time. John estimates that we walked approximately three miles, just inside the Louvre. You can't imagine how huge it is. It's also packed with school children and tour groups along with disoriented tourists who don't know their ass from an Ingres. John and I got a little slap happy in there and began taking some pretty juvenile pictures. I reprised my favorite photo from my first Louvre visit -- a close up of Venus de Milo's butt crack (it's a good one!) and John got some great pee-pee shots. We also took photos of all the people taking photos of famous works. We were amused.
After about four hours in the Louvre, we walked down Champs-Elysees to L'Arc de Triomphe. We stopped in Monoprix (the Target of France) where I picked up some spectacular green tights and also sighted the fated McDonald's in front of which Sarah was assaulted via ketchup packet. Champs-Elysees is home to a slew of designer stores. There was a line around the block to get into Louis Vuitton. I will never understand that. Regardless, it was a lovely walk with some great people watching. We also picked up a crepe filled with Nutella on the way. Delicieux! Overall, we had a great day, and I AM TIRED. We're hoping for better weather and an earlier start tomorrow morning. Now, back to the wine. Love to all of you!