Ah…Paris.. I still remember the first sight of the city as I emerged from subway station from the airport to the square right in front of Notre Dame! Massive BMW bikes were parked by the sidewalk lined with trees, the mesh around the trees was littered with cigarette butts and fall leaves. The air was crisp, the sky was breezy blue with white candy floss clouds. The metro announcements of ‘..Temple, Gare du Nord, Châtelet – Les Halles, Saint Michel..’ were still ringing in my head.
Anne, my friend and couch host, lived in the first arrondissement,close to the chapel of Notre Dame. Paris is divided into concentric circles (arrondissements) numbered 1 through 20. The street below her apartment had quaint coffee shops and boulangeries. Like the city, even the apartment seemed to be circular. Her apartment had the most interesting curved passage way which housed the kitchen and the guest room!
I was dying to explore the city, and I’d already signed up for the Sandeman’s New Europe walking tour of Paris.They have them in most of the big European cities. It’s organized by young people who are passionate about art, history and stuff that’s not in guide books! It doesn’t hurt that the guides are funny as hell!
I found it to be the best way to get oriented to a new city on the first day. It became my MO as I traveled to other countries! Katherine, a Canadian traveler I met on the tour, and I hung out for most of our time in Paris. Exploring the city became that much more enjoyable, and a lot of crazy events followed! (about which I’ll write in blogs to come!)
Art is everywhere!
My day’s wandering led me by the river, an artist sat on one of the many bridges on River Seine, painting a watercolor view of the street and the bridge. The sidewalks by the river are filled with stalls selling miniature paintings, post cards, framed posters and other artwork. The most popular theme of the artwork was…you guessed it! The Eiffel Tower!
Art, there is so much of it in Paris, the museums, the galleries, but my favorite was what was around me. The gargoyles on Pont Neuf, the locks at Pont des Arts, the primrose baskets perched on apartment balconies in Le Marais, the rows of chequered red-white cafe tables on Rue de Mouffetard, the show windows to the world of high fashion on Champs Elysees..,even the trees are artistic with their cuboidal trims at the Jardin de Tuileries!
But if I had to pick the museum category of ‘art’, I’d definitely go with Musee D’Orsay. I loved the concept of the train station, Gare D’Orsay, of Orson Wells’ and Bernado Bertolucci’s movie set fame, being converted into a museum. The grand old clock, the high arching ceilings, the wide balconies…
I found this wonderful video of how the station was converted to the museum: http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/overview.html
The loveliest thing about Musee D’Orsay is that its like the perfect hor d’oeuvre to the enormous collection of art that Paris holds. The collection is choice, spanning a short but prolific period between 1848 and 1914. The exhibits overwhelm you but don’t exhaust you..like say, the collection at the Louvre, which has over 35000 exhibits.
The one from Le Louvre
Let it not be said that the Louvre is any lesser compared to other art museums, in Paris or en cualquier lugar! It’s a fine dining restaurant that serves several cuisines, from the far east to continental European. If I had had an enormous appetite, I would have chosen it above all others.
I spent half a day at the Louvre, I enjoyed every morsel of the royal feast…but the taste of one particular dish still lingers…
It is this ethereal fresco by none other than Alessandro Filipepi dit Botticelli, called Vénus et les trois Grâces offrant des présents à une jeune fille. It depicts…well..Venus and the three Graces presenting gifts to a young woman. (this title is kind of a giveaway, not very imaginative!). What intrigued me was how had they managed to preserve this wall, which was built in Florence. It was discovered in Villa Lemmi, and someone had actually whitewashed over it! There are a few cracks in it but its remarkable that it still stands there even though it was made in 1873.
My favorites from Musee D’Orsay
When I walked into the central ‘platform’ of Orsay, this was the first sculpture I saw. Auguste Clesinger’s Woman bitten by a snake’ lay there in all her glory, the tossled hair, facial expression all so intricately sculpted. It was a wonder in marble!
I loved Auguste Rodin’s Small Dancer, because to my art naivete, sculptures meant marble or at least that’s what the Louvre and Museo Vaticano had taught me! But this was bronze with a wax like quality. Her ballerina skirt and the ribbon tying up her braid just made the figurine more endearing.
Rodin’s Thinking Man has mystified me since school days, I’d seen pictures of many a family member in that pose! So to find him perched atop The Gates of Hell was an exciting moment!
Musee D’Orsay’s other treasures lie in the impressionist art section, as cliched as it might sound, I really enjoyed walking through the impressionist galleries. Paul Cézanne’s Apples and Oranges, is one of my favorites. In college I had read about his penchant for using apples for his still life paintings. And my mother, who is an artist herself, used to refer to his works often.
L’Origine du Monde (The Origin of the world) by Gustave Coubert wasn’t one I had ever heard of or seen before. I was quite taken aback by this piece of art, not only because of the literal message of the title but also that it stands in contrast to most other works of the time. It was painted in 1866, commissioned by Khalil Bey,a Turkish diplomat. It’s bold depiction of the female anatomy earns it a spot on this list.
Last but not the least, Vincent Van Gogh as himself! How could I admire impressionist art in Paris and not mention the master?! His self portrait to me is like the Mona Lisa,in its mystical quality..only the smile is replaced by a frown. The image of the serious and almost angry Van Gogh with its dull blue hues, is a coaster on which I’ve placed many a coffee mug!
As you step out, you see the sculptures in the courtyard. Black marble becomes the kings and queens from the distant lands of Denmark, Africa.
Art spills over into the entire city.. I caught more glimpses of it as Katherine and I headed to the Fontaine de Saint Michel to meet other friends for dinner. Most of it was a blur..because we had to run all the way..we were super late!
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