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les étapes nombreuses

One of the nice things about having co-workers in a new city is the excuse to go out for social time. As promised by our Korean friends we went out to a restaurant of their recommendation. We managed to get a table, somehow and as the night went on the line out the door got longer and longer.

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jantchi

For good reason, too, the food was really nice. SO and I had a hard time picking what to order, on one hand since learning how to make bibimbap we wanted to know how it’s done at a nice restaurant, but on the other hand there were so many new things to try. We settled on bulgogi and it was amazing. It came to the table raw on a big cooker thing. We were scared. But after enquiring with our Korean guides as to how to eat it we were happy. The food also came with a selection of appetizers which were also really yummy. I don’t remember them all but included yangnyeom tongdak, japchae and of course, kimchi.

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out for a stroll aka. thinking about math

We also met up with our friends last weekend in Montmartre to enjoy what might be one of the last sunny and warm weekends of the year. We met up at Abesses, the main subway access and sort of central hub. There’s always something going on there and on that particular day it was a thrift market. I love Paris! Lots of tables set up with all sorts of strange and wonderful things to dig thru.. painted glasses, old lighters, books and prints, glass negatives, fur shawls, rollerskates and my favourite, a stuffed goat head riding in a soapbox car. I really should have got a picture of that.

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We climbed the 222 steps from Abesses to Sacré Coeur. It’s always a lovely thing to look at. We strolled thru the interior of the church. I checked out the murals more this time, and they were really nice. I also got to see a cool statue of St. Michael slaying the dragon. The Basillica explicitly states no photography, though I think I was the only one who obeyed.

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tiny streets, the way medieval paris was laid out before the war…s

We then strolled around the top of the hill checking out the tiny winery, various stores and goings-on. We got lunch at a busy restaurant and though it was pretty touristy I got the best croque madame I’ve ever had. Even the couple next to our table were like, ‘what’s that I want to eat that’. We also stopped and got candied peanuts, being made fresh by a street vendor. They were much like beer nuts from back home, one of my most loved snacks.

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pls ignore purse strap. it was crowded

We eventually decided no trip to Montmartre was complete without checking out the dome at the tip top of Sacré Coeur so we paid the € 8 for the privilege of climbing the two spiral staircases summing 300 steps total. Now, that sounds pretty cynical but it was really awesome. First of all, spiral staircases are inherently cool and there is a distinct lack of them back home, probably because they’re a slip-trip-and-fall hazard… OHES training ftw! Anyway, it goes straight up probably 200 steps, then you get out on to the roof of the main chapel and get to walk by the gargoyles and bird shit, across the roof to another spiral staircase (going counter-clockwise which is more difficult somehow) to reach the summit.

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om nom

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Paris has like.. 3 sky scrapers.

If you think the view from the top of the hill is grand, try standing on top of the largest building around. Holy shit. Not only can you see basically all of Paris proper but can pick out the various elevations changes and figure out the arrondisements accordingly. Plus due to what is probably a lot of smog and a little sfumato, the ends of the landscape take on a cool blue glow. Plus it makes the Eiffel tower look puny, which makes me feel good as I irrationally think the tower is lame.

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je t’aime

Then back down the 522 steps to get back to Abesses to check out le mur des je t’aime which has the phrase I Love You in over 250 languages. It’s really, really well done. Back home for more bibimbap and FTL.. and of course taking pictures of the view from my window late at night when I can’t sleep.

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bedriegertje

Continuing with some more Dutch Reformation Interior church paintings, there is another one at the Louvre which caught my eye, but not because of what you could see, but what you couldn’t.

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Intérieur d’église à demi masqué par un rideau
(Hendrick Cornelisz van (der) Vliet), 1660

The small work depicts another Protestant church interior, again with people chatting, dogs running around, graves being dug, but painted in the absolute foreground is a curtain, covering the rightmost area or the scene. The piece itself is painted so that it appears to be an arched panel with the curtain on top, covering the work. The arch helps to give the curtain that extra boost to make is seem like it’s really not part of the scene, but resting on top like something someone would add later. It hearkens at the tradition of covering paintings with curtains to protect them from sunlight and dust, only drawn to observe briefly and then covered again.

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i have to provide photo credits for things not in the public domain. lame. (below)

The technique is called a trompe l’oeil, deceiving the eye, an object painted in a way to trick you into thinking it’s in three dimensions. You’ve probably seen many examples before, such as chalk art, wall murals or stuff like faux leather or marble.

Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk, Delft, with the tomb of William the Silent, by Hendrik van Vliet

The interior of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft with
the Tomb of Prince William the Silent of Orange (1533-1584)
(Hendrick Cornelisz van Vliet) 1660

Van Vliet used this trick in many of his works, especially ones depicting interior church scenes, though van Vliet was definitely not the first to employ the trompe l’oeil curtain. It has its roots in religious paintings, as “can be observed on miniatures and bas-reliefs from late Antiquity and which became a topos of representations of Mary” 1.

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I’ll take “creepy faces in paintings in the background
that are bad for late night blogging
” for 400

You might recognize the famous cherubs in Raphael’s Sistine Madonna (1512), but the whole work itself is quite lovely, and the curtains act as a rich and velvety frame for the posed figures, but not as part of the scene. The curtains are depicted as hanging on a thin rod, which is bending under the weight of the drapes. This realistic touch adds to the idea that the curtains aren’t part of the scene. If they were they would be idealized, quite like the rest of the work.

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let’s play find baby Jesus. hint : in this one he’s a bird

The curtains containing the scene hearken at the practice of having the ciborium or other parts of the church covered by curtains to be revealed at certain points during services. Another example of this is the leftmost panel in the second state of Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, “the Annunciation” (1515), though, in this scene the curtains are painted into the scene with two panels used to frame the scene, and to indicate the altar.

van_Vliet-InteriorOudeKerk_PietInterior of the Oude Kerk, Delft, with the Tomb of Piet Hein.
(Hendrick Cornelisz. van Vliet) 1653

The curtains also serve as a way to literally draw attention to a particular section of the work, to frame it. They can act as a vignette to create emphasis on the interior of the picture, or to highlight elements to which your attention should be placed. “The drawn curtain and drape have obvious theatrical associations. Both imitate the curtains over the central archway of the Renaissance stage, which are suddenly pulled back at key moments in the drama to reveal important scenes and characters. Dutch painters often used the curtain to suggest dramatic revelation without actually reproducing a theatre” 2.

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“allowing him only the parerga, the indicators of the representation,
in the feigned frame, curtain, and the internal spectator” 3

The curtain in Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (1659) is a similar effect to the Church Interior in that it serves to hint at the preciousness of the scene as a cherished artwork would be protected by a curtain, but also helps to provide some shelter and seclusion to the scene as if we are peeking in at a quiet or intimate moment. Similarly, Metsu’s Woman Reading a Letter (1666) uses the curtain as a way to provide details about the scene, as we get to experience the moment when the curtain is drawn.

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“A lady sits reading a letter that her maid has presumably just delivered. The maid explicitly calls attention to the seascape on the wall by pulling aside the curtain that covers it. The maid’s quasi-explanatory gesture suggests a connection between the seascape and the contents of the letter” 4. The curtain helps us to gather some information about context or the situation the work depicts.

Houckgeest-InteriorOudeKerk1548Interior of the Oude Kerk Delft, with the Pulpit of 1548
(Gerard Houckgeest) 1651

Like other Dutch paintings from this time, the clues in the work are given to help the viewer translate the work into a story, so the curtain acts not only as a visual element but gives information to the viewer. Protestant reformation in the Netherlands influenced the inspiration and content of artworks, which transitioned from the sacred and public works to a more private and secular audience. This shift also influenced the connotations of the painted curtain. “The trompe-l’oeil curtain gradually loses its sacred connotation, retaining only that of metapictorality”5.

FlowerCurtainart jokes : priceless

The painted curtain in Dutch genre paintings was sometimes referred to as “ bedriegertje” (little trickster) from its ability to trick the viewer into thinking it’s a real curtain covering the work. A very fine example of pure trickery is the “Trompe l’oeil Still Life with Flower Garland and Curtain”, a work co-created by Adrian van der Spelt & Franz van Mieris in 1658. Van der Spelt was said to be an expert at painting realistic floral still lifes, and van Mieris an expert at painting fabric textures, so the two got together to create a work of visual richness, and is one of my all time favourite works. Not because it says something important per se, but that these guys decided it would just be really cool to make this painting.

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you bedriegertje !

The curtain could also be used to draw attention to the fact that it indeed hides aspects of the work permanently from the viewer. For example, Eavesdropper with a Scolding Woman (Nicolaes Maes), 1655, is a interior scene quite typical of the times, peering in to someone’s everyday life. We can see partially up the stairs into a corridor, where a woman appears to be scolding someone but a great amount of the work (including the subject of her fury) is hidden by the painted curtain. “By opening the curtain, the painter literally reveals a badly managed household: the maid spends more time listening than working, and the mistress does not create domestic harmony” 6. So, not only does the curtain act to draw attention to the remaining figures and literally hides certain elements of the scene, it also helps us to gain information by what is missing.

Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft with the Tomb of William thTomb of William the Silent in the Nieuwe Kerk, Delft, with an Illusionistic Curtain
(Emanuel de Witte) 1653

1, 3, 5 Van Eck, Caroline and Stijn Bussels. Theatricality in Early Modern Art and Archetecture.  Chichester, West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing, 2011.

2, 4 Hollander, Martha. An Entrance for the Eyes : Space & Meaning in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002.

6 http://www.wga.hu/html_m/m/maes/eavesdro.html

Photo credits

truck : Karine Magaton http://apndv.free.fr/Sculpture%20geante.htm

flatiron building, Toronto : 1000thingstoronto http://1000thingstoronto.com/14-flatiron-building/

marble : biphut deco http://hiphutdeco.com/blog/tag/faux-marble/

painting : Andrea Mantegna : Oculus on the ceiling of the Spouses Chamber, castle of San Giorgio in Mantoa, Italy

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quattro passi

The weather has abruptly turned chilly, and we’re heading into a long fall. This is something quite new to me. I’m used to the beginnings of fall followed by delightful indian summers and then uncompromising winter. Instead l’hexagonne seems to have long dreary cool falls. and a complete lack of turkey which makes Thanksgiving pretty lame. Also, no Thanksgiving. I’m missing apple picking and pumpkin-patch-traipsing, chardonnay and (Mother’s) homemade pie.

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In an attempt to get over this flu I’ve taken to alternating going-out-days and sleeping-in-and-playing-video-games-all-day.. days. My small excursions, however, took me to the Louvre for small visits, gardens, concerts, churches and museums.

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On one of the nicer days SO and I agreed to meet after work at Jardin des Plantes to take in the late-blooming flowers before they’re gone for the year. This garden is much more lax than the others, less strict and contrived and more free-spirited. We had a lovely picnic (or, pique-nique as they say) mixed in with the strolling daydreamers and running school children. We got to see lots of lovely late-bloomers like ageratum, skimmia, salvia spendens, morning glory and equestrium. That which wasn’t in bloom had equally lovely berries and pods. We also visited the alpine gardens to see some nice rocky shubby growers such as Phyla Canascens, who doesn’t seem to conform to any architectural garden design.

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fuck the police

The Jardin des Plantes is definitely my favourite garden by far, and there are lots of other things to see here another day, such as the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, the Mineralogy Museum, the Paleontology Museum, the Entomology Museum, the Menagerie (Zoo) and botanical school, winter garden, and Mexican and Australian hothouses. Though we did manage to peek through the gates of the Menagerie to catch some glimpses of wallabies, red pandas and some kind of cool green bird.

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wallabies are kindof.. wierdos

We also went to check out Sainte-Chapelle, which is a Gothic church built by Saint Louis to house some thirty Passion relics. By the way, Sainte-Chapelle is celebrating its 800th year. It is also under renovation (understandably) so we were unable to see the famous rose window, however the unbelievable grandeur of this place was still quite literally jaw-dropping. The first area is the lower chapel with beautiful painted archways. “The vaults are decorated with fleur de lys, whereas the vault of the upper chapel is covered by golden stars: it’s an example of the recurrent alternation between royal and divine symbols”1.

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“I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night”

The upper chapel is accessed by a very narrow spiral staircase. It contains fifteen enormous and very intricate stained glass windows, over two thirds of which are original dating to its 13th century creation. It’s Rayonnant Gothic style marked by its sense of weightlessness and strong vertical emphasis2 fills the room with bright and rich colours, glinting and floating around the room as the sun plays behind the clouds. The church is quite popular, with a very long line for admission and packed quite full. Visitors on the lower chapel are often shushed for their lack of respect in carrying on conversions. There is no need for a shushing attendant in the upper chapel though, the stained glass does that pretty well.

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IMG_7224shiny, captain

We also happen upon the Église Saint-Germain, which by the way is 1000 years old this year. It is in quite a state of disrepair, with a great amount of the paint and frescoes peeling away or so blackened with age they are hardly recognizable. However this small church has a quiet and unassuming atmosphere, especially in comparison with Sainte-Chapelle. It houses a number of lovely statues and paintings, however the loveliest is the Pietà, by Hippolyte Bonnardel.

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Pietà (Hippolyte Bonnardel),1856

The popular image of the Pietà, such as by Michelangelo, often depicts Mother Mary as quite a bit larger than Jesus as there is inherent difficulty in depicting a grown man cradled in a woman’s lap. She is also often depicted very young as a symbol her purity. The Pietà by Bonnardel however is unmistakably realistic, the weight of Christ’s body unable to fit in her lap instead crumpled and draped over her knee. We are reminded of the Crucifixion by the nails arranged at the foot of the sculpture, and the crown which Mary removes. Her gaze is not at the heavens but at Christ. Her gaze, coupled with the realistic stature of both persons give the sculpture a realistic and personal feel. The representation is as much mother and child as it is religious symbolism; the reprieve his suffering captured in the moment she lifts his crown and gazes lovingly at his face conjures up the feeling we all get when our mothers cradle us and take away our pain. I don’t think you really have to be religious to like this sculpture, we all have had mothers.

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I dont even..

We also got taken our for dinner and a show by SO’s supervisor who is visiting from back home. We dabbled through the Marais, lead along by our guide from memory, peeking in at notable and amusing places. We ended up,in a roundabout way, at Salle Gaveau to hear Muza Rubackyte play a piano concert, which was very nice.

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Biking down to the Louvre its inevitable that I find something to ditch my bike early for.. like pop-up markets. Sometimes they’re full of veggies, sometimes charcuterie, this time it was overpriced organic honey and giant halva slabs.

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We also took a very long and rainy trip to visit the Musée Français de la Carte à Jouer, which houses a number of amazing historical sets of playing cards and the original woodcuts and lithos to create them. They had a number of complete collections which you could illuminate on a timer, which I thought was a nice preservation idea. They had a huge number of sets some with stunning designs and many different types such as Italian, Tarot and of course the French design which back home is our standard. A few weeks ago I bought a pack of botanical drawing cards at Tuleries, and now I know why my face cards are Roi, Dame and Valet.

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IL H O O Q

I’ve been making an attempt to visit the medieval and greek wings of the Louvre, not to eschew them in favour of my preferred medium. These wings tend to be somewhat less overrun with folks so its nicer to wander around. Plus I know very little about Medieval and Greek sculpture so I can just wander happily without having my mind blown every five seconds. Just every fifteen.

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20,000 subway pants

Something I’ve noticed about the Louvre is, it’s very very dusty. Especially at the end of the day, after 20,000 people have come through. Literally. It’s not surprising that amount of simple transference of filth is happening right in front of the artworks. Nonetheless, you think they would dust them every once and a while. A great number of works have glass panels in front of them to protect them, especially from folks who would like to slash them with a knife or throw acid at them, just to name a few examples. It it also protects them from accidental damage such as hot moist breath and greasy fingerprints. Seriously people you don’t have to get that up close and personal. Gross. That being said, it makes a sort of doubled-glazed system and I’ve noticed on more than one occasion the collection of dust and debris between the layers.

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Church Interior (Emanuel de Witte), 1669

Despite the dust, the painting underneath is quite lovely. It features a church interior, whitewashed and somewhat unadorned in Dutch reformation style, though it is adorned with the comings and goings of everyday folks, dogs and gravediggers. What’s truly spectactular about this work is the light and the perpective point. Paintings of church interiors were popular during de Witte’s time, by artists like Houckgeest and van Vliet, though what sets de Witte apart from the others is the gentle play of light and shadow rather than hard perspective lines. “He avoided minute detail, a selling card for many of the Netherlands’ most successful artists, which might detract from the overall impact of the image. His approach to painting can be said to be tonal, rather than chiaroscural” 3. The vibrancy of the paint and and unique perspective point gives the viewer the sense of being in the space rather than looking in upon it.

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Interior of Oude Kirk, Delft (de Witte), 1650

“He often incorporated the pulpit or other church furniture in his views of Delft or Amsterdam churches” 4. The incorporation of church adornments and the sometimes depravity of the activity in the church (see Oudekerk above) opens up some interesting questions on de Witte’s motivation : was he merely interested in accurate depiction of light and shadow? Does his depictions of adornments in Protestant churches hint at at an unpopular religious alignment? Is de Witte commenting on society from the activities taking place in the scenes? Unfortunately there is very little known about his life. “Although it is believed that De Witte initially aspired to become a history and portrait painter, in about 1650 he abruptly changed artistic course and began to produce close-up interior views of the two most venerable monuments of historic Delft, the Oude and the Nieuwe Kerk” 5. He eventually became an indentured man due to the criminal activities of his daughter and second wife and after incurring some substantial gambling debts hanged himself from a bridge.

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here, something cheery.

1 http://architecture.relig.free.fr/chapelle_en.htm

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sainte-Chapelle

3,5 http://www.essentialvermeer.com/fakes_thefts_school_of_delft_lost_sp/school_of_delft_four.html#.VD0pAxa2WL8

4 http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/artist-info.16054.html?artobj_artistId=16054&pageNumber=1

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les animaux de compagne

The trouble with having the flu on vacation is feeling guilty for staying home and ignoring any potential sight-seeing. After a few days of watching Firefly with French subs you think.. ‘hey I think I’m feeling better, I better go out and see that thing that is this weekend only!‘ A good idea if you’re actually feeling better, but the more I push the more the stupid flu pushes back. That being said, even though I feel like shit today I did see some cool things last week.

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We took a trip out to the west end of town, quite near the Eiffel Tower, to the house of Honoré de Balzac, French playwright and author. We were able to both tour his house and also view an exhibit of a selection of Daumier’s lithographs. Daumier is best known from his social and political satire in caricatures, paintings, print and sculptures. The collection displayed at Maison Balzac was a series of lithographs, printed in La Charivari, depicting the antics of Parisians bathing and swimming by the banks of the river. “Daumier, could not help but to caricature these innocent occupations and point out the comedy of some situations ridiculing those Parisians of all ages and from all walks, frolicking in the Seine” 1.

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« Le pècheur à la ligne est l’homme indépendent, perseverent et résigné, l’adversité ne le décourage pas, il combat tous les embarras qui l’entortillent; philosophe, il subit les orages et ne murmure jamais. »

« The fisherman is an independent man, perseverant and resigned, adversity does not discourage him, he fights against all difficulties; philosophical, he suffered storms and tempest in silence. »

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« Oui Madame, c’est comme j’ai l’honneur de vous le dire, je l’ai porté onze mois, qu’on croyait que j’étais hydropique; Dirait-on que ça n’a que six ans, il tient de son père, Tambour major de la 6ème Légion, chantant la Marseillaise par cœur et buvant la goutte le matin comme un petit pompier. Oh! n’amour, baisez vot’mère tout de suite. »

« Yes, my dear, it is just the way I have the honour of telling you. I was pregnant with him for eleven months and people thought I was dropsical. Would you believe that this is already six years ago? He takes after his father, drum-major of the 6th legion. sings the Marseillaise (national anthem) by heart and has a drink in the morning like a real fire-fighter. Oh, my little darling, come here and give your mother a kiss! »

a

« Excusez, regard’ donc la grosse Fifine qu’on aurait juré que c’était Vénus…
ah ben en v’là un déchet! »

« Hey, now look at that huge Fifine! You’d swear she was a Venus -
what a disappointment! »

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Afterwards we took a stroll down to Bois de Boulogne and sat by pond a while to rest. The weather in Paris is pretty temperate considering the talk of snow-storms back home that keep popping up on my facebook feed. The warm sunlight and gentle breeze made for a nice afternoon of napping in the grass or practicing how to whistle really loud. We watched row boats make their way along the pond, with men rowing women around with pond scrub clinging to the oars. We found some vélos and biked around the park passing a carnival. I love carnivals, but somehow when you have the flu, the smell of hot sugar and diesel doesn’t do much good. However, what does do good is fresh bread.. especially when it’s covered in melted cheese and floating on top of onion soup. That’s the best. Also, flan. I really need to learn how to make that.

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We also attended an IHP shindig on the 24th floor of a Paris U building. Not only were there stellar panoramic views of the whole city at sunset, but free champagne, nibbles, and of course, pleasant conversation.

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There were a lot of things going on this weekend, and I tried to go see a piece of them all. Of course I’m glad I went but it was probably a bad idea. Nuit Blanche was happening this weekend all over Paris. I have gone to the Toronto version a few times and it has ranged from somewhat interesting to horrible and useless, though I had some hope for Paris since you know.. everything in Toronto is pretty horrible and useless. The only thing I went out to see what the piece at Hotel de Ville (City Hall) which was a grid of glowing balloons contained in a mesh sheet being controlled like a kite by two guys. The piece is lighthearted and fun, lending itself well to the crowds of kids drinking vodka out of gatorade bottles and eating overpriced churros. Parisians already don’t seem to have a problem having fun in public spaces so the balloons, I thought, were a bit of silly overkill. Seems you can’t go two blocks without seeing a couple of young Parisians lollygagging around the canal sharing a bottle of wine.. or three.

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Instead of checking out any other Nuit Blanche things I went to attend an Idle No More : France Solidarity vigil at Notre Dame. I was surprised to hear there was INM support in France but there is a small group who put the vigil together to raise awareness and show support for the thousands of missing and murdered women, not only in Canada but worldwide. It was great to smudge and to hear the drum again and sing along. Plus a lot of people stopped by to check out what was going on and learn a little bit.

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We also went to check out Animal Expo which showcases different companion animal breeds and check out some cool vendors. TBH it wasn’t really all that enlightening, although we did get to see some cool European breeds we hadn’t encountered before, like Czechoslovakian Wolf Hound, Cane Corso, and Scottish Fold. However we spent most of our time with the Newfs, the Beagles and the Bassets because they’re the best.

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The Cat’s Prayer :

o my master , do not take me for a slave, because I have in me the taste of freedom
do not try to guess my secret , for I have in me the taste of mystery .
do not compel me to caress as I have in me the taste of modesty.
do not humiliate me, because I have in me the taste of pride.
do not forsake me, because I have within me the taste of fidelity
know how to love me and I will love you as I have in me the taste of friendship

1 http://parismusees.paris.fr/fr/exposition/plages-paris-selon-daumier

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la nourriture

When I told my folks back home that I was going to Paris, a good number of people mentioned the food and how good it was going to be. They aren’t wrong.. I have, of course, been eating a lot of good food. Not to sound like a prick but, its all made by my SO and I. We have gone to a few places to eat but frankly the food is so astronomically expensive here I’m afraid to go out. It’s very common for an average dinner to cost € 30 ($ 45 CAD) per plate and I’m really can’t afford it, nor do I think it’s worth it. Back home I would spend less than $20 on dinner, more if it was a special occasion or something, but I definitely wouldn’t spend forty-five, let alone every day.

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I can count the times we’ve gone out for dinner in the month we’ve been here on one hand : because it’s three. Twice we went out with folks from IHP because its a good social thing to do. And the food was alright, but imho nothing to shake a stick at. Also, being frugal students we tried to find more affordable but decent places, such as Kunitoraya. The third time we went out was yesterday. Yes, it took us a month to go out to dinner on our own. We of course googled the shit out of Paris cheap eats and settled on Gladines, a chain restaurant. The restaurant was divey in appearance but they had some affordable options (€ 14.50 for confit de canard). We chose the location on St. Germain which is in the 5th near the Seine where they had plenty of English menus, being in a touristy spot. The restaurant was definitely set up for quick turnover, the meals pre-made on individual cast iron skillets to be heated on ordering. It’s a good setup in that people don’t have to wait long for food and the menu consists of meals that by nature are better when reheated (read: duck confit), but I just can’t seem to be able to justify the experience against the price. Yikes, I sound really ornery right now.

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We usually eat around the same time we would back home, say seven or eight pm. The French however eat much later like nine or even ten, or dix-huit ou dix-neuf if you run on a twenty-four hour clock like they do here. Needless to say by the time we finished our meal we could hardly find room to shuffle to the bar to pay. Maybe the magic of “going out” gets ruined when you have worked at a cafe, bar or restaurant (or all three if you’re me). But I know that the people there want you to eat your meal, enjoy it, then get the fuck out. Also, leave them a good review on Google + or Yelp. And the food tastes like it.

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One of the glorious things about food in France are the plethora of high quality ingredients available conveniently. It seems you can’t walk ten feet without running in to a boulangerie, stuffed with handmade breads and delightful pastries and desserts, or a produce market overflowing with the freshest and most appetizing fruits and veg, or pêcherie containing more varieties of fish than I’ve seen in my life. In fact our most frequented place is la Baguettes des Pyrénées, only 50 m from our house.

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the typical lineup at la Baguette des Pyrénées

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the typical lineup at la Baguette des Pyrénées

They have the best baguettes we’ve found so far in addition to many tasty treats like pain au chocolat (croissants stuffed with dark chocolate) or tarte normande (giant apple and custard tarts). There are also quite a number of street-side food stops à emporter (to go) selling equally delicious croques, or tartines, all of which are always drizzled in toasted melty goodness. Trust me, the French don’t skimp on anything. There is no such thing as “low fat” or “low-cal” here, everything is made with the best and tastiest ingredients because there is no other way. The French balance this out by living an active lifestyle and never snacking – eating a meal is a very serious thing here.

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Also, when the French faisons du lèche-vitrine, they are usually drawn to storefronts to admire things like swanky clothes or nice shoes.. but we definitely bee-lined it for an amazing demo kitchen on our way to Orsay, standing slack jawed in the street, basking in its shiny marble glory. Sigh. Nous aimons cuisiner!

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Most recently we went to the open air market at Place des Fêtes, open Tuesdays (mardi) Fridays (vendredi) and Sundays (dimanche) just up the street from us. It’s a meandering maze of market stands zig-zagging through the square. In fact, if you don’t know what you want to make for dinner, it’s a little overwhelming. Something special always manages to catch our eye, though, be it fresh beans or giant artichokes. Back home, I make an effort to buy fresh food, I try to go to local markets and get good stuff straight from the source. But frankly some of the food stands make any market back home look like a pile of crap, and I hail from an agricultural stronghold. Perhaps it’s the population density here allowing for high turnover of goods, but I think this is something I’ll be sad to leave when I go.

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mon tuyau de plomb fait un peu mal

If you guys remember two posts ago I was talking about Millet’s Gleaners and so on, so I wanted to mention the guy who paved the way for this sort of stuff, Gustave Courbet. He is considered to be the head of the Realist movement, and was influenced early on by a trip to the Netherlands to see Dutch masterpieces depicting every day life. There are some very famous examples of Courbet’s work at the musée d’Orsay, such as “Burial at Ornans” (1850) and “The Artist’s Studio”(1855). His style looks quite different than Millet’s, aesthetically, but at the heart of the matter, they are Realists; which means they are concerning themselves with painting real, modern people doing accurately real things. They are concerning themselves with shedding light on the average peoples of France (read: lower class) instead of giving attention to subjects which previously were committed to paint such as royalty or religion. A major difference in aesthetics can be attributed to the fact that Millet was a Barbizon School artist, which is a group of artists that traveled to the French countryside in search of rural subject matter (mainly in Barbizon). The movement was coming out of Romanticism so the subjects are somewhat Idealized, but at the same time moving towards Realism in subject matter. Unfortunately, Courbet’s works have always been somewhat rejected by my personal tastes because I consider his execution of ideas to be offensively heavy-handed and vulgar. None the less his works are quite celebrated.

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Burial at Ornans

Ornans is significant because it depicts an event that happened during his lifetime, and the figures were posed by the people themselves. It is important to remember that previously the only people important enough to pose for their own portraits were generally royalty, or ancient greek or biblical figures were often posed for by poor students or prostitutes from lack of finances. In addition, this work is unbelievably enormous: 10 x 22 ft, a size normally reserved for biblical scenes. As the fantastical and decadent style of Romanticism was losing public interest, Courbet’s Ornans offered an every-day realistic view of life, and more importantly death, as the ordinary funeral procession is splayed out in huge scale before us. “The rigorous frieze-like composition and the gaping grave strewn with bones invite us to think about the human condition” 1.

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L’Atelier du peintre. Allégorie réelle déterminant une phase de
sept années de ma vie artistique et morale

In the same room at musée d’Orsay, there is the Artist’s Studio which features Courbet in the centre and allegorical figures depicting the turmoil and reality of his life. On his right, he is flanked by his supporters, contemporaries and friends such as Alfred Bruyas, Proudhon, Champfleury and Baudelaire. On his left are his contenders, the wretched, the exploited and the twisted. He also added in a man with hunting dogs much later, supposed to be an allegory for Napoleon III, depicting him as a criminal. “The unemployed worker and a beggar girl symbolis[e] poverty. We can also see the guitar, the dagger and the hat, which, together with the male model, condemn traditional academic art. [...]  When faced with the rejection of his painting, intended for the 1855 Universal Exhibition, Courbet built a “Pavilion of Realism” at his own expense. Here, outside the official event, he organized his own exhibition, which also included A Burial at Ornans” 2. A great amount of viewership were people who only came to belittle the artist, offended at his audaciousness and lack of tact.

Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine (Summer)

The self-proclaimed “proudest and most arrogant man in France” 3

Courbet secured some financial success by flanking his controversial paintings with long standing favorite views, such as hunting scenes. He furthered his work of female nudes and erotic art depicting such scenes as women in bed, prostitutes napping with their undergarments showing, or just extreme vagina close ups, some of which attracted attention from the authorities. Two examples are the “Le Sommeil”(1866), and “Ces demoiselles des bords de la Seine”(1857), both at the Petit Palais. Ces demoiselles aimed to portray the “realism of the scene, with a frank sensuality” [...] Courbet deliberately provoked critique, sparking a scandal by exposing Ces Demoiselles at the Salon of 1857” 4. Le Sommeil was never shown, instead immediately went into a private collection. There is a long history of erotic artworks and of France in particular there is a long history of the eroticised female nude painted by men for the appreciation of men. So while I can appreciate Courbet’s desire to bend the rules and question authority I find his treatment of his subjects crude and ugly, and his works make every attempt to bash his ideology over our heads like a lead pipe.

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Stonebreakers

One of his most celebrated works, which has a more realistic and less sensualised feel, is the “Stonebreakers” (1850). The work is no longer viewable as it was destroyed during allied bombing in WWII. It depicts the lower-class people of abject poverty, two men whose only means of survival is breaking rocks to make way for a road. Courbet witnessed this scene and hired the two to come to his studio to pose for the painting. This painting, created a year after the Communist Manifesto was published, aims to shed light on class structure and the reality of the low class in France. The fact that we can’t see the end of the road, and the nondescript ambient lighting gives no indication that the work will be completed on any discernible timeline. Instead, the stonebreakers are engaged in perpetual labour. They are enslaved by the land they must work, and the only peep of any light on the horizon almost imperceptibly out of reach.

Courbet participated in the Paris Commune (French socialist uprising) and upon his suggestion, the Vendôme column was demolished. Following the fall of the brief reign of the commune, Courbet was sentenced to six months in prison and a five hundred Franc fine for his involvement. However when the Republic elected a new president it was decided that the Vendôme should be rebuilt, entirely financed by Courbet (323 091 Francs). Courbet went into exile to avoid bankruptcy. He was then told he could pay in installments of 10 000 francs per year until the age of 91, but he died the day before the first installment was due from the effects of heavy drinking.

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A group of artists coined the “bande noire” working later in the 1800s, were inspired by Courbet who employed dark colours and whose compositions held a turbulent feel, especially his self portraits. They rejected the bright and colourful light of the Impressionists and Barbizon school in favour of dark and violent colour to express melancholy, the precision and realism of everyday life. The group included Charles Cottet , Emile-Rene Menard, Dauchez André, Rene Prinet Xavier, Lucien Simon, and associated non-members Edmond Aman-Jean and George Desvallières.

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l’ascention du poilu, (1931)

Desvallières work made use of dark and turbulent subjects, eventually becoming more twisted and expressive as his life and work progressed.  Desvallières met Gustave Moreau at the Académie Julian who influenced his work significantly, drawing  Desvallières away from making traditional copies and influencing his personal style and independence. “Devallières devoted himself to the creation of the Salon d’Automne [...] “whose role is to be excessive because the role of the other salons is to be quite the opposite”, for forgotten masters and for talented artists that were currently excluded from official exhibitions” 5. Desvallières aimed to give attention and public exhibition to Salon-rejected artists and to give support to those dedicated to their cause even if unpopular eg) Fauves. Upon the outbreak of WWI he voluntarily enlisted at the age of 53, and “it was on the occasion of one of these sallies, when he had passed close to death, that he vowed to paint only religious subjects in the future: a vow that he kept scrupulously until the end of his life” 6. His style mixes the dark and furious aesthetic of Courbet with the same turmoil felt during wartime France. The subject matter is in a modern setting, but expressive and inventive in its execution. Devallières began mixing religious images with violent military battle scenes, expressing his pain and horror of the war in which he lost his son Daniel (aged 17) in his own battalion, with the grace and comfort he found in religion.

1 http://www.musee-orsay.fr/index.php?id=851&L=1&tx_commentaire_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=130

2 http://www.musee-orsay.fr/index.php?id=851&L=1&tx_commentaire_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=7146&no_cache=1

3 http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gust/hd_gust.htm

4 http://www.petitpalais.paris.fr/fr/collections/les-demoiselles-des-bords-de-la-seine-ete

5, 6 http://www.georgedesvallieres.com/index_en.html

musée de quay Branly

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The Buttes Chaumont park, which I have mentioned previously has a man-made waterfall and mountainous feature, and yesterday we decided to brave the newly cold temperatures to climb to the top for a picnic. The top is a popular spot for two things : lingering around while chatting and/or snuggling, or strenuous exercise. Being a steep climb many people use it to run to the top, do situps or pushup on the benches then run away. We chose to instead sit on said benches drinking beer and eating bread, cheese, olives and other yummy picnic items while watching the sun set over the tops of the apartment buildings. From the Temple de la Sibylle, which is an italian-inspired open-air temple at the very tip-top, you can see sprawling views of the arrondisement, including Montmartre in the distance.

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I also made a solo trek to the musée du quai Branly, which exhibits indigenous art of non-European cultures. The museum itself is very dark inside, with rounded brown walls and fake rock formations and windows tinted with fake jungle print. I guess you should feel like you’re transported to an-“other” place, specifically non-modern European. The interior architecture has been called “the revival of the myth of the noble savage,” a primitivist myth which is at the ideological base of colonization” 1.The museum is strangely set up, grouping ethnicities into areas with no semblance of order, timeline or significance. There are meandering dark passageways showing a mish-mash of artifacts without context or cultural significance, which is a true shame. “It is clear that the aesthetic approach won out over the more ethnographic approach, and the fact that only 3,500 of 300,000 objects in the collection are displayed underlines this point” 2. I went to the museum because I heard that they have a collection of native-Canadian artifacts, and I was curious to see the representation of North America in a French setting. The museum website mentioned that they had a few buckskin clothing items and painted bison hides, however I found that they also had a very beautiful collection of northern Alaskan masks, totem poles, and wampum belts. I’ve also mentioned Wampum belts here before, and never have I seen such a collection, even anywhere in Canada. Wampum belts are created to tell a story and it’s too bad they are hidden under glass without the living messages they convey being shared.

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Why show artifacts with no care for their purpose, significance and historical context? Is the point to just display items that are “different” from a European perspective? In which case what is being said : is it participation or objectification? “The roots of these collections also show that the museum is closely tied to France’s colonial past. [...] The strengths of its collections lie in the former colonies and because most of these objects are in fact colonial heirlooms and booty obtained through such means as pillage, seizures, military conquest, and ethnographic expedition” 3. Colonial nations have a long history of bringing home foreign treasures, often to the objection of its original owners, and the musée de quay Branly has created a great deal of controversy over the ownership of it’s collection. There were a number of artifacts that were eventually returned to their parent country after their foreign exhibition caused a stir. Similarly, in 2013, Hopi and Apache artifacts were being auctioned in Paris and the tribes had tried unsuccessfully to block their sale. “The auctioneers argue that blocking such sales would have implications for the trade in indigenous art, and could potentially force French museums to hand back collections they had bought” 4. The artifacts were then bought by the Annenberg Foundation who returned the artifacts to their respectful tribes, saying “our hope is that this act sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility” 6.

There were a great number of artifacts that I passed by without care, not because I don’t think it is worth looking at but because I don’t understand. Especially artifacts from cultures which I am unfamiliar I cannot invent cultural significance, I can only interpret the items from my own perspective, and frankly my perspective is insufficient because it lacks the pertinent information. There were plenty of objects which seemed in some particular way interesting to me but without any guidance they just become ‘neat, different-y looking things’. A great number of these are visual depictions ie) masks or tapestries that use visual cues to tell a story, but without the author’s voice the story is mediated by my interpretation. “Many have argued that the displays emphasize the universal beauty of the objects and in doing so elicit positive reactions from visitors, just like at the Louvre.  Many anthropologists, on the other hand, view the lack of contextualization as deeply problematic. [...] Emmanuelle Saada is careful to point out that the museum is not trying to frame art (and peoples) in hierarchical terms, but still frames them in differential terms, assuming a sort of essentialized difference as if there were two clashing civilizations” 5. Part of coming from a country which prides itself on it’s multiculturality is embracing not a labelled static categorization of the “other”, but fluid cultures allowed to breathe and more importantly, to share. To look a culture, its history and its values without listening to its voice, we force it to fit into our own version of the world, and to amputate function from form destroys any chance of cross-cultural understanding. “In some ways, it’s part of living in a multi-cultural world; that’s why you don’t have to be Inuit to paddle a kayak, or First Nations to wear moccasins” 7. But it is dangerous to participate in cultural emblems without understanding or giving respect to their function and purpose. Is it destructive to exhibit a culture other than your own? At what point does appropriation become misappropriation, does exemplify become objectify, does share become dictate? I don’t necessarily want to suggest that these artifacts not be displayed at all. But I find uninformed exhibition troubling and potentially dangerous. If a particular culture is exhibited in a foreign place and their icons and aesthetics displayed without context or accompanied by the vision of the peoples who created it, does it not follow that the entire culture becomes reduced to meaningless iconography?

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For example, the First Nations peoples in Canada have been so isolated from non-FNs, and their culture so boiled down or forgotten from memory that what Canadians understand to be FN are token signifiers or racist caricatures. We know what a headdress looks like, and know it’s some kind of Native thing, but when it’s just presented behind glass in some museum without any first person cultural input the object gets divorced from its cultural heritage.. and even though we admire its we end up buying cheap replicas manufactured offshore (read: H&M) because all we know is we think it looks cool and we don’t understand the significance of the object. “It’s not that non-native people shouldn’t be inspired by native art, [...] The main thing there is to treat those designs with respect … and respect is acknowledging the original artist and acknowledging the original use of that work” 8.

I think it comes down to cooperative sharing, as opposed to cultural theft. If there existed a forum for each culture to describe the significance of the artifacts, why they were made, who made them, how they were used, and how they fit into the cultural in both a historical and modern sense, museum-goers would come away from the experience with a greater and truer understanding of different cultures. I think everyone is naturally curious about thing to which they are not familiar, but collecting artifacts and fitting them to a different context steals an opportunity for different peoples to understand each other, and steals the chance to respect each other on a genuine level.

1, 2, 3, 6 http://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledgebase/200-the-opening-of-the-musee-du-quai-branly-valuing-displaying-the-other-in-post-colonial-france

4, 5 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-25331975

7, 8 http://uphere.ca/post/87528245278/inappropriation