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A Place in the Fifth
A Week in Paris, March 2005
In the beginning, Dawn invited me and I said no. It seemed like the right thing. She was on a sabbatical from MassArt and I thought that perhaps she should go and commune with the art there unencumbered by my presence and loud opinions. My friends were aghast. "You're going to let Dawn go to Paris by herself?!" So I changed my mind and said sure. Timing is everything and it turned out that the small apartment that our friends in Paris, Jean and Isabelle, rent out would be vacant for a week in the middle of March and the last day would be Dawn's sixtieth birthday, so now it seemed that I was taking Dawn to Paris for her birthday. We thought fares would be cheap in March, but the only way we could afford it was to go through Reykjavik on IcelandAir.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
This is the shortest trip that we have taken in quite a while. Learning from a walking trip last spring, we took only carry-on bags. I took the backpack that I had carried and Dawn, a small roll-on. We also decided to take the T to Logan airport given how expensive a cab in both directions was. So, about five o'clock in the afternoon, we walked down the hill in Roslindale, a neighborhood in the southwest of Boston, and grabbed a bus and then the Orange Line, transferred to the Blue Line, then hopped on the Shuttle bus at the airport stop that dropped us off at Terminal E. About an hour.
We either have very long lines or very short ones at airports, meaning that we have arrived too late or too early. This was a short line day except for at the bar which was full, so we sat in the food court and drank fruit juices and did the New York Times crossword puzzle. This event set a strange precedent concerning alcohol consumption for the whole trip. Soon we were in the air and later arrived at Reykjavik.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Even though the sun was beginning to come up, it was still the middle of the night for us and we staggered through passport control to our gate for the next leg into Paris. The flight to Paris was uneventful except for the wonderful views of the farmland around Paris already beginning to turn green in contrast to the snowy New England that we has just left. Without checked baggage, we should have been through customs in a flash, but without the horde of passengers to follow we wandered a bit before we found the right door. We followed signs to the right elevator and an information desk pointed us to the right door and the bus to the RER, pulling out in front of us, paused to let us jump through the back door.
When I am hiking in the woods, I always look back after I have gone through a junction in the trail, so that I will know what it looks like when I am making my way back. So a glance backward here helped a week later when we were returning along the same route, even though all of our focus was towards getting into Paris. The rest of the trip is easy, just get off at the Luxembourg Gardens and walk up the hill past the Pantheon to our place.
We had gotten the new door codes by e-mail so we were able to get into the building, find the keys that had been left for us and walk into our new home away from home at about two in the afternoon. We unpacked what little we had, took a breath, checked out the view of Notre Dame, Saint Etiènne and Père Lachaise and then headed down to the fifth floor to see if Isabelle was home.
We found her just letting herself in her door and after much greeting we headed out to Place Contrescarpe for some coffees and a tea for Isabelle. We began to find out what is planned for us and I got an inkling of the rigorous week that was ahead. When we got back to her apartment, we found invitations for two openings, one for the neo-impressionists at the Musee d'Orsay and the other for Video/Photography opening at the Jeu de Paume featuring the work of Tony Oursler, an American video installation artist who used to teach at MassArt.
After a slight rest, we walked over to the Musee d'Orsay and went into the exhibition. Plenty of people and everyone looking at the art in high contrast to a gallery opening in the United States where no one would be caught dead looking at the art.
After using my binoculars last spring to look at the capitals at the top of columns in various churches, I brought them along and found them useful to look at the paintings from the benches in the middle of the galleries. I could look at the painting and then look at the technique without moving except to lower or lift the binoculars. A French woman sitting next to me was duly impressed.
We moved onto the Jeu de Paume and found a much different situation. Here the crowd was much younger, nearly everyone dressed in black, and many crowded around the bar. And there was a crowd, but we managed to work our way through and see everything. My favorites were the eyes projected onto fiberglass balls.
Tony Oursler must have left MassArt about ten years ago. The first big exhibition of his video installations that I saw was in San Francisco, when I was visiting my daughter several years ago. It's really wonderful when a colleague "makes it" on such an international scale that he no longer needs to keep his "day job" so to speak Like most good art, his ideas are fairly simple, but they have a peculiarity unique to the artist, and they are really well executed, using various technologies at the service of the concept. Tony's work also has a chuckling kind of humor in it which makes it all the more accessible and human.
We moved to the first floor to see the "Filles d'Amsterdam", a series of photographs of prostitutes in Amsterdam by Jean-Luc Moulène. We had heard about them from Isabelle and from Jean who said, "Look at the faces". They turned out to be thirty large pictures of naked women sitting facing the camera with their leg wide open. Disconcerting to say the least. Jean was right, the faces were interesting, the photos capturing their lives, perhaps dashed hopes, in an act they perform many times a day.
Jeu de Paume
Closing time was approaching, so using a crumbled, torn in two map we had from our last visit, or perhaps our first, we designed a metro ride home (we never did get another map). By 11 PM we are sitting in a brasserie in our neighborhood, looking at menus, thinking about a glass of wine and when was it exactly that we had last slept.
At home, when we have a bottle of wine with dinner we drink the whole bottle . Starting at 11, it seemed excessive to have a whole bottle, so we ordered a half bottle. What I really wanted was a "demi" which was 500 ml or half a liter, what we got was half a bottle or 375 ml. Thus began a week of living in Paris and drinking a lot less wine than I do at home. Probably a good thing and certainly ironic. Sometimes, when we walk into a place for a bite we discover great food, not the case this night. I guess we were wired enough that we dropped into another place for a beer and a armagnac. By one o'clock we were asleep.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Up at the crack of nine, we headed back to the Place Contrescarpe to the Brasserie of the same name. We went there and had our coffee inside, because the place with the sun was having its awning recovered. Afterwards, we grabbed a couple of rolls of toilet paper and headed back.
Now it's a pretty hip place
We stopped in to see Jean and Isabelle and made plans to meet her at the Foundation Henri Cartier Bresson to see an exhibition of his photos and drawings combined with photos and sculptures by Alberto Giacometti. We also called Malek and made plans to have lunch. He is an old friend of Dawn's, an Algerian born French poet and writer. I English translation, he is most known for "The Colonial Harem". We would meet him at the Blue Billiard, a pool and games hall near Oberkampf. He was waiting there when we got there and he looked great. We found out why after a short walk to a corner joint. He had stopped smoking and drinking.
At the end of the meal, when Malek was on his cell phone, I tried to get up and take care of the check. But Malek caught me and insisted on paying. In his own neighborhood, we are his guests. Later, we were able to take him out to lunch, but only by eating in another part of Paris.
In a very generous offer, Malek offered us the use of an extra cell phone that he keeps for his sister when she is visiting him. We bought a card in a Tabac and Malek transferred the minutes into the phone. Something that I might have been able to do in English but was happy to have him do in French.
We had planned to take the Metro to meet Isabelle, but Malek suggested that there was a bus that would get us there more scenically. A student protest march about something interfered with this plan, so instead, after looking for the bus that had been rerouted, we ended up on the subway, slightly late, headed for the Mont Parnasse area and the Fondation Henri Cartier Bresson. We had a cell phone now, but not Isabelle's number, so we left a message on her answering machine at her home.
Stairwell at the foundation
When we arrived, Isabelle was not there, and to our dismay, discovered that the Museum was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. There were people there working, but it was closed to the public. Since we had been only ten minutes late, we know that Isabelle would not have left, so we waited for her. When she arrived, she was totally embarrassed by the fact that she had led us to a closed museum, and for some minutes, sitting outside on a bench, we worked on an alternate plan until Isabelle discovered that Martine Franck, the widow of Cartier Bresson and director of the museum, was inside. Isabelle knocked and made inquiries with the young secretary downstairs and soon we were invited in, introduced, and the three of us were given run of the exhibition to see it by ourselves.
Photo by Cartier Bresson
Dawn and I pride ourselves on traveling close to the ground, trying to find the soul of the place we are visiting. In this instance, I can't decide whether this is super low or super high traveling, but I do know that it was not in between. I must admit that I felt like a big VIP and admit again that it is almost the first story that I tell when people ask about the trip.
We have discovered from Isabelle that Martine Franck is a talented and accomplished photographer herself. Many websites, such as Magnum, feature her work. There was something very appealing about being let in to a closed museum by a friend of our hosts, who happens to be Cartier Bresson's widow and herself an artist, to see sculpture, photography, drawings and writings by two other artists who were close friends and colleagues. They all drew each other, or photographed each other making their work or drawing or photographing themselves, creating a kind of ping pong of mutual admiration and artistic expression. Again we feel that interweaving of life and art that seems so natural and so valued in France that is much harder to find in the fast-food, consumer hungry culture of the United States. It's not that we don't make art in the United States. It just seems to me that we make it in spite of the predominating culture and government rather than in partnership with culture and government.
Martine Franck, Belgian
Raised in the United States and England. Franck studied at the University of Madrid (1956-57) and at I'Ecole du Louvre in Paris (1958-1962). After writing her History of Art thesis on the influence of cubism on sculpture she realized that she preferred visual expression to writing and in 1963 turned to photography, working in China, Japan and India. She became a freelancer for Life, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Vogue. Since 1965 she has been a photographer with the cooperative Théâtre du Soleil. In 1970-71 she was a member of the Vu agency in Paris, and in 1972 became one of the founders of the Viva agency in Paris. In 1980 she became an associate of Magnum Photos, and a full member in 1983. Her work is characterized by warmth and understanding of people, whether she has photographed Tulkus (young Tibetan spiritual masters) or, in earlier projects, the elderly, the illustrious members of the College of France, or the families of Tory Island off Ireland's Donegal. (Magnum Biography)
On the way home, we stopped by the Mont Parnasse cemetery to see a Brancusi sculpture of "The kiss". It is a kiss, but the pose is as ambiguous as the word in French, le baiser, that it could be something more intimate.
I must interrupt here to say that when I went on the Internet to find the picture of "The Kiss" that you see on the left, I found a different work than the one we saw in the cemetery. The one in the cemetery had the couple full bodies represented as in seated positions. At least that is what I remember. We almost got got locked in, but the whistle blowing attendant got our attention and we rushed through the door amidst much chain rattling.
On the way back, I told Isabelle that I would like to bring a bottle of wine to dinner at their place on Friday. Isabelle said, "Oh, no, Jean is particular about what he drinks and we have lots of wine". I really wanted to bring a bottle of wine, and was being kind of insistent as we were arriving at our stop. Dawn and Isabelle got up first and were at door. As I was gathering up my stuff and ready to join them, the woman who was sitting across from me leaned forward and whispered, "Bring flowers". All I could say was. "Merci" as I hurried out of the Metro car. I say thanks again to that woman who saved me from myself.
After we got back, we had tea with Jean and Isabelle; they called to find that there was a small place to eat in the lobby of the theater. So Dawn and I had another quick nap and then headed for Sceaux and the theater Les Gemeaux.
As we were walking through the suburb of Sceaux (pronounced "so" in English), Stephen joked, "Sceaux what?" It turns out that we were not alone in thinking of this expression. (See below.)
Rain at Les Gemeaux
We were off to see "Rain" by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, and we needed to take the RER the suburban train to Fauborg la Reine and then walk 10 minutes. It all went smoothly, but the restaurant was very busy, so we missed dinner and went in to see the performance. I had seen the company before in Boston and Dawn had seen her video work, but this would be the first time that she would see the company live.
It was great. Don't miss this piece if you like this kind of stuff and you ever get the chance. One of the things that I found wondrous was that although the work was incredibly structured, it wasn't organized by anything that I could name at the time. There seemed to be no way of predicting what was going to happen next, but once it did, it seemed to make perfect sense. On top of this, the movement and the dancers were breath taking. As one reviewer wrote, "Don't these people know about gravity?!"
The work fascinated me because it seemed to employ post modern clichés of certain movements and processes, like repetition with variation, inversion and contact improv vocabulary. However, as the choreography unfolded, it didn't seem clichéd at all. As Stephen said later, it was like continually opening a box and finding new things in it. The cumulative effect of the use of circular space, the great Steve Reich music, the energetic dancing, the set and the lighting was magical. I thought the set was a visual pun as it was a circular curtain of tightly spaced ropes, hanging from grid to stage floor. The word for "rope" in French is "corde;" the idiomatic French equivalent for "it's raining like cats and dogs," is "il tombe aux cordes", literally "it's falling in ropes." The title of the piece was "Rain," in English.
As we left, I noticed the small black box theater under the main lobby was called "Sceaux What". :)
We walked back to the station and took the train back into Paris, and again wandered the neighborhood looking for a place to have a late dinner. We found l'Ecurie, meaning stable. The original hole in the wall. I think the the whole thing was 25' wide by 10' deep. We shoehorned ourselves past a crowd that we couldn't figure out what they were doing and took one of about five tables. Again, too late to really drink so just a small pitcher and some appetizers.
On the way out of this little medieval stable, I said to the server in French that we felt quite at home there because we had friends who had a farmhouse in le Lot, and when we visited them, we stayed in their stable...renovated, of course, but not too much....at least there were no longer any animals in it! He regaled me with "Madame, bravo pour votre francais!" This was a delightful surprise because Parisians rarely compliment my French; in fact, they usually launch into broken English when I speak French with them. In the provinces, people are very appreciative of my forays in French, but in Paris, that is rare.
Just a short walk up the hill, and we were asleep in no time.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Cafe Delmas, before its new awning
The sunnyside cafe, Delmas was open for outside business so we had our coffee there. The rest of the morning was taken up by walking around the neighborhood checking out restaurants to have Dawn's birthday dinner. We had some recommendations from friends at home, some from Isabelle and I have an idea that has cooking for a couple of years. We have only vague directions, but we find them one by one. None of them really seem to fit the bill. Le Moissonier, Le Pre Vert, Atelier de Maitre Albert, all good restaurants, but they just weren't working for us. One of my thoughts is that although I want the food to be good, I don't want it to be more important than we are.
Cafe Louis Phillipe
But we were running late for finding lunch. Again we needed to be in the sun, so we ended up crossing over to the right bank near a hotel we had stayed in another time and had lunch at Louis Phillipe, a place we had passed many times but never eaten in. We found a table in the sun, but protected from the slight breeze and two hours later we were finished. I never know where the time goes at lunch. There are always things to see, to talk about , to plan, or just to enjoy. A half bottle of rose, added to the festivities.
Eglise St. Gervais-St. Protais at night
After lunch, we visited the Church Saints Portais and Gervais. They were setting up some kind of multimedia presentation with sound and projections and when I saw them working on a fastfold screen I offered to help. It was a big one and there were only three of them working on it. As we wandered around the nave I kept an eye on them and did manage to rush over and foot it for them when the three of them got it off the ground but couldn't mange to stand it all the way up. I got some thanks and I felt that I had done my good deed for the day.
When we got back, Isabelle and I worked on her laptop while Dawn got to take a nap. We were working on making her e-mail program easier to use and also organizing the many photos she has stored on her computer. We lost track of the time and but I knew it I was running upstairs to wake Dawn and both of us were getting ready to go out with Jean and Isabelle to see the National Ballet of Spain at the Chatelet.
Photo by Fernando Marcos
Overheated and misorganized are my first thoughts, but very enjoyable. It was in high contrast to the evening before excepting the excellent dancing in both companies. Keersmaeker shows her years of experience in making her highly satisfying work, where the choreographer Nacho Duato here seems to rely on crowd pleasing formulas backed up with over the top sets and effects. The sand pouring down on the poor dancer is example number one. But they could dance and he could create movement, he just couldn't organize it in a way that could really lift it up to art.
Seated next to Jean, I tried to explain my reaction to him. How could I say that I felt the relationship between the choreography and the music was too predictable? Ah, Isabelle gave me the phrase: "trop evident." He agreed.
Arcangelo by Nacho Duato
Afterwards, Jean took us to a Chinese restaurant around the corner for a late supper. As we were being shown to our table, Jean broke away from our little group to go over to greet and shake hands with the owner. Malek had done the same thing the day before when taking us to lunch. There is a clue here about being a Frenchman, but I am not sure what it is about.. Perhaps, it indicates the important places that restaurants have in their lives. Perhaps it is that these two men, both heroes in my eyes, but living totally different lives, see the world as full of people where I am likely just to see tasks.
Anyway, the food was tasty. Jean ordered a couple of beers which we all shared. A metro ride back, and a quiet walk, past an Irish bar preparing for the next day's festivities. Jean pointed out some beautiful old building, with some tongue in cheek gentle remarks about some of the newer ones. We have stopped looking at the clock when we return. We know it's late. We fall asleep.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
We started with cafe au laits at the Cafe Delmas, but Dawn decided to buy a pound of espresso and a pain au chocolate afterward to complete our breakfast in the apartment. Two coffees are over $10, so for the rest of the trip, I made coffee in the morning for the two of us and we enjoyed the view out our windows. It also gives us the opportunity to do some stretching which our legs sorely needed.
We headed for Musee Maillol by way of a saunter in the Luxembourg Garden. The place was full of Parisiens with their lunches. The sun was out and the temperature perfect. Flowers were blooming. We were pretty happy. We found the museum and then began another search for lunch.
Dina Vierny met Maillol at the age of 15 and was his model for many years. She was the prime source of inspiration for both his paintings and sculptures, and also posed for Matisse, Bonnard and Dufy. The very rich collection she put together throughout her lifetime is organized along several themes: works by Ingres, Degas, Cézanne, Fujita, Picasso in the drawing cabinet; paintings by Maillol's friends, including Gauguin, Bonnard, Odilon Redon and Maurice Denis; a room dedicated to the modern primitives; and paintings by abstract artists, such as Kandinsky. The astonishingly rich and varied collection offers a detailed survey of 20th-century art.
It is astonishing that a museum has been started by a model. Not just one, but she has another in Banyuls, in the south.
We were there to see the erotic drawings by Gustav Klimt, along with a goodly number of Parisiens. There was a line outside and it took us about a half an hour to get in. Dawn was pleased that her MassArt ID got her a two Euro discount.
We found lunch at a bustling cafe in the seventh, at the corner of rue Babylone and blvd. Raspail. They made nice tourtes et salades for a prix fixe. We found a spot in the sun, just as another couple were leaving the table. After a few minutes, an elderly gentleman walked briskly around the corner and tripped, falling down, dropping his umbrella. Many folks asked if he was all right, and got up to see if he needed help. In another five minutes, a young woman tripped and just managed to catch her balance before hitting the pavement. Within twenty minutes, four people had tripped ("failli") at this corner. This phenomenon became the subject of a communal conversation. Finally, the folks sitting next to us called the waiter's attention to this matter. There was a little bump in the pavement, meant to designate a parking spot in a loading zone. Since there was no truck loading at the time and other parking was forbidden there, the little bump became a hazard for pedestrians. The waiter cleverly put a chair out in the street on top of the bump, hoping it would deter walkers from that spot. For the most part, it did. Anyway, fortunately no one was hurt, and it was like having a front row seat at a vaudeville act.
I found it fascinating that the heterosexual, erotic partnerings in Klimt's drawings were titled "Amoureux" (Lovers), while the plentiful erotic drawings of two women were labeled "Deux amies." (Two Friends) His drawings were so direct, I couldn't imagine that he would be a prude about homosexuality. Perhaps they were titled by the exhibit's curator. Apparently, the artist had really drawn these for himself and had never specifically intended them for public exhibition.
Although Maillol was represented by paintings and sculptures of several nudes, they seemed almost staid and modest in comparison to the plethora of erotica we had just witnessed by Klimt. We also saw a couple of abstract paintings by Poliakov that veered even farther away from Klimt, reminding us of the incredible range of aesthetic visions, all of which exist under the rubric of "art." This Russian artist happens to be one of Malek's favorites. Coming at the end of our museum visit, it was refreshing to look at form and color only, without the powerful specificity of the human image.
Afterwards, we headed for Saint Sulpice to meet Malek and Veronique at the Bar a Six.. We were a little early so we sat on the steps of the Church looking over the plaza while I gave Dawn a foot rub. We kept a lookout for Catherine Deneuve, since we heard she has a place around here.
Veronique is a tall, energetic, delightful Belgian woman. I felt immediately sympathique with her. It made me happy that she and Malek have become close, in spite of the problems of distance and time since she lives and works up by the North Sea in Belgium. Since Malek is in the publishing biz, he had four free passes to the opening of Salon des Livres, a mega expo for books. My feet were killing me. The combination of new orthotics (which would help in the long run) and new shoes which I thought I had broken in but hadn't, and lots of walking on pavement was tough on the old dancer feet. At first I was going to decline the invitation to the Salon des Livres, but after a cup of tea and the cheery company, I couldn't say "no." After all, we were only in Paris for a week, so we did just about everything that came our way.
I spent some time, while running around finding wine or champagne for myself or Dawn and Veronique, keeping Malek's glass full of orange juice and other nonalcoholic drinks. I am very sympathetic to his cause. My drinking is under control but only that. On the way back on the metro, Malek kept on running into women that he knew. I could understand this in his own neighborhood, but it seems strange in a metropolis of a couple of million people. We decline their offer to go for a drink. Veronique is returning to Belgium the next day and they probably don't need to spend any more time with a couple of Americans.
Returning on the metro, we were packed in with hundreds of other visitors to the Salon. Conversations with strangers abounded, since we were all in close physical contact. As we exited at our correspondence, a nice gentleman wished me a "Bon sejour a Paris!"
Friday, March 18, 2005
Today was the day to buy the flowers that the woman on the train had mentioned, so we went by the outdoor market at Place Monge. We found the flowers and some small gifts for a few friends. We bought some handmade, honey lozenges for Susan, but she probably missed half their healing power by not being there to enjoy the incredibly handsome young man that sold them to us. The customs people back in Boston are always incredulous when we come back with $23 worth of stuff each. We just find other things to do besides shop.
We spend money on tickets to performances, museums, food, wine, coffee and transportation. I remember a walk in Paris many years ago, sort of window shopping at the art galleries with Malek. Somehow the subject of "collecting" came up. My response was, "Je ne collecte rien, sauf les experiences." That's really it for me; I 'm more interested in collecting experiences than things.
Jardin des Plantes, View from the Cafe
We had been told by some American friends that we should have lunch at the Mosque over by the Jardin des Plantes . My favorite part was seeing on the lunch menu a lunch formule for 58 Euros which is quite expensive until I saw that it included a massage afterwards.
We did not do the 58 euro formule ... maybe next time.
Dawn and Malek
Afterwards, we took a walk through the jardin, Convincing Malek to let us take him to lunch is no easy task. Yes, of course, we are visiting his city so he wants to host us. However, we have visited "his" city more times than we can count on one hand, and he has never visited "our" city. He seemed pleased by the fact that his non-Arab, non-Muslim American friends were inviting him to lunch at the mosque! When I told him that the mosque had been recommended by some very good American Jewish friends of ours, I think the pleasant sense of irony was complete. Of course we ordered couscous and tagine and finished the meal with that wonderful sweet mint tea.
Joining for a moment a group of people who were being taught how to prune roses. We found a little place for coffee and sat outside and talked. Our conversation ranged from an amusing story about how he and Veronique had met to what it means to be a "serious" artist as against a "successful" one. My French is never quite good enough to express the nuances of certain ideas so I always feel that our conversation needs to be continued. Plus I am at a major turning point in my life as a creative individual, am somewhat at sea, and would love to be able to express more clearly to Malek and my other French friends what I am going through right now.
Aude in Luxembourg Gardens
Suddenly it was late, and we rushed back to meet Delphine who had come to visit with her adorable little girl, Aude. Of all the children and grandchildren we had met in Cezac, Delphine was the one who managed to get to see us during this last visit to Paris. Stephen, Isabelle, Delphine, Aude and I walked past the Pantheon to the Jardin du Luxembourg. There was a stunning installation of thousands of daffodils on the grounds and steps of the Pantheon. We found ourselves walking on a living green carpet of sod from the Pantheon all along Rue Soufflot to the Jardin du Luxembourg. Apparently it was cancer awareness week, and the daffodils were being sold to raise fund for research.
The photo at left is of Aude on the swings in the park. Here you pay a few coins for the child to take a turn on the "balancoire," which is maintained and supervised for safety and proper turn-taking. Isabelle told us that the lady who supervises the swings is the granddaughter of the woman who used to have that job when Isabelle took her babies to the same Jardin du Luxembourg.
We had tea back at Isabelle's, enjoying a couple of pastries that we had bought earlier at Isabelle's recommended patisserie in the Place Contrescarpe. It must have been 6:00 by the time we went upstairs to our little flat, so dinner started late that night.
There were five of us at dinner and we didn't even finish the bottle of St. Emilion.
Jean and Isabelle had invited their friend, Michelle, to join us for dinner. She is Parisian, married to an Italian, teaching art history at the University in Rome and currently doing a guest lecture in Paris. There was a stunning book of Andy Goldsworthy's art on the coffee table. Jean had recently given it to Isabelle for her birthday. This is an artist who uses natural materials in their natural habitat and photographs his installations which are often out in the forest, far away from civilization. I believe Michelle was not familiar with this Englishman's work...which surprised me because I always get a little intimidated around European cognoscenti who know their art very well. I am kind of an anomaly at Mass. College of Art. Here I am now, in my twenty-ninth year of part-time teaching in the Studio for Interrelated Media in a visual art school, with very little art history background and no MA degree. I got into this program because of the department's need for someone to teach movement courses. I filled a small niche at that time....and I still fill that same small niche now. However, I have become more integrated into the major studio in my department, finding myself in the position of having to critique not only choreography and live performance art but also sound art, web art, 2-D and 3-D art, video and film, animations, installations, and anything that comes along. So, especially when I travel or have time off as I do now, I try to go see art in as many media as possible.
Somehow Daniel Buren's name came up. He is a French artist who has an obsession with stripes ("rayons") in his work. Michelle didn't care for his installation of columns at the Palais Royal which we had seen a couple of years ago but at the time hadn't realized it was by Buren. We raved about the huge installation he had done at the Beaubourg and across the city of Paris two years ago. I was pleased that she shared our enthusiasm...and that at least I knew a tiny bit about contemporary art in France!
Isabelle served a delicious pumpkin soup and discovered that pumpkin was the one squash that Michelle did not care for. The rest of us enjoyed its lush orange color and rich, earthy taste. Jean decanted a 1998 St. Emilion that someone had given him. It was delicious and a perfect accompaniment to the marrow stew. It was good for Stephen and me to be in the company of such modest drinkers, but I was astonished that there was still some wine left in the decanter at the end of the meal.
The inevitable subject of Iraq and politics came up. We all know that the French were adamantly against the Iraq war. I asked how they had felt about Condi Rice's recent visit to Europe. Even Jean felt the Bush administration has been acting a bit better on the international front lately. They approved of the hardline he took towards Syria's involvement in Lebanon, and thought Condi was okay. Personally, I thought the administration's European tour was a big act on the part of the White House. Now that they got back in power for the second time, they want to try to mend fences to look better in the history books, but they still do not support international environmental agreements or the World Court.
Did I mention that Isabelle was very pleased with the double bouquet of white and pink-tinged ranunculus that we brought to dinner? Sometime I had heard her comment, "J'adore les fleurs blanches." So I figured mostly white was a safe bet.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
Today was a work day or at least the morning was. We hung two venetian blinds from Ikea. First we got to make a visit to the bricolage to buy some hardware and back to drill and anchor and measure. I hope they are still up.
We added to our vocabulary: drill = la perceuse, drill bit = la mêche, plaster = le piatre
As with many household projects, I was the first assistant, which involves a lot of standing around and handing things to Stephen on ladder or stepstool and cleaning up plaster that wants to seep into all the cracks of the old wood floor.
We devoted the afternoon to a pilgrimage to rue Balzac in the 8th. My mom had asked me years ago if I had ever visited the street where she lived when she was a little girl. Well, I regret to say that I hadn't, but I decided that I wanted to do it this time, as a kind of memorial visit to honor my mother who died at the end of 2003. For those of you who have not read every word of all our travelogues, my mother is probably the primary reason I have such an emotional connection to France. Although she was not French, she was born in Paris while her Norwegian mother was studying at the Paris Conservatory of Music. She spoke only French for the first five years of her life and continued to speak French at home in New York City as her "Nou-Nou" who came with them to the States, refused to learn "that ugly language, English."
It was a long Metro ride and a bit of a walk past the Place de l"Etoile to find the little rue Balzac. The area was presided over by a sculpture of the seated, brooding Balzac himself, in a tiny park that was undergoing renovation. While I had no idea which building my mother might have lived in back in 1909-1914, or even if that building still existed, it was a short street with what looked like mostly 19th century buildings, so I just imagined which one might have been hers. It turns out that the Rothschild family bought a beautiful "hotel particulier" at the corner of the street and turned it into an art center which houses artists' studios and hosts exhibitions. This seemed quite fitting to me as my mother had been a painter. As a bonus, they had created a lovely little public park in front of this building. The grass was springtime green, the tulips in full bloom. We paused at the gate, obviously not being clear about which side to push or pull to gain entry to the little park.
Dawn in the Garden
An adorable young Asian boy of two or three years old opened the gate for us, and I couldn't resist saying, "Merci, monsieur; comme vous etes gentil!" ("Thank you ,sir; how nice you are!") This tiny instant gave me a glimpse into my mother's life as a child here, still in the aura of 19th century gentility, and gave me simultaneously a smile and a tear.
We had two coffees on the way back in another fine establishment. A nice looking place in beige and rose that during the day was a drop in bar and video gambling place. At night they probably served a nice meal. The patrons seemed to move in and out rapidly. A hello, a quick drink and back to whatever they had been doing. We sat in the sun near the door.
We made our way back, crossing a very crowded Champs Elysees, to get to the Metro. We got back in time for another short nap before we headed out again to celebrate Dawn's birthday at a restaurant that I had picked out.
Large room at Les Zygomates (with mirror)
Les Zygomates is in the twelfth. Most tourist guides have no entries for this arrondissement, with the exception of the Opera Bastille. For us the restaurant was perfect, a small out of the way place with good food. It was located in what was an old charcuterie, a place that meat smoked and cooked. A three hour meal, with one interesting course after another. I am not going to describe yet another meal, but it was a wonderful place to celebrate Dawn's birthday.
It has a sister restaurant of the same name in Boston. The owners are friends. We learned about the Paris place because the matchbook we got in the Boston place had the Paris address on the back of it.
Dawn and Stephen outside Les Zygomates
Sunday, March 20, 2005
We got to Notre Dame in time to see the three knocks on the great central door of the cathedral that began the Palm Sunday mass. We processed through the door after the priests and made our way down the side aisle looking for a place even to stand because all the seats were taken. We found a place in the transept where we could see everything with the beautiful South rose window behind. It is a long service in that the whole passion is read. Here is was sung as a recitative and even the tourists who continued to march in, fire off their flash cameras, and then march out, couldn't disturb the solemnity of the event. Dawn and I visit a lot of empty churches as we travel so it is good for us to see a few of them in action. We left after the consecration, pausing at the back to hear another hymn. By then then central door was closed and chained and we were ushered out the side tourist door.
We were wrapping up our week in Paris. We wandered around the Marais. Had lunch on the Place de la Bastille. Watched the large roller blade event unfold in front of us. Walked down the Canal St. Denis in gorgeous sunlight. Found our way home via another stop for coffee in the Jardin des Plantes.
The woman in the subway said, "Bring Flowers" and we did. We also brought flowers to Paris in the form of this great weather (which of course we cannot take responsibility for), but I noticed that Dawn brings flowers everywhere she goes in the form of a smile and a kind thought. So for me it is a lesson. Bring my good thoughts, love the people I am with. Really be with them.
It was an interesting last day in Paris. Even though Stephen and I are not practicing Christians anymore, and lean much more in a Buddhist direction, we grew up with so much culture and history around Palm Sunday and Easter that we couldn't help have some emotional response to this familiar liturgy. Even in French, we understood it because the stories were already so familiar to us and the speakers, chanters, and singers at Notre Dame that day articulated so eloquently. I grew up in a Protestant church, rather austere compared to the pageantry and theater of the great Notre Dame de Paris.
Malek kindly came to our neighborhood that evening for a little "good-bye" drink. We told him about our dinner the previous night at "Les Zygs" as the place is familiarly called. Apparently he had lived in that neighborhood for a few years and knew that restaurant very well. He was very surprised that we had found it since he thought it was just a local spot.
Malek found out that evening that our Paris trip was made in celebration of a fairly substantial birthday for me, and that the actual date was March 21st, the next day and the day of our departure. This symbol of aging and knowing that he is seven or so years older than I made me a little sad and wistful as we returned the borrowed cell phone and exchanged last hugs and kisses. Would this be our last trip to Paris? Would this be the last time we would see Malek or Jean and Isabelle?
Monday, March 21, 2005
The next morning, we cleaned up the flat and had breakfast with Jean and Isabelle. Malek called on their phone, wanting to wish me a "Bon Anniversaire" on the correct day. He had had the same wistful, sad feeling that I had the night before when we parted ways. Before leaving for the RER trip to the airport, Jean gave me a lovely birthday gift (as if their generosity during our stay in Paris hadn't been enough...). It is a book of poems by Jean, called "L'Ebloui" which means something like "bedazzled." I was again dazzled by yet another talent of his. In addition to being a scholar of art, architecture and history and having had many important administrative positions in French cultural institutions, he is a poet. I had no idea. Like Malek's books of poetry, Jean's will provide me with beauty and insight as well as with challenge to my French vocabulary. Isabelle gave us two jars of her dazzling confiture as well. Proust had it right about taste and memory. All I have to do is taste a bit of her confiture de groseilles (red currant jam) and I find myself back in France, sitting in the sunlight at the old millstone table in Cezac, living a very lucky life with people that I love.
Au revoir pour le moment.